Previews: 23 Aug 2018

Six by-elections on 23rd August 2018:


Rushcliffe council, Nottinghamshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Stuart Matthews.

Three wise men of Gotham
They went to sea in a bowl
And if the bowl had been stronger
My song would have been longer

What better way to open this week than with a pair of memes? The first one is probably what most people associate with the name “Gotham”, but the second is more important here. There is a meme common to many places in the UK and around the world that the people of the town next door to yours are yokels, idiots, just wrong in some way or another, while of course none of those considerations apply to your town; it’s no coincidence that many of the best-known footballing rivalries involve neighbouring teams. However, the legends told about the Nottinghamshire village of Gotham take the imbecile meme to another level entirely.

The story as often told is set in the reign of King John, who was not a good man and had his little ways. Or, more accurately, big ways; for there was a rule that any road the king travelled on had to be improved and maintained as a public highway. Now, the king was planning to progress through Gotham on the way to Nottingham, but the people of Gotham didn’t want a new road through their village – it’s a local village for local people, what’s all this shouting, we’ll have no trouble here – and they came up with an ingenious solution for getting out of their responsibilities. According to a nineteenth-century retelling, when King John’s advance messengers turned up in Gotham, they

found some of the inhabitants engaged in endeavouring to drown an eel in a pool of water; some were employed in dragging carts upon a large barn, to shade the wood from the sun; others were tumbling their cheeses down a hill, that they might find their way to Nottingham for sale; and some were employed in hedging in a cuckoo which had perched upon an old bush…

This was all a bit too hickish even for the itinerant Plantagenet royal court to stomach; and when this intelligence was fed back to the king, surprisingly enough John and his entourage decided to steer clear of the village. It was a victory for the Tubbses and Edwards of Gotham, as the new road was never built – and that remains the case to this day, as the main road into Nottingham from the south studiously avoids the place.

This story of the ironically-named “Wise Men of Gotham” has been doing the rounds since at least the fifteenth century. It was familiar to the nineteenth-century American writer Washington Irving, who in 1807 was writing a magazine satirising the culture and politics of New York City; in the 11th November 1807 edition of Salmagundi Irving rechristened the Big Apple as Gotham. The appelation stuck, and a century later the comic book writer Milton “Bill” Finger, while fingering through the New York phone book looking for inspiration for a new comic strip, came across a business called “Gotham Jewellers”. Inspiration struck, and a fictional city – going strong on the silver screen to this day – was born. This came at a price: somewhere along the way from fiction to fiction the village’s real-life pronunciation, “Goat-ham”, got lost.

For a place as anti-transport development as Gotham has been over the centuries, it’s strange that Gotham ward has been the scene for some major transport developments in recent years. In 2015 Nottingham’s tram system was extended into the suburb of Clifton, and beyond it; Clifton South tram stop, a large park-and-ride site which is the terminus of the tram line, lies just outside the Nottingham city limits in the Gotham ward. At the other end of the ward, near the village of Ratcliffe on Soar, is another park and ride site: East Midlands Parkway railway station, on the main line from London to Derby and Nottingham, which opened in January 2009. In contrast to the tram East Midlands Parkway has been a bit of a white elephant, failing to reach the projected passenger numbers; its location doesn’t help, being simultaneously in the middle of nowhere and in the shadow of the coal-fired Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, which in the year the railway station opened was described as one of the largest single sources of carbon dioxide emissions in Europe.

For nearly forty-eight years Gotham has been represented in Parliament by Ken Clarke, the Father of the House of Commons. A look at the 2015 election result might suggest that Gotham resembles the title of Clarke’s memoirs – kind of blue – but that hasn’t always been so. From 1983 to 2015 Gotham ward was represented on Rushcliffe council by Trevor Vennett-Smith, an auctioneer specialising in postcards, ephemera and sporting memorabilia. Vennett-Smith was elected for the Lib Dems or their predecessors throughout with the exception of his last re-election in 2011, at which he was an independent opposed only by Labour. When Vennett-Smith brought the gavel down on his auction career in 2013 that merited a couple of paragraphs in the following year’s edition of Wisden; his retirement from Rushcliffe council in 2015 was less remarked upon but did leave an open seat. That went to the new Conservative candidate Stuart Matthews rather easily: Matthews had 53% of the vote, to 24% for Labour and 23% for UKIP. The ward is also part of a safe Tory division of Nottinghamshire county council (Leake and Ruddington).

