Preview: 30 Aug 2018

Before we start this week, this column sends its congratulations to William Russell, who at yesterday’s Wardmote was re-elected unopposed as Alderman for Bread Street ward in the City of London. That unopposed return leaves just one by-election on 30th August 2018:

Farningham, Horton Kirby and South Darenth

Sevenoaks council, Kent; caused by the disqualification of Conservative councillor Ingrid Tennessee, who failed to attend any meetings of the council in six months. She had served since 2011, and was elected under her former name of Ingrid Chetram.

For our single by-election this week we are in western Kent in a ward where many pass through – the M20 motorway and Chatham railway line pass through and the M25 forms the western boundary – but few stop. (Unless the M25 is having one of its moments.) Farningham, Horton Kirby and South Darenth are three villages in the valley of the River Darent, which gives its name to Dartford and indeed South Darenth. The lowest of the villages, South Darenth is unusual in the south of England in that it was called into being in its modern form by the Industrial Revolution: before 1820, when Henry Hall opened the Horton Kirby paper mill here, there were only a few houses. The paper mill thrived and was still operating up to 2003 when it was redeveloped for housing and shops; no doubt some of these will be occupied by London commuters, as Farningham Road railway station lies close to the village. Horton Kirby and Farningham have older histories: Roman remains have been found in both villages, while Farningham is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Farningham in particular had a good location, in the shadow of the North Downs at the point where the London-Maidstone A20 road crosses the River Darent; that gave some passing trade.

The villages’ inclusion in Sevenoaks district is rather curious. Unlike Sevenoaks, the ward is part of the London Travel to Work Area, and the topography and bus routes suggest that Dartford, down the valley, would be a more convenient administrative centre. Indeed almost all of the ward has Dartford postcodes – however, this is one of those areas where postcode snobbery is in full effect, as Dartford is a distinctly downmarket town.

This ward was formed in 2003 as a merger of two single-member wards, the undersized Farningham and the overpopulated Horton Kirby and South Darenth. The 2003 election here was won by the Lib Dems, but the Conservatives gained one of the Lib Dem seats at the 2007 election and the other with the defection of councillor Philip McGarvey, who has topped the poll at every election here this century. Ingrid Tennessee, who came to the UK from Guyana and had been McGarvey’s ward colleague since 2011, was also a former Lib Dem figure: she had previously stood for the party in local elections in Lewisham, and still has strong links to south-east London where she runs a mental health charity. McGarvey and Tennessee had safe seats on the Tory slate: in the 2015 election the Conservatives beat Labour here 57-23, and the ward is also part of a safe Tory division on Kent county council (Sevenoaks North and Darent Valley).

Some of the electors for this by-election will be thrilled to hear that their polling station is a pub – the Fighting Cocks in Horton Kirby. Thankfully, unlike the average cockfight, elections are not a blood sport. Defending for the Tories is Brian Carroll, who gives an address in Horton Kirby. The Labour candidate is Emily Asher, treasurer of the party’s Sevenoaks branch. Completing the ballot paper is Krish Shanmuganathan, from Farningham, for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Sevenoaks
Kent county council division: Sevenoaks North and Darent Valley
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: DA4, TN15

Emily Asher (Lab)
Brian Carroll (C)
Krish Shanmuganathan (LD)

May 2015 result C 1408/1321 Lab 568/375 Grn 478
May 2011 result C 918/876 Lab 533
May 2007 result LD 559/481 C 544/529 Lab 220
May 2003 result LD 604/588 C 393/375