Previews: 02 Nov 2017

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

As we move into the eleventh month of 2017 the frenetic pace of council by-elections does not let up, with six polls this week to start November. Following two weeks of by-elections in safe Conservative and safe Labour wards – polls for the purists, one might say – the new month marks a change of scene. Of the five Conservative defences this week two, in Devon and Southport, are clearly vulnerable to the Liberal Democrats, while the only Labour defence of the week is in the Copeland constituency where the Tories clearly have momentum following the parliamentary by-election earlier this year. Away from the littoral, we visit a town which has a good claim to be the spiritual home of Conservatism, but we start on the south coast by discussing a safe Tory seat in a seaside resort. Along the way we will visit a number of model villages, see the inspiration for the boulevards of Paris, get our rubbish collected by the best-dressed binmen in history, play a game of skittles, have a Brief Encounter on a Grand Day Out and indulge in the favourite sport of all politicians everywhere. Read on…

Aldwick West

Arun council, West Sussex; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Jacquie Maconachie. One of the longest serving Arun councillors, Maconachie was first elected in 1995 and was chairman of Arun council in 2001-02. She leaves behind her husband Dougal – also an Arun councillor – a daughter, a son, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

We start this week both alphabetically and geographically on the south coast. West Sussex’ population can be divided fairly neatly into two halves, a landward half and a coastal half. The coastal half consists of a series of seaside towns running all the way from Brighton to Bognor Regis. Directly to the west of Bognor lies the parish of Aldwick which is entirely built-up and a part of Bognor in all but name.

Aldwick’s development started in 1929, the year Bognor gained its “Regis” suffix from George V, with the building of the Aldwick Bay Estate: interesting period houses behind the seafront marketed to seriously wealthy Londoners who wanted a second home on the seaside. The estate was so exclusive that the dustbin men were required to wear ties. Rose Green – added to the ward in boundary changes in 2015 – also dates from the 1930s, while most of the housing in between is postwar.

The smaller towns on the Sussex coast have a reputation as retirement centres, and Aldwick West ward is no exception. On its 2011 boundaries it made the top 60 wards in England and Wales for population aged 65 or over, with over 30% of the population being retired. Pension day must be fun in the local post office.

As the profile might suggest this is a safe Conservative ward. In 2015 the Tory slate beat UKIP here 52-30, although Maconachie was a long way behind her running-mate Philip Hitchins. May’s county elections saw the Conservatives win both of the county seats covering the ward, gaining Bognor Regis West and Aldwick division from the Liberal Democrats.

Defending for the Conservatives is Guy Purser, a consultant for a dry ice cleaning company and chairman of the Bognor Freemasons Hall. UKIP have not nominated a candidate, so Purser is opposed by Martin Smith for the Liberal Democrats, Carol Birch for the Green Party and Ian Manion for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Bognor Regis and Littlehampton
West Sussex county council division: Nyetimber (part); Bognor Regis West and Aldwick (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chichester and Bognor Regis
Postcode district: PO21

Carol Birch (Grn)
Ian Manion (Lab)
Guy Purser (C)
Martin Smith (LD)

May 2015 result C 1962/1397 UKIP 1122 LD 698/635

Beaconsfield (Buckinghamshire county council); and
Beaconsfield North (South Bucks council)

Both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Alan Walters at the age of 71. Known for his community work – for which he was appointed MBE in 2015 – Walters was first elected to South Bucks council in a December 2001 by-election, serving as the council’s chairman from 2010 to 2013. He was also a Beaconsfield town councillor and served as Mayor of Beaconsfield in 2004. Walters had only served on Buckinghamshire county council for four months, having been first elected to County Hall in May.

Staying in the South East, we come to the Chiltern hills and the town of Beaconsfield. On the old road from London to Oxford, Beaconsfield has been a market town since mediaeval times; the old part of Beaconsfield, along the Oxford Road, had an economy based on coaching, while in Edwardian times a New Beaconsfield sprang up to the north next to Beaconsfield railway station, along the Chiltern rail line from London Marylebone to Birmingham. This is the archetypal rich commuter town, and Beaconsfield regularly comes top or near the top of lists of the UK’s most expensive places to buy property: according to July 2014-June 2015 figures, the town’s median house price is £790,000. One wonders whether this is proportionally reflected in Bekonscot, built in the 1920s as the world’s first model village – as in scale model.

This being Buckinghamshire with its close proximity to Pinewood Studios and other film and TV areas, Beaconsfield is a popular location for filming. Films from Brief Encounter to Hot Fuzz have been shot here, and Midsomer Murders regularly uses the railway station as a substitute for Causton. The film and TV link is further cemented by the presence of one of the world’s leading film schools, the National Film and Television School. Opened in 1971 on the site of a former film studio, the NTFS is still receiving royalties from the first Wallace and Gromit film A Grand Day Out, which was started here while Nick Park was a student as his graduation project.

