Previews: 16 Nov 2017

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

There are ten by-elections on 16th November 2017 in England’s towns and villages. There is one Liberal Democrat defence, in Penrith; four Labour defences, two in the Tees Valley towns and two in Suffolk; and five Conservative defences, two in Lincolnshire and one each in Darlington, Lancashire and Buckinghamshire. With eight of this week’s by-elections being in safe wards we shouldn’t expect much change, although two of those polls are in the marginal parliamentary seat of Darlington and should therefore be given some attention as to the swing. We shall come later to the Lib Dem defence, which looks particularly unpredictable; but we start this week with what is clearly the marquee contest. It’s time to go to the far East…


Kirkley; and
St Margaret’s

Waveney council, Suffolk; caused respectively by the resignations of husband and wife Stephen Logan and Louisa Harris-Logan, who were Labour councillors. Both were first elected in 2015, and are resigning due to work commitments.

For the first of our two towns this week with two by-elections we travel to the UK’s easternmost town, Lowestoft. Kirkley ward lies in southern Lowestoft, on the far side of the Bascule Bridge. Developed in the Victorian era by the railway entrepreneur Sir Samuel Peto, Kirkley still retains many of its period houses, including the birthplace of Benjamin Britten on Kirkley Cliff Road. (It’s a B&B now, in case you fancy staying.) That old housing stock and seaside location doesn’t necessarily translate into a desirable place to live: Kirkley ward includes the most deprived census district in Suffolk and has the county’s lowest life expectancy.

Not much further up the social scale is St Margaret’s ward, which covers postwar housing in the north-east corner of the town and has seen some new development in recent years off the town’s recently-completed bypass, Millennium Way.

The two wards may look similar from the census but have interestingly different political histories. Kirkley was traditionally a Labour versus Lib Dem fight, the Liberal Democrats carrying the ward every year from 1999 to 2008, but this was one of the areas where Coalition led to the Lib Dem vote disappearing. In 2015 Labour led here with 36%, to 21% for the Conservatives, 20% for UKIP and 15% for an independent candidate.

By contrast, St Margaret’s ward has never failed to return a Labour councillor in the 44-year history of Waveney council. Despite that, for many years now it has been a very tight fight between Labour and the Conservatives: the closest the Tories got to gaining the ward was in 2006 when they were just eight votes behind Labour. In 2015 Labour again led with 36%, to 30% for the Conservatives and 26% for UKIP. Those looking for a Conservative gain to offset several Tory losses in recent week’s by-elections may take further heart from the fact that Labour performed very badly in Lowestoft in May and June: both St Margaret’s and Kirkley are in county divisions which the Conservatives gained in May, and the local parliamentary seat (Waveney) was the only seat which voted Leave in 2016 where the Labour vote fell in June’s general election.

Both by-elections have attracted a full field of candidates from all five main parties. Defending Kirkley for Labour is Peter Byatt, a retired teacher and Lowestoft town councillor; he was a Suffolk county councillor (for Pakefield division) until losing his seat to the Conservatives in May. The Conservatives have selected Gilly Gunner. The UKIP candidate is Phillip Trindall, who ran a carpentry and joinery business for over 35 years; he stood in the last Lowestoft by-election (in Oulton Broad ward in September) and did poorly. Completing the ballot paper are Ben Quail for the Greens and Dominic Leslie for the Lib Dems.

In St Margaret’s the defending Labour candidate is 27-year-old Nasima Begum, a Lowestoft town councillor who runs a Tandoori restaurant. Returning from the 2015 election is the Conservatives’ Linda Coulam, who runs a taxi firm with her husband. UKIP have also reselected their 2015 candidate for the ward, Bernie Guymer. Completing the ballot paper are Baz Bemment for the Green Party and Liberal Democrat Shaun Waters.

Kirkley

Parliamentary constituency: Waveney
Suffolk county council division: Lowestoft South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lowestoft
Postcode district: NR33

Peter Byatt (Lab)
Gilly Gunner (C)
Dominic Leslie (LD)
Ben Quail (Grn)
Phillip Trindall (UKIP)

May 2015 result Lab 1272/1150/1097 C 733/533/509 UKIP 704 Ind 543 Grn 320/320
May 2011 result Lab 783/719/712 LD 496/431 C 333/295/252 Grn 293 UKIP 248
May 2010 result Lab 1102 LD 986 C 711 Grn 184
May 2008 result LD 660 Lab 375 C 256 Grn 123
May 2007 result LD 689 Lab 379 C 206 UKIP 173 Grn 102
May 2006 result LD 728 Lab 375 C 240 Grn 108
June 2004 result LD 807 Lab 568 C 257 Grn 132
May 2003 result LD 710 Lab 416 C 178 Grn 82
May 2002 result LD 886/850/798 Lab 694/652/632 C 193

St Margaret’s

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

Nasima Begum (Lab)
Baz Bemment (Grn)
Linda Coulam (C)
Bernie Guymer (UKIP)
Shaun Waters (LD)

May 2015 result Lab 1680/1491/1462 C 1379/1273/979 UKIP 1200 Grn 359/291
May 2011 result Lab 1051/1037/1024 C 858/707/675 UKIP 375 Grn 269 LD 208
May 2010 result Lab 1656 C 1411 LD 642 Grn 196
May 2008 result Lab 658 C 578 UKIP 315 LD 206 Grn 137
May 2007 result Lab 711 C 629 LD 166 UKIP 140 Grn 97 Ind 68
May 2006 result Lab 679 C 671 LD 268 Grn 126
June 2004 result Lab 675 C 624 Ind 502 Grn 133
May 2003 result Lab 626 C 540 LD 202 Grn 71
May 2002 result Lab 913/818/784 C 518 LD 421 Socialist Alliance 119


Penn and Coleshill

Chiltern council, Buckinghamshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Alan Hardie who had served since 2011.

From one of the most deprived parts of Britain to one of the least. Two weeks ago this column was in one of England’s most expensive towns to buy property, Beaconsfield; this week we hop north over the town and district boundary to Penn and Coleshill ward. Despite the ward name (which is taken from the two parishes it covers) the largest centre of population is Knotty Green which is essentially a northern extension of Beaconsfield. Knotty Green claims England’s oldest freehouse, the Royal Standard of England (first attested in 1213 when it was called The Ship). The village of Penn itself lies on the eastern edge of High Wycombe, while Coleshill – once a detached part of Hertfordshire – lies halfway between Beaconsfield and Amersham. This is a leafy part of the Chiltern Hills which is much in demand from TV and film companies due to its proximity to several major film studios. The census stats show that Penn and Coleshill is clearly a commuter area: 55% of the workforce are in some form of management or professional occupation and half of the workforce hold degrees.

Penn and Coleshill is as true blue as you would expect from that introduction. The 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections all saw the Conservatives poll over 70% of the vote in a straight fight with the Liberal Democrats. The 2011 election here gave the Tories a 75-25 majority; in 2015 the Lib Dems gave up and the Conservative slate was elected without a contest. The ward is split between two Buckinghamshire county divisions which are both safe Conservative.

Defending for the Conservatives, and in the unusual position for a W of top of the ballot paper, is Jonathan Waters who lives some distance away in a village near Chesham. Ensuring a contested election this time is the Lib Dem candidate Richard Williams, an Amersham resident who fought the ward in 2003, 2007 and 2011.

Parliamentary constituency: Chesham and Amersham
Buckinghamshire county division: Penn Wood and Old Amersham (Penn parishes); Chalfont St Giles (Coleshill parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: High Wycombe and Aylesbury
Postcode districts: HP7, HP9, HP10

Jonathan Waters (C)
Richard Williams (LD)

May 2015 result 2 C unopposed
May 2011 result C 1477/1311 LD 484
May 2007 result C 916/902 LD 251/236
May 2003 result C 818/805 LD 325/313


Sudbrooke

West Lindsey council, Lincolnshire; caused by the resignation of Conserative councillor Stuart Curtis on health grounds. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and has since died at the age of 72. Curtis lived all his life in the village of Sudbrooke, working for fifty years for a Lincoln firm of solicitors; he specialised in conveyancing, and had chaired the local branch of the Institute of Legal Executives. Away from work he had been a qualified football referee, once taking charge of a Lincoln City testimonial match in front of over 5,000 spectators. He had served on West Lindsey council since 1999.

