Previews: 08 Aug 2019

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

Before we start this week, there is a notice to read out from the City of London. Sir Charles Bowman (Lord Mayor in 2017-18) had resigned as Alderman for Lime Street ward, and Sir Andrew Parmley (Bowman’s predecessor as Lord Mayor) had resigned as Alderman for Vintry ward, both in order to seek fresh mandates from their electors after six years in office as is traditional in the City. Polls had been scheduled for Tuesday 6th August; but when nominations closed nobody had opposed Sir Charles and Sir Andrew for re-election, and they were formally returned to the Court of Aldermen at their respective Wardmotes on Monday this week. This column sends its congratulations.

That leaves three by-elections this week, on 8th August 2019. Despite that low number there is something for everyone in this set, with one Liberal Democrat defence, Labour interest in a couple of wards and two Conservative defences in marginal parliamentary seats, as the governing party attempts to win its first by-elections of the Johnson premiership. Read on…


Worcester council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Stuart Denlegh-Maxwell. A descendant of the “Salt King” of Droitwich John Corbett, and from a family with a long tradition of public service, Denlegh-Maxwell was originally elected to Worcester city council in 1988 for Claines ward. He stood down in 1994 due to the commitments of work and a young family, but returned to the council for Claines ward in 2018.

We start this week in the Severn Valley with a rare trip to the city of Worcester, which its today having only its third local by-election of the 21st century. The Claines ward is Worcester’s northern end, on the east bank of the river along the road towards Kidderminster. The name is an old one: Claines village has a church dating from the 10th century which gave its name to a parish, but much of that parish has been incorporated into Worcester over the years. The ward’s main area of population is not Claines village but Cornmeadow Green, a Worcester suburb which was mostly developed in the 1930s. Its most famous resident doesn’t have a vote: Pineau de Re, the horse which won the 2014 Grand National, was trained in Claines.

Worcester is a marginal parliamentary seat, but the elections to Worcester city council (which has the same boundaries as the constituency) don’t really reflect that excitement. Nearly all of the city’s fifteen wards are safe, and as of May 2019 only one ward (Cathedral, which the Conservatives held in May) has split representation. Going into May’s elections the Tories had a majority of one seat, which disappeared following a gain for the Green Party in St Stephen ward: that resulted in 17 seats for the Tories, 15 for Labour and 3 for the Greens. Worcester’s cabinet is run on an all-party basis, with the Conservatives supplying the leader and Labour the deputy leader.

Claines ward, however, has a different story to tell. Until the advent of Coalition this was the only Lib Dem ward in Worcester, but the entry of the Conservatives into government led to some extremely close results. The Lib Dems held the ward by 17 votes in 2011, which was the last year they won Claines; the Conservatives gained it by 65 votes in 2012. After that the Tories pulled away a bit, but the last two years have seen them pegged back for some more narrow finishes: the Tory majorities in Claines were 62 votes in 2018 when Denlegh-Maxwell returned to the council, and 95 votes in 2019. Shares of the vote in May were 43% for the Conservatives and 39% for the Liberal Democrats. The Tories also hold the Claines division of Worcestershire county council, which spills over into part of the Labour-voting Arboretum ward.

Defending for the Conservatives is Jules Benham, a gardener and mother who gives her location on the ballot paper as an address within the ward and her location on Twitter as “usually close to a kettle”. The Lib Dems have reselected Mel Allcott; she is fighting the ward for the sixth time, having stood and lost here every year from 2014 to date. Also standing are two more candidates who return from May’s election, Stephen Dent for the Greens and Saiful Islam for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Worcester
Worcestershire county council division: Claines
ONS Travel to Work Area: Worcester and Kidderminster
Postcode district: WR3

Mel Allcott (LD)
Jules Benham (C)
Stephen Dent (Grn)
Saiful Islam (Lab)

