Previews: 26 Sep 2019

We have five local by-elections on 26th September 2019. In contrast to last week’s interesting geographical spread, all of this week’s polls are in towns to the south of the Severn-Wash line – but with three Tory defences, a Labour seat, a free-for-all and a number of marginal parliamentary seats on the bill there is plenty to chew over. My apologies for the lack of graphics this week which was due to a lack of time in putting this piece together, but hopefully the text will be as informative as usual. Read on…


Three Bridges

West Sussex county council; and

Tilgate

Crawley council, West Sussex; both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Charles Petts.

We start south of London in the New Town of Crawley for our first two by-elections: one to the borough council and one to West Sussex county council. The two cover different areas.

Three Bridges (the bridges referred to cross local streams which flow into the River Mole) lies in the east of Crawley. Since the 1840s this has been an important railway junction: the Brighton Line runs arrow-straight from north to south, while a branch line to Crawley, Horsham and Portsmouth curves off to the west and another branch used to go east to East Grinstead. This is still an important railway centre: the main signalling centre for the Brighton Line and the Thameslink routes is here, and Thameslink have a large depot at Three Bridges where their shiny new trains are maintained.

Tilgate, on the other hand, is an area in the south of Crawley. The name goes back to tax records of the 13th and 14th centuries regarding land owned by William de Yllegate in Worth Forest. After some industrial use in the Weald iron industry (there was a blast furnace here in the seventeenth century) the woodland became a country estate, ending up in the hands of a London banking family. Tilgate Park (as the area had become known) was sold in 1939, and after a series of uses (from accommodating Canadian soldiers prior to D-Day to the flotation trials of Donald Campbell’s boat Bluebird) ended up in the hands of Crawley council, which has turned it into a public park.

Both of these areas were transformed after the Second World War with the development of Crawley as a New Town. Tilgate became home to the Thomas Bennett school, named after the chairman of Crawley Urban Development Corporation; this was one of England’s first comprehensive schools and at one point in the late 1960s claimed to be the largest secondary school in England. One of its many pupils at that time was Dawn Primarolo, who later served for 28 years as a Labour MP for Bristol: Baroness Primarolo, as she now is, served as a Treasury minister throughout the Blair administration, was a junior minister under Gordon Brown and then a Deputy Speaker of the Commons during the Coalition years.

Three Bridges developed a little earlier than Tilgate (early rather than late 1950s), and its secondary school – the Hazlewick School – opened in 1952. This school also gave us two Labour parliamentarians: Laura Moffatt, who was MP for Crawley from 1997 to 2010; and Alex Mayer, a Member of the European Parliament for the Eastern region from 2016 until losing her seat in 2019. Gareth Southgate, manager of the England men’s football team, is also a Hazlewick School former pupil, while the school’s former maths teacher Mr Ranganathan has recently forged a new career in comedy and TV presenting. Three Bridges is a slightly more upmarket area than Tilgate, with its easy connections to central London, Crawley town centre and Gatwick airport resulting in high employment levels.

Tilgate ward’s boundaries are almost unchanged since 1983 when Crawley council’s boundaries were expanded, but a review cut the ward from three seats to two in 2004 as the population hadn’t grown as strongly as in other areas of Crawley. This coincided with the Conservatives starting to become competitive in what had previously been a safe Labour ward; the Tories broke through in 2007 and gained the second Labour seat in 2008. Labour got one seat back at a by-election in October 2010 and held it up to May this year, when Crawley got a new ward map; although there were no changes to Tilgate ward, that meant both seats in the ward were up for re-election. The Conservatives beat Labour here in May by 47-36, but much of that Tory lead was down to a personal vote for re-elected councillor Francis Guidera. Charles Petts defeated the lead Labour candidate, Kiran Khan, by just five votes for the second seat. There is an interesting situation here on the county council, where the local division (Tilgate and Furnace Green) is safely Conservative; its county councillor is Duncan Crow who also leads the party’s group on Crawley council.

