Preview: 10 Mar 2020

One by-election on Tuesday 10th March 2020:

Till and Wylye Valley

Wiltshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Darren Henry, who is now the MP for Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire.

Yes, it’s a Tuesday by-election. And why not? It’s only tradition that says elections are normally held on Thursdays; any working day will do, and sometimes Thursday is not the best time to hold an election for various reasons (a polling station being unavailable, the returning officer going on holiday, and so on).

For this Tuesday by-election we’re in Wiltshire, a council which has seen a large number of by-elections in recent months: this is the sixth Wiltshire council by-election in eight months, and a seventh poll is in the pipeline. All of last year’s Wiltshire elections were in the west of the county, around Trowbridge and Westbury; this time we move to the south.

Till and Wylye Valley is a sprawling division covering nine parishes on and around Salisbury Plain. It’s named after two rivers. The Wylye valley is the major communication link between Salisbury and the towns in the west of the county, with the main road and railway lines passing along it. The Till flows into the Wylye at the village of Stapleford, after rising some miles to the north in the village of Tilshead. As the village name of Winterbourne Stoke on the A303 might suggest, strictly the Till is not a river but a winterbourne in that it only flows following the winter rains.

Halfway up the Till valley is the village of Shrewton which is the ward’s major population centre; like the other eight parishes in the division, it’s a picture-postcard kind of place full of lovely old buildings. However, the area is rather overshadowed in the tourism stakes by Stonehenge, which lies about a mile east of the division boundary.

Given the division’s rural nature and presence in the safe Conservative parliamentary seat of Salisbury, it might surprise to find that for decades this area was strongly Liberal Democrat. Ian West had represented this area for thirty years in the Lib Dem interest, originally sitting on Wiltshire county and Salisbury district councils; when Wiltshire’s local government was reorganised in 2009 West was elected to the present division fairly comfortably.

Ian West was, however, defeated at the last Wiltshire elections in May 2017 by new Tory candidate Darren Henry, who won with a 54-44 margin. A former RAF logistics officer, Henry had a parliamentary campaign under his belt having fought Wolverhampton North East in the 2015 general election. It would appear that his enthusiasm for the national stage wasn’t undimmed, and Henry’s chance at a winnable Parliamentary seat came in 2019 when Anna Soubry, the Conservative MP for Broxtowe, walked off to join Change UK. This left an open seat; Henry got the Tory nomination and was duly elected in December as MP for Broxtowe, increasing the Conservative majority from 863 votes to 5,331. Soubry, standing for re-election under the banner of the Independent Group for Change (as they were called that week) finished third with 8.5%.

With Darren Henry now dividing his time between London and Nottinghamshire, he has left an open seat of his own on Wiltshire council. Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Kevin Daley, who sits on the parish-level Salisbury city council and runs a business specialising in health and safety, food safety and training for businesses. The Lib Dems have passed on the torch to a new generation by selecting Harry Ashcroft, a gardener and former care home assistant who works within the division. Completing the ballot paper is Labour candidate Timothy Treslove. None of the candidates live in the ward. Some of the electors may be interested to know that their polling station is a pub: a shoutout is due to the Bell Inn at Winterbourne Stoke, which is doing its bit for democracy today.

Parliamentary constituency: Salisbury
ONS Travel to Work Area: Salisbury
Postcode districts: BA12, SP2, SP3, SP4

May 2017 result C 1134 LD 923 Lab 34
May 2013 result LD 895 C 645 Lab 84
June 2009 result LD 1064 C 693 BNP 141