Previews: 18 Jan, 2018

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

Four by-elections on Thursday 18th January 2018:


Hulton

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


Previews: 11 Jan 2018

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

Four by-elections on 11th January 2018, which fall neatly into two pairs:


Birchington and Rural

Kent county council; and

Thanet Villages

Thanet council, Kent; both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Ken Gregory. After a career as a policeman and fireman, Gregory entered politics in the early 1990s and was elected to Thanet council in 1995, originally as a Labour figure before defecting to the Conservatives in the 2003-07 term. He represented an unusually large number of wards (Dane Park ward 1995-2003, Central Harbour 2003-07, St Peters 2007-11, Garlinge 2011-15, Thanet Villages 2015-17) and had caused controversy in 2012 after leaving a homophobic answerphone message for a fellow councillor, for which he was cautioned by police and suspended from the Conservative group for six months. In May 2017 Gregory was elected to Kent county council, where he was in his first term.

Welcome to the Isle of Thanet, an area which has seen much political focus over the last few years thanks to the rise of UKIP. Our two Thanet by-elections today are concentrated in the west of the Isle and in Thanet's only rural ward.

Birchington and Rural is a two-seat division of Kent county council which essentially covers the area west of Margate and Ramsgate. The main centres of population are Birchington and Westgate-on-Sea, small resorts on the north coast: Birchington in particular is a retirement centre, with Birchington North ward being in the top 40 in England and Wales for over-64s and retirement. Two wards in western Margate (Garlinge and Westbrook) are also included in the division, while the odd one out is Thanet Villages ward which covers six parishes in the undeveloped part of Thanet.

Undeveloped now, but maybe not for long. For some years now the major hot political potato in Thanet has been the fate of Manston Airport, which is located within Thanet Villages ward. Opened in the winter of 1915-16 by the Royal Flying Corps, Manston has the UK's eleventh-longest and widest runway - wide enough for three planes to land simultaneously - and its location close to the Continent placed it on the front line during the Battle of Britain. Manston was heavily bombed, and often became the final destination for damaged RAF planes limping home to the UK. After use by the US Air Force in the early part of the Cold War, Manston from 1960 became a joint civilian and RAF airport with the occasional charter and scheduled flight. It was renamed Kent International Airport in 1989, but efforts to attract budget airlines were derailed by the collapse of EUjet - which had bought Manston - in 2005 and the financial crash of 2008. Manston saw its final scheduled flight on 9 April 2014 - a KLM departure to Amsterdam - and officially closed on 15 May 2014 with the loss of 144 jobs. Possibly the widest prominence for the airport came in 2001, when it featured as a North Korean airbase in the James Bond film Die Another Day.

So, what to do with the airport site? This is up to Thanet council as the planning authority. Thanet's UKIP administration elected in 2015 had a manifesto pledge to reopen the airport to traffic, but nobody has yet come forward with the business plan required for this to work. The landowners have a plan to turn the airport site into 2,500 homes, business units and parkland, a plan which has not found political approval. In the meantime some of the site is taken up by two museums - one on the history of the RAF base, the other dedicated to Spitfires and Hurricanes - and the landowners are receiving payments from the Government to keep the site on standby as an emergency lorry park for use in Operation Stack. With the government's proposals to leave the EU Customs Union having the potential to lead to major intractable problems at the Port of Dover, one suspects that this could end up being the eventual fate of Manston Airport.

We shall see. For now we must turn to the politics of Birchington and Rural, and Thanet Villages. Birchington and Rural was created in May this year by merging the two former county divisions of Birchington and Villages, and Margate West. Both of those divisions were Conservative in 2005 and 2009 but voted UKIP in 2013. May's results suggest that the UKIP bubble in Thanet has burst and the Conservatives are back in control: the Tories won the new division with 50% of the vote, to 16% each for Labour and UKIP.

Thanet Villages ward is politically more complicated because of a strong independent vote for Minster parish councillor Bob Grove. Minster-in-Thanet accounts for just over half of the ward's 5,474 electors; it was the location where St Augustine of Canterbury landed in England in AD 597 and its name comes from the fact that this has been a monastic settlement since the seventh century. Bridge players may note that one of the smaller villages in the ward is called Acol, although the bidding system of that name has no connection to Thanet: it was developed at and named after the Acol bridge club in north-west London.

Bob Grove has recently held all the trump cards in Thanet Villages; he won a by-election in June 2009 and was re-elected at the top of the poll in 2011 and 2015. The other two seats in the ward were traditionally Conservative, but one of them was lost to UKIP in the 2015 election. That 2015 election was fragmented: Grove (who was not opposed by the Conservative slate) had 27%, the Tories 26%, UKIP 24% and the Greens 12%.

Defending for the Conservatives in Thanet Villages is Reece Pugh. A House of Commons researcher, he contested the last by-election in Thanet in Margate Central ward last August; that was a win for Labour, but Pugh is on his home turf this time round. There is an independent candidate, St Nicholas-at-Wade and Sarre parish councillor Sonya Smyth. Interestingly, given that they run Thanet council only as a minority, there is no UKIP candidate. Completing the district ballot paper are Green Party candidate Natasha Ransom, who stood here in 2015, Labour's Pauline Farrance and the Lib Dems' Angie Curwen.

Moving up to county level, the defending Conservative candidate is Liz Hurst, a Birchington parish councillor who runs a pet shop. Several candidates appear on both the district and county ballot papers including Labour's Pauline Farrance, women's officer for the party's North Thanet branch. The UKIP candidate is Zita Wiltshire, a former Thanet councillor: she served from 2003 to 2015 as a Conservative councillor for St Peters ward in Broadstairs but lost re-election in 2015 under her new purple colours. Angie Curwen for the Lib Dems and Natasha Ransom for the Greens, both of whom stood here in May's county elections, complete the county ballot paper.

Birchington and Rural

Parliamentary constituency: North Thanet
Thanet council wards: Birchington North, Birchington South, Garlinge, Thanet Villages, Westbrook, Westgate-on-Sea
ONS Travel to Work Area: Margate and Ramsgate
Postcode districts: CT7, CT8, CT9, CT12

Angie Curwen (LD)
Pauline Farrance (Lab)
Liz Hurst (C)
Nathasha Ransom (Grn)
Zita Wiltshire (UKIP)

May 2017 result C 4529/4103 Lab 1455/1115 UKIP 1418/1141 LD 1076/819 Grn 499

Thanet Villages

Parliamentary constituency: North Thanet
Kent county council division: Birchington and Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Margate and Ramsgate
Postcode districts: CT7, CT9, CT12

Angie Curwen (LD)
Pauline Farrance (Lab)
Reece Pugh (C)
Natasha Ransom (Grn)
Sonya Smyth (Ind)

May 2015 result Ind 1326/335 C 1273/1083 UKIP 1197/1033/916 Grn 601 Lab 515
May 2011 result Ind 1209/523 C 1011/837/720 Lab 516/472
June 2009 by-election Ind 937 C 596 LD 316 Lab 133
May 2007 result Ind 793 C 670/625/434 Lab 368/359
May 2003 result C 687/574/572 Ind 627/424/419 Lab 499/380/284


Wyre Rural Central

Lancashire county council; and

Preesall

Wyre council, Lancashire; both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Vivien Taylor at the age of 56. She had served on Wyre council since 1999 and on Lancashire county council since winning a by-election in November 2011 (until 2017 representing Wyreside division). Taylor was Mayor of Preesall in 2002-03, and since May had been the Lancashire cabinet member for health and wellbeing.

Sometimes the Boundary Commission has to make the best of a bad job, and the northern Fylde peninsula is an area that tends to give them trouble. Wyre Rural Central county division was created in 2017 and is clearly the bit that was left over after the rest of Wyre district had had its divisions drawn. It's a curiously-shaped and poorly-connected division.

The largest parish within the division is Preesall in the north-west corner. This was once an Urban District of its own and forms a ward of its own on Wyre council. Preesall was traditionally an agricultural centre with some salt-mining, but now functions as a retirement area: it is in the top 200 wards in England and Wales for over-64s and retired population. Included within Preesall parish is Knott End-on-Sea, once the terminus of a branch line from Garstang (which remained independent, as the Knott End Railway, all the way up to the Grouping in 1923). Knott End is directly across the Wyre estuary from Fleetwood town centre and, in season, is connected to it by a passenger ferry. That ferry is the only link between the Lancaster and Fleetwood halves of the marginal Lancaster and Fleetwood constituency.

Also within the county division is the Pilling ward (which makes the top 100 in England and Wales for White British ethnicity). To the south is the village of Great Eccleston on the River Wyre, known for its agricultural show, while the division extends a finger to the north-east as far as the Forton service area on the M6 motorway. Forton is known for its hexagonal tower; dating from the glamorous early days of motorways (the M6 between Preston and Lancaster was in the first ten motorways to be completed) the tower originally housed an upmarket restaurant with views of Morecambe Bay and Bowland. Unfortunately the restaurant closed in 1989 due to fire regulations: there is only one way in and out of the tower, and no way of providing an emergency exit. Two things have prevented the tower's demolition - it is Grade II listed, and any attempt to demolish it would also involve getting rid of the service area building below it - so the Pennine Tower remains a landmark for traffic passing by on the M6.

As detailed by this column in October, the Conservatives in Lancashire and Wyre appear to have descended into infighting. The goings-on at County Hall in Preston in particular have been astonishing. The Tories won the 2017 Lancashire county election with an overall majority of eight; but one of their councillors has been thrown out of the party for overclaiming thousands of pounds in council tax benefit, and the Leader of the Council Geoff Driver is being investigated by police on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and witness intimidation. Add to that councillor Taylor's death, the suspension of one Tory councillor (who has since been reinstated) over social media posts and two Tory councillors leaving the party after falling out with Driver, and the opposition Labour group smelt an opportunity to depose the Conservatives. In September the county council debated a no-confidence motion in Driver, which never got to a vote after one of the dissident Conservatives, Tony Jones, suffered a suspected heart attack during the debate. Jones lived to tell the tale, but he has decided not to return to the council chamber and a by-election for his seat is pending. The no-confidence debate reconvened in October and the motion was defeated by 45 votes to 34, but the police investigation goes on and Driver is due to answer bail next month. Stay tuned to Andrew's Previews for further exciting updates.

It's rather difficult for the ruling Wyre Conservatives to top that level of political drama. Nonetheless they had a go in September by deposing council and group leader Peter Gibson, ostensibly on health grounds. Gibson apparently did not take it well: he has left the Conservative party (and recently the council) in a huff, and an email attributed to him containing all sorts of allegations about his former council colleagues has been widely distributed on the Lancashire political scene.

Despite all this drama, at the ballot box Over Wyre is not the most politically exciting part of the country. Preesall ward has unchanged boundaries since Wyre's founding electoral arrangements in 1973, and has had a full slate of Conservatives since 1999 (Labour won one of the three seats in the 1991 and 1995 elections). In the 2015 election the Conservative slate beat Labour 65-35 in a straight fight.

Wyre Rural Central county division has existed only since May 2017. Before then most of the area was included within Wyreside division, a rather more coherent electoral area which included Hambleton and covered nearly all of Over Wyre. Taylor was elected for Wyreside in a by-election in November 2011, and was re-elected in May last year by beating Labour 71-18.

Defending Wyre Rural Central for the Conservatives is Matthew Salter, a 24-year-old PhD student at Lancaster University. The Labour candidate Nic Fogg has received an interesting endorsement: from Harold Elletson, the former Conservative MP for Blackpool North. Both Fogg and Elletson are critical of plans to allow gas storage and fracking under Over Wyre. Completing the ballot paper is Green candidate Susan Whyte.

The Conservative candidate for the Preesall district by-election is Peter Cartridge, who during the campaign proposed renaming the Knott End ferryboat after Vivien Taylor. He fought Warren ward in Fleetwood in the 2015 election. In a straight fight Cartridge is opposed by the aforementioned Nic Fogg, who has fought every district election in Preesall this century.

Wyre Rural Central

Parliamentary constituency: Lancaster and Fleetwood (part: Pilling and Preesall wards and part of Wyresdale ward), Wyre and Preston North (part: part of Great Eccleston ward)
Wyre council wards: Pilling, Preesall, Great Eccleston (part: Great Eccleston, Inskip-with-Sowerby and Upper Rawcliffe-with-Tarnacre parishes), Wyresdale (part: Forton parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackpool (Preesall ward); Preston (rest of division)
Postcode districts: FY6, LA2, PR3, PR4

Nic Fogg (Lab)
Matthew Salter (C)
Susan Whyte (Grn)

May 2017 result C 2714 Lab 684 Grn 429

Preesall

Parliamentary constituency: Lancaster and Fleetwood
Lancashire county council division: Wyre Rural Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackpool
Postcode districts: FY6, PR3

Peter Cartridge (C)
Nic Fogg (Lab)

May 2015 result C 2008/1944/1818 Lab 1082/880/819
May 2011 result C 1299/1226/1220 Lab 656 UKIP 530
May 2007 result C 1418/1386/1380 Lab 496/428
May 2003 result C 1012/936/935 Ind 750 Lab 498/412
May 1999 result C 1180/1096/1072 Lab 598/524 Ind 427
May 1995 result C 1034/1028/900 Lab 1030/938/928
May 1991 result C 1089/1038/982 Lab 1037/905/878
May 1987 result C 1334/1199/1121 Lab 540/532
May 1983 result 3 C unopposed
May 1979 result 3 C unopposed
May 1976 result C 1116/1091/939 Ind 438/286 Lib 335 NF 241
May 1973 result Ind 1374/729/650 C 894/537/480


Previews: 04 Jan 2018

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

Welcome to 2018 and to another year of Andrew's Previews. The frantic pace of autumn is behind us now, we are in the dodgiest weather of the year and the ordinary local elections are now less than four months away. That makes January a slow time for local by-elections, and there is just one this week, in Hertfordshire. Read on...


Borehamwood Cowley Hill

Hertsmere council, Hertfordshire; caused by the disqualification of Conservative councillor David Burcombe, who in July 2016 was found guilty by St Albans Crown Court of sexual assault and sentenced to three months in prison, suspended. A 3-month community order was also imposed on Burcombe and he was ordered to pay prosecution costs and sign the sex offenders register. Burcombe appealed against the conviction, but his appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in November 2017 finally allowing this by-election to go ahead. Away from the council Burcombe was a magazine publisher and had also published two books of erotic fiction under a pseudonym. He had served since 2015.

Not a nice way to have to start the first preview of 2018, and I hope that next week will be better. We're in Borehamwood, a sort of mini-New Town which grew strongly in the immediate post-war years thanks to London overspill. Cowley Hill is the northern of Borehamwood's five wards: it includes the Hertsmere council offices on Shenley Road together with Borehamwood's Ibis hotel, which has presumably housed over the years a fair few famous visitors to Elstree's extensive TV studios (which, despite the name, are mostly in Borehamwood). The ward's permanent population has high levels of social housing and also makes the top 70 wards in England and Wales for Judaism. Borehamwood has become an attractive area for members of London's Jewish community who have been priced out of more traditional Jewish areas over the Greater London boundary in Barnet borough.

It may well be that which explains the recent Labour performance in Borehamwood, which has been nothing short of appalling. Burcombe may not have been the most salubrious of characters, but he was the only Conservative ever to be returned for Borehamwood Cowley Hill ward since its creation in 1999 - yes, Labour did worse here in 2015 than they did in the pit of the Blair and Brown years. The vote shares rather mask that because the 2015 poll here was a straight Labour-Tory fight: Labour led in votes 56-44, but most of that lead was a personal vote for councillor Richard Butler. Butler was also Labour's parliamentary candidate in Hertsmere that year and ran a long way ahead of his running-mates: Burcombe nicked the third and final seat, defeating Labour councillor Ann Harrison by just 27 votes.

After that Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, and the party became wracked by anti-semitism scandals. In the 2017 county elections Labour reaped the result of that by losing the local county council seat (Borehamwood North) to the Conservatives. On the other hand Labour did gain a district council seat from the Conservatives in Borehamwood in a by-election last October on a big swing, and let me emphasise again that this is not a ward the Conservatives should ever have won in the first place.

Both the Conservatives and Labour have selected 23-year-old candidates for this by-election. Defending for the Conservatives is Sean Moore, a hairdresser who is presumably hoping to make the cut. The Labour candidate is Rebecca Butler, Richard Butler's wife: she was elected at the age of 19 in 2014 (under her former name of Rebecca Challice) as a councillor for East Barnet ward of Barnet council, and still holds that office although she now lives and works in Borehamwood. Also standing are David Hoy for UKIP, Paul Robinson for the Liberal Democrats and the ward's first ever Green Party candidate, Nicholas Winston.

One more thing to note. This is not the first election in the UK in which people born in the year 2000 are eligible to vote - the Scottish Parliament election in 2016 set that record - but it is the first election in England where that will be the case. There are 6,188 electors for this by-election, and it would be interesting to know whether any of them have the right date of birth (1st-4th January 2000) to become England's first voter born in the 2000s.

