Previews: 27 Sep 2018

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

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Charles Dickens wrote these words many years ago to open A Tale of Two Cities; and they still resonate today. The binary choice between the Age of Wisdom and the Age of Foolishness, the epochs of belief or incredulity (or as we call it these days, fake news), Light versus Darkness, Hope as opposed to Despair – all these can find modern parallels in how politics is set up today. In so many aspects, there seems to a choice of one alternative or the other.

Let’s have a third way. Andrew’s Previews this week is a tale of three cities, in which both the extremes and the centre ground are represented. There is one northern, one southern, and one in the middle. One old, one new, and one in the middle. One rich, one poor, and one in the middle. One left-wing, one right-wing, and one in the middle. To some extent we are covering familiar ground as all three wards have appeared in Andrew’s Previews before, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing will happen this time. Midfield is of course where all the action tends to be, so let’s shun the geographical and political wings and start with the one in the middle…


Clifton North

Nottingham council; caused by the resignation of councillor Pat Ferguson on health grounds. Ferguson had served since winning a by-election in March 2014; she was elected for Labour but had been sitting as an independent.

We start this week on the banks of the River Trent. One of many claimants for the title of “Europe’s largest housing estate”, Clifton lies on the south bank of the Trent a few miles to the south-west of the city of Nottingham. The area was incorporated into Nottingham in 1952 by which time construction of the estate was well advanced; but despite its location on the main road from Nottingham to the south Clifton remains rather isolated from the city, which for the most part is on the far side of the river. Communications to Clifton were improved in 2014 by the opening of an extension to Nottingham’s tram network, with trams running through the estate to the city centre via an old railway line and the Wilford Toll Bridge. Clifton never had much industry, and the main employer in this ward is Nottingham Trent University which has a campus here.

The contrast between council-estate Clifton and wealthy West Bridgford, just a few miles to the east, is stark. One side-effect of this is something you often see in run-down industrial areas: the list of famous locals is dominated by sports stars and entertainers. The singer Jake Bugg and the England footballer and pundit Jermaine Jenas grew up on the estate, but in fame terms they may be outranked by one-half of the UK’s most famous figure-skating pair: Jayne Torvill was born in Clifton.

Clifton might be an isolated council estate, but Clifton North ward doesn’t vote like one. That’s partly because it also includes the much more upmarket village of Wilford, which ensures that this is one of the strongest Conservative wards in the city of Nottingham. However, the Labour party surged in Nottingham after the formation of the Coalition turning this ward into a tight marginal: they gained one of Clifton North ward’s three seats in 2011, held it in a 2014 by-election and gained a second seat in 2015. The remaining Conservative councillor, Andrew Rule, is one of a group of two Tories – following a by-election loss to Labour in Wollaton West ward – which forms the only opposition to Labour rule on Nottingham city council.

The March 2014 by-election here made the national press thanks to the performance of frequent Nottingham by-election candidate and Elvis impersonator David Bishop; the electorate didn’t exactly love him tender and he only polled 67 votes, but that was enough to beat the Liberal Democrats who were in government at the time. The Lib Dems were sufficiently all shook up by that performance that they didn’t turn up for the last election here in May 2015; the Labour slate topped the poll with 38% and two seats, the Conservatives had 36% and one seat, and third place went to UKIP on 22%.

Defending for Labour is Shuguftah Quddoos, who fought Wollaton West ward in the 2015 election and was one of only three Nottingham Labour candidates that year who failed to get elected; she runs a social enterprise that promotes equality. The Tory candidate is Roger Steel, who was a councillor for this ward from 2011 until losing his seat in 2015; he wants his seat back. There is no official UKIP candidate, but their lead candidate from 2015 Kevin Clarke is standing as an independent with the label “Nottingham Independents Putting Clifton First”; Clarke and Stone are the only candidates to give addresses in the ward. Elvis has made yet another comeback with David Bishop again hitting the local tarmac in his blue suede shoes for his Bus-Pass Elvis Party; completing the ballot paper along with Bishop are Kirsty Jones of the Green Party and Rebecca Procter of the Lib Dems, who will be looking to get revenge on Elvis.

