Previewing the council by-elections of 26 August 2021

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

Four by-elections on 26th August 2021:

Corby and Hayton

Cumbria county council; caused by the resignation of independent councillor William Graham.

Cumbria CC, Corby/Hayton

We start the week in the north with our rural by-election. The Corby and Hayton division of Cumbria county council covers the northern end of the Pennines, as the 621-metre summit of Cold Fell – the most northerly mountain not just in the Pennines but also in Cumbria – lies within the division boundary. On the slopes running down from Cold Fell north to Hallbankgate and west to the River Eden lie seven-and-a-half rural parishes.

The half refers to Great Corby, which lies directly across the Eden from the village of Wetheral and is part of Wetheral parish. The river is crossed here by Corby Bridge, a very early railway viaduct: the bridge has carried the Newcastle-Carlisle railway line across the Eden since 1834. A footpath runs next to the line, giving Great Corby’s residents easy access to the railway station in Wetheral. The Hayton element of the division name refers to the village of Hayton which is located midway between Great Corby and Brampton; there is another Hayton in Cumbria, near Aspatria, so it’s important to get the location right here.

This area has a commuter profile, with Carlisle – the largest city for miles around – not that far away. However, its electoral history has been dominated for some years by William Graham, who has served on Hayton parish council for 40 years. Graham, who contested all of his elections as an independent candidate, won a by-election to Carlisle city council in 1995 and held Hayton ward on that council until his retirement in 2016. He failed in an attempt to return in 2019 (following boundary changes, he was the runner-up in the new Wetheral and Corby ward). Graham served as Mayor of Carlisle in 2009-10.

Cumbria CC, 2017

Graham was first elected to Cumbria county council for this division in 2013 and was re-elected for a second term in 2017, on that occasion defeating the Conservative candidate by 48-35. Now aged 80, he is standing down from the county council on health grounds. He might well have retired if the May 2021 Cumbria county council elections had gone ahead, but they were cancelled pending reorganisation of the county’s local government.

That reorganisation meant that the 2021 Carlisle city elections were cancelled as well. The most recent city elections were held in 2019 with new ward boundaries: Great Corby is part of the Wetheral and Corby ward which returned a full slate of Conservative councillors, while the rest of the division is covered by Brampton and Fellside ward which split its three seats between two Conservatives and an independent. The whole division is covered by the Penrith and the Border constituency, which has been Conservative-held for many years.

No new independent candidate has come forward to replace Graham, so there are a lot of votes up for grabs. The Conservatives, who were runners-up last time and represented the area on the county council before Graham’s win, have selected Tim Cheetham, who lives within the division in Hallbankgate. Cheetham is a former Army warrant officer, with service in Northern Ireland to his credit, who has organised the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal in North Cumbria for some years. In a straight fight Cheetham is opposed only by Roger Dobson of the Liberal Democrats. A retired Human Resources professional, Dobson started his local government career some years ago as a community councillor in Anglesey; he was a Labour candidate for Anglesey county council in 2017 before joining the Lib Dems. Dobson also lives within the ward, and he is a parish councillor in Cumwhitton.

Parliamentary constituency: Penrith and The Border
Carlisle city wards: Brampton and Fellside (Carlatton, Castle Carrock, Cumrew, Cumwhitton, Farlam, Hayton and Midgeholme parishes), Wetheral and Corby (part of Wetheral parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Carlisle
Postcode districts: CA4, CA8

Tim Cheetham (C)
Roger Dobson (LD)

May 2017 result Ind 830 C 608 LD 177 Grn 124
May 2013 result Ind 1083 C 390

Graig

Newport council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Margaret Cornelious.

Newport, Graig

For our Welsh by-election this week we come to another area which is noted for a very old railway viaduct. In fact the Bassaleg Viaduct, built in 1826 over the Ebbw River for the Rumney Railway, is claimed to be the oldest operational railway viaduct in the world. Unlike Corby Bridge, the Bassaleg Viaduct is no longer in passenger service: the line crossing the viaduct is a freight-only branch line serving a quarry in Machen.

The Graig division of Newport lies to the west of the city, outside the M4 motorway bypass. It is based on Bassaleg, a middle-class suburb from which many professionals commute to Newport or Cardiff: in the 2011 census Graig division was in the top 20 divisions in Wales for people employed in the financial and insurance sector. However, the area is also known for its rugby players: the current Wales flanker Aaron Wainwright and the grand-slam winning Wales captain Ryan Jones head a long list of Welsh (or, in the case of Stuart Barnes, English) rugby players who attended Bassaleg School, the local secondary school. Bassaleg School also educated the present Monmouth MP and Welsh Office minister David TC Davies, the former Welsh secretary Ron Davies, the recently-retired Archbishop of Wales John Davies and the present Green Party deputy leader and leadership candidate Amelia Womack.

