THE Conservative party has effectively lost overall control of Swindon Council after the death of Coun Doreen Dart on Friday.

The Tories’ once-healthy majority was slashed to just one member at May’s all-out local elections – and the recent loss means the party has equal councillors to Labour and the Lib Dems combined, although it still forms the cabinet as the single largest group.

This situation of no overall control, known as a hung council, will remain at least until the by-election is held in Blunsdon and Highworth, which is seen as a safe Conservative seat.

In the meantime the Tories have to ensure all their members turn up – and block vote – to guarantee any given proposal at full council is either backed or defeated. The mayor, Coun Mick Bray (Con, Lydiard and Freshbrook) holds the casting vote in the event of a tie.

The date for the by-election is expected to be set soon, with the notice having to be legally advertised on Thursday if it is to coincide with the police and crime commissioner election on November 15. The next full council is on Thursday, November 8.

Council leader Coun Rod Bluh said: “Essentially we have the mayor’s casting vote until we know the result of a future by-election.”

Coun Jim Grant, the Labour group leader, said: “With Coun Dart’s sad death the Council will now have no overall control at least up until the necessary by-election. However the Conservative Group is still the largest group on the council and I think it would be inappropriate for the Labour group to play politics between now and the by-election, while the death of Doreen has only just been announced.

“So we will continue to argue our policies and persuade councillors from other groups to support these policies.

“Similarly, if after the by-election the Conservatives have no overall control of the council, they would still be the largest group and therefore have the mandate to try to form an administration. It would be for the Lib Dems to decide if they wish to support a Conservative administration, however the Labour group would certainly not.”

Coun Stan Pajak, the Lib Dem group leader, said the group planned to table a motion at the next full council which he hoped Labour would support, but declined to provide more details.

“We plan to use our new political muscle in getting the best for Swindon and fitting in with our manifesto pledges,” he said.

“Our ability to have the balance may not last a long time, we only have the opportunity at the next full council meeting to see what comes.”

Recently, a Labour motion, backed by the Lib Dems, to reinstate the original level of funding for Unison reps at the authority was narrowly defeated.