Previews: 27 Feb 2020

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

Seven by-elections on 27th February 2020, six in England and one in Wales. There are three Conservative defences, three Labour defences and a free-for-all:

Hillingdon East

Hillingdon council, North London; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Pat Jackson, who had served since 2006. Her resignation is believed to have been on health grounds.

We start for the week in that London, although on the outer fringes of it. The London Borough of Hillingdon is London’s westernmost borough and has one of those neutral names which try not to offend anybody living in the multiple suburbs covered by the district. Hayes, Harlington, Northwood, Ruislip, Uxbridge, West Drayton and Yiewsley are all part of the borough but are larger than Hillingdon itself.

Hillingdon was one of the ancient parishes of Middlesex, with its boundaries including a small village called Uxbridge. When Uxbridge grew into a town, Hillingdon was left behind as a rural area, and stayed that way well into the 20th century. Uxbridge annexed part of Hillingdon in 1894 leaving a rump rural parish called Hillingdon East, which had similar boundaries to this ward.

Much of the present ward is still open space today. However, in the 1920s the Metropolitan Railway, having run out of places to develop houses and season ticket revenue nearer the capital, set its eyes on the Hillingdon area. Hillingdon (Swakeleys) station opened in 1923, and over the next decade and a half the fields to the south of it adjacent to Long Lane were filled up with Metroland houses. Reflecting the increasing urbanisation of the area, Hillingdon East parish had been absorbed into Uxbridge by the time the Second World War broke out. The original Hillingdon station no longer exists, as it was demolished in the early 1990s to enable improvements to Western Avenue, which is one of London’s major arterial roads and forms the northern boundary of this ward; the replacement Hillingdon station, slightly south of the original, is an architecturally striking building with frequent Metropolitan and Piccadilly line trains to London and Uxbridge.

Hillingdon East ward is quite socially divided, with the northern half (close to Western Avenue) being significantly whiter and less deprived than the southern half (close to Uxbridge Road) which has a significant Asian population. Unusually, all of the major subcontinental religions are well represented among the ward’s residents.

The London Borough of Hillingdon has had a Conservative majority since 2006 and the Tories increased their lead on the council to 44-21 over Labour in the 2018 borough elections, gaining two seats. Hillingdon East ward is part of that majority, although in the 2002 election (the first on the current boundaries) it returned a full slate of three Lib Dems with Labour in second place. The Conservatives came from third to gain two seats from the Lib Dems in 2006 and picked up the other seat in 2010. The Hillingdon Liberal Democrats have since fallen to the point that they didn’t even contest this ward in 2018, when the Conservative slate beat Labour here 60-36. Some of that lead may well have been on the coat-tails of the local MP Boris Johnson, who at the time was Foreign Secretary; we have seen a similar phenomenon at recent elections outside his constituency.

Johnson had served as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip since 2015, at which point he was still Mayor of London. He retired from the mayoralty at the 2016 election, and the voters of Hillingdon East clearly endorsed his Conservative successor Zac Goldsmith; the ward’s ballot boxes gave Goldsmith a 48-31 lead over Labour’s Sadiq Khan, while in the London Members ballot the Conservative list polled 40%, Labour had 30% and UKIP were third with 12%.

Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Colleen Sullivan, a local resident who is involved with organisations including the council’s Safer Neighbourhood Board. Labour have selected Annelise Roberts, who stood in Charville ward in 2018. In 2018 the only other party to contest Hillingdon West was the Democrats and Veterans Party, the “gay donkey” UKIP splinter group; this time there is a wider choice for the electors with Geoff Courtenay standing for UKIP, Chris Hooper for the Lib Dems and Mark Keir for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Uxbridge and South Ruislip
ONS Travel to Work Area: Slough and Heathrow
Postcode district: UB10

Geoff Courtenay (UKIP)
Chris Hoopsr (LD)
Mark Keir (Grn)
Anneslise Roberts (Lab)
Colleen Sullivan (C)

