Previews: 13 Sep 2018

There are six by-elections on 13th September 2018. After last week’s Labour Northern special, this time there’s a bit more political variety with four Conservative defences bookended by two defences for Labour; one of the polls is in Wales to bring closure to one of the most horrific recent stories to come out of local government, while the five English by-elections are all in London, the South or Leicestershire. Two candidates this week are notable enough to merit their own Wikipedia entries. This column is not scared of discussing the major issues of the day where they are on topic, so let’s start the week in the city of Cambridge…


Petersfield

Cambridge city council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Ann Sinnott, who had served since 2014.

They’re used to the vilification. Now transgender people have had enough and are poised to demand their civil rights.

A month before the self-styled “bearded lady” Conchita Wurst was hailed queen of a tolerant, rainbow Europe, Britain had a milder revolutionary moment. Emma Laslett, a student of French at Lincoln College, Oxford, competed in the semi-final of Mastermind (specialist subject, coincidentally, Eurovision 1981 to the present day).

It takes nerve to enter that unblinking spotlight, but immeasurably more for Emma, a transgender woman who does not, as she says, easily ‘pass’ as female. Comments online were of the ‘Gawd, there’s a bloke in a frock on Mastermind‘ variety. But Emma says this is just the ‘background radiation’ of her life…

In Britain tolerance of gays and lesbians is now almost universal: to my kids a person’s sexuality is no more remarkable than their hair colour. So why are transgender people still vilified, far more likely to be beaten up or even murdered, and ostracised at work (if they can find a job at all)?

That was the present AQA textbook for A-level Sociology, quoting from a Times article of 31st May 2014. As your columnist, a stereotypical cis man, can testify from experience, getting into the semi-finals of Mastermind takes a awful amount of nerve, hard work and luck. I’ve managed it once in four attempts. The man who developed Mastermind, Bill Wright, had been taken prisoner by the Germans in the Second World War, and he translated his recurring nightmares of being asked for “name, rank and number” into “name, occupation and specialised subject”. The entire programme is set up as an interrogation, which is an intimidating and stressful experience for most people on its own; the fact that the present interrogator is the veteran political journalist John Humphrys means that the experience of the fabled Black Chair is one to which many professional politicians can relate.

Emma Laslett isn’t just a quizzer who was good enough to get to the semi-finals of Mastermind and Only Connect; she’s also an excellent host. In each of the four years since that Times article was written, Emma has tempted the cream of Britain’s quizzing community to her native Milton Keynes where she hosts a very enjoyable day-long tournament playing quizbowl. For those who aren’t aware, quizbowl is a similar game to, but for legal and copyright reasons not the same as, the long-running TV gameshow University Challenge. (Due to similar legal and copyright reasons University Challenge is still produced by ITV even though it hasn’t gone out on that channel for over thirty years. It’s all to do with Americans and their lawyers.) At the most recent tournament, held over the August Bank Holiday weekend, your columnist was in a team which included a TV Egghead but still finished thirteen out of fourteen teams.

If your columnist and a professional quizzer can finish so far down the field, you might reasonably ask what sort of people do well in Emma’s tournaments? You might be surprised to hear that most of them are present university students or recent graduates, and many of them will be familiar faces to people who religiously watch University Challenge. If these people are our future – and University Challenge has had more than its fair share of contestants who have gone on to be famous or notable – then our future is in good hands.

But in these sped-up days of the twenty-first century University Challenge contestants are becoming famous or notable while their series is still being broadcast. When I did the programme, getting to the quarter-finals with Warwick in the 2002-03 series, social media as we know it today did not exist – Facebook was founded in 2004, YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006 – and the major feedback to our performance came from our circle of friends and the campus newspaper. People we knew. No longer is that the case. A later Warwick team, captained by past Countdown series champion Giles Hutchings, also reached the quarter-finals in the 2016-17 series, where despite a strong fightback they were eliminated by a team from Wolfson College, Cambridge. That match got writeups and dedicated articles not just from the usual suspects which cover TV quizzes, Warwick or Cambridge as a matter of course, but also from the websites of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Huffington Post. In some respects those articles are exemplars of the laziest type of modern journalism – hang out on Twitter for half an hour of a Monday evening and let members of the public do the writing for you – but they do reflect a genuine interest in what is consistently one of the most popular programmes on BBC2. As distilled in those articles, the talk of the Twitterati was clearly on the battle between the teams’ star players, Wolfson captain Eric Monkman and Warwick’s Sophie Rudd.

