Previews: 20 Sep, 2018

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

Six by-elections on 20th September 2018:


Ottery St Mary Rural

East Devon council; caused by the disqualification of Matt Coppell, a councillor elected for the Independent East Devon Alliance, who failed to attend any meetings of the council in six months. He had served since 2015.

We start this week in the Devon countryside with one of those unwieldy rural wards which group villages that don't have much in common other than that they are in the right place to make up the numbers. The Ottery St Mary Rural ward wraps around three sides of the town of Ottery St Mary; it consists of villages in the Otter Valley such as Taleford and Tipton St John, together with the parishes of Aylesbeare and West Hill to the west. West Hill is the ward's largest centre of population with around 2,000 residents; it declared independence in 2017 to become a parish of its own, having previously been part of Ottery St Mary parish.

This was a safe Conservative ward until 2011 when the poll was comprehensively topped by independent candidate Claire Wright, who defeated the Tory council leader Sara Randall Johnson. Clearly a formidable campaigner, Wright was elected to Devon county council in 2013 and contested the 2015 and 2017 parliamentary elections as an independent candidate for the East Devon constituency, finishing a strong second on both occasions. Wright stood down from the district council in 2015 but her cause has been taken up by an independent slate, the Independent East Devon Alliance, which took over Wright's seat in the 2015 election and finished just 29 votes behind the Tories for the other seat. In a straight fight, shares of the vote were 55% for the IEDA and 45% for the Conservatives. Claire Wright was re-elected to Devon county council last year in the local Otter Valley division, and she leads the council's non-aligned group.

The independents are defending this by-election, and their candidate is Geoff Pratt, a property lawyer and Ottery St Mary town councillor - he represents Tipton St John parish ward which is part of this area. The Tory candidate is John Sheaves, a businessman from West Hill. Also standing on a longer ballot paper than last time are Margaret Bargmann for the Green Party, Nick Benson for the Lib Dems and Labour candidate Richard May.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: East Devon
Devon county council division: Otter Valley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter (Aylesbeare parish, West Hill parish and Ottery St Mary North); Sidmouth (Tipton St John)
Postcode districts: EX5, EX10, EX11, EX14

Margaret Bargmann (Grn)
Nick Benson (LD)
Richard May (Lab)
Geoff Pratt (Ind)
John Sheaves (C)

May 2015 result Ind East Devon Alliance 1507/1226 C 1255/896
May 2011 result Ind 1364 C 822/797 Lab 263
May 2007 result C 1213/1196 UKIP 386
May 2003 result C 1001/985 UKIP 363


Upper Meon Valley

Winchester council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Amber Tresahar. She had served since winning a by-election to Cheriton and Bishops Sutton ward in 2015, transferring here following boundary changes in 2016; and was elected under her former name of Amber Thacker.

We move east to another rural ward, this time in the South Downs National Park. The River Meon rises in the South Downs west of Petersfield, flowing north-west and then south to join the Solent west of Gosport; since 2010 it has given its name to a parliamentary seat, but despite that there are no major urban centres located on the river. The main centres of population on the river's upper reaches, Meonstoke and West Meon, can muster fewer than 1,000 souls each.

Meonstoke and West Meon formed the core of the Upper Meon Valley ward until 2016, when a boundary review led to the ward being greatly expanded and going up from one councillor to two. The largest centre of population is now Owslebury with 684 electors; the ward sprawls as far as Chilcomb on the outskirts of Winchester and Tichborne just outside Alresford. The name of Tichborne recalls a notorious legal case regarding the heir to the Tichborne baronets, who were lords of the manor; the Tichbornes' manor is not open to the public, but tourists can visit the National Trust stately home and gardens of Hinton Ampner and the Marwell Zoo.

This by-election is crucial for control of Winchester council, where a recent defection to the Liberal Democrats has left the Conservatives with 22 seats plus this vacancy; the opposition is made up of 21 Lib Dems and an independent, so if the Tories lose this by-election their majority will go with it. However, this is a very safe Tory ward: in May's ordinary election the Conservatives beat the Lib Dems here by the score of 70-21 - so the chances of any change in control before the 2019 election look slim unless there are more defections. Most of the ward is included within safe Tory divisions of Hampshire county council, although Chilcomb prish is included in the Itchen Valley county division which is Lib Dem-held.

Defending for the Conservatives is Hugh Lumby, from Meonstoke The Lib Dem candidate Lewis North, a local resident from Cheriton, is standing here for the second time after contesting the 2016 election in this ward. Also standing are June Kershaw for Labour and Andrew Wainwright for the Green Party.

Current parliamentary constituency: Meon Valley (all except Chilcomb parish), Winchester (Chilcomb parish)
Proposed parliamentary constituency: Winchester
Hampshire county council division: Bishops Waltham (part: Beauworth, Bramdean and Hinton Ampner, Cheriton, Kilmiston, Owslebury, Tichborne and Upham parishes), Itchen Valley (part: Chilcomb parish), Meon Valley (part: Corhampton and Meonstoke, Exton, Warnford and West Meon parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southampton
Postcode districts: GU32, SO21, SO24, SO32

June Kershaw (Lab)
Hugh Lumby (C)
Lewis North (LD)
Andrew Wainwright (Grn)

May 2018 result C 1260 LD 378 Lab 172
May 2016 result C 1134/1010 LD 319/286 Lab 265/198


Nonsuch

Epsom and Ewell council, Surrey; caused by the death of Nonsuch Residents Association councillor David Wood at the age of 71. He was first elected in 1995, and was Mayor of Epsom and Ewell in 2006-07.

On the shore of Cardigan Bay in North Wales can be found an impressive collection of Italianate buildings. Portmeirion, as it's known, was the brainchild of the architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who was a fashionable architect of the inter-war years and a very eccentric man. One of his eccentricities was to erect a plaque in The Village dedicated to the summer of 1959 "in honour of its splendour". That was followed by further plaques dedicated to 1975 and 1976; the 1976 memorial, commemorating a notoriously hot summer whose temperature record for England remained unbroken until the season just gone, reads simply "Nonsuch".

A word which recalls an impressive building project of an earlier era. In 1538 work started on a palace in the Surrey countryside, for which the village of Cuddington had been cleared to make way. The developer was none other than King Henry VIII, who chose a location close to a royal hunting ground and chose a name which showed just how ambitious the project was meant to be - Nonsuch Palace. The Palace was the scene of a treaty signed in 1585 between Elizabeth I and the Dutch rebels against Spanish rule, an alliance which ultimately helped to provoke the disastrous Spanish Armada three years later; a 1596 catalogue of the palace library reveals "a song of fortie partes, made by Mr. Tallys", which is the earliest known reference to one of the greatest pieces of English early music, Thomas Tallis' Spem in alium.

https://youtu.be/7Cn7ZW8ts3Y

If you'd like to visit Nonsuch Palace, I'm afraid you're out of luck. In 1670 Charles II gifted it to his mistress Barbara, countess of Castlemaine, who ultimately didn't give a XXXX about the place; she had it demolished and sold off the building materials to pay her gambling debts. However, the surrounding park is still in existence and is now a public park. The country house of Nonsuch Mansion dates from a later era, the eighteenth century.

The railway came here in 1847 with the opening of Ewell East railway station, and the area around Nonsuch Park was mostly developed for housing in the 1930s as London expanded - Ewell remained outside Greater London, but has 020 telephone numbers and was until 2000 in the Metropolitan Police district. Two statistics are indicative of what the area is like socially: Ewell's Nonsuch ward comes in at number 2 of all the wards in England and Wales for owner-occupation, at 95% of households; and the average house in the ward will set you back over half a million pounds. Yes, we're talking rich and successful people here: over half of the workforce in Nonsuch are in the census' professional and managerial occupational groups.

Since Epsom and Ewell were developed in the 1930s the area has been a stronghold at local level for Residents' Associations. Despite some consolidation in recent years, there are several different Residents' Associations from the borough on the Electoral Commission register who join forces to form a single group on the council. That leads to messy election results in aggregate - in 2011 the Conservatives were the largest single party with 23% of the vote and won three seats out of a possible 38 - but less of a problem in understanding individual wards. Nonsuch ward has not one but two Residents Associations, Nonsuch Park and District, and Ewell Downs; its Residents slate in 2015 easily won with 59% to 26% for the second-placed Conservatives. The Residents had a larger majority in the 2017 county elections, where they hold the local Ewell division. However, the local parliamentary seat (Epsom and Ewell) is safe for the accident-prone Conservative cabinet minister Chris Grayling.

For this by-election the defending Residents candidate is Colin Keane, chairman of the Nonsuch Park and District residents association; he has the nomination of the umbrella group Residents Associations of Epsom and Ewell. The Tory candidate is Alastair Whitby who has recently moved to the area from the Midlands - he was a candidate for Tamworth council in the 2014 and 2015 elections, and now is the Deputy Chairman (Political) of the party's Epsom and Ewell branch. Also standing are Julian Freeman for the Liberal Democrats and Labour's Rosalind Godson.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: Epsom and Ewell
Surrey county council division: Ewell
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: KT17, SM2, SM3

Julian Freeman (LD)
Rosalind Godson (Lab)
Colin Keane (Res Assocs of Epsom and Ewell)
Alastair Whitby (C)

May 2015 result Res 2134/2060/2008 C 929/838 LD 301 Lab 256/240/215
May 2011 result Res 1447/1416/1397 C 378/354/342 LD 145/117/97 Lab 130/129
May 2007 result Res 1206/1197/1164 C 252/251/217 LD 94/90/86 Lab 47/46
Oct 2005 by-election Res 539 C 183 LD 95 Lab 12
May 2003 result Ind 1149/1125/1115 LD 175 Lab 78/77/73


Limbury

Luton council, Bedfordshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Jennifer Rowlands who had served since 2015.

From one 1930s commuter area to another for our Labour defence this week. We have arrived in Luton, one of the most downmarket and industrial towns in the South of England. Limbury was an old village on the Icknield Way about two miles to the north of Luton, which has been swallowed up by the growth of the town; Limbury was incorporated into Luton in 1928 and much of its housing dates from the 1930s. In the 2011 census Limbury was in the top 5 wards in England and Wales for population born in the Republic of Ireland, at 4.2%; and other immigration has resulted in a significant Asian (mostly Pakistani Muslim) minority. However, one of the main economic drivers here is commuting: Leagrave railway station, on the Thameslink line at the western end of the ward, handles over 1.8 million passengers every year.

That commuting element creates a Conservative vote which was significant enough to elect a Tory councillor in the 2007 election. The Labour vote has risen since then, but the Conservatives weren't that far off getting a seat back in 2015: the vote shares show that Labour won that election 60-40 in a straight fight, but the Labour percentage here was inflated by a personal vote for their other councillor Steve Lewis. Things haven't been going too well for Labour in Luton since; the local MP Kelvin Hopkins greatly increased his majority in the 2017 general election, but he is currently suspended from the party over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Defending for Labour is Amy Nicholls. The Tory candidate is Heather Baker, who has lived in the ward for almost half a century; she is a Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator and family historian. Completing the ballot paper is Steve Moore for the Liberal Democrats.

Current parliamentary constituency: Luton North
Proposed parliamentary constituency: Luton North and Houghton Regis
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton
Postcode district: LU3

Heather Baker (C)
Steve Moore (LD)
Amy Nicholls (Lab)

May 2015 result Lab 2099/1597 C 1382/902
May 2011 result Lab 1245/1226 C 965/908 UKIP 246
May 2007 result Lab 857/816 C 844/687 Eng Dem 263 UKIP 214/138 LD 176/143 Grn 124
May 2003 result Lab 732/676 C 644/585 Ind 274 LD 203/203


Wenhaston and Westleton

Suffolk Coastal council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Raymond Catchpole. A retired property developer and chairman of the UK Feng Shui Society, Catchpole had served on Suffolk Coastal council since 2015 and was vice-chairman of the planning committee. No funeral was held for Councillor Catchpole, as he left his body to Cambridge University for medical research.

For our third visit this year to the Suffolk coast we say goodbye not just to Councillor Catchpole, but also to Suffolk Coastal district council. This will definitely be the last Suffolk Coastal by-election, as the council is due to be abolished next May: it will merge with Waveney council to the north to create a new East Suffolk district council.

Catchpole represented a ward of eight parishes at the northern end of the old district. Wenhaston, on the south back of the River Blyth, is the largest centre of population with around 1,700 electors. In the eleventh century there were more people more than that living in Dunwich, a thriving and important port at the mouth of the Dunwich River, which was essentially destroyed by coastal erosion in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Despite that Dunwich kept its two Members of Parliament until the Great Reform Act, as one of the most publicised rotten boroughs.

The electorate in the Dunwich constituency was restricted to thirty-two freemen; the modern ward has a much larger roll than that, thank goodness. It has existed only since 2015, when the former Walberswick and Wenhaston ward was expanded to take part of Yoxford ward. Yoxford - which was in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for retired population at the 2011 census - had been Lib Dem and then independent-held since a 2004 by-election, but Walberwick and Wenhaston was solidly Tory and the present ward was no different. In 2015 Catchpole won with 53% of the vote, against evenly-divided opposition: 24% for the Lib Dems and 23% for Labour. However, that doesn't mean the Conservatives should be complacent: a couple of months ago they had a very embarrassing by-election loss to the Lib Dems in the neighbouring ward based on Southwold.

Defending for the Tories is Michael Gower, who was the Suffolk county councillor for the local division (Blything) until standing down last year. The Lib Dems' Andrew Turner returns after finishing as runner-up here in 2015. Labour have stood down, but there will still be a three-cornered ballot paper thanks to the Green Party, who have nominated Carl Bennett.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: Suffolk Coastal
Suffolk county council division: Blything
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lowestoft
Postcode district: IP17, IP18, IP19, NR34

Carl Bennett (Grn)
Michael Gower (C)
Andrew Turner (LD)

May 2015 result C 907 LD 402 Lab 393


Bewdley and Rock

Wyre Forest council, Worcestershire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Rod Wilson at the age of 72. A native of Rochdale who spent most of his working life in the West Midlands with National Grid, Wilson's passion was fishing: he fished for salmon in the Severn, and was Bailiff for the Kidderminster District Angling Association. He had served on Wyre Forest council since 2016.

We finish for the week in the West Midlands. We're in Bewdley, a town on the banks of the River Severn to the west of Kidderminster. By all accounts this is a very nice part of the world, as the name itself - from the Norman French "beau lieu" or "beautiful place" - might suggest. The town's riverside location leads to a regular flooding problem - the main bridge across the Severn here was put up by Thomas Telford after the previous mediaeval bridge was swept away in a flood - and it's appropriate that the National Flood Forum charity has its headquarters here.

The Bewdley and Rock ward is entirely west of the river, and the Rock name refers to the rural Rock parish to the west. Within the ward can be found the Worcestershire half of one of England's largest ancient woodlands: this the Wyre Forest which gives its name to the local district and parliamentary seat. It's not spoken how you probably assumed: the local pronunciation of "Wyre" rhymes with "mirror".

Bewdley will forever be politically associated with Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative Prime Minister who represented the town in Parliament for thirty years. Next week the Duke of Gloucester is due to be in town to unveil a statue of Baldwin in the town centre. Appropriately enough the modern Bewdley ward and its predecessors are Conservative-held, this being one of the parts of Wyre Forest district that were least affected by the rise of the Health Concern party over the downgrading of Kidderminster Hospital. That downgrading is now the best part of two decades in the past, and Health Concern's recent election results have generally been showing a decline. In May 2018 the Conservatives held Bewdley and Rock with 46%, to 25% for Labour and 21% for Health Concern, who fell to third place.

Defending for the Conservatives is Anna Coleman, a former Mayor of Bewdley; she had reportedly defected to the Green Party two years ago but appears now to be back in the Tory fold. Labour have reselected their regular candidate for the ward Rod Stanczyszyn, who is politically on the up at the moment after winning a by-election to Bewdley town council last month. Health Concern have not nominated a candidate, so completing the ballot paper are John Davis for the Green Party and Clare Cassidy for the Liberal Democrats.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: Wyre Forest
Worcestershire county council division: Bewdley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Worcester and Kidderminster
Postcode districts: DY12, DY13, DY14, WR6

Clare Cassidy (LD)
Anna Coleman (C)
John Davis (Grn)
Rod Stanczyszyn (Lab)

May 2018 result C 1179 Lab 651 Health Concern 551 Grn 101 LD 101
May 2016 result C 851 Health Concern 565 UKIP 479 Lab 478 Grn 107
May 2015 result C 2194/1953/1874 Health Concern 1080/959/837 Lab 904/730 Grn 566


Previews: 13 Sep 2018

There are six by-elections on 13th September 2018. After last week's Labour Northern special, this time there's a bit more political variety with four Conservative defences bookended by two defences for Labour; one of the polls is in Wales to bring closure to one of the most horrific recent stories to come out of local government, while the five English by-elections are all in London, the South or Leicestershire. Two candidates this week are notable enough to merit their own Wikipedia entries. This column is not scared of discussing the major issues of the day where they are on topic, so let's start the week in the city of Cambridge...


Petersfield

Cambridge city council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Ann Sinnott, who had served since 2014.

They're used to the vilification. Now transgender people have had enough and are poised to demand their civil rights.

A month before the self-styled "bearded lady" Conchita Wurst was hailed queen of a tolerant, rainbow Europe, Britain had a milder revolutionary moment. Emma Laslett, a student of French at Lincoln College, Oxford, competed in the semi-final of Mastermind (specialist subject, coincidentally, Eurovision 1981 to the present day).

It takes nerve to enter that unblinking spotlight, but immeasurably more for Emma, a transgender woman who does not, as she says, easily 'pass' as female. Comments online were of the 'Gawd, there's a bloke in a frock on Mastermind' variety. But Emma says this is just the 'background radiation' of her life...

In Britain tolerance of gays and lesbians is now almost universal: to my kids a person's sexuality is no more remarkable than their hair colour. So why are transgender people still vilified, far more likely to be beaten up or even murdered, and ostracised at work (if they can find a job at all)?

That was the present AQA textbook for A-level Sociology, quoting from a Times article of 31st May 2014. As your columnist, a stereotypical cis man, can testify from experience, getting into the semi-finals of Mastermind takes a awful amount of nerve, hard work and luck. I've managed it once in four attempts. The man who developed Mastermind, Bill Wright, had been taken prisoner by the Germans in the Second World War, and he translated his recurring nightmares of being asked for "name, rank and number" into "name, occupation and specialised subject". The entire programme is set up as an interrogation, which is an intimidating and stressful experience for most people on its own; the fact that the present interrogator is the veteran political journalist John Humphrys means that the experience of the fabled Black Chair is one to which many professional politicians can relate.

Emma Laslett isn't just a quizzer who was good enough to get to the semi-finals of Mastermind and Only Connect; she's also an excellent host. In each of the four years since that Times article was written, Emma has tempted the cream of Britain's quizzing community to her native Milton Keynes where she hosts a very enjoyable day-long tournament playing quizbowl. For those who aren't aware, quizbowl is a similar game to, but for legal and copyright reasons not the same as, the long-running TV gameshow University Challenge. (Due to similar legal and copyright reasons University Challenge is still produced by ITV even though it hasn't gone out on that channel for over thirty years. It's all to do with Americans and their lawyers.) At the most recent tournament, held over the August Bank Holiday weekend, your columnist was in a team which included a TV Egghead but still finished thirteen out of fourteen teams.

If your columnist and a professional quizzer can finish so far down the field, you might reasonably ask what sort of people do well in Emma's tournaments? You might be surprised to hear that most of them are present university students or recent graduates, and many of them will be familiar faces to people who religiously watch University Challenge. If these people are our future - and University Challenge has had more than its fair share of contestants who have gone on to be famous or notable - then our future is in good hands.

But in these sped-up days of the twenty-first century University Challenge contestants are becoming famous or notable while their series is still being broadcast. When I did the programme, getting to the quarter-finals with Warwick in the 2002-03 series, social media as we know it today did not exist - Facebook was founded in 2004, YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006 - and the major feedback to our performance came from our circle of friends and the campus newspaper. People we knew. No longer is that the case. A later Warwick team, captained by past Countdown series champion Giles Hutchings, also reached the quarter-finals in the 2016-17 series, where despite a strong fightback they were eliminated by a team from Wolfson College, Cambridge. That match got writeups and dedicated articles not just from the usual suspects which cover TV quizzes, Warwick or Cambridge as a matter of course, but also from the websites of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Huffington Post. In some respects those articles are exemplars of the laziest type of modern journalism - hang out on Twitter for half an hour of a Monday evening and let members of the public do the writing for you - but they do reflect a genuine interest in what is consistently one of the most popular programmes on BBC2. As distilled in those articles, the talk of the Twitterati was clearly on the battle between the teams' star players, Wolfson captain Eric Monkman and Warwick's Sophie Rudd.

