Previews: 01 Nov 2018

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

There are three by-elections on 1st November 2018, with something for everyone. All the major parties have a seat each to defend, and we go from villages to a town to the big city; from the North to the West to East Ham. We’ll go down the pub, talk politics and football, and – like so much of politics at the moment – indulge in rather a lot of fantasy. But before then, if you’d just like to step into this police box…

Denby Dale

Kirklees council, West Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Billy Jewitt on health grounds. He had served only since May.

I don’t make any apology for starting this week with the Yorkshire stereotype of a brass band. I like this sort of stuff, and so – it appears – do the residents of Skelmanthorpe where brass has been played for generations. The Skelmanthorpe band is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, making it one of the oldest brass ensembles in the country. The performance above, at the Bolsover Festival of Brass last year, won second prize in the First Section with Dan Jackson, on euph, picking up the prize for best soloist. Skelmanthorpe are not in the top rank of banding – the First Section is one level below the top or Championship Section – but I think you’ll agree from listening to them that their quality is excellent nonetheless.

Particularly so given their catchment: an obscure village of around 3,000 souls in the foothills of the Pennines, which is perhaps best known as the birthplace of the current Doctor Who, Jodie Whittaker. Skelmanthorpe doesn’t even merit a parish of its own: along with Clayton West, a settlement of similar size, it’s included in the parish of Denby Dale.

These are all villages on or close to the River Dearne, and they greatly expanded in population due to the Industrial Revolution. Although Denby Dale is known for its giant pies – the tenth and most recent one, baked in 2000 to celebrate the Millennium, served 22,000 people – the main industry here in the upper Dearne valley was not food but textiles, with some coalmining in Clayton West and Emley to throw into the mix. Emley may be a fairly tiny village, but anybody from the West Riding can tell you where it is thanks to this thing on the horizon:

That’s the UK’s tallest freestanding structure, the Emley Moor tower, which broadcasts television signals to the whole of Yorkshire.

To some extent you have to wonder how a place as small-town as this ended up in a Metropolitan Borough. There are no good roads connecting the ward to anywhere else; the main railway connection is the little-used Penistone Line to Huddersfield, Barnsley and Sheffield. Nonetheless this area comes under the jurisdiction of Kirklees council – based in Huddersfield, ten miles to the north-west – and is part of the Dewsbury constituency.

Dewsbury is a marginal parliamentary seat which was a Tory gain in 2010 but which Labour recovered in 2015 against the national trend. And you can see that Labour recovery written in the annual election results for Denby Dale, which was a Tory ward – mostly reasonably comfortably – until 2010 and then turned into a key marginal. Labour gained the ward by 85 votes in 2012 and held that gain in 2016, but so far haven’t been able to pick up the other two Tory seats. Billy Jewitt was first elected in May in succession to long-serving Tory councillor Jim Dodds; he beat the Labour candidate by 47% to 43%, a majority of 237 votes. A Labour gain here will improve the party’s small majority on Kirklees council where they currently hold 37 out of 69 seats, with the Conservatives forming the official opposition on 18 (plus this vacancy).

So, this is one to watch because it might tell us something about the national picture in these unstable political times. Defending for the Conservatives is Paula Kemp, a Denby Dale parish councillor (for Emley ward) who has lived and worked in the ward for 25 years. In a clash of the generations Labour have reselected their candidate from May Will Simpson, a 21-year-old from Clayton West who worked on the 2015 Labour election campaign for Dewsbury despite being too young to vote at the time. Also standing are Isabel Walters for the Green Party and Alison Baskeyfield for the Lib Dems.

The picture of Emley Moor tower is by Chris Charlesworth and released under this Creative Commons Licence.

Parliamentary constituency: Dewsbury
ONS Travel to Work Area: Huddersfield
Postcode districts: HD8, WF4

alison Baskeyfield (LD)
Paula Kemp (C)
Will Simpson (Lab)
Isabel Walters (Grn)

May 2018 result C 2592 Lab 2355 Grn 391 LD 153
May 2016 result Lab 2631 C 2484 LD 320
May 2015 result C 4126 Lab 2886 UKIP 1320 Grn 662 LD 400
May 2014 result C 2251 Lab 2036 Grn 660 LD 194
May 2012 result Lab 2128 C 2043 Grn 576 LD 253
May 2011 result C 2514 Lab 2285 Grn 443 LD 392 EDP 276 BNP 206
May 2010 result C 3875 Lab 2684 LD 1666 BNP 612 Grn 513
May 2008 result C 2474 Lab 1711 BNP 394 LD 372 Grn 288 EDP 172
May 2007 result C 2144 Lab 1564 LD 433 Grn 372 BNP 365 EDP 310
May 2006 result C 2012 Lab 1391 LD 558 EDP 436 BNP 434 Grn 414
June 2004 result Lab 2196/1907/1871 C 2092/2069/1758 BNP 914 Grn 804/773/586 LD 701/606/578


South Gloucestershire council; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Gloria Stephen who had served since 2015.

