Previews: 12 Sep 2019

Five by-elections on 12th September 2019, with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats defending two seats each and one independent defence:


St Mark’s

Rushmoor council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Alain Dekker who had served only since May this year. Dekker’s partner is being relocated to Germany by her employer.

For our by-election this week we come to a local government district which is guaranteed to score you quiz points. The 1970s reorganisation of local government created a district covering the towns of Aldershot and Farnborough in the north-east corner of Hampshire. The local politicians have never been able to agree whether to call this council “Aldershot and Farnborough” or “Farnborough and Aldershot”, and so the neutral name “Rushmoor” was adopted.

This rather curious name refers to the open-air Rushmoor Arena, which was built by the Army in 1923 to accommodate the annual Aldershot Tattoo. This Tattoo was a major event in the first half of the twentieth century, with up to half a million attendees per year, but stopped for the Second World War and was never revived afterwards. The location is appropriate: Aldershot has been the home of the British Army since the middle of the nineteenth century, and its garrison essentially fills the space between Aldershot and Farnborough. That garrison is divided into two parts by the Basingstoke Canal, and St Mark’s ward covers the northern half – the so-called North Camp. The Army presence can be seen in the ward’s 2011 census return, which had very high levels of full-time employment and a score in the top 60 wards in England and Wales for Buddhism. Gurkhas, in other words. North Camp railway station, just over the county boundary on the Reading-Guildford line, serves the ward.

If Aldershot is synonymous with the Army, Farnborough is synonymous with aviation. Most of the western half of St Mark’s ward’s acreage is taken up by the runways, apron and buildings of Farnborough Airport. This was the site of the first powered flight in Britain, made on 5 October 1908 by the former Wild West showman Samuel Cody (no relation to Bufallo Bill), who settled in Britain and was buried in Aldershot after his death in a flying accident five years later. Cody has a statue and a business park in this ward named after him. He would probably have been delighted that Farnborough Airport was used by the RAF for experimental aircraft for many years. One spinoff of that is the Farnborough Airshow, held here every even-numbered year, at which the latest civilian and military aircraft are demonstrated. The Air Accident Investigation Branch is just one of the many aviation-related industries which can be found in Farnborough.

To the east of the airport and the north of the military camp can be found St Mark’s ward’s permanent population at the southern end of Farnborough. This was a Conservative ward up until the middle of this decade but was also the only Rushmoor ward where the Liberal Democrats had some strength – they had won here on several occasions in the Noughties. The Lib Dems were, however, wiped out in 2012 following minor boundary changes, and it took until 2018 for them to break through again, their candidate Abul Koher Chowdhury winning at the fifth attempt with a majority of 33 votes.

In May 2019 the Liberal Democrats increased their lead to 65 votes and gained a second seat from the Conservatives, bringing them up to group status on Rushmoor council; shares of the vote were 38% for the Lib Dems, 34% for the Conservatives and 16% for Labour. The other 13% of the vote went to the British Union and Sovereignty Party, yet another anti-EU outfit which doesn’t run very many candidates but tends to get decentish scores when it does stand. They are however not standing in this by-election, which may give the Conservatives some hope that they can pick up extra votes as a result. The Tories still hold one of St Mark’s three council seats and are safe in the local county council seat (Farnborough South).

Defending this marginal seat for the Liberal Democrats is Thomas Mitchell, a former retained firefighter who works in the optics industry; he fought Wellington ward (which covers the other half of the Aldershot military base) in May. The Tories have selected Leon Hargreaves who according to his Twitter is a 24-year-old IT manager. Returning for his sixth attempt at the ward is Carl Hewitt, who stood here as a Green in 2014 and 2015 and as an independent in 2016 but since 2018 has had the Labour nomination; he completes a three-strong ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Aldershot
Hampshire county council division: Farnborough South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Guildford and Aldershot
Postcode districts: GU11, GU14

Leon Hargreaves (C)
Carl Hewitt (Lab)
Thomas Mitchell (LD)

May 2019 result LD 556 C 491 Lab 226 British Union and Sovereignty Party 184
May 2018 result LD 577 C 544 Lab 301 British Union and Sovereignty Party 57
May 2016 result C 611 LD 439 Lab 219 UKIP 178 Grn 70 Ind 43
May 2015 result C 1619 LD 663 Lab 536 Grn 404
May 2014 result C 549 LD 426 Grn 292 Lab 242 Christian Party 58
May 2012 result C 720/597/562 LD 483/472/371 Lab 249/220/214 Christian Party 93


Bishop’s Castle

Shropshire council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Jonathan Keeley who had served since winning a by-election in September 2016.

