Wolverhampton election preview 2021: Tories searching for gains in Labour stronghold

We take an in-depth look at the state of play at Wolverhampton Council ahead of this year's local elections.

Wolverhampton - a city for the last 21 years
Wolverhampton - a city for the last 21 years

Wolverhampton Profile

Population: 262,242

Politics

Labour has run the council for 40 out of the 48 years of its existence, including for the past decade. However, after the 2019 general election the Tories now hold two of the city’s three parliamentary seats for the first time since 1987.

History

Wolverhampton is recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086 as being in the Hundred of Seisdon and the county of Staffordshire. It became a municipal borough in 1848 and held its first official council meeting that year.

It expanded in 1933 and then again in 1966, when the urban districts of Bilston – a borough itself at the time – Tettenhall and Wednesfield were added, along with the northern section of the urban district of Coseley and parts from Sedgley and Willenhall.

During the 1974 local government reforms it was placed within the West Midlands Metropolitan County. Wolverhampton became a city in December 2000, having had five previous applications rejected.

Claim to fame

Home to the Grand Theatre, which opened its doors in 1894, and Wolverhampton Art Gallery, which opened 10 years earlier. The city has a rich manufacturing tradition, and The Great Exhibition of 1851 at The Crystal Palace had examples of locks, japanned ware, enamel ware and papier-mâché products - all made in Wolverhampton.

Wolves were one of the founders of the English Football League and have won the top division three times along with four FA Cups. After some testing years Wolves have undergone a resurgence under owners Fosun, although they have churned out some wretched displays this season as progress has stuttered.

Among the city’s famous sons and daughters are Wolves legend Bully, who was born just over the border in Tipton, and actress and musician Beverley Knight.

Former One Direction star Liam Payne is Wolverhampton-born, as is former cycling world champion and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Hugh Porter. Author and journalist Sathnam Sanghera and Olympic gymnast Kristian Thomas were also brought up in the city.

Future prospects

The city is going through its biggest period of regeneration in decades. The railway station has been revamped and connected to the Metro line across the city centre.

New office buildings have sprouted up as part of the Interchange scheme, and the city’s university continues to expand. The city landed a major coup with the announcement that a government department is due to move a headquarters there this year.

The Civic halls finally appear to be on track to open in 2022 and now have top venue operator AEG Presents on board to run shows.

Much of the work has continued throughout the pandemic, and more is to follow following a successful bid for Government Towns Fund cash. The city centre has suffered a number of blows in recent times, most notably the closure of Beatties, which is now set to become more than 300 flats.

Debenhams in the Mander Centre shut down after just three years, although it has now been replaced by Frasers. A lot of the city’s future hopes are pinned on the the Westside development getting off the ground.

Talks with cinema operator Odeon were put on hold before Christmas, leading some to speculate that the whole project may be dead in the water.

Council chiefs have bold plans including a huge pedestrianised area, new top class hotels and a ‘football quarter’ featuring an expanded Molineux, but all of it could well hinge on Westside not suffering a similar fate to Summer Row.

Tories searching for gains in Labour stronghold

Labour has now controlled Wolverhampton Council for the past decade, and it would be a major upset if the party were to relinquish its hold on power this year.

Led by Councillor Ian Brookfield, who took over when Roger Lawrence stood down in 2019, Labour currently holds 44 seats, with the Conservatives on 10.

Councillor Harman Banger, the city's former cabinet member for economy, is currently an independent after he was suspended by Labour last July.

The last time these seats were contested was 2016, when Labour won 18 of the 20 seats. At that election, every seat was held by the party that had won it the previous time.

Such an outcome appears unlikely this year, with the city having undergone a number of political changes over the period.

Wolverhampton now has two Conservative MPs for the first time in decades as support for Boris Johnson's party surged across the West Midlands.

Council leader Councillor Ian Brookfield.

Even the one seat traditionally thought of as a Labour stronghold came close to falling, with Pat McFadden seeing his majority plummet in Wolverhampton South East amid a Brexit backlash.

The Tories gained a councillor after the local elections in 2019, when Bilston East's Payal Bedi-Chadha defected from Labour, calling her old party "backward".

It all means that while Labour will surely retain power after this year's poll, the Tories, led by Councillor Wendy Thompson, will be hopeful of gaining seats and swelling the opposition numbers in the chamber.

Penn and Merry Hill are both in their cross hairs, while Bushbury North and Wednesfield North are also likely to be considered realistic targets.

The Lib Dems have not won a seat in a city election since 2012 and the Greens have never held a seat on the council. Both will be hoping to gain representation this time around.

All eyes will be on the Labour group in the weeks after the election.

It is possible that there could be a challenge against Councillor Brookfield's leadership, although as things stand, it is hard to see any opposing candidate gaining enough support to topple the current leader.

What to look out for

A third of the council's 60 seats are up for grabs, but there are also elections for a number of vacant seats this year.

In Bushbury South and Low Hill candidates will contest the seat vacated after the death of long-standing Labour councillor and former Mayor Pete Bilson.

Two seats are up for grabs in Heath Town after Labour's Caroline Siarkiewicz resigned due to work commitments. She has been replaced by Jaspreet Jaspal, the daughter-in-law of the ward's two current councillors Milkinder and Jasbir Jaspal.

With Jasbir – the cabinet member for public health and wellbeing – defending her seat this year, Health Town could become the first city ward to be represented by three members of the same family.

A by-election will also take place in Tettenhall Wightwick after Jane Stevenson MP stood down to focus on her parliamentary duties, while in Bushbury North voters will elect a successor to Labour's Hazel Malcolm, who forfeited her seat after failing to attend any meetings for six months.

A seat is also vacant in Blakenhall, after long-serving councillor John Rowley stood down due to ill health.

Former council leader Roger Lawrence is standing down in St Peter's after serving the authority for nearly four decades.

Roger Lawrence is standing down.

Council leader Ian Brookfield, who has represented Fallings Park since 2012, is attempting to move over to one of the city's safest Labour seats in Bushbury South and Low Hill.

The city's current Mayor, former Lib Dem councillor Claire Darke, is defending her Park seat for Labour, while her son Walker Darke is bidding to get elected in Tettenhall Wightwick where he is standing alongside fellow former city youth parliament member Kashmire Hawker.

Ranjit Dhillon, wife of Penn councillor Paul Singh, is standing for the Conservatives in Fallings Park.

Payal Bedi-Chadha has stood down in Bilston East, with Chris Thompson – husband of city Tory leader Wendy Thompson – taking her place as a candidate.

A number of former councillors are bidding for a return to the Civic Centre.

Ex-Labour councillor Zahid Shah – who famously attempted to rap his way into power in 2015 – is back to stand for the Tories in St Peter's.

And Tersaim Singh, who appeared to have waved farewell to his political career when he was deselected by Labour in 2018, has got back on the ticket in Blakenhall.

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