Before we start this week, another regrettable entry for Correction Corner. In the Riverside by-election in Aylesbury two weeks ago the defending candidate Ashley Waite was not Labour but (as the rest of the article made clear) Conservative. My apologies for the error.


Scarborough council, North Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Marie Harland, who had failed to attend any council meetings in six months. She had served since 2003.

How was your bank holiday weekend? Was the weather good? Did you get out into the countryside? Well, this week Andrew’s Previews has a theme of “let’s see what you could have done” as our two by-elections in the last week of August 2017 cover some major tourist areas. For a rare Tuesday by-election this week we are in a ward almost all of which is covered by the North York Moors National Park. The name refers to Mulgrave Castle, a seventeenth-century country house in the parish of Lythe built by Lady Catherine Darnley, and still the family seat of her descendant, the Marquess of Normanby. The present Mulgrave Castle is not the original: there was a previous Norman castle which was demolished during the Civil War, and before that an ancient castle founded, according to legend, by the sixth-century Wada, ruler of Hälsingland in what is now Sweden.

Mulgrave Castle gives its name to a rural ward of twelve parishes covering the coast between Whitby and Loftus, a beautiful area of cliffs and moorland. The largest of the thirteen polling stations, with 806 electors on the roll, is at the village of Hinderwell and also covers the hamlet of Dalehouse and the tiny beach resort of Runswick Bay; however, the largest centre of population is Staithes, a picture-postcard fishing and tourist village with artistic and Captain Cook connections in the ward’s northern corner. Staithes has attractions not just for second-home owners (of whom there are many; less than half of the village’s houses are occupied by locals) but for scientists: the cliffs between Staithes and Port Mulgrave are of Jurassic rock and contain many fossils, while just outside the ward boundary is Boulby Mine, which as well as providing half of the UK’s potash supply is a centre for scientific experiments attempting to detect particles of dark matter.

Mulgrave ward’s population is relatively old (36% are in the 45-64 age bracket) with high self-employment levels, and almost homogeneously British: it is in the top 50 wards in England and Wales for White British ethnicity (98.6%) and the 2011 census recorded just 13 non-white people living in the ward. The ward’s population is also declining: its electorate has fallen by 17% since 1998 and it looks unlikely that it will survive the present Boundary Commission review of the local district unchanged. A word needs saying about that district: Mulgrave ward is within the hinterland of Whitby, which is sufficiently prosperous and remote that the Office for National Statistics recognises it as the centre of its own Travel to Work Area; but the population of Whitby and its hinterland isn’t large enough to sustain a local government district, so Mulgrave ward is administered from distant Scarborough further down the coast. A rather strange decision for Staithes in particular, which is much closer to the Teesside conurbation and actually has a Teesside postcode (TS13, for Saltburn).

Politically this is a true-blue area. Mulgrave ward returned Conservatives without a contest in 1991 and in 2003, when Marie Harland was first elected in the first use of the current boundaries. However, in 2007 the Tories lost one of the ward’s two seats to independent candidate John Armsby, who was re-elected in 2011 without Tory opposition. In 2015 the Conservatives ran a full slate and regained Armsby’s seat, polling 35% to 21% for Armsby, 18% for UKIP and 16% for Labour. At county council level the ward is combined with western Whitby in the Whitby/Mayfield cum Mulgrave division, which the Conservatives held in May defeating Labour 63-37 in a straight fight. Perhaps a good omen for the Conservatives, who hold 25 seats plus this vacancy on Scarborough council, to 14 Labour, 4 independents, 4 UKIP councillors and 2 Greens; as can be seen, if the Conservatives lose this by-election their majority on Scarborough council goes with it.

Defending this crucial poll for the Conservatives is Marion Watson, who comes from a fishing family in Staithes and was a founder member of the Staithes Community Initiative. Her main opposition is likely to come from former independent councillor John Armsby, who is standing again; he also gives an address in Staithes. Hoping to stir the Heartbeat of the ward’s Labour voters is Goathland resident Hugo Fearnley, who was the Labour candidate here in May’s county elections, and the ballot paper is completed by Yorkshire Party candidate Lee Derrick, from Whitby.

Parliamentary constituency: Scarborough and Whitby
North Yorkshire county council division: Whitby/Mayfield cum Mulgrave

John Armsby (Ind)
Lee Derrick (Yorkshire Party)
Hugo Fearnley (Lab)
Marion Watson (C)

May 2015 result C 795/558 Ind 494/188 UKIP 410 Lab 353/309 Grn 212
May 2011 result C 701 Ind 628 Lab 287
May 2007 result Ind 637 C 528/438 LD 442
May 2003 result 2 C unopposed