Previewing the council by-elections of 22 July 2021

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

It’s 22/7, and Andrew’s Previews wishes a happy Pi Approximation Day to all readers. To celebrate in this heatwave, let’s take a tour of the eight by-elections today in England and Wales. We have some hot electoral action to match this hot weather, with Labour defending three seats, two Conservative defences in Kent, a Lib Dem defence in London and, unusually, rather a focus on the Green Party. They have one defence and a good chance of a gain in an open seat which we start with:

Congresbury and Puxton

North Somerset council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Stuart Treadaway.

North Somerset, Congresbury and Puxton

Environmentalism has become a feature of our politics over the last few decades. The work which has already been done in this country is impressive. Within living memory there were times when the air we breathe was so polluted it could be impossible to see across a London street in choking fog, and the UK’s rivers were, in many cases, lifeless drains for industrial and agricultural chemicals.

How times have changed. Smoke no longer fills the air from every industrial or domestic chimney, and (unless it’s raining) the hills on the far horizons tempt the eye to look outwards for many miles from high viewpoints. Our coal-fired power stations now lie for the most part idle, superseded by wind turbines that rotate out to sea. Wheelie bins multiply and bring colour to our back yards, stopping our rubbish from going to waste. Our post-industrial landscapes have gone back to nature, which has taken up the task enthusiastically. The talk for the future is all of electric cars and environmental friendliness.

That doesn’t mean everything is well in the garden. There’s a lot to do to consolidate these gains and preserve them for the next generation. As usual, some of this will end up getting political; and in this argument there is one party whose raison d’être is environmentalism.

The Green Party has done very well at the ballot box in recent years. The most recent local elections cycle was their best ever: the party now has over 400 local councillors and is represented on more councils than ever before. The Greens run Brighton and Hove council as a minority, a Green-led administration has recently taken over in Lancaster, and the party participates in a number of ruling coalitions in other councils including North Somerset council. The Greens are now tied with Labour for the most council seats in Bristol, and are the official opposition in Mid Suffolk, Norwich and Solihull. Proportional representation has ensured that the Green Party has been consistently represented in the Scottish Parliament and the London Assembly since their formation over two decades ago, and the Greens’ single MP Caroline Lucas was re-elected in December 2019 for her fourth term of office.

Not bad work for a minor party whose core vote is not geographically concentrated, and which accordingly struggles with England’s first-past-the-post electoral system. Forty years ago, there were no Green councillors at all (indeed, the party was still known then by its previous name, the Ecology Party). Their breakthrough came in local government in the 1986 local elections in which the party won its first two council seats. One was won by John Marjoram, who was elected by the Trinity ward of Stroud council in Gloucestershire and was still a councillor there until he retired in May this year. The other was won by Richard Lawson. He was a GP from the village of Congresbury, located a few miles to the east of Weston-super-Mare in what was then the county of Avon, and he defeated an independent councillor to win the Congresbury ward of Woodspring council.

Once the Green Party get a foothold in a ward they have proven hard for other parties to shift. Congresbury continued to elect Dr Lawson and his Green successors continuously from 1986 until 2019. In that time, Woodspring council became a unitary council in 1995 under the name of North Somerset, and Congresbury ward was redrawn in 2015 and renamed as Congresbury and Puxton.

North Somerset, 2019

In 2019 the Green councillor Thomas Leimdorfer retired and the party didn’t nominate a candidate to succeed him. Into this political vacuum stepped the Liberal Democrats’ Stuart Treadaway, who defeated Labour by the score of 54-32. The Conservatives had been in second place last time, but fell to a poor third: they generally did badly in North Somerset in 2019, losing control of the council to an independent-led rainbow coalition.

