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TORIES REGAIN SEATS BUT STAY THIRD PARTY

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The Conservatives won control of seven counties and two unitary authorities in last week's local elections, but rem...
The Conservatives won control of seven counties and two unitary authorities in last week's local elections, but remain the weakest of the three parties in local government.

Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, Kent, Leicestershire, Surrey and West Sussex went Tory, as did unitaries Bracknell Forest and Wokingham.

The Tories are also the strongest party in nine out of 15 hung counties, and are very close to forming an overall majority in East Sussex, Hertfordshire and North Yorkshire.

They held Buckinghamshire, the only Tory council before the elections.

An overall tally of seat changes shows the Conservatives picked up 240 seats, while the Lib Dems lost 210 and Labour dropped 30.

Local Government Chronicle Elections Centre directors Michael Thrasher and Colin Rallings' predictions for a Tory win were borne out in Bedfordshire, Hampshire, Leicestershire and Surrey, but East Sussex and Wiltshire defied their forecast to move from notional Lib Dem leadership to no overall control.

Although the Tories emerged victorious from local contests, Paddy Ashdown's party is best placed to be the main local opposition, according to Rallings and Thrasher.

They argue that despite the Lib Dems losing control of six councils and the Tories picking up many new seats at their expense, Conservatives are too weak locally to capitalise on any Labour government unpopularity, and the Lib Dems could consolidate their position as the second party of local government.

In their analysis in today's LGC, Rallings and Thrasher say the Conservatives, historically the party of opposition, have lost much of their local power base and are unlikely to be in a position to mount a challenge to Labour for some time.

Labour fought the local contests from a position of strength, and its domination of councils has not been seriously undermined, they say. Although the party suffered an overall seat loss, the elections were not fought in traditionally Labour territory.

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