Preston local elections: all the reaction from a night when a familiar face returned

The local elections in Preston served up no shocks this year - with not a single seat changing hands on the city council.

Friday, 6th May 2022, 9:33 am
Updated Friday, 6th May 2022, 1:45 pm

It means Labour remains in comfortable control at the town hall, with a 12-member majority. The ruling group holds the 30 seats that it did after the 2021 poll, with the Conservatives still on 11 and the Liberal Democrats remaining on seven.

Seventeen out of the 48 seats on the authority were up for grabs in Thursday's vote - Labour took 11 and the Tories and Lib Dems three apiece.

Read More

Read More
Preston City Council local elections 2022: results in full

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Valerie Wise is back after 22 years away from Preston City Council. Here, she recreates a photo taken with her sons, who,. at a much younger age, flanked their mum in a picture for the Post the last time she won an election in 1996.

Turnout for the election was just 27.8 percent and Labour council leader Matthew Brown acknowledged that it was difficult to ensure that the residents were “inspired enough” to want to have their say at the ballot box.

However, he hailed the fact that his party had defended all of its seats, as well as increasing its majority in wards which, until recently, had not been held by the group.

“I think it’s testimony to the hard work of the Labour council…as well as, obviously, dissatisfaction with the Conservative government.

“I think people know about our ambition and that we do, radically, want to change things,” Cllr Brown said.

And here's the proof!

It was that radical agenda which one of his predecessors said had tempted her back to the political frontline in Preston.

Valerie Wise - who led the authority for what she admitted was a “tumultuous" 18 months in 1994/95 - was elected to represent the Fishwick and Frenchwood ward, for which she pledged to be an “assiduous local councillor”.

She last sat on the authority 22 years ago and is now the national domestic abuse lead for a charity that works with victims.

Cllr Wise’s tenure as council leader came to an end when she stood down following a vote of no confidence in her after a major falling out with then Preston Borough Council chief executive - and later Lancashire County Council leader - Geoff Driver.

The Conservative Party remains the main opposition on Preston City Council - pictured in the centre here is Stephen Thompson, elected to Preston Rural North

She said after her victory on Friday morning that she “hadn’t envisaged” returning to the political fray, but was keen to support the “Preston Model” and the concept of community wealth building being pursued by the current administration.

Preston Labour council is really sticking up for the people of this [city] against the horrors of this Tory government, which is making it so difficult for so many people living in Preston.

“Preston is really showing the way in terms of local government [at a national level].

“I am just delighted with what Matthew and the Labour group are doing. I feel they are taking forward what I had started - and maybe was stopped [from doing] prematurely,” Cllr Wise said.

Cllr Phoenix Adair, Neil Darby and Fiona Duke (front row) held the line for the Lib Dems

The former leader said that a quote often attributed to her from her time at the top of the authority - that she had wanted to create a “socialist republic” in Preston - had actually come from the mouth of the then Tory group leader, Joe Hood.

“I just said: ‘Yeah, that's a good idea’,” recalls Cllr Wise, daughter of the late Preston MP Audrey Wise, who represented the city at Westminster from 1987 until her death in 2000.

Meanwhile, Conservative opposition group leader Sue Whittam said she was satisfied that her party had maintained the status quo against a tough national backdrop.

“I think the national politics have come into play, because some of the results were close, but we managed to hold on to [the seats]. We could not have worked any harder than we did locally,” added Cllr Whittam, whose husband, Stephen, was elected to the authority for the Preston Rural East ward.

Lib Dem group leader John Potter said his party had recovered from being “walloped” when it lost two seats last year and also its place as joint main opposition group with the Conservatives.

“We build from here now - last year now looks like an oddity [and] now we're back in the game.

“All local elections have some sort of national politics put into [them], it’s naive to think they don't. But we fought hard, we knocked on more doors than we’ve ever done before - and we earned the victories that we got today,” Cllr Potter added.

Elsewhere, Jonathan Saksena - Preston’s now longest-serving councillor following Cllr Browne’s death - was re-elected to his Ribbleton ward. He has been a member of the authority since 1984.

Labour also retained the seat held by former deputy council leader Peter Moss, who quit the local party in February, having been deselected as a candidate, and spent the remainder of his time on the authority as a "Labour Independent".

And in a case of Lib Dem musical chairs, Phoenix Adair stood down from the Greyfriars ward after three years to contest – and win - Cadley, retaining it for the party after the departure of the incumbent. Greyfriars resident Fiona Duke was elected to take up the vacated spot in that ward.

Cllr Adair said it will be difficult to leave Greyfriars residents behind, but pledged to finish any outstanding casework in the area, while Cllr Duke said it made sense for her to seek election in the ward where she lives.

A FEMALE FIRST FOR PRESTON

Following the election result, a Preston City Council ward will, for the first time ever, be represented by a trio of female councillors - with Labour’s Mel Close and Naoimh McMahon elected to serve alongside sitting councillor Nerys Eaves in the Brookfield ward.

Two councillors were elected to Brookfield, as the ward held a vacancy following the passing of veteran Labour politician John Browne, who died in March after serving almost 39 years on the authority.

Cllr Close said she believed that she and her colleague owed their success to the affection that people had for Cllr Browne - and said they wanted to dedicate their victory to him.

Cllr McMahon praised the Labour group for drawing up all-female shortlists in some of its wards - and so paving the way for three women to be able to serve Brookfield.

“This is really exciting for the party. As a group, [they] are edging towards 50 percent female representation - and that’s massive, to have a great mix of people [and] mix of faces.”

Cllr Brown said that he was delighted that 13 out of the 30 Labour councillors on the authority were now women - and that the group was more diverse in age, too.

“It is a lot more reflective of the community, a lot more younger candidates [are] coming forward and being successful.

[It’s important] to change the culture of local government so that…the people who serve and represent the people out there…actually mirror them. And that doesn't happen in local government - you tend to have lots of older guys who are retired and might be over 60 years of age,” Cllr Brown said.