May 2019 result C 1252 LD 1157 Grn 245 Lab 145 UKIP 137
May 2018 result C 1155 LD 1093 Lab 417 Grn 147 UKIP 42
May 2016 result C 971 LD 734 Lab 453 UKIP 261 Grn 178
May 2015 result C 2115 LD 1056 Lab 866 UKIP 558 Grn 394
May 2014 result C 1054 LD 794 UKIP 509 Lab 379 Grn 206
May 2012 result C 1182 LD 1117 Grn 374
May 2011 result LD 1313 C 1296 Lab 490 Grn 247
May 2010 result LD 2047 C 1920 Lab 716 Grn 263
May 2008 result LD 1551 C 1005 Grn 195 Lab 171
May 2007 result LD 1739 C 985 Lab 246 Grn 210
May 2006 result LD 1649 C 1067 Lab 253 Grn 209
June 2004 result LD 1709/1581/1399 C 1228/1165/1138 Lab 535

Irthlingborough Waterloo

East Northamptonshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Marika Hillson who had served since 2011.

For the week’s other Tory defence we come to the disaster area of modern local government: Northamptonshire. This column has rehearsed the gross mismanagement and insolvency of Northamptonshire county council several times in recent months, and the effect of that insolvency is that local government reorganisation is in the works. Northamptonshire’s 2019 local elections didn’t take place as scheduled: they were postponed until 2020, with the intention that by then the county council and its seven districts would be swept away in favour of a new map with two unitary councils: West Northamptonshire (to include the town of Northampton) and North Northamptonshire (based on Kettering, Corby and the rural east of the county).

However, there has been another twist to report. In May it was announced that the reorganisation had been postponed, and the plan is that it will now be 2021 before the new councils take up their roles. Your columnist missed that announcement at the time, and only started asking questions when the legislation to bring the new councils into existence failed to appear before the summer recess. We wait to hear whether the 2020 Northamptonshire district elections, which have already been postponed once, will go ahead as planned or whether there will be another extension to their councillors’ memberships.

If and when this process eventually reaches a conclusion, Irthlingborough would end up in the North Northamptonshire district despite being close to the southern edge of the county. This is a small town on the River Nene, whose fortunes were made on a famous name in shoe leather. The story goes back to early 1945 and a German army doctor called Klaus Märtens, who decided to spend a period of leave by going to the Bavarian Alps for some skiing. He injured his ankle, and found that his army boots weren’t helping his injury; so he drew up some changes to his boots, including air-cushioned soles. The Second World War ended a few months later with chaos in Germany, and Märtens ended up with some leather from a cobbler’s shop and rubber from now-disused airfields to put his new boot design into production. It was a success, particularly so with the older German housewife.

In 1959 R Griggs, a Northamptonshire cobblers’ firm, bought the rights to Dr Märtens’ design, added yellow stitching and dropped the umlaut, and the Dr Martens boot was born. Launched in 1960, the DM boot quickly became an icon of British design. It made a lot of money for Griggs, whose head office was in Irthlingborough. The company owner Max Griggs put a lot of that money into the local football team Rushden and Diamonds, which entered the Football League in August 2001 and played there for five seasons from its base at Nene Park in Irthlingborough.

But as a wise woman once said “these boots are made for walking and that’s just what they’ll do”. Griggs outsourced production of Dr Martens to the Far East in 2003 following financial problems, and the money dried up. Dr Martens’ head office is now elsewhere; Rushden and Diamonds FC folded in 2011; and Nene Park (after being used by Kettering Town for a time) was demolished in 2017.

That, however, wasn’t the end of industry in Irthlingborough. The food company Whitworths still has a large factory here, employing over 300 people, and there is other manufacturing in the town. And that creates a town with a high Labour vote within the very strongly Conservative district of East Northamptonshire. Nearly all of the district is within the Corby parliamentary constituency, providing the counterbalance to the strongly Labour town which gives the constituency its name and producing a marginal seat in the Commons.

