“The message for us on the doorstep is that people are not happy with the national state of play, but they are keen to engage with what we are doing in Leeds.” , writes local democracy reporter Richard Beecham.
After leading Leeds City Council for four years, one could forgive Judith Blake for being reflective on her time at the top, but the Middleton Park councillor has her mind firmly set on the future for the city.
“There is a lot of excitement about the fact that a lot of people want to come and relocate here,” she said. “It will benefit the city in terms of jobs.
“We have seen enormous success in getting out and promoting what a great city we are. For many years we have gone about our business but not actually told people about the strength of the city.
“I am now very pleased that we are getting the recognition that I know we deserve. This is reflected in the decision of Channel 4 and to bring its second location right into the heart of Leeds. There is a recognition that Leeds is a place that people want to come and work in.”
Coun Blake became the first woman to lead Leeds City Council after she took over from Coun Keith Wakefield back in 2015. For the majority of the time since, the national political landscape has been swallowed up by Brexit, but Coun Blake believes the forthcoming local elections are a chance to get back to the bread and butter of local issues. She said:
“Housing has been a problem across the country. We want to make sure we have available genuinely affordable housing, not just affordable as defined by government.
“We believe we have been put at an enormous disadvantage because of the growth of the right to buy scheme. In my ward, there are former council housing estates that now have more than 50 per cent of the housing stock in the hands of private landlords.
“We are focusing on how we can work with the private rented sector to make sure people have the quality of housing that they need and deserve.”
Labour sits on a hefty majority of 61 seats in Leeds City Council – 11 above the 50 needed for control of the authority – and it would take a brave person to bet against them keeping hold of the council after May 2.
However, some influential Labour councillors – such as Richard Lewis in Pudsey – sit on wafer thin majorities, and part of the battle on May 2 must surely be about consolidation for the party.
“We want to see our existing councillors re-elected,” Coun Blake said. “But we will always be looking at other areas where we can make a breakthrough and bring Labour councillors forward.
“We believe having Labour councillors in all our areas brings enormous benefit to the communities that they serve.”
Anyone in politics knows that getting voters to focus solely on local issues when it comes to polling day is easier said than done – as many will look to national leadership to inform them of the priorities of each political party.
So what does Coun Blake make of the current Labour leadership?
“The Labour party has always been a broad church,” she said. “There are a range of different opinions – that is the way political parties work.
“But the Labour manifesto at the last general election was very well received. There are a whole range of policies in there attracting a lot of excitement and interest.”
This is one of a series of interviews with the leaders of Leeds’s four biggest political parties: Labour, Conservatives, The Greens and Liberal Democrats. They will be published on the West Leeds Dispatch over the coming week.
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