The May 2021 elections, previewed (Part III): the South and East

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

Welcome to Andrew’s Previews’ lowdown on 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

Parts II and III of this preview divide England (outside London) up into its police areas. Each section starts with a discussion of the Police and Crime Commissioner and (if any) the combined authority mayoral election, followed by the local councils within the police area.

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 May 2017 (when the Conservatives were well ahead in the opinion polls and in the local elections) than to May 2016 (when the two main parties were neck-and-neck). 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.

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 for election were contested, in most cases 2016 or 2017 – one electoral cycle ago.

Despite my best efforts, I am fully aware that there will be mistakes in this preview. Have fun finding them.

So now, here is Part III, covering the south of England outside London (for which, see Part I). We will start in the South West, and then flip over to East Anglia and the Home Counties.

Arrangement of police areas

Gloucestershire
Avon and Somerset
Wiltshire
Dorset
Devon and Cornwall
Norfolk
Suffolk
Cambridgeshire
Essex
Hertfordshire
Bedfordshire
Thames Valley
Hampshire
Surrey
Sussex
Kent

Gloucestershire

Police and Crime Commissioner

The post of Gloucestershire PCC has been held since 2012 by retired senior police officer Martin Surl, who was elected in 2012 and 2016 as an independent candidate. At the 2016 election Surl led in the first round with 41%, to 35% for the Conservatives and 24% for Labour; the Labour transfers broke heavily for Surl who won the run-off by the comfortable margin of 59-41.

Surl is seeking a third term. The Conservatives have selected Chris Nelson, a retired Army officer and former Cheltenham councillor. The Labour candidate is Simon O’Rourke, from Tewkesbury, and the ballot paper is completed by Lib Dem Christopher Coleman and independent candidate Adrian “Stratts” Stratton.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Gloucestershire county council and Gloucester and Stroud councils, and for one-half of Cheltenham council.

Gloucestershire county council was a Conservative gain in 2013 and has a relatively small majority: there are 31 Conservative seats against 14 Lib Dems, 5 Labour, 2 Greens and one county councillor for the People Against Bureaucracy Group, a long-standing localist group based in northern Cheltenham which is not standing again this year. With a number of Tory-held divisions across the county having small majorities, it won’t take much of an unwind for a No Overall Control result.

Gloucester city council is in a similar position. It last polled in 2016, when the Conservatives won 22 seats in Gloucester against 10 for Labour and 7 Lib Dems. The ruling group has since lost a by-election to the Lib Dems and has two further vacancies; unfortunately one of these is an entry for the Councillors Behaving Badly file, because Conservative councillor Lee Hawthorne resigned after becoming one of the first people to be charged under recently-enacted laws against upskirting. Despite that scandal, the Conservative majority in Gloucester is probably stronger than it appears as most of their wards look fairly safe.

In Stroud district, which also last polled in 2016, the Conservatives are the largest party but the administration is a coalition of Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. The Tories will have to improve their position here significantly to take over the council. One-half of Cheltenham council is also up for election; this borough has a large Lib Dem majority which does not look in serious danger.

The four local by-elections in Gloucestershire consist of two either side of the Severn. On the east side, the Conservatives defend a by-election in the Fosseridge ward of Cotswold district, covering a number of villages to the north and east of Stow-on-the-Wold. Cotswold council was taken over by the Lib Dems in 2019 following a scandal over the Cotswold Water Park which has been ongoing for some years, but Fosseridge ward has remained firmly in the Conservative column and their candidate David Cunningham should be favoured to hold. The highest point of the Cotswolds is Cleeve Hill, which is not in the Cotswold district at all: Cleeve Hill gives its name to a ward of Tewkesbury district which wraps around the eastern side of the fast-growing settlement of Bishop’s Cleeve north of Cheltenham. Again, this is safely Conservative and their defending candidate Keja Berliner should be confident of election.

Things are rather different to the west of the Severn in the Forest of Dean. The Forest’s council is run by a coalition of independent and Green councillors, with the main parties in opposition. Berry Hill ward, the birthplace of Dennis Potter, returned two independent councillors in 2019 with the Conservatives in second place; Jamie Elsmore has come forward as a new independent candidate, while the Tories have nominated Terry Hale. Labour are defending a by-election in Cinderford East ward, which was safe for them two years ago; Shaun Stammers leads their defence.

Avon and Somerset

West of England Mayoralty

It’s metro mayor time again as we come to the mayoralty for the Bristol area, generally known as the West of England Mayoralty. This is voted for by the voters of the city of Bristol and the districts of South Gloucestershire, and Bath and North East Somerset. North Somerset, on the far side of the Clifton suspension bridge, is not included.

The inaugural election for this position turned in a fragmented result on the first count. The Conservatives’ Tim Bowles led with 27% of the vote; Labour candidate Lesley Mansell placed second with 22%; former Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams finished third with 20%; independent candidate John Savage polled 15% and the Green Party 11%. The Conservatives and Labour went through to the runoff, which Bowles won 52-48.

Tim Bowles is not seeking re-election. The Conservatives have selected Samuel Williams, who runs a communications consultancy. The Labour candidate is Dan Norris, who was the MP for Wansdyke from 1997 to 2010. The Lib Dems have reselected Stephen Williams; not to be confused with the Conservative candidate of a similar name, Stephen was the MP for Bristol West from 2005 to 2015. John Savage has not returned, so completing the ballot paper is the Green candidate Jerome Thomas, a member of the outgoing Bristol city council.

Police and Crime Commissioner

There is a wider electorate for the Avon and Somerset police and crime commissioner, whose remit covers the three boroughs in the West of England mayoralty, the Somerset county council area and the unitary district of North Somerset. Since 2012 the PCC has been independent figure Sue Mountstevens, who in 2012 was the only police and crime commissioner to receive a vote from more than 10% of their electorate – such was the awful turnout in those comedy elections. Things were different in 2016, when Mountstevens topped the poll in the first round with just 26% of the vote; Labour polled 24%, the Conservatives 19%, UKIP 9% and three other candidates all saved their deposits with 7% each. Sue Mountstevens and Labour candidate Kerry Barker went through to the runoff, which Mountstevens won 54-46.

Sue Mountstevens is not seeking re-election, but her deputy John Smith is standing as an independent candidate. Criminal barrister Kerry Barker tries again for Labour. The Conservatives have selected Mark Shelford, an Army officer of 32 years’ service. UKIP have not returned, so completing the PCC ballot paper are Heather Shearer for the Lib Dems and Cleo Lake for the Green Party.

Local elections

For some reason, Bristol has ended up with three major single-member elected posts. As well as the Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner and the Mayor of the West of England, the Mayor of Bristol is up for re-election. This is currently Labour’s Marvin Rees who had a big win here in 2016; on the first count he led with 40% against 23% for the outgoing independent mayor George Ferguson and 14% for the Conservatives, and Rees increased his lead in the runoff to beat Ferguson 63-37 in the final reckoning.

Rees is seeking re-election for a second term. Ferguson has not returned. The Conservatives have selected Alastair Watson, a former city councillor (serving as ceremonial Lord Mayor in 2014-15) and businessman. Also standing are Sandy Hore-Ruthven for the Green Party, Caroline Gooch for the Lib Dems, Tom Baldwin for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, independent candidates Sean Donnelly and Oska Shaw, and Reform UK candidate Robert Clarke.

Along with Rees’ mayoralty, Labour are defending an overall majority of four seats on Bristol city council. In 2016 they won 37 seats against 14 Conservatives, 11 Greens and 8 Lib Dems.

There are no local elections this year in Bath and North-East Somerset, North Somerset or South Gloucestershire apart from by-elections. In South Gloucestershire the suburban Bristol ward of Frenchay and Downend is defended by the Conservatives; this is a safe ward which should return their candidate Liz Brennan. Things are politically rather different in the Portishead East ward of North Somerset, which voted strongly for the localist Portishead Independents in 2019; their defending candidate is Caroline Goddard.

The scheduled election for Somerset county council has been postponed to 2022 due to the possibility of further local government reorganisation in the county. As a result there are no local elections within the Somerset county council area apart from two by-elections. We have already had one recent reorganisation with the formation in 2019 of Somerset West and Taunton council, where there is a by-election to the ward of Trull, Pitminster and Corfe covering three rural parishes immediately south of Taunton. This was safely Lib Dem in 2019, and their candidate Dawn Johnson should be favoured to hold.

Things are rather different in the city of Wells, where there is a by-election in the Wells St Thomas’ ward of Mendip council. This was a longstanding Lib Dem-Tory marginal, the Liberal Democrats normally having the better of the results (including in a 2018 by-election, for which see Andrew’s Previews, page 380), which went safe Lib Dem in 2019. The party had selected Wells city councillor Tony Robbins to defend the by-election, but they cocked up his nomination papers and as a result there is no Lib Dem candidate on the ballot. Accordingly, this Wells St Thomas’ by-election is an unexpected free-for-all between the Conservatives’ Tanys Pullin and Labour’s Adam Fyfe.

Wiltshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Wiltshire PCC is Angus Macpherson of the Conservatives, who was re-elected for a second term in 2016 comfortably. In the first round he had 47% of the vote against 23% for Labour and 16% for the Liberal Democrats; this lead was extended to 64-36 in the runoff.

Macpherson is standing down, and to replace him the Conservatives have selected Wiltshire councillor Jonathan Seed. The Labour candidate is Swindon councillor Junab Ali. Standing for the Lib Dems is Liz Webster, who fought North Swindon and The Cotswolds in the 2017 and 2019 general elections respectively. Also standing are Julian Malins (a former City of London alderman, former Conservative parliamentary candidate, and brother of the former Conservative MP Humfrey Malins) for Reform UK, Brig Oubridge for the Greens and independent candidate Mike Rees.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Wiltshire council and one-third of Swindon council.

The present Wiltshire council dates from 2009 when the county’s local government was reorganised and its district councils were abolished. All three Wiltshire elections to date have returned Conservative majorities, with the party winning 68 seats out of a possible 98 in 2017. Although new division boundaries make comparisons difficult, there’s no real reason to expect a change of control here.

Instead attention within the county will focus on the town of Swindon. This has a small Conservative majority that rests on a particularly good result in May 2019, when the Tories converted a 39.6-39.2 lead over Labour in votes into a 12-7 win in seats; this seat tally was impressive enough in its own right but was actually an improvement on the 11-8 Tory lead recorded on general election day in 2015. This year Labour and the Tories are defending nine wards each, plus a Conservative-defended by-election in the safe Chiseldon and Lawn ward, and a par score would be for the Conservatives to increase their majority on the council.

Dorset

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Dorset PCC since 2012 has been Martyn Underhill, a long-serving senior police officer who worked on (among other things) the Sarah Payne child murder investigation. Underhill was elected in 2012 as an independent candidate, being re-elected in 2016; in the first round he had 38% of the vote to the Conservatives’ 29% and UKIP’s 17%, and in the runoff he defeated Tory candidate Andrew Graham 60-40.

Underhill is not seeking re-election. He has endorsed new independent candidate Dan Hardy, a former Grenadier Guardsman and police officer. David Sidwick, according to his unimprovable Twitter description, is a “husband, dad, boardgame geek, wildlife lover, sci-fi nut, teacake fan, strategic leader and Conservative PCC candidate for Dorset”. UKIP have not returned, so the ballot paper is completed by Patrick Canavan for Labour, Mark Robson for the Lib Dems and Claire Seymour for the Green Party.

Local elections

Following the reorganisation of Dorset’s local government in 2019, the only local elections in the county this year are two by-elections to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council.

BCP council dates from the 2019 reorganisation as a merger of the former unitary districts of Poole and Bournemouth with the non-metropolitan district of Christchurch. This seems to have gone down very badly in Christchurch in particular: at parliamentary level Christchurch is one of the safest Conservative constituencies, but the Tories were thrashed in most of the town’s wards by an independent slate and, largely as a result of that, failed to win a majority on the council. An anti-Conservative rainbow coalition with a slim majority was set up under the leadership of Lib Dem councillor Vikki Slade.

In April 2020 Colin Bungey, a former mayor of Christchurch and independent councillor for Commons ward (covering northern Christchurch and Bournemouth Airport), died. Because of the pandemic, no by-election could be held. The Conservatives promptly launched a no-confidence motion against Slade, which resulted in a tie and was rejected on the council chair’s casting vote. Then in July 2020 Pete Parish, Lib Dem councillor for Canford Heath ward in Poole, died. Because of the pandemic, no by-election could be held. Another no-confidence motion was launched against the rainbow coalition, and this time Vikki Slade was ousted and a Conservative council leader installed.

The Conservatives now run a minority administration in BCP with 36 councillors, two short of a majority; if they can gain both of these by-elections they will have half of the seats. Will they manage that? Judging from the 2019 results, that seems like a tall order. The Christchurch Independents had a large majority in Commons ward two years ago, and they have since filed the paperwork with the Electoral Commission to register as a political party and use the name “Christchurch Independents” on the ballot paper. Their defending candidate is Vanessa Ricketts. Canford Heath has been a safe Lib Dem area for many years and their candidate Jennie Hodges will be a short-priced favourite.

Devon and Cornwall

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Devon and Cornwall PCC election turned in a close result in 2016. Top in the first round was Alison Hernandez of the Conservatives with just 24%; Gareth Derrick of Labour was second with 23%; UKIP polled 17%, independent candidate Bob Spencer got 15% and Lib Dem former MP Richard Younger-Ross finished fifth with 12%. Hernandez and Derrick went through to the runoff, and transfers from the other four candidates were very even which resulted in a Conservative win by 51.1-48.9, a majority of 3,794 votes.

Hernandez is seeking re-election in a reduced field of four candidates. Labour have reselected Plymouth councillor Gareth Derrick for another go, the Lib Dem candidate this time is former police officer Brian Blake, and the Greens’ Stuart Jackson completes the ballot paper.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Devon county council, Cornwall council and the Isles of Scilly council, together with one-third of Exeter and Plymouth councils.

Both the cities of Exeter and Plymouth have Labour majorities. Labour control Plymouth with 30 seats out of 57. A repeat of the May 2019 results would see that majority wiped out with four losses to the Conservatives; however the opposition Conservative group have since suffered a major split. In the event that Labour lose their majority, the Tories would probably need to sort their own house out first before challenging for the council leadership.

The Labour majority in Exeter does not look in serious danger. As Plymouth is a unitary council, Exeter supplies the entire Labour group on Devon county council which has a large and secure-looking Conservative majority.

Things are different over the Tamar in Cornwall, where the Conservatives are the largest party but the administration is a Lib Dem-Independent coalition. There are major boundary changes in Cornwall with no fewer than 36 seats disappearing, which should shake things up quite a lot.

The tiny Isles of Scilly council is non-partisan. Sixteen candidates have come forward for the sixteen seats; there will be an election for the 12 seats on St Mary’s as 13 candidates are standing there, but there will not be an election for the other four islands in the archipelago. Harry Legg has been elected unopposed in St Agnes, Tony Tobin-Dougan in St Martin’s and Robert Dorrien-Smith in Tresco. No candidates came forward to represent the island of Bryher, and a by-election will have to be held there in due course – assuming, that is, that one of the locals (and Bryher’s population is comfortably under 100) wants to be a councillor.

With all of Cornwall’s local government being renewed this year, for local by-elections we have to cross back to Devon. There have been shenanigans in Mid Devon district over the last year: the Conservatives lost their majority in 2019 and an Independent-Lib Dem-Green administration took over, but following disagreements within the ruling coalition the Lib Dem cabinet ministers were sacked in August 2020 and the Conservatives have taken their place in the administration. Mid Devon council has three by-elections on 6th May, two of which are in Tiverton: Castle ward, covering the north of the town, returned two Lib Dem gains from the Conservatives in 2019 in a close a three-way marginal result, and the Lib Dems’ David Wulff will face competition from the Tories’ Elizabeth Slade (who lost her seat here in 2019) and Labour’s Richard Cornley. Westexe ward, covering the west of Tiverton, has returned independent, Conservative, Labour and UKIP councillors this century and voted Conservative in a September 2017 by-election (Andrew’s Previews 2017, page 248); in 2019 a full slate of independent councillors was elected, and three independent candidates have come forward for this by-election (Stephen Bush, Claire Hole and Adrian Howell). If they split the independent vote between them, that could present an opportunity for the Conservatives’ Stephen Pugh or the Greens’ Rosie Wibberley. Finally, the Conservatives defend the deeply-rural Taw ward, covering seven parishes on the western side of the Taw valley from Wembworthy to Zeal Monachorum; the Tories were unopposed here in 2019, and their candidate Peter Heal should have little trouble holding the Taw by-election.

In the South Hams district we have an intriguing by-election in the Ivybridge West ward, which returned two Conservatives in 2019 against opposition from a single Labour candidate and a single Lib Dem. The candidate list this time is the unusual combination of Conservative, Green Party, and Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition; Louise Jones defends for the Tories, while the Green candidate Katie Reville was a strong runner-up here in 2015 but didn’t stand in 2019.

There are no local elections this year in Torbay apart from a local by-election in Clifton with Maidenway ward, which is located in western Paignton. Long-time readers of Andrew’s Previews will remember a by-election here in November 2015 which was a big win for Adrian Sanders, the former Lib Dem MP for Torbay. Sanders didn’t seek re-election to the council in 2019, but his old ward (on revised boundaries) remained safely Lib Dem, and their new candidate Cat Johns starts as favourite.

Our final Devon by-election takes place east of Exeter in the East Devon district, which was taken over by an independent-led administration after the 2019 election. One of the wards which voted independent was Whimple and Rockbeare, a few miles west of Ottery St Mary, but that will change in this by-election as there is no defending independent candidate. Richard Lawrence of the Conservatives takes on Lib Dem Todd Olive in a straight fight.