Nowhere in those Express or Huffington Post articles would you find any hint that Rudd is transgender. And that's how it should be. To quote the closing sentence of the Times article on Emma Laslett, "the ultimate liberation for Emma would be appearing on cosy, middle-England Mastermind and no-one remarking on anything but her score". We may not have achieved that goal yet - as the length of this preview demonstrates - but the reaction to Rudd v Monkman, just three years down the line from Laslett's Mastermind appearance, demonstrates that society has moved a bit further down that road.

And not before time. The Times article made the point that half of one percent of the population are trans in some form or another. That's a lot of people, and through sheer weight of numbers you'd expect that to be reflected in our elected representatives - with over 20,000 county, borough or district councillors in the UK, proportionally that would translate to at least 100 trans councillors. However, research by Cambridge city councillor Zoë O'Connell has identified just eleven openly-trans people who have ever served in our council chambers (plus former British MEP Nikki Sinclaire). Five of them are currently serving, two Labour (including Osh Gantly, who was re-elected to Islington council this May after transitioning during her first term of office), one Conservative, one UKIPper and one Liberal Democrat (O'Connell herself). Four of them are or were Cambridge Lib Dems.

Which finally brings us to the point of this article, which is after all a council by-election preview. The Labour party may well get around to being an opposition at some point, but there are internal disputes to indulge in first; and one of the most incomprehensible of them relates to whether transwomen should have access to Labour's all-women shortlists. Outgoing Labour councillor Ann Sinnott was on the "no" side of that debate. Her resignation from Cambridge city council came in protest at the council's policy of allowing transgender people to use council-run toilets and changing facilities for either gender. Former councillor Sinnott believes that this policy is a breach of the Equality Act and could be dangerous to women. The policy had been adopted by Cambridge city council in 2010 and was originally proposed by Sarah Brown, herself transgender and at the time a Lib Dem councillor for Petersfield ward.

Petersfield is Cambridge's inner eastern ward, lying between the city centre and the railway line. Landmarks within the ward include the city's railway station in the south-east corner, the Beehive retail park in the north-east corner and the Fenner's cricket ground, home to the Cambridge University cricket team. On the gown side of the town-gown divide, Petersfield contains the main campus of Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge's "other" university; but there is only one constituent college of Cambridge University within the ward boundary. Hughes Hall was founded in 1895 as the Cambridge Training College for Women Teachers; it was the first Cambridge all-female college to admit male students, and is one of four Cambridge colleges open only to mature students or postgraduates. Its alumni include one MP currently serving, the Tories' Andrew Murrison who is the MP for South West Wiltshire and chairman of the Commons Northern Ireland select committee.

However, the students aren't here at the moment. Anglia Ruskin's academic year doesn't start until next week while Cambridge's Michaelmas term begins on 2nd October. So the demographics of Petersfield ward at the moment are rather different from those in the 2011 census, in which Petersfield was in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for people educated to degree level (61%, presumably boosted by Hughes Hall), people of no religion (45%), those born in the EU-14 (8.5%) and the census "higher management" occupational group (25%).

Little has gone right for the Cambridge Lib Dems in this decade. Sarah Brown was one of only two Lib Dems to have represented this ward on the city council since its present boundaries were drawn up in 2004; she lost her seat heavily to Ann Sinnott in 2014, and a rematch between Sinnott and Brown this May saw Sinnott increase her majority to 56-20. The Lib Dems have done better here at Cambridgeshire county council level; they held the county council seat until 2013 and weren't too far behind in 2017; having said that, since last year the Petersfield county division has included much of the safe Lib Dem Newnham ward.

Defending for Labour is Kelley Green, a small businesswoman and former town planner; her campaign priorities include reducing inequality in the city and supporting the development of new council housing in the ward, on the city council depot site at Mill Road. Sarah Brown is making another attempt to get back on Cambridge council for the Lib Dems; she appears from press reports to be campaigning primarily on local issues such as air quality and rough sleeping, together with opposition to Brexit in a city which had a strong Remain vote two years ago. Also returning from May's election is Green candidate Virgil Ierubino, while the Tories' Othman Cole completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Cambridge
Cambridgeshire county council division: Petersfield
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode districts: CB1, CB2

Sarah Brown (LD)
Othman Cole (C)
Kelley Green (Lab)
Virgil Ierubino (Grn)

May 2018 result Lab 1256 LD 432 Grn 278 C 189
May 2016 result Lab 1305 Grn 321 LD 277 C 221
May 2015 result Lab 1632 Grn 864 LD 795 C 422
May 2014 double vacancy Lab 1280/1223 LD 720/317 Grn 688 C 262/228
May 2013 county council result Lab 943 LD 270 Grn 267 C 206
May 2012 result Lab 1036 LD 322 Grn 263 C 209
May 2011 result Lab 1353 LD 594 Grn 481 C 340
May 2010 double vacancy LD 1571/1000 Lab 1237/891 Grn 575 C 558/472
June 2009 county council result LD 1009 Lab 718 Grn 353 C 335
May 2008 result Lab 857 LD 541 C 301 Grn 236
May 2007 result Lab 1063 LD 817 C 239 Grn 225
May 2006 result Lab 879 LD 848 Grn 282 C 243
May 2005 county council result LD 1356 Lab 1052 Grn 527 C 426
June 2004 result Lab 797/770/709 LD 787/727/673 Grn 349/345/341 C 273/230/207 Ind 89


Birstall Wanlip

Charnwood council, Leicestershire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Renata Jones who had served since 2015.

"Mountsorrel he mounted at,
Rodely he rode by,
Onelep he leaped o'er,
At Birstall he burst his gall,
At Belgrave he was buried at."
-Leicestershire folk rhyme

We travel north-west from Cambridge into the Midlands for our first Tory defence of the week. Until the start of the twentieth century Birstall and Wanlip were tiny villages just to the north of Leicester. Wanlip still is tiny, and that's due not to the fact that Leicestershire's main sewage works is here but to the influence of the upper classes. Wanlip Hall, once home to the slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce, was home to the Palmer baronetcy until the 1930s, when the hall was demolished and its land - together with a large amount of land in and around Birstall and Wanlip - was inherited by James Tomkinson on the death of the 4th Baronet. As part of the inheritance, James had to change the family name to Palmer-Tomkinson. His grandson Charles Palmer-Tomkinson, who skied for Britain at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, and was the father of the late socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, still owns the land.

Birstall, on the other hand, has exploded in population since 1899. That was the year that the Great Central Railway came here with its London extension, providing easy access from the village to Leicester city centre and beyond. Birstall became a commuter village and its population increased eighteenfold to over 11,000 during the twentieth century - it's still growing now, with further housing have gone up in this decade after Charles Palmer-Tomkinson sold the required land for development. That's despite the demise and rebirth of the Great Central Railway through Birstall as one of the UK's most ambitious preserved railways; there are no trains to Leicester any longer, but at the weekends steam trains connect Birstall to Loughborough.

Wanlip and the western half of Birstall form Birstall Wanlip ward, which has not escaped the demographic transformation that has taken place in Leicester: Birstall Wanlip is in the top 60 Hindu wards in England and Wales and has significant numbers of Gujarati speakers.

This ward has traditionally has been the Lib Dem hotspot in Leicestershire's Charnwood district. The 2003 election returned Helena Edwards for the Lib Dems and Iain Bentley of the Conservatives as the ward's councillors; Bentley lost his seat in 2007 to his running-mate Stuart Jones. In 2011 the Lib Dem councillor Edwards lost her seat to the Tories' Serena Shergill. The Lib Dems got back in a 2014 by-election after Stuart Jones died, Simon Sansome making the gain; but the following year the roof came crashing down on Sansome's council career as he lost his seat to the Conservatives' Renata Jones. It was a close result: vote shares were 39% for the Conservatives, 35% for the Lib Dems and 26% for Labour. Serena Shergill resigned last year, and the Tories' Roy Rollings held the resulting by-election with an increased majority: he had 41%, to 32% for the Lib Dems' Simon Sansome and 23% for Labour. Renata Jones has now resigned in her turn.

Accordingly this is the third Birstall Wanlip by-election in four years. Defending this time for the Conservatives is Shona Rattray, a local shopowner and Birstall parish councillor. The Lib Dems have changed candidate: their new nominee is Carolyn Thornborrow, a Quorn parish councillor who works on clinical trials in the health sector. Labour have selected Abe Khayer, from Wanlip. Completing the ballot paper are Norman Cutting, who was an independent candidate in last year's by-election and now has the UKIP nomination, and the Greens' Charlotte Clancy.

Parliamentary constituency: Charnwood
Leicestershire county council division: Birstall
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode districts: LE4, LE7

Charlotte Clancy (Grn)
Norman Cutting (UKIP)
Abe Khayer (Lab)
Shona Rattray (C)
Carolyn Thornborrow (LD)

May 2017 by-election C 772 LD 603 Lab 425 Ind 69
May 2015 result C 1459/1308 LD 1289/851 Lab 987/873
February 2014 by-election LD 508 C 419 Lab 355
May 2011 result C 1102/830 Lab 642/461 LD 564
May 2007 result LD 875/774 C 822/779 BNP 250
May 2003 result LD 716/562 C 708/653 Lab 189/161


Pembroke: St Mary North

Pembrokeshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor David Boswell who had served since 2017.

For our Welsh by-election this week we are, well, in the Little England beyond Wales. The town of Pembroke was substantially fortified by the Normans in 1093; Pembroke Castle, on an easily-defensible promontory in the Pembroke River, became the base of Norman control of west Wales and gave its name to a county. Most of the castle which remains today was built in the late twelfth century by William the Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, who served five kings and was one of the most powerful Englishmen of his day. The influence of the Marshal and other Norman families effectively drove out the native Welsh from the area, creating a "Welsh Pembrokeshire" and an "English Pembrokeshire" - a linguistic and social division which persists to this day. In 1457 a boy was born in Pembroke Castle to a fourteen-year-old widowed single mother; so far, so Jeremy Kyle, but Henry Tudor - from 1485, King Henry VII - became one of the most significant figures of English history by ending the Wars of the Roses and restoring the fortunes of England.

As a town Pembroke hasn't changed much over the centuries, but it has expanded over the Pembroke River to the north. This is Pembroke: St Mary North division, based along Golden Hill Road and including the town's school and leisure centre. Much of this is ex-council housing and the division is in the top 60 wards or divisions in England and Wales for the census "lower supervisory, technical" economic group; the town's proximity to the industrial towns of Pembroke Dock and Milford Haven, on the Cleddau estuary, presumably account for much of that.

Pembroke: St Mary North division was created for the 1999 election at which it returned a Labour councillor without a contest. The Labour councillor, Jane Major, was challenged by two independent candidates in 2004 and lost her seat to Arwyn Williams, a retired farmer who served the division for thirteen years; he was chairman of the county council in 2013-14. Williams retired at the May 2017 election and his seat was won by the Tories' Dai Boswell, a former soldier and lorry driver who had recently been installed as Mayor of Pembroke; Boswell finished six votes ahead of independent candidate Jon Harvey, who had the consolation prize of being elected to Pembroke town council. Shares of the vote were 39% for the Conservatives, 38% for Harvey and 22% for Labour candidate David Edwards.

Boswell's tenure as a councillor was short-lived and controversial. In August 2017 he was charged with a series of child sex offences dating from the early 1990s, and in June 2018 a jury at Swansea Crown Court found him guilty of one count of rape and four counts of indecent assault. He is now serving an eighteen-year prison sentence; his resignation letter was sent from his prison cell, shortly before he was due to be disqualified from office.

By-elections in circumstances like this tend to be very difficult for the defending political party. Natalie Carey, a former mayoress of Pembroke, has the thankless task of defending this seat for the Conservatives. There is a very long ballot paper with no fewer than six independent candidates. Town councillor Jon Harvey is back after his near-miss last year; the other five independents, in ballot paper order, are local resident Bob Boucher, former Pembrokeshire county councillor Daphne Bush (who lost her seat in Pembroke: St Mary South last year), Baptist pastor Lyn Edwards, pub landlord and former Pembrokeshire county councillor Jonathan Nutting (who lost his seat in Pembroke: St Michael last year) and local resident Al Williams. Completing the ballot paper is Labour candidate Maureen Bowen, of Pembroke Dock. Good luck picking a winner out of that one; probably the safest prediction is that whoever wins this by-election will do it with a very low share of the vote.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Pembroke and Tenby
Postcode district: SA71

Bob Boucher (Ind)
Maureen Bowen (Lab)
Daphne Bush (Ind)
Natalie Carey (C)
Lyn Edwards (Ind)
Jon Harvey (Ind)
Jonathan Nutting (Ind)
Al Williams (Ind)

May 2017 result C 217 Ind 211 Lab 122
May 2012 result Ind 304 C 136
May 2008 result Ind 230 Lab 196 Ind 140 LD 53
June 2004 result Ind 238 Ind 194 Lab 179
May 1999 result Lab unopposed


Pennington

New Forest council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Penny Jackman who had served since 2007. She has also resigned from the New Forest National Park Authority.

For our three by-elections in the south of England we start on the Solent coast of Hampshire. The village of Pennington lies a few miles inland from the Solent's north-west coast. Today it's effectively an extension of Lymington, a town into which it was incorporated in 1932. The village's main traditional industry was seasalt, followed by smuggling; it is recorded in the British Army's magazine The Soldier as being the location of the Army's last duel with pistols, in which Captain William Souper, 1st Regiment of Foot, killed Adjutant John Dieterich; Captain Souper was found guilty of murder, but pardoned.

Pennington ward's modern electoral duels don't involve anybody being killed, thank goodness; but there is a recent case of political injury turning into personal injury. In 2012 the outgoing councillor Penny Jackman slapped UKIP candidate Mike Beggs at a town council by-election count, following a row over Mr Beggs' election leaflets. Mr Beggs suffered extensive damage to his dentures, and he sued; Southampton county court found in his favour and ordered Councillor Mrs Jackman to pay a five-figure sum in damages and the legal costs. Mrs Jackman paid the damages but not the legal costs, and last year was made bankrupt over the affair.

Jackman represented a ward which voted Lib Dem in 2003 but has swung to the right since then; the Conservatives gained one seat in 2007 and the other in 2011, and extended their majority over the Lib Dems to 53-28 in the 2015 election. The Lib Dems' Jack Davies did win a by-election on these boundaries to Lymington and Pennington town council in 2016, but he needed the drawing of lots to do so after tying for first place with the Conservatives on 401 votes each. Davies was the Lib Dem candidate here in the 2017 Hampshire county elections, finishing third behind the Conservatives and an independent candidate.

Defending for the Conservatives is Andrew Gossage, who is involved with the local Residents' Association. The Lib Dem candidate is the aforementioned Jack Davies. Completing the ballot paper are Labour's Trina Hart and independent candidate Ted Jerrard.

Parliamentary constituency: New Forest West
Hampshire county council division: Lymington and Boldre
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southampton
Postcode district: SO41

Jack Davies (LD)
Andrew Gossage (C)
Trina Hart (Lab)
Ted Jerrard (Ind)

May 2015 result C 1505/1413 LD 832/586 Lab 552
May 2011 result C 992/877 LD 655/569 Lab 265 Grn 264
May 2007 result C 791/621 LD 775/767 Lab 100
May 2003 result LD 848/814 C 509/378 Ind 263


Headcorn

Maidstone council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Shelina Prendergast, who is concentrating on her other elected role as a Kent county councillor. She had served since 2016.

Our final Tory defence this week occurs in the mid-Kent countryside. The village of Headcorn lies deep in the countryside between Maidstone and Ashford, and has a railway station on the arrow-straight Ashford-Tonbridge line. The railway here was the scene of a notorious accident in 1865; a section of rail on a viaduct between Headcorn and Staplehurst had been removed for engineering work, but the boat train from Folkestone to London was not given sufficient warning to stop, and derailed into the River Beult with the loss of ten lives. One of the survivors of the accident was Charles Dickens, who was physically unscathed but never fully recovered from the post-traumatic stress resulting from the accident.

The ward named after Headcorn sprawls over three other parishes as far as the M20 motorway to the north-east. This is a very Tory corner of Kent; in several elections this century only the Green Party has opposed the Conservative candidate. In this May's ordinary election the Tories had three-quarters of the vote against opposition from the Lib Dems and Labour. As stated, Shelina Prendergast is the local Kent county councillor; in 2017 she won Maidstone Rural East division by the score of 70% to 9% over UKIP.

Defending for the Conservatives is Karen Chappell-Tay who is from Ulcombe, one of the small parishes in the ward; in May's borough elections she performed poorly against an independent in the neighouring ward of Harrietsham and Lenham, but this is her home turf. She is opposed by Lib Dem Merilyn Fraser, Labour's Jim Grogan and the Greens' Derek Eagle.

Parliamentary constituency: Faversham and Mid Kent
Kent county council division: Maidstone Rural East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Medway
Postcode districts: ME17, TN12, TN27

Karen Chappell-Tay (C)
Derek Eagle (Grn)
Merilyn Fraser (LD)
Jim Grogan (Lab)

May 2018 result C 1105 LD 214 Lab 159
May 2016 result C 1002 UKIP 298 Lab 116 Grn 73 LD 62
May 2014 result C 868 UKIP 580 Grn 208 Lab 124
May 2012 result C 1001 Grn 417
May 2010 result C 1922 LD 395 Grn 292 Lab 245
May 2008 result C 1164 Grn 581
May 2006 result C 1094 Grn 701
June 2004 result C 1153 LD 206 UKIP 181 Grn 146 Lab 126
May 2002 result C 1117/985 Grn 501


Coldharbour

Lambeth council, South London; caused by the death of Labour councillor Matthew Parr at the age of 61. He had served since 2010.

We finish for the week in London. It's been a while: although we had a couple of postponed polls arising from the May 2018 elections, this is the first proper London by-election from a vacancy in the Class of 2018-22.

Hopefully it's worth the wait. We've come to Brixton, one of the first of London's railway suburbs. The Chatham and Dover railway came here in the 1860s, giving a fast link from Brixton to Victoria station in central London; and Brixton rapidly became a desirable suburb for the middle classes. It was a major shopping area to match: several important national retailers had their first branches here, and a shopping street was built in 1880 called Electric Avenue. It was called that because it was the first street in London to be lit by electricity: an illustration of how up-and-coming Brixton was.

It didn't last. By the 1930s the population was starting to change, and the Second World War accelerated that process: Brixton was heavily bombed, and the houses which survived became overcrowded. The middle classes left, and for the most part didn't come back. In 1948 a ship called the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury carrying 492 migrants from the Caribbean looking for work. They were temporarily put up in a large air-raid shelter in Clapham, and many of them subsequently turned up at and found accommodation near the nearest jobcentre - on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton. Ever since then Brixton has been a centre of the British Caribbean community, and in the 2011 census Coldharbour ward returned a 45% black population - the third highest figure for any ward in England and Wales. It also came in the top 12 for mixed-race population (8.7%). Many of the ward's census areas still have large populations born in Jamaica, together with a significant number of Portuguese. The recent "Windrush generation" scandal is a big issue here.

At this time many of the worst slums in Brixton were being demolished and replaced with high-rise estates - in particular the Loughborough and Somerleyton estates lie within Coldharbour ward boundary. The Somerleyton estate includes one particularly large and Brutalist block of flats called Southwyck House but more generally known as the Barrier Block, which was built with only tiny windows on one side: that side was intended to back onto an urban motorway which would have flattened Brixton town centre if it had ever been built. The designs for the Barrier Block were approved by Lambeth council's planning committee, which at the time included a young local Tory lad called John Major who had a habit of setting up his soapbox in Brixton Market and declaiming political speeches. Whatever happened to him? All that development still has its mark on the demographics: Coldharbour ward was in the top 20 in England and Wales for social renting at the 2011 census, with 59% of households having that form of tenure.

You can't talk about Coldharbour Lane without mentioning the Brixton riots, which badly affected the area in April 1981. They were partly provoked by a police operation called Operation Swamp 81, in which stop and search powers were heavily used in an attempt to tackle a high crime rate in the area. The Scarman report into the riots found that the use of stop and search powers had been disproportionate and racially influenced, and led to reform of the police's code of conduct and the setting up of the first independent Police Complaints Authority. It wasn't entirely successful, inasmuch as there were further riots in Brixton in 1985 and 1995. The 1985 riots were sparked by the police shooting a Jamaican-born woman, Cherry Groce, in a police raid on her house; the police were looking for her son Michael Groce, who was suspected of a firearms offence. One of the police sergeants on the front line during the 1981 riots was Brian Paddick, who twenty years later became the Metropolitan Police's commander for Lambeth borough; he instituted a novel and controversial "softly softly" approach to cannabis use, in which people found in possession of the drug would merely have it confiscated and be issued with a warning.

