The May 2021 elections, previewed (Part I)

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

Welcome to Andrew’s Previews’ countdown to the May 2021 elections, which promise to be the biggest electoral event of this Parliament. The whole of Great Britain is due to go to the polls. And there’s not just one type of election involved: many voters will have two, three or (in some cases) four or more ballot papers to juggle, and multiple electoral systems abound. It’s complicated.

Because of its extraordinary length this Preview will be split into four parts, set out as follows:

  1. Introduction, Scotland, Wales and London.
  2. The North and Midlands.
  3. The South and East.
  4. The Parliamentary Special; and concluding remarks.

Introduction

The hybrid nature of the May 2021 elections means that any comparison is inevitably going to be confusing. There are two different baselines to consider.

Most of the posts up for election next year were last filled in 2016, which was a very close set of local elections in England. The BBC’s Projected National Share put Labour under Jeremy Corbyn on 31%, the Conservatives under David Cameron on 30%, the Lib Dems on 15% and UKIP on 12%. In the Scottish Parliament, the SNP gained vote share but lost its overall majority; the party has been running Holyrood as a minority since. Labour fell short of a majority in the National Assembly for Wales (as it was then), but stayed in power with the support of the single Liberal Democrat member. Sadiq Khan gained the London mayoralty for Labour following the retirement of Boris Johnson who had chosen to re-enter politics on the national stage, with some success. Finally, the second set of Police and Crime Commissioner elections saw a bonfire of many of the independents who had been elected on comedy turnouts in November 2012.

May 2016 was very much another time, and by May 2017 things were very different. This set of local elections came slap-bang in the middle of Theresa May’s snap election campaign, and very much in her honeymoon period. The BBC’s Projected National Share had an eleven-point Conservative lead, with 38% against 27% for Labour and 18% for the Liberal Democrats. With 2017 being (in England) essentially a county council year, and with UKIP having done well in the 2013 county elections, that resulted in big seat gains for the Conservatives who gained Derbyshire from Labour and won majorities in Cambridgeshire, East Sussex, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Warwickshire and the Isle of Wight.

These previews will make a lot of comparisons with 2019, for the purpose of establishing something of a “par score”. The May 2019 local elections took place in a political scene much more like May 2016 than May 2017 and, unusually, happened at a time when both major parties were in a weak position but while the new forces taking votes off them, the Brexit Party and Change UK, were not ready for prime time. While there was a lot of anti-incumbent sentiment about, those new parties were unable to take advantage as they had no candidates; so that anti-incumbent sentiment manifested itself in many areas with large shares for independent candidates and localist parties. These small groups had been mostly swamped in 2015 by general election turnout, so 2019 marked something of a renaissance for them.

Since March 2020, local by-elections in England have been suspended due to reasons which are obvious. Some local by-elections have taken place in Wales, and the Scottish returning officers have efficiently cleared their vacancy backlog, but in England we have no information from real-life elections as to how things are going. We only have the national opinion polls, which suggest a national picture closer to 2017 than to 2016. How this will translate into a series of local pictures is extremely difficult to predict, but one reasonable guess might be that the Conservatives consistently do better than the 2019 “par scores” set out in this preview.

The merging together of the 2020 and 2021 local elections, together with the filling of 352 casual vacancies, means that a total of exactly 5,000 councillors are up for election on 6th May. In councillor terms, this is not the largest set of local elections in the UK – 2019 was larger – but in vote terms that definitely is the case. Everybody in Great Britain has something to vote for, even if it’s only the Police and Crime Commissioners.

Because of the limited space and time available and the extraordinary number of by-elections, I have applied a much stronger than usual filter when naming candidates in the 6th May previews. All mayoral and PCC candidates have been namechecked, but by-election candidates are generally only named in this text if their party was within 10% last time out. For a full list of by-election candidates I will refer you to this file (link). If you’re a by-election candidate and you’re not happy with not having your name in this preview, then I would love you to prove me wrong by going ahead and winning your contest. In most cases you can click on each by-election’s name to see previous results from the Local Elections Archive Project. As usual, the maps are the results from the last time the seats up here were contested, usually 2016 or 2017 – one electoral cycle ago.

I am fully aware that there will be mistakes in this preview. Have fun finding them.

To start off, here is Part I covering the three parts of Great Britain where there are no ordinary council elections this year: Scotland, Wales and London.

Scotland

Scottish Parliament

This piece is not going to look in any great detail at the Scottish Parliament elections. There are plenty of other people doing this in far more detail than I can provide; I shall instead point you to Allan Fauld’s Ballot Box Scotland blog, which is doing a sterling job in previewing this year’s Holyrood polls. The Britain Elects team have also been working on a prediction model.

