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on the outbreak of the Second World War and was posted to defend Bexhill from another imminent invasion, with rather outdated weaponry...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


Previews: 13 Dec 2018

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

There are four local by-elections on Thursday 13th December 2018, with Labour defending three seats in England and the Conservatives one in Scotland. Read on...


West Green

Haringey council, North London; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Ishmael Osamor.

As anybody who performs on a stage will know, timing is everything. We're in a fast-changing political landscape here, and that's creating all sorts of problems for Andrew's Previews. Being a busy man, I drafted this piece last weekend prepared for all political eventualities, with the exception of the one that actually happened with the Meaningful Vote getting called off before my submission deadline; so there has been some rather hasty redrafting going on to fit the new political context. Westminster being as febrile as it is at the moment, by the time you read this things might have changed significantly yet again.

The local by-election cycle turns more slowly than the 24-hour news cycle, and the middle of December marks the point at which we start winding down towards the Christmas and New Year break. There are just four by-elections today, with the three in England all being in safe Labour wards based on large council estates. Mid-December is also the point of the year where we look back on the fifty-two weeks just gone and start to give out awards: and one of the more pointless awards is that for the Word of the Year, adjudicated by the Oxford Dictionaries. The Oxonian lexicographers selected a word which is not a new coinage but does fairly sum up the political situation in the year of our Lord, 2018: "toxic".

Which brings us neatly to this week's first by-election. There are all sorts of toxic things out there, not all of which are political. Indeed some toxic things are quite enjoyable: it's not for nothing that the dictionary lists "intoxicating" as a synonym of "exhilarating" or "exciting". Some toxic things are, however, quite illegal. Some are both enjoyable and illegal.

A lesson learned the hard way this year by a man in his twenties called Ishmael Osamor. In 2017 Mr Osamor had travelled to the Lulworth Estate in Dorset to attend the music festival Bestival. On the second day of Bestival s2017 he was caught by police in possession of £2,500 worth of cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine, which led to charges being brought. At Bournemouth crown court in October 2018 Osamor pleaded guilty to four drugs offences - three counts of possession with intent to supply and one of possession - and was sentenced to a two-year community order. His mum stood by him, which is fair enough: that's what mums do. And in the normal course of events that would probably have been that.

This, of course, is not the normal course of events. (Why do you think I'm writing this?) Ishmael Osamor's mum is also his employer: she is Kate Osamor, Member of Parliament for Edmonton and (until she resigned the week before last following some ill-judged words to a journalist looking into the whole affair) shadow international development secretary, and she employs Ishmael in her parliamentary office. And between charges being brought and the trial taking place, Osamor junior had entered the weird and wacky world of Haringey Labour politics by being elected to Haringey council in May this year. He had already made his mark by joining the council's cabinet. A two-year community order is nowhere near the sentence level which would have disqualified him from the council; but when the conviction became public knowledge questions were inevitably raised over how this person was selected as a candidate given that there were criminal charges hanging over him. Knowing that timing is everything, Ishmael Osamor chose to exit the political stage before he was pushed, and immediately resigned from Haringey council after less than six months in office.

It's rather a long way from the Lulworth Estate to the Broadwater Farm Estate, both geographically and socially. The Farm is the major part of Haringey's West Green ward: in a borough starkly divided between rich and poor, this is in the poor half. Although most of the area was built-up by 1920 as the railways connected Tottenham to central London, Broadwater Farm remained rural thanks to its low-lying ground which was prone to flooding from the River Moselle; when Tottenham urban district council bought the farm in 1932 it initially turned half of it into a park (the Lordship Recreation Ground) and the other half into allotments.

Development came to the Moselle valley (that reminds me, I must get some wine in for Christmas) in 1967 with Haringey council commencing construction of the Broadwater Farm Estate, a series of concrete carbuncles in the style of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret. Le Corbusier may have seen the house as a machine for living in, but the Broadwater Farm housing didn't prove a very effective machine in its initial form: within a decade of opening the Department of the Environment had called for demolition as the only way of improving it. The Farm became a byword for unsuccessful social housing, and its problems came to a head in 1985 with race riots and the still-unsolved murder of PC Keith Blakelock. Things have turned around dramatically since, and in 2005 the Metropolitan Police disbanded its Broadwater Farm unit because there was such a low crime rate on the estate. Despite some redevelopment, the problems with substandard housing haven't gone away, and the Grenfell Tower fire brought things to a head: two of the Farm's tower blocks were condemned and evacuated earlier this year pending demolition, with nine others found to be structurally unsafe.

This ward isn't all Broadwater Farm, of course; to the west of the Lordship Recreation Ground are a series of Victorian terraces along Downhills Way and Westbury Avenue, while the West Green area itself is at the ward's southern end. Connections to Central London are provided by the Underground station at Turnpike Lane, which is at the western corner of the ward.

The census makes the point that this is one of the most ethnically diverse areas of London. In 2011 West Green was in the top 25 wards in England and Wales for the "White Other" ethnic group at 31% of the population; that compared to 24% black (just outside the top 100), 22% White British and 5.6% "other" ethnic groups. It was in the top 50 wards for those new born in the new EU states, with Poles and Bulgarians particularly strongly represented; the census also picked up large proportions born in Turkey and Ghana.

There has been a West Green ward since Haringey borough was formed in 1965, and for some time afterwards this was a close-fought marginal ward with one of the strongest Conservative votes in Tottenham. The Tories carried West Green in 1968 and 1982, and won two out of three seats here in 1986. Things changed in the early 1990s with a change in Haringey's housing policy so that people on the housing waiting list couldn't refuse an offer without a good reason. This allowed Broadwater Farm to fill up (large parts of it had previously been unoccupied) at the same time as the Conservative vote was melting away in the aftermath of Black Wednesday. The 1994 council elections marked a decisive shift with the Conservative vote halving, and Labour haven't been seriously challenged here since. One other footnote from 1994 is that the ward was contested that year by George Silcott, brother of Winston Silcott who had been wrongly convicted of PC Blakelock's murder; George stood as an independent and finished last out of 11 candidates.

Haringey Labour has had its problems over the years, most recently with a well-publicised takeover by the party's left wing in advance of the 2018 elections - rather appropriate really in a borough where Jeremy Corbyn used to be a councillor. The left-wing takeover clearly went down badly in the muesli belt of Hornsey and Wood Green (the Liberal Democrats gained six council seats there in May) but probably didn't have as much of an adverse effect in West Green ward. In May Labour won here with 64% of the vote, with the Greens best of the rest on 13%; the Lib Dems, Conservatives and George Galloway's Respect party have all filled the runner-up spot here at some point this century. In the 2016 London Mayoral election Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith here 69-13, while the Labour slate led the Greens 63-12 in the London Members ballot.

Defending for Labour is Seema Chandwani, a Unite figure and chairwoman of the Haringey trades union council. The Green Party candidate is Cecily Spelling who works for an environmental charity. Also standing are Mirza Baig for the Conservatives and Elizabeth Payne for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Tottenham
London Assembly constituency: Enfield and Haringey
Postcode districts: N15, N17, N22

Mirza Baig (C)
Seema Chandwani (Lab)
Elizabeth Payne (LD)
Cecily Spelling (Grn)

May 2018 result Lab 2077/2072/1899 Grn 437/272/270 C 292/266/231 LD 277/254/214 Ind 167
May 2014 result Lab 1780/1772/1697 Grn 455/361/325 C 383/326/290 LD 238/215/177 TUSC 237/187/154
May 2010 result Lab 2471/2264/2262 LD 926/866/826 C 803/780/761 Grn 595/333/325
May 2006 result Lab 1992/1135/1073 Respect 626/535 Grn 649 LD 426/329/328 C 378/336/324
May 2002 result Lab 1100/1079/1033 C 340/306/257 LD 313/227/223 Grn 269 Socialist Alliance 142/116


Toddbrook

Harlow council, Essex; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Karen Clempner who had served since 2015.

We move further up the Lea Valley to the centre of the New Town of Harlow. Here can be found the main central shopping area, the Harvey Shopping Centre, the Playhouse and the Water Gardens; south of those is the Todd Brook, a stream after which the ward is named; and south of that is the ward's main housing area along Partridge Road and Tendring Road. Continuing our Council Estate theme, this is New Town development mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, with high levels of social housing and a working-class demographic.

Toddbrook ward normally votes Labour, although the Conservatives won it at a by-election in October 2007 and in the 2008 election, and UKIP were only 28 votes behind Labour in 2014. Since then Labour have made this ward safe again: in May this year their outgoing councillor Tony Edwards was re-elected by a margin of 52-33 over the Conservatives, which was a slight swing in his favour from the September 2017 by-election at which Edwards was first elected. The Andrew's Previews entry for that by-election is republished in the book Andrew's Previews 2017, a delightful Christmas gift for the discerning follower of politics. However, the Conservatives represent this area both at Parliamentary level and on Essex county council, where they gained the Harlow West division from Labour last year.

And, like Haringey earlier, this is a council where the ruling Labour group has been the subject of a left-wing takeover in recent months. Clempner cited an uncomfortable atmosphere within Harlow Labour in her resignation statement; and she's clearly not alone in that because she's the fourth Harlow Labour councillor to resign this year, at last three of three resignations coming after run-ins with the left of the party. That list includes Karen Clempner's husband John, who was leader of the council until he was effectively deposed in January.

Defending for Labour this time is Frances Mason. The Conservative candidate is Tom Reynolds. Also standing are former Harlow councillor Dan Long for UKIP and Christopher Millington for the Green Party. Whoever wins is likely to be back on the campaign trail in short order to seek re-election in May 2019.

Parliamentary constituency: Harlow
Essex county council division: Harlow West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode districts: CM17, CM18, CM19, CM20

Dan Long (UKIP)
Frances Mason (Lab)
Christopher Millington (Grn)
Tom Reynolds (C)

May 2018 result Lab 856 C 551 UKIP 163 Harlow Alliance 84
September 2017 by-election Lab 702 C 486 UKIP 98 Grn 41 LD 19
May 2016 result Lab 835 C 412 UKIP 408
May 2015 result Lab 1520 C 1110 UIP 699
May 2014 result Lab 706 UKIP 678 C 452
November 2012 by-election Lab 604 C 383 UKIP 111 LD 53
May 2012 result Lab 902 C 654 LD 107
May 2011 result Lab 992 C 870 LD 154
May 2010 result Lab 1457 C 1266 LD 602
May 2008 result C 1064 Lab 667 LD 170
October 2007 by-election C 728 Lab 713 Respect 102 LD 67
May 2007 result Lab 795 C 770 Respect 250 LD 122
May 2006 result Lab 812 C 759 Respect 217 LD 202
June 2004 result Lab 756 C 524 Ind 289 LD 221
May 2003 result Lab 630 C 473 LD 189
May 2002 result Lab 947/897/878 C 643/620/595 LD 339/330/293


Brambles and Thorntree

Middlesbrough council, North Yorkshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Peter Purvis. He had served since 2007, originally being elected for Thorntree ward before transferring here in 2015.

For our final Labour defence of the week we are in sunny Middlesbrough. The Boro is not a rich town: with the death of the local iron and steel industry in many ways it's a place seeking for a new future for itself. The demise of the traditional industries has led to huge unemployment in Teesside, and few places have been worse hit than Brambles and Thorntree.

The Thorntree estate in particular gets a bad press. On the eastern edge of Middlesbrough, it dates from the late 1940s and is a bastion of the unskilled working class, which is a bit of a problem when there are very few jobs of that nature remaining on Teesside. The estate was a ward of its own until 2015; the old Thorntree ward was no 3 in the 2000 English indices of multiple deprivation, and in the 2011 census ranked 6th in England and Wales for unemployment (13%) and 6th again for adults with no qualifications (49%). It also made the top 100 wards in England and Wales in the "semi-routine" and "routine" occupational groups, those who have never worked or are long-term unemployed, those looking after home or family, those with long-term sickness or disability, social renting and under-16s. Until 2015 the Brambles Farm estate was in a ward with the Victorian terraces of North Ormesby which was more of the same: in 2011 North Ormesby and Brambles Farm ranked 11th for unemployment and was in the top 100 for no qualifications, routine work and semi-routine work.

Labour haven't had it all their own way in Middlesbrough: until 2015 the town was run by an independent elected mayor, and the Labour party won the mayoralty in 2015 very narrowly. Things were easier for the party in Brambles and Thorntree ward that year, though: the Labour slate won with 47%, to 23% for independent candidates and 22% for UKIP. Top of the independents was Len Junier, who was an outgoing Labour councillor for North Ormesby and Brambles Farm ward but sought re-election as an independent. There have been no local elections in Middlesbrough since then; the Middlesbrough parliamentary seat swung slightly to the Conservatives in June 2017, but they were a long way back.

Defending for Labour is Janet Thompson, who is hoping to join her husband Mick on the council - although perhaps not for long, as Mick Thompson has been selected as Labour's prospective candidate for the Middlesbrough mayoralty when it comes up for election next year. There is an independent candidate, Graham Wilson. UKIP have not returned, so the Tories' David Smith (returning from 2015) and the Lib Dems' Paul Hamilton complete the ballot paper. As with the Harlow vacancy above, whoever wins will have a very short term of office before May 2019 when they will need to seek re-election.

Parliamentary constituency: Middlesbrough
Postcode district: TS3

Paul Hamilton (LD)
David Smith (C)
Janet Thompson (Lab)
Graham Wilson (Ind)

May 2015 result Lab 1006/1004/921 Ind 480/342/327 UKIP 475 C 171


Dee and Glenkens

Dumfries and Galloway council, Scotland; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Patsy Gilroy who had served since 1999. She was Convenor of the council in 2007-12, and since standing down has been appointed by the Queen as Lord Lieutenant of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.

We finish north of the border, but very much in the borderlands. The very name of Kirkcudbrightshire harks back to that of a man whose reputation straddled England and Scotland before England and Scotland were even thought of: the seventh-century Saint Cuthbert, who preached here when this was part of the Kingdom of Northumbria. Cuthbert's remains were buried in the town named after him, Kirkcudbright, at one point on their journey between Lindisfarne and Durham Cathedral where they lie today.

That protracted journey for Cuthbert's remains was to keep them out of the clutches of the Norsemen, who from the ninth century were in the ascendancy in Galloway. The area became a distinct region with a substantial Gaelic-speaking population and links over the water to the Isle of Man and the Kingdom of the Isles. A line of independent Lords of Galloway grew up, who played off the ongoing divisions between Scotland and England for their own advantage: it wasn't until the death in 1234 of Alan, Lord of Galloway, who left no legitimate male heir, that the Kings of Scotland were finally able to take control of the area. The title of Lord of Galloway was revived in 1372 for Archibald the Grim, who was granted the revenues of all the land between the Nith and Cree rivers; he appointed a steward to collect the monies, and Kirkcudbrightshire became known as "the Stewartry"; a name which still persists today.

This is a remote and sparsely-populated area far from the main lines of communication; all the railways in Kirkcudbrightshire were closed by Beeching, and the only major road is that linking Dumfries with the port of Stranraer. That main road studiously avoids Kirkcudbright, which with slightly over 3,000 souls is the main centre of population. Kirkcudbright is a market town for the local area with connections to art: many artists of the Glasgow art movement were based here, and Dorothy L Sayers played on that tradition by setting her novel The Five Red Herrings in Kirkcudbright's artistic community. A more surprising recent work of art associated with the area is the classic horror film The Wicker Man, which may be set in the Hebrides (and indeed some scenes were filmed in Plockton, where we were last week) but was mostly filmed in Kirkcudbright and the surrounding area.

The Dee and Glenkens ward was created by boundary changes in 2017; it was the successor to the former Dee ward, which was the southern end of this ward based around Kirkcudbright and Gatehouse of Fleet; the name comes from the river on which Kirkcudbright stands. Last year's changes year brought in the Glenkens area, a large expanse based on the village of New Galloway which before the 1975 reform was Scotland's smallest Royal Burgh.

Following the Conservative wipeout of 1997 Galloway was the first part of Scotland to see a revival for them: the Tories recovered the constituency based on Galloway in 2001, but boundary changes in 2005 (which brought in the town of Dumfries) then knocked them out here. The Dumfries and Galloway constituency voted Labour in 2005 apparently thanks to a large tactical vote by SNP supporters; this unwound in 2015 when the SNP gained the seat, but the Tories did finally break through in 2017 when Dumfries and Galloway was one of the Scottish Tory gains which kept the Conservatives in office. The Scottish Parliament constituency based on Galloway - currently called Galloway and West Dumfries - is better territory for the Conservatives who have held it since 2003.

Kirkcudbrightshire tends to be the most Tory part of Gallwoay, and when Dee ward was created in 2007 they tried for two out of three seats. It didn't come off: although Gilroy was re-elected for a third term, so was outgoing independent councillor Jane Maitland and there were enough SNP votes for them to win the final seat. The Nationalists were however knocked out in 2012 by independent candidate Colin Wyper, who wyped the floor with the opposition: he topped the poll and was elected on the first count.

