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Thursday, April 30, 1998 Published at 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK

The North - Kersti Mitchell

Kersti Mitchell looks at the background to this year's local elections in one of Labour's heartlands.

In a region where Labour has dominated local government for the past two decades, dramatic election night stories have frequently been difficult to find.

But this year the elections could well prove to be interesting for different reasons.


[ image: Protesters vent their frustration in Doncaster]
Protesters vent their frustration in Doncaster
Since the last elections, two councils in the region have been involved in high-profile controversies.

In Doncaster, the Labour council is still reeling from the so-called "Donnygate" scandal involving allegations about the misuse of expenses by councillors and suspect land deals.

The district Labour Party and three councillors are suspended. Potential candidates were chosen by a specially appointed regional panel and a police inquiry is ongoing.

Hull controversy

Hull Council has also had its fair share of problems over the last year or so.

Here too, the district Labour Party is suspended following an investigation by the party's National Executive Committee into allegations of membership-rigging, nepotism and intimidation.

[ image: John Prescott - the victim of vendetta]
John Prescott - the victim of vendetta
The apparent extent of the in-fighting became clear when the Deputy Prime Minister and Hull East MP, John Prescott, became embroiled in a controversy about the sale of former council houses to a firm employing his son.

Mr Prescott claimed he was the victim of a vendetta campaign engineered by people within the Hull Labour Party. He and his son were subsequently cleared of any wrong doing by a government auditor.

Tory fightback?

The Conservatives control only one of the 32 councils in the region, but this May will probably see the beginning of their fightback.

They will be hoping to cash in on an anti-government protest vote and make some gains in some of the big cities like Leeds and Bradford where - in the not too distant past - they were the largest party.

Elsewhere, it will be interesting to see whether Labour in Lincoln will continue its monopoly of the council and whether the Liberal Democrats can hang onto their very slim majorities in Craven in North Yorkshire and West Lindsey in Lincolnshire.

Councils up for election

There are only 15 local councils going to the polls on May 7 - just under half of the total in the area.

All of the nine metropolitan districts in West and South Yorkshire are involved, plus five scattered district councils and one of the five new unitary authorities.

All of the 15 councils are electing a third of their full complement this time.

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