The last Holyrood elections in May 2016 returned 63 Scottish National Party MSPs, 31 Conservatives, 24 Labour, 6 Greens and 5 Lib Dems. The SNP formed a minority administration. The Conservative MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire resigned in 2017 to seek election to the House of Commons, and the Conservatives held the resulting by-election (Andrew’s Previews 2017, pages 143 to 150). The Liberal Democrat MSP for the Shetland Islands resigned in 2019 to take up a new job and the Lib Dems held the resulting by-election (Andrew’s Previews 2019, pages 260 to 268). Five regional MSPs (four Conservatives and one Labour) have been replaced since 2016 by candidates from their party’s list.

The Scottish Parliament election is being extensively polled. At the time of writing, the polling indicates that the SNP government will be re-elected and there will probably again be a nationalist majority in the chamber – although whether the SNP can achieve an overall majority of their own or would need to rely on the Greens or other nationalist parties to govern remains an open question.

Local elections

Scotland’s returning officers have efficiently filled all the vacancies which arose last year. The Scottish Parliament election for 2021 is combined with just one local by-election, in the Forth and Endrick ward of Stirling council. This is a large rural ward with no towns to speak of, located about 20 miles north of Glasgow beyond the Campsie fells. The eastern bank of Loch Lomond, the Munro of Ben Lomond and the village of Drymen lie within the boundaries of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, while the ward extends east down the Forth valley as far as Gargunnock. It’s part of the Stirling constituency at both Holyrood and Westminster level. The Stirling Holyrood seat has been SNP-held since 2007, but the Conservatives carried this ward in 2017 with a 45-30 vote lead and a 2-1 seat lead over the SNP. The ward’s SNP councillor Graham Lambie has died, and the Conservatives (who are the largest party on Stirling council, but in opposition to an SNP/Labour administration) are in a good position to gain a seat here. The defending SNP candidate is Paul Goodwin, while Jane Hutchison challenges for the Conservatives.

Wales

Senedd Cymru

Senedd Cymru holds its fifth election in 2021, but the first under its current name: until last year, when the body was upgraded to a Parliament, it was known as the National Assembly for Wales. The last elections in 2016 returned 29 Labour members, 12 Plaid Cymru, 11 Conservatives, 7 UKIP and a single Liberal Democrat who is not seeking re-election; the administration is a coalition of Labour, the Lib Dem and a Plaid Cymru defector who is not seeking re-election either. The Labour AM for Alyn and Deeside took his own life at the end of 2017, and Labour held the resulting by-election in 2018 (Andrew’s Previews 2018, pages 38 to 46). Four regional MSs (two from Plaid and one each from the Conservatives and UKIP) have been replaced since 2016 by candidates from their party’s list. It may not surprise to learn that the UKIP group has fallen apart: Neil Hamilton, the notorious former Conservative MP for Tatton, is the only MS still in the party, while the former Conservative and UKIP MP Mark Reckless is seeking re-election to the Senedd for the single-issue Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party.

This Senedd Cymru election is also being extensively polled, but Wales is a difficult country to poll well and this is reflected in a lot of volatility in the pollsters’ readings. Although proportional representation is in use, forty of the sixty seats are single-member constituencies which can provide a big bonus for any party which does well in the constituencies. Traditionally this is Labour, which won 27 of the 40 constituencies in 2016; however in the December 2019 general election the party only won 22 constituencies here, against 14 Conservatives and 4 for Plaid. As such, any fall in the Labour constituency vote (which was 35% in 2016) could result in disproportionate seat changes. The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, is sitting on a particularly small majority over Plaid Cymru in his Cardiff West constituency; but he’s safer than he looks, partly because he has a huge national profile now, and partly because the Plaid candidate from 2016, Neil McEvoy, has been thrown out of the party and taken a large chunk of the local Plaid activists with him into his new pro-Welsh independence party, Propel. If the polling is to be believed (and, as I say, it is volatile), then Welsh Labour are likely to continue in office with some form of support from Plaid Cymru.

Police and Crime Commissioners

Most of the focus of the 2021 elections in Wales will be on the Senedd, and with good reason. However, Wales also has four police and crime commissioners to elect. The 2016 Welsh PCC elections, also held alongside a Senedd poll, saw quite a lot of change due to the fact that they were contested by Plaid Cymru, who hadn’t stood in 2012.

Plaid ended up gaining two PCC positions. One of those was North Wales PCC, covering the old counties of Clwyd and Gwynedd and thus not quite the same as the North Wales electoral region of the Senedd. That position was open following the retirement of 2012 winner Winston Roddick, who had won that year as an independent candidate despite being a Lib Dem party member. (Roddick’s political career went all the way back to the 1970 general election, in which he was the Liberal candidate for Anglesey.) In 2016 the North Wales police area gave 31% to Plaid Cymru candidate Arfon Jones, 26% to Labour candidate David Taylor, 20% to the Conservatives and 12% to UKIP; Plaid picked up a lot of transfers to win the runoff against Labour 58-42.