In the 2011 census the former Beaconsfield North ward had a majority of the workforce educated to degree level and/or in a management or professional occupation. Boundary changes in 2015 reduced the size of the ward, removing the areas south of the railway line, but probably didn’t much change its social composition given that the town’s other two wards aren’t that much further down the social scale.

The town has an association with Conservatism from the birth of Conservatism as an ideology. Edmund Burke died here in 1797, while twice Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli served for 29 years as an MP for Buckinghamshire before being translated to the House of Lords as the Earl of Beaconsfield. There is still a Beaconsfield Conservative link in the present House of Commons: Anne Main, the MP for St Albans, was brought up here. In that context it’s no surprise that in the 1982 parliamentary by-election the Labour candidate for Beaconsfield polled less than one-eighth of the votes and, that being the rule in those days, lost his deposit. He was the man the Labour party loves to hate, Tony Blair.

The most recent local election results show no deviation from that pattern. In Beaconsfield North ward in 2015 the Conservatives polled 86% in a straight fight with UKIP, while in May’s county elections Beaconsfield as a whole saw the Tories beat the Lib Dems 70-16.

In the county election the defending Tory candidate is Anita Cranmer, the present Deputy Mayor of Beaconsfield; she is a former schoolteacher and former South Bucks district councillor. UKIP have not returned to the campaign, but the Lib Dems have ensured a contested election by nominating Marlow resident Mark Skoyles. The district by-election is also a straight fight between the Tories and Lib Dems: the defending Conservative candidate, local resident Damian Saunders, is opposed by Liberal Democrat Paul Henry.


Parliamentary constituency: Beaconsfield
South Bucks council wards: Beaconsfield North, Beaconsfield West, Beaconsfield South (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: High Wycombe and Aylesbury
Postcode districts: HP7, HP9, HP10

Anita Cranmer (C)
Mark Skoyles (LD)

May 2017 result C 1828 LD 424 Lab 179 UKIP 175
May 2013 result C 1366 UKIP 590 LD 299

Beaconsfield North

Parliamentary constituency: Beaconsfield
Buckinghamshire county council division: Beaconsfield
ONS Travel to Work Area: High Wycombe and Aylesbury
Postcode districts: HP7, HP9

Paul Henry (LD)
Damian Saunders (C)

May 2015 result C 1285 UKIP 207

Braunton East

North Devon council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Roy Lucas. He had served since 2003.

After three safe Tory defences, it’s time for the week’s by-elections to start getting interesting as we consider two Conservative wards where the Liberal Democrats will be eyeing up gains. We start with a large village in northern Devon, a few miles north-west of Barnstaple on the main road to Ilfracombe. Braunton is a village of over 8,000 souls on the River Caen notable for one of the South West’s premier surfing beaches; for England’s largest sand-dune system, the Braunton Burrows; and for its proximity to the Royal Marines base at Chivenor. None of these lie within East ward, which covers the eastern half of Braunton and associated hamlets: the ward is chiefly notable for the village’s mediaeval parish church, dedicated to St Brannock, together with the local secondary school Braunton Academy.

Braunton East ward was created in 1983 and has unchanged boundaries since then. In the 1980s and 1990s this was an Alliance and then a Liberal Democrat hotspot, but the Liberal Democrats lost their seats in 2003 to Lucas, then standing as an independent, and to the Conservatives. Lucas then joined the Conservatives and was re-elected in 2007 under his new colours. The Lib Dems gained a seat in the ward in 2011 but lost it back to the Conservatives in 2015 by just three votes; shares of the vote that year were 36% for the Conservatives, 34% for the Liberal Democrats and 21% for the Greens. The local county division (Braunton Rural) has been Tory-held since 2009 but swung towards the Lib Dems in May’s county election, as did the North Devon constituency the following month.

Defending this highly marginal seat for the Conservatives is 23-year-old Felix Milton, who wants to tackle local problems with air pollution and flooding. The Lib Dem candidate is Derrick Spear, the chairman of Braunton parish council and a North Devon councillor for this ward from 1991 to 2003 and again from 2011 to 2015; he is contesting this ward for the eighth time. Also on Braunton parish council is the Green Party’s candidate Brad Bunyard. Labour’s Mark Cann, a regular parliamentary candidate for North Devon, completes the ballot paper. Some of the electors may be pleased to note that their polling place is a pub, the Ebrington Arms in Knowle whose Skittle Alley will host a polling station: we wait to see which of the candidates will topple their opponents like ninepins.

