Previews: 21 Mar 2019

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

Before we start this week's column, there is an entry for Correction Corner to note. Integrity Southampton have been in touch objecting to my description of them last week as a "UKIP splinter group". They point out, and I accept, that none of their candidates have any connection with UKIP. My apologies for the error.

There are six by-elections on 21st March 2019, with Labour defending four seats, the Liberal Democrats one and the Thurrock Independents one. We'll be in County Durham, Staffordshire and west London, but the only way to start the week is Essex...


Aveley and Uplands

Thurrock council, Essex; caused by the resignation of Thurrock Independents councillor Tim Aker.

Our first poll is in a council with a political situation which may be familiar. The Conservatives are in power, but not in control of Thurrock council; they run the council as a minority administration, three seats short of an overall majority. This means that the Thurrock Conservatives have to rule by consensus and compromise, and it would seem that they have learned the trick of how to do so: the council's budget for 2019-20, which included a freeze in council tax, was passed unanimously last month with support from the opposition Labour and independent councillors.

It takes a certain kind of politician to do consensus and compromise well. Remember David Cameron? Wen he came to power in 2010 Cameron had the choice of trying to govern by minority or trying to forge a consensus with other parties for a more lasting government. He chose the coalition route. Readers might not agree with everything or indeed anything the Coalition government did, but it's difficult to argue that the May administration is more strong, stable and effective at what it does that the Coalition was.

When it comes to political crises, there's one party that in recent years has reliably kept the purple touchpaper almost continually alight. It's a while since Andrew's Previews talked about UKIP, isn't it? This column has a complicated relationship with the UK Independence Party, which monopolised your columnist's local councillors until 2018 when councillor Paul Richardson lost his seat. Richardson wasn't alone in that: every UKIP councillor who stood for re-election in May 2018 lost their seat.

And it's not just at the ballot box where UKIP are losing. Since getting popular support for their signature policy nearly three years ago the party is on its fifth permanent leader and has suffered defections like there's no tomorrow. Nearly every sizeable UKIP council group has split down the middle at some point, and one such split cost the party control of Thanet council which had returned a UKIP majority in 2015. As the correction at the top of this column demonstrates, the party has spawned so many splinter groups it's difficult for your columnist to keep up. Even Nigel Farage has had enough and formed his own new party in an attempt to rise like a phoenix from the UKIP ashes.

One of the more sizeable UKIP council groups was in Thurrock. The party polled the most votes across Thurrock in the 2014 council elections, although it only won five out of sixteen wards; Labour carried six and the Conservatives the other five. One of the newly-elected UKIP councillors, Maggie O'Keeffe-Ray, died shortly afterwards; and the resulting by-election in December 2014 was won by a rising star of the party. Timür "Tim" Aker was born in Thurrock in 1985 to British and Turkish parents, and grew up in the village of Aveley. He read History and Politics at the University of Nottingham, and shortly after completing his studies stood for election to his home ward of Thurrock council, Aveley and Uplands.

This ward is the point on the north bank of the Thames estuary where Greater London ends and Essex begins; the M25 motorway is the ward's eastern boundary, while the A13 arterial road, the Tilbury railway line and High Speed 1 all pass through. Aveley is the main centre of population; a village which has received some London overspill over the years, it was a Conservative area until the advent of Coalition although not always safely so. A 31% score for the BNP in 2007 illustrated the potential for the populist right here.

Things started to go wrong for the Aveley Tories in 2011, when a former Tory councillor for the ward stood as an independent and split the Conservative vote. The official Tories did hold the seat, but they polled only 28% of the vote in a close four-way result; coming in third with 24% was a 25-year-old Tim Aker standing for UKIP. UKIP broke through to gain Aveley and Uplands the following year in another close four-way result; with Aker now head of the party's policy unit, it was Robert Ray who made the gain for them. Ray's wife, Maggie O'Keeffe-Ray, made a second gain in May 2014 and turned Aveley and Uplands into a safe UKIP ward; on the same day Tim Aker was elected to the European Parliament, winning the sixth of the seven seats allocated to the East of England.

When O'Keeffe-Ray died five months later Aker was the natural candidate to succeed her, and as stated he comfortably won the resulting by-election in December 2014 with 41% of the vote, to 29% for the Conservatives and 19% for Labour. By this point Aker was already the UKIP PPC for the Thurrock constituency, which even without the UKIP factor would have attracted lots of attention in the 2015 general election; the Tory MP Jackie Doyle-Price, who had gained Thurrock for the Conservatives in the 2010 election, was sitting on a majority of just 92 votes.

If UKIP had performed just a little better in May 2015, Tim Aker would have entered Parliament as part of a UKIP group with Douglas Carswell. He finished third in the 2015 Thurrock election in a very close three-way result, polling 32% against 34% for Doyle-Price and 33$ for Labour. UKIP did have the consolation prize of winning the 2015 Thurrock council election, polling 36% across the wards which held polls and winning seven of the sixteen seats up for election. One of those was the final Tory seat in Aveley and Uplands, gained by a 40-28 margin over the Conservatives.

UKIP did even better in Aveley and Uplands in 2016, Ray being re-elected with 55% of the vote against 24% for Labour and 21% for the Tories. The party gained four more seats on Thurrock council to draw level with the Conservatives as the largest party on 17 seats; UKIP fell one vote short of gaining Little Thurrock Blackshots ward at the ballot box, and subsequently fell one vote short of winning the leadership in the council chamber.

And then it all fell apart. Against a backdrop of UKIP collapses in polls and council chambers, Thurrock's UKIP group unusually remained united; but the June 2017 general election showed that the bubble had burst. Aker was third again for UKIP, but this time finished a long way behind yet another Tory-Labour photofinish. (Jackie Doyle-Price has now won three terms as MP for Thurrock with majorities totalling 973 votes. And you thought your job was stressful.)

By January 2018 the Thurrock UKIP group had had enough of the national party's antics, and seceded from the party en masse to form a new party called the Thurrock Independents. One of the Thurrock Independents' councillors resigned immediately, and the resulting by-election in Ockendon ward resulted in a tie between the Conservatives and Labour on 696 votes each. The Tories won the drawing of lots and the seat.

The May 2018 local elections saw Tim Aker being the only Thurrock Independents candidate to hold his seat, as the group lost three seats to Labour and one to the Conservatives. He was nevertheless re-elected fairly comfortably with 43% of the vote, to 27% for a rather interesting choice of Tory candidate and 24% for Labour. Aker has since resigned from Thurrock council causing this by-election; he has moved house away from Thurrock, and in his resignation statement also said that the ongoing political crisis had left him unable to properly fulfil his duties on the council. He remains for now a member of the European Parliament, having joined Nigel Farage's new vehicle, the Brexit Party. Aker is only 33, so we may not have heard the last of him yet.

In the meantime the Thurrock Independents have the job of defending this by-election. Their candidate is Alan Field, an RAF veteran and one of the driving forces behind the new Aveley community centre, being built by the council at a cost of £2 million. The Tories have reselected their candidate from 2018, a man who is already notable enough for his own Wikipedia entry. David Van Day found fame as a member of the pop group Dollar, scoring five Top 10 hits in the 1970s and 1980s, and after that became a minor celebrity. Day finished fourth in the 2008 series of I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here; that was a much higher placing than he managed in the 2007 local elections in which he was on the Conservative slate for the East Brighton ward of Brighton and Hove council, to little discernible effect. There have been three by-elections in East Brighton since then so this is not Day's first appearance in Andrew's Previews, but it is his first starring role. More orthodox is the Labour candidate Charles Curtis, who is hoping to return to Thurrock council after nearly four years away; he represented Belhus ward from 2007 to 2015. Completing the ballot paper is the ward;'s first Liberal Democrat candidate since May 2014, Tomas Pilvelis.

Parliamentary constituency: Thurrock
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: RM15, RM19

Charles Curtis (Lab)
David Van Day (C)
Alan Field (Thurrock Ind)
Tomas Pilvelis (LD)

May 2018 result Thurrock Ind 1037 C 653 Lab 570 UKIP 141
May 2016 result UKIP 1011 Lab 449 C 392
May 2015 result UKIP 1598 C 1120 Lab 896 Ind 373
December 2014 by-election UKIP 747 C 520 Lab 338 Ind 217
May 2014 result UKIP 1085 C 683 Lab 372 LD 161
May 2012 result UKIP 495 C 448 Lab 385 Ind 350 LD 29
May 2011 result C 626 Ind 551 UKIP 528 Lab 497 LD 45
May 2010 result C 1264 Lab 902 Ind 734 UKIP 553 BNP 369
May 2008 result C 845 BNP 521 Lab 363 LD 128
May 2007 result C 671 BNP 562 Lab 436 LD 146
May 2006 result C 941 Lab 509 Grn 202 LD 173
June 2004 result C 1152/1107/924 Lab 471/399/388 Grn 324


Vange

Basildon council, Essex; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Kayte Block, who is taking up a new politically-restricted job as a prosecutor. She had served since 2016.

For the second of our three by-elections in south Essex we come to a New Town. Vange is an old village - parts of its church, dedicated to All Saints, date from the late 12th century - but its housing is New Town development from the late 1960s. This is a ward with high levels of deprivation and low qualification levels; in fact Vange is in the top 10 wards in England and Wales for adults with fewer than five GCSE passes or equivalent, and social housing rates are very high.

In a town noted for its political volatility, Vange has been one of the more constant Labour areas of Basildon. During the Blair and Brown years it was a Labour-Tory marginal but the Conservatives only won it once, at the Labour low point of 2008. The Tory vote has generally fallen away since then, although the 2015 result here was close three ways between Labour, UKIP and the Conservatives; the most recent district poll in Vange ward was another close result in 2016, when Labour's Kayte Block polled 41% to 37% for UKIP and 21% for the Conservatives. The 2016 map is shown below.

Since then we have had the 2017 Essex county elections in which this is part of the Basildon Pitsea division; in that year UKIP fell back and Labour lost one of the division's two seats to the Conservatives. The 2017 general election a few weeks later saw a strong swing to the Tories in the local seat of South Basildon and East Thurrock, with UKIP (whose candidate was London Assembly member Peter Whittle) falling back badly and only narrowly saving their deposit. UKIP had done very well in Basildon in the 2014 local elections (in which Vange ward had a year off) but were wiped out in May 2018, and some poor by-election results since then have persuaded Basildon UKIP to throw in the towel.

That leaves us with a straight fight in the Vange by-election. Defending in the red corner for Labour is somebody who will almost certainly have the backing of some sectors of the press: Aidan McGurran is the managing editor of the Mirror Group of newspapers. McGurran is looking to return to Basildon council, having sat for the neighbouring Pitsea South East ward from 2012 to 2016 when he stood down. Pitsea South East ward had a by-election last June which saw a narrow Labour gain, the party defeating the Conservative candidate by just eight votes; and that losing Conservative candidate from that by-election is back for another go. Challenging from the blue corner, she is Yetunde Adeshile, an author, coach, speaker and consultant who works extensively with young people, women and BAME people in Basildon. Neither candidate gives an address in the ward.

Parliamentary constituency: South Basildon and East Thurrock
Essex county council division: Basildon Pitsea
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southend
Postcode districts: SS13, SS14, SS16

Yetunde Adeshile (C)
Aidan McGurran (Lab)

May 2016 result Lab 616 UKIP 557 C 321
May 2015 result Lab 1289 UKIP 1136 C 1009 LD 110 TUSC 39
May 2012 result Lab 919 C 320 UKIP 274 LD 51
May 2011 result Lab 1089 C 554 UKIP 338 LD 102
May 2008 result C 590 Lab 508 BNP 289 LD 104
May 2007 result Lab 704 C 636 BNP 481
June 2004 result Lab 612 C 502 LD 224
May 2003 result Lab 507 C 452 LD 163 Ind 88
May 2002 result Lab 772/665 C 403/380 BNP 189 LD 178/167


Milton

Southend-on-Sea council, Essex; caused by the death of Labour councillor Julian Ware-Lane who had served since 2012.

We finish our progression through South Essex in Southend-on-Sea. Milton is Southend's town centre ward, covering the Central station, the northern half of the pier, the Western Esplanade and the suburb of Westcliff-on-Sea. This being a seaside resort, Milton ward is in the top 60 wards in England and Wales for private renting. Southend does have some jobs of its own in financial and other services (the Revenue's VAT Central Unit is based here) but entertainment is the main economic sector in Milton ward; while Wescliff-on-Sea in particular attracts high numbers of commuters to London on the "misery line" into Fenchurch Street.

Southend-on-Sea council, along with Thurrock, declared independence from Essex as a unitary council back in the 1990s. The new unitary status led to boundary changes in 2001 with a much-increased council size; the 2001 result was on the same day as the general election that year and Milton ward was close between the Tories and Labour, but after that Milton was a safely Conservative ward until 2011. Since then however it has swung a mile to the left: Labour gained two seats in the ward in 2012 and 2014, and only the general election turnout saved the final Tory seat in 2015 which was held with a majority of just 51 votes. Milton's two Labour councillors were easily re-elected in 2016 and 2018, in the latter year with a 51-32 lead over the Tories. However, that didn't stop the Conservatives regaining an overall majority on Southend council in 2018 after a period of no overall control, for part of which a "rainbow coalition" of everybody but the Tories had been running the town.

Defending for Labour, who will be hoping for a good performance to show that they can knock out the final Conservative councillor here in May, is Stephen George who is looking to return to Southend council after a long absence: he represented the former Milton ward from 1999 to 2000, and Kursaal ward from 2001 to 2010. His 1999 win in Milton ward was with a majority of one vote over outgoing Tory councillor Joyce Lambert, who had been absent for much of the campaign recovering from emergency surgery. For this by-election the Tories have reselected their candidate from last year Garry Lowen, who runs a guest house in the ward. Also standing are Carol White of the Liberal Democrats and James Quail for the For Britain Movement.

Parliamentary constituency: Rochford and Southend East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southend
Postcode districts: SS1, SS0

Stephen George (Lab)
Garry Lowen (C)
James Quail (For Britain Movement)
Carol White (LD)

May 2018 result Lab 1305 C 832 Ind 177 Grn 146 LD 116
May 2016 result Lab 1020 C 593 UKIP 297 Grn 142 Ind 124 LD 78
May 2015 result C 1709 Lab 1658 Grn 476 Ind 295 LD 247
May 2014 result Lab 848 C 582 UKIP 486 Ind 259 LD 156
May 2012 result Lab 675 C 607 Ind 361 LD 123 EDP 122
May 2011 result C 998 Lab 800 Ind 446 LD 221
May 2010 result C 1502 Lab 905 LD 901 Ind 243 UKIP 207 BNP 171
May 2008 result C 928 Lab 502 LD 321 BNP 185
May 2007 result C 837 Lab 528 LD 187 Ind 134 Grn 125 Ind 77
May 2006 result C 818 Lab 431 Alliance Southend Party 318 LD 269 Grn 208
June 2004 result C 1068 Lab 576 LD 441
May 2003 result C 785 Lab 403 LD 201 Grn 118
May 2002 result C 1069 Lab 682 Grn 216
June 2001 result C 1355/1344/1310 Lab 1285/1214/1192 LD 490/466


Dalgarno

Kensington and Chelsea council, North London; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Robert Thompson who had served since 2014. A Church of England priest, Revd Thompson is taking up a post as the new vicar of a parish elsewhere in London.

For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen;
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.
- G K Chesterton, The Rolling English Road

For our London by-election we travel to the north end of Kensington and Chelsea, the smallest and most socially divided of the 32 London Boroughs. North Kensington is the working-class end; Dalgarno ward is the northern end of North Kensington, along Barlby Road and Dalgarno Gardens. The London Evening Standard described Dalgarno Gardens in 2000 as being one of the UK's worst housing ghettos, with high levels of youth crime blighting the well-maintained 1930s flats which form much of the ward's housing. This is certainly one of the more remote corners of London, a long way from the nearest Underground station; the Great Western and future Crossrail lines pass through, but there is no station within the ward.

Dalgarno ward has only existed since 2014; at the time of the 2011 census this was the northern two-thirds of St Charles ward. St Charles was in the top 25 wards in England and Wales for social housing and for mixed-race population, in the top 40 for "other" ethnic groups, in the top 60 for population born in the Republic of Ireland, and in the top 90 for those born in the EU-14 countries. A quarter of St Charles ward's population were born outside the EU, with the census picking up large numbers of North Africans and Arabic speakers. The major local employer is St Charles' Hospital, a small NHS unit. The boundary changes which created Dalgarno ward brought in a large but sparsely-populated area to the north of the Great Western railway line mostly filled by a derelict gasworks, the Grand Union Canal and part of the large Kensal Green Cemetery, where many of the great and good of the past lie in eternal rest. There are plane for redevelopment of the gasworks site, with an Elizabeth Line station to serve it.

