Is this the end for the Lib Dems as a force in Colchester's politics?
PUBLISHED: 14:17 04 May 2018 | UPDATED: 14:42 04 May 2018
Conservatives came within an inch of claiming control of Colchester council in Thursday's local elections - but the real story seems to be the decline of the once-dominant Liberal Democrats on the authority.
The Lib Dems, who held the parliamentary seat as recently as 2015, won only two of the 17 seats up for grabs at the authority.
That means they now hold just 12 of the 51 seats on the council – among the casualties this year was Liberal Democrat council leader Paul Smith who was beaten by the Conservatives in the St Anne’s and St John’s ward.
This year’s council results are considered to have been very good for the Conservatives in Colchester even though they failed to take overall control of the council.
They won 10 of the 17 seats up for election – and if they repeat that next year, they will take control. Until the elections the council was run by a Lib Dem/Labour/Independent coalition lead by Mr Smith which had 28 seats, compared with the Tories’ 23. Theoretically that could continue, and discussions are likely to take place in the run-up to the council’s annual meeting on May 23.
But Conservative group leader Darius Laws said he was ready to take over the leadership of the council immediately – and did not feel the current coalition could continue.
He said: “We are the clear winners of the election and only one seat short of a majority on the council.
“I don’t think the voters of Colchester will understand if we are kept out of power.”
Labour group leader Tim Young has been deputy leader of the council – and constitutionally will be acting leader until the annual meeting of the authority.
He said: “The result this year is very confusing and there will be a lot of talking over the next few weeks – but I will do all I can to ensure the Tories do not take over the council.”
The Lib Dems have seen a dramatic fall in their fortunes in the town over recent years.
At one point they held 34 seats on the borough, when there were 60 councillors in all.
Group leader Martin Goss said: “We shall be discussing what happens next among ourselves over the weekend and with other parties over the next two weeks – we are not making any immediate decisions but will talking about how to move forward.”