LABOUR crashed in a crucial by election for control of Cheshire County Council.

Recent successes in the Midlands and talk of an early general election failed to help the party in the by election, held in the rural Gowy seat on Chester's outskirts.

Conservatives increased their share of the vote to 50.4% from 48.3% with Tory city councillor Eleanor Johnson, who represents neighbouring Barrow at the Town Hall, ensuring the Conservatives kept their slender one vote majority on the County Council.

The Lib Dems also increased their share of the vote with Kelsall City Cllr Andrew Garman, who has contested the seat before, upping his support from 32.7% to 38.4%.

But Labour candidate Mark Green, a Labour parliamentary candidate and chairman of the neighbouring Eddisbury constituency, had a miserable evening as his share of the vote in the safe Tory seat dropped dramatically from 19.1% to a mere 8.3%, hardly the bounce prime minister Gordon Brown would have been hoping for.

John Moore for UKIP trailed in with less than 3% of the vote.

The Tory success comes against a background of opposition criticism that an ambitious `Transforming Cheshire' project to modernise the county council is no more than a cost cutting exercise to plug a claimed black hole in the County Hall coffers.

There is also unrest among parents as the County acts to reduce the number of empty and costly school places with closures in both urban and rural areas including Newton in the city's suburbs and Harthill in the countryside.

Labour points out that care charges are hitting the elderly and vulnerable while the Lib Dems have highlighted the possible closure of centres, including Lightfoot Lodge in Chester, which they say are vital to the carers of old and infirm relatives.

The turnout was less than half the 73.5% in the 2005 county council elections despite intensive canvassing by the three main parties.

Senior Tories were working the doorsteps on polling day itself.

In a last minute letter to electors, Cllr Johnson announced that controversial proposals for new city council offices, a blockbuster Tory commitment in this May's elections, had been dropped.

She also claimed to be the only candidate committed to weekly bin collections.

‘We ran a positive campaign and clearly the residents want the Conservatives to remain in control of County Hall,’ she said after the count.

The Tories claim a 6.5% swing to them from Labour.

The by election followed the death of County Cllr John Burke.


Eleanor Johnson, Con, 1,863, 50.4%

Andrew Garman, Lib Dem, 1,419, 38.4%

Mark Green, Lab, 307, 8.3%

John Moore UKIP 107, 2.9%

Tory majority 444

State of the parties at County Hall:

Con 26

Lab 16

Lib 8

Indt 1