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Labour’s election chances dashed by Mr Livingstone, we presume

Labour’s election chances dashed by Mr Livingstone, we presume

🕔03.May 2016

On the face of it, this Thursday’s Birmingham council elections should not prove troublesome for the Labour party, which has run the city since 2012 and has a comfortable 36-seat majority over all other parties.

But these are not routine elections, either for Birmingham or for the rest of the country where 2,743 council seats are up for grabs as well as elections for the Scottish parliament, the Welsh Assembly police commissioners in England and Wales, and the mayors of London and Bristol.

This will be the best opportunity to take a check on the state of party politics in Britain since the 2015 General Election, won surprisingly by the Conservatives, and the consequent election of far-left MP Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

Labour approaches the elections on May 5 in a sorry state of disarray.

The suspension of former London mayor Ken Livingstone over alleged anti-semitism and remarks about Hitler and the Jews is the latest episode in a very public civil war for the soul of the party being played out between the Corbynistas and Labour moderates.

Labour councillors in Burnley, Blackburn and Nottingham have had their membership suspended pending investigations into alleged antisemitic remarks on social media as the fallout from Mr Livingstone’s intervention intensifies.

Ilyas Aziz, a Nottingham councillor, faced disciplinary action over a series of Facebook posts from 2014, including one in which he suggested Israelis could “relocate” to America. Blackburn councillor Salim Mulla was also suspended after comments he reportedly made describing “Zionist Jews” as “a disgrace to humanity”. The third of the cases involved tweet from Burnley councillor Shah Hussein.

There is talk of a coup by MPs against Corbyn, particularly if the local elections go badly for Labour. The party’s rule book, as interpreted by some people, suggest that Mr Corbyn would automatically be a candidate in the event of a leadership election. Others say this is not so. The matter may have to be sorted out in the courts.

Some of Mr Corbyn’s supporters have begun to fight back, suggesting the anti-semitism issue has been deliberately seized upon by Labour right wingers in a bid to damage the party’s local election chances, thereby making a leadership challenge more likely to succeed. Labour 2016 is not in a good place, whichever side of the party’s philosophical divide you stand on.

It is worth remembering that this week is the 19th anniversary of Labour’s 1997 General Election landslide under Tony Blair, who remains the party’s most successful leader but whose name among Labour’s grassroots is now about as popular as the late Baroness Thatcher.

John Trickett, Labour’s campaign organiser, played down any hopes of great successes for the party on May 5: “The English council seats we are contesting this year were last fought in 2012. The results then were Labour’s best in the local elections since those that took place in 2001 on the same day as Blair’s second landslide election.”

Election experts Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher of Plymouth University predict that Labour will lose 150 council seats across the country. They say the Tories will gain 50 and the Liberal Democrats and UKIP 40 each. Losses for Labour in excess of 150 will place additional pressure on Mr Corbyn.

In Birmingham in 2012 Labour celebrated by gaining 20 seats on the city council, ousting the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition which had held power since 2004. The Conservatives lost 11 seats and the Lib Dems lost nine.

Roll on four years and the national opinion polls are the worst for a Labour opposition going into local elections against a Conservative government since 1982. In 2012, Labour had a six-point lead. Today, the Tories are about one or two points ahead.

Compared with a year ago, the Conservative share of the national vote is down by two points, but Labour’s is down by nine. The Liberal Democrats are up one point and, ominously, UKIP is up by seven points.

All of this explains why Labour in Birmingham, under its new leader John Clancy, has been engaged in weeks of intense campaigning and leafletting with wall-to-wall appearances on Facebook and Twitter of groups of banner-waving candidates and their supporters.

Streets have been cleaned up by Labour community activists (and ditto for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) and there is an energy to this particular council campaign that has been lacking in recent years – particularly so since there is almost no chance of Labour losing control.

While Labour resources have understandably been poured into target seats, notably Northfield and Springfield, there have also been signs of intense activity in some of Labour’s safer seats, Moseley and Kings Heath, for example, where cabinet member Lisa Trickett won in 2012 with a bumper 1,295-vote majority over Liberal Democrat Martin Mullaney. Can Labour really think it is in danger of losing here?

The doorstep troops have been out week after week in Erdington, where Labour hopes to defeat Conservative councillor Gary Sambrook, who won with a majority of 405 votes in 2012. Similarly intense campaigning has been witnessed in Hall Green, won for Labour by Barry Bowles in 2012 with a majority of 486 votes. Safe enough, you may think, but clearly nothing is being taken for granted.

What the parties are promising:

Labour

Build 2,000 council houses by 2020 and invest £600 million in maintaining the stock.

Create thousands of jobs and homes around the new HS2 station at Curzon Street, at the former LDV site at Washwood Heath, and the city centre wholesale markets site.

Provide an extra £11.7 million over two years to improve children’s safeguarding services, and create a Birmingham Apprenticeship and Internship Agency along with delivery of the new HS2 Training College to create more apprenticeships for local young people.

Retain community libraries, turning the buildings into local community hubs, cafes and resource centres.

Conservative

Scrap the annual £35 charge for green household waste collection and restore free bulky waste collection.

Give ward committees an annual £120,000 budget for community and youth initiatives.

Cleaner streets with dedicated clean-up crews for each area.

Save all 144 Birmingham school crossing patrols.

Liberal Democrat

Restore free garden waste collections, including fruit and vegetable residuals.

