What could happen at the Leeds local elections?
With the aftermath of Brexit, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and a growing unemployment crisis, the past year has certainly thrown up some interesting moments.
Just like 1918 and 1945, the mere mention of the years 2020 and 2021 will evoke powerful feelings and imagery many decades from now, but, as with those years, life will ultimately go on – and we have a lot of catching up to do.
One of the many knock-on effects of the Covid-19 lockdown has been a lack of conversations on the doorstep by political party campaigners, meaning the opinons of the general public as to the performance of those in power are particularly hard to gauge.
So what is there to know about these most important, unpredictable and, let’s face it, strange local elections? Here is your handy cut-out-and-keep guide.
Leeds has a total of 99 council seats – with 33 wards each represented by three councillors. For these local elections, one seat from each ward will be up for grabs (other than Roundhay, in which there are two vacancies).
For a working majority, a party must hold at least 50 seats – this effectively means they can take control of the council.
If no one party has overall control, this means an agreement would have to take place between parties to either support a minority administration or to form a coalition.
Following the last local elections in 2019, Leeds’s Labour group boasted 57 councillors – seven above the 50 needed for a working majority on the council.
What could happen?
Since 2019 Labour’s numbers have been reduced to 54 due to resignations.
This would mean Labour would have to make a net loss of five seats or more in order to be without a majority for the first time since 2010.
However, no other party than Labour could mathematically gain a working majority at this election. For example, the second biggest party on the council is the Conservatives with 23 seats. Even if they took ALL the Labour seats and kept all of their own, they would still only have 42 seats – eight short of a majority, but still five more than Labour.
Conversely, if Labour took ALL the Conservative seats and kept all their own (including the two vacancies in Roundhay), the party would have 64 seats – 14 clear of a majority.
Other parties include the Liberal Democrats with seven councillors, down from eight at 2019 due to the death of Coun Carmel Hall; The Morley Borough independents with five; The Garforth and Swillington Independents with three, and the Greens with three.
Who is up?
It’s a fairly star-studded line-up (if one could attribute such a description to local elections) when it comes to those who are defending their seats.
Council leader James Lewis is defending his Kippax and Methley seat for Labour, while fellow members of Coun Lewis’s decision-making executive board fighting for their seats include Mohammed Rafique (Lab, Chapel Allerton), Fiona Venner (Lab, Kirkstall), Helen Hayden (Lab, Temple Newsam).
Deputy leader of the Conservatives group Alan Lamb (Wetherby) and leader of the Leeds Green Party group David Blackburn (Farnley and Wortley) will also be fighting for their seats.
In total, Labour have 19 seats up for re-election, with eight for the Conservatives, one for the Lib Dems, two for independent groups, one for the greens and two vacancies.
Who isn’t up?
No matter which way people decide to vote, a great deal of change will take place at Civic Hall following this weekend’s count. A total of eight councillors will not contest their seat this time round, including former leader Coun Judith Blake (Lab, Middleton Park) and former executive member for planning Coun Peter Gruen (Lab, Cross Gates and Whinmoor).
Others who are retiring or not contesting their seats are Neil Dawson (Lab, Morley South), Mark Harrison (Con, Pudsey) Christine Knight (Lab, Weetwood) Pat Latty (Con, Guiseley and Rawdon); and Eleanor Tunnicliffe and Angela Wenham, both formerly Labour councillors for Roundhay.
The reason for so many departures in one year is partly due to those who had planned on standing down in 2020 having to stay on as councillors for another year, as the early days of Covid put pay to last year’s local elections.
What issues are being fought on?
The biggest challenge for the council in the coming year is undoubtedly the gigantic and unprecedented amount of spending cuts being made to its budget – amounting to around £87m.
Labour says 10 years of cuts to funding by central government have left local authorities like Leeds unable to cope with the financial clobbering from Covid-19 and its subsequent effect on public spending.
However, the Conservatives say at least part of the council’s financial problems are self-inflicted, and that more prudent financial decisions over the years would have led to the authority being in a better position to deal with the loss of revenue and increase in costs caused by the pandemic.
The environment is also an issue that the Greens and Liberal Democrats in particular have been campaigning on – with many believing the council should be doing more towards its climate change commitments for the coming years.
The city’s two main independent groups spoke of the need to devolve more decision-making power and responsibility to some of the city’s more outlying districts, such as Morley, Pudsey and Garforth.
What happens next?
Voting will take place as normal on Thursday, May 6. If you have not applied for postal votes, your local polling station will be listed on your polling card.
But unlike usual elections, counts will not take place on the evening of the vote. This is partly due to Covid-19 social distancing rules, which mean the count – due to take place at the Leeds First Direct Arena – will have a lower capacity for counting.
Votes will therefore be verified on Friday, May 7, with counting taking place on the day of Saturday, May 8. Winners are likely to be announced in the afternoon or evening of Saturday.