Previews: 28 Sep 2017

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


Mark Senior 1947-2017

Before we start this week, this column would like to pay tribute to one of those who hacked away relentlessly at the local electoral coalface. Mark Senior was a Liberal Democrat activist in Worthing who has been arguing the toss on electoral bulletin boards and discussion forums for as long as there were electoral bulletin boards and discussion forums to argue on. More than that, when it came to the nightmarish task of keeping track of future local by-elections Mark was a trailblazer, a pioneer. It was rare for me to come home after a day at work and not see a notification from Mark of a new vacancy somewhere, anywhere in the country. More often than not, Mark laid the foundation stone on which these previews are built. Away from politics, Mark ran a coin dealership in Worthing and played bar billiards to a high standard.

Mark never let on to his fellow amateur psephologists that his health was failing, and it was not until he failed to enter the Vote UK prediction competition for September 2017 that the forum realised something was wrong. He last logged into the Vote UK forum on 8th September, and sadly died six days later from cancer. He was 70 years old. May you rest in peace, Mark.

Mark Senior was not a Worthing or West Sussex councillor, and as far as I can tall had never stood for elected office. Unlike most of the politicians whose passing is marked by this column, there will be no by-election to replace Mark. The crowdsourcing effort to identify local council vacancies will have to soldier on without him, and it is a tribute to the work he put in that the list of future by-elections may, in future, be that little bit less complete and reliable.

Mark would surely have appreciated this week’s list: a bumper crop of twelve local by-elections on 28th September 2017. His own Lib Dems did well last week in their conference week, gaining two of the three seats up for election. The prospects for Labour in their conference week don’t look so inviting; although the party are only defending four seats, one of those is marginal and there is only one obvious prospect for a Labour gain, in Norfolk. There are six Conservative defences, all of which look safe, and there is Britain Elects’ favourite type of by-election: a free-for-all to replace a retiring independent councillor in rural Lancashire. But we start this week with the only Liberal Democrat defence of the week, in the Highlands of Scotland. Read on…


Tain and Easter Ross

Highland council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Jamie Stone, who is now MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross. Stone has had a long career in politics: after a series of early jobs finishing up in the oil industry he was first elected to the now-abolished Ross and Cromarty district council, transferring to the Highland Council when it was established in 1995. In 1999 Stone was elected to the Scottish Parliament as MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, and in 2004 captained a Scottish Parliament team which beat the Welsh Assembly on University Challenge: The Professionals. After losing his Scottish Parliament seat to the SNP in 2011 Stone returned to the Highland council in the 2012 election, and was re-elected in May.

Last week this column went from south to north, so it’s time to reverse direction by starting in the north, and they don’t come much further north than Tain. One of the major towns of Ross-shire, Tain is Scotland’s oldest Royal Burgh, granted a royal charter in 1066 thanks to its status as a pilgrimage site for St Duthac. Jamie Stone’s brother Ruaridh runs one of the major local employers, the Highland Fine Cheeses factory, but Tain’s major export is whisky: Glenmorangie’s distillery is here. The ward also includes a large swathe of rural Easter Ross, generally low-lying land between the Cromarty, Moray and Dornoch Firths.

At the last first-past-the-post elections in 2003 all three of the predecessor wards (Seaboard, Tain East and Tain West) returned independent councillors, and all three outgoing councillors for those wards were re-elected at the first Highland Council election under proportional representation, in 2007: however, former Seaboard councillor Richard Durham was re-elected that year with the Lib Dem nomination. Independent councillor Alan Torrance then joined the SNP, but died in 2011 and the resulting by-election was won by independent candidate Fiona Robertson to restore the balance of two independents and one Lib Dem; Robertson overtook the SNP, who led in the first count, on transfers from other independents. Durham sought re-election as an independent in 2012 but lost his seat to the new Lib Dem candidate Jamie Stone.

The 2017 election saw the SNP break through by knocking out long-serving independent councillor Alasdair Rhind, who had topped the poll in 2007 and 2012. Shares of the vote were 24% for the SNP, 20% for Robertson, 19% for the Lib Dems and 16% each for Rhind and the Conservatives. Following the 2017 election the Highland Council administration is a coalition of independents, the Liberal Democrats and Labour with a secure majority (40 out of 74 seats plus this vacancy).

