Harry Hayfield previews the contests
Woolaston and Stourbridge Town (Dudley) Result of most recent council election (2012): Labour 41, Conservatives 30, Greens 1 (Labour overall majority of 10) Last Local Election (2012): Lab 2,714 (39%), Con 2,238 (32%), Lib Dem 913 (13%), UKIP 718 (10%), Green 393 (6%)Â Labour GAIN from Conservative Â
The electors of Stourbridge must be thinking thereâ€™s a great deal of dÃ©jÃ vu going on. Back in 1997, they were part of the hotly contested Stourbridge constituency where Warren Hawksley MP was beaten by Debra Shipley as part of the Labour landslide. She was re-elected in 2001 but stood down for the 2005 election which saw the election of Lynda Waltho as the MP (but only by 407 votes), so it was perhaps no surprise that in 2010 the Conservative candidate Margot James gained the seat with a majority of 5,164.
And the local elections of late have seen a very similar pattern. In the local elections held on the same day as the 2010 general election, the Conservatives won the Woolaston ward (Con 36%, Lib Dem 30%, Lab 25%), held onto it in 2011 (Con 39%, Lab 33%, Lib Dem 14%) and lost it in 2012 (Lab 39%, Con 32%, Lib Dem 13%). This pattern is rather similar to what happened in Leashowe at the start of the month, so whatâ€™s going to happen this time? Well, UKIP will want to be managing their challenge clear but following Cameronâ€™s speech last week on an in/out referendum will the wind, that had seen UKIP go from 6% in 2010 to 10% last year, be taken out of their sails or will Labour show that to rule them out of Stourbridge is a bad mistake
Bryncoch (Bridgend) Result of most recent council election (2012): Labour 39, Independents 10, Liberal Democrats 3, Plaid Cymru 1, Conservatives 1 (Labour overall majority of 24) Last Local Election (2012): Lab 313 (74%) Lib Dem 109 (26%) Labour HOLD
Bryncoch is one of those wards that has managed to more or less survive some forty years of local government reorganisation. Back in 1973, the ward was made up of Bryncoch North and South (which elected two Labour councillors) with moderately healthy majorities. In the 1976 local elections, an Independent gained one of the seats despite Labour polling six hundred more votes than Plaid across the wards. The ward disappeared at the district level but reappeared at the county level where Labour ruled the roost with majorities of between three hundred and six hundred until the unitary authority of Bridgend was established in 1995 when in 1999 the first contested election was held. Labour held on but only won by 80 over a Plaid Cymru candidate.
The writing was on the wall for Labour as in 2004, they lost it to an Independent by 101 votes when Labour lost control of Bridgend by six seats thanks in part to losing a large number of seats to the Liberal Democrats. However, this was just a temporary setback as in 2008 (when Labour across Wales were being hammered) Labour retook the ward (thanks in part to a split Indpendent opposition) before resuming their natural dominance in the local elections last year. However, that doesnâ€™t mean that Labour can rest on their laurels. In Neath South, just before Christmas last year, Labour held on to the ward despite the Liberal Democrats polling (from a standing start) 25% of the vote. Is the love affair in the South Wales valleys demonstrated in 2012 over already or will Labour bounce back from that drop and show that Wales and Labour are are much entwined as strawberries and cream.