As Labour’s battered and bruised activists counted the cost of a local election rout there was vocal resentment of the way in which the party’s lack of discipline at Westminster had cost many their political careers.
In Staffordshire – one of a string of councils that fell to the Conservatives – a bleary-eyed Derek Davis saw more than a dozen of his colleagues blown away and was almost the last Labour councillor standing.
He blamed poor government and a “lack of loyalty” from self-serving ministers that was worse than the party’s divisions of the 1980s.
“I have been a Labour party member since 1963. I have never known it as bad as this. The people have turned against us,” he said. “Those who do not want to be with us can go. What we want for the Labour party is loyalty.”
In Derbyshire, only the former coal mining communities in the north stayed loyal as a map of the county on a big screen at the count in Matlock turned almost all blue for the first time since 1977.
In Preston, the Tories were catapulted into control for the first time since 1981. Geoff Driver became Tory leader of Lancashire county council at about 4pm, telling the cheering crowd: “The Conservatives are back in Lancashire after 28 years of Labour. Labour is in disarray.”
“That’s all folks” cried a jubilant Nigel Evans, Conservative MP for Ribble Valley, as his party got the necessary seat.
Hazel Harding, the council leader who lost her own seat after 24 years, could not bear to watch. “When you look at the polls it is a national issue, not about Lancashire. We can be proud of what we have done here. So many people worked so hard. We campaigned harder than I have ever known. When we started in January it was about the economy. Now you cannot get past [parliamentary] expenses.”
She said the Tories would cut public spending, reducing services to the levels seen in many areas of the south. “You get what you vote for.”
She had one consolation. Her beloved Burnley football team, which have been out of the top flight longer the Conservatives in Lancashire, will play in the Premiership next season.
There will be no more meetings to prevent her getting to games. “I can remember when Burnley almost dropped out of the league. The Labour party will be like that. We will get back to the Premiership.”
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