Kensington and Chelsea is, as stated, very socially divided, and that social division feeds through into political division. The borough's wards are all either Labour monoliths or Tory monoliths with almost nothing in between; the 2018 election returned thirty-six Conservative councillors, thirteen Labour and one Liberal Democrat, which was a net change of just one seat from four years previously. Dalgarno ward is firmly in the Labour column, with a Labour lead over the Tories of 70-22 at the 2018 election; in the 2016 GLA elections, with a wider choice of parties, Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith in the ward's ballot boxes by 54-25 while Labour beat the Conservatives 51-19 in the London Members ballot. One curious feature of the London Members ballot in 2016 was that Dalgarno ward produced the best result in London for the House Party, which polled 18 votes here (1.2%) and finished tenth out of twelve parties. You have to go up to Parliamentary level for actual excitement: in the 2017 general election Kensington was the last constituency to declare its result, Labour's Emma Dent Coad gaining the seat from the Conservatives by just 20 votes after three recounts.

In all probability, those 20 voters perished in the Grenfell Tower fire less than a week later. This is the first time that Andrew's Previews has been to Kensington and Chelsea since the fire, as although there were munerous resignations among the council administration in the aftermath of the disaster, none of them resulted in by-elections. Councillor Robert Thompson, who at the time was assistant curate at St Clements Notting Dale close to the tower, became chairman of the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee which is responsible for holding the council to account over its handling of the disaster.

With Thompson now tending to a new flock in West Hampstead, Labour need to find a new Kensington and Chelsea councillor. Their candidate is Kasim Ali, a community organiser who ran six marathons and an ultra-marathon within the space of seven days to raise money for a Grenfell Tower-related charity. The Tories have selected Samia Bentayeb, who is originally from Algeria but has lived in UK for nearly two decades; she fought Colville ward in the 2018 local elections. Also standing are Alexandra Tatton-Brown for the Liberal Democrats, Callum Dorrington Hutton for UKIP and Angela Georgievski of the Green Party. None of the candidates give addresses in the ward.

Parliamentary constituency: Kensington
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: W10

Kasim Ali (Lab)
Samia Bentayeb (C)
Callum Dorrington Hutton (UKIP)
Angela Georgievski (Grn)
Alexandra Tatton-Brown (LD)

May 2018 result Lab 1258/1119 C 393/315 LD 137
May 2014 result Lab 977/814 C 320/246 UKIP 253 LD 105/91
May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 795 C 361 Grn 77 LD 53 Respect 46 UKIP 45 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 30 Women's Equality 28 BNP 15 Britain First 11 One Love 3 Zylinski 3
London Members: Lab 764 C 280 Grn 118 UKIP 93 Women's Equality 56 LD 54 Respect 45 Britain First 30 Animal Welfare 20 House Party 18 BNP 14 CPA 10


Holditch and Chesterton

Newcastle-under-Lyme council, Staffordshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Chris Spence who had served since 2016.

We move from the most marginal Labour constituency, Kensington, to the second most marginal, Newcastle-under-Lyme - although as Andrew's Previews has noted previously the 30-vote Labour majority in Newcastle-under-Lyme two years ago is unsafe, thanks to gross mismanagement of that poll by the Newcastle-under-Lyme elections team.

Hopefully this by-election will be better administered. We're in a ward off the A34 road to the north of Newcastle, as it passes some large business and distribution parks. These cover the site of Holditch Colliery, which was once the major local employer providing 1,500 jobs. Many of those mineworkers lived in Chesterton, which was a classic pit village and as such was badly affected by the closure of Holditch Colliery in 1990 and of Silverdale Colliery in 1998.

Newcastle-under-Lyme was one of the first councils where UKIP had a local government presence, and the Kippers won Holditch ward (the predecessor to this ward) in 2006 and 2014. The present ward was created in May 2018 and it would appear from that year's result that Labour are back in control; they polled 52%, against 17% for outgoing UKIP councillor Kenneth Owen standing as an independent and 15% for the Conservative slate. Labour also hold the local county council division, Audley and Chesterton. They are the largest party on Newcastle-under-Lyme council, with 19 out of 44 seats plus this vacancy, but do not run the council; instead the Conservatives (with 18 seats) have a minority administration with the support of independent councillors. Newcastle-under-Lyme has moved away from elections by thirds, so the council's next election will be in 2022.

Defending this by-election for Labour is Peter Radford who describes himself as Chesterton born and bred. Last year's runner-up Kenneth Owen will again try to get his seat back as an independent candidate. The Conservative candidate is Lawrence Whitworth, who appears to be a Keele University student. Completing the ballot paper are Mark Barlow for UKIP and Carol Lovatt for the Social Democratic Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Newcastle-under-Lyme
Staffordshire county council division: Audley and Chesterton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Stoke-on-Trent
Postcode district: ST5

Mark Barlow (UKIP)
Carol Lovatt (SDP)
Kenneth Owen (Ind)
Peter Radford (Lab)
Lawrence Whitworth (C)

May 2018 result Lab 566/528 Ind 186 C 166/144 UKIP 105/75 LD 61/47


Esh and Witton Gilbert

Durham council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Michael McGaun who had served since 2017.

For our final by-election this week we travel back to County Durham for the second in a series of by-elections, following the Wingate poll last week. Durham council generates a large number of by-elections because with 126 councillors it is the third-largest elected body in the UK: only the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament have a larger membership.

If you read the Wingate preview you might have got the impression that Durham is all pit villages, and this piece is unlikely to change that. Indeed, the largest settlement in Esh and Witton Gilbert division is Langley Park, a village which was called into existence in the late nineteenth century by the sinking of Langley Park Colliery. Parts of the village are very well preserved and have attracted the attention of film and TV companies; sections of Ripping Yarns and The Fast Show were made in Langley Park...

https://youtu.be/cMMN7MDSgRE

Also made in Langley Park was Sir Bobby Robson, the England footballer and manager who was brought up in the village; when Robson left school at 15 his first job was as an electrician's apprentice at Langley Park Colliery. Slightly later than that, the pop band Prefab Sprout - who were from Witton Gilbert - went so far as to call their most successful album From Langley Park to Memphis.

Although the ONS have included most of the division in the Newcastle Travel to Work Area, Langley Park is only five miles from the city of Durham and the jobs it provides. Witton Gilbert is closer still. This was also a mining centre, but had a history as a Saxon settlement and was associated with the Durham clergy. Religion was still very important to the area until very recently thanks to the presence of the Catholic seminary of Ushaw College; this was closed in 2011, although Durham University are trying to keep the buildings in educational use.

There are some other small villages in the Esh and Witton Gilbert division, which is a long and thin unit that looks like it was the awkward bit which was left over after all the neighbouring divisions had been satisfactorily sorted out. One of those villages is Esh itself, after which Esh parish (which includes Langley Park) is named; and the division continues west to the villages of Quebec, Cornsay Colliery and Satley.

Langley Park and Witton Gilbert may have similar histories, but they have different political traditions. Until Durham's local government was reorganised in 2009 Langley Park was in the Derwentside district, whose electoral politics was the usual coalfield pattern of Labour versus Independents; but Witton Gilbert was covered by Durham city council which was controlled by the Liberal Democrats. Those two traditions collided when the current division was created for the 2013 Durham election, at a time of Lib Dem weakness; and Labour won the 2013 election here with 43%, to 33% for the Lib Dems.

However, Labour performed very poorly across the North East in the 2017 local elections, and Esh and Witton Gilbert saw a huge swing to the Liberal Democrats who beat Labour 55-28. Langley Park and the westerly villages are covered by the North West Durham constituency, which in the 1992 election was contested by a young lady from the Tories called Theresa May and a young man from the Lib Dems called Tim Farron. (Whatever happened to them? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.)

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Beverley Coult, who is from Langley Park and is a former Esh parish councillor. The Labour candidate is Anne Bonner, who is hoping to return to the Durham council chamber after representing Deerness division from 2013 to 2017. Also standing are Richard Lawrie for the Conservatives and independent candidate Ryan Drion. This column likes to highlight pubs which serve as polling stations, and so a mention is due here for the Royal Oak in Cornsay Colliery which is doing its bit for democracy today.

Parliamentary constituency: North West Durham (part: Esh parish, Satley parish, part of Cornsay parish), City of Durham (part: Witton Gilbert parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newcastle (part: Esh and Witton Gilbert parishes), Durham and Bishop Auckland (part: Satley parish and part of Cornsay parish)
Postcode districts: DH1, DH7, DL13

Anne Bonner (Lab)
Beverley Coult (LD)
Ryan Drion (Ind)
Richard Lawrie (C)

May 2017 result LD 1320/1231 Lab 659/644 C 402
May 2013 result Lab 897/865 LD 693/636 UKIP 410/390 C 105/86


Previews: 14 Mar 2019

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

Welcome to Andrew's Previews, your weekly reminder that there is politics going on which does not involve Parliament or Brexit. Today we look at the three local council by-elections taking place on 14th March 2019:


Coxford

Southampton council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Keith Morrell. He was first elected in 2010 and was originally a Labour councillor.

We start this week with an unusual by-election in the south coast port of Southampton. A quick walk along the town walls will persuade you that Southampton is an old city; but not all parts of it are old, and the Coxford ward is one of the city's newer areas. The ward covers the Lordshill and Lordswood areas on the northern edge of the city; these areas were incorporated into Southampton in 1967 and the city council made short work of building new housing estates on them. Lordshill, off the Romsey Road, in particular has high deprivation levels; the ward as a whole has high levels of social housing and low qualification rates. The major local employer is Southampton General Hospital, which lies just outside the ward boundary.

Southampton got its present ward boundaries in 2002, which was a time when all three of the major parties had strong representation on the city council. Coxford ward at this point was a Lib Dem/Labour marginal with the Lib Dems normally having the better of the results; and this continued until 2008 when the Conservatives came through the middle to gain Coxford with just 32% of the vote, in a result where all three parties finished within 3.1% of each other. That 2008 result marked a realignment in Southampton's politics, with a Tory landslide delivering fourteen of the city's sixteen wards and overall control of what had previously been a very balanced council; the Southampton Liberal Democrats were wiped out, and have yet to recover.

That Lib Dem collapse left Labour in control of Coxford's election results, and by 2012 the party had all of the ward's councillors. But in that year Labour gained overall control of the council in the Age of Austerity, and were faced with making cuts. The Labour group proposed closing the local Oaklands swimming pool to save money; and two of their Coxford ward councillors, Don Thomas and Keith Morrell, left the party over that issue to form an anti-austerity political group. The swimming pool was saved, Morrell and Thomas were both re-elected and Don Thomas' daughter Tammy gained the final Coxford seat in 2016.

Although Morrell and the Thomases were officially elected as independents after leaving Labour, their group on Southampton council was called "Putting People First", and in practice they were sponsored at election time by the seriously left-wing Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, one of the larger entries in the ever-changing alphabet soup of small parties which fill the political space to the left of Labour. Whatever support they got, it was clearly effective; in May 2018 Morrell was re-elected for a third term on the council with 47% of the vote, to 28% for Labour and 16% for the Conservatives.

The Putting People First group decided to disband last year, and Morrell has now resigned leaving an open seat on the council. So this by-election will be a free-for-all, and everybody seems to want a piece of the action with no fewer than eight candidates having been nominated; if you exclude the City of London, this is the longest ballot paper for an English single-member local by-election in over two years.

So this is a ward which has been through several turnings of the tide in quick succession - rather appropriate for a city on Southampton Water, where every tide produces not one but two peaks of high water. This by-election looks like it will mark another turning point - but in whose favour?

Morrell was latterly elected as an independent, and there is one independent candidate on the ballot paper: he is Ricky Lambert, who is not the former Southampton FC striker of that name but does stand regularly as an independent candidate in Southampton elections, so far with a notable lack of success. Lambert finished last of six candidates in this ward last year, although just to confuse matters he appears on the Local Elections Archive Project under his birth name of Richard McQuillan. Putting People First's politics were anti-austerity, and hoping to fallow in that vein is Sue Atkins who has the nomination of the Socialist Alternative. Labour will no doubt want Morrell's seat back, and their candidate is Matt Renyard, a software engineer who was runner-up here in last May's election. Hoping to repeat the 2008 result in which the Tories came through the middle to win is their candidate Diana Galton. Also standing are Sam Chapman for the Liberal Democrats, Cara Sandys for the Green Party, David Fletcher for an outfit called "Integrity Southampton" which appears to be yet another UKIP splinter group, and Derek Humber as the official UKIP candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Southampton Test
ONS Ttravel to Work Area: Southampton
Postcode district: SO16

Sue Atkins (Soc Alt)
Sam Chapman (LD)
David Fletcher (Integrity Southampton)
Diana Galton (C)
Derek Humber (UKIP)
Ricky Lambert (Ind)
Matt Renyard (Lab)
Cara Sandys (Grn)

May 2018 result Ind 1595 Lab 958 C 559 LD 103 Grn 101 Ind 82
May 2016 result Ind 1317 Lab 924 UKIP 498 C 396 LD 113 Ind 84 Grn 70
May 2015 result Ind 2300 Lab 1330 C 1196 UKIP 978 LD 215 Grn 209
May 2014 result Ind 1633 UKIP 796 Lab 724 C 500 LD 168
May 2012 result Lab 1647 C 667 LD 334 UKIP 295 Grn 75 TUSC 57 Ind 39
May 2011 result Lab 2004 C 1112 LD 702
May 2010 result Lab 2379 LD 1826 C 1769 Ind 279
May 2008 result C 1018 Lab 986 LD 918 UKIP 287
May 2007 result Lab 1219 LD 1162 C 784 UKIP 201 Grn 128
May 2006 result LD 1229 Lab 1180 C 620 Grn 273
June 2004 result LD 1110 Lab 1018 UKIP 510 C 478
May 2003 result LD 1187 Lab 933 C 361 Lab 245 BNP 197 UKIP 95
May 2002 result LD 1328/1272/1185 Lab 1000/968/927 C 398/377/352


Norbury and Pollards Hill

Croydon council, South London; caused by the death of Labour councillor Maggie Mansell. A veteran of local government, Mansell was first elected in 1986 and had represented Norbury on Croydon council continuously since 1994. She was Mayor of Croydon in 2005-06, and was the Labour candidate for Croydon and Sutton in the 2000 London Assembly elections.

Our remaining two by-elections are both being defended by Labour, but are wards which are very different in character. We start in the south with that most urban of urban areas, south London; rather appropriately for a name which literally means "north borough", we are at the northern end of the London Borough of Croydon. This is an area on the old road from London to Brighton; the A23 passes through the ward running south from Norbury railway station, which is on the Victoria-Brighton line although only local trains stop there. There are plenty of them, though: with its seven trains every hour to London, Norbury handles 3.5 million rail passengers every year.

Norbury station was rebuilt in 1902 at the same time that much of the ward's housing was being built, and around the same time that Arthur Conan Doyle was tormenting Sherlock Holmes with mentions of the word "Norbury" to remind him of one of his few failed deductions. The ward's Edwardian terraces are in an area which has changed demographically rather a lot since they were built, and the 2011 census picked up significant populations born in India (particularly Gujurat), Jamaica and Poland. Ward boundaries changed in Croydon last year; in 2011 the present ward was the southern part of Norbury ward, which made the top 100 wards in England and Wales for black population (25%).

Some measure of that demographic change can be seen in the local election results. Maggie Mansell was on the Labour slate which won Norbury by just 3 points from the Conservatives in 1994; but the Tories are nowhere here now. In May 2018 - the only previous result on these boundaries - Labour led the Conservatives here 68-22, with the Greens being the only other party to stand candidates.

This by-election has a wider choice for the electors of Norbury and Pollards Hill, with seven candidates nominated. Defending for Labour is Leila Ben-Hassel, vice-chair of the party's Croydon North branch; she works for the City of London Corporation as a project manager in public realm planning. The Tories have selected Tirena Gunter who has stood for election to Croydon council six times before, so far without any success; she fought the old Norbury ward in 2014. Also standing are Rachel Chance for the Green Party, Guy Burchett for the Liberal Democrats, Kathleen Garnier for UKIP and independent candidates Mark O'Grady and Margaret Roznerska.

