Previews: 08 Feb 2018

Seven by-elections on Thursday 8th February 2018:


Hartside

Eden council, Cumbria; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Sheila Orchard at the age of 66. Orchard had served since 2007, and was leader of the Eden Conservative group from 2011 to 2015.

February 2018 is going to be a busy month for Andrew’s Previews, with seven polls today, fourteen next week and twelve the week after that. You need to start somewhere, and the most logical place to start is at the top and work your way down. In that sense Hartside ward is an excellent place to start: we are in the High Pennines here, and on the ward boundary is the highest point of the Pennines, the 2,930-foot summit of Cross Fell.

If you’re looking for a viewpoint, it’s hard to do better than Cross Fell. On a clear day you can look west over the Eden Valley to the Lake District mountains, while to the north there are views over the Solway Firth to the Southern Uplands. Cross Fell is even a viewpoint for Tuesday’s by-election in Alyn and Deeside: on a clear day it is theoretically possible to see the Clwydian Hills, over 110 miles away.

Good luck to anybody who tries to photograph that line of sight, for Cross Fell is an inhospitable place particularly at this time of year. Snow often lies on the north face into May, hill fog is common, and Cross Fell is the location of Britain’s only named wind: the Helm Wind, which blows strongly down the south-western slope into Hartside ward.

The name of Hartside ward is rather out-of-date; it refers to Hartside Pass, a summit of 1.904 feet on the A686 Penrith-Alston road, but the Pass was transferred out of the ward in boundary changes in 1999. Instead in this location east of the Eden can be found two parishes which run from the summit of Cross Fell all way down to the river. The largest centre of population is Culgaith, a village on the Settle and Carlisle railway line. With 424 electors Culgaith is tiny, but it has produced a person of note in recent years: Stuart Lancaster, the England rugby head coach from 2011 to 2015, grew up here. The ward’s other parish is Ousby, one of the Thankful Villages which lost no men in the First World War. Ousby parish includes the village of Melmerby on the Penrith-Alston road.

This is definitively the part of England least affected by immigration. In the 2011 census Hartside came in at number 1 of all the wards in England and Wales for White British ethnicity, with 1267 out of 1273 residents or 99.53%. (In case you were wondering, the six non-White British people broke down as two White Other, two Asian, one mixed-race and one black.) Hartside is in the top 15 wards in England and Wales for the 45-64 age bracket and in the top 30 for those born in the UK.

Eden is a council which tends to have lots of unopposed returns, and Hartside has only seen one contested election since it took on its current boundaries in 1999. That poll was in 2015, when Orchard was re-elected with a 57-43 margin over independent candidate Susan Castle-Clarke. Orchard had taken over her seat in 2007 upon the retirement of Conservative councillor John Lancaster, a farmer who is Stuart Lancaster’s father and still sits on Culgaith parish council.

This by-election is rather important for Eden’s Conservative administration, which holds 19 out of 38 seats plus this vacancy; so, if the Tories lose this by-election it will be a case of Paradise Lost as their majority on Eden council will go with it. And the omens for the Conservatives are not particularly good. They lost a by-election over the mountains in Alston in 2016, after one of their councillors resigned following an exposé of his business dealings in Private Eye; then the Tories failed to get the seat back in a second by-election last year after the winner of the first by-election resigned. That second by-election was won by Labour (of all people) and that wasn’t a flash in the pan; Hartside is included in a county division with Alston, which in May 2017’s county elections was gained by Labour from an independent county councillor.

There will still be an Orchard on the ballot paper in Eden, as the defending Conservative candidate is Sheila’s widower Robin Orchard, from Melmerby. Independent candidate Susan Castle-Clarke returns from the 2015 election; she is an Ousby parish councillor. Completing the ballot paper is Richard Henry of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Penrith and the Border
Cumbria county council division: Alston and East Fellside
ONS Travel to Work Area: Penrith
Postcode district: CA10

Susan Castle-Clarke (Ind)
Richard Henry (Grn)
Robin Orchard (C)

May 2015 result C 438 Ind 334
May 2011 result C unopposed
May 2007 result C unopposed
May 2003 result C unopposed
August 2002 by-election C unopposed
May 1999 result C unopposed


Codsall

Staffordshire county council; and

Codsall South

South Staffordshire council; both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Robert Marshall at the age of 57. A long-serving councillor, he was first elected to South Staffordshire council in a 1994 by-election and to Staffordshire county council in 1997, serving on the county’s cabinet. On Staffordshire county council he represented Wrottesley from 1997 to 2005, Perton from 2005 to 2009 and Codsall since 2009; on South Staffordshire council he represented Perton Dippons ward from 1994 to 2003 and Codsall South since 2003.