Parliamentary constituency: Hertsmere
Hertfordshire county council division: Borehamwood North
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: WD6

Rebecca Butler (Lab)
David Hoy (UKIP)
Sean Moore (C)
Paul Robinson (LD)
Nicholas Winston (Grn)

May 2015 result Lab 1874/1495/1426 C 1449/1375/1357
May 2014 result Lab 796 UKIP 656 C 475
May 2012 result Lab 904 C 461
May 2011 result Lab 1125 C 723
May 2010 result Lab 1373 C 1189 BNP 426 Ind 268
May 2008 result Lab 640 C 600 Socialist Labour 224 Ind 144
May 2007 result Lab 724 C 521 Socialist Labour 234
May 2006 result Lab 642 C 556 Socialist Party 187 LD 186
May 2005 by-election Lab 1519 C 1017 LD 423
June 2004 result Lab 654 C 567 LD 284 Socialist Labour 181
May 2003 result Lab 826 C 224 Socialist Labour 184
May 2002 result Lab 886 Ind 693 Socialist Labour 95
May 2000 result Lab 738 C 374
May 1999 result Lab 924/873/858 C 260/236/236


Previews: 13 Dec 2017

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

There are two unusual Wednesday by-elections on 13th December 2017. We keep the recent south of England theme going, with a Labour defence in Exeter and a Conservative defence in Surrey, both in wards which look rather safe. Read on...


Newtown and St Leonard's

Exeter council, Devon; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Roger Spackman, who had served since September 2010 for the former Newtown ward and since 2016 for this ward. His resignation was ostensibly for personal reasons, but it has since been revealed that Spackman is being investigated by police on suspicion of making an indecent photograph of a child.

For the first of our two by-elections on the Wednesday of the week before Christmas, we are in the city of Exeter. The Newtown area lies immediately to the east of Exeter city centre. Always a poor area of town - the main industries here were workhouses and brick-making - Newtown was built-up by 1900, and many of the original houses have survived the Baedeker raids to the present day. Further south is the St Leonard's area, along the Topsham Road, which has seen extensive redevelopment since 2000. The walk is within walking distance of the city centre and many of its residents walk to work. One intriguing feature of the ward is that one of its census districts has a significant number of British Sign Language speakers: this is associated with the Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education, which lies just outside the ward boundary. Within the boundary are the city's bus station on Paris Street, the St Luke's Campus of the University of Exeter, the independent Exeter School and Belmont Park. Not surprisingly education is a major employer here.

Newtown and St Leonard's ward was created in 2016 when Exeter's wards were significantly reorganised. The pre-2016 Newtown ward had a large student population associated with the University of Exeter - the university's St Luke's Campus lies within the ward - while the old St Leonard's ward was much more upmarket with an urban professional demographic. The merger of the two wards was good news for Labour, who had a lock on Newtown ward; St Leonard's ward was safe Conservative before the Coalition years but turned marginal from 2012 onwards and was a Labour gain at its last election, in 2015. The 2016 election to the new ward - the only previous result on these boundaries - took its cue from the Newtown half rather than the St Leonard's half. Labour won the ward that year with 50%, to 23% for the Conservatives and 12% for the Green Party; further down the ballot was a rare local election outing for the UKIP splinter group An Independence from Europe, who came last with 3%. The elections earlier this year showed further good news for Labour, who won both of the county divisions which cover most of the ward (a small corner of the ward is within the safe-Tory division of Wearside and Topsham), and also performed well in June's general election in the Exeter constituency.

Even with the dubious circumstances of this by-election Labour can be confident here. Their defending candidate is Matthew Vizard, a caseworker for Exeter's Labour MP Ben Bradshaw; he is hoping to join on the council his wife Natalie who is another councillor for the ward. The Conservatives have selected Lucille Baker, the Conservative election agent for eastern Devon. Returning from the 2016 election is Green Party candidate Tom Milburn, a Unison organiser and long-serving chairman of the Exeter branch of CND. Completing the ballot paper are Alexandra Newcombe for the Liberal Democrats - who have won all three by-elections in Devon since the start of November but will be hard-pressed to keep that streak going here - and Alison Sheridan for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Exeter
Exeter county council division: St David's and Haven Banks (part: former St Leonard's ward); St Sidwell's and St James (part: former Newtown ward); Wearside and Topsham (small part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter
Postcode districts: EX1, EX2, EX4

Lucille Baker (C)
Tom Milburn (Grn)
Alexandra Newcombe (LD)
Alison Sheridan (UKIP)
Matthew Vizard (Lab)

May 2016 result Lab 1725/1562/1448 C 816/755/676 Grn 416/371/276 LD 244 UKIP 172 An Independence from Europe 104


Godalming Central and Ockford

Waverley council, Surrey; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Simon Thornton.

Our second Wednesday by-election is one of the five wards covering the Surrey town of Godalming. This is a prosperous town whose traditional industry was woollen cloth, later diversifying into papermaking, quarrying and coaching. The town's location in the North Downs five miles south of Guildford may look slightly out of the way, but it was a popular stopping point on the London to Portsmouth stagecoach run, while the River Wey was canalised in the eighteenth century to further connect Godalming to the outside world. The town was the first place in the world to have a public electricity supply and electric street lighting, but is probably better known for the curious case of Mary Toft, a local maidservant who in 1726 was the subject of a well-known hoax in which she claimed to have given birth to rabbits. The railway came in 1849, and Godalming station lies on the Portsmouth Direct line with two trains each hour to Guildford and Waterloo.

Ian Fleming may have satirised Godalming's demographic (in For Your Eyes Only) as full of retired colonial civil servants, but in truth Godalming Central and Ockford ward is a middle-class commuter area. The ward is well-described by its name, covering the town centre, the railway station and the suburb of Ockford to the south-west. Included in the ward is the head office of Waverley council (although Godalming is only the second-largest town in the district, after Farnham).

Like much of Waverley district, this ward had a strong Lib Dem vote in 2003 which has since completely fallen apart. The Tories gained Godalming Central and Ockford in 2007, and were easily re-elected in 2015 with 41% of the vote, to 26% for Labour and 17% for an outfit called "Something New" of which your columnist knows nothing. There was no Lib Dem candidate here in 2015, but the 2017 county elections suggest they may have got their act together: the party gained the Godalming North county division, which includes the town centre, from the Conservatives.

Defending for the Conservatives is Stella Andersen-Payne who is seeking to return to Waverley council; under her former name of Stella Payne she was elected unopposed for Frensham, Dockenfield and Tilford ward in 2011 but stood down after one term. Hoping that everything is in the right place for a Labour win is their candidate Richard Ashworth, a feng shui practitioner. Something New are now something old and have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Paul Follows of the Liberal Democrats and Susan Ryland of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Surrey
Surrey county council division: Godalming North (part: Godalming Central); Godalming South, Milford and Witley (part: Ockford)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Guildford and Aldershot
Postcode districts: GU7, GU8

Stella Andersen-Payne (C)
Richard Ashworth (Lab)
Paul Follows (LD)
Susan Ryland (Grn)

May 2015 result C 1180/1024 Lab 743 Something New 485 UKIP 437
May 2011 result C 829/731 LD 410 Lab 346
May 2007 result C 609/592 LD 522/501 Lab 115
May 2003 result LD 685/623 C 276/286 Lab 252/217 Grn 85


If you liked this piece, why not buy the book? Andrew's Previews 2016, with many more pieces like this, is now available from Amazon.


Previews: 14 Dec 2017

There are nine polls on 14th December 2017. It's the last week of elections before Christmas, and this volatile year of 2017 is certainly going out with a bang. We will finish with a Christmas Bonus in the City of London! visit the only place in the UK with an exclamation mark in its name! and try not to get mugged in Salford! There is just one Conservative defence this week (in Torquay) to two for the Liberal Democrats (one in Devon, one in Hertfordshire) and no fewer than five defences for Labour, one in Yorkshire, two in Greater Manchester and two in Staffordshire. We will start with the two Staffordshire polls, because there is, unfortunately, a lot to discuss about them this week. Read on...


Bradwell; and
Newchapel

Newcastle-under-Lyme council, Staffordshire; caused respectively by the death of Trevor Hambleton at the age of 71 and the resignation of Lionel Burch. Both were Labour councillors. Hambleton was first elected in 1999 and was Mayor of Newcastle in 2011-12; his widow Sandra remains a councillor for Bradwell ward. Burch, who had served since May 2016, resigned abruptly following unspecified allegations against his conduct from within the council's Labour group.

"For me a vote is not merely a mark on a paper; it symbolises my inalienable right to choose who shall govern me and set the tenor of my life for the next five years. This right and privilege has been won for us over many generations by brave and dedicated men and women and is a precious gift. That I have been robbed of it by administrative incompetence is an insult to their legacy and a grave disservice to me."

My text this week is taken from the Scallan Report, and is a letter written by an elector of Newcastle-under-Lyme. It is particularly poignant as today marks 99 years since the General Election of 1918, in which women (or at least those over the age of 30) were eligible to vote for the first time. That was the culmination of many years of pressure from the suffragette movement and others; as almost everybody who reads these words will be aware, people have died for the right to vote. For the last 99 years, we have all had cause to be grateful for their hard work and pressure.

In the 99 years since then, the number 99 has become indelibly associated with the word "flake". And so it is here, for we must start this week's previews not by discussing the delights of a particularly interesting and yet little-known area of Staffordshire, but in the Elections Office of Newcastle-under-Lyme. Your columnist, in his line of work. has long experience of trying to sort out official and administrative errors and thought he had heard it all; but the Newcastle-under-Lyme election of June 2017 is one of the most shocking examples of incompetence he has had cause to discuss and dissect for a long time.

The root cause of what went wrong in Newcastle in June is very simple, and rather worrying for those who care about the effectiveness of our local government: the Electoral Services Officer and her line manager both left the authority in 2016 and were not replaced. This meant that the county council elections in May 2017 were handled by a consultant who worked three days a week, a full-time temp and a part-timer both with experience of running elections, and two secondees. That election was generally handled well. However, there were further personnel changes for the general election because the consultant wasn't able to stay on and the full-time temp left, so a second consultant and a full-time agency worker had to be brought in in the middle of the election campaign. Crucially, the second consultant - who seems to have been appointed because he had previously worked in the Newcastle elections office - had little experience of the Individual Electoral Registration system which was introduced in 2015.

Once this is understood, the failings identified in the report compiled by Andrew Scallan all fall into place. Essentially it's the old story where incompetence is concerned: if you don't know what you're doing, you don't know what you're doing wrong. As a long-serving Director of Electoral Administration for the Electoral Commission, who was appointed CBE for his service, Scallan was certainly well-placed to get to the bottom of what went wrong. In fifty-eight pages of gory detail, his report identified the following failings by Newcastle-under-Lyme council at the 2017 general election:

  • 391 postal votes for UK addresses and 204 postal votes for overseas addresses were not sent out. 68 of those electors successfully complained that their postal votes had not arrived and were issued replacements, leaving 527 people disenfranchised. This error was not picked up by the elections office until after polling day, resulting in poor customer service to those electors who complained. In addition, postal polling cards were not sent out, resulting in those electors who had not received postal votes they had applied for not being aware of their rights and deadlines to request a replacement or not being aware that they could not vote in person.
  • Polling station staff were not provided with lists of postal voters, which resulted in at least one elector - who had been wrongly marked on the register as being a postal voter - being disenfranchised. (This error was also made in May's county elections.)
  • Some registration and postal vote applications handed in at council offices were lost.
  • Due to the staff's inexperience in Individual Electoral Registration and the volume of applications, 439 applications for registration were received before the deadline (22 May) but not processed in time for polling day; while 509 applications for registration were received before the deadline and processed in time for polling day, but were not added to the register for polling day because of a delay in switching the office's computer system to "election mode". 86 people complained about this, and the elections office misused their power to correct clerical errors to do what they should have done in the first place and add them to the register. An unknown number of other applications to vote needed further information to determine whether they were eligible, but this was not followed up by the elections office in a timely manner - that seems to been a particular problem for Keele University students. In addition electors who applied after the deadline were sent misleading letters suggesting that they would be eligible to vote in the general election.
  • On polling day, the elections office reaped what had been sown as all these problems came to a head. The staff were simply overwhelmed by the volume of enquiries and it is clear that not all of those enquiries were handled in a professional manner. Amid the chaos two people who were not eligible to vote in the election were allowed to do so.

The Scallan Report concluded that at least 998 electors in the Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency were disenfranchised as a result of these errors. It lays the blame for this squarely at the feet of inadequate performance by the Chief Executive as Acting Returning Officer, the Head of Audit who had line responsibility for the consultants, and the consultants themselves; together with the inexperience and under-resourcing of the election office's staff.

In most general elections 998 votes either way is not going to have an effect on the overall result; but as bad luck would have it the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, Paul Farrelly, was eventually declared the winner on 9th June with a majority of just thirty votes. There can be little doubt that, if it were given the evidence laid out in the Scallan Report, the Election Court would void that result and order a new election. Unfortunately, petitions questioning the result have to be filed with the Election Court within 21 days of the declaration, a deadline which has long gone. Through no fault of his own, Farrelly now finds himself with a mandate which is at best questionable and at worst illegitimate; and the only way for him to resolve the question as to whether he was duly elected is for him to resign and fight a by-election. At the time of writing, he has not resigned; and, given the state of the Newcastle-under-Lyme elections office (which according to the Scallan Report has one remaining non-suspended employee, who only works part-time) that's not surprising. Farrelly will want some kind of indication that this or something like it isn't going to happen again, and properly staffing the elections office - one of the 16 recommendations made to the council in the Scallan Report is that Newcastle-under-Lyme appoint a permanent Electoral Services Manager and at least two FTE supporting posts - would be a good start along that road.

Cases of incompetence in public office on this scale usually lead to demands for senior heads to roll, which rather misses the point that many of the problems with the Newcastle-under-Lyme election in June stemmed from senior heads not being there in the first place. Newcastle council have suspended the Chief Executive John Sellgren and the Head of Audit Elizabeth Dodd. At the time of writing, they have not resigned; and, given that the Scallan Report recommended that Staffordshire Police investigate for breach of official duty, an electoral offence which carries an unlimited fine, that's not surprising. They will want to protect their legal position.

However, this whole fiasco has resulted in the resignation of one person - the Labour Leader of the Council, Elizabeth Shenton. Newcastle-under-Lyme council is hung, with Labour as the largest group holding 24 seats plus these two vacancies but short of a majority; the Conservatives are on 22 seats and the balance of power is held by three Lib Dems, a Kipper and eight independent councillors of various stripes (several of whom were originally elected on the UKIP ticket). At last week's full council meeting the independents withdrew their support for the previous Labour minority administration and voted in the Conservatives, who have formed a minority administration of their own under new council leader Simon Tagg. If the Conservatives can gain both of today's by-elections they will draw level with Labour and running the council will become that little bit easier.

With the Returning Officer suspended and the Newcastle-under-Lyme elections office clearly in no fit state to administer a poll, the council has effectively outsourced the job of running today's two by-elections, at very short notice, to what Newcastle's Twitter feed coyly calls "our neighbouring authority". That would be Stoke-on-Trent. Local government watchers may have been given endless amusement by Stoke's political dysfunctionality over the years, but the city's elections staff come with a good reputation. We have to hope that they can sort out their sister borough's problems quickly.

That brings me to the by-elections themselves. To recap, these are Labour defences in Bradwell and Newchapel wards. Bradwell ward lies at the northern end of Newcastle town between the A34 and A500 roads. Once a coalmining area, this is now a riot of business parks benefiting from its proximity to the A500 and the Stoke-Manchester railway line - the JCB warehouse next to the railway at Chatterley Valley is particularly impressive. Despite all those jobs, qualification rates in the ward are low.

Newchapel ward deserves an article all to itself and it's a shame that hasn't happened this time. I covered the ward in a previous edition of Andrew's Previews in 2011, and after writing it up I thought it might be a nice place to visit. When I did eventually get there I was blown away. This is a high area on the hills between Kidsgrove and Biddulph, based on the village of Harriseahead and the Staffordshire half of the strange hilltop village of Mow Cop. Originally a quarrying village for millstones, Mow Cop is built around a 1,099-foot summit which is flanked by the rock formation of the Old Man of Mow and the folly of Mow Cop Castle. The Old Man and the Castle lie on the Staffordshire-Cheshire boundary, and on a good day provide fantastic views over the whole of the Cheshire Plain towards Manchester, the Peak District, the West Pennine Moors, the Shropshire hills, the Berwyn and Flintshire mountains and even Snowdonia. It's beautiful. You must go. The name "Newchapel" is rather appropriate: up here on the hill in 1807 two Wesleyan preachers, Hugh Bourne and William Clowes, held a successful camp meeting which - after they were thrown out of the Wesleyan Church - led to the development of Primitive Methodism. Today Newchapel's demographic can be best described as affluent working-class, with significant numbers of manufacturing jobs and a very high proportion of residents born in the UK.

That's led to some interesting election results in Newchapel over the years. In 2002 - the first election on the current boundaries - the Liberal Democrats won both seats, but they lost one to the Conservatives in 2003 and the other to Labour the following year. The Conservatives picked up the Labour seat in 2008. Labour gained both of the ward's seats in 2011 (one in the ordinary May election and the other in a November by-election), but the Conservatives got one seat back in 2015 and were very close to gaining the other last year. In a straight fight in 2016, Labour held their seat by 385 votes to 379 - a majority of six. The Conservatives narrowly gained the local county division (Kidsgrove) in May and will definitely see this as within range for a Tory gain - something we haven't seen much of recently.

