Chelmsley Wood is a large peripheral West Midlands estate, where I lived up to the age of 18 and on which I still spend a fair amount of time. It sits in the most deprived 10% of council wards, in a borough polarised by geography (broadly, south Solihull is rich, north Solihull is poor), and has a small ethnic minority population. The estate was built in the late 60s on greenbelt land during slum-clearance mania, and housed 60,000 people from all parts of Birmingham.
Until 2010, Labour had only ever lost one of the three council seats in the ward, and that was to the BNP in 2006. The far-right party won on a combination of low turnout, disillusionment with the then Labour government, and the willingness of just enough people to vote for a fascist party. Yet it was short-lived. The BNP’s councillor forgot to turn up to the first meeting of the council, and was summarily replaced in the 2010 local elections. But not by another Labour councillor.
What happened next in Chelmsley Wood demonstrates that being rightwing is not an inherent property of being working class and has significant lessons for all progressive politicians ahead of next week’s Stoke byelection.
In 2007 the Green party started canvassing in Chelmsley Wood for a council seat. Initially, their door knocking sessions were met with confusion: most potential voters never saw a local politician from one election to the next. The estate’s two remaining Labour councillors seemed to assume the Greens were…