Previews: 12 Sep 2019

Five by-elections on 12th September 2019, with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats defending two seats each and one independent defence:


St Mark's

Rushmoor council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Alain Dekker who had served only since May this year. Dekker's partner is being relocated to Germany by her employer.

For our by-election this week we come to a local government district which is guaranteed to score you quiz points. The 1970s reorganisation of local government created a district covering the towns of Aldershot and Farnborough in the north-east corner of Hampshire. The local politicians have never been able to agree whether to call this council "Aldershot and Farnborough" or "Farnborough and Aldershot", and so the neutral name "Rushmoor" was adopted.

This rather curious name refers to the open-air Rushmoor Arena, which was built by the Army in 1923 to accommodate the annual Aldershot Tattoo. This Tattoo was a major event in the first half of the twentieth century, with up to half a million attendees per year, but stopped for the Second World War and was never revived afterwards. The location is appropriate: Aldershot has been the home of the British Army since the middle of the nineteenth century, and its garrison essentially fills the space between Aldershot and Farnborough. That garrison is divided into two parts by the Basingstoke Canal, and St Mark's ward covers the northern half - the so-called North Camp. The Army presence can be seen in the ward's 2011 census return, which had very high levels of full-time employment and a score in the top 60 wards in England and Wales for Buddhism. Gurkhas, in other words. North Camp railway station, just over the county boundary on the Reading-Guildford line, serves the ward.

If Aldershot is synonymous with the Army, Farnborough is synonymous with aviation. Most of the western half of St Mark's ward's acreage is taken up by the runways, apron and buildings of Farnborough Airport. This was the site of the first powered flight in Britain, made on 5 October 1908 by the former Wild West showman Samuel Cody (no relation to Bufallo Bill), who settled in Britain and was buried in Aldershot after his death in a flying accident five years later. Cody has a statue and a business park in this ward named after him. He would probably have been delighted that Farnborough Airport was used by the RAF for experimental aircraft for many years. One spinoff of that is the Farnborough Airshow, held here every even-numbered year, at which the latest civilian and military aircraft are demonstrated. The Air Accident Investigation Branch is just one of the many aviation-related industries which can be found in Farnborough.

To the east of the airport and the north of the military camp can be found St Mark's ward's permanent population at the southern end of Farnborough. This was a Conservative ward up until the middle of this decade but was also the only Rushmoor ward where the Liberal Democrats had some strength - they had won here on several occasions in the Noughties. The Lib Dems were, however, wiped out in 2012 following minor boundary changes, and it took until 2018 for them to break through again, their candidate Abul Koher Chowdhury winning at the fifth attempt with a majority of 33 votes.

In May 2019 the Liberal Democrats increased their lead to 65 votes and gained a second seat from the Conservatives, bringing them up to group status on Rushmoor council; shares of the vote were 38% for the Lib Dems, 34% for the Conservatives and 16% for Labour. The other 13% of the vote went to the British Union and Sovereignty Party, yet another anti-EU outfit which doesn't run very many candidates but tends to get decentish scores when it does stand. They are however not standing in this by-election, which may give the Conservatives some hope that they can pick up extra votes as a result. The Tories still hold one of St Mark's three council seats and are safe in the local county council seat (Farnborough South).

Defending this marginal seat for the Liberal Democrats is Thomas Mitchell, a former retained firefighter who works in the optics industry; he fought Wellington ward (which covers the other half of the Aldershot military base) in May. The Tories have selected Leon Hargreaves who according to his Twitter is a 24-year-old IT manager. Returning for his sixth attempt at the ward is Carl Hewitt, who stood here as a Green in 2014 and 2015 and as an independent in 2016 but since 2018 has had the Labour nomination; he completes a three-strong ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Aldershot
Hampshire county council division: Farnborough South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Guildford and Aldershot
Postcode districts: GU11, GU14

Leon Hargreaves (C)
Carl Hewitt (Lab)
Thomas Mitchell (LD)

May 2019 result LD 556 C 491 Lab 226 British Union and Sovereignty Party 184
May 2018 result LD 577 C 544 Lab 301 British Union and Sovereignty Party 57
May 2016 result C 611 LD 439 Lab 219 UKIP 178 Grn 70 Ind 43
May 2015 result C 1619 LD 663 Lab 536 Grn 404
May 2014 result C 549 LD 426 Grn 292 Lab 242 Christian Party 58
May 2012 result C 720/597/562 LD 483/472/371 Lab 249/220/214 Christian Party 93


Bishop's Castle

Shropshire council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Jonathan Keeley who had served since winning a by-election in September 2016.

Farnborough is the only large town on the menu this week and all the remaining four by-elections are in wards based on villages or small towns in the Midlands. One of those small towns is Bishop's Castle in the beautiful Welsh Marches. The Marches specialise in tiny market towns, and despite its small population (the parish's electorate is 1,428 according to the Notice of Poll) Bishop's Castle was until the 1960s a full-blown borough with a mayor and all the trimmings.

"The Castle" - whose local pronunciation is rather difficult to reconcile with the English alphabet - is the largest settlement in a far-flung ward of eleven other parishes next to the Montgomeryshire border, of which the largest is Lydney North and the other ten are all tiny agricultural villages with under 200 electors. Within the boundary is part of that strange upland plateau, the Long Mynd.

Rather like neighbouring Montgomeryshire (or Montgomeryshire as it was before Lembit Öpik got his hands on it) this is an area which responded well to old-school Liberalism. On the old South Shropshire council Bishop's Castle was represented for many years by Peter Phillips, who was in that old-school Liberal vein and was rather narrowly elected in 2009 as the division's first representative on the reorganised Shropshire council. Phillips resigned in 2011 and the resulting by-election was easily held for the Lib Dems by Charlotte Barnes. Barnes resigned in 2016 and the resulting by-election (see Andrew's Previews 2016, page 191) was easily held for the Lib Dems by Jonny Keeley. Keeley increased the Lib Dem majority further to 74-21 over the Conservatives at the 2017 Shropshire council election.

Jonny Keeley's resignation means that the Lib Dems are defending Bishop's Castle in a by-election for the third time this decade. They have selected Ruth Houghton, a Bishop's Castle town councillor and former Shropshire Council officer. The Tory candidate is Edward Thompson. Completing a three-strong ballot paper is Andy Stelman for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Ludlow
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ludlow
Postcode districts: SY5, SY6, SY7, SY9, SY15

Ruth Houghton (LD)
Andy Stelman (Lab)
Edward Thompson (C)

May 2017 result LD 960 C 273 Grn 71
15 September 2016 by-election LD 862 C 430 Lab 95 Grn 37
May 2013 result LD 907 C 449 Grn 107
Sept 2011 by-election LD 801 C 544 Lab 80 Grn 74
June 2009 result LD 754 C 641 Grn 186


Finedon

Wellingborough council, Northamptonshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Barbara Bailey who had served since winning a by-election in September 2016.

Our two Tory defences of the week are both in that disaster area of modern local government, Northamptonshire, and in both cases are to replace councillors who have been elected in by-elections since the last Northamptonshire district elections in May 2015. The 2019 district polls in Northants were cancelled pending a reorganisation which has now suffered some delays; ostensibly the winners of these by-elections will serve until May 2020, but that might end up getting extended if the government can get its act together sufficiently to get the necessary legislation drafted.

Like Jonny Keeley in Bishop's Castle, Barbara Bailey was elected at a by-election in September 2016 (Andrew's Previews 2016, page 212). Her ward was Finedon, which was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 under the name of Thingdon as one of four towns in Northamptonshire with a population greater than 50. Despite that, the village never achieved greatness although it has a decent-sized population and a good location on a major road junction: the A6 Kettering-Bedford and A510 Wellingborough-Thrapston roads meet here, a few miles to the north-east of Wellingborough. The ward has a fine parish church with a rather surprising incumbent: the multi-talented Radio 4 broadcaster, Communards singer, Strictly Come Dancing contestant and priest Richard Coles tends his flock here.

Coles wasn't the only Finedon resident to appear in a TV game show. John Bailey had captained Selwyn College, Cambridge on one of the early series of University Challenge before embarking on a 49-year career as councillor for Finedon, being first elected to the old Wellingborough urban district council in 1967. Bailey held all the major local government positions - leader of Wellingborough council for six years, twice Mayor of Wellingborough, chairman of Northamptonshire county council - and was appointed MBE for his public service, somehow juggling this with a career in economics, statistics, business analysis and database administration and with writing several books on the history of Finedon.

John Bailey had a safe seat in Finedon: at his last re-election in 2015 he had a big personal vote, giving 47% to the Conservative slate against 27% for Labour and 26% for UKIP. Upon his death the following year his widow Barbara took his seat over, winning the by-election in September 2016 with a margin of 62-19 over Labour. In May 2017 the Conservatives easily held the Finedon division of Northamptonshire county council, while a month later arch-Brexiteer Peter Bone was safely re-elected as MP for the local seat of Wellingborough.

Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Finedon town councillor Andrew Weatherill. The Labour candidate is Isobel Stevenson, a former Irthlingborough town councillor. The Lib Dems have selected Chris Nelson and Marion Turner-Hawes stands for the Green Party; however, Weatherill's biggest challenge may well come from the chairman of Finedon town council Laurence Harper, who is standing as an independent candidate.

And a Thought for the Day to leave this preview on. As can be seen from the map at the top of this section Finedon is next door to Irthlingborough which this column discussed last month. I am not proud of the mistakes which led me to reissue that Irthlingborough preview, but they did stick in my mind - and that controversy helped me to get the question on Dr Martens which came up in the British Quizzing Championships last Saturday. Yet another demonstration that the best way to get stuff right is often to get things wrong and learn from your mistakes, and that applies to real life just as much as it does to quiz. As the vicar of Finedon may reflect from his time on Strictly, ridicule is nothing to be scared of.

Parliamentary constituency: Wellingborough
Northamptonshire county council division: Finedon
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kettering and Wellingborough
Postcode districts: NN8, NN9

Laurence Harper (Ind)
Chris Nelson (LD)
Isobel Stevenson (Lab)
Marion Turner-Hawes (Grn)
Andrew Weatherill (C)

September 2016 by-election C 758 Lab 235 UKIP 137 LD 86
May 2015 result C 1250/944 Lab 720 UKIP 698
May 2011 result C 935/847 Lab 612
May 2007 result C 909/720 Lab 539
May 2003 result C 768/652 Lab 527/407


Middleton Cheney

South Northamptonshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Jonathan Riley who had served since winning a by-election in April 2018.

For our second Northamptonshire by-election of the week we travel to Middleton Cheney, a large village at the western end of Northamptonshire within the economic orbit not of Northampton but of Banbury, which is just over the county boundary in Oxfordshire. It is perhaps best known for being the birthplace of Vice-Admiral Lancelot Holland, commander of HMS Hood when it was sunk by the Bismarck.

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

After that Labour stopped standing in Middleton Cheney, which resulted in a lack of contested elections. The independent and Conservative councillors were re-elected unopposed in 2007; in 2011 the independent councillor retired and his seat was gained by the Conservatives, again unopposed. One of the Conservative councillors sought re-election in 2015 as an independent, giving a contested election which he lost 64-36.

In the 2017 Northamptonshire county elections the Conservatives made the Middleton Cheney division safe after being run close by UKIP in 2013. A month later failed Tory leadership candidate and environment secretary Andrea Leadsom was safely re-elected as MP for the local seat of South Northamptonshire; following the election she was reshuffled to Leader of the Commons, and at the time of writing she serves in the Johnson cabinet as business secretary.

Conservative councillor Judith Baxter resigned last year, and party politics broke out at the resulting Middleton Cheney by-election (Andrew's Previews 2018, page 137). By this point the insolvency of Northamptonshire county council had become apparent, and that issue combined with what has become a feature of several local by-elections in the south Midlands in recent years: poor Conservative performances in by-elections along the proposed High Speed 2 route. The Tories did hold the 2018 Middleton Cheney by-election, but their vote fell to 42%; the Liberal Democrats fought the ward for the first time and finished a close second on 34%, and Labour returned with a third-place finish on 20%.

The winner of last year's by-election, Jonathan Riley, has now resigned in his turn provoking another by-election. Defending this one for the Conservatives is Alison Eastwood, who gives an address outside the ward in the village of Moreton Pinkney. The Lib Dems have reselected their candidate from last year's by-election Mark Allen, who is a computer programmer and Middleton Cheney parish councillor. Labour have changed candidate to Arthur Greaves, a retired IT consultant and former Luton councillor (Limbury ward, 1996-99). Completing the ballot paper, and returning from last year's by-election, is Adam Sear of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: South Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire county council division: Middleton Cheney
ONS Travel to Work Area: Banbury
Postcode district: OX17

Mark Allen (LD)
Alison Eastwood (C)
Arthur Greaves (Lab)
Adam Sear (Grn)

April 2018 by-election C 391 LD 316 Lab 183 Grn 38
May 2015 result C 1527/1151 Ind 868
May 2011 result 2 C unopposed
May 2007 result C/Ind unopposed
May 2003 result Ind 457 C 435/393 Lab 305
June 2001 by-election C 981 Lab 845
May 1999 result Lab 653/457 C 422/348
May 1995 result Lab 896/737 C 398/395
May 1991 result Ind/C unopposed
May 1987 result C 824 Lab 701/292
May 1983 result C 767/657 Lab 690
May 1979 result C 930/617 Lab 799/421 Ind 765
May 1976 result Lab 691/621 C 688/546


Ryhall and Casterton

Rutland council; caused by the disqualification of independent councillor Chris Parsons, who did not sign his declaration of acceptance of office following May's election. He had served since 1995, originally being elected to the old Rutland district council.

Our final by-election of the week is a wildcard. We travel to Rutland, whose claim to being England's smallest county does rather depend on your definition of those troublesome words "smallest" and "county", but the Rutland local government district certainly has a very low population.

The Ryhall and Casterton ward covers five parishes to the north of Stamford. In the centre of the ward is Ryhall, one of Rutland's largest villages with 1,337 electors according to the notice of poll; to the west lies Great Casterton on the Great North Road, while the ward's eastern parish is Essendine on the East Coast Main Line. Despite its presence in Rutland Great Casterton is associated with the Northamptonshire peasant poet John Clare, who was married in its impressive parish church in 1820; and the village is also the location of one of Rutland's three secondary schools. The railway through Essendine was the location of a world record on 3 July 1938, when Mallard was recorded at a speed of 126 miles per hour just north of the village - still a record speed for a steam locomotive.

Rutland is a politically sleepy area. Chris Parsons had represented Ryhall and Casterton since the ward was created in 2003 (he had previously been councillor for the single-member Ryhall ward), on each occasion with a Conservative holding the ward's other seat. Parsons was usually elected as an independent, although in 2011 he had the Conservative nomination. The May 2019 election here was uncontested; the most recent poll on these boundaries was in 2015 when the Conservative slate won one seat with 54% and Parsons won the other with 46%.

With no defending independent candidate and the unusual sight of party politics breaking out, this by-election is a free-for-all! The Conservatives hold the other seat in Ryhall and Casterton ward, and they have selected Richard Coleman who is a former Essendine parish councillor and served in the Army for 22 years; he now works with RAF service personnel. The Green Party have selected Steve Fay, and the wonderfully-named Beverley Wrigley-Pheasant completes the ballot paper for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Rutland and Melton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough
Postcode district: PE9

Richard Coleman (C)
Steve Fay (Grn)
Beverley Wrigley-Pheasant (LD)

May 2019 result C/Ind unopposed
May 2015 result C 868/703 Ind 739
May 2011 result C 592/524 Ind 509
May 2007 result C/Ind unopposed
Nov 2005 by-election C unopposed
May 2003 result Ind 493/272 C 370


Previews: 05 Sep 2019

Three by-elections on 5th September 2019:


Wainbody

Coventry council, West Midlands; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Gary Crookes. A former Lord Mayor of Coventry, he had served since 1995.

Has it been a difficult week? Are you not feeling sufficiently Zen at the moment? Let me fix that. Have a look at the Koan:

This is going to be a cultural week, with the latest UK City of Culture coming up later in this week's edition of the Previews. However, we start with the next UK City of Culture, Coventry, which will have that status in 2021. No doubt a fair amount of the cultural stuff will end up taking place in the Warwick Arts Centre, the largest arts centre in the UK under one roof outside London. All sorts of people have trod its boards including your columnist and someone called Bill Clinton, who gave a speech in the main auditorium at the end of his presidency in December 2000.

Warwick Arts Centre is at the heart of the main campus of Warwick University, which - as its students continually have to point out - is on the edge of Coventry and nowhere near Warwick. Founded in the 1960s expansion of higher education on a greenfield "bubble" site on the Coventry/Warwickshire border, Warwick has a formidable teaching reputation and regularly makes the top 10 in all sorts of higher education rankings. Two Nobel laureates and a Fields medallist teach or have taught here, while alumni include the President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and the former Brexit secretary and failed Tory leadership candidate David Davis to name but a few. All this attracted your columnist, who studied at Warwick and has honorary life membership of the Students' Union to show for it.

