Labour denies claims of ‘civil war’ in Sunderland after party’s ‘terrible’ performance at elections

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There is no ‘civil war’ within Sunderland’s Labour Party following a ‘terrible’ round of local elections, a senior councillor has insisted.

The opposition Liberal Democrat group was quick to pounce on social media comments by Coun Debra Waller, which warned Labour risked losing control of the city.

The deputy cabinet member for environment and transport used Facebook to vent her frustration, following a night (which saw her party’s majority cut by nine councillors.

Responding to a post on the Sunderland Labour page, she said: “We need to do something quick or it is a sad fact but we will loose control of this city in the next few years [sic].”

The results on the night left Labour with 51 councillors in the council chamber – the fewest it has held since 2010, when it went into local elections with 48.

Opposition Conservatives and Liberal Democrats both improved their standings, while UKIP and the Green Party won their first seats in Sunderland.

Margaret Crosby, who was victorious in Coun Waller’s Sandhill ward, said: “Our city centre is a shadow of its former self, the Vaux site has remained effectively empty for twenty years, the scandal with Children’s Services is a national disgrace, and the city is strewn with rubbish and potholes.

“The fact is, the reason that Labour lost on May 2nd was because of their shocking record in the city.

“At local election time, voters are intelligent enough to recognise that they are about local issues.”

The election results mean two of Sandhill’s three council seats are held by the Lib Dems, with the third occupied by Labour’s Coun Waller.

The recently elected Coun Crosby took the seat vacated by Lynn Appleby, who was elected last year representing the Lib Dems, but who was forced to sit ‘without party badge’ following a row over offensive social media posts and who quit the city council in the run up to polls.

Coun Waller said: “When you do the maths, you can see how many seats have been missing and how many we had.

“It’s a sad fact that if it continues to go down that route we won’t have control [anymore].

“For what reason though, I really don’t know.

“We’re out there working hard with the communities and obviously the councillors who lost their seats were so hard working, it’s hard to know why this is happening.”

Brexit was cited as a key issue for Labour’s poor performance in the local elections, but Coun Waller claimed more complex issues were at work, reflected in the success of the Remain-supporting Lib Dems in a strongly Leave area like Sunderland.

She also backed the leadership of Graeme Miller, while appearing to take a swipe at the previous Labour regime he replaced last year (2018).

“I think we needed new leadership for a long time,” she said, “new ideas, younger people who can move the city forward – we needed young blood and vision.

“That comes with younger people, people with some life experience, but who also know from the grass roots what’s needed, not just from the top down.

“I think this leadership will see us through, there’s a lot of work going on and we’re very empowered by the leader.

“Anything we want to do, before we would have been told to wait, now we’re told ‘go for it’.”

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service