Previews: 17 Oct 2019

Four by-elections on 17th October 2019:


Upper Dales

North Yorkshire county council; and

Hawes, High Abbotside and Upper Swaledale

Richmondshire council; both caused by the death of independent councillor John Blackie.

We start for the week with a trip to some of the most beautiful countryside imaginable: the Yorkshire Dales. The Upper Dales division is by a long way the largest county electoral division in England at 70,120 hectares (271 square miles); it’s aptly named, combining most of Wensleydale with all of Swaledale upwards of Richmond. Anybody who is old enough to have seen All Creatures Great and Small or was hardy enough to watch the Tour de France or world championship cycling recently will immediately recognise the area. The Tour came to the area on its first stage in 2014, with the Buttertubs Pass from Wensleydale to Swaledale being its main climb that day; Reeth in Swaledale is the northernmost point ever reached by the world’s greatest cycle race. Hikers are well-served by the Pennine Way and Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk, which meet at Keld in Swaledale; for those of a more sedentary disposition, Aysgarth Falls on the Ure is a good place to admire the view.

Gorgeous countryside, but not many people. The Upper Dales division covers twenty-five parishes, of which the largest centre of population – with 869 electors on the roll – is Hawes. This tiny Wensleydale market town is a very remote place, to the extent that may of its services – the post office, the petrol station, the local bus – are run by a community partnership. Tourism is the main draw, but Hawes’ largest single employer is the Wensleydale Creamery which makes the Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese – a product which has been given Protected Geographical Indication status by the EU, meaning that you can’t legally make it outside the valley. One curiosity of Hawes’ census return is an unusually high number of Buddhists – in 2011 the old Hawes and High Abbotside ward made the top 15 wards for Buddhism in England and Wales, although this only amounts to 43 people so not too much should be read into it.

Hawes may be doing reasonably well, but Swaledale has markedly declined in population since the nineteenth century when there was a leadmining industry here; the scars left by the miners can still be seen on the hillsides today if you know where to look. In the 2011 census the old Addlebrough and Swaledale wards were both in the top 100 in England and Wales for self-employment, reflecting that the main economic sector here now – as it has been for centuries – is sheep and dairy farming.

Politically, this area has been dominated at local elections by John Blackie since the mid-1990s. Blackie enjoyed very large majorities at county and district level for over two decades, sometimes with the Conservative nomination but more often as an independent. In the May 2017 county elections Blackie defeated the official Conservative candidate 61-30 in Upper Dales division, and he regularly polled over 87% in district council elections for the old Hawes and High Abbotside ward. Richmondshire got new ward boundaries this year which added Upper Swaledale to that ward, but that had very little effect on John Blackie’s majority; he polled 85% in May in a straight fight with the Conservatives. The Tories are the largest party on the tiny Richmondshire district council, but they lost their overall majority in May’s election and the administration is now run by a coalition of independents, Lib Dems and the single Green Party councillor.

As can be seen, Blackie’s death leaves most of this division’s voters looking for a new political home. Changes in these by-elections could be wild. There is a single defending independent candidate in both by-elections, whose name long-term readers of Andrew’s Previews may recognise: she is Jill McMullon. Twice chair of Richmondshire council, McMullon is a former district councillor for Middleton Tyas – probably better known to outsiders as Scotch Corner – who lost her seat in 2015 and has stood without success in a few Richmondshire by-elections since. The Statement of Persons Nominated reveals that McMullon has relocated to Askrigg in Wensleydale, and she is heavily involved with the community partnership in Hawes.

For the county by-election McMullon is opposed by Conservative candidate Yvonne Peacock, who is a former leader of Richmondshire district council and sits on that council for Yoredale ward (central Wensleydale, including Askrigg, Aysgarth and Bainbridge). Also standing are Richmondshire councillor Kevin Foster for the Green Party and Simon Crosby, who is the first Lib Dem candidate for Upper Dales since 2005.

In the district by-election the Tories have reselected Pat Kirkbride to go up against McMullon. Kirkbride, who is the owner of the White Hart Hotel in Hawes, will be hoping at the very least for an improvement on the 15% she got against Blackie in May. Also standing is Green Party candidate Margaret Lowndes, who completes an all-female ballot paper. Not an unusual occurrence this week: equality campaigners may be pleased to note that women make up eleven of the fourteen by-election candidates in this column, although ironically none of them are from the Women’s Equality Party.

Upper Dales

Parliamentary constituency: Richmond (Yorkshire)
Richmondshire council wards: Hawes, High Abbotside and Upper Swaledale; Lower Swaledale and Arkengarthdale; Yoredale; Leyburn (part: Carperby-cum-Thoresby parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northallerton
Postcode districts: DL8, DL10, DL11, LA10

Simon Crosby (LD)
Kevin Foster (Grn)
Jill McMullon (Ind)
Yvonne Peacock (C)

May 2017 result Ind 1540 C 740 Grn 129 Lab 99
May 2013 result Ind 1710 C 333 Lab 99 Grn 70
June 2009 result Ind 1859 C 369 Grn 236 Lab 66
May 2005 result C 2044 LD 1307

Hawes, High Abbotside and Upper Swaledale

Parliamentary constituency: Richmond (Yorkshire)
North Yorkshire county council division: Upper Dales
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northallerton
Postcode districts: DL8, DL11, LA10

Pat Kirkbride (C)
Margaret Lowndes (Grn)
Jill McMullon (Ind)

May 2019 result Ind 709 C 128


Princes Park

Liverpool council, Merseyside; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Timothy Moore, who had served since 2008.

And now for something completely different, as we travel from the countryside to the big city. Princes Park was opened in 1842 and named after the future Edward VII, who was Prince of Wales from his birth the previous year. It was the first public park laid out by Joseph Paxton, who at the time was head gardener for the Duke of Devonshire’s estate at Chatsworth. As well as a large number of public spaces, Paxton’s legacy includes such surprising items as the Cavendish banana – whose clones make up almost all of the bananas in the West – and the Crystal Palace in London. His services didn’t come cheap, and the original plan was to meet the cost by developing grand Georgian-style houses around the park.

There were certainly plenty of large expensive houses already in the general area at the time. Canning, to the north, is entirely residential Georgian architecture – built for the most wealthy merchants of a wealthy city. The tree-lined Princes Road, connecting this area to the park, was more of the same. And, as the city boomed, terraces grew up behind these large houses for the people whose hard work made the city what it was. Some of the streets near Princes Park were given Welsh names, the developers hoping to attract some of people moving here from Wales for work in large numbers. It was a good area to live. They called it Toxteth.

Readers will probably know what happened next. Toxteth became a major focus for immigration after the Second World War, with a large community settling here from the Caribbean. Then Liverpool went into serious economic decline which hit Toxteth particularly hard, leaving extremely high unemployment, poverty and crime levels. Tensions boiled over into major riots in July 1981.

Nearly four decades on from the Toxteth riots, what has changed here? Well, decades of regeneration work are starting to have an effect, although perhaps not the effect intended. The area covered by this ward became extremely depopulated, and most of the housing stock was left vacant. Liverpool council’s response to this was simply to demolish most of the old Victorian terraces – although some areas, like the Welsh Streets and the Granby Triangle, have been spared the wrecking ball after public outcry. As recently as 2017 one of the Welsh Streets stood in for 1920s Birmingham in Peaky Blinders, but regeneration work here is now well advanced and new tenants are moving in. The north-east corner of the ward, around Princes primary school and the Liverpool Women’s Hospital, has seen major population growth in the last few years.

Despite all this regeneration work, the 2019 indices of multiple deprivation placed all but one of Princes Park ward’s census districts within the 10% most deprived in England and Wales. At the time of the 2011 census almost 10% of the adults were unemployed and 11% were long-term sick or disabled – both of these were within the top 100 wards in England and Wales. The ward had very high bus use for a location outside London, particularly so for the area close to the park which is not within easy walking distance of the city centre. More than half of the households were socially rented (although a fair number of those will have been demolished since 2011). And it’s just as multi-ethnic as ever: in 2011 Princes Park came in at number 1 in England and Wales for mixed-race population (9.95%) and number 11 for “other” ethnic groups (11.5%); given that major languages spoken here include Somali and Arabic, this latter statistic presumably refers to people of Middle Eastern extraction.

In current political conditions this is a very safe Labour ward. The most recent Liverpool elections were in May, when Labour polled 72% in Princes Park; best of the rest was 18% for the Green Party, who have been runner-up here at every election since 2011. The Lib Dems did win one of the three seats here in 2004, but that was then and this is now.

Defending this by-election for Labour is Joanne Anderson, who is heavily involved in the ward’s regeneration efforts. She is no relation of the elected Mayor of Liverpool: Big Joe Anderson does have a daughter called Joanne, but she’s already on the council. The Greens have reselected Stephanie Pitchers, an actress who has been runner-up in this ward at the last three elections and also fought the local seat of Liverpool Riverside at the last general election. Also standing are Lee Rowlands for Labour and Tory candidate Alma McGing, who will be hoping for better than the 96 votes she got when she stood here in 2006. Despite the sort of appalling electoral record which you would expect for a Tory in contemporary Liverpool, McGing did receive an MBE in the 2018 Birthday Honours for voluntary political service.