Norfolk

Police and Crime Commissioner

The outgoing Norfolk PCC is former Canadian diplomat Lorne Green. In the 2016 election he was top of the first round with 28%, against 24% for Labour and 17% each for UKIP and the outgoing independent PCC Stephen Bett, who finished fourth in his re-election attempt. The runoff saw Green beat the Labour candidate by 54-46.

Green is not seeking re-election and the Conservatives have selected the wonderfully-named Giles Orpen-Smellie, an Army veteran of 34 years’ service including tours in Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the Gulf War, the Balkans, Sierra Leone and Iraq. The Labour candidate is Michael Rosen; this Michael Rosen is not the former Children’s Laureate and near-casualty of COVID of that name, rather he is the former director of children’s services for Norfolk county council. Also standing are John Crofts for the Lib Dems, independent David Moreland and the Greens’ Martin Schmierer.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Norfolk county council and for one-third of Norwich council.

Norfolk county council was hung in the 2013-17 term thanks to a very good UKIP performance in May 2013; this has since unwound and the 2017 election gave the Conservatives 55 seats here against 17 Labour, 11 Lib Dems and one independent. It’s difficult to see that changing, although the Green Party (which was wiped out here in 2017) will want to get back on the council.

The Green powerbase is in Norwich, whose city boundaries really do look like that thanks to the council holding harbour rights for most of the River Wensum. All of Norwich city council was up in 2019 on slightly-revised ward boundaries; that election gave 27 seats to Labour, 9 to the Greens and 3 to the Lib Dems, and none of the city’s 13 wards look marginal so it will take a lot of effort for that seat count to change.

The Norfolk and Norwich elections this year will not be complete on 6th May. Eve Collishaw, who was standing as the Conservative candidate for the Sewell county division and ward, sadly died during the election campaign and the polls there have been postponed to 17th June.

Norfolk’s four local by-elections on 6th May are defended by four different parties. Great Yarmouth council moved off the thirds cycle in 2019, but there are two by-elections here this year: in Claydon ward within the town, and Ormesby ward covering two parishes some distance to the north. Claydon has voted Labour in every election since 2004 with the exception of a UKIP win in 2014; Labour were well ahead here in 2019 and their candidate Jo Thurtle should be favoured. Ormesby’s independent councillor Steven Scott-Greenard has resigned and the by-election to replace him is a straight fight between the Ron Hanton of the Conservatives (who hold the ward’s other seat) and Alison Green of Labour.

Further along the Norfolk coast we come to the Coastal ward of North Norfolk council, based on Cley next the Sea and Blakeney. This ward was a big win for the Liberal Democrats in May 2019, but their councillor Karen Ward contracted COVID and is yet to regain her health. The Lib Dem candidate Phil Bailey should be favoured in the Coastal by-election. In May 2019 Coastal ward was part of a Lib Dem constituency, but the Liberal Democrats failed to defend it in the December 2019 general election; new Conservative MP Duncan Baker has vacated his North Norfolk council seat resulting in a by-election in the ward immediately to the south, Holt ward. Holt split its two seats between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in 2019, but the Lib Dems have failed to find a candidate for the resulting by-election: defending Conservative Eric Vardy will instead take on Labour’s Jasper Haywood and two independents, Nick Coppack (a former Conservative North Norfolk councillor) and Jono Read (digital editor of the New European newspaper).

Suffolk

Police and Crime Commissioner

In the 2016 Suffolk easily re-elected the Conservatives’ Tim Passmore as its police and crime commissioner. On the first count Passmore had a big lead with 44% of the vote, against 25% for Labour and 17% for UKIP; his lead in the run-off against Labour was 62-38.

Passmore is seeking re-election for a third term. The Labour candidate this time is Elizabeth Hughes, an Ipswich councillor who fought safe-Conservative Suffolk constituencies at the 2017 and 2019 general elections. UKIP have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Andy Patmore for the Green Party and James Sandbach for the Liberal Democrats.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Suffolk county council and for one-third of Ipswich council.

Unlike its northern neighbour, Suffolk county council narrowly re-elected its Conservative administration in 2013 with a 39-36 lead over the opposition; however, by 2017 that Tory majority had disappeared in a series of poor by-election results. The 2017 election marked a return to form for the Tories with 52 seats, against 11 Labour, 5 Lib Dems, 4 independents and 3 Greens. Local elections in the county two years ago were not that promising for the Conservatives, who lost control of Babergh and Mid Suffolk districts and performed particularly poorly in the rural west of the county (the constituency of the health secretary Matt Hancock, although that underperformance probably wasn’t his fault). Despite that, there should be enough headroom for the Conservative administration to continue.

A lot of that underperformance in western Suffolk was a large independent vote resulting from the abolition of the former Forest Heath council, based on Newmarket and Mildenhall, whose area is now administered by West Suffolk council from Bury St Edmunds. Independent candidates did very well in the old Forest Heath area, as can be seen from the result in Lakenheath ward where independent David Gathercole, the only opposition to a two-man Conservative slate, topped the poll. This ward includes the RAF Lakenheath airbase occupied by the US Air Force; very few if any of the Americans here will have the right to vote, so Lakenheath ward shouldn’t suffer the turnout problems seen in other military-dominated wards. Two independent candidates – David Chandler and Gerald Kelly – will try to take over the late David Gathercole’s seat, while Colin Noble will seek to gain for the Conservatives.

That’s just one of six local by-elections to West Suffolk council, the most for any council on 6th May. Two of these are in sprawling wards covering villages between Bury St Edmunds and Haverhill. Whepstead and Wickhambrook ward had a big Tory lead in May 2019 and their candidate Sarah Pugh should have few problems. Clare, Hundon and Kedington ward returned two Tories and an independent in 2019, but this by-election is a straight fight between the Conservatives’ Nick Clarke and Kerry Rogers for Labour, who didn’t stand here last time.

That leaves three local by-elections in Bury St Edmunds. Beyond the A14 on the eastern edge of the city lies Moreton Hall ward, which extends outside the city boundary to take in Rougham Airfield. Local elections here are dominated by independent councillor Trevor Beckwith; he topped the poll in 2019, with the other two seats going to independent Frank Warby and a Conservative. The by-election here is in respect of Warby, who had joined the Conservatives before resigning from the council; his replacement is likely to be a contest between independent Barry Thomas and Conservative Birgitte Mager. The Tories will also be looking to gain the city-centre Abbeygate ward, which returned one councillor each for the Greens and Conservatives in 2019; the Greens’ Julia Wakeham will be looking to hold against the Tories’ Nick Wiseman. Finally, Bury St Edmunds’ Southgate ward was safe Conservative last time and should be an easy hold for their candidate Sarah Stamp.

Another new council created in 2019 was East Suffolk district, which stretches along the littoral from Felixstowe to Lowestoft. The Green Party will fancy their chances in both East Suffolk by-elections today. Framlingham, a tiny market town about 16 miles north-east of Ipswich, is the location of the “castle on the hill” in that song by Ed Sheeran, who is an elector here; Framlingham Castle is notable in its own right as the place where Mary Tudor was proclaimed Queen in 1553. The Conservatives won both seats here at the first East Suffolk council elections in 2019 with the Greens close behind; defending Tory candidate Lydia Freeman will be challenged this time by Green Party nominee Beth Keys-Holloway. The Greens have turned the Broads town of Beccles into a stronghold at local level, and Sarah Plummer should have little trouble defending the Beccles and Worlingham by-election.

Beccles lies on the northern boundary of Suffolk, while the Sudbury suburb of Great Cornard lies on the county’s southern boundary. This is one of the strongest Labour areas within the Babergh district of southern Suffolk, although the Conservatives still won all three seats here in 2019. Simon Barrett is the defending Conservative candidate in the Great Cornard by-election, Jake Thomas will hope to gain for Labour.

Despite having a Tory MP since December 2019, Ipswich council has a large Labour majority which looks in no serious danger, although a repeat of the May 2019 results would see Labour lose two seats.

Cambridgeshire

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

The most rural of the metro mayoralties set up to date is that for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, which covers an area which is fast growing in population but still has a lot of green space (although quite a lot of that is fenland). The inaugural mayoral election in 2017 saw the Tories’ James Palmer lead in the first round with 38%, with 23% for the Lib Dems and 19% for Labour. Palmer and the Lib Dem candidate Rod Cantrill went through to the runoff, which Palmer won by the easy margin of 57-43.

Palmer is seeking re-election for a second term as mayor. The Lib Dems have selected Aidan van de Weyer, the deputy leader of South Cambridgeshire council. Completing the mayoral ballot paper is Labour candidate Nik Johnson, an NHS consultant paediatrician and Huntingdonshire councillor.

Police and Crime Commissioner

A year earlier, the Cambridgeshire PCC election (which covers the same area) had a rather different result. Conservative PCC Jason Ablewhite was re-elected for a second term, polling 36% in the first round against 31% for Labour and 17% for UKIP; on this occasion the run-off was Tory versus Labour, with Ablewhite prevailing by the narrower margin of 53-47. Ablewhite resigned as PCC in November 2019 under something of a cloud, and his deputy has been acting in the role since then.

