Friday, 6 May 2011

A critical ward?

Yesterday's local elections have resulted in the Liberal Democrats losing control of Sheffield City Council to Labour. The ward in which I live, Broomhill, has as one of its councillors Coun Paul Scriven, now the former leader of the council. Within its boundaries are a large number of students from Sheffield University, and also a number of Sheffield's hospitals. What do last night's results reflect from this part of Sheffield?

The first thing I note is that turnout was down from 59% last year to 37.8% this year. A major factor in this, of course, may be that we also held a General election last year, which may have grabbed the popular imagination a little more than a referendum on AV. But are people also losing faith in the system that has not produced the promised change?

Secondly the change in voting shows that, here at least, the Lib Dems are bearing the brunt of discontentment and disillusionment over the Coalition's policy strategy. Lib Dem share of the vote fell by 19.4% to 27.2%, whereas the Tory share only fell by 1.7% to 10%. These votes were picked up by Labour, who increased by 12.1% to 34.6% and the Greens, who grew 8.8% to 26.1%. UKIP showed a slight increase, from 1.9% to 2.1%, but I think they can largely be ignored here. Are the Lib Dems becoming the 'whipping boys' of the coalition, diverting public anger away from Cameron and his party?

Sheffield is seen as Nick Clegg's 'heartland'. If that is so, it seems that some major surgery may be needed to prevent the terminal decline of a party that many hoped would bring radical change to British politics, but who instead have done nothing but disappoint their core constituency through the deceit and broken promises of their leader. I have no doubt that others in leadership in the party will say, as Paul Scriven did this morning, that this is only a 'temporary blip', but I believe that things are much worse. The new dawn that was promised only 12 months ago has so soon clouded over and the storms are brewing.