Nowhere in those Express or Huffington Post articles would you find any hint that Rudd is transgender. And that’s how it should be. To quote the closing sentence of the Times article on Emma Laslett, “the ultimate liberation for Emma would be appearing on cosy, middle-England Mastermind and no-one remarking on anything but her score”. We may not have achieved that goal yet – as the length of this preview demonstrates – but the reaction to Rudd v Monkman, just three years down the line from Laslett’s Mastermind appearance, demonstrates that society has moved a bit further down that road.

And not before time. The Times article made the point that half of one percent of the population are trans in some form or another. That’s a lot of people, and through sheer weight of numbers you’d expect that to be reflected in our elected representatives – with over 20,000 county, borough or district councillors in the UK, proportionally that would translate to at least 100 trans councillors. However, research by Cambridge city councillor Zoë O’Connell has identified just eleven openly-trans people who have ever served in our council chambers (plus former British MEP Nikki Sinclaire). Five of them are currently serving, two Labour (including Osh Gantly, who was re-elected to Islington council this May after transitioning during her first term of office), one Conservative, one UKIPper and one Liberal Democrat (O’Connell herself). Four of them are or were Cambridge Lib Dems.

Which finally brings us to the point of this article, which is after all a council by-election preview. The Labour party may well get around to being an opposition at some point, but there are internal disputes to indulge in first; and one of the most incomprehensible of them relates to whether transwomen should have access to Labour’s all-women shortlists. Outgoing Labour councillor Ann Sinnott was on the “no” side of that debate. Her resignation from Cambridge city council came in protest at the council’s policy of allowing transgender people to use council-run toilets and changing facilities for either gender. Former councillor Sinnott believes that this policy is a breach of the Equality Act and could be dangerous to women. The policy had been adopted by Cambridge city council in 2010 and was originally proposed by Sarah Brown, herself transgender and at the time a Lib Dem councillor for Petersfield ward.

Petersfield is Cambridge’s inner eastern ward, lying between the city centre and the railway line. Landmarks within the ward include the city’s railway station in the south-east corner, the Beehive retail park in the north-east corner and the Fenner’s cricket ground, home to the Cambridge University cricket team. On the gown side of the town-gown divide, Petersfield contains the main campus of Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge’s “other” university; but there is only one constituent college of Cambridge University within the ward boundary. Hughes Hall was founded in 1895 as the Cambridge Training College for Women Teachers; it was the first Cambridge all-female college to admit male students, and is one of four Cambridge colleges open only to mature students or postgraduates. Its alumni include one MP currently serving, the Tories’ Andrew Murrison who is the MP for South West Wiltshire and chairman of the Commons Northern Ireland select committee.

However, the students aren’t here at the moment. Anglia Ruskin’s academic year doesn’t start until next week while Cambridge’s Michaelmas term begins on 2nd October. So the demographics of Petersfield ward at the moment are rather different from those in the 2011 census, in which Petersfield was in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for people educated to degree level (61%, presumably boosted by Hughes Hall), people of no religion (45%), those born in the EU-14 (8.5%) and the census “higher management” occupational group (25%).

Little has gone right for the Cambridge Lib Dems in this decade. Sarah Brown was one of only two Lib Dems to have represented this ward on the city council since its present boundaries were drawn up in 2004; she lost her seat heavily to Ann Sinnott in 2014, and a rematch between Sinnott and Brown this May saw Sinnott increase her majority to 56-20. The Lib Dems have done better here at Cambridgeshire county council level; they held the county council seat until 2013 and weren’t too far behind in 2017; having said that, since last year the Petersfield county division has included much of the safe Lib Dem Newnham ward.