This by-election is caused by Stuart Treadaway’s resignation. The Lib Dems have not nominated a candidate to succeed him, so we have a free-for-all! Second last time were Labour who have selected Dawn Parry, a former Conservative figure: she was a North Somerset councillor for Weston-super-Mare West ward from 2007 to 2011 and fought Newport East as the Conservative candidate in the 2010 general election. Today Parry is a parish councillor in Banwell, just to the south, and runs a film production company. The Conservatives have reselected their usual candidate for this ward Samantha Pepperall, who runs a stables in the village of Wick St Lawrence to the west. However, given the ward’s previous history the candidate to beat here is probably Phil Neve of the Green Party, whose LinkedIn profile describes him as “allegedly retired but not often unbusy”. Neve has recently retired (allegedly) from a career in designing and building energy-efficient and sustainable houses; he is the chairman of Wrington parish council to the east, and was the Green candidate for North Somerset in the December 2019 general election. Those are your three candidates.

Parliamentary constituency: Weston-super-Mare
ONS Travel to Work Area: Weston-super-Mare
Postcode districts: BS24, BS40, BS49

Phil Neve (Grn)
Dawn Parry (Lab)
Samantha Pepperall (C)

May 2019 result LD 664 Lab 391 C 166
May 2015 result Grn 1269 C 787 Lab 222

Tyn-y-nant

Rhondda Cynon Taf council, Glamorgan; caused by the death of Labour councillor Clayton Willis.

RCT, Tyn-y-nant

We cross the Bristol Channel for our Welsh by-election today. The village of Tynant, to give it the Anglicised name it’s usually known by in the area, lies around 4 miles south of Pontypridd; it has effectively merged with the neighbouring village of Beddau to the west to form a single urban area, although Beddau and Tynant are still separate wards of Rhondda Cynon Taf council. As with many villages in south Wales, Tynant is a former pit village which was dependent on its colliery: specifically Cwm Colliery, which was sunk in 1909 to provide coal for the Great Western Railway’s locomotives. Cwm Colliery closed in 1986, but the associated coking plant stayed in production all the way to 2002 and is still there today, lying derelict while arguments are made over its redevelopment.

Like many pit villages, the area’s best-known local heroes are sportsmen and women. A number of pupils at the secondary school for Beddau and Tynant, Bryn Celynnog, have gone on to play top-level sport: recent pupils here include the Paralympic table tennis player Sara Head and the legendary Wales prop of recent years Gethin Jenkins.

RhCT, 2017

Welsh local government was reorganised in 1995 creating the present Rhondda Cynon Taf council, and local man Clayton Willis had represented Tyn-y-nant continuously from then until his death last month at the age of 80. He had served on Rhondda Cynon Taf’s cabinet from 2004 to 2014. Willis enjoyed very large majorities in his ward: his final re-election in 2017 was with the unusually close lead of 72-28 over the Conservatives, who had stood here for the first time. The Conservatives only have a handful of seats on Rhondda Cynon Taf council, which has a large Labour majority: Plaid Cymru are the largest opposition party. Tyn-y-nant is part of the Pontypridd constituency, which comfortably re-elected Labour MS Mick Antoniw in May.

A quick note on the maps. The map at the top of this section shows the present boundaries of Tyn-y-nant ward, which were modified in 2017 following changes to the boundary between the Llantrisant Town and Llantwit Fardre communities; in particular, the Cwm Colliery site was transferred into this division from Llantwit Fardre division. The map of the 2017 election results has not been updated to reflect these changes and shows the previous boundaries of the ward. Apologies for any confusion.

Defending for Labour is Julie Barton, a media consultant who sits on Llantrisant community council for the neighbouring Beddau ward. The Conservatives have selected Rob Green, who gives an address in Church Village to the east of the ward. Completing the ballot paper is Ioan Bellin for Plaid Cymru. All the candidates have been interviewed by Wales Online, and you can find out more here (link).

