Previews: 14 Sep 2017

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

Well, last Thursday was exciting, wasn’t it? Eight of the fourteen seats up for election changed hands, with the Conservatives losing seven seats – three to Labour, two to the Green Party, one to an independent and one to the Lib Dems – which was only slightly offset by a Tory gain from the Liberal Democrats. As argued elsewhere on Britain Elects this week, a lot of this is a repeat of the trends which became apparent in June’s general election; but as always with local by-elections there are plenty of local factors to make the picture that little bit more complicated.

Here’s your guide to the local factors affecting the by-elections on 14th September 2017. This week sees only three polls, all due to resignations, and is a bit of a Defection Special; two of the resigning councillors had left the party they were elected for in 2015 and the other had lost confidence in his group leader. One of this week’s by-elections is a certain UKIP loss and Labour have a good chance of recovering a seat which they lost to the Tories through defection. We will come later to two polls in small towns in the West Country, but we start with an interesting by-election in one of the more unheralded corners of Greater Manchester. Read on…


Bucklow-St Martins

Trafford council; caused by the resignation of councillor John Smith, who was originally elected for Labour but had defected to the Conservatives in 2016, apparently after the Labour group threatened him with disciplinary action. He had served since 2007.

Welcome to the only Conservative-controlled metropolitan borough in the North of England. Trafford council is divided into two halves, a Lancashire half and a Cheshire half, by the River Mersey; Bucklow-St Martins lies in the Cheshire half, and its name recalls the old Bucklow rural district of Cheshire, which was a district of commuter villages in the Altrincham and Knutsford hinterlands, together with the St Martins area of Sale, a town so middle-class and prosperous by Northern standards that its main sport is rugby union. St Martins is combined with two parishes from the old Bucklow district on the south bank of the Mersey.

This is a corner of what used to be Cheshire which is little known and less visited, and there’s a reason for that. Real Housewives of Cheshire this is not. Despite the presence in the ward of Manchester United’s training ground and Manchester City’s former training ground (now rented out to Bury FC), Footballers’ Wives this is not.

The main centre of population in Bucklow-St Martins ward is Partington, a small and isolated town which was the site of Trafford’s first factory – an eighteenth-century paper mill – but was transformed in 1894 by the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal. The canal turned Partington into the most convenient seaport for the Lancashire coalfield, and in its first two decades of operation over half of the ship canal’s export tonnage was coal from Partington. This attracted other industries such as steelworking and chemicals, and most of the ward’s acreage is still occupied by the enormous Carrington chemical works – once a Shell refinery – and a gas storage facility.

More recent projects in the ward include the building of a new gas-fired Carrington Power Station on the site of an old coal-fired power plant; the new power station started generating electricity in September 2016. The railway line through Partington closed in the 1960s (although the viaduct it took over the canal to Irlam is still there decaying like a row of bad teeth), and the ward’s road connections, which are very poor, were improved in 1987 with the opening of the Carrington Spur. Despite being two-lane single-carriageway throughout, until 2006 the Carrington Spur had motorway status – with the number A6144(M) – and was one of the very few places where it was legal to drive at 70mph on a single-carriageway road.

Carrington never took off as an urban centre – its population in the 2001 census was lower than in 1801 – but Partington grew strongly after the Second World War thanks to the building of Manchester overspill estates. The St Martins part of Sale is also a council estate. That has left its mark on the ward’s demography: over 40% of Bucklow-St Martins’ households are socially rented, the economic profile is working-class, and Partington contains the most deprived census district in Trafford – indeed two of Partington’s census districts rank among the 10% most deprived in England and Wales.

Politically this adds up to a safe Labour ward which is not under serious threat from anybody else. At the last Trafford elections in 2016 Labour had a relatively low 38% of the vote, to 24% for an independent candidate, 17% for the Conservatives and 13% for UKIP. In May’s Greater Manchester mayoral election, the results of which were made available at ward level, Labour’s Andy Burnham beat the Tories’ Sean Anstee, the leader of Trafford council, by 56-31 in this ward. Smith was last elected in 2015 and the winner of this by-election will face re-election in 2019.