On the first Thursday in May 2002, your columnist took over a room in the Ramphal Building on the main campus. I was the poll clerk for the university polling station in the Coventry City Council election of 2002, at which the campus (or that part of it which is within the city limits) was in Wainbody ward. The turnout was not good: just 8.4% of the electorate, almost all of whom were students living on campus, turned up to cast a vote, a turnout which rather justified the council's decision to have one polling station for an electorate of four or five thousand. Warwick may have had a reputation for student activism in the past, but that's no longer the case when it comes to local election voting.

Instead it's the permanent population on these southern outskirts of Coventry which decide Wainbody's elections. As a look at the housing in Finham and Gibbet Hill will tell you, this is one of the most affluent parts of the city, with high levels of owner-occupation. The 2011 census also picked up a large Sikh population. Drive into Coventry along the Kenilworth Road, with its arrow-straight wide tree-lined avenues, and you might be forgiven for thinking that it's a beautiful city. A lot of the ward is greenbelt, although if some development proposals go through they could nibble away at that.

In 2002 the Tory candidate for Wainbody, John Blundell, turned up at the polling station to see how we were getting on. He seemed a nice sort and was elected easily. Wainbody is the longest-standing Conservative ward in Coventry and the only ward in the city which has elected Conservatives at every election since the current lines were drawn in 2004. Blundell, Crookes and Tim Sawdon were the Tory slate in 2004 and had been re-elected at every occasion since. Labour made the ward marginal in the Coalition years but then fell back; in May 2019 Sawdon was re-elected with 48% of the vote, against 26% for Labour and 11% for the Green Party. Warwick's new academic year doesn't start until the end of the month so there will be almost no students here for this by-election, although this isn't likely to affect turnout much if my experience is anything to go by.

Defending this safe seat for the Conservatives is Mattie Heaven, who according to her Twitter is a human rights activist researcher advocating against Islamic misconceptions and misinterpretations. Labour have reselected their regular candidate for the ward, Abdul Jobbar. The Greens failed to get a nomination in, so completing the ballot paper are James Morshead for the Lib Dems and George Beamish for the Brexit Party. And that's the only time you'll hear the B-word mentioned in this piece. Isn't that refreshing?

Parliamentary constituency: Coventry South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Coventry
Postcode districts: CV3, CV4

George Beamish (Brexit)
Mattie Heaven (C)
Abdul Jobbar (Lab)
James Morshead (LD)

May 2019 result C 1666 Lab 919 Grn 381 LD 312 UKIP 207
May 2018 result C 1867 Lab 1271 LD 204 Grn 182 UKIP 109
May 2016 result C 2018 Lab 1232 LD 209 Grn 209 TUSC 67
May 2015 result C 3701 Lab 2367 UKIP 738 Grn 561 LD 446 TUSC 85
May 2014 result C 1823 Lab 1497 UKIP 742 Grn 499 LD 227 TUSC 45
May 2012 result C 1540 Lab 1214 UKIP 449 Grn 210 LD 172 Soc Alt 54
May 2011 result C 2452 Lab 1909 LD 410 Grn 393 UKIP 379 Soc Alt 83
May 2010 result C 3641 Lab 2457 LD 1830 BNP 217 Ind 190 Soc Alt 75
May 2008 result C 2470 Lab 755 LD 468 Grn 353
May 2007 result C 2324 Lab 981 LD 524 Grn 358
May 2006 result C 2612 Lab 1013 LD 751
June 2004 result C 2811/2753/2736 Lab 1382/1240/1032 LD 1356


Penrith South

Eden council, Cumbria; caused by the death of independent councillor Paul Connor, who had served only since May this year.

We want the finest by-elections available to humanity, we want them here and we want them now. Let me oblige. Welcome to Penrith, a town at which the major communication links from England to Scotland collide: the M6 and West Coast Main Line on their descent from Shap Summit towards Carlisle cross the A66 on its descent from Bowes and Scotch Corner. Overlooking the road junction where they meet are the Wetheriggs and Castle Hill parts of the town, a council estate area which is the major part of Penrith South ward.

Penrith only has a population of around 15,000 but it's the largest settlement for miles in any direction and as such is a major local centre. It's the home of the Eden local government district, which at 827 square miles is larger than Greater London but has a population of only around 50,000. Penrith also attracts a lot of tourists; the Lake District and the High Pennines are within easy reach, while those whose major form of exercise is lifting a charged glass (and there are many) travel here to see the filming locations for Withnail and I. (But don't travel to Penrith expecting to see the Penrith Tea Rooms; that scene was in fact shot in the old Milton Keynes district of Stony Stratford.) Noted hiker and failed Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart is clearly a good fit as MP for the area.

Eden is one of those councils which tends to have lots of unopposed elections, and it took until 2015 for there to be a contested poll in Penrith South this century. That year the two outgoing ward councillors, Malcolm Temple of the Conservatives and independent Margaret Clark, were re-elected. Temple stood down in May 2019 and his seat was gained by Paul Connor, who topped the poll with 261 votes; Clark was re-elected in second place with 256, and new Conservative candidate Helen Fearon was runner-up on 210. That wasn't the only Eden seat the Conservatives lost in May; as a result they lost their majority on the council which is now run by a rainbow coalition of the Lib Dems, independents, Labour and the Greens.

Following Paul Connor's untimely death the voters of Penrith South are going back to the polls in short order. Defending for the independents is Lee Quinn, a magazine publisher, local radio host and Penrith town councillor. Quinn fought the local seat of Penrith West in the 2017 Cumbria county council election, finishing third as the Tories' Helen Fearon was re-elected for a third term; Fearon has been reselected by the Conservatives for this by-election. Also standing are Dave Knaggs for Labour and Kerryanne Wilde for the localist slate Putting Cumbria First.

Parliamentary constituency: Penrith and the Border
Cumbria county council division: Penrith West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Penrith
Postcode districts: CA10, CA11

Helen Fearon (C)
Dave Knaggs (Lab)
Lee Quinn (Ind)
Kerryanne Wilde (Putting Cumbria First)

May 2019 result Ind 261/256 C 210 Lab 94
May 2015 result C 615 Ind 576 LD 302
May 2011 result Ind/C unopposed
May 2007 result Ind/C unopposed
May 2003 result 2 Ind unopposed


St Andrew's and Docklands

Kingston upon Hull council, East Yorkshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Nadine Fudge. A member of Hull city council since it became a unitary council in 1995, Fudge was the Lord Mayor of Hull in 2013 and a tireless advocate for her community and for the Missing People charity.

We finish for the week in the UK's most recent City of Culture. Yorkshire has always been known for its wool, and in the thirteenth century the monks of Meaux Abbey, a Cistercian foundation near Beverley, wanted to raise funds by exporting the Abbey's wool to the continental markets across the North Sea. The abbey owned some low-lying land at the confluence of the Rivers Hull and Humber, and founded a port on that land at a place called Wyke within the parish of Myton. In 1293 the Abbey sold their new town of Wyke to King Edward I, who granted a charter to it renaming the town as Kingston upon Hull.

Hull thrived, and for centuries it was the most important port on the east coast of England. Everyone wanted a piece of the action: the Hansa, the Low Countries, France, Spain, Portugal, in time the New World, Australia and New Zealand sent their products through Hull Docks. All the trades came through here: whaling, deep sea trawling, people (many emigrants to North America passed through Hull). The profits from this made Hull a city, with a fine centre of imposing buildings and one of the UK's largest railway stations, aptly named Paragon. Hull has left its mark in literature as well: Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, whose story was published 300 years ago this year, set off from Hull to commence his various adventures.

The port is still important today. Every morning, two ferries dock in Hull from Rotterdam and Zeebrugge and disgorge hundreds of lorries straight into the morning rush hour, with all of the lorries trying to get through the city centre and out the other side onto the Hessle Road. However, the loss of the Cod War with Iceland, Hull's relative isolation (it's a long way from anywhere of a similar size) and the usual problems affecting city centres have taken their toll on the economy. In the 2011 census the city-centre Myton ward came in at number 12 of all the wards in England and Wales for unemployment, while St Andrew's ward (along the Hessle and Anlaby Roads to the west of the city centre) was number 5 with over 13% unemployed. St Andrew's ward also made the top 20 for "routine" employment, the most working-class of the ONS' seven employment categories; and was in the top 40 for those born in the new EU states.

There were boundary changes in Hull for the 2018 election that abolished Myton ward, whose southern half was added to St Andrew's ward to form a new ward called St Andrew's and Docklands. Both of the predecessor wards had been safely Labour but could turn in respectable scores for UKIP; however, UKIP didn't stand in the first election on these lines and the Labour slate won all three seats very easily. In May this year Labour held St Andrew's and Docklands with 53% of the vote, a close race for the runner-up spot being won by the far-right For Britain Movement (14%) with the Lib Dems (13%) close behind. Labour have a relatively small majority on Hull city council where they are under pressure from the Lib Dems; the 2019 election resulted in no net change to the party strengths, so there are 30 Labour seats plus this vacancy against 24 Lib Dems and two Conservatives.

Defending for Labour is Nadine Fudge's daughter Leanne Fudge, a former Hull councillor for Derringham ward (2015-18). She now has a tilt at a safe seat. The For Britain Movement have not returned for this by-election. The Lib Dems have reselected Tracey Henry who stood here in May. Completing the ballot paper is Dan Bond for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Hull West and Hessle
ONS Travel to Work Area: Hull
Postcode districts: HU1, HU2, HU3, HU9

Dan Bond (C)
Leanne Fudge (Lab)
Tracey Henry (LD)

May 2019 result Lab 985 For Britain Movement 267 LD 241 Grn 208 C 143
May 2018 result Lab 1357/1297/1252 C 300/273/222 LD 271/270/200 Ind 136


Previews: 29 Aug 2019

There are three by-elections on 29th August 2019. Later we shall come to two by-elections in Scotland, one of which is for the Scottish Parliament; but we are living in extraordinary times. After a traumatic few days, this column will now get off the fence and proceed to say what your columnist really thinks.


Radcliffe West

Bury council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of the Leader of the Council, Labour councillor Rishi Shori, who is taking up a new job in Birmingham. He had served since winning a by-election in June 2009.

This column has a routine in drafting these Previews. The first draft is done over the weekend, it's left to brew until Tuesday night, and then (if I still like it) it goes off to Britain Elects on Wednesday. Sometimes, things happen in the interim. The original draft for this week had the big Scottish Parliament by-election in the Shetland Islands up first; but in this column's opinion the lead story has changed this week.

Let me take you to Ulundi Street in Radcliffe, a Coronation Street of terraces in a cluster of Coronation Streets a few hundred yards west of the old town hall building. In 1948 a 23-year-old man moved to Ulundi Street from Jamaica, with a job offer to play cricket for the local club and a place at university if that didn't work out.

Radcliffe Cricket Club had pulled off quite the coup in landing this young man's services. Frank Mortimer Maglinne Worrell had just made his Test debut for the West Indies, and became a star of international cricket as one of the "Three W's" on the Windies team which toured England in 1950 and won the series 3-1. Worrell played in 51 Tests, becoming the first black player to captain the West Indies, and his Test averages (49.48 in batting and 38.72 in bowling) speak for themselves. He ended up with a knighthood and an appointment to the Jamaican Senate, but didn't live long to savour those honours: Worrell developed leukaemia, and died in 1967 at the appallingly early age of 42. A few hundred yards away from the house on Ulundi Street which he'd left eleven years earlier, Radcliffe borough council flew the town hall flag at half-mast in Frank Worrell's memory. There is now a plaque on Worrell's old house, although it's almost obscured by a buddleia bush which has taken over the front yard.

These days a young cricketer of Frank Worrell's talent would have the chance to make his fortune playing in the Indian Premier League or other such competitions. But in 1948 limited-overs cricket was unheard of and opportunities to make a living in the sport were limited. Not so much, though in Lancashire where the clubs of the Lancashire League and the Central Lancashire League (like Radcliffe CC) would pay decent money for a professional - often from overseas - to bolster their team. As late as July 1992 a 21-year-old professional from Queensland called Matthew Hayden was plying his trade for Greenmount Cricket Club just a few miles away from Radcliffe. In one memorable match that season he scored 140 not out to defeat Astley Bridge Cricket Club from Bolton in a cup semi-final, sharing in an unbeaten stand of 236 for the third wicket. (This column's former patron Ian Warren, with typical Bolton partisanship, still maintains that Hayden was plumb LBW on nought.)

Hayden's partner in that double-century stand was a 17-year-old apprentice sportsman who went on to benefit from the tide of money which pours into certain corners of a different sport. He had already been the captain of a side which won the FA Youth Cup, and two months after scoring an unbeaten century of his own against Astley Bridge Gary Neville made his senior debut for Manchester United, the first of 400 appearances in a sparkling career for the club. Since retiring from the game Neville has put the substantial amount of money he made from it into a higher education body (University Academy 92), various property developments and a stake in Salford City FC. Five years and four promotions later, Salford City are playing league football.

Gary's parents Neville and Jean Neville were for many years directors of Bury FC, who aren't playing league football in a turn of events which reflects badly on everyone involved. For want of the sort of money which Man United or City would spend on a few weeks' wages for one of their stars, for want of the sort of money which would probably buy you Ulundi Street in Radcliffe, Bury are now out of the game thanks to an abject failure of the Football League's "fit and proper persons" test, which allowed a man with a string of failed businesses who had never previously been to Bury to take the club and its debts over for a pound. Steve Dale, if there is any justice, will find himself unable to pay his creditors and spend the rest of his life throwing himself upon the mercy of the Department for Work and Pensions. The League, who engineered this week's appalling turn of events, need to recognise their failure and responsibility; if there is any justice, heads will roll in short order. Neville Neville, whom Bury honoured after his death by naming the main stand at Gigg Lane after him, will presumably be spinning in his grave. And for the fans - of whom I counted myself as one - and the town of Bury? Well, sympathy from other people will only get you so far; but the hit to the town's pride, to its reputation, to its self-confidence, to its economy from this no-deal crash-out will take some time to become fully apparent.

And this in a town - Bury - which was doing well for itself by Greater Manchester standards. Quite the contrast with nearby Radcliffe. This is a classic Lancashire industrial town that, with the death of the coal, textile and papermaking industries, is now looking for a future and mostly failing to find it. With a population of just under 30,000 Radcliffe is larger than Shetland (which we shall come to later), but the West ward is only a third of it. It comes in three parts.

The southern part of the ward rises steeply from the road bridge over the Irwell along Stand Lane and Outwood Road. The East Lancs Paper Mill was the main landmark here until it was demolished, and the site redeveloped, a few years ago. Radcliffe West comes in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for Judaism, with a Jewish population of around 4.5% which is concentrated in this part of the ward. Also here is the village of Outwood - where my mother grew up - which was once home to a major colliery.

The northern part of the ward, above the derelict Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal, rises slightly less steeply along the Bolton Road. This is part of the Coronation Road Estate and is generally the newest part of the ward as far as housing is concerned. Between the canal and the river the ward skirts Radcliffe town centre but does include its main supermarket, a manufacturing area along the riverside, and a district of Coronation Street-style terraces off School Street which date from the Victorian era. Which brings us back where we started - to Frank Worrell's old house on Ulundi Street.

That's the Radcliffe West ward, which Labour have never lost since it was drawn up for the 2004 elections. There have however been some calls, particularly so in a June 2009 by-election at which Rishi Shori was first elected; he had a majority over the Conservatives that year of just nine votes. Coincidentally that by-election was also triggered by a former council leader leaving to take up a new job; in this case the outgoing councillor was Wayne Campbell who was going to work for the local housing association. In 2016 Rishi Shori followed in Campbell's footsteps by becoming the youngest ever leader of Bury council, and the first person from an ethnic minority to lead any Greater Manchester borough; the voters of Radcliffe West endorsed that by giving him a large majority at his final re-election in 2018.

However, the anti-politics vibe which was such a feature of the May 2019 local elections was at work here as well. Radcliffe has a lot of similarities with Farnworth to the west, in that it's seen by locals as a forgotten town: a poor relation to the big place up the road. This is a town with 30,000 residents and no secondary school; local teenagers have to commute to Bury, Whitefield or Little Lever to continue their education. Radcliffe's civic suite, a sleek and versatile brick building which was opened in 1974 by Harold Wilson, was demolished in 2016 and replaced by housing. The town's swimming baths were demolished in the same year following storm damage and replaced by, well, nothing. The town centre is appalling, with its banks falling over themselves to get out of the place and charity shops struggling to make ends meet. Cast your eyes over that town centre, and the idea of a Test cricketer coming from sunnier climes to Radcliffe to make a living now looks unbelievable.

In Farnworth, as this column has previously related, a localist party called Farnworth and Kearsley First sprang up in early 2018 to meet similar residents' concerns, and was a runaway success at the ballot box; Farnworth and Kearsley First now holds all three council seats for Farnworth ward. Their success inspired a copycat "Radcliffe First" independent slate to stand in Radcliffe in the May 2019 local elections. The Radcliffe First slate gained Radcliffe East ward from Labour by 66 votes, and finished 80 votes short in Radcliffe West - an encouraging start, particularly given that they missed the party registration deadline meaning that their candidates were on the ballot paper in May as independents. Shares of the vote were 39% for Labour, 36% for Radcliffe First and 15% for the Conservatives.

