Opinion: Rivers of blue in South Yorkshire

The general election rush is over and the dust of the ‘red walls’ collapse in the North is beginning to settle. This gives some breathing space to reflect on Labour’s failures in South Yorkshire. But is it really a shock that it did?

You could write a book, and I am sure many will be written, about where the Labour party went wrong in this election.

Was it Labour’s position, or lack of position, on Brexit? Anti-semitism? Corbyn? The weather?

The national debate has been raging on since last Thursday. However, the focus has very much on those traditional Northern seats which had considerable voter losses, including those in South Yorkshire.

Rother Valley is the most interesting study of one of those Labour ‘heartland’ seats which has blue blood for the first time. The seat now has their first-ever Conservative MP, Alexander Stafford, in 101 years.

For a seat that was the location of the pivotal ‘Battle of Orgreave’ during the miners’ strike in 1984, it seems absurd the seat now has a 12.97% Conservative majority.

Then you look at the data and it begins to make sense. In 2016, 66.72% of Rother Valley voted to leave the EU. In 2015, 28.08% voted for UKIP, and last Thursday 12.86% voted for the Brexit party. Even in the 2017 election the Labour stalwart, Sir Kevin Barron, who stood down for the 2019 election, only had a small majority of 7.84%.

The combined UKIP and Conservative vote in 2015 makes a comfortable 51.36% of the electorate in favour of parties advocating for a Brexit referendum. If you combine the Conservative and Brexit Party vote last Thursday there is only a 6% increase from 2015, to 57.97%.

Although UKIP and the Brexit party lines aren’t twins, they are definitely siblings in their populist and nationalist policy on the EU. After UKIP’s collapse in the 2017 election, the obvious choice was to follow the leader, Nigel Farage, to the Brexit party.

Rother Valley was also one of the last constituencies Jeremy Corbyn visited on the campaign trail, in an attempt to swing the seat against the polls and back into the red. During his speech to campaigners holding “Justice or Orgreave” banners, he spoke to The Yorkshire Post about his line on Brexit:

“There is nothing wishy-washy about a policy that wants to bring people together. It is actually serious politics to say I don’t represent 48 per cent, I don’t represent 52 per cent, I represent the wishes of all people.”

So has the vote for the Conservatives increased, or is it all just a vote for a clear line on Brexit? It would seem not much has changed at all, and that the Conservative majority was inevitable in seats like Rother Valley.

Similarly in Penistone and Stocksbridge, where the Labour vote dropped by 12.53%, the Tory majority went to Miriam Cates.

Look familiar? Again, we see that strong UKIP vote in 2015, which resurges in the Conservative and Brexit Party vote.

The extreme flooding in Yorkshire fell right at the start of the campaign, with commentators saying that it would go in Labour’s favour. Interviews with the severely affected residents of the Don Valley seemed to show a complete apathy for Boris Johnson’s attempts to help. Corbyn, on the other hand, visited the area multiple times to show support. The election data seems unaffected by any of this, with a 17.78% fall in the Labour vote.

Looking next to the seats in South Yorkshire where Labour kept the majority but saw a significant drop in votes, the similarities in the voting patterns continue, like Barnsley Central.

Although the Conservative vote actually saw a decrease of 5.06% in the seat, the Brexit party slammed down 30.37% of the vote and, you guessed it, they voted 68.19% in favour of Brexit.

Similarly, in Wentworth and Dearne, which voted 70.28% in favour of Leave, there was a huge 25.06% loss in the Labour vote last week. Again, we see that the combined Tory and Brexit Party vote last week matching the combined Tory and UKIP vote in 2015.

The final seat to keep in mind is Ed Milliband’s supposed Labour stronghold, Doncaster North. Our team reported on his dramatic 22.09% loss in votes last week but were unable to interview him as he left at speed once the disappointing results were announced.

The UKIP vote in 2015 and the Brexit vote in 2019 match up almost perfectly, unsurprisingly as the constituency voted 71.65% in favour of leaving the EU.

Corbyn’s campaign line was ‘For the many, not the few’, but the voting data shows the ‘many’ in South Yorkshire wanted Brexit in 2016 and that isn’t changing anytime soon.

This general election has shown that assumptions of voters politics in South Yorkshire was a dangerous game, which Labour lost.

Although the Brexit party only received 2.18% of the national vote last week. Across South Yorkshire, they received 4 times that at just under 8% of the total vote.

The big test will be that once we do leave the EU if these pro-Brexit voters will stay with on populist lines, or shift their alliances.

With a strong majority and the Brexit bill being tabled this week, only time will tell if the Conservative party will keep its firm grasp on South Yorkshire.

Sources: BBC, PA Media, YouGov, Democratic Dashboard