For the May 2017 election on the new lines Wyper retired, apparently with a severe case of disillusionment, resulting in more major vote changes. Patsy Gilroy polled 33% for the Tories and was easily re-elected on the first count; the SNP polled 20% and went on to win the second seat, and independent councillor Jane Maitland was re-elected thanks to Conservative transfers: she had started fourth on 14% but overtook another independent, Douglas Swan, who had 16%. Scottish by-election blogger Allan Faulds has examined the preference profile, finding that if the 2017 election had been for one seat Gilroy would have beaten the SNP very easily. However, this may be a red herring because examination of the candidate list shows that Colin Wyper is back on the scene, and if he can recover the support he had in 2012 Wyper could be a major contender for this by-election.

Defending for the Conservatives is Pauline Drysdale, who is a partner in a family catering firm as well as being an active charity fundraiser. The Scottish National Party candidate is Glen Murray who has had a varied career, from being a manager at a multinational publishing company to serving on the Kirkcudbright lifeboat crew. A gain for Murray will be a gain for the administration on Dumfries and Galloway council, which is a coalition of the SNP and Labour. As stated, Colin Wyper is back on the scene: a caravan park manager, he is running very much on an anti-administration ticket. A quick reminder that Votes at 16 and the Alternative Vote apply here, so if those candidates are the top three the transfers from whoever finishes third could be crucial. Completing the ballot paper are Laura Moodie for the Green Party and Jennifer Blue for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Dumfries and Galloway
Scottish Parliament constituency: Galloway and West Dumfries
Postcode districts: DG3, DG6, DG7

Jennifer Blue (UKIP)
Pauline Drysdale (C)
Laura Moodie (Grn)
Glen Murray (SNP)
Colin Wyper (Ind)

May 2017 result C 1547 SNP 904 Ind 732 Ind 664 Grn 292 Lab 217 Ind 120 LD 85 Ind 61


Previews: 12 Dec 2018

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

This column does indeed cover all the important votes, and local by-elections, unlike those votes held in the Palace of Westminster, tend not to be called off at the last moment. We already know the winner of one of this week's six polls, the election for Alderman of Broad Street ward in the City of London: nobody challenged the incumbent Alderman Michael Mainelli, and he will be formally declared re-elected at the Wardmote tonight. This column sends its congratulations to Alderman Mainelli. That's not the only piece of electoral news taking place today, as we go to Nottinghamshire for an unusual Wednesday by-election...


Sutton Junction and Harlow Wood

Ashfield council, Nottinghamshire; caused by the resignation of Steven Carroll, who had been elected for Labour but had defected to the Ashfield Independents group. He was first elected in 2011, sitting for the predecessor ward of Sutton in Ashfield East until 2015; and had also been a long-serving Nottinghamshire county councillor until losing his seat in 2017.

We have come to Sutton-in-Ashfield, a town of around 45,000 souls some miles to the north of Nottingham. Although there is (or was) coal down below, Sutton-in-Ashfield was traditionally more of a textile town specialising in hosiery. The town's main park, Sutton Lawns, was once the grounds of a stately home built by a hosiery merchant, whose mill still stands on the edge of the park; and the tights and stockings brand Pretty Polly started life in Sutton-in-Ashfield in 1919. (In case you're wondering, the name comes from a racehorse which won the Fillies' Triple Crown in 1904; a local bookmaker made a lot of money from that, and his daughter lifted the name for the company.) Pretty Polly was still manufacturing here until 2005, but then crossed the border into Derbyshire where its products are now made in Belper.

This ward covers the eastern end of Sutton-in-Ashfield together with the village of Harlow Wood, located to the south of Mansfield in one of the few remaining parts of Sherwood Forest. Harlow Wood specialises in help for the infirm and disabled: there was once an orthopaedic hospital here, while still going is Portland College which provides vocational training for the disabled. Its original intake in 1949 was made up of Second World War veterans and former miners.

Sherwood Forest was of course the home of that noted criminal Robin Hood, whose speciality was in income redistribution in favour of the poor. This is similar to the sort of thing the Labour Party might like to get the chance to do, but the modern residents of what was Sherwood Forest don't always agree with that policy. Ashfield's politics has never been quite the same since the political rise of Jason Zadrozny, who became leader of the council in 2007 at the age of just 27 as leader of the Liberal Democrat group: three years later he was less than 200 votes away from becoming the first Lib Dem MP for Ashfield. Despite Labour regaining an overall majority on the council in 2011, the Ashfield Lib Dems didn't give up and were very confident of getting Zadrozny over the line and into Parliament in the 2015 general election - until just before the close of nominations when he was arrested on child sax allegations.

The case didn't come to trial until November 2017, at which point the prosecution offered no evidence and Zadrozny was acquitted of all charges. In the meantime he had been re-elected to Ashfield council and Nottinghamshire county council as an independent, having been dropped by the Lib Dems, as well as contesting the 2016 election for Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner.

With his political career free to resume, Zadrozny has wasted no time in getting back to the levers of power, helped by an almighty split in the Ashfield Labour party which in the 2015 election had won 22 out of 35 seats, with 5 Lib Dems, 4 Conservatives and 4 Independents forming the opposition. There was a sign of things to come in the last Ashfield by-election, held in Hucknall in October 2017 to replace Tory councillor Ben Bradley who had been elected as Tory MP for Mansfield. Let that sink in for the moment: a Tory MP for Mansfield. The Conservatives resoundingly lost that council by-election to the Zadroznyite independents. Six months later, Jason Zadrozny was back as council leader after several Labour councillors defected: his Ashfield Independents group runs a minority administration with 10 councillors, against 14 Labour, 5 Conservatives, 5 other independents, zero Liberal Democrats and this vacancy.

Which is suitably complicated, for Steven Carroll was one of the Labour councillors who had defected to the Zadrozynite banner. This ward was created only in 2015 when the Boundary Commission split up the former Sutton in Ashfield East ward into several smaller areas: and Carroll was elected very narrowly in that year. His winning score was 661 votes with the Liberal Democrats just six votes behind on 655; both parties had 38% of the vote, with the Conservatives taking the remaining 25%. With the turnaround in the district's political scene since then, a better guide may be the Nottinghamshire county council elections in May last year: all three Sutton-in-Ashfield divisions returned Zadroznyite candidates with over 60% of the vote, Labour's Steve Carroll losing his seat in Sutton Central and East (which includes this ward) by the score of 60-32. And no doubt watching closely will be the shadow justice secretary and Labour MP for Ashfield Gloria de Piero, who was re-elected in June last year with a 9% swing against her and a majority of just 441 votes over the Conservatives.

So this by-election looks more consequential than most, as it will give an important indication of where the electoral momentum (as opposed the political momentum, or even the political Momentum) is in this corner of Nottinghamshire. The Ashfield Independents will be hoping to defend their defection gain, and have selected Matthew Relf who works in IT. Labour will want their seat back, and their candidate is Kevin Hall. The Lib Dems will be hoping to prove that there is life after Zadrozny with Martin Howes, a business analyst. You can't really blame the Conservatives for running a Self-centred campaign, because Christine Self is their candidate. Also standing are two candidates who in this time of Brexit will be hoping to appeal to the town's Leave majority: Stephen Crosby for the Democrats and Veterans Party and Moira Sansom for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashfield
Nottinghamshire county council division: Sutton Central and East
Postcode districts: NG17, NG18

Stephen Crosby (Democrats and Veterans)
Kevin Hall (Lab)
Martin Howes (LD)
Matthew Relf (Ashfield Ind)
Moira Sansom (UKIP)
Christine Self (C)

May 2015 result Lab 661 LD 655 C 430


Previews: 06 Dec 2018

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

Four by-elections on Thursday 6th December 2018, with the Lib Dems defending two seats and Labour and the Conservatives one each. Without further ado, let's start with the big one:


Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh

Highland council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Kate Stephen. She was first elected in 2012 for Culloden and Ardersier ward, transferring here following boundary changes in 2017; Stephen is standing down due to increased work commitments.

Brace yourselves. Winter is coming. We travel to the sparsely-populated North for a fascinating contest to start off this week's council by-elections. It's a land of many political interests, with intrigue aplenty as the various actors seek independence, or control of the levers of power, or both, amid some of the most beautiful scenery and dubious weather imaginable. In the latest eagerly-anticipated episode the Liberal Democrats have abdicated their share of the quadripartite throne, and it's a fight to the political death for the right to sit uneasily upon it. There's only place we can possibly be with that introduction. Welcome to Wester Ross.

A phrase which may often be said by the locals, for this area is popular with holidaymakers from all over the world. The mountain scenery is spectacular, with the Ice Age having left behind deep valleys separating steep mountains of over 1,000 metres in height, which attract the camera and test the Munro-bagger. Those mountains are important to science as well. The Torridon Hills in particular are a magnet for geologists as they are made up of some of the oldest rocks in the world: 500-million-year-old pre-Cambrian sandstone sitting on Lewisian gneiss up to 3,000 million years old, which has weathered to create the west coast of the Highlands as we know it today. There are also attractions for the natural sciences as this area is a haven for wildlife, with all sorts of habitats from littoral to moorland to mountaintop; there are very few people living in this area to disturb the natural order, and even fewer roads to disturb the countryside. One of the roads which does exist here is notorious for its steep and treacherous route: but for many years the Bealach ne Bà was the only road connection to the west coast village of Applecross. Until it was built, anybody who wanted to travel to or from Applecross had to board a boat or get walking.

Further to the south is Lochalsh, which is similar in character but more strategically important. A history of Lochalsh really does read like Game of Thrones, with the kings of Dál Riata, Norway, Alba and the Kingdom of the Isles, together with various clan leaders, all fighting to be monarchs of the local glens at some point or another. The picturesque Eilean Donan castle, controlling the main road to the Kyle of Lochalsh and the Isle of Skye, bears witness to some of the more recent squabbles in this vein: it was destroyed in 1715 after the local Clans Mackenzie and Macrae had been leaders of the first Jacobite rebellion, and the modern castle is a twentieth-century reconstruction. That doesn't stop it being a tourist trap, mind. The main settlement here is Kyle of Lochalsh, from which a bridge leads over the sea to Skye. Kyle is one of the two railheads for Skye, but the railway doesn't follow the main road: instead it takes a more northerly route towards Easter Ross and Inverness, passing villages such as Plockton and Stromeferry on the shores of Lochcarron.

To the east the mountains ease and the area comes under the economic influence of Inverness, but you still can't get away from tourists. The town of Strathpeffer owes its very existence to non-locals: it was built in the Victorian era as a spa town, and at one point was the most northerly spa in Europe. Although the ward is known for its severe winter weather, Strathpeffer tends to avoid the worst of this through being sheltered to the west and north.

With all those inhospitable mountains, this is by a huge margin the UK's largest electoral ward. The Ordnance Survey has measured its area as 494,726 hectares or 1,190 square miles, which is bigger than two EU member states (Luxembourg and Malta) and one US state (Rhode Island). Only six English counties are larger.

The notice of poll reveals that this vast expanse has just 10,014 electors, who will be served by 25 polling stations. Rather an expense for the returning officer, who has already incurred some unbudgeted costs by sending out the polling cards for this by-election late, then sending them out twice, then sending out a letter to every elector apologising for this. The smallest polling station here, with just 47 people on the roll, is at Achnasheen which is a road junction and railway station on the Kyle Line and not much else; while the largest polling station in the ward with 1,543 electors is that at Ullapool. The largest and most important village in Wester Ross, and recognised by the ONS as the centre of its own Travel to Work Area, Ullapool was founded in 1788 by the British Fisheries Society and the sea is still important to its economy. There are regular roll-on roll-off ferries from here to Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides (yes, even on Sundays these days) and some fishing boats and yachts still operate out of this port on Lochbroom.

The Scottish Highlands is one of the last strongholds of the independent councillor. At election time, it's a place where the person often matters more than the party, although this isn't always foolproof - as could be attested by the case of Charles Kennedy, who represented this area in Parliament until 2015 when even he got swept away by the SNP tide. Until 2007 independents were generally in the ascendancy in this area, which was covered by several single-member electoral wards; but two of those wards had in 2003 elected party candidates, the SNP's Jean Urquhart winning Lochbroom ward (Ullapool and its hinterland) and the Lib Dems' Isabelle "Biz" Campbell being unopposed in Kinlochshiel ward (Lochalsh except for Kyle).

Urquhart and Campbell were re-elected at the first poll for the current ward in 2007, with two new independent councillors - Richard Greene and Audrey Sinclair - winning the ward's other two seats. Urquhart stood down in 2012 and was replaced by new SNP councillor Ian Cockburn; Campbell, who was re-elected on the Lib Dem ticket, immediately left the party and went independent. Not that it did her much good initially: an SNP-led coalition was formed to run the council with the independent group shut out, but that coalition fell apart in 2015 with the independents then forming a minority administration. The Independent Group is still in control, but having lost further seats in 2017 now rules in coalition with the Lib Dems and Labour; that coalition controls 39 of the 74 seats on Highland council.

In 2017 the SNP nominated Cockburn for re-election and tried for a second seat with new candidate Alexander MacInnes; independent councillors Biz Campbell and Richard Greene stood for re-election, Audrey Sinclair retired, and the Lib Dems nominated outgoing councillor Kate Stephen who had previously sat for Culloden and Ardersier ward (east of Inverness) but had been displaced by boundary changes. When the votes came out of the ballot boxes it was a complicated picture: 26% for the SNP, 18% for the Conservatives whose candidate Derek MacLeod led on the first count; and a bunfight for the final two seats between Campbell (14%), the Lib Dems (13%), Richard Greene (12%) and the Scottish Green Party (11%). In the count Cockburn was the first candidate to reach the 20% required for election, after his running-mate MacInnes was eliminated. Outgoing independent councillor Richard Greene attracted very few transfers and was overtaken by the Green Party; Greene's transfers put the Tories and Biz Campbell over the winning line, and the Lib Dems' Kate Stephen held off the Greens to win the final seat by 1,026 votes to 934.

With that sort of fragmented political picture, and with a very long candidate list for this by-election, the result of this poll looks rather unpredictable. Particularly so given that this is a Scottish local by-election, and so Votes at 16 and the Alternative Vote apply here. Transfers could be crucial. Defending for the Lib Dems, who start from fourth place, is George Scott who gives an address on Skye. The SNP have reselected their losing candidate from last year, Alexander MacInnes. MacInnes is fighting his second by-election of the year having stood in the neighbouring Caol and Mallaig ward in April, but this is his home turf - he lives in Wester Ross, is a native Gaelic speaker and works in the seafood industry. This seat is in the constituency of Ian Blackford, who leads the SNP delegation to Westminster, so the Nationalists will be looking for a good performance.

Three of the candidates give addresses outside the ward in the village of Muir of Ord. One is the Conservative nominee Gavin Berkenheger, a geologist who runs a company looking for gold deposits in Scotland. The other two are the two independent candidates, both of whom are former Highland councillors who lost their seats in 2017: one is Richard Greene who represented this ward from 2007 to 2017, while the other is Jean Davis who won a by-election in 2015 for the neighbouring Aird and Loch Ness ward on the Lib Dem ticket but lost re-election there last year (again as a Lib Dem). The following month Davis stood for Parliament as a Lib Dem, and she came nowhere near recovering the Ross, Skye and Lochaber seat which the late Charles Kennedy lost in 2015.

The Scottish Greens, who were runners-up here last year, have selected Irene Brandt who lives in a village near Ullapool and is described as a community campaigner. Completing the nine-strong ballot paper are Labour's Christopher Birt, who finished last here in 2017; Harry Christian for the Libertarian Party; and Les Durance for UKIP. Don't wait up all night for the result because the count won't start until Friday morning.

I cannot resist finishing this preview with one of my favourite pieces of music. The brass band composer Philip Sparke wrote a suite some years ago for brass band called Hymn of the Highlands, many of whose movements are named after locations in this ward - including the final movement "Dundonnell", which in the video below is paired with a series of beautiful photographs of the Highlands. Hopefully this will help to set the scene - and maybe even provoke a yearning to be another of those tourists that come here?

https://youtu.be/56UuL6dvsaw

Parliamentary constituency: Ross, Skye and Lochaber
Scottish Parliament constituency: Caithness, Sutherland and Ross (Wester Ross and Strathpeffer); Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch (Lochalsh)
ONS Travel to Work Areas: Broadford and Kyle of Lochalsh, Inverness, Ullapool
Postcode districts: IV6, IV14, IV21, IV22, IV23, IV26, IV40, IV45, IV52, IV53, IV54, IV63, PH35

Gavin Berkenheger (C)
Christopher Birt (Lab)
Irene Brandt (Grn)
Harry Christian (Libertarian)
Jean Davis (Ind)
Les Durance (UKIP)
Richard Greene (Ind)
Alexander MacInnes (SNP)
George Scott (LD)

May 2017 result SNP 1467 C 1036 Ind 796 LD 752 Ind 656 Grn 628 Lab 285
May 2012 result LD 1162 SNP 1010 Ind 872 Ind 677 C 257 Ind 234
May 2007 result SNP 1486 LD 1242 Ind 792 Ind 608 C 451 Lab 354 Ind 328 Ind 232 Ind 199


Belgrave

Leicester council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Mansukhlal "Mo" Chohan at the age of 65. Chohan was first elected in 1999, and had continuous service since 2015.

