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The battle for control raging inside Tameside Council's Labour group

Tameside Council leader Cllr Brenda Warrington speaking during February's full council meeting.

The battle for control raging inside Tameside Labour has taken a dramatic twist with council leader Brenda Warrington accusing her would-be successor of a 'hostile challenge' that has created a ‘huge division' in the group.

In a defiant new statement, Coun Warrington has warned Coun Ged Cooney, claiming she will not be ‘bullied, harassed or intimidated’ into standing down from the position she has held since 2018.

In a further riddle, she also claims long-time ally Coun Oliver Ryan was forced to switch allegiances by a ‘prominent’ MP – named by Labour sources as Angela Rayner – for fear of his political ambitions being ‘destroyed’. A claim that Coun Ryan has vehemently denied.

Coun Cooney, cabinet member for housing, confirmed last month he would be challenging his boss for the top job – citing dissatisfaction in the Labour group and warning her ‘change is coming’. 

There is understood to have been growing discontent over Coun Warrington’s leadership style, the regeneration of Ashton town centre and the hugely contentious Godley Green Garden Village plans.

Coun Warrington declined to comment until after last week’s local elections, in which Labour comfortably retained control of the council despite losing two seats to the Conservatives.

Councillor Ged Cooney

But the Denton West councillor has now come out swinging ahead of a showdown vote at the group’s AGM on Sunday – which insiders expect her to lose.

In a blistering statement – publicly posted to social media – she attacks Coun Cooney alleging he was putting personal ambition before the party and dragging internal matters into the press.

However, Coun Warrington – the council’s first woman leader – claims his decision to ‘conduct his challenge very publicly through the media’ has left her with no choice but to do the same.

“Whilst I accept the right of any elected Labour councillor to mount a leadership challenge, I did not expect the degree of pressure exerted by several people to try to force me to withdraw; it has been a very unpleasant experience,” she writes.

“Having said that, I would have preferred the pressure to have been confined to me and I am sad to know that others have also been subjected to intense pressure to secure support for Coun Cooney.”

She adds: “Now that the local elections are concluded I feel able to make it very clear that I refuse to be bullied, harassed, or intimidated by anyone for any reason, despite the attempts made.”

In response Coun Cooney says he respects Coun Warrington for her work over the last four years – including dealing with the collapse of contractor Carillion – but feels her leadership had now run its course.

“The group has decided change is needed,” he said. “There have been issues that have caused us problems electorally – nobody is going to hide from that fact.

“I think we need to lower towards the future, I don’t want to make much comment on the past. I wish her well, but it’s democracy.”

Meanwhile, Coun Ryan has categorically denied his decision to back Coun Cooney was a result of any undue pressure from Ms Rayner.

Councillor Oliver Ryan

“I do not recognise what Coun Warrington has said,” he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“She has tried to join dots that just aren’t there, because the group is likely to change its Leader at Sunday’s AGM. I can expand more on my reasons but don’t believe we should air internal disagreements in the press.”

He also dismisses claims – again from inside the Labour camp – that he switched his support to Coun Cooney in return for Ms Rayner backing his candidacy for the Burnley parliamentary seat at the next general election.

“Completely false,” he told the LDRS.

At the time of publication Ms Rayner’s office had not responded to requests for a comment, while Labour North West said there was ‘no need for a comment at this stage’.

After publication, a spokesperson for Labour North West provided the following response: “Oliver has denied this allegation against him and Angela has done so publicly.”

A Labour spokesperson also said: “The decision on who the group leader will be for the municipal year ahead is decided by the labour group only and accusations that Angela Rayner has played any part are baseless and untrue.”

One point Coun Warrington and Cooney do seem to agree on is that the decision now lies in the hands of the Tameside Labour group.

However, the spat is said to have ‘gone down like a cup of cold sick’ with councillors.

“It doesn’t come across great,” said one party source. “The view of the wider Labour group is that both the potential leaders have hardly covered themselves in glory over the last few weeks.

“It reflects badly, not only on the group, but on the members of the group as well.”

They added: “These things are internal party matters and there are a lot more important things residents are worried about at this moment in time – not what’s happening between politicians. It’s gone down like a cup of cold sick.”

Tameside Labour group’s annual general meeting will be held on Sunday (May 15).

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