Previews: 04 Jul 2019

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

Four by-elections on 4th July 2019, with the Conservatives defending two seats, Labour one and independents one. Let’s start with the independent defence:

Park End and Beckfield

Middlesbrough council, North Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Jan Mohan who had served since winning a by-election in July 2017.

Our first northern by-election brings to mind one of the most consequential local by-elections of recent time. On Maundy Thursday 2017 the Conservative party, riding high in opinion polls, pulled off an impressive gain of the Coulby Newham ward, an estate in southern Middlesbrough. Having taken the Easter weekend to think things over, the prime minister Theresa May then called a general election the following Tuesday. And we all know how that turned out.

But it’s not just the Conservative party which has been confounded by recent Middlesbrough local elections. This is one of the towns which went over to the elected mayoral system at the start of this century; despite long-standing Labour strength in Middlesbrough its first mayor was independent candidate and former police officer Ray Mallon. “Robocop” retired at the 2015 mayoral election after three terms, and Labour’s Dave Budd – who had been Mallon’s deputy – very narrowly gained the mayoralty, finishing 252 votes ahead of independent candidate Andy Preston.

Since 2015 little has gone right for Middlesbrough Labour. As well as the Coulby Newham by-election referenced above, the party lost the Tees Valley mayoral election to the Conservatives in May 2017, lost the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland parliamentary seat to the Conservatives in June 2017 and resoundingly lost the Middlesbrough mayoralty in May 2019. Andy Preston, a philanthropist who had moved back to his native town after making a fortune in the land of City of London hedge funds, returned this year for a second go at the mayoralty and crushed new Labour candidate Mick Thompson; Preston won in the first round with a margin of 59-23 over Labour. At the same time as this, Labour also lost their majority on Middlesbrough council, the 2019 council elections returning 23 independents against 20 Labour councillors and three Conservatives.

There has been independent strength on the council for a long time as is demonstrated by the history of Middlesbrough’s Park End and Beckfield ward, in the east of the town hard up against the boundary with Redcar. At the time of the 2011 census Park End and Beckfield were two separate wards, both of which made the top 100 wards in England and Wales for the proportion of the workforce with no qualifications or in “routine” work, the lowest of the seven occupation categories used by the census; Park End also made the top 30 in England and Wales for “semi-routine” work. This ward and its predecessors has returned a full slate of independent councillors since 2011, and in May the independent slate polled 82% of the vote against Labour and Green opposition. Some of that vote share may be related to disruption caused by the demolition of the local Southlands leisure centre, which commenced in April; the council has plans for a new community hub to be built in its place.

If Andy Preston had intended to shake up Middlesbrough politics he’s clearly got his wish, but perhaps not in the way he intended: Preston’s new administration hasn’t shown much stability in its first two months in office. Jan Mohan had been named as his cabinet member for children’s services, but she then resigned immediately citing health reasons and prompting this by-election. Two other members of Preston’s cabinet have since left the main independent group on the council – the Middlesbrough Independent Councillors Association – which has left Labour as the largest single party. A change in this by-election could affect the balance of power further.

There are two competing independent candidates. The continuity candidate would appear to be Steven James, a social care professional who is supported by Mayor Preston. The other independent candidate is Stephen Hill, who fought Marton East ward in May. Also standing are Paul McGrath for Labour, Ian Jones for the Lib Dems and Val Beadnall for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Middlesbrough (former Beckfield ward), Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (former Park End ward) ONS Travel to Work Area: Middlesbrough and Stockton Postcode districts: TS3, TS7

Val Beadnall (C) Stephen Hill (Ind) Steven James (Ind) Ian Jones (LD) Paul McGrath (Lab)

May 2019 result Ind 1050/979/910 Lab 178/118/117 Grn 46 July 2017 by-election Ind 505 Lab 302 C 59 Grn 12 LD 10 May 2015 result Ind 1177/1082/1043 Lab 989/716/608 C 178

Eccleston and Mawdesley

Chorley council, Lancashire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Henry Caunce at the age of 71. He had served since 2004.

For our other Northern by-election we travel to central Lancashire, arriving in the large village of Eccleston. Some miles to the west of Chorley on the opposite side of the M6 motorway, Eccleston has a name meaning “settlement by a Celtic church” (compare the Welsh word for “church”, eglwys) and retains strong religious associations to this day. The Eccleston and Mawdesley ward came in the top 60 in England and Wales for Christianity in the 2011 census; high scores for this statistic usually correlate with a large Catholic population, and Eccleston’s famous sons include St John Rigby who was executed for Catholicism in 1600. Rigby is recognised by the Catholic Church as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, and was canonised in 1970. However, the most obvious modern memorial in Eccleston is a golden postbox which was painted in honour of the village’s most famous current resident: Sir Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 Tour de France winner and most decorated British Olympian of all time (with five gold medals, one silver and two bronze) lives in Eccleston.

The Chorley district of Lancashire has swung strongly towards the Labour party in recent local elections, but this ward of it has gone the other way. Eccleston and Mawdesley ward was closely fought between the Conservatives and Labour up to 2014 (although Labour only won one seat out of a possible 12 in this period, at the inaugural election of 2002) but since then the Conservatives have built a significant lead. Two months ago at the ordinary local elections the Tory majority over Labour was 54-33, with UKIP being the only other party to stand; that poll was held the day after Caunce died. In the 2017 Lancashire county elections the Tory lead in the local division of Chorley Rural West was similar; Eccleston and Mawdesley is also part of a Conservative-held constituency, South Ribble.

This time there is a straight fight. Defending in the blue corner is Val Caunce, Henry’s widow; back in the 1960s she won the Miss New Brighton beauty contest, and subsequently she ran a modelling agency. Challenging from the red corner is Martin Fisher, a retired maths teacher and former NUT figure.

