FORMER Wirral Council leader Steve Foulkes has taken a swipe at Tory political rival Chris Blakeley in a clash that threatens the political harmony usually associated with the district’s mayor-making ceremony.

Councillor Foulkes will be sworn in as deputy mayor at Wallasey town hall tonight, backed by the Labour party’s strong overall majority.

He called Tory misgivings about his suitability for mayoral office “an insult to me, my family and the people who have supported me.”

Councillor Chris Blakeley, who has pledged to vote against Cllr Foulkes’s’ nomination, said: “Having sat on the benches opposite calling for his resignation because he was not fit to lead the council, how can I now say that he is fit to be the deputy mayor this year and the mayor next year?”

Councillor Foulkes was town hall leader during a torrid period when a critical governance report in 201 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.

Mc Klonowski wrote at the time: “Practices other authorities would consider abnormal had become commonplace in Wirral.”

It led to David Cameron, in a Prime Minister’s Question Time session at a the House of Commons, calling the situation “clearly a very serious matter,” and pledging to look into the report.

Cllr Blakeley said: “I truly believe that for Labour to nominate such a controversial character as Steve Foulkes threatens the position of mayor and the need for impartiality.”

He said he would be voting against Cllr Foulkes’s nomination and other Tory councillors could be joining him or abstaining from voting.

Councillor Foulkes said: “We have got 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 when this is the official line of the Tories or Chris Blakeley on a rant. If it is the official line then it is reprehensible.”

He added: “This might overshadow what should be the biggest day in the career of (mayor elect) Dave Mitchell. He deserves his time in the limelight as Wirral’s first citizen.”

The role of mayor is seen as a non-political position with each party taking it in turn to take the chains of office.

Councillor Mitchell (Lib Dem) said: “You have to look back to the dark days of Militant Tendency to find the last time people were political about the mayoralty.”

Deputy Tory group leader Cllr Lesley Rennie was adamant that there was no party whip operating to compel members to vote against Cllr Foulkes’s nomination.

She said: “There is no official party line – I am not sure what members will do this evening.

“I know there is a number who believe Steve Foulkes is a very devisive figure; I just hope there won’t be a row and that if there is anyone vorting against Cllr Foulkes it will be done in a quiet and dignified manner.”

Councillor Foulkes found an unlikely ally in political rival Cllr Stuart Kelly -  a former leader of the Liberal Democrats – who said he believed the former council leader would carry out the role of mayor well when the time came.

Councillor Kelly said: “Cllr Foulkes has been a controversial figure in the past but it is impossible not to be controversial given the position he had as the council’s leader”

“Ultimately this is about the role of the mayor, which is to promote and represent Wirral as first citizen well, and not about political or personal differences people may have with each other.

“Too much of what happens in the town hall is based on personality disputes and not enough on policies and collective problem solving."