Previews: 13 Dec 2018

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

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


West Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Toddbrook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Brambles and Thorntree

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

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary constituency: Middlesbrough
Postcode district: TS3

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

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


Dee and Glenkens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Previews: 12 Dec 2018

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

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


Sutton Junction and Harlow Wood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 2015 result Lab 661 LD 655 C 430


Previews: 06 Dec 2018

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

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


Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://youtu.be/56UuL6dvsaw

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

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

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


Belgrave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wolvercote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Byfleets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Previews: 29 Nov 2018

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

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


Failsworth East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stratford North

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wheatley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Aylesbury North-West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Delapre and Briar Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Welwyn West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kelsey and Eden Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Previews: 22 Nov 2018

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

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


Lancaster Gate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bush Hill Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Datchet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Upton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Previews: 15 Nov 2018

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

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

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


Canterbury North

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Grove and Wantage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dursley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary constituency: Stroud
Gloucestershire county council division: Dursley

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

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


East Retford West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliamentary constituency: Bassetlaw
Nottinghamshire county council division: Retford West

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

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


Previews: 08 Nov 2018

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

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


Bush Fair; and
Nettleswell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bush Fair

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

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

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

Netteswell

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

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

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


Dormers Wells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Holsworthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Previews: 01 Nov 2018

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

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


Denby Dale

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

https://youtu.be/2jRB49rOfec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dodington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Boleyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Previews: 25 Oct 2018

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

There are ten by-elections on 25th October 2018, with eight Conservative defences and two for Labour. There are lots of marginal wards and chances for gains this week, so let's dive straight in with the first Labour defence. Read on...


Coatbridge South

North Lanarkshire council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Gordon Encinias at the age of 73. Although he had only served on North Lanarkshire council since May 2017, Encinias was described as a lifelong political activist whose political efforts were very much focused on fighting for the people of Coatbridge.

We start the week with by far the northernmost of our ten by-elections, in the Central Belt of Scotland. In the centre of the Central Belt, just to the east of Glasgow, can be found the town of Coatbridge. This is one of those places that was called into being by the Industrial Revolution: the industries in Coatbridge were coalmining and iron, and it was also one of the first towns to experience post-industrial bust. By the 1930s the coal underneath Coatbridge was almost exhausted, while the Great Depression did for many of the local ironworks; but it says something for the state of the local housing that even after that and an exodus of many Coatbridge residents to find work south of the border (particularly in Corby), this was still the most overcrowded town in Scotland. Much of that substandard housing has been swept away over the years in favour of more modern suburbs and satellite villages: the Coatbridge South ward is based on three of those neighbourhoods, Whifflet, Shawhead and Carnbroe. Coatbridge town centre lies just outside the northern boundary of the ward; the southern boundary is the A8 dual carriageway, until recently - when it was replaced by a motorway - the main road between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

At its industrial height Coatbridge saw huge immigration from Ireland, and that's resulted in a very left-wing and Catholic demographic profile which persists to this day. Within the South ward Carnbroe is relatively well-off these days, but Whifflet and Shawhead are deprived areas; and that mix created a majority-Labour ward which in 2007 and 2012 returned two Labour councillors and one SNP. Top of the poll in both those elections was Labour's Jim Brooks, who was first elected in 1974. Brooks had been the leader of the former Monklands council in the early 1990s while it was consumed by a row over sectarianism (as well as Coatbridge, Monklands council included Airdrie which is a strongly Protestant town).

There were changes for the 2017 election. A boundary review resulted in Coatbridge South ward going up from three seats to four with expanded boundaries. There was the independence referendum and the subsequent revolution in Scottish politics which saw the Scottish National Party become the country's major political force: the SNP gained the local parliamentary constituency (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) in 2015 on a swing from Labour of 36%, and followed up by gaining the Holyrood constituency (Coatbridge and Chryston) in 2016. And the political veteran Councillor Brooks, together with his ward colleague John Higgins, were deselected by Labour; they did not take it well, and both of them stood for re-election under the label of "Independent Alliance North Lanarkshire".

When the votes came out of the ballot boxes in May 2017 the SNP had become the largest party, with 43% of the first preferences to 30% for Labour, 12% for the Conservatives and 11% for the Independent Alliance North Lanarkshire. The SNP candidates Tracy Carragher and Fergus MacGregor (brother of the local MSP Fulton MacGregor) were quickly elected together with Labour's Tom Castles, and a close fight developed for the final seat between Labour's second candidate Gordon Encinias, the Tories' John Cameron and Jim Brooks. At the penultimate count, after independent candidate (and former SNP figure) Gerry Somers was eliminated, Cameron was in scoring position on 588.20 votes; Encinias had 517.25, and Brooks was eliminated a fraction of a vote behind on 517.13. Encinias picked up Brooks' transfers to win the final seat by 692 votes to 653 for the Conservatives. Had Brooks been able to get ahead of Encinias, he would have won the final seat on the Labour transfers. That might not look like an impressive performance from Labour, who lost their majority on North Lanarkshire council and are now running a minority administration, but the party did bounce back from that to regain the Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill seat in the general election just five weeks later.

It will take a similar bounceback for Labour to hold this by-election. Their candidate, selected from an all-women shortlist, is Geraldine Woods who is standing for election for the first time in fifteen years: she contested North Lanrkshire's Orbiston ward, then held by the SNP, in the 2003 council elections. The SNP councillor she lost to then, Richard Lyle, is now in the Scottish Parliament representing Uddingston and Bellshill. The Nationalists, who will draw level with Labour as the largest party on North Lanarkshire council if they gain this by-election, have had to fend off accusations of cronyism over their selection of Lesley Mitchell, who is reportedly the ex-partner of councillor Fergus MacGregor and works in Fulton MacGregor MSP's constituency office. The Conservatives have selected self-styled "Working Class Tory" (hold that thought, they do exist) Ben Callaghan, who is the secretary of the party's North Lanarkshire branch and contested Coatbridge North ward in last year's council elections. Completing the ballot paper are Rosemary McGowan for the Scottish Greens, Christopher Wilson for the Lib Dems and Neil Wilson for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill
Scottish Parliament constituency: Coatbridge and Chryston
ONS Travel to Work Area: Motherwell and Airdrie
Postcode district: ML5

Ben Callaghan (C)
Rosemary McGowan (Grn)
Lesley Mitchell (SNP)
Christopher Wilson (LD)
Neil Wilson (UKIP)
Geraldine Woods (Lab)

May 2017 result SNP 1985 Lab 1372 C 552 Ind Alliance N Lanarks 522 Ind 216


Linton

South Derbyshire council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Bob Wheeler at the age of 67. The leader of South Derbyshire council from 2011 until January this year, Wheeler had served on the council since 2007 and had been suffering from cancer. His widow, Heather, has served since 2010 as the Conservative MP for South Derbyshire.