Marshall made the headlines in 2003 after spending £2,300 of his ward allowance on a mobile speed camera for the ward, and then being caught speeding by it. Away from the council he ran the family firm J H Marshall (Pressings) Ltd in Blakenhall, a sheet metal pressing company which has been in operation for 100 years. In his spare time Marshall was a keen squash and chess player who had won the Mensa chess championship.

We move to Staffordshire where there are three council by-elections today. Two of them are in Codsall, a village just to the north-west of Wolverhampton. Codsall is on the railway line from Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury, and Codsall and Bilbrook stations both lie within the Codsall South ward and Codsall county division. This gives Codsall South in particular a commuter demographic and some of the characteristics of a dormitory town. The main employer in the village is South Staffordshire council, whose offices are here.

South Staffordshire is a very Conservative district which has been the recipient of “white flight” from the Black Country over the decades. This was never part of Enoch Powell’s constituency, but a fair number of his voters will have ended up in Codsall. That’s reflected at the ballot box were both this county division and this district ward are safe Tory. In May’s county elections the Conservatives polled 75% in Codsall against Labour and Green opposition. Codsall South was uncontested at the last district elections in 2015; the last poll here was all the way back in 2011 when the Conservatives led UKIP here 62-23.

Defending both by-elections for the Conservatives is Bob Spencer, vice-chairman of Codsall parish council. Also on both ballot papers is Labour candidate Kevin McElduff, chairman of governors at Codsall Middle School; he was the Labour parliamentary candidate for South Staffordshire in 2010 and 2015. There are no UKIP candidates for either vacancy, so the Greens complete both ballot papers: they have nominated Gary Burnett for the county seat and Ian Sadler (who was the Liberal Democrat candidate for South Staffordshire in 1992) for the district by-election.

Codsall

Parliamentary constituency: South Staffordshire
South Staffordshire council wards: Bilbrook, Codsall North, Codsall South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wolverhampton and Walsall
Postcode districts: WV6, WV7, WV8, WV9

Gary Burnett (Grn)
Kevin McElduff (Lab)
Bob Spencer (C)

May 2017 result C 2327 Lab 439 Grn 332
May 2013 result C 1585 UKIP 821 Lab 466
June 2009 result C 1864 UKIP 1208 LD 402 Lab 376
May 2005 result C 3098 Lab 1317 LD 708

Codsall South

Parliamentary constituency: South Staffordshire
Staffordshire county council division: Codsall
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wolverhampton and Walsall
Postcode districts: WV6, WV7, WV8

Kevin McElduff (Lab)
Ian Sadler (LD)
Bob Spencer (C)

May 2015 result 2 C unopposed
May 2011 result C 1019/909 UKIP 377 Lab 254/204
May 2007 result C 862/856 UKIP 286 Lab 197
May 2003 result 2 C unopposed


Stretton

East Staffordshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Dale Spedding, who had served only since winning a by-election last September.

There are some wards which just can’t stop having by-elections. It’s time for a return visit to Stretton ward, a northern suburb of Burton-on-Trent hard up against the county boundary with Derbyshire, which is having its third by-election in ten years and second poll in five months. 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 2015 election was true to form, with the Tory slate polling 45% to 28% for UKIP and 20% for Labour. Last May the Conservatives gained the local county council seat (Horninglow and Stretton) from Labour. Later in 2017 one of the Conservative councillors resigned and their new candidate, postman Dale Spedding, easily held the by-election with 47% of the vote, to 28% for an Independent “Save Our Stretton” candidate and 19% for Labour. Spedding resigned just two months later, claiming that he had been the victim of abuse and had been spat at in the street.

So, it’s back to the polls we go. The new defending Conservative candidate is Vicki Gould. Three of the five candidates from September’s by-election have returned, headed by independent Graham Lamb who is again standing on a “Save Our Stretton” anti-development ticket. The Labour candidate is Elaine Pritchard, a publisher and networker for small businesses. Completing the ballot paper are two returning candidates: the week’s only UKIP candidate Peter Levis and Lib Dem Rhys Buchan.

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

Rhys Buchan (LD)
Vicki Gould (C)
Graham Lamb (Ind – Save Our Stretton)
Peter Levis (UKIP)
Elaine Pritchard (Lab)

September 2017 by-election C 762 Ind Save Our Streeton 455 Lab 311 UKIP 52 LD 36
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


East Brighton

Brighton and Hove council, East Sussex; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who was elected last year as Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown. He had served since winning a by-election in August 2016.

There are some wards which just can’t stop having by-elections. After three by-elections in Staffordshire we finish with three polls on the south coast, and start in the familiar surroundings of East Brighton which is holding its third by-election in six years.

