Welcome to the (first?) 2017 parliament. After a week off while we digested the consequences of that general election result – congratulations to any readers of Andrew’s Previews who saw the hung parliament coming – we are back on the by-election trail with five polls on 22nd June 2017. There have already been lots of knock-on effects from the 8th June election, as those of us resident in Great Britain apply the tin-opener to the can of worms which is the DUP, but the electoral timetable turns more slowly than the 24-hour news cycle and this week will deal not with the fallout from May’s election defeat, but from May’s election wins – the metro mayors elected in the May local government elections, that is. Conservative defences in Gloucestershire, Cambridgeshire and northern Yorkshire come under this category, and we will also discuss a Sheffield by-election where the Greens will be looking to catapult themselves back into relevance following a disappointing general election campaign. But we start in mid-Wales with the first by-election arising from a vacancy among the 2017 intake of councillors – or not, as the case may be. Read on…


Yscir

Powys council; caused by no nominations being received for the May 2017 ordinary election.

What if they had an election and nobody came? Well, a by-election is the result. It’s fairly common at parish council level for insufficient candidates to come forward to fill vacancies, but principal council level is another matter; the most recent example your columnist can remember is from 2012, when there were no candidates for a deeply rural ward in Merioneth.

It’s no coincidence that this vacancy is in a deeply rural area too. Yscir division, named after Yscir community which takes its name from the Ysgir river, covers the Mynydd Epynt, a large upland plateau to the north-west of Brecon rising to a maximum height of 1,568 feet. Much of this is Army land covered by SENTA, the Sennybridge Training Area, which is generally out of bounds to the public because the MoD use it for training with live ammunition and explosives. In consequence the villages on or around the Epynt – Merthyr Cynog, Upper Chapel, Lower Chapel – are tiny, with most of the ward’s population living in the Usk valley to the west of Brecon in larger villages such as Aberyscir and Trallong. These may be larger villages, but that’s not saying much: Yscir is one of the smallest wards in England and Wales with comfortably under 900 electors on the register. That tiny, rural population base propels Yscir into 7th place of all the wards in England and Wales for self-employment (30% of the workforce) and 10th in England and Wales for the 45-64 age group (38% of the population). There was probably a larger population here in Roman times, when the Cicucium fort had accommodation for up to 500 cavalrymen recruited from Spain. One wonders what they would have made of the typical Welsh summer.

This first by-election generated by the Class of 2017 councillors comes after the retirement at the 2017 election of independent councillor Gillian Thomas, who is now 79 and had represented the area since the establishment of the modern Powys council in 1996. Thomas was unopposed in the 1999 and 2004 elections, beating another independent candidate easily in 2008 but at her last re-election in 2012 she beat the Lib Dems narrowly, by 255 votes to 241.

With nominations reopened six candidates have come forward for this second opportunity to replace Thomas. Three of them are independents. Chris Davies is a sheep farmer from Lower Chapel who was profiled by the BBC in 2003 as a mentor helping fellow farmers to become computer-literate. Steve Davies is a two-time independent councillor for the neighbouring Bronllys ward, who stood for re-election in May with the Conservative nomination and was defeated. Daniel Evans is from Lower Chapel. The official Conservative candidate is Iain McIntosh who contested Brecon St John ward in May. Plaid Cymru’s Kate Heneghan, from Aberyscir, is even hotter off the campaign trail after contesting Brecon and Radnorshire in the general election two weeks ago, while Bethan Irwin completes the ballot paper for the Green Party – who won their first ever Powys council seat last month and are looking to this by-election to form a Green group on the council.

Parliamentary constituency: Brecon and Radnorshire

May 2017 result No candidates
May 2012 result Ind 255 LD 241
May 2008 result Ind 358 Ind 82
June 2004 result Ind unopposed
May 1999 result Ind unopposed


Winterbourne

South Gloucestershire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Tim Bowles, who was elected Mayor of the West of England Combined Authority last month. An events company manager, he had served since 2011.

Moving into England, we come to the first of three by-elections caused by the newly elected metro mayors resigning their former council seats. Three of the six metro mayors were local councillors, with two (Burnham in Greater Manchester and Rotheram in Liverpool City Region) being MPs who stood down from Parliament in June and one (Street in the West Midlands) having no previous electoral experience.

Tim Bowles leaves behind a vacancy in Winterbourne ward, a large village just outside the Bristol built-up area to the north of the junction where the M32 starts its journey into Bristol. Winterbourne is set in countryside between the River Frome and the Bradley Brook, and is was the childhood home of J K Rowling, who allegedly based Albus Dumbledore on the then headmaster of St Michael’s primary school. However, the ward is probably best known for the scandal at the former Winterbourne View care home, where a 2011 BBC Panorama investigation exposed physical and psychological abuse of people with learning difficulties.

