Previews: 18 Jul 2019

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

Before we start this week, I have a special announcement to make.

Andrew’s Previews 2018

Slightly delayed for various reasons, the 2018 paperback version of Andrew’s Previews has now been published. This is a revised and slightly updated collection of all the Previews published last year, together with some previously unpublished material. To quote the blurb:

2018 was another year of volatility in the UK’s politics, with the hung parliament and the ongoing Brexit controversies pushing Westminster towards breaking point.

But there is more to UK’s politics than just the House of Commons. Important decisions are taken every day in hundreds of local councils up and down these islands. All of those districts have their own political and historical story to tell.

In 2018 over half a million votes were cast in by-elections to our local councils, providing a weekly ‘pulse check’ on our democracy. Andrew Teale previewed them all for the website Britain Elects, describing the issues, the demographics, the candidates, the history, and why you might (or might not) want to visit the area.

Now published in book form, relive 2018 as it happened, and join Andrew in travelling the country – from the comfort of your armchair – in the service of democracy.

2018 may be only seven months ago, but so much water has flowed under the bridge since that politically it feels like another age. But it’s important to know what things were like then to understand how we got where we are today. The Previews are a weekly contemporary record of what things were like in 2018, and you might learn something about our country and its people along the way. If you would like to support Andrew’s Previews in future, the best way to do it is to buy the book: the profits will go towards future research, and you’ll get a permanent reminder of your donation. I commend Andrew’s Previews 2018 to the House, and you can get it here.

If you’re undecided as to whether to buy Andrew’s Previews 2018, have a look at this week’s edition and see if you like it; there are many more previews like these in the book. There are six by-elections on Thursday 18th July 2019 with something for everyone this week, and we start with the big one:

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner

Caused by the resignation of Labour PCC Dame Vera Baird, who has been appointed as Victims Commissioner for England and Wales. A former Solicitor-General for England and Wales and MP for Redcar from 2001 to 2010, Dame Vera had been the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner since the post was established in 2012.

It’s time for the biggest single-member electoral event of 2019, a Police and Crime Commissioner by-election. And this is a by-election for one of the larger police forces: Northumbria Police’s remit extends not just to Northumberland but also to the metropolitan county of Tyne and Wear. Over a million people will be eligible to vote in this by-election.

The two counties involved here are exceptionally diverse. Northumberland is one of most beautiful parts of England and has its own National Park, a very sparsely-populated area covering the Cheviot Hills, the Kielder Forest and Hadrian’s Wall. Built in AD 122 by order of the Emperor Hadrian (history is silent as to whether the Picts paid for it), the Wall marked the northern frontier of the Roman Empire and is a World Heritage Site. The well-preserved remains of the forts at Housesteads and Vindolanda give some idea of what life was like on the borderlands all those centuries ago; and another perspective is given by the Vindolanda tablets, postcard-like wooden documents with Latin inscriptions written in ink. One of these, an invitation to a birthday party for Claudia Severa held around AD 100, is the world’s oldest surviving writing known to be written by a woman.

A few centuries further down the line, we come to the so-called Dark Ages in which Northumbria was one of the major centres of Christianity. King Edwin of Northumbria converted to the religion in AD 626, and shortly afterwards a group of monks looking for the quieter life settled on the tidal island of Lindisfarne at the invitation of Edwin’s successor King Oswald. The great Christian missionaries St Aidan and St Cuthbert both served as abbot of Lindisfarne, and their exploits were recorded and popularised by another of the great figures of Anglo-Saxon history: St Bede the Venerable. Described as the most important European scholar of the seventh century, and the only Briton recognised as a Doctor of the Catholic Church, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People is still the major historical source for his time. This, like all of Bede’s many other books, was composed in the dual monastery of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow where he lived virtually all his life. A museum dedicated to Bede’s life and times can be visited on the banks of the Tyne in Jarrow; nearby is a restored version of the 7th-century Jarrow monastery church, which claims to have the world’s oldest stained-glass window. (This claim is slightly misleading: the glass does date from around AD 600, but it was found in excavations and hasn’t been in the window for quite that long.)

