Previews: 15 Mar 2018

Just three by-elections on 15th March 2018, two Conservative defences and a free-for-all:

Stamford St George's; and
Stamford St John's

South Kesteven council, Lincolnshire; caused respectively by the resignation of Katherine Brown and the death of Terl Bryant at the age of 72. Both were Conservative councillors. Brown had served since 2015. Bryant had a much longer career in local government, having been first elected to South Kesteven district council in 1991; he served for All Saints ward from 1991 to 1995 and again from 1999 to 2007, before being first elected for this ward in 2011. He was chairman of South Kesteven council in 2002-03, sat in the district council's cabinet from 2004 to 2007 and from 2011 to 2017, and had served as Mayor of Stamford.

All three of this week's by-elections are in what the railway posters used to call the "drier side of Britain". We start this week in the south-western corner of Lincolnshire in the town of Stamford. Rated by the Sunday Times in 2013 as the UK's best place to live, Stamford originally grew as a Norse centre: along with Derby, Leicester, Lincoln and Nottingham it was one of the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw. The town's location was good, at the lowest crossing point of the River Welland, and Stamford became a major stopping point on the Great North Road. The legacy of this can still be seen on the town's high street which is lined with seventeenth- and eighteenth-century buildings from the golden age of coaching, and proved so unsuited for modern traffic that Stamford was one of the first towns on the A1 route to be bypassed.

The Stamford Bypass now forms the county boundary between Stamford and Rutland, and the western boundary of Stamford St John's ward. The town name was important here for disambiguation purposes: until 2015 South Kesteven district had two St John's wards, the other being in Grantham. The Stamford St John's ward is in the north-west and west of the town along the Casterton and Empingham Roads; at its centre is a primary school named after the conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent, who was brought up in Stamford. Much of the southern end of the ward is floodplain, and on its boundary is the southernmost point of Lincolnshire and the shortest boundary between two UK counties, a stretch of about 20 metres dividing Lincolnshire from Northamptonshire. Most of the housing in this ward is postwar with high levels of owner-occupation and employment. Appropriately for a town whose four wards are all named after churches, Stamford St John's ward's census return also shows high levels of Christianity.

Sir Malcolm Sargent was a pupil at Stamford School, an independent school which also educated the composer Sir Michael Tippett, the Inspector Morse author Colin Dexter and several former MPs, although none currently serving. The school is located in Stamford St George's ward, which covers the north-east corner of Stamford. This ward is a little further down the social scale than Stamford St John's, although still pretty prosperous.

Both wards took on their current boundaries in 2015; the changes made to them in that year were minor, although Stamford St John's ward did lose a councillor. They were safe Conservative that year, but that hasn't always been the case: in particular, St George's ward (as Stamford St George's was known before 2015) has elected councillors from all three major parties this century. In the 2003 election it split its two seats between Labour candidate Joyce Gaffigan and Conservative Percival "Bob" Sandall, who were re-elected in 2007 as a Liberal Democrat and as an Independent respectively. Gaffigan retired in 2011 and her seat was gained by Conservative candidate Brenda Sumner, and the Conservatives' Katherine Brown gained the ward's other seat from Sandall (now standing for the Stamford Group of Independents) in 2015. Shares of the vote in 2015 were 33% for the Conservative slate - inflated by what appears to be a large personal vote for Brown who was nearly 350 votes ahead of her running-mate Sumner - 19% each for UKIP and the Stamford Group of Independents, and 16% for Labour.

Stamford St John's has a more straightforward history, being a Liberal Democrat ward from 2003 until the Conservatives gained it in 2011. The Tories went down from three seats to two in the 2015 election, but that was down to the Boundary Commission removing a seat from the ward. Shares of the vote in 2015 were 49% for the Conservatives, 29% for the Stamford Group of Independents and 22% for UKIP.

Defending Stamford St George's for the Conservatives is Rachael Cooke. The Stamford Group of Independents candidate is Gloria Johnson, a Stamford town councillor for this ward and checkout supervisor at a local supermarket. With UKIP not returning, the St George's ballot paper is completed by Labour's Christopher Dennett, the Greens' Gerhard Lohmann-Bond and the Lib Dems' Jack Stow.

In Stamford St John's ward the Tory defence is led by David Taylor, a charity fundraiser who was elected to Stamford town council in 2015 on the Stamford Group of Independents slate. Another Stamford town councillor, Steve Carroll, is standing as an independent; judging by his Twitter handle (@protectstamford) he is an anti-development candidate. Again, UKIP have not returned, so the ballot paper is completed by the Lib Dems' Harrish Bisnauthsing - councillor for this ward until 2011 - Labour's Cameron Clack and Simon Whitmore for the Green Party.

Stamford St George's

Parliamentary constituency: Grantham and Stamford
Lincolnshire county council division: Stamford East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough
Postcode district: PE9

Rachael Cooke (C)
Christopher Dennett (Lab)
Gloria Johnson (Ind)
Gerhard Lohmann-Bond (Grn)
Jack Stow (LD)

May 2015 result C 926/588 UKIP 539 Stamford Group of Independents 525/403 Lab 441/441 Grn 346

Stamford St John's

Parliamentary constituency: Grantham and Stamford
Lincolnshire county council division: Stamford West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough
Postcode district: PE9

Harrish Bisnauthsing (LD)
Steve Carroll (Ind)
Cameron Clack (Lab)
David Taylor (C)
Simon Whitmore (Grn)

May 2015 result C 1385/1273 Stamford Group of Independents 820/784 UKIP 620


Redcar and Cleveland council, North Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Mike Findley on health grounds. He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2005, and told at the time that he had between two and five years to live. Cllr Findley didn't let that get to him: his charity, the Mike Findley MND Fund, has raised nearly £200,000 for research into the disease, and Findley was appointed MBE for his efforts. Originally from London, Mike Findley had a 34-year career with Royal Mail before entering politics in 2003; he had been a Redcar and Cleveland councillor from 2003 to 2011 when he retired for the first time, and again since 2015. He was Mayor of Redcar and Cleveland in 2008-09.

For our final by-election of the week we travel to the coast of what was once the North Riding of Yorkshire. Longbeck ward is just to the south-east of Redcar and is based on the western end of Marske-by-the-Sea together with the village of New Marske, which was once a mining settlement in the Cleveland hills. With ironstone mining in Cleveland having long ended, the ward's economy was traditionally underpinned in recent years by commuting to the Teesside conurbation and particularly the Redcar steelworks - in the 2011 census Longbeck was in the top 20 wards in England and Wales for Apprenticeship qualifications and in the top 50 wards for the census "lower supervisory, technical" employment group. The closure of Redcar steelworks since 2011 means that those stats are now rather seriously out of date; nonetheless, there has been strong population growth here during the 21st century, and the ward was redrawn for the 2003 election with a relatively low electorate to allow for that.

Longbeck ward's previous election results are unusually complicated, so please bear with me. In 2003 it elected two Conservatives, Norah Cooney and Vera Moody, together with Findley. Those three councillors were re-elected in 2007 from a long ballot paper which featured two different candidates both called Norman Brown - one independent, one Lib Dem. In 2011 Findley retired and Moody lost her seat: the new councillors were Lib Dem Victoria Reyer and Labour candidate Vic Jeffries, producing a rare three-way split between the three main parties. The good Lib Dem performance reflected the party's unexpected gain of the Redcar parliamentary seat the previous year.

Both Reyer and Jeffries sought re-election in 2015 as independent candidates for Longbeck ward. Reyer had left the Lib Dem group in 2013, while the Labour group in Redcar and Cleveland had split down the middle shortly before the 2015 election with Jeffries on the dissident side. Perhaps in an ironic reflection of that split, the official Labour slate here in the 2015 election was headed by Sheila Argument. None of those candidates won; Conservative Norah Cooney was re-elected at the top of the poll, Mike Findley successfully returned in second place and the third seat went to UKIP candidate Steve Turner, who beat Argument by 80 votes to become the only UKIP member of Redcar and Cleveland council. With so many independent candidates and partial slates percentages of the vote are perhaps not too good a guide here; but for the record, in 2015 they were 26% for the Conservatives, 22% for Findley, 20% for UKIP, 18% for Labour and 14% for the Lib Dems. Vic Jeffries went on to contest the by-election last October in the neighbouring St Germain's ward, coming fourth out of six candidates as the Lib Dems easily held a seat they were defending there.

Confused? You will be. The continuity independent candidate is Vic Jeffries, Labour councillor for this ward from 2011 to 2015, who has continued to attend council meetings and functions since his defeat in his capacity as Mike Findley's carer. The Conservatives have selected Vera Rider, who was their unsuccessful candidate here in 2007; she is the vice-chairman of Saltburn, Marske and New Marske parish council and runs a community group in New Marske. The official Labour candidate is Darcie Shepherd, an 18-year-old A-level student from Saltburn. Standing for the Lib Dems is another former Labour figure, Marske-by-the-Sea resident Marilyn Marshall who fought St Germain's ward on the Labour ticket in 2011 and 2015. With UKIP not returning, that is your four-way ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Redcar
ONS Travel to Work Area: Middlesbrough and Stockton
Postcode districts: TS10, TS11

Vic JeffrieS (Ind)
Marilyn Marshall (Lab)
Vera Rider (C)
Darcie Shepherd (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1402 Ind 1220/803/655 UKIP 1083 Lab 1003/860/839 LD 764
May 2011 result LD 815/748/643 C 776/583/570 Lab 769/717/694 Ind 343
May 2007 result Ind 1143/495/427 C 738/697/486 Lab 422/375/334 LD 180/171/158
May 2003 result C 1338/1254/1052 Ind 1189 Lab 574 LD 295/281/219

Previews: 08 Mar 2018

All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order...

We have eight council by-elections on 8th March 2018, which fall neatly into a southern half and a north and Midlands half. There are three Labour defences, two of which are to replace outgoing council leaders: the leader of Tameside council has recently died and the leader of Harlow council has had enough of the Labour Party's factional disputes. The other five polls are Tory defences including the week's standout marginal ward in the city of Nottingham - or is it Gotham? - with safer wards up in Rutland, Rochester, Hertfordshire and Hampshire. Along the way we will visit some award-winning concrete, a prison whose name has entered the lexicon, and the birthplace of the terry towel; travel to England's largest second-hand bookshop; and indulge in some puns which even the Election Maps UK Twitter account might think better of. But there's really only one place to start this week...


Bolton council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Asif Ibrahim due to pressure of work. He had served since 2012.

Between Manchester and Bolton, the ugliness is so complete that is almost exhilarating. It challenges you to live there.

Challenge accepted. That was J B Priestley writing in his English Journey of the early 1930s, and laying the foundation for a whole genre of "it's grim up north" travel books which has been extensively mined ever since by a variety of authors.

Your columnist's first reaction to this quote is to think that anybody from the industrial West Riding - as Priestley was - must have necessarily been biased. There are plenty of beautiful places between Manchester and Bolton if you know where to look. A quarter of an hour's walk from your columnist's house leads to Nob End, a beauty spot overlooking the Croal and Irwell valleys at the point where they meet. From the banks of the Manchester, Bolton and Bury canal I can look over the Croal valley towards Farnworth on the other side, and think...

...yes, maybe Priestley had a point.

Of course, it's a post-industrial landscape which I'm looking over now. When Priestley was writing Nob End wasn't the haven for rare orchids it is today: it was an active chemical waste dump overlooked by a narrowboat repair centre. Moses Gate country park, of which Nob End is a part, was filled by paper mills and a colliery. Those industries gave Farnworth a wider economic base than the average Lancashire textile town, but won't have given it any beauty points. It says a lot for the town that Farnworth's most famous son is Alan Ball, the youngest member of England's World Cup-winning football team and later a long-serving football manager; Farnworth Town Hall has been restored as an office building named after Ball.

Some indication of what Farnworth was like in the 1930s can be gleaned from a surprisingly comprehensive internet archive. This is courtesy of Mass Observation, which covered the Farnworth parliamentary by-election of January 1938. The Mass Observation archives have all been digitised and published on their own website, Bolton Worktown (, from which the above photograph of children outside a polling station is taken. Kids grew up quick in them days. Mass Observation were interested in learning how election propaganda could influence people, and newsletters from both the Conservative and Labour candidates are in their archives. Look at the Conservative newsletter below: yes, election newspapers have been going for over eighty years now, and with some changes to the names and dates you could drop this into any letterbox in the town today and still get the message across.

The polling station the 1938 kids were standing outside is a building on Bentinck Street which still stands today. You get a good view of it as you queue up to traverse one of the disaster areas of modern Farnworth, the hole at Moses Gate. Moses was, of course, a Biblical patriarch who led the Israelites out of Egypt by holding back the waters of the Red Sea. His Gate was breached in August last year by a landslip, which undermined a busy road bridge over the Manchester-Bolton railway line and broke the water main supplying your columnist's house. The resulting hole closed the main road between Farnworth and Bolton for six months, leading to appalling travel delays, and still hasn't been completely filled in yet.

In fact, quite a lot of Farnworth is a disaster area. The town centre is one of the most sorry-looking parades of charity shops it's possible to imagine. Its condition hasn't noticeably been improved by £325,000 of Section 106 money paid by Tesco, who opened a large store in Farnworth in 2013. Bolton council are claiming that the money has been spent, although it's difficult for locals to work out what is was spent on.

Just one of many controversies involving Bolton council, whose Labour administration - it's fair to say - is unpopular. In 2016, the council lost a legal case forcing it to disclose the names of two of its councillors who had been summonsed for council tax arrears. The Labour administration then got into very serious hot water by using emergency powers to pay a grant of £300,000 to a firm of personal injury lawyers. The council got the money back, but it was a close-run thing as the firm involved has since been shut down by the legal regulator. Those of you who read the preview of January's Hulton ward by-election - a ward with a planning issue to add to all the other controversies - will not be surprised to find that Hulton is the only by-election which Labour have lost to the Conservatives so far this year. And if you read that preview you'll have drawn the right conclusions from that gain: it's nothing to do with Brexit, very little to do with Jeremy Corbyn, and mostly to do with just how unpopular the Bolton Labour administration is.

As well as these financial and political scandals, it's clear from the most cursory of looks around the town centre that the Greatest Town in the Known Universe is falling behind compared to its rivals in Greater Manchester. Bolton town centre might have just gained a sparkling new bus station, but clearly not many people are choosing to travel to a town centre that's not worth visiting on buses which they can't afford to pay the fare for. They're voting with their feet, and the result is that Bolton is a place where charity shops - charity shops - are closing down because they can't make ends meet.

In that context it's not surprising that while Farnworth ward is safe Labour the main opposition to them in recent years has come from that most populist of populist movements, UKIP. At the most recent Bolton election, in 2016, the Labour lead over the Kippers was 48-36. Now UKIP are in a state of general collapse at the moment - as well as their national travails, there was not one UKIP candidate in last week's four council by-elections. (UKIP running scared of a load of snowflakes, who'd have thowt it?) So it will be interesting to see how well the Kipppers can do this time or whether some new opposition will come forward. In last year's Greater Manchester mayoral election the Conservatives ran second in Farnworth, Labour leading 68-19, and the Bolton News have been giving some prominence to a new localist party, Farnworth and Kearsley First - and it's surprising in retrospect that nobody has previously tried to form a localist party in Bolton borough given its residents' reputation for insularity.

One thing we can be sure of: getting details of the by-election is going to be difficult. Bolton council have a reputation among local government watchers for being one of the worst councils in the country when it comes to publishing information on upcoming elections, and somebody really needs to tell Electoral Services that, in this digital age, sticking the relevant notices on a board outside the town hall is not enough. Everybody else is putting the legal notices on their website; Bolton, there's nothing to stop you spending a few pennies of my council tax doing the same. Your columnist eventually resorted to getting hold of the candidate list by getting a bus into the town centre - in the snowy weather we had last week - and photographing the noticeboard:

The things I do for democracy. As shown, defending for Labour is Rebecca Minors, partner of former Labour councillor Darren Whitehead whose sudden death caused the Hulton by-election in January. The UKIP candidate is Dave Harvey, a former soldier. Also standing are 18-year-old Matthew Littler for the Conservatives, David Figgins for the Green Party, David Walsh for the Lib Dems and Paul Sanders for Farnworth and Kearsley First. We wait to see if this by-election is close enough to warrant getting the loudspeaker car out...

Parliamentary constituency: Bolton South East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: BL3, BL4, BL5

David Figgins (Grn)
Dave Harvey (UKIP)
Matthew Littler (C)
Rebecca Minors (Lab)
Paul Sanders (Farnworth and Kearsley First)
David Walsh (LD)

May 2016 result Lab 1417 UKIP 1066 C 253 Grn 103 LD 89
May 2015 result Lab 2703 UKIP 1626 C 723 Grn 178 LD 144
May 2014 result Lab 1454 UKIP 1108 C 211 Grn 115 LD 73
May 2012 result Lab 1557 C 320 Grn 263 LD 178
May 2011 result Lab 1855 C 383 Grn 231 LD 226
May 2010 result Lab 2612 C 1040 LD 994 Grn 260
May 2008 result Lab 1151 LD 955 C 531 You Party 138
May 2007 result Lab 1107 LD 920 C 399 Grn 179
May 2006 result Lab 1296 C 509 LD 394
June 2004 result Lab 1484/1454/1334 LD 899/723/616 C 733/530/525

May 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Lab 1470 C 364 UKIP 91 EDP 75 LD 70 Grn 37 Aslam 34 Farmer 10

Droylsden East

Tameside council, Greater Manchester; caused by the death of the Leader of the Council, Labour councillor Kieran Quinn, at the age of 57. He had suffered a heart attack while out delivering Christmas cards. Quinn had served on Tameside council since 1994, and became leader in 2010. As well as council leader, he was also chairman of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund and Tameside's representative on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

We make a return visit to Droylsden, a place where Andrew's Previews has been very recently: there was a by-election in this ward last October. Droylsden is the westernmost of the agglomeration of mill towns east of Manchester which forms the Tameside district: it lies inside the M60 motorway and is very much a part of the Manchester built-up area which somehow never got annexed by the city.

A classic Lancashire milltown, Droylsden claims to be the birthplace of the terry towel, which was first machine-woven by W M Christy and Sons in 1851. Robertson's jam factory, next to the Ashton Canal, was also a major employer. All this is gone now - the site of Christy's factory is now occupied by a Tesco off Ashton New Road. That Tesco and the proximity to the big city has clearly badly affected Droylsden's shopping centre, which when your columnist visited a few years ago was a parade of charity shops as bad as anything in Farnworth. The Metrolink came here in 2013, running along Ashton New Road to link the town to Manchester city centre and outwards to Ashton-under-Lyne.

Droylsden tram stop is within Droylsden East ward, which covers the Fairfield area south of Ashton New Road and also extends north along Market Street and Lumb Lane. In general, the further away you get from Ashton New Road, the less deprived the neighbourhood becomes.

There was briefly a Droylsden parliamentary constituency, created in the 1950 redistribution and abolished in 1955, and if the Boundary Commission get their way something similar could be created for the 2022 election. The Droylsden constituency was marginal between Labour and the Conservatives in the 1950 and 1951 elections, but the Conservative vote in Tameside has basically fallen apart over the post-war period - the Tories have only one reliable ward in the borough, Stalybridge South - and it's the radical right who have generally filled the runner-up spot in Droylsden East over the last decade. The BNP ran second here from 2006 to 2010, and UKIP were runners-up from 2011 to 2016. The Kippers got within 10 points of Labour in 2014 but by 2016 the Labour lead had improved to 56-34.

In the 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Andy Burnham led the Conservative candidate here 67-19. The Tories did better in October's by-election in which there was no UKIP candidate: Labour beat them 60-33 on that occasion.

Defending Droylsden East's second by-election in six months is Laura Boyle, a primary school teacher. Also working in the education sector is IT professional and Conservative candidate Matt Stevenson, who returns after his second place in last October's by-election. Shaun Offerman of the Lib Dems and Annie Train of the Green Party complete the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashton-under-Lyne
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: M11, M34, M43, OL7

Laura Boyle (Lab)
Shaun Offerman (LD)
Matt Stevenson (C)
Annie Train (Grn)

Oct 2017 by-election Lab 1064 C 577 LD 63 Grn 60
May 2016 result Lab 1449 UKIP 948 C 256 Grn 166
May 2015 result Lab 2826 UKIP 1698 Grn 399 Ind 299
May 2014 result Lab 1431 UKIP 1168 C 250 Grn 163
May 2012 result Lab 1640 UKIP 480 BNP 236 C 221 Grn 90
May 2011 result Lab 1969 UKIP 595 C 455 Grn 112
May 2010 result Lab 2761 BNP 840 C 824 LD 671 UKIP 269
May 2008 result Lab 1408 BNP 1000 C 648
May 2007 result Lab 1582 BNP 665 C 411 LD 287
May 2006 result Lab 1396 BNP 619 C 453 Local Community Party 410
June 2004 result Lab 1726/1563/1422 Local Community Party 1044 BNP 764 C 714

May 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Lab 1506 C 425 LD 82 EDP 81 UKIP 76 Grn 45 Farmer 22 Aslam 7

Wollaton West

Nottingham council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Georgina Culley at the age of 65. The leader of Nottingham's Conservative group, Culley was first elected in 1991, representing Wollaton ward until 2003 and Wollaton West since then.

We enter the Midlands and travel to the city of Nottingham for an area which is very different in character to Farnworth or Droylsden. Wollaton West ward lies in the west of the city, with around half its acreage being taken up by Wollaton Park and the ward's housing lying to the north and west of the park. This is one of the most desirable places to live in Nottingham, with the city's highest proportion of people in the "higher management" employment bracket and competition for places at the local schools being fierce.

One rather unexpected local resident is Batman: Wollaton Hall, former home of the Willoughby family in the middle of Wollaton Park, was used as the exterior of Wayne Manor in the 2012 Batman film, ?The Dark Knight Rises. An appropriate location: the real-life Gotham village is not far away, and by a strange coincidence the surnames of the actors who played Batman and Robin in the famously camp 1960s TV series combine to give "West Ward".

