By DAVID MARSH
LABOUR councillors in Leeds will be nervously looking over their shoulders when voters go to the polls in May’s local elections.
The party took control of the council in 1981 and for the past 20 years has dominated municipal politics in the city. By the mid-1990s it had captured 82 of the authority's 99 seats.
Now the pendulum is starting to swing the other way. Some voters are disaffected with Tony Blair's Government and the local elections provide an opportunity to register their dissatisfaction.
Local issues have also caused their problems for the council's ruling group. Its decision last year to close day care centres for the elderly and a training centre for people with learning difficulties proved deeply unpopular.
Labour argued it would save money which could then be used to enhance services for elderly people. It failed to persuade even some of its own supporters and finally agreed to find the cash to keep them open.
Unison, the public service union, has also pledged to make the privatisation of council services an election issue.
It claims the decision to farm out the work of Redhall Securities - the council's in-house security firm - to the private sector was based on flawed information and is demanding a rethink.
Brian Mulvey, a Unison branch secretary, said: "Our union will make sure it is an election issue."
On the plus side for Labour, the city enjoys a council tax lower than many big cities, has seen major investment in schools and the party has presided over a successful local economy.
But will it be enough for Labour to hold on to its seats? It currently has 61, the Liberal Democrats 19, Conservatives 16, Greens two and there is one vacancy – Independent Socialist Mark Davies resigned from his Hunslet seat, which is one Labour will expect to pick up.
Of the 33 seats up for grabs, Labour is defending 23 of them. Should the ruling group falter on May 2, the Liberal Democrats will expect to be the main beneficiaries.
The Liberal Democrats have taken control of Sheffield and they see Leeds as a cherry ripe for the picking.