LABOUR councillors elected a new leader last night.

Cllr Jas Athwal will now lead the group, with Cllr Wes Streeting serving as his deputy.

Cllr Athwal won 15 of the 21 votes to beat Cllrs Stuart Bellwood and Andy Walker.

Former leader Cllr Bob Littlewood lost a vote of no confidence last week as factions within the group clashed over the opposition's record.

His deputy, Cllr Balvinder Saund, resigned following the vote and blamed ‘dirty politics’.

The vote took place at Redbridge Town Hall in Ilford yesterday.

Cllr Athwal spoke to the Guardian this morning to outline a new way forward for the group.

He said: "The whole group is united behind Wes Streeting and myself, which is excellent because it shows we are a unified group. We have a lot of experience and we will draw on all of that to tackle key issues."

The new leader said the group will focus on security - notably police numbers being reduced and crimes such as vehicle thefts - as well as the budget and the problem of providing enough school places for an increasing number of children.

Meanwhile, Conservative Cllr Paul Canal, of Bridge ward, launched a scathing attack on Labour, accusing the party of not providing effective opposition to the Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition.

He said: “Labour have been woefully ineffective in opposition, locally and nationally.

"They are devoid of ideas, obsessed with infighting and are still without budget plans for the current year.

“Coherent opposition would not just be a pleasant change, it would be a surprise.

"They need to move from defending their public sector union paymasters and start to look at the needs of ordinary Redbridge residents whose taxes pay the bills."

But Cllr Athwal gave a defiant response. He said: "Be careful what you wish for. The Conservatives are wishing for a more direct approach from Labour and I think they know they're going to get it. We will ask the questions that need to be answered."

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