“All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order”

Seven by-elections on 13th July 2017:

Chorleywood South and Maple Cross

Three Rivers council, Hertfordshire; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Ann Shaw. First elected in 1971 to the former Rickmansworth urban district council, Shaw had sat on Three Rivers council since its foundation in 1974 and became Leader of the Council in 1986, stepping down from that role in 2016 as the longest-serving council leader in the country. She was appointed OBE many years ago for political service.

The Local Government Boundary Commission have a difficult job sometimes, and their review of Three Rivers district in advance of the 2014 election was a particularly difficult one. The district is a funny shape (as the 2015 map below illustrates), basically being all the bits of south-western Hertfordshire that were left over once Watford was taken out; combine this with an unhelpful population distribution and a requirement for three-councillor wards across the district, and the final result contains several wards that look rather strange. In January this column discussed possibly the most extreme example, Gade Valley ward; Chorleywood South and Maple Cross isn’t much better, combining a village with part of a town several miles away without so much as a road connecting them.

Maple Cross is a bit out on a limb within the district. The southernmost village in Hertfordshire, this is one of the few genuinely rural areas remaining within the M25; however, Maple Cross is essentially a council-built village with almost all of its housing stock being post-war. Even now the village lacks a church, although it does have several large corporations based here attracted by its proximity to the motorway and Heathrow Airport; the head office of Cadbury is here, as is the UK headquarters of Skanska. However, the village’s traditional industry is based on its proximity to the River Colne; William Bradbery grew watercress here in the nineteenth century on a commercial basis, while the Maple Lodge sewage treatment works is where all of western Hertfordshire’s effluent ends up.

Chorleywood has an older history, with Paleolithic flints having been found in the area. Once a Quaker town, it grew strongly following the opening of the Metropolitan Railway (now the Metropolitan line of the Underground) which connects the town to London, and Chorleywood was promoted to Urban District status in 1913. The town has had an important impact on baking; the Chorleywood bread process, developed here in the 1960s to make dough from lower-protein wheat, is used to make four-fifths of the UK’s bread.

Betjeman described Chorleywood as essential Metro-land, and it still has demographics to match. The Chorleywood West ward which existed at the time of the 2011 census, most of which ended up in this ward, made the top 70 in England and Wales in the “lower management” economic category and was just outside the top 100 for the “higher management” category; altogether 57% of the ward’s workforce are in some sort of management or professional role, with 51% being educated to degree level. The old Maple Cross and Mill End ward was much closer to the national average, with much lower levels of owner-occupation reflecting the ward’s history.

Both predecessor wards were safely Liberal Democrat before their abolition in 2014, and the present ward has normally continued in the same vein but did vote Conservative in 2015. As can be seen in the map above that was a general crash year for the Lib Dems in Three Rivers as the Tories rode the general election turnout to several unexpected wins and wiped out the Lib Dem majority. The Lib Dems have since got their majority back by gaining Gade Valley ward in a by-election last January, but will need to hold this by-election to preserve their majority. The 2016 result gives cause for optimism in that regard, although Shaw was the defending candidate that year: in her last re-election, she defeated the Conservatives 59-29. In the Hertfordshire county elections in May Maple Cross was included in Rickmansworth West division, where the Tories had a majority of just 66 votes over the Lib Dems, while Chorleywood formed part of Three Rivers Rural division which was also a Tory-Lib Dem marginal. On the other hand, in June the ward probably voted strongly for Tory MP David Gauke, who is now the Work and Pensions Secretary.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Phil Williams, a cafe owner from Chorleywood who may be the son of a former Tory county and district councillor but was the Lib Dem candidate for Three Rivers Rural in May. The Tory candidate is Colin Payne, a farmer from Chorleywood. Also standing are Jack Hazlewood for Labour, Hazel Day for UKIP and Tab McLaughlin for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire county council division: Rickmansworth West (part of Maple Cross and Mill End parish); Three Rivers Rural (part of Chorleywood parish)

