Previews: 16 Aug 2018

Three by-elections on 16th August 2018, as it’s time to go back to where it all began…


East

Bury council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Mike Connolly who had served since 1994. He was Leader of the Council from 2011 to 2016 and Mayor of Bury in 2016-17.

What do the former Tory prime minister Robert Peel and present Tory MP Sir Alistair Burt, the barrister Cherie Blair and present Labour MP Sir David Crausby, the Elbow lead singer Guy Garvey, the sporting twins Gary and Phil Neville and Adam and Simon Yates, and the England World Cup star Kieran Trippier all have in common with your columnist? We were all born in Bury, that town nine miles north of Manchester which still likes to think it’s part of Lancashire. Unfortunately the list of those born in Bury is going to get shorter and older as the years pass: the town’s maternity unit at Fairfield General Hospital, on the eastern edge of town, closed down a few years ago.

Fairfield has been good to me over the years: as well as safely delivering me into the world all those years ago, the hospital once gave your columnist a few weeks temping. The hospital anchors Jericho, a group of houses clinging to the hillside on the old road to Rochdale. The new road to Rochdale is further south, reaching the borough boundary and the M66 motorway at Heap Bridge. Visitors to Bury – and they are legion, particularly on market day – will often leave the motorway at Heap Bridge and climb up Rochdale Road into the town centre.

Their climb will be rewarded. Bury is noted for its compact town centre with some of the best shopping in Greater Manchester. In contrast to some towns in the county (Bolton, I’m looking at you) it’s rare to see a vacant unit here, while the “world famous” market is rightly praised and attracts day trippers from all over the North of England. And you don’t have to be a local to sample the black pudding. For those who don’t fancy shopping, check out the art gallery with its collection of Victoriana and modern sculpture; the regimental museum of the Lancashire Fusiliers; or the preserved East Lancashire Railway, whose headquarters are at Bolton Street station. If all this has made you a little thirsty or hungry, your columnist recommends the Clarence pub and the Jewel in the Crown Indian restaurant, both on Bolton Street.

Bury was one of the classic Lancashire milltowns, with its location between two rivers (the Irwell and the Roch) providing power for textile mills and water for dyeing and finishing. Sir Robert Peel’s family gave much of the early impetus to Bury’s industrialisation: the prime minister’s father, also called Sir Robert Peel, developed a mill in the town and was a subscriber to the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal, which gave Bury a link to the outside world by 1808. The railways, and further development, came here quickly. Unfortunately Bury’s housing stock failed to keep pace with the resulting scale of population growth, and the early nineteenth-century terraces which surrounded the town centre were noted for severe overcrowding and slum conditions. The 1844 Health of Towns Commission report, which had been set up by Peel, noted that King Street, Bury had ten one-bedroom houses and a population of 69. Those houses and indeed King Street no longer exist – subsequent regeneration work has swept them away – but most of the housing in East ward, which stretches from the town centre to Jericho, is still Victorian terracing.

But it’s not all Victoriana here: there has been a rash of new buildings developed in Bury in recent years. A few years ago a major new health centre and hotel opened opposite Bury’s 1930s town hall; but the most important new feature in the town is the Rock Development, a district of shops, restaurants, leisure facilities and flats with all the major chains represented. Rather than competing with the town centre as happens in so many other places (Trafford Centre, I’m looking at you), the Rock is effectively a town centre extension and proud of it. The Rock may have originally opened in the pit of the last recession but it’s doing rather nicely, and it’s noticeable how several towns in England are looking to replicate its success: this column recently covered an unsuccessful attempt to do something similar in Lichfield.

Your columnist is a member of a military band based in Bury which has been supported by the town’s mayors over the years. I well remember one job we did in the Rock Development on a cold afternoon during Mike Connolly’s mayoral year, in which he conducted the band for one number while wearing his chain of office and the “why am I doing this” smile which all mayors very quickly develop. We were polite, of course.

Connolly had been appointed mayor after five years as leader of the council, a position which is never far from controversy. Longterm readers of Andrew’s Previews may recall a by-election I covered to Bury council from Tottington ward in late 2015, which came after a Labour councillor, Simon Carter, admitted downloading sexual images of children. That court case and by-election was only the beginning of what has become a major scandal which led last year to the resignation of the council’s chief executive and the director of children’s services; two independent reports identified serious safeguarding failings in how the council had handled the initial allegations against Carter. Connolly, who was leader of the council at the relevant time had written a reference for Carter on council notepaper in advance of Carter’s sentencing, was then suspended by the Labour Party pending an investigation into his conduct. Connolly had referred himself to the council’s standards committee, but his hearing was yet to take place. His resignation from the council was believed to be for health reasons.