Things change, things stay the same. Something to reflect on as we examine the week's Labour defence, in the city of Leicester: a city whose very motto is Semper Eadem - "always the same". We're on the Fosse Way about a mile or three to the north of Leicester city centre, an area which in days of olden time was the village of Belgrave. The city of Leicester has thrived for many years, and in 1709 one of its prominent businessmen - a hosiery merchant called Edmund Cradock - had built a mansion for his family from which he could commute into the city. Belgrave Hall still stands today: now in the hands of Leicester city council, it's used as a heritage centre and is a magnet for ghost hunters.

The area between Belgrave and the city was built up by 1900 with rows of Victorian terraces perpendicular to the Fosse Way - now known here as the Belgrave Road. The area to the east of these terraces was demolished in the 1960s and redeveloped as the St Marks council estate, rehousing families from slums elsewhere in the city. An electoral ward was drawn to cover the St Marks estate and the Belgrave Road terraces, and it was named after the sixteenth-century bishop Hugh Latimer. A Leicestershire man, Latimer was one of the leading figures of the Protestant Reformation in England, and for his efforts was burned at the stake in Oxford during the reign of Mary I.

But it's not Christianity for which the Belgrave area is now known. Leicester saw enormous immigration from the Indian subcontinent (particularly from Gujarat) commencing in the 1960s onwards, and this was boosted in 1972 when Idi Amin expelled the Asian community from Uganda. Around a quarter of the initially displaced Ugandan Asians ended up in Leicester, including many of the country's prominent businessmen. The effects of this can be seen today on the Belgrave Road, which is locally nicknamed the "Golden Mile" because of the large number of jewellery shops on it; the road is the centre of what are claimed to be the largest Diwali celebrations outside of the subcontinent. On the last Sunday in October this year, the Diwali lights on the road were dimmed as a mark of respect to the late Councillor Chohan.

In the 2011 census Latimer ward held several records for England and Wales. It was the number 1 ward for Hinduism (71%), number 1 for those born outside the EU (63%), number 2 for Asian ethnicity (86%) and in top 30 for "other" qualifications (17%). It also had a very working-class economic profile. Boundary changes for the 2015 election expanded Latimer ward to take in the Belgrave village area from the former Belgrave ward, which was broken up; however, just to confuse matters the "Latimer" name was dropped and the name "Belgrave" applied to the expanded ward. The abolished Belgrave ward had very similar demographics (including being number 2 in England and Wales for Hinduism), so this didn't make much of a difference to the political profile.

Which is strongly Labour. Latimer ward was 81% Labour in 2011 in a straight fight with the Conservatives; from the Labour point of view that was a big improvement on 2007 when Chohan had stood for re-election as an independent (presumably there had been some sort of falling out between him and Labour) and wasn't far off winning. The new Belgrave ward had a 70-18 lead for Labour over the Conservatives in 2015. There have been no local elections in the city since then; the 2017 snap election saw a swing to Labour in the local Leicester East constituency and an eighth term of office for the local MP Keith Vaz. (Apologies to any readers who may have been playing the Keith Vaz game.)

Defending for Labour is Padmini Chamund, who fought Latimer ward as an independent candidate in 2007. The Conservative candidate is Khandubhai Patel, and completing the ballot paper are Ursula Bilson for the Green Party and Hash Chandarana for the Liberal Democrats. Whoever wins this by-election is going to have to get straight back on the campaign trail to seek re-election in May next year.

Parliamentary constituency: Leicester East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode districts: LE1, LE4

Ursula Bilson (Grn)
Padmini Chamund (Lab)
Hash Chandarana (LD)
Khandubhai Patel (C)

May 2015 result Lab 5705/5593/4653 C 1509/1485/1273 Grn 466 UKIP 318/270/263 TUSC 199


Wolvercote

Oxford council; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Angie Goff who had served since 2016.

We move south-west from Leicester to conclude our recent mini-series of Liberal Democrat defences in Oxfordshire. Wolvercote is the first part of Oxford that people see if, like your columnist, they arrive from the north. All the main communication links - the Oxford Canal, the railways, the River Thames, the park and ride buses - between Oxford and the North pass through here. The Thames was traditionally the source of the village's economy: there was a large paper mill here which until 1998 supplied the Oxford University Press, and the University has plans to redevelop its site for housing. There are certainly a lot of its staff already here: in 2011 Wolvercote ward was in the top 70 wards in England and Wales for "higher management" occupational groups and in the top 80 for degree-level qualifications (58% of the workforce). One noted Oxonian who is permanently here is the noted philologist and Lancashire Fusilier J R R Tolkein, who is buried in Wolvercote Cemetery.

The living electors of Wolvercote tend towards the Liberal Democrat side. In May the ward gave the Lib Dems a 61-24 lead over the Conservatives, which was a big advance for the party on two years previously (when the result was 45% for the Liberal Democrats, 30% for the Tories and 14% for the Green Party) and may reflect a personal vote for long-serving councillor Steve Goddard. The Liberal Democrats also safely hold the local Oxfordshire county council division, Wolvercote and Summertown, and Wolvercote is within the Oxford West and Abingdon parliamentary seat which the Lib Dems gained in the 2017 general election.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Liz Wade, an author and former city councillor for her home St Margaret's ward (2014 until standing down in May this year). The Conservative candidate is Jenny Jackson. Also standing are Ibrahim el-Hendi for Labour and Sarah Edwards for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Oxford West and Abingdon
Oxfordshire county council division: Wolvercote and Summertown
ONS Travel to Work Area: Oxford
Postcode district: OX2

Sarah Edwards (Grn)
Ibrahim el-Hendi (Lab)
Jenny Jackson (C)
Liz Wade (LD)

May 2018 result LD 1341 C 517 Lab 217 Grn 125
May 2016 result LD 944 C 623 Grn 284 Lab 238
May 2014 result LD 971 C 677 Grn 275 Lab 250
May 2012 result LD 655 C 584 Grn 495 Lab 200
May 2010 result LD 1412 C 1149 Grn 444 Lab 347
May 2008 result LD 623 C 572 Grn 377 Lab 255
May 2006 result LD 911 Grn 478 C 474 Lab 145
June 2004 result LD 828 C 669 Grn 485 Lab 162
May 2002 result LD 801/690 C 616/578 Grn 444/444 Lab 244/238


The Byfleets

Surrey county council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Richard Wilson at the age of 68. He had served since 2013: in a lifetime of community service he had been a Scout leader for 47 years, and a long-serving school governor. Wilson had also served on Woking council, representing West Byfleet ward from 2007 to 2016.

Byfleet was in a tumult; people packing, and a score of hussars, some of them dismounted, some on horseback, were hunting them about. Three or four black government waggons, with crosses in white circles, and an old omnibus, among other vehicles, were being loaded in the village street. There were scores of people, most of them sufficiently sabbatical to have assumed their best clothes. The soldiers were having the greatest difficulty in making them realise the gravity of their position. We saw one shrivelled old fellow with a huge box and a score or more of flower pots containing orchids, angrily expostulating with the corporal who would leave them behind.

This quote is from H G Wells' War of the Worlds, in which the borough of Woking was the subject of a Martian invasion. The Martians may not have had a go at destroying Byfleet, but the Germans certainly did: the village is next door to Brooklands, which from 1907 was home to a motor racing circuit and a series of aircraft factories.

Byfleet is within the M25 motorway and rather downmarket by Surrey standards. The same cannot be said of West Byfleet, which is outside the motorway and a bona fide London commuter area: it helps that West Byfleet railway station has a more frequent and better-quality service to Waterloo than Byfleet and New Haw, despite being one stop further out. To the south of West Byfleet is Pyrford which is even more stockbroker-belt: in 2011 the Pyrford ward (not all of which is in this division) was in the top 60 wards in England and Wales for owner-occupation. Both West Byfleet and Pyrford effectively are now part of the built-up area of Woking, a town which has made a good recovery from the predations of the Martians all those years ago.

This should add up to a safe Tory county division, but things are a bit more complicated than that. At Woking council level Byfleet has recently been taken over by an independent group: Woking got new ward boundaries in 2016, and the independents won all three seats in the newly-drawn Byfleet and West Byfleet ward. Independent Woking councillor John Bond challenged Richard Wilson for this county seat in 2017: Wilson was re-elected but only with 41% against 32% for Bond and 18% for the Liberal Democrats. In May's Woking council elections the independents held Byfleet and West Byfleet ward with a majority of just 53 votes over the Tories; the Conservative majority in this division clearly comes out of Pyrford ward where they had a big lead in May.

This by-election looks set to be another grudge match between the Conservatives and independents. Defending for the Tories is Gary Elson, who was a Woking councillor for West Byfleet from 2008 to 2016 before losing his seat to the independents; he sat on the Woking cabinet during that period. The Independents have this time selected Woking councillor Amanda Boote, who may have a mountain to climb but she's used to that: Boote scaled Kilimanjaro in February this year. The Lib Dem candidate is Ellen Nicholson who has recently moved to the area from Somerset: she is a course director for a London University programme. Completing the ballot paper is Lyn Sage for the UK Independence Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Woking
Woking council wards: Byfleet and West Byfleet; Pyrford (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Guildford and Aldershot
Postcode districts: GU22, GU23, KT14

Amanda Boote (Ind)
Gary Elson (C)
Ellen Nicholson (LD)
Lyn Sage (UKIP)

May 2017 result C 1536 Ind 1203 LD 650 Lab 198 UKIP 122
May 2013 result C 1476 UKIP 597 LD 533 Lab 231 BNP 98


And just a quick reminder that there is still time before Christmas to get hold of your copy of Andrew's Previews 2017, which contains many more previews like this and would make a delightful Christmas present for the discerning political reader. Click the book title or search on Amazon - and remember that all profits from the book will go towards the research required for future Previews.


Previews: 29 Nov 2018

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

We have now officially run out of time for a general election before the New Year, so this week's seven local by-elections form the biggest remaining electoral test of 2018. There are two defences each for the three main parties and one seat being defended by a localist independent group; and four of today's polls are in marginal areas of the South Midlands where the Lib Dems have or had strength but have given ground in recent years, so there is lots of potential for gains and losses this week. Let's get straight into the thick of things with our token Northern by-election and first Labour defence of the week. Read on...


Failsworth East

Oldham council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Cheryl Brock, who had served since 2016.

We start this week in the east of Greater Manchester, at the point where the big city of Manchester starts to break down into a series of former textile towns. One of those is Failsworth, which may look like part of Manchester but administratively never has been; instead the ward's council tax ix collected from the concrete carbuncle which is Oldham Civic Centre. Within the M60 motorway, Failsworth lies on the main road and tram line from Manchester to Oldham; the East ward is based on the Hollinwood area next to the motorway, together with the village of Woodhouses where Michael Atherton, the former England captain, learned to play cricket. Woodhouses lies in open country in the south of the ward, much of which is part of the Daisy Nook country park; at the far end of the ward can be found Hollinwood tram stop on the Oldham branch of the Metrolink network.

Failsworth East ward has appeared in Andrew's Previews a couple of times before, most recently in February 2017 - see pages 34 and 35 of Andrew's Previews 2017, still available from Amazon and a delightful Christmas present for the discerning psephologist. It's normally a safe Labour ward, certainly so in the current political climate; but I have to put a disclaimer in because of the 2008 election here, when the Tories won by eight votes in what appears to be a freak result. The Conservatives didn't even defend their gain when it came up for re-election in 2012, and the closest Labour have come to losing since was in 2014 when they had a twelve-point lead over UKIP. By 2016 the Conservatives were back in second place, and in May this year the Labour lead was 53-29. That was a recovery from the Tory point of view from the 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election, when Andy Burnham carried this ward 72-22, and from the February 2017 by-election which Labour won 58-25.

That by-election was won by Paul Jacques, and the defending Labour candidate this time round is his wife Elizabeth. Regular Conservative candidate Antony Cahill returns for his fourth consecutive attempt at the ward. Also standing are independent candidate Warren Bates, who was elected as a UKIP councillor for the neighbouring Failsworth West ward in 2014 but lost re-election as an independent in May; Stephen Barrow of the Liberal Democrats; and official UKIP candidate Paul Goldring. From the UKIP point of view that's already an improvement on last week's local by-elections, where in this time of Brexit there were no UKIP candidates at all.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashton-under-Lyne
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: M35, OL3, OL8, OL9

Stephen Barrow (LD)
Warren Bates (Ind)
Antony Cahill (C)
Paul Goldring (UKIP)
Elizabeth Jacques (Lab)

May 2018 result Lab 1072 C 575 Ind 275 Grn 70 LD 23
February 2017 by-election Lab 829 C 360 UKIP 166 Grn 49 LD 16
May 2016 result Lab 1410 C 509 Grn 166 LD 62
May 2015 result Lab 2571 UKIP 1118 C 809 Grn 156 LD 73
May 2014 result Lab 1055 UKIP 785 C 284 Grn 93 LD 24
June 2012 by-election Lab 1199 UKIP 209 LD 109
May 2012 result Lab 1585 LD 283
May 2011 result Lab 1925 C 674 LD 124
May 2010 result Lab 2492 C 1438 LD 546 Ind 235
May 2008 result C 1036 Lab 1028 Grn 173 LD 136
May 2007 result Lab 1476 C 825 Grn 154 LD 96
May 2006 result Lab 1227 C 806 Grn 356 LD 161
June 2004 result Lab 1780/1779/1351 C 760 Grn 561 LD 221/209/206

May 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Lab 1230 C 376 EDP 35 UKIP 34 Grn 19 LD 13 Farmer 6 Aslam 0


Stratford North

Warwickshire county council; caused by the death of Keith Lloyd, who had been elected for the Stratford First Independents. Born in Ruthin in 1958, Lloyd had been a Stratford-upon-Town councillor since 1999, and was Mayor of the town in 2012-13 - as his father Ted had been in 1989-90.

Having got our Northern appetiser out of the way, we now come to the main course: a series of interesting by-elections in the South Midlands. For the first of these we come to Warwickshire and the banks of the Avon. In Roman times there was a minor road connecting Alcester to the Fosse Way, and this forded the Avon; a village grew up around the "street ford", and the Norman lord of the manor John of Coutances had big plans for it. He laid out a new town at the end of the twelfth century, and persuaded Richard the Lionheart to grant a market charter for his new settlement. And so the town of Stratford-upon-Avon was born.

Stratford's location on the Avon and the Roman Road was a good one, and it benefited from passing trade - particularly so after the completion of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal which allowed navigation from the Avon to the heavy industry of Birmingham and the West Midlands. However, the mainstay of the town's economy today is essentially down to two men who lived a century and a half apart. The first was William Shakespeare, who was born in 1564 at a house within this division on Henley Street which still stands today; the second was David Garrick, who tapped into an emerging phenomenon of Bardolatry by organising a jubilee celebration of Shakespeare's life in Stratford in September 1769. And ever since then Stratford has been overrun with tourists attracted here by the Bard of Avon and the Royal Shakespeare Company, which runs three theatres in the town.

One person one vote is a thing within the Labour party at the moment, and the Bard would certainly have recognised that; however, in his day there literally was one person one vote with that one person being an absolute monarch. Democracy was not a thing in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and you don't get noted scenes in his Shakespeare set in hustings; you will find the campaign trail, but only in the context of military campaigns. However, there's certainly been a bit of electoral drama in Stratford-upon-Avon at recent times. But before we go into that a word about names is in order here: the local district council is called Stratford-on-Avon, while the parish-level town council is called Stratford-upon-Avon, so please pay attention to the exact form of the council name as this gives a clue to whatever level of government I'm writing about.

At local level the town is a stronghold of the Liberal Democrats, but Stratford's northern end has for many years been closely fought between the Lib Dems, the Conservatives and Keith Lloyd. Lloyd was elected to Stratford-on-Avon district council in 2003 as an independent candidate, defeating the Liberal Democrats by just one vote in the old Stratford Avenue and New Town ward; he lost his seat to the Conservatives in 2007, got it back in 2011 and lost again in 2015 when Avenue and New Town was broken up into three new wards by the Boundary Commission. Lloyd lost re-election in Welcombe ward, finishing eighty votes behind the Conservatives; the Tories also won Avenue ward while Clopton ward was the only part of Stratford-on-Avon district to return a Labour councillor in 2015.

Stratford Avenue and New Town also elected a Warwickshire county councillor, and Keith Lloyd gained that seat in 2013 standing for the Stratford First independent group; he was re-elected in 2017 in the successor division of Stratford North. This division now takes in part of the Hathaway ward of the district council, which voted Lib Dem in 2015 by a majority of six votes. In 2017 Lloyd had 33% of the vote, to 28% for the Conservatives and 24% for the Liberal Democrats.

