Cllr Simon Ball is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Rotherham Council.
One of the most under-reported stories of the 2021 local election was Rotherham Conservatives going from zero to 20 council seats, coming just 52 votes from depriving Labour of their majority in an area that has been under their control since time immemorial.
The undercurrent of change was already strong. In 2019, Alexander Stafford had a stunning victory in Rother Valley, which encompasses the southern parts of Rotherham borough, ending 101 years of Labour rule, in a parliamentary seat which was Labour’s safest in the country in 1974.
In recent months, the council chamber has seen a noticeable cockiness from our Labour counterparts, who believed that the national opinion polls were indicating that our Rotherham surge had just been a blip.
Then came the Dinnington by-election in July this year. Labour’s over-confidence saw their parliamentary candidate posing with Churchillian “V-signs” as he paraded through the streets, with lots of bluster about Tories turning in their droves to Labour. Angela Rayner and Bridget Philipson joined the charade. Labour produced leaflet after leaflet attacking the national government and ignored local issues.
The result was our fantastic Conservative candidate, Julz Hall, not only beating Labour but increasing our numerical majority five-fold while obtaining the highest vote share ever for a Tory in this former colliery town. The Red Wall remained solidly standing, showing Conservatives across the former coal belt that we are retaining confidence in areas where we have a proven track record of delivery and where we have a positive agenda.
The reality on the ground is that the residents of Dinnington and the rest of Rotherham aren’t as forgetful as Labour would like us to believe. Residents know that for the past five decades Rotherham Labour has systematically failed to deliver for our area, from safeguarding our children, to putting in place the infrastructure needed for their homebuilding plans. Outside of Rotherham town centre, investment has been minimal, and before the Levelling Up Agenda, Labour had no plans for any community outside of the urban core.
The council has increasingly become officer-led as Rotherham Labour has become bereft of talent and the ideas needed to revitalise our towns and villages. They are stuck in a rut in which they offer nothing other than endless debate in the council chamber about national government policies on immigration, coal mining, the welfare state, and waterways. None of them are seemingly interested in the day-to-day running of local government and policy delivery, instead, they are political activists who spend their time campaigning against national government, while failing the local community.
In my own Ward of Hellaby and Maltby West, which takes in part of another of Rotherham’s former colliery towns, I am continually thanked by residents for being visible and out in the community. Time and time again residents say they have never seen or heard from their previous Labour councillors, the exception; when one of them infamously made the cover of The Times for being forced to resign from the Cabinet in the wake of the Casey Report into the grooming gang scandal.
My Conservative councillor colleagues are not taking anything for granted, and we continue to work hard and continue to outline our positive future vision and strategy for the whole borough. We are outlining how we will end decades of Labour waste – and focus on delivery of core services. We will stop the tens of millions wasted on Labour councillor’s pet projects and instead invest in our communities, parks, and roads, which for decades have been left to decline.
We are listening to businesses on how we will be able to support them best, rather than continuing Labour’s top-down approach of thinking they know best, which has led to the decimation of our High Streets.
We have all-out elections next year and we relish the prospect of continuing and strengthening the now growing blue wall within Rother Valley and Rotherham.