Previewing the by-elections of 19 August 2021

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

Eight by-elections on 19th August 2021, with the Conservatives defending five seats, the Liberal Democrats two and the Scottish National Party one. Without further ado, we start with the big one:

Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner

Caused by the disqualification of Conservative PCC Jonathan Seed, who did not make his declaration of acceptance of office.

Welcome to the biggest by-election of 2021. You thought the recent parliamentary by-elections in Hartlepool, Chesham and Amersham, and Batley and Spen were big; well, this poll is more than twice as big as those three put together. We have a county-wide by-election for the Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner.

You might reasonably ask what the hell is going on here. We only had police and crime commissioner elections in May, and now there’s a by-election less than three months later? Well, bad luck is not involved here. The electors of the whole of Wiltshire are being called to the polls in the middle of the summer holidays, at a cost of £1,500,000 to the local council taxpayers, because of a series of failures and unintended consequences.

The story starts 29 years ago on 11 July 1992, when there was an incident in the village of Netheravon in Wiltshire. There was a hit-and-run car crash on the High Street; nobody was hurt but some damage was caused. The police caught the driver responsible: he was 34-year-old Jonathon Seed, a Royal Artillery officer, and tests revealed him to be nearly three times over the alcohol limit. Seed was charged with three offences arising from this incident: drink-driving, failure to stop at the scene of an accident, and failure to leave his name and address following a crash.

In March 1993 Seed appeared before Kennet magistrates and pleaded guilty to the first two offences, with the third charge being dropped. The magistrates fined him a total of £500 and disqualified him from driving for 18 months. And in most circumstances that would have been the end of the matter.

This column normally talks about by-elections to local government, and as a result your columnist knows what sort of court sentence can get you disqualified from being a local councillor. £500 and an 18-month driving ban, incurred 28 years ago, is nowhere near that threshold. Disqualification from being a local councillor kicks in if you have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of three months or more, including suspended sentences, within the last five years. There is one by-election coming up in the next few weeks where a councillor has fallen foul of this rule.

You can be far more of a crook than that and still be an MP, as we saw a couple of years ago with the case of Fiona Onasanya MP. She got four months in prison for perverting the course of justice, and had she still been a Cambridgeshire county councillor her political career would have ended then. However, it takes a twelve-month prison sentence to disqualify from Parliament, and the electors of Peterborough had to go through the hassle and expense of an election petition to force Onansanya off the green benches.

Jonathon Seed’s offences from 1993 are now spent convictions. This is thanks to the Rehabiliation of Offenders Act 1974, which (to quote from official Police advice) “aims to rehabilitate offenders by not making their past mistakes affect the rest of their lives if they have been on the right side of the law for some time”. And indeed Seed went on to a successful and laudable career: he eventually left the Army with the rank of Major, went into business and became the master of a hunt. Seed also went into politics: he has been a Wiltshire councillor since 2013, served on the council’s cabinet, had been an agent for a number of Conservative MPs, and had applied (unsuccessfully, as far as I can tell) to be a Conservative parliamentary candidate. In 2018 Seed was selected as the Conservative candidate for Wiltshire police and crime commissioner in succession to Angus Macpherson, who was intending to retire at the 2020 election (subsequently postponed to 2021 for obvious reasons) after two terms.

The police and crime commissionerships in England and Wales are one of the few surviving constitutional innovations of the 2010-15 Coalition government. The legislation and rules for their elections and eligibility were written by the Home Office, who don’t normally have anything to do with elections. And it shows. For those who know and work with the eligibility and by-election timing rules for local government, what the Home Office came up with is ludicrous in a number of aspects which directly affect this poll.

To start with eligibility: why are we having this by-election? The eligibility rules are set out in sections 64 to 69 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. To quote from the relevant parts of section 66 (subsections (3)(c) and (4)(a)(i)):

A person is disqualified from being elected as, or being, a police and crime commissioner if the person has been convicted in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man, of any imprisonable offence (whether or not sentenced to a term of imprisonment in respect of the offence).

For [this purpose] “imprisonable offence” means an offence for which a person who has attained the age of 18 years may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment.