Parliamentary constituency: Croydon North
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: SW16

Leila Ben-Hassel (Lab)
Guy Burchett (LD)
Rachel Chance (Grn)
Kathleen Garnier (UKIP)
Tirena Gunter (C)
Mark O'Grady (Ind)
Margaret Roznerska (Ind)

May 2018 result Lab 1981/1934 C 644/638 Grn 299/291


Wingate

Durham council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Robert "Leo" Taylor at the age of 77. A long-serving veteran of local government who worked for 35 years as an administrator with ICI, Taylor was first elected to Wingate parish council in 1991; he made the step up to district council level on the old Easington council in a 2002 by-election, and was the chairman of Easington council in 2008-09 - nobody succeeded him in that role, as the council was abolished in 2009. In the 2013 Birthday Honours Taylor was awarded the British Empire Medal in recognition of his community work; a month earlier he had been elected to Durham council, being re-elected for a second term in 2017.

We move from South to North, from city to village, for our second and final Labour defence of the week and the first in a three-part series of by-elections in County Durham. Wingate is a name with many associations - from a superlative Lancashire brass band to the commander of the Chindits - but in electoral terms it's a village just to the west of the A19 Teesside-Sunderland road. The village didn't really exist until the 19th century, when coal was found under the area and a pit village sprang up. Coal isn't mined in Durham any longer, but Wingate has good road connections to the major local employment centres at Durham, Peterlee, Teesside and Sunderland making it an attractive commuter area.

Politically, this is of course a very strongly Labour area. This year Durham Labour will celebrate 100 years of continuous control of Durham county council, and Wingate is very much in the red column. From 1983 to 2007 it was represented in Parliament by the man Labour love to hate, Tony Blair; his successor as MP for Sedgefield, Phil Wilson, easily weathered a small swing to the Conservatives in the 2017 general election. That was shortly after the May 2017 Durham local elections, in which Taylor was re-elected for his final term with 74% of the vote.

There are several unusual features about the candidate list for this by-election. Ons is that the four candidates all live in different postcode areas. The only candidate to live in Wingate (which has Teesside postcodes) is John Higgins, who is the defending Labour candidate and whose socialist credentials are impeccable; Higgins is from a mining family, and his father represented Wingate Colliery in the so-called "Pitman's Parliament" in Durham. Another unusual feature is that there is no Conservative candidate; the Tories ran second in Wingate in 2017 with 14%, and do normally make an effort to contest as many local government seats as possible. Excluding the City of London and Northern Ireland, this is the first by-election which the Conservatives have failed to turn up for in over a year; the last poll without a Tory was in Trevethin in Gwent, in February 2018.

So the opposition to Labour in this by-election is from a rather unfamiliar set of parties, although one of them does have a track record here. The North East Party finished third in Wingate in 2017 with 10% of the vote; this is a serious regionalist movement which won three seats in the 2017 Durham elections and were within a whisker of winning two more. All of those North East Party seats are in nearby Peterlee (which has Sunderland postcodes) from where their candidate Stephen Miles hails. The Liberal Democrats' Edwin Simpson (from Esh Winning, which has Durham postcodes) hasn't been put off by the fact that his party polled just 21 votes here in 2017, the lowest tally of any candidate in that year's Durham elections. Completing the ballot paper is Gareth Fry (from Newton Aycliffe, which has Darlington postcodes) who is standing for the For Britain Movement.

Parliamentary constituency: Sedgefield
ONS Travel to Work Area: Sunderland
Postcode districts: TS28, TS29

Gareth Fry (For Britain Movement)
John Higgins (Lab)
Stephen Miles (North East Party)
Edwin Simpson (LD)

May 2017 result Lab 577 C 107 North East Party 78 LD 21
May 2013 result Lab 538 Ind 256


Preview: 07 Mar 2019

Before we start this week, this column would like to pay tribute to the man who inspired its name. André Previn, who died last Thursday at the age of 89, was a noted musician and conductor who won four Oscars, eleven Grammys (one of which was for lifetime achievement) and an honorary KBE, and left behind a huge collection of recordings and compositions; but for British people of a certain age he will be forever remembered for that sketch in the 1971 Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show, in which "Andrew Preview" conducted Grieg's Piano Concerto by Grieg. Andrew's Previews would like to thank the original "Mr Preview" for all that entertainment.

In the spirit of the Morecambe and Wise sketch this column's mission statement is to cover "all the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"; but there is only one order to take this week in as there is just a single local by-election on 7th March 2019. Read on...


Haddenham and Stone

Aylesbury Vale council, Buckinghamshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Michael Edmonds at the age of 82. A veteran of local government, Edmonds was first elected to Aylesbury Vale council at a by-election for Stone ward in May 1975; he had a break in service from 1987 to 2003 when he returned as councillor for Long Crendon ward, transferring to this ward following boundary changes in 2015. Edmonds also served three terms on Buckinghamshire county council, in 1977-81 and 2005-13. His highest local government office was as deputy leader of Aylesbury Vale council from 2007 to 2013, and since 2014 he had chaired the council's strategic development control committee.

As can be seen, Michael Edmonds' local government career almost spanned the entire lifetime of Aylesbury Vale council; it held its first election in 1973, took on its responsibilities in April 1974, and looks likely to be abolished in 2020. As part of that the May 2019 elections in Buckinghamshire have been cancelled, and if there are no further vacancies this will be the last time that an Aylesbury Vale by-election appears in Andrew's Previews.

Edmonds' ward was Haddenham and Stone, a large rural ward of six parishes which fills the space between the Buckinghamshire county town of Aylesbury and the Oxfordshire town of Thame. The largest settlement within the ward is Haddenham, a rapidly-growing place with a commuter economic profile thanks to its location on the Chiltern railway line. Haddenham and Thame Parkway station has seen patronage grow by over 26% in the last five years, and with regular trains to London, Oxford and Banbury together with bus links to Thame and Aylesbury it is an important transport hub for the local area. Haddenham's traditional industry was duck breeding, and its duckponds and picture-postcard "wychert" buildings have made it a favourite location for TV and film productions from Midsomer Murders to The Great Muppet Caper.

Haddenham had a radical political tradition back in the day, and as late as 2003 the Haddenham ward split its three seats between the Lib Dems, the Conservatives and an independent. However, the Tories got a full slate in 2007 and haven't really been challenged here since. Boundary changes for the 2015 election added the parish of Cuddington to the ward's area and the village of Stone to its name; Stone lies just south-west of Aylesbury, in the shadow of the Chiltern escarpment.

That 2015 poll returned the Tory slate with 41% of the vote. A three-way pileup for second place was won by the Greens' David Lyons (who was a long way ahead of his running mates) ahead of independent candidate Mark Bale and the UKIP slate; Lyons, Bale and UKIP all polled 16%. David Lyons went on to be runner-up to the Conservatives for the Bernwood county division, which includes Haddenham, in the 2017 Buckinghamshire county elections; he scored an impressive 31% to the Tories' 47%. Stone is part of the Stone and Waddesdon county division which the Conservatives very easily gained from UKIP that year. The ward does not have party political contests at Parliamentary level, as it is part of the Buckingham constituency held by Speaker Bercow.

Defending for the Conservatives is Mark Bale, who as stated polled well as an independent candidate for this ward in the 2015 election; Bale is a Stone with Bishopstone and Hartwell parish councillor, was once a farmer and now runs a business selling and repairing computers. Returning for the Green Party is David Lyons, an engineer in the railway industry and Haddenham parish councillor; he is an organiser for Haddenham in Transition, which is an initiative to increase the village's self-sufficiency in a world which in years to come will slowly wean itself off its oil dependency. In 2011 Lyons was instrumental in having Haddenham recognised as a "transition town". UKIP have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Liberal Democrat Jim Brown and Labour candidate Jennifer Tuffley.

Parliamentary constituency: Buckingham
Buckinghamshire county council division: Bernwood (Aston Sandford, Haddenham and Kingsey parishes), Stone and Waddesdon (Cuddington, Dinton-with-Ford and Upton, and Stone with Bishopstone and Hartwell parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: High Wycombe and Aylesbury
Postcode districts: HP17, HP18, HP27, OX9

Mark Bale (C)
Jim Brown (LD)
David Lyons (Grn)
Jennifer Tuffley (Lab)

May 2015 result C 2677/2075/1681 Grn 1063/673/575 Ind 1037/848 UKIP 1031/931/600 LD 771


Preview: 28 Feb 2019

One by-election on Thursday 28th February 2019:


Berkeley Vale

Stroud council, Gloucestershire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Penny Wride at the age of 69.

Events keep happening at the moment, don't they? Last week's column was rendered severely out of date by the creation of the Independent Group of MPs, and this week's may well suffer the same fate of News Happening.

The 24-hour news cycle turns more quickly than your columnist's submission deadline, and far more quickly than the local by-election cycle. Local by-elections take at least a month to organise from the vacancy occurring - so it's obviously far too early for the Independent Group to be troubling the ballot papers yet - and your columnist is already collecting the candidate lists and putting in the research for polls in the second half of March. There are some crackers coming up, let me tell you. Today's single by-election is to replace Stroud councillor Penny Wride, who died in December; Wride had had a varied career which ran the gamut from running a charity shop in Nairobi to setting up the Berkeley Technical College in disused buildings which were formerly part of a nuclear power complex. In her honour, the road running though the college was names Penny Lane.

The Berkeley nuclear power station - of which only the reactors remain, encased in concrete until the radiation dies down enough to permit demolition - is the newest and least-lovely notable thing about the Vale of Berkeley. The vale took its name from the town of Berkeley, which is a backwater today but in mediaeval times was an important market town, as the centre of a Hundred. In the year after the Norman Conquest Berkeley was fortified, with William fitz Osbern building a castle; a Flemish nobleman called Roger de Tosny ended up running the castle and his descendants took the name "de Berkeley" after it. The castle is still in the hands of the Berkeleys today, and is the third-oldest English castle in continuous occupation after the Tower of London and Windsor.

The Berkeleys became one of the most powerful families in the land, and there is still a Lord Berkeley sitting in the House of Lords today (on the Labour benches; clearly aristocracy isn't what it used to be). Various members of the family have given their names to Berkeley Square in London and the city of Berkeley in California, which was named after the philosopher Bishop George Berkeley and has given its name to one of the most noted universities in the USA and a transuranic chemical element. Rather an appropriate association for a town whose main export was once nuclear power.

But it's not the Berkeley family which directly gave to history the most famous examples of life and death in Berkeley, Gloucestershire. The famous death was that of King Edward II, who met his end here in 1327. In true mediaeval style all sorts of legends and counter-legends have grown up about the King's death, from his screams being heard in Gloucester to a story involving a red-hot poker, which is probably apocryphal (and even if true isn't suitable for retelling before the watershed); all that can be said with certainty is that he died and there was probably foul play involved. The famous life was that of Edward Jenner, who investigated a story he'd heard about milkmaids not getting smallpox and ended up doing an experiment which these days would get him struck off by the medical regulator in short order. But standards were different in the eighteenth century: James Phipps, the eight-year-old boy Jenner deliberately infected with cowpox, thrived and a new medical technique was born. Because this technique involved cowpox (Variolae vaccinae, in Jenner's words), it became known as vaccination and, despite the best efforts of latterday anti-vaxxers, is one of the cornerstones of modern medicine. Smallpox is now extinct in the wild, and for setting us on that path Jenner may have saved more lives than anybody else in history. His home in Berkeley is still standing today, and is now a museum.

This ward isn't all Berkeley. though. We're on the east bank of the Severn estuary here, and the major centre on the shoreline is Sharpness. This was and still is a port at the end of the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, and was once the lowest fixed crossing-point of the Severn: the Severn Railway Bridge crossed the river from Sharpness to Lydney until 1960, when it was damaged beyond repair by a barge collision and subsequently demolished. It's not just boats that make use of the Severn: wildlife does too, and to the north of Berkeley can be found the nature reserve of Slimbridge. Opened in 1946, Slimbridge has the world's largest collection of captive wildfowl together with many other water birds, some living there permanently, some just migrating through.

The Slimbridge nature reserve, and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust which administers it, were founded in 1946 by Peter Scott. The only son of the ill-fated Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott (who had sent him to Oundle School, providing an interesting link with last week's polls), Peter made his name in natural history but had dabbled in politics, being the Conservative candidate for Wembley North in the 1945 general election. He lost by just 432 votes, which seems implausible when you look at the 17,061-vote Labour majority in the successor seat of Brent North two years ago; but 1945 was a different age.

The current Berkeley Vale ward was created only in 2016 as a merger of two former wards called Berkeley and Vale. Vale ward, covering the south end of the present ward, was very safely Conservative - from 2010 its councillor was Penny Wride, and before then it was represented by Penny's husband David - but it was only half the size of Berkeley ward, which was based on Berkeley and Sharpness and had a significant Labour vote. In 2012 Labour broke through and Berkeley ward elected Elizabeth Ashton, who was only 99 votes away from being re-elected for the Berkeley Vale ward in 2016. Shares of the vote in 2016 were 45% for the Conservatives, 34% for Labour and 13% for the Liberal Democrats. The ward is split between three divisions of Gloucestershire county council, which in 2017 elected two Conservatives and one Liberal Democrat; the Lib Dem win was in Wotton-under-Edge division, which covers the old Vale ward, but it's clear from the district level-results that the powerbase for the Lib Dems is in Wotton-under-Edge itself.

Defending for the Conservatives is Lindsey Green; a social media consultant, she lives in the village of Newport on the A38 road and is an Alkington parish councillor. Liz Ashton wants her seat back for Labour; in an age when ideological purity seems to be all the rage and the Labour party is controlled by its left wing, it's appropriate that Ashton lives is a house called Little Moscow. (There are new rules coming in from May allowing local election candidates to redact their home address, so there may be less opportunity for jokes like this in the future.) Ashton is a Berkeley town councillor, served as Mayor of Berkeley in 2016-17 and has the backing of the local MP, Stroud's David Drew. The Liberal Democrats have reselected Mike Stayte, a businessman (he runs a family firm selling fuels and agricultural supplies) and Slimbridge parish councillor who ran a fair way ahead of the rest of the Lib Dem slate here last time. Completing the ballot paper is Thomas Willetts of the Green Party. Some of the electors in this by-election may be pleased to note that their polling station is a pub: the Stagecoach in Newport and the Salutation in Ham are both doing their bit in the service of democracy.

Parliamentary constituency: Stroud
Gloucestershire county council division: Cam Valley (Berkeley, Hamfallow and Hinton parishes), Hardwicke and Severn (Slimbridge parish), Wotton-under-Edge (Alkington, and Ham and Stone parishes)
Postcode districts: GL2, GL11, GL12, GL13

Liz Ashton (Lab)
Lindsey Green (C)
Mike Stayte (LD)
Thomas Willetts (Grn)

May 2016 result C 1279/1172/1050 Lab 951/672/646 LD 370/317/234 Grn 227


Previews: 21 Feb 2019

Two by-elections on 21st February 2019:


Oundle

Northamptonshire county council; caused by the resignation of the former Leader of the Council Helen Smith, who was elected as a Conservative but had been sitting as an independent. She was first elected in a 2007 by-election and was Leader of the Council from 2016 to 2018.

For our first by-election this week we have come to the exemplar of everything that is wrong in local government these days. Three weeks ago this column was in Warlingham, Surrey, covering a by-election to replace a former Surrey county council leader who had allegedly done a "sweetheart" deal with the government to save his council from insolvency. This should have been a wakeup call that there is only so far you can go with cuts to public services, and local government has borne the brunt of the cuts which have taken place over the last decade.

Instead the wakeup call came in February 2018, when Northamptonshire county council ran out of money and issued a Section 114 notice, banning all non-essential expenditure. Only two other councils had done that in the last thirty years. Central government was already concerned at the stories coming out of Northamptonshire, and had commissioned Max Caller, a long-serving council chief executive and former chairman of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England, to take a look at what was going on. Published in March 2018, the Caller report was scathing. To quote paragraph 4.4:

For a number of years, [Northamptonshire county council] has failed to manage its budget and has not taken effective steps to introduce and maintain budgetary control. Instead it has pursued an organisational structure and operating concept which made it difficult to ensure a line of sight over costs and operational activity. It did not accompany this structure with an articulated set of financial and managerial controls. This made it impossible for the council, as a whole; to have any clarity or understanding as to what was going on. [Northamptonshire] has relied on one-off items, allocation of balances, windfalls and laterally (sic) the use of capital receipts to balance the numbers at the year’s end. This is not budget management.

Caller concluded that there was no realistic way for Northamptonshire to get out of its financial mess, and recommended reorganisation in the county as the only sustainable way forward. Next year Northamptonshire county council and the seven district councils underneath it will be abolished, with two new unitary authorities created in their place. In advance of that reorganisation the 2019 Northamptonshire district council elections have all been cancelled.

