Cllr Barry Lewis is the Leader of Derbyshire County Council
We glimpsed a rare moment of what could have been a ubiquitous story on 3rd May in North East Derbyshire district – a straight council gain from Labour. Across the County (and the city of Derby) we have not fared as badly as some comparable county areas losing just 6.5 per cent of the Conservative seats, 11 seats vs. 51 Labour ones (25 per cent). We now find ourselves in the rare position of having more Conservative councillors in Derbyshire than Labour ones.
In Clay Cross Sharley Park Leisure Centre, in Labour’s mining heartlands, a place that played a pivotal role in the formation of the party a seismic shock was unfolding the Returning Officer declared a procession of new Conservative seats, leading, for the first time in the history of the district to a Conservative controlled council – the only one in the country to go directly from Labour to Conservative during the worst local election results for our party since 1995. It seemed perverse to be celebrating such a victory when all across the country we haemorrhaged seats, lost councils and good hardworking people. The only comfort we could take from the day was that it wasn’t good for Labour either.
As the day unfolded there were more shocks in Derbyshire, firstly in Bolsover, Dennis Skinner’s fiefdom, where 40 years of Labour control was wiped out by independents, going to No Overall Control with two new Conservative councillors in the seat of Balborough. Our new councillors are in the home village of the County Council Labour Leader Anne Western, who went from six Labour district councillors to zero overnight.
In Erewash we retained control, just three seats down, nothing like the inglorious haemorrhaging we were seeing elsewhere. South Derbyshire was just two seats down for us in the end. Where we did less well was Amber Valley Borough, which had some particular Greenbelt issues that impacted on the vote for our incumbent Conservatives and we went six down. In High Peak Conservative control was lost along with seven seats. A recent high profile Conservative visitor there may or may not have helped. Derby City, out by thirds built upon last year’s success and added a new councillor whilst Labour lost six. However, the Lib Dem rout we were witnessing elsewhere just wasn’t materialising in the same way in Derbyshire.
And we did this by, as I said in my previous article, making it clear we would not take part in the European election campaign. We demonstrated a shared frustration and anxiety with voters about letting Jeremy Corbyn sit at the table to come to a deal on Brexit.
With Brexit sorted Conservatives could have seen results like North East Derbyshire across the Midlands and North and consolidation elsewhere. Labour have turned their back on the working classes of the Midlands and the North and their regressive backward looking, Marxist brand of politics and institutional anti-Semitism has rotted its heart. Elsewhere the Lib Dems only made gains because largely there was nowhere else to go – not, as they claim because they were the party for remainers or that people have changed their minds about Brexit. We even kept the independents at bay. And UKIP is now too toxic for most people’s tastes.
Interestingly, and if further proof were needed that our approach worked, the new Conservative Leader of the council at Walsall, Cllr Mike Bird, said their message to constituents was they wouldn’t be taking part in the European election campaign and that their victory was in spite of the Prime Minister. There appears to be a correlation between Conservative success and a stance that shows you support the democratic wishes and views of the people.
Had the Prime Minister and her government delivered Brexit on 29th March, as was promised to the people, deal or no deal, we would be celebrating the fact that more Conservative councils would delivering vital cost effective and efficient local services across the nation for more residents. Instead we saw the loss of over 1,300 councillors and 49 Conservative councils.
Now we have to listen to Jeremy Corbyn trying to spin Labour’s losses as a win and our Prime Minister, adding insult to injury to the Party by talking of coming to a deal with Labour, which will mean some sort of Customs Union fudge that sees us leave the EU in name only.
We have an opportunity to demonstrate to the country that we really are the Party for the working classes but only if we deliver what we promised and what they voted for. If we honour the letter and spirit of the referendum result we will appeal to new demographics that will refresh the party, across the North and the Midlands.
The Prime Minister’s current course will likely deliver a Labour Government led by Jeremy Corbyn by giving him credibility and that would be a disaster. This would make any of the worst Brexit scenario predictions look like a walk in the park. And that is why the Prime Minister must resign and the government must accept that we must leave the EU now – even without a deal.