So, there is all to play for here. Defending for Stratford First is Juliet Short, a former district councillor (originally Conservative, later independent) and twice Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon; she is a former teacher who now runs a dance company. In the unaccustomed position for an O of top of the ballot paper is the Conservative candidate Lynda Organ, who has been a district councillor since 1986 with continuous service from 2011; she represents the town's Bridgetown ward on the district council, and sits on the Stratford-on-Avon cabinet. The Liberal Democrats have selected Dominic Skinner, an architect, amateur actor, rugby player and prospective parliamentary candidate. Completing the ballot paper are Joshua Payne for Labour and John Riley for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Stratford-on-Avon
Stratford-on-Avon council wards: Avenue, Clopton, Welcombe, Hathaway (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leamington Spa
Postcode district: CV37

Lynda Organ (C)
Joshua Payne (Lab)
John Riley (Grn)
Juliet Short (Stratford First)
Dominic Skinner (LD)

May 2017 result Stratford First 876 C 753 LD 640 Lab 244 Grn 134


Wheatley

Oxfordshire county council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat county councillor Kirsten Johnson, who has been selected as the party's prospective parliamentary candidate for North Devon. She had served only since May 2017.

We travel south to rural Oxfordshire. The Wheatley division covers a series of villages immediately to the east of Oxford; the largest of these is Wheatley itself, the point where the M40 motorway originally ended when it was simply a London-Oxford link. The M40 was extended to Birmingham in 1990 in one of the last great motorway projects, but there may be more roadbuilding on the horizon with a huge local controversy over plans to build an "expressway" through the area to connect Oxford with Milton Keynes and Cambridge. (Whatever happened to the Northern Powerhouse?) The Wheatley division is fairly standard commuter villages, but you can't go far from Oxford without talking about education: Oxford Brookes University has a campus in Wheatley teaching IT, maths and engineering.

The Wheatley county division has been Lib Dem-held for many years, but the party's majority plunged in the 2017 election after long-serving county councillor Anne Purse retired; Kirsten Johnson held the seat with a lead over the Conservatives of just 68 votes, 45% to 43%. Adding to this recent Lib Dem weakness, the Conservatives hold all the South Oxfordshire district council seats within the division boundary.

So this could be a difficult defence for the Lib Dems, and they have selected Tim Bearder to hold the seat. A former BBC journalist, Bearder is the son of Catherine Bearder, the only remaining Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament. He's appeared in Andrew's Previews before, failing to defend the North ward by-election for Oxford city council in September 2013; and his Tory opponent also unsuccessfully stood in that by-election. Oxford University Press accountant John Walsh has been the Conservative candidate for Wheatley at every county council election since 2005, and since 2015 has been a South Oxfordshire councillor for Forest Hill and Holton ward - one of the wards within this division. Completing the ballot paper is Michael Nixon for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Henley
South Oxfordshire council wards: Forest Hill and Holton, Wheatley, Garsington and Horspath (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Oxford
Postcode districts: HP18, OX2, OX3, OX4, OX9, OX33, OX44

Tim Bearder (LD)
Michael Nixon (Lab)
John Walsh (C)

May 2017 result LD 1372 C 1304 Lab 361
May 2013 result LD 932 C 622 UKIP 402 Lab 209 Grn 164


Aylesbury North-West

Buckinghamshire county council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat county councillor Martin Farrow, who had served since 2017.

For the third of our series of Midlands by-elections in marginal areas we come to Buckinghamshire. This is a county where we are going to see rather fewer local by-elections in years to come: local government reorganisation has been announced for Buckinghamshire which will see the county council and four district councils (Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks and Wycombe) swept away in favour of a new single Buckinghamshire council. This new structure is intended to come into operation in 2020, and as part of the package the May 2019 district council elections in Buckinghamshire are expected to be cancelled - except that they haven't been officially cancelled yet. Those few parliamentary drafters not preoccupied by Brexit are presumably still working on the legal documents, but this is a rather uncertain time for the county's election staff who theoretically have district council elections to plan for in just over five months' time.

Nonetheless, the county council will still exist for at least a year yet so it's worthwhile having a by-election. As the name suggests we're in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire's unlovely county town and one of the growth areas of modern Britain. The North-West county division (yes, it is hyphenated like that) is based on the majority of the Gatehouse ward to the north of the town centre, together with part of the Riverside ward at the western end of town. Riverside was covered in Andrew's Previews last year: as well as the town proper, it extends over the River Thame to take in the very large and very new Berryfields housing development (which is not part of this division).

Aylesbury town was a Lib Dem stronghold at local level until the Coalition was formed, after which its election results took a turn for the Eurosceptic. In the 2011 district council polls UKIP gained Quarrendon ward (the pre-development predecessor to Riverside) from the Lib Dems, and in the 2013 county elections three of Aylesbury's six county divisions, including North-West, voted Kipper. The 2015 district elections saw Gatehouse and Riverside wards expanded from two seats to three by the Boundary Commission, with both new seats going to the Conservatives; the Tory councillor for Riverside ward resigned in 2017 and the Conservatives narrowly held off the Lib Dems in the by-election.

That by-election was held in August 2017, so after the May 2017 county elections in which the Lib Dems gained Aylesbury North-West from UKIP. Their gain was on a low share of the vote: just 30% for the winning Lib Dems, 25% for the Conservatives, 23% for Labour and 20% for the outgoing UKIP councillor who finished in fourth place.

Can we expect another close result here? Defending for the Lib Dems is Anders Christensen, leader of the Lib Dem group on Aylesbury Vale council and district councillor for Gatehouse ward since winning a by-election in December 2014; Christensen is also an Aylesbury town councillor and chairman of Buckingham Park parish council (covering another new development just to the north of town, which is not part of this division). The Conservatives have selected recruitment consultant and district councillor Ashley Waite, who defeated the Lib Dems in the Riverside by-election in August last year and will be hoping to do the same thing again. The Labour candidate is Liz Hind, a pub landlady and vice-chair of the party's Aylesbury branch. In an illustration of how far UKIP have sunk from their glory days there is no UKIP candidate, so the Greens' Mark Wheeler completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Aylesbury
Aylesbury Vale council wards: Gatehouse (part), Riverside (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: High Wycombe and Aylesbury
Postcode districts: HP18, HP19, HP20, HP22

Anders Christensen (LD)
Liz Hind (Lab)
Ashley Waite (C)
Mark Wheeler (Grn)

May 2017 result LD 658 C 542 Lab 501 UKIP 436 Grn 72
May 2013 result UKIP 939 LD 543 Lab 312 C 302


Delapre and Briar Hill

Northampton council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Victoria Culbard who had served since 2015.

We conclude the series of by-elections in marginal South Midlands wards by travelling to one of the largest towns in the UK which has yet to achieve city status, Northampton. In days gone by Northampton was an important mediaeval centre with the sort of religious institutions that attracted, and one of those was the abbey of St Mary de la Pré. A mile to the south of Northampton across the River Nene, Delapré Abbey dates from an earlier Anarchy, that of the twelfth century: it was founded as one of only two nunneries is England associated with the Cluniac order. After the Dissolution the abbey buildings were incorporated into a neoclassical mansion within extensive grounds; this ended up in the hands of Northampton council and until last year was home to the county records office. The Abbey's grounds include one of the three surviving Eleanor Crosses and are a scheduled monument: the 1460 Battle of Northampton, a decisive Yorkist victory in the Wars of the Roses, was fought here.

Delapré Abbey gives its name to a ward which has something for everyone. Pretty much every style and age of housing can be found here, from the Victorian terraces of Far Cotton to the postwar estates of Briar Hill to the brand new buildings of the University of Northampton's Riverside Campus, which has only been open for two months. The census picked up a significant Polish community in Far Cotton. This is a mostly low-lying area and suffered badly from flooding when the Nene burst its banks this spring.

The ward has something for everyone politically as well, having been a hard-fought three-way marginal for years. The predecessor Delapre ward split its two seats between the Lib Dems and Conservatives in 2007, with Labour and the BNP close behind; the first election on the current boundaries in 2011 resulted in a three-way split between the three main parties. In 2015 Labour gained the Lib Dem seat and topped the poll, but with just 28% of the vote; the Conservatives held their seat with 25%, UKIP had 20% and the Lib Dems 17%. On the same day David Mackintosh, the Tory leader of Northampton council, was elected as MP for the local constituency of Northampton South.

At county level the ward is split between two divisions. Delapre and Far Cotton are in the Delapre and Rushmere division, which Labour gained from the Liberal Democrats in 2017; Briar Hill is in the Sixfields division, which the Conservatives gained from the Liberal Democrats last year. Not that Sixfields is a word the Northampton Conservatives want to hear very much at the moment. Mackintosh, as leader of Northampton Council, had approved a loan of an eight-figure sum to pay for improvements to the Sixfields football stadium, home of Northampton Town FC; but the company which received the money subsequently went bust with the work uncompleted, millions of pounds of taxpayers' money unaccounted for and accusations of improper donations to Mackintosh's election campaign fund. It was all too much for the Northampton Conservatives to stomach, and Mackintosh was essentially forced to retire from the Commons at the 2017 election after just two years in office.

Mind, Labour have problems of their own in the ward, having lost both their Delapre councillors in the last few months. Vicky Culbard has stepped down from the council on health grounds, prompting this by-election; while her ward colleague Julie Davenport has recently left the Labour Party and gone independent. UKIP haven't nominated a candidate, while the Northampton Lib Dems are yet to recover from the experience of their massively unpopular administration in 2007-11.

Defending for Labour is Emma Roberts. The Conservatives have selected Daniel Soan, who is concerned at a rise in antisocial behaviour associated with the new university campus. This may be a difficult subject for the Lib Dem candidate Michael Maher to counter - he studied at and now works at the university. As stated, there is no UKIP candidate. There is an independent candidate, Nicola McKenna, who is endorsed by ex-Labour councillor Julie Davenport and fought this ward on the Lib Dem slate in 2015 (under her former name of Nicola Hedges). Completing the ballot paper is Green Party candidate Denise Donaldson.

Parliamentary constituency: Northampton South
Northamptonshire county council divisions: Delapre and Rushmere (part), Sixfields (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northampton
Postcode districts: NN1, NN4

Denise Donaldson (Grn)
Michael Maher (LD)
Nicola McKenna (Ind)
Emam Roberts (Lab)
Daniel Soan (C)

May 2015 result Lab 1883/1579/1337 C 1676/1428/1234 UKIP 1355 LD 1132/984/870 Northampton Save Our Public Services 462 BNP 266
May 2011 result Lab 969/820/740 LD 947/804/771 C 911/846/744 Ind 568 BNP 274 Northampton Save Our Public Services 258 Grn 250


Welwyn West

Welwyn Hatfield council, Hertfordshire; caused by the death of the Leader of the Council Mandy Perkins at the age of 62. Perkins was a Conservative councillor who was first elected in 1995; she had served in the council's cabinet since 2002 and became Leader of the Council in May this year.

We finish with two Conservative defences in the Home Counties and London. The northern of these is in Welwyn, the Hertfordshire village which gave its name to the later Garden City a few miles to the south. Like Stratford-upon-Avon, Welwyn grew up at a place where a Roman road crossed a river - in this case, the River Mimram - and extensive Roman remains have been found here. The Roman road was succeeded by the Great North Road bringing coaching trade, but Welwyn was bypassed by the railway and never developed into a town as nearby places like Hatfield and Stevenage did. Despite this the village was a bottleneck on the Great North Road and was bypassed as early as 1927; the A1 bypass was subsequently itself bypassed by a motorway in the 1960s, and that motorway is now sorely in need of upgrade word to better carry the traffic it handles. In a chamber nine metres below the motorway traffic, the excavated remains of a Roman bathhouse can be visited.

Welwyn Hatfield council suffers from frequent boundary reviews: Welwyn West ward was created in 2008 and took on its current boundaries in 2016. The ward, which also includes the Ayots to the west, is generally a safely Conservative area, but in 2012 it did elect independent candidate Sandra Kyriakides who wasn't far off being re-elected in 2016. In May's ordinary election the Conservatives increased their lead over Kyriakides to 52-39.

Defending for the Conservatives is Paul Smith, a finance director who stood here in 2012 and lost to Sandra Kyriakides. She has not returned and there is no other independent candidate, so Smith should have an easier task this time to defeat Labour's Josh Chigwangwa (who returns from May's election) and Lib Dem Christina Raven.

Parliamentary constituency: Welwyn Hatfield
Hertfordshire county council division: Welwyn
ONS Travel to Work Area: Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City
Postcode districts: AL6, SG4

Josh Chigwangwa (Lab)
Christina Raven (LD)
Paul Smith (C)

May 2018 result C 1054 Ind 785 Lab 191
May 2016 result C 1011/994/941 Ind 896 LD 337/250 Lab 304


Kelsey and Eden Park

Bromley council, South London; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Dave Wibberley who had served only since May this year. He has moved to Liverpool to take up a new job.

Our final poll this week is in the capital. Bromley is London's southeasternmost borough and was part of Kent until 1965; before the reorganisation the modern Kelsey and Eden Park ward was part of the borough of Beckenham. Development of this part of London was slow to get going: although Eden Park had a railway station as early as 1882, thanks to local landowner William R Mace who made the station a condition of using his land for the railway, at the time it was seen as a place for Londoners to escape to the countryside.

Another local landowner was Charles Hoare, a banker who played one first-class cricket match for Kent and owned Kelsey Manor and its grounds. Kelsey Manor, a rambling pile in the Gothic Revival style, was demolished almost a century ago, but some of its grounds survive today as a public park. That's at the north end of this ward; Eden Park is the centre, Elmers End (with its railway and tram station) is at the western end.

Much of the southern end of the ward is occupied by the oldest psychiatric hospital in Europe. The Bethlem Royal Hospital has been treating insane patients since at least the fifteenth century, originally at locations closer to London before moving here in 1930. Part of the hospital is open to the public as the Museum of the Mind, which focuses on the institution's history and noted former patients.

The national political scene may be a source of near-constant Bedlam at the moment, but the home of Bedlam is a much calmer place. Under current political conditions the London Borough of Bromley is safely Conservative and this ward is no different. Bromley went to the polls only in May, with the Conservative slate winning on 44%, Labour on 27% and the Liberal Democrats on 15%. In the 2016 Mayor and Assembly elections the ward's ballot boxes voted for Zac Goldsmith over Sadiq Khan by 52-26, while the London Members ballot had 43% for the Conservatives, 22% for Labour and 10% for UKIP.

Defending for the Conservatives is Christine Harris, deputy chairman of the party's Beckenham branch; she fought the neighbouring Clock House ward in May. Labour have reselected Marie Bardsley who was runner-up here in May; she is campaigning on youth issues and safety. The Lib Dem candidate is Julie Ireland, an IT consultant who fought Bexley and Bromley in the 2016 London Assembly election. Also standing are Paul Enock for the Green Party and Graham Reakes for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Beckenham
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: BR3

Marie Bardsley (Lab)
Paul Enock (Grn)
Christine Harris (C)
Julie Ireland (LD)
Graham Reakes (UKIP)

May 2018 result C 2563/2532/2412 Lab 1579/1462/1358 LD 859/675/670 Grn 553 UKIP 214
May 2014 result C 2778/2693/2593 Lab 1191/1024/904 UKIP 1081 Grn 754 LD 543
May 2010 result C 4827/4658/4586 LD 2067/2020/1869 Lab 1396/1352/1253
May 2006 result C 2678/2608/2478 LD 1148/904/903 Ind 1054/850/767 Lab 504/454/424
May 2002 result C 2349/2316/2313 LD 1820/1727/1671 Lab 430/430/425 UKIP 157/122

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: C 2414 Lab 1234 LD 315 UKIP 239 Grn 232 Women's Equality 90 Britain First 54 Respect 39 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 33 BNP 12 Zylinski 9 One Love 3
London Members: C 2036 Lab 1049 UKIP 470 LD 387 Grn 340 Women's Equality 175 Britsin First 50 CPA 45 Animal Welfare 44 Respect 44 BNP 28 House Party 26


Previews: 22 Nov 2018

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

There are four by-elections on 22nd November 2018, with a Labour defence on Merseyside and three Conservative defences in London and the South East. Let's start at the heart of things:


Lancaster Gate

Westminster city council, North London; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Robert Davis.

I suppose it had to happen eventually. It's time to open an edition of Andrew's Previews by talking about the riveting political developments in Westminster and that great question of our time, Brexit. Yes - how is Britain's divorce from the European Union going to affect elections to Westminster city council? You should not be surprised to hear that this is a difficult question with all sorts of unknowns and unknowables at this time - but since when has anything to do with Brexit been anything other than complicated and opaque?

