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The new leader of Wolverhampton’s Conservatives is aiming to take four seats from Labour at this May’s local elections – and says that given the chance he’d consider a Birmingham-style “Progressive Partnership” with the Liberal Democrats.

Neville Patten took the helm last week after Paddy Bradley stood down, and has identified Bushbury North, Oxley, Wednesfield North and Fallings Park as Labour wards vulnerable to a 1.7% swing.

He also expects to pick up the Merry Hill seat currently occupied by the independent Robert Hart, a former Tory who quit the party six years ago and is now retiring from local politics.

If the Liberal Democrats also pick up one Labour scalp to bring their strength up to half a dozen, the current administration would have just a five seat majority. If there's a bigger swing, their lead could be wiped out altogether, although (with no election in 2009) 2010 is the likeliest breakthrough year.

“There is a feeling in Wolverhampton piling up on the doorstep that people can’t wait to see the back of this Labour council and this Labour government” Patten said.

“That’s what’s coming back from our surveys, and a lot of those people voted Labour last time.”

And if the opportunity presented itself, would he consider a tie-up with the Lib Dems, repeating the coalition which briefly ruled the city in the early 90's?

"We would certainly consider it. There haven't been any talks, but we wouldn't turn our back on it. Of course the Liberals might prefer to go with Labour but we get the sense they'd sooner come in with us."

Patten scoffed at suggestions that his predecessor’s departure had been hastened by the disapproval of local industrialist Henry Carver, a known Conservative backer.

“Mr Carver is a successful and astute businessman” he said.

“I can’t see why he would have wanted a change so close to the election.”

He explained that Paddy Bradley had been unwell recently, and this may have made her less resilient to some of the normal rough and tumble of politics. The Conservatives in the city are united, he insisted.

“I think the future is very bright. We should all be pulling together and winning seats this May.”

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