So this is a difficult defence for Bury Labour. Their candidate is Jamie Walker, who is not yet 24 but is already a former councillor, having lost his seat to the Conservatives in Radcliffe North ward in May. The Radcliffe First candidate is Mike Smith. Young Conservative and public transport worker Jordan Lewis returns to the notice of this column after contesting last year's Besses ward by-election. Completing the ballot paper are Kingsley Jones for the Lib Dems and Anthony Clough for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Bury South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode district: M26

Anthony Clough (UKIP)
Kingsley Jones (LD)
Jordan Lewis (C)
Mike Smith (Radcliffe First)
Jamie Walker (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 886 Ind 806 C 350 Grn 152 LD 65
May 2018 result Lab 1283 C 531 Grn 242 LD 64
May 2016 result Lab 1303 C 458 UKIP 438 Grn 83 LD 53
May 2015 result Lab 2164 C 1294 UKIP 968 Grn 195 LD 90
May 2014 result Lab 1361 C 619 Grn 303 LD 62
May 2012 result Lab 1523 C 331 UKIP 275 LD 62
May 2011 result Lab 1901 C 719 LD 97
May 2010 result Lab 1970 C 1345 LD 928 BNP 509
June 2009 by-election Lab 879 C 870 BNP 459 LD 429 EDP 228
May 2008 result Lab 1187 C 727 BNP 484 LD 175 UKIP 89
May 2007 result Lab 1299 C 582 BNP 503 LD 196
May 2006 result Lab 1231 C 709 Ind 301
June 2004 result Lab 1652/1601/1562 C 852/842/821 LD 561


Shetland Islands

Scottish Parliament; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott, who is taking up a new job with Scottish Rugby.

Með lögum skal land byggja
- motto of Shetland

Connoisseurs of August by-elections have enjoyed a vintage 2019, with the Brecon and Radnorshire parliamentary by-election poll at the start of this month and this by-election at the end of it. There can be few more interesting and remote places to go for a by-election than the Shetland islands.

These islands have an old history which - as anyone who has attended Up Helly Aa can attest - isn't all that Scottish. There are very few trees here, so the islands' buildings have been made in stone for millennia and prehistoric sites are common. One site, a midden on the south coast of Mainland, has been dated to the fifth millennium BC. Nearby is Jarlshof, at which buildings and objects dating from the 17th century AD back to the middle of the third millennium BC have been excavated. Many of the Jarlshof remains are Norse, dating from when the archipelago was a Viking colony; Harald Fairhair, king of Norway, annexed the islands in AD 875.

Things then got complicated from a governance point of view. According to the sagas, Harald created the title of jarl (earl) of Orkney and Shetland for Rognvald Eysteinsson "the Wise", and he and his successors as jarl ran the place. The Vikings gave the name Hjaltland to the place; this was originally transliterated into the Latin alphabet using the letter yogh, as Ȝetland, when then mutated into a Z when the yogh fell out of use. It's from that Z we get the now-archaic form Zetland for the islands and their postcode, ZE.

The jarls of Orkney and Shetland also had extensive holdings on the Scottish mainland, for which they were accountable to the king of Scotland rather than the Norwegian royals, and by the twelfth century the jarls also held the Scottish title of Earl of Caithness. This was bound to result in trouble sooner or later. King Sverre Sigurdsson of Norway brought Orkney and Shetland under direct rule following a rebellion in 1194 by the Øyskjeggs (or "Island Beardies"). The last Norse jarl, Jon Haraldsson, was killed in 1231 - sources differ as to whether he foundered in a shiprewck or was murdered in Thurso - and after that the Earls of Caithness were Scottish noblemen and acted accordingly. This and other issues eventually provoked the Scottish-Norwegian War, whose highlight was a 1263 expedition to Scotland by King Haakon IV of Norway in support of his claims to Shetland, Orkney, the Hebrides and the Isle of Man. The expedition got nowhere, and after Haakon IV's death in Kirkwall in December 1263 the war eventually petered out with a peace treaty under whose terms the Hebrides and Man were ceded to Scotland.

Orkney and Shetland stayed in Norse hands until 1469, when Margaret of Denmark married King James III of Scotland. Margaret's father Christian I, king of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, ended up giving the islands to Scotland in lieu of her dowry. From 1472 Orkney and Shetland were represented by one MP in the Scottish Parliament - and later the Westminster Parliament - as a constituency whose boundaries have been unchanged ever since.

By this point Shetland had developed into a major trading post. The Hanseatic League had a presence here, allowing export of the islands' fish, wool and dairy products to the continent. A new town, Lerwick, was founded as a seaport to trade with the Dutch fishing fleet. However, the Union of England and Scotland in 1707 meant increased tariffs on those goods, which forced the Hansa traders elsewhere and resulted in an economic depression in Shetland. The 1840s potato famine hit Shetland hard, and resulted in a relief plan which did increase the population to nearly 32,000 at the 1861 census. Significant emigration since then means that the islands have never had such a high population since.

The late nineteenth century brought a change in the economy, with the passing of crofting legislation by the Gladstone government to improve the island's agriculture together with investment in the local fishing industry by the Dutch. That maritime focus meant that Shetland lost over 500 men in the First World War, many of them on the Atlantic convoys. In the Second World War SOE set up a Norwegian naval unit in Scalloway: the resulting "Shetland Bus" made around 200 trips to Norway transporting agents, or for special forces operations. Leif "Shetlands" Larsen, a Norwegian refugee who did 52 of those tours, was the most highly-decorated Allied naval officer of the war.

Today fishing, wool, tourism and agriculture are still major economic sectors in Shetland. The islands are home to Britain's most northerly veg box scheme. However, the impact of those industries is dwarfed by that of fossil fuels. The sea between Shetland and Norway is Europe's largest oil field, and Shetland is at the centre of it. Zetland County Council obtained an Act of Parliament in 1974 allowing it to force the various oil companies to build a single terminal to land all this oil; the result was Sullom Voe, which was opened by the Queen in 1981 as the largest oil terminal in Europe. Sullom Voe is still going strong today, and the taxes on its revenues have made the Shetland Islands Council (which took over from Zetland County Council in 1975) very wealthy by local government standards.

A lot of that wealth goes on communication between the islands. The vast majority of Shetland's population live on the largest island, aptly called Mainland, which is the fifth-largest of the British Isles by area (only Skye, Lewis with Harris, Ireland and Great Britain are larger). There are however fifteen other inhabited islands in the archipelago, from the isolated Fair Isle and Foula to Bressay over the water from Lerwick, Yell, Fetlar and Unst. Out Stack, an uninhabited rock off the north coast of Unst, lies at a latitude of nearly 61 degrees north and is the northernmost of the British Isles. Shetland council sponsors a series of ferries between the islands and air links from Tingwall airport near Lerwick; external flights land and take off from Sumburgh airport at the south end of Mainland, while for those who prefer the slower journey there are overnight ferries to Aberdeen. There also used to be a ferry link to Bergen in Norway, but this ceased some time ago.

Yell, Fetlar, Unst and associated islands form the North Isles ward of Shetland council, which returns three of the council's 22 members. That ward may be broken up for the next Shetland local elections in 2022 following the passage of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, which allowed electoral wards of fewer than three members where islands are concerned. The Islands (Scotland) Act also provided that official maps which show Shetland and the Scottish mainland now have to show them in the right place, as a reaction to the common practice among mapmakers of putting Shetland in an inset. So don't do this in future:

The December 2018 electoral register listed 17,670 people eligible to vote in local government and (by extension) Scottish Parliament elections in Shetland. That will be boosted for this by-election thanks to a Yorkshireman called John Hirst, who in 1979 was sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment after pleading guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Hirst eventually served 25 years in prison thanks to violent behaviour and other offences while inside. Also while inside he launched a series of legal actions against the prison authorities and other people, culminating in a 2005 European Court of Human Rights ruling - Hirst v United Kingdom (No 2) - that the UK's blanket ban on prisoners voting was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Scottish Government, being cognisant of its responsibilities under human rights law and towards democracy in a way that the UK government is not, has introduced legislation to Holyrood to add prisoners serving sentences of twelve months or less to the Scottish local government electoral register, which should be enough to satisfy the ECHR that something is being done to remedy their ruling. That legislation won't get through Holyrood in time for this by-election, so an emergency ministerial order has been made to give prisoners from Shetland who meet those criteria the right to register and to cast postal votes in this by-election only. There won't be many people this applies to, but they will be the first prisoners in the UK who will get to vote in a public election. Scotland has already given 16-year-olds the right to vote in Scottish Parliament and local government elections, so the electoral register here is rather wider than would be the case at a Westminster election.

These remote islands have a rather different political culture to the UK mainland. As stated, Orkney and Shetland have together formed a constituency since the fifteenth century, and since the 1832 Reform Act all but three of its MPs have been Liberals or Liberal Democrats. The first exception to that was Thomas Balfour, a Conservative who served for two years from 1835 to 1837. The second was the wonderfully-named Cathcart Wason, a farmer who had previously been elected three times as an independent member of the New Zealand parliament; in 1900 he defeated Liberal MP Leonard Lyell (who had served since 1885) by just 40 votes as a Liberal Unionist candidate.

In 1902 Wason crossed the floor of the Commons to sit with the Liberal opposition (who included among their members his brother Eugene), and resigned in order to seek re-election under his new colours. The local Liberal association - who had already selected London county councillor Thomas Wood as their PPC - refused to endorse him, so Wason stood as an independent Liberal, while the Liberal Unionists tried to hold their seat by selecting sailor and steamship owner Theodore Angier. In the by-election on 18th and 19th November Angier only narrowly saved his deposit, with Wason defeating Wood by 47-39, a majority of 211 votes. Cathcart Wason immediately retook the Liberal whip, and served until 1921.

Wason's successor didn't have as long a tenure. Sir Malcolm Smith, elected unopposed in the 1921 election, was from a Shetland crofting family but at this point was a businessman based in the port of Leith, and had served for nine years as the Provost of Leith. In 1921 he had the Coalition government's coupon, but in the snap general election the following year Smith stood as a National Liberal and lost his seat to the official Liberal candidate, Robert Hamilton, by 625 votes.

Sir Robert Hamilton had made his career in the civil service before entering politics - he had been Chief Justice of the East Africa Protectorate. He was re-elected in 1923 with an increased majority against opposition from a very young Conservative candidate - Bob Boothby, the future broadcaster and gay rights campaigner who at this point was 23 years old and fighting his first election campaign.

Following the Liberal split of 1931, Robert Hamilton joined the Samuel side of the split and entered the National Government as a junior minister in the Colonial Office. He was unopposed in the 1931 Tory landslide, but then left the government and lost his seat in 1935 to the Conservatives' Basil Neven-Spence.

The last Tory MP for Orkney and Shetland, Neven-Spence came from a prominent Shetland family but had made his name as a military physician. Serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps, he was seconded to the Egyptian army after graduating from Edinburgh University in 1911, and served in the Middle East and Darfur during the First Wold War. Retiring from the Army in 1927 with the rank of Major, Neven-Spence had contested Orkney and Shetland in 1929 and was vice-convenor of Zetland county council. He defeated Sir Robert Hamilton in 1935 by the comfortable margin of 2,226.

Neven-Spence was narrowly re-elected in 1945 thanks to a split in the opposition vote. Labour contested the seat for the first time: their candidate, the wonderfully-named Prophet Smith, came third with 30%, a new Liberal candidate finished second with 34%, and Neven-Spence won with 36% and a majority of 329 votes. The new Liberal candidate however returned to contest the 1950 election, and gained the seat easily.

That man was Joseph Grimond, an Old Etonian and barrister who had a long and influential political career. As a big fish in a small pond, Grimond became leader of the Liberal Party in 1956 (succeeding Clement Davies) and led it through the 1959, 1964 and 1966 general elections and back to respectability as a significant political force (in votes if not seats). Jo Grimond was also the party's interim leader in 1976 after the disgrace of his successor, Jeremy Thorpe. He served as MP for the islands for thirty-three years, rarely being significantly challenged.

Grimond retired to the Lords in 1983, and his old seat was contested by high-profile candidates from the Conservatives and the Scottish National Party. The SNP candidate was the indefatigable Winnie Ewing, who had been an MP twice before and was the MEP for the Highlands and Islands; she would later reconvene the Scottish Parliament as the oldest member of the original Class of 1999. She finished third behind Tory candidate David Myles, who had been MP for Banffshire since 1979 but whose seat had been abolished by boundary changes. Myles finished a rather poor second behind the new Liberal candidate, Jim Wallace.

Wallace was an MP in the mould of Grimond and no less influential. An advocate who had studied law at Cambridge and Edinburgh, Wallace had fought his native Dumfriesshire in the 1979 general election and the South of Scotland in the 1979 European Parliament election. In 1992 Wallace succeeded Malcolm Bruce as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, and played a major role in the setting up of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. Wallace was elected to the new Parliament in that year as MSP for Orkney, and entered the first Scottish Government - a coalition of Labour and the Liberal Democrats - as deputy first minister. From this position Wallace stepped up twice as acting First Minister, once after the death of Donald Dewar in 2000, the second time a year later after the resignation of Dewar's successor Henry McLeish. Wallace also had the Justice portfolio from 1999 to 2003, and from 2003 until retiring from the leadership and frontbench in 2005 was the Scottish minister for lifelong learning.

That retirement from the frontline didn't last for long, though. In 2007 Jim Wallace was translated to the House of Lords and started a new career in Westminster politics. He served throughout the Coalition years as Advocate-General for Scotland, and from 2013 to 2016 was also leader of the Lib Dem group in the upper house.

Wallace had given up his seat in the Commons in 2001 to concentrate on his duties in Holyrood, and passed it on without trouble to yet another solicitor: Alistair Carmichael who has been MP for Orkney and Shetland ever since. During that time Carmichael was seriously challenged only once, when he held off the SNP surge of 2015 to win by 41-38, a majority of 817 votes. The SNP took that result to the Election Court over misleading statements which Carmichael - who had been Scottish secretary during the campaign - made about himself, but lost there as well. Carmichael made the seat safe again in June 2017.

Orkney and Shetland are one constituency at Westminster, but two at Holyrood. The Shetland constituency has only had one MSP since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999. Tavish Scott had been a parliamentary assistant to Jim Wallace before becoming a farmer and Shetland councillor. He had junior roles in the Labour-Lib Dem coalition which ran Holyrood from 1999 to 2007, piloting the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004 which changed the electoral system for Scottish local government to proportional representation; and from 2005 to 2007 he was Scottish minister for transport. In 2008 Scott became leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, but resigned after a poor showing in the 2011 Holyrood elections. His final re-election in 2016 was by the large margin of 67-23 over the SNP candidate Danus Skene, Chief of the Clan Skene, who had had the near-miss against Carmichael a year previously. Skene died shortly afterwards, making this the last event in his long and wandering political career - he had been a Labour candidate in both 1974 general elections and had also sought election for the Liberals and Lib Dems in the past.

This Liberal and Lib Dem dominance in Shetland is not seen at elections to the Shetland Islands Council, which are non-partisan affairs. In the May 2017 local elections 32 candidates stood for the 22 seats; 29 of them were independents, there were two Conservative candidates who polled 2.6% in Lerwick North and 4.0% in Shetland North, and the SNP nominated one candidate, Robbie McGregor, who was elected unopposed as one of three councillors for Shetland South. The last time the independents lost a Shetland council seat in a contested election was way back in 2003, when the Lib Dems won the former South Central ward.

Tavish Scott has resigned to take up a new job with Scottish Rugby, provoking a by-election with a long candidate list. At the bottom of that list alphabetically, defending for the Liberal Democrats, is Beatrice Wishart; she is a councillor for Lerwick South ward and depute convenor of the council.

The Scottish National Party, who by all accounts are throwing the kitchen sink at this by-election campaign, have selected Tom Willis who works in the renewable energy sector.

Labour, who finished third here in 2016, have selected Johan Adamson; she is an accountant and works for the local newspaper Shetland Times. Adamson is top of the ballot paper immediately above the Conservative candidate Brydon Goodlad, who works in the building trade.

Two new parties have entered the fray. Stuart Martin, who works in the transport sector, is the UKIP candidate. The Scottish Green Party, who may well struggle in an archipelago with a hard economic dependence on the oil industry, are also fighting the seat for the first time with their candidate Debra Nicolson. And this being Shetland you cannot count out the independent candidates, of whom there are four: Ian Scott (councillor for Shetland Central ward), Michael Stout (former councillor for Lerwick North ward), Peter Tait (standing on a single issue of bringing the monarchy back to Scotland) and Ryan Thomson (councillor for North Isles ward).

Parliamentary constituency: Orkney and Shetland
ONS Travel to Work Area: Shetland
Postcode districts: ZE1, ZE2, ZE3

Johan Adamson (Lab)
Brydon Goodlad (C)
Stuart Martin (UKIP)
Debra Nicolson (Grn)
Ian Scott (Ind)
Michael Stout (Ind)
Peter Tait (Ind)
Ryan Thomson (Ind)
Tom Willis (SNP)
Beatrice Wishart (LD)

May 2016 result LD 7440 SNP 2545 Lab 651 C 405
May 2011 result LD 4462 Ind 2845 SNP 1134 Lab 620 C 330
May 2007 result LD 6531 SNP 1622 C 972 Lab 670
May 2003 result LD 3989 SPN 1729 C 1281 Lab 880 SSP 766
May 1999 result LD 5455 Lab 2241 SNP 1430 C 872


East Kilbride Central North

South Lanarkshire council, Scotland; caused by the death of Sheena Wardhaugh, who had been elected for the SNP but was sitting as an independent councillor. She had served since 2007.

