Previews: 29 Nov 2018

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

We have now officially run out of time for a general election before the New Year, so this week’s seven local by-elections form the biggest remaining electoral test of 2018. There are two defences each for the three main parties and one seat being defended by a localist independent group; and four of today’s polls are in marginal areas of the South Midlands where the Lib Dems have or had strength but have given ground in recent years, so there is lots of potential for gains and losses this week. Let’s get straight into the thick of things with our token Northern by-election and first Labour defence of the week. Read on…

Failsworth East

Oldham council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Cheryl Brock, who had served since 2016.

We start this week in the east of Greater Manchester, at the point where the big city of Manchester starts to break down into a series of former textile towns. One of those is Failsworth, which may look like part of Manchester but administratively never has been; instead the ward’s council tax ix collected from the concrete carbuncle which is Oldham Civic Centre. Within the M60 motorway, Failsworth lies on the main road and tram line from Manchester to Oldham; the East ward is based on the Hollinwood area next to the motorway, together with the village of Woodhouses where Michael Atherton, the former England captain, learned to play cricket. Woodhouses lies in open country in the south of the ward, much of which is part of the Daisy Nook country park; at the far end of the ward can be found Hollinwood tram stop on the Oldham branch of the Metrolink network.

Failsworth East ward has appeared in Andrew’s Previews a couple of times before, most recently in February 2017 – see pages 34 and 35 of Andrew’s Previews 2017, still available from Amazon and a delightful Christmas present for the discerning psephologist. It’s normally a safe Labour ward, certainly so in the current political climate; but I have to put a disclaimer in because of the 2008 election here, when the Tories won by eight votes in what appears to be a freak result. The Conservatives didn’t even defend their gain when it came up for re-election in 2012, and the closest Labour have come to losing since was in 2014 when they had a twelve-point lead over UKIP. By 2016 the Conservatives were back in second place, and in May this year the Labour lead was 53-29. That was a recovery from the Tory point of view from the 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election, when Andy Burnham carried this ward 72-22, and from the February 2017 by-election which Labour won 58-25.

That by-election was won by Paul Jacques, and the defending Labour candidate this time round is his wife Elizabeth. Regular Conservative candidate Antony Cahill returns for his fourth consecutive attempt at the ward. Also standing are independent candidate Warren Bates, who was elected as a UKIP councillor for the neighbouring Failsworth West ward in 2014 but lost re-election as an independent in May; Stephen Barrow of the Liberal Democrats; and official UKIP candidate Paul Goldring. From the UKIP point of view that’s already an improvement on last week’s local by-elections, where in this time of Brexit there were no UKIP candidates at all.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashton-under-Lyne
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: M35, OL3, OL8, OL9

Stephen Barrow (LD)
Warren Bates (Ind)
Antony Cahill (C)
Paul Goldring (UKIP)
Elizabeth Jacques (Lab)

May 2018 result Lab 1072 C 575 Ind 275 Grn 70 LD 23
February 2017 by-election Lab 829 C 360 UKIP 166 Grn 49 LD 16
May 2016 result Lab 1410 C 509 Grn 166 LD 62
May 2015 result Lab 2571 UKIP 1118 C 809 Grn 156 LD 73
May 2014 result Lab 1055 UKIP 785 C 284 Grn 93 LD 24
June 2012 by-election Lab 1199 UKIP 209 LD 109
May 2012 result Lab 1585 LD 283
May 2011 result Lab 1925 C 674 LD 124
May 2010 result Lab 2492 C 1438 LD 546 Ind 235
May 2008 result C 1036 Lab 1028 Grn 173 LD 136
May 2007 result Lab 1476 C 825 Grn 154 LD 96
May 2006 result Lab 1227 C 806 Grn 356 LD 161
June 2004 result Lab 1780/1779/1351 C 760 Grn 561 LD 221/209/206

May 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Lab 1230 C 376 EDP 35 UKIP 34 Grn 19 LD 13 Farmer 6 Aslam 0

Stratford North

Warwickshire county council; caused by the death of Keith Lloyd, who had been elected for the Stratford First Independents. Born in Ruthin in 1958, Lloyd had been a Stratford-upon-Town councillor since 1999, and was Mayor of the town in 2012-13 – as his father Ted had been in 1989-90.