There’s no time limit here. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act doesn’t apply. If you’ve ever been done over by the courts for something you could have been sent to prison for, whether you were actually sentenced to imprisonment or not, then you’re not qualified to be a police and crime commissioner.

This rule caught out a number of intended candidates when the first police and crime commissioner elections rolled around in darkest November of 2012. The most high-profile case was that of Simon Weston, the Falklands War veteran and charity fundraiser, who had intended to seek election as the PCC for South Wales. At the age of 14 Weston had been caught as a passenger in a car which some older friends of his had stolen, and he received a police caution for that. Opinion was divided as to whether this disqualified him, and in the end Weston did not stand in the election.

Section 66(3)(c) clearly does apply to Jonathon Seed. He has been convicted of two historic driving offences, both of which are imprisonable (both now and in 1993). Under the current law, the maximum penalty for both drink-driving and failure to stop at the scene of an accident is six months’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

Seed declared his previous convictions to the Conservative Party when he sought their nomination for the PCC position, and it appears he was wrongly advised by the party that he was eligible to stand. His nomination papers for the election included signing a declaration that “to the best of my knowledge and belief I am not disqualified from election as Police and Crime Commissioner”.

It took some fantastic work from the team of investigative journalists at ITV News, who deserve an award for this, to uncover the truth. Unfortunately, the story of Seed’s disqualification broke after polling day on Thursday 6 May 2021, but before the votes in the election were counted on the following Monday. On first preferences, Seed polled 41% of the vote against 17% each for the Lib Dems and Labour and 15% for an independent candidate. The Lib Dems beat Labour for second place by 866 votes and went through to the runoff, which Seed won 63-37. Accordingly, the returning officer declared Seed elected as PCC in the full knowledge that he was disqualified from the office. Sometimes you just have to do these things.

Which brings us to the second question: why is this by-election being held now, in the middle of the summer holidays? Well, this is another case of the PCC elections legislation being ludicrous. The timing rules for by-elections, set out in section 51 of the 2011 Act, say that (unless the term is within its last six months) PCC by-elections must be held within 35 working days of the vacancy occurring. Given that notice of election has to be published 25 working days before the poll, and the nomination deadline is 19 working days before the poll, this gives almost no flexibility for the polling day. One of these days we will end up with a PCC by-election having to be scheduled over the Christmas and New Year period because of this.

There has have already been one instance of a PCC by-election taking place in the summer holidays. That was the West Midlands PCC by-election of 21 August 2014, held after the death of the incumbent on 1 July. The turnout just about crawled over 10%.

For comparison, vacancies in Scottish local government, the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd have to be filled within three months. There is no deadline for filling vacancies in Parliament or in English and Welsh local government, although it’s considered bad form to leave seats vacant for months on end without a good reason.

Now, we are clearly more than 35 working days on from the May ordinary elections, so why hasn’t this poll happened already? Well, in order to take up the office of PCC (and its salary and pension benefits), Seed had to make a declaration of acceptance of office under section 70 of the 2011 Act. He chose not to do so for the police and crime commissionership (although Seed had also been re-elected to Wiltshire county council, which he is not disqualified from, and he did accept that office). The deadline for making the declaration was 7 July, and the returning officer could not confirm that the position was vacant and start the timetable for election until that date had passed. Inevitably, this resulted in a polling date in the second half of August. Well done everyone.

It might take a high-profile mess-up like the one involving Seed for the Conservatives to lose this by-election. As stated, they had a 63-37 lead over the Lib Dems in May, and the two previous PCC elections (in November 2012 and May 2016) were comfortable Conservative wins as well. Wiltshire is divided into seven parliamentary constituencies, which have returned a full slate of seven Conservative MPs since 2015. The Tories have had a majority of Wiltshire’s MPs continuously since 1924, with only the seat or seats based on Swindon having ever returned Labour MPs; the rest of the county has been true blue for 97 years with the exception of 2010, when the Liberal Democrats won the newly-drawn Chippenham seat.

