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Birmingham elections analysis: Labour’s lacklustre performance, Tories on the march, Lib Dems avoid meltdown, and the rise of Ukip

Birmingham elections analysis: Labour’s lacklustre performance, Tories on the march, Lib Dems avoid meltdown, and the rise of Ukip

🕔23.May 2014

What are we to make of the 2014 Birmingham city council elections, which produced the most fascinating set of results for a decade?

The Labour Party performed just about adequately, you can’t say much more than that. A net gain of one seat must have been at the bottom end of council leader Sir Albert Bore’s hopes, despite what he has said to the contrary.

Based on the 2010 results, the last time these seats were contested, Labour could have gained five councillors and lose none. That’s what you might expect if the coalition government is really as unpopular as Ed Miliband and shadow ministers claim, although the steady fall in Labour’s national opinion poll lead always suggested that the local elections might prove something of a challenge.

Labour’s tactics, blaming Birmingham’s woes on Government spending cuts, clearly did not succeed. If Brummies are concerned about £700 million of savings that the council says it has to make, they clearly are not taking it out on the Conservatives who sailed through the elections without losing a seat.

We shall probably never know whether the ill-fated ‘garden tax’ played a part in Labour’s beta performance. But it is safe to assume that, since every Tory and Lib Dem election leaflet contained pictures of bags of rotting garden waste piled on pavements, the issue was brought home robustly to even the most uninformed voter.

It could have been far worse for Labour, having lost one cabinet member and the group secretary to Tory wins, a second cabinet member, John Cotton, held on in Shard End by the skin of his teeth.

It was a good night for the Conservatives, with the party putting in one of its more convincing performances in recent years. A gain of two seats, and no losses, could mark a renaissance under leader-in-waiting Robert Alden, who was returned in Erdington with a majority of almost 1,000 votes.

The Tories even won convincingly in Harborne, a traditionally safe Conservative ward where Labour now holds two of the three seats and had hoped to make it a hat trick. John Alden, father of Robert and husband of Edgbaston councillor Deirdre, came through by 298 votes.

This puts the Alden family in the happy position of having a family block vote that amounts to 10 per cent of the Tory council group. A great Birmingham political dynasty is back in business.

In Kingstanding, Labour secretary Des Hughes lost to Tory Ron Storer by 32 votes. This means the Conservatives now hold two of Kingstanding’s three seats. When the Tories won a by-election there earlier this year, Labour vowed to fight back. The fight back is clearly yet to happen.

The Liberal Democrats lost three seats, but the much predicted meltdown did not happen. Crucially, the party held on to all four wards in the Yardley parliamentary constituency.

This sends out an important message for the 2015 General Election where Lib Dem MP John Hemming will be defending marginal Yardley against Labour’s Jess Philips. A Labour spin doctor toured the election count media centre dispensing the line that Hemming was bound to lose next year because he is a lot more unpopular than the Liberal Democrat councillors. Sounded like desperation to me.

The story of the night, inevitably, was the rise of Ukip from hardly any presence in Birmingham to the recipient of thousands of votes. And for those on the left who still believe that Ukip is mainly a threat to the Conservatives, a glance at the Birmingham results suggests Labour have much to fear from Nigel Farage and his party as well.

Ukip came within 37 votes of gaining its first councillor in Shard End. In Kingstanding, Ukip were 450 votes behind the winning Tory candidate, and the party’s strong performance may have contributed to Labour’s defeat.

Ukip came in 500 votes short of Labour in Kings Norton, polling 1,128 votes. Labour lost the seat to the Tories.

Even Bartley Green, fiefdom of the Tory Lines family, looked vaguely interesting with Ukip polling 1,308 to 1,108 for Labour and 2,367 for Conservative Bruce Lines.

Labour had high hopes of winning in Weoley, where Tory Peter Douglas Osborn was defending a majority of two votes from 2010. If you can’t overturn a majority of two, what’s going on? But Douglas Osborn stormed to victory with 2,287 votes to 1,780 for Labour and 1,205 for Ukip.

It is tempting to read too much into Ukip’s performance, which was boosted by European elections held on the same day giving the party a springboard into the local elections. However, Ukip’s successes across the country, gaining council seats and knocking out senior Labour and Tory councillors, suggests that the Farage bandwagon will still be rolling in 2015.

Next year’s local elections will be held on the same day as the General Election, offering Ukip another great opportunity to make inroads into local government.  That has to be balanced, however, against the kind of boost in support Labour normally enjoys when local and general elections coincide.

The next date on Sir Albert Bore’s mind will be May 31 when he faces a challenge to the Labour leadership from Quinton councillor John Clancy. Brandwood councillor Barry Henley will challenge Ian Ward for the deputy leadership.

Clancy and Henley have a mountain to climb, and Sir Albert has gone into previous leadership elections in a far more perilous position and still succeeded in seeing off challengers. It is difficult to see, though, how the 2014 city council election results can have done anything to make Sir Albert’s chances of survival any greater.


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