Previews: 02 Aug 2018

After the rush of July we are now well into the summer holiday season, so it’s natural to begin and end this piece on the coast. There are just three by-elections on 2nd August 2018, all of which are Conservative defences:


Ansdell

Fylde council, Lancashire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor David Eaves, who has since died at the age of 71. Eaves was first elected for Ansdell ward in 2007 following a long career in senior management at Blackpool Transport; his business and managerial skills saw him quickly climb the ranks of the Fylde Conservative group, and he served as Leader of the Council from 2010 to 2014. He leaves behind his wife Linda, a son, a stepdaughter and two grandchildren.

We start this week by paying tribute to an early Victorian artist whose work has been rather forgotten. Richard Ansdell was born in Liverpool in 1815, the son of a freeman who worked at the Port of Liverpool; he showed early promise in art, and by the age of 20 was exhibiting at the Liverpool Academy. Ansdell’s work, which concentrated on rural, military, animal and hunting scenes, became popular; he attracted wealthy patrons, and exhibited his pictures at the Royal Academy every year from 1840 until his death in 1885. Richard Ansdell may not be in the first rank of famous British artists, but that doesn’t detract from the quality or indeed the price of his work – one of his paintings turned up on the Antiques Roadshow last year and was given a five-figure valuation. Ansdell lived down south but for most of his career maintained a house in the Lancashire coastal village of Lytham, which he depicted in the 1853 painting above, Lytham Sandhills.

Much has changed since his day, of course. In the early Edwardian era much of the sand-dunes were built on, creating a village between Lytham and St Annes which became known as Ansdell, after the artist. These were large, posh homes for the Edwardian elite of Lancashire, who could take advantage of Lytham’s coastal climate and excellent facilities for links golf. Within the ward boundary are the clubhouse of Fairhaven golf club, and the 8th green, 9th hole and 10th tee of the Royal Lytham and St Annes course – one of the golf courses on the Open Championship rota. Next to the Open course is Lytham St Annes Technology and Performing Arts College, which with over 2,000 pupils is described as the largest school in Lancashire; while Fylde Rugby Club also play within the boundary.

Lytham last hosted the Open in that celebration year of 2012, with Ernie Els winning after Adam Scott blew a four-shot lead going into the final day. I was there for that final day, and it was a hot one – one of the best days of a summer which was not a patch on the long, hot and dry summer of 2018. The continual sunshine has scorched Lancashire – literally. At the end of last month Lytham was blanketed by smoke from the wildfire on Winter Hill, which on a good day can be seen on the horizon over twenty miles away. That fire is much reduced now but still smouldering at the time of writing. More seriously, in the first week of July two fires on the Lytham seafront severely damaged Lytham Green and the St Annes sand dunes; after that Fylde council had had enough and promptly banned barbecues on the seafront.

A good decision by Fylde council’s Conservative administration, whose strong area in the district is Lytham St Annes town. Ansdell ward is one of the wards within the town, and despite the travails of the local train service (which has been badly affected by electrification and the chaos which is Northern Rail) is still a commuter area for the rich and high-powered of Lancashire. 48% of Ansdell ward’s workforce are in some sort of professional occupation. That creates a safe ward for the Conservatives, who have held all three seats here since knocking out a Fylde Ratepayers councillor in 2007; in the 2015 election the Conservative slate had 51% against opposition only from a single independent (27%) and a single Labour candidate (23%). The Conservatives had more competition in last year’s county elections which saw the Fylde Ratepayers come a strong second in Lytham division; however, the Ratepayers’ strong area is Lytham proper and the division was still safe enough for the Tories.

Defending for the Tories is Chris Dixon, a former local journalist who is now a staffer for the local MP Mark Menzies. In a straight fight Dixon is challenged by Labour’s Gareth Nash, a former governor of the Lytham St Annes Technology and Performing Arts College; he is active in the co-operative movement.

Parliamentary constituency: Fylde
Lancashire county council division: Lytham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackpool
Postcode district: FY8

Chris Dixon (C)
Gareth Nash (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1379/1337/1282 Ind 727 Lab 613
May 2011 result C 1033/1002/981 Fylde Ratepayers 386 Lab 319/267/219 LD 181
May 2007 result C 886/824/810 Fylde Ratepayers 555 Lab 335
May 2003 result Fylde Ratepayers 708 C 704/605/547 LD 407 Lab 253


Orton Longueville

Peterborough council, Cambridgeshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor June Bull, who had served since 2016, on health grounds. Mrs Bull came to local politics after a 39-year career in central government, where she had worked as a civil servant and been an EU trade delegate to ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Now we come to the main course of this week’s three polls, and it’s a crucial one. We’re in the city of Peterborough, the point where the Midlands end and East Anglia begins (or the other way round, depending on your point of view). Peterborough is an old city, but it’s also a New Town; and the rural village of Orton Longueville, located on the south side of the Nene a few miles to the south-west of the city centre, became the focus of one of the New Town developments during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Orton Longueville ward was drawn up in 1975 by the Boundary Commission with a very low electorate to cater for future population growth, which was fully realised: between 1976 and 1992 the electorate here grew from under 1,700 to almost 7,600, a rise of 349%.

In its early years Orton Longueville ward was Tory, but Labour have been competitive here since development completed in the mid-eighties resulting in a close-fought marginal, although in recent years the Tories have held the upper hand – since 2006 Labour have only won the ward once, at their recent high point of 2012. Occasionally other parties can come through the middle – the Lib Dems won seats here in 2001 and 2002, while UKIP won a seat in 2014 and held it in 2016. That was the year the current ward boundaries came into force, although changes from the previous ward were minor; and the Conservative strength in Orton Longueville is rather curious given that the old ward’s census return in 2011 was very working-class, with some of the New Town districts having high deprivation levels.

