Previews: 25 Oct 2018

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

There are ten by-elections on 25th October 2018, with eight Conservative defences and two for Labour. There are lots of marginal wards and chances for gains this week, so let’s dive straight in with the first Labour defence. Read on…


Coatbridge South

North Lanarkshire council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Gordon Encinias at the age of 73. Although he had only served on North Lanarkshire council since May 2017, Encinias was described as a lifelong political activist whose political efforts were very much focused on fighting for the people of Coatbridge.

We start the week with by far the northernmost of our ten by-elections, in the Central Belt of Scotland. In the centre of the Central Belt, just to the east of Glasgow, can be found the town of Coatbridge. This is one of those places that was called into being by the Industrial Revolution: the industries in Coatbridge were coalmining and iron, and it was also one of the first towns to experience post-industrial bust. By the 1930s the coal underneath Coatbridge was almost exhausted, while the Great Depression did for many of the local ironworks; but it says something for the state of the local housing that even after that and an exodus of many Coatbridge residents to find work south of the border (particularly in Corby), this was still the most overcrowded town in Scotland. Much of that substandard housing has been swept away over the years in favour of more modern suburbs and satellite villages: the Coatbridge South ward is based on three of those neighbourhoods, Whifflet, Shawhead and Carnbroe. Coatbridge town centre lies just outside the northern boundary of the ward; the southern boundary is the A8 dual carriageway, until recently – when it was replaced by a motorway – the main road between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

At its industrial height Coatbridge saw huge immigration from Ireland, and that’s resulted in a very left-wing and Catholic demographic profile which persists to this day. Within the South ward Carnbroe is relatively well-off these days, but Whifflet and Shawhead are deprived areas; and that mix created a majority-Labour ward which in 2007 and 2012 returned two Labour councillors and one SNP. Top of the poll in both those elections was Labour’s Jim Brooks, who was first elected in 1974. Brooks had been the leader of the former Monklands council in the early 1990s while it was consumed by a row over sectarianism (as well as Coatbridge, Monklands council included Airdrie which is a strongly Protestant town).

There were changes for the 2017 election. A boundary review resulted in Coatbridge South ward going up from three seats to four with expanded boundaries. There was the independence referendum and the subsequent revolution in Scottish politics which saw the Scottish National Party become the country’s major political force: the SNP gained the local parliamentary constituency (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) in 2015 on a swing from Labour of 36%, and followed up by gaining the Holyrood constituency (Coatbridge and Chryston) in 2016. And the political veteran Councillor Brooks, together with his ward colleague John Higgins, were deselected by Labour; they did not take it well, and both of them stood for re-election under the label of “Independent Alliance North Lanarkshire”.

When the votes came out of the ballot boxes in May 2017 the SNP had become the largest party, with 43% of the first preferences to 30% for Labour, 12% for the Conservatives and 11% for the Independent Alliance North Lanarkshire. The SNP candidates Tracy Carragher and Fergus MacGregor (brother of the local MSP Fulton MacGregor) were quickly elected together with Labour’s Tom Castles, and a close fight developed for the final seat between Labour’s second candidate Gordon Encinias, the Tories’ John Cameron and Jim Brooks. At the penultimate count, after independent candidate (and former SNP figure) Gerry Somers was eliminated, Cameron was in scoring position on 588.20 votes; Encinias had 517.25, and Brooks was eliminated a fraction of a vote behind on 517.13. Encinias picked up Brooks’ transfers to win the final seat by 692 votes to 653 for the Conservatives. Had Brooks been able to get ahead of Encinias, he would have won the final seat on the Labour transfers. That might not look like an impressive performance from Labour, who lost their majority on North Lanarkshire council and are now running a minority administration, but the party did bounce back from that to regain the Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill seat in the general election just five weeks later.

