Long-serving councillor named new leader of opposition Labour group

A long-serving Lancashire county councillor has become the new leader of the opposition Labour group on the authority – and he says his sole focus is taking control of County Hall from the Tories at next year’s local elections.

Matthew Tomlinson was elected unopposed to the top party job by his 26 Labour colleagues on the county council. The Leyland Central division representative – who first secured a seat on the authority 23 years ago – takes over following the suspension from the party of Azhar Ali. The latter had led the county Labour group for seven years before controversial comments he made about the war in Gaza were reported when he became the Labour candidate in the Rochdale parliamentary by-election earlier this year.

Asked by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) what his top priority was in his new role, County Cllr Tomlinson said the answer was simple.

“I only have one priority – and that’s to build a team of councillors and candidates who can win the local election and then represent the people of Lancashire at County Hall.


“I think it’d be different if you took over a group in year one [of a four-year term] than it is if you take over at the beginning of year four. Obviously, us [political] activists – from whatever party – are absolutely focused now on the general election that’s to come. So all of our Labour county councillors will be out across Lancashire, supporting our parliamentary candidates.

“And then the minute that’s over, we will be able to focus our efforts on the county seats that we need to win,” said County Cllr Tomlinson, who has also been a South Ribble borough councillor since 1999.

The local county poll takes place next May, by which time the Conservatives will have been in charge of Lancashire County Council for eight years. The last time Labour was in control – between 2013 and 2017 – County Cllr Tomlinson was the cabinet member for children, schools and families. It was the second time he had held a cabinet post on the authority, having been handed the now defunct sustainable development portfolio back in the 2000s.

He says his policy preoccupations will be the perennially under-pressure adult social care sector and – perhaps unsurprisingly, given that they have recently been branded the Lancashire public’s top priority – potholes.

“One of the things Boris Johnson said on the steps of Downing Street the day he took over [as Prime Minister] was that he’d got a solution to adult social care – and we’re still waiting.

“But we want to work more on prevention…[because] the population of Lancashire is getting sicker and it’s getting poorer – and I would say this, but it’s an indictment of 14 years of austerity.

“[On potholes], I have tasked our highways spokesperson Kim Snape to go away over the next year and look at innovative solutions to the problem.

“The roads are what most people see. A lot of what the county council does – whilst it’s valuable to the people it’s happening to – [is hidden]. People don’t see, [for instance], a carer going in to get an old lady out of bed seven days a week,” County Cllr Tomlinson said.

While he is far from complacent about the outcome of next year’s county elections, he can perhaps take comfort from the current national polling lead for Labour – not least because he believes “90 percent of every single election that ever happens is based on national politics”.

“I’ve only ever lost one election – and that was for the county council in 2009 when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister and it was the MPs expenses scandal.

“Despite the fact that when I was knocking on doors people were calling me Matthew, they were then saying, ‘We can’t vote Labour this time’. Just reflecting on that time, it’s hard to say to people, ‘Well, I haven’t got a moat that I can claim for on expenses – you know where I live and it’s in a semi-detached house in Leyland’.

“But most people still see local elections as a chance to voice their opinions on national politics,” County Cllr Tomlinson added.

He takes over with immediate effect from former county council leader Jenny Mein. She took temporary charge of the Labour group after the suspension of County Cllr Ali who remains a member of the authority, but is currently sitting as an independent.