Sandwell election: Labour maintains vice-like grip despite Conservative gains
Labour maintained its strong grip in Sandwell after winning almost all of the seats up for grabs as a red tidal wave swept across the borough once again.
Party chiefs declared things were "back on track" in the area which is still largely Labour dominated, except now with a growing Conservative opposition.
Labour were defending 24 seats from when they were last contested in 2018 meaning they could not make any gains as the ballots were counted in Tipton.
But the Conservatives won three seats, one year after winning its first seats on the council since 2011.
This time around they won in Princes End – where the turnout was a lowly 17.91 per cent, Tividale, and Charlemont and Grove Vale.
Labour also saw the result as a positive one, slowing the inroads made by the Tories in last year's local election, with cheers throughout the night and early hours at Tipton Sports Academy.
Councillor Kerrie Carmichael, the Labour leader of the council, told the Express & Star: "I think, obviously, I'm disappointed by our candidates who lost because they were amazing candidates who deserved to win.
"But any borough would kill for 21 Labour seats, or returns, so I'm very happy. I think it shows what we're doing is right, we're here to help the vulnerable and everything we do is geared around that.
"I feel we've progressed over the last six months ever since I became leader – the whole of the council has through people's amazing work. We've come a long way and the difference on the doorsteps this year, compared to last year, has been amazing.
"I felt we had such a welcome and it was such a joy to speak to people properly about their issues. Last year it was all about the vaccines which didn't give us much opportunity to discuss real issues in Sandwell.
"We're definitely going to go for it (and win those seats back). We can't be losing seats on my watch. I love the Labour Party and I love Sandwell – I'm a very proud member of the Labour Party, I was born into the Labour Party so that's me in a nutshell. The Labour Party is my life."
Nicola Richards, Conservative MP for West Bromwich East, said: "I feel really positive that we're continuing to make progress and build on the relationships we have with people – this, and those conversations on the doorstep, mean more than results tonight.
"It's difficult to say (whether the cost of living crisis had an impact and partygate) because Labour has not come up with a solution to that (to the crisis), so it's not choosing between what's happening and another party offering a solution. One thing that was brought up is that people are tired of arguments over silly things, which I agree with – people are worried about local issues."
The Conservative MP, when asked if she felt her party would come back stronger at the next election, said she would "never take the votes" of residents for granted which she accused Labour of doing throughout their time in charge of the council.
She added: "We will continue to work hard and prove to residents they voted right (when they voted Conservative) and show it's a pleasure to represent them."
However it was another election hampered by another low turnout – with the overall average turnout hitting 26.12 per cent, with a quarter of those eligible voting.
West Bromwich Central was the first result declared, coming in at around 1am, which saw Labour's Liam Preece storm to victory over Conservative candidate Aran Duggal – with 1,984 votes to 857.
Councillor Preece said: "I'm incredibly proud to represent (this) ward. It's a community with a bright future and I will do everything I can for the next four years to make West Bromwich Central the best place to live and work."
Next up was Friar Park where Labour's Simon Hackett received 1,094 to Tory Ryan Trumpeter's 825, with Colin Rankine from the Yeshua Party receiving 38 votes.
Councillor Hackett said: "Throughout the election, and really over the past couple of years, I've always said I work all year round – not just at election time and on Sunday, I will be back on the doorstep of Friar Park talking to people about what the problems are in their area and how I can help them."
Wednesbury South was another hold for Labour, with Ian Chambers receiving 1,409 votes to Tory candidate Vijay Gaddu's 1,036. But in Tipton Green it was much closer with Labour's Abid Hussain receiving 1,319 votes and seeing off independent Richard Jeffcoat who had 1,167 votes, with the Conservatives languishing in third with Steve Emms' 476 votes.
Councillor Hussain said: "The most important people are the residents of Tipton Green and I would like to say to them that the work starts tomorrow. We will together make a difference and make sure that we stay winning in Tipton Green for the Labour Party."
Tividale produced the first Conservative gain of the night. Labour had won the seat in 2018 but it was vacated after the death of ward councillor Sandra Hevican who passed away from Covid-19.
Her husband Robert Hevican had contested a by-election for Labour last year but was beaten out by Conservative Emma Henlan, who stepped down a week before the local elections this year. And it was the Conservatives who triumphed once again with Amrita Dunn narrowly triumphing over Mr Hevican by 1,094 votes to 1,046.
Councillor Dunn said she was proud to be able to serve her community as she thanked her friends, family, residents in her ward and the Sandwell Conservatives for their support.
The Smethwick ward was held for Labour by Ashley Lewis who received 1,968 votes to Tory candidate Satinder Dunn's 731. And Wednesbury North saw Luke Giles elected with 1,233 votes, with Conservative Marc Lucock receiving 1,005 and Gareth Knox from the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) receiving 75.
Councillor Giles, who chanted "socialism through and through" and his desire to "get rid" of the Tory MP for the area, received the best noise of the night – with loud cheers being made from Labour members.
But moments later the Conservatives gained Charlemont with Grove Vale with Les Trumpeter coming out on top with a majority of less than 400 votes, in the second Tory gain of the election.
He said: "It's quite surreal, really, but I would like to say thank you to all the voters in Charlemont with Grove Vale for putting their faith in me and (I) look forward to getting to work. And thanks to the Sandwell Conservatives for putting in a shift and helping me out."
Labour's Bob Piper won a thumping majority in Abbey ward, where he has been re-elected for the eighth time having been first elected 23 years ago, with 2,328 votes to the Conservative candidate's 424.
St Pauls was another commanding Labour win with Aqeela Choudhry receiving 2,863 votes and the second placed Tory candidate receiving 382.
Cradley Heath and Old Hill, Soho and Victoria and Bristnall – a seat held by former council leader Rajbir Singh who stood down but was at the count supporting others – saw further holds for Labour.
And in Hateley Heath, after being elected, Labour's Paul Moore said the results were a "great big vote of confidence in the Labour Party in Sandwell and Kerrie Carmichael. "
He added: "The Labour Party have come out on tonight. The game is on and we're going to come back and take those (Conservative) seats."
The party continued to dominate with it holding Langley, Great Bridge, Old Warley, Oldbury, Newton, whilst the majority of the Conservatives started to leave the count early.
Labour's John Giles was elected in Greets Green and Lyng over Conservative candidate Iqbal Padda, who had been in Labour's ruling cabinet before he defected to the Conservatives before the election – accusing his former party of taking the Asian vote for granted after being deselected. He was not on stage when the result was announced.
And it was a narrow victory in Princes End – an area which had the lowest turnout of the night – with David Wilkes, who thanked those who helped him through the campaign and council staff for their handling of the election, receiving 856 votes to Labour candidate Jenny Chidley's 825.
Labour went on to subsequently hold Blackheath, Rowley and Great Bridge with Yew Tree – the latter of which being where Steve Melia, who admitted an offence of assault by beating relating to a protest outside Sandwell Council House in Oldbury on December 7, was re-elected.