Parliamentary and Senedd constituency: Pontypridd
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cardiff
Postcode district: CF38

Julie Barton (Lab)
Ioan Bellin (PC)
Rob Green (C)

May 2017 result Lab 557 C 215
May 2012 result Lab 791 PC 116
May 2008 result Lab 700 PC 223
June 2004 result Lab 675 PC 219
May 1999 result Lab 890 PC 285
May 1995 result Lab 1018 PC 165

Liscard

Wirral council, Merseyside; caused the resignation of Labour councillor Sarah Spoor.

Wirral, Liscard

From the land of Wales we come to the island of the Welsh, as “Wallasey” literally means. Liscard (which, appropriately enough, is a Celtic name) is the middle of three extensively built-up wards on the Mersey side of the Wirral peninsula, lying in between the docks of Seacombe to the south and the sands of New Brighton to the north. The pedestrianised Egremont Promenade gives excellent views over the river to the Liverpool docks, while inland the Cherry Tree shopping centre acts as a focal point for the ward. All of the ward is in the bottom half of the deprivation indices (most of it in the most deprived 20%), and just 23% of the population are educated to degree level.

This is a good point to pick up an article which this column’s genial host Ben Walker contributed to the New Statesman last month entitled “Which of the Conservatives’ “Blue Wall” seats are most vulnerable?” (link). Walker identified a number of deprived and/or Leave-voting areas in the Midlands and South, such as Shropshire and Worthing, which the Conservatives hold but where they are struggling in local elections. He goes on to say:

Here, again, are constituencies that have become more competitive despite supposedly favourable demographics for the Tories. This phenomenon, as also seen in areas such as Sunderland and the Wirral, could be attributed to parties being in power for prolonged periods of time without any effective opposition. In the instance of Sunderland and the Wirral, those establishments were Labour, but in the case of Worthing and Shropshire, they happened to be Conservative.

This column would have no difficulty agreeing with that assessment in the case of Sunderland, which has had a continuous Labour majority for decades; but with due respect to my host the Wirral is a bit of a different case. It’s not all Birkenhead. There are some seriously attractive areas on the peninsula like West Kirby and Hoylake which give the Conservatives a secure base on the council even in their worst years, and which returned a Conservative MP solidly until 1997. Wirral council had a Conservative majority from its creation in 1974 until 1986, and since then it has alternated between Labour majorities and hung councils. As recently as 2008-2011 the Conservatives were the largest party, with Labour then in majority control from 2012 to 2021 when the council became hung again. The latest composition is 29 Labour councillors (plus this vacancy) forming a minority administration, against 23 Conservatives, 6 Lib Dems, 5 Greens and 2 independents who, I think, were originally elected as Labour.

Wirral, 2021

Conservative majorities on the Wirral have historically always included Liscard ward, which had a full slate of Conservative councillors until 1984 and again from 2008 to 2010. The ward has swung strongly to the left since 2010 in line with most of Merseyside, and interestingly the Labour vote has held up a lot better in the Wallasey wards than it has in Birkenhead where the Greens (as can be seen from the map) are doing very well at the moment. The Green Party were a very distant third in Liscard in May, with Labour beating the Conservatives here 57-26.

Sarah Spoor has resigned as a Labour councillor just over two years into her first term, indicating that she had been unable to juggle her work, family and democratic commitments. Defending the by-election to replace her is Labour candidate Daisy Kenny, a business support co-ordinator. The Conservatives have reselected their candidate from May Jane Owens, who was appointed MBE in 2016 for services to education on the Wirral; she is the chair of governors at a number of local schools. Also standing are Edward Lamb for the Green Party, Sue Arrowsmith (who has fought the ward at the last three elections) for the Liberal Democrats, Gary Bergin for Reform UK and independent candidate Lynda Williams, who finished second here in 2014 and 2015 as the UKIP candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Wallasey
ONS Travel to Work Area: Birkenhead
Postcode districts: CH44, CH45

Sue Arrowsmith (LD)
Gary Bergin (Reform UK)
Daisy Kenny (Lab)
Edward Lamb (Grn)
Jane Owens (C)
Lynda Williams (Ind)