Not that I'm suggesting that all the local residents of this particular West ward are as rich as Bruce Wayne, but this is the strongest Conservative ward in Nottingham and the party traditionally had a lock on the ward's three seats. That, however, changed in 2013 when one of the Conservative councillors died - having suffered a stroke while out campaigning in a by-election for a neighbouring ward - and a by-election was forced. In retrospect the Conservatives made a poor choice of candidate, pitting a 22-year-old working in media and living in the city centre against a Labour candidate with firm roots in the local community. That Labour candidate, Steve Battlemuch, won the by-election by the score of 47-34, a swing of 14% since the 2011 election and a staggering 20% swing compared with 2007.

The 2015 election represented no change to the party split of two Conservatives and one Labour. Battlemuch topped the poll with an enormous personal vote - he was over a thousand votes ahead of his running-mates - and overall the Labour lead over the Conservatives was 42-39. The two Conservatives elected from this ward in 2015 form two-thirds of the Tory opposition on Nottingham city council.

So, who do Batman and the other electors have to choose from this time round for this marginal ward? The defending Conservative candidate is local resident Paul Brittain. Labour have selected Cate Woodward, who works for a Parkinson's disease charity. Tony Sutton stands for the Lib Dems and Adam McGregor for the Greens. We have to have a DC Comics villain to complete the ballot paper, and it would appear that it's the Joker: regular frivolous by-election candidate David Bishop is standing once again for his Bus-Pass Elvis Party and campaigning to turn a disused pub in the ward into a vegetarian casino called Viva Las Vegans. Perhaps this time the electorate will finally Love him Tender?

Parliamentary constituency: Nottingham South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Nottingham
Postcode district: NG8

David Bishop (Bus-Pass Elvis)
Paul Brittain (C)
Adam McGregor (Grn)
Tony Sutton (LD)
Cate Woodward (Lab)

May 2015 result Lab 3855/2516/2492 C 3513/3501/3215 Grn 973 UKIP 928 LD 701/526/513
Oct 2013 by-election Lab 2211 C 1594 UKIP 565 LD 216 Grn 106 Church of the Militant Elvis 28
May 2011 result C 2870/2646/2593 Lab 2018/1938/1753 LD 770/601/506
Aug 2008 by-election C 2769 Lab 1042 LD 424 UKIP 220
May 2007 result C 2670/2408/2305 Lab 1169/1097/1013 LD 805/744/667 Grn 498 UKIP 483 Church of the Militant Elvis 115
May 2003 result C 2630/2563/2433 Lab 1197/1118/1087 LD 688/678/676

Oakham South East

Rutland council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Tony Mathias who had served since 2015.

For our other Midlands by-election of the week we move from one county town to another. Rutland claims to be England's smallest county (although this does rather depend on how you define "smallest" and "county") and Oakham is its main service centre. The South East ward includes the council offices and the County Museum, and has seen some population growth in recent years with the building of new twenty-first century housing estates.

Rutland is not the most politically exciting of counties: the first election to this ward on its present boundaries, in 2003, was uncontested. The Conservatives won that one, and easily held a by-election two days before Christmas 2004 against Lib Dem opposition. Things got interesting here in 2015 when an independent slate took one of the ward's two seats: shares of the vote were 39% each for the independent slate and the Conservatives and 22% for the Liberal Democrats.

This by-election is a straight fight with the Lib Dems withdrawing. Defending for the Conservatives is Christopher Clark, who runs a training company and is involved with the Federation of Small Businesses: he sits on a group working on the growth of local market towns and (for the moment) on an EU grant panel. Challenging Clark is independent councillor Adam Lowe, an Oakham town councillor and twice Mayor of Oakham.

Parliamentary constituency: Rutland and Melton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough
Postcode district: LE15

Christopher Clark (C)
Adam Lowe (Ind)

May 2015 result Ind 573/468 C 570/524 LD 327
May 2011 result C 602/489 LD 449
May 2007 result C 510/501 UKIP 256
Dec 2004 by-election C 339 LD 187
May 2003 result 2 C unopposed

Little Parndon and Hare Street

Harlow council, Essex; caused by the resignation of the Leader of the Council, Labour councillor Jon Clempner, who had served since 2012. Clempner has also quit the Labour Party; in his resignation statement he blamed a campaign against him of harassment and bullying by the Momentum faction of the party.

For the second half of this week's column we are in the Home Counties. We start in Harlow, one of the many New Towns developed to the north of London in the 1950s and 1960s. The Little Parndon and Hare Street developments are from those decades, and still have a large amount of social housing betraying their New Town origin. This is Harlow's north-western ward, located immediately to the north and west of the central business district; within the ward are the Princess Alexandra Hospital, the local football and greyhound stadiums and the Pinnacles industrial area.

Harlow may have had a Conservative MP since 2010, but the constituency includes a small rural area outside the town and Harlow town itself is more Labour-inclined. Labour control the council with 18 out of 33 seats (plus this vacancy) and some of that majority comes from Little Parndon and Hare Street. This is a safe Labour ward, lost only at the low point of the Brown government in 2008 when the Conservatives won it. Clempner regained the Tory seat in 2012; in 2016 he was re-elected for a second term, beating the Conservatives 54-28. However, the Conservatives gained the local Harlow West county division in May so the Labour machine does have work to do - and losing your council leader over a factional dispute won't help the Labour defence.

That defence is led by Chris Vince, who has experience of big campaigns: he was the Labour candidate for Essex Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016, topping the poll in Harlow borough, and fought Chelmsford in the last two general elections. The Conservative candidate is John Steer, who fought Toddbrook ward at the most recent borough election in 2016. Completing the ballot paper is Patsy Long for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Harlow
Essex county council division: Harlow West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode districts: CM19, CM20

Patsy Long (UKIP)
John Steer (C)
Chris Vince (Lab)

May 2016 result Lab 1021 C 492 UKIP 365
May 2015 result Lab 1800 C 1232 UKIP 711
May 2014 result Lab 879 UKIP 680 C 442
May 2012 result Lab 1099 C 521 LD 100
May 2011 result Lab 1270 C 722 LD 137
May 2010 result Lab 1635 C 1267 LD 613
May 2008 result C 829 Lab 708 LD 163
Oct 2007 by-election Lab 794 C 598 LD 117
May 2007 result Lab 771 C 700 LD 211
May 2006 result Lab 743 C 613 LD 365
June 2004 result Lab 869 C 589 LD 404
May 2003 result Lab 707 LD 372 C 293 Socialist Alliance 66
May 2002 result Lab 911/884/859 C 446/426/410 LD 390/350/311 Socialist Alliance 175


Dacorum council, Hertfordshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Alan Fantham at the age of 82. He had served on Dacorum council since 2003, and was chairman of Northchurch parish council for more than thirty years. Away from the councils he was described as a cricket legend, having scored 27,000 runs and taken 3,500 wickets for Northchurch cricket club and serving as club secretary for over forty years.

For the only by-election of the week in a ward which could be described as rural, we travel to western Hertfordshire. Northchurch is an old settlement - a Roman villa from the first century has been excavated here - in the valley of the River Bulbourne. The Bulbourne isn't much more than a stream but its valley forms a major artery through the Chiltern Hills, and the Roman Akeman Street, the Grand Union Canal and the West Coast Main Line all traverse the ward. As can be seen, this is an area where many pass through but few visit. Now effectively a suburb of Berkhamsted, the ward is close enough to London to have a commuter demographic.

Northchurch ward has unchanged boundaries since 1979, and in all of the ten previous elections the Conservatives have won with the Lib Dems or their predecessors in a distant second place. At the most recent poll in 2015 the Conservative lead was 60-19. The local county division (confusingly named Bridgewater) is also safe Tory.

Defending for the Conservatives is Rob McCarthy, an Aldbury parish councillor representing Tring Station ward. The Lib Dems have selected Lara Pringle, a barrister with 25 years' experience. Completing the ballot paper are Gareth Hawden for Labour and Joe Pitts for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire county council division: Bridgewater
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton
Postcode districts: HP4, HP23

Gareth Hawden (Lab)
Rob McCarthy (C)
Joe Pitts (Grn)
Lara Pringle (LD)

May 2015 result C 980 LD 305 Lab 199 Grn 141
May 2011 result C 731 LD 190 Lab 144
May 2007 result C 627 LD 203 Lab 66
May 2003 result C 403 LD 247 Lab 53
May 1999 result C 537 LD 145 Lab 109
May 1995 result C 378 LD 282 Lab 256
May 1991 result C 578 LD 211 Lab 120 Grn 75
May 1987 result C 694 All 214 Lab 76
May 1983 result C 507 All 210 Lab 79
May 1979 result C 868 Lib 393

Rochester West

Medway council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Kelly Tolhurst. The MP for Rochester and Strood since 2015, Tolhurst is taking up a junior position in the Government Whips office.

Your columnist likes Rochester. For many years the UK quiz circuit had a regular event at the Vines United Reformed Church in this ward, which gave me an excuse to come back year after year. (The fact that the event was always in July with hot weather helped!) Rochester always rewards a visit: the well-preserved High Street, ruined castle and magnificent cathedral reek of history, while the Baggins bookshop - which claims to be England's largest second-hand bookshop - will often reward a browse.

All these and more are within the Rochester West ward, which stretches from the town* centre south-west along the banks of the Medway. Within the ward boundaries are the village of Borstal - still home to a prison which gave its name to a former type of youth detention centre - and the impressive feats of engineering which are the Medway Bridges, taking the M2 motorway and the High Speed 1 railway line over the river. During testing of High Speed 1 in June 2003 a Eurostar train set a new UK rail speed record by crossing the Medway Bridge at 208 miles per hour, while in the same year the new M2 bridge won an award from the Concrete Society. The prison shows up in the ward's census return, in which Rochester West makes the top 60 wards in England and Wales for the "inactive: other" economic category. Prisoners, of course, are not eligible to vote.

This is a safe Conservative ward. Kelly Tolhurst was first elected in 2011, taking over a seat vacated by Mark Reckless who had gained the parliamentary seat the previous year. Three years later Tolhurst found herself standing against Reckless in the Rochester and Strood parliamentary by-election; she lost that round, but got the better of the UKIP defector in the 2015 general election a few months afterwards. On the same day Tolhurst was re-elected to Medway council at the top of the Tory slate in Rochester West; shares of the vote were 43% for the Conservatives, 21% for Labour and 20% for UKIP.

Defending for the Conservatives is Alan Kew, a civil engineer who lives in Borstal village. The Labour candidate is Alex Paterson, who has recently joined the party's staff after a fifteen-year career at the Daily Mirror. The UKIP candidate - in one of only two constituencies the party has ever won at Parliamentary level - is Rob McCulloch Martin. Completing the ballot paper are Sonia Hyner for the Green Party and Martin Rose for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Rochester and Strood
ONS Travel to Work Area: Medway
Postcode districts: ME1, ME2, ME3

Sonia Hyner (Grn)
Alan Kew (C)
Rob McCulloch Martin (UKIP)
Alex Paterson (Lab)
Martin Rose (LD)

May 2015 result C 2418/1884 Lab 1169/1054 UKIP 1131/1066 Grn 575/405 LD 206/142 TUSC 65
May 2011 result C 1658/1336 Lab 1029/851 Grn 280/208 LD 246/195 EDP 88
May 2007 result C 1484/1320 Lab 830/725 UKIP 328 Medway Independent Party 315/313
May 2003 resutl C 1297/1218 Lab 581/572 LD 229/228 Ind 149/121 UKIP 59

Petersfield Bell Hill

East Hampshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Thomas Spencer who had served since 2015.

We finish our progress from north to south in Hampshire within the South Downs National Park. The largest town within the National Park is possibly Petersfield, a coaching town on the London-Portsmouth road which now functions as a rural market town and tourist centre, with some commuting along the A3 to Portsmouth and London. Judging from the census return a lot of those commuters will live in Bell Hill ward, which is the western end of town between the railway station and the A3 bypass. The largest local employer is probably East Hampshire council, whose offices are within the ward.

This is a consistently Conservative ward and the main interest in its results is usually in who comes second. In 2015 that was Labour: shares of the vote were 47% for the Tories, 15% for Labour and 14% for the Lib Dems.

UKIP got within 80 votes of the Conservatives at a by-election here in mid-March 2014, but the turnout for that poll was so poor that the Conservative majority was safer than it sounds. The winner of that by-election, Peter Marshall, didn't seek re-election the following year, so this is clearly a ward with a high councillor attrition rate. Hopefully we'll do better this time on the turnout front, although the fact that the ward's usual polling station is unavailable might not help in that regard. Voters are asked to attend the council offices instead.

Defending for the Conservatives is Clive Shore, who is hoping to become the ward's fourth councillor in as many years: he is a former Petersfield town councillor and runs a consulting company. The Labour candidate is Steve Elder. David Podger is the Liberal Democrat candidate. Completing the ballot paper are Jim Makin for UKIP (who gives an address diagonally opposite that of the Labour candidate) and independent Jamie Matthews.

Parliamentary constituency: East Hampshire
Hampshire county council division: Petersfield Butser
ONS Travel to Work Area: Portsmouth
Postcode district: GU32

Steve Elder (Lab)
Jim Makin (UKIP)
Jamie Matthews (Ind)
David Podger (LD)
Clive Shore (C)

May 2015 result C 612 Lab 196 LD 181 UKIP 157 Grn 144
March 2014 by-election C 190 UKIP 110 Lab 75 LD 74
May 2011 result C 572 LD 235 Lab 193
May 2007 result C 396 LD 311 Lab 37
May 2003 result C 250 LD 210 Lab 103

Previews: 01 Mar 2018

All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order...

It's Andrew Teale's birthday today. Happy birthday, you might say. Unfortunately real life is not being very nice to your columnist at the moment: I will be made redundant later this month, and the course of the future (at the time of writing) is not yet clear.

So, dear readers, how can you help? Well, if you have or know of a vacancy available that you think might suit the research skills and attention to detail demonstrated by this column, I would love to hear from you; do please get in touch with me by email or Twitter DM. If you're not in a position to offer work, but haven't yet got around to buying Andrew's Previews 2016 (see the sidebar on the right), please do so; your investment will be amply rewarded. Whichever category you fall into, look out for the collection Andrew's Previews 2017 which is coming soon.

This column, of course, doesn't just come out at election time but works hard for you all year round, even in the cold snap we're having this week. The small matter of a birthday or a snowflake is no reason to take a week off. So, without further ado, read on for previews of this week's four local by-elections...

Clackmannanshire North

Clackmannanshire council; caused by the resignation of Scottish National Party councillor Archie Drummond for personal and family reasons. He had served since 2012 and was originally elected as an independent.

Clackmannanshire council must be doing something right. This is the first Clackmannanshire by-election since 2004, when first-past-the-post was still in force. Accordingly Andrew's Previews, which has been going in some form or other since 2010, has never previously been to the Wee County. It's been worth the wait.

Clackmannanshire's five wards don't have names to stir the imagination: they are called Central, East, South, West and North. The North ward is based on Tillicoultry and Alva, two of the Hillfoots Villages lying on the steep southern slopes of the Ochil Hills along the A91 Stirlng-St Andrews road. These were traditionally textile centres, although Alva's main export is now beer from the Harviestoun Brewery: their Bitter and Twisted product has won CAMRA awards and comes highly recommended. To the south of Tllicoultry lies the River Devon, beyond which is the village of Coalsnaughton.

This has traditionally been one of the stronger areas for the SNP: the local Ochil constituency (now Ochil and South Perthshire) was a longstanding Labour-SNP marginal until Labour collapsed in Scotland. Much of that SNP vote will have come out of Tillicoultry and Alva which were strong Nationalist areas before proportional representation was introduced: in 2003 the SNP won all four of Clackmannanshire North's predecessor wards. The introduction of PR in 2007 led to minority representation and a rather curious result: the SNP won two seats, Labour won one and the final seat went to the Liberal Democrats, who started in sixth place with just 7% of the vote but got transfers successively from Labour, the Conservatives and the SNP to beat the second Labour candidate on the final count.

An accidental Lib Dem win there, and it was no surprise when they failed to repeat the trick in 2012. The Lib Dem seat was picked up that year by independent candidate Archie Drummond, who along with the single Conservative councillor found himself holding the balance of power on Clackmannanshire council: the SNP and Labour groups were tied on 8 seats each, with 10 needed for a majority. As a former SNP figure, Drummond put the Nationalists in control with a minority administration, and later rejoined the party himself. He was re-elected in 2017 on the SNP ticket, but the SNP stayed on two seats in North ward last year with Labour holding one and the final seat going to the Conservatives, whose candidate Martha Benny was elected on the first count. Shares of the vote were 40% for the SNP, 27% for Labour and 24% for the Tories. The SNP still run Clackmannanshire council as a minority administration, with 7 seats out of 18 plus this vacancy, so a loss for the Nationalists could put the administration under pressure.

The Conservatives built on that surge of May 2017 to gain the Ochil and South Perthshire parliamentary seat the following month: that seat has now voted for three parties (Labour, the SNP and the Tories) in the last three general elections. The SNP hold the local Scottish Parliament seat, Clackmannan and Dunblane.

Defending for the SNP is Helen Lewis, who was their third candidate here last year and contested East ward in 2012. The Labour candidate is local resident Afifa Khanam, a business and enterprise teacher at Glenrothes High School. The Conservatives have selected Alex Stewart; apparently no relation to the Mid Scotland and Fife MSP of the same name, Stewart is a former army figure who now runs a tearoom in Tillicoultry. Completing the ballot paper are Damian Sherwood-Johnson of the Lib Dems, who stood in this ward last year, and Marion Robertson for the Scottish Green Party. A reminder that Votes at 16 and the Alternative Vote apply to this by-election.

Parliamentary constituency: Ochil and South Perthshire
Scottish Parliament constituency: Clackmannanshire and Dunblane
ONS Travel to Work Area: Falkirk and Stirling
Postcode districts: FK12, FK13, FK14

Afifa Khanam (Lab)
Helen Lewis (SNP)
Marion Robertson (Grn)
Damian Sherwood-Johnson (LD)
Alex Stewart (C)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 1624 Lab 1076 C 969 LD 206 Grn 157
May 2012 first preferences SNP 1776 Lab 1014 Ind 540 C 157 LD 136
May 2007 first preferences SNP 2462 Lab 1473 C 333 LD 322 Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party 166 Scottish Socialist Party 75


Solihull council, West Midlands; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Alex Insley who had served since 2016. Insley is resigning for personal reasons: he is having to make several trips to Australia each year to care for his father, who is in poor health.

For our first Englsh by-election of the week we are in the Birmingham stockbroker belt. This is a ward which has seen much development in recent years: the main centres of population, the Monkspath housing estate and the village of Dickens Heath, have been almost entirely developed in the last 35 years - making them younger than your columnist. Dickens Heath in particular is a new village, with its first house occupied in 1998; it now has 3,245 electors according to the Notice of Poll. Many of the ward's residents commute to Birmingham along the Birmingham-Stratford railway line, which lies on the ward boundary, although employment is also provided by a very large business park which has sprung up in the ward next to the M42 motorway at junction 4. This being the West Midlands, as well as a commuter demographic the ward has relatively high Sikh and Hindu populations.

Solihull is one of only two metropolitan boroughs with Conservative majorities, the party holding 30 out of 51 seats plus this vacancy. Despite the fact that Solihull town had a Lib Dem MP until 2015, the main opposition now is probably not what you might expect: it's the Green Party, who have somehow managed to turn the Birmingham overspill estates of Chelmsley Wood into a Green stronghold and have also benefited from some Lib Dem defections in recent years. Some weird Parliamentary boundaries mean that Chelmsley Wood and this ward are both included in the same constituency: Meriden.

Named after the River Blythe, Blythe ward was created in 2004 from parts of the former Packwood and Shirley South wards. It elected two Lib Dems out of three in the 2004 election, but the Lib Dems lost their seats to the Conservatives in 2008 and 2011. In recent years the opposition to the Conservatives here has come from the Solihull and Meriden Residents Association, which gained Blythe ward in 2012 and came close to winning a second seat in 2014. Alex Insley gained his seat from the Residents in 2016, defeating them 51-34 in vote terms.

Defending for the Conservatives is James Butler. The Solihull and Meriden Residents Association has not returned to the fray, so Butler is opposed by Sardul Singh Marwa for Labour (who is standing here for the third time) and Charles Robinson for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Meriden
ONS Travel to Work Area: Birmingham
Postcode districts: B90, B94

James Butler (C)
Sardul Singh Marwa (Lab)
Charles Robinson (LD)

May 2016 result C 1598 Solihull and Meriden Res Assoc 1048 Lab 280 Grn 199
May 2015 result C 5302 Grn 1014 Lab 839
May 2014 result C 1612 Solihull and Meriden Res Assoc 1544 Lab 337
May 2012 result Solihull and Meriden Res Assoc 1181 C 1020 LD 285 Lab 266
May 2011 result C 2358 Solihull and Meriden Res Assoc 845 Lab 512 LD 452 Grn 102
May 2010 result C 3312 LD 2322 Lab 682 Solihull and Meriden Res Assoc 426 BNP 310 Grn 89
May 2008 result C 1714 LD 1647 Lab 112 Grn 79
May 2007 result LD 1832 C 1522 Lab 158 Grn 142
May 2006 result C 1662 LD 1509 Grn 226 Lab 181
June 2004 result LD 1720/1664/1555 C 1605/1589/1553 Lab 376


Basingstoke and Deane council, Hampshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Rita Burgess at the age of 74. An accountant, MENSA member and "adventurous sports" enthuasiast, Burgess was first elected to Basingstoke and Deane council in 1984 for Winklebury ward. She was defeated there in 1996 but returned to the council in 1999 and had represented Kempshott ward ever since, serving as Mayor of Basingstoke and Deane in 2002-03. Burgess was also a Hampshire county councillor for eighteen years.

For our second Tory defence of the week we travel south to Basingstoke. Although it's not a New Town, Basingstoke has many of the features of one: it was greatly expanded after the Second World War by London overspill. Kempshott ward, lying on the western edge of town, mostly dates fom the 1970s and early 1980s and makes the top 100 wards in England and Wales for owner-occupation (91% of households).

