Previews: 22 Nov 2018

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

There are four by-elections on 22nd November 2018, with a Labour defence on Merseyside and three Conservative defences in London and the South East. Let’s start at the heart of things:


Lancaster Gate

Westminster city council, North London; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Robert Davis.

I suppose it had to happen eventually. It’s time to open an edition of Andrew’s Previews by talking about the riveting political developments in Westminster and that great question of our time, Brexit. Yes – how is Britain’s divorce from the European Union going to affect elections to Westminster city council? You should not be surprised to hear that this is a difficult question with all sorts of unknowns and unknowables at this time – but since when has anything to do with Brexit been anything other than complicated and opaque?

For the grown-ups who lead the other 27 EU nations, one major issue arising from Brexit is the rights of their citizens who live and work in the UK. One of those rights is that EU citizens should have the right to stand for and vote in local elections throughout the Union. This was part of the Maastricht Treaty, so the assumption has been that those rights will fall away after 29th March next and that I’d be writing a bumper edition of Andrew’s Previews in May to cover all the by-elections caused by those councillors who are not UK, Commonwealth or Irish citizens being disqualified (there are some elected representatives who fall into this category).

But that’s not in fact true, at least not yet, thanks to the way those Treaty rights have been implemented in the UK. The key document is not the Maastricht Treaty or anything else originating from Brussels; it’s the truly riveting Local Government Elections (Changes to the Franchise and Qualification of Members) Regulations 1995, which apply only to the UK and were signed into law by our then Home Secretary Michael Howard. I’ve read this document so you don’t have to, and the important point to take away is that thanks to the EU Withdrawal Act this will still be good law after Brexit – so as things stand at the moment EU citizens living in the UK will still be able to be and to vote for local councillors after 29th March. Moreover, to my knowledge nobody in the responsible government departments (the Ministry of Housing, Communities or Local Government or the devolved administrations outside England) has yet published anything to make any changes to those democratic rights.

So everything’s hunky dory then? Well, no: as with so many things about Brexit, the answer is “who can tell what’s going to happen in the future”? Which is a problem if you’re trying to predict the future, and that’s something which Westminster city council are going to have to do very soon. Westminster’s ward boundaries are now nearly twenty years old, and the Local Government Boundary Commission is intending to review them starting next year. As part of that process Westminster will be asked to forecast what their electorate is going to be five years down the line – which looks a near-impossible task when you don’t know whether a significant chunk of your electorate are going to have the right to vote five years down the line.

Which brings us to central London and the Lancaster Gate ward. This is the heart of Bayswater, running along the north side of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens westwards and northwestwards from the Lancaster Gate road junction. The name Lancaster Gate refers to Queen Victoria, in her capacity as Duke of Lancaster, and comes from a prestigious Victorian housing development overlooking Hyde Park. High-end Victorian terraces quickly grew up all over the district and nearly all of them remain today; many of those Victorian blocks are now in commercial use as hotels or foreign embassies. There are two major exceptions to this rule: the modernist and mostly Grade II-listed Hallfield council estate which fills this ward’s northern corner, and numbers 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens which are only a façade, walls built in the style of the adjoining buildings to hide a ventilation shaft for the London Underground. The Underground has two stations within the ward boundary, Bayswater on the District and Circle lines and Queensway on the Central Line. Queensway is the ward’s main commercial street, home to the large Whiteleys shopping centre as well as the largest ice rink in London.

That last sentence might not be true for much longer though: Whiteleys is slated for conversion into a hotel and flats with a big extension, and that’s not the only controversial new development in Lancaster Gate ward. Going up opposite Kensington Gardens is Park Modern, a notably ugly block of apartments for the super-rich: if you have £30 million in your back pocket, a double-height five-bedroom penthouse at the top of the nine storeys could be yours. These and other issues in Lancaster Gate are well-publicised by the influential South East Bayswater Residents Association, which – this being London, where you can do these things – put their views across via a glossy magazine. Local politicians have learnt to treat SEBRA with respect.

