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Labour party reflects on three East Lancashire losses
LABOUR supporters are coming to terms with disastrous General Election results which saw the party wiped out in Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale & Darwen.
The party had held the Burnley seat for 75 years and activists said the blame lay squarely with Gordon Brown and central government.
Moves including the removal of casualty services from Burnley to Blackburn had cost local candidates, they said.
Burnley outgoing MP Kitty Ussher said the unpopularity of the Prime Minister had also taken its toll in the region.
And in Burnley new candidate Julie Cooper, who is the party’s leader on Burnley Council, was unable to secure enough votes to beat Gordon Birtwistle, who has led a campaign to bring emergency hospital care back to the town.
Elsewhere in East Lancashire there was better news for Labour with Graham Jones becoming the new Hyndburn MP and Jack Straw taking the Blackburn seat for the eighth time, with an increased majority. Conservative Nigel Evans also held his Ribble Valley seat.
Burnley Labour candidate Julie Cooper said the party’s local results had been disappointing.
She said: “I think it was always going to be hard, with issues like the hospital ward closures and the expenses scandal.
“But even with the Lib Dems surge nationally I still thought that we could hold Burnley.”
Former Burnley MP Peter Pike, who now chairs the town’s Labour Party, said the unpopularity of Mrs Ussher had affected Thursday’s result.
He said: “It is not for me to attack Kitty but I fully understand people’s sentiments towards her and I don’t feel that Kitty understands it.
“We would have had a better chance had we had a local candidate as MP rather than Kitty and I think even Gordon Birtwistle has acknowledged that.
“Labour has had bad times in Burnley before but this is lower because we now no longer have a Burnley MP.”
Ms Ussher said: “It has not been the easiest election nationally for Labour and that has been reflected in Burnley.
“It is a great shame because when historians look back at the investment that has gone into Burnley over the last five to 10 years it will be seen as a golden age for the town.
“Unfortunately the hospital issue has overshadowed that.
“The town has had Labour MPs for many many years and that was never taken for granted. The result is a huge disappointment for everyone involved.”
Janet Anderson had been Rossendale and Darwen MP for 18 years.
She said: "I think the national picture is really worrying. "I think that we have lost these seats because people want a change, but I don't think this is the right way to achieve it.
"It's a shock that we've lost Burnley, and I think it'll be difficult to get that one back."
Both Ms Ussher and Mrs Anderson were caught up in the expenses scandals but both said that the main reasons their party lost out in East Lancashire was because of national issues.
Gordon Prentice's agent Robert Oliver said the former MP, who was not available for comment yesterday, had not talked about his plans for life after parliament.
He said: "I went out for a drink with him after the result. He seemed okay and fairly relaxed.
“But it was not unexpected given the money the Tories pumped in. We were fighting an uphill battle.”
Mohammed Iqbal, Pendle Council's Labour group leader, played down the party's losses in East Lancashire, saying it did not amount to disaster.
He said: "Gordon more or less held his total in Pendle and the Tories won because of the money coming in from Tory HQ.
"Burnley was a difficult battle because of what happened with Kitty but it does not all amount to a disaster.
"Our vote held up across the region and the extra votes came from those Tories and Lib Dems who usually sit at home.
"I am optimistic we will win the Pendle seat back at the next election."
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