Analysing what Labour's clean-sweep in Stoke-on-Trent means for city politics

Labour winning all three seats in Stoke-on-Trent would not have been particularly newsworthy a decade ago. The party had won every single parliamentary election in the Potteries from 1950 - when the three modern Stoke-on-Trent seats were created - all the way up to the 2010s.

But that came to an end in 2017, when a Conservative, Jack Brereton, won Stoke-on-Trent South for the first time in history. This was followed by further Tory gains in Stoke-on-Trent North and Stoke-on-Trent Central, as well as across the North and Midlands, in the general election two years later.

After the Conservatives' landslide win in 2019, Stoke-on-Trent, previously labelled the 'Brexit capital of Britain', now became the symbol of the so-called Red Wall's collapse, and the jewel in the crown of Boris Johnson's levelling up agenda. Now, less than five years later, the political winds in the Potteries appear to be blowing in the complete opposite direction.

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As Keir Starmer's party secured an historic landslide victory in Thursday's general election, Labour won all three seats in Stoke-on-Trent, seemingly returning the city's political map to its pre-2017 status quo. This came a year after Labour took back control of Stoke-on-Trent City Council for the first time since 2015.

But it would be very wrong to think that a Labour clean sweep means that Stoke-on-Trent has become a solid Labour heartland again, as the election results tell a very different story. While Labour candidates in Stoke-on-Trent North and South saw modest increases in their vote share compared to 2019, the really big change was the collapse in the Conservative vote - a trend that was replicated across the country.

For example, in Stoke-on-Trent South, while Labour's share of the vote went up from 33.7 per cent to 34.7 per cent, Mr Brereton's almost halved from 62.2 per cent to 33.2 per cent. And the Conservative's decline in Stoke-on-Trent coincided with a surge from Nigel Farage's Reform UK - the two parties' combined votes exceeded Labour's in Stoke-on-Trent North and South.

So there is still strong support for right-leaning politics in Stoke-on-Trent - it's just that this support was split between two parties, which benefited Labour. This political volatility means that nothing can be taken for granted in Stoke-on-Trent any more - there has been no return to the 20th century status quo.

Gareth Snell, who won back the Stoke-on-Trent Central seat he lost in 2019, despite securing a slightly smaller vote share this time, believes that Labour now has to deliver for local people in order to hold on to the city in future elections.

He said: "We've got to deliver on our promises. We've made some clear commitments and promises as to what we would do as a government. My job, and everyone else's job as Labour MPs, is now to ensure that that is going to happen. We've got to make sure that people have better lives at the next election than what they have now. It's a dereliction of duty for any government to leave people worse off then when you found them."

Mr Snell believes that Labour can win over the Reform UK voters in Stoke-on-Trent Central over the next five years

He added: "Those are 8,000 people who chose not to vote Labour. Those are 8,000 people I now want to engage with properly, listen to, work with, and hopefully earn their trust for the next election. I think they're worried about a political system that they think doesn't work with.

"They are a group of people who feel let down by 14 years of corrupt and divisive Conservative government, and were not willing to put their faith in the Labour Party. We have to listen to them and work out why that is, and work accordingly to win their trust at the next election."

But the growing Reform UK contingent in Stoke-on-Trent say they are not going anywhere, and believe they can build on their electoral success in the Potteries in future. Reform candidate Karl Beresford came a close third in Stoke-on-Trent North, less than 700 votes behind second place Jonathan Gullis. He thinks that Labour voters are more likely to switch to Reform, rather than the other way around.

Mr Beresford said: "The voters that have voted for Labour at this election, when it transpires that the magic money tree isn't there, they're going to realise that they've made a mistake. Anybody that is 32 years and younger has never worked through a Labour government. So they've never had to pay the taxes or put up with all the other problems of a Labour government. They're going to have that gift bestowed upon them today.

"This is our first election. We're now organising and preparing for the next one. We will be coming back harder and stronger than we have done this year. We have a lot of activists in Stoke-on-Trent and it's growing all the time. I've got hundreds and hundreds of members in the constituency who get email updates from the party."

If Stoke-on-Trent was a symbol of the Conservatives taking over former Labour strongholds, few politicians symbolised that change more than Jonathan Gullis, the firebrand MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, who quickly gained a reputation as an outspoken cheerleader for Brexit and levelling up after winning his seat in 2019. And so it was always likely that his defeat in Stoke-on-Trent North would be held up by his political opponents as being symbolic of the Conservatives' historic collapse in 2024 - left-wing social media was predictably giddy with joy when the Stoke-on-Trent North result was announced.

Mr Gullis, while accepting the verdict of the electorate, remained proud of his record as MP, saying that by being so vocal about Stoke-on-Trent and Kidsgrove, he helped bring attention - and levelling up cash - to a previously neglected area. He said he hoped that Stoke-on-Trent North's newly elected Labour MP David Williams would continue in that tradition.

Mr Gullis said: "I actually think what I did was say what people say on the street, in the pubs, on their social media - I was a voice for them in Westminster. I actually had that repeated back to me numerous times on doorsteps. People felt that they finally had a voice who wasn't scared to say what they thought in Westminster and was willing to challenge the establishment, to challenge the metropolitan liberal world view, and I think that was really important for communities like Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke.

"When David said on stage that he wants to continue being a strong voice for our community, I really hope he means that, and I really hope he delivers that. And I will be egging him on to do that."

Beyond Labour, Conservatives and Reform UK, the smaller parties and independents struggled to make any real impression in Stoke-on-Trent's three seats, as has often been the case in recent elections.

Pro-Gaza independent Navid Kaleem was the only one who managed to save his £500 deposit by getting more than five per cent of the vote - he came fourth in Stoke-on-Trent Central with 2,281 votes (6.46 per cent). Many of these votes would have come from people who previously backed Labour, but there were not enough of them to cause Mr Snell any serious problems.

Perennial Green candidate Adam Colclough narrowly missed out on saving his deposit, after getting 4.8 per cent of the vote in Stoke-on-Trent Central. This was still the Greens' best ever result in Stoke-on-Trent, by some distance, reflecting the party's performance nationally.

So as the dust settles on the 2024 general election, it looks likely that the next elections in Stoke-on-Trent will be three-way fights between Labour, the Conservatives and Reform. But as the last five years have shown, this situation could easily change to something quite different by the time we get to the next general election.

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