Election night's a Blur, but Tories still hit the winning note

By Jonny Weeks Blur drummer David Rowntree s ambition of becoming a Marylebone councillor was shattered last week as the Tories retained their stronghold in Westminster. Mr Rowntree won 222 votes for Labour in the Marylebone High Street by-election but th

By Jonny Weeks

Blur drummer David Rowntree's ambition of becoming a Marylebone councillor was shattered last week as the Tories retained their stronghold in Westminster.

Mr Rowntree won 222 votes for Labour in the Marylebone High Street by-election but the winner, was Tory Ian Rowley with 1,041 votes.

"I'm feeling exhausted after that campaign," said Mr Rowntree after the ballots had been counted at the Council House.

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"We held our own and it's a very good result for us. The Tories were hoping to make substantial gains and they were actually the losers in this election, even though they won the seat."

Mr Rowntree, who is the chairman of the West End Labour branch, said he had met many concerned residents during hours of doorstep canvassing, but admitted he never really stood a chance of winning a safe Tory seat.

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"There was a real sense of dissatisfaction on the doorsteps. People really didn't feel listened to by Westminster Council.

"Nine of our wards are among the most deprived in the country and that can't be right.

"The government gives Westminster Council money to stop that happening, but Westminster Council chooses to spend it on giving council tax cuts to rich people rather than spending it on poor people.

"Macintosh House is a big issue for everybody," he added.

"Trying to stop the Tories turfing old people out onto the streets is always an inspirational thing to do.

"We also had some ideas about widening the pavements in Baker Street and encouraging the traffic to go elsewhere.

"It's the little issues that sound almost crazy when you actually say them out loud - but those are the things that people get het up about."

But the new councillor for Marylebone, Mr Rowley, was delighted with his victory and insisted there was great support for the work of the Conservatives.

"We are pleased with the turnout for an important by-election and my percentage of the vote was the same for the Tories in this ward last time," he said.

"We campaigned on two broad issues - one is related to the environment question and the go-green vision, and the other is the one city vision which is related to community cohesion and community participation.

"The key things were noise pollution, air pollution, traffic spill-over from Oxford Street, multiple occupancy in flats where you have a high turnover of people, refuse collection, better secondary schooling and also maintaining low crime rates.

"A lot of people on the streets were very pleased with the level of services and the level of council tax, and they just want to make sure that continues."

Cllr Rowley said he was unconcerned at facing such a high-profile rival as Mr Rowntree.

He said: "I hadn't heard of Mr Rowntree or 'The Blur' and neither had most of the voters."

Rowntree said he thought his fame and free publicity had contributed little to his total number of votes.

Instead he condemned the lack of democracy in Westminster Council and said it was a shame the Conservative dominance was set to continue - especially with Tory candidate Lindsey Jayne Bruce winning the Abbey Road by-election that same night by almost 1,000 votes more than Lib Dem candidate Mark Blackburn.

"Westminster Council is ridiculous - it is a one-party state," said Mr Rowntree.

"There are a handful of Labour councillors battling the huge onslaught of Tory councillors and there was no way we were going to fix that with by-elections in safe seats."

Ms Bruce said: "I'm elated. I would have really felt badly had we not done well. My first priority is crime. I have been a victim and I think the lack of police presence on the street means local people feel they have to employ private security firms to protect them."


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