It will take a similar bounceback for Labour to hold this by-election. Their candidate, selected from an all-women shortlist, is Geraldine Woods who is standing for election for the first time in fifteen years: she contested North Lanrkshire’s Orbiston ward, then held by the SNP, in the 2003 council elections. The SNP councillor she lost to then, Richard Lyle, is now in the Scottish Parliament representing Uddingston and Bellshill. The Nationalists, who will draw level with Labour as the largest party on North Lanarkshire council if they gain this by-election, have had to fend off accusations of cronyism over their selection of Lesley Mitchell, who is reportedly the ex-partner of councillor Fergus MacGregor and works in Fulton MacGregor MSP’s constituency office. The Conservatives have selected self-styled “Working Class Tory” (hold that thought, they do exist) Ben Callaghan, who is the secretary of the party’s North Lanarkshire branch and contested Coatbridge North ward in last year’s council elections. Completing the ballot paper are Rosemary McGowan for the Scottish Greens, Christopher Wilson for the Lib Dems and Neil Wilson for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill
Scottish Parliament constituency: Coatbridge and Chryston
ONS Travel to Work Area: Motherwell and Airdrie
Postcode district: ML5

Ben Callaghan (C)
Rosemary McGowan (Grn)
Lesley Mitchell (SNP)
Christopher Wilson (LD)
Neil Wilson (UKIP)
Geraldine Woods (Lab)

May 2017 result SNP 1985 Lab 1372 C 552 Ind Alliance N Lanarks 522 Ind 216


Linton

South Derbyshire council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Bob Wheeler at the age of 67. The leader of South Derbyshire council from 2011 until January this year, Wheeler had served on the council since 2007 and had been suffering from cancer. His widow, Heather, has served since 2010 as the Conservative MP for South Derbyshire.

We travel south of the border to a Midlands location which shares a lot of history with Coatbridge. There are a few Lintons dotted around the country; this particular one is a village at the southern end of Derbyshire, south-west of Swadlincote and south of Burton-on-Trent. From the map it might appear that this is a rural ward of five parishes, but don’t be fooled. There’s a lot of coal under those fields and forests, and many of the settlements within the ward – such as Castle Gresley – are ex-pit villages. Cadley Hill colliery, just outside the ward boundary, remained open as late as 1988; and many of its workers lived within this ward in places like Coton Park, a very grim estate developed by the National Coal Board. Much of the coal stayed within the ward to be consumed by Drakelow Power Station, a former coal-fired plant at the western end of the ward overlooking the River Trent; the power station was built on the site of Drakelow Hall, a stately home which was held by the Gresley family (as in Sir Nigel Gresley, the locomotive engineer).

All very working-class. Now I asked you in the previous section to hold the thought of working-class Tories, and with the end of coalmining in the Midlands this area is changing rapidly. As well as Burton and Swadlincote, Linton is within relatively easy reach of Derby and (at a stretch) Birmingham; and accordingly most of the new development that has taken place here in recent years (particularly in Linton itself) has been rather upmarket. It says something that the Tory candidate for this by-election gives an address in Coton Park.

This gentrification was already well advanced by the time of the 2003 election, the first on these boundaries, in which the Conservatives tied for the final seat with the second Labour candidate on 520 votes each, but lost the drawing of lots. The Conservatives broke through in 2007 but haven’t made the ward safe; and the arrival of UKIP in 2015 complicated things further. The 2015 result was 39% for the winning Tory slate, 30% for Labour and 27% for UKIP. The 2017 county elections were good for the Conservatives: they convincingly gained the wider Linton division from Labour after UKIP had split the right-wing vote four years earlier, and Mrs Wheeler held the South Derbyshire constituency (which has the same boundaries as the district) five weeks later with almost no swing from 2015.

Defending for the Conservatives is Dan Pegg, or Danny Pegg-Legg to give him his full name, who as stated is from Coton Park and was co-opted to Linton parish council last year. The Labour candidate is Ben Stuart, a food technologist from Castle Gresley. UKIP have not returned, so completing the ballot paper is another Castle Gresley resident, Lorraine Johnson of the Lib Dems who was their local parliamentary candidate last year.

