Will Labour Lose Birmingham?
Birmingham has long since ceased to be a bellwether city. Up until the 1980s, a majority of its MPs were usually returned for the winning party in a general election, and its council switched regularly between Labour and the Conservatives. Yet, from 1983 onwards, Labour consistently outperformed their national performance in the city, and controlled the council without a break from 1984 to 2004.
In 1997, they won every seat in the city, apart from ultra-safe Sutton Coldfield for the Conservatives. Demographic changes mean that Birmingham is no longer representative of the country as a whole, as was once the case.
Yet, Labour has begun to falter in recent years. They lost control of the council in 2004, and saw the Conservatives emerge as the largest party in 2007. In 2004, they came close to losing Hodge Hill to the Liberal Democrats in a by-election.
In 2005, they lost Yardley, to the Liberal Democrats, and saw Respect achieve a strong second place in Sparkbrook. The latest round of boundary changes sees the number of seats cut from 11 to 10, and the latest round of local elections suggests some interesting contests can be expected.
Neither Sutton Coldfield or Yardley are going to change hands at the next election. The Conservatives won 60% in Sutton Coldfield this year, and the Liberal Democrats won 57% in Yardley. Sutton Coldfield has always been rock solid, and Yardley certainly looks as though it now is. It is hard to imagine that the Conservatives held that seat up until 1992. This year, they won less than 10% in its ward.
The new seat of Hodge Hill looks very safe for Labour now. They led the Liberal Democrats by 15% in the seat this year, and have a notional majority of 25%, based on the results from 2005. Perry Barr and Ladywood look equally safe for Labour. In the wards making up Perry Barr, they led the Conservatives by 20% this year, and in Ladywood, they led the Liberal Democrats by nearly 25%. Respect, who won 15%, despite contesting only two of the four wards, might just squeeze into second place at the next election, but they will be a long way behind Labour.
Edgbaston, captured by Labour for the first time ever in 1997, now looks very vulnerable. The Conservatives led Labour by 50% to 30% this year, and Labour now just hold one of its twelve seats. Gisela Stuart is a popular and effective MP, but it is hard to see how she can hold on in the face of such a big Conservative lead.
Hall Green, despite its name, is largely comprised of the abolished Sparkbrook seat. Labour have a smallish notional majority over the Liberal Democrats, 9.5%, and this is confirmed by the local election results. The Liberal Democrats achieved a small lead in the constituency, and won three of its four wards. The other was won by Respect, who took 20% of the vote. It is now that partyâ€™s best prospect in Birmingham, but it is still likely to finish third behind the other two.
Selly Oak comprises a great deal of the old Hall Green seat. Labour have a notional majority of 20% in the seat, but it was held by the Conservatives up until 1992. The Conservatives led Labour by 5% in the wards making up this seat this year, and won three of its wards, compared to one for the Liberal Democrats. Nonetheless, on a general election turnout, Labour should retain this seat, but expect to see its lead cut sharply.
Northfield had a considerable Labour lead in 2005, 21% over the Conservatives. Nevertheless, the Conservatives have carried all four wards, both this year and last, and led Labour by 10% this year. Given that the Conservatives won it in 1979, and held it again from 1983 to 1992, I expect this will provide a close contest at the next election.
Finally, the Conservatives actually managed to lead Labour narrowly, this year, in the wards making up Erdington, which had a very large Labour lead (30%) in 2005. Although this does represent a dramatic turnaround, turnout was very low this year, at about 30%, and Labour should retain this fairly easily at a general election.
Sean Fear is a London Tory activist