With that sort of fragmented result transfers and a good candidate selection are going to be crucial, but the local Lib Dems have made a nomination which on the face of it looks rather bizarre. Their defending candidate is William Sinclair, who gives an address twenty miles to the north in Rogart, Sutherland, and fought the ward of North, West and Central Sutherland in May – as the Labour candidate, polling 9% and finishing sixth out of eight candidates. The SNP candidate is Stan Peace, who despite his name is a musician. Alasdair Rhind is seeking to get back on the council as an independent candidate; another independent candidate is radio presenter and radio engineer Gerald Holdsworth. The Conservatives have selected Eva Short, who lives in Dornoch and fought her home ward (East Sutherland and Edderton) in May. Completing the ballot paper is another Sutherland-based candidate, Harry Christian of the Libertarian Party who gives an address in Golspie.

Parliamentary constituency: Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
Scottish Parliament constituency: Caithness, Sutherland and Ross
ONS Travel to Work Area: Alness and Invergordon
Postcode districts: IV18, IV19, IV20

Harry Christian (Libetarian)
Gerard Holdsworth (Ind)
Stan Peace (SNP)
Alasdair Rhind (Ind)
Eva Short (C)
William Sinclair (LD)

May 2017 result SNP 831 Ind 708 LD 679 Ind 569 C 558 Ind 139
May 2012 result Ind 2012 LD 508 SNP 420 Lab 78 C 44 TUSC 23
June 2011 by-election SNP 837 Ind 811 Ind 467 LD 307 Ind 97; after transfers Ind 1204 SNP 1037
May 2007 result Ind 2456 LD 627 SNP 465 Lab 148 C 124 SSP 59


Trimdon and Thornley

Durham council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Morris Nicholls at the age of 78. A former miner, Nicholls was the longest-serving Durham councillor, having first been elected to what was then Durham county council for the former Thornley division in 1981, and had just been re-elected in May for his tenth term of office. He was chairman of the county council in 1997-98 and 1998-99 and served on the cabinet from 2007 to 2015 as member for adult services. Nicholls was also a member of the former Easington district council from 1991 until its abolition in 2009, and had sat on Wheatley Hill parish council since 1983.

Our eleven English by-elections have a definite northern and eastern bias to them. We start in County Durham in an area which will forever be politically associated with the man Labour love to hate, Tony Blair. The MP for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007, Blair lived in the village of Trimdon Colliery, and Trimdon Labour Club was the scene for many an election night celebration during Labour’s glory days. Lionel Jospin, then prime minister of France, came to the club in 1998 and the following year legend has it that a barmaid answered the phone and shouted across the room “Where’s Tony? It’s a bloke called Clinton.” Like the Labour government, Trimdon Labour Club closed down in 2010 (although the building is still in use as licensed premises). Another famous figure associated with the area is Tom Simpson, the professional cyclist who died on the ascent of Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France; Simpson was born in Haswell, a village at the northern end of the division. A memorial to Simpson in Haswell was unveiled earlier this month by Sir Bradley Wiggins.

As the name Trimdon Colliery suggests, this is an ex-mining area on the Durham coalfield, covering a series of villages on low hills midway between Durham and Hartlepool. The present ward was created in 2013 by merging the old Thornley division with most of the former Trimdon division, with the number of councillors cut from four to three to reflect a declining population in the area. This is one of the areas of Britain least changed by immigration: at the 2011 census the old Trimdon division made the top 100 wards in England and Wales for population born in the UK and Thornley division was in the top 200. Thornley in particular has high unemployment and a very working-class economic profile.

The 2013 boundary changes squeezed out the former independent councillor for Thornley, and this is a safe Labour ward. In May this year the Labour slate polled 50% to 20% for UKIP and 19% for the Conservatives.

