The Conservatives have won control of Nottinghamshire County Council in a local election featuring painful blows for Labour and another increase in support for the Ashfield Independents.
Labour group leader Alan Rhodes lost his Worksop North seat in one of the bitterest setbacks for the party. Conservative Callum Bailey instead took the division by 154 votes to end a long era at County Hall for the veteran Labour figure.
The overall result is a shift to the right for Notts. In the previous 2017 local election the Conservatives won the most seats but not enough to form an overall majority in the council chamber.
The 2021 vote, the first major poll since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, had been held on Thursday across Nottinghamshire, and ballot paper counting began on Friday morning.
By 2.30pm the Conservatives had reached the key number of 34 seats after a number of wins in areas previously held by Labour. By 3pm all the votes had been counted and 37 seats had been won by Conservative candidates, 15 by Labour and 10 by Ashfield Independents.
Local Election 2021: Nottinghamshire County Council results in full
Labour lost eight seats overall, reflecting a damaging day across the country for the party in what was seen as a key test of political public opinion as the country tries to recover from the pandemic.
The Conservatives are expected to declare a new group and overall council leader on Monday following a party AGM.
Previous leader Kay Cutts did not stand in the election having previously announced she would retire from the council.
Conservative Reg Adair, who held his Leake and Ruddington seat, told Notts TV: “The results are tremendous for us across Nottinghamshire as a whole.
“We’ve managed to turn the whole place blue which we’re very, very pleased about and we’re very happy that the residents of Nottinghamshire have backed our manifesto proposals.
“The key thing will be to keep delivering the services we always deliver – but post-Covid we’ve really got to get the economy going again, to get people back into work, back into jobs and back to some normality.”
Mr Rhodes, who had represented Labour on the council for 17 years, said: “It’s been a privilege – it’s fair to say that I was surprised, I didn’t see it coming, but credit to the Conservatives who are obviously very well organised and have campaigned very hard in our area and they’ve obviously got things like the vaccine bounce on their side and they are capitalising on that – that’s politics.”
Friday’s results nationally included a Parliamentary by-election win for the Conservatives in the Labour stronghold of Hartlepool. This, and defeats in local polls including Notts have led to questions surrounding Labour Leader Keir Starmer.
“I think all this speculation about Keir’s leadership needs to stop,” Mr Rhodes added.
“I was very outspoken in supporting his ambitions as leader and I believe he will be the next Prime Minister after the next General Election. The Labour Party needs to have a conversation, and a conversation with the electorate, about the problems we seem to be experiencing in convincing the electorate that we’re there for them and will speak up for their concerns.”
The Ashfield Independents again increased their representation on the authority, going from six to ten seats.
Jason Zadrozny, who was re-elected as Ashfield Independent councillor for Ashfields, told Notts TV: “We’ve dug a fortress around Ashfield and I think where people have been able to communicate a different message, we’ve seen this massive Tory tide stopped.
“We’ll keep being the loudest voice, and make sure people don’t forget about Ashfield. It’s very easy when you’re a 40-minute drive away from Kirkby and Sutton [to County Hall] to ignore it and that’s what’s happened.
“Us having a strong, bigger group here will mean no one can forget we exist anymore.”
Thursday’s poll included an election for the Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner, a vote Nottingham City Residents were also able to take part in. Votes in this election are being counted on Saturday.