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VOTE2018: Council battlegrounds on 3 May

VOTE2018: Council battlegrounds on 3 May

🕔16.Apr 2018

With the Commonwealth Games baton handed to Birmingham and as schools and offices return from Easter breaks – including here at Chamberlain Files towers – Kevin Johnson looks at the battlegrounds for local elections on 3rd May. 

The first of Birmingham’s all-out elections under the new local government boundaries will see the city council reduced from 120 to 101 councillors. The winning post that a political party must cross to form an administration is 51.

This contest has a little added spice, for whoever takes control on 4th May will rule for four years as the next council elections in Birmingham will not be held until 2022, also the year when the city will host the 22nd Commonwealth Games.

Labour should not be too concerned with mathematical niceties, after all the party currently holds 79 of the 120 seats, a clear indication of its strength in recent years. It would be an astonishing about-turn if the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were to win enough seats, even in the smaller council, to prevent Labour from continuing to run Birmingham, which the party has done since 2012.

The first and most important advantage for Labour on this occasion is the near extinction of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which is fielding just one candidate in Birmingham. It is difficult to imagine now, but it was headless chicken time for Labour five or six years ago when it seemed possible that UKIP could even topple Ian Ward in Shard End. No such worries for the Labour council leader now.

This turnaround is potentially very bad news for the Tories in north Birmingham where UKIP has in the past leeched away Labour votes allowing the Conservatives to claim unlikely victories in working class wards like Erdington, Stockland Green and Kingstanding.

UKIP’s disappearance could be disastrous for the leader of the city council Conservative group Cllr Robert Alden who is facing a tough fight to retain his Erdington seat. There are two seats up for grabs in Erdington and Cllr Alden is joined by Tory running mate Gareth Moore, who is a key figure in Cllr Alden’s leadership team.

Elsewhere, the Tories will be looking anxiously at the south of the city where once safe seats like Edgbaston, Harborne, Northfield and even Bartley Green are thought to be at risk.

The obvious question should Robert Alden be defeated is, who will the Tories elect as their new group leader? Much depends on the party’s performance in the south of the city. Randal Brew, the deputy leader, could have a good chance of succeeding Alden, but can he hang on in Northfield? The smart money will be on Sutton Tories Ewan Mackey and Ken Wood.

On the other hand, should ‘Bobby’ Alden win again in Erdington but the Tories suffer a bad night in Birmingham and lose seats, will he face a leadership challenge? His remaining Tory colleagues on the council may perhaps feel that Cllr Alden’s alternative brand of leftish greenish politics and what some might describe as post-beatnik mode of dress may have run their course.

The election will also tell us whether last year’s waste management dispute, which led to the resignation of Labour leader John Clancy, and Cllr Alden’s near obsession with condemning the city’s refuse collection service, which was arguably also a disaster when the Tories and Lib Dems were in charge of Birmingham, has any impact on votes.

Questions are already being asked about the wisdom of one of Cllr Alden’s big election pledges, demolishing all of the council tower blocks over ten years. How, Tory members want to know, will the displaced residents be rehoused, and what about those that would like to continue living where they are? There are also concerns that people living in tower blocks if they vote at all are most likely to favour Labour and a promise to flatten their homes is hardly likely to persuade them to vote Tory. It is difficult to see how the tower blocks policy, which may or may not be brave, is going to mobilise core Tory support at the ballot box.

The biggest unknown factor for this election is the performance of the Liberal Democrat party. If national opinion polls are reflected in Birmingham the Lib Dems are just about dead in the water, trailing at seven per cent. The party’s representation on the council has already been reduced to its traditional strongholds of Sheldon and Yardley in the east and Perry Barr in the west, although Perry Barr is now firmly in Labour’s sights.

Claims reported in national newspapers that the Tories are facing a wipe-out in Birmingham, as feared by some Cabinet members, are surely wide of the mark. The Conservatives will always have Sutton Coldfield, where nine seats are being contested. It is, though, entirely possible that the Tories may struggle to hold on to anything very much in the south of the city, where even the likes of veteran John Lines may be looking anxiously over his shoulder in Bartley Green.

The Battleground

Bartley Green

The Lines’s – John and son Bruce – are seemingly a permanent fixture. But this working class ward ought to be natural Labour territory.

Billesley

A ward the Conservatives would expect to win when the party is doing well. Labour’s Phil Davis will be hoping to get back on to the council along with newcomer Lucy Seymour-Smith.

Brandwood

Another ward taken by the Conservatives in the past. But surely no problems this time for Labour big guns Lisa Trickett and Mike Leddy.

Bournville

The Tories have been successful here in the past. But the contest could be close this time with Tory candidates Peter Douglas-Osborn and Rob Sealey up against Labour’s Liz Clements and Fred Grindrod.

Edgbaston

Tory veteran Deirdre Alden and the party’s schools spokesman Matt Bennett face a tough fight in a ward where Labour has been making inroads.

Erdington

Tory group leader Robert Alden has hung on valiantly in a ward that used to return Labour councillors year after year. Can he and colleague Gareth Moore win again?

Glebe Farm and Tile Cross

Tory stalwart Fergus Robinson will do well to beat Labour’s John Cotton and Marj Bridle to get back on to the council. Two seats contested here.

Hall Green South

Winnable for the Lib Dems in a good year, but is this a good year? Lib Dem Jerry Evans is in a three-way fight against Labour’s Changese Khan and Tory Tim Huxtable.

Weoley and Selly Oak

Boundary changes have been unkind to the Tories here. Labour cabinet member Tristan Chatfield and running mate Julie Jones will fancy their chances against Tories Des Flood and Andrew Hardie.

Kingstanding

Another huge contest for the Tories with Gary Sambrook and Ron Storer battling to be returned to the council. They are up against Labour’s Des Hughes and Jane Jones.

Northfield

Veteran Tory and deputy group leader Randal Brew is up against Labour’s Olly Armstrong. This is a ward Labour will expect to win in a good year.

Perry Barr

Labour have been edging closer here in recent years and may fancy toppling Liberal Democrat group leader Jon Hunt. But Hunt’s longstanding local popularity will probably see him through.

VOTE2018: Next in our special election series is a look at the local manifestos.

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