As the 2015 general election approaches, with less than six months to go, Elmet and Rothwell’s Parliamentary candidates from the major parties are preparing to face the electorate.
Covering extreme variations in wards, from Wetherby and Harewood to Kippax and Methley, the constituency has been in the hands of current Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke since 2010.
Before Mr Shelbrooke won the seat with 42.6 per cent of the vote (a majority of 4,521 people - 8.1 per cent) the Labour Party held the majority since the last Conservative victory in 1992.
In May 2015, however, the election in Elmet and Rothwell, which had an electoral turnout of 55,789 in 2010 (71.8 per cent of the district’s population), there will be a big difference on the minds of every voter.
There will be five Parliamentary candidates from major national parties, all of whom have the ability to steal the show and a significant number of votes from the two largest parties.
Though there were six candidates last time, since UKIP’s renewed success and a significant change in the Lib Dem’s polling figures, this ward could be one to watch as the nation’s future is decided in six months’ time.
Although wards are divided politically there are common issues affecting all of them - transport, the economy, food poverty, jobs, education, and planning schemes submitted by housing developers.
This week, Lib Dem candidate Stewart Golton and UKIP candidate Paul Spivey spoke to the Wetherby News about how they will confront these issues and set out their vision for the area.
See next week’s paper for interviews with Parliamentary candidates for the Selby and Ainsty constituency.
The Liberal Democrat hoping to be selected as the Parliamentary candidate for Elmet and Rothwell is Coun Stewart Golton.
Currently the leader of the Lib Dems in Leeds and LCC councillor for Rothwell, Coun Golton, 43, graduated with a degree in politics from Newcastle University.
He has worked in the leisure industry in Spain and at British Gas before becoming a full time councillor at Leeds City Council in 2006.
When the Lib Dems were in power at LCC he was in charge of children’s services. Coun Golton ran for the ward in the 2010 election, won by current Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke.
He said: “I am hoping to be a Lib Dem candidate because I think we need to engage with people locally about what has been achieved by Lib Dems through being in government in coalition.
“We are proud of our record in having helped sustain a suitable economy over the most difficult period Britain has had for a generation.
“At the same time we have also been able to make some significant changes that have started to rebalance both the economy and society.
“We have taken millions out of tax through raising the tax threshold, and we have the pupil premium so children from poorer families have as good a chance in life as those with more affluent parents.
“We have helped introduce the triple lock on pensions to ensure pensioners will never again be offered a 75p raise as they were under the last administration.
“And we have started a process of devolving power away from Westminster and back to other regions so they can be a second motor on the economy as it is being dominated too much by London.
“I want to ensure people’s power is moved away from the centre.”
Highlighting the divisive theme of planning as a major obstacle for the constituency, Coun Golton said LCC is partly to blame for the numbers of applications submitted for the constituency.
He also had a lot to say about working with the Labour-dominated council and the frequent difficulties of cross-party working.
“LCC has an overly ambitious plan to build 70,000 homes over the next 15 years and a high proportion of them are going to be on greenfield sites in our area,” he said.
“Developers are far keener to develop here than anywhere else in the city because of the golden triangle effect.
“Too often I have been frustrated and angered by how Labour politicians have spent more time blaming the coalition for decisions LCC ‘had to make’, rather than actually taking responsibility that are taken.
“Unfortunately their management of the diminished budget that the council has has not been as effective as it would have been had the Lib Dems still had a voice in the administration.
“We have highlighted several areas of waste over the years, the most recent being the £500,000 they are spending on refurbishing committee rooms at the Civic Hall and the ridiculous situation whereby they are cutting services while still paying 65p a mile for council car users.”
However, Coun Golton is also acutely aware of the many other challenges that are primed to beset the area, including financing and transport.
Their likely solution, he said, is devolved powers to local authorities.
He said: “We need to think about getting a fair deal from the government and the council in terms of resources.
