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Last Updated: Monday, 7 April, 2003, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Labour faces tough Yorkshire fight
Rod Jones
By Rod Jones
Political Producer
BBC Yorkshire and Lincolnshire

There was a time, only four or five years ago, when Yorkshire's cities were regarded as rock-solid Labour territory. But today's political map looks radically different.

The party has a tight hold on virtually all the urban Parliamentary constituencies but it has been losing its grip on local government.

Only two cities - Leeds and Wakefield - remain under outright Labour control.

Own backyard

In Hull, Sheffield, Bradford and York, Labour MPs have to rub along with some pretty hostile council bedfellows.

Nowhere is that more blatant than in John Prescott's own back yard of Hull where 30 years of Labour rule ended on 2 May 2002.

The party lost half the seats it was defending, and suddenly the Liberal Democrats found themselves the largest party in a newly hung council.

One of the key election issues here is likely to be the controversy over proposals to demolish 2,500 council homes, many of which have only recently been refurbished.

Battys in Harrogate
Harrogate has no Labour councillors

There will be another close contest between Labour and the Lib Dems in Sheffield, where the current score is Labour 43, Lib Dems 41, and the balance of power is held by two Conservatives and one independent.

Sheffield is proudly proclaiming its poll as the world's largest electronic voting scheme.

Electors in half the city's wards will be able to cast their votes by internet, text messaging, touch-tone phones and through public access kiosks dotted around the city, although they can still use traditional polling booths if they prefer.

Sheffield's e-voting is one of a number of schemes designed to boost the normally pitiful turnout in local elections.

Voting by post

In Doncaster and Rotherham all votes will be cast by post, rather than through polling booths.

In Leeds, Labour is starting to look a little anxiously over its shoulder after losing seats in recent years.

There is a slim chance that the council could actually go hung, although opposition parties would need to make eight gains to achieve this.

Bradford was the scene of one of the Tories' greatest triumphs three years ago when they broke Labour's traditional hold on the city.

By-election success

The Conservatives actually lost ground last year, and now have just one more seat than Labour.

However, in both Bradford and Leeds - and in neighbouring councils - much of the interest will centre on the far-right British National Party.

Success in a Calderdale Council by-election in January gave the BNP its first foothold on this side of the Pennines.

The party is fielding 46 candidates in Yorkshire.

Recovery signs

In North Yorkshire, the council tax is likely to be a major election issue.

The bills have been stoked up by a 76% hike in the precept paid to North Yorkshire Police.

In York, the Lib Dems are hoping to overtake Labour - who currently hold just one seat more than them - and gain overall control.

Meanwhile, in leafy Harrogate Labour does not have a single councillor.

The Conservatives made good ground last May and are now just one seat behind the Lib Dems.

This is exactly the sort of council that the Tories must win to show signs that they are making any sort of a recovery.


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