By Tony Earnshaw- LDRS
Labour has lost its majority on Kirklees Council after three councillors sensationally quit the party.
Rob Walker and Lesley Warner, who both represent Colne Valley, and Richard Murgatroyd, who represents Golcar, have resigned from the party citing “national issues”.
It means they cannot sit as Labour members, and consequently the Labour administration no longer has a majority on the council.
Clr Walker, who was elected in 2016, currently holds the Cabinet portfolio on culture and environment.
Reacting to the news Council Leader Shabir Pandor said he was reviewing arrangements for the decision-making Cabinet and would update on the situation “as soon as practically possible”.
Prior to the resignations Labour had 35 out of 69 councillors, giving the party a majority of just one.
Balancing the Labour resignations with that of the Conservatives’ Charlotte Goodwin, who stepped down last week, means they are now one councillor short.
Labour is now faced with making a deal with smaller parties on the council such as the three-member Independent group in Holme Valley North or the Greens, who have three councillors, in order to prop up its administration.
Or it might opt for a so-called “grand coalition” of parties to see the council through the rest of the year.
Council insiders said they doubted whether the latter option was a realistic prospect.
In response to an inquiry from the Local Democracy Reporting Service Clr Walker, who is married to the former Colne Valley Labour MP Thelma Walker, said his resignation was “completely to do with national issues”.
He added: “It’s nothing to do with local issues or disagreements within the Labour group or Cabinet. I would prefer not to say anything more at the moment.”
Clr Walker confirmed he would sit as an Independent until the next local elections in May 2021.
The catalyst for the trio’s decision appears to be announcement from Mrs Walker that she had resigned from the Labour Party.
A close ally of John McDonnell and a supporter of former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, she attended a branch meeting last night where she resigned her membership.
She intends to make a statement on 20 November.
Responding to the resignations Clr Pandor described Mr Walker, Ms Warner and Mr Murgatroyd as “outstanding councillors” and said they remained part of the Labour family in Kirklees.
He said: “I have really appreciated Rob, Lesley and Richard as a colleagues in the Labour Group and would want to continue working with them for the benefit of Kirklees.
“I have worked with all of them for many years and know that they are passionate about the communities they serve and are committed to improving the lives of people in their wards and across Kirklees.
“Together, as councillors and as a community, we will continue to fight the pandemic and build a recovery that works for everyone in Kirklees.”