Previews: 20 Sep 2018

“All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order…”

Six by-elections on 20th September 2018:

Ottery St Mary Rural

East Devon council; caused by the disqualification of Matt Coppell, a councillor elected for the Independent East Devon Alliance, who failed to attend any meetings of the council in six months. He had served since 2015.

We start this week in the Devon countryside with one of those unwieldy rural wards which group villages that don’t have much in common other than that they are in the right place to make up the numbers. The Ottery St Mary Rural ward wraps around three sides of the town of Ottery St Mary; it consists of villages in the Otter Valley such as Taleford and Tipton St John, together with the parishes of Aylesbeare and West Hill to the west. West Hill is the ward’s largest centre of population with around 2,000 residents; it declared independence in 2017 to become a parish of its own, having previously been part of Ottery St Mary parish.

This was a safe Conservative ward until 2011 when the poll was comprehensively topped by independent candidate Claire Wright, who defeated the Tory council leader Sara Randall Johnson. Clearly a formidable campaigner, Wright was elected to Devon county council in 2013 and contested the 2015 and 2017 parliamentary elections as an independent candidate for the East Devon constituency, finishing a strong second on both occasions. Wright stood down from the district council in 2015 but her cause has been taken up by an independent slate, the Independent East Devon Alliance, which took over Wright’s seat in the 2015 election and finished just 29 votes behind the Tories for the other seat. In a straight fight, shares of the vote were 55% for the IEDA and 45% for the Conservatives. Claire Wright was re-elected to Devon county council last year in the local Otter Valley division, and she leads the council’s non-aligned group.

The independents are defending this by-election, and their candidate is Geoff Pratt, a property lawyer and Ottery St Mary town councillor – he represents Tipton St John parish ward which is part of this area. The Tory candidate is John Sheaves, a businessman from West Hill. Also standing on a longer ballot paper than last time are Margaret Bargmann for the Green Party, Nick Benson for the Lib Dems and Labour candidate Richard May.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: East Devon
Devon county council division: Otter Valley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter (Aylesbeare parish, West Hill parish and Ottery St Mary North); Sidmouth (Tipton St John)
Postcode districts: EX5, EX10, EX11, EX14

Margaret Bargmann (Grn)
Nick Benson (LD)
Richard May (Lab)
Geoff Pratt (Ind)
John Sheaves (C)

May 2015 result Ind East Devon Alliance 1507/1226 C 1255/896
May 2011 result Ind 1364 C 822/797 Lab 263
May 2007 result C 1213/1196 UKIP 386
May 2003 result C 1001/985 UKIP 363

Upper Meon Valley

Winchester council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Amber Tresahar. She had served since winning a by-election to Cheriton and Bishops Sutton ward in 2015, transferring here following boundary changes in 2016; and was elected under her former name of Amber Thacker.

We move east to another rural ward, this time in the South Downs National Park. The River Meon rises in the South Downs west of Petersfield, flowing north-west and then south to join the Solent west of Gosport; since 2010 it has given its name to a parliamentary seat, but despite that there are no major urban centres located on the river. The main centres of population on the river’s upper reaches, Meonstoke and West Meon, can muster fewer than 1,000 souls each.

Meonstoke and West Meon formed the core of the Upper Meon Valley ward until 2016, when a boundary review led to the ward being greatly expanded and going up from one councillor to two. The largest centre of population is now Owslebury with 684 electors; the ward sprawls as far as Chilcomb on the outskirts of Winchester and Tichborne just outside Alresford. The name of Tichborne recalls a notorious legal case regarding the heir to the Tichborne baronets, who were lords of the manor; the Tichbornes’ manor is not open to the public, but tourists can visit the National Trust stately home and gardens of Hinton Ampner and the Marwell Zoo.

This by-election is crucial for control of Winchester council, where a recent defection to the Liberal Democrats has left the Conservatives with 22 seats plus this vacancy; the opposition is made up of 21 Lib Dems and an independent, so if the Tories lose this by-election their majority will go with it. However, this is a very safe Tory ward: in May’s ordinary election the Conservatives beat the Lib Dems here by the score of 70-21 – so the chances of any change in control before the 2019 election look slim unless there are more defections. Most of the ward is included within safe Tory divisions of Hampshire county council, although Chilcomb prish is included in the Itchen Valley county division which is Lib Dem-held.

