Wirral’s councillors have a massive decision to make after last week’s elections changed the make-up of the local authority.
Labour lost two seats to the Greens and one to the Conservatives, leaving the party on just 26 of Wirral’s 66 seats. That is well short of a majority and just two ahead of the Conservatives.
All of this could put Cllr Janette Williamson’s leadership of the council in jeopardy, but speaking to politicians across Wirral’s political spectrum it seems the Liscard councillor is in pole position to retain control of the local authority.
But between now and May 25, when the leadership of the council and its all important committees will be confirmed at a public meeting of all 66 councillors, there is a huge amount at stake.
Labour lost seats in Bebington and Prenton to the Greens, as well as Pensby and Thingwall to the Conservatives.
Power struggle at Wirral Council
If parties such as the Greens, who now have nine councillors after gaining three at this year’s elections, do opt to support the Labour leader they may ask for more power within the council.
This could involve trying to soften the council’s cuts, after the party made a big play of opposing the £20m worth of savings made in the budget, or pushing for more influence over powerful committees which shape council policy on key issues.
Labour could point to the fact that despite losing seats it increased its vote share last week, compared to 2021, gaining 42% of the vote, far ahead of the Conservatives on 26%, the Greens on 19% and the Liberal Democrats on 12%.
This week, Cllr Williamson received the backing of fellow Labour councillors.
What’s been said
Posting about the news on Twitter, Cllr Williamson said: “Really chuffed that I’ve been unanimously supported by my group to continue as leader. Thank you, I won’t let you down.”
Steve Rotheram, metro mayor for the Liverpool City Region, which includes Wirral, said the backing was “very much deserved”.
Speaking to the LDRS, Cllr Williamson added: “It’s a vote of confidence, and will allow us to continue to build on the great work we have been doing across Wirral, making sure every voice is heard.
“I am hopeful that the other group leaders will give me their backing, and we can work collaboratively to best serve our residents.”
On the Tory approach to upcoming negotiations on the future of the council, Cllr Tom Anderson, leader of the Wirral Conservatives, said: “It’s early days, but the council is in No Overall Control as Labour continues to lose seats and cling on as the largest party by the skin of its teeth.
“The Conservatives will work in the interests of Wirral residents for a Local Plan that protects the greenbelt.”
Cllr Pat Cleary, leader of the Green Party group, said: “This is not just about the leader, but who gets to chair which decision making committees, where decisions are made cross-party and not by the leader. Every party has got a say, because no party has a majority and nobody should assume we know who the council leader will be.”
The Lib Dem group leader, Cllr Phil Gilchrist, said: “Wirral Council’s finances are so precarious it would be unwise to make the council even less stable. We are not going to take actions which lead to further instability.
“We are looking for a stable minority administration. The majority [or most for any single party, 42% precisely] of votes were cast for Labour and we will take note of that in discussion with other parties.”