Parliamentary constituency: South Derbyshire
Derbyshire county council division: Linton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Burton upon Trent
Postcode districts: DE11, DE12, DE15

Lorraine Johnson (LD)
Dan Pegg (C)
Ben Stuart (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1032/1028 Lab 798/660 UKIP 726/519 LD 111/102
May 2011 result C 784/746 Lab 727/687 LD 171
May 2007 result C 928/841 Lab 604/589
May 2003 result Lab 540/521 C 520/508


Bosmere

Suffolk county council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Anne Whybrow. A former mayor of Stowmarket, Mrs Whybrow was first elected to Suffolk county council in a 2006 by-election for Stowmarket South division; she lost that seat in 2013, but returned in 2017 by gaining this division.

Having got the main Labour-Tory contest of the week out of the way, we now come to the first of our four contests this week between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. We travel to Suffolk, to a county council division named after a small lake near Needham Market which back in the day gave its name to a Hundred of Suffolk. The main centre of population here is Needham Market, on the main road and railway line from Ipswich to Norwich and Bury St Edmunds; this is a mediaeval town based around the wool-combing industry, but the town has never really recovered from the Great Plague which killed two-thirds of its inhabitants between 1663 and 1665. The division isn’t all Needham Market; there are thirteen other parishes within the boundary to the south and west of the town.

Bosmere had been a Liberal Democrat stronghold for many years. From 1993 to 2005 its county councillor was Ros Scott, who has progressed from leader of the county council’s Lib Dem group to the House of Lords (as Baroness Scott of Needham Market); she was President of the Liberal Democrats from 2009 to 2011. Baroness Scott stood down from Suffolk county council in 2005 and was succeeded by the Lib Dems’ Julia Truelove, who herself retired in 2017. At that 2017 election the Bosmere seat was gained by the Conservatives after many years of trying; shares of the vote were 45% for Anne Whybrow and 39% for the Lib Dems’ Steve Phillips. District council elections here have had a more mixed picture: in the 2015 Mid Suffolk council elections the Lib Dems won Needham Market and the Conservatives carried the two rural wards within the division; but one of those, Barking and Somersham ward, was subsequently lost in a 2016 by-election – to the Green Party. (The Lib Dem candidate in that by-election was Mark Valladares, Baroness Scott’s husband,)

Defending for the Conservatives is Kay Oakes, twice mayor of Needham Market and rather unlucky not to be elected to Mid Suffolk council in 2015 – she finished eight votes behind the second Lib Dem candidate. The Lib Dems have reselected Steve Phillips, another former mayor of Needham Market. Completing the ballot paper is Emma Bonner-Morgan of the Labour party.

Parliamentary constituency: Bury St Edmunds (Needham Market and Ringshall wards), Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Barking and Somersham ward)
Mid Suffolk council wards: Barking and Somersham, Needham Market, Ringshall
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ipswich
Postcode districts: IP6, IP7, IP8, IP14

Emma Bonner-Morgan (Lab)
Kay Oakes (C)
Steve Phillips (LD)

May 2017 result C 1149 LD 987 Lab 198 Grn 185
May 2013 result LD 851 C 678 UKIP 584 Lab 236 Grn 160
June 2009 result LD 1308 C 867 UKIP 450 Suffolk Together 432 Lab 150
May 2005 result LD 1640 C 1453 LAb 779 Ind 648 Ind 428


Three Rivers Rural

Hertfordshire county council; caused by the resignation of Conservative county councillor Chris Hayward. He had served on the county council since 2009, sitting for the Chorleywood division until 2017, and was a former Deputy Leader of the council. Hayward had come to Hertfordshire from Dorset, where he was also deputy leader of the county council; and he was the Conservative candidate for Hull North in the 1983 general election. He appears to be concentrating on his work in London, where he was elected in 2013 to the City of London Corporation and chairs the Corporation’s planning and transportation committee.

