Previewing the mayoral and council by-elections for LE2018

by Andrew Teale, 01 May 2018

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

So the ordinary May elections are upon us. I’m not going to try and cover all of the thousands of council seats up for election this year in the Andrew’s Previews series, as I’d never finish such a piece and you’d never read it anyway. Instead I intend to look at a few aspects of the 2018 local elections. This piece will cover the local by-elections in councils which are not holding ordinary local elections this year, together with the mayoral elections; and a companion piece will look in some detail at your columnist’s own county of Greater Manchester.

Sheffield City Region

Let’s start at the top of the pile, shall we? Unquestionably the largest single position being elected this year is the Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, the latest piece of the puzzle in the government’s regional devolution strategy.

This poll was originally supposed to take place last year, but got deferred for a year mainly thanks to disputes over what area the Sheffield City Region should cover. It doesn’t help that Sheffield is hard up against the Yorkshire boundary, and indeed quite a lot of the present Sheffield council area has been annexed from Derbyshire over the years. Pretty much anything in the Sheffield commuter belt south of the city itself is outside Yorkshire.
And that has been the root of the delay. Bassetlaw council in Nottinghamshire and a number of Derbyshire districts had expressed interest in joining the City Region, but Derbyshire county council wasn’t as keen and launched legal action to stop the 2017 election going ahead. The withdrawal of Bassetlaw and the Derbyshire districts has meant that the electors for the Sheffield City Region mayor are only those who live in the four metropolitan boroughs of South Yorkshire.

But even those four boroughs can’t agree on what their devolution deal should look like. Barnsley and Doncaster had expressed support for a devolution arrangement covering the whole of Yorkshire, an idea which also has support from several other Yorkshire councils particularly in West Yorkshire. So it’s quite possible that this mayoral post may not exist for very long at all before it gets subsumed into something bigger.

We wait and see, and in any event it’s unlikely that this election will be an exciting one. There have been three previous elections for a county-wide post in South Yorkshire, all for the Police and Crime Commissioner. The first one was the farcical inaugural PCC election in November 2012, which was noted for its comedy low turnout but still safely returned Labour candidate Shaun Wright in the first round. The English Democrats, who at the time held the Doncaster mayoralty, were a distant second. Wright had come to the police and crime commissionership from Rotherham, where he had been councillor in charge of children’s services; and when the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal broke two years later, he was forced to resign. The resulting by-election in October 2014 elected Labour candidate Alan Billings, a priest and former deputy leader of Sheffield council, in the first round, with UKIP second. Revd Billings was safely re-elected for a full term in 2016, polling 52% to 20% for UKIP and 11% for the Conservatives.

The 2017 general election showed yet again that Labour are in the ascendancy across South Yorkshire. For the first time they won all of the county’s constituencies, gaining Sheffield Hallam from Nick Clegg, and polled 57% across the four boroughs to 30% for the Conservatives.

So really the question here is whether the Labour candidate will win in the first round. He is Dan Jarvis, who came to politics from a career in the military. From Sandhurst he was commissioned into the Parachute Regiment, ending with the rank of Major and a military MBE, and served in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan (twice). Jarvis resigned his commission in 2011 when he was selected as Labour candidate for the Barnsley Central by-election, after former MP Eric Illsley was convicted of fraud charges arising from the Parliamentary expenses scandal. By this time Jarvis’ first wife had died from cancer at the age of just 43, leaving him as a single parent of two children.

Jarvis rose up the parliamentary ranks even more quickly than he had done in the Army; within a year of his election he was in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet, and there was speculation that he would stand for the Labour leadership in the 2015 election. In the event, Jarvis decided to put his family first (by now he had remarried and had a young child with his second wife) and endorsed Andy Burnham. Fat lot of good that did him, and Jarvis has not featured in Corbyn’s shadow cabinets. With his career stalled at Westminster, presumably Jarvis feels that being a regional mayor – even with the currently proposed mayoral position being a bit of a non-job – would be a better use of his skills. If elected he intends to combine the mayoral job with his Westminster duties.

With UKIP not standing the main challenge to Jarvis is likely to come from the Conservative candidate Ian Walker. He is a businessman who runs an engineering firm in Sheffield, and this is his third go at running for county-wide office: Walker was the Tory candidate for South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner in the 2014 by-election and in 2016, either side of fighting Sheffield Hallam in the 2015 general election.