Bradwell ward is a much safer Labour area which since 2002 has only voted Conservative once, at the Labour low point of 2008. Incidentally the losing Labour candidate that year was Gareth Snell, who is now the MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central. In 2016 Labour won here with 54%, to 24% for UKIP and 19% for the Conservatives. Again the Tories very narrowly gained the local county division of Bradwell, Porthill and Wolstanton in May; but as Porthill consistently votes Conservative and Wolstanton is politically volatile it is likely that Labour had a lead in Bradwell ward.

These will be the last elections to Newcastle-under-Lyme's current ward boundaries, as the council will be all-up in May on a new ward pattern - so whoever wins these by-elections will have to be back on the campaign trail in short order to seek re-election. Also next year the council will move away from election by thirds, so the next elections after May will be in 2022. Both Bradwell and Newchapel wards will see only minor changes in May, with Newchapel being renamed as "Newchapel and Mow Cop".

Defending Bradwell for Labour is Andrew Fox-Hewitt, a firefighter and secretary of the Cheshire branch of the Fire Brigades Union. There is no UKIP candidate - something which says volumes about the decline of the party, which has always been well-organised in Newcastle. The Conservative candidate is Gail Benbow. Richard Virr, of the Liberal Democrats, completes the ballot paper.

In Newchapel the defending Labour candidate is Angela Cooper. Jill Waring returns for the Conservatives after her near-miss last year. Completing the ballot paper is Nigel Morgan, an independent candidate endorsed by the council's Kidsgrove Independents group.

Let's hope for a smooth and orderly poll this time. It's not too much to ask.

Bradwell

Parliamentary constituency: Newcastle-under-Lyme
Staffordshire county council division: Bradwell, Porthill and Wolstanton

Gail Benbow (C)
Andrew Fox-Hewitt (Lab)
Richard Virr (LD)

May 2016 result Lab 732 UKIP 329 C 254 LD 45
May 2015 result Lab 1411 C 735 UKIP 712 Grn 97 LD 79 Ind 24
May 2014 result Lab 720 UKIP 527 C 208
May 2012 result Lab 972 C 391 LD 70
May 2011 result Lab 873 C 406 UKIP 346 LD 79
May 2010 result Lab 1441 C 999 LD 626
May 2008 result C 623 Lab 485 UKIP 413 LD 135
May 2007 result Lab 557 C 469 UKIP 289 LD 225
May 2006 result Lab 643 C 325 UKIP 310 LD 279
June 2004 result Lab 870 C 361 LD 303
May 2003 result Lab 756 C 247 LD 243
May 2002 result Lab 749/730/697 C 270/234/205 LD 243/152

Newchapel

Parliamentary constituency: Staffordshire Moorlands
Staffordshire county council division: Kidsgrove

Angela Cooper (Lab)
Nigel Morgan (Ind)
Jill Waring (C)

May 2016 result Lab 385 C 379
May 2015 result C 929 Lab 633 Grn 190
May 2012 result Lab 386 C 248 LD 54 Ind 39
Nov 2011 by-election Lab 248 C 160 UKIP 118 LD 17
May 2011 result Lab 304 C 254 Ind 168 UKIP 143 LD 60
Feb 2010 by-election C 208 UKIP 148 Lab 138 LD 127
May 2008 result C 416 Lab 220 LD 180 UKIP 127
May 2007 result C 314 Lab 258 LD 188 UKIP 131
May 2004 result Lab 352 LD 319 Ind 237
May 2003 result C 305 LD 238 Lab 222
May 2002 result LD 330/313 Lab 270/260 C 221/196


Shevington with Lower Ground

Wigan council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Damian Edwardson due to pressure of work. He had served since 2012.

We travel down the north escarpment of Mow Cop towards the first of three Labour defences in the North of England. Shevington lies on the edge of Greater Manchester to the north-west of Wigan; it's a rather diffuse set of villages in and overlooking the Douglas valley, with Shevington Vale, Shevington Moor, Gathurst and Crooke (the "Lower Ground" area) all lying within the ward boundary. In times past there was a coalmining and explosives industry here, but that's disappeared and the ward's residents instead make use of its good transport links to commute elsewhere. The M6 motorway passes through the ward from north to south, while from west to east run the Leeds-Liverpool Canal and the Manchester-Southport railway line, with stations at Gathurst and Appley Bridge (which is outside the ward and county boundary but within the Transport for Greater Manchester area) linking the ward to Wigan and Manchester.

During the 2000s this ward (and its predecessor, Langtree ward) was a closely-fought Labour versus Conservative marginal. However, after 2008 the Conservatives in Wigan suffered a damaging split, with the splinter group somehow managing to get the party name "Wigan Independent Conservatives" past the Electoral Commission and onto the register of political parties. The Wigan Independent Conservatives are associated with the Fairhurst family, who have a lock on the neighbouring ward of Standish with Langtree and one of whom was a former Conservative councillor for this ward. In recent years their candidates have attempted to obscure their Tory past by presenting themselves on the ballot paper with labels such as "Shevington Independents". The split allowed Labour to establish themselves in Shevington with Lower Ground ward, and they have held all three seats here since 2012. At the most recent borough election in 2016 Edwardson was re-elected with 40% of the vote, to 26% for the "Shevington Independents" and 19% for UKIP who pushed the Conservatives into fourth place. In May's Greater Manchester mayoral election - whose results were broken down to ward level - Labour's Andy Burnham led the Conservatives here 68-22.

Defending for Labour is Marlaine Whitham, a trustee of the Homestart St Helens charity and local school governor. Janet Brown of the "Shevington Independents" returns after her second-place finish last year. UKIP have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Callum Chadwick for the Conservatives, regular Green candidate Joseph Rylance and Joshua Hindle of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Wigan

Janet Brown (Shevington Ind)
Callum Chadwick (C)
Joshua Hindle (LD)
Joseph Rylance (Grn)
Marlaine Whitham (Lab)

May 2016 result Lab 1239 Wigan Independent Conservative 813 UKIP 584 C 349 Grn 112
May 2015 result Lab 2717 C 1661 UKIP 1439 Grn 426
May 2014 result Lab 1050 Wigan Independent Conservative 797 UKIP 797 C 353 Grn 156
May 2012 result Lab 1362 C 532 UKIP 450 Wigan Independent Conservative 220 Ind 198
May 2011 result Lab 1557 C 974 Wigan Independent Conservative 672 UKIP 498
May 2010 result Lab 2180 C 1404 Wigan Independent Conservative 1210 LD 995 UKIP 534
May 2008 result C 1531 Lab 971 UKIP 251 LD 251 Ind 157
May 2007 result C 1377 Lab 1248 UKIP 337 LD 311
May 2006 result C 1827 Lab 1311
June 2004 result Lab 1843/1468/1461 C 1456/1288/1191 LD 739/664/607

May 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Lab 1912 C 616 LD 85 Grn 74 EDP 40 UKIP 40 Farmer 21 Aslam 6


Langworthy

Salford council, Greater Manchester; caused by the death of Labour councillor Paul Longshaw at the age of 49. The lead member for housing at Salford council, Longshaw had served only since 2016 but before then had worked in Salford council's housing department for 25 years, becoming a senior housing officer and leading the regeneration of Pendleton. The inquest heard that Longshaw had suffered from depression, and the coroner recorded a verdict of suicide.

We take the train from Gathurst station towards Manchester and alight at Salford Crescent, the railway station just outside but serving Langworthy ward. Lying between the M602 motorway and the A6 Broad Street, this is the part of Salford your parents warned you about and one of the very few places where your columnist - who is well-built enough to make muggers think twice - has ever felt unsafe. We're a mile and a world away here from the shiny apartments and jobs of Salford Quays. Over half of the ward's housing stock is socially rented - putting Langworthy in the top 80 wards in England and Wales for that statistic - and much of that social housing consists of metal-clad tower blocks which are giving Salford council an enormous financial, health and safety headache in this post-Grenfell world. A large proportion of the population is economically inactive - 11% of the workforce is disabled or long-term sick, and 13% are students at nearby Salford University.

At the centre of Langworthy ward is Salford Shopping City, originally developed by the council in the 1960s and one of the most depressing collections of bargain and discount stores your columnist ever hopes to see. Shopping City was extensively damaged in the August 2011 riots, and you can bet your bottom dollar that if a shocking crime is reported in Salford it's probably happened somewhere within the ward boundary.

It will not come as a surprise that every one of this ward's census districts is within the 20% most deprived in the UK. Shopping City being served by several bus routes, this ward has a very high proportion who travel to work by bus by the standards of England outside London. The 2011 census also picked up significant pockets born in China (presumably students), Nigeria and Scotland.

Being inner-city Salford this is a Labour area. The main opposition to Labour here traditionally came from the Liberal Democrats, who won Langworthy at the Labour low point of 2008, but Salford was one of the areas where Coalition destroyed the Lib Dem base. UKIP took over second place in 2014, and in 2016 Labour won with 49% to 25% for UKIP and 11% for an independent candidate. UKIP are not contesting this by-election, so a better guide might be the mayoral election in May where Labour beat the Conservatives here 68-14.

Defending for Labour is Wilson Nkurunziza, a Baha'i and a community worker focusing on refugees. There is no UKIP candidate but it appears that the local UKIP group are backing independent candidate Michael Felse, a tutor and former Manchester Pride queen who has previously stood as an independent candidate for Mayor of Doncaster; Felse was the English Democrats candidate for Dewsbury in the 2010 general election and in 2012 stood on their ticket for Mayor of Salford and Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner. Also on the ballot are Conservative candidate James Mount, Ian Pattinson of the Green Party and Liberal Democrat Jake Overend.

Parliamentary constituency: Salford and Eccles

Michael Felse (Ind)
James Mount (C)
Wilson Nkurunziza (Lab)
Jake Overend (LD)
Ian Pattinson (Grn)

May 2016 result Lab 1142 UKIP 586 Ind 264 C 151 Grn 139 TUSC 45
May 2015 result Lab 2424 UKIP 1065 C 460 Grn 341 TUSC 98
May 2014 result Lab 1250 UKIP 884 C 207 BNP 86 Motorcycle Alliance 50
May 2012 result Lab 1269 LD 416 BNP 282 C 147
May 2011 result Lab 1400 LD 368 C 198 BNP 167 UKIP 161 TUSC 98
May 2010 result Lab 1888 LD 1211 C 572 BNP 505 Ind 123
May 2008 result LD 1049 Lab 878 C 330
May 2007 result Lab 1038 LD 830 C 288
May 2006 result Lab 890 LD 758 C 253
March 2005 by-election Lab 720 LD 410 C 169
June 2004 result Lab 1195/973/917 LD 639/599 Lib 552/412 C 448

May 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Lab 1176 C 243 LD 95 UKIP 75 Grn 67 EDP 39 Farmer 17 Aslam 14


Rockingham

Barnsley council, South Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Emma Dures who had served since 2012.

What's Christmas without a brass band?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAEsPhmJs5s

We conclude our tour of this week's northern by-elections by travelling to the wrong side of the Pennines for the last Labour defence of the year. The name of Rockingham ward commemorates Thomas Watson-Wentworth, the first Marquess of Rockingham, who took his name from his Northamptonshire estates but was a major landowner in this part of Yorkshire. As well as the ward, Lord Rockingham gave his name to a local colliery, a brand new community and sports centre (the Rockingham Centre), a cricket club (no relation of Lord Rockingham's XI, who were a band) and a brass band, seen in the video competing in the Fourth Section (the lowest division) of the 2016 Yorkshire Brass Band Championships. That performance placed them second overall, and they picked up the prize for Best Percussion and a qualification spot for the National Finals.

The ward named after Lord Rockingham is based on the western half of Hoyland, a mining town a few miles south of Barnsley, together with the smaller villages of Hoyland Common and Birdwell. As might be guessed from the fact that Barry Hines, the author of Kestrel for a Knave, was from Hoyland Common, this was traditionally a coalmining area both deep and opencast. Despite its proximity to the M1 motorway Rockingham ward hasn't developed as a commuter area following the collapse of the Yorkshire mining industry. In an attempt to stimulate development of the old mining sites a new road, the Dearne Valley Parkway, was opened through the ward in the late 1990s on the principle of "if you build it they will come". The jury appears to be still out on that one.

During the Blair and Brown years this ward was closely fought between Labour and a localist slate called the Barnsley Independent Group who are now defunct. Labour have won every contest here since 2010, with UKIP taking over second place in the 2014 election. In 2016 Labour beat the Kippers here 52-32.

Defending for Labour is Nicola Sumner. UKIP have not returned - which makes it five out of five by-elections in the Midlands and the North this week, all of them in wards where the Kippers have finished second at some point, which the party have not contested. That means that the opposition to Labour comes from the Conservatives' Michael Toon, who has stood here twice before, and Liberal Democrat Paul Nugent who is the only candidate to give an address in the ward.

Oh, and as it's Christmas... wine gums anyone?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BktLpmDNwt0

Parliamentary constituency: Barnsley East

Paul Nugent (LD)
Nicola Sumner (Lab)
Michael Toon (C)

May 2016 result Lab 1258 UKIP 792 C 205 EDP 122 TUSC 63
May 2015 result Lab 2845 UKIP 1289 C 619 EDP 192 TUSC 135
May 2014 result Lab 1032 UKIP 829 Barnsley Ind Gp 652 C 192 EDP 69 TUSC 64
May 2012 result Lab 1611 Barnsley Ind Gp 774 EDP 253 C 168
May 2011 result Lab 1846 Barnsley Ind Gp 1263 C 333 BNP 210
May 2010 result Lab 2430 Barnsley Ind Gp 1381 C 710 BNP 544 Ind 239
May 2008 result Barnsley Ind Gp 1336 Lab 913 BNP 343 C 296 LD 159 Ind 128
May 2007 result Barnsley Ind Gp 1394 Lab 1301 C 360
May 2006 result Lab 1255 Barnsley Ind Gp 846 Ind 320 C 297
June 2004 result Ind 1494/1330/1242 Lab 1397/1342/1291 BNP 383 C 345


Handside

Welwyn Hatfield council, Hertfordshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Rachel Basch who had served since 2016. She has taken up a politically restricted job with the civil service.

We move into the south, and to the only town which was both a garden city and a New Town. Welwyn Garden City was founded in 1920 as the UK's second garden city (after Letchworth), laid out with a neo-Georgian town centre along the Parkway, a straight boulevard a mile long with a park in the middle. Off the Parkway is the Howard Centre, a modern shopping mall, with the town's railway station behind it. All of these are in Handside ward, which covers south-western Welwyn Garden City and is the core of the original garden city development. The name refers to Handside Road, which existed before the town was developed and was incorporated into it.

The modern Handside ward is clearly middle-class commuter territory, with high proportions of residents in management jobs, and good education levels. Its current boundaries date from 2008 and the ward survived a boundary review in 2016 unchanged.

At local level Handside has for many years been a tight marginal between the Tories and Lib Dems, with the Conservatives generally having the upper hand. The 2008 election resulted in a 2-1 Tory-Lib Dem split; the Conservatives gained the Liberal Democrat seat in 2014 with a a majority of just 77 votes, but the 2016 election with all three seats up again resulted in a 2-1 Tory-Lib Dem split. Shares of the vote in 2016 were 42% for the Conservatives, 36% for the Liberal Democrats and 16% for Labour.

Now, something strange has happened this year to the Conservative machine in Welwyn Hatfield. There are only five constituencies which the Conservatives hold where they polled fewer votes in 2017 than in 2010. One of those is Witney, where the Tory candidate in 2010 was the party leader; three are urban professional seats in London (Cities of London and Westminster, Chelsea and Fulham, and Richmond Park) where Brexit has taken the shine off the Tory brand among their core vote. Welwyn Hatfield, having voted Leave eighteen months ago, doesn't fall into either of those categories. One explanation might be that the local MP Grant Shapps, who has been a scandal-prone figure, has developed a negative personal vote; but that doesn't satisfactorily explain the Tory underperformance in the Hertfordshire county elections just a month earlier, in which the party won just three of Welwyn Hatfield's eight county divisions. The other five seats split three to the Liberal Democrats and two to Labour, who also came very close to beating the Conservatives in the new Hatfield East division. Safely in the Liberal Democrat column was Handside and Peartree division, which includes this ward together with the weak Conservative area of Peartree ward.

So, it will be interesting to see if the Lib Dems can hold this one or whether the Conservatives can gain it. Defending for the Lib Dems is Siobhan Elam, a retired policewoman who is heavily involved with the local Barn Theatre. The Conservatives have gone for youth in selecting Drew Richardson who isn't yet 22; he works for Apple and is a Metropolitan Police special constable. Also in her early 20s is the Labour candidate Belinda Yeldon, youth officer for the party's Welwyn Hatfield branch and a business manager for NHS England. Completing the ballot paper is Green candidate Berenice Dowlen. Whoever wins will need to get straight back onto the campaign trail to seek re-election in May 2018.