Farnborough is the only large town on the menu this week and all the remaining four by-elections are in wards based on villages or small towns in the Midlands. One of those small towns is Bishop’s Castle in the beautiful Welsh Marches. The Marches specialise in tiny market towns, and despite its small population (the parish’s electorate is 1,428 according to the Notice of Poll) Bishop’s Castle was until the 1960s a full-blown borough with a mayor and all the trimmings.

“The Castle” – whose local pronunciation is rather difficult to reconcile with the English alphabet – is the largest settlement in a far-flung ward of eleven other parishes next to the Montgomeryshire border, of which the largest is Lydney North and the other ten are all tiny agricultural villages with under 200 electors. Within the boundary is part of that strange upland plateau, the Long Mynd.

Rather like neighbouring Montgomeryshire (or Montgomeryshire as it was before Lembit Öpik got his hands on it) this is an area which responded well to old-school Liberalism. On the old South Shropshire council Bishop’s Castle was represented for many years by Peter Phillips, who was in that old-school Liberal vein and was rather narrowly elected in 2009 as the division’s first representative on the reorganised Shropshire council. Phillips resigned in 2011 and the resulting by-election was easily held for the Lib Dems by Charlotte Barnes. Barnes resigned in 2016 and the resulting by-election (see Andrew’s Previews 2016, page 191) was easily held for the Lib Dems by Jonny Keeley. Keeley increased the Lib Dem majority further to 74-21 over the Conservatives at the 2017 Shropshire council election.

Jonny Keeley’s resignation means that the Lib Dems are defending Bishop’s Castle in a by-election for the third time this decade. They have selected Ruth Houghton, a Bishop’s Castle town councillor and former Shropshire Council officer. The Tory candidate is Edward Thompson. Completing a three-strong ballot paper is Andy Stelman for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Ludlow
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ludlow
Postcode districts: SY5, SY6, SY7, SY9, SY15

Ruth Houghton (LD)
Andy Stelman (Lab)
Edward Thompson (C)

May 2017 result LD 960 C 273 Grn 71
15 September 2016 by-election LD 862 C 430 Lab 95 Grn 37
May 2013 result LD 907 C 449 Grn 107
Sept 2011 by-election LD 801 C 544 Lab 80 Grn 74
June 2009 result LD 754 C 641 Grn 186


Finedon

Wellingborough council, Northamptonshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Barbara Bailey who had served since winning a by-election in September 2016.

Our two Tory defences of the week are both in that disaster area of modern local government, Northamptonshire, and in both cases are to replace councillors who have been elected in by-elections since the last Northamptonshire district elections in May 2015. The 2019 district polls in Northants were cancelled pending a reorganisation which has now suffered some delays; ostensibly the winners of these by-elections will serve until May 2020, but that might end up getting extended if the government can get its act together sufficiently to get the necessary legislation drafted.

Like Jonny Keeley in Bishop’s Castle, Barbara Bailey was elected at a by-election in September 2016 (Andrew’s Previews 2016, page 212). Her ward was Finedon, which was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 under the name of Thingdon as one of four towns in Northamptonshire with a population greater than 50. Despite that, the village never achieved greatness although it has a decent-sized population and a good location on a major road junction: the A6 Kettering-Bedford and A510 Wellingborough-Thrapston roads meet here, a few miles to the north-east of Wellingborough. The ward has a fine parish church with a rather surprising incumbent: the multi-talented Radio 4 broadcaster, Communards singer, Strictly Come Dancing contestant and priest Richard Coles tends his flock here.

