Previews: 04 Oct 2018

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

After last week’s tale of three cities, the three by-elections on 4th October 2018 are all in or based on towns. It’s a vintage week for octogenarian veterans of local government, as we discuss two Tory and one Labour defence in the eastern half of England. Read on…


Moor

Chesterfield council, Derbyshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Keith Brown at the age of 62. He had served since 2011 for Moor ward, and was also a Chesterfield councillor for St Helen’s ward from 1983 to 1991. His working life was spent in social services: he had retired a few years ago from the adult care service of Derbyshire county council.

It’s Tory Conference week, so the obvious place to start is with, yes, a contest between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. We’re in Chesterfield, the largest town (as opposed to city) in Derbyshire; this is an old market town which became an industrial centre during the Industrial Revolution. There was lots of coal under Chesterfield, and associated industries grew up taking advantage of the raw material and the transport links offered by the River Rother, the Chesterfield Canal and the railways. One of those industries was a large glassworks on Lockford Lane, located in the Whittington Moor area a mile or two north of the town centre. The glass factory closed in the early 2000s and the site has since been redeveloped: it’s now home to a supermarket and the Proact Stadium, which since 2010 has been the home ground of Chesterfield FC. Overlooking this from the west is a rather deprived ward, although not by any means the worst-off area of town.

Chesterfield has been a rather unlikely Liberal Democrat hotspot in recent decades, going back to 2001 when the party gained the Chesterfield parliamentary seat; that was after Tony Benn retired as the town’s MP to spend more time with his politics. The Lib Dems followed up by gaining the borough council in 2003 and held it until 2011. One of the wards which sustained that Lib Dem majority was Moor ward; this was also gained by Labour in 2011, and the 2015 result saw a slight further swing in favour of the Labour party who had 49% to 35% for the Lib Dem slate. The Lib Dems were nowhere here in the 2017 Derbyshire county elections – Moor ward is part of St Mary’s division which is safe for Labour – but did win the last by-election to Chesterfield council, gaining Holmebrook ward from Labour in September last year.

As the defending Labour candidate here Ron Mihaly knows well: he was the defending Labour candidate in that by-election too. Readers of Andrew’s Previews 2017 – available now from Amazon, and all purchases will help to support this column – may recall that Mihaly is a Derbyshire county councillor, representing Boythorpe and Brampton South in western Chesterfield. Appropriately enough for the location, Mihaly is a former professional footballer who played in central defence for Chesterfield and QPR in the 1970s. He’s also well-placed to keep an eye on the Lib Dem campaign, because he gives an address four doors away from the Lib Dem candidate.

That Liberal Democrat candidate is Tony Rogers, a political veteran who is fighting his thirtieth election campaign and celebrated his eightieth birthday this year. Rogers was the Liberal or Liberal Democrat candidate for Chesterfield in the 1987, 1992 and 1997 general elections, and in a long political career which started in his native West Country has reportedly sat on six different local authorities. The two most recent of those were Derbyshire county council and Chesterfield borough council, on which he represented this ward until losing his seat in 2011. Completing the ballot paper are Gordon Partington for the Conservatives and Barry Thompson for UKIP.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: Chesterfield
Derbyshire county council division: St Mary’s
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chesterfield
Postcode district: S41

Ron Mihaly (Lab)
Gordon Partington (C)
Tony Rogers (LD)
Barry Thompson (UKIP)

May 2015 result Lab 943/927 LD 669/551 C 301
May 2011 result Lab 846/788 LD 646/565
May 2007 result LD 893/829 Lab 514/449
May 2003 result LD 1149/1003 Lab 717/613


Thirsk

Hambleton council, North Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councilor Janet Watson who had served since 2015.

We move to two polls in the Tory shires, starting in the north. Thirsk is one of the major towns in the Vale of Mowbray, that low ground between the Pennines and the North York Moors through which all the major transport routes to the North East flow. Thirsk lies on two of those, the A19 road to Teesside and the West Coast Main Line, giving it excellent communication links. But at heart this is still a rural and agricultural market town – as you might have guessed from some well-known works of literature set here. Jim Wight was a veterinary surgeon in Thirsk for many years but found fame as a writer of semi-autobiographical books, which were televised under the name All Creatures Great and Small.

