In newsrooms across the country, regional political reporters such as myself are switched on more-or-less 24-7 when it comes to local election time.
Who are the runners and riders? Which councillor might lose his or her seat? How could different results affect the way the authority is run in the future?
Coverage can never be too comprehensive, because you could spend the end of eternity explaining the minutiae of what is going on at your local authority.
But we can try, can’t we? It is in this spirit that I present to you my A to Z of local elections in Leeds.
Abstaining from voting
In a previous life writing for another title, I wrote a piece in response to Russell Brand’s calls for young people not to vote back in 2015.
Put simply: If you – and those like you – refuse to vote, don’t expect to be top of the list of priorities for a politician in future. After all, they can’t win your vote if it doesn’t exist!
Speaking to councillors over the past few weeks, some have concerns that members of the public are asking them about Brexit.
While councils and councillors may well have strong opinions either way on the issue, they have literally no power over the Brexit process. All they can do is try to prepare for possible outcomes – none of which are particularly clear at the moment.
Over the past month or so, you’ve probably noticed plenty of people knocking at your door, asking who you are planning on voting for.
This is not only to change your mind and encourage you to vote for their candidate, it’s also so a local constituency party has a good idea of how much support it has in particular areas.
Politicians in Leeds from all parties want more powers – and spending money – from Westminster.
Following a failed attempt at gaining a Leeds City Region deal in 2015, Labour councillors in the city, as well as other parts of the region, have proposed a “One Yorkshire” devolution deal, in which the whole county would have an elected executive and extra decision-making powers.
The government is not keen on this, however, and Conservative councillors in Leeds have suggested a renewed Leeds City Region bid should be submitted to government instead.
This is a big topic in Leeds, as a recent report put the city near the bottom of the league when it comes to educational assessments for six and seven-year-olds.
It’s a topic that has never been far away from the headlines in the run up to these local elections, and a recent council scrutiny board meeting heard officers reiterate how improving educational outcomes is a priority for the city in the coming years.
Whoever is in power following the election, they will more than likely have to deal with further funding cuts in the coming years.
Senior members of Leeds City Council claim the authority has seen Westminster cut Leeds’s total spending by more than £1 billion over the past decade. With the government’s revenue support grant set to be cut further in 2020, expect to see resources stretched even further.
Long story short: the population is growing, and there aren’t enough places for people to live.
In some cases, the council’s government-approved housing targets require building on green belt land, which has nominal protections against development. But building on fields doesn’t often go down well with voters, meaning councillors sometimes find themselves in a double bind of having to speak up on behalf of their constituents, but also needing to help the authority meet its housing obligations.
The council has been Labour-controlled since 2010, after it wrestled control from a Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition which had been running the authority since 2004.
Previous to that, the council had been Labour-controlled since 1980, and has not held a Conservative majority since 1979.
There are currently eight independent councillors on the authority and, as we’ve reported this week, many of these groups seem to be forming alliances.
Independents from Morley, Garforth, Ardsley and East Leeds have already come out in support of each other, and they will be hoping their new-found partnership gives them a strong voice in this year’s campaign.
She’s the leader of the council – so why can’t you vote for her?In addition to her duties as head of the authority, Coun Blake is also a ward councillor for Middleton Park. Only one councillor per ward (each has three) needs to defend their seat for any given election.
The councillor for that particular ward defending their seat this time around is Paul Truswell, while Judith Blake’s turn is in 2020.
The maths around this election show it is highly likely that Labour will hold on to control of the authority.
The party is having to defend 22 of the 33 seats up for grabs in Leeds this time around. But even if Labour lost all of them (which would probably be the biggest political shock in the history of British democracy), this would still leave no party with an overall majority.
The Conservatives are 28 seats off a majority, while the Lib Dems need another 44 to form their own administration. While these eventualities may well happen one day, it won’t be this year.
Legal voting age
You’re only old enough to vote at 18 in England, but there have been moves by some to change this.
Many groups believe the voting age should be lowered to 16, in order to give young people the chance to have their voices heard on matters that affect them, such as education and tuition fees.
