Firstly a big thank you to everyone who voted Labour on Thursday here in Darlington. Rather than getting down in the gutter with the opposition, we tried to communicate how with Labour, the Borough could continue to progress. I look forward to helping implement our manifesto over the next 4 years.
A quick comment on the turnout - I haven't seen the overall figure for the town but across the board it looked good, and in no less than 5 wards it was above 50%. The idea that the body politic in Darlington is somehow sick, with apathy ruling, is patently nonsense.
There are lessons for all the parties after Thursday's remarkable results: -
We suffered some serious losses, and I would be a fool to try and pretend that the outcome was all about Labour's national unpopularity. Wherever I canvassed, I met some residents who felt that the Council had not listened adequately on key issues like Pedestrian Heart. For the reasons I've blogged before, I feel that the opposition have unfairly tarnished us with that brush, but now we must demonstrate overtly how we place openess and transparency at the centre of everything we do.
That being said, with a big swing against the party (15% was being mentioned during the Count), to hold seats in Harrowgate Hill, Pierremont, Cockerton East, Haughton East and Haughton North was an astonishing achievement. Both the Tories and the LibDems now know, if they didn't before, that we're not a party that rolls over when faced with intense competition.
The recriminations were beginning as matters drew to a close at Friday lunchtime. Opportunities to supplant the ruling party decisively come along once in a generation, and the Tories know that they blew it. Some clever candidate selections in Harrowgate Hill and Pierremont were wasted as they complacently assumed that seats would fall into their hands without a great deal of effort. Amusingly, in advance of the result, the Tories had scheduled a Group meeting for 2pm on Friday, presumably to discuss their tactics in the light of a hung council. Pure hubris, and little wonder that the LibDems steamrollered them in Hurworth.
As the results in Central and Lingfield came in, a senior LibDem muttered to me, "what if we'd put out the 'it's a two horse race' leaflet there? In fact that rather missed the point - the LibDems threw the kitchen sink at Labour in Haughton East and Harrowgate Hill and came away with nothing. Labour has rumbled the LibDems' campaigning template, and more to the point, so have local residents. It's not clear where they go from here.
Made no impact whatsoever on the election campaign, other than in North Road, where they got a mention which had nothing to do with their activity. The North East is the weakest area for BNP activity, and these results bore that out.
Made big gains in neighbouring Stockton and Sedgefield, yet ended up getting wiped out here. Despite having personalble candidates like Bill Maybrey in Middleton St George and Eric Thompson in Heighington and Coniscliffe, they made no impression whatsoever. There seems to be no enthusiasm for independent candidates in Darlington.