So we have a by-election in East ward. Of Bury’s seventeen wards, East ward is the most deprived and has the largest Asian population – 23% at the 2011 census, overwhelmingly of Pakistani Muslim origin. It is also one of three Bury council wards which Labour have never lost since the current boundaries were drawn up in 2004, and the result in May was true to recent form with Labour leading the Tories 59-34.

Defending for Labour is Gavin McGill, a Unite member, former teacher and former civil servant which is the only candidate to live in the ward; in May he stood in Holyrood ward in Prestwich. The Conservatives, who normally nominate Asian candidates here (the one time in recent years they didn’t, in 2014, was also their worst result in recent years) have reselected Sohail Raja, a businessman and taxi operator who stood here in May. Also standing are Nicole Haydock for the Greens, Andy Minty for the Liberal Democrats and Angela Zwierzanski for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Bury North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: BL8, BL9

Nicole Haydock (Grn)
Gavin McGill (Lab)
Andy Minty (LD)
Sohail Raja (C)
Angela Zwierzanski (UKIP)

May 2018 result Lab 1673 C 960 Grn 185
May 2016 result Lab 1566 C 616 Grn 286
May 2015 result Lab 2748 UKIP 853 C 762 Grn 220
May 2014 result Lab 1494 UKIP 682 C 384 Grn 137
May 2012 result Lab 1430 UKIP 566 C 501
May 2011 result Lab 1589 C 983 UKIP 433 LD 132
May 2010 result Lab 2103 C 1294 LD 714 BNP 436
May 2008 result Lab 1148 C 1023 LD 384
May 2007 result Lab 1216 C 753 LD 296 Ind 180
May 2006 result Lab 1259 C 702 LD 421
June 2004 result Lab 1597/1582/1538 C 1115/1051/757 LD 1083 Ind 489/441


Knaresborough

North Yorkshire county council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Nicola Wilson, who had served since May last year.

We cross to the wrong side of the Pennines and to the Harrogate district, which covers a swathe of the Yorkshire Dales nearly as large in area as Greater London. This is a sparsely populated area, and most of the district’s electors are concentrated in the the city of Ripon and the towns of Harrogate and Knaresborough.

Knaresborough is a town that repays a visit. It’s a spa town overlooking a gorge created by the River Nidd, a few miles to the east of Harrogate. The town was fortified soon after the Norman conquest, and Knaresborough Castle was where the murderers of Thomas Becket hid out immediately after their grisly deed: Hugh de Morville, one of the four knights, held the castle at the time. Fat lot of good it did them: the four knights eventually and quietly lost all their land, and were despatched on penitential journeys to the Holy Land from which they did not return. More worthy sons and daughters of Knaresborough include Ursula Southell, a sixteenth-century seer better known as “Mother Shipton”; and John “Blind Jack” Metcalf, who didn’t let his blindness stop him from being one of the greatest roadbuilders of the eighteenth century.

Modern Knaresborough is to some extent a dormitory town thanks to its good railway connections to Harrogate, York and Leeds. There’s also some industry here: the St James Business Park, recently developed in a bend of the Nidd to the south-east of the town, has attracted many major retailers together with a warehouse for Taylors of Harrogate, the suppliers of the excellent Yorkshire Tea.

The Knaresborough county division covers the whole of the town and the small parish of Scriven to the north. It is part of the Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency, which was Lib Dem-held up until 2010. The division’s county results reflect that: this was a Lib Dem county division until 2017, but the Conservatives have made all the running here in recent years. They gained the division in 2017 by polling 39%, to 35% for the Lib Dems and 11% for Labour. Harrogate council held a full election on new ward boundaries in May this year: the four new Knaresborough wards split 3 to the Tories and 1 to the Lib Dems, and in vote terms the Conservatives led 46-38 across the division.

