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Birmingham council elections 2016: How the political landscape could change

Local Government expert Chris Game, of the University of Birmingham, looks at the battle for seats in local elections in the West Midlands

Birmingham

Present council: Lab 78, Con 30, LD 11, Ind 1

Even with Labour defending 28 wards, against the Conservatives’ eight and Lib Dems’ four, new council leader John Clancy seems assured of still having a comfortable Labour majority next Friday.

The Conservatives, armed with their impressive 23-page manifesto, will aim to secure their 2012 knife-edge wins – Weoley (just two votes) and Edgbaston – and regain their narrowest losses: Northfield, which, like Weoley and Edgbaston, they took last year, plus Bournville, Kings Norton, Longbridge, and Harborne, which they didn’t.

The Lib Dems will hope to hold on to their wards with smallest 2012 majorities – Perry Barr, Springfield, Stechford & Yardley North, the latter two both taken by Labour last year. The Greens again field candidates in all wards, but have struggled to gain even third places: five last year, compared to UKIP’s 23 plus runner-up spot in Shard End.

Coventry

Present council: Lab 41, Con 13

Labour’s eight gains in 2012, a 51 per cent vote share, and our anti-proportional electoral system, produced a majority of 32 on a now two-party council.

The Conservatives will seek to reverse their closest 2012 losses, in Bablake, Westwood, and Woodlands – the latter two of which they took in 2015 – and defend more effectively ultra-marginal Cheylesmore, lost last year by nine votes.

In 2012, like the Lib Dems, Socialist Alternative (SA) lost its sole councillor, former Labour MP, Dave Nellist. He now represents the Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition (TUSC), who contest all 18 Coventry wards, 12 in Birmingham, and are again the sixth party in these elections, as well as arguably the fiercest defenders of local government itself.

Dudley

Present council: Lab 38, Con 25, UKIP 7, Green 1, Ind 1

As in Birmingham, eight years of Conservative rule ended abruptly in 2012 as Labour took 12 of their seats, UKIP’s one, and majority council control. In 2014, nearly as dramatically, UKIP returned, winning seven mainly Labour seats and the second largest UKIP representation among metropolitan boroughs.

The borough’s above-average quota of two-party marginals means a very feasible six per cent Labour to Conservative swing from 2012 could see them back as largest party by simply reprising last year’s wins in Gornal, Kingswinford North, Wordsley, Amblecote, Wollaston & Stourbridge Town, Halesowen North, and Belle Vue. UKIP’s best chances statistically include Quarry Bank, Gornal and Coseley East.

Sandwell

Present council: Lab 69, UKIP, 1, Ind Lab 1, vacant 1

The vacancy was created by the shock death of the much-respected Darren Cooper. Cooper had led Sandwell council since 2009, while it became again one of England’s most politically unbalanced, exemplified by his own remarkable 95.2 per cent vote in Soho & Victoria.

In 2012 Labour took all 24 wards, and last year saw off the final Conservative in pastoral-sounding Charlemont with Grove Vale. UKIP’s Philip Garrett, elected in 2014 for Princes End, thereupon became ‘the Opposition’. The two wards remain the best prospects for even denting Labour’s hegemony.

Darren Cooper, leader of Sandwell council, sadly passed away

Solihull

Present council: Con 32, Green 8, LD 6, UKIP 2, Lab 1, SDP 1, Ind 1

Solihull, with Norwich, is the only English council on which the Greens form the main opposition, and their rise, helped by Lib Dem defections, has been the local electoral narrative of recent years. Until 2015, when a failure to win wards previously taken – Shirley South and West – was followed by Mike Sheridan, Solihull’s first Green councillor, joining the Social Democrats. Green hopes this year will again be to prise Shirley East and South from the Conservatives, with Maggie Allen retaining West to end the party’s disappointing all-male line-up. Meanwhile, Labour’s one remaining councillor defends her seat in Kingshurst & Fordbridge, taken last year by UKIP.