In response to the Caller report, the commissioners went in from London to run the county, found that the council's financial situation was even worse than first thought, and promptly issued another Section 114 notice. Ironically, they have only been able to balance the books for 2018-19 by selling the council's headquarters building (which cost £53 million to build and had only been open since October 2017) and ploughing over £60 million in capital from the proceeds of that sale into delivering basic services. Anybody who mixes up capital and revenue like that shouldn't be let anywhere near budgeting, and central government were only able to justify this move - a bailout in all but name - by pointing out that the county council will cease to exist in the not so distant future.

One has to wonder what the political leadership were doing while the good ship Northamptonshire was hitting the iceberg. Well, it appears that the previous administration's major strategy was to save money with a radical outsourcing plan, which failed to work (Northamptonshire's health and social services have been brought back in-house); together with constant moaning from the council leader Heather Smith about how the county's government grant was unfair, and attempts by the administration to bury bad news. After the Section 114 notice was issued, 21 backbench Tory county councillors signed a statement saying that they were appalled by what was going on, and the county's seven MPs - all of whom are Conservatives - weren't happy either. The Caller report rendered Smith's position untenable, and she resigned as leader; shortly afterwards she left the Conservative party as well. Now she has resigned from the council claiming that her presence on the backbenches serves no useful purpose, and complaining that she had been bullied by the Northamptonshire MPs. Given that on her watch we were left with the grotesque spectacle of a Tory council - a Tory council - going bust due to spending too much, and that the end result of her profligacy will be more distant local government for the residents of Northamptonshire, this column has no sympathy for Heather Smith.

Her division was Oundle, a large and deeply rural division covering most of the countryside between Corby, Stamford and Peterborough; despite being over the county boundary Peterborough is the main service centre for most of the division. The largest population centre within the boundaries is Oundle, a town on the Northampton-Peterborough road known for its public school; Oundle School, founded in 1556 by the Lord Mayor of London Sir William Laxton, is the third-largest boarding school in England (the only larger ones are Millfield and, inevitably, Eton), and its 1,100 or so pupils propel the Oundle ward into the top 30 in England and Wales for the 16-17 age bracket. Apart from some of the sixth form, those pupils will of course be too young to vote. Back in the day much of the division was covered by the royal hunting territory of Rockingham Forest, and there are many royal connections here with village names such as King's Cliffe: within the boundary is the site of Fotheringhay castle, where Richard III was born and Mary, Queen of Scots was beheaded.

After all that historical and financial drama the by-election is likely to be rather an anti-climax, I'm afraid. This is a very Tory part of the world: Heather Smith had a 65-24 lead over Labour at her last re-election in 2013, and the Conservatives hold all of the district council seats within the area with similarly large majorities. Oundle is part of the Corby parliamentary constituency, which voted Labour at a 2012 by-election; but Corby is a starkly divided seat and this is part of the Tory bit of it.

Seeking to reverse the Conservatives' defection loss is the wonderfully-named Annabel de Capell Brooke, who won a by-election to the Prebendal district council ward (within the division) in 2017 and lives on the same street in Nassington as Heather Smith. The Labour candidate is Harry James, who lives in the village of King's Cliffe. Completing the ballot paper are Marc Folgate for the Liberal Democrats and Allan Shipham for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Corby
East Northamptonshire council wards: Fineshade, King's Forest, Prebendal, Oundle (part: Benefield and Oundle parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough (most), Corby (Benefield parish)
Postcode districts: LE15, NN14, NN17, PE8, PE9

Annabel de Capell Brooke (C)
Marc Folgate (LD)
Harry James (Lab)
Allan Shipham (UKIP)

May 2017 result C 2608 Lab 956 LD 420
May 2013 result C 1849 UKIP 677 Lab 573 LD 225


Ely

Cardiff council, Glamorgan; caused by the death of Labour councillor Jim Murphy at the age of 72, A former steelworker, Murphy had served since 2012 and had been chairman of the council's Appeals committee.

For our other by-election this week we return to south Wales. Last week Andrew's Previews covered the Rhoose by-election, in which the Tories' Andrew RT Davies AM was easily elected to Vale of Glamorgan council; this week we cross over the city limits into Cardiff. The Cardiff boundary goes up to the roundabout at Culverhouse Cross, on the A48 road towards Bridgend and Swansea; on the Cardiff side of the junction the A48 heads into the city as the Cowbridge Road West, and Ely division stands on the northern side of that road.

Cowbridge Road goes back to the Romans, but it was the coming of the railways that started to transform this area next to a bridge over the River Ely. The railway brought industry, with two breweries and one of Britain's largest paper works quickly springing up. In 1922 the area was incorporated into Cardiff, and Cardiff council quickly filled the space between Ely Bridge and the Culverhouse Cross road junction with a large council estate of 3,500 homes.

This estate is the core of the modern Ely division. Ely has a bad reputation which has never really recovered from riots on the estate in the 1990s; it's Cardiff's most deprived electoral division, and in 2011 was in the top 60 wards in England and Wales for adults with no qualifications. As with many seriously-deprived areas, Ely's most famous children made their names in entertainment or football: the legendary Wales and Manchester United player Ryan Giggs grew up here, as did a singer called Michael Barrett who is probably better known by his stage name of Shakin' Stevens.

The current Ely division has existed since 1983 and has been safely Labour throughout that time, providing a political powerbase not just for Murphy but also for the former Cardiff council leader Russell Goodway, who has represented this division for many years. Plaid Cymru took over second place in the 2008 election; the last Welsh local elections were in 2017 at which the Labour slate polled 48%, to 25% for Plaid and 16% for the Conservatives. Ely is in the Cardiff West constituency which is Labour at Westminster and Senedd level; the current Labour AM for Cardiff West, Mark Drakeford, was recently elected as First Minister of Wales, following in the footsteps of his predecessor Rhodri Morgan.

We have head a lot this month about the retirement of one Humphreys from Cardiff who likes talking about politics, but the defending Labour candidate here is a different Humphreys from Cardiff who likes talking about politics: Irene Humphreys is a retired Unison rep and secretary of the Labour party's Cardiff West branch. The Plaid Cymru candidate is Andrea Gibson who fought this division in 2017. The Conservatives have selected Gavin Brookman, a former parliamentary researcher; in a city with lots of quiz heritage (a team of Cardiff Lib Dems appeared on the first series of Only Connect, which is recorded in Cardiff) it's appropriate that Brookman was a contestant in the 2016 series of the Radio 4 quiz Brain of Britain. Completing the ballot paper is Richard Jerrett for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Cardiff West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cardiff
Postcode district: CF5

Gavin Brookman (C)
Andrea Gibson (PC)
Irene Humphreys (Lab)
Richard Jerrett (LD)

May 2017 result Lab 1472/1380/1289 PC 786/745/622 C 509/507 LD 267/97/84 TUSC 64
May 2012 result Lab 1597/1481/1468 PC 791/776/767 C 237/236/230 Grn 115 LD 95/83/75
May 2008 result Lab 1273/1257/1048 PC 687/657/470 C 525/520/491 LD 248/241/208
June 2004 result Lab 1180/1136/1004 Ind 942/826 Cardiff Citizens 599 LD 543/352/331 PC 347
May 1999 result Lab 1809/1793/1452 LD 728/521/50 PC 531 C 513
May 1995 result Lab 2363/2200/2053 C 282/278/249 LD 231/202/198 PC 168
May 1991 result Lab 2448/2194/2144 C 687 LD 471/428/415
May 1987 result Lab 2361/2316/2207 C 842/819/798 All 810/791/762
May 1983 result Lab 2083/1926/1904 C 1031/1007/980


Preview: 14 Feb 2019

There is just one local by-election on 14th February 2019:


Rhoose

Vale of Glamorgan council, Glamorgan; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Matthew Lloyd who had served since 2017.

Well, last week was exciting, wasn't it? Politics, but definitely not as you know it as we got a glimpse of some of the darker sides of local by-elections. Trying to keep up with the pace of politics these days is like tilting at windmills, and two major things happened after my submission deadline for last week's previews which rather changed the course of events. The Liberal Democrat candidate in the Shadwell ward of Tower Hamlets got disendorsed by his party for anti-semitism - clearly Tower Hamlets elections today are a bit different from the Tower Hamlets election which was depicted in Call the Midwife a few weeks back - and the Labour candidate in the Totteridge and Bowerdean division of Buckinghamshire got arrested on suspicion of electoral fraud. That Labour candidate went on to win the Totteridge and Bowerdean by-election, so one suspects that the Election Court may find itself called into session within the near future - although given the slow pace of the law any disqualification might not happen quickly enough for another by-election to be held before Buckinghamshire county council disappears in April 2020.

Because of these important events I was forced to tweet an addendum to last week's column, and that addendum itself got a bit of attention - mostly along the lines of "Politics 2019" or other such despairing sentiments. This level of attention says something: clearly there is now a sort of diehard following of local elections and by-elections among the political/Twitter geek community. Even nationally-important political figures have shown a bit of interest in local by-elections. Hold that thought.

The political/Twitter geek community can be useful, but of course there is an awful lot of fake news out there. Firmly on the useful side can be found accounts such as Britain Elects (of course!) and @CompletePol, together with @ElectionMapsUK and @polmapsinfoUK which do a sterling job of mapping election results. The last three of those accounts are run by students, but that doesn't detract from their quality: their followers will see maps of which professional graphic designers would be proud, combined with puns which this column would never stoop to and an overriding sense that - to quote a man whom those students might not be old enough to remember in full flow - election night is "just a bit of fun". Maybe this old dog could learn a few tricks from them.

Over the last Christmas break some masterful work from Britain Elects pulled together a spreadsheet of all the votes cast in the May 2018 local elections. Election Maps UK aggregated Britain Elects' figures, finding total vote shares of 40.5% for Labour, 32.0% for the Conservatives, 14.2% for the Lib Dems, 6.4% for the Greens and so on.

Just a bit of fun. But having all this election data invites someone to come in and abuse it for their own ends. Many readers will have seen a leaflet at some point from their local Liberal Democrat branch with a dubiously-scaled bar chart on it; these graphics tend to be very effective at getting the intended point across (which is why the Lib Dems keep using them even though they're one of the most hackneyed clichés in British politics) but in terms of accuracy they tend more towards the "fake news" end of the spectrum. With that in mind, let's analyse this tweet from Aaron Bastani, whom I am given to understand is a prolific Tweeter parked firmly on the left-hand side of politics. Amid a torrent of emoji as seems to be standard these days, it reads:

Aggregate Council Election Results for 2018.
LAB: 40.5%
CON: 32.0%
That data is more reliable than a YouGov push poll.

May government has lost more votes than Blair, Major, Cameron & Brown combined.

Meanwhile the media spin Labour as struggling

At the time of writing this piece of fake news had over 500 retweets and over 1,000 likes.

Let's have a particular look at the sentence which I've emphasised. Repeat after me, THOSE DATA ARE. Everybody else seems to have given up arguing that the word "data" is plural but I'm not going to stop fighting. There are standards. And are those data more reliable than a "YouGov push poll"? Well, that's like comparing apples with oranges; they're both fruit, but that's all you can say as far as similarity goes.

Britain Elects' spreadsheet and YouGov's polling (I'm not going to repeat Bastani's slur again) are serving different ends and Bastani shouldn't be trying to pretend otherwise. YouGov are trying to find a sample that's representative of the whole country, but the 2018 local election results which my genial host collated are not representative of the whole country and don't pretend to be. If you live in the major urban areas of England, you probably had an election to go to in May 2018 and your vote will be recorded in the spreadsheet. Since the major urban areas of England skew towards Labour you'd expect Labour to be leading in aggregate across areas like that. On the other hand you probably didn't get a chance to vote in May 2018 if you live in the English shires, or Scotland. Or Wales.

Which brings us to the point of this week's by-election column, as there is only one poll this week. We're at the southernmost point of mainland Wales, in an area whose history goes back a long way: in the sixth century St Cadoc founded a clas or ecclesiastical community in what is now the village of Llancarfan. Llancarfan is a small place, but Rhoose (or y Rhŵs, if you're a Welsh speaker) is growing fast. Just to the west of Barry, Rhoose is a commuter village for Cardiff; it's linked to the outside world by Cardiff airport, whose runways and apron take up much of the Rhoose division's acreage, while it's linked to Cardiff by a railway station opened in 2005 which has the longest name of any National Rail station. Forget that tourist trap on Anglesey, welcome to the 33 letters of "Rhoose Cardiff International Airport". (This is also the longest station name in Welsh, but the Welsh-language name is only 28 letters - Maes Awyr Rhyngwladol Caerdydd y Rhŵs.)

The Vale of Glamorgan is one of the more Conservative areas of Wales, and the Tories won Rhoose' two seats fairly easily in both 2004 and 2008. Runner-up in 2008 was Plaid Cymru candidate Philip Clarke, who finished four votes ahead of the Lib Dems' Eluned Parrott. Three years later Parrott was elected to the Welsh Assembly in bizarre circumstances, after it turned out that the Lib Dems' lead candidate for South Wales Central held an office which disqualified him from membership of the Senedd.

Things got interesting in Rhoose at the 2012 election when Philip Clarke, standing as an independent candidate, topped the poll and knocked out Tory councillor Gordon Kemp. Up until that point Kemp had been the leader of the Vale of Glamorgan council. Clarke died in a motorcycle accident in 2016, and the resulting by-election was held in the week after the EU membership referendum thus forcing the voters of Rhoose to turn up for the polls two weeks on the trot. Despite or perhaps because of this, the by-election turned in an interesting result: the winner, but with just 29% of the vote, was independent candidate Adam Riley who was campaigning to stop Vale of Glamorgan council closing Rhoose Library. Kemp, trying to get his seat back for the Conservatives, was second with 25%, Labour had 20% and independent candidate Rachel Banner was fourth with 19%. Banner had had a central role in a less-celebrated referendum of recent years; she was the spokeswoman for the No campaign in the 2011 People's Vote on giving law-making powers to the Senedd. An impressively even vote split there, although not much of it split for the Pirate Party candidate who managed just four votes.

Gordon Kemp had his revenge in the end; he defeated Adam Riley in the 2017 Vale of Glamorgan elections. The Tory slate of Kemp and new candidate Matthew Lloyd (who beat the alphabet to top the poll) had 41% of the vote, to 30% for Riley and 22% for Labour. The following month the Tories narrowly held the Vale of Glamorgan in the snap general election, with Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns being re-elected; but his seat is now most definitely a marginal constituency. As if to confirm this, Labour represent the Vale of Glamorgan seat at the Senedd in Cardiff.

We have seen at Westminster level how unstable government can be, and the Vale of Glamorgan provides another example of this. The 2017 Vale elections returned the Tories as the largest party with 23 out of 47 seats; Labour, who had run the council going into the election, won 14, Plaid Cymru had four and six independent councillors held the balance of power. The Conservatives formed an administration in coalition with one of the independent councillors, with 24 seats and a majority of one. With this majority of one the Tory-led administration then proceeded to make themselves unpopular in Rhoose division, with a proposal to effectively close Llancarfan primary school by moving its pupils to a new school in Rhoose. Councillor Matthew Lloyd disagreed with this decision so much that he resigned his seat, forcing this by-election. A Conservative loss here will wipe out the administration's majority on the council, and could lead to a change in control.

Now I asked you earlier to hold the thought of local by-elections being important for nationally-important political figures. We have an excellent illustration of this in the Rhoose candidate list, because the defending Tory candidate is one of the most prominent Conservative politicians in Wales. Andrew R T Davies was the Tory candidate for Cardiff West in the 2001 general election and for Brecon and Radnorshire in 2005; since 2007 he has set in the Senedd as an AM for South Wales Central, and from 2011 until June 2018 he was the leader of the Welsh Conservatives. Instead of hiding in a shed on the family farm (just outside the division boundary in St Hilary), grumbling loudly from the backbenches and/or writing books, Davies has taken a different career path from other recent Tory ex-leaders by seeking a new electoral challenge, and fair play to him for that. Mind, the Vale's Tory-led administration might have mixed feelings about that as Davies is reportedly campaigning against the proposed closure of Llancarfan primary school.

