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

Before we start this week, a correction is in order. Two weeks ago in the preview for Milton Regis ward, Swale district, I stated that Liberal Democrat councillor Mark Baldock, who represented the ward from 2002 to 2003, had later become a Labour figure and was elected as a UKIP member of Swale council in 2015. In fact the former Labour figure turned UKIP Swale councillor is not Mark Baldock but Mike Baldock. I apologise to both Mark and Mike for the error.

In this middle week of August there really is something for everyone, with the Conservatives defending two seats and Labour and the Lib Dems one each. Two of this week’s four by-elections occur in the fast-growing town of Aylesbury in what are effectively four-way marginal wards, which all three main parties and UKIP will be casting greedy eyes on. We also take a trip to one of the world’s most famous racecourses to look at the runners and riders. But we start with the most crucial by-election of the week, an area in the throes of demographic change which will determine overall control of a city council. Read on…


Park

Peterborough council, Cambridgeshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor John Shearman. A retired headteacher, he had served since 2011; in 2016 he was cautioned by police following an altercation with a Conservative councillor at a council meeting. Shearman is resigning from the council to concentrate on caring for his wife, who has dementia.

For our first and most important by-election this week we are in Peterborough. Park ward lies immediately to the north of the city centre, running from the King’s School (venue for the UK leg of the World Quizzing Championships in 2010) northwards to Central Park and the Peterborough Regional College. This is a residential area of large Victorian houses which has seen much demographic change in recent years, because it has been a focus for immigration. At the 2011 census 18% of the population of Peterborough Park ward were born in the new EU states, the eighth-highest figure of any ward in England and Wales; in consequence the White Other population (23%) is also very high. However, the White Other ethnic group is outnumbered by the Asian ethnic group who form 30% of the population; most of those are Muslim. In consequence of these private renting is high and the ward’s age profile is young.

That demographic change has turned the ward’s election results on its head. Park ward, whose boundaries have survived successive boundary reviews to be unchanged since 1997 and only little changed since 1976, had previously been a safe Conservative ward under normal circumstances: although the Alliance did well here in the mid-1980s, Labour had only won the ward once at the Tory nadir of 1995, and then needed help from a split in the Conservative vote caused by an Independent Conservative candidate standing. As recently as 2008 Labour polled under 11% of the vote and finished in third place behind the Greens.

That changed in 2011 when Labour’s John Shearman gained the ward from the Conservatives, polling 51% – a startling swing of 35% in just three years. Labour gained a second seat in the ward in 2014; the 2016 election, in which all three seats were up, resulted in no change to the party balance with Labour beating the Conservatives 40-38 in votes and 2-1 in seats. There were no local elections in Peterborough this May, but in June Labour gained the city’s parliamentary seat and a council by-election in East ward from the Conservatives, suggesting that Labour’s Peterborough machine is in good working order. It needs to be as this by-election is crucial for control of the city council: the ruling Conservative group and the combined opposition groups both hold 29 seats (plus a vacancy each), so a Conservative gain in this by-election will give the Tories overall control of Peterborough council.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have selected Asian candidates. Defending for Labour is Shaz Nawaz, a chartered accountant who fought the hopeless Dogsthorpe ward in 2016. The Conservatives have reselected Arfan Khan who was runner-up here in the 2016 election. Completing the ballot paper are Carolyn English for the Green Party, Graham Whitehead for UKIP and Ian Hardman for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Peterborough

May 2016 result Lab 1618/1569/1343 C 1546/1536/1203 Grn 355 UKIP 345 LD 163
May 2015 result Lab 2049 C 1438 UKIP 326 Grn 172 LD 90
May 2014 result Lab 1410 C 1191 UKIP 283 Grn 121 LD 74 TUSC 12
May 2012 result C 1530 Lab 1284 Grn 147
May 2011 result Lab 1555 C 1220 Grn 151 EDP 113
May 2010 result C 1694 Lab 1395 Grn 375 EDP 257
May 2008 result C 1723 Grn 274 Lab 263 LD 120 Lib 79
May 2007 result C 1408 Lab 770 Grn 252 Lib 108 LD 83
May 2006 result C 1412 Lab 399 Lib 299 Ind 249
June 2004 result C 1370/1341/1262 Lab 701/696/565 Ind 557 Lib 384
May 2002 result C 1329 Lab 672 LD 317
June 2001 result C 2020 Lab 1178 LD 568
May 2000 result C 1833 Lab 422 LD 154
May 1999 result C 1248 Lab 604
May 1997 result C 2086/2020/1903 Lab 1577/1355/1242 Lib 743


St Mary’s

Forest Heath council, Suffolk; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Bill Sadler at the age of 81.

Described as a constant and often controversial figure in local politics, Sadler started his local government career on the old Newmarket urban district council, serving as the UDC’s last chairman in 1973-74. He was first elected to Forest Heath council in 1976 as an independent candidate, serving as the council chairman in 1980-81, but lost his seat in 1983. Sadler returned to the council in a 1998 by-election for St Mary’s ward, lost his seat again in 2007 after having supported the introduction of car parking charges in Newmarket, but returned in 2011. He had also served on Suffolk county council, and had come under fire last year: both for editing the Newmarket Messenger, a magazine part-funded by Newmarket town council which he also sat on, and for nominating opposition candidates in a town council by-election which got him kicked out of the Conservative party. Away from the council he was a Yorkshire-born civil engineer, who designed the town’s Houldsworth Valley housing estate where he lived, chaired the Newmarket branch of the British Legion and was a founder member of the Newmarket Town Band.

St Mary’s is the most common ward name in the UK, reflecting the number of churches which have been dedicated to the Virgin (or Magdalene) over the years. This particular St Mary’s ward is in Suffolk’s most westerly town, Newmarket, covering the western end of the town between the road to Cambridge and the road to Exning. That can only mean one thing: horse-racing, and this ward includes the Suffolk half of Newmarket racecourse (which spills over the county boundary into Cambridgeshire). Two of the UK’s classic flat races – the 2,000 Guineas and the 1,000 Guineas – are raced here each May, and the town’s entire economy is based around the gee-gees, whether it’s horse trading, training, breeding, competition, veterinary, historical, artistic or related services. Even the town’s MP, Matt Hancock, took part in the 2016 running of the Newmarket Town Plate, reportedly finishing in second place. As one of the most important global centres of the racehorse business, Newmarket is important for the UK’s export trade and St Mary’s ward has high employment levels.

Newmarket has a complicated administrative history, having originally been split between Cambridgeshire and Suffolk who have playing tug-of-war over the town ever since. The 1970s local government reorganisation had originally proposed giving Cambridgeshire custody of the town, but lobbying by Suffolk led to Newmarket between transferred back to Suffolk at a late stage. This led to, as well as a very strange-looking border, the town becoming the largest settlement in the tiny Forest Heath district, whose council chamber is however based in Mildenhall. Forest Heath shares its website and much of its administration with the neighbouring St Edmundsbury district, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if a merger between the two councils was sought in the future.

Newmarket’s St Mary’s ward has had some complicated election results, too. In 2003 – the first election on the current boundaries – the ward’s three seats split two to the Conservatives and one to the West Suffolk Independent Alliance, who topped the poll. The Conservatives lost a seat (Sadler’s seat) to an independent candidate in 2007, but were back to two seats in 2011 – the other seat that year going to Labour. In the 2015 election the Tories got a full slate for the first time this century, but on a close three-way result: vote shares were 39% for the Conservative slate, 32% for Labour and 28% for UKIP. The Tories had a larger majority in May’s county elections for the local division (Exning and Newmarket).

There are three runners in this particular race. In the parade ring can be found defending Conservative candidate Robert Nobbs, a hotel manager who won a by-election to Newmarket Town Council from this ward in May. Wearing the red colours is Labour candidate Michael Jefferys, a long-serving town councillor, twice Mayor of Newmarket and district councillor for this ward from 2011 to 2015; Jeffreys is also straight back on the campaign trail having fought the local county council seat in May and West Suffolk (for the fifth time) in June’s general election. There is no UKIP candidate so Alice Haylock of the Green Party completes your racecard – er, ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: West Suffolk
Suffolk county council division:

May 2015 result C 876/855/784 Lab 714/465/412 UKIP 632/482/353
May 2011 result C 540/505/355 Lab 473/329 Ind 451 UKIP 372
May 2007 result Ind 570 C 433/374/367 Forest Heath Independent Alliance 420/351 UKIP 369 Lab 350
May 2003 result West Suffolk Independent Alliance 445/394 C 443/429/340 Lab 334/250/212 UKIP 166


Riverside

and

Southcourt

Aylesbury Vale council, Buckinghamshire; caused respectively by the resignations of Conservative councillor Nick Lewis and Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Agoro. Agoro had served since winning a by-election in December 2014, Lewis since 2015. Both resignations were described as being for personal reasons.

