Preview: 27 Jun 2019

Just one by-election on 27th June 2019:


Mansfield council, Nottinghamshire; caused by the election of Labour candidate on 2nd May Andy Abrahams as Mayor of Mansfield.

We’re eight weeks on now from the 2nd May 2019 local elections and the 23rd May 2019 European elections are five weeks gone. All of the unfinished business from those elections was cleared last week, and it’s now time to start working through the file marked “matters arising”.

There are a few matters arising from May, aren’t there? Realignment of the party system could be one of them. This has been coming for a while. In the last Andrew’s Previews of 2018 this column mused on the volatility of Britain’s politics, writing:

…in the aftermath of Brexit…there will be an awful lot of disappointed people – some of whom may be looking for a new political home. There are credible ways in which both main parties can deliver knockout blows on the other; there are realistic scenarios in which one or both of the main parties implode under the weight of their own contradictions. There might even be opportunities for minor parties if they can play their hand well. Volatile political times may very quickly turn into volatile electoral times. Watch this space.

Given how much water has flowed under the bridge in the intervening six months, that prediction has held up pretty well. Support for both the major parties appears to be in freefall, and the void has been filled by minor parties: the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, independent candidates and those new kids on the block the Brexit Party. This column’s former patron Ian Warren broke cover from his shed last week to write on the dilemmas facing the two traditional major parties in the national context (link) and his analyses should provide food for thought for anybody in Conservative or Labour HQs who fancies an early general election. It’s like those TV gameshows where one person beats all comers to win the episode, then gets offered the chance to gamble all the Brucie Bonuses they have won so far for an all-or-nothing shot at the Star Prize. Is the gamble worth it?

This column has a different brief, to look at electoral performances in the sub-national context – a very different place. Last week we had some large swings in wards with a large proportion of Remain supporters, particularly in London where one of the candidates I filed under “also standing are” actually won (the Lib Dem candidate in Merton). It’s always interesting when that happens. Now you can’t rely on national publicity to win a local by-election, which is probably why we are still yet to see a Brexit Party local government candidate. That’s a shame: a Brexit Party candidate in today’s local by-election in Mansfield, one of the totemic Leave-voting places, would have truly been something worth writing about.

Mansfield is a strange enough place as it is politically, having already undergone a realignment of the party system in recent years. The town’s council was strongly Labour in the twentieth century; but it then went over to the elected mayoral system, and the town’s first mayoral election in October 2002 returned an independent candidate. Supporters of that independent mayor, Tony Egginton, coalesced into a new political party called the Mansfield Independent Forum, and pretty much ever since then the town has closely fought at local level between the Forum and the Labour party.

It’s been common in recent years for the mayoralty and council to go different ways: in 2011 and 2015 Labour won a council majority but the Forum won the mayoral election. That was reversed in 2019, when the Forum became the largest party on Mansfield council but Labour won the mayoralty for the first time. Andy Abrahams, a former teacher and civil engineer who had only got the Labour nomination at the last minute (the originally-selected candidate fell out with the party, and the first replacement candidate was dropped for anti-Semitism) led in the first round by 1,021 votes over the incumbent mayor Kate Allsop, and that was only just enough. Allsop came back strongly in the runoff with transfers from the Conservatives and two other independents, but Abrahams ended up winning in the final reckoning by 7,930 votes to 7,928, a majority of two. Don’t let anybody tell you your vote never changed anything. With Labour holding 15 out of 37 seats on Mansfield council plus this vacancy, Mayor Abrahams will have the power to shake things up in the town as his opponents don’t have the two-thirds majority necessary to block his budget.

Abrahams had also been elected to Mansfield council in May from the Sandhurst ward, which is south of the town centre across the River Maun and includes the Fisher Lane and Spider Parks. As Abrahams can’t serve as mayor and councillor at the same time, the council seat he had won was automatically vacated and we are having this by-election. He had gained the ward from Forum councillor Dave Saunders, polling 42% against 34% for Saunders and 22% for the Conservatives, who may hold the Mansfield parliamentary seat but don’t normally figure in the town’s local elections. Sandhurst ward is in the Mansfield South division of Nottinghamshire county council, which voted strongly for the Independent Forum in the 2017 county elections; the Forum are the junior partners in the Conservative-led coalition running the county.

Defending for Labour is Michelle Swordy, who contested Netherfield ward in May and lost a previously-Labour ward to the Forum. Dave Saunders, who was Forum councillor for this ward from 2015 to 2019, wants his seat back. The Conservatives have selected Cathryn Fletcher, and Daniel Hartshorn completes the ballot paper for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: MansfieldNottinghamshire county council division: Mansfield SouthONS Travel to Work Area: MansfieldPostcode district: NG18

Cathryn Fletcher (C)Daniel Hartshorn (UKIP)Dave Saunders (Mansfield Ind Forum)Michelle Swordy (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 284 Mansfield Ind Forum 230 C 152 LD 16May 2015 result Mansfield Ind Forum 716 Lab 528May 2011 result Lab 402 Mansfield Ind Forum 290 LD 87