Previews: 09 Nov 2017

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

By the time you read these words your columnist will be in Zagreb, Croatia, where the European Quizzing Championships are taking place over the weekend. There’s an interesting crossover between quizzers and psephologists: the entry list for the EQC includes at least two former UK local councillors, and several members of the Vote UK psephological web forum are active on the university quizbowl circuit and University Challenge. The Ipsos MORI pollster Roger Mortimore played for many years in the Quiz League of London and was in the last series of University Challenge before it was dropped by ITV in 1987. University Challenge was revived following its inclusion in a special BBC “Granadaland” night in 1992, and Granadaland is a theme which runs through the first two previews this week.

9th November 2017 is the quietest week for by-elections for some time, with only five polls this Thursday: three Conservative defences and two for Labour. If you can get your head around the concept of a Tory-Lib Dem-UKIP marginal, there is one up for election on the Solent coast. Following from poor Conservative performances last week, in which the party lost three seats to the Liberal Democrats, this week’s other four by-elections are in constituencies where Labour outperformed and the Tories underperformed expectations in June. One each of those defences occurs in London in what will be this column’s last visit to the London Boroughs for some time. But we start with a Labour defence in north Wales and a Conservative defence in Derbyshire in wards which have more in common that it might seem at first sight. Read on…


Limestone Peak

High Peak council, Derbyshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Daren Robins. He had served since 2015.

Welcome to the Peak District. We’re just north of Buxton here in the village of Dove Holes, one of the highest villages in England at an altitude of over 1100 feet and, if you believe a 2001 poll for Radio 5 Live, the ugliest village in England. That’s not an assessment your columnist agrees with – there are far worse places out there – but Dove Holes’ setting on the busy A6 Buxton-Manchester road and the fact that the local industry is, as the ward name suggests, limestone quarrying doesn’t help in the beauty stakes. Rather more beautiful is the Derbyshire Wye Valley, a dramatic gorge between Buxton and Millers Dale, while in between lie the quarrying village of Peak Dale, the older village of Wormhill and the hamlet of Tunstead which was the birthplace of the canal pioneer James Brindley. The limestone quarrying has left its mark on the local workforce: Limestone Peak is in the top 40 wards in England and Wales for the ONS “lower supervisory, technical” occupational group.

Up here on the limestone plateau we really are in the debatable lands: where does the North end and the Midlands begin? The official regional boundaries suggest that the East Midlands begins at the Cheshire-Derbyshire boundary, but the High Peak borough of Derbyshire is dominated by small towns like Glossop and New Mills that look towards Manchester rather than Derby as the nearest big city. Those towns and Buxton are politically counterbalanced by some lovely but rather sparsely-populated countryside which has seen some interesting political fights over the last two years, often swinging in different directions at the same time. In 2015 the Conservatives gained overall control of High Peak council with a majority of three at the same time as their MP Andrew Bingham was re-elected for a second term as MP for the High Peak constituency (which has the same boundaries). Included in that majority was the Limestone Peak ward where the Tories had 50% of the vote (to 27% for Labour and 23% for UKIP).

The Conservatives had an eye-catching performance across High Peak in May’s Derbyshire county elections, gaining three seats from Labour and one from the Lib Dems to finish with six of the borough’s eight county councillors to one each for Labour and the Lib Dems. But this was an occasion where large seat changes are deceptive: all four of those gains were by majorities of fewer than 100 votes, with the Conservative majority in Buxton North and East (which includes Peak Dale and Wormhill but not Dove Holes) being just 27 votes, and in vote terms Labour were only four percentage points behind the Conservatives across the borough last May with a large Lib Dem vote to squeeze. Once you take that into account, together with the fact that High Peak is culturally a Granadaland seat rather than a Midlands one, the Labour gain of High Peak in the general election five weeks later starts to make a bit more sense as a reflection of the strong Labour performance in north-west England.

No doubt Limestone Peak ward will now start swinging in a new direction just to confound us all further. Defending for the Conservatives is Peter Roberts, a local resident from Peak Dale. Labour have reselected their 2015 candidate Jim Lambert; a gain for him (or anyone else) would cut the Conservative majority on the borough council to one. UKIP have not returned to the fray, so completing the ballot paper are Peter Crook for the Green Party and Alistair Forbes for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: High Peak
Derbyshire county council division: Buxton North and East (Wormhill and Green Fairfield parishes), Buxton West (part of Buxton), Chapel and Hope Valley (part of Chapel en le Frith parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Buxton
Postcode districts: SK17, SK23

Peter Crook (Grn)
Alistair Forbes (LD)
Jim Lambert (Lab)
Peter Roberts (C)

May 2015 result C 575 Lab 306 UKIP 263


Buckley Bistre West

Flintshire council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Ron Hampson at the age of 79. A veteran of local government, Hampson was first elected in 1991 to the former Alyn and Deeside council and had served on the modern Flintshire council since its first election in 1995. He was Mayor of Buckley in 1997 and at the time of his death chaired Flintshire council’s community and enterprise overview and scrutiny committee.

