“All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order”

Millions of words, acres of pixels and oceans of ink have already been expended on the 2017 general election. But you’ll find very little information about the downballot races: the by-election to the Scottish Parliament and the thirty-four local by-elections that are taking place in England and Wales on 8th June. This post seeks to change that, although with 34 polls to go through there is not the usual level of detail here that regular readers of Andrew’s Previews will be accustomed to. Read on…


Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire

Scottish Parliament; caused by the resignation of Conservative MSP John Lamont, who is seeking election to the House of Commons in the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency. He had served since 2007.

When it comes to tourism in Scotland, the Highlands and the cities get most of the attention. The Borders may not be able to compete with the Highlands for grandeur, but they do have a picturesqueness all their own, with their own unique history and charm, as well as being (for obvious reasons) better placed for English tourists. Rather like that other Borderland area, the Welsh Marches, the Scottish Borders are dominated by small towns: Eyemouth, Coldstream, Kelso, Jedburgh, Hawick, Selkirk.

What the Borders have never had is a large population, and certainly not a large enough population to sustain the administrative mess left here by the Middle Ages. In the seventy or so miles between Edinburgh and the Border there are no fewer than six traditional counties: Midlothian, East Lothian, Peeblesshire, Selkirkshire, Roxburghshire and Berwickshire. It says something about how the population has shifted here that Selkirk is no longer the largest town in its county (that’s Galashiels), Berwickshire no longer includes the town it lays claim to and Roxburgh, as a location, no longer exists at all. This patchwork of small counties has been a problem for redistributions of seats since Victorian times, and the solution has been a series of rather inelegant groupings of two or three of the old counties (or some approximation thereof) to form constituencies. The groupings tend to shift slightly with every redistribution, and the pairing of Roxburghshire with Berwickshire only dates from 1983.

Before 1983 there were two parliamentary constituencies covering this area. The Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles constituency had started off in 1955 as a Conservative seat, returning Unionist Charles Donaldson who had first been elected to the Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency in 1951. Donaldson had a safe seat and 1959 fought off challenges fom two other famous figures: former SNP figure John MacCormick, by now in the Liberal Party, and future Labour MP Tam Dalyell. In 1964 Donaldson had a larger scare against a young Liberal Party candidate called David Steel, whom he fought off by 1,739 votes, and future Labour MP Ronald Murray (Edinburgh Leith 1970-79 and Lord Advocate for much of that time, later Lord Murray). That boded ill when Charles Donaldson died less than two months after the 1964 election, forcing a by-election.

We all know what happened next. The 1965 Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles by-election was a famous Liberal gain for David Steel, who finished with a majority of 10.5% over the Tory candidate Robert McEwen. Steel had close calls in the next two elections – in 1966 he beat the Tory candidate Ian McIntyre, later controller of Radio 4, but 4.9%; in 1970 he fought off future Tory MP Russell Fairgrieve (West Aberdeenshire, 1974 (Feb)-1983) with a majority of just 550. After that it was plain sailing for Steel, although the Conservatives did put up one more future MP against him: their candidate in 1979 was the accident-prone Gerry Malone, who would go on to lose the 1982 Glasgow Hillhead by-election to Roy Jenkins, lose Aberdeen South in 1987 after one term and famously lose Winchester in 1997 after one term.

In the meantime Berwickshire had been paired with East Lothian to form a constituency since 1918 (before 1950 with the name Berwick and Haddington). Berwick and East Lothian was a key marginal parliamentary constituency which changed hands several times during this period. Its first MP was John Deans Hope, a chartered accountant who had first been elected in the 1900 Khaki election for West Fife. Hope lost his seat to Labour in the December 1910 election, but the following year returned to the Commons by winning the Haddingtonshire by-election after the War Secretary Richard Haldane, founder of the Territorial Army, was elevated to the peerage.

The 1918 election, and the creation of Berwick and Haddington, pitted the former Liberal MPs for the two counties against each other, putting Deans up against outgoing Berwickshire MP Harold Tennant, who had briefly been Scottish secretary under Asquith. Both candidates were on the ballot paper, but Deans had the coupon and won easily.

This was a time of great political flux, and this cannot be better illustrated than by the 1922 ballot paper in Berwick and Haddington which featured no fewer than three Liberal candidates. Hope, having been deselected, stood as an Independent Liberal: he finished last but saved his deposit. In third place was the official Liberal candidate Willian Henderson Pringle, a barrister and university lecturer. In second place was Robert Spence of Labour, who lost by 500 votes to the National Liberal candidate Walter Waring, a Boer War and Great War veteran who had been Liberal MP for Banffshire from 1907 to 1918 and for Blaydon from 1918 to 1922. It was a close race, and Waring’s winning score was just 32%.

A second general election was held just a year later, in which Waring was the unity Liberal candidate; but he finished in third place. The Conservatives, contesting the seat for the first time, came second with their candidate Lt-Col Chichester Crooksbank, but Crooksbank lost by just 68 votes to Robert Spence, who became the constituency’s first Labour MP. Spence didn’t have long to savour his victory, as again there was another general election within a year: the 1924 election returned Crooksbank with a decisive majority.

But Labour hadn’t finished with this seat. Crooksbank retired in 1929 (he would later serve as Conservative MP for Bootle from 1931 to 1935) and the Conservatives lost the seat to the new Labour candidate George Simkinson; the Liberal candidate in that election, the last Liberal in the seat for many years, was Sir James Greig, a barrister who had been MP for Western Renfrewshire from January 1910 to 1922.

Again Labour didn’t have long to savour their victory: the Tory landslide of 1931 and the Liberal withdrawal delivered a huge majority for Captain John McEwen, who had been a prisoner of war during the Great War before joining the Diplomatic Service. The laird of the eighteenth-century Marchmont House in Berwickshire, McEwen had several minor ministerial posts in the Chamberlain and Churchill administrations, and had an large family; one of his sons, Rory McEwen, was a well-known folk singer and artist of the 1960s.

Having been swept in by the Tory landslide of 1931, McEwen senior was swept away by the Labour landslide of 1945, losing by 3,157 votes to Labour’s John Robertson, who represented the seat throughout the Attlee governments. In 1950, the first election under the seat’s new name of Berwick and East Lothian, he saw off new Tory candidate William Anstruther-Gray by 1,728 votes despite the intervention of the Liberal candidate Antony Stodart (who later joined the Conservatives and was MP for Edinburgh West from 1959 to February 1974, and ended his days in the Lords). There was no Liberal intervention in 1951 and Robertson lost his seat to Anstruther-Gray.

Sir William Anstruther-Gray was another of the Tory MPs for Berwick and East Lothian with a military background: Eton, Christ Church Oxford, Coldstream Guards where he rose to the rank of Lieutanant. He left the Army in 1930 and the following year was elected as Conservative MP for North Lanarkshire, defeating Jennie Lee. During this time Anstruther-Gray rejoined the Coldstreams on the outbreak of war, ending the Second World War with the rank of Major and a Military Cross to his name, but that didn’t stop him losing his Lanarkshire seat in 1945. During his tenure as MP for Berwick and East Lothian he stayed on the backbenches, serving as a Deputy Speaker from 1959 to 1964 and as chairman of the 1922 Committee during the first Wilson parliament. He never had a safe seat here, winning by 2,358 at his first election in 1951; 2,710 in 1955, 2,850 in the Macmillan landslide of 1959 and just 625 in 1964 before losing his seat in the Wilson landslide of 1966. Anstruther-Gray was granted a peerage shortly afterwards and ended his days in the Lords as Lord Kilmany.

The new MP for Berwick and East Lothian was John Mackintosh, an advocate of devolution who during his time as MP became professor of politics at Edinburgh University. Again he did not have a safe seat: Mackintosh was re-elected in 1970 by 641 votes, but lost his seat against the national swing to the Conservatives in February 1974.

Mackintosh’s loss was to someone who would become one of the big beasts of the Conservative Party. Michael Kerr, generally known at this time as Michael Ancram from his courtesy title of Earl of Ancram, was 28 years old, heir to the Marquess of Lothian and a young barrister with a distinguished education: Ampleforth, Christ Church Oxford (where he was a member of the notorious Bullingdon Club) and Edinburgh. Ancram would later serve as MP for Edinburgh South (1979-87) and Devizes (1992-2010), taking various minor ministerial posts under Thatcher and Major. Hague promoted Ancram to the Shadow Cabinet where he was spokesman for constitutional affairs and then Conservative Party chairman; this didn’t stop him finishing last in the 2001 leadership election which produced Iain Duncan Smith, but IDS promoted Ancram to Shadow Foreign Secretary and Michael Howard kept him there. Ancram, who by now had succeeded to his father’s titles, retired from the frontbench on the election of David Cameron as party leader and retired from the Commons in 2010; he immediately entered the Lords by virtue of a life peerage, although he is referred to in House of Lords business as the Marquess of Lothian. Chief of the Clan Kerr, Lothian married within the aristocracy – his wife, Lady Herries, is a daughter of the Duke of Norfolk – and his daughter Lady Clare Kerr is married to the Tory MP Nick Hurd.

