There was two council by-elections in the borough – Brinsworth and Catcliffe (containing the area made famous/infamous (delete as appropriate) by the battle of Orgreave during the miners strike) and Dinnington – the ward containing the comprehensive I went to school in and next door to the ward I live in for most of my first 40 years.
Until the last few years, both wards would have been solidly Labour – both situated in areas devastated by the closure of the mines.
Last year, when the council, under the orders of the government, had to have all out elections, both wards returned 2 Labour councillors and 1 UKIP councillor.
In Brinsworth, one of the Labour councillors had to resign after admitting to ‘groping’ someone. In Dinnington, the UKIP councillor resigned due to health problems.
UKIP are the official opposition to Labour in Rotherham, holding 14 of the 63 seats to Labour’s 48. When I grew up in Rotherham I was used to Labour usually having at least 58 of the 63 seats – usually more. Rotherham had always been THE definition of the Labour heartland.
I don’t wish to go into the terrible issues that have hit the borough over the last few years with sexual exploitation but this has clearly taken its toll on the Labour council. Like myself, the locals of Rotherham have become disillusioned by the Labour party – a party which quite frankly has taken its normal voters for granted.
This has made the area fertile ground for UKIP as that vast majority of Rotherham residents could never continence voting for the Conservatives. These by-elections we equally a test of UKIP as they were the Labour party – defending Dinnington and fighting a ward where they picked up one of the 3 councillors last year.
Labour managed to win in Dinnington. On a 15% turnout, they managed to poll just over a third of the votes to will the seat off UKIP. This is a ward where I was used to them polling 60% plus. Still a victory is a victory and UKIP came a very disappointing second.
However Brinsworth was a different kettle of fish. The Lib Dems have never really had much of a presence in Rotherham – their last councillor was elected in the 1990s and they’ve never really come close to getting another one… until last week. On a turn-out reminiscent of a normal election rather than a by-election (in excess of 30%) the Lib Dems won the seat with 66% of the vote. Labour finishing 2nd with only 17%. Big congratulations to the winning Lib Dem candidate Dr Adam Carter.
This really is massive – it shows that the people of places like Rotherham, provided you work hard and show a positive alternative, are willing to switch from their long time allegiances to Labour and skip past the negative alternative in UKIP. Areas like Rotherham or the borough I now call home, Barnsley, could be fertile ground for such messages if candidates work hard. The old label of the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire may be fading fast. We are ready to move beyond the tired old dinosaurs of Labour the negative xenophobes from UKIP – all you need to do is court us!