Parliamentary constituency: Welwyn Hatfield
Hertfordshire county council division: Handside and Peartree

Berenice Dowlen (Grn)
Siobhan Elam (LD)
Drew Richardson (C)
Belinda Yeldon (Lab)

May 2016 result C 1202/1170/1015 LD 1020/1016/824 Lab 451/430/386 Grn 180
May 2015 result C 1987 LD 1317 Lab 603 Grn 266
May 2014 result C 1029 LD 952 Lab 330 UKIP 294 Grn 159
May 2012 result C 1130 LD 673 Lab 354 Grn 176
May 2011 result C 1603 LD 970 Lab 515
May 2010 result LD 1824 C 1812 Lab 433
May 2008 result C 1385/1370/1221 LD 1338/1283/1278 Lab 167/159


Watcombe

Torbay council, Devon; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Roger Stringer at the age of 73. For many years postmaster at Barton post office in Torquay, Stringer was first elected to Torbay council in 2003 for St Marychurch ward, transferring to Watcombe ward in 2007. Away from the council he was a tireless charity campaigner, raising thousands of pounds to help children from eastern Europe.

Have you had enough of Devon by-elections yet after our recent glut? Of course you haven't, and here are two more for you. We start just off Devon's south coast in Torquay for our second Lib Dem defence of the week. Watcombe ward is the northern end of Torquay, running from Combe Pafford through Barton up to the 180-metre summit of Great Hill. Mostly developed in the 1950s and 1960s, this is a deprived ward of a deprived town.

Watcombe ward has been a Liberal Democrat stronghold for many years with the party's vote seemingly unaffected by the various travails of the Lib Dems on the national scene. In 2015 the Liberal Democrat slate had 43% to 23% for the Conservatives and 19% for Labour. However, the Conservatives got a swing in their favour in the Torbay constituency in June which would be enough to win this ward, so this could be worth looking at more closely than the majority might suggest.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Swithin Long, who might sound like he's walked straight out of the Harry Potter universe but is in fact an Age UK advisor and former MP caseworker. The Conservative candidate is Daniel Maddock, a mortgage broker. Labour have selected Julia Neal, a long-serving teacher and former president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Completing the ballot paper is Eleanor Taylor of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Torbay

Swithin Long (LD)
Daniel Maddock (C)
Julia Neal (Lab)
Eleanor Taylor (Grn)

May 2015 result LD 1383/1146 C 746/595 Lab 612/365 UKIP 277 Grn 194
May 2011 result LD 1122/1025 C 574/502 Lab 457 Grn 211
May 2007 result LD 1134/1050 C 812/790
May 2003 result LD 1289/1288 C 418/385 Lab 223 UKIP 186 BNP 169


Westward Ho!

Torridge council, Devon; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Peter le Maistre. Le Maistre resigned after being stopped by police on suspicion of drink driving while travelling home from a full council meeting in November. At North Devon magistrates court he subsequently pleaded guilty to failing to provide a specimen of breath for analysis, and was banned from driving for 30 months and given a community order. The council's lead member for internal resources, le Maistre had served since 2015.

We finish our by-elections this year by crossing from the south to the north coast of Devon for the only Conservative defence of the week. As any quiz player knows, the only place in the UK whose name includes an exclamation mark is Westward Ho!, a village named after the novel of the same name by Charles Kingsley which was set in nearby Bideford. The success of the book inspired developers to cash in, and within ten years development of the village was underway. A boarding school was even founded here - the United Services College which educated military officers' sons, including Rudyard Kipling. Today like much of the Devon coast this is a retirement centre: 34% of the population is aged 65 or over, and the ward makes the top 60 in England and Wales for retirement (31% of the workforce).

Le Maistre was elected for Westward Ho! in 2015, defeating independent councillor Roger Tisdale who had served since winning a by-election in November 2004. Le Maistre polled 40% of the vote to 36% for Tisdale and 24% for the Green Party. Tisdale had gained his seat from the Community Alliance, a localist slate which performed well in the 2003 Torridge elections but then disbanded. The Conservatives hold the local Devon county council division (Northam), increasing their majority in May.

This by-election has attracted a large field of six candidates. Defending for the Conservatives is Roger Levick. Two independent candidates have come forward, Nick Laws and Barry Mason; Laws runs an angling supplies business, while Mason is a driving consultant, former police traffic sergeant and former Mayor of Northam - the parish which covers Westward Ho! The Greens have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Stan Coats for Labour, Stephen Potts for the Liberal Democrats and the only UKIP candidate of the week, Derek Sargent.

That completes this year's by-elections, but Andrew's Previews is not finished yet for 2017. There is yet one more poll to come, and it's a very unusual one. Time for a Christmas Bonus...

Parliamentary constituency: Torridge and West Devon
Devon county council division: Northam

Stan Coats (Lab)
Nick Laws (Ind)
Roger Levick (C)
Barry Mason (Ind)
Stephen Potts (LD)
Derek Sargent (UKIP)

May 2015 result C 528 Ind 473 Grn 311
May 2011 result Ind 478 C 390
May 2007 result Ind 325 C 198 Ind 87 LD 72
November 2004 by-election Ind 257 LD 226 C 149 Ind 61
May 2003 result Community Alliance 428 Ind 315


Portsoken

City of London Corporation; caused by the resignation of Alderman Sir Michael Bear.

Even as we come to the end of the eighth year of Andrew's Previews, there are still some elections which appear here for the first time. Earlier in this preview I touched on the impact of Brexit on the Conservative vote in London. With many of the country's financial markets being located in the ancient City of London, you might think that a local by-election to the City Corporation might be a good barometer of the effect of the current political situation on Britain's financial businesses. Right?

Wrong. The City of London Corporation is a strange body with more responsibilities than the London Boroughs which surround it (for example, it runs its own police force) but with the non-party politics and population of a largish parish council. Its structure is essentially unmodified since mediaeval times: the Lord Mayor is still elected by members of the City's ancient trade-based guilds, while other hangovers from a bygone age include an electoral register based not just on residence but on employment within the ward, and the presence of aldermen decades after their abolition in the rest of the country. Which is where this poll comes in. The City has 25 aldermen, one for each of its wards (which are descended from their mediaeval predecessors with only very slight modifications). Technically the Aldermen are elected for life; in practice they submit themselves for re-election every six years, and retire upon reaching the age of 70 in one of those customs that isn't mandatory. Not at all.

Sir Michael Bear, Alderman for Portsoken ward, has not yet reached the retirement age - he turns 65 in January - but has decided to retire after two terms, having become an Alderman in 2005. Born in Nairobi before Kenyan independence and growing up in Cyprus, Bear worked for nineteen years until 2012 as managing director of Balfour Beatty Properties, working on private finance initiatives and public-private partnerships. He was Lord Mayor of London in 2010-11, and was described as a key figure in the redevelopment of Spitalfields Market.

The City's extensive business vote and small resident population (go here at a weekend and you could be forgiven for thinking that the apocalypse had arrived, so empty are the streets) means that twenty-one of the twenty-five wards are effectively in the hands of the business voters. Running along the eastern boundary of the City, Portsoken is one of the exceptions, one of the four so-called "residential" wards, although there are some business voters here as well; it consists of two blocks either side of Aldgate underground station along the western side of Mansell Street and Middlesex Street (home of the "Petticoat Lane" market), together with a small salient further into the City which consists of two buildings: the wonderfully-named church of St Botolphs Without Aldgate and the Sir John Cass's Foundation primary school, which was added to the ward in 2003 and is the only part of the ward within the original London Wall.

Some of this ward was in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets until boundary changes in the early 1990s, and the resident population shares many of the features of the neighbouring Whitechapel and Spitalfields/Banglatown wards; this is a deprived area. For that reason Labour have been taking the ward seriously in recent years: they came within 65 votes of winning a seat here in the 2009 election. That wasn't as impressive as it might sound given that the number of voters was tiny, but Labour kept plugging away and finally broke through in a by-election in March 2014, which was won on their ticket by former Common Councilman William Campbell-Taylor. Campbell-Taylor retired from the Court of Common Council at the March 2017 election, but the Labour slate topped the poll, held his seat and gained a second seat to hold two of Portsoken's four councilmen.

There are four candidates for this Aldermanic election whom I shall take in alphabetical order. At the top of the ballot paper is David Barker, who came last in this ward in March's City elections and did no better in June's general election, when he finished last as an independent candidate in Poplar and Limehouse. A former internet entrepreneur originally from a poor area of Manchester, Barker wants to reduce the ward's child poverty rate - which stands at an astonishingly high 53% - and has tried to stay involved with the ward community by founding a local chess club and Spanish-language classes.

Standing as an official Labour candidate is the Reverend Dr William Campbell-Taylor, vicar of St Thomas Clapton Common. Campbell-Taylor was the winner of the 2014 by-election here and had served before that as an independent Common Councilman for the ward. With Labour's recent electoral record in Portsoken he has a decent shot at becoming the first elected Labour Alderman of the City. (There is already an Alderman who is a Labour party member, Baroness Scotland of Asthal who is Alderman for Bishopsgate ward; but she was elected as a non-party candidate as is traditional in the City.)

Third on the ballot paper is Prem Goyal, Common Councilman for Bishopsgate ward. Originally from New Delhi, Goyal runs Global Markets Consultants, a management consultancy firm providing services to the financial industry. He was appointed OBE in 2012 for services to the economy and for promoting charitable giving. This isn't Goyal's only foray into politics: he had sought the Labour selection in his home constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark for the 2015 general election, didn't get it, and then founded his own political party. His All People's Party turned into a ramshackle group of disaffected Southwark Labour figures and made no impact at all. Goyal himself stood in Camberwell and Peckham in the 2015 election, coming sixth out of eleven candidates with 1.6%.

Completing the lineup is Anthony Samuels, a notary public and former non-executive chairman of Clydesdale Bank South London Region. Although he is standing as non-party as is traditional in the City, Samuels is the vice-Chairman of Surrey county council, representing Walton South and Oatlands division as a Conservative councillor, and served for several years on the county's cabinet as lead member for the Built Estate.

This being the City, the electoral process started on Wednesday with the Wardmote, a public meeting held at the Artizan Street Library and Community Centre which effectively functions as a hustings. The Wardmote has been adjourned for the poll, which will take place between 8am and 8pm today, and will reconvene for the announcement of the result.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
London Assembly constituency: City and East

David Barker (Ind)
William Campbell-Taylor (Lab)
Prem Goyal (Ind)
Anthony Samuels (Ind)


With no by-elections in the week before Christmas, that is that for the psephological year of 2017, the year in which that old Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times" was in full effect. It was the year when the government gained a parliamentary by-election from the opposition for the first time since the 1980s; the year in which Theresa May gambled on opinion poll leads of over 20 points and lost; the year in which Jeremy Corbyn answered his critics within the Labour Party; the year in which politics became polarised on the national level, and just that little bit nastier.

On a personal level, it was the year in which this column transferred to Britain Elects, and I'm very grateful to the Britain Elects team for their support and encouragement. Thank you. Thanks are also due to Election Data, who published and supported these pieces in the early part of 2017. Thank you. Thanks are also due to those intrepid people (hello Sid, hello Doris) who bought your columnist's first book - Andrew's Previews 2016. (If there is demand, perhaps a similar 2017 book of these columns might be worth doing? Please let me know what you think.) And finally, thanks to those who read this column week after week, and to those who take the time to send me animated GIFs of Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter. You know who you are.

The electoral cycle never stops turning, and before you know it Christmas will be over and the New Year will be upon us. There is no sign in the immediate future of these "interesting times" letting up, and 2018 will be a bumpy ride if it is even half as unpredictable as this year. If there is no snap general election (and, as we saw this year, that cannot be ruled out), then the main electoral event of 2018 will be the local elections in May, which will be concentrated in London and the major urban areas of England. There's a long way to go before we get there, of course, but no doubt there will be plenty more by-elections to dissect in the interim. Already in the pipeline is a Welsh Assembly by-election to replace the late Carl Sargeant, and your columnist is aware of a few dozen local government vacancies which may turn into by-elections in due course. Fear not, there are plenty more columns to come.

While we are discussing the future, it is best to note that from mid-March 2018 your columnist will be out of a job and seeking new employment. Please send reasonable job offers to the usual address.

That's for the future, and it's time to close down for the year in the words which have become traditional. This column will return in time for the first local by-election of 2018, to be held in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire on 4th January; until then, may I wish all readers of this column a very Merry Christmas, and may your 2018 be an improvement on your 2017.


Previews: 07 Dec 2017

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

Two by-elections on 7th December 2017:


Newport

North Devon council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Michael Harrison at the age of 79. Harrison was first elected in 2003 and immediately joined North Devon's executive committee; he was Leader of the Council from 2007 to 2009 and then became the executive member for finance. Away from the council, Harrison was a major supporter of the Royal British Legion and arranged the local Poppy Appeal for many years.

Welcome to Barnstaple, the main town and administrative centre for the North Devon district. This is an old town which before the Norman Conquest was sufficiently important to have its own mint; Barnstaple thrived during the Middle Ages as a textile centre and as a thriving port, exporting wool to the outside world. Today retail and tourism are important to Barnstaple's economy; these are sectors with large amounts of part-time work, and Newport ward makes the top 100 wards in England and Wales for part-time employment (18% of the workforce).

Newport is Barnstaple's southern ward, based on a former village which was incorporated into the town in the twentieth century, and generally lying on the east bank of the Taw along South Street and Landkey Road. On the west bank of the Taw is the Tarka Tennis Centre, which until a few years ago hosted an annual international women's tournament. This is one of the better-off parts of town, with much new housing having gone up in recent years within the town's southern bypass - part of the ridiculously long A361 road which meanders from Ilfracombe for over 200 miles before finally running out of steam at a roundabout in rural Northamptonshire.

As stated Michael Harrison had represented this ward since 2003, and in 2007 his running-mate gained the ward's other seat from the Liberal Democrats. However, this is not a safe ward: in 2015 the Conservative slate had 40% to 32% for the Liberal Democrats and 28% for the Green Party. After their clean sweep in last week's four by-elections, together within their gain in North Devon council's last by-election (in Braunton in November) the Lib Dems will definitely see this as within range. On the other hand, in May's county elections the Conservatives increased their majority in the local county division (Barnstaple South).

Defending for the Conservatives is Martin Kennaugh who, as his name might suggest, is of Manx descent; he is a Barnstaple town councillor for this ward. The Lib Dem candidate Caroline Leaver, who despite her name was a Remainer last year, has ruffled feathers with a leaflet headed "Newport schools in cash crisis" which provoked the headteacher of Newport Primary School to write to parents in response. Standing for the Green Party is retired teacher and former Barnstaple town councillor Ricky Knight, who fought North Devon in the 2015 and 2017 general elections and was on the party's South West list in the 2014 Euro-elections. Completing the ballot paper is Labour candidate Siobhan Strode.

Parliamentary constituency: North Devon
Devon county council division: Barnstaple South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Barnstaple
Postcode district: EX32

May 2015 result C 1025/889 LD 812/510 Grn 728/477
May 2011 result C 624/557 LD 498/394 Grn 353/200 Lab 143
May 2007 result C 623/611 LD 495/470 Grn 450/281
May 2003 result C 431/391 LD 416/408 Grn 286


Enfield Highway

Enfield council, North London; caused by the death of Labour councillor Turgut Esendagli at the age of 55. Born in Cyprus but having lived in London for many years, Esendagli had served since 2014 and was described as a popular, hard-working and effective councillor. He will also be missed in the world of football: Esendagli held a UEFA Pro Licence in coaching, and at the time of his death was a scout for the Turkish national football team, chief scout and under-23 coach for the League Two side Crawley Town, and chairman and former manager of the local non-league side Waltham Forest AFC.

For our second and last by-election in this quiet week, we are in North London. The Enfield Highway area took its name from Hertford Road, the eponymous Highway, and the ward named after it runs east from the Highway to the Brimsdown area in the Lea Valley. East of the Lea Valley railway line are the large Brimsdown Industrial Estate, one of Enfield's main commercial centres, and the gas-fired Enfield power station; and to the east of those is the King George V Reservoir which supplies London with drinking water. Brimsdown railway station (two trains each hour to Liverpool Street) links the ward to central London. Most of the housing stock is inter-war including 284 Green Street, a council house which became notorious in the late 1970s for alleged poltergeist activity.

Multiculturalism is the order of the day in Enfield Highway ward's demographics. The ward has a large Muslim population, mostly of Turkish heritage although there are Bangladeshi pockets in the ward, and the area has also seen significant immigration from "other EU accession countries" - given that this is Enfield, Cyprus is probably the most important contributor to that statistic. The White British population in Enfield Highway is 38%, and the ward makes the top 200 in England and Wales for black (22%), White Other (20%), mixed-race (6%) and "other" (6%) ethnic groups.