Opposing Davies on the Labour side is John Hartland, a qualified chartered architect from Barry. On this Valentine's Day by-election Hartland starts with a romantic advantage, in that his name will appear on the ballot paper next to a red rose. Completing a three-strong candidate list is community campaigner and independent candidate Samantha Campbell, who finished fifth here in the 2017 election; Campbell is the only candidate to give an address in the division.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Vale of Glamorgan
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cardiff
Postcode districts: CF5, CF62, CF71

Samantha Campbell (Ind)
Andrew R T Davies (C)
John Hartland (Lab)

May 2017 result C 1097/1067 Ind 809/565 Lab 587 LD 187
June 2016 by-election Ind 598 C 520 Lab 401 Ind 399 PC 104 LD 24 Pirate Party 4
May 2012 result Ind 882 C 810/727 Lab 713
May 2008 result C 1169/1143 PC 556 LD 552 Lab 520
June 2004 result C 1240/1085 Lab 729


Previews: 07 Feb 2019

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

We are at the leanest point of the local electoral cycle, with the vast majority of shire districts being up for election in just twelve weeks' time. There are not going to be any Super Thursdays for some months yet. If you like lots of by-election action, savour this week because with six by-elections on 7th February 2019 this may be your best night for some time. We have an interesting set, with a series of city and town areas with large ethnic minority communities and a consequent left-swing skew; four seats are defended by Labour, one by the Liberal Democrats, and one by a localist independent group to succeed a councillor who had previously been in both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. These are volatile political times and this is a volatile set of wards with lots of chances for gains and big swings. If you fancy a break from the Brexit diet of politics we are being forcefed at the moment, then this is your lucky day. Read on as we start with a memory of a Labour leader of yesteryear and an extended preview of a very modern rotten borough - but first, let's try and win some money...


Lansbury; and
Shadwell

Tower Hamlets council, North London; caused respectively by the resignations of Labour councillors Muhammad Harun and Ruhul Amin. Both of them had served only since May 2018.

We start this week by paying tribute to a party leader of years gone by, and one to whom your columnist personally has cause to be very grateful. Allow me to explain.

In the summer of 2008 a new quiz programme turned up on BBC2, broadcast in the early evening slot now normally occupied by Eggheads. It was called Battle of the Brains, and featured teams of six players (plus a non-playing captain) being whittled down over a series of head-to-head challenges. The rounds were varied in format; one was a list round, where players would alternate in giving answers from a certain list (winners of the Oscar for Best Picture, say) and the first to fail loses. I idly looked at this programme and started thinking of possible lists that might be worth learning (list-learning is an important skill in quiz). Leaders of the Labour Party seemed a good shout - a list that's long enough to be interesting but short enough to be manageable. I had a look at the list and started memorising some possible killer answers. As they say in the Scouts, "Be Prepared".

Fast forward to the Tuesday of the week before Christmas 2008. Having been out all day at work and out all evening in the pub playing quiz league, I arrived back home rather after Last Orders to find some panicked messages. A team of friends had been accepted onto the second series of Battle of the Brains but one of them had had to drop out. Could I play instead? Oh, and we're recording on Thursday evening. Naturally I said yes.

And so less then 48 hours later I found myself on the stage (far left in the picture) at Granada Studios in Manchester answering quiz questions from Nicky Campbell (centre). It was an intense and memorable time from which many experiences stand out. One of my fellow team members initially mistook me for a researcher because I'd turned up straight from a ten-hour day in work with security passes and everything. A well-known member of the quiz community ran out of interesting facts to say about himself and so lied through his teeth on national television about training as a lion-tamer. A sudden-death elimination round had to be decided on the buzzer after the production team ran out of questions. A Mastermind champion on our team lost every one of his head-to-head challenges.

In one of my head-to-head rounds I was sent up to do the list round on the subject of "Politics". To my surprise and delight, the list proved to be "Leaders of the Labour Party" (excluding acting or temporary leaders). My opponent was also knowledgeable, and after eight answers we were both still in there and it was my turn. By this point we'd picked off every postwar leader except Hugh Gaitskell, who I was struggling to remember, and Gordon Brown; Brown was leading the party at the time and I was wary of answering him, because I couldn't remember whether the question had had the word "former" in it. It was time to play my first killer answer. I said "George Lansbury". My opponent had no reply, and that was the end of that.

We ended up doing four shows over two days of recordings, and on the second of those defeated a team of Yorkshire County Cricket Club staff (captained by the then Yorkshire captain and former England test cricketer Anthony McGrath, second from right in the picture) to win the jackpot of £7,000. My £1,000 share of the prize changed my life, in that it finally cleared my student credit card debt.

Yes, even decades after his death, George Lansbury still has the power to improve lives, as he did for many people in his own lifetime. A Londoner virtually all his life, Lansbury was a radical socialist whose policies - such as pacifism - were often out of the mainstream within his own party. Sound familiar? Lansbury started off in politics on the radical wing of the Liberals; he was the party's election agent in Whitechapel at the 1885 general election, and in the inaugural London County Council election of 1889 was the agent for Jane Cobden (daughter of the radical Richard Cobden) as she was elected for Bow and Bromley, becoming one of the first women county councillors. Not that it did her much good; Miss Cobden was the subject of legal challenges over whether she was qualified to be a councillor on account of being a woman, and ended up being prevented from speaking or voting in the council chamber on pain of financial penalties. Lansbury was a strong supporter of women's suffrage, going so far as to resign his seat in Parliament in 1912 and fight a by-election on that single issue; he lost.

By 1912 Lansbury was on the ladder of elective office, having become a Poor Law guardian for Poplar in 1893. He was elected to Poplar borough council ten years later. In 1910 he was elected to the London County Council and won the Bow and Bromley parliamentary seat in December of that year; after losing his Parliamentary seat in the by-election two years later Lansbury ended up as editor of the Daily Herald, which may be the forerunner of the modern-day Sun but in those times was a very left-wing paper.

In the 1919 local elections the Labour party gained control of Poplar borough council and George Lansbury became the first Labour mayor of the borough. Poplar was a poor borough in the East End, running from Bow in the north to the docks on the north bank of the Thames; many of the borough councillors were industrial workers. The Labour administration set up a comprehensive and expensive programme of poor relief, which included such radical ideas as equal pay for women and a living wage for council workers. It was too much for Poplar's rates to support, and in 1921 Lansbury and his fellow councillors decided to make a stand by withholding the rate precepts due to the London County Council, the Metropolitan Police and other such bodies. That got thirty of the borough councillors sent to jail for contempt of court, including Lansbury, his son Edgar and his daughter-in-law Minnie (who developed pneumonia while in prison and died shortly afterwards). With farcical scenes of Poplar council meetings taking place in Brixton prison (to which the women councillors were taken by taxi from Holloway) and several other Labour councils threatening to go down the same road, the Lloyd George government caved in after six weeks and rushed a bill through Parliament to equalise the tax burden between rich and poor boroughs. It was a victory for the Poplar Rates Rebellion: the borough was a huge winner from the equalisation, the council was able to cut its rates by a third while seeing greatly increased revenues, and in the general election the following year George Lansbury was returned to Parliament with a huge majority in Bow and Bromley.

Lansbury turned down a junior ministerial post in the 1924 Macdonald government, but in 1929 entered Cabinet as the First Commissioner of Works. One of the more junior cabinet posts, this gave him responsibility for historic buildings and the Royal Parks, and a lasting legacy of Lansbury's tenure in Cabinet is the Hyde Park Lido in the Serpentine lake. The second Macdonald government was derailed by the Wall Street crash and the Great Depression, and the 1931 election was a notorious disaster for Labour which ended up with just 46 seats. One of the many Labour MPs who found themselves out of the Commons was the party leader Arthur Henderson, and George Lansbury became leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party as pretty much the only senior figure remaining from the wreckage. Henderson resigned as overall party leader the following year and Lansbury succeeded him in the top job.

By now George Lansbury's major political cause was pacifism. This was all the rage when he became party leader - within a few months the Oxford Union was voting not to fight for King and Country - but the rise of Hitler and Mussolini made that policy untenable. Lansbury was defeated at the 1935 Labour conference on a motion calling for sanctions against Italy, and resigned as party leader. He was re-elected to Parliament for the final time at the general election the following month, and served a second term as Mayor of Poplar in 1936-37 while his daughter Dorothy Thurtle was serving as Mayor of Shoreditch. George Lansbury died in May 1940, aged 81, from undiagnosed stomach cancer; he was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at sea. Shortly afterwards his home, at 39 Bow Road, was destroyed by enemy bombing in the war he had worked so hard to prevent.

George Lansbury and the Poplar Rates Revolt left us some surprising legacies. The death of Minnie Lansbury led her husband Edgar to remarry; his second wife Moyna Macgill was a noted actress, and her daughter with Edgar is an even more noted actress. Dame Angela Lansbury, George Lansbury's granddaughter, is still with us and still working at the age of 93 (her latest film, Mary Poppins Returns, came out last December). Moyna Macgill's other children were also involved in showbusiness: her sons Edgar Lansbury junior and Bruce Lansbury became Broadway producers, while her daughter from a previous marriage Isolde Denham was married to Peter Ustinov for a time. Another of George Lansbury's grandchildren made a huge impact on a generation of British children; George's daughter and secretary Daisy married a left-wing historian called Raymond Postgate, and their son Oliver Postgate gave us such classics of children's television as Ivor the Engine and, of course, Bagpuss.

But one of the major modern legacies of George Lansbury didn't directly have anything to do with him but was simply named in his honour. The Lansbury Estate was built in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain, on a heavily-bombed triangular site between the Limehouse Cut canal, the East India Dock Road and a railway line. It was part of the Festival's architecture exhibits, and some of its buildings are now listed. The design was intended to be a self-contained community with its own pubs, churches and market - Chrisp Street Market, which is claimed to be the UK's first purpose-built pedestrian shopping area. The railway line closed some years ago but reopened in 1987 as part of the Docklands Light Railway; a station to serve the Lansbury estate, Langdon Park, was opened in 2007 and now serves nearly four million passengers each year. Since 2014 the Lansbury estate has anchored the Lansbury ward of Tower Hamlets.

The DLR links Lansbury ward (with a change at Poplar) to central London with stations at Bank and Tower Gateway, and the last stop before those termini is Shadwell. This area was first seriously developed in the seventeenth century through the auspices of Thomas Neale. One of the major figures of England in the late Stuart era, Neale was a long-serving Member of Parliament, effective postmaster-general in the North American colonies, Master of the Royal Mint until his death in 1699 (after which Isaac Newton got the job) and inveterate property developer and entrepreneur. Shadwell's proximity to the City of London made it an attractive maritime centre: the local St Paul's church has seventy-five ship's captains buried in its churchyard, and Captain James Cook's son was baptised there.

However, the modern Shadwell ward contains little of the historical Shadwell area, which ended at The Highway; instead Shadwell ward runs between The Highway and Commercial Road. The main original landmark here was the eighteenth-century church of St George-in-the-East, which gave its name to a parliamentary constituency from 1885 to 1918; the main modern thoroughfare is Cable Street, which took its name from the maritime industries (it was a ropemaking centre). In October 1936 Oswald Mosley had intended to lead a fascist march towards Stepney down that road; this was blocked by protesters and eventually abandoned in what became known as the Battle of Cable Street. The ward extends to the east through the Ratcliffe area as far as the railway and DLR stations at Limehouse.

Shadwell had one of Britain's first significant Muslim populations thanks to settlement of lascar seamen, who had come here as crewmembers on the East India Company's ships. So it's appropriate that Tower Hamlets more generally is one of the UK's major centres for immigration from Bangladesh in particular. In the 2011 census Shadwell ward (which then had slightly different boundaries) made the top 100 wards in England and Wales for Islam (47%), Asian ethnicity (52%) and those looking after home or family (8.75%). Lansbury ward, despite the best efforts of the man it's named after, remains a very poor area: eight years ago the census return for the predecessor ward of East India and Lansbury made the top 100 lists for social renting (57%), looking after home or family (10%), unemployment (10%), Islam (43%) and under-16s (28%).

Lansbury might also be perplexed by the modern politics of Tower Hamlets, which is Byzantine. Or whatever the Bangladeshi equivalent of Byzantine is. Limehouse was of course the birthplace of the Social Democratic Party, and the SDP and their successors controlled Tower Hamlets council from 1986 to 1994. Labour were returned with a large majority in the 1994 election, but indications that all was not well can probably be seen from the landslide general election result of 1997 in which Bethnal Green and Bow was one of only two constituencies to swing towards the Conservatives.

Things started to fall apart in the 2002-06 term, in which Labour lost by-elections on the council to the Conservatives (thanks to gentrification in the Isle of Dogs and riverfront areas) and to George Galloway's Respect party, which topped the poll across the borough in the 2004 European Parliament elections. The following year Respect's George Galloway won the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency, gaining it from Labour; and in 2006 Respect became the official opposition on Tower Hamlets council.

The Respect spasm was shortlived and by 2008 many of its councillors had joined the Labour group. This had the effect of exacerbating already-bitter infighting within Tower Hamlets Labour, whose divisions echoed and reflected those thousands of miles away in Bangladesh between Jamaat-e-Islami and the Awami League. The balance of power within the group changed, and Labour's Lutfur Rahman took over as leader of the council. His tenure as leader was very controversial, with negative press coverage concentrating on the effective sacking of the chief executive combined with allegations - which have never been proven - that Rahman had links with extremist Islamists.

So it was probably a relief for Labour at a regional level when the 2010 elections resulted in a recovery of the Bethnal Green and Bow parliamentary seat, plus an increased Labour group with an anti-Rahman majority. That relief was however short-lived, because the voters of Tower Hamlets also passed by referendum a proposal for an elected mayor, and Rahman sought the Labour mayoral nomination. When he was blocked from getting it, he stood for mayor as an independent candidate, and won the October 2010 Tower Hamlets mayoral election in the first round.

As mayor, Lutfur Rahman attracted a number of councillors to his banner. Many of them were defectors from Labour; all of them were from the Bangladeshi community. They organised into a party - Tower Hamlets First - whose sole purpose was to support Rahman. His mayoral term was marred by corruption; central government sent in commissioners to take over council grant allocation, but that was as nothing compared to what was to come in May 2014.

The 2014 Tower Hamlets elections returned Rahman as mayor and a hung council, with Tower Hamlets First's eighteen councillors opposed by 22 Labour members and five Conservatives. The Election Court described those elections as "generally corrupt" and I have no qualms in repeating that judgment. The Court found that Lutfur Rahman, through his election agent Alibor Choudhury, had falsely and knowingly labelled Labour's mayoral candidate John Biggs as racist; the council's grant allocation (before the commissioners took over) had been politically motivated and amounted to bribery; the council had improperly paid the local Bengali-language media to portray Rahman favourably; four Tower Hamlets First candidates had cast votes unlawfully after making false entries on the electoral register; and there was evidence of postal vote fraud. But the most sensational allegation upheld by the court was that Lutfur Rahman had improperly played the religion card, by getting the local Muslim leaders to send messages to their congregations that it was the religious duty of Muslims in the borough to vote for Rahman. That offence - undue spiritual influence - had not been invoked since the nineteenth century. Possibly even more disturbing was that the Court decided that allegations of intimidation at polling stations by Tower Hamlets First supporters were not an offence under electoral law. To cap it all, the 2014 Tower Hamlets count was a notoriously incompetent fiasco: the final result, for Bromley South ward, took 118 hours to declare.

The retribution in this twenty-first-century rotten borough is still playing out. The initial consequence was that Lutfur Rahman was disqualified as mayor, as was his election agent Alibor Choudhury; both of them remain disqualified from office and struck off the electoral register. Rahman has since gone bankrupt and been struck off the roll of solicitors, and has been the subject of further court action related to the costs of the trial. His deputy mayor, Oliur Rahman (no relation) was quickly forced to resign the post because of a conflict with his civil service job. Tower Hamlets First was struck off the register of political parties after the trial revealed that it wasn't being run according to law - most notably, it had never had a bank account. The mayoral by-election in June 2015, and the by-election in Stepney Green ward to replace Alibor Choudhury, were both gained by Labour. And there were consequences for Shahed Ali, a Lutfurite councillor whom the trial revealed to have been registered to vote at two different addresses and who had cast two votes at the 2014 elections; one of those addresses was a council flat, and Ali was subsequently sentenced to five months' imprisonment for housing fraud against his own council. The resulting by-election, in December 2016 for Whitechapel ward, returned another Lutfurite independent.

By the May 2018 election the Lutfurites were in disarray, having split into two factions: the moderate People's Alliance of Tower Hamlets headed by Rabina Khan, who had been the Lutfurite candidate in the 2015 mayoral by-election, and the more hardline Aspire party headed by Lutfur's former deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed. Both parties contested the 2018 election.

Splitters! As can be seen the effect across the borough was to split the Lutfurite vote; England's first-past-the-post electoral system makes this a bad idea, and the Lutfurites were all but wiped out. John Biggs was re-elected as Labour's mayor, easily defeating Rabina Khan in the run-off, and the Labour party won 42 out of 45 seats on the council. The Conservatives held two, and the remaining councillor was Rabina Khan, re-elected at the top of the poll in Shadwell ward. Khan has since dissolved the People's Alliance of Tower Hamlets, and she has joined the Liberal Democrats.