But opponents claim that the majority of 16-year-olds have not yet entered the world of home ownership, employment, tax or pensions, and their lack of experience in such matters stops them from making an informed choice.
In order for a party to have complete control over a local authority, it must have a majority. This means it must hold more seats on the council than everyone else put together.
As Leeds City Council has 99 seats, this would mean a party would need at least 50 seats for a majority. The Labour Party currently holds 61 council seats in Leeds.
No overall control
If no majority is reached following an election, this leads to a situation known as “no overall control”, and it is up to each party to form a ruling group among themselves. This happened in Leeds when a Liberal Democrat and Conservative-led coalition took control of the council between 2004 and 2010.
You also may remember a similar situation nationally between 2010 and 2015, in which the UK Government was led by a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition.
Organising an election
There’s a heck of a lot to do and not much time to do it in!
The deadline for candidate nominations this year was 4pm on Wednesday, April 3, while the deadline to register to vote was April 12.
Meanwhile, the council has only one month to organise hundreds of polling stations around the city.
And there are plenty of them. Last year the council put facilities to vote in 345 locations across the city.
Some of the more interesting ones included Rawdon Model Boat Club, Armley’s Interplay Theatre Company and Guiseley Football Club!
Quantity of votes
We’ve established now that control of the council is ultimately measured by the number of seats each party wins, but it is also interesting to look at the total number of votes each party receives across the city. This is known as the popular vote.
While Labour holds more than 60 percent of the seats on the council, it only received 46 percent of the popular vote at last year’s “all-out” elections.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Greens all received a slightly lower number of seats than their popular vote figures would suggest.
One curious thing you notice when you cover elections is that candidates will often worry about the weather on polling day.
This is due to the belief among some that rain affects turnout when it comes to people getting out to vote, and that many may choose to stay indoors instead of braving the bad weather to get to the polling station.
However, in recent years election experts have disputed this, claiming evidence has yet to emerge for a causation between the two.
Sending your votes in by post
It may surprise you to learn that voting has already begun in this year’s local elections.
Despite polling day being on May 2, postal votes were sent out more than two weeks ago with many, often older, voters having already sent off their ballots.
It is because of this that council candidates often joke that it feels as if there are two polling days during election times.
This is important because, in order to achieve an accurate reflection of a city’s electorate, there needs to be as high a turnout as possible.
And, while these remain relatively high for general elections, along with 2016’s EU referendum, local election turnout tends to lie below 50 per cent.In 2018’s all-out election, Only 34 per cent – just over one third – of those eligible to vote in the city took the opportunity to do so.
There are more than just the four main parties and independents running in these locals across Leeds.
Hoping for a bounce in votes amid the national Brexit turmoil, a total of 16 candidates will be running for UKIP across the city. For Britain will stand eight candidates of its own.
The SDP, largely unrepresented among councils and parliament since the 1980s, will stand four candidates, while three will be running for the Alliance for Green Socialism – a relatively new eco-centric left wing party.
Polling stations are manned by volunteers whose interest is helping along the democratic process.
If you would like to volunteer at a future election, you can apply via Leeds City Council. https://www.leeds.gov.uk/your-council/elections/information-about-working-on-elections
There are 33 wards in Leeds, and each made up of a similar number of a few thousand households.
Each of these wards has three council seats, meaning Leeds City Council has 99 councillors at any one time.
X marks the spot
Not that you need telling, I’m sure, but remember to put an “x” in the box next to your preferred candidate when voting.
If you enter a tick, smiley face or “I like this one” in the box, you run the risk it will be marked as a spoilt ballot, and not be counted!
18-24-year-olds are often the most under-represented group when it comes to voting.
When you’re tucked away in bed on the night of March 2, just spare a thought to the army of vote counters (not to mention yours truly), who are set to pull an all-nighter at the election count.Counts for authorities of this size, both for local and general elections, tend to continue well into the early hours, so instant coffee and biscuits are the order of the day.