Previews: 05 Sep 2019

Three by-elections on 5th September 2019:


Coventry council, West Midlands; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Gary Crookes. A former Lord Mayor of Coventry, he had served since 1995.

Has it been a difficult week? Are you not feeling sufficiently Zen at the moment? Let me fix that. Have a look at the Koan:

This is going to be a cultural week, with the latest UK City of Culture coming up later in this week’s edition of the Previews. However, we start with the next UK City of Culture, Coventry, which will have that status in 2021. No doubt a fair amount of the cultural stuff will end up taking place in the Warwick Arts Centre, the largest arts centre in the UK under one roof outside London. All sorts of people have trod its boards including your columnist and someone called Bill Clinton, who gave a speech in the main auditorium at the end of his presidency in December 2000.

Warwick Arts Centre is at the heart of the main campus of Warwick University, which – as its students continually have to point out – is on the edge of Coventry and nowhere near Warwick. Founded in the 1960s expansion of higher education on a greenfield “bubble” site on the Coventry/Warwickshire border, Warwick has a formidable teaching reputation and regularly makes the top 10 in all sorts of higher education rankings. Two Nobel laureates and a Fields medallist teach or have taught here, while alumni include the President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and the former Brexit secretary and failed Tory leadership candidate David Davis to name but a few. All this attracted your columnist, who studied at Warwick and has honorary life membership of the Students’ Union to show for it.

On the first Thursday in May 2002, your columnist took over a room in the Ramphal Building on the main campus. I was the poll clerk for the university polling station in the Coventry City Council election of 2002, at which the campus (or that part of it which is within the city limits) was in Wainbody ward. The turnout was not good: just 8.4% of the electorate, almost all of whom were students living on campus, turned up to cast a vote, a turnout which rather justified the council’s decision to have one polling station for an electorate of four or five thousand. Warwick may have had a reputation for student activism in the past, but that’s no longer the case when it comes to local election voting.

Instead it’s the permanent population on these southern outskirts of Coventry which decide Wainbody’s elections. As a look at the housing in Finham and Gibbet Hill will tell you, this is one of the most affluent parts of the city, with high levels of owner-occupation. The 2011 census also picked up a large Sikh population. Drive into Coventry along the Kenilworth Road, with its arrow-straight wide tree-lined avenues, and you might be forgiven for thinking that it’s a beautiful city. A lot of the ward is greenbelt, although if some development proposals go through they could nibble away at that.

In 2002 the Tory candidate for Wainbody, John Blundell, turned up at the polling station to see how we were getting on. He seemed a nice sort and was elected easily. Wainbody is the longest-standing Conservative ward in Coventry and the only ward in the city which has elected Conservatives at every election since the current lines were drawn in 2004. Blundell, Crookes and Tim Sawdon were the Tory slate in 2004 and had been re-elected at every occasion since. Labour made the ward marginal in the Coalition years but then fell back; in May 2019 Sawdon was re-elected with 48% of the vote, against 26% for Labour and 11% for the Green Party. Warwick’s new academic year doesn’t start until the end of the month so there will be almost no students here for this by-election, although this isn’t likely to affect turnout much if my experience is anything to go by.

Defending this safe seat for the Conservatives is Mattie Heaven, who according to her Twitter is a human rights activist researcher advocating against Islamic misconceptions and misinterpretations. Labour have reselected their regular candidate for the ward, Abdul Jobbar. The Greens failed to get a nomination in, so completing the ballot paper are James Morshead for the Lib Dems and George Beamish for the Brexit Party. And that’s the only time you’ll hear the B-word mentioned in this piece. Isn’t that refreshing?

Parliamentary constituency: Coventry South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Coventry
Postcode districts: CV3, CV4

George Beamish (Brexit)
Mattie Heaven (C)
Abdul Jobbar (Lab)
James Morshead (LD)

May 2019 result C 1666 Lab 919 Grn 381 LD 312 UKIP 207
May 2018 result C 1867 Lab 1271 LD 204 Grn 182 UKIP 109
May 2016 result C 2018 Lab 1232 LD 209 Grn 209 TUSC 67
May 2015 result C 3701 Lab 2367 UKIP 738 Grn 561 LD 446 TUSC 85
May 2014 result C 1823 Lab 1497 UKIP 742 Grn 499 LD 227 TUSC 45
May 2012 result C 1540 Lab 1214 UKIP 449 Grn 210 LD 172 Soc Alt 54
May 2011 result C 2452 Lab 1909 LD 410 Grn 393 UKIP 379 Soc Alt 83
May 2010 result C 3641 Lab 2457 LD 1830 BNP 217 Ind 190 Soc Alt 75
May 2008 result C 2470 Lab 755 LD 468 Grn 353
May 2007 result C 2324 Lab 981 LD 524 Grn 358
May 2006 result C 2612 Lab 1013 LD 751
June 2004 result C 2811/2753/2736 Lab 1382/1240/1032 LD 1356

Penrith South

Eden council, Cumbria; caused by the death of independent councillor Paul Connor, who had served only since May this year.

We want the finest by-elections available to humanity, we want them here and we want them now. Let me oblige. Welcome to Penrith, a town at which the major communication links from England to Scotland collide: the M6 and West Coast Main Line on their descent from Shap Summit towards Carlisle cross the A66 on its descent from Bowes and Scotch Corner. Overlooking the road junction where they meet are the Wetheriggs and Castle Hill parts of the town, a council estate area which is the major part of Penrith South ward.