We travel south of the border to a Midlands location which shares a lot of history with Coatbridge. There are a few Lintons dotted around the country; this particular one is a village at the southern end of Derbyshire, south-west of Swadlincote and south of Burton-on-Trent. From the map it might appear that this is a rural ward of five parishes, but don't be fooled. There's a lot of coal under those fields and forests, and many of the settlements within the ward - such as Castle Gresley - are ex-pit villages. Cadley Hill colliery, just outside the ward boundary, remained open as late as 1988; and many of its workers lived within this ward in places like Coton Park, a very grim estate developed by the National Coal Board. Much of the coal stayed within the ward to be consumed by Drakelow Power Station, a former coal-fired plant at the western end of the ward overlooking the River Trent; the power station was built on the site of Drakelow Hall, a stately home which was held by the Gresley family (as in Sir Nigel Gresley, the locomotive engineer).

All very working-class. Now I asked you in the previous section to hold the thought of working-class Tories, and with the end of coalmining in the Midlands this area is changing rapidly. As well as Burton and Swadlincote, Linton is within relatively easy reach of Derby and (at a stretch) Birmingham; and accordingly most of the new development that has taken place here in recent years (particularly in Linton itself) has been rather upmarket. It says something that the Tory candidate for this by-election gives an address in Coton Park.

This gentrification was already well advanced by the time of the 2003 election, the first on these boundaries, in which the Conservatives tied for the final seat with the second Labour candidate on 520 votes each, but lost the drawing of lots. The Conservatives broke through in 2007 but haven't made the ward safe; and the arrival of UKIP in 2015 complicated things further. The 2015 result was 39% for the winning Tory slate, 30% for Labour and 27% for UKIP. The 2017 county elections were good for the Conservatives: they convincingly gained the wider Linton division from Labour after UKIP had split the right-wing vote four years earlier, and Mrs Wheeler held the South Derbyshire constituency (which has the same boundaries as the district) five weeks later with almost no swing from 2015.

Defending for the Conservatives is Dan Pegg, or Danny Pegg-Legg to give him his full name, who as stated is from Coton Park and was co-opted to Linton parish council last year. The Labour candidate is Ben Stuart, a food technologist from Castle Gresley. UKIP have not returned, so completing the ballot paper is another Castle Gresley resident, Lorraine Johnson of the Lib Dems who was their local parliamentary candidate last year.

Parliamentary constituency: South Derbyshire
Derbyshire county council division: Linton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Burton upon Trent
Postcode districts: DE11, DE12, DE15

Lorraine Johnson (LD)
Dan Pegg (C)
Ben Stuart (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1032/1028 Lab 798/660 UKIP 726/519 LD 111/102
May 2011 result C 784/746 Lab 727/687 LD 171
May 2007 result C 928/841 Lab 604/589
May 2003 result Lab 540/521 C 520/508


Bosmere

Suffolk county council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Anne Whybrow. A former mayor of Stowmarket, Mrs Whybrow was first elected to Suffolk county council in a 2006 by-election for Stowmarket South division; she lost that seat in 2013, but returned in 2017 by gaining this division.

Having got the main Labour-Tory contest of the week out of the way, we now come to the first of our four contests this week between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. We travel to Suffolk, to a county council division named after a small lake near Needham Market which back in the day gave its name to a Hundred of Suffolk. The main centre of population here is Needham Market, on the main road and railway line from Ipswich to Norwich and Bury St Edmunds; this is a mediaeval town based around the wool-combing industry, but the town has never really recovered from the Great Plague which killed two-thirds of its inhabitants between 1663 and 1665. The division isn't all Needham Market; there are thirteen other parishes within the boundary to the south and west of the town.

Bosmere had been a Liberal Democrat stronghold for many years. From 1993 to 2005 its county councillor was Ros Scott, who has progressed from leader of the county council's Lib Dem group to the House of Lords (as Baroness Scott of Needham Market); she was President of the Liberal Democrats from 2009 to 2011. Baroness Scott stood down from Suffolk county council in 2005 and was succeeded by the Lib Dems' Julia Truelove, who herself retired in 2017. At that 2017 election the Bosmere seat was gained by the Conservatives after many years of trying; shares of the vote were 45% for Anne Whybrow and 39% for the Lib Dems' Steve Phillips. District council elections here have had a more mixed picture: in the 2015 Mid Suffolk council elections the Lib Dems won Needham Market and the Conservatives carried the two rural wards within the division; but one of those, Barking and Somersham ward, was subsequently lost in a 2016 by-election - to the Green Party. (The Lib Dem candidate in that by-election was Mark Valladares, Baroness Scott's husband,)

Defending for the Conservatives is Kay Oakes, twice mayor of Needham Market and rather unlucky not to be elected to Mid Suffolk council in 2015 - she finished eight votes behind the second Lib Dem candidate. The Lib Dems have reselected Steve Phillips, another former mayor of Needham Market. Completing the ballot paper is Emma Bonner-Morgan of the Labour party.

Parliamentary constituency: Bury St Edmunds (Needham Market and Ringshall wards), Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Barking and Somersham ward)
Mid Suffolk council wards: Barking and Somersham, Needham Market, Ringshall
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ipswich
Postcode districts: IP6, IP7, IP8, IP14

Emma Bonner-Morgan (Lab)
Kay Oakes (C)
Steve Phillips (LD)

May 2017 result C 1149 LD 987 Lab 198 Grn 185
May 2013 result LD 851 C 678 UKIP 584 Lab 236 Grn 160
June 2009 result LD 1308 C 867 UKIP 450 Suffolk Together 432 Lab 150
May 2005 result LD 1640 C 1453 LAb 779 Ind 648 Ind 428


Three Rivers Rural

Hertfordshire county council; caused by the resignation of Conservative county councillor Chris Hayward. He had served on the county council since 2009, sitting for the Chorleywood division until 2017, and was a former Deputy Leader of the council. Hayward had come to Hertfordshire from Dorset, where he was also deputy leader of the county council; and he was the Conservative candidate for Hull North in the 1983 general election. He appears to be concentrating on his work in London, where he was elected in 2013 to the City of London Corporation and chairs the Corporation's planning and transportation committee.

The Local Government Boundary Commission have a difficult job to do, but when you look at divisions like Three Rivers Rural the first impression has to be to question what the thought process was behind it. In truth the shape and population distribution of Three Rivers district, which is essentially the parts of Hertfordshire's south-west corner that aren't in Watford town, are very unhelpful to the boundary-drawers; the present division is an extension of the Chorleywood division which existed until 2017, but the only place available to extend it into was Bedmond, a village to the north of Abbots Langley and back in the day the birthplace of Adrian IV, the only English pope. In order to link Bedmond to Chorleywood the division has a very narrow neck under the Gade Valley Viaduct, which takes the M25 motorway over the eponymous river and the West Coast Main Line. Successive boundary reviews have left this division covering parts of four Three Rivers district wards without having any of them in whole, and it sprawls over three parliamentary constituencies (South West Hertfordshire, St Albans and Watford). All this creates a challenge for the armchair psephologist.

Things were rather simpler at the time of the 2011 census, in which the area now covered by this division was four-and-a-half wards of Three Rivers. Two of those wards covered Chorleywood; this town gave its name to the Chorleywood bread process, which is used to make four-fifths of the UK's bread, and there's certainly a lot of dough here. This is a stereotypical London commuter town, being on the Metropolitan Line despite its location outside the M25 motorway; the old Chorleywood East ward made the top 50 wards in England and Wales for owner-occupation and (interestingly) the top 100 for Hinduism, while Chorleywood West was in the top 70 for the ONS "lower management" economic group; in fact both Chorleywood wards had a majority of residents in management or professional occupations. At the far end of the division lie Bedmond and Hunton Bridge, next to the River Gade and the West Coast main line, whose Kings Langley station is within the division; also in this area is the redeveloped Ovaltine factory next to the railway line, whose housing now provides 5% of the division's electorate. In between are a series of expensive villages to the north-west of Watford, such as Loudwater; until 2012 these formed the district's Sarratt ward. Readers of John le Carré may recognise Sarratt as the home of the Circus training and interrogation centre in the early Smiley novels.

Sarratt and its associated villages are Tory monoliths, but the rest of the division is good territory for the Liberal Democrats. The old Chorleywood county division had been Conservative for many years, but the boundary changes improved the Lib Dem position and Hayward did well to hold in 2017: he had 47% to 44% for the Liberal Democrat candidate. Three of the four Three Rivers wards partly covered by the division voted Lib Dem in May this year, but the Conservatives had a very large lead in Chorleywood North and Sarratt ward so the vote shares across the division were probably fairly even once again.

The Conservatives and Lib Dems have both selected district councillors for Chorleywood South and Maple Cross ward, who both give addresses on the same street in Chorleywood. Defending for the Tories is Angela Killick, who was elected to the district council in 2015. Killick may not have been a minister in the UK government but one level she has represented it: from 1974 to 1990 she was a Westminster city councillor, latterly sitting for St James's ward which covers all the government buildings in Whitehall and Downing Street. She's up against the Lib Dems' Phil Williams, a restaurateur who was the unsuccessful candidate for this county division in May last year; two months afterwards Williams was elected to Three Rivers council in a by-election, holding Chorleywood South and Maple Cross ward for the Lib Dems. Completing the ballot paper are Jeni Swift Gillett for Labour, Roan Alder for the Green Party and David Bennett for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Hertfordshire (parts of Chorleywood North and Sarratt, and Chorleywood South and Maple Cross wards), St Albans (part of Abbots Langley and Bedmond ward, part of part of Gade Valley ward), Watford (part of part of Gade Valley ward)
Three Rivers council wards: Abbots Langley and Bedmond (part), Chorleywood North and Sarratt (part), Chorleywood South and Maple Cross (part), Gade Valley (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: London (part: Chorleywood); Luton (rest of division)
Postcode districts: HP3, HP8, SL9, UB9, WD3, WD4, WD5

Roan Alder (Grn)
David Bennett (UKIP)
Angela Killick (C)
Jeni Swift Gillett (Lab)
Phil Williams (LD)

May 2017 result C 2244 LD 2091 Lab 202 Grn 144 UKIP 91


Belmont

Sutton council, South London; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Patrick McManus, who had served since 2014.

For our third Tory versus Lib Dem contest of the week we move around London from north-west to south-west. Belmont ward lies on the southern edge of Greater London, just to the south of Sutton; it's a classic railway suburb which essentially did not exist before 1865 when the London, Brighton and South Coast railway opened its branch line to Epsom Downs, to take Londoners to the Derby. That branch line included a railway station known as "California", after a local pub, but the name was quickly changed to "Belmont". Healthcare is and always has been a prominent feature of Belmont's economy: back in the day there were two large psychiatric hospitals in the area (one of them, Banstead Asylum just outside the ward and Greater London boundary, has since been redeveloped as a prison), while Belmont is the location of the Sutton branches of the Royal Marsden Hospital and the Institute of Cancer Research, two hospitals which specialise in cancer treatment.

Sutton is one of the longest-standing Lib Dem-controlled boroughs, held by the party in the 2018 elections despite local controversies, particularly over an incinerator plan. The Belmont ward is a stronghold of the Conservative opposition to the Lib Dems; in 2014 it was one of only two Sutton wards where the Lib Dems did not top the poll, and in May the Tories led here 57-26. In the 2016 London Assembly elections the Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith led Sadiq Khan here 56-25; while in the London Members ballot the ward's ballot boxes gave 47% to the Conservatives, 19% to Labour and 11% to the Liberal Democrats.

Defending for the Conservatives is Neil Garratt, who was the deputy leader of the Sutton Conservative group until May when he lost his seat in Beddington South ward. This should be a safe return for him. The Lib Dems have reselected Dean Juster who was runner-up here in May's election. Also standing are Marian Wingrove for Labour, who was finished last in every Belmont election so far this decade; John Bannon for UKIP; Ashley Dickenson for the Christian Peoples Alliance; and Claire Jackson-Prior for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Sutton and Cheam
London Assembly constituency: Croydon and Sutton
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: SM2, SM5

John Bannon (UKIP)
Ashley Dickenson (CPA)
Neil Garratt (C)
Claire Jackson-Prior (Grn)
Dean Juster (LD)
Marian Wingrove (Lab)

May 2018 result C 2001/1900/1836 LD 956/786/748 Lab 595/524/503
May 2014 result C 1687/1534/1389 LD 881/809/738 UKIP 653 Lab 432/406/376
May 2010 result C 2629/2544/2355 LD 2210/2087/1785 UKIP 621 Lab 519/412/343
May 2006 result C 2115/1987/1933 LD 1095/959/896 Grn 222 Lab 211/184/174
May 2002 result C 1708/1689/1628 LD 1312/1303/1287 Lab 182/164/159

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: C 1568 Lab 699 LD 188 Grn 123 UKIP 102 Women's Equality 54 Britain First 26 Respect 20 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 17 BNP 7 Zylinski 7 One Love 2
London Members: C 1321 Lab 544 LD 315 UKIP 220 Grn 178 Women's Equality 81 CPA 40 Britain First 35 Respect 29 Animal Welfare 24 BNP 15 House Party 4


Kennington

Ashford council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Philip Sims. He had served since 2011, originally being elected for the Ashford Independents, and his resignation came in protest against a major housing development planned for his ward.