This ward may be full of hotels, but the ONS has taken care to ensure the census return is based on permanent residents rather than visitors. In any event there’s little doubt that this is one of the most cosmopolitan parts of London. Only 35% of Lancaster Gate’s population was born in the UK: it is number 5 of all the wards in England and Wales for those born in the EU-15 (18%) and number 6 for the White Other ethnic group (37%). It makes the top 20 for the 30-44 age bracket (34%) and “other” ethnic groups (10%), the top 30 for private renting (55% of households, which is not surprising given that the median property in the ward sells for over £900,000), the top 40 for population with a degree (61%) and the top 100 for those born outside the EU (40%, with particularly strong contingents from Brazil, Australia and the Middle East), Buddhism (1.8%) and the “higher management” occupational group (25%). Clearly this is a ward of people who have come to work in London from all over the world – exactly the sort of people whom the other EU governments are worried about in the Brexit process, and exactly the sort of people who are giving Westminster’s electoral registration department a headache as they try to peer into the fog of the future to put their electorate forecasts together. Will these people still have the vote at the next Westminster council election in May 2022?

Well, they still have the vote for now, although actually persuading the EU residents to cast their votes here is another matter altogether. Despite Lancaster Gate’s presence within the Labour-held Westminster North constituency, this is a safe Conservative ward in council elections although Labour did make significant progress this year. Shares of the vote here in May were 48% for the Conservative slate and 36% for Labour. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all of the Labour vote comes out of the Hallfield estate, as the Westminster Conservatives are very active on the estate and often poll relatively well there. There aren’t many Liberal Democrat voters here but two of their local supporters in days gone by were very well-known: Jeremy and Marion Thorpe were formerly resident in the ward and would sign the Lib Dem nomination papers.

In the 2016 GLA elections the ward’s ballot boxes gave a 43-36 lead to the Tories’ Zac Goldsmith over Sadiq Khan; the London Members ballot gave 40% to the Conservatives, 29% to Labour and 11% to the Green Party, while in the vote for the West Central constituency of the London Assembly the Tory candidate led here with 42% to 32% for Labour and 13% for the Greens. The losing Labour candidate for West Central that year was Mandy Richards, who took the result to the Election Court and lost there as well: that was just one of the long list of failed legal actions that led to Richards being dropped as PPC for Worcester earlier this year.

While everything in the 2016 GLA election here was clearly above board, the same cannot be said of the circumstances leading up to this by-election. Robert Davis was the deputy leader of Westminster and the city’s longest-serving councillor, having been first elected in 1982: he was Lord Mayor of Westminster in 1996-97, was in a civil partnership with former council leader Sir Simon Milton until Milton’s death in 2011, is a Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London, and was appointed MBE in 2015 for services to local government and planning. That citation comes from the fact that Davis was chairman of Westminster’s powerful planning committee for seventeen years, and is a little unfortunate in view of what happened next. In March this year the Guardian reported that Davis had received gifts or hospitality hundreds of times between 2012 and 2017, often from figures in the property development industry; and an independent investigation concluded in October that Davis had breached the council’s code of conduct. Davis took the hint and resigned from the council, a few months after starting his tenth term of office.

With the resulting whiff of scandal this might be a more difficult Tory defence than it looks on paper. Defending for the Conservatives is Margot, Lady Bright, who gives an address in the adjoining Bayswater ward and is described as a community champion; she is the wife of Sir Keith Bright, who was chairman of London Regional Transport in the mid-1980s. Labour have reselected Angela Piddock, a former headteacher who is standing here for the third time; not surprisingly her manifesto prioritises the rights of the city’s EU citizens and reform of the planning system. Completing the ballot paper are Sally Gray for the Liberal Democrats and Zack Polanski for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Westminster North
London Assembly constituency: West Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: W2

Margot Bright (C)
Sally Gray (LD)
Angela Piddock (Lab)
Zack Polanski (Grn)

May 2018 result C 1318/1226/1223 Lab 992/967/852 LD 456/376/321
May 2014 result C 1262/1152/1104 Lab 509/500/496 Grn 340 LD 314/229
May 2010 result C 1968/1936/1745 LD 930/758/641 Lab 787/775/763 Grn 455 UKIP 102
October 2008 by-election C 805 LD 325 Lab 205
May 2006 result C 1270/1258/1218 LD 348/335/326 Lab 346/330/323
May 2002 result C 1180/1160/1128 Lab 334/310/299 LD 295/269/241

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: C 906 Lab 764 Grn 134 LD 116 Women’s Equality 55 Respect 47 UKIP 37 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 22 Britain First 9 Zylinski 7 BNP 2 One Love 1
London Members: C 810 Lab 593 Grn 221 LD 178 UKIP 74 Respect 48 Animal Welfare 31 Britain First 18 CPA 16 House Party 13 Women’s Equality 10 BNP 2


Bush Hill Park

Enfield council, North London; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Jon Daniels who had served only since May this year. In his resignation statement Daniels said that he had been unable to balance his duties as a councillor with his family and work commitments.

