LABOUR swept to power in York after a sensational local election victory which saw the city’s council leader ousted and his party crushed.
On a day of political drama, Labour won eight seats – including five out of six in the Lib Dem heartlands of Westfield and Dringhouses and Woodthorpe – to secure an overall majority, ending eight years in opposition.
Holgate councillor James Alexander is now poised, at 29, to become one of the country’s youngest council leaders and admitted the runaway nature of his party’s triumph took him by surprise.
The annihilation of the Lib Dems, as the party faced a UK-wide election backlash, saw them lose 12 seats. Other casualties included former executive member Jonathan Morley, ousted in Osbaldwick by independent candidate Mark Warters. The Conservatives gained three seats to become the largest opposition party with ten councillors, while the Green Party failed to add to their two members.
“I’m absolutely elated,” said Coun Alexander, who must now wait until the annual council meeting on May 26 to officially become council leader. “We’ve done even better than I thought and it shows the tide has turned in York. People are fed up with the Lib Dems both locally and nationally, but I didn’t realise we would achieve this in the way we did.
“Winning Westfield (Mr Waller and Mr Galloway’s ward) was immensely important for us, not only because it was a seat we had to take, but also symbolically. I’m very, very proud of all our team and gutted for a couple of people who didn’t win, because it’s through their hard work that we have taken control.
“We’ve always said York deserves better, and now the hard work starts here to deliver that for the people of the city.” Fallen leader Mr Waller was philosophical, saying: “I’m naturally disappointed but, in a democracy, these outcomes happen and now we have to look to the next election.
“I’m proud of the party’s achievements and thank everybody who has worked with me as council leader to help make York resilient against the recession. I feel sorry for my hard-working colleagues who have dutifully served their communities, but have become caught up in the national picture.
“But we will regroup. We’ve been down before and fought back, and I’m confident that, with the young candidates who have stood this time, we will have a good team together in four years.”
Mr Waller’s demise ironically came at the Energise centre, the creation of which was listed among his party’s triumphs. He said: “It’s one of those things.
“I have tried my hand in the chocolate and railway industries before, and York has a diverse economy, so I’m looking forward to getting out there.”
Mr Galloway made an abrupt exit moments after learning his fate, but later posted a Twitter message saying: “Not the result I hoped for, but thanks to those who voted for me.”
Conservative leader Ian Gillies said: “I’m pleased we have increased our number of seats by 30 per cent, and the Lib Dem implosion no doubt helped Labour.
“Labour have done a lot of talking, but now is the time to deliver.
“We will provide an effective opposition to make sure they do the best for York and not their political masters.”
Green leader Andy D’Agorne said: “We’re pleased to have retained Fishergate, but a little disappointed not to have gained more seats.
“However, we now have a new council and different people, so it will be interesting and I think there is a lot of potential.”
All change after election drama
THE face of former Lib Dem council leader Steve Galloway, pictured in The Press today, says it all. His party took a hammering in the local elections. Mr Galloway lost his seat. So did his successor, Andrew Waller. In all, the Liberal Democrats lost 12 seats, as Labour gained control for the first time since 2003.
Clearly the Liberal Democrats locally paid for the unpopularity of their party nationally. Parties which rule at Westminster traditionally do poorly in local elections.
Add to that the anger of many Liberal Democrat supporters at seeing their party getting into bed with the Conservatives in a coalition government, then reneging on manifesto commitments such as opposing university tuition fees, and the backlash was predictable. The expected defeat on AV could only add to the Lib Dems’ misery.
Mr Galloway and Mr Waller can’t blame their woes entirely on Nick Clegg. They were in power a long time, and many of their policies – on the Barbican, for example – were deeply unpopular.
Now Labour are back in power in York. We hope they enjoy their honeymoon. Because with Britain mired in debt and the council committed to cutting jobs and services, it is likely to be a short one.