Local elections 2021: Milton Keynes Labour leader stresses the power of being positive

With Labour lagging behind the Conservatives in national opinion polls and locally having 11 of its Milton Keynes Council seats up for grabs you might expect leader Pete Marland to be on the defensive.

But the borough’s campaign-hardened Labour leader is having none of it as he sets out his party’s stall in advance of the polls opening for a 21 seat battle at the local elections on Thursday, May 6.

“We are talking about the issues and Milton Keynes positively,” said Cllr Marland (Wolverton) who was interviewed as part of a series of pre-election leader interviews.

“The last 12 months have been difficult but we have kept the people of MK as safe as much as possible.”

He says the pandemic has seen “everybody working together for the good of everybody” and he sees that as a resonating key Labour principle, which will hold the city in good stead.

“We can all get trapped into talking about potholes and bins, and it is of course really important to get the basic council services right,” he said.

“But we will be presenting more positivity as we look to a more prosperous, zero carbon future.”

The council’s economic strategy has been one of the dividing lines between Labour and the Conservatives, with the Tories’ call for free parking in the city centre being one issue of difference.

Cllr Marland’s view is that some retail jobs won’t be returning, following the closure of Debenhams and many traditional names either gone or under threat from the rise of online shopping.

“No amount of free parking is going to bring back Debenhams,” he said.

Instead, he sees supporting the creation of green jobs, and unique independent high street retailers as key.

Cllr Marland has been the leader of MK Council for the last seven years and still has things that he would like to achieve before folding up his red flag.

“I’ve probably done more years as leader than the years I have left in the role,” said Cllr Marland who has no immediate thoughts of stepping aside.

He intends to put his name forward for the role of Labour leader at the local party’s annual meeting after the results of the election are known in a covid-safe delayed count to be held on Saturday, May 8.

Cllr Marland doesn’t believe the elections will deliver an earthquake because he says Labour’s local message has been “well received.”

And if the voters decide that Labour sticks with around 23 of the council’s 57 seats, with the Liberal Democrats on around about 15, Cllr Marland can see the red-yellow power partnership continuing.

“Compromise is never a bad word in politics,” said Cllr Marland, who puts himself at the practical end of politics rather than the dogmatic. “We can do that without compromising our values.”

Asked what he saw as the differences are between Labour and the Lib Dems locally he said: “I think the Lib Dems are more of a spectrum, and Labour’s philosophy is a little more hands-on than the Lib Dems.”