Previews: 21 Sep 2017

It’s time for that staple of September and October, the party conference season. As is traditional, the Lib Dems are up first, and in their conference week on 21st September 2017 they will be looking for two gains from Labour in urban Midlands wards with Lib Dem traditions. But first, let us go east to the UK’s easternmost town, for a Tory defence in an area where they performed well in June. Read on…


Oulton Broad

Waveney council, Suffolk; caused by the death of the Leader of the Council, Conservative councillor Colin Law, at the age of 74. Law had served on Waveney council since 2002, becoming Leader in 2011, and was also a Suffolk county councillor from 2009 to 2013.

We start this week in what is now the western suburbs of the Suffolk town of Lowestoft, which have grown to the extent that the old village of Oulton Broad has been swallowed up. Oulton Broad itself is one of the largest pieces of open water in the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. As well as the old Oulton Broad village, located around Oulton Broad North railway station on the Norwich-Lowestoft line, the ward includes part of the Broads National Park, the late 1950s Rock Estate to the north and an area of later and rather exclusive housing on the lakeshore to the west. Two of the roads in this area are named Borrow Road and Romany Road, commemorating the Victorian author and travel writer George Borrow, who died in Lowestoft but had travelled extensively in Europe and published a dictionary of the Romany language. The census return for the ward has the unusual combination of a very high retired population and very high takeup of Apprenticeship qualifications.

Oulton Broad ward has been consistently Conservative since it was drawn up on its current boundaries in 2002, although not always safely so. In the 2002 election the Conservatives had majorities of 82 and 18 votes, while in the most recent election in 2015 Law – who was a long way behind his running-mate, perhaps due to holding the council leadership – was re-elected for his final term by 59 votes over Labour. Shares of the vote that year were 41% for the Conservatives to 29% for Labour and 22% for a single UKIP candidate. More recent elections in the area are not encouraging for Labour: in May the Tories gained the local Oulton county division, which had split its two seats between UKIP and Labour four years previously; while in June’s general election the Waveney parliamentary constituency swung strongly towards the Conservatives.

Encouraging signs for the Tory candidate Keith Robinson, who was elected as one of the two new county councillors for Oulton division in May and now has the chance to double up at district level. Robinson has recently retired from the transport industry. Labour have selected Len Jacklin, their county councillor for Oulton from 2013 until losing his seat in May. The UKIP candidate is Phillip Trindall, who ran a carpentry and joinery business for over 35 years. Completing the ballot paper is Chris Thomas for the Liberal Democrats. Some of the electors will be thrilled to know that their polling station is a pub – the Blue Boar.

Parliamentary constituency: Waveney
Suffolk county council division: Oulton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lowestoft
Postcode district: NR32

Len Jacklin (Lab)
Keith Robinson (C)
Chris Thomas (LD)
Phillip Trindall (UKIP)

May 2015 result C 1187/880 Lab 821/737 UKIP 626 Grn 232
May 2011 result C 797/715 Lab 577/496 UKIP 193 Grn 169 LD 112
May 2010 result C 1195 Lab 775 LD 407 Grn 145
May 2008 result C 740 Lab 345 LD 150 Grn 133
June 2004 result C 641 Lab 393 LD 248 Grn 151
May 2002 result C 610/546 Lab 528/460 LD 223


Oadby Uplands

Oadby and Wigston council, Leicestershire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Gurpal Atwal. Atwal, who had served since 2015, worked as a taxi driver and taxi operator, but resigned after his own council revoked his taxi license on the grounds that Atwal was not a fit and proper person, a decision which was upheld by Loughborough magistrates.

We move into the Midlands into one of the UK’s smallest and, it has to be said, more pointless local government districts. Oadby and Wigston borough covers two middle-class suburbs of Leicester which have never been incorporated into the city, and has a population of just 60,000 – well below the average for a non-metropolitan borough.

Oadby Uplands ward may be outside the Leicester city limits – it lies north-east of the A6 Leicester Road along the Uplands Road and Severn Road – but it remains culturally and demographically Leicester. The population of Oadby Uplands is majority Asian (53%), with a large population born in India, and the ward makes the top 20 wards in England and Wales for Sikhism (17%) and the top 40 for Hinduism (21%). Owner-occupation rates are high and the employment profie is middle-class, as you’d expect for Oadby.