East Brighton ward is based on Whitehawk, a rather isolated and recently-redeveloped council estate in a dry chalk valley, with Brighton racecourse looping around it. On the seafront can be found part of the Kemptown area around the Royal Sussex County Hospital, a traditionally bohemian area of Regency-style architecture. Much of the eastern half of the ward is open countryside, part of which is within the South Downs National Park.

Brighton and Hove was famously run by the Green Party from 2011 to 2015, but the Green administration quickly became unpopular and crashed and burned in the 2015 election, putting Labour back in minority control. The Green surge never got anywhere near taking East Brighton ward, with Whitehawk making this one of the strongest Labour wards in the city. In 2015 the Labour slate polled 46% to 22% for the Conservatives (whose vote presumably comes from the Kemptown waterfront) and 20% for the Greens in third place. One of the Labour councillors resigned in 2016 and in the resulting by-election Labour improved their lead over the Conservatives to 58-20.

I wrote in Andrew’s Previews at the time (page 156 of the 2016 book, if you’d like to check) that the by-election winner Lloyd Russell-Moyle had fought Lewes in the 2015 general election and was a consultant for the United Nations on children and young people. Clearly a rising star, and the snap general election gave him a leg-up into Parliament perhaps more quickly than he might have anticipated then. However, Russell-Moyle isn’t the only person notable enough for a Wikipedia page to contest East Brighton ward: in 2007 the Tory slate here included the former Dollar singer David Van Day, to little discernible effect.

Defending for Labour is a familiar face in the Brighton party. Nancy Platts is described as having worked in communications and campaigns for over 30 years; she has been on the wrong end of two close Parliamentary results, losing the Labour seat of Brighton Pavilion to the Greens in 2010 (by 1,252 votes) and failing to gain Brighton Kemptown from the Conservatives in 2015 (by 690 votes). More recently Platts has worked in Jeremy Corbyn’s office as trade union liaison manager. The Conservative candidate is Edward Wilson, who has just turned 21 and is in his second year at Sussex University studying politics and international relations. In the latest instalment of millennial candidates being haunted by their internet past, Wilson has had to explain himself during the campaign for a (now-deleted) blog article examining Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech and views on immigration. Completing the ballot paper are Ed Baker for the Green Party and George Taylor for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Brighton Kemptown
ONS Travel to Work Area: Brighton
Postcode district: BN2

Ed Baker (Grn)
Nancy Platts (Lab)
George Taylor (LD)
Edward Wilson (C)

August 2016 by-election Lab 1488 C 514 Grn 286 UKIP 152 LD 116 Ind 31
May 2015 result Lab 3229/3225/2918 C 1563/1510/1416 Grn 1357/1021/855 LD 546 TUSC 255
October 2012 by-election Lab 1596 C 531 Grn 436 UKIP 148 LD 59 TUSC 55
May 2011 result Lab 2059/1862/1616 Grn 955/815/627 C 940/826/803 LD 323/218 TUSC 142
May 2007 result Lab 1539/1401/1262 C 1000/997/931 Grn 621/467/445 LD 401/400/377 Brighton and Hove Inds 257 Soc Lab 109
May 2003 result Lab 1545/1451/1223 C 1062/1017/976 LD 770/682/553 Grn 623/553/396 Soc Lab 176


Tophill East; and
Tophill West

Weymouth and Portland council, Dorset; caused respectively by the resignations of independent councillor David Hawkins and Conservative councillor Jason Webb. Hawkins had served since 2007 and was previously councillor for Tophill West ward 2004-06. Webb had served since 2015.

We finish further west on the south coast, and they don’t get much more coastal than this. We’re on the Isle of Portland, a limestone island at the centre of the Jurassic Coast, which overlooks Portland Harbour and the resort of Weymouth. Although the long barrier of Chesil Beach technically connects Portland to the mainland, this is effectively an island with only one road in and out – over a bridge into Weymouth.

Portland’s economy has traditionally been based on quarrying and defence. One of the world’s largest man-made harbours, Portland Harbour was an important naval base until the end of the Cold War, and gained prominence in 2012 when it hosted the sailing events for the London Olympics. With the Navy moving out quarrying is now the main game in town, and the white-grey Portland stone remains much in demand. Many of the UK’s major public buildings – the Banqueting House on Whitehall, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Cenotaph, Buckingham Palace, Manchester Central Library, the Cunard Building in Liverpool, to name but a few – are built or faced in Portland stone, as is the UN Headquarters in New York City and every Commonwealth war grave.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission gets its stone from Broadcroft Quarry in Tophill East ward, one of the many quarries which pockmark the uphill part of Portland. Tophill East is based on the villages of Easton, the island’s second-largest centre of population, and The Grove around HMP Portland. The villages of Weston and Southwell (“south-well” not “suthl”), together with the promontory of Portland Bill, make up Tophill West ward. Easton is noted for an 1803 massacre, in which press-gangers shot and killed three citizens; while in 1734 Southwell was the location of Britain’s second-largest landslip, with a mile and a half of the east coast falling into the sea. The Avalanche Memorial Church in Southwell is a reference not to the landslip, but to an 1877 naval disaster in which the liner SS Avalanche was involved in a collision off Portland during a storm.

