Previews: 13 Dec 2018

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

There are four local by-elections on Thursday 13th December 2018, with Labour defending three seats in England and the Conservatives one in Scotland. Read on…


West Green

Haringey council, North London; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Ishmael Osamor.

As anybody who performs on a stage will know, timing is everything. We’re in a fast-changing political landscape here, and that’s creating all sorts of problems for Andrew’s Previews. Being a busy man, I drafted this piece last weekend prepared for all political eventualities, with the exception of the one that actually happened with the Meaningful Vote getting called off before my submission deadline; so there has been some rather hasty redrafting going on to fit the new political context. Westminster being as febrile as it is at the moment, by the time you read this things might have changed significantly yet again.

The local by-election cycle turns more slowly than the 24-hour news cycle, and the middle of December marks the point at which we start winding down towards the Christmas and New Year break. There are just four by-elections today, with the three in England all being in safe Labour wards based on large council estates. Mid-December is also the point of the year where we look back on the fifty-two weeks just gone and start to give out awards: and one of the more pointless awards is that for the Word of the Year, adjudicated by the Oxford Dictionaries. The Oxonian lexicographers selected a word which is not a new coinage but does fairly sum up the political situation in the year of our Lord, 2018: “toxic”.

Which brings us neatly to this week’s first by-election. There are all sorts of toxic things out there, not all of which are political. Indeed some toxic things are quite enjoyable: it’s not for nothing that the dictionary lists “intoxicating” as a synonym of “exhilarating” or “exciting”. Some toxic things are, however, quite illegal. Some are both enjoyable and illegal.

A lesson learned the hard way this year by a man in his twenties called Ishmael Osamor. In 2017 Mr Osamor had travelled to the Lulworth Estate in Dorset to attend the music festival Bestival. On the second day of Bestival s2017 he was caught by police in possession of £2,500 worth of cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine, which led to charges being brought. At Bournemouth crown court in October 2018 Osamor pleaded guilty to four drugs offences – three counts of possession with intent to supply and one of possession – and was sentenced to a two-year community order. His mum stood by him, which is fair enough: that’s what mums do. And in the normal course of events that would probably have been that.

This, of course, is not the normal course of events. (Why do you think I’m writing this?) Ishmael Osamor’s mum is also his employer: she is Kate Osamor, Member of Parliament for Edmonton and (until she resigned the week before last following some ill-judged words to a journalist looking into the whole affair) shadow international development secretary, and she employs Ishmael in her parliamentary office. And between charges being brought and the trial taking place, Osamor junior had entered the weird and wacky world of Haringey Labour politics by being elected to Haringey council in May this year. He had already made his mark by joining the council’s cabinet. A two-year community order is nowhere near the sentence level which would have disqualified him from the council; but when the conviction became public knowledge questions were inevitably raised over how this person was selected as a candidate given that there were criminal charges hanging over him. Knowing that timing is everything, Ishmael Osamor chose to exit the political stage before he was pushed, and immediately resigned from Haringey council after less than six months in office.

It’s rather a long way from the Lulworth Estate to the Broadwater Farm Estate, both geographically and socially. The Farm is the major part of Haringey’s West Green ward: in a borough starkly divided between rich and poor, this is in the poor half. Although most of the area was built-up by 1920 as the railways connected Tottenham to central London, Broadwater Farm remained rural thanks to its low-lying ground which was prone to flooding from the River Moselle; when Tottenham urban district council bought the farm in 1932 it initially turned half of it into a park (the Lordship Recreation Ground) and the other half into allotments.

