Previews: 11 Oct 2018

And each town looks the same to me
-Paul Simon, Homeward Bound

It's a common complaint these days that all towns look the same. Let me try and persuade you otherwise, for the five local by-elections on 11th October 2018 are all in towns. For connoisseurs of towns there's a bit of everything here: small towns and large ones, north and south, old and New; politically this week's selection leans to the left, with four Labour defences in the North and a free-for-all in the South. In this column's time-honoured tradition of covering all the right votes but necessarily in the right order, let's start with that one...

Southlands

Adur council, West Sussex; caused by the resignation of Paul Graysmark, the leader of the UKIP group on the council, who was first elected in 2000 and had continuous sevice since a May 2013 by-election. He is retiring and moving to Scotland.

"A fine and cultivated city containing buildings and flourishing activity"

That was the Arab Muslim geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi, writing in the middle of the twelfth century; and I'm not going to contradict his assessment of Shoreham-by-Sea. Mind, in the intervening years Shoreham has been overtaken in importance by the neighbouring towns of Brighton, Hove and Worthing. Worthing has escaped the normal depressed fate of seaside resorts by diversifying into financial services; Hove is, well, Hove; and despite the vagaries of Thameslink Brighton has become a favoured location for London commuters. In some ways Brighton is becoming a victim of its own success in that regard, as the cost of living there is now almost as prohibitive as in the Great Wen itself. Supply and demand being what it is, that means that those people who want to live on the south coast and commute to London are having to look to places which are not Brighton.

Places like Shoreham, which has swung a mile to the left politically within the last electoral cycle: between the 2015 and 2017 general elections the Labour share in the East Worthing and Shoreham constituency doubled from 20% to 40%, turning the seat into a Tory-Labour marginal for the first time. That wasn't achieved by taking votes off the Conservative MP Tim Loughton, whose share was unchanged at 49%; instead the main losers were UKIP, who fell from 17% of the vote in 2015 to just 3% two years later.

Clearly something very interesting is going on in this corner of the world, but then again if you look at Southlands ward on its own it might appear as if little has changed on the surface. The ward is a tract of eastern Shoreham around Southlands Hospital; much of it is ex-council housing from the postwar period and its demographic profile is rather more working-class than neighbouring wards. Southlands is, and has been for several electoral cycles now, a knife-edge marginal. In the 2004 election, the first on the current boundaries, it split its two seats between the Conservatives and Labour; on the Tory side, that meant that Paul Graysmark lost his seat to his wife Laura. Awkward. The Tories convincingly gained the Labour seat in 2006 and things then looked set fair for them, until Paul Graysmark made a political comeback. Mr Graysmark was elected in 2012 for the Conservatives against a strong Labour resurgence, with a majority of just eight votes; but then he decided to gamble by defecting to UKIP and resigning to seek re-election in his new colours. The gamble paid off: Graysmark easily held the by-election in May 2013, and got a running-mate elected the following year.

But things then started to get difficult for UKIP in Southlands. Graysmark was re-elected in 2016, but only just on an almost perfect three-way split: he finished twelve votes ahead of the Conservatives and twenty votes above Labour. UKIP then collapsed here in the 2017 West Sussex county elections, in which Shoreham North was a very safe Tory division. That collapse fed through to the 2017 general election the following month and to the May 2018 Adur district elections, in which UKIP resoundingly lost Southlands by finishing last with just 5%. But it wasn't the Tories who picked up - it was Labour, winning a seat in Southlands for the first time in fourteen years with 42% to the Tories' 41%, a majority of eleven votes. That was one of four Labour gains in this district in MAy, as the party became the official opposition on Adur council.

So Paul Graysmark has resigned his seat for the second time in five years. This time he is not seeking re-election; not only that, there is no defending UKIP candidate so we have a free-for-all! The Labour candidate is Debs Stainforth, who is currently training as a psychologist and, according to Labour's press release, has worked in housing, homelessness and family work for many years. The Tories' Tony Nicklen returns after his near-misses in 2016 and 2018; he is a technical coordinator in food manufacturing. Completing the ballot paper is Andrew Bradbury, for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: East Worthing and Shoreham
West Sussex county council division: Shoreham North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Worthing
Postcode district: BN43

Andrew Bradbury (Grn)
Tony Nicklen (C)
Debs Stainforth (Lab)

May 2018 result Lab 425 C 414 LD 69 Grn 57 UKIP 52
May 2016 result UKIP 301 C 289 Lab 281 LD 95
May 2014 result UKIP 371 C 353 Lab 220 LD 55 Grn 50
May 2013 by-election UKIP 354 Lab 254 C 228 LD 51
May 2012 result C 329 Lab 321 UKIP 131 LD 85
May 2010 result C 720 Lab 547 LD 442 UKIP 171
May 2008 result C 522 Lab 205 LD 110 Grn 87
May 2006 result C 500 Lab 337 LD 174
June 2004 rsult C 555/517 Lab 535/498


Ditton

Halton council, Cheshire; caused by the disqualification of Labour councillor Shaun Osborne, who failed to attend any meetings of the council in six months. A former Mayor of Halton who had served for over twenty years, Osborne has been unable to attend meetings due to poor health over the last eighteen months.

"If you'd ever seen Widnes, then you'd know why I was keen to get back to London as quickly as possible."

We start our tour of the Labour North with a quote attributed to the singer-songrwriter Paul Simon, and I'm not going to contradict his assessment of Widnes. Back in the 1960s Simon travelled to Widnes to play a gig and then had a long and depressing wait for a train home, during which he started to a write a song which became Homeward Bound, a huge hit for Simon and his then musical partner Art Garfunkel.

https://youtu.be/m0oJ8_VTu3c

A plaque on Widnes railway station commemorates the writing of the song with a slightly worrying lack of irony; but it seems more likely that Simon was actually at Ditton railway station, on the Crewe-Liverpool line, which subsequently closed in 1994 - the first railway station to close after the privatisation of British Rail.

To the south of the former Ditton station is Halebank, an industrial village on the north bank of the Mersey; while to the north lies part of Widnes proper, the Ditton and Hough Green areas. Parts of Hough Green are quite well-off, but the political tone of this ward is set by Ditton and Halebank which are strongly Labour. The Labour party have only lost Ditton ward once in this century, to the Conservatives in 2006 by twenty-nine votes; and that must be put down to a personal vote for the Tory candidate Colin Rowan. After losing his seat in 2010 Rowan became chairman of Halebank parish council, and he made an attempt to get back onto Halton council as an independent candidate in May's ordinary election: in a straight fight, Labour defeated him by 62-38, which is a relatively low Labour score for the area.

Defending this by-election for the Labour Party is Edward Dourley. Rowan has not returned, but there will be a contested election as Dourley is opposed by Daniel Clarke for the Conservatives and David Coveney for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Halton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Warrington and Wigan
Postcode district: WA8

Daniel Clarke (C)
David Coveney (LD)
Edward Dourley (Lab)

May 2018 result Lab 934 Ind 575
May 2016 result Lab 1105 Ind 202 C 171
May 2015 result Lab 2678 C 748
May 2014 result Lab 1251 C 308
May 2012 result Lab 1209 C 286
May 2011 result Lab 1372 C 494
May 2010 result Lab 2180 C 925
May 2008 result Lab 650 C 495 LD 346
May 2007 result Lab 784 C 485 LD 318
May 2006 result C 722 Lab 693
June 2004 result Lab 1185/1051/864 C 681


Penketh and Cuerdley

Warrington council, Cheshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Allin Dirir at the age of 79. Born in Somalia, where he became the country's youngest-ever political party leader aged 16, Dirir studied at Alexandria University in Egypt before coming to Britain to study at Lancaster University. He married his wife Linda - who still sits on Warrington council - in 1970, and they settled down in Penketh to raise a family and become pillars of the community. Allin Dirir was the first Somali ever to be elected to public office in the UK - winning a seat on Penketh parish council in 2000 - and he was elected to Warrington borough council in 2012, some years after acting as consort to Linda during her mayoral year. He leaves behind Linda and their four children.

We travel across Widnes from west to east and cross the border into the Borough of Warrington. Penketh marks the western end of Warrington, and is a rather affluent part of the New Town. There is some commuting to Liverpool and Manchester from Sankey railway station just outside the ward boundary, although this is expected to reduce once the new Warrington West station opens later this year. Much of the housing is postwar, but owner-occupation here is extremely high. As is, by all accounts, pride in the community; a local resident and quiz friend of mine reports that Penketh parish council is well-off enough to own and run a well-used community centre and swimming pool. By contrast, Warrington borough council are trying to concentrate their services in this part of town in Great Sankey, to which there is no bus service from Penketh; the main council services in the ward are schools and Penketh library, which is under threat of closure. However, Penketh and Cuerdley are probably best known to the world outside Warrington for exporting electricity: here can be found the giant coal-fired power station at Fiddler's Ferry, whose cooling towers dominate much of the Cheshire and Lancashire plain.

This has historically been one of the better wards for the Conservatives in Warrington; the party won one seat out of three here in 2004, held it in 2006 and gained a second seat in 2008. Since then it's been all Labour - Allin Dirir completing the wipeout of the Tories in 2012 - but the Conservative vote has not utterly collapsed here as it has elsewhere within the cultural orbit of Liverpool. There were new boundaries here for the 2016 election in which Labour beat the Conservatives by 51% to 41%; so despite the good Labour result in the local Warrington South constituency in the following year's general election, the party cannot afford to be complacent.

Defending for Labour is Kenny Watson, chairman of the party's Momentum branch. The Tory candidate is Philip Hayward, who fought Chapelford and Old Hall ward in the 2016 borough elections and again in a by-election last October where he performed poorly. Also standing are David Crowther for the Lib Dems, Stephanie Davies for the Green Party, independent candidate Geoff Fellows - who won a by-election to Penketh parish council in April - and UKIP's Ian Wilson.

Parliamentary constituency: Warrington South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Warrington and Wigan
Postcode districts: WA4, WA5, WA8

David Crowther (LD)
Stephanie Davies (Grn)
Geoff Fellows (Ind)
Philip Hayward (C)
Kenny Watson (Lab)
Ian Wilson (UKIP)

May 2016 result Lab 1622/1511/1486 C 1317/1087/1030 LD 254


Tanhouse

West Lancashire council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Robert Pendleton. Pendleton was a veteran of local government, having been first elected to West Lancashire council in 1983; he was only re-elected in May for his tenth term of office. He had served as chairman of West Lancashire council in 2008-09, and had also been a Lancashire county councillor until 2009 when he lost Skelmersdale East to the Conservatives.

https://youtu.be/GuIhaAmDyZ0

Would you like a commute without traffic lights to punctuate your journey? Where the traffic always flows freely? Well, as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for: for we finish our mini-tour of towns between the Ribble and the Mersey with a place which - while it doesn't contain a single traffic light - not many people seem to have a good word for. Like Warrington, Skelmersdale is a New Town, but unlike Warrington it's a New Town that never realised its full potential: fewer than 40,000 people live there and they still get lost in the maze of roundabouts that is the town's road network. Skem was built for and almost entirely populated by people rehoused from Liverpool and its satellite towns, and despite its short life has inspired one of the major works of British musical theatre: the second act of Willy Russell's Blood Brothers, which ran in the West End for nearly a quarter of a century, is set in Skelmersdale. Listen to the song above - which closes the first act of Blood Brothers - and you'll get some idea of how a new life in Skem could seem appealing. Of course, that's only Act One, and there's plenty of time in Act Two for things to go as pearshaped as some of Skem's roundabouts.

Skem votes like it's a part of Merseyside and always has done. The town supplies the Labour majority on West Lancashire council and in the West Lancashire constituency, and Tanhouse ward in the east of town - despite a scare from the Tories in a 2008 by-election - is no different to the general pattern. This is the sort of place where the Labour votes are not counted but weighed; in May's ordinary election the readout from the Tanhouse scales was 85% for Labour's Robert Pendleton against only Conservative opposition. Last year's county council elections suggest that this is a relatively weak Labour area within the Skelmersdale Central county division, across which Labour polled 88% of the vote.

So don't expect electoral fireworks here. Defending this by-election for Labour is Ron Cooper, who is opposed by the Tories' Alexander Blundell and independent Aaron Body.

Parliamentary constituency: West Lancashire
Lancashire county council division: Skelmersdale Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Liverpool
Postcode district: WN8

Alexander Blundell (C)
Aaron Body (Ind)
Ron Cooper (Lab)

May 2018 result Lab 714 C 125
May 2015 result Lab 1644 C 316
May 2014 result Lab 759 UKIP 121 C 74
May 2011 result Lab 726 C 187
May 2010 result Lab 1416 C 433
May 2008 by-election Lab 402 C 368
May 2007 result Lab 412 C 180 Grn 89
May 2006 result Lab 482 C 179 Grn 88
May 2003 result Lab 368 C 114
May 2002 result Lab 374/321 Ind 163 C 129


Hart

Hartlepool council, County Durham; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Paul Beck who had served since 2012. The Mayor of Hartlepool in 2017-18, Beck is standing down partly to care for his wife, who is in poor health; and partly due to a row over candidate selection for the 2019 elections which has seen several Hartlepool Labour councillors deselected.

We finish the week as we started it, in a coastal town. The much-misunderstood town of Hartlepool is the major settlement on the Durham coast, having been founded in the seventh century by St Aidan; the name derives from "hart" as in "stag", and the north of the town still has a large number of "hart" placenames. Chief among those is Hart village, a rather nice place bypassed by the main road west towards Durham. Hart has a very old history: its church, dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, predates the Norman conquest, and in the twelfth century the lords of the manor here were the de Brus family, one of whom - Robert de Brus VII - is better known to history as one of the famous kings of Scotland.

However, Hart village has only formed part of the Hart ward since 2012. Hart ward is instead focused on the northern end of the town of Hartlepool, along the Hart Road and the Coast Road. This is a fast-growing area where a lot of new housing estates have sprung up over the last thirty years or so. Hart ward has high employment levels - very high by Hartlepool standards - and the version of the ward which existed at the time of the 2011 census made the top 70 wards in England and Wales for Apprenticeship qualifications, reflecting the town's manufacturing base.

Local politics in Hartlepool has never been quite the same since, well, since the Major government. Even before the Monkey Mayor came on the scene in 2002 the Labour party's grip on the town had been well and truly loosened, and the story of the last decade and a half here has been one of political fragmentation between a galaxy of localist groups, independents and UKIP. Hart ward is no different: it was a Lib Dem hotspot until the Coalition put paid to the Lib Dem vote in Hartlepool, and the 2012 election - the first on these boundaries - returned two Labour councillors and an ex-Lib Dem independent. In a close four-way result, the independent councillor lost his seat in 2014 to the localist party Putting Hartlepool First; Labour held the other two seats in 2015 in 2016, with UKIP close behind on both occasions. In May 2018 Putting Hartlepool First didn't defend their seat, but it went to another independent rather than reverting to Labour; shares of the vote were 44% for the independent candidate Thomas Cassidy, 39% for Labour and 17% for the Conservatives.

Defending this by-election for Labour is Aileen Kendon, who returns to the campaign trail after being the losing Labour candidate here in May. The independent charge is led by James Brewer, who was runner-up in a by-election last July for the neighbouring Rural West ward. The Tories have gone for youth by selecting 19-year-old Cameron Stokell, a politics student at Sheffield Hallam University and talented field hockey player. Completing the ballot paper is Michael Holt for the Green Party. Whoever wins this by-election is unlikely to be able to rest for long, as they will be up for re-election next May.

Parliamentary constituency: Hartlepool
ONS Travel to Work Area: Hartlepool
Postcode districts: TS26, TS27

James Brewer (Ind)
Michael Holt (Grn)
Aileen Kendon (Lab)
Cameron Stokell (C)

May 2018 result Ind 778 Lab 685 C 304
May 2016 result Lab 568 UKIP 529 Ind 394 C 383 Grn 70
May 2015 result Lab 1186 UKIP 981 C 798 Putting Hartlepool First 787 Ind 547
May 2014 result Putting Hartlepool First 534 UKIP 446 Ind 435 Lab 376 C 234
May 2012 result Lab 713/571/522 Ind 532/368/333/257 C 417 Putting Hartlepool First 266 UKIP 262


Preview: 09 Oct 2018

One by-election on Tuesday 9th October 2018:

 

Castle Baynard

City of London Corporation; caused by the election of Common Councilman Emma Edhem to the Court of Alderman.

For a rare Tuesday by-election we come to the western end of the ancient City of London. In medieval times London ended at the River Fleet, a tributary of the Thames which has now completely disappeared into London's sewer network. However, the Fleet formed a natural first line of defence which was supplemented by London's Roman walls and, from the Norman conquest onwards, Baynard's Castle.

The name refers to Ralph Baynard, who came over with the Conqueror and became Sheriff of Essex. He built a castle on the corner of the Fleet and Thames, next to what became (after Edward III moved his store of arms, personal items and clothing nearby) the church of St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe. Baynard's Castle was destroyed in the wars that marked the reign of King John, and a new castle was then built very close by on land which had been reclaimed from the river; this ended up in the hands of the Dukes of York, and became royal property when the Lancastrian king Henry VI was deposed. Richard III was proclaimed king here after having his nephew Edward V declared illegitimate; Henry VIII gave the castle to his first wife Catherine of Aragon as a wedding present; while the Privy Council met here in 1553 to proclaim their daughter Mary as Queen and end the ill-fated reign of Lady Jane Grey.

The Great Fire of London destroyed Baynard's Castle, and all remains of the mediaeval building had gone by the twentieth century. Its site was extensively redeveloped in the 1970s and is now occupied by the brutalist Baynard House, an office block occupied by BT. If you watched Mission: Impossible - Fallout when it came out earlier this year, you've probably seen Baynard House: Tom Cruise broke his ankle jumping off the roof of the building while shooting a scene for that film.

Of course, it's not just BT who are important players within the Castle Baynard ward. On the riverbank are the railway and Underground stations at Blackfriars, which bring thousands of people into the area every weekday. To the north-east, St Paul's Cathedral lies within the ward boundary; while to the north-west the ward covers another of Wren's churches, the wedding cake of St Bride's, together with the area around Fleet Street. This was traditionally the home of London journalism, but the press have been priced out over the years - the last Fleet Street newspaper office, for the Sunday Post, closed in 2016 - and it's now sandwich shops and financial institutions that rule the roost here. Boundary changes in this decade have expanded the ward into the Farringdon area, traditionally a district dominated by lawyers.

Under the City of London's unique system of business voting, it's electors nominated by businesses and sole traders within the ward who will elect the winner of this by-election - there are very few people who actually live here. The Corporation of London has non-partisan politics rather like a largish parish council; despite Labour having won a few seats on the Court of Common Council in recent years, political parties are generally not important in the City's elections. So this by-election will provide a breath of fresh air from the polarised politics of the modern day - although, as we shall see, there are some party political figures here despite the "Independent" ballot paper description.

The business voters here certainly can't complain that they don't have choice: there are eight candidates for this by-election, which is the longest ballot paper in an English local by-election for a single vacancy since February 2017 (when eight candidates stood for Dinnington ward in Rotherham). Many of these names will be familiar to City watchers. Timothy Becker may be at the top of the ballot paper but he has made a habit of finishing at the bottom of City local by-election results: he was last in Bishopsgate ward last November and in Billingsgate ward in March this year, on the latter occasion polling just six votes. Merlene Emerson may be on the ballot paper as an independent, as is traditional in the City, but she is a prominent Liberal Democrat: of Chinese extraction, Emerson is a City solicitor turned mediator who fought Hammersmith in the 2010 general election, and she was appointed MBE in the 2016 Birthday Honours for political and public service. Richard Humphreys, who commutes into the city from rural Northamptonshire, is a QC specialising in public law. Two candidates give addresses in the City of London, on the Barbican estate: barrister Natasha Lloyd-Owen is an official Labour Party candidate, while Deborah Oliver works in corporate relations and communications and was recently appointed to the City of London Police Committee. They sandwich on the ballot paper Julian Malins, the younger brother of the former Tory MP Humfrey Malins; Malins junior was the Conservative candidate for Pontefract and Castleford in the 1987 general election and is a barrister and Crown Court recorder who has represented Elton John and Lord Archer in libel cases, and more recently conducted an investigation into Cambridge Analytica just before it went bust. Malins is trying to get back onto the Common Council after losing his seat in Farrington Without ward in last year's City elections. Those elections also saw Alpa Raja missing out in Castle Baynard after coming ninth out of nine candidates, with the top eight winning; Raja is back for another go. Completing the ballot paper is another former Common Councilman who lost her seat in 2017, Virginia Rounding who is an author, literary critic and Clerk to the Worshipful Company of Builders' Merchants. Good luck choosing a winner out of that field.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
London Assembly constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: EC1N, EC4A, EC4M, EC4V, EC4Y

Timothy Becker (Ind)
Merlene Emerson (Ind)
Richard Humphreys (Ind)
Natasha Lloyd-Owen (Lab)
Julian Malins (Ind)
Deborah Oliver (Ind)
Alpa Raja (Ind)
Virginia Rounding (Ind)


Previews: 04 Oct 2018

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

After last week's tale of three cities, the three by-elections on 4th October 2018 are all in or based on towns. It's a vintage week for octogenarian veterans of local government, as we discuss two Tory and one Labour defence in the eastern half of England. Read on...


Moor

Chesterfield council, Derbyshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Keith Brown at the age of 62. He had served since 2011 for Moor ward, and was also a Chesterfield councillor for St Helen's ward from 1983 to 1991. His working life was spent in social services: he had retired a few years ago from the adult care service of Derbyshire county council.

It's Tory Conference week, so the obvious place to start is with, yes, a contest between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. We're in Chesterfield, the largest town (as opposed to city) in Derbyshire; this is an old market town which became an industrial centre during the Industrial Revolution. There was lots of coal under Chesterfield, and associated industries grew up taking advantage of the raw material and the transport links offered by the River Rother, the Chesterfield Canal and the railways. One of those industries was a large glassworks on Lockford Lane, located in the Whittington Moor area a mile or two north of the town centre. The glass factory closed in the early 2000s and the site has since been redeveloped: it's now home to a supermarket and the Proact Stadium, which since 2010 has been the home ground of Chesterfield FC. Overlooking this from the west is a rather deprived ward, although not by any means the worst-off area of town.

Chesterfield has been a rather unlikely Liberal Democrat hotspot in recent decades, going back to 2001 when the party gained the Chesterfield parliamentary seat; that was after Tony Benn retired as the town's MP to spend more time with his politics. The Lib Dems followed up by gaining the borough council in 2003 and held it until 2011. One of the wards which sustained that Lib Dem majority was Moor ward; this was also gained by Labour in 2011, and the 2015 result saw a slight further swing in favour of the Labour party who had 49% to 35% for the Lib Dem slate. The Lib Dems were nowhere here in the 2017 Derbyshire county elections - Moor ward is part of St Mary's division which is safe for Labour - but did win the last by-election to Chesterfield council, gaining Holmebrook ward from Labour in September last year.

As the defending Labour candidate here Ron Mihaly knows well: he was the defending Labour candidate in that by-election too. Readers of Andrew's Previews 2017 - available now from Amazon, and all purchases will help to support this column - may recall that Mihaly is a Derbyshire county councillor, representing Boythorpe and Brampton South in western Chesterfield. Appropriately enough for the location, Mihaly is a former professional footballer who played in central defence for Chesterfield and QPR in the 1970s. He's also well-placed to keep an eye on the Lib Dem campaign, because he gives an address four doors away from the Lib Dem candidate.

That Liberal Democrat candidate is Tony Rogers, a political veteran who is fighting his thirtieth election campaign and celebrated his eightieth birthday this year. Rogers was the Liberal or Liberal Democrat candidate for Chesterfield in the 1987, 1992 and 1997 general elections, and in a long political career which started in his native West Country has reportedly sat on six different local authorities. The two most recent of those were Derbyshire county council and Chesterfield borough council, on which he represented this ward until losing his seat in 2011. Completing the ballot paper are Gordon Partington for the Conservatives and Barry Thompson for UKIP.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: Chesterfield
Derbyshire county council division: St Mary's
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chesterfield
Postcode district: S41

Ron Mihaly (Lab)
Gordon Partington (C)
Tony Rogers (LD)
Barry Thompson (UKIP)

May 2015 result Lab 943/927 LD 669/551 C 301
May 2011 result Lab 846/788 LD 646/565
May 2007 result LD 893/829 Lab 514/449
May 2003 result LD 1149/1003 Lab 717/613


Thirsk

Hambleton council, North Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councilor Janet Watson who had served since 2015.

We move to two polls in the Tory shires, starting in the north. Thirsk is one of the major towns in the Vale of Mowbray, that low ground between the Pennines and the North York Moors through which all the major transport routes to the North East flow. Thirsk lies on two of those, the A19 road to Teesside and the West Coast Main Line, giving it excellent communication links. But at heart this is still a rural and agricultural market town - as you might have guessed from some well-known works of literature set here. Jim Wight was a veterinary surgeon in Thirsk for many years but found fame as a writer of semi-autobiographical books, which were televised under the name All Creatures Great and Small.

The local government district here is Hambleton, one of England's less-cohesive districts in that it fills the Vale of Mowbray, running from the edge of York all the way to the edge of Darlington and Teesside. Hambleton had a boundary review for 2015 with a big cut in the number of councillors, so while Thirsk ward is now larger than it was before 2015, having gained five rural parishes, it has one fewer councillor. With three Tories representing true-blue Thirsk going into the 2015 election someone had to lose out from the boundary change, and the outgoing Tory councillor who missed the cut was clearly Andrew Robinson who stood for re-election in 2015 as an independent candidate. He lost rather resoundingly: the Tory slate had 66% and Robinson just 34%. Things were even easier for the Conservatives in the 2017 county council elections, in which they won the Thirsk county division unopposed.

Defending for the Conservatives is Dave Elders who is the only candidate to give an address in the ward. Returning from the 2015 election here is Trish Beadle, who that year finished fourth out of four candidates standing as an independent; this time Beadle has the Labour nomination. Completing the ballot paper is Northallerton resident Stewart Barber, standing for the Yorkshire Party.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: Thirsk and Malton
North Yorkshire county council division: Thirsk (Carlton Miniott and Thirsk parishes), Sowerby (Catton, Kirby Wiske, Newsham with Breckenbrough, Sandhutton and Skipton-on-Swale parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northallerton
Postcode district: YO7

Stewart Barber (Yorks Party)
Trish Beadle (Lab)
Dave Elders (C)

May 2015 result C 1940/1423 Ind 1009/778


Soham North and Isleham

Cambridgeshire county council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Paul Raynes, who is now working in a politically-restricted post at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. A former diplomat, he had served only since May 2017.

We finish in the fens of East Anglia to another small agricultural market town, but one which will be more familiar to readers of Andrew's Previews 2017. Soham began recorded life in AD 630 with the building of an abbey by St Felix of Burgundy, who was the first Bishop of the East Angles. The abbey later got promoted to cathedral status, and then was relegated back down again. One of many misfortunes to visit Soham, which was nearly destroyed in 1944 when a train carrying munitions caught fire, and is still probably best known to the outside world for the 2002 murder of two ten-year-old girls by their school caretaker.

Sohan is in the economic orbit of Cambridge, whose hinterland which has seen huge amounts of population growth over the last few decades. For the most part this has been achieved by tacking new housing estates onto pre-existing towns and villages, and Soham has not escaped that process: the electorate of its North ward grew by 40% between 2003 and 2017. That demographic change has been to the benefit of the Tories, who have made safe what had been a competitve area for the Liberal Democrats until the mid-2000s.

This county division was created by a 2017 redistribution which divided into two the old Soham and Fordham Villages division. That was a Tory division and the May 2017 result here doesn't suggest anything different: the Conservatives had 66%, the Lib Dems finishing a distant second with 17%. On the same day James Palmer, the leader of East Cambridgeshire district council, was elected as Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority: that created a vacancy in Soham North ward on the district council, and the resulting by-election in July 2017 was also an easy Conservative hold. In the 2015 district council elections the Conservatives had a clean sweep in Soham, while Isleham ward re-elected a long-serving independent councillor who was not opposed by the Conservatives.

Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Isleham resident Mark Goldsack, who won the Soham North district council by-election in July last year and now has the chance to double up at county council level. The Lib Dems have selected Victoria Charlesworth. Also on the ballot paper are Lee Jinks for Labour - who has attracted controversy during the campaign for dubious social media posts from a few years ago - and Geoffrey Woollard, a former East Cambridgeshire district and Cambridgeshire county councillor who is seeking to make a political comeback at the age of 80 by standing as independent candidate.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: South East Cambridgeshire
East Cambridgeshire wards: Isleham, Soham North, Soham South (part)
Postcode district: CB7
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge

Victoria Charlesworth (LD)
Mark Goldsack (C)
Lee Jinks (Lab)
Geoffrey Woollard (Ind)

May 2017 result C 1504 LD 396 Lab 371


Previews: 27 Sep 2018

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

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Charles Dickens wrote these words many years ago to open A Tale of Two Cities; and they still resonate today. The binary choice between the Age of Wisdom and the Age of Foolishness, the epochs of belief or incredulity (or as we call it these days, fake news), Light versus Darkness, Hope as opposed to Despair - all these can find modern parallels in how politics is set up today. In so many aspects, there seems to a choice of one alternative or the other.

Let's have a third way. Andrew's Previews this week is a tale of three cities, in which both the extremes and the centre ground are represented. There is one northern, one southern, and one in the middle. One old, one new, and one in the middle. One rich, one poor, and one in the middle. One left-wing, one right-wing, and one in the middle. To some extent we are covering familiar ground as all three wards have appeared in Andrew's Previews before, but that doesn't necessarily mean the same thing will happen this time. Midfield is of course where all the action tends to be, so let's shun the geographical and political wings and start with the one in the middle...


Clifton North

Nottingham council; caused by the resignation of councillor Pat Ferguson on health grounds. Ferguson had served since winning a by-election in March 2014; she was elected for Labour but had been sitting as an independent.

We start this week on the banks of the River Trent. One of many claimants for the title of "Europe's largest housing estate", Clifton lies on the south bank of the Trent a few miles to the south-west of the city of Nottingham. The area was incorporated into Nottingham in 1952 by which time construction of the estate was well advanced; but despite its location on the main road from Nottingham to the south Clifton remains rather isolated from the city, which for the most part is on the far side of the river. Communications to Clifton were improved in 2014 by the opening of an extension to Nottingham's tram network, with trams running through the estate to the city centre via an old railway line and the Wilford Toll Bridge. Clifton never had much industry, and the main employer in this ward is Nottingham Trent University which has a campus here.

The contrast between council-estate Clifton and wealthy West Bridgford, just a few miles to the east, is stark. One side-effect of this is something you often see in run-down industrial areas: the list of famous locals is dominated by sports stars and entertainers. The singer Jake Bugg and the England footballer and pundit Jermaine Jenas grew up on the estate, but in fame terms they may be outranked by one-half of the UK's most famous figure-skating pair: Jayne Torvill was born in Clifton.

Clifton might be an isolated council estate, but Clifton North ward doesn't vote like one. That's partly because it also includes the much more upmarket village of Wilford, which ensures that this is one of the strongest Conservative wards in the city of Nottingham. However, the Labour party surged in Nottingham after the formation of the Coalition turning this ward into a tight marginal: they gained one of Clifton North ward's three seats in 2011, held it in a 2014 by-election and gained a second seat in 2015. The remaining Conservative councillor, Andrew Rule, is one of a group of two Tories - following a by-election loss to Labour in Wollaton West ward - which forms the only opposition to Labour rule on Nottingham city council.

The March 2014 by-election here made the national press thanks to the performance of frequent Nottingham by-election candidate and Elvis impersonator David Bishop; the electorate didn't exactly love him tender and he only polled 67 votes, but that was enough to beat the Liberal Democrats who were in government at the time. The Lib Dems were sufficiently all shook up by that performance that they didn't turn up for the last election here in May 2015; the Labour slate topped the poll with 38% and two seats, the Conservatives had 36% and one seat, and third place went to UKIP on 22%.

Defending for Labour is Shuguftah Quddoos, who fought Wollaton West ward in the 2015 election and was one of only three Nottingham Labour candidates that year who failed to get elected; she runs a social enterprise that promotes equality. The Tory candidate is Roger Steel, who was a councillor for this ward from 2011 until losing his seat in 2015; he wants his seat back. There is no official UKIP candidate, but their lead candidate from 2015 Kevin Clarke is standing as an independent with the label "Nottingham Independents Putting Clifton First"; Clarke and Stone are the only candidates to give addresses in the ward. Elvis has made yet another comeback with David Bishop again hitting the local tarmac in his blue suede shoes for his Bus-Pass Elvis Party; completing the ballot paper along with Bishop are Kirsty Jones of the Green Party and Rebecca Procter of the Lib Dems, who will be looking to get revenge on Elvis.

Current parliamentary constituency: Nottingham South
Proposed parliamentary constituency: North Rushcliffe and Clifton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Nottingham
Postcode district: NG11

David Bishop (Bus-Pass Elvis)
Kevin Clarke (Nottingham Inds)
Kirsty Jones (Grn)
Rebecca Procter (LD)
Shuguftah Quddoos (Lab)
Roger Steel (C)

May 2015 result Lab 2397/2291/1959 C 2249/1790/1772 UKIP 1389/1247/1200 Ind 278
March 2014 by-election Lab 1179 C 1025 UKIP 536 Elvis 67 LD 56
May 2011 result Lab 1902/1720/1589 C 1834/1772/1767
May 2007 result C 1883/1749/1694 Lab 1265/1164/1087 LD 389/320
May 2003 result C 1714/1610/1560 Lab 1335/1317/1124 LD 372


Stowe

Lichfield council, Staffordshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Joanne Grange, who had served only since winning a previous by-election in February this year.

For our second by-election this week we move south and to the political right. Stowe is the city centre ward for Lichfield, which has been an ecclesiastical centre since ancient times. St Chad, bishop of the Mercians, settled his diocese at Lichfield in 669, and by modern standards it was an enormous diocese - during the Middle Ages Lichfield was the mother cathedral for a huge swathe of the north midlands and the north-west all the way to the Ribble. The present cathedral dates from the 12th century and is known for its three spires.

The city remained important as a coaching and intellectual centre - Samuel Johnson was from here - up to the 19th century when the Industrial Revolution largely passed it by. Nonetheless Lichfield has greatly expanded since the Second World War thanks to its good rail links to Birmingham and London. A lot of that expansion initially took place in Stowe ward, which runs from the city centre to the east past the reservoir of Stowe Pool and along the Burton Road. Lichfield's two railway stations, City and Trent Valley, both lie on the ward boundary.

This is a safely Conservative area at all levels of government: at the last district elections in 2015 the Tory slate led Labour here 54-27. Most of the ward is covered by the Lichfield City North county division, which was Labour in 2013 (it also includes Lichfield's most downmarket ward, Chadsmead) but a Tory gain last year. February's by-election took place following the retirement of David Smedley, who had been Leader of the Council: the Tories safely held the seat with 45% against 26% for Labour and 19% for the Liberal Democrats, who hadn't stood here in 2015.

But since February things have been going wrong for the ruling Lichfield Conservatives. In June the council voted to cancel the Friarsgate development, an ambitious scheme for a new shopping area to expand and regenerate the city centre, after its developers couldn't raise the finance required; this despite the fact that some of the necessary demolition work had already been carried out at a cost to council taxpayers of around £7 million. Feelings were running high over this in July, when Labour gained a seat from the Tories at a by-election in the city's Curborough ward. Joanne Grange, who had won the February by-election in Stowe ward, resigned shortly afterwards in a row over planning rules; and to add extra spice she has endorsed the Labour candidate for this by-election.

So, interesting times ahead. The new Conservative candidate is Angela Lax, who won this ward in December 2017 in a by-election to the parish-level Lichfield city council; she is now seeking to repeat the trick on the district council. Labour have reselected Donald Palmer who stood here in February's by-election and was top of the Labour slate here in 2015. The Lib Dem candidate is Richard Rathbone, who stood in Lichfield Rural West in the county council elections last year; he completes a three-strong ballot paper.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: Lichfield
Staffordshire county council division: Lichfield City North (most); Lichfield Rural North (part transferred from Boley Park ward in 2015)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wolverhampton and Walsall
Postcode districts: WS13, WS14

Angela Lax (C)
Donald Palmer (Lab)
Richard Rathbone (LD)

February 2018 by-election C 513 Lab 299 LD 217 Something New 59 Grn 56
May 2015 result C 1791/1484/1443 Lab 898/862/857 Grn 635


Eccles

Salford council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Peter Wheeler who is moving away from the area. He had served since 2012.

(telephone rings)
RECEPTIONIST: Hello?
JON CULSHAW (impersonating Tom Baker as Doctor Who): Hello, is that the Galaxy Bingo Hall?
R: Yes, it is.
JC: Tell me, in what part of the Galaxy are you?
(pause)
R: Eccles...

Jon Culshaw there, causing mayhem as usual for the BBC comedy show Dead Ringers around the year 2000. Yes, this week we finish up in Eccles which is something your columnist often does: the Centenary Bridge, Gilda Brook Road and Lancaster Road can become the quickest way home from work on evenings when the M60 motorway is having one of its moments. That sort of thing is liable to block Eccles up, and I once spent a very non-merry half-hour on Half Edge Lane in the evening rush hour going absolutely nowhere.

Another reason for this sort of congestion might surprise you. This ward is changing fast, and one reason for that is none other than the BBC. This is due to the opening of the MediaCity studios a few miles away in Salford Quays, from which the BBC Breakfast programme and Radio 5 Live are broadcast; along with the Sport and Children's departments, that made 2,000 BBC jobs transferred from London to the City of Salford around seven years ago. Those people and their families have got to live somewhere; and the area immediately next door to Salford Quays is, er... so a fair number of BBC types ended up in Eccles with its good road and tram links to the studios.

No doubt those London BBC types were astounded by how low their housing costs were when they moved up north, but that's changing fast as well. House prices in Eccles' M30 postcode have risen by 42% in the last five years; the median house in the ward goes for around £160,000 which is already above average for Greater Manchester, but a four-bed detached - and there are a fair few of those in leafy Ellesmere Park and trendy Monton - might be snapped up within a few days of coming onto the market for a million pounds. The Manchester Evening News regularly prints articles comparing Monton to traditionally trendy places like Didsbury, and not without good reason.

So, lots of money coming into the ward, but this is not the old money you find over the ward boundary in Worsley; this is Guardianista, urban professional money. And Eccles' election results suggest that all this gentrification has been to the benefit of Labour. The ward did elect a Lib Dem in 2004 and voted Conservative in 2007 and 2008, but it's the Labour party who have made all the running since then. In May's ordinary election Labour had 60% of the vote, the Tories trailing in second with just 22%.

Defending for Labour is local resident Mike McCusker. The Tories have selected Andrew Darlington. Also on the ballot paper are regular Green candidate Helen Alker, Jake Overend for the Lib Dems, Keith Hallam for UKIP (who stood here in May) and Caroline Dean of the Women's Equality Party, who gives an address from the wrong side of the Pennines in Marsden, West Yorkshire. And I thought my commute was bad.

Current and proposed parliamentary constituency: Salford and Eccles
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode district: M30

Helen Alker (Grn)
Andrew Darlington (C)
Caroline Dean (Women's Equality)
Keith Hallam (UKIP)
Mike McCusker (Lab)
Jake Overend (LD)

May 2018 result Lab 1748 C 638 Grn 185 LD 169 UKIP 134 TUSC 23
May 2016 result Lab 1873 C 707 Grn 284 TUSC 173
May 2015 result Lab 2612 C 1347 UKIP 739 Grn 327 LD 257 TUSC 122
May 2014 result Lab 1861 C 827 LD 287
May 2012 result Lab 1462 C 662 UKIP 281 LD 212 Ind 127
Oct 2011 by-election Lab 1227 C 701 BNP 147 LD 125 Ind 53
May 2011 result Lab 1877 C 950 UKIP 368 LD 213
May 2010 result Lab 2216 C 1625 LD 1298 Ind 214
May 2008 result C 1422 Lab 1144 LD 479
May 2007 result C 1303 Lab 1180 LD 489
May 2006 result Lab 1038 C 975 LD 632
June 2004 result Lab 1247/1167/928 LD 1019/814 C 919/785


Previews: 20 Sep 2018

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

Six by-elections on 20th September 2018:


Ottery St Mary Rural

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Upper Meon Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nonsuch

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

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

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

https://youtu.be/7Cn7ZW8ts3Y

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Limbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wenhaston and Westleton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 2015 result C 907 LD 402 Lab 393


Bewdley and Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Previews: 13 Sep 2018

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


Petersfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Birstall Wanlip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pembroke: St Mary North

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pennington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Headcorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Coldharbour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Previews: 06 Sep 2018

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

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


Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Denton Holme

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cumbria county council

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

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

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

Carlisle council

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

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

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


Ashton Waterloo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Preview: 30 Aug 2018

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


Farningham, Horton Kirby and South Darenth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Previews: 23 Aug 2018

Six by-elections on 23rd August 2018:


Gotham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 2015 result C 836 Lab 378 UKIP 364


Halewood South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bromborough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Newton Regis and Warton

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Downes (Lab)
Marian Humphreys (C)

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


Watton-at-Stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Previews: 16 Aug 2018

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


East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Knaresborough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gwynfi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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