Labour showed it can be done on a cold, rainy Thursday night in Stoke

Fresh from the local elections, Open Labour National Committee member Lauren Davison provides an insightful account of Labour’s remarkable triumph in Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Amidst a slew of local elections up and down the country last Thursday, one local authority was given unprecedented levels of media attention – Stoke-on-Trent City Council. And for good reason. 

 The archetypal “red wall” city that between 2017 and 2019 lost all 3 of its Labour MPs and had been Tory-led (with the help of Independents) since 2015, it was at the top of Starmer’s list of councils to win. The Party did just that. 

With 29 Labour Councillors returned on the night, a total collapse of the Independents, and the Tories in disarray, by all accounts it was a successful night – certainly more so than local activists like myself had dared to hope for. I’ll admit, whilst I believed in our local offering and our wonderful candidates, I was worried that national issues may overshadow us. With a particularly divisive brand of politics on display by a certain Tory MP in the city, I was concerned. But those fears didn’t come to fruition – and we romped home.

On the ground

I stood in Hanford, Newstead and Trentham, alongside 2 other brilliant Labour candidates. It was one of the safest Tory wards in the city – with pockets of wealth and equally, pockets of deprivation. Our highest polling Labour candidate earned approx. 450 votes in 2019 – he stood again this year and got around 3x that. 

 Of the 29 seats we won, personal highlights were seeing us take back Sandford Hill and Ford Green & Smallthorne – 2 seats we lost when the sitting Labour Councillors defected to the Tories. Equally, seeing my friend Finlay Gordon-McCusker get elected in Hollybush, defeating the Tory incumbent was brilliant. It’s key that we get more young people involved in local politics, and I know Fin will inspire others to take that step. 

 We ran a campaign which highlighted 8 years of Conservative failures. Failure to level up. Failure to do the basic stuff which residents rightly expect from their Council. Fix potholes. Protect the vulnerable. Safeguard our heritage buildings and sculptures. Connect with the things that really matter to people on a day-to-day basis.

Instead, the Tory Council spent over £35million on car parks in a city centre that most residents don’t visit because the shops are shutting en-masse, people feel unsafe walking the streets, and the cost-of-living crisis has emptied their pockets.

People know a vanity project when they see one, and we highlighted the Tories’ extortionate spending to great effect. It cut through – it was rare to attend a canvass session where “that bloody carpark up Hanley” wasn’t mentioned at least once (sometimes with stronger language).

 The Tories of our city claimed they weren’t afraid to stand up to their party in Westminster. Yet they waved through cut after cut, and sycophantically fawned over hollow promises of “levelling up” every time a Tory Minister deigned to visit for half an hour for a photo opportunity on their way to Manchester.

“Proud of our past – ambitious for our future”

The above was our slogan in this campaign. And we meant it. We are proud of the rich, industrial heritage of our city – a heritage that must be protected, celebrated, and preserved for future generations. Unlike my Tory opposition, who was Deputy Leader of the Council, when he signed-off on the demolition of a much-loved statue of Josiah Wedgwood, saying “nothing lasts forever”, then denied it until he ran out of road, we will champion what makes our city great. All while we look ahead to the future and ensure our young people – the future of our city – have the opportunities, resources and living conditions that will allow them to thrive.

When government departments move jobs into the city, they should benefit local people – not just import Londoners to fill them. When young people want to get around the city, they should be able to rely on a cheap, efficient, and accessible bus network. When our residents walk the streets of their neighbourhood, they should feel safe and not be confronted with antisocial behaviour, fly-tipping and violent crime.

Credit needs to go to the hard-working party staff and agents who worked on the campaign, our brilliant candidates, Baroness Ruth Anderson (former MP for Stoke North), David Williams and Gareth Snell (our two PPCs for North and Central seats) and all our activists. And to the electorate who said enough is enough.

I’d like to give special mention to Cllr Jane Ashworth – leader of Stoke Labour Group – for the work she has done, helping to change perceptions of our party across the city under her stewardship. She is well-respected, has a reputation for being an honest broker and she will, above all, get things done. Residents are in good hands.

We cannot, however, rest on our laurels. We may have won the Council. But we’ve got 3 parliamentary seats to win back before we can truly say Stoke-on-Trent has come home to Labour. We will do everything in our power to win hearts and minds. After 13 years of Tory rule, lives of Stokies literally depend on it.

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