Norwich City Council election reaction: Labour jubilant as Liberal Democrats and Conservatives suffer

PUBLISHED: 09:18 04 May 2012

Tense times at the city council election count. Labour leader Brenda Arthur (right) had plenty to celebrate come the end of the evening as Labour took overall control of City Hall. Photo: Steve Adams

Tense times at the city council election count. Labour leader Brenda Arthur (right) had plenty to celebrate come the end of the evening as Labour took overall control of City Hall. Photo: Steve Adams

Jubilant council leader Brenda Arthur insisted the people of Norwich had given the Labour Party their seal of approval to run City Hall.

After winning three seats at the Norwich City Council elections, Labour became the first party to take overall control of the council since 2004, having previously run the authority as a minority administration.

And Ms Arthur, who comfortably held onto her University seat, said 10 years of hard work had delivered today’s results.

She said: “I am really proud the people of Norwich felt they could invest their trust in the work we are doing.

“They recognise we see what’s important to them. It’s about communities, things for the economy and giving families aspirations and help.

“We are alongside people in the hard times and that is what we will continue to do.

“I want to pay testament to all the councillors that have stepped down - sometimes being in public service is tough.”

Ms Arthur said the voters’ decision to award Labour majority control would give the party an opportunity to push forward with its own ideas.

She said: “It certainly gives us a stronger basis to make sure that those Labour policies we want to put in place in changing times are underpinned by a majority.

“I think Labour has built momentum nationally and people are realising what’s important. It’s the party which has the values and principles and people’s wellbeing at heart.”

For the Green Party the night can be regarded as a partial success. Five of their existing councillors stood down, but their replacements successfully defended each seat against the Labour threat.

But the opposition was unable to make gains at the ballot box for the first time.

Claire Stephenson, Green Party group leader, said: “We did tremendously well in the circumstances. We were threatened by Labour and we didn’t let them have any of our seats.

“I think we did very, very well. Labour put out negative leaflets and I think people in those wards realised that the hard working commitment of the Green Party councillors was more important.

“There’s only really Labour and the Greens. We’ve not gained any additional councillors this year but the percentage of our vote in each ward has gone up - both in the wards we already held and the wards we didn’t.

“I don’t think the council works particularly well when there’s a party with a stranglehold over the council. Our job is to scrutinise Labour and to open things up and ensure fair play. That job will be harder now but we will work harder and do our best to do a good job at it.”

Miss Stephenson said the Greens approach to politics would be simple - vote for the policies they approved of and reject those they disagree with.

She said: “Perhaps there’s a danger of things becoming more polarised. I hope that doesn’t happen. I think the council works better when everybody is discussing things together and talking through ideas and coming to a conclusion that everybody feels comfortable with, even if they don’t feel happy with every detail.

“That’s the way I want the council to work. We will have to try to make sure the council doesn’t become too partisan.

“From this election we have seen from some parties that perhaps they thought their party was more important than the council and the city. I hope the council doesn’t go down that line.”

Gasps could be heard from those gathered at St Andrews Hall as the Liberal Democrats picked up fewer than 150 votes per candidate in several wards.

It was a tough night for the party.

James Wright, Liberal Democrat group leader, described it as “bittersweet” after losing a “hard working councillor” in David Fairbairn, following his defeat to Labour in Lakenham, but retaining stalwart Judith Lubbock in Eaton.

Mr Wright said: “I know David will still be there for the people of Lakenham. On the plus side, Judith was returned.

“It just goes to demonstrate when you’ve a known councillor, who has been part of the team for such a long time, that people see beyond the national issues.

“We were having people telling us on the doorstep they recognised Judith, they recognised her hard work and they needed someone that can fight for someone’s day-to-day needs.

“We had an early indication with how Lakenham might go when David came second at last year’s county council by-election, which was particularly gratifying as he did increase his vote.”

Mr Wright said the Lib Dems would try and build again from their Eaton stronghold, where they have three city councillors and one county councillor.

He said: “We clearly need to be thinking about moving out elsewhere into Norwich. We will continue to work and serve the people of Norwich, whether we represent them as councillors or not.

“Part of the story is Labour has taken control. But the change of control is more an academic one. The cabinet has been made of Labour councillors for a number of years - that will not change - and the majority of the decisions are taken by cabinet.”

The Conservatives say a complete re-evaluation of their approach to Norwich is expected after they lost their two existing councillors.

Antony Little, a senior Conservative candidate and former group leader, who failed to unseat Mrs Lubbock in Eaton, said: “I think it’s a very disappointing night for both coalition government parties. The Lib Dems were fourth in the vast majority of wards in the city and the Conservatives have lost both its councillors.

“I think the Conservatives offered something different in viewpoint.

“It was a hard campaign to fight. When you go door-to-door talking to people there were a lot of issues, mainly national. We were really trying to encourage people to think about this as a local election - council tax, recycling, transport and the way Labour run the city council, particularly the failure of two big contracts.

“There seemed to be a real desire to pull it back to national issues.

“I think the first thing we need to do as Conservatives is go and talk to people, find out what they are thinking and what they want in the future. We need to re-engage with people. The way we’ve been talking to them and running campaigns has not been working and we need to do things differently in the future.”

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