So this will be a difficult task for the Conservatives to hang on to their defection gain. The Tory majority in Trafford is safe for now – they hold 33 out of 63 seats plus this vacancy – but a loss here will reduce their margin for error going into the May 2018 elections. Their defending candidate Sarah Marland is the only candidate to give an address in the ward. Labour want their seat back and have selected Aidan Williams, a housing officer and secretary of North West Young Labour. The independent candidate from 2016 is not standing again. The UKIP nominee is Andrew Beaumont, who fought the local parliamentary seat (Stretford and Urmston) in June. Completing the ballot paper are Joseph Ryan for the Greens and Simon Lepori for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Stretford and Urmston
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: M31, M33, M41, WA13

Andrew Beaumont (UKIP)
Simon Lepori (LD)
Sarah Marland (C)
Joseph Ryan (Grn)
Aidan Williams (Lab)

May 2016 result Lab 835 Ind 517 C 371 UKIP 290 Grn 98 LD 64
May 2015 result Lab 2441 C 1082 Grn 357
May 2014 result Lab 1054 C 623 Grn 253 LD 58
May 2012 result Lab 1238 C 393 Grn 110 LD 105
May 2011 result Lab 1432 C 553 Grn 153 LD 123
May 2010 result Lab 1972 C 1025 LD 743 Grn 115
May 2008 result Lab 961 C 592 LD 183 Grn 182
May 2007 result Lab 1106 C 517 BNP 297 Grn 171
May 2006 result Lab 967 C 560 Grn 280
June 2004 result Lab 1406/1326/1287 C 686/685/647

May 2017 GM mayoral election Lab 1055 C 582 LD 90 UKIP 56 Grn 42 EDP 38 Farmer 11 Aslam 2


Westexe

Mid Devon council; caused by the resignation of UK Independence Party councillor Jonathan Smith. He had served since 2015, and was UKIP candidate for Devon and Cornwall police and crime commissioner in 2016; at the time of his resignation he had left UKIP and was sitting as an independent councillor.

Our other two by-elections this week are in the West Country, and we start with probably the more accessible of them. Westexe is the western of the four wards covering Tiverton, an old town in the Exe valley about fifteen miles north of Exeter. An ancient Hundred site, Tiverton was fortified by Henry I who built Tiverton Castle here; the castle saw action in the Civil War, falling to the Roundheads in a brief siege in October 1645. Earlier, in the 13th century Isabella, countess of Devon, had a leat built to provide Tiverton with a water supply. Last Saturday that was commemorated with the Perambulation of the Town Leat, an ancient custom held every seven years and originally designed to clear the stream of any obstructions.

Tiverton’s ancient trade was in wool, and in 1815 its textile heritage attracted a lace-making industry after John Heathcoat, an industrialist and inventor from Derbyshire, left the Midlands to escape Luddite attacks on his business. Heathcoat became an MP for Tiverton, one of the more notorious rotten boroughs even after the Great Reform Act. Heathcoat’s fellow Tiverton MP for some of his time in Parliament was Lord Palmerston, despite an eventful 1847 election in which Palmerston was challenged by the Chartist leader George Julian Harney. Harney won the hustings on a show of hands, but Palmerston called for a ballot and Harney, knowing he had no chance of winning on Tiverton’s parliamentary franchise, withdrew. Such shenanigans, of course, do not go on at modern polls in Tiverton.

Westexe ward’s representation had a clearout at the 2015 election which saw the retirement of Mary Turner, an independent councillor who had sat on Mid Devon council since its formation in 1973, and Tory councillor Alan Griffiths who had been on the council since 1991 (having been elected as Labour up to and including 2003). The remaining councillor, independent (Ernest) Gerald Luxton, lost his seat in 2015 by just 11 votes as a single Tory candidate topped the poll and the other two seats went to UKIP; shares of the vote were 31% for the Conservatives, 29% for UKIP, 19% for Luxton and 12% for Labour. In May’s Devon county elections Westexe was part of the Tiverton West division, which was safely Conservative.

With Smith’s departure UKIP have lost group status on the Tory-controlled Mid Devon council, and this by-election will not change that as there is no defending UKIP candidate. The result is Britain Elects’ favourite type of by-election, a free-for-all. The Conservatives, looking to take two seats in this ward for the first time, have selected Anthony Bush who is a journalist and Tiverton town councillor. Former independent councillor for this ward Gerald Luxton is looking to make a comeback. Labour have selected Alison Mitchell, and the Lib Dems’ David Whiteway completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Tiverton and Honiton
Devon county council division: Tiverton West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter
Postcode district: EX16

Anthony Bush (C)
Gerald Luxton (Ind)
Alison Mitchell (Lab)
David Whiteway (LD)

May 2015 result C 1023 UKIP 962/651 Ind 640/409/224 Lab 404/392 Grn 399
May 2011 result Ind 887/660 C 578 UKIP 379 LD 259 Lab 255/222
May 2007 result Ind 1153/572 C 516/361 UKIP 256 LD 244
May 2003 result Ind 1021/560 Lab 395/109/106 LD 326/168/117


Lyme Regis and Charmouth

West Dorset council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor George Symonds, who said in his resignation letter that he had lost confidence in the leader of the council. An amusement arcade owner, he had served since 2011 for Lyme Regis ward and since 2015 for Lyme Regis and Charmouth ward.