May 2018 result C 2200/2053/2052 Lab 1333/1314/1239 Democrats and Veterans Party 153
May 2014 result C 1572/1448/1400 Lab 1005/786/769 UKIP 763 LD 507/448/445 TUSC 106
May 2010 result C 2595/2387/2345 LD 1823/1713/1670 Lab 1362/1234/1201
May 2006 result LD 1303/1195/1135 C 1279/1200/1152 Lab 677/591/554 Ind 222
May 2002 result LD 1244/1164/1159 Lab 1045/1001/969 C 904/833/833

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: C 1395 Lab 896 UKIP 201 Grn 114 LD 106 Britain First 56 Respect 33 Women’s Equality 33 BNP 26 Cannabis is Safter than Alcohol 24 One Love 7 Zylsinki 6
London Members: C 1183 Lab 895 UKIP 345 Grn 153 LD 125 Britain First 86 Women’s Equality 39 CPA 31 Respect 26 BNP 26 Animal Welfare 23 House Party 7


Cambridgeshire county council; and


South Cambridgeshire council; both caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Peter Topping.

Our other two by-elections of the week come on the southern edge of Cambridgeshire. Duxford is a small village, but its name is well-known. In 1918 Duxford Aerodrome was opened as one of the first Royal Air Force airfields, with most of its buildings having been constructed by German prisoners of war. The Air Force put on a show here for George V and Queen Mary in the Jubilee year of 1935. Subsequently RAF Duxford was on the front line of the Battle of Britain in September 1940, before being taken over by the US Air Force later in the war.

The RAF moved out in 1961 and since then the site has had various uses, including much of the shooting of the 1969 film Battle of Britain. Duxford Aerodrome is now in the hands of the Imperial War Museum and there are several aircraft collections here. The runways and apron are occasionally used by Formula 1 teams; in 2012 driver Maria de Villota was seriously injured in a crash at Duxford while testing for the Marussia team. De Villota never fully recovered from the accident, and she died from its effects the following year.

Duxford had been represented on Cambridgeshire county council since 2013 by Peter Topping, a Conservative councillor who had gained his seat from the Liberal Democrats. Topping was also a South Cambridgeshire district councillor, having gained Whittlesford ward from the Lib Dems in 2008. This is a village further down the Cam valley from Duxford which is home to Duxford’s railhead, the station of Whittlesford Parkway on the West Anglia main line which links the area to Cambridge and London.

Both Duxford county division and Whittlesford ward were redrawn for their most recent elections. In Duxford Topping was re-elected in May 2017 by a 55-33 margin over the Lib Dems, and in Whittleford in May 2018 he had a 63-16 lead over Labour in second place. The county council result was nothing out of the ordinary, but the district council result a year later sticks out by a mile. The South Cambridgeshire local government district, which covers most of the Cambridge commuter belt, was stormed by the Liberal Democrats in the 2018 local elections, and Topping was the only Conservative councillor left standing for some miles around Whittlesford. He had been leader of the council going into that election. Topping submitted his resignation on New Year’s Day, his 61st birthday, as he is relocating to Northumberland where his wife works in the NHS.

At the time the MP for South Cambridgeshire was the Tories’ Heidi Allen, who had taken over a safe Tory seat from the former health secretary Andrew Lansley in 2015. Allen had previously been a member of St Albans council, and resigned from that council when she was selected as a PPC prompting a double by-election in Marshalswick South ward. (This was a double by-election because another prospective Tory MP for the same ward, Seema Kennedy, had resigned from St Albans council at the same time; Kennedy subsequently served in the Commons for South Ribble from 2015 to 2019.) A bit of a gamble, but it all turned out right in the end; the Conservatives held the Marshalswick South double by-election in January 2015, and Allen was safely elected to the Commons in May 2015.