It shouldn't be a surprise to learn from this description that Brixton is now a heavily Labour area - clearly the local working-class kids feel that the Tories don't have much to offer them. In the May 2018 election the Labour slate was re-elected with 56% of the vote, with the Greens as runners-up on 18%. The Green slate was headed by none other than Michael Groce, who is now a reformed character: he writes poetry and does community work. Former Labour councillor Rachel Heywood, who had fallen out with the party, sought re-election as an independent and came sixth out of twelve candidates with 16%. In the 2016 London Mayor and Assembly elections the ward's ballot boxes gave 71% of the first preference vote to Labour's Sadiq Khan; the London Members ballot was almost as monolithic with Labour leading the Greens 65-13.

In a ward so defined by relations with the black community, there must be some irony in the fact that Labour have selected a defending candidate with the name Scarlett O'Hara. This particular O'Hara is no Southern belle; she's a former NHS worker who is described as a proud trade unionist. Michael Groce returns for the Green Party, although he won't be voting for himself; he gives an address outside the borough in Orpington, Kent. Also standing are Yvonne Stewart-Williams for the Tories, Doug Buist for the Liberal Democrats, Sian Fogden for the Women's Equality Party and Robert Stephenson for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Dulwich and West Norwood
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: SE5, SE24, SW2, SW9

Doug Buist (LD)
Sian Fogden (Women's Equality)
Michael Groce (Grn)
Scarlett O'Hara (Lab)
Robert Stephenson (UKIP)
Yvonne Stewart-Williams (C)

May 2018 result Lab 2325/2257/1975 Grn 761/683 Ind 660 C 228/217/189 LD 182/180/173
May 2014 result Lab 2232/2037/2014 Grn 742/680/638 C 233/213/206 LD 225/126/126 UKIP 127 Ind 100/76
May 2010 result Lab 3983/3819/3681 LD 1091/1081/808 Grn 611/573/511 C 581/458/430 CPA 169
May 2006 result Lab 1299/1272/1187 Grn 486/471/400 LD 304/279/216 C 250/242/222
May 2002 result Lab 989/949/899 Grn 241/219/217 LD 215/203/181 Socialist Alliance 152 C 112/88/85 Ind 47/43/40

May 2016 GLA elections (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 2305 Grn 320 C 301 LD 102 Women's Equality 101 Respect 33 Britain First 23 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 23 UKIP 22 BNP 10 One Love 4 Zylinski 2
London Members: Lab 2144 Grn 437 C 246 Women's Equality 148 LD 129 UKIP 38 Respect 36 Animal Welfare 28 CPA 25 Britain First 24 House Party 15 BNP 9


Previews: 06 Sep 2018

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

There are four by-elections on 6th September 2018. It's a Northern special and a Labour special this week, with the Labour Party defending all four seats up for election. Along the way we discuss issues of reputation and the origin of the word "candidate", and travel to such unfashionable places as Ashton-under-Lyne and Carlisle; but we start north of the Border by talking about bridges. Read on...


Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay

Fife council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Lesley Laird, who had served since 2012. She is now the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.

"Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time."

Stop laughing at the back, this is important. The wreck of the Tay Bridge with the loss of 76 railway passengers and staff, as retold in these memorably awful lines from the poet and tragedian William Topaz McGonagall, was one of the defining moments of Victorian Britain. It's easy to forget now that the original bridge was seen as engineering marvel, an elegant solution to the problems of Scotland's deeply-indented coast. On its opening in May 1878 it gave the Fife coalfield a shot in the arm by providing easy access to customers in the port and city of Dundee; while also cutting the journey time between Dundee and Edinburgh by an hour. McGonagall wrote an earlier, and equally execrable, poem praising the original design. The bridge's designer, Thomas Bouch, was knighted for his efforts, and by that time was hard at work designing a similar crossing to span the Firth of Forth.

The Forth has always been a barrier to travel in eastern Scotland. In 1879 its lowest fixed crossing was at Stirling, the bridge which by tradition separated the Lowlands from the Highlands. Anything below Stirling had to cross the estuary by boat. The railways had established a ferry link from Burntisland on the Fife coast to the Edinburgh suburb of Granton; but there was a shorter and longer-established route at the estuary's narrowest point, between the West Lothian village of South Queensferry and the Fife village of North Queensferry. The Queen referred to here is the eleventh-century St Margaret, who made the crossing many times; her final crossing, in 1093, was in a coffin on the way to her funeral at Dunfermline Abbey. By the 1870s the ferry was in heavy demand and calls for a fixed bridge between the two Queensferrys were becoming overwhelming. It was the obvious place to put Bouch's fledgling design.

The storm which blew up on the last Sabbath day of 1879 changed all that. The inquiry into the disaster laid bare a series of shortcomings ranging from poor maintenance and defective construction materials all the way to Bouch's design itself, which failed to make sufficient provision for wind loading on the structure. The reputation, and indeed the health, of Bouch never recovered; he died shortly afterwards, and his Forth design - a suspension bridge - never saw the light of day.

Nonetheless the Forth Bridge needed building, and a strong and radical new design was approved and built. Made in Scotland from girders, the Forth Rail Bridge was opened by the Duke of Rothesay (later Edward VII) in 1890 as the largest cantilever bridge in the world. One hundred and twenty-eight years on, it remains an icon of Scotland and indeed of Britain. In 2004 the Royal Mint put the bridge on the pound coin; the Bank of Scotland and the Clydesdale Bank have both put the bridge on banknotes. In 2015 the Forth Bridge became Scotland's sixth UNESCO World Heritage Site, after St Kilda, Edinburgh Old and New Towns, Neolithic Orkney, New Lanark and the Antonine Wall; the following year a poll for VisitScotland voted the bridge as Scotland's greatest man-made winder. And, with nearly two hundred trains crossing the bridge on an average day, it remains a vital economic link for the Kingdom of Fife.

But two hundred trains a day is not enough to meet the demand. The Queen's Ferry remained in operation for road traffic after the rail bridge opened, and by 1960 it was handling over 600,000 motor vehicles each year. A new bridge was needed, and the Forth Road Bridge was the result, opened in 1964. It was at the time the longest suspension bridge in Europe, and it continued the transformation of Fife's economy.

What the Forth Bridges did for this corner of Scotland was turn it into an Edinburgh commuter area. Despite the order of the ward name, the largest centre of population here is Dalgety Bay which, like the road bridge, substantially dates from the 1960s. Its population has grown from 1600 in the 1951 census to over 10,000 now; many of those people commute to work over the water in Edinburgh, and a railway station was opened to serve the town in 1998. Inverkeithing is an older town, a royal burgh and port midway between Dalgety Bay and Dunfermline; while down on the peninsula is the village of North Queensferry. As well as the unrivalled views of the bridges, visitors come to North Queensferry for Deep Sea World, one the largest aquariums in the UK; in population terms it's relatively small with under 1,100 souls, but those electors include a famous name. Gordon Brown, the former leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister from 2008 to 2010, has lived in North Queensferry for many years.

The Forth Road Bridge is of a suspension design, in which the roadway is suspended from strong cables which span the river and take the weight of the bridge. In 2004 it was found, following experiences with similar bridges in the USA, that the cables had a corrosion problem which had reduced the strength of the bridge. Bad news: as McGonagall put it in the surely-unimprovable closing lines of The Tay Bridge Disaster, "for the stronger we our houses do build the less chance we have of being killed." (I said stop sniggering at the back.) By 2004 the Forth Road Bridge had carried over 250 million vehicles and was regularly operating at over twice its designed traffic load. Something had to be done to repair or relieve the bridge, and it would not be cheap. Who was going to foot the bill?

By this point in time the Forth Road Bridge tolls were already a hot political potato. The construction cost of the bridge had been paid off by 1993 but the tolls had been retained to cover maintenance. In late 2005 the bridge operators, the Forth Estuary Transport Authority, came up with a plan for variable tolls which would have seen the cost of crossing the bridge quadruple from £1 to £4 for a single driver in the rush hour. The plan was taken seriously by the Scottish Government, then a Labour-Lib Dem coalition, which had to approve the plan; but there was opposition from Labour figures in the Westminster government and from Fife council, then run by the SNP, which produced a counter-proposal to abolish the tolls altogether. Things came to a head in early 2006 with the campaign for a Westminster by-election in the local seat of Dunfermline and West Fife, which resulted in a victory for the Liberal Democrats; and the variable tolling plan was dropped.

The following year the Labour-Lib Dem coalition was defeated in the 2007 Holyrood elections, bringing to power a minority SNP administration led by Alex Salmond. (Whatever happened to him?) The SNP manifesto included the abolition of bridge tolls in Scotland - which came into force for the Forth Road Bridge in February 2008 - and the construction of a new bridge at public expense to replace the Forth Road Bridge. The Queensferry Crossing opened last year and took away the traffic from the old bridge, which is now restricted to buses, bicycles, taxis and pedestrians. It's so new it doesn't appear on the ward map below yet.

With all those developments improving the links between this ward and Edinburgh, the pull of Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay for wealthy Edinburgh commuters is only going to get greater. It's pretty important as it is. In the 2003 Fife council elections Dalgety Bay East was one of only two of Fife's then 78 wards to elect a Conservative councillor; a rare Tory outpost in an area which was mostly solidly Labour at the time. The modern ward was created in 2007, covering the two towns of the name and a hinterland to the north-east, including the village of Aberdour and the uninhabited island of Inchcolm; in that election it returned one councillor from each of Scotland's four main parties, with the SNP topping the poll on 29%. The Lib Dems lost their seat in 2012, but their transfers ensured it was Labour rather than the SNP who picked up the gain.

The 2017 election to Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay was on new ward boundaries, now including North Queensferry which had previously been part of Rosyth ward; and was also in new political circumstances following the independence referendum, SNP surge and Labour collapse. The Labour collapse here was mostly to the benefit of the Conservatives, who more than doubled their vote to top the poll on 36%, to 31% for the SNP and just 18% for Labour. That surge seems to have been a surprise to the local Tories who only ran one candidate, outgoing councillor Dave Dempsey; had they gone for two seats they might have got them. The Tory surplus elected the Labour candidate Lesley Laird, and then the Unionist transfers lined up behind independent candidate Helen Cannon-Todd, who started with only 7% but can count herself unlucky to finish just 18 votes behind the second SNP candidate in the final reckoning.

Dempsey and Laird both went on to stand in the snap general election just a month later in the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency. Dempsey again more than doubled the Conservative vote share, but it was Laird who took the seat back for Labour; she won with a majority of just 259 votes to end a two-year SNP interlude in what seven years earlier had been, for Gordon Brown, the safest Labour constituency in Scotland. There was no such luck for David Coburn MEP, the first and so far only UKIP representative ever elected in Scotland; he finished fifth and last in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath with just 1%. The Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath seat includes Dalgety Bay and Aberdour but not Inverkeithing and North Queensferry, which form part of the Dunfermline and West Fife constituency: that was also a close Labour versus SNP contest, but it was the nationalists who held onto that seat with a majority of 844 votes.

With Laird's departure to Westminster, proportional representation means that Labour are defending this by-election from third place with just 18% of the vote. Their defending candidate is Billy Pollock, an ex-soldier and former Fife councillor who won a by-election for Dunfermline South ward in 2015, but lost his seat in 2017 to the Conservatives.

The SNP hold two of the four council seats here, but they are starting from 31% and picked up very few transfers in last year's election. With this by-election being held under the Alternative Vote, the 50% required for victory looks an uphill struggle. Their candidate is Neale Hanvey, who was a councillor for Dunfermline Central ward from 2012 until 2017 when he lost his seat to his running-mate Jean Hall Muir; a rather embarrassing loss, as Hanvey was the SNP group leader going into the election.

So on paper the Conservatives might look best-placed for a gain; they topped the poll here in May 2017 and also have the luxury of running against Fife council, whose administration is a grand coalition of the SNP and Labour. However, their selection of Dave Coleman, who runs a construction consulting company and is president of Dalgety Bay cricket club, may have backfired following controversy about past Facebook comments of his seen as derogatory to disabled people.

An eight-strong candidate list features two independent candidates: Peter Collins, a community campaigner and public gardener from Dalgety Bay, and Alastair MacIntyre who has contested his home Rosyth ward in 2012, a 2015 by-election and 2017 - his best performance thus far was in 2012 when he polled 101 votes as the UKIP candidate. Callum Hawthorne returns as the Lib Dem candidate after his sixth-place finish last year, and the ballot paper is completed by Mags Hall for the Green Party and Calum Paul for the Libertarian Party.

The picture of the three Forth Bridges is by Mike McBey and released under this Creative Commons License.

Parliamentary constituencies: Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Dalgety Bay and Aberdour); Dunfermline and West Fife (Inverkeithing and North Queensferry)
Scottish Parliament constituency: Cowdenbeath
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy
Postcode districts: KY2, KY3, KY4, KY11

Dave Coleman (C)
Peter Collins (Ind)
Mags Hall (Grn)
Neale Hanvey (SNP)
Callum Hawthorne (LD)
Alastair MacIntyre (SNP)
Calum Paul (Libertarian)
Billy Pollock (Lab)

May 2017 result C 2841 SNP 2394 Lab 1305 Ind 564 LD 388 Grn 271


Denton Holme

Cumbria county council and Carlisle council, Cumbria; both caused by the death of Labour councillor Hugh McDevitt at the age of 70. He had served since 1995 on the city council and since 2005 on the county council, and was described as a caring and conscientious local politician who made a positive and lasting difference to his community.

We cross over the border into England, but not very far. Carlisle is an isolated city with a very wide catchment area - the nearest larger settlement is the Tyneside conurbation, sixty miles to the east - and it is the main service centre for a fair chunk of Scotland. Those Scottish banknotes I mentioned earlier with the Forth Bridge on them will have no problem being accepted in the city's shops.

The Denton Holme area lies immediately to the south-west of Carlisle city centre, on the far side of the River Caldew. This is a classic Victorian suburb where housing and industry are cheek-by-jowl; within the ward boundaries is Shaddon Mill, which at one point was the largest cotton mill in the UK with the eighth-tallest chimney in the world. That's according to the local tourist board, anyway. The cotton may have gone, but there are still plenty of jobs here thanks to the proximity of the city centre and to the Pirelli factory on the outskirts of town, which supplies a significant number of the UK's vehicle tyres. In the 2011 census Denton Holme returned high employment levels and was in the top 90 wards in England and Wales for the "semi-routine" employment category.

The Denton Holme city ward shown in the map above has unchanged boundaries since at least 1983, and from 1981 to 2013 was coterminous with the Denton Holme county division; the present Denton Holme county division is about two blocks larger, so to all intents and purposes is basically the same unit. There have been 37 elections on these or almost on these boundaries since 1981, and 36 of those have been won by Labour: the one that got away was the 1993 county council election, when it appears that Labour failed to get their nomination papers in and weren't on the ballot. That was a Lib Dem win. The most recent county council election in 2017 saw Labour lead the Conservatives 60-27; while the May 2018 city council elections saw no swing from that result with Labour beating the Tories 61-28.

So, not much chance of any change here and we can be reasonably confident of two Labour holds. Defending the county seat for Labour is Karen Lockney, a lecturer at the University of Cumbria who gives an address some way outside the city, in a small village near Penrith. She's up against the Tories' Geoffrey Osborne, who fought St Aidan's ward in the last two city elections and had a near-miss in Belle Vue division in the 2017 county elections. Also standing are the Greens' Helen Davison and Phil Douglass for UKIP.

For the city council by-election the defending Labour candidate is Lisa Brown, a mature law student and campaign co-ordinator for the party's Carlisle branch. She is up against Tory candidate Syed Ali, who stood here in May's city elections and the 2017 county elections. Rob Morrison stands for the Green Party and Phil Douglass for UKIP (again) complete the ballot paper. Whoever wins the city council by-election may well need to work fast to secure reselection, as the 2019 Carlisle city election is likely to be on new ward boundaries with 13 fewer councillors than previously.

Cumbria county council

Parliamentary constituency: Carlisle
Cumbria county council division: Denton Holme
ONS Travel to Work Area: Carlisle
Postcode districts: CA1, CA2, CA3, CA4, CA5, CA99

Helen Davison (Grn)
Phil Douglass (UKIP)
Karen Lockney (Lab)
Geoffrey Osborne (C)

May 2017 result Lab 800 C 360 Grn 93 UKIP 80
May 2013 result Lab 705 UKIP 234 C 146 Grn 103 TUSC 40 LD 20

Carlisle council

Parliamentary constituency: Carlisle
Carlisle council ward: Denton Holme (almost all), Castle (small part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Carlisle
Postcode districts: CA1, CA2, CA3, CA4, CA5, CA99

Syed Ali (C)
Lisa Brown (Lab)
Phil Douglass (UKIP)
Rob Morrison (Grn)

May 2018 result Lab 754 C 345 Grn 136
May 2016 result Lab 712 C 273 UKIP 168 Grn 112 TUSC 56
May 2015 result Lab 1444 C 682 UKIP 339 Grn 220 LD 76 TUSC 56
May 2014 result Lab 638 UKIP 328 C 273 Grn 134 TUSC 54
May 2012 result Lab 848 C 229 Grn 120 UKIP 107 LD 49
May 2011 result Lab 913 C 332 UKIP 101 LD 96 Grn 75 TUSC 60
May 2010 result Lab 1530 C 842 TUSC 253 BNP 133
June 2009 county council result Lab 745 C 352 LD 189 Grn 131 BNP 103
May 2008 result Lab 627 C 347 Ind 188 BNP 170 LD 108
May 2007 result Lab 836 C 421
May 2006 result Lab 780 C 329 LD 166 Ind 21
May 2005 county council result Lab 1587 C 543 LD 442
June 2004 result Lab 1044 C 558
May 2003 result Lab 834 C 232 LD 111
May 2002 result Lab 833 C 217 LD 184
May 2001 county council result Lab 1423 C 619 LD 341
May 2000 result Lab 692 C 288 LD 142
May 1999 result Lab 823/791/751 C 295/287/239 Ind 225 LD 212
May 1998 result Lab 806 C 343
May 1997 county council result Lab 1903 C 750 LD 576
May 1996 result Lab 1031 C 278 LD 111
May 1995 result Lab 1095 LD 450
May 1994 result Lab 1207 LD 495 C 256
May 1993 county council result LD 528 C 475
May 1992 result Lab 703 C 656
May 1991 result Lab 1115 C 583
May 1990 result Lab 1351 C 468
May 1989 county council result Lab 1139 C 744 SLD 91
May 1988 result Lab 1134 C 953 SLD 116
May 1987 result Lab 1313 C 903
May 1986 result Lab 999 C 419 All 288
May 1985 county council result Lab 1085 C 468 All 279
May 1984 result Lab 998 C 582
May 1983 result Lab 1287/1189/1166 C 827/753/738
May 1981 county council result Lab 1277 C 687


Ashton Waterloo

Tameside council, Greater Manchester; caused by the death of Labour councillor Catherine Piddington at the age of 59. She was a long-serving councillor, having first been elected in 1990; Piddington was for many years the council's cabinet member for environmental services, and was the longest-serving member of the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority.

For our final by-election of the week we come south to the foothills of the Pennines. Ashton-under-Lyne is the largest town within the Tameside district of Greater Manchester. A nineteenth-century gazetteer described Ashton as "bare, wet and almost worthless" before the cotton trade came to Lancashire, and some people (particularly in Stalybridge) might have fun arguing that not much has changed since to dispute that assessment. That would be a little unkind, for Ashton has opened up somewhat in the twenty-first century: the completion of the M60 motorway in 2000 gave easy access to the town, while the tram system was extended here in 2013. In advance of that IKEA opened a store in Ashton in 2006, their tallest store in the UK and the first to be located in a town centre.

Waterloo ward lies to the north of IKEA, and is the northern quarter of the town along the arrow-straight old road to Oldham. The ward covers part of the Daisy Nook country park, a local beauty spot, but for the most part is built on with housing of various vintages. One of the few parts of the ward remaining is the Roy Oldham Sports Village; named after a long-serving former leader of Tameside council, the sports village is home to the non-league football side Curzon Ashton.

