It's not an easy time to be a Tory here in the North East.
Whilst in some of the rest of England, particularly in London and the East Midlands the party seems to be enjoying a mini-revival, things look bleak up here. The Conservatives actually lost ground in the municipal elections last year to Labour and the LibDems, and that trend looks set to repeat itself in 2007.
How else to explain the crushing lack of ambition in the list of announced Tory candidates for next May's poll? In 6 Labour wards, the Conservatives are fielding a single candidate (when 13 seats are up for grabs). In a further 4 Labour-held wards, (Lingfield, Eastbourne, Haughton East and Haughton North) no candidate has been announced, yielding potentially another 9 seats to us. And that doesn't take North Road into account, where the LibDems hold two and Labour one seat.
Take Cockerton East. This had three Tory Councillors until 1991. Labour took it then, and worked hard in what used to be a marginal Labour/Tory ward. Despite a massive Conservative effort in 2003, they made little headway and now seem to have given up on the seat altogether. Before the last poll, for example, the Tories were leafletting from October 2002. Aside from a tatty generic leaflet, nothing has been heard from the Tories on the ground this time, whilst Labour's team of Cllrs. Brian Thistlethwaite and Paul Baldwin, and new candidate Daniel Taylor have been working diligently with retiring Cllr. Don Bristow on behalf of local residents.
Of course, the LibDems will be contesting some of these seats, and I can only assume that the Tories are betting all their chips on repeating their alliance with them which they forged between 1987 and 1991 (the so-called "Do-Nothing Council") which paved the way for a pro-active Labour majority thereafter.