Defending for Labour is Kelley Green, a small businesswoman and former town planner; her campaign priorities include reducing inequality in the city and supporting the development of new council housing in the ward, on the city council depot site at Mill Road. Sarah Brown is making another attempt to get back on Cambridge council for the Lib Dems; she appears from press reports to be campaigning primarily on local issues such as air quality and rough sleeping, together with opposition to Brexit in a city which had a strong Remain vote two years ago. Also returning from May’s election is Green candidate Virgil Ierubino, while the Tories’ Othman Cole completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Cambridge
Cambridgeshire county council division: Petersfield
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode districts: CB1, CB2

Sarah Brown (LD)
Othman Cole (C)
Kelley Green (Lab)
Virgil Ierubino (Grn)

May 2018 result Lab 1256 LD 432 Grn 278 C 189
May 2016 result Lab 1305 Grn 321 LD 277 C 221
May 2015 result Lab 1632 Grn 864 LD 795 C 422
May 2014 double vacancy Lab 1280/1223 LD 720/317 Grn 688 C 262/228
May 2013 county council result Lab 943 LD 270 Grn 267 C 206
May 2012 result Lab 1036 LD 322 Grn 263 C 209
May 2011 result Lab 1353 LD 594 Grn 481 C 340
May 2010 double vacancy LD 1571/1000 Lab 1237/891 Grn 575 C 558/472
June 2009 county council result LD 1009 Lab 718 Grn 353 C 335
May 2008 result Lab 857 LD 541 C 301 Grn 236
May 2007 result Lab 1063 LD 817 C 239 Grn 225
May 2006 result Lab 879 LD 848 Grn 282 C 243
May 2005 county council result LD 1356 Lab 1052 Grn 527 C 426
June 2004 result Lab 797/770/709 LD 787/727/673 Grn 349/345/341 C 273/230/207 Ind 89


Birstall Wanlip

Charnwood council, Leicestershire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Renata Jones who had served since 2015.

“Mountsorrel he mounted at,
Rodely he rode by,
Onelep he leaped o’er,
At Birstall he burst his gall,
At Belgrave he was buried at.”
-Leicestershire folk rhyme

We travel north-west from Cambridge into the Midlands for our first Tory defence of the week. Until the start of the twentieth century Birstall and Wanlip were tiny villages just to the north of Leicester. Wanlip still is tiny, and that’s due not to the fact that Leicestershire’s main sewage works is here but to the influence of the upper classes. Wanlip Hall, once home to the slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce, was home to the Palmer baronetcy until the 1930s, when the hall was demolished and its land – together with a large amount of land in and around Birstall and Wanlip – was inherited by James Tomkinson on the death of the 4th Baronet. As part of the inheritance, James had to change the family name to Palmer-Tomkinson. His grandson Charles Palmer-Tomkinson, who skied for Britain at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, and was the father of the late socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, still owns the land.

Birstall, on the other hand, has exploded in population since 1899. That was the year that the Great Central Railway came here with its London extension, providing easy access from the village to Leicester city centre and beyond. Birstall became a commuter village and its population increased eighteenfold to over 11,000 during the twentieth century – it’s still growing now, with further housing have gone up in this decade after Charles Palmer-Tomkinson sold the required land for development. That’s despite the demise and rebirth of the Great Central Railway through Birstall as one of the UK’s most ambitious preserved railways; there are no trains to Leicester any longer, but at the weekends steam trains connect Birstall to Loughborough.

Wanlip and the western half of Birstall form Birstall Wanlip ward, which has not escaped the demographic transformation that has taken place in Leicester: Birstall Wanlip is in the top 60 Hindu wards in England and Wales and has significant numbers of Gujarati speakers.

This ward has traditionally has been the Lib Dem hotspot in Leicestershire’s Charnwood district. The 2003 election returned Helena Edwards for the Lib Dems and Iain Bentley of the Conservatives as the ward’s councillors; Bentley lost his seat in 2007 to his running-mate Stuart Jones. In 2011 the Lib Dem councillor Edwards lost her seat to the Tories’ Serena Shergill. The Lib Dems got back in a 2014 by-election after Stuart Jones died, Simon Sansome making the gain; but the following year the roof came crashing down on Sansome’s council career as he lost his seat to the Conservatives’ Renata Jones. It was a close result: vote shares were 39% for the Conservatives, 35% for the Lib Dems and 26% for Labour. Serena Shergill resigned last year, and the Tories’ Roy Rollings held the resulting by-election with an increased majority: he had 41%, to 32% for the Lib Dems’ Simon Sansome and 23% for Labour. Renata Jones has now resigned in her turn.

