Previews: 04 Jan 2018

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

Welcome to 2018 and to another year of Andrew’s Previews. The frantic pace of autumn is behind us now, we are in the dodgiest weather of the year and the ordinary local elections are now less than four months away. That makes January a slow time for local by-elections, and there is just one this week, in Hertfordshire. Read on…

Borehamwood Cowley Hill

Hertsmere council, Hertfordshire; caused by the disqualification of Conservative councillor David Burcombe, who in July 2016 was found guilty by St Albans Crown Court of sexual assault and sentenced to three months in prison, suspended. A 3-month community order was also imposed on Burcombe and he was ordered to pay prosecution costs and sign the sex offenders register. Burcombe appealed against the conviction, but his appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in November 2017 finally allowing this by-election to go ahead. Away from the council Burcombe was a magazine publisher and had also published two books of erotic fiction under a pseudonym. He had served since 2015.

Not a nice way to have to start the first preview of 2018, and I hope that next week will be better. We’re in Borehamwood, a sort of mini-New Town which grew strongly in the immediate post-war years thanks to London overspill. Cowley Hill is the northern of Borehamwood’s five wards: it includes the Hertsmere council offices on Shenley Road together with Borehamwood’s Ibis hotel, which has presumably housed over the years a fair few famous visitors to Elstree’s extensive TV studios (which, despite the name, are mostly in Borehamwood). The ward’s permanent population has high levels of social housing and also makes the top 70 wards in England and Wales for Judaism. Borehamwood has become an attractive area for members of London’s Jewish community who have been priced out of more traditional Jewish areas over the Greater London boundary in Barnet borough.

It may well be that which explains the recent Labour performance in Borehamwood, which has been nothing short of appalling. Burcombe may not have been the most salubrious of characters, but he was the only Conservative ever to be returned for Borehamwood Cowley Hill ward since its creation in 1999 – yes, Labour did worse here in 2015 than they did in the pit of the Blair and Brown years. The vote shares rather mask that because the 2015 poll here was a straight Labour-Tory fight: Labour led in votes 56-44, but most of that lead was a personal vote for councillor Richard Butler. Butler was also Labour’s parliamentary candidate in Hertsmere that year and ran a long way ahead of his running-mates: Burcombe nicked the third and final seat, defeating Labour councillor Ann Harrison by just 27 votes.

After that Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, and the party became wracked by anti-semitism scandals. In the 2017 county elections Labour reaped the result of that by losing the local county council seat (Borehamwood North) to the Conservatives. On the other hand Labour did gain a district council seat from the Conservatives in Borehamwood in a by-election last October on a big swing, and let me emphasise again that this is not a ward the Conservatives should ever have won in the first place.

Both the Conservatives and Labour have selected 23-year-old candidates for this by-election. Defending for the Conservatives is Sean Moore, a hairdresser who is presumably hoping to make the cut. The Labour candidate is Rebecca Butler, Richard Butler’s wife: she was elected at the age of 19 in 2014 (under her former name of Rebecca Challice) as a councillor for East Barnet ward of Barnet council, and still holds that office although she now lives and works in Borehamwood. Also standing are David Hoy for UKIP, Paul Robinson for the Liberal Democrats and the ward’s first ever Green Party candidate, Nicholas Winston.

One more thing to note. This is not the first election in the UK in which people born in the year 2000 are eligible to vote – the Scottish Parliament election in 2016 set that record – but it is the first election in England where that will be the case. There are 6,188 electors for this by-election, and it would be interesting to know whether any of them have the right date of birth (1st-4th January 2000) to become England’s first voter born in the 2000s.

Parliamentary constituency: Hertsmere
Hertfordshire county council division: Borehamwood North
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: WD6

Rebecca Butler (Lab)
David Hoy (UKIP)
Sean Moore (C)
Paul Robinson (LD)
Nicholas Winston (Grn)

May 2015 result Lab 1874/1495/1426 C 1449/1375/1357
May 2014 result Lab 796 UKIP 656 C 475
May 2012 result Lab 904 C 461
May 2011 result Lab 1125 C 723
May 2010 result Lab 1373 C 1189 BNP 426 Ind 268
May 2008 result Lab 640 C 600 Socialist Labour 224 Ind 144
May 2007 result Lab 724 C 521 Socialist Labour 234
May 2006 result Lab 642 C 556 Socialist Party 187 LD 186
May 2005 by-election Lab 1519 C 1017 LD 423
June 2004 result Lab 654 C 567 LD 284 Socialist Labour 181
May 2003 result Lab 826 C 224 Socialist Labour 184
May 2002 result Lab 886 Ind 693 Socialist Labour 95
May 2000 result Lab 738 C 374
May 1999 result Lab 924/873/858 C 260/236/236