We move over the Welsh border to a location which has many similarities with Dove Holes. Like Dove Holes, Buckley is on the top of a hill. Like Dove Holes, Buckley is not within north-west England but shares many cultural affinities with Granadaland. Like Dove Holes, Buckley’s main industry – in this case, a cement factory – is not exactly pleasing to the eye. Like Limestone Peak ward, Buckley Bistre West is in the top 40 wards in England and Wales for the ONS “lower supervisory, technical” occupational group. Like Dove Holes, Buckley is within a constituency – in this case, Alyn and Deeside – where Labour did well and the Conservatives underperformed expectations in June’s general election. This column will be returning to Flintshire to discuss that subject further in due course, following the recent sad and untimely death of the local Welsh Assembly member, Carl Sargeant.

Buckley is rather obscure given that it is Flintshire’s second largest town by population; perhaps its obscurity comes from being overshadowed in population terms by Mold, just a few miles to the west, while the main service centre for the area is Chester, over the border in England. Buckley Bistre West ward is the south-west quadrant of the town and the most deprived part of it.

Hampson’s death brought to an end the double-act between him and the Liberal Democrats’ Neville Phillips. They had been the two councillors for Buckley Bistre West since the establishment of the modern Flintshire council. Hampson was actually the junior member of the partnership: Phillips has represented this ward continuously on Flintshire council or the former Alyn and Deeside council since at least 1973, and may well have sat on predecessor councils before that. At their last re-election in May 65% of the electors gave a vote to Hampson as top of the Labour slate, with Phillips on 46% comfortably ahead of Hampson’s running-mate.

A loss for Labour could be significant for control of the council, as Labour are running Flintshire as a minority administration with 33 out of 70 seats plus this vacancy. They have reselected Andy Williams to defend this by-election: he is a Buckley town councillor for this ward, was Mayor of Buckley in 2016-17 and was Hampson’s running-mate in May’s Flintshire election. The Liberal Democrat candidate is Gren James. Also standing are Louis Fox for the Conservatives and two Buckley town councillors standing as independent candidates: Edith Hutchinson and Martyn Teire.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Alyn and Deeside
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chester
Postcode district: CH7

Louis Fox (C)
Edith Hutchinson (Ind)
Gren James (LD)
Martyn Teire (Ind)
Andy Williams (Lab)

May 2017 result Lab 750/445 LD 527 Ind 250
May 2012 result Lab 886 LD 638 Ind 337
May 2008 result LD 896 Lab 825 Ind 380
June 2004 result Lab 916 LD 839 Lab 329
May 1999 result 1 Lab/1 LD unopposed
May 1995 result Lab 1156/580 LD 932
May 1991 Alyn and Deeside result LD 993 Lab 870/815 Ind 676 C 333
May 1987 Alyn and Deeside result 2 Lab/1 SDP unopposed
May 1983 Alyn and Deeside result Alliance 1136/735 Lab 992/766
May 1979 Alyn and Deeside result Lib 1458 Lab 1412 C 840 Ind 591
May 1976 Alyn and Deeside result Lib 708 C 619 Lab 602/576/497
May 1973 Alyn and Deeside result Lab 821/769/721 Lib 726 C 466


Stubbington

Fareham council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Chris Wood who was originally elected as UKIP.

We move to the south and to Stubbington, a village a couple of miles inland from the Solent coast between Portsmouth and Southampton. Stubbington claims to be the location of Hampshire’s first cricket match – played on 22nd May 1733 between a Married team and a Single team – but otherwise is rather nondescript, having mostly developed since the war as a satellite of Fareham and Gosport. With its proximity to Gosport, defence is a major employer in the ward; but Stubbington, like many places on the south coast, has a relatively old population with high retirement levels.