The Shetland by-election to the Scottish Parliament isn't the only Scottish business this week. We also have a by-election in the Glasgow area to finish with. A few miles to the south of Glasgow, East Kilbride was Scotland's first New Town, designated in 1947 as overspill for the city; named after a pre-existing village, it's built around Scotland's largest indoor shopping mall at its centre with roads radiating from it. Central North, one of the town's five wards, includes that shopping centre together with the original village and East Kilbride railway station, which was built to serve the village and in consequence is now rather poorly sited.

Central North ward was created in 2007 when, as stated in the previous piece, proportional representation came in for Scottish local elections. In the 2007 and 2012 local elections it elected two councillors each from Labour and the SNP by comfortable margins. Boundary changes for the 2017 elections took a bite out of the ward's eastern boundary and reduced it from four councillors to three; the SNP topped the poll on the new lines with 42% and won two seats, Labour polled 32% and won one seat, and the Conservatives polled 19% and were rather unlucky to miss out. Good SNP balancing meant that Wardhaugh was the last candidate to be elected, starting 80 votes ahead of the Conservative candidate and finishing 100 votes ahead. As usual, the Ballot Box Scotland blog have crunched the transfers, finding a two-party preferred figure of 54-46 for the SNP over Labour.

Wardhaugh resigned from the SNP within a month of her re-election. She leaves an open seat which, if the SNP can get it back, will shore up the minority nationalist administration in South Lanarkshire. Going into this by-election the SNP have 24 seats, Labour are on 17, the Conservatives have 13, there are six independents, three Liberal Democrats and this vacancy.

This is a Scottish local by-election, so the Alternative Vote and Votes at 16 will apply here. Defending for the SNP is Grant Ferguson, who is profoundly deaf and a British Sign Language user; he works for an IT and business consulting firm. Labour, who are not out of this if they can stay ahead of the Conservatives and pick up Unionist transfers, have selected former social worker and trade unionist Kirsty Williams. The Tory candidate is Graham Fisher. Also standing are Antony Lee for the Scottish Green Party, Paul McGarry for the Lib Dems, David Mackay for UKIP and Stephen McNamara for the Libertarian Party.

Parliamentary constituency: East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow
ONS Travel to Work Area: Glasgow
Postcode districts: G74, G75

Grant Ferguson (SNP)
Graham Fisher (C)
Antony Lee (Grn)
David Mackay (UKIP)
Paul McGarry (LD)
Stephen McNamara (Libertarian)
Kirsty Williams (Lab)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 2617 Lab 1958 C 1163 Grn 239 LD 153 Hope Over Fear 69


My apologies for the lack of graphics this week, which is due to issues with my computer. Normal service should hopefully be resumed soon.

If you liked this piece and would like to read more or support future Previews, the Andrew's Previews books are available from Amazon. Get the 2018 collection here.

Andrew Teale


Preview: 22 Aug 2019

One by-election on 22nd August 2019:

Rokeby and Overslade

Rugby council, Warwickshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Nick Long who had only served since May 2019.

A game for ruffians played by gentlemen, so the saying goes. Not politics, but rugby. The World Cup in rugby union is due to start next month in Japan, and the winning team will pick up a handsome gold trophy bearing the name of one William Webb Ellis. Webb Ellis, so it is said, invented that game while a pupil at Rugby School, by picking the ball up during a game of football and running with it. This story may or may not be true, but the town certainly milks its association with the sport for all it's worth: Rugby council's (rather ugly) logo is a stylised rugby ball, and there is a large sculpture of a rugby ball greeting visitors at the exit from Rugby station.

It was the station, not the school, which was responsible for the town's growth. This was once a sleepy rural market town whose name was attested in 1200 as Rokebi. Half a century before that Henry de Rokeby, the lord of the manor, had persuaded Henry II to give the town a market charter. The name Rokeby is preserved today in a local primary school, which gives its name to part of this ward. In this context, Rokeby has nothing to do with the Walter Scott poem of that name or the title of the Velazquez painting Rokeby Venus: both of those names refer to a stately home in what's now County Durham.

The railways came here in 1838 with the opening of the London and Birmingham Railway, and this small rural market town quickly developed into Britain's most important railway junction. That led to all sorts of infrastructure problems: the town's sanitation and water supply initially couldn't keep up with the population growth, and in 1849 Rugby became the first English town to set up a Local Board of Health in an attempt to sort these issues out.

Rugby's population growth continued in the early 20th century as it became a centre for heavy engineering. Many of those new arrivals settled in the south of the town in the Overslade area, to the south of Rugby School off the Dunchurch Road, which started developing at around this time. At the time of the 2011 census this area was covered by the Overslade ward of Rugby council, and one corner of it turned up with a significant Polish-born population.

Overslade ward was safely Conservative although Labour came close to winning a couple of times; however, 2011 was the last year it held an election. In 2012 the Boundary Commission merged Overslade ward with housing on the east side of Dunchurch Road, which had previously formed the major part of Caldecott ward. Caldecott had been a Liberal Democrat area, and this clash of political traditions made the 2012 election for the merged "Rokeby and Overslade" ward rather unpredictable. In the event Labour came through the middle to top the poll in 2012, winning one out of three seats with the Conservatives winning the other two seats and the Lib Dems close behind.

Rokeby and Overslade, however, then developed very quickly into a safe Liberal Democrat ward. The Lib Dems gained the Conservative seats in 2014 and 2015 and completed the set by gaining the Labour seat in 2016. In May this year Nick Long was elected with 63% of the vote, to 18% for Labour who finished two votes ahead of the Conservatives.

The Lib Dems, however, are nowhere here at Warwickshire county council level, where this ward is split between two divisions. New Bilton and Overslade county division, which covers the northern part of this ward, takes its cue from the strongly-Labour New Bilton area and is Labour-held. The south of the ward, on the other hand, is in the Bilton and Hillside county division which is strongly Conservative.

So this may be a more difficult Lib Dem defence than it looks at first sight, particularly given that the by-election is caused by a councillor resigning just a matter of weeks after he was elected. Their defending candidate is Glenda Allanach, a retired mental health practitioner and former Rugby councillor (Paddox ward, 2000-05). Labour have reselected Beck Hemsley who fought the ward in May; Hemsley, who identifies as non-binary, was also a candidate for Rugby council in 2018 (in a different ward) and drew an apology from Rugby Conservatives over a tweet during that campaign which was seen as transphobic. Also standing are Deborah Keeling for the Conservatives, Richard Hartland who is only the third local government candidate for the Brexit Party, and Becca Stevenson for the Greens.

Parliamentary constituency: Rugby
Warwickshire county council division: Bilton and Hillside (part), New Bilton and Overslade (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Coventry
Postcode district: CV22

Glenda Allanach (LD)
Richard Hartland (Brexit Party)
Beck Hemsley (Lab)
Deborah Keeling (C)
Becca Stevenson (Grn)

May 2019 result LD 1276 Lab 373 C 371
May 2018 result LD 1265 C 552 Lab 512 Grn 80
May 2016 result LD 1196 C 527 Lab 471 Grn 88 TUSC 48
May 2015 result LD 1462 C 1323 Lab 935 Grn 247
May 2014 result LD 1151 C 697 Lab 540 Grn 138 TUSC 71
May 2012 result Lab 615/564/496 C 613/612/557 LD 504/491/372 Grn 205 TUSC 125


Preview: 15 Aug 2019

Angust is a slow time of year for local by-elections and there is just one poll on 15th August 2019, in Shrewsbury. Before we get to that, I'd like to apologise to everyone concerned for what proved to be a very badly-researched article on Irthlingborough in last week's Previews. Particular apologies are due to the winning Conservative candidate, Lee Wilkes, whose name I got wrong. I take full responsibility for the errors I made.

In an attempt to set the record straight, I will start this week by reissuing last week's Irthlingborough article with (hopefully) all the mistakes expunged. If you enjoyed it last time, hopefully the repeat will be equally worthwhile.


Irthlingborough Waterloo (8th August 2019)

East Northamptonshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Marika Hillson who had served since 2011.

For [last] week's other Tory defence we come to the disaster area of modern local government: Northamptonshire. This column has rehearsed the gross mismanagement and insolvency of Northamptonshire county council several times in recent months, and the effect of that insolvency is that local government reorganisation is in the works. Northamptonshire's 2019 local elections didn't take place as scheduled: they were postponed until 2020, with the intention that by then the county council and its seven districts would be swept away in favour of a new map with two unitary councils: West Northamptonshire (to include the town of Northampton) and North Northamptonshire (based on Kettering, Corby and the rural east of the county).

However, there has been another twist to report. In May it was announced that the reorganisation had been postponed, and the plan is that it will now be 2021 before the new councils take up their roles. Your columnist missed that announcement at the time, and only started asking questions when the legislation to bring the new councils into existence failed to appear before the summer recess. I am grateful to Wellingborough councillor Adam Henley for bringing me up to speed with the latest scheme for the Northamptonshire reorganisation: Councillor Henley, who is now in the fifth year of his increasingly inaccurately-described four-year term, informs me that the plan now is that there will be shadow elections to the new North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire unitary councils in May 2020, while Henley and his fellow Northamptonshire district councillors will have their terms further extended to 2021. So now you know. More news as we get it.

If and when this process eventually reaches a conclusion, Irthlingborough would end up in the North Northamptonshire district despite being close to the southern edge of the county. This is a small town on the River Nene, whose fortunes were made on boots and shoemaking - including an association with a famous name. The story goes back to early 1945 and a German army doctor called Klaus Märtens, who decided to spend a period of leave by going to the Bavarian Alps for some skiing. He injured his ankle, and found that his army boots weren't helping his injury; so he drew up some changes to his boots, including air-cushioned soles. The Second World War ended a few months later with chaos in Germany, and Märtens ended up with some leather from a cobbler's shop and rubber from now-disused airfields to put his new boot design into production. It was a success, particularly so with the older German housewife.

In 1959 R Griggs, a Northamptonshire cobblers' firm, bought the rights to Dr Märtens' design, added yellow stitching and dropped the umlaut, and the Dr Martens boot was born. Launched in 1960, the DM boot quickly became an icon of British design. It made a lot of money for Griggs, which had several factories in this corner of Northamptonshire including one in Irthlingborough. The company owner Max Griggs put a lot of that money into the local football team Rushden and Diamonds, which entered the Football League in August 2001 and played there for five seasons from its base at Nene Park in Irthlingborough.

But as a wise woman once said "these boots are made for walking and that's just what they'll do". The money dried up; following financial problems, Griggs closed its Irthlingborough factory in 2003 and outsourced production of Dr Martens to the Far East. Rushden and Diamonds FC folded in 2011, and Nene Park (after being used by Kettering Town for a time) was demolished in 2017.

That, however, wasn't the end of industry in Irthlingborough. The food company Whitworths still has a large factory here, employing over 300 people, and there is other manufacturing in the town. And that creates a town with a high Labour vote within the very strongly Conservative district of East Northamptonshire. Nearly all of the district is within the Corby parliamentary constituency, providing the counterbalance to the strongly Labour town which gives the constituency its name and producing a marginal seat in the Commons.

Irthlingborough has two electoral wards. The southern is called John Pyel, commemorating a fourteenth-century Lord Mayor of London who was born here and improved the local parish church. The northern ward, Waterloo, reflects an ancient film of the Battle of Waterloo story which was shot in Irthlingborough in 1913; so many locals were extras in that film that two of the town's shoe factories had to close until the filming was over. Waterloo ward includes the Nene Park site, a little countryside to the north and some of the lakes in the Nene Valley, which has been extensively quarried for gravel.

In the 2011 elections to East Northamptonshire council these were the only wards which returned Labour councillors, with Labour and the Conservatives winning a seat each in both wards. The Tories then gained the Labour seat in Irthlingborough Waterloo ward in 2015, at which election the shares of the vote were 55% for the Conservative slate and 35% for Labour.

The cancellation of Northamptonshire's 2019 elections means that there have been no polls for Waterloo ward since the days of Coalition, so we have to look up to county council level for anything more recent. In May 2017 the Conservatives easily held the Irthlingborough county council division with 50% of the vote, Labour falling to 23% and Marika Hillson - whose resignation caused this by-election - standing as an independent and polling 22%.

With this by-election being in a marginal parliamentary seat the result will be closely watched. It's a straight fight. Defending in the blue corner is Lee Wilkes, who gives an address in the town of Raunds to the north-east: he is deputy mayor of that town. Challenging from the red corner is Irthlingborough town councillor Caroline Cross, who was runner-up here in the 2015 district election and 2017 county election. The recent Lib Dem winning streak in by-elections ends here, as there is no Liberal Democrat candidate.

And, since this was last week, I can give you the result:

New Conservative councillor Lee Wilkes goes down in history as the first Conservative election-winner of the Johnson era.

Parliamentary constituency: Corby
Northamptonshire county council division: Irthlingborough
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kettering and Wellingborough
Postcode district: NN9

Caroline Cross (Lab)
Lee Wilkes (C)

May 2015 result C 1054/1043 Lab 671/662 BNP 179
May 2011 result Lab 594/465 C 542/531 Lab 465
May 2007 result C 637/529 Lab 432/371


Meole (15th August 2019)

Shropshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Nic Laurens. He had served since winning a by-election in December 2015.

Having completed our trip in the time machine to last Thursday, this column now goes back to the future for today's single local by-election. Our focus is on Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire and largest town of the beautiful Welsh Marches. The Meole ward is the first part of Shrewsbury which travellers entering the town from the south along the road from Hereford see; it's based on Meole Brace, an old village which has been absorbed by the town's urban sprawl. The main local feature is Meole Brace School, the largest secondary school in Shrewsbury; its former pupils include the Burnley and England goalkeeper Joe Hart, who was head boy in his final year at the school and started his football career with the local side Shrewsbury Town. Meole division turned up in the top 15 wards in England and Wales for part-time working in the 2011 census, although there's no obvious reason why this should be.

This is a safely Conservative area. Nic Laurens was re-elected in 2017 for a full term with a 55-27 margin of Labour; he had first been elected in a December 2015 by-election with 43% of the vote, against 27% for Labour and 20% for the Liberal Democrats. Laurens was part of the large Conservative majority on Shropshire council.

So the Tories should be confident of holding this by-election. Their defending candidate is Gwendoline Burgess, who runs a café in Shrewsbury town centre. Labour have selected Darrell Morris, an USDAW rep. Completing the ballot paper are Lib Dem Adam Fejfer (who also stood here in 2017) and Emma Bullard for the Greens.

Parliamentary constituency: Shrewsbury and Atcham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Shrewsbury
Postcode districts: SY3, SY5

Emma Bullard (Grn)
Gwendoline Burgess (C)
Adam Fejfer (LD)
Darrell Morris (Lab)

May 2017 result C 710 Lab 352 LD 155 Grn 64
December 2015 by-election C 490 Lab 303 LD 223 UKIP 64 Grn 56
May 2013 result C 689 Lab 473 LD 92
June 2009 result C 1035 LD 416


Previews: 08 Aug 2019

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

Before we start this week, there is a notice to read out from the City of London. Sir Charles Bowman (Lord Mayor in 2017-18) had resigned as Alderman for Lime Street ward, and Sir Andrew Parmley (Bowman's predecessor as Lord Mayor) had resigned as Alderman for Vintry ward, both in order to seek fresh mandates from their electors after six years in office as is traditional in the City. Polls had been scheduled for Tuesday 6th August; but when nominations closed nobody had opposed Sir Charles and Sir Andrew for re-election, and they were formally returned to the Court of Aldermen at their respective Wardmotes on Monday this week. This column sends its congratulations.

That leaves three by-elections this week, on 8th August 2019. Despite that low number there is something for everyone in this set, with one Liberal Democrat defence, Labour interest in a couple of wards and two Conservative defences in marginal parliamentary seats, as the governing party attempts to win its first by-elections of the Johnson premiership. Read on...


Claines

Worcester council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Stuart Denlegh-Maxwell. A descendant of the "Salt King" of Droitwich John Corbett, and from a family with a long tradition of public service, Denlegh-Maxwell was originally elected to Worcester city council in 1988 for Claines ward. He stood down in 1994 due to the commitments of work and a young family, but returned to the council for Claines ward in 2018.

We start this week in the Severn Valley with a rare trip to the city of Worcester, which its today having only its third local by-election of the 21st century. The Claines ward is Worcester's northern end, on the east bank of the river along the road towards Kidderminster. The name is an old one: Claines village has a church dating from the 10th century which gave its name to a parish, but much of that parish has been incorporated into Worcester over the years. The ward's main area of population is not Claines village but Cornmeadow Green, a Worcester suburb which was mostly developed in the 1930s. Its most famous resident doesn't have a vote: Pineau de Re, the horse which won the 2014 Grand National, was trained in Claines.

