Previews: 12 Apr 2018

Three by-elections on 12th April 2018, all due to resignations:

St Olaves

St Edmundsbury council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Bob Cockle. He was first elected in 1995 for the former Fornham ward, transferring to this ward in 2003. Cockle was Mayor of St Edmundsbury in 2008-09, and also served as the inaugural Mayor of Bury St Edmunds when the parish-level town council was re-established in 2003.

We start the week in Bury St Edmunds, the commercial centre of West Suffolk and a rather historic place. One of the royal boroughs of Anglo-Saxon times, the town is named after Edmund the Martyr, a ninth-century king of East Anglia who was killed in a Viking invasion. Edmund’s remains were buried here and became a pilgrimage site. In mediaeval England this was a thriving town with a cloth-making industry, while today the main drivers for the local economy are brewing, sugar and tourism.

None of those apply to St Olaves ward, which is very much the wrong side of the tracks. This is a council estate ward on the north side of the A14 and railway line, based on the Howard Estate developed in the 1960s by Bury St Edmunds borough council. The census stats bear out that this is a working-class area: St Olaves is in the top 20 wards in England and Wales for the ONS “semi-routine” employment classification, and in the top 40 for adults with between 1 and 4 GCSE passes or equivalent.

With that sort of pedigree you might expect a safe Labour area, and that was what St Olaves was up until 2011. In that year the other ward councillor, Mark Ereira, sought re-election for the Green Party: he wasn’t far off winning, and split the Labour vote sufficiently that they lost a seat to independent candidate Paul Hopfensperger. Hopfensperger was re-elected in 2015 at the top of the poll, with Cockle defending his seat from the Conservatives by just 22 votes; shares of the vote were 38% for Hopfensperger, 32% for the Labour slate and 31% for the Conservative candidate. Labour are nowhere in the local county division, Tower, which in 2017 split its two seats between the Conservatives – who gained their seat from Ereira – and independent county councillor David Nettleton, who had a majority of just five votes over Hopfensperger.

So, an interesting ward which is slightly more unpredictable than might be expected. Defending for Labour is Max Clarke, who is the only candidate to give an address in the ward. There is an independent candidate, Liam Byrne, an organ donation campaigner who has received two life-saving liver transplants: he stood in the 2017 general election in Bury St Edmunds, coming fifth and last with 1.4%. Tom Murray is trying again for the Conservatives after his near-miss in 2015; he is a Bury St Edmunds town councillor who is retired from an award-winning career as a newspaper photographer. Murray won three World Press Photo awards, was head of photography for the Sunday Times Colour Magazine, at 25 became the youngest photographer commissioned by the Royal Family, and shot what proved to be the last official publicity shoot by the Beatles. Completing the ballot paper is the ward’s first Liberal Democrat candidate this century: Helen Korfanty is a solicitor who stood for Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016 and for Bury St Edmunds in the 2017 general election.

Parliamentary constituency: Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk county council division: Tower
Postcode district: IP32

Liam Byrne (Ind)
Max Clarke (Lab)
Helen Korfanty (LD)
Tom Murray (C)

May 2015 result Ind 835 Lab 699/462 C 677
May 2011 result Lab 461/314 Ind 421 Grn 372
May 2007 result Lab 496/444 C 244/230
May 2003 result Lab 662/608 C 286/253

Middleton Cheney

South Northamptonshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Judith Baxter who had served since 2011.

Having had our big city by-election, we turn to two wards based on villages. Middleton Cheney is a large village at the western end of Northamptonshire, so far west it is 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.

Labour hadn’t been seen in Middleton Cheney since, which has 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. At Northamptonshire county level the Middleton Cheney division, which covers a larger area, is safely Conservative although UKIP were close behind in 2013.

This by-election sees party politics re-emerge in Middleton Cheney. The defending Conservatives have gone for youth in selecting Jonathan Riley, who is the only candidate not to give an address in the ward (he lives in Brackley). Two of the opposition candidates are Middleton Cheney parish councillors who stood in the county election here last year: runner-up in that poll was Labour candidate Richard Solesbury-Timms, a train driver for Chiltern Railways, campanologist and chair of an action group supporting the Middleton Cheney library. That library is under threat thanks to the financial travails of Northamptonshire county council, which is effectively bankrupt and has been taken over by government commissioners. Third here in last year’s county elections was Liberal Democrat Mark Allen, who holds a PhD in computational chemistry from Durham University. Completing the ballot paper is Green Party candidate Adam Sear.

Parliamentary constituency: South Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire county council division: Middleton Cheney
Postcode district: OX17

Mark Allen (LD)
Jonathan Riley (C)
Adam Sear (Grn)
Richard Solesbury-Timms (Lab)

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


Chichester council, West Sussex; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Gillian Keegan, who is now the MP for Chichester. She had served on Chichester council since winning a by-election in October 2014.

We end the week with our second village by-election, within the South Downs National Park in West Sussex. Again we are in the extreme west of the county; the village of Rogate is close to the Hampshire border and takes many of its services from over the county line in Petersfield, to which it is connected by the A272 road, or Portsmouth. Indeed, until 1844 part of Rogate was a detached part of Hampshire. The Rogate ward also takes in the small Milland parish and the tiny Linch parish to the north-east.

In the 21st century this is a safe Conservative ward. One of the candidates who tried and failed to break the Tory monopoly was one Ashley Mote, who finished last with 89 votes as the UKIP candidate in 2003. The following year Mote was elected as a UKIP MEP for South East England; but a month later UKIP found out that Mote was awaiting trial for benefit fraud, and kicked him out of the party. Mote was eventually convicted, sentenced to nine months in prison and ordered to repay £65,000, but the sentence wasn’t long enough to disqualify him from office and he served out his five years in the European Parliament.

UKIP got more votes than Mote did in the 2014 by-election which elected Keegan and in the 2015 ordinary election, but were still a long way behind. The 2015 election saw Keegan poll 67% to 20% for the second-placed Green Party. However, the Tories don’t have it all their own way at county level here: in 2013 they lost the local Midhurst county division to an independent, who lost in 2017 to the Liberal Democrats in a close three-way result.

Defending for the Conservatives is Robert Pettigrew, a former Portsmouth councillor (Milton ward, 2000-02) who was the Conservative candidate for Lanark and Hamilton East in the 2005 general election. His most recent electoral outing appears to be in 2007, when he contested the Lib Dem-held ward of Chichester East on this council. A school governor and director of a schools’ trust in London, Pettigrew is described as having a particular interest in education and creating opportunities for the next generation, and has set up a charity and CIC to support that work. The Green candidate is Philip Maber, who lives twelve miles to the south-east in the village of Singleton. Standing for Labour is Ray Davey, from Haslemere in Surrey, a sales representative for Jaguar and former chef. Completing the ballot paper is Liberal Democrat candidate Kate O’Kelly; the local county councillor since 2017, she is a GP and dementia specialist, and a West Sussex magistrate. None of the candidates give addresses n the ward.

Parliamentary constituency: Chichester
West Sussex county council division: Midhurst
ONS Travel to Work Area: Portsmouth
Postcode districts: GU29, GU30, GU31, GU33

Ray Davey (Lab)
Philip Maber (Grn)
Kate O’Kelly (LD)
Robert Pettigrew (C)

May 2015 result C 1003 Grn 293 UKIP 192
October 2014 by-election C 342 UKIP 138
May 2011 result C 990 Lab 97
May 2010 by-election C unopposed
May 2007 result C 695 LD 255
May 2003 result C 531 LD 254 UKIP 89