Preview: 29 Mar 2018

One by-election on 29th March 2018:

Page Moss

Knowsley council, Merseyside; caused by the death of Labour councillor Veronica McNeill at the age of 73. She had served since 2007.

For electoral purposes, Maundy Thursday used to be a dies non: that is, a day on which elections could not be held and which didn’t count towards the electoral timetable. That rule was abolished a decade ago, but there is still a prejudice against holding by-elections on Maundy Thursday; partly because once Easter is reached the ordinary May elections are imminent, and partly because if the count has to be delayed until Friday then the count staff would have to be paid at bank holiday rates. In these straitened times for local government, no doubt that second factor is an important consideration. Nonetheless the short history of Maundy Thursday by-elections may well have been very significant: last year’s Holy Week polls included a stunning Conservative gain from Labour in the Coulby Newham ward of Middlesbrough, a result which might, perhaps, have been in Theresa May’s mind over the following Easter weekend as she made the decision to go to the country.

What are the chances of a similarly stunning result in today’s single local by-election? Well, to find out let’s travel to the suburbs of Liverpool: although Page Moss ward is just outside the city limits, it was the big city which was the driver in its development. In 1932 Liverpool Corporation bought a large area of land off the Earl of Derby’s Knowsley estate, and by the time the Second World War broke out seven years later the Corporation had filled that area with four large overspill estates. Three of those estates – Fincham, Huyton Farm and Woolfall Heath – form the Page Moss ward of Knowsley. The ward is centred on the A57 Liverpool Road at its junction with Stockbridge Lane – once known as the Horn Smithies junction because of the road layout.

Huyton’s Wikipedia list of famous sons and daughters includes a disproportionate number of footballers and entertainers – jobs which might offer riches beyond the dreams of avarice if you have the requisite talent and strike it lucky, but which offer no guarantee of success or indeed income. Kids from Page Moss might grow up dreaming of kicking a ball at Anfield or Goodison, but probably have more chance of drawing a salary from football by walking in straight lines painting the pitch. Even I can do that. Page Moss ward includes St Aloysius primary school, which a young lad called Alan Bleasdale attended from 1951 to 1957; Bleasdale later qualified as a teacher but found fame as a playwright and screenwriter of gritty social dramas. It is no accident that Boys from the Blackstuff was set in Liverpool and partially filmed in Huyton.

Boys from the Blackstuff may now be over three decades old, but the latest census return suggests that the Yosser Hugheses of our day are still living in Page Moss and still desperate, Dan. In 2011 Page Moss ward, which then had slightly different boundaries, made the top 30 wards in England and Wales for adults with no qualifications (46%), the top 40 for long-term sickness (12.7% of the workforce), the top 70 for social renting (52% of households), the top 90 for unemployment (9.5% of the workforce), and the top 100 for population born in the UK (98.3%). All of the census districts covered by the ward are in the 20% most deprived in England and Wales. For those people living here who do have jobs, around a quarter travel to work by bus – a very high proportion for a ward outside London. For those who don’t, BBC Panorama were here ten years ago focusing on the local youth gang culture. So, yes, Page Moss is not the most desirable place to live, but let’s face it: it could be worse. At least it’s not Stockbridge Village.

Politically Huyton will forever be associated with Harold Wilson, who represented Huyton in Parliament while he was resident at 10 Downing Street. Wherever Wilson is now, no doubt he is looking down on Huyton (or up at it, depending on your political orientation) and noting the recent Labour performances in Page Moss with a smile on his face. There aren’t many safer Labour wards than this in the whole of the UK. In the 2011 and 2012 elections, on the previous boundaries, Labour beat the Lib Dems here in a straight fight by the score of 93-7; in 2014 the Lib Dems gave up and Labour won the ward without a contest. Boundary changes led to an all-out election in 2016 in which the three Labour candidates were opposed only by Kirk Sandringham for the Green Party, who lost 76-24.

So my advice is not to bet against Labour here. Their candidate is Delyth “Del” Arnall; she is seeking to return to the borough council, having represented Park ward in Kirkby from 2011 until it was abolished in the 2016 boundary changes. Arnall is a Knowsley parish councillor representing Knowsley Village ward where she lives. Kirk Sandringham returns to the fray for the Green Party; he is a former Army figure and was the Green election agent in Knowsley for the 2017 general election. Completing the ballot paper are Fred Fricker for UKIP and Conservative Aaron Waters. None of the candidates give addresses in the ward.

Parliamentary constituency: Knowsley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Liverpool
Postcode districts: L31, L32, L33

Del Arnall (Lab)
Fred Fricker (UKIP)
Kirk Sandringham (Grn)
Aaron Waters (C)

May 2016 result Lab 1208/1123/1051 Grn 385