THE Conservative Party has retained control of Staffordshire County Council but endured severe losses at the ballot box.
The party lost 15 seats in this week’s local elections, while the Labour Party gained 17. The Conservatives’ overall majority on the council plummeted from 36 to just six.
Among the big-name Tory casualties was Liz Staples, councillor for Horninglow and Stretton, who lost her seat to Labour’s Shelagh McKiernan by a margin of just 75 votes. Councillor Staples was the authority’s cabinet member for adult wellbeing and previously served as its education chief.
Councillor McKiernan described the victory as ‘overwhelming’.
Philip Atkins, Tory leader of the council, told the Mail: “We have retained a small majority, which is good news. Labour has made inroads and there has definitely been a protest vote.”
Councillor Atkins also said it was a ‘shame national politics had interfered’ in the election results by overshadowing local issues.
The Tories retained five of the eight county council divisions in East Staffordshire, while Labour kept hold of two and gained one.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP)saw a surge in its popularity, receiving 14 per cent more of the popular vote than it gained in 2009 when Staffordshire Council council seats were last up for grabs. The party came second in half of all the East Staffordshire divisions.
Mike Green, who stood for the anti-European party in the Dove division and came within 152 votes of unseating Tory Bob Fraser, said: “We are becoming a force to be reckoned with. We are now a credible third force.”
Councillor Fraser said he had been ‘worried’ by the UKIP surge, but said: “People have realised that to get results they need to vote for somebody who has experience and has been doing the job for years.”
Ron Clarke, who kept hold of the Burton Town seat for Labour, said he was ‘extremely proud’ to have been re-elected, but expressed concern at the low voter turnout — just 24.1 per cent of his electorate bothered to vote.
The highest turnout in East Staffordshire was found in the Dove ward (36.7 per cent).
“The turnout we have seen does disappoint me because it doesn’t reflect the amount of work put in by a county councillor,” Councillor Clarke said.
Penny Perry, former deputy Labour leader of East Staffordshire Borough Council, failed in her bid to win the Burton Tower division — narrowly losing out to 22-year-old Conservative Conor Wileman by just 140 votes.
The Liberal Democrats lost all four of their seats on the county council in this week’s elections.
The party’s candidates in East Staffordshire, including the borough’s next mayor, Michael Rodgers, polled a combined 504 votes.