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February by-election ‘fraught with danger’ for Labour in Kingstanding

February by-election ‘fraught with danger’ for Labour in Kingstanding

🕔09.Jan 2014

The Labour Party is facing a potentially tricky by-election in Kingstanding following the surprise resignation of Birmingham city councillor Catharine Grundy.

While the predominantly white working class ward, with high unemployment and sprawling council estates, would not suggest much in the way of electoral problems the area has not always been a happy hunting ground for Labour in the past.

Grundy last contested the seat in May 2013, when she beat Tory candidate Gary Sambrook by 405 votes.

However, in 2008 Grundy struggled to win in Kingstanding, eventually beating Sambrook by 78 votes – a swing of 10 per cent to the Tories.

Sambrook came close again in 2010, losing to Labour’s Des Hughes by 380 votes.

The 2008 contest was notable for allegations that Grundy was involved in a plot to topple Labour group leader Sir Albert Bore. She denied the claim and announced that she would not seek re-election in Kingstanding, but changed her mind at the last minute.

After winning Kingstanding in 2008 Grundy went on to challenge Cllr Ian Ward for the deputy Labour group leadership, but was soundly beaten.

Grundy was shadow children, young people and families cabinet member when Labour regained control of the council in 2012, but was overlooked by Sir Albert who instead gave the cabinet position to the relatively inexperienced Cllr Brigid Jones.

The by-election to choose a replacement for former Cllr Grundy will be held on February 13.

Labour council leaders appeared unwilling to risk leaving the seat vacant, which would have meant holding a ‘double header’ poll to elect two Kingstanding councillors at the annual civic elections in May. The theory may have been that the election of two councillors would risk spreading the Labour vote too thinly, allowing the Conservatives to take one of the seats.

The decision to call the by-election at the earliest possible date is not without dangers. February council elections are notorious for very low voter participation and a turnout of less than 15 per cent is a distinct possibility.

Mr Sambrook, who has a reputation for being a tireless campaigner, will be the Conservative candidate and Birmingham Tories are certain to throw all of their resources into the contest in the hope of bringing off a surprise victory. The Erdington parliamentary constituency, into which Kingstanding falls, has witnessed a remarkable increase in Conservative support in wards that were once seen as totally safe for Labour.

The participation of far-right parties is another unknown factor. Both the BNP and the National Front have stood regularly in Kingstanding. BNP candidate Kevin McHugh came third behind Labour and the Conservatives in 2010, with 891 votes.

In a statement issued by Kingstanding Labour Party, Cllr Grundy explained that she had decided to resign with immediate effect “due to a situation that has arisen in our family”. She and her partner will be making a “prolonged visit” to New Zealand.

Cllr Grundy added: “In the circumstances, we feel it is better for me to stand down from the council rather than leave Kingstanding one councillor short for what could be a significant period, at a time of savage Government cuts.

“With my colleagues Peter Kane and Des Hughes, it has been a privilege and a pleasure working for the people of Kingstanding. I am proud to have been involved in so many projects and making so many friends and residents amongst the volunteers and the professionals.

“I very much hope to continue working in the area, possibly on a voluntary basis, in the not too distant future.”

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