BY DAVID MARSH, PAUL JEEVES AND CHRIS MURPHY LEEDS City Council leader Coun Brian Walker lost his seat last night as Labour just hung on to power in the city.
Labour – which has ruled the city for over 20 years – lost a total of five wards to leave it with 52 of the authority's 99 seats.
It was a good night for the Conservatives who made four gains – Aireborough, Halton, Roundhay and Otley – to overtake the Liberal Democrats and become the council's main opposition group with 22 seats.
The Liberal Democrats gained Rothwell and Burmantofts from Labour but lost Bramley to Labour and Otley to the Tories and remains on 20 seats. The Green held Wortley and have three seats, and there are now two independents following Tom Leadley's victory in Morley North.
The British National Party, which was fielding a record eight candidates, failed to win a seat, although Mark Collett claimed second place in Richmond Hill.
Mr Walker, who has been a Rothwell councillor for 24 years fell from grace as Liberal Democrat Steve Smith thrust him into second place.
With just 31 per cent of the ward bothering to vote, the result was always going to be tight, but Coun Smith attracted 2,495 votes while Mr Walker got just 2,109. Conservative Caroline Judge got 451 votes.
The result means the council will have a new leader when it reconvenes.
Mr Walker said: "I am very disappointed, but all good things must come to an end and it was either going to be this way or I would retire.
"At least it's not a battering – it was close.
"I think being leader has gone against me. Whenever anything has gone wrong with the council then, as leader, I have always been upfront speaking about it and so you become associated with bad news.
"I also think people have expected that I should be able to do more than other councillors because I was leader.
They wanted me to sort out the anti-social behaviour orders, the lack of policemen on the street and the amount of litter people throw into the road. This is fine, but I can only do so much.
"At times it has seemed that every failure of the council has been my fault. But I wouldn't change a thing and I have loved every minute of being leader."
Mr Walker said he will now spend some time with his wife and nine grandchildren before deciding whether to retire from politics or not.
He added: "I really don't know what I'm going to do apart from go to the pub and enjoy a few pints.
"I am very proud of what I have done over the past 24 years."
Coun Smith said: "I want to thank the people of Rothwell for electing me and also my campaign team and wife Linda."
In Morley South, Debra Coupar made it a family affair by holding the seat for Labour to join her parents, Couns Mick and Marlene Lyons, on the council.