The Local Government Boundary Commission have a difficult job to do, but when you look at divisions like Three Rivers Rural the first impression has to be to question what the thought process was behind it. In truth the shape and population distribution of Three Rivers district, which is essentially the parts of Hertfordshire’s south-west corner that aren’t in Watford town, are very unhelpful to the boundary-drawers; the present division is an extension of the Chorleywood division which existed until 2017, but the only place available to extend it into was Bedmond, a village to the north of Abbots Langley and back in the day the birthplace of Adrian IV, the only English pope. In order to link Bedmond to Chorleywood the division has a very narrow neck under the Gade Valley Viaduct, which takes the M25 motorway over the eponymous river and the West Coast Main Line. Successive boundary reviews have left this division covering parts of four Three Rivers district wards without having any of them in whole, and it sprawls over three parliamentary constituencies (South West Hertfordshire, St Albans and Watford). All this creates a challenge for the armchair psephologist.

Things were rather simpler at the time of the 2011 census, in which the area now covered by this division was four-and-a-half wards of Three Rivers. Two of those wards covered Chorleywood; this town gave its name to the Chorleywood bread process, which is used to make four-fifths of the UK’s bread, and there’s certainly a lot of dough here. This is a stereotypical London commuter town, being on the Metropolitan Line despite its location outside the M25 motorway; the old Chorleywood East ward made the top 50 wards in England and Wales for owner-occupation and (interestingly) the top 100 for Hinduism, while Chorleywood West was in the top 70 for the ONS “lower management” economic group; in fact both Chorleywood wards had a majority of residents in management or professional occupations. At the far end of the division lie Bedmond and Hunton Bridge, next to the River Gade and the West Coast main line, whose Kings Langley station is within the division; also in this area is the redeveloped Ovaltine factory next to the railway line, whose housing now provides 5% of the division’s electorate. In between are a series of expensive villages to the north-west of Watford, such as Loudwater; until 2012 these formed the district’s Sarratt ward. Readers of John le Carré may recognise Sarratt as the home of the Circus training and interrogation centre in the early Smiley novels.

Sarratt and its associated villages are Tory monoliths, but the rest of the division is good territory for the Liberal Democrats. The old Chorleywood county division had been Conservative for many years, but the boundary changes improved the Lib Dem position and Hayward did well to hold in 2017: he had 47% to 44% for the Liberal Democrat candidate. Three of the four Three Rivers wards partly covered by the division voted Lib Dem in May this year, but the Conservatives had a very large lead in Chorleywood North and Sarratt ward so the vote shares across the division were probably fairly even once again.

The Conservatives and Lib Dems have both selected district councillors for Chorleywood South and Maple Cross ward, who both give addresses on the same street in Chorleywood. Defending for the Tories is Angela Killick, who was elected to the district council in 2015. Killick may not have been a minister in the UK government but one level she has represented it: from 1974 to 1990 she was a Westminster city councillor, latterly sitting for St James’s ward which covers all the government buildings in Whitehall and Downing Street. She’s up against the Lib Dems’ Phil Williams, a restaurateur who was the unsuccessful candidate for this county division in May last year; two months afterwards Williams was elected to Three Rivers council in a by-election, holding Chorleywood South and Maple Cross ward for the Lib Dems. Completing the ballot paper are Jeni Swift Gillett for Labour, Roan Alder for the Green Party and David Bennett for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Hertfordshire (parts of Chorleywood North and Sarratt, and Chorleywood South and Maple Cross wards), St Albans (part of Abbots Langley and Bedmond ward, part of part of Gade Valley ward), Watford (part of part of Gade Valley ward)
Three Rivers council wards: Abbots Langley and Bedmond (part), Chorleywood North and Sarratt (part), Chorleywood South and Maple Cross (part), Gade Valley (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: London (part: Chorleywood); Luton (rest of division)
Postcode districts: HP3, HP8, SL9, UB9, WD3, WD4, WD5

Roan Alder (Grn)
David Bennett (UKIP)
Angela Killick (C)
Jeni Swift Gillett (Lab)
Phil Williams (LD)

May 2017 result C 2244 LD 2091 Lab 202 Grn 144 UKIP 91


Belmont

Sutton council, South London; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Patrick McManus, who had served since 2014.