Walsall

Present council: Con 25, Lab 27, UKIP 3, LD 2, Dem Lab 1, Ind 1

Walsall has been Conservative controlled since 2004, barring a brief Labour interlude in 2014-15. Last May, taking seats from both Labour and Lib Dems, the Conservatives, backed by three UKIP and two Independent members, formed a single-party minority administration.

Labour is the largest party, but the Conservatives hold the stronger electoral hand. In 2015 they took 11 of the 20 wards and this time defend from 2012 just seven relatively stronger ones. Labour defend nine and will struggle to prevent the Conservatives becoming again the largest, and conceivably majority, party.

UKIP’s targets must again be their 2014 gains: Labour-held Brownhills and two rare genuinely four-way marginals: Short Heath and Willenhall North.

Wolverhampton

Present council: Lab 47, Con 10, LD 1, UKIP 1, vacant 1

Labour regained their customary majority control in 2011, secured it in 2012 with gains from the Conservatives (10) and Lib Dems (1), and have reinforced it since. They now defend those 2012 wins, but last year took, mostly comfortably, all but Merry Hill and Penn, plus Spring Vale from the Lib Dems.

Spring Vale went to UKIP in 2014, when the party’s 27 per cent vote share across the council pushed the Conservatives into third place. But they slipped to 18 per cent last year, and are fielding only eight candidates.

Warwickshire districts

Nuneaton’s Conservative MP, Marcus Jones, grabbed General Election headlines by doubling his majority in a Labour target seat, but the party arithmetic of the NUNEATON & BEDWORTH council he once led has changed dramatically: Labour 28, the rest 6.

Labour, unsurprisingly, defend 14 of the 17 seats, but in neither 2012 nor 2014 could the Conservatives and Greens manage more than three wins between them. UKIP in 2014 took a 19 per cent vote share and eight second places, but remain unrepresented.

RUGBY has since last October had a Conservative minority administration, following a member leaving the group over, intriguingly, Rugby possibly becoming a non-constituent member of the West Midlands Combined Authority. The Conservatives defend seven of the 14 wards, but not the most marginal: Labour’s two-vote victory in Rokeby & Overslade. All parties, though, Dunsmore’s Independent included, have their vulnerable seats.

Worcestershire districts

Labour overturned the Conservatives’ control of the now two-party REDDITCH council in 2012, and strengthened it in 2014, which also saw the election of two UKIP members – followed by, in very differing circumstances, their premature departure.

In 2015 the Conservatives reinforced their local parliamentary victory by narrowly taking three Labour wards and came within 103 votes in Church Hill of depriving Labour of both the seat and its council majority. The ward is again among the eight defended by Labour, as the Conservatives endeavour to complete their unfinished work.

With (now) 19 of 35 seats, the Conservatives regained majority control of WORCESTER council last year – thanks partly to defeating the council’s last Lib Dem, but ultimately to the manoeuvres of maverick councillor Alan Amos. The erstwhile Conservative MP, then Labour councillor, turned Independent to gain the mayoralty, and finally rejoined the Conservatives.

Defending this time are Labour with seven seats, Conservatives four, and in St Stephen’s ward the council’s sole Green member.

Those familiar with WYRE FOREST will be unsurprised that, even on its 2015 slimline-model council it still manages six political groups. Three were involved in the former council’s Conservative-Independent-Liberal minority administration, but now the Conservatives, with 23 of 33 seats, appear in relatively comfortable control.

Staffordshire districts

In 2012 Labour took seats from both the Conservatives and Lib Dems and regained the majority control of the 41-seat CANNOCK CHASE council. UKIP’s 2014 advance was mainly at the Conservatives’ expense, but the latter were the winners last year, whittling Labour’s majority down to three. A repeat performance, with Labour defending 10 of 13 seats, would see it disappear altogether.

If so, it would be following a similar path to NEWCASTLE-UNDER-LYME: Labour regained control in 2012, held on in 2014, but lost it in 2015, initially through member defections over non-reselection, then Conservative gains in the elections. This time the Conservatives will be looking to both Labour and Lib Dem seats for further advances.

No such uncertainty surrounds TAMWORTH. The Conservatives have had majority control for ten years now. They survived five losses straight to Labour in 2012, and will expect to reverse at least some this time – as they did last year.

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