For this election the Conservatives have changed candidate to Darryl Preston, a former police officer now working for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. Labour have selected Cambridge city councillor Nicky Massey. UKIP have not returned, so completing the PCC ballot paper are Susan Morris for Reform UK and Rupert Moss-Eccardt for the Liberal Democrats.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Cambridgeshire county council, for the whole of Cambridge city council on new ward boundaries, and for one-third of Peterborough council.

Cambridgeshire county council was a Conservative gain in 2017, with new division boundaries helping the party to 36 seats against 15 Lib Dems, 7 Labour councillors and 3 independents. The Tories have since performed very badly in the south of the county: the Lib Dems won a majority in South Cambridgeshire district in 2018, weren’t far off winning control of East Cambridgeshire in May 2019 and weren’t far off taking the South Cambridgeshire parliamentary seat in December 2019. Some of these trends were already evident in May 2017 (six of the 15 Lib Dem wins that year were in South Cambridgeshire district) so we shouldn’t overstate the chance of major seat changes, but the Tories must be looking at their majority on the county council with some concern.

Peterborough council is currently hung, with a minority Conservative administration on 28 out of 60 seats (two of which are vacant) supported by the 3 Werrington localist councillors. A repeat of the May 2019 results would see the Conservatives lose three further seats and could result in Labour challenging for the council leadership. Mind, Peterborough is a city that had three different MPs in 2019, which shows a volatile local political scene firmly in keeping with the volatile events of that year. It would take a brave person to predict what will happen here.

Outside Peterborough we have a by-election to Fenland council from Lattersey ward, covering the south-east corner of Whittlesey around Whittlesea station. (When it comes to spelling, there’s the right way, the wrong way and the railway.) The Conservatives won this ward unopposed in 2015 – Fenland district is like that – and had a 2-1 margin over Labour in 2019 so the defending Tory candidate Jason Mockett can be confident of his election chances.

Peterborough was once linked with the former county of Huntingdonshire, which is now a district under Cambridgeshire county council and sees four by-elections on 6 May. I mentioned earlier that the Police and Crime Commissioner Jason Ablewhite had resigned in November 2019; he had also resigned as a Huntingdonshire councillor, and a by-election was sneaked in during the winter of 2019-20 which resulted in a Conservative hold in the East ward of the town of St Ives. The other St Ives East councillor has now resigned, and the Conservatives should hold this seat with their candidate Craig Smith. The Tories also defend by-elections in St Ives South ward and in the Warboys ward in the fens between Huntingdon and Ramsey (with Rianna d’Souza and Michael Haines as the defending candidates), and might fancy their chances in the Labour-held ward of Huntingdon North (covering most of Huntingdon town), although Labour’s candidate Marion Kadewere is defending a large enough majority from the last Huntingdonshire elections in 2018.

Finally, Labour are firmly in control of Cambridge city council, where all 42 seats are up for election this year on slightly-revised ward boundaries.

Essex

Police and Crime Commissioner

The 2016 Essex PCC election was open following the retirement of Tory PCC Nick Alston. New Conservative candidate Roger Hirst topped the poll in the first round with 33% of the vote, against 24% for former Conservative MP Bob Spink standing as the UKIP candidate, 20% for Labour and 13% for “Zero Tolerance Policing Ex Chief” Martin Terry. Hirst and Spink went through to the runoff, with Hirst winning comfortably by 57-43.

Roger Hirst is seeking re-election for a second term, and this time he won’t have to face a UKIP candidate or Martin Terry. Labour have re-selected their 2016 candidate Chris Vince, a Harlow councillor and maths teacher. Also standing are Jon Whitehouse for the Lib Dems and Robin Tilbrook for the English Democrats.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Essex county council and for one-third of Basildon, Brentwood, Castle Point, Colchester, Epping Forest, Harlow, Rochford, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock councils.

Essex county council is one of the safest county councils for the Conservatives. The 2017 election returned 56 Conservative councillors against 7 Lib Dems, 6 Labour, 3 localists (2 from Canvey Island, the other from Loughton), 2 independents and a Green.

Instead attention within the county should focus on the districts and boroughs. To start with England’s oldest town, Colchester council is currently hung; the Conservatives are the largest party with 23 seats (including one vacancy) out of 51, but the administration is a coalition of the Lib Dems, Labour and an independent group which has a lock on Highwoods ward. A repeat of the 2019 results would see that coalition increase its majority, with Stanway ward falling to the Lib Dems.

Moving to the towns on the north side of the Thames estuary, a similar rainbow coalition controls Southend-on-Sea council where the Conservatives are the currently the largest party on 20 seats out of 51. The Tories did very poorly here in May 2019, carrying only four of the borough’s 17 wards; they are defending eight seats this year so there is the potential for some large changes on this council.

Rochford council, based on Rayleigh and the rural area to the north of Southend, has a strong Conservative majority which can be expected to increase. To the west of Southend, Castle Point council is stuck in a rut, with the Conservatives holding all the wards on the mainland in Benfleet and an independent group dominating offshore on Canvey Island; because Benfleet has more councillors than Canvey, this means a small but very stable Conservative majority. The Castle Point returning officer has taken the unusual step of filling casual vacancies in Boyce and St George’s wards, on the mainland, with separate elections rather than combining them into a double vacancy election like every other RO in a thirds or halves council does, so if you are voting in those wards you will receive two ballot papers for the district council election (plus one for the county council and one for the PCC).

Billericay and Wickford are covered by the large Basildon council where the Tories lost control in 2019; Labour and a number of independent groups are now running the show. In 2016 Basildon returned three UKIP councillors, none of whom are still in the party; their respective wards returned one Conservative, one Labour and one independent councillor in 2019, so the Tories probably can’t rely on a UKIP unwind here.

The UKIP factor was much larger in Thurrock in 2016. The Kippers topped the poll across the 17 wards up for election that year with 39% of the vote, and won 6 wards; Labour polled 32% and won 4 wards, and the Conservatives won 7 wards despite coming in third in votes with just 28%. Isn’t England’s first-past-the-post system wonderful? A number of those UKIP councillors (after a “Thurrock Independents” interlude) have ended up in the Conservative group since the 2019 election, which has resulted in the Tories gaining, albeit by defection, a majority on Thurrock council for the first time since 2007. Judging from the 2019 results, that majority could well be endorsed by the electorate this time round.

Brentwood (above) has a rather small Conservative majority – 20 seats out of 37 – following a good Lib Dem performance in 2019, but the scope for further Conservative losses is limited as they are only defending six wards this year. The Conservative majority in Epping Forest looks safe, as does the Labour majority in Harlow (below) where the Tories have yet to make their dominance at parliamentary and county council level stick. Harlow council currently has a 20-13 lead for Labour, who are defending 7 wards this year to the Conservatives’ 4.

The standalone by-elections (other than the ones in Castle Point already mentioned) are an interesting bunch. We start in the county town of Chelmsford (below) where the Lib Dems defend Moulsham Lodge ward, in the south of the city proper; although the Tories won one of the two seats in 2015, this was safely Lib Dem in 2019 and the defending candidate is Hazel Clark.

To the east of Chelmsford is the deeply rural and very small Maldon district, which returned a tiny Conservative majority of 16-15 over independent councillors in 2019. That majority has since fallen apart thanks to a damaging split in the Tory group, and the independents took over the council leadership in November last year. Things could get worse for the Maldon Conservatives if they fail to defend the by-elections in Heybridge East ward (immediately north-east of Maldon, and including a large swathe of saltmarsh in the Blackwater estuary) or Tollesbury ward (a remote village in the marshes which returned a Labour councillor in a 2012 by-election, but was safe Conservative in 2019). The defending Conservative candidates are Bruce Heubner in Heybridge East and Debbie Keating in Tollesbury.

Uttlesford district, covering a large rural area in the north-west of Essex, was one of the councils where the Conservatives lost control in 2019: the ruling Residents for Uttlesford party has a large majority on the council which is not in danger even though they are defending two by-elections: in The Sampfords ward, covering five parishes east of Saffron Walden which was a Residents gain in 2019 on a big swing, and in Newport ward on the railway line from Stansted to Cambridge which R4U have held since 2015. On the other hand, the R4U councillor who vacated Newport had jumped to the Greens before leaving the council, so some debate can be had about whether the defending candidate there is Judy Emanuel for the Residents or Edward Gildea for the Greens. The Residents have nominated Uli Gerhard to hold the by-election in The Sampfords.

The Green Party have had a presence for some time in the Braintree district, but the two wards holding elections there on 6 May were both safely Conservative in 2019. These are Witham South ward, defended for the Tories by William Korsinah; and Hatfield Peverel and Terling ward, a rural area to the west of Witham town, where the Conservatives have nominated Darren White.

Saving the best till last, we come to the Tendring district which covers everything in Essex east of Colchester, including the town of Clacton-on-Sea which, seven long years ago, was the first constituency to elect a UKIP member of parliament. UKIP won a large number of seats on Tendring council at the following elections in May 2015; despite the inevitable split and a seventh-place finish in the 2019 elections, the Kippers did still hold on to five council seats here in May 2019. One of those was in the West Clacton and Jaywick Sands ward, based on the village of Jaywick.

