Sheffield’s Labour council – healthy or stumped?

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By Edd Mustill, Sheffield Heeley CLP

Sheffield Labour lost seats despite slightly increasing our vote share from that achieved in the last local elections two years ago.

Labour scored a 40.3% share across the city with the Liberal Democrats in second place on 24.5%. The party retains a healthy majority on the council despite losing four wards (two to the LibDems and two to the Greens) and gaining only one from the welcome collapse of the Ukip vote.

The Council’s bungled handling of the implementation of the Streets Ahead contract, signed with the multinational company Amey, no doubt contributed to the loss of at least three wards and a significant increase in the Green Party’s vote across the city. The contract includes an unpopular street tree felling programme which has led to the arrests of peaceful protesters. In Nether Edge and Sharrow, the ward where the tree issue arouses the most passion, the sitting Green councillor increased her majority from eight votes to nearly 1400 – and this against a leftwing Labour candidate who polled the third-highest labour vote in the city.

It should be noted that the Labour vote increased significantly, by up to 10%, in working class heartland wards like Arbourthorne, Darnall, and Burngreave. The Tories, who still have no councillors in the city, also increased their vote in some of these areas as good old-fashioned working class Toryism fills the vacuum left by Ukip’s collapse.

It is gratifying to see the Labour vote hold up so well despite widespread dissatisfaction with the council in many parts of Sheffield. Some in the council will no doubt see this as a mandate to continue as they were, safe in the knowledge that electoral discontent is restricted to the leafier (or perhaps, now, not so leafy) wards in the west of the city. This would be a huge mistake. The Streets Ahead contract no doubt led to a suppression of the Labour vote in some areas as well as a general apathy among party supporters, and even in some cases members, towards the election.

The tree-felling issue, despite being somewhat tediously overblown by NIMBYs and political opportunists of all stripes, is a real one. The dominant politics of the tree people is sanctimonious and often reactionary; on Nether Edge one can encounter signs stapled to trees bemoaning the exact impact of their felling on house prices in some of Sheffield’s most desirable streets, where the palatial houses were for the most part decked out with Green Party placards during the campaign. That said, it is not merely a ‘middle class’ concern to want to live in pleasant surroundings or have a measure of control over one’s own neighbourhood. For a layer of people the tree issue has become something of a cipher for disaffection with a council that is generally seen as unresponsive and out of touch.

Those of us who worked hard for the return of a Labour Council encountered this attitude on the doorstep; it will be hard to win many of these people back to Labour without a change in attitude, or at least emphasis, on the part of the Labour Group. It is nigh-on impossible to convince people that the Labour Party now opposes PFI contracts and the privatisation of services when the Streets Ahead contract looms large in most political conversation in the city. Unfortunately, most of the left candidates selected this time round, who could have begun the process of changing the council’s approach, fought and lost marginal seats. Nevertheless, the left had successes. In Graves Park ward we ran a political campaign with a left candidate that significantly ate into the Liberal Democrat majority, bucking the trend in the west of the city to such an extent that Liberals at the count were left asking why the Sheffield Labour Party had decided to ‘target’ the ward (they did no such thing – we just ran a good campaign). In Stocksbridge a left Labour candidate won the ward from Ukip.

There are many more local issues, not least the ongoing ‘redevelopment’ of the city centre, that tree-induced myopia has pushed off the agenda. If they are handled in the same way as Streets Ahead has been, the council risks sleepwalking its way towards losing control to a Yellow-Green NIMBY coalition in a few years’ time; this would be an embarrassment for the Labour Party and, much more importantly, a disaster for working class people in Sheffield.

Of course the left should redouble efforts to get candidates selected next year but we should also discuss the basis on which we want to send leftwingers to Town Hall. This means also arguing for a greater voice for the membership in deciding the manifesto and in electing the leadership of the Labour Group itself.

CORRECTION: It has been brought to our attention that the notices pinned to trees refer not to the effect of their felling on property prices but to their Capital Asset Value for Amenity Trees (CAVAT), which is a means of expressing the value of trees as social goods in monetary terms.

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  1. I think you need to do some research on CAVAT values. They have nothing to do with house prices. It is a recognised way of valuing the services provided by a mature tree.

    1. Hi Graham, we corrected that error in the published article, thank you to you and the others who pointed this out!
      – Clarion editors

      1. It’s not really corrected in the body of the article, only noted at the very end. Could be easy to miss. Could the correction be perhaps more prominently displayed, at the beginning of the article perhaps, or noted parenthetically within the body of the text?