All this lay in the future, and when Ancram lost his seat back to Mackintosh in the October 1974 election after just eight months in office the future didn’t look quite so rosy for him. However, John Mackintosh suddenly died in 1978, a time when the Callaghan government was subsisting on little or no majority. The scene was set for a by-election in October 1978, just before the Winter of Discontent. Labour selected John Home Robertson, a 29-year-old farmer and Berwickshire district councillor, one of whose distant ancestors had been the last MP for Berwickshire in the pre-Union Scottish Parliament. The Tory candidate was Margaret Marshall. The Scottish National Party, starting from third place, selected party staffer, sociology lecturer and anti-war campaigner Isobel Lindsay over the wishes of the local party, and the Liberal candidate was Tam Glen. Lindsay and Glen lost their deposits, but Home Robertson increased the Labour majority to 3,112 votes; along with the Labour hold in the Pontefract and Castleford by-election on the same day, the Callaghan government was saved to fight another day. And we all know how that turned out.

Home Robertson was re-elected in 1979 with a reduced majority of 1,673, but now leaves our story; the redistribution of 1983 made East Lothian a seat of its own, and since essentially all the Labour vote in Berwick and East Lothian came out of East Lothian Home Robertson moved his political base there. A europhile and devolution campaigner who was one of only five Labour MPs to vote for the third reading of the Maastricht treaty, he remained MP for East Lothian until 2001 and served as MSP for the same seat from 1999 to 2007.

So, rather than East Lothian, the new Roxburgh and Berwickshire constituency created in 1983 took its cue from the old Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles seat. With Home Robertson moving to the new East Lothian seat and David Steel to the new seat of Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, the new seat was open and a contest developed between the Conservative MP Iain Sproat, who had done the chicken run from Aberdeen South which he had represented since 1970, and new Liberal candidate Archy Kirkwood, a solicitor from Hawick. The chicken run went wrong: not only did Sproat lose to Kirkwood, but his replacement in Aberdeen South (the aforementioned Gerry Malone) held that seat.

Kirkwood would go on to have a long parliamentary career, seeing off in 1987 future Tory MP, leadership candidate and globetrotter Liam Fox and in 1997 future Labour MSP Helen Eadie (Dunfermline East 1999-2011, Cowdenbeath 2011-13). He served as Lib Dem chief whip during the 1992 Parliament.

The Lib Dem strength in this area at the time carried forward to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, Euan Robson winning Roxburgh and Berwickshire easily over Conservative Alasdair Hutton, who had been MEP for the South of Scotland from 1979 to 1989 and was later involved in organising the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

The 2005 redistribution in Scotland reduced the number of constituencies in the Borders, creating a new seat of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk. Archy Kirkwood was translated to the Lords and replaced as Lib Dem candidate by his former researcher Michael Moore, a chartered accountant who had succeeded David Steel as MP for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale in 1997 but whose seat was being abolished. Moore won easily over the new Tory candidate John Lamont, a solicitor.

The first indication that not all was well for the Lib Dem machine in the Borders came in 2007 when Euan Robson lost the Holyrood seat of Roxburgh and Berwickshire to Lamont. Lamont stood again against Moore in 2010 to little effect, and Michael Moore, having gone back to his constituency and prepared for government, became Scottish secretary in the May 2010 reshuffle after the fall of David Laws from grace.

A year later Lamont was re-elected as Holyrood MSP for the redistributed seat of Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire with a large swing in his favour: Euan Robson dropped to third place behind the SNP’s Paul Wheelhouse, who was elected on the South Scotland list and since 2012 has served in the Scottish Government, since 2016 as business, innovation and energy minister.

The stage was set for John Lamont to have a third crack at the Westminster seat of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, for which he was a hot favourite given the collapse of the Liberal Democrats. Michael Moore, having been dropped from the frontbench in 2013 after a torrid time as Scottish secretary, lost more than half his vote and finished third, but it was the SNP’s Calum Kerr who came from fourth place to make the gain by 328 votes over Lamont – the smallest majority in any Scotland seat that year – in what appears to have been the peak for the Scottish nationalists. Kerr is on the SNP frontbench as environment spokesman, and is seeking re-election to Westminster.

What has happened in those intervening two years? In the 2016 Holyrood election Lamont was re-elected for a third term in Holyrood, beating the SNP by an increased majority of 55-32; the SNP candidate was again Paul Wheelhouse who was again elected from the South Scotland list.

Just five weeks ago the Scottish Borders council went to the polls, and it was more good news for the Conservatives who carried five of the constituency’s seven wards (namely the two Berwickshire wards, Kelso, Jedburgh and Selkirkshire; the two Hawick wards voted for independent candidates). The local elections were another triumph for the Conservatives, who polled 46% of the first preferences across the constituency to 24% for independents and 18% for the SNP; this was a PR election, but the Conservatives still came out with an overall majority of councillors in the seat, winning 11 seats to 5 for the SNP, 4 Independents and one Lib Dem (in Kelso). There is no overall majority for the Tories in the Scottish Borders as a whole (they are weaker in the four wards not in this seat, particularly so in Galashiels) but they have formed the administration with support from independents.

So, the omens are good for John Lamont, who has increased the Tory share in all six Holyrood or Westminster elections he has previously fought. He has resigned his Holyrood seat to concentrate on his Westminster campaign, so the stakes are high.

The stakes are also high for the new Tory Holyrood candidate Rachael Hamilton, an English-born agronomist who was elected to Holyrood from the regional list in 2016 (having come third in the East Lothian constituency) and became the Tory spokeswoman for tourism in their Holyrood group: Hamilton has resigned her seat on the list in order to contest this by-election. (Her list seat has been taken over by Michelle Ballantyne, councillor for Selkirkshire ward.)

The SNP candidate in the by-election is Gail Hendry, who (although it’s not obvious from the name) is Alex Salmond’s sister. She is a lecturer at Borders College and chairs the SNP’s Hawick branch.

For Holyrood the Lib Dems have selected Catriona Bhatia, who (although it’s not obvious from the name) is David Steel’s daughter; she is married to Rajiv Bhatia, director of a whisky company. Bhatia was a Scottish Borders councillor from 2003 to 2017, representing Peebles and District East ward from 2003 to 2007 and Tweeddale West ward from 2007 to 2017; she was depute leader of the council from 2012 to 2017 and in 2010 stood for Westminster as Lib Dem candidate for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. Completing an all-female ballot paper is Labour’s Sally Prentice, who was the Labour candidate for Kelso and District ward in May and polled 2.7%.

So, two high-profile resignations as the Conservative Party attempt to play musical chairs in their top Scottish target seat. We shall see on 8th June whether this represents confidence or hubris.

Parliamentary constituency: Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

May 2016 result C 18257 SNP 10521 LD 2551 Lab 1766
May 2011 result C 12933 SNP 7599 LD 4990 Lab 2986 Ind 308


Northern England

We now turn to local by-elections on 8th June. There is a definite Northern bias in the 34 polls on this list, with eight of them cropping up in the North West region and a further five in the Yorkshire and Humber region. The northernmost one is in a parliamentary seat which has already seen a famous by-election this year: Copeland. In the Newtown ward, one of three covering the town of Millom at the southern tip of what was once Cumberland, Ged McGrath defends for the Conservatives against Labour’s Angela Rayner in a ward which in 2015 split its representation between two Tories and one Labour candidate.

Moving south into Lancashire, the Liverpool outer commuterland of Aughton Park ward in West Lancashire, on the outskirts of Ormskirk, is normally a Tory monolith (West Lancashire district tends to be like that, with Tory monolith wards, Labour monolith wards and very little in between); although UKIP got within ten points of the Conservatives in 2014 their withdrawal from the fray should ensure a very easy hold for the Tories’ Doreen Stephenson. Meanwhile in Blackburn, Marsh House ward (see this column passim) is having its third by-election in seven months after two Labour councillors died at an early age and the winner of the second by-election turned out to have a job which disqualified him from being a Blackburn councillor; he is not standing again and Labour’s replacement candidate Matt Gibson is favoured to hold a by-election which, had the Labour selection been competent, wouldn’t have been taking place at all.

