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GE2015: Battleground Birmingham

GE2015: Battleground Birmingham

🕔22.Sep 2014

As the party conference season gets into full swing, we start a series of special features looking ahead to the General Election next May. Paul Dale assesses the battleground in Birmingham.

Birmingham has been a Labour stronghold for years as far as the city’s parliamentary representation is concerned – and there is no reason to suppose this will change dramatically at the General Election.

Eight out of 10 MPs are Labour. Only Andrew Mitchell (Con) in Sutton Coldfield and John Hemming (Lib Dem) in Yardley buck the trend, with the chances of Mr Hemming retaining his seat in the current political climate must be regarded as uncertain.

In theory, the Tories ought to be looking to make some gains.

Birmingham’s most marginal parliamentary constituency is Edgbaston, where the Conservatives require a tiny swing of just 1.5 per cent to oust Labour MP Gisela Stuart.

Surprising as it may seem, Edgbaston, to many the epitome of leafy middle class suburbia, is no longer the Tory party’s number one target in Birmingham.

That accolade has been bestowed upon the somewhat grittier constituency of Northfield, once home to the MG Rover car works, where a larger 3.8 per cent swing is needed to defeat Labour MP Richard Burden.

The Conservative party even took the unusual decision last year to state publicly that it was pinning its hopes on Northfield rather than Edgbaston.

It would appear that after 17 years of attempting to regain Edgbaston the Conservatives have accepted that Labour MP Gisela Stuart is here to stay. Mrs Stuart’s victory in 1997, the first time the Tories had lost Edgbaston for 70 years, became a national totem for the incoming Blair government and she’s defeated all attempts to remove her ever since.

Birmingham city councillor Deirdre Alden twice tried to win Edgbaston for the Tories, in 2005 and 2010, but was beaten fairly convincingly by Ms Stuart on each occasion. She decided third time would not be lucky and has been replaced as the Conservative candidate by local GP Dr Luke Evans.

The Conservative candidate for Northfield is local businesswoman Racheal Maclean who describes herself as a latecomer to politics and has never held elected office.

She is managing director of Skills for Birmingham, a charitable organisation which is the delivery partners for the Birmingham Baccalaureate.

Mrs Maclean has campaigned energetically since being selected as the candidate and is a keen advocate of social media. Her website features an unusual appraisal of the constituency’s history including the somewhat underwhelming disclosure that Margaret Thatcher’s sister trained at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Northfield.

Mr Burden has held Northfield for Labour since 1992 when he took the seat from Tory MP Roger King by 630 votes. He is chair of the Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group and has been vociferous in opposition to the Israeli bombing of Gaza.

The third most marginal Birmingham seat is Yardley, where Liberal Democrat John Hemming faces a tough challenge from Jess Phillips, who is a Labour city councillor. Phillips requires a 3.7 per cent swing to overturn Hemming’s 3,002 majority at the 2010 election.

Labour has high hopes of winning in Yardley and appears to be convinced that Hemming is deeply unpopular and will lose in 2015. However, the Liberal Democrats managed to retain all of the Yardley constituency seats they were defending at this year’s city council elections.

It seems probable that a tide of national sentiment against the Liberal Democrats will put paid to John Hemming, who by any measure is one of Birmingham’s most colourful politicians.

The Conservatives also require a 3.7 per cent swing to oust Labour MP Steve McCabe in Birmingham Selly Oak. The Tory candidate is Alex Avern, who appears to be virtually anonymous with very little in the way of a public profile.

Labour’s Roger Godsiff looks to be reasonably safe in Birmingham Hall Green. Godsiff won in 2010 with a 3,799 majority over Respect Party candidate Salma Yaqoob, with the Liberal Democrat candidate Jerry Evans in third place.

However, Godsiff benefited from a split opposition vote. Yaqoob and Evans secured 23,000 votes between them against 16,000 for Godsiff.

It is unclear whether Respect will run a candidate in 2015, or whether an alternative ‘Muslim party’ candidate might emerge to cash in on community concern at publicity generated by Birmingham’s Trojan Horse affair.

It should be noted that support for Godsiff, a Birmingham MP since 1992, fell by 9.4 per cent in 2010 although the seat had been subject to boundary changes.

A far more interesting contest is expected in Birmingham Erdington where Labour’s Jack Dromey faces a tough challenge from Robert Alden, leader of the Conservative group on Birmingham city council.

The Tories have been targeting Erdington with some success in city council elections. Dromey, who replaced former Labour MP Siôn Simon, presided over an 11 per cent fall in the Labour vote in Erdington in 2010 although this may have had something to do with the perception locally that Mr Dromey had been ‘parachuted in’ to a safe seat. Alden’s share of the vote rose by 10 per cent.

The swing required for a Tory win in Erdington is 4.6 per cent, which you have to think may be beyond Alden in the current political climate.

Birmingham’s remaining seats – Perry Barr, Ladywood and Sutton Coldfield – ought to be safe for the sitting MPs, particularly Perry Barr, where Labour’s Khalid Mahmood enjoys an 11,908 majority and Ladywood where Labour’s Shabana Mahmood has a 10,000 majority.

The safest seat in Birmingham is Sutton Coldfield where Tory MP Andrew Mitchell, whose ministerial career came to an abrupt crash at the gates of Downing Street, enjoys a whopping 17,000 majority. Even though Labour has been pegging away over the years, expect nothing other than another easy victory for Mr Mitchell.


Tomorrow: the Midlands battleground beyond Birmingham.

To order of a copy of RJF’s Insight report on all the Birmingham and Black Country MPs, please contact Kevin Johnson, .

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