The name of Kempshott ward recalls the Kempshott Park of an earlier era. This was the Hampshire base of the future George IV, who held the estate from 1789 and had his honeymoon with Caroline of Brunswick here. Kempshott House was renovated by the Prince allegedly to satisfy his mistress, Maria Fitzherbert; and Jane Austen - who attended a ball there in January 1799 - would probably have appreciated that. However, Kempshott House is no more, having been demolished to make way for the M3 motorway.

Kempshott ward took on its present boundaries in 2008 and the Conservatives have not been seriously challenged here since then. At the most recent election in 2016 the wonderfully-named Conservative councillor Wilhelmine Court was re-elected, defeating Labour 64-19. The ward is also part of a safe Conservative county division (Basingstoke South West).

Defending for the Conservatives is Tony Capon, chief executive of a mental health charity. Labour have selected Grant Donohoe, a teacher; and the Lib Dems' Stavroulla O'Doherty completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Basingstoke
Hampshire county council division: Basingstoke South West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Basingstoke
Postcode district: RG22

Tony Capon (C)
Grant Donohoe (Lab)
Stavroulla O'Doherty (LD)

May 2016 result C 1366 Lab 405 UKIP 348
May 2015 result C 2669 Lab 672 UKIP 517 LD 319 Grn 204
May 2014 result C 1302 UKIP 474 Lab 385 LD 171
May 2012 result C 1295 Lab 361 LD 165
May 2011 result C 1855 Lab 584 LD 289
May 2010 result C 2586 LD 887 Lab 647 BFCP 549
May 2008 result C 1683/1586/1560 Lab 278/251/197 LD 273/257/253

Exmouth Town

East Devon council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Pat Graham on health grounds; she has developed Parkinson's disease. An Exmouth town councillor since 1997 and former Mayor of Exmouth, Graham had served on East Devon council since 2003. She is also a long-serving chairman of Exmouth in Bloom, and in 2015 was appointed MBE for her work with the group.

We started this week on the River Devon, and we end it at the mouth of a river in Devon. A tourist centre in season - which we are not - Exmouth is generally a retirement centre and a commuter town for Exeter. This is an old port with a surprisingly international history: Byzantine coins from the sixth century have been found in Exmouth, and in the mid-seventeenth century Algerian pirates regularly raided the coast and shipping in the area. The Town ward covers the town centre and a large part of the Exe estuary, which is a nature reserve full of wading birds.

Exmouth Town was has been a Liberal Democrat ward for many years, but the party's grip on the ward slipped in 2015 when one of the three Lib Dem seats was lost to the Conservatives. The two remaining Lib Dem councillors had clear personal votes and ran over 200 votes ahead of the party's third candidate. We saw in Bridport last week that the Liberal Democrats can have problems holding seats in those circumstances, and here we can add political fragmentation to the mix: the Lib Dems topped the poll in 2015 with just 31%, to 25% for the Conservatives, 23% for the Greens and 21% for Labour. Last year's county elections will give cheer to the Tory challenge, as they gained a seat from the Lib Dems in the Exmouth county division; on the other hand, the Conservative performance in the 2017 general election was nothing to write home about with a very strong second place in the local constituency for independent candidate Claire Wright.

The Lib Dems, Conservatives and Green have all selected Exmouth town councillors for this by-election. Tim Dumper is the defending Lib Dem candidate, the Tory nominee is Tony Hill and the Green candidate is Robert Masding. Labour candidate Dilys Hadley isn't an Exmouth town councilloe but would like to be one, as she is also standing in a town council by-election today. Completing the ballot paper is independent candidate and retired teacher Daphne Currier.

Parliamentary constituency: East Devon
Devon county council division: Exmouth
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter
Postcode district: EX8

Daphne Currier (Ind)
Tim Dumper (LD)
Dilys Hadley (Lab)
Tony Hill (C)
Robert Masding (Grn)

May 2015 result LD 1069/970/737 C 865/856/711 Grn 804 Lab 714
May 2011 result LD 833/758/676 C 547/478/467 Grn 397 UKIP 270 Ind 185
May 2007 result LD 864/832/693 C 450/428/389 Ind 426
May 2003 result LD 860/815/801 C 465/373/360

Previews: 22 Feb 2018

In the second Super Thursday of the month, there are eleven by-elections on 22nd February 2018. Last week was all about the Liberal Democrats who made three gains from the Conservatives, but this week the party must move from attack to defence: the Lib Dems are defending three seats, two of which (in the Dorset town of Bridport) are clearly vulnerable to the Conservatives. This week the focus will clearly be on independents, with not one, but two free-for-alls: one in a Lincolnshire ward which has seen extensive population growth this century, and one in Somerset to replace an independent-turned-UKIP councillor. There is also (or should be) UKIP interest in a Tory-UKIP marginal on the Lincolnshire coast, while the Conservatives should be under less threat with defences in Hertfordshire and Lichfield. We visit all three nations of Great Britain, with the only Labour defence of the week being in the Welsh Valleys in a ward where they are under threat from independents, and with the Tories hoping to complete a game of musical chairs in the Scottish Borders. We also report on legal action which has prevented a by-election from taking place in Greater Manchester, with the case apparently turning on whether a councillor had legally resigned. But we start this week with two polls in West Sussex, a Conservative defence followed by a Lib Dem one...


Arun council, West Sussex; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Dougal Maconachie. His local government career started in the mid-1990s when he was elected to Bognor Regis town council, and he had been an Arun councillor since 2007, serving as Chairman of the Council in 2014-15. His death came just four months after his wife Jacquie, who had also been an Arun councillor, passed away.

First, let's make sure we have the right Marine ward: there are three of them in West Sussex. This is the western of the three, the town centre ward for Bognor Regis. The sunniest town in Britain according to official weather records, this corner of Sussex by the sea was developed into a resort in the eighteenth century by the property developer Sir Richard Hotham, whose name is commemorated by an electoral ward elsewhere in the town. As with many seaside resorts, the town centre is a deprived area which has seen strong population growth in recent years thanks to immigration from eastern Europe: Bognor's Marine ward is in the top 40 in England and Wales for population born in the new EU states, and also in the top 60 for private renting - at 49% of households, an unusually high figure for a town without a university. According to a report of a hustings last week, regeneration of Bognor is a hot topic in the by-election, with Arun council controversially planning to turn a local car park into a "linear park".

Since 2007 Bognor's Marine ward has split its two seats between independent councillor Jim Brooks and the Conservatives. Maconachie took over as the Conservative councillor in 2015 having represented Barnham ward before then. In that 2015 election - the first on the present ward boundaries - Brooks topped the poll with 31%, having not been opposed by any of the other parties; the Conservatives had 26%, UKIP 24% and Labour 19%. In last year's West Sussex county elections the Conservatives gained the local county division, Bognor Regis West and Aldwick, from the Liberal Democrats; on the other hand, the Lib Dems gained the by-election in Aldwick West ward last November after Dougal's wife Jacquie Maconachie died, and they have won Marine ward before (in 2003).

Defending for the Conservatives is Kate Eccles, who fought Bognor Regis East in last year's county elections. Bognor town councillor Steve Goodheart is standing as an independent candidate: a signwriter by trade, he is the founder and organiser of the town's Rox music and arts festival. As so often seems to happen these days, there is no UKIP candidate. The Labour candidate is Alison Sharples, who fought the county elections here in 2017 and chairs the party's Bognor branch. Completing the ballot paper is Liberal Democrat Matt Stanley, manager of the local branch of the Nationwide building society.

Parliamentary constituency: Bognor Regis and Littlehampton
West Sussex county council division: Bognor Regis West and Aldwick
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chichester and Bognor Regis
Postcode districts: PO21, PO22

Kate Eccles (C)
Steve Goodheart (Ind)
Alison Sharples (Lab)
Matt Stanley (LD)

May 2015 result Ind 994 C 857 UKIP 774 Lab 631


Chichester council, West Sussex; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Sandra Westacott due to pressure of work. She had served since 2015.

We continue our journey west along the south coast. If Bognor is a relatively young town, Fishbourne is an old one: the main local attraction is Fishbourne Roman Palace, dating from the first century AD and described as the largest residential Roman building discovered in Britain. The palace burnt down around AD 270 and Fishbourne, as a settlement, never really recovered from that; it's now a sleepy village just to the west of Chichester, with a railway station on Southern's West Coastway line linking it to that city and giving the ward a commuter demographic.

Fishbourne has voted Liberal Democrat at each election this century, with Westacott in her first term having been elected in 2015. That year she beat the Conservatives 51-37. The ward is part of the Chichester West county division, which takes in solidly Conservative areas and was safe for that party in 2017.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Adrian Moss, who is seeking to return to the council after seven years away: he first served on Chichester council from 1987 to 1992 and was ward councillor for Fishbourne from 2003 to 2011. The Conservative candidate is Libby Alexander, who has worked as a teacher, for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and overseas for international organisations. Completing the ballot paper is Kevin Hughes for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Chichester
West Sussex county council division: Chichester West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chichester and Bognor Regis
Postcode districts: PO18, PO19, PO20

Libby Alexander (C)
Kevin Hughes (Lab)
Adrian Moss (LD)

May 2015 result LD 719 C 522 Grn 161
May 2011 result LD 571 C 403
May 2007 result LD 674 C 249
May 2003 result LD 607 C 223


Dorset county council; and

Bridport North

West Dorset council; both caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Ros Kayes. She had served on West Dorset council since 2007 and on Dorset county council since 2013 and, was Mayor of Bridport in 2016-17.

We finish our progression along the south coast in Dorset in the town of Bridport. A rather isolated centre in western Dorset, Bridport was important enough in Saxon times to have its own mint, and is still recognised by the ONS as the centre of its own Travel to Work Area. Bridport's traditional industry is ropemaking, and the town's unusually wide main street - where the ropes were dried - is a legacy of that. Rope and nets are still made in Bridport today, and other industries include brewing and valves together with tourism and services for the local area. One of those services, butchers R J Balson and Son, is recognised by the Institute for Family Business as the UK's oldest continuously-trading family business, with a line of butchers going back to 1515.

From 2003 to 2011 Bridport North ward carved up its two seats between the Lib Dems and Conservatives, with Ros Kayes taking over on the Lib Dem side in 2007 and developing an extremely large personal vote. Boundary changes for the 2015 election added the parish of Allington and a third councillor to the ward, and that was to the benefit of the Conservatives: although Kayes topped the poll with 39% she polled over twice as many votes as her running-mates, and the 31% for the Conservative slate easily delivered them the other two seats. The Greens came in third with 17%.

Bridport is too large for one Dorset county councillor but not large enough for two, resulting a two-seat Bridport county division which sprawls over 20-and-a-bit parishes in western Dorset. One of its electors is Billy Bragg, the notably left-wing musician, who lives in the parish of Burton Bradstock. In the 2017 county elections - the first on the expanded boundaries - this was essentially neck-and-neck between the Lib Dems and Conservatives; Kayes topped the poll with 38%, the Conservative slate polled 37% and won the other seat, and the Greens polled 12% to pip Labour for third place.

Without Kayes' personal vote these will be difficult defences for the Liberal Democrats. Defending the county seat for them is Dave Rickard, a West Dorset councillor for Bridport South ward, Bridport town councillor and Mayor of Bridport in 2012-13. The Conservatives have selected their unsuccessful candidate from last year Mark Roberts, West Dorset councillor for the rural Netherbury ward. Standing for the Greens is Kelvin Clayton, a Bridport town councillor who fought West Dorset in last year's general election. Completing the county ballot paper is Rose Allwork for Labour.

At West Dorset district council level the Liberal Democrats have selected Sarah Williams to hold Bridport North; she is the leader of Bridport town council, and was runner-up in Bridport South in the 2015 district elections. Standing for the Conservatives is Derek Bussell who is straight off the campaign trail: he won a by-election to the town council last November. The Green candidate is town councillor Julian Jones. Phyllida Culpin, the Labour candidate, completes the district ballot paper.


Parliamentary constituency: West Dorset
West Dorset district wards: Bridport North, Bridport South, Burton Bradstock (part: Burton Bradstock, Chilcombe, Litton Cheney, Puncknowle, Shipton Gorge and Swyre parishes), Maiden Newton (part: Compton Valence, Hook, Toller Fratrum, Toller Porcorum, West Compton and Wynford Eagle parishes), Netherbury (part: Askerswell, Loders, North Poorton and Powerstock parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bridport
Postcode districts: DT2, DT3, DT6, DT7, DT8

Rose Allwork (Lab)
Kelvin Clayton (Grn)
Dave Rickard (LD)
Mark Roberts (C)

May 2017 result LD 2490/1840 C 2415/2244 Grn 810/490 Lab 783/690

Bridport North

Parliamentary constituency: West Dorset
Dorset county council division: Bridport
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bridport
Postcode districts: DT6, DT7, DT8

Derek Bussell (C)
Phyllida Culpin (Lab)
Julian Jones (Grn)
Sarah Williams (LD)

May 2015 result LD 1921/942/830 C 1526/1286/1253 Grn 824 Lab 647/509/465

Minehead South

West Somerset council; caused by the resignation of councillor Tom Hall, who was elected as an independent but had since joined the UK Independence Party. He had served since 2015.

We stay in the West Country, but transfer from its south coast to its north coast. The major town of the West Somerset district, Minehead has an economy is based on tourism - one of the three remaining Butlins camps is here - and out of season as we are, Minehead's a sleepy place. Despite the name, this is the south-western of the four wards covering the town's built-up area, up on the hills along the Parkhouse, Periton and Porlock Roads. The area south of Periton Road (the A39) is undeveloped and mostly part of the Exmoor National Park.

Minehead's politics may not be quite as weird as the Monty Python sketch might suggest, but they're certainly fragmented. West Somerset is one of the UK's smallest local government districts by population, and that leads to tiny wards and big personal votes. This ward took on its current boundaries in 2011 and in that year the Conservatives and Labour tied for first place on 520 votes each. Luckily, with two seats available, they were both elected. In 2015 Labour lost their seat to Tom Hall; shares of the vote were 37% for the Conservatives, 28% for Hall and 18% for Labour. At county level Minehead forms one division, which voted UKIP on a low share of the vote in 2013 but was a convincing Tory gain in 2017. This is the first local by-election in Somerset since then.

With no defending independent or UKIP candidate we have here Britain Elects' favourite type of by-election. Yes, it's a free-for-all! Possibly best-placed is the Conservative candidate Gary Miele, a Minehead town councillor and director of a cleaning services company. Maureen Smith, Labour district councillor for the ward from 2011 to 2015, wants her seat back and is standing again. Completing the ballot paper is Liberal Democrat candidate Benet Allen, a helicopter pilot.

Parliamentary constituency: Bridgwater and West Somerset
Somerset county council division: Minehead
ONS Travel to Work Area: Minehead
Postcode district: TA24

Benet Allen (LD)
Gary Miele (C)
Maureen Smith (Lab)

May 2015 result C 766 Ind 590 Lab 385 Grn 355
May 2011 result C 520/365 Lab 520 Ind 335 Grn 259


Torfaen council, Gwent; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Matt Ford who is taking up a job with the council. He had served only since May 2017.

From the edge of one National Park to another. For the first Welsh local by-election of the year we travel across the Severn estuary to Gwent, and to the village and council estate of Trevethin which lies just outside the Brecon Beacons National Park. Trevethin clings to the eastern slopes of the Afon Lwyd valley, and in the old parish named after the village a town grew up during the Industrial Revolution, harnessing the power of the river and the coal and iron ore in the ground. That was Pontypool, which developed into an important metalworking (particularly ironworking), coalmining and railways centre.

Those industries are of course gone, and Trevethin is one of the most deprived parts of Wales. The division makes several top 100 lists in England and Wales from the 2011 census: 40th for those born in the UK (98.6% of the population), 46th for those of no religion (45.9% of the population), 57th for routine occupations (24.5% of the workforce), and 68th for long-term sickness or disability (11.7% of the workforce).

Trevethin division has existed since 1987 when it was a ward of the old Torfaen borough council. It took until 1999 for anyone to oppose the Labour slate here, and it took until 2017 for Labour to lose one of the division's two seats to an independent candidate. Shares of the vote that year were 51% for Labour and 49% for the independent slate.

Defending for Labour is local resident Emma Rapier, an NHS worker for 17 years according to her Twitter. Two independent candidates are having a go: Brynley Parker is a Pontypool community councillor, teaching assistant and manager of the Monmouthshire County rugby team, while former Torfaen councillor Frederick Wildgust is seeking to return to the council despite resigning in disgrace in 2011 after allegations of cyberbullying were upheld by a tribunal. Completing the ballot paper is Andrew Heygate-Browne of the Green Party.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Torfaen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode district: NP4

Andrew Heygate-Browne (Grn)
Brynley Parker (Ind)
Emma Rapier (Lab)
Frederick Wildgust (Ind)

May 2017 result Lab 424/372 Ind 400/289
May 2012 result Lab 399/323 Ind 227/169 PC 137
May 2008 result Lab 452/333 People's Voice 319
June 2004 result Lab 590/475 Ind 361 C 166
May 1999 result Lab 828/700 Ind 242
May 1995 result 2 Lab unopposed
May 1991 result 2 Lab unopposed
May 1987 result 2 Lab unopposed

Goffs Oak and Bury Green

Hertfordshire county council; caused by the death of the Leader of the Council, Conservative councillor Robert Gordon, at the age of 65. He had been Leader of the Council since 2007 and was first elected in 1989, representing Nascot Park division in Watford from 1989 to 1997 and again from 2001 to 2009, and Goffs Oak and Bury Green since 2009. Before becoming leader Gordon had held cabinet posts for education, children's services, and resources and performance; and in 2012 he was appointed CBE for services to local government.

As happened last week, our single London-area by-election is taking place just outside the Greater London boundary. This time we're off the northern edge of the boundary in rural Hertfordshire. This is a rather socially divided division: Goffs Oak, the home village of Victoria Beckham, is a rural part of the London commuter belt, whereas Bury Green is part of the town of Cheshunt and distinctly more downmarket.

Not that that social division affects the election results: this is a safe Conservative area. In 2017 - the first contest on the present boundaries - the Tories beat Labour here 65-18, and the Conservatives are similarly untroubled at Broxbourne council level (although UKIP came close in Rosedale and Bury Green ward in 2014).

Defending for the Conservatives is local resident Lesley Greensmyth, a long-serving swimming teacher and Mayoress of Broxbourne in 2015-16; her husband Martin is a Broxbourne councillor for Rosedale and Bury Green ward. Returning from the 2017 election is Labour candidate Selina Norgrove, who has since fought the local Broxbourne constituency in the 2017 general election. Completing the ballot paper are David Payne for the Liberal Democrats and Sally Kemp for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Goffs Oak
Broxbourne council wards: Goffs Oak, Rosedale and Bury Green (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: EN6, EN7, EN8, EN10

Lesley Greensmyth (C)
Sally Kemp (Grn)
Selina Norgrove (Lab)
David Payne (LD)

May 2017 result C 2108 Lab 572 UKIP 369 LD 190

Old Leake and Wrangle

Boston council, Lincolnshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Maureen Dennis, who had served since 2003. She was the Mayor of Boston in 2009-10 and twice served as Deputy Mayor.

It's time to travel north for our three by-elections in the Midlands, and we start on the east coast. Old Leake and Wrangle - now, there's a ward name to set the imagination racing - covers two villages off the Wash coast to the north-east of Boston on the A52 to Skegness. Wrangle, whose name comes from a Norse word meaning bent or crooked, was once a port on the Wash and had a motte and bailey castle, but land reclamation has led to the sea receding away. Old Leake is responsible for some of that reclamation: the pumping station at Lade Bank lock, originally built in 1867, has been draining the surrounding prime agricultural land for over a century.

The ward survived a boundary review in 2015 unchanged and its current boundaries date from 1999. In normal circumstances this is a Conservative area, but they lost one seat in 2007 to the Boston Bypass Independents - a single-issue campaign group which ended up in majority control of the council, and then fell apart. The Tories got that seat back in 2011, but then they lost one seat in 2015 to UKIP - a single-issue campaign group which ended up in majority control of the EU referendum, and then fell apart. In the 2015 election the Tories led UKIP 53-47 in votes, with the two slates winning one seat each. The Conservatives easily gained the local county seat (Boston Coastal) from UKIP in the 2017 Lincolnshire county elections.

Defending for the Conservatives is Tom Ashton, a farmer from Wrangle and Lincolnshire county councillor (for Tattershall Castle division). We have the increasingly rare sight of a UKIP candidate, Don Ransome. Also standing are Joseph Pearson for Labour and Richard Thornalley for an outfit your columnist has not previously heard of, "Blue Revolution".

Parliamentary constituency: Boston and Skegness
Lincolnshire county council division: Boston Coastal
ONS Travel to Work Area: Boston
Postcode district: PE22

Tom Ashton (C)
Joseph Pearson (Lab)
Don Ransome (UKIP)
Richard Thornalley (Blue Revolution)

May 2015 result C 828/687 UKIP 736/699
May 2011 result C 727/505 Boston Bypass Ind 337 UKIP 303
May 2007 result Boston Bypass Ind 518/454 C 455/338 UKIP 175
April 2006 by-election C 366 UKIP 115 Lab 83 LD 83
May 2003 result C 287/279 Lab 73 UKIP 62
May 1999 result C 664/353 Lab 322

Eagle, Swinderby and Witham St Hughs

North Kesteven council, Lincolnshire; caused by the death of independent councillor Barbara Wells at the age of 83. Wells started her local government career in 1968 as clerk to North Scarle parish council, and was a governor at the Sir Robert Pattinson Academy in North Hykeham for forty years. She was first elected to North Kesteven council for Eagle and North Scarle ward as an Independent Conservative in 1991, and transferred to this ward following boundary changes in 2007. Wells was Chairman of the Council in 1999-2000 and 2006-07, and in 1997 was appointed MBE for services to education and the community.

