Conservatives romp to victory in Derbyshire County Council elections
The Conservatives have romped to victory in dramatic style in the Derbyshire County Council elections, significantly strengthening their grasp on the former Labour stronghold.
After a campaign defined by Covid-19 restrictions and a year like no other, the Conservatives expanded their hold on the county council from 36 seats to 45.
Meanwhile, Labour saw its share of seats on the authority, which it has held for 36 years out of the past 48, reduce from 24 seats to 14.
This sees Labour fall into the significant opposition the Conservatives had been sat in eight years ago.
Today’s results also make it the first time the Conservatives have had back-to-back administrations at the authority, extending into a second term for the first time.
It shows a further march of Derbyshire away from its historic voting patterns, becoming less a part of the “Red Wall” and now turning a vibrant blue.
This had been foreshadowed in the 2019 General Election, in which Labour lost the Bolsover constituency to the Tories for the first time in decades, along with the district council.
Results from yesterday now show Labour lost three of the six Bolsover district seats on the county council – all of which it had held – matching the move in the area away from its traditional political roots.
It also lost four of its North East Derbyshire county council seats, where the district council had also moved away from Labour in 2019.
Out of the 12 county council seats across Bolsover and North East Derbyshire, Labour had held 11, but now holds four.
This came through Tory victories in Clay Cross North, South Normanton & Pinxton, Tibshelf, Eckington & Killamarsh, and Sutton.
But it is the victory in the seats of Alfreton and Somercotes in Amber Valley that will bring the Conservatives extra joy.
The two Alfreton and Somercotes seats comprised Labour’s only showing on the county council in Amber Valley, but with the defeat of Labour leader Paul Smith and fellow party runner Steve Marshall-Clarke, nearly the whole of the map is now blue – with a Green Party victory in Duffield preventing the Tory clean sweep.
This has been compounded by the further blow of losing Labour’s deputy leader on the council – election campaign coordinator Mick Wall lost his seat of Loundsley Green and Newbold in a shock defeat to the Liberal Democrats’ Ed Fordham, by just 74 votes.
Labour also lost prominent councillor Jim Coyle in the South Normanton & Pinxton seat, losing out to the Conservatives.
The map is also entirely blue in South Derbyshire, with the Tories completing a “clean sweep” of all eight divisions, completing the set with a victory in Swadlincote North – Labour’s Sean Bambrick losing out by 84 votes to Conservative Peter Smith.
The Green Party gained its first ever county councillor, with Gez Kinsella claiming victory in the Duffield & Belper South division – overturning a huge loss in the seat in 2017 to win this year by more than 700 votes over Tory Chris Short.
This builds on the party’s success in the borough council elections in 2019, when Duffield Green Party councillor Dave Wells was elected. Mr Kinsella says this proves the party’s previous success was not a “flash in the pan”.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats increased their numbers on the authority from three to four, with two new councillors in Chesterfield district, where the party has performed well at a borough level. However, their group leader Beth Atkins lost her seat in New Mills to Labour’s Anne Clarke.
Conservative Edwina Currie, a former Derbyshire MP and junior health minister, was unsuccessful in her attempt to rejoin the political world, losing out to fellow former Derbyshire MP, Labour’s Ruth George, who retained the Whaley Bridge division with a 700-vote margin.
The Conservatives were successful in reclaiming Wirksworth from Labour in the Dales, through Dermot Murphy, with the party having come within 28 votes of victory four years ago.
It was a “bittersweet” victory for Conservative Julie Patten in Hilton, South Derbyshire, in a year in which her husband died, saying “My biggest supporter is not with me but I am delighted after what has been a very difficult time”.
Reflecting on his party’s monumental victory, Cllr Barry Lewis, Conservative leader, said: “We have seen history being made again here in Derbyshire.
“Cracks and crumblings had been forming in the red wall and I think those have now become a complete collapse.
“We have had amazing results for the Conservatives in Derbyshire, there is no safe Labour seat anymore, as far as we are concerned. The public have now spoken.
“There are parts of Derbyshire which have been long-forgotten and with Conservative councillors in place we can help those areas move on.”
He said the victory in Clay Cross North for the Tories was a standout moment, alongside those in Bolsover and North East Derbyshire.
Cllr Lewis said: “This is the turning of the tide and that switch has been flicked. People knew they could vote for a real change and that is what they have done, that is what we are all about.”
Outgoing Labour leader, Paul Smith, who lost his seat on the authority by more than 400 votes, said: “It was a really bad night for us as Labour candidates. It is a shocking set of results for us.
“I have been doing this for 25 years and I thought I understood what people want and we put together a good set of pledges which I feel deal with the issues of concern, but obviously the electorate have not agreed.
“The Conservatives have got a massive majority on the county council now and I am fearful that some of those communities may get left behind and I don’t want to see that.
“Boris (Johnson, Prime Minister) seems to be getting across the message that people want to hear and the NHS has been rolling out the vaccination process.
“I haven’t got any real clue about where we need to be. I think Keir Starmer needs more time to establish himself, he hasn’t had the same media coverage as Boris Johnson, but I am sure cleverer people than me will come up with suggestions with where we need to position ourselves.”
Cllr Smith said he would be finishing his final year on Amber Valley Borough Council and then stepping down, he will also be stepping down from the parish council and out of politics.
He said: “There are no sour grapes, I am just upset.”
Liberal Democrat Cllr Sue Burfoot, who retained her seat with a resounding majority of more than half of the votes cast in Matlock, said: “I am chuffed, I am very pleased about the continued support of the people of Matlock. There’s so much more I want to do around road safety, traffic and 20s Plenty.
“We wanted a bit more than four councillors and we did lose Beth Atkins in New Mills but the two new councillors we have are going to be really good.
“I am disappointed that the Conservatives have got a huge majority, I think it is the Boris effect and maybe a Brexit effect still.
“We want to stop the Punch and Judy politics and the politics switching from one party to the other.”
Cllr Gez Kinsella, now the county council’s first ever Green Party councillor, said: “It is a momentous achievement and it is the start of things to come, really.
“It is one seat, not a strong base but it is a starting point.
“We have seen two election victories now in Derbyshire in strong Conservative seats and it is very telling. I think the Labour Party will look at that and worry about their seats.
“I was a bit stunned when I found out, but now it has sunk in and I am looking forward to getting things done and to make a difference. This is part of an ongoing story.”
All in all, 17 seats out of the 64 changed hands, with the Conservatives gaining 12, Labour gained two seats (Glossop & Charlesworth and New Mills in the High Peak), the Lib Dems gaining two (Walton & West and Loundsley Green and Newbold, both in Chesterfield district) and the Green Party gained Duffield and Belper South.
The overall makeup of the council before the election was:
Conservatives, 36 seats; Labour, 24 seats; Lib Dems, three seats; and one vacancy (Staveley).
The new makeup of the authority is:
Conservatives, 45 seats; Labour, 14 seats; Lib Dems, four seats; Green Party, one seat.