All but two Tory councillors attended the Hartlepool Annual Council Meeting (ACM) last night, 24 May. Cllr Gordon Cranney, previously Conservative and now an Independent, also showed his face.
Anywhere else the appearance of the ruling political group at the ACM would be a non-story.
But this is Hartlepool.
The ACM is usually a staid affair, rubber-stamping appointments for committee chairs, Leader and Ceremonial Mayor that have been decided in advance by the ruling party or coalition.
Not so in Hartlepool, where the presiding Conservatives had declared a boycott of all council meetings and instructed their Independent coalition partners and the Labour opposition to do likewise.
Gordon Cranney, Conservative councillor
The Conservatives’ bizarre position came about in a row with one of their own, Cllr Gordon Cranney. Following an incident on 6 February, Cranney pleaded guilty at Middlesbrough Magistrates Court on 28 April to the “assault of a woman by beating”. The woman in question was his wife.
The court hearing was just a week before the local elections. By a quirk of a Boundaries Commission review, Cranney was up for re-election just a year after his first victory as part of the new blue wave in May 2021.
Cranney was referred to a 24-month Building Better Relationships course and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £95 and costs of £85. The tariff was not enough to exclude him from holding local public office, but he remained silent about his court case until the polling stations were near to closing on 5 May. The local Tories swore they were unaware of Cranney’s court case.
Cranney then announced his resignation as councillor, the Tory party confirmed it and stated that Cranney had been suspended from their party pending an enquiry.
Then Cranney retracted his resignation announcement and left (or was expelled from) the Conservatives.
In response Cllr Mike Young, Leader of the council’s Tory Group, declared a boycott of all council meetings until Cranney steps down.
The Labour Group decided not to follow Tory orders and stated that they would still attend meetings to fulfil their constitutional duties.
And so the Tories deftly deflected the blame for their dubious choice of election candidate onto the Labour Party.
Mike Young’s words of moral outrage at his ex-colleague would have had more traction if Cranney’s earlier behaviour towards a female councillor had not come to light. Cllr Sue Little, an Independent, shares Seaton Ward with Cranney. In November last year she complained to the local Tory leadership and the police about his aggressive WhatsApp messages. “I can honestly say I was petrified of this man”, she wrote in a Facebook post.
Yet Cranney was again backed for re-election as the Conservative candidate.
Cranney’ decision to remain as a councillor and Labour’s response
As the ACM approached, Cranney re-asserted his decision to remain an Independent councillor for the next four years, posting on Facebook, “I will help everyone where needed, no matter what.”
There are calls from Labour as well as Conservatives for Cranney to resign. Labour Group Deputy Leader Jonathan Brash declared in a Facebook post:
“Councillor Gordon Cranney of Seaton ward was convicted of spousal battery on 28 April this year. He failed to disclose this to the electorate of Seaton ahead of the local elections on 5 May, which he went on to win…
“Let me be 100% clear. A criminal conviction for violence against a woman is completely incompatible with public office.”
Labour Councillor Ben Clayton told North East Bylines:
“The most upsetting thing is there will be people in his ward who are or have been victims of domestic violence, some of whom will have even voted for him. It came out very late on polling day, by which point it was unlikely to make a difference.”
He also suggested that Cranney should resign then stand again for re-election if he chose to.
“If he’s so confident about how good a councillor he is, you’d think he would be willing to run in a by election as an independent and see what the people think.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Cllr Sue Little who now faces the endurance test of representing her ward with Cranney for the next four years.
A unanimous motion is passed
At the ACM Cllr Brash proposed a motion banning Cranney from attending all committees and any other council organised events, as well as banning him from council premises.
The motion proposed that the borough’s Chief Solicitor be tasked with working through the legal process to make it happen. This would be done in conjunction with the Audit and Governance Committee.
Cllr Brash’s motion was unanimously agreed. Even Cranney voted for it.