One by-election on the last day of August 2017:

Weston-super-Mare North Worle

North Somerset council; caused by the death of councillor Derek Mead at the age of 72. An entrepreneur who had made millions of pounds from dairy farming, property development and other business and ran a company employing 300 people, Mead was killed in a freak accident on his farm when he was run down by his own tractor; it is thought that Mead’s dog, who was in the tractor’s cab at the time of the accident, had accidentally put the machine into forward gear. Mead had sat on North Somerset council since winning a by-election as an independent in July 2013, and was re-elected in 2015 for his own political party North Somerset First.

One of Mead’s legacies to the seaside resort of Weston-super-Mare is much of the housing which now makes up the town’s North Worle ward. This ward is made up of 1980s and 1990s houses at the north-east corner of Weston, close to the M5 motorway which links the town to Bristol. Weston is now prosperous enough that since 2015 it has formed a Travel to Work Area in its own right, but North Worle’s population is mainly made up of Bristol commuters and their families; although boundary changes in 2015 confuse the issue, the 2011 edition of North Worle ward (which was larger, and had three councillors rather than the present two) made the top 50 wards in England and Wales for those educated to “Level 2” (that is, five or more GCSE passes but nothing higher) and is in the top 100 English and Welsh wards for part-time working.

Before the housing got going in the 1980s this area was known mainly for Castle Batch, a Norman motte-and-bailey castle which in the 13th century belonged to William de Courtney, a grandson of Reginald FitzUrse who has gone down in infamy as one of the murderers of Archbishop Thomas of Canterbury in 1170. In reparation for that de Courtney founded Woodspring Priory, dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury and which once gave its name to the local district council and a parliamentary constituency. Castle Batch is now a park at the centre of North Worle ward, and in recognition of the history one of the main roads through the ward is named Becket Road after Thomas. (This may be a good time to announce that your columnist is appearing later in the current series of BBC Mastermind with Thomas as his specialist subject.) Also here was part of the route of the troubled Weston, Clevedon and Portishead light railway, which during its short life (1897-1940) was said to be so slow that passengers could get off and pick blackberries en route.

North Worle ward was created in 1999 and took on its present boundaries in 2015. At its creation it was a Lib Dem stronghold, but the Liberal Democrats lost the parliamentary seat in 2005 and this ward two years later, in a poll which had to be postponed till June 2007 following the death of outgoing Lib Dem councillor Alan Hockridge during the campaign. By 2011 North Worle was a safe Conservative ward, but Mead gained one of the Conservative seats in a by-election in July 2013. The 2015 boundary changes removed 800 electors and one seat from North Worle ward, and it was the Conservatives who lost out as Mead was narrowly re-elected as the only councillor from his own party, North Somerset First; shares of the vote were 29% for the Conservatives, 23% for North Somerset First, 21% for UKIP and 15% for Labour.

North Somerset First de-registered with the Electoral Commission last year, and with no defending candidate from Mead’s party this seat is up for grabs in Britain Elects’ favourite type of by-election: a free-for-all. The Conservatives have selected James Davis, who sits on Weston-super-Mare town council (for South Worle ward); he is working in facilities management after 26 years’ service in the Army. The UKIP candidate is another Weston-super-Mare town councillor, Anita Spencer-Johns who represents the neighbouring Mid Worle ward and chairs the Weston branch of UKIP. Labour have reselected Denise Hunt, an accountant who fought the ward in 2015 and the 2013 by-election. Hoping to relaunch his political career is Lib Dem candidate Alan Rice, who has retired to Weston after formerly being a prominent Lib Dem figure in Worthing: he was a Worthing borough councillor for Gaisford ward 2006-14, leading the council’s Lib Dem group, and West Sussex county councillor for Broadwater division 2009-13. Completing the ballot paper is independent candidate Richard Skinner, who is also looking to relaunch his political career: he was a Lib Dem councillor for this ward from 1999 to 2007.

I am grateful to Andrew Nisbet for help with this preview.

Parliamentary constituency: Weston-super-Mare

James Davis (C)
Denise Hunt (Lab)
Alan Rice (LD)
Richard Skinner (Ind)
Anita Spencer-Johns (UKIP)

May 2015 result C 1506/1165 North Somerset First 1209 UKIP 1113 Lab 772/750 LD 641

Andrew Teale

Andrew Teale is the Britain Elects previewer. He edits the Local Elections Archive Project, sometimes tweets at @andrewteale and plays quiz a bit. Read his meticulously-researched previews for the full lowdown on each local by-election, what you need to know and why you might (or might not) want to visit.

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