May 2016 result LD 1418 C 687 Lab 171 UKIP 125
May 2015 result C 1972 LD 1884 Lab 446
May 2014 result LD 1216/1196/1106 C 830/729/727 UKIP 431 Lab 226/203/139

Didcot South


Didcot West

South Oxfordshire council; caused respectively by the resignations of Labour councillor Margaret Davies and Conservative councillor Margaret Turner. Davies, a long-serving member of Didcot town council, was first elected to South Oxfordshire district council in a 2001 by-election for Didcot South ward; she represented Didcot Park ward from 2003 to 2015 and Didcot South again since 2015, being from 2007-11 and since 2015 the only Labour member of South Oxfordshire council. Turner was first elected in 2007 for Didcot Park ward, transferred to Didcot All Saints ward in 2011 and had represented Didcot West since 2015.

Welcome to Didcot, described in a BBC report earlier this year as “the most normal town in England” and thus posing something of a challenge for your columnist: writing about abormality and extremes is part of what makes Andrew’s Previews worth reading. Didcot was the birthplace of William Bradbery whom we met growing watercress in Maple Cross, but this is a classic railway town built around the junction of Brunel’s Great Western line with what, for historical reasons, is still known as the Chester line although there are no trains from Didcot to Chester any longer: trains going north from here either terminate at Oxford or continue to Worcester or Birmingham. Strong population growth, particularly in the north of the town, means that Didcot is now the largest town within the South Oxfordshire district and the Wantage parliamentary constituency, and the population is still growing quickly: the Great Western Park development has added thousands of new houses in the west of the town during this decade, straddling the district boundary between South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse. (The development is so new it’s not fully reflected in the map above.) The railways have given way to science and technology as the major local employers: nearby is the Diamond Light Source synchrotron at Harwell, while the Williams Formula 1 team was formerly based in the town and the Bloodhound SSC team, based here, is aiming to break the world land speed record later this year.

The new development together with a boundary review implemented in 2015 means that the census stats for Didcot are out of date. Didcot is the best part of South Oxfordshire district for Labour and the party did well in the town in 2011, gaining seats in the town’s All Saints, Northcourt and Park wards. The boundary review for 2015 abolished Northcourt ward, with the new West ward being a cut-down version of All Saints (and deliberately drawn small to cater for the new development) and South ward based on the old Park ward with parts of Northcourt and All Saints. 2015 was the only previous result on these boundaries: West ward was safely Conservative with 40%, to 27% for Labour and 17% for UKIP; while South ward was close with 32% and 2 seats for the Conservatives, 31% and 1 seat for Labour and 20% for UKIP. In May’s county elections Didcot West division, which covers the whole of the ward of that name and half of South ward, was a Tory/Labour marginal with the Conservatives winning 42-37, while the other half of South ward was included in the rural-focused division of Didcot East and Hagbourne which was safely Conservative.

Defending South ward for Labour is Mocky Khan, a chartered marketer and parent governor of Willowcroft community school. He is challenged by the Tories’ Jackie Billington, a town councillor and Mayor of Didcot for 2017-18. With no UKIP candidate this time, the Lib Dems’ Veronika Williams completes the ballot paper.

In Didcot West the defending Tory candidate is Ian Snowdon, a hairdresser. Labour have selected Denise Macdonald, a food scientist at Reading Univesity. Again UKIP have not nominated a candidate, so the Lib Dems’ Ian Smith completes the ballot paper.

Didcot South
Parliamentary constituency: Wantage
Oxfordshire county council division: Didcot West (part); Didcot East and Hagbourne (part)

May 2015 result C 1498/1480/1371 Lab 1436/1309/1295 UKIP 937/836 LD 756/720

Didcot West
Parliamentary constituency: Wantage
Oxfordshire county council division: Didcot West

May 2015 result C 1390/1299 Lab 941/823 UKIP 604 LD 560

Coleshill South

North Warwickshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Mark Jones, who had served since 2015.