Defending for Labour is Jude Grant, a Thornley parish councillor who, according to her Twitter, is “still deciding what she wants to be when she grows up”, and in the meantime is working for a local Labour MP and as a children’s advocate for the National Youth Action Service. UKIP have not nominated a candidate. The Tory candidate is Michael Smith, who gives an address in Durham. Also standing are Alan Bell for the Liberal Democrats, independent candidate Maurice Brown and Jonathan Elmer of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Sedgefield (part: Trimdon, Trimdon Foundry and Wheatley Hill parishes); City of Durham (part: Thornley parish and part of Shadforth parish), Easington (part: part of Haswell parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Durham and Bishop Auckland (part: Trimdon and Trimdon Foundry parishes and part of Shadforth parish), Sunderland (part: Thornley and Wheatley Hill parishes and part of Haswell parish)
Postcode districts: DH6, TS21, TS28, TS29

Alan Bell (LD)
Maurice Brown (Ind)
Jonathan Elmer (Grn)
Jude Grant (Lab)
Michael Smith (C)

May 2017 result Lab 1433/1413/1392 UKIP 582 C 546 LD 295/231
May 2013 result Lab 1801/1692/1654 UKIP 581/510


Halton-with-Aughton

Lancaster council; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Paul Woodruff on health grounds at the age of 74. “Woodie” had served on Lancaster city council since 1995, including as Mayor of Lancaster in 2011-12.

Away from the council Woodruff ran a snack bar at the Crook o’Lune, a bend in the River Lune which may be only a mile away from the M6 motorway but is still a fantastic beauty spot; JMW Turner painted it. The village of Halton lies on the Lune’s north bank between the Crook and the motorway. Halton was mentioned in the Domesday book and a cross in the churchyard is believed to have been carved during the Viking occupation over 1,000 years ago. In more recent times the village’s traditional industry was metalworking; in the eighteenth century there were two forges here which burned charcoal to smelt iron, while textile mills lined the riverbank in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Further up the Lune Valley is Halton’s twin village of Aughton (pronounced Affton) which bakes a giant pudding every 21 years; the profits from the most recent pudding festival in 2013 paid for Aughton to be provided with broadband. The recent construction of the Lancaster Northern Bypass, which is not shown in the map above, together with the rebuilding of M6 junction 34 to accommodate it, has given Halton a direct link to the motorway for the first time and greatly increased its accessibility.

Halton-with-Aughton ward has unchanged boundaries since the formation of the modern Lancaster council. Its first election in 1973 returned an independent, but the ward went Conservative in 1976 and the Tories were unopposed in 1979. Woodruff first stood here in the 1983 election as a Residents candidate, finishing last out of four candidates; he improved to third in 1987, was second in 1991 and finally knocked the Tories out in 1995. Since 1995 Woodruff had normally enjoyed large majorities, although his final re-election in 2015 was relatively close; he had 38% to 28% for the Green Party and 24% for the Conservatives. The local county council seat (Lancaster Rural East) is safely held by the Conservatives. Lancaster city council has a small Labour majority (31 out of 60 seats) which is not in danger here.

With no defending independent candidate to succeed Woodie we have Britain Elects’ favourite type of by-election, a free-for-all! The Greens, who were runners-up in the 2015 election, have selected local resident Jan Maskell, an occupational psychologist. The Conservatives have reselected Daniel Gibbins who fought the ward in 2015. Also standing are Kevin Frea for Labour (who gives an address two doors down from Maskell) and Catherine Pilling for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Morecambe and Lunesdale
Lancashire county council division: Lancaster Rural East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lancaster and Morecambe
Postcode districts: LA2, LA6

Kevin Frea (Lab)
Daniel Gibbins (C)
Jan Maskell (Grn)
Catherine Pilling (LD)

May 2015 result Ind 577 Grn 423 C 364 Lab 142
May 2011 result Ind 795 Grn 133
May 2007 result Ind 513 C 367 Grn 54
May 2003 result Ind 606 C 95 Grn 60
May 1999 result Ind 684 C 151 Lab 73
May 1995 result Ind 413 C 355 Lab 172
May 1991 result C 387 Ind 301 LD 253 Grn 49
May 1987 result C 490 SDP/Lib 259 Ind 250 Lab 93
May 1983 result C 418 SDP/Lib 393 Lab 124 Residents 110
May 1979 result C unopposed
May 1976 result C 717 Lab 240
May 1973 result Ind 657 C 419


Washburn

Harrogate council, North Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Christine Ryder who had served since 2012.

