Labour blame bad elections on Brexit and national leadership

There was celebration, reflection and a few tears at the local elections after voters took to the polls to have their say.

Wednesday, 8th May 2019, 10:57 am
Updated Wednesday, 8th May 2019, 2:35 pm
Ian Saunders pictured after its announced he has lost his Beighton seat to Liberal Democrat Bob McKann. Ian had been a councillor since 1984 and was the council's heritage champion. Picture: Marie Caley

It was a disappointing day for the ruling party, Labour, who lost some long-standing councillors – while the Liberal Democrats and Green Party made gains.

Across the city turnout was 31.6 per cent, up on the last poll when just 25 per cent of the electorate voted.

A polling station team in Arbourthorne had to get creative when early voters were locked out. A caretaker failed to turn up on time but the team transformed a car into a polling booth so no-one missed out.

Alan Hooper, gains the West Ecclesfield seat from UKIP's John Booker. Picture: Marie Caley NSST-03-05-19-Elections2019-17

In total, Labour lost five seats and gained one, the Liberal Democrats gained four, the Greens were up two and Ukip lost two.

Labour still have a comfortable majority with 49 out of 84 seats but there will now be some serious reflection for the group over the coming months, say council bosses. The Liberal Democrats now have a total of 26, Green Party eight and Ukip one.

One senior Labour source said: “I never thought we would do this badly in Sheffield.”

Another Labour insider said they were one of the worst-performing Labour groups out of the core cities nationally in this local election.

There were some tears among the party who said goodbye to councillors including Ian Saunders, who had served since 1984 and was the council’s heritage champion.

Cabinet members put their losses down to it being a “protest vote” against the national party and indecision over Brexit.

Council leader Julie Dore is understood to have fended off a leadership challenge from Manor Castle councillor Terry Fox. Coun Dore is believed to have secured 33 votes against Fox’s 14 at a private meeting held immediately after the election results were announced.

Coun Dore said the group would be having ‘serious conversations’ going forwards and added: “I’m extremely disappointed that we have lost some very long-serving, committed and dedicated councillors.

“It does seem to be a very serious protest vote against the Conservatives and our party nationally, and therefore votes go to other parties. It’s the pattern across the country but the people of Sheffield have spoken and we need to sit up and listen, analyse why people voted the way they did and look inwards to see what we can improve on.

“We will continue to do our best for the city despite the extremely difficult circumstances we have faced over the past decade of austerity which has left us with 50 per cent of the money we had when the coalition government came into power.

“We did expect a couple of seats to be close so it hasn’t come as a big surprise, but it is disappointing.”

These views were shared by many members of the cabinet. Coun Mazher Iqbal, cabinet for business and investment, said: “It’s heartbreaking to lose long-standing colleagues but - as was said on the doorstep up and down this country - nationally politicians aren’t listening.

“We try and keep it on local issues but people are fed up that Brexit hasn’t been resolved so for me that’s the rider on all of this.”

Coun Jackie Drayton, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “Obviously it’s really disappointing and, for me, that’s because a lot of people feel very let down by all politicians and all parties.

“I have to say it is about what’s happening nationally. As much as we said this is about local issues people base it on what they hear in mainstream media about Brexit and it’s really difficult. People are really fed up and they say ‘Well, I’m not voting for you’.”

Coun Mary Lea, cabinet for parks and leisure, added: “The first year or two of cuts affects specific services and doesn’t necessarily affect the whole population and it’s now, nearly a decade on, that people are feeling it and seeing it on the streets.

“We’ll have a couple of days off and then we’ll start back to work again. There’s still work to be done and we will go back and look at how we will campaign going forwards.”

Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said it was a “fabulous” result for them.

“It’s a clear message to Julie Dore that the way things are can’t carry on, we’ve had too much of a top-down approach and people want change, and have voted for it. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens now at the Town Hall with a stronger opposition.

“It’s been really good on the doorstep, people have really warmed to us. We elected Bob McCann in Beighton – a seat which no one has ever held other than Labour. Of course Brexit was an issue but let’s not mask it to say that it was just Brexit that cost Labour these seats. There were many local issues that have cost them seats here and that’s what they need to go away and think about.”

Coun Rob Murphy, speaker for the Green Party who is stepping down after 11 years, said: “It’s been a good day for the Greens all round. We had an indication that we would get some wins but the size and majority has been absolutely amazing.

“I think we are good councillors and this shows an appreciation for the things we’ve done, I also think the main parties have been hit by indecision over Brexit.

“I’m looking forward to relaxing a little bit, so I’m going to take a deep breath and avoid too many evening meetings for a while before deciding what to do next.”

Taking over his position in City ward will be newly elected councillor Ruth Mersereau who won with 62.5 per cent of the vote.

Green councillors also said goodbye to Lord Mayor Magid Magid who is leaving to run in the European Elections.

Fellow party member Angela Argenzio won his seat in Broomhill and Sharrow Vale ward with 58 per cent of the vote. Magid said: “All across the city our vote share has gone up massively so it’s really exciting. I’m definitely going to miss it but I will always be campaigning – whether as an MEP or a normal citizen.”

One of the Greens’ biggest triumphs was in Gleadless Valley, where candidate Paul Turpin took the seat from Labour’s with 49.8 per cent of the vote.

Coun Turpin said: “I think people have seen the value of having someone who is involved in the community every day and not just people who turn up for a photo and don’t parachute candidates in from other parts of the city.”

There will be big celebrations for the Liberal Democrats and Greens while Labour reflect on their result. Sheffield has spoken and the ruling council now must answer.