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Archive - Saturday, 3 May 2003
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High drama as leader is beaten and breakaway group celebrates
THE political map of Teesside was torn up on an election night of high drama.
Dave Walsh, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, lost his seat and Labour lost overall control of the majority.
The Labour Party's nightmare night was confirmed with its total capitulation in Thornaby in face of fierce opposition from the newly formed Thornaby Independents' Association.
The break-away group swept all before them as they claimed all eight seats in the town, vindicating their pre-election promises to speak for the people of Thornaby.
Despite their heavy losses, Stockton's Labour group clung to overall power of the council by a single seat.
Steve Walmsley, a deselected Labour councillor who was voted in as a Thornaby independent for Mandale, said his party's victory proves Thornaby voters are tired of Stockton's hold over them.
He said: "The Labour Party has always taken for granted places like Thornaby and looked down on them.
"We set up the party in just two or three months and we have had people in Stockton throwing muck at us ever since. We have proved that, where the Labour Party was the people's party, it is now the independents."
Bob Gibson, Stockton's council leader, was re-elected with a reduced majority. He said what happened in Thornaby was not reflected in the rest of the borough.
He said: "Yes, we are disappointed with Thornaby, but it is not a slap in the face for us.
"Two of their councillors were deselected by the Labour Party and we now have to work with them on the council. We just have to live with that."
Stockton North MP Frank Cook said Labour's near capitulation in Stockton reflected a national pattern.
He said: It is clear from what has happened elsewhere in the country that things are in complete turmoil."
Meanwhile, talks behind closed doors were under way as the last votes were counted at Redcar and Cleveland council yesterday.
Labour, shell-shocked after losing control of the council and of their leader losing his seat on the same night, were still the largest party.
With 23 seats, seven short of a majority, they could still take control with the support either the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives.
The Labour group could also form a majority if they had the support of all eight independent councillors. However, the Labour Group is in disarray and its leaders have had a number of disputes with their counterparts on the other parties.
It was a better night for the party in Middlesbrough where they maintained their grip on the council. But while they remain by far the biggest party, there were significant gains for the Tories and the number of independents increased from one to four.
Labour did not have it all their own way. Their veteran councillor Oliver Johnson was forced out, his place being taken by single issue independent Joan McTigue whose election leaflet solely focused on Mr Johnson's council expenses.
Mrs McTigue said: "I thought it might be close, but I did not expect to get in.''
A disconsolate Mr Johnson said Mrs McTigue's election campaign was "despicable and dishonourable".
The biggest vote of the night -1,309 votes -went to veteran independent councillor Ron Lowes who finds himself co-representing Acklam, not with a Conservative as in the past, but with first-time Labour councillor, restaurateur Shyamal Biswas, who has won food industry awards.
At Hartlepool, Labour failed to win the one extra seat it needed to gain control of the authority, so the town remains governed by a hung council.