Kennedy flies in to witness capture of Newcastle

Click to follow
Indy Politics

For a generation of Geordies raised in a Labour heartland, it was simply unthinkable. But 30 years of Labour rule ended in Newcastle upon Tyne yesterday in a move that sent tremors through traditionally left-wing strongholds.

For a generation of Geordies raised in a Labour heartland, it was simply unthinkable. But 30 years of Labour rule ended in Newcastle upon Tyne yesterday in a move that sent tremors through traditionally left-wing strongholds.

The Liberal Democrats overturned a deficit of 30 seats to take control of the council by an 18-seat margin in what constitutes its biggest prize in local government since capturing Liverpool five years ago. It capped its success by claiming the seats of the council leader, Tony Flynn, and his deputy, Keith Taylor.

Charles Kennedy, the Lib Dem leader, who revealed his party's determination to clinch Newcastle by launching his local and European election campaigns in the city last month, seized on the victory by flying in to join the celebrations.

The contest was closer than the pre-election deficit had suggested because of boundary changes which reflected a residential drift from the inner city to the suburbs. The complexity of the all-postal vote ballot, coupled with printing and postage delays, also tied up the three main parties' campaigns with the mechanics of the vote rather than issues. In the event the Lib Dems won 48 seats to Labour's 30. The Tories failed to win any seats, despite every one being up for grabs after the boundary changes.

The Lib Dems fought a strong campaign with Baroness (Shirley) Williams of Crosby also lending support, and seem to have been helped by distaste for council tax rises - against which the Lib Dems raised a local petition of 2,500 names.

Though the Labour leadership has presided over one of the fastest periods of growth in living memory, regeneration has been slower to reach the working-class, residential districts. This may explain why the Lib Dems, who were strong in the suburbs in the city's north, surged into the traditional inner-city Labour heartland to win seats such as Walker, Ouseburn and Fawdon.

The local Labour leadership fought a campaign on its record, pointing to the successes in education and the regeneration of the Quayside, but blamed national issues, such as the war in Iraq. "We were not able to break the national swing that was going against us," said Mr Flynn, who had resigned himself to some losses because of boundary changes. "I think both nationally and locally we have to listen to what the people have said."

Peter Arnold, the Liberal Democrat leader who in 1973 was the first party memberelected to the council, said the more youthful make-up of his party's candidates was a more important factor.

"[Labour] was in power for too long. Some of their people had been councillors for 30 years," he said.

Steven Armstrong, a taxi driver, who voted for the Liberal Democrats for the first time, said Labour was "out of touch - from the very top, down".

Comments