On a political knife edge

GREEN PARTY CANDIDATES  l/r: Jillian Creasy, Steve Barnard and Gareth Roberts pictured outside Sheffield Town Hall.    24 March 2010
GREEN PARTY CANDIDATES l/r: Jillian Creasy, Steve Barnard and Gareth Roberts pictured outside Sheffield Town Hall. 24 March 2010

SHEFFIELD goes to the polls next Thursday with the future of the Liberal Democrat council hanging by a thread.

Labour is aiming to take control of the town hall as part of what it believes will be a backlash against the Coalition Government in general and Nick Clegg in particular.

Councillor Julie Dore Labour Leader Sheffield  City Council

Councillor Julie Dore Labour Leader Sheffield City Council

Local Lib Dems, who are the biggest party on the council at the moment but have no overall majority, are pushing their track record in the city over the past three years that they have held power and are warning of the danger of a return to “the bad old days” of Labour.

The Green Party, which currently holds the balance of power with two councillors, is contesting all 28 seats on May 5, while the Conservatives, who have not had a seat in Sheffield for three years, are hoping to start making a comeback in Dore and Totley, once one of their strongholds.

One-third of the seats on the council are being contested in the local elections and the ballot will take place at the same time as a national referendum on alternative voting.

Needing to take only three seats to secure a majority, Labour sees the chance to run the town hall again – and to give the Deputy Prime Minister a political poke in the eye.

Lib Dem: Paul Scriven.

Lib Dem: Paul Scriven.

Candidates report on a significant change of opinion on the doorstep from recent years, with voters switching from attacks on Tony Blair and the Afghanistan war to Nick Clegg and his partnership with the Conservatives.

It gives the party hope that it can win seats such as Walkley, Hillsborough, East Ecclesfield and Gleadless Valley from the Lib Dems and take Central from the Greens. These are the wards where Labour is concentrating its efforts.

The Lib Dems say they remain upbeat, reporting that their canvassing indicates voters understand the need for public spending cuts, and where the blame rests.

They are also campaigning on the basis of their own “prudence”, avoiding the closure of major council services or huge job losses, despite a big reduction in Government grants.

The charge is being led by Lib Dem leader Paul Scriven, who is seeking to contrast his profile and experience with that of counterpart Julie Dore, who only became Labour leader in September last year and is widely regarded as being relatively unknown outside the council chamber.

Although the two major parties are arguing over who would offer the best prospects for Sheffield in such difficult economic times, that same climate dictates that there is limited room for manoeuvre, with little sign of any respite from the impact of spending cuts irrespective of who wins next Thursday.

And both the Lib Dems and Labour are making clear their commitment to working with the local business community to help turn around the local economy and to generate jobs.

Predictions that students will desert the Lib Dems as a result of the policy switch over tuition fees are expected to benefit Labour and the Greens in student areas such as the city centre. Green leader Jillian Creasy is defending the Central seat she has held since 2004.

The current composition of the council is Lib Dems 41 seats, Labour 40, Greens two and one Independent.