Previews: 15 Feb 2018

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

There is something for everyone in this week's edition of Andrew's Previews. In the largest week of local by-elections not combined with something else for many years, there are fourteen by-elections on Thursday 15th February 2018, with nearly 90,000 people eligible to vote in them. The Conservatives are defending half of the seats up for election, with four Labour defences and one defence each for the Scottish National Party, a residents group and UKIP - although that last one should come with an asterisk. We have cities, towns, villages, suburbs and military bases; old towns and New Towns. We have the south, the Midlands, the north and Scotland. We replace a councillor who served for 45 years, one who served for less than seven months, one who is resigning to improve his mental health, and one who is now in prison for attacking his wife with a mallet. We visit some of the greatest engineering achievements of the eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries: canals, railways, roads and bridges. While most of the polls this week may look safe at first glance, there is always the potential for a surprise or few. Read on, as we start with one of the biggest local government failures of recent times...


Higham Ferrers

Northamptonshire county council; and

Higham Ferrers Lancaster

East Northamptonshire council; both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Glenn Harwood. A veteran of the Falklands War who served for forty years in the Army, retiring with an MBE and the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, Harwood was elected to East Northamptonshire council in 2007, and at the time of his death was deputy leader of the council. In May 2017 he was elected to Northamptonshire county council.

It's appropriate to start this week in Northamptonshire, which is the location for the biggest and most controversial story to have come out of local government so far in this young year. Earlier this month Northamptonshire county council issued a Section 114 notice, banning all new expenditure with the exception of statutory services for protecting vulnerable people. Essentially, the council has run out of money and gone bust. Proposals for remedying this include raising council tax by almost 6%, and selling the council's new headquarters building which was built at a cost of �53 million and has only been open for four months. These proposals haven't gone down well with Northamptonshire's seven MPs - all Conservatives - who have called for the government to send in commissioners, nor have they gone done well with half of the county council's ruling Conservative group, with 21 backbench councillors signing a statement saying that they are appalled by what has been revealed regarding the council's finances.

Thankfully - polls being rather expensive items to run - Northamptonshire does not have the responsibility of running these by-elections, which is a job for the district council. So the voters of Higham Ferrers will have an early chance to say what they think of all this, as well as proposals for a large "US-style" chicken farm in the area. Higham Ferrers is a market town in eastern Northamptonshire, overlooking the River Nene, which is just north of and has fused with the larger town of Rushden. Higham - from Old English words meaning "high homestead" is a common placename in the UK and so the suffix "Ferrers" was added; this is a reference to William de Ferrers, fifth earl of Derby of the first creation, who created the borough in 1251. The present Earl Ferrers, the senior Earl in the British peerage, is a descendant of William de Ferrers - although the upper class is not what it was and the present earl has to go to work as an accountant. Higham Ferrers' economy was traditionally based on shoemaking and footwear, and some of this trade still survives in the town today.

Lancaster ward is the eastern of Higham Ferrers' two district wards and also takes in the parish of Chelveston cum Caldecott to the east. The county division covers the whole of Higham Ferrers together with part of Rushden to the south.

This is a very Conservative area. Higham Ferrers Lancaster ward was created on its current boundaries in May 2007, when the Conservative slate beat Labour 71-29 in a straight fight. Nobody has challenged the Tories in the ward since then, so you have to look to county level for clues as to how the town's political allegiances have changed over the last eleven years. Last year's county election in the Higham Ferrers division suggest that the changes since 2007 don't amount to much: the Conservatives beat Labour 60-19.

Defending the county seat for the Conservatives is Jason Smithers, a cafe-owner and deputy mayor of Higham Ferrers. The Labour candidate is Gary Day. At district level the Lancaster ward by-election is contested: the Conservatives have gone for youth in selecting Harriet Pentland to defend the seat, while the Labour candidate is businessman Mark Green. Both ballot papers are completed by Suzanna Austin for the Lib Dems, Bill Cross for UKIP and Simon Turner for the Green Party.

Higham Ferrers

Parliamentary constituency: Wellingborough
East Northamptonshire council wards: Higham Ferrers Chichele, Higham Ferrers Lancaster, Rushden Spencer (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kettering and Wellingborough
Postcode districts: NN9, NN10

Suzanna Austin (LD)
Bill Cross (UKIP)
Gary Day (Lab)
Jason Smithers (C)
Simon Turner (Grn)

May 2017 result C 1762 Lab 552 LD 327 UKIP 290
May 2013 result C 1184 UKIP 697 Lab 385 Ind 299 LD 116

Higham Ferrers Lancaster

Parliamentary constituency: Wellingborough
Northamptonshire county council division: Higham Ferrers
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kettering and Wellingborough
Postcode districts: NN9, NN10

Suzanna Austin (LD)
Bill Cross (UKIP)
Mark Green (Lab)
Harriet Pentland (C)
Simon Turner (Grn)

May 2015 result 2 C unopposed
May 2011 result 2 C unopposed
July 2007 by-election C unopposed
May 2007 result C 812/787 Lab 335/316


Worstead

North Norfolk council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Glyn Williams on health grounds. He was first elected in 2011 as a Liberal Democrat and defected to the Conservatives in 2013.

We travel east to consider two by-elections in East Anglia. Worstead is a village with a famous name but not a population to match. The village came to prominence in the twelfth century when Flemish weavers arrived in the area; they became so successful that a type of yarn - worsted - was named after the village. At 922 souls Worstead is too small to be a ward on its own, and the ward named after it contains five other parishes wrapping around the south and west of North Walsham. Worstead railway station - on the Bittern Line from Norwich to Sheringham - links the ward to the outside world.

By-elections in Liberal Democrat constituencies don't come around very often, so savour this one. The Liberal Democrats held this ward from 2003 (when the current ward boundaries came in) to 2013 when their councillor Glyn Williams defected to the Conservatives. Williams was re-elected under his new colours in 2015, polling 42% to 33% for the Lib Dems and 13% for the Green Party. The 2015 election re-elected the Conservatives to majority control of North Norfolk, but they have since suffered a mass of defections: of the 33 Conservative councillors elected in 2015 only 22 remain plus this vacancy, and the party has lost overall control of the council. The local county division - North Walsham East and Erpingham - is a three-way marginal with a strong Labour vote but has consistently voted Lib Dem since 2005.

Defending for the Conservatives is Robin Russell-Pavier, who has travelled the world working in the holiday industry and now works as a tourism consultant. The Lib Dems will want this seat back and have selected Saul Penfold (oh crumbs!), who is the chair of governors at Worstead CofE primary school, a former teacher and former head of education at Norwich Cathedral. With the Greens withdrawing, completing the ballot paper is carpenter, builder and former district councillor David Spencer for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: North Norfolk
Norfolk county council division: North Walsham West and Erpingham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Norwich
Postcode districts: NR10, NR11, NR28

Saul Penfold (LD)
Robin Russell-Pavier (C)
David Spencer (Lab)

May 2015 result C 597 LD 475 Grn 180 Lab 175
May 2011 result LD 465 C 287 Lab 159 Grn 84
May 2007 result LD 555 C 369
May 2003 result LD 372 C 333


St Pauls

Tendring council, Essex; caused by the resignation of councillor Jack Parsons. Parsons was originally elected for UKIP in a May 2016 by-election, had defected to Labour, and at the time of his resignation was sitting as an independent. Last year he was sentenced to 70 hours' unpaid work by Colchester magistrates for possessing a knife in a public place.

Parsons' resignation from the council was bizarre; he had sent a draft resignation email to council bosses by mistake, and unsuccessfully tried to retract it. Unlike a case we shall come to next week, Parsons has decided that resignation is the best course of action for him as he battles problems with depression and anxiety. This column wishes Parsons the best of luck in recovering good mental health.

It's a while since we've looked at Tendring, isn't it? We're in Clacton-on-Sea here, in a ward on the Essex seafront just to the east of Clacton town centre. Much of the housing in the ward dates from the 1930s or 1950s, and much of the population does too: St Pauls ward makes the top 100 in England and Wales for population in the 65+ age bracket.

Politically this corner of Essex votes perhaps not like you might expect it to. From 2003 to 2015 this was the local fiefdom of Pierre Oxley, who was initially a Conservative but by 2007 had formed his own localist party called Tendring First. However, in early 2016 Oxley pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation, for which he has given a suspended two-year prison sentence. As a result he was kicked off Essex county council, and the resulting by-election was won by Colin Sargeant who had the nomination of the Holland-on-Sea Residents Association. Sargeant was re-elected in last year's county elections, on that occasion as an independent candidate.

Oxley had already lost his Tendring council seat in 2015, as the local UKIP group rode the coattails of Douglas Carswell (remember him?) to gain one of the two seats in St Pauls ward. It was a close three-way result: UKIP had 37% and one seat, the Conservatives 33% and the other seat, with Tendring First on 30%.

Across Tendring district UKIP ended up with 22 seats to the Conservatives' 23, with 31 needed for a majority. Experience has shown that large UKIP council groups tend not to have much truck with such boring notions as discipline and coherence, but in Tendring the split and collapse in the UKIP group started immediately thanks to an inspired decision by the Conservatives to offer a coalition deal. Two years, nine months and lots of defections later, UKIP are down to eight seats in Tendring while the Conservatives hold 32 and an overall majority, although the coalition between them and the UKIP splinters who accepted the deal remains in place.

In the meantime the St Pauls UKIP councillor John Mooney decided to emigrate, and a by-election was held for his seat in May 2016. UKIP held that seat, again with 37% of the vote, to 27% for the Conservatives and 22% for independent candidate William Hones. Jack Parsons, the winner of that by-election, has now resigned in his turn.

Given Parsons' unusual political journey during his year and a half in office, it's difficult to identify a defending party for this by-election. UKIP will want their seat back and are hoping to win their first council by-election in over a year: the last Kipper win was in Great and Little Oakley ward, also in Tendring district, on 9th February 2017, and in all the elections since then UKIP have won a grand total of one seat, in Burnley last May. Their defending candidate is Mike Vaughan-Chatfield, chairman of the North Essex Photographic Workshop and former chairman of Tendring Neighbourhood Watch. Labour will also want their seat back and have selected Rosie-Roella Kevlin, an artistic coordinator at Colchester Arts Centre. The Conservative candidate is Sue Honeywood, who was a district councillor for Clacton's Pier ward from 2007 until losing her seat to UKIP in 2015. William Hones, who finished third in the 2016 by-election, returns for another try; another independent on the ballot paper is Stephen Andrews, co-owner of the local football club FC Clacton. Completing the ballot paper are Robert Cockroft of the Green Party, who is described as a regulatory ecotoxicologist, whatever that is; and former Sutton councillor Keith Pitkin (Worcester Park North 1986-90, Sutton Central 1990-98) for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Clacton
Essex county council division: Clacton East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Clacton
Postcode district: CO15

May 2016 by-election UKIP 424 C 311 Ind 248 Lab 148
May 2015 result UKIP 944/760 C 838/611 Tendring First 766/754
May 2011 result Tendring First 945/928 C 680/618
May 2007 result Tendring First 1106/1086 C 440/384
May 2003 result C 793/701 Lab 239 Ind 219 LD 177/154


Ruxley

Epsom and Ewell council, Surrey; caused by the resignation of Keith Partridge who was a councillor for the West Ewell and Ruxley Residents Association. He had served since 2015.

For our London-area by-election this week we travel to Surrey. The town of Ewell has been swallowed up by the growth of London but remains outside the Greater London boundary. Ewell is an affluent commuter area but Ruxley ward is perhaps its most downmarket part: located in West Ewell and named after Ruxley Lane, the ward is hard up against the Greater London boundary at Chessington and has Epsom and Ewell's lowest proportion of the workforce in the census "higher management" occupational group.

For many years now Epsom and Ewell has been dominated at borough level by Residents Association candidates. Ruxley ward is no different: in the 2015 election the Residents had a clean sweep, gaining two seats from the Conservatives against the national trend. That year the Residents polled 45% to 32% for the Conservatives and 14% for Labour. The Residents also hold the local county division, West Ewell.

Defending for the Residents is Alex Coley, a former civil servant who was the first Head of Digital Services for the Metropolitan Police, and now runs a digital communications and technology company. The Conservative candidate is Stephen Pontin who was a councillor for this ward from 2007 to 2011, and is seeking to return to the council. Labour have selected Themba Msika, a mental health nurse. Completing the ballot paper is Julia Kirkland for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Epsom and Ewell
Surrey county council division: West Ewell
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: KT19

Alex Coley (Residents Assocs of Epsom and Ewell)
Julia Kirkland (LD)
Themba Msika (Lab)
Stephen Pontin (C)

May 2015 result Residents 1353/1110/1018 C 983/930/928 Lab 429/420/383 LD 265
May 2011 result Residents 795/609/571 C 711/680/656 Lab 216/212 LD 128/125/79
May 2007 result Residents 605/521/503 C 518/480/479 Lab 125/125/108 LD 104/92/90
May 2003 result Residents 579/484/437 Lab 391/387/376 C 243 LD 131


Carterton South

West Oxfordshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Mick Brennan. He had served since 2011, and was a contractor at RAF Brize Norton after 30 years' service in the Royal Air Force.

We move west from London to a ward which is dominated by the military. The town of Carterton has grown to become the second-largest town in West Oxfordshire district (after Witney), and the main reason for that is its proximity to RAF Brize Norton. The UK's largest RAF base, Brize Norton opened in 1937 and saw much activity in the Second World War, before being used by the US Air Force who deployed nuclear bombers here. The RAF took the base back in 1965, and it is now the point of embarkation for British troops overseas and the main operating base for the RAF's transport and refuelling aircraft.

Many of Brize Norton's buildings and part of its apron are within the ward boundary, and the military personnel have left their mark on its demographics. Carterton South is in the top 10 wards in England and Wales for full-time employment (a staggering 62% of the workforce), in the top 10 wards for those educated to Level 2 (five or more GCSE passes or equivalent), and in the top 20 wards for the census "intermediate" employment category.

What the military tend not to do is turn out in local elections, so the town will punch above its weight when the votes are counted. Despite a Liberal Democrat win in 2007 - by one vote - this is a safe Conservative area like the other two Carterton wards. At the most recent district election in 2015 the Conservatives beat UKIP here 62-15, and in May's county elections the Tories had a 70-12 lead over Labour in the Carterton South and West division. One of the former Conservative councillors for this ward was Windell "Joe" Walcott, who served as Mayor of Carterton and was appointed MBE but is perhaps better known as the grandfather of the footballer Theo Walcott.

Defending for the Conservatives is Michele Mead, a Carterton town councillor. With UKIP not returning, she is opposed by Simon Adderley for Labour and Ben Lines for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Witney
Oxfordshire county council division: Carterton South and West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Oxford
Postcode district: OX18

Simon Adderley (Lab)
Ben Lines (LD)
Michele Mead (C)

May 2015 result C 1363 UKIP 342 Lab 254 LD 133 Grn 124
May 2014 result C 536 UKIP 285 Lab 91 Grn 72
May 2011 result C 893 LD 184 Lab 129 Grn 83
May 2010 result C 1642 LD 464
May 2007 result LD 493 C 492
May 2006 result C 892 LD 206
May 2003 result C 430 LD 364 Lab 77
May 2002 result C 793/448 LD 402


Chudleigh; and
Dawlish Central and North East

Teignbridge council, Devon; caused respectively by the resignations of Doug Laing and Graham Price, who were both Conservative councillors. Laing had served since 2015, Price - a former chairman of Teignbridge council - since 2007.

Laing, who was the council's outgoing cabinet member for economy and tourism, is now serving a three-year prison sentence for wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. That charge related to an attack on his wife Susan at their home on 29 October last year. Laing had originally been charged with attempted murder, but denied that charge and a trial was not pursued after he pleaded guilty to the lesser offence.

Not the most propitious of circumstances for one of our two by-elections in the West Country today. Both of these are in the Teignbridge district. Chudleigh can be found on the eastern slopes of Dartmoor; it's a commuter town for Exeter which is bypassed by the A38 Exeter-Plymouth road - and the importance of that bypass to the local road network is demonstrated by the fact that before it was built, the road closures for the Chudleigh carnival each summer could lead to 25-mile tailbacks. Although the Chudley Cannons have been playing Quidditch in the village since 1753 (according to J K Rowling, and I'm not going to contradict that), there is no word on how the team was affected by a major fire in 1807 which essentially destroyed Chudleigh, leaving only the church and seven houses standing. The ward also extends to the north to take in Hennock parish, part of which is within the Dartmoor National Park - although that parish will move out of the ward in boundary changes to be implemented next year.

Down on the seafront can be found the town of Dawlish, which developed in the eighteenth century as a seaside resort. Jane Austen spent a long holiday here in 1802, complaining at length at the state of the town's library, and the place appears in novels by both her and Dickens. Running along the seafront is the West of England main line, opened by Brunel in 1846 and with its trains originally run by pneumatic tubes - a failed experiment. The main line is one of the most scenic in Britain thanks to its seafront location, but also expensive to maintain - part of it was washed away in a storm in 2014, leaving the West Country cut off from the rail network for several weeks. The North and East ward covers the northern half of the town plus the village of Dawlish Warren, whose economy is entirely geared towards holidays and tourism.

Chudleigh ward has unchanged boundaries since 1979. It has traditionally returned independent candidates to Teignbridge council, with the first party candidate to break that pattern being Labour in their zenith year of 1995; the Labour seat was lost back to the independents in a November 1996 by-election. It took until 2003 for party candidates to get in on the act again with the election of a Lib Dem to one of the two seats; the Tories gained the Lib Dem seat in 2007 and the remaining independent seat in the 2015 election to hold both seats in the ward for the first time. That 2015 election was a rather fragmented result, with 33% for the Tory slate of Laing and Patricia Johnson-King, 25% for outgoing independent councillor Richard Keeling and 15% each for Labour and the Greens. Johnson-King died in 2016 and the Conservatives lost the resulting by-election to Keeling, who stood with the Liberal Democrat nomination: he beat the Conservatives 52-36. Keeling was also the local Lib Dem candidate in the county elections last year, coming a strong second in the safe Conservative division of Chudleigh and Teign Valley.

The Conservatives are generally stronger in Dawlish North and East where they have won two or all of the three seats in every election this century. The exceptions were a Lib Dem win in 2003 and an independent win in 2011. The Conservatives regained the independent seat in 2015 in a fragmented result: they had 30% to 23% for the Lib Dems, 17% for the independent slate and 15% for the Greens. The Tories had a larger lead over the Lib Dems in May's county elections in Dawlish division.

Dawlish town council's website advertises the place as the "home of the black swan", and having one of your councillors sent to prison for attacking his wife with a mallet certainly counts as a black swan event for the Teignbridge Conservatives. The difficult task, given those circumstances, of holding Chudleigh for the Tories falls to Pam Elliott. Hospital manager Lorraine Evans is hoping to gain for the Liberal Democrats: an interesting selection as Evans was the ward's Conservative councillor from 2007 to 2015, losing re-election in 2015 as an independent candidate. Returning from the 2016 by-election is Labour candidate Janette Parker, who completes a rare all-female ballot paper.

The Dawlish Central and North East by-election is a straight fight with no independent or Green candidates. Defending in the blue corner is Angela Fenne, a Dawlish town councillor and traffic officer at Highways England. Challenging in the yellow corner is Martin Wrigley, the present Mayor of Dawlish, who works in the telecom and IT sector.

Chudleigh

Parliamentary constituency: Central Devon
Devon county council division: Chudleigh and Teign Valley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter
Postcode districts: EX6, TQ13

Lorraine Evans (LD)
Pam Elliott (C)
Janette Parker (Lab)

December 2016 by-election LD 680 C 470 UKIP 89 Lab 81
May 2015 result C 1308/1159 Ind 985/592/516 Lab 597 Grn 585 LD 508
May 2011 result C 889/720 Ind 884/561 LD 500 Lab 475
May 2007 result Ind 1120/597 C 909 LD 799
May 2003 result Ind 645/566 LD 570/423 C 399/371
May 1999 result Ind 798/682 C 442 Lab 257
Nov 1996 by-election Ind 480 LD 230 Lab 171 (Ind gain from Lab)
May 1995 result Lab 586 Ind 570/479 LD 482 C 347 Loony 53
May 1991 result Ind 827/757/721
May 1987 result Ind 1046/667/574 Lab 179/119
May 1983 result Ind 739/403/349 Alliance 382
May 1979 result Ind 1251/805/713/652

Dawlish Central and North East

Parliamentary constituency: Newton Abbot
Devon county council division: Dawlish
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter
Postcode districts: EX6, EX7

Angela Fenne (C)
Martin Wrigley (LD)

May 2015 result C 1687/1645/1406 LD 1295/1274 Ind 940/817/687 Grn 858 Lab 827
May 2011 result C 1197/1095/1041 Ind 1129/1065 LD 599/569/535
May 2007 result C 1221/1214/1169 LD 1106/1022/953
May 2003 result C 1020/985/946 LD 1010/946/866 Lab 377


Grassmoor

North East Derbyshire council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Julie Hill who had served since 2015.

It's time to go north as we consider the first of this week's five by-elections in England north of the Trent. We stay in the Midlands for the first Labour defence of the week, which is in a ward based on the villages of Grassmoor and Temple Normanton just to the south-east of Chesterfield. This was a coalmining area, with a series of deep and opencast pits which have now all gone; much of the former mining sites, including the once-severely polluted Grassmoor Lagoons, have been landscaped into the Grassmoor Country Park. Grassmoor's most famous son is Paul Burrell, the former butler to Diana, Princess of Wales.

This is a ward where Labour are not seriously challenged at district council level. The Labour slate was unopposed in 2003, and in 2015 beat UKIP here 59-24. However, it is part of the North East Derbyshire constituency which was a rare Conservative gain in June 2017, and part of this ward is covered by the Clay Cross North county division which was marginal between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in May 2017. Clay Cross North also includes the neighbouring Tupton ward, where the Lib Dems came from nowhere to win a council by-election in 2016.

Defending for Labour, who will be hoping for a good result to show that they are back on track in this constituency, is Dick Marriott. With UKIP not returning for this by-election, Marriott is opposed by Josh Broadhurst for the Conservatives and Ben Marshall for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: North East Derbyshire
Derbyshire county council division: Sutton (part: Temple Normanton parish and Hasland and Winswick ward of Grassmoor, Hasland and Winswick parish); Clay Cross North (part: Grassmoor ward of Grassmoor, Hasland and Winswick parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chesterfield
Postcode districts: S41, S42, S44

Josh Broadhurst (C)
Dick Marriott (Lab)
Ben Marshall (LD)

May 2015 result Lab 1103/901 UKIP 439 C 319/275
May 2011 result Lab 928/891 C 230/212
May 2007 result Lab 760/677 C 218
May 2003 result 2 Lab unopposed


Armthorpe

Doncaster council, South Yorkshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Tony Corden at the age of 71. He was first elected in 1992 with continuous service since 2011, and had served on the Doncaster cabinet.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0y0z0dxlmYs

Showing our passports at the county boundary, we enter into Yorkshire but stay with coal. The large village of Armthorpe can be found just off the eastern edge of Doncaster. Traditionally an agricultural area - this is flat, rich farming land - Armthorpe was mostly developed from the 1920s onwards as accommodation for workers at the large Markham Main colliery, which extracted its first coal in 1924 and closed in 1996. The site of the pit is now a housing estate, but the Markham Main Colliery brass band is still going strong. With the demise of mining Armthorpe's main industry is now distribution: the ward is directly connected to the M18 motorway at junction 4, and IKEA and Next have warehouses here.

Armthorpe ward has unchanged boundaries since 2004 and survived a boundary review in 2015 unscathed. From 2004 to 2010 its council seats were held by an independent slate, but Labour gained the ward's seats from 2010 to 2012 and have yet to relinquish them. In the 2017 election Labour had 41% here to 29% for UKIP and 22% for the Conservatives.

Defending for Labour is Frank Tyas, a joiner and Armthorpe parish councillor. UKIP and the Conservatives are not standing again, so Tyas is opposed in a straight fight by independent candidate Martin Williams, a former Community Group councillor for Thorne ward.

Parliamentary constituency: Doncaster Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Doncaster
Postcode district: DN3

Frank Tyas (Lab)
Martin Williams (Ind)

May 2017 result Lab 1479/1336/1314 UKIP 1045/767 C 787 Grn 328
May 2015 result Lab 2709/2496/2386 UKIP 2260 C 1247 LD 638 Grn 605 Ind 575
May 2014 result Lab 1286 UKIP 975 Ind 666 C 231 TUSC 116
May 2012 result Lab 1677 Ind 1289 C 226
May 2011 result Lab 1958 Ind 1410 C 415
May 2010 result Lab 2369 Ind 1258 LD 877 C 848 English Democrats 692
May 2008 result Ind 1860 Lab 941 C 416
May 2007 result Ind 2047 Lab 1105
May 2006 result Ind 1602 Lab 1260 C 276
June 2004 result Ind 2140/1884/1821 Lab 1664/1244/1172 C 357


Holgate

York council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Sonja Crisp who had served since 2007. The Lord Mayor of York in 2015-16 - being suspended from the party during her mayoral year in a row over refurbishment of the Mansion House - Crisp is suffering from a neurological condition, and is moving to Scotland to be closer to her family.

For our second Yorkshire by-election we are in tourist central. Holgate ward is not the beautiful and much-visited centre of York; instead we are on the west side of town just beyond the railway station. This is a ward which is dominated by York's extensive railway yards and includes one of the UK's largest and most-visited museums, the National Railway Museum. The ward's population lies to the south of the railway yards along the Poppleton and Acomb Roads; this is generally a relatively well-off part of the city.

Despite that, Holgate has been held by Labour since 2007 when they gained the ward from the Liberal Democrats. There were minor boundary changes for the 2015 election which turned in a fragmented result: just 27% for the winning Labour slate, 19% for the Conservatives, 16% for the Green Party, 13% for the Liberal Democrats and 12% for UKIP.

With vote shares like that all the parties will think that they have a genuine chance of winning, with the exception of UKIP who have not nominated a candidate. Defending for Labour is 27-year-old Kallum Taylor, a former president of York University Students' Union who now works for a local housing association. Also in his late 20s is Conservative candidate Joe Pattinson, a local man who studied French and German at the University of Chester. Returning from the 2015 election is Green candidate Andreas Heinemeyer, a senior environmental researcher at the University of York with a particular interest in soil, peat and their effects on the carbon cycle. Completing the ballot paper is Liberal Democrat candidate Emma Keef, a communications officer for a local charity.

Parliamentary constituency: York Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: York
Postcode districts: YO24, YO26

Andreas Heinemeyer (Grn)
Emma Keef (LD)
Joe Pattinson (C)
Kallum Taylor (Lab)

May 2015 result Lab 2183/2037/1789 C 1516/1221/957 Grn 1273/954/876 LD 1018/849/812 UKIP 924 Ind 729 TUSC 326


Halton Castle

Halton council, Cheshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Arthur Cole at the age of 82. One of the few survivors of local government from before the 1974 reorganisation, Cole was first elected to Runcorn urban district council in 1972 while working as a bricklayer on the construction of the New Town's housing estates, and had served continuously on Runcorn UDC and Halton council since then with the exception of 2007-11. He had previously done National Service in Malaya with the Royal Engineers, and away from the council worked in training for many years, finishing his working life in 1997 as a disability employment advisor. He also served from 1976 to 1997 as a magistrate, and for several years was chairman of Runcorn Citizens Advice Bureau.

We move to the right side of the Pennines and to the town of Runcorn. A minor health resort in the early nineteenth century - something which is rather difficult to believe now - Runcorn is a major chemicals centre which became a New Town in the 1960s. Halton Castle ward is one of the New Town areas, overlooking the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal. One major addition to the landscape in recent years is the Mersey Gateway Bridge, connecting the ward to Widnes over the river on payment of a toll of �2 - rather a step up on Stanley Holloway's "tuppence per part of a person per part of a trip".

At the time of the 2011 census this ward was called Castlefields, after its main New Town development. It is a seriously deprived area, with 13% of the workforce being long-term sick or disabled and 51% of the households being socially rented - both figures are in the top 100 wards in England and Wales.

Despite all that deprivation the ward was closely fought until 2010 between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, although the Lib Dems only won it once - in 2007 when they defeated Cole by just three votes. Coalition put paid to the Lib Dem vote here (the Liberal Democrat councillor sought re-election in 2011 under the banner of the Halton Local Independent Party, and got nowhere) and there is now no serious challenge to Labour in the ward. In 2016 Labour polled 76% of the vote against opposition from UKIP and left-wing independent candidate Darrin Whyte.

Defending for Labour is Christopher Carlin, who works in the health sector; he fought Halton Brook ward as an independent in 2012. He is opposed by independent candidate Darrin Whyte who is fighting the ward for the fourth time (he had the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition nomination in 2014 and 2015) and Conservative candidate Ian Adams.

Parliamentary constituency: Halton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Warrington and Wigan
Postcode district: WA7

Ian Adams (C)
Christopher Carlin (Lab)
Darrin Whyte (Ind)

May 2016 result Lab 1035 UKIP 211 Ind 115
May 2015 result Lab 1985 UKIP 487 LD 220 TUSC 142
May 2014 result Lab 956 UKIP 413 TUSC 72
May 2012 result Lab 1124 LD 195
May 2011 result Lab 1067 HLIP 281 LD 175
May 2010 result Lab 1398 LD 714 C 283
May 2008 result Lab 555 LD 461 C 122
May 2007 result LD 565 Lab 562 C 99
July 2006 by-election Lab 359 LD 345 Ind 87 C 52
May 2006 result Lab 448 LD 332 Ind 156 Ind 122 C 105
July 2005 by-election Lab 355 LD 249 C 98 Ind 15
June 2004 result Lab 1045/833/816 Ind 440 LD 369 C 300 BNP 232


Morecambe North

Lancashire county council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Tony Jones, who had fallen out with the party and was sitting as an independent. One of the longest-serving Lancashire county councillors, Jones was first elected in 1985 for Lancaster Rural Central division, transferring to Morecambe North in 2005.

For our final English by-election of the week we travel to the west coast. Morecambe Bay, in its nice moods, can be a rather nice beauty spot, and Morecambe North is a good place from which to appreciate it. Archer's Café, on the seafront at Bolton-le-Sands next to a campsite, comes particularly recommended. Tell them this column sent you.

Despite its name, the Morecambe North county division is based on Bolton-le-Sands, which was added to the division in boundary changes last year. Bolton-le-Sands and its twin village of Hest Bank are commuter villages for the Lancaster-Morecambe conurbation, and a quick look at some of the new houses going up next to the Lancaster Canal in Hest Bank will persuade you that there is some serious money here. The same cannot be said of Bare, the part of Morecambe proper included in the division; this is a retirement area, and in the 2011 the old Bare ward made the top 75 in England and Wales for population in the 65+ age bracket.

As previously detailed in Andrew's Previews, the Conservative group which took over County Hall in Preston last year has been beset with all sorts of problems, which go all the way up to the Leader of the Council Geoff Driver. Driver is being investigated by police on suspicion of witness intimidation, and is due to answer bail later this month. Jones resigned from the Conservative group over Driver's leadership, and in September was speaking in support of a no-confidence motion against Driver when he collapsed with a suspected heart attack. Jones lived to tell the tale, but he has decided not to return to the council chamber. For the record, the no-confidence debate was reconvened in October and was defeated by 45 votes to 34.

Tony Jones had a safe result in the 2017 election, the only previous contest on these boundaries, when he beat Labour 63-22. At Lancashire city council level the Conservatives are safe in Bolton and Slyne ward, but only hold two out of three seats in Bare ward with the other held by the Morecambe Bay Independents.

Defending for the Conservatives is Stuart Morris, who works in the constituency office of the Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris. (They are not related.) Seeking to return to County Hall is Labour candidate Darren Clifford, who lost re-election in Morecambe South division last year; he is a Lancaster city councillor for Morecambe's Harbour ward. Completing the ballot paper is diehard Andrew's Previews fan Andrew Severn for the Liberal Democrats (thank you for the fan mail Andrew!).

Parliamentary constituency: Morecambe and Lunesdale
Lancaster council wards: Bolton and Slyne, Bare (part: Bare North and Bare South East wards of the parish of Morecambe)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lancaster and Morecambe
Postcode districts: LA1, LA2, LA4, LA5

Darren Clifford (Lab)
Stuart Morris (C)
Andrew Severn (LD)

May 2017 result C 2404 Lab 838 LD 310 Grn 253


Bonnybridge and Larbert

Falkirk council; caused by the death of the Provost of Falkirk, Scottish National Party councillor Tom Coleman, who was in his early seventies. He was first elected in 1999 for Larbert ward, transferring to Bonnybridge and Larbert ward in 2007.

For our first Scottish by-election of the 2018 we are in the Falkirk council area. This is a ward covering two villages to the west of Falkirk at the middle of the central belt. The Antonine Wall, the Forth and Clyde Canal, the Edinburgh and Glasgow, and Carlisle-Perth railway lines and the M876 motorway all pass through the ward. Bonnybridge - as in a bridge on the Bonny Water - developed in the industrial revolution as an ironworking centre. Larbert has a similar industrial past but is now growing strongly in population as a commuter base for Falkirk, Stirling, Edinburgh and Glasgow: the town's population increased by 42% between 2001 and 2011. Lying on the ward boundary is one of the symbols of modern Scotland, the Falkirk Wheel on the Forth and Clyde Canal.

Since the introduction of proportional representation for Scottish councils in 2007, the SNP have topped the poll in each election in Bonnybridge and Larbert. In both 2007 and 2012 the ward's three seats went to Tom Coleman of the Nationalists, independent Billy Buchanan and Labour's Linda Gow. In the 2017 election the Conservatives greatly increased their vote and gained Gow's seat; first preferences were 34% for the SNP, 24% for the Conservatives, 20% for Buchanan and 16% for Labour. The SNP hold the local Westminster and Holyrood constituencies, although they suffered nearly a 12% swing against them in the Falkirk constituency last June.

A quick reminder that Scottish local election rules apply here: the Alternative Vote is in use for this by-election, and 16- and 17-year-olds are eligible to vote. Defending for the SNP is Tom Coleman's son Niall, a married father-of-three who is described as a well-known personality within the party. The Conservative candidate is George Stevenson. Labour's Linda Gow, a former leader of Falkirk council and the woman who blew the whistle on the disputed Falkirk Labour selection for the 2015 general election, is seeking to make a quick return to the council. Also standing are David Robertson for the Scottish Greens and Stuart Martin for UKIP.

Photograph of the Falkirk Wheel by Phil Webber (CC BY 2.0)

Parliamentary constituency: Falkirk
Scottish Parliament constituency: Falkirk West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Falkirk and Stirling
Postcode districts: FK1, FK2, FK4, FK5

Niall Coleman (SNP)
Linda Gow (Lab)
Stuart Martin (UKIP)
David Robertson (Grn)
George Stevenson (C)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 1898 C 1368 Ind 1134 Lab 884 Grn 216 Ind 128
May 2012 first preferences SNP 1686 Lab 1235 Ind 1018 C 376 Ind 166
May 2007 first preferences SNP 1916 Ind 1566 Lab 1557 C 576 Grn 302 Ind 143 SSP 72


Previews: 08 Feb 2018

Seven by-elections on Thursday 8th February 2018:


Hartside

Eden council, Cumbria; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Sheila Orchard at the age of 66. Orchard had served since 2007, and was leader of the Eden Conservative group from 2011 to 2015.

February 2018 is going to be a busy month for Andrew's Previews, with seven polls today, fourteen next week and twelve the week after that. You need to start somewhere, and the most logical place to start is at the top and work your way down. In that sense Hartside ward is an excellent place to start: we are in the High Pennines here, and on the ward boundary is the highest point of the Pennines, the 2,930-foot summit of Cross Fell.

If you're looking for a viewpoint, it's hard to do better than Cross Fell. On a clear day you can look west over the Eden Valley to the Lake District mountains, while to the north there are views over the Solway Firth to the Southern Uplands. Cross Fell is even a viewpoint for Tuesday's by-election in Alyn and Deeside: on a clear day it is theoretically possible to see the Clwydian Hills, over 110 miles away.

Good luck to anybody who tries to photograph that line of sight, for Cross Fell is an inhospitable place particularly at this time of year. Snow often lies on the north face into May, hill fog is common, and Cross Fell is the location of Britain's only named wind: the Helm Wind, which blows strongly down the south-western slope into Hartside ward.

The name of Hartside ward is rather out-of-date; it refers to Hartside Pass, a summit of 1.904 feet on the A686 Penrith-Alston road, but the Pass was transferred out of the ward in boundary changes in 1999. Instead in this location east of the Eden can be found two parishes which run from the summit of Cross Fell all way down to the river. The largest centre of population is Culgaith, a village on the Settle and Carlisle railway line. With 424 electors Culgaith is tiny, but it has produced a person of note in recent years: Stuart Lancaster, the England rugby head coach from 2011 to 2015, grew up here. The ward's other parish is Ousby, one of the Thankful Villages which lost no men in the First World War. Ousby parish includes the village of Melmerby on the Penrith-Alston road.

This is definitively the part of England least affected by immigration. In the 2011 census Hartside came in at number 1 of all the wards in England and Wales for White British ethnicity, with 1267 out of 1273 residents or 99.53%. (In case you were wondering, the six non-White British people broke down as two White Other, two Asian, one mixed-race and one black.) Hartside is in the top 15 wards in England and Wales for the 45-64 age bracket and in the top 30 for those born in the UK.

Eden is a council which tends to have lots of unopposed returns, and Hartside has only seen one contested election since it took on its current boundaries in 1999. That poll was in 2015, when Orchard was re-elected with a 57-43 margin over independent candidate Susan Castle-Clarke. Orchard had taken over her seat in 2007 upon the retirement of Conservative councillor John Lancaster, a farmer who is Stuart Lancaster's father and still sits on Culgaith parish council.

This by-election is rather important for Eden's Conservative administration, which holds 19 out of 38 seats plus this vacancy; so, if the Tories lose this by-election it will be a case of Paradise Lost as their majority on Eden council will go with it. And the omens for the Conservatives are not particularly good. They lost a by-election over the mountains in Alston in 2016, after one of their councillors resigned following an exposé of his business dealings in Private Eye; then the Tories failed to get the seat back in a second by-election last year after the winner of the first by-election resigned. That second by-election was won by Labour (of all people) and that wasn't a flash in the pan; Hartside is included in a county division with Alston, which in May 2017's county elections was gained by Labour from an independent county councillor.

There will still be an Orchard on the ballot paper in Eden, as the defending Conservative candidate is Sheila's widower Robin Orchard, from Melmerby. Independent candidate Susan Castle-Clarke returns from the 2015 election; she is an Ousby parish councillor. Completing the ballot paper is Richard Henry of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Penrith and the Border
Cumbria county council division: Alston and East Fellside
ONS Travel to Work Area: Penrith
Postcode district: CA10

Susan Castle-Clarke (Ind)
Richard Henry (Grn)
Robin Orchard (C)

May 2015 result C 438 Ind 334
May 2011 result C unopposed
May 2007 result C unopposed
May 2003 result C unopposed
August 2002 by-election C unopposed
May 1999 result C unopposed


Codsall

Staffordshire county council; and

Codsall South

South Staffordshire council; both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Robert Marshall at the age of 57. A long-serving councillor, he was first elected to South Staffordshire council in a 1994 by-election and to Staffordshire county council in 1997, serving on the county's cabinet. On Staffordshire county council he represented Wrottesley from 1997 to 2005, Perton from 2005 to 2009 and Codsall since 2009; on South Staffordshire council he represented Perton Dippons ward from 1994 to 2003 and Codsall South since 2003.

Marshall made the headlines in 2003 after spending £2,300 of his ward allowance on a mobile speed camera for the ward, and then being caught speeding by it. Away from the council he ran the family firm J H Marshall (Pressings) Ltd in Blakenhall, a sheet metal pressing company which has been in operation for 100 years. In his spare time Marshall was a keen squash and chess player who had won the Mensa chess championship.

We move to Staffordshire where there are three council by-elections today. Two of them are in Codsall, a village just to the north-west of Wolverhampton. Codsall is on the railway line from Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury, and Codsall and Bilbrook stations both lie within the Codsall South ward and Codsall county division. This gives Codsall South in particular a commuter demographic and some of the characteristics of a dormitory town. The main employer in the village is South Staffordshire council, whose offices are here.

South Staffordshire is a very Conservative district which has been the recipient of "white flight" from the Black Country over the decades. This was never part of Enoch Powell's constituency, but a fair number of his voters will have ended up in Codsall. That's reflected at the ballot box were both this county division and this district ward are safe Tory. In May's county elections the Conservatives polled 75% in Codsall against Labour and Green opposition. Codsall South was uncontested at the last district elections in 2015; the last poll here was all the way back in 2011 when the Conservatives led UKIP here 62-23.

Defending both by-elections for the Conservatives is Bob Spencer, vice-chairman of Codsall parish council. Also on both ballot papers is Labour candidate Kevin McElduff, chairman of governors at Codsall Middle School; he was the Labour parliamentary candidate for South Staffordshire in 2010 and 2015. There are no UKIP candidates for either vacancy, so the Greens complete both ballot papers: they have nominated Gary Burnett for the county seat and Ian Sadler (who was the Liberal Democrat candidate for South Staffordshire in 1992) for the district by-election.

Codsall

Parliamentary constituency: South Staffordshire
South Staffordshire council wards: Bilbrook, Codsall North, Codsall South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wolverhampton and Walsall
Postcode districts: WV6, WV7, WV8, WV9

Gary Burnett (Grn)
Kevin McElduff (Lab)
Bob Spencer (C)

May 2017 result C 2327 Lab 439 Grn 332
May 2013 result C 1585 UKIP 821 Lab 466
June 2009 result C 1864 UKIP 1208 LD 402 Lab 376
May 2005 result C 3098 Lab 1317 LD 708

Codsall South

Parliamentary constituency: South Staffordshire
Staffordshire county council division: Codsall
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wolverhampton and Walsall
Postcode districts: WV6, WV7, WV8

Kevin McElduff (Lab)
Ian Sadler (LD)
Bob Spencer (C)

May 2015 result 2 C unopposed
May 2011 result C 1019/909 UKIP 377 Lab 254/204
May 2007 result C 862/856 UKIP 286 Lab 197
May 2003 result 2 C unopposed


Stretton

East Staffordshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Dale Spedding, who had served only since winning a by-election last September.

There are some wards which just can't stop having by-elections. It's time for a return visit to Stretton ward, a northern suburb of Burton-on-Trent hard up against the county boundary with Derbyshire, which is having its third by-election in ten years and second poll in five months. The name ("Street Town") refers to the Roman road of Ryknild Street, which passes through the ward, while the village itself has effectively merged into the Burton built-up area. Most of the housing stock here is post-war, and there is a campaign against building any more houses in the ward.

Stretton ward has existed since 1973 and took on its current boundaries in 2003, going up that year from two councillors to three. It has normally been a Tory stronghold with Labour winning only in 1995 and 1999; the 2015 election was true to form, with the Tory slate polling 45% to 28% for UKIP and 20% for Labour. Last May the Conservatives gained the local county council seat (Horninglow and Stretton) from Labour. Later in 2017 one of the Conservative councillors resigned and their new candidate, postman Dale Spedding, easily held the by-election with 47% of the vote, to 28% for an Independent "Save Our Stretton" candidate and 19% for Labour. Spedding resigned just two months later, claiming that he had been the victim of abuse and had been spat at in the street.

So, it's back to the polls we go. The new defending Conservative candidate is Vicki Gould. Three of the five candidates from September's by-election have returned, headed by independent Graham Lamb who is again standing on a "Save Our Stretton" anti-development ticket. The Labour candidate is Elaine Pritchard, a publisher and networker for small businesses. Completing the ballot paper are two returning candidates: the week's only UKIP candidate Peter Levis and Lib Dem Rhys Buchan.

Parliamentary constituency: Burton
Staffordshire county council division: Horninglow and Stretton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Burton upon Trent
Postcode district: DE13

Rhys Buchan (LD)
Vicki Gould (C)
Graham Lamb (Ind - Save Our Stretton)
Peter Levis (UKIP)
Elaine Pritchard (Lab)

September 2017 by-election C 762 Ind Save Our Streeton 455 Lab 311 UKIP 52 LD 36
May 2015 result C 2084/2078/2072 UKIP 1279/778 Lab 910/784/707 Grn 354
May 2011 result C 1489/1364/1337 Lab 1008/759/723 Popular Alliance 495
February 2008 by-election C 661 Lab 366 BNP 327 Popular Alliance 233 LD 205
May 2007 result C 1261/1221/1059 Lab 717/536/496 Popular Alliance 621
May 2003 result C 1369/1262/1009 Lab 900/883/793 LD 725/651


East Brighton

Brighton and Hove council, East Sussex; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who was elected last year as Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown. He had served since winning a by-election in August 2016.

There are some wards which just can't stop having by-elections. After three by-elections in Staffordshire we finish with three polls on the south coast, and start in the familiar surroundings of East Brighton which is holding its third by-election in six years.

East Brighton ward is based on Whitehawk, a rather isolated and recently-redeveloped council estate in a dry chalk valley, with Brighton racecourse looping around it. On the seafront can be found part of the Kemptown area around the Royal Sussex County Hospital, a traditionally bohemian area of Regency-style architecture. Much of the eastern half of the ward is open countryside, part of which is within the South Downs National Park.

Brighton and Hove was famously run by the Green Party from 2011 to 2015, but the Green administration quickly became unpopular and crashed and burned in the 2015 election, putting Labour back in minority control. The Green surge never got anywhere near taking East Brighton ward, with Whitehawk making this one of the strongest Labour wards in the city. In 2015 the Labour slate polled 46% to 22% for the Conservatives (whose vote presumably comes from the Kemptown waterfront) and 20% for the Greens in third place. One of the Labour councillors resigned in 2016 and in the resulting by-election Labour improved their lead over the Conservatives to 58-20.

I wrote in Andrew's Previews at the time (page 156 of the 2016 book, if you'd like to check) that the by-election winner Lloyd Russell-Moyle had fought Lewes in the 2015 general election and was a consultant for the United Nations on children and young people. Clearly a rising star, and the snap general election gave him a leg-up into Parliament perhaps more quickly than he might have anticipated then. However, Russell-Moyle isn't the only person notable enough for a Wikipedia page to contest East Brighton ward: in 2007 the Tory slate here included the former Dollar singer David Van Day, to little discernible effect.

Defending for Labour is a familiar face in the Brighton party. Nancy Platts is described as having worked in communications and campaigns for over 30 years; she has been on the wrong end of two close Parliamentary results, losing the Labour seat of Brighton Pavilion to the Greens in 2010 (by 1,252 votes) and failing to gain Brighton Kemptown from the Conservatives in 2015 (by 690 votes). More recently Platts has worked in Jeremy Corbyn's office as trade union liaison manager. The Conservative candidate is Edward Wilson, who has just turned 21 and is in his second year at Sussex University studying politics and international relations. In the latest instalment of millennial candidates being haunted by their internet past, Wilson has had to explain himself during the campaign for a (now-deleted) blog article examining Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speech and views on immigration. Completing the ballot paper are Ed Baker for the Green Party and George Taylor for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Brighton Kemptown
ONS Travel to Work Area: Brighton
Postcode district: BN2

Ed Baker (Grn)
Nancy Platts (Lab)
George Taylor (LD)
Edward Wilson (C)

August 2016 by-election Lab 1488 C 514 Grn 286 UKIP 152 LD 116 Ind 31
May 2015 result Lab 3229/3225/2918 C 1563/1510/1416 Grn 1357/1021/855 LD 546 TUSC 255
October 2012 by-election Lab 1596 C 531 Grn 436 UKIP 148 LD 59 TUSC 55
May 2011 result Lab 2059/1862/1616 Grn 955/815/627 C 940/826/803 LD 323/218 TUSC 142
May 2007 result Lab 1539/1401/1262 C 1000/997/931 Grn 621/467/445 LD 401/400/377 Brighton and Hove Inds 257 Soc Lab 109
May 2003 result Lab 1545/1451/1223 C 1062/1017/976 LD 770/682/553 Grn 623/553/396 Soc Lab 176


Tophill East; and
Tophill West

Weymouth and Portland council, Dorset; caused respectively by the resignations of independent councillor David Hawkins and Conservative councillor Jason Webb. Hawkins had served since 2007 and was previously councillor for Tophill West ward 2004-06. Webb had served since 2015.

We finish further west on the south coast, and they don't get much more coastal than this. We're on the Isle of Portland, a limestone island at the centre of the Jurassic Coast, which overlooks Portland Harbour and the resort of Weymouth. Although the long barrier of Chesil Beach technically connects Portland to the mainland, this is effectively an island with only one road in and out - over a bridge into Weymouth.

Portland's economy has traditionally been based on quarrying and defence. One of the world's largest man-made harbours, Portland Harbour was an important naval base until the end of the Cold War, and gained prominence in 2012 when it hosted the sailing events for the London Olympics. With the Navy moving out quarrying is now the main game in town, and the white-grey Portland stone remains much in demand. Many of the UK's major public buildings - the Banqueting House on Whitehall, St Paul's Cathedral, the Cenotaph, Buckingham Palace, Manchester Central Library, the Cunard Building in Liverpool, to name but a few - are built or faced in Portland stone, as is the UN Headquarters in New York City and every Commonwealth war grave.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission gets its stone from Broadcroft Quarry in Tophill East ward, one of the many quarries which pockmark the uphill part of Portland. Tophill East is based on the villages of Easton, the island's second-largest centre of population, and The Grove around HMP Portland. The villages of Weston and Southwell ("south-well" not "suthl"), together with the promontory of Portland Bill, make up Tophill West ward. Easton is noted for an 1803 massacre, in which press-gangers shot and killed three citizens; while in 1734 Southwell was the location of Britain's second-largest landslip, with a mile and a half of the east coast falling into the sea. The Avalanche Memorial Church in Southwell is a reference not to the landslip, but to an 1877 naval disaster in which the liner SS Avalanche was involved in a collision off Portland during a storm.

The Isle of Portland comes administratively under the borough of Weymouth and Portland, which is not one of the best advertisements for England's first-past-the-post electoral system. The borough is politically fragmented with large pockets of support for all the major parties; winning shares of the vote are often extremely low and election results can be chaotic. Not that this affects political control, as the council is run with an all-party executive. The Conservatives are the largest party, with 13 out of 36 seats plus the Tophill West vacancy, and provide the council leader.

Amid this electoral chaos Tophill East ward has been the most politically constant of Weymouth and Portland's wards, having returned independent councillors at every election since 2004. Councillor Margaret Leicester is still in situ from then despite some very narrow re-elections: she won in 2006 with 27% of the vote and a 37-vote majority over the Tories; n 2010 she had 37% of the vote and a 5-vote majority over the Tories; in 2014 she had 28% of the vote and a 28-vote majority over UKIP. Hawkins' last re-election in 2015 saw him win with 34% of the vote, to 30% for the Conservatives and 23% for Labour.

Tophill West returned a Conservative and two independent councillors - including David Hawkins - in 2004 but has since gone party political. Hawkins was defeated in 2006 by independent councillor Steven Flew, who won with just 28% of the vote. The Conservatives gained the independent seats in 2008 and 2010, but lost two seats in the ward to Labour in 2012 and 2014 and held their remaining seat in 2015 with just under 25% of the vote (Labour had 23%, UKIP 21% and two independent candidates polled 13% and 10%). Labour held one of their seats in 2016, beating the Conservatives 60-40 in a straight fight, and have a good chance to knock out the remaining Tory seat in the ward.

Both of these wards combine to form the Portland Tophill division of Dorset county council, which narrowly voted Conservative in May last year: the Tories beat Labour 48-45. This was a gain from Labour: true to the district's fragmented political form, in the 2013 Dorset county election Labour had won Portland Tophill with just 22% of the vote (to 20% for UKIP, 17% each for two independent candidates and 10% for the Conservatives, with four other candidates polling below 10%).

Thankfully we won't see winning scores below 33% here because both these by-elections have fields of three. Tophill East has no defending independent candidate resulting in Britain Elects' favourite type of election, a free-for-all! Possibly best-placed here is the Conservative candidate Katharine Garcia, who gained Portland Tophill in last year's county elections and now has the chance to double up at county and borough level. The Labour candidate is Becky Blake, a graphic designer and illustrator. Completing the East ballot paper is Green candidate Sara Harpley.

In Tophill West the defending Conservative candidate is Kerry Baker, who fought Portland Harbour in last year's county elections and Wyke Regis ward in the 2016 borough election. Challenging for Labour is Giovanna Lewis, a former NHS worker. Carole Timmons of the Green Party completes the West ballot paper.

Tophill East

Parliamentary constituency: South Dorset
Dorset county council division: Portland Tophill
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dorchester and Weymouth
Postcode district: DT5

Becky Blake (Lab)
Katherine Garcia (C)
Sara Harpley (Grn)

May 2015 result Ind 574 C 506 Lab 383 Grn 210
May 2014 result Ind 253 UKIP 225 Lab 209 C 169 Grn 54
May 2011 result Ind 517 C 374 Lab 225
May 2010 result Ind 657 C 652 Lab 488
May 2007 result Ind 369 Ind 252 UKIP 126 Lab 113
May 2006 result Ind 235 C 198 Ind 150 LD 149 Lab 126
June 2004 result Ind 492/363/335 Lab 181/97 C 175

Tophill West

Parliamentary constituency: South Dorset
Dorset county council division: Portland Tophill
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dorchester and Weymouth
Postcode district: DT5

Kerry Baker (C)
Giovanna Lewis (Lab)
Carole Timmons (Grn)

May 2016 result Lab 641 C 429
May 2015 result C 606 Lab 561 UKIP 520 Ind 327 Ind 252 Grn 166
May 2014 result Lab 426 C 346 LD 268 Grn 245
May 2012 result Lab 394 Ind C 298 UKIP 72
May 2011 result C 810 Lab 749
May 2010 result C 768 Lab 600 Ind 471 LD 453 Ind 239
May 2008 result C 518 Ind 332 Lab 214
May 2007 result C 726 Lab 355
May 2006 result Ind 347 C 254 Ind 236 Lab 196 Ind 191
June 2004 result Ind 946/412/249 C 527/302 Lab 338/270/255


Previews: 02 Feb 2018

Two by-elections on 1st February 2018:


Falmouth Smithick

Cornwall council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Candy Atherton at the age of 62. Originally a journalist who also worked with the probation service, Atherton was first elected in 1986 to Islington council in London, and served as Mayor of Islington in 1989-90. She stood for Parliament in 1992 in the safe Conservative seat of Chesham and Amersham, and also sought election to Wiltshire county council in 1993. In the 1997 general election Atherton defeated Sebastian Coe to become MP for Falmouth and Camborne, in the process becoming the first Labour parliamentary candidate to be selected from an all-women shortlist.

In Parliament Atherton campaigned for EU Objective One status for Cornwall, in favour of the minimum wage, for the opening of a university in Cornwall, and for the victims of the Ministry of Defence nerve gas station at Nancekuke in her constituency. She lost her parliamentary seat to the Liberal Democrats in 2005, but in 2013 resumed her local government career by being elected to Cornwall council. She leaves behind her husband, Broderick Ross.

Shortly before her parliamentary defeat, Atherton partially got her wish for the creation of a new university in Cornwall: the Falmouth College of Arts received degree-awarding powers in March 2005, and in 2012 was granted university status (as Falmouth University). In its short life the University has gained a good reputation for its arts degrees. The university's Falmouth campus lies just outside the boundary of this ward, which is the central of the five wards covering Falmouth town.

Falmouth has always been a maritime centre. It started off life in 1540 with the building of Pendennis Castle to defend the Carrick Roads - the estuary of the River Fal, which has strong tidal currents. The town itself was founded in the early seventeenth century by Sir John Killigrew and quickly became one of the UK's most important ports. As England's most south-westerly harbour, Falmouth was excellently placed for communications with the Empire: the Falmouth Packet Service, carrying mail to and from the colonies, was instituted in 1689, and the harbour was where the news of the victory at Trafalgar, the voyage of the Beagle, and the round-the-world yachters Robin Knox-Johnston and Ellen MacArthur all reached Britain.

Falmouth is still Cornwall's busiest port, with cargo and cruise ships keeping the waterfront busy, but tourism is now the main game in town. A large proportion of Smithick ward's residents are in the hotel and hospitality industry, and the ward makes several top 100 lists from the last census: for full-time students, those educated to A-level and those of no religion.

Smithick ward has existed since 2009 when the modern Cornwall council was created, although it had a different name in 2009 - Falmouth Arwenack. (The present Falmouth Arwenack ward was called Falmouth Gyllyngvase in 2009.) In that 2009 election Arwenack elected independent councillor Steve Eva with just 24% of the vote in a very fragmented race: Labour, who finished fifth out of five candidates, were just 10.4 percentage points behind Eva. In the 2013 election Eva sought re-election in Falmouth Boslowick ward, clearing the way for Candy Atherton to take Labour from fifth to first, although still on a low vote share (33%). Atherton was re-elected more comfortably last year: she had 40%, to 24% for the Conservatives and 19% for the Lib Dems.

Defending for Labour is Jayne Kirkham, who fought Truro and Falmouth in last year's general election: a Unison figure, she is a teaching assistant and former solicitor. The Conservatives may be regretting their selection of 21-year-old Richard Cunningham, who apologised during the campaign for bad-taste Nazi-themed Facebook posts he made a few years ago - this sort of thing is starting to become something of an occupational hazard for millennial candidates in particular. Cunningham works at the docks for a flooring company and does shifts in local bars, and before his campaign got derailed had had an innovative idea to reduce the pressure on Falmouth's housing: travel subsidies to allow some of Falmouth University's students to commute from Truro. Possibly seeking more conventional solutions to the housing problem is the Lib Dem candidate John Spargo, a businessman and Falmouth town councillor who is vice-chairman of the town's planning committee. Spargo fought this ward in the 2017 Cornwall council election as did Green candidate Tom Scott, who completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Truro and Falmouth
ONS Travel to Work Area: Falmouth
Postcode district: TR11

Richard Cunningham (C)
Jayne Kirkham (Lab)
Tom Scott (Grn)
John Spargo (LD)

May 2017 result Lab 480 C 291 LD 225 Grn 195
May 2013 result Lab 316 Ind 156 LD 154 C 130 Ind 115 Ind 74
June 2009 result (Falmouth Arwenack) Ind 272 LD 259 C 241 Mebyon Kernow 192 Lab 156


Pallion

Sunderland council, Tyne and Wear; caused by the death of Labour councillor Paul Watson at the age of 63. Watson was first elected in 1997 and since 2008 had been leader of Sunderland council. Away from politics Watson had another claim to fame: he was the uncle of the DJ and BBC music presenter Lauren Laverne.

Two by-elections, both caused by the untimely deaths of senior Labour figures, but at opposite ends of England. From Falmouth harbour we move to the south bank of the River Wear in Sunderland.

The name of Pallion brings to mind one of England's greatest inventors: Sir Joseph Swan, who was born in 1828 at Pallion Hall in what's now Sunderland. Swan made his fame and fortune by developing and patenting the first incandescent light bulb, and it was through his influence that many of the first electric light installations (Swan's own home in Gateshead, the Lit and Phil library in Newcastle, Cragside in Northumberland) were in the north-east. Pallion Hall is long-gone, demolished in 1901 to make way for the expansion of Sunderland. The Victorian terraces that replaced it, intended for the town's shipbuilders and shipyard workers, mostly still survive.

Also long gone is Ford Hall, the birthplace of Henry Havelock. A military figure who served with distinction in British India through the early nineteenth century, Havelock died during the 1857 Siege of Lucknow and is commemorated with a statue in Trafalgar Square in London. There is also a statue of Havelock in Sunderland's Mowbray Park, while one of the roads running through Pallion ward is named after him. His old Ford Hall estate was developed for housing by Sunderland Corporation in the 1930s, and most of that housing is now being demolished and redeveloped in its turn.

Sunderland's shipyards are similarly long gone, but the riverfront remains an industrial area. Under construction over the Wear is the Northern Spire Bridge, a cable-stayed design whose towers - 105 metres tall - are described as the tallest structures in north-east England. Once complete, the bridge's approach roads will plug into the existing network at the Pallion Retail Park and the Pallion Industrial Estate. The retail park contains the sort of out-of-town chain stores you might expect, together with the Sunderland Wall which is claimed to be the UK's highest indoor climbing wall, while the industrial estate is anchored by Rolls-Royce who have a factory here making helicopter parts (at least until 2019 when construction moves to Washington). Between the two is Pallion Metro station, opened in 2002 on the South Hylton branch of the Tyne and Wear Metro and providing fast and frequent links to Sunderland city centre.

It needs to be pointed out that this is a very deprived area with high unemployment rates. Most of the jobs in the ward are low-paid roles in the industrial estate or at the Sunderland Royal Hospital, which lies just outside the boundary; the 2011 census noted a significant Filipino population in one corner of the ward, a demographic feature which is often seen in the vicinity of hospitals. Most of those Filipinos won't have the right to vote, of course. The electorate here is strongly Labour-voting, with UKIP having taken over second place from the Conservatives in 2014; at the most recent election in 2016 Labour led the Kippers 51-29.

Both Labour and UKIP have selected firefighters to fight this by-election. Defending for Labour is Gordon Chalk, a Fire Brigades Union rep, while challenging for UKIP is Steven Bewick who combines his fire service duties with running an electrical business. Also standing are Grant Shearer for the Conservatives, Martin Haswell for the Lib Dems and Craig Hardy for the Greens.

Parliamentary constituency: Sunderland Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Sunderland
Postcode district: SR4

Steven Bewick (UKIP)
Gordon Chalk (Lab)
Craig Hardy (Grn)
Martin Haswell (LD)
Grant Shearer (C)

May 2016 result Lab 1046 UKIP 596 C 261 LD 91 Grn 71
May 2015 result Lab 1804 UKIP 1012 C 554 Grn 153 LD 134
May 2014 result Lab 1047 UKIP 659 C 314 Grn 105 LD 67
May 2012 result Lab 1541 C 365 Grn 304 LD 101
May 2011 result Lab 1688 C 506 Grn 451
May 2010 result Lab 1866 C 739 LD 709 BNP 318
May 2008 result Lab 1055 C 645 BNP 377 LD 305
May 2007 result Lab 1061 C 445 Ind 314 BNP 279 LD 277
May 2006 result Lab 1013 LD 453 BNP 441 C 424
June 2004 result Lab 1350/1333/1148 C 802/754 BNP 647


Preview: 25 Jan 2018

Before we start this week's edition of Andrew's Previews, I would like to apologise for a mistake in last week's edition. I wrote that during the campaign for the Hulton by-election in Bolton the Labour candidate, Rabiya Jiva, had had her home raided by anti-terror police who were investigating her father. This was a mistake, and I would like to make clear that the raid described actually happened in January 2015 and not during the by-election campaign. My apologies to Rabiya Jiva.

There is only one by-election this week:


Central Wight

Isle of Wight council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Bob Seely, who is now the MP for the Isle of Wight. He had served since 2013.

We've had some awful weather this last month, haven't we? It's snowing outside as I write this in Bolton, after several weeks in which snow was regularly promised but all that turned up was rain. Not healthy weather, and your columnist has been suffering with a heavy cold as a result.

The Isle of Wight has a reputation for better weather than the rest of the country, so let's go there. The name of Central Wight division is rather misleading, in that it consists of four parishes to the south and south-west of Newport along the south-west coast of the island. Back of the Wight may have been a better name, as that's applied to much of the area by the locals. This is a sparsely-populated and rural area: the largest of the four parishes in the ward is Brighstone, with slightly over 1,000 electors.

One of three Rectors of Brighstone (or Brixton, as it was known until fairly recently) to become bishops was "Soapy" Samuel Wilberforce, son of the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce and now best-known for his opposition to Darwin's theory of evolution. Ironically, some time after Wilberforce had left the parish the Reverend William Fox became curate at St Mary's Brixton: an amateur palaeontologist, Fox discovered several new dinosaur species in the cliffs that line Brighstone Bay.

Further inland lie the parishes of Shorwell, Chillerton and Gatcombe, and Rookley. Chillerton is probably the most notable of these villages, thanks to the unfinished Iron Age fort and radio mast that overlook the village from Chillerton Down.

Central Wight division was fairly close between the Conservatives and Lib Dems at its first election in 2009, but since then has been safe Conservative. Bob Seely took over as councillor in 2013 and was clearly destined for greater things. An Old Harrovian, he had worked for the Times in the USSR and its successor states from 1990 to 1994, before entering the Army. Seely did tours of Afghanistan and Iraq and was appointed MBE for his military service in 2016, at which point he was in the Intelligence Corps with the rank of Sergeant.

Seely had also been the Conservative candidate for the target seat of Broxtowe in 2005, and was the great-great-nephew of a former MP for the island - Major-General Jack Seely, 1st Lord Mottistone, who was a Conservative and later Liberal MP for the Isle of Wight from 1900 to 1906 and again from 1923 to 1924. In between those periods Jack Seely had served for other constituencies, was in the Cabinet as War Secretary from 1912 to 1914 (being forced to resign following the Curragh Incident), and during the First World War was the winning commander at the March 1918 Battle of Moreuil Wood, one of the last great cavalry charges.

Jack's great-great-nephew Bob got his chance at high office following the last-minute retirement of the island's previous MP, Andrew Turner, in advance of the 2017 election. Turner, who had gained the island from the Liberal Democrats in 2001, suffered a stroke in 2006 and was never quite the same after that. He became deeply unpopular on the island and with his local constituency party, who for some years had been itching for an excuse to get rid of him. They finally got that on 28 April 2017, when Taylor spoke to a group of schoolchildren and made some deeply homophobic remarks. With a general election imminent, under attack from Labour and recognising that he was going to get no support from his party, Taylor quickly announced his retirement. The new candidate, Bob Seely, polled more than 9,000 more votes than Turner had two years previously and increased the Conservative majority by nearly 8,000.

Seely's performance in the Isle of Wight council elections a month earlier had been similarly impressive, increasing the Tory lead in Central Wight to 75-19 over the Greens. Across the island, the Conservatives gained control from an independent group which had run the council since 2013.

Defending for the Conservatives is an interesting choice of candidate. Steve Hastings, who fought Newport Central in last year's council elections, was elected to Portsmouth city council as a UKIP candidate in 2014 representing Baffins ward. He joined the Conservatives in 2015, and despite moving to Brighstone in 2016 was still a Portsmouth city councillor until resigning once his nomination went in for this by-election. (His successor on Portsmouth council will be elected at May's ordinary election.) The Green candidate is Daniel James, a software developer and Freshwater parish councillor. Completing the ballot paper are Simon Haytack for Labour, Terry Brennan for UKIP (who, if local press reports are to be believed, has stopped campaigning in protest at Henry Bolton's leadership), and Nick Stuart for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Isle of Wight
ONS Travel to Work Area: Isle of Wight
Postcode districts: PO30, PO38

Terry Brennan (UKIP)
Steve Hastings (C)
Simon Haytack (Lab)
Daniel James (Grn)
Nick Stuart (LD)

May 2017 result C 1026 Grn 258 Lab 81
May 2013 result C 700 UKIP 342 Grn 297
June 2009 result C 894 LD 732


Previews: 18 Jan, 2018

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

Four by-elections on Thursday 18th January 2018:


Hulton

Bolton council, Greater Manchester; caused by the death of Labour councillor Darren Whitehead at the age of 49. A former assistant solicitor, he was in his first term on the council and had served since 2016.

After over a year away fromh home, it's time yet again to welcome readers of Andrew's Previews to the Greatest Town in the Known Universe, your columnist's very own Bolton. Welcome! For our North West by-election this week we're going to examine some of the more successful examples of regeneration of an old post-industrial landscape.

Located to the south-west of Bolton along the road to Atherton, Hulton ward is one of those areas which became bound up with one family. The Hulton family of Hulton Park effectively owned Hulton ward for centuries, latterly bankrolled by the large coal reserves which lie under the ward. However, the Hultons were not the most astute political operators: Henry Hulton was the chief tax collector in Boston at the point when the American Revolution broke out, while William Hulton, High Sheriff of Lancashire in 1811, was the magistrate who made out the arrest warrant that directly led to the Peterloo Massacre. Feelings over that were still running high in the 1841 general election, during which William Hulton and his family were attacked in Bolton.

The colliery company which bore Hulton's name has gone down in history for Lancashire's worst mining disaster. Every clock in the ward stopped at 7:50am on 21st December 1910, due to a huge underground explosion in the Pretoria Pit under Over Hulton which killed 344 men and boys. The Pretoria Pit disaster had an even more profound effect on nearby Westhoughton than the First World War, which broke out four years later. To this day Westhoughton town centre is littered with memorials to the explosion.

Over Hulton has moved on a bit in the 107 years since then. A trip along the Newbrook Road from Four Lane Ends down the hill towards Atherton will bring you past a large number of large and expensive houses. This is the white, wealthy and Conservative-voting end of a very polarised electoral ward. The opening of the M61 motorway through the ward gave Over Hulton excellent transport links to Manchester and Preston, and it has a commuter demographic. What a difference with Little Hulton, just a couple of miles to the east.

In between Over and Lickle Hulton lies Cutacre, for many years an opencast coal mine but now being transformed in a very successful regeneration effort. Over half of the site is being turned into a country park, while opposite junction 4 of the motorway is a very recently-built business park, a rash of huge warehouses overlooking the Lancashire plain which has attracted some of the biggest players in the distribution business. Aldi and Whistl are already in situ, while Amazon are moving into the biggest building with a promise of 1,200 jobs. Your columnist was given final notice of redundancy last week: perhaps one of those jobs has my name on it?

However, not all the new development proposals for the ward have garnered public approval. Hulton Park itself fell in 2010 into the hands of the Trafford Centre developers Peel Holdings, who have submitted a planning application to turn it into housing estates and a championship-standard golf course capable of hosting tournaments up to and including the Ryder Cup. This has attracted opposition from local residents (remember, this is the better-off part of the ward) and from Westhoughton town council. Bolton council still have to decide whether to give the green light or not.

Over Hulton itself is only half of the ward. To the north of Four Lane Ends and the M61 motorway lies the Labour-voting half of the ward, Daubhill. Dobble was incorporated into Bolton in 1898 and a lot of it is still made up of the redbrick Victorian terraces which outsiders think still exist all over the town. Come to Bolton and see what it's really like, we welcome tourists. As a quick look at St Helens Road might suggest, many of those terraces are now occupied by families of subcontinental heritage, particularly from Gujarat, leading to the ward having significant Muslim and Hindu populations.

As stated, Hulton is a polarised ward. The ward was created in 2004 from parts of the old Daubhill and Hulton Park wards, which were previously Labour and Conservative respectively as you might expect. From 2004 to 2012 Over Hulton outvoted Dobble creating a Conservative ward, but then Hulton's results started to turn weird in 2014 when UKIP got organised in Bolton. (Perhaps it shouldn't have come a surprise that somewhere as insular as Bolton could have been such fertile ground for UKIP.) UKIP actually came through the middle between the Tories and Labour to gain Hulton in 2014, polling just 34% of the vote, and took enough votes off the Conservatives in both 2015 and 2016 to enable Labour to gain the other two seats. Shares of the vote at the most recent local election in 2016 were 37% for Labour, 33% for the Conservatives and 24% for UKIP.

It remains to be seen whether the travails of UKIP on the national stage have affected their campaigning machine in the Greatest Town in the Known Universe. However, the omens since 2016 don't look good for the Bolton Kippers: they crashed in Bolton South East in the 2017 general election, falling to third place and only narrowly saving their deposit; Hulton's UKIP councillor defected to the Conservatives last year; and your columnist is hearing much less than usual from his three UKIP councillors.

This by-election also looks difficult for Labour, whose administration in Bolton has a knack for attracting bad publicity. There will be more on that subject in a future edition of Andrew's Previews; this piece is already quite long enough. If the Tories can unwind the UKIP vote and capitalise on opposition to the Hulton Park development, then this could be a good opportunity for the first Conservative gain of 2018.

The defending Labour candidate is local resident Rabiya Jiva, who works for Lancashire Constabulary and chairs a multi-agency group supporting domestic violence victims in that county. Jiva's campaign was recently derailed when her home was raided by the Metropolitan Police's counter-terror unit, who are investigating her father Latif Jiva on suspicion of money-laundering and links to one of Pakistan's more dubious political parties. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of Rabiya. The Conservatives have selected Toby Hewitt, who gives an address in Tyldesley; according to his Twitter he is the Road Network Manager for North West Motorways, which presumably makes him responsible for the roadworks-strewn car park known as the M60. The UKIP candidate is local resident Bev Fletcher. Completing the ballot paper are regular Green candidate James Tomkinson and Derek Gradwell of the Lib Dems.

Picture of Cutacre by Derek Antrobus. Picture of Dove Mill, Daubhill by Bill Boaden and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.

Parliamentary constituency: Bolton South East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: BL3, BL4, BL5, M46

Bev Fletcher (UKIP)
Derek Gradwell (LD)
Toby Hewitt (C)
Rabiya Jiva (Lab)
James Tomkinson (Grn)

May 2016 result Lab 1374 C 1214 UKIP 909 Grn 122 LD 92
May 2015 result Lab 2126 C 1961 UKIP 1818 LD 202 Grn 201
May 2014 result UKIP 1291 C 1150 Lab 1140 Grn 162 LD 69
May 2012 result C 1326 Lab 1265 Grn 322 LD 61
May 2011 result C 1671 Lab 1369 Grn 344 LD 215
May 2010 result C 2873 Lab 1928 LD 888 Grn 364
May 2008 result C 1822 Lab 1118 LD 421
May 2007 result C 1692 Lab 1088 LD 441
May 2006 result C 1741 Lab 1051 LD 463
June 2004 result C 1827/1752/1711 Lab 1423/12380/1281 LD 937/862/771


Newport Pagnell North and Hanslope

Milton Keynes council, Buckinghamshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Jeannette Green at the age of 72. She had served since 2014.

We move south along the motorway network to Newport Pagnell, a place where many stop but few stay. Once one of Buckinghamshire's largest towns, Newport Pagnell was significant enough to have a motorway service area named after it: opened with the M1 motorway in November 1959, Newport Pagnell was the first motorway service area in the UK open to all traffic. (Watford Gap opened earlier but was originally a truckstop.) Since the M1 was built, the development of the New City of Milton Keynes has turned Newport Pagnell from an independent town into a suburb.

Newport Pagnell has traditionally had its own industries both new and old, but that is changing. Aston Martin recently relocated its main factory from here to Warwickshire; while William Cowley, the UK's only manufacturer of vellum, faces an uncertain future after the House of Lords last year ended their contract to produce archive copies of Acts of Parliament on vellum. William Cowley's location in a marginal parliamentary seat (Milton Keynes North) had led the Commons to block several previous attempts to drop the vellum tradition.

Tradition is not a word normally associated with Milton Keynes, and Newport Pagnell North and Hanslope ward dates only from 2014. Before then Newport Pagnell North had been consistently Liberal Democrat, but boundary changes that year merged it with the small but monolithically Conservative ward of Hanslope Park, covering several villages to the north of the New City.

The manor house of Hanslope Park itself was requisitioned by the War Office during the Second World War and is still in Government hands. It is home to HM Government Communication Centre, a group which develops and maintains electronics and software for the Foreign Office and the intelligence services - a tradition which goes back all the way to the war when Alan Turing worked at Hanslope Park on (in today's jargon) encryption of spoken messages. Press reports in 2011 revealed that also at Hanslope Park were old Colonial Office archives, which contained embarassing revelations about the UK's conduct in Kenya's Mau Mau uprising.

Despite the fact that two-thirds of Newport Pagnell North and Hanslope was in a Liberal Democrat ward until 2014, the Lib Dems are nowhere here now and the modern ward is safe Conservative. In the 2016 election the Conservatives had 48% here to 21% for Labour and 19% for the Lib Dems. That 2016 election left the Conservatives and Labour tied on 22 seats each on Milton Keynes council, with the Lib Dem group of 13 holding the balance of power; Labour are running the council as a minority administration and will become the largest party in the unlikely event that they gain this by-election.

Defending for the Conservatives is Jeanette Green's widower Bill, a property developer and Hanslope parish councillor. The Labour candidate is Nick Phillips, who appears to be on the Momentum wing of the party. Completing a three-strong ballot paper is Liberal Democrat candidate Jane Carr, who has previously stood for Parliament twice (Grantham and Stamford in 2001, Milton Keynes North East in 2005) and was a South Kesteven councillor in Lincolnshire from 1995 to 1999; she fought this ward in 2014 and 2015.

Parliamentary constituency: Milton Keynes North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Milton Keynes
Postcode districts: MK14, MK16, MK19, NN7

Jane Carr (LD)
Bill Green (C)
Nick Phillips (Lab)

May 2016 result C 1605 Lab 698 LD 623 UKIP 432
May 2015 result C 3476 Lab 1064 LD 1028 UKIP 988 Grn 411
May 2014 result C 1735/1550/1347 UKIP 1096 LD 706/650/641 Lab 601/521/439 Grn 456


Downhall and Rawreth

Rochford council, Essex; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Black at the age of 59. Rochford's longest-serving councillor, Black had served continuously since 1984 when he was elected to the old Downhall ward. Away from the council he worked in the shipping industry.

For our Liberal Democrat defence of the week we travel east to southern Essex. We're in the Rochford district, which covers a series of small towns to the north and north-west of Southend. Despite the name, the largest town in the district is not Rochford but Rayleigh.

Downhall and Rawreth is the northern of Rayleigh's five wards, and like much of South Essex has seen lots of residential development in recent years. In the 2011 census Downhall and Rawreth made the top 70 wards in England and Wales for the census "intermediate" employment category, and it appears from other census tables that, despite relatively low qualification levels, most of those jobs are in financial services. Presumably those people commute into London along the railway line from Rayleigh, which ends at Liverpool Street for the City. As the ward name suggests, included is the parish of Rawreth which fills in the space between Rayleigh and Wickford. Also within the ward boundary is Rayleigh's Sweyne Park (the ward bearing that name takes its name from Sweyne Park school).

There were minor boundary changes to the ward in 2016, but not enough to change the political complexion of Downhall and Rawreth which is solidly Liberal Democrat at district council level. In 2016 the Lib Dem slate beat the Conservatives here 60-17. However, this is the Lib Dems' only reliable ward in Rochford district, and at county level the larger seat of Rayleigh North is held by the Conservatives.

This by-election is a straight fight. Craig Cannell, of Rayleigh, defends for the Lib Dems; Tony Hollis, who stood here last year, challenges for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Rayleigh and Wickford
Essex county council division: Rayleigh North (former Downhall and Rawreth ward), Rayleigh South (part formerly in Sweyne Park ward)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southend
Postcode districts: SS6, SS11

Craig Cannell (LD)
Tony Hollis (C)

May 2016 result LD 1111/945/865 C 305/303/266 Rochford District Residents 279 Lab 145


Throop and Muscliff

Bournemouth council, Dorset; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Anne Rey who is retiring to Spain for health reasons. She was first elected in 1991.

After a Labour defence, a Conservative defence and a Liberal Democrat defence, we have come to Dorset and to our final by-election of the week. Throop and Muscliff ward lies on the northern edge of the town of Bournemouth, located between the A3060 Castle Lane West and the River Stour. This is a residential area with few distinguishing features, mostly having been developed in the 1970s; it makes the top 75 wards in England and Wales for part-time employment, but rates of deprivation in the ward are relatively low for a seaside resort town. Throop's Wikipedia entry makes for entertaining reading, but that's because at the time of writing it appears to have been extensively vandalised: the second sentence says that Throop is "renowned for its expansive fishing industry" and the rest of it is an interesting mix of truth, half-truth, fiction, fantasy and fake news. Let that be a warning to anybody who relies solely on Wikipedia for their information.

Throop and Muscliff has generally voted for an independent slate associated with Rey, who was the only opposition councillor to hold her seat in the 2015 Bournemouth election as the Conservatives won 51 seats out of a possible 54. Rey and fellow independent Ron Whittaker had held two of the ward's three seats from 2003 to 2015, and were joined in 2007 by a third independent, Derek Borthwick. In 2015 Whittaker retired and Borthwick was re-elected on the Conservative slate, which also gained Whittaker's former seat. Shares of the vote in 2015 were 35% for Rey, 29% for the Conservatives, 15% for UKIP and 11% for Labour.

So we have for the first time this year Britain Elects' favourite type of by-election; a free-for-all! Possibly best-placed to win is the Conservative candidate Hazel Allen, a consultant nurse and romantic novelist from Boscombe. UKIP have not returned but their candidate has: Peter Lucas, a legal consultant and Ferndown town councillor, is standing as an independent for his fourth go at the ward after being on the UKIP slate in 2015 and 2011 and standing under his own label "Your Neighbour, Our Neighbourhood" in 2007. Also standing as an independent is Kieron Wilson, who fought Bournemouth East as an independent in the 2017 general election while in the final year of a politics degree at Salford University; he is in his early 20s. Labour have selected Rob Bassinder, a teacher. Completing the ballot paper are Green candidate Jane Bull, who is hoping to join her husband Simon on the council, and Lib Dem Muriel Turner.

Parliamentary constituency: Bournemouth East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bournemouth
Postcode districts: BH8, BH9, BH10

Hazel Allen (C)
Rob Bassinder (Lab)
Jane Bull (Grn)
Peter Lucas (Ind)
Muriel Turner (LD)
Kieron Wilson (Ind)

May 2015 result Ind 1779/927/802/795 C 1468/1376/1200 UKIP 776/702 Lab 529 Grn 468
May 2011 result Ind 1734/1490/1037 C 674/601/572 Lab 257 UKIP 156/130/120
May 2007 result Ind 1997/1829/1069 C 843 Lab 295 LD 181 Your Neighbour Our Neighbourhood 154
May 2003 result Ind 1771/1503 C 889/679 LD 746 Lab 334


Previews: 11 Jan 2018

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

Four by-elections on 11th January 2018, which fall neatly into two pairs:


Birchington and Rural

Kent county council; and

Thanet Villages

Thanet council, Kent; both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Ken Gregory. After a career as a policeman and fireman, Gregory entered politics in the early 1990s and was elected to Thanet council in 1995, originally as a Labour figure before defecting to the Conservatives in the 2003-07 term. He represented an unusually large number of wards (Dane Park ward 1995-2003, Central Harbour 2003-07, St Peters 2007-11, Garlinge 2011-15, Thanet Villages 2015-17) and had caused controversy in 2012 after leaving a homophobic answerphone message for a fellow councillor, for which he was cautioned by police and suspended from the Conservative group for six months. In May 2017 Gregory was elected to Kent county council, where he was in his first term.

Welcome to the Isle of Thanet, an area which has seen much political focus over the last few years thanks to the rise of UKIP. Our two Thanet by-elections today are concentrated in the west of the Isle and in Thanet's only rural ward.

Birchington and Rural is a two-seat division of Kent county council which essentially covers the area west of Margate and Ramsgate. The main centres of population are Birchington and Westgate-on-Sea, small resorts on the north coast: Birchington in particular is a retirement centre, with Birchington North ward being in the top 40 in England and Wales for over-64s and retirement. Two wards in western Margate (Garlinge and Westbrook) are also included in the division, while the odd one out is Thanet Villages ward which covers six parishes in the undeveloped part of Thanet.

Undeveloped now, but maybe not for long. For some years now the major hot political potato in Thanet has been the fate of Manston Airport, which is located within Thanet Villages ward. Opened in the winter of 1915-16 by the Royal Flying Corps, Manston has the UK's eleventh-longest and widest runway - wide enough for three planes to land simultaneously - and its location close to the Continent placed it on the front line during the Battle of Britain. Manston was heavily bombed, and often became the final destination for damaged RAF planes limping home to the UK. After use by the US Air Force in the early part of the Cold War, Manston from 1960 became a joint civilian and RAF airport with the occasional charter and scheduled flight. It was renamed Kent International Airport in 1989, but efforts to attract budget airlines were derailed by the collapse of EUjet - which had bought Manston - in 2005 and the financial crash of 2008. Manston saw its final scheduled flight on 9 April 2014 - a KLM departure to Amsterdam - and officially closed on 15 May 2014 with the loss of 144 jobs. Possibly the widest prominence for the airport came in 2001, when it featured as a North Korean airbase in the James Bond film Die Another Day.

So, what to do with the airport site? This is up to Thanet council as the planning authority. Thanet's UKIP administration elected in 2015 had a manifesto pledge to reopen the airport to traffic, but nobody has yet come forward with the business plan required for this to work. The landowners have a plan to turn the airport site into 2,500 homes, business units and parkland, a plan which has not found political approval. In the meantime some of the site is taken up by two museums - one on the history of the RAF base, the other dedicated to Spitfires and Hurricanes - and the landowners are receiving payments from the Government to keep the site on standby as an emergency lorry park for use in Operation Stack. With the government's proposals to leave the EU Customs Union having the potential to lead to major intractable problems at the Port of Dover, one suspects that this could end up being the eventual fate of Manston Airport.

We shall see. For now we must turn to the politics of Birchington and Rural, and Thanet Villages. Birchington and Rural was created in May this year by merging the two former county divisions of Birchington and Villages, and Margate West. Both of those divisions were Conservative in 2005 and 2009 but voted UKIP in 2013. May's results suggest that the UKIP bubble in Thanet has burst and the Conservatives are back in control: the Tories won the new division with 50% of the vote, to 16% each for Labour and UKIP.

Thanet Villages ward is politically more complicated because of a strong independent vote for Minster parish councillor Bob Grove. Minster-in-Thanet accounts for just over half of the ward's 5,474 electors; it was the location where St Augustine of Canterbury landed in England in AD 597 and its name comes from the fact that this has been a monastic settlement since the seventh century. Bridge players may note that one of the smaller villages in the ward is called Acol, although the bidding system of that name has no connection to Thanet: it was developed at and named after the Acol bridge club in north-west London.

Bob Grove has recently held all the trump cards in Thanet Villages; he won a by-election in June 2009 and was re-elected at the top of the poll in 2011 and 2015. The other two seats in the ward were traditionally Conservative, but one of them was lost to UKIP in the 2015 election. That 2015 election was fragmented: Grove (who was not opposed by the Conservative slate) had 27%, the Tories 26%, UKIP 24% and the Greens 12%.

Defending for the Conservatives in Thanet Villages is Reece Pugh. A House of Commons researcher, he contested the last by-election in Thanet in Margate Central ward last August; that was a win for Labour, but Pugh is on his home turf this time round. There is an independent candidate, St Nicholas-at-Wade and Sarre parish councillor Sonya Smyth. Interestingly, given that they run Thanet council only as a minority, there is no UKIP candidate. Completing the district ballot paper are Green Party candidate Natasha Ransom, who stood here in 2015, Labour's Pauline Farrance and the Lib Dems' Angie Curwen.

Moving up to county level, the defending Conservative candidate is Liz Hurst, a Birchington parish councillor who runs a pet shop. Several candidates appear on both the district and county ballot papers including Labour's Pauline Farrance, women's officer for the party's North Thanet branch. The UKIP candidate is Zita Wiltshire, a former Thanet councillor: she served from 2003 to 2015 as a Conservative councillor for St Peters ward in Broadstairs but lost re-election in 2015 under her new purple colours. Angie Curwen for the Lib Dems and Natasha Ransom for the Greens, both of whom stood here in May's county elections, complete the county ballot paper.

Birchington and Rural

Parliamentary constituency: North Thanet
Thanet council wards: Birchington North, Birchington South, Garlinge, Thanet Villages, Westbrook, Westgate-on-Sea
ONS Travel to Work Area: Margate and Ramsgate
Postcode districts: CT7, CT8, CT9, CT12

Angie Curwen (LD)
Pauline Farrance (Lab)
Liz Hurst (C)
Nathasha Ransom (Grn)
Zita Wiltshire (UKIP)

May 2017 result C 4529/4103 Lab 1455/1115 UKIP 1418/1141 LD 1076/819 Grn 499

Thanet Villages

Parliamentary constituency: North Thanet
Kent county council division: Birchington and Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Margate and Ramsgate
Postcode districts: CT7, CT9, CT12

Angie Curwen (LD)
Pauline Farrance (Lab)
Reece Pugh (C)
Natasha Ransom (Grn)
Sonya Smyth (Ind)

May 2015 result Ind 1326/335 C 1273/1083 UKIP 1197/1033/916 Grn 601 Lab 515
May 2011 result Ind 1209/523 C 1011/837/720 Lab 516/472
June 2009 by-election Ind 937 C 596 LD 316 Lab 133
May 2007 result Ind 793 C 670/625/434 Lab 368/359
May 2003 result C 687/574/572 Ind 627/424/419 Lab 499/380/284


Wyre Rural Central

Lancashire county council; and

Preesall

Wyre council, Lancashire; both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Vivien Taylor at the age of 56. She had served on Wyre council since 1999 and on Lancashire county council since winning a by-election in November 2011 (until 2017 representing Wyreside division). Taylor was Mayor of Preesall in 2002-03, and since May had been the Lancashire cabinet member for health and wellbeing.

Sometimes the Boundary Commission has to make the best of a bad job, and the northern Fylde peninsula is an area that tends to give them trouble. Wyre Rural Central county division was created in 2017 and is clearly the bit that was left over after the rest of Wyre district had had its divisions drawn. It's a curiously-shaped and poorly-connected division.

The largest parish within the division is Preesall in the north-west corner. This was once an Urban District of its own and forms a ward of its own on Wyre council. Preesall was traditionally an agricultural centre with some salt-mining, but now functions as a retirement area: it is in the top 200 wards in England and Wales for over-64s and retired population. Included within Preesall parish is Knott End-on-Sea, once the terminus of a branch line from Garstang (which remained independent, as the Knott End Railway, all the way up to the Grouping in 1923). Knott End is directly across the Wyre estuary from Fleetwood town centre and, in season, is connected to it by a passenger ferry. That ferry is the only link between the Lancaster and Fleetwood halves of the marginal Lancaster and Fleetwood constituency.

Also within the county division is the Pilling ward (which makes the top 100 in England and Wales for White British ethnicity). To the south is the village of Great Eccleston on the River Wyre, known for its agricultural show, while the division extends a finger to the north-east as far as the Forton service area on the M6 motorway. Forton is known for its hexagonal tower; dating from the glamorous early days of motorways (the M6 between Preston and Lancaster was in the first ten motorways to be completed) the tower originally housed an upmarket restaurant with views of Morecambe Bay and Bowland. Unfortunately the restaurant closed in 1989 due to fire regulations: there is only one way in and out of the tower, and no way of providing an emergency exit. Two things have prevented the tower's demolition - it is Grade II listed, and any attempt to demolish it would also involve getting rid of the service area building below it - so the Pennine Tower remains a landmark for traffic passing by on the M6.

As detailed by this column in October, the Conservatives in Lancashire and Wyre appear to have descended into infighting. The goings-on at County Hall in Preston in particular have been astonishing. The Tories won the 2017 Lancashire county election with an overall majority of eight; but one of their councillors has been thrown out of the party for overclaiming thousands of pounds in council tax benefit, and the Leader of the Council Geoff Driver is being investigated by police on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and witness intimidation. Add to that councillor Taylor's death, the suspension of one Tory councillor (who has since been reinstated) over social media posts and two Tory councillors leaving the party after falling out with Driver, and the opposition Labour group smelt an opportunity to depose the Conservatives. In September the county council debated a no-confidence motion in Driver, which never got to a vote after one of the dissident Conservatives, Tony Jones, suffered a suspected heart attack during the debate. Jones lived to tell the tale, but he has decided not to return to the council chamber and a by-election for his seat is pending. The no-confidence debate reconvened in October and the motion was defeated by 45 votes to 34, but the police investigation goes on and Driver is due to answer bail next month. Stay tuned to Andrew's Previews for further exciting updates.

It's rather difficult for the ruling Wyre Conservatives to top that level of political drama. Nonetheless they had a go in September by deposing council and group leader Peter Gibson, ostensibly on health grounds. Gibson apparently did not take it well: he has left the Conservative party (and recently the council) in a huff, and an email attributed to him containing all sorts of allegations about his former council colleagues has been widely distributed on the Lancashire political scene.

Despite all this drama, at the ballot box Over Wyre is not the most politically exciting part of the country. Preesall ward has unchanged boundaries since Wyre's founding electoral arrangements in 1973, and has had a full slate of Conservatives since 1999 (Labour won one of the three seats in the 1991 and 1995 elections). In the 2015 election the Conservative slate beat Labour 65-35 in a straight fight.

Wyre Rural Central county division has existed only since May 2017. Before then most of the area was included within Wyreside division, a rather more coherent electoral area which included Hambleton and covered nearly all of Over Wyre. Taylor was elected for Wyreside in a by-election in November 2011, and was re-elected in May last year by beating Labour 71-18.

Defending Wyre Rural Central for the Conservatives is Matthew Salter, a 24-year-old PhD student at Lancaster University. The Labour candidate Nic Fogg has received an interesting endorsement: from Harold Elletson, the former Conservative MP for Blackpool North. Both Fogg and Elletson are critical of plans to allow gas storage and fracking under Over Wyre. Completing the ballot paper is Green candidate Susan Whyte.

The Conservative candidate for the Preesall district by-election is Peter Cartridge, who during the campaign proposed renaming the Knott End ferryboat after Vivien Taylor. He fought Warren ward in Fleetwood in the 2015 election. In a straight fight Cartridge is opposed by the aforementioned Nic Fogg, who has fought every district election in Preesall this century.

Wyre Rural Central

Parliamentary constituency: Lancaster and Fleetwood (part: Pilling and Preesall wards and part of Wyresdale ward), Wyre and Preston North (part: part of Great Eccleston ward)
Wyre council wards: Pilling, Preesall, Great Eccleston (part: Great Eccleston, Inskip-with-Sowerby and Upper Rawcliffe-with-Tarnacre parishes), Wyresdale (part: Forton parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackpool (Preesall ward); Preston (rest of division)
Postcode districts: FY6, LA2, PR3, PR4

Nic Fogg (Lab)
Matthew Salter (C)
Susan Whyte (Grn)

May 2017 result C 2714 Lab 684 Grn 429

Preesall

Parliamentary constituency: Lancaster and Fleetwood
Lancashire county council division: Wyre Rural Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackpool
Postcode districts: FY6, PR3

Peter Cartridge (C)
Nic Fogg (Lab)

May 2015 result C 2008/1944/1818 Lab 1082/880/819
May 2011 result C 1299/1226/1220 Lab 656 UKIP 530
May 2007 result C 1418/1386/1380 Lab 496/428
May 2003 result C 1012/936/935 Ind 750 Lab 498/412
May 1999 result C 1180/1096/1072 Lab 598/524 Ind 427
May 1995 result C 1034/1028/900 Lab 1030/938/928
May 1991 result C 1089/1038/982 Lab 1037/905/878
May 1987 result C 1334/1199/1121 Lab 540/532
May 1983 result 3 C unopposed
May 1979 result 3 C unopposed
May 1976 result C 1116/1091/939 Ind 438/286 Lib 335 NF 241
May 1973 result Ind 1374/729/650 C 894/537/480


Previews: 04 Jan 2018

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

Welcome to 2018 and to another year of Andrew's Previews. The frantic pace of autumn is behind us now, we are in the dodgiest weather of the year and the ordinary local elections are now less than four months away. That makes January a slow time for local by-elections, and there is just one this week, in Hertfordshire. Read on...


Borehamwood Cowley Hill

Hertsmere council, Hertfordshire; caused by the disqualification of Conservative councillor David Burcombe, who in July 2016 was found guilty by St Albans Crown Court of sexual assault and sentenced to three months in prison, suspended. A 3-month community order was also imposed on Burcombe and he was ordered to pay prosecution costs and sign the sex offenders register. Burcombe appealed against the conviction, but his appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in November 2017 finally allowing this by-election to go ahead. Away from the council Burcombe was a magazine publisher and had also published two books of erotic fiction under a pseudonym. He had served since 2015.

Not a nice way to have to start the first preview of 2018, and I hope that next week will be better. We're in Borehamwood, a sort of mini-New Town which grew strongly in the immediate post-war years thanks to London overspill. Cowley Hill is the northern of Borehamwood's five wards: it includes the Hertsmere council offices on Shenley Road together with Borehamwood's Ibis hotel, which has presumably housed over the years a fair few famous visitors to Elstree's extensive TV studios (which, despite the name, are mostly in Borehamwood). The ward's permanent population has high levels of social housing and also makes the top 70 wards in England and Wales for Judaism. Borehamwood has become an attractive area for members of London's Jewish community who have been priced out of more traditional Jewish areas over the Greater London boundary in Barnet borough.

It may well be that which explains the recent Labour performance in Borehamwood, which has been nothing short of appalling. Burcombe may not have been the most salubrious of characters, but he was the only Conservative ever to be returned for Borehamwood Cowley Hill ward since its creation in 1999 - yes, Labour did worse here in 2015 than they did in the pit of the Blair and Brown years. The vote shares rather mask that because the 2015 poll here was a straight Labour-Tory fight: Labour led in votes 56-44, but most of that lead was a personal vote for councillor Richard Butler. Butler was also Labour's parliamentary candidate in Hertsmere that year and ran a long way ahead of his running-mates: Burcombe nicked the third and final seat, defeating Labour councillor Ann Harrison by just 27 votes.

After that Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, and the party became wracked by anti-semitism scandals. In the 2017 county elections Labour reaped the result of that by losing the local county council seat (Borehamwood North) to the Conservatives. On the other hand Labour did gain a district council seat from the Conservatives in Borehamwood in a by-election last October on a big swing, and let me emphasise again that this is not a ward the Conservatives should ever have won in the first place.

Both the Conservatives and Labour have selected 23-year-old candidates for this by-election. Defending for the Conservatives is Sean Moore, a hairdresser who is presumably hoping to make the cut. The Labour candidate is Rebecca Butler, Richard Butler's wife: she was elected at the age of 19 in 2014 (under her former name of Rebecca Challice) as a councillor for East Barnet ward of Barnet council, and still holds that office although she now lives and works in Borehamwood. Also standing are David Hoy for UKIP, Paul Robinson for the Liberal Democrats and the ward's first ever Green Party candidate, Nicholas Winston.

One more thing to note. This is not the first election in the UK in which people born in the year 2000 are eligible to vote - the Scottish Parliament election in 2016 set that record - but it is the first election in England where that will be the case. There are 6,188 electors for this by-election, and it would be interesting to know whether any of them have the right date of birth (1st-4th January 2000) to become England's first voter born in the 2000s.

Parliamentary constituency: Hertsmere
Hertfordshire county council division: Borehamwood North
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: WD6

Rebecca Butler (Lab)
David Hoy (UKIP)
Sean Moore (C)
Paul Robinson (LD)
Nicholas Winston (Grn)

May 2015 result Lab 1874/1495/1426 C 1449/1375/1357
May 2014 result Lab 796 UKIP 656 C 475
May 2012 result Lab 904 C 461
May 2011 result Lab 1125 C 723
May 2010 result Lab 1373 C 1189 BNP 426 Ind 268
May 2008 result Lab 640 C 600 Socialist Labour 224 Ind 144
May 2007 result Lab 724 C 521 Socialist Labour 234
May 2006 result Lab 642 C 556 Socialist Party 187 LD 186
May 2005 by-election Lab 1519 C 1017 LD 423
June 2004 result Lab 654 C 567 LD 284 Socialist Labour 181
May 2003 result Lab 826 C 224 Socialist Labour 184
May 2002 result Lab 886 Ind 693 Socialist Labour 95
May 2000 result Lab 738 C 374
May 1999 result Lab 924/873/858 C 260/236/236


Previews: 13 Dec 2017

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

There are two unusual Wednesday by-elections on 13th December 2017. We keep the recent south of England theme going, with a Labour defence in Exeter and a Conservative defence in Surrey, both in wards which look rather safe. Read on...


Newtown and St Leonard's

Exeter council, Devon; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Roger Spackman, who had served since September 2010 for the former Newtown ward and since 2016 for this ward. His resignation was ostensibly for personal reasons, but it has since been revealed that Spackman is being investigated by police on suspicion of making an indecent photograph of a child.

For the first of our two by-elections on the Wednesday of the week before Christmas, we are in the city of Exeter. The Newtown area lies immediately to the east of Exeter city centre. Always a poor area of town - the main industries here were workhouses and brick-making - Newtown was built-up by 1900, and many of the original houses have survived the Baedeker raids to the present day. Further south is the St Leonard's area, along the Topsham Road, which has seen extensive redevelopment since 2000. The walk is within walking distance of the city centre and many of its residents walk to work. One intriguing feature of the ward is that one of its census districts has a significant number of British Sign Language speakers: this is associated with the Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education, which lies just outside the ward boundary. Within the boundary are the city's bus station on Paris Street, the St Luke's Campus of the University of Exeter, the independent Exeter School and Belmont Park. Not surprisingly education is a major employer here.

Newtown and St Leonard's ward was created in 2016 when Exeter's wards were significantly reorganised. The pre-2016 Newtown ward had a large student population associated with the University of Exeter - the university's St Luke's Campus lies within the ward - while the old St Leonard's ward was much more upmarket with an urban professional demographic. The merger of the two wards was good news for Labour, who had a lock on Newtown ward; St Leonard's ward was safe Conservative before the Coalition years but turned marginal from 2012 onwards and was a Labour gain at its last election, in 2015. The 2016 election to the new ward - the only previous result on these boundaries - took its cue from the Newtown half rather than the St Leonard's half. Labour won the ward that year with 50%, to 23% for the Conservatives and 12% for the Green Party; further down the ballot was a rare local election outing for the UKIP splinter group An Independence from Europe, who came last with 3%. The elections earlier this year showed further good news for Labour, who won both of the county divisions which cover most of the ward (a small corner of the ward is within the safe-Tory division of Wearside and Topsham), and also performed well in June's general election in the Exeter constituency.

Even with the dubious circumstances of this by-election Labour can be confident here. Their defending candidate is Matthew Vizard, a caseworker for Exeter's Labour MP Ben Bradshaw; he is hoping to join on the council his wife Natalie who is another councillor for the ward. The Conservatives have selected Lucille Baker, the Conservative election agent for eastern Devon. Returning from the 2016 election is Green Party candidate Tom Milburn, a Unison organiser and long-serving chairman of the Exeter branch of CND. Completing the ballot paper are Alexandra Newcombe for the Liberal Democrats - who have won all three by-elections in Devon since the start of November but will be hard-pressed to keep that streak going here - and Alison Sheridan for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Exeter
Exeter county council division: St David's and Haven Banks (part: former St Leonard's ward); St Sidwell's and St James (part: former Newtown ward); Wearside and Topsham (small part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter
Postcode districts: EX1, EX2, EX4

Lucille Baker (C)
Tom Milburn (Grn)
Alexandra Newcombe (LD)
Alison Sheridan (UKIP)
Matthew Vizard (Lab)

May 2016 result Lab 1725/1562/1448 C 816/755/676 Grn 416/371/276 LD 244 UKIP 172 An Independence from Europe 104


Godalming Central and Ockford

Waverley council, Surrey; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Simon Thornton.

Our second Wednesday by-election is one of the five wards covering the Surrey town of Godalming. This is a prosperous town whose traditional industry was woollen cloth, later diversifying into papermaking, quarrying and coaching. The town's location in the North Downs five miles south of Guildford may look slightly out of the way, but it was a popular stopping point on the London to Portsmouth stagecoach run, while the River Wey was canalised in the eighteenth century to further connect Godalming to the outside world. The town was the first place in the world to have a public electricity supply and electric street lighting, but is probably better known for the curious case of Mary Toft, a local maidservant who in 1726 was the subject of a well-known hoax in which she claimed to have given birth to rabbits. The railway came in 1849, and Godalming station lies on the Portsmouth Direct line with two trains each hour to Guildford and Waterloo.

Ian Fleming may have satirised Godalming's demographic (in For Your Eyes Only) as full of retired colonial civil servants, but in truth Godalming Central and Ockford ward is a middle-class commuter area. The ward is well-described by its name, covering the town centre, the railway station and the suburb of Ockford to the south-west. Included in the ward is the head office of Waverley council (although Godalming is only the second-largest town in the district, after Farnham).

Like much of Waverley district, this ward had a strong Lib Dem vote in 2003 which has since completely fallen apart. The Tories gained Godalming Central and Ockford in 2007, and were easily re-elected in 2015 with 41% of the vote, to 26% for Labour and 17% for an outfit called "Something New" of which your columnist knows nothing. There was no Lib Dem candidate here in 2015, but the 2017 county elections suggest they may have got their act together: the party gained the Godalming North county division, which includes the town centre, from the Conservatives.

Defending for the Conservatives is Stella Andersen-Payne who is seeking to return to Waverley council; under her former name of Stella Payne she was elected unopposed for Frensham, Dockenfield and Tilford ward in 2011 but stood down after one term. Hoping that everything is in the right place for a Labour win is their candidate Richard Ashworth, a feng shui practitioner. Something New are now something old and have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Paul Follows of the Liberal Democrats and Susan Ryland of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Surrey
Surrey county council division: Godalming North (part: Godalming Central); Godalming South, Milford and Witley (part: Ockford)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Guildford and Aldershot
Postcode districts: GU7, GU8

Stella Andersen-Payne (C)
Richard Ashworth (Lab)
Paul Follows (LD)
Susan Ryland (Grn)

May 2015 result C 1180/1024 Lab 743 Something New 485 UKIP 437
May 2011 result C 829/731 LD 410 Lab 346
May 2007 result C 609/592 LD 522/501 Lab 115
May 2003 result LD 685/623 C 276/286 Lab 252/217 Grn 85


If you liked this piece, why not buy the book? Andrew's Previews 2016, with many more pieces like this, is now available from Amazon.


Previews: 14 Dec 2017

There are nine polls on 14th December 2017. It's the last week of elections before Christmas, and this volatile year of 2017 is certainly going out with a bang. We will finish with a Christmas Bonus in the City of London! visit the only place in the UK with an exclamation mark in its name! and try not to get mugged in Salford! There is just one Conservative defence this week (in Torquay) to two for the Liberal Democrats (one in Devon, one in Hertfordshire) and no fewer than five defences for Labour, one in Yorkshire, two in Greater Manchester and two in Staffordshire. We will start with the two Staffordshire polls, because there is, unfortunately, a lot to discuss about them this week. Read on...


Bradwell; and
Newchapel

Newcastle-under-Lyme council, Staffordshire; caused respectively by the death of Trevor Hambleton at the age of 71 and the resignation of Lionel Burch. Both were Labour councillors. Hambleton was first elected in 1999 and was Mayor of Newcastle in 2011-12; his widow Sandra remains a councillor for Bradwell ward. Burch, who had served since May 2016, resigned abruptly following unspecified allegations against his conduct from within the council's Labour group.

"For me a vote is not merely a mark on a paper; it symbolises my inalienable right to choose who shall govern me and set the tenor of my life for the next five years. This right and privilege has been won for us over many generations by brave and dedicated men and women and is a precious gift. That I have been robbed of it by administrative incompetence is an insult to their legacy and a grave disservice to me."

My text this week is taken from the Scallan Report, and is a letter written by an elector of Newcastle-under-Lyme. It is particularly poignant as today marks 99 years since the General Election of 1918, in which women (or at least those over the age of 30) were eligible to vote for the first time. That was the culmination of many years of pressure from the suffragette movement and others; as almost everybody who reads these words will be aware, people have died for the right to vote. For the last 99 years, we have all had cause to be grateful for their hard work and pressure.

In the 99 years since then, the number 99 has become indelibly associated with the word "flake". And so it is here, for we must start this week's previews not by discussing the delights of a particularly interesting and yet little-known area of Staffordshire, but in the Elections Office of Newcastle-under-Lyme. Your columnist, in his line of work. has long experience of trying to sort out official and administrative errors and thought he had heard it all; but the Newcastle-under-Lyme election of June 2017 is one of the most shocking examples of incompetence he has had cause to discuss and dissect for a long time.

The root cause of what went wrong in Newcastle in June is very simple, and rather worrying for those who care about the effectiveness of our local government: the Electoral Services Officer and her line manager both left the authority in 2016 and were not replaced. This meant that the county council elections in May 2017 were handled by a consultant who worked three days a week, a full-time temp and a part-timer both with experience of running elections, and two secondees. That election was generally handled well. However, there were further personnel changes for the general election because the consultant wasn't able to stay on and the full-time temp left, so a second consultant and a full-time agency worker had to be brought in in the middle of the election campaign. Crucially, the second consultant - who seems to have been appointed because he had previously worked in the Newcastle elections office - had little experience of the Individual Electoral Registration system which was introduced in 2015.

Once this is understood, the failings identified in the report compiled by Andrew Scallan all fall into place. Essentially it's the old story where incompetence is concerned: if you don't know what you're doing, you don't know what you're doing wrong. As a long-serving Director of Electoral Administration for the Electoral Commission, who was appointed CBE for his service, Scallan was certainly well-placed to get to the bottom of what went wrong. In fifty-eight pages of gory detail, his report identified the following failings by Newcastle-under-Lyme council at the 2017 general election:

  • 391 postal votes for UK addresses and 204 postal votes for overseas addresses were not sent out. 68 of those electors successfully complained that their postal votes had not arrived and were issued replacements, leaving 527 people disenfranchised. This error was not picked up by the elections office until after polling day, resulting in poor customer service to those electors who complained. In addition, postal polling cards were not sent out, resulting in those electors who had not received postal votes they had applied for not being aware of their rights and deadlines to request a replacement or not being aware that they could not vote in person.
  • Polling station staff were not provided with lists of postal voters, which resulted in at least one elector - who had been wrongly marked on the register as being a postal voter - being disenfranchised. (This error was also made in May's county elections.)
  • Some registration and postal vote applications handed in at council offices were lost.
  • Due to the staff's inexperience in Individual Electoral Registration and the volume of applications, 439 applications for registration were received before the deadline (22 May) but not processed in time for polling day; while 509 applications for registration were received before the deadline and processed in time for polling day, but were not added to the register for polling day because of a delay in switching the office's computer system to "election mode". 86 people complained about this, and the elections office misused their power to correct clerical errors to do what they should have done in the first place and add them to the register. An unknown number of other applications to vote needed further information to determine whether they were eligible, but this was not followed up by the elections office in a timely manner - that seems to been a particular problem for Keele University students. In addition electors who applied after the deadline were sent misleading letters suggesting that they would be eligible to vote in the general election.
  • On polling day, the elections office reaped what had been sown as all these problems came to a head. The staff were simply overwhelmed by the volume of enquiries and it is clear that not all of those enquiries were handled in a professional manner. Amid the chaos two people who were not eligible to vote in the election were allowed to do so.

The Scallan Report concluded that at least 998 electors in the Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency were disenfranchised as a result of these errors. It lays the blame for this squarely at the feet of inadequate performance by the Chief Executive as Acting Returning Officer, the Head of Audit who had line responsibility for the consultants, and the consultants themselves; together with the inexperience and under-resourcing of the election office's staff.

In most general elections 998 votes either way is not going to have an effect on the overall result; but as bad luck would have it the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, Paul Farrelly, was eventually declared the winner on 9th June with a majority of just thirty votes. There can be little doubt that, if it were given the evidence laid out in the Scallan Report, the Election Court would void that result and order a new election. Unfortunately, petitions questioning the result have to be filed with the Election Court within 21 days of the declaration, a deadline which has long gone. Through no fault of his own, Farrelly now finds himself with a mandate which is at best questionable and at worst illegitimate; and the only way for him to resolve the question as to whether he was duly elected is for him to resign and fight a by-election. At the time of writing, he has not resigned; and, given the state of the Newcastle-under-Lyme elections office (which according to the Scallan Report has one remaining non-suspended employee, who only works part-time) that's not surprising. Farrelly will want some kind of indication that this or something like it isn't going to happen again, and properly staffing the elections office - one of the 16 recommendations made to the council in the Scallan Report is that Newcastle-under-Lyme appoint a permanent Electoral Services Manager and at least two FTE supporting posts - would be a good start along that road.

Cases of incompetence in public office on this scale usually lead to demands for senior heads to roll, which rather misses the point that many of the problems with the Newcastle-under-Lyme election in June stemmed from senior heads not being there in the first place. Newcastle council have suspended the Chief Executive John Sellgren and the Head of Audit Elizabeth Dodd. At the time of writing, they have not resigned; and, given that the Scallan Report recommended that Staffordshire Police investigate for breach of official duty, an electoral offence which carries an unlimited fine, that's not surprising. They will want to protect their legal position.

However, this whole fiasco has resulted in the resignation of one person - the Labour Leader of the Council, Elizabeth Shenton. Newcastle-under-Lyme council is hung, with Labour as the largest group holding 24 seats plus these two vacancies but short of a majority; the Conservatives are on 22 seats and the balance of power is held by three Lib Dems, a Kipper and eight independent councillors of various stripes (several of whom were originally elected on the UKIP ticket). At last week's full council meeting the independents withdrew their support for the previous Labour minority administration and voted in the Conservatives, who have formed a minority administration of their own under new council leader Simon Tagg. If the Conservatives can gain both of today's by-elections they will draw level with Labour and running the council will become that little bit easier.

With the Returning Officer suspended and the Newcastle-under-Lyme elections office clearly in no fit state to administer a poll, the council has effectively outsourced the job of running today's two by-elections, at very short notice, to what Newcastle's Twitter feed coyly calls "our neighbouring authority". That would be Stoke-on-Trent. Local government watchers may have been given endless amusement by Stoke's political dysfunctionality over the years, but the city's elections staff come with a good reputation. We have to hope that they can sort out their sister borough's problems quickly.

That brings me to the by-elections themselves. To recap, these are Labour defences in Bradwell and Newchapel wards. Bradwell ward lies at the northern end of Newcastle town between the A34 and A500 roads. Once a coalmining area, this is now a riot of business parks benefiting from its proximity to the A500 and the Stoke-Manchester railway line - the JCB warehouse next to the railway at Chatterley Valley is particularly impressive. Despite all those jobs, qualification rates in the ward are low.

Newchapel ward deserves an article all to itself and it's a shame that hasn't happened this time. I covered the ward in a previous edition of Andrew's Previews in 2011, and after writing it up I thought it might be a nice place to visit. When I did eventually get there I was blown away. This is a high area on the hills between Kidsgrove and Biddulph, based on the village of Harriseahead and the Staffordshire half of the strange hilltop village of Mow Cop. Originally a quarrying village for millstones, Mow Cop is built around a 1,099-foot summit which is flanked by the rock formation of the Old Man of Mow and the folly of Mow Cop Castle. The Old Man and the Castle lie on the Staffordshire-Cheshire boundary, and on a good day provide fantastic views over the whole of the Cheshire Plain towards Manchester, the Peak District, the West Pennine Moors, the Shropshire hills, the Berwyn and Flintshire mountains and even Snowdonia. It's beautiful. You must go. The name "Newchapel" is rather appropriate: up here on the hill in 1807 two Wesleyan preachers, Hugh Bourne and William Clowes, held a successful camp meeting which - after they were thrown out of the Wesleyan Church - led to the development of Primitive Methodism. Today Newchapel's demographic can be best described as affluent working-class, with significant numbers of manufacturing jobs and a very high proportion of residents born in the UK.

That's led to some interesting election results in Newchapel over the years. In 2002 - the first election on the current boundaries - the Liberal Democrats won both seats, but they lost one to the Conservatives in 2003 and the other to Labour the following year. The Conservatives picked up the Labour seat in 2008. Labour gained both of the ward's seats in 2011 (one in the ordinary May election and the other in a November by-election), but the Conservatives got one seat back in 2015 and were very close to gaining the other last year. In a straight fight in 2016, Labour held their seat by 385 votes to 379 - a majority of six. The Conservatives narrowly gained the local county division (Kidsgrove) in May and will definitely see this as within range for a Tory gain - something we haven't seen much of recently.

Bradwell ward is a much safer Labour area which since 2002 has only voted Conservative once, at the Labour low point of 2008. Incidentally the losing Labour candidate that year was Gareth Snell, who is now the MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central. In 2016 Labour won here with 54%, to 24% for UKIP and 19% for the Conservatives. Again the Tories very narrowly gained the local county division of Bradwell, Porthill and Wolstanton in May; but as Porthill consistently votes Conservative and Wolstanton is politically volatile it is likely that Labour had a lead in Bradwell ward.

These will be the last elections to Newcastle-under-Lyme's current ward boundaries, as the council will be all-up in May on a new ward pattern - so whoever wins these by-elections will have to be back on the campaign trail in short order to seek re-election. Also next year the council will move away from election by thirds, so the next elections after May will be in 2022. Both Bradwell and Newchapel wards will see only minor changes in May, with Newchapel being renamed as "Newchapel and Mow Cop".

Defending Bradwell for Labour is Andrew Fox-Hewitt, a firefighter and secretary of the Cheshire branch of the Fire Brigades Union. There is no UKIP candidate - something which says volumes about the decline of the party, which has always been well-organised in Newcastle. The Conservative candidate is Gail Benbow. Richard Virr, of the Liberal Democrats, completes the ballot paper.

In Newchapel the defending Labour candidate is Angela Cooper. Jill Waring returns for the Conservatives after her near-miss last year. Completing the ballot paper is Nigel Morgan, an independent candidate endorsed by the council's Kidsgrove Independents group.

Let's hope for a smooth and orderly poll this time. It's not too much to ask.

Bradwell

Parliamentary constituency: Newcastle-under-Lyme
Staffordshire county council division: Bradwell, Porthill and Wolstanton

Gail Benbow (C)
Andrew Fox-Hewitt (Lab)
Richard Virr (LD)

May 2016 result Lab 732 UKIP 329 C 254 LD 45
May 2015 result Lab 1411 C 735 UKIP 712 Grn 97 LD 79 Ind 24
May 2014 result Lab 720 UKIP 527 C 208
May 2012 result Lab 972 C 391 LD 70
May 2011 result Lab 873 C 406 UKIP 346 LD 79
May 2010 result Lab 1441 C 999 LD 626
May 2008 result C 623 Lab 485 UKIP 413 LD 135
May 2007 result Lab 557 C 469 UKIP 289 LD 225
May 2006 result Lab 643 C 325 UKIP 310 LD 279
June 2004 result Lab 870 C 361 LD 303
May 2003 result Lab 756 C 247 LD 243
May 2002 result Lab 749/730/697 C 270/234/205 LD 243/152

Newchapel

Parliamentary constituency: Staffordshire Moorlands
Staffordshire county council division: Kidsgrove

Angela Cooper (Lab)
Nigel Morgan (Ind)
Jill Waring (C)

May 2016 result Lab 385 C 379
May 2015 result C 929 Lab 633 Grn 190
May 2012 result Lab 386 C 248 LD 54 Ind 39
Nov 2011 by-election Lab 248 C 160 UKIP 118 LD 17
May 2011 result Lab 304 C 254 Ind 168 UKIP 143 LD 60
Feb 2010 by-election C 208 UKIP 148 Lab 138 LD 127
May 2008 result C 416 Lab 220 LD 180 UKIP 127
May 2007 result C 314 Lab 258 LD 188 UKIP 131
May 2004 result Lab 352 LD 319 Ind 237
May 2003 result C 305 LD 238 Lab 222
May 2002 result LD 330/313 Lab 270/260 C 221/196


Shevington with Lower Ground

Wigan council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Damian Edwardson due to pressure of work. He had served since 2012.

We travel down the north escarpment of Mow Cop towards the first of three Labour defences in the North of England. Shevington lies on the edge of Greater Manchester to the north-west of Wigan; it's a rather diffuse set of villages in and overlooking the Douglas valley, with Shevington Vale, Shevington Moor, Gathurst and Crooke (the "Lower Ground" area) all lying within the ward boundary. In times past there was a coalmining and explosives industry here, but that's disappeared and the ward's residents instead make use of its good transport links to commute elsewhere. The M6 motorway passes through the ward from north to south, while from west to east run the Leeds-Liverpool Canal and the Manchester-Southport railway line, with stations at Gathurst and Appley Bridge (which is outside the ward and county boundary but within the Transport for Greater Manchester area) linking the ward to Wigan and Manchester.

During the 2000s this ward (and its predecessor, Langtree ward) was a closely-fought Labour versus Conservative marginal. However, after 2008 the Conservatives in Wigan suffered a damaging split, with the splinter group somehow managing to get the party name "Wigan Independent Conservatives" past the Electoral Commission and onto the register of political parties. The Wigan Independent Conservatives are associated with the Fairhurst family, who have a lock on the neighbouring ward of Standish with Langtree and one of whom was a former Conservative councillor for this ward. In recent years their candidates have attempted to obscure their Tory past by presenting themselves on the ballot paper with labels such as "Shevington Independents". The split allowed Labour to establish themselves in Shevington with Lower Ground ward, and they have held all three seats here since 2012. At the most recent borough election in 2016 Edwardson was re-elected with 40% of the vote, to 26% for the "Shevington Independents" and 19% for UKIP who pushed the Conservatives into fourth place. In May's Greater Manchester mayoral election - whose results were broken down to ward level - Labour's Andy Burnham led the Conservatives here 68-22.

Defending for Labour is Marlaine Whitham, a trustee of the Homestart St Helens charity and local school governor. Janet Brown of the "Shevington Independents" returns after her second-place finish last year. UKIP have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Callum Chadwick for the Conservatives, regular Green candidate Joseph Rylance and Joshua Hindle of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Wigan

Janet Brown (Shevington Ind)
Callum Chadwick (C)
Joshua Hindle (LD)
Joseph Rylance (Grn)
Marlaine Whitham (Lab)

May 2016 result Lab 1239 Wigan Independent Conservative 813 UKIP 584 C 349 Grn 112
May 2015 result Lab 2717 C 1661 UKIP 1439 Grn 426
May 2014 result Lab 1050 Wigan Independent Conservative 797 UKIP 797 C 353 Grn 156
May 2012 result Lab 1362 C 532 UKIP 450 Wigan Independent Conservative 220 Ind 198
May 2011 result Lab 1557 C 974 Wigan Independent Conservative 672 UKIP 498
May 2010 result Lab 2180 C 1404 Wigan Independent Conservative 1210 LD 995 UKIP 534
May 2008 result C 1531 Lab 971 UKIP 251 LD 251 Ind 157
May 2007 result C 1377 Lab 1248 UKIP 337 LD 311
May 2006 result C 1827 Lab 1311
June 2004 result Lab 1843/1468/1461 C 1456/1288/1191 LD 739/664/607

May 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Lab 1912 C 616 LD 85 Grn 74 EDP 40 UKIP 40 Farmer 21 Aslam 6


Langworthy

Salford council, Greater Manchester; caused by the death of Labour councillor Paul Longshaw at the age of 49. The lead member for housing at Salford council, Longshaw had served only since 2016 but before then had worked in Salford council's housing department for 25 years, becoming a senior housing officer and leading the regeneration of Pendleton. The inquest heard that Longshaw had suffered from depression, and the coroner recorded a verdict of suicide.

We take the train from Gathurst station towards Manchester and alight at Salford Crescent, the railway station just outside but serving Langworthy ward. Lying between the M602 motorway and the A6 Broad Street, this is the part of Salford your parents warned you about and one of the very few places where your columnist - who is well-built enough to make muggers think twice - has ever felt unsafe. We're a mile and a world away here from the shiny apartments and jobs of Salford Quays. Over half of the ward's housing stock is socially rented - putting Langworthy in the top 80 wards in England and Wales for that statistic - and much of that social housing consists of metal-clad tower blocks which are giving Salford council an enormous financial, health and safety headache in this post-Grenfell world. A large proportion of the population is economically inactive - 11% of the workforce is disabled or long-term sick, and 13% are students at nearby Salford University.

At the centre of Langworthy ward is Salford Shopping City, originally developed by the council in the 1960s and one of the most depressing collections of bargain and discount stores your columnist ever hopes to see. Shopping City was extensively damaged in the August 2011 riots, and you can bet your bottom dollar that if a shocking crime is reported in Salford it's probably happened somewhere within the ward boundary.

It will not come as a surprise that every one of this ward's census districts is within the 20% most deprived in the UK. Shopping City being served by several bus routes, this ward has a very high proportion who travel to work by bus by the standards of England outside London. The 2011 census also picked up significant pockets born in China (presumably students), Nigeria and Scotland.

Being inner-city Salford this is a Labour area. The main opposition to Labour here traditionally came from the Liberal Democrats, who won Langworthy at the Labour low point of 2008, but Salford was one of the areas where Coalition destroyed the Lib Dem base. UKIP took over second place in 2014, and in 2016 Labour won with 49% to 25% for UKIP and 11% for an independent candidate. UKIP are not contesting this by-election, so a better guide might be the mayoral election in May where Labour beat the Conservatives here 68-14.

Defending for Labour is Wilson Nkurunziza, a Baha'i and a community worker focusing on refugees. There is no UKIP candidate but it appears that the local UKIP group are backing independent candidate Michael Felse, a tutor and former Manchester Pride queen who has previously stood as an independent candidate for Mayor of Doncaster; Felse was the English Democrats candidate for Dewsbury in the 2010 general election and in 2012 stood on their ticket for Mayor of Salford and Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner. Also on the ballot are Conservative candidate James Mount, Ian Pattinson of the Green Party and Liberal Democrat Jake Overend.

Parliamentary constituency: Salford and Eccles

Michael Felse (Ind)
James Mount (C)
Wilson Nkurunziza (Lab)
Jake Overend (LD)
Ian Pattinson (Grn)

May 2016 result Lab 1142 UKIP 586 Ind 264 C 151 Grn 139 TUSC 45
May 2015 result Lab 2424 UKIP 1065 C 460 Grn 341 TUSC 98
May 2014 result Lab 1250 UKIP 884 C 207 BNP 86 Motorcycle Alliance 50
May 2012 result Lab 1269 LD 416 BNP 282 C 147
May 2011 result Lab 1400 LD 368 C 198 BNP 167 UKIP 161 TUSC 98
May 2010 result Lab 1888 LD 1211 C 572 BNP 505 Ind 123
May 2008 result LD 1049 Lab 878 C 330
May 2007 result Lab 1038 LD 830 C 288
May 2006 result Lab 890 LD 758 C 253
March 2005 by-election Lab 720 LD 410 C 169
June 2004 result Lab 1195/973/917 LD 639/599 Lib 552/412 C 448

May 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Lab 1176 C 243 LD 95 UKIP 75 Grn 67 EDP 39 Farmer 17 Aslam 14


Rockingham

Barnsley council, South Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Emma Dures who had served since 2012.

What's Christmas without a brass band?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAEsPhmJs5s

We conclude our tour of this week's northern by-elections by travelling to the wrong side of the Pennines for the last Labour defence of the year. The name of Rockingham ward commemorates Thomas Watson-Wentworth, the first Marquess of Rockingham, who took his name from his Northamptonshire estates but was a major landowner in this part of Yorkshire. As well as the ward, Lord Rockingham gave his name to a local colliery, a brand new community and sports centre (the Rockingham Centre), a cricket club (no relation of Lord Rockingham's XI, who were a band) and a brass band, seen in the video competing in the Fourth Section (the lowest division) of the 2016 Yorkshire Brass Band Championships. That performance placed them second overall, and they picked up the prize for Best Percussion and a qualification spot for the National Finals.

The ward named after Lord Rockingham is based on the western half of Hoyland, a mining town a few miles south of Barnsley, together with the smaller villages of Hoyland Common and Birdwell. As might be guessed from the fact that Barry Hines, the author of Kestrel for a Knave, was from Hoyland Common, this was traditionally a coalmining area both deep and opencast. Despite its proximity to the M1 motorway Rockingham ward hasn't developed as a commuter area following the collapse of the Yorkshire mining industry. In an attempt to stimulate development of the old mining sites a new road, the Dearne Valley Parkway, was opened through the ward in the late 1990s on the principle of "if you build it they will come". The jury appears to be still out on that one.

During the Blair and Brown years this ward was closely fought between Labour and a localist slate called the Barnsley Independent Group who are now defunct. Labour have won every contest here since 2010, with UKIP taking over second place in the 2014 election. In 2016 Labour beat the Kippers here 52-32.

Defending for Labour is Nicola Sumner. UKIP have not returned - which makes it five out of five by-elections in the Midlands and the North this week, all of them in wards where the Kippers have finished second at some point, which the party have not contested. That means that the opposition to Labour comes from the Conservatives' Michael Toon, who has stood here twice before, and Liberal Democrat Paul Nugent who is the only candidate to give an address in the ward.

Oh, and as it's Christmas... wine gums anyone?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BktLpmDNwt0

Parliamentary constituency: Barnsley East

Paul Nugent (LD)
Nicola Sumner (Lab)
Michael Toon (C)

May 2016 result Lab 1258 UKIP 792 C 205 EDP 122 TUSC 63
May 2015 result Lab 2845 UKIP 1289 C 619 EDP 192 TUSC 135
May 2014 result Lab 1032 UKIP 829 Barnsley Ind Gp 652 C 192 EDP 69 TUSC 64
May 2012 result Lab 1611 Barnsley Ind Gp 774 EDP 253 C 168
May 2011 result Lab 1846 Barnsley Ind Gp 1263 C 333 BNP 210
May 2010 result Lab 2430 Barnsley Ind Gp 1381 C 710 BNP 544 Ind 239
May 2008 result Barnsley Ind Gp 1336 Lab 913 BNP 343 C 296 LD 159 Ind 128
May 2007 result Barnsley Ind Gp 1394 Lab 1301 C 360
May 2006 result Lab 1255 Barnsley Ind Gp 846 Ind 320 C 297
June 2004 result Ind 1494/1330/1242 Lab 1397/1342/1291 BNP 383 C 345


Handside

Welwyn Hatfield council, Hertfordshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Rachel Basch who had served since 2016. She has taken up a politically restricted job with the civil service.

We move into the south, and to the only town which was both a garden city and a New Town. Welwyn Garden City was founded in 1920 as the UK's second garden city (after Letchworth), laid out with a neo-Georgian town centre along the Parkway, a straight boulevard a mile long with a park in the middle. Off the Parkway is the Howard Centre, a modern shopping mall, with the town's railway station behind it. All of these are in Handside ward, which covers south-western Welwyn Garden City and is the core of the original garden city development. The name refers to Handside Road, which existed before the town was developed and was incorporated into it.

The modern Handside ward is clearly middle-class commuter territory, with high proportions of residents in management jobs, and good education levels. Its current boundaries date from 2008 and the ward survived a boundary review in 2016 unchanged.

At local level Handside has for many years been a tight marginal between the Tories and Lib Dems, with the Conservatives generally having the upper hand. The 2008 election resulted in a 2-1 Tory-Lib Dem split; the Conservatives gained the Liberal Democrat seat in 2014 with a a majority of just 77 votes, but the 2016 election with all three seats up again resulted in a 2-1 Tory-Lib Dem split. Shares of the vote in 2016 were 42% for the Conservatives, 36% for the Liberal Democrats and 16% for Labour.

Now, something strange has happened this year to the Conservative machine in Welwyn Hatfield. There are only five constituencies which the Conservatives hold where they polled fewer votes in 2017 than in 2010. One of those is Witney, where the Tory candidate in 2010 was the party leader; three are urban professional seats in London (Cities of London and Westminster, Chelsea and Fulham, and Richmond Park) where Brexit has taken the shine off the Tory brand among their core vote. Welwyn Hatfield, having voted Leave eighteen months ago, doesn't fall into either of those categories. One explanation might be that the local MP Grant Shapps, who has been a scandal-prone figure, has developed a negative personal vote; but that doesn't satisfactorily explain the Tory underperformance in the Hertfordshire county elections just a month earlier, in which the party won just three of Welwyn Hatfield's eight county divisions. The other five seats split three to the Liberal Democrats and two to Labour, who also came very close to beating the Conservatives in the new Hatfield East division. Safely in the Liberal Democrat column was Handside and Peartree division, which includes this ward together with the weak Conservative area of Peartree ward.

So, it will be interesting to see if the Lib Dems can hold this one or whether the Conservatives can gain it. Defending for the Lib Dems is Siobhan Elam, a retired policewoman who is heavily involved with the local Barn Theatre. The Conservatives have gone for youth in selecting Drew Richardson who isn't yet 22; he works for Apple and is a Metropolitan Police special constable. Also in her early 20s is the Labour candidate Belinda Yeldon, youth officer for the party's Welwyn Hatfield branch and a business manager for NHS England. Completing the ballot paper is Green candidate Berenice Dowlen. Whoever wins will need to get straight back onto the campaign trail to seek re-election in May 2018.

Parliamentary constituency: Welwyn Hatfield
Hertfordshire county council division: Handside and Peartree

Berenice Dowlen (Grn)
Siobhan Elam (LD)
Drew Richardson (C)
Belinda Yeldon (Lab)

May 2016 result C 1202/1170/1015 LD 1020/1016/824 Lab 451/430/386 Grn 180
May 2015 result C 1987 LD 1317 Lab 603 Grn 266
May 2014 result C 1029 LD 952 Lab 330 UKIP 294 Grn 159
May 2012 result C 1130 LD 673 Lab 354 Grn 176
May 2011 result C 1603 LD 970 Lab 515
May 2010 result LD 1824 C 1812 Lab 433
May 2008 result C 1385/1370/1221 LD 1338/1283/1278 Lab 167/159


Watcombe

Torbay council, Devon; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Roger Stringer at the age of 73. For many years postmaster at Barton post office in Torquay, Stringer was first elected to Torbay council in 2003 for St Marychurch ward, transferring to Watcombe ward in 2007. Away from the council he was a tireless charity campaigner, raising thousands of pounds to help children from eastern Europe.

Have you had enough of Devon by-elections yet after our recent glut? Of course you haven't, and here are two more for you. We start just off Devon's south coast in Torquay for our second Lib Dem defence of the week. Watcombe ward is the northern end of Torquay, running from Combe Pafford through Barton up to the 180-metre summit of Great Hill. Mostly developed in the 1950s and 1960s, this is a deprived ward of a deprived town.

Watcombe ward has been a Liberal Democrat stronghold for many years with the party's vote seemingly unaffected by the various travails of the Lib Dems on the national scene. In 2015 the Liberal Democrat slate had 43% to 23% for the Conservatives and 19% for Labour. However, the Conservatives got a swing in their favour in the Torbay constituency in June which would be enough to win this ward, so this could be worth looking at more closely than the majority might suggest.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Swithin Long, who might sound like he's walked straight out of the Harry Potter universe but is in fact an Age UK advisor and former MP caseworker. The Conservative candidate is Daniel Maddock, a mortgage broker. Labour have selected Julia Neal, a long-serving teacher and former president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Completing the ballot paper is Eleanor Taylor of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Torbay

Swithin Long (LD)
Daniel Maddock (C)
Julia Neal (Lab)
Eleanor Taylor (Grn)

May 2015 result LD 1383/1146 C 746/595 Lab 612/365 UKIP 277 Grn 194
May 2011 result LD 1122/1025 C 574/502 Lab 457 Grn 211
May 2007 result LD 1134/1050 C 812/790
May 2003 result LD 1289/1288 C 418/385 Lab 223 UKIP 186 BNP 169


Westward Ho!

Torridge council, Devon; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Peter le Maistre. Le Maistre resigned after being stopped by police on suspicion of drink driving while travelling home from a full council meeting in November. At North Devon magistrates court he subsequently pleaded guilty to failing to provide a specimen of breath for analysis, and was banned from driving for 30 months and given a community order. The council's lead member for internal resources, le Maistre had served since 2015.

We finish our by-elections this year by crossing from the south to the north coast of Devon for the only Conservative defence of the week. As any quiz player knows, the only place in the UK whose name includes an exclamation mark is Westward Ho!, a village named after the novel of the same name by Charles Kingsley which was set in nearby Bideford. The success of the book inspired developers to cash in, and within ten years development of the village was underway. A boarding school was even founded here - the United Services College which educated military officers' sons, including Rudyard Kipling. Today like much of the Devon coast this is a retirement centre: 34% of the population is aged 65 or over, and the ward makes the top 60 in England and Wales for retirement (31% of the workforce).

Le Maistre was elected for Westward Ho! in 2015, defeating independent councillor Roger Tisdale who had served since winning a by-election in November 2004. Le Maistre polled 40% of the vote to 36% for Tisdale and 24% for the Green Party. Tisdale had gained his seat from the Community Alliance, a localist slate which performed well in the 2003 Torridge elections but then disbanded. The Conservatives hold the local Devon county council division (Northam), increasing their majority in May.

This by-election has attracted a large field of six candidates. Defending for the Conservatives is Roger Levick. Two independent candidates have come forward, Nick Laws and Barry Mason; Laws runs an angling supplies business, while Mason is a driving consultant, former police traffic sergeant and former Mayor of Northam - the parish which covers Westward Ho! The Greens have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Stan Coats for Labour, Stephen Potts for the Liberal Democrats and the only UKIP candidate of the week, Derek Sargent.

That completes this year's by-elections, but Andrew's Previews is not finished yet for 2017. There is yet one more poll to come, and it's a very unusual one. Time for a Christmas Bonus...

Parliamentary constituency: Torridge and West Devon
Devon county council division: Northam

Stan Coats (Lab)
Nick Laws (Ind)
Roger Levick (C)
Barry Mason (Ind)
Stephen Potts (LD)
Derek Sargent (UKIP)

May 2015 result C 528 Ind 473 Grn 311
May 2011 result Ind 478 C 390
May 2007 result Ind 325 C 198 Ind 87 LD 72
November 2004 by-election Ind 257 LD 226 C 149 Ind 61
May 2003 result Community Alliance 428 Ind 315


Portsoken

City of London Corporation; caused by the resignation of Alderman Sir Michael Bear.

Even as we come to the end of the eighth year of Andrew's Previews, there are still some elections which appear here for the first time. Earlier in this preview I touched on the impact of Brexit on the Conservative vote in London. With many of the country's financial markets being located in the ancient City of London, you might think that a local by-election to the City Corporation might be a good barometer of the effect of the current political situation on Britain's financial businesses. Right?

Wrong. The City of London Corporation is a strange body with more responsibilities than the London Boroughs which surround it (for example, it runs its own police force) but with the non-party politics and population of a largish parish council. Its structure is essentially unmodified since mediaeval times: the Lord Mayor is still elected by members of the City's ancient trade-based guilds, while other hangovers from a bygone age include an electoral register based not just on residence but on employment within the ward, and the presence of aldermen decades after their abolition in the rest of the country. Which is where this poll comes in. The City has 25 aldermen, one for each of its wards (which are descended from their mediaeval predecessors with only very slight modifications). Technically the Aldermen are elected for life; in practice they submit themselves for re-election every six years, and retire upon reaching the age of 70 in one of those customs that isn't mandatory. Not at all.

Sir Michael Bear, Alderman for Portsoken ward, has not yet reached the retirement age - he turns 65 in January - but has decided to retire after two terms, having become an Alderman in 2005. Born in Nairobi before Kenyan independence and growing up in Cyprus, Bear worked for nineteen years until 2012 as managing director of Balfour Beatty Properties, working on private finance initiatives and public-private partnerships. He was Lord Mayor of London in 2010-11, and was described as a key figure in the redevelopment of Spitalfields Market.

The City's extensive business vote and small resident population (go here at a weekend and you could be forgiven for thinking that the apocalypse had arrived, so empty are the streets) means that twenty-one of the twenty-five wards are effectively in the hands of the business voters. Running along the eastern boundary of the City, Portsoken is one of the exceptions, one of the four so-called "residential" wards, although there are some business voters here as well; it consists of two blocks either side of Aldgate underground station along the western side of Mansell Street and Middlesex Street (home of the "Petticoat Lane" market), together with a small salient further into the City which consists of two buildings: the wonderfully-named church of St Botolphs Without Aldgate and the Sir John Cass's Foundation primary school, which was added to the ward in 2003 and is the only part of the ward within the original London Wall.

Some of this ward was in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets until boundary changes in the early 1990s, and the resident population shares many of the features of the neighbouring Whitechapel and Spitalfields/Banglatown wards; this is a deprived area. For that reason Labour have been taking the ward seriously in recent years: they came within 65 votes of winning a seat here in the 2009 election. That wasn't as impressive as it might sound given that the number of voters was tiny, but Labour kept plugging away and finally broke through in a by-election in March 2014, which was won on their ticket by former Common Councilman William Campbell-Taylor. Campbell-Taylor retired from the Court of Common Council at the March 2017 election, but the Labour slate topped the poll, held his seat and gained a second seat to hold two of Portsoken's four councilmen.

There are four candidates for this Aldermanic election whom I shall take in alphabetical order. At the top of the ballot paper is David Barker, who came last in this ward in March's City elections and did no better in June's general election, when he finished last as an independent candidate in Poplar and Limehouse. A former internet entrepreneur originally from a poor area of Manchester, Barker wants to reduce the ward's child poverty rate - which stands at an astonishingly high 53% - and has tried to stay involved with the ward community by founding a local chess club and Spanish-language classes.

Standing as an official Labour candidate is the Reverend Dr William Campbell-Taylor, vicar of St Thomas Clapton Common. Campbell-Taylor was the winner of the 2014 by-election here and had served before that as an independent Common Councilman for the ward. With Labour's recent electoral record in Portsoken he has a decent shot at becoming the first elected Labour Alderman of the City. (There is already an Alderman who is a Labour party member, Baroness Scotland of Asthal who is Alderman for Bishopsgate ward; but she was elected as a non-party candidate as is traditional in the City.)

Third on the ballot paper is Prem Goyal, Common Councilman for Bishopsgate ward. Originally from New Delhi, Goyal runs Global Markets Consultants, a management consultancy firm providing services to the financial industry. He was appointed OBE in 2012 for services to the economy and for promoting charitable giving. This isn't Goyal's only foray into politics: he had sought the Labour selection in his home constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark for the 2015 general election, didn't get it, and then founded his own political party. His All People's Party turned into a ramshackle group of disaffected Southwark Labour figures and made no impact at all. Goyal himself stood in Camberwell and Peckham in the 2015 election, coming sixth out of eleven candidates with 1.6%.

Completing the lineup is Anthony Samuels, a notary public and former non-executive chairman of Clydesdale Bank South London Region. Although he is standing as non-party as is traditional in the City, Samuels is the vice-Chairman of Surrey county council, representing Walton South and Oatlands division as a Conservative councillor, and served for several years on the county's cabinet as lead member for the Built Estate.

This being the City, the electoral process started on Wednesday with the Wardmote, a public meeting held at the Artizan Street Library and Community Centre which effectively functions as a hustings. The Wardmote has been adjourned for the poll, which will take place between 8am and 8pm today, and will reconvene for the announcement of the result.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
London Assembly constituency: City and East

David Barker (Ind)
William Campbell-Taylor (Lab)
Prem Goyal (Ind)
Anthony Samuels (Ind)


With no by-elections in the week before Christmas, that is that for the psephological year of 2017, the year in which that old Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times" was in full effect. It was the year when the government gained a parliamentary by-election from the opposition for the first time since the 1980s; the year in which Theresa May gambled on opinion poll leads of over 20 points and lost; the year in which Jeremy Corbyn answered his critics within the Labour Party; the year in which politics became polarised on the national level, and just that little bit nastier.

On a personal level, it was the year in which this column transferred to Britain Elects, and I'm very grateful to the Britain Elects team for their support and encouragement. Thank you. Thanks are also due to Election Data, who published and supported these pieces in the early part of 2017. Thank you. Thanks are also due to those intrepid people (hello Sid, hello Doris) who bought your columnist's first book - Andrew's Previews 2016. (If there is demand, perhaps a similar 2017 book of these columns might be worth doing? Please let me know what you think.) And finally, thanks to those who read this column week after week, and to those who take the time to send me animated GIFs of Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter. You know who you are.

The electoral cycle never stops turning, and before you know it Christmas will be over and the New Year will be upon us. There is no sign in the immediate future of these "interesting times" letting up, and 2018 will be a bumpy ride if it is even half as unpredictable as this year. If there is no snap general election (and, as we saw this year, that cannot be ruled out), then the main electoral event of 2018 will be the local elections in May, which will be concentrated in London and the major urban areas of England. There's a long way to go before we get there, of course, but no doubt there will be plenty more by-elections to dissect in the interim. Already in the pipeline is a Welsh Assembly by-election to replace the late Carl Sargeant, and your columnist is aware of a few dozen local government vacancies which may turn into by-elections in due course. Fear not, there are plenty more columns to come.

While we are discussing the future, it is best to note that from mid-March 2018 your columnist will be out of a job and seeking new employment. Please send reasonable job offers to the usual address.

That's for the future, and it's time to close down for the year in the words which have become traditional. This column will return in time for the first local by-election of 2018, to be held in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire on 4th January; until then, may I wish all readers of this column a very Merry Christmas, and may your 2018 be an improvement on your 2017.


Previews: 07 Dec 2017

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

Two by-elections on 7th December 2017:


Newport

North Devon council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Michael Harrison at the age of 79. Harrison was first elected in 2003 and immediately joined North Devon's executive committee; he was Leader of the Council from 2007 to 2009 and then became the executive member for finance. Away from the council, Harrison was a major supporter of the Royal British Legion and arranged the local Poppy Appeal for many years.

Welcome to Barnstaple, the main town and administrative centre for the North Devon district. This is an old town which before the Norman Conquest was sufficiently important to have its own mint; Barnstaple thrived during the Middle Ages as a textile centre and as a thriving port, exporting wool to the outside world. Today retail and tourism are important to Barnstaple's economy; these are sectors with large amounts of part-time work, and Newport ward makes the top 100 wards in England and Wales for part-time employment (18% of the workforce).

Newport is Barnstaple's southern ward, based on a former village which was incorporated into the town in the twentieth century, and generally lying on the east bank of the Taw along South Street and Landkey Road. On the west bank of the Taw is the Tarka Tennis Centre, which until a few years ago hosted an annual international women's tournament. This is one of the better-off parts of town, with much new housing having gone up in recent years within the town's southern bypass - part of the ridiculously long A361 road which meanders from Ilfracombe for over 200 miles before finally running out of steam at a roundabout in rural Northamptonshire.

As stated Michael Harrison had represented this ward since 2003, and in 2007 his running-mate gained the ward's other seat from the Liberal Democrats. However, this is not a safe ward: in 2015 the Conservative slate had 40% to 32% for the Liberal Democrats and 28% for the Green Party. After their clean sweep in last week's four by-elections, together within their gain in North Devon council's last by-election (in Braunton in November) the Lib Dems will definitely see this as within range. On the other hand, in May's county elections the Conservatives increased their majority in the local county division (Barnstaple South).

Defending for the Conservatives is Martin Kennaugh who, as his name might suggest, is of Manx descent; he is a Barnstaple town councillor for this ward. The Lib Dem candidate Caroline Leaver, who despite her name was a Remainer last year, has ruffled feathers with a leaflet headed "Newport schools in cash crisis" which provoked the headteacher of Newport Primary School to write to parents in response. Standing for the Green Party is retired teacher and former Barnstaple town councillor Ricky Knight, who fought North Devon in the 2015 and 2017 general elections and was on the party's South West list in the 2014 Euro-elections. Completing the ballot paper is Labour candidate Siobhan Strode.

Parliamentary constituency: North Devon
Devon county council division: Barnstaple South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Barnstaple
Postcode district: EX32

May 2015 result C 1025/889 LD 812/510 Grn 728/477
May 2011 result C 624/557 LD 498/394 Grn 353/200 Lab 143
May 2007 result C 623/611 LD 495/470 Grn 450/281
May 2003 result C 431/391 LD 416/408 Grn 286


Enfield Highway

Enfield council, North London; caused by the death of Labour councillor Turgut Esendagli at the age of 55. Born in Cyprus but having lived in London for many years, Esendagli had served since 2014 and was described as a popular, hard-working and effective councillor. He will also be missed in the world of football: Esendagli held a UEFA Pro Licence in coaching, and at the time of his death was a scout for the Turkish national football team, chief scout and under-23 coach for the League Two side Crawley Town, and chairman and former manager of the local non-league side Waltham Forest AFC.

For our second and last by-election in this quiet week, we are in North London. The Enfield Highway area took its name from Hertford Road, the eponymous Highway, and the ward named after it runs east from the Highway to the Brimsdown area in the Lea Valley. East of the Lea Valley railway line are the large Brimsdown Industrial Estate, one of Enfield's main commercial centres, and the gas-fired Enfield power station; and to the east of those is the King George V Reservoir which supplies London with drinking water. Brimsdown railway station (two trains each hour to Liverpool Street) links the ward to central London. Most of the housing stock is inter-war including 284 Green Street, a council house which became notorious in the late 1970s for alleged poltergeist activity.

Multiculturalism is the order of the day in Enfield Highway ward's demographics. The ward has a large Muslim population, mostly of Turkish heritage although there are Bangladeshi pockets in the ward, and the area has also seen significant immigration from "other EU accession countries" - given that this is Enfield, Cyprus is probably the most important contributor to that statistic. The White British population in Enfield Highway is 38%, and the ward makes the top 200 in England and Wales for black (22%), White Other (20%), mixed-race (6%) and "other" (6%) ethnic groups.

To see how the demographics of Enfield Highway have changed in this century, take a look at its local elections. Labour polled the same share of the vote here in both 2002 and 2014, at 47%, but over those twelve years the Conservative share has crashed from 53% to just 19%. Some of that will be down to a wider field - 2002 was a straight fight, while the 2014 election saw UKIP come in third with 18% and two other parties on the ballot. However, if May's by-election in the neighbouring Enfield Lock ward is any guide the Conservative share has further to fall here. That by-election came shortly before Labour's Joan Ryan was re-elected in the local Enfield North constituency with a greatly increased majority. Looking back a year to the London Mayor and Assembly elections in 2016, Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith here 57-25 in the ward's ballot boxes while the London Members ballot had a bigger Labour win, 58-19 over the Tories; UKIP were third in both those ballots.

Defending for Labour is another candidate from the Turkish community, Ergun Eren. According to a profile in the local Turkish-language newspaper Olay Gazetesi Eren is 35 years old, a father of two children and a founder-manager of an insurance firm. The Tories have selected Andrew Thorp, who according to his Twitter was once "branded dangerously coercive by Nicky Campbell" (funny that, I remember Campbell being rather more complimentary about me when I spent a couple of days working with him...). Also a father-of-two, Thorp works in media relations for the Scouts and is therefore presumably well-prepared for the campaign. With UKIP having not returned, completing the ballot paper is Green Party candidate Andreea Malin. The recent Liberal Democrat by-election winning streak ends here, because there is no Liberal Democrat candidate.

This column will now take its leave of London for a few months. All of the capital's local government will be up for re-election next May, there are less than six months to go until then, and this was the last vacancy which occurred before the six-month rule kicked in. Our next visit to the Great Wen will be in the summer of 2018, by which time the city's political map may well look very different.

Parliamentary constituency: Enfield North
London Assembly constituency: Enfield and Haringey
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: EN3

May 2014 result Lab 2013/1959/1848 C 842/788/547 UKIP 774 Grn 409 BNP 289
May 2010 result Lab 3003/2876/2850 C 2038/1705/1690 LD 842 UKIP 537 BNP 450 Grn 437
May 2006 result Lab 1540/1419/1406 C 1250/1093/1036 Save Chase Farm 886 UKIP 496
May 2002 result C 1459/1396/1387 Lab 1300/1223/1199

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1650 C 710 UKIP 165 Grn 95 LD 58 Britain First 52 Respect 50 Women's Equality 32 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 30 BNP 26 Zylinski 8 One Love 5
London Members: Lab 1710 C 574 UKIP 247 Grn 89 LD 63 Britain First 58 CPA 50 Respect 42 Women's Equality 41 Animal Welfare 35 BNP 33 House Party 13


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