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Friday, 18 October, 2002, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Voters snub parties in mayor polls
Mike Wolfe, new mayor of Stoke-on-Trent
Mike Wolfe wins against Stoke South's Labour MP
Voters have snubbed the main political parties in three of the four areas directly electing mayors for the first time.

Independent candidate Frank Branston followed the trend when he topped the polls in Bedford as the last count was completed on Friday morning.

Poll results
Stoke: Independent Mike Wolfe wins ahead of Labour MP
Hackney: Labour council leader Jules Pipe triumphs
Mansfield: Newsagent Tony Egginton beats off main parties
Bedford: Independent Frank Branston wins through

In Stoke, a former manager of the town's citizen advice bureau defeated the city's Labour MP, in a battle which also saw the far-right British National Party performing strongly.

In Mansfield, a local newsagent has overcome the three main parties to take victory at the polls.

Labour has only succeeded in winning one of Wednesday's four polls, with Jules Pipe, leader of Hackney Council topping the vote in the east London borough.

Low turnout

Each of the four votes reported very low turnouts, ranging from less than 18.5% in Mansfield to 25.3% in Bedford.

The closest contest came in Stoke-on-Trent, where MP George Stevenson was nudged out by 314 votes when people's second preferences were counted.

Labour MP George Stevenson
George Stevenson says Labour has to reconnect
Victor in the poll was Mike Wolfe, 51, a gay rights campaigner who has run the city's citizens advice bureau for 22 years.

The poll will cause concern within the main political parties after the BNP's Steven Batkin polled 8,213 votes or 18.67% to come third ahead of the Conservatives.

Mr Batkin claimed he would have won had the election not been "corrupted" by his manifesto being sent out late.

That claim was rubbished by Mr Stevenson, who said it was ironic for a party advocating "racist nonsense" to complain of corruption.

Stuart Drummond, elected mayor of Hartlepool
The football club mascot won in Hartlepool this summer
The BNP's showing was not a good result for anybody "other than those who want to peddle an agenda of fear, discrimination and division", he said.

Mr Stevenson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Stoke was a tolerant place and not a racist city.

But there were lessons to be learnt from the disappointing poll result.

'Unknown territory'

"Clearly, we have got real challenges in the Labour Party and we have got serious questions to ask ourselves," said Mr Stevenson.

"We need to reconnect with our people."

In Mansfield, 51-year-old newsagent Tony Egginton beat Labour's Lorna Carter, deputy council leader, to become mayor.

Mr Egginton, a former national president of the Newsagents Federation, fought on a platform of bringing in "common sense management without the dogma of party politics".

Labour success

Jules Pipe's success in Hackney was being seen as the seal on Labour's recovery in the borough where it lost power after splits in the party six year's ago.

It regained overall control in a by-election last year and increased its majority in this May's council polls.

Bedford's result was only announced after the second choices of voters were counted on Friday morning.

Local newspaper owner Frank Branston continued the success of independent candidates over the main political parties.

Half of the 12 areas that have so far directly elected mayors have chosen independents, including former police superintendent Ray 'Robocop' Mallon at Middlesbrough and football club mascot Stuart Drummond in Hartlepool.

Government reaction

Elected mayors will be the most powerful local politicians in their area, able to set budgets which can usually only be overturned by two-thirds of the council.

Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford said it would be difficult to judge whether mayors had made a difference until they had completed their four-year terms of office.

"Candidates that were successful had in all cases been very strongly behind the changes and modernisation of local government," said Mr Raynsford.

That meant independents had won where they said councils were performing badly, while Mr Pipe had got credit in Hackney for beginning to "turn around a failing authority", he said.

Mr Raynsford told BBC Radio 4's World At One he was very concerned about the low turnout - something ministers were taking steps to address.

The BNP's success was also a "real case for concern", he said, but at least the party had not been elected.

See also:

18 Oct 02 | Politics
17 Oct 02 | England
18 Oct 02 | England
18 Oct 02 | England
25 Jun 02 | Politics

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