Current parliamentary constituency: Nottingham South
Proposed parliamentary constituency: North Rushcliffe and Clifton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Nottingham
Postcode district: NG11

David Bishop (Bus-Pass Elvis)
Kevin Clarke (Nottingham Inds)
Kirsty Jones (Grn)
Rebecca Procter (LD)
Shuguftah Quddoos (Lab)
Roger Steel (C)

May 2015 result Lab 2397/2291/1959 C 2249/1790/1772 UKIP 1389/1247/1200 Ind 278
March 2014 by-election Lab 1179 C 1025 UKIP 536 Elvis 67 LD 56
May 2011 result Lab 1902/1720/1589 C 1834/1772/1767
May 2007 result C 1883/1749/1694 Lab 1265/1164/1087 LD 389/320
May 2003 result C 1714/1610/1560 Lab 1335/1317/1124 LD 372


Stowe

Lichfield council, Staffordshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Joanne Grange, who had served only since winning a previous by-election in February this year.

For our second by-election this week we move south and to the political right. Stowe is the city centre ward for Lichfield, which has been an ecclesiastical centre since ancient times. St Chad, bishop of the Mercians, settled his diocese at Lichfield in 669, and by modern standards it was an enormous diocese – during the Middle Ages Lichfield was the mother cathedral for a huge swathe of the north midlands and the north-west all the way to the Ribble. The present cathedral dates from the 12th century and is known for its three spires.

The city remained important as a coaching and intellectual centre – Samuel Johnson was from here – up to the 19th century when the Industrial Revolution largely passed it by. Nonetheless Lichfield has greatly expanded since the Second World War thanks to its good rail links to Birmingham and London. A lot of that expansion initially took place in Stowe ward, which runs from the city centre to the east past the reservoir of Stowe Pool and along the Burton Road. Lichfield’s two railway stations, City and Trent Valley, both lie on the ward boundary.

This is a safely Conservative area at all levels of government: at the last district elections in 2015 the Tory slate led Labour here 54-27. Most of the ward is covered by the Lichfield City North county division, which was Labour in 2013 (it also includes Lichfield’s most downmarket ward, Chadsmead) but a Tory gain last year. February’s by-election took place following the retirement of David Smedley, who had been Leader of the Council: the Tories safely held the seat with 45% against 26% for Labour and 19% for the Liberal Democrats, who hadn’t stood here in 2015.

But since February things have been going wrong for the ruling Lichfield Conservatives. In June the council voted to cancel the Friarsgate development, an ambitious scheme for a new shopping area to expand and regenerate the city centre, after its developers couldn’t raise the finance required; this despite the fact that some of the necessary demolition work had already been carried out at a cost to council taxpayers of around £7 million. Feelings were running high over this in July, when Labour gained a seat from the Tories at a by-election in the city’s Curborough ward. Joanne Grange, who had won the February by-election in Stowe ward, resigned shortly afterwards in a row over planning rules; and to add extra spice she has endorsed the Labour candidate for this by-election.

So, interesting times ahead. The new Conservative candidate is Angela Lax, who won this ward in December 2017 in a by-election to the parish-level Lichfield city council; she is now seeking to repeat the trick on the district council. Labour have reselected Donald Palmer who stood here in February’s by-election and was top of the Labour slate here in 2015. The Lib Dem candidate is Richard Rathbone, who stood in Lichfield Rural West in the county council elections last year; he completes a three-strong ballot paper.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: Lichfield
Staffordshire county council division: Lichfield City North (most); Lichfield Rural North (part transferred from Boley Park ward in 2015)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wolverhampton and Walsall
Postcode districts: WS13, WS14

Angela Lax (C)
Donald Palmer (Lab)
Richard Rathbone (LD)

February 2018 by-election C 513 Lab 299 LD 217 Something New 59 Grn 56
May 2015 result C 1791/1484/1443 Lab 898/862/857 Grn 635


Eccles

Salford council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Peter Wheeler who is moving away from the area. He had served since 2012.