Defending for the Conservatives is Hugh Lumby, from Meonstoke The Lib Dem candidate Lewis North, a local resident from Cheriton, is standing here for the second time after contesting the 2016 election in this ward. Also standing are June Kershaw for Labour and Andrew Wainwright for the Green Party.

Current parliamentary constituency: Meon Valley (all except Chilcomb parish), Winchester (Chilcomb parish)
Proposed parliamentary constituency: Winchester
Hampshire county council division: Bishops Waltham (part: Beauworth, Bramdean and Hinton Ampner, Cheriton, Kilmiston, Owslebury, Tichborne and Upham parishes), Itchen Valley (part: Chilcomb parish), Meon Valley (part: Corhampton and Meonstoke, Exton, Warnford and West Meon parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southampton
Postcode districts: GU32, SO21, SO24, SO32

June Kershaw (Lab)
Hugh Lumby (C)
Lewis North (LD)
Andrew Wainwright (Grn)

May 2018 result C 1260 LD 378 Lab 172
May 2016 result C 1134/1010 LD 319/286 Lab 265/198


Epsom and Ewell council, Surrey; caused by the death of Nonsuch Residents Association councillor David Wood at the age of 71. He was first elected in 1995, and was Mayor of Epsom and Ewell in 2006-07.

On the shore of Cardigan Bay in North Wales can be found an impressive collection of Italianate buildings. Portmeirion, as it’s known, was the brainchild of the architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who was a fashionable architect of the inter-war years and a very eccentric man. One of his eccentricities was to erect a plaque in The Village dedicated to the summer of 1959 “in honour of its splendour”. That was followed by further plaques dedicated to 1975 and 1976; the 1976 memorial, commemorating a notoriously hot summer whose temperature record for England remained unbroken until the season just gone, reads simply “Nonsuch”.

A word which recalls an impressive building project of an earlier era. In 1538 work started on a palace in the Surrey countryside, for which the village of Cuddington had been cleared to make way. The developer was none other than King Henry VIII, who chose a location close to a royal hunting ground and chose a name which showed just how ambitious the project was meant to be – Nonsuch Palace. The Palace was the scene of a treaty signed in 1585 between Elizabeth I and the Dutch rebels against Spanish rule, an alliance which ultimately helped to provoke the disastrous Spanish Armada three years later; a 1596 catalogue of the palace library reveals “a song of fortie partes, made by Mr. Tallys”, which is the earliest known reference to one of the greatest pieces of English early music, Thomas Tallis’ Spem in alium.

If you’d like to visit Nonsuch Palace, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. In 1670 Charles II gifted it to his mistress Barbara, countess of Castlemaine, who ultimately didn’t give a XXXX about the place; she had it demolished and sold off the building materials to pay her gambling debts. However, the surrounding park is still in existence and is now a public park. The country house of Nonsuch Mansion dates from a later era, the eighteenth century.

The railway came here in 1847 with the opening of Ewell East railway station, and the area around Nonsuch Park was mostly developed for housing in the 1930s as London expanded – Ewell remained outside Greater London, but has 020 telephone numbers and was until 2000 in the Metropolitan Police district. Two statistics are indicative of what the area is like socially: Ewell’s Nonsuch ward comes in at number 2 of all the wards in England and Wales for owner-occupation, at 95% of households; and the average house in the ward will set you back over half a million pounds. Yes, we’re talking rich and successful people here: over half of the workforce in Nonsuch are in the census’ professional and managerial occupational groups.

Since Epsom and Ewell were developed in the 1930s the area has been a stronghold at local level for Residents’ Associations. Despite some consolidation in recent years, there are several different Residents’ Associations from the borough on the Electoral Commission register who join forces to form a single group on the council. That leads to messy election results in aggregate – in 2011 the Conservatives were the largest single party with 23% of the vote and won three seats out of a possible 38 – but less of a problem in understanding individual wards. Nonsuch ward has not one but two Residents Associations, Nonsuch Park and District, and Ewell Downs; its Residents slate in 2015 easily won with 59% to 26% for the second-placed Conservatives. The Residents had a larger majority in the 2017 county elections, where they hold the local Ewell division. However, the local parliamentary seat (Epsom and Ewell) is safe for the accident-prone Conservative cabinet minister Chris Grayling.

