Council by-election previews (16 Sep 2021)

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

Four by-elections on 16th September 2021, with two Labour defences, one Conservatives and one case where it’s complicated:


Ealing council, London; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Lewis Cox.

We start the week in Outer London in the valley of the River Brent, which runs generally south-west from Hendon to join the Thames at Brentford. The Brent valley was a major obstacle to the builders of the Great Western Railway on their way out of London; the result was the Wharncliffe Viaduct, whose eight arches carry Brunel’s billiard-table over the valley. The viaduct was completed in 1838 and bears the coat of arms of the 1st Lord Wharncliffe, who piloted the GWR’s bill through Parliament.

The valley to the north of the Wharncliffe Viaduct is maintained as a country park, partly because of the risk of flooding from the river. It includes Hanwell Zoo, a small zoological garden with a variety of small mammals, reptiles and exotic birds to see.

Ealing, Hobbayne

Hanwell Zoo is part of the Hobbayne ward of Ealing, which lies between the river to the west and north, the Great Western railway line to the south and the Greenford branch railway line to the east. Hanwell and Drayton Green railway stations lie on the ward boundary, and Greenford Avenue links the ward together.

The ward’s census return shows a high immigrant population here. Hobbayne ward makes the top 20 wards in England and Wales for those born in Ireland (3.4%), the top 60 for those born in the new EU states (11.6%) and the top 80 for the White Other ethnic group (23.7%). The new EU immigrants are overwhelmingly Polish, and we shouldn’t be too surprised by this: Ealing borough is home to one of the UK’s longest-established Polish communities.

Ealing, 2018

Hobbayne ward has swung a mile to the left in the last decade after electing both Conservative and Labour councillors in 2006 and 2010. The most recent ordinary London borough elections were in 2018, when Labour won here with 51% against 20% for the Conservatives and 13% for the Greens. One of the Labour councillors, Anna Tomlinson, died from cancer in June 2020; the resulting by-election, which couldn’t be held until May 2021, saw a swing to the Conservatives with 48% for Labour, 30% for the Conservatives and 13% for the Green Party.

We can compare and contrast this by-election result with the votes in the London Mayor and Assembly elections which took place on the same day. The ward breakdowns for the GLA elections exclude postal votes, which are tallied separately; the on-the-day vote gave 42% to Sadiq Khan for Labour, 32% to Shaun Bailey for the Conservatives and 9% to Siân Berry of the Green Party. In the London Members ballot Labour also polled 42%, against 28% for the Conservatives and 14% for the Greens. Taking into account that the GLA election had much longer ballot papers, the differences from the council by-election are not that great.

The voters of Hobbayne are going back to the polls for the second time in four months following the resignation in May of Labour councillor Lewis Cox, who had first been elected in 2018 and was in his first term office. He does not appear to be happy with the leadership of Ealing council’s ruling Labour group.

Defending for Labour is Claire Tighe who is contesting her second Ealing by-election of the year; in May she stood in another poll for the Conservative-held Ealing Broadway ward. Tighe is vice-chair of the Labour Party Irish Society, and currently works in Keir Starmer’s office. The Conservatives have reselected David Castle who was runner-up here in May’s by-election; he is a law student, and like Tighe has worked alongside MPs in Westminster. The Greens have changed candidate to Alan Anderson, an editor for a health and wellbeing website. Completing the ballot paper are two other returning candidates from May’s by-election, Alastair Mitton for the Liberal Democrats and Tony Gill for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

Parliamentary constituency: Ealing North
London Assembly constituency: Ealing and Hillingdon
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: W7

Alan Anderson (Grn)
David Castle (C)
Tony Gill (TUSC)
Alastair Mitton (LD)
Claire Tighe (Lab)

May 2021 by-election Lab 2345 C 1477 Grn 609 LD 366 TUSC 56
May 2018 result Lab 2595/2579/2479 C 1009/979/961 Grn 669 LD 344/327/284 Duma Polska 266/254 Ind 210
May 2014 result Lab 2854/2790/2707 C 1533/1189/1140 Grn 716 LD 309/256/164
May 2010 result Lab 2673/2580/2425 C 2447/2007/1855 LD 1187/861/838 Grn 598 Ind 245
May 2006 result C 1532/1319/1184 Lab 1298/1109/1039 LD 648/640/583 Grn 589
May 2002 result Lab 1501/1436/1374 C 879/824/776 LD 428/392/349 Grn 368

