IN just six weeks’ time, Leeds voters will be asked to go the polls to elect a new city council.
Every single one of the 99 council seats in Leeds - in 33 wards - is up for grabs this year, the first time we have had all-out local elections in the city for more than a decade.
With at least 14 sitting councillors having already announced they are stepping down this year, the look of the Leeds Civic Hall chamber - and the faces and voices representing Leeds voters on everyday local issues - will definitely change to some extent.
However this year, there are also a significant number of new independent candidates intending to stand, and a few more might well emerge before the deadline of 4pm on Friday, April 6.
Leeds voters do already have some form for defying the status quo.
The Morley Borough Independents (MBIs) currently have five councillors in Morley South and Morley North, five out of the total six.
Party leader Robert Finnigan said he could sense a “surge” of support for independent candidates this May 3.
“There is a certain disillusionment with party politics,” he said.
“It’s a binary choice nowadays, between Labour and the Conservatives, and there’s a reaction to that.”
The MBIs won their first city council seat in 2002 and have steadily grown.
They also currently hold 23 of the 26 seats on Morley Town Council.
Coun Finnigan said that despite the challenges, independent candidates can achieve success outside of the big party machine, his party’s own success being proof of that.
“It can happen,” he said.
“It takes a lot of hard work - and you have to put the community first.”
At the last local elections in Leeds in 2016, independent candidates - either standing alone or from tiny fringe parties who are not one of the big five (Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, Green and UKIP) - secured almost 8,000 votes, with around half of those being for the MBI candidates.
The next best independent performer was a Yorkshire Party candidate, who managed to beat UKIP, the Greens and the Lib Dems to third in Guiseley and Rawdon.
Of the confirmed new independent candidates intending to stand in Leeds this year - their nominations won’t begin to be registered until March 26 - many are ordinary voters who are political novices, but are fed up of the mainstream political party machine.
And they come from all parts of the city.
Tony Quinn, 61, an entrepreneur, photographer and new media specialist, is standing for election in Roundhay, an area where he grew up and went to school.
He admits being an independent can have its advantages and disadvantages, but is confident that in the current political climate, “it’s probably seen as an advantage”.
“My manifesto just says ‘Roundhay’, I have no bigger axe than that to grind,” he told the YEP.
For Mr Quinn - known as the ‘man in the hat’ in his neighbourhood - hyperlocal issues are and should be key.
He is a long standing member of the Friends of Roundhay Park and has been part of the campaign to restore the Oakwood clock.
He half-jokes that the job of a local councillor is to worry about “potholes, parking, dog poo and bins” and candidates from mainstream parties can sometimes get hampered by national party politics.
“You can’t save the NHS at Leeds Civic Hall,” he points out.
“You are supposed to be a bridge between constituents, without internal politics and party affiliations.”
On the opposite end of the city, in Beeston and Holbeck, single mum and shop owner Laura Walton, 39, is also standing for election for the first time.
She is campaigning, amongst other things, against the controversial prostitution ‘managed zone’ in Holbeck, which she claims is having a devastating impact on her community.
“I have lived in the area all my life,” she said.
“My daughter goes to school locally, I have a business here.
“But as a resident myself, I don’t feel like anyone is listening. I’m standing to give the residents a voice.”
Laura, along with fellow candidates Sean Sturman and William Burch, is part of the newly formed Save our Beeston and Holbeck (SoBaH) Independents.
The group grew out of the ‘Save Our Beeston’ Facebook group, which was initially set up to fight the controversial Ice Pak planning application for a Muslim prayer hall and multi-faith community centre.
The trio said their election priorities include ensuring planning conditions for the Ice Pak site are “strictly enforced”.
Also fighting for a council seat in May is dad of two Wayne Dixon, 35, who is standing in Middleton, Leeds council leader Judith Blake’s ward.
He previously stood as an independent but has now aligned himself to the fringe Social Democratic Party.
He said: “Since standing in the 2016 local election, I have realised that my voice isn’t the only one not getting listened to, and that many issues go unanswered or simply ignored.”
QUINTET OF DEFECTORS ARE CHAMPIONING CHOICE
The ruling Labour group at Leeds Civic Hall has seen five councillors walk out of the party and go independent in the past year.
Former cabinet environment spokesman and bins boss Mark Dobson, who quit the ruling group a year ago amid claims of poor leadership and in protest at care home closures, started a mini exodus which included his ward colleague Sarah Field, his partner Janette Walker and his sister Catherine Dobson. They now make up the Garforth and Swillington Independents (M Dobson/Field) and the East Leeds Independents (Walker and C Dobson).
Veteran councillor Jack Dunn, now an independent in Ardsley and Robin Hood, completes the defecting quintet.
“This really could be a very interesting election,” Coun Dobson said.
“All out elections historically throw up some odd results.
“Certainly in 2004, Labour went under 50 [total councillors] and lost control of the city.
“I think if there was ever a time where the planets have aligned and people want change, it’s probably in May.”
He believes having a variety of candidates from non-mainstream parties is “good for the democratic process...because people have now got a genuine choice”.
It is also good for councillors themselves, he says, because “good, independent representation away from the party machine can lead to better decision making”, and elected members can be “completely focused on their particular area”.
Coun Walker, meanwhile, said standing as an independent was, for her, “about community and people” and she sees “less and less relevance for party politics in local representation”.
“People are telling me they want local politicians who put them first,” she said.
“As a working woman I feel strongly that councillors should work exclusively in the community, should live in the community, and not spend time progressing their own careers in the Civic Hall.”
Coun Dunn, who quit the Labour group at Leeds Civic Hall after 22 years, also stressed that he had become fed up of toeing the party line.
“Listening to residents’ views on the doorsteps and at local community meetings, it is clear that a lot of people have lost interest in voting, and also lost faith in the major political parties,” he said.
“I want to be able to support ideas which will improve the lives of my constituents, whichever side of the chamber they come from, instead of having to support projects which sometimes are born out of ideas which have not been thought through or had adequate consultation.”
CURRENT POLITICAL MAKE-UP OF LEEDS CITY COUNCIL
Labour - 58
Conservative - 19
Liberal Democrat - 9
Morley Borough Independents - 5
Green Party - 3
Garforth and Swillington Independent Group - 2
East Leeds Independent Group – 2
Independent - 1
ARE YOU A BRAND NEW CANDIDATE - REGARDLESS OF PARTY - STANDING FOR ELECTION IN LEEDS ON MAY 3, OR DO YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO IS?
CALL 0113 2388122 OR EMAIL YEP.NEWSDESK@YPN.CO.UK.