For our second Lincolnshire by-election of the week we are just west of the Lincoln built-up area. This ward of six parishes has grown strongly in population over the last few years: the village of Witham St Hughs became a parish of its own in 2000, has almost entirely been developed since then, and was based on the domestic quarters of the former RAF Swinderby. Opened in 1940 as a Bomber Command centre, housing two Polish squadrons, Swinderby was used after the war as a flying school and then for recruit training until closing in the mid-1990s. Most of the RAF Swinderby site was bought by a mining company, but no mining has ever taken place here and the main use for the former airfield site is an antiques fair. Swinderby has good communication links, located on the Fosse Way and with a railway station on the Lincoln-Nottingham line.

This ward was created in 2007 and was deliberately drawn with a low electorate to allow for future population growth. A wise move: between 2003 and 2015 the number of electors in this ward grew by 59%. At the 2007 election Wells was re-elected along with Sally Appleby at the top of the Conservative slate: shares of the vote that year were 45% for the Conservatives and 42% for Wells. Nobody has challenged Appleby or Wells since 2007, so that is the last contested election here. Witham St Hughs parish is within the Bassingham and Welbourn county division which is held in county hall by Marianne Overton, leader of the Lincolnshire Independents group; the rest of the ward is covered by the Tory-held county division of Eagle and Hykeham West. This ward is part of the Sleaford and North Hykeham constituency, which in June's general election gave 42,245 votes and 69.9% to Caroline Johnson for the Conservatives - in both absolute and percentage terms the best Conservative performance in any constituency last June.

This by-election is contested, and is a bit of a free-for-all. The defending independent candidate might be taken to be Nikki Dillon, a North Hykeham town councillor standing for the Lincolnshire Independents; she fought Eagle and Hykeham West in last year's county elections. The Conservative candidate is Peter Rothwell, a Witham St Hughs parish councillor. Completing the ballot paper is Corinne Byron for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Sleaford and North Hykeham
Lincolnshire county council division: Eagle and Hykeham West (part: Doddington and Whisby, Eagle and Swinethorpe, North Scarle, Swinderby and Thorpe on the Hill parishes and part of North Hykeham and South Hykeham parishes); Bassingham and Welbourne (part: Witham St Hughs parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lincoln
Postcode districts: LN5, LN6, NG23

Corinne Byron (LD)
Nikki Dillon (Lincs Ind)
Peter Rothwell (C)

May 2015 result C/Ind unopposed
May 2011 result C/Ind unopposed
May 2007 result C 649/473 Ind 599 UKIP 188


Lichfield council, Staffordshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor David Smedley, for family reasons. He had served since 2007, and was also leader of the parish-level Lichfield city council.

We move west to the West Midlands. Stowe is the city centre ward for Lichfield, an ecclesiastical centre since ancient times. St Chad, bishop of the Mercians, settled his diocese at Lichfield in 669, and by modern standards it was an enormous diocese - during the Middle Ages Lichfield was the mother cathedral for a huge swathe of the north midlands and the north-west all the way to the Ribble. The present cathedral dates from the 12th century and is known for its three spires. The city remained important as a coaching and intellectual centre - Samuel Johnson was from here - up to the 19th century when the Industrial Revolution largely passed it by. Nonetheless Lichfield has greatly expanded since the Second World War thanks to its good rail links to Birmingham and London.

A lot of that expansion in the initial post-war period took place in Stowe ward, which runs from the city centre to the east past the reservoir of Stowe Pool and along the Burton Road. Lichfield's two railway stations, City and Trent Valley, both lie on the ward boundary. This is a safely Conservative area at all levels of government: at the last district elections in 2015 the Tory slate led Labour here 54-27. Most of the ward is covered by the Lichfield City North county division, which was Labour in 2013 (it also includes Lichfield's most downmarket ward, Chadsmead) but a Conservative gain last year.

Defending for the Conservatives is Joanne Grange, a chartered accountant. The Labour candidate is Don Palmer. Also standing are Mat Hayward of the Green Party (who fought the ward in 2015), Jeyan Anketell for the Lib Dems and Philip Peter, who also stood here in the 2017 county elections, for an outfit called "Something New".

Parliamentary constituency: Lichfield
Staffordshire county council division: Lichfield City North (most); Lichfield Rural North (part transferred from Boley Park ward in 2015)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wolverhampton and Walsall
Postcode districts: WS13, WS14

Jeyan Anketell (LD)
Joanne Grange (C)
Mat Hayward (Grn)
Don Palmer (Lab)
Philip Peter (Something New)

May 2015 result C 1791/1484/1443 Lab 898/862/857 Grn 635

Bryn (Cancelled)

Wigan council, Greater Manchester; caused by, er...

There was originally going to be a twelfth by-election today in Greater Manchester, in the Bryn ward of Wigan district - the northern of the two wards covering Ashton-in-Makerfield. This is complicated, please bear with me.

At the start of January independent councillor Steve Jones had sent to the chief executive of Wigan council a postdated resignation letter, indicating to the council that he intended to resign on 20th February. Cllr Jones had recently been the subject of a number of controversies - last year he was prosecuted for drink-driving and cautioned for common assault - but did not wish to resign immediately because of his financial position. However, the returning officer's interpretation of local government law was that Cllr Jones' resignation could not be postdated, and took effect immediately.

Steve Jones was unhappy about this decision, and decided to withdraw his resignation. However, Wigan council had already published a notice of vacancy and made arrangements for a poll to take place today. Jones was standing for re-election in that poll, but had also taken the council to judicial review. Yesterday the High Court in Manchester ruled in Jones' favour, deciding that he had not resigned his office and issuing an injunction to stop the by-election. Wigan council and the returning officer were granted permission to appeal, but decided not to do so "in order to protect the public purse".

There is clearly no love lost between Jones and the ruling Labour group: the BBC have previously reported comments from the council leader Lord Smith of Leigh branding Jones as "unfit for office" while advising him to "seek professional help" - and it seems unlikely that the noble lord meant professional help from lawyers. Jones was sitting on a small majority of just 77 votes from the 2016 election and Labour will have had high hopes of winning the by-election. From the council's point of view, they will have incurred significant expense in organising this abortive election: apart from the legal costs fighting the High Court action, polling stations had been hired, staff time secured and ballot papers printed. More than 750 postal votes had already been returned, and those voters will presumably be wondering why they bothered. This column isn't particularly happy with what has happened either, having spent time researching and writing a full preview for Bryn ward which has had to be scrapped at the eleventh hour. One suspects that there may be further political and/or legal fallout to come from this particular row, and this column will keep an eye on Wigan in case of future developments.


Scottish Borders council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Michelle Ballantyne who is now a member of the Scottish Parliament. Ballantyne had served since 2012 and was leader of the opposition Conservative group going into the 2017 election.

We finish in the Scottish borders with a ward name which recalls the administrative chaos with the Middle Ages left to the Borders area. Where there is now a single Scottish Borders council, up until 1975 there were four counties - Berwickshire, Roxburghshire, Peeblesshire and Selkirkshire. This ward doesn't include the largest town of Selkirkshire (Galashiels), instead being based on Selkirk itself and a huge, sparsely-populated swathe of moorland - the Ettrick Forest.

Selkirk is a town of fewer than 6,000 souls - although it's doing better than Roxburgh, which has a population of zero - but has a famous name. One of Scotland's oldest Royal Burghs, the town's traditional industry was wool and its traditional celebration is the Common Riding, a cavalcade of over 300 riders which takes place each June. Famous people associated with the town include the author Sir Walter Scott, who in 1799 was appointed Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire; while the county gave us the African explorer Mungo Park and the poet and author James Hogg, who because of his humble upbringing was often known as the Ettrick Shepherd. One famous elector in the ward is the former Liberal Party leader David Steel, now Lord Steel of Aikwood, who lives here at Aikwood Tower.

Steel saw his Liberal Democrats top the poll in the first election to the modern Selkirkshire ward in 2007. That was the year Scotiand introduced proportional representation, and Selkirkshire's three seats split between the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and the Scottish National Party. In 2012 the SNP lost their seat to independent candidate Gordon Edgar, who started in fourth place but got transfers from another independent and the Borders Party.

The SNP got their Selkirkshire seat back in the 2017 election, capitalising on the collapse of the Lib Dem vote. Again Gordon Edgar came through from fourth place to win the final seat, pulling ahead of the second Conservative candidate on the last count with transfers from former SNP councillor Kenneth Gunn, who was trying to get his seat back as an independent. First preferences were 42% for the Conservatives, 22% for the SNP and 13% for Edgar.

In the 2016 Holyrood election Ballantnye had contested Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, failing to gain it from the SNP, and was seventh on the Conservative Party list for the South of Scotland. That placed her next in line when John Lamont, the Tory MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, resigned in 2017 to successfully seek election to Westminster, and list MSP Rachael Hamilton resigned to successfully contest the resulting Scottish Parliament by-election. This by-election completes the resulting game of Tory musical chairs. The Conservatives are the largest party on Scottish Borders council with 14 out of 34 seats plus this vacancy, and run the council in coalition with the seven-strong Independent group; that coalition is not endangered by this by-election.

Defending for the Conservatives is their unsuccessful candidate from last year Trevor Adams, a retired foxhunter with the Buccleuch Hunt. The SNP candidate is John Mitchell, who is seeking to return to the council after losing his seat in Galashiels and District ward last year. There are two independent candidates: former SNP councillor for this ward Kenneth Gunn, and businesswoman Caroline Penman who was voted Selkirk's Personality of 2017. Completing the longest ballot paper of the week are Scott Redpath for Labour, Jack Clark for the Liberal Democrats (who gives an address 45 miles away in Cove, Berwickshire) and Barbra Harvie for the Scottish Greens. A reminder that the Alternative Vote and Votes at 16 apply here; and don't wait up all night for the result, as the count is taking place on Friday.

Parliamentary constituency: Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
Scottish Parliament constituency: Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Galashiels and Peebles
Postcode districts: TD1, TD6, TD7, TD9

Trevor Adams (C)
Jack Clark (LD)
Kenneth Gunn (Ind)
Barbra Harvie (Grn)
John Mitchell (SNP)
Caroline Penman (Ind)
Scott Redpath (Lab)

May 2017 result C 1687 SNP 888 Ind 514 Ind 392 Lab 147 LD 134 Ind 123 Grn 122
May 2012 result C 799 SNP 671 LD 649 Ind 597 Borders Party 299 Ind 276
May 2007 result LD 1313 C 1121 SNP 826 Ind 558 Borders Party 360 Ind 279

Previews: 15 Feb 2018

"All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"

There is something for everyone in this week's edition of Andrew's Previews. In the largest week of local by-elections not combined with something else for many years, there are fourteen by-elections on Thursday 15th February 2018, with nearly 90,000 people eligible to vote in them. The Conservatives are defending half of the seats up for election, with four Labour defences and one defence each for the Scottish National Party, a residents group and UKIP - although that last one should come with an asterisk. We have cities, towns, villages, suburbs and military bases; old towns and New Towns. We have the south, the Midlands, the north and Scotland. We replace a councillor who served for 45 years, one who served for less than seven months, one who is resigning to improve his mental health, and one who is now in prison for attacking his wife with a mallet. We visit some of the greatest engineering achievements of the eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries: canals, railways, roads and bridges. While most of the polls this week may look safe at first glance, there is always the potential for a surprise or few. Read on, as we start with one of the biggest local government failures of recent times...

Higham Ferrers

Northamptonshire county council; and

Higham Ferrers Lancaster

East Northamptonshire council; both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Glenn Harwood. A veteran of the Falklands War who served for forty years in the Army, retiring with an MBE and the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, Harwood was elected to East Northamptonshire council in 2007, and at the time of his death was deputy leader of the council. In May 2017 he was elected to Northamptonshire county council.

It's appropriate to start this week in Northamptonshire, which is the location for the biggest and most controversial story to have come out of local government so far in this young year. Earlier this month Northamptonshire county council issued a Section 114 notice, banning all new expenditure with the exception of statutory services for protecting vulnerable people. Essentially, the council has run out of money and gone bust. Proposals for remedying this include raising council tax by almost 6%, and selling the council's new headquarters building which was built at a cost of �53 million and has only been open for four months. These proposals haven't gone down well with Northamptonshire's seven MPs - all Conservatives - who have called for the government to send in commissioners, nor have they gone done well with half of the county council's ruling Conservative group, with 21 backbench councillors signing a statement saying that they are appalled by what has been revealed regarding the council's finances.

Thankfully - polls being rather expensive items to run - Northamptonshire does not have the responsibility of running these by-elections, which is a job for the district council. So the voters of Higham Ferrers will have an early chance to say what they think of all this, as well as proposals for a large "US-style" chicken farm in the area. Higham Ferrers is a market town in eastern Northamptonshire, overlooking the River Nene, which is just north of and has fused with the larger town of Rushden. Higham - from Old English words meaning "high homestead" is a common placename in the UK and so the suffix "Ferrers" was added; this is a reference to William de Ferrers, fifth earl of Derby of the first creation, who created the borough in 1251. The present Earl Ferrers, the senior Earl in the British peerage, is a descendant of William de Ferrers - although the upper class is not what it was and the present earl has to go to work as an accountant. Higham Ferrers' economy was traditionally based on shoemaking and footwear, and some of this trade still survives in the town today.

Lancaster ward is the eastern of Higham Ferrers' two district wards and also takes in the parish of Chelveston cum Caldecott to the east. The county division covers the whole of Higham Ferrers together with part of Rushden to the south.

This is a very Conservative area. Higham Ferrers Lancaster ward was created on its current boundaries in May 2007, when the Conservative slate beat Labour 71-29 in a straight fight. Nobody has challenged the Tories in the ward since then, so you have to look to county level for clues as to how the town's political allegiances have changed over the last eleven years. Last year's county election in the Higham Ferrers division suggest that the changes since 2007 don't amount to much: the Conservatives beat Labour 60-19.

Defending the county seat for the Conservatives is Jason Smithers, a cafe-owner and deputy mayor of Higham Ferrers. The Labour candidate is Gary Day. At district level the Lancaster ward by-election is contested: the Conservatives have gone for youth in selecting Harriet Pentland to defend the seat, while the Labour candidate is businessman Mark Green. Both ballot papers are completed by Suzanna Austin for the Lib Dems, Bill Cross for UKIP and Simon Turner for the Green Party.

Higham Ferrers

Parliamentary constituency: Wellingborough
East Northamptonshire council wards: Higham Ferrers Chichele, Higham Ferrers Lancaster, Rushden Spencer (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kettering and Wellingborough
Postcode districts: NN9, NN10

Suzanna Austin (LD)
Bill Cross (UKIP)
Gary Day (Lab)
Jason Smithers (C)
Simon Turner (Grn)

May 2017 result C 1762 Lab 552 LD 327 UKIP 290
May 2013 result C 1184 UKIP 697 Lab 385 Ind 299 LD 116

Higham Ferrers Lancaster

Parliamentary constituency: Wellingborough
Northamptonshire county council division: Higham Ferrers
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kettering and Wellingborough
Postcode districts: NN9, NN10

Suzanna Austin (LD)
Bill Cross (UKIP)
Mark Green (Lab)
Harriet Pentland (C)
Simon Turner (Grn)

May 2015 result 2 C unopposed
May 2011 result 2 C unopposed
July 2007 by-election C unopposed
May 2007 result C 812/787 Lab 335/316


North Norfolk council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Glyn Williams on health grounds. He was first elected in 2011 as a Liberal Democrat and defected to the Conservatives in 2013.

We travel east to consider two by-elections in East Anglia. Worstead is a village with a famous name but not a population to match. The village came to prominence in the twelfth century when Flemish weavers arrived in the area; they became so successful that a type of yarn - worsted - was named after the village. At 922 souls Worstead is too small to be a ward on its own, and the ward named after it contains five other parishes wrapping around the south and west of North Walsham. Worstead railway station - on the Bittern Line from Norwich to Sheringham - links the ward to the outside world.

By-elections in Liberal Democrat constituencies don't come around very often, so savour this one. The Liberal Democrats held this ward from 2003 (when the current ward boundaries came in) to 2013 when their councillor Glyn Williams defected to the Conservatives. Williams was re-elected under his new colours in 2015, polling 42% to 33% for the Lib Dems and 13% for the Green Party. The 2015 election re-elected the Conservatives to majority control of North Norfolk, but they have since suffered a mass of defections: of the 33 Conservative councillors elected in 2015 only 22 remain plus this vacancy, and the party has lost overall control of the council. The local county division - North Walsham East and Erpingham - is a three-way marginal with a strong Labour vote but has consistently voted Lib Dem since 2005.

Defending for the Conservatives is Robin Russell-Pavier, who has travelled the world working in the holiday industry and now works as a tourism consultant. The Lib Dems will want this seat back and have selected Saul Penfold (oh crumbs!), who is the chair of governors at Worstead CofE primary school, a former teacher and former head of education at Norwich Cathedral. With the Greens withdrawing, completing the ballot paper is carpenter, builder and former district councillor David Spencer for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: North Norfolk
Norfolk county council division: North Walsham West and Erpingham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Norwich
Postcode districts: NR10, NR11, NR28

Saul Penfold (LD)
Robin Russell-Pavier (C)
David Spencer (Lab)

May 2015 result C 597 LD 475 Grn 180 Lab 175
May 2011 result LD 465 C 287 Lab 159 Grn 84
May 2007 result LD 555 C 369
May 2003 result LD 372 C 333

St Pauls

Tendring council, Essex; caused by the resignation of councillor Jack Parsons. Parsons was originally elected for UKIP in a May 2016 by-election, had defected to Labour, and at the time of his resignation was sitting as an independent. Last year he was sentenced to 70 hours' unpaid work by Colchester magistrates for possessing a knife in a public place.

Parsons' resignation from the council was bizarre; he had sent a draft resignation email to council bosses by mistake, and unsuccessfully tried to retract it. Unlike a case we shall come to next week, Parsons has decided that resignation is the best course of action for him as he battles problems with depression and anxiety. This column wishes Parsons the best of luck in recovering good mental health.

It's a while since we've looked at Tendring, isn't it? We're in Clacton-on-Sea here, in a ward on the Essex seafront just to the east of Clacton town centre. Much of the housing in the ward dates from the 1930s or 1950s, and much of the population does too: St Pauls ward makes the top 100 in England and Wales for population in the 65+ age bracket.

Politically this corner of Essex votes perhaps not like you might expect it to. From 2003 to 2015 this was the local fiefdom of Pierre Oxley, who was initially a Conservative but by 2007 had formed his own localist party called Tendring First. However, in early 2016 Oxley pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation, for which he has given a suspended two-year prison sentence. As a result he was kicked off Essex county council, and the resulting by-election was won by Colin Sargeant who had the nomination of the Holland-on-Sea Residents Association. Sargeant was re-elected in last year's county elections, on that occasion as an independent candidate.

Oxley had already lost his Tendring council seat in 2015, as the local UKIP group rode the coattails of Douglas Carswell (remember him?) to gain one of the two seats in St Pauls ward. It was a close three-way result: UKIP had 37% and one seat, the Conservatives 33% and the other seat, with Tendring First on 30%.

Across Tendring district UKIP ended up with 22 seats to the Conservatives' 23, with 31 needed for a majority. Experience has shown that large UKIP council groups tend not to have much truck with such boring notions as discipline and coherence, but in Tendring the split and collapse in the UKIP group started immediately thanks to an inspired decision by the Conservatives to offer a coalition deal. Two years, nine months and lots of defections later, UKIP are down to eight seats in Tendring while the Conservatives hold 32 and an overall majority, although the coalition between them and the UKIP splinters who accepted the deal remains in place.

In the meantime the St Pauls UKIP councillor John Mooney decided to emigrate, and a by-election was held for his seat in May 2016. UKIP held that seat, again with 37% of the vote, to 27% for the Conservatives and 22% for independent candidate William Hones. Jack Parsons, the winner of that by-election, has now resigned in his turn.

Given Parsons' unusual political journey during his year and a half in office, it's difficult to identify a defending party for this by-election. UKIP will want their seat back and are hoping to win their first council by-election in over a year: the last Kipper win was in Great and Little Oakley ward, also in Tendring district, on 9th February 2017, and in all the elections since then UKIP have won a grand total of one seat, in Burnley last May. Their defending candidate is Mike Vaughan-Chatfield, chairman of the North Essex Photographic Workshop and former chairman of Tendring Neighbourhood Watch. Labour will also want their seat back and have selected Rosie-Roella Kevlin, an artistic coordinator at Colchester Arts Centre. The Conservative candidate is Sue Honeywood, who was a district councillor for Clacton's Pier ward from 2007 until losing her seat to UKIP in 2015. William Hones, who finished third in the 2016 by-election, returns for another try; another independent on the ballot paper is Stephen Andrews, co-owner of the local football club FC Clacton. Completing the ballot paper are Robert Cockroft of the Green Party, who is described as a regulatory ecotoxicologist, whatever that is; and former Sutton councillor Keith Pitkin (Worcester Park North 1986-90, Sutton Central 1990-98) for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Clacton
Essex county council division: Clacton East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Clacton
Postcode district: CO15

May 2016 by-election UKIP 424 C 311 Ind 248 Lab 148
May 2015 result UKIP 944/760 C 838/611 Tendring First 766/754
May 2011 result Tendring First 945/928 C 680/618
May 2007 result Tendring First 1106/1086 C 440/384
May 2003 result C 793/701 Lab 239 Ind 219 LD 177/154


Epsom and Ewell council, Surrey; caused by the resignation of Keith Partridge who was a councillor for the West Ewell and Ruxley Residents Association. He had served since 2015.

For our London-area by-election this week we travel to Surrey. The town of Ewell has been swallowed up by the growth of London but remains outside the Greater London boundary. Ewell is an affluent commuter area but Ruxley ward is perhaps its most downmarket part: located in West Ewell and named after Ruxley Lane, the ward is hard up against the Greater London boundary at Chessington and has Epsom and Ewell's lowest proportion of the workforce in the census "higher management" occupational group.

