With only a cursory glance at the results of the Staffordshire Moorlands constituency since its creation in 1983, it would be possible to suggest that it is a bellwether seat taken by whichever party wins the general election: Conservative (David Knox MP) from 1983 to 1997, Labour (Charlotte Atkins) 1997-2010 and Tory again (Karen Bradley, who reached the dizzy heights of Cabinet rank for a while) since 2010. However this would be to omit consideration of some factors that influence the status of Staffordshire Moorlands as now a safe Conservative seat, which they would almost certainly retain even if Labour to win a general election. For example, there were significant boundary changes in 1997 and 2010 which first helped, then hindered Labour. Between these years, some fairly strongly Labour-leaning northern wards of the borough of Newcastle under Lyme were included, in particular 19,000 electors covering the town of Kidsgrove, which was switched back into the Stoke on Trent North constituency in the latter year. After 2010 there was still one Newcastle ward in Moorlands, but it was the small and rural Newchapel, while the largely middle class and commuting ward of Brown Edge and Endon was moved back into the Staffordshire Moorlands seat. These changes made Karen Bradley’s task in regaining this seat in 2010 easier by several thousand votes, and are one of the factors which helped her to a majority 16,428 (37.2%) in 2019. Moorlands is the northernmost seat in the county, bordering Cheshire and Derbyshire’s Peak District. Some of the finest countryside in the North Midlands is situated here – much of Dovedale and many other Peak District dales, as well as the Manifold Valley, much of which has the aspect of a wooded gorge between rocky crags, such as that containing Thor’s Cave. It stretches as far as the little market town of Longnor, high in the hills near Buxton in Derbyshire’s High Peak constituency (as it happens, Karen Bradley grew up in Buxton where her father was a very well known publican as the landlord of the Queen’s Head on High Street). The rugged hill farmers of the high moors and the dairy farms of the gentler slopes produce a solid Conservative vote. The terrain becomes more competitive for Labour as one moves towards the Potteries: Biddulph resembles Kidsgrove and shares a common ex-mining tradition, for example. The main town, Leek, has a history of marginality, true to its industrial background – in some ways it looks and behaves like the southernmost Pennine textile town, with prominent converted former mills. There was a constituency called Leek from 1885 to 1983, which returned Labour members from as early as 1918 to 1931, and again from 1935 right through to 1970, but its boundaries were more similar to Moorlands’ 1997-2010 version, including Kidsgrove. We should mention here the ‘Povey factor’. Steve Povey, who had founded a successful oatcake business (a local speciality, if not exactly a delicacy) stood for UKIP in the 2005 and 2010 elections, obtaining a respectable vote and saving his deposit both times, as well as being elected to the Staffordshire Moorlands council on several occasions between 2003 and 2011 for the most working class Leek ward, North, before his death later in 2011. It is hard to prove if the Povey vote in parliamentary elections weakened any particular party, and one thing it does reflect: this is a Eurosceptic seat, with a Brexit vote of around 66%. That undoubtedly is another factor in the strengthening of the Conservative position in the Staffordshire Moorlands seat in the last decade, as their share has increased each time by around a solid 6 or 7 per cent, from 45.2% in 2010 to a very strong 64.5% in 2019. Moorlands is now the 264th most marginal Conservative seat, or only about 100 from the safest. That transition to safety is not a function of boundary changes, not least because Stoke on Trent North, the seat with which Kidsgrove has been shuttled, fell in 2019 to the long term Tory surge here. This is a sub-region which has dramatically moved rightwards, perhaps most of all because the Labour party has been seen to move away from its traditional supporters round here. It is not the demographics of Staffordshire Moorlands that have changed. 98.7% white, it is in the top 30 seats in that category. The age profile is well skewed to the over 45s. It ranks 39th in the list for self-identified Christians. It is in the top 100 for employment in agriculture but also for employment in industry, both being rather ‘old-fashioned’. It is as high as 15th for all owner-occupied and 13th for owned outright. None of this sounds very much like the latest incarnations of the Labour party.
Owner-occupied 79.7% 15/650 Private rented 9.9% 581 Social rented 8.8% 614 White 98.7% 30 Black 0.1% 616 Asian 0.5% 631 Managerial & professional 30.0% Routine & Semi-routine 27.8% Degree level 24.1% 375 No qualifications 26.6% 193 Students 5.7% 547 Age 65+ 21.2% 82
General election 2019: Staffordshire Moorlands
Conservative Karen Bradley 28,192 64.5 + 6.4 Labour Darren Price 11,764 26.9 - 6.9 Liberal Democrats Andrew Gant 2,469 5.7 + 2.3 Green Douglas Rouxel 1,231 2.8 + 1.6