THE Conservative Party has been left smarting after Labour landed two stinging blows in the Swindon Council election.
Labour snatched a pair of seats, in what could be the first salvo in a bid to retake the town from the Conservatives.
But as well as the victories in St Philip and Walcot, a number of very close shaves were just as revealing.
Labour came surprisingly near to taking some other wards which weren’t even seen as ‘wobbly’ seats.
The Lib Dems were forced to defend their homebase of Eastcott against a serious Labour threat, and elsewhere the party crept closer to stealing the solidly Tory West Swindon ward of Freshbrook and Grange Park, as well as a seat in Dorcan – Tory leader Rod Bluh’s ward.
One-third of all council seats were being contested.
And Labour’s Derique Montaut (Central) has vowed to take up the fight with the Conservatives again next May, when all 59 council seats will be up for election.
But Coun Bluh deflected criticism, saying that local parties were always going to take the flak for unpopular policies of their national leadership.
Neil Heavens, the Labour candidate for Freshbrook and Grange Park who narrowed the gap between Tories from 927 votes to just 274, said: “There’s definitely a national swing that’s gone against them.
“I’m very happy we’ve slashed the Conservative majority by two thirds, and I know what I’ve got to do to win next year. Hopefully this time next year, we’ll be celebrating a Labour victory in Freshbrook and Grange Park.”
Speaking at the count, Coun Montaut, who is in the process of stepping down as Labour leader, said: “Tonight’s result is good for Swindon. For Labour it builds us up to a situation where we are moving up to 2012 and taking control of the council.”
He also solidified the Labour lead in his Central ward.
But from the outset, Coun Bluh (Dorcan) said it was not going to be a smooth ride.
“Given we’re the party in government, we’re more on the defensive than we have been in the past,” he said.
“That’s not new. It’s well anticipated. It’s been a difficult year given the whole context of the cuts.
“And we’re not expecting it to be easy.
“On the other hand we fully maintain these cuts are as a result of Labour’s mismanagement of the economy. No-one expects it to be easy. But it’s about doing the right thing.
“One of the issues is this is supposed to be a local election, but we all know they tend to be a barometer for the government.”
His deputy Garry Perkins (Con, Shaw and Nine Elms) said afterward the count: “It’s an expected result, considering the difficult decision the government has had to make. There was bound to be a vote against the government which unfortunately falls against the local council.”