From a safe Conservative ward in Buckinghamshire we move to two more safe Conservative wards in Lincolnshire. The first of these is in Sudbrooke, a village about five miles north-east of Lincoln off the A158 Lincoln-Skegness road. Sudbrooke’s population grew strongly in the 1980s as a middle-class commuter village, dwarfing the older village of Scothern to the north; one legacy of that growth is that the ward makes the top 75 in England and Wales for owner-occupation (92% of households).

Sudbrooke ward was created in 1999 and has unchanged boundaries since then, having survived boundary reviews in 2007 and 2015. It had also had unchanged representation, with Curtis having been the councillor since the ward’s creation: he was originally an independent candidate and was returned unopposed in 2000, before gaining the Conservative nomination from 2004 onwards. At Curtis’ last re-election in 2015 his lead over the Labour candidate was 69-20. The ward is within a safe Conservative Lincolnshire county division (Welton Rural) and a safe Conservative parliamentary seat (Gainsborough).

Defending for the Conservatives is Bob Waller – not the well-known psephologist but the vice-chairman of Sudbrooke parish council. A former Army officer, Waller formerly ran an apprentice engineering training company and is also a former Teesside magistrate. In a straight fight, he is opposed by Labour candidate and Sudbrooke resident Gareth Hart.

Parliamentary constituency: Gainsborough
Lincolnshire county council division: Welton Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lincoln
Postcode districts: LN2, LN3

Gareth Hart (Lab)
Bob Waller (C)

May 2015 result C 1121 Lab 324 LD 181
May 2011 result C 860 Lab 289
May 2008 result C 790 LD 204
June 2004 result C 656 LD 484
May 2000 result Ind unopposed
May 1999 result Ind 452 LD 280


Whaplode and Holbeach St John’s

South Holland council, Lincolnshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Mike Pullen at the age of 82. Originally from London – his first job was as a rigger in the East End docks – Pullen had retired to Lincolnshire after jobs in brewing and insurance. He had served on South Holland council since 2015.

For our second Lincolnshire by-election of the week we travel to the Fens, that agricultural landscape reclaimed from the North Sea which is every bit as flat and unremarkable as the map above might suggest. Wards and parishes in this area tend to be long and thin, following the relatively high ground between the drainage ditches; this ward runs for 20 kilometres from the Cambridgeshire boundary to the intriguingly-named Saracen’s Head on the A17 Sleaford-King’s Lynn road. Of the two villages in the title, Whaplode makes the unusual claim of having Lincolnshire’s highest sculpture-to-population ratio, while Holbeach St Johns is a village slightly to the east on the line of the Greenwich Meridian.

Local politics in South Holland is, like the landscape, not the most exciting affair. In the last two elections to Whaplode and Holbeach St John’s ward the Conservatives have been guaranteed one of the two available seats due to insufficient opposition candidates. Pullen was the opposition candidate in 2011 as an independent, losing an independent-held seat, before being elected in 2015 on the Tory slate. That year the Conservatives had 57% to 43% for a single UKIP candidate. The ward is split between three different Lincolnshire county divisions, all of which are safe Conservative.

