Lib Dems cash in on sleaze and poor services

"WE are taking our message entirely from Peter Mandelson," according to Stephen Hitchins, Liberal Democrat leader in the north London borough of Islington, "the people deserve better, it's time for a change."

Solid Labour Islington, former home of Tony Blair himself, is under assault, accused of levying excessive council tax, borrowing profligately (Islington's pounds 800m debt is blamed by the Liberal Democrats on the former council leader, now Blairite loyalist MP Margaret Hodge) and badly managing its education and social services.

"There is such a disparity," Mr Hitchins says. "In booming, trendy Islington the quality of services in almost every department is below par." It is a charge being made by the Liberal Democrats across urban England as they position themselves as the principal opponent of Labour hegemony in the big cities. Interestingly, there are some signs that such criticisms are not entirely unwelcome either at Labour headquarters or in Tony Blair's inner counsels.

In Doncaster and Hull, Labour's reputation has been damaged by allegations of sleaze - though whether voters tomorrow will move beyond complaining to vote for the Liberal Democrats is by no means certain. In Liverpool and Hackney in north-east London the charge against Labour is disorganisation - though in Hackney the Liberal Democrats' current 17-strong complement of councillors includes a number of Labour renegades and in Liverpool the strength of the Liberal Democrats owes something to their old association with Protestantism.

There will be a "Donnygate" factor of some kind. Ian Horner, the Liberal Democrat regional co-ordinator for Yorkshire, says: "We are confident of having an increase share in the vote but whether this will translate into seats we don't know. We got a massive swing in Stainforth [where Labour lost a seat in a by-election in February] but replicating that will be difficult. We will be looking to pick up one or two seats and anything more is a bonus."

The picture is similar in Hull where a fortnight ago Labour - tainted by allegations of corruption - lost a seat in a by-election in Boothferry. The victor, Andrea Walker, sees her party picking up a few more - which will do little to dent Labour's control of the council, but would give her party a "louder voice".

What she registers is public discontent with the performance of the council - which is boosted by a feeling that Tony Blair's administration has let people down.

"Hull is coming bottom on league tables all the time - which is the responsibility both of the city and of the county council from which it inherited schools and social services, which was also Labour controlled. People are turning to us as an alternative."

Lib Dem organisation, however, is weak in Labour's Yorkshire strongholds. But across the Pennines they may see gains in cities such as Oldham.

London may give the party its most spectacular gains. According to Stephen Hitchins in Islington, the fact that Londoners will also be voting in the referendum on the future shape of the capital's government will not add much to turn out. The party's best hopes, after Islington and Hackney, are the southern boroughs of Lambeth (where they are numerically the largest party), Southwark and Lewisham.

Yet there are signs that Labour losses, in moderation, would not be unwelcome at party headquarters. "These will be the last elections under the old dispensation," one of Mr Blair's inner circle said yesterday - meaning that next time round party headquarters would have an unbreakable lock on the process of selecting candidates while Labour's plans for "best value" in council services would put the squeeze on less efficient and high spending authorities.

While Deputy Prime Minister (and Hull MP) John Prescott is opposed to proportional representation in local government elections, some of Mr Blair's aides are seeking alternatives to the existing set-up, if only to prevent the kind of one-party dominance it has enjoyed in places such as Doncaster.

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people

Sport
nflAtlanta Falcons can't count and don't know what the UK looks like
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PE Teacher, Full Time Role, Gillingham School

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: We are urgently seeking an exper...

Telecoms Engineer - Telecoms Admin - £35,000 - 5 month FTC

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 5 month Fixed Term Contract - Telecommunicati...

Norwegian Speaking Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 per annum + competitive OTE: SThree: Progressive in Manchester is seeki...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London