Five other candidates are on the ballot paper: Hannah Kitching for the Liberal Democrats, David Allen for the English Democrats, Mick Bower for the Yorkshire Party, Naveen Judah for an outfit called “South Yorkshire Save Our NHS”, and the Greens’ Robert Murphy.

This by-election will be combined with elections to two of the four South Yorkshire boroughs: Doncaster council was moved away from thirds elections in an attempt to combat longstanding political dysfunctionality, while Rotherham suffered the same fate after the child sexual exploitation scandal revealed that the council, to put it charitably, hadn’t been paying attention to what was going on in their bailiwick. The Commissioners which central government sent in after the scandal are still there and still running Rotherham’s children’s services. That leaves Sheffield city council and Barnsley council electing a third of their councillors; despite a local controversy in Sheffield over extensive tree-felling, in neither of those councils do Labour look under serious threat of losing their majority.

South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner elections

David Allen (EDP)
Mick Bower (Yorks Party)
Dan Jarvis (Lab)
Naveen Judah (S Yorks Save Our NHS)
Hannah Kitching (LD)
Robert Murphy (Grn)
Ian Walker (C)

May 2016 result Lab 144978 UKIP 57062 C 29904 LD 28060 EDP 19114
October 2014 by-election Lab 74060 UKIP 46883 C 18536 EDP 8583
November 2012 result Lab 74615 EDP 22608 C 21075 UKIP 16773 LD 10223

Other mayoral elections

Five local government mayors are up for re-election this year. The stand-out one to watch is Watford, where Baroness Thornhill is standing down after four terms of office. Despite the Lib Dems’ travails nationally they are strong in Watford at local level. Thornhill was re-elected in 2014 for her final term by defeating Labour 65-35 in the runoff; in the 2016 local elections the Lib Dems won 25 seats to 11 for Labour, and polled 39% to 26% for Labour and 20% for the Conservatives, who won nothing. Councillor Peter Taylor is the new Liberal Democrat candidate, 2014 runner-up and Labour candidate Cllr Jagtar Singh Dhindsa tries again, and the Conservatives have selected George Jabbour.

The other four mayoral elections on 3rd May are in Greater London and are all Labour defences. Tower Hamlets is probably the one to keep an eye on, just to see what shenanigans happen this time. Labour’s John Biggs, who won the mayoral by-election in 2015 after Lutfur Rahman was unseated by the Election Court for a corrupt 2014 election campaign, is seeking re-election for a full term. Lutfur Rahman is disqualified from voting or holding elected office until 2020, but the Lutfurites have not gone away. Their candidate Rabina Khan lost the 2015 by-election to Biggs by the relatively narrow margin of 55-45. On the other hand, the Lutfurites have split into two factions: Rabina Khan is trying again with the nomination of PATH, the People’s Alliance of Tower Hamlets, while former deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed is standing for the more hardline Aspire party. Also standing are Anwara Ali for the Conservatives, Ciaran Jebb for the Green Party, Elaine Bagshaw for the Lib Dems and Hugo Pierre with the nomination of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. Those who remember the appalling and embarrassing shambles which was the Tower Hamlets count in 2014 will no doubt be praying, to whatever deity they may believe in, that there will be no repeat this time.

The Newham mayoralty has never been far from political controversy either, but the interesting element of the 2018 Newham election has already happened: outgoing mayor Sir Robin Wales was deselected by Labour, after four terms of office and seven years as council leader before that, in favour of new candidate Rokhsana Fiaz. Described as an East Ender through and through, Fiaz is an outgoing councillor for Custom House ward, and was appointed OBE for her work on race, faith and identity. She will have no problem being elected in this one-party state. The battle for second place looks likely to be won by the Conservatives’ Rahima Khan, a teacher and personal life coach according to her Twitter. Also standing are Gareth Evans for the Lib Dems; Chishala Kumalinga for the evangelical Christian Peoples Alliance, which once had councillors in Newham; and Daniel Oxley for the UKIP splinter Democrats and Veterans Party.