Coles wasn’t the only Finedon resident to appear in a TV game show. John Bailey had captained Selwyn College, Cambridge on one of the early series of University Challenge before embarking on a 49-year career as councillor for Finedon, being first elected to the old Wellingborough urban district council in 1967. Bailey held all the major local government positions – leader of Wellingborough council for six years, twice Mayor of Wellingborough, chairman of Northamptonshire county council – and was appointed MBE for his public service, somehow juggling this with a career in economics, statistics, business analysis and database administration and with writing several books on the history of Finedon.

John Bailey had a safe seat in Finedon: at his last re-election in 2015 he had a big personal vote, giving 47% to the Conservative slate against 27% for Labour and 26% for UKIP. Upon his death the following year his widow Barbara took his seat over, winning the by-election in September 2016 with a margin of 62-19 over Labour. In May 2017 the Conservatives easily held the Finedon division of Northamptonshire county council, while a month later arch-Brexiteer Peter Bone was safely re-elected as MP for the local seat of Wellingborough.

Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Finedon town councillor Andrew Weatherill. The Labour candidate is Isobel Stevenson, a former Irthlingborough town councillor. The Lib Dems have selected Chris Nelson and Marion Turner-Hawes stands for the Green Party; however, Weatherill’s biggest challenge may well come from the chairman of Finedon town council Laurence Harper, who is standing as an independent candidate.

And a Thought for the Day to leave this preview on. As can be seen from the map at the top of this section Finedon is next door to Irthlingborough which this column discussed last month. I am not proud of the mistakes which led me to reissue that Irthlingborough preview, but they did stick in my mind – and that controversy helped me to get the question on Dr Martens which came up in the British Quizzing Championships last Saturday. Yet another demonstration that the best way to get stuff right is often to get things wrong and learn from your mistakes, and that applies to real life just as much as it does to quiz. As the vicar of Finedon may reflect from his time on Strictly, ridicule is nothing to be scared of.

Parliamentary constituency: Wellingborough
Northamptonshire county council division: Finedon
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kettering and Wellingborough
Postcode districts: NN8, NN9

Laurence Harper (Ind)
Chris Nelson (LD)
Isobel Stevenson (Lab)
Marion Turner-Hawes (Grn)
Andrew Weatherill (C)

September 2016 by-election C 758 Lab 235 UKIP 137 LD 86
May 2015 result C 1250/944 Lab 720 UKIP 698
May 2011 result C 935/847 Lab 612
May 2007 result C 909/720 Lab 539
May 2003 result C 768/652 Lab 527/407


Middleton Cheney

South Northamptonshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Jonathan Riley who had served since winning a by-election in April 2018.

For our second Northamptonshire by-election of the week we travel to Middleton Cheney, a large village at the western end of Northamptonshire within the economic orbit not of Northampton but of Banbury, which is just over the county boundary in Oxfordshire. It is perhaps best known for being the birthplace of Vice-Admiral Lancelot Holland, commander of HMS Hood when it was sunk by the Bismarck.

The ward named after the village, which also includes the neighbouring parish of Warkworth, has unchanged boundaries since at least 1976. During the twentieth century there was a significant Labour vote here, perhaps reflecting the transformation of nearby Banbury by London overspill; Labour and the Conservatives split the ward’s two seats at every election from 1976 to 1987. In 1991 Labour stood down and the ward returned an independent and a Conservative unopposed. Labour convincingly took both seats in 1995, but lost one to the Conservatives in a by-election on general election day in 2001 and the other to an independent candidate in 2003.

After that Labour stopped standing in Middleton Cheney, which resulted in a lack of contested elections. The independent and Conservative councillors were re-elected unopposed in 2007; in 2011 the independent councillor retired and his seat was gained by the Conservatives, again unopposed. One of the Conservative councillors sought re-election in 2015 as an independent, giving a contested election which he lost 64-36.

In the 2017 Northamptonshire county elections the Conservatives made the Middleton Cheney division safe after being run close by UKIP in 2013. A month later failed Tory leadership candidate and environment secretary Andrea Leadsom was safely re-elected as MP for the local seat of South Northamptonshire; following the election she was reshuffled to Leader of the Commons, and at the time of writing she serves in the Johnson cabinet as business secretary.

