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.
13 pictures as Sunderland fans celebrate promotion in the city centre
13 fantastic pictures from the STACK at Seaburn as Sunderland clinch play-off final win
'Everyone loved him' - Family pay tribute after funeral of motorcycle crash victim Anthony 'Buster' Kirtley
13 of your fan pictures ahead of Sunderland's League One play-off final at Wembley
Tributes paid to ‘massive’ Sunderland fan Tony Staplin after tragic death in County Durham crash
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.”
In April, it was confirmed Prime Minister Boris Johnson, along with Chancellor Rishi Sunak, would be fined by the Metropolitan Police, following its investigation into lockdown-breaking gatherings in Downing Street.
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”.