Accordingly this is the third Birstall Wanlip by-election in four years. Defending this time for the Conservatives is Shona Rattray, a local shopowner and Birstall parish councillor. The Lib Dems have changed candidate: their new nominee is Carolyn Thornborrow, a Quorn parish councillor who works on clinical trials in the health sector. Labour have selected Abe Khayer, from Wanlip. Completing the ballot paper are Norman Cutting, who was an independent candidate in last year’s by-election and now has the UKIP nomination, and the Greens’ Charlotte Clancy.

Parliamentary constituency: Charnwood
Leicestershire county council division: Birstall
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode districts: LE4, LE7

Charlotte Clancy (Grn)
Norman Cutting (UKIP)
Abe Khayer (Lab)
Shona Rattray (C)
Carolyn Thornborrow (LD)

May 2017 by-election C 772 LD 603 Lab 425 Ind 69
May 2015 result C 1459/1308 LD 1289/851 Lab 987/873
February 2014 by-election LD 508 C 419 Lab 355
May 2011 result C 1102/830 Lab 642/461 LD 564
May 2007 result LD 875/774 C 822/779 BNP 250
May 2003 result LD 716/562 C 708/653 Lab 189/161


Pembroke: St Mary North

Pembrokeshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor David Boswell who had served since 2017.

For our Welsh by-election this week we are, well, in the Little England beyond Wales. The town of Pembroke was substantially fortified by the Normans in 1093; Pembroke Castle, on an easily-defensible promontory in the Pembroke River, became the base of Norman control of west Wales and gave its name to a county. Most of the castle which remains today was built in the late twelfth century by William the Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, who served five kings and was one of the most powerful Englishmen of his day. The influence of the Marshal and other Norman families effectively drove out the native Welsh from the area, creating a “Welsh Pembrokeshire” and an “English Pembrokeshire” – a linguistic and social division which persists to this day. In 1457 a boy was born in Pembroke Castle to a fourteen-year-old widowed single mother; so far, so Jeremy Kyle, but Henry Tudor – from 1485, King Henry VII – became one of the most significant figures of English history by ending the Wars of the Roses and restoring the fortunes of England.

As a town Pembroke hasn’t changed much over the centuries, but it has expanded over the Pembroke River to the north. This is Pembroke: St Mary North division, based along Golden Hill Road and including the town’s school and leisure centre. Much of this is ex-council housing and the division is in the top 60 wards or divisions in England and Wales for the census “lower supervisory, technical” economic group; the town’s proximity to the industrial towns of Pembroke Dock and Milford Haven, on the Cleddau estuary, presumably account for much of that.

Pembroke: St Mary North division was created for the 1999 election at which it returned a Labour councillor without a contest. The Labour councillor, Jane Major, was challenged by two independent candidates in 2004 and lost her seat to Arwyn Williams, a retired farmer who served the division for thirteen years; he was chairman of the county council in 2013-14. Williams retired at the May 2017 election and his seat was won by the Tories’ Dai Boswell, a former soldier and lorry driver who had recently been installed as Mayor of Pembroke; Boswell finished six votes ahead of independent candidate Jon Harvey, who had the consolation prize of being elected to Pembroke town council. Shares of the vote were 39% for the Conservatives, 38% for Harvey and 22% for Labour candidate David Edwards.

Boswell’s tenure as a councillor was short-lived and controversial. In August 2017 he was charged with a series of child sex offences dating from the early 1990s, and in June 2018 a jury at Swansea Crown Court found him guilty of one count of rape and four counts of indecent assault. He is now serving an eighteen-year prison sentence; his resignation letter was sent from his prison cell, shortly before he was due to be disqualified from office.

