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MAJORITY CONTROL: Election runner-up confirms by-election fight

MAJORITY CONTROL: Election runner-up confirms by-election fight

Hexham East Liberal Democrat candidate Suzanne Fairless-Aitken

The Conservatives face a by-election battle to regain majority control of Northumberland County Council.

The date for the poll in the Hexham East ward has been confirmed as December 16, following the resignation of incumbent Cath Homer.

And the Liberal Democrats have revealed they are hoping to build on gains made at the last round of local elections to steal the seat from the county’s ruling Tories.

Suzanne Fairless-Aitken, who came second in May’s ballot, said: “I’m a trier and I think that morally I don’t have much choice but to stand and continue the good work I started [last time].

“If the Conservatives lose, they lose control of the county council, [but] we’ll be running a positive campaign, like we did in May.

“Since then I’ve narrowed the gap and also been elected to the town council and ideally both roles should be joined up.

“I’ll probably have to miss some Christmas parties and possibly my birthday too, but this is for the good of the town and the county – what’s happening nationally has bothered me so much that when the seat came up again I couldn’t say no.”

Former county councillor Cath Homer quit Northumberland County Council earlier this month, citing “malicious” abuse sent to her and her family as her reason for going.

At May’s round of local elections, Homer won the seat with 687 votes – more than two fifths of ballots cast.

However, her nearest challenger, Fairless-Aitken, was hot on her heels, beaten into the runner up spot by just 130 votes – less than a tenth of the overall turnout.

The 2021 campaign also saw the Tories’ share of the vote in Hexham East fall from 2017, when Homer had won the seat with a clear majority of more than two thirds of all ballots cast.

A former member of the local authority’s ruling cabinet, Homer claimed she had been the victim of attacks for several years, but that this had intensified after she became embroiled in a row over the suspension of the council’s chief executive.

Despite the row, May saw the Conservatives win a majority of one and overall control of the council chamber.

But Homer’s resignation means this has been wiped out, although the Tories remain the largest single political group.

Labour and the Conservatives have both indicated they intended to contest the by-election.

Candidates have until 4pm on Friday, November 19, to submit their nominations for the ballot.


Words: James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporter

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