Preview: 31 Oct 2019

One by-election on Thursday 31st October 2019:


Andrew Teale

Bromsgrove South

Worcestershire county council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Chris Bloore, who is emigrating to Canada. He had served since 2013.

It’s Hallowe’en. Or Samhain, if you prefer. Time to make preparations: get the parkin in for Bonfire Night, make sure you have a poppy ready for Remembrance, write up the Christmas present list, dodge the trick-or-treaters and, in my case, get ready for Brexit as your columnist flies to Bulgaria next week for some quiz and sightseeing. It’s Sunday as I write this, and it would be nice to know which immigration queue to head for when I land in Sofia; and whether my EHIC card has any value left given that it’s not supposed to expire until 2021.

There’s just one by-election scheduled for today, in Bromsgrove. This was an old town with a cloth trade in mediaeval times followed by nail-making during the Industrial Revolution. However, Bromsgrove is not a Black Country town: it’s firmly in Worcestershire and separated from the West Midlands conurbation by the Clent Hills. Rising up the Clent Hills from Bromsgrove is the Lickey Incline, a famously-steep gradient on the railway between Birmingham and Bristol. Bromsgrove railway station, at the foot of the incline, was rebuilt on a new site in 2016; and it’s now enjoying a greatly-improved service as one of the two southern termini of the Cross City line to Birmingham and Lichfield.

Bromsgrove’s new railway station lies at the north-east corner of this division and is hopefully attracting some commuters who would previously have gone to work by car. There’s certainly a commuter market if you look at the census return for Stoke Prior, which in the nineteenth century was home to the largest saltworks in Europe but is now a southern extension of Bromsgrove with very high owner-occupation levels. In nearby Stoke Heath is the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings, an open-air museum where dozens of old and not-so-old buildings have been re-erected.

Bromsgrove has been a Conservative-held parliamentary seat for many years (its current MP is Sajid Javid, the Chancellor of the Exchequer) but the Bromsgrove South county division is a Labour-inclined marginal. The Tories have won it only once on the current boundaries, in 2009, and that was with a rather low vote share; Labour recovered Bromsgrove South in 2013 and held it in May 2017 with a lead of 50-41 over the Conservatives. The Bromsgrove council results make clear that the Labour vote comes out of Bromsgrove town with Stoke Prior and Stoke Heath voting Conservative, although the ward boundaries no longer match up following changes at district level in 2015. Labour performed well here in the 2019 Bromsgrove council elections, making Rock Hall ward safe (it had been marginal in 2015) and coming just one vote short of gaining Aston Fields ward which stayed Conservative by 419 votes to 418. Never let anybody tell you your vote never changed anything.

Defending this by-election for Labour is Bren Henderson, a stained-glass artist and secretary of the party’s Bromsgrove branch. The Conservatives have selected Kyle Daisley, a 22-year-old Virgin Atlantic flight attendant and parish councillor in Hagley, some miles to the north. Completing thee ballot paper are Joshua Robinson for the Lib Dems and independent candidate Rachel Jenkins, who was an independent Worcestershire county councillor for Clent Hills division from 2013 to 2017 and sits on Bromsgrove council as an independent councillor for Hagley East ward.

Parliamentary constituency: Bromsgrove
Bromsgrove council wards: Avoncroft, Aston Fields (part), Charford (most), Rock Hill (most)

Kyle Daisley (C)
Bren Henderson (Lab)
Rachel Jenkins (Ind)
Joshua Robinson (LD)

May 2017 result Lab 1263 C 1013 LD 123 Grn 102
May 2013 result Lab 1088 C 733 Grn 166 BNP 163 LD 93
June 2009 result C 934 Ind 557 Lab 519 BNP 385 Grn 353
May 2005 result Lab 1934 C 1824 LD 925

Election Court Watch

Since this is a slow week, we’ve time to note two recent pieces of news from the Courts. First, we track back to a by-election last year in Upton ward, Wirral council, where it appears that the winning Labour campaign accidentally went over the election expense limit. The candidate and election agent applied to the courts for relief – essentially, immunity from prosecution – and I assume that they got it. Losing parties tend not to make a fuss over marginal accidental overspending because they know that the same thing could just as easily happen to them in the future. Also, while relief may be a get-out-of-jail card it’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card; only the High Court has the power to grant relief, so this episode will have landed Wirral Labour with quite a large legal bill in addition to the money they spent on the by-election.

The other piece of legal news is that the Brexit Party have thrown in the towel as regards their legal action from the Peterborough by-election in June. They have applied to the Election Court to withdraw their election petition and will pay the legal costs for the winning Labour MP and the Returning Officer. Unfortunately the text of the petition was never made public, so the allegations made remain a mystery to this column.

Andrew Teale