For our third Tory versus Lib Dem contest of the week we move around London from north-west to south-west. Belmont ward lies on the southern edge of Greater London, just to the south of Sutton; it’s a classic railway suburb which essentially did not exist before 1865 when the London, Brighton and South Coast railway opened its branch line to Epsom Downs, to take Londoners to the Derby. That branch line included a railway station known as “California”, after a local pub, but the name was quickly changed to “Belmont”. Healthcare is and always has been a prominent feature of Belmont’s economy: back in the day there were two large psychiatric hospitals in the area (one of them, Banstead Asylum just outside the ward and Greater London boundary, has since been redeveloped as a prison), while Belmont is the location of the Sutton branches of the Royal Marsden Hospital and the Institute of Cancer Research, two hospitals which specialise in cancer treatment.

Sutton is one of the longest-standing Lib Dem-controlled boroughs, held by the party in the 2018 elections despite local controversies, particularly over an incinerator plan. The Belmont ward is a stronghold of the Conservative opposition to the Lib Dems; in 2014 it was one of only two Sutton wards where the Lib Dems did not top the poll, and in May the Tories led here 57-26. In the 2016 London Assembly elections the Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith led Sadiq Khan here 56-25; while in the London Members ballot the ward’s ballot boxes gave 47% to the Conservatives, 19% to Labour and 11% to the Liberal Democrats.

Defending for the Conservatives is Neil Garratt, who was the deputy leader of the Sutton Conservative group until May when he lost his seat in Beddington South ward. This should be a safe return for him. The Lib Dems have reselected Dean Juster who was runner-up here in May’s election. Also standing are Marian Wingrove for Labour, who was finished last in every Belmont election so far this decade; John Bannon for UKIP; Ashley Dickenson for the Christian Peoples Alliance; and Claire Jackson-Prior for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Sutton and Cheam
London Assembly constituency: Croydon and Sutton
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: SM2, SM5

John Bannon (UKIP)
Ashley Dickenson (CPA)
Neil Garratt (C)
Claire Jackson-Prior (Grn)
Dean Juster (LD)
Marian Wingrove (Lab)

May 2018 result C 2001/1900/1836 LD 956/786/748 Lab 595/524/503
May 2014 result C 1687/1534/1389 LD 881/809/738 UKIP 653 Lab 432/406/376
May 2010 result C 2629/2544/2355 LD 2210/2087/1785 UKIP 621 Lab 519/412/343
May 2006 result C 2115/1987/1933 LD 1095/959/896 Grn 222 Lab 211/184/174
May 2002 result C 1708/1689/1628 LD 1312/1303/1287 Lab 182/164/159

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: C 1568 Lab 699 LD 188 Grn 123 UKIP 102 Women’s Equality 54 Britain First 26 Respect 20 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 17 BNP 7 Zylinski 7 One Love 2
London Members: C 1321 Lab 544 LD 315 UKIP 220 Grn 178 Women’s Equality 81 CPA 40 Britain First 35 Respect 29 Animal Welfare 24 BNP 15 House Party 4


Kennington

Ashford council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Philip Sims. He had served since 2011, originally being elected for the Ashford Independents, and his resignation came in protest against a major housing development planned for his ward.

We break away from the Tory-Lib Dem contests to travel to Kent. The Kennington ward lies on the north-eastern edge of the town of Ashford, beyond the M20 motorway on the road to Canterbury; it’s essentially a village which was swallowed up by the growth of Ashford, particularly so in the 1950s and 1960s as London overspill estates filled in the gaps between Kennington and the town centre. Not that Kennington could be described as being a council estate: it had notably high levels of owner-occupation in the 2011 census. Perhaps in recognition of the area’s history and identity, work is well advanced to create a parish council for Kennington whose inaugural elections are scheduled for 2019.