For many years now Epsom and Ewell has been dominated at borough level by Residents Association candidates. Ruxley ward is no different: in the 2015 election the Residents had a clean sweep, gaining two seats from the Conservatives against the national trend. That year the Residents polled 45% to 32% for the Conservatives and 14% for Labour. The Residents also hold the local county division, West Ewell.

Defending for the Residents is Alex Coley, a former civil servant who was the first Head of Digital Services for the Metropolitan Police, and now runs a digital communications and technology company. The Conservative candidate is Stephen Pontin who was a councillor for this ward from 2007 to 2011, and is seeking to return to the council. Labour have selected Themba Msika, a mental health nurse. Completing the ballot paper is Julia Kirkland for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Epsom and Ewell
Surrey county council division: West Ewell
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: KT19

Alex Coley (Residents Assocs of Epsom and Ewell)
Julia Kirkland (LD)
Themba Msika (Lab)
Stephen Pontin (C)

May 2015 result Residents 1353/1110/1018 C 983/930/928 Lab 429/420/383 LD 265
May 2011 result Residents 795/609/571 C 711/680/656 Lab 216/212 LD 128/125/79
May 2007 result Residents 605/521/503 C 518/480/479 Lab 125/125/108 LD 104/92/90
May 2003 result Residents 579/484/437 Lab 391/387/376 C 243 LD 131

Carterton South

West Oxfordshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Mick Brennan. He had served since 2011, and was a contractor at RAF Brize Norton after 30 years' service in the Royal Air Force.

We move west from London to a ward which is dominated by the military. The town of Carterton has grown to become the second-largest town in West Oxfordshire district (after Witney), and the main reason for that is its proximity to RAF Brize Norton. The UK's largest RAF base, Brize Norton opened in 1937 and saw much activity in the Second World War, before being used by the US Air Force who deployed nuclear bombers here. The RAF took the base back in 1965, and it is now the point of embarkation for British troops overseas and the main operating base for the RAF's transport and refuelling aircraft.

Many of Brize Norton's buildings and part of its apron are within the ward boundary, and the military personnel have left their mark on its demographics. Carterton South is in the top 10 wards in England and Wales for full-time employment (a staggering 62% of the workforce), in the top 10 wards for those educated to Level 2 (five or more GCSE passes or equivalent), and in the top 20 wards for the census "intermediate" employment category.

What the military tend not to do is turn out in local elections, so the town will punch above its weight when the votes are counted. Despite a Liberal Democrat win in 2007 - by one vote - this is a safe Conservative area like the other two Carterton wards. At the most recent district election in 2015 the Conservatives beat UKIP here 62-15, and in May's county elections the Tories had a 70-12 lead over Labour in the Carterton South and West division. One of the former Conservative councillors for this ward was Windell "Joe" Walcott, who served as Mayor of Carterton and was appointed MBE but is perhaps better known as the grandfather of the footballer Theo Walcott.

Defending for the Conservatives is Michele Mead, a Carterton town councillor. With UKIP not returning, she is opposed by Simon Adderley for Labour and Ben Lines for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Witney
Oxfordshire county council division: Carterton South and West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Oxford
Postcode district: OX18

Simon Adderley (Lab)
Ben Lines (LD)
Michele Mead (C)

May 2015 result C 1363 UKIP 342 Lab 254 LD 133 Grn 124
May 2014 result C 536 UKIP 285 Lab 91 Grn 72
May 2011 result C 893 LD 184 Lab 129 Grn 83
May 2010 result C 1642 LD 464
May 2007 result LD 493 C 492
May 2006 result C 892 LD 206
May 2003 result C 430 LD 364 Lab 77
May 2002 result C 793/448 LD 402

Chudleigh; and
Dawlish Central and North East

Teignbridge council, Devon; caused respectively by the resignations of Doug Laing and Graham Price, who were both Conservative councillors. Laing had served since 2015, Price - a former chairman of Teignbridge council - since 2007.

Laing, who was the council's outgoing cabinet member for economy and tourism, is now serving a three-year prison sentence for wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. That charge related to an attack on his wife Susan at their home on 29 October last year. Laing had originally been charged with attempted murder, but denied that charge and a trial was not pursued after he pleaded guilty to the lesser offence.

Not the most propitious of circumstances for one of our two by-elections in the West Country today. Both of these are in the Teignbridge district. Chudleigh can be found on the eastern slopes of Dartmoor; it's a commuter town for Exeter which is bypassed by the A38 Exeter-Plymouth road - and the importance of that bypass to the local road network is demonstrated by the fact that before it was built, the road closures for the Chudleigh carnival each summer could lead to 25-mile tailbacks. Although the Chudley Cannons have been playing Quidditch in the village since 1753 (according to J K Rowling, and I'm not going to contradict that), there is no word on how the team was affected by a major fire in 1807 which essentially destroyed Chudleigh, leaving only the church and seven houses standing. The ward also extends to the north to take in Hennock parish, part of which is within the Dartmoor National Park - although that parish will move out of the ward in boundary changes to be implemented next year.

Down on the seafront can be found the town of Dawlish, which developed in the eighteenth century as a seaside resort. Jane Austen spent a long holiday here in 1802, complaining at length at the state of the town's library, and the place appears in novels by both her and Dickens. Running along the seafront is the West of England main line, opened by Brunel in 1846 and with its trains originally run by pneumatic tubes - a failed experiment. The main line is one of the most scenic in Britain thanks to its seafront location, but also expensive to maintain - part of it was washed away in a storm in 2014, leaving the West Country cut off from the rail network for several weeks. The North and East ward covers the northern half of the town plus the village of Dawlish Warren, whose economy is entirely geared towards holidays and tourism.

Chudleigh ward has unchanged boundaries since 1979. It has traditionally returned independent candidates to Teignbridge council, with the first party candidate to break that pattern being Labour in their zenith year of 1995; the Labour seat was lost back to the independents in a November 1996 by-election. It took until 2003 for party candidates to get in on the act again with the election of a Lib Dem to one of the two seats; the Tories gained the Lib Dem seat in 2007 and the remaining independent seat in the 2015 election to hold both seats in the ward for the first time. That 2015 election was a rather fragmented result, with 33% for the Tory slate of Laing and Patricia Johnson-King, 25% for outgoing independent councillor Richard Keeling and 15% each for Labour and the Greens. Johnson-King died in 2016 and the Conservatives lost the resulting by-election to Keeling, who stood with the Liberal Democrat nomination: he beat the Conservatives 52-36. Keeling was also the local Lib Dem candidate in the county elections last year, coming a strong second in the safe Conservative division of Chudleigh and Teign Valley.

The Conservatives are generally stronger in Dawlish North and East where they have won two or all of the three seats in every election this century. The exceptions were a Lib Dem win in 2003 and an independent win in 2011. The Conservatives regained the independent seat in 2015 in a fragmented result: they had 30% to 23% for the Lib Dems, 17% for the independent slate and 15% for the Greens. The Tories had a larger lead over the Lib Dems in May's county elections in Dawlish division.

Dawlish town council's website advertises the place as the "home of the black swan", and having one of your councillors sent to prison for attacking his wife with a mallet certainly counts as a black swan event for the Teignbridge Conservatives. The difficult task, given those circumstances, of holding Chudleigh for the Tories falls to Pam Elliott. Hospital manager Lorraine Evans is hoping to gain for the Liberal Democrats: an interesting selection as Evans was the ward's Conservative councillor from 2007 to 2015, losing re-election in 2015 as an independent candidate. Returning from the 2016 by-election is Labour candidate Janette Parker, who completes a rare all-female ballot paper.

The Dawlish Central and North East by-election is a straight fight with no independent or Green candidates. Defending in the blue corner is Angela Fenne, a Dawlish town councillor and traffic officer at Highways England. Challenging in the yellow corner is Martin Wrigley, the present Mayor of Dawlish, who works in the telecom and IT sector.


Parliamentary constituency: Central Devon
Devon county council division: Chudleigh and Teign Valley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter
Postcode districts: EX6, TQ13

Lorraine Evans (LD)
Pam Elliott (C)
Janette Parker (Lab)

December 2016 by-election LD 680 C 470 UKIP 89 Lab 81
May 2015 result C 1308/1159 Ind 985/592/516 Lab 597 Grn 585 LD 508
May 2011 result C 889/720 Ind 884/561 LD 500 Lab 475
May 2007 result Ind 1120/597 C 909 LD 799
May 2003 result Ind 645/566 LD 570/423 C 399/371
May 1999 result Ind 798/682 C 442 Lab 257
Nov 1996 by-election Ind 480 LD 230 Lab 171 (Ind gain from Lab)
May 1995 result Lab 586 Ind 570/479 LD 482 C 347 Loony 53
May 1991 result Ind 827/757/721
May 1987 result Ind 1046/667/574 Lab 179/119
May 1983 result Ind 739/403/349 Alliance 382
May 1979 result Ind 1251/805/713/652

Dawlish Central and North East

Parliamentary constituency: Newton Abbot
Devon county council division: Dawlish
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter
Postcode districts: EX6, EX7

Angela Fenne (C)
Martin Wrigley (LD)

May 2015 result C 1687/1645/1406 LD 1295/1274 Ind 940/817/687 Grn 858 Lab 827
May 2011 result C 1197/1095/1041 Ind 1129/1065 LD 599/569/535
May 2007 result C 1221/1214/1169 LD 1106/1022/953
May 2003 result C 1020/985/946 LD 1010/946/866 Lab 377


North East Derbyshire council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Julie Hill who had served since 2015.

It's time to go north as we consider the first of this week's five by-elections in England north of the Trent. We stay in the Midlands for the first Labour defence of the week, which is in a ward based on the villages of Grassmoor and Temple Normanton just to the south-east of Chesterfield. This was a coalmining area, with a series of deep and opencast pits which have now all gone; much of the former mining sites, including the once-severely polluted Grassmoor Lagoons, have been landscaped into the Grassmoor Country Park. Grassmoor's most famous son is Paul Burrell, the former butler to Diana, Princess of Wales.

This is a ward where Labour are not seriously challenged at district council level. The Labour slate was unopposed in 2003, and in 2015 beat UKIP here 59-24. However, it is part of the North East Derbyshire constituency which was a rare Conservative gain in June 2017, and part of this ward is covered by the Clay Cross North county division which was marginal between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in May 2017. Clay Cross North also includes the neighbouring Tupton ward, where the Lib Dems came from nowhere to win a council by-election in 2016.

Defending for Labour, who will be hoping for a good result to show that they are back on track in this constituency, is Dick Marriott. With UKIP not returning for this by-election, Marriott is opposed by Josh Broadhurst for the Conservatives and Ben Marshall for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: North East Derbyshire
Derbyshire county council division: Sutton (part: Temple Normanton parish and Hasland and Winswick ward of Grassmoor, Hasland and Winswick parish); Clay Cross North (part: Grassmoor ward of Grassmoor, Hasland and Winswick parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chesterfield
Postcode districts: S41, S42, S44

Josh Broadhurst (C)
Dick Marriott (Lab)
Ben Marshall (LD)

May 2015 result Lab 1103/901 UKIP 439 C 319/275
May 2011 result Lab 928/891 C 230/212
May 2007 result Lab 760/677 C 218
May 2003 result 2 Lab unopposed


Doncaster council, South Yorkshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Tony Corden at the age of 71. He was first elected in 1992 with continuous service since 2011, and had served on the Doncaster cabinet.

Showing our passports at the county boundary, we enter into Yorkshire but stay with coal. The large village of Armthorpe can be found just off the eastern edge of Doncaster. Traditionally an agricultural area - this is flat, rich farming land - Armthorpe was mostly developed from the 1920s onwards as accommodation for workers at the large Markham Main colliery, which extracted its first coal in 1924 and closed in 1996. The site of the pit is now a housing estate, but the Markham Main Colliery brass band is still going strong. With the demise of mining Armthorpe's main industry is now distribution: the ward is directly connected to the M18 motorway at junction 4, and IKEA and Next have warehouses here.

Armthorpe ward has unchanged boundaries since 2004 and survived a boundary review in 2015 unscathed. From 2004 to 2010 its council seats were held by an independent slate, but Labour gained the ward's seats from 2010 to 2012 and have yet to relinquish them. In the 2017 election Labour had 41% here to 29% for UKIP and 22% for the Conservatives.

Defending for Labour is Frank Tyas, a joiner and Armthorpe parish councillor. UKIP and the Conservatives are not standing again, so Tyas is opposed in a straight fight by independent candidate Martin Williams, a former Community Group councillor for Thorne ward.

Parliamentary constituency: Doncaster Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Doncaster
Postcode district: DN3

Frank Tyas (Lab)
Martin Williams (Ind)

May 2017 result Lab 1479/1336/1314 UKIP 1045/767 C 787 Grn 328
May 2015 result Lab 2709/2496/2386 UKIP 2260 C 1247 LD 638 Grn 605 Ind 575
May 2014 result Lab 1286 UKIP 975 Ind 666 C 231 TUSC 116
May 2012 result Lab 1677 Ind 1289 C 226
May 2011 result Lab 1958 Ind 1410 C 415
May 2010 result Lab 2369 Ind 1258 LD 877 C 848 English Democrats 692
May 2008 result Ind 1860 Lab 941 C 416
May 2007 result Ind 2047 Lab 1105
May 2006 result Ind 1602 Lab 1260 C 276
June 2004 result Ind 2140/1884/1821 Lab 1664/1244/1172 C 357


York council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Sonja Crisp who had served since 2007. The Lord Mayor of York in 2015-16 - being suspended from the party during her mayoral year in a row over refurbishment of the Mansion House - Crisp is suffering from a neurological condition, and is moving to Scotland to be closer to her family.

For our second Yorkshire by-election we are in tourist central. Holgate ward is not the beautiful and much-visited centre of York; instead we are on the west side of town just beyond the railway station. This is a ward which is dominated by York's extensive railway yards and includes one of the UK's largest and most-visited museums, the National Railway Museum. The ward's population lies to the south of the railway yards along the Poppleton and Acomb Roads; this is generally a relatively well-off part of the city.

Despite that, Holgate has been held by Labour since 2007 when they gained the ward from the Liberal Democrats. There were minor boundary changes for the 2015 election which turned in a fragmented result: just 27% for the winning Labour slate, 19% for the Conservatives, 16% for the Green Party, 13% for the Liberal Democrats and 12% for UKIP.

With vote shares like that all the parties will think that they have a genuine chance of winning, with the exception of UKIP who have not nominated a candidate. Defending for Labour is 27-year-old Kallum Taylor, a former president of York University Students' Union who now works for a local housing association. Also in his late 20s is Conservative candidate Joe Pattinson, a local man who studied French and German at the University of Chester. Returning from the 2015 election is Green candidate Andreas Heinemeyer, a senior environmental researcher at the University of York with a particular interest in soil, peat and their effects on the carbon cycle. Completing the ballot paper is Liberal Democrat candidate Emma Keef, a communications officer for a local charity.

Parliamentary constituency: York Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: York
Postcode districts: YO24, YO26

Andreas Heinemeyer (Grn)
Emma Keef (LD)
Joe Pattinson (C)
Kallum Taylor (Lab)

May 2015 result Lab 2183/2037/1789 C 1516/1221/957 Grn 1273/954/876 LD 1018/849/812 UKIP 924 Ind 729 TUSC 326

Halton Castle

Halton council, Cheshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Arthur Cole at the age of 82. One of the few survivors of local government from before the 1974 reorganisation, Cole was first elected to Runcorn urban district council in 1972 while working as a bricklayer on the construction of the New Town's housing estates, and had served continuously on Runcorn UDC and Halton council since then with the exception of 2007-11. He had previously done National Service in Malaya with the Royal Engineers, and away from the council worked in training for many years, finishing his working life in 1997 as a disability employment advisor. He also served from 1976 to 1997 as a magistrate, and for several years was chairman of Runcorn Citizens Advice Bureau.

We move to the right side of the Pennines and to the town of Runcorn. A minor health resort in the early nineteenth century - something which is rather difficult to believe now - Runcorn is a major chemicals centre which became a New Town in the 1960s. Halton Castle ward is one of the New Town areas, overlooking the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal. One major addition to the landscape in recent years is the Mersey Gateway Bridge, connecting the ward to Widnes over the river on payment of a toll of �2 - rather a step up on Stanley Holloway's "tuppence per part of a person per part of a trip".

At the time of the 2011 census this ward was called Castlefields, after its main New Town development. It is a seriously deprived area, with 13% of the workforce being long-term sick or disabled and 51% of the households being socially rented - both figures are in the top 100 wards in England and Wales.

Despite all that deprivation the ward was closely fought until 2010 between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, although the Lib Dems only won it once - in 2007 when they defeated Cole by just three votes. Coalition put paid to the Lib Dem vote here (the Liberal Democrat councillor sought re-election in 2011 under the banner of the Halton Local Independent Party, and got nowhere) and there is now no serious challenge to Labour in the ward. In 2016 Labour polled 76% of the vote against opposition from UKIP and left-wing independent candidate Darrin Whyte.

Defending for Labour is Christopher Carlin, who works in the health sector; he fought Halton Brook ward as an independent in 2012. He is opposed by independent candidate Darrin Whyte who is fighting the ward for the fourth time (he had the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition nomination in 2014 and 2015) and Conservative candidate Ian Adams.

Parliamentary constituency: Halton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Warrington and Wigan
Postcode district: WA7

Ian Adams (C)
Christopher Carlin (Lab)
Darrin Whyte (Ind)

May 2016 result Lab 1035 UKIP 211 Ind 115
May 2015 result Lab 1985 UKIP 487 LD 220 TUSC 142
May 2014 result Lab 956 UKIP 413 TUSC 72
May 2012 result Lab 1124 LD 195
May 2011 result Lab 1067 HLIP 281 LD 175
May 2010 result Lab 1398 LD 714 C 283
May 2008 result Lab 555 LD 461 C 122
May 2007 result LD 565 Lab 562 C 99
July 2006 by-election Lab 359 LD 345 Ind 87 C 52
May 2006 result Lab 448 LD 332 Ind 156 Ind 122 C 105
July 2005 by-election Lab 355 LD 249 C 98 Ind 15
June 2004 result Lab 1045/833/816 Ind 440 LD 369 C 300 BNP 232

Morecambe North

Lancashire county council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Tony Jones, who had fallen out with the party and was sitting as an independent. One of the longest-serving Lancashire county councillors, Jones was first elected in 1985 for Lancaster Rural Central division, transferring to Morecambe North in 2005.

For our final English by-election of the week we travel to the west coast. Morecambe Bay, in its nice moods, can be a rather nice beauty spot, and Morecambe North is a good place from which to appreciate it. Archer's Café, on the seafront at Bolton-le-Sands next to a campsite, comes particularly recommended. Tell them this column sent you.

Despite its name, the Morecambe North county division is based on Bolton-le-Sands, which was added to the division in boundary changes last year. Bolton-le-Sands and its twin village of Hest Bank are commuter villages for the Lancaster-Morecambe conurbation, and a quick look at some of the new houses going up next to the Lancaster Canal in Hest Bank will persuade you that there is some serious money here. The same cannot be said of Bare, the part of Morecambe proper included in the division; this is a retirement area, and in the 2011 the old Bare ward made the top 75 in England and Wales for population in the 65+ age bracket.

As previously detailed in Andrew's Previews, the Conservative group which took over County Hall in Preston last year has been beset with all sorts of problems, which go all the way up to the Leader of the Council Geoff Driver. Driver is being investigated by police on suspicion of witness intimidation, and is due to answer bail later this month. Jones resigned from the Conservative group over Driver's leadership, and in September was speaking in support of a no-confidence motion against Driver when he collapsed with a suspected heart attack. Jones lived to tell the tale, but he has decided not to return to the council chamber. For the record, the no-confidence debate was reconvened in October and was defeated by 45 votes to 34.

Tony Jones had a safe result in the 2017 election, the only previous contest on these boundaries, when he beat Labour 63-22. At Lancashire city council level the Conservatives are safe in Bolton and Slyne ward, but only hold two out of three seats in Bare ward with the other held by the Morecambe Bay Independents.

Defending for the Conservatives is Stuart Morris, who works in the constituency office of the Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris. (They are not related.) Seeking to return to County Hall is Labour candidate Darren Clifford, who lost re-election in Morecambe South division last year; he is a Lancaster city councillor for Morecambe's Harbour ward. Completing the ballot paper is diehard Andrew's Previews fan Andrew Severn for the Liberal Democrats (thank you for the fan mail Andrew!).

Parliamentary constituency: Morecambe and Lunesdale
Lancaster council wards: Bolton and Slyne, Bare (part: Bare North and Bare South East wards of the parish of Morecambe)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lancaster and Morecambe
Postcode districts: LA1, LA2, LA4, LA5

Darren Clifford (Lab)
Stuart Morris (C)
Andrew Severn (LD)

May 2017 result C 2404 Lab 838 LD 310 Grn 253

Bonnybridge and Larbert

Falkirk council; caused by the death of the Provost of Falkirk, Scottish National Party councillor Tom Coleman, who was in his early seventies. He was first elected in 1999 for Larbert ward, transferring to Bonnybridge and Larbert ward in 2007.

For our first Scottish by-election of the 2018 we are in the Falkirk council area. This is a ward covering two villages to the west of Falkirk at the middle of the central belt. The Antonine Wall, the Forth and Clyde Canal, the Edinburgh and Glasgow, and Carlisle-Perth railway lines and the M876 motorway all pass through the ward. Bonnybridge - as in a bridge on the Bonny Water - developed in the industrial revolution as an ironworking centre. Larbert has a similar industrial past but is now growing strongly in population as a commuter base for Falkirk, Stirling, Edinburgh and Glasgow: the town's population increased by 42% between 2001 and 2011. Lying on the ward boundary is one of the symbols of modern Scotland, the Falkirk Wheel on the Forth and Clyde Canal.

