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Wirral mayor-making ceremony set to be a stormy affair
Councillor Chris Blakeley: 'My position has been clear all year and it’s certainly not going to change now'
WIRRAL’S mayor-making ceremony on Monday night is set to be a stormy affair with at least one councillor abandoning the traditional show of cross-party unity by voting against Cllr Steve Foulkes to be the borough’s new civic leader.
Outspoken Conservative councillor Chris Blakeley was hauled before a disciplinary standards committee last year after saying he believed the former Labour leader of the council was “not fit” to be Wirral’s mayor.
Following these remarks, Cllr Foulkes made a complaint under the Members’ Code of Conduct.
However, the investigation concluded Cllr Blakeley was “acting in his official capacity” when he made the comments and that no breach of the code had occurred.
Today Cllr Blakeley told the Globe his opposition to Cllr Foulkes will continue.
“My position has been clear all year and it’s certainly not going to change now.
“I will be voting against Cllr Foulkes. I know this won’t be popular with the Labour group; it may also upset some of my colleagues and some of the council’s invited guests.
“But I will remain true to my views.
“I could stay away on the night, but that would be the coward’s way out.
“I will stand up and be counted.”
Labour leader of the council Cllr Phil Davies said: "It's a shame that Chris is taking this stance.
"Mayor-making is meant to be above the usual rough and tumble of politics. It's meant to be a celebration of the office.
"Whoever it is becoming mayor, whether it's Steve Foulkes or somebody else, they will have their friends and family there on the night and I feel sorry if they have to witness this sort of thing.
"It brings the whole ceremony into disrepute and we can do without it."
At the time when Cllr Blakekey made his original comments, Cllr Foulkes said: “We have an understanding that the mayoralty is detached from politics. I will keep my dignity and try to keep the dignity of the borough intact.
“The fact that Chris Blakeley is the Tory chief whip adds significance to the issue, but I don’t know if this is the official line of the Tories or Chris Blakeley on a rant. If it is the official line, then it is reprehensible.”
Councillor Blakeley said his stance is not official Tory group policy and it will be a free vote: “I know five of my colleagues opposed Cllr Foulkes being appointed deputy mayor last year.
“It’s quite possible they will oppose him again on Monday. But that will be for them to decide.”
This year’s ceremony already has been mired in discord before it even begins.
In a break with tradition, mayor-making is moving from the Civic Hall at Wallasey Town Hall to be held in New Brighton’s Floral Pavilion Theatre.
Tories have opposed the change.
Their leader, Cllr Jeff Green, has said: "This is still a formal meeting of the council and there has been no discussion or consultation over this matter instead the Labour administration have taken a unilateral decision to move this ceremony and communicated this decision via the chief executive.
"I know I am not alone in viewing this as a distasteful and ill-conceived move.
"Annual council is an important, solemn event which should be held in the Civic Hall.
"It is not a party and it is certainly not the pantomime that's accompanying these arrangements."
Councillor Davies said: "The reality is that the Floral Pavilion is a nice venue and holding mayor-making there will make for a more enjoyable experience. I don't really see the move as a big issue.
"There is no legal requirement to hold the ceremony at the town hall.”
The mayoral role is seen as a non-political position and includes chairing full meetings of the council as well as attending civic functions and representing the borough.
The civic honour is especially important this year as Wirral welcomes the return of the Open Golf Championship in July.
Councillor Foulkes was town hall leader during a torrid period when a critical governance report in 2011 by consultant investigator Anna Klonowski hammered the local authority.
The report looked into claims of whistleblower Martin Morton, a former social services employee who was bullied and forced out of his job after revealing systematic financial abuse of vulnerable people in council care.
Ms Klonowski wrote at the time: “Practices other authorities would consider abnormal had become commonplace in Wirral."
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