Northumbria has never really ceased to a borderland. Lindisfarne Abbey became unviable following Viking raids, which is why Cuthbert’s and Bede’s remains ended up in the more defensible Durham Cathedral. Once England and Scotland came into being as coherent entities, Northumbria was in the firing line between them. The Normans fortified the area by building several castles, including Norham, Bamburgh and a new castle which gave its name to a city. Many of the great battles between England and Scotland were fought in this area: at the Battle of Flodden, held five centuries ago a few miles from Berwick-upon-Tweed, King James IV of Scotland and many of his noblemen were killed. The town of Berwick-upon-Tweed changed hands many times between the countries, and its complicated history led to an urban legend that the town was still at war with the Russian Empire after being left out of the Treaty of Paris which concluded the Crimean War. Berwick is still the major economic and service centre for the old county of Berwickshire, over the border in Scotland, and its football team Berwick Rangers plays in the Scottish league system.

But Berwick and Lindisfarne are not typical of Northumbria as it is today. There was a lot of coal under south-eastern Northumberland, and the Tyne and Wear estuaries were major centres for shipbuilding and related engineering. The coal was mined in towns like Ashington and Blyth which form the major conurbation within Northumberland today, while the engineering made the fortunes of Newcastle upon Tyne, its sister town of Gateshead and the city of Sunderland. And if you fancied a beach holiday, the sandy beaches of Whitley Bay and Bamburgh aren’t far away. Today Newcastle and Gateshead together form the major urban and cultural centre for north-east England, with all roads and communication links converging on the bridges over the Tyne. The Port of Tyne is also still busy, with daily overnight car ferries crossing the North Sea to Amsterdam – a relaxing way to travel.

The North East of England is a stronghold for the Labour party and has been so for generations. Labour controls five of the six local government districts covered by Northumbria Police, and fourteen of the sixteen MPs for the area were elected as Labour candidates.

The odd one out in both cases is Northumberland, which since a reorganisation in 2009 has been a single local government district. Northumberland council last went to the polls in May 2017 and was nearly a sensational gain for the Conservative party, which finished one seat and one vote short of an overall majority on the council; the deciding result was in South Blyth division, where the Tories’ Daniel Carr tied with outgoing Lib Dem councillor Lesley Rickerby on 356 votes each. Don’t let anybody tell you that your vote never made a difference. When elections are tied in the UK we don’t go to a Super Over or invoke a dodgy tiebreak: instead the returning officer draws lots to decide the winner. The lot fell on Rickerby who was declared re-elected, and that left the Tories on 33 seats out of a possible 67. The Conservative surge wasn’t based on making inroads in the Labour mining towns of south-east Northumberland (with the exception of Cramlington, which is essentially a small New Town and a Newcastle commuter area); instead it was based on cleaning up in the rural areas around Hexham, Alnwick and Berwick where the Lib Dems had previously done well. Berwick-upon-Tweed had a Liberal Democrat MP, Sir Alan Beith, up to 2015; his old constituency now has no Lib Dem councillors.

Northumberland, however, makes up less than a quarter of the electorate here. As can be seen from the cartogram above, in which each ward or division has been resized according to its electorate, the police area’s population is concentrated in the five Tyne and Wear boroughs. All of these have Labour majorities now, although Newcastle upon Tyne was run by the Lib Dems during the last Labour government and the elected mayoralty for North Tyneside (which covers Wallsend, Whitley Bay and Tynemouth) has been won by the Conservatives a couple of times.

In the May 2019 Tyne and Wear local elections Labour lost seats in all five boroughs, spectacularly so in Sunderland where their administration has become very unpopular and the party lost twelve of the 24 seats they were defending. Those losses included the first ever election wins in Tyne and Wear for UKIP which won three seats, and for the Greens who gained Washington South ward by three votes. It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely Green Party area than Washington New Town, but the fact that the previous Labour councillor for the ward had been prosecuted for internet grooming shortly before the election will not have gone down well with the voters. The Greens also picked up a seat in South Tyneside borough, taking the South Shields town centre ward of Beacon and Bents after several years of trying, and were second in votes across the South Shields constituency on 2nd May.

