Penistone and Stocksbridge has recently seen its first Independent Group, Change UK and Liberal Democrat MP, but with Angela Smith (who was initially elected for Labour) moving on to fight for a seat elsewhere, we may now be about to see its first Conservative MP as well. Miriam Cates is bidding to be the first Conservative MP in South Yorkshire since 1997 and the first Conservative MP representing Penistone since 1935.
Cates is a local parish councillor who has campaigned on a number of issues in the area. She had the (perhaps dubious) honour of sitting next to the Prime Minister at the Conservative Party conference, and Boris Johnson also visited Cates in the constituency last month. CCHQ is very much aware that, with a Labour majority of just 1,322 at the last election, this is the sort of seat the Conservatives need to win to have any hope of a majority.
The seat will be a two-horse race between Cates and the new Labour candidate, Francyne Johnson, a youth and community worker and local councillor. Cates will be hoping that the UKIP vote, which the Conservatives mopped up in 2017, abandons them in favour of the Brexit Party. But she will also be buoyed by Labour’s unpopular Brexit stance, in an area which voted leave by over 60%.
The Labour ground movement in the area is still a force to be reckoned with however, with strong Labour support able to be drafted in from both Sheffield and Barnsley, as well as the two Sheffield universities contributing plenty of student activists. Despite employing various campaign managers over the last few years, the Conservative’s ground network is still vastly outnumbered.
A Labour heartland is in the balance.