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Tories finding Birmingham a tough nut to crack, but glimmer of hope for 2018

Tories finding Birmingham a tough nut to crack, but glimmer of hope for 2018

🕔22.Jun 2016

The Conservative party share of the vote at this year’s Birmingham city council elections fell to the lowest level since the late 1990s, but there remains a glimmer of hope for the Tories in 2018 when all of the seats on a new-look council will be contested, writes Paul Dale.

Across Birmingham as a whole on May 5 the Conservatives did not perform as well as the party nationally, while Labour did rather better than the national trend, picking up two seats and extending its majority in the council chamber from 36 to 40.

A statistical analysis compiled by city council policy executive Tony Smith shows that the Tories ended up with 22.8 per cent of the Birmingham vote, the Liberal Democrats were on 13.3 per cent, UKIP were on 7.7 per cent, and Labour was on 50.7 per cent.

The last time the Conservatives fared so badly in Birmingham was in 1999 when Labour cashed in on the popularity of Tony Blair’s first government. By contrast, only eight years ago the Conservative share of the vote in Birmingham hit 49 per cent, and has been falling steadily ever since.

Based on the 2012 elections, the last time these seats were contested, there was a swing of just under half a per cent from Conservative to Labour – a surprising result given that Labour was defending the seats it won in 2012 when the party enjoyed its best Birmingham election performance for 30 years and regained control of the council from a Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition.

The sweeping successes of 2012 meant that there were few seats left for Labour to win and many with a relatively low majority which were targets for the opposition parties. The party went into the 2016 polls under new council leader John Clancy privately conceding it might lose two or three seats. Holding all seats and gaining two was way above the top end of expectations.

Based on the 2015 elections, the swing from Conservative to Labour in 2016 was 4.4 per cent.

The 2016 Birmingham city council elections confirmed popular political mythology that local government election results tend to move against the party of government. It was expected that the Conservatives might struggle, but on the other hand Labour nationally went into the local elections with plummeting opinion poll ratings following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader.

The Conservatives in Birmingham failed to win any of their target seats on the council, and lost just the one seat in Weoley. Labour’s other gain came from the Liberal Democrats in Springfield.

There were some significant local variations particularly in the north of the city that ought to set Labour alarm bells ringing for the all-out elections in 2018 when the size of the council will be reduced from 120 to 101 members and ward boundaries radically redrawn.

Significant swings were recorded from Labour to the Conservatives in Kingstanding (8%), Tyburn (6%) and Erdington (5%). These wards are in the heart of the Erdington parliamentary constituency where Tory council group leader Robert Alden is likely to be the candidate at the 2020 General Election.

The Conservatives have been making ground against Labour here at council elections for a number of years and all of the signs are that Erdington may be a rather more marginal seat in 2020 than most people expect.

The largest swings from the Conservatives to Labour between 2015 and 2016 were in Sutton Vesey (18%), Shard End (13%), Moseley and Kings Heath (9%), Brandwood (8%), Billesley, Hodge Hill (both 7%) and Handsworth Wood (6%).

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