Moving over to the wrong side of the Pennines we are in another rural ward. Halton-with-Aughton ward is only one parish, but Washburn ward covers nineteen parishes sprawling across the moorland between Harrogate and Wharfedale. The ward itself is named after the River Washburn, which flows through it from north to south to meet the Wharfe near Otley, and has been extensively dammed to provide water for the city of Leeds. Possibly the most evocatively-named parish in the ward is Blubberhouses, a village of fewer than 100 souls on the A59 Skipton-Harrogate road; the wall-of-death style climb from Blubberhouses west up the A59 was a Category 4 hill in the 2014 Tour de France, with Frenchman Cyril Lemoine taking the 1 point available for the “Côte de Blubberhouses” in the King of the Mountains classification.

As often happens in deeply rural wards, self-employment is high with Washburn only just outside the top 100 wards in England and Wales for self-employed workers. In addition to that, Washburn’s proximity to fashionable Yorkshire towns (the ward borders not just Harrogate but also Ilkley and Otley in West Yorkshire, with Ilkley having good rail links to the West Yorkshire cities) gives Washburn ward a middle-class commuter demographic: 48% of the workforce are in some sort of management occupation.

Not surprisingly given that profile the Tories have consistently led the classification for the Washburn title since the ward was created in 2002 (the predecessor ward of Wharfedale Moors voted Lib Dem in 1995 and 1999). Ryder was first elected in 2012 and easily re-elected in 2016 with 75% of the vote against Labour and UKIP opposition. The Conservatives also hold the local county council seat (Pateley Bridge).

Defending for the Conservatives is Victoria Oldham, an accountant and the only candidate to give an address in the ward. She is opposed by Laura Dinning for Labour, Jack Render for the Yorkshire Party and Paul Trewhitt for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Skipton and Ripon
North Yorkshire county council division: Pateley Bridge
ONS Travel to Work Area: Harrogate
Postcode districts: BD23, HG3, LS17, LS21, LS29

Laura Dinning (Lab)
Victoria Oldham (C)
Jack Render (Yorks Party)
Paul Trewhitt (Grn)

May 2016 result C 761 Lab 136 UKIP 118
May 2012 result C 830 LD 155 UKIP 123
May 2008 result C 957 LD 247
June 2004 result C 963 LD 346
May 2002 result C 804 LD 184


Kingstone

Barnsley council, South Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Donna Green who had served since 2012.

For our other Yorkshire by-election this week we are in a very different area. Kingstone ward covers the south-west of the town of Barnsley, an area of Victorian terracing along Park Road and Racecommon Road. The ward includes Locke Park, opened in 1862 and named after its donor Phoebe Locke. As you’d expect from Barnsley, the economic profile is working-class with high unemployment.

Kingstone ward dates from 2004 when it was created out of the former Park and South West wards. The old Park ward was solidly Labour, but South West ward normally voted for an independent slate, and it was the independents who won the first election to Kingstone ward in 2004. The independents (who at the time were challenging Labour for the council majority) organised themselves as the Barnsley Independent Group and were re-elected from 2006 to 2008, but Labour gained the Independent Group seats in Kingstone from 2010 to 2012. The Barnsley Independent Group have since left the field; UKIP came close in 2014, but Kingstone ward is now safe Labour. At the most recent election in 2016 Labour beat the Tories here 60-12.

So this should be an easy defence for Labour’s Joanne Murray. The Tory candidate is Lee Ogden, and also standing are the BNP’s Christopher Houston (who got within seven points of Labour here as the UKIP candidate in 2014), Chris Scarfe of the Green Party, John Ellis-Mourant of the Liberal Democrats and Trevor Smith for an outfit your columnist has not previously heard of, the Demos Direct Initiative Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Barnsley Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Barnsley
Postcode district: S70

John Ellis-Mourant (LD)
Christopher Houston (BNP)
Joanne Murray (Lab)
Lee Ogden (C)
Chris Scarfe (Grn)
Trevor Smith (Demos Direct Initiative Party)

