Deputy Editor Kirstie Sutherland reports on a magnitude 4.4 earthquake which has affected parts of the West Midlands, including UoB's main campus.Written by Kirstie Sutherland on 17th February 2018
News Analysis: How Might Edgbaston Vote?
Uncertainty awaits for Birmingham Edgbaston as residents prepare to vote in their 38th election for a new MP; an office once held by Neville Chamberlain
Since its recognised inception in 1885, the constituency of Birmingham Edgbaston has experienced an unusual voting history. For almost a century, Edgbaston was considered a safe Conservative seat; that is, until Labour MP Gisella Stuart delivered a shock victory in 1997, winning the seat to break a tradition of 99 years.
“The seat was hardly unanimous in the last General Election; with just a 1.75% swing in favour of Labour in 2015, voting could easily go either way in 2017
Edgbaston’s first ever Labour MP has successfully defended her position for the last twenty years, including winning in 2015 which saw the constituency’s highest turn-out in two decades, at 62%, as 41,293 eligible residents voted out of a possible 65,000. However, following Stuart’s announcement that she will not re-run for her seat this year, the 96,000 residents of Edgbaston are facing uncertainty regarding the identity of their future MP.
The seat was hardly unanimous in the last General Election; with just a 1.75% swing in favour of Labour in 2015, voting could easily go either way in 2017. Therefore, Labour have moved quickly since Stuart’s resignation, announcing her replacement as Preet Gill, who has the task of maintaining her party’s majority of just 2,706 votes.
Gill has stated her desire to win the seat: ‘I am from Edgbaston and it would be a huge honour to become the next MP for the place where I was born and raised’, she has said. Gill, who is currently Sandwell’s Cabinet Member for Public Health and Protection, has wasted little time in promoting her campaign: ‘the election is a clear choice between a Labour Party who will stand up for Birmingham Edgbaston, and a Tory Party who are failing working people across our great city’.
Unlike the rebellious Stuart, a Eurosceptic who diverged from the majority of Labour in voting for university tuition fees, Gill’s propositions are much more aligned to those of her fellow party members: she has pledged to work hard to achieve a £10 hourly living wage for occupants in Edgbaston, as well as providing suitable funding for the constituency’s hospitals and additional funding for school pupils.
Opposing the Conservatives’ Brexit scheme, the Labour Party will find encouragement in the fact that over 66% of eligible residents in Edgbaston voted Remain in the recent European Union referendum - only five other areas in Birmingham showed a higher level of support for Britain remaining within the EU.
“Interestingly, each representative of the major parties are women, making it likely that Edgbaston’s seat will be held by a female MP for the 65th consecutive year
However, recent polls suggest that support for Labour has dropped in the constituency, which will motivate Gill’s most dangerous opposition, the Conservative candidate Caroline Squire. Although the Conservatives were believed to be channeling more resources into acquiring Birmingham Northfield in 2015, Stuart’s resignation - along with Squire’s emergence - will fill the Tories with renewed hope. The public affairs and communications consultant, who has previously worked for the Conservatives in the House of Lords, was voted nominee for the seat after defeating two other candidates, including Luke Evans, who stood - and failed - in the 2015 election.
Squire’s roots in Birmingham run deeply, and she can trace her ancestry back to Victorian Birmingham politics, as she is the great, great grand-daughter of Joseph Chamberlain, a previous Mayor of Birmingham and founder of the University of Birmingham (UoB). ‘I have a strong family legacy in Birmingham and I am honoured to be chosen as the Conservative candidate for Edgbaston as my great-uncle [Joseph’s son, Neville Chamberlain] was many years ago’, Squire has said.
Similar to Gill, Squire has been quick to outline her determination: ‘If elected on June 8, I will work around the clock for all residents in the constituency and ensure their concerns and aspirations are heard at the highest tiers of government’.
Interestingly, each representative of the major parties are women, making it likely that Edgbaston’s seat will be held by a female MP for the 65th consecutive year, since Edith Pitt won a by-election in 1953.
Although a winning outcome for either of the two major parties is most likely, voters are not limited to the dominant pair.
Colin Green is the nominated representative of the Liberal Democrats, which was the first ever party to represent the constituency following their win as The Liberal Party in 1885. By 1886, however, George Dixon would win the seat with the Liberal Unionist Party, a faction of The Liberal Party, which later merged with the Conservatives. Since, The Liberal Democrats have seen little success in the region, dropping behind both UKIP and the Green Party, as well as Labour and the Conservatives, in the last General Election.
“Regardless of the outcome, the election will see one party lead Edgbaston through the difficult Brexit discussions
Although they are yet to announce their representative for the seat, UKIP will attempt to better their success in the 2015 election, which saw them take a 10% share of the votes. Meanwhile, the Green Party, represented by UoB’s Alice Kiff, will be looking to improve on their disappointing performance of just 3% in the last General Election. The leader of the recently founded Christian political party Common Good, Dick Rogers, will also be running for the Edgbaston seat after failing to gain the Birmingham Northfield seat in 2005 and 2010.
Regardless of the outcome, the election will see one party lead Edgbaston through the difficult Brexit discussions, with the potential to diminish or rejuvenate a constituency at the heart of Britain’s ‘Second City’. Most likely, the election will be momentous for one of the two major parties, either marking the 100th year of Conservative power in the constituency, or seeing the Labour Party add to their twenty successive years representing Edgbaston.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer, and do not represent the views of Redbrick, the Guild of Students or the University of Birmingham. You can register to vote here, which you must do before the 22nd May in order to be able to vote in the General Election on the 8th June: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.