Development came to the Moselle valley (that reminds me, I must get some wine in for Christmas) in 1967 with Haringey council commencing construction of the Broadwater Farm Estate, a series of concrete carbuncles in the style of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret. Le Corbusier may have seen the house as a machine for living in, but the Broadwater Farm housing didn’t prove a very effective machine in its initial form: within a decade of opening the Department of the Environment had called for demolition as the only way of improving it. The Farm became a byword for unsuccessful social housing, and its problems came to a head in 1985 with race riots and the still-unsolved murder of PC Keith Blakelock. Things have turned around dramatically since, and in 2005 the Metropolitan Police disbanded its Broadwater Farm unit because there was such a low crime rate on the estate. Despite some redevelopment, the problems with substandard housing haven’t gone away, and the Grenfell Tower fire brought things to a head: two of the Farm’s tower blocks were condemned and evacuated earlier this year pending demolition, with nine others found to be structurally unsafe.

This ward isn’t all Broadwater Farm, of course; to the west of the Lordship Recreation Ground are a series of Victorian terraces along Downhills Way and Westbury Avenue, while the West Green area itself is at the ward’s southern end. Connections to Central London are provided by the Underground station at Turnpike Lane, which is at the western corner of the ward.

The census makes the point that this is one of the most ethnically diverse areas of London. In 2011 West Green was in the top 25 wards in England and Wales for the “White Other” ethnic group at 31% of the population; that compared to 24% black (just outside the top 100), 22% White British and 5.6% “other” ethnic groups. It was in the top 50 wards for those new born in the new EU states, with Poles and Bulgarians particularly strongly represented; the census also picked up large proportions born in Turkey and Ghana.

There has been a West Green ward since Haringey borough was formed in 1965, and for some time afterwards this was a close-fought marginal ward with one of the strongest Conservative votes in Tottenham. The Tories carried West Green in 1968 and 1982, and won two out of three seats here in 1986. Things changed in the early 1990s with a change in Haringey’s housing policy so that people on the housing waiting list couldn’t refuse an offer without a good reason. This allowed Broadwater Farm to fill up (large parts of it had previously been unoccupied) at the same time as the Conservative vote was melting away in the aftermath of Black Wednesday. The 1994 council elections marked a decisive shift with the Conservative vote halving, and Labour haven’t been seriously challenged here since. One other footnote from 1994 is that the ward was contested that year by George Silcott, brother of Winston Silcott who had been wrongly convicted of PC Blakelock’s murder; George stood as an independent and finished last out of 11 candidates.

Haringey Labour has had its problems over the years, most recently with a well-publicised takeover by the party’s left wing in advance of the 2018 elections – rather appropriate really in a borough where Jeremy Corbyn used to be a councillor. The left-wing takeover clearly went down badly in the muesli belt of Hornsey and Wood Green (the Liberal Democrats gained six council seats there in May) but probably didn’t have as much of an adverse effect in West Green ward. In May Labour won here with 64% of the vote, with the Greens best of the rest on 13%; the Lib Dems, Conservatives and George Galloway’s Respect party have all filled the runner-up spot here at some point this century. In the 2016 London Mayoral election Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith here 69-13, while the Labour slate led the Greens 63-12 in the London Members ballot.

Defending for Labour is Seema Chandwani, a Unite figure and chairwoman of the Haringey trades union council. The Green Party candidate is Cecily Spelling who works for an environmental charity. Also standing are Mirza Baig for the Conservatives and Elizabeth Payne for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Tottenham
London Assembly constituency: Enfield and Haringey
Postcode districts: N15, N17, N22

Mirza Baig (C)
Seema Chandwani (Lab)
Elizabeth Payne (LD)
Cecily Spelling (Grn)

May 2018 result Lab 2077/2072/1899 Grn 437/272/270 C 292/266/231 LD 277/254/214 Ind 167
May 2014 result Lab 1780/1772/1697 Grn 455/361/325 C 383/326/290 LD 238/215/177 TUSC 237/187/154
May 2010 result Lab 2471/2264/2262 LD 926/866/826 C 803/780/761 Grn 595/333/325
May 2006 result Lab 1992/1135/1073 Respect 626/535 Grn 649 LD 426/329/328 C 378/336/324
May 2002 result Lab 1100/1079/1033 C 340/306/257 LD 313/227/223 Grn 269 Socialist Alliance 142/116


Toddbrook

Harlow council, Essex; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Karen Clempner who had served since 2015.