Since the introduction of proportional representation for Scottish councils in 2007, the SNP have topped the poll in each election in Bonnybridge and Larbert. In both 2007 and 2012 the ward's three seats went to Tom Coleman of the Nationalists, independent Billy Buchanan and Labour's Linda Gow. In the 2017 election the Conservatives greatly increased their vote and gained Gow's seat; first preferences were 34% for the SNP, 24% for the Conservatives, 20% for Buchanan and 16% for Labour. The SNP hold the local Westminster and Holyrood constituencies, although they suffered nearly a 12% swing against them in the Falkirk constituency last June.

A quick reminder that Scottish local election rules apply here: the Alternative Vote is in use for this by-election, and 16- and 17-year-olds are eligible to vote. Defending for the SNP is Tom Coleman's son Niall, a married father-of-three who is described as a well-known personality within the party. The Conservative candidate is George Stevenson. Labour's Linda Gow, a former leader of Falkirk council and the woman who blew the whistle on the disputed Falkirk Labour selection for the 2015 general election, is seeking to make a quick return to the council. Also standing are David Robertson for the Scottish Greens and Stuart Martin for UKIP.

Photograph of the Falkirk Wheel by Phil Webber (CC BY 2.0)

Parliamentary constituency: Falkirk
Scottish Parliament constituency: Falkirk West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Falkirk and Stirling
Postcode districts: FK1, FK2, FK4, FK5

Niall Coleman (SNP)
Linda Gow (Lab)
Stuart Martin (UKIP)
David Robertson (Grn)
George Stevenson (C)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 1898 C 1368 Ind 1134 Lab 884 Grn 216 Ind 128
May 2012 first preferences SNP 1686 Lab 1235 Ind 1018 C 376 Ind 166
May 2007 first preferences SNP 1916 Ind 1566 Lab 1557 C 576 Grn 302 Ind 143 SSP 72

Previews: 08 Feb 2018

Seven by-elections on Thursday 8th February 2018:


Eden council, Cumbria; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Sheila Orchard at the age of 66. Orchard had served since 2007, and was leader of the Eden Conservative group from 2011 to 2015.

February 2018 is going to be a busy month for Andrew's Previews, with seven polls today, fourteen next week and twelve the week after that. You need to start somewhere, and the most logical place to start is at the top and work your way down. In that sense Hartside ward is an excellent place to start: we are in the High Pennines here, and on the ward boundary is the highest point of the Pennines, the 2,930-foot summit of Cross Fell.

If you're looking for a viewpoint, it's hard to do better than Cross Fell. On a clear day you can look west over the Eden Valley to the Lake District mountains, while to the north there are views over the Solway Firth to the Southern Uplands. Cross Fell is even a viewpoint for Tuesday's by-election in Alyn and Deeside: on a clear day it is theoretically possible to see the Clwydian Hills, over 110 miles away.

Good luck to anybody who tries to photograph that line of sight, for Cross Fell is an inhospitable place particularly at this time of year. Snow often lies on the north face into May, hill fog is common, and Cross Fell is the location of Britain's only named wind: the Helm Wind, which blows strongly down the south-western slope into Hartside ward.

The name of Hartside ward is rather out-of-date; it refers to Hartside Pass, a summit of 1.904 feet on the A686 Penrith-Alston road, but the Pass was transferred out of the ward in boundary changes in 1999. Instead in this location east of the Eden can be found two parishes which run from the summit of Cross Fell all way down to the river. The largest centre of population is Culgaith, a village on the Settle and Carlisle railway line. With 424 electors Culgaith is tiny, but it has produced a person of note in recent years: Stuart Lancaster, the England rugby head coach from 2011 to 2015, grew up here. The ward's other parish is Ousby, one of the Thankful Villages which lost no men in the First World War. Ousby parish includes the village of Melmerby on the Penrith-Alston road.

This is definitively the part of England least affected by immigration. In the 2011 census Hartside came in at number 1 of all the wards in England and Wales for White British ethnicity, with 1267 out of 1273 residents or 99.53%. (In case you were wondering, the six non-White British people broke down as two White Other, two Asian, one mixed-race and one black.) Hartside is in the top 15 wards in England and Wales for the 45-64 age bracket and in the top 30 for those born in the UK.

Eden is a council which tends to have lots of unopposed returns, and Hartside has only seen one contested election since it took on its current boundaries in 1999. That poll was in 2015, when Orchard was re-elected with a 57-43 margin over independent candidate Susan Castle-Clarke. Orchard had taken over her seat in 2007 upon the retirement of Conservative councillor John Lancaster, a farmer who is Stuart Lancaster's father and still sits on Culgaith parish council.

This by-election is rather important for Eden's Conservative administration, which holds 19 out of 38 seats plus this vacancy; so, if the Tories lose this by-election it will be a case of Paradise Lost as their majority on Eden council will go with it. And the omens for the Conservatives are not particularly good. They lost a by-election over the mountains in Alston in 2016, after one of their councillors resigned following an exposé of his business dealings in Private Eye; then the Tories failed to get the seat back in a second by-election last year after the winner of the first by-election resigned. That second by-election was won by Labour (of all people) and that wasn't a flash in the pan; Hartside is included in a county division with Alston, which in May 2017's county elections was gained by Labour from an independent county councillor.

There will still be an Orchard on the ballot paper in Eden, as the defending Conservative candidate is Sheila's widower Robin Orchard, from Melmerby. Independent candidate Susan Castle-Clarke returns from the 2015 election; she is an Ousby parish councillor. Completing the ballot paper is Richard Henry of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Penrith and the Border
Cumbria county council division: Alston and East Fellside
ONS Travel to Work Area: Penrith
Postcode district: CA10

Susan Castle-Clarke (Ind)
Richard Henry (Grn)
Robin Orchard (C)

May 2015 result C 438 Ind 334
May 2011 result C unopposed
May 2007 result C unopposed
May 2003 result C unopposed
August 2002 by-election C unopposed
May 1999 result C unopposed


Staffordshire county council; and

Codsall South

South Staffordshire council; both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Robert Marshall at the age of 57. A long-serving councillor, he was first elected to South Staffordshire council in a 1994 by-election and to Staffordshire county council in 1997, serving on the county's cabinet. On Staffordshire county council he represented Wrottesley from 1997 to 2005, Perton from 2005 to 2009 and Codsall since 2009; on South Staffordshire council he represented Perton Dippons ward from 1994 to 2003 and Codsall South since 2003.

Marshall made the headlines in 2003 after spending £2,300 of his ward allowance on a mobile speed camera for the ward, and then being caught speeding by it. Away from the council he ran the family firm J H Marshall (Pressings) Ltd in Blakenhall, a sheet metal pressing company which has been in operation for 100 years. In his spare time Marshall was a keen squash and chess player who had won the Mensa chess championship.

We move to Staffordshire where there are three council by-elections today. Two of them are in Codsall, a village just to the north-west of Wolverhampton. Codsall is on the railway line from Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury, and Codsall and Bilbrook stations both lie within the Codsall South ward and Codsall county division. This gives Codsall South in particular a commuter demographic and some of the characteristics of a dormitory town. The main employer in the village is South Staffordshire council, whose offices are here.

South Staffordshire is a very Conservative district which has been the recipient of "white flight" from the Black Country over the decades. This was never part of Enoch Powell's constituency, but a fair number of his voters will have ended up in Codsall. That's reflected at the ballot box were both this county division and this district ward are safe Tory. In May's county elections the Conservatives polled 75% in Codsall against Labour and Green opposition. Codsall South was uncontested at the last district elections in 2015; the last poll here was all the way back in 2011 when the Conservatives led UKIP here 62-23.

Defending both by-elections for the Conservatives is Bob Spencer, vice-chairman of Codsall parish council. Also on both ballot papers is Labour candidate Kevin McElduff, chairman of governors at Codsall Middle School; he was the Labour parliamentary candidate for South Staffordshire in 2010 and 2015. There are no UKIP candidates for either vacancy, so the Greens complete both ballot papers: they have nominated Gary Burnett for the county seat and Ian Sadler (who was the Liberal Democrat candidate for South Staffordshire in 1992) for the district by-election.


Parliamentary constituency: South Staffordshire
South Staffordshire council wards: Bilbrook, Codsall North, Codsall South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wolverhampton and Walsall
Postcode districts: WV6, WV7, WV8, WV9

Gary Burnett (Grn)
Kevin McElduff (Lab)
Bob Spencer (C)

May 2017 result C 2327 Lab 439 Grn 332
May 2013 result C 1585 UKIP 821 Lab 466
June 2009 result C 1864 UKIP 1208 LD 402 Lab 376
May 2005 result C 3098 Lab 1317 LD 708

Codsall South

Parliamentary constituency: South Staffordshire
Staffordshire county council division: Codsall
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wolverhampton and Walsall
Postcode districts: WV6, WV7, WV8

Kevin McElduff (Lab)
Ian Sadler (LD)
Bob Spencer (C)

May 2015 result 2 C unopposed
May 2011 result C 1019/909 UKIP 377 Lab 254/204
May 2007 result C 862/856 UKIP 286 Lab 197
May 2003 result 2 C unopposed


East Staffordshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Dale Spedding, who had served only since winning a by-election last September.

There are some wards which just can't stop having by-elections. It's time for a return visit to Stretton ward, a northern suburb of Burton-on-Trent hard up against the county boundary with Derbyshire, which is having its third by-election in ten years and second poll in five months. The name ("Street Town") refers to the Roman road of Ryknild Street, which passes through the ward, while the village itself has effectively merged into the Burton built-up area. Most of the housing stock here is post-war, and there is a campaign against building any more houses in the ward.

Stretton ward has existed since 1973 and took on its current boundaries in 2003, going up that year from two councillors to three. It has normally been a Tory stronghold with Labour winning only in 1995 and 1999; the 2015 election was true to form, with the Tory slate polling 45% to 28% for UKIP and 20% for Labour. Last May the Conservatives gained the local county council seat (Horninglow and Stretton) from Labour. Later in 2017 one of the Conservative councillors resigned and their new candidate, postman Dale Spedding, easily held the by-election with 47% of the vote, to 28% for an Independent "Save Our Stretton" candidate and 19% for Labour. Spedding resigned just two months later, claiming that he had been the victim of abuse and had been spat at in the street.

So, it's back to the polls we go. The new defending Conservative candidate is Vicki Gould. Three of the five candidates from September's by-election have returned, headed by independent Graham Lamb who is again standing on a "Save Our Stretton" anti-development ticket. The Labour candidate is Elaine Pritchard, a publisher and networker for small businesses. Completing the ballot paper are two returning candidates: the week's only UKIP candidate Peter Levis and Lib Dem Rhys Buchan.

Parliamentary constituency: Burton
Staffordshire county council division: Horninglow and Stretton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Burton upon Trent
Postcode district: DE13

Rhys Buchan (LD)
Vicki Gould (C)
Graham Lamb (Ind - Save Our Stretton)
Peter Levis (UKIP)
Elaine Pritchard (Lab)

September 2017 by-election C 762 Ind Save Our Streeton 455 Lab 311 UKIP 52 LD 36
May 2015 result C 2084/2078/2072 UKIP 1279/778 Lab 910/784/707 Grn 354
May 2011 result C 1489/1364/1337 Lab 1008/759/723 Popular Alliance 495
February 2008 by-election C 661 Lab 366 BNP 327 Popular Alliance 233 LD 205
May 2007 result C 1261/1221/1059 Lab 717/536/496 Popular Alliance 621
May 2003 result C 1369/1262/1009 Lab 900/883/793 LD 725/651

East Brighton

Brighton and Hove council, East Sussex; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who was elected last year as Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown. He had served since winning a by-election in August 2016.

There are some wards which just can't stop having by-elections. After three by-elections in Staffordshire we finish with three polls on the south coast, and start in the familiar surroundings of East Brighton which is holding its third by-election in six years.

East Brighton ward is based on Whitehawk, a rather isolated and recently-redeveloped council estate in a dry chalk valley, with Brighton racecourse looping around it. On the seafront can be found part of the Kemptown area around the Royal Sussex County Hospital, a traditionally bohemian area of Regency-style architecture. Much of the eastern half of the ward is open countryside, part of which is within the South Downs National Park.

Brighton and Hove was famously run by the Green Party from 2011 to 2015, but the Green administration quickly became unpopular and crashed and burned in the 2015 election, putting Labour back in minority control. The Green surge never got anywhere near taking East Brighton ward, with Whitehawk making this one of the strongest Labour wards in the city. In 2015 the Labour slate polled 46% to 22% for the Conservatives (whose vote presumably comes from the Kemptown waterfront) and 20% for the Greens in third place. One of the Labour councillors resigned in 2016 and in the resulting by-election Labour improved their lead over the Conservatives to 58-20.

I wrote in Andrew's Previews at the time (page 156 of the 2016 book, if you'd like to check) that the by-election winner Lloyd Russell-Moyle had fought Lewes in the 2015 general election and was a consultant for the United Nations on children and young people. Clearly a rising star, and the snap general election gave him a leg-up into Parliament perhaps more quickly than he might have anticipated then. However, Russell-Moyle isn't the only person notable enough for a Wikipedia page to contest East Brighton ward: in 2007 the Tory slate here included the former Dollar singer David Van Day, to little discernible effect.

Defending for Labour is a familiar face in the Brighton party. Nancy Platts is described as having worked in communications and campaigns for over 30 years; she has been on the wrong end of two close Parliamentary results, losing the Labour seat of Brighton Pavilion to the Greens in 2010 (by 1,252 votes) and failing to gain Brighton Kemptown from the Conservatives in 2015 (by 690 votes). More recently Platts has worked in Jeremy Corbyn's office as trade union liaison manager. The Conservative candidate is Edward Wilson, who has just turned 21 and is in his second year at Sussex University studying politics and international relations. In the latest instalment of millennial candidates being haunted by their internet past, Wilson has had to explain himself during the campaign for a (now-deleted) blog article examining Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speech and views on immigration. Completing the ballot paper are Ed Baker for the Green Party and George Taylor for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Brighton Kemptown
ONS Travel to Work Area: Brighton
Postcode district: BN2

Ed Baker (Grn)
Nancy Platts (Lab)
George Taylor (LD)
Edward Wilson (C)

August 2016 by-election Lab 1488 C 514 Grn 286 UKIP 152 LD 116 Ind 31
May 2015 result Lab 3229/3225/2918 C 1563/1510/1416 Grn 1357/1021/855 LD 546 TUSC 255
October 2012 by-election Lab 1596 C 531 Grn 436 UKIP 148 LD 59 TUSC 55
May 2011 result Lab 2059/1862/1616 Grn 955/815/627 C 940/826/803 LD 323/218 TUSC 142
May 2007 result Lab 1539/1401/1262 C 1000/997/931 Grn 621/467/445 LD 401/400/377 Brighton and Hove Inds 257 Soc Lab 109
May 2003 result Lab 1545/1451/1223 C 1062/1017/976 LD 770/682/553 Grn 623/553/396 Soc Lab 176

Tophill East; and
Tophill West

Weymouth and Portland council, Dorset; caused respectively by the resignations of independent councillor David Hawkins and Conservative councillor Jason Webb. Hawkins had served since 2007 and was previously councillor for Tophill West ward 2004-06. Webb had served since 2015.

We finish further west on the south coast, and they don't get much more coastal than this. We're on the Isle of Portland, a limestone island at the centre of the Jurassic Coast, which overlooks Portland Harbour and the resort of Weymouth. Although the long barrier of Chesil Beach technically connects Portland to the mainland, this is effectively an island with only one road in and out - over a bridge into Weymouth.

Portland's economy has traditionally been based on quarrying and defence. One of the world's largest man-made harbours, Portland Harbour was an important naval base until the end of the Cold War, and gained prominence in 2012 when it hosted the sailing events for the London Olympics. With the Navy moving out quarrying is now the main game in town, and the white-grey Portland stone remains much in demand. Many of the UK's major public buildings - the Banqueting House on Whitehall, St Paul's Cathedral, the Cenotaph, Buckingham Palace, Manchester Central Library, the Cunard Building in Liverpool, to name but a few - are built or faced in Portland stone, as is the UN Headquarters in New York City and every Commonwealth war grave.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission gets its stone from Broadcroft Quarry in Tophill East ward, one of the many quarries which pockmark the uphill part of Portland. Tophill East is based on the villages of Easton, the island's second-largest centre of population, and The Grove around HMP Portland. The villages of Weston and Southwell ("south-well" not "suthl"), together with the promontory of Portland Bill, make up Tophill West ward. Easton is noted for an 1803 massacre, in which press-gangers shot and killed three citizens; while in 1734 Southwell was the location of Britain's second-largest landslip, with a mile and a half of the east coast falling into the sea. The Avalanche Memorial Church in Southwell is a reference not to the landslip, but to an 1877 naval disaster in which the liner SS Avalanche was involved in a collision off Portland during a storm.

The Isle of Portland comes administratively under the borough of Weymouth and Portland, which is not one of the best advertisements for England's first-past-the-post electoral system. The borough is politically fragmented with large pockets of support for all the major parties; winning shares of the vote are often extremely low and election results can be chaotic. Not that this affects political control, as the council is run with an all-party executive. The Conservatives are the largest party, with 13 out of 36 seats plus the Tophill West vacancy, and provide the council leader.

Amid this electoral chaos Tophill East ward has been the most politically constant of Weymouth and Portland's wards, having returned independent councillors at every election since 2004. Councillor Margaret Leicester is still in situ from then despite some very narrow re-elections: she won in 2006 with 27% of the vote and a 37-vote majority over the Tories; n 2010 she had 37% of the vote and a 5-vote majority over the Tories; in 2014 she had 28% of the vote and a 28-vote majority over UKIP. Hawkins' last re-election in 2015 saw him win with 34% of the vote, to 30% for the Conservatives and 23% for Labour.

Tophill West returned a Conservative and two independent councillors - including David Hawkins - in 2004 but has since gone party political. Hawkins was defeated in 2006 by independent councillor Steven Flew, who won with just 28% of the vote. The Conservatives gained the independent seats in 2008 and 2010, but lost two seats in the ward to Labour in 2012 and 2014 and held their remaining seat in 2015 with just under 25% of the vote (Labour had 23%, UKIP 21% and two independent candidates polled 13% and 10%). Labour held one of their seats in 2016, beating the Conservatives 60-40 in a straight fight, and have a good chance to knock out the remaining Tory seat in the ward.

Both of these wards combine to form the Portland Tophill division of Dorset county council, which narrowly voted Conservative in May last year: the Tories beat Labour 48-45. This was a gain from Labour: true to the district's fragmented political form, in the 2013 Dorset county election Labour had won Portland Tophill with just 22% of the vote (to 20% for UKIP, 17% each for two independent candidates and 10% for the Conservatives, with four other candidates polling below 10%).

Thankfully we won't see winning scores below 33% here because both these by-elections have fields of three. Tophill East has no defending independent candidate resulting in Britain Elects' favourite type of election, a free-for-all! Possibly best-placed here is the Conservative candidate Katharine Garcia, who gained Portland Tophill in last year's county elections and now has the chance to double up at county and borough level. The Labour candidate is Becky Blake, a graphic designer and illustrator. Completing the East ballot paper is Green candidate Sara Harpley.

In Tophill West the defending Conservative candidate is Kerry Baker, who fought Portland Harbour in last year's county elections and Wyke Regis ward in the 2016 borough election. Challenging for Labour is Giovanna Lewis, a former NHS worker. Carole Timmons of the Green Party completes the West ballot paper.

Tophill East

Parliamentary constituency: South Dorset
Dorset county council division: Portland Tophill
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dorchester and Weymouth
Postcode district: DT5

Becky Blake (Lab)
Katherine Garcia (C)
Sara Harpley (Grn)

May 2015 result Ind 574 C 506 Lab 383 Grn 210
May 2014 result Ind 253 UKIP 225 Lab 209 C 169 Grn 54
May 2011 result Ind 517 C 374 Lab 225
May 2010 result Ind 657 C 652 Lab 488
May 2007 result Ind 369 Ind 252 UKIP 126 Lab 113
May 2006 result Ind 235 C 198 Ind 150 LD 149 Lab 126
June 2004 result Ind 492/363/335 Lab 181/97 C 175

Tophill West

Parliamentary constituency: South Dorset
Dorset county council division: Portland Tophill
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dorchester and Weymouth
Postcode district: DT5

Kerry Baker (C)
Giovanna Lewis (Lab)
Carole Timmons (Grn)

May 2016 result Lab 641 C 429
May 2015 result C 606 Lab 561 UKIP 520 Ind 327 Ind 252 Grn 166
May 2014 result Lab 426 C 346 LD 268 Grn 245
May 2012 result Lab 394 Ind C 298 UKIP 72
May 2011 result C 810 Lab 749
May 2010 result C 768 Lab 600 Ind 471 LD 453 Ind 239
May 2008 result C 518 Ind 332 Lab 214
May 2007 result C 726 Lab 355
May 2006 result Ind 347 C 254 Ind 236 Lab 196 Ind 191
June 2004 result Ind 946/412/249 C 527/302 Lab 338/270/255

Alyn & Deeside by-election preview

One by-election on Tuesday 6th February 2018:

Alyn and Deeside

National Assembly for Wales; caused by the death of Labour AM Carl Sargeant at the age of 49. Sargeant had represented Alyn and Deeside in the Assembly since 2003 and had served among the Welsh Ministers since 2007, originally as Chief Whip and latterly as Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children. Sargeant was dismissed from that position on 3 November 2017, following unspecified allegations about his personal conduct in the febrile atmosphere of the 2017 Westminster sexual scandals. Four days later, he was found hanged at his home, and the coroner heard that he was believed to have taken his own life. He leaves behind a wife, a son and a daughter.

We are sure you appreciate the anxiety and distress being caused to our client particularly as he is yet to receive any details of the allegations that have led to the decisions taken to date by the First Minister of Wales, the Labour Party in Wales and the Labour Party head office. There is the potential requirement to interview a number of witnesses of fact and with the Christmas period intervening and the ongoing delay is both prejudicial to the preparation of our clients case but also to his physical and mental wellbeing.
- Letter from Bowden Jones Solicitors to Welsh Labour, 6 November 2017

A difficult subject to write about for the first major by-election of 2018. We heard a lot in late 2017 about #metoo, a viral internet movement which went mainstream to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual harassment. It started with Harvey Weinstein, a high-profile film producer with a host of allegations against him, and spread from there.

