Preview: 25 Jan 2018

Before we start this week’s edition of Andrew’s Previews, I would like to apologise for a mistake in last week’s edition. I wrote that during the campaign for the Hulton by-election in Bolton the Labour candidate, Rabiya Jiva, had had her home raided by anti-terror police who were investigating her father. This was a mistake, and I would like to make clear that the raid described actually happened in January 2015 and not during the by-election campaign. My apologies to Rabiya Jiva.

There is only one by-election this week:

Central Wight

Isle of Wight council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Bob Seely, who is now the MP for the Isle of Wight. He had served since 2013.

We’ve had some awful weather this last month, haven’t we? It’s snowing outside as I write this in Bolton, after several weeks in which snow was regularly promised but all that turned up was rain. Not healthy weather, and your columnist has been suffering with a heavy cold as a result.

The Isle of Wight has a reputation for better weather than the rest of the country, so let’s go there. The name of Central Wight division is rather misleading, in that it consists of four parishes to the south and south-west of Newport along the south-west coast of the island. Back of the Wight may have been a better name, as that’s applied to much of the area by the locals. This is a sparsely-populated and rural area: the largest of the four parishes in the ward is Brighstone, with slightly over 1,000 electors.

One of three Rectors of Brighstone (or Brixton, as it was known until fairly recently) to become bishops was “Soapy” Samuel Wilberforce, son of the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce and now best-known for his opposition to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Ironically, some time after Wilberforce had left the parish the Reverend William Fox became curate at St Mary’s Brixton: an amateur palaeontologist, Fox discovered several new dinosaur species in the cliffs that line Brighstone Bay.

Further inland lie the parishes of Shorwell, Chillerton and Gatcombe, and Rookley. Chillerton is probably the most notable of these villages, thanks to the unfinished Iron Age fort and radio mast that overlook the village from Chillerton Down.

Central Wight division was fairly close between the Conservatives and Lib Dems at its first election in 2009, but since then has been safe Conservative. Bob Seely took over as councillor in 2013 and was clearly destined for greater things. An Old Harrovian, he had worked for the Times in the USSR and its successor states from 1990 to 1994, before entering the Army. Seely did tours of Afghanistan and Iraq and was appointed MBE for his military service in 2016, at which point he was in the Intelligence Corps with the rank of Sergeant.

Seely had also been the Conservative candidate for the target seat of Broxtowe in 2005, and was the great-great-nephew of a former MP for the island – Major-General Jack Seely, 1st Lord Mottistone, who was a Conservative and later Liberal MP for the Isle of Wight from 1900 to 1906 and again from 1923 to 1924. In between those periods Jack Seely had served for other constituencies, was in the Cabinet as War Secretary from 1912 to 1914 (being forced to resign following the Curragh Incident), and during the First World War was the winning commander at the March 1918 Battle of Moreuil Wood, one of the last great cavalry charges.

Jack’s great-great-nephew Bob got his chance at high office following the last-minute retirement of the island’s previous MP, Andrew Turner, in advance of the 2017 election. Turner, who had gained the island from the Liberal Democrats in 2001, suffered a stroke in 2006 and was never quite the same after that. He became deeply unpopular on the island and with his local constituency party, who for some years had been itching for an excuse to get rid of him. They finally got that on 28 April 2017, when Taylor spoke to a group of schoolchildren and made some deeply homophobic remarks. With a general election imminent, under attack from Labour and recognising that he was going to get no support from his party, Taylor quickly announced his retirement. The new candidate, Bob Seely, polled more than 9,000 more votes than Turner had two years previously and increased the Conservative majority by nearly 8,000.

Seely’s performance in the Isle of Wight council elections a month earlier had been similarly impressive, increasing the Tory lead in Central Wight to 75-19 over the Greens. Across the island, the Conservatives gained control from an independent group which had run the council since 2013.

Defending for the Conservatives is an interesting choice of candidate. Steve Hastings, who fought Newport Central in last year’s council elections, was elected to Portsmouth city council as a UKIP candidate in 2014 representing Baffins ward. He joined the Conservatives in 2015, and despite moving to Brighstone in 2016 was still a Portsmouth city councillor until resigning once his nomination went in for this by-election. (His successor on Portsmouth council will be elected at May’s ordinary election.) The Green candidate is Daniel James, a software developer and Freshwater parish councillor. Completing the ballot paper are Simon Haytack for Labour, Terry Brennan for UKIP (who, if local press reports are to be believed, has stopped campaigning in protest at Henry Bolton’s leadership), and Nick Stuart for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Isle of Wight
ONS Travel to Work Area: Isle of Wight
Postcode districts: PO30, PO38

Terry Brennan (UKIP)
Steve Hastings (C)
Simon Haytack (Lab)
Daniel James (Grn)
Nick Stuart (LD)

May 2017 result C 1026 Grn 258 Lab 81
May 2013 result C 700 UKIP 342 Grn 297
June 2009 result C 894 LD 732