Having got our Northern appetiser out of the way, we now come to the main course: a series of interesting by-elections in the South Midlands. For the first of these we come to Warwickshire and the banks of the Avon. In Roman times there was a minor road connecting Alcester to the Fosse Way, and this forded the Avon; a village grew up around the “street ford”, and the Norman lord of the manor John of Coutances had big plans for it. He laid out a new town at the end of the twelfth century, and persuaded Richard the Lionheart to grant a market charter for his new settlement. And so the town of Stratford-upon-Avon was born.

Stratford’s location on the Avon and the Roman Road was a good one, and it benefited from passing trade – particularly so after the completion of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal which allowed navigation from the Avon to the heavy industry of Birmingham and the West Midlands. However, the mainstay of the town’s economy today is essentially down to two men who lived a century and a half apart. The first was William Shakespeare, who was born in 1564 at a house within this division on Henley Street which still stands today; the second was David Garrick, who tapped into an emerging phenomenon of Bardolatry by organising a jubilee celebration of Shakespeare’s life in Stratford in September 1769. And ever since then Stratford has been overrun with tourists attracted here by the Bard of Avon and the Royal Shakespeare Company, which runs three theatres in the town.

One person one vote is a thing within the Labour party at the moment, and the Bard would certainly have recognised that; however, in his day there literally was one person one vote with that one person being an absolute monarch. Democracy was not a thing in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and you don’t get noted scenes in his Shakespeare set in hustings; you will find the campaign trail, but only in the context of military campaigns. However, there’s certainly been a bit of electoral drama in Stratford-upon-Avon at recent times. But before we go into that a word about names is in order here: the local district council is called Stratford-on-Avon, while the parish-level town council is called Stratford-upon-Avon, so please pay attention to the exact form of the council name as this gives a clue to whatever level of government I’m writing about.

At local level the town is a stronghold of the Liberal Democrats, but Stratford’s northern end has for many years been closely fought between the Lib Dems, the Conservatives and Keith Lloyd. Lloyd was elected to Stratford-on-Avon district council in 2003 as an independent candidate, defeating the Liberal Democrats by just one vote in the old Stratford Avenue and New Town ward; he lost his seat to the Conservatives in 2007, got it back in 2011 and lost again in 2015 when Avenue and New Town was broken up into three new wards by the Boundary Commission. Lloyd lost re-election in Welcombe ward, finishing eighty votes behind the Conservatives; the Tories also won Avenue ward while Clopton ward was the only part of Stratford-on-Avon district to return a Labour councillor in 2015.

Stratford Avenue and New Town also elected a Warwickshire county councillor, and Keith Lloyd gained that seat in 2013 standing for the Stratford First independent group; he was re-elected in 2017 in the successor division of Stratford North. This division now takes in part of the Hathaway ward of the district council, which voted Lib Dem in 2015 by a majority of six votes. In 2017 Lloyd had 33% of the vote, to 28% for the Conservatives and 24% for the Liberal Democrats.

So, there is all to play for here. Defending for Stratford First is Juliet Short, a former district councillor (originally Conservative, later independent) and twice Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon; she is a former teacher who now runs a dance company. In the unaccustomed position for an O of top of the ballot paper is the Conservative candidate Lynda Organ, who has been a district councillor since 1986 with continuous service from 2011; she represents the town’s Bridgetown ward on the district council, and sits on the Stratford-on-Avon cabinet. The Liberal Democrats have selected Dominic Skinner, an architect, amateur actor, rugby player and prospective parliamentary candidate. Completing the ballot paper are Joshua Payne for Labour and John Riley for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Stratford-on-Avon
Stratford-on-Avon council wards: Avenue, Clopton, Welcombe, Hathaway (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leamington Spa
Postcode district: CV37

Lynda Organ (C)
Joshua Payne (Lab)
John Riley (Grn)
Juliet Short (Stratford First)
Dominic Skinner (LD)

May 2017 result Stratford First 876 C 753 LD 640 Lab 244 Grn 134


Oxfordshire county council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat county councillor Kirsten Johnson, who has been selected as the party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for North Devon. She had served only since May 2017.