The Three Bridges county division dates only from May 2017, mostly having been created from the Northgate and Three Bridges division which had existed from 2009 to 2017. That area voted Labour in 2013, but the 2017 boundaries removed the Labour-voting Northgate ward and added part of a strongly Conservative ward (Pound Hill South and Worth) and that almost certainly tipped the balance in the Tories’ favour. Shares of the vote in 2017 were 45% for the Conservatives and 40% for Labour. Most of the district is covered by the Three Bridges ward of Crawley council, which turned in a similar result in May this year.

This by-election won’t have any serious effect on West Sussex county council which has a large Conservative majority. Crawley, however, is on a political knife-edge. Labour overcame adverse ward boundary changes to successfully defend their overall majority on Crawley council in the 2019 election, which resulted in 19 seats for Labour and 17 for the Conservatives. The district has the same boundaries as the Crawley parliamentary constituency, whose first MP in 1983 was noted Tory rebel Sir Nicholas Soames; at the next general election (whenever it happens) Crawley’s current Conservative MP Henry Smith will defend a majority over Labour of 4.9%.

So it’s marginals time. Defending the county seat of Three Bridges for the Conservatives is Brenda Burgess, a Crawley councillor for Three Bridges ward. Labour have selected Amanda Malik who also stood in that ward in May. Also standing are David Anderson for the Liberal Democrats, Danielle Kail for the Green Party and frequent Crawley election candidate Arshad Khan for his own Justice Party.

For the Tilgate by-election both the Tories and Labour have selected ethnic minority candidates – not something you see very often in a shire county. Defending for the Tories is Maureen Mwagale, who founded and runs a charity providing help to women in her native Uganda. The Labour candidate is Kiran Khan, a self-declared Momentumite, she was the runner-up in this ward in May. Also standing are Derek Hardman for the Green Party, Arshad Khan (again) who will be hoping to improve on the six votes he polled here in the 2010 by-election, and the Lib Dems’ Angharad Old.

Three Bridge

Parliamentary constituency: Crawley
Crawley council wards: Three Bridges (part); Pound Hill South and Worth (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crawley
Postcode districts: RH10, RH11

David Anderson (LD)
Brenda Burgess (C)
Danielle Keil (Grn)
Arshad Khan (Justice Party)
Amanda Malik (Lab)

May 2017 result C 1303 Lab 1157 LD 164 UKIP 155 Grn 119

Tilgate

Parliamentary constituency: Crawley
West Sussex county council division: Tilgate and Furnace Green
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crawley
Postcode districts: RH10, RH11

Derek Hardman (Grn)
Arshad Khan (Justice Party)
Kiran Khan (Lab)
Maureen Mwagale (C)
Angharad Old (LD)

May 2019 result C 803/651 Lab 646/631 Grn 259
May 2016 result Lab 749 C 645 UKIP 244 Grn 50 LD 40
May 2015 result C 1362 Lab 1166 Grn 186 LD 166
May 2012 result Lab 878 C 482 Grn 119
May 2011 result C 921 Lab 837 Grn 142
October 2010 by-election Lab 764 C 656 UKIP 79 Justice Party 6
May 2008 result C 725 Lab 627 BNP 274
May 2007 result C 904 Lab 549 BNP 213 LD 123 Grn 50
June 2004 result Lab 748/745 C 661/645


Sweyne Park and Grange

Rochford council, Essex; caused by the resignation of Rochford District Residents councillor Toby Mountain.

For our free-for-all this week we travel to southern Essex. This is an area of towns which are now starting to run into each other thanks to rampant development of housing estates, and it can be difficult to determine where one town ends and the next begins. Such is the fate of Rayleigh, an old market town to the north-west of Southend-on-Sea and the largest town in the Rochford local government district. Sweyne Park and Grange is Rayleigh’s western ward, running along London Road from the town’s railway station (on the Shenfield-Southend line). This ward has existed since 2016 as a merger of two previous wards, both of which were in the top 80 in England and Wales for the ONS “intermediate” employment classification. It doesn’t include Sweyne Park itself but does cover the school of that name; the Sweyne element refers to Sweyne of Essex, who is recorded in the Domesday Book as being the owner of Rayleigh Castle. (The castle no longer exists; it had become derelict by the fourteenth century and its stones ended up in other buildings in the town.)

