Four candidates have put themselves forward to become leader of St Helens Council after Derek Long announced he would “stand aside” following the local elections.
On Friday, Coun Long made the shock announcement that he would not seek re-election as leader following Thursday’s local elections.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service can reveal that four candidates have formally applied to replace Coun Long as leader of the council.
These are councillors Marlene Quinn, David Baines, Jeanie Bell and John Wiseman.
This could yet change by the time the contest is held at the Labour group’s annual general meeting (AGM) on May 14.
One of the reasons for this is that two of the candidates, councillors Quinn and Baines, still need to be re-elected to their respective wards of West Park and Windle.
Coun Baines confirmed he has put himself forward for leader, but said he is focused on Thursday’s election and is “taking nothing for granted”.
“My focus is fully on the election this Thursday, supporting Labour candidates across the borough and fighting my own election campaign in Windle,” Coun Baines said.
“If I am re-elected, it is true I have put myself forward to lead the Labour group and the council, but that’s not my focus at the moment and I’m taking absolutely nothing for granted about Thursday’s election.
“As we do all year round, myself and my Labour colleagues are working hard for every vote and that will be all I think about until the votes are counted on Thursday night.”
Newton councillor Jeanie Bell, who returned to her council duties in January after having brain surgery, has also confirmed she will be running for leader.
Coun Bell said all of her “effort and energy” is being utilised to elect Labour councillors on May 2, including the party’s Newton candidate, Fiona Ruddy.
Another contender, John Wiseman, said some people in the borough no longer feel engaged with political process.
“My approach is to bring unity,” the Bold ward councillor said.
“We need to move forward as a town. We need to regenerate the town centre, regenerate our communities.
“It mustn’t look good when you’ve got people on the streets with no money.
“We should be a big industrial town, but we’ve suffered over the years with austerity.
“I believe we need unity, for the sake of the town. Progressive politics is based on equality. It’s about everyone having a say.”
Coun Quinn was approached for comment.
While the council leader’s announcement came as a surprise, it had been widely expected for some time that he would be challenged in May.
Coun Long was appointed as leader in April 2018 following the resignation of Barrie Grunewald.
He then cemented his position after seeing off a leadership challenge from Andy Bowden at Labour’s AGM last May.
However, unrest within the Labour ranks has grown in recent months, with numerous splits forming within the group.
This has been exacerbated by a series of leaks, which resulted in the regional arm of the party taking measures to tighten up communication within the group.
Coun Long’s short tenure has also been marred by three cabinet resignations in five months.
Windle councillor Gill Neal resigned as cabinet member for better health and building arts and culture in November after accepting a new job.
Then in January, Coun Bowden resigned as deputy council leader and cabinet member for balanced development, housing and economic opportunity, citing “personal reasons”.
And last month the Labour group’s long-standing chief whip Joe De’Asha resigned, saying he wanted to focus on his campaign to be re-elected in Rainhill.
Speaking on Friday, Coun Long said the borough’s “project of renewal” will take a number of years to see through, so has decided to “stand aside” in May for that reason.
Coun Long said he will continue to serve on the council as a ward councillor in West Park.
The Labour councillor said he will also return to his role as senior advisor in England to the Affordable Housing Institute in Massachusetts.