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
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
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

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Developer (ASP.NET, F#, SQL, MVC, Bootstrap, JavaScript)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Payment Developer (Swift, FOX, Vigil, .NET, SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Payment Dev...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?