Defending for the Conservatives is Janet Whitbourn, who lives in Spalding and was a presenter and manager on the local radio station Tulip Radio until its closure earlier this year; she now runs an events company. In another straight fight Whitbourn is opposed by Jennie Thomas, an admin assistant and mother-of-four from Holbeach, who is the Labour candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: South Holland and the Deepings
Lincolnshire county council division: Crowland (part: Drove ward of Holbeach parish and Drove ward of Whaplode parish); Holbeach (part: Saracen’s Head ward of Whaplode parish); Holbeach Rural (part: St John’s ward of Holbeach parish and St Catherine and Village wards of Whaplode parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Spalding
Postcode districts: PE6, PE12

Jennie Thomas (Lab)
Janet Whitbourn (C)

May 2015 result C 1270/1232 UKIP 969
May 2011 result C 849/727 Ind 507
May 2007 result C 647/569 Ind 606/525


Staining and Weeton

Fylde council, Lancashire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Albert Pounder due to ill-health. He had served since 2003.

After five by-elections in the east and the south of England it’s time to move north. Staining and Weeton ward covers a large area at the centre of the Fylde peninsula, immediately to the east of Blackpool. Staining is the larger of the two villages covered by the ward, but Weeton is the more interesting one; defence is the main game in town here with a large barracks within the ward boundary, and Weeton hosts an annual reunion each June for the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment. In recent times the main controversy in the area has been fracking; Cuadrilla bored a test well in the ward in 2011 but had to stop operations after the drilling set off two minor earthquakes.

Staining and Weeton ward was created in 2003 by merging two single-member wards: a decision which spelt the end of the political career of Labour’s Alfred Goldberg who had represented Staining ward since 1991. The ward is now safely Conservative and in 2015 the Tories led Labour here 65-35. However, the Tories don’t always get it all their own way in rural Fylde: the local county councillor is an independent.

Defending for the Conservatives is Jayne Nixon, an administration manager and Staining parish councillor. The Labour candidate is Nick Ansell (from Blackpool), and completing the ballot paper is Beverley Harrison (from Lytham St Annes) of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Fylde
Lancashire county council division: Fylde West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackpool
Postcode districts: FY3, FY4, FY6, PR4

Nick Ansell (Lab)
Beverley Harrison (LD)
Jayne Nixon (C)

May 2015 result C 971/746 Lab 531
May 2011 result C 582/475 Ind 355 Lab 242 Grn 96
May 2007 result 2 C unopposed
May 2003 result C 527/441 Lab 418


Penrith North

Eden council, Cumbria; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Robin Howse, who is retiring on health and age grounds. He had served since 2011.

As Samuel Johnson once said, “the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England”. For many who journey between England and Scotland, whether in Johnson’s day or in the modern day, their journey takes them through or past Penrith. The Romans had a road which passed through Penrith on the way to Hadrian’s Wall, and its modern successors (the A6 and M6), together with the West Coast main line, all pass through Penrith North ward. As well as a rural hinterland, Penrith North is based on the northern part of the town: the Townhead district and the New Streets. Fittingly some of the streets in the ward are named in honour of a pioneer of roads: John Loudon McAdam, who for a time lived in Penrith.

Penrith is the largest town in the Eden local government district, which despite its geographical size is the smallest local government district by population in north-west England; Penrith North is the district’s largest ward but is still comfortably under 3,500 electors. With small electorates like that the candidate starts to become more important than the party, and this is reflected in Penrith North’s previous results where it’s rare for any party to field a full slate. Since 2011 the Liberal Democrats have held two seats in the ward to one for the Conservatives; shares of the vote in 2015 were 43% for the Lib Dems (two candidates), 32% for the Conservatives (full slate) and 25% for Labour (one candidate). In May’s county elections the Tories greatly increased their majority in the Penrith North county division, but that’s much more rural in character than this ward.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is local resident Mark Rudhall. The Tory candidate is John Forrester, who runs a motorcycle training business and fought Penrith East in May’s county elections. The Labour candidate is Karen Lockney, a lecturer at the University of Cumbria. Completing the ballot paper is Douglas Lawson of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Penrith and the Border
Cumbria county council division: Penrith North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Penrith
Postcode district: CA11

John Forrester (C)
Douglas Lawson (Grn)
Karen Lockney (Lab)
Mark Rudhall (LD)

