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Coalition Punished At the Polls in Leeds

In a vote that showed the widespread opposition to austerity and savage cuts, Leeds voters went to the polls to cast their ballots, cast emphatic votes against the parties of the coalition. Labour took Moortown, Headingley, Rothwell, Hyde Park & Woodhouse, Burmantofts & Richmond Hill, Gipton & Harehills from the Lib Dems and Roundhay and Temple Newsom, from the Tories. Voters also rejected a referendum, forced on the city by the coalition, over having a directly elected mayor.

Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party

The Lib Dem vote in particular collapsed except in areas where they had sitting councillors up for re-election, but even this seems to be more on the strength of the candidates rather than the party, as where they previously held the seat but the candidate didn’t re-stand their vote collapsed too, such as in Hyde Park and Woodhouse ward.

The Tory vote generally shrank too, with party being reduced to the votes of a minor party in many wards, including Crossgates and Whinmoor where the party lost over 1,000 votes.

Labour now have a majority of 17 on the council and many who voted for them will be expecting much from them over the next few months and years. Labour’s leaflets were covered in talk of opposing cuts, leaflets such as one in Headingley ward commented “Young people are being forced to pay for a crisis they did not cause” and asked people to “Use your vote on May 3rd to send a message to Nick Clegg and David Cameron that you reject their right-wing policies – especially the damage being done to the NHS”.

Yet Labour’s record in Leeds is one of passing on the governments cuts rather than opposing them. Last year Labour, with the support of the Greens, passed £90m worth of cuts and this year passed £55m. This has meant 3,000 job losses, closure of the Leeds Crisis Centre and adult day centres, introducing a 50p fare for the formerly Free City Bus and increases in meals on wheels charges amongst other things.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post, “Coun Peter Gruen, the Labour Group’s deputy leader, put the victory down to “compassionate” policies that the ruling Labour administration had followed while having to make big spending cutbacks.” In other words, even representatives of Labour locally recognised that many people voted for them as the least worst option of the main parties.

This also points to another feature in the election, a very low voter turnout. In Headingley 29% less people voted this year than last year, a drop of over 1,000 voters in an already low turnout ward. Many people simply didn’t vote because they view all the parties as the same, something that came up on several occasions on the doorstep.

A worrying factor is the support that still exists for the BNP in the one ward they stood in, Middleton Park, they came second, whilst the BNP-lite English Democrats (which includes former BNP councillor Chris Beverley) gained noticeable votes and right-wing UKIP polled nearly 5% across the city.

Whilst the Greens maintained one of their two councillors, they failed to make any breakthroughs elsewhere although they polled a number of respectable votes and got the fourth largest vote share. Within the Greens in Leeds are a number of anti-cuts and trade union activists who, given the savage cuts imposed by Labour, are promoting the Greens as an alternative to austerity, in particular trying to generate debate on this question within some of the council trade unions. However, the Greens are hamstrung by their support for the £90m cuts budget last year and the cuts made by the Green-led council in Brighton which are supported by a number of prominent activists such as Headingley Green candidate Chris Foren. Despite this, Socialist Party members will aim to work in anti-cuts campaigns with those Greens who do oppose all cuts including one election candidate who signed the anti-cuts pledge drawn up by Socialist Party and Alliance for Green Socialism candidates.

The Socialist Party (standing as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition – TUSC) doubled the number of seats we stood in across Leeds this year and more than doubled the number of votes we received. This was despite horrendous weather which hampered campaigning (vital for a small party not receiving much media coverage), our printer running out of ink as well as our original candidate in Horsforth falling seriously ill and throwing much of our campaign plans in that ward out of the window.

Once again we have raised the idea of an alternative to cuts from all the main parties,  recruited a number of people to the party in the area with quite a few more people interested in joining or finding out more about the party. We also have generated interest in TUSC amongst a layer trade unionists in the area, with offers of help with leafleting from activists in two different UNISON branches. We hope that in future elections it will not just be Socialist Party members standing in Leeds under the TUSC banner, but also trade union and other anti-cuts activists. We will be stepping up our efforts over the next period to build a TUSC supporters group in the city alongside other activists.

Alongside TUSC, the Alliance for Green Socialism (AGS) pledged to vote against all cuts and stood candidates in 9 wards in the city. Yet again they outpolled both the Greens and Lib Dems in Chapel Allerton however their vote remained at roughly the same level in wards they contested last year and they generally received minimal votes in the new wards they contested.