May 2021 result Lab 1898 C 875 Grn 271 LD 221 Reform UK 71
May 2019 result Lab 1733 C 609 UKIP 374 Grn 360 LD 319
May 2018 result Lab 2241 C 756 LD 337 Grn 190
May 2016 double vacancy Lab 2240/1672 C 690/427 UKIP 504 Grn 338 LD 280
May 2015 result Lab 4397 UKIP 1352 LD 578 Grn 542 TUSC 118
May 2014 result Lab 1619 UKIP 815 C 649 Grn 273 LD 94
May 2012 result Lab 1882 C 1261 UKIP 400 Grn 230
May 2011 result Lab 2523 C 1673 UKIP 204 Grn 146 LD 121
May 2010 result Lab 3220 C 2474 LD 718 UKIP 238 Grn 231
May 2008 result C 2122 Lab 1369 UKIP 304 LD 195 Grn 159
May 2007 result C 2116 Lab 1609 LD 244 UKIP 149 Grn 143
May 2006 result C 2047 Lab 1396 LD 286 Grn 209 UKIP 166
June 2004 result Lab 1908/1789/1776 C 1760/1516/1450 LD 653/630/590

Humberstone and Hamilton

Leicester council; caused by the death of councillor John Thomas, who was elected for Labour but had been sitting as an independent.

Leicester, Humberstone and Hamilton

For our final Labour defence this week we come to the north-east corner of the city of Leicester. As the compound name suggests, Humberstone and Hamilton ward covers a number of different areas of the city: Humberstone itself is an old village which has been absorbed by Leicester’s growth, Humberstone Garden is a garden city-style development from the turn of the 20th century, while Hamilton is a modern estate on the edge of the city. The ward is majority non-white and makes the top 40 wards in England and Wales for Hinduism (21% of the population).

This ward is part of the Leicester East constituency, which has been on the potential parliamentary by-election watchlist for some considerable time due to the behaviour of its MPs. From 1987 to 2019 it was represented by someone whose whose parliamentary career was not exactly a quiet one, the Labour MP Keith Vaz. (Apologies to any readers who may have been playing the Keith Vaz game). Vaz was replaced in 2019 by Islington Labour councillor Claudia Webbe, who was subsequently charged with harassment: she was due to stand trial in March this year, but the trial had to be adjourned after her defence barrister was taken ill and had to be sent to hospital. Also in March Webbe resigned her previous elected role on Islington council in London, and the by-election to replace her there was duly held in May.

The selection process that produced Webbe had been controversial, and was one factor in the resignation from the Labour party of Humberstone and Hamilton ward councillor John Thomas, a former Lord Mayor of Leicester who had been chair of the party’s Leicester East branch. He was first elected to the city council in 1993 and had continuous service since 1999. In 2019 Thomas transferred to Humberstone and Hamilton ward which is, like most of the city, a safe Labour area: the Labour slate polled 49% of the vote that May against 26% for the Conservatives and 15% for the Green Party. John Thomas died in May after a long illness, aged 77.

Leicester, 2019

Thomas’ resignation from Labour made no difference to the running of Leicester council, which has a directly-elected Labour mayor (Sir Peter Soulsby), and where the 2019 elections returned 53 Labour council seats out of a possible 54. The one that got away is a Liberal Democrat seat in Aylestone ward, at the other end of the city.

Defending for Labour is Abdul Abdul Ghafoor. The Conservatives have selected Daniel Crewe, a local builder. The Green candidate is Pam Bellinger, who appears to be linked to the local branch of Extinction Rebellion. Also standing are Bicram Athwal for the Liberal Democrats, David Haslett for the For Britain Movement and Raj Solanki for Reform UK.

