Friday, May 23, 2014

Labour's thrashing in Whickham North and Ryton

Put aside party differences for a moment. Standing in an election in which you have a good expectation of winning but then coming second is not good for raising spirits. Months, for some people years, have been dedicated to the cause. Shoes were worn out on the streets, knuckles were chewed by aggressive letter boxes, life has been put on hold for ages only to come in as runner-up in a contest in which there is no prize for second place. I've been there myself (Hexham 1992).

So, my sympathies go to Labour's Chris McHugh in Whickham North here in Gateshead. He fought Labour's cause hard. He canvassed and delivered his election leaflets. He had all the resources his election team could put into his campaign. Labour MPs visited and announced the Lib Dems were going to lose there. Euro candidates came storming in to back the campaign. Certain Labour councillors seemed to have taken up temporary residence in the ward, such was the frequency of their appearances. The regional Labour party was taking an active interest. The ward was swamped on polling day with Labour members from Northumberland. This was a big operation for Labour - but sadly for Mr McHugh (though happily for us), it went horribly wrong. Far from seeing himself overturn a Lib Dem majority of just 90 from 2012, he was defeated by defending Lib Dem Councillor Peter Craig by 300 votes.

For Mr McHugh, this must have felt something like deja vu. In 2012 he was Labour candidate in the neighbouring Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward. We had lost two seats in the ward to Labour in 2010 and 2011. In the latter year, the Labour majority was 666. Labour expected to walk it. They were gutted by the sight of Lib Dem Cllr Peter Maughan being re-elected by a majority of 200. Alas, our own candidate this year, Kevin McClurey, was unable to follow up the win in 2012. Labour's defending Councillor held on by the skin of her teeth - at the count today her majority was only 78.

Politics in many ways is a brutal business. Once every four years we as councillors have, in effect, to reapply for our post and the interviewing committee consists of thousands of people. Sometimes, a person can be dumped from that post through no fault of their own (though sometimes the fault is very much their own). At the end of the day, that's democracy.

In Gateshead, I have now heard grumblings within Labour ranks about the extent to which the Labour Whickham North campaign soaked up resources at the expense of Ryton ward, another target for Labour. The ward had been won comfortably from the Lib Dems in 2011 and 2012. Labour were expecting the final seat to drop into their lap. Ryton Councillor Liz Twist was sighted many times in Whickham North. Whilst she was away from her ward, we were working it thoroughly. From being a long way behind in 2012, our defending Councillor, Christine McHatton, won with a majority of over 100 this time. Labour miscalculated badly on this, not that I'm complaining! Well done to the Labour campaign organiser who helped achieved this spectacular turn around in local political fortunes for the Lib Dems.

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