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Who were the real winners and losers in Sheffield's local elections?

Edd Mustill answers the important questions about the Sheffield local elections and looks at what the trends across the city might mean. 

City centre town hall 3

Sheffield City Council have left part of a Stonewall scheme designed to promote the rights of LGBTQ people at work.

Rachel Rae Photography.

Sheffield held local elections on 5 May, electing one-third of the councillors on the city council. In the context of a sharpening cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine keeping the local elections off the front pages, it is perhaps not surprising that turnout was lower than last year.

Aside from a significant drop in the Tory vote, it is difficult to identify many city-wide trends this year. Voting patterns continue to vary massively on a ward-by-ward basis. Looking at the results across the city, however, it is possible to draw a few conclusions.

Partygate and the cost of living have stalled the Tory recovery

The Tories have been gaining ground in Sheffield, increasing their vote share significantly since the implosion of Ukip and winning their first council seat since 2007 last year. This year, however, their share of the vote went down in all but one ward. This included huge dips in areas that had previously seen strong Ukip votes such as Shiregreen and Brightside (-10.7%), Southey (-16.8%), and Birley (-14.1%).

Most likely this poor performance is due to the national context that saw the Tories perform poorly across the country. Voters concerned with the rising cost of living and angry at the partygate scandal stayed home. It remains to be seen whether the these voters can be persuaded to back the party again in future, or whether they have already squandered their new base of support.

Locally the Tories will be disappointed to see a significant drop in their vote in Stannington, where they did have a ground campaign, and with their failure to win the second Stocksbridge and Upper Don seat after their breakthrough there last year. However, at 12.8% their vote share across the city remains significantly higher than it was a few years ago and they are far from a spent force.

Walkley church
Rachel Rae Photography

A mixed night for the Greens

The Sheffield Greens will be happy overall with their results, with some caveats. They comfortably won the final Gleadless Valley seat and saw a swing back from Labour in Broomhill and Sharrowvale, where they almost suffered a shock defeat last year. They also took their second Hillsborough seat, proving that last year’s victory there against previous Labour council leader Bob Johnson was not a one-off.

On the other hand, the Greens will be frustrated with their failure to take a second Walkley seat after winning last year. Labour campaigned heavily in Walkley with nationally-known figures like Eddie Izzard visiting the ward, and in the end managed to hold the seat by 98 votes.

The loss of Nether Edge and Sharrow will also worry the Greens. This seat had been safely Green for the last few years and was at the centre of protests against tree-felling and the infamous Amey contract. This year, however, Labour candidate Nighat Basharat, well-known in the local area, achieved a huge swing from the Greens and won the seat with a majority of over 500 votes.

The Greens’ targeting strategy has worked well up to this point but they now face a dilemma: do they have the capacity to expand into new target wards while also having to firm up their core vote?

For Labour, campaigning works

Labour will be frustrated at having been unable to restore their majority on the council but, despite a net loss of one seat on Thursday, there are reasons for the party to be optimistic. Labour’s vote share across the city increased by 4% and it is still the dominant party in Sheffield politics.

The party fell back in some wards compared with last year, such as Mosborough and Stannington, and came further behind the Liberal Democrats in Beauchief and Greenhill despite increasing its vote share. Some of this can be explained by dissatisfaction with the national government causing a Tory-to-LibDem slippage.

Wards where the party did well generally saw strong ground campaigns, such as in NE&S and Walkley. Minesh Parekh gained Crookes and Crosspool ward from the Liberal Democrats and an active campaign in Fulwood notched up a significant swing from the Lib Dems. East Ecclesfield, lost to the Lib Dems by 20 votes last year, was won with a Labour majority of 300+.

The lesson for Labour is that on-the-ground campaigning does pay off. The party is, however, struggling to motivate its activist base across the country at the moment and its capacity to run resource-heavy ground campaigns is limited.

Sharrow Vale Road
Ben Sutherland

Warning signs for the Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats also had a mixed night, gaining Beighton from Labour to compensate for the loss of Crookes and Crosspool. With some Tory voters moving across to them, they firmed up their existing majorities in some areas and held on to the perennial marginal of Mosborough.

There are however causes for concern for the party. Graves Park, traditionally a fairly safe seat, went to a recount and was held by just 90 votes from Labour. Perhaps most alarmingly, party leader Shaffaq Mohammed held Ecclesall by only 400 votes with Labour and the Greens vying for second place; in 2018 he was elected with a majority of over 1500.

This can be attributed to a combination of active campaigns from other parties and changing demographics in parts of the city with younger progressive voters, who have still not forgiven the party for the Cameron-Clegg coalition years, buying or renting properties in traditionally Lib Dem strongholds. The party will need an offer to these voters that goes beyond merely criticising the council’s spending record.

Beneath the headline figures, then, a number of voting patterns are happening in Sheffield and voter behaviour is increasingly hyperlocal. Consistent campaigning is appreciated by voters and gets results. If parties recognise and adapt to this, even those who had a bad night on Thursday will be able to find success in the future.

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