Parliamentary constituency: Leicester East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode districts: LE5, LE7

Abdul Abdul Ghafoor (Lab)
Bicram Athwal (LD)
Pam Bellinger (Grn)
Daniel Crewe (C)
David Haslett (For Britain Movement)
Raj Solanki (Reform UK)

May 2019 result Lab 2095/1905/1895 C 1128/958/903 Grn 650 LD 421
May 2015 result Lab 3035/2759/2620 C 1983/1813/1624 UKIP 1021/9218/898 Grn 676 TUSC 368/320 Ind 205

Fortune Green

Camden council, London; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Flick Rea.

Camden, Fortune Green

We start the second half of this week’s Previews with two polls in what was once Middlesex. The county of Middlesex, of course, no longer exists except in the anachronistic dreams of the Association of British Counties, having been almost entirely swallowed up by the growth of London. One of the first parts of it to disappear, becoming part of the County of London in the 1880s, was Fortune Green.

Fortune Green itself is an area of open space between Finchley Road and the Midland railway line, adjacent to Hampstead Cemetery. The ward of the name is often linked with West Hampstead to the south; there are no railway or Underground stations within the boundary, although Kilburn underground station is just off the southern corner. Fortune Green’s census return from 2011 paints a picture of a generally middle-class area with very high levels of immigration from Ireland and other EU-15 countries: the ward was in the top 10 in England and Wales for those who did not answer the census’ religion question (21.2%) and also made the top 100 for the White Other ethnic group (25.6%) and for those educated to degree level (57.8%).

Until the advent of Coalition Fortune Green was a safe Liberal Democrat ward and a secure base for one of the party’s longest-serving councillors in London. Felicity “Flick” Rea had served as a councillor for this ward since 1986, and this by-election has come about because of her retirement after 35 years in office. It’s clearly her personal vote which has enabled her to hold on for so long: Labour drew level with the Lib Dems here in 2014 and have held the ward’s other two seats since then. The shares of the vote at the last Camden elections in 2018 were 36% each for the Lib Dems and Labour and 18% for the Conservatives. Camden council has a strong Labour majority, and Rea was one of only three Lib Dems elected to the council that year (the other two were in Belsize ward, a three-way marginal).

Camden, 2018

The Liberal Democrats generally do not perform well in London Assembly elections, and in May they placed fourth here in both the Mayoral and London Member ballots. The ward’s ballot boxes gave 47% to Sadiq Khan, 23% to the Conservatives’ Shaun Bailey and 10% to the Greens’ Siân Berry, who represents Highgate on Camden council; she narrowly beat the Lib Dems for third place. The London Members ballot split 41% for Labour, 20% for the Conservatives, 16% for the Greens and 14% for the Lib Dems.

So this could be a difficult defence for the Lib Dems’ Nancy Jirira, who won a by-election for this ward in February 2008 and served as a councillor for Fortune Green until losing her seat in 2014. (The Labour candidate she defeated in the 2008 by-election was Tulip Siddiq, who is now the MP for the local seat of Hampstead and Kilburn.) Jirira is a long-serving NHS nurse. Labour have selected Lorna Greenwood, who works in the arts and charity sector. Completing the ballot paper is a Conservative candidate whom the party intriguingly describe as “dry cleaner to the stars”: he is Ian Cohen, who previously stood in this ward in 2014.

Parliamentary constituency: Hampstead and Kilburn
London Assembly constituency: Barnet and Camden
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: NW2, NW3, NW6

Ian Cohen (C)
Lorna Greenwood (Lab)
Nancy Jirira (LD)

May 2018 result LD 1496/1209/1138 Lab 1468/1353/1326 C 758/663/659 Grn 378
May 2014 result LD 1151/950/865 Lab 1028/967/904 C 893/739/686 Grn 403/326/318
May 2010 result LD 2123/1898/1788 C 1342/1335/1326 Lab 1207/1190/1177 Grn 595/536/287
February 2008 by-election LD 1206 C 551 Lab 405 Grn 178
May 2006 result LD 1446/1187/1132 C 667/608/576 Lab 580/545/402 Grn 354/305/291
May 2002 result LD 1295/1121/1111 Lab 483/414/409 C 326/323/314 Grn 221/199/132