By-elections in circumstances like this tend to be very difficult for the defending political party. Natalie Carey, a former mayoress of Pembroke, has the thankless task of defending this seat for the Conservatives. There is a very long ballot paper with no fewer than six independent candidates. Town councillor Jon Harvey is back after his near-miss last year; the other five independents, in ballot paper order, are local resident Bob Boucher, former Pembrokeshire county councillor Daphne Bush (who lost her seat in Pembroke: St Mary South last year), Baptist pastor Lyn Edwards, pub landlord and former Pembrokeshire county councillor Jonathan Nutting (who lost his seat in Pembroke: St Michael last year) and local resident Al Williams. Completing the ballot paper is Labour candidate Maureen Bowen, of Pembroke Dock. Good luck picking a winner out of that one; probably the safest prediction is that whoever wins this by-election will do it with a very low share of the vote.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Pembroke and Tenby
Postcode district: SA71

Bob Boucher (Ind)
Maureen Bowen (Lab)
Daphne Bush (Ind)
Natalie Carey (C)
Lyn Edwards (Ind)
Jon Harvey (Ind)
Jonathan Nutting (Ind)
Al Williams (Ind)

May 2017 result C 217 Ind 211 Lab 122
May 2012 result Ind 304 C 136
May 2008 result Ind 230 Lab 196 Ind 140 LD 53
June 2004 result Ind 238 Ind 194 Lab 179
May 1999 result Lab unopposed


Pennington

New Forest council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Penny Jackman who had served since 2007. She has also resigned from the New Forest National Park Authority.

For our three by-elections in the south of England we start on the Solent coast of Hampshire. The village of Pennington lies a few miles inland from the Solent’s north-west coast. Today it’s effectively an extension of Lymington, a town into which it was incorporated in 1932. The village’s main traditional industry was seasalt, followed by smuggling; it is recorded in the British Army’s magazine The Soldier as being the location of the Army’s last duel with pistols, in which Captain William Souper, 1st Regiment of Foot, killed Adjutant John Dieterich; Captain Souper was found guilty of murder, but pardoned.

Pennington ward’s modern electoral duels don’t involve anybody being killed, thank goodness; but there is a recent case of political injury turning into personal injury. In 2012 the outgoing councillor Penny Jackman slapped UKIP candidate Mike Beggs at a town council by-election count, following a row over Mr Beggs’ election leaflets. Mr Beggs suffered extensive damage to his dentures, and he sued; Southampton county court found in his favour and ordered Councillor Mrs Jackman to pay a five-figure sum in damages and the legal costs. Mrs Jackman paid the damages but not the legal costs, and last year was made bankrupt over the affair.

Jackman represented a ward which voted Lib Dem in 2003 but has swung to the right since then; the Conservatives gained one seat in 2007 and the other in 2011, and extended their majority over the Lib Dems to 53-28 in the 2015 election. The Lib Dems’ Jack Davies did win a by-election on these boundaries to Lymington and Pennington town council in 2016, but he needed the drawing of lots to do so after tying for first place with the Conservatives on 401 votes each. Davies was the Lib Dem candidate here in the 2017 Hampshire county elections, finishing third behind the Conservatives and an independent candidate.

Defending for the Conservatives is Andrew Gossage, who is involved with the local Residents’ Association. The Lib Dem candidate is the aforementioned Jack Davies. Completing the ballot paper are Labour’s Trina Hart and independent candidate Ted Jerrard.

Parliamentary constituency: New Forest West
Hampshire county council division: Lymington and Boldre
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southampton
Postcode district: SO41

Jack Davies (LD)
Andrew Gossage (C)
Trina Hart (Lab)
Ted Jerrard (Ind)

May 2015 result C 1505/1413 LD 832/586 Lab 552
May 2011 result C 992/877 LD 655/569 Lab 265 Grn 264
May 2007 result C 791/621 LD 775/767 Lab 100
May 2003 result LD 848/814 C 509/378 Ind 263


Headcorn

Maidstone council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Shelina Prendergast, who is concentrating on her other elected role as a Kent county councillor. She had served since 2016.