For the grown-ups who lead the other 27 EU nations, one major issue arising from Brexit is the rights of their citizens who live and work in the UK. One of those rights is that EU citizens should have the right to stand for and vote in local elections throughout the Union. This was part of the Maastricht Treaty, so the assumption has been that those rights will fall away after 29th March next and that I'd be writing a bumper edition of Andrew's Previews in May to cover all the by-elections caused by those councillors who are not UK, Commonwealth or Irish citizens being disqualified (there are some elected representatives who fall into this category).

But that's not in fact true, at least not yet, thanks to the way those Treaty rights have been implemented in the UK. The key document is not the Maastricht Treaty or anything else originating from Brussels; it's the truly riveting Local Government Elections (Changes to the Franchise and Qualification of Members) Regulations 1995, which apply only to the UK and were signed into law by our then Home Secretary Michael Howard. I've read this document so you don't have to, and the important point to take away is that thanks to the EU Withdrawal Act this will still be good law after Brexit - so as things stand at the moment EU citizens living in the UK will still be able to be and to vote for local councillors after 29th March. Moreover, to my knowledge nobody in the responsible government departments (the Ministry of Housing, Communities or Local Government or the devolved administrations outside England) has yet published anything to make any changes to those democratic rights.

So everything's hunky dory then? Well, no: as with so many things about Brexit, the answer is "who can tell what's going to happen in the future"? Which is a problem if you're trying to predict the future, and that's something which Westminster city council are going to have to do very soon. Westminster's ward boundaries are now nearly twenty years old, and the Local Government Boundary Commission is intending to review them starting next year. As part of that process Westminster will be asked to forecast what their electorate is going to be five years down the line - which looks a near-impossible task when you don't know whether a significant chunk of your electorate are going to have the right to vote five years down the line.

Which brings us to central London and the Lancaster Gate ward. This is the heart of Bayswater, running along the north side of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens westwards and northwestwards from the Lancaster Gate road junction. The name Lancaster Gate refers to Queen Victoria, in her capacity as Duke of Lancaster, and comes from a prestigious Victorian housing development overlooking Hyde Park. High-end Victorian terraces quickly grew up all over the district and nearly all of them remain today; many of those Victorian blocks are now in commercial use as hotels or foreign embassies. There are two major exceptions to this rule: the modernist and mostly Grade II-listed Hallfield council estate which fills this ward's northern corner, and numbers 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens which are only a façade, walls built in the style of the adjoining buildings to hide a ventilation shaft for the London Underground. The Underground has two stations within the ward boundary, Bayswater on the District and Circle lines and Queensway on the Central Line. Queensway is the ward's main commercial street, home to the large Whiteleys shopping centre as well as the largest ice rink in London.

That last sentence might not be true for much longer though: Whiteleys is slated for conversion into a hotel and flats with a big extension, and that's not the only controversial new development in Lancaster Gate ward. Going up opposite Kensington Gardens is Park Modern, a notably ugly block of apartments for the super-rich: if you have £30 million in your back pocket, a double-height five-bedroom penthouse at the top of the nine storeys could be yours. These and other issues in Lancaster Gate are well-publicised by the influential South East Bayswater Residents Association, which - this being London, where you can do these things - put their views across via a glossy magazine. Local politicians have learnt to treat SEBRA with respect.

This ward may be full of hotels, but the ONS has taken care to ensure the census return is based on permanent residents rather than visitors. In any event there's little doubt that this is one of the most cosmopolitan parts of London. Only 35% of Lancaster Gate's population was born in the UK: it is number 5 of all the wards in England and Wales for those born in the EU-15 (18%) and number 6 for the White Other ethnic group (37%). It makes the top 20 for the 30-44 age bracket (34%) and "other" ethnic groups (10%), the top 30 for private renting (55% of households, which is not surprising given that the median property in the ward sells for over £900,000), the top 40 for population with a degree (61%) and the top 100 for those born outside the EU (40%, with particularly strong contingents from Brazil, Australia and the Middle East), Buddhism (1.8%) and the "higher management" occupational group (25%). Clearly this is a ward of people who have come to work in London from all over the world - exactly the sort of people whom the other EU governments are worried about in the Brexit process, and exactly the sort of people who are giving Westminster's electoral registration department a headache as they try to peer into the fog of the future to put their electorate forecasts together. Will these people still have the vote at the next Westminster council election in May 2022?

Well, they still have the vote for now, although actually persuading the EU residents to cast their votes here is another matter altogether. Despite Lancaster Gate's presence within the Labour-held Westminster North constituency, this is a safe Conservative ward in council elections although Labour did make significant progress this year. Shares of the vote here in May were 48% for the Conservative slate and 36% for Labour. Don't make the mistake of assuming that all of the Labour vote comes out of the Hallfield estate, as the Westminster Conservatives are very active on the estate and often poll relatively well there. There aren't many Liberal Democrat voters here but two of their local supporters in days gone by were very well-known: Jeremy and Marion Thorpe were formerly resident in the ward and would sign the Lib Dem nomination papers.

In the 2016 GLA elections the ward's ballot boxes gave a 43-36 lead to the Tories' Zac Goldsmith over Sadiq Khan; the London Members ballot gave 40% to the Conservatives, 29% to Labour and 11% to the Green Party, while in the vote for the West Central constituency of the London Assembly the Tory candidate led here with 42% to 32% for Labour and 13% for the Greens. The losing Labour candidate for West Central that year was Mandy Richards, who took the result to the Election Court and lost there as well: that was just one of the long list of failed legal actions that led to Richards being dropped as PPC for Worcester earlier this year.

While everything in the 2016 GLA election here was clearly above board, the same cannot be said of the circumstances leading up to this by-election. Robert Davis was the deputy leader of Westminster and the city's longest-serving councillor, having been first elected in 1982: he was Lord Mayor of Westminster in 1996-97, was in a civil partnership with former council leader Sir Simon Milton until Milton's death in 2011, is a Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London, and was appointed MBE in 2015 for services to local government and planning. That citation comes from the fact that Davis was chairman of Westminster's powerful planning committee for seventeen years, and is a little unfortunate in view of what happened next. In March this year the Guardian reported that Davis had received gifts or hospitality hundreds of times between 2012 and 2017, often from figures in the property development industry; and an independent investigation concluded in October that Davis had breached the council's code of conduct. Davis took the hint and resigned from the council, a few months after starting his tenth term of office.

With the resulting whiff of scandal this might be a more difficult Tory defence than it looks on paper. Defending for the Conservatives is Margot, Lady Bright, who gives an address in the adjoining Bayswater ward and is described as a community champion; she is the wife of Sir Keith Bright, who was chairman of London Regional Transport in the mid-1980s. Labour have reselected Angela Piddock, a former headteacher who is standing here for the third time; not surprisingly her manifesto prioritises the rights of the city's EU citizens and reform of the planning system. Completing the ballot paper are Sally Gray for the Liberal Democrats and Zack Polanski for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Westminster North
London Assembly constituency: West Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: W2

Margot Bright (C)
Sally Gray (LD)
Angela Piddock (Lab)
Zack Polanski (Grn)

May 2018 result C 1318/1226/1223 Lab 992/967/852 LD 456/376/321
May 2014 result C 1262/1152/1104 Lab 509/500/496 Grn 340 LD 314/229
May 2010 result C 1968/1936/1745 LD 930/758/641 Lab 787/775/763 Grn 455 UKIP 102
October 2008 by-election C 805 LD 325 Lab 205
May 2006 result C 1270/1258/1218 LD 348/335/326 Lab 346/330/323
May 2002 result C 1180/1160/1128 Lab 334/310/299 LD 295/269/241

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: C 906 Lab 764 Grn 134 LD 116 Women's Equality 55 Respect 47 UKIP 37 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 22 Britain First 9 Zylinski 7 BNP 2 One Love 1
London Members: C 810 Lab 593 Grn 221 LD 178 UKIP 74 Respect 48 Animal Welfare 31 Britain First 18 CPA 16 House Party 13 Women's Equality 10 BNP 2


Bush Hill Park

Enfield council, North London; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Jon Daniels who had served only since May this year. In his resignation statement Daniels said that he had been unable to balance his duties as a councillor with his family and work commitments.

For our second London by-election we take the Central Line to Liverpool Street and head north into the wilds of Middlesex. Since 1880 Bush Hill Park has been the last stop for branch line trains going to Enfield Town; the station was opened to serve a housing estate built on the grounds of a country house of the same name. We're a fair way from central London here and the estate was rather slow to grow - not helped by its developer going bankrupt in 1887 - but the growth of the firearms industry in Enfield to supply the Boer War caused demand to pick up, and by the outbreak of the First World War Bush Hill Park was fully developed. Many of those Edwardian houses are still with us today thanks to a conservation area being created in the mid-1980s; only the northern end of the ward, around Enfield cricket club, has seen significant redevelopment.

For parliamentary purposes Bush Hill Park is within the Edmonton constituency and is by far the least-deprived ward within it. That gives a right-wing slant to its politics which would have pleased one of the ward's most famous residents: Ross McWhirter, the sports journalist and Guinness Book of Records co-founder, lived in this ward on Village Road and was murdered there by the IRA in 1975. McWhirter had been the Conservative candidate for Edmonton in the 1964 general election, doing rather poorly in what had five years earlier been a very close seat.

In fact the Edmonton constituency was often a key marginal until quite recent times. The Conservatives gained it at the 1987 election and held it in 1992; but since then the Tory vote here has fallen off a cliff and by June 2017 the Conservatives had just 23% of the vote across the constituency, a 12-point swing against them since the Coalition was formed. A large proportion of those Tory votes will have come out of Bush Hill Park, which is the only ward within the seat to reliably return Conservative councillors. Until the 2010s, that is: Labour came from a long way back to gain one of the ward's three seats in 2014; the Tories got that seat back in May this year but only with a majority of 64 votes. Vote shares were 39% for the Conservatives, 37% for Labour and 11% for the Green Party. That closeness was also a feature of the 2016 GLA elections here: Zac Goldsmith beat Sadiq Khan in the ward's ballot boxes 44-36, while the Tory lead over Labour in the London Members ballot was just 37-36.

But as the reverse in May's election might suggest, not all is rosy here for Labour. The party control Enfield council; and their Edmonton MP Kate Osamor, the shadow international development secretary, has attracted controversy after her son, whom she employs as her parliamentary press officer, pleaded guilty to possession of Class A drugs with intent to supply. More on that story in a future edition of Andrew's Previews.

Mind, the Tories have problems of their own in Bush Hill Park: Will Coleshill, who was elected here on the Tory slate in May alongside Daniels, has since had the whip withdrawn over racist comments he made in a council meeting. And the council themselves have not shown much competence: their website team reflected Daniels' resignation and Coleshill's suspension by deleting Daniels from their website record of the May 2018 election result and changing Coleshill from a Conservative candidate to an independent candidate. This sort of rewriting of history is not on at all, and only the fact that Enfield have since acknowledged and corrected their mistake has stopped me from issuing my dreaded Useless Council Website certificate. Let that be a warning to any council who does something similar.

Defending for the Conservative is James Hockney, a businessman who may well be someone to watch for the future. He is seeking to resume his elected career after being a South Cambridgeshire councillor from 2004 to 2016, and he was the Tory candidate for Barnsley East in the 2010 general election and for Barnsley Central in the 2011 parliamentary by-election. Labour have reselected Bevin Betton, an HR consultant who was runner-up here in May. Also returning from May's election is Benjamin Maydon of the Green Party, who according to his Twitter is a musician, comedian, writer, actor, English teacher, precocious genius and awkward geek. Three more candidates complete the ballot paper: they are Robert Wilson for the Liberal Democrats, Tulip Hambleton for the Women's Equality Party and independent candidate Erol Ovayolu.

Parliamentary constituency: Edmonton
London Assembly constituency: Enfield and Haringey
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: EN1, N9, N13, N21

Bevin Betton (Lab)
Tulip Hambleton (Women's Equality)
James Hockney (C)
Benjamin Maydon (Grn)
Erol Ovayolu (Ind)
Robert Wilson (LD)

May 2018 result C 1976/1959/1926 Lab 1862/1831/1681 Grn 539 LD 484 UKIP 144
May 2014 result C 1679/1521/1334 Lab 1522/1277/1223 UKIP 897 Grn 621 LD 453
July 2011 by-election C 1108 Lab 668 Ind 230 LD 177 Grn 100 UKIP 70 BNP 61 Christian Party 45 EDP 29
May 2010 result C 3451/3225/3224 Lab 2230/2077/2049 LD 1747 Grn 942 UKIP 618
January 2009 by-election C 1320 Lab 413 LD 129 UKIP 123 Grn 97
May 2006 result C 2248/2178/1827 Save Chase Farm 1442 Lab 780/683/649 Grn 604 LD 547/533 UKIP 298
May 2002 result C 2400/2276/2272 Lab 974/867/830 LD 565/433/421 UKIP 187/144

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: C 1690 Lab 1456 Grn 192 LD 162 UKIP 151 Women's Equality 54 Britain First 40 Respect 35 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 27 BNP 9 Zylinski 9 One Love 2
London Members: C 1452 Lab 1382 UKIP 322 Grn 247 LD 189 Women's Equality 96 Britain First 48 CPA 46 Respect 39 Animal Welfare 37 BNP 17 House Party 16


Datchet

Windsor and Maidenhead council, Berkshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Jesse Grey who had served since 2000. Grey was mayor of Windsor and Maidenhead in 2009-10 and at the time of his death was the council's cabinet member for environmental services, parking and flooding.

For our last by-election in the South East this week we travel just outside the Greater London boundary. The village of Datchet can be found on the north bank of the Thames just to the east of Windsor, and the fact that a ferry crossed the river here meant that Datchet was frequently visited by royals travelling to and from Windsor Castle. The village is the last stop before Windsor on the railway line from Waterloo, but is probably more associated with the private car as a mode of transport: the UK's first motor car was owned by the Honourable Evelyn Ellis who lived in Datchet, while the lords of the manor were the Montagu family who gave us the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in Hampshire. Much of the ward is covered by water (whether the River Thames, or the Queen Mother Reservoir which provides drinking water for London) and, this being low-lying ground, the area suffers from flooding problems when there is too much rain in the Thames catchment. Datchet was particularly badly hit by the Thames floods of early 2014.

Datchet ward has unchanged boundaries since the first elections to Windsor and Maidenhead district in 1973: in that time it has elected Conservatives throughout with the exception of 1997, the first election to the modern unitary council¸ when the Liberal Democrats won the second seat. The Lib Dems continued in second place until 2011 when an independent slate was runner-up; in the 2015 election the Conservatives led with 59% and Labour were second on 21%. There have been no local elections in Windsor and Maidenhead since then; the ward is part of the Windsor parliamentary seat which is very safely Conservative. This will be the last election on the current boundaries, as new wards are coming into force for Windsor and Maidenhead next May with Datchet and the neighbouring Horton and Wraysbury ward being merged into one; so whoever wins this by-election may have to move very quickly to secure their nomination for the 2019 elections.

Hoping to make an impact on the electorate is the defending Conservative candidate David Cannon, a retired Metropolitan Police detective inspector who now works in security for BT; Cannon is a former chairman of Datchet parish council. The Labour candidate is Deborah Foster, a UNISON figure who lives in Windsor and works in the NHS. Also standing are Datchet parish councillor and former ward councillor (1997-2000) Tim O'Flynn for the Liberal Democrats, Datchet parish councillor Ewan Larcombe for his National Flood Prevention Party, and the Greens' Christopher Moss who gives an address some distance away in Bourne End, Buckinghamshire.

Parliamentary constituency: Windsor
ONS Travel to Work Area: Slough and Heathrow
Postcode district: SL3

David Cannon (C)
Deborah Foster (Lab)
Ewan Larcombe (National Flood Prevention Party)
Christopher Moss (Grn)
Tim O'Flynn (LD)

May 2015 result C 1438/1369 Lab 523 LD 478/420
May 2011 result C 935/875 Ind 419/364 Lab 232 LD 217/139
October 2007 by-election C 799 LD 352 Ind 102
May 2007 result C 948/906 LD 211/187 Lab 150/110
May 2003 result C 613/610 LD 438 Ind 264 Lab 129
May 2000 result C 661/641 LD 367/330 Lab 80/80
May 1997 result C 1180/825 LD 1048/909 Lab 389/343
May 1995 result C 494/461 LD 349 Ind 302 Lab 278/217
May 1991 result C 882/878 LD 568/369 Lab 223/217
May 1987 result C 875/823 All 509/503 Lab 175/131 Residents/Ratepayers 121
May 1983 result 2 C unopposed
May 1979 result 2 C unopposed
May 1976 result C 810/808 Lib 503
May 1973 result 2 C unopposed


Upton

Wirral council, Merseyside; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Matthew Patrick, who had served since winning a by-election in October 2013 and was the council's cabinet member for the environment. He is moving to London to take up a new job.