Wiltshire, 2021

The May 2021 elections were combined with local elections in every one of Wiltshire’s 118 electoral wards: the 98 wards of Wiltshire council (above) were up for election in the ordinary course, the 2020 elections for one-third of Swindon council (below) were postponed to this year for obvious reasons, and there was a by-election in the one ward of Swindon which was not scheduled to hold an ordinary election. Adding up the votes cast across the county, the Conservatives polled 48%, the Lib Dems 22% and Labour 15% (the vast majority of which was from Swindon); the council seats split 77 to the Conservatives (including Jonathon Seed in Melksham Without West and Rural), 27 to the Lib Dems, 8 to Labour and 7 to independent candidates. The Conservatives have majorities on both councils, losing seats in Wiltshire in May but gaining seats in Swindon.

Swindon, 2021

Defending for the Conservatives is another ex-military officer. Like Jonathon Seed, Philip Wilkinson is ex-Royal Artillery; he has also served as a commando, as a Para and with the special forces in Northern Ireland. He was appointed MBE for his service in Northern Ireland, and promoted to OBE for writing the NATO manual on peace support operations. Since leaving the Army with the rank of Colonel, Wilkinson has worked on security with the Rwandan, Iraqi, Afghan (oh dear), Palestinian and most recently the Somali governments.

The Lib Dems have selected Brian Mathew, who is a Wiltshire county councillor for the Box and Colerne ward and also sits on the Wiltshire Police and Crime Panel. Mathew was the Lib Dem candidate for the North Wiltshire constituency in the last three general elections.

Standing again for Labour is Junab Ali, who finished third in May. Ali, who runs an electrical contracting business, is the chair of the Wiltshire Police and Crime Panel; he has sat on Swindon council since 2008, currently represents the town’s Central ward, and was Mayor of Swindon in 2018-19. In the 2010 general election Ali was the Labour candidate for the Devizes constituency.

Also returning is independent candidate Mike Rees, who finished in fourth place in May with 15% of the vote. Rees is a former Wiltshire Police detective inspector, who had a 30-year career with the force; he now runs a cleaning business.

Completing the ballot paper is Julian Malins, the Reform UK candidate, who finished sixth and last in May with 2% of the vote. The brother of the former Conservative MP Humfrey Malins, Julian is a former Alderman of the City of London and has been a Conservative parliamentary candidate in the past.

As with all police and crime commissioner elections the Supplementary Vote will be in use, and you can mark two preferences on your ballot paper. Polls will be open across Wiltshire from 7am to 10pm.

Parliamentary constituencies: Chippenham, Devizes, North Swindon, North Wiltshire, Salisbury, South Swindon, South West Wiltshire
ONS Travel to Work Areas: Salisbury, Swindon, Trowbridge
Postcode districts: BA2, BA11, BA12, BA13, BA14, BA15, GL7, GL8, GL9, RG17, SN1, SN2, SN3, SN4, SN5, SN6, SN8, SN9, SN10, SN11, SN12, SN13, SN14, SN15, SN16, SN25, SN26, SO51, SP1, SP2, SP3, SP4, SP5, SP6, SP7, SP9, SP11

Junab Ali (Lab)
Julian Malins (Reform UK)
Brian Mathew (LD)
Mike Rees (Ind)
Philip Wilkinson (C)

May 2021 result C 84885 LD 35013 Lab 34147 Ind 31722 Grn 16606 Reform UK 4348; runoff C 100003 LD 58074
May 2016 result C 56605 Lab 28166 LD 19294 UKIP 18434; runoff C 68622 Lab 39365
November 2012 result C 28558 Lab 16198 Ind 11446 LD 10130 UKIP 7250 Ind 5212; runoff C 35319 Lab 21157

Election Court Watch

The Election Court didn’t need to get involved in the wrongful election of Jonathon Seed in Wiltshire, but they have disposed of one of the petitions before them arising from May’s elections. This was the case of Cherry v Strangwood affecting the Banbury Ruscote division of Oxfordshire county council, in which the deputy returning officer for Cherwell had declared the Conservative candidate Jayne Strangwood to be elected with outgoing Labour county councillor Mark Cherry in second place. It was widely reported at the time that the vote totals for Cherry and Strangwood had been accidentally swapped around in the declaration, and at last week’s hearing the Election Court accepted this evidence. They have accordingly quashed Strangwood’s election and declared that Cherry was the rightful winner in Banbury Ruscote. With this Cherry added on top the Labour group on Oxfordshire county council has now increased to 16 councillors, while the Conservatives fall to 21 and are now tied with the Lib Dems for the status of largest party on the council. This is an increase in the majority for the pretentiously-named Oxfordshire Fair Deal Alliance, a coalition of the Lib Dems, Labour and Greens which runs the county council.


