Minnows can decide Labour's fate in city

Alexandra Wood THEY may be among the smallest groups on Hull Council – but election night dramatically increased their importance.

With the council in no overall control, the two Hull Independents, Anita Harrison and Nadene Burton, along with Independent Clare Page and Liberals Keith Toon and Albert Penna, are now in a position to determine Labour's fate.

The five will meet Labour leader Coun Ken Branson today at Hull's Guildhall to thrash out who runs what at the council. Labour came in second and now has 25 seats to the Liberal Democrats' 26.

There was speculation at the weekend that Coun Toon had been offered the educat-ion portfolio, following Coun Peter Clark's electoral defeat, in exchange for their loyalty.

But Coun Toon said there was nothing on the table at all, adding: "I'm definitely looking for something out of it, but I am not going there putting my arm up and insisting on a Cabinet place. I am not that stupid."

And he made it clear that he would not be talking to the Liberal Democrats, blasting them as inexperienced, immature and disorganised.

He said: "If they get control the city will go backwards."

Councillors Toon, Harrison and Page are united in their distrust of the Lib Dems, who left lingering bad memories of their chaotic year in control in 2002-2003.

Coun Harrison insisted she was not interested in personal gain either, but wanted to ensure that her ward, Bransholme, got the investment it needed.

"Like I said in my acceptance speech, Bransholme came out and voted and they won't be ignored," she said.

Coun Page said: "Basically I agree with Labour policies of free school meals and free bus travel for the over-60s. I can't suddenly change my mind and swing 180 degrees simply because someone might offer me a position."

Lib Dem councillor Dave McCobb said: "It's absolute proof if any more were needed that voting for the Independents or Liberal party is keeping Labour in charge.

"The shabby deal that Labour is stitching together flies in the face of democracy when a party that was comprehensively beaten at the polls clings on to power with the support of two Liberal councillors whose party could barely scrape together 300 votes across the city."