Worcester is a marginal parliamentary seat, but the elections to Worcester city council (which has the same boundaries as the constituency) don't really reflect that excitement. Nearly all of the city's fifteen wards are safe, and as of May 2019 only one ward (Cathedral, which the Conservatives held in May) has split representation. Going into May's elections the Tories had a majority of one seat, which disappeared following a gain for the Green Party in St Stephen ward: that resulted in 17 seats for the Tories, 15 for Labour and 3 for the Greens. Worcester's cabinet is run on an all-party basis, with the Conservatives supplying the leader and Labour the deputy leader.

Claines ward, however, has a different story to tell. Until the advent of Coalition this was the only Lib Dem ward in Worcester, but the entry of the Conservatives into government led to some extremely close results. The Lib Dems held the ward by 17 votes in 2011, which was the last year they won Claines; the Conservatives gained it by 65 votes in 2012. After that the Tories pulled away a bit, but the last two years have seen them pegged back for some more narrow finishes: the Tory majorities in Claines were 62 votes in 2018 when Denlegh-Maxwell returned to the council, and 95 votes in 2019. Shares of the vote in May were 43% for the Conservatives and 39% for the Liberal Democrats. The Tories also hold the Claines division of Worcestershire county council, which spills over into part of the Labour-voting Arboretum ward.

Defending for the Conservatives is Jules Benham, a gardener and mother who gives her location on the ballot paper as an address within the ward and her location on Twitter as "usually close to a kettle". The Lib Dems have reselected Mel Allcott; she is fighting the ward for the sixth time, having stood and lost here every year from 2014 to date. Also standing are two more candidates who return from May's election, Stephen Dent for the Greens and Saiful Islam for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Worcester
Worcestershire county council division: Claines
ONS Travel to Work Area: Worcester and Kidderminster
Postcode district: WR3

Mel Allcott (LD)
Jules Benham (C)
Stephen Dent (Grn)
Saiful Islam (Lab)

May 2019 result C 1252 LD 1157 Grn 245 Lab 145 UKIP 137
May 2018 result C 1155 LD 1093 Lab 417 Grn 147 UKIP 42
May 2016 result C 971 LD 734 Lab 453 UKIP 261 Grn 178
May 2015 result C 2115 LD 1056 Lab 866 UKIP 558 Grn 394
May 2014 result C 1054 LD 794 UKIP 509 Lab 379 Grn 206
May 2012 result C 1182 LD 1117 Grn 374
May 2011 result LD 1313 C 1296 Lab 490 Grn 247
May 2010 result LD 2047 C 1920 Lab 716 Grn 263
May 2008 result LD 1551 C 1005 Grn 195 Lab 171
May 2007 result LD 1739 C 985 Lab 246 Grn 210
May 2006 result LD 1649 C 1067 Lab 253 Grn 209
June 2004 result LD 1709/1581/1399 C 1228/1165/1138 Lab 535


Irthlingborough Waterloo

East Northamptonshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Marika Hillson who had served since 2011.

For the week's other Tory defence we come to the disaster area of modern local government: Northamptonshire. This column has rehearsed the gross mismanagement and insolvency of Northamptonshire county council several times in recent months, and the effect of that insolvency is that local government reorganisation is in the works. Northamptonshire's 2019 local elections didn't take place as scheduled: they were postponed until 2020, with the intention that by then the county council and its seven districts would be swept away in favour of a new map with two unitary councils: West Northamptonshire (to include the town of Northampton) and North Northamptonshire (based on Kettering, Corby and the rural east of the county).

However, there has been another twist to report. In May it was announced that the reorganisation had been postponed, and the plan is that it will now be 2021 before the new councils take up their roles. Your columnist missed that announcement at the time, and only started asking questions when the legislation to bring the new councils into existence failed to appear before the summer recess. We wait to hear whether the 2020 Northamptonshire district elections, which have already been postponed once, will go ahead as planned or whether there will be another extension to their councillors' memberships.

If and when this process eventually reaches a conclusion, Irthlingborough would end up in the North Northamptonshire district despite being close to the southern edge of the county. This is a small town on the River Nene, whose fortunes were made on a famous name in shoe leather. The story goes back to early 1945 and a German army doctor called Klaus Märtens, who decided to spend a period of leave by going to the Bavarian Alps for some skiing. He injured his ankle, and found that his army boots weren't helping his injury; so he drew up some changes to his boots, including air-cushioned soles. The Second World War ended a few months later with chaos in Germany, and Märtens ended up with some leather from a cobbler's shop and rubber from now-disused airfields to put his new boot design into production. It was a success, particularly so with the older German housewife.

In 1959 R Griggs, a Northamptonshire cobblers' firm, bought the rights to Dr Märtens' design, added yellow stitching and dropped the umlaut, and the Dr Martens boot was born. Launched in 1960, the DM boot quickly became an icon of British design. It made a lot of money for Griggs, whose head office was in Irthlingborough. The company owner Max Griggs put a lot of that money into the local football team Rushden and Diamonds, which entered the Football League in August 2001 and played there for five seasons from its base at Nene Park in Irthlingborough.

But as a wise woman once said "these boots are made for walking and that's just what they'll do". Griggs outsourced production of Dr Martens to the Far East in 2003 following financial problems, and the money dried up. Dr Martens' head office is now elsewhere; Rushden and Diamonds FC folded in 2011; and Nene Park (after being used by Kettering Town for a time) was demolished in 2017.

That, however, wasn't the end of industry in Irthlingborough. The food company Whitworths still has a large factory here, employing over 300 people, and there is other manufacturing in the town. And that creates a town with a high Labour vote within the very strongly Conservative district of East Northamptonshire. Nearly all of the district is within the Corby parliamentary constituency, providing the counterbalance to the strongly Labour town which gives the constituency its name and producing a marginal seat in the Commons.

Irthlingborough has two electoral wards. The southern is called John Pyel, commemorating a fourteenth-century Lord Mayor of London who was born here and improved the local parish church. Waterloo is the northern ward, taking in the Nene Park site, the village of Knightlands and some of the lakes in the Nene Valley, which has been extensively quarried for gravel. In the 2011 elections to East Northamptonshire council these were the only wards which returned Labour councillors, with Labour and the Conservatives winning a seat each in both wards. The Tories then gained the Labour seat in Irthlingborough Waterloo ward in 2015, at which election the shares of the vote were 55% for the Conservative slate and 35% for Labour.

The cancellation of Northamptonshire's 2019 elections means that there have been no polls for Waterloo ward since the days of Coalition, so we have to look up to county council level for anything more recent. In May 2017 the Conservatives easily held the Irthlingborough county council division with 50% of the vote, Labour falling to 23% and Marika Hillson - whose resignation caused this by-election - standing as an independent and polling 22%.

With this by-election being in a marginal parliamentary seat the result will be closely watched. It's a straight fight. Defending in the blue corner is Lee Walker, who gives an address in the town of Raunds to the north-east: he is deputy mayor of that town. Challenging from the red corner is Irthlingborough town councillor Caroline Cross, who was runner-up here in the 2015 district election and 2017 county election. The recent Lib Dem winning streak in by-elections ends here, as there is no Liberal Democrat candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Corby
Northamptonshire county council division: Irthlingborough
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kettering and Wellingborough
Postcode district: NN9

Caroline Cross (Lab)
Lee Walker (C)

May 2015 result C 1054/1043 Lab 671/662 BNP 179
May 2011 result Lab 594/465 C 542/531 Lab 465
May 2007 result C 637/529 Lab 432/371


Newnham

Cambridge council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Lucy Nethsingha, who is now a Member of the European Parliament for the Eastern region. She had served since 2016, and is also a Cambridgeshire county councillor.

Normally when this column is drafting a preview, there's a certain lack of information on the local area to go on. Getting material for a few paragraphs on another identikit corner of South London or obscure small village in deepest darkest Lincolnshire can be quite the challenge. But for Newnham ward the problem is the opposite one: what to leave out?

Newnham is one of the student-dominated wards of the city of Cambridge. Many of the Cambridge University colleges west of the River Cam are here, together with the fast-growing West Cambridge site of university buildings and three colleges on the east side of the Cam: King's, Queens' and St Katz. The number of MPs past or present who have been educated here at some point in their lives is very high. Page 400 of The British General Election of 2017 by Philip Cowley and Dennis Kavanagh, the latest in the renowned Nuffield series on general elections, reports that 34% of Conservative MPs, 20% of Labour MPs and 17% of Lib Dems elected in June 2017 have passed through Cambridge or that other educational institution in the Thames Valley; and a fair proportion of those will have been studying in a college located in Newnham ward.

At the time of the 2011 census around 59% of Newnham's residents aged 16 to 74 were full-time students, the ninth-highest figure for any ward in England and Wales. Cambridge attracts students from all over the world, and Newnham makes the top 50 wards in England and Wales for those born in the EU-15; Germans are particularly strongly represented, and there is also a large Chinese contingent. On the other hand we are between academic years at the moment. Most of the students won't be here in August, so Newnham ward's permanent population - and this is one of the most affluent wards in Cambridge - will make up most of the voters for this by-election.

Whoever wins will be treading in the footsteps of some rather famous people. This ward has existed since the 1930s, and from 1945 to 1949 one of the councillors for Newnham ward was Alice, Lady Bragg, wife of the physicist and Nobel laureate Sir Lawrence Bragg who at the time was director of the University's Cavendish Laboratory. Lady Bragg was an independent councillor; after she resigned in 1949 Newnham became a Conservative ward which was often uncontested.

That changed in 1971 when Labour broke through, and the Labour slate won all four Newnham seats in 1973 at the first election to the modern Cambridge city council. Two of the people on that 1973 Labour slate are notable enough for Wikipedia. Ruth Cohen was a noted economist who had recently retired after eighteen years as Principal of Newnham College; while Robert Edwards was a reader in physiology at Churchill College working in the controversial area of human fertilisation. Edwards stood down from the council in May 1978, six months after performing a pioneering medical procedure on a woman from Oldham called Lesley Brown; in July 1978 Brown gave birth to a baby girl, Louise Brown, who was the first human conceived through in vitro fertilisation. For that achievement retired Cambridge city councillor Robert Edwards was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Many politicians have become Nobel laureates over the years; but there can't be many who did it in medicine.

Robert Edwards ended up with a knighthood, but his successor as Newnham ward councillor did even better than that in the honours stakes: Wendy Nicol, a board member of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, made it to the House of Lords as Baroness Nicol. Nicol inherited a safe ward, but passed on a marginal after the end of her single term in 1982: by this point the SDP had became strong in Newnham ward. Long-serving Labour councillor Gwyneth Lipstein (wife of the noted legal scholar Kurt Lipstein) was re-elected on the SDP ticket in 1984, and the party won a second seat in 1987 having finished four votes behind Labour in 1986.

The merger with the Liberals had less of an impact initially. Lipstein lost her seat to Labour in the 1988 election when the party was still called the Social and Liberal Democrats, and Newnham's first Liberal Democrat candidate proper finished in third place. He was Nicholas Whyte, who was a student at the time but later became a science fiction blogger, EU influencer and noted Northern Irish psephologist. Whyte's Northern Ireland Elections website (link) is now in its third decade as the go-to internet reference for election results in the province. Yes, I'll admit it: Northern Ireland Elections was a source of inspiration for the Local Elections Archive Project, which your columnist runs in his ever-decreasing spare time.

The Liberal Democrats grew their vote back to break through in Newnham ward in 1992, and the party has won Newnham at every Cambridge local election from 1998 onwards. It hasn't always been a safe ward for them in that time with Labour coming close to winning on several occasions in the Coalition years, but recent results suggest that the Labour challenge has faltered. In May 2019 the Lib Dems won with 50% of the vote, to 28% for Labour and 14% for the Green Party. This by-election will likely be the last contest on these Newnham ward boundaries, as a new ward map for Cambridge will be introduced next year; as such whoever wins this by-election will not be able to rest for long before hitting the campaign trail again.

Lucy Nethsingha MEP had only been on Cambridge city council since 2016, but since 2015 she had been leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Cambridgeshire county council where she also represents Newnham. She has been a county councillor since 2009, and will stay as a member of that council at least for the time being - a decision which has drawn criticism from the Conservative elected mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Josh Matthews, who is originally from Swansea and came to Cambridge to do a masters' degree in engineering management. The Labour candidate is Niamh Sweeney, a former president of the ATL education union. Another teacher on the ballot is Mark Slade of the Green Party, who also co-founded a live entertainment business. Completing the candidate list is Michael Spencer for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Cambridge
Cambridgeshire county council division: Newnham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode district: CB3

Josh Matthews (LD)
Mark Slade (Grn)
Michael Spencer (C)
Niamh Sweeney (Lab)

May 2019 result LD 1003 Lab 552 Grn 276 C 171
May 2018 result LD 1139 Lab 825 C 165 Grn 164
May 2016 result LD 939 Lab 787 C 234 Grn 216
May 2015 result LD 1387 Lab 1203 Grn 947 C 700
May 2014 result LD 1056 Lab 987 Grn 526 C 395
May 2012 result LD 917 Lab 641 C 263 Grn 241
May 2011 result LD 990 Lab 756 C 621 Grn 443
May 2010 result LD 1862 C 994 Lab 648 Grn 642
May 2008 result LD 870 C 427 Grn 238 Lab 200
May 2007 result LD 842 C 489 Grn 300 Lab 246
May 2006 result LD 974 C 475 Lab 336 Grn 321
June 2004 result LD 1018/931/904 C 429/411/395 Grn 400/282 Lab 317/288/279


If you liked these previews, there are many more like them in the Andrew's Previews books, which you can order from Amazon (link).

Andrew Teale


Previews: 01 Aug 2019

 

Three by-elections on Thursday 1st August 2019. Later we cover two Liberal Democrat defences in local government, but first it's a Parliamentary Special:


Brecon and Radnorshire

House of Commons; caused by a recall petition against Conservative MP Christopher Davies, who had served since 2015.

O, let me think on Hastings and be gone
To Brecknock, while my fearful head is on!
- William Shakespeare, Richard III

A picture, so they say, tells a thousand words. Some pictures are, of course, more beautiful than others. This column has long maintained - sometimes multiple times in the same sentence - that the Welsh Marches rank among the most beautiful places in the world, and with pictures like these it's hard to argue against that proposition.

One person who clearly agrees with me is a man called Chris Davies, who got himself a new job in 2015 and needed a new office to go with it. He set his office up in Builth Wells, a small town on the Breconshire side of the River Wye, which in days of olden time formed the county boundary between Breconshire and Radnorshire. Builth isn't much more than a village but it's a major point of convergence, with the bridge over the Wye in the picture above being part of the A470 - the main north-south highway in Wales, meandering from Cardiff all the way to Llandudno through some of the most gorgeous scenery imaginable. All the normal things needed to be done to get the office going - buy furniture, kit the place out with a telephone line and computers, hire staff, all that jazz - but there was something missing. Some nice pictures of the local area for the walls. That'll make things complete for the staff and the visitors. Suitable pictures were found, prints were ordered and delivered, frames were hung and the office was complete. A snip at £700. And in the normal course of events that would have been that.

This, of course, is not the normal course of events. (Why do you think I'm writing this?) Chris Davies' new job was as Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnorshire, and as such the House of Commons authorities gave him a pair of budgets: one to get his office established, and another to keep it running. All you have to do is keep an account of your expenses and make sure all the receipts and invoices are in order.

Which is where the problem came in. Instead of one invoice for £700 for the pretty pictures, two invoices totalling £700 were submitted to the parliamentary office which pays MPs' expenses. It became apparent that those invoices had been forged. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority called in the police, and Davies was charged. In March 2019 the case was heard by Westminster magistrates, with Davies pleading guilty to one charge of providing false or misleading information for an allowance claim, and a second charge of attempting to do so. The magistrates referred Davies to Southwark Crown Court for sentencing, and in the final reckoning he was fined £1,500 and ordered to undertake 50 hours of unpaid community service.

This is nowhere near the sentence level which would disqualify you from public office, although having that sort of criminal record is not exactly a good look for a Member of Parliament. However, the offence which Davies was prosecuted for triggered the Recall of MPs Act into action, and a petition was set up in the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency. Over six weeks, 10,005 of his electors - 19% of the total - signed the petition to recall Christopher Davies. As this was over 10% of the electorate, Davies was unseated and we are having this by-election.

It's rather a feat to get so many electors to sign on the line, for this is the largest constituency by area in England and Wales. The seat includes nearly all of the Brecon Beacons National Park together with many other upland areas. Agriculture is the major industry, and if sheep had the vote this seat would be an awful lot smaller in area. This is a constituency with no large towns.

Indeed, the largest centre of population here is a place whose name few people will recognise and even fewer will have any idea how to pronounce. Ystradgynlais is nestled in the south-west corner of Breconshire and isn't too far from Swansea down the Tawe valley; it's a town of around 8,000 souls which was called into being by heavy engineering, specifically the Ynyscedwyn Ironworks and the coal needed to run them. To this day Ystradgynlais is atypical of Brecon and Radnorshire as a whole: most of the seat's Labour voters and more than half of its Welsh speakers live here.