We break away from the Tory-Lib Dem contests to travel to Kent. The Kennington ward lies on the north-eastern edge of the town of Ashford, beyond the M20 motorway on the road to Canterbury; it's essentially a village which was swallowed up by the growth of Ashford, particularly so in the 1950s and 1960s as London overspill estates filled in the gaps between Kennington and the town centre. Not that Kennington could be described as being a council estate: it had notably high levels of owner-occupation in the 2011 census. Perhaps in recognition of the area's history and identity, work is well advanced to create a parish council for Kennington whose inaugural elections are scheduled for 2019.

This is the sort of area that should be rock-solid Conservative in current conditions. Indeed, in the 2007 election the Tories won Kennington ward unopposed because no other candidates came forward. So it would be interesting to know what the Conservatives' excuse was for losing this ward in the 2011 election to the Ashford Independents candidate Phil Sims, who won by just 25 votes. Sims was subsequently recruited to the Conservative cause, and in 2015 was re-elected easily with the Tory nomination: he polled 48% to 15% each for the Ashford Independents and UKIP. The local Kent county council division (Ashford Rural East) is even safer for the party.

There are four candidates in this by-election, none of whom live particularly near the ward. Nathan Iliffe defends for the Conservatives; he is a business development manager for a food service company. The Ashford Independents have nominated Ian Anderson, who runs an irrigation and engineering firm and is a Bethersden parish councillor. UKIP have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Labour's Dylan Jones and the Greens' Peter Morgan.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashford
Kent county council division: Ashford Rural East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ashford
Postcode districts: TN24, TN25

Ian Anderson (Ashford Ind)
Nathan Iliffe (C)
Dylan Jones (Lab)
Peter Morgan (Grn)

May 2015 result C 684 Ashford Ind 213 UKIP 212 Lab 177 LD 133
May 2011 result Ashford Ind 440 C 415 Lab 107
May 2007 result C unopposed
May 2003 result C 465 LD 186


Norden

Basingstoke and Deane council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor George Hood. The Mayor of Basingstoke and Deane in 2008-09, Hood had served since 1992; he is retiring from politics having passed the age of 80.

For our only safe Labour defence of the week we travel from one fast-growing quasi-New Town to another: from Ashford to Basingstoke. Like Ashford, Basingstoke is on the main road and railway line from London to a major Channel port, in this case Southampton; like Ashford, Basingstoke expanded strongly in the 1960s as a result of London overspill. The Norden ward includes a fair amount of this overspill; it's immediately north of the South Western railway line and is based on the Oakridge estate together with the more industrial areas of Daneshill and Houndmills. Employment is high in the ward - there are an awful lot of industrial units, and Basingstoke town centre is just over the boundary - but Oakridge has seen a fair amount of redevelopment in recent years to replace housing which aged poorly.

Norden ward has unchanged boundaries since at least 2002, and is provisionally proposed for no change in the review the Local Government Boundary Commission are working on at the moment. All but one of its elections in the period since 2002 have been won by Labour with the Tories second; the exception was 2014, when UKIP were runners-up. In May the Labour lead here was 66-24. At Hampshire county council level the ward is split between two divisions, Basingstoke Central and Basingstoke North, which in 2017 were the only two Hampshire county divisions to vote for Labour.

Hoping it'll be alright on election night in Norden ward is the defending Labour candidate Carolyn Wooldridge, a former Basingstoke and Deane councillor (Brighton Hill North ward) who stood down in 2015 and is now seeking to return. The Tories have selected Mike Archer, and completing the ballot paper are Lib Dem Zoe Rogers and another former councillor seeking to make a comeback. Phil Heath was a Basingstoke and Deane councillor from 1992 to 2011, serving as leader of the Conservative group and as Deputy Mayor in 2010-11, and also sat on Hampshire county council until 2009; since then Heath had worked for the local MP Maria Miller before joining UKIP, but he is standing here as an independent candidate. Whoever wins this by-election will need to be straight back onto the campaign trail, as they will be due for re-election in May 2019.

Parliamentary constituency: Basingstoke
Hampshire county council division: Basingstoke Central (part), Basingstoke North (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Basingstoke
Postcode districts: RG21, RG24

Mike Archer (C)
Phil Heath (Ind)
Zoe Rogers (LD)
Carolyn Wooldridge (Lab)

May 2018 result Lab 1183 C 428 LD 89 Ind 68 TUSC 36
May 2016 result Lab 1191 C 308 UKIP 260 LD 96 TUSC 47
May 2015 result Lab 1797 C 940 UKIP 514 Grn 194 LD 183 TUSC 41
May 2014 result Lab 1148 UKIP 446 C 333 LD 97
May 2012 result Lab 1100 C 272 LD 160
May 2011 result Lab 1328 C 642 LD 211
May 2010 result Lab 1695 C 1206 LD 773
May 2008 result Lab 1005/997/990 C 548/522/510 LD 244/225/213
May 2007 result Lab 1057 C 615 LD 270
May 2006 result Lab 1023 C 527 LD 261
June 2004 result Lab 793 C 532 LD 325
May 2003 result Lab 761 C 386 LD 271
May 2002 result Lab 909/906/796 C 404/363/339 LD 389


Wells St Thomas'

Mendip council, Somerset; caused by the death of councillor Danny Unwin, who had been elected for the Liberal Democrats but was sitting as a Conservative. A funeral director, he had served on Mendip council since 2007 and formerly led the Lib Dem group; he was Mayor of Wells in 2011-12.

Returning to the Tory versus Lib Dem contests, we travel to what claims to be England's smallest city. Wells has been a city since the days of the Kingdom of Wessex, whose kings founded a church here at the start of the eighth century. The church became the seat of a bishop in 909; the see of Wells was later moved to Bath in a move which upset an awful lot of people, and in the spirit of compromise the diocese has been known since 1245 as Bath and Wells. Also founded here in AD 909 was a school which became the Wells Cathedral School and claims to be one of the oldest continuously-operating schools in the world: Wells Cathedral School is an independent school with a national reputation for music teaching, and its alumni run the, er, gamut of modern music from the countertenor Iestyn Davies to the dairy farmer and failed parliamentary candidate Michael Eavis. The presence of the school means that St Thomas' ward, which covers the northern and eastern parts of the city, is in the top 50 wards in England and Wales for people in the 16-17 age bracket.

