Sheffield City Council has recently been solid Labour territory, as you would expect in the largest city in the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire. After Thursday’s local elections, Sheffield Labour was still in an imperious position, but it wasn’t all good news for Corbyn and his Red Army. They lost two seats to the largest local opposition, the Liberal Democrats, though still have 57 out of 84 councillors so its not a drastic problem.
However, examining what Thursday’s votes would mean for Sheffield’s MPs provides a slightly more interesting picture.Ignoring the wards that make up Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, as there was an actual parliamentary by-election that Gill Furness won convincingly for Labour, I took each ward and assigned votes to the parliamentary constituency it comes from to hold four pseudo-parliamentary elections. This produced some interesting patterns.
This was one of Labour’s biggest success stories in the 2015 general election, as Paul Blomfield increased the Labour majority by thousands and the Lib Dems collapsed from an extremely close second to a distant fourth. The Greens also did well as Jilian Creasy increased their vote share from 3.7 to 15.8 %.
The Greens managed to do even better on Thursday increasing their notional share of Central to 33% – nearly double last years share! Unfortunately, this isn’t that much better than their 2014 local election share of 30.52% in the constituency. Still it’s nice not to be going backwards. Look for the Greens to make gains in some wards here when the local elections don’t coincide with the hype and furore of the London mayoral and regional parliamentary elections.
Labour’s vote fell away by 10.8% to 25%, while the Lib Dems consolidated in Nick Clegg’s seat with a 4% gain to 44%. This will be a slight disappointment to Labour but a drop support was always likely to occur in an area where they campaigned very heavily last year and couldn’t replicate this year.
The Greens once again see a huge increase in support going from 3.2% to 13%. The Conservatives continue to slide in an area where they were once a huge force, dropping to 10%.
Sheffield South East
The seat with the least change, as Labour drop from 51.4% to 51% which I’m sure will leave the incumbent MP Clive Betts quaking in his boots. This is the constituency of Sheffield with the largest UKIP support and they had a small gain of 1.1% taking them to 23%. Nothing for them to be too upset about but still 29 points of winning the seat.
As with every other area of Sheffield, the Liberal Democrats made gains, jumping from 11.% to 26%. This is close to their largest ever support in the area, only beaten by their best ever national result in 2010. The Greens once again made a dramatic leap, doubling their support to 12%.
Labour saw a drop of 8.2%, meaning they lost support in every constituency area in Sheffield, except the one which was actually being fought (once again showing that Labour tends to do even better at national elections than local ones in Sheffield).
So why these changes? First, it’s local elections. The Greens (and smaller parties) do better for all the reasons I wrote about last year just before the general election. There’s also been some ward boundary changes so some people will now be included in a different constituency to the one they voted in in 2015.
Secondly, the Lib Dem fightback is gradual but real. They gained 41 seats nationally and were the only party to gain control of a council. I don’t think anyone predicted that. It seems people are either starting to appreciate what they did in government in holding some of the sillier Tory ideas back, or the Lib Dems are becoming the repository of dissatisfied Tory/Labour voters they were in the past.
Third, and almost certainly least importantly, the Corbyn effect has not seemed to have invigorated the Labour vote in a way some predicted. In Sheffield Central, Labour saw a decrease of 14,000 voters from last year. Before you say that less people vote in locals so of course their numbers will drop, the Greens actually increased their numbers from 2015 to 2016 so it is possible. Many Corbynites said he’d bring out non-voters – on the evidence in Sheffield, he didn’t even invigorate previous Labour voters in one of Labour’s best constituencies in the country.
What will be interesting to see is how parties perform in local elections next year. Changes from 2016 to 2015 are probably a reflection that only the most motivated electorate turns out in local elections. Changes from 2017 to 2016 might reflect a more substantial change in party support.