The party bucked the trend seen in the rest of the UK by making only minimal losses in the city, while one senior councillor held onto her seat by just a dozen votes.
However, the leader of the Leeds Conservatives claimed the share of Labour’s vote had “collapsed”, despite his party gaining only one seat on the authority.
Labour went into the contest with 54 seats and left with the same number – winning back two vacant Roundhay seats, and losing Ardsley and Robin Hood, and Morley South to the Conservatives and Morley Borough Independents respectively.
But it was a day of important holds for Labour, with transport executive member Helen Hayden keeping her Temple Newsam seat by just 12 votes, while newcomer Emma Flint held on to Weetwood – a Liberal Democrat target seat.
Council leader James Lewis was also re-elected to his Kippax and Methley seat, while other senior members – environment chief Mohammed Rafique (Chapel Allerton) and children and families head Fiona Venner (Kirkstall) – also held their patches.
It left the ruling Labour group with an overall majority of five seats on the council, two under the result achieved at the last local elections in 2019.
Speaking after the result, Coun Lewis said: “I am really proud of our councillors and candidates, and the results we have seen today – we have really got stuck in supporting people in the pandemic in Leeds.
“What we see today is people recognising everything we have done – we listen to and work with people, we get things done, and the voters have looked at that and elected us back to the council.
Given what happened elsewhere in the country – and given the party lost its majority in Sheffield – was he ever concerned the party might lose out?
He said: “I knew how strong our team was, and I knew the work had gone in during our campaigning.
“Lots of our councillors and candidates are part of the communities they represent. We are there for community organisations.”
Three seats had been counted on Friday evening, due to the religious commitments of campaigners – this saw Labour win back the two vacant seats in Roundhay, and the Tories hold on to Alwoodley.
With the votes already verified on Friday, the rest of the count was swiftly underway the following morning, with the first result coming in less than an hour before counting started.
Among the early results Weetwood was a Lib Dem target, given the two other Lib Dem councillors in the area and the retirement of incumbent Labour councillor Christine Knight. However, it was won by Labour newcomer Emma Flint by 1,333 votes.
Labour did lose Ardsley and Robin Hood to the Conservatives, with Conservative candidate Mike Foster beating Labour incumbent Ben Garner by 367 votes.
Mr Foster said in a speech: “Re-electing Ben would have given the green light to Labour to continue to do whatever they like, without threat or need of reparation for people living here.
“By electing a new councillor, my community has clearly demonstrated to our city leaders that enough is not enough – they expect so much more, and so much better.”
Labour made a further loss in Morley South, with newcomer Bailey Bradley coming third behind Tory candidate Michael Burnham and eventual winner, the Morley Borough Independents candidate Jane Senior.
In probably the most dramatic story of the day, the council’s executive member for transport Helen Hayden held onto her Temple Newsam seat by just 12 votes over her nearest challenger Tory candidate Jonathan Firth.
Coun Hayden said: “They say you only need one vote, and I got 12!”
On Labour’s national performance, she added: “We are in the heart of our communities – Labour needs to listen to people and understand where they are coming from and why they feel how they do. We need to listen.”
Elsewhere, the Liberal Democrats made a gain, retaking the Rothwell seat, left vacant after the death of former councillor Carmel Hall.
Conservative leader Coun Andrew Carter said: “If I were in Labour, I would be very worried about the Greens. Labour will say their vote has held up, but the statistics show a collapse in their vote.”
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