Wells may be a city, but its city council is only a parish-level body; district council functions are handled from Shepton Mallet which is the seat of Mendip council. The Wells St Thomas' ward of the district council is closely fought between the Lib Dems and Tories: the Liberal Democrats won both seats in 2007, the Tories gained one in 2011 but lost it back four years later. Shares of the vote in 2015 were 44% for the Lib Dems, 35% for the Conservatives and 21% for the single Green Party candidate. Wells as a whole elects a single Somerset county councillor: in the 2017 election that was the Lib Dems' Tessa Munt, who had been the MP for Wells during the Coalition years. Munt narrowly defeated the Tories' John Osman, who had been leader of the county council going into the election.

So, this is shaping up to be another close one. Hoping to convert the Tories' defection gain into a by-election gain is teacher and supermarket worker Richard Greenwell; he was controversially co-opted onto Wells city council last year to replace a departing Green Party councillor, thereby giving the Conservatives a majority on the council. The Lib Dems want their seat back and have selected Thomas Ronan, a businessman and local resident. The Greens have not returned, but Labour have entered the fray with their candidate Den Carter who completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Wells
Somerset county council division: Wells
ONS Travel to Work Area: Street and Wells
Postcode district: BA5

Den Carter (Lab)
Richard Greenwell (C)
Thomas Ronan (LD)

May 2015 result LD 1172/1123 C 938/895 Grn 546
May 2011 result LD 826/803 C 808/706 Grn 345 Lab 256
May 2007 result LD 952/910 C 756/643


Ferdown

Dorset county council; and

Ferndown Central

East Dorset council; both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Steve Lugg at the age of 54. The Mayor of Ferndown at the time of his death, Lugg had served on East Dorset council since 2015 and on Dorset county council since winning a by-election in September 2016. Away from the council he was a former soldier, a management accountant and a live music fan.

We finish this week in the second-largest inland town in Dorset. Despite that, Ferndown is essentially a satellite town for Bournemouth and Poole, being located at a major road junction where the roads to Poole and Dorchester diverge. This is a relatively new town - until 1972 the parish council was called Hampreston - and it's interesting to speculate why that is. Wikipedia has an interesting answer: its article on West Parley, a suburb of Ferndown included in the county division, asserts - as I pointed out two years ago in Andrew's Previews 2016 - that "the largest increases were during the Baby Boom from 1921 to 1951, this was when everyone was procreating tenfold due to welfare benefits and due to lower income jobs". Two years on, nobody has yet seen fit to edit that to something which might be seen as more befitting an encyclopedia.

Several generations after the Baby Boom, it would appear that many of the people who were born in Parley and Ferndown during those days of tenfold procreation are not only still with us but still living here. There have been extensive boundary changes in Ferndown since the last census which make things difficult to compare, but the Ferndown Central ward which existed in 2011 ranked ninth of all the wards in England and Wales for population aged 65 and over, with 44% of the population being of that age. Pension day must be fun in the local post office. Parley ward - which covers West Parley - was also in the top 100 for that statistic, and made the top 20 wards in England and Wales for owner-occupation.

With that sort of age profile, it's not too surprising that this area was fertile ground for UKIP at their peak. The Kippers won one of the two county council seats in Ferndown at the 2013 county elections, splitting the division with the Conservatives. The Conservative councillor died in 2016 and Steve Lugg held the by-election in September of that year; the UKIP councillor resigned shortly afterwards and the Tories gained the resulting second by-election in December 2016. On new boundaries, the Conservative slate was easily re-elected in the 2017 county election with 67% of the vote, UKIP coming a poor second on 17%.

By contrast, UKIP never won a seat on East Dorset council whose Ferndown representatives, in recent years, have been solidly Conservative. The map above shows the present ward boundaries for Ferndown Central, introduced for the 2015 district elections in which the Conservatives beat the UKIP slate 50-32 in that ward.

As well as a farewell to Steve Lugg, these by-elections also mark a farewell to the current system of local government in Dorset. Dorset county council and East Dorset council (seen above) will both be abolished on 1st April 2019, replaced by a new Dorset unitary council which will cover all the county outside the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole conurbation. These will be the last by-elections in Dorset before that restructuring takes place.

Whoever succeeds Steve Lugg will, like him, sit on both Dorset county council and East Dorset council; for there is an identical candidate list for the county and district by-elections. (This also means that Lugg's successor will get two votes on the shadow authority which will fill the gap between the creation of the new Dorset council in April next year and its first elections in May 2019. Isn't democracy great?) Defending for the Conservatives is retained firefighter Mike Parkes, who is relatively young by Ferndown standards; he was elected to Ferndown town council in 1999 at the age of 26, and was Mayor of Ferndown in 2014-15. UKIP have selected Ferndown town councillor and retail worker Lawrence Wilson, who was runner-up in the December 2016 county by-election and the 2017 county elections - in which he beat the alphabet by polling more votes than his running-mate Peter Lucas. Completing the ballot papers is Matthew Coussell for the Liberal Democrats,

Ferndown

Parliamentary constituency: Christchurch
East Dorset council wards: Ameysford, Ferndown Central, Parley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bournemouth
Postcode district: BH22

Matthew Coussell (LD)
Mike Parkes (C)
Lawrence Wilson (UKIP)

May 2017 result C 3090/2950 UKIP 795/657 LD 508/429 Lab 244/203

Ferndown Central

Parliamentary constituency: Christchurch
Dorset county council division: Ferndown
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bournemouth
Postcode district: BH22

Matthew Coussell (LD)
Mike Parkes (C)
Lawrence Wilson (UKIP)

May 2015 result C 2645/2351/2315 UKIP 1336/1334/1100 Lab 744


If you liked this, there are plenty more previews like it in the Andrew's Previews books. Search Amazon for Andrew's Previews 2016 and 2017.


Previews: 18 Oct 2018

There are just three by-elections on 18th October 2018. One is for a safe Labour ward in inner London, but the other two are very interesting. We have a close contest for Oxfordshire county council between Labour and the Green Party, which in the week that fracking resumed in the UK could result in a rare Green gain. But we start this week with a new venture. Passports at the ready, as we cross what may become a future customs border...


Carrick Castle

Mid and East Antrim council, Northern Ireland; caused by the death of independent councillor Jim Brown at the age of 68. Brown was a veteran of local government, having been first elected in 1981 to the former Carrickfergus council; he was an Ulster Unionist Party figure until the mid-1990s and had been elected as an independent since then. Brown was appointed MBE in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to local government.

This has been a long time coming. The Andrew's Previews series is now in its ninth year, and in that time the number of by-elections previewed is somewhere in four figures. There aren't many local government districts that have escaped the attention of this column over the years. But in that time there has been hardly a word about one entire province of what remains for now the United Kingdom. It's time to put that right. Welcome to Northern Ireland.

You might reasonably ask why it's taken so long to make the leap across the Irish Sea. It's a good question. I'd like to think that the answer isn't "cowardice"; but then again, when I was a growing lad Northern Ireland wasn't just another place. It seemed like there was scarcely a day when the news bulletins didn't have bad news: a shooting here, a bomb there, an atrocity somewhere else. It was the time of Troubles, of a galaxy of abbreviations representing paramilitaries and terrorists, of Gerry Adams' and Martin McGuinness' words being spoken by an actor, of Manchester city centre being blown up; and it left an impression in my young mind that this was a dangerous place best kept away from. Unfair, I know; and I'm hoping to visit the province next year for the first time.

This isn't the place to go into a full-blown history of the Troubles: a book would struggle to do that subject justice, and it would be difficult to write such a book without offending somebody. But at the same time, it's important to know something about their genesis in order to understand Northern Ireland's local government as it works today.

British rule in Ireland has been going on for a long time, and Carrickfergus was at the centre of it. The Fergus of the name was Fergus Mór, a semi-legendary king who ruled in the fifth century over the kingdom of Dál Riata, which roughly corresponded to what is now called Argyll in Scotland but at its height extended across the sea to present-day County Antrim. The town was founded in the 1170s as the first town in County Antrim by John de Courcy, an Anglo-Norman knight who essentially carried out a private invasion of Ulster and constructed Carrickfergus Castle - which still stands today and is one of the best-preserved mediaeval structures in the province. From its promontory into the sea the castle dominated Carrickfergus Bay - as Belfast Lough was then known - and for the entire mediaeval period Carrickfergus was the main administrative centre for the northern end of the island. That made the town an important military prize: in 1597 the English Crown lost the Battle of Carrickfergus to the forces of the Clan MacDonnell during the Nine Years War, the castle was besieged by William of Orange's forces in 1689 - the Prince of Orange himself entered Ireland through Carrickfergus the following year - and the town saw action in the Seven Years War (during which it was briefly occupied by the French) and the American War of Independence. Carrickfergus sold its customs rights in 1637, and subsequently was rather left behind by the growth of Belfast at the head of the bay during the Industrial Revolution.

Ireland was incorporated into the United Kingdom in 1801, and two attempts at Home Rule for the island during the late nineteenth century came to nothing. A third opportunity for Home Rule presented itself in 1910, as the rejection of Lloyd George's 1909 budget by the Tory-dominated House of Lords provoked a constitutional crisis and two general elections in that year. Both of those elections resulted in hung parliaments in London with Irish MPs holding the balance of power. So far, so familiar. A third Home Rule Bill was the result, and despite the prospect that it might provoke a civil war it got through Parliament: but by the time the Home Rule Bill received Royal Assent in September 1914 the First World War had broken out, and implementation was postponed until after the war on the grounds that it would all be over by Christmas. It wasn't.

By the time the war was over, four long years later, the Easter Rising had happened and republicanism was the order of the day. In the 1918 general election Sinn Féin - which had won nothing in 1910 - virtually swept the board in Ireland outside the Protestant-majority areas of Ulster. However, most of their seats in that election were uncontested, and Sinn Féin polled just less than 50% of the vote across the constituencies which saw a contest. The British government hoped to illustrate that Sinn Féin support across the island was not as monolithic as the seat count suggested, and they did this by introducing proportional representation - using the Single Transferable Vote - for the 1920 Irish local government elections, the first since the war. It's questionable whether this move had the effect desired, but it did entrench proportional representation as the electoral system in what became the Republic of Ireland.

Events intervened. By the end of 1922 Ireland had been partitioned into a Free State and "Northern Ireland", being the six north-eastern counties of the island and a polity with a Protestant majority and sizeable Catholic minority. The Protestants and Unionists quickly moved to consolidate their power: proportional representation was immediately abolished for Northern Irish local government and First Past the Post was introduced for the Northern Ireland Parliament in 1929.

Not only that, but every trick in the book was employed to perpetuate that Unionist advantage, and local government was at the heart of it. It's no accident that many of the complaints of the civil rights marchers of the late 1960s related to local government in some way. Even the franchise was manipulated: in Northern Irish local elections only property owners or tenants and their spouses were ordinarily eligible to vote, so adult children living with their parents, lodgers, sub-tenants and servants were excluded from the local electoral register. The province's stark political divide between Protestant and Catholic thus meant that if a local authority gave a council house to a Protestant family, it was pretty much guaranteeing two Unionist votes in the relevant ward. Anti-Catholic discrimination in other fields, such as employment (in 1971 the unemployment rate for Catholics was more than double that for Protestants), thus fed into political control. And gerrymandering was rife: the most notorious example was that of Londonderry county borough, whose population had a large Catholic majority that was safely packed into a few supersafe wards, producing a council permanently controlled by the Unionist minority.

It took the introduction of direct rule for these abuses to be countered. By the late 1960s the Victorian system of local government in the province - counties, county boroughs, urban and rural districts - was just as fragmented and unfit for purpose in Northern Ireland as it was in the rest of the UK. The Northern Ireland Parliament, before events intervened, had been working on a local government reform to sweep away the old map and introduce twenty-six new unitary councils, and single-member wards had been drawn up for the first elections on the new lines. One of those councils was based on Carrickfergus. The Heath government, having imposed direct rule, acceded to the demands of the civil rights protesters that proportional representation be reintroduced; needing a quick way of doing it, they simply grouped together the single-member wards to form District Electoral Areas. Several decades and boundary reviews later, proportional representation and this boundary-drawing process are still with us: the modern Carrick Castle District Electoral Area is a grouping of the single-member wards of Boneybefore, Castle, Kilroot, Love Lane and Victoria, and returns five members to Mid and East Antrim council. This council was created by a further local government reform in 2014 which reduced the number of councils in Northern Ireland to eleven, and as well as Carrickfergus the district includes Larne and Ballymena.

In the meantime Carrickfergus became a commuter town for Belfast, eleven miles away down the Lough. As well as the castle, the Kilroot coal-fired power station dominates the view from the sea here: this is Northern Ireland's largest power plant and produces a third of the province's electricity. The town also had some industry in the postwar period, with textiles, chemicals and cigarette factories.

Proportional representation is all well and good, but it does give you a problem when it comes to casual vacancies. Among the small minority of places which have implemented the Single Transferable Vote, there is no consensus on what to do when a vacancy arises. The Irish Dáil and Scottish local government hold single-member by-elections; Malta and some Australian implementations go back to the original ballot papers and see who would have been elected if the former councillor's votes are redistributed. Irish and Northern Irish local government, together with the Northern Ireland Assembly, do neither of these: instead they operate a system where the party of the departed councillor are asked to nominate a replacement to serve in their stead. This is handled in the province by the centralised Electoral Office of Northern Ireland, and you can see news of replacements on their website as they happen. Over in the Republic, a young man called Leo Varadkar got his leg-up into public office in this way some years ago. Independent councillors, who don't have a party machinery to do this kind of thing, instead get to file an ordered list of substitutes who, in the event of a vacancy, are contacted in turn to see if they are (a) eligible and (b) still interested in being a councillor. Independent councillor Jim Brown had lodged a list of three substitutes, none of whom passed these tests after Brown died earlier this year; and so we are having a by-election, the first local by-election in Northern Ireland since 2010.

Which brings us on to Northern Ireland's wonderful political parties. The province has not moved on politically in the last century in the sense that its elections are still sectarian headcounts rather than based on such decadent notions as policy and ideology; but unlike the 1910s there is no longer a monolithic Unionist Party and a monolithic Nationalist Party on the two sides of the religious divide. In what's already a long piece I'm not going to spend any time discussing the Nationalist side of the party system, for the simple reason that it's not relevant in Carrickfergus. In the 2011 census the town reported a religious split of 85% Protestant to just 10% Catholic; the Nationalist parties are not organised in the town and there has never been a nationalist candidate in Carrickfergus' local elections going back to the 1973 reorganisation (and probably beyond). This by-election hasn't ended that streak. So let's talk Unionism.

Top of the poll in Carrick Castle in 2014, as so often happens across the province these days, was the Democratic Unionist Party which won 27% of the vote and two out of five seats. This was of course the party of the Big Man, "Papa Doc", the Reverend Dr Ian Paisley who juggled leading the party with leading his own Christian denomination and preaching fire and brimstone on everyone. Until he got into government and became a Chuckle Brother. The DUP are now the major Unionist party: their vote base tends towards working-class and hardline Protestants, and some of their views wouldn't look out of place in the US Republicans with a big NO to gay rights, abortion and all that jazz and a warm reception for creationism and other such stuff you find in the Bible. They've had their fair share of scandals in recent years, from the affair between Mrs Robinson and a younger man while Mrs Robinson was married to the First Minister; through Ian Paisley's son Ian Junior or "Baby Doc" (altogether now: Baby Doc do do do-do do-do Baby Doc do do do-do do-do...) becoming the first MP to have a recall petition opened on him; to the Renewable Heat Incentive affair which brought down the Northern Ireland devolved government early last year. Two inconclusive elections later, and the DUP are propping up Theresa May's government in Westminster while Stormont remains in limbo; with Arlene Foster having a veto on much of what the Tories want to do at the moment, Mrs May doesn't have much of an incentive to force the DUP back around the table with the Shinners to get the Northern Ireland government going again.

This is the first poll in Northern Ireland since the 2017 general election, and it will be interesting to see if the success of the DUP in influencing the Westminster government has any effect on the vote shares. Hoping for an increase is the DUP candidate Peter Johnston, a 30-year-old IT entrepreneur who came back to Carrickfergus after founding a software company in Silicon Valley.

Second here in 2014 were the Ulster Unionist Party, the province's traditional party of government and in increasing disarray as they desperately try to work out how to get top spot back from the DUP. The UUP candidate here John Stewart had 16% of the vote last time out, polling more first preferences than any other candidate; and subsequently he was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly last year. This time the UUP nominee is John McDermott, another local businessman who claims to have been endorsed by Jim Brown as his successor before Brown died.

Brown himself polled 15% of the first preferences in 2014, being the second candidate to be elected: he made quota after the Traditional Unionist Voice candidate was eliminated. The TUV are a fundamentalist DUP splinter group, so goodness knows what they make of the independent candidate in this by-election: Will Sibley is a practitioner of alternative health therapies such as reiki and trance healing.

Coming in fourth last time, also with 15% of the first preferences, were the Alliance Party. The Alliance badge themselves as a cross-community party, with policies not dissimilar to the Liberal Democrats across the water; being "cross-community" in Carrickfergus probably means that Alliance are mopping up whatever Catholic vote exists in the town. 15% would normally get you one out of five seats in a Single Transferable Vote election, but not in Carrick Castle in 2014: the Unionist transfers stayed within the Unionist parties, the Alliance couldn't get the 2% of transfers they needed to make quota and they were shut out. Their candidate for this by-election is Lauren Gray, a former journalist and Girl Guide leader.

Instead the remaining seat went to, surprisingly enough, UKIP who had 13% of the first preferences. The last Northern Irish local elections being on Euro-election day in 2014 will have helped in that, but UKIP councillor Noel Jordan must have been well thought-of in Carrickfergus to do so well. Jordan was subsequently the UKIP candidate for the East Antrim constituency at the 2015 general election and the 2016 and 2017 Assembly elections: in 2015 he broke 10% and the following year he finished as runner-up. He has since left UKIP, but there is a continuity Eurosceptic candidate in the form of Si Harvey, who has been nominated for the UKIP splinter Democrats and Veterans Party.

Harvey completes a five-strong ballot paper for this very rare Northern Ireland local by-election. It only remains to say that the Alternative Vote will be in use; and don't wait up all night for the result, as the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland won't start counting the votes until Friday morning.

I am grateful to the broadcaster, Round Britain Quiz team member and all-round good guy Paddy Duffy for help with this preview.

Parliamentary constituency: East Antrim
ONS Travel to Work Area: Belfast
Postcode district: BT38

Lauren Gray (All)
Si Harvey (Democrats and Veterans)
Peter Johnston (DUP)
John McDermott (UUP)
Will Sibley (Ind)

May 2014 first preferences DUP 1586 UUP 939 Ind 882 All 846 UKIP 749 TUV 338 PUP 248 Ind 131 Ind 105


Iffley Fields and St Mary's

Oxfordshire county council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Helen Evans, who is moving away from the area. She had served since May 2017.

We return to the more familiar surroundings of Great Britain for a discussion of two very left-wing and urban wards. First and most interesting is the city of Oxford, with a by-election to Oxfordshire county council. The Iffley Fields and St Mary's county division is based along the Iffley Road, the southern of the three roads into Oxford from the south-east that converge at Magdalen Bridge.

The area around Magdalen Bridge to the west of Iffley Road is "gown" territory. Much of this area is open space next to the River Cherwell, occupied by the University of Oxford's rugby ground and athletics track. The rugby ground, which was used by Oxford's rugby league team until earlier this year, has hosted international sides playing the University on numerous occasions; but it's the athletics track for which the area is world-famous. In 1948 a medical student at Exeter College was elected president of the University's Athletic Club with a promise to bring the Iffley Road track up to modern standards; six years later he turned up for a meet here on the track he'd had built, and 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds afterwards Roger Bannister's name was in the history books. The Iffley Road running track was refurbished in 2007; now called the Roger Bannister running track, it awaits its next world record.