We travel south to rural Oxfordshire. The Wheatley division covers a series of villages immediately to the east of Oxford; the largest of these is Wheatley itself, the point where the M40 motorway originally ended when it was simply a London-Oxford link. The M40 was extended to Birmingham in 1990 in one of the last great motorway projects, but there may be more roadbuilding on the horizon with a huge local controversy over plans to build an “expressway” through the area to connect Oxford with Milton Keynes and Cambridge. (Whatever happened to the Northern Powerhouse?) The Wheatley division is fairly standard commuter villages, but you can’t go far from Oxford without talking about education: Oxford Brookes University has a campus in Wheatley teaching IT, maths and engineering.

The Wheatley county division has been Lib Dem-held for many years, but the party’s majority plunged in the 2017 election after long-serving county councillor Anne Purse retired; Kirsten Johnson held the seat with a lead over the Conservatives of just 68 votes, 45% to 43%. Adding to this recent Lib Dem weakness, the Conservatives hold all the South Oxfordshire district council seats within the division boundary.

So this could be a difficult defence for the Lib Dems, and they have selected Tim Bearder to hold the seat. A former BBC journalist, Bearder is the son of Catherine Bearder, the only remaining Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament. He’s appeared in Andrew’s Previews before, failing to defend the North ward by-election for Oxford city council in September 2013; and his Tory opponent also unsuccessfully stood in that by-election. Oxford University Press accountant John Walsh has been the Conservative candidate for Wheatley at every county council election since 2005, and since 2015 has been a South Oxfordshire councillor for Forest Hill and Holton ward – one of the wards within this division. Completing the ballot paper is Michael Nixon for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Henley
South Oxfordshire council wards: Forest Hill and Holton, Wheatley, Garsington and Horspath (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Oxford
Postcode districts: HP18, OX2, OX3, OX4, OX9, OX33, OX44

Tim Bearder (LD)
Michael Nixon (Lab)
John Walsh (C)

May 2017 result LD 1372 C 1304 Lab 361
May 2013 result LD 932 C 622 UKIP 402 Lab 209 Grn 164

Aylesbury North-West

Buckinghamshire county council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat county councillor Martin Farrow, who had served since 2017.

For the third of our series of Midlands by-elections in marginal areas we come to Buckinghamshire. This is a county where we are going to see rather fewer local by-elections in years to come: local government reorganisation has been announced for Buckinghamshire which will see the county council and four district councils (Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks and Wycombe) swept away in favour of a new single Buckinghamshire council. This new structure is intended to come into operation in 2020, and as part of the package the May 2019 district council elections in Buckinghamshire are expected to be cancelled – except that they haven’t been officially cancelled yet. Those few parliamentary drafters not preoccupied by Brexit are presumably still working on the legal documents, but this is a rather uncertain time for the county’s election staff who theoretically have district council elections to plan for in just over five months’ time.

Nonetheless, the county council will still exist for at least a year yet so it’s worthwhile having a by-election. As the name suggests we’re in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire’s unlovely county town and one of the growth areas of modern Britain. The North-West county division (yes, it is hyphenated like that) is based on the majority of the Gatehouse ward to the north of the town centre, together with part of the Riverside ward at the western end of town. Riverside was covered in Andrew’s Previews last year: as well as the town proper, it extends over the River Thame to take in the very large and very new Berryfields housing development (which is not part of this division).