Which makes things interesting given that one of today's Tower Hamlets by-elections is for the other seat in Shadwell ward, with Labour defending. Outgoing councillor Ruhul Amin, who was first elected in May last year, is moving to Bangladesh. The circumstances of the other by-election are more controversial: Muhammad HM Harun, who was also first elected in May last year for Lansbury ward, resigned under a cloud amid allegations of housing fraud. One of the outgoing councillors from whom Harun gained his seat was none other than the Aspire leader Ohid Ahmed.

So this is an interesting test for both sides of the former Lutfurite faction. In 2014 Lansbury ward returned two Labour councillors and one from Tower Hamlets First (Ohid Ahmed); Labour won all three seats last year with 36%, to 24% for Ahmed's Aspire, 12% for the People's Alliance of Tower Hamlets and 9% for the Liberal Democrats. Shadwell voted Tower Hamlets First in 2014; in 2018 Rabina Khan was re-elected for the People's Alliance of Tower Hamlets with 34% of the vote, to 27% for Labour who won the other seat, and 21% for Aspire. Results without a Lutfurite or two on the ballot are probably not that relevant here; but for the record, in 2016 Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith 66-13 in Lansbury and polled 73% in Shadwell, while in the London Members ballot Labour led the Tories by 64-9 in Lansbury and polled 68% in Shadwell.

As if it wasn't difficult enough for Labour to defend the Shadwell by-election, their candidate Asik Rahman has attracted controversy during the campaign over Facebook likes for the pages of two hate preachers. With the dissolution of the Peoples Alliance of Tower Hamlets we might take the Liberal Democrats to be the major challengers now in the birthplace of the SDP: although the Lib Dems finished last here in May 2018 with 4% of the vote, they have selected a strong candidate in Abjol Miah, who was a Respect councillor for the former Shadwell ward from 2006 to 2010 and later a Tower Hamlets First councillor for St Peter's ward from 2014 to 2018. Miah was the Respect candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow in the 2010 general election, losing the seat which George Galloway had won five years earlier. Mind, Abjol has had social-media-related problems of his own in the campaign after it was revealed that he'd shared on Twitter a video of antisemitic conspiracy theories. Or we might take Aspire to be the major challengers; they have selected Harun Miah who was Rabina Khan's ward colleague here from 2010 to 2018. Completing the Shadwell ballot paper are independent candidate Kazi Gous-Miah, who fought the ward last year; Tim Kiely for the Green Party; Daryl Stafford for the Conservatives and Elena Scherbatykh for the Women's Equality Party.

The Labour defence in Lansbury ward is led by Rajib Ahmed, who represented this ward and its predecessors on Tower Hamlets council from 1998 until 2018, and was Speaker (ceremonial mayor) of the borough in 2012-13. This could be a quick return for him. Also looking for a quick return is Ohid Ahmed, the Aspire candidate who lost his seat here last year. There is no People's Alliance of Tower Hamlets candidate, but their mantle has been taken over by the Liberal Democrats who have selected Muhammad Abul (or Abdul) Asad; he was a Tower Hamlets councillor for 28 years until losing his seat in Whitechapel ward in 2018, serving as Mayor in 1998-99. Before joining the Lutfurite cause Asad had been a Labour figure, and he was on the Labour list for London in the 2009 European Parliament elections and the 2000 and 2004 London Assembly elections. Also standing are Mumshad Afruz for the Conservatives, John Urpeth for the Green Party, Paul Shea for UKIP and Terence McGrenera, who will be hoping for more than the 12 votes he polled in this ward in 2016 as the London Assembly candidate for the House Party.

And remember: this is Tower Hamlets and strange things happen in Tower Hamlets politics. If you've got all the way to the end of this, hopefully you'll have some killer answers for when the unexpected happens. Be Prepared.

Lansbury

Parliamentary constituency: Poplar and Limehouse
London Assembly constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: E2, E3, E14

Mumshad Afruz (C)
Ohid Ahmed (Aspire)
Rajib Ahmed (Lab)
Muhammad Abul Asad (LD)
Terence McGrenera (House Party)
Paul Shea (UKIP)
John Urpeth (Grn)

May 2018 result Lab 2140/1868/1839 Aspire 1358/980/881 PATH 646/354/337 LD 506/427/299 C 398/388/247 Grn 377/331 Ind 167
May 2014 result Lab 2184/1952/1850 Tower Hamlets First 1936/1727/1535 UKIP 732 C 387/332/228 LD 232 TUSC 190

May 2016 GLA elections (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 2483 C 484 Grn 208 UKIP 135 Respect 116 LD 107 Britain First 71 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 53 Women's Equality 47 BNP 31 One Love 12 Zylinski 7
London Members: Lab 2449 C 357 Grn 255 UKIP 231 LD 146 Respect 138 Women's Equality 78 Britain First 70 BNP 28 Animal Welfare 27 CPA 27 House Party 12

Shadwell

Parliamentary constituency: Poplar and Limehouse
London Assembly constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: E1, E1W

Kazi Gous-Miah (Ind)
Tim Kiely (Grn)
Abjol Miah (LD)
Harun Miah (Aspire)
Asik Rahman (Lab)
Elena Scherbatykh (Women's Equality)
Daryl Stafford (C)

May 2018 result PATH 1585/765 Lab 1270/1157 Aspire 993/439 Ind 244 Grn 201/121 C 179/146 LD 165/143
May 2014 result Tower Hamlets First 2199/2192 Lab 1462/892 Grn 354 C 337/326 LD 144 TUSC 141

May 2016 GLA elections (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 2178 C 297 Grn 157 Respect 109 LD 58 UKIP 54 Women's Equality 37 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 27 Britain First 16 BNP 15 One Love 11 Zylinski 5
London Members: Lab 2066 C 220 Grn 216 Respect 150 UKIP 100 LD 79 Women's Equality 78 Britain First 39 BNP 26 Animal Welfare 22 CPA 13 House Party 12


Thornton

Lambeth council, South London; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor and chief whip Jane Edbrooke, who has a new job with the Big Lottery Fund which is politically restricted. She had served since May 2018 for this ward, and previously had been councillor for Oval ward since 2010.

For our other London by-election we travel to another ward associated with a party leader, this time south of the river. Thornton ward lies on the South Circular road just to the north of Tooting Common; it's based on the Hyde Farm estate, which was developed in and around the Edwardian era and remains mostly well-preserved; much of it is now a conservation area. Many of the houses on the estate are now owned by the E Hayes-Dashwood Foundation, which is named after the original architect and leases them to disabled ex-servicemen. The ward has a large black population but also has high employment levels; perhaps a reflection of the fact that it borders Clapham which is going up the social scale very quickly.

Thornton ward was contested in 1971 by a Tory councillor called John Major, who had been chairman of Lambeth's housing committee; but the voters chose to reject the future Prime Minister in favour of the Labour slate. The current ward boundaries were introduced in 2002 when the Lib Dems won two out of three seats and were five votes away from a third; but since 2006 Thornton has voted Labour and is now very safe for the party; in May last year Labour led the Tories here 63-16. That was an improvement on the London Mayoral election two years earlier, where Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith in Thornton's ballot boxes 58-25; in the London Members ballot Labour polled 50%, the Conservatives 23% and the Greens 11%. Thornton is in the Streatham constituency of Chuka Umunna, who is one of those people that those on the Leave side of the referendum debate and the Corbyn side of the Labour debate love to hate; so this by-election might well be watched closely.

This will be the first in a two-part series of Thornton by-elections, as one of the other ward councillors - the outgoing leader of Lambeth council Lib Peck - has also recently resigned to take up a politically-restricted post. There will be another by-election for her seat in due course. Defending this by-election for Labour is Stephen Donnelly, a Scottish immigrant to London who fought St Leonard's ward last year. The Conservatives have reselected Martin Read who was runner-up here in 2018. Also standing are Adrian Audsley for the Greens, Rebecca Macnair for the Liberal Democrats, Leila Fazal for the Women's Equality Party and John Plume for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Streatham
London Assembly constituency: Lambeth and Southwark
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: SW2, SW4, SW12

Adrian Audsley (Grn)
Stephen Donnelly (Lab)
Leila Fazal (Women's Equality)
Rebecca Macnair (LD)
John Plume (UKIP)
Martin Read (C)

May 2018 result Lab 2140/1999/1990 C 545/511/489 Grn 388/364/292 LD 329/328/235
May 2014 result Lab 2280/2220/2113 UKIP 764 C 664/570/481 Grn 360/336/272 LD 271/258/227
May 2010 result Lab 2614/2609/2399 LD 1705/1670/1383 C 1188/1101/1004 Grn 504/373/311
May 2006 result Lab 1494/1445/1354 LD 1094/946/925 C 490/462/457 Grn 470/372/363
May 2002 result LD 1291/1191/1137 Lab 1142/1080/1057 Grn 277 C 268/257/197

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 2051 C 884 Grn 255 LD 138 Women's Equality 69 UKIP 54 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 24 Respect 23 Britain First 23 BNP 12 Zylinski 9 One Love 4
London Members: Lab 1762 C 817 Grn 401 LD 207 Women's Equality 146 UKIP 73 CPA 30 Animal Welfare 27 Britain First 24 Respect 23 House Party 17 BNP 15


Evendons

Wokingham council, Berkshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Helen Power on health grounds. She had served only since May 2018.

We move out of London but stay in the Home Counties, starting in Berkshire. Evendons ward is the western of the four wards covering the town of Wokingham, a strangely unlovely town which seems to exist solely to provide houses for London commuters. Evendons is a case in point; over half of its residents are in management or professional occupations.

This ward took on its current boundaries in 2004 and had been solidly Conservative up to 2016, when the Lib Dems suddenly got within range of winning. The party followed through in 2017 by winning a by-election in the neighbouring Emmbrook ward, and then the Lib Dems gained this ward in May last year by 47% to 41%. Unfortunately Helen Power, the new Lib Dem councillor, didn't get a chance to build on that victory; she was diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly afterwards.

The Conservatives are severely underperforming in Wokingham at the moment; this appears to be a reaction to a town centre redevelopment which is causing traffic chaos (although the end result surely can't be much worse than the town centre Wokingham already has). Evendons is in the Wokingham constituency of John Redwood, who is one of those people that those on the Remain side of the referendum debate love to hate; so this by-election might well be watched closely.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Sarah Kerr, a freelance pianist and music conductor who is unhappy with the new-look Wokingham town centre, believing that it's unsafe for visually-impaired people. The Tories have gone for youth in selecting Daniel Clawson, a secondary school assistant headteacher. Completing a three-strong ballot paper is Labour's Tim Lloyd.

Parliamentary constituency: Wokingham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Reading
Postcode districts: RG40, RG41

Daniel Clawson (C)
Sarah Kerr (LD)
Tim Lloyd (Lab)

May 2018 result LD 1375 C 1198 Lab 369
May 2016 result C 951 LD 839 Lab 294 Ind 115
May 2015 result C 2588 LD 1044 Lab 553 UKIP 515 Grn 399
May 2014 result C 1227 LD 598 UKIP 437 Lab 292 Ind 71
May 2012 result C 967 LD 388 Lab 286 UKIP 278
May 2011 result C 1778 LD 703 Lab 413 UKIP 278
May 2010 result C 2537 LD 1679 Lab 393 UKIP 321
May 2008 result C 1456 LD 521 UKIP 203 Lab 128
May 2007 result C 1361 LD 576 UKIP 269 Lab 150
May 2006 result C 1397 LD 639 UKIP 197 Lab 144
June 2004 result C 1302/1228/1125 LD 1075/954/879 UKIP 353 Lab 257


Totteridge and Bowerdean

Buckinghamshire county council; caused by the death of Chaudhary Ditta, who had been elected for the East Wycombe Independents.

For our final South East by-election we are in the Chiltern Hills. High Wycombe is an old market town in the valley of the River Wye, on the main road and one of the railway lines between London and Oxford. The town was once tightly packed into the valley, but the substandard housing on the valley floor has mostly been replaced by estates running up the valley sides. Totteridge and Bowerdean is such an area, lying to the east of High Wycombe town centre. This is an area which has seen immigration from Pakistan, particularly the Punjab, and the Bowerdean ward of Wycombe council (most of which is within this division) makes the top 100 Muslim wards in England and Wales.

Chaudhary Ditta was one of those Pakistani immigrants, having been born in Kashmir; he came to High Wycombe in 1973. Ditta had represented this area on Buckinghamshire county council since 2005, initially being elected as a Labour figure before defecting to the Liberal Democrats in his first term. He was re-elected in 2009 and 2013 as a Lib Dem before breaking away from the party to join the East Wycombe Independents; Ditta was re-elected under that label in 2017 for his fourth and final term, polling 40% to 25% for Labour and 20% for the Conservatives. He had also been a Wycombe district councillor from 2003 to 2015 when he lost his seat in Bowerdean ward to Labour, and was weighed in as Mayor of High Wycombe in 2011-12. Totteridge, the other ward in the division, split its two seats between the Conservatives and the East Wycombe Independents in 2015.

That 2015 poll is likely to be the last election to Wycombe district council, as local government in Buckinghamshire is due for reorganisation and the 2019 elections have been cancelled. The current plan is that in April 2020 a new single Buckinghamshire council will be created, to replace the current county council and four district councils. So Chaudhary Ditta's successor may not get to serve for all that long.

Defending for the East Wycombe Independents is Matt Knight, a Wycombe district councillor representing Micklefield ward; like Ditta, he's a former Lib Dem figure. Labour have selected Israr Rashid. The Tory candidate is Richard Peters, a chartered engineer and charity volunteer. Completing the ballot paper is Ben Holkham for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Wycombe
Wycombe council wards: Totteridge, Bowerdean (most)
ONS Travel to Work Area: High Wycombe and Aylesbury
Postcode district: HP13

Ben Holkham (LD)
Matt Knight (East Wycombe Ind)
Richard Peters (C)
Israr Rashid (Lab)

May 2017 result East Wycombe Ind 930 Lab 588 C 466 LD 344
May 2013 result LD 953 Lab 671 C 482 UKIP 354


Bolton and Undercliffe

Bradford council, West Yorkshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor and former council leader Ian Greenwood at the age of 68.

For the final poll of the week we travel from the frozen South to the North. Welcome to Bolton - not here the Greatest Town in the Known Universe, but a suburb of Bradford. This ward is immediately to the north of Bradford city centre, taking in the Undercliffe area to the south and the rather newer estates of Bolton to the north.

Bolton is one of the pasts of Bradford which has been least changed by the Jewel's transformation into a multicultural city, although its BAME population is still above average (particularly so in Undercliffe). The city's ethnic diversity is mirrored by political diversity, with pretty much every party being capable of winning a ward in Bradford under the right conditions.

One of those parties was George Galloway's Respect. In early 2012 the health of Marsha Singh, Labour MP for Bradford West, failed forcing a by-election. That by-election was won by Galloway, and he followed up by organising a Respect slate to contest the May 2012 Bradford city elections. Respect won five wards, all in heavily-Asian areas; and one of those was Little Horton ward where the leader of the council, Labour's Ian Greenwood, was defeated. The Respect spasm was shortlived and the party hasn't won anything in Bradford since.

Greenwood was by 2012 in his second period as council leader, and had served on Bradford council since 1995; he had previously been a West Yorkshire county councillor. In 2013 he was appointed OBE for services to local government, having by now become chairman of the Local Authorities Pensions Fund Forum; with local government pension funds being collectively worth over £230,000 million, that made him a big name in the pensions industry.

The loss of the Bradford West by-election meant that just one of Bradford's five parliamentary constituencies were in Labour hands. Shipley had been lost to the Conservatives in 2005, and in the 2010 election Labour also lost Keighley to the Conservatives and Bradford East to the Liberal Democrats. The fact that the Lib Dems could ever win that seat astonishes your columnist even now. It was a close three-way result with the Tories on 27%, Labour's Terry Rooney (outgoing MP for the predecessor seat of Bradford North) on 33% and the Lib Dems' David Ward taking advantage of the split opposition and the party's local government strength in the area to win with just 34% of the vote. On the same day the Liberal Democrats won three of the six Bradford city council wards in the seat.

David Ward's tenure in the Commons proved to be controversial; he was suspended from the parliamentary party for a time in 2013 for a series of anti-Semitic remarks, and even after being readmitted to the party continued to cause problems. (Compare and contrast with Naz Shah, Galloway's successor as MP for Bradford West, who went through a similar controversy and appears to have learned lessons from it.) Ward lost Bradford East to Labour in the 2015 election, but wasn't out of politics for long; he returned to elected office the following year as a Bradford city councillor for Bolton and Undercliffe ward. It seemed a good choice: this was normally a safe ward for the party and Ward increased the Lib Dem majority over Labour to 52-30.