No fewer than four local by-elections take place in Greater Manchester. In the Tory target seat of Bury South, Radcliffe East ward is up; this is the old part of Radcliffe (if such a thing can be said to exist) around the Tower, running from the modern town centre to the east along Dumers Lane. This area was badly affected in the Boxing Day 2015 floods. Although the Tories won here in 2006 and 2008 this is in essence a safe Labour ward which should elect their candidate Karen Leach. In Salford there is a poll in Claremont ward, covering terraces old and less old in Irlams o’ th’ Height; this column will return to Claremont in more detail soon as there is a second by-election pending in the ward, but this was an area which was turned from Lib Dem to Labour by the Coalition, and with the Lib Dems having been wiped out in Salford Labour’s Neil Reynolds should have few problems. On the far side of the conurbation in Stockport we cross to Brinnington and Central ward, which although it covers Stockport town centre takes its cue from the rather isolated council estate of Brinnington to the north-east; notwithstanding a freak Lib Dem win in 2008 this is another safe Labour ward and should be easily winnable for their candidate Becky Crawford. Overlooking all this on the eastern horizon is a fourth safe Labour ward, Royton North in Oldham; unlike the other three wards in this paragraph this is consistently Labour and should elect the wonderfully-named Labour candidate Clint Phythian.

Further down the Mersey from Stockport is our last North West poll this week, Kirkdale ward in Liverpool. This is the old docks heartland of the city along the Derby, Stanley and Scotland roads, and has suffered from massive depopulation over the decades – sixty years ago the area covered by this ward formed the majority of the Liverpool Scotland parliamentary constituency (the Liverpool Kirkdale constituency of those days covered a different area). The Labour vote here, of course, is weighed rather than counted (last year it was 79%), and it would be a major shock if Labour candidate Lisa Gaughan loses this one.

Gathering our passports and steeling ourselves for the journey into Yorkshire, we take the train out of Manchester Victoria (now open again following the appalling events of 22 May) into the Pennines for two by-elections in Calderdale district. Todmorden is a rather handsome town at the head of the Calder valley which was once on the Lancashire/Yorkshire boundary (the neoclassical Town Hall straddles the old boundary) and still has something of a split personality; all three main parties have won Todmorden within the last decade, but Labour are in the ascendancy at the moment and their candidate Carol Machell is favoured. At the other end of the Calder Valley constituency lies Rastrick ward, the southern half of Brighouse and, when the nearby M62 is in a good mood, commuterland for the cities of West Yorkshire: this is a consistently Conservative ward, although Labour did (just) get within 10 points last year, which the Tories’ Sophie Whittaker defends from Labour’s Colin Hutchinson.

The city of York sees two polls on 8th June. Micklegate ward is the first part of York that arrivals to the city’s handsome railway station see: located to the west of the Ouse, the ward runs south from the city centre to include York racecourse (next meeting 16 and 17 June). Appropriately for a racecourse ward this looks rather exciting: in 2015 Micklegate’s three seats split between an independent, Labour and the Green Party. That was a poor performance by Labour who had previously held all three seats in a Labour/Green marginal, and their candidate Jonny Crawshaw will be looking for a good performance to defend the Labour seat from the Greens’ Rosie Baker. On the eastern edge of the city, boundary changes in 2015 to Hull Road ward saw it gain the picturesque University of York campus and a third councillor; it might have needed four councillors if ducks had the vote, but they don’t so three councillors it is. This is likely to be another Labour/Green battle between Labour’s Michael Pavlovic and the Greens’ John Cossham, who wasn’t far off winning a seat here two years ago.

Our final by-election in the three Northern regions of England is in Scunthorpe in what used to be called South Humberside. Brumby ward lies on the western edge of Scunthorpe amd its election results are as flat and nondescript as its landscape: this is a safe Labour ward which should elect Stephen Swift. UKIP ran second here in 2015 and have proved that there is still a Carswell in the party by selecting Dave Carswell.


The Midlands and Wales

Staying in Lincolnshire but across the regional boundary, there are two by-elections on 8th June to North Kesteven district council. One is in Heighington and Washingborough, a safe Tory ward covering two villages on the outskirts of Lincoln and within the marginal Lincoln parliamentary seat: Edward Herring is the defending Conservative candidate. The other is in Ashby de la Launde and Cranwell, which has appeared in this column before; this rural ward elected two Conservatives in 2015 but one of them, WW2 Bomber Command veteran Geoffrey Whittle, subsequently resigned on age grounds – he was 92 – and the Conservatives lost the resulting by-election in March 2016 to the Lincolnshire Independents. Most of the electors for this ward are servicemen and -women at RAF Cranwell, who are unlikely to turn out for a local by-election but may be tempted by the general election. The remaining Conservative seat is up in this by-election: Dan Gray defends for the Conservatives while Pearl Clarke is the Lincolnshire Independents candidate.

The other East Midlands local by-election this week is for the by-election prone ward of Castle in Leicester. This ward covers Victoria Park, the De Montfort University complex and the city centre, which has seen something of a renaissance in recent years thanks partly to the discovery and reburial of the remains of King Richard III. In 2003 Castle ward produced an extraordinarily close result for the final seat, with the lead Green and second Labour candidate tied on 708 votes each and the second Lib Dem candidate on 707; the second Labour candidate won the drawing of lots to split the three seats 2 Labour and 1 Lib Dem. In 2007 the Green Party gained the Lib Dem seat and one of the Labour seats, but Labour gained both Green seats in by-elections during the 2007-11 term – one of them coming after one of the Green councillors, who in real life was a tree surgeon, fell out of a tree he was working on and was killed. The 2011 election was plain sailing for Labour, but the Greens did get back within ten points at the most recent poll in 2015. Danny Myers defends for Labour against the Greens’ Oli Young-Jones.

There is just one by-election in the West Midlands region, to Bromsgrove council from the ward of Alvechurch Village, a Birmingham commuter area on the Cross-City railway line, just off the M42 motorway and sufficiently close to the city to have a Birmingham postcode. This was safe Tory in 2015, the only previous contest on these boundaries, and Luisa Nixon should have little trouble holding the seat.

This brings us to this column’s first visit to Wales since December 2016. The Class of 2017 has already generated two pending by-elections that your columnist is aware of, but it’s too soon for those to be held yet; instead we have two pieces of unfinished business from May’s ordinary election. Labour were widely reported in May as having lost control of Merthyr Tydfil, but they have an immediate chance to get control back as Cyfarthfa ward has yet to poll: the election there on 4th May was cancelled after the death of Ieuan Harris, who had been nominated as an independent candidate. This is a ward of hamlets and estates overlooking Merthyr from the west side of the Taff valley. Cyfartha normally votes for an independent slate (known in 2004 as “People Before Politics”, since then as “Merthyr Independents”) but Labour gained one of the ward’s three seats from the independent slate in 2012. With only this result to come independents hold 16 seats on Merthyr council to 14 for Labour, so a clean sweep for Labour will return them to overall control. On the Labour slate David Chaplin is seeking re-election and is joined by Margaret Davies and Carol Estebanez; the Merthyr Independents have only a two-man slate with Paul Brown seeking re-election and joined by Terry Thomas. (I say!) There are also two other independent candidates and a Plaid nominee on the ballot paper.

Once the Cyfarthfa poll is complete, the 2012 local elections will finally pass into history. There was due to be a second postponed poll in Ceredigion after the death of Neil Flower, Liberal Democrat candidate for Llandyfriog ward in the Teifi valley; but as no new candidates have come forward Plaid’s James Thomas, who was the only remaining candidate, has been declared elected unopposed. This column sends its congratulations to Councillor Thomas.


London and the South

We move into East Anglia by way of Peterborough, where there is a poll in East ward, which covers the area east of the city centre to the point where the Fens get too wet and marshy to build on (which is not very far). There has only been one previous election on these boundaries, in 2016 when the ward’s three seats split two to the Conservatives and one to Labour. Defending this marginal ward for the Conservatives is Jay Beecher, while Matthew Mahabadi seeks to gain for Labour.