The Isle of Portland comes administratively under the borough of Weymouth and Portland, which is not one of the best advertisements for England’s first-past-the-post electoral system. The borough is politically fragmented with large pockets of support for all the major parties; winning shares of the vote are often extremely low and election results can be chaotic. Not that this affects political control, as the council is run with an all-party executive. The Conservatives are the largest party, with 13 out of 36 seats plus the Tophill West vacancy, and provide the council leader.

Amid this electoral chaos Tophill East ward has been the most politically constant of Weymouth and Portland’s wards, having returned independent councillors at every election since 2004. Councillor Margaret Leicester is still in situ from then despite some very narrow re-elections: she won in 2006 with 27% of the vote and a 37-vote majority over the Tories; n 2010 she had 37% of the vote and a 5-vote majority over the Tories; in 2014 she had 28% of the vote and a 28-vote majority over UKIP. Hawkins’ last re-election in 2015 saw him win with 34% of the vote, to 30% for the Conservatives and 23% for Labour.

Tophill West returned a Conservative and two independent councillors – including David Hawkins – in 2004 but has since gone party political. Hawkins was defeated in 2006 by independent councillor Steven Flew, who won with just 28% of the vote. The Conservatives gained the independent seats in 2008 and 2010, but lost two seats in the ward to Labour in 2012 and 2014 and held their remaining seat in 2015 with just under 25% of the vote (Labour had 23%, UKIP 21% and two independent candidates polled 13% and 10%). Labour held one of their seats in 2016, beating the Conservatives 60-40 in a straight fight, and have a good chance to knock out the remaining Tory seat in the ward.

Both of these wards combine to form the Portland Tophill division of Dorset county council, which narrowly voted Conservative in May last year: the Tories beat Labour 48-45. This was a gain from Labour: true to the district’s fragmented political form, in the 2013 Dorset county election Labour had won Portland Tophill with just 22% of the vote (to 20% for UKIP, 17% each for two independent candidates and 10% for the Conservatives, with four other candidates polling below 10%).

Thankfully we won’t see winning scores below 33% here because both these by-elections have fields of three. Tophill East has no defending independent candidate resulting in Britain Elects’ favourite type of election, a free-for-all! Possibly best-placed here is the Conservative candidate Katharine Garcia, who gained Portland Tophill in last year’s county elections and now has the chance to double up at county and borough level. The Labour candidate is Becky Blake, a graphic designer and illustrator. Completing the East ballot paper is Green candidate Sara Harpley.

In Tophill West the defending Conservative candidate is Kerry Baker, who fought Portland Harbour in last year’s county elections and Wyke Regis ward in the 2016 borough election. Challenging for Labour is Giovanna Lewis, a former NHS worker. Carole Timmons of the Green Party completes the West ballot paper.

Tophill East

Parliamentary constituency: South Dorset
Dorset county council division: Portland Tophill
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dorchester and Weymouth
Postcode district: DT5

Becky Blake (Lab)
Katherine Garcia (C)
Sara Harpley (Grn)

May 2015 result Ind 574 C 506 Lab 383 Grn 210
May 2014 result Ind 253 UKIP 225 Lab 209 C 169 Grn 54
May 2011 result Ind 517 C 374 Lab 225
May 2010 result Ind 657 C 652 Lab 488
May 2007 result Ind 369 Ind 252 UKIP 126 Lab 113
May 2006 result Ind 235 C 198 Ind 150 LD 149 Lab 126
June 2004 result Ind 492/363/335 Lab 181/97 C 175

Tophill West

Parliamentary constituency: South Dorset
Dorset county council division: Portland Tophill
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dorchester and Weymouth
Postcode district: DT5

Kerry Baker (C)
Giovanna Lewis (Lab)
Carole Timmons (Grn)

May 2016 result Lab 641 C 429
May 2015 result C 606 Lab 561 UKIP 520 Ind 327 Ind 252 Grn 166
May 2014 result Lab 426 C 346 LD 268 Grn 245
May 2012 result Lab 394 Ind C 298 UKIP 72
May 2011 result C 810 Lab 749
May 2010 result C 768 Lab 600 Ind 471 LD 453 Ind 239
May 2008 result C 518 Ind 332 Lab 214
May 2007 result C 726 Lab 355
May 2006 result Ind 347 C 254 Ind 236 Lab 196 Ind 191
June 2004 result Ind 946/412/249 C 527/302 Lab 338/270/255