  2. Sheffield is the 5th most polluted city in the UK . Attitudes like this show that the Labour left has little understanding of green issues. City and street trees contribute to combatting the affects of local pollution . These are far bigger issues to people than who owns the catering trolly on xcountry trains. I happened upon this article but will share amongst the many people I know from all walks of life about the snearing contempt of what is essentially a middle class group run by ex privately educated socialists.

  3. It would be better if the author didn’t resort to personal insults and did a bit of research. The values posted on trees are the CAVAT value – the value of the tree – not the impact on house prices. I live in a terrace house, with no trees on my street – where’s the NIMBY in that? Lastly, how is a desire for clean air, reduced flood risk, and a pleasant environment myopia? I’d argue that people ignoring the very real environmental concerns the tree issue highlights fall much further into that bracket.

    1. Thank you for pointing out the need for a correction which we made in the published article.
      – Clarion Editors

  4. Please research the facts before putting up ridiculous diatribe into the public domain. People who myopically follow a team colour despite their abject failure to represent any of the electorates views are the ones worthy of real distain. The Tree Protectors are made up of people all across ‘your’ blinkered colour divide. All ages and all incomes. They’ve done their research as you blatantly haven’t. The monetary figures placed on the trees are the value in pounds of those trees according to the professional CAVAT valuation process. Your obvious dislike of anything un-labour clouds your path to the truth, social equality and the rights of working class people you probably claim to champion. You do them no favours. Try challenging the council’s corporatist ruling elite, who carry out their deals with Chinese Gangsters and City Banksters in secret behind closed doors and self righteously declare the public cannot see what’s been done in their name. The secret cabal scoffs at the traditional voter much more than any other. How different are they from your Tory nemesis? Wise is yet to come, try properly investing to find out…

  5. I am a member of Nether Edge and Sharrow Labour Party , Sheffield and it would be fair to say that the Labour Party is stumped by the Trees campaign. Actually it would be fair to say that much of the more radical left are stumped by the Trees campaign! No doubt there are ‘ sanctimonious ‘ elements of the campaign but the streets protests themselves are quite working class, as long as we are happy to include striking members of UCU as part of the working class. The richness and diversity of the Trees campaign is there to see but often remains hidden to those who cling to a ‘ tribal’ identity as far as the Labour Party is concerned.
    It is the invisibility of the working class component of the Trees campaign to the cities left that is most striking. The actions of the ‘ No Stump City’ current has consistently highlighted how the trees campaign is part of the general fight against austerity and privatisation. The failure of much of the Labour left to see this link suggests that an orientation on elections and who sits in what position in a ward means that what is happening on the streets becomes charicatured and misunderstood.
    Many of the Nether Edge campaigners are veterans of a whole range of struggles that any activist would be proud of. Essentially we have seen off the ‘ local state’, brought them to a standstill to create a’ space of hope’. I would suggest that no-one has done that in Sheffield for a long time.
    Of course many of us do live in leafy streets but you should have seen what the houses were like when we were Sheff. Poly students 40 years ago! We all stayed and gentrified the area if you want but to echo a phrase “ Whose streets? Our streets!”

  6. I stopped voting Labour a few years ago when Labour decided to sell off parts of Graves Park, nothing that has happened since has convinced me to change my mind.

  7. I think it is time for a political change in Sheffield. Dronfield, just outside the city, is now Conservative and Sheffield needs a challenger to Labour. It is not healthy to have a one party controlled area without fear of defeat. I am not Conservative, but the people of Sheffield need to put their trust in other parties not simply vote Labour in all the time. Labour is Sheffield’s downfall. Remember, Sheffield was once Conservative and lovely at that! 🙂

  8. Some intelligent comment mixed with standard moronic rhetoric that makes anyone really interested in politics avoid voting locally for a conceited bunch of idiots with nothing to say other than moan about their constituants who don’t blindly follow The Party.

  9. The Sheffield ‘left’ knows how to tick boxes. If a strike comes along, tick that box and support it. If a local hospital is about to close, of course, tick that box and get marching. Ditto for a visit by Trump. Or a foreign war.

    But then something like the Sheff trees crisis comes along and the Sheffield left does not know what to do. After all, where’s the box to tick? Not in our tool kit. And when one of the opponents is the local Labour-controlled council, that’s a nightmare indeed for these local social democratic “big thinkers.”

    Turns out they cannot even find a pencil.

    I mean when one of the leading local lefties (and an unsuccessful Momentum candidate for council last week) challenges campaigners carrying placards that read “AXE PFIs, NOT TREES” with the question: “what does this do to advance the class struggle?”, you know things are NOT on the up for true believers in the idea that there really is a Julie Dore road to socialism.

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