Also taking place on 2nd May was the inaugural election for the Mayor of the North of Tyne, the latest piece in the government’s devolution jigsaw. These regional mayoral elections have not thus far been happy experiences for Labour, who conspired to lose the West Midlands and Tees Valley posts at the 2017 election; and although Labour’s Corbynite candidate Jamie Driscoll did win the North of Tyne mayoralty his performance doesn’t inspire confidence. Across Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside Driscoll led in the first round of counting but only with 34% of the vote, against 25% for the Conservative candidate Charlie Hoult (who was top across Northumberland), 17% for independent candidate John McCabe and 13% for the Lib Dems. Driscoll and Hoult went through to the runoff, which Driscoll won 56-44.

Vera Baird, in a larger and more Labour-friendly area, never had to go to preferences in her two PCC wins. The last Police and Crime Commissioner elections were in May 2016 and saw Baird re-elected in the first round with 55% of the vote; best of the rest was 18% for the Conservatives.

Dame Vera is resigning to take up a new job as Victims Commissioner for England and Wales, which means that the provisions for a Police and Crime Commissioner by-election have been activated. The relevant legislation – the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 – was written by the Home Office who don’t normally have anything to do with elections. And it shows. In most cases when a UK elected office falls vacant there is no maximum length of time before an election is held to fill it; the main exceptions are Scottish local government, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, which specify a maximum vacancy of three months unless there is an ordinary election within the next six months. There have been exceptional cases in England and Wales of council seats remaining vacant for over a year.

Police and Crime Commissioner vacancies, on the other hand, have to be filled within 35 working days – just seven weeks plus bank holidays for the parties to select and nominate candidates and the election offices of a county (or in this case, more than one county) to organise a poll and a count. It’s a ridiculously short length of time and leads to ridiculous consequences. On 1st July 2014 the Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands, Bob Jones, unexpectedly died in office; to fit the timescale Birmingham city council had to publish notice of election before Jones’ funeral could be held, and the only realistic date for the poll was 21st August when many of the West Midlands’ electors were on their summer holidays. The electorate treated this with the contempt it deserved, and the turnout only just broke 10%.

It should also be pointed out that these are major transferable-vote elections and they need large count venues. These can be difficult to book. The biggest count in the European elections just gone was that for Northern Ireland, which as a transferable-vote election really needs a single count venue for the whole province; this year’s venue was Magherafelt Leisure Centre, which is centrally-located within Northern Ireland but (with due apologies to the people of Magherafelt) rather off the beaten track. One suspects that the choice of this venue, rather than somewhere more readily accessible in greater Belfast, was motivated by what venues the Chief Electoral Officer could get for a Bank Holiday Monday at short notice.

This is not just Northern Ireland’s problem. Last month it was announced by the Government that the May Day bank holiday for 2020 would be moved from Monday 4th to Friday 8th May to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day. To quote from the BBC’s report on this, the holiday “will form part of a three-day weekend of commemorative events”, and your columnist should know as the military band I play in has already been booked for one of them. The Business Secretary, Greg Clark, was quoted as saying:

It will ensure as many people as possible have the opportunity to remember and honour our heroes of the Second World War and reflect on the sacrifices of a generation.

Greg Clark is a politician, and as such it beggars belief that he hadn’t clocked that Thursday 7th May 2020 – the day before this specially-moved bank holiday – is ordinary local election day. Next year we have a lot of major transferable-vote elections coming up: the Mayor of Greater Manchester, the Police and Crime Commissioners, and the London Mayor and Assembly. The Mayor of London and Assembly election is so big that the 32 London borough councils, who normally run their own counts, aren’t trusted with it. Instead the Greater London returning officer has reserved three of the country’s largest exhibition centres – ExCeL, Olympia and Alexandra Palace – for Friday 8th May 2020 as centralised count venues, which will be filled with electronic counting machines that scan your completed ballot papers and produce results for the mayor, the two Assembly ballots and any local by-elections that are taking place in the capital that week. ExCeL, Olympia and Ally Pally have told the Greater London returning officer that they are fully booked for weeks afterwards; in other words, it’s already too late to change the London mayoral election date. So, rather than having Bank Holiday Friday 8th May 2020 as a VE Day commemoration, it looks like it’s going to be dominated by election count news instead; and the returning officers are going to have to budget unexpectedly for staff time at bank holiday rates. Well done Mr Clark.