Parliamentary constituency: Liverpool Riverside
ONS Travel to Work Area: Liverpool
Postcode districts: L1, L7, L8

Joanne Anderson (Lab)
Alma McGing (C)
Stephanie Pitchers (Grn)
Lee Rowlands (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 1926 Grn 490 LD 144 C 81 Lib 29
May 2018 result Lab 2155 Grn 347 LD 122 C 111
May 2016 result Lab 1976 Grn 565 LD 146 TUSC 138 C 100
May 2015 result Lab 3974 Grn 1214 C 242 UKIP 208 TUSC 167 EDP 19
May 2014 result Lab 1890 Grn 459 Ind 148 TUSC 142 C 113 Lib 65
May 2012 result Lab 1920 Grn 437 TUSC 161 C 104 Lib 75
May 2011 result Lab 2263 Grn 355 LD 214 C 141 TUSC 104 Lib 57
May 2010 result Lab 2740 LD 1293 Grn 634 C 294 Lib 166
May 2008 result Lab 1227 LD 714 Grn 318 C 163 Lib 74
May 2007 result Lab 1193 LD 575 Grn 327 C 136 Ind 110
May 2006 result Lab 1184 LD 645 Respect 281 Grn 246 Lib 210 C 96
June 2004 rsult Lab 1029/1026/891 LD 935/857/788 Grn 420/381/206 Ind 173 C 154


Westcourt

Gravesham council, Kent; caused by the death of Labour councillor Ruth Martin who had served only since May this year.

Our final by-election is in the South East. Despite the name, Westcourt ward is on the eastern edge of Gravesend around an eponymous primary school. The ward covers housing to the south of the Rochester Road which was mostly developed after the Second World War; it includes Gravesend’s most deprived census district.

Gravesend anchors the Gravesham constituency, which was traditionally seen as a bellwether seat: every time the government changed, Gravesham’s allegiance changed to match. That record ended in 2005 when Adam Holloway gained the seat for the Conservatives with a majority of 654, and he has since made the seat safe. Holloway even got a swing in his favour in June 2017 when Theresa May was losing her majority. We can no longer reasonably call this constituency a bellwether.

Gravesham council is politically rather more curious. In normal circumstances the council is a two-party timewarp with the Conservatives polling the most votes across the district, but not necessarily winning the most seats. That’s because the Tories tend to pile up huge majorities in a few safe wards outside Gravesend town, while Labour’s vote is much better distributed. In 2003 the Tories polled 55% of the vote across Gravesham, had a 12-point lead over Labour, and won 21 seats to Labour’s 23. Isn’t England’s electoral system wonderful?

Since then the council has changed hands at every election, with May’s ordinary election giving Labour 24 seats to 18 Conservatives and two Independent Conservatives. Given that the ruling Tory group had split a few months previously with a rebel Independent Conservative group in minority control going into the election, it could have been worse from the Conservative point of view.

Westcourt ward is normally in the Labour column – in fact nobody opposed the Labour slate here in 2015 – but looks marginal on the basis of the May 2019 result. Labour won Westcourt earlier this year with 37% of the vote, against 29% for the Conservatives and 23% for UKIP. The ward is within the Gravesend East division of Kent county council, which covers two-thirds of the town and was an easy Conservative win in the 2017 county elections.

Defending for Labour is Lindsay Gordon, an NHS nurse and cub scout leader. The Tory candidate is Helen Ashenden, who is retired; in May she fought Higham ward, which is normally rock-solid Tory but voted for the Independent Conservative slate last time. UKIP have selected Linda Talbot, who in this time of Brexit (or not, as the case may be) is the last election candidate from an official Eurosceptic party until after the Article 50 deadline of 31st October. Completing our second all-female ballot paper of the week is Marna Gilligan for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Gravesham
Kent county council division: Gravesend East
Postcode district: DA12
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Helen Ashenden (C)
Marna Gilligan (Grn)
Lindsay Gordon (Lab)
Linda Talbot (UKIP)

May 2019 result Lab 490/462/437 C 381/378/320 UKIP 299 Ind 137
May 2015 result Lab unopposed
May 2011 result Lab 1056/1038/1012 C 654/651/617 LD 98/69
May 2007 result Lab 662/636/602 C 613/612
May 2003 result Lab 675/670/637 C 417/408/395


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Andrew Teale