We move further up the Lea Valley to the centre of the New Town of Harlow. Here can be found the main central shopping area, the Harvey Shopping Centre, the Playhouse and the Water Gardens; south of those is the Todd Brook, a stream after which the ward is named; and south of that is the ward’s main housing area along Partridge Road and Tendring Road. Continuing our Council Estate theme, this is New Town development mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, with high levels of social housing and a working-class demographic.

Toddbrook ward normally votes Labour, although the Conservatives won it at a by-election in October 2007 and in the 2008 election, and UKIP were only 28 votes behind Labour in 2014. Since then Labour have made this ward safe again: in May this year their outgoing councillor Tony Edwards was re-elected by a margin of 52-33 over the Conservatives, which was a slight swing in his favour from the September 2017 by-election at which Edwards was first elected. The Andrew’s Previews entry for that by-election is republished in the book Andrew’s Previews 2017, a delightful Christmas gift for the discerning follower of politics. However, the Conservatives represent this area both at Parliamentary level and on Essex county council, where they gained the Harlow West division from Labour last year.

And, like Haringey earlier, this is a council where the ruling Labour group has been the subject of a left-wing takeover in recent months. Clempner cited an uncomfortable atmosphere within Harlow Labour in her resignation statement; and she’s clearly not alone in that because she’s the fourth Harlow Labour councillor to resign this year, at last three of three resignations coming after run-ins with the left of the party. That list includes Karen Clempner’s husband John, who was leader of the council until he was effectively deposed in January.

Defending for Labour this time is Frances Mason. The Conservative candidate is Tom Reynolds. Also standing are former Harlow councillor Dan Long for UKIP and Christopher Millington for the Green Party. Whoever wins is likely to be back on the campaign trail in short order to seek re-election in May 2019.

Parliamentary constituency: Harlow
Essex county council division: Harlow West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode districts: CM17, CM18, CM19, CM20

Dan Long (UKIP)
Frances Mason (Lab)
Christopher Millington (Grn)
Tom Reynolds (C)

May 2018 result Lab 856 C 551 UKIP 163 Harlow Alliance 84
September 2017 by-election Lab 702 C 486 UKIP 98 Grn 41 LD 19
May 2016 result Lab 835 C 412 UKIP 408
May 2015 result Lab 1520 C 1110 UIP 699
May 2014 result Lab 706 UKIP 678 C 452
November 2012 by-election Lab 604 C 383 UKIP 111 LD 53
May 2012 result Lab 902 C 654 LD 107
May 2011 result Lab 992 C 870 LD 154
May 2010 result Lab 1457 C 1266 LD 602
May 2008 result C 1064 Lab 667 LD 170
October 2007 by-election C 728 Lab 713 Respect 102 LD 67
May 2007 result Lab 795 C 770 Respect 250 LD 122
May 2006 result Lab 812 C 759 Respect 217 LD 202
June 2004 result Lab 756 C 524 Ind 289 LD 221
May 2003 result Lab 630 C 473 LD 189
May 2002 result Lab 947/897/878 C 643/620/595 LD 339/330/293


Brambles and Thorntree

Middlesbrough council, North Yorkshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Peter Purvis. He had served since 2007, originally being elected for Thorntree ward before transferring here in 2015.

For our final Labour defence of the week we are in sunny Middlesbrough. The Boro is not a rich town: with the death of the local iron and steel industry in many ways it’s a place seeking for a new future for itself. The demise of the traditional industries has led to huge unemployment in Teesside, and few places have been worse hit than Brambles and Thorntree.