To see how the demographics of Enfield Highway have changed in this century, take a look at its local elections. Labour polled the same share of the vote here in both 2002 and 2014, at 47%, but over those twelve years the Conservative share has crashed from 53% to just 19%. Some of that will be down to a wider field - 2002 was a straight fight, while the 2014 election saw UKIP come in third with 18% and two other parties on the ballot. However, if May's by-election in the neighbouring Enfield Lock ward is any guide the Conservative share has further to fall here. That by-election came shortly before Labour's Joan Ryan was re-elected in the local Enfield North constituency with a greatly increased majority. Looking back a year to the London Mayor and Assembly elections in 2016, Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith here 57-25 in the ward's ballot boxes while the London Members ballot had a bigger Labour win, 58-19 over the Tories; UKIP were third in both those ballots.

Defending for Labour is another candidate from the Turkish community, Ergun Eren. According to a profile in the local Turkish-language newspaper Olay Gazetesi Eren is 35 years old, a father of two children and a founder-manager of an insurance firm. The Tories have selected Andrew Thorp, who according to his Twitter was once "branded dangerously coercive by Nicky Campbell" (funny that, I remember Campbell being rather more complimentary about me when I spent a couple of days working with him...). Also a father-of-two, Thorp works in media relations for the Scouts and is therefore presumably well-prepared for the campaign. With UKIP having not returned, completing the ballot paper is Green Party candidate Andreea Malin. The recent Liberal Democrat by-election winning streak ends here, because there is no Liberal Democrat candidate.

This column will now take its leave of London for a few months. All of the capital's local government will be up for re-election next May, there are less than six months to go until then, and this was the last vacancy which occurred before the six-month rule kicked in. Our next visit to the Great Wen will be in the summer of 2018, by which time the city's political map may well look very different.

Parliamentary constituency: Enfield North
London Assembly constituency: Enfield and Haringey
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: EN3

May 2014 result Lab 2013/1959/1848 C 842/788/547 UKIP 774 Grn 409 BNP 289
May 2010 result Lab 3003/2876/2850 C 2038/1705/1690 LD 842 UKIP 537 BNP 450 Grn 437
May 2006 result Lab 1540/1419/1406 C 1250/1093/1036 Save Chase Farm 886 UKIP 496
May 2002 result C 1459/1396/1387 Lab 1300/1223/1199

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1650 C 710 UKIP 165 Grn 95 LD 58 Britain First 52 Respect 50 Women's Equality 32 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 30 BNP 26 Zylinski 8 One Love 5
London Members: Lab 1710 C 574 UKIP 247 Grn 89 LD 63 Britain First 58 CPA 50 Respect 42 Women's Equality 41 Animal Welfare 35 BNP 33 House Party 13


If you liked this post, please consider buying the book! Andrew's Previews 2016, containing many more previews like this, is now available from Amazon.


Previews: 30 Nov 2017

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

The Met Office might recognise St Andrew's Day as the last day of autumn, but a quick look out of your columnist's window to the brooding, whitened mass of Winter Hill will serve to tell that winter has arrived. Winter is a slow time for local by-elections, partly due to the prevailing weather and partly due to the fact that we are now on the countdown to the May 2018 local elections. That gives by-election watchers the chance to pause for breath as we have just four polls this week, the fewest since the middle of September. All of these are south of the M4 corridor, but that doesn't mean a lack of political diversity with all three major parties having one defence each. Read on...


North

Maidstone council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Michael Hemsley who had served since 2015.

Last week we finished on the edge of Kent as the Conservatives held a ward based around the White Cliffs of Dover; this week we move inland to Kent's county town. North ward saw an important development in English history in 1076 with the Trial of Penenden Heath. This trial resolved a dispute between Odo, bishop of Bayeux and earl of Kent, and Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, in Lanfranc's favour. The subsequent Domesday Book records Pinnedenna as the place for Kent's landowners to report to the Shire Court.

Penenden Heath crops up many times later in history: it was a meeting-place in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, in Wyatt's Rebellion of 1554 and during the Civil War, when the Royalist army assembled here in advance of their loss in the 1648 Battle of Maidstone. Early cricket matches were played on the heath: in August and September 1795 Kent lost to England here by five wickets, proving that the England cricket team can win a match on occasion. In later times Penenden Heath became a place of execution, then a recreation ground, before being built on in the 1960s.

The Heath forms about half of the present North ward, which runs north from Maidstone East railway station along the A229 road (towards Rochester) and the east bank of the Medway. Much of the ward's acreage is taken up by the barracks of Invicta Park, home to 36 Engineer Regiment. This regiment includes two squadrons of Gurkhas, whose presence puts North ward in the top 50 wards in England and Wales for Buddhism. Also within the ward boundaries are Maidstone Prison (as seen in the title sequence of Porridge), and the Gallagher Stadium, home to the non-league football team Maidstone United and the first English football stadium built with 3G artificial turf. The census picked up a significant Polish population at the southern end of the ward, but this may be an effect of the prison which holds a large number of foreign nationals within the UK's penal systems.

Now, in this by-election the stakes are high. North ward is normally a safe Liberal Democrat area, although the Conservatives came close in 2011 and UKIP were not far off winning a seat in 2014. Since the current ward boundaries were introduced in 1979 the Conservatives have won only four seats here: two in that initial 1979 election, one in 1992 and Michael Hemsley's seat in 2015 which came with a majority of just 25 votes over the Lib Dems. Local elections since 2015 do not give much cause for optimism that the Conservatives can hold this one: in the 2016 election the Liberal Democrats won here with 43%, to 24% for the Conservatives and 17% for UKIP; and the Lib Dem had a similar lead in May's Kent county elections in the local Maidstone North East division. To add to that, this by-election will determine who is the largest party on the hung Maidstone council: going into this poll the Lib Dems (who run the council as a minority administration) and Conservatives were tied on 22 seats each, with four independents, four Kippers and two Labour councillors holding the balance of power.

Defending for the Conservatives is Cheryl Taylor-Maggio, chairman of Langley parish council (located a few miles south-east of Maidstone); she fought the county seat here in May. Hoping to return to the borough council is Liberal Democrat candidate Rob Field, who was councillor for Park Wood ward from a November 2006 by-election until standing down in 2012; he works in the health sector. UKIP have not returned to the fray, so the ballot paper is completed by Labour's Maureen Cleator who fought this ward in 2016, and the Greens' Derek Eagle who has stood here on several previous occasions.

Parliamentary constituency: Maidstone and the Weald
Kent county council division: Maidstone North East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Medway
Postcode districts: ME14, ME99

Maureen Cleator (Lab)
Derek Eagle (Grn)
Rob Field (LD)
Cheryl Taylor-Maggio (C)

May 2016 result LD 851 C 473 UKIP 328 Lab 261 Grn 68
May 2015 result C 1255 LD 1230 UKIP 783 Lab 445 Grn 215
May 2014 double vacancy LD 949/597 UKIP 529/479 C 380/334 Lab 206 Grn 199
May 2012 result LD 907 C 381 Lab 206 UKIP 167
May 2011 result LD 871 C 782 Lab 330 UKIP 152 Grn 140
May 2010 result LD 1978 C 1225 Lab 299 UKIP 194 Grn 104
MAy 2008 result LD 1012 C 552 Grn 141
May 2007 result LD 973 C 500 Grn 145 Lab 106 Ind 77
May 2006 result LD 1077 C 530 Grn 141 Lab 129
June 2004 result LD 997 C 486 UKIP 214 Lab 169 Grn 80
May 2003 result LD 849 C 379 Lab 161 UKIP 65
May 2002 result LD 1020/974/841 C 402/390 Lab 226 UKIP 109
May 2000 result LD 762 C 341 Lab 136 Grn 46
May 1999 result LD 844 C 434 Lab 166 Grn 34
May 1998 result LD 684 C 400 Lab 231 Grn 46
May 1996 result LD 839 Lab 393 C 327 Grn 63
May 1995 result LD 655 Lab 580 C 451 Grn 36
May 1994 result LD 967 C 606 Lab 484 Grn 86
May 1992 result C 1165 LD 679 Lab 289
May 1991 result LD 1046 C 797 Lab 351
May 1990 result SLD 1370 C 700 Lab 544
May 1988 double vacancy All 1108/994 C 752/740 Lab 272/251
May 1987 result All 1405 C 1000 Lab 264
May 1986 result All 1067 C 871 Lab 321
May 1984 result All 1206 C 599 Lab 274
May 1983 result All 1681 C 720 Lab 230
May 1982 result All 1203 C 757 Lab 297
May 1980 result Lib 976 C 737 Lab 496 NF 22
May 1979 result Lib 1540/1380/1362 C 1502/1468/1371 Lab 907/867/807


Westway

Tandridge council, Surrey; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Caroline Warner who had served since 2016. She is moving away from the area.

We move west along the North Downs and inside the M25 motorway, although just outside the Greater London boundary, to the town of Caterham. Administratively Caterham is not one town, but two: Westway lies within the western half, known as Caterham on the Hill for obvious reasons. We retain a link with the Army: much of Westway ward was formerly occupied by Caterham Barracks, which closed in the 1990s with the site having been redeveloped for housing in the 1990s and 2000s.

Westway is the most deprived of the five wards covering Caterham on the Hill and Caterham Valley, and despite high employment levels has relatively large amounts of social housing. This enabled the ward to vote Labour at the height of Tony Blair's powers, and as recently as 2002 Labour polled 36% of the vote here. The Lib Dems got ahead of Labour in the 2004 election, and then the Labour vote collapsed in their favour to create a Lib Dem/Tory marginal. Since 2008 the ward's two seats have been split between the Conservatives and Lib Dems; the Liberal Democrats held their seat last year on a rather low share of the vote, 36% to 29% for the Conservatives and 19% for UKIP. In May's Surrey county elections the local Caterham Hill division produced a photo-finish, the Liberal Democrats holding their seat by just 12 votes.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Helen Rujbally, a local resident who works supporting people with learnings disabilities: she was a victim of flash-flooding in 2016. Alex Standen is standing for the Conservatives; he was a UKIP candidate in the 2016 local elections. The official UKIP candidate is Helena Windsor, a former Surrey county councillor (Godstone, 2013-17). Completing the ballot paper is Labour candidate Lucy McNally.

Parliamentary constituency: East Surrey
Surrey county council division: Caterham Hill
ONS Travel to Work Area: London (part); Crawley (part)
Postcode district: CR3

Lucy McNally (Lab)
Helen Rujbally (LD)
Alex Standen (C)
Helena Windsor (UKIP)

May 2016 result LD 416 C 335 UKIP 220 Lab 183
May 2014 result C 358 LD 265 UKIP 243 Lab 155
May 2012 result LD 496 C 204 Lab 120 UKIP 79
May 2010 result C 828 LD 799 Lab 158 UKIP 106
May 2008 result LD 573 C 485 Lab 70
May 2006 result C 584 LD 414 Lab 97
June 2004 result C 521 LD 232 Lab 181
May 2002 result C 477 Lab 344 LD 127
May 2000 result C 447/440 Lab 327/320 LD 181/138


Bridgemary North

Gosport council, Hampshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Jill Wright at the age of 69. The Mayoress of Gosport in 2001-02, Wright was first elected to Gosport council in 1997 for Rowner ward, transferring to Bridgemary South ward in 2002. She lost her seat in 2008 but returned to the council in 2012 for Bridgemary North ward. Away from the council, Wright worked for 26 years as practice manager at the Bridgemary medical centre.

We travel south-west from Caterham to the Solent conurbation. This is a badly-planned area of large towns and associated housing estates, with Bridgemary being one of the largest estates. Almost entirely developed since the Second World War, this is the northern end of the town of Gosport hard up against the border with Fareham. Gosport is of course a naval town, and within the boundaries of Bridgemary North ward is Fleetlands Heliport, opened during the war as a naval air yard and now used as a maintenance base for both military and civil helicopters. Also within the ward is the misleadingly-named Fareham Business Park, home to the book printers Ashford Colour Press and the pharmaceutical testing company Wickham Laboratories. So, despite the ward's low qualification levels (it is just outside the top 100 in the UK for those with between 1 and 5 GCSE passes or equivalent) there are plenty of jobs here.

The ward was created in 2002 as part of a major reorganisation of Gosport's wards, in which the town became one of the handful of English districts to introduce the system of election by halves. Bridgemary North's working-class economic profile normally creates a safe Labour ward, although the Conservatives did win here in 2008 with a majority of just 50 votes. Jill Wright recovered that loss for Labour in 2012 to rejoin on the council her husband Dennis, who is the ward's other councillor. In 2016 Jill was re-elected for the last time, beating the Conservatives 72-28 in a straight fight. However, Labour did very badly here in May's county elections, losing their seat in the Bridgemary division and actually falling to third place behind the Tories and Lib Dems.

Defending for Labour is local resident James Fox, who is retired after a career spent working for local firms and the MoD. The Conservative candidate Richard Dickson is hoping to make a quick return to the council after losing his seat in Christchurch ward in 2016; he had represented that ward since 2004 and was Mayor of Gosport in 2012-13. Completing the ballot paper is Stephen Hammond, who has been tempted by his second-place performance in May's county elections to become the ward's first Liberal Democrat candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Gosport
Hampshire county council division: Bridgemary
ONS Travel to Work Area: Portsmouth
Postcode district: PO13

Richard Dickson (C)
James Fox (Lab)
Stephen Hammond (LD)

May 2016 result Lab 796 C 310
May 2014 result Lab 829 C 331
May 2012 result Lab 708 C 418
May 2010 result Lab 1002 C 733 EDP 381
May 2008 result C 594 Lab 544
May 2006 result Lab 809 C 384
June 2004 result Lab 643 C 473
May 2002 result Lab 814/795 C 253/235


Torrington

Torridge council, Devon; caused by the resignation of councillor Roger Darch, who had been elected for the UK Independence Party but was sitting as an independent.

For our final poll of the week we enter the West Country. Readers of Henry Williamson's Tarka the Otter will have an image in their mind's eye of the Torridge valley, of which Great Torrington is the major settlement. Williamson's work has brought some tourists to the town, which still retains a large number of independent shops because it's too small and remote to interest the national chains. However, the largest employer in the town is glass-making: Dartington Crystal runs the UK's last remaining crystal factory here.

This market town may be tiny, but in 1958 Torrington gave its name to a parliamentary seat which was gained by the Liberal Party in a famous by-election. More recent results in the town have been fragmented: this is the sort of area where a local independent can build up a high profile, and long-serving independent councillor Margaret Brown has developed a clear personal vote to do just that. In the 2007 election her ward colleagues were a Conservative and a Liberal Democrat; the Lib Dem councillor resigned in 2013 as he was moving to Norfolk, and the party did not defend the resulting by-election which was won by the Green Party's Cathrine Simmons. Brown and Simmons were re-elected in first and second place in 2015, with the Conservatives losing their seat to UKIP's Roger Darch; shares of the vote were 25% for Brown, 22% for the Greens, 21% for UKIP and 20% for the Conservatives. The Tories had a big lead in the local county seat (Torrington Rural) in May, with UKIP's Darch falling to fourth place. On a more sour note, a by-election in August to Great Torrington town council - which has the same boundaries as this ward - created controversy after the (unsuccessful) Liberal Democrat candidate reportedly sent an explicit picture of himself dressed as a mouse to the (unsuccessful) Labour candidate.

Hopefully this by-election will be more decorous, although anyone without local knowledge would be hard-pressed to pick a winner. Defending for UKIP is John Pitts, secretary of Great Torrington bowls club and Darch's running-mate here in 2015. Standing as an independent candidate is Di Davey, who has recently succeeded Darch as Deputy Mayor of Great Torrington. The Green Party have selected Sue Clarke, who is a teacher. Returning from the 2015 election is the Conservatives' Harold Martin, who is seeking to return to Torridge council; he represented Two Rivers ward from 2011 to 2015 when he unsuccessfully sought election here. Completing the ballot paper is Liberal Democrat candidate Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin, a teacher and sheep farmer.

Parliamentary constituency: Torridge and West Devon
Devon county council division: Torrington Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bideford
Postcode district: EX38

Sue Clarke (Grn)
Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin (LD)
Di Davey (Ind)
Harold Martin (C)
John Pitts (UKIP)

May 2015 result Ind 986 Grn 901/627 UKIP 841/659 C 786/736 Lab 496
September 2013 by-election Grn 292 UKIP 181 Ind 160 Ind 106 C 88
May 2011 result C 809 Ind 792/480 LD 641/209 Lab 312 UKIP 208
May 2007 result Ind 693/490/476/179 C 620 LD 495 Grn 352
May 2003 result Ind 645/424/254 LD 376/364/243 Grn 212


If you liked this piece, please consider supporting future columns by buying the book! Andrew's Previews 2016, containing many more pieces like this, is now available from Amazon.


Previews: 23 Nov 2017

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

With another ten by-elections this week in what has been a very busy autumn, this is the largest edition of Andrew's Previews in what remains of 2017. After last week's procession of nine safe wards and one marginal, this week looks a little more interesting. Marginal parliamentary seats are a theme: we visit four constituencies (Stroud, Stockton South, Rutherglen and Hamilton West, and Perth and North Perthshire) which were decided in June on majorities of less than 1,000 votes. To deal with the safe seats, there are solid Conservative defences in Kent, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire; Plaid Cymru will defend a seat in Glamorgan; and Labour should have little problem holding seats in Leicester, Wakefield and Teesside. That leaves three stand-out contests: a rare Tory-Green-Labour three-way marginal in the Gloucestershire countryside, and two particularly unpredictable by-elections in Scotland. All four of the main Scottish parties will think they have a genuine chance of winning in either Rutherglen or Perth (or in the case of the SNP, both). Read on...