This is the sort of area that should be rock-solid Conservative in current conditions. Indeed, in the 2007 election the Tories won Kennington ward unopposed because no other candidates came forward. So it would be interesting to know what the Conservatives’ excuse was for losing this ward in the 2011 election to the Ashford Independents candidate Phil Sims, who won by just 25 votes. Sims was subsequently recruited to the Conservative cause, and in 2015 was re-elected easily with the Tory nomination: he polled 48% to 15% each for the Ashford Independents and UKIP. The local Kent county council division (Ashford Rural East) is even safer for the party.

There are four candidates in this by-election, none of whom live particularly near the ward. Nathan Iliffe defends for the Conservatives; he is a business development manager for a food service company. The Ashford Independents have nominated Ian Anderson, who runs an irrigation and engineering firm and is a Bethersden parish councillor. UKIP have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Labour’s Dylan Jones and the Greens’ Peter Morgan.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashford
Kent county council division: Ashford Rural East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ashford
Postcode districts: TN24, TN25

Ian Anderson (Ashford Ind)
Nathan Iliffe (C)
Dylan Jones (Lab)
Peter Morgan (Grn)

May 2015 result C 684 Ashford Ind 213 UKIP 212 Lab 177 LD 133
May 2011 result Ashford Ind 440 C 415 Lab 107
May 2007 result C unopposed
May 2003 result C 465 LD 186


Norden

Basingstoke and Deane council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor George Hood. The Mayor of Basingstoke and Deane in 2008-09, Hood had served since 1992; he is retiring from politics having passed the age of 80.

For our only safe Labour defence of the week we travel from one fast-growing quasi-New Town to another: from Ashford to Basingstoke. Like Ashford, Basingstoke is on the main road and railway line from London to a major Channel port, in this case Southampton; like Ashford, Basingstoke expanded strongly in the 1960s as a result of London overspill. The Norden ward includes a fair amount of this overspill; it’s immediately north of the South Western railway line and is based on the Oakridge estate together with the more industrial areas of Daneshill and Houndmills. Employment is high in the ward – there are an awful lot of industrial units, and Basingstoke town centre is just over the boundary – but Oakridge has seen a fair amount of redevelopment in recent years to replace housing which aged poorly.

Norden ward has unchanged boundaries since at least 2002, and is provisionally proposed for no change in the review the Local Government Boundary Commission are working on at the moment. All but one of its elections in the period since 2002 have been won by Labour with the Tories second; the exception was 2014, when UKIP were runners-up. In May the Labour lead here was 66-24. At Hampshire county council level the ward is split between two divisions, Basingstoke Central and Basingstoke North, which in 2017 were the only two Hampshire county divisions to vote for Labour.

Hoping it’ll be alright on election night in Norden ward is the defending Labour candidate Carolyn Wooldridge, a former Basingstoke and Deane councillor (Brighton Hill North ward) who stood down in 2015 and is now seeking to return. The Tories have selected Mike Archer, and completing the ballot paper are Lib Dem Zoe Rogers and another former councillor seeking to make a comeback. Phil Heath was a Basingstoke and Deane councillor from 1992 to 2011, serving as leader of the Conservative group and as Deputy Mayor in 2010-11, and also sat on Hampshire county council until 2009; since then Heath had worked for the local MP Maria Miller before joining UKIP, but he is standing here as an independent candidate. Whoever wins this by-election will need to be straight back onto the campaign trail, as they will be due for re-election in May 2019.

