Preview: 22 Aug 2019

One by-election on 22nd August 2019:

Rokeby and Overslade

Rugby council, Warwickshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Nick Long who had only served since May 2019.

A game for ruffians played by gentlemen, so the saying goes. Not politics, but rugby. The World Cup in rugby union is due to start next month in Japan, and the winning team will pick up a handsome gold trophy bearing the name of one William Webb Ellis. Webb Ellis, so it is said, invented that game while a pupil at Rugby School, by picking the ball up during a game of football and running with it. This story may or may not be true, but the town certainly milks its association with the sport for all it’s worth: Rugby council’s (rather ugly) logo is a stylised rugby ball, and there is a large sculpture of a rugby ball greeting visitors at the exit from Rugby station.

It was the station, not the school, which was responsible for the town’s growth. This was once a sleepy rural market town whose name was attested in 1200 as Rokebi. Half a century before that Henry de Rokeby, the lord of the manor, had persuaded Henry II to give the town a market charter. The name Rokeby is preserved today in a local primary school, which gives its name to part of this ward. In this context, Rokeby has nothing to do with the Walter Scott poem of that name or the title of the Velazquez painting Rokeby Venus: both of those names refer to a stately home in what’s now County Durham.

The railways came here in 1838 with the opening of the London and Birmingham Railway, and this small rural market town quickly developed into Britain’s most important railway junction. That led to all sorts of infrastructure problems: the town’s sanitation and water supply initially couldn’t keep up with the population growth, and in 1849 Rugby became the first English town to set up a Local Board of Health in an attempt to sort these issues out.

Rugby’s population growth continued in the early 20th century as it became a centre for heavy engineering. Many of those new arrivals settled in the south of the town in the Overslade area, to the south of Rugby School off the Dunchurch Road, which started developing at around this time. At the time of the 2011 census this area was covered by the Overslade ward of Rugby council, and one corner of it turned up with a significant Polish-born population.

Overslade ward was safely Conservative although Labour came close to winning a couple of times; however, 2011 was the last year it held an election. In 2012 the Boundary Commission merged Overslade ward with housing on the east side of Dunchurch Road, which had previously formed the major part of Caldecott ward. Caldecott had been a Liberal Democrat area, and this clash of political traditions made the 2012 election for the merged “Rokeby and Overslade” ward rather unpredictable. In the event Labour came through the middle to top the poll in 2012, winning one out of three seats with the Conservatives winning the other two seats and the Lib Dems close behind.

Rokeby and Overslade, however, then developed very quickly into a safe Liberal Democrat ward. The Lib Dems gained the Conservative seats in 2014 and 2015 and completed the set by gaining the Labour seat in 2016. In May this year Nick Long was elected with 63% of the vote, to 18% for Labour who finished two votes ahead of the Conservatives.

The Lib Dems, however, are nowhere here at Warwickshire county council level, where this ward is split between two divisions. New Bilton and Overslade county division, which covers the northern part of this ward, takes its cue from the strongly-Labour New Bilton area and is Labour-held. The south of the ward, on the other hand, is in the Bilton and Hillside county division which is strongly Conservative.

So this may be a more difficult Lib Dem defence than it looks at first sight, particularly given that the by-election is caused by a councillor resigning just a matter of weeks after he was elected. Their defending candidate is Glenda Allanach, a retired mental health practitioner and former Rugby councillor (Paddox ward, 2000-05). Labour have reselected Beck Hemsley who fought the ward in May; Hemsley, who identifies as non-binary, was also a candidate for Rugby council in 2018 (in a different ward) and drew an apology from Rugby Conservatives over a tweet during that campaign which was seen as transphobic. Also standing are Deborah Keeling for the Conservatives, Richard Hartland who is only the third local government candidate for the Brexit Party, and Becca Stevenson for the Greens.

Parliamentary constituency: Rugby
Warwickshire county council division: Bilton and Hillside (part), New Bilton and Overslade (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Coventry
Postcode district: CV22

Glenda Allanach (LD)
Richard Hartland (Brexit Party)
Beck Hemsley (Lab)
Deborah Keeling (C)
Becca Stevenson (Grn)

May 2019 result LD 1276 Lab 373 C 371
May 2018 result LD 1265 C 552 Lab 512 Grn 80
May 2016 result LD 1196 C 527 Lab 471 Grn 88 TUSC 48
May 2015 result LD 1462 C 1323 Lab 935 Grn 247
May 2014 result LD 1151 C 697 Lab 540 Grn 138 TUSC 71
May 2012 result Lab 615/564/496 C 613/612/557 LD 504/491/372 Grn 205 TUSC 125