Our East Anglian by-election this week is in Norfolk. Coltishall ward, a deeply rural part of Broadland district, is another ward with an RAF base in it which might have trouble voting for Corbyn; not that there’s much of a Labour vote here in any event and there was no Labour candidate for this ward in 2015. It’s safe Tory and their candidate Jo Copplestone, fighting her second Norfolk by-election in eleven months (she stood for election to North Norfolk council last July), should have a safe berth this time.

Turning our attention to the West Country, we come to the last of our pieces of unfinished business from the ordinary May local elections. The Bodmin St Petroc division of Cornwall did not go the polls on 4th May because of the death during the election campaign of the outgoing Lib Dem councillor Steve Rogerson, who was seeking re-election. He was the father of Dan Rogerson, who was Lib Dem MP for North Cornwall from 2005 to 2015 and is trying to get back in 2017. Rogerson senior was defending a large majority from 2013 in this, the eastern of Bodmin’s three divisions. This is the only Lib Dem by-election defence of the week; while nobody ever got rich trying to predict election results in Cornwall the replacement Lib Dem candidate Leigh Frost should be favourite to hold. Once this poll is complete, the 2013 local elections will pass into history.

The prize for the most bizarre candidate list on 8th June is won hands down by the Hartland and Bradworthy ward of Torridge council in Devon, a deeply rural area covering the north-western corner of Devon at Hartland Point. Hartland is the location of a British Geological Society observatory monitoring the strength and direction of the Earth’s magnetic field. The local parties haven’t exactly been magnetically attracted to the ward’s ballot papers in recent years: in 2015 Hartland and Bradworthy easily returned an independent councillor who had been first elected in 2011 as a Liberal Democrat, with the ward’s other seat going to UKIP narrowly ahead of the Green Party. The UKIP seat is up in this by-election but they haven’t nominated anyone to replace their late councillor, and despite the Conservatives winning the local county council seat in May they have not put a candidate up either; so this seat is up for grabs in a straight fight between Jane Leaper of the Liberal Democrats (from Hartland) and John Sanders of the Green Party (from Bradworthy).

As we progress into the Home Counties, slightly more normal but much more tragic is the poll to West Berkshire council in Thatcham South and Crookham ward, an outer commuter area around Thatcham railway station on the Reading-Westbury line. The by-election has been caused by the recent death of the Leader of the Council Roger Croft, as a result of injuries sustained in a road accident while on holiday in France; his wife was also killed in the crash. Croft leaves behind a ward which was Lib Dem in 2003 and 2007 but which by 2015 had become safe Conservative; Jason Collis is the defending candidate.

Moving north of London there are two defences in Hertfordshire for the Conservatives. Bovingdon, Flaunden and Chipperfield ward of Dacorum council is a safe Tory collection of villages between Hemel Hempstead and the Buckinghamshire border which should elect the Conservatives’ Graham Barrett without much trouble. Despite poor Conservative performances in Welwyn Hatfield district in May they can also expect to win in Hatfield Villages ward, which despite the name is not a series of villages but primarily a collection of housing estates that form a part of Hatfield which has spilled over to the western side of the A1 motorway. Peter Hebden is the defending Tory candidate there.

Further out in Bedfordshire we come to Sundon Park ward, running from Leagrave railway station up to the northern edge of Luton. This is the only Labour versus Lib Dem fight of this week’s by-elections, with the two parties having split the ward’s two seats since 2011. Martin Rogers defends for Labour, Clive Mead looks to gain for the Lib Dems.

From Leagrave railway station we take the Thameslink route trains (if they’re in a good mood) down the Brighton Line (if it’s in a good mood). There are two by-elections along the Brighton Line, one being a double by-election for two of the three seats in Hassocks ward, located in the shadow of the North Downs in Mid Sussex district. Mid Sussex council is a one-party Conservative state and although the Lib Dems did win one seat in Hassocks in 2007 and hold it in 2011, there is little sign of them regaining a foothold here based on the 2015 result. The defending Conservative slate is Michelle Binks and Jessica Edwards. If anything, the other Brighton Line by-election looks even less competitive: it is to the safe Tory ward of Pound Hill South and Worth in Crawley, running east from Three Bridges station to the M23 motorway; Alison Pendlington is the Tory candidate there.

Once we cross from West to East Sussex things start to get more interesting. The Seaford West ward of Lewes district is up, one of five wards in Seaford and centred on Bishopstone railway station: this is more Conservative than Seaford as a whole and had a big Tory lead in 2015. Unhelpfully for comparison with May the ward is split between three county divisions, two of which (Newhaven/Bishopstone and Seaford South) voted Lib Dem five weeks ago. With this ward being in the Lewes parliamentary seat, which is high up the Lib Dem target list, a full-on campaign can be expected although the formbook suggests that Tory candidate Liz Boorman is favourite.

The murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, just after Christmas 1170, turned Canterbury into a place of pilgrimage to rival Rome and Compostela. Literature from across the centuries, from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, owes its debt to the cult of Thomas, and and the passage of eight-and-a-half centuries has done little to stem the flow of pilgrims. A nice little business for Canterbury over the years, then. Your columnist is hoping to make his own pilgrimage to Thomas’ last stand soon; in the meantime we are here on by-election duty, for the Tories have a difficult defence in the city-centre Westgate ward. This was Lib Dem up until 2015, when one of their three seats disappeared in boundary changes and a second was gained by Conservative candidate John Brazier (brother of the local MP Julian Brazier). Brazier is standing down; Luke Whiddett attempts to hold for the Conservatives while Daniel Prevett looks to gain for the Lib Dems.

Staying in Kent, there are two Tory by-election defences in Ashford. Victoria ward, covering the town centre and parts of South Ashford close to the railway station, was Lib Dem until 2011 when the ward suddenly became three-way marginal and the Conservatives gained a seat in the ward; in 2015 the Lib Dems seem to have given up their remaining seat without a fight, but it was gained by Labour with the Tories holding their seat and UKIP close behind. Goodness knows what might happen here this time; David Robey (who gives an address in a village on the way to Faversham) defends for the Conservatives, Charles Suddards is the Labour candidate and Serge Goldenberg stands for UKIP. The Tories shoud have an easier ride in Bockhanger ward, located in northern Ashford around M20 junction 9; they had a big lead there in 2015 and their candidate for Bockhanger is Simon Howard-Smith.

That completes our tour around the shires of England; yes, Londoners, I’ve made you wait to the end, but I think you’ll agree that the wait will be worth it. There are two local by-election London, both in marginal wards in the marginal council of Hammersmith and Fulham. Labour are defending their seat in Avonmore and Brook Green ward, covering the West Kensington area and including the Olympia exhibition centre, which voted Conservative from 2002 to 2014 before Labour gained one of the three seats; David Norton defends for Labour, Will Marshall will try and gain for the Conservatives. Down by the riverside in Fulham the Conservatives are defending Sands End ward, around Wandsworth Bridge and Imperial Wharf station, which was so close for the final seat in 2002 (the Tories were declared as winning by three votes) that the election court voided that seat for procedural irregularities (by the election staff, I hasten to add), leading to a by-election in September 2002 which Labour gained by four votes. The Tories gained all three seats in Sands End ward in 2006 and have held them ever since, but the 2014 result was close again with Conservative majorities of 110, 86 and 53 votes. Jackie Borland defends this seat for the Conservatives, Ann Rosenberg will try to gain for Labour.

Britain Elects will of course endeavour to bring you all the action from these local by-elections and the 2017 general election as it is reported. It’s been a strange old campaign and no doubt it’ll be a strange old election night at the end of which, in each constituency, there can be only one winner. It’s a brutal form of job interview, and successful and unsuccessful candidates alike should reflect that the electorate, like Parliament, always has the right to change its mind; there will be another chance to win or lose in a few years’ time. That’s what democracy is, and we shouldn’t change it for the world. Democracy can’t proceed without elections, but elections (as we saw in Ceredigion) can’t proceed without candidates, and candidates can’t proceed without hard work. The electors (or a subset thereof) might not be aware of the hard work that candidates put in, but this column is, and is grateful for it. It is only right that we, as electors, celebrate and recognise all that hard work by casting our votes at the end of it all – whoever you cast them for.

It only remains for me to say that this column will return for the first local by-elections of the 2017 Parliament, to be held on 22nd June 2017 in Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire, North Yorkshire and Powys as we continue to work through the fallout of the May elections. Until then, whoever you support, have a good election night and I’ll see you on the other side.


Andrew Teale edits the Local Elections Archive Project and sometimes tweets at @andrewteale.

