Previewing the six council by-elections of 07 Oct 2021

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

Before we start this week, I regret that there is an entry for Correction Corner. In last week’s preview for the Hetton by-election in Sunderland I stated that independent candidate Maurice Allen was a disgraced former police officer. In fact the Maurice Allen who stood in the by-election is the son of the disgraced police officer of the same name. My apologies to both Maurice Allens for the error.

There are seven by-elections on 7th October 2021. It’s Tory conference week, and that party is on the front foot in the sense that they are not defending in any of the polls today. There are four Lib Dem seats up for election in Taunton, Surrey and greater Nottingham, in at least some of which the Conservatives might fancy their chances, and there is a wildcard Independent versus Labour contest in north Wales. But we start in England, in Nottingham proper, with two safe Labour defences…

St Ann’s; and
Sherwood

Nottingham council; caused respectively by the resignations of Labour councillors Chantal Lee and Lauren O’Grady.

Welcome to Nottingham, one of the three cities that vie for primacy over the East Midlands. Like many places north of the Trent, Nottingham boomed during the industrial revolution as a textile centre, specialising in the manufacture of lace. Also like many places north of the Trent, this led to rather a lot of poor-quality housing being built, much of which has now been redeveloped.

The patron saint of lace makers is St Anne, and a district of nineteenth-century housing north-east of the city centre for the working poor of Nottingham was named after her. St Ann’s has always been a poor area of Nottingham, and in the postwar period this led to a large number of Caribbean immigrants to Nottingham being housed here. There were race riots in St Ann’s in August 1958.

Nottingham, St Ann's

There has been a lot of redevelopment here as you might have seen from the acclaimed 2006 film This Is England, much of which was filmed in St Ann’s. The slum terraces have been replaced by new council estates, but the area is still at the wrong end of the deprivation indices and the demographic profile remains highly multicultural more than six decades after the St Ann’s riots. In the 2011 census St Ann’s ward (which then had slightly different boundaries) was number 2 of all the wards in England and Wales for mixed-race population, at 9.9%. (Number 1 was Princes Park ward in Liverpool, or in other words Toxteth: see Andrew’s Previews 2019, page 321.) St Ann’s also had the highest black population (13.9%) of any ward in the East Midlands. Nearly half of all the ward’s households are socially rented. As well as St Ann’s itself, the current ward boundaries take in part of the city centre including the Victoria Centre, a 1970s shopping mall built on the site of the former Nottingham Victoria railway station.

Nottingham, Sherwood

Nottingham’s Sherwood ward lies a mile or two north of the city centre, along the main road towards Mansfield. This ward takes in Nottingham City Hospital, a teaching hospital run by Nottingham University which is a major centre for cancer care and shoulder surgery.

Both of these wards form part of the Nottingham East parliamentary constituency, which is currently represented by the Baby of the House Nadia Whittome. Whittome was born in Nottingham in August 1996, which makes her now 25 years old, and is of mixed immigrant stock herself: her father is a Punjabi Sikh, her mother an Anglo-Indian Catholic. She was elected in December 2019 with a large majority in what is currently a safe Labour seat: the previous Labour MP Chris Leslie, who had defected to Change UK, lost his deposit seeking re-election under his new banner.

In local elections, the city of Nottingham (which, as we shall see, only covers a fraction of the city’s urban area) has swung a long way to the left over the last decade. Sherwood ward split its seats betwen two Labour and one Conservative councillor in 2003, but the Conservatives lost that seat in a by-election later that year. It’s now as safe as St Ann’s, whose vote shares change little from year to year.

Both outgoing councillors were first elected in 2019 and resigned just over halfway through their first terms of office. Councillor O’Grady of Sherwood ward was one of a number of Nottingham councillors who formed the board of Robin Hood Energy, a not-for-profit energy supplier which the council had set up in 2015. Robin Hood Energy inspired a number of other copycat municipal utility firms, all of which – given the cash-starved state of our local government – ran into financial trouble well before the current headwinds in the energy supply market. Nottingham council was eventually forced to close Robin Hood Energy down in September 2020, with the company’s customer accounts being sold to British Gas.

Nottingham, 2019

On revised boundaries at the May 2019 election, both St Ann’s and Sherwood wards gave 65% to the Labour slate and 14% to their nearest challengers – an independent in St Ann’s, the Conservatives in Sherwood. Labour won a clean sweep of all 50 Nottingham city council seats north of the Trent, with the five councillors for the isolated Clifton estate splitting three to an independent slate and two to the Conservatives.

Before turning to the candidate lists, we should pay tribute to one candidate who is not standing this time. David Bishop has been entertaining the returning officers of Nottingham and other areas for many years as a perennial election candidate, being one of those people who are prepared to fill out the paperwork and (in the case of a Parliamentary election) hand over £500 in order to get their picture on the TV from an election count while wearing fancy dress. The name of Bishop’s registration with the Electoral Commission – “Church of the Militant Elvis Party” – gives you an idea of what his fancy dress costume is. Time waits for none of us, and if you are old enough to remember Elvis Presley performing live you are now in a dwindling minority of the UK’s population. Bishop has recently passed the age of 75, and after a number of entertaining by-election campaigns over the last 24 years it would appear that he has finally decided to hang up his blue suede shoes. He never came anywhere near winning any of those contests, although he did notoriously once finish ahead of the Lib Dems in a by-election to Nottingham city council.