When your own council leader describes your village as “an embarrassment to the whole country”, as then Tendring leader Neil Stock said in 2012, you know you’ve got problems. Notorious for consistently being right at the bottom of the English indices of multiple deprivation, worse-off than anywhere in inner-city London or Manchester, Jaywick started off in the late 1920s as summer holiday homes for East Enders, and is now occupied year-round with increasingly dilapidated housing stock, mostly unadopted roads, a serious coastal flooding risk and intractable economic problems following the closure of the nearby Clacton Butlins camp in the 1980s. Despite this, there is clearly a community spirit in the village: Jaywick residents successfully fought off an attempt by the local council to bulldoze the place in 1970, and the use of the village in an attack ad by a 2018 US congressional Republican candidate resulted in uproar here and a climbdown from the candidate concerned. Those who would sneer at people who live in UKIP-voting areas (of whom your columnist is one) would do well to put those sneers away.

And a UKIP-voting area this is: West Clacton and Jaywick Sands ward elected an independent (easily) and a UKIP candidate (narrowly) as its two councillors in 2019. The UKIP councillor has resigned and the party is not defending the resulting by-election giving us a free-for-all. Andy White, who was the runner-up here in 2019 as an independent candidate, has returned for another go and this time he has the nomination of the localist group Tendring First; two other independents are standing (Brad Thompson and Andy Wood), while the ruling minority Conservative group on the council have nominated Jayne Nash for this by-election.

The Tories may have better chances in the other Tendring by-election, at the other end of Clacton-on-Sea. Eastcliff ward was close in 2019 between the localist group “Holland-on-Sea and Eastcliff Matters” and the second-placed Conservatives. The localists have nominated Rick Speller to hold the Eastcliff by-election, while former Tory councillor Mick Skeels senior will seek to make a comeback.

Hertfordshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Hertfordshire PCC since 2012 has been David Lloyd of the Conservatives. He was re-elected in 2016, polling 42% against 27% for former Labour MP Kerry Pollard and 16% for the Lib Dems. Lloyd’s lead over Pollard in the final reckoning was 59-41.

The 2021 PCC election will feature only those three parties on the ballot. The Conservatives’ Lloyd is seeking a third term, and is opposed by Labour’s Philip Ross (a cybersecurity consultant) and the Lib Dems’ Sam North (a North Hertfordshire councillor and former police officer).

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Hertfordshire county council and for one-third of Broxbourne, North Hertfordshire, St Albans, Stevenage, Three Rivers, Watford and Welwyn Hatfield councils. The only of those which looks completely safe for the Tories is Broxbourne, based on the towns of Cheshunt and Hoddesdon in the Lea Valley.

The A1/East Coast Main Line corridor is another matter entirely. The Conservatives lost their majority on Welwyn Hatfield council in 2019, but still run the district as a minority with 23 seats against 13 Labour and 12 Lib Dem councillors. If the 2019 election is repeated the Tories would lose three of the ten wards they are defending and fall further from overall control.

Similar considerations apply in the North Hertfordshire district, which is based on Hitchin, Letchworth and Royston; however, here the 22-strong Conservative group is in opposition to a coalition of Labour (16) and the Lib Dems (11). Stevenage council has had a Labour majority continuously since the 1974 reorganisation and that will not change this year.

Following a Tory bloodbath in 2019 St Albans council is tied, with the Conservatives and Lib Dems both on 24 seats; the balance of power is held by 5 Labour councillors, 4 independents and a single Green councillor. Since then the Lib Dems have gained the St Albans parliamentary seat after decades of trying. A repeat of the May 2019 results would result in four Lib Dem gains, mostly from the small parties, which would make their present minority administration more secure. The Liberal Democrats are more firmly in control of Watford (where they hold the elected mayoralty) and the Three Rivers district which wraps around the western side of Watford.

Hertfordshire county council has a large Conservative majority at present (51 councillors against 18 Lib Dems and 9 Labour), but there are enough marginal divisions for this majority to be in some real danger if the poor Conservative performance in 2019 is repeated two years down the line.

There are three standalone by-elections at opposite ends of the county. In East Hertfordshire district the Lib Dems have the task of defending Bishop’s Stortford All Saints ward, covering the east of the town on the road towards the motorway and Stansted Airport; this ward has seesawed between the Tories and Lib Dems over the last couple of decades, but the Liberal Democrat win in 2019 was by a big enough margin that their defending candidate Richard Townsend should be favoured.

The Liberal Democrats also performed well in the 2019 elections to Dacorum council at the western end of Hertfordshire, making the Tring Central ward safe; Sheron Wilkie is their defending candidate there. The Dacorum district is based on the new town of Hemel Hempstead, which also hosts a by-election in Leverstock Green ward on the eastern edge of the town; this ward was safe Conservative in 2019 and their defence is led by Neil Harden.

Bedfordshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

In the 2016 police and crime commissioner elections Bedfordshire was the only police area which the Conservatives gained from Labour, whose win in 2012 had been rather surprising. Former TV presenter and journalist Kathryn Holloway topped the poll in the first round with 37% against 35% for outgoing Labour PCC Olly Martins and 12% for the Lib Dems; in the runoff Holloway won by 51.6-48.4, a majority of 2,883 votes.

Holloway is standing down after one term, and the Conservatives have selected Festus Akinbusoye, who runs a security business and briefly served as a special constable before his nomination papers went in. Akinbusoye was the Conservative candidate for West Ham in the 2015 general election. Labour have selected David Michael, who has 30 years’ service as a Metropolitan Police officer under his belt. Akinbusoye and Michael are both black, and the Lib Dems make it a trio of BAME candidates from the major parties – not something you see very often in a shire county election – with their nomination of Jas Parmar, a postmaster and former police officer. Also standing are independent Patrick Hamill and the English Democrats’ Antonio Vitiello.

Local elections

The only local elections this year in Bedfordshire are two by-elections to Luton council. High Town ward, immediately to the north of the town centre, has been vacated by the new Luton South MP Rachel Hopkins; as described in Andrew’s Previews 2016, page 106, this is a safe Labour ward and their candidate Umme Ali shouldn’t have much trouble holding it. The neighbouring Round Green ward is a very different matter, having returned candidates from all three main parties in the last two elections; the 2019 poll returned two Labour councillors and one Lib Dem, and this by-election promises to be closely fought between the defending Labour candidate Fatima Begum and the Lib Dem challenger Steve Moore. The pandemic has led to huge financial difficulties for Luton council, which wholly owns Luton Airport and funded a number of its services out of the airport’s dividend payments; central government have effectively been forced to bail the council out to the tune of £35 million.

There are no local elections this year to Bedford or Central Bedfordshire councils.

Thames Valley

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Thames Valley is one of the largest of England’s police areas, covering the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire to the north-west of London. The PCC since 2012 has been Anthony Stansfeld, a Falklands veteran and Conservative representative. In the 2016 PCC election Stansfeld led in the first round with 40% against 33% for Labour and 15% for the Lib Dems, winning the run-off over Labour by the relatively small margin of 54-46.

Stansfeld is standing down and the Conservatives have selected Matthew Barber, who is a former leader of Vale of White Horse council in Oxfordshire and presently serves as Stansfeld’s deputy PCC. The Labour candidate is Laetisia Carter, a West Oxfordshire councillor and mental health practitioner. The Lib Dems have selected Oxfordshire county councillor John Howson, and completing a ballot paper of four Oxfordshire-based candidates is independent Alan Robinson.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Oxfordshire county council, the whole of the new Buckinghamshire council, the whole of Oxford council on new ward boundaries, and for one-third of Cherwell, Milton Keynes, Reading, Slough, West Oxfordshire and Wokingham councils.

To start in Buckinghamshire, which holds its first local elections since May 2017 following a reorganisation of the county’s local government. The new council has carried over the electoral divisions from the old Buckinghamshire county council, which four years ago returned 41 Conservative councillors against an opposition of four Lib Dems (all from Aylesbury), three independents and a single Labour councillor. The new unitary council carries over the electoral divisions from the old county council but will have three times as many councillors, so for a par score those numbers should be scaled up accordingly.

The reforms in Buckinghamshire have left untouched the New City of Milton Keynes, whose council is very politically balanced; the ruling minority Labour group has 22 seats (one of which is vacant) against 19 Conservatives (including two vacant seats), 15 Lib Dems and an independent. The Conservatives lost five seats here in May 2019, which doesn’t look good at first sight but that actually outperformed expectations given that they were defending ten marginal wards; the ward map this year is much more friendly to the Tories, and a repeat of the 2019 results would see them gain three seats from Labour and become the largest party.

The Conservatives did pretty poorly in the 2019 Oxfordshire council elections, but that underperformance was concentrated in the districts south of Oxford. The Tory vote generally held up better in Cherwell district (above), based on Banbury and the fast-growing town of Bicester; a repeat of the 2019 results for Cherwell council would see them lose one seat in Bicester and two seats in the Oxford satellite town of Kidlington, but that won’t significantly threaten the Conservative majority on the council. Similar considerations apply in West Oxfordshire district (below), where the Conservatives are defending four wards (mostly in Witney town) which voted for the opposition in 2019; however they will have to do worse than that for the district to fall into No Overall Control.

