ONE day Hazel Harding was earning around £48,000 as the leader of the fourth-largest council in the country, with thousands of employees under her, all working to do her bidding.

The next, she’d joined the thousands of other redundant workers across the country, stripped of her title, salary, and responsibilities.

“It’s not the way anybody wants to finish,” said Hazel, who lives in Crawshawbooth, of the moment she realised she’d lost her seat.

“Somebody said to me ‘All political careers end in tears’ and the vast majority of them do. But 24 years is a long time."

Hazel was one of three Labour councillors in Rossendale who lost their seats in a landslide victory for the Conservatives, a result widely attributed to the MPs’ expenses scandal.

“We saw it coming in the last fortnight,” she said. “It felt different. There’s a feeling when you’re out there knocking on doors, and it changed. Until then we’d had a very good reception, people were happy to talk about local issues, but in the last few weeks they just wanted to talk about how dreadful MPs were. I think they tarred all elected members with the same brush.”

But Hazel isn't bitter. “That's just the way it goes,” she said. “We benefited in the 80s. We were going around winning seats that we wouldn’t expect to win because people didn’t like Margaret Thatcher. They were never going to get rid of her by voting Labour in Rossendale, but that’s how it goes. Win some, lose some.”

Hazel’s only regret is the way that she and other former councillors have been treated.

“The worst part is that you don’t have a winding down period or a chance to say goodbye to people. You literally stop. One minute I was there every day, the next I can’t even enter the building without signing in as a visitor.

“It’s similar to being made redundant and being escorted out of the building. The next thing you hear from the council is a message saying, ‘Please can we get the IT equipment back, and by the way will you bring your ID badge in?’ It’s harsh.

“Lancashire County Council does lots of things well, but the way it deals with its elected members who are no longer councillors is not good. I've probably had it better than most because I’ve received letters from individuals saying ‘I'm sorry and I’m sure you'll find something else to do’, which was lovely.”

Not everyone has been so lovely.

“One of the worst things was on Friday after the count. I came home and there was an anony-mous message left on the answer machine of someone laughing their head off. They said: ‘It's all over now Hazel’. Those kind of things – the anonymous letters from the green ink brigade – I won't miss that.”

Other things she won’t miss include dealing with Friday evening complaints, and buffets at county hall (“It was death by vol au vont!”) Hazel hasn’t lined up a new job yet, but said: “I don’t see myself sitting doing nothing. I want to do something useful and worthwhile, probably in the public sector, whether it be a job or voluntary.”

And she’s not giving up on local politics altogether.

“I'll always be a member of the Labour Party. I can’t ever imagine not being,” she said.

“The only thing I’ve done longer than that is support Burnley Football Club! They both have their bad times, but at the moment Burnley are in the good times. I’ve already got my season ticket.”

Hazel admitted it may take time to form a new identity for herself.

“But I've never been someone who swanned around saying ‘I'm the leader of the fourth biggest council in the country’.

And she’s optimistic for the future. “I've been very fortunate," she said.

“I've been to places, met people, and done things that the vast majority of people never get to do and that’s something I'll never forget. I've made a difference in a small way and I’ve had lots of wonderful opportunities. I've always seen the glass as half-full.

“There’s life after politics, I'm sure.”