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

The hit BBC2 quiz show Only Connect returned to our screens last week for a new series and included a set of four terms associated with elections, one of which has to the best of my knowledge never appeared in the six-year history of Andrew’s Previews: “cleavage”. Clearly this a word all the smart political operators use, and it turns out that in a political sense cleavage can refer to any factor which could cause differences in voting behaviour: age, class, location, you name it. So now you know.

This week’s edition of Andrew’s Previews sees several references to a man historically not averse to a bit of cleavage (in every sense of the word), King Henry VIII. Showing that our remit is not confined to this island of Great Britain, we also touch on recent British military adventures in the Middle East, international trade in a pre-Brexit era and that mainstay of August, the package holiday: we visit the town where the package holiday revolution started and two seaside resorts which have had varying degrees of success in coping with it. This week is a bit of a Southern special, with four of our six polls being south of the River Thames, including three in Kent alone; there is a pair of defences each for Labour, the Conservatives and that increasingly bedraggled political force, UKIP, to whose defences we turn first. Read on…


Margate Central

Thanet council, Kent; caused by the resignation of councillor Jeffrey Elenor who was elected as UKIP but had left the party. He had served since 2015, and also served on Kent county council from 2013 until May 2017.

On Margate sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
– T S Eliot, The Waste Land

Welcome to what is described in its tourist information as a timeless seaside resort, which may explain why the passage of time has left it behind. Margate has been serving bathers for 250 years, most of them coming from London 65 miles to the west. Like many seaside resorts, Margate’s economic base was severely damaged by the package holiday revolution which made the Mediterranean, the Canaries or other foreign climes, with their more relaxed lifestyle and better weather, more attractive holiday destinations; and Margate has been struggling to reinvent itself ever since. Recent attempts to do so have involved playing on the town’s history and particularly its association with the artist J M W Turner: the Turner Contemporary art gallery, opened in 2011 in a striking modern building on the seafront, is described as the largest exhibition space in south-east England outside London. Margate is also home to the world’s second-oldest rollercoaster, the Scenic Railway at Dreamland, which was opened in 1920 and reopened in 2015 after being severely damaged by fire some years previously.

Dreamland and the Turner Contemporary lie at opposite ends of Margate Central ward, which also claims another second-oldest – the Theatre Royal, established in 1787 and rebuilt after being destroyed by fire in 1829, is the UK’s second-oldest theatre. Also within the boundary is Margate’s old town centre and the headquarters of Thanet district council. Despite all this unemployment is extremely high – 11.2% at the 2011 census, in the top 25 wards in England and Wales – while the ward’s resort heritage means that it makes the top 50 English and Welsh wards for private renting, with over half of the ward’s households having that form of tenure.

This normally adds up to a Labour-voting ward, although in 2003 its two seats split between Labour and the Conservatives, whose lead candidate Colin Kiddell defeated the second Labour candidate by one vote. Kiddell was forced to resign within months over accusations that he had stolen and embezzled funds from a campaign to reopen Dreamland and save the Scenic Railway, and Labour easily gained his former seat in the resulting by-election. And that was that for excitement in the ward’s elections until 2015, when UKIP had a good go at trying to get Nigel Farage into parliament; he didn’t win South Thanet (which is based on Ramsgate and Sandwich; this ward is in the North Thanet constituency) but UKIP had the consolation prize of winning 33 of Thanet council’s 56 seats and overall control. One of those UKIP seats came from Margate Central ward, which split its votes 33% to Labour (who held the other seat), 31% for UKIP and 20% for the Conservatives; further down the ballot was one of the few local election candidates nominated by the Reality Party, a left-wing group associated with Bez from the Happy Mondays, which polled 3% and failed to make an impact. The new UKIP district councillor was Jeffrey Elenor, a retired civil servant who had been elected to Kent county council two years previously (from Margate West division).

