Local elections 2019: What to expect in Yorkshire

Voter placing a ballot paper in a ballot box. Credit: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
Voter placing a ballot paper in a ballot box. Credit: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
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Amid the Brexit deadlock that has gripped Westminster it easy to forget that the annual local elections drama is about to unfold, with voting set for 2 May.

Across the country 246 out of 343 councils will be dusting off their ballot boxes, with 8,346 council seats up for grabs.

In Yorkshire and the Humber 538 seats will be contested, as voters in 17 council areas prepare to go to the polls.

Of those councils, there are currently seven that are Labour-controlled, six under Conservative rule and four that are classed as under ‘No Overall Control’ (NOC), with many of those running via minority or coalition arrangements.

For nine councils – Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Hull, Kirklees, Leeds, Sheffield, Wakefield – only a third of the seats will be contested.

For the other eight – North Lincolnshire, East Riding, York, Hambleton, Richmondshire, Ryedale, Scarborough and Selby – all of the seats will be up for grabs.

Although the electoral event traditionally focuses on local issues – bins, potholes and the like – in reality there is no area of British politics that has not had a shadow cast over it by Brexit.

Ahead of the vote, local elections expert and Tory peer Lord Hayward warned that unless the Government could get a Brexit deal over the line it would pay the price at the ballot box.

“There is a Brexit benefit to the Government if there is a deal,” he said.

“There is clearly a disadvantage, disbenefit, deficit to the Tory party of not having a deal.”

The polling expert also forecast a low turnout as, he said, people of all political colours, had become “so hacked off with politics in general they just won’t vote”.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Lord Hayward suggested that the national picture would largely be mirrored in the region, predicting a disappointing performance for all the mainstream parties.

He said there would be a “low turnout definitely,” adding: “Labour probably won’t make the overall gains across the country – and that includes in Yorkshire – that it ought to when a government has been in power for eight or nine years. But the one difference in Yorkshire in general, as against the rest of the country is that there’ll be some Lib Dem gains but there won’t be as many.”

The Tory peer added that while Vince Cable’s anti-Brexit party were likely to make some gains in Hull, North Leeds and East Bradford, their performance in the region generally would be lacklustre.

Turning to individual councils, Lord Hayward predicted that Labour will take control of both York and Calderdale council which are currently under no overall control.

“I expect Labour to take York,” he said.

“The Tories did pretty well and have come back from the dead over the last ten years but they are likely to lose seats particularly to the Lib Dems, but I think Labour will actually take control.”

City of York Council has been run since 2015 by a Conservative-Liberal coalition, with both parties on 12 councillors.

Labour currently has 13 councillors and all of the unitary authority’s 47 seats will be contested.

On Calderdale, Lord Hayward adds: “I would be very surprised if the Labour party don’t take control there – first time in 20 years that the Labour party would control Calderdale.”

The borough council currently has 24 Labour councillors, 19 Tories, six Lib Dems and two others, with 26 needed to command a majority.

Looking to South Yorkshire, the Tory peer noted that a “strikingly high number of Ukip candidates,” have been fielded in Sheffield, with the pro-Brexit party contesting 22 of the 28 seats available.

Although the party has lost support nationally in recent years, it could do well in the local elections as a vehicle for pro-Brexit and anti-establishment sentiment.

It may also be boosted by the absence in the local elections of candidates standing for Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party, which The Yorkshire Post understands was due to time constraints.

Also notable by their absence are the newly formed Independent Party, Change UK, which is made up nationally of MPs who have defected from the mainstream parties and is strongly in favour of a second EU referendum.

Like the Brexit party, Change UK has earmarked the European elections as their first battleground.

However, the husband of Angela Smith – one of the original Change UK defectors – Steve Wilson has followed in his wife’s footsteps and will stand as an independent candidate in Sheffield, after 10 years as a Labour councillor.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “I put my name forward for local elections as a completely independent candidate with no connection to Change UK at all.”

Elsewhere in the region, Leeds is notable for standing the widest variety of candidates, with 15 different parties represented.

Lord Hayward said: “Across Leeds, there are more different parties represented than in any other local authority in England.”

Summarising the national picture, he added that the Brexit pause agreed with Brussels earlier this month, coupled with MPs taking Easter recess, had boosted the Conservatives’ prospects.

“The politicians not being in here and therefore not arguing about Brexit has probably made it easier,” he said. “It’s still going to be a bad night for the Tories, but at the moment the feeling is it won’t be as bad of a night as it might have been.”