Sunday 7 May 2023

Derby Politics after the Elections

Local elections happened in Derby as well, so I'm going to break habit and write on something I know nothing about. Going into the city's first all-out elections, the Tories have occupied the driving seat in a de facto coalition with the Liberal Democrats and Reform UK. Following Thursday and in line with the national trend, Labour surged ahead with 23 seats (up six) and the Tories fell four to 15. With 26 being the magic number and the rest of the chamber comprising Reform (six), Liberal Democrats (four), and independents (three), Labour should have an easier time of making Sinfin's Baggy Shanker the Council Leader than the Tories have holding on. But this is local politics, and 'should' is never will. The results of council wheeling-and-a-dealing will be known this week.

There are a few things politics-wise I've got to get to grips with yet, such as why Alvaston - a white working class district in the south of the city - returned a full roster of Reform candidates in its two wards when other similar seats proved resistant to the "party's" charms. And why Chaddesden, another not altogether demographically dissimilar estate in the north were saddled with Tory councillors until Labour took them back on Thursday. All things to look forward to finding more out about, and if anyone wants to enlighten me in the comments or over coffee then please be my guest.

Labour had been campaigning hard, but there is a small lesson from the ward I now reside in - Mackworth and New Zealand. On Wednesday, it had one Labour, one Tory, and one (ex-Labour) independent. Come Friday morning, Labour retained both the seats but the Tories topped the poll. Again, predominantly white working class but with a mix of council and housing association-owned homes (39%), owner occupied (42%), and privately rented (16%). Plenty of pensioners as well (27%), and so the vote result mix shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Which explains why the two other Tory candidates put in strong showings as well. But the Tories did have an advantage: a highly visible councillor.

Readers might recall one of the reasons the Tories did unexpectedly well in 2015 was because of their Facebook efforts. Not just targeted advertisements, but the fact many Tory councillors had set up Facebook groups that put the party's name to a local face. As a general rule, these would be of the pothole-filling and fly tipping-clearing sort, but give those who founded the group an opportunity to build name recognition and a reputation for community work in the hope this would translate into votes. These groups would often have thousands of members and, because they were administered by either a councillor or a trusted Tory, political rivals often didn't get a look-in. Winding forward to 2022 and while we were buying the new house, we clocked We Love Mackworth, Morley, and New Zealand and encountered Gaurav Pandey, the local Tory councillor. With a membership of 4,300 members, his mercurial activities will have been noticed by nearly everyone on the estate. If there was a problem, Guarav would fix it. Day or night he was absolutely on it, and his fellow Tory candidates were never far away from the camera when he was out and about doing his good works. He cultivated the persona of an almost apolitical community champion, and appeared genuinely shocked that while his hard work paid off for him his fellow Tories lost out to Labour's Ndukwe Onuoha and John Whitby.

Undoubtedly, the likes of Cllr Pandey will carry on fixing parking bollards and documenting it on their Facebook groups and pages. And that will translate into votes and council seats down the line. Which reiterates the need for Labour councillors wherever they are to root themselves in their communities, and not rely on regular voter ID sweeps for "contacts" and "conversations".

Turning to the wider Derby council result, as per Stoke-on-Trent the results are encouraging for the general election. Derby South is likely to remain Labour, and on paper the boundary changes for Derby North make it a surer proposition for Labour with the hiving off of Oakwood and Allestree - pretty solid Tory wards - into neighbouring constituencies. As a swing seat historically, the good news for Labour is its candidate Catherine Atkinson is all over the constituency and featured prominently in local election literature and social media content. Sitting Tory MP Amanda Solloway who, as it happens, I saw near my house on polling day while nipping out for a cream cake, was nowhere near her party's council leaflets. Though a sheet got posted through at the beginning of the campaign that credited "Amanda" for everything from photosynthesis to the discovery of special relativity.

Things are looking good for Labour in Derby. There are some serious messes left by the Tories that need cleaning up, with nurseries and libraries facing closure, issues with the arms-length body that manages the city's council housing, and questions over the financing of the flagship Becketwell regeneration scheme. If Labour can undo the damage while remaining transparent and begin offering a new way of doing things that brings the city with them, then there's no reason to believe why its leadership can't be successful and that both constituencies won't return Labour MPs. The ball is in the party's court.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

Have you read Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book? I think “white working class” is a bit, I don’t know, unhelpful?

Anonymous said...

There are so many inaccuracies in this blog post I wouldn’t know where to begin in correcting you!

Phil said...

'White working class' is a short hand descriptive as opposed to an analytical term.

And re: inaccuracies, pick one and start from there.