Waterloo ward's elections normally contain little of interest. This is a safe Labour ward, with last May's elections seeing a Labour lead over the Conservatives of 57-29. However, proceedings for this poll have been enlivened by a messy Labour selection, as their original candidate was dropped at the last moment when the Labour party found out she had council tax arrears. She didn't take it well, and took to social media to complain that Labour was discriminating against poor people. Your columnist has a few things to say in response to that. Firstly, being poor and not paying your council tax are not the same thing. Secondly, this sort of revelation reflects badly both on the person concerned and the party which nominated them: we expect our elected representatives to be whiter than white, and that's an attitude that goes back millennia. The very word "candidate" derives from Latin and earlier roots meaning "to make white or bright" or "to shine", and recalls the fact that people seeking political office in ancient Rome wore white togas to identify themselves. Finally, and probably most importantly from the Labour point of view, the Local Government Act actually bars councillors from voting on the budget if they are behind with their council tax payments.

So this column would submit that Labour did the right thing in installing a replacement defending candidate, who is local resident Pauline Hollinshead. The Conservatives have selected Therese Costello, from Dukinfield; and the Green Party's Lee Huntbach returns from May's election to complete the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashton-under-Lyne
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: M43, OL6, OL7

Therese Costello (C)
Pauline Hollinshead (Lab)
Lee Huntbach (Grn)

May 2018 result Lab 1337 C 672 Grn 319
May 2016 result Lab 1560 C 675 Grn 385
May 2015 result Lab 2382 C 1240 UKIP 1063 Grn 274
May 2014 result Lab 1447 C 868 Grn 460
May 2012 result Lab 1703 C 442 UKIP 257 Grn 198
May 2011 result Lab 1860 C 732 UKIP 256 Grn 171
May 2010 result Lab 2583 C 1377 BNP 526 UKIP 417
May 2008 result Lab 1152 C 864 BNP 473 LD 230 Grn 124
May 2007 result Lab 1238 C 723 BNP 509 LD 257 Grn 163
May 2006 result Lab 1257 C 767 BNP 755 Grn 300
June 2004 result Lab 1588/1403/1213 C 1121/1064 Ind 1013


Preview: 30 Aug 2018

Before we start this week, this column sends its congratulations to William Russell, who at yesterday's Wardmote was re-elected unopposed as Alderman for Bread Street ward in the City of London. That unopposed return leaves just one by-election on 30th August 2018:


Farningham, Horton Kirby and South Darenth

Sevenoaks council, Kent; caused by the disqualification of Conservative councillor Ingrid Tennessee, who failed to attend any meetings of the council in six months. She had served since 2011, and was elected under her former name of Ingrid Chetram.

For our single by-election this week we are in western Kent in a ward where many pass through - the M20 motorway and Chatham railway line pass through and the M25 forms the western boundary - but few stop. (Unless the M25 is having one of its moments.) Farningham, Horton Kirby and South Darenth are three villages in the valley of the River Darent, which gives its name to Dartford and indeed South Darenth. The lowest of the villages, South Darenth is unusual in the south of England in that it was called into being in its modern form by the Industrial Revolution: before 1820, when Henry Hall opened the Horton Kirby paper mill here, there were only a few houses. The paper mill thrived and was still operating up to 2003 when it was redeveloped for housing and shops; no doubt some of these will be occupied by London commuters, as Farningham Road railway station lies close to the village. Horton Kirby and Farningham have older histories: Roman remains have been found in both villages, while Farningham is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Farningham in particular had a good location, in the shadow of the North Downs at the point where the London-Maidstone A20 road crosses the River Darent; that gave some passing trade.

The villages' inclusion in Sevenoaks district is rather curious. Unlike Sevenoaks, the ward is part of the London Travel to Work Area, and the topography and bus routes suggest that Dartford, down the valley, would be a more convenient administrative centre. Indeed almost all of the ward has Dartford postcodes - however, this is one of those areas where postcode snobbery is in full effect, as Dartford is a distinctly downmarket town.

This ward was formed in 2003 as a merger of two single-member wards, the undersized Farningham and the overpopulated Horton Kirby and South Darenth. The 2003 election here was won by the Lib Dems, but the Conservatives gained one of the Lib Dem seats at the 2007 election and the other with the defection of councillor Philip McGarvey, who has topped the poll at every election here this century. Ingrid Tennessee, who came to the UK from Guyana and had been McGarvey's ward colleague since 2011, was also a former Lib Dem figure: she had previously stood for the party in local elections in Lewisham, and still has strong links to south-east London where she runs a mental health charity. McGarvey and Tennessee had safe seats on the Tory slate: in the 2015 election the Conservatives beat Labour here 57-23, and the ward is also part of a safe Tory division on Kent county council (Sevenoaks North and Darent Valley).

Some of the electors for this by-election will be thrilled to hear that their polling station is a pub - the Fighting Cocks in Horton Kirby. Thankfully, unlike the average cockfight, elections are not a blood sport. Defending for the Tories is Brian Carroll, who gives an address in Horton Kirby. The Labour candidate is Emily Asher, treasurer of the party's Sevenoaks branch. Completing the ballot paper is Krish Shanmuganathan, from Farningham, for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Sevenoaks
Kent county council division: Sevenoaks North and Darent Valley
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: DA4, TN15

Emily Asher (Lab)
Brian Carroll (C)
Krish Shanmuganathan (LD)

May 2015 result C 1408/1321 Lab 568/375 Grn 478
May 2011 result C 918/876 Lab 533
May 2007 result LD 559/481 C 544/529 Lab 220
May 2003 result LD 604/588 C 393/375


Previews: 23 Aug 2018

Six by-elections on 23rd August 2018:


Gotham

Rushcliffe council, Nottinghamshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Stuart Matthews.

Three wise men of Gotham
They went to sea in a bowl
And if the bowl had been stronger
My song would have been longer

What better way to open this week than with a pair of memes? The first one is probably what most people associate with the name "Gotham", but the second is more important here. There is a meme common to many places in the UK and around the world that the people of the town next door to yours are yokels, idiots, just wrong in some way or another, while of course none of those considerations apply to your town; it's no coincidence that many of the best-known footballing rivalries involve neighbouring teams. However, the legends told about the Nottinghamshire village of Gotham take the imbecile meme to another level entirely.

The story as often told is set in the reign of King John, who was not a good man and had his little ways. Or, more accurately, big ways; for there was a rule that any road the king travelled on had to be improved and maintained as a public highway. Now, the king was planning to progress through Gotham on the way to Nottingham, but the people of Gotham didn't want a new road through their village - it's a local village for local people, what's all this shouting, we'll have no trouble here - and they came up with an ingenious solution for getting out of their responsibilities. According to a nineteenth-century retelling, when King John's advance messengers turned up in Gotham, they

found some of the inhabitants engaged in endeavouring to drown an eel in a pool of water; some were employed in dragging carts upon a large barn, to shade the wood from the sun; others were tumbling their cheeses down a hill, that they might find their way to Nottingham for sale; and some were employed in hedging in a cuckoo which had perched upon an old bush...

This was all a bit too hickish even for the itinerant Plantagenet royal court to stomach; and when this intelligence was fed back to the king, surprisingly enough John and his entourage decided to steer clear of the village. It was a victory for the Tubbses and Edwards of Gotham, as the new road was never built - and that remains the case to this day, as the main road into Nottingham from the south studiously avoids the place.

This story of the ironically-named "Wise Men of Gotham" has been doing the rounds since at least the fifteenth century. It was familiar to the nineteenth-century American writer Washington Irving, who in 1807 was writing a magazine satirising the culture and politics of New York City; in the 11th November 1807 edition of Salmagundi Irving rechristened the Big Apple as Gotham. The appelation stuck, and a century later the comic book writer Milton "Bill" Finger, while fingering through the New York phone book looking for inspiration for a new comic strip, came across a business called "Gotham Jewellers". Inspiration struck, and a fictional city - going strong on the silver screen to this day - was born. This came at a price: somewhere along the way from fiction to fiction the village's real-life pronunciation, "Goat-ham", got lost.

For a place as anti-transport development as Gotham has been over the centuries, it's strange that Gotham ward has been the scene for some major transport developments in recent years. In 2015 Nottingham's tram system was extended into the suburb of Clifton, and beyond it; Clifton South tram stop, a large park-and-ride site which is the terminus of the tram line, lies just outside the Nottingham city limits in the Gotham ward. At the other end of the ward, near the village of Ratcliffe on Soar, is another park and ride site: East Midlands Parkway railway station, on the main line from London to Derby and Nottingham, which opened in January 2009. In contrast to the tram East Midlands Parkway has been a bit of a white elephant, failing to reach the projected passenger numbers; its location doesn't help, being simultaneously in the middle of nowhere and in the shadow of the coal-fired Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, which in the year the railway station opened was described as one of the largest single sources of carbon dioxide emissions in Europe.

For nearly forty-eight years Gotham has been represented in Parliament by Ken Clarke, the Father of the House of Commons. A look at the 2015 election result might suggest that Gotham resembles the title of Clarke's memoirs - kind of blue - but that hasn't always been so. From 1983 to 2015 Gotham ward was represented on Rushcliffe council by Trevor Vennett-Smith, an auctioneer specialising in postcards, ephemera and sporting memorabilia. Vennett-Smith was elected for the Lib Dems or their predecessors throughout with the exception of his last re-election in 2011, at which he was an independent opposed only by Labour. When Vennett-Smith brought the gavel down on his auction career in 2013 that merited a couple of paragraphs in the following year's edition of Wisden; his retirement from Rushcliffe council in 2015 was less remarked upon but did leave an open seat. That went to the new Conservative candidate Stuart Matthews rather easily: Matthews had 53% of the vote, to 24% for Labour and 23% for UKIP. The ward is also part of a safe Tory division of Nottinghamshire county council (Leake and Ruddington).

On the face of that recent form your columnist hadn't expected the Gotham by-election to be politically very interesting; but then the candidate list came out and delivered a twist worthy of any DC Comics storyline. If you're on the Conservative side then no doubt you'll be casting outgoing councillor Stuart Matthews as Two-Face; for Matthews is standing for re-election as an independent candidate. He is from Ratcliffe on Soar, and was elected to Rushcliffe council in 2015 after selling his former business. The official Conservative candidate is Rex Walker, of Gotham. Also from Gotham is the new Labour candidate Lewis McAulay. UKIP haven't returned but there are two candidates to complete the ballot paper, Jason Billin for the Liberal Democrats and Neil Pinder of the Green Party.

The Riddler himself would have struggled to come up with a more intriguing candidate list. It's very hard to pick a winner out of this lot: but if you fancy staking a pennyworth or a little more on the outcome, head over to the betting exchange Smarkets... (link here)

Parliamentary constituency: Rushcliffe
Nottinghamshire county council division: Leake and Ruddington
ONS Travel to Work Area: Nottingham
Postcode districts: DE74, LE12, NG11

Jason Billin (LD)
Stuart Matthews (Ind)
Lewis McAulay (Lab)
Neil Pinder (Grn)
Rex Walker (C)

May 2015 result C 836 Lab 378 UKIP 364


Halewood South

Knowsley council, Merseyside; caused by the death of Labour councillor Tina Harris. A former Mayor of Halewood, she had served since 2010.

Our by-elections this week fall neatly into three pairs, and we now come to our northern pair of by-elections to consider two wards either side of the Mersey estuary. We start on the north side in the town of Halewood, which is essentially a southern extension of Liverpool that hasn't been incorporated into the city. The road and railway lines from Runcorn and Widnes enter the Liverpool built-up area here.

Halewood South's housing stock almost all dates from the early 1960s, and there's a reason for that. Also built here in the early 1960s was the Halewood motor plant, opened in October 1963 by the Ford Motor Company; Halewood has been turning out cars and car parts ever since, and for 33 years until 2000 it was the main European production centre for the Ford Escort. In the 21st century Halewood became a production centre for Jaguar Land Rover; the Jaguar X-Type was made here in the 2000s, while a government grant in March 2010 secured production of the Range Rover Evoque at Halewood. It was a sound investment; the Evoque had good reviews and even better sales figures, prompting JLR to introduce 24-hour running at the plant to meet demand. Of course, it's not just Jaguar Land Rover who provide jobs here: Everton FC's training ground is in the ward, while Halewood railway station on the Liverpool-Warrington-Manchester line provides a fast link from the local houses to Liverpool city centre.

Halewood South was closely fought between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the 2000s, but since the Coalition was formed the Merseyside area has swung a mile towards Labour with particularly sharp falls in the Lib Dem vote. Labour gained all three seats in Halewood South between 2010 and 2012; in the 2012 election the defending Lib Dems fell to third place behind the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, and they hadn't been since here since. However, Labour have not had it all their own way in Halewood since 2012, and the problem for them started with the 2016 election when a boundary review cut the size of Knowsley council from 63 councillors to 45. Since Labour held all 63 seats at the time, that meant they needed eighteen of their councillors to retire or be deselected; and one of those deselected was Halewood South councillor Allan Harvey. He didn't take it well. Harvey stood for re-election as an independent, finished as runner-up, and in this May's ordinary election was narrowly returned to Knowsley council as an independent candidate: he defeated the official Labour candidate by 47% to 46%, a majority of 41 votes.

That defeated Labour candidate Gary See now has the chance to make a quick comeback; he was a councillor for this ward from 2012 until his defeat three months ago, at which point he was in the Knowsley council cabinet. See's toughest opposition may well come from another independent candidate: Halewood town councillor Bob Swann was a long-serving Labour councillor for the former Halewood West ward, who got deselected when his ward was abolished in 2016. Also standing are Victoria Smart for the Conservatives and Jenny McNeilis for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Garston and Halewood
ONS Travel to Work Area: Liverpool
Postcode districts: L24, L25, L26, WA8

Jenny McNeilis (LD)
Gary See (Lab)
Victoria Smart (C)
Bob Swann (Ind)

May 2018 result Ind 1231 Lab 1190 C 180
May 2016 result Lab 1339/1333/1191 Ind 558 TUSC 442/330/324 C 215


Bromborough

Wirral council, Merseyside; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Warren Ward. First elected in 2016 at the age of 18 as the youngest-ever Wirral councillor, Ward is resigning to concentrate on his role at Wirral Chamber of Commerce and to attempt to become a special constable.

From one iconic factory to another, as we cross the Mersey into the land of plastic. Or soap. In 1887 business was booming for Lever Brothers, one of the UK's major soap manufacturers, and their Warrington plant was struggling to cope with the demand. William Lever (as he was then) alighted on a site for a new factory, on the Wirral peninsula between the Liverpool-Chester railway line and the Mersey estuary, and built a factory and model village to house his employees. The village became known as Port Sunlight, after Lever Brothers' most popular product, and is architecturally astonishing; every house was built by a different architect, no two houses are the same, and virtually every one is now listed. A big change from the identikit terracing which was going up all over the North West at the time. One of those listed buildings is Hulme Hall, originally built as a women's dining hall, where Ringo Starr first performed as part of the Beatles in August 1962. Port Sunlight was very much a company village until comparatively recently: Lever Brothers, and their successors Unilever, continued to own all the houses in the village into the 1980s.

Ideas like model villages do not come in isolation, and Port Sunlight wasn't even the first model village in Bromborough ward. That was Bromborough Pool, developed closer to the Mersey in the mid-1850s for workers at the Price's candle factory which by 1900 was the world's largest manufacturer of candles. No longer; although the Price's name still exists production moved to Italy some years ago. It's no coincidence that James Wilson of Price's Candles and William Lever of Lever Brothers were both evangelical Christians, concerned for the welfare of their workforce; but that religious fervour hasn't been passed on to Bromborough ward's modern population. Bromborough turned in a 70% Christian score at the 2011 census, which is in the top fifth of wards in England and Wales but comparatively low for a ward in north-west England, where lapsed Christians are generally more likely to list their old religion on the census than people elsewhere.

Bromborough proper remains an industrial area, although one particularly nasty place - the Port Sunlight landfill site on the estuary coast - has recently been landscaped into a rather nice park. The main railway line (with four stations) and the old road from Liverpool to Chester pass through the ward, giving easy links to the big city over (or more accurately under) the water. Indeed New Ferry, a rather deprived area at the northern end of the ward, had a ferry service to Liverpool Pier Head until the 1920s.

Bromborough ward is in the Wirral South parliamentary constituency, which has been Labour-held since a by-election in early 1997 but where Labour have often struggled in local elections. At one point in the 2000s there were no Labour councillors in the seat at all. During this time Bromborough was a Lib Dem area, but as elsewhere in Merseyside their vote melted away with the advent of Coalition: Labour gained two of Bromborough's Lib Dem seats in 2010 and 2011 and the other through the defection of Lib Dem councillor Steve Niblock. Niblock was deselected by Labour in 2016 and stood for re-election as an independent, coming a rather distant second to Warren Ward; he didn't stand in the May 2018 election at which Labour beat the Conservatives 61-22.

Defending for Labour is Jo Bird, a business consultant in the co-operative movement. The Conservatives have selected Des Drury, a former New Ferry shopkeeper who fought the neighbouring Bebington ward in May. Also standing are Vicky Downie for the Liberal Democrats, Susan Braddock for the Green Party and the aforementioned Steve Niblock as an independent.

Parliamentary constituency: Wirral South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Birkenhead
Postcode districts: CH62, CH63

Jo Bird (Lab)
Susan Braddock (Grn)
Vicky Downie (LD)
Des Drury (C)
Steve Niblock (Ind)

May 2018 result Lab 2120 C 768 LD 386 Grn 198
May 2016 result Lab 1805 Ind 985 C 442 LD 151 Grn 131 TUSC 60
May 2015 result Lab 4478 C 1396 UKIP 865 LD 367 Grn 330 TUSC 118
May 2014 result Lab 1709 UKIP 772 C 469 LD 247 Grn 225
May 2012 result Lab 2292 C 466 UKIP 298 LD 296 Grn 187
May 2011 result Lab 2609 LD 768 C 742 UKIP 227 Grn 157
May 2010 result Lab 3016 LD 1815 C 1428 BNP 328 Grn 170
May 2008 result LD 1496 Lab 817 C 746 BNP 253 Grn 132 UKIP 53
May 2007 result LD 1753 Lab 1002 C 684 Grn 192
May 2006 result LD 1827 Lab 924 C 487 Grn 190
June 2004 result LD 2633/2517/2335 Lab 1146/1049/1017 C 460/433/392 Grn 260 Wirral Ind Network 114


Newton Regis and Warton

North Warwickshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Patrick Davey who had served since 2015.

We return to the Midlands with the northernmost ward of Warwickshire, covering several villages to the east of Tamworth either side of the M42 motorway. Despite the order of the names, the largest centre of population is Warton, a village just to the north of Poleworth and part of Polesworth parish; Warton grew strongly in the 1960s with the construction of a housing estate which attracted some Birmingham overspill. Other villages in the ward, such as Austrey (which is recorded in the Domesday Book) are more rural in character.

This ward was created in 2003 by merging the former wards of Warton and Newton Regis, which both elected one North Warwickshire councillor even though population movements meant that Warton had twice the electorate of Newton Regis by 1998. The combined ward split its two seats between the Conservatives and Lib Dems in 2003 in a close three-way result, but the Tories knocked the Lib Dem out in 2007 and have since made the ward safe. In 2015 the Conservatives won here with 53%, to 26% for Labour and 21% for UKIP. Things are more pluralistic at county council level where most of the ward is in the Polesworth division, which voted Labour last year; Warton however is in the Baddesley and Dordon division which is safely Conservative.

This by-election is a straight fight between two local candidates. Defending from the blue corner is Marian Humphreys of Austrey, who is the wife of the ward's other councillor David Humphreys. Challenging from the red corner is Andrew Downes, from Newton Regis.

Parliamentary constituency: North Warwickshire
Warwickshire county council division: Polesworth (Austrey, Newton Regis, Seckington and Shuttington parishes), Baddesley and Dordon (part of Polesworth parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Birmingham
Postcode districts: B78, B79, CV9

Andrew Downes (Lab)
Marian Humphreys (C)

May 2015 result C 1083/834 Lab 538/525 UKIP 427
May 2011 result C 838/798 Lab 457/383
May 2007 result C 620/610 LD 491/238 Lab 252/233
May 2003 result LD 454/291 C 382/363 Lab 377/297


Watton-at-Stone

East Hertfordshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Michael Freeman, who has since died. He had served since 2015.

After two polls in the Midlands and two in the North, we come to our southern pair of by-elections this week. We are in the Home Counties in Watton-at-Stone, a village on the road and railway line halfway between Stevenage and Hertford; Watton has a railway station with hourly trains to Moorgate in central London, and so is favoured by commuters. The village was the childhood home of the actor Rupert Grint, and the boxing promoter Frank Warren is an elector here; famous former residents include the locomotive engineer Sir Nigel Gresley, who died here in 1941, and the mathematician Alan Turing who spent a summer here during his childhood.

