VOTERS go to the polls later this week in what could be a watershed election for Sheffield’s local political scene.
Richard Marsden reports on the potential winners and losers.
LABOUR is hoping to strengthen its already solid grip on power in Sheffield but all eyes will be on the fortunes of the other parties once the results are counted from Thursday’s election.
Continued disaffection with the coalition Government could see further heavy losses inflicted on the Liberal Democrats, who only lost power 12 months ago, and the Green Party faces a test of its support.
Meanwhile, Conservatives are mounting a strong bid to regain their first seat in four years.
Residents in the key wards told The Star that national issues are likely to play a big part in the election result.
Linda Kirk, a Lib Dem supporter and former chair of Broomhall Park Association, in Broomhill ward, said: “Local elections have been predominantly about national issues for more than 30 years and it’s not going in our party’s favour.
“There’s still anger about tuition fees and the health service but we hope people will consider local issues, too. There are matters such as traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, planning applications. I think Paul Scriven has a chance of surviving.”
But she added: “I think the Liberal Democrats could do more to let people know about the good things they have been doing in Government which would not have happened had the Tories been in power alone.”
Gillian Crow-Santander, a civil servant, of Bower Road, Crookes, another Lib Dem-held ward which is also being hotly contested by Labour - who won last year - and independent former Lib Dem, John Hesketh, said many voters are disillusioned with politics in general.
She said: “The politicians of all parties are the same. They say one thing to get elected but then nobody does what they say. I think most people will probably vote on national issues but there hasn’t been much campaigning in our area.”
Also in Crookes ward, businessman Nigel Burgon, who runs Just Natural greengrocers, urged politicians to make more effort to connect with the public.
He said: “We haven’t really seen anyone campaigning. I’m not that politically-minded and if the candidates don’t come out and speak to the public, fewer people will turn out and vote.”
In Walkley, sitting Lib Dem and former Lord Mayor, Diane Leek is popular as a hard-working councillor but highly vulnerable.
Sam Charlesworth, a mum of two and voluntary worker, said: “Diane Leek has been a very good local councillor and has shown how much she supports Walkley. She also lives in the area whereas the Labour candidate doesn’t.
“But the problem Diane has is the national agenda and many people feel let down by the Liberals. To many people, they’ve turned out to be Tories in sheeps’ clothing.”
Personality is likely to be a bigger factor in Dore and Totley ward, where the frontrunners are the Lib Dems and Tories, who have a strong candidate this year.
Paul Millington, a company director, from Dore, said: “I don’t think any of the main parties are doing particularly well. People have an aversion to politics full stop. Planning and parking are the biggest local issues in our ward and I think the result will come down to who people feel is best to deal with these problems.”
Ian Laurie, aged 78, a retired civil engineer and member of Totley Residents’ Association, said: “I think it is hard to predict who will win. Disillusionment with the coalition will be a factor, which will probably hit the Lib Dems more than the Conservatives, so the number of votes smaller parties such as UKIP and the Greens get could be a major factor in the result.”
Tough challenges for parties in marginal wards
Labour currently has a majority of 16 in the council chamber, holding 50 of the 84 seats to 32 Lib Dems and two Green Party councillors.
But last year, Labour gained nine seats from the Lib Dems. It is hoping to win in the same seats this year, too. One is already Labour, so Lib Dems could lose eight this time, including former council leader Paul Scriven, who is defending the marginal Broomhill ward.
Other marginal wards include Walkley, where Lib Dem stalwart and former Lord Mayor, Coun Diane Leek, is vulnerable. Labour hold the other two seats there.
And in Crookes, young Lib dem candidate Rob Frost, a worker in Nick Clegg’s constituency office, is battling to retain the seat for his party against a challenge from Labour - who won last year - and independent former Lib Dem, John Hesketh.
Meanwhile, Green Central ward councillor Rob Murphy faces a test of his popularity when he defends his seat against another Labour challenge. Last year, his colleague, Green leader Jillian Creasy, only held onto her seat by less than 200 votes from the Labour candidate.
Lib Dems are also facing a challenge from the Conservatives in Dore and Totley, where Anne Smith, who represented the ward for eight years until 2008, is bidding to unseat Lib Dem deputy leader on Sheffield Council, Coun Colin Ross.