“Y is for Yate, the kind of town that referees come from.”
– Half Man Half Biscuit, The Referee’s Alphabet

There’s a fair amount of literature which has written been about elections, and here I don’t mean leaflets or manifestos but bona fide fiction. Dickens and Joyce both indulged in the practice, and one recent effort in this subgenre was The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling – who was born in 1965 in the Gloucestershire town of Yate. Despite my best efforts, this column can’t claim that every local by-election is as gripping as Rowling’s prose; but the best ones give off an air of “you couldn’t make this up” which is all the better because the characters are real and the stories actually happened.

The setting for this contest is Rowling’s home town. Yate is one of the largest towns you’ve probably never heard of, with a population of over 35,000: it has absorbed the better-known settlement of Chipping Sodbury and partially spilled over the parish boundary into the neighbouring parish of Dodington. This quasi-New Town overspill development is the area which comprises Dodington ward; essentially one of the four wards covering Yate and Sodbury, Dodington ward should not be confused with the village of the same name, which is some miles away and in a different ward.

Most of Dodington ward was developed in the 1970s when Yate was growing strongly as a commuter and overspill town for Bristol. The place could have become even bigger: just outside the ward boundary is the Road to Nowhere, a dual carriageway crossing Yate Common which has never been finished because there was no money to take it over the railway line. With the Road to Nowhere being still unfinished, Dodington ward is rather cut off from the outside world but nonetheless has some unusual demographics. In the 2011 census it was number 9 of all the wards in England and Wales for those with 1 to 4 GCSE passes or equivalent, and number 20 for those with 5 or more GCSE passes but nothing higher. Dodington makes the top 100 wards in England and Wales for part-time employment (18.25% of the workforce) and also scores highly for full-time employment.

Presumably many of those jobs are in the big city of Bristol, since Yate’s traditional industries were winding down around the time of the town’s expansion. Those industries included an aircraft factory next to the railway station (the factory is still going but now makes white goods rather than aircraft) and a mine which at its height supplied 95% of the world’s supply of celestine. Celestine is one of the major sources of the metal strontium, which you’re probably seeing a lot of at the moment: strontium is the material which burns red in fireworks.

The fireworks of the political variety in Dodington tend to burn not red but yellow, and there have been plenty of them recently. Yate was named in a parliamentary seat for the first time in 2010 with the creation of the Thornbury and Yate constituency: that seat was won easily in 2010 by the Liberal Democrats’ Steve Webb, who subsequently entered government as the minister responsible for pensions in the Coalition. The Lib Dems had a stranglehold on most of the wards in the constituency, and Dodington swung strongly towards them in the 2011 local elections and a September 2012 by-election, in which the Tories fell to fourth place behind UKIP. UKIP were still ahead of the Conservatives in Dodington at the 2015 local elections, where the Lib Dems polled 41% to 24% for UKIP and 23% for the Tories; however, on the same day Steve Webb lost his seat to the Conservatives, and in the snap general election two years later there was a further big swing to the blue team. There have been no local elections in South Gloucestershire since 2015, so it remains to be seen in what shape the Lib Dem machine is in after that sort of reverse.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is a candidate notable enough to merit her own Wikipedia page, although you’d have a hard time finding it from the statement of persons nominated alone. Louise Bloom’s elected career started in 2000 when she was a founder member of the Greater London Authority; she resigned from the GLA less than two years later and shortly afterwards turned up on Eastleigh council in Hampshire. Bloom served for fifteen years on that council, including in the council’s cabinet, and for a time was in a relationship with the Eastleigh council leader Keith House. That didn’t end well: following the breakdown of that relationship, health problems, a police warning for harassment and controversy over missing nine consecutive cabinet meetings, Bloom resigned from Eastleigh council in 2017. She has now returned to her native West Country and reverted to her maiden name of Louise Harris. Harris was co-opted to Dodington parish council in July and works for a charity that supports adults with learning disabilities. UKIP have not returned but the Tories have, and they have been making hay over that personal history as you might expect; their candidate is Ian Livermore who, like Harris, gives an address in Chipping Sodbury. Completing the ballot paper is the only local resident on the ballot paper, RAF veteran and retired IT technician John Malone who has the Labour nomination.

Parliamentary constituency: Thornbury and Yate
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bristol
Postcode district: BS37

Louise Harris (LD)
Ian Livermore (C)
John Malone (Lab)

May 2015 result LD 1592/1375 UKIP 920 C 879/734 Lab 498/371
September 2012 by-election LD 787 Lab 243 UKIP 213 C 139
May 2011 result LD 1340/1324 C 452/429 Lab 294/285
May 2007 result LD 1294/1229 C 719/665 Lab 112/101


Newham council, North London; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Veronica Oakeshott, who is moving away from the borough. She had served since winning a by-election in December 2015, and is probably better known as the sister of the political journalist Isabel Oakeshott.

For our final by-election we are in the big city, two stops short of Barking. The Domesday Book recorded an Essex settlement called Hame; in the twelfth century this got subdivided into two settlements called East and West Ham, with Green Street serving as the boundary between them. It still does, but the coming of the railway in 1859 led to increasing urbanisation in an area just eight miles from Charing Cross. In 1877 a property developer called Mr Read persuaded the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway to open a new station called Upton Park; this has since been transferred to London Underground, with very frequent services on the District Line linking the area to the City and beyond.