There has been no Conservative local government presence for many years in the city of Oxford, where the whole council is up for election this year on revised ward boundaries. Oxford is, of course, more than just dreaming spires; there’s a significant technological and manufacturing base to the city’s economy, and that produces a safe Labour council.

That Tory underperformance in Oxford cost them a majority on Oxfordshire county council in both 2013 and 2017, the latter election resulting in 31 Conservative councillors against 14 Labour, 13 Lib Dems, 4 independents and a localist from Henley-on-Thames. The Conservatives rely on three of the independent councillors for control of the county. It will be interesting to see whether the party’s poor May 2019 performances in the Vale of White Horse (Abingdon and Wantage) and South Oxfordshire districts are repeated, particularly with the Lib Dems and Greens in South Oxfordshire having apparently renewed their electoral pact.

Those two districts also see three local by-elections. One of these is in the home of the Williams Formula 1 team, the village of Grove which can found immediately north of Wantage in the Vale of White Horse district. Grove North was a ward gained by the Lib Dems in their takeover of that council in 2019, and Lib Dem candidate Andy Przybysz will look to defend a seat which should be safe for them now.

Further up the Great Western main line is the boom town of Didcot, within the South Oxfordshire district. In the town’s North East ward a Tory slate was cleared out in 2019 and replaced by two Lib Dems and independent Simon Hewerdine; Hewerdine has resigned and his seat is open with no independent candidate contesting the resulting by-election. Paul Giesberg contests for the Lib Dems, while the Tories’ Andrea Warren will hope to gain a seat back.

At the other end of South Oxfordshire district we come to the third contest Andrew’s Previews has covered between the Tories’ John Walsh (an accountant with Oxford University Press) and the Lib Dems’ Tim Bearder (a former BBC journalist and son of the former Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder). Walsh and Bearder have previously faced off within this column in a 2013 by-election for the North ward of Oxford city council (which Labour won) and in a 2018 by-election for the Wheatley division of Oxfordshire county council (which Bearder won; Andrew’s Previews 2018, page 420). With Bearder holding a 1-0 lead in the series, round 3 will take place immediately to the east of Oxford in the Forest Hill and Holton ward of South Oxfordshire. Walsh lost his district council seat here to the Lib Dems rather soundly in 2019, and following the withdrawal of Labour this by-election is a straight Lib Dem-Tory fight.

Berkshire county council disappeared in the 1990s, but three of its former districts are holding elections. In the county town of Reading (above), where boundary changes have been deferred until next year, Labour have a strong majority on the council and got a rare swing in their favour in the Reading East constituency at the 2019 general election. The Reading East constituency includes a large amount of territory which is part of the town’s urban area but administered separately by Wokingham council (below); this is a council where the ruling Conservatives have been underperforming throughout the last electoral cycle, and a repeat of the 2019 results would see the Lib Dems gain five seats here and wipe out the Tory majority. Finally, the Labour majority on Slough council is in no danger whatsoever.

There are no local elections this year in Bracknell Forest, West Berkshire or Windsor and Maidenhead.

Hampshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

Hampshire’s police and crime commissioner elections have been unusually interesting, with the inaugural contest in 2012 won by independent candidate Simon Hayes who defeated former Conservative MP Michael Mates. For the 2016 election the Tories changed candidate to Michael Lane, whose 29% of the vote was enough for a big lead in the first round. A four-way pileup for the other place in the runoff was won by Labour candidate Robin Price on 16%, ahead of outgoing independent PCC Hayes who finished third with 15%; close behind were the Lib Dems and UKIP on 14% each. The runoff between Lane and Price resulted in an easy Conservative gain with a 64-36 margin.

Lane is not seeking re-election, and the Conservatives have selected former Portsmouth council leader Donna Jones. The Labour candidate is Tony Bunday, who is fighting his first election campaign, runs an events company and is a former social worker. The Lib Dems have selected Richard Murphy, a businessman from Winchester, and completing the ballot paper is Steve James-Bailey for a new party called the Hampshire Independents.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Hampshire county council, for the whole of Isle of Wight council on new ward boundaries, for the whole of Basingstoke and Deane council on new ward boundaries, for one-half of Fareham and Gosport councils, and for one-third of Eastleigh, Hart, Havant, Portsmouth, Rushmoor, Southampton and Winchester councils.

To take the big one first, Hampshire county council has a long-standing and strong Conservative majority, the 2017 election returning 56 Conservative councillors against 19 Lib Dems, 2 Labour councillors (both from Basingstoke) and one councillor from the Community Campaign in Hart district, of which more later.

The 2017 election also saw the Tories gain overall control of the Isle of Wight council after four years of independent-led administration. Wight returned 25 Conservative councillors, 11 independents, 2 Lib Dems and one councillor each from Labour and the Greens. There have been no local elections on the Isle of Wight since then. The Labour slate for this year’s Wight council election includes a former MP: Sarah McCarthy-Fry, who represented Portsmouth North in the 2005-10 parliament, is standing for the party in the Conservative-held Lake South division.

The districts which face Wight across the Solent are an interesting bunch. To start at the eastern end, Havant council was a rare bright spot for the Conservatives in the May 2019 elections: the party was defending every seat up for election that year, and did so successfully. The Tory majority there is under no danger. Things were different over the water in the city of Portsmouth (above) which was taken over by a minority Lib Dem administration; the most recent breakdown has 17 Lib Dems, 15 Conservatives, 6 Labour and 4 others (all of whom were elected on one of the above tickets). A repeat of the 2019 results would see the Lib Dems lose some ground: they are defending Eastney/Craneswater ward which voted Conservative in 2019, and St Jude ward which voted Labour in 2019. The Tories will also have their eye on the Labour seat in the volatile estates of Paulsgrove ward.

Over the water again, the Tories are defending a majority of two seats on Gosport council. This has bizarre voting patterns: in the 2019 election the Conservatives polled 52% of the vote across the district to the Lib Dems’ 23%, but the Tories and Lib Dems won eight wards each. A repeat of those results would result in two Conservative losses and No Overall Control. To reach the rest of the country from Gosport you have to pass through Fareham district, whose Conservative majority is under no danger. The Lib Dem majority on the neighbouring Eastleigh council is even more impregnable.

The only Labour-controlled local authority in Hampshire is Southampton city council, where Labour have a 30-18 majority over the Conservatives. A repeat of the May 2019 results would see the Conservatives gain three seats nett.

Moving to the M3 corridor of inland Hampshire, the Tories performed very poorly in 2019 in Winchester district which now has a Lib Dem majority. Although the district does include a large rural area around the city, the Winchester Conservatives will be doing well if they can stem further losses. All the seats on the Basingstoke and Deane council are up for election on new ward boundaries; this district is currently hung, with 28 Conservatives forming a minority administration against 13 Labour councillors, 10 independents (a number of whom have split from Labour) and 7 Lib Dems.

In the north-east of the county, Hart district (based on Fleet and Yateley) is run by a coalition of the Liberal Democrats and the aforementioned Community Campaign, and that coalition’s majority is in no danger. The Conservatives will remain in control of Rushmoor district, based on the aerospace and military towns of Aldershot and Farnborough.

Most Hampshire districts hold elections by thirds, but there are also five local by-elections to discuss. Three of these are in the Test Valley district, which runs all the way from Andover to the edge of Southampton. The edge-of-Southampton ward is called Chilworth, Nursling and Rownhams and represents some closure for your columnist, because I previewed a by-election here on 19th March 2020 which was called off at the last moment due to COVID. That by-election was to replace the late councillor Nigel Anderdon; since then a second councillor for the ward, Alison Finlay, has also died. Both of them were Conservative councillors for a safe ward. This double by-election is a straight fight between the Conservatives and Lib Dems; on the defending Conservative slate, Terese Swain returns from the aborted 2020 by-election and is joined by Mike Maltby.

The other two by-elections to Test Valley council are in Andover, where a localist slate called the Andover Alliance won seven seats in 2019 and appears to have since fallen apart in Handforthesque scenes. Both these by-elections will be free-for-alls as the Andover Alliance are not defending them. Andover St Mary’s is a contest between the three main parties, with the Tories’ Jan Budzynski possibly favourite although Nigel Long, who polled decently as an independent in 2019, is back for another go and now has the Lib Dem nomination. In Andover Millway, which was very close between the Conservatives and Andover Alliance in 2019, the localist torch has been taken up by Susana Ecclestone of the breakaway Andover Independents, while Jim Neal will seek to gain for the Conservatives.

Finally, we come to the two by-elections in East Hampshire district, both of which are in wards on the boundary with Surrey. Grayshott is essentially an extension of the Surrey village of Hindhead, while the large village of Liphook on the London-Portsmouth railway line anchors the Bramshott and Liphook ward. These are very safe Conservative wards and should be easily defended by Nick Sear (Bramshott and Liphook) and Tom Hanrahan (Grayshott) respectively.