But there were more twists to tome. The Bradford East Lib Dems readopted David Ward as their candidate for the 2017 general election and were reportedly confident of a win; but his candidacy was vetoed by party leader Tim Farron. Ward stood as an independent, finishing a distant third with 8% of vote; but that was better than the official Lib Dem candidate who finished fifth with just 1.8% of the vote. A rather large drop that, 34% to 1.8% in just seven years. And then Ian Greenwood decided to make a political comeback, and got the Labour nomination for Bolton and Undercliffe in the 2018 Bradford elections. In the closest result since the current boundaries were introduced in 2004, Greenwood defeated the outgoing Lib Dem councillor Rachel Sunderland by 45% to 42%, a majority of just 90 votes.

So, anything could happen here. Defending for Labour is local resident Amriz Hussain. The Liberal Democrats have reselected Rachel Sunderland, the councillor whom Greenwood defeated last year; Sunderland was first elected in 2014 and his hoping to make a quick return to the council. Also standing are Ranbir Singh for the Conservatives and Phil Worsnop for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Bradford East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bradford
Postcode districts: BD1, BD2, BD3, BD9, BD10, BD13, BD14, BD15, BD16, BD17, BD18, BD97

Amriz Hussain (Lab)
Ranbir Singh (C)
Rachel Sunderland (LD)
Phil Worsnop (Grn)

May 2018 result Lab 1686 LD 1596 C 376 Grn 113
May 2016 result LD 2088 Lab 1214 UKIP 443 C 179 Grn 75
May 2015 result LD 2457 Lab 2164 UKIP 1075 C 708 Grn 251
May 2014 result LD 1969 Lab 1462 C 412
May 2012 result LD 1888 Lab 1175 Respect 529 C 264
May 2011 result LD 1825 Lab 1536 C 499
May 2010 result LD 3047 Lab 1686 C 1226 BNP 492 Grn 149 Democratic Nationalist 57
May 2008 result LD 2139 Lab 798 C 557 Grn 232
May 2007 double vacancy LD 2050/1835 Lab 919/860 C 650/545 Grn 327
May 2006 result LD 2146 Lab 958 C 679
June 2004 result LD 2326/2247/2244 881/772/699 Lab 867/766/675 Grn 472

Andrew Teale


Previews: 31 Jan 2019

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

There are two polls on 31st January 2019, both in London and the South East:


Warlingham

Surrey county council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor David Hodge, who until recently was leader of the county council.

For our major by-election this week we are atop the North Downs, just outside the Greater London boundary. Warlingham division lies in the northeastern corner of Surrey, and is a division covering a series of villages. The largest centre of population is Warlingham itself; by local tradition its All Saints church was where Thomas Cranmer started to experiment with preaching from what became the first Book of Common Prayer, and there is a stained glass window in that church showing Cranmer presenting the prayer book to Edward VI. In more modern times Warlingham was the centre of a major psychiatric hospital (new redeveloped for housing) and was on the front line in the Battle of Britain as German bombers tried to navigate their way up the local valley towards London. With Biggin Hill and Kenley airfields nearby, that might not have been the wisest move.

The division contains some other villages. Farleigh was briefly part of Greater London, joining the London Borough of Croydon on its creation in 1965, but was transferred back to Surrey in boundary changes four years later. Tatsfield, which gets its post from Westerham over the county line in Kent, was the birthplace of the motorsport legend John Surtees, who remains the only driver to win world championships on both two and four wheels.

Boundary changes in 2013 brought Woldingham into the division. The Independent reported in February 2000 that a sixth of the residents in Woldingham's CR3 7 postcode sector were cash millionaires, and the village is a notoriously rich enclave. One of its richest recent residents was the failed parliamentary candidate Katie Price (Stretford and Urmston, 2001) who was reported in 2012 to be worth £45 million. On the other hand, these sort of lists don't make allowance for what you owe: three months ago Price entered into an Individual Voluntary Arrangement with her creditors, with her debts reported to be around £250,000. Woldingham is home to the only railway station within the division boundary, on the Oxted branch line, and is a heavy commuter area. The village also makes the top 100 wards in England and Wales for the 16-17 age bracket; this is due to the presence of Woldingham School. A Roman Catholic boarding school for girls, Woldingham School's former pupils include the former Conservative MP Louise Mensch, the BBC journalist Caroline Wyatt and the BAFTA-winning actress Carey Mulligan.

This adds up to a safe Conservative division for David Hodge. One of the few councillors notable enough to merit a Wikipedia page, Hodge was first elected to Surrey county council in 2005 for this division, having previously set for seven years on the local Tandridge council. From 2011 until late last year Hodge was the leader of Surrey county council, and in January 2017 he was appointed CBE for services to local government and charity. Shortly afterwards Hodge became embroiled in controversy after the county council planned a 15% increase in council tax, claiming that government cuts and increasing social care demands meant it couldn't make ends meet. That increase was then reduced to 4.99% amid claims that Surrey had reached a "sweetheart" deal with the government.

The shenanigans clearly didn't have much negative effect on Hodge's electorate, as he was re-elected in May 2017 with a majority of 56-29 over the Liberal Democrats; a greatly increased majority compared with 2013 when UKIP had run second here. Mind, as part of the ongoing cuts to local government Surrey county council is attempting to close the Warlingham tip and relocate the local primary school, neither of which are proposals which have gone down well in the area.

At Tandridge council level the Tories hold five of the division's eight district councillors; the Liberal Democrats have two out of three seats in Warlingham East and Chelsham and Farleigh ward (and will be hoping for a gain from the Tories there in May) while the small Tatsfield and Titsey ward returns independent candidates to the Tandridge council offices in Oxted. Warlingham West is safe Conservative and Woldingham is ridiculously safe for the party (in 2012 the Tories beat the Lib Dems here by the score of 87-13), but has a low electorate.

Defending for the Conservatives is Becky Rush, a Woldingham parish councillor. The Lib Dems have reselected Charles Lister, a Warlingham parish councillor who was appointed OBE in 2003 for his distinguished career in the public health sector, particularly on ensuring a safe blood supply for the NHS; Lister was runner-up in the division in 2017. Also standing are Martin Haley for UKIP (who was runner-up here in 2013) and Michael Snowden for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: East Surrey
Tandridge council wards: Tatsfield and Titsey, Warlingham East and Chelsham and Farleigh, Warlingham West, Woldingham
Postcode districts: CR6, RH8, RH9, TN16

Martin Haley (UKIP)
Charles Lister (LD)
Becky Rush (C)
Michael Snowden (Lab)

May 2017 result C 2265 LD 1165 UKIP 403 Lab 193
May 2013 result C 1444 UKIP 1075 LD 743 Lab 146


Billingsgate

City of London Corporation; an Aldermanic election caused by the retirement of Alderman Matthew Richardson.

For our other election we take the train from Woldingham into the centre of London to consider that weird and wonderful elected body, the City of London Corporation. The City has 25 wards of which Billingsgate is one of the smaller ones; the name is evocative of the city's fish market, but that market relocated to Poplar in the 1980s and its old building is now an events venue. Opposite the old market building is an office block built over the remains of a Roman bathhouse; opposite that office block is the Watermen's Hall, an appropriate location given that the city's watergate used to be nearby.

Any mention of a watergate will cause politicos of a certain age to prick their ears up for a good story, and Matthew Richardson certainly has an interesting backstory. A former Conservative figure and later Party Secretary of UKIP, Richardson was elected as an Alderman in 2012, despite his history standing as a non-partisan candidate as is traditional in the City. He was associated with the Young Britons Foundation, a now-defunct group of young right-wingers which backed several candidates in the 2013 City elections; none of them did particularly well. In 2012 Richardson was in his early thirties and according to his website was the youngest City alderman for 800 years; outside the Corporation he is a barrister, and presumably is standing down to concentrate on his legal career.

So we have a rare open seat in the Court of Aldermen, the senior councillors from whom the Lord Mayors of London are selected. The City's elections are dominated by business voters, and the business voters in Billingsgate ward are dominated by the insurance industry; however, there are only 258 voters on the Ward List (the electoral register) and turnout is likely to be low. In the 2017 City elections the two winning candidates, Michael Welbank and Robert Ingham Clarke, polled 42 and 40 votes respectively; Welbank resigned last year and his replacement, College of Arms herald John Allen-Petrie, won a four-way contest with 40 votes out of 90.

This time there are six candidates whom I shall take in ballot paper order. Jonathan Bergdahl, an HR and operations professional, is the only candidate with a party nomination - for that eighties throwback the Social Democratic Party. The continuing SDP is a rather different beast these days to the party founded by the Gang of Four all those years ago; apart from anything else, it's a very Eurosceptic group now and that's unlikely to go down well with the City electorate. James de Sausmarez is an investment manager and Common Councilman for Candlewick ward. Andrew Heath-Richardson works in property development and regeneration, and had a major role in the building of the "Walkie Talkie" skyscraper on Fenchurch Street, which stands just outside the ward boundary. Rachel Kent is an advisor to the financial services industry specialising in regulation. Bronislaw "Bronek" Masojada is in the unusual position of having involvement in both elections today as he lives in Woldingham, Surrey; Masojada has since 2000 been the chief executive of the insurers Hiscox. Completing the ballot paper is Alpa Raja who has had several goes at standing in City elections recently, including in last year's Billingsgate by-election where she finished third; Raja is an insolvency practitioner and chartered accountant.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: EC3M, EC3R

Jonathan Bergdahl (SDP)
James de Sausmarez (Ind)
Andrew Heath-Richardson (Ind)
Rachel Kent (Ind)
Bronek Masojada (Ind)
Alpa Raja (Ind)


Previews: 10 Jan 2019

There are two local by-elections on 10th January 2019, both in the same town and both being defended by independent candidates. Read on...


Bexhill West

East Sussex county council; and

St Marks

Rother council, East Sussex; both caused by the death of independent councillor Stuart Earl at the age of 72. He had served on East Sussex county council since 2013 and on Rother council since 2011; he was also a Rother councillor from 2003 to 2007 as a Conservative, and was Mayor of Bexhill-on-Sea in 2004-05.

Welcome to 2019. Did you have a pleasant break over Christmas and New Year? Are your batteries suitably refreshed? Well, I hope so, because this is the first electoral act of what promises to be another year of bumpy politics.

Those who were following the political news over Christmas and New Year (such as it is during that time of peace and goodwill) will have noticed a particularly striking display of joined-up government. We saw the Department for Transport making preparations to facilitate people getting across the English Channel in boats, while at the same time the Home Office was making preparations to prevent people getting across the English Channel in boats.

There's nothing new under the sun, and the fear of people getting across the English Channel - whether in a contemporary context or in a different Britain to that of today - is a subject which film, TV and literature has visited many times. Fast forward to 2027, as depicted in the 2006 film Children of Men, in which Clive Owen plays a civil servant. In that film the UK government had imposed oppressive immigration laws on refugees from outside these islands: a police state is in effect, and the south coast town of Bexhill-on-Sea has been turned into the location for an internment camp for the oppressed and desperate from the rest of the world; those people who by accident of birth had the misfortune not to qualify for British citizenship.

An earlier person who had that same misfortune was a much-loved Indian-born entertainer, who joined the Royal Artillery on the outbreak of the Second World War and was posted to defend Bexhill from another imminent invasion, with rather outdated weaponry...

When the '14-'18 War ended, Churchill said the 9.2s were to be dismantled, put in grease and stored in case of 'future eventualities'. There was one drawback. No Ammunition. This didn't deter Leather Suitcase, he soon had all the gun crews shouting 'BANG' in unison. "Helps keep morale up," he told visiting Alanbrooke.

Gunner Terence Milligan further reported, in his memoir Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall, that a shell for the 9.2 gun was eventually found, ceremoniously fired, and proved to be a dud. Some things in the Army don't change.

Now, having foreign invading forces come through Bexhill is not exactly fanciful: back in the autumn of 1066 an invasion force led by the Duke of Normandy landed at nearby Pevensey, and things have never been quite the same since. That landing (although not the site of it, the coastline having changed over the last nine and a half centuries) is commemorated by a hamlet and railway station called Normans Bay, in the marshes a few miles west of Bexhill.

Those marshes are covered by Bexhill's St Marks ward, named after the church serving the village of Little Common; a village which has now became part of Bexhill's urban sprawl. Now, when you look at the town's census return you begin to understand why Children of Men, a film set in a world with no young people in it, decided to pick on Bexhill: St Marks ward is in the top 20 wards in England and Wales for the 65+ age bracket and in the top 25 for retired people. It's also in the top 80 for owner-occupation. Those stats are presumably boosted by the closure in 1992 of a real-life Bexhill internment camp - Northeye prison, which was located in the ward and largely destroyed by a 1986 riot. With serious housebuilding underway at the moment at Barnhorn Green, the 2021 census may well return something different.

Or perhaps not, if you look at the rest of the Bexhill West county division which also takes in parts of the Collington and Kewhurst wards. Collington ward, covering the town's western seafront, is even older than St Marks: it ranks fifth in England and Wales for adults aged 65 or over, and just 26% of the ward's residents have yet to reach their 45th birthday. Kewhurst ward, to the north of Collington, also makes the top 25 wards in England and Wales for the 65+ age bracket.

You might think from that age profile alone that this would be a Tory area, and at parliamentary level it is. However, at local level the Conservatives have been under pressure in western Bexhill from a group of independent ex-Tory councillors including Stuart Earl, who had run a bakery in the town. Earl had set as a Conservative councillor for St Marks ward until 2007; he returned to Rother council as an independent councillor for St Marks ward in 2011, gaining his seat from the Conservatives; and he repeated the trick in 2013 at East Sussex county council level.

In 2015 Stuart Earl was re-elected to Rother council at the top of the poll in St Marks ward, polling 39%; his ward colleague Joanne Gadd, who had previously been elected here on the Conservative slate, also sought re-election as an independent but lost her seat to the Tories' Thomas Graham who had 34%. UKIP trailed in some way behind on 18%. In the same election Collington ward returned an independent slate and Kewhurst voted Conservative; one of the independent councillors for Collington resigned in 2016 and the resulting by-election was very easily won by Stuart Earl's wife Deirdre Earl-Williams, another ex-Tory councillor standing as an independent candidate. The 2017 county elections in Bexhill saw Stuart Earl easily re-elected in Bexhill West, defeating the Conservatives 50-33.

For the county by-election in Bexhill West the defending independent candidate is Stuart Earl's widow Deirdre Earl-Williams who, as stated is a Rother councillor for Collington ward. The Tories have reselected their losing candidate from 2017 Martin Kenward, a Rother councillor for Kewhurst ward. Also standing for the county council seat are Jacque Walker for Labour, Richard Thomas for the Liberal Democrats, UKIP's Geoffrey Bastin (who fought the Bexhill and Battle parliamentary seat in 2015 and 2017, treading in the footsteps of one Nigel Farage) and Polly Gray for the Green Party.

The district by-election winner will have to be back on the campaign trail in short order as they will be due for re-election in just four months' time. Defending St Marks for the independents is Kathy Harmer, who runs a shop selling wigs and dresses in Little Common. The Conservatives have selected Gino Forte, who runs a development company and a club in the town. The UKIP candidate is John Zipser. With the Lib Dem candidate having withdrawn their nomination, Labour's John Walker completes the district ballot paper.

January is a slow month for local by-elections and there are just four polls this month. This column will now take a two-week holiday before returning in time for the final two important votes, which will take place on 31st January. Please don't get withdrawal symptoms.

Andrew Teale

Bexhill West

Parliamentary constituency: Bexhill and Battle
Rother council wards: Collington (part), Kewhurst (part), St Marks

Geoffrey Bastin (UKIP)
Deirdre Earl-Williams (Ind)
Polly Gray (Grn)
Martin Kenward (C)
Richard Thomas (LD)
Jacque Walker (Lab)

May 2017 result Ind 2056 C 1356 Lab 290 LD 227 UKIP 148

St Marks

Parliamentary constituency: Bexhill and Battle
East Sussex county council division: Bexhill West

Gino Forte (C)
Kathy Harmer (Ind)
John Walker (Lab)
John Zipser (UKIP)

May 2015 result Ind 1312/808 C 1148/671 UKIP 608 Lab 318
May 2011 result Ind 1005 C 980/837 LD 494 Lab 213
May 2007 result C 1136/990 LD 605 Lab 133
May 2003 result C 1236/1106 LD 359


Previews: 20 Dec 2018

Before we start this week, there is a regrettable entry for Correction Corner. Christopher Millington, who contested the Toddbrook by-election in Harlow last week, was representing the Liberal Democrats and not, as I wrote, the Green Party. My apologies to all involved.

There are three by-elections on 20th December 2018, all Liberal Democrat defences:


Anstey

Charnwood council, Leicestershire; caused by the death of John Sutherington who was the only Liberal Democrat member of the council.

