Lib Dems suffer northern meltdown

By Alex Stevenson

The crushing verdict against the Liberal Democrats was strongest in the north of England in this year’s local elections.

Results on election night and on Friday showed Nick Clegg’s party had lost roughly a third of their councillors and were ten councils down.

Among them were Kingston-upon-Hull, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Chesterfield, which went straight to the Labour party.

Hull’s Lib Dem leader quickly held a press conference conceding that Labour had won control of the council long before the final result was announced.

Bolton fell to the Labour party, who gained five councillors. The Tories lost one and the Lib Dems three.

In the latter 24 council seats changed hands from the Lib Dems to Labour.

Stockport and Bristol saw the Lib Dems lose six and five seats respectively. Both slipped to no overall control.

Lib Dem setbacks across the north of England extended beyond those where they lost their majorities. Labour held Manchester, but gained 12 seats while the Lib Dems lost 12.

And in Liverpool the Lib Dems suffered a near wipeout, only managing to hold two of their 12 seats.

In Rochdale the council remained in no overall control. Labour became the largest party, with the Lib Dems slipping back from first to third place after losing 13 councillors.

Lib Dems on Sheffield council were quick to concede defeat. They eventually lost nine of their 15 councillors, allowing Labour to gain control of the council by taking all their seats.

Nick Clegg, who insiders said became the issue in the city where he is a local MP, said the party had to “move on” after their poor performance.

In Bolton Labour won control of the council, taking five seats from both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to win an outright majority.

Lib Dem council leaders lost their seats in Hull, Sheffield, Liverpool and Manchester.

“Labour will be upbeat, the Conservatives will feel this was not too bad and the LDs will be licking their wounds,” Andy Sawford, chief executive of the Local Government Information Unit thinktank, told politics.co.uk.

“It’s fairly universally a bad night for the Lib Dems. It’s unusual to have an election where there are no bright spots, which is why they’re going to struggle to find a positive story coming out of this.”

By contrast, he said, the Tories would be able to point to developments in Scotland, the AV referendum and a comparison with Labour’s poor performance in 1999.

Some Lib Dem councillors were quick to condemn their leader. Ken Ball, the leader of the Lib Dems on Chorley council, which moved to no overall control, was quoted as saying the party leader had “let the party down” and “put us back 40 years”.

“After these elections I hope somebody takes his place,” he said. “He’s been a bad PR exercise.”

Nottingham council’s Lib Dem group leader Gary Long told the Today programme: “I’m in favour of the coalition but I think he’s run it very badly and in my view he should resign immediately.”

The deputy prime minister admitted that his party “took a real knock last night” but insisted that activists needed to “dust ourselves down” and continue.

He said his party was getting the “brunt of the blame” for “real anxieties about the deficit reduction plans” in Scotland, Wales and the “great cities of the north”.

“What we need to do is redouble our efforts to not only explain but show that precisely the reason the Liberal Democrats are in government – so that we don’t go back as a country but that we go forwards,” Mr Clegg added.

The bad night for the Lib Dems had a personally sad note, as a candidate in his early 60s who was standing for election in Newcastle was found dead.

Labour’s first gain of the night was in Hyndburn, but the party’s moderate gains in English council elections appeared to be overshadowed by their failure against the Scottish National party north of the border.

Labour came close to retaking control of Exeter as they gained four councillors, but fell short by two seats.

They made gains from the Conservatives in Swindon, but the Tories managed to hold on to Tamworth in a result which will be welcomed by Tory activists.

Lincoln, North Warwickshire and Stoke-on-Trent were among the Labour gains which were confirmed by 03:00 BST, however.

Elsewhere North Norfolk switched from Lib Dem to Conservative control, after the Tories gained 11 seats from their colleagues in the national government.