Arfon Jones is standing down after one term and is replaced as Plaid candidate by Ann Griffith, an Anglesey county councillor. Labour have selected Flintshire councillor Andy Dunbobbin, the Conservative candidate is former Mayor of Ruthin Pat Astbury, and UKIP have not returned. Completing the ballot paper are independent Mark Young and Lisa Wilkins of the Lib Dems.

The 2012 election for Dyfed-Powys PCC had been a straight fight between the Conservatives and Labour, with the Tories’ Christopher Salmon prevailing against former Welsh agriculture minister Christine Gwyther. There was a wider field for the 2016 election, with Plaid Cymru candidate Dafydd Llywelyn leading the first count on 28% against 25% for Salmon, 19% for Labour and 11% for UKIP who narrowly beat the Lib Dems for fourth place. In the runoff Llywelyn defeated Salmon by a 56-44 margin. Llywelyn is seeking re-election against Conservative candidate Jon Burns (a former Welsh city and county councillor) and Labour’s Philippa Thompson (a former diplomat who contested Preseli Pembrokeshire in December 2019). Again, UKIP have not returned, so Tomos Preston of the Lib Dems completes the ballot paper.

The two PCC positions in industrial south Wales were both safely Labour. A three-cornered contest last time in Gwent saw Labour lead in the first round with 46% against 31% for the Conservatives and 23% for Plaid; Plaid’s transfers gave Labour a 62-38 win over the Conservatives in the runoff. Incumbent Labour PCC Jeff Cuthburt is seeking re-election; the Tory candidate is Iraq veteran Hannah Jarvis, and Plaid have selected Caerphilly councillor Donna Cushing. Also standing are independent candidate Paul Harley, Clayton Jones of the pro-Welsh independence party Gwlad, and John Miller of the Lib Dems.

In the South Wales police area (corresponding to the old county of Glamorgan) former First Minister Alun Michael was re-elected for a second term as PCC in 2016 without fuss. Michael led in the first round with 41% of the vote. A three-way contest for the other place in the run-off saw the Conservatives and Plaid poll 18% each with independent Mike Baker in fourth on 17%; the Tory candidate Timothy Davies finished second, just 29 votes ahead of Plaid (70,799 to 70,770). That put Davies into the runoff, where he was duly crushed 68-32 by Michael. Michael is seeking re-election for a third term; the Conservative candidate is Swansea councillor and former police officer Steve Gallagher; Plaid have selected criminal justice campaigner Nadine Marshall, whose son was murdered six years ago by a person who was on probation at the time; and independent Mike Baker is trying again. Completing a six-strong ballot paper are Callum Littlemore of the Lib Dems and Gail John of Propel.

It should be noted that the elections in Wales on 6th May have different franchises. If you are aged 16 or 17, or you are resident in Wales but not a citizen of a Commonwealth or EU country, then you cannot vote for your Police and Crime Commissioner but you can vote for the Senedd and in any local by-elections. Which we shall come to next.

Local elections

There are no local elections in Wales this year, but there are ten council by-elections taking place. One of these is a direct result of COVID-19, which has taken from us Flintshire county councillor Kevin Hughes. He had served since 2017 as an independent councillor for Gwernymynydd division, taking over an open seat after a long-serving Liberal Democrat councillor retired; the Lib Dems didn’t put up a candidate to defend the seat, and Hughes picked it up with a 58-29 lead over the Conservatives. Gwernymynydd is a village just south-west of Mold on the main road towards Ruthin, and the division includes a number of other hamlets to the south of Mold. Kevin Hughes’ son Andy is seeking to follow in his father’s footsteps as an independent candidate, and is opposed only by Plaid Cymru’s Bob Gaffey.

At the far end of North Wales there are two by-elections to the Isle of Anglesey council. Seiriol division is the eastern end of the island, covering the town of Beaumaris and surrounding villages; Caergybi division is the town of Holyhead, and as such is on the front line of Brexit as the main port of embarkation for Dublin and Dún Laoghaire. The Caergybi division split its three seats between two independents and a Labour candidate in 2017; the late councillor Shaun Redmond was the second independent candidate, gaining his seat from Labour. Independent candidate Ken Evans will seek to succeed Redmond, as will Labour’s Jennifer Saboor. Seiriol returned a full slate of Plaid Cymru candidates in 2017 and looks safe enough for the party, whose defending candidate is Gary Pritchard.