Watton-at-Stone ward has unchanged boundaries since East Hertfordshire district was created in the 1970s reorganisation. The inaugural 1973 election here was between two independent candidates, but at every opportunity since then Watton-at-Stone has returned Conservatives, often with very large majorities. In 2015 the Conservatives polled a relatively low 66% here, with 15% for UKIP best of the rest.

Defending for the Conservatives is Andrew Huggins, a town councillor in Buntingford some distance to the north-east. With UKIP withdrawing he is opposed by Veronica Fraser of Labour and local resident Sophie Bell of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: North East Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire county council divsiion: Hertford Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City
Postcode districts: SG12, SG14

Sophie Bell (LD)
Veronica Fraser (Lab)
Andrew Huggins (C)

May 2015 result C 931 UKIP 206 Lab 157 Grn 108
May 2013 by-election C 755 Lab 82
May 2011 result C 750 Lab 128
May 2007 result C unopposed
May 2003 result C 585 Lab 62
May 1999 result C 631 Lab 129
May 1995 result C 556 Lab 150
May 1991 result C 580 Lab 157
May 1987 result C 475 All 322 Lab 56
May 1983 result C 585 Lab 149
May 1979 result C 776 Lab 322
May 1976 result C 528 Lab 298
May 1973 result Ind 351 Ind 148


Bude

Cornwall council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Nigel Pearce. He had served on the modern Cornwall council since its creation in 2009, sitting for Bude South ward until 2013; before that he was a North Cornwall district councillor for Bude ward from 2007 to 2009. He has recently remarried following the death of his first wife, and intends to travel and enjoy life with his new spouse.

It's August, so it must be time for a trip to Cornwall and to the seaside. We were in Newquay a couple of weeks ago; this time Andrew's Previews travels to Cornwall's northernmost town, Bude. Like Newquay, this is another Victorian seaside resort with sandy beaches, good surfing and good weather - in the summer of 2013 Bude was the sunniest place in the UK with 783 hours of sunlight recorded. There is also a small port here which in times gone by exported grain to and imported coal from Wales; the port is the starting-point of the Bude Canal, a navigation which once ran all the way to Launceston.

Newquay has retained its rail link to the outside world, but Bude has the dubious distinction of being the English town most remote from the rail network. The nearest stations, Bodmin Parkway and Gunnislake, are over thirty miles away; while the local tourist website suggests a bus connection from Exeter as the most convenient railhead. Those pre-Beeching days when the Atlantic Coast Express ran here straight from London are long gone. Despite the access difficulties tourism is still the mainstay of Bude's economy, although the town's largest employer is now GCHQ which runs a listening station a few miles to the north.

At the time of the 2011 census this area was covered by three electoral divisions, Bude South, Bude North and Stratton, and the misnamed Flexbury and Poughill which in fact didn't cover Flexbury. (Flexbury was in Bude North and Stratton.) That rare error by the Local Government Boundary Commission was compounded by delays in getting the boundaries ready for the first unitary Cornwall council election, which led to a decision being taken to use the Commission's draft boundaries for the 2009 election rather than the finished article. The mistake was sorted out for the 2013 poll which introduced the final map of 122 Cornish divisions electing 123 councillors; Bude is the odd one out, returning two councillors to the county hall in Truro. Census analysis still has to use the draft boundaries: the 2011 census return had [Flexbury and] Poughill in the top 90 wards or divisions in England and Wales for small employers, reflecting the fact that as well as Poughill the division included a large and remote rural area.

In 2009 the Lib Dems won all three of the predecessor divisions, and they have held both seats in Bude since the present division was created in 2013. In 2017 the Lib Dem slate led the Conservatives here 53-38, which was a swing to the Conservatives compared with four years previously.

Defending for the Lib Dems is David Parsons, who was a Cornwall councillor from Bude from 2011 (when he won a by-election in Bude North and Stratton) to 2017 when he stood down. He owns a family hardware shop in the town and was formerly deputy headteacher at Launceston College. The candidate list reveals a split on the Conservative side: the official Conservative candidate is Alex Dart, from Launceston, a recent politics graduate from the University of Kent; but standing as an independent is the Mayor of Bude-Stratton, photographer Bob Willingham who was on the Conservative slate here last year and finished as runner-up. Completing the ballot paper is Ray Shemilt of Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: North Cornwall
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bude
Postcode district: EX23

Alex Dart (C)
David Parsons (LD)
Ray Shemilt (Lab)
Bob Willingham (Ind)

May 2017 result LD 1395/1272 C 1006/938 Lab 248
May 2013 result LD 1413/1281 C 460


Previews: 16 Aug 2018

Three by-elections on 16th August 2018, as it's time to go back to where it all began...


East

Bury council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Mike Connolly who had served since 1994. He was Leader of the Council from 2011 to 2016 and Mayor of Bury in 2016-17.

What do the former Tory prime minister Robert Peel and present Tory MP Sir Alistair Burt, the barrister Cherie Blair and present Labour MP Sir David Crausby, the Elbow lead singer Guy Garvey, the sporting twins Gary and Phil Neville and Adam and Simon Yates, and the England World Cup star Kieran Trippier all have in common with your columnist? We were all born in Bury, that town nine miles north of Manchester which still likes to think it's part of Lancashire. Unfortunately the list of those born in Bury is going to get shorter and older as the years pass: the town's maternity unit at Fairfield General Hospital, on the eastern edge of town, closed down a few years ago.

Fairfield has been good to me over the years: as well as safely delivering me into the world all those years ago, the hospital once gave your columnist a few weeks temping. The hospital anchors Jericho, a group of houses clinging to the hillside on the old road to Rochdale. The new road to Rochdale is further south, reaching the borough boundary and the M66 motorway at Heap Bridge. Visitors to Bury - and they are legion, particularly on market day - will often leave the motorway at Heap Bridge and climb up Rochdale Road into the town centre.

Their climb will be rewarded. Bury is noted for its compact town centre with some of the best shopping in Greater Manchester. In contrast to some towns in the county (Bolton, I'm looking at you) it's rare to see a vacant unit here, while the "world famous" market is rightly praised and attracts day trippers from all over the North of England. And you don't have to be a local to sample the black pudding. For those who don't fancy shopping, check out the art gallery with its collection of Victoriana and modern sculpture; the regimental museum of the Lancashire Fusiliers; or the preserved East Lancashire Railway, whose headquarters are at Bolton Street station. If all this has made you a little thirsty or hungry, your columnist recommends the Clarence pub and the Jewel in the Crown Indian restaurant, both on Bolton Street.

Bury was one of the classic Lancashire milltowns, with its location between two rivers (the Irwell and the Roch) providing power for textile mills and water for dyeing and finishing. Sir Robert Peel's family gave much of the early impetus to Bury's industrialisation: the prime minister's father, also called Sir Robert Peel, developed a mill in the town and was a subscriber to the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal, which gave Bury a link to the outside world by 1808. The railways, and further development, came here quickly. Unfortunately Bury's housing stock failed to keep pace with the resulting scale of population growth, and the early nineteenth-century terraces which surrounded the town centre were noted for severe overcrowding and slum conditions. The 1844 Health of Towns Commission report, which had been set up by Peel, noted that King Street, Bury had ten one-bedroom houses and a population of 69. Those houses and indeed King Street no longer exist - subsequent regeneration work has swept them away - but most of the housing in East ward, which stretches from the town centre to Jericho, is still Victorian terracing.

But it's not all Victoriana here: there has been a rash of new buildings developed in Bury in recent years. A few years ago a major new health centre and hotel opened opposite Bury's 1930s town hall; but the most important new feature in the town is the Rock Development, a district of shops, restaurants, leisure facilities and flats with all the major chains represented. Rather than competing with the town centre as happens in so many other places (Trafford Centre, I'm looking at you), the Rock is effectively a town centre extension and proud of it. The Rock may have originally opened in the pit of the last recession but it's doing rather nicely, and it's noticeable how several towns in England are looking to replicate its success: this column recently covered an unsuccessful attempt to do something similar in Lichfield.

Your columnist is a member of a military band based in Bury which has been supported by the town's mayors over the years. I well remember one job we did in the Rock Development on a cold afternoon during Mike Connolly's mayoral year, in which he conducted the band for one number while wearing his chain of office and the "why am I doing this" smile which all mayors very quickly develop. We were polite, of course.

Connolly had been appointed mayor after five years as leader of the council, a position which is never far from controversy. Longterm readers of Andrew's Previews may recall a by-election I covered to Bury council from Tottington ward in late 2015, which came after a Labour councillor, Simon Carter, admitted downloading sexual images of children. That court case and by-election was only the beginning of what has become a major scandal which led last year to the resignation of the council's chief executive and the director of children's services; two independent reports identified serious safeguarding failings in how the council had handled the initial allegations against Carter. Connolly, who was leader of the council at the relevant time had written a reference for Carter on council notepaper in advance of Carter's sentencing, was then suspended by the Labour Party pending an investigation into his conduct. Connolly had referred himself to the council's standards committee, but his hearing was yet to take place. His resignation from the council was believed to be for health reasons.

So we have a by-election in East ward. Of Bury's seventeen wards, East ward is the most deprived and has the largest Asian population - 23% at the 2011 census, overwhelmingly of Pakistani Muslim origin. It is also one of three Bury council wards which Labour have never lost since the current boundaries were drawn up in 2004, and the result in May was true to recent form with Labour leading the Tories 59-34.

Defending for Labour is Gavin McGill, a Unite member, former teacher and former civil servant which is the only candidate to live in the ward; in May he stood in Holyrood ward in Prestwich. The Conservatives, who normally nominate Asian candidates here (the one time in recent years they didn't, in 2014, was also their worst result in recent years) have reselected Sohail Raja, a businessman and taxi operator who stood here in May. Also standing are Nicole Haydock for the Greens, Andy Minty for the Liberal Democrats and Angela Zwierzanski for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Bury North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: BL8, BL9

Nicole Haydock (Grn)
Gavin McGill (Lab)
Andy Minty (LD)
Sohail Raja (C)
Angela Zwierzanski (UKIP)

May 2018 result Lab 1673 C 960 Grn 185
May 2016 result Lab 1566 C 616 Grn 286
May 2015 result Lab 2748 UKIP 853 C 762 Grn 220
May 2014 result Lab 1494 UKIP 682 C 384 Grn 137
May 2012 result Lab 1430 UKIP 566 C 501
May 2011 result Lab 1589 C 983 UKIP 433 LD 132
May 2010 result Lab 2103 C 1294 LD 714 BNP 436
May 2008 result Lab 1148 C 1023 LD 384
May 2007 result Lab 1216 C 753 LD 296 Ind 180
May 2006 result Lab 1259 C 702 LD 421
June 2004 result Lab 1597/1582/1538 C 1115/1051/757 LD 1083 Ind 489/441


Knaresborough

North Yorkshire county council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Nicola Wilson, who had served since May last year.

We cross to the wrong side of the Pennines and to the Harrogate district, which covers a swathe of the Yorkshire Dales nearly as large in area as Greater London. This is a sparsely populated area, and most of the district's electors are concentrated in the the city of Ripon and the towns of Harrogate and Knaresborough.

Knaresborough is a town that repays a visit. It's a spa town overlooking a gorge created by the River Nidd, a few miles to the east of Harrogate. The town was fortified soon after the Norman conquest, and Knaresborough Castle was where the murderers of Thomas Becket hid out immediately after their grisly deed: Hugh de Morville, one of the four knights, held the castle at the time. Fat lot of good it did them: the four knights eventually and quietly lost all their land, and were despatched on penitential journeys to the Holy Land from which they did not return. More worthy sons and daughters of Knaresborough include Ursula Southell, a sixteenth-century seer better known as "Mother Shipton"; and John "Blind Jack" Metcalf, who didn't let his blindness stop him from being one of the greatest roadbuilders of the eighteenth century.

Modern Knaresborough is to some extent a dormitory town thanks to its good railway connections to Harrogate, York and Leeds. There's also some industry here: the St James Business Park, recently developed in a bend of the Nidd to the south-east of the town, has attracted many major retailers together with a warehouse for Taylors of Harrogate, the suppliers of the excellent Yorkshire Tea.

The Knaresborough county division covers the whole of the town and the small parish of Scriven to the north. It is part of the Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency, which was Lib Dem-held up until 2010. The division's county results reflect that: this was a Lib Dem county division until 2017, but the Conservatives have made all the running here in recent years. They gained the division in 2017 by polling 39%, to 35% for the Lib Dems and 11% for Labour. Harrogate council held a full election on new ward boundaries in May this year: the four new Knaresborough wards split 3 to the Tories and 1 to the Lib Dems, and in vote terms the Conservatives led 46-38 across the division.

So, good omens for the defending Conservative candidate. Phil Ireland is the present Mayor of Knaresborough and has been a Harrogate district councillor since 2011: he represents Knaresborough Aspin and Calcutt ward on the district council, where he is the cabinet member for sustainable transport. The Lib Dem candidate is David Goode, who lost out in the 2017 county elections here by just 31 votes; he was rather further behind the Tories in May's district elections where he contested Knaresborough Castle ward. The Labour candidate is Sharon-Theresa Calvert, who has been a teacher for 27 years and is a local NASUWT officer; she completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Harrogate and Knaresborough
Harrogate council wards: Knaresborough Aspin and Calcutt, Knaresborough Castle, Knaresborough Eastfield
ONS Travel to Work Area: Harrogate
Postcode districts: HG1, HG5

Sharon-Theresa Calvert (Lab)
David Goode (LD)
Phil Ireland (C)

May 2017 result C 1829/1676 LD 1656/1618 Lab 537/474 Grn 405/336 UKIP 322
May 2013 result LD 2084/1861 C 1219/1108 UKIP 947/764 Lab 399/376 Grn 330
June 2009 result LD 1985/1659 C 1765/1719 Ind 1240 Lab 355
May 2005 result LD 4147/3911 C 2398/2147 Lab 1193


Gwynfi

Neath Port Talbot council, Glamorgan; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Ralph Thomas who had served since 2012.

For our third and final by-election this week we are in the Valleys of South Wales, and this is one of the lesser-known ones. The Gwynfi division is the head of the Afan Valley, one of the shorter valleys in south Wales: Port Talbot, where the Afan empties into the sea, is just nine miles away. As with many Welsh valleys coalmining was the main industry here, and the Gwynfi - a tributary of the Afan, after which the division is named - remains to this day slightly alkaline thanks to pollution from the former local collieries. Those collieries supported the small villages of Blaengwynfi and Abergwynfi, which form the division's population. Part of the northern slopes of the valley are now covered by woodland as part of the Afan Forest Park, which is noted for its mountain biking and hillwalking trails; while there are ambitious plans to turn the southern slopes into a major artificial skiing centre. It remains to be seen whether this comes to pass.

The census return for Gwynfi division paints a picture of an area which is poor and not in good health. Gwynfi is number 3 of all the wards or divisions in England and Wales for long-term sickness or disability, in the top 30 for the ONS "routine" employment category (and in the top 400 for both of the other two working-class employment categories), and in the top 70 for adults with no qualifications. Agriculture and forestry appear to be among the main employment sectors now. More surprisingly, Gwynfi ended up in the top 40 for those of no religion (for cultural and historical reasons, the Valleys record particularly high scores for this statistic) and in the top 90 for those aged 16 or 17.

Gwynfi division was created in 1983, initially as a ward of the old Afan district council (which renamed itself as Port Talbot district council in 1986). There is something strange about the initial Gwynfi result listed by the Elections Centre for 1983, in which there were three candidates described as "Labour", "Labour" and "Labour/Ratepayer"; either this is an error in the Elections Centre data or something went entertainingly wrong in the local Labour party. At any event, Labour's David Evans was elected, and he represented the area under various guises (Labour in 1987 and 1991, Progressive Labour in 1995) until his defeat by Labour in 1999. However, the Labour party lost Gwynfi in 2004 to independent candidate Jane Jones, and didn't get the seat back until 2012. The 2017 election, a rematch between Jones and Labour's Roger Thomas, saw Thomas prevail by the reduced majority of 56-44.

This by-election has a much wider choice for the local electors. Defending for Labour is Nicola Irwin, a resident of Port Talbot. There are three independent candidates: former councillor Jane Jones, the only candidate to give an address in the division, is back to stand here for the fifth time, and she is joined on the ballot paper by David Joshua (of Cymmer) and Jac Paul (of Croeserw). Two party candidates complete the lineup: Katie Jones for Plaid Cymru and Orla Lowe for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Aberavon
ONS Travel to Work Area: Swansea
Postcode district: SA13

Nicola Irwin (Lab)
Jane Jones (Ind)
Katie Jones (PC)
David Joshua (Ind)
Orla Lowe (C)
Jac Paul (Ind)

May 2017 result Lab 273 Ind 214
May 2012 result Lab 502 Ind 153
May 2008 result Ind 390 Lab 288
June 2004 result Ind 424 Lab 313
May 1999 result Lab 446 Ind Lab 392
May 1995 result Progressive Lab 640 Lab 263
May 1991 Port Talbot council result Lab unopposed
May 1987 Port Talbot council result Lab 605 Ratepayers 268
May 1983 Afan council result Lab 521 Lab 319 Lab/Rate 141


Preview: 09 Aug 2018

Just one by-election on 9th August 2018:


Newquay Treviglas

Cornwall council; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Summers at the age of 62. A former teacher, Summers had served since winning a by-election in July 2016.

It's August, so it must be time for a trip to Cornwall. We are in the town of Newquay, home for this long weekend to the Boardmasters Festival. Boardmasters is sescribed as "five epic days of music, surf, and laid-back lifestyle all set to the stunning backdrop of the Cornish coastline". The musical lineup looks impressive enough, with acts including Catfish and the Bottlemen, the Chemical Brothers, George Ezra, Rag 'n' Bone Man, Lily Allen and Idris Elba among many more.

Unfortunately Boardmasters has sold out, but there are plenty of other things to do in Newquay if you don't have a ticket. The local newspaper recently described the place as the UK's "stag night capital", a claim which will raise a few eyebrows in Blackpool but is probably appropriate for the birthplace of the man who wrote Lord of the Flies. Newquay has been a tourist town for over a century thanks to its sandy beaches which look out onto the Atlantic Ocean, and as the name "Boardmasters" might suggest it is the capital of the UK's surfing industry. There is also some aerospace work providing jobs in Newquay out of season: the town is home to Cornwall's main airport, which is on a growth spurt at the moment. Last Saturday there were 23 scheduled departures from Newquay, including to international destinations such as Berlin and Faro. Who knows, you may be able to get even further from Newquay Airport in the near future: the Virgin group have their eye on it as a spaceport.

As with many seaside resorts it was the Victorians who made Newquay, and before the mid-nineteenth century the main settlement in the area was the village of St Columb Minor, whose fifteenth-century church indicates a much older history than the town it's now a suburb of. St Columb Minor is the major part of Newquay Treviglas division; the name Treviglas is also that of the local secondary school, which educated the singer-songwriter James Morrison.

Treviglas division was created in 2009 for the first election to the modern Cornwall council. Its first contest was won by Harry Heywood, an independent candidate who had previously represented the area on Restormel district council. Heywood retired in 2013 and his seat went to UKIP on a low vote share. The UKIP councillor, Mark Hicks, resigned in 2016 for personal reasons and UKIP didn't defend the by-election, which was rather convincingly gained by the Liberal Democrats' Paul Summers. Summers was re-elected very easily last year for what would have been a full term, defeating the Conservatives 68-32 in a straight fight.

For this second Newquay Treviglas by-election in three years, the defending Liberal Democrat candidate is someone who certainly appreciates the tourist industry that keeps the place afloat. Steven Daniell is setting up his own travel business while also working as a chef, and has a proven electoral track record: he won this ward back in February in a by-election to Newquay town council. The Conservatives have reselected Mark Formosa who stood here last year; Formosa is a former Newquay town councillor and Restormel borough councillor, and was also twice a failed Conservative parliamentary candidate: he fought the North Cornwall seat in 2005 and Taunton Deane in the 2010 general election. Completing the ballot paper is Labour's Brod Ross, a Falmouth resident and widower of the former Cornish Labour MP Candy Atherton.