The Graig division extends to the west along the A468 Newport-Caerphilly road to include the villages of Rhiwderin and Lower Machen. The Ebbw River forms the division’s north-eastern boundary, and new housing developments in this century have caused the village of Rogerstone to spill over the river into this division. The resulting Afon Village development and the adjoining Rogerstone branch of Morrison’s – built on the site previously occupied by Rogerstone power station – are cut off from the rest of this division by a hill and the A467 road. Afon Village will be transferred out of this division at the next Welsh local elections in May 2022.

Although this area voted Labour at the height of their powers in the 1990s, Graig is essentially a Conservative area and has voted for that party at every election this century. Margaret Cornelious was first elected here in 1990 and has continuous service since 1999; she served as Mayor of Newport in 2011-12. She is stepping down on health grounds.

Newport, 2017

At the most recent Welsh local elections in May 2017 the Conservatives led Labour here 47-38. Since then we have had four elections for the marginal Newport West constituency, including an April 2019 parliamentary by-election following the death of long-serving Labour MP Paul Flynn. Ruth Jones, the Labour winner of that by-election, was re-elected in December 2019 with a reduced majority of 902 votes over the Conservatives. In May’s Senedd election Newport West constituency of the Senedd re-elected Labour MS Jayne Bryant with a much larger majority of 3,906, although there was a small swing to the Conservatives here.

So, a marginal division in a marginal constituency. We should watch this one closely. Defending for the Conservatives is John Jones, who runs a recruitment agency in Newport and has lived in the division for some years. The Labour candidate is John Harris, who represents Bassaleg on Graig community council; he was worked for the NHS for over 30 years. Completing the ballot paper is Jeff Evans for the Liberal Democrats.

Westminster and Senedd constituency: Newport West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode district: NP10

Jeff Evans (LD)
John Harris (Lab)
John Jones (C)

May 2017 result C 1026/976 Lab 825/758 LD 194 Grn 153
May 2012 result C 902/805 Lab 718/580 LD 169
May 2008 result C 1187/1070 Lab 589 LD 317/241
August 2005 by-election C 770 Lab 503 Grn 69
June 2004 result C 1030/798 Lab 626/577 LD 348

Princes Park; and
Strood North

Medway council; caused respectively by the deaths of Tashi Bhutia and Steve Iles. Both were elected as Conservatives, although Iles was sitting as an Independent Conservative.

Medway, Princes Park

We finish for the week with two by-elections in the Medway towns. To start with Princes Park ward, which is based on the area around Princes Avenue in the southern part of Chatham. This area was mostly developed in the 1980s, partially as a council estate: social renting here is relatively low now, but despite the presence of a number of schools within the boundary educational attainment is not particularly high. In the 2011 census Princes Park ward was in the top 50 in England and Wales for those educated to Level 2 (5 or more GCSE passes or equivalent, but no further).

Medway, Strood N

Down by the riverside we have the town of Strood, the only Medway Town on the western bank of the river. Strood has been a major crossing-point of the Medway since the days of the Romans, who built a bridge here their route from the Channel Ports from London. Then known as Watling Street, now as the A2 road, the Roman road now forms the southern boundary of Strood North ward.

In this week’s Cumbrian and Welsh by-elections we saw some very old railway viaducts. Strood goes to the other extreme with a very old railway tunnel, which was opened in 1824 as a canal tunnel linking the Medway towns to Gravesend. The Thames and Medway Canal was not a success, and in 1845 it was sold to the South Eastern Railway who converted Strood Tunnel into a railway tunnel. Strood railway station now has regular trains to London via the high speed route to St Pancras, and is the junction for the Medway Valley branch line to Maidstone and Paddock Wood.

Strood North has often been a marginal ward, and in the elections of 2007, 2011 and 2019 it split its three seats between one Labour and two Conservative councillors. On each of those occasions the winning Labour candidate was Stephen Hubbard who clearly has something of a personal vote. The May 2019 election saw the Conservative and Labour slates poll 32% each, with UKIP on 15% and the Greens on 12%. Princes Park has been marginal on occasion in the past but swung strongly to the Conservatives in the last decade; in May 2019 the vote shares here were 48% for the Conservatives, 28% for Labour and 25% for UKIP. Medway council went down the unitary route in the 1990s, so the only elections here in May were for Kent police and crime commissioner.