The other seven by-elections are in the industrial south of the country. Newport‘s Victoria division is on the east bank of the Usk immediately opposite the city centre; the division is centred on Rodney Parade, the home ground of the Dragons Pro14 rugby side. Victoria was the first division in Wales to elect a Muslim local councillor, Mohammad Asghar, who was returned here as a Plaid Cymru representative in 2004 and was subsequently elected to the Senedd on their ticket in 2007. Asghar was still an MS at the time of his death last year, although he had defected to the Conservatives in 2011. Victoria division is now safe for Labour, whose defending candidate is Farzina Hussain. Christine Jenkins resigned over a year ago, and the Victoria by-election was originally due to take place in April 2020 as were a number of other by-elections listed in this section.

The old county of Mid Glamorgan has given us three by-elections which have all generated varying degrees of controversy. Bridgend councillor David Owen has got his name firmly into the Councillors Behaving Badly file after he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in March 2020: he was found guilty of conspiracy to steal and handling stolen goods, in relation to the theft of an agricultural vehicle worth £9,000 from a farm in Abergavenny. His resignation letter to the council was sent from his prison cell, shortly before he was due to be disqualified from office (this kicks in when the deadline for appeals expires, or once any appeal is disposed of). Owen had served since 2012 as an independent councillor for Nant-y-moel division, at the head of the Ogmore Valley, and had beaten Labour 62-38 in 2017. The Nant-y-moel by-election features an all-female ballot paper: new independent Mary Hughes is challenged by Labour’s Lee-Anne Hill and the Tories’ Clare Lewis.

In the large Rhondda Cynon Taf district, Conservative councillor Mike Diamond has fallen out with his former party and resigned as councillor for the Cardiff commuter area of Llantwit Fardre division, which is the only safe Tory division in the district; while the council’s only member from the Cynon Valley Party, Gavin Williams, has been controversially disqualified under the six-month non-attendance rule, leaving a vacancy in the village with Wales’ highest rates of child poverty according to official 2019 figures, Penrhiwceiber. Labour still hold the other seat in Penrhiwceiber division. Gavin Williams is seeking re-election in the by-election caused by his disqualification, this time as an independent candidate; Ross Williams will try to gain his seat for Labour. The defending Conservative candidate in Llantwit Fardre is Sam Trask.

Over in Port Talbot, Labour have the tricky task of defending the Aberavon division of Neath Port Talbot under the shadow of the M4 motorway. This is an electoral division of two parts, with the Aberavon and Baglan Moors areas divided from each other by the Neath Port Talbot Hospital and a large industrial estate. Aberavon division was a stronghold of the continuing SDP into the twenty-first century, long after they had disappeared from the national scene; but the SDP are now extinct here and the division’s three seats split two to Plaid Cymru and one to Labour in 2017. Labour’s Stephanie Lynch has the task of defending this by-election; Plaid’s Andrew Dacey will look to gain.

Finally, Labour also have two by-elections to defend in the city of Swansea. Castle division (in the Swansea West constituency) covers the city centre, while Llansamlet division (in the Swansea East constituency) is in the north-east of the city and takes in the villages of Llansamlet and Birchgrove together with the Swansea Enterprise Park. Both of these returned full slates of four Labour councillors in May 2017 and should be safe for the party’s candidates: Hannah Lawson in Castle (which has a field of nine candidates) and Matthew Jones in Llansamlet.

Greater London

Mayor and Assembly

A quick mention of the biggest single election in the country. The fifth Mayor of London election will grab a lot of the headlines; this was a Labour gain at the most recent poll in 2016 after Conservative mayor Boris Johnson stood down. (Anybody know what happened to him after that? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.) The Labour candidate, then Tooting MP Sadiq Khan, led the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith by 44-35 in the first round, and increased that lead to 57-43 in the runoff: 1,310,143 votes to 994,614.

Khan is seeking a second term, and a number of opinion polls suggest he will not struggle to get it. The Conservatives have selected Shaun Bailey, who has been a London Assembly member since 2016 and has stood twice for Parliament: he fought Hammersmith in 2010, and Lewisham West and Penge in 2017. Also standing are (deep breath): Siân Berry for the Green Party, Luisa Porritt for the Liberal Democrats, Peter Gammons for UKIP, Mandu Reid for the Women’s Equality Party, Kam Balayev for Renew (an anti-Brexit group), Count Binface (who needs no introduction) for his self-titled party, Valerie Brown for the Burning Pink party (an Extinction Rebellion splinter group), Piers Corbyn for Let London Live (an anti-lockdown group), independent Max Fosh (a YouTuber), Laurence Fox for the Reclaim Party (another anti-lockdown group), Richard Hewison for a group called Rejoin EU, Vanessa Hudson for the Animal Welfare Party, Steve Kelleher for the Social Democratic Party, outgoing Assembly member David Kurten (who was originally elected for UKIP) for the Heritage Party, independent Farah London (a businesswoman), independent Nims Obunge (pastor of an evangelical church and head of an anti-crime charity), independent Niko Omilana (another YouTuber), and Brian Rose of the London Real Party (another anti-lockdown group).

