By James Harrison

A ‘very disappointing’ night for Labour has left the party clinging on to power in Sunderland.

Senior figures in Wearside’s ruling political group were among the collateral damage as the opposition Liberal Democrats and Conservatives made big gains across the city.

But it was not enough to force Labour out of office, with the party’s leader in Sunderland blaming its hardships on the collapse of UKIP and a ‘vaccine bounce’.

“It was a very disappointing night, to lose nine councillors is never a pleasant experience,” said Graeme Miller, the leader of Sunderland City Council.

“The UKIP vote across the city moved to the Conservatives at the same time they received a 10% bump in their vote because the public are happy with the vaccine rollout and we’ve lost councillors as a result.

“I was expecting to lose four or six seats, but there are wards in the city which are moving away from Labour.”

The result leaves Labour with 42 councillors, six fewer than it had started the day with and just four more than the 38 needed for a majority in the council chamber.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats gained six and four representatives, respectively.

Despite a tough night, Labour could take solace from a strong showing in Washington, where they won all but one of the six seats up for grabs, and the Coalfield area.

But it was in the city itself that the party took the hardest hammering, losing a serving cabinet member in Barnes in Rebecca Atkinson, as well as a former deputy leader in Michael Mordey in Hendon.

Mr Mordey was relegated from his former position to the back benches by Miller last year (2020), but the leader insisted ‘every lost Labour councillor is a loss’.

In contrast, Conservative opposition leader Antony Mullen, who only took over the role last year (2020), hailed a ‘brilliant night’ for his own party, which included the capture of the Washington South seat vacated by the Green Party.

However, the performance also fell short of his previous predictions of a coalition to oust the current Labour leadership.

He said “I set high aspirations to encourage voters to think it was within our grasp and encourage them to do something different.

“If this is replicated next year then the Labour Party will have no control over the council.”