Surrey

Police and Crime Commissioner

If you thought the Conservatives could never lose a county-wide election in true-blue Surrey, think again. It happened as recently as November 2012, when the first Surrey police and crime commissioner election was won by “Zero Tolerance Policing Ex Chief” candidate Kevin Hurley. For the 2016 election the Conservatives got their act together, and their Surrey PCC candidate David Munro led in the first round with 35% against 18% for Hurley, 13% for the Lib Dems and 12% for Labour. Munro and Hurley went through to the runoff which Munro won by the wide margin of 63-37.

For the 2021 election the Conservatives have deselected David Munro in favour of Lisa Townsend. Munro has not taken this well, and is seeking re-election as an independent. Zero Tolerance Policing Ex Chief Kevin Hurley is also trying to get his old job back. The Lib Dems have selected Mole Valley councillor Paul Kennedy, and train driver and Labour candidate Howard Kaye completes a five-strong ballot paper.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Surrey county council and for one-third of Elmbridge, Mole Valley, Reigate and Banstead, Runnymede, Tandridge and Woking councils.

The 2019 local elections were generally horrific for the Tories in Surrey, with the party losing more than 100 councillors across the county – 60 of them in Guildford and Waverley districts alone. In Guildford the Conservatives have a chance to recover from that with three local by-elections. They are defending the Army-dominated Pirbright ward, which was the safest Tory ward in the district in 2019 but where the previous Tory councillor, Gordon Jackson, had gone independent before resigning from the council; Keith Witham is the defending candidate. Friary and St Nicolas ward, covering Guildford town centre, was safe Lib Dem in 2019 and is defended by their candidate Cait Taylor. Send ward, between Guildford and Woking, has been held since 2015 by the Guildford Greenbelt Group and gave that party 71% of the vote in 2019; Guida Esteves is their defending candidate.

There are two other standalone by-elections in Surrey to mention. One of these arises out of the death in January 2020, at the horribly young age of 33, of a luckless man called Sam Kay. Readers may remember a controversy from 2009 involving the quartet from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, memorably captained by Gail Trimble and including Kay, which won the final of that year’s series of University Challenge. Now, when your columnist did UC in the 2002-03 series it was made clear in the selection meeting that, because of the timing of the series recordings, final-year students were not eligible. Kay was a final-year student at the start of the 2008-09 series, but was intending to stay on at Oxford by applying for a PhD. That fell through. By the time the quarter-finals and later stages were recorded, Kay had left Corpus and found work as an accountant, but he still took part in the recordings in breach of the series rules. After the final was broadcast news of this got out, and the programme-makers Granada disqualified Corpus and stripped them of their title.

Regrettably, Sam Kay’s local government career didn’t last much longer than his reign as a University Challenge champion. He had been elected in May 2019 as a Liberal Democrat member of Surrey Heath council representing the town of Bagshot, beating the alphabet to top the poll and riding the anti-Tory wave in that election. Kay’s death leaves the local Lib Dems with a tricky defence in a marginal ward within Michael Gove’s constituency. Richard Wilson is the defending Lib Dem candidate, opposed in a straight fight by the Tories’ Mark Gordon.

The other standalone by-election comes over the river in Spelthorne district, based on Staines-upon-Thames and one of the few parts of Middlesex that escaped incorporation into Greater London in the 1960s. The Conservatives lost a large majority here in the 2019 election and now run the district as a minority; one of the wards which fell was Staines South ward, which returned two Liberal Democrats and one Labour councillor. You get the impression that the opposition parties didn’t see this result coming, as the Lib Dems finished with a big lead in votes but only had a slate of two for the three available seats. Over the last two years Spelthorne council has suffered a number of defections and regroupings, including Lib Dem Staines South councillor Nichola Cornes who went independent and then resigned from the council altogether. For the resulting by-election Rob Millist is the defending Lib Dem candidate, Harriet Digby stands for Labour and Sinead Mooney for the Conservatives. The sort of defection level seen in Spelthorne often indicates a slightly dysfunctional council, and this political dysfunctionality may soon be joined by financial dysfunctionality. Spelthorne council has invested massively in commercial property in recent years; their position is rather different to that of Croydon, who have made similar investments and run out of money, in that Spelthorne’s portfolio is mostly generating rent, but whether the buildings are still worth what the council paid for them is another matter.

Of the Surrey councils holding elections by thirds this year, Mole Valley council (based on Leatherhead and Dorking) flipped straight to the Liberal Democrats in 2019; Elmbridge council (above, outer London suburbia around Weybridge and Walton-on-Thames) was taken over by a coalition of the residents groups and Lib Dems; while in Tandridge (below, the eastern end of the county, including Caterham and Oxted) and in Woking the Conservatives now have to rely on independent councillors for control. In those areas, the primary focus for the Surrey Conservatives must be to stop the rot. So far as Elmbridge is concerned, the Conservatives may be helped by what appears to be a breakdown in the Residents/Lib Dem pact: most of Elmbridge district is covered by the Esher and Walton parliamentary seat where the Lib Dems came close to knocking out foreign secretary Dominic Raab in December 2019, and the party appears to be trying to build on that success by contesting several Resident-held marginal wards. The election to fill a casual vacancy in the Felbridge ward of Tandridge has been called off after the Labour candidate died, and will be held at a later date.

The Tories do still retain overall control of Reigate and Banstead council (the M23/Brighton Line corridor) and the Runnymede district at the northern end of the county. All of the seats on those councils were up in 2019 with new ward boundaries, and there don’t appear to be many opportunities for opposition parties in the seats up for election there.

One interesting question will be whether these May 2019 underperformance feeds through to Surrey county council. However, given that the Tories won 61 seats out of a possible 81 here in May 2017, it will take a lot for that majority to disappear.

Picture of the Corpus Christi University Challenge team from 2008-09 by Sean Blanchflower, blanchflower.org

Sussex

Police and Crime Commissioner

There was little of interest in the 2016 election for Sussex police and crime commissioner, which easily re-elected Conservative PCC Katy Bourne. In the first round she led with 42% against 22% for Labour and 16% for UKIP; the run-off against Labour produced a Tory majority of 62-38.

Bourne is seeking a third term for the Conservatives. Labour have selected Paul Richards, a former Whitehall special adviser. UKIP have not returned, so completing the Sussex PCC ballot are Jamie Bennett for the Lib Dems, Kahina Bouhassane for the Greens and independent candidate Roy Williams.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of East Sussex and West Sussex county councils, for one-half of Adur and Hastings councils and for one-third of Crawley and Worthing councils.

The stand-out one of these to watch is Crawley. This New Town got new ward boundaries in 2019 putting all 36 council seats up for re-election; in vote terms there was a photofinish with the Tories and Labour polling 42.6% each across the borough, while in seat terms Labour eked out a win by 19 to 17. Since then two Labour councillors have died and two more have left the party, which at one point left the Conservative group holding half of the seats; a highly unusual situation has developed, with the Conservatives declining to seek control of the council for themselves and instead shoring up the Labour administration in advance of these elections. Control of Crawley council is likely to come down to a handful of votes in one or more wards.

Things are on the other foot in the south coast resort of Worthing where Labour have made strong gains over the last electoral cycle. Worthing council currently stands at 23 Conservative councillors against 10 Labour, 3 Lib Dems and a UKIP councillor; nearly half of the Tory group is up for re-election this year, and a repeat of the 2019 results would result in five Labour gains and a sharply-reduced Conservative majority.

The Tories have much less margin for error in the neighbouring Adur district, based on towns such as Shoreham on the coastal strip between Worthing and Brighton; they currently hold 16 seats (including vacancies) out of a possible 29. Adur last went to the polls in 2018, and a repeat of those results would see the Conservatives gain two seats with UKIP wiped out.

The four local by-elections in West Sussex are all defences for the opposition. Arun council, which stayed Conservative throughout the lean times of the 1990s, is now run by a minority Lib Dem administration following impressive results in 2019. Among the Lib Dem gains that year were Brookfield ward (in Littlehampton) where the party holds both seats, and Pevensey ward (in Bognor Regis) where they split the two seats with an independent councillor. The Lib Dems are defending both by-elections: Bob Woodman should be favoured to hold Brookfield, while John Barrett is the defending candidate in Pevensey but may face a challenge from independent Jan Cosgrove.

There is more long-standing Lib Dem strength in the Trafalgar ward of Horsham, which covers the west of the town and where their candidate Martin Boffey is favoured. In Mid Sussex district the 2019 election saw the Conservatives lose Copthorne and Worth ward (immediately to the east of Crawley) to an independent slate; Norman Mockford has come forward as a new independent candidate for this by-election against the Tories’ Bruce Forbes.

The Conservative majority on West Sussex county council is in no danger. East Sussex county council (above) is however more balanced, with the 2017 election returning 30 Conservatives against 11 Lib Dems, 5 independents and 4 Labour councillors. Since then the Tories have performed pretty poorly in the 2019 local elections in Bexhill-on-Sea and the 2018 local elections in Hastings, where all of the Labour county councillors come from. One-half of Hastings council (below) is up for election this year, and the Labour majority there looks safe.

