An attempt by the Conservatives to overthrow a local authority’s Labour leadership has been defeated in a dramatic council meeting.

Councillor Niall Innes proposed to have current Stockton Council leader, Labour group leader Cllr Bob Cook, removed and replaced with the Tory group leader, Cllr Tony Riordan. He said this was to “move forward respecting the democratic choice of the electorate” after the Tories gained seats in May’s elections.

The Conservatives are the largest party on the council, with 26 seats to Labour’s 22, but Labour still enjoy the support of seven Independent councillors allowing them to keep minority control of the council, with Thornaby Independent Association (TIA) councillors and Ingleby Barwick Independent Society (IBIS) agreeing to work with Labour on an “issue-by-issue basis” without a formal coalition.

Cllr Innes, Conservative member for Hartburn to run as candidate for Stockton North MP, put forward the same motion to oust the leader in July, but withdrew it as he admitted “we just didn’t have the numbers”.

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He tried to withdraw it again in the meeting at Stockton Baptist Church on Wednesday (September 20).

But this time, mayor Cllr Jim Beall put it to a vote and let councillors decide whether the motion was to be withdrawn or not. They voted 29-25 against withdrawing it, with Labour member Cllr Paul Rowling saying the proposal needed to be heard “to create clarity for the borough”.

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Cllr Rowling said: “There’s a clear stable political position in this council and bringing this motion back every month undermines that very fact. It is damaging investment in the borough so we need to create certainty.”

So the motion was heard, prompting a string of Labour members to deliver scathing critiques of the Conservatives including their electoral campaign, national and local record, while speaking up in praise of their leader. Cllr Innes’ proposal was lost by another 29-25 vote, allowing Labour to retain its control of the council.