May 2016 result Lab 1074 C 220 BNP 198 Grn 195 TUSC 107
May 2015 result Lab 2005 UKIP 1105 C 425 Grn 302 TUSC 166
May 2014 result Lab 1011 UKIP 873 C 164 TUSC 137
May 2012 result Lab 1099 Barnsley Ind Gp 458 EDP 120 BNP 116 C 94
May 2011 result Lab 1160 Barnsley Ind Gp 870 BNP 196 C 193
May 2010 result Lab 1768 Barnsley Ind Gp 1378 BNP 532 C 436
May 2008 result Barnsley Ind Gp 1016 Lab 565 BNP 407 C 155 Ind 80
May 2007 result Barnsley Ind Gp 1060 Lab 841 BNP 361 C 129
May 2006 result Barnsley Ind Gp 1154 Lab 721 Ind 148 C 135
June 2004 result Ind 1259/1240/1152 Lab 937/863/797 C 217


Stretton

East Staffordshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Rebecca Carlton who had served since 2011.

East Staffordshire is coming out in by-elections like a rash at the moment; this is the fifth council by-election in the district this year. This time we’re in Stretton ward which is a northern suburb of Burton-on-Trent hard up against the county boundary with Derbyshire; the name (“Street Town”) refers to the Roman road of Ryknild Street, which passes through the ward, while the village itself has effectively merged into the Burton built-up area. Most of the housing stock here is post-war, and there is a campaign against building any more houses in the ward.

Stretton ward has existed since 1973 and took on its current boundaries in 2003, going up that year from two councillors to three. It has normally been a Tory stronghold with Labour winning only in 1995 and 1999; the most recent 2015 election was true to form, with the Tory slate polling 45% to 28% for UKIP and 20% for Labour. In May the Conservatives gained the local county council seat (Horninglow and Stretton) from Labour.

Good omens for the defending Conservative candidate Dale Spedding, a postman who clearly values good electoral analysis: he retweeted last week’s edition of Andrew’s Previews. The UKIP candidate is Peter Levis, a business and IT consultant who is fighting his third East Staffordshire by-election of the year and also stood in the local county seat in May. As usual in this ward Labour have turned to the McKiernan family, having reselected Stretton parish councillor Cameron McKiernan who fought the ward in 2015. Also standing are Rhys Buchan for the Lib Dems and Graham Lamb, an independent campaigning on a “Save Our Stretton” anti-development ticket.

Parliamentary constituency: Burton
Staffordshire county council division: Horninglow and Stretton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Burton upon Trent
Postcode district: DE13

Rhys Buchan (LD)
Graham Lamb (Ind – Save Our Stretton)
Peter Levis (UKIP)
Cameron McKiernan (Lab)
Dale Spedding (C)

May 2015 result C 2084/2078/2072 UKIP 1279/778 Lab 910/784/707 Grn 354
May 2011 result C 1489/1364/1337 Lab 1008/759/723 Popular Alliance 495
February 2008 by-election C 661 Lab 366 BNP 327 Popular Alliance 233 LD 205
May 2007 result C 1261/1221/1059 Lab 717/536/496 Popular Alliance 621
May 2003 result C 1369/1262/1009 Lab 900/883/793 LD 725/651


Eastfield; and
Nene Valley

Northampton council; caused respectively by the resignations of Labour councillor Elizabeth Gowen and Conservative councillor Michael Hill. Gowen had served since 2011, Hill since 1999.

We travel south from Burton for two by-elections in one of the largest non-metropolitan districts which has not achieved city or unitary status, Northampton. Northampton grew greatly in the 1960s and 1970s by being designated a New Town, and Eastfield ward covers some of the New Town development: it’s centred on Eastfield Park, and includes the Lake View area to the north of the park together with 1930s to 1950s housing along Broadmead Avenue and Grange Road to the south. The ward has high levels of social housing and a multi-ethnic population: the Grange Road census district is particularly high up the deprivation indices.