For this by-election the defending Residents candidate is Colin Keane, chairman of the Nonsuch Park and District residents association; he has the nomination of the umbrella group Residents Associations of Epsom and Ewell. The Tory candidate is Alastair Whitby who has recently moved to the area from the Midlands – he was a candidate for Tamworth council in the 2014 and 2015 elections, and now is the Deputy Chairman (Political) of the party’s Epsom and Ewell branch. Also standing are Julian Freeman for the Liberal Democrats and Labour’s Rosalind Godson.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: Epsom and Ewell
Surrey county council division: Ewell
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: KT17, SM2, SM3

Julian Freeman (LD)
Rosalind Godson (Lab)
Colin Keane (Res Assocs of Epsom and Ewell)
Alastair Whitby (C)

May 2015 result Res 2134/2060/2008 C 929/838 LD 301 Lab 256/240/215
May 2011 result Res 1447/1416/1397 C 378/354/342 LD 145/117/97 Lab 130/129
May 2007 result Res 1206/1197/1164 C 252/251/217 LD 94/90/86 Lab 47/46
Oct 2005 by-election Res 539 C 183 LD 95 Lab 12
May 2003 result Ind 1149/1125/1115 LD 175 Lab 78/77/73


Luton council, Bedfordshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Jennifer Rowlands who had served since 2015.

From one 1930s commuter area to another for our Labour defence this week. We have arrived in Luton, one of the most downmarket and industrial towns in the South of England. Limbury was an old village on the Icknield Way about two miles to the north of Luton, which has been swallowed up by the growth of the town; Limbury was incorporated into Luton in 1928 and much of its housing dates from the 1930s. In the 2011 census Limbury was in the top 5 wards in England and Wales for population born in the Republic of Ireland, at 4.2%; and other immigration has resulted in a significant Asian (mostly Pakistani Muslim) minority. However, one of the main economic drivers here is commuting: Leagrave railway station, on the Thameslink line at the western end of the ward, handles over 1.8 million passengers every year.

That commuting element creates a Conservative vote which was significant enough to elect a Tory councillor in the 2007 election. The Labour vote has risen since then, but the Conservatives weren’t that far off getting a seat back in 2015: the vote shares show that Labour won that election 60-40 in a straight fight, but the Labour percentage here was inflated by a personal vote for their other councillor Steve Lewis. Things haven’t been going too well for Labour in Luton since; the local MP Kelvin Hopkins greatly increased his majority in the 2017 general election, but he is currently suspended from the party over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Defending for Labour is Amy Nicholls. The Tory candidate is Heather Baker, who has lived in the ward for almost half a century; she is a Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator and family historian. Completing the ballot paper is Steve Moore for the Liberal Democrats.

Current parliamentary constituency: Luton North
Proposed parliamentary constituency: Luton North and Houghton Regis
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton
Postcode district: LU3

Heather Baker (C)
Steve Moore (LD)
Amy Nicholls (Lab)

May 2015 result Lab 2099/1597 C 1382/902
May 2011 result Lab 1245/1226 C 965/908 UKIP 246
May 2007 result Lab 857/816 C 844/687 Eng Dem 263 UKIP 214/138 LD 176/143 Grn 124
May 2003 result Lab 732/676 C 644/585 Ind 274 LD 203/203

Wenhaston and Westleton

Suffolk Coastal council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Raymond Catchpole. A retired property developer and chairman of the UK Feng Shui Society, Catchpole had served on Suffolk Coastal council since 2015 and was vice-chairman of the planning committee. No funeral was held for Councillor Catchpole, as he left his body to Cambridge University for medical research.

For our third visit this year to the Suffolk coast we say goodbye not just to Councillor Catchpole, but also to Suffolk Coastal district council. This will definitely be the last Suffolk Coastal by-election, as the council is due to be abolished next May: it will merge with Waveney council to the north to create a new East Suffolk district council.

Catchpole represented a ward of eight parishes at the northern end of the old district. Wenhaston, on the south back of the River Blyth, is the largest centre of population with around 1,700 electors. In the eleventh century there were more people more than that living in Dunwich, a thriving and important port at the mouth of the Dunwich River, which was essentially destroyed by coastal erosion in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Despite that Dunwich kept its two Members of Parliament until the Great Reform Act, as one of the most publicised rotten boroughs.