On the face of that recent form your columnist hadn’t expected the Gotham by-election to be politically very interesting; but then the candidate list came out and delivered a twist worthy of any DC Comics storyline. If you’re on the Conservative side then no doubt you’ll be casting outgoing councillor Stuart Matthews as Two-Face; for Matthews is standing for re-election as an independent candidate. He is from Ratcliffe on Soar, and was elected to Rushcliffe council in 2015 after selling his former business. The official Conservative candidate is Rex Walker, of Gotham. Also from Gotham is the new Labour candidate Lewis McAulay. UKIP haven’t returned but there are two candidates to complete the ballot paper, Jason Billin for the Liberal Democrats and Neil Pinder of the Green Party.

The Riddler himself would have struggled to come up with a more intriguing candidate list. It’s very hard to pick a winner out of this lot: but if you fancy staking a pennyworth or a little more on the outcome, head over to the betting exchange Smarkets… (link here)

Parliamentary constituency: Rushcliffe
Nottinghamshire county council division: Leake and Ruddington
ONS Travel to Work Area: Nottingham
Postcode districts: DE74, LE12, NG11

Jason Billin (LD)
Stuart Matthews (Ind)
Lewis McAulay (Lab)
Neil Pinder (Grn)
Rex Walker (C)

May 2015 result C 836 Lab 378 UKIP 364

Halewood South

Knowsley council, Merseyside; caused by the death of Labour councillor Tina Harris. A former Mayor of Halewood, she had served since 2010.

Our by-elections this week fall neatly into three pairs, and we now come to our northern pair of by-elections to consider two wards either side of the Mersey estuary. We start on the north side in the town of Halewood, which is essentially a southern extension of Liverpool that hasn’t been incorporated into the city. The road and railway lines from Runcorn and Widnes enter the Liverpool built-up area here.

Halewood South’s housing stock almost all dates from the early 1960s, and there’s a reason for that. Also built here in the early 1960s was the Halewood motor plant, opened in October 1963 by the Ford Motor Company; Halewood has been turning out cars and car parts ever since, and for 33 years until 2000 it was the main European production centre for the Ford Escort. In the 21st century Halewood became a production centre for Jaguar Land Rover; the Jaguar X-Type was made here in the 2000s, while a government grant in March 2010 secured production of the Range Rover Evoque at Halewood. It was a sound investment; the Evoque had good reviews and even better sales figures, prompting JLR to introduce 24-hour running at the plant to meet demand. Of course, it’s not just Jaguar Land Rover who provide jobs here: Everton FC’s training ground is in the ward, while Halewood railway station on the Liverpool-Warrington-Manchester line provides a fast link from the local houses to Liverpool city centre.

Halewood South was closely fought between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the 2000s, but since the Coalition was formed the Merseyside area has swung a mile towards Labour with particularly sharp falls in the Lib Dem vote. Labour gained all three seats in Halewood South between 2010 and 2012; in the 2012 election the defending Lib Dems fell to third place behind the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, and they hadn’t been since here since. However, Labour have not had it all their own way in Halewood since 2012, and the problem for them started with the 2016 election when a boundary review cut the size of Knowsley council from 63 councillors to 45. Since Labour held all 63 seats at the time, that meant they needed eighteen of their councillors to retire or be deselected; and one of those deselected was Halewood South councillor Allan Harvey. He didn’t take it well. Harvey stood for re-election as an independent, finished as runner-up, and in this May’s ordinary election was narrowly returned to Knowsley council as an independent candidate: he defeated the official Labour candidate by 47% to 46%, a majority of 41 votes.