Of the nine council by-elections in the East Sussex council area, eight are Conservative defences. The new Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart has vacated her seat on Rother council, provoking a by-election in Eastern Rother ward which covers the villages around Rye. This ward is safe Conservative and should return their candidate Lizzie Hacking. The Tories are defending four by-elections in the sprawling Wealden district (below), including both wards in Heathfield and two of the six wards in Hailsham. Three of these look safe and should be defended without fuss by their candidates Mike Baker (Heathfield North), Tom Guyton-Day (Heathfield South) and Kevin Balsdon (Hailsham South), but Hailsham North ward was a three-way marginal in 2019 and could again be closely contested between Chris Bryant of the Conservatives, Paul Holbrook of the Lib Dems and Rachel Chilton of the Greens.

Over on the coastal strip, the Conservatives are defending two of the five Seaford wards in by-elections to Lewes council. Both Seaford East (defended by Richard Turner) and Seaford West (defended by Linda Wallraven) look safe enough; the Greens ran second in both wards last time, but the decision by the Lib Dems to contest these by-elections may split their vote. Lewes shares a lot of its services with Eastbourne council, where Conservative MP Caroline Ansell has vacated Sovereign ward; this is based on a relatively new marina development and as such is very unlike the rest of Eastbourne. Sovereign ward is safe Tory and their defending candidate is Kshama Shore. Finally, in the north of Eastbourne the Lib Dems defend a by-election in the very safe Hampden Park ward; their candidate is Josh Babarinde.

There are no scheduled local elections this year in Brighton and Hove, but there are two by-elections to the city council from wards in Caroline Lucas’ Pavilion constituency. Hollingdean and Stanmer ward runs out along the railway line towards Lewes up to and including the University of Sussex campus. This has been a Labour-Green marginal for the last decade, and in 2019 the ward split its representation between two Labour councillors and one Green. Labour’s Leila Erin-Jenkins will defend the by-election, the Greens’ Zoë John will hope to gain. Patcham ward lies on the northern edge of the city at the point where the road and railway line from London break through the South Downs; this is a safe Conservative ward which Anne Meadows should defend for the party.

Kent

Police and Crime Commissioner

Our final English PCC election is for the county of Kent, which returned independent candidate Ann Barnes as its first police and crime commissioner in 2012. Barnes retired in 2016 and the first round of the election to replace her saw Matthew Scott of the Conservatives top the poll with 33%. Second with 27% was UKIP candidate Henry Bolton, who subsequently had his fifteen minutes of fame as leader of that party. Labour’s Tristan Osborne finished third with 19% of the vote, while independent candidate Gurvinder Singh Sander polled 10%. Last of the six candidates that year was Steve Uncles of the English Democrats, who polled 3% and lost his deposit; Uncles was subsequently sent to prison for seven months for electoral fraud in the 2013 Kent county council elections, having submitted seven sets of nomination papers for English Democrats “candidates” who either hadn’t consented to their nomination or never existed in the first place. The run-off for the 2016 Kent PCC election was Conservative versus UKIP, with Scott beating Bolton by 54-46.

Matthew Scott is seeking re-election, and is opposed this time by two other candidates: Lola Oyewusi (who is also standing for the county council, in Sittingbourne South) for Labour and Graham Colley for the Lib Dems.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Kent county council and for one-third of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells councils. There are no local elections this year in the Medway towns.

Tunbridge Wells was extensively discussed by this column at the end of last year, as the 2019 local elections saw the Conservatives lose 13 of the 18 seats they were defending; one of the seats they held was won on the toss of a coin following a tied result in Paddock Wood West ward. To cut a long story short, a lot of that was down to proposals by the council for a new civic centre/theatre/underground car park complex which went down with the locals with, for want of a better word, disgust. That cunning plan has since fallen by the wayside, but the ruling Conservatives will have to rebound a heck of a lot from last year’s performance to hold onto their council majority.

Maidstone council (above) is hung and likely to remain so; a Lib Dem-Independent administration is currently in place. Maidstone is also home to Kent county council (below), whose Tory majority shouldn’t be in danger. The county council candidate lists have revealed a mistake by Labour who have managed to nominate two candidates for the Malling Central division (based on East and West Malling together with Larkfield off the M20 motorway); mind, Labour only polled 5% there in 2017 so this probably won’t cost them a seat. Sadly, the Labour candidate for Elham Valley division (a large swathe of the North Downs to the north of Folkestone) has died, and the poll there will be postponed to a later date.

The Conservative revival in the polls in late 2019 saw its first fruits on 17th October that year with a by-election gain in the Westcourt ward of Gravesham (Andrew’s Previews 2019, pages 323 and 329), a downmarket residential area in eastern Gravesend. That Westcourt poll was the first council by-election the Conservatives had gained from Labour in over a year. Well, we are back here again for a crucial local by-election to Gravesham council; if Labour lose this one as well, their council majority will go with it and they will be down to half of the seats. Karina O’Malley defends this Westcourt by-election for Labour, Samir Jassal challenges for the Conservatives.

The Conservatives have three other local by-elections to defend in western Kent. In the Darent valley there are by-elections to Dartford council from Darenth ward (Maria Kelly defending) and from the cumbersomely-named neighbouring ward of Wilmington, Sutton-at-Hone and Hawley (Ellenor Palmer defending). In Sevenoaks district the Tories defend a by-election in Brasted, Chevening and Sundridge ward, covering villages immediately to the west of Sevenoaks at the south-east corner of the M25 (Keith Bonin defending). None of these look in any danger.

East Kent’s by-elections have a rather left-wing bias to them. The by-election-prone Beaver ward in the south of Ashford town comes to the notice of this column for the fourth time in ten years, following the death of one of the Labour councillors; Dylan Jones is the defending Labour candidate for a ward that should be safe enough for them. In Dover district Labour defend Mill Hill ward, the western of the four wards covering Deal: Jeffrey Loffman is the Labour candidate here in a ward that had good showings in 2019 for both the Conservatives (who have selected David Hawkes) and the Greens (Mike Eddy).

We finally get around to the by-election in the Newington ward of Thanet, which I previewed all the way back on 19th March 2020 but which was pulled by the returning officer due to the pandemic. All four candidates who were nominated in that aborted poll have returned, with Mary King favoured to hold for Labour. Newington ward is in Ramsgate as is Central Harbour ward, which split its three seats between Labour and the Greens in 2019; confusingly, the defending Labour candidate has the name David Green, while the Greens have selected Tricia Austin. Over in Margate we have a by-election in the Dane Valley ward which is defended by the Thanet Independents, the main remnant of the UKIP group which won a majority on Thanet council in 2019. Dane Valley voted Conservative in 2007, Labour at a December 2009 by-election and in 2011, then UKIP in 2015 before splitting its three seats in 2019 between the two Thanet Independents candidates and Labour, with the Tories close behind. All three candidates for this Dane Valley by-election will feel they have realistic chances of winning: Mark Websper defends for the Thanet Independents, Martin Boyd is the Labour candidate, David Wallin stands for the Conservatives.

These three by-elections could be crucial to the future direction of Thanet council. The 2019 Thanet election returned 25 Conservative councillors, 20 Labour, 7 Thanet Independents, 3 Greens and 1 independent; a Conservative minority administration was originally installed, then deposed in favour of a Labour minority administration. The Labour council leader has recently resigned in an attempt to stave off a counter-coup attempt; a new leader will be elected on 13th May once the results of these by-elections are known.

Further along the north Kent coast Labour defend the town of Sheerness, where they have held two out of three Swale council seats since the current ward was introduced in 2015. The other seat went to UKIP in 2015 and to an independent candidate in 2019, so this by-election could be tricky to hold given the presence of a candidate from the Swale Independents council group. Nicola Nelson is the Labour candidate, Dolley White stands for the Swale Independents.

The only Conservative by-election defence in East Kent is the Swalecliffe ward of Whitstable, after Ian Thomas – who represented the area on both Canterbury council and Kent county council – took his own life after being arrested on suspicion of sexual assault. The by-election is for Canterbury council only, and the defending Conservative candidate is Mark Dance.

In Canterbury proper we have a by-election for the city-centre Westgate ward. This was the destination point for many pilgrimages to the shrine of Thomas Becket over the centuries, so it’s fitting that our tour of England’s local by-elections on 6th May 2021 ends here. Since it was redrawn in 2015 Westgate ward has returned councillors from all three main parties, with a Labour gain from the Conservatives at a by-election on 8th June 2017 (Andrew’s Previews 2017, page 157) presaging the Labour gain of the parliamentary seat later on that election night. The May 2019 poll here returned one Lib Dem and two Labour councillors, with the Conservatives now out of the running. Pip Hazelton defends for Labour, Alex Lister will try to gain for the Lib Dems.

Coming soon: the concluding Part IV of Andrew’s Previews for 6th May 2021, covering the Tees Valley and the Hartlepool by-election.

Andrew Teale