Parliamentary constituency: St Austell and Newquay
ONS Travel to Work Area: St Austell and Newquay
Postcode district: TR7

Steven Daniell (LD)
Mark Formosa (C)
Brod Ross (Lab)

May 2017 result LD 753 C 351
July 2016 by-election LD 486 C 210 Lab 87 Ind 58
May 2013 result UKIP 266 C 237 LD 218 Lab 156


Previews: 02 Aug 2018

After the rush of July we are now well into the summer holiday season, so it's natural to begin and end this piece on the coast. There are just three by-elections on 2nd August 2018, all of which are Conservative defences:


Ansdell

Fylde council, Lancashire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor David Eaves, who has since died at the age of 71. Eaves was first elected for Ansdell ward in 2007 following a long career in senior management at Blackpool Transport; his business and managerial skills saw him quickly climb the ranks of the Fylde Conservative group, and he served as Leader of the Council from 2010 to 2014. He leaves behind his wife Linda, a son, a stepdaughter and two grandchildren.

We start this week by paying tribute to an early Victorian artist whose work has been rather forgotten. Richard Ansdell was born in Liverpool in 1815, the son of a freeman who worked at the Port of Liverpool; he showed early promise in art, and by the age of 20 was exhibiting at the Liverpool Academy. Ansdell's work, which concentrated on rural, military, animal and hunting scenes, became popular; he attracted wealthy patrons, and exhibited his pictures at the Royal Academy every year from 1840 until his death in 1885. Richard Ansdell may not be in the first rank of famous British artists, but that doesn't detract from the quality or indeed the price of his work - one of his paintings turned up on the Antiques Roadshow last year and was given a five-figure valuation. Ansdell lived down south but for most of his career maintained a house in the Lancashire coastal village of Lytham, which he depicted in the 1853 painting above, Lytham Sandhills.

Much has changed since his day, of course. In the early Edwardian era much of the sand-dunes were built on, creating a village between Lytham and St Annes which became known as Ansdell, after the artist. These were large, posh homes for the Edwardian elite of Lancashire, who could take advantage of Lytham's coastal climate and excellent facilities for links golf. Within the ward boundary are the clubhouse of Fairhaven golf club, and the 8th green, 9th hole and 10th tee of the Royal Lytham and St Annes course - one of the golf courses on the Open Championship rota. Next to the Open course is Lytham St Annes Technology and Performing Arts College, which with over 2,000 pupils is described as the largest school in Lancashire; while Fylde Rugby Club also play within the boundary.

Lytham last hosted the Open in that celebration year of 2012, with Ernie Els winning after Adam Scott blew a four-shot lead going into the final day. I was there for that final day, and it was a hot one - one of the best days of a summer which was not a patch on the long, hot and dry summer of 2018. The continual sunshine has scorched Lancashire - literally. At the end of last month Lytham was blanketed by smoke from the wildfire on Winter Hill, which on a good day can be seen on the horizon over twenty miles away. That fire is much reduced now but still smouldering at the time of writing. More seriously, in the first week of July two fires on the Lytham seafront severely damaged Lytham Green and the St Annes sand dunes; after that Fylde council had had enough and promptly banned barbecues on the seafront.

A good decision by Fylde council's Conservative administration, whose strong area in the district is Lytham St Annes town. Ansdell ward is one of the wards within the town, and despite the travails of the local train service (which has been badly affected by electrification and the chaos which is Northern Rail) is still a commuter area for the rich and high-powered of Lancashire. 48% of Ansdell ward's workforce are in some sort of professional occupation. That creates a safe ward for the Conservatives, who have held all three seats here since knocking out a Fylde Ratepayers councillor in 2007; in the 2015 election the Conservative slate had 51% against opposition only from a single independent (27%) and a single Labour candidate (23%). The Conservatives had more competition in last year's county elections which saw the Fylde Ratepayers come a strong second in Lytham division; however, the Ratepayers' strong area is Lytham proper and the division was still safe enough for the Tories.

Defending for the Tories is Chris Dixon, a former local journalist who is now a staffer for the local MP Mark Menzies. In a straight fight Dixon is challenged by Labour's Gareth Nash, a former governor of the Lytham St Annes Technology and Performing Arts College; he is active in the co-operative movement.

Parliamentary constituency: Fylde
Lancashire county council division: Lytham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackpool
Postcode district: FY8

Chris Dixon (C)
Gareth Nash (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1379/1337/1282 Ind 727 Lab 613
May 2011 result C 1033/1002/981 Fylde Ratepayers 386 Lab 319/267/219 LD 181
May 2007 result C 886/824/810 Fylde Ratepayers 555 Lab 335
May 2003 result Fylde Ratepayers 708 C 704/605/547 LD 407 Lab 253


Orton Longueville

Peterborough council, Cambridgeshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor June Bull, who had served since 2016, on health grounds. Mrs Bull came to local politics after a 39-year career in central government, where she had worked as a civil servant and been an EU trade delegate to ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Now we come to the main course of this week's three polls, and it's a crucial one. We're in the city of Peterborough, the point where the Midlands end and East Anglia begins (or the other way round, depending on your point of view). Peterborough is an old city, but it's also a New Town; and the rural village of Orton Longueville, located on the south side of the Nene a few miles to the south-west of the city centre, became the focus of one of the New Town developments during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Orton Longueville ward was drawn up in 1975 by the Boundary Commission with a very low electorate to cater for future population growth, which was fully realised: between 1976 and 1992 the electorate here grew from under 1,700 to almost 7,600, a rise of 349%.

In its early years Orton Longueville ward was Tory, but Labour have been competitive here since development completed in the mid-eighties resulting in a close-fought marginal, although in recent years the Tories have held the upper hand - since 2006 Labour have only won the ward once, at their recent high point of 2012. Occasionally other parties can come through the middle - the Lib Dems won seats here in 2001 and 2002, while UKIP won a seat in 2014 and held it in 2016. That was the year the current ward boundaries came into force, although changes from the previous ward were minor; and the Conservative strength in Orton Longueville is rather curious given that the old ward's census return in 2011 was very working-class, with some of the New Town districts having high deprivation levels.

Peterborough's election results since 2016 have been rather curious as well. In June 2017 Labour surged in the city proper, gaining the Peterborough parliamentary seat and a by-election in the city's East ward to wipe out the Tory majority on the city council. However, little has gone right for Peterborough Labour this year, partly due to a difficult electoral map which saw Labour defending most of the city's marginal wards in May's elections. Seats flew in all directions in Peterborough this May, but it was the Tories who had the momentum: they gained two wards from Labour, were within thirty votes of gaining two more, and also knocked out UKIP in Orton Longueville ward. This doesn't mean, however, that the Conservatives made Orton Longueville safe: shares of the vote were 38% for the Conservatives, 33% for Labour (who returned to second place) and 14% for UKIP. Losses to Labour in Park ward and to the Green Party in Orton Waterville restricted the Tory net gain to one, but that was all that was needed for the Conservatives to regain overall control of Peterborough council. However, as we saw last year such a small majority is vulnerable to by-election losses: if this poll is lost by the Conservatives that overall control will go with it.

Last week things went from bad to worse for Peterborough Labour when it was revealed that the city's Labour MP, Fiona Onasanya, had been charged with two counts of perverting the course of justice. The allegation is that she lied about who was behind the wheel of a speeding car. There must be something about Peterborough that attracts controversial MPs. Onasanya's predecessor Stewart Jackson, who served from 2005 to 2017, was a notably right-wing Conservative firmly on the I Can't Believe It's Not UKIP branch of the party, who since losing his seat had been working as an aide to then-Brexit secretary David Davis; his predecessor, Labour's Helen Clark, was originally caricatured as a Blair Babe before falling out with the party over the Iraq War; her predecessor as MP for Peterborough was Dr Brian Mawhinney (as he then was), one of the more accident-prone ministers of the Major administration. Boundary changes for the 1997 election transferred Orton Longueville and Dr Mawhinney out of the Peterborough constituency into a new safe Conservative parliamentary seat called North West Cambridgeshire, where it still lies; so if Onasanya's present legal troubles end up provoking a parliamentary by-election, Orton Longeuville will not be taking part in it.

This particular by-election is going to be a Conservative defence, and their candidate is hoping to make a quick return to Peterborough council. Gavin Elsey was the cabinet member for "waste and street scene" until May when he lost his seat to the Green Party in the neighbouring Orton Waterville ward. He is up against the new Labour candidate Helen Skibsted, a tutor. UKIP, who held a seat here until May, have selected Graham Whitehead, a business analyst, TSSA member and chairman of the party's Peterborough branch. Also standing are Daniel Gibbs for the Liberal Democrats and Alex Airey for the Green Party.

If you would like to bet on the result, Smarkets have a market up here.

Parliamentary constituency: North West Cambridgeshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough
Postcode district: PE2

Alex Airey (Grn)
Gavin Elsey (C)
Daniel Gibbs (LD)
Helen Skipsted (Lab)
Graham Whitehead (UKIP)

May 2018 result C 850 Lab 730 UKIP 322 LD 172 Grn 170
May 2016 result C 894/859/581 UKIP 846 Lab 658/581/497 Grn 421 LD 268


Snettisham

King's Lynn and West Norfolk council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Avril Wright, who had served since 2015, for personal reasons.

We started the week on the west coast, and we finish on the west coast - the west coast of Norfolk, this time. The village of Snettisham lies on the main road between King's Lynn and Hunstanton, about 9 miles north of Lynn; it's known for two ancient things, a 14th-century church which Pevsner described as "perhaps the most exciting Decorated church in Norfolk", and a hoard of gold jewellery and other precious metals dated to the Iron Age. The Snettisham Hoard, and a later find of Roman jewellery from AD 155 or later, can now be seen in the British Museum. Modern-day Snettisham is also old, although not quite that old: the ward makes the top 70 in England and Wales for the proportion of the workforce who are retired. To the west of Snettisham on the coast is a nature reserve run by the RSPB; to the south and east lie the four other parishes in this rural ward.

This is the third Snettisham by-election in fourteen years which suggests a high councillor attrition rate, but there is not much electoral volatility here. In the 2015 election the Conservative slate beat Labour 71-29 in a straight fight; the last time the Tories lost Snettisham was in 2003 when its seats were taken by an independent slate. At county level Snettisham ward is split between two Norfolk county divisions - Dersingham and Docking - which are both safely Conservative.

Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Stuart Dark, a retired Metropolitan Police detective superintendent who was honoured by the police for commanding the UK's initial response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsumani. A Snettisham parish councillor, Dark was elected last year to Norfolk county council for Dersingham division. Labour appear to have given up here, but three other candidates have turned up to contest the by-election: they are Erika Coward of the Liberal Democrats (whose nomination papers, in a bizarre twist, have been signed by local resident, Conservative party member and Norfolk Police and Crime Commissioner Lorne Green), Matthew Hannay of UKIP and Nigel Walker of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: North West Norfolk
Norfolk county council division: Dersingham (part: Ingoldisthorpe, Shernborne and Snettisham parishes); Docking (part: Fring and Sedgeford parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: King's Lynn
Postcode districts: PE31, PE36

Erika Coward (LD)
Stuart Dark (C)
Matthew Hannay (UKIP)
Nigel Walker (Grn)

May 2015 result C 1537/1534 Lab 636/474
May 2013 by-election C 593 UKIP 361 Lab 263
May 2011 result C 1113/969 Lab 494
May 2007 result C 1080/1005 Lab 358
Dec 2004 by-election C 437 LD 247 Lab 121 Ind 120 [C gain from Ind]
May 2003 result Ind 1217/887 C 605/549 Lab 296


Previews: 26 Jul 2018

There are seven by-elections on 26th July 2018, and we have something for everyone this week: a city, big towns, small towns, villages, industry, residential areas, farming. There are four Labour seats up for election, one each for the Tories and Lib Dems, and Britain Elects' favourite type of by-election: a free-for-all. There is strong theme of isolation linking many of our visits this week, and fans of the Channel 4 poverty porn series Skint may recognise a location or two. There are also a couple of betting opportunities, if you're that way inclined. Without further ado, read on as we travel to what the Post Office used to call South Humberside...


Freshney

North East Lincolnshire council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Ray Sutton, who had served since 2011. He is moving away from the district.

https://youtu.be/jc4VxIWXX4w?t=22s

Sacha Baron Cohen has a lot to answer for. It's almost twenty years now (God, that makes me feel old) since The 11 O'Clock Show first aired on Channel 4, bringing the character of Ali G to our screens. For the benefit of those who are too young, too old or too uncool to remember Ali G, his shtick was to conduct a series of interviews, like the one above, with public figures and celebrities with the intention of getting them to say or do something stupid. Despite the fact that his victims over the years have included several prominent Americans, including a rather younger pre-political version of Donald Trump, it would appear that the American political class has learned nothing from the Ali G experience. Baron Cohen has been up to his old tricks recently for his new show Who Is America, prompting several prominent politicians and Sarah Palin to try and get their excuses, fake news or outrage in early.

Outrage, fake or otherwise, is of course a reaction which Baron Cohen will be used to. The Kazakh government were distinctly unimpressed with the mauling their country got at the hands of Borat. Closer to home, the town of Grimsby got the treatment in 2016 with the release of a film of that name where Baron Cohen played a football hooligan. Grimsby got poor reviews and was a financial failure; rather like the film, then.

Now, writing negative things about Grimsby is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. But please don't do that, the town needs the money it can get from processing and selling the fish. This is still an industrial town with all sorts of intractable geographical and structural problems. Together with its twin town of Cleethorpes, Grimsby forms the largest urban area in Lincolnshire; but it's administratively cut off from Lincoln by the fact that it was part of the old Humberside county when that existed. For a location in England Grimsby is surprisingly remote: there is one good road in and out, the notoriously noisy A180 the west, but Hull is more than thirty miles away over the Humber Bridge, Doncaster fifty miles away. The landscape is featureless and the only thing bringing tourist money is the beach at Cleethorpes, which is not the holiday draw it once was. The main industry is fish and fish processing, which is a bit of a problem giving the decline in North Sea fish stocks, the vagaries of the Common Fisheries Policy and the loss of the Cod Wars with Iceland. Other industries are not doing well either: the Tioxide chemical plant, which dominated the seafront on the north-west corner of the town, ceased operation in 2009 and Associated British Ports, who now own the site, are apparently turning it into an enormous car park for vehicle imports and exports. Add all this together and you end up with a town in serious decline, with some of the UK's most deprived neighbourhoods and cheapest property.

The Tioxide chemical plant/car park forms the northern end of Grimsby's Freshney ward. The name comes from the River Freshney, which forms its southern boundary and which emptied into the Humber here until the eighteenth century, when the river was diverted into Grimsby harbour. The ward which the Freshney gives its name to is based on Great Coates, a former village at the western end of Grimsby which was incorporated into the town in 1968 and which has expanded greatly since then. This is a socially divided ward, with the Wybers Wood estate at the south-west end being a very desirable area. If there are any of Jacob Rees-Mogg's upper class living in Freshney ward, that area is probably where they are.

As an electoral unit Freshney ward has unchanged boundaries since 1981, when it was formed as a Humberside county council division. The division and later ward was safe Labour until 2003, since when it has been extremely volatile: in the last fifteen years Freshney has elected councillors from all three main parties and UKIP.

As stated, the fun started in 2003 when the Tories and Lib Dems formed an electoral pact to oust the Labour administration in North East Lincolnshire. It was devastatingly effective: across the district that year Labour had 29.9% of the vote, the Tories 29.8% and the Lib Dems 29.3%, but Labour won only seven out of 42 seats to 16 for the Conservatives and 13 for the Lib Dems. Isn't first-past-the-post wonderful? Three of those Conservatives were elected in Freshney ward, but Labour took two of the Tory seats back in 2004 and 2006.

In 2007 the anti-Labour pact broke down, the Lib Dems started to contest Freshney, and the ward immediately became a very tight three-way marginal. From nowhere in 2006 the Lib Dems gained the remaining Tory seat in 2007 and took a seat off Labour in 2008 for good measure.
The early 2010s were good for Labour, who picked up the Lib Dem seats in 2011 and 2012 - the winner in 2012 was the Lib Dem councillor elected in 2008, who had defected.

But then UKIP made their big breakthrough in Grimsby. The party topped the poll across North East Lincolnshire district in 2014, and won seven of the fifteen seats up for election. That led to speculation that the Kippers could gain the Great Grimsby parliamentary seat in the forthcoming general election; but it didn't work out like that. UKIP instead fell back and Labour held Freshney quite easily in both 2015 and 2016.

But there is one final twist in the tale here. In May's ordinary election the UKIP seat was up and it was duly lost - not to Labour but to the Conservatives, who came from third place to win a seat in Freshney for the first time since 2006. Shares of the vote were 45% for the Conservatives and 41% for Labour. It was one of seven seats the Tories gained in May's election across the district, so the momentum is clearly with them.

Just in case you thought it couldn't get any more interesting, this by-election could be crucial for control of North East Lincolnshire council. Going into the poll Labour and the Conservatives are tied on 18 seats each, with four Lib Dems and an independent holding the balance of power. (UKIP were wiped out in May's election.) Whoever out of Labour and the Tories wins this by-election will become the largest group on the council; and if the Conservatives gain the seat they may seek to oust North East Lincolnshire's minority Labour administration.

So, high stakes. Defending for Labour is Sheldon Mill, an NHS accountant who finished second in Park ward in May's election. The Tories' Steve Holland, a former ship's captain, will be hoping that the recent blue wave in Grimsby will carry him to victory. Also standing are Barry Fisher for UKIP (who returns from May's election), Loyd Emmerson for the Green Party and independent candidate Mick Kiff, who is the only candidate to live in the ward.

You can try and predict the winner with the betting exchange Smarkets: just click here (affiliate link).

Parliamentary constituency: Great Grimsby
ONS Travel to Work Area: Grimsby
Postcode districts: DN31, DN37

Loyd Emmerson (Grn)
Barry Fisher (UKIP)
Steve Holland (C)
Mick Kiff (Ind)
Sheldon Mill (Lab)

May 2018 result C 878 Lab 793 UKIP 180 Grn 83 TUSC 17
May 2016 result Lab 876 UKIP 434 C 386 Grn 68 TUSC 29
May 2015 result Lab 1791 UKIP 1182 C 1133 Grn 136 TUSC 37
May 2014 result UKIP 763 Lab 631 C 394 LD 85 Grn 73 TUSC 32
May 2012 result Lab 1043 C 332 UKIP 332 LD 112 Ind 87
May 2011 result Lab 1011 LD 709 C 469 UKIP 268
May 2010 result Lab 1542 LD 1277 C 1119 UKIP 369
May 2008 result LD 900 Lab 767 C 766
May 2007 result LD 752 C 675 Lab 673 Ind 61
May 2006 double vacancy Lab 969/809 C 936/842
June 2004 result Lab 1005 Ind 857 C 783
May 2003 result C 993/780/755 Lab 737/640/619 Ind 665
May 1999 result Lab 1035/897/821 LD 625/552 C 541
May 1995 result Lab 1476/1354/1267 LD 714/596 Ind 699 C 285
May 1993 Humberside county council result Lab 1155 C 718
May 1989 Humberside county council result Lab 1527 C 1264
May 1985 Humberside county council result Lab 1283 All 857 C 636
May 1981 Humberside county council result Lab 1675 C 955


Knowsley

West Lancashire council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Michelle Aldridge, who was elected only in May and had served on the council for just six weeks.

For our Northern by-election this week we return to West Lancashire district for the second week in a row, following the Tory hold in Hesketh-with-Becconsall last week. This time we move from the villages to the towns: Knowsley ward is the western of the three wards covering the town of Ormskirk.

A market town since the 13th century (so, unlike Skelmersdale), Ormskirk has strong associations with that important family, the Earls of Derby. Knowsley ward itself ultimately takes its name from the Derbys' country seat and safari park outside Liverpool. Several of the Derbys are buried in Ormskirk parish church (the 7th Earl has his head and body in separate caskets, after he made the mistake of going to Bolton), which is also notable for being the only one in the UK to have both a tower and a spire at the same end. The uncrowned Kings of Lancashire did help to promote the town: the future Edward VII, who knew the Derbys, liked Ormskirk's gingerbread so much he sent orders to the local bakeries. Despite the town's reputation for gingerbread Ormskirk doesn't have a manufacturing sector to speak of (so, unlike Skelmersdale); instead its economy is based on services, students at Edge Hill University whose campus is here, and some commuting to the nearest large city, Liverpool.

This gives Knowsley ward somewhat of a commuter demographic (so, unlike Skelmersdale). It also means it comes under the sphere of influence of Liverpool. Now, Ormskirk as a parliamentary seat may have been represented over the years by such giants of the Labour movement as Harold Wilson and Robert Kilroy-Silk; but the town itself was traditionally Tory-inclined. However, Liverpool and its surrounding districts have swung a mile to the left since the Coalition was formed, and Ormskirk has not been immune from that. From being safe Conservative, Knowsley ward turned marginal in 2010 and has consistently voted Labour since 2012. By 2015 Labour had made it safe, and two months ago Aldridge was elected for her first term with a 51-34 lead over the Conservatives.

