Who is Sheffield’s youngest council leader since David Blunkett?
Some argue he is too inexperienced and lacks a mandate — but Tom Hunt thinks he can restore people’s faith in Labour
Good afternoon members — and welcome to today’s Tribune.
The Labour party is famously a broad church. There seems to be something about left wing politics that almost invites division and factionalism. When Terry Fox resigned as Sheffield Labour leader two weeks ago, the party seemed set for another of the bouts of internecine warfare that characterise its history. But in the end a group of councillors who threatened to resign the whip in protest at the national party’s actions fell into line at yesterday’s full council meeting. What has been going on in Labour over the last two weeks? And can new chief Tom Hunt hold the party together after it lost its third leader in a little over two years?
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🏗️ Sheffield City Council have finally unveiled plans for Attercliffe Waterside, a long-awaited 1,000 home scheme on either side of Sheffield and Tinsley Canal. The council have signed a development agreement for the 23-acre brownfield site with housebuilder Citu, who will submit planning for phase one in the coming weeks. This will include over 400 new homes and the conversion of existing buildings into arts, leisure and workspace opportunities.
🎸 The Leadmill is calling for its supporters to object to Sheffield City Council after its landlord Electric Group applied to take out a separate premises licence for the historic venue. If the London-based firm were to be successful, they would move a step closer to their aim of evicting The Leadmill after 43 years and opening a new Electric Group branded venue in its place. Objections must be lodged with the council by Wednesday, 24 May.
⚒️ 12 historic artefacts have been stolen from Kelham Island Museum in what police are calling a "carefully planned theft". The items, which were taken from the museum in the early house of last Sunday, include irreplaceable knives made by the late Stan Shaw, Sheffield’s last “little mester”, who died in 2021. Images of the items stolen have been posted on the museum's website and police are appealing for anyone with information to come forward.
Things to do
🧵 Endless Love Creative return to the Showroom Cinema on Saturday, 20 May for their spring makers’ market. The market will bring together more than 60 artists for another vibrant and contemporary showcase of the best of independent design from across the UK. Stalls will feature illustrations, prints, stationery, ceramics, textiles, glass, jewellery, botanicals, clothing, accessories and homeware. Entry is £2 and the market runs from 10am until 4pm.
🎸 Saturday also sees the return of one-day music festival Get Together, which this year will take place in Kelham Island and Neepsend. Headlining this year's third installment will be Friendly Fires, 15 years on from the release of their iconic debut album. Dozens of other bands, acts and DJs will fill 10 other venues in the area including Yellow Arch, Peddler Warehouse, Alder, Neepsend Social Club and Canteen and Heist Brew Co. Tickets are £35.
🪴 Inner-city flower market Pollen is now a well-established and popular part of the Sheffield event calendar. Taking place on the third Thursday of every month at Grey to Green in Castlegate, this Sunday’s edition (21 May) will feature dozens of plant and flower stalls (including the brilliantly-named cactus and succulent specialists Little Pricks), as well as food and drink vendors, live music, crafts and demonstrations. The market runs from 10am until 4pm.
By Dan Hayes
15 minutes. Enough time to boil an egg, make a mug of tea, toast some bread and butter some toast. Enough time for me to jog to Northern General Hospital from my Park Hill flat. Plenty of time for many small tasks — but barely any time at all for an interview.
That’s the slot I’ve been given to talk to Tom Hunt, though he hopes to give me more time in the future. As we sit down in his office squirrelled away high in the Town Hall he says the week has been a “bit of a whirlwind”. Clearly!
After the local elections two weeks ago left Sheffield council in no overall control for the third year running, Wednesday was always going to be the moment of truth. The council’s annual AGM is when the council leader for the coming year is chosen, and councillors and journalists showed up genuinely not knowing what would happen. Would all Labour councillors back their newly-elected leader Tom Hunt? If not could that let Lib Dem leader Shaffaq Mohammed in? And which way would the Greens jump?
However, as often happens when something has a big build up, in the end the reality was a bit of a damp squib — much to the relief of Labour. With votes following party lines, Green leader Douglas Johnson dropped out after the first round, leaving the contest between Hunt and Mohammed. In the runoff the Greens abstained, allowing Walkley councillor Tom Hunt to become leader rather than Shaffaq Mohammed. Never one to miss a political opportunity, Mr Mohammed was tweeting “Vote Green, Get Labour” within minutes of the announcement.
So who is Tom Hunt? He’s 36, making him the youngest council leader of Sheffield council since David Blunkett. My first conversation with him took place almost exactly two years ago, when I spoke to him about the closure of John Lewis. At the time he was working in academia, and I had no reason to suspect two years later I’d be speaking to the same person as leader of Sheffield City Council. Since then his rise has been meteoric to say the least.
Some in the last few days have suggested his rise may have been too quick, and that his lack of experience could cause Labour problems or should even disqualify him from the job. He was only elected as councillor for Walkley just over a year ago, but in truth he’s been in and around Labour circles in Sheffield for well over a decade. He was Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield’s organiser when he narrowly beat the Lib Dems in 2010. He then worked in Blomfield’s office for four years before leaving to join the University of Sheffield’s political economy research institute. “He’s a policy seminar kind of guy,” one insider told us. Technocratic and centrist, he fell out of favour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, when he was ousted as chair of his local Walkley branch by Momentum, the party faction created to back the former Labour leader.
“For most people, Tom Hunt will have come out of nowhere,” one senior Labour figure told us. “There will be a lot of people wondering if with so little experience he can ride the tiger of Sheffield council. It’s all well and good saying you can change everything, but if you haven’t got the experience you will get eaten alive.”