In the second of a two-part interview, former Pudsey councillor Richard Lewis says Leeds Labour hasn’t fallen into the hands of ‘extremists’ and pointed the finger at the party’s leader for Labour’s poor showing at the recent local election. Here, Mr Lewis speaks to Richard Beecham …
An outgoing senior politician in Pudsey has claimed Jeremy Corbyn was ‘not liked’ by many Labour voters in the city he spoke to during the recent local elections.
Richard Lewis, who was a Labour councillor Pudsey on Leeds City Council for more than 30 years and the authority’s executive member for transport and planning for the past decade, lost his seat as a councillor at this month’s local elections.
And he says it was those voters he spoke to on the doorsteps who said they could not vote Labour under its current national leadership.
He also dismissed recent claims from Liberal Democrats leader Vince Cable that the Labour Party in Leeds had “fallen into the hands of extremists” as “cobblers”.
He said: “For all of us on the doorstep, there were two messages that we got, one of which was about Brexit. That was a bit weird because, whatever you say, Labour isn’t in government.”
“[The government] should have been talking to Labour two or three years ago. They shouldn’t have waited until now, and a lot of pain would have been avoided.
“A lot of people were also saying to us ‘I don’t like your leader’ and I never thought they were talking about Judith Blake – it was in those groups of people you would have always expected to vote Labour.
“They just don’t warm to Jeremy Corbyn in any way. They don’t see him as reflecting their views in any way – and that’s awful.
“I would talk to people who would be articulate, traditional, loyal Labour voters, who would say ‘I can’t vote for you while he’s your leader’.
“It doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what the voters think. My take is that a party has to listen. It’s what people are saying to it.
“If you are getting a clear message back, it’s no good saying ‘you’re all wrong’ – you have to say what you are going to do about it.“
During a recent BBC interview, Liberal Democrats leader Vince Cable claimed that the Labour Party had “fallen into the hands of extremists” and that he was told they had “quite a hold” of the Labour Party in Leeds.
This was swiftly denied by council leader Judith Blake, who called the former business secretary “irresponsible”, and her words were echoed by Coun Lewis.
“It’s cobblers,” he said. “If I look at new councillors coming through, they are all sensible – they are a real credit to the party.
“I thought it was awful that we lost [former Labour councillors] Matt Gibson [from Farnley & Wortley] and James Gibson last Thursday, because they were good examples of the type of people you would want on any council.
“I wish I had been anything like as good a speaker as they are.
“There is no takeover of the Leeds Labour Party by wild-eyed extremists. It is just not the case. The Leeds Labour group is full of talent and the city is very much in safe hands.”
He added that the political mood at the recent local elections was one of the most febrile in nearly 30 years.
“It wasn’t the usual ‘sory I cannot vote for you’,” he said. “People would come out onto the doorstep almost wanting to smack you.
“I can’t remember an election that was as passionate since 1990, which was the poll tax year, where people were unhappy but in a different way.”