Dover council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor MJ Holloway.

Dover, Sandwich

We now turn to the seven local by-elections today in England and Scotland, starting in Sandwich. This is a Cinque Port, originally located on the estuary of the River Stour, but changes in the Kent coastline over the centuries have left Sandwich several miles away from the sea.

Back in the the day Sandwich was the scene of a number of French invasions which they don’t tell you about in GCSE history. In 1216 a French force under the future Louis VIII landed here, supporting the Barons’ side in the First Barons’ War against King John. The French were back in 1457 with a raiding party, burning much of Sandwich to the ground; one of the dead was the town’s mayor, and the present Mayor of Sandwich wears a black robe in memory of this incident.

In the space between the town and the sea is one of the world’s best-known links golf courses. Royal St George’s is the only golf course in the south of England on the Open Championship rota, and last month it hosted the 149th Open Championship won by the American Colin Morikawa. Ian Fleming was a member of Royal St George’s, and the course appears under an assumed name in the James Bond novel Goldfinger.

The town’s largest employer for many years was the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which has had a large base in Sandwich since 1954 concentrating on research and development. Pfizer scaled back its operations here in 2011, and their site is now operated as “Discovery Park” with other businesses having joined the site.

Dover, 2019

Sandwich is located at the northern end of the Dover local government district, and has consistently returned Conservative candidates at all levels of government in recent years. There were new boundaries in 2019 which reduced the number of councillors for the ward from three to two: the Conservative slate won with 34%, outgoing Conservative councillor Paul Carter polled 25% as an independent candidate, while the Lib Dems and Labour polled 14% each. The Sandwich division of Kent county council (which is larger than this ward) was safely Conservative in May, and the ward is part of the Conservative-held South Thanet constituency. This was the seat contested by UKIP leader in Nigel Farage in 2015, and UKIP ran riot in that year’s local elections across much of the constituency but did comparatively poorly here.

Outgoing councillor Michael John “MJ” Holloway had represented the ward since 2015. Previously he had been a senior official in the Diplomatic Service: he was the British Ambassador to Panama from 2011 to 2013, and before that from 2005 to 2010 he was the Foreign Office’s director for consular services in Iberia, work for which he was appointed OBE in 2009. Holloway was deputy leader of Dover council from October 2019 until his resignation in June 2021.

Defending for the Conservatives is Dan Friend, a Sandwich town councillor who runs a group of IT businesses in the town. In a straight fight, Friend is opposed by fellow Sandwich town councillor Anne Fox, a retired environmental health officer, who is the Liberal Democrat candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: South Thanet
Kent county council division: Sandwich
ONS Travel to Work Area: Margate and Ramsgate
Postcode districts: CT3, CT13

Anne Fox (LD)
Dan Friend (C)

May 2019 result C 883/872 Ind 639 LD 371 Lab 351/314 Grn 328

Downs North

Ashford council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Charles Dehnel.

Ashford, Downs N

We move inland within Kent to the North Downs. Or, as the ward name has it, Downs North. This ward covers four small parishes midway between Ashford and Canterbury, of which the largest is Chilham in the Great Stour valley. Chilham is a relatively unspoilt and very photogenic village which has appeared in several TV dramas, including the 2009 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma and editions of ITV’s Agatha Christie’s Marple and Poirot. That Poirot episode, set during a snowbound Christmas, heavily featured the village’s oldest building: Chilham Castle, which dates from 1174 and is still in private occupation. Until his death last year the castle’s occupier was Stuart Wheeler, the spread betting millionaire and former treasurer of the UK Independence Party.

Ashford, 2019

Wheeler had previously been a significant donor to the Conservative party, and the Downs North ward was traditionally a strong area for them. It survived a boundary review in 2019 unchanged, re-electing Tory councillor and former Grenadier Guards officer Stephen Dehnel with a relatively-low score of 47% of the vote; the Greens came second on 24% and the Lib Dems were third with 19%. Ashford’s 2019 results have just been added to the Local Elections Archive Project, and the above map comes to Andrew’s Previews hot off the press.