As well as a local government district, Rayleigh anchors a parliamentary constituency which since 2001 has been represented by prominent European Research Grouper Mark Francois. In the selection contest for the Tory nomination in the 2001 general election Francois beat somebody called Boris Johnson – anyone know what happened to him? Answers on a postcard please to the usual address. Rochford council is strongly Conservative but Sweyne Park and Grange is not one of the Tories’ better wards: its first election in May 2016 saw the ward’s three seats split three ways. Top of the poll on 32.5% was Toby Mountain of the Rochford District Residents; second on 30% was the lead Tory candidate June Lumley, and winning the third seat on 23% was James Newport of the Liberal Democrats. Newport lost his seat to the Tories in 2018, and Lumley was re-elected in May 2019; shares of the vote were 49% for the Conservatives and 38% for the Liberal Democrats. June Lumley is also the ward’s Tory county councillor, having easily gained the Rayleigh South division from UKIP in the 2017 county elections.

The Rochford District Residents are not defending this by-election so we have an open seat. The Tories will be hoping to gain a clean swap in this ward with their candidate Danielle Belton. The Lib Dems have reselected Lisa Newport who stood here in May, and an all-female ballot paper is completed by Jill Waight for the Green Party. Whoever wins this by-election is likely to be back on the campaign trail in short order, as they will be due for re-election in May 2020.

Parliamentary constituency: Rayleigh and Wickford
Essex county council division: Rayleigh South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southend
Postcode district: SS6

Danielle Belton (C)
Lisa Newport (LD)
Jill Waight (Grn)

May 2019 result C 702 LD 538 Lab 180
May 2018 result C 784 LD 622 Lab 200
May 2016 result Rochford District Residents 847 C 785/514/464 LD 599 Lab 375


Alexandra

Ipswich council, Suffolk; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Adam Leeder who had served since 2012.

Our Labour defence of the week falls in Ipswich, the largest town and major urban centre of Suffolk. Like many towns, Ipswich goes back a long way: it claims to the oldest town established and developed by the English, having started to coalesce in the seventh or eighth centuries as a major port for the Kingdom of East Anglia. The old town was on the waterfront at the head of the Orwell estuary, and all the major North Sea traders had a presence here. In the eighth century, Frisians set up England’s first large-scale pottery industry in Ipswich, while in later times exports included Suffolk cloth and people heading for the Massachusetts Bay colony. The shrine of Our Lady of Ipswich drew pilgrims from the twelfth century until its destruction in the Reformation, although various legends suggest that the statue of the Madonna and Child from the shrine survives and is now in Nettuno on the west coast of Italy.

All of these things can or could be found in Alexandra ward, which covers the town centre and the waterfront area of Ipswich. The name refers to Alexandra Park, which was opened in 1904 and named after the Queen. The town centre remains the major shopping and business district for eastern Suffolk, while the waterfront has been very shinily regenerated in recent years. Some of its new buildings are home to the University of Suffolk, one of the UK’s newest higher education institutions.

Ipswich is a marginal parliamentary seat which Labour gained from the Conservatives in 2017, but the borough council (which covers a rather larger area) has a strong Labour majority. Included in that majority is Alexandra ward, which was Lib Dem until the advent of Coalition but is now strongly in the Labour column. In May Labour had 55% of the vote here, against 19% for the Conservatives and 17% for the Green Party. The ward is split between three divisions of Suffolk county council, all of which are safe Labour.

