The Conservatives have regained control of the Local Government Association after winning more than 500 seats and control of an extra 28 councils in last week’s local elections.
Labour lost nearly 240 seats and control of six councils while the Liberal Democrats suffered heavy losses – the party lost 425 seats, and control of four councils.
LGC understands the Tories’ majority on the LGA is less than 1%, when weighted to take account of regional differences in the number of councillors.
However, it means the Conservatives will take back control from Labour after its first year in charge since 2004. The party will appoint its own chair to replace Labour’s David Sparks at the LGA conference in July.
South Holland DC leader Gary Porter’s tenure as Conservative group leader on the LGA is coming to an end this summer. LGC understands the front-runners to replace him are Surrey CC’s leader David Hodge, and Mike Jones, although his party last week lost control of Cheshire West and Chester Council.
Cllr Sparks, who sits on Dudley MBC where the ruling Labour party lost four seats, blamed Labour’s national strategy for the party’s poor performance in both local and national polls.
He said: “I know what went wrong. Ed Balls persuaded the party to adopt a strategy of not defending the previous [Labour] government’s economic record because he felt that would be to argue about the past on grounds chosen by the coalition.
“My view was that then condemned us to arguing precisely on that ground and suffering at the general election as we have.
“It was a catastrophic strategic mistake.”
Ann Lucas (Lab), leader of Coventry City Council, told LGC she “wasn’t surprised” by the election results as the feedback she got on the campaign trail was similar to when Neil Kinnock’s Labour lost to John Major’s Consveratives.
She said: “In 1992 people were very pleasant; they didn’t like the Tories but we hadn’t convinced them.
“It had the same feel to it this time.”
Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Liberal Democrats’ group leader on the LGA, described the election results as a “slaughter”.
“It was absolutely appalling. I don’t think anybody in the party expected that,” he said.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson held on to his seat on Portsmouth City Council but the party lost control of the council. He was also unsuccessful in his bid to become MP for Portsmouth South.
He told LGC the party would take a long time to recover and would have to rebuild “from the grassroots up” a process that “could take years if not decades”.
However, the party does still account for more than 5% on the LGA meaning it can maintain its office at the association’s headquarters in Smith Square, London.
Despite gaining more than 100 councillors Ukip only accounts for about 3% of the LGA so will remain part of the wider independent group.
Conservative councillors attributed their party’s unpredicted success to its performance on the economy and fears about the influence of SNP on a Labour government.
Philippa Roe, leader of Westminster City Council, and David Burbage, leader of Windsor & Maindenhead RBC, said the general election results were “unexpected”.
Cllr Roe said voters were “worried” a Labour government would overspend, and added people also had a “fear about the influence of the SNP”.
“We have done a tremendous job in turning our economy around,” she said.
However, Cllr Porter said he was not surprised at the outcome despite the polls showing the Tories and Labour neck-and-neck up until election day.
“That was not what we were seeing on the ground,” he said. “Most Conservative activists who know anything like what was going on were predicting a Conservative majority.”
“Most people have realised we have come through a bit of a crappy time and we’re over the worst of that, and most people are doing pretty well now as things are starting to pick up.”