So, good omens for the defending Conservative candidate. Phil Ireland is the present Mayor of Knaresborough and has been a Harrogate district councillor since 2011: he represents Knaresborough Aspin and Calcutt ward on the district council, where he is the cabinet member for sustainable transport. The Lib Dem candidate is David Goode, who lost out in the 2017 county elections here by just 31 votes; he was rather further behind the Tories in May’s district elections where he contested Knaresborough Castle ward. The Labour candidate is Sharon-Theresa Calvert, who has been a teacher for 27 years and is a local NASUWT officer; she completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Harrogate and Knaresborough
Harrogate council wards: Knaresborough Aspin and Calcutt, Knaresborough Castle, Knaresborough Eastfield
ONS Travel to Work Area: Harrogate
Postcode districts: HG1, HG5

Sharon-Theresa Calvert (Lab)
David Goode (LD)
Phil Ireland (C)

May 2017 result C 1829/1676 LD 1656/1618 Lab 537/474 Grn 405/336 UKIP 322
May 2013 result LD 2084/1861 C 1219/1108 UKIP 947/764 Lab 399/376 Grn 330
June 2009 result LD 1985/1659 C 1765/1719 Ind 1240 Lab 355
May 2005 result LD 4147/3911 C 2398/2147 Lab 1193


Gwynfi

Neath Port Talbot council, Glamorgan; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Ralph Thomas who had served since 2012.

For our third and final by-election this week we are in the Valleys of South Wales, and this is one of the lesser-known ones. The Gwynfi division is the head of the Afan Valley, one of the shorter valleys in south Wales: Port Talbot, where the Afan empties into the sea, is just nine miles away. As with many Welsh valleys coalmining was the main industry here, and the Gwynfi – a tributary of the Afan, after which the division is named – remains to this day slightly alkaline thanks to pollution from the former local collieries. Those collieries supported the small villages of Blaengwynfi and Abergwynfi, which form the division’s population. Part of the northern slopes of the valley are now covered by woodland as part of the Afan Forest Park, which is noted for its mountain biking and hillwalking trails; while there are ambitious plans to turn the southern slopes into a major artificial skiing centre. It remains to be seen whether this comes to pass.

The census return for Gwynfi division paints a picture of an area which is poor and not in good health. Gwynfi is number 3 of all the wards or divisions in England and Wales for long-term sickness or disability, in the top 30 for the ONS “routine” employment category (and in the top 400 for both of the other two working-class employment categories), and in the top 70 for adults with no qualifications. Agriculture and forestry appear to be among the main employment sectors now. More surprisingly, Gwynfi ended up in the top 40 for those of no religion (for cultural and historical reasons, the Valleys record particularly high scores for this statistic) and in the top 90 for those aged 16 or 17.

Gwynfi division was created in 1983, initially as a ward of the old Afan district council (which renamed itself as Port Talbot district council in 1986). There is something strange about the initial Gwynfi result listed by the Elections Centre for 1983, in which there were three candidates described as “Labour”, “Labour” and “Labour/Ratepayer”; either this is an error in the Elections Centre data or something went entertainingly wrong in the local Labour party. At any event, Labour’s David Evans was elected, and he represented the area under various guises (Labour in 1987 and 1991, Progressive Labour in 1995) until his defeat by Labour in 1999. However, the Labour party lost Gwynfi in 2004 to independent candidate Jane Jones, and didn’t get the seat back until 2012. The 2017 election, a rematch between Jones and Labour’s Roger Thomas, saw Thomas prevail by the reduced majority of 56-44.

This by-election has a much wider choice for the local electors. Defending for Labour is Nicola Irwin, a resident of Port Talbot. There are three independent candidates: former councillor Jane Jones, the only candidate to give an address in the division, is back to stand here for the fifth time, and she is joined on the ballot paper by David Joshua (of Cymmer) and Jac Paul (of Croeserw). Two party candidates complete the lineup: Katie Jones for Plaid Cymru and Orla Lowe for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Aberavon
ONS Travel to Work Area: Swansea
Postcode district: SA13

Nicola Irwin (Lab)
Jane Jones (Ind)
Katie Jones (PC)
David Joshua (Ind)
Orla Lowe (C)
Jac Paul (Ind)

May 2017 result Lab 273 Ind 214
May 2012 result Lab 502 Ind 153
May 2008 result Ind 390 Lab 288
June 2004 result Ind 424 Lab 313
May 1999 result Lab 446 Ind Lab 392
May 1995 result Progressive Lab 640 Lab 263
May 1991 Port Talbot council result Lab unopposed
May 1987 Port Talbot council result Lab 605 Ratepayers 268
May 1983 Afan council result Lab 521 Lab 319 Lab/Rate 141