Along with the Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, London and local elections being held on Thursday, there are two Parliamentary by-elections. Both should be safe Labour seats. In this post, we take a look at the first of these to be called: Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough.
This constituency was created for the 2010 general election, based largely on Sheffield Brightside with the addition of parts of Sheffield Hillsborough (most of that constituency became part of the new Penistone and Stocksbridge seat). Former Home Secretary David Blunkett held the seat and its predecessor for 28 years. All but his final election, 2010, saw him winning more than two-thirds of the vote.
In contrast, former miner Harry Harpham, the new MP chosen on Blunkett’s retirement, held it for only nine months, before succumbing to cancer.
The constituency covers the northern part of Sheffield itself, stretching between the edge of the village of Loxley (in Nick Clegg’s Hallam seat) to the edge of the vast Meadowhall shopping centre. Its most prominent landmark is Hillsborough stadium: home to Sheffield Wednesday and site of the tragedy that claimed 96 lives in 1989.
The constituency covers five of the city’s wards. Just to the north of the city centre lies the ethnically diverse inner city ward of Burngreave, which also takes in the former ore mining village of Pitsmoor. Further north is the council estate dominated ward of Firth Park, more white working class than Burngreave. Either side of Firth Park are two wards that are even more white working class: Shiregreen and Brightside, with its history of cutlery-making, and Southey, with its old steel mills at Wadsley Bridge.
To the west is the new addition: Hillsborough ward. This ward is more socially mixed than the others, with some middle-class streets although it is predominantly an inner city ward.
The Liberal Democrats once had councillors in Hillsborough ward and came second in Blunkett’s last election in 2010. But 2015 saw them crash to fourth place (only 90 votes ahead of the fifth-placed Green Party) and now all the councillors throughout the constituency are Labour.
Second place has now passed over to UKIP. Not only were they runners up in the 2015 general election but in the local elections in all five wards.
Labour beat UKIP by at least 20% in all five wards in the 2015 local elections. But some of the contests were much closer the year before (Sheffield has three councillors per ward, and elections are held three years out of four to fill them). The 2014 elections did coincide with the elections of the European Parliament, and so these could have boosted UKIP’s showing but they may also show what happens in elections with a lower turnout than general elections.
The map below shows Labour’s lead over UKIP in each ward in 2014.
In 2014, Labour easily held Burngreave ward, and as the graph below shows no-one seems likely to be able to shift Labour from there in the foreseeable future. Labour beat second-placed UKIP by 44% in 2014, and this increased to a 53% margin last year.
But Southey and Shiregreen/ Brightside were much closer. In 2014, Labour only held off UKIP in Southey ward by a slender 5% majority.
Shiregreen and Brightside ward was similarly tight in 2014: a 6% lead.
Firth Park ward was slightly better, but not much: a 10% lead in 2014.
All four of those wards have been held by Labour in recent elections. Hillsborough ward is different: the Liberal Democrats won elections there in 2007 and 2008, and only lost in 2010 (the same day as the general election) by the smallest of margins. However, it has not seen the same UKIP strength of Southey, Firth Park and Shiregreen/Brightside. UKIP now comes second in Hillsborough, but they were 14% behind in 2014 and 27% in 2015.
So, Thursday’s by-election will be a clear two-horse race between Labour and UKIP. The seat should be comfortably won by Labour though, given that even in 2014 UKIP could not win council seats here. Labour has chosen its candidate well: Harry Harpham’s widow and local councillor Gill Furniss.
A Labour loss here would be an electoral disaster, and undo all the good the last by-election at Oldham West & Royton did to Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation.