HARTLEPOOL S LABOUR COUNCIL WIPED OUT
HARTLEPOOL S LABOUR COUNCIL WIPED OUTTHE Labour party has lost control of Hartlepool Borough Council for the first time in 22 years.
And a massive town hall shake-up is now expected as the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives plan talks to form an alliance in a new hung council.
Labour lost nine seats five to the Lib Dems and four to the Tories in what demoralised leader Coun Russell Hart (pictured)described as a disastrous night for the party.
The result means that no party has overall control of the council although it seems likely the Lib Dems and Conservatives will form a pact to wrestle the leadership from Labour.
It was one of the main nationwide shocks for Tony Blair s Labour Party on a night when the Tories gained nearly 600 council seats.
Former Labour maverick Ken Livingstone was this afternoon elected Mayor of London although the Conservatives themselves suffered a blow by surprisingly losing the Romsey by-election to the Liberal Democrats.
After last night s results, Labour now has 21 members on the council, the Liberal Democrats 14, the Conservatives 10 and there are two independents.
The election also saw several big name Labour councillors lose their seats some of them traditional Labour strongholds like Throston and Brinkburn.
Mayor Ron Watts was ousted from the Jackson ward by Tom Cherry while Bernard Carr touted as a future Labour leader lost in St Hilda s by a massive 567 votes to Fred Dickson.
The council s longest-serving member Bill Iseley lost his Brinkburn seat to 23-year-old newcomer Liza Ward and Peter Mandelson s election agent Stephen Wallace lost Throston to the Tories in one of the night s biggest shocks.
Outgoing council leader Coun Hart said: It has been a very difficult night for Labour and disastrous is a reasonable word to use.
Labour councillors accused the opposition parties of rigging the results by failing to put forward candidates against each other in eight of the 15 seats up for grabs.
Coun Hart added: All of this has come about because of the manipulation of the democratic system a cynical sweetheart deal which will inevitably end in tears.
But the night was one of celebration for the Liberal Democrats with their leader Coun Arthur Preece looking a strong favourite to become the fourth leader of the council in as many years.
Coun Preece denied striking a pre-election deal with the Tories on which seats to fight but admitted the two parties will get together to discuss a pact.
We will obviously talk to the Conservatives to see whether between us we can form an alternative administration, he said. If we can reach agreement with them we will attempt to do so.
There has not been that much collusion. Both parties have made their own tactical decisions.
Conservative leader Coun Frank Rogers added: We targeted four wards and we won four wards. We feel a little better than we did in 1995 when we lost them all.
The pendulum has swung. It is our turn. It is going to be an interesting council from next Monday.
He added that a deal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats could well be on the table.
We will talk to everybody, he said. We are still the smallest party. Being sensible about it I think that we will talk with the Liberal Democrats.
I ve not spoken to them about it, but no doubt my phone will be hot.
Dejected Bernard Carr, who lost his seat to Headland community worker Fred Dickson, admitted: We ve taken a drubbing across the town.
He added: I feel like I ve stubbed my toe. I m too old to cry but it does hurt. I feel tremendously passionate about the good work we ve done.
There s also bitterness at our opponents for their collusion to minimise their exposure to the voters and maximise their potential for damage against the Labour party.
The people of Hartlepool now know you vote Tory if you want Liberal Democrat.
We will be watching like hawks to see that this unholy alliance won t damage the people of Hartlepool.
My belief is it will represent a big step back for Hartlepool.
Of course I will stand again if my party asks. You have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. I ve seen these tides come in and out. I ve been on both sides of the high water mark.
And Stephen Wallace hinted at the prospect of a new Labour leader the fourth in three years after Bryan Hanson, Ray Waller and Russell Hart following the drubbing.
Mr Wallace who insisted he was surprised at the result said: There s going to have to be a serious period of reflection for the Hartlepool Labour Party. A new leader is a matter for the Labour group.
There were two groundswells of feeling which forced this result. The first was that Labour had been in control for a long time and there was a feeling for change.
Secondly, people have tried to even things up. When the Conservatives were in power, Labour won council upon council upon council. But when Labour is in power, people try to even things out.
Labour has control led the council since 1978 when it took over from an alliance of Conservatives and the Ratepayers a group of people who objected to the size of the rates they were paying and formed their own party to take 13 seats in the 1976 election.
Mr Wallace added: Politics is too important and too much fun for me to give it up. I have to work out what the future holds for me but I will be around somewhere.
RESULTS AT A GLANCE
The council is out of Labour control for the first time in 22 years.
