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LOCAL ELECTIONS: COMMENT AND ANALYSIS OF RESULTS

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By LGC Election Centre, Plymouth University, director Colin Rallings ...
By LGC Election Centre, Plymouth University, director Colin Rallings

Who says local politics is dead? With all the political parties claiming some sort of comfort from last night's overall results, one conclusion shines through. Local issues and campaigns took on a new importance and, as a consequence, any national swing is merely the product of counter-balancing movement in different local authorities.

In the 1980s and 1990s we became used to local voters taking a stick to the government by voting against the Tories regardless of who was in power locally and how well the council was performing. Legions of Conservative councillors lost their seats literally through no fault of their own. Yesterday, it seems, it was the party in power locally that was most likely to take the brickbats.

The Lib Dems regained Kingston-upon-Thames - thanks in part to tactical voting, but were trounced in neighbouring Richmond; the Tories made no headway in Bexley, which they had effectively controlled, but gained a majority across the Thames in Redbridge; Labour thrashed the Tories in Hyndburn and Rossendale, where they themselves had done poorly in 2000, but fell back in West Lancashire.

In total some 40 councils changed hands - nearly a quarter of all those being contested and a very high figure compared to the relatively modest gains and losses experienced by the parties. Boundary changes make the exact calculation of those figures rather difficult, but the Conservatives are likely to be 200+ seats up and Labour down by some 250. A result of that order would put the Tories within 500 seats of overtaking Labour as the largest party in the Local Government Association.

The localist theme was reinforced in the mayoral contests. On Teesside, the Independent football club mascot, H'Angus the Monkey in Hartlepool, seems certain to be joined later today by Robocop Ray Mallon in Middlesbrough. Neither quite conforms to the image of local mayors that the government probably had in mind. Elsewhere, the new Tory mayor of North Tyneside will have to work with a Labour-dominated council, and the Lib Dem victor in Watford knows that although her party often polls the most votes there at local elections, her colleagues will probably not even form the largest group on the council.

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