Rather older is Brecon, which goes back to the Roman days when there was a fort called Cicucium guarding a ford on the River Usk. The Normans also fortified the place, and the military men have never left. There is an infantry training centre in Brecon and the surrounding moorland, and the town's St Mary ward ranked 14th in England and Wales for Buddhism in the 2011 census: not because Brecon is a New Age type of place (it isn't), but because there are Gurkhas stationed here. Brecon is home to the regimental museum of the South Wales Borderers, seven of whose Victoria Crosses came at the battle of Rorke's Drift in the 1879 Zulu War.

After Ystradgynlais and Brecon you're starting to struggle for towns in Breconshire, but there's one place here that gets international prominence. Just on the Welsh side of the border lies Hay-on-Wye, a tiny town a long way from anywhere (Hereford, nearly twenty miles away, is the nearest railhead) which has become known as the "town of books" because of its extremely large number of second-hand bookshops. If you're looking for a book, you'll probably find it in Hay (although it might take a bit of finding); who knows, an edition of the Andrew's Previews books may even be lurking on the shelves there. A few years back your columnist went to Hay with a budget of £20 and a mission to buy election-related books: I came away with the 1939 (and almost certainly final) edition of The Constitutional Year Book, an almanac published by the Conservative Party up to the Second World War; and British Parliamentary Constituencies: A Statistical Compendium by Ivor Crewe and Antony Fox, which went into great detail on the results of the 1983 general election. Both of these have been useful in drafting this preview. Richard Booth, whose bookshop I got those tomes from, appeared in the latter book: he was an independent candidate in the 1983 election, coming last with 0.7% in the Brecon and Radnor constituency. Booth may have retired now, but his legacy lives on with an annual literature festival taking over Hay-on-Wye every May and June and bringing visitors to Hay from all over the world.

Half-an-hour's walk from Hay over the river Wye you come to Clyro, a sleepy village off the Hereford-Brecon road. For seven years from 1865 to 1872 Francis Kilvert was curate of Clyro's parish church, and his diaries give a great impression of what the area was like back then. Particularly so as the village is very little changed from his day: you can still see Kilvert's vicarage and toast his legacy in the village pub, then called the Swan, now the Baskerville Arms. Your columnist has stayed in the Baskerville Arms and can recommend it: tell them I sent you.

The River Wye forms the border between Breonshire and Radnoshire, but it's the Wye valley which links the centre of this constituency together, from Hay up to Rhayader. A tiny market town where the A470 comes to a stop sign at the town centre crossroads, Rhayader lies at the junction of the Wye with the Elan Valley, which was drowned in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries underneath five reservoirs which provide drinking water for the city of Birmingham. Birmingham's wastewater drains into the River Trent, so some of the water from these reservoirs ends up in the faraway North Sea.

Wales is, of course, known for its wet weather; but it was water that actually brought people to Radnorshire back in the day. The Happiest Place in Wales according to a survey last year by Rightmove, Llandrindod Wells is a Victorian spa town, the largest centre of population in Radnorshire, and the railhead for the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency. A Victorian Festival, celebrating its 34th year in 2019, brings tourists to Llandrindod each August; but it's administration which underpins the town's economy. Powys county council was established here in 1974, leading to a mini economic boom thanks to a mismatch between national local government payscales and the relatively low cost of living in mid-Wales. As well as all the usual stuff you expect from local government, Powys council has a surprising national role: it is the regulator for estate agents in the UK.

But the major single contributor to the economy of Brecon and Radnorshire is one event held every year in July at Llanelwedd, the Radnorshire village on the opposite side of the Wye from Builth Wells. Celebrating its 100th edition last week, the Royal Welsh Show is one of the largest agricultural shows in the world: it runs for four days and attracts 200,000 visitors, some of whom arrive on special trains laid on from Cardiff by Transport for Wales. The BBC film it. The Prince of Wales is a regular visitor. Speaking at the Show last week, the president of the Farmers Union of Wales warned of the possibility of civil unrest in rural areas like this constituency in the event of a no-deal Brexit; we wait to see what effect that warning had on the then-Environment Secretary and now-Brexit Supremo Michael Gove, who was also in attendance. The Royal Welsh Show is a huge affair, and is the reason this by-election wasn't held last week. Apart from the traffic chaos the event brings and the fact that many of the electors will have been at the show, the exhibition centres on the Royal Welsh Showground are the only location in the constituency which can comfortably accommodate the count.

Like the rest of Wales, Breconshire and Radnorshire were enfranchised by Henry VIII and have sent members to Parliament since 1536. Radnorshire has always been one of the poorest, most remote and most depopulated parts of England and Wales, and in the late nineteenth century - once the Liberals started contesting the county - that manifested itself in a close Tory versus Liberal contest. The 1885 election, on an expanded franchise, returned Arthur Walsh by a majority of just 67 votes over the Liberal candidate, marking a Conservative gain. Walsh, who was re-elected for a second term the following year, was an Old Etonian who at the time was a lieutenant in the Life Guards; he followed his father and grandfather in becoming MP for Radnorshire. Also like his father and grandfather, Walsh ended up in the Lords as the 3rd Lord Ormathwaite; once his Commons career was over he entered royal service, and from 1907 to 1920 he was the last Master of the Ceremonies in the Royal Household. Now there's a job title. (Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps is the modern equivalent.)

Walsh retired from the Commons in 1892 and the Conservatives lost his Radnorshire seat to the Liberal Frank Edwards. A solicitor by trade, Edwards was a major supporter of disestablishment for the Church in Wales, going so far as to resign the Liberal whip in 1894 (along with a very young David Lloyd George) in protest after the Liberal government failed to introduce a disestablishment measure.

The following year Edwards lost his seat for the first time, as the Conservative candidate Powlett Millbank defeated him by 79 votes. Sir Powlett, as he became after inheriting a baronetcy, didn't seek re-election in 1900 and Frank Edwards got back as MP for Radnorshire on a virulently anti-Boer War ticket in the first of four contests against the Conservatives' Charles Dillwyn-Venables-Llewellyn. The score in contests was 3-1 in Edwards' favour, Llewellyn's sole win coming by just 14 votes in January 1910. A keen agriculturist and local JP, Llewellyn was one of 22 MPs who served only between the two 1910 elections, as Sir Frank Edwards (as he had now become) won the December 1910 contest in Radnorshire by 42 votes.

Things were different in Breconshire, which had twice the electorate of Radnorshire and some industry - ironworking in Ystradgynlais, coalmining in Brynmawr. Breconshire was gained by the Liberals in an 1875 by-election after the previous Tory MP succeeded to a peerage, and was continuously Liberal-held from then until 1918. The winner of the 1875 by-election was William Fuller-Maitland, who had entered politics after a distinguished cricket career, bowling for Oxford University and the MCC to devastating effect: he took 123 first-class wickets at an average of 15.72, with his best analysis (8 for 48) coming for Oxford University against Surrey in 1864. Fuller-Maitland retired from the Commons in 1895 and passed his seat on to Charles Morley, older brother of Arnold Morley who had been Postmaster-General in the Liberal government of 1892-95. Morley retired in 1906, the year of the Liberal landslide, and passed his seat on without trouble to Sidney Robinson, a former Cardiff councillor and timber merchant.

At the December 1910 general election Radnorshire had under 6,000 electors (all male in those days) and Breconshire just over 13,000. This was too low to sustain two MPs, and the redistribution of 1918 resulted in the two constituencies being merged into one. Radnorshire's Liberal MP Sir Frank Edwards retired, and Breconshire's Liberal MP Sidney Robinson won the 1918 election unopposed for his final parliamentary term.

In 1922 Robinson retired and there was a new face as MP for Brecon and Radnor, with William Jenkins elected as a National Liberal. A merchant from Swansea in the coal and shipbroking business, Jenkins defeated the seat's first Labour candidate very comfortably and no-one opposed him in the 1923 general election. However, the 1924 poll saw both Labour and the Conservatives intervene, and a close three-way contest was won by Walter Hall for the Conservatives.

The first Conservative MP for Breconshire for almost half a century, Hall had come into politics from the military where he had served with distinction in the Great War - winning an MC and Bar. He served two terms as MP for Brecon and Radnor, but they were not consecutive. The 1929 general election here had a remarkable result: Liberal candidate Wynne Cemlyn-Jones came in third with 14,182 votes, Hall lost his seat by finishing second on 14,324 votes, and Peter Freeman polled 14,551 votes to become the first Labour MP for Brecon and Radnor. With just 0.7% of the vote separating first from last, and Freeman winning with 33.7%, that is one of the closest three-way splits you will ever see in an election. On the other hand... with the opinion polls as they are at the moment, a snap election held in the next few months might turn up a lot of constituency results looking similar to that. Fragmentation may be the new norm.

Fragmentation didn't help Peter Freeman much. The 1929 general election brought to power the short-lived Labour government of Ramsay Macdonald, which fell apart two years later and crashed and burned in the 1931 election. Walter Hall returned as MP for Brecon and Radnor, and Freeman - a former Welsh lawn tennis champion - went back to running his family's Cardiff tobacco factory. Peter Freeman did eventually return to politics, serving as MP for Newport from 1945 until his death in 1956.

Hall retired at the 1935 general election, in which Brecon and Radnor was contested for Labour by Leslie Haden-Guest, who had been MP for Southwark North from 1923 until 1927, when he resigned to (unsuccessfully) seek re-election as a Constitutionalist candidate. Now back in the Labour fold, Haden-Guest lost to his near namesake Ivor Guest, elected as a supporter of the National Government with endorsement from both the Conservative and Liberal local parties. Guest was a scion of a wealthy industrial family - the Guests were the G in GKN, which is still in business as an aerospace company.

Ivor Guest succeeded to the title of Viscount Wimborne and entered the Lords in 1939, resulting in the first Brecon and Radnorshire by-election. This time the Tories and Liberals couldn't agree a joint candidate, and the local Conservatives selected Richard Hanning Phillips - second son of Lord Milford - while the Liberals stood down. By now Haden-Guest was back in the Commons, having won a by-election in Islington North, and Labour needed a new candidate: they selected William Jackson, a Herefordshire fruit farmer and former Liberal figure. In an interesting echo of this by-election, polling day was 1st August - eighty years ago today - making this the last parliamentary by-election to be held before the Second World War. Labour's candidate selection made all the difference in this agricultural seat, particularly as Hanning Phillips knew nothing about farming and admitted as such on the campaign trail. Jackson won the by-election with a majority of 2,636.

After serving through the war years, William Jackson retired to the Lords in 1945, and Labour held the seat easily. The new Labour MP was Tudor Watkins who was Breconshire born and bred. A former miner from a village near Ystradgynlais, Watkins was general secretary of the Breconshire Association of Friendly Societies. In office Watkins saved the lesser whitebeam Sorbus minima from extinction, after his Parliamentary questions prompted the Army to stop using its only known habitat for mortar practice. Watkins was also a strong supporter of CND and the Parliament for Wales campaign.

In 1945 Tudor Watkins very easily defeated Tory candidate Oscar Guest, uncle of Ivor; Oscar had started his parliamentary career in 1918 as Liberal MP for Loughborough, and in the 1935-45 Parliament had been the Conservative MP for the unlikely Tory seat of Camberwell North West. For the 1950 and 1951 elections the Conservatives had stronger opposition in the form of David Gibson-Watt, a farmer and forester who came from a noted Radnorshire family and had won an MC and two bars in the North African and Italy campaigns during the Second World War. Gibson-Watt did eventually get into Parliament, winning the Hereford by-election in 1956 and serving until October 1974.

From 1955 onwards Tudor Watkins had safe majorities in Brecon and Radnorshire, and on his retirement in 1970 he had no trouble passing the seat on to the new Labour candidate Caerwyn Roderick. Like Watkins, Roderick had been born in Ystradgynlais; before entering Parliament he had been a teacher. In office he campaigned against future rail closures for the area and opposed a new reservoir that would have flooded the Senni valley.

But in February 1974 Brecon and Radnorshire swung to the Conservatives, against the national trend, and became marginal. Roderick could not withstand the swing to Thatcher's party in 1979, and he lost his seat. The new Tory MP was Tom Hooson, cousin of the Liberal MP Emlyn Hooson who had lost the neighbouring seat of Montgomeryshire at the same election.

Hooson's position was boosted by boundary changes that came in for the 1983 election. Not all of Breconshire had ended up in Powys at the 1974 reorganisation: two villages at the heads of the Valleys had transferred to Mid Glamorgan, and two areas became part of Gwent. One of those areas was Brynmawr, a largish mining town and significant source of Labour votes, which consequently transferred into a Gwent constituency (specifically, Michael Foot's seat of Blaenau Gwent). The effect was to reduce the electorate of Brecon and Radnorshire by around 10,000, with a big fall in the Labour vote.

That was reflected in the 1983 general election, the first contest on the current boundaries, at which the Labour vote fell by 16 points and Hooson made his seat safe. The Labour candidate David Morris (who would later serve as an MEP for Wales from 1984 to 1999) was nearly overtaken for second place by a young Liberal called Richard Livsey.

Tom Hooson died suddenly in May 1985, having suffered a heart attack, at the early age of 52. This prompted the second Brecon and Radnor by-election, held on 4th July 1985. As in the 1939 by-election the Conservative candidate was a poor fit for the constituency: Chris Butler was a former Downing Street staffer who at this point was a special adviser to the Welsh secretary Nicholas Edwards. He would later serve one term as MP for Warrington South from 1897 to 1992. Labour selected Richard Willey, a Radnor councillor whose father was the long-serving former Sunderland MP Fred Willey. The Lib Dem candidate was again Richard Livsey, a smallholder and former lecturer at the Welsh Agricultural College; Livsey was fighting his fourth parliamentary election, having contested Perth and East Perthshire in 1970 and Pembroke in 1979.

The result of the by-election was a victory for Livsey, who polled 36% of the vote against 34% for Labour and just 28% for the Conservatives. Livsey's majority was 559 votes, and this was the start of a series of very close election results in Brecon and Radnor. He held his seat in the 1987 general election with a majority of just 56 votes over the new Tory candidate, Jonathan Evans; it was the closet result of that election.

Jonathan Evans was reselected for the 1992 general election, and defeated Richard Livsey by 130 votes on an extremely high turnout (85.9%) in one of only three Conservative gains at that election. A solicitor by trade, Evans only served five years as MP for Brecon and Radnor but had a long political career nonetheless: he fought Michael Foot in Ebbw Vale in both 1974 elections and stood in Wolverhampton North East in 1979. After losing Brecon and Radnor he was an MEP for Wales from 1999 to 2009, then returned to the Commons as MP for Cardiff North during the Coalition years.

A majority of 130 votes was never going to withstand the landslide of 1997, and Richard Livsey returned as Lib Dem MP for Brecon and Radnor with a large majority. He retired to the Lords in 2001 and passed the seat on to new Lib Dem candidate Roger Williams. A livestock farmer and former chairman of the local NFU branch, Williams was a long-serving Powys councillor who had fought Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire in the first Welsh Assembly election in 1999, finishing fifth. Williams was run close in 2001 by new Conservative candidate Felix Aubel, but prevailed with a majority of 751. In 2005 he made the seat safe (the Tory candidate that year was Andrew R T Davies, who would later serve as leader of the Welsh Conservatives) and there was almost no swing in 2010.

That changed in 2015, when Roger Williams suffered an eighteen-point drop in his vote and lost his seat to Christopher Davies of the Conservatives. A rural auctioneer and former estate agent who ran a veterinary practice in Hay-on-Wye, Davies had fought the seat in the 2011 Welsh Assembly election before being elected to Powys county council in 2012. He resigned from Powys council after his election to Parliament, and the resulting by-election in Glasbury division (which includes Clyro) was gained for the Lib Dems by James Gibson-Watt (yes, of the Radnorshire Gibson-Watts). Davies increased his majority in 2017 with Gibson-Watt as his Lib Dem opponent, polling 49% to 29% for Gibson-Watt and 18% for Labour candidate Dan Lodge. Turnout, as usual for this constituency, was high: almost 77% of electors cast a vote. Just before the dissolution Davies had sent a survey to his electors in House of Commons envelopes, which was seen as political campaigning in breach of Commons rules; he was forced to apologise and pay for the cost of the envelopes. Christopher Davies was a member of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, although he had come around to supporting the Withdrawal Agreement by the end of the Brexit debates earlier this year; perhaps wise given the effect that no-deal EU tariffs would have on the sheep farming which underpins his constituency's economy.

The large swing from Lib Dem to Conservative has not, to date, been seen when Brecon and Radnorshire goes to the polls for the Welsh Assembly. Since the establishment of the Assembly in 1999 the seat has been represented in Cardiff Bay by just one person: Kirsty Williams of the Liberal Democrats, whose majority has only fallen below ten points once (in 2011). The most recent Senedd election was in May 2016, when Williams defeated Conservative candidate Gary Price 53-25; that left her as the only Liberal Democrat member of the Assembly. With Labour holding 29 out of 60 seats and short of a majority, Williams joined the Welsh Government after the 2016 election as minister for education and skills in a coalition executive.