That shouldn’t be read as a slight on the Northumbria PCC election counters. This election is under the overall supervision of the returning officer for Sunderland, whose counting team are traditionally the best in the business but are being given a run for their money these days by Newcastle upon Tyne council. We can expect no nonsense on the administrative side.

Defending this election for Labour is Kim McGuinness, who is a Newcastle upon Tyne city councillor for Lemington ward. McGuinness works for a military charity and is the Newcastle cabinet member for culture, sport and public health.

The Conservatives have selected Robbie Moore, a rural surveyor and Northumberland councillor. He represents Alnwick division, having gained his seat from the Lib Dems in 2017.

Also standing are Jonathan Wallace, who leads the Lib Dem group on Gateshead council; and independent candidate Georgina Hill who is a Northumberland councillor for Berwick East division and former press officer for the Berwick-upon-Tweed MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan. In a widely-reported gaffe during the campaign, Hill posed for a photograph outside a deserted “Alnwick Police” station while complaining about police staffing levels, not having realised that the “Alnwick Police” station was in fact a set for the forthcoming Sky One TV series The Heist.

With all four candidates being local councillors, whoever wins this by-election there will be another one on the way: you can’t be a PCC and local councillor at the same time. However, that vacancy thankfully won’t have any time limit to dictate when the poll can be.

Constituent districts: Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside, Sunderland
ONS Travel to Work Areas: Berwick, Blyth and Ashington, Hexham, Newcastle, Sunderland

Georgina Hill (Ind)
Kim McGuinness (Lab)
Robbie Moore (C)
Jonathan Wallace (LD)

May 2016 result Lab 180479 C 58713 UKIP 52293 LD 34757
November 2012 result Lab 100170 C 45845 UKIP 18876 LD 13916

Llanbadarn Fawr Sulien

Ceredigion council, Dyfed; caused by the death of Plaid Cymru councillor Paul James at the age of 61. James was killed in a road accident while training for a cycle ride to raise money for two hospitals which had treated him for heart trouble. He had been a Ceredigion councillor since 2004; away from the council James worked in security for Aberystwyth University and had also served in the military.

Nid byd, byd heb wybodaeth (“A world without knowledge is no world at all”)
– motto of Aberystwyth University

Back to the normal diet of council by-elections, and we start in mid-Wales. Llanbadarn Fawr is an eastern suburb of Aberystwyth and essentially part of its built-up area. As well as being a seaside resort and major centre for the local area, Aberystwyth is a university town; and many of the Aberystwyth University students live on the university’s main Penglais campus, which spills over into Llanbadarn Fawr Sulien division.

This severely skews the division’s census return. In 2011 Llanbadarn Fawr Sulien ranked no 8 in England and Wales for those educated to A-level but no further and was in the top 20 for the 18-29 age bracket, with 65% of the residents being full-time students. One has to wonder whether holding this by-election out of the University’s term (exams finished at the start of June) was a good idea from a turnout point of view. Just outside the division boundary is the National Library of Wales, which as one of the UK’s legal deposit libraries is entitled to a free copy of Andrew’s Previews 2018.

Paul James enjoyed large majorities as a Ceredigion councillor. At his final re-election in May 2017 he polled a relatively low 71% of the vote, with 15% for the Lib Dems as best of the rest. Plaid Cymru also hold Ceredigion at Westminster and Senedd level; the Welsh nationalists gained the parliamentary seat from the Lib Dems in June 2017 with a majority of just 104 votes.

Defending for Plaid Cymru is Matthew Woolfall Jones, a former Aberystwyth University student who stood in the 2016 Welsh Assembly election as the party’s candidate for the Torfaen constituency in south Wales. The Lib Dems have selected Michael Chappell, an Aberystwyth town councillor who in the last academic year was chairman of the party’s Aberystwyth University branch. Completing the ballot paper is Richard Layton for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Ceredigion
ONS Travel to Work Area: Aberystwyth
Postcode district: SY23

Michael Chappell (LD)
Richard Layton (Lab)
Matthew Woolfall Jones (PC)

May 2017 result PC 267 LD 58 Lab 33 Grn 20
May 2012 result PC 338 LD 46 C 19
May 2008 result PC 346 LD 74
June 2004 result PC 316 LD 42


Daventry council, Northamptonshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Fabienne Fraser-Allen who had served since 2016. She had failed to attend any council meetings in the previous six months and was about to be disqualified for non-attendance.