The ward bearing Winterbourne’s name was cut back in boundary changes for the 2007 election – it had previously included Frenchay and the University of the West of England campus and had three councillors rather than two. The 2007 version of Pagford – sorry, Winterbourne ward, has been safe Conservative since its creation: the last election here in 2015 had 46% for the Tory slate to 22% for the Lib Dems and 16% for UKIP.

Defending for the Tories is Nic Labuschagne, an IT manager originally from South Africa. The Lib Dems have selected Peter Bruce, who fought Filton and Bradley Stoke in the 2015 general election. There is no UKIP candidate this time – in fact there are no UKIP candidates for any of this week’s by-elections, which says something abot the organisational hole the party finds itself in – so the ballot paper is completed by 18-year-old A-level student George Angus for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Filton and Bradley Stoke

May 2015 result C 2302/1954 LD 1099/554 UKIP 811 Lab 754/683
May 2011 result C 1704/1630 Lab 632/563 LD 466/452
May 2007 result C 1516/1512 LD 897/806 Ind 196 Lab 178/165


Soham North

East Cambridgeshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor James Palmer, who was elected Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority last month. He had served since 2007.

Soham is a town defined rather by tragedy and lost opportunity. It could have been so much more than it is, a small agricultural town on the edge of the fens: there is extensive archaeological evidence to show the prehistory of the area, but Soham’s recorded history begins in AD 630 when St Felix of Burgundy, the first Bishop of the East Angles, founded an abbey here. The abbey was upgraded to a cathedral around AD 900, but the cathedral status didn’t stick: parts of the Saxon cathedral were later incorporated in the twelfth-century St Andrew’s Church. In 1792 St Andrew’s was the scene for the wedding of a local girl called Susannah Cullen to a black African called Gustavus Vassa, better known to history as the freed slave Olaudah Equiano, while another man associated with the town is William Case Morris, who emigrated from Soham to Argentina and founded several children’s homes there – a district of Buenos Aires is named after him. The town’s railway station was destroyed in 1944 when a railway wagon carrying ammunition caught fire and exploded; good work by the train crew, who divided the train and pulled the burning wagon clear at great risk to themselves, stopped the entire train going up which would have flattended the town altogther. Despite all this history, Soham is still indelibly known in the national psyche for the murder of two ten-year-old girls by their school caretaker in 2002.

This ward has seen large population growth since it was created in 2003 from the division of the former Soham ward, which was the last five-councillor ward in England – the notice of poll gives an electorate of 4,002, which is 40% higher than fourteen years ago. (The polling stations are at the local football club Soham Town Rangers, who play in the Isthmian League first division and narrowly escaped relegation last season.) That population growth has been to the advantage of the Conservatives who first contested the ward in 2007, defeating an independent slate, and have since made the ward safe: in 2015 the Tory lead was 64-20 over the Lib Dems. The Tories had a slightly larger lead over the Lib Dems in the local county division (Soham North and Isleham) in May. Economically the ward is doing well, with over 50% of the workforce in full-time employment as of the 2011 census.

Defending for the Conservatives is Mark Goldsack, who runs a property insurance claims company and chairs the Isleham community association. The Lib Dem candidate is Alec Jones, and the ballot paper is completed by Labour’s candidate Peter Tyson, who will presumably pull no punches.

Parliamentary constituency: South East Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire county council division: Soham North and Isleham

May 2015 result C 1346/1231 LD 431/415 Lab 329/283
May 2011 result C 719/613 LD 252/247 Lab 182
May 2007 result C 581/422 Ind 274/175 LD 155/68
May 2003 result Ind 252/228 LD 151/119 Lab 119


Nether Edge & Sharrow

Sheffield council, South Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Nasima Akther. She had served snce 2014 for the former Nether Edge ward and since 2016 for this ward.

We finish this week with two by-elections at opposite ends of Yorkshire. Nether Edge and Sharrow ward lies just to the south of Sheffield town centre, covering two rather contrasting areas. Nether Edge itself is an attractive Victorian suburb, a leafy place with lots of stone villas. However, it’s getting less leafy as time goes on: council tree felling is a major controversy in the ward, and Akther was suspended from the Labour group in January for abstaining on a council motion supporting the council’s tree management strategy. Sharrow, by contrast, is an inner-city area of Victorian terraces and council housing around Bramall Lane football ground.

This ward was only created in 2016 when Sharrow was transferred from Sheffield’s Central ward, which had seen enormous population growth and was grossly oversized, to the former Nether Edge ward. The old Nether Edge was an ethnically diverse area with large Asian, Muslim and student populations and high education levels – over 50% of the workforce had degrees, another 13% were studying for one, and the old ward just made the top 1000 in England and Wales for the ONS “higher management” employment category. The former Central ward was dominated by students at Sheffield’s universities who made up a majority of the workforce, and was even more ethnically diverse than Nether Edge.