The local government district here is Hambleton, one of England’s less-cohesive districts in that it fills the Vale of Mowbray, running from the edge of York all the way to the edge of Darlington and Teesside. Hambleton had a boundary review for 2015 with a big cut in the number of councillors, so while Thirsk ward is now larger than it was before 2015, having gained five rural parishes, it has one fewer councillor. With three Tories representing true-blue Thirsk going into the 2015 election someone had to lose out from the boundary change, and the outgoing Tory councillor who missed the cut was clearly Andrew Robinson who stood for re-election in 2015 as an independent candidate. He lost rather resoundingly: the Tory slate had 66% and Robinson just 34%. Things were even easier for the Conservatives in the 2017 county council elections, in which they won the Thirsk county division unopposed.

Defending for the Conservatives is Dave Elders who is the only candidate to give an address in the ward. Returning from the 2015 election here is Trish Beadle, who that year finished fourth out of four candidates standing as an independent; this time Beadle has the Labour nomination. Completing the ballot paper is Northallerton resident Stewart Barber, standing for the Yorkshire Party.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: Thirsk and Malton
North Yorkshire county council division: Thirsk (Carlton Miniott and Thirsk parishes), Sowerby (Catton, Kirby Wiske, Newsham with Breckenbrough, Sandhutton and Skipton-on-Swale parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northallerton
Postcode district: YO7

Stewart Barber (Yorks Party)
Trish Beadle (Lab)
Dave Elders (C)

May 2015 result C 1940/1423 Ind 1009/778


Soham North and Isleham

Cambridgeshire county council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Paul Raynes, who is now working in a politically-restricted post at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. A former diplomat, he had served only since May 2017.

We finish in the fens of East Anglia to another small agricultural market town, but one which will be more familiar to readers of Andrew’s Previews 2017. Soham began recorded life in AD 630 with the building of an abbey by St Felix of Burgundy, who was the first Bishop of the East Angles. The abbey later got promoted to cathedral status, and then was relegated back down again. One of many misfortunes to visit Soham, which was nearly destroyed in 1944 when a train carrying munitions caught fire, and is still probably best known to the outside world for the 2002 murder of two ten-year-old girls by their school caretaker.

Sohan is in the economic orbit of Cambridge, whose hinterland which has seen huge amounts of population growth over the last few decades. For the most part this has been achieved by tacking new housing estates onto pre-existing towns and villages, and Soham has not escaped that process: the electorate of its North ward grew by 40% between 2003 and 2017. That demographic change has been to the benefit of the Tories, who have made safe what had been a competitve area for the Liberal Democrats until the mid-2000s.

This county division was created by a 2017 redistribution which divided into two the old Soham and Fordham Villages division. That was a Tory division and the May 2017 result here doesn’t suggest anything different: the Conservatives had 66%, the Lib Dems finishing a distant second with 17%. On the same day James Palmer, the leader of East Cambridgeshire district council, was elected as Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority: that created a vacancy in Soham North ward on the district council, and the resulting by-election in July 2017 was also an easy Conservative hold. In the 2015 district council elections the Conservatives had a clean sweep in Soham, while Isleham ward re-elected a long-serving independent councillor who was not opposed by the Conservatives.

Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Isleham resident Mark Goldsack, who won the Soham North district council by-election in July last year and now has the chance to double up at county council level. The Lib Dems have selected Victoria Charlesworth. Also on the ballot paper are Lee Jinks for Labour – who has attracted controversy during the campaign for dubious social media posts from a few years ago – and Geoffrey Woollard, a former East Cambridgeshire district and Cambridgeshire county councillor who is seeking to make a political comeback at the age of 80 by standing as independent candidate.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: South East Cambridgeshire
East Cambridgeshire wards: Isleham, Soham North, Soham South (part)
Postcode district: CB7
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge

Victoria Charlesworth (LD)
Mark Goldsack (C)
Lee Jinks (Lab)
Geoffrey Woollard (Ind)

May 2017 result C 1504 LD 396 Lab 371