We move to England with what will almost certainly be the last by-election to Daventry council, which is expected to be abolished in April next year. Brixworth is a large village a few miles to the north of Northampton, bypassed by the main road to Market Harborough. This is an old village: the parish church, dedicated to All Saints, is our second 7th-century church of the week (after St Paul;s, Jarrow) and is described as “the finest Romanesque church north of the Alps”. In more recent years quarrying of iron ore has been a major industry here, while the main local employer today is an interesting one: a Mercedes-Benz plant which supplies high-performance engines to the Mercedes, Williams and Racing Point Formula One teams. When Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix elsewhere in Northamptonshire last Sunday, his engine came from Brixworth.

Brixworth was profiled in Andrew’s Previews in November 2014 when there was a by-election for the larger county division of the same name, following the resignation of county councillor Catherine Boardman to concentrate on her farming business. I wrote then that Boardman had been “credited with turning around the county’s poorly-rated children’s services”, a sentence which has not stood the test of time. The county’s children’s services are now effectively in special measures on top of Northamptonshire county council twice running out of money last year. Because of that insolvency, local government reorganisation is now in the works which should see Daventry council subsumed into a new “West Northamptonshire” district next year.

That reorganisation meant that the 2019 election to Daventry council was cancelled, so the most recent Brixworth election was in May 2018. In that year the Tories – for whom this is a safe ward – beat Labour 65-24. The local county division is also safe for the Conservatives.

The Conservatives have turned to the next generation to hold this by-election: their defending candidate, Daventry resident Lauryn Harrington-Carter, is not yet 20. Labour have reselected their regular candidate for the ward Stuart Coe, a Brixworth parish councillor, teacher and NUT figure. Completing the ballot paper is another Brixworth resident, Jonathan Harris, for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Daventry
Northamptonshire county council division: Brixworth
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northampton
Postcode district: NN6

Stuart Coe (Lab)
Lauryn Harrington-Carter (C)
Jonathan Harris (LD)

May 2018 result C 1183 Lab 428 LD 197
May 2016 result C 928 Lab 317 UKIP 306 LD 137 Grn 123
May 2015 result C 2601 Lab 726 Grn 517
May 2014 result C 1082 UKIP 468 Lab 255 Grn 153 LD 123
May 2013 by-election C 1082 Lab 307 Grn 258 LD 89
Nov 2012 by-election C 857 Grn 484
May 2012 result C 1004/924/859 Grn 497 LD 376 Lab 321

Westbury North

Wiltshire council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor David Jenkins.

For our second by-election in the English provinces we travel south-west from Northamptonshire to Wiltshire. Westbury is one of the smaller towns of Wiltshire but for centuries gave its name to a parliamentary seat, originally as a pocket borough; that record lasted until 2010 when the Westbury name was dropped by the Boundary Commission in favour of the more prosaic “South West Wiltshire”. The town’s location off the north-west corner of Salisbury Plain means that many transport routes pass through here: Westbury is a major railway junction where the London-Plymouth and Bristol-Salisbury lines intersect. The North division – one of three covering the town – is relatively recently developed (most of its housing is from the 1980s) and runs generally between the Station Road and the Trowbridge Road.

David Jenkins had represented Westbury North since the modern Wiltshire council was created in 2009. At his last re-election in 2017 he had a safe seat, defeating the Conservatives 54-32. Given the large swing towards the Liberal Democrats at the recent by-election in Trowbridge, the next town to the north, a hold for the party seems the most likely result.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Carole King, a retired local government worker who fought the Westbury West division at the 2017 election. The Conservatives have selected Antonio Piazza. Also standing are Jane Russ for Labour and two independent candidates, Francis Morland (who stood here in 2009) and Ian Cunningham.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Wiltshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Trowbridge
Postcode district: BA13

May 2017 result LD 596 C 299 Lab 134
May 2013 result LD 493 Ind 199 C 113 Lab 107
June 2009 result LD 508 C 379 Ind 162

Downs North

Ashford council, Kent; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Stephen Dehnel at the age of 67. A former Grenadier Guards officer who reached the rank of Major and was appointed MBE, Dehnel had served on Ashford council since 2015. At the time of his death he was about to be promoted to the council’s cabinet, with the culture portfolio.

