Labour hits back at electoral pact speculation ahead of May local elections, as party fights to retain power in Sunderland after almost half a century

Opposition groups in Sunderland have distanced themselves from suggestions they are preparing a deal to force the Labour Party from power in May’s elections.

Labour has held control of Sunderland City Council (SCC) for almost half a century - since its current incarnation was created in 1973.

A run of poor election results has chipped this away however, leaving it with a majority of just six councillors.

But city bosses have hit back at claims in the national press by Antony Mullen, leader of the local authority’s main Conservative opposition group, that the time is right for Wearside’s ruling party to be toppled, potentially putting himself at the head of a new coalition or minority administration.

Sunderland City Council's City Hall HQ.

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Labour’s Graeme Miller, the leader of the council since 2018, said: “Now that pandemic restrictions have been lifted, we’ve been vigorously hitting doorsteps across the city in the run up to May’s elections and we have been blown away by the response.

“Residents are seeing with their own eyes how our city is transforming, from the redevelopment of the Vaux site to the thousands of jobs being created by Nissan and Just Eat, to the fantastic work underway to breathe new life into Seaburn and Roker.”

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with Sunderland City Council Leader Cllr Graeme Miller.

Speaking to the Financial Times earlier this month, Cllr Mullen said he was “convinced” Labour majority control of the council could be ended if opposition parties “strategically" focused on the most vulnerable wards.

He told the Echo: “There’s not an electoral pact, there’s no formal arrangement.

“But there is a meeting of minds, and consensus view that the city needs change and we all want to deliver that change.

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“The way to do that is not to stand in the way of other people who want to do that.”

Sunderland Conservative opposition leader Antony Mullen

Voters in Sunderland are due at the polls on May 5, when a third of city council seats will be up for election – one in each of Wearside’s 25 local authority wards.

Other opposition groups have been sceptical about the notion of any deal before ballots are counted.

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“It’s not been discussed, it’s not happening,” said Lib Dem opposition leader Niall Hodson.

Lib Dem councillor Niall Hodson

“We’ve both been openly critical of a number of decisions [Labour has] taken and we may agree on a lot of things.

“But we’re also very different parties and there has not been any serious talk about an alignment to defeat Labour.”

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He also predicted the Tories had “peaked” last year and would struggle to recreate the success this time.

The Green Party has also ruled out a “formal coalition” with any party.

Rachel Featherstone, who heads its Wearside branch, said while she would welcome a ‘no overall control’ result to increase the influence any Green councillors could have, they would be willing to work with “any party”.

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