Since then it’s been, appropriately enough, a rollercoaster ride for the ruling UKIP group on Thanet council. UKIP’s council groups have not been noted for such boring things as cohesion and internal discipline, and the fact that they are supposed to be running the council has made not a jot of difference to that in Thanet. In two short years the party has lost its majority due to defections (including their councillor for this ward, Jeffrey Elenor), got it back again in by-elections, and then lost it again through further defections. Combine that with the UKIP wipeout in 2017’s Kent county council election, in which the party fell to a poor third in the Margate division which was narrowly won by Labour with the Tories in second, and the long-term prospects for the Kippers look poor. The party are now down to 27 seats on Thanet council (plus this vacancy) and will be in a minority if they fail to recover the defection loss in this by-election.

Defending for UKIP is Liz Plewis. Labour have selected Ian Venables, who has worked in public health in Margate for 25 years. The Conservative candidate is Reece Pugh, a Commons caseworker and recent University of Kent graduate. Completing the ballot paper are Bernard Kirkham for the Greens, independent candidates Dean McCastree and Pip Rees, and Lib Dem John Finnegan.

Parliamentary constituency: North Thanet
Kent county council division: Margate
ONS Travel to Work Area: Margate and Ramsgate

May 2015 result Lab 680/497 UKIP 639/590 C 411/348 Grn 232/159 Reality Party 64 Ind 47
May 2011 result Lab 682/570 C 283/235
May 2007 result Lab 605/551 C 192/185 Ind 153 BNP 116
Oct 2003 by-election Lab 370 C 201 BNP 172 LD 85 UKIP 37 Socialist Alliance 19 Ind 18 [Lab gain from C]
May 2003 result Lab 390/353 C 354/299 Ind 108


Milton Regis

Swale council, Kent; caused by the death of UKIP councillor Katy Coleman at the age of 45. Originally from Cornwall, Coleman had moved to Sittingbourne with her husband around eight years ago.

Moving west along the north coast of Kent we come to Milton Regis, once an urban district of its own but now a northern suburb of Sittingbourne. Milton Regis is a lot older than Sittingbourne – Queen Seaxburh of Kent became a nun here in AD 680, and the town was sacked in 1052 by Godwin, Earl of Wessex, in a dispute over the Anglo-Saxon throne – but its prosperity in recent centuries came from paper manufacturing and from Milton Precast, which still makes concrete pipes in the ward today. This was traditionally an industrial and working-class area and has demographics to match.

Milton Regis ward had boundary changes in advance of the 2015 election. The 2002-15 edition of the ward was a Lib Dem-Labour marginal, electing Elvina Lowe and Mark Baldock for the Lib Dems in 2002, but Baldock lost his seat to Labour in 2003 (he later became a Labour figure and was elected as a UKIP borough councillor in 2015) and Labour easily gained the other Lib Dem seat in 2011. The expanded ward in 2015 elected one Conservative candidate and one UKIPper, a result which seems to have come as a surprise to everyone involved as neither the Tories nor UKIP had a full slate: shares of the vote were 34% for the Conservatives and 29% each for UKIP and Labour, the UKIP councillor having a majority of just four votes. As in Margate, UKIP ran a poor third in the local county division (Sittingbourne North) in May’s county elections, with the Conservatives beating Labour in the division by nine points.

Defending for UKIP is Richard Palmer, a parish councillor in Newington near Sittingbourne who fought Sittingbourne and Sheppey in the 2015 general election. The Conservatives have gone for youth in selecting 18-year-old Kane Blackwell, a “future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom among other things” if his Twitter is to be believed. The Labour candidate is Tony Winckless, councillor for the former Milton Regis ward from 2011 until losing his seat in 2015. Completing the ballot paper is Tony Clarke of the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Sittingbourne and Sheppey
Kent county council division: Sittingbourne North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Medway

May 2015 result C 993 UKIP 849 Lab 845/754 LD 252


Penshurst, Fordcombe & Chiddingstone

Sevenoaks council, Kent; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Paddy Cooke. He had served since 2007.

