Tories set to take control of Dudley Council as decisive seat is won by just SIX votes

Dudley Council is tied with both Labour and the Conservatives holding exactly half of all the authority's seats following yesterday’s local elections - but Thursday night’s drama effectively places the Tories in charge.

Most seats contested were held, though the Tories gained Norton as well as Brockmoor & Pensnett, while Labour gained Halesowen North from the Conservatives.

But the decisive moment came late into the night as the Conservatives dramatically took the final seat - Wollaston - by just six votes from Labour after several re-counts, denying Labour a 37-35 majority, instead putting the final total at 36-36.

It was largely business as usual across the borough, as the Conservatives held Amblecote, Belle Vale, Gornal, Halesowen South, Hayley Green & Cradley South, Kingswinford North & Wall Heath, Kingswinford South, Pedmore & Stourbridge East, Sedgley, Wollaston & Stourbridge Town and Wordsley.

Labour, meanwhile, held Brierley Hill, Castle & Priory, Coseley East, Cradley & Wollescote, Lye & Stourbridge North, Netherton-Woodside & St. Andrew's, Quarry Bank & Dudley Wood, St. James's, St. Thomas's and Upper Gornal & Woodsetton.

The Conservatives' chances of success were given a boost earlier in the night by gaining Brockmoor & Pensnett from Labour, while also winning back Norton from independent Heather Rogers, who previously won the seat for the Tories before leaving the party in 2017.

But Labour snatched Halesowen North from under the Conservatives’ noses with 1,292 votes to the Tories' 1,155, seemingly putting them back in the driving seat before other results came in which left it too close to call, with everything eventually resting on the final seat in Wollaston.

Amid rising nervousness from both parties, with one count putting them as having an exactly equal number of votes, the Conservatives eventually prevailed and took the final seat as the clock ticked towards 3:45am, polling 1,437 votes to Labour's 1,431.

It means the council is still under no overall control and, theoretically, leaves the future leadership of the council uncertain.

However, the current political alliance of the borough's mayor effectively gives the Conservatives the balance of power, as the outgoing mayor - Conservative Councillor Alan Taylor - will be able to control what happens next.

The mayor gets the casting vote, meaning he will be able to choose the new mayor.

Assuming the person he chooses as his successor is also a Conservative, the new mayor would then have the casting vote on any future deadlock between the two parties, effectively handing the balance of power to the Tories.

Additionally, this casting vote also applies when it comes to deciding which party can take control of the council. Therefore, if both Labour and Conservatives put forward a bid to take power, assuming all councillors voted in favour of their own party, the presumed Tory mayor would end up having have the casting vote and would, naturally, vote the Tories into power.

The matter will be decided at a full council meeting on 16th May, with a Conservative-controlled council widely viewed as a certain formality.

Tory leader Patrick Harley said he was delighted with the party’s performance, saying that it had “bucked the trend” on a night which saw significant losses for both the Conservatives and Labour across the country.

He praised his party’s effort and resilience, adding that the turmoil over Brexit and nine years of Tory austerity had still not put local voters off the party.

Labour leader Qadar Zada refused to be disheartened, praising the gain of the Halesowen North seat as a significant victory, saying that the result – and the fact the council has been on a knife-edge in terms of the balance of power for many years – meant voters did not want a single party to ‘hold all the keys to Dudley Council House’, appealing to the Tories for the two parties to work together.

Turnout was similar to 2018’s local elections and ranged from a high of 38.8% in Norton to a low of 21.84% in Brierley Hill, though only four wards reported a higher turnout figure than last year.

Elsewhere in Sandwell, Labour won 25 out of the 25 seats up for grabs to retain exclusive control of the authority, still holding all 72 seats in total.

In Wolverhampton, Labour also maintained their dominance of the council, despite losing a seat to the Conservatives, with 51 seats to the Tories' 9.

But there was joy for the Conservatives in Walsall, as they gained control of the authority, which has been under no overall control since 2011.

Elsewhere across the West Midlands, Labour also held Coventry, while the Conservatives held North Warwickshire, Rugby and Tamworth, but lost their majority in Worcester, which is now under no overall control.

Some areas are not beginning their counts until later today (Friday).

Meanwhile, there was a brief scare at the Telford & Wrekin count, as 150 votes from its St. George's ward went missing between the verification and counting stages, with legal advisers being sought for help, before the missing box was found around half an hour later.


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