Another four-term mayor standing down – voluntarily this time – is Lewisham‘s Sir Steve Bullock. The new Labour candidate is Damian Egan, who sits in Bullock’s cabinet and is outgoing councillor for Lewisham Central ward; despite therefore being associated with last year’s controversy over compulsory purchase of land around Millwall FC’s stadium he should have little problem being elected. Last time round a close five-way race for second was won by the Conservatives, whose new candidate Ross Archer is a manager at a not-for-profit anti-fraud body. Third place in 2014 went to Duwayne Brooks of the Lib Dems; Brooks has since fallen out with the party and is standing as an independent, while the new Lib Dem candidate is Chris Maines who had several goes at gaining the Orpington parliamentary seat back in the 90s and 00s before finally giving up. Maines was the Lib Dem candidate for Lewisham mayor in 2010, finishing second and taking Bullock to a runoff; these are probably less propitious times for him. Completing this year’s Lewisham mayoral candidates are John Coughlin for the Green Party, John Hamilton for the local left-wing group Lewisham People Before Profit, and Democrats and Veterans candidate Will Donnelly.

Finally, outgoing Hackney mayor Philip Glanville should be similarly untroubled; he won a by-election in 2016 after former mayor Jules Pipe left to join Sadiq Khan’s administration in City Hall, and now has the chance to win a full term of his own. Second in the by-election was the Green Party, whose candidate is film and events producer Alastair Binnie-Lubbock. Also standing are Imtiyaz Lunat for the Conservatives, Pauline Pearce for the Liberal Democrats, Harini Iyengar of the Women’s Equality Party and independent candidate Vernon Williams.

Local by-elections

Only 150 of the 400 or so local councils in Great Britain are up for election this year, which means that there are plenty of people in England (not to mention all of Scotland and Wales) who are sitting this round of local elections out. In those councils there are thirteen by-elections, which I’m just going to namecheck here rather than go through in the usual level of detail.

We start with our token northern by-election which is a crucial poll to Cheshire West and Chester council. Labour are defending the Ellesmere Port Town by-election and with it their council majority; they hold 37 seats on the council plus this vacancy to 36 Conservatives and a single independent. Don’t expect a change of control: this is a very deprived and very safe Labour ward which should elect new candidate Mike Edwardson without much trouble.

The other Labour defence in this set of by-elections comes in Leamington Spa, where the Warwickshire county council seat of Leamington Willes is up for election. Former county councillor Matt Western has gone on to greater things by gaining Warwick and Leamington for Labour in last year’s general election; he leaves behind a division covering south-eastern Leam, an area popular with Warwick University students. The student influence can be seen in the fact that the Green Party ran second here in 2017; however, new Labour candidate Helen Adkins should be favoured to hold the seat.

The Conservatives defend two seats in the East Midlands. In Leicestershire we have a by-election for the county council in Stoney Stanton and Croft, a rural division covering much of the area between Leicester and Hinckley. This was very strongly Conservative last year and should be an easy win for new Tory candidate Maggie Wright. Things may be different in the fens of Lincolnshire; the large rural ward of Donington, Quadring and Gosberton in South Holland district has since 2011 split its three seats between two Conservatives and independent councillor Jane King. One of the Tory seats is up in this by-election and the Conservatives’ Sue Wray should be wary of an independent challenge from Terri Cornwell.

As so often seems to happen, the Eastern region of England has turned up with lots of by-elections. Two of these are in Haverhill, to St Edmundsbury council. following the resignations of a husband-and-wife couple of Conservative councillors; this isolated London overspill town in the south-western corner of Suffolk had a very high UKIP vote until not so long ago, but the Kippers’ collapse means that they can’t find candidates here now. Both Haverhill East and Haverhill North split their seats between UKIP and the Tories in 2015; in the absence of the populist right North should be safe enough for Tory candidate Elaine McManus, but in East ward Labour’s Malcolm Smith could be within range of upsetting the defending Conservative Robin Pilley. These may (tempting fate!) be the last by-elections your columnist has to describe for St Edmundsbury district, which is in merger talks with the neighbouring Forest Heath district council.

Another close Tory-Labour contest looks in prospect over the border in Essex. Bocking North split its two Braintree council seats between the two parties in 2015, and it’s the Tory seat that’s up this time. Dean Wallace leads the Tory defence while Labour’s Tony Everard, who lost his seat in 2015, will try to get back. Also in Braintree district, the Conservatives should have less trouble in Hatfield Peverel and Terling ward, a series of villages wrapping around the western side of Witham; James Coleridge leads the defence there.