The Thorntree estate in particular gets a bad press. On the eastern edge of Middlesbrough, it dates from the late 1940s and is a bastion of the unskilled working class, which is a bit of a problem when there are very few jobs of that nature remaining on Teesside. The estate was a ward of its own until 2015; the old Thorntree ward was no 3 in the 2000 English indices of multiple deprivation, and in the 2011 census ranked 6th in England and Wales for unemployment (13%) and 6th again for adults with no qualifications (49%). It also made the top 100 wards in England and Wales in the “semi-routine” and “routine” occupational groups, those who have never worked or are long-term unemployed, those looking after home or family, those with long-term sickness or disability, social renting and under-16s. Until 2015 the Brambles Farm estate was in a ward with the Victorian terraces of North Ormesby which was more of the same: in 2011 North Ormesby and Brambles Farm ranked 11th for unemployment and was in the top 100 for no qualifications, routine work and semi-routine work.

Labour haven’t had it all their own way in Middlesbrough: until 2015 the town was run by an independent elected mayor, and the Labour party won the mayoralty in 2015 very narrowly. Things were easier for the party in Brambles and Thorntree ward that year, though: the Labour slate won with 47%, to 23% for independent candidates and 22% for UKIP. Top of the independents was Len Junier, who was an outgoing Labour councillor for North Ormesby and Brambles Farm ward but sought re-election as an independent. There have been no local elections in Middlesbrough since then; the Middlesbrough parliamentary seat swung slightly to the Conservatives in June 2017, but they were a long way back.

Defending for Labour is Janet Thompson, who is hoping to join her husband Mick on the council – although perhaps not for long, as Mick Thompson has been selected as Labour’s prospective candidate for the Middlesbrough mayoralty when it comes up for election next year. There is an independent candidate, Graham Wilson. UKIP have not returned, so the Tories’ David Smith (returning from 2015) and the Lib Dems’ Paul Hamilton complete the ballot paper. As with the Harlow vacancy above, whoever wins will have a very short term of office before May 2019 when they will need to seek re-election.

Parliamentary constituency: Middlesbrough
Postcode district: TS3

Paul Hamilton (LD)
David Smith (C)
Janet Thompson (Lab)
Graham Wilson (Ind)

May 2015 result Lab 1006/1004/921 Ind 480/342/327 UKIP 475 C 171


Dee and Glenkens

Dumfries and Galloway council, Scotland; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Patsy Gilroy who had served since 1999. She was Convenor of the council in 2007-12, and since standing down has been appointed by the Queen as Lord Lieutenant of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.

We finish north of the border, but very much in the borderlands. The very name of Kirkcudbrightshire harks back to that of a man whose reputation straddled England and Scotland before England and Scotland were even thought of: the seventh-century Saint Cuthbert, who preached here when this was part of the Kingdom of Northumbria. Cuthbert’s remains were buried in the town named after him, Kirkcudbright, at one point on their journey between Lindisfarne and Durham Cathedral where they lie today.

That protracted journey for Cuthbert’s remains was to keep them out of the clutches of the Norsemen, who from the ninth century were in the ascendancy in Galloway. The area became a distinct region with a substantial Gaelic-speaking population and links over the water to the Isle of Man and the Kingdom of the Isles. A line of independent Lords of Galloway grew up, who played off the ongoing divisions between Scotland and England for their own advantage: it wasn’t until the death in 1234 of Alan, Lord of Galloway, who left no legitimate male heir, that the Kings of Scotland were finally able to take control of the area. The title of Lord of Galloway was revived in 1372 for Archibald the Grim, who was granted the revenues of all the land between the Nith and Cree rivers; he appointed a steward to collect the monies, and Kirkcudbrightshire became known as “the Stewartry”; a name which still persists today.