We have reached mid-July before getting to the first by-election caused by the resignation of a councillor newly-elected in May, which by recent standards is pretty good going. When UKIP were in their pomp there would normally be a vacancy or two within a week of the count finishing. Defending for Labour is Gareth Dowling, former president of Edge Hill students' union and a former West Lancashire councillor; he was elected for this ward in 2014 but didn't seek re-election in May. This is a good chance for Dowling to get back quickly. The Tories' Jeffrey Vernon returns from May's election, as does Kate Mitchell of the localist party Our West Lancashire; she completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: West Lancashire
Lancashire county council division: Ormskirk
ONS Travel to Work Area: Liverpool
Postcode district: L39

Gareth Dowling (Lab)
Kate Mitchell (Our West Lancs)
Jeffrey Vernon (C)

May 2018 result Lab 1014 C 673 Our West Lancs 306
May 2016 result Lab 1063 C 744 Our West Lancs 173 Grn 85
May 2015 result Lab 1512 C 1125 UKIP 316 Grn 188 Our West Lancs 186
May 2014 result Lab 913 C 885 Grn 224
May 2012 result Lab 981 C 711 Grn 161
May 2011 result C 964 Lab 820 Grn 210
May 2010 result C 1535 Lab 1331 Grn 294
May 2008 result C 1003 Lab 357 Grn 211
May 2007 result C 885 Lab 506 Grn 196
May 2006 result C 1062 Lab 409 Grn 225
June 2004 result C 1360 Lab 652 Grn 204
May 2003 result C 730 Lab 415 Grn 145
May 2002 result C 1059/1010/913 Lab 635/541


Gurnos

Merthyr Tydfil council, Glamorgan; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Rhonda Braithwaite who had served since 2012.

Croeso i Gymru. Croeso i Ferthyr Tudful. Croeso i'r Gurnos. By God, Merthyr and the Gurnos get a bad press. The Daily Mail were in town in 2011 reporting that Merthyr had a life expectancy of 58.8 years, lower than Iraq or Haïti. It sounded too good to be true, and it was: the 58.8 years figure related to healthy life expectancy. Rather out of character for the Mail to print something that isn't true, but anyway.

Nonetheless the Gurnos (GEER-noss would be a good English-language phonetic rendering) has long had a reputation as one of the most notorious estates in Wales. Built in the 1950s by Merthyr Tydfil council, and expanded in the 1970s through the building of what is still called the New Estate, the Gurnos lies a mile or two to the north of Merthyr town centre just below the Heads of the Valleys road. It is not a healthy place. In the 2011 census Gurnos division made the top 15 wards in England and Wales for long-term sickness and disability (14% of the workforce). It was also in the top 20 for adults with no qualifications (a staggering 47%), in the top 80 for the ONS routine employment category (15% of the workforce) and in the top 100 for social renting (49% of households). Manufacturing was and remains the main local job source, but the retreat from Merthyr of Hoover (who once employed 5,000 people in the town), Birmingham Small Arms, Lines Brothers toys and other manufacturers, not to mention the mines and steelworks, has taken its toll. According to a Sun report last year a fifth of the Gurnos' population were on benefits. All three of its census districts are in the most deprived 10% in Wales. The largest employer in the Gurnos now is the Prince of Wales Hospital, a small NHS district hospital.

This sort of reputation is a magnet for journalists and TV companies who want to make a quick profit from the sort of poverty porn programmes we have seen in recent years. April 2015 saw the broadcast of the third series of Channel 4's Skint, filmed on the Gurnos shortly after the programme-makers had given Grimsby the same dubious treatment. (As if Grimsby hasn't suffered enough.) The 2017 Sun report made clear that locals were seriously unhappy with how the Gurnos was portrayed in Skint, and pointed to regeneration in the area and a feeling that things have changed for the better on the estate.

Hopefully so. But this is a psephological blog and we have to discuss elections sooner or later. The Gurnos elects four councillors to Merthyr Tydfil council, and since 1999 it has been closely fought at council level between Labour and independent candidates. At the last Welsh local elections in 2017 the Independents and Labour split the Gurnos' four seats equally, with the independents having the upper hand 55-45 in vote terms; the independents gained control of Merthyr council in 2017, so Labour have the luxury of running in opposition here for once. It has been 25 years since anybody other than Labour or an independent contested the division; the last party to try was Plaid Cymru, which stood here in the last Mid Glamorgan county council election in 1993.

Defending for Labour is Allyn Hooper, who is described in his election literature as FROM the Gurnos FOR the Gurnos; in his spare time he is an author writing fantasy, science fiction and horror stories. There are two independent candidates, but the stronger one is local resident Jeremy Davies who was interviewed in the 2017 Sun article; Davies moved to Bridgend a few years ago, didn't like it, and came back to the Gurnos where he is a volunteer at 3GS, the local regeneration and development trust. The other independent candidate is Dillan Singh, who gives an address down the valley in Aberfan. Somehow the Conservatives have managed to find ten people on the Gurnos who are prepared to nominate a Tory, although the party must now be wondering why they bothered; they have had to disown Laurel Ellis for Islamophobic stuff on her Facebook, but it was too late for her to withdraw and she will still complete the ballot paper as the Conservative candidate.

Again, you can try and predict the winner with the betting exchange Smarkets: just click here (affiliate link).

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Merthyr Tydfil and Rhynmey
Postcode districts: CF47, CF48
ONS Travel to Work Area: Merthyr Tydfil

Jeremy Davies (Ind)
Laurel Ellis (C)
Allyn Hooper (Lab)
Dillan Singh (Ind)

May 2017 result Ind 659/486/403/368 Lab 541/479/423/421
May 2015 by-election Lab 706 Ind 698 Ind 340
May 2012 result Lab 591/586/496/492 Ind 500/419/417/408
May 2008 result Ind 610/603/481 Lab 489/481/443/383
June 2004 result Lab 567/530/491/457 People Before Politics 432/430/418/372 Ind 253
May 1999 result Ind 743/548 Lab 681/635/619/531
May 1995 result Lab 1020/993/914/888 Ind Residents 256/180
May 1993 Mid Glamorgan county council result Lab 724 PC 163 Ind Lab 37
May 1991 result Lab 946/870/837/804 PC 630
May 1989 Mid Glamorgan county council result Lab unopposed
May 1987 result 4 Lab unopposed
May 1986 result Lab 850 PC 374
May 1984 result Lab 1054/987 PC 705/688
May 1983 result Lab 875/854/850/831 PC 608/595/522/496


Birchington South

Thanet council, Kent; caused by the death of Alan Howes, a former taxi driver, at the age of 72. He had served since 2015, and was originally elected for UKIP but had been sitting as an independent.

From the Valleys we move to the coast for the first of our two by-elections in the South East of England. We start in Kent with Birchington-on-Sea, the westernmost of the resort towns on the north Thanet coast; this is the landward of Birchington's two wards. If the Gurnos' problem is low life expectancy, Birchington has the opposite issue: 34% of its population are aged 65 or over and 28% of the workforce are retired. One famous person associated with Birchington who never got to that age was the pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who is buried here.

Rossetti's grave no doubt brings some admirers to Birchington; however, another draw to the town now is the collection of the Northumberland Fusilier, African hunter and conservationist Percy Powell-Cotton. His home, Quex House in Quex Park, has been turned into a museum dedicated to his and his daughters' natural history and ethnography collections; the Powell-Cotton Museum is described as one of the oldest dead zoos in the world and, with the Koninklijke Museum voor Midden-Afrika in Belgium still closed for renovation and modernisation, it has a claim to being one of the largest dead zoos in Europe at the moment. The Powell-Cotton Museum is definitely going on the list of places covered by Andrew's Previews which sound so intriguing that I'm going to have to visit at some point.

Brichington is on the Isle of Thanet, which already had local politics of Byzantine complexity before Nigel Farage and UKIP came on the scene. The 2011 Thanet election had returned a hung council; a minority Tory administration was deposed mid-term following defections and by-election losses, and Labour took over with a minority administration of their own. In the 2015 election UKIP rode the coat-tails of Nigel Farage to win a majority on the council from almost nothing: the Kippers had 33 seats to 18 for the Conservatives, just 4 Labour and one independent. Large UKIP council groups have not generally been noted for such boring concepts as cohesion and internal discipline, and so it was in Thanet: the Thanet Kippers have split down the middle, just 13 of the 33 UKIP councillors elected in 2015 are still in the party, and the Conservatives are now in minority control. Those 33 UKIP seats in 2015 included all three seats in Birchington South ward, which in 2011 had returned two Conservatives and an independent: 2015 shares of the vote were 34% for UKIP, 28% for the Conservatives, 19% for the independent slate and 13% for Labour. The ward is part of the Birchington and Rural division of Kent county council, which returned two Conservatives in the 2017 county elections; one of the Tory councillors died later that year and the resulting by-election, held in January, was a very easy Conservative hold.

UKIP are not defending this seat and there is no independent candidate either, so we have a free-for-all. Best placed to gain is the Conservatives' Linda Wright, a retired dental practice manager and former Thanet councillor for the neighbouring Thanet Villages ward, which she represented from 2011 to 2015. She presently sits on Birchington-on-Sea parish council. The Labour candidate is Helen Whitehead, a former school deputy head who, as a sufferer of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and spinal arthritis, is campaigning hard on health and disability issues. Completing an all-female ballot paper is RAF veteran Hannah Lloyd-Bowyer, standing for the Liberal Democrats.

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

Hannah Lloyd-Bowyer (LD)
Helen Whitehead (Lab)
Linda Wright (C)

May 2015 result UKIP 1348/1277/1273 C 1091/1056/923 Ind 767/581/302 Lab 520/518 LD 221/187
May 2011 result C 1171/1079/900 Ind 1023 Lab 499/433
May 2007 result C 1106/968/890 Ind 819 Lab 317/310/286
May 2003 result C 1133/996/924 Lab 452/409 Ind 448/370


Fawley, Blackfield and Langley

New Forest council, Hampshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Bob Wappett who had served since 2007.

For our second South East by-election we have struck oil. This ward covers the south bank of Southampton Water at the point where it meets the Solent; a sparsely-populated area rather cut off from the rest of Hampshire by Southampton Water, over which there is no bridge or other crossing. That sense of isolation might have been appreciated by the inhabitants of the remote South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha, who were evacuated here in the wake of the volcanic eruption of 1960.

The Tristanians ended up in an RAF base at the village of Calshot, on a promontory which marks the southern end of Southampton Water. This is an obvious strategic military point, and Calshot was fortified in 1539 on the orders of Henry VIII; Calshot Castle, and the RAF flying boat base which developed next to it in the early twentieth century, remained in military use until 1961 when the Tristanians moved in. The castle is now open to the public. Calshot is part of the New Forest National Park, as is the Lepe Country Park on the Solent Coast.

Have I fooled you into thinking that is a country paradise? Well, that bit is only half of the ward. This is one of Hampshire's most industrial wards thanks to the presence of the Fawley Refinery. This has been going since 1921, when it was founded on a sparsely-populated site on the shore of Southampton Water. It was a good location, as the seawater was important for the refining process while also allowing crude oil tankers to supply the site directly; in addition, ocean liners and other ships sailing from Southampton could simply cross the water for refuelling. Now in the hands of ExxonMobil, Fawley is the largest oil refinery in the UK. processing up to 270,000 barrels of oil a day. It employs 2,300 people, and those jobs propel Fawley, Blackfield and Langley into the top 60 wards in England and Wales for apprenticeship qualifications and the "lower supervisory, technical" occupation group.

Despite all that industry Labour are not organised here. Fawley, Blackfield and Langley ward voted Lib Dem in 2003 but was gained by the Conservatives in 2007 and now looks safe Tory. In 2015 the Conservatives polled 43% here to 31% for UKIP and 14% for the Lib Dems; the ward is part of the South Waterside county division which is safely Conservative.

UKIP have not contested this by-election providing us with a straight fight. Defending in the blue corner is Merv Langdale, a Fawley parish councillor; challenging from the yellow corner is Craig Fletcher.

Parliamentary constituency: New Forest East
Hampshire county council division: South Waterside
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southampton
Postcode district: SO45

Craig Fletcher (LD)
Merv Langdale (C)

May 2015 result C 1551/1402 UKIP 1118 LD 519/334 Lab 452
May 2011 result C 1417/1215 LD 671/591
May 2007 result C 1061/974 LD 777/698
May 2003 result LD 1011/921 C 680/584


Stoke

Plymouth council, Devon; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Philippa Davey, who is taking up a new role as a special constable with Devon and Cornwall Police. She had served since 2011.

We travel to the South West, to the largest city in Devon and the most isolated city in England. Stoke Damerel is located in the west of Plymouth, roughly occupying the area between the city centre and Devonport dockyard; Devonport railway station lies at the western end of the ward, Plymouth intercity railway station just off the eastern corner. This area was mostly built up by 1900 and has an unusual tenure pattern, with large amounts of private renting.

Stoke ward, like Plymouth as a whole, is closely fought between Labour and the Conservatives. The Tories carried the ward from 2006 to 2010, but Labour are now in the ascendancy in Stoke as they are across Plymouth. The Labour party gained control of Plymouth city council in May's election, and in Stoke ward they beat the Conservatives in May by 53% to 33%.

So there are good reasons for Labour to be confident about this poll. Their defending candidate is Jemima Laing, a freelance writer, former solicitor and former BBC journalist who fought Moor View ward in May's elections. Laing has had the big guns out working on her campaign: her sister-in-law, Wirral councillor Gillian Wood, reportedly travelled here all the way from Birkenhead to help out. The Tory candidate is Kathy Watkin, another ex-solicitor who has recently retired; she fought the ward in May's ordinary election. The ballot paper is completed by Liberal Democrat candidate Connor Clarke, and by Iuliu Popescu, who fought Drake ward in May for the anti-Islamic For Britain Movement; Popescu is now standing for a new party, Active for Plymouth, which is fighting its first election campaign.

On a personal level, I cannot resist a shoutout to Plymouth councillor Jonny Morris, who as well as being the Labour election agent here is one of Andrew's Previews' most diehard fans. If your life is missing a bit of animal magic, Jonny Morris can rectify that: he runs the highly-recommended Twitter account "Pets for Labour" which proves yet again that the internet is made of cats. As can be seen, Morris' own "special adviser" Max has been hard at work on the campaign...

Parliamentary constituency: Plymouth Sutton and Devonport
ONS Travel to Work Area: Plymouth
Postcode districts: PL1, PL2, PL3, PL4

Connor Clarke (LD)
Jemima Laing (Lab)
Iuliu Popescu (Active for Plymouth)
Kathy Watkin (C)

May 2018 result Lab 1915 C 1219 Grn 186 LD 184 UKIP 143
May 2016 result Lab 1645 C 964 UKIP 506 LD 209
May 2015 result Lab 2299 C 2150 UKIP 930 Grn 637 LD 298 TUSC 63
May 2014 result Lab 1333 C 814 UKIP 802 Grn 333 Ind 279 TUSC 55
May 2012 result Lab 1602 C 1205 UKIP 443 LD 197
May 2011 result Lab 1875 C 1492 UKIP 520
May 2010 result C 2030 Lab 1880 LD 1335 UKIP 542 Grn 209
May 2008 result C 1500 Lab 1014 LD 382 Grn 347
May 2007 result C 1459 Lab 1182 LD 595 UKIP 223 Grn 217
May 2006 result C 1358 Lab 1232 LD 552 Grn 338
June 2004 result Lab 1259 C 915 UKIP 653 LD 504 Grn 230
May 2003 result Lab 1128/1045/1007 C 935/926/877 LD 506/469/422 Grn 287 Plymouth Party 178/170


Hartland and Bradworthy

Torridge council, Devon; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Jane Leaper, who had served since winning a by-election in June 2017.

From the south-west corner of Devon we travel to the north-west corner. The very north-west corner of Devon is Hartland Point, a 325-foot cliff marking the point where the Bristol Channel ends and the Atlantic Ocean begins. The point has been important to navigation since the days of the Romans: it appears on Ptolemy's world map under the name of "Hercules Promontory", and there is a lighthouse and air traffic control radar station atop the cliff.

Inland from the point lies the village of Hartland, which until Tudor times had an important harbour on the south side of the point. This has been a holy place since ancient times, when a cult grew up around the shrine of St Nectan of Hartland, who died here around AD 510; around 1050 Gytha, countess of Wessex (and mother of Harold Godwinson, who would later become the last Saxon king of England), founded a church at Stoke-by-Hartland dedicated to St Nectan. This was replaced in the fourteenth century by a grand church in the Gothic style which claims to have Devon's tallest church tower. Mary Norton, author of The Borrowers, is buried here. Hartland is also important to science: the British Geological Survey maintain a magnetic observatory at Hartland, which makes continuous measurements of the strength and direction of the Earth's magnetic field. Further to the south-east, around the northern end of Cornmwall, is Bradworthy which claims to have England's largest village square.

Remoteness has been a bit of theme in Andrew's Previews this week, but they do not get much more remote than this particular corner of England. That's reflected in the ward's census return, where Hartland and Bradworthy is in the top 25 wards in England and Wales for the "small employers, own account" occupational group and in the top 30 for self-employment. It's also reflected in the ward's election results, which tend to be personality-driven rather than party political. In party political terms, the ward elected two independent councillors in 2003 without a contest; the Lib Dems gained one seat in 2007 and the other in 2011, but then didn't contest the 2015 election which elected an independent (on 49% of the vote) and a UKIP candidate (on 26%); the Greens (who had the other 25%) narrowly missed out. The UKIP councillor died last year, and the resulting by-election - held on the snap general election day - was bizarrely a straight fight between the Lib Dems and the Green Party, the Lib Dem candidate Jane Leaper prevailing 57-43. Leaper has now resigned, prompting the second Hartland and Bradworthy by-election in as many years. The Conservatives hold the two local county council seats, Holsworthy Rural (which covers Bradworthy) and Bideford West and Hartland; the latter was a gain from UKIP in 2017.

Goodness knows what's going to happen here. Defending for the Lib Dems this time is Martin Hill, a parish councillor just to the east in Woolsery (or, if you prefer the alternative spelling, Woolfardisworthy). The other two candidates are both from Bradworthy: parish councillor John Sanders returns for the Green Party after contesting last year's by-election, while the Bradworthy parish council chairman Richard Boughton has entered the fray with the Conservative nomination.

Parliamentary constituency: Torridge and West Devon
Devon county council division: Bideford West and Hartland (part: Hartland and Welcombe parishes), Holsworthy Rural (part: Bradworthy parish)
Postcode districts: EX22, EX23, EX39

Richard Boughton (C)
Martin Hill (LD)
John Sanders (Grn)

June 2017 by-election LD 973 Grn 720
May 2015 result Ind 1114 UKIP 598 Grn 567
May 2011 result LD 494/473 C 401/245 Ind 271 UKIP 188 Grn 177
May 2007 result LD 657 Ind 598/363 UKIP 245 Grn 195
May 2003 result 2 Ind unopposed


Previews: 19 Jul 2018

By-elections on 19th July 2018:


Saron

Carmarthenshire council, Wales; caused by the death of Plaid Cymru councillor Alun Davies at the age of 60. He had served since 2012 and was chairman of the local constituency branch of Plaid; away from politics he was a fundraiser for the Welsh Air Ambulance.

It may feel like summer has been going on for months, but the local by-election season is only now starting to wind down in advance of the summer holidays. There are six polls this week, three in the South Midlands, two in Lancashire and one in Wales, with which we start.

For our Welsh poll we are in rural Carmarthenshire. The Saron division covers five villages immediately to the west of Ammanford, a former coal-mining town and now one of the main centres of eastern Carmarthenshire. For some reason Ammanford appears on the map above under its Welsh name, Rhydaman. Despite the division's name the largest centre of population is not Saron but Capel Hendre, a pit village of quite recent vintage: the Lyndsey Colliery operated in Capel Hendre from the 1960s to 1992, and its site is now occupied by a business park.

We're now a generation or two on from that which worked in the mines here, and that's reflected in a declining Labour vote. Since the creation of the modern Carmarthenshire council in 1995 Saron has been competitive between Labour and Plaid Cymru, who hold the local constituency (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) at both Westminster and Senedd level. In the 2016 Senedd election Plaid's Adam Price returned to politics after a few years away, easily holding the Carmarthen East seat; fourth in that election and elected to Cardiff Bay from the list was UKIP's Welsh leader Neil Hamilton, the former Tory MP who had lived in Ammanford for some years in his youth.

