THE political map of the North East is painted red today as the coalition parties suffered.
Across the region the Lib Dems saw voters turn on them as the party was booted out of Northumberland County Hall and put through an historic embarrassment in South Shields.
The polls also exposed the rising threat of Ukip as a major factor in North East elections. The party came second in South Shields with 24% of the vote, pushing the Lib Dems to seventh with just 1.4%.
Voters sent a clear message to the coalition partners as they helped to wipe out the last pocket of resistance to make the North East firmly Labour.
In Northumberland Labour is the largest group while in North Tyneside Norma Redfearn replaced Conservative Linda Arkley as the new elected major, bringing to an end coalition influence on the region’s councils.
Labour came within two seats of snatching overall political control of Northumberland County Council, wiping out big losses which they suffered five years ago and making massive gains in their traditional heartland.
Labour gained 15 seats on the authority – finishing as the biggest single party with 32 – but fell just short of the 34 they needed for overall control.
It means Labour will have to form a minority administration at County Hall, as the Liberal Democrats have done since the last elections in 2008.
Labour’s success was founded on major gains made in its traditional stronghold in the south-east of the county, where it gained 11 seats from the Lib Dems.
It won 28 of the 32 seats contested in the former Wansbeck and Blyth Valley areas, and also won both seats in Prudhoe in the west of the county.
The Lib Dems dropped from being the biggest party on 25 seats to holding just 11 – and their major casualties included executive members Simon Reed, Alan Thompson, Tom Brechany and Anita Romer.
Former council leader Jeff Reid – whose Plessey seat was thought to be at serious risk after he recently branded Blyth as “a dump” – managed to hold on with a majority of just 79 votes.
The Conservatives remain as the second largest group on the council, increasing the number of seats they hold by three to 21. In the west of the county, long-serving Lib Dem Derek Kennedy was the biggest casualty, as the public vote swung decisively towards the Tories.
The Tories lost the Stocksfield and Broomhaugh seat to their former councillor Anne Dale, who left the party to stand as an Independent and chalked up a 1,072 majority over her Conservative rival, Paul Vickers.
There was controversy at the count in Alnwick over the Amble West with Warkworth seat, where incumbent Tory Jeff Watson won by a single vote from Lib Dem challenger Julie Porksen, following four counts. Angry Lib Dems protested after one ballot paper marked for the winning candidate – but with the words “no chance” written above – was judged to count.
However, returning officers, who brought in a new counting team for the fourth tally up, were satisfied that it was not a spoilt vote.
There was more misery for the Lib Dems at the Alnwick count. In Pegswood David Woodard lost his seat to Labour’s Alan Sambrook, who held it before 2008, and the Morpeth North and Bamburgh seats, previously held by David Moore and Pat Scott respectively, were won by Tories David Bawn and John Woodman.
There was some good news for the party, however, with Gavin Jones defeating independent councillor Brian Douglas at Berwick North.
Last night Labour group leader Grant Davey said: “We have put up a really good fight, the result is even better than we hoped for and I would like to thank everyone who supported Labour, and made sure we ousted a Lib Dem council in Northumberland.”
Coun Reid said: “The tide of history has been against us today. Five years ago we had a great day and Labour a bad one, but unfortunately this election turned out to be a referendum on central Government. It should be about local government services.”
Berwick Lib Dem MP, Sir Alan Beith, who was at the Alnwick count supporting the party’s candidates, said he was “very happy” with the performance in his constituency, but felt the damage had been done elsewhere.
Coun Dale, who left the Tory party after an internal dispute with some colleagues, celebrated her victory, which makes her one of three Independent members of the authority.