CHESTER and west Cheshire have bucked the national political trend by turning red.
While much of England has voted Conservative, the City of Chester has a new Labour MP and Labour has also taken control Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC).
The successes came after cliff-hanger vote counts, which started late on Thursday night and did not finish until Saturday tea-time.
Chris Matheson will now represent Chester in Parliament, while Cllr Samantha Dixon is the new leader of CWaC – the only council in the country to have switched control to Labour on May 7.
Both the Parliamentary and council elections went down to the wire, with Mr Matheson defeating Conservative Stephen Mosley by 93 votes and Labour winning the council election by a single seat.
There was a constituency recount because of the closeness of the vote and the General Election result did not come through until after 7am on Friday.
And it took 14 hours of counting for 75 council seats in 46 CWaC wards on Friday and Saturday before council chief executive Steve Robinson declared that the Labour Party had won 38 seats on the authority – two more than their Conservative opponents – with one Independent elected in Parkgate ward.
Scores of party workers and vote tellers had been sent home on Friday and told to come back at 2pm the following day for a second recount in Newton. It emerged on Friday that Labour’s Richard Beacham had topped the poll in the two-seat ward.
The initial result for the second Newton seat, followed by a bundle recount, produced a second Labour victory for Gill Watson over Conservative Adrian Walmsley, who was defending his CWaC seat.
After a lengthy dispute between Labour and Tory camps, Mr Robinson finally agreed to a full recount on Saturday which, after three-and-a-half hours, produced a 34 vote victory for new councillor Mr Watson, prompting shrieks of joy from fellow Labour supporters.
Taking to the stage to thunderous applause at the Northgate Arena, where the count was held, Cllr Dixon said: “We fought this campaign on an ambitious manifesto which will build a fair and transparent authority that puts residents at the heart of what we do.
“We will care, and prioritise your views, and be honest about the decisions we take.”
She added: “This Labour administration will put respect back at the fore of this council.”
At a Press conference after the result, Cllr Dixon described Chester as a “little ray of hope in the North West”, referring to the Conservatives’ dominance in the General Election.
As well as praising new MP Mr Madders, her predecessor as Labour group leader, she paid tribute to Party stalwarts the late Derek Bateman, the first Labour group leader after CWaC was created, and the late David Robinson, who had created a “superb” election strategy that proved decisive for the party locally.
Asked for the secret of Labour’s success in Chester, she said it was down to “a lot of hard work” and a “very focused campaign”, with candidates holding more than 70,000 conversations with voters.
She said the comment about “respect” in her speech was not meant as a dig at Cllr Jones, but added: “The Conservative group removed the respect aspect of the [councillors’] code of conduct and that is something that is very core to the Labour group.”
She said it had only just dawned on her that what had been achieved in Chester was “quite significant”.
Asked what the council’s new Labour administration would do differently, Cllr Dixon said: “We will take a different approach to health and social care.
“This is not an area that this authority has been particularly strong on.”
She vowed to review the recommissioning of homelessness and sexual health services, as well as those relating to drug and alcohol treatment.
l THERE will be 22 new faces on CWaC – 12 Labour, nine Conservative and one Independent – among the 75 members at the council’s annual meeting on May 21.
A total of 178,771 people voted in the borough election – a turnout of 68.2 per cent.
See full story in the Chester Leader