Leeds Elections 2018 – Local austerity measures limit Labour gains

For national commentary on the election results, see http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/27313/06-05-2018/local-election-results-are-a-major-warning-sign-for-labour

This year’s council elections in Leeds were not too far off the national picture of limited changes, with Labour as well as the Tories increasing their seats. Although an election to Leeds City Council, in the context of the Windrush scandal and the Blairite smears against Corbyn attempting to conflate the issue of anti-semitism with their latest witch-hunt, the election was largely focussed on national issues, a deliberate tactic by the local right-wing Labour leadership of the council whose manifesto had so little to offer beyond that (see our critique – https://leedssocialistparty.wordpress.com/2018/04/30/a-critique-of-the-leeds-labour-manifesto-2018/).

Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party

The Lib Dem decline continued, losing 2 out of 3 seats in Weetwood to Labour and their two seats in Horsforth to the Tories, although taking one off Labour in Rothwell. The Greens lost one of their seats in Farnley and Wortley to Labour and made no gains elsewhere in the city, whilst Labour won back a few seats from independents across the city.

Pudsey constituency is now becoming a battleground between Labour and Tory ahead of its marginal seat being up in the next general election. Although Labour took a seat in Calverly and Farsley, they lost two in Pudsey ward to the Tories.

Symptomatic of the lack of any real ideas of the local Labour leadership, the surviving Pudsey ward councillor, executive member Richard Lewis, sought to stick the knife into Corbyn indirectly by commenting to the YEP that “My take is this is about Labour not providing an alternative in Parliament. A proper opposition.”

The collapse of the Ukip vote across the city is undoubtedly another factor, but it was not inevitable this would go to the Tories. In Gipton & Harehills ward for example, where in 2016 Ukip won 360 votes and the Tories got 263 votes, and Ukip didn’t stand this election, the highest Tory vote was only 411 votes.

A bigger indicator of Labour’s achilles heel locally is from the result in Garforth & Swillington, where the two ex-Labour independents became three, with big majorities. The independents here campaigned against elements of the austerity measures that the council leadership has passed on from the Tory government, such as the bulky waste bin charges, the closure of the Green in East Leeds and the council’s site allocations plan for housing.

Labour relying on saying it is a two-way campaign between Labour and Tories in such words will not help them win, neither will campaigning against austerity when their council leadership is implementing it locally. In fact, such an attitude could potentially fuel further disillusionment amongst working class people and youth, despite the increased membership and support as a result of the Corbyn surge.

In Gipton & Harehills ward, Labour councillor Arif Hussain, bragged about how taken for granted people in this working class ward are, commenting that he and other Labour councillors only campaigned for two weeks!

TUSC, with almost zero press coverage, acheived modest results in this election, with  over 6% in Gipton & Harehills, around 3% of the vote in Armley and 1.4% in Headingley & Hyde Park (note – TUSC calculates mutli-ward percentages as percentage of highest vote for each party in the ward). But we importantly put forward the case of how the council could fight back against the austerity being inflicted on the city instead of implementing it. Whilst Labour’s election material talked about cuts and privatisation in the NHS, our leaflets and meetings talked about how the council could use it’s Health Scrutiny powers to challenge this.

The new council will see some new left councillors elected. If they are serious about providing a genuine anti-austerity alternative, they should be organising to challenge the leadership around Judith Blake at every step. A key test of any councillors challenging austerity will be their attitude towards the People’s Budget conference which Leeds TUC should be holding in the autumn.

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