Heidi Allen became increasingly estranged from the Conservative group in Parliament, and in February 2019 she was one of three Tory MPs to join the short-lived Independent Group/Change UK party. She led that party for a while, before leaving in May 2019; after an interlude leading her own independent group in the Commons she joined the Liberal Democrats in October 2019. Allen stood down from Parliament in December 2019, but her political journey left its mark on her electors; South Cambridgeshire’s new Tory MP, former journalist and banker Anthony Browne, was elected only narrowly in December against a Lib Dem surge.

Given the recent political realignment of this part of southern Cambridgeshire and the fact that Peter Topping would appear to have had a significant personal vote, these two by-elections are worth watching. They are straight fights.

For the Duxford county council seat the defending Conservative candidate is Stephen Edwards, who lives within the division in Ickleton. He fought Duxford ward in the 2018 South Cambridgeshire election, losing the seat to the Lib Dems; and the following year he contested the Newmarket North ward of West Suffolk council, polling rather poorly in comparison to his running-mate as I explained in Andrew’s Previews last month. This is Edwards’ second matchup against Lib Dem Peter McDonald, who is the South Cambridgeshire district councillor for the smaller Duxford ward and was the Lib Dem candidate for the county division in 2017.

In the South Cambridgeshire by-election for Whittlesford ward we have a ballot paper of two candidates who are both associated with the University of Cambridge or its linked industries. The defending Tory candidate is Richard Williams, a Whittlesford parish councillor and the University’s Hogan Lovells lecturer in corporate law. He is challenged by the Lib Dems’ James Hobro, a research scientist at the Schlumberger Gould research centre, who gives an address outside the ward in the village of Fowlmere.


Parliamentary constituency: South Cambridgeshire
South Cambridgeshire wards: Foxton, Duxford (part: Duxford, Hinxton, Ickleton and Pampisford parishes), Melbourn (part: Shepreth parish), Whittlesford (part: Thriplow and Whittlesford parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode districts: CB10, CB21, CB22, SG8

Stephen Edwards (C)
Peter McDonald (LD)

May 2017 result C 2066 LD 1248 Lab 286 Grn 148


Parliamentary constituency: South Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire county council division: Duxford (Thriplow and Whittlesford parishes), Saston and Shelford (Newton parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode districts: CB22, SG8

James Hobro (LD)
Richard Williams (C)

May 2018 result C 714 Lab 180 LD 164 Grn 70


Blaby council, Leicestershire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Bill Wright. The mayor of Braunstone in 2017-18, Wright had served on Blaby council since 2007.

For our Midlands by-election we travel to Leicester. Or not, as the case may be. Travellers entering Leicester from the M1 or M69 motorway by means of the Fosse Way may plunge straight into the city’s built-up area, but this is not technically Leicester. Instead you first have to get through Braunstone Town, a suburb of Leicester which is yet to be annexed by the city.

Millfield ward is the southern of the three wards covering Braunstone Town and generally the newest, with most of its housing dating from the 1950s and 1960s. It’s pretty well off by Leicester standards but there are echoes of the big city’s demographic in its census return, notably so with an 8% Sikh population which just puts Millfield into the top 100 Sikh wards in England and Wales.

Local elections in Braunstone can be confusing affairs. The Conservatives don’t always put up a candidate here but can be competitive when they do stand. They narrowly won Millfield ward in 2003 but gave up their seat without a fight in the 2007 election, allowing Labour’s Bill Wright to be elected unopposed for his first term of office. Wright won his fourth and final term in May 2019, defeating the Conservatives 53-47 in a straight fight. The ward is part of the Braunstone division of Leicestershire county council, which was similarly marginal in 2017. The large Conservatives majorities on Blaby council and in the South Leicestershire parliamentary constituency come from elsewhere.

Defending this seat for Labour is Nick Brown, leader of the parish-level Braunstone town council. The Conservatives have reselected Anthony Cashmore who was runner-up here last year. For the first time this century a Millfield ballot paper will have more than two candidates, with the intervention of the Green Party’s Christiane Startin-Lorent.