Nene Valley ward, on the other hand, is completely different. Covering very new estates to the south of the town across the A45 road, it has an educated commuter demographic (thanks to its good links to the M1 motorway) and high employment levels. That last item is rather fitting as the ward includes the Brackmills industrial estate and the main offices of the UK’s leading credit card issuer, Barclaycard.

So these two wards are chalk and cheese. Eastfield ward has a particularly complicated history, voting for all three major parties this century – however, the Tory and Lib Dem wins came on the 1999-2007 boundaries in which Eastfield ward was much larger, taking in less deprived territory to the south which is now in Headlands ward. On its present boundaries Eastfield ward is a Labour-inclined marginal; in the 2015 election Labour had 37% to 33% for the Conservatives and 21% for UKIP. At county level the ward is split; Grange Road and Broadmead Avenue are in the Labour-inclined marginal division of Headlands, while Lake View is included in the safe Conservative division of Boothville and Parklands.

Nene Valley ward, on the other hand, is consistently Conservative at all levels of government. At the 2015 borough elections the Conservative slate had 42% to 20% for UKIP, 15% for Labour and 14% for an independent candidate; the Tories had bigger leads than that this year in both the Nene Valley county division (which is only slightly larger than this ward) and in the South Northamptonshire constituency.

That should be a large enough majority to survive recent bad publicity for Northampton council, which has been the subject of a scandal regarding a multi-million pound loan made by the council to Northampton Town football club. The scandal has already terminated the political career of the Northampton South MP David Mackintosh, who was effectively forced to retire at this year’s general election after just two years in the Commons; Mackintosh had been leader of Northampton council before entering Parliament and the loan had been approved on his watch. The Tory majority on Northampton council is small (out of 45 seats, they hold 24 plus the Nene Valley vacancy) but safe for now.

Luke Graystone defends Nene Valley for the Conservatives: he is chief of staff for the local Tory MP Andrea Leadsom. The Labour candidate Nikesh Jani, a history teacher, is straight back on the campaign trail after fighting the county seat in May. With UKIP and the independent not returning, the ballot paper is completed by Brian Hare for the Liberal Democrats and the Greens’ Denise Donaldson.

The defending Labour candidate in Eastfield, Paul Joyce, will take encouragement from the swing to Labour in June in the Northampton North constituency. Joyce is a Communication Workers Union figure and school governor. The Tories have selected Pauline Woodhouse who works in the criminal justice sector. Again UKIP are not returning, so the Lib Dems’ Martin Sawyer completes the ballot paper.

Eastfield

Parliamentary constituency: Northampton North
Northamptonshire county council division: Headlands (part south of Eastfield Park); Boothville and Parklands (part north of Eastfield Park)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northampton
Postcode district: NN3

Paul Joyce (Lab)
Martin Sawyer (LD)
Pauline Woodhouse (C)

May 2015 result Lab 794 C 722 UKIP 457 Grn 105 LD 70
May 2011 result Lab 531 C 445 LD 269 Grn 81 Christian Peoples Alliance 47

Nene Valley

Parliamentary constituency: South Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire county council division: Nene Valley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northampton
Postcode district: NN4

Denise Donaldson (Grn)
Luke Graystone (C)
Brian Hoare (LD)
Nikesh Jani (Lab)

May 2015 result C 2444/2104 UKIP 1129 Lab 846/807 Ind 783 LD 568
May 2011 result C 1790/1596 Ind 1056 LD 524/425


Thetford Priory

Breckland council, Norfolk; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Jane Bishop. She had served since 2015.

We finish the week with four by-elections in East Anglia, starting in Thetford. A large market town on the Cambridge-Norwich road and the Ely-Norwich railway line, Thetford was the capital of the Kings of East Anglia during the Heptarchy and the seat of a bishopric, which moved to Norwich during the early twelfth century. More modern characters commemorated with statues in the town are Thomas Paine, whose statue depicts him holding a copy of his Rights of Man, held upside down; and Capt George Mainwaring of the Warmington-on-Sea Home Guard. Many of the outside scenes in the BBC comedy series Dad’s Army were filmed in and around Thetford.

