THE political opposition on South Tyneside Council is more fragmented than ever, after a defection bid ended in failure.
Independent Jane Branley, who represents the Westoe ward in South Shields, recently applied for membership of the Labour Party.
But when her application came before the executive body of South Shields Constituency Labour Party at the weekend, it was unanimously rejected.
Coun Branley’s surprise move has been greeted with incredulity by fellow opposition members on the council.
It comes at time when the ruling Labour group has a vice-like grip on power.
At present, there are 48 Labour councillors and only six opposition representatives. That opposition comprises of two separate groupings, with Coun Branley forming a loose alliance with Conservative Jeff Milburn and UKIP’S David Potts, both of whom represent Cleadon and East Boldon.
Coun Milburn has admitted that he had not been warned over Coun Branley’s defection attempt.
He said: “This came out of the blue. She didn’t consult me.
“The first I knew was when I got a call from council leader Iain Malcolm. I’m not sure where this leaves us.”
The second opposition group is comprised of three independents – Coun George Elsom, member for Cleadon Park and official opposition leader, and councillors Steve Harrison and Linda Hemmer, both of whom represent Fellgate and Hedworth in Jarrow.
Today, Coun Harrison said Coun Branley’s attempt to join Labour was “completely unrealistic and baffling”.
He added: “I really can’t think what she was thinking of. She has had so many run-ins with the Labour group over the years she surely couldn’t have expected them to welcome her with open arms.
“I’ve always followed a maxim I learned from the late Jim Capstick – not to go in with all guns blazing, but that’s what Coun Branley does.
“To be quite honest, if she had come to us and asked to join our group, we would have given the same answer.
“The opposition is fragmented and weak at the moment and this hasn’t been helpful.
“It’s a long way from 2007 when we were just six seats or so from tieing with Labour. Hopefully, we can start to turn things around in 2014.”
Coun Branley justified her defection bid by saying she wanted to “return to her political roots”.
She was a Labour councillor in the 1980s and 90s.