TThe village of Rickleton, near Sunderland, is a scene of quiet suburban bliss on a warm April morning. But the sound of the cricket field of leather on arrow has been disrupted by hectic election campaign before a vote that could mean danger to Labor leader Keir Starmer.
Labor has ruled Sunderland with an iron grip for decades, but the recent political upheaval has forced it to cling to power. The party has a majority of only six city council members, meaning it could lose total control of the council next month for the first time since it was founded in 1974.
Starmer has visited the city twice in recent weeks in an attempt to avert a catastrophe that would undermine what could be a strong set of local elections for Labor across England on 5 May.
Rickleton is the representative of Labor’s struggle outside the big cities. The former mining village, 16 miles west of Sunderland, has been the central Labor territory for generations. But last year it broke with tradition and elected a Conservative councilor, one in six voted across the city on an evening in which Labor lost nine seats. This year, the council leader’s own place is up for grabs, and the Tories are looking at what would be a big scalp.
“I think everyone is ready for a change now,” Linda Delaney said as she walked her 12-year-old jumper spaniel, Olly, onto the playing field where the Harraton colliery once stood. Delaney, 69, said she would vote conservative because she felt Labor had taken people for granted and misused money locally: “I think they could do with a reality check.”
While speaking, Boris Johnson reiterated her apology to MPs for breaking the lockdown laws in June 2020. The Partygate saga has helped Labor to a six-point lead nationally and appears to be expelling some potential Tory voters from at all. to turn out. .
A Labor figure said they had encountered many Labor-Tory changers from 2019 who planned to stay home on May 5 instead of returning to Labor. “There’s a big lead nationally and we’ll get a hearing again, but I still do not feel that love on earth,” he said.
For Antony Mullen, the 30-year-old leader of the Sunderland Conservatives, who was on an outing in the Barnes area of the city on Wednesday, the prime minister risked derailing what could have been a big night for the party in north-east England. “It goes really well. I’m just worried that something else could happen nationally, ”he said.
Mullen, who has previously called on Johnson to resign, believes the days of the prime minister are numbered: “I think he has done it. I do not think he will lead us into the next parliamentary elections. “
Seventeen of the squares upright in Sunderland are held by Labor. Seven of them are occupied by resigning Labor councilors, taking with them nearly 70 years of council experience. “Jump before they get pushed, some of them,” said one Labor councilor.
The Conservatives, meanwhile, are aiming to build on the progress that has led the party to go from six city councilors in 2015 to 19 today. The party received nearly 24,000 votes across the city’s three constituencies in the 2015 general election. In 2019, it had almost doubled to 40,685 votes, reducing Labor’s majority to around 3,000 and making Sunderland an important battleground in the next national poll.
Three recent city elections have given Labor hope to survive in Sunderland. The party got a former Ukip seat in March and took two seats in neighboring Durham, including one from the Conservatives last week.
Former Labor councilor Iain Kay, who lost his seat four years ago but is running for re-election, said there had been a “big step forward” from recent campaigns: “The last few years have been brutal. “The outright unrestrained enmity has been palpable. This year, I have not received a single negative response, and many are reporting.”
After decades of stagnation and failed projects, there have recently been signs of progress in Sunderland. New art studios and cultural spaces have opened, including a live music venue inside a former fire station; hotels and office blocks have emerged on the skyline. Just last month, the council officially opened its shiny new headquarters, City Hall, on the banks of the Wear River, a building it rents for $ 2.4 million. pounds a year. The startling costs – double the annual consumption of sports and leisure – have annoyed voters with the biggest drop in living standards since the mid-1950s.
While Labor still holds 43 of Sunderland’s 75 council seats, a loss of six city councilors would take City Hall without overall control for the first time in 48 years. Paul Edgeworth, a Lib Dem councilor, said there had been “no talks” with the Tories about forming a coalition, but that they would be willing to work together on “basic service issues”.
However, there is potential for Partygate to help Labor hold on. Marilyn Henderson, a former NHS physiotherapist, said she had always voted Labor but switched to the Conservatives in 2019 because of the “root” under Jeremy Corbyn.
The 75-year-old continued voter said she would not vote for Starmer’s party this time, but that Johnson’s violation had barred her from voting for the Tories. “Nationally, there are so many ridiculous things going on,” she said. “It’s really awful and it’s upset so many people.”