Economic concerns reflected in local voting

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THE Government’s failure to convince voters it can arrest the economic slide has cost them at the ballot box, according to the leader of Yorkshire’s biggest council.

Labour strengthened its hold on Leeds City Council, gaining eight seats from the coalition parties.

Two were from the Tories and six from the Liberal Democrats – including key Lib Dem stronghold Headingley, by a margin of just 32 votes, and the defeat of former joint leader of the council Mark Harris in Moortown.

Council leader Keith Wakefield described the result as a “clear message” to Downing Street that Chancellor George Osborne’s economic policy is failing to resonate with voters.

He said although he would like people to vote on local issues, it was the Government’s poor record at reassuring people it could turn around the economic slowdown that cost them.

“I think they [the government] have to seriously think about their economic strategy,” he said. “Because it’s simply not working and it’s not just punishing people on benefits, it’s punishing the young, and the elderly and families.

“If you asked people why they voted for us, I don’t think they’d say it was because we emptied the bins on time. I think the worry about the picture we’ve got nationally and the austerity package is what’s in most people’s minds.

“Most people in this city are judging the Government’s record on reassuring them that they really are trying to change things around.

“This is a clear message that the coalition’s economic policy and social strategy is not working and it is not accepted by the people in the North and in Leeds.”

He added that he believed the Government had made a mistake by concentrating on issues such as House of Lords reform – a topic that has increasingly taken centre stage in Westminster over recent weeks.

He said he believed the people of Leeds were far more concerned about jobs, growth and youth unemployment.

In total, there were 33 seats contested in the local election. In a low-key count at Leeds Town Hall, there were few surprises as Labour held its overall control of the council and gained eight seats.

However, a large cheer rang out as it was confirmed that Headingley – subject to a recount because of a close result – passed from Liberal Democrat control to Labour’s Janette Walker.

As well as Headingley and Moortown, the Liberal Democrats lost Burmantofts and Richmond Hill, Gipton and Harehills, Rothwell, and Hyde Park and Woodhouse.

The Conservatives lost Temple Newsam and Roundhay.

No other seats changed hands.

Stewart Golton, group leader of Leeds Council for the Liberal Democrats admitted the results were “very disappointing” and said it was likely people had been influenced by national issues.

He also said turnout was below what was hoped, with under a third of people going to vote in the city.

The number voting was down from 39 per cent in 2011 to 31 per cent at this year’s elections.

Mr Golton said: “It’s very disappointing. You never like to lose valued colleagues at elections. The only positive is that it wasn’t as bad as the tsunami that hit us last year.

“The election was dominated by the national theme. There has been a big debate about the effect of the budget and a lot has been said about the ‘granny tax’ for one. It has had an effect.”

The new make-up of the Council is 63 Labour, 19 Conservative, 10 Liberal Democrat, five Morley Borough Independent, two Green Party.

Last year, Labour gained outright control of the council, which had previously been run by Labour as a minority administration with support from the Greens.

The Liberal Democrats suffered most, losing five seats.