Tories regain lost ground in the shires

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The Independent Online
The Conservatives yesterday won control of several of the Home Counties, Lincolnshire and Hampshire in a set of local election gains that go some way to salve the wounds the party suffered in the general election.

Most Tory wins were at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. But Labour lost some significant seats too, including that of the leader of Essex County Council, Chris Pearson.

He seems to have been blamed for the recent industrial action by the Fire Brigades Union in protest at budget plans prepared by the Labour- Liberal Democrat coalition in the county.

Results did not all go in the same direction. The Liberal Democrats won control of Torbay and Newbury, both newly-minted "unitary" councils. The Conservative cause in the shire counties may have benefited from the adjustment of boundaries. In Bedfordshire, a gain for the Tories, the loss of Luton - a new unitary - may have helped their cause.

Labour consolidated its hold in the North, including Durham and Northumberland. It took Cumbria, where no party had been in overall control since 1985. Labour dominance of urban England was confirmed as it took control of such new unitary authorities as Blackpool and Nottingham, Plymouth and Warrington.

The Tory gains look unlikely to upset Labour dominance in the Local Government Association, the body which will be negotiating on local authorities' behalf with the Government.

The Tory recovery in the counties is partly a reflection of the party's dire performance in the last elections in 1993, when they were left in control of Buckinghamshire alone. In some counties the Conservative comeback is unmistakable. In Hampshire the Tories gained 19 seats, all at the expense of the Liberal Democrats, who also lost a seat to Labour.

For full results see Monday's edition of The Independent.