Saturday, May 07, 2016
Gaining again in Gateshead
Groundhog day in Gateshead is now gone. In 2014 and 2015, no seats changed hands. The polling day repeats were at an end. In 2010-12, we suffered losses to Labour in the borough. The Lib Dem team on the Council was cut from 24 to 11. We have to go back to 2008 for the last Lib Dem gain in Gateshead. So the elections on Thursday saw us breaking the recent mould. We gained Pelaw and Heworth from Labour.
Historically, Pelaw and Heworth was a safe Labour ward. We then won it in the Blair years but lost it in the early Coalition years. Ian Patterson, who first won the seat for us about 16 years ago, continued to keep the ward warm though our expectation of winning it back this time were not high. Our campaign was aimed at putting us in a realistic jump-off position for a gain in 2018, when the next local elections are held.
Verification of votes took place on Thursday evening though the count itself was not due to start until 1.30pm on Friday. We knew by the time we left in the early hours of Friday morning that it was neck-and-neck in the ward. And we knew from the expressions on the faces of Labour members, and from the brief conversations they had with us, that they were not aware of a potential problem for them in the ward.
Frank Hindle, retiring as councillor for Low Fell, number crunched some figures and emailed me around 2am to say he could not call the result in PH. It was just too close.
Back at the count on Friday afternoon, it was some time before Labour were shaken out of their complacency. It began to dawn on them that they were facing a problem in PH. They tried to do random counts as the votes were being separated into the different piles for the candidates. As the piles of votes mounted, they knew they were facing their first loss in 8 years. The count went right up to the wire for a photo finish. Lib Dem Ian Patterson won by 20.
So after an absence of 4 years, Ian rejoins us in the Gateshead Lib Dem Council group and we can genuinely say that we have turned a corner.