The only Lib Dem defence in this set is in the Hertfordshire city of St Albans, and it’s an interesting one. We’re in the St Albans North division of Hertfordshire county council, which is a consistent three-way marginal. It voted Lib Dem in 2005 and 2009, was gained by Labour in 2013, and then regained last year by the Lib Dems who defeated Labour by 71 votes and beat the Tories by 436 votes. That was a good Liberal Democrat performance considering that the party polled poorly in the two St Albans district council wards covering this area in 2016: Batchwood is looking safe for Labour now while Marshalswick South now has a full slate of Tory councillors (and some very expensive housing to boot). Karen Young defends the seat for the Liberal Democrats, and is challenged by two local district councillors. Batchwood’s Roma Mills is the former Labour county councillor seeking to get her seat back; Mills is also up for re-election to the district council this year, giving her two chances to win or lose. On the Tory side, their candidate is Marshalswick South ward councillor, and former Mayor of St Ablans, Salih Gaygusuz; as the name might suggest, he is Turkish-born.

Moving into the South East proper, your columnist had a bit of a rant at Aylesbury Vale council a few weeks back after they put the notices for a couple of district by-elections on their website, but only to people who had registered for an online account with the council. I invited Aylesbury Vale to get in touch and claim their certificate for a useless council website. Fair play to them, they got in touch with me and apologised, and as a result I agreed to suspend the issue of the certificate pending publication of notices for the Quainton by-election. I am pleased to report that the council webmasters have got it right this time, and there will be no further action.

Quainton ward itself is a series of villages in northern Buckinghamshire, a long way from anywhere of note. Nevertheless this was once bizarrely an outpost of the London Underground network, whose Quainton Road station is now preserved as a museum. The ward is of course safe Conservative; although their candidate Steven Walker is the only nominee who does not live in the ward he should have little trouble holding the seat.

For our other by-election in the South East we are going offshore to the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. The electors of Sheppey East ward are in the villages of Eastchurch, Warden and Leysdown-on-Sea at the eastern end of the island, and I have to be specific in referring to “electors” here because the ward also includes a number of large prisons. Sheppey East split its two seats in 2015 between the Conservatives and UKIP, and the Tory seat is up here. The two frontrunners both have rather androgynous names: Lynd Taylor is hoping that he will defend the Conservative seat, while UKIP have selected Sunny Nissanga to try and make a rare gain.

Our final two by-elections of this set are in the South West, and this is where it gets complicated. We have a poll in Dorset for the Weymouth West ward of Weymouth and Portland council, which has been on your columnist’s list of vacant seats since December but had previously been marked under the heading “no further action” because the outgoing councillor was due for re-election this year. Not so, as it turned out: local government in Dorset is due for reorganisation, and as part of that process the 2018 Weymouth and Portland council elections have been cancelled with councillors’ terms extended to 2019. As a result we are now having a by-election for this vacancy. Just to make things more complicated, Weymouth West is a Tory-Labour marginal but the outgoing councillor, Claudia Webb, had been elected for the Tories before defecting to the Green Party. That puts the Green candidate Val Graves into the defending position; the Tories will want their seat back and have selected Richard Nickinson, while Labour – who won Weymouth West at the most recent district poll in 2016 – have selected David Greenhalf. One to watch, this one.

We finish this preview with a free-for-all on the banks of the Torridge river in the town of Bideford. Bideford East is based on the suburb of East-the-Water together with a number of villages in Bideford’s hinterland. The ward has a complicated political history with independent and Lib Dem candidates having been successful here this century, but in 2015 it elected a Tory and two UKIP candidates. This poll is caused by the death of Sam Robinson, who won a 2014 by-election here as an independent before being re-elected in 2015 on the UKIP ticket; UKIP haven’t nominated anyone to replace him so this by-election will result in a change to the political balance of Torridge council. Given the volatile history of this ward I’d better go through the whole candidate list: James Hellyer is standing for the Conservatives, Anne Brenton for Labour, Pauline Davies and Jude Gubb as independents, Gregory de Freyne-Martin for the Greens and Jamie McKenzie for the Lib Dems. Predictions for this one are best left to the locals.

A further piece of Andrew’s Previews will follow shortly, which will look in detail at my own county of Greater Manchester. Stay tuned for that.

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