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Government unpopularity may mean ‘tsunami-like’ council election defeat for Tories and Lib Dems

Government unpopularity may mean ‘tsunami-like’ council election defeat for Tories and Lib Dems

🕔17.Apr 2012

The latest opinion polls make grim reading for Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and it seems certain that barring an incredible reversal in political sentiment before May 3 the control of Birmingham City Council will swing back to Labour for the first time since 2004.

Since Labour needs to pick up only four seats to win a majority in the 120-seat council chamber, the result itself would appear to be pretty much a foregone conclusion.

But if the polls are right, a huge shift of national opinion against the Tory-Liberal Democrat Government will gift Labour a massive majority on the city council.

Councillors sometimes like to comfort themselves by suggesting that it is misleading to look at the previous year’s election results, where Labour did well in Birmingham, but to consider instead what happened four years ago. This is because the seats being defended at this year’s elections on May 3 were last contested in 2008.

Unfortunately for Birmingham’s Tory-Lib Dem coalition, 2008 pretty much represented the low point of Labour’s fortunes nationally with the party riven by the feud between supporters of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

At the end of April 2008, Mori’s opinion polling put the Conservatives on 40 per cent, Labour on 31 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 19 per cent. Today, a Populus poll for The Times became the latest study to suggest a growing lead for Labour, with 42 per cent support, while the Conservatives are on 33 per cent and the Liberal Democrats are on 11 per cent. This represents the biggest lead for Labour since the General Election.

By way of contrast, in April 2011 Mori was tracking the Conservative and Labour vote level at 40 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on only 9 per cent, so perhaps the Lib Dems will surprise us all and perform slightly better in 2012 than they did in 2011.

It is clear, though, that the position of Labour and the Conservatives has been transposed since 2008, while backing for the Liberal Democrats has almost halved. There will, of course, be local issues at play in Birmingham and the results will not reflect exactly national opinion, but the Tories and Liberal Democrats must know in their hearts that the game is up after eight years in control of the council.

Deputy council leader Paul Tilsley, a Liberal Democrat, was fond of saying between 2004 and 2008 that the tide of opinion against Labour in Birmingham was still running out – buoyed by the party’s internal wrangling as well as Tony Blair’s support for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which meant that wards with a large Muslim population were lost by Labour.

Coun Tilsley was correct, but the tide is turning quickly now and could even become a wave of tsunami-like proportions for the coalition.

Differences between the results of Birmingham city council elections in 2008 and 2011 are worth noting in order to detect a trend. In Moseley and Kings Heath, for example, Lib Dem cabinet member Martin Mullaney was able to hang on with a 295-vote majority. Last year his colleague Emily Cox lost in the same seat by 1,876 votes to Labour’s Martin Straker-Welds.

In the traditionally Tory seat of Harborne in 2008, John Alden romped home with a majority of more than 1,300. In 2011, stunned Conservatives could only watch in horror as Labour’s James McKay won with a majority of over 500.

In Edgbaston, again supposedly safe Tory territory, Deirdre Alden won for the Conservatives with a majority well over 1,000, but by 2011 the party’s grip was looking distinctly dodgy as James Hutchings managed to scrape home with a majority of 20.

One of the more unusually personal aspects of this year’s poll could see political wipe-out of the senior portion of the Alden family – Deirdre and John – leaving only son Robert to carry the flag in Erdington. And it is precisely in the white working class areas of Erdington, Stockland Green, Weoley and Northfield where Labour will look to recapture seats lost since 2004 to the Tories.

Labour will also hope to make real inroads into the 24 Lib Dem-held seats, and judging by last year’s results there is the possibility of the party winning in Acocks Green, Aston, Hall Green, Perry Barr, South Yardley, Springfield and Stechford and Yardley North.

The results on May 3 could also be a pointer to the way Birmingham may vote in a mayoral election. November is a long way off, and anything can happen in politics, but it is difficult to envisage any sudden turn-around in the Government’s fortunes. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the Labour opinion poll lead will strengthen which will reinforce the notion that whoever wins the Labour selection to stand as mayor is almost certain to become the mayor – assuming, of course, that a referendum also to be held on May 3 produces a vote for change in Birmingham.

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