Well, last week was exciting, wasn't it? Yes, the big vote on Wednesday was a crushing win for the Ashfield Independents who polled 87% of the vote in Sutton-in-Ashfield, further proof that the voters of that corner of Nottinghamshire have confidence in the strong and stable leadership of Jason Zadrozny. Watch that man for the future, his star is in the ascendancy. Yes, last week was very difficult to write about because the pace of events on the national scene is just so fast these days. Not even satire can keep up: my Previews last week went through several last-minute redrafts and still ended up very dated. With Parliament yet to break up for the Christmas recess at the time of writing, there is still time for Things to Happen before you read this.

One of the other by-elections last week was in the council estates of Middlesbrough, a place which has been left behind by the death of its major industries and which - not coincidentally - came out in favour of leaving the EU those thirty long months ago. This is not a new phenomenon: technological change has been leaving places and people behind for a very long time, going back all the way to the Industrial Revolution and before. And for almost as long, people have been railing against technological change. Back in 1779, there was allegedly an incident in which a semi-legendary man called Edward Ludlam smashed up a couple of newfangled stocking frames in a spasm of rage; some decades later, his name - shortened to Ned Ludd - became appropriated for the Luddite protest movement against mechanisation and the industrial abuses which stemmed from it.

Ned Ludd (or Edward Ludlum) was from Anstey, a settlement on the edge of Charnwood Forest a few miles north of Leicester. Anstey is one of those awkward places to classify in that it's too large to comfortably be a village but too small to be a town, and that was also the case back in the nineteenth century when, despite Ludd's efforts, there was a thriving textile industry here with multiple hosiery factories. By the twentieth century there were other industries in Anstey - boots and shoes, wallpaper, tanning - and there is still a factory here making packaging together with the book publishers Ulverscroft, which specialises in large-print books for those with poor eyesight. Anstey's industry has, however, declined; and with its proximity to Leicester housebuilding has been the order of the day more recently. One street of new-build houses just off the main road to Leicester has been called, without a hint of irony, Ned Ludd Close.

Another road in Anstey was recently named after another local man. John Sutherington had represented the village on Charnwood council since 1999, from that year to 2003 as part of the former Bradgate ward, and was clearly well thought-of as a local councillor. He was born in Anstey in 1949 and lived here for the whole of his life, being a talented sportsman and musician in addition to his work and democratic duties. Unfortunately his last five years were blighted by aplastic anaemia, a bone marrow condition; and by becoming the victim of a telephone banking scam which cost him £20,000.

Sutherington had a clear personal vote, holding his seat easily in the 2007 election when his Lib Dem running-mate lost to the Conservatives. At his final re-election in 2015 that must have made all the difference because he held his seat by just sixteen votes over the second Conservative candidate. The lead Tory candidate that year had 34%, Sutherington as a single Lib Dem polled 26%, with UKIP and Labour on 16% each. The Conservatives normally have a better time at county council level: Anstey is part of the Bradgate division which is safe for the Tories.

John Sutherington was the last Liberal Democrat member of Charnwood council, and one suspects that with his passing there was nobody left to take up the Lib Dem torch in the area. In any event there is no defending Lib Dem candidate, so this by-election will form an early Christmas present with a gain for either the Conservative or Labour Parties. In the blue corner is Paul Baines, who is one of the few local election candidates notable enough to merit his own Wikipedia entry: Baines is a Professor of Political Marketing at the University of Leicester and has written several books on the subject, so now he has the chance to put his theory into practice. In the red corner is Glyn McAllister, vice-chairman of Anstey parish council and regular Labour candidate for the ward. With UKIP not returning, this is a straight fight. And there may be a rematch for the loser in short order, because the winner of this by-election will need to seek re-election in May 2019.

Parliamentary constituency: Charnwood
Leicestershire county council division: Bradgate
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode district: LE7

Paul Baines (C)
Glyn McAllister (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1552/1163 LD 1179 UKIP 739 Lab 717/443 Grn 417
May 2011 resut LD 1087 C 989/631 Lab 518/335 BNP 215
May 2007 result C 934/737 LD 883/644 BNP 422
May 2003 result LD 962/659 C 571/372 Lab 130


Kent Estuary

Cumbria county council; and

Arnside and Milnthorpe

South Lakeland council, Cumbria; both caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Ian Stewart at the age of 65. The deputy leader of Cumbria county council, Stewart was first elected to county hall in 2001 and had served on South Lakeland council since winning a by-election in May 2002, originally sitting for Arnside and Beetham ward.

We finish for the year in the beautiful hills and valleys of Cumbria: not in the Lake District, but on the banks of Morecambe Bay. Here, on the Kent Estuary, can be found the Westmorland village of Arnside hugging the hillside next to the water. Arnside was a port in days gone by, with boats negotiating the treacherous waters of the Bay to get here; but in 1857 the railway came, with a long viaduct being built from Arnside over the estuary towards Grange-over-Sands and on to Ulverston and Barrow. The railway is still here, but the port has gone: the viaduct caused the estuary to silt up. The village lies on the side of Arnside Knott, a 522-foot hill which is recognised as England's lowest Marilyn - that is, a summit with at least 150 metres descent on all sides.

The railway runs south from Arnside towards the junction at Carnforth over the border in Lancashire, from where Arnside gets its post. However, the main lines of communication in the area run further to the east away from Kentdale, with the West Coast Main Line and M6 motorway passing through the hills east of Beetham and Milnthorpe. These are villages on the A6 road between Carnforth and Kendal which still take most of their custom from tourism and passing trade on the road, although there are some rather surprising other industries. Such as this, which was first made in 1983 in Milnthorpe:

https://youtu.be/wYj5o4kQsXs

Despite the advertising, Um Bongo is still not available in the Congo, although this may change with the forthcoming free trade agreements we are promised post-Brexit. Watch this space.

Also made in Milnthorpe was a man whose signature appears on the Lib Dem nomination papers for these by-elections. Timothy James Farron was born in 1970 in Preston and from his earliest days went pretty much straight into politics, serving on the NUS executive and becoming the first Liberal to be elected president of the Newcastle University students' union. While still a student he contested the 1992 general election as Liberal Democrat candidate for North West Durham, finishing third behind the re-elected Labour MP and a young woman from the Tories called Theresa May. (Whatever happened to her?) After spells on Lancashire county council and South Ribble district council, Farron moved to Milnthorpe and got his big break by being selected for the Lib Dem target seat of Westmorland and Lonsdale in 2001; he failed to win that year but made some encouraging progress. In the following years the Lib Dems took control of South Lakeland council by convincing the Labour vote in Kendal to defect to them en masse, and Farron rode that Liberal wave into Parliament in 2005.

Tim Farron became leader of the Liberal Democrats following the near-wipeout of 2015, and fat lot of good it did him. With local election results pointing towards a slow Conservative recovery in Westmorland and Lonsdale, the Tories put some effort into a decapitation strategy in the 2017 general election; Farron held his seat, but only by 777 votes on an adverse swing of over 8%. Following the loss of Southport, Leeds North West and Sheffield Hallam that year, Farron is the only Liberal Democrat MP in the north of England. He resigned the party leadership shortly after the election, a decision which should give him more time to concentrate on his constituency. And he'll need to do so: if the proposed boundary changes go through then Appleby-in-Westmorland and a large rural swathe full of Tory voters will be transferred into his seat, potentially wiping out that majority.

The Westmorland Lib Dems may already be seeing the fruits of those labours in Farron's home ward, which swung towards the party this year. These boundaries were first used in 2001 as the Kent Estuary division of Cumbria county council, and were left unchanged by a further redistribution in 2013. Ian Stewart had been the county councillor for Kent Estuary throughout that time: at his last re-election in 2017 he had a 53-37 lead over the Conservatives, a swing of around eight points against the Lib Dems since 2013.

During this time South Lakeland district had rather unusual electoral arrangements, in that most of its wards were single-member but it used the thirds electoral cycle. All good things must come to an end, and a rewarding earlier this year replaced that with a more conventional cycle of thirds elections with wards of three councillors each. That meant that the former two-seat ward of Arnside and Beetham was merged with the single-member Milnthorpe ward to create a new three-seat ward which has exactly the same boundaries as the Kent Estuary county division - but just to confuse matters has a different name, "Arnside and Milnthorpe". In the May 2018 elections Arnside and Milnthorpe elected the Lib Dem slate with a 52-32 lead over the Conservatives; Ian Stewart beat the alphabet to top the poll, suggesting that he had developed a personal vote.

The Lib Dems will be hoping that that personal vote carries over to Stewart's successors in these by-elections. Defending the Kent Estuary seat on the county council is Pete McSweeney, who was elected to South Lakeland council from Arnside and Beetham ward in 2016 and re-elected here in 2018; this is a busy time for McSweeney as he was elected in third place in May, meaning that he got only a one-year term and will need to seek re-election to the district council in May 2019. The Conservatives have selected Tom Harvey, a South Lakeland councillor for the neighbouring ward of Burton and Crooklands. A Tory gain could have implications for control of the county council, which is presently run by a Labour-Lib Dem coalition which holds 41 out of 84 seats plus this vacancy; the Conservatives are the largest single group with 36 seats plus another vacancy, and five independent councillors hold the balance of power at the Courts in Carlisle.

On a rare all-female ballot paper for the Arnside and Milnthorpe seat on South Lakeland district council, the Lib Dems have nominated Helen Chaffey who is an Arnside parish councillor and a marketing careers coach at Lancaster University's management school. The Conservative candidate is Milnthorpe resident Rachel Ashburner who was on the Conservative slate here in May. Completing both ballot papers are Jill Abel for the Green Party and Kate Love for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Westmorland and Lonsdale
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kendal
Postcode districts: LA5, LA6, LA7

May 2018 district council result LD 1513/1449/1440 C 930/916/677 Grn 353/123/100 Lab 140
May 2017 county council result LD 1422 C 995 Grn 162 Lab 103
May 2013 county council result LD 1492 C 676 Lab 159
June 2009 county council result LD 2123 C 1032 Lab 61
May 2005 county council result LD 2038 C 1526 Lab 319
May 2001 county council result LD 1965 C 1725

Kent Estuary

Jill Abel (Grn)
Tom Harvey (C)
Kate Love (Lab)
Pete McSweeney (LD)

Arnside and Milnthorpe

Jill Abel (Grn)
Rachel Ashburner (C)
Helen Chaffey (LD)
Kate Love (Lab)


"The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?"

"The same procedure as every year, James."

So we have come to the end of the psephological year of 2018, one of the most volatile and exhausting years in British politics since, well, 2017. All sorts of Things may have Happened this year, but at least we were spared a general election this time round. Nonetheless there is an awful lot of volatility in politics right now not just in the British bubble in which we live, but around the world. We are cursed to live in Interesting Times, and the curse has clearly not yet been broken. I'm writing this on Monday, and with talk of a confidence motion against Theresa May the Christmas Truce clearly isn't in force yet. One suspects that this week's Previews will suffer the same fate as the last: of becoming hopelessly out of date in the period after my submission deadline.

This is the last Andrew's Previews of the year, and traditionally this column likes to take the opportunity to look back over the old year and forward to the new. This column traditionally signs off by wishing for all readers that their coming year be better than the one just gone. This column doesn't traditionally come into the Christmas period with dire warnings of a chaotic no-deal dystopia all over the press unless Something Happens to stop it over the next fourteen weeks.

One of the reasons I write nearly-exclusively about local politics is that I'm as sick of Brexit as you are, and local government is one of the areas least touched by the subject. But hysteria like that is only going to get worse as 29th March approaches, and one of these days the electorate are going to sit up and notice it. One of the few predictions that can be made with any certainty about the whole Brexit process is that come exit day an awful lot of people - on both sides of the Remain-Leave divide - are going to be disappointed for a whole host of reasons. I'm reminded of what happened five years ago in the wake of the referendum on Scottish independence; the Scottish National Party may have lost that one, but the number of disappointed people - on both sides of the Yes-No divide - led to a political realignment which has left the Nationalists in the ascendancy and the Scottish Labour Party on the canvas. They are yet to climb off the floor.

During that realignment it was the opinion polls which picked up the earliest signs of the change, but it was the local by-elections which proved that the shift was real. New parties may be here today, gone tomorrow, but what turns a transient opinion poll movement into something tangible? Boots on the ground. Organisation. Getting your message out in the cities, the towns, the suburbs, the estates, the villages, the places where ordinary people live. And it's the local by-elections which pick those shifts up first. We saw it in Scotland in 2014-15 with the rise of the SNP; we saw it in England earlier in 2014 as UKIP started to gain council seats from seemingly nowhere.

We may see something similar in the aftermath of Brexit, as there will be an awful lot of disappointed people - some of whom may be looking for a new political home. There are credible ways in which both main parties can deliver knockout blows on the other: there are realistic scenarios in which one or both of the main parties implode under the weight of their own contradictions. There might even be opportunities for minor parties if they can play their hand well. Volatile political times may very quickly turn into volatile electoral times. Watch this space.

The first scheduled chance the UK's electors will have to deliver their verdict on whatever post-Brexit political landscape we get will be (unless a general election turns up beforehand) the local government elections on Thursday 2nd May 2019. This is the largest year of the local electoral cycle, with nearly every district council seat in the Tory shires, together with the whole of local government in Northern Ireland, up for election. Any hint of post-Brexit chaos affecting the ordinary voters of the English or the six counties may not be taken kindly by the core electorate of the Conservative government, not to mention that of the Democratic Unionists who sustain them in office. The electoral dangers should be obvious. The political volatility is such that predicting any more than that at this stage would merely be a hostage to fortune.

And fortune is not something which the UK's local government has much of at the moment. The well-publicised case of Northamptonshire county council, which in 2018 issued not one but two notices banning all non-essential spending, is merely the tip of the iceberg. There are many more local councils out there struggling to balance the books in the face of reduced central grants, increased responsibilities and eroded spending power. It's hard to see this changing in the near future.

In the face of such economic pressure the trend has been for further consolidation in what is already some of the most remote local government in Europe. Next April fifteen district or county councils will disappear, with wholesale reorganisation in Dorset, two Somerset councils merging into one and and two new district councils being created in Suffolk to replace four old ones. The insolvency of Northamptonshire county council has forced reorganisation in that county, and the Northants shire district elections in 2019 have already been cancelled. Buckinghamshire's elections next year look likely to be called off as well. Other counties have debated reorganisation schemes, and the Local Government Boundary Commission is consistently finding that the councils they are reviewing want to propose cuts in councillor numbers while their populations increase - not in the name of increased or improved democracy, but in the name of saving money.

It's not just councillor allowances that are the point of that trend: elections cost money as well. The Electoral Commission has put a warning out to returning officers to ensure they keep hold of the money required to organise a European Parliament election, in the event that we haven't left the EU by the middle of May. Even the average local by-election costs a five-figure sum in staff time, polling station hire, ballot paper printing costs, franking for postal votes and so on.

In 2018 Andrew's Previews covered nearly three hundred local by-elections, which attracted over a thousand candidates (four of whom were elected unopposed) and in which over half a million votes were cast. The only major contest which escaped this column's attention was the West Tyrone parliamentary by-election in May, but we made up for that by covering Northern Ireland for the first time with the Carrick Castle by-election this autumn.

Half a million votes doesn't necessarily mean half a million readers, but I am grateful to everyone who takes the time to read the Previews and to those who comment on them and spot the mistakes which sneaked through. Thank you. I try to follow the Reithian principle of "inform and entertain", and hopefully you have found some entertainment and been better informed about the UK and its political scene: both nationally and locally. As we demonstrate from week to week, there are lots of stories to tell. There will be no shortage of new stories in the year ahead.

Some of you even took the time to buy the books. Andrew's Previews 2016 and 2017 remain and will remain available from Amazon, and I am considering a third book in the series to cover 2018. If you think this is a good or bad idea, let me know either in the comments or through the medium of Twitter. And remember that if you buy one or more of the Andrew's Previews books, you will be helping the future of the column because the profits will support the necessary research; and in return for that donation you'll get a nice book as a thank-you. Thank you.

Thanks are also due to the Britain Elects team, who have been steadfast in support of this column over the last year. If it hadn't been for your support, this wouldn't have happened on the same scale. Long may you go from strength to strength. Thank you.

As I said, another turbulent political year is in prospect for the year of Our Lord, 2019, and Britain Elects and this column will cover it in all the usual detail as the weeks and months unfold. In the meantime, Christmas is upon us, and it is time to close down for the year in the words that have become traditional. This column will return in time for the first local by-elections of 2019, to be held in Bexhill-on-Sea on Thursday 10th January; until then, may I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and may your 2019 be an improvement on your 2018.

https://youtu.be/1pks0D2xBfI