Sadly, Stephen Dehnel died very shortly afterwards. The by-election to replace him took place in July 2019 (Andrew’s Previews 2019, page 212) and saw a large ballot paper – with seven candidates in total – and an unusually close result for the ward. The Conservative candidate Charles Dehnel won the by-election to succeed his father on the council with a majority of just 39 votes, polling 37% of the vote against 31% for the Green Party and 11% for the Liberal Democrats.

Charles Dehnel has now stood down from Ashford council after two years in office, provoking the second Downs North by-election of this council term. Defending for the Conservatives is Sarah Williams, who was an independent candidate here in the July 2019 by-election; on that occasion she polled 17 votes and tied for last place with Labour. Williams is the chair of Molash parish council, one of the four parishes which make up this ward. The Green Party have reselected Geoff Meaden, who lives within the ward in the wonderfully-named village of Old Wives Lees and sits on Chilham parish council; he’s a former geography lecturer who has been in the Greens since the days when they were called the Ecology Party. Meaden was the Greens’ parliamentary candidate for Canterbury in 2010, was a close runner-up in the July 2019 by-election, and was also runner-up (although much further back) in May’s elections to Kent county council, where he contested the local division of Ashford Rural East. The Liberal Democrat candidate is Carol Wilcox, who stood in Ashford’s Bockhanger ward in the 2019 borough elections. Only the top three parties from the July 2019 by-election have returned, so that is your ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashford
Kent county council division: Ashford Rural East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ashford
Postcode districts: CT4, TN25

Geoff Meaden (Grn)
Carol Wilcox (LD)
Sarah Williams (C)

July 2019 by-election C 229 Grn 190 LD 70 Ashford Ind 67 UKIP 22 Lab 17 Ind 17
May 2019 result C 375 Grn 186 LD 148 Lab 82
May 2015 result C 932 Lab 291 Grn 290
May 2011 result C 580 Ashford Ind 279 Grn 162
May 2007 result C 511 Grn 240 LD 102
May 2003 result C 599 LD 158

Oakham South

Rutland council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Nick Woodley.

Rutland, Oakham S

The quiz I was playing at the weekend contained the following question:

In November 2020 McDonalds opened their first “restaurant” in England’s smallest county. This was in which town, the county town?

The answer expected was Oakham. Now, as this column has pointed out in the past the definition of those crucial words “smallest” and “county” can be rather troublesome; but Oakham is indeed the county town of Rutland which has claimed the title of England’s smallest county for many years.

The Oakham McDonald’s is on the northern edge of town, whereas today we are concentrating on Oakham South ward. This ward takes in part of the town centre but is mostly residential, covering a series of outlying estates on the southern edges of the town. It has only existed since 2019, having been created from the merger of two predecessor wards called Oakham South East and Oakham South West.

Both predecessor wards had by-elections which were described this column in 2018. Oakham South East ward had elected an independent and a Conservative councillor in 2015, and the March 2018 by-election (Andrew’s Previews 2018, page 102) resulted in the Conservatives losing their seat to another independent. The volatile Oakham South West ward had also elected an independent and a Conservative councillor in 2015, and the July 2018 by-election (Andrew’s Previews 2018, page 245) also resulted in the Conservatives losing their seat to another independent.

In the case of South West, thereby hangs a tale. The defending Conservatives fell to third position in a close three-way result, independent candidate Richard Alderman tied for first place with the Lib Dems’ Joanna Burrows on 177 votes each, and Alderman won the by-election on the returning officer’s drawing of lots. Very shortly afterwards newly-elected Councillor Alderman was arrested over some very dubious stuff on his Facebook aimed at the then-Prime Minister Theresa May and other high-profile MPs; he subsequently pleaded guilty to four charges of making menacing or grossly offensive social media posts, and was sentenced by Birmingham magistrates to a six-month community order and a six-month night-time curfew. The terms of his curfew prevented Alderman from attending council meetings, and he was subsequently kicked off Rutland council under the six-month non-attendance rule. By this time the May 2019 elections were imminent, so there was no further by-election to replace him.

