Page last updated at 16:54 GMT, Tuesday, 2 June 2009 17:54 UK

Expenses anger on the doorstep

By Terry Stiastny
BBC reporter
In Taunton, Somerset

Nick Clegg put on a high-visibility jacket in suitably Liberal Democrat colours, fluorescent orange, to tour the household waste recycling site in Taunton.

He asked about doorstep recycling and what the local MP, Jeremy Browne, did with his empty plastic milk bottles and wondered aloud what a Christmas tree was doing in the "metals" recycling skip.

So far, so much the usual kind of visit for party leaders in the last week of a local election campaign.

But as Mr Clegg stopped for interviews in front of the piles of bottles and cans, we were reminded that this is far from a normal election campaign.

The questions he was mostly answering were about, of course, MPs' expenses and parliamentary reform.

Local Liberal Democrat councillor Hazel Prior-Sankey said that people were very angry about the national scene in politics, and that it was difficult to get people off that agenda to talk about local issues.

'Huge difference'

She said, though, that voters were really concerned about the environment and about recycling, as well as other responsibilities of local councillors like drop kerbs or bus shelters - what she called "those little things that do actually make a huge difference for individuals".

Nick Clegg's presence in Taunton in the last week of the election campaign was a sign that the contest for Somerset County Council is a close-fought one.

It is controlled by the Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives are hoping to take control from them.

The first five minutes of any doorstep conversation with a potential voter was taken up with listening to how angry people were about expenses

The Taunton Deane seat is also a highly marginal one for the Liberal Democrats when it comes to Westminster elections.

Neither party is confidently predicting victory at this stage in the local election campaign.

Elaine Waymouth is standing for the council for the Conservatives. She also told me that the first five minutes of any doorstep conversation with a potential voter was taken up with listening to how angry people were about expenses.

The Conservatives are arguing that the Liberal Democrats have trebled the county's debt, and that council tax has doubled.

She says her party would freeze council tax for the next two years. In an echo of Conservative policy nationally, she says "we have to be very, very clear about the public finances".

Labour councillors are few in number on Somerset council, but their deputy leader, Andrew Govier, hopes that might mean he and his colleagues will hold the balance of power after the election.

He showed me around the Priorswood area of the town, which he described as a deprived one that had benefited from national government investment - such as a new local nursery.

He believed the voters did not often give Labour credit for that: "Sometimes we have reaped the ill wind of some of the government's unpopularity, even though the government's invested heavily in an area."

Local elections are usually fought on mundane issues like rubbish collections and potholes.

At one level that may be true this time too, but against the background of the expenses scandal, voters are harder to be persuaded.


MEP Seats

  Votes MEPs
Party % +/- % Total +/-
EPP 33.4 -1.4 264 -18
Socialists 23.2 -4.1 183 -26
Liberal 11.0 +1.6 84 +5
Green 7.4 +1.3 50 +9
Left 5.3 -0.6 34 -2
UEN 3.4 +1.6 28 +2
Ind/Dem 2.7 -1.8 21 -15
No Group 13.6 +3.4 72 +3.4
0 of 27 countries declared.

UK Total MEP Seats

Party Votes MEPs
% +/- % Total +/-
CON 27.7 1.0 *26 1
UKIP 16.5 0.3 13 1
LAB 15.7 -6.9 13 -5
LD 13.7 -1.2 11 1
GRN 8.6 2.4 2 0
BNP 6.2 1.3 2 2
SNP 2.1 0.7 2 0
PC 0.8 -0.1 1 0
OTH 8.5 2.4 0 0
SF 1 0
DUP 1 0
72 of 72 seats declared. Vote share figures exclude Northern Ireland as it has a separate electoral system to the rest of the UK
* Includes UCUNF MEP elected in Northern Ireland
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