Previews: 10 Oct 2019

Correction Corner

Before I start this week, there were a large number of mistakes in last week’s column which need owning up to. First and foremost I would to like apologise unreservedly on behalf of myself and Britain Elects for wrongly writing that the Syston West by-election last week to Charnwood council had been caused by the death of former Conservative councillor Eric Vardy. A very large number of people have got in touch with me to point out that Mr Vardy is alive and well, and the by-election was in fact caused by his resignation from the council as he is relocating to a different part of the country. I am happy to set the record straight in that regard and I am sorry for any offence caused by my error.

Unfortunately this wasn’t the only issue in the Previews for 3rd October. The late councillor Jean Adkins in Norton Fitzwarren and Staplegrove had left the Conservatives in 2016 and as such had been an independent for some time before May’s election. The Clacton East by-election was in the constituency of Clacton, not Tendring as I wrote in the factfile. Aberdeen Labour have been in touch to point out that there was more of a selection contest for the Labour nomination in the Bridge of Don by-election than I implied by the word “imposed”, although it’s not entirely clear to me who was actually running the selection in question. I regret and apologies for all of these errors.

Hopefully this week’s Previews will be more accurate. There are three by-elections on 10th October 2019, as follows:


Bramley and Sherfield

Basingstoke and Deane council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Venetia Rowland who had served since 2016.

Our three by-elections this week feature one defence each for the three main English parties, and they are all in wards which at first sight look very safe. The Tory defence is a few miles north-east of Basingstoke is a ward based on two large villages. Sherfield on Loddon lies on the main road between Basingstoke and Reading, while Bramley lies on the railway line between them and has a railway station – opened in 1895 at the behest of the Duke of Wellington, who was a major landowner in the area. With its easy access to Basingstoke and Reading this is an area popular with commuters, and almost half of the workforce at the time of the 2011 census were in one of the two management/professional occupational groups used by the ONS. In the week that the Nobel Prize winners are announced it’s particularly appropriate to remember the physicist Lise Meitner, a pioneer in nuclear physics and radioactivity who was unjustly overlooked for the 1944 Nobel Prize in physics – which went solely to her collaborator Otto Hahn. Meitner is buried in Bramley; her legacy includes a number of scientific awards, while synthetic element 109 “Meitnerium” has been named in her honour.

Meitnerium, appropriately for our time, is an unstable element which falls apart in a matter of seconds or less. Bramley and Sherfield, however, is politically much more stable than the country as a whole. This ward was created in 2008 and has been generally Conservative ever since. Its councillors from 2008 to 2015 included Ranil Jayawardena, who was since gone on to greater things as MP for the local constituency of North East Hampshire. Jayawardena had the largest majority of any MP in the 2015 general election, at 29,916 votes – not bad for a first-time MP. The Conservatives did lose Bramley and Sherfield ward in 2012 to independent candidate Chris Tomblin; however, Tomblin retired four years later and Venetia Rowland recovered the seat for the Tories. At the most recent contest, in May this year, the Conservatives polled 56% in Bramley and Sherfield with the Greens (25%) as their nearest challenger. The Tories also hold the local county council division (Calleva), which was over 76% Conservative at the last Hampshire county council election in May 2017.

This by-election has a very different candidate list to the ordinary election in May. Angus Groom is the defending Conservative candidate. He is opposed by two independent candidates, both of whom are former Basingstoke and Deane councillors: Chris Tomblin (from Bramley) represented this ward as an independent from 2012 to 2016, while Joyce Bowyer represented the neighbouring Chineham ward of Basingstoke as a Conservative from 2015 to 2019. Whoever wins this by-election may need to work fast to secure re-election, as new ward boundaries are due to come in for Basingstoke and Deane in May next year – which will see this ward disappear.

Parliamentary constituency: North East Hampshire
Hampshire county council division: Calleva
ONS Travel to Work Area: Basingstoke
Postcode districts: RG24, RG26, RG27

Joyce Bowyer (Ind)
Angus Groom (C)
Chris Tomblin (Ind)

May 2019 result C 929 Grn 408 LD 201 Lab 114
May 2016 result C 934 Ind 606 Lab 180
May 2015 result C 1889 Ind 943 UKIP 302
May 2012 result Ind 776 C 603 Lab 115
May 2011 result C 1324 LD 385 Lab 292
May 2008 result C 1091/1063 LD 230/189 Lab 113


Tudor

Watford council, Hertfordshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Joe Fahmy due to work commitments. He had served since 2016.

Our Liberal Democrat defence comes within the M25 but outside of London, in the town of Watford. The Tudor ward is based on the Tudor Estate at the eastern end of North Watford, an area of interwar terraces. To the south of this is a large business park that includes the respective head offices of the DIY chain Wickes and the pub company J D Wetherspoon, although the latter company may be rather disappointed that Tudor ward shares its name with the local Tudor Arms pub – which is owned by Greene King. This business park is next to the mainline railway station at Watford Junction, while Watford North station – on the St Albans Abbey branch – serves the local housing.

