By-Election Special: Rotherham

by Jackie_South on November 14, 2012

The resignation of Denis MacShane hs prompted yet another by-election, this time in Rotherham. The result in 2010 was not very close:

Rotherham 2010 result

The cause of the election has pushed the Labour Party to unusual haste – MacShane resigned on 2 November and the by-election will be held less than four weeks later on 29 November, on the same day as Middlesbrough and Croydon North.

As the chart above shows, the result in 2010 left no clear second-placed party: the Tories less than 300 votes ahead of the Liberal Democrats. Ominously, the BNP took 10.4% of the vote in a town with a significant Muslim community.

That said, the result did show that perhaps the voters of Rotherham had tired of MacShane before the scale of his fraudulent behaviour became apparent. Labour’s 44.6% in 2010 was the only time since 1923 that they achieved less than 50% of the vote in this constituency. Even when the Conservative won here in 1922, Labour took 49%. What is more, in 2010 there had also been some slightly beneficial boundary changes too that ought to have helped MacShane.

The graph below shows the results since 1970 in the constituency. Whilst the 1994 by-election (when MacShane first won his seat) appears as a down-blip due to low turnout, there is a fair stability in the number of votes for all parties, even though the 2010 result is masked a little by the increased size of the electorate in that year.

Rotherham results graph

The Constituency

The Rotherham constituency is actually one of three in the borough of the same name, focused tightly on the titular town and forming the urban meat in the sandwich formed by the borough’s two more rural, ex-mining constituencies: Wentworth and Dearne to the north and Rother Valley to the south. Rotherham is also the political middle of these three: Wentworth and Dearne is safer whilst Rother Valley is less so, if not quite a marginal.

To the west of the constituency lies Sheffield, with Sheffield City airport and the giant Meadowhall Shopping Centre just beyond Rotherham’s boundaries. Most of the constituency lies to the east and north of the M1, although the suburban village of Catcliffe lies just south of the motorway.

Whilst much of its heavy industry has gone, Rotherham bears its gritty history proudly. The Magna Science Adventure Centre on the western fringe of town is built on the site of a former stellworks whilst Catscliffe’s glass cone (a brick kiln building for the glass industry) is one of only three such structures left in the country.

Most of the town’s centre falls in Boston Castle ward, named for the Georgian lodge located there. This is where the town’s railway station, shopping area and Minster can be found, along with the Clifotn Park Museum further east.

Rotherham constituency map

The constituency is quite tightly drawn around the town, with some of its suburbs spilling out into the neighbouring seats. All twenty-one councillors across the seven of the wards in the seat are Labour.

The election

Despite the very tight timetable, it was announced today that 11 candidates will be standing. The speed of the process could potentially hurt Labour’s candidate Sarah Champion – only two candidates were shortlisted for the local party excluding any that were local. As a result, half the people who attended the election walked out in disgust. It appears as if the NEC were keen to ensure that their candidate could bear no taint of connection to MacShane and was willing to accept this discontent as the price.

Given the unpopularity of both Coalition parties, it is unlikely that either the Conservatives’ Simon Wilson or the Liberal Democrats’ Michael Beckett will be able to capitalise on Labour’s discomfort.

Respect may have more opportunity and will be hoping to repeat their success in the last Yorkshire by-election. However, former journalist Yvonne Ridley does not have the charisma of George Galloway and Gorgeous George’s own internal problems could hamper this attempt. Ex-miner Ralph Dyson will be standing for the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.

On the right of the Tories, there are three candidates. Jane Collins is standing for UKIP and Marlene Guest will stand for the BNP. The third is David Wildgoose, standing for the English Democrats (who hold the mayoralty of nearby Doncaster). Wildgoose was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Rotherham in the 1994 by-election.

Finally, there are three independent candidates: Clint Bristow, Simon Copley and Paul Dickson.

Labour’s is strongest in the southern Brinsworth and Catcliffe ward, straddling the M1, and weakest in Keppel ward, further northwest along the motorway that includes both the northwest fringe of the town and the outlying old mining village of Thorpe Hesley.

The Liberal Democrats were second in Keppel ward in 2010, only 6% behind Labour. The Lib Dems were also second in Rotherham East and Rotherham West wards, whilst the Conservatives were runners-up in Boston Castle ward, Brinsworth and Catcliffe ward and Valley ward. The BNP were second in the northern Wingfield ward, based around the suburbs of Greasbrough and Kimberworth.

The map below shows an estimate of Labour’s lead in each of these wards in 2010.

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