Peterborough’s election results since 2016 have been rather curious as well. In June 2017 Labour surged in the city proper, gaining the Peterborough parliamentary seat and a by-election in the city’s East ward to wipe out the Tory majority on the city council. However, little has gone right for Peterborough Labour this year, partly due to a difficult electoral map which saw Labour defending most of the city’s marginal wards in May’s elections. Seats flew in all directions in Peterborough this May, but it was the Tories who had the momentum: they gained two wards from Labour, were within thirty votes of gaining two more, and also knocked out UKIP in Orton Longueville ward. This doesn’t mean, however, that the Conservatives made Orton Longueville safe: shares of the vote were 38% for the Conservatives, 33% for Labour (who returned to second place) and 14% for UKIP. Losses to Labour in Park ward and to the Green Party in Orton Waterville restricted the Tory net gain to one, but that was all that was needed for the Conservatives to regain overall control of Peterborough council. However, as we saw last year such a small majority is vulnerable to by-election losses: if this poll is lost by the Conservatives that overall control will go with it.

Last week things went from bad to worse for Peterborough Labour when it was revealed that the city’s Labour MP, Fiona Onasanya, had been charged with two counts of perverting the course of justice. The allegation is that she lied about who was behind the wheel of a speeding car. There must be something about Peterborough that attracts controversial MPs. Onasanya’s predecessor Stewart Jackson, who served from 2005 to 2017, was a notably right-wing Conservative firmly on the I Can’t Believe It’s Not UKIP branch of the party, who since losing his seat had been working as an aide to then-Brexit secretary David Davis; his predecessor, Labour’s Helen Clark, was originally caricatured as a Blair Babe before falling out with the party over the Iraq War; her predecessor as MP for Peterborough was Dr Brian Mawhinney (as he then was), one of the more accident-prone ministers of the Major administration. Boundary changes for the 1997 election transferred Orton Longueville and Dr Mawhinney out of the Peterborough constituency into a new safe Conservative parliamentary seat called North West Cambridgeshire, where it still lies; so if Onasanya’s present legal troubles end up provoking a parliamentary by-election, Orton Longeuville will not be taking part in it.

This particular by-election is going to be a Conservative defence, and their candidate is hoping to make a quick return to Peterborough council. Gavin Elsey was the cabinet member for “waste and street scene” until May when he lost his seat to the Green Party in the neighbouring Orton Waterville ward. He is up against the new Labour candidate Helen Skibsted, a tutor. UKIP, who held a seat here until May, have selected Graham Whitehead, a business analyst, TSSA member and chairman of the party’s Peterborough branch. Also standing are Daniel Gibbs for the Liberal Democrats and Alex Airey for the Green Party.

If you would like to bet on the result, Smarkets have a market up here.

Parliamentary constituency: North West Cambridgeshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough
Postcode district: PE2

Alex Airey (Grn)
Gavin Elsey (C)
Daniel Gibbs (LD)
Helen Skipsted (Lab)
Graham Whitehead (UKIP)

May 2018 result C 850 Lab 730 UKIP 322 LD 172 Grn 170
May 2016 result C 894/859/581 UKIP 846 Lab 658/581/497 Grn 421 LD 268


Snettisham

King’s Lynn and West Norfolk council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Avril Wright, who had served since 2015, for personal reasons.

We started the week on the west coast, and we finish on the west coast – the west coast of Norfolk, this time. The village of Snettisham lies on the main road between King’s Lynn and Hunstanton, about 9 miles north of Lynn; it’s known for two ancient things, a 14th-century church which Pevsner described as “perhaps the most exciting Decorated church in Norfolk”, and a hoard of gold jewellery and other precious metals dated to the Iron Age. The Snettisham Hoard, and a later find of Roman jewellery from AD 155 or later, can now be seen in the British Museum. Modern-day Snettisham is also old, although not quite that old: the ward makes the top 70 in England and Wales for the proportion of the workforce who are retired. To the west of Snettisham on the coast is a nature reserve run by the RSPB; to the south and east lie the four other parishes in this rural ward.

This is the third Snettisham by-election in fourteen years which suggests a high councillor attrition rate, but there is not much electoral volatility here. In the 2015 election the Conservative slate beat Labour 71-29 in a straight fight; the last time the Tories lost Snettisham was in 2003 when its seats were taken by an independent slate. At county level Snettisham ward is split between two Norfolk county divisions – Dersingham and Docking – which are both safely Conservative.

Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Stuart Dark, a retired Metropolitan Police detective superintendent who was honoured by the police for commanding the UK’s initial response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsumani. A Snettisham parish councillor, Dark was elected last year to Norfolk county council for Dersingham division. Labour appear to have given up here, but three other candidates have turned up to contest the by-election: they are Erika Coward of the Liberal Democrats (whose nomination papers, in a bizarre twist, have been signed by local resident, Conservative party member and Norfolk Police and Crime Commissioner Lorne Green), Matthew Hannay of UKIP and Nigel Walker of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: North West Norfolk
Norfolk county council division: Dersingham (part: Ingoldisthorpe, Shernborne and Snettisham parishes); Docking (part: Fring and Sedgeford parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: King’s Lynn
Postcode districts: PE31, PE36

Erika Coward (LD)
Stuart Dark (C)
Matthew Hannay (UKIP)
Nigel Walker (Grn)

May 2015 result C 1537/1534 Lab 636/474
May 2013 by-election C 593 UKIP 361 Lab 263
May 2011 result C 1113/969 Lab 494
May 2007 result C 1080/1005 Lab 358
Dec 2004 by-election C 437 LD 247 Lab 121 Ind 120 [C gain from Ind]
May 2003 result Ind 1217/887 C 605/549 Lab 296