This is a remote and sparsely-populated area far from the main lines of communication; all the railways in Kirkcudbrightshire were closed by Beeching, and the only major road is that linking Dumfries with the port of Stranraer. That main road studiously avoids Kirkcudbright, which with slightly over 3,000 souls is the main centre of population. Kirkcudbright is a market town for the local area with connections to art: many artists of the Glasgow art movement were based here, and Dorothy L Sayers played on that tradition by setting her novel The Five Red Herrings in Kirkcudbright’s artistic community. A more surprising recent work of art associated with the area is the classic horror film The Wicker Man, which may be set in the Hebrides (and indeed some scenes were filmed in Plockton, where we were last week) but was mostly filmed in Kirkcudbright and the surrounding area.

The Dee and Glenkens ward was created by boundary changes in 2017; it was the successor to the former Dee ward, which was the southern end of this ward based around Kirkcudbright and Gatehouse of Fleet; the name comes from the river on which Kirkcudbright stands. Last year’s changes year brought in the Glenkens area, a large expanse based on the village of New Galloway which before the 1975 reform was Scotland’s smallest Royal Burgh.

Following the Conservative wipeout of 1997 Galloway was the first part of Scotland to see a revival for them: the Tories recovered the constituency based on Galloway in 2001, but boundary changes in 2005 (which brought in the town of Dumfries) then knocked them out here. The Dumfries and Galloway constituency voted Labour in 2005 apparently thanks to a large tactical vote by SNP supporters; this unwound in 2015 when the SNP gained the seat, but the Tories did finally break through in 2017 when Dumfries and Galloway was one of the Scottish Tory gains which kept the Conservatives in office. The Scottish Parliament constituency based on Galloway – currently called Galloway and West Dumfries – is better territory for the Conservatives who have held it since 2003.

Kirkcudbrightshire tends to be the most Tory part of Gallwoay, and when Dee ward was created in 2007 they tried for two out of three seats. It didn’t come off: although Gilroy was re-elected for a third term, so was outgoing independent councillor Jane Maitland and there were enough SNP votes for them to win the final seat. The Nationalists were however knocked out in 2012 by independent candidate Colin Wyper, who wyped the floor with the opposition: he topped the poll and was elected on the first count.

For the May 2017 election on the new lines Wyper retired, apparently with a severe case of disillusionment, resulting in more major vote changes. Patsy Gilroy polled 33% for the Tories and was easily re-elected on the first count; the SNP polled 20% and went on to win the second seat, and independent councillor Jane Maitland was re-elected thanks to Conservative transfers: she had started fourth on 14% but overtook another independent, Douglas Swan, who had 16%. Scottish by-election blogger Allan Faulds has examined the preference profile, finding that if the 2017 election had been for one seat Gilroy would have beaten the SNP very easily. However, this may be a red herring because examination of the candidate list shows that Colin Wyper is back on the scene, and if he can recover the support he had in 2012 Wyper could be a major contender for this by-election.

Defending for the Conservatives is Pauline Drysdale, who is a partner in a family catering firm as well as being an active charity fundraiser. The Scottish National Party candidate is Glen Murray who has had a varied career, from being a manager at a multinational publishing company to serving on the Kirkcudbright lifeboat crew. A gain for Murray will be a gain for the administration on Dumfries and Galloway council, which is a coalition of the SNP and Labour. As stated, Colin Wyper is back on the scene: a caravan park manager, he is running very much on an anti-administration ticket. A quick reminder that Votes at 16 and the Alternative Vote apply here, so if those candidates are the top three the transfers from whoever finishes third could be crucial. Completing the ballot paper are Laura Moodie for the Green Party and Jennifer Blue for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Dumfries and Galloway
Scottish Parliament constituency: Galloway and West Dumfries
Postcode districts: DG3, DG6, DG7

Jennifer Blue (UKIP)
Pauline Drysdale (C)
Laura Moodie (Grn)
Glen Murray (SNP)
Colin Wyper (Ind)

May 2017 result C 1547 SNP 904 Ind 732 Ind 664 Grn 292 Lab 217 Ind 120 LD 85 Ind 61