This constituency covers slightly more than half of Powys county council, which had a majority of independent councillors until the most recent Welsh local government election in 2017. Within this constituency in May 2017 independents won 15 seats, the Lib Dems won 10 (including former MP Roger Williams, who gained Felin-fâch from the independents), Labour won 7 (including all four seats in Ystradgynlais and two of the three Brecon seats), the Conservatives won 5 and the Green Party 1 (Llangors, on an almost perfect three-way split: 173 votes for the Greens, 157 for the Conservatives, 155 for the outgoing independent councillor). Llagors may be a very unlikely-looking Green area, but it's the first Welsh division ever to elect a Green Party councillor. No candidates applied for Yscir division; in consequence nominations there had to be reopened, and the Conservatives won the re-run. The contestation pattern and the large number of unopposed seats (five of the 7 Labour divisions were won without a contest) mean that vote shares are pretty meaningless.

Which brings us up to date in a by-election that could have some impact on the Parliamentary arithmetic, which I shall put down in detail here because it's a bit difficult to keep track of what's going on. There are 650 MPs, of whom the 7 Sinn Féiners don't turn up, while the Speaker and his three deputies don't vote in any division. That gives 639 participating members meaning that 320 votes are an effective majority. The Conservatives are on 310 (excluding the Speaker and the Tory deputy speaker) and they have confidence and supply from the 10 DUP members which gives the 320 votes necessary. The opposition are 245 Labour MPs (excluding two deputy speakers), 35 from the Scottish National Party, 12 Liberal Democrats, 5 Change UK MPs, 5 "The Independents", 4 Plaid Cymru, 1 Green and 11 independents (6 elected as Labour, 3 elected as Conservatives, 1 elected as Lib Dem, and Lady Hermon) which is a total of 318 and gives the government a majority of two seats. Were the Conservatives to lose this by-election, that majority would go down to one.

If you want to vote for a politician with convictions, here's your chance. Convicted expense fraudster Christopher Davies is standing for re-election as the Conservative candidate. It should be noted that that the previous two Brecon and Radnor by-elections, in 1939 and 1985, both saw the Conservatives lose a seat they previously held partly as a result of poor candidate selections. Davies will be hoping to buck that trend.

The Liberal Democrats have been installed as runaway bookies' favourites for this by-election, although the bookies have been known to be wrong before (see Peterborough, last month). The Lib Dem candidate is their Welsh party leader Jane Dodds, a trained social worker and former Richmond upon Thames councillor who fought Montgomeryshire (where she lives) in the 2015 general election, 2016 Senedd election and 2017 general election. Plaid Cymru and the Green Party have stood down in her favour.

The Labour candidate is Tomos Davies, a Brecon town councillor, qualified barrister and litigation officer.

Three candidates complete a gender-balanced ballot paper of three men and three women (there has never previously been a female MP for Brecon and Radnorshire). Liz Phillips is standing for UKIP; although she now lives in Kent she has fought this seat several times before on the UKIP ticket, and before then in 1997 she stood here for the Referendum Party. The Brexit Party have nominated Des Parkinson, a retired police officer who was the UKIP candidate for Montgomeryshire in 2015 ad 2016 and for Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016. Last alphabetically is local resident and saviour of the human race Lady Lily the Pink, standing for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.

Constituency opinion polling isn't tried much in the UK these days; it's difficult to get a sample with such a small electorate, and when it was tried on a large scale in advance of the 2015 election it fell victim to the same polling failures that beset that election. One amusing factoid from the 1985 by-election here is that a lot of commentators at the time expected a Labour victory because most of their vox pops had been done in Ystradgynlais. Nonetheless Number Cruncher Politics, the political blog run by Matt Singh, has done an online poll of 509 electors in Brecon and Radnorshire (link) which had Dodds with a big lead: she was put on 43%, with Davies on 28% and Parkinson on 20%. Fieldwork was from 10th to 18th July, which was before the election of Johnson and Swinson as leaders of their respective parties. Singh deserves a lot of thanks (at the very least) for paying for this poll and contributing to the debate, and it's disappointing that a lot of media outlets (including the by-election article in Tuesday's edition of The Times, I notice) have reported the poll without seeing fit to even credit its source.

Things might have changed since the poll was taken, you never know. This may not be the biggest by-election of the year so far in electorate, but it's certainly the most anticipated. The returning officer is going for an overnight count, although given the size of the constituency don't expect a quick result. We'll know by breakfast time whether the Conservatives have pulled off their first by-election win (parliamentary or otherwise) of the Johnson premiership, whether the Liberal Democrats have achieved a baker's dozen of MPs, or whether something even more dramatic has happened. Whoever wins in the third Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, there will be lots to pore over in the result.

Oh, and just one more thing: have I mentioned that the Welsh Marches are beautiful?

All pictures used in this preview are from Wikipedia or Geograph and published under a Creative Commons licence. I shall supply my invoice in due course...

If you enjoyed this preview, there are many more like it in the paperback collection Andrew's Previews 2018, which is now available to order from Amazon (link). By buying the book you will support future previews like this.

Powys electoral divisions: Aber-craf, Beguildy, Bronllys, Builth, Bwlch, Crickhowell, Cwm-twrch, Disserth and Trecoed, Felin-fâch, Glasbury, Gwernyfed, Hay, Knighton, Llanafanfawr, Llandrindod East/Llandrindod West, Llandrindod North, Llandrindod South, Llanelwedd, Llangattock, Llangors, Llangynidr, Llanwrtyd Wells, Llanyre, Maescar/Llywel, Nantmel, Old Radnor, Presteigne, Rhayader, St David Within, St John, St Mary, Talgarth, Talybont-on-Usk, Tawe-Uchaf, Ynyscedwyn, Yscir, Ystradgynlais
ONS Travel to Work Areas: Brecon, Llandrindod Wells and Builth Wells, Swansea
Postcode districts: CF44, CF48, HR3, HR5, LD1, LD2, LD3, LD4, LD5, LD6, LD7, LD8, NP7, NP8, SA9, SA10, SA11, SY18, SY23

Christopher Davies (C)
Tomos Davies (Lab)
Jane Dodds (LD)
Des Parkinson (Brexit Party)
Liz Phillips (UKIP)
Lady Lily the Pink (Loony)

June 2017 result C 20081 LD 12043 Lab 7335 PC 1290 UKIP 576
May 2016 Welsh Assembly election LD 15998 C 7728 Lab 2703 UKIP 2161 PC 1180 Grn 697
May 2015 result C 16453 LD 11351 Lab 5904 UKIP 3338 PC 1767 Grn 1261
May 2011 Welsh Assembly election LD 12201 C 9444 Lab 4797 PC 1906
May 2010 result LD 17529 C 14182 Lab 4096 PC 989 UKIP 876 Grn 341 Chr 222 Loony 210
May 2007 Welsh Assembly election LD 15006 C 9652 Lab 2524 PC 1576
May 2005 result LD 17182 C 13277 Lab 5755 PC 1404 UKIP 723
May 2003 Welsh Assembly election LD 13325 C 8017 Lab 3130 PC 1329 UKIP 1042
June 2001 result LD 13824 C 13073 Lab 8024 PC 1301 Ind 762 UKIP 452 Ind 80
May 1999 Welsh Assembly election LD 13022 C 7170 Lab 5165 PC 2356 Ind 1502
May 1997 result LD 17516 C 12419 Lab 11424 Referendum Party 900 PC 622
May 1992 result C 15977 LD 15847 Lab 11634 PC 418 Grn 393
May 1987 result Lib 14509 C 14453 Lab 1210 PC 535
July 1985 by-election Lib 13753 Lab 13194 C 10631 PC 435 Loony 202 One Nation C 154 Ind 43
May 1983 result C 18255 Lab 9471 Lib 9226 PC 840 Ind 278


Hazel Grove

Stockport council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Jon Twigge who had served since 2016. He is standing down to concentrate on running his business.

Our two local by-elections today are both defences for the Liberal Democrats. We start on the southern edge of Greater Manchester with a posh Stockport suburb. Hazel Grove is a rather diffuse area where the built-up area ends on the main roads from Manchester towards Buxton and Macclesfield, which meet at a triangular junction in the village centre. This was a busy junction in your columnist's experience, but may be a little less so now with the recent completion of the Manchester Airport Eastern Link Road, which runs along the southern boundary of Hazel Grove ward to terminate on a realigned Buxton Road.

This area was originally covered by the townships of Norbury and Torkington but by the eighteenth century had acquired the name "Bullocks Smithy" after a local inn. When a church was built in the 1830s to serve the area (which had previously been a nonconformist stronghold) the village elders had got tired of the jokes surrounding that name, and chose the new name "Hazel Grove" in an attempt to stop the rot. The name stuck.

The name stuck so well that Hazel Grove has given its name to a parliamentary seat since 1974. This has elected Liberals or Liberal Democrats on several occasions; the present seat, which also includes affluent towns like Marple to the east of Stockport, was Lib Dem in the Blair, Brown and Coalition years but was gained for the Conservatives in 2015 by William Wragg. Wragg is only 31 but is already in his second term as an MP, which shows just how fast-paced politics is these days. His first electoral contest came in 2010 in Hazel Grove ward, which was then safely Liberal Democrat, and Wragg built on that experience to gain the ward the following year.

The Tories gained a second seat in the 2014 election, but since the end of Coalition they have been on the defensive in Stockport. The Liberal Democrats recovered the Conservative seats in Hazel Grove in 2018 and May this year to restore their full slate; May's result was pretty decisive with 48% for the Lib Dems, 29% for the Conservatives (their worst performance since the current boundaries were introduced in 2004) and 11% for Labour.

Stockport council has been hung for many years and is presently on a bit of a knife-edge. Following May's elections Labour, who have run a minority administration for some years, and the Liberal Democrats were tied on 26 seats each, with the Conservatives (who are down to eight councillors after losing five seats in May) and the three Heald Green Ratepayers holding the balance of power. The Labour minority will continue until at least the next polls in May 2020, and the Lib Dems will want to hold this seat to give themselves the best chance of taking over the council following next year's elections.

https://youtu.be/lqRQsGStOQQ

Defending for the Lib Dems is Charles Gibson, a PR manager and brass bandsman with the Marple Band - which gives me an excuse to throw in the video above. The Tory candidate is Oliver Johnstone - "banker by trade, historian by vocation" according to his Twitter - who is not yet 30 but is already a former councillor for this ward, having served from 2014 to 2018. Labour have reselected their regular candidate Julie Wharton who is fighting Hazel Grove for the fifth time. Completing the ballot paper is Michael Padfield for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Hazel Grove
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode district: SK7

Charles Gibson (LD)
Oliver Johnstone (C)
Michael Padfield (Grn)
Julie Wharton (Lab)

May 2019 result LD 1993 C 1225 Lab 457 UKIP 321 Grn 183
May 2018 result LD 1965 C 1810 Lab 553 Grn 132
May 2016 result LD 1777 C 1494 Lab 634 UKIP 534 Grn 120
May 2015 result C 2944 LD 2145 Lab 1208 UKIP 1027 Grn 294
May 2014 result C 1700 LD 1414 UKIP 692 Lab 488 Grn 208
May 2012 result LD 1736 C 1668 Lab 724
May 2011 result C 1918 LD 1789 Lab 892 UKIP 331
May 2010 result LD 3777 C 2697 Lab 884
May 2008 result LD 2345 C 1668 Lab 262
May 2007 result LD 2265 C 1647 Lab 298
May 2006 result LD 2281 C 1509 Lab 296 Ind 142
June 2004 result LD 2844/2835/2782 C 1919/1904/1709 Lab 592/439/395


Godmanchester and Hemingford Abbots

Huntingdonshire council, Cambridgeshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor David Underwood. A former mayor of Godmanchester, Underwood was first elected in 2016 for Godmanchester ward and transferred to this ward in 2018. He was one of the country's few blind people to hold elected office.

From Greater Manchester we move to Godmanchester (stressed on the first syllable only, or pronounced Gumter if you're old-fashioned or the Leader of the House of Commons). This name has nothing to do with Manchester: it refers to a Roman fort ("chester") associated with an Anglo-Saxon called Godmund. The Roman fort was in a good location, defending the crossing point of Ermine Street, the Via Devana and the River Great Ouse, and a town grew up close to the southern end of the Old Bridge which connects Godmanchester to Huntingdon over the river. Until the twelfth century, this was the lowest bridge on the Great Ouse; and until 1975, when a new bridge was built as part of the Huntingdon bypass (now part of the A14), it was a major traffic bottleneck. The Huntingdon bypass is now itself a major traffic bottleneck being bypassed, with a motorway under construction to the south of Godmanchester to improve transport links between Cambridge and the west.

After losing its county status, Huntingdonshire has been a district within Cambridgeshire since 1974. It has a secure Conservative majority and a Tory MP (Jonathan Djonogly) to go with it. Godmanchester, on the other hand, is a quite recent Lib Dem hotspot. The old Godmanchester ward was Conservative from 2004 to 2012, but the Lib Dems broke through in 2014 after many years of trying and quickly built a large lead: Underwood was elected in 2016, the last election at which Godmanchester was a ward of its own, by the margin of 61-24.

The present ward has existed only since 2018, when the Tory-voting villages of Hemingford Abbots, Offord Cluny and Offord d'Arcy were added along with a third councillor. If this was an effort to improve the Tory position, it didn't have the desired effect: the Lib Dem slate won with 52% of the vote against 34% for the Conservatives. Huntingdonshire moved away from election by thirds in 2018, so the next elections in the district will not be until 2022. The three parishes in the ward are all in different Cambridgeshire county council divisions: Godmanchester is the major part of the Godmanchester and Huntingdon South division, which is safely Liberal Democrat, while the Offords are part of the Lib Dem-held marginal of Brampton and Buckden, and Hemingford Abbots is the safe Tory division of The Hemingfords and Fenstanton.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Sarah Wilson, a Godmanchester town councillor and wife of the town's county councillor Graham Wilson. The Conservatives have selected Paula Sparling, who was born and brought up in Rhodesia according to her Twitter and runs a business admin company. Completing the ballot paper is independent candidate and former Huntingdon town councillor Nigel Pauley, who fought the old Godmanchester ward in 2012 and finished in a close third place; in 2018 he stood as a Labour candidate for a ward in St Neots.

Parliamentary constituency: Huntingdon
Cambridgeshire county council division: Godmanchester and Huntingdon South (Godmanchester parish), The Hemingfords and Fenstanton (Hemingford Abbots parish), Brampton and Buckden (Offord Cluny and Offord d'Arcy parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Huntingdon
Postcode districts: PE19, PE28, PE29

Nigel Pauley (Ind)
Paula Sparling (C)
Sarah Wilson (LD)

May 2018 result LD 1396/1150/1030 C 911/654/627 Lab 383


Preview: 30 Jul 2019

One by-election on Tuesday 30th July 2019:

Coleman Street

City of London Corporation; caused by the resignation of Common Councilman Stuart Fraser.

We've had a series of non-Thursday by-elections in the last few weeks and this is the last of them. Andrew's Previews returns to that Quaint British Tradition which is the City of London Corporation, which was established in the Middle Ages and whose structure is little changed since.

Coleman Street ward can be found in the north of the City. The name goes back to those mediaeval times, when charcoal burning was the main local occupation. Charcoal burning has, however, been replaced by all the usual City business - Legal and General have a large office here, and I have to be nice to them because they have my pension fund - and it's voters nominated by the ward's businesses and sole traders who will decide the result of this election. The main thoroughfare is no longer Coleman Street but Moorgate, and the ward includes the largest public park in the City: the elliptical roundabout of Finsbury Circus, occupied by gardens, a bowling green and a large construction shaft for Crossrail, whose Liverpool Street station platforms will lie beneath. Until the Elizabeth Line opens, Moorgate underground station is the main transport hub for the ward, with its four Underground lines and rail connection to North London and Hertfordshire providing excellent transport links to all corners of the conurbation.

Coleman Street ward's elections don't normally see much excitement. The ward was uncontested in the 2013 City elections, and in 2017 its four independent councilmen (Michael Cassidy, Sophie Fernandes, Fraser and Andrew McMurtrie) were all re-elected easily against opposition from Labour's Paul O'Brien (whom we saw in the Farringdon Within by-election last week).

So this by-election is unusually interesting by Coleman Street standards. There are three independent candidates whose names will all be familiar to longtime readers of Andrew's Previews. Timothy Becker is a solicitor from Wimbledon who regularly struggles to break the 10-vote barrier at City by-elections. Alpa Raja is an insolvency practitioner from Pinner, Middlesex. Dawn Wright has retired from frontline business and is campaigning on the issue of improving science education, something which her role at the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists might help with. Completing the ballot paper is Labour's Bren Albiston; he is the vice-chair of Junior Labour Lawyers and, according to his Twitter, an "occasional author of boring articles". Bless.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: EC1Y, EC2M, EC2R, EC2V, EC2Y

Bren Albiston (Lab)
Timothy Becker (Ind)
Alpa Raja (Ind)
Dawn Wright (Ind)


Previews: 25 Jul 2019

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

There are three hugely significant local by-elections on 25th July 2019:


Barnwood

and

Podsmead

Gloucester council; caused respectively by the death of Conservative councillor Lise Noakes and the resignation of Labour councillor Deborah Smith. Noakes had served since 2004,

It's last weekend as I write this, and it's shaping up to be the week that everything changed. We have a new leader of the Liberal Democrats, announced on Monday. We have a new leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party, announced on Tuesday. We should (assuming all has gone to plan) have a new Prime Minister.