Parliamentary constituency: South Leicestershire
Leicestershire county council division: Braunstone
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode districts: LE3, LE19

Nick Brown (Lab)
Anthony Cashmore (C)
Christiane Startin-Lorent (Grn)

May 2019 result Lab 282 C 248
May 2015 result Lab unopposed
May 2011 result Lab 483 C 401
May 2007 result Lab unopposed
May 2003 result C 306 Lab 278

Clayton and Opsnehaw

Manchester city council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Andy Harland at the age of 59. He had served since 2018.

For the first of our two by-elections in north-west England we travel to east Manchester. This is a ward dominated by the world of sport. In 1994 the Manchester Velodrome opened as part of the city’s ill-fated Olympic bids; at the time it was Britain’s only Olympic-standard velodrome, and its facilities propelled Teams GB and Sky to the top of world cycling. The velodrome was one of the 2002 Commonwealth Games venues, and has hosted the track cycling world championships three times.

The velodrome was the first component of what became Sportcity, whose most important component is the Premier League champions (although probably not for much longer) Manchester City. City’s academy and training ground, opened in December 2014, are within the boundary of Clayton and Openshaw ward; the Academy Stadium is an impressive structure in its own right with a capacity of 7,000. (They’re not the only club to be associated with this area: in 1892 new entrants to the Football League Newton Heath FC started playing at Bank Street in Clayton. That club moved to Old Trafford in 1910, having been renamed as Manchester United six years earlier.)

All of this was a big redevelopment of a post-industrial landscape: not Eastlands but wastelands. The Etihad Stadium, just outside the ward boundary, was formerly home to Bradford Colliery. The Academy Stadium site was occupied for over a century by Clayton Aniline, one of the UK’s most important dyestuffs factories; its employees in the 1900s included a part-time research consultant called Chaim Weizmann, who would go on to become the first president of Israel.

Clayton Aniline took its name from a Manchester suburb which was annexed by the city in 1890. The 15th-century Clayton Hall, named after its founding family, still stands here and gave its name to the area. Part of the Clayton area became a public park in 1846, one of the first municipal parks in the world, thanks to the efforts of Manchester MP Mark Philips after whom the park is named. Philips Park now runs into Clayton Vale, a post-industrial landscape in the Medlock valley which has been turned into a country park.

Clayton and Openshaw both share similar histories, having come to prominence as 19th-century suburbs based on all this heavy industry – Clayton on the Ashton New Road, Openshaw on the Ashton Old Road. With the disappearance of that industry and redevelopment of some of the housing the area has substantially depopulated. The scale of this depopulation can be seen by the fact that there was a Manchester Clayton parliamentary seat from 1918 to 1955, followed by a Manchester Openshaw parliamentary seat from 1955 to 1983. Nearly all of the census districts covered by the ward are in the 10% most deprived in England, and in the 2011 census bus use in the constituency was very high. That census took place before the opening of the tram line to Ashton-under-Lyne, which runs along Ashton New Road and whose Velopark and Clayton Hall stops are within the ward boundary.

Clayton and Openshaw may be depopulating, but the same cannot be said of central Manchester as a whole. The city centre has seen enormous population growth over the last couple of decades, and as a result the Manchester Central constituency – which covers this area – is now badly oversized. The failure of two parliamentary boundary reviews within the last decade means that nothing has been done to sort that out. The Local Government Boundary Commission have, however, taken action at Manchester city council level, where the former City Centre ward was split into two new wards at a redistribution in 2018. That redistribution also sorted out some rather weird ward boundaries east of the city centre, where the previous wards had been long and thin, radiating from the centre: Clayton was in a ward with Ancoats, while Openshaw was previously in the Bradford ward along with Beswick. The new lines divide east-west rather than north-south, placing Clayton and Openshaw together in the same ward.

The 19th-century MP Mark Philips may have been a Liberal, but Manchester elections in this decade have been dominated by the Labour party. Labour won every single seat in the city at the 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015 local elections. The spell was broken in 2016 with a Lib Dem gain in Didsbury West ward, but the Lib Dems still only amount to three out of 96 city councillors.