Our final Tory defence this week occurs in the mid-Kent countryside. The village of Headcorn lies deep in the countryside between Maidstone and Ashford, and has a railway station on the arrow-straight Ashford-Tonbridge line. The railway here was the scene of a notorious accident in 1865; a section of rail on a viaduct between Headcorn and Staplehurst had been removed for engineering work, but the boat train from Folkestone to London was not given sufficient warning to stop, and derailed into the River Beult with the loss of ten lives. One of the survivors of the accident was Charles Dickens, who was physically unscathed but never fully recovered from the post-traumatic stress resulting from the accident.

The ward named after Headcorn sprawls over three other parishes as far as the M20 motorway to the north-east. This is a very Tory corner of Kent; in several elections this century only the Green Party has opposed the Conservative candidate. In this May’s ordinary election the Tories had three-quarters of the vote against opposition from the Lib Dems and Labour. As stated, Shelina Prendergast is the local Kent county councillor; in 2017 she won Maidstone Rural East division by the score of 70% to 9% over UKIP.

Defending for the Conservatives is Karen Chappell-Tay who is from Ulcombe, one of the small parishes in the ward; in May’s borough elections she performed poorly against an independent in the neighouring ward of Harrietsham and Lenham, but this is her home turf. She is opposed by Lib Dem Merilyn Fraser, Labour’s Jim Grogan and the Greens’ Derek Eagle.

Parliamentary constituency: Faversham and Mid Kent
Kent county council division: Maidstone Rural East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Medway
Postcode districts: ME17, TN12, TN27

Karen Chappell-Tay (C)
Derek Eagle (Grn)
Merilyn Fraser (LD)
Jim Grogan (Lab)

May 2018 result C 1105 LD 214 Lab 159
May 2016 result C 1002 UKIP 298 Lab 116 Grn 73 LD 62
May 2014 result C 868 UKIP 580 Grn 208 Lab 124
May 2012 result C 1001 Grn 417
May 2010 result C 1922 LD 395 Grn 292 Lab 245
May 2008 result C 1164 Grn 581
May 2006 result C 1094 Grn 701
June 2004 result C 1153 LD 206 UKIP 181 Grn 146 Lab 126
May 2002 result C 1117/985 Grn 501


Coldharbour

Lambeth council, South London; caused by the death of Labour councillor Matthew Parr at the age of 61. He had served since 2010.

We finish for the week in London. It’s been a while: although we had a couple of postponed polls arising from the May 2018 elections, this is the first proper London by-election from a vacancy in the Class of 2018-22.

Hopefully it’s worth the wait. We’ve come to Brixton, one of the first of London’s railway suburbs. The Chatham and Dover railway came here in the 1860s, giving a fast link from Brixton to Victoria station in central London; and Brixton rapidly became a desirable suburb for the middle classes. It was a major shopping area to match: several important national retailers had their first branches here, and a shopping street was built in 1880 called Electric Avenue. It was called that because it was the first street in London to be lit by electricity: an illustration of how up-and-coming Brixton was.

It didn’t last. By the 1930s the population was starting to change, and the Second World War accelerated that process: Brixton was heavily bombed, and the houses which survived became overcrowded. The middle classes left, and for the most part didn’t come back. In 1948 a ship called the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury carrying 492 migrants from the Caribbean looking for work. They were temporarily put up in a large air-raid shelter in Clapham, and many of them subsequently turned up at and found accommodation near the nearest jobcentre – on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton. Ever since then Brixton has been a centre of the British Caribbean community, and in the 2011 census Coldharbour ward returned a 45% black population – the third highest figure for any ward in England and Wales. It also came in the top 12 for mixed-race population (8.7%). Many of the ward’s census areas still have large populations born in Jamaica, together with a significant number of Portuguese. The recent “Windrush generation” scandal is a big issue here.