Parliamentary constituency: Basingstoke
Hampshire county council division: Basingstoke Central (part), Basingstoke North (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Basingstoke
Postcode districts: RG21, RG24

Mike Archer (C)
Phil Heath (Ind)
Zoe Rogers (LD)
Carolyn Wooldridge (Lab)

May 2018 result Lab 1183 C 428 LD 89 Ind 68 TUSC 36
May 2016 result Lab 1191 C 308 UKIP 260 LD 96 TUSC 47
May 2015 result Lab 1797 C 940 UKIP 514 Grn 194 LD 183 TUSC 41
May 2014 result Lab 1148 UKIP 446 C 333 LD 97
May 2012 result Lab 1100 C 272 LD 160
May 2011 result Lab 1328 C 642 LD 211
May 2010 result Lab 1695 C 1206 LD 773
May 2008 result Lab 1005/997/990 C 548/522/510 LD 244/225/213
May 2007 result Lab 1057 C 615 LD 270
May 2006 result Lab 1023 C 527 LD 261
June 2004 result Lab 793 C 532 LD 325
May 2003 result Lab 761 C 386 LD 271
May 2002 result Lab 909/906/796 C 404/363/339 LD 389


Wells St Thomas’

Mendip council, Somerset; caused by the death of councillor Danny Unwin, who had been elected for the Liberal Democrats but was sitting as a Conservative. A funeral director, he had served on Mendip council since 2007 and formerly led the Lib Dem group; he was Mayor of Wells in 2011-12.

Returning to the Tory versus Lib Dem contests, we travel to what claims to be England’s smallest city. Wells has been a city since the days of the Kingdom of Wessex, whose kings founded a church here at the start of the eighth century. The church became the seat of a bishop in 909; the see of Wells was later moved to Bath in a move which upset an awful lot of people, and in the spirit of compromise the diocese has been known since 1245 as Bath and Wells. Also founded here in AD 909 was a school which became the Wells Cathedral School and claims to be one of the oldest continuously-operating schools in the world: Wells Cathedral School is an independent school with a national reputation for music teaching, and its alumni run the, er, gamut of modern music from the countertenor Iestyn Davies to the dairy farmer and failed parliamentary candidate Michael Eavis. The presence of the school means that St Thomas’ ward, which covers the northern and eastern parts of the city, is in the top 50 wards in England and Wales for people in the 16-17 age bracket.

Wells may be a city, but its city council is only a parish-level body; district council functions are handled from Shepton Mallet which is the seat of Mendip council. The Wells St Thomas’ ward of the district council is closely fought between the Lib Dems and Tories: the Liberal Democrats won both seats in 2007, the Tories gained one in 2011 but lost it back four years later. Shares of the vote in 2015 were 44% for the Lib Dems, 35% for the Conservatives and 21% for the single Green Party candidate. Wells as a whole elects a single Somerset county councillor: in the 2017 election that was the Lib Dems’ Tessa Munt, who had been the MP for Wells during the Coalition years. Munt narrowly defeated the Tories’ John Osman, who had been leader of the county council going into the election.

So, this is shaping up to be another close one. Hoping to convert the Tories’ defection gain into a by-election gain is teacher and supermarket worker Richard Greenwell; he was controversially co-opted onto Wells city council last year to replace a departing Green Party councillor, thereby giving the Conservatives a majority on the council. The Lib Dems want their seat back and have selected Thomas Ronan, a businessman and local resident. The Greens have not returned, but Labour have entered the fray with their candidate Den Carter who completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Wells
Somerset county council division: Wells
ONS Travel to Work Area: Street and Wells
Postcode district: BA5

Den Carter (Lab)
Richard Greenwell (C)
Thomas Ronan (LD)

May 2015 result LD 1172/1123 C 938/895 Grn 546
May 2011 result LD 826/803 C 808/706 Grn 345 Lab 256
May 2007 result LD 952/910 C 756/643


Ferdown

Dorset county council; and

Ferndown Central

East Dorset council; both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Steve Lugg at the age of 54. The Mayor of Ferndown at the time of his death, Lugg had served on East Dorset council since 2015 and on Dorset county council since winning a by-election in September 2016. Away from the council he was a former soldier, a management accountant and a live music fan.