The final rural by-election of this week takes place in the North Downs (or, as the ward name has it, Downs North) of Kent. The Downs North ward covers four small parishes midway between Ashford and Canterbury, of which the largest is Chilham in the Great Stour valley. This is a relatively unspoilt and very photogenic village which has appeared in several TV dramas, including the 2009 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma and editions of ITV’s Agatha Christie’s Marple and Poirot. That Poirot episode, set during a snowbound Christmas, heavily featured the village’s oldest building: Chilham Castle, which dates from 1174 and is still in private occupation. The current occupier of Chilham Castle is the spread betting millionaire and former UKIP treasurer Stuart Wheeler.

Until now Wheeler has not had a UKIP local election candidate to vote for in Downs North. Instead the ward has been strongly Conservative this century with interest usually lying in who comes second. The current Tory weakness was however reflected in a vote-share fall to 47% in May’s ordinary election, the Greens coming second with 24% and the Lib Dems third on 19%. The Conservatives also strongly hold the local Kent county council division, Ashford Rural East. Damian Green, who was effectively Theresa May’s cabinet deputy in 2017 before being forced to resign over a sexual harassment and pornography scandal, is the local MP and has a secure base in his Ashford constituency.

Defending for the Conservatives is Stephen Dehnel’s son Charles. The Green Party have selected Geoff Meaden, who lives within the ward in the wonderfully-named village of Old Wives Lees. The Lib Dem candidate Adrian Gee-Turner is a former Hackney councillor in London, was runner-up in the 2010 election for Mayor of Hackney and has stood for Parliament three times, most recently in Ashford in 2017; he lives in Ashford town and works in the healthcare industry. Also standing are Carly Ruppert Lingham for Labour (who stood here in May’s election), Rachael Carley for the Ashford Independents (a well-organised local party), Philip Meads for UKIP and local resident Sarah Williams who completes the ballot paper as an independent candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashford
Kent county council division: Ashford Rural East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ashford
Postcode districts: CT4, TN25

Rachel Carley (Ashford Ind)
Charles Dehnel (C)
Adrian Gee-Turner (LD)
Geoff Meaden (Grn)
Philip Meads (UKIP)
Carly Ruppert Lingham (Lab)
Sarah Williams (Ind)

May 2019 result C 375 Grn 186 LD 148 Lab 82
May 2015 result C 932 Lab 291 Grn 290
May 2011 result C 580 Ashford Ind 279 Grn 162
May 2007 result C 511 Grn 240 LD 102
May 2003 result C 599 LD 158

East Sheen

Richmond upon Thames council, South London; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Mona Adams who had served since 2018. During her only completed year in office, 2018-19, she was Deputy Mayor of Richmond upon Thames.

We finish for the week in South London. East Sheen lies in the Surrey half of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, with the South Circular Road being the main thoroughfare and Mortlake railway station (on South Western’s Hounslow and Kingston loop lines) providing connections to central London. This is one of the most affluent parts of the capital; it makes the top 40 wards in England and Wales for both the “higher management” and “lower management” census occupational groups which together account for 62% of the workforce, and over 61% of the workforce are educated to degree level. Those high-powered residents have lots of open space to enjoy, as the East Sheen ward includes part of the open space of Richmond Park.

If a large proportion of your vote comes from rich people with high-powered responsible jobs who would like to keep them, then the first rule of your political campaigning is not to piss off rich people with high-powered responsible jobs who would like to keep them. Which is where the Conservative Party has been going wrong over the last four years. Until 2015 East Sheen was a Tory ward which gave big majorities to the blue slate. One of its councillors, Nicholas True, was leader of Richmond upon Thames council from 2010 until retiring in 2017, as well as being a special adviser and speechwriter to ministers in the Thatcher and Major governments. True was appointed CBE in the 1993 New Year Honours, and became a member of the House of Lords in 2010 as Lord True.