Politics, of course, is not immune to sex scandals; indeed, quite the reverse. #metoo has resulted in a large number of scalps in the UK political scene, rivalling that of the Major government. Michael Fallon resigned as defence secretary over his past behaviour, while just before Christmas Damian Green was effectively sacked as First Secretary of State and Theresa May's deputy over allegations of sexually harassing behaviour and viewing pornography on a House of Commons computer. Junior minister Mark Garnier admitted instructing his parliamentary assistant to buy sex toys for his wife and a constituent, and lost his job at the Department for International Trade in January's reshuffle. In Holyrood, Mark McDonald resigned as the Scottish Parliament's childcare minister over inappropriate sexual behaviour. And lest you think that I'm only picking on government ministers, Labour MPs Kelvin Hopkins and Ivan Lewis remain suspended from the party over sexual harassment allegations.

This column is not going to defend anyone who may have sexually harassed someone. But, at the same time, these are serious allegations being made against people in political employment. Those accused have the right to expect a modicum of support and a duty of care from their party at the investigation or disciplinary stage - after all, that's one of the things unions are for. Clearly, in the Carl Sargeant case, something went badly wrong.

After his death, Sargeant's family released correspondence relating to Sargeant's suspension, including the solicitors' letter quoted at the head of this column. That was written the day before Sargeant took his life, with him facing investigation by the party, and the passages relating to Sargeant's "anxiety and distress" and "physical and mental wellbeing" look chilling in retrospect. The letter also makes clear that Sargeant did not know the detail of the allegations made against him. We still don't know that: the Welsh Labour Party investigation into Sargeant wound up after his death on the principle that there's no point disciplining a dead man.

Instead we have a series of investigations, to report at a later date, into how Sargeant's sacking was handled by the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones; whether news of the sacking was leaked; and into wider claims of bullying within the Labour-controlled Welsh government. It will be interesting to see what the investigations come up with, but this column suspects that the full consequences from this tragedy have yet to play out.

That's for the future, and we must now turn to Alyn and Deeside. Even seasoned UK geographers will have trouble placing this constituency on the map, for its name reflects one of the old Welsh district councils which existed from 1974 to 1996. The name refers to two rivers. The Alyn rises in the Clwydian Hills and flows south-east through Mold to reach the Dee north-east of Wrexham. The Deeside part of the name is the core of the constituency and refers to the small towns which were once located on the Dee estuary.

Once, but not any longer. The Dee Estuary west of Chester has extensively silted up over the centuries, as a visit to the so-called "seafront" at Parkgate on the Wirral will testify. To the north-west of Chester the river was diverted during the eighteenth century into an arrow-straight artificial channel, leading to extensive land reclamation (the appropriately-named Sealand community) by a series of polders. That's caused some interesting boundary issues, mainly related to the fact that the Ordnance Survey, when it originally looked at the area centuries ago, had drawn a rather arbitrary line through the mud and sandbanks which existed then to represent the border between Wales and England. Although the land has changed the line has not, resulting in some very weird electoral boundaries particularly around the Deeside Industrial Park. Despite being on the opposite side of the Dee, the Industrial Park is administratively part of the community of Connah's Quay and covered - in a pattern which makes no sense whatsoever on the ground - by several Connah's Quay-based electoral divisions. Closer to Chester, the Welsh-English border famously bisects Chester FC's Deva Stadium.

It may surprise readers to learn that Connah's Quay is actually the largest town in Flintshire by population - larger than the county town Mold, larger than Buckley, larger than Holywell. There are reasons for that. Like many of the small towns in Alyn and Deeside, Connah's Quay is an industrial centre. The gas-fired Connah's Quay power station dominates the Deeside area, overshadowing even the impressive Flintshire Bridge. A cable-stayed structure, the Flintshire Bridge may be a bit of a bridge to nowhere but does carry the A548 North Wales Coast road, connecting Connah's Quay with the Deeside Industrial Park. The industrial park is one of the major employment centres of North Wales, taking in among other things the large Shotton steelworks, a major Toyota engine plant and the head office of Iceland supermarkets. It's no surprise that three of the four Connah's Quay divisions, two of the three Shotton divisions and Queensferry make the top 100 wards in England and Wales for the ONS "lower supervisory, technical" employment classification.

But that pales in comparison with one of the most high-profile factories in the UK. The small village of Broughton is home to a large aerospace factory, established during the Second World War for bomber production and later home to such favourite aircraft of quiz league question-setters as the De Havilland Comet and Mosquito. Broughton's aircraft factory is now owned by Airbus, and assembles the wings for all Airbus aircraft including the flagship "superjumbo" A380. Final assembly of the A380 takes place in Toulouse, to which Broughton's wings are transported by sea. The Airbus factory employs 6,500 people, so it is highly important to the constituency's economy, and a recent order from Emirates Airlines for more A380s could help to secure the factory for several years to come. Even the local football club - sadly relegated from the Welsh Premier League last year - is called Airbus UK Broughton. Both Broughton divisions are in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for the ONS "lower supervisory, technical" employment classification, with Broughton South coming in at number 11.

Lying inland is the constituency's other major town, Buckley. This was another town created by the industrial revolution, with its heavy clay soil and accessible coal measures leading to pottery, mining and brickworking industries. The town's accent still has influences from the immigrants from Liverpool and Ireland who came here in the nineteenth century to staff those industries. Today the main export from Buckley is cement from a large and notably ugly cement works.

Not exactly tourist central. For many visitors to north Wales, Alyn and Deeside is somewhere you pass through to get to somewhere more exciting, like Snowdonia, the beach resorts on the north coast or even the Irish ferry from Holyhead. Most of those visitors pass along the A494 road, which runs from the end of the motorway in England to meet the A55 - the main road through North Wales - north of Buckley. It's a dream to drive from the English border all the way to the Dee crossing at Queensferry, which is very clearly the point where the improvement money ran out - the westbound carriageway loses a lane and makes a handbrake turn to the right to squeeze onto the existing Dee bridge. (For those who ignore the warnings and go straight on, I hope your vehicle likes salt water.) Between the Dee and the A55 the road runs along Aston Hill, a congested two-lane dual carriageway with poor sightlines, steep gradients, a 50mph speed limit and a bad accident record. A rebuilding plan for this section was thrown out by the Welsh Government in 2008 due to local opposition and high costs, and the latest idea to try and improve the Aston Hill road is to avoid it altogether, by building a new road from the Flintshire Bridge to the A55 - which would at least end the "bridge to nowhere" gibe.

Possibly the most famous modern person associated with the constituency is the former England footballer Michael Owen, who lived in the area and bought an entire street in Ewloe for his extended family. Owen was eligible to play for England because - like many people in this constituency - he was born at the local maternity hospital, which is over the border in Chester. Saltney in particular is a part of Chester which has spilled over into Wales, and the census shows that this is the least Welsh constituency in Wales - in terms of the proportion of people born in the country. Perhaps not surprisingly, in three of the five Welsh Assembly elections to date Alyn and Deeside has returned the lowest turnout.

It wasn't always like this: eastern Flintshire was once noted for very high electoral turnout. There has been a constituency on roughly these boundaries since 1950 when Flintshire was divided into two constituencies. The county had previously been a single constituency since 1918 when the constituency of Flint Boroughs (covering eight towns and villages only one of which, Caergwrle, was in this seat) was abolished. Appropriately for an area which included Gladstone's home at Hawarden Castle, both Flintshire and the erstwhile Flint Boroughs were continuously Liberal-held from 1852 until 1924 when the Liberal MP Thomas Henry Parry lost his seat to the Conservatives. Parry had served since winning the Flint Boroughs by-election in 1913, and during the First World War served with distinction in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He was wounded four times in the war, once at Suvla Bay and three times at Gaza, and finished up with a DSO and the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. As with many veterans of the Gallipoli campaign, the peninsula cast a long shadow: Parry's war wounds rendered him unable to campaign in the 1924 election.

The Liberals recovered Flintshire from Tory MP Ernest Roberts in 1929, but their new MP Frederick Llewellyn-Jones found himself on the Simonite side of the 1931 split in the Liberal Party. Although Llewellyn-Jones was easily re-elected in 1931 on the Liberal National ticket against only Labour opposition, he retook the Liberal whip in 1932 - an action which did not go down well among the Flintshire Conservatives - and retired in 1935. And that was pretty much the end of the Liberal challenge in Flintshire, as the Conservatives' Gwilym Rowlands easily gained the seat in 1935. A former Rhondda urban district councillor and son of a colliery manager, Rowlands had fought several Valleys constituencies in the 1920s elections. He served for ten years without much distinction, standing down in 1945.

The 1945 election saw a political realignment in Flintshire as Labour had a strong result in the county for the first time. Their candidate Eirene Jones was only narrowly defeated by the new Conservative candidate Nigel Birch, who had a majority of 1,039. An Old Etonian who had served on the General Staff in World War 2, ending the war with an OBE and the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, Birch had a long parliamentary career which peaked under Eden and Macmillan when he was in the Cabinet as Air Secretary. Birch was translated to the Lords in 1970, ending his days with the title Lord Rhyl.

However, Nigel Birch now leaves our story. By 1945 the Flintshire constituency was by far the largest seat in Wales with over 93,000 electors, and the Boundary Commission divided it in two for the 1950 election. Birch sought re-election in the more Tory-inclined West Flintshire, clearing the way for Eirene White (as she now was) to win the industrial seat of East Flintshire. White had a good majority, 6,697 over the Conservatives on a turnout of 88% - an enormous figure by today's standards. A political journalist with the Manchester Evening News and the BBC before entering the Commons, White had been elected to the Labour NEC in 1947 and was one of the first female MPs for Wales.

That majority eroded over the years partly thanks to the withdrawal of the Liberals, but the high turnouts continued. In the 1959 Macmillan landslide White held onto East Flintshire by just 75 votes on a turnout of 86% - the ninth highest turnout in the UK. She increased her majority to 3,956 in the 1964 election on a turnout of 87% - the second highest turnout in the UK - and made the seat safe in the 1966 Wilson landslide, again with an 87% turnout. By now White was a junior minister in the Wilson administration, serving in the Colonial, Foreign and Welsh Offices.

Eirene White was translated to the Lords in 1970 - serving as Deputy Speaker of that chamber from 1979 to 1989 - and was replaced as MP for East Flintshire by Barry Jones, who won rather narrowly in the 1970 election before making the seat safe. Jones had served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers before becoming a teacher and president of the Flint County branch of the NUT. He had had a near-miss in the 1966 election, coming close to gaining Northwich from the Conservatives. In the two 1974 elections and 1979 he saw off a future MP - Alex Carlile, who was Liberal MP for Montgomeryshire from 1983 to 1997 and now sits in the Lords.

Jones had a scare in the 1983 Thatcher landslide - the first election under the modern name of Alyn and Deeside - when his majority fell to just 1,368 over the Conservatives. (Their candidate that year was Simon Burns, who would later serve for thirty years as MP for Chelmsford.) For most of the Kinnock leadership of Labour Jones was Shadow Welsh Secretary, although his only ministerial experience was from 1974 to 1979 when he was a junior Welsh Office minister. 1983 was Jones' last close result, and in 1997 he saw off a future Welsh Assembly member, Eleanor Burnham of the Lib Dems. That 1997 election was the first contest on the current boundaries of the Alyn and Deeside constituency, which survived the 2010 review unchanged.

Barry Jones retired in 2001 after thirty-one years' service, and now sits in the Lords as Lord Jones. He passed the Parliamentary seat on to Mark Tami who remains in situ as only the third MP for this seat since 1950. Tami had been head of policy for the Amicus union before entering Parliament, and most of his career has been spent on the Labour backbenches. Again he has had some scares - the Conservatives got within 2,919 votes in 2010 and within 3,343 in 2015. Despite speculation of a Conservative gain when the 2017 election was called amid Theresa May's huge poll leads, Tami increased his majority last June and now looks to have a seat which is safe enough: in 2017 he beat the Conservatives by 52% to 40%. At his first election in 2001 he saw off Conservative candidate Mark Isherwood, who has sat in the Welsh Assembly since 2003.

Strangely enough these close results have never been seen in the Welsh Assembly elections, in which Alyn and Deeside has been safe Labour throughout. Its first AM in 1999 was Tom Middlehurst, who handed over to Carl Sargeant in 2003. The most recent Senedd election was in 2016, when Sargeant had 46% to 21% for Mike Gibbs of the Conservatives and 17% for UKIP candidate Michelle Brown, who was elected from the North Wales UKIP list and has been
regularly courting controversy since.

The last Flintshire county elections were in May 2017, during the general election campaign. It's often the case in Wales that local elections aren't particularly helpful in clarifying the national picture, and this is true in Alyn and Deeside which at county level tends to be a battle between Labour and independent candidates. In vote terms Labour came out on top last May in the divisions making up this constituency but only narrowly: they had 43% of the vote to 41% for independents. The seat count - 22 for Labour, 13 for independents, 2 Tories and one Lib Dem - was more decisive but also reflects that Labour won five seats (in four divisions) unopposed. Since May Labour have held a by-election in Buckley Bistre West - the division which elected the Lib Dem councillor in 2017.

And so we finally come to this by-election, which is unusually being held on a Tuesday due to a Welsh Assembly rule that all vacancies should be filled within three months. Carl Sargeant died on 7 November, so today is the last possible date for the election.

Defending for Labour is Carl Sargeant's son Jack, from Connah's Quay. Just 23 years old and with a background in engineering, Jack Sargeant is seeking to continue his father's constituency work, be a voice for North Wales in the Assembly and seek justice for his father.

The Conservatives have selected Sarah Atherton. A former district nurse and social worker, Atherton lives in Gresford, near Wrexham, and sits on Gresford community council.

UKIP have decided not to nominate a candidate, ostensibly out of respect for Jack Sargeant.

Three candidates complete the ballot paper. The Plaid Cymru candidate is Carrie Harper, a Wrexham councillor. Standing for the Lib Dems is Donna Lalek, a former teacher and Broughton community councillor. Completing the ballot paper is Green Party candidate Duncan Rees, from Ruabon near Wrexham.

So that is the tragic story of the first Welsh Assembly by-election since Ynys Môn in August 2013. If Jack Sargeant successfully follows in the footsteps of his late father, he will become by far the youngest member of the Assembly - and he will also shore up the Welsh Government. Labour are short of a majority in the Assembly, holding 28 out of 60 seats plus this vacancy, and form a minority administration at Cardiff Bay in coalition with the single Liberal Democrat AM. A Labour hold in this by-election would make the Whips' task easier - but if Jack makes his first priority as an elected representative seeking justice for Carl, things could get very difficult very quickly for Carwyn Jones.

Picture of the Flintshire Bridge at sunset by Adam Tas (CC BY 2.0).

Sarah Atherton (C)
Carrie Harper (PC)
Donna Lalek (LD)
Duncan Rees (Grn)
Jack Sargeant (Lab)

June 2017 general election Lab 23315 C 18080 PC 1171 UKIP 1117 LD 1077
May 2016 result Lab 9922 C 4558 UKIP 3765 PC 1944 LD 980 Grn 527
May 2015 general election Lab 16540 C 13197 UKIP 7260 LD 1733 PC 1608 Grn 976
May 2011 result Lab 11978 C 6397 LD 1725 PC 1710 BNP 959
May 2010 general election Lab 15804 C 12885 LD 7308 PC 1549 BNP 1368 UKIP 1009
May 2007 result Lab 8196 C 4834 Ind 3241 PC 2091 C 1398 UKIP 1335
May 2005 general election Lab 17331 C 8953 LD 6174 PC 1320 UKIP 918 Forward Wales 378 Ind 215 Comm 207
May 2003 result Lab 7036 C 3533 LD 2509 PC 1160 UKIP 826
June 2001 general election Lab 18525 C 9303 LD 4585 PC 1182 Grn 881 UKIP 481 Ind 253 Comm 211
May 1999 result Lab 9772 C 3413 PC 2304 LD 1879 Ind 1333 Comm 329
May 1997 general election Lab 25955 C 9552 LD 4076 Referendum Party 1627 PC 738

Previews: 02 Feb 2018

Two by-elections on 1st February 2018:

Falmouth Smithick

Cornwall council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Candy Atherton at the age of 62. Originally a journalist who also worked with the probation service, Atherton was first elected in 1986 to Islington council in London, and served as Mayor of Islington in 1989-90. She stood for Parliament in 1992 in the safe Conservative seat of Chesham and Amersham, and also sought election to Wiltshire county council in 1993. In the 1997 general election Atherton defeated Sebastian Coe to become MP for Falmouth and Camborne, in the process becoming the first Labour parliamentary candidate to be selected from an all-women shortlist.

In Parliament Atherton campaigned for EU Objective One status for Cornwall, in favour of the minimum wage, for the opening of a university in Cornwall, and for the victims of the Ministry of Defence nerve gas station at Nancekuke in her constituency. She lost her parliamentary seat to the Liberal Democrats in 2005, but in 2013 resumed her local government career by being elected to Cornwall council. She leaves behind her husband, Broderick Ross.

Shortly before her parliamentary defeat, Atherton partially got her wish for the creation of a new university in Cornwall: the Falmouth College of Arts received degree-awarding powers in March 2005, and in 2012 was granted university status (as Falmouth University). In its short life the University has gained a good reputation for its arts degrees. The university's Falmouth campus lies just outside the boundary of this ward, which is the central of the five wards covering Falmouth town.

Falmouth has always been a maritime centre. It started off life in 1540 with the building of Pendennis Castle to defend the Carrick Roads - the estuary of the River Fal, which has strong tidal currents. The town itself was founded in the early seventeenth century by Sir John Killigrew and quickly became one of the UK's most important ports. As England's most south-westerly harbour, Falmouth was excellently placed for communications with the Empire: the Falmouth Packet Service, carrying mail to and from the colonies, was instituted in 1689, and the harbour was where the news of the victory at Trafalgar, the voyage of the Beagle, and the round-the-world yachters Robin Knox-Johnston and Ellen MacArthur all reached Britain.

Falmouth is still Cornwall's busiest port, with cargo and cruise ships keeping the waterfront busy, but tourism is now the main game in town. A large proportion of Smithick ward's residents are in the hotel and hospitality industry, and the ward makes several top 100 lists from the last census: for full-time students, those educated to A-level and those of no religion.

Smithick ward has existed since 2009 when the modern Cornwall council was created, although it had a different name in 2009 - Falmouth Arwenack. (The present Falmouth Arwenack ward was called Falmouth Gyllyngvase in 2009.) In that 2009 election Arwenack elected independent councillor Steve Eva with just 24% of the vote in a very fragmented race: Labour, who finished fifth out of five candidates, were just 10.4 percentage points behind Eva. In the 2013 election Eva sought re-election in Falmouth Boslowick ward, clearing the way for Candy Atherton to take Labour from fifth to first, although still on a low vote share (33%). Atherton was re-elected more comfortably last year: she had 40%, to 24% for the Conservatives and 19% for the Lib Dems.

Defending for Labour is Jayne Kirkham, who fought Truro and Falmouth in last year's general election: a Unison figure, she is a teaching assistant and former solicitor. The Conservatives may be regretting their selection of 21-year-old Richard Cunningham, who apologised during the campaign for bad-taste Nazi-themed Facebook posts he made a few years ago - this sort of thing is starting to become something of an occupational hazard for millennial candidates in particular. Cunningham works at the docks for a flooring company and does shifts in local bars, and before his campaign got derailed had had an innovative idea to reduce the pressure on Falmouth's housing: travel subsidies to allow some of Falmouth University's students to commute from Truro. Possibly seeking more conventional solutions to the housing problem is the Lib Dem candidate John Spargo, a businessman and Falmouth town councillor who is vice-chairman of the town's planning committee. Spargo fought this ward in the 2017 Cornwall council election as did Green candidate Tom Scott, who completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Truro and Falmouth
ONS Travel to Work Area: Falmouth
Postcode district: TR11

Richard Cunningham (C)
Jayne Kirkham (Lab)
Tom Scott (Grn)
John Spargo (LD)

May 2017 result Lab 480 C 291 LD 225 Grn 195
May 2013 result Lab 316 Ind 156 LD 154 C 130 Ind 115 Ind 74
June 2009 result (Falmouth Arwenack) Ind 272 LD 259 C 241 Mebyon Kernow 192 Lab 156


Sunderland council, Tyne and Wear; caused by the death of Labour councillor Paul Watson at the age of 63. Watson was first elected in 1997 and since 2008 had been leader of Sunderland council. Away from politics Watson had another claim to fame: he was the uncle of the DJ and BBC music presenter Lauren Laverne.

Two by-elections, both caused by the untimely deaths of senior Labour figures, but at opposite ends of England. From Falmouth harbour we move to the south bank of the River Wear in Sunderland.

The name of Pallion brings to mind one of England's greatest inventors: Sir Joseph Swan, who was born in 1828 at Pallion Hall in what's now Sunderland. Swan made his fame and fortune by developing and patenting the first incandescent light bulb, and it was through his influence that many of the first electric light installations (Swan's own home in Gateshead, the Lit and Phil library in Newcastle, Cragside in Northumberland) were in the north-east. Pallion Hall is long-gone, demolished in 1901 to make way for the expansion of Sunderland. The Victorian terraces that replaced it, intended for the town's shipbuilders and shipyard workers, mostly still survive.

Also long gone is Ford Hall, the birthplace of Henry Havelock. A military figure who served with distinction in British India through the early nineteenth century, Havelock died during the 1857 Siege of Lucknow and is commemorated with a statue in Trafalgar Square in London. There is also a statue of Havelock in Sunderland's Mowbray Park, while one of the roads running through Pallion ward is named after him. His old Ford Hall estate was developed for housing by Sunderland Corporation in the 1930s, and most of that housing is now being demolished and redeveloped in its turn.