“All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order”

Millions of words, acres of pixels and oceans of ink have already been expended on the 2017 general election. But you’ll find very little information about the downballot races: the by-election to the Scottish Parliament and the thirty-four local by-elections that are taking place in England and Wales on 8th June. This post seeks to change that, although with 34 polls to go through there is not the usual level of detail here that regular readers of Andrew’s Previews will be accustomed to. Read on…


ETTRICK, ROXBURGH AND BERWICKSHIRE

Scottish Parliament; caused by the resignation of Conservative MSP John Lamont, who is seeking election to the House of Commons in the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency. He had served since 2007.

When it comes to tourism in Scotland, the Highlands and the cities get most of the attention. The Borders may not be able to compete with the Highlands for grandeur, but they do have a picturesqueness all their own, with their own unique history and charm, as well as being (for obvious reasons) better placed for English tourists. Rather like that other Borderland area, the Welsh Marches, the Scottish Borders are dominated by small towns: Eyemouth, Coldstream, Kelso, Jedburgh, Hawick, Selkirk.

What the Borders have never had is a large population, and certainly not a large enough population to sustain the administrative mess left here by the Middle Ages. In the seventy or so miles between Edinburgh and the Border there are no fewer than six traditional counties: Midlothian, East Lothian, Peeblesshire, Selkirkshire, Roxburghshire and Berwickshire. It says something about how the population has shifted here that Selkirk is no longer the largest town in its county (that’s Galashiels), Berwickshire no longer includes the town it lays claim to and Roxburgh, as a location, no longer exists at all. This patchwork of small counties has been a problem for redistributions of seats since Victorian times, and the solution has been a series of rather inelegant groupings of two or three of the old counties (or some approximation thereof) to form constituencies. The groupings tend to shift slightly with every redistribution, and the pairing of Roxburghshire with Berwickshire only dates from 1983.

Before 1983 there were two parliamentary constituencies covering this area. The Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles constituency had started off in 1955 as a Conservative seat, returning Unionist Charles Donaldson who had first been elected to the Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency in 1951. Donaldson had a safe seat and 1959 fought off challenges fom two other famous figures: former SNP figure John MacCormick, by now in the Liberal Party, and future Labour MP Tam Dalyell. In 1964 Donaldson had a larger scare against a young Liberal Party candidate called David Steel, whom he fought off by 1,739 votes, and future Labour MP Ronald Murray (Edinburgh Leith 1970-79 and Lord Advocate for much of that time, later Lord Murray). That boded ill when Charles Donaldson died less than two months after the 1964 election, forcing a by-election.

We all know what happened next. The 1965 Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles by-election was a famous Liberal gain for David Steel, who finished with a majority of 10.5% over the Tory candidate Robert McEwen. Steel had close calls in the next two elections – in 1966 he beat the Tory candidate Ian McIntyre, later controller of Radio 4, but 4.9%; in 1970 he fought off future Tory MP Russell Fairgrieve (West Aberdeenshire, 1974 (Feb)-1983) with a majority of just 550. After that it was plain sailing for Steel, although the Conservatives did put up one more future MP against him: their candidate in 1979 was the accident-prone Gerry Malone, who would go on to lose the 1982 Glasgow Hillhead by-election to Roy Jenkins, lose Aberdeen South in 1987 after one term and famously lose Winchester in 1997 after one term.

In the meantime Berwickshire had been paired with East Lothian to form a constituency since 1918 (before 1950 with the name Berwick and Haddington). Berwick and East Lothian was a key marginal parliamentary constituency which changed hands several times during this period. Its first MP was John Deans Hope, a chartered accountant who had first been elected in the 1900 Khaki election for West Fife. Hope lost his seat to Labour in the December 1910 election, but the following year returned to the Commons by winning the Haddingtonshire by-election after the War Secretary Richard Haldane, founder of the Territorial Army, was elevated to the peerage.

The 1918 election, and the creation of Berwick and Haddington, pitted the former Liberal MPs for the two counties against each other, putting Deans up against outgoing Berwickshire MP Harold Tennant, who had briefly been Scottish secretary under Asquith. Both candidates were on the ballot paper, but Deans had the coupon and won easily.

This was a time of great political flux, and this cannot be better illustrated than by the 1922 ballot paper in Berwick and Haddington which featured no fewer than three Liberal candidates. Hope, having been deselected, stood as an Independent Liberal: he finished last but saved his deposit. In third place was the official Liberal candidate Willian Henderson Pringle, a barrister and university lecturer. In second place was Robert Spence of Labour, who lost by 500 votes to the National Liberal candidate Walter Waring, a Boer War and Great War veteran who had been Liberal MP for Banffshire from 1907 to 1918 and for Blaydon from 1918 to 1922. It was a close race, and Waring’s winning score was just 32%.

A second general election was held just a year later, in which Waring was the unity Liberal candidate; but he finished in third place. The Conservatives, contesting the seat for the first time, came second with their candidate Lt-Col Chichester Crooksbank, but Crooksbank lost by just 68 votes to Robert Spence, who became the constituency’s first Labour MP. Spence didn’t have long to savour his victory, as again there was another general election within a year: the 1924 election returned Crooksbank with a decisive majority.

But Labour hadn’t finished with this seat. Crooksbank retired in 1929 (he would later serve as Conservative MP for Bootle from 1931 to 1935) and the Conservatives lost the seat to the new Labour candidate George Simkinson; the Liberal candidate in that election, the last Liberal in the seat for many years, was Sir James Greig, a barrister who had been MP for Western Renfrewshire from January 1910 to 1922.

Again Labour didn’t have long to savour their victory: the Tory landslide of 1931 and the Liberal withdrawal delivered a huge majority for Captain John McEwen, who had been a prisoner of war during the Great War before joining the Diplomatic Service. The laird of the eighteenth-century Marchmont House in Berwickshire, McEwen had several minor ministerial posts in the Chamberlain and Churchill administrations, and had an large family; one of his sons, Rory McEwen, was a well-known folk singer and artist of the 1960s.

Having been swept in by the Tory landslide of 1931, McEwen senior was swept away by the Labour landslide of 1945, losing by 3,157 votes to Labour’s John Robertson, who represented the seat throughout the Attlee governments. In 1950, the first election under the seat’s new name of Berwick and East Lothian, he saw off new Tory candidate William Anstruther-Gray by 1,728 votes despite the intervention of the Liberal candidate Antony Stodart (who later joined the Conservatives and was MP for Edinburgh West from 1959 to February 1974, and ended his days in the Lords). There was no Liberal intervention in 1951 and Robertson lost his seat to Anstruther-Gray.

Sir William Anstruther-Gray was another of the Tory MPs for Berwick and East Lothian with a military background: Eton, Christ Church Oxford, Coldstream Guards where he rose to the rank of Lieutanant. He left the Army in 1930 and the following year was elected as Conservative MP for North Lanarkshire, defeating Jennie Lee. During this time Anstruther-Gray rejoined the Coldstreams on the outbreak of war, ending the Second World War with the rank of Major and a Military Cross to his name, but that didn’t stop him losing his Lanarkshire seat in 1945. During his tenure as MP for Berwick and East Lothian he stayed on the backbenches, serving as a Deputy Speaker from 1959 to 1964 and as chairman of the 1922 Committee during the first Wilson parliament. He never had a safe seat here, winning by 2,358 at his first election in 1951; 2,710 in 1955, 2,850 in the Macmillan landslide of 1959 and just 625 in 1964 before losing his seat in the Wilson landslide of 1966. Anstruther-Gray was granted a peerage shortly afterwards and ended his days in the Lords as Lord Kilmany.

The new MP for Berwick and East Lothian was John Mackintosh, an advocate of devolution who during his time as MP became professor of politics at Edinburgh University. Again he did not have a safe seat: Mackintosh was re-elected in 1970 by 641 votes, but lost his seat against the national swing to the Conservatives in February 1974.

Mackintosh’s loss was to someone who would become one of the big beasts of the Conservative Party. Michael Kerr, generally known at this time as Michael Ancram from his courtesy title of Earl of Ancram, was 28 years old, heir to the Marquess of Lothian and a young barrister with a distinguished education: Ampleforth, Christ Church Oxford (where he was a member of the notorious Bullingdon Club) and Edinburgh. Ancram would later serve as MP for Edinburgh South (1979-87) and Devizes (1992-2010), taking various minor ministerial posts under Thatcher and Major. Hague promoted Ancram to the Shadow Cabinet where he was spokesman for constitutional affairs and then Conservative Party chairman; this didn’t stop him finishing last in the 2001 leadership election which produced Iain Duncan Smith, but IDS promoted Ancram to Shadow Foreign Secretary and Michael Howard kept him there. Ancram, who by now had succeeded to his father’s titles, retired from the frontbench on the election of David Cameron as party leader and retired from the Commons in 2010; he immediately entered the Lords by virtue of a life peerage, although he is referred to in House of Lords business as the Marquess of Lothian. Chief of the Clan Kerr, Lothian married within the aristocracy – his wife, Lady Herries, is a daughter of the Duke of Norfolk – and his daughter Lady Clare Kerr is married to the Tory MP Nick Hurd.

