Burnley Borough Council elections 2019: Labour council leader believes national unrest has hit the party locally
Burnley Council leader Mark Townsend called it a case of 'damage limitation' for Labour at this year's borough elections as the party lost its majority grip on the council.
Coun. Townsend, who held onto his seat in Brunshaw, said it had been a difficult few weeks culminating in the party losing five seats at today's count to reduce its overall total on the council to 22.
He blamed the ever-lingering Brexit cloud for dampening candidates' prospects locally and acknowledged how confusing a time it currently was in the world of politics.
"It was always going to about damage limitation today," he told the Express. "We were defending 11 of the 15 seats so we knew it was going to be difficult especially with the national landscape at the moment.
"We were hit with that time and time again on the doorstep. People seemed happy with the council and the way the town was going but they are blaming both main parties for not delivering on the referendum.
"I am pleased that we won the six seats. The rest were split between the minor parties. Three of those five went to remain parties and two went to leave parties, so it shows just how confusing politics is at the minute.
"I am really disappointed that we have lost five talented and hard-working councillors who have had to face the wrath of the electorate and the feeling nationally. I am sure they will be back stronger."
Labour are now one seat short of holding an overall majority on the council and Coun. Townsend said there would be discussions on how they would move forward this weekend.
"I am going to consult with my colleagues over the course of the weekend.
"We are still by far the largest party on the council and we will look to move forward with stability and carry on with the good work the council has been doing."
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Coun. Gordon Birtwistle said the result marked the return of the party in Burnley.
The Lib Dems remain the largest opposition on the council with a total of eight seats after gaining seats in Rosehill with Burnley Wood and Coalclough with Deerplay.
"We had a good day," said Coun. Birtwistle. "We held Briercliffe, gained one back that we lost to a defector in Coalclough and then defeated that defector in Rosehill. So we gained two seats from Labour.
"We're now the biggest opposition party with eight seats. It's disappointing that people decided to defect from the party because we would be in an even stronger position now. I said at the time it felt like I had been stabbed in the back but that's politics for you. There's no honour in politics.
"We have got to start building again. In 1982 there was just me.I remember the Labour party telling me I'd be able to hold my group meetings in a phone box. Since then we've been up past 22 seats on the council and we've been down to four seats on the council. But we're back on the rise now. And we're doing it slowly, professionally and with decent candidates."
Gannow ward councillor Charlie Briggs was one of the councillors who defected from the Lib Dems in 2017.
Standing in this year's election as a Burnley and Padiham Independent candidate, he retained his Gannow seat with an overwhelming majority while his party gained two seats elsewhere.
"Personally, I was astounded by the result," he said. "To win my nearly 700 votes, I couldn't be prouder. I never assume anything. People have been saying to me all week, 'You've cracked it Charlie, you're going to get in'. And I've been telling them, 'Please don't say that'.
"As I was watching the count though I couldn't believe it. It tells me that I've not been doing a bad job. Even in my mayoral year I've not ignored anybody and I've tried to help wherever I've been able to.
"It's fantastic that we've taken seats in Rosegrove with Lowerhouse and Whittlefield with Ightenhill as well. Congratulations to Lorraine and Emma. They're a great pair of ladies and I'm sure they will do their areas proud."
Speaking about leaving the Lib Dem party in 2017 he said he had no regrets standing for the Burnley and Padiham Independent Party despite the fact that between them now the two parties hold 13 seats on the council.
"No regrets there. It's gone now. There's no point in hanging on to it. It's over and done with.
"Whatever the fallout was over, it's forgotten. I want to do what I want to do for the good of the area and it wouldn't have mattered which party I was with. I'm still friends with people there.
"We want to take it slowly, concentrate on our areas. There's no point in rushing and trying to take over Burnley because that won't work. We need to vet all the people who are interested in standing for the Burnley and Padiham Independent Party and make sure they are the right people for Burnley."
Elsewhere, the Green Party and UKIP picked up a seat each with Sarah Hall winning in Trinity and Peter Gill triumphing in Hapton with Park, respectively.
UKIP now hold three seats on the council while the Greens move to two.