Politically the area voted more or less as you’d expect. Before 2004, when Nether Edge and Sharrow were separate wards, Sharrow was solidly Labour while Nether Edge voted Tory until the mid-1980s, Labour until the 1990s and Lib Dem after that. From 2004 to 2015 Nether Edge ward was Lib Dem until the coalition and Labour after that, but at its last election in 2015 Labour were run close by the Green Party. Central ward was generally Green from its creation in 2004, although Labour were capable of winning it, and Sharrow was reckoned by local observers to be the strongest Green part of Central ward, so there was speculation that the new Nether Edge and Sharrow ward could have been notionally Green in 2015. It didn’t quite work out like that: Labour won in the 2016 election, the only previous poll on these boundaries, with 38% to 34% for the Green Party and 15% for the Lib Dems, and the seats split 2 to Labour and 1 to the Greens who beat the third Labour candidate by eight votes. Two weeks ago the Greens finished third across the Sheffield Central constituency with 8%, which despite having former leader Natalie Bennett as their candidate was half of what they had managed two years earlier.

So this is an early test for the Greens, who will be keen to get back to relevance after Corbyn successfully parked his tanks on their lawn during the general election campaign (not that Corbyn necessarily endorses the use of tanks, you understand). The Labour candidate is Jim Steinke, a former Labour councillor (Netherthorpe ward, 1986-91, Intake ward 1991-95) and more recently chief executive of the Northern Refugee Centre. The Greens have selected Rob Unwin, who works for an educational charity. The Lib Dem candidate is Shahid Ali, who according to his Twitter is a community development practitioner, Sheffield United fan and sports presenter for a local radio station. None of the other parties – including the Conservatives – have bothered to put up a candidate, so that is your ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Sheffield Central

May 2016 result Lab 2850/2646/2555 Grn 2563/2403/2231 LD 1091/904/796 C 294 UKIP 274 Ind 254 TUSC 146


Yarm

Stockton-on-Tees council, North Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Ben Houchen, who was elected Mayor of the Tees Valley Combined Authority last month. He had served since 2011.

From the southern end of Yorkshire we move to the northern end. Yarm is an old town within a bend of the River Tees which was once the river’s tidal limit and lowest crossing point. The A19 passed through the town centre until the 1970s when its current route to the east was built, while the town centre is overlooked by a long railway viaduct. Yarm has had a railway station since 1996, on Transpennine Express’s York-Middlesbrough route, and the town’s good road connections have made it an attractive commuter area for the Teesside conurbation. Also within the ward are the parishes of Castlelevington and Kirklevington; Kirklevington is home to HMP Kirklevington Grange, a low-security prison for inmates approaching the end of their sentences and intending to settle in the north-east.

Yarm is included in the Tees Valley mayoral area and the Stockton South parliamentary constituency, which have delivered some very strange and unexpected election results over the last two months: the Tories won the Tees Valley mayoralty in May, but Labour gained Stockton South in the general election two weeks ago. In both cases Yarm is likely to have been in the Conservative column, but examination of the town’s election results reveals tensions within the Conservative group: of the three councillors elected here on the Tory slate in 2011, one (Mark Chatburn) ended up in UKIP and a second (Andrew Sharris) sought re-election in 2015 at the head of the Yarm Independent Association slate, the Tories’ traditional rivals in this ward. Sherris, who had represented Yarm ward on Stockton council from 1983 to 1995 and since 2005, had been deselected for the 2015 election and suspended from the Tory group over a series of scandals, including non-payment of council tax on a second home and the sale of railings belonging to Yarm town council

In 2015 the Conservatives held the ward with 46% to 32% for the Yarm Independent Association and 21% for Labour, with both Houchen and Sherris having clear personal votes and running well ahead of their running-mates.

So without Houchen on the ballot, the Yarm Conservatives have a difficult task to pick themselves up from the unexpected loss of the parliamentary seat and hold this by-election. Their candidate is Tony Hampton, chair of Kirklevington and Castlelevington’s joint parish council and hoping to join his wife Elsi as a Stockton councillor for Yarm. Andrew Sherris, who still sits on Yarm town council, is standing as independent candidate. The Labour candidate is Kevin Nicholas, who contested his home ward of Ingleby Barwick East in 2015. Completing the ballot paper is Graham Robinson for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Stockton South

May 2015 result C 2629/2275/2227 Yarm Ind Assoc 1852/1591/1433 Lab 1219/1027/890
May 2011 result C 1829/1721/1556 Yarm Ind Assoc 1287/1218/1101 Lab 666/620/610 LD 186/152/141
May 2007 result C 1358/1268/1223 Yarm Ind Assoc 1005/817/740 LD 493/455/452 Lab 301/297/294
May 2005 result C 2127/1856/1739 LD 1453/1351/1199 Yarm Ind Assoc 1327/886 Lab 1002/978/942