Our series continues on the impact of the local elections on the political parties in different regions. This week we look at the North East. In some ways this is a relatively straightforward region as it is made up of unitary authorities. No elections were held in Durham Council or Northumberland Council (apart from a couple of by-elections).
These unitary authorities have all their seats contested:
- Redcar and Cleveland
In these councils a third of the seats were up for election
- North Tyneside
- South Tyneside
There was also a Mayoral contest in Middlesbrough and another for the North of Tyne Combined Authority.
The fortunes of the parties in this region were quite different to elsewhere in the country.
Teesside is not natural Conservative territory. Yet dispute setbacks elsewhere the Conservatives made some gains in the North East. Rather than positive enthusiasm, this is likely to be due to the Labour vote falling. National factors have already been widely considered. Many working class voters who traditionally vote Labour also voted Leave in the EU referendum are dismayed at the Labour Party’s contribution to preventing that result being honoured. However, in Darlington the Conservatives believe there were local factors in their success with a net gain of five seats – as Cllr Jamie Bartch described on this site on Monday. Labour lost control and the Council now has a minority Conservative administration. It is the first time it has been Conservative led for 40 years.
In Stockton, the Conservatives gained a seat but it was the independents who had the most to celebrate. The Thornaby Independent Association did well – with an anti Stockton message and a focus on local heritage and civic pride. Good for them fighting their corner – but their fierce tribalism may might coalition arrangements with non-Thornaby elements problematic. Two Conservative councillors for Fairfield Ward who were deselected won as independents.
Elsewhere, the Conservatives gained four seats in Sunderland. In Middlesbrough, the Conservatives lost a seat but picked up a seat in North Tyneside. I’m afraid Gateshead, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and South Tyneside remain Conservative-free zones.
This was the region which drove the main surprise of this year’s election; the significant Labour retreat. The main news was big switch from Labour to independents. Middlesbrough saw Labour lose the position of directly elected Mayor – by a wide margin– to an independent. They also lost 14 council seats to independents. the new Mayor is a property dealer called Andy Preston. He used to be a member of the Labour Party. I suppose he will have picked up votes from Labour Brexiteers – though if he did there is some irony in him having been involved in the Britain Stronger In campaign during the referendum. He also has an impressive record of helping local charities. His policies include greater transparency of town hall decision making and public orchards.
As noted above Labour also lost Darlington and Stockton. Redcar and Cleveland was already under no overall control. But Labour made big losses to independents. The upshot has been that a minority Labour administration has been replaced by a coalition of independent and Lib Dem councillors.
True Labour won the Mayoralty for the North of Tyne Combined Authority, despite an awful Corbynista candidate, Jamie Driscoll. But Labour’s margin of victory – 76,862 to 60,089 for the Conservative candidate Charlie Hoult – was relatively small given the territory it covered.
Ten years ago the Lib Dems had control of Newcastle City Council. Labour have a big majority there now, although the Lib Dems did pick up a seat. In Redcar and Cleveland, the Lib Dems picked up a couple of seats, as they did in Gateshead. In Sunderland, they made four gains. They avoided talking about Brexit there but ran a pretty aggressive campaign against Labour’s wasteful spending, including on councillor allowances and expenses. So a general Lib Dem advance but more modest than what was seen in the rest of the country.
Labour can no longer take working class votes for granted. That trend would be taking place anyway. But it has been accelerated by their choice of an unpatriotic leader from Islington. It has also been made worse by effectively ditching its pledge to support Brexit. In some places, such as London, that has been offset with an increase in support for Labour among younger middle class voters. But these local elections in the North East show that many traditional Labour supporters feel abandoned by the Labour Party and that an increasing number of them are returning the favour.