The South West and South East wards were merged into a new Oakham South ward in 2019 as stated, with one fewer councillor than previously. Curiously, none of the four previous independent councillors sought re-election here, and the candidate list saw a Conservative slate of three opposed only by the Lib Dems’ Joanna Burrows. She topped the poll with 58%, the Conservative slate polling 42% and winning the other two seats by default.

Conservative councillor Nick Woodley resigned at the end of June in protest at a planning decision, which saw the Rutland council planning committee approve a new development of 62 homes on a greenbelt site off Braunstone Road within the ward. The by-election to replace him will again be a straight fight between the Conservatives and Lib Dems.

Defending for the Conservatives is Andy Burton, who has previous local government experience: he sat from 1999 to 2019 on East Riding council in Yorkshire (which we shall come to presently), representing Wolds Weighton ward, and held several portfolios in the council’s cabinet. Burton, who has recently been co-opted onto Oakham town council, runs a business advising farmers on sustainable agriculture. Challenging for the Liberal Democrats is Paul Browne, a retired solicitor who previously ran a large practice in the town. The local press reported that a number of fake ballot papers for this by-election were discovered in a public litter bin during the campaign (link), but there are security measures to guard against this sort of thing and electors can rest assured that the returning officer will only admit genuine ballots into the count.

Parliamentary constituency: Rutland and Melton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough
Postcode district: LE15

Paul Browne (LD)
Andy Burton (C)

May 2019 result LD 856 C 620/551/435

East Wolds and Coastal

East Riding council, East Yorkshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Paul Lisseter at the age of 58.

E Riding, E Wolds/Coastal

We move to the north of England, starting for once on the wrong side of the Pennines. The East Wolds and Coastal ward sprawls across an enormous area of the East Riding, covering twenty-one rural parishes between Bridlington to the east and Driffield to the west. With an area of 148 square miles, this was at one point the second-largest electoral ward in England (although subsequent reorganisations have seen it fall a long way down the table).

Back in the day the most important settlement in the ward was Kilham, which was an important market town on the old Roman road from York to Bridlington and had a larger population than Driffield. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries there was also a major centre at Skipsea, whose Norman castle – built around 1086, the year of Domesday – defended the region against Danish invaders. Today, with just over 3,000 electors on the roll, the largest population centre in this ward is Nafferton; this is a village just off the main road and on the railway line between Driffield and Bridlington.

E Riding, 2019

East Wolds and Coastal is a safe Conservative ward. (William) Paul Lisseter had represented the area since winning a by-election in May 2016 and was re-elected for a second term in 2019. He ran a housing development company. Earlier this year Lisseter had been suspended from the Conservative group over comments he made to a public inquiry into housing plans for the East Riding: he denied any wrongdoing, but was still sitting as an independent at the time of his sudden death in June.

The May 2019 election here had only three parties on the ballot, with the Conservatives beating the Green Party slate 56-31 and Labour being the only other party to stand. With Humberside county council being long gone, the only elections here in May were for Humberside police and crime commissioner.

Defending for the Conservatives is Charlie Dewhirst, who has previous local government experience: he sat from 2010 to 2018 on Hammersmith and Fulham council in London, representing Ravenscourt Park ward. (One of his ward colleagues was the political journalist Harry Phibbs.) Dewhirst has now returned to his native East Yorkshire and works as an adviser to the British pig industry. The Green Party have reselected John Scullion who was on their slate here in 2019; he is the local coordinator for the National Cycle Network charity Sustrans. Also standing are Daniel Vulliamy for Labour (who returns from 2019), Peter Astell for the Liberal Democrats and Kim Thomas for the Yorkshire Party.

Parliamentary constituency: East Yorkshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bridlington (part); Hull (part)
Postcode districts: YO15, YO16, YO25

Peter Astell (LD)
Charlie Dewhirst (C)
John Scullion (Grn)
Kim Thomas (Yorkshire Party)
Daniel Vulliamy (Lab)

May 2019 result C 2242/2072/1856 Grn 1222/928/757 Lab 522/522
May 2016 by-election C 1885 Lab 860 UKIP 835
May 2015 result C 4185/3788/3366 UKIP 2080 Lab 1527/1334 Grn 1393 LD 1040
May 2011 result C 2769/2595/2511 Grn 949 Lab 883/778/609 LD 470/431/418
May 2007 result C 2439/2347/2333 Grn 690 Ind 639 LD 568/533 Lab 477
May 2003 result C 2146/2055/2015 Lab 1046

Littlemoor; and

Ribble Valley council, Lancashire; caused respectively by the resignations of Liberal Democrat councillor Sue and Allan Knox.

