Mixed results for the Lib Dems
By Graham DinesPolitical EditorAS the political parties gear up for a General Election expected within the next seven months, the Liberal Democrats suffered mixed fortunes in council by-elections across the region on Thursday, losing a seat to Labour in Colchester but holding two seats in Mid Suffolk and one in Uttlesford.
AS the political parties gear up for a General Election expected within the next seven months, the Liberal Democrats suffered mixed fortunes in council by-elections across the region on Thursday, losing a seat to Labour in Colchester but holding two seats in Mid Suffolk and one in Uttlesford.
The loss of Berechurch ward in Colchester, whose MP Bob Russell is only one of two Lib Dems in East Anglia, follows the party's poor showing in the Rayne division of neighbouring Braintree last week, when they lost a seat on the district council to the Conservatives.
The Berechurch defeat, caused by the resignation from the borough council for personal reasons of Mr Russell's secretary Susan Brooks, is a blow to the Lib Dems and party leader Charles Kennedy.
With the party having opposed the war in Iraq, Labour's victory in a garrison town which has sent hundreds of troops to serve in the Middle East will be seen as a major upset to the party's high profile stand against British involvement in the conflict.
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Tim Young, leader of the tiny Labour group on the borough council, said: "The loss of one of the Lib Dems' heartland seats in Colchester follows June's election results when they were forced out of power after 17 years."
He added: "The Lib Dems are in a spiral of decline on the council and local people are turning to Labour as the only credible opposition to the Tory council."
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There was better news for the Lib Dems in Uttlesford district, where candidate Emily Gower held Great Dunmow South with a majority of 257 in a straight fight with the Conservatives. It is in the Saffron Walden parliamentary constituency, whose MP is Sir Alan Haselhurst.
In the Barking and Somersham division of Mid Suffolk District Council, the Lib Dems easily saw off the challenge of former Needham Market town mayor Ian Mason, who had defected from the Conservatives to the UK Independence Party.
The seat, which was uncontested in both the 1999 and 2003 elections, returned Lib Dem Robin Richardson by more than 50% of the total vote, with Tory candidate John Pratt second and UK's Mr Mason third on 16%.
The party also held neighbouring Claydon and Barham, both seats being located in the Suffolk Central and Ipswich North parliamentary constituency held by Tory MP Sir Michael Lord.
Colchester borough council, Berechurch ward: Dave Harris (Lab) 838, Martin Verran (Con) 493, Andrew Bright (Con) 296. Majority 345. Labour gain.
Mid Suffolk district council, Barking & Somersham ward: Robin Richardson (Lib Dem) 281, John Pratt (Con) 183, Ian Mason (UKIP) 86. Turnout: 37.67%. Majority 98. No change.
Mid Suffolk district council, Claydon & Barham ward: Martin Redbond (Lib Dem) 617, Philip Ferris (Con) 374, Ron Snell (Lab) 78. Turnout: 30.65%. Majority 243. No change.
Uttlesford district council, Great Dunmow South: Emily Gower (Lib Dem) 615, Michael Mills (Con) 358. Turnout 28.2%. Majority 257. No change.