For our third Kent by-election of the week we travel away from the coast to a large and rather unwieldy rural ward in the High Weald at the western end of the county. Penshurst may not go back into history quite as far as Milton Regis, but it is the location of the fourteenth-century stately home Penshurst Place, birthplace of the Elizabeth poet and soldier Sir Philip Sidney and still held by his descendants (now the Viscounts De L’Isle), who make money by opening it to the public and film companies – scenes from the TV series Merlin and the films The Princess Bride and The Other Boleyn Girl were filmed here. The latter is particularly appropriate as Penshurst Place was situated close to Anne Boleyn’s childhood home at Hever Castle, and Henry VIII is known to have used the house as a hunting lodge. Another popular filming location within the ward is Chiddingstone (A Room with a View, The Wicked Lady, Wind in the Willows, Elizabeth R), almost entirely owned by the National Trust and described as “the most perfect surviving example of a Tudor village in the county”. Chiddingstone was the original home of the Streatfeild family, who built the nineteenth-century stately home Chiddingstone Castle and were major landowners in the area.

Although this may look like a bucolic rural area in the middle of nowhere, the ward is well within commuting range of London and consequently has a middle-class commuter demographic. Politically it’s a true blue area. Cooke was unopposed at the 2011 election; in 2015 he beat the Lib Dems 53-34 in his last re-election. The Tories had a larger majority in May’s county elections in the local division (Sevenoaks Rural South). Some of the electors in this by-election may be pleased to note that their polling station is a pub; the Wheatsheaf at Bough Beech and the Rock Inn at Chiddingstone Hoath have both been pressed into the service of democracy.

Defending for the Conservatives is Sue Coleman of Chiddingstone, a volunteer at Chiddingstone Castle. The Lib Dems have reselected their candidate from 2015 Richard Streatfeild; one of the Chiddingstone Streatfeilds, Richard served for 16 years in the Rifles, retiring with an MBE, the rank of Major, and much experience of Helmand Province and Radio 4’s Today programme. (He is the older brother of Geoffrey Streatfeild, an actor who has appeared in films and TV including the BBC series Spooks, The Thick of It and The Hollow Crown and, appropriately enough, the film The Other Boleyn Girl.) Completing the ballot paper is Labour candidate Annette Webb.

Parliamentary constituency: Tonbridge and Malling
Kent county division: Sevenoaks Rural South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Tunbridge Wells

May 2015 result C 790 LD 501 Grn 191
May 2011 result C unopposed
May 2007 result C 574 LD 392
May 2003 result C 442 Lab 186


Marine

Worthing council, West Sussex; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Joan Bradley, who has since died. A long-standing chairman of the council’s planning committee, Bradley was first elected in 2004.

First of all, let’s make sure we have the right Marine ward here. There are three Marine wards in West Sussex, of which this is the middle one (the other two are in Bognor Regis and Shoreham by Sea). This Marine ward is in western Worthing, named after Marine Gardens on the seafront and running north from there through 1930s housing along Grand Avenue and George V Avenue to the West Coastway railway line (between West Worthing and Durrington-on-Sea stations).

Worthing’s first industry was mining – from around 4000 BC onwards this was Britain’s largest flint-mining area, and from later eras there are important Bronze and Iron Age forts on the hills surrounding the town. The modern town started in the eighteenth century as a seaside resort, but has avoided Margate’s fate by diversifying into financial services which now form a major part of Worthing’s economy. Glaxo SmithKline, HMRC and Southern Water, the local water company, are also major employers. Worthing has a relatively young population for a seaside resort, partly helped by the fact that it has become popular with people who have been priced out of London and Brighton.

Worthing’s Marine ward has managed to retain unchanged boundaries since at least 1983. All of the 22 elections (for 29 vacancies) held here from 1983 to 2010 resulted in a Conservative win with the Lib Dems or their predecessors in second place; the Lib Dems fell out of second with the formation of the Coalition, and Labour were runners-up in 2011 and 2012, UKIP in 2014 and 2015 and Labour again in 2016, when the Tories won with 45% to 20% for Labour and 16% for UKIP. The Conservatives also led in the Worthing West county division, three-quarters of which is in this ward, at May’s West Sussex county council elections.