May 2021 GLA result (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1009 C 756 Grn 222 LD 70 Omilana 63 Reclaim 45 London Real 39 Count Binface 30 Rejoin EU 26 Let London Live 20 Women’s Equality 19 Animal Welfare 17 Renew 13 Farah London 13 SDP 11 UKIP 11 Heritage 10 Burning Pink 7 Fosh 7 Obunge 3
London Members: Lab 1050 C 684 Grn 335 LD 112 Women’s Equality 52 Animal Welfare 51 Rejoin EU 41 CPA 25 London Real 24 Reform UK 24 UKIP 19 Heritage 14 Let London Live 11 TUSC 11 SDP 8 Comm 7 Londonpendence 6 Nat Lib 2


Malvern Hills council, Worcestershire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Tony Penn.

Malvern Hills, Tenbury

For our rural by-election this week we travel to the Teme Valley. The Teme starts off as a Welsh river, rising near Newtown, and flows east through Knighton and Ludlow to eventually merge with the Severn near Worcester.

This is an agricultural area with an unusual focus. The town of Tenbury Wells is well-known as the venue for the UK’s only mistletoe market, which take place in the run-up to Christmas each year. Outside the festive period, Tenbury has traditionally drawn an income from people coming to take the waters at the town’s mineral springs: the architecturally-striking Pump Rooms are now in the hands of Tenbury town council, who have their offices and meetings here.

It’s presumably the communication lines provided by the Teme valley that ensured Tenbury Wells ended up as part of Worcestershire. Tenbury, which has been a typical tiny Marches market town since the thirteenth century, is very much out on a limb within Worcestershire: this ward (consisting of five parishes, including Tenbury) forms a salient between Herefordshire to the south and Shropshire to the north. The main service centre and railhead for the town is Ludlow, further up the valley in Shropshire.

The Heath local government reform also took the view that the Herefordshire/Worcestershire county boundary was perhaps not the sanest. The 1974 big bang placed Tenbury Wells within the county of Hereford and Worcester and within the district of Leominster, which is a Herefordshire town but whose district took in much of north-western Worcestershire. This proved to be unpopular, and Hereford and Worcester were demerged in the 1990s. As a knock-on effect of this, Tenbury was transferred to the Malvern Hills district council in exchange for the Ledbury area, which returned to Herefordshire.

Malvern Hills, 2019

The present Malvern Hills council is hung after the Conservatives lost their majority in 2019. That year’s elections returned 13 Conservative councillors, 10 independents, 9 Lib Dems, 5 Greens and (for the first time in many years) a Labour councillor. The present administration is a coalition of the independents, the Greens and the Lib Dems. The Malvern Hills Liberal Democrats have since fallen apart a bit and there are only four Lib Dem councillors left here; most of the defectors have joined the ruling independent group.

The voters of Tenbury didn’t get to participate in this fun in 2019, because nobody stood against the Conservative slate of Tony Penn and Bridget Thomas who were therefore elected unopposed. Thomas was a new face; Penn was re-elected for his fourth term. The Conservatives have held both seats in the ward since 2007; in 2011 and 2015 they were opposed here only by Jonathan Morgan, who was an independent in 2011 and had the Labour nomination in 2015. On both of those occasions the scores were 70% for the Conservatives and 30% for Morgan. The Conservatives also polled 70% last May in the election for the Tenbury division of Worcestershire county council, which covers a larger area than this ward.

Tony Penn is a retired architect who grew up in Coventry during the Second World War, and he was in the city on the night of the Coventry Blitz in November 1940. With the passage of time, there are not many people left who can remember that night. Penn is now 87 years old, and he retired from the council in July to allow someone younger to take up his role.