The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are now likely to form an alliance.
And the new council leader is expected to come from that pact.
There were 15 seats up for grabs last night one third of the council.
Before polling, Labour held 13 of them and the Lib Dems held two.
The Lib Dems held onto the Fens and Hart wards with huge majorities.
Five Labour seats (some of them strongholds) went to the Lib Dems.
And the Tories won four seats from Labour the four they targeted.
There are now 21 Labour, 14 Lib Dems, 10 Tory and two independent councillors.
The turnout of 27 per cent of registered voters was 1 per cent up on last year s.
LESSONS MUST BE LEARNED
HARTLEPOOL Labour leaders left shell-shocked after they lost control of the town council today received a grim warning from local MP Peter Mandelson: Learn the lessons if you want to get back in power.
The town s Labour bosses were today licking their wounds after they lost nine council seats to their rivals in yesterday s local elections - and with it their overall control of the town hall.
The massive defeat followed long-running claims of in-fighting in the Labour group on the council - and a series of stories about the waste of council taxpayers money on items including mobile phones and building work.
In an exclusive interview with the Hartlepool Mail, Mr Mandelson said an unprincipled deal between the Tories and Liberal Democrats had helped loosen Labour s grip on the council.
And he claimed the change to no overall control could leave the town without strong leadership and harm its chances of attracting jobs-boosting new investments.
But the man who will mastermind Labour s campaign strategy at the next General Election said his party colleagues in Hartlepool had to ask themselves some tough questions as they begin the post-mortem into their dismal performance.
My main anxiety is for the town, because I fear that a lack of direction and purpose will now weaken the council s important leadership role in getting jobs and investment and delivering vital services, Mr Mandelson said.
Of course the election result stems from an unprincipled electoral pact between local Tories and Lib Dems.Nevertheless, Labour has some lessons to draw because, in local council terms, the party s position has been eroding.
Town Labour members need to listen and reflect carefully on what has happened.
Mr Mandelson is thought to be angry that the woeful election result came at a time when he believes the council is performing well and changing things for the better in the town.
In particular, he is believed to be disappointed by the behaviour of some local Labour heavyweights who have been accused of putting self-interest and personal rivalry ahead of the interests of the council and the party.
MP is out of Africa . . . and into Hartlepool
THE council elections brought dozens of observers to ensure democracy ran its course but one from Africa? Only in Hartlepool.
Tanzanian MP Luther Dagaa is visiting Hartlepool as a guest of the town and last night cast his eye over how things were going.
Luther is a veteran of many political campaigns in Tanzania and said things weren t that much different back home.
There s not much difference in the elections because we use the Westminster style of government, he said.
But what I ve noticed is that here, people campaign door to door but in Tanzania, all the parties have a public rally on the day of the election and then there is the vote.
I ve visited about 10 polling stations today but in Tanzania they are very spread out because the country is so big. The votes are counted at the polling station.
Luther represents the Manyoni District in Tanzania. His constituency covers Kilimatindi, the village that has formed a special bond of friendship with Hartlepool.
He said he was impressed with how freely people voted in England and how the polling stations seemed relatively uncongested.
But he was critical of our country s poor election turn-outs illustrated by the 27 per cent turn out in Hartlepool.
In Tanzania we get maybe 70 per cent of people voting at elections which is very high, he said.
But here it is very low. That s disappointing because if you have the right to vote you should use that right to vote.
A-Ward winning . . .
SOME would say love and politics don t mix but don t tell that to the Wards.
Liza Ward s victory in the Brinkburn ward means she and husband Andrew will be united in more than marriage when they take up their seats on the council.
The Liberal Democrat pair, who married last year, mean there are now three political couples serving Hartlepool Council and it s an even split between the parties.
The Labour Party have Jim and Peggy Watson while down in Seaton there s the true blue partnership of Dave and Elizabeth Young.
And there would have been four married couples if only Marjorie Richardson had held on to her Rift House seat.
Liza was delighted with her victory in last night s election.
I m still a bit excited about it, she said.
The result shows that people thought enough is enough and that s great news for the Liberal Democrats.
And husband Andrew, who won his seat last year, added: It makes the team complete.
Liza s victory makes her the youngest member of the council at just 23 and she wrestled the victory from the council s longest serving member, Bill Iseley.
But she said her youth would bring fresh ideas to the council.
They ve been calling out for younger councillors so hopefully we re just the start, she said.
I noticed young people were turning out in droves in this election and it s good that they are voting for young people with fresh ideas.