Perth City South

Perth and Kinross council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Michael Jamieson who had served only since May. He has been charged with possession of indecent images of children.

Welcome to the Fair City of Perth, gateway to the Highlands and the northern end of the UK's motorway network: the M90 terminates here. Strategically located at head of the Tay estuary and the junction of major roads and railway lines to Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness, Perth has been a major city since the 12th century when King William the Lion gave it the status of a Royal Burgh. Perth benefited from its closeness to Scone Abbey, one of the centres of the Scottish monarchy, to become a major port trading with continental Europe. Industry came in the eighteenth century with the founding of Perth Academy, and the city became and remains a major railway junction. Today there is a diverse economy with a significant financial services presence: the largest employers are the local council and the bus company Stagecoach, which is based here, and the city (formally re-created as such for the Diamond Jubilee in 2012) is a major service centre for the local area.

For electoral purposes the city is divided into three wards, with Perth City South electing four councillors by proportional representation. This is the south-west of the city to the west of the railway line, running along the Glasgow Road to the Broxden Roundabout and including the Friarton area to the south. Boundary changes in May this year expanded the ward slightly to the north. This is by a long way the least deprived of Perth's three wards.

The ward's politics are dominated by Liberal Democrat councillor Willie Wilson who has a large personal vote and has topped the poll here at every election since PR was introduced in 2007. In that year Wilson got a running-mate elected, with the Conservatives and SNP sharing the other two seats. The Lib Dems lost their second seat to Labour in 2012. In May this year the Liberal Democrats topped the poll with 35%, to 26% for the SNP, 25% for the Conservatives and just 6% for Labour, who were defending a seat; although they picked up most of the Lib Dem and Tory surpluses, that was too far back for Labour to catch the second SNP candidate. That made 2 seats for the SNP to one each for the Lib Dems and Conservatives. The by-election is unlikely to affect control of the council, which is run by a coalition of the Conservatives, Lib Dems and independents.

Despite the Tory near-miss in June's general election here, when they finished just 21 votes behind the SNP in Perth and North Perthshire, this will be a very difficult defence starting from third place and considering the circumstances of this by-election. Their defending candidate, on a rare all-female ballot paper of six candidates, is Audrey Coates, a businesswoman whose husband Harry is councillor for Perth City North ward. Also keeping it in the family are the Liberal Democrats: their candidate Liz Barrett, who runs a consultancy business, is married to the group leader Peter Barrett. The SNP have selected Pauline Leitch, a former police officer and community councillor. Also standing are Tricia Duncan for Labour, independent candidate Denise Baykal and Elspeth Maclachlan of the Scottish Green Party. A quick reminder that, this being a Scottish local election, the Alternative Vote will be used in this by-election and those aged 16 and 17 are eligible to vote.

Parliamentary constituency: Perth and North Perthshire
Scottish Parliament constituency: Perthshire South and Kinross-shire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Perth
Postcode districts: PH1, PH2

Liz Barrett (LD)
Denise Baykal (Ind)
Audrey Coates (C)
Tricia Duncan (Lab)
Pauline Leitch (SNP)
Elspeth Maclachlan (Grn)

May 2017 first preferences LD 2417 SNP 1793 C 1757 Lab 444 Ind 253 Grn 213 Ind 96


Rutherglen Central and North

South Lanarkshire council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Ged Killen, who is now the MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West. He had served on South Lanarkshire council since winning a by-election to Rutherglen South ward in February 2013, transferring to this ward in May.

For our second Scottish by-election of the week we are in Greater Glasgow. Rutherglen was in fact part of Glasgow from 1975 to 1996, until it regained independence as part of South Lanarkshire district. The ward is bisected by the West Coast Main Line and the recently-completed M74 motorway; south of these lie the town centre and main shopping district, while to the north next to the River Clyde lies a former heavy industrial area. Here can be found Shawfield, former home of Clyde FC and now Scotland's only venue for greyhound racing. However, Shawfield's money came not from sport but from chemicals: the local chemical works supplied the majority of the UK's chromium products, leading to a legacy of contamination which has taken decades to clean up. Before the dangers were properly realised, Greggs sited their main Scottish bakery here. It should be no surprise from that description that this ward is a seriously deprived area.

Created in 2007, Rutherglen Central and North ward elected two Labour councillors and one SNP councillor that year, and re-elected them in 2012. Ged Killen's by-election gain of Rutherglen South ward in 2013 had given Labour an overall majority on South Lanarkshire council, which was never likely to withstand the SNP poll surge following the 2014 independence referendum. Labour put up two new candidates in Central and North for the 2017 election including Killen, but didn't hold their second seat: the SNP topped the poll with 39%, to 31% for Labour and 16% for the Conservatives, who benefited from Unionist transfers to gain the second Labour seat. As in Perth, this seat was a photofinish in June's general election with Killen enjoying a majority of 265 votes; and the SNP now have the dubious pleasure of running a minority administration on South Lanarkshire council with just 25 out of 64 seats. A Nationalist gain in this by-election might shore their position up a bit.

Defending for Labour is Martin Lennon who was Killen's running-mate in May but polled a long way behind him. The SNP candidate is David Innes who gives an address a long way up the M74 in Stonehouse. The Conservatives have selected Taylor Muir who isn't yet 23 but already has the experience of an electoral veteran: he fought Rutherglen and Hamilton West in the 2015 general election and Rutherglen in the 2016 Holyrood election. Also standing are Ellen Bryson for the Liberal Democrats, Brian Finlay for the Scottish Greens and Janice Mackay for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Rutherglen and Hamilton West
Scottish Parliament constituency: Rutherglen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Glasgow
Postcode districts: G44, G73

Ellen Bryson (LD)
Brian Finlay (Grn)
David Innes (SNP)
Martin Lennon (Lab)
Janice Mackay (UKIP)
Taylor Muir (C)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 2030 Lab 1592 C 835 LD 478 Grn 206


Parkfield and Oxbridge

Stockton-on-Tees council, County Durham; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Allan Mitchell who is moving away from the area. He had served since winning a by-election in January 2016.

We move from Scotland to England. The Tees Valley towns have come out in local by-elections this year like a rash; last week there was a by-election in Hartlepool and two in Darlington, including a rare Conservative gain from Labour. This week the focus turns to Stockton-on-Tees, an old market town and port on the Durham bank of the Tees which, like Rutherglen, was transformed by the Industrial Revolution. The opening of the Stockton and Darlington railway in the 1820s secured Stockton's ironworking industry by linking the town with the coalmines at Shildon, and a number of blast furnaces grew up next to the Tees. Some of those were in the area now covered by this ward, but redevelopment means that the former ironworks area is now occupied by industrial estates and a link road to the fast-growing new town of Ingleby Barwick. To the north of that area is the ward's population, in Victorian terracing along Yarm Road and Oxbridge Lane, together with the Victorian Ropner Park whose name commemorates Sir Robert Ropner. Ropner was a Prussian immigrant who became Conservative MP for Stockton, and ran a local shipyard and shipping company.

Politically this is a safe Labour ward, but it is located in the marginal parliamentary seat of Stockton South which was a Labour gain in June by just 888 votes. The swing will therefore be interesting. In the 2015 election here Labour had 46% to 27% for the Tories and 12% for independent candidate Shakeel Noor. One of the Labour councillors resigned shortly afterwards due to work commitments, and the by-election in January 2016 saw very little swing with Labour leading the Conservatives 53-32. Allan Mitchell, who won that by-election, has now resigned in his turn.

Defending for Labour is a candidate with extensive local government experience: Louise Baldock was a Liverpool city councillor until she was selected as Labour's prospective candidate for the 2015 general election in Stockton South. She failed to win that year, but has stayed on in the town. Hoping to get back on Stockton council is Conservative candidate Aidan Cockerill, who fought this ward in 2005 before serving as councillor for Grangefield ward from 2007 to 2011. (The Tory nomination was not without controversy; although it was accepted by the returning officer, a clerical error meant that one of the signatures on it had been wrongly attributed to someone else with a similar name, who as bad luck would have it turned out to be a prominent Labour member in the ward.) Completing the ballot paper are independent candidate Shakeel Noor, returning to the fray after sitting out the last by-election, and Lib Dem candidate Drew Durning who fought the 2016 by-election and the Stockton South parliamentary seat in June.

Parliamentary constituency: Stockton South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Middlesbrough and Stockton
Postcode district: TS18

Louise Baldock (Lab)
Aidan Cockerill (C)
Drew Durning (LD)
Shakeel Noor (Ind)

January 2016 by-election Lab 598 C 363 UKIP 113 LD 65
May 2015 result Lab 1608/1501 C 950/887 Ind 419 Grn 285 LD 192/179 Libertarian 58
May 2011 result Lab 801/771 Stockton Inds Assoc 451/250 C 444/345 Ind 255 LD 106/93
May 2007 result Lab 820/749 C 410/409 LD 278/276
May 2005 result Lab 1316/1199 C 652/556 LD 482/451


Wakefield West

Wakefield council, West Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Ryan Case. Appointed last year as Wakefield's first LGBT champion, Case had served since 2015.

Moving over the Tees into Yorkshire, we travel south to the city of Wakefield. An ancient market town which in 1888 became a city and headquarters of the old West Riding county council, Wakefield suffered all the usual problems from the collapse of its traditional industries (coalmining, glassmaking and textiles); transport and distribution has become a major sector here thanks to the city's proximity to the M1 motorway.

The Wakefield West ward's boundaries can be simply stated: it lies south of the Dewsbury Road, east of the M1 motorway, north of the River Calder and west of the city centre. The main area of population is Lupset, a large inter-war council estate; smaller communities in the ward include Thornes to the south and Clayton Hill - an area with significant Polish and Pakistani populations - near the city centre. Thornes is notable for an athletics stadium, home to Wakefield Harriers, and as the birthplace of the fomer Archbishop of York David Hope, who later became a member of the House of Lords in his own right as Lord Hope of Thornes.

Despite being a deprived council estate ward Wakefield West was solidly Conservative-voting until the advent of Coalition. Labour cut the Conservative majority to 180 votes in 2010 (on a general election turnout) and just 48 votes in 2011 before finally breaking through in 2012. Since 2015 the ward has had a full slate of Labour councillors, and the 2017 parliamentary election saw only a very small swing to the Conservatives across the marginal Wakefield constituency. At the most recent local elections in 2016 Labour led the Conservatives here 49-30.

Defending for Labour is Michael Graham, who describes himself on Twitter as a teacher, school governor, volunteer and tennis enthusiast. The Conservative candidate is Dawn Hunt who is the only candidate to give an address in the ward. Completing the ballot paper are Peter Williams for the Liberal Democrats and Paul Phelps for the Yorkshire Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Wakefield
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wakefield and Castleford
Postcode districts: WF1, WF2, WF5

Michael Graham (Lab)
Dawn Hunt (C)
Paul Phelps (Yorkshire Party)
Peter Williams (LD)

May 2016 result Lab 1563 C 962 Grn 324 LD 196 TUSC 143
May 2015 result Lab 2521 C 1714 UKIP 1324 Grn 298 TUSC 69
May 2014 result Lab 1506 C 885 Grn 504 TUSC 189 LD 172
May 2012 result Lab 1456 C 1101 EDP 594 Grn 226
May 2011 result C 1569 Lab 1521 Save Thornes Park and Lightwaves 448 Grn 208 LD 140
May 2010 result C 2432 Lab 2252 LD 909 BNP 559 Grn 208
May 2008 result C 2479 Lab 738 BNP 348 LD 252 Grn 156 British Voice 142
May 2007 result C 2202 Lab 845 LD 366 British Voice 324 Grn 277
May 2006 result C 2318 Lab 1241 LD 500
June 2004 result C 2637/2586/2491 Lab 1620/1218/1133 LD 949


Eyres Monsell

Leicester council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Rory Palmer, who has been promoted to the European Parliament to replace retiring MEP Dame Glenis Wilmott. He had served since 2007.

Further down the M1 we come to Leicester and to a ward with very similar demographics to Wakefield West. Eyres Monsell is the southernmost ward of the city of Leicester, although that doesn't mean it's the most southerly ward in the Leicester built-up area; the ward merges seamlessly into the suburbs of Glen Parva to the west and South Wigston to the east which are most definitely not Leicester. The ward name commemorates Bolton Eyres-Monsell, the first Viscount Monsell, who served for 25 years as Conservative MP for Evesham, was Conservative chief whip during the turbulent 1920s and later First Lord of the Admiralty. Lord Monsell had some interesting links with travel and exploration: he was the uncle of the Arctic explorer Gino Watkins and father-in-law of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Leicester city council compulsorily purchased Monsell's land in 1950 in order to build a council estate on it. The ward named after him is one of the areas of Leicester which has been least changed by immigration, with a 95% White British population. Unemployment is high and all of the ward's census districts score very badly on the deprivation indices.

Politically this ward has been Labour since 2007, when a Lib Dem administration on the city council was almost wiped out - in the 2007 election the Lib Dems actually finished fourth behind Labour, the Conservatives and the BNP. The BNP score that year was 21%, showing potential for the populist right, and UKIP cashed in on that to finish second here in the 2015 election. Shares of the vote in 2015 were 43% for Labour, 26% for UKIP and 18% for the Conservatives.

Defending for Labour is Elaine Pantling, an actress who runs a one-woman theatre company. UKIP have not returned to the fray. The Conservative candidate is Christopher Doyle, a student at De Montfort University. Completing the ballot paper is Tony Faithfull-Wright of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Leicester South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode district: LE2

Christopher Doyle (C)
Tony Faithfull-Wright (LD)
Elaine Pantling (Lab)

May 2015 result Lab 1439/1229 UKIP 874/778 C 613/376 LD 253/179 Grn 203
May 2011 result Lab 1402/1306 LD 446/406 C 408/401
May 2007 result Lab 1097/870 C 627/611 BNP 620 LD 474/266 Lib 87
May 2003 result LD 1239/1041 Lab 837/762 C 527/385 BNP 299 Grn 72/64


Bryn-côch South

Neath Port Talbot council, Glamorgan; caused by the death of the Mayor of Neath Port Talbot, Plaid Cymru councillor Janice Dudley, at the age of 73. Dudley had served since 2004, and had previously chaired the Mid and West Wales fire authority. Her death came when she was suddenly taken ill after officially starting the Round the Pier swim at Aberavon Beach.

For our Welsh by-election this week we come to the Vale of Neath. Bryn-côch South division lies on the north bank of the River Neath opposite Neath itself; this is one of the relatively better-off parts of Neath Port Talbot although it does include the Caewern council estate. Bryncoch has an association with the evolutionary scientist Alfred Russell Wallace, who lived here for a time while working as a surveyor for the Great Western Railway.

Since 1999 this division has evolved into a close fight between Labour and Plaid Cymru, with the parties sharing the two seats in the 1999 and 2012 elections. In May the Tories, Lib Dems and Greens stood for the first time since the ward was created in 1983, and that expansion seems to have come at the expense of Labour: Plaid won with 45%, to just 24% for Labour and 19% for the Conservatives.

Defending for Plaid Cymru is Jo Hale, vice-chair of the local Blaenhonddan community council. In a ballot paper with a majority of double-barrelled surnames, Labour have reselected Emma Denholm-Hall who fought the seat in May. The Conservative candidate is Peter Crocker-Jacques, who fought Neath in the 2016 Senedd election and a few months later got four (4) votes in a council by-election in Blaengwrach further up the valley; this should be better territory for him than Blaengwrach. Completing the ballot paper are Sheila Kingston-Jones for the Liberal Democrats and Darren Thomas for UKIP.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Neath
ONS Travel to Work Area: Swansea
Postcode district: SA10

Peter Crocker-Jacques (C)
Emma Denholm-Hall (Lab)
Jo Hale (PC)
Sheila Kingston-Jones (LD)
Darren Thomas (UKIP)

May 2017 result PC 848/808 Lab 460/393 C 366/290 Grn 110 LD 102
May 2012 result Lab 856/703 PC 825/744
May 2008 result PC 1024/841 Lab 820/660
June 2004 result PC 971/958 Lab 691/664
May 1999 result PC 983 Lab 902/863
May 1995 result Lab 915/819 PC 509/485
May 1991 Neath district council result Lab 1026/723 PC 605
May 1987 Neath district council result Lab 1077/832 PC 454 Alliance 428
May 1983 Neath district council result Lab 1031/755 Ratepayers 359 PC 315 SDP 250


Bishops Frome and Cradley

Herefordshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Patricia Morgan, who intends to sail around the world with her husband Julian. She was first elected in 2007 for Frome ward and had served for this ward since 2015.

After six urban wards, it's time for a change of scene as we finish this week with four wards in the English countryside. They don't get much more rural than Bishops Frome and Cradley, a group of six parishes on the Herefordshire/Worcestershire border which essentially fill the space between the Malvern Hills and Bromyard. Despite the order of names, the largest parish within the ward is Cradley with 1526 electors, more than the rest of the ward put together; the smallest parish in the ward, Evesbatch, has just 60 electors on the roll.