That defeated Labour candidate Gary See now has the chance to make a quick comeback; he was a councillor for this ward from 2012 until his defeat three months ago, at which point he was in the Knowsley council cabinet. See’s toughest opposition may well come from another independent candidate: Halewood town councillor Bob Swann was a long-serving Labour councillor for the former Halewood West ward, who got deselected when his ward was abolished in 2016. Also standing are Victoria Smart for the Conservatives and Jenny McNeilis for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Garston and Halewood
ONS Travel to Work Area: Liverpool
Postcode districts: L24, L25, L26, WA8

Jenny McNeilis (LD)
Gary See (Lab)
Victoria Smart (C)
Bob Swann (Ind)

May 2018 result Ind 1231 Lab 1190 C 180
May 2016 result Lab 1339/1333/1191 Ind 558 TUSC 442/330/324 C 215


Wirral council, Merseyside; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Warren Ward. First elected in 2016 at the age of 18 as the youngest-ever Wirral councillor, Ward is resigning to concentrate on his role at Wirral Chamber of Commerce and to attempt to become a special constable.

From one iconic factory to another, as we cross the Mersey into the land of plastic. Or soap. In 1887 business was booming for Lever Brothers, one of the UK’s major soap manufacturers, and their Warrington plant was struggling to cope with the demand. William Lever (as he was then) alighted on a site for a new factory, on the Wirral peninsula between the Liverpool-Chester railway line and the Mersey estuary, and built a factory and model village to house his employees. The village became known as Port Sunlight, after Lever Brothers’ most popular product, and is architecturally astonishing; every house was built by a different architect, no two houses are the same, and virtually every one is now listed. A big change from the identikit terracing which was going up all over the North West at the time. One of those listed buildings is Hulme Hall, originally built as a women’s dining hall, where Ringo Starr first performed as part of the Beatles in August 1962. Port Sunlight was very much a company village until comparatively recently: Lever Brothers, and their successors Unilever, continued to own all the houses in the village into the 1980s.

Ideas like model villages do not come in isolation, and Port Sunlight wasn’t even the first model village in Bromborough ward. That was Bromborough Pool, developed closer to the Mersey in the mid-1850s for workers at the Price’s candle factory which by 1900 was the world’s largest manufacturer of candles. No longer; although the Price’s name still exists production moved to Italy some years ago. It’s no coincidence that James Wilson of Price’s Candles and William Lever of Lever Brothers were both evangelical Christians, concerned for the welfare of their workforce; but that religious fervour hasn’t been passed on to Bromborough ward’s modern population. Bromborough turned in a 70% Christian score at the 2011 census, which is in the top fifth of wards in England and Wales but comparatively low for a ward in north-west England, where lapsed Christians are generally more likely to list their old religion on the census than people elsewhere.

Bromborough proper remains an industrial area, although one particularly nasty place – the Port Sunlight landfill site on the estuary coast – has recently been landscaped into a rather nice park. The main railway line (with four stations) and the old road from Liverpool to Chester pass through the ward, giving easy links to the big city over (or more accurately under) the water. Indeed New Ferry, a rather deprived area at the northern end of the ward, had a ferry service to Liverpool Pier Head until the 1920s.

Bromborough ward is in the Wirral South parliamentary constituency, which has been Labour-held since a by-election in early 1997 but where Labour have often struggled in local elections. At one point in the 2000s there were no Labour councillors in the seat at all. During this time Bromborough was a Lib Dem area, but as elsewhere in Merseyside their vote melted away with the advent of Coalition: Labour gained two of Bromborough’s Lib Dem seats in 2010 and 2011 and the other through the defection of Lib Dem councillor Steve Niblock. Niblock was deselected by Labour in 2016 and stood for re-election as an independent, coming a rather distant second to Warren Ward; he didn’t stand in the May 2018 election at which Labour beat the Conservatives 61-22.

Defending for Labour is Jo Bird, a business consultant in the co-operative movement. The Conservatives have selected Des Drury, a former New Ferry shopkeeper who fought the neighbouring Bebington ward in May. Also standing are Vicky Downie for the Liberal Democrats, Susan Braddock for the Green Party and the aforementioned Steve Niblock as an independent.