Aylesbury town was a Lib Dem stronghold at local level until the Coalition was formed, after which its election results took a turn for the Eurosceptic. In the 2011 district council polls UKIP gained Quarrendon ward (the pre-development predecessor to Riverside) from the Lib Dems, and in the 2013 county elections three of Aylesbury’s six county divisions, including North-West, voted Kipper. The 2015 district elections saw Gatehouse and Riverside wards expanded from two seats to three by the Boundary Commission, with both new seats going to the Conservatives; the Tory councillor for Riverside ward resigned in 2017 and the Conservatives narrowly held off the Lib Dems in the by-election.

That by-election was held in August 2017, so after the May 2017 county elections in which the Lib Dems gained Aylesbury North-West from UKIP. Their gain was on a low share of the vote: just 30% for the winning Lib Dems, 25% for the Conservatives, 23% for Labour and 20% for the outgoing UKIP councillor who finished in fourth place.

Can we expect another close result here? Defending for the Lib Dems is Anders Christensen, leader of the Lib Dem group on Aylesbury Vale council and district councillor for Gatehouse ward since winning a by-election in December 2014; Christensen is also an Aylesbury town councillor and chairman of Buckingham Park parish council (covering another new development just to the north of town, which is not part of this division). The Conservatives have selected recruitment consultant and district councillor Ashley Waite, who defeated the Lib Dems in the Riverside by-election in August last year and will be hoping to do the same thing again. The Labour candidate is Liz Hind, a pub landlady and vice-chair of the party’s Aylesbury branch. In an illustration of how far UKIP have sunk from their glory days there is no UKIP candidate, so the Greens’ Mark Wheeler completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Aylesbury
Aylesbury Vale council wards: Gatehouse (part), Riverside (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: High Wycombe and Aylesbury
Postcode districts: HP18, HP19, HP20, HP22

Anders Christensen (LD)
Liz Hind (Lab)
Ashley Waite (C)
Mark Wheeler (Grn)

May 2017 result LD 658 C 542 Lab 501 UKIP 436 Grn 72
May 2013 result UKIP 939 LD 543 Lab 312 C 302

Delapre and Briar Hill

Northampton council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Victoria Culbard who had served since 2015.

We conclude the series of by-elections in marginal South Midlands wards by travelling to one of the largest towns in the UK which has yet to achieve city status, Northampton. In days gone by Northampton was an important mediaeval centre with the sort of religious institutions that attracted, and one of those was the abbey of St Mary de la Pré. A mile to the south of Northampton across the River Nene, Delapré Abbey dates from an earlier Anarchy, that of the twelfth century: it was founded as one of only two nunneries is England associated with the Cluniac order. After the Dissolution the abbey buildings were incorporated into a neoclassical mansion within extensive grounds; this ended up in the hands of Northampton council and until last year was home to the county records office. The Abbey’s grounds include one of the three surviving Eleanor Crosses and are a scheduled monument: the 1460 Battle of Northampton, a decisive Yorkist victory in the Wars of the Roses, was fought here.

Delapré Abbey gives its name to a ward which has something for everyone. Pretty much every style and age of housing can be found here, from the Victorian terraces of Far Cotton to the postwar estates of Briar Hill to the brand new buildings of the University of Northampton’s Riverside Campus, which has only been open for two months. The census picked up a significant Polish community in Far Cotton. This is a mostly low-lying area and suffered badly from flooding when the Nene burst its banks this spring.

The ward has something for everyone politically as well, having been a hard-fought three-way marginal for years. The predecessor Delapre ward split its two seats between the Lib Dems and Conservatives in 2007, with Labour and the BNP close behind; the first election on the current boundaries in 2011 resulted in a three-way split between the three main parties. In 2015 Labour gained the Lib Dem seat and topped the poll, but with just 28% of the vote; the Conservatives held their seat with 25%, UKIP had 20% and the Lib Dems 17%. On the same day David Mackintosh, the Tory leader of Northampton council, was elected as MP for the local constituency of Northampton South.