Bishops Frome and Cradley ward was created for the 2015 election and has no direct predecessor. At the time of the 2011 census Cradley parish anchored Hope End ward, which seems to have attracted some commuters to Malvern and Worcester, while the rest of the area was covered by Frome and Bromyard wards. Judging from the stats for those wards Bishops Frome and Cradley has a relatively old age profile with high levels of self-employment; typical for a deeply rural area.

Rural Herefordshire tends to be a contest between Conservatives and independents. No independent candidate came forward in Bishops Frome and Cradley ward in 2015, but the Conservatives were opposed by the Green Party and beat them 69-31.

This by-election has a wider field of candidates. Defending for the Conservatives is Robert Carter, who lives in the ward in the village of Acton Beauchamp. He is opposed by three candidates who fought the North Herefordshire constituency in June's general election: Ellie Chowns for the Green Party, Jeanie Falconer for the Liberal Democrats and Roger Page for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: North Herefordshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Hereford
Postcode districts: HR7, HR8, WR6, WR13

Robert Carter (C)
Ellie Chowns (Grn)
Jeanie Falconer (LD)
Roger Page (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1331 Grn 610


Chalford

Stroud council, Gloucestershire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Elizabeth Peters at the age of 73. A long-serving organiser of the Brimscombe village fete, Peters caused controversy in 2014 by using racially offensive language after a council meeting, for which she apologised. She had served on Stroud council since 2002.

We cross the boundary from Herefordshire into Gloucestershire where there are two polls this week, but for the first of these we keep our connection with Frome - this time, the River Frome which cuts through the Cotswolds in a narrow, gorge-like valley. Clinging to the northern side of that valley is the village of Chalford. Chalford expanded rapidly in the eighteenth century with the arrival of Flemish weavers, who brought with them a high-quality textile industry; and it was made accessible to the outside world by the opening of the now-derelict Thames and Severn Canal. Also within the ward is the village of Bussage, which grew strongly in the 1980s with the development of the Manor Farm Estate.

Through most of this century Chalford ward has had a large Conservative lead with Labour and the Greens splitting the opposition vote fairly evenly. The 2016 election changed things a bit as the Conservative vote markedly declined; although the party held the ward's three seats, their vote share fell to just 32% to 28% each for the Greens and Labour. There was more bad news for the Conservatives here in 2017: in May's county elections, they lost the local Minchinhampton county division to the Green Party in a straight fight, by the small margin of 2,320 votes to 2,293; and in June's general election they lost the Stroud constituency to Labour, again by a small margin (29,994 to 29,307 on a high turnout of 77%). The returning Labour MP, David Drew, has an electoral career going back a long way: he stood against Peters in a Stroud council by-election in 1986.

Defending this intriguing three-way marginal for the Conservatives is Darren Loftus, a 33-year-old property manager from Chalford. The Greens have selected Robin Lewis, a semi-retired college lecturer. The Labour candidate is Karen Pitney, a former long-serving BBC employee now working for the Gloucestershire GP Co-operative. Completing the ballot paper is Kris Beacham for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Stroud
Gloucestershire county council division: Minchinhampton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Gloucester
Postcode districts: GL5, GL6

Kris Beacham (LD)
Robin Lewis (Grn)
Darren Loftus (C)
Karen Pitney (Lab)

May 2016 result C 930/927/905 Grn 810 Lab 799/738 UKIP 353
May 2015 result C 1920 Lab 919 Grn 781 UKIP 431
May 2014 result C 878 Grn 546 Lab 406 UKIP 348 TUSC 17
May 2012 result C 945 Lab 481 Grn 381
May 2011 result C 1302 Grn 649 Lab 638
May 2010 result C 2033 Grn 1041 Lab 872
May 2008 result C 1217 Grn 633 Lab 195 UKIP 121
May 2007 result C 1114 Grn 492 Lab 250 UKIP 158
May 2006 result C 1100 Grn 447 LD 259 Lab 220
June 2004 result C 880 Grn 402 LD 325 UKIP 255 Lab 250
May 2003 result C 875 Lab 316 Grn 306 LD 277 UKIP 107
May 2002 result C 941/887/743 Lab 522/473 LD 487 Grn 399/352/232 UKIP 192


Grumbolds Ash with Avening

Cotswold council, Gloucestershire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Jim Parsons at the age of 82. Parsons was first elected in 1999 for the former Avening ward as an independent, gaining the Conservative nomination in 2007 and transferring to Grumbolds Ash with Avening ward in 2015.

For our second Gloucestershire by-election of the week we stay in the Cotswolds but travel to the southern boundary of the county. This is a diffuse ward of eight parishes to the north and west of Tetbury, running from Cherington in the north to Didmarton on the Wiltshire boundary. None of the parishes are called Grumbolds Ash, a name which instead commemorates an ancient Hundred of Gloucestershire. Avening, on the Tetbury-Nailsworth road, is the ward's largest settlement with 888 electors; by comparison the small parish of Ozleworth has just 34 electors on the register. Here can be found the Forestry Commission's National Arboretum at Westonbirt together with Nan Tow's Tump, a Bronze Age barrow next to the A46 Bath-Nailsworth road.

At the time of the 2011 census most of this area was in the former Grumbolds Ash ward, which made the top 20 in England and Wales for households living rent-free (8.5%) and had high self-employment levels. The present ward was created in 2015. The old Grumbolds Ash ward was strongly Conservative and frequently uncontested, and that has carried through to the present ward where in 2015 the Tories beat the Liberal Democrats 71-29 in a straight fight.

Defending for the Conservatives is Richard Morgan, a Tetbury resident who runs an adventure travel business. The Liberal Democrat candidate is Nicky Baber, a Kemble and Ewen parish councillor. Completing the ballot paper is Labour candidate Edward Shelton who is the only candidate to live in the ward (in Didmarton).

Parliamentary constituency: The Cotswolds
Gloucestershire county council division: Tetbury
ONS Travel to Work Area: Swindon
Postcode districts: GL6, GL8, GL9, GL12

Nicky Baber (LD)
Richard Morgan (C)
Edward Shelton (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1108 LD 442


St Margaret's-at-Cliffe

Dover council, Kent; caused by the resignation of the Leader of the Council, Conservative councillor Paul Watkins, who is retiring from politics. A former nurse who later founded a nursing home company, Watkins was first elected in 1983 for Lower Walmer ward; he stood down in 1995 but returned to the council in 1999 from St Margaret's-at-Cliffe ward. Watkins was chairman of Dover council from 1989 to 1992 and had served as Leader of the Council since 2003.

For our final stop this week, welcome to the front line of Brexit. In fact, welcome to the front line full stop. This is the ward which contains the iconic White Cliffs of Dover, traditionally Britain's first line of defence against invasion from the Continent, and the first part of the UK which visitors see as they approach the port of Dover on the ferry from Calais. The ward overlooks the point where those ferries reach dry land, Dover Eastern Docks. Not surprisingly for such a strategic location, the military are still here ready for any invasion: St Margaret's-at-Cliffe ward includes Fort Burgoyne and the Duke of York's Royal Military School, on the hills behind Dover Castle. A significant number of Gurkhas live in the ward, putting St Margaret's-at-Cliffe in the top 10 wards in England and Wales for Buddhism, while the Duke of York's school means that the ward is in the top 100 in England and Wales for 16- and 17-year-olds. (That school is one of only three schools in England and Wales to have military colours; the other two are Cheltenham College and, inevitably, Eton.)

The ward itself essentially covers the area between Dover and Deal. At its centre is the village of St Margaret's at Cliffe itself, which marks the point where the North Sea ends and the English Channel begins. The village was mostly evacuated during the Second World War as it was within range of German artillery in France. Further inland is Martin Mill, home to the ward's railway station on the Dover-Deal line.

The White Cliffs have been a source of much controversy in recent years. A couple of months ago an appeal by the National Trust raised £1 million to prevent the cliffs being sold to developers, while a few years back a well-known UKIP election poster depicted an escalator going to the clifftop. That didn't stop UKIP taking second place in this ward in the 2015 local elections: they had 25% to 53% for the winning Conservative slate and 22% for Labour. In May's county elections the Conservatives pulled away from Labour in the previously marginal division of Dover North, which includes this ward.

Defending for the Conservatives is Peter Jull, who fought his home ward of North Deal in 2015. With UKIP not returning to the polls, in a straight fight Jull is opposed by Charles Woodgate, who fought the local county seat in May and stood in Tunbridge Wells in June's general election; Woodgate is described as having a strong business background with 30 years working in international trade, finance and banking.

Parliamentary constituency: Dover
Kent county council division: Dover North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Folkestone and Dover
Postcode districts: CT14, CT15, CT16

Peter Jull (C)
Charles Woodgate (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1424/1221 UKIP 684 Lab 590/555
May 2011 result C 1257/1185 Lab 500/467
May 2007 result C 1058/969 LD 343 Lab 276/248
April 2004 by-election C 749 LD 234 Lab 213 Ind 43
May 2003 result C 836/756 Lab 304/274 Ind 235


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Previews: 16 Nov 2017

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

There are ten by-elections on 16th November 2017 in England's towns and villages. There is one Liberal Democrat defence, in Penrith; four Labour defences, two in the Tees Valley towns and two in Suffolk; and five Conservative defences, two in Lincolnshire and one each in Darlington, Lancashire and Buckinghamshire. With eight of this week's by-elections being in safe wards we shouldn't expect much change, although two of those polls are in the marginal parliamentary seat of Darlington and should therefore be given some attention as to the swing. We shall come later to the Lib Dem defence, which looks particularly unpredictable; but we start this week with what is clearly the marquee contest. It's time to go to the far East...


Kirkley; and
St Margaret's

Waveney council, Suffolk; caused respectively by the resignations of husband and wife Stephen Logan and Louisa Harris-Logan, who were Labour councillors. Both were first elected in 2015, and are resigning due to work commitments.

For the first of our two towns this week with two by-elections we travel to the UK's easternmost town, Lowestoft. Kirkley ward lies in southern Lowestoft, on the far side of the Bascule Bridge. Developed in the Victorian era by the railway entrepreneur Sir Samuel Peto, Kirkley still retains many of its period houses, including the birthplace of Benjamin Britten on Kirkley Cliff Road. (It's a B&B now, in case you fancy staying.) That old housing stock and seaside location doesn't necessarily translate into a desirable place to live: Kirkley ward includes the most deprived census district in Suffolk and has the county's lowest life expectancy.

Not much further up the social scale is St Margaret's ward, which covers postwar housing in the north-east corner of the town and has seen some new development in recent years off the town's recently-completed bypass, Millennium Way.

The two wards may look similar from the census but have interestingly different political histories. Kirkley was traditionally a Labour versus Lib Dem fight, the Liberal Democrats carrying the ward every year from 1999 to 2008, but this was one of the areas where Coalition led to the Lib Dem vote disappearing. In 2015 Labour led here with 36%, to 21% for the Conservatives, 20% for UKIP and 15% for an independent candidate.

By contrast, St Margaret's ward has never failed to return a Labour councillor in the 44-year history of Waveney council. Despite that, for many years now it has been a very tight fight between Labour and the Conservatives: the closest the Tories got to gaining the ward was in 2006 when they were just eight votes behind Labour. In 2015 Labour again led with 36%, to 30% for the Conservatives and 26% for UKIP. Those looking for a Conservative gain to offset several Tory losses in recent week's by-elections may take further heart from the fact that Labour performed very badly in Lowestoft in May and June: both St Margaret's and Kirkley are in county divisions which the Conservatives gained in May, and the local parliamentary seat (Waveney) was the only seat which voted Leave in 2016 where the Labour vote fell in June's general election.

Both by-elections have attracted a full field of candidates from all five main parties. Defending Kirkley for Labour is Peter Byatt, a retired teacher and Lowestoft town councillor; he was a Suffolk county councillor (for Pakefield division) until losing his seat to the Conservatives in May. The Conservatives have selected Gilly Gunner. The UKIP candidate is Phillip Trindall, who ran a carpentry and joinery business for over 35 years; he stood in the last Lowestoft by-election (in Oulton Broad ward in September) and did poorly. Completing the ballot paper are Ben Quail for the Greens and Dominic Leslie for the Lib Dems.

In St Margaret's the defending Labour candidate is 27-year-old Nasima Begum, a Lowestoft town councillor who runs a Tandoori restaurant. Returning from the 2015 election is the Conservatives' Linda Coulam, who runs a taxi firm with her husband. UKIP have also reselected their 2015 candidate for the ward, Bernie Guymer. Completing the ballot paper are Baz Bemment for the Green Party and Liberal Democrat Shaun Waters.

Kirkley

Parliamentary constituency: Waveney
Suffolk county council division: Lowestoft South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lowestoft
Postcode district: NR33

Peter Byatt (Lab)
Gilly Gunner (C)
Dominic Leslie (LD)
Ben Quail (Grn)
Phillip Trindall (UKIP)

May 2015 result Lab 1272/1150/1097 C 733/533/509 UKIP 704 Ind 543 Grn 320/320
May 2011 result Lab 783/719/712 LD 496/431 C 333/295/252 Grn 293 UKIP 248
May 2010 result Lab 1102 LD 986 C 711 Grn 184
May 2008 result LD 660 Lab 375 C 256 Grn 123
May 2007 result LD 689 Lab 379 C 206 UKIP 173 Grn 102
May 2006 result LD 728 Lab 375 C 240 Grn 108
June 2004 result LD 807 Lab 568 C 257 Grn 132
May 2003 result LD 710 Lab 416 C 178 Grn 82
May 2002 result LD 886/850/798 Lab 694/652/632 C 193

St Margaret's

Parliamentary constituency: Waveney
Suffolk county council division: Oulton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lowestoft
Postcode district: NR32

Nasima Begum (Lab)
Baz Bemment (Grn)
Linda Coulam (C)
Bernie Guymer (UKIP)
Shaun Waters (LD)

May 2015 result Lab 1680/1491/1462 C 1379/1273/979 UKIP 1200 Grn 359/291
May 2011 result Lab 1051/1037/1024 C 858/707/675 UKIP 375 Grn 269 LD 208
May 2010 result Lab 1656 C 1411 LD 642 Grn 196
May 2008 result Lab 658 C 578 UKIP 315 LD 206 Grn 137
May 2007 result Lab 711 C 629 LD 166 UKIP 140 Grn 97 Ind 68
May 2006 result Lab 679 C 671 LD 268 Grn 126
June 2004 result Lab 675 C 624 Ind 502 Grn 133
May 2003 result Lab 626 C 540 LD 202 Grn 71
May 2002 result Lab 913/818/784 C 518 LD 421 Socialist Alliance 119


Penn and Coleshill

Chiltern council, Buckinghamshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Alan Hardie who had served since 2011.

From one of the most deprived parts of Britain to one of the least. Two weeks ago this column was in one of England's most expensive towns to buy property, Beaconsfield; this week we hop north over the town and district boundary to Penn and Coleshill ward. Despite the ward name (which is taken from the two parishes it covers) the largest centre of population is Knotty Green which is essentially a northern extension of Beaconsfield. Knotty Green claims England's oldest freehouse, the Royal Standard of England (first attested in 1213 when it was called The Ship). The village of Penn itself lies on the eastern edge of High Wycombe, while Coleshill - once a detached part of Hertfordshire - lies halfway between Beaconsfield and Amersham. This is a leafy part of the Chiltern Hills which is much in demand from TV and film companies due to its proximity to several major film studios. The census stats show that Penn and Coleshill is clearly a commuter area: 55% of the workforce are in some form of management or professional occupation and half of the workforce hold degrees.

Penn and Coleshill is as true blue as you would expect from that introduction. The 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections all saw the Conservatives poll over 70% of the vote in a straight fight with the Liberal Democrats. The 2011 election here gave the Tories a 75-25 majority; in 2015 the Lib Dems gave up and the Conservative slate was elected without a contest. The ward is split between two Buckinghamshire county divisions which are both safe Conservative.

Defending for the Conservatives, and in the unusual position for a W of top of the ballot paper, is Jonathan Waters who lives some distance away in a village near Chesham. Ensuring a contested election this time is the Lib Dem candidate Richard Williams, an Amersham resident who fought the ward in 2003, 2007 and 2011.

Parliamentary constituency: Chesham and Amersham
Buckinghamshire county division: Penn Wood and Old Amersham (Penn parishes); Chalfont St Giles (Coleshill parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: High Wycombe and Aylesbury
Postcode districts: HP7, HP9, HP10

Jonathan Waters (C)
Richard Williams (LD)

May 2015 result 2 C unopposed
May 2011 result C 1477/1311 LD 484
May 2007 result C 916/902 LD 251/236
May 2003 result C 818/805 LD 325/313


Sudbrooke

West Lindsey council, Lincolnshire; caused by the resignation of Conserative councillor Stuart Curtis on health grounds. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and has since died at the age of 72. Curtis lived all his life in the village of Sudbrooke, working for fifty years for a Lincoln firm of solicitors; he specialised in conveyancing, and had chaired the local branch of the Institute of Legal Executives. Away from work he had been a qualified football referee, once taking charge of a Lincoln City testimonial match in front of over 5,000 spectators. He had served on West Lindsey council since 1999.

