Tories miss out on historic council win after literally drawing the short straw following tie with Lib Dem

Victory in traditional working-class Labour heartland would have been a major coup ahead of the general election, but game of chance saw the Tories lose out to the Lib Dem

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Indy Politics

The night may have been a good one for the Conservatives, but they had a tantalising victory in Northumberland snatched from their grasp when a local council candidate drew the short straw against his Liberal Democrat opponent.

The former mining area and one of Labour’s traditional heartlands would have been a huge coup for the Tories as Prime Minister Theresa May attempts to turn working-class areas blue in the forthcoming general election.

The vote was tied after two counts in the north-east council, leading to the unusual tradition of the drawing of straws to settle the knife-edge contest.

Tory candidate Daniel Carr drew the short straw for the South Blyth ward, meaning the Liberal Democrats’ Lesley Rickerby won the seat, leaving the historically Labour council with no overall control.

But the Conservatives will take solace from the fact  they are now the largest party on the council for the first time since it was established in 1972.

The party won an unprecedented 33 seats in Northumberland but were denied a majority by a single seat as Labour won 24 seats, the Lib Dems took three and independent candidates won seven, leaving the council with no overall control.

The returning officer is understood to have offered the candidates a choice over whether to flip a coin or draw straws.

Victorious Ms Rickerby joked: “I certainly don’t want to do that again in a hurry – it really was the last straw.”

On a particularly bad night for Labour, the party’s Laura Pidcock who is standing in the general election as a candidate for Durham North West, lost her seat on the council.

Union activist Ms Pidcock will contest the Labour-held seat vacated by retiring Pat Glass, who had a majority of over 10,000 over the Conservatives in 2015, with Ukip finishing in third place.

But with the collapse of the Ukip vote both in the north-east and nationwide, the Conservatives, who have yet to select a candidate, may see Durham North West as winnable in the Brexit-leaning area. It is 118th on the Tory target list when ranked by the swing required to take it.

Lib Dem Ms Rickerby jumped for joy when she plumped for the long straw, but told reporters the tense wait followed by a game of chance had been “traumatic”.

“It’s unbelievable that when you consider we have a democratic service that we end up having to draw straws,” she said. 

“It was very traumatic and I certainly would have preferred it to be a majority, but the way our system works, after a couple of recounts, we had no choice.”

Results declared so far have been disappointing for the Liberal Democrats, who were hoping to make inroads on a platform of fighting a so-called "hard Brexit". They have currently lost 36 seats, while Labour have lost 360, Ukip have lost 140 and the Conservatives have gained 540 in a night Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn admitted has proved "disappointing".

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