Defending for the Conservatives is Liam Thompson, who was a candidate for the county council in May (he contested the Green-held Malvern Trinity division). Jonathan Morgan returns for his fifth attempt on Tenbury ward this century, again as the Labour candidate. The Tenbury town clerk Lesley Bruton is standing as an independent candidate, and she completes the ballot paper along with Jed Marson of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: West Worcestershire
Worcestershire county council division: Tenbury
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ludlow
Postcode districts: SY8, WR15

Lesley Bruton (Ind)
Jed Marson (LD)
Jonathan Morgan (Lab)
Liam Thompson (C)

May 2019 result 2 C unopposed
May 2015 result C 1414/991 Lab 618
May 2011 result C 966/730 Ind 416
May 2007 result C 1042/834 LD 451/419 Ind 269
May 2003 result C 748/675 Ind 691/324

Firth Park

Sheffield council, South Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Alan Law on health grounds.

Sheffield, Firth Park

Our remaining two by-elections this week are at opposite ends of traditional Yorkshire. We start in the city of Sheffield with a ward whose name derives from a prominent steelmaking firm of days gone by. Thomas Firth and Sons was set up in the 1840s and quickly grew: in the 1850s they had the largest rolling mill in Sheffield and a major contract with the Samuel Colt firearms company, making them a big player in the armaments market. Following a series of mergers over the last two centuries, Firth’s became one of the ancestors of the modern Sheffield Forgemasters.

Mark Firth, one of the eponymous Sons and a founder of the business, used much of his wealth in major philanthropic works in Sheffield. He was Master Cutler in 1867-9 and Mayor of Sheffield in 1874-5, founded the educational institution of Firth College (now part of Sheffield University), and in 1875 he presented 36 acres of land to Sheffield Corporation as a public park. Firth Park, located around four miles north-east of Sheffield city centre, was officially opened in August 1875 by the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII.

Firth Park gave its name to a neighbouring council estate which was developed between the two world wars on what was then the northern edge of Sheffield. This remains a working-class area full of council houses (a massive 51% of households here are socially rented), but manufacturing here is not what it was. The major employer in Firth Park today is the Northern General Hospital, which lies just south of the ward boundary. At the 2011 census 22% of the ward’s working adults were in human health and social work activities, which was the highest figure for any ward in Yorkshire and made the top 60 wards in England and Wales.

Sheffield city council fell into No Overall Control at the 2021 election, following controversy over the previous Labour administration’s policy of felling a large number of the trees on the city’s streets. The city is still Labour-led but the party now has to run Sheffield in coalition with the Green Party. There are currently 40 Labour (plus this vacancy) and 13 Green councillors opposed by 29 Lib Dems and a single Conservative. After a 15-year absence the Tories broke through onto Sheffield council in May, not in the middle-class areas of Hallam but in the isolated steelworking town of Stocksbridge.

One of Stocksbridge’s former city councillors was Alan Law, who was elected there in 1991 but lost his seat to the Lib Dems the following year. In 1994 Law was elected as a councillor for Firth Park ward, which he had represented continuously since then: he was re-elected in 1995, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2016, winning his tenth term of office in May this year. Firth Park is a safe Labour ward, and four months ago Law enjoyed a 57-24 majority over the Conservatives. He subsequently stepped down in July on health grounds.

Defending for Labour is Fran Belbin, a community activist who fought Walkley ward in May and lost a seat which Labour were defending to the Green Party. That council seat had previously been held by Olivia Blake, who was elected in December 2019 as the Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam; Blake resigned from the council after her election to Westminster, and because of the cancellation of the 2020 local elections her seat was left vacant for more than a year. This should be safer territory for Belbin. The Conservatives have reselected Steve Toone who was runner-up here in May; he chairs a local brass band committee and is a wheelchair user. Also standing are two more returning candidates from May, Marieanne Elliot for the Greens and independent April Worrall, who complete the ballot paper along with Irshad Akbar for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough
ONS Travel to Work Area: Sheffield
Postcode district: S5

Irshad Akbar (LD)
Fran Belbin (Lab)
Marieanne Elliot (Grn)
Steve Toone (C)
April Worrall (Ind)

May 2021 result Lab 1896 C 810 Grn 327 Ind 157 LD 153
May 2019 result Lab 1573 Grn 779 C 453 LD 270
May 2018 result Lab 1931 C 577 Grn 478 LD 287
May 2016 result Lab 2424/1916/1844 UKIP 752/622/577 Grn 443/305/246 C 302/239/198 LD 269/229/190


Middlesbrough council, North Yorkshire; caused by the death of councillor June Goodchild, who was elected for Labour but was sitting as an independent aligned to the town’s mayor.

