IF last night's debate over who runs Dudley Council had been a boxing match, amongst allegations of bullying, the fight would have been over before the echoes of the opening bell had faded.

A contest that promised to be a long, drawn out procedure was dramatically cut short as the borough’s only independent councillor switched her support from the ruling Conservatives to Labour.

So with the Conservatives on 35 seats and Labour on 36, Councillor Heather Roger’s one vote held the balance of power in the see-saw authority, which has seen the leadership switch three times in 18 months.

The telling blow came as the authority debated a motion to replace Conservative council leader Patrick Harley with Labour’s Pete Lowe (pictured below).

Dudley News:

Standing up just five minutes into the debate, cllr Rogers announced she was switching her support to Labour. 

Accusing cllr Harley of failing to deal with bullying within the local Conservative Party, she said: “On the motion in hand, should the leader of the council be removed from office? 

“On the evidence I have seen, yes he should.”
With that – and the simple maths – the fight was over before it had really begun. 

Cllr Harley, responding to her allegations of bullying, said: “A lot of what you say is absolutely right, there is bullying in both main parties. 

“I believe that individual associations should deal with their own problems, clearly that hasn’t worked.”

But he went on to point out the Conservative Group on the council had not received any formal written complaint about bullying since 2013, which he said was dealt with quickly and decisively.

He added: “If a  complaint is made, we will deal with it as per group rules and that is an honest assessment of what has happened in the last few years.  

“If a complaint comes in, we will deal with it.”

Cllr Lowe rose to finish the fight, saying: “Irrespective of the decision this evening, our priority must be the people of the borough.

“I make it absolutely clear that you cannot lead the people of this borough, if you cannot lead the party you represent.”

With that it came down to the count, and the final result was 37 in favour of the motion, 35 against.

Cllr Lowe confirmed Councillor Judy Foster as his deputy.

Councillors Qadar Zada, John Martin, Sue Ridney, Rachel Harris, Khurshid Ahmed, Cathy Bayton, Gaye Partridge and Keiran Casey have all been confirmed as cabinet members - with positions to be confirmed.