Previews: 18 Jan, 2018

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

Four by-elections on Thursday 18th January 2018:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newport Pagnell North and Hanslope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downhall and Rawreth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig Cannell (LD)
Tony Hollis (C)

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

Throop and Muscliff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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