Upton Park station is at the northern end of Boleyn ward, a name which betrays royal connections. Or at least supposed royal connections: we do know that the Victorian housing which fills the ward was built around the stately home and gardens of Green Street House. Local legend had it that Anne Boleyn lived there, or her family owned it, or there was some other connection; in any event the building ended up being called Boleyn Castle, and gave its name to a nearby pub called the Boleyn Tavern. In the early 20th century West Ham United football club started playing in the grounds of Boleyn Castle; the grounds became a stadium called the Boleyn Ground, and the house itself was used as a social club before being demolished in the 1950s. Part of it – a freestanding structure known locally as Anne Boleyn’s Tower – lives on in the club logo.

West Ham United joined the Football League in 1919, and were promoted to the First Division in 1923 – in the same year they lost to Bolton Wanderers in the first FA Cup final to be held at Wembley. The Hammers have rarely been out of the top flight since; they had particular success in the mid-1960s, winning the FA Cup in 1964 and the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1965. The following year three West Ham players, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, were in the only England side to date to win the World Cup; all three of those players can be seen in the “Champions” statue on the corner of Green Street and Barking Road. West Ham United moved out of the Boleyn Ground in 2016 and now play out of the Olympic stadium in Stratford; their old stadium has since been demolished and (inevitably) redeveloped for housing.

Anne Boleyn may or may not have visited the East Ham ward which bears her name, but one surprising visitor to the ward was one Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who based himself nearby during the 1931 Round Table conference on the future of India. Gandhi is recorded as visiting the Boleyn Tavern, talking football and radical politics with the locals while supping cream soda. Mahatma Gandhi had a personal connection to West Ham United: in the late 1880s, while a young man practising as a barrister in London, he had served with the club’s founder Arnold Hills on the committee of the London Vegetarian Society.

Gandhi surely can’t have foreseen what was to happen to the area around the Boleyn Tavern. After Indian independence was achieved, this part of East Ham became a major centre of immigration from the subcontinent to London, with Gujaratis and Bangladeshis particularly strongly represented. In 2011 Boleyn ward was in the top 30 wards in England and Wales for population born outside the EU (47%), in the top 60 for those with non-UK qualifications (16%), in the top 70 for Islam (40%) and in the top 75 for Asian ethnicity (55%). Many of those people will shop at Queen’s Market, which is open every day of the week; although Queen’s Market is on the West Ham side of Green Street, by a quirk of the boundaries it is included in this ward. Another business in the ward gives us an unexpected link back to Skelmanthorpe at the start of the preview: the Who Shop, a museum and gift shop dedicated to Doctor Who, can be found on Barking Road.

This adds up to a Labour ward in present conditions, but that’s not unusual for Newham: it’s now over twelve years since any party other than Labour won any elected office within Newham borough. Labour have held Boleyn ward since it was created in 2002 and had a monopoly on every predecessor ward from 1994 onwards. In the May 2018 borough elections Labour beat the Conservatives here 70-19; the GLA elections in 2016, with a wider field, saw Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith in the ward’s ballot boxes 71-15 and Labour beating the Tories in the London Members ballot 70-11.

Defending for Labour is Moniba Khan; she is the wife of former Newham councillor Obaid Khan, who was elected here on the Labour slate in 2014 but subsequently got kicked out of the party for bullying and intimidation. The Tories have reselected Md Fazlul Karim, a businessman who fought the ward in May and runs two shops on Barking Road. Also standing are performance artist Frankie-Rose Taylor for the Green Party and Arunasalam Pirapaharan for the Liberal Democrats.

I am grateful to Tim Roll-Pickering, a Newham Conservative campaigner, for help with this preview; and also belatedly acknowledge his assistance with the Sutton, Belmont preview last week.

Parliamentary constituency: East Ham
London Assembly constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: E6, E13

Md Fazlul Karim (C)
Moniba Khan (Lab)
Arunasalam Pirapaharan (LD)
Frankie-Rose Taylor (Grn)

May 2018 result Lab 2624/2544/2280 C 693/450/384 Grn 405
Dec 2015 by-election Lab 1440 LD 181 C 171 Grn 117 UKIP 98 Ind 10
May 2014 result Lab 2658/2505/2425 C 869/823/756 TUSC 342 CPA 270/259
May 2010 result Lab 3261/3221/3107 C 1354/1177/844 CPA 386/314/275 Kamran Malik Communities Welfare Party 116/81
May 2006 result Lab 1627/1547/1514 Respect 1219/1082/1007 C 528/484/426 CPA 308
May 2002 result Lab 1321/1224/1122 C 579 Grn 507 CPA 289

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 2423 C 528 Grn 116 Respect 95 LD 70 UKIP 51 Britain First 35 Women’s Equality 33 BNP 22 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 22 One Love 8 Zylinksi 8
London Members: Lab 2451 C 373 Grn 137 Respect 108 UKIP 100 LD 98 Women’s Equality 68 CPA 43 Britain First 41 Animal Welfare 28 BNP 22 House Party 8