For our second London by-election we take the Central Line to Liverpool Street and head north into the wilds of Middlesex. Since 1880 Bush Hill Park has been the last stop for branch line trains going to Enfield Town; the station was opened to serve a housing estate built on the grounds of a country house of the same name. We’re a fair way from central London here and the estate was rather slow to grow – not helped by its developer going bankrupt in 1887 – but the growth of the firearms industry in Enfield to supply the Boer War caused demand to pick up, and by the outbreak of the First World War Bush Hill Park was fully developed. Many of those Edwardian houses are still with us today thanks to a conservation area being created in the mid-1980s; only the northern end of the ward, around Enfield cricket club, has seen significant redevelopment.

For parliamentary purposes Bush Hill Park is within the Edmonton constituency and is by far the least-deprived ward within it. That gives a right-wing slant to its politics which would have pleased one of the ward’s most famous residents: Ross McWhirter, the sports journalist and Guinness Book of Records co-founder, lived in this ward on Village Road and was murdered there by the IRA in 1975. McWhirter had been the Conservative candidate for Edmonton in the 1964 general election, doing rather poorly in what had five years earlier been a very close seat.

In fact the Edmonton constituency was often a key marginal until quite recent times. The Conservatives gained it at the 1987 election and held it in 1992; but since then the Tory vote here has fallen off a cliff and by June 2017 the Conservatives had just 23% of the vote across the constituency, a 12-point swing against them since the Coalition was formed. A large proportion of those Tory votes will have come out of Bush Hill Park, which is the only ward within the seat to reliably return Conservative councillors. Until the 2010s, that is: Labour came from a long way back to gain one of the ward’s three seats in 2014; the Tories got that seat back in May this year but only with a majority of 64 votes. Vote shares were 39% for the Conservatives, 37% for Labour and 11% for the Green Party. That closeness was also a feature of the 2016 GLA elections here: Zac Goldsmith beat Sadiq Khan in the ward’s ballot boxes 44-36, while the Tory lead over Labour in the London Members ballot was just 37-36.

But as the reverse in May’s election might suggest, not all is rosy here for Labour. The party control Enfield council; and their Edmonton MP Kate Osamor, the shadow international development secretary, has attracted controversy after her son, whom she employs as her parliamentary press officer, pleaded guilty to possession of Class A drugs with intent to supply. More on that story in a future edition of Andrew’s Previews.

Mind, the Tories have problems of their own in Bush Hill Park: Will Coleshill, who was elected here on the Tory slate in May alongside Daniels, has since had the whip withdrawn over racist comments he made in a council meeting. And the council themselves have not shown much competence: their website team reflected Daniels’ resignation and Coleshill’s suspension by deleting Daniels from their website record of the May 2018 election result and changing Coleshill from a Conservative candidate to an independent candidate. This sort of rewriting of history is not on at all, and only the fact that Enfield have since acknowledged and corrected their mistake has stopped me from issuing my dreaded Useless Council Website certificate. Let that be a warning to any council who does something similar.

Defending for the Conservative is James Hockney, a businessman who may well be someone to watch for the future. He is seeking to resume his elected career after being a South Cambridgeshire councillor from 2004 to 2016, and he was the Tory candidate for Barnsley East in the 2010 general election and for Barnsley Central in the 2011 parliamentary by-election. Labour have reselected Bevin Betton, an HR consultant who was runner-up here in May. Also returning from May’s election is Benjamin Maydon of the Green Party, who according to his Twitter is a musician, comedian, writer, actor, English teacher, precocious genius and awkward geek. Three more candidates complete the ballot paper: they are Robert Wilson for the Liberal Democrats, Tulip Hambleton for the Women’s Equality Party and independent candidate Erol Ovayolu.