May 2015 result LD 1037/909 C 773/746/742 Lab 606
May 2011 result LD 783/532 C 574 Ind 499 Lab 304
May 2007 result Ind 531 C 523 LD 417 Lab 186
May 2003 result Ind 536 LD 441 C 419 Lab 163


Mowden; and
Red Hall and Lingfield

Darlington council, County Durham; caused respectively by the resignations of Conservative councillor Bill Stenson and Labour councillor Lynne Haszeldine. One of the longest-serving councillors in the UK, Stenson is retiring after fifty-two years’ service on Darlington council: he was first elected in 1965 for the Mowden ward of the former Darlington County Borough. Haszeldine, who had served Lingfield ward and then Red Hall and Lingfield in tandem with her husband Ian since 2007, is suffering from poor health.

We finish the week with three contests in the Tees Valley mayoral area, two of which are in the town of Darlington. Darlo has a reputation as a Quaker town, having been built through the efforts of many wealthy Quaker families, but is also known for the railways and heavy engineering: it was the terminus of the UK’s first passenger railway, the Stockton and Darlington, became an important railway manufacturing centre, and for well over a century has been known for bridge-building. The Cleveland Bridge company, which built such well-known bridges as the Tyne Bridge, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Humber Bridge, is based in Darlington. That economic prosperity helped make Darlington, until it became a unitary council in the 1990s, the largest town in County Durham.

In many towns and the cities in the UK the western end is a more desirable place to live than the eastern end, which typically suffers from pollution blown over from the rest of the town on the prevailing westerly wind. Such is the case in Darlington and that’s neatly illustrated by the two by-elections this week. On the western edge of town is Mowden, the least-deprived ward in Darlington town; located south of Staindrop Road, the ward is centred on Bushel Hill Park. Much of the ward was developed in the 1960s and 1970s, and judging from its age profile many of the original householders are still in situ: the ward is in the top 100 in England and Wales for retired population and owner-occupation is high. Darlington’s heavy engineering is illustrated by Mowden ward making the top 50 in England and Wales for apprenticeship qualifications and the top 25 for the census’ “intermediate” occupational classification. Mowden ward escaped a boundary review in 2015 unchanged.

That boundary review created Red Hall and Lingfield ward on the eastern edge of town, which took in the eastern areas of the former Lingfield and Haughton East wards. If Mowden is where Darlington’s well-off engineers live, this is where they work: Red Hall and Lingfield ward is dominated by Morton Park, a large industrial estate presently being redeveloped. Companies based on Morton Park include the engine manufacturer Cummins and the English office of the beleaguered Student Loans Company.

Darlington has a reputation as a Labour-inclined marginal area, but boundary effects mean that that doesn’t always reflect the votes cast. The parliamentary seat is drawn tightly around the town, whereas the district includes a few Tory-voting villages in its hinterland: that bolsters the Labour position at general election time (although Darlington did return the now ex-Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to Parliament during the Thatcher landslides). Boundary effects are also at work at council level: the Conservatives polled the most votes across the district in both the 2007 and 2015 elections, but a poor vote distribution meant that Labour had a secure majority on the council both times. Given the description above it shouldn’t be surprising that Mowden is in the Conservative column with Red Hall and Lingfield in the Labour one: in 2015 Mowden had 46% for the Conservatives, 32% for Labour and 15% for UKIP, while Red Hall and Lingfield gave 47% to Labour, 29% to the Conservatives and 12% to the Green Party. Interestingly the Conservatives performed very badly in a by-election in Mowden on Euro-election day in 2014, Labour cutting their majority to 33 votes; on the other hand the Tories can take heart from the fact that they carried Darlington in the Tees Valley mayoral election in May.

This column hasn’t been able to find out much information about the Mowden candidates beyond their names. Defending Mowden for the Conservatives is Alan Marshall. The Labour candidate is Eddie Heslop. UKIP are not contesting the seat this time, so the ballot paper is completed by Kathy Barley for the Green Party and Sarah Jordan for the Liberal Democrats.