(telephone rings)
RECEPTIONIST: Hello?
JON CULSHAW (impersonating Tom Baker as Doctor Who): Hello, is that the Galaxy Bingo Hall?
R: Yes, it is.
JC: Tell me, in what part of the Galaxy are you?
(pause)
R: Eccles…

Jon Culshaw there, causing mayhem as usual for the BBC comedy show Dead Ringers around the year 2000. Yes, this week we finish up in Eccles which is something your columnist often does: the Centenary Bridge, Gilda Brook Road and Lancaster Road can become the quickest way home from work on evenings when the M60 motorway is having one of its moments. That sort of thing is liable to block Eccles up, and I once spent a very non-merry half-hour on Half Edge Lane in the evening rush hour going absolutely nowhere.

Another reason for this sort of congestion might surprise you. This ward is changing fast, and one reason for that is none other than the BBC. This is due to the opening of the MediaCity studios a few miles away in Salford Quays, from which the BBC Breakfast programme and Radio 5 Live are broadcast; along with the Sport and Children’s departments, that made 2,000 BBC jobs transferred from London to the City of Salford around seven years ago. Those people and their families have got to live somewhere; and the area immediately next door to Salford Quays is, er… so a fair number of BBC types ended up in Eccles with its good road and tram links to the studios.

No doubt those London BBC types were astounded by how low their housing costs were when they moved up north, but that’s changing fast as well. House prices in Eccles’ M30 postcode have risen by 42% in the last five years; the median house in the ward goes for around £160,000 which is already above average for Greater Manchester, but a four-bed detached – and there are a fair few of those in leafy Ellesmere Park and trendy Monton – might be snapped up within a few days of coming onto the market for a million pounds. The Manchester Evening News regularly prints articles comparing Monton to traditionally trendy places like Didsbury, and not without good reason.

So, lots of money coming into the ward, but this is not the old money you find over the ward boundary in Worsley; this is Guardianista, urban professional money. And Eccles’ election results suggest that all this gentrification has been to the benefit of Labour. The ward did elect a Lib Dem in 2004 and voted Conservative in 2007 and 2008, but it’s the Labour party who have made all the running since then. In May’s ordinary election Labour had 60% of the vote, the Tories trailing in second with just 22%.

Defending for Labour is local resident Mike McCusker. The Tories have selected Andrew Darlington. Also on the ballot paper are regular Green candidate Helen Alker, Jake Overend for the Lib Dems, Keith Hallam for UKIP (who stood here in May) and Caroline Dean of the Women’s Equality Party, who gives an address from the wrong side of the Pennines in Marsden, West Yorkshire. And I thought my commute was bad.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: Salford and Eccles
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode district: M30

Helen Alker (Grn)
Andrew Darlington (C)
Caroline Dean (Women’s Equality)
Keith Hallam (UKIP)
Mike McCusker (Lab)
Jake Overend (LD)

May 2018 result Lab 1748 C 638 Grn 185 LD 169 UKIP 134 TUSC 23
May 2016 result Lab 1873 C 707 Grn 284 TUSC 173
May 2015 result Lab 2612 C 1347 UKIP 739 Grn 327 LD 257 TUSC 122
May 2014 result Lab 1861 C 827 LD 287
May 2012 result Lab 1462 C 662 UKIP 281 LD 212 Ind 127
Oct 2011 by-election Lab 1227 C 701 BNP 147 LD 125 Ind 53
May 2011 result Lab 1877 C 950 UKIP 368 LD 213
May 2010 result Lab 2216 C 1625 LD 1298 Ind 214
May 2008 result C 1422 Lab 1144 LD 479
May 2007 result C 1303 Lab 1180 LD 489
May 2006 result Lab 1038 C 975 LD 632
June 2004 result Lab 1247/1167/928 LD 1019/814 C 919/785