For our final by-election of the week we travel north-west to the land of plastic. Upton lies at the centre of the Wirral peninsula and in mediaeval times was the major marketplace in the area; but its fortunes declined as Birkenhead grew into a town and Upton remained a village. By the nineteenth century the area was mainly farmland to the west of Birkenhead, with Upton village in the hands of the shipping magnate William Inman (of the Inman Line) who resided at the minor stately home of Upton Manor.

Things changed in the twentieth century when the area was annexed by Birkenhead Corporation, which once the Second World War was over started filling the ward with the Woodchurch housing estate. Industry came as well: there was for many years a large spark plug factory here, but these days the major employer is Arrowe Park Hospital, just outside the ward boundary and the major A&E unit for the Wirral. Upton is relatively poorly served by rail - its railway station is on the little-used Borderlands Line, which despite being in Merseyside is run by Transport for Wales - but it's only just off the M53 motorway, and so residents of Upton can be in Liverpool city centre, through the Wallasey Tunnel, in just 15 minutes.

There was a by-election here in October 2013 at which Matthew Patrick was first elected, and I described Upton then as "a classic key marginal where swings are low". That was true in the Blair and Brown years, although the Conservatives only won Upton at Labour's low point of 2008 and then only by four votes; but it's not true now. This is a safe Labour area in the current political climate and its presence in the Wirral West parliamentary seat made all the difference in the 2015 general election: Labour won Upton ward by 3,500 votes that year and on the same day in the parliamentary seat defeated Esther McVey by 417. McVey got back into Parliament last year, but not from Wirral West: she now has a safe Tory seat in Cheshire from which to plot her next move in the parliamentary soap opera.

In the meantime Labour held Upton ward this May by 58-29 over the Conservatives, which was a slight swing to the right compared with two years earlier. Wirral council has had a Labour majority since 2012, but the Labour administration doesn't appear to be a very happy place at the moment with rumours of a left-wing takeover within the local party; two Labour councillors have gone independent in the last few months and Councillor Patrick, who was reportedly on Labour's right wing, might well be relieved to be out of the firing line now. Patrick's resignation leaves Labour with 36 out of 66 seats on the council plus this vacancy; so the Labour majority is safe for now but the May 2019 elections could be interesting.

Defending for Labour is local resident Jean Robinson. The Tories have selected another local resident, Emma Sellman who is a law student and wheelchair user. Completing the ballot paper are two candidates returning from May's election, Lily Clough for the Green Party and regular Lib Dem candidate Alan Davies.

Parliamentary constituency: Wirral Wewt
ONS Travel to Work Area: Birkenhead
Postcode district: CH49

Lily Clough (Grn)
Alan Davies (LD)
Jean Robinson (Lab)
Emma Sellman (C)

May 2018 result Lab 2289 C 1125 Grn 265 LD 166 TUSC 89
May 2016 result Lab 2218 C 900 Grn 256 LD 169 TUSC 94
May 2015 result Lab 5347 C 1807 UKIP 853 Grn 306 LD 262
May 2014 result Lab 1932 UKIP 942 C 760 Grn 206 LD 117
October 2013 by-election Lab 1954 C 762 Grn 143 LD 130
May 2012 result Lab 2504 C 948 UKIP 381 Grn 206 LD 164
May 2011 result Lab 2850 C 1495 LD 226 UKIP 221 Grn 158
May 2010 result Lab 3827 C 2143 LD 1370 Grn 286
May 2008 result C 1861 Lab 1857 LD 451 Grn 256
May 2007 result Lab 1931 C 1734 LD 575 Grn 244
May 2006 result Lab 1716 C 1424 LD 991 Grn 262
June 2004 result Lab 2140/2065/1829 C 1300/1261/1160 LD 1086/945/903 Grn 396


A couple of other notices to finish on. There are other votes going on this week, and in the most important of those your columnist would like to endorse my quiz friend Anne Hegerty in the election for the post of Queen of the Jungle. If she's still there by the time you read this, get voting for her. Vote early and vote often.

And if you liked these previews, there's a lot more like them in the two paperback collections Andrew's Previews 2016 and 2017, which are available now from Amazon and just might make a delightful Christmas present for the discerning psephologist.


Previews: 15 Nov 2018

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

Before we start this week there are a couple of entries for Correction Corner. Firstly, this column would like to apologise to Jodi Dunne, the winning Labour candidate in the Harlow, Bush Fair by-election last Thursday; Councillor Dunne is in fact a man ("Jodi" being short for "Joseph") and not, as I had incorrectly assumed and wrote in last week's column, a woman. Also, the Dormers Wells by-election last week was not in fact the first by-election in Ealing for ten years; there was a poll in Northfield ward on general election day in 2015 which I had overlooked. Unfortunately this lack of basic research also fed through into my performance in the European Quiz Championships over the weekend in Venice, with my Wales team finishing tenth out of fifteen nations. My apologies for the mistakes; must do better in future.

The four by-elections on 15th November 2018 have something for everyone in partisan terms with two Labour defences and one each for the Conservatives and Lib Dems. Appropriately for these volatile political times three of the by-elections are in marginal wards and the other may not be as safe as it looks. We travel to two areas which were Labour gains in the snap general election, one area which swung strongly to the Conservatives at the same time, and an area which the Conservatives will be hoping to take off the Liberal Democrats after many years of trying. Read on...


Canterbury North

Kent county council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor John Simmonds. A long-serving member of Kent county council, Simmonds had entered politics in 2001 after retiring from a career in banking and finance: he put that experience to good use by serving for eight years as Kent's cabinet member for finance, only stepping down shortly before his death. He also served for twelve years on the council of the University of Kent, and in the 2014 New Year Honours was appointed MBE for services to local government. He had represented Canterbury North since its creation in 2017, before then sitting for the predecessor division of Canterbury West.

"Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a little girl and her name was Emily, and she had a shop."

For our first by-election we are in a division whose name may be misleading at first sight. This is not the northern division of the ancient Kent city of Canterbury; the city does have a northern county division, but that is called Canterbury City North. The Canterbury North division, by contrast, is almost entirely outside the city and rather diverse.

This division is based on three wards of the Canterbury district. At the northern end is Chestfield ward, based on a village of the same name and also including part of the town of Whitstable. To the west of Canterbury lie the villages of Rough Common and Chartham, which are within the Chartham and Stone Street ward and are satellite villages for the city; Chartham is in the Stour valley and has a railway station on the Canterbury-Ashford line. Between them can be found a thickly-wooded area, the Blean Forest ward, within which is the village of Blean on the Canterbury-Whitstable road; this was the home of Smallfilms, the production company which gave us such classics of children's television as Ivor the Engine, the Clangers and, of course, Bagpuss.

But don't be fooled into thinking that this is a bucolic true-blue ward, even if the 2017 county election result - 55% for the Conservatives, 16% each for Labour and the Lib Dems - might give that impression. Not all the electors here are old enough to remember Bagpuss - indeed, a sizeable number won't have parents who are old enough to remember Bagpuss. Canterbury North division contains most of the main campus of the University of Kent. One of the plate-glass universities of the 1960s, Kent houses over 6,000 students at its campus on the northern edge of Canterbury. An early Kent student was a young lad called Gavin Esler, who graduated in 1974 with a BA in English and American literature; Esler subsequently worked for forty years as a BBC journalist, and is now the chancellor of the university he once studied at. His predecessor as chancellor was one of the UK's most eminent psephologists, the opinion pollster and founder of MORI Sir Robert Worcester.

The university certainly has a large impact on the electoral roll here. Both county and district ward boundaries have changed here since the 2011 census, but at the time Blean Forest ward (which covers the campus together with Blean) was 70% student, the eighth-highest figure for any ward in England and Wales; in consequence it was in the top fifteen wards in the country for the 18-29 age group and for those educated to A-level but no further. It would appear that the students generally didn't turn out for the Kent county council election in May 2017, but they must have turned out for the snap general election five weeks later; the Labour gain of the Canterbury constituency, which had returned Conservatives or Independent Conservatives continuously since 1857, was one of the most surprising results of last year. In order for Labour to have won Canterbury last year they would have most likely carried this county division. Suddenly that 55-16 Tory lead in May 2017 doesn't look all that safe, does it? However, it will be difficult for Labour to repeat that trick for a local election: firstly, there appear to be issues within the local Labour party with talk that their MP Rosie Duffield could be deselected; secondly, the campus electoral roll has turned over twice since the general election and very few of the 2017 students will still be living within the division boundaries.

Defending for the Conservatives is a latter-day Thomas of Canterbury: Robert Thomas is an accountant who since 2011 has been a Canterbury city councillor, representing Chartham and Stone Street ward. Labour have reselected Dr Ben Hickman who, as a senior lecturer in poetry at the University of Kent, is somebody with excellent connections to the party's core electorate in the division. The Lib Dems, who were just one vote behind Hickman at the 2017 county elections, have selected Alex Lister who works in digital communications and is a governor of the local NHS hospital trust: he is campaigning strongly for a new hospital for Canterbury. Also standing are teacher Henry Stanton for the Greens (who was their parliamentary candidate here last year), University of Kent student Joe Simons for UKIP and independent candidate Joe Egerton, who was a Conservative candidate for Canterbury City South in last year's county elections.

Parliamentary constituency: Canterbury
Canterbury council wards: Blean Forest (part), Chestfield, Chartham and Stone Street (part)

Joe Egerton (Ind)
Ben Hickman (Lab)
Alex Lister (LD)
Joe Simons (UKIP)
Henry Stanton (Grn)
Robert Thomas (C)

May 2017 result C 2321 Lab 700 LD 699 Grn 287 UKIP 240


Grove and Wantage

Oxfordshire county council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Zoé Patrick who had served since 2001. She was a former chairman of Oxfordshire County Council, and also served from 2007 to 2011 on Vale of White Horse district council.

From the modernity of the University of Kent we travel west and back in time, to the ancient town of Wantage. The birthplace of Alfred the Great, Wantage was a Berkshire town until 1974 and benefited from its location, at the foot of the Berkshire Downs within the Vale of White Horse. The Ridgway, by some metrics England's oldest road, ran along the escarpment above the town; however, the Industrial Revolution rather passed Wantage by, and it is poorly served by rail and road. It took until the Second World War for major development to come, with the RAF opening Grove Airfield to the north of the town in 1942. The airfield subsequently became a USAAF base before passing into the hands of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which ran a laboratory here for a time and built a large housing estate to provide accommodation for its employees. That turned Grove into a very large village, although it is still just about separate from Wantage.

Since 2005 Grove and Wantage have jointly elected two Oxfordshire county councillors. Throughout that period both of them have been Liberal Democrats, although the Conservatives have always been close behind - particularly so in 2005 and a 2008 by-election. The 2017 result had an eight-point lead for the Lib Dems which represented very little change from four years previously: the winning Lib Dem slate polled 43% to 35% for the Conservatives and 13% for Labour. Mind, there is something strange going on with the Labour result as recorded here in 2017, which had 745 votes for their regular candidate Jean Nunn-Price and just 127 for her running-mate George Etherington despite his being top of the ballot paper. One wonders whether something has gone wrong there. The Conservatives performed better in the last Vale of White Horse district council election in 2015, winning five of the division's six district council seats to the Lib Dems' one.

There is extra impetus for the Tories here: they presently hold 30 of Oxfordshire county council's 63 seats, and this is the first of two county council seats the Lib Dems are defending in by-elections this month. If the Tories can gain this seat and the Wheatley by-election in two weeks' time, they will have an overall majority on the county council.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Jane Hanna, a qualified barrister who was the first female Fellow of Keble College, Oxford and taught at Oxford University for twenty years. Hanna is the founding chief executive of a charity providing advice and bereavement support to families of those who fall victim to Sudden Unexpected Death of Epilepsy, and in 2010 was appointed OBE for her contribution to health services. She was a Vale of White Horse councillor from 2003 to 2013, representing Marcham and Shippon ward. The Tories have selected Ben Mabbett, a district councillor for Grove North ward within the division and Wantage town councillor. The Labour candidate is Dave Gernon, an Oxford University IT professional who also does computer repairs. Completing the ballot paper is Kevin Harris for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Wantage
Vale of White Horse council wards: Grove North, Wantage and Grove Brook, Wantage Charlton

Dave Gernon (Lab)
Jane Hanna (LD)
Kevin Harris (Grn)
Ben Mabbett (C)

May 2017 result LD 2403/2153 C 1958/1738 Lab 745/127 Grn 436
May 2013 result LD 1700/1651 C 1309/1106 Lab 610/464 UKIP 599/593 Grn 346
June 2009 result LD 2340/2143 C 1664/1619 UKIP 614 Grn 551/447 Lab 494/339
March 2008 by-election LD 1901 C 1786 Lab 372
May 2005 result LD 3414/3317 C 3152/3148 Lab 2270/2044 Grn 742/393


Dursley

Stroud council, Gloucestershire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Alison Hayward, who has moved away from the district. She had served since 2016.

Henry BOLINGBROKE: How far is it, my lord, to Berkeley now?
NORTHUMBERLAND: Believe me, noble lord,
I am a stranger here in Gloucestershire:
These high wild hills and rough uneven ways
Draws out our miles, and makes them wearisome,
And yet your fair discourse hath been as sugar,
Making the hard way sweet and delectable.
-William Shakespeare, Richard II, II, iii.

Act II, scene III of Shakespeare's Richard II is set in the "Wilds in Gloucestershire" which is a fair description of the setting of Dursley. Shakespeare may have known it well: there is a local tradition that he spent some years in Dursley working as a schoolteacher. The Berkeley which Bolingbroke and Northumberland were travelling to was Berkeley Castle on the banks of the Severn, where some decades earlier Richard II's great-grandfather Edward II had met his end, most likely through foul play although the bit about the red-hot poker is probably apocryphal; but Dursley had a castle as well, built in 1153 during the last days of the Anarchy by Roger de Berkeley. The location was good, guarding a valley in the Cotswold hills; and it's the proximity of the Cotswolds which is proving a boon to the estate agents of southern Gloucestershire.

The scenery is certainly nice by all accounts; but despite its setting Dursley was a surprisingly industrial town. That was mainly thanks to R A Lister and Company, whose engine factory was based here and which until quite recently employed many of the local residents. Inevitably, most of the factory site is now houses. Lister's brought to Dursley the Danish inventor Mikael Pedersen, who invented his eponymous bicycle here; Pedersen bikes are still in production, although they're not made in Dursley any longer. The exit of most of Dursley's industry, despite the best efforts of Labour-led Stroud council which is apparently keen to keep some heavy industry going here, has left a post-industrial town which is slightly too far away from the M5 motorway to be attractive to commuters to Gloucester and Bristol.

Stroud council elected by thirds until 2016 when it moved onto the whole council elections cycle, but unusually Stroud holds its whole council elections in leap years (the only other councils with that electoral arrangement are Gloucester and Warrington). Dursley ward has unchanged boundaries since the modern Stroud council held its first election in 1973. Despite its industrial recent past it has been for most of its existence a closely-fought three-way marginal ward, although since the Coalition was formed Labour have risen somewhat at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. Since 2014 Labour have held all the ward's councillors; at the most recent election in 2016 the Labour slate led here with 37% to 25% for the Conservatives and 24% for the single Lib Dem candidate. The Dursley division of Gloucestershire county council has some more genuine Cotswold rural territory making it more Conservative-inclined, and the Tories gained it from Labour in the 2017 county elections. Nonetheless, Labour did bounce back from that to gain the Stroud constituency at the snap general election five weeks later.

Defending for Labour is Trevor Hall, a retired trade union official who had been a shop steward at the Lister's factory. Living on the same road as Hall is the Conservative candidate Loraine Patrick, who has been a Stroud councillor for this ward twice before (2002-03 and 2007-11), was runner-up here in 2016 and since 2017 has been the town's county councillor. The Lib Dems have selected Richard Blackwell-Whitehead who is an engineer working with lasers. Completing the ballot paper is Stroud resident Yvon Dignon, representing the Green Party.

My thanks to local Labour and Liberal Democrat campaigners for their help with this preview.

