Previewing the Greater Manchester local elections

Previewing the Greater Manchester local elections

by Andrew Teale, 02 May 2018


“All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order”

In the second of my two previews of the ordinary 3rd May local elections, I’m going to focus on my home county of Greater Manchester. All of the seats in the City of Manchester are up for election, plus a third of the seats in the other nine Manchester boroughs. Let’s see what the prospects are…


Bolton

We start alphabetically with the Greatest Town in the Known Universe, for where else could you possibly start? The depressed and decaying town centre of Bolton is combined for local government purposes with the satellite towns of Little Lever, Kearsley, Farnworth, Westhoughton, Horwich and the southern part of what was once Turton urban district. Bolton’s wards tend to be very polarised: either affluent or deprived with very little in between.

These local elections are to renew the councillors elected in 2014, a time when Labour was leading in the opinion polls. The 2014 results for each borough are shown in the maps in this article; as the Bolton map above shows, in that year Labour won 12 wards to five for the Conservatives, two for UKIP and one for the Liberal Democrats. The UKIP councillor for Hulton ward has since defected to the Conservatives and is seeking re-election under her new colours, so the Tories are defending six and UKIP one. The Liberal Democrat seat in Smithills is vacant as their outgoing councillor resigned recently: he has moved to France to take up a new job.

Other shenanigans have been going on. The Liberal Democrats have split and lost group status on the council, as their two remaining councillors have fallen out with each other. Labour have already lost two by-elections in the borough this year, Hulton ward to the Conservatives and Farnworth ward to a new localist group called Farnworth and Kearsley First. One of the Conservative councillors for Bromley Cross ward has recently retired and there will be two seats up for election in that ward this year. Overall this means that going into the election Labour have 35 out of 60 seats on the council, to 16 Conservatives plus one vacancy, 4 UKIP, 1 Lib Dem plus one vacancy, 1 Farnworth and Kearsley First and 1 ex-Lib Dem independent.

A net loss of five seats will cost Labour their majority, and while this doesn’t look on the cards the evidence of the by-elections is that Labour will be going not forwards but backwards in Bolton this year. They have two plausible target wards: Astley Bridge from the Conservatives, and Little Lever and Darcy Lever from UKIP. Astley Bridge is slowly drifting to the political left thanks to demographic change, but the Conservative majority looks safe enough for now. UKIP are, of course, in dire trouble at a national level, but your columnist is an elector in Little Lever and Darcy Lever and it’s clear from the literature coming through my door that the outgoing councillor, Paul Richardson, is not giving this one up without a fight. Don’t underestimate the Kippers here just yet. On the other hand Little Lever had a decent Lib Dem score in recent years which looks unlikely to be repeated; the regular Lib Dem candidate here has recently died and, judging from the fact that I’ve heard nothing from the party this campaign, the Lib Dem machine in my ward isn’t the same without him. Whoever can pick up the Lib Dem vote in Little Lever will be well-placed.

On the negative side of the equation for Labour, they have several wards that are clearly vulnerable. Kearsley voted 45% UKIP in 2016 and Farnworth was lost in a by-election just two months ago. The evidence of January’s by-election suggests that Hulton is no longer a plausible Labour target, and the controversial Hulton Park development also affects the marginal Westhoughton wards: the Tories should be safe in Westhoughton North while I would tip a Lib Dem gain in Westhoughton South. The two Westhoughton wards are also in the Bolton West constituency, which Labour failed to gain off the Conservatives last year. So that’s three wards which are plausible Labour losses and not all that much on the positive side for the party. Or indeed for the Conservatives, whose vote in Bolton is very inefficiently distributed. Two or three net losses won’t erode the Labour majority away this time, but if the administration can’t get their act together by 2019 this could be a council to watch next year.


Wigan

From pasties to pies, as we travel into the terra incognita past the Chequerbent Roundabout, where men eating pies toil beneath the ground to extract coal to feed their dragons with before going to the stadium to watch grown men play with funny-shaped balls while eating more pies. I jest, of course, but the way some people in Bolton talk… (I still remember the conversation I overheard in a pub to the effect that Eastleigh was just beyond Atherton.)

Anyway, we’re here in Wigan, whose borough covers a lot more than the town itself. Here are all the small pit towns on the Lancashire plain, the largest of which is Leigh, together with some posh commuter villages to the north of Wigan like Standish. It won’t surprise to learn that the borough is strongly Labour, and the party are defending 23 of the 25 seats up for election this year. The two that got away in 2014 were Lowton East, a pit village on the East Lancs Road and recent Tory hotspot; and Standish with Langtree which was held by the Standish Independents, a well-established Tory splinter group.

The opposition did rather better in Wigan in 2016, winning six wards which were split evenly between the Conservatives and independents. That gives a secure Labour majority with 65 seats to 5 Conservatives and 5 independents of various stripes. Independent challenges are never easy to spot in an ordinary election, but if the Conservatives are looking to make some headway they will be hoping for a gain from Labour in the middle-class Orrell ward. It’s got to be middle-class, they play rugby union there.


Salford

Salford is the only Greater Manchester borough to have an elected mayor, and Labour’s Paul Dennett is not due for re-election until 2020. Labour also have a secure majority in the civic centre in Swinton which these elections are not going to change: they hold 49 seats to nine for the Conservatives and two for ex-Labour independents.

In 2014 Labour won seventeen wards and the Tories the other three. The Labour councillor for Lickle Hulton ward resigned in 2016 on health grounds and Labour held the by-election. The Labour councillor for Swinton South ward left the party in a huff last year after being deselected, and now sits as an independent.

There are two wards to watch in Salford. One is the longstanding marginal ward of Walkden South, which the Conservatives are defending this year but Labour carried in 2016. The other is Kersal, the number 1 Jewish ward in England and Wales, where a perfect storm of unpopular local issues and the Labour antisemitism scandal led to a stunning Conservative gain in a by-election last March. Keep an eye out for a possible repeat.


Bury

Up the Irwell Valley we travel to Bury. This borough is a lot more than the attractive black pudding town with its World Famous Market; Bury borough covers the valley from Ramsbottom in the north to Prestwich in the south, and runs the gamut from suburbia to Manchester overspill to affluent commuter towns to, er, Radcliffe. All human life is here.

In that context it’s rather surprising that the Conservatives did so badly in 2014 in the birthplace of Robert Peel, winning only four wards – although that was an improvement on the three they had two years earlier. In that year Labour won 12 wards and the Lib Dems the other one; the Labour councillor for Radcliffe East resigned in 2017 and Labour held the by-election. The council has a majority for Labour, who hold 32 seats to 16 for the Conservatives and three Lib Dems.

The Labour antisemitism scandal is a problem for the party in Bury borough as well as in Kersal. The borough has a large Jewish population which is concentrated in the south of the area, in the three Prestwich wards (particularly Sedgley) and the posh Whitefield ward of Pilkington Park. Pilkington Park in particular is vulnerable; this is a traditionally Tory ward which was a surprise Labour gain in 2014. In Prestwich, the antisemitism scandal led to Labour losing Sedgley ward to the Conservatives in 2016 – the first time the Tories had won that ward since 1992 – while St Mary’s ward is traffic chaos at the moment thanks to the “regeneration” of Bury New Road. I grew up in St Mary’s ward and I remember when regeneration meant widening the roadway; now it presumably means widening the pavement back to where it was in the first place. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The Lib Dems have their eye on St Mary’s after falling just 19 votes short of a gain in 2016, although any campaigning there will probably be tempered by the fact that Holyrood ward is not safe for them. The Conservatives were hoping for a big Brexit-related swing in Radcliffe, but that seems to have failed to materialise last June; Radcliffe North, the Tories’ strongest ward in the town by virtue of it including the affluent village of Ainsworth, looks out of reach at the moment.

In fact, the Tory performance in Bury last June was nothing short of appalling. From holding Bury North and having high hopes of gaining South, they saw both seats swing to Labour, North by almost 5% resulting in the loss of the constituency. It probably didn’t help the Tory cause in North that their MP, David Nuttall, was a card-carrying member of the I Can’t Believe It’s Not UKIP wing of the party. And in contrast to the South constituency it’s Labour who are on the offensive in Bury proper and points north. They have to defend a marginal ward from the Tories in Elton but will be hopeful of a gain in the gentrifying commuter town of Ramsbottom, and also Labour are reportedly working hard in the normally safe Conservative ward of Tottington.


Rochdale

The Pennine escarpment has been looming over us as we travel east, and it’s time to meet it. Rochdale has been a Labour borough since the mid-Coalition years after a once-substantial Lib Dem group fell apart. By 2014 that falling apart was complete and the Lib Dems were down to just one ward, North Heywood, to sixteen for Labour and three for the Conservatives. The Lib Dem councillor for North Heywood subsequently defected to Labour and is standing for re-election under his new colours, so the beautiful Gothic town hall (if you haven’t been, you really must go there) currently has 47 Labour councillors to ten Conservatives, two Lib Dems and Richard Farnell, a former Labour leader of the council who is currently suspended from the party for lying to the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse.

The Lib Dems are unlikely to recover their defection loss in North Heywood, where they ran a poor third in 2015 and 2016. The wards to watch this year are Milnrow and Newhey, which was Lib Dem in those years and where the party is hoping to complete the set; and Littleborough Lakeside, a ward overlooked by Hollingworth Lake and the White House, which voted Conservative in 2015. No other changes look likely.


Oldham

We catch the tram from the Home of the Co-operative Movement to the Home of the Tubular Bandage. Oldham local elections haven’t always been more interesting than tubular bandages, but this year is likely to see some change on the council thanks to the demise of UKIP.

In 2014 Labour won 14 wards to three for the Lib Dems, two for UKIP and one for an independent. The UKIP councillor for Failsworth West subsequently fell out with the party and is standing for re-election as an independent. The independent councillor for Saddleworth North subsequently defected to Labour. The Lib Dem councillor for Shaw resigned shortly before the end of his term, and his seat is vacant. This ordinary election is combined with by-elections in Chadderton Central and Hollinwood wards, in both cases to replace Labour councillors who have recently died. That gives a Labour majority on the council with 44 seats plus two vacancies, to 8 Lib Dems plus one vacancy, two Conservatives, two independents and one UKIP.

The main contests here would appear to be in Saddleworth…

…no, not those contests. Saddleworth North (Denshaw, Delph, Diggle, Dobcross and Scouthead/Austerlands, if you’re a Whit Friday fan) just has candidates from the three main parties this time. Labour are defending this thanks to defection; but the Lib Dems won the ward in 2015 and 2016 and will be hoping for a gain. Saddleworth South (Uppermill, Greenfield, Friezland, Lydgate) is a Lib Dem defence but voted Conservative in 2015 and 2016, on the latter occasion by just 11 votes. UKIP have given up their seat in Saddleworth West and Lees (Lees and Grotton) without a fight; this was Labour in 2015 and 2016 but the Lib Dems are not out of range. Some stirring contests seem likely, in the ballot boxes as well as on the bandstands.

In Oldham proper, Waterhead ward was close between Labour and UKIP in 2016 but there is no UKIP challenge this time. That good UKIP score may been an effect of Asian politics which also affect the town-centre St Mary’s ward; that area elected an independent in 2016 but there is no independent challenge this time. Finally, Labour will be hopeful of gaining Failsworth West from the UKIP-to-independent defector.


Tameside

Oldham may be interesting this year, but the same can’t be said of Tameside whose elections are traditionally snoozefests. This agglomeration of small Pennine milltowns has 51 Labour councillors and an opposition of just six Conservatives; of its 19 wards, sixteen are safe Labour and one (Stalyvegas South) is safe Conservative.

In 2014 the Conservatives won two wards; surprisingly their second seat wasn’t the traditional marginal of Hyde Werneth, but instead was Ashton Hurst. Hurst voted Labour in 2015 and 2016 while Werneth was Tory in both those years, and those two wards again look like the only points of interest this time round.


Stockport

Now, Stockport. This is the only Greater Manchester borough which has never had a Labour majority, thanks to Conservative and then Lib Dem strength. While Labour took over the administration for the first time a couple of years ago, they run the council as a minority with 23 seats out of 63.

In 2014 the Liberal Democrats won the most wards – 9 out of 21 – despite being second in the popular vote behind Labour, who had 7 wards. The Conservatives won four and Heald Green ward, as is traditional, returned an independent associated with the local Ratepayers group.

Since then there have been some personnel changes. The Conservative councillor for Bramhall South and Woodford ward resigned in 2014 on health grounds, and the Conservatives held the by-election. The Liberal Democrat councillor for Bredbury Green and Romiley ward left the party in 2016; she is not seeking re-election. The Liberal Democrat councillor for Cheadle Hulme South ward defected to Labour in 2016; he is not seeking re-election either. The Labour councillor for Brinnington and Central ward died in 2017 and Labour held the by-election. Overall, as stated Labour are now on 23 seats to 20 for the Lib Dems, 14 for the Conservatives, 3 Heald Green Ratepayers and 3 ex-Lib Dem independents.

There’s lots of ground to cover here. First things first, the election in Edgeley and Cheadle Heath ward is OFF as the Conservative candidate has died since close of nominations. The poll in this ward has been rescheduled for 24th May and will be covered on Andrew’s Previews then. The Lib Dems look odds-on to recover the defection losses in Bredbury Green and Cheadle Hulme South, both of which are safe wards for the party. There are two Labour target wards, Manor and Offerton in eastern Stockport proper, both of which the Lib Dems are defending; Labour won Manor ward in 2016 and are within range in Offerton. Both these wards are also represented by Lib Dem councillors who have fallen out with the party and are not up for re-election this year, which suggests that the yellow campaigning machine might not be in good shape. The Labour campaign are also reportedly working hard in the safe Lib Dem ward of Cheadle Hulme North.

No fewer than five wards are Conservative-Lib Dem marginals. The Lib Dems should be confident of holding Marple North, which was Conservative in 2015 but had a large Lib Dem lead in 2016. They are also defending Marple South and High Lane (as the ward is now called), which voted Conservative in 2015 and 2016 – on the latter occasion with a majority of just 23 votes. There are difficult Tory defences in Hazel Grove and Stepping Hill, both of which voted Lib Dem two years ago, and the Liberal Democrats are also within range of a gain in Bramhall South and Woodford. That ward has three Conservative councillors and is stockbroker belt suburbia; it was one of only a handful of wards in Greater Manchester which did not vote for Andy Burnham in last year’s mayoral election. The main local issue in Bramhall is disruption caused by construction of the Manchester Airport eastern link road which, like every other infrastructure project in Greater Manchester at the moment, has gone horrifically over time and budget – see also the M60 smart motorway and the Bolton railway electrification, both of which were supposed to be finished last year and both of which will be with us for a long time yet.

Overall Labour are probably favoured to remain as the largest party on Stockport council, but the size of their lead over the Lib Dems will be interesting.


Manchester

Nine councils into our clockwise perambulation around the county, and we come to the city of Manchester. You might reasonably ask why the big city doesn’t come first, and there’s a simple answer to that: it’s not particularly or politically interesting. The Labour party have won all but one of the parliamentary and ward elections to take place within the city boundary since the Coalition was formed in May 2010; the one that gone away was the seat of former Withington MP John Leech, who gained Didsbury West ward for the Lib Dems in 2016.

This year all 96 Manchester councillors are up for re-election thanks to new ward boundaries, although the north and south of the city haven’t actually seen much boundary change and generally remain as shown in the 2014 map above. The main effect of the rewarding is to move a ward from East Manchester to the city centre, reflecting population shifts over the last decade and a half. It’s not too long ago that Manchester city centre had almost no resident population; now it has two wards all to itself, called Piccadilly and Deansgate.

Anyway, pretty much the only point of interest here is whether John Leech holds his seat or whether the Labour redwash will reassert itself.


Trafford

Let’s save the best till last, shall we? As befits some of the favoured locations of the Real Housewives of Cheshire, Trafford is the only metropolitan borough in the north of England under Conservative control; but there is speculation that this may finally be the year that the Tories’ luck runs out. The party currently control 34 seats on the council to 26 for Labour and three for the Lib Dems, so three net Tory losses will bring Trafford under no overall control.

In 2014 the Conservatives won 11 wards to 9 for Labour and 1 for the Lib Dems. The Labour councillor for Broadheath ward resigned in 2017 and Labour held the by-election. There are two vacant seats, both in Altrincham ward and both left behind by Tory former parliamentary candidates: Alex Williams (Bury South, 2005; Stretford and Urmston, 2010) is moving on to other things in his career, while Matthew Sephton (Manchester Central, 2012 by-election) is now serving a lengthy prison sentence for child pornography offences. Sephton was due for re-election this year, and the ordinary election to replace him will be combined with the by-election to replace Williams.

The main Tory-Labour battleground is, as usual, north of the Mersey in Urmston. There are three adjoining wards here, Davyhulme East (which includes the Trafford Centre), Davyhulme West and Flixton, which have full slates of Tory councillors all sitting on small majorities over Labour. Flixton ward in particular has had a long series of knife-edge results: since the Coalition was formed the Tory majorities here have been successively 281, 151, 39, 167 (on a general election turnout) and 60 votes. If the Conservatives lose all these wards, in all probability their majority will go as well.

A secondary battleground appears in Altrincham. Broadheath ward in northern Altrincham voted Conservative in 2015, but the by-election last year suggests that Labour should hold this seat. Timperley and Village wards in eastern Altrincham are the two wards which elect Liberal Democrat councillors; the Lib Dems won both of them in 2016, and this year they will be hoping to gain Timperley and defend Village from the Conservatives. The Lib Dem result in Timperley in 2016 was very impressive; on the other hand, their councillor Jane Brophy has a large personal vote. and she’s not on the ballot this year. Altrincham ward looks safe enough, but the double vacancy and scandal do mean that it could be in play if Labour do very well.

So, keep an eye on this one. If the Tory majority in Trafford falls, you’ll know from this how it happened.

Of course, all of this analysis is based on people voting. If people don’t vote, the efforts of candidates will have been wasted and I’ll have nothing to talk about. Come 3rd May I shall be casting my vote in Little Lever and Darcy Lever; if there are local elections in your area this year, please do likewise.

And once you have cast your vote, stay tuned to Britain Elects who will of course endeavour to bring you the results from the 3rd May elections as they are declared. Unfortunately your columnist will not be partaking in the fun this year: my employment comes first, so please don’t send me enquiries on election night or the following day expecting a response as you won’t get one. If you are one of the thousands of candidates at this election, may I wish you the best of luck whichever rosette you wear; if you just intend to follow the results, have an enjoyable time doing it. I’ll see you on the other side for the next edition of Andrew’s Previews, which will be on 17th May with the usual diet of local by-elections in Lancaster and Suffolk.


Previewing the mayoral contests and council by-elections

Previewing the mayoral and council by-elections for LE2018

by Andrew Teale, 01 May 2018


“All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order”

So the ordinary May elections are upon us. I’m not going to try and cover all of the thousands of council seats up for election this year in the Andrew’s Previews series, as I’d never finish such a piece and you’d never read it anyway. Instead I intend to look at a few aspects of the 2018 local elections. This piece will cover the local by-elections in councils which are not holding ordinary local elections this year, together with the mayoral elections; and a companion piece will look in some detail at your columnist’s own county of Greater Manchester.


Sheffield City Region

Let’s start at the top of the pile, shall we? Unquestionably the largest single position being elected this year is the Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, the latest piece of the puzzle in the government’s regional devolution strategy.

This poll was originally supposed to take place last year, but got deferred for a year mainly thanks to disputes over what area the Sheffield City Region should cover. It doesn’t help that Sheffield is hard up against the Yorkshire boundary, and indeed quite a lot of the present Sheffield council area has been annexed from Derbyshire over the years. Pretty much anything in the Sheffield commuter belt south of the city itself is outside Yorkshire.
And that has been the root of the delay. Bassetlaw council in Nottinghamshire and a number of Derbyshire districts had expressed interest in joining the City Region, but Derbyshire county council wasn’t as keen and launched legal action to stop the 2017 election going ahead. The withdrawal of Bassetlaw and the Derbyshire districts has meant that the electors for the Sheffield City Region mayor are only those who live in the four metropolitan boroughs of South Yorkshire.

But even those four boroughs can’t agree on what their devolution deal should look like. Barnsley and Doncaster had expressed support for a devolution arrangement covering the whole of Yorkshire, an idea which also has support from several other Yorkshire councils particularly in West Yorkshire. So it’s quite possible that this mayoral post may not exist for very long at all before it gets subsumed into something bigger.

We wait and see, and in any event it’s unlikely that this election will be an exciting one. There have been three previous elections for a county-wide post in South Yorkshire, all for the Police and Crime Commissioner. The first one was the farcical inaugural PCC election in November 2012, which was noted for its comedy low turnout but still safely returned Labour candidate Shaun Wright in the first round. The English Democrats, who at the time held the Doncaster mayoralty, were a distant second. Wright had come to the police and crime commissionership from Rotherham, where he had been councillor in charge of children’s services; and when the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal broke two years later, he was forced to resign. The resulting by-election in October 2014 elected Labour candidate Alan Billings, a priest and former deputy leader of Sheffield council, in the first round, with UKIP second. Revd Billings was safely re-elected for a full term in 2016, polling 52% to 20% for UKIP and 11% for the Conservatives.

The 2017 general election showed yet again that Labour are in the ascendancy across South Yorkshire. For the first time they won all of the county’s constituencies, gaining Sheffield Hallam from Nick Clegg, and polled 57% across the four boroughs to 30% for the Conservatives.

So really the question here is whether the Labour candidate will win in the first round. He is Dan Jarvis, who came to politics from a career in the military. From Sandhurst he was commissioned into the Parachute Regiment, ending with the rank of Major and a military MBE, and served in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan (twice). Jarvis resigned his commission in 2011 when he was selected as Labour candidate for the Barnsley Central by-election, after former MP Eric Illsley was convicted of fraud charges arising from the Parliamentary expenses scandal. By this time Jarvis’ first wife had died from cancer at the age of just 43, leaving him as a single parent of two children.

Jarvis rose up the parliamentary ranks even more quickly than he had done in the Army; within a year of his election he was in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet, and there was speculation that he would stand for the Labour leadership in the 2015 election. In the event, Jarvis decided to put his family first (by now he had remarried and had a young child with his second wife) and endorsed Andy Burnham. Fat lot of good that did him, and Jarvis has not featured in Corbyn’s shadow cabinets. With his career stalled at Westminster, presumably Jarvis feels that being a regional mayor – even with the currently proposed mayoral position being a bit of a non-job – would be a better use of his skills. If elected he intends to combine the mayoral job with his Westminster duties.

With UKIP not standing the main challenge to Jarvis is likely to come from the Conservative candidate Ian Walker. He is a businessman who runs an engineering firm in Sheffield, and this is his third go at running for county-wide office: Walker was the Tory candidate for South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner in the 2014 by-election and in 2016, either side of fighting Sheffield Hallam in the 2015 general election.

Five other candidates are on the ballot paper: Hannah Kitching for the Liberal Democrats, David Allen for the English Democrats, Mick Bower for the Yorkshire Party, Naveen Judah for an outfit called “South Yorkshire Save Our NHS”, and the Greens’ Robert Murphy.

This by-election will be combined with elections to two of the four South Yorkshire boroughs: Doncaster council was moved away from thirds elections in an attempt to combat longstanding political dysfunctionality, while Rotherham suffered the same fate after the child sexual exploitation scandal revealed that the council, to put it charitably, hadn’t been paying attention to what was going on in their bailiwick. The Commissioners which central government sent in after the scandal are still there and still running Rotherham’s children’s services. That leaves Sheffield city council and Barnsley council electing a third of their councillors; despite a local controversy in Sheffield over extensive tree-felling, in neither of those councils do Labour look under serious threat of losing their majority.

South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner elections

David Allen (EDP)
Mick Bower (Yorks Party)
Dan Jarvis (Lab)
Naveen Judah (S Yorks Save Our NHS)
Hannah Kitching (LD)
Robert Murphy (Grn)
Ian Walker (C)

May 2016 result Lab 144978 UKIP 57062 C 29904 LD 28060 EDP 19114
October 2014 by-election Lab 74060 UKIP 46883 C 18536 EDP 8583
November 2012 result Lab 74615 EDP 22608 C 21075 UKIP 16773 LD 10223

Other mayoral elections

Five local government mayors are up for re-election this year. The stand-out one to watch is Watford, where Baroness Thornhill is standing down after four terms of office. Despite the Lib Dems’ travails nationally they are strong in Watford at local level. Thornhill was re-elected in 2014 for her final term by defeating Labour 65-35 in the runoff; in the 2016 local elections the Lib Dems won 25 seats to 11 for Labour, and polled 39% to 26% for Labour and 20% for the Conservatives, who won nothing. Councillor Peter Taylor is the new Liberal Democrat candidate, 2014 runner-up and Labour candidate Cllr Jagtar Singh Dhindsa tries again, and the Conservatives have selected George Jabbour.

The other four mayoral elections on 3rd May are in Greater London and are all Labour defences. Tower Hamlets is probably the one to keep an eye on, just to see what shenanigans happen this time. Labour’s John Biggs, who won the mayoral by-election in 2015 after Lutfur Rahman was unseated by the Election Court for a corrupt 2014 election campaign, is seeking re-election for a full term. Lutfur Rahman is disqualified from voting or holding elected office until 2020, but the Lutfurites have not gone away. Their candidate Rabina Khan lost the 2015 by-election to Biggs by the relatively narrow margin of 55-45. On the other hand, the Lutfurites have split into two factions: Rabina Khan is trying again with the nomination of PATH, the People’s Alliance of Tower Hamlets, while former deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed is standing for the more hardline Aspire party. Also standing are Anwara Ali for the Conservatives, Ciaran Jebb for the Green Party, Elaine Bagshaw for the Lib Dems and Hugo Pierre with the nomination of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. Those who remember the appalling and embarrassing shambles which was the Tower Hamlets count in 2014 will no doubt be praying, to whatever deity they may believe in, that there will be no repeat this time.

The Newham mayoralty has never been far from political controversy either, but the interesting element of the 2018 Newham election has already happened: outgoing mayor Sir Robin Wales was deselected by Labour, after four terms of office and seven years as council leader before that, in favour of new candidate Rokhsana Fiaz. Described as an East Ender through and through, Fiaz is an outgoing councillor for Custom House ward, and was appointed OBE for her work on race, faith and identity. She will have no problem being elected in this one-party state. The battle for second place looks likely to be won by the Conservatives’ Rahima Khan, a teacher and personal life coach according to her Twitter. Also standing are Gareth Evans for the Lib Dems; Chishala Kumalinga for the evangelical Christian Peoples Alliance, which once had councillors in Newham; and Daniel Oxley for the UKIP splinter Democrats and Veterans Party.

Another four-term mayor standing down – voluntarily this time – is Lewisham‘s Sir Steve Bullock. The new Labour candidate is Damian Egan, who sits in Bullock’s cabinet and is outgoing councillor for Lewisham Central ward; despite therefore being associated with last year’s controversy over compulsory purchase of land around Millwall FC’s stadium he should have little problem being elected. Last time round a close five-way race for second was won by the Conservatives, whose new candidate Ross Archer is a manager at a not-for-profit anti-fraud body. Third place in 2014 went to Duwayne Brooks of the Lib Dems; Brooks has since fallen out with the party and is standing as an independent, while the new Lib Dem candidate is Chris Maines who had several goes at gaining the Orpington parliamentary seat back in the 90s and 00s before finally giving up. Maines was the Lib Dem candidate for Lewisham mayor in 2010, finishing second and taking Bullock to a runoff; these are probably less propitious times for him. Completing this year’s Lewisham mayoral candidates are John Coughlin for the Green Party, John Hamilton for the local left-wing group Lewisham People Before Profit, and Democrats and Veterans candidate Will Donnelly.

Finally, outgoing Hackney mayor Philip Glanville should be similarly untroubled; he won a by-election in 2016 after former mayor Jules Pipe left to join Sadiq Khan’s administration in City Hall, and now has the chance to win a full term of his own. Second in the by-election was the Green Party, whose candidate is film and events producer Alastair Binnie-Lubbock. Also standing are Imtiyaz Lunat for the Conservatives, Pauline Pearce for the Liberal Democrats, Harini Iyengar of the Women’s Equality Party and independent candidate Vernon Williams.


Local by-elections

Only 150 of the 400 or so local councils in Great Britain are up for election this year, which means that there are plenty of people in England (not to mention all of Scotland and Wales) who are sitting this round of local elections out. In those councils there are thirteen by-elections, which I’m just going to namecheck here rather than go through in the usual level of detail.

We start with our token northern by-election which is a crucial poll to Cheshire West and Chester council. Labour are defending the Ellesmere Port Town by-election and with it their council majority; they hold 37 seats on the council plus this vacancy to 36 Conservatives and a single independent. Don’t expect a change of control: this is a very deprived and very safe Labour ward which should elect new candidate Mike Edwardson without much trouble.

The other Labour defence in this set of by-elections comes in Leamington Spa, where the Warwickshire county council seat of Leamington Willes is up for election. Former county councillor Matt Western has gone on to greater things by gaining Warwick and Leamington for Labour in last year’s general election; he leaves behind a division covering south-eastern Leam, an area popular with Warwick University students. The student influence can be seen in the fact that the Green Party ran second here in 2017; however, new Labour candidate Helen Adkins should be favoured to hold the seat.

The Conservatives defend two seats in the East Midlands. In Leicestershire we have a by-election for the county council in Stoney Stanton and Croft, a rural division covering much of the area between Leicester and Hinckley. This was very strongly Conservative last year and should be an easy win for new Tory candidate Maggie Wright. Things may be different in the fens of Lincolnshire; the large rural ward of Donington, Quadring and Gosberton in South Holland district has since 2011 split its three seats between two Conservatives and independent councillor Jane King. One of the Tory seats is up in this by-election and the Conservatives’ Sue Wray should be wary of an independent challenge from Terri Cornwell.

As so often seems to happen, the Eastern region of England has turned up with lots of by-elections. Two of these are in Haverhill, to St Edmundsbury council. following the resignations of a husband-and-wife couple of Conservative councillors; this isolated London overspill town in the south-western corner of Suffolk had a very high UKIP vote until not so long ago, but the Kippers’ collapse means that they can’t find candidates here now. Both Haverhill East and Haverhill North split their seats between UKIP and the Tories in 2015; in the absence of the populist right North should be safe enough for Tory candidate Elaine McManus, but in East ward Labour’s Malcolm Smith could be within range of upsetting the defending Conservative Robin Pilley. These may (tempting fate!) be the last by-elections your columnist has to describe for St Edmundsbury district, which is in merger talks with the neighbouring Forest Heath district council.

Another close Tory-Labour contest looks in prospect over the border in Essex. Bocking North split its two Braintree council seats between the two parties in 2015, and it’s the Tory seat that’s up this time. Dean Wallace leads the Tory defence while Labour’s Tony Everard, who lost his seat in 2015, will try to get back. Also in Braintree district, the Conservatives should have less trouble in Hatfield Peverel and Terling ward, a series of villages wrapping around the western side of Witham; James Coleridge leads the defence there.

The only Lib Dem defence in this set is in the Hertfordshire city of St Albans, and it’s an interesting one. We’re in the St Albans North division of Hertfordshire county council, which is a consistent three-way marginal. It voted Lib Dem in 2005 and 2009, was gained by Labour in 2013, and then regained last year by the Lib Dems who defeated Labour by 71 votes and beat the Tories by 436 votes. That was a good Liberal Democrat performance considering that the party polled poorly in the two St Albans district council wards covering this area in 2016: Batchwood is looking safe for Labour now while Marshalswick South now has a full slate of Tory councillors (and some very expensive housing to boot). Karen Young defends the seat for the Liberal Democrats, and is challenged by two local district councillors. Batchwood’s Roma Mills is the former Labour county councillor seeking to get her seat back; Mills is also up for re-election to the district council this year, giving her two chances to win or lose. On the Tory side, their candidate is Marshalswick South ward councillor, and former Mayor of St Ablans, Salih Gaygusuz; as the name might suggest, he is Turkish-born.

Moving into the South East proper, your columnist had a bit of a rant at Aylesbury Vale council a few weeks back after they put the notices for a couple of district by-elections on their website, but only to people who had registered for an online account with the council. I invited Aylesbury Vale to get in touch and claim their certificate for a useless council website. Fair play to them, they got in touch with me and apologised, and as a result I agreed to suspend the issue of the certificate pending publication of notices for the Quainton by-election. I am pleased to report that the council webmasters have got it right this time, and there will be no further action.

Quainton ward itself is a series of villages in northern Buckinghamshire, a long way from anywhere of note. Nevertheless this was once bizarrely an outpost of the London Underground network, whose Quainton Road station is now preserved as a museum. The ward is of course safe Conservative; although their candidate Steven Walker is the only nominee who does not live in the ward he should have little trouble holding the seat.

For our other by-election in the South East we are going offshore to the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. The electors of Sheppey East ward are in the villages of Eastchurch, Warden and Leysdown-on-Sea at the eastern end of the island, and I have to be specific in referring to “electors” here because the ward also includes a number of large prisons. Sheppey East split its two seats in 2015 between the Conservatives and UKIP, and the Tory seat is up here. The two frontrunners both have rather androgynous names: Lynd Taylor is hoping that he will defend the Conservative seat, while UKIP have selected Sunny Nissanga to try and make a rare gain.

Our final two by-elections of this set are in the South West, and this is where it gets complicated. We have a poll in Dorset for the Weymouth West ward of Weymouth and Portland council, which has been on your columnist’s list of vacant seats since December but had previously been marked under the heading “no further action” because the outgoing councillor was due for re-election this year. Not so, as it turned out: local government in Dorset is due for reorganisation, and as part of that process the 2018 Weymouth and Portland council elections have been cancelled with councillors’ terms extended to 2019. As a result we are now having a by-election for this vacancy. Just to make things more complicated, Weymouth West is a Tory-Labour marginal but the outgoing councillor, Claudia Webb, had been elected for the Tories before defecting to the Green Party. That puts the Green candidate Val Graves into the defending position; the Tories will want their seat back and have selected Richard Nickinson, while Labour – who won Weymouth West at the most recent district poll in 2016 – have selected David Greenhalf. One to watch, this one.

We finish this preview with a free-for-all on the banks of the Torridge river in the town of Bideford. Bideford East is based on the suburb of East-the-Water together with a number of villages in Bideford’s hinterland. The ward has a complicated political history with independent and Lib Dem candidates having been successful here this century, but in 2015 it elected a Tory and two UKIP candidates. This poll is caused by the death of Sam Robinson, who won a 2014 by-election here as an independent before being re-elected in 2015 on the UKIP ticket; UKIP haven’t nominated anyone to replace him so this by-election will result in a change to the political balance of Torridge council. Given the volatile history of this ward I’d better go through the whole candidate list: James Hellyer is standing for the Conservatives, Anne Brenton for Labour, Pauline Davies and Jude Gubb as independents, Gregory de Freyne-Martin for the Greens and Jamie McKenzie for the Lib Dems. Predictions for this one are best left to the locals.


A further piece of Andrew’s Previews will follow shortly, which will look in detail at my own county of Greater Manchester. Stay tuned for that.


May vs. Corbyn, public perceptions


New Opinium polling commissioned by Keiran Pedley offers some light on public perceptions towards Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Prime Minister Theresa May.

Surveyed during the end of January following May’s Brexit speech, voters were asked whether they’d agree or disagree with a few choice statements about them.

Chart: Public perceptions towards Prime Minister Theresa May

Chart: Public perceptions towards Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn


A note on the Sunderland Sandhill council by-election


Many a comment has been made about Sunderland’s Sandhill council by-election result from last night, about what it may or may not mean and whether it is indicative of something or nothing.

I was informed on Tuesday that the Lib Dems had been working the ward for three months, an abnormal length of campaigning for council by-election campaigns, and that it would be one of the wards keeping an eye on come Thursday night.

Ciarán Morrissey, a Liberal Democrat campaigner from the region who played a part in the campaign, said to me that he is “sceptical of narratives that say this [the Lib Dem gain] was because of Regrexit/Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn,” instead placing blame on the local council and pointing out their campaign focused on local issues rather than the national picture.

“It was just old-fashioned groundwork. Heavily targeted literature plans, lots of literature, and lots of canvassing. Our messages were clear and were being read and believed, and we put out an absolutely huge volume of Focus, blue letters, etc., including a letter from Steve’s [the candidate] nana, who lives in the ward. We canvassed every day and kept returning to doors where we’d been told where to go, and kept this intensity up until polling day, having been at it since late November.”

Is it the case that the Liberal Democrats may now regularly be outgunning their opponents in manpower and literature when it comes to council by-elections? Perhaps. It doesn’t require confidants and scientific analysis to tell you the Lib Dems regularly go over and above what other parties do in election campaigns they think they can win in.

Is it the case that the Liberal Democrats are (re)gaining support, and so, logically, gaining council seats? Yes. Our poll of polls does note an uptick in support for them, but that alone does not explain the win in Sandhills, a seat they weren’t in contention for even at their height of popularity back in the 2000s.

Does the Lib Dem win in (Leave voting) Sunderland suggest Regrexit is driving votes to a pro-EU party? Very unlikely. National polling currently does not give Regrexit much credence. The subsamples (usual caveats apply) in national polls do note, however, that the Lib Dems are taking one in five of those that voted Remain in last year’s referendum.

My impression is the Lib Dems are in the process of successfully shaking off the negative reputation attained from the coalition years. Their ability to focus on local issues in, shocker, local council by-elections and campaigning hard is paying them dividends. Nationally, they are up in the polls but not by much.

For a better, clearer picture of how national public opinion is shaping up, keep an eye on our polling averages and the coming English, Welsh and Scottish elections of May this year. More on what is up for election soon!


With thanks to those cited on the ground in the area for providing valuable information.


Theresa May, five months on

Five months since Theresa May’s ascendancy to Downing Street, the public’s impressions of her are more positive than negative but waver slightly in the face of growing opposition.

Ipsos Mori’s satisfaction tracker show the new Prime Minister has over the course of the past five months – with the exception of October (where it was 48 per cent) – had half or more of voters indicating satisfaction with her premiership. This is not particularly remarkable when satisfaction with David Cameron in the first five months of his premiership was also 50 per cent and above before falling to the mid-40s and high-30s as his administration continued.

One month following May’s ascendancy 27 per cent of voters could not say whether they were satisfied or dissatisfied with her performance. By December this had fallen to 15 per cent, with much of the August bench-sitters seemingly moving towards dissatisfaction. August had her at 54 per cent satisfaction, 19 per cent dissatisfaction. December has it 50 and 35 per cent respectively.

Chart: Public opinion on how well the Prime Minister is doing at her job, month by month

When asking voters whether they have a favourable or unfavourable opinion of the Prime Minister, 41 per cent told a ComRes survey in December they have a favourable view (down 1 point from August), 30 per cent said unfavourable (up 6). Whether you ask voters about satisfaction or favourability, Theresa May can take heart that she has net positivity in both areas but must be aware that attitudes are beginning to, slowly, shift against her.

Public perceptions of May, while mostly good, are not exclusively so. A recent Opinium survey (13-16 Dec) showed she is seen by a great deal of the public as decisive, strong, principled, able to get things done, able to stand up for Britain abroad, and someone with the nation’s interests at heart. She is not, however, seen as in touch, possessing of views similar to most voters,  or representative of public opinion.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn fares worse than May in most categories but beats her on perceptions of principle and being in touch with ordinary people.

Chart: Public perceptions of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn

Despite some comical process stories and perceptions that her government is handling Brexit badly, Theresa May is seen as strong, decisive, capable and has a net satisfaction rating of +15 (Ipsos Mori, Dec). Whether these positive perceptions will continue or collapse in 2017 is yet to be seen.


Resources used:
Ipsos Mori polling
ComRes polling
Opinium polling
AmCharts
Photo: PA


What do the boundary changes mean?

The Boundary Commission(s) for England, Scotland and Wales have all respectively published their initial boundary proposals (map below). The intentions of these proposals are to see an equal number of electors in all seats across the United Kingdom (no less than 71,000) with the hope that they will be used for the 2020 General Election. These proposals are likely to be altered and revised come the Autumn of 2017, however.

At the last election, which used different boundaries, the Conservatives won 330 seats and Labour 232. The new draft constituencies raise the question of how the country may have looked were 2015 fought on these proposed boundaries. This is to gauge for 2020 how far, for example, Labour may need to climb to clinch Downing Street (on the old boundaries they would need to make a net gain of 93 seats), or how fatter or thinner the current 12 seat Tory majority may be.

To our knowledge there have been only two attempts at number crunching to gauge the notional results of these new boundaries. The calculations by Anthony Wells and Martin Baxter both suggest that the notional results on these new boundaries are to give the Conservatives an enlarged majority. Putting it in percentage terms, on the old boundaries, the Tories took 50.8% of seats (330/650), on the new they would have took around 53% (Wells: 319/600, Baxter: 316/600).

How notional results are calculated for these new constituencies involve assumptions made through aggregating the ward results of local council elections. While not accurate to the single vote – and those with very close notional results ought to be judged as tossups/too-close-to-call, most of the time they do provide a satisfactory indicator of where support for each party is concentrated and how that constituency – in the aggregate – is composed. It ought to be said that notional figures are a simple aggregate exercise and don’t account for the potential reality that electors may have voted otherwise in the event a certain candidate/personality was on the ballot paper.

The wards included to compile East Thanet, for example, show a seat with a result closer between the Conservatives and UKIP than South Thanet, of which the seat broadly replaces. It would therefore be reasonable to suggest that East Thanet ought to be regarded as a tossup. The notionals by Anthony Wells make it Conservative; Martin Baxter’s make it UKIP.

PartyAnthony WellsMartin Baxter
Conservative319316
Labour203205
SNP5252
Liberal Democrat44
Plaid Cymru33
UKIP12
Green--
Other parties1818

On the notional results:-

What of the Greens?

The redrawing of the boundaries in Brighton sees Green support split between Brighton North and Brighton Central & Hove, whereas on the old boundaries it was mostly concentrated in Brighton Pavilion. The new Brighton North seat, which replaces much of Caroline Lucas’ Pavilion constituency, sees the addition of Tory leaning wards such as Hove Park and Withdean, notionally turning the constituency in the aggregate blue instead of green. It should be stressed, though, that this is a purely arithmetical exercise. It does not account for the potential reality that electors may have voted differently depending on the constituency they could vote in.

What of the Liberal Democrats?

On the proposed boundaries the Lib Dems are notionally set to defend four seats, down from eight: Orkney & Shetland, Ceredigion, Westmorland & Lonsdale and North Norfolk.

Southport and Carshalton & Wallington go notionally Conservative; Leeds North West and Sheffield Hallam & Stocksbridge go Labour. The redrawn Cambridge seat, like East Thanet, looks set to prove an interesting toss-up with a notional result of Labour leading the Lib Dems by just 200 votes.

The proposed boundaries, notionals:

Notional results sourecd via Anthony Wells, ukpollingreport.co.uk