At this time many of the worst slums in Brixton were being demolished and replaced with high-rise estates – in particular the Loughborough and Somerleyton estates lie within Coldharbour ward boundary. The Somerleyton estate includes one particularly large and Brutalist block of flats called Southwyck House but more generally known as the Barrier Block, which was built with only tiny windows on one side: that side was intended to back onto an urban motorway which would have flattened Brixton town centre if it had ever been built. The designs for the Barrier Block were approved by Lambeth council’s planning committee, which at the time included a young local Tory lad called John Major who had a habit of setting up his soapbox in Brixton Market and declaiming political speeches. Whatever happened to him? All that development still has its mark on the demographics: Coldharbour ward was in the top 20 in England and Wales for social renting at the 2011 census, with 59% of households having that form of tenure.

You can’t talk about Coldharbour Lane without mentioning the Brixton riots, which badly affected the area in April 1981. They were partly provoked by a police operation called Operation Swamp 81, in which stop and search powers were heavily used in an attempt to tackle a high crime rate in the area. The Scarman report into the riots found that the use of stop and search powers had been disproportionate and racially influenced, and led to reform of the police’s code of conduct and the setting up of the first independent Police Complaints Authority. It wasn’t entirely successful, inasmuch as there were further riots in Brixton in 1985 and 1995. The 1985 riots were sparked by the police shooting a Jamaican-born woman, Cherry Groce, in a police raid on her house; the police were looking for her son Michael Groce, who was suspected of a firearms offence. One of the police sergeants on the front line during the 1981 riots was Brian Paddick, who twenty years later became the Metropolitan Police’s commander for Lambeth borough; he instituted a novel and controversial “softly softly” approach to cannabis use, in which people found in possession of the drug would merely have it confiscated and be issued with a warning.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn from this description that Brixton is now a heavily Labour area – clearly the local working-class kids feel that the Tories don’t have much to offer them. In the May 2018 election the Labour slate was re-elected with 56% of the vote, with the Greens as runners-up on 18%. The Green slate was headed by none other than Michael Groce, who is now a reformed character: he writes poetry and does community work. Former Labour councillor Rachel Heywood, who had fallen out with the party, sought re-election as an independent and came sixth out of twelve candidates with 16%. In the 2016 London Mayor and Assembly elections the ward’s ballot boxes gave 71% of the first preference vote to Labour’s Sadiq Khan; the London Members ballot was almost as monolithic with Labour leading the Greens 65-13.

In a ward so defined by relations with the black community, there must be some irony in the fact that Labour have selected a defending candidate with the name Scarlett O’Hara. This particular O’Hara is no Southern belle; she’s a former NHS worker who is described as a proud trade unionist. Michael Groce returns for the Green Party, although he won’t be voting for himself; he gives an address outside the borough in Orpington, Kent. Also standing are Yvonne Stewart-Williams for the Tories, Doug Buist for the Liberal Democrats, Sian Fogden for the Women’s Equality Party and Robert Stephenson for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Dulwich and West Norwood
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: SE5, SE24, SW2, SW9

Doug Buist (LD)
Sian Fogden (Women’s Equality)
Michael Groce (Grn)
Scarlett O’Hara (Lab)
Robert Stephenson (UKIP)
Yvonne Stewart-Williams (C)

May 2018 result Lab 2325/2257/1975 Grn 761/683 Ind 660 C 228/217/189 LD 182/180/173
May 2014 result Lab 2232/2037/2014 Grn 742/680/638 C 233/213/206 LD 225/126/126 UKIP 127 Ind 100/76
May 2010 result Lab 3983/3819/3681 LD 1091/1081/808 Grn 611/573/511 C 581/458/430 CPA 169
May 2006 result Lab 1299/1272/1187 Grn 486/471/400 LD 304/279/216 C 250/242/222
May 2002 result Lab 989/949/899 Grn 241/219/217 LD 215/203/181 Socialist Alliance 152 C 112/88/85 Ind 47/43/40

May 2016 GLA elections (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 2305 Grn 320 C 301 LD 102 Women’s Equality 101 Respect 33 Britain First 23 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 23 UKIP 22 BNP 10 One Love 4 Zylinski 2
London Members: Lab 2144 Grn 437 C 246 Women’s Equality 148 LD 129 UKIP 38 Respect 36 Animal Welfare 28 CPA 25 Britain First 24 House Party 15 BNP 9