Defending for Labour, and in the unusual position for an R of top of the ballot paper, is Adam Rae who is hoping to join his wife Jane Riley (last year’s Mayor of Ipswich, and re-elected in May) as a councillor for this ward. Standing for the Conservatives is Lee Reynolds, a former Ipswich councillor who lost his seat in May in a ward with stronger Tory support. The Green Party have reselected Tom Wilmot who was third in May’s election. Completing an all-male ballot paper is Henry Williams for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Ipswich
Suffolk county council division: Bridge (western part), St Helen’s (central part), St John’s (part east of Felixstowe railway line)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ipswich
Postcode districts: IP1, IP2, IP3, IP4, IP5, IP6, IP8, IP9

Adam Rae (Lab)
Lee Reynolds (C)
Henry Williams (LD)
Tom Wilmot (Grn)

May 2019 result Lab 1034 C 379 Grn 341 LD 172
May 2018 result Lab 1245 C 499 Grn 190 LD 147
May 2016 result Lab 1019 C 478 Grn 219 LD 177
May 2015 result Lab 1805 C 1327 Grn 534 LD 311
May 2014 double vacancy Lab 935/917 UKIP 444 C 400/331 Grn 390 LD 215/180
May 2013 by-election Lab 772 UKIP 279 C 274 Grn 193 LD 126 [Labour gain from LD]
May 2012 result Lab 1005 LD 349 C 311 Grn 197
May 2011 result Lab 1158 LD 577 C 449 Grn 155
May 2010 double vacancy LD 1293/1271 Lab 1150/1084 C 899/828
May 2008 result LD 681 Lab 508 C 408 Grn 211
May 2007 result LD 756 Lab 531 C 377 Grn 188
May 2006 result LD 734 Lab 603 C 413 Grn 213
June 2004 result LD 802 Lab 661 C 483
May 2003 result LD 807 Lab 649 C 321 Grn 106
May 2002 result Lab 794/720/672 LD 687/675/651 C 355/328/316


Icknield

Luton council, Bedfordshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Mike Garrett at the age of 76. Garrett was a veteran of local government who was first elected in 1976 with a break in service from 1995 to 2003; he was Mayor of Luton in 1982-83 and for many years was leader of the town’s Conservative group.

We finish for the week in one of the most unfashionable towns in the south of England. Luton isn’t as old as Ipswich but does lie on one of the major prehistoric routes through the country: the Icknield Way, which in days gone by connected Norwich to Wiltshire. Luton’s Icknield ward lies on the Icknield Way, in the north of the town covering the Warden Hill area, and its major features these days are the Icknield High School and the A6 road which runs north towards Bedford.

Although Icknield makes the top 20 wards in England and Wales for those born in the Republic of Ireland, it’s one of the parts of Luton which has been least affected by immigration over the years. It’s also one of Luton’s least deprived wards according the 2015 indices of multiple deprivation. The 2019 indices come out today, replacing the 2015 version; but unfortunately there wasn’t time to incorporate them in these previews before my filing deadline. Maybe next week.

This demographic has made Icknield atypical in Luton in being a safe Conservative ward. Until May 2019, that is: earlier this year the Tories had their worst tally of this century, and an adverse 7% swing saw Labour close the gap to 42-40 and suddenly make Icknield a marginal ward. This despite all sorts of problems for Labour at the parliamentary level: the Labour MP for Luton North, Kelvin Hopkins, had a safe seat but has been suspended from the party for nearly two years over sexual misconduct allegations.

Long-serving magistrate John Baker has the task of trying to defend this marginal ward for the Conservatives; he is the chairman of the Luton branch of the party, but lost his Luton council seat in Round Green ward in May 2019 after serving one term. Labour have reselected Asif Masood, who was runner-up here in May 16 votes behind Mike Garrett’s running-mate; Masood is the only candidate to give an address in the ward. Also standing are Steve Moore for the Lib Dems and the ward’s first Green candidate this century, Marc Scheimann.

Parliamentary constituency: Luton North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton
Postcode districts: LU2, LU3

John Baker (C)
Asif Masood (Lab)
Steve Moore (LD)
Marc Scheimann (Grn)

May 2019 result C 822/803 Lab 787/663 LD 251/221
May 2015 result C 1854/1761 Lab 1289/969 LD 389/300
May 2011 result C 1325/1226 Lab 930/856 LD 245/172
May 2007 result C 1383/1328 Lab 437/267 LD 385/332
May 2003 result C 977/948 Lab 461/449 LD 240/226