All change at council with new alliance

Wigan has a shock new council official opposition - in an amazing game of party political musical chairs.

The Community Action Party has joined forces with the Lib Dems to form the new 13-councillor strong Democratic Alliance grouping.

The moves – which alter the political complexion of the Metro council just days after elections fought on completely different lines – are calculated to keep the rejuvenated Tories out of power on the council.

They were triggered by CAP co-founder Coun Don Hodgkinson's decision to defect to the Independents.

Without the new coalition, Community Action would no longer be the biggest numerical opposition group, leaving the way clear for the 10-strong Conservatives to become the official opposition.

At the same summit meeting in Ashton on Sunday, former Lib Dems' leader Coun Bob Splaine and Coun Joe Haley resigned from their parties to create the new five strong 'Independent' group on the Metro.

CAP leader Coun Peter Franzen becomes leader of the Alliance, with CAP Coun Paul Tushingham his deputy.

Bryn's Coun Brian Merry is the new leader of the independents – the deputy is Coun Splaine).

The resignations leave the Lib Dems with just three councillors, and CAP with 10.

A spokesman for Wigan Council said that it has yet to be officially notified of any such changes.

Coun Hodgkinson described his resignation from CAP as a "very sad occasion" and revealed he may yet rejoin in the future.

He said his concerns stemmed from the conduct of Community Action's AGM last month and a wrangle over the leader Peter Franzen's successful nomination, plus the election of other officers.

He added: "Peter Franzen is a very good politician, only he could have led us to get 18 councillors elected. We owe him a great debt but we cannot go on repaying it for ever. He seems to have lost touch on why we got elected, which was to deal with local issues, and that is what we should be concentrating on.

"I have been battling a long time behind the scenes to get this message through. Alas I have failed at the moment."

But CAP and new Alliance group chief Coun Franzen insisted they will now "rise above" party politics and prove to be the best way to provide effective opposition to the ruling Labour group.

He said: "The gloves are certainly off as far as the Tories are concerned. They worked hand in glove with Labour in half a dozen seats in the elections to keep Labour in power.

"CAP is now leaner and meaner and more united and stronger than ever. When we were elected with 18 councillors, a lot of our councillors were politically inexperienced and independently-minded. If councillors can't be part of a team then they should do the right thing and go. But if Don Hodgkinson does believe in honesty and integrity he should now resign to trigger a by-election and then, in fairness to the electorate, seek re-election.

"The people who voted for him as CAP also have a right to know what on earth this Independents group actually stands for?"

Independent group leader Coun Merry, who predicted other councillors would now defect to join them, said: "I'm delighted to welcome the three councillors and feel they have made a positive move towards true democratic representation of the constituents in their respective wards, away from the interference and control of the main political parties."

Astley Mosley Common Coun Joe Haley said he had reviewed his standing with the Lib Dems' council group over the past six months, but it had come to a "natural end".

Taking the independent path was a positive step he added.

Former Lib Dem leader Coun Splaine said he had resigned because of a lack of support from the Lib Dems regional and national network over a complaint to the internal standards committee about the conduct of a member.


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