Tensions erupted as Wirral elected its new council leader in a major vote tonight.
Labour councillor Paul Stuart was elected leader of the council with Cllr Jean Robinson as deputy. However, it was not without controversy as Green councillors accused the other parties of being undemocratic.
Cllr Stuart currently leads the local authority’s 30 Labour councillors after he challenged Cllr Janette Williamson for the position just after the local elections earlier in May and won.
As Wirral Council is in no overall control, Cllr Stuart then had to rely on support from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in order to become leader of the whole council at a meeting on 24 May.
During the votes, Cllrs Pat Cleary and Jo Bird, co-leaders of the Greens, also stood for leader and deputy leader but decisively lost.
After being elected, Cllr Stuart said, “It is a great honour and privilege to become leader of Wirral Council in the place where I have lived all my life and the place where I grew up with my family.”
He added, “Wirral stands at a pivotal moment presented with difficult decisions but also with an opportunity to define its future. However we must be honest and realistic with our residents about the challenges we face.
“My leadership of the council will be informed by a set of core values and developing a future plan that will seek not just to navigate the difficulties of the present but seize the opportunities of the future.”
Both Cllr Stuart and Conservative leader Jeff Green thanked outgoing council leader Janette Williamson for her work in the role. She will now chair the council’s health committee
It was reported key committees like Economy, Regeneration, and Housing as well as Environment, Climate Emergency, and Transport would be given over to the Conservatives earlier this month but Labour has kept hold of both committees.
However, the Environment committee which deals with big decisions like Hoylake Beach, cycle lanes and new 20mph zones will now have a Conservative rather than Green vice chair after talks between the parties.
At the meeting Wirral’s Green Party accused Labour of depriving them of key positions in the council despite their recent gains in the elections. Despite being Wirral’s third largest party, the council’s Greens do not hold a single chair or vice chair position.
During the heated debate, Labour was accused of being “spiteful and unnecessary,” and ignoring the 22% of voters who voted Green. Greens also questioned why the allocations of chairs weren’t being done proportionally this time around.
Green co-leader Jo Bird said, “The proposals at Council today are not fair and not proportionate. They are disrespectful to Wirral voters. We can all see Labour and the Conservatives supporting each other in a coalition of power.”
Cllr Amanda Onwuemene added the council “cannot describe itself as being welcoming and inclusive while at the same time stonewalling and excluding the third largest party on the peninsula.”
However, after issues the Greens had during the meeting with voting and putting their proposals forward, Labour councillor Angela Davies said, “We need people who are organised, who are fiscally responsible, plan and do things quickly. I think tonight has shown why we need to stick with the chairs and vice chairs.”
Image: New Wirral Council Leader, Labour’s Cllr Paul Stuart. Credit: Ed Barnes