In the opinion of the Socialist Party this doesn’t reflect a lack of opposition to the cuts, but is a reflection of the factors raised above as well as the limited nature of a pure leafleting campaign that the AGS engages in, as opposed to engaging in a more thorough discussion via canvassing, stalls and public meetings. The energy of the AGS would be better used taking our co-operation a step further and standing with ourselves as part of TUSC (albeit under their electorally established name if they wish as in Coventry, Wigan and Walsall) and helping to draw in further layers of trade union activists that could help with a more active campaign across the whole city. Notwithstanding this, we will seek to work with the AGS in promoting a principled opposition to all cuts.

This process could also be aided by anti-cuts groups across the city. During the election, both the PCS union and the Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market (who are opposing council plans to reduce the size of the market as well as a refusal to invest in the market) wrote to candidates asking them to sign up to pledges on a number of issues they were campaigning on.

If Leeds Against the Cuts, or other anti-cuts groups, had written to candidates with a similar pledge to the one drawn up by ourselves and the AGS, this could have exerted pressure on both Green and Labour councillors who say they oppose the cuts to declare where they really stand. It could have given a steer to Leeds TUC who, whilst opposing cuts and seeking to meet with the Labour council to discuss the issue, lack a set of points of what to specifically put to them in opposing the cuts.

The next year will undoubtedly throw up further challenges and opportunities to anti-cuts activists and socialists. So far only 10-20% of the cuts have been made, and further attacks are likely to push new layers to want to fight back as we have seen through the trade union disputes this year and movements like Occupy. The task for socialists over the next few years is to popularise a strategy to defeat the cuts and to win people to the need to change society to end an economic system that benefits the 1% at the expense of everyone else.

Leeds TUSC Votes (2011 votes and percentage in brackets)

Armley

Labour  2686 (3428) – 61.2% (62.8%) (no change)
Green 596 (748) – 13.65 (13.7%)
Tory 554 (901) – 12.6% (16.5%)
Lib Dem  326 (382) – 7.4% (7.0%)
TUSC  229 (na) – 5.2% (na)
Total votes – 4391 (5459)
Electorate (as of March 2012) – 17919
Turnout – 24.5%

Headingley

Labour 1053 (1536) – 38.2% (39.6)(gain from Lib Dem)
Lib Dem 1021 (1098) – 37.0% (28.3%)
Green 457 (682) -16.6% (17.6%)
Tory 147 (370) -5.3% (9.5%)
TUSC 82 (88) -3.0% (2.3%)
(also in 2011 Ind 69 – 1.8% and UKIP 39 – 1%)
Total votes –2760 (3882)
Electorate (as of March 2012) – 15565
Turnout – 17.7%

Horsforth

Lib Dem 2636 (2466) – 40.0% (31%) (no change)
Tory 1725 (2680) – 26.2% (33.7%)
Labour 1381 (2213) – 21.0% (27.9%)
UKIP 453 (421) -6.9% (5.3%)
Green 317 (na) – 4.8% (na)
TUSC 77 (164) – 1.2% (2.1%)
Total votes – 6589 (7944)
Electorate (as of March 2012) – 16979
Turnout – 38.8%

Otley & Yeadon

Lib Dem 3259 (3185) – 43.6% (38.6%) (no change)
Labour 2615 (3026) – 35.0% (36.7%)
Tory 947 (2034) – 12.7% (24.7%)
Green 474 (na) – 6.3% (na)
TUSC 176 (na) -2.4% (na)
Total votes – 7471 (8245)
Electorate (as of March 2012) – 17523
Turnout – 42.7%

Total number and % of votes across Leeds

Labour – 80,312 (46.6%)
Tory – 38,376 (22.3%)
Lib Dem – 22,132 (12.8%)
Green – 9,390 (5.4%)
UKIP – 8,064 (4.7%)
Inds – 7,861 (4.6%) (includes Morley Borough Independents)
Eng Dem – 4,594 (2.7%)
AGS -1,865 (1.1%)
BNP – 893 (0.5%)
TUSC – 564 (0.3%)
Total – 173,871

Anti-Cuts Candidates – 2,685 (1.6%)

The Anti-Cuts Pledge

If elected to Leeds City Council,
I will vote:
• Against all cuts to council services or to council jobs, pay or conditions
• To stop all privatisation of services or assets, including transfers to “arms-length organisations” or “social enterprises”
• Against council use of the “Private Finance Initiative”
• To prevent cuts to the protection of our environment, including stopping global warming
• To keep the education and the national health service publicly owned and run
• Against increases in charges because of government cuts
• For real involvement of local people in decisions, including consultations, commissions and referendums
…and will work with local anti-cuts groups and trade unions.

 

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