Express & Star

Bullish Dudley Tories buck national trend as Labour makes slight gain

The Conservatives have held onto Dudley Council, bucking the national trend as Rishi Sunak’s leadership faces its first electoral test.

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Alan Taylor, aged 88, held onto Halesowen south for the Conservatives

Out of 72 council seats, 25 seats were up for grabs. The Conservatives won 12 seats, but Labour won 13. The Conservatives gained one seat from Labour – Brierley Hill – but Labour gained two seats from the Conservatives – Wollaston & Stourbridge Town, and Brockmoor and Pensnett.

Patrick Harley, the leader of Dudley Council, said Sir Keir Starmer “doesn’t inspire confidence”, and said he would “welcome Rishi Sunak to come and visit our great town".

He said: “When we are down significantly in the polls – around 20 points – over the last year, you’d expect Labour to be knocking us for six. They haven’t.

“It raises the question of what does Labour offer the people of Dudley? If they can’t hurt us now, when can they?”

The hold comes despite numerous scandals and misgivings under councillor Harley’s leadership. Last month, a leaked report revealed the council spent £400,000 of taxpayers’ money on a global property conference – with no return of investment.

Councillor Harley himself was caught up in a conduct scandal after Dudley Council’s standards committee found he was “disrespectful” towards a police chief.

Dudley Council lost out on £20 million each for levelling up improvements in Lye, Brierley Hill, Dudley and Halesowen earlier this year after other bidders were picked instead.

Since the last local election in 2022, voters in Dudley have endured three prime ministers, all with different visions of the country’s future.

The current prime minister, Rishi Sunak, launched the Conservatives local election manifesto in March at the Black Country living museum – an indication of how important the area is for the Tories to hold onto.

Despite Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour party, commanding a 18 point-lead nationally, the local Labour group in Dudley dampened expectations of a sound victory.

It comes after The Times reported Labour’s headquarters had sent in campaign improvement boards (Cibs) to Labour groups on councils across the country in an attempt to create more wins locally. Dudley, Birmingham, and Stoke-On-Trent were named in an internal report.

Speaking afterwards, Qadar Zada, the leader of the opposition for Labour, said it was a “positive start” for his party.

He said: “We’ve taken two seats today. We’ve taken out the mayor of Dudley’s seat, which is a seat she expected to hold onto. We also took Wollaston and Stourbridge town off the former deputy leader.

“What I always said is that we would gain seats in Dudley, and that’s exactly what we’ve done. The margin between Labour and the Conservatives is wafer thin.

“People expect honest politics. They do not expect their councillors to make a mockery of them by taking taxpayers’ money going on holiday and not accepting responsibility.”

Marco Longhi, the Conservative MP for Dudley North, said he was “delighted” at the result, despite a net loss of one seat.

“When you think about the national picture, when we were 25% behind in the polls, and that we would be completely wiped out, and that Labour were ready for government, the red wall, Dudley, are saying: ‘no you’re not, you’ve got a long way to go’.

“But they are also saying the Conservatives need to deliver. They have stayed at home, and turnout is very, very low particularly in certain wards. Wards that I would have expected almost double the turnout.

“They’re saying: ‘we’re not happy, we do have some faith in you still, but it depends on delivery.’”

Local elections decide who governs closest to us, and who will run so many of the public services we rely on. But many voters across the country – including in Dudley – have used this election to make their voice heard over issues such as the cost of living crisis; the NHS; strikes; and inflation.

Dudley South has been Conservative since 2010 – with Mike Wood increasing his vote share towards his party. Dudley North, a ‘red wall’ seat switched to the Tories in 2019, with Marco Longhi replacing Ian Austin.

This year’s local election covered slightly more than 8,000 seats across 230 councils in England, including metropolitan, unitary and district authorities, plus four mayoral races. A full political picture is unlikely before Friday evening, given the number of councils delaying their counts.