We cross over the border to Lancashire for two Liberal Democrat defences in the town of Clitheroe. Located in the Ribble Valley some distance to the north of Blackburn, Clitheroe is based around Clitheroe Castle, a Norman building with one of the smallest keeps of any British castle. The town around it was a textile centre like much of Lancashire.

In 1902 Clitheroe gained the distinction of being first parliamentary seat won by the Labour Party at a by-election. The previous Liberal MP Sir Ughtred Kay-Shuttleworth had been elevated to the peerage, and David Shackleton of the Labour Representation Committee won the resulting by-election unopposed. The key to understanding this result is that at the time Clitheroe was not typical of the seat named after it, which from 1885 to 1918 was based on the fast-growing textile towns of Nelson and Colne on the far side of Pendle Hill. The seat was called Clitheroe because it took in the previous parliamentary borough of Clitheroe, which had been disenfranchised by the 1885 redistribution.

In the 21st century Clitheroe has a very different political context because it is the main town in the Ribble Valley local government district and parliamentary seat. Those units have Conservative majorities and Labour representatives are nowhere to be seen. Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans has represented the Ribble Valley constituency since 1992, while the 2019 elections to Ribble Valley council returned 28 Conservative councillors, 10 Lib Dems and 2 independents. The Liberal Democrat vote is strongly concentrated in Clitheroe town, which returned nine Lib Dem councillors and one Conservative.

Ribble Vy, Primrose

Littlemoor and Primrose are the two southern wards of Clitheroe. Primrose ward (above) runs south along the railway line towards Blackburn from Clitheroe Castle and the Booths supermarket, which lie at the ward’s northern end. (For the benefit of those who may be confused by this reference, Waitrose is the non-Lancashire equivalent of Booths.) Littlemoor ward (below) lies immediately to the east between the Whalley Road and the Pendle Road, which goes straight up the hill towards the Nick o’Pendle pass. In between the two is the Primrose nature reserve, a mill lodge which has recently been restored and opened to the public.

Ribble Vy, Littlemoor

Both of these are safe Liberal Democrat wards. The May 2019 elections, the only previous results on these boundaries, gave the Lib Dems leads of 58-24 over the Conservatives in Littlemoor and 60-24 over Labour in Primrose. Both wards are part of the Clitheroe division of Lancashire county council, which has the same boundaries as the town. This county division has consistently been a photofinish in recent years. The Lib Dems’ Allan Knox held the seat by 23 votes over the Conservatives in 2009; he finished third in a close three-way result in 2013, the Conservatives gaining the seat with a 45-vote majority over an independent; in 2017 the Tories were re-elected with a majority of five votes over the Lib Dems, and they increased their majority to 12 votes in May this year.

Ribble Valley, 2019

Former Lib Dem county councillor Allan Knox was the leader of the opposition on Ribble Valley council, having sat for Primrose ward since 1997, and his wife Susan had served as one of the councillors for Littlemoor ward since 2011. Both of them have previously served as Mayor of Clitheroe. They are relocating north of the border, where Sue has a new job in St Andrews.

Defending Littlemoor for the Lib Dems is Gaynor Hewitt. The Conservatives have selected Jimmy Newhouse, who runs a waste management company. Also standing in Littlemoor are Mandy Pollard for Labour and Anne Peplow for the Green Party.

The same four parties are contesting the Primrose by-election. Here the defending Lib Dem candidate is Kerry Fletcher, wife of St Mary’s ward councillor Stewart Fletcher. Labour have selected Michael Graveston, who was their county council candidate here in May. Katei Blezard for the Conservatives and Malcolm Peplow for the Greens complete the Primrose ballot paper.


