Sheffield tree scandal's impact on trust could still have part to play in General Election

One of the most under-appreciated aspects of politics on the national stage is how much local factors can have an impact.

Most recently we saw this with the backlash against Labour in areas with large Muslim populations who were unhappy with its stance on Israel and Palestine, where the party fell as low as fourth in some seats in this year’s local elections.

In 2021 Labour lost control of Sheffield City Council, with its leader Bob Johnson also losing his seat, with Lib Dem and Green councillors sharing the spoils.

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Some of this was down to the controversial tree felling policy in the city which saw healthy trees cut down by the council despite substantial local opposition.

The scars of the Sheffield tree scandal are still feltThe scars of the Sheffield tree scandal are still felt
The scars of the Sheffield tree scandal are still felt

Since then, Labour has had a lot of work to do in order to regain the trust of people locally, with that trust set to be tested again in the general election as Sir Keir Starmer’s party looks to get a clean sweep of the area’s constituencies.

“We may have only got two Labour councillors in the seat, but we had our best ever results across the constituency for a local election this year,” says Olivia Blake, the current Labour MP and candidate for the seat.

“So we're feeling quite confident that we're convincing people that Labour locally has changed.

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“A lot of the conversations that we have, and have always had in Hallam, have been: “Oh, well, I'm voting Green locally, but I'll vote Labour nationally or I'm voting with them locally or I'll be voting for you, Olivia”.

“That’s the kind of conversation we're used to having, because they are a very switched on electorate in Sheffield Hallam and they do know the difference between a local and a national election, and what the differences are.”

Labour’s reputation locally may not have improved to its pomp, but there have been decisive changes made by the party’s national operation.

In the 2023 local elections, the party stepped in to remove Terry Fox, its leader on the council, blamed by the party for his role in the tree scandal. He, along with six other councillors were suspended by the party months later, later going on to quit the party.

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“I do feel like we've turned a corner and we've got new leadership in the council, and I think that people are more willing to listen to us and are more open to listening to us,” says Ms Blake.

“I think it's kind of quite clear that people are putting their trust back in Labour at a local level.”

Local anger expressed nationally is a strong weapon in a campaign’s arsenal, and at a closer election, with a stronger Lib Dem vote nationally, the level of trust regained may not be enough.

But, with Labour dominating in the polls, it seems like its drastic overhaul may have put local issues with the party to bed for now.

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