Parliamentary constituency: Edmonton
London Assembly constituency: Enfield and Haringey
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: EN1, N9, N13, N21

Bevin Betton (Lab)
Tulip Hambleton (Women’s Equality)
James Hockney (C)
Benjamin Maydon (Grn)
Erol Ovayolu (Ind)
Robert Wilson (LD)

May 2018 result C 1976/1959/1926 Lab 1862/1831/1681 Grn 539 LD 484 UKIP 144
May 2014 result C 1679/1521/1334 Lab 1522/1277/1223 UKIP 897 Grn 621 LD 453
July 2011 by-election C 1108 Lab 668 Ind 230 LD 177 Grn 100 UKIP 70 BNP 61 Christian Party 45 EDP 29
May 2010 result C 3451/3225/3224 Lab 2230/2077/2049 LD 1747 Grn 942 UKIP 618
January 2009 by-election C 1320 Lab 413 LD 129 UKIP 123 Grn 97
May 2006 result C 2248/2178/1827 Save Chase Farm 1442 Lab 780/683/649 Grn 604 LD 547/533 UKIP 298
May 2002 result C 2400/2276/2272 Lab 974/867/830 LD 565/433/421 UKIP 187/144

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: C 1690 Lab 1456 Grn 192 LD 162 UKIP 151 Women’s Equality 54 Britain First 40 Respect 35 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 27 BNP 9 Zylinski 9 One Love 2
London Members: C 1452 Lab 1382 UKIP 322 Grn 247 LD 189 Women’s Equality 96 Britain First 48 CPA 46 Respect 39 Animal Welfare 37 BNP 17 House Party 16


Datchet

Windsor and Maidenhead council, Berkshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Jesse Grey who had served since 2000. Grey was mayor of Windsor and Maidenhead in 2009-10 and at the time of his death was the council’s cabinet member for environmental services, parking and flooding.

For our last by-election in the South East this week we travel just outside the Greater London boundary. The village of Datchet can be found on the north bank of the Thames just to the east of Windsor, and the fact that a ferry crossed the river here meant that Datchet was frequently visited by royals travelling to and from Windsor Castle. The village is the last stop before Windsor on the railway line from Waterloo, but is probably more associated with the private car as a mode of transport: the UK’s first motor car was owned by the Honourable Evelyn Ellis who lived in Datchet, while the lords of the manor were the Montagu family who gave us the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in Hampshire. Much of the ward is covered by water (whether the River Thames, or the Queen Mother Reservoir which provides drinking water for London) and, this being low-lying ground, the area suffers from flooding problems when there is too much rain in the Thames catchment. Datchet was particularly badly hit by the Thames floods of early 2014.

Datchet ward has unchanged boundaries since the first elections to Windsor and Maidenhead district in 1973: in that time it has elected Conservatives throughout with the exception of 1997, the first election to the modern unitary council¸ when the Liberal Democrats won the second seat. The Lib Dems continued in second place until 2011 when an independent slate was runner-up; in the 2015 election the Conservatives led with 59% and Labour were second on 21%. There have been no local elections in Windsor and Maidenhead since then; the ward is part of the Windsor parliamentary seat which is very safely Conservative. This will be the last election on the current boundaries, as new wards are coming into force for Windsor and Maidenhead next May with Datchet and the neighbouring Horton and Wraysbury ward being merged into one; so whoever wins this by-election may have to move very quickly to secure their nomination for the 2019 elections.

Hoping to make an impact on the electorate is the defending Conservative candidate David Cannon, a retired Metropolitan Police detective inspector who now works in security for BT; Cannon is a former chairman of Datchet parish council. The Labour candidate is Deborah Foster, a UNISON figure who lives in Windsor and works in the NHS. Also standing are Datchet parish councillor and former ward councillor (1997-2000) Tim O’Flynn for the Liberal Democrats, Datchet parish councillor Ewan Larcombe for his National Flood Prevention Party, and the Greens’ Christopher Moss who gives an address some distance away in Bourne End, Buckinghamshire.

Parliamentary constituency: Windsor
ONS Travel to Work Area: Slough and Heathrow
Postcode district: SL3

David Cannon (C)
Deborah Foster (Lab)
Ewan Larcombe (National Flood Prevention Party)
Christopher Moss (Grn)
Tim O’Flynn (LD)

May 2015 result C 1438/1369 Lab 523 LD 478/420
May 2011 result C 935/875 Ind 419/364 Lab 232 LD 217/139
October 2007 by-election C 799 LD 352 Ind 102
May 2007 result C 948/906 LD 211/187 Lab 150/110
May 2003 result C 613/610 LD 438 Ind 264 Lab 129
May 2000 result C 661/641 LD 367/330 Lab 80/80
May 1997 result C 1180/825 LD 1048/909 Lab 389/343
May 1995 result C 494/461 LD 349 Ind 302 Lab 278/217
May 1991 result C 882/878 LD 568/369 Lab 223/217
May 1987 result C 875/823 All 509/503 Lab 175/131 Residents/Ratepayers 121
May 1983 result 2 C unopposed
May 1979 result 2 C unopposed
May 1976 result C 810/808 Lib 503
May 1973 result 2 C unopposed


Upton

Wirral council, Merseyside; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Matthew Patrick, who had served since winning a by-election in October 2013 and was the council’s cabinet member for the environment. He is moving to London to take up a new job.