Penrith only has a population of around 15,000 but it’s the largest settlement for miles in any direction and as such is a major local centre. It’s the home of the Eden local government district, which at 827 square miles is larger than Greater London but has a population of only around 50,000. Penrith also attracts a lot of tourists; the Lake District and the High Pennines are within easy reach, while those whose major form of exercise is lifting a charged glass (and there are many) travel here to see the filming locations for Withnail and I. (But don’t travel to Penrith expecting to see the Penrith Tea Rooms; that scene was in fact shot in the old Milton Keynes district of Stony Stratford.) Noted hiker and failed Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart is clearly a good fit as MP for the area.

Eden is one of those councils which tends to have lots of unopposed elections, and it took until 2015 for there to be a contested poll in Penrith South this century. That year the two outgoing ward councillors, Malcolm Temple of the Conservatives and independent Margaret Clark, were re-elected. Temple stood down in May 2019 and his seat was gained by Paul Connor, who topped the poll with 261 votes; Clark was re-elected in second place with 256, and new Conservative candidate Helen Fearon was runner-up on 210. That wasn’t the only Eden seat the Conservatives lost in May; as a result they lost their majority on the council which is now run by a rainbow coalition of the Lib Dems, independents, Labour and the Greens.

Following Paul Connor’s untimely death the voters of Penrith South are going back to the polls in short order. Defending for the independents is Lee Quinn, a magazine publisher, local radio host and Penrith town councillor. Quinn fought the local seat of Penrith West in the 2017 Cumbria county council election, finishing third as the Tories’ Helen Fearon was re-elected for a third term; Fearon has been reselected by the Conservatives for this by-election. Also standing are Dave Knaggs for Labour and Kerryanne Wilde for the localist slate Putting Cumbria First.

Parliamentary constituency: Penrith and the Border
Cumbria county council division: Penrith West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Penrith
Postcode districts: CA10, CA11

Helen Fearon (C)
Dave Knaggs (Lab)
Lee Quinn (Ind)
Kerryanne Wilde (Putting Cumbria First)

May 2019 result Ind 261/256 C 210 Lab 94
May 2015 result C 615 Ind 576 LD 302
May 2011 result Ind/C unopposed
May 2007 result Ind/C unopposed
May 2003 result 2 Ind unopposed

St Andrew’s and Docklands

Kingston upon Hull council, East Yorkshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Nadine Fudge. A member of Hull city council since it became a unitary council in 1995, Fudge was the Lord Mayor of Hull in 2013 and a tireless advocate for her community and for the Missing People charity.

We finish for the week in the UK’s most recent City of Culture. Yorkshire has always been known for its wool, and in the thirteenth century the monks of Meaux Abbey, a Cistercian foundation near Beverley, wanted to raise funds by exporting the Abbey’s wool to the continental markets across the North Sea. The abbey owned some low-lying land at the confluence of the Rivers Hull and Humber, and founded a port on that land at a place called Wyke within the parish of Myton. In 1293 the Abbey sold their new town of Wyke to King Edward I, who granted a charter to it renaming the town as Kingston upon Hull.

Hull thrived, and for centuries it was the most important port on the east coast of England. Everyone wanted a piece of the action: the Hansa, the Low Countries, France, Spain, Portugal, in time the New World, Australia and New Zealand sent their products through Hull Docks. All the trades came through here: whaling, deep sea trawling, people (many emigrants to North America passed through Hull). The profits from this made Hull a city, with a fine centre of imposing buildings and one of the UK’s largest railway stations, aptly named Paragon. Hull has left its mark in literature as well: Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, whose story was published 300 years ago this year, set off from Hull to commence his various adventures.

The port is still important today. Every morning, two ferries dock in Hull from Rotterdam and Zeebrugge and disgorge hundreds of lorries straight into the morning rush hour, with all of the lorries trying to get through the city centre and out the other side onto the Hessle Road. However, the loss of the Cod War with Iceland, Hull’s relative isolation (it’s a long way from anywhere of a similar size) and the usual problems affecting city centres have taken their toll on the economy. In the 2011 census the city-centre Myton ward came in at number 12 of all the wards in England and Wales for unemployment, while St Andrew’s ward (along the Hessle and Anlaby Roads to the west of the city centre) was number 5 with over 13% unemployed. St Andrew’s ward also made the top 20 for “routine” employment, the most working-class of the ONS’ seven employment categories; and was in the top 40 for those born in the new EU states.

There were boundary changes in Hull for the 2018 election that abolished Myton ward, whose southern half was added to St Andrew’s ward to form a new ward called St Andrew’s and Docklands. Both of the predecessor wards had been safely Labour but could turn in respectable scores for UKIP; however, UKIP didn’t stand in the first election on these lines and the Labour slate won all three seats very easily. In May this year Labour held St Andrew’s and Docklands with 53% of the vote, a close race for the runner-up spot being won by the far-right For Britain Movement (14%) with the Lib Dems (13%) close behind. Labour have a relatively small majority on Hull city council where they are under pressure from the Lib Dems; the 2019 election resulted in no net change to the party strengths, so there are 30 Labour seats plus this vacancy against 24 Lib Dems and two Conservatives.

Defending for Labour is Nadine Fudge’s daughter Leanne Fudge, a former Hull councillor for Derringham ward (2015-18). She now has a tilt at a safe seat. The For Britain Movement have not returned for this by-election. The Lib Dems have reselected Tracey Henry who stood here in May. Completing the ballot paper is Dan Bond for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Hull West and Hessle
ONS Travel to Work Area: Hull
Postcode districts: HU1, HU2, HU3, HU9

Dan Bond (C)
Leanne Fudge (Lab)
Tracey Henry (LD)

May 2019 result Lab 985 For Britain Movement 267 LD 241 Grn 208 C 143
May 2018 result Lab 1357/1297/1252 C 300/273/222 LD 271/270/200 Ind 136