Conservatives in Wirral have welcomed the news that Cllr Paul Stuart now leads the Labour group in the council.
Cllr Stuart was elected as Labour leader last night, deposing current Wirral Council leader Janette Williamson on a dramatic night. He had previously served as Cllr Williamson’s deputy.
A vote on who will become the next overall council leader will take place later this month where Cllr Stuart will have to get support from other political parties to become council leader as Wirral remains in no overall control.
There had been reports Conservatives may be offered positions on key committees in order to win support in any bid to become council leader though Conservatives said they had not been approached about such positions at this stage.
Wirral Conservatives welcomed the news, arguing Cllr Stuart could work better with other parties in the council to deliver key policies on the Wirral.
West Kirby Conservative Councillor Jenny Johnson said, “He (Paul Stuart) will be a moderate voice within Labour and he’s a very competent and able Labour councillor. Hopefully going forward with Paul as the leader we will have some settling down.”
Heswall councillor Kathy Hodson said, “I like Paul Stuart, I just get on with him and I always found him an amiable chap. I think he’s a very able bloke and I think he will work with the other parties and be quite collegiate.”
Wallasey councillor Ian Lewis said under Cllr Williamson issues like cycle lanes on the Wirral had become polarised, adding, “She was a combative politician that wasn’t suited in a council that wasn’t under Labour control and that she struggled to work with other parties.”
However Pat Cleary, leader of the Green Party was much less impressed, claiming that Cllr Stuart’s election poses a ‘clear threat to Wirral’s public services.’
Cllr Cleary pointed to the budget passed by Labour and the Conservatives in 2022 – and voted for by the new Labour leader – that saw significant cuts to library services to the £500,000 settlement related to the Hoylake golf resort in his criticism.
On the Hoylake issue, Wirral Labour argued at the time the 2021 settlement would avoid legal costs of more than £700,000 if the issue had gone to court.
Despite the criticism of Cllr Stuart, Cllr Cleary said, “We are always open to discussion. It’s to everyone and everybody. We are not saying we are not going to talk to people because they have selected someone we think will take us in the wrong direction.”
Cllr Cleary said the Greens’ success with 13 councillors now on the council in former Labour seats also showed their environmental policies are popular.
However, the Liberal Democrats praised Cllr Williamson for her time as leader during a period Wirral Council made steps to improve financial management and dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis.
Liberal deputy leader Cllr Chris Carubia, said, “I think Janette did a great job keeping everyone together, working with all parties and took us through some bad times. She weathered a stormy sea and did a good job.
“She took on the role well and tried to work with everyone on a level playing field, even the smaller parties. It wasn’t going to be easy to get her policies across as a Labour leader. I think she did a sterling job in times that were really difficult.”
Cllr Stuart Kelly praised Cllr Williamson too and hoped now Cllr Stuart will work with other parties. He added, “Just remember we are here to serve the people of Wirral and not here for party political point scoring from individuals.”
Going forward, Liberal Democrat leader Phil Gilchrist said, “I would be looking for some stability and people do not play party games. I think the key issue is having a constructive dialogue and that we would be thoroughly involved in discussions with a full flow of information.”
Image: Cllr Paul Stuart, who represents Seacombe for Wirral Council. Credit: Wirral Council. Commissioned for use by LDR partners