Clayton and Openshaw, however, has an interesting story to tell. At the first election on the current lines, in May 2018, the Labour slate won easily with 61% and the runner-up spot went to independent candidate Ken Dobson on 18%. A lot of the Labour vote went to their top candidate Andy Harland, a former binman and lifelong trade unionist who had previously served on Manchester city council from 1998 to 2002 for the former Beswick and Clayton ward. Outgoing Labour councillors Donna Ludford and Sean McHale trailed some way behind. Dobson, a coach at the Mancunian Boxing Club, had form in the former Ancoats and Clayton ward: he finished second there in a December 2013 by-election (as a continuing Liberal Party candidate) and in 2016 (as an independent). Those were fairly distant runner-up performances, but in May 2019 Dobson came very close to being elected as the first independent Manchester city councillor since the 1930s. Labour councillor McHale was re-elected, but with a majority over Dobson of just 22 votes; both McHale and Dobson polled 45%.

So Labour have work to do to hold this seat. Their defending candidate is Sherita Mandongwe, founder of a charity for families with disabled children. Kenneth Dobson returns as an independent candidate. Also standing are Jake Welsh of the Greens (who returns from the May 2019 election), Sham Akhtar for the Conservatives and Claude-Diele Nsumbu for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Manchester Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: M11, M40, M43

Sham Akhtar (C)
Kenneth Dobson (Ind)
Sherita Mandongwe (Lab)
Claude-Diele Nsumbu (LD)
Jake Welsh (Grn)

May 2019 result Lab 1346 Ind 1334 Grn 109 C 106 LD 99
May 2018 result Lab 2103/1722/1592 Ind 603 LD 279/162/118 Grn 220 C 217/152/142

Crewe South

Cheshire East council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Dorothy Flude. The Cheshire East cabinet member for children and families, Flude was a former Mayor of Cheshire East and leader of the council’s Labour group. She had represented Crewe South on Cheshire East council since the council’s establishment in 2009, and before that was a Cheshire county councillor for the same area.

Our last two by-elections of the week are in areas which were, but are no longer, part of the so-called Red Wall. One of these is Crewe, a town in Cheshire which was brought into being by the railways: the Grand Junction Railway (forerunner to the mighty London and North Western) opened its locomotive works here in the 1830s, and a town grew up to serve it. The railway works are still here (although a lot less busy then they used to be) and manufacturing is the economic bedrock of the town, with a large Bentley car factory providing high-paid jobs.

South ward was drawn for the 2011 election, and covers the area to the west of Crewe railway station along the Nantwich road. Local landmarks include Gresty Road stadium, the home of Crewe Alexandra FC who are having a good season; they are second in League 2 at the time of writing.

The inaugural 2011 election in the present Crewe South ward had to be postponed from May to June after one of the candidates died. There were two councillors seeking re-election here that year, one Labour and one Lib Dem, but Labour won both seats easily and haven’t been seriously challenged here since. In May 2019 the Labour slate beat the Conservatives here by a 62-25 margin.

That was a good result for Labour, who defeated a controversial Conservative administration on the large Cheshire East council. The Tories are still the largest group with 33 councillors, but Labour have formed the administration in a minority coalition with a large bloc of independent councillors and localist parties. As a result of this gain, since the 2019 local elections we have had something which has never happened before: Labour or Labour-led administrations are now running every local government district in Cheshire past or present.

For their candidate selection here Labour have taken no chances. Their nominee is Laura Smith, the former MP for Crewe and Nantwich; previously a schoolteacher, Smith gained the constituency in 2017 by a majority of 48 votes, but lost her seat in December very badly. That margin in December may give hope to the Tory candidate Martin Deakin, although this ward is a lot more left-wing than the seat as whole; Deakin is a former Cheshire East councillor, serving for Alsager ward from 2015 to 2019. There are two independent candidates on the ballot paper: on the left wing is former Mayor of Crewe Roy Cartlidge, who had been a Labour member of Crewe and Nantwich district council when it was abolished in 2009; while on the right wing is former Tory Cheshire East councillor Brian Silvester, who since 2011 has defected to a series of increasingly right-wing parties and seen a series of decreases in his shares of the vote. Completing the ballot paper is Alsager resident Richard McCarthy, standing for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Crewe and Nantwich
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crewe
Postcode district: CW2

