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Labour grip on Birmingham council is safe, but Ukip could inflict serious damage

Labour grip on Birmingham council is safe, but Ukip could inflict serious damage

🕔31.Dec 2014

Chief blogger Paul Dale looks ahead to the 2015 city council elections and asks whether the deputy leader of Birmingham city council could be ousted by Ukip.

The Labour Party’s grip on Birmingham city council won’t be at stake this year, but that certainly does not mean that the 2015 contest will be predictable and uninteresting.

With a 34-seat majority over all other parties and only a third of the 120 seats up for grabs, Labour would have to perform disastrously to lose control of the UK’s largest public authority at the annual civic elections in May.

However, it is possible that the result in one of the 40 wards being contested could dramatically change the shape of the council’s ruling administration.

Deputy council leader Ian Ward is in danger of losing his Shard End seat to Ukip.

Until recently such an outcome would have been unthinkable. Shard End, one of the poorest parts of Birmingham, has always returned a Labour councillor and Ian Ward has been used to recording thumping majorities since he joined the council in 1995.

Everything changed last year when Ward’s cabinet colleague John Cotton came within a whisker of losing in Shard End to Ukip candidate Iain Roden. Cotton scraped home after a recount by 37 votes, and Labour began to think the unthinkable.

Ward, to his credit, immediately accepted that he would be defending a marginal seat in 2015.

The 2014 council elections coincided with the European parliament elections, pushing up the Ukip vote. The 2015 council elections will be on the same day as the General Election, something that in the past has tended to maximise the Labour vote.

On this occasion, though, Ukip can also expect to benefit from the attention that is bound to be paid to the party and its charismatic leader Nigel Farage during the General Election campaign. Farage’s television debates with the other party leaders, if they happen, could give Ukip a significant boost.

The high profile enjoyed by Nigel Farage and Ukip nationally during 2014, winning two parliamentary by-elections, suggests that the party has not yet peaked in terms of popularity. Anyone who believes this is not the case need only look back at the 2010 General Election and the short-lived but highly effective outbreak of Cleggmaina which succeeded in boosting the Liberal Democrat vote above all expectations.

Ukip’s performance at the 2014 Birmingham city council elections was little short of astounding.

Apart from almost winning in Shard End, Ukip candidates were second behind Labour in Billesley, Hodge Hill and Oscott and second behind the Liberal Democrats in Sheldon.

In Kingstanding, across the M6 from Shard End, Ukip’s Jan Higgins managed 1,128 votes against 1,546 for Labour and 1,578 for winning Conservative candidate Ron Storer.

It is safe to assume that Kingstanding in 2015 will amount to a three-way marginal where it is difficult to predict the eventual winner. Labour’s Peter Kane is defending a 174-vote majority from 2011.

Ukip also performed well in Sutton Coldfield, coming in second place behind the Conservatives in Four Oaks, New Hall and Trinity wards. In Longbridge and Northfield, Ukip candidates were involved in a three-way split with Labour and the Conservatives.

If Ian Ward is defeated in Shard End, the council Labour group will have to elect a new deputy leader for the first time since 2005. Such an outcome would destroy the delicate dynamic at the top of the council between leader Sir Albert Bore and Cllr Ward – a relationship that has endured thanks largely to Ward’s preference for a low profile and ability to keep his head down and get on with the job.

Names in the frame to replace Ward could include several cabinet members. The most likely candidates are thought to be Penny Holbrook, Lisa Trickett and a former deputy leader, Stewart Stacey. From outside the cabinet, John Clancy cannot be ruled out as a runner and possibly Anita Ward, but there may be others prepared to throw their hat into the ring.

Whatever happens at the 2015 elections, Birmingham council faces radical change in the future.

If the recommendations in the Kerslake Review are followed through, Birmingham will switch to all-out elections once every four years, beginning in 2017. With a smaller council as well, down to 100 members from 120, this will make a change in political leadership more likely.

At the moment there are 77 Labour members of Birmingham city council, 31 Conservatives and 12 Liberal Democrats. Labour will be defending 27 seats at the 2015 election, the Conservatives 10 and the Liberal Democrats three.

Key Seats 2015:

Shard End

Deputy council leader Ian Ward faces a tough fight to save the seat he has held for 20 years. Fellow Labour cabinet member John Cotton held on by just 37 votes here last year against Ukip. Labour must throw everything at this. Defeat is unthinkable.

Weoley

Conservative Adrian Delaney got home here in 2011, but with a majority of 12 over Labour. Peter Douglas Osborn did better for the Tories last year, winning by 507 votes. Another strong showing by Ukip could make this year’s result unpredictable.

Kings Norton

Labour’s Peter Griffiths won with a 337 majority in 2011. But Labour cabinet member Steve Bedser was ousted here in 2014 by Conservative Simon Jevon. Labour will expect to hold.

Edgbaston

Veteran Tory James Hutchings scraped home in 2011 by 21 votes. He is standing down and the new Conservative candidate is former councillor and executive member for schools Matt Bennett. The Tory performance picked up last year, with Fergus Robinson winning by 174 votes.

Northfield

Tory Reg Corns held on here in 2011 beating his Labour opponent by 54 votes. Last year, deputy Tory group leader Randal Brew cruised to victory with a majority of almost 1,000. This should be a Tory hold, but not if Ukip can attract sufficient votes from disgruntled Conservatives.

Kingstanding

Along with Shard End, this is another must win seat for Labour. Peter Kane won here in 20111 by 174 votes, but the writing was on the wall. The ward now has two Conservative councillors including Ron Storer who won last year by 32 votes.

Longbridge

No problem here for Labour in 2011 with Andy Cartwright winning by 447. Last year, though, Labour’s Ian Cruise scraped home beating Tory Derek Johnson by 71 votes in a three-way split with Ukip.

Sutton Vesey

As strange as it may seem, the Conservatives are in danger of losing a second seat in Sutton Coldfield after Labour’s Rob Pocock stunned the political establishment by winning here in 2012. Tory Andrew Hardie had a 250-vote majority over Labour last year with Ukip in third place.

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