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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan