Previews: 14 Nov 2019

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

There are eight local by-elections on 14th November 2019 in the biggest remaining test of democracy before the next general election. Your columnist has been out of the country for the last week and these previews were written before I left, so in these volatile political times something in this piece is almost certainly out of date. Hopefully the anachronism - whatever it is - will be amusing.

This is the second week of November, which means that there is a notice to read out from the pulpit. We are now less than six months away from the next ordinary local elections on Thursday 7 May 2020, at which the Mayor and Assembly in London, the Police and Crime Commissioners, various metro mayors, most of the English metropolitan boroughs and those English shire districts which elect by halves or thirds will hold elections. Accordingly the six-month rule has come into effect; this means that if any councillors who were due for re-election in May 2020 vacate their seats between now and then, there will not be a by-election to replace them and the seat will remain vacant until May. Less work for me, then.

It's also worth pointing out that there's not just a general election coming up, there's also Christmas around the corner. If you are stuck on what to get the political obsessive in your family as a Christmas present, why not consider Andrew's Previews 2018, the book of these columns? If you like these Previews, there's plenty more like them in the book, and you can order it now from Amazon.

There's a wide geographical spread and something for everyone this week, with two by-elections in Wales, three in England and three in Scotland. Which is where we start:


Inverness Central

Highland council, Scotland; caused by the resignation of Scottish National Party councillor Richard Laird on health grounds. He had served since 2012.

We start in the far north of what remains for now the UK, the capital of the Scottish Highlands. Inverness' location is coded in its name: it's the mouth of the River Ness, at the northern end of the Great Glen. The Central ward is the hub of a growing city; the city centre, the castle and the railway station are all here, together with the South Kessock and Merkinch areas between the river and the Caledonian Canal. Inverness has an unusual distinction for the UK government, in that the first cabinet meeting held outside London took place here: David Lloyd George, who was on holiday in the Highlands at the time, convened a Cabinet in the Inverness Town House in 1921 to discuss the Irish situation.

Inverness is the home of the Highland Council, which administers the UK's most far-flung local government district; so it may come as a surprise that the Central ward is so geographically compact. The ward was created in 2007 as a four-seat electoral district, and at its first election the four seats went to Donnie Kerr of the SNP, independent candidate Peter Corbett, Janet Campbell of the Lib Dems and Elizabeth "Bet" McAllister for Labour, all of whom won comfortably. In 2012 Corbett retired and Campbell successfully sought re-election as an independent candidate; Corbett's seat went to the second SNP candidate Richard Laird, who won fairly narrowly over the replacement Lib Dem Angus Dick.

Boundary changes for the 2017 election reduced the number of Highland councillors from 80 to 74, and one of the six seats which disappeared was in Inverness Central ward which went down to three councillors on slightly reduced boundaries. All four outgoing councillors stood for re-election, so somebody was going to miss out. In the event, the one who missed out was Donnie Kerr, who sought re-election as an independent candidate: he polled 11% of the vote and was eliminated in fifth place. The SNP's Richard Laird topped the poll with 33% and was elected on the first count; second and third were Bet McAllister for Labour (17%) and independent Janet Campbell (15%), who pulled away from the Conservatives' Donald Mackenzie (12%) to win the final two seats comfortably. Allan Faulds of Ballot Box Scotland has crunched the numbers as usual, finding that if the 2017 Inverness Central election had been for one seat then the SNP would have won easily after transfers.

So this looks like an simple enough defence for the SNP going into a general election where they have to defend the marginal seat of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. Their defending candidate in this by-election is Emma Roddick, who works for the local ambulance service and volunteers for a mental health charity. Labour have selected Ardalan Eghtedar, a dentist who fought Inverness West in 2017. There is one independent candidate on the ballot paper: Richie Paxton, who owns a guest house. The Conservatives have selected Rachael Hatfield. Also standing are Russell Deacon for the Scottish Green Party (who stood here in 2017) and Mary Dormer for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey
Scottish Parliament constituency: Inverness and Nairn
ONS Travel to Work Area: Inverness
Postcode districts: IV1, IV2, IV3, IV99

Russell Deacon (Grn)
Mary Dormer (LD)
Ardalan Eghtedar (Lab)
Rachael Hatfield (C)
Richie Paxton (Ind)
Emma Roddick (SNP)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 1122 Lab 577 Ind 522 C 426 Ind 360 Grn 208 LD 154 Ind 50


Dunfermline Centrel; and
Rosyth

Fife council, Scotland; caused respectively by the resignations of Conservative councillor Alan Craig and Scottish National Party councillor Sam Steele, both of whom had served since 2017. Steele is resigning on health grounds.

From the capital of the Highlands we travel to a town which could arguably have been the capital of Scotland. Dunfermline is first mentioned in the eleventh century as the wedding-place of King Malcolm III Canmore and St Margaret of Wessex; this was shortly after the Norman conquest of England, and Margaret - as the sister of Edgar the Atheling, the Anglo-Saxon claimant to the throne - wasn't safe south of the border. Malcolm and St Margaret had eight children together, including three future kings of Scotland (Edgar, Alexander I and David I) and a daughter, Edith or Matilda, who in time married the English king Henry I. Queen Margaret did many good works for the Kingdoms of Scotland and Fife, including establishing a ferry link over the Firth of Forth (from which the modern villages of North and South Queensferry take their name); she was eventually buried in Dunfermline, establishing a royal mausoleum in the town.

Dunfermline lost its royal connections after James VI inherited the English throne in 1603 and moved his court to London. The town then went into a decline until the 18th century when a linen industry was established.

Things further turned up in 1909, when a garden city was founded to the south of Dunfermline to house workers at a large new development: the Royal Naval Dockyard, Rosyth. This was a time when the Royal Navy and the German Navy were in an arms race, and the Admiralty wanted a beefier naval presence on the east coast to counter the German threat. Rosyth Dockyard was privatised by the Thatcher government but is still very much in operation, most recently building the UK's two new aircraft carriers. HMS Queen Elizabeth was commissioned in 2017; HMS Prince of Wales, is currently at Rosyth being fitted out for handover to the senior service later this year.

The replacement of Queen Margaret's ferry by the Forth Road Bridge in 1964 (subsequently replaced by the Queensferry Crossing in 2017) brought Dunfermline and Rosyth within commuting distance of Edinburgh, and over the last few decades Dunfermline's population has boomed. There is also plenty of manufacturing and employment in the town, with Sky and Amazon being major employers. Dunfermline is now the largest town in Fife and a major service centre for the local area. The Central ward covers the town centre and extends to the east along the A92 road towards Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes, plus the village of Crossford to the west. Following boundary changes in 2017 (which removed the village of North Queensferry) Rosyth ward is based on the town itself plus some villages (like Limekilns and Crombie) on the north bank of the Forth to the west.

The first elections to these wards were in 2007 and came hard on the heels of the Dunfermline and West Fife parliamentary by-election in 2006, which the Liberal Democrats had taken off Labour. The Lib Dems topped the poll in Dunfermline Central in 2007 with 42% of the first preferences, and won two out of four seats; Labour and the SNP took the other two. There was a big swing from the Lib Dems to Labour in 2012, mirroring the Labour recovery at the 2010 general election; the Lib Dems didn't defend their second seat in Dunfermline Central and Labour had no problem picking it up. Rosyth ward had a similar trajectory, with its three seats splitting Labour-SNP-Lib Dem in 2007 and Labour picking up the Lib Dem seat in 2012.

Things changed following the 2014 Indyref and subsequent SNP surge. Douglas Chapman, the SNP councillor for Rosyth, was elected in the 2015 general election as MP for Dunfermline and West Fife; he resigned from Fife council to concentrate on his duties in Westminster, and the SNP held the resulting Rosyth by-election in November 2015.

In the 2017 Fife elections, the SNP went into first place in both Dunfermline Central and Rosyth wards, and the Conservatives gained seats in both areas. Rosyth ward gave 36% to the SNP, 22% to the Conservatives and 18% to Labour, with the Conservatives picking up the second Labour seat. Dunfermline Central had a more complicated result, with 30% for the SNP, 26% for Labour, 24% for the Conservatives and 9% for independent candidate Doug Hay. The Tories' Alan Craig topped the poll and picked up the seat previously held by the Lib Dems. Hay was eliminated in sixth place, just 2 votes behind the second SNP candidate Neale Hanvey, and his transfers went strongly to Labour to enable Labour to hold their two seats. Hanvey lost his seat to his running-mate; in the general election next month he will try to recover the Labour seat of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.

Again, Allan Faulds of Ballot Box Scotland (whatever would we do without him?) has crunched the numbers to see what would have happened in a single-seat election in 2017; the answer to that is that the SNP would have won Rosyth, but Labour would have beaten the Nationalists in Dunfermline Central thanks to Conservative transfers. With the constituency of Dunfermline and West Fife having been close between the SNP and Labour in June 2017, all parties will be looking to make a good impression in these by-elections. There are no implications for control of Fife council, which is run by a grand coalition of the SNP and Labour with a secure majority.

Defending Rosyth for the SNP is Sharon Green-Wilson, who has appeared in this column before: she was the winner of the November 2015 Rosyth by-election, but lost her seat in 2017 to her running-mate Samantha Steele. Having married since 2017 and changed her surname from Wilson, Sharon will have a better place on the alphabetical ballot paper if she seeks election again in 2022. This by-election is one of those cases where the candidate list raises more questions than it answers, and there is a story to be told - which I have regrettably yet to got to the bottom of - regarding the Tory candidate Margaret Fairgrieve. She gives the same address on her nomination papers as independent candidate Alastair Macintyre, a gardener who returns for his fourth go at Rosyth ward. Macintyre was the UKIP candidate here in 2012, and in 2017 he polled 2% and finished last of nine candidates. The Labour candidate can expect to do better than that: he is Billy Pollock, who fought the neighbouring ward of Dunfermline South in 2017. Also standing in Rosyth are Jill Blair for the Lib Dems, Craig McCutcheon for the Scottish Greens and Calum Paul (from Kirkcaldy) for the Libertarian Party.

The Tories have an uphill task in trying to defend Dunfermline Central from third place. Their defending candidate is Chloe Dodds, who has appeared in this column before: she was the UKIP candidate in a by-election to Fife council in Dunfermline North ward in November 2015, finishing in last place on that occasion. The SNP have selected Derek Glen, organiser for the party's Dunfermline branch. The Labour candidate is Michael Boyd, a former postman and hospital radio presenter who is associated with the GMB union; he fought Dunfermline North ward in 2017. As with all Scottish local by-elections, Votes at 16 and the Alternative Vote apply, so transfers from whichever of these candidates finishes third could be crucial in the final reckoning. Also standing are Aude Boubaker-Calder for the Liberal Democrats, Fiona McOwan for the Scottish Greens and Keith Chamberlain for the Libertarian Party.

Dunfermline Central

Parliamentary constituency: Dunfermline and West Fife
Scottish Parliament constituency: Dunfermline
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy
Postcode districts: KY11, KY12, KY99

Aude Boubaker-Calder (LD)
Michael Boyd (Lab)
Keith Chamberlain (Libertarian)
Chloe Dodds (C)
Derek Glen (SNP)
Fiona McOwan (Grn)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 2180 Lab 1947 C 1768 Ind 655 LD 509 Grn 238 Ind 27

Rosyth

Parliamentary constituency: Dunfermline and West Fife
Scottish Parliament constituency: Cowdenbeath (Rosyth town), Dunfermline (western villages)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dumfermline and Kirkcaldy
Postcode districts: KY11, KY12

Jill Blair (LD)
Margaret Fairgrieve (C)
Sharon Green-Wilson (SNP)
Alastair Macintyre (Ind)
Craig McCutcheon (Grn)
Calum Paul (Libertarian Party)
Billy Pollock (Lab)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 1860 C 1136 Lab 932 Ind 402 LD 377 Ind 156 Grn 147 Ind 89


Shap

Eden council, Cumbria; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor John Owen, who had served since 2015.

We travel south of the Border but not very far. Shap is a place where many pass through but few stop: the A6 road, M6 motorway and West Coast Main Line all go through or past this linear settlement, which is legally a town although the market charter has been dormant for many years. All of these transport routes pass over the hills to the south on their way to Lancaster: the railway and motorway head south-east towards Tebay and the Lune Gorge, the A6 south-west towards Kendal over the Shap Fells. This road had a formidable reputation with its sharp curves, steep gradients, high altitude (over 1,400 feet) and propensity for awful weather. Until the motorway was built, many road travellers from England to western Scotland preferred to avoid the area entirely by travelling via the A1 east of the Pennines as far as Scotch Corner - which is how that road junction got its name. Shap may have declined a bit since the golden age of motoring, but there is still some accommodation here which is well-used by hikers: the town is a recommended stopping point on Wainwright's Coast to Coast Walk. Tourism, sheep farming and quarrying are all major source of income here. In the 2011 census Shap was in the top 25 wards in England and Wales for those born in the UK (98.7%) and in the top 100 for the White British ethnic group (98.4%).

The Shap district ward also covers the mountainous Shap Fell, and extends as far as the eastern bank of Haweswater. Not that this increases the electorate, as the villages in Mardale were flooded in the 1930s to supply drinking water for distant Manchester. Haweswater now accounts for around a quarter of United Utilities' water supply.

We're in the Eden local government district here, which may have been the setting for Withnal and I but that doesn't always mean that we get the finest local election results known to humanity. Eden is an extremely far-flung and - as a look at Shep Fell will tell you - very sparsely populated district, and many of its wards go uncontested at election time. Shap has generally escaped this fate, and some of this contestation will be down to Tory opposition to one man.

https://youtu.be/uliRkv3QEOE

Unlike most people, Neil Hughes has had the ups and downs of his life played out on national television over the last fifty-six years. He was one of the fourteen seven-year-old children selected in 1963 by Michael Apted for a documentary series called 7 Up, and Apted has returned every seven years since then to film Neil and the twelve other surviving children. Neil was the only one of the children who went into politics, joining the Liberal Democrats and serving on Hackney council in London in the 1990s. He subsequently moved to rural Cumbria, and from 2003 to 2015 was the Eden district councillor for Shap ward. Hughes was still in that post when the above film was made for 56 Up seven years ago; he has since left Eden council after being elected to Cumbria county council in 2013. Neil still holds that county council seat. Earlier this year he went through it all again for the benefit of national television, participating in 63 Up.

Neil Hughes isn't the only person with a compelling life story associated with Shap. Consider: a successful author, hiker, diplomat, colonial governor, Harvard lecturer, TV presenter, Old Etonian, Member of Parliament, Cabinet minister, party leadership candidate, GQ Politician of the Year. The MP for the local seat of Penrith and the Border until last week, Rory Stewart is or has been all of those things, but he has also been banished from Eden into the political wilderness. Apparently there's no place for him in the modern Conservative Party.

The Lib Dems didn't put up a candidate for Shap when Hughes retired from Eden council in 2015, and the Conservative candidate John Owen was subsequently elected unopposed. Owen did face a contest in May this year, when he was re-elected with a 51-31 lead over the Lib Dems. He had previously been chairman of the council-owned company Heart of Cumbria, but resigned from the board of directors and then the council after the Eden council leadership stripped him of his decision-making powers. Owen may have been re-elected in May but the Tory administration wasn't: the Conservatives lost their majority on Eden council and a rainbow coalition of all the other groups has taken control.

Defending the Shap by-election for the Conservatives is Sean Quinn, a volunteer youth worker who gives an address in the village of Kirkby Thore. He is opposed by the two losing candidates for Shap in May: Neil McCall, from Crosby Ravensworth, for the Lib Dems; and local resident Kerryanne Wilde of the Putting Cumbria First party, who finished in third and last place here in May and also finished last at a subsequent local by-election in Penrith.

Parliamentary constituency: Penrith and the Border
Cumbria county council division: Eden Lakes
ONS Travel to Work Area: Penrith
Postcode district: CA10

Neil McCall (LD)
Sean Quinn (C)
Kerryanne Wilde (Putting Cumbria First)

May 2019 result C 273 LD 167 Putting Cumbria First 94
May 2015 result C unopposed
May 2011 result LD 437 C 230
May 2007 result LD 286 C 270
May 2003 result LD 166 Ind 132


Rhos

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

We move into Wales for two by-elections in the south of the country. The village of Rhos can be found on the hillside above Pontardawe in the Swansea Valley, along the road to Neath, and is counted by the Royal Mail as part of Pontardawe. Like many places in South Wales this was a pit village which grew from almost nothing in the nineteenth century; unlike many places in South Wales there was still coalmining going on here into the twenty-first century. The division boundary runs for some miles along the wooded south side of the Tawe, and includes the site of the small Gleision Colliery, a drift mine into the hillside which flooded in 2011, killing four miners.

Alex Thomas had been the councillor for Rhos since 2012 when he defeated the former Plaid Cymru councillor Marcia Spooner. Spooner tried to get her seat back at the most recent Neath Port Talbot elections in May 2017, but Thomas increased his majority; shares of the vote were 46% for Labour, 31% for Plaid and 24% for the Conservatives' Amanda Wycherley, who must have been Furious that she didn't do better. Mind, 24% is not a bad Tory score at all in a Valleys constituency.

Defending for Labour is Rupert Denholm-Hall, a freelance journalist. Marcia Spooner, a local community councillor, tries again for Plaid Cymru. The Conservatives have selected Yvonne Lewis, who completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Neath
ONS Travel to Work Area: Swansea
Postcode district: SA8

Rupert Denholm-Hall (Lab)
Yvonne Lewis (C)
Marcia Spooner (PC)

May 2017 result Lab 440 PC 297 C 227
May 2012 result Lab 393 PC 265 Ind 223
May 2008 result PC 578 Lab 346
June 2004 result Lab 369 PC 234 LD 163 Grn 82

St Mary

Powys council, Mid and West Wales; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Sarah Lewis who had served since 2017.

For our second Welsh by-election of the week we travel to Brecon. Historically the county town of Breconshire, or Brecknockshire if you prefer, Brecon is now only the third largest town in Powys (Newtown and Ystradgynlais are larger) but is still an important place.

Last week we were in a part of Pembrokeshire where the men from the military have been since shortly after the Norman conquest. Brecon has been fortified for an awful lot longer than that. The Romans were here in the first century AD, building a fort near the modern town then called Cicucium and now known as Y Gaer, guarding a ford on the River Usk. Cicucium was staffed by 500 cavalrymen from faraway Iberia; what they thought of the Welsh weather is not recorded. The Normans refortified Brecon by building a castle in the late eleventh century, erecting town walls in the thirteenth century and improving them in 1404 to protect the town from the Glyndŵr rebellion.

The men from the military are still in Brecon today. A barracks was built in the town in 1805, and it eventually became the headquarters for the 24th Foot - later the South Wales Borderers - which found fame in the Zulu War in 1879 at Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift. Their successors, 160th (Wales) Brigade, are still based at Brecon Barracks today, and elsewhere in the town is the regimental museum of the Royal Welsh. Brecon Barracks are scheduled for closure in the next decade, but for officers and Other Ranks the Infantry Battle School is also in Brecon, and the military have left their mark on the town's 2011 census return in an unexpected way. St Mary division made the top 15 wards or divisions in England and Wales for Buddhism, at 3.2% of the population: this is not because Brecon is a new-agey sort of place (it's not), it's due to a company of Gurkhas being stationed here.

St Mary is the eastern of Brecon's three electoral divisions, which are all named after churches. It covers the town centre and runs from there down the Usk Valley, including all the military sites. The division has often been closely fought in recent times, the Lib Dems coming out on top in three-way marginal results in 2008 and 2012. In 2017 the long-serving Lib Dem councillor Paul Ashton retired, and St Mary was gained rather convincingly by Sarah Lewis for the Conservatives. Shares of the vote were 41% for the Conservatives, 27% for the Lib Dems and 21% for Labour, for whom Brecon is one of their strongest areas in Powys. The local Conservatives may, however, still be reeling from the loss of the local parliamentary seat to the Lib Dems at the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election in August. There is no love lost between the disgraced former Tory MP Chris Davies and outgoing St Mary councillor Sarah Lewis, who used to run Davies' constituency office but was reported in May to be suing him for unfair dismissal.

Defending for the Conservatives is Alan Roberts, the vice-chairman of Brecon County Show: he is a businessman who spent over 35 years in the police service. Another Roberts on the ballot paper is Gareth Roberts, who is the Liberal Democrat candidate. The Labour candidate is Liz Rijnenberg, a Brecon town councillor who is now retired after a distinguished career in the Probation Service, for which she was appointed OBE in 2016. Also standing are Grenville Ham for Plaid Cymru and independent candidate Gareth Phillips, who is notable enough for Wikipedia: Phillips has been an actor since he was a child, and played Nick Williams in Grange Hill from 1990 to 1992.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Brecon and Radnorshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Brecon
Postcode district: LD3

Grenville Ham (PC)
Liz Rijnenberg (Lab)
Alan Roberts (C)
Gareth Roberts (LD)

May 2017 result C 485 LD 321 Lab 246 Grn 119
May 2012 result LD 361 C 301 Lab 265
May 2008 result LD 350 Ind 304 C 303
June 2004 result LD unopposed
October 2003 by-election LD 411 C 241


Goodrington with Roselands

Torbay council, Devon; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Rick Heyse who had served only since May this year.

We travel across the Bristol Channel to the English Riviera for this week's Liberal Democrat defence. The village of Goodrington can be found on the western shore of Tor Bay, just to the south of Paignton. This is of course holiday country, and in season (which we are not) Paignton Zoo, the Splashdown Quaywest water park and Goodrington's beach attract tourists. Next to the beach and water park is Goodrington's railway station, which Google Maps mistakenly shows as National Rail; in fact the station is run by the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway, a preserved line.

Torbay council dates from 1968 when it was formed as the County Borough of Torbay, incorporating Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. The local government reorganisation of 1974 demoted Torbay to a district under Devon county council, but the borough regained its independence in the 1990s as one of the UK's smaller unitary councils.

Since then Torbay has often seesawed wildly between Conservative and Lib Dem control, and Goodrington with Roselands ward's history reflects that. In 2003 it elected two Lib Dems comfortably but since then the ward has been a closely-fought marginal. The Tories gained one seat at an October 2004 by-election and gained the other in 2011. On slightly revised boundaries for the 2019 election the Lib Dems fought back, gaining both seats in Goodrington with Roselands by the narrow margin of 31% to 28%; an independent candidate and UKIP had 13% each.

Torbay's elected mayoralty was abolished this year after a 2016 referendum had its result implemented, sending political control back to the council, and that was bad news for the Conservatives. They are the largest party on Torbay council, but are short of a majority which has allowed the Lib Dems and independent councillors to take control of the administration.

Defending this marginal seat for the Liberal Democrats is Dennis Shearman, who fought the neighbouring ward of Churston with Galmpton in May. The Tories have reselected Jane Barnby, who was a councillor for this ward from 2011 until May when she lost her seat by 45 votes. The independent candidate and UKIP have not returned, although Eddie Davis might be considered to be fishing in the former UKIP vote pool; Davis is that rare thing, a local government candidate for the Brexit Party. Also standing are Jane Hughes for the Green Party and Catherine Fritz for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Yorbay (most), Totnes (small parts)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Torquay and Paignton
Postcode districts: TQ3, TQ4

Jane Barnby (C)
Eddie Davis (Brexit Party)
Catherine Fritz (Lab)
Jane Hughes (Grn)
Dennis Shearman (LD)

May 2019 result LD 798/761 C 716/565 Ind 343 UKIP 332 Grn 245 Lab 163


Culverden

Tunbridge Wells council, Kent; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Ronen Basu. Born in Varanasi in India, Basu was a consultant pathologist who became Clinical Director of Pathology at Tunbridge Wells Hospital. He also did pioneering research in cellular pathology, and had worked for the World Health Organisation. After retiring from the medical sector Basu entered politics and had served as a Tunbridge Wells councillor since 2008; he was Mayor of Tunbridge Wells in 2013-14, had been the council's cabinet member for sustainability, and also chaired Tunbridge Wells in Bloom. He had been married for 41 years to Sue, who survives him.

The time had been, when this burst of enthusiasm would have been cheered to the very echo; but now, the deputation received it with chilling coldness. The general impression seemed to be, that as an explanation of Mr. Gregsbury’s political conduct, it did not enter quite enough into detail; and one gentleman in the rear did not scruple to remark aloud, that, for his purpose, it savoured rather too much of a 'gammon' tendency.

'The meaning of that term—gammon,' said Mr. Gregsbury, 'is unknown to me. If it means that I grow a little too fervid, or perhaps even hyperbolical, in extolling my native land, I admit the full justice of the remark. I am proud of this free and happy country. My form dilates, my eye glistens, my breast heaves, my heart swells, my bosom burns, when I call to mind her greatness and her glory.'

We finish for the week in the stereotypical land of green ink, the spiritual home of Sir Bufton Tufton and his ilk, the favoured location of retired colonels who are exasperated at the current state of affairs; or, to use the modern and rather offensive equivalent term, "gammons". It may surprise readers to learn that the "gammon" meme is not a new one: the word may have re-emerged into prominence in this decade, but the quote above comes from Nicholas Nickelby by Charles Dickens. The similar Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells meme is not new either; in fact it's been going on for so long it's become a cliché, and one that the town would rather like to move away from, thank you very much. The country has changed, and Tunbridge Wells has changed with it.

The census return for Culverden ward, which runs north-west from the town's railway station, rather bears this out. This is a highly-educated ward full of people who are young enough to work in middle-class, professional jobs. 11% of its residents were, like the late Councillor Basu, born outside the EU. This youngish professional demographic is a very poor fit for the "Disgusted" "gammon" stereotype, and it's people like the residents of Culverden ward who meant that Tunbridge Wells was the only district in Kent carried by Remain in the EU referendum.

It's people like that which also mean that Culverden ward is normally a Tory banker when election time comes. From 2002 (when the current ward boundaries were drawn up) to 2015 Culverden consistently returned a Conservative vote of between 47% and 59%, with the Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP all holding the runner-up spot at some point in that period. In 2016 Labour moved into second place and Dr Basu, at his final re-election, saw the Tory vote fall to 44%; but with a very split opposition there wasn't cause for concern. In 2017 the Conservatives very easily held Tunbridge Wells West in the Kent county council elections and the Tunbridge Wells parliamentary seat re-elected the business secretary Greg Clark without fuss.

And then all hell broke loose. Tunbridge Wells council had come up with a cunning plan to build a new theatre/civic centre/underground car park complex on Calverley Square, to replace the current Assembly Halls theatre and council offices. Looks nice in the picture. However this cunning plan went down with, for want of a better word, disgust among the public of Tunbridge Wells, who objected to the cost (£90 million and counting) and the fact that it would be built on part of the Calverley Grounds park just outside Culverden ward. A new political party was set up in opposition to the proposals - the Tunbridge Wells Alliance - and it won Park ward, covering the proposed development site, at the May 2018 local elections. The Tunbridge Wells Alliance also finished second in Culverden ward, polling 23%; the Tory vote fell to just 30% and only a five-way vote split saved their seat. Despite this, Tunbridge Wells council's planning committee gave the project the thumbs-up shortly after the election was over.

For the public reaction to this in the May 2019 local elections, take a look at the map below, and beat in mind that the Conservatives were defending all seventeen wards up for election:

A picture tells a thousand words. And it could have been even worse for the Tories, as they tied with Labour on 289 votes for first place in Paddock Wood West, and held the seat only by winning the Returning Officer's drawing of lots. The pink wards represent the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, which didn't stand in Culverden; nonetheless Culverden ward turned in an astonishing result. The Liberal Democrats came from third place to win the ward, polling 32% of the vote. Second place, in the party's best-ever election result for a principal council to date, went to Liz Orr of the Women's Equality Party, the feminist movement founded by the journalists Catherine Meyer and Sandi Toksvig. Orr, who had been endorsed by the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, polled 25% of the vote, the same as the defending Conservatives who were pushed down to third place; Labour finished fourth with 11%. That was one of thirteen seats the Conservatives lost in Tunbridge Wells in May, and only the thirds electoral system preserved their council majority. Subsequently a full council meeting in October threw the Calverley Square plan out, and a cross-party working group is now looking at where we go from here.

In the background shenanigans have been going on at parliamentary level too. Greg Clark held his position as business secretary throughout the May administration, but there was no place for him in the Johnson government. Clark is a staunch opponent of no-deal Brexit, and like Rory Stewart earlier in his column was one of the 21 Tory MPs who lost the whip for voting in favour of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 2) Act 2019, the so-called Benn Act. Unlike Stewart, Greg Clark did subsequently get the Conservative whip back, but when this piece was written (last week) it wasn't clear whether he would seek re-election. Nominations for the general election close today, so the picture may be clearer by the time you read this.

Lots for the local electors to take in, there. Defending this surprisingly difficult seat for the Conservatives is David Elliott, a former Mayor of Tunbridge Wells who represented Southborough North ward from 2007 until losing his seat in May. The Liberal Democrats have selected Justine Rutland, a copywriter and marketing manager for the local Puppetry Festival. Liz Orr returns for the Women's Equality Party after her second-place finish in May. Labour have reselected David Adams, who runs a research company in the financial sector. Also standing are Rachel Daly for the Tunbridge Wells Alliance and Aimee Taylor for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Tunbridge Wells
Kent county council division: Tunbridge Wells West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Tunbridge Wells
Postcode districts: TN1, TN4

David Adams (Lab)
Rachel Daly (Tunbridge Wells Alliance)
David Elliott (C)
Liz Orr (Women's Equality)
Justine Rutland (LD)
Aimee Taylor (Grn)

May 2019 result LD 723 Women's Equality 570 C 560 Lab 237 UKIP 155
May 2018 result C 663 Tunbridge Wells Alliance 499 LD 400 Lab 327 Women's Equality 323
May 2016 result C 780 Lab 346 LD 234 UKIP 217 Grn 195
May 2015 result C 1903 LD 566 Lab 563 UKIP 419 Grn 418
May 2014 result C 988 UKIP 390 LD 267 Grn 229 Lab 218
May 2012 result C 746 UKIP 231 Grn 216 Lab 213 LD 182
May 2011 result C 1261 LD 363 Lab 328 Grn 267 UKIP 196
May 2010 result C 1934 LD 1222 Grn 313 UKIP 198 Ind 45
May 2008 result C 919 Grn 518 UKIP 172
May 2007 result C 921 Grn 469 UKIP 196
May 2006 result C 981 LD 450 Grn 244
June 2004 result C 985 LD 420 Lab 206 Grn 194
May 2003 result C 733 LD 425 Grn 147
May 2002 result C 804/800/799 LD 523/497 Grn 388

Andrew Teale


Preview: 13 Nov 2019

One Wednesday by-election on 13th November 2019:


Aldersgate

City of London Corporation; caused by the resignation of Labour Common Councilman Richard Crossen, who had served since March 2017.

For a rare Wednesday by-election we travel to the ancient City of London. This has unique local government arrangements in that is still controlled by the City of London Corporation, whose structure is little modified since mediaeval times. Aldersgate ward lies on the northern edge of the old City, on both sides of the Roman Wall, and took its name from a gate in the wall. This gate was the scene of an early instance of fake news, when in 1554 a serving-maid called Elizabeth Crofts was smuggled into a hollow wall, from where she shouted some anti-Catholic slogans into the street. A crowd of 17,000 people apparently gathered. Zuckerberg, take note.

Other famous residents of Aldersgate Street included the Bishop of London, who had lodgings here, and someone called William Shakespeare who is recorded in 1598 as the owner of 134 Aldersgate Street (a site now occupied by Barbican underground station). There was a Moravian chapel at 28 Aldersgate Street where, on 24 May 1738, John Wesley had a religious experience which led him to found the Methodist Church. The Methodists still celebrate Aldersgate Day each in May in honour of this.

These buildings no longer exist. Aldersgate Street and the surrounding area was devastated by enemy bombing in the Second World War, leaving an open space which the City Corporation eventually filled with the modernist Barbican housing estate. This was not social housing, instead being let by the City at commercial rates to professionals. We can see this in the census return for the City as a whole, which in 2011 had a population of 7,375: if the City was a single ward (and it has the population of one), it would be number 1 in England and Wales for the the ONS "higher management" employment category (35%) and number 3 for the proportion of adults with a degree or equivalent qualification (68%). Around a quarter of those 7,375 people live in Aldersgate ward, which is the western half of the Barbican estate and is one of the City's "residential" wards.

So, how do these people vote? Rather difficult to tell, is the answer to that. In the 2016 London Assembly elections, Zac Goldsmith beat Sadiq Khan 40-38 across the City of London, while the London Members ballot gave 36% to the Conservatives, 29% to Labour and 10% each to the Lib Dems and Greens. Unlike most GLA voting figures quoted by this column, these figures include postal votes (which does make a difference: Khan carried the on-the-day votes in the City but Goldsmith had a big lead in the postals). The EU referendum a month later saw the City return a 75% Remain vote. In a rare case of European Parliament results being available at what's effectively ward level, we can also look at what happened in the City on 23 May this year: this gives a completely different picture, with 41% for the Liberal Democrats, 16% for the Brexit Party, 15% for the Greens and 11% for Labour. You can see what's attracted Labour to Lib Dem defector Chuka Umunna to seek re-election to Parliament here, rather than in his former Streatham constituency. At parliamentary level the Cities of London and Westminster is normally a safe Tory seat that doesn't attract much comment; however with Labour having made it marginal in 2017 and with the retirement of Tory MP Mark Field, things look interesting in the Two Cities this time.

What effect will this have on the by-election? Very little. City Corporation elections are generally non-partisan affairs and Labour is the only organised political party that contests them. The last City elections were in March 2017, when Aldersgate ward had six independent candidates and one Labour candidate nominated; since there were seven seats available, they were all declared elected without further ado.

Defending for Labour is Helen Fentiman, a magistrate, school governor, and former Chief Nurse and NHS chief executive. She is opposed by four independent candidates: Shahnan Bakth, Ian Burleigh, Paul Clifford and Heather Thomas. All five candidates give addresses on the Barbican estate.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
London Assembly constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: EC1A, EC2V, EC2Y

Shahnan Bakth (Ind)
Ian Burleigh (Ind)
Paul Clifford (Ind)
Helen Fentiman (Lab)
Heather Thomas (Ind)


Previews: 07 Nov 2019

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

There are six by-elections on Thursday 7th November 2019:


Fairfield

Croydon council, South London; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Niroshan Sirisena who had served since May 2018.

So it's general election time, the third time in five years that the British electorate has been asked to go to the polls to elect or re-elect their Member of Parliament. The campaigns are in full swing, psephologists are much in demand and there is an awful lot of fake news out there. Remember, the Britain Elects team works tirelessly to bring you cold, hard unadulterated facts; beware of scammers and imitators who may have their own agenda.

This is a good time to read out some notices relating to arrangements for the general election. Parliament was dissolved yesterday, and the Clerk of the Parliaments has sent out writs to the Returning Officers ordering them to organise an election: those will be formally received today. Nominations open no later than 10am on Tuesday 12 November (possibly earlier at the discretion of the Returning Officer) and close at 4pm on Thursday 14 November. The dissolution may appear to have come a day earlier than the prescribed timescale of 25 working days, but that's because Monday 2 December is a bank holiday in Scotland in lieu of St Andrew's Day; accordingly 2 December doesn't count as a working day for the general election timetable.

In order to stand as a candidate in the general election you will need to fill out rather a lot of paperwork, but the important things you need are (a) the signatures of ten people registered to vote in the constituency you want to contest, (b) if you want to stand for a political party, the relevant form to certify that (your party and the Returning Officer will be able to confirm exactly what you need), and (c) £500 in cold hard cash, which you will get back if and only if you poll over 5% of the vote. If you are in any doubt about this process check with the Returning Officer.

The deadline to register to vote in the general election is midnight on Tuesday 26 November. There is a helpful centralised government website (https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote) which will take down your details and forward them to your council elections office. Your council will have sent out a canvass letter in September or October to confirm your details for the December 2019 electoral register; if you responded to that then you are already registered to vote and you don't need to go through this again. However, if you've recently moved home or changed your name, than it may be prudent to put in a new application to register to vote as soon as possible.

If you need to obtain a postal vote for the general election, then the deadline for this is 5pm on Tuesday 26 November. If you miss that deadline or you will be out of the country on election day, then you can apply for a proxy vote by 5pm on Wednesday 4 December. Polling will be open on Thursday 12 December 2019 from 7am to 10pm, and if you haven't got a postal vote you will receive a polling card in due course giving you the details of your polling station. If this doesn't happen, check wheredoivote.co.uk/ nearer the time. There will probably be a few dozen council by-elections combined with the general election, and Andrew's Previews will of course cover those in due course.

Your columnist has marked the dissolution of Parliament by doing the most obvious and rational thing possible: fleeing the country. By the time you read this I'll be in Sofia, Bulgaria, as part of the Welsh team for the European Quiz Championships; and once the quiz is all over I'll be taking a leisurely road trip to Plovdiv, Edirne and İstanbul, returning a week today. Fear not, the text for next week's Previews has already been filed and will be published in due course. I do not intend to reply to or indeed read any messages while I'm out of the UK, so pestering me will get you nowhere; if by some mischance you wish to complain about something that went wrong in this week's Previews, please address your communications directly to the Britain Elects team and accept my apologies in advance.

This holiday is good timing, for September to November is the busiest time of year for local council by-elections and there are plenty of real polls to chew over for this week and next. This week's six votes are evenly split with three by-elections in England and three in Scotland and Wales. The Scottish and Welsh polls aren't going to tell us much about the upcoming general election because they are in areas politically dominated by independent candidates. The English polls may have more predictive value, particularly the one in London which is mostly located in the marginal parliamentary constituency of Croydon Central.

Croydon is a town, and that statement indicates the rather poor hand history dealt to it. The town has had some form of self-government since the Middle Ages, but petitions for incorporation in the late 17th and early 18th centuries came to nothing thanks to opposition from the lord of the manor, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Despite being equal in size to many of the large Northern towns created by the Industrial Revolution, Croydon didn't become a borough until 1883; the town was promoted to County Borough status four years later, but the county borough disappeared when Croydon was incorporated into Greater London in 1965. The modern London Borough of Croydon is the largest of the 32 London Boroughs with around 267,000 local government electors - more than Northumberland. Croydon has regularly sought city status, pointing out in 2000 that it was "the largest town which does not have the title of City in the whole of Western Europe" - and has been repeatedly knocked back on the grounds that it's just another town in the urban sprawl of the Great Wen.

Just another town it may be, but Croydon town centre is one of the best-connected locations in South London thanks to its position on the main road and railway line to Brighton and at the hub of the Croydon Tramlink light rail network. East Croydon is one of the busiest railway stations in the country, serving over 23 million passengers a year; from it and the smaller West Croydon station, 33 trains arrive and depart every hour to and from central London.

https://youtu.be/QA9IQycyMX4

Those who are old enough to know Croydon primarily from Terry and June may have some trouble recognising what the place has become today. East Croydon station has been rebuilt more than once since the film above was made. The shopping centre in the film - the Whitgift Centre - was until 2008 the largest covered shopping centre in London, but is now slated for redevelopment and is expected to close its doors shortly. The Fairfield Halls, a large entertainment complex including an 1800-seat concert hall, emerged from its own redevelopment in September this year. The Fairfield Halls were built on the site of Croydon's mediaeval fair, and give their name to the electoral ward covering Croydon town centre.

Redevelopment these days entails lots of high-rise city- or (in Croydon's case) town-centre flats and apartments to generate the rental income to pay for it. The result of this is that the population projections for Croydon town centre have gone through the roof, and the Local Government Boundary Commission stepped in last year before things got completely out of hand. Croydon got a new ward map for the 2018 elections, with Fairfield ward cut back to cover just the town centre while retaining its three councillors. The new ward has a very low electorate at the moment, but that will change in fairly short order.

The 2018 redraw fundamentally changed the character of Fairfield ward. Before 2018 it combined the town centre with an upmarket area to the east, as far as Lloyd Park. In the 2011 census Fairfield was in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for Hinduism (13.5%) and had a middle-class economic profile. It had voting patterns to match, consistently returning Conservative councillors. However, this upmarket area to the east of the Brighton Line became a single-member ward of its own in 2018 (called Park Hill and Whitgift) and it's clear that a lot of the Conservative vote in the old Fairfield ward ended up there. The new Fairfield ward was safely Labour at its inaugural election in May 2018, with the Labour slate enjoying a 51-30 lead over the Conservatives.

On that Labour slate was Niroshan Sirisena who was elected for his first term of office. Sirisena, who claimed to have founded the Croydon branch of Momentum, quickly found himself in the council's cabinet and was clearly climbing the political greasy pole with some speed. So his resignation from the council, which came abruptly in September over what Croydon Labour described as a "serious incident", is rather intriguing. At the time of writing nothing more about this "serious incident" has emerged into the public domain other than rumours that the police may be involved, although there are some suggestions that Sirisena had been working for the Labour MP Sarah Jones and hadn't declared that on Croydon council's register of interests.

Most of the Fairfield ward is within Sarah Jones' Croydon Central parliamentary seat, which was rather convincingly gained by Labour in June 2017 following a series of knife-edge results in favour of the Tories' Gavin Barwell. Barwell, who after losing his seat became Theresa May's chief of staff at 10 Downing Street, won't be contesting the 2019 general election as May awarded him a peerage in her resignation honours. Croydon Central remains just about marginal but is now some way down the Tory target list.

So this is a by-election to watch. Defending for Labour is Caragh Skipper, who like Sirisena is a Momentumite; she fought Addiscombe East ward in the 2018 Croydon elections and missed out on a seat by just eight votes. The Conservative candidate is Jayde Edwards, who is 20 years old and associated with the evangelical SPAC Nation church. Also standing are Esther Sutton for the Green Party, Andrew Rendle for the Liberal Democrats, independent candidate Mark Samuel (who has contested several Croydon by-elections over the years and sometimes reaches the dizzy heights of 10 votes) and Heather Twidle for the Women's Equality Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Croydon Central (most), Croydon North (north-west corner)
London Assembly constituency: Croydon and Sutton
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: CR0, CR9

Jayde Edwards (C)
Andrew Rendle (LD)
Mark Samuel (Ind)
Caragh Skipper (Lab)
Esther Sutton (Grn)
Heather Twidle (Women's Equality)

May 2018 result Lab 1351/1329/1226 C 792/753/750 Grn 267/266 LD 241/209


Marconi

Chelmsford council, Essex; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Catherine Finnecy who had served since May 2019.

Our other two English by-elections this week are defended by the Liberal Democrats and are in parliamentary seats which the party will probably have their eye on for the forthcoming general election. Croydon may be a town, but Chelmsford is a city; and a lot of that city status is down to one man. A man whose legacy we are all in debt to.

Guglielmo Giovanni Maria Marconi was born in 1874 in Bologna, into an Italian aristocratic family; however, his mother Annie was Irish (she was a granddaughter of John Jameson, who founded the Irish whiskey company of that name), and Guglielmo spent some of his childhood in England. Marconi was home-schooled by some of the best STEM tutors his family's money could buy, and the result was an interest in science and electricity. At the age of 18 he befriended Augusto Righi, a physicist at the University of Bologna who had built on recent research by Heinrich Hertz which demonstrated that electromagnetic radiation could be produced and detected.

The young lad saw the possibilities of this and started working on the idea of "wireless telegraphy". In 1895 he built a wireless telegraph system that worked over distances of up to two miles, but the Italian government and local investors couldn't see the same possibilities in it that he could. So Marconi emigrated to England, where he got a much more favourable reception from the British government. He obtained a British patent for wireless telegraphy in 1897 and formed the "Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company" shortly afterwards. In 1898 Marconi opened the world's first radio factory, on Hall Street in Chelmsford, Essex.

Hall Street quickly proved an inadequate location, although it went down in history for producing the telegraph equipment on the RMS Titanic that warned the outside world of its sinking and saved many lives. Jack Phillips, the Titanic's senior wireless officer who sent the SOS message and went down with the ship, was a Marconi employee. At the time of the wreck Marconi was already building a new and much larger factory on New Street to the north of Chelmsford town centre, on land previously occupied by Essex county cricket club. The Marconi Company did some experimental radio transmissions from New Street Works in 1920, with Dame Nellie Melba's singing in Chelmsford heard from as far away as Newfoundland.

Following several mergers and reorganisations the Marconi company went bust in 2006, and much of New Street Works has since been redeveloped for housing, playing on its proximity to Chelmsford's town centre and railway station and to the Chelmsford campus of Anglia Ruskin University. Opened in 2008 to replace an earlier site, the Chelmsford Campus includes part of the University's business school: this is housed in a shiny new building named after one of its previous business alumni, Lord Ashcroft.

Which brings us back to politics. Marconi's contribution to the town (as it then was) of Chelmsford was recognised in 2003 when the former All Saints ward was renamed after him. It includes the New Street Works, the Anglia campus and an area of housing to the north-west of the town centre. Marconi ward voted Labour at its inaugural 2003 election, quite comfortably.

The Labour Party, however, isn't all that relevant in the Chelmsford scheme of things. There has never been a Labour MP for Chelmsford, and instead the Liberals made the anti-Conservative running in the town from the 1970s onwards. In the 1983 general election Norman St John-Stevas, who had been Leader of the Commons in the first Thatcher cabinet, held his seat by fewer than 1,000 votes over the Liberals. The Lib Dem challenge was neutralised by boundary changes for the 1997 election which divided Chelmsford between two constituencies, but that decision was reversed in 2010 and Chelmsford became a seat of its own again.

During this period Marconi ward became politically volatile. In the 2007 local elections the Lib Dems came from third place to win the ward's two seats. The 2011 election was a three-way marginal result, which ended with one seat each for the Lib Dems and Labour. In 2015 UKIP, the Greens and the Liberal Party intervened resulting in a seriously fragmented result: the Conservatives topped the poll with just 27% and won one seat, the Lib Dems were second with 22% and held their seat, Labour polled 21% and lost their seat, UKIP had 13% and the Greens 9%. The 2015 election was the recent high-water mark for Conservatism in Chelmsford: they topped the poll in every ward in the district, won 52 seats out of a possible 57, and the town's Tory MP Simon Burns was re-elected for his final term of office with a large majority over Labour. Burns, who received a knighthood a month later, stood down at the 2017 snap election and was replaced without much fuss by Vicky Ford, who transferred to the Commons after eight years as a Tory member of the European Parliament. The Lib Dems have, however, done better at county council level: Marconi is part of the Chelmsford West division, which has been Lib Dem-held since the current boundaries were introduced in 2005.

That was then, and this is now. The 2019 local elections were a stunning victory for the Chelmsford Lib Dems, who swept the urban wards to win a majority on the council and end 16 years of Conservative rule. One of the 27 (!) Chelmsford seats the Conservatives lost in May was their seat in Marconi ward, which saw a big Lib Dem lead: 48%, against 26% for both the Tories and Labour. The Chelmsford parliamentary constituency is all of the wards which voted Lib Dem in the map above plus Galleywood, so Ford must be looking at next month's general election with some concern. She will have the benefit of first-term incumbency.

The new Lib Dem councillor for Marconi was Catherine Finnecy, whose subsequent spat with her party has been very public. She heckled the party leader Jo Swinson at the 2019 Lib Dem conference, opposing the party's decision to admit Tory defector Philip Lee. Finnecy has also fallen out with the Lib Dem PPC for Chelmsford, making a formal complaint against her.

Not the most salutary of circumstances for a by-election. Defending for the Lib Dems is Smita Rajesh, a trustee of the Chelmsford Hindu Society which last year opened the town's first Hindu temple. The Conservatives have reselected Ben McNally who stood here in May; Labour have done the same thing by nominating Paul Bishop. Also standing are independent candidate Steven Chambers and Ben Harvey for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Chelmsford
Essex county council division: Chelmsford West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chelmsford
Postcode district: CM1

Paul Bishop (Lab)
Steven Chambers (Ind)
Ben Harvey (Grn)
Ben McNally (C)
Smita Rajesh (LD)

May 2019 result LD 729/626 C 395/377 Lab 388/337
May 2015 result C 883/713 LD 725/586 Lab 703/673 UKIP 418 Grn 295 Ind 149 Lib 110/40
May 2011 result LD 641/582 Lab 610/554 C 526/485
May 2007 result LD 531/481 Lab 464/424 C 391/382
May 2003 result Lab 432/400 C 261/236 LD 111/110


Wadebridge West

Cornwall council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Karen McHugh who had served since winning a by-election in April 2016.

Our remaining by-elections are all in the fringes of the UK, although ironically only the English one can be accurately described as "Celtic fringe". We start in Cornwall with a trip to the town of Wadebridge, the lowest crossing-point of the River Camel and a thriving market town. North Cornwall district council, until its abolition ten years ago, was based here; and the ONS has placed Wadebridge at the centre of one of Cornwall's eight Travel to Work Areas. The town is divided into two divisions for Cornwall council elections; the West division is an urban area to the west of the River Allen.

At the first election to the modern Cornwall council in 2009 Wadebridge West and Wadebridge East returned respectively Scott Mann for the Conservatives and long-serving independent councillor Collin Brewer. Between them, Mann and Brewer have resigned from Cornwall council three times. Brewer was the first to go, submitting his resignation in February 2013 following public outcry over comments he made to the effect that "disabled children cost the council too much money and should be put down". There wasn't time for a by-election as the May 2013 Cornish elections were imminent, but there was enough time for Brewer to review the situation and decide to stand for re-election. At the May 3013 election almost 75% of Wadebridge East's voters cast a vote against Brewer, but he still won thanks to a freak six-way vote split and a four-vote majority over the Lib Dems. Re-elected councillor Brewer promptly dug himself straight back into the same hole with more idiotic on-the-record comments about disabled children, and he was forced to resign again in July 2013. The resulting by-election was gained by the Lib Dems who have held Wadebridge East ever since. Collin Brewer died the following year.

Scott Mann's resignation as councillor for Wadebridge West came in much happier circumstances. He had been elected in May 2015 as MP for the local constituency of North Cornwall, gaining the seat from the Liberal Democrats. The resulting by-election in April 2016 was a gain for the Lib Dems' Karen McHugh, who was re-elected in May 2017 with a 49-37 lead over the Conservatives.

McHugh has now resigned in her turn, resulting in the third Wadebridge by-election in six years. Defending for the Lib Dems is Wadebridge town councillor Julia Fletcher. The Tory candidate is Philip Mitchell who was the Mayor of Wadebridge in 2018-19. Also standing are Amanda Pennington for the Green Party and independent candidates Robyn Harris and Robin Moorcroft.

Parliamentary constituency: North Cornwall
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wadebridge
Postcode districts: PL27, PL28

Julia Fletcher (LD)
Robyn Harris (Ind)
Philip Mitchell (C)
Robin Moorcroft (Ind)
Amanda Pennington (Grn)

May 2017 result LD 605 C 452 Grn 96 Lab 80
April 2016 by-election LD 604 C 356 Lab 222 Ind 111 Grn 95
May 2013 result C 830 LD 308 Lab 129
June 2009 result C 761 LD 322 UKIP 188


Hundleton

Pembrokeshire council, Wales; caused by the death of independent councillor Margot Bateman who had served since 2017.

For our Welsh poll this week we travel due north from Wadebridge over the Bristol Channel to Pembrokeshire. The Hundleton division is the southernmost point of Pembrokeshire, a part of the "Little England beyond Wales", covering the villages beyond Pembroke on the south side of the Cleddau estuary.

A lot of the acreage of this ward is part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, but that doesn't mean all of it is beautiful. The National Park boundary takes in part of the sprawling Pembroke Oil Refinery, which dominates the view from Milford Haven on the far side of the estuary. This is one of Europe's largest oil refineries and is a major local employer, providing 700 jobs. The refinery has essentially consumed the adjacent village of Rhoscrowther, of which almost nothing remains except for a 14th-century church. Next to the refinery is the brand new Pembroke B Power Station, which is Europe's largest gas-fired power plant; it opened in 2012 and is the biggest power station built in the UK this century, able to supply up to 3.5 million homes and businesses simultaneously.

The Little England beyond Wales has for a very long time been a favoured location of the men from the military. As the village name of Castlemartin commemorates, the Normans had a motte-and-bailey castle here in the eleventh century. Today we have the Castlemartin Training Area, one of two tank firing ranges in the UK that use live ammunition. This can result in some unplanned diversions for hikers on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, which runs through the danger area.

Tank training here has been going on continuously since the Korean War, which has led to some interesting consequences. When the West German army reactivated its tank units in 1961 there was a shortage of training areas, because the British Army of the Rhine had got to all the suitable locations first. A compromise was reached whereby the West Germans, under the auspices of NATO, was given access to Castlemartin for its tank training. Despite some local disquiet (particularly at the beginning and at the end, when the Germans were allowed to do their farewell parade past the Pembroke war memorial in full uniform) the German Armoured Units stayed at Castlemartin until 1996, when reunification had given them access to firing ranges in the former East Germany.

This remote part of Wales is dominated by independents when local election time comes around. Margot Bateman had been first elected in 2017, winning Hundleton division with 49% of the vote against 26% for a Conservative candidate and 15% for independent candidate Barry Grange. She had previously stood here in 2004, losing by 62-38 to Johnny Allen-Mirehouse who was subsequently re-elected in 2008 and 2012 before standing down in 2017. There is unlikely to be much that can be read from this result towards the forthcoming election in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, which is a Tory-Labour marginal at Westminster but was safe Conservative at the 2016 Senedd election. Equally, not much should be read into the local by-election last September in neighbouring Pembroke, where the Tories fell from first to sixth in Pembroke St Mary North division; that can be explained by one-off local factors, as the previous Tory councillor for Pembroke St Mary North is now serving a very long prison sentence for historic child sex offences.

That Pembroke by-election had eight candidates, and the local politicians have clearly decided that wasn't enough choice for the electorate. Ten candidates have been nominated for the Nundleton by-election, and the electors will get to choose between nine of them. There are seven independents: Steve Alderman (from Castlemartin), Daphne Bush (who was second in the Pembroke St Mary North by-election last year), David Edwards (a local resident from Stackpole who was the Labour candidate here in 2012), Barry Grange (from Hundleton, who finished third here in 2017), Nicky Hancock (who finished fourth here in 2017), Jonathan Nutting (landlord of the Royal Oak in Pembroke who finished third in the St Mary North by-election) and Tony Stenson (from Pembroke). The Conservatives have nominated Jacob Taylor. The Lib Dems put in nomination papers for two different people but one of them has withdrawn, leaving their candidate Shirley Hammond-Williams to complete the ballot paper.

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

Steve Alderman (Ind)
Daphne Bush (Ind)
David Edwards (Ind)
Barry Grange (Ind)
Shirley Hammond-Williams (LD)
Nicky Hancock (Ind)
Jonathan Nutting (Ind)
Tony Stenson (Ind)
Jacob Taylor (C)

May 2017 result Ind 334 C 174 Ind 104 Ind 69
May 2012 result Ind 337 Ind 297 Lab 120
May 2008 result Ind unopposed
June 2004 rsult Ind 469 Ind 292


Lerwick South; and
Shetland Central

Shetland council, Scotland; caused respectively by the resignations of independent councillors Beatrice Wishart and Mark Burgess. Burgess had served since 2012, Wishart since 2017.

We make a return trip to the Shetland Islands, following the Scottish Parliament by-election there at the end of August. One of these by-elections is a direct consequence of that, as the Lib Dem by-election winner Beatrice Wishart had previously been a Shetland councillor.

Wishert leaves behind a seat in Lerwick South ward, which covers the southern half of the town together with the villages of Sound and Gulberwick on the road going south towards Sumburgh. This is the capital of the Shetland Islands and the is most northerly and most easterly town in Scotland. Lerwick grew up in the 17th century on a sheltered location behind the island of Bressay, and was originally a trading post for the Dutch fishing fleet. Within the boundaries of South ward are Shetland's largest school, the Anderson High School, and the Gilbert Bain Hospital where around 140 new Shetlanders are born each year.

Outside Lerwick is the Shetland Central ward, which covers the middle of Mainland from Girlsta in the north to Scalloway in the south. At the centre of the ward is Lerwick/Tingwall Airport, from which flights depart to various outlying islands. (A good omen for democracy: the name Tingwall comes from Norse words meaning "parliament field".) The ward also covers the islands of Tronda, West Burra and East Burra which are connected to Mainland by a series of causeways, together with some smaller uninhabited islands.

The main centre of population in Shetland Central is Scalloway, which was the capital of Shetland until the development of Lerwick. Scalloway is a harbour on the west coast with strong historical links to the Hanseatic League and Norway; during the Second World War the Norwegian resistance movement known as the Shetland Bus was run out of here. The North Atlantic Fisheries College and the Schiehallion oil field provide jobs in the village today.

Local elections in Shetland are basically non-partisan, and until PR was introduced in 2007 were often uncontested. Lrewick South is a four-seat ward which in 2017 was contested by five independents; Wishart won the second of the four seats available, polling 26% of the vote and being elected on the first count. Also winning on the first count were outgoing councillors Cecil Smith and Peter Campbell, leaving a close fight for the final seat between outgoing councillor Amanda Westlake and new candidate Frances Valente. Westlake started ten votes ahead; Wishart's transfers broke strongly for Valente, but it wasn't enough and Westlake eventually won the final seat with a majority of three votes.

Shetland Central is a three-seat ward which was also contested in 2017 by five independents. Outgoing councillor Mark Burgess first stood here in 2012, starting in fourth place with 14% of the vote but picking up strong transfers to win the final seat very easily over Ian Scott. In 2017 Burgess improved his vote to 27%, and was elected in second place on the first count. Scott won the final seat that year and subsequently stood in the 2019 Scottish Parliament by-election, finishing in eighth place with 0.6%.

There are again five independents standing for the Lerwick South election. Frances Valente is trying again after her near-miss two years ago, and she is standing against Stephen Flaws, Caroline Henderson, Gary Robinson and Arwed Wenger. The most notable of those is Robinson, a former leader of the council who lost his seat in Shetland West ward at the 2017 election.

There are also five candidates in the Shetland Central by-election, although party politics has broken out with the nomination of Stewart Douglas as an official SNP candidate. Also on the candidate list is Johan Adamson; she's an independent this time but fought the 2019 Holyrood by-election as the Labour candidate, finishing sixth with 1.3%. The other three candidates - all independents - are Julie Buchan, Gordon Lawrie and Morag Lyall.

Whatever the results of these by-elections will be, they won't be fragmented in the same way we've seen in the English and Welsh by-elections this week. This is Scotland, so Votes at 16 and the Alternative Vote will apply in these by-elections. Please remember to mark your ballot paper in order of preference.

Lerwick South

Parliamentary constituency: Orkney and Shetland
Scottish Parliament constituency: Shetland
ONS Travel to Work Area: Shetland Islands
Postcode districts: ZE1, ZE2

Stephen Flaws (Ind)
Caroline Henderson (Ind)
Gary Robinson (Ind)
Frances Valente (Ind)
Arwed Wenger (Ind)

Shetland Central

Parliamentary constituency: Orkney and Shetland
Scottish Parliament constituency: Shetland
ONS Travel to Work Area: Shetland Islands
Postcode districts: ZE1, ZE2

Johan Adamson (Ind)
Julie Buchan (Ind)
Stewart Douglas (SNP)
Gordon Lawrie (Ind)
Morag Lyall (Ind)

Andrew Teale


Preview: 31 Oct 2019

One by-election on Thursday 31st October 2019:


Bromsgrove South

Worcestershire county council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Chris Bloore, who is emigrating to Canada. He had served since 2013.

It's Hallowe'en. Or Samhain, if you prefer. Time to make preparations: get the parkin in for Bonfire Night, make sure you have a poppy ready for Remembrance, write up the Christmas present list, dodge the trick-or-treaters and, in my case, get ready for Brexit as your columnist flies to Bulgaria next week for some quiz and sightseeing. It's Sunday as I write this, and it would be nice to know which immigration queue to head for when I land in Sofia; and whether my EHIC card has any value left given that it's not supposed to expire until 2021.

There's just one by-election scheduled for today, in Bromsgrove. This was an old town with a cloth trade in mediaeval times followed by nail-making during the Industrial Revolution. However, Bromsgrove is not a Black Country town: it's firmly in Worcestershire and separated from the West Midlands conurbation by the Clent Hills. Rising up the Clent Hills from Bromsgrove is the Lickey Incline, a famously-steep gradient on the railway between Birmingham and Bristol. Bromsgrove railway station, at the foot of the incline, was rebuilt on a new site in 2016; and it's now enjoying a greatly-improved service as one of the two southern termini of the Cross City line to Birmingham and Lichfield.

Bromsgrove's new railway station lies at the north-east corner of this division and is hopefully attracting some commuters who would previously have gone to work by car. There's certainly a commuter market if you look at the census return for Stoke Prior, which in the nineteenth century was home to the largest saltworks in Europe but is now a southern extension of Bromsgrove with very high owner-occupation levels. In nearby Stoke Heath is the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings, an open-air museum where dozens of old and not-so-old buildings have been re-erected.

Bromsgrove has been a Conservative-held parliamentary seat for many years (its current MP is Sajid Javid, the Chancellor of the Exchequer) but the Bromsgrove South county division is a Labour-inclined marginal. The Tories have won it only once on the current boundaries, in 2009, and that was with a rather low vote share; Labour recovered Bromsgrove South in 2013 and held it in May 2017 with a lead of 50-41 over the Conservatives. The Bromsgrove council results make clear that the Labour vote comes out of Bromsgrove town with Stoke Prior and Stoke Heath voting Conservative, although the ward boundaries no longer match up following changes at district level in 2015. Labour performed well here in the 2019 Bromsgrove council elections, making Rock Hall ward safe (it had been marginal in 2015) and coming just one vote short of gaining Aston Fields ward which stayed Conservative by 419 votes to 418. Never let anybody tell you your vote never changed anything.

Defending this by-election for Labour is Bren Henderson, a stained-glass artist and secretary of the party's Bromsgrove branch. The Conservatives have selected Kyle Daisley, a 22-year-old Virgin Atlantic flight attendant and parish councillor in Hagley, some miles to the north. Completing thee ballot paper are Joshua Robinson for the Lib Dems and independent candidate Rachel Jenkins, who was an independent Worcestershire county councillor for Clent Hills division from 2013 to 2017 and sits on Bromsgrove council as an independent councillor for Hagley East ward.

Parliamentary constituency: Bromsgrove
Bromsgrove council wards: Avoncroft, Aston Fields (part), Charford (most), Rock Hill (most)

Kyle Daisley (C)
Bren Henderson (Lab)
Rachel Jenkins (Ind)
Joshua Robinson (LD)

May 2017 result Lab 1263 C 1013 LD 123 Grn 102
May 2013 result Lab 1088 C 733 Grn 166 BNP 163 LD 93
June 2009 result C 934 Ind 557 Lab 519 BNP 385 Grn 353
May 2005 result Lab 1934 C 1824 LD 925


Election Court Watch

Since this is a slow week, we've time to note two recent pieces of news from the Courts. First, we track back to a by-election last year in Upton ward, Wirral council, where it appears that the winning Labour campaign accidentally went over the election expense limit. The candidate and election agent applied to the courts for relief - essentially, immunity from prosecution - and I assume that they got it. Losing parties tend not to make a fuss over marginal accidental overspending because they know that the same thing could just as easily happen to them in the future. Also, while relief may be a get-out-of-jail card it's not a get-out-of-jail-free card; only the High Court has the power to grant relief, so this episode will have landed Wirral Labour with quite a large legal bill in addition to the money they spent on the by-election.

The other piece of legal news is that the Brexit Party have thrown in the towel as regards their legal action from the Peterborough by-election in June. They have applied to the Election Court to withdraw their election petition and will pay the legal costs for the winning Labour MP and the Returning Officer. Unfortunately the text of the petition was never made public, so the allegations made remain a mystery to this column.

Andrew Teale


Preview: 30 Oct 2019

One by-election on Wednesday 30th October 2019:


Riverside

Windsor and Maidenhead council, Berkshire; caused by the resignation of the Leader of the Council, Conservative councillor Simon Dudley, who is concentrating on national politics. He had served since 2007.

For the second in our three-part series of by-elections this week we are in Maidenhead. Riverside ward obviously refers to the Thames: it's Maidenhead's north-eastern ward, running north from the Maidenhead Bridge which carries the A4 into town from London. There has been a bridge on this site since 1280, and that crossing was the making of Maidenhead at a town. The name was originally Maidenhythe, referring to a "new wharf" which was built next to the bridge to take advantage of that passing trade. This isn't the only "hythe" on the Thames: the word "hythe" (an Old English term meaning "landing-place") appears in heavily-disguised form some miles downstream in Putney (Putta's landing-place), Chelsea (chalk landing-place), Lambeth (lambs' landing-place), Stepney (Stebba's landing-place) and Rotherhithe (oxen landing-place).

Over the centuries Maidenhead has grown into a prosperous middle-class commuter town and Riverside ward is typical of it. In 2011 the Maidenhead Riverside ward had almost half of its workforce in upper-middle-class occupation; the population also had a sizeable Asian element and 16% of its residents were born outside the EU. Rather ironic given that this is the seat held in Parliament by Theresa May, whose ill-advised term as prime minister was preceded by some years as Home Secretary. Ward boundary changes for the 2019 election removed the "Maidenhead" prefix, a small corner of the ward and one of the three councillors, but it's still basically the same unit.

Mrs May had seen the Tory vote in her constituency grow at both parliamentary and district level since she fended off a "decapitation" attempt from the Lib Dems at the 2005 general election. In May 2015 the Home Secretary was re-elected with 66% of the vote and the Tories won all but one of the Windsor and Maidenhead council seats in her constituency. There was a by-election in Maidenhead Riverside ward in March 2016 (Andrew's Previews 2016, page 57) whose result gave the Tories no cause for concern.

That was then, and this is now. The Conservatives came uncomfortably close to losing their majority on Windsor and Maidenhead council in May this year, finishing with 23 out of 41 seats; rather a drop from 54 out of 57 four years earlier. The Lib Dems had a resurgence to nine seats, and a variety of minor parties and residents' groups won nine seats between them. One of those minor parties was a new grouping with the curiously-capitalised name of tBf ("the Borough first"), a localist group which won three seats and came a close second in Riverside ward. Shares of the vote in this ward were 35% for the Conservative slate, 28% for tBf and 20% for the Liberal Democrats.

So this looks likely to be a much more marginal affair than the March 2016 by-election. Defending for the Conservatives is Gregory Jones, who runs an estate agency. tBf have reselected their party leader Claire Stretton, a graphic designer and former Conservative councillor who was runner-up here in May; she previously represented Boyn Hill ward from 2015 to 2019, and before that sat on Wokingham council (for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe ward) from 2008 to 2011. The Lib Dems have also reselected a candidate from May, Kashmir Singh. Completing the ballot paper are Craig McDermott for the Green Party, Sharon Bunce for Labour and Deborah Mason for the Women's Equality Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Maidenhead

Sharon Bunce (Lab)
Gregory Jones (C)
Deborah Mason (WEP)
Craig McDermott (Grn)
Kashmir Singh (LD)
Claire Stretton (tBf)

May 2019 result C 851/777 tBf 678/600 LD 476/450 Grn 215 Lab 182/168

Sharon Teresa BUNCE, Windsor and Maidenhead [Labour Party]
Gregory Granville JONES, 6 Amberley Court, Maidenhead SL6 8LJ [The Conservative Party Candidate]
Deborah Celia MASON, 5 Rayfield, Ray Park Avenue, Maidenhead SL6 8DL [Women's Equality Party]
Craig Colquhoun MCDERMOTT, 58 Ray Park Avenue, Maidenhead SL6 8DX [Green Party]
Kashmir SINGH, 21 Sperling Road, Maidenhead SL6 7LB [Liberal Democrats]
Claire Elizabeth STRETTON, Little House, Boyn Hill Avenue, Maidenhead SL6 4HA [tBf - the Borough first]


Preview: 29 Oct 2019

One by-election on Tuesday 29th October 2019:


Leamington Lillington

Warwick council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Heather Calver on health grounds. She had served only since May.

After last week's excitement there are just three local by-elections this week, and they are all on different days. It's only convention that elections in the UK are normally held on Thursdays; for by-elections any working day will do and we normally get a few by-elections each year which are not on a Thursday (particularly in the City of London). Before this week the last non-City by-election to be held otherwise than on a Thursday was in Cardiff earlier this year, with Cyncoed division going to the polls on Tuesday 16th July.

Today's Tuesday by-election is in Leamington Spa. Lillington is Leam's north-eastern ward, based around the Midland Oak at the junction of Lillington Road and Lillington Avenue. That oak tree, seen here in an old postcard, had stood for centuries and was reputed to mark the centre of England. The tree in the picture died in the 1960s and was cut down, but one of its acorns was planted in its place in 1988 and is doing well.

The land around the Midland Oak has blossomed with houses. The old village of Lillington was incorporated into Leamington Spa in the 1890s, and a large council estate was developed here after the Second World War. At the time of the 2011 census the estate was covered by Crown ward, which sticks out like a sore thumb in the town's census return: it had the highest social housing rates, the highest rate of people with no qualifications, and the youngest population in a town which is made young again each October by Warwick University. Many of Warwick's students live in Leamington, but Lillington is away from the main bus routes to the campus and not the sort of place where the students live.

Since 2011 Warwick council's ward boundaries have changed twice, the most recent boundary change in May this year merging Crown ward with most of Manor ward to create Lillington ward. This doesn't vote how you might expect. Despite its council estate history Crown ward consistently voted Liberal Democrat during this century, while Manor was generally Lib Dem but went Conservative in 2015. The only previous result for the new Lillington ward was a big Lib Dem win in May this year: their slate polled 48%, against 22% for Labour and 17% for the Conservatives. There was a similar result in the 2017 Warwickshire county elections for Leamington North division, all of which is within this ward. The May elections saw the Conservatives lose control of Warwick council, which was the only district in the West Midlands that Remain carried in the June 2016 referendum; however, the Tories are still in control thanks to a coalition with the Whitnash Residents Association. That coalition holds half of the seats, and a Conservative gain in this by-election will give it a majority.

Daniel Russell defends this by-election for the Liberal Democrats. Labour have selected Luc Lowndes, who is chairman of the Lillington Community Centre. The Tory candidate is Hayley Key, who is the manager of a local ski and outdoor leisure shop; she completes a ballot paper of three candidates.

Parliamentary constituency: Warwick and Leamington (part of Leamington Spa parish), Kenilworth and Southam (Blackdown parish and part of Cubbington parish)
Warwickshire county council division: Leamington North (most), Leamington Milverton (small part), Cubbington and Leek Wootton (Blackdown parish)

Hayley Key (C)
Luc Lowndes (Lab)
Daniel Russell (LD)

May 2019 result LD 1698/1505/1464 Lab 773/760/700 C 606/532/485 Grn 448/408/362


Prevews: 24 Oct 2019

There are eight local by-elections on 24th October 2019, with the Conservatives defending four seats, Labour defending three and one free-for-all:


Abbey North

Daventry council, Northamptonshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Aiden Ramsey who had served since 2018.

Things have probably Happened this week, and after all the excitement it's time to look at some real votes from real people. For those who are new to Andrew's Previews, let me explain the premise.

Every week there are local by-elections in a few corners of the country to fill vacancies in our local government. Are these by-election results representative of what's going at the national scene, as the opinion polls attempt to measure? The answer to that is almost certainly no: there's no such thing as an average ward or area of the country. And even if there were, local factors would come into play: the usual question of "how effective/useless is your government" is augmented and in some cases trumped by "how effective/useless is your local council", or even "how effective/useless is your party's candidate". The job of the Previews is to set the scene: to describe the ward in terms of how it differs from the national picture, to attempt to outline the local and/or candidate issues where I am aware of them, and to leave readers to make up their own mind about what will happen next.

To illustrate this, I've dug into the archives and come up with the following list of previous by-elections:

  1. 3 August 2017: St Margarets and St Nicholas ward, King's Lynn and West Norfolk council
  2. 16 November 2017: St Margaret's ward, Waveney council
  3. 14 December 2017: Newchapel ward, Newcastle-under-Lyme council
  4. 18 January 2018: Hulton ward, Bolton council
  5. 12 July 2018: Pakefield ward, Waveney council
  6. 27 September 2018: Clifton North ward, Nottingham council

What links the six entries above is that these are the wards which saw Conservative gains from the Labour Party during this Parliament. There are several things which immediately stand out about this list: it's quite short (I fitted it into a tweet last week) and hadn't been added to for over a year. Moreover avid readers of the Previews (or of the Previews books, which you can order now from Amazon and will make an excellent Christmas present for the psephologist in your family) could have found local factors, explanations and/or excuses for what might appear to be against-the-trend performances. Consider: in (1) the previous Labour councillor had been kicked out under the six-month non-attendance rule, which is never a good look. (2) and (5) are wards in Lowestoft, a town which is clearly shifting culturally towards the Conservatives at a rapid pace: the local Waveney constituency was the only seat which voted Leave in June 2016 where the Labour vote fell in June 2017. (3) came hot on the heels of an official report which slammed Newcastle-under-Lyme's election team for running the 2017 general election so incompetently that we cannot have confidence that Paul Farrelly was correctly elected as the town's MP; the Labour council leader resigned, the Returning Officer was suspended, and in order to deliver the poll the council had to hire in Stoke-on-Trent's election team at the last possible moment. (4) was affected by a major planning issue and was the first sign of the collapse of the scandal-ridden and deeply unpopular Bolton Labour administration, which went on to lose more than a dozen more seats and control of the council by May 2019. In (6) candidate selection appears to have been a major factor: put simply, the Tories picked a candidate who was a good fit for the area, and Labour didn't.

Last week a new entry was added to that list: in the Westcourt ward of Gravesend, Kent. Moreover, the Westcourt by-election result wasn't close, represented a big swing from Labour to Conservative since May this year and there were no obvious local factors that came to my attention. This fits into what has been a noticeable trend over the last few weeks: the Conservatives have suddenly started putting in good performances in local by-elections, while the Labour vote is more often than not falling. This suggests that whatever malaise has affected the Tory local election vote for most of the year may be starting to lift.

Will this continue? Well, on paper the most obvious place for a Tory gain this week is in Daventry. This is an old market town which was on the coaching route from London to Holyhead, and still has a number of coaching inns run by what Shakespeare, in Henry VI Part I, called "red-nosed innkeepers of Daintree". However, the Industrial Revolution basically passed the place by. Despite this, Daventry has grown strongly since the Second World War thanks to Birmingham overspill with industries to match: for example, Cummins have a large factory in the town making big diesel engines to power ships, railway trains and generators. Daventry's location close to the centre of England also means that distribution is a major part of the economy, and Abbey North ward - the northern of Daventry's four wards - includes most of the distributors' warehouses. The effect of this is that Abbey North has the unusual combination of a working-class demographic profile and high employment levels.


Abbey North also has rather unusual voting patterns. The current boundaries were introduced in 2012 and returned one Conservative and two Labour councillors. Since then every election in Abbey North has resulted in a change of party. In May 2014 UKIP gained one of the Labour seats; in 2015 the Conservatives gained the other Labour seat; the 2016 and 2018 polls both saw Labour gains, one from the Tories and the other from UKIP.

The 2016 winner here was Ken Ritchie, a psephologist who was Labour's parliamentary candidate for Daventry in 1997 and served from that year until 2010 as chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society. The 2018 winner was Aiden Ramsey, who was elected at the relatively young age of 27. Ramsey has resigned from the council as he is relocating to Wales, where his partner is studying. In his resignation statement he encouraged younger people to get involved with their local authority, saying:

"Don't let it be intimidating. I've spoken to a lot of young people and the idea I get from them is that because there’s this image of councillors and district councils, and this expectation of knowledge, background and experience, then younger people feel like it's not a world that they can step into.

When I got elected I wouldn't say that I had answers to 100 per cent of the questions I was asked. But as long as you have that passion, then it's something I would urge people to push ahead with, as they will learn along the way."

The May 2018 result gave 40% to Labour, 27% to the Conservatives and 21% to the Liberal Democrats, who suddenly came from nowhere to take third place. This was to date the last election to Daventry council, which is within that disaster area of local government called Northamptonshire. 2018 was the year that Northamptonshire county council ran out of money not once but twice, and that insolvency means that local government reorganisation is in the works. Daventry council is collateral damage from that, and will probably be abolished in the near future. In anticipation of this the 2019 council elections here were officially postponed to 2020, but no legal instrument has yet been published relating to the proposed reorganisation - so the default is that in May 2020 two of Abbey North ward's three seats will be up for re-election. On the county council most of the ward is within the Daventry West division, which was a Tory gain from UKIP in 2017 but with Labour just 30 votes behind; the northern half of the division, including the industrial estates, are in the Braunston and Crick division which is safe Tory.

Defending for Labour is Emily Carter. The Tories have taken Ramsey's advice to heart by selecting Lauryn Harrington-Carter, who is not yet 21 but has already appeared in this column before. She was the Conservative candidate for the Brixworth by-election to Daventry council in July, embarrassingly losing the seat to the Liberal Democrats who came from nowhere to win. Harrington-Carter will have the advantage this time of being in her home ward. The Liberal Democrats have selected Alan Knape, a Daventry town councillor and financial controller who completes a ballot paper of three candidates.

Parliamentary constituency: Daventry
Northamptonshire county council division: Braunston and Crick (north part), Daventry West (south part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northampton
Postcode district: NN11

Emily Carter (Lab)
Lauryn Harrington-Carter (C)
Alan Knape (LD)

May 2018 result Lab 599 C 407 LD 312 Ind 112 UKIP 73
May 2016 result Lab 510 C 484 UKIP 300 LD 64
May 2015 result C 1299 Lab 871 UKIP 757
May 2014 result UKIP 495 C 482 Lab 349
May 2012 result C 397/336/335 Lab 379/358/308 UKIP 245 LD 86


Torksey

West Lindsey council, Lincolnshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Stuart Kinch who had served since 2003.


For our other East Midlands by-election and first Conservative defence of the week we travel north from the Northamptonshire hills to flatter terrain. The Torksey ward covers seven parishes on the east bank of the River Trent, roughly equidistant from Lincoln and Gainsborough. The ward extends to Gate Burton in the north and Newton on Trent - where the A57 crosses the river at a toll bridge - in the south.

Torksey is its central parish and is a location with a long history. There are Roman remains in the area, and the Great Heathen Army of Viking invaders spent the winter of 872-3 here. More recently the village was the location of a manor house built during the first Elizabethan era by Sir Robert Jermyn, which became known as Torksey Castle; however, the Jermyn family found themselves on the losing side in the Civil War, and Torksey Castle was essentially destroyed. Its remains stick out of the River Trent's banks rather incongruously. Also sticking out of the river here is a viaduct, thrown over the Trent in the 1840s by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway; this bridge was of an innovative design which is now recognised as one of the first box girder bridges. The railway through Torksey is long gone, but the viaduct has taken on a new life as a pedestrian and cycle bridge.

Torksey ward has been represented on West Lindsey council by Stuart Kinch since 2003. Nobody opposed Kinch in 2015, which was the first election on the ward's current boundaries; in May this year the Lib Dems put up a candidate, who lost 59-41. Kinch has resigned not long into his fifth term of office to focus on his business interests, which are increasingly causing conflicts with his public role; his resignation statement also had some harsh words for the current state of our politics, which he described as "visceral". He had retired in 2017 as the local county councillor, and his Tory successor Richard Butroid enjoys a large majority in the Gainsborough Rural South division.

Kinch's resignation could disturb the delicate balance of West Lindsey council. The May 2019 election left the Tories with a majority of 2, holding 19 seats against 12 Lib Dems and five independents; however, a defection has since wiped that majority out, and if the Conservatives lose this by-election they will be in a minority on the council. That could be bad news for the council's Tory leader Giles McNeill, a diehard Andrew's Previews fan...

...who has helped this column out on a few occasions in the past.

Torksey's voters will have a larger choice of parties this time around than they had in May. Defending for the Conservatives is Jayne Ellis, who lives just outside the ward in Saxilby. The Lib Dems have reselected their candidate from May Noel Mullally, who lives in Newton-on-Trent. Also standing are Nick Pearson in a rare local government outing for the Brexit Party (and that's the only time you'll see the B-word mentioned here this week, isn't that refreshing?), and Labour candidate Perry Smith.

Parliamentary constituency: Gainsborough
Lincolnshire county council division: Gainsborough Rural South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lincoln
Postcode districts: DN21, LN1

Jayne Ellis (C)
Noel Mullally (LD)
Nick Perason (Brexit Party)
Perry Smith (Lab)

May 2019 result C 472 LD 334
May 2015 result C unopposed


Coupe Green and Gregson Lane

South Ribble council, Lancashire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Sarah Whittaker who had served only since May.


For our token Northern by-election we come to the Preston commuter belt. Coupe Green (or Coup Green) and Gregson Lane are two villages to the east of Bamber Bridge, along the A675 Preston-Bolton road, although it's hard to tell this from the address because the Royal Mail counts the whole area as part of Hoghton - a village over the border in Chorley district. In 2011 the ward made the top 40 in England and Wales for Christianity; high scores for this statistic are often seen in Lancashire where, for cultural reasons, lapsed Christians are much more likely to list their old religion on the census form than lapsed Christians elsewhere in the country. Coupe Green and Gregson Lane's residents also have very high takeup of apprenticeship qualifications, while owner-occupation is high. Boundary changes for the 2015 election added part of Walton Summit to the ward, although this won't have much effect on its demographics.

Now, you may have rather unkindly thought from time to time that your elected representatives are idle toads. In the case of Coupe Green and Gregson Lane, that actually happened. Let me explain. In 1997 Tom Sharratt, a former Guardian journalist who at the time represented the area at district and county level in the Labour interest, was deselected. He didn't take this well, and his response was to start distributing newsletters in the ward with the ironic name of The Idle Toad. Sharratt was subsequently re-elected in 1999 under the Idle Toad banner, and a curiously-named political party was born. At their height the Idle Toads held three seats on South Ribble council and one seat on Lancashire county council, and they successfully defended Coupe Green and Gregson Lane at a by-election in October 2004.

That by-election winner was Jim Marsh, who subsequently left the party, joined the Conservatives and was re-elected under their banner in 2007. In a bizarre episode, Sharratt subsequently described Marsh as a "defecator" in the newsletter, prompting a complaint from Marsh and a censure from South Ribble council's standards committee; however, that censure was overturned on appeal after Sharratt countered that he had misspelled the word "defector". Only a former Grauniad journalist could make that sort of argument with a straight face.

All good things must come to an end. Sharratt lost his seat in 2011 to the Tories' Warren Bennett, another former Idle Toad, and that was the end of that. With the Idle Toad(s) off the scene this became a safe Conservative ward; in May the Tory slate of Marsh and new candidate Sarah Whittaker beat Labour by the margin of 50-32. The Conservatives have a larger lead in the South Ribble East county council division, and this area is in the Ribble Valley constituency which is safe for Tory eurosceptic and former Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans.

South Ribble council, on the other hand, is rather delicately poised. The Conservatives lost control of the council earlier this year; they are still the largest party with 22 seats plus this vacancy, but Labour (who also have 22 seats) have formed a minority administration with the support of the five Lib Dems. It's a slight surprise that Labour have no candidate for this by-election; the Tories need to hold this seat to remain as the largest party.

Defending for the Tories is Gareth Watson, who fought Walton-le-Dale West ward in May and lost what had been a Conservative seat to Labour. As stated there is no Labour nominee, but two other candidates have come forward to secure a contested election: they are independent Graham Dixon (who was the Green Party candidate for this ward in 2015) and Lib Dem Stephanie Portersmith.

Parliamentary constituency: Ribble Valley
Lancashire county council division: South Ribble East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Preston
Postcode district: PR5

Graham Dixon (Ind)
Stephanie Portersmith (LD)
Gareth Watson (C)

May 2019 result C 710/679 Lab 455/405 UKIP 257
May 2015 result C 1382/1371 Lab 794 Grn 592


Bagillt West

Flintshire council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Mike Reece who had served since 2008.


Our next three by-elections are all in Wales, although for the first we are still firmly in Granadaland. Bagillt is a small town about halfway down the Welsh bank of the Dee estuary, looking over towards the Wirral on the far side. There was a castle here in days by, where the thirteenth-century Prince of Wales Dafydd ap Llewelyn was born; but modern Bagillt is a town of the Industrial Revolution, with a lead smelting works here in the eighteenth century and a number of collieries and ironworks operating in the nineteenth. The Laxey Wheel, a waterwheel which is one of the symbols of the Isle of Man, was built in Bagillt; and in recognition of that Laxey is now twinned with the town. All this industry has gone now, but Flintshire is still a major manufacturing area and Bagillt West is in the top 70 wards or divisions in the UK for the ONE "routine" employment classification.

Welsh local elections tend to have a lot of unopposed returns, and Bagillt West is a case in point. It has been held by Labour throughout this century, but you have to go all the way back to 2008 to find a contested election here: that year Labour beat the Liberal Democrats in a straight fight by 63-37. Across Flintshire Labour made net gains in the May 2017 election, but they are still in a minority with 33 out of 70 seats plus this vacancy; the opposition on Flintshire council is made up of six Tories, six Lib Dems and four independent groups which add up to 24 councillors between them.

The Bagillt West by-election will be the first contested poll here in over a decade. Defending for Labour is Kevin Rush, who stood in the other Bagillt division (East) in May 2017 and lost a Labour seat to an independent candidate by three votes. Challenging is independent candidate David Stanley.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Delyn
ONS Travel to Work Area: Rhyl
Postcode districts: CH6, CH8

Kevin Rush (Lab)
David Stanley (Ind)

May 2017 result Lab unopposed
May 2012 result Lab unopposed
May 2008 result Lab 333 LD 198
June 2004 rssult Lab 290 C 223


Llandrindod North; and
Newtown South

Powys council; caused respectively by the resignations of independent councillor Gary Price, who had been elected as a Conservative; and Conservative councillor Alan Morrison.

Our other two Welsh by-elections today are in Powys, that county which runs almost the length of Wales but is often overlooked in favour of more touristy areas. This is a shame, for Powys has a charm all of its own. It's an area of many villages, lots of sheep and a handful of not-very-large towns, on which we will concentrate.


As the English name of Newtown suggests (the Welsh-language name "y Drenewydd" is a direct translation of the English), this was not an old Welsh settlement, instead being founded in the late 13th century by the Anglo-Norman Roger de Montgomery as part of military manoeuvres against Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. The co-operative pioneer Robert Owen was born here in 1771, at a time when Newtown was booming thanks to the textile industry.

Newtown has significantly changed since the Second World War as, appropriately enough, it was designated a New Town in 1967. That turned it into Powys' largest urban centre, although its population is comfortably under 12,000. Some of that New Town development can be seen in Newtown South division, which is still majority social rented and whose census return is more reminiscent of something you might see in the Valleys: Newtown South makes the top 100 wards or divisions in England and Wales for semi-routine employment (26%, which is in the top 15) and those of no religion (45%). Through the hillside to the south of the houses threads a new bypass for Newtown, which opened in February after 70 years of planning hell and has eased the town's notorious traffic problems.


Some miles to the south of Newtown lies Llandrindod Wells. This has a very different history, being originally a Victorian spa town before being designated as the county town of Powys in the 1970s reorganisation. This led to a population boom in Llandrindod, followed by an economic boom as national local government payscales combined with the relatively low cost of housing in mid-Wales to give lots of disposable income. Powys county council is still the major local employer.

Newtown anchors the Montgomeryshire constituency which has been a bright spot for the Conservatives over the last decade. The Tories did particularly well in Montgomeryshire in the 2017 Powys council elections, and one of the divisions they gained was Newtown South where a long-serving independent councillor retired. With that independent off the scene Conservative candidate Alan Morrison gained the seat with a 55-29 majority over Plaid Cymru.

Llandrindod North is going to the polls for the second time in the short-lived Johnson premiership, following the Brecon and Radnorshire parliamentary by-election which the Tories lost to the Lib Dems in August. North division has notionally changed hands at all of the last three Powys elections. In 2008 Conservative candidate Mike Hodges knocked out independent councillor Keith Tampin; Hodges was defeated in 2012 by independent candidate Gary Price, who transferred here from Llandrindod East/Llandrindod West division which he had represented for some years beforehand. Price was re-elected in 2017 with the Conservative nomination, defeating the Green Party candidate 54-26, but subsequently left the party and became independent again.

No independent candidate has come forward to replace Price, so Llandrindod North is a free-for-all. The Tories will want their seat back and have selected Tom Turner, a Builth Wells-based paramedic who was elected in 2012 as councillor for Llandrindod South division at the age of 20. Turner lost his seat there to the Lib Dems in 2017. The Green Party have not returned. Labour have selected local resident Rosie McConnell, and the Lib Dems have nominated Jake Berriman to try and build on their recent parliamentary by-election success.

In Newtown South the defending Tory candidate is Les Skilton, a former Mayor of Newtown and the only candidate to give an address in the division. Plaid Cymru have reselected Richard Edwards who was runner-up here in 2017. Also standing is Kelly Healy for the Liberal Democrats.

Llandrindod North

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Brecon and Radnorshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Llandrindod Wells and Builth Wells
Postcode district: LD1

Jake Berriman (LD)
Rosie McConnell (Lab)
Tom Turner (C)

May 2017 result C 360 Grn 177 Lab 132
May 2012 result Ind 393 C 215 Lab 88 LD 21
May 2008 result C 391 Ind 302
June 2004 result Ind 365 Ind 324

Newtown South

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Montgomeryshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newtown and Welshpool
Postcode district: SY16

Richard Edwards (PC)
Kelly Healy (LD)
Les Skilton (C)

May 2017 result C 203 PC 109 Ind 58
May 2012 result Ind 177 Lab 85 LD 42 C 27
May 2008 result Ind 332 LD 103 Ind 37
June 2004 result Ind 380 LD 93


Melksham Without South

Wiltshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Roy While.

Our final two by-elections of the week are in south-west England. The curious name of Melksham Without South comes from the 1890s, when Melksham became an Urban District; as part of this the old Melksham parish was divided, with the new urban district covering only the built-up area. Its hinterland became a new parish, called Melksham Without, which surrounds the town. Malksham Without is big enough for two councillors and this division is the southern half of it.


Things have changed here since the nineteenth century. In 1940 the Royal Air Force opened RAF Melksham, a training centre for its electricians which lasted into the 1970s. When the RAF moved out their base was redeveloped for housing and industry and the result was Bowerhill, effectively a small new village a couple of miles south-east of Melksham. The population has continued to grow in the 21st century, with Knorr-Bremse (a German railway engineering firm) and Herman Miller (an American office furniture manufacturer) having set up in Bowerhill in recent years.

Roy While was a veteran of local government who had represented this area since the establishment of the modern Wiltshire council in 2009, and sat on the old Wiltshire county council and West Wiltshire district council for some years before that. Before seeking elected office he had been chief executive of West Wiltshire council. He has resigned on health grounds. While was run close by UKIP in 2013, but at his last re-election his majority had improved to 55-18 over the Lib Dems.

Wiltshire is having a rash of by-elections at the moment: this is the fourth casual vacancy for Wiltshire council since June, and a fifth by-election is in the pipeline. This by-election is a straight fight. Defending for the Conservatives is Nick Holder, who represents Bowerhill on Melksham Without parish council. Challenging for the Lib Dems is Vanessa Fiorelli, a Melksham town councillor.

Parliamentary constituency: Chippenham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Trowbridge
Postcode districts: BA14, SN12

May 2017 result C 709 LD 232 UKIP 178 Ind 163
May 2013 result C 478 UKIP 449 LD 142 Lab 99
June 2009 result C 571 LD 361 UKIP 162 Ind 116 BNP 92 Lab 73

Vanessa Fiorelli (LD)
Nick Holder (C)


Heavitree and Whipton Barton

Devon county council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Emma Brennan who had served since 2017.


For our final by-election of the week we are in the east of the city of Exeter. If you're feeling under the weather then this is the place to go, because the major employer within this county division is the Met Office, which has forecasted the weather from Exeter since 2004 with occasional success. The Met Office HQ can be seen on the right-hand side as you enter Exeter on the A30 from the Honiton and London direction.

Once past that business park you enter Heavitree, an old village which was swallowed up by the city late enough to be an urban district of its own until 1913. This was the site of the last executions in the UK for witchcraft, when the three Bideford Witches went to the gallows in 1682. Notable people from Heavitree include Sir Thomas Bodley, who has a library in Oxford named after him.

Devon county council got new division boundaries in 2017, but the only thing which changed about this division was the name: it was previously called Heavitree and Whipton and Barton, reflecting the two wards of Exeter which it covered. Perhaps one of Bodley's Oxford commas would have been in order. Whipton and Barton ward no longer exists: a major rewarding of Exeter in 2016 has left this division split between five different wards of the city. Whatever the name, this is a safe Labour area: in May 2017 Labour beat the Conservatives 51-31 here.

Defending for Labour is Greg Sheldon, who represents Heavitree ward on Exeter city council and has sat on that council since 1996. The Conservative candidate is John Harvey, a former Exeter city councillor who worked for 18 years as Exeter City Centre Manager. Also standing are Rowena Squires for the Liberal Democrats, Lizzie Woodman for the Greens and Frankie Rufolo for the For Britain Movement.

Parliamentary constituency: Exeter
Exeter wards: Heavitree (part), Mincinglake and Whipton (part), Pinhoe (part), Priory (part), St Loyes (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter
Postcode districts: EX1, EX2, EX4

John Harvey (C)
Frankie Rufolo (For Britain Movement)
Greg Sheldon (Lab)
Rowena Squires (LD)
Lizzie Woodman (Grn)

May 2017 result Lab 2151 C 1317 LD 283 Grn 249 UKIP 192
May 2013 result Lab 1655 C 803 UKIP 605 LD 190 Grn 186
June 2009 result Lab 1214 C 1059 Lib 601 UKIP 464 Grn 348 LD 324 BNP 146
May 2005 result Lab 2419 Lib 1454 LD 1379 C 1201 UKIP 285

Andrew Teale


Previews: 17 Oct 2019

Four by-elections on 17th October 2019:


Upper Dales

North Yorkshire county council; and

Hawes, High Abbotside and Upper Swaledale

Richmondshire council; both caused by the death of independent councillor John Blackie.

We start for the week with a trip to some of the most beautiful countryside imaginable: the Yorkshire Dales. The Upper Dales division is by a long way the largest county electoral division in England at 70,120 hectares (271 square miles); it's aptly named, combining most of Wensleydale with all of Swaledale upwards of Richmond. Anybody who is old enough to have seen All Creatures Great and Small or was hardy enough to watch the Tour de France or world championship cycling recently will immediately recognise the area. The Tour came to the area on its first stage in 2014, with the Buttertubs Pass from Wensleydale to Swaledale being its main climb that day; Reeth in Swaledale is the northernmost point ever reached by the world's greatest cycle race. Hikers are well-served by the Pennine Way and Wainwright's Coast to Coast Walk, which meet at Keld in Swaledale; for those of a more sedentary disposition, Aysgarth Falls on the Ure is a good place to admire the view.

Gorgeous countryside, but not many people. The Upper Dales division covers twenty-five parishes, of which the largest centre of population - with 869 electors on the roll - is Hawes. This tiny Wensleydale market town is a very remote place, to the extent that may of its services - the post office, the petrol station, the local bus - are run by a community partnership. Tourism is the main draw, but Hawes' largest single employer is the Wensleydale Creamery which makes the Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese - a product which has been given Protected Geographical Indication status by the EU, meaning that you can't legally make it outside the valley. One curiosity of Hawes' census return is an unusually high number of Buddhists - in 2011 the old Hawes and High Abbotside ward made the top 15 wards for Buddhism in England and Wales, although this only amounts to 43 people so not too much should be read into it.

Hawes may be doing reasonably well, but Swaledale has markedly declined in population since the nineteenth century when there was a leadmining industry here; the scars left by the miners can still be seen on the hillsides today if you know where to look. In the 2011 census the old Addlebrough and Swaledale wards were both in the top 100 in England and Wales for self-employment, reflecting that the main economic sector here now - as it has been for centuries - is sheep and dairy farming.

Politically, this area has been dominated at local elections by John Blackie since the mid-1990s. Blackie enjoyed very large majorities at county and district level for over two decades, sometimes with the Conservative nomination but more often as an independent. In the May 2017 county elections Blackie defeated the official Conservative candidate 61-30 in Upper Dales division, and he regularly polled over 87% in district council elections for the old Hawes and High Abbotside ward. Richmondshire got new ward boundaries this year which added Upper Swaledale to that ward, but that had very little effect on John Blackie's majority; he polled 85% in May in a straight fight with the Conservatives. The Tories are the largest party on the tiny Richmondshire district council, but they lost their overall majority in May's election and the administration is now run by a coalition of independents, Lib Dems and the single Green Party councillor.

As can be seen, Blackie's death leaves most of this division's voters looking for a new political home. Changes in these by-elections could be wild. There is a single defending independent candidate in both by-elections, whose name long-term readers of Andrew's Previews may recognise: she is Jill McMullon. Twice chair of Richmondshire council, McMullon is a former district councillor for Middleton Tyas - probably better known to outsiders as Scotch Corner - who lost her seat in 2015 and has stood without success in a few Richmondshire by-elections since. The Statement of Persons Nominated reveals that McMullon has relocated to Askrigg in Wensleydale, and she is heavily involved with the community partnership in Hawes.

For the county by-election McMullon is opposed by Conservative candidate Yvonne Peacock, who is a former leader of Richmondshire district council and sits on that council for Yoredale ward (central Wensleydale, including Askrigg, Aysgarth and Bainbridge). Also standing are Richmondshire councillor Kevin Foster for the Green Party and Simon Crosby, who is the first Lib Dem candidate for Upper Dales since 2005.

In the district by-election the Tories have reselected Pat Kirkbride to go up against McMullon. Kirkbride, who is the owner of the White Hart Hotel in Hawes, will be hoping at the very least for an improvement on the 15% she got against Blackie in May. Also standing is Green Party candidate Margaret Lowndes, who completes an all-female ballot paper. Not an unusual occurrence this week: equality campaigners may be pleased to note that women make up eleven of the fourteen by-election candidates in this column, although ironically none of them are from the Women's Equality Party.

Upper Dales

Parliamentary constituency: Richmond (Yorkshire)
Richmondshire council wards: Hawes, High Abbotside and Upper Swaledale; Lower Swaledale and Arkengarthdale; Yoredale; Leyburn (part: Carperby-cum-Thoresby parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northallerton
Postcode districts: DL8, DL10, DL11, LA10

Simon Crosby (LD)
Kevin Foster (Grn)
Jill McMullon (Ind)
Yvonne Peacock (C)

May 2017 result Ind 1540 C 740 Grn 129 Lab 99
May 2013 result Ind 1710 C 333 Lab 99 Grn 70
June 2009 result Ind 1859 C 369 Grn 236 Lab 66
May 2005 result C 2044 LD 1307

Hawes, High Abbotside and Upper Swaledale

Parliamentary constituency: Richmond (Yorkshire)
North Yorkshire county council division: Upper Dales
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northallerton
Postcode districts: DL8, DL11, LA10

Pat Kirkbride (C)
Margaret Lowndes (Grn)
Jill McMullon (Ind)

May 2019 result Ind 709 C 128


Princes Park

Liverpool council, Merseyside; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Timothy Moore, who had served since 2008.

And now for something completely different, as we travel from the countryside to the big city. Princes Park was opened in 1842 and named after the future Edward VII, who was Prince of Wales from his birth the previous year. It was the first public park laid out by Joseph Paxton, who at the time was head gardener for the Duke of Devonshire's estate at Chatsworth. As well as a large number of public spaces, Paxton's legacy includes such surprising items as the Cavendish banana - whose clones make up almost all of the bananas in the West - and the Crystal Palace in London. His services didn't come cheap, and the original plan was to meet the cost by developing grand Georgian-style houses around the park.

There were certainly plenty of large expensive houses already in the general area at the time. Canning, to the north, is entirely residential Georgian architecture - built for the most wealthy merchants of a wealthy city. The tree-lined Princes Road, connecting this area to the park, was more of the same. And, as the city boomed, terraces grew up behind these large houses for the people whose hard work made the city what it was. Some of the streets near Princes Park were given Welsh names, the developers hoping to attract some of people moving here from Wales for work in large numbers. It was a good area to live. They called it Toxteth.

Readers will probably know what happened next. Toxteth became a major focus for immigration after the Second World War, with a large community settling here from the Caribbean. Then Liverpool went into serious economic decline which hit Toxteth particularly hard, leaving extremely high unemployment, poverty and crime levels. Tensions boiled over into major riots in July 1981.

Nearly four decades on from the Toxteth riots, what has changed here? Well, decades of regeneration work are starting to have an effect, although perhaps not the effect intended. The area covered by this ward became extremely depopulated, and most of the housing stock was left vacant. Liverpool council's response to this was simply to demolish most of the old Victorian terraces - although some areas, like the Welsh Streets and the Granby Triangle, have been spared the wrecking ball after public outcry. As recently as 2017 one of the Welsh Streets stood in for 1920s Birmingham in Peaky Blinders, but regeneration work here is now well advanced and new tenants are moving in. The north-east corner of the ward, around Princes primary school and the Liverpool Women's Hospital, has seen major population growth in the last few years.

Despite all this regeneration work, the 2019 indices of multiple deprivation placed all but one of Princes Park ward's census districts within the 10% most deprived in England and Wales. At the time of the 2011 census almost 10% of the adults were unemployed and 11% were long-term sick or disabled - both of these were within the top 100 wards in England and Wales. The ward had very high bus use for a location outside London, particularly so for the area close to the park which is not within easy walking distance of the city centre. More than half of the households were socially rented (although a fair number of those will have been demolished since 2011). And it's just as multi-ethnic as ever: in 2011 Princes Park came in at number 1 in England and Wales for mixed-race population (9.95%) and number 11 for "other" ethnic groups (11.5%); given that major languages spoken here include Somali and Arabic, this latter statistic presumably refers to people of Middle Eastern extraction.

In current political conditions this is a very safe Labour ward. The most recent Liverpool elections were in May, when Labour polled 72% in Princes Park; best of the rest was 18% for the Green Party, who have been runner-up here at every election since 2011. The Lib Dems did win one of the three seats here in 2004, but that was then and this is now.

Defending this by-election for Labour is Joanne Anderson, who is heavily involved in the ward's regeneration efforts. She is no relation of the elected Mayor of Liverpool: Big Joe Anderson does have a daughter called Joanne, but she's already on the council. The Greens have reselected Stephanie Pitchers, an actress who has been runner-up in this ward at the last three elections and also fought the local seat of Liverpool Riverside at the last general election. Also standing are Lee Rowlands for Labour and Tory candidate Alma McGing, who will be hoping for better than the 96 votes she got when she stood here in 2006. Despite the sort of appalling electoral record which you would expect for a Tory in contemporary Liverpool, McGing did receive an MBE in the 2018 Birthday Honours for voluntary political service.

Parliamentary constituency: Liverpool Riverside
ONS Travel to Work Area: Liverpool
Postcode districts: L1, L7, L8

Joanne Anderson (Lab)
Alma McGing (C)
Stephanie Pitchers (Grn)
Lee Rowlands (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 1926 Grn 490 LD 144 C 81 Lib 29
May 2018 result Lab 2155 Grn 347 LD 122 C 111
May 2016 result Lab 1976 Grn 565 LD 146 TUSC 138 C 100
May 2015 result Lab 3974 Grn 1214 C 242 UKIP 208 TUSC 167 EDP 19
May 2014 result Lab 1890 Grn 459 Ind 148 TUSC 142 C 113 Lib 65
May 2012 result Lab 1920 Grn 437 TUSC 161 C 104 Lib 75
May 2011 result Lab 2263 Grn 355 LD 214 C 141 TUSC 104 Lib 57
May 2010 result Lab 2740 LD 1293 Grn 634 C 294 Lib 166
May 2008 result Lab 1227 LD 714 Grn 318 C 163 Lib 74
May 2007 result Lab 1193 LD 575 Grn 327 C 136 Ind 110
May 2006 result Lab 1184 LD 645 Respect 281 Grn 246 Lib 210 C 96
June 2004 rsult Lab 1029/1026/891 LD 935/857/788 Grn 420/381/206 Ind 173 C 154


Westcourt

Gravesham council, Kent; caused by the death of Labour councillor Ruth Martin who had served only since May this year.

Our final by-election is in the South East. Despite the name, Westcourt ward is on the eastern edge of Gravesend around an eponymous primary school. The ward covers housing to the south of the Rochester Road which was mostly developed after the Second World War; it includes Gravesend's most deprived census district.

Gravesend anchors the Gravesham constituency, which was traditionally seen as a bellwether seat: every time the government changed, Gravesham's allegiance changed to match. That record ended in 2005 when Adam Holloway gained the seat for the Conservatives with a majority of 654, and he has since made the seat safe. Holloway even got a swing in his favour in June 2017 when Theresa May was losing her majority. We can no longer reasonably call this constituency a bellwether.

Gravesham council is politically rather more curious. In normal circumstances the council is a two-party timewarp with the Conservatives polling the most votes across the district, but not necessarily winning the most seats. That's because the Tories tend to pile up huge majorities in a few safe wards outside Gravesend town, while Labour's vote is much better distributed. In 2003 the Tories polled 55% of the vote across Gravesham, had a 12-point lead over Labour, and won 21 seats to Labour's 23. Isn't England's electoral system wonderful?

Since then the council has changed hands at every election, with May's ordinary election giving Labour 24 seats to 18 Conservatives and two Independent Conservatives. Given that the ruling Tory group had split a few months previously with a rebel Independent Conservative group in minority control going into the election, it could have been worse from the Conservative point of view.

Westcourt ward is normally in the Labour column - in fact nobody opposed the Labour slate here in 2015 - but looks marginal on the basis of the May 2019 result. Labour won Westcourt earlier this year with 37% of the vote, against 29% for the Conservatives and 23% for UKIP. The ward is within the Gravesend East division of Kent county council, which covers two-thirds of the town and was an easy Conservative win in the 2017 county elections.

Defending for Labour is Lindsay Gordon, an NHS nurse and cub scout leader. The Tory candidate is Helen Ashenden, who is retired; in May she fought Higham ward, which is normally rock-solid Tory but voted for the Independent Conservative slate last time. UKIP have selected Linda Talbot, who in this time of Brexit (or not, as the case may be) is the last election candidate from an official Eurosceptic party until after the Article 50 deadline of 31st October. Completing our second all-female ballot paper of the week is Marna Gilligan for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Gravesham
Kent county council division: Gravesend East
Postcode district: DA12
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Helen Ashenden (C)
Marna Gilligan (Grn)
Lindsay Gordon (Lab)
Linda Talbot (UKIP)

May 2019 result Lab 490/462/437 C 381/378/320 UKIP 299 Ind 137
May 2015 result Lab unopposed
May 2011 result Lab 1056/1038/1012 C 654/651/617 LD 98/69
May 2007 result Lab 662/636/602 C 613/612
May 2003 result Lab 675/670/637 C 417/408/395


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Andrew Teale


Previews: 10 Oct 2019

Correction Corner

Before I start this week, there were a large number of mistakes in last week's column which need owning up to. First and foremost I would to like apologise unreservedly on behalf of myself and Britain Elects for wrongly writing that the Syston West by-election last week to Charnwood council had been caused by the death of former Conservative councillor Eric Vardy. A very large number of people have got in touch with me to point out that Mr Vardy is alive and well, and the by-election was in fact caused by his resignation from the council as he is relocating to a different part of the country. I am happy to set the record straight in that regard and I am sorry for any offence caused by my error.

Unfortunately this wasn't the only issue in the Previews for 3rd October. The late councillor Jean Adkins in Norton Fitzwarren and Staplegrove had left the Conservatives in 2016 and as such had been an independent for some time before May's election. The Clacton East by-election was in the constituency of Clacton, not Tendring as I wrote in the factfile. Aberdeen Labour have been in touch to point out that there was more of a selection contest for the Labour nomination in the Bridge of Don by-election than I implied by the word "imposed", although it's not entirely clear to me who was actually running the selection in question. I regret and apologies for all of these errors.

Hopefully this week's Previews will be more accurate. There are three by-elections on 10th October 2019, as follows:


Bramley and Sherfield

Basingstoke and Deane council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Venetia Rowland who had served since 2016.

Our three by-elections this week feature one defence each for the three main English parties, and they are all in wards which at first sight look very safe. The Tory defence is a few miles north-east of Basingstoke is a ward based on two large villages. Sherfield on Loddon lies on the main road between Basingstoke and Reading, while Bramley lies on the railway line between them and has a railway station - opened in 1895 at the behest of the Duke of Wellington, who was a major landowner in the area. With its easy access to Basingstoke and Reading this is an area popular with commuters, and almost half of the workforce at the time of the 2011 census were in one of the two management/professional occupational groups used by the ONS. In the week that the Nobel Prize winners are announced it's particularly appropriate to remember the physicist Lise Meitner, a pioneer in nuclear physics and radioactivity who was unjustly overlooked for the 1944 Nobel Prize in physics - which went solely to her collaborator Otto Hahn. Meitner is buried in Bramley; her legacy includes a number of scientific awards, while synthetic element 109 "Meitnerium" has been named in her honour.

Meitnerium, appropriately for our time, is an unstable element which falls apart in a matter of seconds or less. Bramley and Sherfield, however, is politically much more stable than the country as a whole. This ward was created in 2008 and has been generally Conservative ever since. Its councillors from 2008 to 2015 included Ranil Jayawardena, who was since gone on to greater things as MP for the local constituency of North East Hampshire. Jayawardena had the largest majority of any MP in the 2015 general election, at 29,916 votes - not bad for a first-time MP. The Conservatives did lose Bramley and Sherfield ward in 2012 to independent candidate Chris Tomblin; however, Tomblin retired four years later and Venetia Rowland recovered the seat for the Tories. At the most recent contest, in May this year, the Conservatives polled 56% in Bramley and Sherfield with the Greens (25%) as their nearest challenger. The Tories also hold the local county council division (Calleva), which was over 76% Conservative at the last Hampshire county council election in May 2017.

This by-election has a very different candidate list to the ordinary election in May. Angus Groom is the defending Conservative candidate. He is opposed by two independent candidates, both of whom are former Basingstoke and Deane councillors: Chris Tomblin (from Bramley) represented this ward as an independent from 2012 to 2016, while Joyce Bowyer represented the neighbouring Chineham ward of Basingstoke as a Conservative from 2015 to 2019. Whoever wins this by-election may need to work fast to secure re-election, as new ward boundaries are due to come in for Basingstoke and Deane in May next year - which will see this ward disappear.

Parliamentary constituency: North East Hampshire
Hampshire county council division: Calleva
ONS Travel to Work Area: Basingstoke
Postcode districts: RG24, RG26, RG27

Joyce Bowyer (Ind)
Angus Groom (C)
Chris Tomblin (Ind)

May 2019 result C 929 Grn 408 LD 201 Lab 114
May 2016 result C 934 Ind 606 Lab 180
May 2015 result C 1889 Ind 943 UKIP 302
May 2012 result Ind 776 C 603 Lab 115
May 2011 result C 1324 LD 385 Lab 292
May 2008 result C 1091/1063 LD 230/189 Lab 113


Tudor

Watford council, Hertfordshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Joe Fahmy due to work commitments. He had served since 2016.

Our Liberal Democrat defence comes within the M25 but outside of London, in the town of Watford. The Tudor ward is based on the Tudor Estate at the eastern end of North Watford, an area of interwar terraces. To the south of this is a large business park that includes the respective head offices of the DIY chain Wickes and the pub company J D Wetherspoon, although the latter company may be rather disappointed that Tudor ward shares its name with the local Tudor Arms pub - which is owned by Greene King. This business park is next to the mainline railway station at Watford Junction, while Watford North station - on the St Albans Abbey branch - serves the local housing.

Watford council has been run by the Liberal Democrats for a long time now, and Tudor ward is in normal conditions firmly part of their majority. In May this year Joe Fahmy was re-elected with a 62-20 lead over Labour. We've come a long way since 2015, which was the only year since 2002 that the Lib Dems lost Tudor ward; that year (on slightly different boundaries) it voted Conservative. The Lib Dems aren't that much less safe in the local Hertfordshire county division, called Meriden Tudor after the two Watford wards it covers.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Bill Stanton. Labour have selected Seamus Williams, and the Tories' Carly Bishop completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Watford
Hertfordshire county council division: Meriden Tudor (most), Central Watford and Oxhey (small part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton
Postcode district: WD24

Carly Bishop (C)
Bill Stanton (LD)
Seamus Williams (Lab)

May 2019 result LD 1031 Lab 354 C 305
May 2018 result LD 951 Lab 615 C 564
May 2016 result LD 1067/804/790 C 514/495/303 Lab 430/392/372 Grn 150


Beanfield

Corby council, Northamptonshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Mary Butcher at the age of 63. A former dance teacher, supermarket worker and charity fundraiser, Butcher had served on Corby council since 2007 and was elected Mayor of Corby in 2010. She had also formerly sat on Northamptonshire county council.

We finish with the Labour defence of the week in one of the most unfashionable towns in the Midlands. Corby grew from virtually nothing in the 1930s to become a decent-sized town thanks to the opening of a steelworks and significant immigration from western Scotland. After the Second World War it became a New Town, and Beanfield ward's housing dates from the New Town expansion era. Corby's economy is still heavily dependent on manufacturing, and Beanfield ward (as it was then) was in the top 15 in England and Wales for the ONS "routine" employment category at the time of the 2011 census. Since then there have been boundary changes which saw Beanfield ward take over most of the former Tower Hill ward, but that won't have changed the demographic profile much.

Corby is part of that disaster area of modern local government, Northamptonshire. As this column has now related on several occasions, Northamptonshire county council's insolvency has forced structural change in the county, and in advance of that change (which is still yet to be finalised) Corby council's 2019 elections were cancelled. This means that the 2015 election is to date the only poll on the current Beanfield ward boundaries. In 2015 Labour polled 61% of the vote here, with UKIP as runner-up on 22%; this was on the same day that the Tories recovered the Corby parliamentary seat after a by-election loss in 2012, but the Corby parliamentary seat includes a large rural area of eastern Northamptonshire which counterbalances the strongly-Labour town. Labour hold the two Northamptonshire county council divisions covering the ward, enjoying similarly large majorities at the last county elections in 2017.

Defending this by-election for Labour is Alison Dalziel. UKIP have not returned to the fray. The Tories put in nominations for two different candidates, but one of them has withdrawn leaving Roy Boyd as their standard-bearer; he completes the ballot paper along with Lib Dem Chris Stanbra, who sits on Northamptonshire county council for a different area.

Parliamentary constituency: Corby
Northamptonshire county council division: Corby West (most), Kingswood (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Corby
Postcode district: NN18

Roy Boyd (C)
Alison Dalziel (Lab)
Chris Stanbra (LD)

May 2015 result Lab 2142/2112/2023 UKIP 785 C 581/523/467


Petition Watch

As there hasn't been much in the way of by-elections this week compared with recent offerings, I'll finish for the week with a roundup of what the Election Court has been doing recently.

There were two legal cases arising from the May local elections for the district councils. One was a well-publicised case from the Cotswold district, where Conservative candidate Stephen Hirst won the Tetbury Town ward with a majority of one vote over independent candidate Kevin Painter. This case turned on one ballot paper on which the voter had written the word "Brexit" with an arrow pointing to Hirst's name. The returning officer counted this as a valid vote for Hirst, giving him his one-vote majority, and last month the Election Court upheld that decision and confirmed that Hirst was duly elected. The other case was in Stafford district, asking for a recount in the Haywoods and Hixon ward; however, this has been settled out of court, with the petitioners agreeing to withdraw their action and Stafford council agreeing not to pursue them for the returning officer's legal costs. Stafford's council taxpayers shouldn't fret over this decision; the council has insurance to cover this sort of bill. The Brexit Party have put in a petition relating to the Peterborough parliamentary by-election in June; that one is yet to reach trial.

There has, however, been one councillor change this year as a result of an election petition. That was at parish level: the Swindon elections team messed up the count for May's election to Highworth town council, resulting in Conservative candidate Pauline Webster being incorrectly declared elected to one of the vacancies. The Election Court ordered a recount which showed that in fact independent candidate Kim Barber had more votes, and the Court declared Barber elected in Webster's place.

And one other petition has succeeded recently. In Sheffield, 5% of the city's voters subscribed to a petition calling for the council to change its governance arrangements from the "leader and cabinet" model to an old-style committee system. As a result of that petition, a referendum will be held on this subject, to take place alongside the next ordinary Sheffield elections in May 2020. Stay tuned for that.

Andrew Teale


Previews: 03 Oct 2019

In a varied week of local by-elections with something for everyone, there are six by-elections for seven seats on 3rd October 2019. The Tories defend three seats, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party defend one each, and there are two free-for-alls. Read on...


Bridge of Don

Aberdeen council, Scotland; a double by-election caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Brett Hunt and the death of Scottish National Party councillor Sandy Stuart. Stuart had served since 2012, Hunt since 2017.

https://youtu.be/-SNODgG0Fd4

We start this week with a rare by-election for two seats in Scotland - only the third time this has happened since Scottish local elections went over to proportional representation in 2007. Despite what might appear from the name, "Aberdeen" originally referred to a location not at the mouth of the River Dee but at the mouth of the Don, as it quietly flows into the North Sea. As the city grew, the settlement at the mouth of the Don became known as Old Aberdeen to differentiate it from the city centre area.

A fine granite bridge of five arches was thrown over the River Don in the early nineteenth century, and a suburb grew up on the far side of the bridge - named Bridge of Don after the crossing. This is the point of entry to Aberdeen for people arriving from the north, and for those who don't want to park in the city centre park-and-ride buses cross the bridge at frequent intervals. Bridge of Don has developed into a centre of its own, with a number of business parks for the oil industry within the ward boundary. The completion earlier this year of the much-delayed Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route has also removed some traffic from the area - the original 1930s bypass of Aberdeen had terminated here.

Since the introduction of PR Bridge of Don has been a single ward electing four members of Aberdeen city council; the ward boundaries were slightly expanded this year. The Scottish National Party have topped the poll at all three elections to date, but in the inaugural 2007 election they only had one candidate allowing the Liberal Democrats to win two seats; Labour took the other. Both Lib Dem councillors subsequently left the party and sought re-election as independent candidates: one, John Reynolds, topped the poll in 2012 and was easily re-elected, while the other, Gordon Leslie, finished ninth and lost his seat to Sandy Stuart of the SNP.

The May 2017 local elections saw the Conservatives break through across large swathes of Scotland, including in Bridge of Don where they surged from 6% to 26% of the vote in 2017. Their candidate Brett Hunt was elected in first place. The SNP polled 34% and held their two seats, and Reynolds polled 14% and was re-elected meaning that the Tory gain came from Labour. Labour polled just 11% in the election, although Unionist transfers meant that they weren't that far away from holding their seat in the final reckoning.

This by-election will however represent a stiffer test for all the parties. Votes at 16 and the Single Transferable Vote apply, and to win one of the two seats candidates will need to poll one-third of the vote - either on first preferences alone, or by attracting transfers from eliminated candidates. As usual Allan Faulds of the Ballot Box Scotland blog has crunched the numbers (link) and found that had the May 2017 election here been for two seats then the SNP and the Tories would have won one seat each, with Reynolds as a rather distant runner-up.

Unionist tactical votes were also important in the Westminster election of June 2017, in which most of the ward is within the Gordon constituency. This was one of the twelve Scottish Conservative gains that enabled the May government to continue after June 2017, and would have been particularly satisfying for the Scottish Tories as the SNP MP they knocked out was Alex Salmond. At Holyrood level the ward is covered by the Aberdeen Donside constituency; this has been represented by Mark McDonald since he won a by-election for the SNP in 2013, but McDonald left the party last year following a scandal over his behaviour towards women. He now sits as an independent MSP.

Aberdeen council has also been the subject of controversy, although of a strictly political nature. The SNP are the largest party with 17 out of 45 seats on the council (plus two vacant seats), but they are short of a majority and were shut out of power following the 2017 election by a coalition agreement between the Tories (10 seats plus one vacancy), Labour (9 seats) and independent councillors (3 seats). That coalition agreement led to the entire Labour group on Aberdeen council being suspended from the national Labour party, because apparently ideological purity is more important than political power. It will be noted that the Tory-Aberdeen Labour-Independent coalition has a majority of one, so if the Tories lose their seat in this by-election we could (depending who picks it up) be in minority administration territory.

None of the parties are standing two candidates for the two vacancies, so this by-election will result in a split decision. Defending the SNP's seat is Jessica Mennie, a PR worker who fought Northfield/Mastrick North ward in the 2017 city elections. The Tories have a fresh face to defend their seat in the form of local resident Sarah Cross. Aberdeen Labour have had a candidate imposed on them by the Scottish party: he is Graeme Lawrence, who lost his seat in the neighbouring Dyce/Bucksburn/Danestone ward two years ago. Also standing are Michal Skoczykloda for the Liberal Democrats, independent candidate Simon McLean (who stood here in 2017 and was eliminated in eighth place with just 91 votes), Philip Clarke for UKIP, Sylvia Hardie for the Scottish Green Party and Max McKay, the first ever election candidate for the Red Party of Scotland.

Parliamentary constituency: Gordon (most), Aberdeen North (part in Donmouth ward before 2007)
Scottish Parliament constituency: Aberdeen Donside
ONS Travel to Work Area: Aberdeen
Postcode districts: AB21, AB22, AB23

Philip Clarke (UKIP)
Sarah Cross (C)
Syvlia Hardie (Grn)
Graeme Lawrence (Lab)
Max McKay (Red Party of Scotland)
Simon McLean (Ind)
Jessica Mennie (SNP)
Michal Skoczykloda (LD)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 2462 C 1868 Ind 1045 Lab 805 LD 669 Ind 279 Ind 70 Solidarity 28


Whitchurch and Tongwynlais

Cardiff council, Glamorgan; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Timothy Davies. He had served since 2004, with a break in service from 2012 to 2017.

Would you like to visit a fairytale castle? Well, this column doesn't have the budget to bring you Schloss Neuschwanstein, Castelul Bran or that structure in the middle of Disneyland (although if you buy the Andrew's Previews books that situation might change) but we can offer you Castell Coch. Nestled on a steep hillside in South Wales, Castell Coch was literally a fantasy: the site is mediaeval, but the building and its interiors are as High Victorian as they come. Such was the taste of the 3rd Marquess of Bute, who commissioned the buildings we see today in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Below the castle was one of the first modern commercial vineyards in Britain (now occupied by a golf course), and the views over Cardiff from the castle are something to behold. The 5th Marquess of Bute gave Castell Coach to the nation in 1950, and it is now open to the public thanks to the Welsh government's heritage agency Cadw.

The location was no accident. The Butes were one of the richest families in Britain thanks to their involvement in the South Wales coal trade, and a large area of the Cardiff docklands is still called Butetown to this day. Another rich industrial family whose name is commemorated in an area of Cardiff is the Cory family: Sir Herbert Cory was a Conservative MP for Cardiff from 1913 to 1923, and the Coryton district is named after him. He should not be confused with Sir Clifford Cory, who had a similar biography but was on the Liberal side of politics (he was the Liberal MP for St Ives in Cornwall from 1906 to 1922 and again in the 1923-24 parliament) and was associated with Barry Docks and the Rhondda.

Sir Clifford's name has been immortalised by one of the best brass bands in the world, the Rhondda-based Cory Band, which won the British Open and European brass band championships this year. You can hear them here in a recent recording, appropriately playing T J Powell's contest march Castell Coch.

https://youtu.be/RBoneUIzur4

Castell Coch and Coryton can both be found within the same electoral division of Cardiff, Whitchurch and Tongwynlais. This is a wedge of north-western Cardiff along the A470 road, the main arterial route from the city centre towards Merthyr and the north. Whitchurch, a village which has been swallowed up by the growth of Cardiff, is the main component of the division with Tongwynlais being a relatively small village in the valley below Castell Coch. Coryton railway station, a branch line terminus, connects the area to Cardiff city centre.

Like Bridge of Don, this area elects four members of the city council. Unlike Bridge of Don, proportional representation is not in effect meaning that small swings can lead to drastic changes in the seat count. In 2008 the Conservative slate polled 40.5% to 36.5% for Labour, and that 4-point lead gave the Conservatives all four seats. In 2012 a 5% swing to Labour meant that the Labour slate gained all four seats with a lead of 41-36. The most recent Welsh local elections were in May 2017, when the Conservatives had 41% here, Labour 38% and Plaid Cymru 14%; and you guessed it, the Conservatives won all four seats.

Despite that, Labour did bounce back five weeks later to gain the local Cardiff North constituency from the Conservatives in the snap general election after a 7-year Tory interlude. Labour also hold Cardiff North at Welsh Assembly level, where the local AM since 2011 has been Julie Morgan, widow of the former First Minister Rhodri Morgan. Mrs Morgan won her seat by defeating another Morgan, the Tories' Jonathan Morgan who represented Cardiff North in the Assembly from 2007 to 2011; Jonathan's mother Linda Morgan is one of the remaining Tory councillors for Whitchurch and Tongwynlais.

A marginal electoral division in a marginal constituency overlooked by a fairytale castle - this is the sort of contest this column dreams of. Watch this one closely. Defending for the Conservatives is Mia Rees, a "youth policy nerd" according to her Twitter, she works for a local charity. Tha Labour candidate is Marc Palmer, an estate agent. Plaid have selected Dan Allsobrook who was on their slate here in 2017. Also standing are Sian Donne for the Lib Dems and David Griffin for the Green Party.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Cardiff North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cardiff
Postcode districts: CF14, CF15, CF83

Dan Allsobrook (PC)
Sian Donne (LD)
David Griffin (Grn)
Marc Palmer (Lab)
Mia Rees (C)

May 2017 result C 2905/2900/2856/2753 Lab 2700/2488/2461/2234 PC 962/951/885/856 LD 540/516/365/312
May 2012 result Lab 2529/2454/2354/2290 C 2206/2144/2080/2080 PC 641/623/600 588 Grn 495 LD 265/233/226/183
May 2008 result C 2948/2904/2857/2790 Lab 2658/2147/2023/1962 PC 771/748/715/669 LD 505/471/398/329 UKIP 398
June 2004 result C 2329/2282/2269/2180 Lab 2266/1956/1799/1631 LD 1060/1039/920/905 PC 742/724/720/711 Cardiff Citizens 481


Syston West

Charnwood council, Leicestershire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Eric Vardy who had served since 2011.

We move to England for the four remaining by-elections of the week. Syston is a town on the Fosse Way just to the north of Leicester; it's become become part of Leicester's built-up area but is yet to be incorporated into the city proper. The main local employer is Pukka Pies, which employs around 250 people in Syston and has made its name as a supplier of pies to football stadiums. According to the company, Rotherham United's supporters eat the most pies, which is a fact that will raise an eyebrow among anybody who has ever had anything do with Wigan Athletic. Pukka also sponsored the 2009 UK Snooker Championship and gave the winner, Ding Junhui, his body weight in pies; Ding, in a more classy move, donated the pies to a Sheffield homeless charity.

As Syston has not been annexed by Leicester yet, it is for the present two wards of Charnwood council. Both of these are safely Conservative; in the ordinary elections in May this year West ward gave 51% to the Tory slate, 26% to the Labour slate and 23% to the single Green Party candidate. The Tories also hold the local county division of Syston Ridgeway, getting a swing in their favour at a by-election in June last year (Andrew's Previews 2018, pages 228-9). The late councillor Vardy was no relation of the Leicester City star Jamie Vardy, but the big city has left its mark on Syston in other ways: Syston West was 15% Hindu in the 2011 census, a figure in the top 70 wards in England and Wales.

Defending for the Conservatives is Sue Gerrard, a former Charnwood councillor for East Goscote ward who had gained her seat in 2015 from one of the last BNP councillors in local government. Gerrard had fought Loughborough Hastings (a safe Labour area) in the May 2019 elections, while her old ward of East Goscote went Green. No, I don't understand it either. Labour have selected Sharon Brown, who stood in May in the other Syston ward (Syston East) and is a Syston town councillor. The Greens, who are rumoured to be making a serious effort at this by-election, have reselected Matthew Wise who stood here in May. He completes a ballot paper of three candidates.

Parliamentary constituency: Charnwood
Leicestershire county council division: Syston Ridgeway
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode district: LE7

Sharon Brown (Lab)
Sue Gerrard (C)
Matthew Wise (Grn)

May 2019 result C 632/610 Lab 316/236 Grn 290
May 2015 result C 1916/1541 Lab 899/851
May 2011 result C 1062/964 Lab 684/591
May 2007 result C 747/742 Lab 498/495 BNP 348
May 2003 result C 606/526 Lab 376/345 UKIP 132


Clacton East

Essex county council; caused by the resignation of independent county councillor David Sargeant who had served since winning a by-election in March 2016.

Our next pair of by-elections form an interesting contrast with each other as they cover two areas which form stereotypes of the two strands of thought which dominate the national political debate at the moment. In this time of Brexit (or not, as the case may be), it seems to be de rigeur for the media to send journalists out to some provincial town for a few vox pops to "see what Leave voters think" before said journalists retreat back to their safe space in the London bubble. The choice of provincial towns used for these exercises is telling. I note that none of the newspapers or TV stations have yet sent anybody to this column's own Little Lever, which as the only ward in Lancashire past or present to vote UKIP in 2019 certainly could be labelled as having Leave credentials; on the other hand, Little Lever is one change of public transport from Manchester, two changes from London. There are places out there which are more accessible to the London commentariat.

Despite the last paragraph, this column tries not to label areas as "leave" or "remain" in the Previews for various reasons. First, I'm as sick and tired of the whole business as you are (and given that I'm supposed to going to eastern Europe next month I've got to sit up and take notice of what's going on); second, referendum voting figures are generally not available at ward level; third, referendum voting figures are by definition a one-dimensional statistic and there is much more varied information out there to use; fourth, and probably most importantly, referendum voting figures tend not to translate into local elections very well. To date the number of Brexit Party candidates in local government can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and none of them have won.

Still don't believe me? Have a look at Clacton East. This division of Essex county council was previewed in this column less than four years ago (Andrew's Previews 2016, pages 67 and 68) without mentioning the B-word once. Alright, that by-election was on 31st March 2016 so it was pre-referendum, but it was after Douglas Carswell had been twice elected as MP for Clacton on the UK Independence Party ticket. The demographic profile of Clacton East - the eastern end of the Clacton seafront as you might have guessed from the name, based on Holland-on-Sea and Great Clacton which are economically depressed retirement ghettoland - certainly fits the profile of a Leave-voting area.

So, how does it vote at local election time? Probably not how you expected. Clacton East's election results were previously dominated by the figure of Pierre Oxley, who polled over 4,000 votes and had a big majority here as the Conservative candidate in 2005 but then broke away to found his own localist party, Tendring First. Oxley lost his seat to the Conservatives in 2009 but got it back in 2013.

Pierre Oxley was also the chairman of Clacton Sports Club, and in that role he forged invoices to persuade his own council, Sport England and the Big Lottery Fund to pay out grants totalling £95,000 for capital work at the sports club. This capital work was in fact never carried out, and Oxley instead used the money to pay the club's running costs. At a trial in early 2016 Oxley pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation and received a two-year suspended prison sentence, which disqualifies him from serving as a councillor for five years. Had he made any personal profit from the fraud, he would probably have done time.

The resulting by-election was won very easily by David Colin Sargeant, standing for the Holland-on-Sea Residents Association. Sargeant was re-elected in May 2017 as an independent candidate, polling 41% of the vote to 31% for the Conservatives and 15% for UKIP.

This wasn't a flash in the plan. The Holland-on-Sea Residents Association are a long-established electoral force at the eastern end of Clacton. In the May 2019 Tendring council elections they were the most successful party within Clacton East, winning the two wards which cover Holland-on-Sea (Eastcliff and St Bartholomew's wards). Within Great Clacton the Conservatives won St Paul's ward, while St John's ward (not all of which is within this division) returned two independent candidates, one of whom - Mark Stephenson - had previously been elected on the UKIP ticket in 2015.

Despite Sargeant's independent label in 2017 the defending party here is effectively the Holland-on-Sea Residents Association, although they have changed their ballot paper description to "Holland On Sea & Eastcliff Matters". Their candidate is K T King, one of the Tendring councillors for St Bartholomew's ward. The Conservatives have reselected Chris Amos who was runner-up here in 2017; he represents Burrsville ward on Tendring council, which is not part of this division. The UKIP candidate who finished third here in 2017, the aforementioned Mark Stephenson, is also standing again but this time as an independent candidate. Completing the ballot paper are Geoff Ely for Labour, Callum Robertson for the Liberal Democrats and Chris Southall for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Tendring
Tendring council wards: Eastcliff, St Bartholomew's, St Paul's, St John's (part), Coppins (small part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Clacton
Postcode district: CO15

Chris Amos (C)
Geoff Ely (Lab)
K T King (Holland-on-Sea and Eastliff Matters)
Callum Robertson (LD)
Chris Southall (Grn)
Mark Stephenson (Ind)

May 2017 result Ind 1906 C 1458 UKIP 705 Lab 440 LD 82 Grn 74
March 2016 by-election Holland-on-Sea Res Assoc 1781 UKIP 961 C 628 Lab 387 LD 49
May 2013 result Tendring First 1528 C 1194 UKIP 1106 Lab 477 LD 77 Grn 70
June 2009 result C 2270 Tendring First 1361 BNP 626 Lab 508 Grn 325 LD 238
May 2005 rsult C 4330 Lab 2427 LD 1206 Grn 263 Community Representatives Party 207


Clarence

St Albans council, Hertfordshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Caroline Brooke who had served since 2018.

Our remaining two by-elections are for wards in the south of England with Liberal Democrat strength, in parliamentary constituencies which the party will have their eye on in the cess of an early general election: one due to a Liberal tradition, the other due to marginality. St Albans is the marginal one, although a Tory majority of nearly 11% in June 2017 still looks a tall order to overturn and the Liberal Democrats have been tilting at this seat for decades without winning. Mind, the Conservatives did very badly here in May's local elections: they lost eight seats on St Albans council five months ago and went from holding half of the seats to second place behind the Lib Dems, who now run the district as a minority.

St Albans' Clarence ward is located east of the city centre and named after Clarence Park. It has, as I wrote in this column three years ago (Andrew's Previews 2016, pages 256 and 257), the middle-class commuter profile to end all middle-class commuter profiles. Despite the vagaries of Thameslink over 30% of the population travel to work by train from St Albans City station, most of them presumably going to London. The 2011 census return put Clarence in the top 25 wards in England and Wales for population with a degree, and in the top 100 for both the ONS higher- and lower-management employment categories. The presence in the ward of the head office of the Campaign for Rail Ale and and a number of businesses catering to the hipster market reinforces the impression that this is a very trendy place to live. Quite the contrast with Clacton in the previous preview.

Since the current St Albans ward boundaries were introduced in 1999 Clarence ward has consistently voted Liberal Democrat, and often very strongly so. In May this was one of the safest Lib Dem wards in the country, with a 64-15 lead for the party over their nearest challengers, the Conservatives. The Lib Dems also hold the local county council seat of St Albans Central, and this is clearly the ward that supplies their majority in that division (the other ward in St Albans Central is St Peter's ward, which covers the city centre and has bizarre voting patterns).

Defending for the Lib Dems is Josie Madoc, one of the city's many London commuters and a school campaigner: earlier this year her daughter was told that there were no places available for her in any of the local secondary schools. The Tories have reselected Don Deepthi who stood here in May. Also standing are Rebecca Michel for the Green Party and Gary Chambers for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: St Albans
Hertfordshire county council division: St Albans Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton
Postcode district: AL1

Gary Chambers (Lab)
Don Deepthi (C)
Josie Madoc (LD)
Rebecca Michel (Grn)

May 2019 result LD 1521 C 357 Grn 252 Lab 249
May 2018 result LD 1370 C 533 Lab 308 Grn 159
Oct 2016 by-election LD 916 C 388 Lab 193 Grn 98 UKIP 16
May 2016 result LD 1178 C 490 Lab 397 Grn 226 TUSC 23
May 2015 result LD 1606 C 1375 Lab 683 Grn 399 TUSC 28
May 2014 result LD 764 C 579 Lab 483 Grn 367 UKIP 145 TUSC 14
May 2012 result LD 880 C 494 Lab 383 Grn 312
May 2011 result LD 1021 C 899 Lab 551 Grn 267
May 2010 result LD 1807 C 1115 Lab 556 Grn 297
May 2008 result LD 979 C 629 Grn 237 Lab 211
May 2007 result LD 1070 C 433 Grn 255 Lab 229
May 2006 result LD 918 C 596 Lab 339 Grn 298
June 2004 result LD 985 C 514 Lab 416 Grn 180
May 2003 result LD 1315 Lab 356 C 343
May 2002 result LD 1095 Lab 423 C 331
May 2000 result LD 790 Lab 478 C 403
May 1999 result LD 1089/1018/1006 Lab 619/605/581 C 356/350/340


Norton Fitzwarren and Staplegrove

Somerset West and Taunton council; caused by the death of independent councillor Jean Adkins.

Our final by-election this week is a free-for-all in one of the new local government districts created in this year's reorganisations. We're north-west of the town of Taunton here.

Despite only just creeping over 3,000 population, Norton Fitzwarren has been a hive of industry over the years. There are lots of fast-flowing streams here giving plentiful opportunities for water power, and water-powered textile mills sprang up in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries - silk weaving was a major local employer. In more recent years the Taunton Cider company's main factory was here, producing brands such as Blackthorn until production was moved elsewhere in the late 1990s. The coming of the railways led to extensive development at Norton Fitzwarren, which became a junction for the Minehead branch off the Great Western main line and had extensive freight yards. Unfortunately Norton Fitzwarren has been an unlucky place: there were major fatal railway accidents here in 1890 (caused by a signalman's error allowing two trains to collide), 1940 (caused by a driver misreading the signals, leading to a derailment) and 1978 (when the Penzance to London sleeper train caught fire).

The victims of the 1940 accident included a number of military personnel travelling to Norton Fitzwarren, which that year had seen the development of a large logistics base for the Army. This was a huge site, used during the Second World War partly as a prisoner of war camp and mostly by the US Army. Royal Marines 40 Commando is still here for the time being at Norton Manor Camp, and the Marines show up clearly in the 2011 census return: Norton Fitzwarren parish was a ward of its own at the time, and was ward number 3 in England and Wales for those with 5 or more GCSE passes or equivalent but no further qualifications, was number 3 in England and Wales for the ONS "intermediate" employment category, and made the top 100 for full-time employment. However, these figures may now be rather out of date now because much of the old military site has been redeveloped in this decade: Norton Fitzwarren's population grew by over 10% between 2011 and 2014.

The creation of Somerset West and Taunton council this year led to the Local Government Boundary Commission drawing new wards for the new council. These merged the Norton Fitzwarren ward of the old Taunton Deane district with most of the previous Staplegrove ward to create a new ward of three councillors. The old Staplegrove ward was based on the north-western corner of Taunton, around the independent Taunton School, together with the parish of Staplegrove which is effectively a western extension of Taunton, and some villages to the north of the town. The presence of Taunton School and its boarders meant that in 2011 Staplegrove ward was in the top 40 in England and Wales for people aged 16 and 17, but the new ward boundaries place Taunton School in a different ward so that's no longer relevant. The Boundary Commission drew the new Norton Fitzwarren and Staplegrove ward with quite a low electorate, in order to allow for further population growth in the near future.

The inaugural Somerset West and Taunton council election was a bloodbath for the local Conservatives and to general surprise resulted in a majority for the Lib Dems. The surprise extended to the local Lib Dems themselves, as they had only partial slates in a number of wards which turned out to be extremely winnable. We saw an example of that in this column two weeks ago with the Vivary ward by-election, which the Liberal Democrats gained from the Conservatives to increase their overall majority to three seats; that was one of the wards where the Lib Dems only had a partial slate in May and ended up in an unexpected first place.

Here is another example of that. The old Norton Fitzwarren and Staplegrove wards had both been quite strongly Conservative, but the new combined ward saw the Lib Dems top the poll with 36% of the vote, against 20% for independent candidate Jean Adkins, 18% for the Green Party candidate Alan Debenham and just 17% for the Conservative slate. The Liberal Democrats had only nominated two candidates for the three seats allowing Adkins to win the final seat; she had been a Conservative councillor for the old Norton Fitzwarren ward since 2011 but it appears that she didn't get the Tory nomination.for the new council. Her death shortly afterwards has caused this by-election.

There is no independent candidate to replace Adkins so we have a free-for-all! There is an interesting candidate on the ballot paper in Andy Sully, who was Adkins' colleague as Tory councillor for the old Norton Fitzwarren ward from 2015 to 2019; Sully didn't seek re-election in May, subsequently joined the Liberal Democrats and now has their nomination for this by-election. The Green Party have selected Staplegrove parish councillor Alan Debenham, who was runner-up here in May's election; he is a retired maths teacher and local government veteran, having served on the former Taunton Deane council from 1973 to 1983 (as a Labour councillor for Creech St Michael ward) and again from 1991 to 2003 (as an independent and subsequently Green councillor for Bishops Hull ward). The official Conservative candidate is Rod Williams, who stood here in May. Completing the ballot paper is Michael McGuffie for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Taunton Deane
Somerset county council division: Lydeard (Norton Fitzwarren parish); Rowbarton and Staplegrove (Kingston St Mary and Staplegrove parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Taunton
Postcode districts: TA2, TA4, TA5

Alan Debenham (Grn)
Michael McGuffie (Lab)
Andy Sully (LD)
Rod Williams (C)

May 2019 result LD 929/818 Ind 525 Grn 478 C 448/422/383 Lab 195