Defending for the Conservatives is Joseph Crouch, a sweetshop owner in his late twenties. The Labour candidate is Beccy Cooper, a public health consultant who fought the local parliamentary seat (Worthing West) in last month’s general election. There is no UKIP candidate this time so the ballot paper is completed by Antony Brown for the Liberal Democrats and Caroline Ponto for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Worthing West
West Sussex county council division: Worthing West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Worthing

May 2016 result C 961 Lab 415 UKIP 348 LD 217 Grn 185
May 2015 result C 2296 UKIP 741 Lab 663 LD 472 Grn 455
May 2014 result C 1114 UKIP 692 Lab 298 Grn 264 LD 189
May 2012 result C 959 Lab 357 UKIP 349 LD 260
May 2011 result C 1614 Lab 465 LD 448 UKIP 312
May 2010 double vacancy C 2339/1981 LD 1467/1339 UKIP 510
May 2008 result C 1351 LD 508 UKIP 278
May 2007 result C 1511 LD 344 Grn 201 UKIP 171 Lab 155
May 2006 result C 1489 LD 383 Grn 271 Lab 173 UKIP 166
June 2004 result C 1713/1640/1637 LD 586/499/469 Grn 488 Lab 290
May 2003 result C 1282 LD 373 Lab 222 Grn 140
May 2002 result C 1235 LD 388 Lab 230 Grn 182
May 2000 double vacancy C 1207/1162 LD 562/544 Grn 182/169
May 1999 double vacancy C 1357/1267 LD 510/444 Lab 245 Grn 176
May 1998 result C 1174 LD 521 Lab 216 Grn 76
May 1996 result C 1263 LD 630 Lab 291 Grn 79
May 1995 result C 1316 LD 1132 Lab 310 Grn 69
May 1994 result C 1212 LD 1121 Lab 283 Grn 106
May 1992 result C 1619 LD 584 Lab 102 Grn 80
May 1991 result C 1580 LD 611 Grn 239
May 1990 result C 1802 SLD 582 Lab 479
May 1988 result C 1571 SLD 358 Lab 226
May 1987 result C 2054 Alliance 654 Lab 181
May 1986 result C 1545 Alliance 894 Lab 181
May 1984 result C 1642 Alliance 626 Lab 141
May 1983 result C 1866/1828/1764 Alliance 630/601/586 Residents 558/445


St Margarets with St Nicholas

King’s Lynn and West Norfolk council; caused by the disqualification of Labour councillor Claire Kittow who failed to attend any meetings in six months. She had served since 2015.

After four by-elections in Kent and Sussex it’s time for a change of scene to East Anglia, but we retain a maritime connection. We’re in King’s Lynn, a town which started to develop in the early tenth century on a constricted site between the Purfleet and Mill Fleet rivers. The Domesday book described Lynn (as it then was) as a town with many saltings, and in 1101 Herbert de Losinga, bishop of Norwich, granted a market charter to the town and established a church, which was dedicated to St Margaret and run as a priory by the Benedictines. (It is now the town’s parish church with the title of King’s Lynn Minster.)

Bishop’s Lynn thrived and by the fourteenth century was the most important port and one of the largest towns in England, helped by the diversion of the River Great Ouse which had previously entered the Wash through Wisbech. The town was considered sufficiently important to international trade that the Hanseatic League had a presence, and two Hanseatic warehouses from the fifteenth century survive in the town to this day. The English Reformation led to the dissolution of the town’s priory and its ownership being taken over by Henry VIII, prompting a name change from Bishop’s Lynn to King’s Lynn. From about that point onwards King’s Lynn declined as a port: it was in the wrong location for trade with the newly-discovered Americas, while London overtook it as a more attractive destination for European trade. Despite this the port is still important to the town while the arrival of London overspill in the 1960s led to some new industries being developed.

