LABOUR has served notice on Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle that the fight for his Parliamentary seat could go right down to the wire.
Borough elections have seen the party make two gains from the Liberal Democrats, just 12 months ahead of the General Election.
But Lib Dems say it is still early days as they marshall their efforts to defending Mr Birtwistle’s 1,818 majority next time around.
Council leader Coun Julie Cooper was impressed with Labour victories in Queensgate and Lanehead after Lib Dem councillor Jennifer Knowles stood down and veteran Peter McCann retired.
“We have been working hard in both wards and we have got two good councillors who have reaped the rewards. It has been a great team effort,” she said.
And as the Bank Hall councillor steps down to concentrate her efforts on her Westminster candidacy, she says she is ‘proud’ of her record as leader.
“When I first became leader we had 12 Labour councillors and now as I step down we have 28 councillors. I’m very proud of that record and having led this campaign,” she added.
Lib Dem group leader Coun Margaret Lishman said that Labour had failed to secure two seats - Rosehill with Burnley Wood and Gannow - which they had been ‘desperate’ to win.
Coun Jeff Sumner beat Labour’s Michael Rushton by 970 to 541 votes in a head-to-head contest in Burnley Wood and Coun Neil Mottershead was re-elected with a 196-vote majority in Gannow.
Coun Lishman said: “I think there is a long time until next year and will be working hard in the meantime. We have to respond to what people are telling us and we will see how we fare.”
Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle, who held onto his own Coalclough with Deerplay seat at the election, said: “We expected to do a lot worse than we did - we got 37 per cent of the vote, which was only half a per cent from what we had in 2010. Labour is around six or seven per cent ahead.
“We knew we were probably going to lose in Queensgate and Lanehead but Labour threw the kitchen sink at Jeff Sumner in Rosehill with Burnley Wood and he won comfortably.
“We are a lot more confident about what will happen at a General Election than we were. There are lessons to be learned. People think we are doing a good job with the economy and we need to work harder to tell people just what we are achieving.”
No seats were secured by UKIP in the Burnley polls - unlike elsewhere in the north-west - but they did manage to ensure four second-place finishes.
The closest Nigel Farage’s troops came was in Whittlefield-with-Ightenhill, which was held by Lib Dem Tom Porter, who was only 99 votes ahead of UKIP’s Christopher Rawson.
But also in Brunshaw ward, which was held by Tony Harrison for Labour, UKIP’s Jamie McGowan was only 121 behind on 500 votes, pushing ahead of Lib Dem Susan Fenn on 231.
Coun Cooper said the UKIP vote had been ‘significant’ and she would be listening to people’s concerns between now and next May to build trust in Labour.
Coun Lishman said the ‘protest vote’ registered by UKIP was similar to that which saw the BNP make gains a decade ago - but no seats had been secured.
Commenting on the UKIP vote, Mr Birtwistle said: “They did very well but they have not won a seat. I have been on the council for a long time and I recall when we used to secure lots of votes and not win any seats, and we used to complain about the ‘first past the post’ system. They are now in that position.”
The polls also saw former mayor Coun Jean Cunningham hold Hapton with Park, for Labour, by 199 votes, and outgoing mayor Coun Frank Cant triumphed convincingly in Gawthorpe ward.