All this lay in the future, and when Ancram lost his seat back to Mackintosh in the October 1974 election after just eight months in office the future didn’t look quite so rosy for him. However, John Mackintosh suddenly died in 1978, a time when the Callaghan government was subsisting on little or no majority. The scene was set for a by-election in October 1978, just before the Winter of Discontent. Labour selected John Home Robertson, a 29-year-old farmer and Berwickshire district councillor, one of whose distant ancestors had been the last MP for Berwickshire in the pre-Union Scottish Parliament. The Tory candidate was Margaret Marshall. The Scottish National Party, starting from third place, selected party staffer, sociology lecturer and anti-war campaigner Isobel Lindsay over the wishes of the local party, and the Liberal candidate was Tam Glen. Lindsay and Glen lost their deposits, but Home Robertson increased the Labour majority to 3,112 votes; along with the Labour hold in the Pontefract and Castleford by-election on the same day, the Callaghan government was saved to fight another day. And we all know how that turned out.

Home Robertson was re-elected in 1979 with a reduced majority of 1,673, but now leaves our story; the redistribution of 1983 made East Lothian a seat of its own, and since essentially all the Labour vote in Berwick and East Lothian came out of East Lothian Home Robertson moved his political base there. A europhile and devolution campaigner who was one of only five Labour MPs to vote for the third reading of the Maastricht treaty, he remained MP for East Lothian until 2001 and served as MSP for the same seat from 1999 to 2007.

So, rather than East Lothian, the new Roxburgh and Berwickshire constituency created in 1983 took its cue from the old Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles seat. With Home Robertson moving to the new East Lothian seat and David Steel to the new seat of Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, the new seat was open and a contest developed between the Conservative MP Iain Sproat, who had done the chicken run from Aberdeen South which he had represented since 1970, and new Liberal candidate Archy Kirkwood, a solicitor from Hawick. The chicken run went wrong: not only did Sproat lose to Kirkwood, but his replacement in Aberdeen South (the aforementioned Gerry Malone) held that seat.

Kirkwood would go on to have a long parliamentary career, seeing off in 1987 future Tory MP, leadership candidate and globetrotter Liam Fox and in 1997 future Labour MSP Helen Eadie (Dunfermline East 1999-2011, Cowdenbeath 2011-13). He served as Lib Dem chief whip during the 1992 Parliament.

The Lib Dem strength in this area at the time carried forward to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, Euan Robson winning Roxburgh and Berwickshire easily over Conservative Alasdair Hutton, who had been MEP for the South of Scotland from 1979 to 1989 and was later involved in organising the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

The 2005 redistribution in Scotland reduced the number of constituencies in the Borders, creating a new seat of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk. Archy Kirkwood was translated to the Lords and replaced as Lib Dem candidate by his former researcher Michael Moore, a chartered accountant who had succeeded David Steel as MP for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale in 1997 but whose seat was being abolished. Moore won easily over the new Tory candidate John Lamont, a solicitor.

The first indication that not all was well for the Lib Dem machine in the Borders came in 2007 when Euan Robson lost the Holyrood seat of Roxburgh and Berwickshire to Lamont. Lamont stood again against Moore in 2010 to little effect, and Michael Moore, having gone back to his constituency and prepared for government, became Scottish secretary in the May 2010 reshuffle after the fall of David Laws from grace.

A year later Lamont was re-elected as Holyrood MSP for the redistributed seat of Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire with a large swing in his favour: Euan Robson dropped to third place behind the SNP’s Paul Wheelhouse, who was elected on the South Scotland list and since 2012 has served in the Scottish Government, since 2016 as business, innovation and energy minister.

The stage was set for John Lamont to have a third crack at the Westminster seat of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, for which he was a hot favourite given the collapse of the Liberal Democrats. Michael Moore, having been dropped from the frontbench in 2013 after a torrid time as Scottish secretary, lost more than half his vote and finished third, but it was the SNP’s Calum Kerr who came from fourth place to make the gain by 328 votes over Lamont – the smallest majority in any Scotland seat that year – in what appears to have been the peak for the Scottish nationalists. Kerr is on the SNP frontbench as environment spokesman, and is seeking re-election to Westminster.

What has happened in those intervening two years? In the 2016 Holyrood election Lamont was re-elected for a third term in Holyrood, beating the SNP by an increased majority of 55-32; the SNP candidate was again Paul Wheelhouse who was again elected from the South Scotland list.

Just five weeks ago the Scottish Borders council went to the polls, and it was more good news for the Conservatives who carried five of the constituency’s seven wards (namely the two Berwickshire wards, Kelso, Jedburgh and Selkirkshire; the two Hawick wards voted for independent candidates). The local elections were another triumph for the Conservatives, who polled 46% of the first preferences across the constituency to 24% for independents and 18% for the SNP; this was a PR election, but the Conservatives still came out with an overall majority of councillors in the seat, winning 11 seats to 5 for the SNP, 4 Independents and one Lib Dem (in Kelso). There is no overall majority for the Tories in the Scottish Borders as a whole (they are weaker in the four wards not in this seat, particularly so in Galashiels) but they have formed the administration with support from independents.

So, the omens are good for John Lamont, who has increased the Tory share in all six Holyrood or Westminster elections he has previously fought. He has resigned his Holyrood seat to concentrate on his Westminster campaign, so the stakes are high.

The stakes are also high for the new Tory Holyrood candidate Rachael Hamilton, an English-born agronomist who was elected to Holyrood from the regional list in 2016 (having come third in the East Lothian constituency) and became the Tory spokeswoman for tourism in their Holyrood group: Hamilton has resigned her seat on the list in order to contest this by-election. (Her list seat has been taken over by Michelle Ballantyne, councillor for Selkirkshire ward.)

The SNP candidate in the by-election is Gail Hendry, who (although it’s not obvious from the name) is Alex Salmond’s sister. She is a lecturer at Borders College and chairs the SNP’s Hawick branch.

For Holyrood the Lib Dems have selected Catriona Bhatia, who (although it’s not obvious from the name) is David Steel’s daughter; she is married to Rajiv Bhatia, director of a whisky company. Bhatia was a Scottish Borders councillor from 2003 to 2017, representing Peebles and District East ward from 2003 to 2007 and Tweeddale West ward from 2007 to 2017; she was depute leader of the council from 2012 to 2017 and in 2010 stood for Westminster as Lib Dem candidate for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. Completing an all-female ballot paper is Labour’s Sally Prentice, who was the Labour candidate for Kelso and District ward in May and polled 2.7%.

So, two high-profile resignations as the Conservative Party attempt to play musical chairs in their top Scottish target seat. We shall see on 8th June whether this represents confidence or hubris.

Parliamentary constituency: Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

May 2016 result C 18257 SNP 10521 LD 2551 Lab 1766
May 2011 result C 12933 SNP 7599 LD 4990 Lab 2986 Ind 308


NORTHERN ENGLAND

We now turn to local by-elections on 8th June. There is a definite Northern bias in the 34 polls on this list, with eight of them cropping up in the North West region and a further five in the Yorkshire and Humber region. The northernmost one is in a parliamentary seat which has already seen a famous by-election this year: Copeland. In the Newtown ward, one of three covering the town of Millom at the southern tip of what was once Cumberland, Ged McGrath defends for the Conservatives against Labour’s Angela Rayner in a ward which in 2015 split its representation between two Tories and one Labour candidate.

Moving south into Lancashire, the Liverpool outer commuterland of Aughton Park ward in West Lancashire, on the outskirts of Ormskirk, is normally a Tory monolith (West Lancashire district tends to be like that, with Tory monolith wards, Labour monolith wards and very little in between); although UKIP got within ten points of the Conservatives in 2014 their withdrawal from the fray should ensure a very easy hold for the Tories’ Doreen Stephenson. Meanwhile in Blackburn, Marsh House ward (see this column passim) is having its third by-election in seven months after two Labour councillors died at an early age and the winner of the second by-election turned out to have a job which disqualified him from being a Blackburn councillor; he is not standing again and Labour’s replacement candidate Matt Gibson is favoured to hold a by-election which, had the Labour selection been competent, wouldn’t have been taking place at all.