The Greater London Assembly is the only English elected body to use proportional representation. In the 2016 election Labour polled 40% of the vote on the Londonwide list ballot and won 12 seats; the Conservatives polled 29% of the vote and won 9 seats; the Greens and UKIP polled 8% and 7% respectively and won 2 seats each; and the Liberal Democrats won 1 seat with 6%, just coming in over the 5% threshold which applies to the list vote. 13 seats would be an overall majority, and if Labour can improve their list vote that could be in range.

If you want to know more about this year’s GLA elections, you could do worse than consult the On London Guide to the London Mayor and London Assembly Elections, 2021, by Dave Hill and Lewis Baston, which is available for the bargain price of £6 from this link and contains far more information than I can hope to give you.

Local elections

There are forty-six local by-elections in the capital on 6th May, all of which are being dealt with by the London Elects team as part of the centralised Mayor and Assembly count. This is being split over two days, with seven GLA constituencies due to declare on Friday 7th, and the other seven constituencies and the list votes to come in on Saturday 8th. Accordingly, it may take some considerable time for these by-election results to come through after the poll. It could be worse: Tower Hamlets could be running the show.

I’ll go through these polls in an anti-clockwise direction, starting with two by-elections to Redbridge council. Seven Kings ward has a name which has nothing to do with seven kings; it was originally something like “Sevekings”, and as such probably referred to a settlement of people associated with a man called Seofoca. This ward lies to the north of the Great Eastern railway line and Roman road, while Loxford ward lies to the south of those communication links on the east bank of the River Roding. Both of these wards were over 75% Labour in the 2018 local elections, so quite why Chaudhary Mohammed Iqbal, elected on the Labour slate in Loxford, thought it was necessary to commit electoral fraud to get elected there is difficult to fathom. Iqbal, who was living in Barking at the time of the election, had lied about his address on his nomination papers; he resigned from the council after pleading guilty to four criminal charges, and is now serving a 68-week prison sentence. The defending Labour candidates are Sahdia Warraich in Loxford and Pushpita Gupta in Seven Kings.

The River Roding flows into the Thames estuary at Barking Riverside, which forms the Thames ward of Barking and Dagenham council. Barking and Dagenham has had a full slate of 51 Labour councillors since 2010, and don’t expect any change to that here: in 2018 Thames ward gave 83% of the vote to Labour in a straight fight with the Conservatives. This time there is more choice for the ward’s voters with five parties and an independent candidate standing; although the Tories have put up a high-profile candidate in the form of Andrew Boff, who stood here in 2014 and has contested the Hackney mayoralty on a number of occasions, don’t bet against Labour candidate Fatuma Nalule.

Barking and Dagenham’s Thames ward is served by Dagenham Dock railway station, from which change at Barking for an Underground train to East Ham Central ward in the London Borough of Newham; similar considerations apply here, with Farah Nazeer as the defending Labour candidate. The poor voters of East Ham Central will have five ballot papers to juggle: three votes for the GLA, this by-election and the Newham governance referendum on whether to abolish the elected mayoralty and move to the committee system of governance. This was not without controversy: a group looking to move back to the leader and cabinet model had put a petition in for a referendum to that effect, which was ruled out of order because it had been delivered during the middle of pandemic restrictions. If the people of Newham decide to vote for a change in their governance, that would commence after the current Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz’ term expires next year.

Another governance referendum has turned up in neighbouring Tower Hamlets, on scrapping the directly elected mayoralty (which, it’s fair to say, has not proven an unqualified success here) and reverting to the Leader and Cabinet model of governance. Any change would happen from 2022 when current mayor John Biggs comes to the end of his term.

Rather different in character is the remaining by-election east of the Lea, in the Hatch Lane ward of Waltham Forest. This is the south-eastern of the three wards covering Chingford, a Tory holdout which returns Iain Duncan Smith to Parliament. Hatch Lane was safe enough for the Conservatives in May 2018, and their defending candidate is Justin Halabi.

Waltham Forest is part of the North East constituency of the London Assembly along with two Middlesex boroughs which have turned up with a large number of by-elections. There are four polls in Hackney, with Labour defending the trendy Hoxton East and Shoreditch ward on the edge of the City and also King’s Park ward in the Lea Valley (the ward which includes the Hackney Marshes), both within the Hackney South and Shoreditch constituency. Both of the vacating councillors have gone on to greater things: Tom Rahilly (King’s Park) now has a politically-restricted job, while Feryal Clark (Hoxton East and Shoreditch, elected under her maiden name of Feryal Demirci) was elected in December 2019 as the Labour MP for Enfield North. The wards are safe, and the defending Labour candidates are Anya Sizer in Hoxton East and Shoreditch, and Lynne Troughton in King’s Park.