Plaid followed up in 2017 by winning both seats in Saron division for the first time since 1999 (the 2004, 2008 and 2012 elections had seen Labour win one seat out of two). Shares of the vote were 49% for Plaid and 36% for Labour.

Defending for Plaid Cymru is Alun Davies' widow Karen, who chairs the local community council (Llandybie). Labour have gone for youth in selecting 25-year-old activist Tom Fallows, a recent graduate in philosophy and religious studies from the University of Roehampton. Completing the ballot are Aled Crow for the Conservatives and the division's first ever Liberal Democrat candidate, Caryl Tandy.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

Aled Crow (C)
Karen Davies (PC)
Tom Fallows (Lab)
Caryl Tandy (LD)

May 2017 result PC 810/679 Lab 588/439 C 240/181
May 2012 result Lab 720 PC 616/524 Ind 365 C 95
May 2008 result PC 889/680 Lab 856
June 2004 result PC 786/682 Lab 754/621
May 1999 result PC 920/793 Lab 754/582
May 1995 result Lab 800 PC 677


Bletchley East

Milton Keynes council, Buckinghamshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Alan Webb who had served since 2012, originally being elected for Eaton Manor ward before transferring here in boundary changes in 2014.

Despite that rural Welsh start it's the towns and cities of the southern Midlands which dominate Andrew's Previews this week, and we start our consideration with one of the oldest parts of one of the newest towns. The village of Fenny Stratford lay on Watling Street, which in Roman times was the main route from London to the North; the Romans had a settlement here called Magiovinium from which archaeologists have extracted one of the UK's oldest known coins, a gold Roman stater dated to the middle of the second century BC. James I gave Fenny Stratford a market charter, but the town was badly hit by the Great Plague, lost its market and didn't really recover until the nineteenth century. By that Fenny Stratford was in the shadow of Bletchley, a neighbouring town which was a major railway junction, and never found its independent former glory again.

Population growth came in the 1960s with the development to the south of the Lakes estate, which was built by the Greater London Council to take London overspill and essentially consumed the pre-existing village of Water Eaton. So by the time Milton Keynes New Town was designated in 1967, this ward was already nearly fully developed. The only existing space was north of Watling Street, which mostly got turned into industrial units: there is a large Tesco distribution centre here within the ward boundary.

Milton Keynes is still growing and consequently gets new ward boundaries on a regular basis. At the 2011 census most of this area was in Eaton Manor ward, which was the Lakes estate and whose census return still screams "isolated council estate". Eaton Manor was in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for the under-16 age bracket; Milton Keynes does have lots of jobs for when those kids grow up, but this is definitely one of the working-class ends of the New City. The 2014 boundary changes brought in Fenny Stratford, a more upmarket area which was previously in the Bletchley and Fenny Stratford ward. As can be seen, the name "Bletchley East" is a little misleading.

Eaton Manor was a very safe Labour ward, but Bletchley and Fenny Stratford was a Tory-inclined marginal. The new Bletchley East has turned into a Labour ward, but not a safe one: at its first election in 2014 UKIP won one of the three seats on offer. The Kippers lost their seat to Labour in 2015, but the May 2018 result - 48% for Labour and 39% for the Conservatives - suggests that there is still work to do for the red team here. There's also work to do for the Conservatives: the ward is part of the Milton Keynes South constituency, whose Tory MP Iain Stewart is sitting on a majority of just 1,725.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have selected strong candidates. Defending for Labour is Emily Darlington, a businesswoman and trade unionist who fought the marginal seat of Milton Keynes North in the 2015 general election. The Conservative candidate Angela Kennedy is a former Milton Keynes councillor for the old Bletchley and Fenny Stratford ward. Also standing are Jo Breen for the Green Party (returning from May), Richard Greenwood for the Liberal Democrats and Vince Peddle for UKIP.

And there's one more development to report. If after reading this you'd like to stake some money on the outcome, you can. Your columnist has been in discussions with the betting exchange Smarkets, who have opened a betting market on the winner of the Bletchley East by-election. If you would like to have a flutter, go here for the link and all the instructions.

Parliamentary constituency: Milton Keynes South

Jo Breen (Grn)
Emily Darlington (Lab)
Richard Greenwood (LD)
Angela Kennedy (C)
Vince Peddle (UKIP)

May 2018 result Lab 1483 C 1218 Grn 249 LD 154
May 2016 double vacancy Lab 1434/1088 UKIP 972 C 872/659 LD 190/130
May 2015 result Lab 2105 C 1950 UKIP 1203 Grn 304 LD 239
May 2014 result Lab 1175/1078/1056 UKIP 1077/852 C 899 Grn 444/412/316 LD 121/97


St George

Northamptonshire county council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Rachel Cooley after just a year in office.

Chalk, meet cheese. Cheese, say hello to chalk. For our second South Midlands by-election we travel to a division of Northampton whose urban nature conceals some interesting social divides.

The St George county division is centred on The Racecourse, a former centre for horse-racing. The Northampton Racecourse had tight bends and public paths crossing the course, which made it rather dangerous; after a fatal accident in 1904 involving spectators, the Jockey Club had had enough and the course closed. With it closed the Kingsley Park Hotel, a pub on the corner of the park which was owned by the Jockey Club and lay empty until the 1920s; as a result the pub, and the road junction it stood on, became known as the White Elephant.

The area to the north of the White Elephant was developed for housing in the 1930s as the Kingsley Park estate, and now forms the Kingsley ward of Northampton. At the time it would have been at the edge of town; but New Town development in the postwar years means this is no longer the case. This is fairly undistinguished Middle England, full of the sort of swing voters the major parties like to court.

The same cannot be said of the western end of the St George division. This is Semilong, which despite the name is not a district of long semis; it consists of tightly-packed Victorian terraces immediately to the north of Northampton town centre, running down the hill from the Racecourse to the railway line. At the top of the hill is Northampton's Catholic cathedral, dedicated not to St George but to Saints Mary and Thomas. Those terraces don't claim much allegiance to the flag of St George either: Semilong has seen massive population growth in recent years thanks to immigration. In the 2011 census it was in the top 60 wards in England and Wales for those born in the new EU states: the proportion then was 11.5% and it's almost certainly higher now. Poles are particularly strongly represented, and the census return also picked up significant proportions of Chinese, Somalis, Russian-speakers and Gujurati-speakers. Given that Semilong doesn't have many obvious new erections or developments, one suspects that either the terraces are being subdivided into flats or HMOs are a problem here, or both.

So, an interesting mix. The division is split between the two Northampton parliamentary seats, which are both key marginals: the Tories held Northampton North (which covers Kingsley) last year by just 807 votes and Northampton South (which covers Semilong) by 1,159 votes. Despite that it was the Lib Dems which made the local running in Northampton during the Noughties: however, their borough administration became deeply unpopular and they crashed and burned in the 2011 borough election. Nonetheless the Lib Dems did win St George in the first election to be held on these boundaries in 2013, although it was with a low share of the vote: just 32%, to 28% for Labour, 22% for UKIP and 14% for the Conservatives. In the run-up to last year's general election Labour gained St George division, polling 40% to 30% for the Lib Dems and 22% for the Conservatives.

A look at the Northampton council results reveals that Labour hold all of the three wards covering the division. Semilong is the best Lib Dem ward, while Trinity ward (which covers the Racecourse) is a three-way marginal. The Tories' best ward is Kingsley but their attempts to win St George are stymied by the fact that they can't get their vote in Semilong to rise. The well-publicised financial travails of the Tory-run Northamptonshire county council and a huge scandal involving their borough council administration won't help either. Essentially, Northampton Council loaned an eight-figure sum to Northampton Town football club for a stadium redevelopment; but the redevelopment was never finished and the club nearly went belly-up, which raises rather obvious and surprisingly difficult questions about where all the money went. The loan was signed off by then council leader David Mackintosh, who was subsequently elected as MP for Northampton South in 2015 and then was effectively forced to stand down from Parliament over the scandal at the snap election two years later. Last week Northampton council were in court, suing the former football club owner David Cardoza in an attempt to get some of their taxpayers' money back; by coincidence Cardoza's lawyer in those proceedings was Emma Edhem, who appeared in this column a couple of weeks back in a successful attempt to be elected as an Alderman of the City of London.

Defending for Labour is Anjona Roy, an equality activist and Corbynite who last year lost the Labour selection contest for Northampton North (to Sally Keeble, the MP for the seat during the Blair and Brown years, who lost in 2010 and has been trying to get back ever since). The Lib Dem candidate is Martin Sawyer, who performed decently in a borough by-election for Eastfield ward last year. The Conservatives have tried to cover their weak points in the division by selecting someone who no doubt has a good knowledge of the area through her work: she is Ausra Uzukauskaite, a letting agent. Completing the ballot paper are Andy Smiles for UKIP and Scott Marbutt for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Northampton North (part); Northampton South (part)
Northampton council wards: Semilong (part), Trinity (part), Kingsley (part)

Scott Marbutt (Grn)
Anjona Roy (Lab)
Martin Sawyer (LD)
Andy Smiles (UKIP)
Ausra Uzukauskaite (C)

May 2017 result Lab 999 LD 741 C 554 UKIP 185
May 2013 result LD 771 Lab 671 UKIP 553 C 334 Grn 126


Headington

Oxford council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Ruth Wilkinson who had served since 2008.

Just when you thought it was safe to go into the polling station...

No, I don't intend to jump the shark just yet. This is Untitled 1986, or 2 New High Street, Headington, which for almost 32 years has been surprising visitors to Oxford. My thanks to Wikipedia for the photograph.

The Headington Shark lies at the centre of Headington, an eastern suburb of the city of Oxford along the road to London. This is an old area - Stone Age remains have been found by archaeologists, and there was a hunting lodge here for the Anglo-Saxon kings - but its development got going in the early twentieth century, before Headington was incorporated into Oxford in 1929. The ward's economy is dominated by those twin behemoths of left-wing policy, health and education; and Headington is an internationally-noted centre for medical research. Within the boundary are Oxford's main hospital, the John Radcliffe; the Nuffield Orthpaedic Centre; and Ruskin College, which is affiliated to Oxford University and specialises in educating adults with few or no qualifications. Partly because of that history Ruskin College has educated a large number of Labour MPs including two currently serving, Dennis Skinner and Judith Cummins; John Prescott, deputy prime minister under Tony Blair, is another Ruskin College alumnus.

The noted philologist and Lancashire Fusilier J R R Tolkein lived in Headington ward for some years, and he was one of many Oxford dons who have settled in the ward. Over 60% of Headington's workforce hold degrees, a figure in the top 50 wards in England and Wales; and Headington also makes the top 75 for the census "higher management/professional" occupational group.

This column has seen many wards where the Liberal Democrats were competitive or dominant until the Coalition and collapsed thereafter; but Headington is an unusual example of that treatment being meted out to the Conservatives. The Tories polled decently in Headington during the Noughties, and in 2008 came within eighteen votes of beating Ruth Wilkinson at her first election. That was and remains the closest the party has come to winning a council seat in Oxford since the 1990s. Labour took over second place in 2010 but it's a rather distant second: in May the Lib Dems were winning here by the score of 61% to 27%. The local county council seat, Headington and Quarry, is also safely Liberal Democrat.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Stef Garden; as an NHS nurse she is a perfect fit for the ward's employment profile. The Labour candidate is Simon Ottino, a schoolteacher. Completing the ballot paper are Georgina Gibbs for the Conservatives and Ray Hitchins for the Green Party.

Oxfordshire county council division: Headington and Quarry

Stef Garden (LD)
Georgina Gibbs (C)
Ray Hitchins (Grn)
Simon Ottino (Lab)

May 2018 result LD 1140 Lab 504 C 117 Grn 100
May 2016 result LD 1100 Lab 437 C 172 Grn 134
May 2014 result LD 946 Lab 514 C 234 Grn 181
May 2012 result LD 983 Lab 557 C 178 Grn 111
May 2010 result LD 1297 Lab 761 C 572 Grn 275
May 2008 result LD 564 C 548 Lab 266 Grn 215
May 2006 result LD 948 C 285 Lab 216 Grn 162
June 2004 result LD 1061 C 343 Lab 193 Grn 150
May 2002 result LD 637/597 C 459/427 Lab 312/306 Grn 150/112 Socialist Alliance 64


Hesketh-with-Becconsall

West Lancashire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Paul Moon who had served since 2016.

For our rural English by-election we are in a little-visited corner of Lancashire. Look at a map of Lancashire and one thing which sticks out is that there is no crossing of the Ribble estuary downstream of Preston; and one good reason for that is that the estuary's banks are extensive saltmarsh on both sides. The south side is particularly indented thanks to the Douglas estuary, which joins that of the Ribble; between the Douglas and the town of Southport lie a series of small and rather isolated agricultural villages, the so-called Marsh Towns, of which the largest is Hesketh Bank. Hesketh Bank is known for a steam railway museum, and not an awful lot else. As can be seen there's lots of water around here, but unfortunately little of it is drinkable; and as a result of the current dry and hot weather the local water company, United Utilities, is about to impose a hosepipe ban. Fun news for the local farmers.

Although the main service centre for the Marsh Towns is Southport, they are in the South Ribble constituency with Leyland, and they have Preston postcodes, Hesketh Bank lies rather uneasily in the West Lancashire local government district which is based on Ormskirk and Skelmersdale to the south. Which probably rather adds to their sense of isolation. Looking at West Lancs' local election results takes you into a bit of a timewarp, as none of the parties outside the big two are organised here and the level of polarisation between the districts' wards is something to behold. There are wards in Skelmersdale where Labour break 90% in a good year, and village-based wards which can easily turn in an 80% Tory vote.

Hesketh-with-Becconsall is a Tory ward but not to that extent. There have no changes to its boundaries since West Lancashire's founding electoral arrangements in 1973, in which it returned an independent councillor who lost to the Conservatives in 1976. The Tory vote was split by an Independent Conservative in 1984 leading to Hesketh-with-Becconsall being lost to the Liberal-SDP Alliance by just two votes; the Alliance councillor was re-elected in 1988 but lost his seat back to the Conservatives in 1992. Hesketh-with-Becconsall has been consistently Conservative since then, and was granted a second councillor by the Boundary Commission in 2002.

The ward's results since 2010 have all been in the range 60-70% for the Conservatives and 30-40% for Labour, with May's election putting the Tory lead at 60-31. That election saw the Lib Dems contest the ward for the first time since 1992 - and there are good reasons for Labour and the Lib Dems to put some work in here even though a win looks unlikely. If the Boundary Commission proposals go through this ward will transfer into the Southport constituency, which after some huge vote swings in the last couple of years is suddenly looking like a three-way marginal. In May Labour broke through to win council seats in Southport for the first time in decades, so clearly something is going on in the town. One to watch for the future.

Another fly in the ointment is that this by-election might be seen as unnecessary. The outgoing councillor Paul Moon was elected in 2016, at which point he was already a Wyre borough councillor for Preesall ward, on the northern coast of the Fylde peninsula. Preesall is over thirty miles from Hesketh Bank by road, and that will take over an hour to drive even if the traffic in Preston town centre is in a good mood. Perhaps not surprisingly Moon has found that he can't handle both representative jobs at once.

So we have a by-election. Defending for the Conservatives is Joan Witter. The other two candidates both give addresses in Hesketh Bank: Nick Kemp returns from May's election for Labour, and Hesketh-with-Becconsall parish councillor Steve Kirby is standing as an independent.

Parliamentary constituency: South Ribble
Lancashire county council division: West Lancashire North

Nick Kemp (Lab)
Steve Kirby (Ind)
Joan Witter (C)

May 2018 result C 622 Lab 322 LD 97
May 2016 result C 578 Lab 333
May 2014 result C 743 Lab 358
May 2012 result C 544 Lab 300
May 2010 result C 1339 Lab 612
May 2008 result C unopposed
May 2006 result C 844 Lab 149
June 2004 result C 820 Ind 466
May 2002 result C 607/592 Ind 295/285 Lab 113
May 2000 result C 622 Ind 330 Natural Law 9
May 1996 result C 707 Lab 401 Natural Law 13
May 1992 result C 747 LD 600 Lab 42
May 1988 result SLD 753 C 453 Lab 61
May 1984 result All 392 C 390 Lab 162 Ind C 133
May 1980 result C unopposed
May 1976 result C 748 Ind 439
May 1973 result Ind 671 C 389


Besses

Bury council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Elizabeth Fitzgerald who had served since 2012.

The BBC have annoyed a lot of politics types this week, with the announcement of cuts to the programming of the BBC Parliament TV channel. The channel's original content is being discontinued, and there will no longer be broadcasts of any sort during weeks when Parliament and the devolved assemblies are not sitting. Professional politicians will have noted that this will mean the end of live broadcasts of the party conferences; amateur psephologists will fear that BBC Parliament's occasional practice of indulging us with repeats of historic election nights may have come to an end. Both of those groups will surely agree that this move is regrettable.

It's not the only BBC programming cut which has annoyed your columnist this year. A couple of months ago, a reorganisation of the Radio 2 schedules spelt an end to a programme which has been going in some form or other since 1946, Listen to the Band. Psephologists may have politicians to speak up for them, but the brass band movement doesn't enjoy that advantage.

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

Which is a shame, for brass banding has a rich and long history to call its own. As the clip above shows, it was once seen as sufficiently important for the BBC to devote half an hour of TV time to high-quality but amateur ensembles like the Besses o' th' Barn Band. Besses have fallen on hard times in recent years but in their heyday were absolutely in the top rank of banding: the band undertook two world tours in the 1900s, and the programme above gives an idea of their history while also showcasing Besses (and Bury Market) as it was 35 years ago. There aren't many places which have been put on the map by their brass band, but Besses is definitely one of them.

Besses proper is just one corner of the ward named after it. In population terms the core of the ward is the Hillock, Elms and Victoria council estates along Thatch Leach Lane, Ribble Drive and Mersey Drive. Hillock in particular is a Manchester overspill estate and relatively successful as overspill estates go; on the other hand, the Thatch Leach Lane area hasn't recovered from the mid-1990s proposal to flatten the area for a new motorway to be built parallel to the M60. In 2004 an area to the north, as far as Unsworth Pole, was added to the ward; this is a relatively well-off area but doesn't change the characterisation of Besses ward as a whole as strongly working-class.

It's also a safe Labour ward. Recent electoral comment on Bury has focused on Prestwich and Whitefield being strongly Jewish areas and on the impact that might have on the Labour vote, but as far as Whitefield goes that characterisation is only half right. The Jewish population of Whitefield is indeed large but it's concentrated in Whitefield's other ward, the much more affluent area of Pilkington Park. Besses is a safe Labour area, where in May the party led the Conservatives by 60-23. Third place here is traditionally taken by right-wing populist and local resident Stephen Morris of the English Democrats, although his 7% in May was at the low end of recent performances. Morris was also the English Democrats candidate in the Greater Manchester mayoral election last May, finishing fourth in his home ward with 5%; Andy Burnham led the Conservative candidate Sean Anstee 62-22.

Labour have kept it in the family with their selection: their candidate is Prestwich resident Lucy Smith, whose parents John and Stella Smith have both served as mayor of Bury. The Conservative candidate is Jordan Lewis, who lives in Whitefield and works in public transport. Also standing are Stephen Morris for the English Democrats, former Labour Bury councillor Glyn Heath for the Green Party, Gareth Lloyd-Johnson for the Liberal Democrats and Michael Zwierzanski for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Bury South

Glyn Heath (Grn)
Jordan Lewis (C)
Gareth Lloyd-Johnson (LD)
Stephen Morris (EDP)
Lucy Smith (Lab)
Michael Zwierzanksi (UKIP)

May 2018 result Lab 1414 C 551 EDP 169 Grn 118 LD 117
May 2017 by-election Lab 1371 C 682 LD 415 EDP 188 Grn 86
May 2016 result Lab 1426 C 486 EDP 280 Grn 132 LD 106
May 2015 result Lab 2628 C 1114 UKIP 799 LD 198 Grn 177 EDP 67
May 2014 result Lab 1313 C 479 EDP 412 Grn 172 LD 127
May 2012 result Lab 1484 EDP 367 C 358 LD 185
May 2011 result Lab 1523 LD 468 C 462 EDP 209 UKIP 138
May 2010 result Lab 2076 LD 1252 C 1109 BNP 302 EDP 186
May 2008 result Lab 1084 LD 614 C 584 EDP 354
May 2007 result Lab 1138 C 829 LD 431
May 2006 result Lab 1085 C 597 LD 396 Ind 208
June 2004 result Lab 1724/1514/1424 C 830/783/657 LD 681

May 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Lab 1682 C 584 LD 178 EDP 134 UKIP 53 Grn 50 Aslam 17 Farmer 15