May 2021 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 986 C 477 Grn 214 LD 209 Omilana 41 Reclaim 37 Count Binface 21 Rejoin EU 19 Women’s Equality 19 Let London Live 17 London Real Party 16 UKIP 8 Animal Welfare 8 Obunge 8 Heritage Party 7 Farah London 6 Fosh 5 Renew 4 SDP 3 Burning Park 1
London Members: Lab 865 C 425 Grn 330 LD 291 Women’s Equality 49 Animal Welfare 40 Rejoin EU 30 Reform UK 16 UKIP 13 CPA 12 Let London Live 9 Heritage Party 8 Comm 7 London Real Party 6 Londonpendence 5 SDP 4 TUSC 4 National Liberal 2

Staines

Spelthorne council, Surrey; caused by the resignation of Green Party councillor Jan Doerful.

Big up da West Staines Massive there. Yes, we have come to the home town of Ali G, a character of Sacha Baron Cohen who first hit our screens on The Eleven O’Clock Show more than two decades ago. (God, that makes me feel old.) For the benefit of those who are too young, too old or too uncool to remember Ali G, his shtick was to conduct a series of interviews, like the one above, with public figures and celebrities with the intention of getting them to say or do something stupid.

Spelthorne, Staines

Ali G’s home town was of course Staines, a town on the north bank of the River Thames which was one of the few parts of Middlesex to escape incorporation into Greater London; it was instead transferred to Surrey in 1965. Since 1974 the parts of Surrey north of the Thames, including Staines-upon-Thames (as it now is), have formed the Spelthorne local government district.

Although Staines is outside Greater London, it is still within the M25 motorway and the town centre’s railway station has very frequent trains to Waterloo station. Staines is also just a few miles to the south of Heathrow Airport, which has been badly hit by the current public health emergency.

This drastic downturn in Spelthorne’s economy may spell bad news for the council. Spelthorne council’s Conservative leadership had a cunning plan to offset the effect of cuts to local government by investing heavily in commercial property which could generate a solid rental income. Since 2016 the council has borrowed more than £1 billion from the Public Works Loans Board – equivalent to around 100 years’ revenue – to buy a number of large office blocks and commercial developments in and around the district. While the developments are continuing to generate rent as intended, the council’s auditors were reportedly not happy and the amount of debt involved could leave the council badly exposed in the event that the economy turns down – oh.

The Conservatives suffered large losses in the May 2019 Spelthorne elections, although they kept their majority in the council chamber at the time. However, the above scandal has led to a major split in the Conservative group which has left the council in a rather unstable state. The May 2021 AGM deposed the rump of the ruling Conservatives and elected a Liberal Democrat leader, who has formed a coalition with the Independent Spelthorne Group which controls just 9 of the 39 council seats. Following a by-election gain from the Lib Dems in May in the neighbouring Staines South ward, the Conservatives have 18 seats on the council, the Lib Dems have 7, Labour have 2, the Greens have 1 plus this vacancy, and the remaining ten seats are split between four different independent groups.

Staines ward was one of the Conservatives’ losses in May 2019, with the Tories losing the three seats to a Green slate of two and a single Labour candidate. With the caveat that these partial slates make vote share calculations perhaps more unreliable than normal, the percentages were 39% for the Greens and 25% each for Labour and the Conservatives. The Staines division of Surrey county council (which is larger than this ward) was close in May between the Conservatives, an ex-UKIP independent candidate and the Greens. We have to go up to Parliamentary level for the Tories to breathe more easily: Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary and a member of the Trinity College, Cambridge team which won University Challenge in 1995, has represented the Spelthorne constituency since 2010 with large majorities.