In the Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency, we have two fascinating by-elections in the Hasidic enclave of Stamford Hill. At the time of the 2011 census, Hackney’s New River and Lordship wards both turned in a Jewish population of over 25%, ranking 12th and 13th of all the wards in England and Wales for Judaism. Since 2011 Hackney’s ward boundaries have changed; much of this area is now covered by the Woodberry Down ward (very safe Labour in 2018) and the Stamford Hill West ward (a Conservative gain from Labour in 2018). Both of these wards have by-elections on 6th May. In Woodberry Down the defending Labour candidate is Sarah Young, while Stamford Hill West sees Conservative Hershy Lisser challenged by Labour’s Rosemary Sales.

Islington borough has outdone Hackney with five by-elections. Bunhill ward runs from the northern edge of the City to the Angel, and takes in the Silicon Roundabout at Old Street underground station; St Peter’s ward runs north-east from the Angel between Essex Road and the Grand Union canal; Mildmay ward is centred on the Overground station at Canonbury; Highbury West ward includes Arsenal football grounds old and new; and Holloway ward is based on the northern end of the Caledonian Road. The Bunhill by-election is to replace controversy magnet Claudia Webbe, who was elected in 2019 as a Labour MP for Leicester. Despite the presence of independent candidates in Bunhill and St Peter’s standing on anti-Low Traffic Neighbourhoods tickets, none of these polls should give the defending Labour candidates (respectively Valerie Bossman-Quarshie, Toby North, Angelo Weekes, Bashir Ibrahim and Jason Jackson) any cause for concern.

Things are different in Enfield district where Labour are defending three by-elections. Chase ward, the northernmost ward within the Greater London boundary, takes in some genuinely rural areas within the M25 motorway; Crews Hill railway station, on the Hertford Loop, links the ward to the centre of the Great Wen. This ward has swung a mile to the left over the last two decades, although not far enough for Labour to consider the ward safe yet. Chris James defends for Labour, Andrew Thorp is the Conservative candidate. Also within the Enfield North constituency is Southbury ward straddling the Great Cambridge Road, which is safer for Labour; as is Jubilee ward, immediately to the south of Southbury and located within the Edmonton constituency. Ayten Guzel and Chinelo Anyanwu are respectively the defending candidates.

Also on the northern edge of Greater London is the Edgware ward of Barnet, where the Northern Line terminates; included within this ward is the Scratchwood or London Gateway motorway service area on the M1, assuming that the guns of HMS Belfast (which are aimed at Scratchwood) haven’t destroyed it yet. This is a safe Conservative ward with a very large Jewish population; the defending candidate is Nick Mearing-Smith. Barnet by-election watchers are more likely to be focused on the poll in East Barnet ward, to the east of the East Coast main line and served by Oakleigh Park and New Barnet stations; this was narrowly gained by Labour in 2014, but the Tories took of the ward’s three seats back in a close 2018 result. Labour candidate Linda Lusingu is defending the East Barnet by-election, the Tories’ Nicole Richer will try to gain.

Another Labour-held marginal to watch is the Brent ward of Brondesbury Park in Willesden, which has returned slates from all three major parties in the last three local elections. Labour gained this ward from the Conservatives in 2018 by the narrow margin of 45% to 43%. Three by-election results in Brent in January 2020 were very poor for Labour, but things may have changed since then. Gwen Grahl defends for Labour, Sapna Chadha will try to gain for the Conservatives.

Also keep an eye on the Churchill ward of Westminster city council. Located at the southern end of Westminster either side of Grosvenor railway bridge, this ward includes the Victoria coach station and Chelsea Barracks but is based on Churchill Gardens, a highrise postwar housing estate on the far side of the river from Battersea Power station. As with East Barnet, Churchill ward was Conservative up to 2010, voted Labour in 2014, and split its three seats two to Labour and one to the Conservatives in 2018. If Labour can repeat their good December 2019 result in the local Cities of London and Westminster constituency, this by-election should be a comfortable hold for them. Labour’s Liza Begum is challenged by the Conservatives’ Shaista Miah.

Moving into west London, we come to three by-elections in the Ealing borough. Two of these are caused by Conservative councillors being elected to Westminster: Alex Stafford (of Ealing Broadway ward) is now the MP for Rother Valley in Yorkshire, Joy Morrissey (of the neighbouring Hanger Hill ward, running from North Ealing underground station to the notorious Hanger Lane gyratory) has taken on the task of representing Beaconsfield in the Commons. These were the only two Ealing wards which the Conservatives carried in the 2018 local elections, and both of these by-elections should be safe Conservative holds for Julian Gallant and Fabio Conti respectively. Labour should just as easily defend Hobbayne ward, which runs north from Hanwell station on the Great Western main line to Ruislip Road East; their candidate here is Louise Brett.