This ward was a close-fought marginal between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats until the advent of Coalition: the Lib Dems won both seats in the ward in 2002, the Tories gained one of the seats in 2004 by a majority of eight votes, and the Lib Dems held their remaining seat in 2006 by 66 votes. The Tory and Lib Dem councillors then both developed personal votes which led to the ward seesawing between the two parties at every election until 2014, when the Lib Dems lost their seat – to UKIP, who had come second two years previously. UKIP followed up in 2016 by gaining the Conservative seat in a three-way marginal result: the Kippers’ winning score was 35%, while the Lib Dems and Conservatives tied for the runner-up spot on 772 votes (30%) each. May’s county elections suggest that UKIP will struggle to win this ward again: they had just 7% across the local Fareham Crofton division, which they had won four years previously.

Woods’ defection means that the defending candidate is the Tories’ Pal Hayre; she is the local county councillor, having gained the county seat from UKIP in May. UKIP want their seat back and have selected Andy Annear. The Liberal Democrat candidate is Jim Forrest, councillor for this ward from 2002 to 2004 and from 2006 to 2014. Completing the ballot paper is Labour’s Matthew Randall. Whoever wins is likely to be straight back onto the campaign trail to seek re-election in May 2018.

Parliamentary constituency: Gosport
Hampshire county council division: Fareham Crofton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Portsmouth
Postcode districts: PO13, PO14

Andy Annear (UKIP)
Jim Forrest (LD)
Pal Hayre (C)
Matthew Randall (Lab)

May 2016 result UKIP 899 LD 772 C 772 Lab 123
May 2014 result UKIP 1227 C 841 LD 646 Lab 114
May 2012 result C 940 UKIP 833 LD 650
May 2010 result LD 2159 C 1773 Lab 302
May 2008 result C 1485 LD 1111 Lab 91
May 2006 result LD 1240 C 1174 Lab 130
June 2004 result C 1190 LD 1182 Lab 162
May 2002 result LD 1276/1063 C 923/913 Lab 167/165


Gospel Oak

Camden council, North London; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Theo Blackwell who is taking a politically-restricted post as Chief Digital Officer for London. A former Camden cabinet member for finance, Blackwell had represented this ward since 2010 and was previously councillor for Regent’s Park ward from 2002 to 2010.

“Here from my eyrie, as the sun went down,
I heard the old North London puff and shunt,
Glad that I did not live in Gospel Oak.”

– John Betjeman, “Summoned by Bells”

To finish the week we have two by-elections in London, a place we haven’t seen much of this year: before this week there had only been nine local by-elections in the capital in 2017. We start north of the river in Gospel Oak, one of those places that could have become seriously fashionable but may now be being reappraised. When development began here in the mid-nineteenth century the landowners had plans for elegant streets, with Lismore Circus as their focal point, but the railways got there first, with first the North London Railway and then the Midland Railway building lines through the district. This scared the desired residents away and when the neighbourhood was built it was much more working-class than originally intended. That prejudice against Gospel Oak compared to neighbouring more middle-class or fashionable areas like Hampstead, Highgate and Camden Town was still in evidence in 1909, when Betjeman’s family moved to nearby Highgate, and was to some extent reinforced after the Second World War when Camden council built a series of council estates in the area.

Some of the council estates are now being redeveloped by Camden council, and Gospel Oak has benefited from its proximity to fashionable Hampstead Heath. This together with improved transport links (the North London Line has undergone a renaissance over the last decade, and the Gospel Oak-Barking line is being electrified) have led to Gospel Oak going a little up the social scale in recent years. Today the ward is a rather socially mixed area, whiter and older than the average for London but still with 25% of its population born outside the EU – there are significant French, Bangladeshi and Filipino populations.

Politically the ward is normally Labour, but was lost to the Conservatives in 2006 before Labour regained the three seats at the 2010 election. At the most recent borough election in 2014 Labour won with 47%, to 18% for the Conservatives and 15% for the Greens. In the GLA elections in May 2016 Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith in the ward’s ballot boxes 58-19 and Labour topped the London Members ballot with 51%, to 15% for the Tories and 14% for the Greens: both of those figures were swings to Labour from 2012. This is the third Gospel Oak by-election in five years, the last one having been only in May: Labour won that by-election with 50%, the Lib Dems interestingly moving into second on 20% ahead of the Tories’ 18%.

Defending for Labour is Jenny Mulholland, who works in IT and is the only candidate to live in the ward. The Lib Dem candidate is Jill Fraser who is presumably hoping to batter the opposition – she runs a local fish and chip shop – and may be familiar to Camden voters as a former councillor (winning Haverstock ward in a 2003 by-election and serving until 2014), Mayor of Camden in 2006-07 and parliamentary candidate for the local seat of Holborn and St Pancras in 2015. Returning from May’s by-election is Marx de Morais who, to paraphrase Hilary Benn, is a Marx but not a Marxist: born in Communist East Germany, de Morais is a professional food designer (whatever that is) from the liberal/Remain wing of the Conservative Party, and his rather unique style of campaigning has included planting flowerbeds in the ward’s council estates. Completing the ballot paper is Max Spencer; she was the UKIP candidate for Holborn and St Pancras in 2015 but now has the English Democrats nomination.