St Margarets with St Nicholas is Lynn’s town centre ward and includes many of its most important functions: the central business district, the town hall, the borough council offices and the railway station all lie within the ward boundary. Perhaps appropriately for a location with such a long history of continental trade, nearly 17% of the ward’s population are from the new EU states, the 14th highest figure of any ward in England and Wales. The ward’s economic profile is very working-class, making the top 100 wards in England and Wales for occupations classed by the census as “semi-routine”.

This produces a key marginal ward which voted Labour in 2003, Conservative in 2007 and since 2011 has split its two seats between the two main parties. In the 2015 election the Conservatives had 43%, with long-serving Tory councillor Lesley Bambridge having a substantial personal vote and finishing a long way ahead of her running-mate, to 33% for Labour and 24% for the Greens. Labour have held the local county seat (King’s Lynn North and Central) since 2013.

Defending for Labour is Francis Bone, a café owner. The Tory candidate is Mike Taylor, a Gulf War veteran who founded and runs The Bridge for Heroes, a local armed forces charity. Returning from 2015 is Green candidate Rob Archer, a pro-cycling campaigner. Helen Russell-Johnson of the Liberal Democrats completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: North West Norfolk
Norfolk county council division: King’s Lynn North and Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: King’s Lynn

May 2015 result C 714/531 Lab 554/523 Grn 402/250
May 2011 result Lab 448/368 C 418/337 Grn 264 Ind 263
May 2007 result C 595/529 Lab 453/423
May 2003 result Lab 535/523 C 446/378 LD 374/358


Loughborough Shelthorpe

Charnwood council, Leicestershire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Robert Sharp who had served since 2011. Sharp had also been leader of the Labour group on Leicestershire county council, but lost his seat in May’s county elections.

We started this week with a town which was arguably destroyed by the package holiday revolution, so it’s only fair to finish in the town where the package holiday revolution kicked off. In 1841 a businessman from Leicester called Thomas Cook organised a package tour for a local temperance group so that they could go to, er, Loughborough. By this time Loughborough was a developing industrial town, with thriving factories making bells, steam locomotives, motor cars and cranes in situ by the turn of the twentieth century. Today a major contributor to the local economy is Loughborough University, one of the UK’s premier universities for sports and related studies.

Shelthorpe ward, one of ten covering the town, is located in the south of Loughborough and mostly consists of a 1950s council estate along the A6004 towards Leicester, although some housing estates of newer vintage have sprung up over the last couple of decades leading to strong population growth; Shelthorpe is now the largest of Loughborough’s wards with around 5,900 electors. The ward also includes the hamlet of Woodthorpe which is rapidly being swallowed up by the growth of the town.

The new estates have trended the ward from Labour towards the Conservatives over the years, but the Labour vote in Loughborough has been stubborn at local level and it took until 2015 for the Conservatives to break through: the Tory lead over Labour that year was 45-40 with both parties winning one seat each. The Conservatives followed up in May’s county elections by gaining the Loughborough South division, which covers most of this ward, from Robert Sharp; some of the ward’s newer estates are in the safe Conservative county division of Loughborough South West.

So this is turning into a key marginal ward in a key marginal constituency (Loughborough) and as such Labour will be looking for progress. Their defending candidate is Richard Huddlestone. The Tories have selected Richard Ford. Also standing are Ford’s next-door neighbour Alex Guerrero for the Liberal Democrats and Andy McWilliam for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Loughborough
Leicestershire county council division: Loughborough South (part); Loughborough South West (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester

May 2015 result C 1653/1208 Lab 1454/1294 Grn 560
May 2011 result Lab 1078/998 C 870/832
May 2007 result Lab 870/850 C 596/561 BNP 517/485
Oct 2006 by-election Lab 643 BNP 478 C 386 LD 155
May 2003 result Lab 508/501 C 404/386