The new party leaders will find themselves thrust straight into the most volatile political situation we have seen for decades. This is looking like an era of party realignment, with the two parties which have dominated Britain's governments since the 1920s suddenly becoming extremely weak both at the same time in the wake of a referendum which has divided the country.

Mind, that's not the first time such a thing has happened in this decade. Look back to Scotland in late 2014 and early 2015, when the traditional UK parties were diminished by their opposition to independence in a referendum. Despite being on the losing side in that argument, the Scottish National Party saw a huge upsurge in support and the Scottish Labour Party suffered a collapse which they have yet to recover from. It was the opinion polls that picked the realignment up first, but it was the local by-elections held in late 2014 and early 2015 that confirmed it was real.

Going into this week, all the opinion pollsters in England and Wales were painting a picture of a close four-way contest at UK level between a weak Conservative Party, a weak Labour Party, a resurgent Liberal Democrats and those new kids on the block the Brexit Party. The concept of two-party swing is obsolete or at best meaningless in this political context, and anybody who tries to translate current national polling figures into House of Commons seats is begging to have their work shot down. Faced with such voting figures, England's first-past-the-post electoral system would output seats ar rate somewhere on the scale between non-monotonic and random. Also, recent nationwide election campaigns have often seen big changes in opinion as polling day approaches; there's no reason to believe that the next general election will be different in that respect. If our new political leaders can escape the past, they will have the chance to shape the future.

Most of this national picture is being reflected in and confirmed by the local by-elections. Last week's set, in areas generally more Lib Dem-friendly than average, saw the Conservative vote fall by over 10 percentage points in every local by-election they contested. The loss of Brixworth, in Northamptonshire, was particularly embarrassing, and that embarrassment was entirely predictable. Longtime readers of Andrew's Previews could have spotted that all the ingredients for a safe seat loss were there: a bad reason for the by-election (previous Tory councillor not turning up to meetings), a bad choice of candidate (teenager from a town miles away from the ward), bad local issues (the insolvency of Northamptonshire county council), bad national issues disproportionately affecting the area (the economy is underpinned by a motor-racing engine factory), bad national polling in the background. And it added up to a bad result: not just for the Tories who lost, but also for Labour whose regular candidate didn't make any headway. The failure of the Conservatives to recover East Sheen in Richmond (Surrey), a ward which has now swung from Tory to Lib Dem by around 30% in five years, gives another side of the story: the Remain side of the Conservative base would appear to have upped sticks and gone. Trying to get that support back will be a challenge for the new party régime.

So, the Tory weakness is real and the Lib Dem strength is (generally) real. There wasn't much opportunity for the Labour Party to make an impact in last week's set, but by-election results in their strong wards over the last month or so have also had some embarrassing losses and poor vote shares. We can take Labour weakness as (generally) real also.

But there's one important piece of the argument which, thus far, has been missing in action. Is the Brexit Party surge, which we saw in the European Parliament elections two months ago, going to make itself felt at other levels of government? Well, we are now about to find out. Today's Barnwood and Podsmead by-elections in Gloucester see the first ever local government candidates for the Brexit Party.

Helpfully Barnwood and Podsmead are marginal wards with different political traditions. I'll start alphabetically with Barnwood ward, which is to the east of the city along the Roman Road towards Cirencester (here called the Barnwood Road). Most of the ward's population lives to the south of the Barnwood Road, while to the north of that road is a large business park. Electricity has been a major employer here for many years: the Barnwood Business Park was built in the 1970s around a large office development for the Central Electricity Generating Board, which subsequently became the headquarters of Nuclear Electric after privatisation and is now part of the EDF Energy empire. Barclays, and Cheltenham and Gloucester also have large offices in Barnwood providing financial services jobs.

Gloucester city council got new ward boundaries in 2016 at the same time as it moved off the thirds election cycle, so the last ordinary election results from the city are before the EU referendum. Going into these by-elections the Conservatives have a small but secure majority with 21 out of 39 seats plus the Barnwood vacancy; Labour have 9 seats plus the Podsmead vacancy, and the Lib Dems are on 7.

Throughout this century Barnwood ward has been closely fought between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems won all three seats at the 2002 election, with the Conservatives' Elizabeth Noakes gaining a seat in 2004 and the party getting a second seat in 2011. The 2016 boundary changes saw the south-western third of the ward hived off to become a new Coney Hill ward, which voted Labour with the Lib Dems close behind; but the boundary changes don't appear to have had much partisan effect on the rump Barnwood ward. In May 2016 the Conservatives polled 40% and won one seat, the Lib Dems polled 31% and won the other seat, and UKIP came in third with 12%. (I'm still trying to find out whether the Kippers were wrapped in plastic on that occasion.)

Podsmead ward, by contrast, was little changed by the Boundary Commission in 2016. This is a single-member council estate ward in the south of Gloucester, a triangular shape between the Bristol Road and the A38 bypass. The major local feature is the Crypt School, a grammar school which was founded in 1539 by Joan Cooke from money left by her late husband, four-time Mayor of Gloucester John Cooke. The list of Old Cryptians includes the political journalist Robin Day, although his brief time at the school was before it moved to Podsmead in 1943.

Throughout this century Podsmead ward has been closely fought between the Conservatives and Labour. Labour won the 2002 election very easily, but the Conservatives gained the ward in 2010 by 26 votes and increased their majority in 2014. On slightly revised boundaries in 2016, Labour regained Podsmead from the Conservatives in a straight fight by the margin of 52-48, a majority of 28 votes.

Since 2016 we have had the Gloucestershire county council elections, although comparison is difficult as the ward and county division boundaries don't match up well. Barnwood ward is mostly within the Barnwood and Hucclecote division; this voted Lib Dem in the 2017 county elections but also includes Hucclecote ward, where the Lib Dems are stronger than they are in Barnwood. Podsmead ward is split down the middle between two county divisions (Hempsted and Westgate, and Tuffley) which both voted Conservative in 2017.

So, with these being possibly the most significant local by-elections in years let's turn to the candidate lists. In Barnwood in 2016 the Tories and Lib Dems both had all-female slates; that is now reversed with an all-male ballot paper for this by-election. Defending for the Conservatives is Fred Ramsey, a retired RAF wing commander and Rotarian. The Lib Dem candidate, who had leadership contender Sir Ed Davey turn up last week to help out with his campaign, is Ashley Bowkett who has travelled the world working in the television industry and won awards for making documentaries. UKIP have selected Matthew Young, who in a case of nominative determinism is not yet 25 but two years ago became chairman of the party's Tewkesbury branch. Also standing are Chris Clee for Labour, Jonathan Ingleby for the Green Party, and Peter Sheehy - landlord of the Turk's Head in the city centre - for the Brexit Party.

Podsmead ward is another six-strong ballot paper. This will be a Labour defence and their defending candidate is community volunteer Lisa Jevins. The Tories have made an interesting choice of candidate in Byron Davis; not to be confused with the former Tory MP for Gower with a similar name, Davis is the teenage son of former Barnwood ward councillor David Mockridge, who died in 2000; he had campaigned for Labour in the last general election in Gloucester, but then because disillusioned with Corbynism and joined the Conservatives. It takes all sorts to make a world. Joining the fray are Michael Byfield for the Greens, Simon Collins for UKIP, former Gloucester councillor Sebastian Field for the Lib Dems, and former UKIP candidate Rob McCormick for the Brexit Party.

Barnwood

Parliamentary constituency: Gloucester
Cloucestershire county council result: Barnwood and Hucclecote (most), Coney Hill and Matson (small part), Abbey (small part)
Postcode districts: GL3, GL4

Ashley Bowkett (LD)
Chris Clee (Lab)
Jonathan Ingleby (Grn)
Fred Ramsey (C)
Peter Sheehy (Brexit Party)
Matthew Young (UKIP)

May 2016 result C 875/681 LD 685/594 UKIP 254 Lab 247/223 Grn 117

Podsmead

Parliamentary constituency: Gloucester
Cloucestershire county council result: Hempsted and Westgate (part), Tuffley (part)
Postcode districts: GL1, GL2

Michael Byfield (Grn)
Simon Collins (UKIP)
Byron Davis (C)
Sebastian Field (LD)
Lisa Jevins (Lab)
Rob McCormick (Brexit Party)

May 2016 result Lab 372 C 344


Hart

Hartlepool council, County Durham; caused by the resignation of Jean Robinson on health grounds. A councillor since 2011, she was elected for Labour but was sitting as an independent candidate.

And now for something completely different. Our other by-election this week is in Hartlepool, that strange and much-misunderstood town on the Durham coast. On the main road into town from Durham you bypass Hart Village, a rather nice place with an old history: its church is Anglo-Saxon, and its lords of the manor back in the day - the Norman de Brus family - were very influential. Robert de Brus VII has gone down in history as one of most famous kings of Scotland.

Beyond Hart village is Hartlepool's northern end, a fast-growing area with lots of new housing and (by Hartlepudlian standards) very high employment. In the 2011 census Hart ward was in the top 70 in England and Wales for Apprenticeship qualifications; however, the boundaries were redrawn in 2012 to bring in Hart village. There are more boundary changes planned for 2020, with an all-out election scheduled next year on the new lines.

Which will no doubt shake things up further in what is already an astonishingly volatile place even for the volatile political times in which we live. This column has long maintained that Hartlepool's politics was starting to get bizarre even before the Monkey Mayor came on the scene, and the abolition of his post by referendum has not changed the confusing nature of the council. There was a by-election in Hart ward last year, and readers of the paperback collection Andrew's Previews 2018 - out now for your reading pleasure, get it here from Amazon and support future Previews - will recall a confusing history. In 2012 Hart ward elected two Labour councillors and one independent. The independent lost his seat in 2014 to Putting Hartlepool First, a localist party which has since disbanded. The Putting Hartlepool First councillor retired in 2018 and his seat went to another independent.

And then things got even more complicated in the Pool. As described in this New Statesman article from April (link), there was an almighty row within the Hartlepool Labour party over candidate selection for the 2019 election, with a grassroots revolt (although not a Corbynite one) leading to several councillors being deselected. Councillor Paul Beck of Hart ward, who would have been up for re-election in May, decided to resign last year partly because of this, and Labour lost the resulting by-election to independent candidate James Brewer by the margin of 44-40. The row within Hartlepool Labour then came to a head. A large number of councillors defected, with Labour's remaining Hart ward councillor Jean Robinson going independent and five other Labour councillors joining Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party in the run-up to the 2019 elections, and the Labour majority on Hartlepool council was gone. One of the Labour councillors who joined the Socialist Labour Party was Christopher Akers-Belcher, the leader of the council. My grandad used to be a Hartlepool Labour supporter; goodness knows what he'd make of this if he were still alive.

The electorate does not look kindly on basket cases like Hartlepool Labour, and delivered a withering assessment in the May 2019 local elections. In 2015 Labour had won 9 seats out of a possible 11; in May that reduced to just 3, with gains for UKIP and the first ever council seats for the Veterans and Peoples Party and that far-right group led by Anne-Marie Waters, the For Britain Movement. Having won the October by-election, James Brewer was re-elected for a full term as councillor for Hart ward in a landslide, defeating Labour 67-33 in a straight fight; he stood in May under the banner of the Independent Union, a new group of independent, localist and ex-UKIP councillors which is now the major party in the coalition running Hartlepool council. That coalition must be one of the most bizarre administrations ever assembled, with eight Independent Union councillors (including Tom Cassidy, elected as an independent for Hart ward in May 2018), four from the Socialist Labour Party, three Conservatives, three Seaton Carew localists and two independents making a total of 20 seats out of a possible 33. Hands up who ever expected to see the Conservatives and Scargillites working together. In opposition are the rump of Labour (9 councillors) and the single councillors representing the For Britain Movement, UKIP and the Veterans and Peoples Party.

Goodness knows what's going to happen here this time. Labour will want their seat back, and have selected Ann Johnson in an attempt to get their act together after May's shellacking; she is now a support worker for children with educational needs after finishing a long career in the Navy, and fought Burn Valley ward in May - resoundingly losing to outgoing Labour councillor Ged Hall who was re-elected as an independent. The Independent Union will be hoping to get a full slate of Hart ward councillors, and they have selected Ian Griffiths who runs a print and design company; in May Griffiths stood in the Old Hartlepool-based Headland and Harbour ward for the Democrats and Veterans Party (the "gay donkey" UKIP splinter group), finishing third out of four candidates. Also standing are Graham Craddy for the For Britain Movement, Graham Harrison for UKIP and Michael Ritchie for the Green Party.

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

Graham Craddy (For Britain Movement)
Ian Griffiths (Ind Union)
Graham Harrison (UKIP)
Ann Johnson (Lab)
Michael Ritchie (Grn)

May 2019 result Ind Union 1325 Lab 647
October 2018 by-election Ind 637 Lab 582 C 200 Grn 27
May 2018 result Ind 778 Lab 685 C 304
May 2016 result Lab 568 UKIP 529 Ind 394 C 383 Grn 70
May 2015 result Lab 1186 UKIP 981 C 798 Putting Hartlepool First 787 Ind 547
May 2014 result Putting Hartlepool First 534 UKIP 446 Ind 435 Lab 376 C 234
May 2012 result Lab 713/571/522 Ind 532/368/333/257 C 417 Putting Hartlepool First 266 UKIP 262

Andrew Teale


Preview: 24 Jul 2019

Just one council by-election for the 24th of July...

Farringdon Within

City of London Corporation; caused by the resignation of independent
Common Councilman Thomas Anderson.

"When will you pay me?"
Say the bells of Old Bailey

For a Wednesday by-election today we are in the City of London with an election to that unique democratic body, the Court of Common Council. This was very much the template for what local government developed into in the nineteenth century, with its multi-member electoral wards and aldermanic structure being copied all over the country; but all subsequent local government reforms have left the City of London Corporation intact and the result is now an anachronism.

The shape of Farringdon Within ward attests to that, as it's in two distinct parts. The southern part of the ward starts just north of Blackfriars station and runs past Ludgate Hill to the Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey) and City Thameslink railway station. There is then a narrow neck along King Edward Street and Little Britain to a northern area of the ward, which includes the church of St Bartholomew the Great and the Barbican Underground station. A large building site on the northern edge of the ward is an eastern entrance to the future Farringdon Crossrail station.

The name of the ward recalls Nicholas de Farndone, a goldsmith who served four times as Lord Mayor of London during the early 14th century. Nicholas was Alderman for the ward from 1293 (when he took the seat over from his father-in-law Willian de Farndone) until his death in 1334, and is remembered for banning football (in its mediaeval form) from the City due to the noise and disturbance the game caused. The "Within" of the name came from the fact that the ward was originally inside the Roman Wall in its entirety, although boundary changes in the 21st century mean that this is no longer the case.

This ward includes the oldest residential building in the City of London, at 41-42 Cloth Fair, which dates from not later than 1614. The street name recalls the great Bartholomew Fair, an annual mediaeval event held within the grounds of St Bartholomew's priory. The church itself was originally 300 feet long and larger than many cathedrals; its many spin offs included a hospital which became Barts and is still going strong today. St Bartholomew the Great escaped both the Great Fire of 1666 and the enemy bombing of the Second World War to become one of the oldest and largest churches in the City; W G Grace was a regular in the congregation, Deborah Mitford married the 11th Duke of Devonshire here, and John Betjeman lived opposite the church at 45 Cloth Fair. Its interior has featured in many films, from Four Weddings and a Funeral through The Other Boleyn Girl to such modern fare as Avengers: Age of Ultron. All human life is here, and by City standards rather a lot of human life: the 2011 census recorded a residential population of 276.

Farringdon Within is one of the City's largest wards, electing eight of the 100 Common Councilmen. In the most recent City elections in March 2017 the ward attracted 15 candidates, with Anderson being elected at the top of the poll with 247 votes and Graeme Smith taking the eighth and last seat with 159 votes. All the candidates last time out were independents.

There's another long ballot paper for this by-election with six candidates for the electors to choose from. Two unsuccessful candidates from the last election return: Virginia Rounding, who had topped the poll here in 2013, finished as runner-up in 2017 with 148 votes, and John Edwards was one place behind on 143 votes. Rounding is an author who has written such non-fiction fare as Grandes Horizontales, a study of courtesans in nineteenth-century Paris; a biography of Catherine the Great; and a recent work The Burning Time on the religious martyrs who were burned at the stake in Smithfield, just outside the ward, during the first Elizabethan Age. Probably more relevant here is that Rounding is the clerk to the Worshipful Company of Builders' Merchants. John Edwards is a local resident, giving an address on Carter Lane at the south end of the ward. At the top of the ballot paper is David Barker, a social entrepreneur who has won an award for his charity work. Ciara Murphy works within the ward as a commercial property manager. Emma Palmer is the remaining independent candidate on the ballot, and party politics has broken out with the nomination of City resident Paul O'Brien, who worked for the NHS for over 25 years, as an official Labour candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
London Assembly constituency: City and East
Postcode districts: EC1A, EC1M, EC4A, EC4M, EC4V

David Barker (Ind)
John Edwards (Ind)
Ciara Murphy (Ind)
Paul O'Brien (Lab)
Emma Palmer (Ind)
Virginia Rounding (Ind)