Parliamentary constituency: Holborn and St Pancras
GLA constituency: Barnet and Camden
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: NW3, NW5

Marx de Morais (C)
Jill Fraser (LD)
Jenny Mulholland (Lab)
Max Spencer (EDP)

May 2017 by-election Lab 1468 LD 587 C 523 Grn 273 UKIP 75
May 2014 result Lab 1687/1590/1534 C 634/551/456 Grn 549/527/429 UKIP 361 LD 248/245/158 TUSC 110
March 2013 by-election Lab 1272 C 419 Grn 134 LD 132 TUSC 109 BNP 57
May 2010 result Lab 2015/1965/1825 C 1421/1344/1305 LD 1107/1006/860 Grn 602/595/548
May 2006 result C 1378/1333/1297 Lab 1225/1220/1150 LD 519/461/373 Grn 428/411/337
May 2002 result Lab 880/846/791 C 550/506/459 LD 430/347/336 Grn 311/291/264 CPA 50

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1867 C 603 Grn 308 LD 142 Women’s Equality 93 UKIP 89 Respect 42 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 27 Britain First 20 BNP 14 One Love 6 Zylinski 3
London Members: Lab 1653 C 493 Grn 468 Women’s Equality 184 LD 182 UKIP 144 Respect 32 Britain First 30 Animal Welfare 27 BNP 19 CPA 15 House Party 11


Thamesfield

Wandsworth council, South London; caused by the death of the Mayor of Wandsworth, Conservative councillor Jim Madden. Madden had served on Wandsworth council since 2002 and was in his second year as Mayor, having previously held the title in 2006-07. Before entering local politics Madden had been a Metropolitan Police officer, retiring in 1999 with the rank of Inspector having been in charge of policing in Putney and Roehampton for seven years, and had been national chairman of the Neighbourhood Watch network. In the 2015 New Year Honours Madden was appointed OBE for his services to policing and the community.

And thus we take leave of Putney, one of the pleasantest of the London suburbs, as well as the most accessible. The immense increase in the number of houses in late years testifies to its popularity; but there is still an almost unlimited extent of open ground which cannot be covered; and with wood and water, common and hill, there will always be an element of freshness and openness in Putney seldom to be obtained so near London.

– J C Geikie, The Fascinations of London, 1903

As we are now in the second week of November it’s time to go through some administrative notices which have to be made at this time of year. The six-month rule has now kicked in in advance of next year’s ordinary local elections, which will take place on Thursday 3rd May 2018. Up in 2018’s local elections will be (with some modifications for boundary changes) one-third of the councillors in those English districts and metropolitan boroughs which elect by thirds, one half of the councillors in that handful of English districts which elect by halves, and every councillor in the 32 London Boroughs.

What the six-month rule means is that if any councillors who are due for re-election in May 2018 die, resign or otherwise leave office between now and then, there will not be a by-election to replace them and the seat will remain vacant until it is filled in May. So, as there are no further polls in the pipeline, this will be the last local by-election in Wandsworth before the 2018 London borough elections.

It’s helpful that Wandsworth is holding a by-election so close to the end of the council term, buecause the Wandsworth 2018 election is already proving to be one of the most-discussed and most-anticipated elections of next year. Now it shows just how far the Conservatives sunk in the capital in June’s general election that Wandsworth is even discussed as being in play: the party has controlled Wandsworth council continuously since 1978, in the 2006 election they won 51 seats out of a possible 60, and in the 2014 borough elections the Conservatives won 41 seats to 19 for the Labour opposition. Wandsworth has long been known as the Conservatives’ “flagship” borough, because over the years the Tory administration has aggressively privatised and outsourced as many local services as it can. The payoff for this policy was that it allowed Wandsworth to set unbelievably low council tax rates, and that has proven to be a serious vote winner over the years. The Tory control from 1978 wasn’t remotely affected by the two Blair landslide elections, in which Labour won all three of the borough’s parliamentary seats (Battersea, Putney and Tooting). At Parliamentary level the Conservatives gained Putney in 2005 and Battersea in 2010, and rapid demographic change in recent years – with an influx of urban professionals – had been thought to have made the Battersea seat in particular safe. What happened?