So, this by-election needs watching closely. Defending for the Greens is Malcolm Beecher, who stood in May’s Surrey county elections in the Ashford division. The ward’s Labour councillor left the party in May to join a new Independent Labour group on the council, and it would appear that Labour here are still in some disarray from that: there is no Labour candidate in this by-election. The Conservatives have guaranteed a place at the bottom of the alphabetical ballot paper by selecting local man Michael Zenonos, who runs a logistics company. Also standing are Paul Couchman for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Gerald Gravett for Reform UK and independent candidate Paul West, who is a former UKIP figure.

Parliamentary constituency: Spelthorne
Surrey county council division: Staines
ONS Travel to Work Area: Slough and Heathrow
Postcode districts: TW18, TW19

Malcolm Beecher (Grn)
Paul Couchman (TUSC)
Gerald Gravett (Reform UK)
Paul West (Ind)
Michael Zenonos (C)

May 2019 result Grn 978/890 Lab 633 C 630/623/606 UKIP 297
May 2015 result C 1642/1610/1593 Lab 1144/673 Grn 1045 UKIP 905 Spelthorne Ind 699 TUSC 212
May 2011 result C 1179/1076/1069 LD 893/790/743
May 2007 result C 794/753/751 LD 520/439/432 Lab 260/223/210
May 2003 result C 686/681/667 LD 407/387/381 Lab 318

Cliftonville East

Thanet council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Lesley Game.

Thanet, Cliftonville East

Our final two by-elections next week come on the Kent coast. We start on the Isle of Thanet with Cliftonville East ward, the point where the north coast of Kent starts to curve southward towards the North Foreland. This ward is based on the Palm Bay estate, built in the 1930s overlooking the sandy beaches that turned Cliftonville into a seaside resort back in the day.

In the last section this column discussed the political instability and scandal surrounding Spelthorne council. Spelthorne have a lot to learn on both of those fronts from Thanet. The 2003 and 2007 Thanet elections returned a Conservative majority with a significant Labour opposition. Cliftonville East was a safe Conservative ward included in that majority, and from 2003 until 2010 ward councillor Sandy Ezekiel was leader of the council.

The Conservatives lost their majority in Thanet in 2011 against the national trend, and then the fun started. Initially they continued as a minority, but the independents who held the balance of power then deposed the Conservatives and installed a Labour minority administration. It then came out that Sandy Ezekiel had corruptly used the council’s inside information to buy two properties in Margate via an intermediary: on 1 March 2013 a jury at Maidstone Crown Court found Ezekiel guilty of four charges of misconduct in public office, and Mr Justice Nicol sentenced him to eighteen months’ imprisonment. A £2,000 confiscation order was added later.

Ezekiel did not resign from Thanet council following his conviction and sentence: instead he was disqualified as a councillor three weeks later, when the deadline to appeal against the conviction expired. Because of the timing of the disqualification, the resulting by-election had to be held a week after the 2013 Kent county council elections meaning that the voters of Cliftonville East were dragged out for elections on two consecutive weeks. On 2nd May 2013 UKIP won one of the two county council seats in Margate and Cliftonville division; on 9th May their candidate Rozanne Duncan won the Cliftonville East by-election.

Despite being on the north coast of the Isle of Thanet, Cliftonville East is included within the South Thanet parliamentary seat. This was the seat contested by the then UKIP leader Nigel Farage in the 2015 general election. He didn’t win, but UKIP had the consolation prize of winning an overall majority on Thanet council. This majority included two of the three seats in Cliftonville East ward, although outgoing UKIP councillor Rozanne Duncan was not one of them: she sought re-election as an independent, and performed very poorly. The remaining seat went to new Conservative councillor Lesley Game.

Thanet, 2019

The large UKIP group on Thanet council fell apart in a number of stages, and by the time of the May 2019 election they had been deposed and the Conservatives were back in minority control. That election returned another hung council with 25 Conservative councillors, 20 Labour, 7 Thanet Independents (the main remnant of the former UKIP group), 3 Greens and an independent. Cliftonville East ward reverted to safe Conservative status, with a 60-23 lead over Labour. The Conservative minority administration continued, but was deposed later that year with Labour taking control. The Labour leader resigned in April ahead of three by-elections in Thanet in May, in which Labour lost a seat to the Greens and a seat to the Conservatives, who also picked up a seat from the Thanet Independents. A counter-coup at May’s AGM resulted in the Conservatives taking back minority control of the council.