By the time Dad’s Army was being filmed Thetford was booming in population as a result of London overspill. In 1967 construction started on the Abbey Farm estate in the north of the town on which the 2003-15 Thetford-Abbey ward was based. That London overspill, and more recent immigration from Eastern Europe, gave Thetford-Abbey a very working-class economic profile: at the 2011 census it made the top 60 wards in England and Wales for routine occupations, semi-routine occupations and population born in the new EU states. Boundary changes in 2015 reconfigured the four Thetford wards, with Thetford-Abbey replaced by Thetford Priory. Despite all the development, there is still a lot of Thetford Forest left and much of the Forest is covered by this ward.

Thetford-Abbey was not a monolithically Labour ward: the party lost the ward’s two seats in 2007 to an independent and the Conservatives, and failed to knock out the independent councillor in 2011. The 2015 election saw the two seats in Thetford Priory go to UKIP and the Conservatives in a close three-way result: vote shares were 37% for the Kippers, 33% for the Tories and 30% for Labour.

At county level almost all of this ward is within the Thetford West division which is just as volatile: it voted Labour in 2005, Liberal Democrat in 2009 and UKIP in 2013, by just one vote over Labour. The UKIP county councillor resigned almost immediately after it was revealed that a local supermarket had banned him from its premises for shoplifting; Labour won the resulting by-election and greatly increased their majority in May.

With that county election result this is the clearest opportunity for a Labour gain in conference week, despite the fact that they are starting from third place in the ward. The defending Conservative candidate is Jane James, a bookkeeper and Thetford town councillor who fought the Thetford West county seat in May. UKIP have selected Dean Roberts who runs a football academy. Completing the ballot paper is another town councillor, Mike Brindle for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Norfolk
Norfolk county council division: Thetford West (almost all); Thetford East (part east of Croxton Road)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Thetford and Mildenhall
Postcode district: IP24

Mike Brindle (Lab)
Jane James (C)
Dean Roberts (UKIP)

May 2015 result UKIP 981 C 877 Lab 786/671


Chedburgh; and
Hundon

St Edmundsbury council, Suffolk; caused respectively by the death of Angela Rushen at the age of 70 and the resignation of Jeremy Farthing, both of whom were Conservative councillors. Rushen had served since 2011, Farthing since 2015.

Moving over the county boundary into Suffolk, we come to two rural wards in the western Suffolk countryside. The village of Chedburgh lies five miles south-west of Bury on the A143 road to Haverhill; a settlement of around 600 souls, it anchors a ward of five parishes in the area.

Further to the south-west, Hundon ward is equally rural, covering four parishes a few miles to the east of Haverhill running from Stradishall in the north (on the Haverhill-Bury St Edmunds road) to Wixoe and Stoke-by-Clare in the south. The 2011 census placed Hundon in the top 10 wards in England and Wales for the “inactive: other” economic category, with 23% of the workforce falling into that category; if this is not an error in the census tables, it might be explained by the presence of Stoke College, a boarding school in Stoke-by-Clare on the site of a mediaeval priory and monastic college. While Hundon is included within the Cambridge travel to work area, the demographic profile suggests that it is perhaps a little too remote from that city for commuting to be practical.

St Edmundsbury is one of those councils that tends to have lots of councillors elected unopposed, and both Chedburgh and Hundon wards have been badly affected by this tendency. Chedburgh ward has never previously seen a contested election since it was drawn up in 2003; you have to go all the way back to 1999, when the ward was called Chevington and had different boundaries, for a previous poll. For what it’s worth, the 1999 election in Chevington saw the Tories beat Labour 70-30.

Hundon ward has unchanged boundaries since at least 1979 and possibly all the way back to the founding electoral arrangements in 1973. Of the ten elections which have been held to Hundon ward from 1979 onwards only three were contested: the Tories beat Labour 52-48 at their low point of 1995, beat Labour 71-29 in the 1999 election and beat UKIP 63-37 at the most recent poll in 2015.

Both of these wards are in safe Conservative county divisions (Hundon is in Clare division, Chedburgh forms part of the wonderfully-named Thingoe South) and in the safe Tory West Suffolk parliamentary seat. So it looks like the Tories shouldn’t be too worried about these defences.