Roy Cartlidge (Ind)
Martin Deakin (C)
Richard McCarthy (Grn)
Brian Silvester (Ind)
Laura Smith (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 1138/1052 C 471/466 LD 240
May 2015 result Lab 2159/1727 C 1104/1016 UKIP 632/560 Grn 389
June 2011 postponed poll Lab 970/899 C 507/489 LD 147/146

Gwersyllt North

Wrexham council, North Wales; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Barrie Warburton. He had served since 2017.

We finish for the week with our Welsh by-election. Gwersyllt is a large village north-west of Wrexham, on the road towards Mold. Like many places in the Valleys but comparatively few in north Wales, it was brought into being by the coal industry as a colliery village; the collieries has gone, but the people are still here partly thanks to a large council estate being built here after the Second World War. That council estate forms the Gwersyllt West ward, which was reported in a 2018 Lancet article as having the lowest life expectancy at birth for women of any ward in England and Wales. Gwersyllt North, however, is based on the more upmarket Summerhill area and is doing better than that, although with manufacturing being the dominant industry here there is a definite left-wing slant to the area’s politics.

North division returned Labour councillor Michael Williams with big majorities at its first three elections this century, from 2004 to 2012; in 2012 Williams was opposed only by Plaid Cymru and won by the score of 72-28. This was a better Labour performance than in Wrexham as a whole, which is a perennially hung council with, as often happens in Wales, large numbers of independent candidates getting elected.

In the 2017 election the number of independent Wrexham councillors went up from 19 to 26, or half of the council. One of those was Barrie Warburton in Gwersyllt North, who picked up the seat left open by Michael Williams’ retirement. Warburton had an easy win, polling 40% to 28% for Labour and 20% for the Conservatives. There are two independent groups on the council, who govern in coalition with the Conservative group.

Gwersyllt is part of the Wrexham parliamentary and Senedd constituency, which finally fell to the Conservatives in December after some years of marginality. It’s not the first time that Labour have lost the Wrexham constituency in recent years – it voted for independent ex-Labour AM John Marek in the 2003 Assembly election – but it was the first time in over a century that the Wrexham area had had a Tory MP.

Will this be reflected in this by-election? We shall see. There is a very long ballot paper of eight candidates, three of whom are independents looking to succeed Warburton. Of those, Martyn Davies represents this ward on Gwersyllt community council; Helen Hay is a local resident; and Bernie McCann is a former Wrexham councillor who lost his seat in Gwersyllt East and South at the 2017 election. The Labour candidate is Colin Powell, who lives in Gwersyllt (although not in this division) and is a Caia Park community councillor in Wrexham town. The Conservatives have selected Jeremy Kent, a governor of Ysgol Bryn Alyn school in Gwersyllt. Also standing are Graham Kelly for the Liberal Democrats, Duncan Rees for the Green Party, and Phil Rees – who also represents this area on Gwersyllt community council – for Plaid Cymru. With a candidate list like that, don’t rule out a fragmented result with the winning candidate getting a low share of the vote.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Wrexham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wrexham
Postcode districts: LL11, LL12

Martyn Davies (Ind)
Graham Kelly (LD)
Helen Hay (Ind)
Jeremy Kent (C)
Bernie McCann (Ind)
Colin Powell (Lab)
Duncan Rees (Grn)
Phil Rees (PC)

May 2017 result Ind 282 Lab 195 C 142 Ind 89
May 2012 result Lab 430 PC 164
May 2008 result Lab 408 Ind 151 LD 75
June 2004 result Lab 401 Forward Wales 104 LD 84

There are no by-elections next week so there will be no Previews next week. I shall have a week off and see you all in time for the next local by-election on Tuesday 10th March.

Andrew Teale