Conservative leaders are divided on how far the imminent general election and Labour’s leadership problems helped them almost sweep the board in yesterday’s county elections.
The Conservatives have picked up nine councils from no overall control and one directly from Labour, with almost all yesterday’s election results now in.
Derbyshire CC has reverted to the Tories after four years under Labour. It had been Labour controlled for decades until a surprise Tory gain in 2009 at the nadir of then prime minister Gordon Brown’s unpopularity.
Tory group leader Barry Lewis told LGC: “It was not a massive surprise that we won as we had delivered thousands of leaflets, knocked on thousands of doors and we had a huge social media campaign which I think is what really swung it for us.
“We emphasised local issues, that we want to build new modern care homes, closing the older unfit ones we have, and to put £6m into highways, which is a big issue.
“But you can’t get away from the fact that the general election was there and there is an issue around the leadership of the Labour party.”
Northumberland saw the Conservatives miss outright control by one seat after drawing lots with the Lib Dems in a tied seat.
Group leader Peter Jackson said: “I don’t see it as a near miss as in practical terms there should not be a problem in getting business through the council and there will be effective Tory control, I think for the first time in 40 years.”
He attributed his party’s win in part to the previous Labour administration “having this crazy idea of building a new headquarters only five miles from the existing one when there is nothing wrong with it anyway, and residents soon sussed them out”.
Cllr Jackson added: “This was a local election fought on Northumberland issues. On factor though was the draining away of support for Labour because of their leader and the Liberal Democrats have been reduced to three seats.”
He said he favoured seeking a devolution deal with Newcastle City Council and North Tyneside MBC, an idea floated since last year’s collapse of the proposed North East devolution deal.
Lancashire was also control by Labour continuously until 2009, when it was gained by the Tories but a minority Labour administration took over in 2013.
Former Preston BC chief executive Geoff Driver remains Tory group leader and led the council in the previous spell of Conservative control.
In 2013 the lost Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk CCs because of gains by Ukip, but the party has now been wiped out on all three.
Lincolnshire CC leader Martin Hill (Con) told LGC: “There were two factors really. One was that although we’ve made cuts people are still pretty satisfied with services and we tried to get out of people whether there were any local issues, and there weren’t really.
“The other factor was the popularity of the prime minister on the doorstep.
“I think with Ukip they achieved what they set out to do in leaving the EU, so why would you vote for them now?”
He hoped devolution talks would revive but said: “We are quite clear that we don’t want to see an elected mayor but we will have to see what a new government thinks and what the potential is.”
Alison Thomas (Con), Norfolk’s deputy leader, told LGC: “It’s a wonderful result for the Conservative Party in Norfolk and Conservatives nationally.”
Cambridgeshire leader Steve Count (Con) said the period of no overall control had been difficult, adding “we’ve got a majority, and I’ll take that”.