LABOUR faces a tough two weeks trying to hold on to power, after it lost overall control of Durham County Council for the first time in a century.

THE Labour Party lost 15 seats on Durham County Council following Thursday’s election which left it with 53 of the authority’s 126 councillors – 11 short of a majority.

Independents and smaller parties won 31 seats, a collective gain of three, which includes the authority’s first Green Party member Jonathan Elmer.

The Conservatives became the main opposition with 24 seats, a gain of 14, and the Liberal Democrats took a total of 17 across the county, up three.

Now, with the council’s annual meeting on May 26 looming, Labour’s group leader Simon Henig and his colleagues will have to work hard if they are to convince other members to work with them to form an administration.

At the conclusion of two days of counts, Cllr Henig told The Northern Echo: “It has been a challenging election.

“We’ve obviously had a challenging year, we’re only just coming out of lockdown, we’ve not been able to campaign as much as we normally would so it has been a very different election.

“Clearly, the Conservatives have done very well across the country and in County Durham. There is a very clear pattern of the Conservatives making significant gains.

“Firstly, I’d like to thank those people who did support Labour candidates, we fought a very positive campaign looking at building on our work.

“We still want to push that programme forward and will work with anyone help push County Durham forward and bring about our vision of 30,000 extra jobs and a boosted economy.

“I would like to thank colleagues, particularly those who were unsuccessful – we have lost a lot of experienced members with irreplaceable experience over many years, that is a very difficult loss. But they can all be very proud of their service and the campaigns they ran.

“The annual meeting is two-and-a-half weeks away.

“Whatever emerges, Labour is still the largest party but we’ve got to look at the next steps moving forward.

“This is a great county and with a great future ahead of us and we will work with anyone to help realise that.”

Among the big names and veteran members the Labour party lost from the authority were former Chairmen John Robinson, of Sedgefield, and John Lethbridge, of Woodhouse Close.

Stalwart Pauline Crathorne, of Bishop Middleham and Cornforth, went along with cabinet members John Clare, who lost his Aycliffe North and Middridge seat to Lib Dems, and Andrea Patterson, of Crook.

City of Durham’s Labour MP Mary Foy yesterday said she would help in any way she could to see that politicians work together on the issues that matter most to residents.

She tweeted: “The results in County Durham are obviously deeply disappointing for the Labour Party.

“While we have had some brilliant councillors returned, and some great new representatives elected, the loss of Durham County Council for the first time is a huge blow.

“Not only will this make running the council more difficult, it is also a reflection on how Labour is viewed in the communities we once prided ourselves on representing.

“Things have to change.

“On a national level, the Labour Party needs to set out our vision for what a Labour Government will look like. This cannot be based purely on values, we must detail what changes we will make that will improve communities like ours in Durham.

“We have schools that need rebuilding, high streets that need revitalising, and so much more. We need to show that Labour will give our region the investment it deserves.

“Locally, we must remember that every councillor has been elected to serve their constituents.

“The council being in no overall control means we must work together on the issues that matter most to our communities. I’m ready to help in whatever way I can.”