Greater Birmingham elections part 2: Warwicks, Worcs & Staffs
As election week starts in earnest, Chris Game looks even further beyond Birmingham in his analysis of this week’s council elections.
Part 1 of this two-part local elections preview covered what I labelled Greater Birmingham – the seven metropolitan boroughs or, put another way, the seven constituent members of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).
Part 2 covers in theory the rest of the West Midlands region, except that Herefordshire and Shropshire have no principal council elections this year – just, as for all of us, those for Police & Crime Commissioners.
That leaves the eight Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire districts that, given a choice of electoral cycles, prefer the met borough model of election by thirds in three years out of four (or by halves in Nuneaton & Bedworth).
It’s probably not entirely by chance that these eight include all five non-met councils that are currently non-constituent members of the WMCA.
This status doesn’t, as Paul Dale has described, give them full voting rights, nor will their electors have a vote for the metro mayor. Even so, their actual or potential membership of the CA gives the politics and party control of these districts an additional dimension of interest.
As in the met boroughs, the councillor seats being defended this year are mostly those last contested in May 2012, a particularly good year for Labour. In the intervening four years all kinds of things have happened, the collective impact of which has amounted to a roughly 4% swing from Labour to the Conservatives between 2012’s votes and today’s public opinion.
This, therefore, is the statistical backdrop against which the respective parties’ prospects are considered, although the 2015 local results will also be noted – the last time most of these electors had the chance to vote. Since then there’s been a small opinion swing back to Labour, so the bottom line is that Labour can expect to do worse than in 2012, but not worse than last May.
NUNEATON & BEDWORTH (Lab) Present council: Lab 28, Con 3, Green 2, Ind 1
Nuneaton’s Conservative MP, Marcus Jones, grabbed 2015 General Election headlines by doubling his majority in a Labour target seat. But the party arithmetic of the council he led until 2009 has changed dramatically.
Labour regained majority control in 2012. They now defend 14 of the 17 seats, but in 2014 the Conservatives and Greens again managed no more than three wins between them.
The last Lib Dem councillor was elected 12 years ago, so, although this is one of the nearly 10% of councils with no Lib Dem candidates this year, it’s hardly evidence here of some post-Coalition existential decline.
UKIP is nowadays the victim of the electoral system’s traditional discrimination against the Lib Dems’, winning in 2014 a 19 per cent vote share, 8 second places, and precisely no councillors.
RUGBY (Con minority) Present council: Con 20, Lab 9, LD 8, Indep Socialist 1, Ind 4
It’s a Conservative-inclined but multi-party council, on which any Conservative majorities have generally been modest – due partly to the party’s apparent difficulty in holding on to the councillors it does have.
Recent mishaps include a member expelled for posting a racist tweet directed at Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate for London Mayor, and one who left the group – and ended its majority control – over the council’s simply debating whether to become a non-constituent member of the WMCA.
The Conservatives will obviously be hoping to restore their majority, looking particularly to Independent-held Dunsmore that they took in 2015, and the ultra-marginal wards of Rokeby & Overslade, won by 2 votes by Labour in 2012, and Eastlands, retained last year by the Lib Dems more narrowly still.
REDDITCH (Lab) Present council: Lab 15, Con 13, UKIP 1
This was a council, like Dudley, taken by Labour in 2012 straight from Conservative majority control. Labour strengthened its hold in 2014, which also saw the election of two UKIP members, since prematurely departed.
In 2015 the Conservatives reinforced their local parliamentary win by narrowly taking three Labour wards and came within 103 votes in Church Hill of depriving Labour of both the seat and its council majority. The ward is again among the eight defended by Labour, as the Conservatives endeavour to complete what they will consider unfinished business.
WORCESTER (Con) Present council: Con 19, Lab 15, Green 1
With (now) 19 of 35 seats, the Conservatives regained majority control last year – thanks partly to defeating the council’s last Lib Dem, but ultimately to the self-serving manoeuvres of maverick councillor Alan Amos.