For our final two by-elections of the week we are in Aylesbury, the strangely unlovely county town of Buckinghamshire. We start with Riverside ward (the river in question is the Thame) which covers the north-western corner of town along the Bicester Road together with the parish of Berryfields.

North-western Aylesbury is one of the boom areas of modern Britain, slated for an enormous amount of new housing as part of the Berryfields development. This has led to infrastructure changes to serve the area: Aylesbury Vale Parkway railway station opened in December 2008, while a link road (not shown on the map) between the A41 and A413 opened in 2014. Even the former Quarrendon parish has been renamed Berryfields to reflect the development. The Boundary Commission took a look at Aylesbury Vale district in advance of the 2015 election; mindful of the future growth projections, their new Riverside ward is a cut-down version of the former Quarrendon ward but with an extra councillor, and its electorate is expected to almost double in size over the next few years. For what it’s worth, at the 2011 census the old Quarrendon ward made the top 90 in England and Wales for those educated to Level 1 (1-5 GCSEs) with relatively high social renting and Asian populations.

Southcourt ward, on the other hand, escaped the 2015 boundary review with only minor changes. This is a residential area of mostly inter-war housing to the south of the town centre and railway station, with a young age profile and, again, relatively high social renting and Asian populations.

Both of these areas were strongly Lib Dem during the Noughties but have shown some instability since the Coalition was formed. In the 2011 elections the Lib Dems lost both seats in Quarrendon ward to UKIP and one seat in Southcourt ward to Labour. Labour lost their Southcourt seat back to the Lib Dems in a December 2014 by-election but regained it at the ordinary election five months later in a very fragmented result: the shares of the vote in Southcourt that year were 29% and 1 seat for the Lib Dems, 23% and 1 seat for Labour, 22% for the Conservatives and 21% for UKIP. In May’s county elections the Aylesbury South-West division, which is based on this ward, was a Lib Dem gain from UKIP.

The only previous election in Riverside ward on the current boundaries, in 2015, went 36% and 2 seats to UKIP, 31% and 1 seat to the Conservatives, and 18% for Labour. This might suggest that the Lib Dems are out of the running, but in May they gained the county council seat covering the “town” part of the ward (Aylesbury North-West) from UKIP on a low share of the vote; on the other hand, Berrylands parish is in a strongly Conservative county division (Stone and Waddesdon).

Confused? You will be. Defending Riverside ward for Labour is Ashley Waite, who gives an address in the village of Waddesdon. (In May’s county election Waites subscribed to the nomination papers of the Tory candidate for Stone and Waddesdon, as did local resident, grandson of Winston Churchill and Serco chief executive Rupert Soames.) Hoping to restore the ward’s full UKIP slate is Phil Gomm, a DJ from the village of Granborough who was county councillor for Aylesbury East until May and fought (and lost) a council by-election in Aylesbury’s Elmhurst ward in April. Labour have selected John Cowell, a trade unionist who has worked in the social care sector for many years. Also standing are Jason Bingley for the Lib Dems and Mary Hodgskiss for the Green Party.

In Southcourt ward the Lib Dems have reselected their unsuccessful candidate from 2015 Sally-Anne Jarvis. Both Labour and the Conservatives have selected candidates from the Asian community: Labour’s candidate is Ansar Gulzar, who works for a healthcare provider, and the Tories have reselected Akhmad Hussain who was runner-up here in 2015. The UKIP candidate is Geoffrey Baile, who gives an address in Aston Clinton and fought his home ward in 2015. Completing the ballot paper is Green candidate Julie Atkins.

Riverside

Parliamentary constituency: Aylesbury (except for a small corner in Buckingham)
Buckinghamshire county council division: Aylesbury North-West (part: part of Aylesbury town); Stone and Waddesdon (part: Berryfields parish)

May 2015 result UKIP 1142/918/828 C 988/895/716 Lab 566 LD 495/486/471

Southcourt

Parliamentary constituency: Aylesbury
Buckinghamshire county council division: Aylesbury South-West

May 2015 result LD 772/522 Lab 604/398 C 586/547 UKIP 560/432 Grn 152/93