While attention is concentrated on the General Election, voters across Coventry will also go to the polls to elect councillors on to the city council next Thursday (May 7).
Here’s our guide on what to look out for..
LABOUR is defending a large majority at Coventry City Council on May 7 but could face challenges over controversies including the Greenbelt and cuts – and the rise of smaller parties.
On the other hand, Coventry Labour believes it traditionally benefits in council elections in years when a General Election is held simultaneously, because of increased turnout.
One of the most significant aspects of this year’s council election relates to what will take place after May 7 – when council leader Ann Lucas and deputy leader Phil Townshend could be overthrown by fellow Labour councillors George Duggins and Jim O’Boyle respectively. They will stand in a secret leadership ballot of Labour councillors.
The Coventry Observer has reported for months the likely leadership challenge. Those in the rebel camp will hope the council elections return enough Labour councillors prepared to vote out the current council leadership.
Turnout for recent stand-alone council elections in Coventry has seen around 30 percent of people eligible to vote turning up at the polling stations.
But that turnout is likely to double this year, as General Election voters will also be handed ballot forms for the council elections to put their cross next to their favoured party or candidate.
Labour performed exceptionally well in Coventry council elections in 2010 when the last General Election coincided – gaining six seats to remove the Tories from six years of control at the Council House.
But Labour’s share of the vote in Coventry since 2012 has been falling and the party failed to make any gains last year.
UKIP and the Green Party increased their share of the vote and will be standing candidates in all 18 wards across the city this time round, with leading Coventry UKIP candidate Mark Taylor standing in the marginal seat of Westwood in a bid to unseat Labour’s Richard Sandy.
It is one of several wards which could change hands, not least because of unpopularity over the Labour council’s desire to build houses on up to 10 per cent of the city’s Greenbelt – to increase population and make Coventry a “top ten city”.
The Labour council since Coun Lucas became leader by ousting predecessor John Mutton in 2013 has ripped up its previous cast-iron pledge to voters not to build any houses on any Greenbelt land or green fields while the party controls the council.
Another ward to watch is Bablake, where vociferous Greenbelt campaigners have signed petitions against housing development in Keresley and elsewhere.
Lucas loyalist David Kershaw, the council’s cabinet member for education and a former Coundon Court head, is defending his Labour seat in Bablake from a Tory challenge from Shabbir Ahmed, a former Lord mayor and cabinet member.
Two more potential marginal seats and Conservative targets are Cheylesmore – where Richard Brown stands for Labour having being elected onto the council only last year in a by-election – and Woodlands, where Lucas loyalist and Labour group whip Patricia Hetherton is standing for Labour.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is standing in all 18 seats too, on an anti-austerity platform. Its leader Dave Nellist will again stand in the inner-city seat of St Michael’s against high-profile Labour incumbent Jim O’Boyle.
Coun O’Boyle, who declined to comment on the forthcoming council leadership challenge, said: “Labour traditionally polls well in election year in this city.”
Ruling Labour councillors say they have had little choice but to implement unprecedented cuts to services in response to disproportionate government funding cuts to councils.
The threat of cuts to libraries, children’s centres, youth clubs and other community services amid ongoing government cuts could influence voters, while Labour councillors say they are doing what they can to protect the most vulnerable people from cuts.
They emphasise they are promoting investment in the local economy and city centre, and have found extra funds for child protection in the wake of Daniel Pelka’s murder and an Ofsted “inadequate” rating for children’s services.
Former Socialist councillor and ex-Labour MP Mr Nellist, who is also standing in the General Election in Coventry North West, says TUSC provides a socialist alternative to the “establishment parties” signed up to austerity cuts while the “rich get richer”. TUSC accuses the Labour council of passing on coalition cuts without a fight.
Anti-European Union party UKIP is hopeful of gaining its first councillors to make inroads into what has been a two-party council since the Lib Dems and Socialists lost their remaining council seats in 2012.
Coventry UKIP leader Mark Taylor said the part was looking to advance on its eight second-places last year, adding: “We genuinely believe from what we’re being told on the doorsteps that we can win some council seats. People don’t feel they are being listened to.”
He said concerns in Westwood ranged from HS2 and student tuition fees to the potential loss of a GP surgery and sports facilities, while there were citywide concerns about pressure on services from immigration and the council’s housebuilding plans.
The Conservatives will hope to retain their 11 seats (Labour has the other 43 seats on the council of 54 councillors) and make at least four gains.
They will hope the higher turnout will get the party’s voters out more, with voters registering their opposition on local issues.
Only two of the Tories’ councillors are standing this year – in Wainbody (Tim Sawdon) and Earlsdon.
If Labour does particularly well, some forecast former council leader, Conservative Ken Taylor, could be vulnerable in Earlsdon.
Conservative council group leader John Blundell said: “We hope to try and increase our representation on the council after May 7.”
Conservatives are campaigning over Greenbelt, retaining libraries and a 50metre swimming pool in Coventry, and against the Labour favoured “Greater Birmingham” West Midlands combined authority – which would see the region’s councils getting together to vote on some economic and transport policies.
They also advocate controls on houses in multiple occupation, freezing Council Tax, and cutting the council’s funding to trade unions to employ more social workers.
The Green Party is fielding candidates in all 18 wards and is targeting Holbrook where local campaigner Laura Vesty will stand against Labour’s longstanding councillor Joe Clifford in the hope of becoming the city’s first Green councillor.
The Greens stand for Greenbelt protection, a Living Wage, protecting council services from cuts, measures against parking and litter problems, bringing empty properties into use, and safe pedestrian crossings such as at the Wheelwright Lane/Hen Lane junction for which residents petitioned the council.
The Liberal Democrats are standing in 10 of the 18 wards, including Upper Stoke were former councillor Russell Field will stand.
The party is standing for pro-regeneration and local development including housing, but against building on green fields.
It also favours the council accepting government incentives to limit Council Tax to 1 per cent, to review shared space road junctions, improve park and rides, and is against a West Midlands combined authority.
The only other party standing in Coventry council elections is the Christian Movement for Great Britain, which is standing in three wards.