Adam Allcroft is the Campaign officer for the Penistone and Stocksbridge Conservatives and a former candidate for the Sheffield City Council elections.
When the Yorkshire Evening Post journalist Max Williams coined the term ‘The People’s Republic of South Yorkshire’ back in the 1980s, no one would really disagree with him.
At the time Sheffield City Council tended to follow what the famously socialist Liverpool City Council and the Ken Livingstone-led Greater London Council was doing, and it would become the epicentre of the miner’s strike, with many people still talking and reeling from that event to this day.
And really, you can’t even dismiss the term in 2017. The only Conservative seat in the region, Sheffield Hallam, was lost in 1997 and it’s never even looked like it would go blue again since. Following on from that, Sheffield has no Conservative representation in the council, with the Liberal Democrats dominating areas that were once blue.
There are some blues out there, the likes of Penistone in Barnsley and Finningley in Doncaster tends to return conservatives, but there has been no reason to believe that this is an area that could ever look good for us.
It would end up becoming a cultural thing, the idea you couldn’t be a proud South Yorkshireman and also be a Conservative. While there are many of us that would proudly state their political beliefs and say why the Tories are the best option for the region, many are worried about admitting it to their friends and family.
It all created this toxic atmosphere where it was hard to campaign here, and this allowed Labour’s power in the region to continue without opposition. There have been breaks from this – Doncaster once had an independent mayor, and the Liberal Democrats did have control of Sheffield City Council for a while – but it is a struggle to show there is another choice when the miner’s strike remains a doorstep issue for some.
But even though June 8th was a miserable night for most of us, there is now a belief that there is a revival starting to happen in South Yorkshire.
There were disappointments. We had three target seats in the shape of Penistone and Stocksbridge, Rother Valley and Don Valley and didn’t gain any of them. But we had a swing in every single seat in the region. They were strongest in those targets of course (Bethan Eddy in Rother Valley swung the seat 17 per cent in our favour), but it was in the safe seats where there was a lot to be heartened by.
Just look at Rotherham, a place where the Conservatives came close to losing their deposit in 2012 and finished behind the Repect party of all things. The election saw us get a swing of 14.1 per cent and move from a distant to third into second place.
This is the case across the county in seats like Doncaster Central, Wentworth and Dearne, and Sheffield South East. All saw big swings to us, often outstripping the swing the Labour candidate was getting. In 2015, the Conservatives only finished 2nd in two of the 14 constituencies in the region. In 2017, it was all but one – ironically the one we held 20 years ago.
And on the doorstep, you got the feeling that things were turning. We did feel like the target seats were winnable because lifelong Labour voters were switching to us. They seemed shocked saying that they would vote Conservative, but they were saying it.
At the start of the campaign, they liked Theresa May and while it is the popular thing to criticise her now, we were told by many they were voting for her rather than the party. She was a much easier sell than David Cameron was.
And of course I do have to mention the UKIP effect. The party grew very strong over the last few years as there was an anti-EU feeling in the region, as shown by the huge votes for Brexit in the referendum last year. But that doesn’t explain all the vote coming to us. Sheffield Hallam voted for remain, yet our vote dramatically rose there. We clearly got votes from all the parties and not just UKIP.
There are still huge obstacles though. Those cultural issues still exist, even if they are starting to lessen. Even though Penistone and Stocksbridge is now a tight marginal of just 1,300 votes, people there constantly told us they might not be bothered to vote for us as they didn’t feel we could win.
And you’d have thought the same driving through the area as while there were many signs for Angela Smith, the sitting Labour MP, there were barely any for the Conservatives. Many were scared to put them up because they feared they would have their windows put in and I worry that fear has increased because of the reports of vandalism in other regions of the country.
But for the Conservatives to win South Yorkshire, we just need to carry on working hard and putting out our policies, because they like them. The people here are becoming more and more frustrated at the council tax being increased year after year while Labour add more members to their cabinet and head off to Cannes, and there has been a backlash against Sheffield City Council over the removal of historic trees in Ecclesall and especially their Stasi-style tactics for dealing with protesters.
The biggest thing we need though is a big win to show that the Conservatives are a presence in South Yorkshire and not just outsiders looking in.