Parliamentary constituency: Wirral South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Birkenhead
Postcode districts: CH62, CH63

Jo Bird (Lab)
Susan Braddock (Grn)
Vicky Downie (LD)
Des Drury (C)
Steve Niblock (Ind)

May 2018 result Lab 2120 C 768 LD 386 Grn 198
May 2016 result Lab 1805 Ind 985 C 442 LD 151 Grn 131 TUSC 60
May 2015 result Lab 4478 C 1396 UKIP 865 LD 367 Grn 330 TUSC 118
May 2014 result Lab 1709 UKIP 772 C 469 LD 247 Grn 225
May 2012 result Lab 2292 C 466 UKIP 298 LD 296 Grn 187
May 2011 result Lab 2609 LD 768 C 742 UKIP 227 Grn 157
May 2010 result Lab 3016 LD 1815 C 1428 BNP 328 Grn 170
May 2008 result LD 1496 Lab 817 C 746 BNP 253 Grn 132 UKIP 53
May 2007 result LD 1753 Lab 1002 C 684 Grn 192
May 2006 result LD 1827 Lab 924 C 487 Grn 190
June 2004 result LD 2633/2517/2335 Lab 1146/1049/1017 C 460/433/392 Grn 260 Wirral Ind Network 114

Newton Regis and Warton

North Warwickshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Patrick Davey who had served since 2015.

We return to the Midlands with the northernmost ward of Warwickshire, covering several villages to the east of Tamworth either side of the M42 motorway. Despite the order of the names, the largest centre of population is Warton, a village just to the north of Poleworth and part of Polesworth parish; Warton grew strongly in the 1960s with the construction of a housing estate which attracted some Birmingham overspill. Other villages in the ward, such as Austrey (which is recorded in the Domesday Book) are more rural in character.

This ward was created in 2003 by merging the former wards of Warton and Newton Regis, which both elected one North Warwickshire councillor even though population movements meant that Warton had twice the electorate of Newton Regis by 1998. The combined ward split its two seats between the Conservatives and Lib Dems in 2003 in a close three-way result, but the Tories knocked the Lib Dem out in 2007 and have since made the ward safe. In 2015 the Conservatives won here with 53%, to 26% for Labour and 21% for UKIP. Things are more pluralistic at county council level where most of the ward is in the Polesworth division, which voted Labour last year; Warton however is in the Baddesley and Dordon division which is safely Conservative.

This by-election is a straight fight between two local candidates. Defending from the blue corner is Marian Humphreys of Austrey, who is the wife of the ward’s other councillor David Humphreys. Challenging from the red corner is Andrew Downes, from Newton Regis.

Parliamentary constituency: North Warwickshire
Warwickshire county council division: Polesworth (Austrey, Newton Regis, Seckington and Shuttington parishes), Baddesley and Dordon (part of Polesworth parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Birmingham
Postcode districts: B78, B79, CV9

Andrew Downes (Lab)
Marian Humphreys (C)

May 2015 result C 1083/834 Lab 538/525 UKIP 427
May 2011 result C 838/798 Lab 457/383
May 2007 result C 620/610 LD 491/238 Lab 252/233
May 2003 result LD 454/291 C 382/363 Lab 377/297


East Hertfordshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Michael Freeman, who has since died. He had served since 2015.

After two polls in the Midlands and two in the North, we come to our southern pair of by-elections this week. We are in the Home Counties in Watton-at-Stone, a village on the road and railway line halfway between Stevenage and Hertford; Watton has a railway station with hourly trains to Moorgate in central London, and so is favoured by commuters. The village was the childhood home of the actor Rupert Grint, and the boxing promoter Frank Warren is an elector here; famous former residents include the locomotive engineer Sir Nigel Gresley, who died here in 1941, and the mathematician Alan Turing who spent a summer here during his childhood.

Watton-at-Stone ward has unchanged boundaries since East Hertfordshire district was created in the 1970s reorganisation. The inaugural 1973 election here was between two independent candidates, but at every opportunity since then Watton-at-Stone has returned Conservatives, often with very large majorities. In 2015 the Conservatives polled a relatively low 66% here, with 15% for UKIP best of the rest.