Conservative councillor Judith Baxter resigned last year, and party politics broke out at the resulting Middleton Cheney by-election (Andrew’s Previews 2018, page 137). By this point the insolvency of Northamptonshire county council had become apparent, and that issue combined with what has become a feature of several local by-elections in the south Midlands in recent years: poor Conservative performances in by-elections along the proposed High Speed 2 route. The Tories did hold the 2018 Middleton Cheney by-election, but their vote fell to 42%; the Liberal Democrats fought the ward for the first time and finished a close second on 34%, and Labour returned with a third-place finish on 20%.

The winner of last year’s by-election, Jonathan Riley, has now resigned in his turn provoking another by-election. Defending this one for the Conservatives is Alison Eastwood, who gives an address outside the ward in the village of Moreton Pinkney. The Lib Dems have reselected their candidate from last year’s by-election Mark Allen, who is a computer programmer and Middleton Cheney parish councillor. Labour have changed candidate to Arthur Greaves, a retired IT consultant and former Luton councillor (Limbury ward, 1996-99). Completing the ballot paper, and returning from last year’s by-election, is Adam Sear of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: South Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire county council division: Middleton Cheney
ONS Travel to Work Area: Banbury
Postcode district: OX17

Mark Allen (LD)
Alison Eastwood (C)
Arthur Greaves (Lab)
Adam Sear (Grn)

April 2018 by-election C 391 LD 316 Lab 183 Grn 38
May 2015 result C 1527/1151 Ind 868
May 2011 result 2 C unopposed
May 2007 result C/Ind unopposed
May 2003 result Ind 457 C 435/393 Lab 305
June 2001 by-election C 981 Lab 845
May 1999 result Lab 653/457 C 422/348
May 1995 result Lab 896/737 C 398/395
May 1991 result Ind/C unopposed
May 1987 result C 824 Lab 701/292
May 1983 result C 767/657 Lab 690
May 1979 result C 930/617 Lab 799/421 Ind 765
May 1976 result Lab 691/621 C 688/546


Ryhall and Casterton

Rutland council; caused by the disqualification of independent councillor Chris Parsons, who did not sign his declaration of acceptance of office following May’s election. He had served since 1995, originally being elected to the old Rutland district council.

Our final by-election of the week is a wildcard. We travel to Rutland, whose claim to being England’s smallest county does rather depend on your definition of those troublesome words “smallest” and “county”, but the Rutland local government district certainly has a very low population.

The Ryhall and Casterton ward covers five parishes to the north of Stamford. In the centre of the ward is Ryhall, one of Rutland’s largest villages with 1,337 electors according to the notice of poll; to the west lies Great Casterton on the Great North Road, while the ward’s eastern parish is Essendine on the East Coast Main Line. Despite its presence in Rutland Great Casterton is associated with the Northamptonshire peasant poet John Clare, who was married in its impressive parish church in 1820; and the village is also the location of one of Rutland’s three secondary schools. The railway through Essendine was the location of a world record on 3 July 1938, when Mallard was recorded at a speed of 126 miles per hour just north of the village – still a record speed for a steam locomotive.

Rutland is a politically sleepy area. Chris Parsons had represented Ryhall and Casterton since the ward was created in 2003 (he had previously been councillor for the single-member Ryhall ward), on each occasion with a Conservative holding the ward’s other seat. Parsons was usually elected as an independent, although in 2011 he had the Conservative nomination. The May 2019 election here was uncontested; the most recent poll on these boundaries was in 2015 when the Conservative slate won one seat with 54% and Parsons won the other with 46%.

With no defending independent candidate and the unusual sight of party politics breaking out, this by-election is a free-for-all! The Conservatives hold the other seat in Ryhall and Casterton ward, and they have selected Richard Coleman who is a former Essendine parish councillor and served in the Army for 22 years; he now works with RAF service personnel. The Green Party have selected Steve Fay, and the wonderfully-named Beverley Wrigley-Pheasant completes the ballot paper for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Rutland and Melton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough
Postcode district: PE9

Richard Coleman (C)
Steve Fay (Grn)
Beverley Wrigley-Pheasant (LD)

May 2019 result C/Ind unopposed
May 2015 result C 868/703 Ind 739
May 2011 result C 592/524 Ind 509
May 2007 result C/Ind unopposed
Nov 2005 by-election C unopposed
May 2003 result Ind 493/272 C 370