We finish this week in the second-largest inland town in Dorset. Despite that, Ferndown is essentially a satellite town for Bournemouth and Poole, being located at a major road junction where the roads to Poole and Dorchester diverge. This is a relatively new town – until 1972 the parish council was called Hampreston – and it’s interesting to speculate why that is. Wikipedia has an interesting answer: its article on West Parley, a suburb of Ferndown included in the county division, asserts – as I pointed out two years ago in Andrew’s Previews 2016 – that “the largest increases were during the Baby Boom from 1921 to 1951, this was when everyone was procreating tenfold due to welfare benefits and due to lower income jobs”. Two years on, nobody has yet seen fit to edit that to something which might be seen as more befitting an encyclopedia.

Several generations after the Baby Boom, it would appear that many of the people who were born in Parley and Ferndown during those days of tenfold procreation are not only still with us but still living here. There have been extensive boundary changes in Ferndown since the last census which make things difficult to compare, but the Ferndown Central ward which existed in 2011 ranked ninth of all the wards in England and Wales for population aged 65 and over, with 44% of the population being of that age. Pension day must be fun in the local post office. Parley ward – which covers West Parley – was also in the top 100 for that statistic, and made the top 20 wards in England and Wales for owner-occupation.

With that sort of age profile, it’s not too surprising that this area was fertile ground for UKIP at their peak. The Kippers won one of the two county council seats in Ferndown at the 2013 county elections, splitting the division with the Conservatives. The Conservative councillor died in 2016 and Steve Lugg held the by-election in September of that year; the UKIP councillor resigned shortly afterwards and the Tories gained the resulting second by-election in December 2016. On new boundaries, the Conservative slate was easily re-elected in the 2017 county election with 67% of the vote, UKIP coming a poor second on 17%.

By contrast, UKIP never won a seat on East Dorset council whose Ferndown representatives, in recent years, have been solidly Conservative. The map above shows the present ward boundaries for Ferndown Central, introduced for the 2015 district elections in which the Conservatives beat the UKIP slate 50-32 in that ward.

As well as a farewell to Steve Lugg, these by-elections also mark a farewell to the current system of local government in Dorset. Dorset county council and East Dorset council (seen above) will both be abolished on 1st April 2019, replaced by a new Dorset unitary council which will cover all the county outside the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole conurbation. These will be the last by-elections in Dorset before that restructuring takes place.

Whoever succeeds Steve Lugg will, like him, sit on both Dorset county council and East Dorset council; for there is an identical candidate list for the county and district by-elections. (This also means that Lugg’s successor will get two votes on the shadow authority which will fill the gap between the creation of the new Dorset council in April next year and its first elections in May 2019. Isn’t democracy great?) Defending for the Conservatives is retained firefighter Mike Parkes, who is relatively young by Ferndown standards; he was elected to Ferndown town council in 1999 at the age of 26, and was Mayor of Ferndown in 2014-15. UKIP have selected Ferndown town councillor and retail worker Lawrence Wilson, who was runner-up in the December 2016 county by-election and the 2017 county elections – in which he beat the alphabet by polling more votes than his running-mate Peter Lucas. Completing the ballot papers is Matthew Coussell for the Liberal Democrats,

Ferndown

Parliamentary constituency: Christchurch
East Dorset council wards: Ameysford, Ferndown Central, Parley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bournemouth
Postcode district: BH22

Matthew Coussell (LD)
Mike Parkes (C)
Lawrence Wilson (UKIP)

May 2017 result C 3090/2950 UKIP 795/657 LD 508/429 Lab 244/203

Ferndown Central

Parliamentary constituency: Christchurch
Dorset county council division: Ferndown
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bournemouth
Postcode district: BH22

Matthew Coussell (LD)
Mike Parkes (C)
Lawrence Wilson (UKIP)

May 2015 result C 2645/2351/2315 UKIP 1336/1334/1100 Lab 744


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