Parliamentary constituency: South Ribble Lancashire county council division: Chorley Rural West ONS Travel to Work Area: Preston Postcode districts: L40, PR7, PR26

Val Caunce (C) Martin Fisher (Lab)

May 2019 result C 1066 Lab 649 UKIP 250 May 2018 result C 1179 Lab 762 LD 190 UKIP 56 May 2016 result C 953 Lab 823 UKIP 292 May 2015 result C 1856 Lab 1377 UKIP 442 May 2014 result C 944 Lab 741 May 2012 result C 1009 Lab 914 UKIP 241 May 2011 result C 1247 Lab 945 May 2010 result C 2015 Lab 1484 May 2008 result C 1306 Lab 956 May 2007 result C 1245 Lab 824 May 2006 result C 1176 Lab 998 June 2004 result C 1358 Lab 1168 May 2003 result C 1399 Lab 1320 May 2002 result Lab 1798/1400/1150 C 1455/1429/1325

Trowbridge Drynham

Wiltshire council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Graham Payne at the age of 71. Described as “the best councillor Trowbridge ever had”, Payne was a veteran of local government who was first elected in 1976 to the former West Wiltshire council. Away from public life he had worked in civil engineering and the building trade.

Payne’s ward was Drynham, which is the southern of Trowbridge’s seven wards and is named after the Drynham Road, which it includes. One of England’s more obscure county towns, Trowbridge was unusual for the south of England in being a textile town: woollen cloth has been made here since the 14th century, and in 1820 Trowbridge’s textile production rivalled that of Manchester. Today food production is the main economic sector in town along with the administration generated by Wiltshire council.

Payne was a popular councillor who enjoyed big majorities. He had represented Trowbridge Drynham ward since Wiltshire’s local government was reorganised in 2009, and at his last re-election in May 2017 had a 66-21 lead over the Labour runner-up. Trowbridge is included within the South West Wiltshire parliamentary seat which is just as safe for the Conservatives.

Defending for the Conservatives is Kam Reynolds, who is claiming to have a new approach to politics. The Labour candidate is Shaun Henley, who fought the Trowbridge Central division in the 2013 Wiltshire elections. Also standing are Andrew Bryant for the Lib Dems and independent candidate John Knight.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Wiltshire ONS Travel to Work Area: Trowbridge Postcode district: BA14

Andrew Bryant (LD) Shaun Henley (Lab) John Knight (Ind) Kam Reynolds (C)

May 2017 result C 654 Lab 203 LD 130 May 2013 result C 504 LD 195 June 2009 result C 641 LD 358


Rhondda Cynon Taf council, Glamorgan; caused by the death of Labour councillor Robert Smith who had served since 2004.

We finish for the week with our Welsh by-election about which a word about nomenclature is in order. We are in the Rhondda division of the Rhondda Cynon Taf local government district, but we are not in the Rhondda constituency. The Rhondda division is instead the western of the eight divisions covering Pontypridd; it takes its name from the River Rhondda, and runs westward up the Rhondda valley from the edge of Pontypridd town centre. Settlements within the division include Maesycoed (where many rugby teams have come to grief over the years at the hands of Pontypridd RFC), Pantygraigwen, Hopkinstown and part of Trehafod.

All of these are classic nineteenth- and early twentieth-century pit villages. The population boomed in those years with miners and their families moving in, and they needed services in every sense of the word. On 1 November 1907 Capel Rhondda in Hopkinstown inaugurated its new organ; sat at the console in that service was John Hughes, who led a hymn featuring words of William Williams set to a new tune of Hughes’ own composition. The tune was a success, and can be seen sung here in a scene from a film which was set in the South Wales Valleys (although the Second World War meant that it had to be filmed in California). That film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, and famously beat Citizen Kane to the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1941. It was, of course, How Green Was My Valley, and the tune was the evergreen Cwm Rhondda.

The Rhondda division has returned a full slate of two Labour councillors since 2004, when Robert Smith gained his seat from Plaid Cymru who had done very well in the 1999 Rhondda Cynon Taf election. The most recent Welsh local elections were in May 2017 when Labour polled 43% to 26% for Plaid and 17% for the Lib Dems. Shortly afterwards Pontypridd’s Labour MP Owen Smith was re-elected in the snap general election; Smith will have had more trouble from his own party than from his electors, having challenged Jeremy Corbyn for the party leadership in 2016.

Defending this seat for Labour is Loretta Tomkinson, the present Deputy Mayor of Pontypridd; she represents Rhydfelen Central ward on the town council. Plaid Cymru have selected Eleri Griffiths, who lives in Pantygraigwen and has worked in children’s policy for many years. The Lib Dem candidate is Karen Roberts, campaign manager for the party’s Rhondda Cynon Taf branch. Also standing are Alexander Davies for the Conservatives and Adrian Dunphy, who heads a rare local by-election outing for the Communist Party.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Pontypridd ONS Travel to Work Area: Cardiff Postcode district: CF37

Alexander Davies (C) Adrian Dunphy (Comm) Eleri Griffiths (PC) Karen Roberts (LD) Loretta Tomkinson (Lab)

May 2017 result Lab 558/554 PC 333/260 LD 221 C 193/164 May 2012 result Lab 623/531 Ind 434/303/155 Grn 176 PC 169 May 2008 result Lab 619/565 PC 532/463 LD 485 June 2004 result Lab 721/632 PC 379/353 LD 214 May 1999 result PC 865/653 Lab 699/661 LD 370/299 Grn 81 May 1995 result Lab 1035/943 Ind 535/423 PC 241

Andrew Teale