No fewer than four local by-elections take place in Greater Manchester. In the Tory target seat of Bury South, Radcliffe East ward is up; this is the old part of Radcliffe (if such a thing can be said to exist) around the Tower, running from the modern town centre to the east along Dumers Lane. This area was badly affected in the Boxing Day 2015 floods. Although the Tories won here in 2006 and 2008 this is in essence a safe Labour ward which should elect their candidate Karen Leach. In Salford there is a poll in Claremont ward, covering terraces old and less old in Irlams o’ th’ Height; this column will return to Claremont in more detail soon as there is a second by-election pending in the ward, but this was an area which was turned from Lib Dem to Labour by the Coalition, and with the Lib Dems having been wiped out in Salford Labour’s Neil Reynolds should have few problems. On the far side of the conurbation in Stockport we cross to Brinnington and Central ward, which although it covers Stockport town centre takes its cue from the rather isolated council estate of Brinnington to the north-east; notwithstanding a freak Lib Dem win in 2008 this is another safe Labour ward and should be easily winnable for their candidate Becky Crawford. Overlooking all this on the eastern horizon is a fourth safe Labour ward, Royton North in Oldham; unlike the other three wards in this paragraph this is consistently Labour and should elect the wonderfully-named Labour candidate Clint Phythian.

Further down the Mersey from Stockport is our last North West poll this week, Kirkdale ward in Liverpool. This is the old docks heartland of the city along the Derby, Stanley and Scotland roads, and has suffered from massive depopulation over the decades – sixty years ago the area covered by this ward formed the majority of the Liverpool Scotland parliamentary constituency (the Liverpool Kirkdale constituency of those days covered a different area). The Labour vote here, of course, is weighed rather than counted (last year it was 79%), and it would be a major shock if Labour candidate Lisa Gaughan loses this one.

Gathering our passports and steeling ourselves for the journey into Yorkshire, we take the train out of Manchester Victoria (now open again following the appalling events of 22 May) into the Pennines for two by-elections in Calderdale district. Todmorden is a rather handsome town at the head of the Calder valley which was once on the Lancashire/Yorkshire boundary (the neoclassical Town Hall straddles the old boundary) and still has something of a split personality; all three main parties have won Todmorden within the last decade, but Labour are in the ascendancy at the moment and their candidate Carol Machell is favoured. At the other end of the Calder Valley constituency lies Rastrick ward, the southern half of Brighouse and, when the nearby M62 is in a good mood, commuterland for the cities of West Yorkshire: this is a consistently Conservative ward, although Labour did (just) get within 10 points last year, which the Tories’ Sophie Whittaker defends from Labour’s Colin Hutchinson.

The city of York sees two polls on 8th June. Micklegate ward is the first part of York that arrivals to the city’s handsome railway station see: located to the west of the Ouse, the ward runs south from the city centre to include York racecourse (next meeting 16 and 17 June). Appropriately for a racecourse ward this looks rather exciting: in 2015 Micklegate’s three seats split between an independent, Labour and the Green Party. That was a poor performance by Labour who had previously held all three seats in a Labour/Green marginal, and their candidate Jonny Crawshaw will be looking for a good performance to defend the Labour seat from the Greens’ Rosie Baker. On the eastern edge of the city, boundary changes in 2015 to Hull Road ward saw it gain the picturesque University of York campus and a third councillor; it might have needed four councillors if ducks had the vote, but they don’t so three councillors it is. This is likely to be another Labour/Green battle between Labour’s Michael Pavlovic and the Greens’ John Cossham, who wasn’t far off winning a seat here two years ago.

Our final by-election in the three Northern regions of England is in Scunthorpe in what used to be called South Humberside. Brumby ward lies on the western edge of Scunthorpe amd its election results are as flat and nondescript as its landscape: this is a safe Labour ward which should elect Stephen Swift. UKIP ran second here in 2015 and have proved that there is still a Carswell in the party by selecting Dave Carswell.


THE MIDLANDS AND WALES

Staying in Lincolnshire but across the regional boundary, there are two by-elections on 8th June to North Kesteven district council. One is in Heighington and Washingborough, a safe Tory ward covering two villages on the outskirts of Lincoln and within the marginal Lincoln parliamentary seat: Edward Herring is the defending Conservative candidate. The other is in Ashby de la Launde and Cranwell, which has appeared in this column before; this rural ward elected two Conservatives in 2015 but one of them, WW2 Bomber Command veteran Geoffrey Whittle, subsequently resigned on age grounds – he was 92 – and the Conservatives lost the resulting by-election in March 2016 to the Lincolnshire Independents. Most of the electors for this ward are servicemen and -women at RAF Cranwell, who are unlikely to turn out for a local by-election but may be tempted by the general election. The remaining Conservative seat is up in this by-election: Dan Gray defends for the Conservatives while Pearl Clarke is the Lincolnshire Independents candidate.

The other East Midlands local by-election this week is for the by-election prone ward of Castle in Leicester. This ward covers Victoria Park, the De Montfort University complex and the city centre, which has seen something of a renaissance in recent years thanks partly to the discovery and reburial of the remains of King Richard III. In 2003 Castle ward produced an extraordinarily close result for the final seat, with the lead Green and second Labour candidate tied on 708 votes each and the second Lib Dem candidate on 707; the second Labour candidate won the drawing of lots to split the three seats 2 Labour and 1 Lib Dem. In 2007 the Green Party gained the Lib Dem seat and one of the Labour seats, but Labour gained both Green seats in by-elections during the 2007-11 term – one of them coming after one of the Green councillors, who in real life was a tree surgeon, fell out of a tree he was working on and was killed. The 2011 election was plain sailing for Labour, but the Greens did get back within ten points at the most recent poll in 2015. Danny Myers defends for Labour against the Greens’ Oli Young-Jones.

There is just one by-election in the West Midlands region, to Bromsgrove council from the ward of Alvechurch Village, a Birmingham commuter area on the Cross-City railway line, just off the M42 motorway and sufficiently close to the city to have a Birmingham postcode. This was safe Tory in 2015, the only previous contest on these boundaries, and Luisa Nixon should have little trouble holding the seat.

This brings us to this column’s first visit to Wales since December 2016. The Class of 2017 has already generated two pending by-elections that your columnist is aware of, but it’s too soon for those to be held yet; instead we have two pieces of unfinished business from May’s ordinary election. Labour were widely reported in May as having lost control of Merthyr Tydfil, but they have an immediate chance to get control back as Cyfarthfa ward has yet to poll: the election there on 4th May was cancelled after the death of Ieuan Harris, who had been nominated as an independent candidate. This is a ward of hamlets and estates overlooking Merthyr from the west side of the Taff valley. Cyfartha normally votes for an independent slate (known in 2004 as “People Before Politics”, since then as “Merthyr Independents”) but Labour gained one of the ward’s three seats from the independent slate in 2012. With only this result to come independents hold 16 seats on Merthyr council to 14 for Labour, so a clean sweep for Labour will return them to overall control. On the Labour slate David Chaplin is seeking re-election and is joined by Margaret Davies and Carol Estebanez; the Merthyr Independents have only a two-man slate with Paul Brown seeking re-election and joined by Terry Thomas. (I say!) There are also two other independent candidates and a Plaid nominee on the ballot paper.

Once the Cyfarthfa poll is complete, the 2012 local elections will finally pass into history. There was due to be a second postponed poll in Ceredigion after the death of Neil Flower, Liberal Democrat candidate for Llandyfriog ward in the Teifi valley; but as no new candidates have come forward Plaid’s James Thomas, who was the only remaining candidate, has been declared elected unopposed. This column sends its congratulations to Councillor Thomas.


LONDON AND THE SOUTH

We move into East Anglia by way of Peterborough, where there is a poll in East ward, which covers the area east of the city centre to the point where the Fens get too wet and marshy to build on (which is not very far). There has only been one previous election on these boundaries, in 2016 when the ward’s three seats split two to the Conservatives and one to Labour. Defending this marginal ward for the Conservatives is Jay Beecher, while Matthew Mahabadi seeks to gain for Labour.