A Conservative MP in the 1980s, then a Labour councillor, Amos turned Independent in 2014 to get the votes required to become Mayor for a year, following which he immediately rejoined the Conservatives, who were thrilled or desperate enough to make him chair of planning.
Checking if Amos was defending his safe Labour seat (surprise – he isn’t!), I noticed among the Worcester candidates three representing ‘British Resistance’ – latest incarnation of the BNP. Which I mention solely as an excuse to draw attention to their ‘unstainable housing’ policy’ – a product not in this instance of anti-immigrant prejudice, but of bad spelling.
For the Conservatives to lose their control, the Greens would have to hold St Stephen ward, with Labour retaining Cathedral and gaining, say, one of the two most marginal Conservative wards, Claines and St Clement – none of which happened in 2015.
WYRE FOREST (Con) Present council: Con 23, Ind/Lib 3, Lab 3, CHCC 2, UKIP 1, Lib Dem 1
Aficionados of Wyre Forest local politics will be unsurprised that, even on its 2015 slimline-model council – cut from 42 members to 33 following a council-requested boundary review – it still manages six political groups.
The former council was run by a Conservative-Independent-Liberal minority administration, but now the Conservatives appear in relatively comfortable control. Proportionally they’ve never been stronger; Labour and Community & Health Care Concern (CHCC) hardly ever weaker.
Moreover, because of the boundary changes, the seats contested this time are mostly those of the candidates elected last year in third place in 3-member wards. No fewer than five of the nine relevant wards returned members of more than one party, and so are highly marginal – but the Conservatives defend just one.
CANNOCK CHASE (Lab) Present council: Lab 22, Con 11, UKIP 5, LD 2, Ind 1
In 2012 Labour took seats from both the Conservatives and Lib Dems and regained majority control from the then Lib Dem-Conservative coalition for the first time in 10 years.
UKIP’s 2013-14 advance was largely at the Conservatives’ expense, partly electorally and partly through defections over HS2, and following the 2014 elections they formed the official opposition.
Last year, though, Conservatives were the big winners, whittling Labour’s majority down to 3. A repeat performance, with Labour defending 10 of 13 seats, would see that majority swiftly disappear altogether – as in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
NEWCASTLE-UNDER-LYME (Lab minority) Present council: Lab/Co-op 25, Con 20, Lib Dem 5, Ind 4, Borough Indep 3, UKIP 2, Green 1
They’re separated by the large blue block that these days is solidly Conservative Stafford BC, but generally Labour-dominated Newcastle and Cannock Chase have very similar recent political histories.
In Newcastle, Labour regained majority control from a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in 2012, held on in 2014, but lost it in 2015, initially through member defections over non-reselection – they’re a politically fickle lot in these parts – then through Conservative gains in the elections.
This time the Conservatives will be looking to both Labour and Lib Dem seats with a view to reprising last year’s results and becoming at least the largest party.
TAMWORTH (Con) Present council: Con 18, Lab 10, UKIP 1
The eldest son of the famous Sir Robert Peel – the Tamworth Manifesto one – succeeded his father as the town’s MP, but as a Liberal, not Conservative.
Now I’m not suggesting he was the last Liberal elected by the town to public office, but there certainly haven’t been many in recent years/decades, and I’m fairly sure not one Lib Dem councillor, ever.
Partly in consequence, Tamworth council used to alternate regularly between the two main parties, although it’s been under uninterrupted Conservative control since 2005. They survived five losses straight to Labour in 2012, and will expect to reverse at least some this time – as they did last year.
UKIP have tried hard recently to break the stranglehold. They did pick up a seat in 2014, but last year their 24% vote share gained not one councillor. Yet there’ll be people next week bemoaning that so many of us opt out of this whole local democracy business.
There will be more on the local elections and the vote for the Police and Crime Commissioner on the Files this week. We’ll also be at the count with coverage and analysis as the declarations roll through on Twitter and these pages.
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