Labour hit by election shocks but finish one up.

Tuesday, May 7th, 2019 8:59am

By Local Democracy Reporter Charlotte Green.

The Oldham 2019 local election count gets underway.

Labour suffered two shock defeats in Oldham but ended the night one up after staving off challenge from a resurgent UKIP, independents and new grassroots party.

 

The ruling group also celebrated electing their first female Bangladeshi councillor in Ruji Surjan in Coldhurst – despite a difficult local campaign which supporters said was mired in misogyny.


One seat in each of the borough’s 20 wards was up for election, with 102 candidates standing.


But just under a third of residents went out to vote, with turnout overall standing at 32.95pc.


Labour lost a key seat in Failsworth East, with cabinet member for education Paul Jacques being defeated by independent Brian Hobin by a 521 majority.


Mr Jacques had won the seat in 2017 in a by-election after then-council leader Jim McMahon stepped down to become an MP.


New Councillor Hobin said he had no idea that he would be able to take the seat, but had campaigned strongly on local issues – including green belt development.


“It’s a first attempt and I didn’t think we would do as well as we have and I am amazed, and proud. It’s very humbling,” he said.


Labour also lost their grip on Saddleworth West and Lees, with Adrian Alexander being defeated by 283 votes by Liberal Democrat candidate Sam Al-Hamdani.


Council leader Sean Fielding said they were ‘three up, two down’ overall.


“I think it’s been a peculiar night across the borough, but it’s not just here it’s across the rest of the country as well,” he said.


“We see smaller parties and independents doing better than people expected and that’s just happened here in the same way.


“Paul is such an excellent and competent local councillor and has fabulous expertise in education which will be a loss to the council.


“Overall in terms of the size of the Labour group on the council, people have voted for a Labour administration with a large majority.”


But he added that Labour had learned that they needed to be better at ‘broadcasting our message’.


Mr Alexander’s defeat leaves the mayoralty in confusion.


As deputy mayor he had been due to take over from outgoing Mayor Javid Iqbal, and take on the chains of office at a full council meeting later this month.


However with the line of succession broken, it’s not yet known how his replacement will be selected. 


Labour managed to gain Coldhurst and Medlock Vale wards back from independent councillors who had been suspended from Labour.


Montaz Ali Azad and Kaiser Rehman had both stood again to try to keep their respective seats but were swept aside by new candidates Ruji Surjan and Mohammed Alyas.


Surjan’s victory of 2,031 votes means Coldhurst voters have elected their first ever female Bangladeshi councillor.


“I feel ecstatic to win, I’m very overwhelmed,” she said. 


But the new councillor added she had encountered misogyny and personal attacks during the campaign both on social media and on the streets.


“I think I have proven that women can be at the forefront and women can make positive changes – and dirty politics won’t get you anywhere,” Coun Surjan said.


“I didn’t take no for an answer.” 


UKIP, which had hoped to ride to victory on a wave of dissatisfaction over the Brexit negotiations failed to claw back a seat in the council chamber.


Despite fielding 14 candidates – up from none in last years’ locals – they could not translate an upswell in votes into seats.


Overall the main opposition Liberal Democrats broke even, losing one seat but gaining another in Saddleworth West and Lees.


They were unable to retain Saddleworth North, which had been held by veteran councillor Derek Heffernan since 1995 before he opted to step down this year.


Their new candidate John Eccles was beaten by 137 votes by Labour’s George Hulme.


Despite not winning any of the three seats they were contesting, the fledgling Saddleworth First! party polled a respectable 1,860 votes in total, and came second in the six-way fight in Saddleworth North.


The only Conservative up for election – Graham Sheldon in Saddleworth South – comfortably retained his seat with 1,068 votes.


The make up of the council now stands at Labour; 45 seats, Conservative; 4, Liberal Democrat; 8, and 3 independents.

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