The defending Conservative candidate in Chedburgh’s first contested election of the 21st century is Mike Chester, the chairman of Chedburgh parish council. He is opposed by Ian Chapman for the Liberal Democrats and Gary Dillon for Labour. All three candidates give addresses in the ward.

The Hundon by-election is a repeat of the county election in Clare division in May. Mary Evans, re-elected in May for a second term on the county council, is the defending Tory candidate, while Alex Rolph challenges for the Lib Dems.

Chedburgh

Parliamentary constituency: West Suffolk
Suffolk county council division: Thingoe South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bury St Edmunds
Postcode district: IP29

Ian Chapman (LD)
Mike Chester (C)
Gary Dillon (Lab)

May 2015 result C unopposed
May 2011 result C unopposed
May 2007 result C unopposed
May 2003 result C unopposed

Hundon

Parliamentary constituency: West Suffolk
Suffolk county council division: Clare
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode districts: CB8, CO10

Mary Evans (C)
Alex Rolph (LD)

May 2015 result C 752 UKIP 435
May 2011 result C unopposed
May 2007 result C unopposed
May 2003 result C unopposed
May 1999 result C 473 Lab 192
May 1995 result C 454 Lab 427
May 1991 result C unopposed
May 1987 result C unopposed
May 1983 result C unopposed
May 1979 result C unopposed


Toddbrook

Harlow council, Essex; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Rod Truan, who is moving to Cornwall to take up a new job. He had served since 2010.

For our final poll of this busy week we are in the centre of the New Town of Harlow, visiting the Harvey Shopping Centre, the Playhouse and the Water Gardens. South of these is the Todd Brook, a stream after which the ward is named, and south of that is the ward’s main housing area along Partridge Road and Tendring Road. This is New Town development mostly from the 1950s and 1960s. Social renting levels are high and the demographic is a rather working-class one.

Toddbrook ward normally votes Labour, although the Conservatives won it at a by-election in October 2007 and in the 2008 election, and UKIP were only 28 votes behind Labour in 2014. The most recent result in 2016 suggests that Labour has made the ward safe again: that year they had 50% to 25% each for the Tories and UKIP, and Labour’s majority on Harlow council is safe for now (they have 18 out of 33 seats plus this vacancy). However, Labour lost the local county council division (Harlow West) to the Conservatives in May’s Essex county council elections, and didn’t make much of a dent in the Tory majority in the Harlow constituency (which includes territory outside the New Town) in June.

Nonetheless Labour should be favoured to hold this one. Their defending candidate is Tony Edwards, who has 35 years’ experience as a social worker and social work manager. The Conservatives have selected Peter Lamb, who has got in trouble during the campaign for past tweets on the subject of Islam. The UKIP candidate is Patsy Long, a grandmother who hopes to join on the council her son Dan Long (UKIP councillor for Bush Fair ward). Completing the ballot paper are James Aicken of the Greens and Lesley Rideout for the Lib Dems. Whoever wins is likely to be back on the campaign trail in short order to seek re-election in May 2018.

Parliamentary constituency: Harlow
Essex county council division: Harlow West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode districts: CM17, CM18, CM19, CM20

James Aicken (Grn)
Tony Edwards (Lab)
Peter Lamb (C)
Patsy Long (UKIP)
Lesley Rideout (LD)

May 2016 result Lab 835 C 412 UKIP 408
May 2015 result Lab 1520 C 1110 UIP 699
May 2014 result Lab 706 UKIP 678 C 452
November 2012 by-election Lab 604 C 383 UKIP 111 LD 53
May 2012 result Lab 902 C 654 LD 107
May 2011 result Lab 992 C 870 LD 154
May 2010 result Lab 1457 C 1266 LD 602
May 2008 result C 1064 Lab 667 LD 170
October 2007 by-election C 728 Lab 713 Respect 102 LD 67
May 2007 result Lab 795 C 770 Respect 250 LD 122
May 2006 result Lab 812 C 759 Respect 217 LD 202
June 2004 result Lab 756 C 524 Ind 289 LD 221
May 2003 result Lab 630 C 473 LD 189
May 2002 result Lab 947/897/878 C 643/620/595 LD 339/330/293