Our East Anglian by-election this week is in Norfolk. Coltishall ward, a deeply rural part of Broadland district, is another ward with an RAF base in it which might have trouble voting for Corbyn; not that there’s much of a Labour vote here in any event and there was no Labour candidate for this ward in 2015. It’s safe Tory and their candidate Jo Copplestone, fighting her second Norfolk by-election in eleven months (she stood for election to North Norfolk council last July), should have a safe berth this time.

Turning our attention to the West Country, we come to the last of our pieces of unfinished business from the ordinary May local elections. The Bodmin St Petroc division of Cornwall did not go the polls on 4th May because of the death during the election campaign of the outgoing Lib Dem councillor Steve Rogerson, who was seeking re-election. He was the father of Dan Rogerson, who was Lib Dem MP for North Cornwall from 2005 to 2015 and is trying to get back in 2017. Rogerson senior was defending a large majority from 2013 in this, the eastern of Bodmin’s three divisions. This is the only Lib Dem by-election defence of the week; while nobody ever got rich trying to predict election results in Cornwall the replacement Lib Dem candidate Leigh Frost should be favourite to hold. Once this poll is complete, the 2013 local elections will pass into history.

The prize for the most bizarre candidate list on 8th June is won hands down by the Hartland and Bradworthy ward of Torridge council in Devon, a deeply rural area covering the north-western corner of Devon at Hartland Point. Hartland is the location of a British Geological Society observatory monitoring the strength and direction of the Earth’s magnetic field. The local parties haven’t exactly been magnetically attracted to the ward’s ballot papers in recent years: in 2015 Hartland and Bradworthy easily returned an independent councillor who had been first elected in 2011 as a Liberal Democrat, with the ward’s other seat going to UKIP narrowly ahead of the Green Party. The UKIP seat is up in this by-election but they haven’t nominated anyone to replace their late councillor, and despite the Conservatives winning the local county council seat in May they have not put a candidate up either; so this seat is up for grabs in a straight fight between Jane Leaper of the Liberal Democrats (from Hartland) and John Sanders of the Green Party (from Bradworthy).

As we progress into the Home Counties, slightly more normal but much more tragic is the poll to West Berkshire council in Thatcham South and Crookham ward, an outer commuter area around Thatcham railway station on the Reading-Westbury line. The by-election has been caused by the recent death of the Leader of the Council Roger Croft, as a result of injuries sustained in a road accident while on holiday in France; his wife was also killed in the crash. Croft leaves behind a ward which was Lib Dem in 2003 and 2007 but which by 2015 had become safe Conservative; Jason Collis is the defending candidate.

Moving north of London there are two defences in Hertfordshire for the Conservatives. Bovingdon, Flaunden and Chipperfield ward of Dacorum council is a safe Tory collection of villages between Hemel Hempstead and the Buckinghamshire border which should elect the Conservatives’ Graham Barrett without much trouble. Despite poor Conservative performances in Welwyn Hatfield district in May they can also expect to win in Hatfield Villages ward, which despite the name is not a series of villages but primarily a collection of housing estates that form a part of Hatfield which has spilled over to the western side of the A1 motorway. Peter Hebden is the defending Tory candidate there.

Further out in Bedfordshire we come to Sundon Park ward, running from Leagrave railway station up to the northern edge of Luton. This is the only Labour versus Lib Dem fight of this week’s by-elections, with the two parties having split the ward’s two seats since 2011. Martin Rogers defends for Labour, Clive Mead looks to gain for the Lib Dems.

From Leagrave railway station we take the Thameslink route trains (if they’re in a good mood) down the Brighton Line (if it’s in a good mood). There are two by-elections along the Brighton Line, one being a double by-election for two of the three seats in Hassocks ward, located in the shadow of the North Downs in Mid Sussex district. Mid Sussex council is a one-party Conservative state and although the Lib Dems did win one seat in Hassocks in 2007 and hold it in 2011, there is little sign of them regaining a foothold here based on the 2015 result. The defending Conservative slate is Michelle Binks and Jessica Edwards. If anything, the other Brighton Line by-election looks even less competitive: it is to the safe Tory ward of Pound Hill South and Worth in Crawley, running east from Three Bridges station to the M23 motorway; Alison Pendlington is the Tory candidate there.

Once we cross from West to East Sussex things start to get more interesting. The Seaford West ward of Lewes district is up, one of five wards in Seaford and centred on Bishopstone railway station: this is more Conservative than Seaford as a whole and had a big Tory lead in 2015. Unhelpfully for comparison with May the ward is split between three county divisions, two of which (Newhaven/Bishopstone and Seaford South) voted Lib Dem five weeks ago. With this ward being in the Lewes parliamentary seat, which is high up the Lib Dem target list, a full-on campaign can be expected although the formbook suggests that Tory candidate Liz Boorman is favourite.

The murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, just after Christmas 1170, turned Canterbury into a place of pilgrimage to rival Rome and Compostela. Literature from across the centuries, from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, owes its debt to the cult of Thomas, and and the passage of eight-and-a-half centuries has done little to stem the flow of pilgrims. A nice little business for Canterbury over the years, then. Your columnist is hoping to make his own pilgrimage to Thomas’ last stand soon; in the meantime we are here on by-election duty, for the Tories have a difficult defence in the city-centre Westgate ward. This was Lib Dem up until 2015, when one of their three seats disappeared in boundary changes and a second was gained by Conservative candidate John Brazier (brother of the local MP Julian Brazier). Brazier is standing down; Luke Whiddett attempts to hold for the Conservatives while Daniel Prevett looks to gain for the Lib Dems.

Staying in Kent, there are two Tory by-election defences in Ashford. Victoria ward, covering the town centre and parts of South Ashford close to the railway station, was Lib Dem until 2011 when the ward suddenly became three-way marginal and the Conservatives gained a seat in the ward; in 2015 the Lib Dems seem to have given up their remaining seat without a fight, but it was gained by Labour with the Tories holding their seat and UKIP close behind. Goodness knows what might happen here this time; David Robey (who gives an address in a village on the way to Faversham) defends for the Conservatives, Charles Suddards is the Labour candidate and Serge Goldenberg stands for UKIP. The Tories shoud have an easier ride in Bockhanger ward, located in northern Ashford around M20 junction 9; they had a big lead there in 2015 and their candidate for Bockhanger is Simon Howard-Smith.

That completes our tour around the shires of England; yes, Londoners, I’ve made you wait to the end, but I think you’ll agree that the wait will be worth it. There are two local by-election London, both in marginal wards in the marginal council of Hammersmith and Fulham. Labour are defending their seat in Avonmore and Brook Green ward, covering the West Kensington area and including the Olympia exhibition centre, which voted Conservative from 2002 to 2014 before Labour gained one of the three seats; David Norton defends for Labour, Will Marshall will try and gain for the Conservatives. Down by the riverside in Fulham the Conservatives are defending Sands End ward, around Wandsworth Bridge and Imperial Wharf station, which was so close for the final seat in 2002 (the Tories were declared as winning by three votes) that the election court voided that seat for procedural irregularities (by the election staff, I hasten to add), leading to a by-election in September 2002 which Labour gained by four votes. The Tories gained all three seats in Sands End ward in 2006 and have held them ever since, but the 2014 result was close again with Conservative majorities of 110, 86 and 53 votes. Jackie Borland defends this seat for the Conservatives, Ann Rosenberg will try to gain for Labour.

Britain Elects will of course endeavour to bring you all the action from these local by-elections and the 2017 general election as it is reported. It’s been a strange old campaign and no doubt it’ll be a strange old election night at the end of which, in each constituency, there can be only one winner. It’s a brutal form of job interview, and successful and unsuccessful candidates alike should reflect that the electorate, like Parliament, always has the right to change its mind; there will be another chance to win or lose in a few years’ time. That’s what democracy is, and we shouldn’t change it for the world. Democracy can’t proceed without elections, but elections (as we saw in Ceredigion) can’t proceed without candidates, and candidates can’t proceed without hard work. The electors (or a subset thereof) might not be aware of the hard work that candidates put in, but this column is, and is grateful for it. It is only right that we, as electors, celebrate and recognise all that hard work by casting our votes at the end of it all – whoever you cast them for.

It only remains for me to say that this column will return for the first local by-elections of the 2017 Parliament, to be held on 22nd June 2017 in Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire, North Yorkshire and Powys as we continue to work through the fallout of the May elections. Until then, whoever you support, have a good election night and I’ll see you on the other side.


Andrew Teale edits the Local Elections Archive Project and sometimes tweets at @andrewteale.