Page last updated at 09:21 GMT, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 10:21 UK

Labour's lone councillors

By Marc Settle
Producer, BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend

Labour party rosette
Following recent local elections, several councils have solitary Labour members

When Julie Young says she will have to learn to do politics "in a different way", you might think it is because she has become council leader, or suddenly found herself in charge of a multi-million pound budget.

In fact, it is quite the opposite.

She won her seat on Essex County Council in the local elections earlier this month - but unfortunately none of her 12 Labour colleagues did, leaving her as the sole party representative on the 75-strong authority which it ran as recently as the mid-90s.

Although Councillor Young is alone on Essex County Council, she is not alone nationally.

Labour's poor performance in June's elections resulted in only a solitary councillor being elected on to several other county councils in England: Hampshire, North Yorkshire, Isle of Wight and Surrey.

New challenges

Cllr Young says it has been a "rollercoaster time" since the election with new challenges to face.

"It has been a week or so of re-organisation for me. The Labour group office will be closing, as we no longer have a group. I'm now just an individual Labour member.

"There will be no opportunities to raise motions to council, and have those supported and debated, and I will have to develop different strategies to ensure the Labour voice is heard on Essex County Council."

There's a recognition that I am a representative within the authority of the ruling party in government
Julie Young

This new way of working came as less of a shock to Victor Agawal, now the sole Labour councillor on Surrey County Council.

When he was first elected in 2003, he was one of six Labour members. That had slowly been reduced to two in the intervening years, before this month's elections left him as the last man standing.

"I had a shrewd idea this was going to happen, so my advice to Julie would be to realise what you can and what you cannot do now.

"The workload when there were two of us was pretty horrendous, as you had to be tenacious to manage to cover all the committees and scrutinise what needed to be scrutinised. As 'one', that is going to be even harder."

Cllr Young agreed about the change in workload: "We've gone down from 13 councillors to just one - me. In the past, someone could look at every single issue for which the county council was responsible; big issues like adult social care, waste services, children's agenda.

"Someone has to hold the administration to account, and I will be doing my best to do that."

'On the nod'

For Cllr Agarwal, struggling to make his voice heard in Surrey, there is another danger.

"When you become a one-party local authority, things can get pushed through 'on the nod'. Sometimes I'd get support from other groups like Residents or the Liberal Democrats, and at least we had a debate.

"At the time it was difficult to win the motion when you're facing 59 Conservative county councillors, but at least the debate was had."

Victor Agarwal
Victor Agawal admits that his focus has turned back to pavement politics

But both councillors have one attribute that will work to their advantage: the fact that they are Labour, and so is the government.

"There's a recognition that I am a representative within the authority of the ruling party in government," said Cllr Young, who added: "There have been occasions when I can get access to officers who then put me in touch with ministers.

"In my division, a school is set to become an academy, so I've talked to Lord Adonis (then an education minister) about that.

"That's good for me and the council. I'm not entirely alone in other ways. I have party colleagues in district councils, at the European Parliament, at Westminster, so I'll be drawing on their experience in the weeks and months ahead."

With the pair admitting that pushing policy through will prove problematic to the point of impossible, they are instead turning their attention back to the pavement politics that got them involved in the first place.

"Right from day one, when I was first elected as a county councillor, I have put local issues first because I was very much aware it would be difficult to change things at County Hall," says Cllr Agarwal.

"That was true even when we were a group of six when I first became a county councillor. But I always knew I could certainly do my best for my local constituents and I've been fortunate to be the councillor to deliver the most change in the history of the area."

Cllr Young agrees. "It is vital to keep engaged with local community. Whether you are Conservative, Labour, Liberal or independent, at the end of the day people want somebody they see as the kind of person who gets things done for them in the streets they live in, and that's what I do on a daily basis and that's what I'll continue to do."

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MEP Seats

  Votes MEPs
Party % +/- % Total +/-
EPP 33.4 -1.4 264 -18
Socialists 23.2 -4.1 183 -26
Liberal 11.0 +1.6 84 +5
Green 7.4 +1.3 50 +9
Left 5.3 -0.6 34 -2
UEN 3.4 +1.6 28 +2
Ind/Dem 2.7 -1.8 21 -15
No Group 13.6 +3.4 72 +3.4
0 of 27 countries declared.

UK Total MEP Seats

Party Votes MEPs
% +/- % Total +/-
CON 27.7 1.0 *26 1
UKIP 16.5 0.3 13 1
LAB 15.7 -6.9 13 -5
LD 13.7 -1.2 11 1
GRN 8.6 2.4 2 0
BNP 6.2 1.3 2 2
SNP 2.1 0.7 2 0
PC 0.8 -0.1 1 0
OTH 8.5 2.4 0 0
SF 1 0
DUP 1 0
72 of 72 seats declared. Vote share figures exclude Northern Ireland as it has a separate electoral system to the rest of the UK
* Includes UCUNF MEP elected in Northern Ireland
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