There are major changes afoot in Hull, where a quarter of councillors are standing down ahead of May’s vote. Alexandra Wood reports.
In the bright sunshine the trees in East Park cast long shadows down the elegant Victorian avenues and, despite a chilly breeze, families are out in their droves.
Maybe it is spring in the air, but in a city which has traditionally dismal voter turnouts - just 17.8 per cent in nearby Marfleet in 2016 - most say they will vote in next month’s local elections.
This year’s elections are bound to bring a crop of new faces to the council, with Labour losing nine from their ranks, including well-known figures, former council leader Colin Inglis and transport portfolio holder Martin Mancey. Four Lib Dems, including one-time prospective MP Claire Thomas, are also standing down, along with one Independent.
Due to boundary changes, the elections are all-out this year, with the number of councillors reducing from 59 to 57 and some fairly seismic changes to ward layouts. But the minutiae of local politics means little to those enjoying the sunshine.
Out of a dozen quizzed in a brief straw poll by The Yorkshire Post, just one Liberal Democrat voter emerges, a retired merchandiser, aged 81, who hopes they “win a few more seats this time.” The rest are staunchly Labour.
Like everybody else I am struggling to read the new wards. The truth is nobody knows until the electorate has spoken.Conservative John Fareham
For Bob Holiday, exercising his three rescue Staffordshire Bull Terriers, the local elections could be a turning point nationally, delivering a bloody nose to the Conservatives. “It might force another election with any luck,” he says. “This is the worst Government I can ever remember - more than Thatcher even. May is only clinging on with a bit of help from the DUP.”
Alfred Tennison, 78, who is out for a walk with his daughter, health visitor Kathryn Stark, will vote Labour. “If the Tories can’t sort Brexit out, how can they sort anything else?” he asks.
He is no great fan of Jeremy Corbyn, but thinks Labour locally have done well. “They are doing a brilliant job on what funding they have got,” he says. “There’s the houses they are starting to get built, and Siemens - they are bringing all this industry into the city.”
Conservative John Fareham - just one of two on the council - is among the longest serving members on the authority, and thinks there could be a swing to the left with the new administration.
Labour currently holds a 19-seat majority with 39 councillors. There are 17 Lib Dems and one independent, as well as the two Tories.
He said: “My ward is the least changed in the city, with an extra street of 49 houses added, but for some of them it’s really major, where large areas are being moved around.
“It’s a really big challenge - people are going to say ‘who’s that?’
“Like everybody else I am struggling to read the new wards. The truth is nobody knows until the electorate has spoken.”
Lib Dem group leader Mike Ross agrees that it is an election that is exceptionally hard to call.
Labour has led the council for the past seven years, the Lib Dems for the preceding five.
Tomorrow their campaign will be bolstered by a visit from party leader Sir Vince Cable.
Coun Ross said: “If you look at 2016 we exceeded expectations and if those elections had been all out, we would be looking at a balance of power situation at the city council. It is going to be neck and neck in many wards.”
Voters, he said, were complaining about the regeneration Hull has seen in the run up to City of Culture year, being too city centre-focussed.
He said: “People are very supportive of City of Culture and what it sought to do. There’s just a sense of it being focussed on the city centre and people feeling their area missed out.
“There’s a definite sense of the council not being on the ball enough with the state of the streets. (Labour deputy leader) Daren Hale said in January there’s no fly-tipping problem. I think residents across the city will disagree.”
Meanwhile Labour says their list of 57 candidates is its “most diverse ever”, with almost half female, three BAME candidates and a quarter below the age of 40.
Coun Hale said Hull had avoided the mass deselections seen in other areas “partly because we had a lot of vacancies with people standing down” and says although some of the candidates are Corbynistas, there is representation from all wings of the party. “It’s not the Old Guard any more,” he said. “It is fresh and dynamic. It’s about retaining power in this city and pushing for our agenda. To keep the city moving forward we need to win - and win with confidence.”