Council leader faces being ousted as challenger warns her ‘change is coming’

Tameside council’s first female leader faces being ousted as discontent among the ruling Labor group builds ahead of next month’s local elections. Councilor Brenda Warrington is to be challenged for the top job by current housing boss Coun Ged Cooney – who has warned her ‘change is coming’.

It comes amid reports of growing dissatisfaction in Labor ranks over Coun Warrington’s leadership style, the regeneration of Ashton town center and the hugely contentious Godley Green Garden Village plans. Coun Warrington – nicknamed ‘Brenda the Bulldozer’ by Tameside Tories – also sparked controversy last month by telling her political opponents the 2,000-home garden village would be ‘rammed down’ their throats.

A leadership challenge is understood to have been bubbling away for sometime – with Coun Cooney emerging as the figurehead for those who want a change at the top. The Droylsden West councilor – now believed to have the support of more the majority of Labor members – is urging Coun Warrington to stand down.

READ MORE : Tameside council leader’s ‘rammed down’ throat comments attract dozens of complaints

A new group leader would not officially take the reins until the Labor AGM in mid-May, followed by ratification at the next full council meeting. But nominations for senior positions in the group had to be made this month, bringing the situation to a head.

Should Coun Warrington chose to fight, Coun Cooney is confident he has the backing to depose her, going as far as to say she will ‘lose badly’.

“I was told to go forward – someone was going forward and that someone would win a landslide,” he said. “Support for Brenda has drained away.”

Councilor Ged Cooney

Coun Warrington has declined to comment on the issue until after the local elections, on May 5. While Coun Cooney accepts she took over at a ‘difficult time’ – with the collapse of council contractor Carillion in 2018 closely followed by the pandemic – he believes her position is now untenable.

“I have had massive support since Day One, without phoning anyone,” he said. “This is not a title race, it’s not close at all. I have spoken to Brenda and had that conversation with her de ella-even people in her own constituency [Denton West ward] have openly supported me.

“Change is happening in the group – the demand comes from the group. The group don’t feel they are making the decisions that affect this council and affect them.”

The councilor of more than 30 years added: “I have given her time to consider whether she will say she will stand down. I would prefer it that way-she is the first woman leader in Tameside and she deserves that recognition but things ca n’t go on.

Coun Cooney says he has support from councilors across the borough, including Hyde – where the Godley Green project is particularly sensitive – Dukinfield, Ashton and Denton. But it was the backing of Coun Oliver Ryan – seen as the leader’s ‘right hand man’ that he admits has come as the biggest surprise.

In a letter to Coun Cooney – seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service – Coun Ryan describes Coun Warrington as a ‘close personal friend’, who has acted with ‘dignity, verve, restless ambition, sincerity and utmost commitment’ since becoming a leader.

But the finance chief notes that the Labor group is at a ‘crossroads’ and believes it is now ‘time for change in Tameside’. “I believe you are offering that change,” he adds. “You have my support in your leadership bid. This will surprise some but not others.

“The next few years will be tough for Tameside and it’s our moral duty to see this borough thrive, to make sure a child in Tameside has the best life chances.”

Coun Cooney is promising a less centralized approach to decision making and believes Coun Warrington would be ‘wrong’ to contest his leadership bid. “I will say it holds us back, because I can bring in a new model changing this,” he said.

“I have more of a vision in a sense. My preference is that people like to make the decisions in the area where they live. We should return more power back into those towns.”

“I do believe it’s the community partnership model we need.”

Coun Cooney says this would involve working with police and local businesses – ‘but more importantly the electorate, so they are engaging in that forum’.

He said: “I think, over the next few months, we will have that new model that returns power back to the areas that people live to make those decisions. It has got to be the way. Change is coming, but if Brenda wants to fight, that’s her decision.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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