At county level the ward is split between two divisions. Delapre and Far Cotton are in the Delapre and Rushmere division, which Labour gained from the Liberal Democrats in 2017; Briar Hill is in the Sixfields division, which the Conservatives gained from the Liberal Democrats last year. Not that Sixfields is a word the Northampton Conservatives want to hear very much at the moment. Mackintosh, as leader of Northampton Council, had approved a loan of an eight-figure sum to pay for improvements to the Sixfields football stadium, home of Northampton Town FC; but the company which received the money subsequently went bust with the work uncompleted, millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money unaccounted for and accusations of improper donations to Mackintosh’s election campaign fund. It was all too much for the Northampton Conservatives to stomach, and Mackintosh was essentially forced to retire from the Commons at the 2017 election after just two years in office.

Mind, Labour have problems of their own in the ward, having lost both their Delapre councillors in the last few months. Vicky Culbard has stepped down from the council on health grounds, prompting this by-election; while her ward colleague Julie Davenport has recently left the Labour Party and gone independent. UKIP haven’t nominated a candidate, while the Northampton Lib Dems are yet to recover from the experience of their massively unpopular administration in 2007-11.

Defending for Labour is Emma Roberts. The Conservatives have selected Daniel Soan, who is concerned at a rise in antisocial behaviour associated with the new university campus. This may be a difficult subject for the Lib Dem candidate Michael Maher to counter – he studied at and now works at the university. As stated, there is no UKIP candidate. There is an independent candidate, Nicola McKenna, who is endorsed by ex-Labour councillor Julie Davenport and fought this ward on the Lib Dem slate in 2015 (under her former name of Nicola Hedges). Completing the ballot paper is Green Party candidate Denise Donaldson.

Parliamentary constituency: Northampton South
Northamptonshire county council divisions: Delapre and Rushmere (part), Sixfields (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northampton
Postcode districts: NN1, NN4

Denise Donaldson (Grn)
Michael Maher (LD)
Nicola McKenna (Ind)
Emam Roberts (Lab)
Daniel Soan (C)

May 2015 result Lab 1883/1579/1337 C 1676/1428/1234 UKIP 1355 LD 1132/984/870 Northampton Save Our Public Services 462 BNP 266
May 2011 result Lab 969/820/740 LD 947/804/771 C 911/846/744 Ind 568 BNP 274 Northampton Save Our Public Services 258 Grn 250

Welwyn West

Welwyn Hatfield council, Hertfordshire; caused by the death of the Leader of the Council Mandy Perkins at the age of 62. Perkins was a Conservative councillor who was first elected in 1995; she had served in the council’s cabinet since 2002 and became Leader of the Council in May this year.

We finish with two Conservative defences in the Home Counties and London. The northern of these is in Welwyn, the Hertfordshire village which gave its name to the later Garden City a few miles to the south. Like Stratford-upon-Avon, Welwyn grew up at a place where a Roman road crossed a river – in this case, the River Mimram – and extensive Roman remains have been found here. The Roman road was succeeded by the Great North Road bringing coaching trade, but Welwyn was bypassed by the railway and never developed into a town as nearby places like Hatfield and Stevenage did. Despite this the village was a bottleneck on the Great North Road and was bypassed as early as 1927; the A1 bypass was subsequently itself bypassed by a motorway in the 1960s, and that motorway is now sorely in need of upgrade word to better carry the traffic it handles. In a chamber nine metres below the motorway traffic, the excavated remains of a Roman bathhouse can be visited.

Welwyn Hatfield council suffers from frequent boundary reviews: Welwyn West ward was created in 2008 and took on its current boundaries in 2016. The ward, which also includes the Ayots to the west, is generally a safely Conservative area, but in 2012 it did elect independent candidate Sandra Kyriakides who wasn’t far off being re-elected in 2016. In May’s ordinary election the Conservatives increased their lead over Kyriakides to 52-39.

Defending for the Conservatives is Paul Smith, a finance director who stood here in 2012 and lost to Sandra Kyriakides. She has not returned and there is no other independent candidate, so Smith should have an easier task this time to defeat Labour’s Josh Chigwangwa (who returns from May’s election) and Lib Dem Christina Raven.