At True’s final re-election in 2014 things were going swimmingly: his party had a large majority on Richmond upon Thames council, he had a Tory MP to work with in the form of Zac Goldsmith for Richmond Park (the seat which includes East Sheen), and on the far side of the Thames the Twickenham MP and Lib Dem cabinet minister Vince Cable was attracting all sorts of publicity, not all of it positive. In the 2015 general election Cable lost his seat and Goldsmith was re-elected with a huge majority. A year later Zac Goldsmith was the Conservative candidate to succeed Boris Johnson (what’s he doing these days?) as Mayor of London; in East Sheen ward’s ballot boxes Goldsmith crushed Sadiq Khan 65-20 and ran a long way ahead of the Conservative list for the London Members, which polled 54% to 14% for Labour and 12% for the Liberal Democrats.

And then all hell broke loose. Zac Goldsmith went against the majority of opinion in his constituency by backing the Leave side in the EU referendum, and later that year he resigned his seat in Parliament to seek re-election in opposition to proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport. The problem with that idea is that you can’t keep parliamentary elections to a single issue like that. Ostensibly standing as an independent but without Tory opposition, Goldsmith sensationally lost the 2016 Richmond Park by-election to the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney, who turned the by-election into an argument over Brexit and exposed just how far Goldsmith’s position on that issue was from that of his constituents.

Lessons from that experience were not learned. When Mrs May called the snap general election a few months later she found out, as Goldsmith had, that you can’t keep an election campaign on your own preferred single issue. Goldsmith, now an official Conservative again, did reverse the by-election loss and narrowly get his seat back, but that was about the only thing which went right for the Richmond Tories. Vince Cable returned as MP for Twickenham with a large majority, and subsequently became party leader; and of course the Conservative overall majority in the Commons was lost.

Then the 2018 Richmond upon Thames borough election came along, at which the councillors who formed the Tory majority in Twickenham and Richmond Park were scattered like, well…

In 2014 the Conservatives had won 39 seats in Richmond upon Thames to 15 for the Lib Dems; that was reversed in 2018 with 39 seats for the Lib Dems, 11 Conservatives and four Greens (who had an electoral pact with the Lib Dems). It was the worst Conservative performance in a Richmond election since the Major administration. The Lib Dem surge even hit East Sheen ward, with a 17% swing bringing them up to parity with the Conservatives. The Tories (now without Lord True, who retired) polled 47% in East Sheen and held two seats, the Lib Dems polled 46% and gained one seat.

So this by-election is a crucial test as to whether the Lib Dems can maintain their momentum in this affluent corner of south-west London. Defending for them is Julia Cambridge who fought the ward in 2018; she is vice-chair of the party’s Campaign for Gender Balance. The Tories will want this marginal seat back and have selected Helen Edward, a deputy chair of the party’s Richmond Park branch. Also standing are Giles Oakley for Labour and Trixie Rawlinson for the Women’s Equality Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Richmond Park
ONS Travel to Work Area: Slough and Heathrow
Postcode districts: SW14, TW10

Julia Cambridge (LD)
Helen Edward (C)
Giles Oakley (Lab)
Trixie Rawlinson (Women’s Equality)

May 2018 result C 2026/1979/1928 LD 1982/1927/1724 Lab 276/244/176
May 2014 result C 2159/2128/1995 LD 790/725/586 Grn 561 Lab 410/404/393
May 2010 result C 3225/2974/2971 LD 2010/1839/1758 Grn 713 Lab 414/337/321
May 2006 result C 2181/2126/2096 LD 994/973/938 Grn 570 Lab 212/193
May 2002 result C 1697/1684/1651 LD 792/768/726 Grn 314/295/284 Lab 245/207/198

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor; C 2424 Lab 761 LD 239 Grn 170 Women’s Equality 87 UKIP 33 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 17 Britain First 14 Respect 11 Zylinski 2 BNP 1 One Love 1
London Members: C 2012 Lab 538 LD 466 Grn 330 Women’s Equality 196 UKIP 112 Animal Welfare 44 Britain First 21 CPA 12 House Party 12 Respect 9 BNP 6

Andrew Teale