Coleshill (prounced Kohzel, apparently) South is a ward where many pass through – the M6, M6 Toll and M42 motorways, together with High Speed 2 if it ever gets off the ground, traverse the ward – but few stop. In truth there’s not an awful lot to stop for. Even when Coleshill was developing as a town its main industry was people travelling through – as a stop on the route from London to Chester, Liverpool and Holyhead, Coleshill once had over twenty coaching inns along the High Street and the Coventry Road. Although the town is just outside the West Midlands boundary and is close enough to Birmingham to have a Birmingham postcode (B46), the green belt has stymied major development and the town’s Wikipedia page isn’t that informative.

Perhaps if the Coleshill app had ever got off the ground we might have known a bit more. According to the Rotten Boroughs column of Private Eye, outgoing councillor Mark Jones – a businessman and former police officer who runs a printing company in the town and was elected to North Warwickshire council in 2015 – was awarded several thousand pounds of council taxpayers’ money to develop this app, but nothing ever came of it. (The Love Coleshill app, developed by a consortium of local businesses and providing a business directory and discount vouchers, has no connection with former councillor Jones.)

Coleshill South is a long-standing Conservative ward, although it swung to Labour in 2015 after the two previous Tory councillors retired that year: the Conservative slate that year had 45% to 37% for Labour and 19% for UKIP. At county level the ward is included in the safe Conservative division of Coleshill South and Arley.

Given the circumstances of the former councillor this could be a difficult defence for the Tories, although they may be helped by the withdrawal of UKIP from the fray. Defending from the blue corner is Caroline Symonds, who was elected to Coleshill town council in a by-election in May. Challenging from the red corner is Claire Breeze, another Coleshill town councillor.

Parliamentary constituency: North Warwickshire
Warwickshire county council division: Coleshill South and Arley

May 2015 result C 839/801 Lab 688/547 UKIP 349
May 2011 result C 681/664 Lab 396/381
May 2007 result C 697/692 Lab 203
May 2003 result C 602/565 Ind 375 Lab 252



Park End and Beckfield

Middlesbrough council, North Yorkshire; caused respectively by the deaths of Labour councillor Bernie Taylor and independent councillor Peter Cox. Taylor, who was 74 years old, had been in political life for over forty years; first elected to the former Cleveland county council, he had represented Ayresome ward on Middlesbrough council since its reconstitution in 1995 as a unitary council. A former boiler maker, Taylor had been a trade union official and active in his local Catholic church. Cox, who was 67 years old, had been an independent councillor since 2007, before 2015 representing Beckfield ward.

Middlesbrough has a reputation as an economically depressed town, but that hides a rich and rather confusing electoral picture. In April Andrew’s Previews discussed the outlying council estate of Coulby Newham in advance of a by-election which turned into a stunning Tory gain. The following Tuesday Theresa May called a general election, and we all know how that turned out.

But that’s just one example of how Middlesbrough has been confounding electoral pundits for years. Despite Labour’s dominance of the council it took them until 2015, with the retirement of Ray “Robocop” Mallon, to get hold of the elected mayoralty, and even then it was with a majority of just 256 votes (0.7%) over an independent candidate. The town’s individual wards have also often been closely fought between Labour and independent candiates. Such was the case in Ayresome ward on the western edge of town, where Labour lost a seat to an independent in 2007; the independent councillor then joined Labour but resigned in 2010, and Labour lost the by-election to a second indepedent who was re-elected in 2011. Labour regained a full slate in this young and working-class ward in 2015, polling 46% of the vote to 21% for UKIP and 20% for the outgoing independent councillor.

Park End and Beckfield, hard up against the borough boundary in eastern Middlesbrough and including the Southlands leisure centre and Outwood academy, is even more working-class than Ayresome, although the census figures are difficult to interpret as the ward was only created in 2015. In 2011 both of the former Beckfield and Park End wards made the top 100 wards in England and Wales for the proportion of the workforce with no qualifications or in “routine” work, the lowest of the seven occupation categories used by the census; Park End also made the top 30 in England and Wales for “semi-routine” work. Despite this, Labour haven’t won a seat in either ward since 2007 when they held one of two seats in Park End, independent candidates having dominated the ward’s representation; in 2015 the new Park End and Beckfield ward continued that tradition with the independent slate beating Labour 50-42. Park End itself is within the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland constituency, which was an against-the-swing Conservative gain in last month’s general election.

