Magazine article Public Finance

Tories Triumph in Subdued Council Elections

Magazine article Public Finance

Tories Triumph in Subdued Council Elections

Article excerpt

It was always going to be tough. Local government elections rarely raise much national interest, let alone when they are competing with a much-anticipated general election that most commentators agreed was almost impossible to read.

While the publication of Lord Goldsmiths Iraq advice, Lynton Crosby's dog whistle policies and even the birth of wee Donald Kennedy gave political pundits more than enough material to chew over, the question of who governs Suffolk or who should be the next mayor of Stoke generated considerably fewer column inches.

But now the ballot boxes have been packed away, some striking parallels with the general election are apparent. All three main parties performed well in their different ways, and more counties took on a distinct political identity as the number of 'hung' councils fell from ten to two.

As predicted, the Conservatives emerged from the local elections as the big winners. They took control of six more counties and are now in power in 23 of England's 34 counties.

Margaret Eaton, leader of the Local Government Association's Conservative Group, applauded the results. 'We took control of Gloucestershire, the Isle of Wight, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Suffolk and Worcestershire, as well as significantly increasing our numbers of councillors on other authorities,' she said. 'I am delighted that the Conservatives have increased their position at the LGA and we shall continue to go from strength to strength.'

Preliminary figures indicate that the party has increased its lead over Labour to 4% - up three percentage points on last year's figures.

But, as in the general election, the significant gains came in the South and the West Country. The Tories did not make the inroads they had expected in northern England. Northumberland was a top target and the Tories had hoped to push it into no overall control, but they lost four seats and the council remained in Labour hands. In Lancashire, the Tories fared slightly better, picking up five extra seats, but not enough to remove Labours majority.

Labour did not suffer the meltdown many in the party had feared and held on to six of the seven councils it controlled. Nottinghamshire, where it has performed badly in recent district council elections, returned two more Labour councillors. …

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