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Tony Blair reshuffles cabinet after
disastrous local election outcome
By Andrew Stevens, UK Editor
5 May 2006: England’s 4 May 2006 local elections saw opposition parties claiming varying degrees of success and the governing Labour Party left to make amends following a poor showing. While the Conservative Party was able to claim the gains as vindication of the changes made to policy and campaigns under its new leader David Cameron, the failure to get a single Conservative councillor elected in large Northern cities such as Manchester and Newcastle did disappoint them. For Mr Cameron to present his party as a viable government in waiting then such urban centres are key for it to get over its image as a party of rural England.
The Liberal Democrats’ very modest gains were offset by the loss of its flagship London Borough of Islington, though it did take Richmond, in West London, from the Conservatives and hold on to its sole elected mayor in Watford, north of the capital.
Labour was able to hold on to the three elected mayors up for re-election in London, though the nominally safe Labour council of Lewisham did fall to no overall control, leaving the mayor there having to work with other parties. The city of Stoke on Trent’s Labour mayor now also faces the same prospect as his council went from Labour to no overall control.
The far-right British National Party doubled its number of councillors, particularly in the East London Borough of Barking and Dagenham where it emerged as the second-placed party to Labour following a high profile campaign on the issue of social housing and immigration. Modest gains were also recorded for the Greens and the anti-war Respect Party of George Galloway in the East London borough Tower Hamlets.
Labour’s losses, at the 300 councillor mark, were at the upper end of projections, though not quite as poor as some feared the party would fare. The Prime Minister’s response to the poor results was to undertake an immediate reshuffle of his cabinet. In the governmental shake-up, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was allowed to stay on in his titular post but stripped of his departmental responsibilities for local government, fire and housing following recent revelations of an extra-marital affair with a member of his staff. His deputy at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), the Communities and Local Government Minister David Miliband, will now become Environment Secretary in the Cabinet.
Both will be replaced by the outgoing Education Secretary Ruth Kelly in a new department, most likely to be named the Department for Communities and Local Government following the abolition of the ODPM. While Mr Miliband is seen as something of a rising star, critics of the Deputy Prime Minister complained that Mr Prescott will continue to receive a cabinet salary and perks in spite of no longer holding a departmental brief. As the department for local government and urban affairs created in 2001, the ODPM was much-maligned for its inability to get its agenda across among other government departments. The shake-up will see local government placed in its fourth department since Tony Blair first entered office in 1997. Other government changes included the replacement of Home Secretary Charles Clarke with Defence Minister John Reid and the demotion of Foreign Minister Jack Straw. Agricultural Minister Margaret Beckett, a Blair loyalist, will take over at the Foreign Office, while Mr Straw will become Leader of the House of Commons.
Opposition parties predict
gains in English local polls
11 April 2006: All political parties have now launched their campaigns for the 4 May 2006 local elections in England, with opposition parties predicting big gains in what may be seen as a referendum on the government of Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Of particular interest are the all-out elections in London’s 32 boroughs, with heavy losses predicted for the Labour Party, who stand to lose control of a number of councils there. A major wipe-out in the capital would increase demands from Labour politicians for Tony Blair to name a date for his departure as Prime Minister.
The election is the first electoral test for David Cameron since his election as leader of Britain’s Conservative Party last December. Mr Cameron has stated recently that the party’s road to recovery lies in England’s urban centres and a recent conference saw his urban policy chief, the former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine, call for more elected mayors in English cities. Similarly, recently elected Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell will also be hoping to maintain his party’s recent gains in local government.
The elections have been threatened with a crippling strike by local government unions, who have since March staged a series of walk-outs over controversial reforms to council workers’ pensions.
In total, 176 English councils are holding elections in May. These range from the 88 mainly rural district councils which will mostly elect only one third of their council, through to the 36 metropolitan authorities and 20 unitary authorities both in urban areas which will also elect mostly one third of their councillors this time.
In addition, Hackney, Lewisham, Newham all London boroughs - and Watford will hold mayoral elections in the first electoral test of their mayors since their inaugural elections in 2002. The three London mayoralties are currently held by Labour while the commuter town of Watford, north of London, was taken by the Liberal Democrats in 2002 after a period of Labour administration of its council.
A referendum will also be held on 4 May in the borough of Crewe near Manchester on the issue of whether or not to have a directly elected mayor.
There are no elections to English county councils, which were held last May, or in Wales’ 22 unitary councils. The next elections for Scotland’s 32 local councils will be staged in May 2007, the first held under the proportional system agreed between the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition in the Scottish Parliament.
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