Sunderland's shipyards are similarly long gone, but the riverfront remains an industrial area. Under construction over the Wear is the Northern Spire Bridge, a cable-stayed design whose towers - 105 metres tall - are described as the tallest structures in north-east England. Once complete, the bridge's approach roads will plug into the existing network at the Pallion Retail Park and the Pallion Industrial Estate. The retail park contains the sort of out-of-town chain stores you might expect, together with the Sunderland Wall which is claimed to be the UK's highest indoor climbing wall, while the industrial estate is anchored by Rolls-Royce who have a factory here making helicopter parts (at least until 2019 when construction moves to Washington). Between the two is Pallion Metro station, opened in 2002 on the South Hylton branch of the Tyne and Wear Metro and providing fast and frequent links to Sunderland city centre.

It needs to be pointed out that this is a very deprived area with high unemployment rates. Most of the jobs in the ward are low-paid roles in the industrial estate or at the Sunderland Royal Hospital, which lies just outside the boundary; the 2011 census noted a significant Filipino population in one corner of the ward, a demographic feature which is often seen in the vicinity of hospitals. Most of those Filipinos won't have the right to vote, of course. The electorate here is strongly Labour-voting, with UKIP having taken over second place from the Conservatives in 2014; at the most recent election in 2016 Labour led the Kippers 51-29.

Both Labour and UKIP have selected firefighters to fight this by-election. Defending for Labour is Gordon Chalk, a Fire Brigades Union rep, while challenging for UKIP is Steven Bewick who combines his fire service duties with running an electrical business. Also standing are Grant Shearer for the Conservatives, Martin Haswell for the Lib Dems and Craig Hardy for the Greens.

Parliamentary constituency: Sunderland Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Sunderland
Postcode district: SR4

Steven Bewick (UKIP)
Gordon Chalk (Lab)
Craig Hardy (Grn)
Martin Haswell (LD)
Grant Shearer (C)

May 2016 result Lab 1046 UKIP 596 C 261 LD 91 Grn 71
May 2015 result Lab 1804 UKIP 1012 C 554 Grn 153 LD 134
May 2014 result Lab 1047 UKIP 659 C 314 Grn 105 LD 67
May 2012 result Lab 1541 C 365 Grn 304 LD 101
May 2011 result Lab 1688 C 506 Grn 451
May 2010 result Lab 1866 C 739 LD 709 BNP 318
May 2008 result Lab 1055 C 645 BNP 377 LD 305
May 2007 result Lab 1061 C 445 Ind 314 BNP 279 LD 277
May 2006 result Lab 1013 LD 453 BNP 441 C 424
June 2004 result Lab 1350/1333/1148 C 802/754 BNP 647

Preview: 25 Jan 2018

Before we start this week's edition of Andrew's Previews, I would like to apologise for a mistake in last week's edition. I wrote that during the campaign for the Hulton by-election in Bolton the Labour candidate, Rabiya Jiva, had had her home raided by anti-terror police who were investigating her father. This was a mistake, and I would like to make clear that the raid described actually happened in January 2015 and not during the by-election campaign. My apologies to Rabiya Jiva.

There is only one by-election this week:

Central Wight

Isle of Wight council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Bob Seely, who is now the MP for the Isle of Wight. He had served since 2013.

We've had some awful weather this last month, haven't we? It's snowing outside as I write this in Bolton, after several weeks in which snow was regularly promised but all that turned up was rain. Not healthy weather, and your columnist has been suffering with a heavy cold as a result.

The Isle of Wight has a reputation for better weather than the rest of the country, so let's go there. The name of Central Wight division is rather misleading, in that it consists of four parishes to the south and south-west of Newport along the south-west coast of the island. Back of the Wight may have been a better name, as that's applied to much of the area by the locals. This is a sparsely-populated and rural area: the largest of the four parishes in the ward is Brighstone, with slightly over 1,000 electors.

One of three Rectors of Brighstone (or Brixton, as it was known until fairly recently) to become bishops was "Soapy" Samuel Wilberforce, son of the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce and now best-known for his opposition to Darwin's theory of evolution. Ironically, some time after Wilberforce had left the parish the Reverend William Fox became curate at St Mary's Brixton: an amateur palaeontologist, Fox discovered several new dinosaur species in the cliffs that line Brighstone Bay.

Further inland lie the parishes of Shorwell, Chillerton and Gatcombe, and Rookley. Chillerton is probably the most notable of these villages, thanks to the unfinished Iron Age fort and radio mast that overlook the village from Chillerton Down.

Central Wight division was fairly close between the Conservatives and Lib Dems at its first election in 2009, but since then has been safe Conservative. Bob Seely took over as councillor in 2013 and was clearly destined for greater things. An Old Harrovian, he had worked for the Times in the USSR and its successor states from 1990 to 1994, before entering the Army. Seely did tours of Afghanistan and Iraq and was appointed MBE for his military service in 2016, at which point he was in the Intelligence Corps with the rank of Sergeant.

Seely had also been the Conservative candidate for the target seat of Broxtowe in 2005, and was the great-great-nephew of a former MP for the island - Major-General Jack Seely, 1st Lord Mottistone, who was a Conservative and later Liberal MP for the Isle of Wight from 1900 to 1906 and again from 1923 to 1924. In between those periods Jack Seely had served for other constituencies, was in the Cabinet as War Secretary from 1912 to 1914 (being forced to resign following the Curragh Incident), and during the First World War was the winning commander at the March 1918 Battle of Moreuil Wood, one of the last great cavalry charges.

Jack's great-great-nephew Bob got his chance at high office following the last-minute retirement of the island's previous MP, Andrew Turner, in advance of the 2017 election. Turner, who had gained the island from the Liberal Democrats in 2001, suffered a stroke in 2006 and was never quite the same after that. He became deeply unpopular on the island and with his local constituency party, who for some years had been itching for an excuse to get rid of him. They finally got that on 28 April 2017, when Taylor spoke to a group of schoolchildren and made some deeply homophobic remarks. With a general election imminent, under attack from Labour and recognising that he was going to get no support from his party, Taylor quickly announced his retirement. The new candidate, Bob Seely, polled more than 9,000 more votes than Turner had two years previously and increased the Conservative majority by nearly 8,000.

Seely's performance in the Isle of Wight council elections a month earlier had been similarly impressive, increasing the Tory lead in Central Wight to 75-19 over the Greens. Across the island, the Conservatives gained control from an independent group which had run the council since 2013.

Defending for the Conservatives is an interesting choice of candidate. Steve Hastings, who fought Newport Central in last year's council elections, was elected to Portsmouth city council as a UKIP candidate in 2014 representing Baffins ward. He joined the Conservatives in 2015, and despite moving to Brighstone in 2016 was still a Portsmouth city councillor until resigning once his nomination went in for this by-election. (His successor on Portsmouth council will be elected at May's ordinary election.) The Green candidate is Daniel James, a software developer and Freshwater parish councillor. Completing the ballot paper are Simon Haytack for Labour, Terry Brennan for UKIP (who, if local press reports are to be believed, has stopped campaigning in protest at Henry Bolton's leadership), and Nick Stuart for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Isle of Wight
ONS Travel to Work Area: Isle of Wight
Postcode districts: PO30, PO38

Terry Brennan (UKIP)
Steve Hastings (C)
Simon Haytack (Lab)
Daniel James (Grn)
Nick Stuart (LD)

May 2017 result C 1026 Grn 258 Lab 81
May 2013 result C 700 UKIP 342 Grn 297
June 2009 result C 894 LD 732

Previews: 18 Jan, 2018

"All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"

Four by-elections on Thursday 18th January 2018:


Bolton council, Greater Manchester; caused by the death of Labour councillor Darren Whitehead at the age of 49. A former assistant solicitor, he was in his first term on the council and had served since 2016.

After over a year away fromh home, it's time yet again to welcome readers of Andrew's Previews to the Greatest Town in the Known Universe, your columnist's very own Bolton. Welcome! For our North West by-election this week we're going to examine some of the more successful examples of regeneration of an old post-industrial landscape.

Located to the south-west of Bolton along the road to Atherton, Hulton ward is one of those areas which became bound up with one family. The Hulton family of Hulton Park effectively owned Hulton ward for centuries, latterly bankrolled by the large coal reserves which lie under the ward. However, the Hultons were not the most astute political operators: Henry Hulton was the chief tax collector in Boston at the point when the American Revolution broke out, while William Hulton, High Sheriff of Lancashire in 1811, was the magistrate who made out the arrest warrant that directly led to the Peterloo Massacre. Feelings over that were still running high in the 1841 general election, during which William Hulton and his family were attacked in Bolton.

The colliery company which bore Hulton's name has gone down in history for Lancashire's worst mining disaster. Every clock in the ward stopped at 7:50am on 21st December 1910, due to a huge underground explosion in the Pretoria Pit under Over Hulton which killed 344 men and boys. The Pretoria Pit disaster had an even more profound effect on nearby Westhoughton than the First World War, which broke out four years later. To this day Westhoughton town centre is littered with memorials to the explosion.

Over Hulton has moved on a bit in the 107 years since then. A trip along the Newbrook Road from Four Lane Ends down the hill towards Atherton will bring you past a large number of large and expensive houses. This is the white, wealthy and Conservative-voting end of a very polarised electoral ward. The opening of the M61 motorway through the ward gave Over Hulton excellent transport links to Manchester and Preston, and it has a commuter demographic. What a difference with Little Hulton, just a couple of miles to the east.

In between Over and Lickle Hulton lies Cutacre, for many years an opencast coal mine but now being transformed in a very successful regeneration effort. Over half of the site is being turned into a country park, while opposite junction 4 of the motorway is a very recently-built business park, a rash of huge warehouses overlooking the Lancashire plain which has attracted some of the biggest players in the distribution business. Aldi and Whistl are already in situ, while Amazon are moving into the biggest building with a promise of 1,200 jobs. Your columnist was given final notice of redundancy last week: perhaps one of those jobs has my name on it?

However, not all the new development proposals for the ward have garnered public approval. Hulton Park itself fell in 2010 into the hands of the Trafford Centre developers Peel Holdings, who have submitted a planning application to turn it into housing estates and a championship-standard golf course capable of hosting tournaments up to and including the Ryder Cup. This has attracted opposition from local residents (remember, this is the better-off part of the ward) and from Westhoughton town council. Bolton council still have to decide whether to give the green light or not.

Over Hulton itself is only half of the ward. To the north of Four Lane Ends and the M61 motorway lies the Labour-voting half of the ward, Daubhill. Dobble was incorporated into Bolton in 1898 and a lot of it is still made up of the redbrick Victorian terraces which outsiders think still exist all over the town. Come to Bolton and see what it's really like, we welcome tourists. As a quick look at St Helens Road might suggest, many of those terraces are now occupied by families of subcontinental heritage, particularly from Gujarat, leading to the ward having significant Muslim and Hindu populations.

As stated, Hulton is a polarised ward. The ward was created in 2004 from parts of the old Daubhill and Hulton Park wards, which were previously Labour and Conservative respectively as you might expect. From 2004 to 2012 Over Hulton outvoted Dobble creating a Conservative ward, but then Hulton's results started to turn weird in 2014 when UKIP got organised in Bolton. (Perhaps it shouldn't have come a surprise that somewhere as insular as Bolton could have been such fertile ground for UKIP.) UKIP actually came through the middle between the Tories and Labour to gain Hulton in 2014, polling just 34% of the vote, and took enough votes off the Conservatives in both 2015 and 2016 to enable Labour to gain the other two seats. Shares of the vote at the most recent local election in 2016 were 37% for Labour, 33% for the Conservatives and 24% for UKIP.

It remains to be seen whether the travails of UKIP on the national stage have affected their campaigning machine in the Greatest Town in the Known Universe. However, the omens since 2016 don't look good for the Bolton Kippers: they crashed in Bolton South East in the 2017 general election, falling to third place and only narrowly saving their deposit; Hulton's UKIP councillor defected to the Conservatives last year; and your columnist is hearing much less than usual from his three UKIP councillors.

This by-election also looks difficult for Labour, whose administration in Bolton has a knack for attracting bad publicity. There will be more on that subject in a future edition of Andrew's Previews; this piece is already quite long enough. If the Tories can unwind the UKIP vote and capitalise on opposition to the Hulton Park development, then this could be a good opportunity for the first Conservative gain of 2018.

The defending Labour candidate is local resident Rabiya Jiva, who works for Lancashire Constabulary and chairs a multi-agency group supporting domestic violence victims in that county. Jiva's campaign was recently derailed when her home was raided by the Metropolitan Police's counter-terror unit, who are investigating her father Latif Jiva on suspicion of money-laundering and links to one of Pakistan's more dubious political parties. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of Rabiya. The Conservatives have selected Toby Hewitt, who gives an address in Tyldesley; according to his Twitter he is the Road Network Manager for North West Motorways, which presumably makes him responsible for the roadworks-strewn car park known as the M60. The UKIP candidate is local resident Bev Fletcher. Completing the ballot paper are regular Green candidate James Tomkinson and Derek Gradwell of the Lib Dems.

Picture of Cutacre by Derek Antrobus. Picture of Dove Mill, Daubhill by Bill Boaden and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.

Parliamentary constituency: Bolton South East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: BL3, BL4, BL5, M46

Bev Fletcher (UKIP)
Derek Gradwell (LD)
Toby Hewitt (C)
Rabiya Jiva (Lab)
James Tomkinson (Grn)

May 2016 result Lab 1374 C 1214 UKIP 909 Grn 122 LD 92
May 2015 result Lab 2126 C 1961 UKIP 1818 LD 202 Grn 201
May 2014 result UKIP 1291 C 1150 Lab 1140 Grn 162 LD 69
May 2012 result C 1326 Lab 1265 Grn 322 LD 61
May 2011 result C 1671 Lab 1369 Grn 344 LD 215
May 2010 result C 2873 Lab 1928 LD 888 Grn 364
May 2008 result C 1822 Lab 1118 LD 421
May 2007 result C 1692 Lab 1088 LD 441
May 2006 result C 1741 Lab 1051 LD 463
June 2004 result C 1827/1752/1711 Lab 1423/12380/1281 LD 937/862/771

Newport Pagnell North and Hanslope

Milton Keynes council, Buckinghamshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Jeannette Green at the age of 72. She had served since 2014.

We move south along the motorway network to Newport Pagnell, a place where many stop but few stay. Once one of Buckinghamshire's largest towns, Newport Pagnell was significant enough to have a motorway service area named after it: opened with the M1 motorway in November 1959, Newport Pagnell was the first motorway service area in the UK open to all traffic. (Watford Gap opened earlier but was originally a truckstop.) Since the M1 was built, the development of the New City of Milton Keynes has turned Newport Pagnell from an independent town into a suburb.

Newport Pagnell has traditionally had its own industries both new and old, but that is changing. Aston Martin recently relocated its main factory from here to Warwickshire; while William Cowley, the UK's only manufacturer of vellum, faces an uncertain future after the House of Lords last year ended their contract to produce archive copies of Acts of Parliament on vellum. William Cowley's location in a marginal parliamentary seat (Milton Keynes North) had led the Commons to block several previous attempts to drop the vellum tradition.

Tradition is not a word normally associated with Milton Keynes, and Newport Pagnell North and Hanslope ward dates only from 2014. Before then Newport Pagnell North had been consistently Liberal Democrat, but boundary changes that year merged it with the small but monolithically Conservative ward of Hanslope Park, covering several villages to the north of the New City.

The manor house of Hanslope Park itself was requisitioned by the War Office during the Second World War and is still in Government hands. It is home to HM Government Communication Centre, a group which develops and maintains electronics and software for the Foreign Office and the intelligence services - a tradition which goes back all the way to the war when Alan Turing worked at Hanslope Park on (in today's jargon) encryption of spoken messages. Press reports in 2011 revealed that also at Hanslope Park were old Colonial Office archives, which contained embarassing revelations about the UK's conduct in Kenya's Mau Mau uprising.

Despite the fact that two-thirds of Newport Pagnell North and Hanslope was in a Liberal Democrat ward until 2014, the Lib Dems are nowhere here now and the modern ward is safe Conservative. In the 2016 election the Conservatives had 48% here to 21% for Labour and 19% for the Lib Dems. That 2016 election left the Conservatives and Labour tied on 22 seats each on Milton Keynes council, with the Lib Dem group of 13 holding the balance of power; Labour are running the council as a minority administration and will become the largest party in the unlikely event that they gain this by-election.

Defending for the Conservatives is Jeanette Green's widower Bill, a property developer and Hanslope parish councillor. The Labour candidate is Nick Phillips, who appears to be on the Momentum wing of the party. Completing a three-strong ballot paper is Liberal Democrat candidate Jane Carr, who has previously stood for Parliament twice (Grantham and Stamford in 2001, Milton Keynes North East in 2005) and was a South Kesteven councillor in Lincolnshire from 1995 to 1999; she fought this ward in 2014 and 2015.

Parliamentary constituency: Milton Keynes North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Milton Keynes
Postcode districts: MK14, MK16, MK19, NN7

Jane Carr (LD)
Bill Green (C)
Nick Phillips (Lab)

May 2016 result C 1605 Lab 698 LD 623 UKIP 432
May 2015 result C 3476 Lab 1064 LD 1028 UKIP 988 Grn 411
May 2014 result C 1735/1550/1347 UKIP 1096 LD 706/650/641 Lab 601/521/439 Grn 456

Downhall and Rawreth

Rochford council, Essex; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Black at the age of 59. Rochford's longest-serving councillor, Black had served continuously since 1984 when he was elected to the old Downhall ward. Away from the council he worked in the shipping industry.

For our Liberal Democrat defence of the week we travel east to southern Essex. We're in the Rochford district, which covers a series of small towns to the north and north-west of Southend. Despite the name, the largest town in the district is not Rochford but Rayleigh.

Downhall and Rawreth is the northern of Rayleigh's five wards, and like much of South Essex has seen lots of residential development in recent years. In the 2011 census Downhall and Rawreth made the top 70 wards in England and Wales for the census "intermediate" employment category, and it appears from other census tables that, despite relatively low qualification levels, most of those jobs are in financial services. Presumably those people commute into London along the railway line from Rayleigh, which ends at Liverpool Street for the City. As the ward name suggests, included is the parish of Rawreth which fills in the space between Rayleigh and Wickford. Also within the ward boundary is Rayleigh's Sweyne Park (the ward bearing that name takes its name from Sweyne Park school).

There were minor boundary changes to the ward in 2016, but not enough to change the political complexion of Downhall and Rawreth which is solidly Liberal Democrat at district council level. In 2016 the Lib Dem slate beat the Conservatives here 60-17. However, this is the Lib Dems' only reliable ward in Rochford district, and at county level the larger seat of Rayleigh North is held by the Conservatives.

This by-election is a straight fight. Craig Cannell, of Rayleigh, defends for the Lib Dems; Tony Hollis, who stood here last year, challenges for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Rayleigh and Wickford
Essex county council division: Rayleigh North (former Downhall and Rawreth ward), Rayleigh South (part formerly in Sweyne Park ward)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southend
Postcode districts: SS6, SS11

Craig Cannell (LD)
Tony Hollis (C)

May 2016 result LD 1111/945/865 C 305/303/266 Rochford District Residents 279 Lab 145

Throop and Muscliff

Bournemouth council, Dorset; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Anne Rey who is retiring to Spain for health reasons. She was first elected in 1991.

After a Labour defence, a Conservative defence and a Liberal Democrat defence, we have come to Dorset and to our final by-election of the week. Throop and Muscliff ward lies on the northern edge of the town of Bournemouth, located between the A3060 Castle Lane West and the River Stour. This is a residential area with few distinguishing features, mostly having been developed in the 1970s; it makes the top 75 wards in England and Wales for part-time employment, but rates of deprivation in the ward are relatively low for a seaside resort town. Throop's Wikipedia entry makes for entertaining reading, but that's because at the time of writing it appears to have been extensively vandalised: the second sentence says that Throop is "renowned for its expansive fishing industry" and the rest of it is an interesting mix of truth, half-truth, fiction, fantasy and fake news. Let that be a warning to anybody who relies solely on Wikipedia for their information.

Throop and Muscliff has generally voted for an independent slate associated with Rey, who was the only opposition councillor to hold her seat in the 2015 Bournemouth election as the Conservatives won 51 seats out of a possible 54. Rey and fellow independent Ron Whittaker had held two of the ward's three seats from 2003 to 2015, and were joined in 2007 by a third independent, Derek Borthwick. In 2015 Whittaker retired and Borthwick was re-elected on the Conservative slate, which also gained Whittaker's former seat. Shares of the vote in 2015 were 35% for Rey, 29% for the Conservatives, 15% for UKIP and 11% for Labour.

So we have for the first time this year Britain Elects' favourite type of by-election; a free-for-all! Possibly best-placed to win is the Conservative candidate Hazel Allen, a consultant nurse and romantic novelist from Boscombe. UKIP have not returned but their candidate has: Peter Lucas, a legal consultant and Ferndown town councillor, is standing as an independent for his fourth go at the ward after being on the UKIP slate in 2015 and 2011 and standing under his own label "Your Neighbour, Our Neighbourhood" in 2007. Also standing as an independent is Kieron Wilson, who fought Bournemouth East as an independent in the 2017 general election while in the final year of a politics degree at Salford University; he is in his early 20s. Labour have selected Rob Bassinder, a teacher. Completing the ballot paper are Green candidate Jane Bull, who is hoping to join her husband Simon on the council, and Lib Dem Muriel Turner.

Parliamentary constituency: Bournemouth East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bournemouth
Postcode districts: BH8, BH9, BH10

Hazel Allen (C)
Rob Bassinder (Lab)
Jane Bull (Grn)
Peter Lucas (Ind)
Muriel Turner (LD)
Kieron Wilson (Ind)

May 2015 result Ind 1779/927/802/795 C 1468/1376/1200 UKIP 776/702 Lab 529 Grn 468
May 2011 result Ind 1734/1490/1037 C 674/601/572 Lab 257 UKIP 156/130/120
May 2007 result Ind 1997/1829/1069 C 843 Lab 295 LD 181 Your Neighbour Our Neighbourhood 154
May 2003 result Ind 1771/1503 C 889/679 LD 746 Lab 334