By contrast the Red Hall and Lingfield by-election candidates are a well-attested and interesting bunch. Labour have gone for youth in defending the seat: their candidate Sharifah Rahman isn’t yet 20 but she’s already the secretary of Darlington Young Labour. The Conservatives’ selection of Jonathan Dulston has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons: a 28-year-old long-standing community volunteer and special constable, he was fined earlier this year by Newton Aycliffe magistrates for being drunk and disorderly and obstructing a police officer. According to a report in the Mirror, Dulston claimed that “the fracas meant he was a candidate who ‘represents reality’ and has ‘life experience'”, which if true is the most impressive display of brass neck this column has seen for some time. The Green candidate is Mike McTimoney, a lecturer who in 2009 was appointed as Darlington’s official Tweeter-in-residence, whatever that is. Also standing are Harry Longmoor for the Liberal Democrats and independent candidate Kevin Brack, who was the UKIP candidate for Darlington in June’s general election.

Mowden

Parliamentary constituency: Darlington
ONS Travel to Work Area: Darlington
Postcode district: DL3

Kathy Barley (Grn)
Eddie Heslop (Lab)
Sarah Jordan (LD)
Alan Marshall (C)

May 2015 result C 1172/1090 Lab 798/586 UKIP 373 Grn 186
May 2014 by-election C 647 Lab 614 UKIP 235 LD 93
May 2011 result C 1090/992 Lab 629/494
May 2007 result C 1126/987 Lab 315/247 LD 209 UKIP 169
May 2003 result C 1318/1229 Lab 646/557

Red Hall and Lingfield

Parliamentary constituency: Darlington
ONS Travel to Work Area: Darlington
Postcode district: DL1

Kevin Brack (Ind)
Jonathan Dulston (C)
Harry Longmoor (LD)
Mike McTimoney (Grn)
Sharifah Rahman (Lab)

May 2015 result Lab 831/770 C 515/464 Grn 222 LD 212


Victoria

Hartlepool council, County Durham; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Trisha Lawton for family reasons. She was first elected in 2010 for Rossmere ward, lost her seat in 2012, and returned to the council in 2015 for this ward.

We finish for the week in that most interesting of towns, Hartlepool. Or, more accurately, two towns: Victoria ward covers the town centre of what was West Hartlepool, a nineteenth-century town built to serve docks on what was previously sand-dunes. Here can be found the main shopping centre, Middleton Grange; and Hartlepool United’s ground at Victoria Park, where the former mayor Stuart Drummond used to parade in his monkey suit. Thanks to its proximity to the North Sea, Victoria Park had a reputation as the coldest ground in the Football League until the Pools got relegated last summer. Also in the ward is some housing to the west of the town centre along Hart Lane. At the time of the 2011 census most of the present ward was in Grange ward or Stranton ward, which were both notable for extremely high unemployment (nearly 13% in Stranton, over 10% in Grange).

Grange and Stranton wards had had full slates of Labour councillors since 2010, and that has carried forward to the current Victoria ward. UKIP took over second place here in 2015 from the localist party Putting Hartlepool First: in 2016 Labour’s lead over UKIP was 51-30.

Defending for Labour is Katie Trueman, who gives an address in Old Hartlepool on the headland. The UKIP candidate is Jacqui Cummings, a carer. Completing the ballot paper is Conservative candidate Andrew Martin-Wells.

Parliamentary constituency: Hartlepool
ONS Travel to Work Area: Hartlepool
Postcode districts: TS24, TS26

Jacqui Cummings (UKIP)
Andrew Martin-Wells (C)
Katie Trueman (Lab)

May 2016 result Lab 727 UKIP 421 C 169 Grn 103
May 2015 result Lab 1264 UKIP 696 Putting Hartlepool First 461 C 345 Grn 213
May 2014 result Lab 731 Putting Hartlepool First 517 C 145 LD 63
May 2012 result Lab 753/745/737 Putting Hartlepool First 364/322/312 UKIP 166 C 146/113 LD 97/77 Ind 87