Restore one free household bulk waste collection a year.

Introduce a rewards scheme for high recyclers, using the microchip technology embedded in wheelie bins, by 2018, and introduce separate food waste collections by 2019.

Reverse a £1.5 million cut to street cleaning.

*The starting position for the political parties in Birmingham is: Labour 78 seats, Conservative 30, Liberal Democrat 11, Independent 1, giving Labour a majority of 36.

Seats to watch:

Weoley

It doesn’t get much closer than two votes, and that was Conservative Eddie Freeman’s wafer-thin majority over Labour’s Steve Booton in 2012. However, Booton did win in Weoley in 2015 to give Labour one out of the three ward seats. The Tories will be fighting hard to retain this seat against Labour candidate Julie Johnson.

Northfield

Labour’s Brett O’Reilly beat former Tory cabinet member Les Lawrence by 61 votes in 2012. The two other Northfield seats are Conservative-held. This is a part of Birmingham where Labour will be looking to consolidate gains, while the Tories will be banking on a comeback by Lawrence.

Springfield

Liberal Democrat Jerry Evans managed to hang on here against the odds in 2012, beating Labour’s Nabilo Bana by 95 votes. But Labour already holds the two other Springfield seats and will be hoping to make it three with candidate Shabrana Hussain.

Kingstanding

A key battleground. The Tories won here unexpectedly in 2014 at a by-election caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Cath Grundy. Gary Sambrook picked up the seat with an impressive 405-vote majority. The Labour candidate this time is Jane Jones. This is probably the number one target seat for Labour.

Edgbaston

Always an interesting tussle here between Tory and Labour. Veteran Conservative campaigner Deirdre Alden, who has represented this ward for 16 years, held on in 2012 to beat Labour’s Dennis Minnis by 241 votes. The Labour candidate this time is Tom Keeley.

Acocks Green

Marginal territory in east Birmingham. Labour’s John O’Shea defeated Lib Dem councillor Roger Harmer by 177 votes here in 2012. Harmer managed to win in Acocks Green in 2014. The third Acocks Green seat is held by Labour cabinet member Stewart Stacey. O’Shea could be in trouble if there is a general swing against Labour across Birmingham.

Kings Norton

Labour holds two out of the three Kings Norton seats, and the Conservatives have the third.  Valerie Seabright, aunt of deputy Labour party leader Tom Watson, is defending for Labour. She beat Conservative Barbara Wood here by 283 in 2012

Bournville

Phil Walkling beat Tory Nigel Dawkins by 307 votes in 2012 to secure a toehold for Labour in this traditionally Conservative ward. Dawkins is standing again, this time competing against Labour’s Mary Locke, who replaces Walkling.

Sutton Vesey

The sensation of 2012 saw Labour’s Rob Pocock win in Sutton, beating Tory councillor Malcolm Cornish by an impressive 805 votes. It was the first Labour victory in Sutton Coldfield in living memory. Can Pocock, a redoubtable local campaigner, hold on in 2016 against Tory Suzanne Webb?

Longbridge

A familiar Labour v Tory battleground in south Birmingham. Jess Phillips for Labour beat Conservative Ken Wood by 533 votes and subsequently went on to become MP for Yardley at the 2015 General Election. Labour held all three Longbridge seats until Cllr Ian Cruise resigned the whip and sat as an Independent.

Harborne

A famous victory here in 2012 when Labour’s Elaine Williams beat veteran Tory councillor John Alden by 823 votes. Alden managed to win in Harborne in 2014 to keep the Conservative flag flying. But the two other Harborne seats are held by Labour, something that was unthinkable a decade ago. The Labour candidate this time is Jayne Francis, who is up against Tory Akaal Sidhu.

South Yardley

Is there any fight left in the Liberal Democrats? This is a target seat in the party’s former stronghold.  Labour’s Zafar Iqbal is defending. He beat Lib Dem Daphne Gaved by just under 700 votes in 2012. Baber Baz is the Lib Dem candidate this time.

Hall Green

One of the few three-way seats in Birmingham.  Labour’s Barry Bowles beat Tory Bob Harvey by 486 votes in 2012. But the Lib Dems have also won here in the past. This year, Bowles is up against Tory Tom Skidmore and Lib Dem Tanveer Choudhry.

Stechford and Yardley North

Neil Eustace, a Liberal Democrat councillor for 30 years, is defending the seat he has held since 1986.  But Eustace will be concerned because Labour’s Basharat Dad won for Labour here last year. Eustace’s majority is 894. Cheryl Garvey is standing for Labour this time.

Aston

The scene of many highly-charged battles between Labour and the Liberal Democrats over the years.  Labour’s Nagina Kauser won here in 2012, defeating Lib Dem Ayoub Khan by 444 votes. Labour hold all three Aston seats at the moment.

Perry Barr

Veteran Liberal Democrat councillor Ray Hassall, this year’s Lord Mayor, is defending the seat he has held for 26 years. He won in 2012 with a 533-vote majority over Labour. This time, Labour privately believes it is on course to take the seat.

See here for a full list of Birmingham city council election candidates.

There will be more on the local elections and the vote for the Police and Crime Commissioner on the Files this week. See Chris Game’s two-part special on the elections beyond Birmingham. We’ll also be at the city count with coverage and analysis as the declarations roll through on Twitter and these pages. 

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