There is not enough being spent on roads and local rail services and instead we are faced with the obsession on HS2, which doesn’t work for our communities, that is why I have opposed it. “I would be far more interested in investing in transpennine transport rather than links to London.
“I already taken any opportunities offered to me to speak about these issues and I have been down to Westminster to give evidence in person.
“My role in Westminster is to get more of those decisions taken back to our area and that is what I will be working on.”
Yet Coun Golton is realistic about his chances. At the last election the Lib Dems won 16.3 per cent of the vote - 9,109 votes - the highest proportion they had received in the last five elections.
He is, however, hopeful that the Lib Dem message will come through to voters.
“The odds aren’t on for a Lib Dem victory locally - I’m a realist,” he said.
“However, I think at general election time people should vote for the party they feel best represents their values and best offers a stronger economy at the same time as delivering a fairer society.
“We have already demonstrated what we have achieved in government, which is trying to rebalance the economy, and we would continue in the same vein.
“We want to take even more people out of tax to increase opportunities for younger people and continue that decentralisation of decision-making so communities are empowered to make decisions for themselves.”
The UKIP Parliamentary candidate is Paul Spivey.
Now a parish councillor in Kippax, Coun Spivey, 53, was originally an apprentice mechanic before going on to do a higher national diploma in engineering.
Asked why he felt so motivated to run for the Elmet and Rothwell constituency, he said: “I am interested in community. I try to be involved in the neighbourhood plan and I am very supportive of that, though I do believe it is a way of watering down objections to planning.
“I am dubious about its long term intent. It is portrayed as being localism but I am pessimistic. I want to be involved because I do believe in localism and that villages should stay as villages.
“I want to run simply because I believe more accountability should be taken by elected representatives and I really think they should be involved in the communities.
“I don’t want to name names but unfortunately from what I see they are not really. I am aware that the people we elect to be our representatives are not interested in what I have got to say or for that matter the people in my area so we need a change.
“We need local people to have a voice and that is what I want to see. From that point of view I think we are the party to do that.”
Coun Spivey also highlighted the ‘creeping development’ and increased numbers of planning applications as a problem for the area, however he also pointed to several other issues set to face Elmet and Rothwell in the future.
“I want to see the brownfield sites developed first and from that point of view I think we are really missing a trick,” he said.
“These existing sites are always going to be a blot on the landscape anyway and they are much better used for housing.
“I would also like to see more funding coming to the north, though quite honestly I am sceptical about HS2, it is too far into the future.
“By the time it is a reality it will be obsolete and surely the money would be better spent improving the rail links we already have.
“I would also like to see better use made of our young people. Quite honestly we are allowing these people to fade into nothingness and the future of any people is the young, so I would like to see better systems put in place to allow them to develop and grow proper skills back.
“I would like to see a more developed programme of apprenticeships and I obviously would be calling for more financial support to develop our local infrastructure.”
UKIP has become a major party in recent years, developing a strong following and winning seats in by-elections in Rochester and Strood and Clacton this year.
Coun Spivey is optimistic that public disaffection with politics and the main parties will lead to a UKIP victory.
He said: “I know I have already got a strong following in my own area that I have developed over a number of years as a parish councillor.
“Currently I am talking to local people in Rothwell itself. The Tories are just falling apart at the seams at the moment and it used to be a big Lib Dem area and nothing has been done with that.
“I want to ask the local people what they want and need. UKIP is better simply because we are listening to local people.
“Any decisions that would need to be made we would clearly have a local referendum and we would abide by the results and try to integrate that with the development of the area.”
On the MP’s relationship with LCC he is more optimistic than some of his competitors for the seat if his campaign is successful.
“I work with local councillors currently. Some of them tend to go into a meltdown mode come election time but generally speaking I have a good relationship with them,” he said.
“Obviously they will be trying to maintain their power if you like, whereas I see it that I am working for the people and they will decide on the future of UKIP. If I am doing my best for them that is the way forward.”