By Local Government Reporter Sam Rkaina
BRISTOL City Council faces an uncertain future after the ruling Liberal Democrats lost overall control at the local elections.
The Lib Dems lost five seats to Labour and the Green Party, and although they are still the largest party they will no longer have the ability to force through their policies regardless of political opposition.
The new makeup of the council sees the Lib Dems with 33 seats, Labour with 21, the Conservatives with 14 and the Green Party with two.
Speaking shortly after the last of 24 seats up for grabs was declared yesterday morning, Lib Dem and council leader Barbara Janke said she would have discussions with other political groups to decide a way forward.
Labour took four of the Lib Dems’ seats in Eastville, Hengrove, St George West and Lawrence Hill and the Green Party took one in Ashley ward.
The Lib Dems who lost their seats were Muriel Cole in Eastville, Jos Clark in Hengrove and Tony Potter in St George West .
Shirley Brown and Sue O’Donnell both stood down before the elections in Ashley and Lawrence Hill but their Lib Dem replacements failed to hold onto their seats.
The Tories held onto their three seats but failed to make any gains.
Turnout on the night was 39.9 per cent, with 87,652 people successfully casting their vote.
The lowest ward turnout was in Filwood with just 26.7 per cent of people voting Labour’s Jeff Lovell back in while the highest was Ashley with 49.6 per cent and a Green Party gain.
One former city councillor – Labour’s Peter Hammond – returned to the authority by taking St George West from the Lib Dems.
But three other former members failed to do so – Lib Dem Abdul Malik in Lawrence Hill, Tory Barbara Lewis in Hillfields and Green Charlie Bolton in Southville.
It was a long night for the hundreds of counters, councillors and candidates who turned out to the local election count at Ashton Gate.
Final results were not declared until after 5am and didn’t finish until after 6am – much later than originally predicted.
Part of this was because the Electoral Commission had decided all AV votes had to be verified before local election results could be counted – even though the Alternate Vote ballots were not to be counted until Friday.
But there were none of the problems of last year’s widely criticised local and general elections, when the votes were misplaced then found, and papers for Bishopston and Bishopsworth mixed up because they sound similar.
Lib Dem and council leader Barbara Janke described the result as “disastrous” but felt the party had fared better in Bristol than other parts of the country.
While Lib Dem majorities fell dramatically in some seats they held – Knowle and Brislington West included – in others like Cabot, Windmill Hill and Clifton they actually went up.
Mrs Janke – who retained her Clifton seat with an increased majority – said: “Compared with what’s been happening nationally we’ve done better in Bristol.
“We would like to have kept our majority and we’re very disappointed but we will not walk away from our responsibility.
“We will meet with other parties to look at how best to work with them in what will be a challenging year ahead.
“We will fight back and we certainly want to achieve a majority in the Bristol again as soon as possible.
The Lib Dems took control of the authority in 2009 from Labour, when the Tories sided with them in a row over an incinerator.
Mrs Janke said the Lib Dems would listen to the messages voters had given them during the campaign but felt national issues had played a part in the result.
She said: “There are very different results in different parts of the city – in Windmill Hill we have a majority of 1,000 but other seats we have lost.
“We need to listen to the messages we’ve heard from the doorsteps.”
Labour leader Helen Holland – who regained her Whitchurch Park seat with an increased majority – said it had been a good night for her party in Bristol.
She said: “To gain four seats is great but if you look at some of the numbers we’ve run the Lib Dems very close where they’ve been confident of a decent size majority.
“They (the Lib Dems) have found out what it’s like to have to defend the party in government. The people of Bristol have said ‘we don’t trust you’.
“One thing it does show is that they cannot carry on working in such an arrogant manner on things like the parks and green spaces.
“They’ve got to take more account of the views of their communities. Mrs Holland wouldn’t be drawn on what might happen to the leadership of the council now, other than it would be a matter for the next full council meeting on May 17.
In terms of seats there was no change for the Tories, but much like in 2009 they still have the chance to play kingmaker.
But the Bristol Lib Dems will no doubt be mindful that the national coalition with the Conservatives is one of the main reasons the party has done so badly across the country.
Conservative Deputy Leader Councillor Peter Abraham said: “Given the circumstances, the Conservative vote has held up extremely well.
“Our primary aim was to hold all of the seats we were defending.
“At a time when Conservatives are the lead partner in a Government tasked with dealing with Labour’s disastrous deficit – it was always going to be difficult to make gains but we were delighted with our polling performance across the city.
“The same cannot be said of our Coalition partners the Liberal Democrats. Locally, they lost five seats but if the whole of the Council had been up for election, this figure would have been far higher. On my calculations it would have been in the region of 12 to 15 seats, which would have given them a group in the lower 20’s.
“As such, these results have dealt a devastating blow to the Lib Dems in Bristol. People have clearly lost confidence in their ability to run the city.
“The Conservative Group will be doing everything in its power to ensure that our policies are reflected in or pursued by the new Administration over the next two years.”
And although the Green Party only took one more seat at the elections they still had plenty of reasons to celebrate.
The collectively polled 2,000 more votes than when the same seats were contested in 2007, took second place in Southville and third in Bishopsworth, Cabot, Clifton, Easton, Frome Vale and Windmill Hill.
In victory speeches, a number of Labour and Tory candidates criticised their Lib Dem opponents, alleging they had played a campaign of “dirty tricks” in seats including St George West and Stockwood although they did not go into specifics.
This wasn’t the case everywhere though – and in Ashley in particular, the Lib Dems, Green and Labour candidates praised each other for a “good, clean fight”.