Medway, 2019

Both by-elections are to replace councillors who have recently died. Tashi Bhutia, who passed away last month, came to the UK after service as a Gurkha; he met his wife, Vicky, in Hong Kong while they were both serving in the Forces, and they settled in Chatham after marrying in 1980. Bhutia was first elected to Medway council in 2009, winning a by-election in Luton and Wayfield ward for the Conservatives; he transferred to the neighbouring Princes Park ward in 2015.

Steve Iles, who died in June at the age of 65, was first elected in 2015 but already had some experience of public life by then: his wife, Josie, was Mayor of Medway in 2013-14. Iles himself served as mayor in 2018-19 and was twice deputy mayor: however, his second term as deputy mayor of Medway was cut short in 2019 by a controversy over Islamophobic social media posts, which also saw him thrown out of the Conservative party. From then until his death Iles sat on the council as an Independent Conservative.

Defending Princes Park for the Conservatives is Robbie Lammas, a Parliamentary researcher who contested Luton and Wayfield ward in 2019. Labour have selected John Strevens, who fought the neighbouring Lordswood and Capstone ward last time out. UKIP have not returned, so the ballot paper is completed by Lib Dem John Castle, independent candidate Matt Durcan (who fought Rainham Central ward in 2019 and finished as a strong runner-up; he is endorsed by a localist Medway Independents slate) and Sonia Hyner for the Green Party.

The same five parties are contesting the Strood North by-election. Here the defending Conservative is Mark Joy, who was elected to Medway council in 2015 as a UKIP candidate from Strood South ward, but defected to the Conservatives in 2016. Joy contested Twydall ward in 2019, without success. The Labour candidate is Zöe van Dyke, who fought this ward in 2019; she has recently retired from a job as a mediator with UNISON. Again, there is no UKIP candidate this time. The Greens have selected Cat Jamieson, who fought Rochester West ward (where she lives) in 2019. Completing the ballot paper are independent Chris Spalding (who is also a Medway Independents candidate) and Alan Wells for the Liberal Democrats.

Finally, a shoutout is in order for Medway Elects, a rather flashy website which aims to create “the most in-depth array of electoral history for Medway available online”. The work already done is very impressive, and if you would like to see it for yourself their address is www.medwayelects.co.uk. Long may Medway Elects prosper.

Princes Park

Parliamentary constituency: Chatham and Aylesford
ONS Travel to Work Area: Medway
Postcode district: ME5

John Castle (LD)
Matt Durcan (Ind)
Sonia Hyner (Grn)
Robbie Lammas (C)
John Strevens (Lab)

May 2019 result C 962/951 Lab 554/494 UKIP 497
May 2015 result C 1811/1633 UKIP 1144/907 Lab 1029/821 TUSC 60
May 2011 result C 1488/1317 Lab 1014/968 EDP 200 LD 119
May 2007 result C 1068/1029 Lab 975/832 EDP 252 Medway Ind Party 176/144 BNP 153
May 2003 result C 662/570 Lab 541/484 BNP 205 LD 205/203

Strood North

Parliamentary constituency: Rochester and Strood
ONS Travel to Work Area: Medway
Postcode district: ME2

Cat Jamieson (Grn)
Mark Joy (C)
Chris Spalding (Ind)
Zöe van Dyke (Lab)
Alan Wells (LD)

May 2019 result C 1331/1200/1055 Lab 1313/1118/1037 UKIP 604 Grn 499 Ind 410/349/264
May 2015 result C 2673/2230/2138 Lab 1841/1636/1500 UKIP 1791/1630/1513 Grn 630 TUSC 195
May 2011 result C 2016/1988/1699 Lab 1764/1480/1390 LD 318/228/198 EDP 282 TUSC 212
May 2007 result C 1771/1732/1593 Lab 1609/1402/1365 LD 477/445/340 UKIP 345
May 2003 result C 1604/1537/1531 Lab 1444/1355/1262 LD 347/276/251 UKIP 146


If you enjoyed this preview, there are many more like it – going back to 2016 – in the Andrew’s Previews books, which are available to buy now (link). You can also support future previews by donating to the Local Elections Archive Project (link).

Andrew Teale