Irthlingborough has two electoral wards. The southern is called John Pyel, commemorating a fourteenth-century Lord Mayor of London who was born here and improved the local parish church. Waterloo is the northern ward, taking in the Nene Park site, the village of Knightlands and some of the lakes in the Nene Valley, which has been extensively quarried for gravel. In the 2011 elections to East Northamptonshire council these were the only wards which returned Labour councillors, with Labour and the Conservatives winning a seat each in both wards. The Tories then gained the Labour seat in Irthlingborough Waterloo ward in 2015, at which election the shares of the vote were 55% for the Conservative slate and 35% for Labour.

The cancellation of Northamptonshire’s 2019 elections means that there have been no polls for Waterloo ward since the days of Coalition, so we have to look up to county council level for anything more recent. In May 2017 the Conservatives easily held the Irthlingborough county council division with 50% of the vote, Labour falling to 23% and Marika Hillson – whose resignation caused this by-election – standing as an independent and polling 22%.

With this by-election being in a marginal parliamentary seat the result will be closely watched. It’s a straight fight. Defending in the blue corner is Lee Walker, who gives an address in the town of Raunds to the north-east: he is deputy mayor of that town. Challenging from the red corner is Irthlingborough town councillor Caroline Cross, who was runner-up here in the 2015 district election and 2017 county election. The recent Lib Dem winning streak in by-elections ends here, as there is no Liberal Democrat candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Corby
Northamptonshire county council division: Irthlingborough
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kettering and Wellingborough
Postcode district: NN9

Caroline Cross (Lab)
Lee Walker (C)

May 2015 result C 1054/1043 Lab 671/662 BNP 179
May 2011 result Lab 594/465 C 542/531 Lab 465
May 2007 result C 637/529 Lab 432/371


Cambridge council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Lucy Nethsingha, who is now a Member of the European Parliament for the Eastern region. She had served since 2016, and is also a Cambridgeshire county councillor.

Normally when this column is drafting a preview, there’s a certain lack of information on the local area to go on. Getting material for a few paragraphs on another identikit corner of South London or obscure small village in deepest darkest Lincolnshire can be quite the challenge. But for Newnham ward the problem is the opposite one: what to leave out?

Newnham is one of the student-dominated wards of the city of Cambridge. Many of the Cambridge University colleges west of the River Cam are here, together with the fast-growing West Cambridge site of university buildings and three colleges on the east side of the Cam: King’s, Queens’ and St Katz. The number of MPs past or present who have been educated here at some point in their lives is very high. Page 400 of The British General Election of 2017 by Philip Cowley and Dennis Kavanagh, the latest in the renowned Nuffield series on general elections, reports that 34% of Conservative MPs, 20% of Labour MPs and 17% of Lib Dems elected in June 2017 have passed through Cambridge or that other educational institution in the Thames Valley; and a fair proportion of those will have been studying in a college located in Newnham ward.

At the time of the 2011 census around 59% of Newnham’s residents aged 16 to 74 were full-time students, the ninth-highest figure for any ward in England and Wales. Cambridge attracts students from all over the world, and Newnham makes the top 50 wards in England and Wales for those born in the EU-15; Germans are particularly strongly represented, and there is also a large Chinese contingent. On the other hand we are between academic years at the moment. Most of the students won’t be here in August, so Newnham ward’s permanent population – and this is one of the most affluent wards in Cambridge – will make up most of the voters for this by-election.

Whoever wins will be treading in the footsteps of some rather famous people. This ward has existed since the 1930s, and from 1945 to 1949 one of the councillors for Newnham ward was Alice, Lady Bragg, wife of the physicist and Nobel laureate Sir Lawrence Bragg who at the time was director of the University’s Cavendish Laboratory. Lady Bragg was an independent councillor; after she resigned in 1949 Newnham became a Conservative ward which was often uncontested.

