LABOUR is facing a fresh political crisis after one of York’s most well-known politicians dramatically resigned.

Paul Blanchard, who has represented Heworth on City of York Council for the past six years and previously stood for Ryedale’s Parliamentary seat, quit yesterday, saying he and his wife, Heather, wanted to make a fresh start in London.

His work has meant he is increasingly based in the capital, but he was recently declared bankrupt.

The move will trigger a by-election which could have significant consequences for the balance of power in the city. It will also be a further litmus test of the Labour Party, which last month suffered its worst ever electoral results.

In the European Parliament election in June, Labour polled only 15.6 per cent of the York vote, finishing behind the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and only narrowly beating the Green Party and the UK Independence Party.

The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives today said they were optimistic they could win the seat, which has until now been a Labour stronghold.

Mr Blanchard said: “It’s been a great privilege representing Heworth on the council, but it’s time to move on. I’ve been commuting to London for nearly five years now, to the point where of late I have been spending virtually all of my time there. It’s the place Heather and I feel is right for us to make a fresh start.

“Business is the slowest I’ve ever known it here in York, and given we’re in the worst recession since the 1930s, I am sure many will empathise.”

Mr Blanchard, 34, was elected in 2003 and re-elected two years ago as Labour’s top candidate in Heworth, with an increased majority.

He said that result was a “real honour” and said: “It has been a pleasure to help and support my constituents. I’m proud too that when I stood for Parliament in Ryedale at the 2005 General Election, my campaign received the largest vote increase for Labour in the whole country, and I still have my handwritten thank-you letter from the Prime Minster framed in my office.”

During his time as a York councillor, Mr Blanchard has been a well-known, but at times controversial figure. He made headlines around the world when he campaigned for York to ban the French delicacy foie gras, but was widely criticised earlier this year when he said praying for missing York chef Claudia Lawrence was “pointless”.

He said his council highlights included chairing the inclusivity committee in 2006, to help make local politics more accessible, and chairing the children and young people’s working group, but said: “The main highlight was my campaign on foie gras which has raised awareness of that vile product all over the world.”

Labour leader David Scott said: “Paul has made a difference on the political landscape of York, and I can say that I have enjoyed working with him.”

Before yesterday’s announcement, Labour had 18 councillors, two fewer than the ruling Liberal Democrats, and there also seven Conservatives and two Greens.

Under that balance, the Tories were forced to take sides in the event that Labour and the Green Party tried to unite against the Liberal Democrats.

If the by-election is won by the Lib Dems or Conservatives, the latter will be able to abstain on many issues and effectively wash its hands of unpopular decisions.

Bankrupt entrepreneur ‘learning the lessons’

PAUL BLANCHARD was declared bankrupt last month and has since been interviewed by the official receiver, who is drawing up a list of his assets and debts.

Mr Blanchard was described in the official court order as living at an address in London NW3, but on City of York Council’s website his home address was listed as Burton Court in York.

Mr Blanchard runs a public relations and marketing business called Right Angles which mostly operates in the London area.

He said: “I take full responsibility for the situation. I am committed to learning the lessons from this, and now I’m more determined than ever to make the best of a financial fresh start.”

He said bankruptcy was no longer a “stigma” and that several famous businessmen had gone bankrupt.

In the 1990s and before 2003, he was a director and in two cases company secretary in four companies that traded or existed for a short time before being dissolved without ever filing accounts.