Middlesbrough, Ladgate

We finish for the week in Teesside. The Ladgate ward is one of Middlesbrough’s outer estates, running along the western side of Stokesley Road and divided into two halves by Ladgate Lane. The two halves of the ward form a rather stark contrast. The northern half is the Easterside estate, a 1960s open-plan development with large amounts of green space. The southern half of the ward, around the Marton Manor primary school, is higher in both elevation and social class.

Teesside has been a disaster area for the Labour party in recent years, as can be seen from the re-election of the Conservative Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen in May by the thumping margin of 73-27 over the Labour candidate. On paper Middlesbrough is the strongest of the five Tees Valley boroughs for Labour, but the borough uses the elected mayoral system. The first Middlesbrough mayor was independent Ray “Robocop” Mallon, who served three terms before standing down in 2015. That year’s mayoral election was a very narrow win for Labour over new independent candidate Andy Preston, who resoundingly won the rematch in 2019.

The 2019 Middlesbrough mayoral election was combined with the Middlesbrough council election, which returned 23 independent councillors, 20 Labour and 3 Conservatives. Labour have performed very poorly in two subsequent by-elections: the independents held Park End and Beckfield ward in July 2019 (Andrew’s Previews 2019, page 191), and the Conservatives resoundingly held a seat in Coulby Newham ward in February 2020 despite their previous councillor having been charged with seven historic child sex offences. Having been charged in July 2019, his trial is now not due to begin until April 2022.

Coulby Newham, like most of Ladgate ward, is part of the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland constituency which the Conservatives gained against the national trend in June 2017. That snap election was called by Theresa May the weekend after another excellent Conservative performance in a Coulby Newham by-election in April 2017 (Andrew’s Previews 2017, page 99); the winner of that by-election is now the Conservative MP for Redcar.

Ladgate ward has been won by Labour at every election this century. There were no independent candidates here in 2019, and the Labour slate won by 60-40 in a straight fight with the Conservatives. That Labour slate included June Goodchild, who had been appointed MBE in 2007 for her voluntary work on the Easterside estate. Goodchild was first elected for the ward in 2015; she subsequently left Labour in 2020 and joined the council’s Middlesbrough Independent Group. (It’s quite difficult for an outsider to work out what is going on in the council, as there are three separate independent groups and the independent mayor all with their own agendas.)

June Goodchild passed away in July, aged 79. The by-election to replace her has a long ballot paper. Labour, who won the last election here, have selected Mick Thompson, who was their losing candidate in the 2019 Middlesbrough mayoral election; Thompson is a former Middlesbrough councillor currently working for UNISON. There are three competing independent candidates. The Middlesbrough Independent Group, which Goodchild was a member of when she died, have endorsed Tony Grainge: he is a community worker from Easterside and a school governor at Easterside Academy. The rival Middlesbrough Independent Councillors Association have endorsed Sharon Platt, a former marketing chief who is hoping to join her husband Jim (the former Middlesbrough and Northern Ireland goalkeeper) as a councillor. The third independent candidate on the ballot is Vic Hoban, who is a full-time carer for her daughter. Hoping to come through the middle of all this are the Conservatives, who have selected Lee Holmes: he is an NHS Responder volunteer and runs a small property business in Middlesbrough. Completing the ballot paper is Paul Hamilton for the Liberal Democrats, who are contesting Ladgate ward for the first time this century.

Parliamentary constituency: Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (most), Middlesbrough (Buckthorn Grove area)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Middlesbrough and Stockton
Postcode districts: TS4, TS5, TS7, TS8

Tony Grainge (Ind)
Paul Hamilton (LD)
Vic Hoban (Ind)
Lee Holmes (C)
Sharon Platt (Ind)
Mick Thompson (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 561/451 C 367/310
May 2015 result Lab 1070/946 C 516/399 UKIP 427

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