Parliamentary constituency: North Devon
Devon county council division: Braunton Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Barnstaple
Postcode districts: EX31, EX33

Brad Bunyard (Grn)
Mark Cann (Lab)
Felix Milton (C)
Derrick Spear (LD)

May 2015 result C 802/769 LD 766/764 Grn 467/348 Lab 158 TUSC 54
May 2011 result C 621/489 LD 517/495 Grn 276/191 Lab 173
May 2007 result C 653/531 LD 514/469 Grn 220
May 2003 result Ind 580 C 554/328 LD 444/420
May 1999 result LD 673/604 C 290 Lab 260/193
May 1995 result LD 984/892 C 261/219 Lab 218
May 1991 result LD 1060/1017 C 609 Ind 513
May 1987 result All 949/720 C 724/613
May 1983 result All 858 C 674 Ecology Party 365


Sefton council, Merseyside; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Patricia Ball on health grounds. She had served since 2011.

Before we start this section, let me go all Lynne Truss on you for a moment. Punctuation is very important, and one of the most misused pieces of punctuation is the humble apostrophe. To take an example of its misuse and inconsistency, there are many wards and electoral units in the UK named after St John (or, more accurately, after a church of that name) but it’s complete pot luck as to whether the actual name of the ward is St John, St John’s or even St Johns – all of these exist somewhere in the UK, and Worcestershire county council even manages to have two entries from this list. When I was compiling the 2002-03 Sefton council results for the Local Elections Archive Project I ran into a similar problem with the official legal boundary sources, which were not consistent as to whether Southport’s Duke’s ward at that time had an apostrophe. It took an hour for me to sort that out, and that’s an hour I’m not going to get back. Please proofread, people.

The apostrophe is very important in the name of Duke’s ward, because it indicates that we are talking about one man. That man was William Sutton, who in 1792 built a bathing house and hotel in an isolated area of extensive sand dunes, much to the amusement of the locals who described him as “The Mad Duke” and his hotel as “Duke’s Folly”. Sutton had the last laugh. In the early nineteenth century his Folly came to anchor the southern end of one of the most beautiful streets in the world, Lord Street. Still Southport’s main shopping street to this day, Lord Street had a huge influence on the modern face of Paris after Louis-Napoleon (as he was then) briefly lived in Southport in 1846; on becoming Emperor Napoleon III, he had Paris rebuilt with broad tree-lined boulevards in the Lord Street style.

It’s not just the shopping that brings people to the Mad Duke’s ward. Southport is one of the most popular seaside resorts in the UK with good train links to Manchester and Liverpool – Southport station lies within the ward with Birkdale and Hillside stations on its boundary – and the opening of the A5758 Brooms Cross Road, some distance to the south, in 2015 has made the town more accessible for drivers. The Promenade looks over a boating lake, pleasure gardens, a model village (again, as in scale model) and the town’s notoriously long pier, which lies on the ward boundary. Further to the south, much of Duke’s ward’s acreage is taken up by the Royal Birkdale Golf Club, which this year hosted the Open Championship. Next to the Open course is Ainsdale Sands, a nature reserve with many rare species living here, while a climb to the top of the sand dunes is rewarded on a clear day with a breathtaking view of the mountains of North Wales.

This being a seaside resort, Lord Street is in the middle of a very deprived area with a significant Polish community having sprung up around the town centre in recent years. Almost 30% of the ward’s population is aged 65 or over and 35% of households are privately rented – a very high rate for a non-student area.

Southport is a very atypical part of the county of Merseyside and many of its residents would prefer not to be in Merseyside at all. The town’s location in Sefton borough has led to resentment from Sandgrounders who see much of their council tax going on attempts to regenerate Bootle, a faraway place of which they know nothing. A look at Southport’s previous local election results will show a history of decent scores and the occasional councillor for a former secessionist outfit called the Southport Party, which never achieved the support necessary to declare UDI in the true Catalan style. The Boundary Commission have recently acknowledged that Southport sees itself as a Lancashire town rather than a Merseyside one: in the event that their proposals for new constituencies go through as they are at present the Southport seat will be expanded by taking in some villages from over the county line in Lancashire proper.

The town is the only one of Merseyside’s parliamentary constituencies which Labour have never won, instead being traditionally a Lib Dem versus Tory battle – although the Liberal Democrats fell to third here in June after their MP John Pugh retired. Duke’s is traditionally one of the more Conservative wards in Southport, but the uselessness of the Southport Tories at campaigning cannot be overestimated: the Lib Dems gained a seat in the ward in 2012, very much against the national trend, and held it at the most recent local election in 2016, when they had 45% to 28% for the Conservatives and 13% for Labour. Both the Lib Dems and Tories have run into trouble with their councillors for Duke’s ward: Tony Dawson has been suspended from the Liberal Democrats for refusing to support their general election candidate this year, while the remaining Tory councillor for the ward, David Barton, is also suspended from his party because he is awaiting trial on a charge of money laundering.

