Claire Yeo analyses the implications of Thursday’s York City Council election results
Last week’s City Council election saw the return of a Liberal Democrat-dominated Council once more. This time, however, their monopoly over other parties in the Council has been dramatically reduced from a majority of 29 to a mere 19, only beating Labour’s share of positions by one councillor.
The Conservatives, who have had no representation in the Council since 2003, were successful in winning eight of the Liberal Democrat’s lost seats.
If Labour form coalitions with Green or the Conservative Councillors, the Lib Dems will be kept out of government, and how these coalitions are formed will now be the decisive factor in shaping the nature of local government in York for the next four years. Fortunately for all, with under 4,000 votes in total, the BNP will not have any seats in the Council.
The Lib Dems’ dramatic reduction in votes mirrors widespread dissatisfaction with their performance in local government over the last term. Unpopular actions such as the closure of the Barbican Centre, the introduction of the Ftr buses and the likely approval of the much-opposed Heslington East development at the University, were set to be key deterrents against a Lib Dem revival.
Heslington residents voted by a significant margin to return to office Lib Dem Councillor Ceredig Jamieson-Ball. The Heslington residents’ opposition to the proposed Heslington East development has been well-publicised, making Jamieson-Ball’s clear victory somewhat remarkable.
The Heslington ward itself is a very particular ward, consisting of both a transcient student population and permanent local residents, who have been known to not always see eye to eye on many issues, not least the politics and policies of the local Council.
This particular make-up of the Heslington ward, similar to the other key student-dominated wards of Hull Road and Fulford, meant that the result was all the more unpredictable. The Green Party candidate, Peter Sanderson, who has remained steadfast in his opposition to the Hes East development, might have seemed the most likely victor in a ward where local residents already keenly feel the drawbacks of proximity to the University.
Sanderson received the second largest number of votes, only beating the student Labour Party candidate, Grace Fletcher-Hall, by 15 votes. This is in itself somewhat surprising. The student candidates had been expected to fare well in wards with a high population of student residents.
“It is likely the student candidates would do better where the students are voting – but it’s very difficult to predict a ward like this anyway, because obviously most of the people here haven’t voted before”, Grace Fletcher-Hall commented on polling day.
Jamieson-Ball has admitted, however: “I was quite confident about my support base in the village, but obviously didn’t really know what was going on on campus with facing a Student Union Labour candidate.” With many students moving to the area only recently, it is likely that they will vote for familiar faces, rather than according to policy.
Despite this, neither student candidate was successful in winning the Heslington seat, nor were any other student candidates elected. On campus dozens of students were unable to vote due to registration problems.
“It is quite unjust that many students have been randomly disenfranchised,” said Fletcher-Hall.
In a ward where voter turnout is far less than 50%, the denial of some of the electorate’s right to vote has important implications for the legitimacy of those in power. According to Jamieson-Ball, however, the loss of votes has not had a marked impact: “I don’t think it was votes from any particular party that were lost…it was probably proportional as per the result.”
National issues, it was claimed last week, would set the agenda, rather than local politics. The new Labour Councillor for Hull Road, Richard Cregan, was keen to distance himself from the now decade-old Labour Government: “I must emphasize the word ‘local’ because we are a local party”.
“Some people vote for local reasons, others for national”, Peter Sanderson explained. But in the Heslington ward, the expectation is that it is “going to be more national than local”.
Jamieson-Ball agreed with this analysis, saying: “The electorate voted on issues they felt passionate about, some of which will be local, some of which will be local, some of which will be national”.