Parliamentary constituency: Welwyn Hatfield
Hertfordshire county council division: Welwyn
ONS Travel to Work Area: Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City
Postcode districts: AL6, SG4

Josh Chigwangwa (Lab)
Christina Raven (LD)
Paul Smith (C)

May 2018 result C 1054 Ind 785 Lab 191
May 2016 result C 1011/994/941 Ind 896 LD 337/250 Lab 304

Kelsey and Eden Park

Bromley council, South London; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Dave Wibberley who had served only since May this year. He has moved to Liverpool to take up a new job.

Our final poll this week is in the capital. Bromley is London’s southeasternmost borough and was part of Kent until 1965; before the reorganisation the modern Kelsey and Eden Park ward was part of the borough of Beckenham. Development of this part of London was slow to get going: although Eden Park had a railway station as early as 1882, thanks to local landowner William R Mace who made the station a condition of using his land for the railway, at the time it was seen as a place for Londoners to escape to the countryside.

Another local landowner was Charles Hoare, a banker who played one first-class cricket match for Kent and owned Kelsey Manor and its grounds. Kelsey Manor, a rambling pile in the Gothic Revival style, was demolished almost a century ago, but some of its grounds survive today as a public park. That’s at the north end of this ward; Eden Park is the centre, Elmers End (with its railway and tram station) is at the western end.

Much of the southern end of the ward is occupied by the oldest psychiatric hospital in Europe. The Bethlem Royal Hospital has been treating insane patients since at least the fifteenth century, originally at locations closer to London before moving here in 1930. Part of the hospital is open to the public as the Museum of the Mind, which focuses on the institution’s history and noted former patients.

The national political scene may be a source of near-constant Bedlam at the moment, but the home of Bedlam is a much calmer place. Under current political conditions the London Borough of Bromley is safely Conservative and this ward is no different. Bromley went to the polls only in May, with the Conservative slate winning on 44%, Labour on 27% and the Liberal Democrats on 15%. In the 2016 Mayor and Assembly elections the ward’s ballot boxes voted for Zac Goldsmith over Sadiq Khan by 52-26, while the London Members ballot had 43% for the Conservatives, 22% for Labour and 10% for UKIP.

Defending for the Conservatives is Christine Harris, deputy chairman of the party’s Beckenham branch; she fought the neighbouring Clock House ward in May. Labour have reselected Marie Bardsley who was runner-up here in May; she is campaigning on youth issues and safety. The Lib Dem candidate is Julie Ireland, an IT consultant who fought Bexley and Bromley in the 2016 London Assembly election. Also standing are Paul Enock for the Green Party and Graham Reakes for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Beckenham
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: BR3

Marie Bardsley (Lab)
Paul Enock (Grn)
Christine Harris (C)
Julie Ireland (LD)
Graham Reakes (UKIP)

May 2018 result C 2563/2532/2412 Lab 1579/1462/1358 LD 859/675/670 Grn 553 UKIP 214
May 2014 result C 2778/2693/2593 Lab 1191/1024/904 UKIP 1081 Grn 754 LD 543
May 2010 result C 4827/4658/4586 LD 2067/2020/1869 Lab 1396/1352/1253
May 2006 result C 2678/2608/2478 LD 1148/904/903 Ind 1054/850/767 Lab 504/454/424
May 2002 result C 2349/2316/2313 LD 1820/1727/1671 Lab 430/430/425 UKIP 157/122

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: C 2414 Lab 1234 LD 315 UKIP 239 Grn 232 Women’s Equality 90 Britain First 54 Respect 39 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 33 BNP 12 Zylinski 9 One Love 3
London Members: C 2036 Lab 1049 UKIP 470 LD 387 Grn 340 Women’s Equality 175 Britsin First 50 CPA 45 Animal Welfare 44 Respect 44 BNP 28 House Party 26