Labour’s Pete Marland was re-elected as leader of Milton Keynes Council after his party and the Liberal Democrats joined forces against the Conservatives.
The Tory group called for a vote on the issue at the council’s annual meeting on Wednesday as they seek to make the partnership between the two other parties an issue in the run up to next year’s local elections.
Even though the Conservatives lost five seats to Labour and the Lib Dems at the polls on May 2, they still won the most votes and see themselves as having a platform of 19 out of 57 councillors to begin a climb to power.
After Wednesday’s vote the Conservative leader, Cllr Alex Walker explained why he saw it important to lay down a marker, even though he knew he would lose the vote on the night. The Conservatives lost by 17 votes to 36, with new mayor Sam Crooks, and his deputy, Andrew Geary remaining neutral and abstaining.
Cllr Walker said: “They should say that they have entered a formal coalition, rather than a partnership because how can the Lib Dems effectively scrutinise the administration when they have a stake in it?”
The deal reached between the Lib Dems and Labour gives the red party all nine cabinet posts, which they say allows the Lib Dems to remain as an opposition party. But when it comes to key issues, they won’t allow their partnership to be out voted.
Labour, which is the largest party, argues that the reality is that no one party can run the council, as leader Pete Marland says: “without being grown up and working with others.
“We have worked with the Liberal Democrats well over the past few years, and the benefit of that is a stable, well run council.”
And Cllr Douglas McCall, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, whose group took three seats off what he calls “a failing Tory party”, says the arrangement allows them to deliver on their manifesto priorities.
“We want to deliver Liberal Democrat policies and priorities, in particular around reducing child poverty and improving public realm services. In exchange for ensuring a stable council we will have our manifesto delivered. It is the right deal for us and MK, where two thirds of councillors elected by MK residents are either Labour or Lib Dem.”
Cllr Marland disagrees with Cllr Walker’s analysis that the Lib Dems won’t be in a position to provide effective scrutiny. “There are significant areas where we agree with the Lib Dems, like planning growth properly and tackling homelessness,” he said.
“However, they continue to be an opposition party providing constructive scrutiny and challenge to our decisions. I think that’s how people want politics to be, getting on with things you agree on and working through issues you don’t.”
Cllr Marland has also made changes to Labour’s cabinet, adding a ninth post, to tackle the remit of climate action and sustainability, which is taken by Cllr Jenny Marklew.
There is now a five to four majority of women in the cabinet, but Cllr Mick Legg has lost out in the rejig, returning to the back benches.
In comes Cllr Emily Darlington, who has joined the top team and takes the public realm role from Cllr Martin Gowans, who gets planning and transport remit.
Deputy leader Cllr Hannah O’Neill has kept her health and wellbeing portfolio, Cllr Nigel Long is as safe as houses at housing and regeneration, Cllr Rob Middleton stays at resources and innovation.
Cllr Moriah Priestley has economic growth and community partnerships, and Cllr Zoe Nolan has added libraries to her growing children and families portfolio.