Watford council has been run by the Liberal Democrats for a long time now, and Tudor ward is in normal conditions firmly part of their majority. In May this year Joe Fahmy was re-elected with a 62-20 lead over Labour. We’ve come a long way since 2015, which was the only year since 2002 that the Lib Dems lost Tudor ward; that year (on slightly different boundaries) it voted Conservative. The Lib Dems aren’t that much less safe in the local Hertfordshire county division, called Meriden Tudor after the two Watford wards it covers.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Bill Stanton. Labour have selected Seamus Williams, and the Tories’ Carly Bishop completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Watford
Hertfordshire county council division: Meriden Tudor (most), Central Watford and Oxhey (small part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton
Postcode district: WD24

Carly Bishop (C)
Bill Stanton (LD)
Seamus Williams (Lab)

May 2019 result LD 1031 Lab 354 C 305
May 2018 result LD 951 Lab 615 C 564
May 2016 result LD 1067/804/790 C 514/495/303 Lab 430/392/372 Grn 150


Beanfield

Corby council, Northamptonshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Mary Butcher at the age of 63. A former dance teacher, supermarket worker and charity fundraiser, Butcher had served on Corby council since 2007 and was elected Mayor of Corby in 2010. She had also formerly sat on Northamptonshire county council.

We finish with the Labour defence of the week in one of the most unfashionable towns in the Midlands. Corby grew from virtually nothing in the 1930s to become a decent-sized town thanks to the opening of a steelworks and significant immigration from western Scotland. After the Second World War it became a New Town, and Beanfield ward’s housing dates from the New Town expansion era. Corby’s economy is still heavily dependent on manufacturing, and Beanfield ward (as it was then) was in the top 15 in England and Wales for the ONS “routine” employment category at the time of the 2011 census. Since then there have been boundary changes which saw Beanfield ward take over most of the former Tower Hill ward, but that won’t have changed the demographic profile much.

Corby is part of that disaster area of modern local government, Northamptonshire. As this column has now related on several occasions, Northamptonshire county council’s insolvency has forced structural change in the county, and in advance of that change (which is still yet to be finalised) Corby council’s 2019 elections were cancelled. This means that the 2015 election is to date the only poll on the current Beanfield ward boundaries. In 2015 Labour polled 61% of the vote here, with UKIP as runner-up on 22%; this was on the same day that the Tories recovered the Corby parliamentary seat after a by-election loss in 2012, but the Corby parliamentary seat includes a large rural area of eastern Northamptonshire which counterbalances the strongly-Labour town. Labour hold the two Northamptonshire county council divisions covering the ward, enjoying similarly large majorities at the last county elections in 2017.

Defending this by-election for Labour is Alison Dalziel. UKIP have not returned to the fray. The Tories put in nominations for two different candidates, but one of them has withdrawn leaving Roy Boyd as their standard-bearer; he completes the ballot paper along with Lib Dem Chris Stanbra, who sits on Northamptonshire county council for a different area.

Parliamentary constituency: Corby
Northamptonshire county council division: Corby West (most), Kingswood (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Corby
Postcode district: NN18

Roy Boyd (C)
Alison Dalziel (Lab)
Chris Stanbra (LD)

May 2015 result Lab 2142/2112/2023 UKIP 785 C 581/523/467


Petition Watch

As there hasn’t been much in the way of by-elections this week compared with recent offerings, I’ll finish for the week with a roundup of what the Election Court has been doing recently.

There were two legal cases arising from the May local elections for the district councils. One was a well-publicised case from the Cotswold district, where Conservative candidate Stephen Hirst won the Tetbury Town ward with a majority of one vote over independent candidate Kevin Painter. This case turned on one ballot paper on which the voter had written the word “Brexit” with an arrow pointing to Hirst’s name. The returning officer counted this as a valid vote for Hirst, giving him his one-vote majority, and last month the Election Court upheld that decision and confirmed that Hirst was duly elected. The other case was in Stafford district, asking for a recount in the Haywoods and Hixon ward; however, this has been settled out of court, with the petitioners agreeing to withdraw their action and Stafford council agreeing not to pursue them for the returning officer’s legal costs. Stafford’s council taxpayers shouldn’t fret over this decision; the council has insurance to cover this sort of bill. The Brexit Party have put in a petition relating to the Peterborough parliamentary by-election in June; that one is yet to reach trial.

There has, however, been one councillor change this year as a result of an election petition. That was at parish level: the Swindon elections team messed up the count for May’s election to Highworth town council, resulting in Conservative candidate Pauline Webster being incorrectly declared elected to one of the vacancies. The Election Court ordered a recount which showed that in fact independent candidate Kim Barber had more votes, and the Court declared Barber elected in Webster’s place.

And one other petition has succeeded recently. In Sheffield, 5% of the city’s voters subscribed to a petition calling for the council to change its governance arrangements from the “leader and cabinet” model to an old-style committee system. As a result of that petition, a referendum will be held on this subject, to take place alongside the next ordinary Sheffield elections in May 2020. Stay tuned for that.

Andrew Teale