Goodness knows what effect all this will have on the electorate. Defending for the Conservatives is Ann Pearmain, a former NHS nurse and qualified TEFL teacher. No doubt still smarting from their general election performance, the Lib Dems have selected without question the most high-profile candidate they have available: John Pugh, the MP for Southport from 2001 until standing down in June. Hoping to become the first Labour councillor in Southport for many a long year is Frank Hanley, who has extensive local government experience as a former Head of Service at Bradford city council. Completing the ballot paper are Terry Durrance for UKIP, who fought the parliamentary seat in June, and Nick Senior for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Southport
ONS Travel to Work Area: Liverpool
Postcode districts: PR8, PR9

Terry Durrance (UKIP)
Frank Hanley (Lab)
Ann Pearmain (C)
John Pugh (LD)
Nick Senior (Grn)

May 2016 result LD 1496 C 927 Lab 438 UKIP 349 Grn 107
May 2015 result C 2186 LD 1689 Lab 991 UKIP 967 Grn 283
May 2014 result C 1117 LD 969 UKIP 682 Lab 368 Southport Party 249 Grn 166
May 2012 result LD 996 C 827 Lab 473 UKIP 390 Southport Party 359 Ind 288
May 2011 result C 1475 LD 1152 Lab 581 Southport Party 376 UKIP 296
May 2010 result C 2589 LD 2137 Lab 687 Southport Party 635
May 2008 result C 1979 LD 790 Southport Party 497 Lab 297
May 2007 result C 1742 LD 845 Southport Party 481 Lab 326
May 2006 result C 1620 LD 885 Southport Party 531 Lab 263
June 2004 result C 2056/2003/1974 LD 1003/978/935 Southport Party 886/835 Lab 463/421/398

Egremont South

Copeland council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Lena Hogg. The Deputy Mayor of Copeland at the time of her resignation, Hogg had served since 2011.

We finish this week in an area which is going to the polls for the fourth time this year, following the general election in June, the county elections in May and the parliamentary by-election in February – a rare gain for the Government at what, just eight months later, now appears to be the peak of the May administration’s powers.

We’re in West Cumbria in an old market town on the main road from Whitehaven to Millom which still retains its mediaeval road layout, focusing on the Norman Egremont Castle. This was traditionally a mining town, although the mineral here was not coal but haematite: when it closed in 2008 Florence Mine, just outside the ward boundary, was the last deep iron ore mine in Western Europe. The mine buildings are now occupied by an arts centre and paintmaking company. Rowntree’s once had a factory in Egremont, but the main industry here today is very different to all of these: Egremont is the closest town to the nuclear reprocessing site at Sellafield, which was a big issue in the parliamentary by-election and is very much still in operation. (Your columnist saw the Sellafield nuclear flask train going through Carnforth station last month with a swarm of accompanying transport police; rather different to the Brief Encounter image with which Carnforth station likes to associate itself.)

The importance of Sellafield to the local economy cannot be overstated. Egremont South makes the top 10 wards in England and Wales for the census “lower supervisory, technical” occupational category, is in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for Apprenticeship qualifications, and has high employment for a town in such a rural and isolated area. Take Sellafield out of the equation, and the local economy would fall apart.

Henry III’s market charter of 1266 also granted to Egremont the right to hold an annual fair. The resulting annual Crab Fair, on the third Saturday in September, is known worldwide for the World Gurning Championships, and other events held at the fair include Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling together with a sport which will be familiar to all politicians, greasy pole climbing. All recent local contests have seen Labour win the Egremont South greasy-pole climbing competition – in 2015 the Labour slate had 43% to 25% for the Conservatives and 24% for an independent candidate – but in May’s county elections Labour only narrowly held off the Tories 54-46 in the Egremont county division. A small part of the ward is within the Gosforth county division, which includes Sellafield and is a safe Tory seat.

Defending for Labour is Tom Higgins, a former financial advisor who was elected to Egremont town council for this ward in a by-election last year. In the blue corner is Conservative candidate Jeff Hailes, of Moor Row. With the independent candidates from 2015 not returning, this by-election is a straight fight.

Parliamentary constituency: Copeland
Cumbria county council division: Egremont (part: part of Egremont parish), Gosforth (part: part of Lowside Quarter parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Whitehaven
Postcode districts: CA22, CA24, CA28

Jeff Hailes (C)
Tom Higgins (Lab)

May 2015 result Lab 915/732/623 C 518 Ind 511/379 Grn 168
May 2011 result Lab 803/694/676 C 398/374 Ind 295
May 2007 result Lab 667/618/580 C 488/488/465
May 2003 result Lab 1184/1043/1005 C 592/572/537

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