The May elections in Thanet also re-elected Lesley Game as the Kent county councillor for Cliftonville division. She has decided to stand down from Thanet council to concentrate on her county council role, provoking this by-election.

Defending for the Conservatives is Charlie Leys, a former Broadstairs and St Peter’s town councillor who was deputy mayor of that town in 2017-18 and 2018-19. He has recently completed a degree in international conflict analysis at the University of Kent. The Labour challenger is Don Challinger. Completing the ballot paper is the last-placed candidate from 2019, Kanndiss Riley of the Women’s Equality Party.

Parliamentary constituency: South Thanet
Kent county council division: Cliftonville
ONS Travel to Work Area: Margate and Ramsgate
Postcode districts: CT9, CT10

Don Challinger (Lab)
Charlie Leys (C)
Kandiss Riley (Women’s Equality)

May 2019 result C 1076/951/870 Lab 410/375/349 Women’s Equality Party 317
May 2015 result UKIP 1531/1354/1336 C 1349/1321/1261 Lab 614/611/603 Ind 228/201
May 2013 by-election UKIP 699 C 526 Lab 352 Ind 112 LD 32
May 2011 result C 1187/1165/1155 Ind 601/598 Lab 515/490/456 Grn 283
May 2007 result C 1381/1240/1225 Lab 574/522/452 Grn 352
May 2003 result C 1531/1400/1369 Lab 524/516/471

Alkham and Capel-le-Ferne

Dover council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor James Rose.

Dover, Alkham/Capel-le-Ferne

We finish on the south coast of Kent, atop the White Cliffs of Dover. On a clear day, the shore of France can be seen from here across the English Channel; in 1940 this put the village of Capel-le-Ferne, between Folkestone and Dover, on the front line of the Battle of Britain. In recent years this has been recognised by the Battle of Britain Memorial, opened in 1993 and expanded in 2015, which brings tourists to the cliffs south of Capel-le-Ferne. To the north of the village can be found the major transport arteries to Europe: the A20 to Dover on the ground, and the Channel Tunnel below.

Dover 2019

This ward at the terminus of the North Downs was created in 2019 as an expanded version of the former Capel-le-Ferne ward. Capel-le-Ferne ward was safe Conservative, and Alkham and Capel-le-Ferne has continued in that vein: its 2019 election, the only previous poll on the current boundaries, resulted in a 52-36 lead for the Conservatives over the Liberal Democrats. The ward is covered by the rural Dover West division of Kent county council, which is also safely Conservative.

There was some controversy over the Dover parliamentary seat in 2019, as the then Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke was awaiting trial on sexual assault charges when the December general election was confirmed. The Conservatives effectively deselected him in favour of his wife Natalie, who increased the Conservative majority. Mr Elphicke was subsequently found guilty of sexual assault and is now serving a two-year prison sentence. As we can see from subsequent election results, this controversy hasn’t had much effect on the electors of Dover.

Defending the Alkham and Capel-le-Ferne by-election for the Conservatives is Martin Hibbert, the vice-chairman of Alkham parish council; he is retired after a career as a manager at the Port of Dover and as a health and safety advisor. The Liberal Democrats have selected Roben Franklin, a politics student at Canterbury Christ Church University and chair of the party’s Dover branch. Also standing are Gordon Cowan for Labour and Nick Shread for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Dover
Kent county council division: Dover West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Folkestone and Dover
Postcode districts: CT15, CT18

Gordon Cowan (Lab)
Roben Franklin (LD)
Martin Hibbert (C)
Nick Shread (Grn)

May 2019 result C 455 LD 317 Lab 101


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Andrew Teale