Labour suffered its worst night in Barnsley for 15 years – at the admission of the council leader – with the loss of seven seats in a local elections shake-up which also saw the town’s official opposition swing from Conservative to Lib Dem.
Labour leader Sir Steve Houghton blamed the national Brexit effect for his party’s performance, but the pro-referendum Lib Dem party picked up three seats on the council, creating a confused picture of voters’ motives.
Independents and minority groups were also winners, gaining five seats on the Labour dominated authority.
The Lib Dems accused Labour of “arrogance” in failing to take account of residents’ views over issues including widespread housing development and the controversy over Penny Pie Park, the urban green space which is to be given over to a new ring road to ease traffic congestion at what is now the Dodworth Road crossroads.
However, Sir Steve was insistent the results were a backlash against national politics and the failure of the major parties to steer the country through Brexit – following a strong vote in favour of leaving the EU in Barnsley in David Cameron’s referendum.
He said the message was “loud and clear” that voters were unhappy that Brexit had not been carried through.
He said: “It is a very bad night, the worst we have had for 15 years.”
In Barnsley, 69 per cent voted to leave the EU and “they expect Parliament to deliver but it looks like Labour is blocking it,” he said.
Areas where the Lib Dems had gained seats were not Brexit ‘strongholds’ in the borough, he said, but areas where local issues had allowed opponents to gain ground.
Lib Dem Lord Scriven, a former Sheffield Council leader, was at the Barnsley vote count and said: “I am absolutely delighted. This shows right in the Labour heartlands, when they are arrogant and take people for granted we can win seats.”
The picture was confused by the popularity of independent candidates, with three gaining seats, alongside two representing the Veterans and Democrats group.
Lib Dems made gains in Penistone West, with David Greenhough unseating Conservative Andrew Millner and also securing seats in the Darton East ward, where the council’s former Cabinet spokesman for Place, Roy Miller had held a seat, and Dodworth.
Former Coun Miller had been the political figure at the head of the authority’s plan to create a one way road system on Penny Pie Park.
An attempt by former Labour mayor Peter Doyle to return to the council, under the Veterans and Democrats banner, in the Kingstone ward failed, but Anita Cherryholme, who had given up a seat on the council to pursue a business venture previously found herself re-elected to represent the North East ward.