Defending for the Conservatives is Andrew Huggins, a town councillor in Buntingford some distance to the north-east. With UKIP withdrawing he is opposed by Veronica Fraser of Labour and local resident Sophie Bell of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: North East Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire county council divsiion: Hertford Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City
Postcode districts: SG12, SG14

Sophie Bell (LD)
Veronica Fraser (Lab)
Andrew Huggins (C)

May 2015 result C 931 UKIP 206 Lab 157 Grn 108
May 2013 by-election C 755 Lab 82
May 2011 result C 750 Lab 128
May 2007 result C unopposed
May 2003 result C 585 Lab 62
May 1999 result C 631 Lab 129
May 1995 result C 556 Lab 150
May 1991 result C 580 Lab 157
May 1987 result C 475 All 322 Lab 56
May 1983 result C 585 Lab 149
May 1979 result C 776 Lab 322
May 1976 result C 528 Lab 298
May 1973 result Ind 351 Ind 148


Cornwall council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Nigel Pearce. He had served on the modern Cornwall council since its creation in 2009, sitting for Bude South ward until 2013; before that he was a North Cornwall district councillor for Bude ward from 2007 to 2009. He has recently remarried following the death of his first wife, and intends to travel and enjoy life with his new spouse.

It’s August, so it must be time for a trip to Cornwall and to the seaside. We were in Newquay a couple of weeks ago; this time Andrew’s Previews travels to Cornwall’s northernmost town, Bude. Like Newquay, this is another Victorian seaside resort with sandy beaches, good surfing and good weather – in the summer of 2013 Bude was the sunniest place in the UK with 783 hours of sunlight recorded. There is also a small port here which in times gone by exported grain to and imported coal from Wales; the port is the starting-point of the Bude Canal, a navigation which once ran all the way to Launceston.

Newquay has retained its rail link to the outside world, but Bude has the dubious distinction of being the English town most remote from the rail network. The nearest stations, Bodmin Parkway and Gunnislake, are over thirty miles away; while the local tourist website suggests a bus connection from Exeter as the most convenient railhead. Those pre-Beeching days when the Atlantic Coast Express ran here straight from London are long gone. Despite the access difficulties tourism is still the mainstay of Bude’s economy, although the town’s largest employer is now GCHQ which runs a listening station a few miles to the north.

At the time of the 2011 census this area was covered by three electoral divisions, Bude South, Bude North and Stratton, and the misnamed Flexbury and Poughill which in fact didn’t cover Flexbury. (Flexbury was in Bude North and Stratton.) That rare error by the Local Government Boundary Commission was compounded by delays in getting the boundaries ready for the first unitary Cornwall council election, which led to a decision being taken to use the Commission’s draft boundaries for the 2009 election rather than the finished article. The mistake was sorted out for the 2013 poll which introduced the final map of 122 Cornish divisions electing 123 councillors; Bude is the odd one out, returning two councillors to the county hall in Truro. Census analysis still has to use the draft boundaries: the 2011 census return had [Flexbury and] Poughill in the top 90 wards or divisions in England and Wales for small employers, reflecting the fact that as well as Poughill the division included a large and remote rural area.

In 2009 the Lib Dems won all three of the predecessor divisions, and they have held both seats in Bude since the present division was created in 2013. In 2017 the Lib Dem slate led the Conservatives here 53-38, which was a swing to the Conservatives compared with four years previously.

Defending for the Lib Dems is David Parsons, who was a Cornwall councillor from Bude from 2011 (when he won a by-election in Bude North and Stratton) to 2017 when he stood down. He owns a family hardware shop in the town and was formerly deputy headteacher at Launceston College. The candidate list reveals a split on the Conservative side: the official Conservative candidate is Alex Dart, from Launceston, a recent politics graduate from the University of Kent; but standing as an independent is the Mayor of Bude-Stratton, photographer Bob Willingham who was on the Conservative slate here last year and finished as runner-up. Completing the ballot paper is Ray Shemilt of Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: North Cornwall
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bude
Postcode district: EX23

Alex Dart (C)
David Parsons (LD)
Ray Shemilt (Lab)
Bob Willingham (Ind)

May 2017 result LD 1395/1272 C 1006/938 Lab 248
May 2013 result LD 1413/1281 C 460