Further out we come to the Charville ward of Hillingdon borough, a perennial marginal in Hayes to the north of the Uxbridge Road. Unusually for a London ward, Charville has swung to the right over the last two decades: it returned a full slate of Labour councillors in 2002 and a full Conservative slate in 2018, with split representation at the three elections in between. Defending Tory candidate Darran Davies, who got himself into trouble during the campaign for some offensive stuff on his Facebook, is challenged by Labour’s Steve Garelick.

Mrs Gaskell’s charming literary village of Cranford is located (checks notes) at the eastern end of the Heathrow Airport runways within the borough of Hounslow, and its economy is dependent on the airport – not good news at the moment. Poonam Dhillon was one of the local residents who once drew a wage from services related to air travel (in her case, catering); in January 2021 she died from COVID-19, aged 58, during her third term as a councillor. The by-election to replace her takes place at the same time as another by-election to Hounslow council, in the neighbouring Hounslow Heath ward. Both of these are safe for Labour, whose candidates are Devina Ram and Madeeha Asim respectively.

Our final by-election north of the river takes place in Hampton Wick ward, across the water from Kingston upon Thames. This ward in the borough of Richmond upon Thames was safe Conservative up to 2014, when the councillors elected on the Tory slate here included Tony Arbour and Tania Mathias. Arbour is a veteran of local government who was first elected to Richmond council as far back as 1968, won one of the last by-elections to the Greater London Council in 1983, and has represented the South West constituency of the London Assembly since the establishment of the Assembly in 2000. (He retires from the Assembly this year.) Mathias was elected in 2015 as the MP for the local Twickenham constituency, defeating cabinet minister Vince Cable; she promptly resigned from Richmond council, and the resulting by-election surprisingly went to the Liberal Democrats. This was a harbinger of things to come: Richmond upon Thames was comprehensively taken over by the Liberal Democrats at the 2018 election. A number of wards in that election saw joint slates of Lib Dem and Green Party candidates, and Hampton Wick was one of them; this by-election is one of them, and this by-election is caused by the resignation of Hampton Wick’s Green councillor Dylan Baxendale. He won the final seat in 2018 with a majority of 98 votes over Tony Arbour, a long way behind the Lib Dem slate. This one looks interesting, particularly as the Lib Dems are standing a candidate. Chas Warlow defends for the Greens, Petra Fleming challenges for the Lib Dems, Nina Watson stands for the Conservatives.

If Richmond’s by-election is interesting, the by-election in Kingston upon Thames looks bizarre. This is in Chessington South ward, the salient of Greater London between Esher and Epsom. Chessington South is safe Lib Dem, and the by-election has come about due to the resignation of their councillor Patricia Bamford who has topped the poll here in every election this century. Her son Charles Bamford is contesting the by-election – for the Labour Party, while the former Labour MP for Thurrock Andrew Mackinlay (who was a Labour member of Kingston council many years ago) is also contesting the by-election – as the defending Liberal Democrat candidate. This may be the constituency of the Lib Dem leader Ed Davey, but Chessington South ward also contains the pub run by the Official Monster Raving Loony Party’s deputy leader Jason “Chinners” Chinnery, and Chinners has recruited not one, not two, but thirteen OMRLP candidates for this by-election, which deserves some sort of award (the Turner Prize would probably be the most appropriate one). On the other hand, I suppose it’s possible that all those Loonies might end up splitting the vote. Overall the ballot paper has nineteen candidates, which must be a record for a single-member local by-election.

Labour have a seat to defend in each of the boroughs of Merton and Wandsworth. The Merton by-election is in Merton’s half of the St Helier estate; this ward has had a few by-elections in previous years (Andrew’s Previews 2016, page 81; 2017, page 196) which have given Labour no trouble, and neither should this poll. Helena Dollimore defends.

The Wandsworth seat is vacated by Fleur Anderson, who scored the only Labour gain from the Conservatives in December 2019 by winning the Putney constituency. Her former Bedford ward is in the Tooting constituency; it’s named after the Bedford Hill and includes much of Tooting Common. Anderson gained her council seat from the Conservatives in 2014 alongside Rosena Allin-Khan, who now represents Tooting in Parliament. Bedford ward swung further to Labour in 2018 to return a full Labour slate for the first time, but the defending Labour candidate Hannah Stanislaus shouldn’t forget that when it comes to local elections Normal Rules Do Not Apply within the borough of Wandsworth.

