The Mayor of Walsall has used his own deciding vote to re-elect himself as mayor - in a controversial move that saw the town's Conservative Party take control of the council.

In series of events never seen before in the post-war era, the election of Deputy Mayor Paul Bott, who would normally have been approved by the council as the new mayor in a unanimous vote, was blocked by the Tories.

The Conservatives became the largest party after the recent local elections with 30 councillors out of 60, meaning at least one needed to vote in favour of Councillor Bott for him to gain a majority.

Conservative group leader Mike Bird instead put forward the current mayor Marco Longhi, who was first elected for the post last year, to stay on as mayor for the next year.

Councillor Marco Longhi, Mayor of Walsall.
Councillor Marco Longhi, Mayor of Walsall.

It means that Mayor Longhi, a Conservative councillor, will have the deciding vote in the event of a tie, as opposed to Independent Councillor Paul Bott.

Mr Bott had previously indicated that he would side with the Labour coalition in a radio interview early last week.

With 30 votes on each side, it fell to Mayor Longhi to break the deadlock by casting a deciding vote. He decided to choose himself.

He told the chamber: "I very much regret the fact that I've been put in a position where, whichever way I vote, I will be disappointing half the chamber.

"Over the past two weeks each councillor has had the opportunity to ensure that the scenario of the deciding vote was not needed."

Referring to his own election as mayor last year, which relied on the votes of opposition councillors, he added: "I would now appeal to every single councillor here to ask themselves this. Would you really have supported me as your mayor if you knew, the week before the vote, you had heard me on the radio, attacking the Labour group, and confirming that I would have supported a Conservative administration?

"Because that is what you're asking me to do, as well as vote against my group."

The vote means that, with overall control of the council, Mike Bird will become the council’s new leader.

He will also take a seat on the board of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), where he will take over the portfolio for housing and land from former Walsall Council leader Sean Coughlan.

Cries of objection echoed through the chamber as Councillor Bird outlined the reasons for his group’s decision not to follow protocol and elect the incumbent Paul Bott, explaining that he did not feel that Councillor Bott would remain politically neutral as is customary in the chamber.

He also swore by testimony that he had tried to contact Councillor Bott several times following the election to discuss the arrangements with him, only to hear him criticising the Conservative party in a TV interview.

Councillor Bird added that he would resign from the council if he were found to be lying.

The Labour coalition reacted strongly to the situation as it unfolded, with group leader Sean Coughlan describing it as "a sad night for democracy in this chamber."

Councillor Shires (Lib Dem) went one step further, saying of Mayor Longhi: "Hero to zero doesn’t even come close to describing the depths to which I feel you’ve gone, in allowing yourself to be used in this way.

"And with due respect, Mr Mayor, what’s the old saying about power and corruption?"

Councillor Bott sat stony-faced as he watched events unfold, frequently calling out and interrupting during the Conservative councillors' testimonies.

Though he did add one thing to proceedings, insisting that he was being persecuted for telling the truth about his political beliefs: "Let me tell Councillor Bird some facts," he said.

"Three weeks before the election I said that I would not be supporting Mike Bird. We gave our support to Labour and the Liberals because they look after working class and deprived areas.

"That's why we were supporting the coalition."

The new council's first AGM is set to take place on Wednesday.