Lib Dems local election wipeout are down to Nick Clegg’s national nightmare, claims Stockport councillor

The Liberal Democrat leader of Stockport Council has blamed the party’s national problems for her former deputy’s shock election defeat.

Councillor Sue Derbyshire said she was ‘very disappointed’ to see Mark Weldon lose his Stepping Hill seat after nearly 20 years as a councillor.

And she believes the absence of a UKIP candidate in the ward may have been a factor in his defeat by Conservative candidate John Wright.

Paying tribute to her long-time colleague, she said: “Mark’s been a very effective councillor for the Stepping Hill ward and, indeed, the council.

“As deputy, he led the budget and I believe he did an absolutely brilliant job with that.”

Derbyshire believes that Nick Clegg’s Westminster wobbles may have cost Weldon his Stepping Hill seat, she told MM: “I think it was probably more the kind of things that are affecting the party nationally, really, rather than anything locally.

“I think locally the vote for us has held up because people recognise it’s a good council.

“It was a very small margin – I think the Conservatives benefitted from the lack of a UKIP candidate there, so the protest type vote perhaps went to them a little bit.”

“We were very, very close. It certainly wasn’t a resounding rejection – we lost, but we weren’t trounced.”

The prominent role Weldon played in delivering a budget that contained £30m of savings may have contributed to his downfall, she added: “Sometimes there’s a really obvious particular issue and you can say ‘oh that turned it’.

“But I think, when it’s that close, there’s really a whole range of decisions that people are making and a number of people who decided to vote for someone else just for a change.

“If they’d known that Mark would lose by that much, they might have actually made a different decision. So it’s really impossible to tell.”

Derbyshire insists that she shares the ‘concerns’ for Stepping Hill expressed by the outgoing Weldon and she said: “I would hope the new councillor for Stepping Hill takes very seriously his responsibility towards the residents of that ward.

“He’s been elected and it’s a serious responsibility.”

It was a night of mixed emotions for the Liberal Democrat group in Stockport, who fared much better than their counterparts in central Manchester – where they were left empty-handed after losing all nine of their seats.

Although the loss of Weldon was an obvious blow, they only suffered one net loss and welcomed back former leader Dave Goddard in Offerton after a two-year absence.

“Obviously, it’s great to have Dave back,” said Councillor Derbyshire, “the loss in 2012 of Offerton which again was by quite a narrow margin was very disappointing and a lot of work’s gone in and we’re pleased to have him back.”

Despite Councillor Goddard’s insistence that he is not interested in running for the executive again, Councillor Derbyshire refused to rule the possibility out and said: “It’s a bit of a mugs game to try to predict what a politician might do.

“Dave was a very effective leader and a very effective member of the executive. He’s been off, and he’s been building up other interests, so when he’s recovered he may review his options.

 “In whatever role he fulfils I’m happy to have Dave back.”

And she believes that, like Councillor Goddard, Weldon is likely to ‘keep his hand in’ locally, despite the loss of his seat.

“I’m sure Mark will stay involved. Mark’s been a very proactive member of the group and the executive for some time. I can’t see Mark retiring.”

Councillor Derbyshire confirmed she had been re-elected as leader at a group AGM held immediately after the election – with Councillor Iain Roberts now elected as her deputy.

Image courtesy of Stockport Council via Youtube with thanks 

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