Page last updated at 15:55 GMT, Monday, 3 May 2010 16:55 UK

Local elections may herald power shift in Yorkshire

By Len Tingle
Political editor, BBC Yorkshire

Wakefield skyline
Labour controls the council in Wakefield by a slender majority

History could be made this week as parties fight for control of local councils in Yorkshire.

Labour had already lost its historic control of the region's biggest cities and could now find power slipping away in other former strongholds.

The party's majorities on the local authorities in neighbouring former pit communities of Barnsley and Wakefield are down to just one seat.

Labour runs Huddersfield-based Kirklees council but only with the support of the Liberal Democrats.

The local government election campaigns have been overshadowed by the huge amount of attention being paid to the parliamentary polls which take place on the same day.

Yet local council candidates are likely to be caught up in the political shockwaves of the general election because voters tend to follow national trends.

Clinging to power

That puts Labour in a precarious position in former strongholds.

The party has been clinging on to power in Wakefield since the last elections in 2008 by a majority of just a single seat. That is despite the party running the city since it first became a "county borough" in 1913.

The threat comes from the Conservative Party, which took seven extra seats.

Taking Wakefield would mark an amazing turnaround in the fortunes of the Conservatives. As late as 2003, Wakefield was statistically the safest Labour-held council in England.

Just over the border in South Yorkshire, Labour's traditional power-base in neighbouring Barnsley was also virtually wiped out in 2008.

Here the party faces a threat from a completely different direction.

A group initially formed from disaffected "Old Labour" members have gradually been taking seats since Tony Blair invented "New Labour". It had totted up 22 seats in Barnsley after the last election.

That is still 10 behind Labour but a handful of Conservatives, a couple of unaligned independents and a sole Liberal Democrat reduced the majority to just one.

Labour will be hard-pressed to hang onto control this time around.

Power-sharing

Labour has already slipped out of power in Yorkshire's biggest cities where they once ruled with little challenge.

In Sheffield, the Liberal Democrats gained an extra six councillors in 2008 and are now looking to build on what became a four-seat majority.

In Bradford and Leeds, Labour remained the party with the largest number of councillors after the 2008 elections but could not command a majority.

As a result the Conservatives have been running a minority administration in Bradford and have a unique power-sharing deal with the Liberal Democrats in Leeds.

West Yorkshire's other big councils, Huddersfield-based Kirklees and next-door neighbour Calderdale in Halifax, also had no clear winner after the 2008 elections.

Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats are within a couple of seats of each other in Kirklees and have been swapping power for the past couple of years as coalitions have been made and broken. Labour has been running the council recently with Liberal Democrat support.

In Calderdale, Conservatives are the biggest party with Liberal Democrats not far behind.

In fact, only in one corner of South Yorkshire was the historic dominance of Labour maintained.

Fifty out of Rotherham's 63 councillors are Labour going into this election. Even here the stranglehold is being chipped away. The party lost four seats in 2008.



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