Labour's 'unclear' Brexit message to blame for Bolsover losses, says outgoing leader

PUBLISHED: 15:37 03 May 2019 | UPDATED: 15:53 03 May 2019

A Labour rosette is worn in support of the party during an election count. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA.

A Labour rosette is worn in support of the party during an election count. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA.

PA Archive/PA Images

Voters, council leaders and newly-elected independents in the Labour bastion of Bolsover say the party's crash in the district council election is down to Brexit.

The north Derbyshire council was firmly in Labour's control - as it has been for 40 years - with 32 councillors from the party, opposed by just five independents.

The district's solid Labour credentials are personified in the form of Brexiteer MP Dennis Skinner, the “Beast of Bolsover”, who has represented the parliamentary constituency in the House of Commons for nearly 50 years.

But Labour lost overall control of the council in spectacular style due to a massive surge in support for independent candidates.

Labour lost 14 seats, leaving them with 18. The independents were boosted to 16 councillors, with the Tories taking two and the Lib Dems one.

Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover. (Photograph: PA)Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover. (Photograph: PA)

Outgoing Labour and council leader Ann Syrett, who did not contest this election, admitted to being “a bit stunned” as she said the council is in “a very good place, as an authority”.

Syrett told the Press Association: “The sad thing is that it's not anything that we've done as an authority. We haven't had problems with any particular issue with the public. I don't get complaints.”

She added: “What we've met on the doorstep is that it's just not clear to people what Labour means on Brexit. It simply isn't clear. It's come up everywhere.

“We've tried to keep off it and say 'look we've got a clean sheet, we're doing our best for you and it's OK' .... 'well, yes, but what about Brexit?'

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“The sad thing about Brexit is that it's as divisive as the (1984 miners) strike used to be, where you go into a household and there are people on either side of the issue. It really is damaging.”

Asked if she had a message for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, she said: “All I can say to him is that we really need more information, we need a very definite lead from him, whatever it is on Brexit, he's got to tell us.”

She said: “You can live with anything if it's certain. At the moment, everyone is living with uncertainty. I think that's what's hit this.”

Independent Andrew Joesbury, who retained his seat, said that even he was shocked by the scale of his fellow independents' gains.

Joesbury said: “I don't think it's a result of anything local, I think it's something that's filtered down from the national politics and people just being sick of the two main parties. In this area, that means Labour.”

In the town of Clowne, where the council is based and where three independent councillors were elected, voters seemed surprised by the scale of the results.

Brian Cooke, 63, said: “I know everyone's just had it with politics generally, but you don't expect this round here. People just vote Labour, that's it, I'm not sure what's gone on.”

Pam Campbell, 47, said: “I just didn't vote because I'm for Brexit and I think they've all done everything they can to wreck it. I think Labour lost it because most people stayed at home.

“Why should we bother to vote for any of them when they don't do what they say they'll do?”

Student Bryony Bassett, 20, said: “All my family vote Labour, it's like a religion for my dad. Everyone does round here. So, it is a shock, yes. I'm not sure what it is all these independents stand for.”

Another man, who did not want to be named, shouted: “At least the Tories didn't get in. Now that would be a story round here.”

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