The district has been Lib Dem-controlled since 1991 often with large majorities, and Oadby Uplands has been carried by the Liberal Democrats at every election since it was created in 2003 (previously the area had been in the oversized Brookside ward). However, in 2015 the Lib Dems lost a seat in Oadby Uplands ward to Labour candidate Gurpal Atwal who became the first Labour member of Oadby and Wigston council this century. Vote shares in 2015 were close with 38% for the Lib Dem slate, 32% for the single Labour candidate and 30% for the single Conservative candidate. The omens for Labour in holding this do not look good: their slate, headed by Atwal, was a poor third in the Oadby county division in May (the Lib Dems holding their seats), and Labour are nowhere in the local parliamentary seat (Harborough).

Defending this difficult seat for Labour is Matthew Luke. The Lib Dems, who will be hoping to follow through on their good county election performance, have selected Lily Kaufman who was councillor for Oadby St Peter’s ward from 2011 until losing her seat in 2015. The Conservatives, who will be hoping to follow through on their good general election performance, have selected Kamal Ghattoraya.

Parliamentary constituency: Harborough
Leicestershire county council division: Oadby
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode district: LE2

Kamal Ghattoraya (C)
Lily Kaufman (LD)
Matthew Luke (Lab)

May 2015 result LD 1059/872 Lab 902 C 835
May 2011 result LD 775/702 C 636/531 Lab 459
July 2008 by-election LD 774 C 625
May 2007 result LD 798/673 C 415/365 Lab 257/237
May 2003 result LD 752/750 C 400/353 Lab 175


Holmebrook

Chesterfield council, Derbyshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Stephen Hitchin who is concentrating on his family and his medical career. He had served since 2015.

For the final poll of the week we travel north to what is, with Derby being a unitary council, the largest town within the Derbyshire county council area. The Holmebrook ward covers the Brampton area immediately west of Chesterfield town centre, a residential area of Victorian and inter-war terraces along the A619 Chatsworth Road as it climbs towards the hills. Holmebrook has a working-class economic profile with relatively high levels of unemployment and private renting. The town hit the news last week with a rather bizarre floral tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, while one major local political issue is devolution: the council recently pulled out of a bid to join the proposed combined authority for South Yorkshire. Possibly for the best: Chesterfield is large enough to stand on its own economically and forms the centre of its own Travel to Work Area.

Chesterfield’s local politics has been a Lib Dem versus Labour fight this century, often with lopsided election results. The Liberal Democrats held the parliamentary seat from 2001 to 2010 – which is hard to believe now given that they only just saved their deposit in June – and controlled the borough council from 2003 to 2011, during which time Holmebrook ward was part of the Lib Dem majority. Labour gained the ward in 2011 and increased their lead in 2015 to 51-28. The Labour lead is smaller in the local county council seat (Boythorpe and Brampton South) which swung to the Lib Dems in May, Labour’s incumbent Ron Mihaly defeating the Lib Dem Keith Falconer by a reduced majority of 46-38.

This by-election will be the second faceoff in four months between Mihaly and Falconer. Labour’s Ron Mihaly is used to being on the defending team: he is a former professional footballer who played in central defence for Chesterfield and QPR in the 1970s. After that Mihaly worked as an accountant for the NHS and Chesterfield council, and he has served on Derbyshire county council since 2013. The Lib Dems’ Keith Falconer is a retired industrial engineer and a veteran of local politics: he was Mayor of Chesterfield in 2005-06 and served for 25 years as a councillor for this ward, from winning a by-election in 1986 until losing his seat in 2011. Also standing are Oliver Scheidt for the Conservatives and former Lib Dem borough councillor Paul Stone for CANDI, the Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Independents.

Parliamentary constituency: Chesterfield
Derbyshire county council division: Boythorpe and Brampton South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chesterfield
Postcode district: S40

Keith Falconer (LD)
Ron Mihaly (Lab)
Oliver Scheidt (C)
Paul Stone (Chesterfield and N Derbys Inds)

May 2015 result Lab 997/973 LD 555/515 C 258 Peace Party 140
May 2011 result Lab 760/755 LD 581/576
May 2007 result LD 750/745 Lab 374/332
May 2003 result LD 1051/984 Lab 489/484 Socialist Alliance 66