Well, the first clue is in what I just wrote: urban professionals. To demonstrate this let’s look at Thamesfield ward, which is the core of Putney: Putney High Street, Putney Bridge Road and Lower Richmond Road are the main thoroughfares in the ward, Putney railway station (on the Waterloo-Windsor line) serves the ward and East Putney underground station (on the Wimbledon branch of the District Line) is just outside the boundary. Despite a number of skyscrapers having gone up next to the Thames in recent years, this is an old, attractive suburb which still retains much of its pre-twentieth century housing stock. The ward runs along the south bank of the river either side of Putney Bridge; when Boat Race captains choose to start from the Surrey station (as they nearly always do) Thamesfield ward is where they start from.

Thamesfield ward stands out in a large number of 2011 census categories. It is number 2 in England and Wales for the proportion of the workforce with degrees, at nearly 69%. It is number 2 in England and Wales in the census “lower management, admin, professional” economic category and number 8 in England and Wales in the “higher management, admin, professional” economic category – almost two-thirds of the ward’s workforce are in some sort of management or professional position. It is in the top 20 wards in England and Wales for people in the 30-44 age bracket. It is in the top 30 wards in England and Wales for full-time employment. It has a high concentration of people born in the EU-14 states (6%) or outside the EU (22%), with London’s highest proportion of Australians and New Zealanders and some of its census districts having particularly high proportions of South Africans, south-east Asians and Thai speakers.

So, if you have a ward and a council which you would like to hold and whose electorate is dominated by young cosmopolitan professionals, perhaps some policies which might appeal to young cosmopolitan professionals might be in order. And that’s where the Conservatives have been going wrong over the last eighteen months given that their flagship policy is Brexit: Wandsworth voted 3:1 Remain last year and little in the May administration’s handling of Brexit thus far speaks to young urban professionals. The Conservatives reaped what had been sown in the 2017 general election, in which they lost Battersea and only narrowly survived a swing to Labour of over 10% in the Putney constituency.

Despite that it would still be a surprise if the Conservatives lost Thamesfield, although the swing in this by-election will be interesting. Like the Boat Race, Thamesfield ward is always won by a team in some shade of blue: at the last London borough elections in those long-ago days of 2014 the Conservative slate won with 49% to 18% for Labour and 16% for the Lib Dems. That followed on from a by-election in June 2011 which by all accounts Labour worked hard and performed well in, cutting the Tory majority to 46-31. In the GLA elections last year, Zac Goldsmith (whose constituency borders this ward) beat Sadiq Khan 52-29 in the ward’s ballot boxes, while in the London Members ballot the Conservatives had 48% to 21% for Labour and 12% for the Greens; those were relatively good results for Labour who gained the local London Assembly constituency, Merton and Wandsworth.

Defending for the Conservatives is John Locker, who is seeking to return to Wandsworth council after losing his seat to Labour in Bedford ward in 2014. (One of the Labour councillors he lost to, Rosina Allin-Khan, has since gone on to greater things as MP for Tooting.) A senior manager working in the telecommunications industry, Locker had chaired the council’s Strategic Planning and Transportation committee during the 2010-14 term. The Labour candidate is local resident Sally Warren, a disability campaigner. The Greens have also selected a long-term resident of the ward, Di McCann. Competing the ballot paper is Ryan Mercer of the Liberal Democrats, who fought the Putney parliamentary seat in June. Wandsworth council has a reputation for quick election counts, so an early declaration can be expected.

Parliamentary constituency: Putney
GLA constituency: Merton and Wandsworth
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: SW15, SW18

John Locker (C)
Di McCann (Grn)
Ryan Mercer (LD)
Sally Warren (Lab)

May 2014 result C 2579/2466/2437 Lab 953/880/790 Grn 846 LD 554/479/399 UKIP 298
June 2011 by-election C 1497 Lab 1022 LD 545 Grn 202
May 2010 result C 4938/4685/4654 Lab 1559/1387/1192 LD 1479/1194/1043 Grn 849
May 2006 result C 2470/2446/2423 Lab 595/581/546 Grn 553 LD 498/447/391
May 2002 result C 1838/1834/1768 Lab 663/661/660 Ind 627/479 LD 372/318

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: C 2476 Lab 1374 Grn 390 LD 251 Women’s Equality 141 UKIP 50 Respect 27 Britain First 21 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 18 Zylinski 9 BNP 7 One Love 3
London Member: C 2300 Lab 990 Grn 594 LD 373 Women’s Equality 245 UKIP 122 Animal Welfare 43 Respect 38 Britain First 22 House Party 19 CPA 15 BNP 7


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