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Tories lose a favourite borough

The post-mortem began almost immediately, as Conservatives in Trafford faced up to having lost control of the borough they had run for 19 of the past 20 years.

Frank Eadie, the Conservative group leader, blamed the loss on an unpopular central government.

Five Tory councillors, with a combined service of 42 years, were ousted in last week's local government elections when the Conservatives lost overall control of their only metropolitan authority outside London.

No party has overall control in what was the Conservative party's flagship regional borough - the Conservatives have 29 seats, Labour 29 and the Liberal Democrats five.

All eyes are now on the Liberal Democrats, although both Labour and the Conservatives are adamant they will not do deals with them.

"We are waiting to see if they come up with anything," said Mr Eadie. "As is the Labour party."

"We took 15 of the 21 seats," said David Acton, deputy leader of the Labour group. "We have received the overwhelming endorsement from the electorate. It is for the Liberal Democrats to decide if they want to support us.

"I think they will find it very difficult not to support our programme. If they don't, it would almost seem that they were supporting the Conservatives who only won four seats and I don't think the electorate would forgive them. "

The loss of overall Conservative control in Trafford raises serious questions over the traditional policies they have advocated such as selective education.

The short-term future of the authority's five grammar school looks safe but one - Altrincham Boys - is already in the throes of a parental ballot on grant-maintained status.

Bryan Purvis, headteacher, was quick to point out that the proposal had nothing to do with the local elections, but he added: "We are seeking to opt out to secure the future of the school as a grammar school."

He also wants to improve accommodation: "We are a growing school - in the past five years we have gone from 500 pupils to 920. There is a huge demand - 556 applications for 150 places."

And while the grammar schools remain safe for the time being, their future would certainly be in jeopardy under a Labour government.

Labour's David Acton said: "We support a fully resourced comprehensive education system, but we feel that at the present time it would be pointless putting that forward. If there was a Labour government, that situation would be different. We would put it forward immediately."

He said that one of the first possible priorities of a Labour administration in Trafford would be to manoeuvre some of the budget towards primaries, where spending per pupil is among the lowest in the country.

While education featured in earlier campaigns, by the end interest had switched quite markedly towards the Pounds 12.5 million paid to Winston Churchill, a local MP, for his grandfather's papers.

The unpopularity of that move added to general unhappiness among the Trafford voters with the Government.

Lydia Burton, who had been a councillor since 1978, was among the five Conservatives who lost their council seats.

"I am absolutely shattered," she said the next day. "This is a big chunk of my life gone. I have been sacrificed. I am a casualty."

Mrs Burton, a past mayor and former chairman of the authority's social services committee, added: "Government will have to take a great deal of heed as to what has happened. It will be foolish if it doesn't."

Phil Bates, who lost the seat he had held since 1987, added: "It had nothing whatsoever to do with the way Trafford was run by the Conservatives and everything to do with John Major and Government.

"I asked in my election address for the voters not to use the election to criticise central government, but to regard it as a local matter.

"I am not bitter about losing, I expected it. The ordinary man doesn't see the difference between local and central government and he wanted to exercise his protest.

"Was education an issue? It was an issue because we have achieved so much, " said Mr Bates, who was a member of the authority's education committee.

"We have topped A-level results in the country, appointed more teachers and we have a grammar school system which Labour and Liberal-Democrats hate, and which they will destroy when they get the opportunity.

"I anticipate that the grammar schools will seek to opt out as quickly as possible."

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