Beds, Herts & Bucks

Old rivalries in new town fight in Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes
Image caption All three parties will battle to win seats on Milton Keynes Council

While the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are in coalition in central government, in Milton Keynes the old rivalry never abated.

How this will play out in the local elections next Thursday and how the national scene will affect voting intentions is much debated by campaigners for the three biggest parties: Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour.

The 1960s new town, which lost out earlier this year in its bid to become a city for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, thrives on its good transport links which has helped attract companies such as internet seller Amazon and the Abbey National.

At the last local government election the Tories gained four seats on the Buckinghamshire council from the Lib Dems and replaced them as the largest party on the council, though it remained without any one party in overall control.

This year it should provide an interesting snapshot of the standing of the parties in 2012.

'Broken promise'

Sam Crooks, leader of the Lib Dem group on Milton Keynes Council, said: "We are fighting the election on local themes. We don't believe national politics should effect what happens in local government.

"We hear a lot about the broken pledge on tuition fees. The electorate don't oppose the coalition per se, but that broken pledge really did hurt.

"I would feel the same way. I think the electorate understand how important that pledge was and they see it as a broken promise."

Mr Crooks said he was happier that the Lib Dems in government were now able to show disagreements with their Conservative coalition partners.

He said the Lib Dems saw the key issue of litter damaging the look of Milton Keynes. "I am very proud of our city and it needs to look good," he said.

Andrew Geary, the leader of the ruling Conservative group, said: "In election fights between the Conservatives and Lib Dems in Milton Keynes there is very little national politics - very much local issues. In fights between Conservatives and Labour, and Lib Dems and Labour, the national scene comes into it."

'Send a message'

He said it was mainly the local candidates for the Labour Party which trumpet national politics, while the Conservatives put more emphasis on local issues.

"I have a local Labour leaflet given to me that says the election should send a message to Cameron and Clegg," said Mr Geary.

"We are relying on local issues. We are finding the level of support is holding up. We have saved the libraries - we have done what we said we would."

He said the issue of litter was not a big concern to people on the doorstep.

Norman Miles, leader of the Labour group on the council, said local issues were vital but many national concerns were also local concerns such as the NHS and Milton Keynes Hospital.

"Our hospital is trying to provide the best service they can but is in dire straights financially. It matters a lot locally," he said.

He said a lot of people on the door step have concerns about the economy.

He added that the issue of university tuition fees has damaged support for the Lib Dems.

"With tuition fees, I have two daughters: one who has just finished being a student and she hates the Lib Dems; and another about to start university and there is a deep resentment among her contemporaries about this," he said.

Professor Paul Whiteley, of the politics department of the University of Essex, said: "A lot of voting in the local elections is really a comment on what is happening nationally.

"It is certainly true that some people vote on local issues but an awful lot vote on national issues."

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