From a safe Conservative ward in Buckinghamshire we move to two more safe Conservative wards in Lincolnshire. The first of these is in Sudbrooke, a village about five miles north-east of Lincoln off the A158 Lincoln-Skegness road. Sudbrooke's population grew strongly in the 1980s as a middle-class commuter village, dwarfing the older village of Scothern to the north; one legacy of that growth is that the ward makes the top 75 in England and Wales for owner-occupation (92% of households).

Sudbrooke ward was created in 1999 and has unchanged boundaries since then, having survived boundary reviews in 2007 and 2015. It had also had unchanged representation, with Curtis having been the councillor since the ward's creation: he was originally an independent candidate and was returned unopposed in 2000, before gaining the Conservative nomination from 2004 onwards. At Curtis' last re-election in 2015 his lead over the Labour candidate was 69-20. The ward is within a safe Conservative Lincolnshire county division (Welton Rural) and a safe Conservative parliamentary seat (Gainsborough).

Defending for the Conservatives is Bob Waller - not the well-known psephologist but the vice-chairman of Sudbrooke parish council. A former Army officer, Waller formerly ran an apprentice engineering training company and is also a former Teesside magistrate. In a straight fight, he is opposed by Labour candidate and Sudbrooke resident Gareth Hart.

Parliamentary constituency: Gainsborough
Lincolnshire county council division: Welton Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lincoln
Postcode districts: LN2, LN3

Gareth Hart (Lab)
Bob Waller (C)

May 2015 result C 1121 Lab 324 LD 181
May 2011 result C 860 Lab 289
May 2008 result C 790 LD 204
June 2004 result C 656 LD 484
May 2000 result Ind unopposed
May 1999 result Ind 452 LD 280


Whaplode and Holbeach St John's

South Holland council, Lincolnshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Mike Pullen at the age of 82. Originally from London - his first job was as a rigger in the East End docks - Pullen had retired to Lincolnshire after jobs in brewing and insurance. He had served on South Holland council since 2015.

For our second Lincolnshire by-election of the week we travel to the Fens, that agricultural landscape reclaimed from the North Sea which is every bit as flat and unremarkable as the map above might suggest. Wards and parishes in this area tend to be long and thin, following the relatively high ground between the drainage ditches; this ward runs for 20 kilometres from the Cambridgeshire boundary to the intriguingly-named Saracen's Head on the A17 Sleaford-King's Lynn road. Of the two villages in the title, Whaplode makes the unusual claim of having Lincolnshire's highest sculpture-to-population ratio, while Holbeach St Johns is a village slightly to the east on the line of the Greenwich Meridian.

Local politics in South Holland is, like the landscape, not the most exciting affair. In the last two elections to Whaplode and Holbeach St John's ward the Conservatives have been guaranteed one of the two available seats due to insufficient opposition candidates. Pullen was the opposition candidate in 2011 as an independent, losing an independent-held seat, before being elected in 2015 on the Tory slate. That year the Conservatives had 57% to 43% for a single UKIP candidate. The ward is split between three different Lincolnshire county divisions, all of which are safe Conservative.

Defending for the Conservatives is Janet Whitbourn, who lives in Spalding and was a presenter and manager on the local radio station Tulip Radio until its closure earlier this year; she now runs an events company. In another straight fight Whitbourn is opposed by Jennie Thomas, an admin assistant and mother-of-four from Holbeach, who is the Labour candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: South Holland and the Deepings
Lincolnshire county council division: Crowland (part: Drove ward of Holbeach parish and Drove ward of Whaplode parish); Holbeach (part: Saracen's Head ward of Whaplode parish); Holbeach Rural (part: St John's ward of Holbeach parish and St Catherine and Village wards of Whaplode parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Spalding
Postcode districts: PE6, PE12

Jennie Thomas (Lab)
Janet Whitbourn (C)

May 2015 result C 1270/1232 UKIP 969
May 2011 result C 849/727 Ind 507
May 2007 result C 647/569 Ind 606/525


Staining and Weeton

Fylde council, Lancashire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Albert Pounder due to ill-health. He had served since 2003.

After five by-elections in the east and the south of England it's time to move north. Staining and Weeton ward covers a large area at the centre of the Fylde peninsula, immediately to the east of Blackpool. Staining is the larger of the two villages covered by the ward, but Weeton is the more interesting one; defence is the main game in town here with a large barracks within the ward boundary, and Weeton hosts an annual reunion each June for the King's Own Royal Border Regiment. In recent times the main controversy in the area has been fracking; Cuadrilla bored a test well in the ward in 2011 but had to stop operations after the drilling set off two minor earthquakes.

Staining and Weeton ward was created in 2003 by merging two single-member wards: a decision which spelt the end of the political career of Labour's Alfred Goldberg who had represented Staining ward since 1991. The ward is now safely Conservative and in 2015 the Tories led Labour here 65-35. However, the Tories don't always get it all their own way in rural Fylde: the local county councillor is an independent.

Defending for the Conservatives is Jayne Nixon, an administration manager and Staining parish councillor. The Labour candidate is Nick Ansell (from Blackpool), and completing the ballot paper is Beverley Harrison (from Lytham St Annes) of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Fylde
Lancashire county council division: Fylde West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackpool
Postcode districts: FY3, FY4, FY6, PR4

Nick Ansell (Lab)
Beverley Harrison (LD)
Jayne Nixon (C)

May 2015 result C 971/746 Lab 531
May 2011 result C 582/475 Ind 355 Lab 242 Grn 96
May 2007 result 2 C unopposed
May 2003 result C 527/441 Lab 418


Penrith North

Eden council, Cumbria; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Robin Howse, who is retiring on health and age grounds. He had served since 2011.

As Samuel Johnson once said, "the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England". For many who journey between England and Scotland, whether in Johnson's day or in the modern day, their journey takes them through or past Penrith. The Romans had a road which passed through Penrith on the way to Hadrian's Wall, and its modern successors (the A6 and M6), together with the West Coast main line, all pass through Penrith North ward. As well as a rural hinterland, Penrith North is based on the northern part of the town: the Townhead district and the New Streets. Fittingly some of the streets in the ward are named in honour of a pioneer of roads: John Loudon McAdam, who for a time lived in Penrith.

Penrith is the largest town in the Eden local government district, which despite its geographical size is the smallest local government district by population in north-west England; Penrith North is the district's largest ward but is still comfortably under 3,500 electors. With small electorates like that the candidate starts to become more important than the party, and this is reflected in Penrith North's previous results where it's rare for any party to field a full slate. Since 2011 the Liberal Democrats have held two seats in the ward to one for the Conservatives; shares of the vote in 2015 were 43% for the Lib Dems (two candidates), 32% for the Conservatives (full slate) and 25% for Labour (one candidate). In May's county elections the Tories greatly increased their majority in the Penrith North county division, but that's much more rural in character than this ward.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is local resident Mark Rudhall. The Tory candidate is John Forrester, who runs a motorcycle training business and fought Penrith East in May's county elections. The Labour candidate is Karen Lockney, a lecturer at the University of Cumbria. Completing the ballot paper is Douglas Lawson of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Penrith and the Border
Cumbria county council division: Penrith North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Penrith
Postcode district: CA11

John Forrester (C)
Douglas Lawson (Grn)
Karen Lockney (Lab)
Mark Rudhall (LD)

May 2015 result LD 1037/909 C 773/746/742 Lab 606
May 2011 result LD 783/532 C 574 Ind 499 Lab 304
May 2007 result Ind 531 C 523 LD 417 Lab 186
May 2003 result Ind 536 LD 441 C 419 Lab 163


Mowden; and
Red Hall and Lingfield

Darlington council, County Durham; caused respectively by the resignations of Conservative councillor Bill Stenson and Labour councillor Lynne Haszeldine. One of the longest-serving councillors in the UK, Stenson is retiring after fifty-two years' service on Darlington council: he was first elected in 1965 for the Mowden ward of the former Darlington County Borough. Haszeldine, who had served Lingfield ward and then Red Hall and Lingfield in tandem with her husband Ian since 2007, is suffering from poor health.

We finish the week with three contests in the Tees Valley mayoral area, two of which are in the town of Darlington. Darlo has a reputation as a Quaker town, having been built through the efforts of many wealthy Quaker families, but is also known for the railways and heavy engineering: it was the terminus of the UK's first passenger railway, the Stockton and Darlington, became an important railway manufacturing centre, and for well over a century has been known for bridge-building. The Cleveland Bridge company, which built such well-known bridges as the Tyne Bridge, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Humber Bridge, is based in Darlington. That economic prosperity helped make Darlington, until it became a unitary council in the 1990s, the largest town in County Durham.

In many towns and the cities in the UK the western end is a more desirable place to live than the eastern end, which typically suffers from pollution blown over from the rest of the town on the prevailing westerly wind. Such is the case in Darlington and that's neatly illustrated by the two by-elections this week. On the western edge of town is Mowden, the least-deprived ward in Darlington town; located south of Staindrop Road, the ward is centred on Bushel Hill Park. Much of the ward was developed in the 1960s and 1970s, and judging from its age profile many of the original householders are still in situ: the ward is in the top 100 in England and Wales for retired population and owner-occupation is high. Darlington's heavy engineering is illustrated by Mowden ward making the top 50 in England and Wales for apprenticeship qualifications and the top 25 for the census' "intermediate" occupational classification. Mowden ward escaped a boundary review in 2015 unchanged.

That boundary review created Red Hall and Lingfield ward on the eastern edge of town, which took in the eastern areas of the former Lingfield and Haughton East wards. If Mowden is where Darlington's well-off engineers live, this is where they work: Red Hall and Lingfield ward is dominated by Morton Park, a large industrial estate presently being redeveloped. Companies based on Morton Park include the engine manufacturer Cummins and the English office of the beleaguered Student Loans Company.

Darlington has a reputation as a Labour-inclined marginal area, but boundary effects mean that that doesn't always reflect the votes cast. The parliamentary seat is drawn tightly around the town, whereas the district includes a few Tory-voting villages in its hinterland: that bolsters the Labour position at general election time (although Darlington did return the now ex-Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to Parliament during the Thatcher landslides). Boundary effects are also at work at council level: the Conservatives polled the most votes across the district in both the 2007 and 2015 elections, but a poor vote distribution meant that Labour had a secure majority on the council both times. Given the description above it shouldn't be surprising that Mowden is in the Conservative column with Red Hall and Lingfield in the Labour one: in 2015 Mowden had 46% for the Conservatives, 32% for Labour and 15% for UKIP, while Red Hall and Lingfield gave 47% to Labour, 29% to the Conservatives and 12% to the Green Party. Interestingly the Conservatives performed very badly in a by-election in Mowden on Euro-election day in 2014, Labour cutting their majority to 33 votes; on the other hand the Tories can take heart from the fact that they carried Darlington in the Tees Valley mayoral election in May.

This column hasn't been able to find out much information about the Mowden candidates beyond their names. Defending Mowden for the Conservatives is Alan Marshall. The Labour candidate is Eddie Heslop. UKIP are not contesting the seat this time, so the ballot paper is completed by Kathy Barley for the Green Party and Sarah Jordan for the Liberal Democrats.

By contrast the Red Hall and Lingfield by-election candidates are a well-attested and interesting bunch. Labour have gone for youth in defending the seat: their candidate Sharifah Rahman isn't yet 20 but she's already the secretary of Darlington Young Labour. The Conservatives' selection of Jonathan Dulston has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons: a 28-year-old long-standing community volunteer and special constable, he was fined earlier this year by Newton Aycliffe magistrates for being drunk and disorderly and obstructing a police officer. According to a report in the Mirror, Dulston claimed that "the fracas meant he was a candidate who 'represents reality' and has 'life experience'", which if true is the most impressive display of brass neck this column has seen for some time. The Green candidate is Mike McTimoney, a lecturer who in 2009 was appointed as Darlington's official Tweeter-in-residence, whatever that is. Also standing are Harry Longmoor for the Liberal Democrats and independent candidate Kevin Brack, who was the UKIP candidate for Darlington in June's general election.

Mowden

Parliamentary constituency: Darlington
ONS Travel to Work Area: Darlington
Postcode district: DL3

Kathy Barley (Grn)
Eddie Heslop (Lab)
Sarah Jordan (LD)
Alan Marshall (C)

May 2015 result C 1172/1090 Lab 798/586 UKIP 373 Grn 186
May 2014 by-election C 647 Lab 614 UKIP 235 LD 93
May 2011 result C 1090/992 Lab 629/494
May 2007 result C 1126/987 Lab 315/247 LD 209 UKIP 169
May 2003 result C 1318/1229 Lab 646/557

Red Hall and Lingfield

Parliamentary constituency: Darlington
ONS Travel to Work Area: Darlington
Postcode district: DL1

Kevin Brack (Ind)
Jonathan Dulston (C)
Harry Longmoor (LD)
Mike McTimoney (Grn)
Sharifah Rahman (Lab)

May 2015 result Lab 831/770 C 515/464 Grn 222 LD 212


Victoria

Hartlepool council, County Durham; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Trisha Lawton for family reasons. She was first elected in 2010 for Rossmere ward, lost her seat in 2012, and returned to the council in 2015 for this ward.

We finish for the week in that most interesting of towns, Hartlepool. Or, more accurately, two towns: Victoria ward covers the town centre of what was West Hartlepool, a nineteenth-century town built to serve docks on what was previously sand-dunes. Here can be found the main shopping centre, Middleton Grange; and Hartlepool United's ground at Victoria Park, where the former mayor Stuart Drummond used to parade in his monkey suit. Thanks to its proximity to the North Sea, Victoria Park had a reputation as the coldest ground in the Football League until the Pools got relegated last summer. Also in the ward is some housing to the west of the town centre along Hart Lane. At the time of the 2011 census most of the present ward was in Grange ward or Stranton ward, which were both notable for extremely high unemployment (nearly 13% in Stranton, over 10% in Grange).

Grange and Stranton wards had had full slates of Labour councillors since 2010, and that has carried forward to the current Victoria ward. UKIP took over second place here in 2015 from the localist party Putting Hartlepool First: in 2016 Labour's lead over UKIP was 51-30.

Defending for Labour is Katie Trueman, who gives an address in Old Hartlepool on the headland. The UKIP candidate is Jacqui Cummings, a carer. Completing the ballot paper is Conservative candidate Andrew Martin-Wells.

Parliamentary constituency: Hartlepool
ONS Travel to Work Area: Hartlepool
Postcode districts: TS24, TS26

Jacqui Cummings (UKIP)
Andrew Martin-Wells (C)
Katie Trueman (Lab)

May 2016 result Lab 727 UKIP 421 C 169 Grn 103
May 2015 result Lab 1264 UKIP 696 Putting Hartlepool First 461 C 345 Grn 213
May 2014 result Lab 731 Putting Hartlepool First 517 C 145 LD 63
May 2012 result Lab 753/745/737 Putting Hartlepool First 364/322/312 UKIP 166 C 146/113 LD 97/77 Ind 87


Preview: 14 Nov 2017

As your columnist returns from the European Quiz Championships in Zagreb garlanded with medals (I wish!) here's one that was made earlier: a rare Tuesday by-election in the ancient city of London...


Bishopsgate

City of London Corporation; caused by the resignation of Common Councilman Pooja Suri Tank.

Through crystal roofs the sunlight fell,
And pencilled beams the gloss renewed
On iron rafters balanced well
On iron struts; though dimly hued.
With smoke o'erlaid, with dust endued.
The walls and beams like beryl shone;
And dappled light the platforms strewed
With yellow foliage of the dawn
That withered by the porch of day's divan.

- John Davidson, "Liverpool Street Station"

For a rare Tuesday poll this week we are in the north-east corner of the ancient City of London. Here can be found the mainline railway terminus of Liverpool Street, the UK's third-busiest railway station; the Broadgate development on the site of the former Broad Street railway station; and the 164m-high Broadgate Tower, completed in 2009 and the fifth-tallest building in the old City. The map shown here is extremely up-to-date, showing as it does the tunnels for the Elizabath Line which is due to open in December 2018.

In many ways the Corporation is a hangover from the way local government was done in days of olden time, and the main effect of that hangover is business voting. Bishopsgate ward has very few local residents and its electorate is dominated by sole traders and electors nominated by businesses located within the ward. Those businesses run the gamut from the Swiss bank UBS, whose UK headquarters are in the Broadgate development, to Coventry University which has a small campus off Devonshire Square.

Bishopsgate ward was uncontested in the last City elections in March, so despite the fact that this by-election comes after the Lord Mayor's Show it's unlikely to be an anticlimax. The City's politics are non-partisan so all the candidates are independents. The establishment candidate would appear to Benjamin Murphy, an investment banker who is nominated by outgoing councilman Suri and other sitting councilmen for the ward. Former common councilman for the ward Patrick Streeter is trying to get back after standing down in May; he is a former Liberal Democrat figure who like Murphy, commutes into London from a village in the Harlow area. Completing the ballot paper is Timothy Becker, a barrister from Wimbledon.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
London Assembly constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: E1, EC2A, EC2M, EC2N, EC2P, EC3A

Timothy Becker (Ind)
Benjamin Murphy (Ind)
Patrick Streeter (Ind)