Tories stay in control of Suffolk, Labour slip

THE Tories have pulled off a spectacular election victory in Suffolk, but their joy was shattered by the loss of key seats in Bury St Edmunds.

THE Tories have pulled off a spectacular election victory in Suffolk, but their joy was shattered by the loss of key seats in Bury St Edmunds.

On a day of triumph for the party, the county's cathedral town elected no Labour councillors and only one Tory, with the other three seats split between the an Independent, Green and Liberal Democrat.

Labour's fall from grace puts the party in a poor third place on the new council, with Liberal Democrat leader Kathy Pollard set to assume the role as leader of the opposition

To round off a bad day, Labour leader Julian Swainson and former leader Jane Hore lost in the two-seat ward of Lowestoft South, with UKIP's Bill Mountford topping the poll and Tory Deanna Law taking the other.

Labour's appalling showing brought an immediate apology from Ipswich MP Chris Mole. Good councillors had lost their seats, he said, as a result of the scandals at Westminster and the disarray in the government.

In Bury St Edmunds, the result will be a blow for MP David Ruffley, facing a possible election challenge from former Beirut hostage Terry Waite over the expenses revelations.

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It seems that that the county council's controversial plans to axe 40 middle schools and replace them with a uniform primary and secondary system played a key role in the outcome.

Newly elected Liberal Democrat county councillor Craig Dearden-Phillips, who knocked both Independent Paul Hopfensperger and Conservative Stefan Oliver off the council, said: “That was what we fought our campaign on.”

In Ipswich, Labour felt the full wrath of voter fury over the MPs expenses scandal. The party lost St Helen's to the Lib Dems and Rushmere, Gainsborough, and the two-member ward of Whitehouse and Whitton.

The result in the two-member division of Chantry is so close that election staff and party agents agreed to suspend the county until tomorrow. The ballot boxes have been sealed and will be re-opened ahead of counting for the European elections which is due to start in the afternoon.

Across the county, Labour candidates finished bottom of the poll with many of them failing to register above 10% of the vote. In seat after seat, Tory candidates were elected with more than a 60% share of the vote.

The results from Suffolk and other counties in the East of England do not bode well for Labour in the European elections. Richard Howitt, who has been a Euro MP for 15 years, could well lose his seat and the Greens could be on course to have their first MEP in the region.

Jeremy Pembroke, Tory leader since the party regained control in 2005, said: “I am delighted. We had to make some tough and difficult decisions in the past four years, but the people of Suffolk have spoken at the ballot box and shown their support.

“The result is a vote of confidence in the administration - all three political parties have been under the cosh with the expenses scandal, but the Tories have not suffered in these county council elections.”

Mr Pembroke said he believed that the difficulties facing the government would probably lead the new Communities Secretary John Denham to scrap the local government review of unitary councils.

Mrs Pollard said she was naturally pleased that the Lib Dems has done so well, but she added: “It is sad to see local Labour councillors taking the blame for the expenses scandal, which hijacked the local agenda.

“As the main opposition party, the Lib Dems will fight further cuts in social care while we must do what we can to improve education standards through Suffolk.”

Chris Mole, surveying the Labour wreckage at the counting centre, said: “Clearly this has been a desperate day for Labour. Councillors who have worked hard for their constituents have lost through no fault of their own.

“Many voters have stayed at home or protested at what has been happening at Westminster by voting for the minor parties. They have taken out their anger on Labour as the party of government.

“I apologise to local councillors for the fact that their message on local issues such as social care and road maintenance have not been heard above the noise of MPs expenses.”

However, Mr Mole - who offered his full support to the beleagured Gordon Brown - said that the national vote share of 38% achieved by the Conservatives was not a ringing endorsement for David Cameron. “It is no more than they polled in 2004 and a year later Labour won the general election.

“Following Gordon Brown's reshaping of his government, I look forward to renewed energy in tackling on the country's problems, economic as well as dealing with MPs expenses, and also hammering home the message about how disastrous for Britain a Tory government would be as it threatens tax credits and sure start.”

The Green Party won their first seats on the county council, with Andrew Stringer taking Upper Gipping in Mid Suffolk and Mark Ereira winning one of two seats in the Tower division of Bury St Edmunds.

Mr Ereira said: “The Greens' success was a positive vote to ensure the environment of our wonderful county is at the heart of council policy.”