Show me the exact spot where Louisa Musgrove fell!

Those were the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who upon first arriving at Lyme Regis is said to have gone straight to the Cobb. It’s a reference to Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion, in which Louisa fell off the Cobb and sustained concussion.

The Cobb is the harbour wall at Lyme Regis, a rather isolated seaside town on the Dorset-Devon boundary. Lyme is one of those places which has assumed a cultural significance far beyond its actual significance, being a major centre for history, literature and science. The Regis of the name refers to King Edward I, who granted the town a Royal Charter in 1284. Lyme became a major port and shipbuilding centre, giving its name to a large bay on the south coast and significant enough to see major military action twice in the seventeenth century; the Royalists unsuccessfully laid siege to the town for eight weeks in 1644, while the Duke of Monmouth landed here in 1685 to kick off the Monmouth Rebellion.

Things calmed down after that, and by the early eighteenth century Lyme became known for fossils. The town is at the centre of the Jurassic Coast, and its rapidly-eroding Blue Lias cliffs are packed with fossils from the early Jurassic period. Mary Anning, a local fossil collector, brought this to the attention of science and also inspired the well-known tongue-twister “she sells sea shells on the sea shore”. Lyme’s shipbuilding industry eventually went into decline as ships became too large for the harbour to handle, and tourism and literature are now the town’s main driver: Tennyson, Longfellow, Belloc, Chesterton and Tolkein all holidayed here, while Eisenhower delivered an important briefing to Allied officers here in advance of D-Day. A S Byatt set her Booker Prize-winning novel Possession in Lyme Regis, as did John Fowles with his work The French Lieutenant’s Woman; Fowles lived in Lyme Regis, serving for nine years as curator of the town’s museum and occasionally dabbling in local politics.

The sparse population of this part of the world means that Lyme Regis is, logically enough, part of West Dorset council, whose offices are 25 miles away in Dorchester. Lyme itself has become a retirement centre, Charmouth – which was added to the ward in 2015 following a boundary review – even more so. The former Charmouth ward was in the top 40 in England and Wales for retired population, and just outside the top 40 in England and Wales for population aged 65 or over. For those here who are still young enough to work, self-employment dominates the local employment profile.

Recent polls in Lyme Regis have seen the electors needing little Persuasion to choose the Conservative slate. The Tories gained the old Lyme Regis ward in 2011 and on the expanded 2015 boundaries were re-elected with 47%, to 27% for the Liberal Democrats and 19% for a single Green Party candidate. The local county division (Marshwood Vale) is also safely Conservative, as is West Dorset council as a whole which has a large Conservative majority.

Defending for the Conservatives is Paul Oatway, vice-chairman of Charmouth parish council and a radio-frequency engineering consultant who has worked with Transport for London and on events including the London Olympics and the 2012 Diamond Jubilee River Pageant. Surprisingly there are no Liberal Democrat or Green candidates. Labour have entered the fray with Belinda Bawden, who is no doubt having a busy time at work at the moment as an admissions administrator with the University of Exeter; she has a famous name in the town as the daughter of former town councillor Liz-Anne Bawden, who took over from John Fowles as curator of the Lyme Regis Museum and was appointed MBE in 1999 for her voluntary work in establishing Lyme Regis as the birthplace of palaeontology. Completing the ballot paper is Cheryl Reynolds, a herbalist and Lyme Regis town councillor, standing as an independent candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: West Dorset
Dorset county council division: Marshwood Vale
ONS Travel to Work Area: Sidmouth (Lyme Regis), Bridport (Charmouth)
Postcode districts: DT6, DT7

Belinda Bawden (Lab)
Paul Oatway (C)
Cheryl Reynolds (Ind)

May 2015 result C 1470/1461 LD 836/551 Grn 606 Ind 196