Last man standing: One opposition councillor left to take on 53 Labour councillors in South Tyneside

Coun Lee Hughes.
Coun Lee Hughes.
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He’s the last man standing - but he’s not giving up on his fight to serve his constituents.

Political lone ranger Coun Lee Hughes is now the only member of the opposition sitting on South Tyneside Council after the 2016 local Government elections.

I really am the last man standing.

Coun Lee Hughes

Coun Hughes is also the only councillor is the North East to be in this position following polling day earlier this month which saw Labour take 53 of the borough’s 54 seats.

Coun Hughes’ only opposition colleague, Cleadon and East Boldon’s Tory councillor Jeff Milburn, was ousted.

The Putting People First representative for the Bede ward is refusing to let the Labour dominated council make-up get in his way.

Coun Hughes said: “I really am the last man standing. It’s just me against them.

“It hasn’t come as a major shock, I had a feeling that the Cleadon and East Boldon ward would vote Labour, I’d said this to a few people beforehand, so it was kind of expected.

“If we’re going to be realistic here, there’s not much I alone can do to oppose the council when it comes to counteracting issues like the budget for example.

“Me against 53 Labour councillors means I am pretty much guaranteed to be overruled every single time.

“I am mainly here for the people living on my ward, to get issues they need fixing sorted - that I will still be able to do.”

Coun Hughes, who runs the Red Hackle pub in Jarrow, isn’t sure what the next election, in 2018 will bring.

The father-of-six added: “Who knows what will happen by then - you can never tell.

“I might just cause a stir for the next two years and then call it a day.

“We’ll have to wait and see. But for now I am just focusing on my ward.”

Despite Labour’s stronghold, democracy is alive in well in South Tyneside, says Coun John Anglin, secretary of the South Shields Labour Party.

He believes democracy has been served as people got what they voted for.

He said: “The correct process was followed and the people of South Tyneside democratically decided what they wanted.

“They used their votes and elected Labour councillors for their wards, which we are very glad about.

“Therefore Labour can continue to promote regeneration within the borough.”

Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, believes a proportional voting system - rather than the current first past the post - would be a better solution.

“Of the councils elected this year, 36 of them have a single party holding three quarters or more of the seats, while over six and a half million citizens live under these local government one party states in England and Wales.

“Labour of course don’t have 98% of the public’s support in South Tyneside – yet they have 98% of seats, leaving huge swathes of voters in the area completely unrepresented and ignored. This is simply a recipe for disillusionment and a lack of scrutiny, undermining local democracy at the expense of local people.

“This is no fault of Labour, but what we need is a proportional voting system where seats match votes, rather than writing off people’s ballots just because their voice wasn’t the loudest in one small council ward. Let’s switch to a fair electoral system, like the one used in Scotland, so that we can have the diverse local democracy that the public deserve.”