ALL eyes at Coventry City Council are on whether Ann Lucas will continue as leader tonight as her rebel Labour colleagues seek to boot her out in a secret leadership contest.
Coun Lucas’s opponents were buoyed by some expected gains for their side in yesterday’s elections, with Labour losing two seats to the Tories in Westwood and Woodlands, where group whip Pat Hetherton and Richard Sandy were defeated.
Labour held on in other marginals including Bablake (David Kershaw) and Cheylesmore (Richard Brown) after re-counts saw him win by just nine votes.
It was a predictable outcome in the three Parliamentary constituencies – all historically Labour strongholds.
Coventry was expectedly low key nationally while declarations in Warwickshire’s bellwether marginal seats surrounding it – with shock swings to the Tories rather than Labour gains – became defining moments nationally of an historic General Election.
While Nuneaton and North Warwickshire became barometers of the national mood once the preserve of ‘Essex man’ – a heavy defeat declared today for the retiring Coventry councillor Lynnette Kelly who stood for Labour in Warwick and Leamington served to underline David Cameron’s Conservatives’ unexpected outright majority at Westminster.
Colleen Fletcher becomes the new MP for Coventry North East, replacing the retiring Bob Ainsworth.
Labour stalwarts Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) and Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) will stand for a further term, despite the latter’s apparent original intention to resign shortly before the election in favour of Ed Miliband aide Greg Beales.
Both saw their majorities over the Conservatives reduced, with UKIP polling around 15 per cent of the vote.
The Greens highlighted their share of the vote regionally increased fivefold.
Former Socialist councillor and ex-Labour MP Dave Nellist’s Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition retained a presence across all wards in Coventry while again failing to return any councillors, with Labour’s Jim O’Boyle winning in inner-city St Michael’s ward.
Coun O’Boyle will challenge Phil Townshend for the deputy leadership of the council in tonight’s secret ballot of Labour councillors, while former deputy council leader George Duggins is challenging Ann Lucas for the leadership.
The result is expected this evening (Friday). The rebels believe they have come very close to deposing her in the same way that she ousted former leader John Mutton two years ago.
Some said she will be “fatally wounded” if not deposed in a clear expression of disharmony within the group – and unhappiness over her leadership style and performance – even if those straddling both sides fall away at the last minute and she wins a clear majority among her Labour colleagues.
Coventry City Council’s two party make-up is now the Conservatives with 13 councillors, and Labour with 41.
Labour councillors say the higher turnout with a General Election coinciding was a feature in local election performance.
They claimed their policies were vindicated, including seeking to promote city growth and protecting the vulnerable from unprecedented government cuts to councils, while threatening cuts to libraries, youth clubs, children’s centres and other community services.
Conservative group leader John Blundell said: “We’re very pleased to have gained the two seats, and very disappointed we didn’t win Cheylesmore.
“We feel we’re in a very good position now to continue making inroads into this Labour majority, challenging over the greenbelt, houses in multiple occupations and other issues, whichever shape and form the Labour group takes.
“Tonight’s leadership contest is a matter for the Labour party.”
The Green Party finished in fourth place with 1691 votes in Coventry North West, ahead of the Lib Dems, up 1194 votes on 2010, where Laura Vesty stood as its candidate.
She said: “In the 2014 European elections, the Green Party finished ahead of the Liberal Democrats in 16 local council areas of the West Midlands. We’ve done the same this year, here in Coventry North West pushing them into fifth place.
“Our membership has quadrupled in recent months. It is just a shame that under this unfair electoral system, the percentage of votes we get will not transfer to representation in parliament.”
UKIP Coventry South and Westwood candidate Mark Taylor said: “I am pleased that our three parliamentary candidates achieved three third places.
“Regarding the locals, personally, I was hoping to see us win a few local seats based on last year’s encouraging results and the many pro-UKIP comments I received as I campaigned.
“Locally, we achieved 16 third places, one second and one fourth. I believe Coventry UKIP impacted on the Labour vote across some wards and this contributed to the Conservatives winning Westwood and Woodlands.
“The results mean we are the third biggest party in our city, in terms of votes gained.”
UPDATE: Ann Lucas beat George Duggins by 23 votes to 17 with one spoiled paper.
Phil Townshend beat Jim O’Boyle by 23 votes to 16 with two spoiled papers.