At the northern end of the ward can be found Magdalen College School, a private school dating from 1480 and associated with the Oxford college of the same name on the far side of Magdalen Bridge. (Which explains a few things. Last Saturday your columnist was at Magdalen playing quizbowl; as well as the quiz, there was a Matriculation ceremony going on at the same time, and the college cloister was filled with students in full academic dress, proud parents clutching glasses of wine and at least one crocodile of schoolchildren in uniform - presumably from that school. As with so much of what goes on at Oxbridge, all very bizarre.) Magdalen College School educated the Lord Chancellor and Catholic martyr St Thomas More, and other Old Waynfletes include the physician, journalist and Bad Scientist ben goldacre, who really needs to learn to use Capital Letters in his correspondence. Around May goldacre tried to get your columnist involved in an election research project while making it clear that he had no money to pay for it - I think he found it's a bit more complicated than that. Next to Magdalen College School is the only Oxford University college east of the Cherwell, St Hilda's; dating from 1893, St Hilda's became in 2007 the last single-sex Oxford college to admit men and accordingly all of its well-known political alumni are women. They include three members of the House of Lords, the academic Susan Greenfield, the former London Mayoral candidate Susan Kramer and Gillian Shephard, the education and employment secretary in the Major government; and one Member of Parliament currently serving, the Hackney South and Shoreditch MP Meg Hillier.

All this has left its mark on the demographics. The St Mary's ward of Oxford, which is the northern end of this division and includes St Hilda's College, was 46% student at the 2011 census, making top 100 lists in the UK for private renting (54% of households), the 18-29 age bracket (56%), those educated to A-level or equivalent but no higher (34%) and those born in the EU-14 (7.6%). Iffley Fields ward, the southern end of the division, is more "town" than "gown" with only 18% full-time students. This sort of profile tends to mean a very volatile electorate because the student population turns over from year to year; and since Oxford's 2018 Michaelmas term is only in its second week it's questionable how many of this academic year's students have made their way onto the electoral register in time for this by-election.

At county level this area is closely fought between Labour and the Green Party and has been for many years. Until 2013 St Mary's ward was in the East Oxford division and Iffley Fields ward was represented by county councillors for Isis, which in those halcyon days was not a name that has the connotations it does now. East Oxford and Isis both voted Green in 2005 before splitting their two seats between Green and Labour in 2009. The present division was created by a boundary review for the 2013 election and has continued in that vein: the Greens won Iffley Fields and St Mary's by 77 votes in 2013, but Labour gained it by 199 votes four years later as the Green Party was wiped out of Oxfordshire county council. In percentage terms the Labour lead that year was 47-41. May's Oxford city council elections saw the Greens hold St Mary's ward and Labour hold Iffley Fields, both results being marginal: across both wards the Greens led 47-45 in votes. That's not a direct comparison as this county division doesn't cover all of Iffley Fields ward; but it does indicate that the Green Party may be within range of a rare by-election gain.

Defending for Labour is Damian Haywood, who works for Oxford University in NHS clinical research and is the treasurer of a national charity supporting families with disabled children. The Green Party have reselected (Arthur) David Williams, a veteran of local government: he was first elected in 1979 as a Labour member of Rochdale council, and he stood for Parliament three times as a Labour candidate (in Colne Valley in 1983, and Rochdale in 1987 and 1992). Williams came to Oxford in the 1990s, joined the Green Party in 2003, and was a Green member of Oxford city council for Iffley Fields ward from 2006 to 2014; he was elected to Oxfordshire county council for this division in 2013, lost his seat in 2017, and wants it back. Completing the ballot paper are Josie Procter for the Lib Dems and Conservative candidate Paul Sims.

Parliamentary constituency: Oxford East
Oxford city council wards: St Mary's; Iffley Fields (most)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Oxford
Postcode district: OX4

Damien Haywood (Lab)
Josie Procter (LD)
Paul Sims (C)
Arthur Williams (Grn)

May 2017 result Lab 1525 Grn 1326 LD 222 C 181
May 2013 result Grn 1111 Lab 1034 C 134 LD 90 Ind 49


Victoria

Hackney council, North London; caused by the resignation on health grounds of Labour councillor Alex Kuye. He had served only since May this year.

For our last by-election today we travel to inner-city London, from Meg Hillier's alma mater to her constituency. Hackney's Victoria ward covers South Hackney, along Victoria Park Road and Well Street in the E9 postcode district; it covers the housing immediately to the north-west of Victoria Park but not the park itself, which is in the Borough of Tower Hamlets. Hackney has a reputation as a poor, crowded and multicultural part of London, and Victoria ward is no different from the rest of the borough: it is in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for social housing (52%), black population (24%) and mixed-race population (6.7%). That was on the boundaries which existed at the time of the 2011 census; there were boundary changes here for the 2014 election but Victoria ward was little changed by that review.

In the current political climate that creates a very safe ward for Labour. In the May 2018 London borough elections the Labour slate led here with 67% of the vote, the Greens running second on just 17%. The 2016 Mayor and Assembly elections saw Sadiq Khan leading Zac Goldsmith 68-11 in the ward's ballot boxes, while in the London Members ballot Labour beat the Greens 60-14. At parliamentary level, Hillier - who in 2000 was elected as the first London Assembly member for this area, which is part of the Assembly's North East constituency - is similarly untroubled.

Defending for Labour is Penny Wrout, a journalist and Essex University lecturer. The Greens have reselected a candidate from their slate here in May, Wendy Robinson who works in publishing. Also standing are Pippa Morgan for the Liberal Democrats, veteran election candidate Christopher Sills for the Conservatives and Harini Iyengar, who has been nominated by the Women's Equality Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Hackney South and Shoreditch
London Assembly constituency: North East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: E8, E9

Harini Iyengar (Women's Equality)
Pippa Morgan (LD)
Wendy Robinson (Grn)
Christopher Sills (C)
Penny Wrout (Lab)

May 2018 result Lab 2271/1880/1709 Grn 575/384/302 LD 299/270/160 C 229/212/210
May 2014 result Lab 2096/2059/1921 Grn 640/586/572 C 278/269/151 UKIP 256 LD 186/165/114
May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 2098 C 338 Grn 310 Women's Equality 85 LD 82 Respect 54 UKIP 35 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 25 Britain First 19 BNP 9 Zylinski 5 One Love 4
London Members: Lab 1873 Grn 446 C 239 Women's Equality 163 LD 149 UKIP 74 Respect 55 Britain First 26 CPA 22 Animal Welfare 20 House Party 17 BNP 12