Labour will continue to run Stockport council for the next 12 months despite no longer being the largest group at the town hall.
It comes after a crunch ‘informal council’ meeting voted against a Lib Dem bid to remove Labour’s Coun Elise Wilson as leader of the authority.
It means Labour remains at the helm as a minority administration – largely thanks to backing from the eight-strong Tory group.
Although two independents voted with the Lib Dems it was not enough to oust Coun Wilson and hand the reins to Coun Mark Hunter’s party.
The meeting was called as the local elections held two weeks ago again left the council in no overall control.
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Although the Lib Dems had emerged as the largest group on 26 seats they did not have a majority – and Labour, with just one seat fewer – refused to hand over the reins.
To prevent politics spilling into next week’s annual council meeting – a ceremonial affair where the new mayor is sworn in – the ‘informal council meeting’ was convened for this evening (Thursday).
In a bid to take charge of the town hall, the Lib Dems moved an amendment to remove Coun Wilson as leader of the council – a position she would otherwise hold until the end of her term of office next year.
Coun Wilson urged councillors not to support the bid to remove her for the sake of the ‘stability’ in testing times.
She said: “When you elected me as leader of the council we had no leader, our previous leader [the Lib Dems Sue Derbyshire] having retired.
“You unanimously elected me for my term of office and it’s been an honour to serve for the past two years and I hope you will elect me today to finish this last year.”
She highlighted what she saw as Labour’s main achievements and stressed her influence on a regional level as the combined authority’s economy lead.
“If I remain leader of the council tonight I will continue a strong, competent, open and ambitious leadership for the benefit of the people of Stockport,” she said.
But Lib Dem leader Coun Mark Hunter said that the ‘people had spoken’ at the local elections by returning his party as the largest group.
He said: “Following established practice and precedent we are now merely asserting our right, as we see it, to form a new minority administration to take this council forward.
“In doing so we are acting exactly as the Labour Party did in 2016.”
He added that the council had never before been run by a group that did not have the largest number of councillors.
Coun Hunter continued: “I ask all groups represented here to put aside personal prejudices and personalities and as itself ‘is it really democratic, fair or reasonable to now deprive the largest party the chance to form a new minority administration?’
“Because, I have to say, I don’t think that the public will understand or be sympathetic to the kind of secretive manoeuvering and political machinations that could, yet, block our proposal for change.”
However, it soon became clear when Conservative group leader Mike Hurleston began speaking that the Lib Dems bid to take charge of the town hall was to be frustrated.
The Tory chief said the Lib Dems had failed to explain why a change of administration was in the best interests of the borough, rather than just themselves.
And he told the meeting that the borough needed ‘stability and continuity’ as it emerged from the pandemic.
“The council needs to work with the government more than ever during this time,” he said.
“We don’t believe a new Liberal Democrat administration has the ability to do that.
“Does it make sense to disrupt the running of the council that the proposed regime change would cause? Our judgement is that it doesn’t.”
He continued: “Our view is that it’s important to have continuity in the current circumstances and for the leader to show that they are willing to work with the government and others to obtain the best results for Stockport.”
Coun Hurleston also attacked the Lib Dems for recent press releases he claimed were full of ‘spin’ and ‘a loose association with the truth’.
He added: “I fear a Liberal Democrat council will he more interested in spin and political stunts than working cross-party for the residents of Stockport.”
The meeting ultimately resolved not to remove Coun Wilson as council leader by 33 votes to 28 with two abstentions.
Labour and the Tories voted against the amendment, totalling 33 votes, while two independents voted with the Lib Dems, totalling 28 votes.
There were two abstentions – the independent ratepayers group leader Coun Anna Charles-Jones and the Green Party’s Coun Gary Lawson.
The informal council meeting was held on Thursday night (May 20).