Last week, Maureen Clelland passed away. She was the much respected Labour Councillor for Dunston and Teams in Gateshead. The funeral was on Tuesday and Labour have already called the by election, for 5th July. Rather hasty I think.
The ward has been, and presumably continues to be, the top target for the BNP in the North East. However, their performance has been sagging recently. A by-election was held in the ward in September last year. Though it is usually comfortably Labour, much of the Labour vote has stayed at home in recent years. This was clearly the case in the by-election. In September, we were defending a modest 2nd place which we regularly take on the back of minimal election campaigns.
Despite the huge campaign mounted by the BNP in September, they failed to take 2nd position from us (and they clearly harboured hopes of taking the seat). Their setback did not deter them from targetting the ward again in May this year.
The focus of our campaigning in May was in the neighbouring wards, both of which are marginal, one defended by us, the other by Labour. Despite this, the BNP's position simply stood still in Dunston and Teams. We comfortably held our 2nd position, marginally increasing our vote and widening the gap over the BNP. We also partially clawed back some of Labour's majority.
I suspect Labour no longer fears the BNP in the ward. They are a busted flush there. I reckon instead Labour have been taking a long hard look at what we have done in the neighbouring ward of Lobley Hill and Bensham. This was once rock solid Labour territory. In 2004, Labour had a majority there of 900. This year, their majority was only 50.
And in the other neighbouring ward of Dunston Hill, we have turned a once safe Labour area into one with a growing Lib Dem majority.
With the BNP sinking fast, the Lib Dems pose a serious challenge. Labour are afraid, they are very afraid.