Dudley Council set to remain under Conservative control after local elections

Conservative leader Patrick Harley (left) chats to Ian Marrey at Stourbridge’s Crystal Leisure Centre

The Conservative party looks set to hold on to control of Dudley Council after a convincing showing in yesterday's local elections.

The Tories were celebrating in the early hours of this morning at the borough’s election count, held at Stourbridge’s Crystal Leisure Centre, as a collapse from UKIP saw it lose six seats overnight, five of them to the Conservatives, as well as gaining a seat from Labour.

The result leaves both the Conservatives and the Labour Party with 35 seats each and the council under no overall control.

But the Conservatives are now likely to continue in power in an alliance with UKIP's one remaining seat, with Labour unable to find any support from elsewhere to wrestle control from the Tories.

The drama was covered live on Black Country Radio in a special overnight election results show, presented by Adam Parkes, with Black Country Week presenter Ian Marrey live at the count.

Labour held their seats in Brierley Hill, Brockmoor & Pensnett, Castle & Priory, Cradley & Wollescote, Lye & Stourbridge North, Netherton/Woodside & St. Andrews, Quarry Bank & Dudley Wood, St. James's and St. Thomas's. They also gained Coseley East from UKIP.

But the Tories crucially gained Belle Vale from Labour, as well as five UKIP seats in Gornal, Halesowen North, Sedgley, Upper Gornal & Woodsetton and Wordsley, while holding Amblecote, Halesowen South, Kingswinford North & Wall Heath, Kingswinford South, Norton, Pedmore & Stourbridge East and Wollaston & Stourbridge Town.

Whilst, theoretically, there is nothing to stop Labour from mounting their own bid to lead the local authority, the two councillors holding the balance of power - UKIP's Kerry Lewis and independent Heather Rogers - are both seen as extremely unlikely to back Labour.

It has been suggested that Cllr. Lewis could even be tempted to defect to the Tories following UKIP's demise, while Cllr. Rogers was a former Conservative who left the party to become an independent councillor around 14 months ago, but is still regarded as more political friend than foe by the Tories.

Dudley Conservative leader, Cllr. Patrick Harley, who convincingly retained his own seat in Kingswinford South with a 1294 majority, said his party had had to remain on guard after a recent charm offensive by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who made multiple visits to the area on the campaign trail in the run up to the election.

"Our task was to hold what we'd [already] got," Cllr. Harley told Black Country Radio.

"There were some big challenges in Kingswinford North and Wall Heath with Jeremy Corbyn coming [and] in Wollaston with another visit by the Labour Party leader, so we had to hold what we'd got and gain those six seats.

"There's three factors to this great campaign. One is the fact that Theresa May has got over the wobble that we had in last year's General Election, you've got the Jeremy Corbyn factor where I don't think he's going down very well in the Black Country and in Dudley in particular, and you've got the very positive programme [of policies] we've had on the council in the last 12 months."

Cllr. Harley pointed to several policies which he felt had won the day, including two hours' free parking in council-owned car parks and an increase in Adult Social Care funding.

But Stourbridge's Conservative MP Margot James expressed her surprise at the result.

In a live interview on Black Country Radio’s election results broadcast, she revealed that she hadn't anticipated such success, admitting she'd picked up some negative vibes as a result of spending an increasing amount of time in Westminster due to her new role as Minister of State for Digital and Culture.

"I didn't [expect such a positive outcome]. I think some of the councillors did," she said.

"I think I was swayed a bit more by the national situation. Obviously spending most of my week in [London] where the Conservative party has struggled, you get a bit of a worried psyche.

"So I was coming here and getting all the good news on the doorstep, but I was thinking I was [more] concerned to hang on to what we'd [already] got."

The result saw several high-profile UKIP casualties, including West Midlands MEP Bill Etheridge, who lost his Sedgley seat to Conservative Shaun Keasey, who polled nearly four times as many votes.

Other UKIP councillors Paul Brothwood, Stuart Henley, Dean Perks and Roger Scott-Dow also lost their seats, with a clear picture emerging both locally and nationally that the Conservative party, rather than Labour, had picked up UKIP's votes as the public abandoned the UKIP ship.

Any fears that the election could be a battle over problems affecting the Conservatives and Labour nationally were overshadowed by the loss of the UKIP vote. The Windrush scandal and continuing Brexit problems for the Tories on one side, Labour's own battles with anti-Semitism within the party on the other.

But both sides' problems ultimately came a distant second to the question of who would take the votes that previously went to UKIP.

That question was answered decisively, as the Conservatives took most UKIP seats, especially in areas that were pro-Brexit.

As of 15:30 this afternoon, the party formerly led by Nigel Farage had 122 fewer seats across the country with 14 of the 150 councils nationwide yet to declare their results.

Pete Lowe, Dudley Labour leader, now faces another year in opposition, but did easily retain his own council seat in Lye & Stourbridge North with 1589 votes to the Tories' 985.

Turnout averaged 30.4% across the Dudley Borough, with the lowest in Brockmoor & Pensnett (21.9%) and the highest in Wollaston & Stourbridge Town (38.31%).

Elsewhere, in Sandwell, the Labour-dominated council extended their grip on the local authority.

They gained three seats in Greets Green & Lyng, St. Paul's and Prince's End and now hold 70 of the 72 seats, with the other two held by independents.

In Wolverhampton, Labour also comfortably retained control of the city council, with 51 seats to the Conservatives' nine. One of Labour's gains was in Penn, with Celia Hibbert ousting Tory David Mackintosh by just 19 votes.

Black Country Week with Ian Marrey will have reaction and analysis to the result from 10:00 on Saturday morning on Black Country Radio.


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