Parliamentary constituency: Stroud
Gloucestershire county council division: Dursley

Richard Blackwell-Whitehead (LD)
Yvon Dignon (Grn)
Trevor Hall (Lab)
Loraine Patrick (C)

May 2016 result Lab 932/851/757 C 623/583/565 LD 606 Grn 359
May 2015 result Lab 1679 C 1282 LD 632
May 2014 result Lab 598 C 484 LD 386 UKIP 329 Grn 175 TUSC 20
May 2012 result Lab 880 C 543 LD 277
May 2011 result Lab 1026 C 679 LD 416 Grn 112
May 2010 result LD 1136 C 1120 Lab 1026 Grn 163
May 2008 result C 647 LD 608 Lab 531 Grn 97
May 2007 result C 653 Lab 639 LD 603
May 2006 result C 816 Lab 639 LD 462
June 2004 result Lab 667 C 614 LD 473 UKIP 137 Grn 83 EDP 64
May 2003 result LD 727 C 582 Lab 364 UKIP 37
November 2002 by-election C 652 LD 609 Lab 382
May 2002 result C 723/600/499 Lab 683/548/525 LD 573/528/497
May 2000 result C 605 Lab 537 LD 330
May 1999 result Lab 698 LD 457 C 349
May 1998 result LD 616 Lab 526 C 402
May 1996 result Lab 686 LD 515 C 447 Residents 200
May 1995 result Lab 642 LD 494 C 374 Ind 310
May 1994 result LD 806 Lab 654 C 531
May 1992 result C 781 LD 511/384 Grn 508 Lab 436/415
May 1991 result LD 978 Lab 697 C 599
May 1990 result Lab 1447 C 840
May 1988 result Lab 1086 C 876/752 SLD 823
May 1987 result C 933 Lab 818 All 614
May 1986 result All 1087 C 801
May 1984 result C 775 All 589 Lab 526
May 1983 result Lab 1009/714 C 988/988/924 All 759/654
May 1979 result C 1833/1714 Lab 1533/1327/1107
May 1976 result C 936/787 Lab 828/669/484 Ind 822/596
May 1973 result Ind 808/695/403/312 Lab 725/676/390 C 631 Lib 483


East Retford West

Bassetlaw council, Nottinghamshire; caused by the disqualification of Alan Chambers, who failed to attend any meetings of the council in six months. Twice Mayor of Retford, Chambers had served since 2012; he was elected for Labour but had been sitting as an independent councillor since May 2017.

We finish the week in a town within the debatable lands where the Midlands end and the North begins. It's certainly been fought over for a long time: the Venerable Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, described the AD 617 Battle of the River Idle in which Raedwald, king of East Anglia, defeated and killed Aethelfrith, king of Northumbria. According to local legend, the Idle ran red with blood afterwards giving a name to a local crossing point: the red ford, or Retford.

A nice folk story there, but it doesn't quite stack up: although the name Retford clearly relates to a ford on the River Idle, there's all sorts of debate among toponymists as to the actual meaning of the name. It's certainly a town whose name can be rather confusing even now. Bill Bryson, in his Notes from a Small Island, which less than 25 years after its publication is now worryingly dated, visited Retford and noted that the place was so obscure that it didn't feature in the AA Book of British Towns. Let the record state that Retford is in that book, but it appears there under the name of East Retford which is still the town's official name. The compass point comes from the fact that the town was originally founded on the western side of the ford ("West Retford"), but the eastern side ("East Retford") eventually became more important and developed into the town centre with lots of nice Georgian buildings.

(East) Retford is in fact another old town, having been given a borough charter by Henry I in 1105; that status gave the town independence from the sheriffs of Nottingham, and Retford still guards that independence today by generally looking north, over the Yorkshire boundary. Bassetlaw council is associated with the Sheffield City Region, although it doesn't (yet) get a vote for the city region's mayor; and Retford is the only Nottinghamshire town to have Doncaster (DN) postcodes. Today it remains a rural market town with some passing trade: the Great North Road once ran through the town, and the East Coast Main Line and Sheffield-Lincoln railway lines still stop here. The railway station is at the heart of the East Retford West ward, which is based on the old West Retford but also extends over the Idle to take in part of the town centre.

In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries East Retford was a notorious rotten borough, generally held to be in the pocket of the Duke of Newcastle. An attempt was made in 1830, before the Great Reform Act, to disenfranchise Retford for corruption; that was eventually fended off by extending the boundaries of the East Retford constituency to take in the whole of the Wapentake of Bassetlaw, including the town of Worksop. With some boundary tweaks and a name change to Bassetlaw, the constituency has been roughly the same ever since. Since 2001 it has returned to Parliament the Labour MP John Mann, whose politics may not be to the taste of everyone within the Labour movement but are clearly a good fit for the area.

As with much of the Midlands Bassetlaw is swinging towards the right at parliamentary level; in June 2017 Mann's lead was down to 9.3 percentage points. However, but that hasn't yet been reflected on Bassetlaw council which returned a large Labour majority at its last election in 2015. Poor organisation from the Conservatives will have helped in that: although the Tories topped the poll in East Retford West in every election from 2002 to 2008, there was only one Conservative candidate here for the ward's two seats in the 2015 election. In that poll Labour held both of those seats with 37%, to 29% for the Conservative candidate and 21% for UKIP. The Tories did gain the local county division of Retford West from Labour in May 2017¸ but only by 54 votes; it seems clear that favourable boundary changes, which brought the rural and Conservative-inclined Sutton ward into the division, made the difference there.

Defending for Labour is local resident Matthew Callingham. The Conservatives will be hoping to show they have the momentum in what is now a marginal parliamentary seat: they have selected Emma Auckland, who works in a local supermarket having previously run her own business. Completing the ballot paper is Helen Tamblyn-Saville of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Bassetlaw
Nottinghamshire county council division: Retford West

Emma Auckland (C)
Matthew Callingham (Lab)
Helen Tamblyn-Saville (LD)

May 2015 result Lab 1011/889 C 778 UKIP 576 LD 348
May 2014 result Lab 544 UKIP 292 C 232 LD 53
May 2012 result Lab 707 C 353
May 2010 result Lab 782 C 767 LD 515
May 2008 result C 570 Lab 324
May 2006 result C 602 Lab 317
June 2004 result C 575 Lab 399 LD 276
May 2002 result C 412/378 Lab 396/332


Previews: 08 Nov 2018

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

There are four by-elections on Thursday 8th November 2018, with three Labour defences and one Conservative:


Bush Fair; and
Nettleswell

Harlow council, Essex; caused respectively by the resignations of Labour councillors Ian Beckett and Waida Forman. Forman, who was the deputy leader of the council, had served since 2012. Beckett was first elected in 2011; he resigned from the council after being deselected for the 2019 election.

We have now entered November, which means that there are some notices which have to be read out at this time of year. First, by the time you read these words your columnist will be out of the country: I'm off to soggy Venice to play for the Wales national quiz team in the 2018 European Quiz Championships over the weekend, and will not be reading or doing anything to do with elections until I'm back in the UK next week. Anybody who's corresponded with me over the last few months might say "no change there" and unfortunately they are right: I have been extremely busy with work and things have got left or delayed recently. My apologies to anybody who has written to me and may have been disappointed by a lack of timely response.

Secondly, we are now less than half a year away from the next ordinary local government elections, which are due to take place on Thursday 2nd May 2019. The six-month rule is now in effect, which means that there will be no by-elections for any new vacancies which occur for council terms which are due to end in 2019. Since the majority of English local councillors are up for re-election in May 2019, this means that this column is going to get a lot quieter than normal over the next few months.

However, the six-month rule doesn't apply retrospectively, and two of today's four by-elections are for council seats which will be up for re-election again in May. Whoever wins those polls will not be able to rest on their laurels for long. One of those is in the Bush Fair ward of the Essex town of Harlow.

Harlow was one of the first New Towns, with construction beginning in the late 1940s to ease overcrowding in bombed-out London; it was designed with a series of neighbourhoods which were intended to be self-supporting, with their own shops, pubs and facilities. There were also some pre-existing villages incorporated into the town: the village of Tye Green now forms part of the Bush Fair ward, which is a residential area in the south-east of the town either side of Tillwicks Road. Betraying its New Town origins, over 40% of the local housing is still socially rented, and in the 2011 census Bush Fair made the top 50 wards in England and Wales for those educated to Level 1 standard - that is, 1 to 4 GCSE passes or equivalent.

To the north of Bush Fair is Netteswell ward, which lies immediately east of the town centre and was one of the earlier New Town areas to be developed. Again, Netteswell was a pre-existing village. Much of the area of the ward is taken up by the 164 acres of Harlow Town Park, which separates the ward's housing from Harlow Town railway station.

New Towns are often noted for being politically volatile, and Harlow is a case in point. The Harlow parliamentary constituency has been a bellwether since it was created in 1974, failing to vote for the winning party at a general election since then only once (in 1979). In the May 2017 local elections the Conservatives won all four of Harlow's seats on Essex county council, gaining three of them from Labour; a month later then-junior minister Robert Halfon was easily re-elected as MP for Harlow with a swing against him that was below the national average. Despite that, Harlow council is a Labour bastion: since coming to power in 2010 the Tories have never won more than five of the town's eleven wards. Part of that is a boundary effect: a lot of the town's Conservative voters are packed into two very safe wards, Church Langley and Old Harlow; and the parliamentary seat also includes four reliably-Tory wards outside the town from Epping Forest district. The effect of this is that after the May 2018 elections Labour had 20 seats on Harlow council with the Conservatives holding the other 13.

That wasn't always the theme, mind. Both Bush Fair and Netteswell wards returned full slates of Lib Dems in 2002, when the current ward boundaries were drawn up. Netteswell developed into a three-way marginal while Bush Fair was more of a Lib Dem versus Labour contest. However, Harlow was one of the places where the Coalition led to the Liberal Democrat vote evaporating, and with the exception of a UKIP win in Bush Fair in 2014 both wards have voted Labour ever since. Not always safely, though: the Conservatives surged in both wards in May this year, with Labour leading 45-39 in Bush Fair (UKIP polling just 11% and losing their seat) and slightly more comfortably by 51-39 in Netteswell.

Not only that, but there are mutterings coming from Harlow about the influence of Momentum in the town's Labour group. It seems fairly clear from press reports that Councillor Beckett was deselected in favour of a Momentum-backed candidate, and his is not the only recent resignation in Harlow to have been provoked by a clash with that group. This column will be back in town in December for more on that story, and there are some other vacancies coming up in a similar vein. See if you can spot them as they appear in future editions of Andrew's Previews.

Having defeated Beckett for the Bush Fair Labour nomination, Jodi Dunne now has the chance to become a Harlow councillor rather earlier than she might have expected. Labour's Dunne is up against the Tories' Andreea Hardware who returns from May's election; she is a recent University of Kent graduate and teaching assistant. Also standing are Anita Long for UKIP, Lesley Rideout for the Lib Dems and Nicholas Taylor for a new localist outfit, the Harlow Alliance Party.

In Netteswell both major parties have gone for youth in their candidate selection. Shannon Jezzard defends for Labour; she is a digital marketing administrator and another Momentum figure, and at 22 years of age can claim seniority over her Tory opponent. He is Jake Brackstone, who was just 19 when he fought this ward in May. Also standing are Mark Gough for UKIP, Robert Thurston for the Lib Dems and Alan Leverett for the Harlow Alliance Party.

Bush Fair

Parliamentary constituency: Harlow
Essex county council division: Harlow South East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode district: CM18

Jodi Dunne (Lab)
Andreea Hardware (C)
Anita Long (UKIP)
Lesley Rideout (LD)
Nicholas Taylor (Harlow Alliance Party)

May 2018 result Lab 733 C 634 UKIP 180 LD 82
May 2016 result Lab 796 UKIP 429 C 370 LD 111
May 2015 result Lab 1380 C 1124 UKIP 838 LD 164
May 2014 result UKIP 744 Lab 694 C 326 LD 102 Harlow Ind 80
May 2012 double vacancy Lab 1021/877 C 259/182 UKIP 236 LD 109/90
May 2011 result Lab 1113 C 501 LD 256 UKIP 178
May 2010 result Lab 1254 LD 1134 C 1053
May 2008 result LD 860 Lab 652 C 554
May 2007 result LD 855 Lab 796 C 414
May 2006 result LD 995 Lab 693 C 357
June 2004 result Lab 751 LD 690 C 383 Ind 325
May 2003 result LD 663 Lab 624 C 140
May 2002 result LD 1086/1082/1071 Lab 868/845/838 C 224/219/215 Socialist Alliance 87

Netteswell

Parliamentary constituency: Harlow
Essex county council division: Harlow North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode district: CM20

Jake Brackstone (C)
Mark Gough (UKIP)
Shannon Jezzard (Lab)
Alan Leverett (Harlow Alliance Party)
Robert Thurston (LD)

May 2018 result Lab 791 C 601 UKIP 97 LD 65
May 2016 result Lab 749 C 372 UKIP 361 LD 89
May 2015 result Lab 1455 C 1104 UKIP 612 LD 162
May 2014 result Lab 739 UKIP 548 C 401 LD 87
May 2012 result Lab 818 C 538 LD 120
May 2011 result Lab 959 C 636 LD 206
May 2010 result Lab 1329 C 1042 LD 860
May 2008 result C 681 LD 579 Lab 540 UKIP 115
May 2007 result Lab 642 C 613 LD 594
May 2006 result LD 736 Lab 555 C 448
June 2004 result LD 627 Lab 448 UKIP 364 C 260 Ind 141
May 2003 result LD 622 Lab 406 C 153 Socialist Alliance 67
May 2002 result LD 1066/1060/1041 Lab 683/653/643 C 242/234/206 Socialist Alliance 101


Dormers Wells

Ealing council, North London; caused by the death of Labour councillor Tej Ram Bagha. He was first elected in 1994 for Mount Pleasant ward, and had represented Dormers Wells ward since 2006; Bagha was also the Mayor of Ealing in 2014-15.

We move into West London for our final Labour defence of the week. The Dormers Wells area, which is the eastern end of Southall, takes its name from an old farm and watermill called Dorman's Well, which existed before housing was built here either side of the Second World War. There's still a lot of open space in this area by London standards: the area east of Greenford Road is a park through which the River Brent flows, while the West Middlesex Golf Course and the Greenford Park Cemetery also provide greenery.

The rest of the ward is, however filled with semi-detached houses which have been a focus for immigration from the subcontinent, particularly the Punjab. Dormers Wells is in the top 10 wards in England and Wales for Sikhism (23% of the population), and also makes the top 100 for those born outside the EU (49%), those holding non-UK qualifications (17%), Hinduism (16%) and Asian ethnicity (58% of the population). The northern end of the ward, around Greenford Park cemetery, also recorded a high population born in Poland: this is overspill from Greenford, home to one of the UK's longest-established Polish communities. The ward is rather poorly served by rail - the Great Western Main Line forms part of its southern boundary, but there are no convenient railway or Underground stations - and so bus use in the area is very high.

Dormers Wells is covered by Ealing council, which must be doing something right because this is the first local by-election in the borough since May 2008, and accordingly this is the first time Ealing has appeared in Andrew's Previews. Ealing council has swung a mile to the left since the 2006 election which returned a Tory majority; but this ward was never part of that majority, and is very safe Labour under present conditions. Bagha was first elected for Dormers Wells in that 2006 election with his running-mates on the Labour slate being Tejinder Singh Dhami and Ranjit Dheer. All three of those Labour councillors were re-elected in 2010, 2014 and 2018; the vote shares in the 2018 election were 69% for the Labour slate and 16% for the Tory runners-up. The 2016 London Assembly elections, with a wider field, saw Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith in the ward's ballot boxes 65-21 while the Labour list led 68-17 in the London Members ballot. Finishing ninth in Dormers Wells in the mayoral election was independent candidate Prince Zylinski, a genuine Polish aristocrat who subsequently founded his own political party: Duma Polska, or Polish Pride to give it its English name, finished last in Dormers Wells this May with 3% of the vote.

Defending for Labour is Mohinda Kaur Midha who is seeking to make a quick return to Ealing council: she represented Lady Margaret ward from 2010 until May. The Tories have selected Amandeep Singh Gill, who fought Norwood Green ward in May's elections and is making action against flytippers part of his campaign. Also standing are Meena Hans for the Green Party and Nigel Bakhai for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Ealing Southall
London Assembly constituency: Ealing and Hillingdon
ONS Travel to Work Area: Slough and Heathrow
Postcode districts: UB1, UB6

Nigel Bakhai (LD)
Amandeep Singh Gill (C)
Meena Hans (Grn)
Mohinda Kaur Midha (Lab)

May 2018 result Lab 2890/2842/2751 C 662/618/572 Grn 304 LD 192/136/110 Duma Polska 131/109/105
May 2014 result Lab 3059/3034/3025 C 647/635/518 LD 320/269/201
May 2010 result Lab 3289/3209/3200 C 1790/1481/1445 LD 864/691/574 Grn 290
May 2006 result Lab 1703/1661/1657 C 580/551/524 LD 424/401/336
May 2002 result Lab 1500/1417/1348 C 344/334/313 Socialist Labour 207/129/127 LD 193/174/152

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 2445 C 801 Grn 126 Respect 78 UKIP 57 LD 52 Britain First 51 Women's Equality 50 Zylinski 45 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 37 BNP 34 One Love 13
London Members: Lab 2671 C 666 Grn 124 UKIP 91 Respect 88 LD 63 Women's Equality 61 Britain First 53 BNP 45 CPA 44 Animal Welfare 20 House Party 19


Holsworthy

Torridge council, Devon; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Ken Carroll.

For our final contest of the week we escape to the country to consider our Conservative defence. Holsworthy is a small and remote market town near the north-west corner of Devon; despite having a population comfortably under 3,000 it is a major centre for the local area. Agriculture is the main economic sector: Holsworthy has one of the largest livestock markets in the West Country, while the slurry produced by the local dairy industry creates renewable energy for the local area via one of the UK's largest anaerobic digestors. Holsworthy was hit hard by the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001, leading to a drive to bring tourists to and diversify the economy of the "Ruby Country"; the jury may be still out on that one, but in the 2011 census Holwworthy ward did come in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for part-time employment.