That changed in 1971 when Labour broke through, and the Labour slate won all four Newnham seats in 1973 at the first election to the modern Cambridge city council. Two of the people on that 1973 Labour slate are notable enough for Wikipedia. Ruth Cohen was a noted economist who had recently retired after eighteen years as Principal of Newnham College; while Robert Edwards was a reader in physiology at Churchill College working in the controversial area of human fertilisation. Edwards stood down from the council in May 1978, six months after performing a pioneering medical procedure on a woman from Oldham called Lesley Brown; in July 1978 Brown gave birth to a baby girl, Louise Brown, who was the first human conceived through in vitro fertilisation. For that achievement retired Cambridge city councillor Robert Edwards was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Many politicians have become Nobel laureates over the years; but there can’t be many who did it in medicine.

Robert Edwards ended up with a knighthood, but his successor as Newnham ward councillor did even better than that in the honours stakes: Wendy Nicol, a board member of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, made it to the House of Lords as Baroness Nicol. Nicol inherited a safe ward, but passed on a marginal after the end of her single term in 1982: by this point the SDP had became strong in Newnham ward. Long-serving Labour councillor Gwyneth Lipstein (wife of the noted legal scholar Kurt Lipstein) was re-elected on the SDP ticket in 1984, and the party won a second seat in 1987 having finished four votes behind Labour in 1986.

The merger with the Liberals had less of an impact initially. Lipstein lost her seat to Labour in the 1988 election when the party was still called the Social and Liberal Democrats, and Newnham’s first Liberal Democrat candidate proper finished in third place. He was Nicholas Whyte, who was a student at the time but later became a science fiction blogger, EU influencer and noted Northern Irish psephologist. Whyte’s Northern Ireland Elections website (link) is now in its third decade as the go-to internet reference for election results in the province. Yes, I’ll admit it: Northern Ireland Elections was a source of inspiration for the Local Elections Archive Project, which your columnist runs in his ever-decreasing spare time.

The Liberal Democrats grew their vote back to break through in Newnham ward in 1992, and the party has won Newnham at every Cambridge local election from 1998 onwards. It hasn’t always been a safe ward for them in that time with Labour coming close to winning on several occasions in the Coalition years, but recent results suggest that the Labour challenge has faltered. In May 2019 the Lib Dems won with 50% of the vote, to 28% for Labour and 14% for the Green Party. This by-election will likely be the last contest on these Newnham ward boundaries, as a new ward map for Cambridge will be introduced next year; as such whoever wins this by-election will not be able to rest for long before hitting the campaign trail again.

Lucy Nethsingha MEP had only been on Cambridge city council since 2016, but since 2015 she had been leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Cambridgeshire county council where she also represents Newnham. She has been a county councillor since 2009, and will stay as a member of that council at least for the time being – a decision which has drawn criticism from the Conservative elected mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Josh Matthews, who is originally from Swansea and came to Cambridge to do a masters’ degree in engineering management. The Labour candidate is Niamh Sweeney, a former president of the ATL education union. Another teacher on the ballot is Mark Slade of the Green Party, who also co-founded a live entertainment business. Completing the candidate list is Michael Spencer for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Cambridge
Cambridgeshire county council division: Newnham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode district: CB3

Josh Matthews (LD)
Mark Slade (Grn)
Michael Spencer (C)
Niamh Sweeney (Lab)

May 2019 result LD 1003 Lab 552 Grn 276 C 171
May 2018 result LD 1139 Lab 825 C 165 Grn 164
May 2016 result LD 939 Lab 787 C 234 Grn 216
May 2015 result LD 1387 Lab 1203 Grn 947 C 700
May 2014 result LD 1056 Lab 987 Grn 526 C 395
May 2012 result LD 917 Lab 641 C 263 Grn 241
May 2011 result LD 990 Lab 756 C 621 Grn 443
May 2010 result LD 1862 C 994 Lab 648 Grn 642
May 2008 result LD 870 C 427 Grn 238 Lab 200
May 2007 result LD 842 C 489 Grn 300 Lab 246
May 2006 result LD 974 C 475 Lab 336 Grn 321
June 2004 result LD 1018/931/904 C 429/411/395 Grn 400/282 Lab 317/288/279

If you liked these previews, there are many more like them in the Andrew’s Previews books, which you can order from Amazon (link).

Andrew Teale