Previews: 19 Apr 2018

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

Before we start the week, I have a special announcement to make.

Andrew's Previews 2017

Last year, I saw fit to publish these Previews as a printed book. Andrew's Previews 2016 seems to have gone down well. Its Amazon reviewer described it as "one of those books, like the Nuffield Foundation volumes on British general elections, that makes you wonder how we managed before they came along". Well, I suppose I was taking a risk in publishing something which had literally never been done before in print. Despite my complete lack of self-publicity skills, Andrew's Previews 2016 has crawled up to my sales target; and the feedback has persuaded me that the exercise is worth doing again.

So, here's the follow-up that at least some people have been eagerly waiting for. Available now from Amazon, Andrew's Previews 2017 is another collection of the by-election previews from that volatile political year which was 2017, plus some bonus material.

If you would like to relive the year of the snap general election as it unfolded, while learning a bit about the geography and history of Great Britain, this book is for you. And by buying the book, you will help to support the research required for future previews - while having a permanent and (hopefully) positive reminder of your donation.

To give you a flavour of what's in the book, have a look at the rest of this post, in which we discuss the three council by-elections on 19th April 2018. These will be the last polls before the ordinary May 2018 elections, and they are all Conservative defences. But by no means are they all the same...


Thatcham West

West Berkshire council; caused by the disqualification of Conservative councillor Nick Goodes, who failed to attend any council meetings in six months. He had served since 2015.

We start this week in the M4 corridor. Thatcham is one of those towns which has been a bit overlooked; its population isn't that much smaller than Newbury, which adjoins it to the west, but Thatcham is far less well-known. It could have all been so different. This area has been inhabited since prehistoric times - Mesolithic remains dating from the eighth and ninth millennia BC have been found in the area - and as late as the fourteenth century AD Thatcham was a larger and more important town than Newbury. The location was good, on one of the main lines of communication through southern England: the River Kennet and the Berks and Hants railway line form the southern boundary of West ward, the A4 London-Bath road bisects the ward, as did a Roman road; and the M4 motorway is just to the north.

What did for Thatcham was the Black Death, which hit the town hard in 1348 and led to Newbury overtaking it in importance. Nonetheless Thatcham has seen large population growth since the Second World War. It is the location of the Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre, which analyses cars and their security systems for the insurance industry, giving out Thatcham ratings for car alarms, immobilisers and suchlike. Thatcham is also about to go onto the sporting map: the local non-league side Thatcham Town FC, who play against such giants as Olympiakos and PAOK in the Hellenic League Premier Division (note to self: check this), will be going to Wembley next month to play Stockton Town in the final of the FA Vase.

This is not a longstanding Conservative ward. The Newbury constituency was a famous Liberal Democrat by-election win in 1993, and the party held that parliamentary seat until 2005. Thatcham West was a stronger Lib Dem area than the seat as a whole, and it took until 2015 for the Conservatives to gain it: the Tory lead that year was 48-39 over the Lib Dems. West Berkshire is a unitary council so there are no clues to be gained from last year's county elections. The Lib Dems did get a small swing in their favour in the 2017 general election across the Newbury constituency, from which the party might take some encouragement in their attempt to get this seat back.

Both the Tories and Lib Dems have selected candidates with high local profiles. Defending for the Conservatives is Ellen Crumly, the Mayor of Thatcham. The Lib Dem candidate Jeff Brooks wants his seat back: he was a Lib Dem councillor for this ward from 2003 until losing to the Conservatives in 2015, and his local government career goes all the way back to 1995 when he was elected to the former Newbury district council. Also standing are Louise Coulson for Labour, Gary Johnson for UKIP and Jane Livermore for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Newbury
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newbury
Postcode districts: RG18, RG19

Jeff Brooks (LD)
Louise Coulson (Lab)
Ellen Crumly (C)
Gary Johnson (UKIP)
Jane Livermore (Grn)

May 2015 result C 1493/1455 LD 1208/1133 Lab 423/251
May 2011 result LD 932/891 C 771/698 Lab 207 Ind 137
May 2007 result LD 960/957 C 837/797
May 2003 result LD 760/758 C 443/441


Lymm South

Warrington council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Sheila Woodyatt at the age of 80. The Mayor of Warrington in 2000-01, and at one point the only Conservative councillor in the borough, Woodyatt had served on Warrington council since 1983, being elected for Lymm ward until boundary changes in 2016. She also represented Lymm on Cheshire county council from 1989 to 1998. In the 2000 Birthday Honours Woodyatt was appointed MBE for services to the community in Cheshire.

Your columnist likes Lymm. This is one of those leafy Cheshire villages where the great, the good and the rich of north-west England tend to live; Lymm's list of famous residents includes a large number of well-known actors, footballers and entertainers. The village centre is in an attractive sandstone gorge running down from the Bridgewater Canal, which forms the northern boundary of this ward, and it's full of the sort of shops and cafés which clearly take as their target market the average Cheshire housewife.

The census bears this out. A majority of Lymm's workforce are in some sort of professional or managerial role, and the proportion of the population with degrees is very high. This is the sort of demographic profile that wouldn't look out of place in Wilmslow, Prestbury, Hale Barns, Knutsford or other places frequented by the Real Housewives of Cheshire; but by a quirk of boundaries Lymm, unlike the rest of those places, has ended up in the Borough of Warrington and in the parliamentary seat of Warrington South. This is a key marginal which has changed hands between the Tories and Labour three times since it was created for the 1983 election; last year Warrington South was one of those Labour gains which looked so unlikely at the start of the snap election campaign.

Not that the Labour vote comes out of Lymm, however. The present Lymm South ward was created only in 2016; before then there was a single Lymm ward covering the whole of the village. That ward had been split between Woodyatt and two Liberal Democrat councillors continuously since 1995, and as Warrington moved to the thirds electoral system when it became a unitary council that implies that all the councillors had developed personal votes. It wasn't until 2015, the last election to the old Lymm ward, that the Tories knocked out one of the Lib Dems to make the split 2-1 in their favour.

The two Conservative councillors both successfully sought re-election in the new Lymm South ward in 2016, but the Lib Dems ran them close; shares of the vote were 38% for the Tories, 32% for the Lib Dems and 19% for Labour. Warrington has reverted to whole council elections, with the next borough elections due in 2020.

Defending for the Tories is Stephen Taylor, who is retired after 40 years with the Environment Agency; he has briefly been a Warrington councillor before, representing Stockton Heath ward from 2015 to 2016. Taylor is a member of Walton parish council and lives in Stockton Heath. The Lib Dems have selected Anna Fradgley, deputy chairman of Lymm parish council. The Labour candidate is Trish Cockayne, a local resident who volunteers with the Warrington Foodbank. Also standing are Derek Ashington for UKIP and Michael Wass for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Warrington South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Warrington and Wigan
Postcode districts: WA4, WA13

Derek Ashington (UKIP)
Trish Cockayne (Lab)
Anna Fradgley (LD)
Stephen Taylor (C)
Michael Wass (Grn)

May 2016 result C 925/879 LD 780/668 Lab 466 UKIP 233


Highland

Perth and Kinross council; caused by the death of the Leader of the Council, Conservative councillor Ian Campbell, at the age of 66. He had served since 2007, and became leader in 2017 at the head of a Conservative, Lib Dem and independent coalition.

Before we come to this one, let me talk about addresses for a moment. Candidate addresses, and the publication thereof, are one of the hot topics of electoral administration right now. Since 1872 they have been required to be published on the nominations list and the ballot paper, whIch has made some candidates rather uncomfortable - particularly those who for whatever reason are concerned about their own safety, privacy and security. So a few years ago, the rules were changed for parliamentary elections to allow candidates to have their address redacted and replaced with an official statement along the lines of "(address in the Bolton South East constituency)".

In true British administrative style, this change was done piecemeal and doesn't apply to all levels of elections. So at parliamentary, and police and crime commissioner level candidates can redact their address, and the Scottish Parliament went one better and abolished address publication outright for its own elections; but at local level candidates' addresses still have to be published in full. The Government is considering whether to change this in future, although any changes won't have time to come in for the upcoming set of local elections.

As part of that consideration, the Government might wish to look at the example of Perth and Kinross council, whose elections office have found an interesting middle way of protecting candidates' safety and privacy within the existing law. They produce two versions of the nominations list: an official one with the addresses on it, which is available for inspection at the council offices; and a second one for publication on the internet with the addresses redacted. Not very helpful to the armchair columnist looking at a by-election from a distance of several hundred miles, but I'm not the target market and personal safety is more important in the end.

The Highland ward of Perth and Kinross is an enormous swathe of the southern Highlands, even larger than Caol and Mallaig which we thought was big a couple of weeks back. There are 890 square miles of mostly inhospitable mountains here - an area bigger than many English counties and only slightly smaller than Luxembourg. By acreage this is the sixth largest ward in the UK, and the largest outside the Highland Council area.

The main town in the ward is Pitlochry, on the main road and railway line to Inverness as they climb up to the Pass of Drumochter. The centre of its own Travel to Work Area, Pitlochry is popular as a tourist centre for hillwalkers and pensioners' coach holidays. The town's main exports are whisky and power: nearby is the reservoir of Loch Faskally, noted for its salmon ladder which allows fish to bypass the dam. Loch Faskally is just one of nine reservoirs and associated power stations, eight of which are within this ward, which form the Tummel hydroelectric scheme.

The ward's only other population centres of note are Blair Atholl, up the road towards Inverness, and Aberfeldy in Strathtay. There are Roman remains near Aberfeldy, and there is a persistent local legend that Pontius Pilate was born in the nearby village of Fortingall. That's as may be, but Fortingall certainly has one visible reminder of the Roman and indeed pre-Roman era, a yew tree thought to be between 2,000 and 3,000 years old. To the west of the ward, Strath Tummel leads up to the isolated station of Rannoch Moor on the West Highland railway line; while to the east is a large chunk of the Cairngorms National Park including Glen Tilt - or "Star Wars alley" as it's known to RAF fighter pilots who use it for low-altitude training.

Within the ward is the site of the Battle of Killiecrankie, a victory for the nascent Jacobite cause during the Glorious Revolution. Recent electoral contests in the modern Highland ward had also been victories for Scottish nationalism. The Scotttish National Party carried all three predecessor wards (Breadalbane, Pitlochry, and Rannoch and Atholl) in 2003, and when PR was introduced in 2007 very easily won two seats to the Conservatives' one (Ian Campbell). One of the SNP councillors elected in 2007 died later that year, and the other emigrated to Australia in 2011; both the resulting by-elections were easy SNP holds.

But that Nationalist majority all changed in 2017. The Conservative councillor Ian Campbell was re-elected at the top of the poll with 45% of the vote, and the SNP fell to second place on 37%. That cost the nationalists their second seat, which went to independent candidate Xander McDade; he started in fourth place with 11%, but Conservative and Lib Dem transfers ensured his election. Campbell became leader of the council, and the following month the Conservatives fell just 21 votes short of defeating SNP MP Pete Wishart in the Perth and North Perthshire constituency.

Defending for the Conservatives is John Duff, who has retired to his native Aberfeldy after a 30-year career as a police officer in Glasgow, where he reached the rank of superintendent. The SNP have selected former Perth and Kinross councillor John Kellas, who narrowly lost his seat in the 2017 election in Strathtay ward. There are two independent candidates: Denise Baykal is a solicitor and former UKIP figure, while Avril Taylor is secretary of the Aberfeldy Small Business Association and is campaigning to stop RBS closing the village's last bank. Also standing are Mary McDougall for the Scottish Green Party, Chris Rennie for the Lib Dems (who will be hoping to improve on the 1% he got here as an independent in the 2011 by-election) and Jayne Ramage for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Perth and North Perthshire
Scottish Parliament constituency: Perthshire North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Pitlochry and Aberfeldy
Postcode districts: FK21, PH9, PH15, PH16, PH17, PH18

Denise Baykal (Ind)
John Duff (C)
John Kellas (SNP)
Mary McDougall (Grn)
Jayne Ramage (Lab)
Chris Rennie (LD)
Avril Taylor (Ind)

May 2017 first preferences C 1927 SNP 1549 Ind 449 Grn 168 LD 148
May 2012 first preferences SNP 1668 C 825 Ind 313 Ind 286 LD 215 Lab 141
September 2011 by-election SNP 1449 C 596 LD 321 Ind 269 Ind 27
February 2008 by-election SNP 1891 C 940 LD 229 Lab 97
May 2007 first preferences SNP 2639 C 1158 LD 609 Ind 115


There is one more vacancy to note this week. Tony Boyce had recently resigned as Conservative councillor for Moreton and Fyfield, a village-based ward in the Epping Forest district of Essex. A by-election had been called for 3rd May; but when nominations closed the Tories' Ian Hadley was the only candidate, and he has therefore been declared elected without a contest. This column sends its congratulations to Councillor Hadley.

There will be no Andrew's Previews next week as there are no by-elections next week. However, it is intended that there will be a double issue in advance of the 3rd May elections, so stay tuned.


Previews: 12 Apr 2018

Three by-elections on 12th April 2018, all due to resignations:


St Olaves

St Edmundsbury council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Bob Cockle. He was first elected in 1995 for the former Fornham ward, transferring to this ward in 2003. Cockle was Mayor of St Edmundsbury in 2008-09, and also served as the inaugural Mayor of Bury St Edmunds when the parish-level town council was re-established in 2003.

We start the week in Bury St Edmunds, the commercial centre of West Suffolk and a rather historic place. One of the royal boroughs of Anglo-Saxon times, the town is named after Edmund the Martyr, a ninth-century king of East Anglia who was killed in a Viking invasion. Edmund's remains were buried here and became a pilgrimage site. In mediaeval England this was a thriving town with a cloth-making industry, while today the main drivers for the local economy are brewing, sugar and tourism.

None of those apply to St Olaves ward, which is very much the wrong side of the tracks. This is a council estate ward on the north side of the A14 and railway line, based on the Howard Estate developed in the 1960s by Bury St Edmunds borough council. The census stats bear out that this is a working-class area: St Olaves is in the top 20 wards in England and Wales for the ONS "semi-routine" employment classification, and in the top 40 for adults with between 1 and 4 GCSE passes or equivalent.

With that sort of pedigree you might expect a safe Labour area, and that was what St Olaves was up until 2011. In that year the other ward councillor, Mark Ereira, sought re-election for the Green Party: he wasn't far off winning, and split the Labour vote sufficiently that they lost a seat to independent candidate Paul Hopfensperger. Hopfensperger was re-elected in 2015 at the top of the poll, with Cockle defending his seat from the Conservatives by just 22 votes; shares of the vote were 38% for Hopfensperger, 32% for the Labour slate and 31% for the Conservative candidate. Labour are nowhere in the local county division, Tower, which in 2017 split its two seats between the Conservatives - who gained their seat from Ereira - and independent county councillor David Nettleton, who had a majority of just five votes over Hopfensperger.

So, an interesting ward which is slightly more unpredictable than might be expected. Defending for Labour is Max Clarke, who is the only candidate to give an address in the ward. There is an independent candidate, Liam Byrne, an organ donation campaigner who has received two life-saving liver transplants: he stood in the 2017 general election in Bury St Edmunds, coming fifth and last with 1.4%. Tom Murray is trying again for the Conservatives after his near-miss in 2015; he is a Bury St Edmunds town councillor who is retired from an award-winning career as a newspaper photographer. Murray won three World Press Photo awards, was head of photography for the Sunday Times Colour Magazine, at 25 became the youngest photographer commissioned by the Royal Family, and shot what proved to be the last official publicity shoot by the Beatles. Completing the ballot paper is the ward's first Liberal Democrat candidate this century: Helen Korfanty is a solicitor who stood for Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016 and for Bury St Edmunds in the 2017 general election.

Parliamentary constituency: Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk county council division: Tower
Postcode district: IP32

Liam Byrne (Ind)
Max Clarke (Lab)
Helen Korfanty (LD)
Tom Murray (C)

May 2015 result Ind 835 Lab 699/462 C 677
May 2011 result Lab 461/314 Ind 421 Grn 372
May 2007 result Lab 496/444 C 244/230
May 2003 result Lab 662/608 C 286/253


Middleton Cheney

South Northamptonshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Judith Baxter who had served since 2011.

Having had our big city by-election, we turn to two wards based on villages. Middleton Cheney is a large village at the western end of Northamptonshire, so far west it is within the economic orbit not of Northampton but of Banbury, which is just over the county boundary in Oxfordshire. It is perhaps best known for being the birthplace of Vice-Admiral Lancelot Holland, commander of HMS Hood when it was sunk by the Bismarck.

The ward named after the village, which also includes the neighbouring parish of Warkworth, has unchanged boundaries since at least 1976. During the twentieth century there was a significant Labour vote here, perhaps reflecting the transformation of nearby Banbury by London overspill; Labour and the Conservatives split the ward's two seats at every election from 1976 to 1987. In 1991 Labour stood down and the ward returned an independent and a Conservative unopposed. Labour convincingly took both seats in 1995, but lost one to the Conservatives in a by-election on general election day in 2001 and the other to an independent candidate in 2003.

Labour hadn't been seen in Middleton Cheney since, which has resulted in a lack of contested elections. The independent and Conservative councillors were re-elected unopposed in 2007; in 2011 the independent councillor retired and his seat was gained by the Conservatives, again unopposed. One of the Conservative councillors sought re-election in 2015 as an independent, giving a contested election which he lost 64-36. At Northamptonshire county level the Middleton Cheney division, which covers a larger area, is safely Conservative although UKIP were close behind in 2013.

This by-election sees party politics re-emerge in Middleton Cheney. The defending Conservatives have gone for youth in selecting Jonathan Riley, who is the only candidate not to give an address in the ward (he lives in Brackley). Two of the opposition candidates are Middleton Cheney parish councillors who stood in the county election here last year: runner-up in that poll was Labour candidate Richard Solesbury-Timms, a train driver for Chiltern Railways, campanologist and chair of an action group supporting the Middleton Cheney library. That library is under threat thanks to the financial travails of Northamptonshire county council, which is effectively bankrupt and has been taken over by government commissioners. Third here in last year's county elections was Liberal Democrat Mark Allen, who holds a PhD in computational chemistry from Durham University. Completing the ballot paper is Green Party candidate Adam Sear.

Parliamentary constituency: South Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire county council division: Middleton Cheney
Postcode district: OX17

Mark Allen (LD)
Jonathan Riley (C)
Adam Sear (Grn)
Richard Solesbury-Timms (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1527/1151 Ind 868
May 2011 result 2 C unopposed
May 2007 result C/Ind unopposed
May 2003 result Ind 457 C 435/393 Lab 305
June 2001 by-election C 981 Lab 845
May 1999 result Lab 653/457 C 422/348
May 1995 result Lab 896/737 C 398/395
May 1991 result Ind/C unopposed
May 1987 result C 824 Lab 701/292
May 1983 result C 767/657 Lab 690
May 1979 result C 930/617 Lab 799/421 Ind 765
May 1976 result Lab 691/621 C 688/546


Rogate

Chichester council, West Sussex; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Gillian Keegan, who is now the MP for Chichester. She had served on Chichester council since winning a by-election in October 2014.

We end the week with our second village by-election, within the South Downs National Park in West Sussex. Again we are in the extreme west of the county; the village of Rogate is close to the Hampshire border and takes many of its services from over the county line in Petersfield, to which it is connected by the A272 road, or Portsmouth. Indeed, until 1844 part of Rogate was a detached part of Hampshire. The Rogate ward also takes in the small Milland parish and the tiny Linch parish to the north-east.

In the 21st century this is a safe Conservative ward. One of the candidates who tried and failed to break the Tory monopoly was one Ashley Mote, who finished last with 89 votes as the UKIP candidate in 2003. The following year Mote was elected as a UKIP MEP for South East England; but a month later UKIP found out that Mote was awaiting trial for benefit fraud, and kicked him out of the party. Mote was eventually convicted, sentenced to nine months in prison and ordered to repay £65,000, but the sentence wasn't long enough to disqualify him from office and he served out his five years in the European Parliament.

UKIP got more votes than Mote did in the 2014 by-election which elected Keegan and in the 2015 ordinary election, but were still a long way behind. The 2015 election saw Keegan poll 67% to 20% for the second-placed Green Party. However, the Tories don't have it all their own way at county level here: in 2013 they lost the local Midhurst county division to an independent, who lost in 2017 to the Liberal Democrats in a close three-way result.

Defending for the Conservatives is Robert Pettigrew, a former Portsmouth councillor (Milton ward, 2000-02) who was the Conservative candidate for Lanark and Hamilton East in the 2005 general election. His most recent electoral outing appears to be in 2007, when he contested the Lib Dem-held ward of Chichester East on this council. A school governor and director of a schools' trust in London, Pettigrew is described as having a particular interest in education and creating opportunities for the next generation, and has set up a charity and CIC to support that work. The Green candidate is Philip Maber, who lives twelve miles to the south-east in the village of Singleton. Standing for Labour is Ray Davey, from Haslemere in Surrey, a sales representative for Jaguar and former chef. Completing the ballot paper is Liberal Democrat candidate Kate O'Kelly; the local county councillor since 2017, she is a GP and dementia specialist, and a West Sussex magistrate. None of the candidates give addresses n the ward.

Parliamentary constituency: Chichester
West Sussex county council division: Midhurst
ONS Travel to Work Area: Portsmouth
Postcode districts: GU29, GU30, GU31, GU33

Ray Davey (Lab)
Philip Maber (Grn)
Kate O'Kelly (LD)
Robert Pettigrew (C)

May 2015 result C 1003 Grn 293 UKIP 192
October 2014 by-election C 342 UKIP 138
May 2011 result C 990 Lab 97
May 2010 by-election C unopposed
May 2007 result C 695 LD 255
May 2003 result C 531 LD 254 UKIP 89


Previews: 05 Apr 2018

With the ordinary May elections imminent, there are just ten local by-elections in April and four on 5th April to end your tax year. Today's four polls fall into two interesting pairs: there are two Conservative defences in coastal wards, and two polls in remote independent-dominated areas at opposite ends of the UK. The Tory wards are both very safe, but the independent-held seat in Somerset is a free-for-all, and the Scottish National Party have a difficult-looking defence in one of the most iconic wards of the Highlands. Read on...


Milford

New Forest council, Hampshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Sophie Beeton, who had served since winning a by-election in July 2012. She was New Forest's cabinet member for the environment from 2015 until stepping down late last year, and had been a Milton-on-Sea parish councillor since before she was elected to the district council.

One of England's largest second-tier districts by population, New Forest district may be named after ancient woodland but that's not typical of where most of its residents live. Most of the New Forest's council taxpayers are instead concentrated in the Southampton suburb of Totton, towns on the Solent coast such as Hythe and Lymington, and a retirement belt on the Channel coast centred on New Milton, which is to all intents and purposes an extension of the Bournemouth-Poole conurbation. Just off the eastern end of that conurbation is the village of Milton-on-Sea, and beyond that is the southernmost point of Hampshire: Hurst Castle, on a narrow spit of land which juts out into the sea and marks the western end of the Solent. If you don't fancy walking along the spit, then during the tourist season you can catch a boat to the Castle from the village of Keyhaven.

Keyhaven and Hurst Castle are within the New Forest National Park, but Milford-on-Sea is outside it. Milford-on-Sea gives its name to a ward which includes Keyhaven, Hurst Castle and a small part of the village of Everton. A major employer within the ward was once Horticulture Research International, an arm of DEFRA, which ran the Efford Horticultural Research Station; the site closed in 2004 due to privatisation, but is still in horticultural use as a nursery.

I described this area as a retirement belt, and the census return makes clear that this is indeed an elephant's graveyard. Milford ward is in the top 15 wards in England and Wales for residents aged 65 or over (43% of the population), and in the top 30 for retirement (33% of the workforce). Those here who are young enough to work tend to have well-paid jobs.

Politically you won't be surprised from that description to hear that this is a true blue ward. In the 2015 election the Tory slate here polled 80% against opposition only from a single Labour candidate. The Conservatives were similarly untroubled in last year's county election, in which they polled 77% across the cumbersomely-named division of New Milton North, Milford and Hordle.

There's a wider choice in this by-election, although local resident and Conservative candidate Christine Hopkins would have to be a short-priced favourite. She is opposed by Sally Spicer for Labour and Lib Dem candidate Wynford Davies.

Parliamentary constituency: New Forest West
Hampshire county council division: New Milton North, Milford and Hordle
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southampton
Postcode district: SO41

Wynford Davies (LD)
Christine Hopkins (C)
Sally Spicer (Lab)

May 2015 result C 2282/2232 Lab 582
July 2012 by-election C 963 Lab 240
May 2011 result C 1802/1678 Lab 492
May 2007 result C 1512/1435 LD 400
May 2003 result C 1371/1274 LD 435/354


Wiveliscombe and West Deane

Taunton Deane council, Somerset; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Steve Ross, who had served since 2011, due to work commitments.

We move into the West Country for a bit of a view. With an altitude of 413 feet, Wiveliscombe (stressed on the third syllable) claims to be Somerset's highest town, although "town" is a bit of a stretch for a settlement of fewer than 3,000 souls. Nonetheless this is a rather isolated part of southern England - Taunton, the main town in the area, is nine miles away along a B-road - and Wiveliscombe does function as a service centre for the parishes at the western end of the Vale of Taunton Deane. A rather tautological name there, as "Deane" is an Old English word with the same meaning as the Latinate "Vale". So has "combe" for that matter; "combe" is a Celtic word for a valley. Four parishes from the Vale (or Deane, or Combe) are included in this ward, making up its West Deane component.

Wiveliscombe traditionally sends independent candidates to Taunton Deane council. In the 2015 election the independent slate polled 39%, to 32% for the single Conservative candidate and 16% for the Liberal Democrats. For a clue as to what might happen here without an independent candidate on the ballot we need to go up a tone to county level; the ward is part of the Upper Tone division of Somerset county council, which has been Conservative-held since it was drawn up in 1981 although Steve Ross came close to gaining it as an independent a couple of times.

Your columnist has form for getting this sort of prediction badly wrong, but this may be the last time I have to write about Taunton Deane council other than in a historic sense. The council is in merger talks with West Somerset, a tiny local government district based on Exmoor, and the merged council could well come into being for the 2019 local elections.

This by-election will see party politics break out in Wiveliscombe, as there is no new independent candidate to replace Ross. Possibly best placed to gain, judging by the county result, is Conservative candidate Phillip Thorne, a smallholder from Waterrow which is one of the West Deane villages in the ward. The Liberal Democrats have selected Susan Levinge, a parish councillor in Chipstable - another of the West Deane villages - and qualified technical librarian. Completing the ballot paper is Wiveliscombe resident Dave Mansell for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Taunton Deane
Somerset county council division: Upper Tone
ONS Travel to Work Area: Taunton
Postcode districts: TA4, TA21

Susan Levinge (LD)
Dave Mansell (Grn)
Phillip Thorne (C)

May 2015 result Ind 1081/1000 C 893 LD 439/226 Grn 346
May 2011 result Ind 1088/943 C 560
May 2007 result Ind 681/561 C 497/471 LD 270
May 2003 result Ind 748/728 C 366/277 LD 130
May 1999 result Ind 682/552 C 409 LD 243 Lab 144


Heyhouses

Fylde council, Lancashire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Barbara Nash at the age of 66, having suffered a heart attack while visiting family in Scotland over the Christmas period. She had served since winning a by-election in July 2012.

Fancy a game of golf? Well, you've come to the right place. We are here in the town of St Annes on the Sea, a planned Victorian resort just to the south of Blackpool but definitely not part of it. Among the sand dunes here before the town was developed was the hamlet of Heyhouses, which overlooked a low-lying and rich agricultural area called Lytham Moss. Some of the sand dunes are still here in an area of open space: the southern end of the ward is taken up by the links course of the Royal Lythem and St Annes golf club, which is on the Open Championship rota and last hosted the tournament in 2012. (I was there.) Next to the Open course is the Blackpool South railway line, which is normally useless but is presently the only way into Blackpool by rail - that's thanks to overrunning electrification work which has closed the line to Blackpool North.

In between the Moss and the golf course is Heyhouses' ward's population, formerly centred on a Government site off Heyhouses Road which was the original home of ERNIE, the random number generator which determined each month's Premium Bond winners. ERNIE was transferred to Blackpool a few years ago and the government site is now being redeveloped for housing and a supermarket. Lytham St Annes is a popular place for North West people to retire to and so the population skews older than average, while the nearby aerospace factory at Warton provides high-paying jobs all year round.

So, a ward in a coastal area with a large retired population and a closed government site, going to the polls following the death of a councillor who was first elected in a July 2012 by-election. The parallels with Milford-on-Sea in Hampshire are uncanny. Here's another one: this is a safe Conservative ward where the party was guaranteed a seat in 2015 due to insufficient opposition candidates. That year the Tory slate won with 47% to 31% for Labour and 22% for the Liberal Democrats. Barbara Nash's widower Edward holds the local county seat, St Annes South, and had a large majority last year.

Defending for the Conservatives is another Nash: Sally Nash, daughter of Barbara and Edward. Lynn Goodwin returns for Labour after fighting the ward in 2015. Liberal Democrat candidate Andrew Holland has more recent electoral experience after fighting the local county division in 2017. Completing the ballot paper, and presumably hoping that ERNIE will draw his number out of the ballot box, is Green Party candidate and anti-fracking campaigner Ian Roberts.

Parliamentary constituency: Fylde
Lancashire county council division: St Annes South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackpool
Postcode districts: FY4, FY8

May 2015 result C 1260/1227/1063 Lab 843 LD 601
July 2012 by-election C 401 Ind 313 LD 163 Grn 150 UKIP 147 Integrity UK 25
May 2011 result C 839/723/681 LD 557/488
May 2007 result C 821/792/699 LD 643 Lab 332
May 2003 result C 763/752/699 LD 515/447 Lab 290


Caol and Mallaig

Highland council, Scotland; caused by the death of Scottish National Party councillor Billy MacLachlan. MacLachlan had first been elected to the Highland council in 1999, winning Claggan and Glen Spean ward unopposed as an independent candidate, but lost his seat in 2003; he returned to the council in May 2017 with the SNP nomination. Away from politics MacLachlan was well-known in the sport of shinty, having served Lochaber Camanachd Club as player, referee and administrator; the World of Shinty Facebook page described him as one of the game's genuine characters in the modern era.

"It's by Shiel water the track is to the west
By Ailort and by Morar to the sea.
- Traditional, The Road to the Isles

Let's finish for the week with something completely different, for we are in the Highlands of Scotland. The Caol and Mallaig ward is larger than several European countries, containing almost 800 square miles of mostly inhospitable mountains. The mountains are cut through by glens and lochs and run down to the Atlantic coast, along which most of the local population lives.

This column earlier expressed some scepticism that Wiveliscombe could be described as a town given a population under 3,000, but that's still bigger than any of the major population centres here. Caol (this is not pronounced "kale" but something closer to "curl") is essentially a Fort William suburb located at the head of Loch Linnhe and the bottom of Neptune's Staircase, a series of locks at the southern end of the Caledonian Canal. It and the nearby villages of Corpach and Banavie form the main population centre, accounting for just over half of the 7,071 electors. To the east the ward covers the southern half of the Great Glen along with the side valleys of Glen Spean and Glen Garry.

But it's to the west of Caol that generations have journeyed along the Road to the Isles, through Glenfinnan to Arisaig, Morar and Mallaig, where the road and railway line terminate. The only way from here to the rest of the ward is by sea, whether it's offshore to the Small Isles of Eigg, Muck, Rùm or Canna, or eastwards to Knoydart. Knoydart's 98 electors may live on the Scottish mainland but they are cut off from the UK's road network by impassable mountains and deeply indented sealochs; unless you fancy a 16-mile hike over very rugged terrain, the only way in or out is by boat to Mallaig.

The poor quality of the Road to the Isles, which was still single-track in places until as late as 2009, meant that the railway line to Mallaig survived the Beeching Report which had recommended it for closure. The line may still be open, but it runs at an enormous loss; so back in 1984 British Rail decided to encourage tourists by reintroducing steam on the Fort William-Mallaig route in summer. It was a success; no doubt helped by the train appearing in the Harry Potter films under the disguise of the Hogwarts Express, the "Jacobite" - as the service is now called - brings thousands of people to the area each summer.

An appropriate name, for this is the place where the 1745 Jacobite rebellion started. The Young Pretender landed on the mainland at Loch nan Uamh, near Arisaig, and raised his standard at Glenfinnan. Rumours have persisted for centuries that the Jacobite treasure is buried somewhere near Loch Arkaig, an offshoot of the Great Glen. The rising was of course eventually put down, but for many years afterwards the Highlands were essentially bandit country that tied the British Army down while it might have been doing something else. One of the figures who benefited from this was James Wolfe, who learned how to command a regiment here before finding fame at Quebec in the hour of his death.

Today the Highlands are politically the realm of the independent councillor. When this ward was created in 2007 it elected three of them, Bill Clark, Allan Henderson and Eddie Hunter. Those three councillors were all re-elected in 2012, an election where independent candidates had 81% of the first preferences between them. Hunter resigned in 2014 as he was moving away from the area, and his seat was held in the by-election by new independent candidate Ben Thompson. Clark retired at the 2017 election, and his seat went to the SNP's Billy MacLachlan who became the ward's first party political councillor since proportional representation was introduced. Henderson topped the poll with 28%, the SNP and Thompson had 24% each and runner-up was Lib Dem candidate Denis Rixson, some way behind on 9%.

The ward's geography creates unusual challenges for electoral administrators. Rùm, Muck and Canna don't have polling stations and their inhabitants traditionally vote by post. Knoydart and Eigg do have polling stations, but their ballot boxes will have to get on the boat to Mallaig for transport to the count in Caol. Under those circumstances it's not surprising that the count for this by-election isn't starting until Friday morning.

With over half the vote in this ward normally going to independent candidates, and the Alternative Vote being in use for this by-election, the SNP have their work cut out to hold this one. Their candidate selection doesn't inspire confidence: Alex MacInnes, a native Gaelic speaker who works in the seafood industry, gives an address in a hamlet in Wester Ross, over 90 miles by road from Caol and 130 miles from Mallaig. In 2017 he fought his home ward of Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh. There are three independent candidates whom I shall take in alphabetical order. Ronald Campbell is from Glen Roy and stood for election to the Crofting Commission last year, coming in fifth and last in the South West Highlands constituency. Third in that election was Catherine MacKinnon, also from Glen Roy, who according to a press report of a hustings has 26 years of experience of working with and for public agencies and assisting individuals, businesses and communities throughout Lochaber. The remaining independent, Colin "Woody" Wood, is a crofter who runs a caravan park in Corpach. Returning from the 2017 election is Lib Dem candidate Denis Rixson, who has lived in Mallaig for more than 40 years; he is a former schoolteacher and bookshop owner. Completing the ballot paper is Conservative candidate Ian Smith, who is as far away from the ward as MacInnes is; Smith gives an address in Alness, Easter Ross.

Parliamentary constituency: Ross, Skye and Lochaber (most); Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (small part)
Scottish Parliament constituency: Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch
ONS Travel to Work Area: Fort William
Postcode districts: PH31, PH33 to PH35, PH37 to PH44

Ronald Campbell (Ind)
Alex MacInnes (SNP)
Catherine MacKinnon (Ind)
Denis Rixson (LD)
Ian Smith (C)
Colin "Woody" Wood (Ind)

May 2017 result Ind 917 SNP 778 Ind 767 LD 304 C 265 Lab 181 Ind 30
May 2014 by-election Ind 932 SNP 724 Ind 537 UKIP 133 Christian 63; after transfers Ind 1176 SNP 881
May 2012 result Ind 905 Ind 710 Ind 506 SNP 411 Ind 71 C 66 Ind 60 Christian 45
May 2007 result Ind 975 Ind 881 Ind 550 Lab 473 SNP 389 Ind 188 C 156 Ind 151 Ind 100 Ind 64


Preview: 29 Mar 2018

One by-election on 29th March 2018:

Page Moss

Knowsley council, Merseyside; caused by the death of Labour councillor Veronica McNeill at the age of 73. She had served since 2007.

For electoral purposes, Maundy Thursday used to be a dies non: that is, a day on which elections could not be held and which didn't count towards the electoral timetable. That rule was abolished a decade ago, but there is still a prejudice against holding by-elections on Maundy Thursday; partly because once Easter is reached the ordinary May elections are imminent, and partly because if the count has to be delayed until Friday then the count staff would have to be paid at bank holiday rates. In these straitened times for local government, no doubt that second factor is an important consideration. Nonetheless the short history of Maundy Thursday by-elections may well have been very significant: last year's Holy Week polls included a stunning Conservative gain from Labour in the Coulby Newham ward of Middlesbrough, a result which might, perhaps, have been in Theresa May's mind over the following Easter weekend as she made the decision to go to the country.

What are the chances of a similarly stunning result in today's single local by-election? Well, to find out let's travel to the suburbs of Liverpool: although Page Moss ward is just outside the city limits, it was the big city which was the driver in its development. In 1932 Liverpool Corporation bought a large area of land off the Earl of Derby's Knowsley estate, and by the time the Second World War broke out seven years later the Corporation had filled that area with four large overspill estates. Three of those estates - Fincham, Huyton Farm and Woolfall Heath - form the Page Moss ward of Knowsley. The ward is centred on the A57 Liverpool Road at its junction with Stockbridge Lane - once known as the Horn Smithies junction because of the road layout.

Huyton's Wikipedia list of famous sons and daughters includes a disproportionate number of footballers and entertainers - jobs which might offer riches beyond the dreams of avarice if you have the requisite talent and strike it lucky, but which offer no guarantee of success or indeed income. Kids from Page Moss might grow up dreaming of kicking a ball at Anfield or Goodison, but probably have more chance of drawing a salary from football by walking in straight lines painting the pitch. Even I can do that. Page Moss ward includes St Aloysius primary school, which a young lad called Alan Bleasdale attended from 1951 to 1957; Bleasdale later qualified as a teacher but found fame as a playwright and screenwriter of gritty social dramas. It is no accident that Boys from the Blackstuff was set in Liverpool and partially filmed in Huyton.

Boys from the Blackstuff may now be over three decades old, but the latest census return suggests that the Yosser Hugheses of our day are still living in Page Moss and still desperate, Dan. In 2011 Page Moss ward, which then had slightly different boundaries, made the top 30 wards in England and Wales for adults with no qualifications (46%), the top 40 for long-term sickness (12.7% of the workforce), the top 70 for social renting (52% of households), the top 90 for unemployment (9.5% of the workforce), and the top 100 for population born in the UK (98.3%). All of the census districts covered by the ward are in the 20% most deprived in England and Wales. For those people living here who do have jobs, around a quarter travel to work by bus - a very high proportion for a ward outside London. For those who don't, BBC Panorama were here ten years ago focusing on the local youth gang culture. So, yes, Page Moss is not the most desirable place to live, but let's face it: it could be worse. At least it's not Stockbridge Village.

Politically Huyton will forever be associated with Harold Wilson, who represented Huyton in Parliament while he was resident at 10 Downing Street. Wherever Wilson is now, no doubt he is looking down on Huyton (or up at it, depending on your political orientation) and noting the recent Labour performances in Page Moss with a smile on his face. There aren't many safer Labour wards than this in the whole of the UK. In the 2011 and 2012 elections, on the previous boundaries, Labour beat the Lib Dems here in a straight fight by the score of 93-7; in 2014 the Lib Dems gave up and Labour won the ward without a contest. Boundary changes led to an all-out election in 2016 in which the three Labour candidates were opposed only by Kirk Sandringham for the Green Party, who lost 76-24.

So my advice is not to bet against Labour here. Their candidate is Delyth "Del" Arnall; she is seeking to return to the borough council, having represented Park ward in Kirkby from 2011 until it was abolished in the 2016 boundary changes. Arnall is a Knowsley parish councillor representing Knowsley Village ward where she lives. Kirk Sandringham returns to the fray for the Green Party; he is a former Army figure and was the Green election agent in Knowsley for the 2017 general election. Completing the ballot paper are Fred Fricker for UKIP and Conservative Aaron Waters. None of the candidates give addresses in the ward.

Parliamentary constituency: Knowsley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Liverpool
Postcode districts: L31, L32, L33

Del Arnall (Lab)
Fred Fricker (UKIP)
Kirk Sandringham (Grn)
Aaron Waters (C)

May 2016 result Lab 1208/1123/1051 Grn 385


Previews: 22 Mar 2018

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

In the last big week of by-elections before the ordinary May elections, there are eight polls on 22nd March 2018. The Conservatives defend three, Labour defend two, two are defended by independents and there is a free-for-all. Read on, as we travel towards London from Midlothian...


Penicuik

Midlothian council; caused by the death of the Provost of Midlothian, Labour councillor Adam Montgomery, at the age of 67. From a mining family - his grandfather worked down the pits for 58 years, while his father was an NUM safety inspector who investigated more than 150 fatal mining accidents - Montgomery started his career with the National Coal Board and later worked for Edinburgh council as a housing officer and NALGO shop steward. That gave Montgomery a leg up into politics, and in 1986 he gained the Penicuik seat on the Lothian regional council. Transferring to Midlothian council in the 1990s reorganisation, Montgomery was leader of the council from 2003 to 2007; more recently he had been working on a study to reopen the rail link to Penicuik.

We start this week with our only Scottish by-election. We're on the eastern slopes of the Pentland Hills here to visit a town named after the Hill of the Cuckoo, Peighinn na Cuthaig in Gaelic, and consequently pronounced "Pennycook". On the A701 road halfway between Edinburgh and Peebles, Penicuik started off in 1770 as a planned village to house workers at Cowan's paper mills, and was modelled on the Edinburgh New Town while being much less architecturally distinguished. The town's population boomed in the 1810s thanks to French prisoners captured in the Peninsular War, and during the cold winter of January 1847 the first Grand Match in curling took place here with the north of Scotland taking on the south. The paper mills have gone now, but Edinburgh commuters and the Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battn Royal Regt of Scotland, whose garrison is in Penicuik, provide major contributions to the town's economy.

In the 2003 election to Midlothian council, the last held under first-past-the-post, the Liberal Democrats dominated Penicuik: they won Penicuik North and Penicuik South East wards and were only 20 votes behind Labour in Penicuik South West. However, the present ward has been carried by the SNP at each poll since PR was introduced in 2007. In that year Penicuik's three seats went one each to the SNP, the Lib Dems and Labour; the Nationalists gained the Lib Dem seat in 2012 but lost their second seat to the Conservatives in 2017. Shares of the vote in 2017 were 35% for the SNP and 26% each for the Conservatives and Labour. However, the Nationalists lost the Midlothian constituency to Labour in the general election a few weeks later, a gain which will give Labour confidence that they can hold this seat despite starting from third place.

Both Labour and the SNP are appealing to Scottish patriotism by selecting candidates called Wallace. The defending Labour candidate Vivienne Wallace has had the big guns out in support of her, with Jeremy Corbyn and Labour's Scottish leader Richard Leonard both in town last week and Baroness Chakrabarti turning up in the snow over the weekend. The SNP candidate is Joe Wallace, a retired electrician and Montgomery's predecessor as Provost of Midlothian; he was councillor for this ward from 2012 to 2017 but lost his seat to the Conservatives last year. Standing for the Conservaives is Murdo Macdonald, who has recently retired from a career in the defence industry. Completing the ballot paper is Scottish Green candidate Helen Armstrong.

Parliamentary constituency: Midlothian
Scottish Parliament constituency: Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale
ONS Travel to Work Area: Edinburgh
Postcode districts: EH25, EH26, EH46

Helen Armstrong (Grn)
Murdo Macdonald (C)
Joe Wallace (SNP)
Vivienne Wallace (Lab)

May 2017 result SNP 2040 C 1517 Lab 1482 LD 425 Grn 329
May 2012 result SNP 2133 Lab 1363 LD 562 C 474 Grn 237
May 2007 result SNP 2307 LD 1975 Lab 1554 C 694 Solidarity 64 SSP 62


Bunbury

Cheshire East council; caused by the disqualification of Conservative councillor Michael Jones, who failed to attend any meetings of the council in six months. He had served since 2011.

We move to England, where the seven by-elections today fall into two trios - one trio in the Home Counties and a second in the debateable lands between the Midlands and the North - with an odd one out which we shall come to at the end. Starting with the North or Midlands trio we are in Cheshire, in a rural ward of fourteen parishes covering the rolling countryside between Crewe and Nantwich to the south-east and Tarporley to the north-west. The largest of those parishes, with 1,121 electors, is Bunbury. A name which might be better known as a city in Western Australia, a supergroup with Eric Clapton and the Bee Gees or an unseen character in The Importance of Being Earnest, Bunbury lies on the A49 Warrington-Whitchurch road and the Shropshire Union Canal which has a staircase of locks here. At the southern end of the ward is Dorfold Hall near Nantwich, described by Pevsner as one of the finest Jacobean houses in Cheshire. Bunbury ward makes the top 100 wards in England and Wales for 16- and 17-year-olds, although there doesn't appear to be an obvious reason why this should be. (Perhaps someone can enlighten me in the comments?)

This is an area which is politically true blue. Created on its current boundaries in 2011, Bunbury re-elected Michael Jones with a 70-18 margin over Labour in 2015. That was despite the fact that Jones had been council leader since 2012 and his administration had presided over a string of well-publicised controversies, from the council spending public money on a stall at a local Conservative Party conference to Jones announcing that plans for a Macclesfield supermarket would be refused before the planning committee had even considered the application.

Jones resigned as council leader in December 2015 after it was revealed that his council had repeatedly waived its own rules to award contracts to a company run by Jones' personal physiotherapist, a move which sparked a police investigation. He also resigned from the council's Conservative group and repeatedly announced that he was going to resign from the council once the police investigation was over. As a result, this by-election has been on your columnist's pending list for nearly two years. In fact, Jones never did submit his resignation letter to the Cheshire East chief executive; this by-election has instead come about under the six-month non-attendance rule. Controversial to the last.

The Cheshire East Tories will no doubt be hoping that with Jones off the scene they can finally put these embarrassing episodes behind them. Their defending candidate is Chris Green, a public speaking coach, Bunbury parish councillor and office-holder in the Eddisbury branch of the Conservative party. The Labour candidate is Jake Lomax, who works in financial services specialising in communications and transaction monitoring. Also standing are Mark Sharkey for the Green Party - who fought this ward in 2015 - and Liberal Democrat Mark Jones. Some of the electors for this by-election may be pleased to note that their polling station is a pub - the Tollemache Arms in Alpraham.

Parliamentary constituency: Eddisbury
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crewe
Postcode districts: CW1, CW5, CW6, CW7, CW10

Chris Green (C)
Mark Jones (LD)
Jake Lomax (Lab)
Mark Sharkey (Grn)

May 2015 result C 1864 Lab 470 Grn 320
May 2011 result C 1173 Lab 380


Leek West

Staffordshire Moorlands council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Robert Plant at the age of 79. Three times Mayor of Leek, Plant was first elected to the district council in 1987 for Leek North West ward; he lost his seat in 1991 but returned in 1999, lost his seat again in 2003 in the present Leek North ward, and had continuous service since 2003. Plant was chairman of the district council in 2001-02.

We move eastwards and upwards to Leek, the main town in the Staffordshire Moorlands district but not typical of Staffordshire as a whole. Leek is an upland town on the edge of the Peak District, and economically it was the southernmost of the Pennine textile towns, specialising in silkworking like the towns nearest to it in Cheshire. In more recent years the largest local employer was the Britannia building society, which was based in Leek until merging with the Co-op in 2009. Many of the building society workers will have lived in Leek West ward, which covers the Westwood area and is the newest and least-deprived of the town's four wards; much of West ward's housing dates from the 1970s.

Leek is a politically interesting town which can return councillors for pretty much any party under the right conditions. Unfortunately for present purposes Leek West is one of the town's more boring wards: it voted Liberal Democrat in 2003 but the Conservatives gained two of the ward's seats in 2007 and the other one in 2015. That was quite a comfortable win: shares of the vote in 2015 were 35% for the Conservatives, 21% for Labour, 15% for the localist Moorlands Democratic Alliance slate and 12% for the Greens. At county level this is part of the Leek South division, which voted UKIP in 2009 and Conservative in a 2012 by-election but has been held by Labour since 2013: Charlotte Atkins, the former Staffordshire Moorlands MP, was re-elected as county councillor in 2017 with an increased majority.

The Conservatives have taken no chances in securing the prized spot at the top of the ballot paper: their defending candidate is James Abberley who is the only candidate not to give an address in Leek (he lies in Kingsley on the Stoke-Ashbourne road). The Labour candidate is Bill Cawley, who fought Leek East ward on their ticket in 2015; he was a Stoke-on-Trent councillor from 1982 to 1990 (Lab, Hartshill ward), and contested some Leek elections earlier in this decade as a Green Party or independent figure. There is no Moorlands Democratic Alliance or official Green candidate this time, so completing the ballot paper are Liberal Democrat candidate George Herbert and Leek town councillor Stephen Wales, standing as an independent.

Parliamentary constituency: Staffordshire Moorlands
Staffordshire county council division: Leek South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Stoke-on-Trent
Postcode district: ST13

James Abberley (C)
Bill Cawley (Lab)
George Herbert (LD)
Stephen Wales (Ind)

May 2015 result C 1157/994/921 Lab 697 Moorlands Democratic Alliance 506/490 Grn 400 LD 380 Ind 293/184
May 2011 result C 678/612/527 LD 576/364/322 Moorlands Democratic Alliance 474/457/274
May 2007 result C 813/802/717 LD 724/625/478 UKIP 482 Lab 176
May 2003 result LD 1016/858/677 C 554/441/352 Ratepayers (Staffs Moorlands) 294 Lab 225


Worksop South-East

Bassetlaw council, Nottinghamshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Deirdre Foley who had served since 2014.

We come to the last of this week's polls in the debatable lands, but this is a very different area to rural Cheshire and suburban Leek. Worksop South-East ward is based on Manton, which has now been swallowed up by the growth of Worksop but was originally a pit village built in the 1900s to serve Manton Colliery. One of the most productive pits in the UK - over a million tonnes of coal were extracted in the year 1979 - Manton was the location of the some of the ugliest scenes in the 1984 miners' strike, with Manton miner Bob Taylor successfully bringing a court action to have the strike declared unlawful.

The closure of the colliery in 1994 brought all the usual problems, but the pit site has been redeveloped as a business park which has insulated the ward from economic collapse. Part of that business park is a Greencore food factory which claims to be the largest sandwich factory in the world. In the 2011 census Worksop South-East came in at number 12 in England and Wales for routine occupations and just outside the top 100 for semi-routine occupations: those two workng-class categories account for almost 50% of the workforce, while the ward is also in the top 30 in England and Wales for adults with no qualifications (45%). It should not come as a surprise to learn that Worksop South-East ward includes some of Nottinghamshire's most deprived census districts.

It should also not come as a surprise to learn that this is a very safe Labour ward. At the party's recent high point in 2012 they polled over 87% here in a straight fight with the Conservatives; in the most recent district election in 2015 Labour beat UKIP here 56-25. In May last year the ward was split between two county divisions which were both safe Labour. The good Tory performance in the Bassetlaw constituency in the 2017 general election clearly didn't come out of this ward.

Defending for Labour is the wonderfully-named Clayton Tindle, who works for Wilko and is a GMB rep. With UKIP not returning, Tindle is up against Lib Dem Leon Duveen (who fought the Bassetlaw constituency last year) and Conservative Lewis Stanniland.

Parliamentary constituency: Bassetlaw
Nottinghamshire county council division: Worksop East (part), Worksop South (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Worksop and Retford
Postcode district: S80

Leon Duveen (LD)
Lewis Stanniland (C)
Clayton Tindle (Lab)

May 2015 result Lab 1798/1632/1494 UKIP 807 Grn 330 Ind 264
May 2014 result Lab 1071 UKIP 393 C 94 LD 50
May 2012 result Lab 1232 C 179
May 2011 result Lab 1624 C 277
May 2010 result Lab 2024 LD 386 C 319
May 2008 result Lab 858 C 321
May 2007 result Lab 917 C 326
May 2006 result Lab 809 C 353
June 2004 result Lab 1281 C 502
May 2003 result Lab 744 C 210
May 2002 result Lab 784/659/610 C 196


Central and Walton

Aylesbury Vale council, Buckinghamshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Edward Sims who has been transferred away from the area by his employer. He had served since 2015.

As we move into the home counties for our second English trio, it's time for a new nomination in the occasional Andrew's Previews awards for Appalling Council Websites. A few weeks ago Bolton council were the latest to feel your columnist's wrath by completely failing to publish the notices for the recent Farnworth by-election online. (It's my council tax you're wasting.) Aylesbury Vale council have taken a novel and rather unusual approach to publishing the election notices for this by-election: they did put the notices on their website, but made them inaccessible to anybody who hasn't registered for an online account with the council. Your columnist spent a very painful hour trying to register before eventually giving up and resorting to a trawl of Google to find out who the candidates were. That's an hour of my life I'm not going to get back. So, as a shining example of how not to publish electoral information, I am pleased to announce that Aylesbury Vale have achieved the sought-after rating of Appalling Council Website. Please get in contact so that I can post your certificate to you.

A bad way to have to start a preview covering one of the most notoriously awful towns in the South of England. Aylesbury is a rather isolated place in the north-western shadow of the Chiltern hills, which has ended up as the county town of Buckinghamshire thanks to its relatively central location within the county. As the name suggests, this is the town centre ward: here can be found the central shopping district together with the railway station and the famously ugly Buckinghamshire county council offices. The town centre must be doing something right because the old Aylesbury Central ward made the top 100 in England and Wales for full-time employment. Boundary changes for the 2015 election added a second councillor and the Walton area to the south-east, an area dominated by large schools: Aylesbury Grammar, Aylesbury High and The Grange.

The old Aylesbury Central ward was Lib Dem until 2011 when the Conservatives gained it by a majority of one vote. Walton had previously been part of Bedgrove ward which had a similar political trajectory. In the 2015 election the new Central and Walton elected the Conservative slate on a low share of the vote: 33%, to 23% for the Lib Dems, 19% for Labour and 17% for UKIP. In May's county elections the old Central ward was in Aylesbury North division which was safe Lib Dem, while Walton was in Aylesbury South-East division which was safe Tory.

Defending for the Conservatives is Lou Redding, a chartered engineer and visiting research fellow at Cranfield University. The Lib Dem candidate is taxi firm operator Waheed Raja, who won a by-election to Aylesbury town council last year and is hoping to double up at town and district level. Labour have selected Philip Jacques, chairman of the party's Aylesbury branch. UKIP have not returned, so the ballot paper is completed by Green candidate Matt Williams and independent Kyle Michael, a businessman and former pub landlord who contested Aylesbury in the last general election: he came sixth out of six candidates with 1.1%.

Parliamentary constituency: Aylesbury
Buckinghamshire county council division: Aylesbury North (part: former Aylesbury Central ward), Aylesbury South-East (part: part of former Bedgrove ward)
ONS Travel to Work Area: High Wycombe and Aylesbury
Postcode districts: HP19, HP20, HP21

Philip Jacques (Lab)
Kyle Michael (Ind)
Waheed Raja (LD)
Lou Redding (C)
Matt Williams (Grn)

May 2015 result C 1075/944 LD 752/570 Lab 625/427 UKIP 567/481 Grn 280/211


Ridgeway

Chiltern council, Buckinghamshire; caused by the death of independent councillor Derek Lacey at the age of 75. Despite having lost a leg to diabetes, Lacey didn't let that stop him; in his working life before retirement he ran a market stall in Chesham for 20 years, owned two clothing shops in the town and worked for Barclays Bank. Lacey had been a Chesham town councillor since 1987 and a Chiltern district councillor since 1991, representing Pond Park ward until 2003, and served twice as Mayor of Chesham.

Derek Lacey's ward was Ridgeway in the north of Chesham, a longstanding market town in the Chiltern hills. Named after Ridgeway Road and located in the north of the town, this is Chesham's council-estate ward. Lacey had dominated the area's election results for decades, originally as a Residents candidate and since 2007 as an independent; at his final re-election in 2015 he beat the Conservatives 61-21. For clues as to the area's political orientation without Lacey on the ballot we have to look to county level, where this is part of the safe-Conservative Chesham division.

With no defending independent candidate to replace Lacey it's time for Britain Elects' favourite type of by-election, a free-for-all! The Conservative candidate is Nick Southworth, a "coffee zealot, legal beagle and triathlete" according to his Twitter. The Lib Dem candidate is Frances Kneller who stood here in the county elections last year. Completing the ballot paper is Chesham town councillor Mohammad Zafir Bhatti, a former Conservative county and district councillor and former Mayor of Chesham who defected to Labour in 2013; he was appointed MBE in the 2012 New Year Honours for services to local government and the community.

Parliamentary constituency: Chesham and Amersham
Buckinghamshire county council division: Chesham
ONS Travel to Work Area: High Wycombe and Aylesbury
Postcode district: HP5

Mohammad Zafir Bhatti (Lab)
Frances Kneller (LD)
Nick Southworth (C)

May 2015 result Ind 808 C 283 LD 228
May 2011 result Ind 669 C 118 LD 109 UKIP 32
May 2007 result Ind 573 LD 102 C 85
May 2003 result Chesham and District Res Assoc 676 LD 79 C 46


Ockendon

Thurrock council, Essex; caused by the resignation of councillor Kevin Wheeler who had served since 2015.

Brexit may very much be a thing, but UKIP is dead. That's the message from the candidate list for this week's local by-elections which doesn't have a single Kipper on it, and that's the message which has come out of recent political developments in Thurrock. Thurrock had been one of the rare success stories for UKIP in local government under the charismatic leadership of Tim Aker, who was elected to the European Parliament in 2014 and to Thurrock council in a by-election later that year, and very nearly got into Westminster in 2015. After the 2016 local elections UKIP were the second-largest group on Thurrock council with 17 out of 49 seats, one behind the Conservatives (who form a minority administration) and four ahead of Labour. No longer is that the case: the council's entire UKIP group seceded from the party in January this year to form a Thurrock Independents group, and their councillor Kevin Wheeler took the opportunity to resign his office altogether.

Three of those now-ex UKIP councillors represented Ockendon ward, which is the northern of two wards covering the town of South Ockendon. Just outside the M25 motorway and the Greater London boundary, South Ockendon's economy was traditionally underpinned by a Ford Motor plant next to Ockendon railway station and a large psychiatric hospital. Both of these are now gone: the hospital closed in the 1990s and was redeveloped for housing, while the motor plant closed in 2004. Part of the old Ford site is now occupied by a Next distribution centre.

This was traditionally a hard-fought marginal ward between the Conservatives and Labour which often produced tiny majorities. In the 2004 election when the current boundaries were introduced the ward's three seats split two to the Conservatives and one to Labour. The Tories gained the Labour seat easily in 2010, but Labour got a seat back the following year. However, UKIP came through the middle in 2014 to gain a seat in the ward from the Conservatives, and easily gained the ward's other two seats in the following years. At the most recent election in 2016 UKIP had 47% to 28% for the Conservatives and 25% for Labour.

This by-election will be the first electoral test for the rechristened Thurrock Independents. Their defending candidate is the party chairman Allen Mayes. The Conservatives have selected local resident Andrew Jefferies. Labour may be regretting their selection of former bus driver Les Strange, who has had to apologise during the campaign for offensive stuff on his Facebook; he completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Thurrock
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: RM14, RM15

Andrew Jefferies (C)
Allen Mayes (Thurrock Ind)
Les Strange (Lab)

May 2016 result UKIP 1038 C 634 Lab 558
May 2015 result UKIP 1991 C 1297 Lab 1224
May 2014 result UKIP 1203 C 789 Lab 556 LD 67
May 2012 result C 900 Lab 809 UKIP 321 LD 40
May 2011 result Lab 1096 C 1009 BNP 231 UKIP 223 LD 73
May 2010 result C 1723 Lab 1487 BNP 525 UKIP 385
May 2008 result C 1016 Lab 806 BNP 422
May 2007 result C 728 Lab 714 BNP 434 UKIP 218
May 2006 result Lab 916 C 791 Grn 321
June 2004 result C 831/789/735 Lab 743/725/648

Billingsgate

City of London Corporation; caused by the resignation of Common Councilman Michael Welbank.

A quick note to finish this week on the odd poll out. Billingsgate ward lies in the ancient City of London, running from the River Thames up to Fenchurch Street along Idol Lane and Mincing Lane. Billingsgate was the city's watergate in days of olden time and by the sixteenth century had developed into a fish market. Billingsgate Fish Market was redeveloped in the nineteenth century to become the largest fish market in the world, but is no longer in the City: the market relocated to Poplar in 1982. The old market building on Lower Thames Street is now used as an events venue; opposite it is an office block with the remains of a Roman Bath house in the basement; and opposite that is the Georgian Watermen's Hall, home to the Company of Watermen and Lightermen which formerly licensed Thames watermen. The ward was severely damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 (its boundaries used to include Pudding Lane, where the fire started), and there are two Christopher Wren churches here, St Margaret Pattens and St Mary-at-Hill.

This is one of the City Corporation's wards which is dominated by the business vote, and there aren't many voters here business or otherwise. In the 2013 City elections it was uncontested, and in 2017 Welbank was re-elected at the top of the poll with just 42 votes.

There are four candidates this time, so unusually low vote totals look on the cards. Taking the candidates in alphabetical order, John Allen-Petrie is Rouge Croix Pursuivant at the College of Arms; Timothy Becker is a barrister from Wimbledon; Alpa Raja gives an address in Hatch End and fought Castle Baynard ward in the 2017 City elections; and Dawn Wright is retired from a telecommunications and IT career and is associated with the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: EC3M, EC3R

John Allen-Petrie (Ind)
Timothy Becker (Ind)
Alpa Raja (Ind)
Dawn Wright (Ind)


Preview: 20 Mar 2018

A rare Tuesday by-election this week in the ancient city of London...


Bishopsgate

City of London Corporation; caused by Common Councilman Prem Goyal being elected Alderman for Portsoken ward in December last year.

Through crystal roofs the sunlight fell,
And pencilled beams the gloss renewed
On iron rafters balanced well
On iron struts; though dimly hued.
With smoke o'erlaid, with dust endued.
The walls and beams like beryl shone;
And dappled light the platforms strewed
With yellow foliage of the dawn
That withered by the porch of day's divan.

- John Davidson, "Liverpool Street Station"

That was John Davidson's poem Liverpool Street Station, written some decades before the station's early-1990s redevelopment. The UK's third-busiest railway station, Liverpool Street lies within the Bishopsgate ward of the ancient City of London. Like much of the City this is a ward of offices and businesses ranging from the Swiss bank UBS, whose British headquarters are in the Broadgate development next to Liverpool Street station; to Coventry University, which has a small campus off Devonshire Square; to smaller businesses and sole traders. Recent developments within the ward include the 164m Broadgate Tower, the fifth-tallest building in the City, and the tunnels for the Elizabeth Line which appear on the map here but are not due to open to passengers until December this year.

Liverpool Street is one of the stations on the London edition of the board game Monopoly, and it's businesses which monopolise Bishopsgate ward's electorate. There are very few local residents here, and the voters list is dominated by sole traders and electors nominated by the ward's businesses. That's just one of the ways that the City Corporation is a hangover from the way local government was done in days of olden time; another is the presence of the Wardmote, a public meeting held within the ward which is effectively a hustings. The Wardmote for this by-election took place yesterday before being adjuourned for the poll to take place, and it will reconvene on Tuesday evening for the declaration of the result.

Bishopsgate ward was uncontested in the 2017 City elections but attracted three candidates for a by-election in November last year. Six candidates were nominated for this by-election, but Dawn Wright has withdrawn and Timothy Becker had his nomination papers ruled out of order; both Wright and Becker are contesting the City's Billingsgate ward by-election on Thursday. Taking the four remaining candidates in alphabetical order, Joanna Abeyie is a journalist and social campaigner who founded a company which recruits people from diverse backgrounds for jobs in the creative industry. Adedamola Aminu is a Lambeth councillor and former Mayor of Lambeth who is standing as an official Labour candidate. Shravan Joshi is senior warden of the Worshipful Company of Fuellers. Completing the ballot paper, and returning from November's by-election in which he was a rather distant runner-up, is former Common Councilman for this ward and former Lib Dem figure Patrick Streeter.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
London Assembly constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: E1, EC2A, EC2M, EC2N, EC2P, EC3A

Joanne Abeyie (Ind)
Adedamola Aminu (Lab)
Shravan Joshi (Ind)
Patrick Streeter (Ind)


Previews: 15 Mar 2018

Just three by-elections on 15th March 2018, two Conservative defences and a free-for-all:


Stamford St George's; and
Stamford St John's

South Kesteven council, Lincolnshire; caused respectively by the resignation of Katherine Brown and the death of Terl Bryant at the age of 72. Both were Conservative councillors. Brown had served since 2015. Bryant had a much longer career in local government, having been first elected to South Kesteven district council in 1991; he served for All Saints ward from 1991 to 1995 and again from 1999 to 2007, before being first elected for this ward in 2011. He was chairman of South Kesteven council in 2002-03, sat in the district council's cabinet from 2004 to 2007 and from 2011 to 2017, and had served as Mayor of Stamford.

All three of this week's by-elections are in what the railway posters used to call the "drier side of Britain". We start this week in the south-western corner of Lincolnshire in the town of Stamford. Rated by the Sunday Times in 2013 as the UK's best place to live, Stamford originally grew as a Norse centre: along with Derby, Leicester, Lincoln and Nottingham it was one of the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw. The town's location was good, at the lowest crossing point of the River Welland, and Stamford became a major stopping point on the Great North Road. The legacy of this can still be seen on the town's high street which is lined with seventeenth- and eighteenth-century buildings from the golden age of coaching, and proved so unsuited for modern traffic that Stamford was one of the first towns on the A1 route to be bypassed.

The Stamford Bypass now forms the county boundary between Stamford and Rutland, and the western boundary of Stamford St John's ward. The town name was important here for disambiguation purposes: until 2015 South Kesteven district had two St John's wards, the other being in Grantham. The Stamford St John's ward is in the north-west and west of the town along the Casterton and Empingham Roads; at its centre is a primary school named after the conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent, who was brought up in Stamford. Much of the southern end of the ward is floodplain, and on its boundary is the southernmost point of Lincolnshire and the shortest boundary between two UK counties, a stretch of about 20 metres dividing Lincolnshire from Northamptonshire. Most of the housing in this ward is postwar with high levels of owner-occupation and employment. Appropriately for a town whose four wards are all named after churches, Stamford St John's ward's census return also shows high levels of Christianity.

Sir Malcolm Sargent was a pupil at Stamford School, an independent school which also educated the composer Sir Michael Tippett, the Inspector Morse author Colin Dexter and several former MPs, although none currently serving. The school is located in Stamford St George's ward, which covers the north-east corner of Stamford. This ward is a little further down the social scale than Stamford St John's, although still pretty prosperous.

Both wards took on their current boundaries in 2015; the changes made to them in that year were minor, although Stamford St John's ward did lose a councillor. They were safe Conservative that year, but that hasn't always been the case: in particular, St George's ward (as Stamford St George's was known before 2015) has elected councillors from all three major parties this century. In the 2003 election it split its two seats between Labour candidate Joyce Gaffigan and Conservative Percival "Bob" Sandall, who were re-elected in 2007 as a Liberal Democrat and as an Independent respectively. Gaffigan retired in 2011 and her seat was gained by Conservative candidate Brenda Sumner, and the Conservatives' Katherine Brown gained the ward's other seat from Sandall (now standing for the Stamford Group of Independents) in 2015. Shares of the vote in 2015 were 33% for the Conservative slate - inflated by what appears to be a large personal vote for Brown who was nearly 350 votes ahead of her running-mate Sumner - 19% each for UKIP and the Stamford Group of Independents, and 16% for Labour.

Stamford St John's has a more straightforward history, being a Liberal Democrat ward from 2003 until the Conservatives gained it in 2011. The Tories went down from three seats to two in the 2015 election, but that was down to the Boundary Commission removing a seat from the ward. Shares of the vote in 2015 were 49% for the Conservatives, 29% for the Stamford Group of Independents and 22% for UKIP.

Defending Stamford St George's for the Conservatives is Rachael Cooke. The Stamford Group of Independents candidate is Gloria Johnson, a Stamford town councillor for this ward and checkout supervisor at a local supermarket. With UKIP not returning, the St George's ballot paper is completed by Labour's Christopher Dennett, the Greens' Gerhard Lohmann-Bond and the Lib Dems' Jack Stow.

In Stamford St John's ward the Tory defence is led by David Taylor, a charity fundraiser who was elected to Stamford town council in 2015 on the Stamford Group of Independents slate. Another Stamford town councillor, Steve Carroll, is standing as an independent; judging by his Twitter handle (@protectstamford) he is an anti-development candidate. Again, UKIP have not returned, so the ballot paper is completed by the Lib Dems' Harrish Bisnauthsing - councillor for this ward until 2011 - Labour's Cameron Clack and Simon Whitmore for the Green Party.

Stamford St George's

Parliamentary constituency: Grantham and Stamford
Lincolnshire county council division: Stamford East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough
Postcode district: PE9

Rachael Cooke (C)
Christopher Dennett (Lab)
Gloria Johnson (Ind)
Gerhard Lohmann-Bond (Grn)
Jack Stow (LD)

May 2015 result C 926/588 UKIP 539 Stamford Group of Independents 525/403 Lab 441/441 Grn 346

Stamford St John's

Parliamentary constituency: Grantham and Stamford
Lincolnshire county council division: Stamford West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough
Postcode district: PE9

Harrish Bisnauthsing (LD)
Steve Carroll (Ind)
Cameron Clack (Lab)
David Taylor (C)
Simon Whitmore (Grn)

May 2015 result C 1385/1273 Stamford Group of Independents 820/784 UKIP 620


Longbeck

Redcar and Cleveland council, North Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Mike Findley on health grounds. He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2005, and told at the time that he had between two and five years to live. Cllr Findley didn't let that get to him: his charity, the Mike Findley MND Fund, has raised nearly £200,000 for research into the disease, and Findley was appointed MBE for his efforts. Originally from London, Mike Findley had a 34-year career with Royal Mail before entering politics in 2003; he had been a Redcar and Cleveland councillor from 2003 to 2011 when he retired for the first time, and again since 2015. He was Mayor of Redcar and Cleveland in 2008-09.

For our final by-election of the week we travel to the coast of what was once the North Riding of Yorkshire. Longbeck ward is just to the south-east of Redcar and is based on the western end of Marske-by-the-Sea together with the village of New Marske, which was once a mining settlement in the Cleveland hills. With ironstone mining in Cleveland having long ended, the ward's economy was traditionally underpinned in recent years by commuting to the Teesside conurbation and particularly the Redcar steelworks - in the 2011 census Longbeck was in the top 20 wards in England and Wales for Apprenticeship qualifications and in the top 50 wards for the census "lower supervisory, technical" employment group. The closure of Redcar steelworks since 2011 means that those stats are now rather seriously out of date; nonetheless, there has been strong population growth here during the 21st century, and the ward was redrawn for the 2003 election with a relatively low electorate to allow for that.

Longbeck ward's previous election results are unusually complicated, so please bear with me. In 2003 it elected two Conservatives, Norah Cooney and Vera Moody, together with Findley. Those three councillors were re-elected in 2007 from a long ballot paper which featured two different candidates both called Norman Brown - one independent, one Lib Dem. In 2011 Findley retired and Moody lost her seat: the new councillors were Lib Dem Victoria Reyer and Labour candidate Vic Jeffries, producing a rare three-way split between the three main parties. The good Lib Dem performance reflected the party's unexpected gain of the Redcar parliamentary seat the previous year.

Both Reyer and Jeffries sought re-election in 2015 as independent candidates for Longbeck ward. Reyer had left the Lib Dem group in 2013, while the Labour group in Redcar and Cleveland had split down the middle shortly before the 2015 election with Jeffries on the dissident side. Perhaps in an ironic reflection of that split, the official Labour slate here in the 2015 election was headed by Sheila Argument. None of those candidates won; Conservative Norah Cooney was re-elected at the top of the poll, Mike Findley successfully returned in second place and the third seat went to UKIP candidate Steve Turner, who beat Argument by 80 votes to become the only UKIP member of Redcar and Cleveland council. With so many independent candidates and partial slates percentages of the vote are perhaps not too good a guide here; but for the record, in 2015 they were 26% for the Conservatives, 22% for Findley, 20% for UKIP, 18% for Labour and 14% for the Lib Dems. Vic Jeffries went on to contest the by-election last October in the neighbouring St Germain's ward, coming fourth out of six candidates as the Lib Dems easily held a seat they were defending there.

Confused? You will be. The continuity independent candidate is Vic Jeffries, Labour councillor for this ward from 2011 to 2015, who has continued to attend council meetings and functions since his defeat in his capacity as Mike Findley's carer. The Conservatives have selected Vera Rider, who was their unsuccessful candidate here in 2007; she is the vice-chairman of Saltburn, Marske and New Marske parish council and runs a community group in New Marske. The official Labour candidate is Darcie Shepherd, an 18-year-old A-level student from Saltburn. Standing for the Lib Dems is another former Labour figure, Marske-by-the-Sea resident Marilyn Marshall who fought St Germain's ward on the Labour ticket in 2011 and 2015. With UKIP not returning, that is your four-way ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Redcar
ONS Travel to Work Area: Middlesbrough and Stockton
Postcode districts: TS10, TS11

Vic JeffrieS (Ind)
Marilyn Marshall (Lab)
Vera Rider (C)
Darcie Shepherd (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1402 Ind 1220/803/655 UKIP 1083 Lab 1003/860/839 LD 764
May 2011 result LD 815/748/643 C 776/583/570 Lab 769/717/694 Ind 343
May 2007 result Ind 1143/495/427 C 738/697/486 Lab 422/375/334 LD 180/171/158
May 2003 result C 1338/1254/1052 Ind 1189 Lab 574 LD 295/281/219


Previews: 08 Mar 2018

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

We have eight council by-elections on 8th March 2018, which fall neatly into a southern half and a north and Midlands half. There are three Labour defences, two of which are to replace outgoing council leaders: the leader of Tameside council has recently died and the leader of Harlow council has had enough of the Labour Party's factional disputes. The other five polls are Tory defences including the week's standout marginal ward in the city of Nottingham - or is it Gotham? - with safer wards up in Rutland, Rochester, Hertfordshire and Hampshire. Along the way we will visit some award-winning concrete, a prison whose name has entered the lexicon, and the birthplace of the terry towel; travel to England's largest second-hand bookshop; and indulge in some puns which even the Election Maps UK Twitter account might think better of. But there's really only one place to start this week...


Farnworth

Bolton council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Asif Ibrahim due to pressure of work. He had served since 2012.

Between Manchester and Bolton, the ugliness is so complete that is almost exhilarating. It challenges you to live there.

Challenge accepted. That was J B Priestley writing in his English Journey of the early 1930s, and laying the foundation for a whole genre of "it's grim up north" travel books which has been extensively mined ever since by a variety of authors.

Your columnist's first reaction to this quote is to think that anybody from the industrial West Riding - as Priestley was - must have necessarily been biased. There are plenty of beautiful places between Manchester and Bolton if you know where to look. A quarter of an hour's walk from your columnist's house leads to Nob End, a beauty spot overlooking the Croal and Irwell valleys at the point where they meet. From the banks of the Manchester, Bolton and Bury canal I can look over the Croal valley towards Farnworth on the other side, and think...

...yes, maybe Priestley had a point.

Of course, it's a post-industrial landscape which I'm looking over now. When Priestley was writing Nob End wasn't the haven for rare orchids it is today: it was an active chemical waste dump overlooked by a narrowboat repair centre. Moses Gate country park, of which Nob End is a part, was filled by paper mills and a colliery. Those industries gave Farnworth a wider economic base than the average Lancashire textile town, but won't have given it any beauty points. It says a lot for the town that Farnworth's most famous son is Alan Ball, the youngest member of England's World Cup-winning football team and later a long-serving football manager; Farnworth Town Hall has been restored as an office building named after Ball.

Some indication of what Farnworth was like in the 1930s can be gleaned from a surprisingly comprehensive internet archive. This is courtesy of Mass Observation, which covered the Farnworth parliamentary by-election of January 1938. The Mass Observation archives have all been digitised and published on their own website, Bolton Worktown (http://www.boltonworktown.co.uk/), from which the above photograph of children outside a polling station is taken. Kids grew up quick in them days. Mass Observation were interested in learning how election propaganda could influence people, and newsletters from both the Conservative and Labour candidates are in their archives. Look at the Conservative newsletter below: yes, election newspapers have been going for over eighty years now, and with some changes to the names and dates you could drop this into any letterbox in the town today and still get the message across.

The polling station the 1938 kids were standing outside is a building on Bentinck Street which still stands today. You get a good view of it as you queue up to traverse one of the disaster areas of modern Farnworth, the hole at Moses Gate. Moses was, of course, a Biblical patriarch who led the Israelites out of Egypt by holding back the waters of the Red Sea. His Gate was breached in August last year by a landslip, which undermined a busy road bridge over the Manchester-Bolton railway line and broke the water main supplying your columnist's house. The resulting hole closed the main road between Farnworth and Bolton for six months, leading to appalling travel delays, and still hasn't been completely filled in yet.

In fact, quite a lot of Farnworth is a disaster area. The town centre is one of the most sorry-looking parades of charity shops it's possible to imagine. Its condition hasn't noticeably been improved by £325,000 of Section 106 money paid by Tesco, who opened a large store in Farnworth in 2013. Bolton council are claiming that the money has been spent, although it's difficult for locals to work out what is was spent on.

Just one of many controversies involving Bolton council, whose Labour administration - it's fair to say - is unpopular. In 2016, the council lost a legal case forcing it to disclose the names of two of its councillors who had been summonsed for council tax arrears. The Labour administration then got into very serious hot water by using emergency powers to pay a grant of £300,000 to a firm of personal injury lawyers. The council got the money back, but it was a close-run thing as the firm involved has since been shut down by the legal regulator. Those of you who read the preview of January's Hulton ward by-election - a ward with a planning issue to add to all the other controversies - will not be surprised to find that Hulton is the only by-election which Labour have lost to the Conservatives so far this year. And if you read that preview you'll have drawn the right conclusions from that gain: it's nothing to do with Brexit, very little to do with Jeremy Corbyn, and mostly to do with just how unpopular the Bolton Labour administration is.

As well as these financial and political scandals, it's clear from the most cursory of looks around the town centre that the Greatest Town in the Known Universe is falling behind compared to its rivals in Greater Manchester. Bolton town centre might have just gained a sparkling new bus station, but clearly not many people are choosing to travel to a town centre that's not worth visiting on buses which they can't afford to pay the fare for. They're voting with their feet, and the result is that Bolton is a place where charity shops - charity shops - are closing down because they can't make ends meet.

In that context it's not surprising that while Farnworth ward is safe Labour the main opposition to them in recent years has come from that most populist of populist movements, UKIP. At the most recent Bolton election, in 2016, the Labour lead over the Kippers was 48-36. Now UKIP are in a state of general collapse at the moment - as well as their national travails, there was not one UKIP candidate in last week's four council by-elections. (UKIP running scared of a load of snowflakes, who'd have thowt it?) So it will be interesting to see how well the Kipppers can do this time or whether some new opposition will come forward. In last year's Greater Manchester mayoral election the Conservatives ran second in Farnworth, Labour leading 68-19, and the Bolton News have been giving some prominence to a new localist party, Farnworth and Kearsley First - and it's surprising in retrospect that nobody has previously tried to form a localist party in Bolton borough given its residents' reputation for insularity.

One thing we can be sure of: getting details of the by-election is going to be difficult. Bolton council have a reputation among local government watchers for being one of the worst councils in the country when it comes to publishing information on upcoming elections, and somebody really needs to tell Electoral Services that, in this digital age, sticking the relevant notices on a board outside the town hall is not enough. Everybody else is putting the legal notices on their website; Bolton, there's nothing to stop you spending a few pennies of my council tax doing the same. Your columnist eventually resorted to getting hold of the candidate list by getting a bus into the town centre - in the snowy weather we had last week - and photographing the noticeboard:

The things I do for democracy. As shown, defending for Labour is Rebecca Minors, partner of former Labour councillor Darren Whitehead whose sudden death caused the Hulton by-election in January. The UKIP candidate is Dave Harvey, a former soldier. Also standing are 18-year-old Matthew Littler for the Conservatives, David Figgins for the Green Party, David Walsh for the Lib Dems and Paul Sanders for Farnworth and Kearsley First. We wait to see if this by-election is close enough to warrant getting the loudspeaker car out...

Parliamentary constituency: Bolton South East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: BL3, BL4, BL5

David Figgins (Grn)
Dave Harvey (UKIP)
Matthew Littler (C)
Rebecca Minors (Lab)
Paul Sanders (Farnworth and Kearsley First)
David Walsh (LD)

May 2016 result Lab 1417 UKIP 1066 C 253 Grn 103 LD 89
May 2015 result Lab 2703 UKIP 1626 C 723 Grn 178 LD 144
May 2014 result Lab 1454 UKIP 1108 C 211 Grn 115 LD 73
May 2012 result Lab 1557 C 320 Grn 263 LD 178
May 2011 result Lab 1855 C 383 Grn 231 LD 226
May 2010 result Lab 2612 C 1040 LD 994 Grn 260
May 2008 result Lab 1151 LD 955 C 531 You Party 138
May 2007 result Lab 1107 LD 920 C 399 Grn 179
May 2006 result Lab 1296 C 509 LD 394
June 2004 result Lab 1484/1454/1334 LD 899/723/616 C 733/530/525

May 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Lab 1470 C 364 UKIP 91 EDP 75 LD 70 Grn 37 Aslam 34 Farmer 10


Droylsden East

Tameside council, Greater Manchester; caused by the death of the Leader of the Council, Labour councillor Kieran Quinn, at the age of 57. He had suffered a heart attack while out delivering Christmas cards. Quinn had served on Tameside council since 1994, and became leader in 2010. As well as council leader, he was also chairman of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund and Tameside's representative on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

We make a return visit to Droylsden, a place where Andrew's Previews has been very recently: there was a by-election in this ward last October. Droylsden is the westernmost of the agglomeration of mill towns east of Manchester which forms the Tameside district: it lies inside the M60 motorway and is very much a part of the Manchester built-up area which somehow never got annexed by the city.

A classic Lancashire milltown, Droylsden claims to be the birthplace of the terry towel, which was first machine-woven by W M Christy and Sons in 1851. Robertson's jam factory, next to the Ashton Canal, was also a major employer. All this is gone now - the site of Christy's factory is now occupied by a Tesco off Ashton New Road. That Tesco and the proximity to the big city has clearly badly affected Droylsden's shopping centre, which when your columnist visited a few years ago was a parade of charity shops as bad as anything in Farnworth. The Metrolink came here in 2013, running along Ashton New Road to link the town to Manchester city centre and outwards to Ashton-under-Lyne.

Droylsden tram stop is within Droylsden East ward, which covers the Fairfield area south of Ashton New Road and also extends north along Market Street and Lumb Lane. In general, the further away you get from Ashton New Road, the less deprived the neighbourhood becomes.

There was briefly a Droylsden parliamentary constituency, created in the 1950 redistribution and abolished in 1955, and if the Boundary Commission get their way something similar could be created for the 2022 election. The Droylsden constituency was marginal between Labour and the Conservatives in the 1950 and 1951 elections, but the Conservative vote in Tameside has basically fallen apart over the post-war period - the Tories have only one reliable ward in the borough, Stalybridge South - and it's the radical right who have generally filled the runner-up spot in Droylsden East over the last decade. The BNP ran second here from 2006 to 2010, and UKIP were runners-up from 2011 to 2016. The Kippers got within 10 points of Labour in 2014 but by 2016 the Labour lead had improved to 56-34.

In the 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Andy Burnham led the Conservative candidate here 67-19. The Tories did better in October's by-election in which there was no UKIP candidate: Labour beat them 60-33 on that occasion.

Defending Droylsden East's second by-election in six months is Laura Boyle, a primary school teacher. Also working in the education sector is IT professional and Conservative candidate Matt Stevenson, who returns after his second place in last October's by-election. Shaun Offerman of the Lib Dems and Annie Train of the Green Party complete the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashton-under-Lyne
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: M11, M34, M43, OL7

Laura Boyle (Lab)
Shaun Offerman (LD)
Matt Stevenson (C)
Annie Train (Grn)

Oct 2017 by-election Lab 1064 C 577 LD 63 Grn 60
May 2016 result Lab 1449 UKIP 948 C 256 Grn 166
May 2015 result Lab 2826 UKIP 1698 Grn 399 Ind 299
May 2014 result Lab 1431 UKIP 1168 C 250 Grn 163
May 2012 result Lab 1640 UKIP 480 BNP 236 C 221 Grn 90
May 2011 result Lab 1969 UKIP 595 C 455 Grn 112
May 2010 result Lab 2761 BNP 840 C 824 LD 671 UKIP 269
May 2008 result Lab 1408 BNP 1000 C 648
May 2007 result Lab 1582 BNP 665 C 411 LD 287
May 2006 result Lab 1396 BNP 619 C 453 Local Community Party 410
June 2004 result Lab 1726/1563/1422 Local Community Party 1044 BNP 764 C 714

May 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Lab 1506 C 425 LD 82 EDP 81 UKIP 76 Grn 45 Farmer 22 Aslam 7


Wollaton West

Nottingham council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Georgina Culley at the age of 65. The leader of Nottingham's Conservative group, Culley was first elected in 1991, representing Wollaton ward until 2003 and Wollaton West since then.

We enter the Midlands and travel to the city of Nottingham for an area which is very different in character to Farnworth or Droylsden. Wollaton West ward lies in the west of the city, with around half its acreage being taken up by Wollaton Park and the ward's housing lying to the north and west of the park. This is one of the most desirable places to live in Nottingham, with the city's highest proportion of people in the "higher management" employment bracket and competition for places at the local schools being fierce.

One rather unexpected local resident is Batman: Wollaton Hall, former home of the Willoughby family in the middle of Wollaton Park, was used as the exterior of Wayne Manor in the 2012 Batman film, ?The Dark Knight Rises. An appropriate location: the real-life Gotham village is not far away, and by a strange coincidence the surnames of the actors who played Batman and Robin in the famously camp 1960s TV series combine to give "West Ward".

Not that I'm suggesting that all the local residents of this particular West ward are as rich as Bruce Wayne, but this is the strongest Conservative ward in Nottingham and the party traditionally had a lock on the ward's three seats. That, however, changed in 2013 when one of the Conservative councillors died - having suffered a stroke while out campaigning in a by-election for a neighbouring ward - and a by-election was forced. In retrospect the Conservatives made a poor choice of candidate, pitting a 22-year-old working in media and living in the city centre against a Labour candidate with firm roots in the local community. That Labour candidate, Steve Battlemuch, won the by-election by the score of 47-34, a swing of 14% since the 2011 election and a staggering 20% swing compared with 2007.

The 2015 election represented no change to the party split of two Conservatives and one Labour. Battlemuch topped the poll with an enormous personal vote - he was over a thousand votes ahead of his running-mates - and overall the Labour lead over the Conservatives was 42-39. The two Conservatives elected from this ward in 2015 form two-thirds of the Tory opposition on Nottingham city council.

So, who do Batman and the other electors have to choose from this time round for this marginal ward? The defending Conservative candidate is local resident Paul Brittain. Labour have selected Cate Woodward, who works for a Parkinson's disease charity. Tony Sutton stands for the Lib Dems and Adam McGregor for the Greens. We have to have a DC Comics villain to complete the ballot paper, and it would appear that it's the Joker: regular frivolous by-election candidate David Bishop is standing once again for his Bus-Pass Elvis Party and campaigning to turn a disused pub in the ward into a vegetarian casino called Viva Las Vegans. Perhaps this time the electorate will finally Love him Tender?

Parliamentary constituency: Nottingham South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Nottingham
Postcode district: NG8

David Bishop (Bus-Pass Elvis)
Paul Brittain (C)
Adam McGregor (Grn)
Tony Sutton (LD)
Cate Woodward (Lab)

May 2015 result Lab 3855/2516/2492 C 3513/3501/3215 Grn 973 UKIP 928 LD 701/526/513
Oct 2013 by-election Lab 2211 C 1594 UKIP 565 LD 216 Grn 106 Church of the Militant Elvis 28
May 2011 result C 2870/2646/2593 Lab 2018/1938/1753 LD 770/601/506
Aug 2008 by-election C 2769 Lab 1042 LD 424 UKIP 220
May 2007 result C 2670/2408/2305 Lab 1169/1097/1013 LD 805/744/667 Grn 498 UKIP 483 Church of the Militant Elvis 115
May 2003 result C 2630/2563/2433 Lab 1197/1118/1087 LD 688/678/676


Oakham South East

Rutland council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Tony Mathias who had served since 2015.

For our other Midlands by-election of the week we move from one county town to another. Rutland claims to be England's smallest county (although this does rather depend on how you define "smallest" and "county") and Oakham is its main service centre. The South East ward includes the council offices and the County Museum, and has seen some population growth in recent years with the building of new twenty-first century housing estates.

Rutland is not the most politically exciting of counties: the first election to this ward on its present boundaries, in 2003, was uncontested. The Conservatives won that one, and easily held a by-election two days before Christmas 2004 against Lib Dem opposition. Things got interesting here in 2015 when an independent slate took one of the ward's two seats: shares of the vote were 39% each for the independent slate and the Conservatives and 22% for the Liberal Democrats.

This by-election is a straight fight with the Lib Dems withdrawing. Defending for the Conservatives is Christopher Clark, who runs a training company and is involved with the Federation of Small Businesses: he sits on a group working on the growth of local market towns and (for the moment) on an EU grant panel. Challenging Clark is independent councillor Adam Lowe, an Oakham town councillor and twice Mayor of Oakham.

Parliamentary constituency: Rutland and Melton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough
Postcode district: LE15

Christopher Clark (C)
Adam Lowe (Ind)

May 2015 result Ind 573/468 C 570/524 LD 327
May 2011 result C 602/489 LD 449
May 2007 result C 510/501 UKIP 256
Dec 2004 by-election C 339 LD 187
May 2003 result 2 C unopposed


Little Parndon and Hare Street

Harlow council, Essex; caused by the resignation of the Leader of the Council, Labour councillor Jon Clempner, who had served since 2012. Clempner has also quit the Labour Party; in his resignation statement he blamed a campaign against him of harassment and bullying by the Momentum faction of the party.

For the second half of this week's column we are in the Home Counties. We start in Harlow, one of the many New Towns developed to the north of London in the 1950s and 1960s. The Little Parndon and Hare Street developments are from those decades, and still have a large amount of social housing betraying their New Town origin. This is Harlow's north-western ward, located immediately to the north and west of the central business district; within the ward are the Princess Alexandra Hospital, the local football and greyhound stadiums and the Pinnacles industrial area.

Harlow may have had a Conservative MP since 2010, but the constituency includes a small rural area outside the town and Harlow town itself is more Labour-inclined. Labour control the council with 18 out of 33 seats (plus this vacancy) and some of that majority comes from Little Parndon and Hare Street. This is a safe Labour ward, lost only at the low point of the Brown government in 2008 when the Conservatives won it. Clempner regained the Tory seat in 2012; in 2016 he was re-elected for a second term, beating the Conservatives 54-28. However, the Conservatives gained the local Harlow West county division in May so the Labour machine does have work to do - and losing your council leader over a factional dispute won't help the Labour defence.

That defence is led by Chris Vince, who has experience of big campaigns: he was the Labour candidate for Essex Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016, topping the poll in Harlow borough, and fought Chelmsford in the last two general elections. The Conservative candidate is John Steer, who fought Toddbrook ward at the most recent borough election in 2016. Completing the ballot paper is Patsy Long for UKIP.

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

Patsy Long (UKIP)
John Steer (C)
Chris Vince (Lab)

May 2016 result Lab 1021 C 492 UKIP 365
May 2015 result Lab 1800 C 1232 UKIP 711
May 2014 result Lab 879 UKIP 680 C 442
May 2012 result Lab 1099 C 521 LD 100
May 2011 result Lab 1270 C 722 LD 137
May 2010 result Lab 1635 C 1267 LD 613
May 2008 result C 829 Lab 708 LD 163
Oct 2007 by-election Lab 794 C 598 LD 117
May 2007 result Lab 771 C 700 LD 211
May 2006 result Lab 743 C 613 LD 365
June 2004 result Lab 869 C 589 LD 404
May 2003 result Lab 707 LD 372 C 293 Socialist Alliance 66
May 2002 result Lab 911/884/859 C 446/426/410 LD 390/350/311 Socialist Alliance 175


Northchurch

Dacorum council, Hertfordshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Alan Fantham at the age of 82. He had served on Dacorum council since 2003, and was chairman of Northchurch parish council for more than thirty years. Away from the councils he was described as a cricket legend, having scored 27,000 runs and taken 3,500 wickets for Northchurch cricket club and serving as club secretary for over forty years.

For the only by-election of the week in a ward which could be described as rural, we travel to western Hertfordshire. Northchurch is an old settlement - a Roman villa from the first century has been excavated here - in the valley of the River Bulbourne. The Bulbourne isn't much more than a stream but its valley forms a major artery through the Chiltern Hills, and the Roman Akeman Street, the Grand Union Canal and the West Coast Main Line all traverse the ward. As can be seen, this is an area where many pass through but few visit. Now effectively a suburb of Berkhamsted, the ward is close enough to London to have a commuter demographic.

Northchurch ward has unchanged boundaries since 1979, and in all of the ten previous elections the Conservatives have won with the Lib Dems or their predecessors in a distant second place. At the most recent poll in 2015 the Conservative lead was 60-19. The local county division (confusingly named Bridgewater) is also safe Tory.

Defending for the Conservatives is Rob McCarthy, an Aldbury parish councillor representing Tring Station ward. The Lib Dems have selected Lara Pringle, a barrister with 25 years' experience. Completing the ballot paper are Gareth Hawden for Labour and Joe Pitts for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire county council division: Bridgewater
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton
Postcode districts: HP4, HP23

Gareth Hawden (Lab)
Rob McCarthy (C)
Joe Pitts (Grn)
Lara Pringle (LD)

May 2015 result C 980 LD 305 Lab 199 Grn 141
May 2011 result C 731 LD 190 Lab 144
May 2007 result C 627 LD 203 Lab 66
May 2003 result C 403 LD 247 Lab 53
May 1999 result C 537 LD 145 Lab 109
May 1995 result C 378 LD 282 Lab 256
May 1991 result C 578 LD 211 Lab 120 Grn 75
May 1987 result C 694 All 214 Lab 76
May 1983 result C 507 All 210 Lab 79
May 1979 result C 868 Lib 393


Rochester West

Medway council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Kelly Tolhurst. The MP for Rochester and Strood since 2015, Tolhurst is taking up a junior position in the Government Whips office.

Your columnist likes Rochester. For many years the UK quiz circuit had a regular event at the Vines United Reformed Church in this ward, which gave me an excuse to come back year after year. (The fact that the event was always in July with hot weather helped!) Rochester always rewards a visit: the well-preserved High Street, ruined castle and magnificent cathedral reek of history, while the Baggins bookshop - which claims to be England's largest second-hand bookshop - will often reward a browse.

All these and more are within the Rochester West ward, which stretches from the town* centre south-west along the banks of the Medway. Within the ward boundaries are the village of Borstal - still home to a prison which gave its name to a former type of youth detention centre - and the impressive feats of engineering which are the Medway Bridges, taking the M2 motorway and the High Speed 1 railway line over the river. During testing of High Speed 1 in June 2003 a Eurostar train set a new UK rail speed record by crossing the Medway Bridge at 208 miles per hour, while in the same year the new M2 bridge won an award from the Concrete Society. The prison shows up in the ward's census return, in which Rochester West makes the top 60 wards in England and Wales for the "inactive: other" economic category. Prisoners, of course, are not eligible to vote.

This is a safe Conservative ward. Kelly Tolhurst was first elected in 2011, taking over a seat vacated by Mark Reckless who had gained the parliamentary seat the previous year. Three years later Tolhurst found herself standing against Reckless in the Rochester and Strood parliamentary by-election; she lost that round, but got the better of the UKIP defector in the 2015 general election a few months afterwards. On the same day Tolhurst was re-elected to Medway council at the top of the Tory slate in Rochester West; shares of the vote were 43% for the Conservatives, 21% for Labour and 20% for UKIP.

Defending for the Conservatives is Alan Kew, a civil engineer who lives in Borstal village. The Labour candidate is Alex Paterson, who has recently joined the party's staff after a fifteen-year career at the Daily Mirror. The UKIP candidate - in one of only two constituencies the party has ever won at Parliamentary level - is Rob McCulloch Martin. Completing the ballot paper are Sonia Hyner for the Green Party and Martin Rose for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Rochester and Strood
ONS Travel to Work Area: Medway
Postcode districts: ME1, ME2, ME3

Sonia Hyner (Grn)
Alan Kew (C)
Rob McCulloch Martin (UKIP)
Alex Paterson (Lab)
Martin Rose (LD)

May 2015 result C 2418/1884 Lab 1169/1054 UKIP 1131/1066 Grn 575/405 LD 206/142 TUSC 65
May 2011 result C 1658/1336 Lab 1029/851 Grn 280/208 LD 246/195 EDP 88
May 2007 result C 1484/1320 Lab 830/725 UKIP 328 Medway Independent Party 315/313
May 2003 resutl C 1297/1218 Lab 581/572 LD 229/228 Ind 149/121 UKIP 59


Petersfield Bell Hill

East Hampshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Thomas Spencer who had served since 2015.

We finish our progress from north to south in Hampshire within the South Downs National Park. The largest town within the National Park is possibly Petersfield, a coaching town on the London-Portsmouth road which now functions as a rural market town and tourist centre, with some commuting along the A3 to Portsmouth and London. Judging from the census return a lot of those commuters will live in Bell Hill ward, which is the western end of town between the railway station and the A3 bypass. The largest local employer is probably East Hampshire council, whose offices are within the ward.

This is a consistently Conservative ward and the main interest in its results is usually in who comes second. In 2015 that was Labour: shares of the vote were 47% for the Tories, 15% for Labour and 14% for the Lib Dems.

UKIP got within 80 votes of the Conservatives at a by-election here in mid-March 2014, but the turnout for that poll was so poor that the Conservative majority was safer than it sounds. The winner of that by-election, Peter Marshall, didn't seek re-election the following year, so this is clearly a ward with a high councillor attrition rate. Hopefully we'll do better this time on the turnout front, although the fact that the ward's usual polling station is unavailable might not help in that regard. Voters are asked to attend the council offices instead.

Defending for the Conservatives is Clive Shore, who is hoping to become the ward's fourth councillor in as many years: he is a former Petersfield town councillor and runs a consulting company. The Labour candidate is Steve Elder. David Podger is the Liberal Democrat candidate. Completing the ballot paper are Jim Makin for UKIP (who gives an address diagonally opposite that of the Labour candidate) and independent Jamie Matthews.

Parliamentary constituency: East Hampshire
Hampshire county council division: Petersfield Butser
ONS Travel to Work Area: Portsmouth
Postcode district: GU32

Steve Elder (Lab)
Jim Makin (UKIP)
Jamie Matthews (Ind)
David Podger (LD)
Clive Shore (C)

May 2015 result C 612 Lab 196 LD 181 UKIP 157 Grn 144
March 2014 by-election C 190 UKIP 110 Lab 75 LD 74
May 2011 result C 572 LD 235 Lab 193
May 2007 result C 396 LD 311 Lab 37
May 2003 result C 250 LD 210 Lab 103


Previews: 01 Mar 2018

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

It's Andrew Teale's birthday today. Happy birthday, you might say. Unfortunately real life is not being very nice to your columnist at the moment: I will be made redundant later this month, and the course of the future (at the time of writing) is not yet clear.

So, dear readers, how can you help? Well, if you have or know of a vacancy available that you think might suit the research skills and attention to detail demonstrated by this column, I would love to hear from you; do please get in touch with me by email or Twitter DM. If you're not in a position to offer work, but haven't yet got around to buying Andrew's Previews 2016 (see the sidebar on the right), please do so; your investment will be amply rewarded. Whichever category you fall into, look out for the collection Andrew's Previews 2017 which is coming soon.

This column, of course, doesn't just come out at election time but works hard for you all year round, even in the cold snap we're having this week. The small matter of a birthday or a snowflake is no reason to take a week off. So, without further ado, read on for previews of this week's four local by-elections...


Clackmannanshire North

Clackmannanshire council; caused by the resignation of Scottish National Party councillor Archie Drummond for personal and family reasons. He had served since 2012 and was originally elected as an independent.

Clackmannanshire council must be doing something right. This is the first Clackmannanshire by-election since 2004, when first-past-the-post was still in force. Accordingly Andrew's Previews, which has been going in some form or other since 2010, has never previously been to the Wee County. It's been worth the wait.

Clackmannanshire's five wards don't have names to stir the imagination: they are called Central, East, South, West and North. The North ward is based on Tillicoultry and Alva, two of the Hillfoots Villages lying on the steep southern slopes of the Ochil Hills along the A91 Stirlng-St Andrews road. These were traditionally textile centres, although Alva's main export is now beer from the Harviestoun Brewery: their Bitter and Twisted product has won CAMRA awards and comes highly recommended. To the south of Tllicoultry lies the River Devon, beyond which is the village of Coalsnaughton.

This has traditionally been one of the stronger areas for the SNP: the local Ochil constituency (now Ochil and South Perthshire) was a longstanding Labour-SNP marginal until Labour collapsed in Scotland. Much of that SNP vote will have come out of Tillicoultry and Alva which were strong Nationalist areas before proportional representation was introduced: in 2003 the SNP won all four of Clackmannanshire North's predecessor wards. The introduction of PR in 2007 led to minority representation and a rather curious result: the SNP won two seats, Labour won one and the final seat went to the Liberal Democrats, who started in sixth place with just 7% of the vote but got transfers successively from Labour, the Conservatives and the SNP to beat the second Labour candidate on the final count.

An accidental Lib Dem win there, and it was no surprise when they failed to repeat the trick in 2012. The Lib Dem seat was picked up that year by independent candidate Archie Drummond, who along with the single Conservative councillor found himself holding the balance of power on Clackmannanshire council: the SNP and Labour groups were tied on 8 seats each, with 10 needed for a majority. As a former SNP figure, Drummond put the Nationalists in control with a minority administration, and later rejoined the party himself. He was re-elected in 2017 on the SNP ticket, but the SNP stayed on two seats in North ward last year with Labour holding one and the final seat going to the Conservatives, whose candidate Martha Benny was elected on the first count. Shares of the vote were 40% for the SNP, 27% for Labour and 24% for the Tories. The SNP still run Clackmannanshire council as a minority administration, with 7 seats out of 18 plus this vacancy, so a loss for the Nationalists could put the administration under pressure.

The Conservatives built on that surge of May 2017 to gain the Ochil and South Perthshire parliamentary seat the following month: that seat has now voted for three parties (Labour, the SNP and the Tories) in the last three general elections. The SNP hold the local Scottish Parliament seat, Clackmannan and Dunblane.

Defending for the SNP is Helen Lewis, who was their third candidate here last year and contested East ward in 2012. The Labour candidate is local resident Afifa Khanam, a business and enterprise teacher at Glenrothes High School. The Conservatives have selected Alex Stewart; apparently no relation to the Mid Scotland and Fife MSP of the same name, Stewart is a former army figure who now runs a tearoom in Tillicoultry. Completing the ballot paper are Damian Sherwood-Johnson of the Lib Dems, who stood in this ward last year, and Marion Robertson for the Scottish Green Party. A reminder that Votes at 16 and the Alternative Vote apply to this by-election.

Parliamentary constituency: Ochil and South Perthshire
Scottish Parliament constituency: Clackmannanshire and Dunblane
ONS Travel to Work Area: Falkirk and Stirling
Postcode districts: FK12, FK13, FK14

Afifa Khanam (Lab)
Helen Lewis (SNP)
Marion Robertson (Grn)
Damian Sherwood-Johnson (LD)
Alex Stewart (C)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 1624 Lab 1076 C 969 LD 206 Grn 157
May 2012 first preferences SNP 1776 Lab 1014 Ind 540 C 157 LD 136
May 2007 first preferences SNP 2462 Lab 1473 C 333 LD 322 Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party 166 Scottish Socialist Party 75


Blythe

Solihull council, West Midlands; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Alex Insley who had served since 2016. Insley is resigning for personal reasons: he is having to make several trips to Australia each year to care for his father, who is in poor health.

For our first Englsh by-election of the week we are in the Birmingham stockbroker belt. This is a ward which has seen much development in recent years: the main centres of population, the Monkspath housing estate and the village of Dickens Heath, have been almost entirely developed in the last 35 years - making them younger than your columnist. Dickens Heath in particular is a new village, with its first house occupied in 1998; it now has 3,245 electors according to the Notice of Poll. Many of the ward's residents commute to Birmingham along the Birmingham-Stratford railway line, which lies on the ward boundary, although employment is also provided by a very large business park which has sprung up in the ward next to the M42 motorway at junction 4. This being the West Midlands, as well as a commuter demographic the ward has relatively high Sikh and Hindu populations.

Solihull is one of only two metropolitan boroughs with Conservative majorities, the party holding 30 out of 51 seats plus this vacancy. Despite the fact that Solihull town had a Lib Dem MP until 2015, the main opposition now is probably not what you might expect: it's the Green Party, who have somehow managed to turn the Birmingham overspill estates of Chelmsley Wood into a Green stronghold and have also benefited from some Lib Dem defections in recent years. Some weird Parliamentary boundaries mean that Chelmsley Wood and this ward are both included in the same constituency: Meriden.

Named after the River Blythe, Blythe ward was created in 2004 from parts of the former Packwood and Shirley South wards. It elected two Lib Dems out of three in the 2004 election, but the Lib Dems lost their seats to the Conservatives in 2008 and 2011. In recent years the opposition to the Conservatives here has come from the Solihull and Meriden Residents Association, which gained Blythe ward in 2012 and came close to winning a second seat in 2014. Alex Insley gained his seat from the Residents in 2016, defeating them 51-34 in vote terms.

Defending for the Conservatives is James Butler. The Solihull and Meriden Residents Association has not returned to the fray, so Butler is opposed by Sardul Singh Marwa for Labour (who is standing here for the third time) and Charles Robinson for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Meriden
ONS Travel to Work Area: Birmingham
Postcode districts: B90, B94

James Butler (C)
Sardul Singh Marwa (Lab)
Charles Robinson (LD)

May 2016 result C 1598 Solihull and Meriden Res Assoc 1048 Lab 280 Grn 199
May 2015 result C 5302 Grn 1014 Lab 839
May 2014 result C 1612 Solihull and Meriden Res Assoc 1544 Lab 337
May 2012 result Solihull and Meriden Res Assoc 1181 C 1020 LD 285 Lab 266
May 2011 result C 2358 Solihull and Meriden Res Assoc 845 Lab 512 LD 452 Grn 102
May 2010 result C 3312 LD 2322 Lab 682 Solihull and Meriden Res Assoc 426 BNP 310 Grn 89
May 2008 result C 1714 LD 1647 Lab 112 Grn 79
May 2007 result LD 1832 C 1522 Lab 158 Grn 142
May 2006 result C 1662 LD 1509 Grn 226 Lab 181
June 2004 result LD 1720/1664/1555 C 1605/1589/1553 Lab 376


Kempshott

Basingstoke and Deane council, Hampshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Rita Burgess at the age of 74. An accountant, MENSA member and "adventurous sports" enthuasiast, Burgess was first elected to Basingstoke and Deane council in 1984 for Winklebury ward. She was defeated there in 1996 but returned to the council in 1999 and had represented Kempshott ward ever since, serving as Mayor of Basingstoke and Deane in 2002-03. Burgess was also a Hampshire county councillor for eighteen years.

For our second Tory defence of the week we travel south to Basingstoke. Although it's not a New Town, Basingstoke has many of the features of one: it was greatly expanded after the Second World War by London overspill. Kempshott ward, lying on the western edge of town, mostly dates fom the 1970s and early 1980s and makes the top 100 wards in England and Wales for owner-occupation (91% of households).

The name of Kempshott ward recalls the Kempshott Park of an earlier era. This was the Hampshire base of the future George IV, who held the estate from 1789 and had his honeymoon with Caroline of Brunswick here. Kempshott House was renovated by the Prince allegedly to satisfy his mistress, Maria Fitzherbert; and Jane Austen - who attended a ball there in January 1799 - would probably have appreciated that. However, Kempshott House is no more, having been demolished to make way for the M3 motorway.

Kempshott ward took on its present boundaries in 2008 and the Conservatives have not been seriously challenged here since then. At the most recent election in 2016 the wonderfully-named Conservative councillor Wilhelmine Court was re-elected, defeating Labour 64-19. The ward is also part of a safe Conservative county division (Basingstoke South West).

Defending for the Conservatives is Tony Capon, chief executive of a mental health charity. Labour have selected Grant Donohoe, a teacher; and the Lib Dems' Stavroulla O'Doherty completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Basingstoke
Hampshire county council division: Basingstoke South West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Basingstoke
Postcode district: RG22

Tony Capon (C)
Grant Donohoe (Lab)
Stavroulla O'Doherty (LD)

May 2016 result C 1366 Lab 405 UKIP 348
May 2015 result C 2669 Lab 672 UKIP 517 LD 319 Grn 204
May 2014 result C 1302 UKIP 474 Lab 385 LD 171
May 2012 result C 1295 Lab 361 LD 165
May 2011 result C 1855 Lab 584 LD 289
May 2010 result C 2586 LD 887 Lab 647 BFCP 549
May 2008 result C 1683/1586/1560 Lab 278/251/197 LD 273/257/253


Exmouth Town

East Devon council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Pat Graham on health grounds; she has developed Parkinson's disease. An Exmouth town councillor since 1997 and former Mayor of Exmouth, Graham had served on East Devon council since 2003. She is also a long-serving chairman of Exmouth in Bloom, and in 2015 was appointed MBE for her work with the group.

We started this week on the River Devon, and we end it at the mouth of a river in Devon. A tourist centre in season - which we are not - Exmouth is generally a retirement centre and a commuter town for Exeter. This is an old port with a surprisingly international history: Byzantine coins from the sixth century have been found in Exmouth, and in the mid-seventeenth century Algerian pirates regularly raided the coast and shipping in the area. The Town ward covers the town centre and a large part of the Exe estuary, which is a nature reserve full of wading birds.

Exmouth Town was has been a Liberal Democrat ward for many years, but the party's grip on the ward slipped in 2015 when one of the three Lib Dem seats was lost to the Conservatives. The two remaining Lib Dem councillors had clear personal votes and ran over 200 votes ahead of the party's third candidate. We saw in Bridport last week that the Liberal Democrats can have problems holding seats in those circumstances, and here we can add political fragmentation to the mix: the Lib Dems topped the poll in 2015 with just 31%, to 25% for the Conservatives, 23% for the Greens and 21% for Labour. Last year's county elections will give cheer to the Tory challenge, as they gained a seat from the Lib Dems in the Exmouth county division; on the other hand, the Conservative performance in the 2017 general election was nothing to write home about with a very strong second place in the local constituency for independent candidate Claire Wright.

The Lib Dems, Conservatives and Green have all selected Exmouth town councillors for this by-election. Tim Dumper is the defending Lib Dem candidate, the Tory nominee is Tony Hill and the Green candidate is Robert Masding. Labour candidate Dilys Hadley isn't an Exmouth town councilloe but would like to be one, as she is also standing in a town council by-election today. Completing the ballot paper is independent candidate and retired teacher Daphne Currier.

Parliamentary constituency: East Devon
Devon county council division: Exmouth
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter
Postcode district: EX8

Daphne Currier (Ind)
Tim Dumper (LD)
Dilys Hadley (Lab)
Tony Hill (C)
Robert Masding (Grn)

May 2015 result LD 1069/970/737 C 865/856/711 Grn 804 Lab 714
May 2011 result LD 833/758/676 C 547/478/467 Grn 397 UKIP 270 Ind 185
May 2007 result LD 864/832/693 C 450/428/389 Ind 426
May 2003 result LD 860/815/801 C 465/373/360


Previews: 22 Feb 2018

In the second Super Thursday of the month, there are eleven by-elections on 22nd February 2018. Last week was all about the Liberal Democrats who made three gains from the Conservatives, but this week the party must move from attack to defence: the Lib Dems are defending three seats, two of which (in the Dorset town of Bridport) are clearly vulnerable to the Conservatives. This week the focus will clearly be on independents, with not one, but two free-for-alls: one in a Lincolnshire ward which has seen extensive population growth this century, and one in Somerset to replace an independent-turned-UKIP councillor. There is also (or should be) UKIP interest in a Tory-UKIP marginal on the Lincolnshire coast, while the Conservatives should be under less threat with defences in Hertfordshire and Lichfield. We visit all three nations of Great Britain, with the only Labour defence of the week being in the Welsh Valleys in a ward where they are under threat from independents, and with the Tories hoping to complete a game of musical chairs in the Scottish Borders. We also report on legal action which has prevented a by-election from taking place in Greater Manchester, with the case apparently turning on whether a councillor had legally resigned. But we start this week with two polls in West Sussex, a Conservative defence followed by a Lib Dem one...


Marine

Arun council, West Sussex; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Dougal Maconachie. His local government career started in the mid-1990s when he was elected to Bognor Regis town council, and he had been an Arun councillor since 2007, serving as Chairman of the Council in 2014-15. His death came just four months after his wife Jacquie, who had also been an Arun councillor, passed away.

First, let's make sure we have the right Marine ward: there are three of them in West Sussex. This is the western of the three, the town centre ward for Bognor Regis. The sunniest town in Britain according to official weather records, this corner of Sussex by the sea was developed into a resort in the eighteenth century by the property developer Sir Richard Hotham, whose name is commemorated by an electoral ward elsewhere in the town. As with many seaside resorts, the town centre is a deprived area which has seen strong population growth in recent years thanks to immigration from eastern Europe: Bognor's Marine ward is in the top 40 in England and Wales for population born in the new EU states, and also in the top 60 for private renting - at 49% of households, an unusually high figure for a town without a university. According to a report of a hustings last week, regeneration of Bognor is a hot topic in the by-election, with Arun council controversially planning to turn a local car park into a "linear park".

Since 2007 Bognor's Marine ward has split its two seats between independent councillor Jim Brooks and the Conservatives. Maconachie took over as the Conservative councillor in 2015 having represented Barnham ward before then. In that 2015 election - the first on the present ward boundaries - Brooks topped the poll with 31%, having not been opposed by any of the other parties; the Conservatives had 26%, UKIP 24% and Labour 19%. In last year's West Sussex county elections the Conservatives gained the local county division, Bognor Regis West and Aldwick, from the Liberal Democrats; on the other hand, the Lib Dems gained the by-election in Aldwick West ward last November after Dougal's wife Jacquie Maconachie died, and they have won Marine ward before (in 2003).

Defending for the Conservatives is Kate Eccles, who fought Bognor Regis East in last year's county elections. Bognor town councillor Steve Goodheart is standing as an independent candidate: a signwriter by trade, he is the founder and organiser of the town's Rox music and arts festival. As so often seems to happen these days, there is no UKIP candidate. The Labour candidate is Alison Sharples, who fought the county elections here in 2017 and chairs the party's Bognor branch. Completing the ballot paper is Liberal Democrat Matt Stanley, manager of the local branch of the Nationwide building society.

Parliamentary constituency: Bognor Regis and Littlehampton
West Sussex county council division: Bognor Regis West and Aldwick
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chichester and Bognor Regis
Postcode districts: PO21, PO22

Kate Eccles (C)
Steve Goodheart (Ind)
Alison Sharples (Lab)
Matt Stanley (LD)

May 2015 result Ind 994 C 857 UKIP 774 Lab 631


Fishbourne

Chichester council, West Sussex; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Sandra Westacott due to pressure of work. She had served since 2015.

We continue our journey west along the south coast. If Bognor is a relatively young town, Fishbourne is an old one: the main local attraction is Fishbourne Roman Palace, dating from the first century AD and described as the largest residential Roman building discovered in Britain. The palace burnt down around AD 270 and Fishbourne, as a settlement, never really recovered from that; it's now a sleepy village just to the west of Chichester, with a railway station on Southern's West Coastway line linking it to that city and giving the ward a commuter demographic.

Fishbourne has voted Liberal Democrat at each election this century, with Westacott in her first term having been elected in 2015. That year she beat the Conservatives 51-37. The ward is part of the Chichester West county division, which takes in solidly Conservative areas and was safe for that party in 2017.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Adrian Moss, who is seeking to return to the council after seven years away: he first served on Chichester council from 1987 to 1992 and was ward councillor for Fishbourne from 2003 to 2011. The Conservative candidate is Libby Alexander, who has worked as a teacher, for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and overseas for international organisations. Completing the ballot paper is Kevin Hughes for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Chichester
West Sussex county council division: Chichester West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chichester and Bognor Regis
Postcode districts: PO18, PO19, PO20

Libby Alexander (C)
Kevin Hughes (Lab)
Adrian Moss (LD)

May 2015 result LD 719 C 522 Grn 161
May 2011 result LD 571 C 403
May 2007 result LD 674 C 249
May 2003 result LD 607 C 223


Bridport

Dorset county council; and

Bridport North

West Dorset council; both caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Ros Kayes. She had served on West Dorset council since 2007 and on Dorset county council since 2013 and, was Mayor of Bridport in 2016-17.

We finish our progression along the south coast in Dorset in the town of Bridport. A rather isolated centre in western Dorset, Bridport was important enough in Saxon times to have its own mint, and is still recognised by the ONS as the centre of its own Travel to Work Area. Bridport's traditional industry is ropemaking, and the town's unusually wide main street - where the ropes were dried - is a legacy of that. Rope and nets are still made in Bridport today, and other industries include brewing and valves together with tourism and services for the local area. One of those services, butchers R J Balson and Son, is recognised by the Institute for Family Business as the UK's oldest continuously-trading family business, with a line of butchers going back to 1515.

From 2003 to 2011 Bridport North ward carved up its two seats between the Lib Dems and Conservatives, with Ros Kayes taking over on the Lib Dem side in 2007 and developing an extremely large personal vote. Boundary changes for the 2015 election added the parish of Allington and a third councillor to the ward, and that was to the benefit of the Conservatives: although Kayes topped the poll with 39% she polled over twice as many votes as her running-mates, and the 31% for the Conservative slate easily delivered them the other two seats. The Greens came in third with 17%.

Bridport is too large for one Dorset county councillor but not large enough for two, resulting a two-seat Bridport county division which sprawls over 20-and-a-bit parishes in western Dorset. One of its electors is Billy Bragg, the notably left-wing musician, who lives in the parish of Burton Bradstock. In the 2017 county elections - the first on the expanded boundaries - this was essentially neck-and-neck between the Lib Dems and Conservatives; Kayes topped the poll with 38%, the Conservative slate polled 37% and won the other seat, and the Greens polled 12% to pip Labour for third place.

Without Kayes' personal vote these will be difficult defences for the Liberal Democrats. Defending the county seat for them is Dave Rickard, a West Dorset councillor for Bridport South ward, Bridport town councillor and Mayor of Bridport in 2012-13. The Conservatives have selected their unsuccessful candidate from last year Mark Roberts, West Dorset councillor for the rural Netherbury ward. Standing for the Greens is Kelvin Clayton, a Bridport town councillor who fought West Dorset in last year's general election. Completing the county ballot paper is Rose Allwork for Labour.

At West Dorset district council level the Liberal Democrats have selected Sarah Williams to hold Bridport North; she is the leader of Bridport town council, and was runner-up in Bridport South in the 2015 district elections. Standing for the Conservatives is Derek Bussell who is straight off the campaign trail: he won a by-election to the town council last November. The Green candidate is town councillor Julian Jones. Phyllida Culpin, the Labour candidate, completes the district ballot paper.

Bridport

Parliamentary constituency: West Dorset
West Dorset district wards: Bridport North, Bridport South, Burton Bradstock (part: Burton Bradstock, Chilcombe, Litton Cheney, Puncknowle, Shipton Gorge and Swyre parishes), Maiden Newton (part: Compton Valence, Hook, Toller Fratrum, Toller Porcorum, West Compton and Wynford Eagle parishes), Netherbury (part: Askerswell, Loders, North Poorton and Powerstock parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bridport
Postcode districts: DT2, DT3, DT6, DT7, DT8

Rose Allwork (Lab)
Kelvin Clayton (Grn)
Dave Rickard (LD)
Mark Roberts (C)

May 2017 result LD 2490/1840 C 2415/2244 Grn 810/490 Lab 783/690

Bridport North

Parliamentary constituency: West Dorset
Dorset county council division: Bridport
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bridport
Postcode districts: DT6, DT7, DT8

Derek Bussell (C)
Phyllida Culpin (Lab)
Julian Jones (Grn)
Sarah Williams (LD)

May 2015 result LD 1921/942/830 C 1526/1286/1253 Grn 824 Lab 647/509/465


Minehead South

West Somerset council; caused by the resignation of councillor Tom Hall, who was elected as an independent but had since joined the UK Independence Party. He had served since 2015.

We stay in the West Country, but transfer from its south coast to its north coast. The major town of the West Somerset district, Minehead has an economy is based on tourism - one of the three remaining Butlins camps is here - and out of season as we are, Minehead's a sleepy place. Despite the name, this is the south-western of the four wards covering the town's built-up area, up on the hills along the Parkhouse, Periton and Porlock Roads. The area south of Periton Road (the A39) is undeveloped and mostly part of the Exmoor National Park.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VSTzGwkMiM

Minehead's politics may not be quite as weird as the Monty Python sketch might suggest, but they're certainly fragmented. West Somerset is one of the UK's smallest local government districts by population, and that leads to tiny wards and big personal votes. This ward took on its current boundaries in 2011 and in that year the Conservatives and Labour tied for first place on 520 votes each. Luckily, with two seats available, they were both elected. In 2015 Labour lost their seat to Tom Hall; shares of the vote were 37% for the Conservatives, 28% for Hall and 18% for Labour. At county level Minehead forms one division, which voted UKIP on a low share of the vote in 2013 but was a convincing Tory gain in 2017. This is the first local by-election in Somerset since then.

With no defending independent or UKIP candidate we have here Britain Elects' favourite type of by-election. Yes, it's a free-for-all! Possibly best-placed is the Conservative candidate Gary Miele, a Minehead town councillor and director of a cleaning services company. Maureen Smith, Labour district councillor for the ward from 2011 to 2015, wants her seat back and is standing again. Completing the ballot paper is Liberal Democrat candidate Benet Allen, a helicopter pilot.

Parliamentary constituency: Bridgwater and West Somerset
Somerset county council division: Minehead
ONS Travel to Work Area: Minehead
Postcode district: TA24

Benet Allen (LD)
Gary Miele (C)
Maureen Smith (Lab)

May 2015 result C 766 Ind 590 Lab 385 Grn 355
May 2011 result C 520/365 Lab 520 Ind 335 Grn 259


Trevethin

Torfaen council, Gwent; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Matt Ford who is taking up a job with the council. He had served only since May 2017.

From the edge of one National Park to another. For the first Welsh local by-election of the year we travel across the Severn estuary to Gwent, and to the village and council estate of Trevethin which lies just outside the Brecon Beacons National Park. Trevethin clings to the eastern slopes of the Afon Lwyd valley, and in the old parish named after the village a town grew up during the Industrial Revolution, harnessing the power of the river and the coal and iron ore in the ground. That was Pontypool, which developed into an important metalworking (particularly ironworking), coalmining and railways centre.

Those industries are of course gone, and Trevethin is one of the most deprived parts of Wales. The division makes several top 100 lists in England and Wales from the 2011 census: 40th for those born in the UK (98.6% of the population), 46th for those of no religion (45.9% of the population), 57th for routine occupations (24.5% of the workforce), and 68th for long-term sickness or disability (11.7% of the workforce).

Trevethin division has existed since 1987 when it was a ward of the old Torfaen borough council. It took until 1999 for anyone to oppose the Labour slate here, and it took until 2017 for Labour to lose one of the division's two seats to an independent candidate. Shares of the vote that year were 51% for Labour and 49% for the independent slate.

Defending for Labour is local resident Emma Rapier, an NHS worker for 17 years according to her Twitter. Two independent candidates are having a go: Brynley Parker is a Pontypool community councillor, teaching assistant and manager of the Monmouthshire County rugby team, while former Torfaen councillor Frederick Wildgust is seeking to return to the council despite resigning in disgrace in 2011 after allegations of cyberbullying were upheld by a tribunal. Completing the ballot paper is Andrew Heygate-Browne of the Green Party.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Torfaen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode district: NP4

Andrew Heygate-Browne (Grn)
Brynley Parker (Ind)
Emma Rapier (Lab)
Frederick Wildgust (Ind)

May 2017 result Lab 424/372 Ind 400/289
May 2012 result Lab 399/323 Ind 227/169 PC 137
May 2008 result Lab 452/333 People's Voice 319
June 2004 result Lab 590/475 Ind 361 C 166
May 1999 result Lab 828/700 Ind 242
May 1995 result 2 Lab unopposed
May 1991 result 2 Lab unopposed
May 1987 result 2 Lab unopposed


Goffs Oak and Bury Green

Hertfordshire county council; caused by the death of the Leader of the Council, Conservative councillor Robert Gordon, at the age of 65. He had been Leader of the Council since 2007 and was first elected in 1989, representing Nascot Park division in Watford from 1989 to 1997 and again from 2001 to 2009, and Goffs Oak and Bury Green since 2009. Before becoming leader Gordon had held cabinet posts for education, children's services, and resources and performance; and in 2012 he was appointed CBE for services to local government.

As happened last week, our single London-area by-election is taking place just outside the Greater London boundary. This time we're off the northern edge of the boundary in rural Hertfordshire. This is a rather socially divided division: Goffs Oak, the home village of Victoria Beckham, is a rural part of the London commuter belt, whereas Bury Green is part of the town of Cheshunt and distinctly more downmarket.

Not that that social division affects the election results: this is a safe Conservative area. In 2017 - the first contest on the present boundaries - the Tories beat Labour here 65-18, and the Conservatives are similarly untroubled at Broxbourne council level (although UKIP came close in Rosedale and Bury Green ward in 2014).

Defending for the Conservatives is local resident Lesley Greensmyth, a long-serving swimming teacher and Mayoress of Broxbourne in 2015-16; her husband Martin is a Broxbourne councillor for Rosedale and Bury Green ward. Returning from the 2017 election is Labour candidate Selina Norgrove, who has since fought the local Broxbourne constituency in the 2017 general election. Completing the ballot paper are David Payne for the Liberal Democrats and Sally Kemp for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Goffs Oak
Broxbourne council wards: Goffs Oak, Rosedale and Bury Green (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: EN6, EN7, EN8, EN10

Lesley Greensmyth (C)
Sally Kemp (Grn)
Selina Norgrove (Lab)
David Payne (LD)

May 2017 result C 2108 Lab 572 UKIP 369 LD 190


Old Leake and Wrangle

Boston council, Lincolnshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Maureen Dennis, who had served since 2003. She was the Mayor of Boston in 2009-10 and twice served as Deputy Mayor.

It's time to travel north for our three by-elections in the Midlands, and we start on the east coast. Old Leake and Wrangle - now, there's a ward name to set the imagination racing - covers two villages off the Wash coast to the north-east of Boston on the A52 to Skegness. Wrangle, whose name comes from a Norse word meaning bent or crooked, was once a port on the Wash and had a motte and bailey castle, but land reclamation has led to the sea receding away. Old Leake is responsible for some of that reclamation: the pumping station at Lade Bank lock, originally built in 1867, has been draining the surrounding prime agricultural land for over a century.

The ward survived a boundary review in 2015 unchanged and its current boundaries date from 1999. In normal circumstances this is a Conservative area, but they lost one seat in 2007 to the Boston Bypass Independents - a single-issue campaign group which ended up in majority control of the council, and then fell apart. The Tories got that seat back in 2011, but then they lost one seat in 2015 to UKIP - a single-issue campaign group which ended up in majority control of the EU referendum, and then fell apart. In the 2015 election the Tories led UKIP 53-47 in votes, with the two slates winning one seat each. The Conservatives easily gained the local county seat (Boston Coastal) from UKIP in the 2017 Lincolnshire county elections.

Defending for the Conservatives is Tom Ashton, a farmer from Wrangle and Lincolnshire county councillor (for Tattershall Castle division). We have the increasingly rare sight of a UKIP candidate, Don Ransome. Also standing are Joseph Pearson for Labour and Richard Thornalley for an outfit your columnist has not previously heard of, "Blue Revolution".

Parliamentary constituency: Boston and Skegness
Lincolnshire county council division: Boston Coastal
ONS Travel to Work Area: Boston
Postcode district: PE22

Tom Ashton (C)
Joseph Pearson (Lab)
Don Ransome (UKIP)
Richard Thornalley (Blue Revolution)

May 2015 result C 828/687 UKIP 736/699
May 2011 result C 727/505 Boston Bypass Ind 337 UKIP 303
May 2007 result Boston Bypass Ind 518/454 C 455/338 UKIP 175
April 2006 by-election C 366 UKIP 115 Lab 83 LD 83
May 2003 result C 287/279 Lab 73 UKIP 62
May 1999 result C 664/353 Lab 322


Eagle, Swinderby and Witham St Hughs

North Kesteven council, Lincolnshire; caused by the death of independent councillor Barbara Wells at the age of 83. Wells started her local government career in 1968 as clerk to North Scarle parish council, and was a governor at the Sir Robert Pattinson Academy in North Hykeham for forty years. She was first elected to North Kesteven council for Eagle and North Scarle ward as an Independent Conservative in 1991, and transferred to this ward following boundary changes in 2007. Wells was Chairman of the Council in 1999-2000 and 2006-07, and in 1997 was appointed MBE for services to education and the community.

For our second Lincolnshire by-election of the week we are just west of the Lincoln built-up area. This ward of six parishes has grown strongly in population over the last few years: the village of Witham St Hughs became a parish of its own in 2000, has almost entirely been developed since then, and was based on the domestic quarters of the former RAF Swinderby. Opened in 1940 as a Bomber Command centre, housing two Polish squadrons, Swinderby was used after the war as a flying school and then for recruit training until closing in the mid-1990s. Most of the RAF Swinderby site was bought by a mining company, but no mining has ever taken place here and the main use for the former airfield site is an antiques fair. Swinderby has good communication links, located on the Fosse Way and with a railway station on the Lincoln-Nottingham line.

This ward was created in 2007 and was deliberately drawn with a low electorate to allow for future population growth. A wise move: between 2003 and 2015 the number of electors in this ward grew by 59%. At the 2007 election Wells was re-elected along with Sally Appleby at the top of the Conservative slate: shares of the vote that year were 45% for the Conservatives and 42% for Wells. Nobody has challenged Appleby or Wells since 2007, so that is the last contested election here. Witham St Hughs parish is within the Bassingham and Welbourn county division which is held in county hall by Marianne Overton, leader of the Lincolnshire Independents group; the rest of the ward is covered by the Tory-held county division of Eagle and Hykeham West. This ward is part of the Sleaford and North Hykeham constituency, which in June's general election gave 42,245 votes and 69.9% to Caroline Johnson for the Conservatives - in both absolute and percentage terms the best Conservative performance in any constituency last June.

This by-election is contested, and is a bit of a free-for-all. The defending independent candidate might be taken to be Nikki Dillon, a North Hykeham town councillor standing for the Lincolnshire Independents; she fought Eagle and Hykeham West in last year's county elections. The Conservative candidate is Peter Rothwell, a Witham St Hughs parish councillor. Completing the ballot paper is Corinne Byron for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Sleaford and North Hykeham
Lincolnshire county council division: Eagle and Hykeham West (part: Doddington and Whisby, Eagle and Swinethorpe, North Scarle, Swinderby and Thorpe on the Hill parishes and part of North Hykeham and South Hykeham parishes); Bassingham and Welbourne (part: Witham St Hughs parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lincoln
Postcode districts: LN5, LN6, NG23

Corinne Byron (LD)
Nikki Dillon (Lincs Ind)
Peter Rothwell (C)

May 2015 result C/Ind unopposed
May 2011 result C/Ind unopposed
May 2007 result C 649/473 Ind 599 UKIP 188


Stowe

Lichfield council, Staffordshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor David Smedley, for family reasons. He had served since 2007, and was also leader of the parish-level Lichfield city council.

We move west to the West Midlands. Stowe is the city centre ward for Lichfield, 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 in the initial post-war period 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 Conservative gain last year.

Defending for the Conservatives is Joanne Grange, a chartered accountant. The Labour candidate is Don Palmer. Also standing are Mat Hayward of the Green Party (who fought the ward in 2015), Jeyan Anketell for the Lib Dems and Philip Peter, who also stood here in the 2017 county elections, for an outfit called "Something New".

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

Jeyan Anketell (LD)
Joanne Grange (C)
Mat Hayward (Grn)
Don Palmer (Lab)
Philip Peter (Something New)

May 2015 result C 1791/1484/1443 Lab 898/862/857 Grn 635


Bryn (Cancelled)

Wigan council, Greater Manchester; caused by, er...

There was originally going to be a twelfth by-election today in Greater Manchester, in the Bryn ward of Wigan district - the northern of the two wards covering Ashton-in-Makerfield. This is complicated, please bear with me.

At the start of January independent councillor Steve Jones had sent to the chief executive of Wigan council a postdated resignation letter, indicating to the council that he intended to resign on 20th February. Cllr Jones had recently been the subject of a number of controversies - last year he was prosecuted for drink-driving and cautioned for common assault - but did not wish to resign immediately because of his financial position. However, the returning officer's interpretation of local government law was that Cllr Jones' resignation could not be postdated, and took effect immediately.

Steve Jones was unhappy about this decision, and decided to withdraw his resignation. However, Wigan council had already published a notice of vacancy and made arrangements for a poll to take place today. Jones was standing for re-election in that poll, but had also taken the council to judicial review. Yesterday the High Court in Manchester ruled in Jones' favour, deciding that he had not resigned his office and issuing an injunction to stop the by-election. Wigan council and the returning officer were granted permission to appeal, but decided not to do so "in order to protect the public purse".

There is clearly no love lost between Jones and the ruling Labour group: the BBC have previously reported comments from the council leader Lord Smith of Leigh branding Jones as "unfit for office" while advising him to "seek professional help" - and it seems unlikely that the noble lord meant professional help from lawyers. Jones was sitting on a small majority of just 77 votes from the 2016 election and Labour will have had high hopes of winning the by-election. From the council's point of view, they will have incurred significant expense in organising this abortive election: apart from the legal costs fighting the High Court action, polling stations had been hired, staff time secured and ballot papers printed. More than 750 postal votes had already been returned, and those voters will presumably be wondering why they bothered. This column isn't particularly happy with what has happened either, having spent time researching and writing a full preview for Bryn ward which has had to be scrapped at the eleventh hour. One suspects that there may be further political and/or legal fallout to come from this particular row, and this column will keep an eye on Wigan in case of future developments.


Selkirkshire

Scottish Borders council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Michelle Ballantyne who is now a member of the Scottish Parliament. Ballantyne had served since 2012 and was leader of the opposition Conservative group going into the 2017 election.

We finish in the Scottish borders with a ward name which recalls the administrative chaos with the Middle Ages left to the Borders area. Where there is now a single Scottish Borders council, up until 1975 there were four counties - Berwickshire, Roxburghshire, Peeblesshire and Selkirkshire. This ward doesn't include the largest town of Selkirkshire (Galashiels), instead being based on Selkirk itself and a huge, sparsely-populated swathe of moorland - the Ettrick Forest.

Selkirk is a town of fewer than 6,000 souls - although it's doing better than Roxburgh, which has a population of zero - but has a famous name. One of Scotland's oldest Royal Burghs, the town's traditional industry was wool and its traditional celebration is the Common Riding, a cavalcade of over 300 riders which takes place each June. Famous people associated with the town include the author Sir Walter Scott, who in 1799 was appointed Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire; while the county gave us the African explorer Mungo Park and the poet and author James Hogg, who because of his humble upbringing was often known as the Ettrick Shepherd. One famous elector in the ward is the former Liberal Party leader David Steel, now Lord Steel of Aikwood, who lives here at Aikwood Tower.

Steel saw his Liberal Democrats top the poll in the first election to the modern Selkirkshire ward in 2007. That was the year Scotiand introduced proportional representation, and Selkirkshire's three seats split between the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and the Scottish National Party. In 2012 the SNP lost their seat to independent candidate Gordon Edgar, who started in fourth place but got transfers from another independent and the Borders Party.

The SNP got their Selkirkshire seat back in the 2017 election, capitalising on the collapse of the Lib Dem vote. Again Gordon Edgar came through from fourth place to win the final seat, pulling ahead of the second Conservative candidate on the last count with transfers from former SNP councillor Kenneth Gunn, who was trying to get his seat back as an independent. First preferences were 42% for the Conservatives, 22% for the SNP and 13% for Edgar.

In the 2016 Holyrood election Ballantnye had contested Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, failing to gain it from the SNP, and was seventh on the Conservative Party list for the South of Scotland. That placed her next in line when John Lamont, the Tory MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, resigned in 2017 to successfully seek election to Westminster, and list MSP Rachael Hamilton resigned to successfully contest the resulting Scottish Parliament by-election. This by-election completes the resulting game of Tory musical chairs. The Conservatives are the largest party on Scottish Borders council with 14 out of 34 seats plus this vacancy, and run the council in coalition with the seven-strong Independent group; that coalition is not endangered by this by-election.

Defending for the Conservatives is their unsuccessful candidate from last year Trevor Adams, a retired foxhunter with the Buccleuch Hunt. The SNP candidate is John Mitchell, who is seeking to return to the council after losing his seat in Galashiels and District ward last year. There are two independent candidates: former SNP councillor for this ward Kenneth Gunn, and businesswoman Caroline Penman who was voted Selkirk's Personality of 2017. Completing the longest ballot paper of the week are Scott Redpath for Labour, Jack Clark for the Liberal Democrats (who gives an address 45 miles away in Cove, Berwickshire) and Barbra Harvie for the Scottish Greens. A reminder that the Alternative Vote and Votes at 16 apply here; and don't wait up all night for the result, as the count is taking place on Friday.

Parliamentary constituency: Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
Scottish Parliament constituency: Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Galashiels and Peebles
Postcode districts: TD1, TD6, TD7, TD9

Trevor Adams (C)
Jack Clark (LD)
Kenneth Gunn (Ind)
Barbra Harvie (Grn)
John Mitchell (SNP)
Caroline Penman (Ind)
Scott Redpath (Lab)

May 2017 result C 1687 SNP 888 Ind 514 Ind 392 Lab 147 LD 134 Ind 123 Grn 122
May 2012 result C 799 SNP 671 LD 649 Ind 597 Borders Party 299 Ind 276
May 2007 result LD 1313 C 1121 SNP 826 Ind 558 Borders Party 360 Ind 279