Defending Park End and Beckfield for the independent slate is Jan Mohan. Labour have reselected their runner-up from 2015 Ian Blades, who finished 54 votes behind Cox in that election. Also standing are Ron Armstrong for the Conservatives, Wen Cai Bowman for the Lib Dems and Jamie Armstrong for the Green Party.

Labour should have an easier ride in Ayresome where UKIP and the former independent councillor are not trying again. Their defending candidate is Vic Walkington, who is opposed by Jill Coleman for the Conservatives, Carl Martinez for the Greens and Rhid Nugent for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Middlesbrough
May 2015 result Lab 996/751 UKIP 452 Ind 435/202 C 282

Park End and Beckfield
Parliamentary constituency: Middlesbrough (former Beckfield ward), Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (former Park End ward)
May 2015 result Ind 1177/1082/1043 Lab 989/716/608 C 178

Elgin City North

Moray council; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Sandy Cooper after just five days in office. It appears he had had second thoughts about being a councillor.

For our first Scottish by-election of the 2017 term we are in the cathedral city of Elgin, home of Moray council and before then county town of Morayshire. The Elgin City North ward does exactly what it says on the tin: it is based on the Bishopmill area of Moray to the north of the River Lossie, together with the ruined cathedral, part of the city centre and the housing along the East Road (the A96 towards Aberdeen).

This ward was created in 2007 when Scottish local government was reformed to use proportional representation. In the 2007 election its three seats split one to the SNP, one to Labour and one to an independent; the independent councillor retired in 2012 and his seat very narrowly went to the SNP over the Conservatives. The Labour councillor resigned in 2014 to pursue a teaching career, and his seat was also gained by the SNP who won the by-election 55-45 in the final round over Sandy Cooper.

Most of Scotland’s wards had boundary changes this year, but Elgin City North was little changed gaining only a newly-developed part of Elgin that had spilled over the boundary into an adjoining ward. With no hope of defending all three seats in the ward the SNP fielded two candidates in the 2017 election, but there weren’t the votes to elect both of them: the Conservatives almost doubled their vote to 33% and top of the poll, their candidate Frank Brown easily winning the first seat. The two SNP candidates had 33% between them, Sandy Cooper started in fourth place on 15% and Labour crashed to 12%. Cooper picked up all the Unionist transfers to win the second seat easily, leaving the two SNP candidates to fight over the final seat: newcomer Paula Coy eventually beat outgoing councillor Patsy Gowans by 86 votes. Since May the Conservatives have renewed the Tory-Independent coalition to run Moray council for another term, and have gained the Moray parliamentary seat from the SNP after many years of trying. Clearly the Nationalists in Moray are in some disarray.

A quick note that this is Scotland and English and Welsh by-election rules do not apply. Fistly, the by-election will be held using the Alternative Vote, which means that transfers could well be crucial in deciding the winner. Secondly, 16- and 17-year-old electors have the right to vote in this by-election.

There is a defending independent candidate, Terry Monaghan, who fought his native Forres ward in May but polled just 36 first preferences. So, a change in representation looks on the cards, but in favour of whom? The Conservatives have selected Maria McLean, whose husband Raymond is their councillor for Elgin City South ward. Straight back on the campaign trail is SNP candidate Patsy Gowans, who was councillor for this ward from 2012 until losing her seat in May. Completing the ballot paper is Nick Taylor, a politics lecturer at Moray College.

Parliamentary constituency: Moray
Scottish Parliament constituency: Moray

May 2017 first preferences C 1181 SNP 1171 Ind 532 Lab 429 Ind 266