The troubled finances of the London Borough of Croydon will not be helped by having to organise five council by-elections this May. Two of these are due to the resignations of the former Labour council leader Tony Newman and former finance cabinet member Simon Hall, on whose watch the borough ran out of money. Newman and Hall, who are suspended from the Labour party, have respectively vacated Woodside ward (south-east of Norwood Junction station) and New Addington North (the northern half of the isolated quasi-New Town of New Addington). Labour are also defending a by-election in South Norwood ward (west of Norwood Junction station), while the Tories have seats to defend in Park Hill and Whitgift ward (south-east of Croydon town centre) and Kenley ward (on the road and railway lines towards Warlingham and Caterham on the southern edge of Greater London). None of these should give the defending parties much cause for concern in ordinary course, although with the special circumstances that apply in Croydon at the moment there is the potential for some big swings. The defending Tory candidates are Ola Kolade in Kenley and Jade Appleton in Park Hill and Whitgift, while the Labour candidates for New Addington North, South Norwood and Woodside are respectively Kola Agboola, Louis Carserides and Michael Bonello. Independent candidate Mark Samuel, a regular fixture in Croydon local by-elections who sometimes achieves the dizzy heights of ten votes, put in nomination papers for all five by-elections but was only allowed to contest one: he has chosen Woodside ward. Croydon council have recently received a petition for a mayoral referendum, which will be held over until the autumn.

Greenwich and Lewisham have turned up with four by-elections each, all of them Labour defences. In Lewisham, promising young Labour councillor Tom Copley is now a Deputy Mayor of London in Sadiq Khan’s administration, while Joe Dromey (the son of Jack Dromey and Harriet Harman) has also taken up a new job which is politically restricted. They have vacated Sydenham and New Cross wards respectively. There also by-elections in the south of the borough in the Bellingham ward (for more on which see Andrew’s Previews 2016, page 133) and the neighbouring ward of Catford South. All of these were safe for Labour in 2018. The defending Labour candidates are Rachel Onikosi in Bellingham, James Royston in Catford South, Samantha Latouche in New Cross and Jack Lavery in Sydenham.

Turning our attention to Greenwich, a mention is due to the first Muslim to become a UK local council leader. Mehboob Khan led the Labour group on Kirklees council in West Yorkshire from 2003 to 2014, and was leader of that council from 2009 to 2014. In 2015 he resigned from Kirklees council and transferred to Greenwich, taking over the seat in Greenwich West ward vacated by the newly-elected Greenwich and Woolwich MP Matthew Pennycook. Khan has now taken a politically-restricted job and accordingly a by-election needs to be held in Greenwich West. This is the core of historic Greenwich, taking in the town centre, the Royal Naval College, Greenwich Park and the old Observatory building, whose position defines the Greenwich Meridian of 0 degrees longitude.

The by-election in Greenwich’s Glyndon ward, covering the area between Plumstead and Woolwich, is less savoury. Tonia Ashikodi, who won a by-election here in May 2016 and was re-elected on the Labour slate in 2018, had accepted a council house in the borough in 2012 without revealing that she was the owner of three other properties. She was found guilty of two charges of fraud by false representation, and in March 2020 she resigned from the council after being given an 18-month suspended sentence. A by-election was immediately called to replace her but the pandemic intervened before it could be held, and Ashikodi’s dishonesty has meant her council has had a vacant seat for over a year.

The other two Greenwich by-elections are both Labour defences, in the wards of Kidbrooke with Hornfair and Shooters Hill along the Roman road towards the Channel ports. On paper, none of these should give Labour any cause for concern. The defending Labour candidates are Sandra Bauer in Glyndon, Pat Slattery in Greenwich West, Odette McGahey in Kidbrooke with Hornfair, and Clare Burke-McDonald in Shooters Hill.

The final two by-elections in London are both the result of councillors moving on to greater things. Conservative councillor and London Assembly member Gareth Bacon was elected in 2019 as the MP for Orpington, and he has vacated his Bexley council seat in Longlands ward (the western end of Sidcup). Labour councillor Marina Ahmad is contesting and is favourite to win the Lambeth and Southwark constituency in this year’s London Assembly elections, and she has resigned her Bromley council seat in Crystal Palace ward. These should be safe defences for their respective parties’ candidates: Lisa-Jane Moore for the Conservatives in Longlands, Ryan Thomson for Labour in Crystal Palace.

As stated, this is the first of four parts of my previews of the 6th May 2021 elections. Keep an eye out for Part II, which will cover the North of England and the English Midlands.

Andrew Teale

Andrew Teale

Andrew Teale is the Britain Elects previewer. He edits the Local Elections Archive Project, sometimes tweets at @andrewteale and plays quiz a bit. Read his meticulously-researched previews for the full lowdown on each local by-election, what you need to know and why you might (or might not) want to visit.

Privacy Preference Center