Walsall 'in shock' over suspension move

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Even though the Walsall District Labour Party was suspended on Tuesday, its leader Dave Church would have been proud of the support he gained from unlikely quarters.

The beleaguered council leader, not back from holiday in India until Tuesday, seems to have chosen his vacation period wisely. His party was suspended by the national Labour Party on the day of the visit to Walsall by the Tory party chairman Brian Mawhinney.

Dr Mawhinney had attacked Mr Church's plans to sack the council's nine heads of department, and devolve powers to 54 directly elected neighbourhood committees. In addition, after announcing compulsory redundancies for 36 staff, the council is likely to be faced today with a union ballot result endorsing immediate strike action.

Despite that, the Unison branch secretary Paul Macmanomy is critical of the suspension. "The Unison response is nothing to do with us. My personal view is that I don't agree with witch-hunts, suspensions and a knee-jerk reaction to a visit by a Tory chairman."

This might be the only issue Paul Macmanomy and his father Geoffrey agree on. Geoffrey Macmanomy, the chair of community services at Walsall Borough Council, has long supported the redundancies over which his son is urging strike action.

Geoffrey Macmanomy is not the only person over at the town hall to side with Mr Church. The general reaction over the suspended party's members seems to be shock rather than anger.

"Perhaps it was too much too soon," said one council employee and Labour Party member since 1980.

"But you're damned if you do nothing and you're damned if you do something. This isn't anything new, the "loony left" were in power in 1980 and we decentralised housing services. It was radical at the time but most councils copied it.

"The timing was very bad because we played into Mawhinney's hands.

"I can't put my head around our beloved leader's actions. It's national Labour policy to decentralise services but it's one thing paying lip service to ideas and another thing carrying them out.

"Blair seems to be becoming presidential style leader. Everything has got to be cosmetic, no substance, all soundbites."

John Rothery, Walsall council's deputy leader, said he had spoken to 24 of his colleagues yesterday and all of them expressed "shock and dismay at what's happened".

Some local Labour Party members seemed offended by claims of intimidation.

Olivia Bradburn, a teacher, said "I have been a delegate to the borough party for 20 years and I have never ever seen any sign of intimidation."