For our final by-election of the week we travel north-west to the land of plastic. Upton lies at the centre of the Wirral peninsula and in mediaeval times was the major marketplace in the area; but its fortunes declined as Birkenhead grew into a town and Upton remained a village. By the nineteenth century the area was mainly farmland to the west of Birkenhead, with Upton village in the hands of the shipping magnate William Inman (of the Inman Line) who resided at the minor stately home of Upton Manor.

Things changed in the twentieth century when the area was annexed by Birkenhead Corporation, which once the Second World War was over started filling the ward with the Woodchurch housing estate. Industry came as well: there was for many years a large spark plug factory here, but these days the major employer is Arrowe Park Hospital, just outside the ward boundary and the major A&E unit for the Wirral. Upton is relatively poorly served by rail – its railway station is on the little-used Borderlands Line, which despite being in Merseyside is run by Transport for Wales – but it’s only just off the M53 motorway, and so residents of Upton can be in Liverpool city centre, through the Wallasey Tunnel, in just 15 minutes.

There was a by-election here in October 2013 at which Matthew Patrick was first elected, and I described Upton then as “a classic key marginal where swings are low”. That was true in the Blair and Brown years, although the Conservatives only won Upton at Labour’s low point of 2008 and then only by four votes; but it’s not true now. This is a safe Labour area in the current political climate and its presence in the Wirral West parliamentary seat made all the difference in the 2015 general election: Labour won Upton ward by 3,500 votes that year and on the same day in the parliamentary seat defeated Esther McVey by 417. McVey got back into Parliament last year, but not from Wirral West: she now has a safe Tory seat in Cheshire from which to plot her next move in the parliamentary soap opera.

In the meantime Labour held Upton ward this May by 58-29 over the Conservatives, which was a slight swing to the right compared with two years earlier. Wirral council has had a Labour majority since 2012, but the Labour administration doesn’t appear to be a very happy place at the moment with rumours of a left-wing takeover within the local party; two Labour councillors have gone independent in the last few months and Councillor Patrick, who was reportedly on Labour’s right wing, might well be relieved to be out of the firing line now. Patrick’s resignation leaves Labour with 36 out of 66 seats on the council plus this vacancy; so the Labour majority is safe for now but the May 2019 elections could be interesting.

Defending for Labour is local resident Jean Robinson. The Tories have selected another local resident, Emma Sellman who is a law student and wheelchair user. Completing the ballot paper are two candidates returning from May’s election, Lily Clough for the Green Party and regular Lib Dem candidate Alan Davies.

Parliamentary constituency: Wirral Wewt
ONS Travel to Work Area: Birkenhead
Postcode district: CH49

Lily Clough (Grn)
Alan Davies (LD)
Jean Robinson (Lab)
Emma Sellman (C)

May 2018 result Lab 2289 C 1125 Grn 265 LD 166 TUSC 89
May 2016 result Lab 2218 C 900 Grn 256 LD 169 TUSC 94
May 2015 result Lab 5347 C 1807 UKIP 853 Grn 306 LD 262
May 2014 result Lab 1932 UKIP 942 C 760 Grn 206 LD 117
October 2013 by-election Lab 1954 C 762 Grn 143 LD 130
May 2012 result Lab 2504 C 948 UKIP 381 Grn 206 LD 164
May 2011 result Lab 2850 C 1495 LD 226 UKIP 221 Grn 158
May 2010 result Lab 3827 C 2143 LD 1370 Grn 286
May 2008 result C 1861 Lab 1857 LD 451 Grn 256
May 2007 result Lab 1931 C 1734 LD 575 Grn 244
May 2006 result Lab 1716 C 1424 LD 991 Grn 262
June 2004 result Lab 2140/2065/1829 C 1300/1261/1160 LD 1086/945/903 Grn 396


A couple of other notices to finish on. There are other votes going on this week, and in the most important of those your columnist would like to endorse my quiz friend Anne Hegerty in the election for the post of Queen of the Jungle. If she’s still there by the time you read this, get voting for her. Vote early and vote often.

And if you liked these previews, there’s a lot more like them in the two paperback collections Andrew’s Previews 2016 and 2017, which are available now from Amazon and just might make a delightful Christmas present for the discerning psephologist.