Council leader set to restore Labour dominance in Bradford South

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Indy Politics
The feast of Bishop Blaize, patron saint of Bradford wool textile workers, is no longer celebrated with great panache by the Yorkshire city's artisans, though Labour supporters should be able to revive public high-spiritedness tomorrow night. Gerry Sutcliffe, leader of a city council securely controlled by Labour, is forecast to proceed to Westminster with 60 per cent of the poll in the Bradford South by-election.

Mr Sutcliffe, a 41-year-old trade union official, has been a leading force in the transformation of the local party from its part-moribund and part-Militant recent past.

In 1981, two of the city's three Labour MPs defected to the SDP. Left-wingers prevailed in ward parties in the consequent vacuum. Pat Wall, a Militant sympathiser, lost and then regained Bradford North. The split vote let in a Tory for four years in Bradford West and Bradford South returned Labour MPs with narrow majorities.

The previous MP, Bob Cryer, whose death caused the by-election, was a celebrated left-wing parliamentarian, but his relations with labour councillors were vexed and quarrelsome.

Some Bradford South activists wanted his son to inherit the seat. Bradford's trade unions saw to it that Mr Sutcliffe's cause - the soft left - prevailed, as it had done during a period of hard organisation and membership drives which drove the hard left back.

What Bradford's young Labour leadership cannot provide is inspirational leadership from the top. Mr Sutcliffe encountered almost unanimous Labour support doorstepping in once marginal Wyke ward, but the support is tempered with scepticism.'

Turn electors away from insipid Labour opposition to the Tory Government and the reaction turns to lip-curled contempt. Bradford's health service trust is losing money, hiring accountants, and failing to convince voters its priorities are right. Voters' other grievances include unemployment and fuel tax, which Mr Sutcliffe anticipates will see Labour's majority doubled from Mr Cryer's 4,902.

Liberal Democrats suspect he may be over-confident. 'The Tory vote is disenchanted, fed up with broken promises,' Helen Wright, the Liberal Democrat candidate said. 'And a lot of people are unsure what Labour stands for.'

She hopes a 'Rotherham effect' will spread to the by-election. One of Labour's safest seats, nearby Rotherham last month humbled the Tories, gave 31 per cent of the poll to the Liberal Democrats and showed only apathetic support for Labour.

Ronnie Farley, the Conservative candidate, was Tory leader on the council until ditched last month and puts on a plucky front in the face of inauspicious opinion polls. 'It's going to be a case of who gets their vote out,' he said. That looks set to be Labour and Mr Sutcliffe should take the seat with ease tomorrow, though perhaps without the votes that would justify reviving the sight of wool- dyers parading in blue aprons.

General Election 1992: G R Cryer (Lab) 25,185 (47.6 per cent); S Popat (Con) 20,283 (38.4 per cent); B J Boulton (Lib Dem) 7,243 (13.7 per cent); M Naseem (Islam) 156 (0.3 per cent). Majority: 4,902; turnout: 75.6 per cent.