The electorate in the Dunwich constituency was restricted to thirty-two freemen; the modern ward has a much larger roll than that, thank goodness. It has existed only since 2015, when the former Walberswick and Wenhaston ward was expanded to take part of Yoxford ward. Yoxford – which was in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for retired population at the 2011 census – had been Lib Dem and then independent-held since a 2004 by-election, but Walberwick and Wenhaston was solidly Tory and the present ward was no different. In 2015 Catchpole won with 53% of the vote, against evenly-divided opposition: 24% for the Lib Dems and 23% for Labour. However, that doesn’t mean the Conservatives should be complacent: a couple of months ago they had a very embarrassing by-election loss to the Lib Dems in the neighbouring ward based on Southwold.

Defending for the Tories is Michael Gower, who was the Suffolk county councillor for the local division (Blything) until standing down last year. The Lib Dems’ Andrew Turner returns after finishing as runner-up here in 2015. Labour have stood down, but there will still be a three-cornered ballot paper thanks to the Green Party, who have nominated Carl Bennett.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: Suffolk Coastal
Suffolk county council division: Blything
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lowestoft
Postcode district: IP17, IP18, IP19, NR34

Carl Bennett (Grn)
Michael Gower (C)
Andrew Turner (LD)

May 2015 result C 907 LD 402 Lab 393

Bewdley and Rock

Wyre Forest council, Worcestershire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Rod Wilson at the age of 72. A native of Rochdale who spent most of his working life in the West Midlands with National Grid, Wilson’s passion was fishing: he fished for salmon in the Severn, and was Bailiff for the Kidderminster District Angling Association. He had served on Wyre Forest council since 2016.

We finish for the week in the West Midlands. We’re in Bewdley, a town on the banks of the River Severn to the west of Kidderminster. By all accounts this is a very nice part of the world, as the name itself – from the Norman French “beau lieu” or “beautiful place” – might suggest. The town’s riverside location leads to a regular flooding problem – the main bridge across the Severn here was put up by Thomas Telford after the previous mediaeval bridge was swept away in a flood – and it’s appropriate that the National Flood Forum charity has its headquarters here.

The Bewdley and Rock ward is entirely west of the river, and the Rock name refers to the rural Rock parish to the west. Within the ward can be found the Worcestershire half of one of England’s largest ancient woodlands: this the Wyre Forest which gives its name to the local district and parliamentary seat. It’s not spoken how you probably assumed: the local pronunciation of “Wyre” rhymes with “mirror”.

Bewdley will forever be politically associated with Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative Prime Minister who represented the town in Parliament for thirty years. Next week the Duke of Gloucester is due to be in town to unveil a statue of Baldwin in the town centre. Appropriately enough the modern Bewdley ward and its predecessors are Conservative-held, this being one of the parts of Wyre Forest district that were least affected by the rise of the Health Concern party over the downgrading of Kidderminster Hospital. That downgrading is now the best part of two decades in the past, and Health Concern’s recent election results have generally been showing a decline. In May 2018 the Conservatives held Bewdley and Rock with 46%, to 25% for Labour and 21% for Health Concern, who fell to third place.

Defending for the Conservatives is Anna Coleman, a former Mayor of Bewdley; she had reportedly defected to the Green Party two years ago but appears now to be back in the Tory fold. Labour have reselected their regular candidate for the ward Rod Stanczyszyn, who is politically on the up at the moment after winning a by-election to Bewdley town council last month. Health Concern have not nominated a candidate, so completing the ballot paper are John Davis for the Green Party and Clare Cassidy for the Liberal Democrats.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: Wyre Forest
Worcestershire county council division: Bewdley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Worcester and Kidderminster
Postcode districts: DY12, DY13, DY14, WR6

Clare Cassidy (LD)
Anna Coleman (C)
John Davis (Grn)
Rod Stanczyszyn (Lab)

May 2018 result C 1179 Lab 651 Health Concern 551 Grn 101 LD 101
May 2016 result C 851 Health Concern 565 UKIP 479 Lab 478 Grn 107
May 2015 result C 2194/1953/1874 Health Concern 1080/959/837 Lab 904/730 Grn 566