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'We didn't see it coming' - Tory leader on local elections 'stalemate' in Sunderland following Partygate scandal

Sunderland’s Conservative group leader admitted ‘partygate’ had a “very specific impact” which they “didn’t see coming” in the local elections.

By Nic Marko
Friday, 6th May 2022, 3:15 pm
Updated Friday, 6th May 2022, 3:19 pm

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Heading into the Sunderland City Council polls yesterday (Thursday, May 5), the leading opposition group had been looking to further damage Labour’s majority after strong showings in recent years, and put the local authority into “no overall control”.

However the election ended up being a “stalemate” between the two parties, with each losing just one seat to the Liberal Democrats.

Councillor Antony Mullen, leader of the council’s Conservative group, admitted ‘Partygate’ had been an “undetectable threat”, with the issue not coming up on the doorstep, but rearing its head in Thursday’s polling numbers.

Antony Mullen, leader of Sunderland City Council's Conservative group

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Speaking on Friday (May 6) morning, after declarations had concluded, he said: “I think it had a very specific impact, which was on turnout today.

“Postal votes were fine, but the turnout at the polling stations I think is where it’s had an impact because people have become apathetic.

“But they’ve become apathetic in quite a specific manner, which is that they’re not willing to leave the house and walk to the polling booth and vote for us there.”

Fulwell Mill was used as a polling station in Sunderland. The Tories lost ground to the Liberal Democrats in the ward.

But Cllr Mullen, who retained his seat in the Barnes ward, claimed it had not been an issue activists had been quizzed on while campaigning.

He added: “I have to be honest that it didn’t come up on the doorsteps, we didn’t see it coming, people were not bringing Boris Johnson up in negative terms.

“Perhaps that’s because they just don’t want to, or because it was more of a case they didn’t want to talk about it and they always planned on staying at home, so it was an undetectable threat in many ways for us.”

Reflecting on the night overall, he said after the party achieved its “best results in the history of the council” 12 months ago, it was “never going to be able to replicate that year on year”.

However he added he was keen to make gains at next year’s local elections, stating there is “low-hanging fruit the party can go for”.