Parliamentary constituency: Ribble Valley
Lancashire county council division: Clitheroe
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackburn
Postcode district: BB7

Gaynor Hewitt (LD)
Jimmy Newhouse (C)
Anne Peplow (Grn)
Mandy Pollard (Lab)

May 2019 result LD 474/411 C 193/151 Lab 151/150


Parliamentary constituency: Ribble Valley
Lancashire county council division: Clitheroe
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackburn
Postcode district: BB7

Katei Blezard (C)
Kerry Fletcher (LD)
Michael Graveston (Lab)
Malcolm Peplow (Grn)

May 2019 result LD 418/403 Lab 166/151 C 109/98

Mid Formartine

Aberdeenshire council, Scotland; caused by the resignation of Scottish National Party councillor Karen Adam.

Aberdeenshire, M Formartine

We finish north of the border in Aberdeenshire. Formartine (a Gaelic name meaning “Martin’s land”) is an agricultural area to the north and north-west of Aberdeen. This area has boomed in population in recent years, and commuting to the big city and engineering (connected to the North Sea oil industry) have added to the area’s economic mix in recent decades.

The main population centre in the Mid Formartine ward is Oldmeldrum, on the main road between Aberdeen and Banff. Oldmeldrum is home to one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries: Glen Garioch whisky has been made here since 1797, trading on the area’s reputation for producing Scotland’s finest barley.

The Mid Formartine ward runs south-east from Oldmeldrum through Pitmedden (home to the Highland League football team Formartine United) to the coast at Potterton and Balmedie. These lie just outside Aberdeen and as such are mostly commuter villages, although Balmedie does have some work of its own: part of the major sand-dune system here has been turned into the Trump International Golf Links, which have a Balmedie address but lie just outside the ward boundary. Unlike Royal St George’s which we discussed earlier, Trump International is yet to be added to the Open Championship rota.

This ward was created in 2007 and modified in 2012, losing some villages to the north to Turriff and District ward. In 2007 it elected two Lib Dems and one councillor each from the SNP and the Conservatives. For the 2012 election one of the Lib Dem councillors, Paul Johnston, was re-elected as an independent while the other lost his seat to the SNP.

Aberdeenshire, 2017

The Conservatives moved into first place here in 2017, polling 35% against 26% for the SNP, 21% for Johnston and 9% for the Lib Dems. As with many Aberdeenshire wards the Conservatives could have won two seats here in 2017 if they had stood two candidates; instead their transfers gave the final seat to the Lib Dems who gained a seat back from the SNP. New face Karen Adam defeated outgoing councillor Cryle Shand for the SNP seat; the other elected councillors for the ward were Jim Gifford of the Conservatives, independent Paul Johnston and Andrew Hassan of the Lib Dems. Gifford subsequently became leader of the council at the head of a Unionist coalition, but left the leadership and the Conservative party last year.

If we re-run the 2017 count for one seat, the Conservatives beat Johnston 52.5-47.5; a Conservative-SNP final two is more of a blowout, with a 59-41 lead for the Tories against the two SNP candidates.

As we can see, the SNP face an uphill struggle to hold this by-election. Their councillor Karen Adam was elected to the Scottish Parliament in May as the MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast, holding the seat by the narrow majority of 772 votes over the Conservatives. She was the first MSP to take the oath of office in British Sign Language (her father is deaf). Adam has resigned from Aberdeenshire council to concentrate on her duties in Holyrood.

Defending for the Scottish National Party is Jenny Nicol, who manages the post office in Potterton. The Conservatives also have a Potterton-based candidate, Sheila Powell. Jeff Goodhall, who was an independent candidate here in 2017 (polling 5% and finishing as runner-up), returns with the Lib Dem nomination and the unlikely endorsement of Jim Gifford, the former Conservative leader of Aberdeenshire council; Goodhall completes a four-strong ballot paper along with Peter Kennedy of the Scottish Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Gordon (almost all)
Scottish Parliament constituency: Aberdeenshire East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Aberdeen
Postcode districts: AB21, AB23, AB41, AB51, AB53

Jeff Goodhall (LD)
Peter Kennedy (Grn)
Jenny Nicol (SNP)

Sheila Powell (C)

May 2017 first preferences C 1797 SNP 1340 Ind 1070 LD 491 Ind 249 Lab 245

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Andrew Teale