Sheffield community group pushes to elect councillors with a voice

Most people in Sheffield vote for councillors that don’t have a voice, according to a community group campaigning for six candidates in the upcoming council elections.

It’s Our City has been asking people to send a message to the council administration that they want to see a change.

The group is supporting six candidates from the Green party and the Liberal Democrats in six ‘winnable wards’ based on their research of election trends.

Ruth Hubbard, a member of the group, said communities are at the heart of the group’s campaign:

“What we’re saying is people are bigger than parties. What happens in our communities is much bigger and much more important than what happens within a very tribal party politics.”

The six candidates have signed up to a set of five pledges that the group has developed, one of which is working to end the notorious ’Street’s Ahead’ contract, which has been responsible for the felling of numerous trees in the city.

Ms Hubbard said people tend to think It’s Our City sat behind closed doors with parties to select the candidates, but instead they decided who to support based on their chances of winning.

The group is campaigning for Green Party candidates Kaltum Rivers, Martin Phipps, Alison Teal and Bernard Little, and for Mohammed Mahroof and Gail Smith from the Liberal Democrats.

“Currently, ten councillors in the city make all the decisions. Therefore a majority of people vote for a candidate who essentially has no voice,” added Ms Hubbard.

The council cabinet, which discusses and takes decisions on the most important issues facing the city, comprises 10 members, all of which are from the Labour Party in Sheffield.

Currently, Labour has a majority of 56 of the 84 seats in the city council, with the Liberal Democrats having 20 seats, and UKIP and the Green Party having four seats each.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats follow the whip system of voting, which means councillors from these parties vote on issues according to the party policy and not according to their conscience.

If a councillor does not vote according to the party lines it often results in suspension.

Last year, in January, the Sheffield Labour group suspended Coun Nasima Akther after she abstained from voting on a motion about a tree felling operation on Rustling Road.

However, It’s Our City has come under criticism from Labour campaigners for supporting candidates only from the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats despite claiming they are an independent group.

Ruth Milsom, who’s campaigning for Labour in the Sheffield Hallam constituency, said: “They say they’re independent of any political party but they’re not endorsing any Labour candidates, despite the fact that there are some of our candidates who stand for the very same things that It’s Our City stands for.

“There is an issue with a whip but the Liberal Democrat party also operates the whip system. A Liberal Democrat can’t go against the whip either.”

She also said a lot of Labour candidates are working on similar lines to the pledges developed by It’s Our City.

Ms Hubbard said the group could not support a Labour candidate because they know that the candidates would not be able to step over the party line on issues facing communities:

“Local councils are separate from the national parties. And we’re trying to get the message across that in local elections it’s very important to vote perhaps on local issues.

“Some people genuinely think that they might be going out to vote Jeremy Corbyn in. Apart from everything else, he does not live in Sheffield, he’s not a candidate. It’s a completely different set of elections.”

Ms Milsom said the the city needs good councillors, irrespective of the party they belong to:
“I’m standing in support of Labour candidates, but I’m not tribal about it. I am not going to stand in support for a labour candidate with whom I don’t agree.
“We need good candidates getting through into council, if some of them aren’t Labour then so be it, as long as they are good.”