RESURGENT Rotherham Conservatives trail the ruling Labour group by just three seats as we enter the latter half of the RMBC election results weekend.
Emily Barley became the first Tory on Rotherham Council in five years after Chris Middleton lost his place days before he was set to become mayor in 2016.
She proved that every vote counts – beating scrutiny chairman Brian Steele by one to kick off an afternoon which saw the Conservatives gain 15 seats.
As their victories were confirmed at Magna yesterday, successful Conservative candidates cited the Stafford Effect – a swell of support for the party in the wake of MP Alexander Stafford’s red wall-breaking capture of Rother Valley at the 2019 general election.
Cllr Barley said: “There’s a blue wave coming as the red wall crumbles. It started with Alexander and we’re building on that here today.
“We’ve been door-knocking and we’re listening to what people care about, the bread and butter issues. I'm the first of the day but I'm sure I won't be the last."
That prediction certainly rang true.
Even Conservative members admit there was a time within the past decade when they wondered if they could ever again be a force on Rotherham Council.
But there were clean sweeps yesterday in wards like Dinnington, where they unseated RMBC deputy leader Gordon Watson and mayoress Jeanette Mallinder.
Mr Watson said the split progressive vote had allowed the Tories to take Dinnington. He drew comparison with the factions fighting each other rather than focusing on Franco in the Spanish Civil War.
And defeated independent candidate Jean Hart was angry that she did not see two of the three winning Tories present as the vote was declared.
In Thurcroft & Wickersley South, the Conservatives beat Rotherham Democratic Party’s John Turner and Brian Cutts – both former Tory councillors themselves.
Tom Singleton, one of the ward’s new members, said: “I was raised in Thurcroft and I’m looking forward to giving something back.”
Two Sitwell seats turned Tory as RDP leader Allen Cowles lost out. Tony Griffin took the ward’s third seat – a first success there for Labour in 24 years and one which could yet prove crucial by the end of today’s tally.
Ian Jones and Paul Hague were the only RDP members to gain seats, while Liberal Democrat husband and wife duo Adam and Charlotte Carter took Brinsworth at the expense of former mayor Alan Buckley.
Will the Lib Dems take part in committee and scrutiny meetings this time around?
"We'll see," said Cllr Adam Carter.
Labour racked up 18 of yesterday’s 37 seats, but the Tories had been optimistic in predicting double figures by the day’s end and were delighted with the half-time haul of 15.
So, to today.
The morning session has 12 seats up for grabs in wards Labour know very well.
Rawmarsh has seen some big battles between the ruling group and UKIP, since Caven Vines became the anti-EU party’s first elected member in Rotherham in a 2013 by-election.
The collapse of the vote for UKIP successors RDP suggests Labour should be safe in the two Rawmarsh wards, but nothing is certain. Planning board chairman Cllr Dave Sheppard is among those fighting for Labour.
The Tories will have a more than passive interest in Aughton & Swallownest and Hellaby & Maltby West, where former mayor Lyndsay Pitchley and current mayor Jenny Andrews will be in their sights.
Dalton & Thrybergh is tipped to return one Labour member along with Michael Sylvester, who could end up as the sole independent among RMBC’s final 59 members.
The afternoon session will deliver the final ten seats, with a Labour pedigree but Conservative interest in the likes of Rother Vale and Maltby East.
It’s still all to play for, which is something that’s not often been said at the halfway stage of a Rotherham Council election.
SUNDAY - ALL WARDS TO RETURN TWO SEATS
SESSION THREE (10am count)
AUGHTON & SWALLOWNEST
DALTON & THRYBERGH
HELLABY & MALTBY WEST
KILNHURST & SWINTON EAST
SESSION FOUR (1pm approx)