Result that made the Hush Puppies yelp

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The Independent Online

Northern Correspondent

Apart from raising taxes, breaking up the health service, increasing class sizes, handing gas and electricity to profiteers and failing to halt the crime wave, what have the Tories done to deserve the Rushcliffe result?

Until Thursday, the affluent Nottingham voters, settled on the Trent's south bank, had seemed a contented lot, safely returning Kenneth Clarke to Westminster and giving Rushcliffe Conservative group the biggest Tory majority in British town halls.

Then came a result that must have made the Chancellor's Hush Puppies yelp: 43 Tories became 26, the Liberal Democrats doubled their five seats, and Labour almost trebled its block, ending the night with 17 seats; a 21-seat majority vanished.

Next time Mr Clarke has grief with his binmen, he can complain to Liz Plant, his Labour councillor in Melton ward.

The council is now hung, and local Tories feel a noose of public opprobrium tightening. "It's as if the Cabinet has gone down the High Street tossing banana skins in front of themselves, then falling over," one surviving Tory councillor said.

"We've got one of the best-run district councils. We're not even an education authority, but we get blamed for education cuts. I'm absolutely brassed off with all this talk of green shoots and clear blue water."

There is no town of Rushcliffe, a surreal dimension to the Tory dilemma of encountering hostility on every doorstep without figuring how to pin it down. Yesterday, outside the shops and library in West Bridgford, the largest community, opinion was united on one diagnosis, the hopelessness of the Government's position.

"They are down the pan," Julie Gallagher, 28, said. "Far too many people have been angered by far too many policies. I don't think the Government anticipated how deep-seated the resentment had become."

Ray Cook, Tory group leader, survived Rushcliffe's revolt, but with little sense of relief. "This is not a one-off. This is an accumulation of disenchantment like someone pressing a button and bursting a dam."

Vernon Coaker, the Labour leader, said: "Clearly the appeal of Tony Blair was important - people who have always seen the Labour Party as on the side of the underdog now see Labour also as embracing their desire to do well for themselves and their children."



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