Holsworthy is the sort of remote place where the candidate can matter more than the party, which makes it surprising that none of the ward's two district councillors have been re-elected since 2007. The 2015 election here returned two Conservatives, Carroll and Ian Parker, who polled 45% of the vote against 24% for UKIP and 17% for outgoing Lib Dem councillor Howard Ratledge. In 2003 and 2007 the ward returned a Lib Dem and an independent; the Lib Dems lost their seat to a second independent in a 2009 by-election but recovered it in 2011, the other seat at that election being gained by the Conservatives.

A Tory loss would cut their majority on Torridge council to just two seats going into the 2019 elections - following a by-election gain from the Lib Dems in July, they hold 19 seats plus this vacancy against eight independents, three UKIPpers, two Greens, two Lib Dems and a Labour councillor. Their defending candidate is Jon Hutchings, the Mayor of Holsworthy and landlord of the White Hart in the town. UKIP haven't returned, and the Lib Dems have selected Christopher Styles-Power who gives an address some distance away in Shebbear, so Hutchings' biggest challenge may come from independent candidate and retired shopkeeper John Allen, who preceded Hutchings as Mayor of Holsworthy in 2016-17 and was a district councillor for this ward from 2003 to 2007. Completing the ballot paper is Tom Hammett for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Torridge and West Devon
Devon county council division: Holsworthy Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bude
Postcode district: EX22f

John Allen (Ind)
Tom Hammett (Lab)
Jon Hutchings (C)
Christopher Styles-Power (LD)

May 2015 result C 1194/816 UKIP 629 LD 464 Grn 371
May 2011 result C 741 LD 493/489
August 2009 by-election Ind 537 LD 471
May 2007 result LD 710 Ind 558/384 C 348/278 Ind 236
May 2003 result LD 784 Ind 531 C 356


Previews: 01 Nov 2018

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

There are three by-elections on 1st November 2018, with something for everyone. All the major parties have a seat each to defend, and we go from villages to a town to the big city; from the North to the West to East Ham. We'll go down the pub, talk politics and football, and - like so much of politics at the moment - indulge in rather a lot of fantasy. But before then, if you'd just like to step into this police box...


Denby Dale

Kirklees council, West Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Billy Jewitt on health grounds. He had served only since May.

https://youtu.be/2jRB49rOfec

I don't make any apology for starting this week with the Yorkshire stereotype of a brass band. I like this sort of stuff, and so - it appears - do the residents of Skelmanthorpe where brass has been played for generations. The Skelmanthorpe band is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, making it one of the oldest brass ensembles in the country. The performance above, at the Bolsover Festival of Brass last year, won second prize in the First Section with Dan Jackson, on euph, picking up the prize for best soloist. Skelmanthorpe are not in the top rank of banding - the First Section is one level below the top or Championship Section - but I think you'll agree from listening to them that their quality is excellent nonetheless.

Particularly so given their catchment: an obscure village of around 3,000 souls in the foothills of the Pennines, which is perhaps best known as the birthplace of the current Doctor Who, Jodie Whittaker. Skelmanthorpe doesn't even merit a parish of its own: along with Clayton West, a settlement of similar size, it's included in the parish of Denby Dale.

These are all villages on or close to the River Dearne, and they greatly expanded in population due to the Industrial Revolution. Although Denby Dale is known for its giant pies - the tenth and most recent one, baked in 2000 to celebrate the Millennium, served 22,000 people - the main industry here in the upper Dearne valley was not food but textiles, with some coalmining in Clayton West and Emley to throw into the mix. Emley may be a fairly tiny village, but anybody from the West Riding can tell you where it is thanks to this thing on the horizon:

That's the UK's tallest freestanding structure, the Emley Moor tower, which broadcasts television signals to the whole of Yorkshire.

To some extent you have to wonder how a place as small-town as this ended up in a Metropolitan Borough. There are no good roads connecting the ward to anywhere else; the main railway connection is the little-used Penistone Line to Huddersfield, Barnsley and Sheffield. Nonetheless this area comes under the jurisdiction of Kirklees council - based in Huddersfield, ten miles to the north-west - and is part of the Dewsbury constituency.

Dewsbury is a marginal parliamentary seat which was a Tory gain in 2010 but which Labour recovered in 2015 against the national trend. And you can see that Labour recovery written in the annual election results for Denby Dale, which was a Tory ward - mostly reasonably comfortably - until 2010 and then turned into a key marginal. Labour gained the ward by 85 votes in 2012 and held that gain in 2016, but so far haven't been able to pick up the other two Tory seats. Billy Jewitt was first elected in May in succession to long-serving Tory councillor Jim Dodds; he beat the Labour candidate by 47% to 43%, a majority of 237 votes. A Labour gain here will improve the party's small majority on Kirklees council where they currently hold 37 out of 69 seats, with the Conservatives forming the official opposition on 18 (plus this vacancy).

So, this is one to watch because it might tell us something about the national picture in these unstable political times. Defending for the Conservatives is Paula Kemp, a Denby Dale parish councillor (for Emley ward) who has lived and worked in the ward for 25 years. In a clash of the generations Labour have reselected their candidate from May Will Simpson, a 21-year-old from Clayton West who worked on the 2015 Labour election campaign for Dewsbury despite being too young to vote at the time. Also standing are Isabel Walters for the Green Party and Alison Baskeyfield for the Lib Dems.

The picture of Emley Moor tower is by Chris Charlesworth and released under this Creative Commons Licence.

Parliamentary constituency: Dewsbury
ONS Travel to Work Area: Huddersfield
Postcode districts: HD8, WF4

alison Baskeyfield (LD)
Paula Kemp (C)
Will Simpson (Lab)
Isabel Walters (Grn)

May 2018 result C 2592 Lab 2355 Grn 391 LD 153
May 2016 result Lab 2631 C 2484 LD 320
May 2015 result C 4126 Lab 2886 UKIP 1320 Grn 662 LD 400
May 2014 result C 2251 Lab 2036 Grn 660 LD 194
May 2012 result Lab 2128 C 2043 Grn 576 LD 253
May 2011 result C 2514 Lab 2285 Grn 443 LD 392 EDP 276 BNP 206
May 2010 result C 3875 Lab 2684 LD 1666 BNP 612 Grn 513
May 2008 result C 2474 Lab 1711 BNP 394 LD 372 Grn 288 EDP 172
May 2007 result C 2144 Lab 1564 LD 433 Grn 372 BNP 365 EDP 310
May 2006 result C 2012 Lab 1391 LD 558 EDP 436 BNP 434 Grn 414
June 2004 result Lab 2196/1907/1871 C 2092/2069/1758 BNP 914 Grn 804/773/586 LD 701/606/578


Dodington

South Gloucestershire council; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Gloria Stephen who had served since 2015.

"Y is for Yate, the kind of town that referees come from."
- Half Man Half Biscuit, The Referee's Alphabet

There's a fair amount of literature which has written been about elections, and here I don't mean leaflets or manifestos but bona fide fiction. Dickens and Joyce both indulged in the practice, and one recent effort in this subgenre was The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling - who was born in 1965 in the Gloucestershire town of Yate. Despite my best efforts, this column can't claim that every local by-election is as gripping as Rowling's prose; but the best ones give off an air of "you couldn't make this up" which is all the better because the characters are real and the stories actually happened.

The setting for this contest is Rowling's home town. Yate is one of the largest towns you've probably never heard of, with a population of over 35,000: it has absorbed the better-known settlement of Chipping Sodbury and partially spilled over the parish boundary into the neighbouring parish of Dodington. This quasi-New Town overspill development is the area which comprises Dodington ward; essentially one of the four wards covering Yate and Sodbury, Dodington ward should not be confused with the village of the same name, which is some miles away and in a different ward.

Most of Dodington ward was developed in the 1970s when Yate was growing strongly as a commuter and overspill town for Bristol. The place could have become even bigger: just outside the ward boundary is the Road to Nowhere, a dual carriageway crossing Yate Common which has never been finished because there was no money to take it over the railway line. With the Road to Nowhere being still unfinished, Dodington ward is rather cut off from the outside world but nonetheless has some unusual demographics. In the 2011 census it was number 9 of all the wards in England and Wales for those with 1 to 4 GCSE passes or equivalent, and number 20 for those with 5 or more GCSE passes but nothing higher. Dodington makes the top 100 wards in England and Wales for part-time employment (18.25% of the workforce) and also scores highly for full-time employment.

Presumably many of those jobs are in the big city of Bristol, since Yate's traditional industries were winding down around the time of the town's expansion. Those industries included an aircraft factory next to the railway station (the factory is still going but now makes white goods rather than aircraft) and a mine which at its height supplied 95% of the world's supply of celestine. Celestine is one of the major sources of the metal strontium, which you're probably seeing a lot of at the moment: strontium is the material which burns red in fireworks.

The fireworks of the political variety in Dodington tend to burn not red but yellow, and there have been plenty of them recently. Yate was named in a parliamentary seat for the first time in 2010 with the creation of the Thornbury and Yate constituency: that seat was won easily in 2010 by the Liberal Democrats' Steve Webb, who subsequently entered government as the minister responsible for pensions in the Coalition. The Lib Dems had a stranglehold on most of the wards in the constituency, and Dodington swung strongly towards them in the 2011 local elections and a September 2012 by-election, in which the Tories fell to fourth place behind UKIP. UKIP were still ahead of the Conservatives in Dodington at the 2015 local elections, where the Lib Dems polled 41% to 24% for UKIP and 23% for the Tories; however, on the same day Steve Webb lost his seat to the Conservatives, and in the snap general election two years later there was a further big swing to the blue team. There have been no local elections in South Gloucestershire since 2015, so it remains to be seen in what shape the Lib Dem machine is in after that sort of reverse.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is a candidate notable enough to merit her own Wikipedia page, although you'd have a hard time finding it from the statement of persons nominated alone. Louise Bloom's elected career started in 2000 when she was a founder member of the Greater London Authority; she resigned from the GLA less than two years later and shortly afterwards turned up on Eastleigh council in Hampshire. Bloom served for fifteen years on that council, including in the council's cabinet, and for a time was in a relationship with the Eastleigh council leader Keith House. That didn't end well: following the breakdown of that relationship, health problems, a police warning for harassment and controversy over missing nine consecutive cabinet meetings, Bloom resigned from Eastleigh council in 2017. She has now returned to her native West Country and reverted to her maiden name of Louise Harris. Harris was co-opted to Dodington parish council in July and works for a charity that supports adults with learning disabilities. UKIP have not returned but the Tories have, and they have been making hay over that personal history as you might expect; their candidate is Ian Livermore who, like Harris, gives an address in Chipping Sodbury. Completing the ballot paper is the only local resident on the ballot paper, RAF veteran and retired IT technician John Malone who has the Labour nomination.

Parliamentary constituency: Thornbury and Yate
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bristol
Postcode district: BS37

Louise Harris (LD)
Ian Livermore (C)
John Malone (Lab)

May 2015 result LD 1592/1375 UKIP 920 C 879/734 Lab 498/371
September 2012 by-election LD 787 Lab 243 UKIP 213 C 139
May 2011 result LD 1340/1324 C 452/429 Lab 294/285
May 2007 result LD 1294/1229 C 719/665 Lab 112/101


Boleyn

Newham council, North London; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Veronica Oakeshott, who is moving away from the borough. She had served since winning a by-election in December 2015, and is probably better known as the sister of the political journalist Isabel Oakeshott.

For our final by-election we are in the big city, two stops short of Barking. The Domesday Book recorded an Essex settlement called Hame; in the twelfth century this got subdivided into two settlements called East and West Ham, with Green Street serving as the boundary between them. It still does, but the coming of the railway in 1859 led to increasing urbanisation in an area just eight miles from Charing Cross. In 1877 a property developer called Mr Read persuaded the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway to open a new station called Upton Park; this has since been transferred to London Underground, with very frequent services on the District Line linking the area to the City and beyond.

Upton Park station is at the northern end of Boleyn ward, a name which betrays royal connections. Or at least supposed royal connections: we do know that the Victorian housing which fills the ward was built around the stately home and gardens of Green Street House. Local legend had it that Anne Boleyn lived there, or her family owned it, or there was some other connection; in any event the building ended up being called Boleyn Castle, and gave its name to a nearby pub called the Boleyn Tavern. In the early 20th century West Ham United football club started playing in the grounds of Boleyn Castle; the grounds became a stadium called the Boleyn Ground, and the house itself was used as a social club before being demolished in the 1950s. Part of it - a freestanding structure known locally as Anne Boleyn's Tower - lives on in the club logo.

West Ham United joined the Football League in 1919, and were promoted to the First Division in 1923 - in the same year they lost to Bolton Wanderers in the first FA Cup final to be held at Wembley. The Hammers have rarely been out of the top flight since; they had particular success in the mid-1960s, winning the FA Cup in 1964 and the European Cup-Winners' Cup in 1965. The following year three West Ham players, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, were in the only England side to date to win the World Cup; all three of those players can be seen in the "Champions" statue on the corner of Green Street and Barking Road. West Ham United moved out of the Boleyn Ground in 2016 and now play out of the Olympic stadium in Stratford; their old stadium has since been demolished and (inevitably) redeveloped for housing.

Anne Boleyn may or may not have visited the East Ham ward which bears her name, but one surprising visitor to the ward was one Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who based himself nearby during the 1931 Round Table conference on the future of India. Gandhi is recorded as visiting the Boleyn Tavern, talking football and radical politics with the locals while supping cream soda. Mahatma Gandhi had a personal connection to West Ham United: in the late 1880s, while a young man practising as a barrister in London, he had served with the club's founder Arnold Hills on the committee of the London Vegetarian Society.

Gandhi surely can't have foreseen what was to happen to the area around the Boleyn Tavern. After Indian independence was achieved, this part of East Ham became a major centre of immigration from the subcontinent to London, with Gujaratis and Bangladeshis particularly strongly represented. In 2011 Boleyn ward was in the top 30 wards in England and Wales for population born outside the EU (47%), in the top 60 for those with non-UK qualifications (16%), in the top 70 for Islam (40%) and in the top 75 for Asian ethnicity (55%). Many of those people will shop at Queen's Market, which is open every day of the week; although Queen's Market is on the West Ham side of Green Street, by a quirk of the boundaries it is included in this ward. Another business in the ward gives us an unexpected link back to Skelmanthorpe at the start of the preview: the Who Shop, a museum and gift shop dedicated to Doctor Who, can be found on Barking Road.

This adds up to a Labour ward in present conditions, but that's not unusual for Newham: it's now over twelve years since any party other than Labour won any elected office within Newham borough. Labour have held Boleyn ward since it was created in 2002 and had a monopoly on every predecessor ward from 1994 onwards. In the May 2018 borough elections Labour beat the Conservatives here 70-19; the GLA elections in 2016, with a wider field, saw Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith in the ward's ballot boxes 71-15 and Labour beating the Tories in the London Members ballot 70-11.

Defending for Labour is Moniba Khan; she is the wife of former Newham councillor Obaid Khan, who was elected here on the Labour slate in 2014 but subsequently got kicked out of the party for bullying and intimidation. The Tories have reselected Md Fazlul Karim, a businessman who fought the ward in May and runs two shops on Barking Road. Also standing are performance artist Frankie-Rose Taylor for the Green Party and Arunasalam Pirapaharan for the Liberal Democrats.

I am grateful to Tim Roll-Pickering, a Newham Conservative campaigner, for help with this preview; and also belatedly acknowledge his assistance with the Sutton, Belmont preview last week.

Parliamentary constituency: East Ham
London Assembly constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: E6, E13

Md Fazlul Karim (C)
Moniba Khan (Lab)
Arunasalam Pirapaharan (LD)
Frankie-Rose Taylor (Grn)

May 2018 result Lab 2624/2544/2280 C 693/450/384 Grn 405
Dec 2015 by-election Lab 1440 LD 181 C 171 Grn 117 UKIP 98 Ind 10
May 2014 result Lab 2658/2505/2425 C 869/823/756 TUSC 342 CPA 270/259
May 2010 result Lab 3261/3221/3107 C 1354/1177/844 CPA 386/314/275 Kamran Malik Communities Welfare Party 116/81
May 2006 result Lab 1627/1547/1514 Respect 1219/1082/1007 C 528/484/426 CPA 308
May 2002 result Lab 1321/1224/1122 C 579 Grn 507 CPA 289

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 2423 C 528 Grn 116 Respect 95 LD 70 UKIP 51 Britain First 35 Women's Equality 33 BNP 22 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 22 One Love 8 Zylinksi 8
London Members: Lab 2451 C 373 Grn 137 Respect 108 UKIP 100 LD 98 Women's Equality 68 CPA 43 Britain First 41 Animal Welfare 28 BNP 22 House Party 8