Lib Dems gain from poll apathy

15th May 1998 at 01:00
Local government elections failed to rock the world of education, Karen Thornton reports.

THE EDUCATION world was barely stirred by last Thursday's local elections, much like the voters who failed to materialise in significant numbers.

Some of the London boroughs changed hands. Labour secured Harrow but lost overall control of its intellectual heartland, Islington, and didn't do quite enough to gain a majority in educationally troubled Hackney (see below).

Labour also lost seats, but not control, in urban and metropolitan strongholds such as Calderdale, Sheffield, Kirklees, Bristol and Hartlepool, where only one-third of the seats were up for grabs.

The Conservatives strengthened their position in their flagship London authorities of Wandsworth and Westminster, and forced the Liberal Democrats out of overall control on the Isle of Wight, where they had been in charge for 17 years.

However, the Liberal Democrats had the consolation of winning their first metropolitan authority, Liverpool, where there was previously no one party in control. The new group leader there is Mike Storey, the head of a Knowsley primary school.

Overall, the results look unlikely to affect the balance of power between the three main parties on the Local Government Association's education committee.

But Paul White, the Conservative leader of Essex County Council and deputy LGA chairman, said 1998 marked the start of the party's big fight back in local government, and that it has its sights set firmly on taking over political control of the association.

Labour holds a single-seat majority on the LGA's education committee, which is led by Graham Lane, chairman of the education committee of the London borough of Newham.

Mr Lane was enthusiastic about Labour's performance, and saw his own majority increase from 70 to 800.

He also acknowledged the Liberal Democrats' Liverpool success, but warned:

"No one seems to have tackled the endemic problems in education in Liverpool for some time. They have got lots of surplus places they are trying to deal with.

"There is a chance for members, now there is one party in control, to get a grip on difficult issues. It puts pressure on the Liberal Democrats to come up with some plans to sort it out."

Ousted in Sheffield: Mike Bower

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