Slowly but surely, the West Midlands is changing colour. What was once a Labour fortress is becoming a red and blue patchwork as the Conservatives continue to creep northwards from the home counties.
However, on the face of it, nothing has changed. Andy Street was re-elected as Mayor, most local authority leaders remain in post and with decent majorities…business as usual…
Except, under the surface, things are far from settled. On Thursday, the Conservatives made a series of previously unthinkable gains across the West Midlands.
In Sandwell – SANDWELL! – the Conservatives won nine seats. This is the first time in about 10 years that there has even been an opposition in Sandwell, a district with a tradition of electing a clean sweep of Labour Councillors.
Dudley – sitting on a knife edge – was comfortably taken by the Conservatives after they won 12 seats. Whilst the Party took 11 in Nuneaton and Bedworth. It left them with two council majorities which would have been unthinkable even five years ago.
In Coventry, the Conservatives took two seats and Andy Street was within a few thousand votes of winning the Mayoral ballot in the city, and only 1% short of winning the entire contest on first preference votes alone.
The result has rattled the Labour Party and will have a profound impact on decision-making – even without wholesale changes in power. There are two solutions for Labour in the West Midlands, and neither can be business as usual.
Either those local authorities which the Party controls will roll out an ambitious vision and an agenda for real change – or they become cautious and risk-averse whilst refusing to take the tough decisions which might further damage their reputation.
If the Labour Party wants to re-establish their stronghold in the West Midlands it must be the former. I suspect, however, that the latter will prove to be the easy option.
What our consultants think:
Will Savage, Head of Birmingham Office
Andy Street has consolidated his power in the region and will be looking forward to taking on his next term of office. It will be interesting to watch how the dynamic between the Mayor and local authorities change because of his resounding election win.
The relationship with Labour leaders has been strained from time-to-time, but with the Labour Party now under threat across the West Midlands, perhaps Street will face more opposition to his plans than ever before.
Anokhi Popat, Head of PR
The Conservatives have become popular amongst the working class in Leicestershire, so it was no surprise to see strong results for them – they retained control of their seats across the county. However, what did surprise me was the Conservatives gaining two seats from Labour, in areas which would have been a real challenge only a few years ago.
The Conservatives led a strong, professional campaign overall and Leicestershire tends to reflect what happens nationally, despite having a traditional Conservative pedigree.