With Elvis having left the ballot, the voters in the St Ann’s and Sherwood by-elections will both have six candidates to choose from. In St Ann’s the defending Labour candidate is former Nottingham city councillor Corall Jenkins, who represented Clifton South ward from 2015 to 2019; Clifton South was abolished in boundary changes that year, and Jenkins lost re-election in the new Clifton East ward to the Nottingham Independents slate. That party have selected Franceso Lari to stand against Jenkins; Lari is a parish councillor for St Albans parish, just outside the Nottingham city limits on the northern edge of the built-up area, and he runs an IT company. Also standing are Ngoc Thanh Tran for the Conservatives, James Housley for the Lib Dems, Florence Chadwick for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, and Barbara Coulson for the Green Party.

The defending Labour candidate in Sherwood ward also has previous experience in local elections. Nayab Patel has recently moved to the city from Redditch in Worcestershire, and she was a Labour candidate for Redditch council in 2016, 2018 (losing a seat Labour were defending) and 2019. The Conservatives start second here and they have selected Alfie Pryor, who is described as having a wide background of experience in catering, the care sector and community work. The other four candidates are Alison Rouse for the Lib Dems, Colin Barratt for the Nottingham Independents, Catriona Sibert for the Green Party and Geraint Thomas for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

St Ann’s

Parliamentary constituency: Nottingham East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Nottingham
Postcode districts: NG1, NG2, NG3

Florence Chadwick (TUSC)
Barbara Coulson (Grn)
James Housley (LD)
Corall Jenkins (Lab)
Franesco Lari (Nottingham Ind)
Ngoc Thanh Tran (C)

May 2019 result Lab 1990/1900/1838 Ind 434 C 335/329/252 LD 322
Previous results in detail

Sherwood

Parliamentary constituency: Nottingham East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Nottingham
Postcode districts: NG3, NG5

Colin Barratt (Nottingham Ind)
Nayab Patel (Lab)
Alfie Pryor (C)
Alison Rouse (LD)
Catriona Sibert (Grn)
Geraint Thomas (TUSC)

May 2019 result Lab 2773/2715/2634 C 599/556/481 LD 529/490/406 UKIP 372/365/357
Previous results in detail

Musters

Rushcliffe council, Nottinghamshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Annie Major.

Rushcliffe, Musters

We now travel over the Trent to the southern end of Nottingham’s built-up area. Despite being the home of Nottingham Forest FC and Nottinghamshire county cricket club, West Bridgford – on the south side of the Trent Bridge – has never been incorporated into Nottingham and has always remained an independent town. This is a strongly middle-class area favoured by Nottingham’s professional classes, and in the 2011 census all of the top three wards in the East Midlands for people with degree-level qualifications were in West Bridgford. One of them is Musters ward.

Located in the south of the town, Musters ward is named after the Musters family, who owned much of the town – including the Trent Bridge cricket ground – until the First World War. The family placed strict restrictions on the housing along Musters Road when it was built, with tree-lined streets, minimum bedroom numbers and constraints on housing density. You can see why this has become a middle-class enclave. A majority of the ward’s workforce are in managerial or professional occupations, and Musters is in the top 75 in England and Wales (and number 2 in the East Midlands) for the ONS’ higher managerial and professional employment category.

The fact that the local secondary school is rather good helps this image too. The Rushcliffe Spencer Academy (recently renamed from “Rushcliffe School”) regularly comes near the top of the annual league tables for comprehensive schools, and its former pupils include one current MP (the South Yorkshire mayor Dan Jarvis), the Sun editor Victoria Newton (whose father served as deputy headmaster of the school), and a number of recent Olympic gymnasts.

Rushcliffe, 2019

This ward has been in Liberal Democrat hands since 2007. At the most recent elections to Rushcliffe council in May 2019 the Liberal Democrat slate had 57% of the vote, well ahead of the second-placed Conservatives on 23%. The ward is split between two divisions of Nottinghamshire county council, both of which remained in Conservative hands after May’s county elections. The Labour candidate for West Bridgford West in the May 2017 county elections was Nadia Whittome, in her first election campaign; four years on, her successor got a swing towards Labour which has turned the division marginal. None of Musters ward is in a marginal Parliamentary seat, though: Ken Clarke represented West Bridgford, as part of the Rushcliffe constituency, in the Tory interest for 49 years and his successor Ruth Edwards has a safe enough seat for now. Rushcliffe council also has a Conservative majority.

The Musters ward by-election follows the resignation of Lib Dem councillor Annie Majors, who had served since 2019 and was in her first term of office. She is relocating with her family to Switzerland.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Vicky Price, who runs an IT consultancy business: as a cricket fan, it’s appropriated that she contested her home Trent Bridge ward in May 2019. The Conservatives’ Paul Coe, a retired chemist, has also previously contested Trent Bridge ward, in 2003 and 2015; he is looking to return to Rushcliffe council after many years away, having previously represented the town’s Lady Bay ward between 1983 and 1991. Completing the ballot paper is Julie Chaplain for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Rushcliffe
Nottinghamshire county council division: West Bridgford West (part west of Musters Road), West Bridgford South (part east of Musters Road)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Nottingham
Postcode district: NG2

Julie Chaplain (Lab)
Paul Coe (C)
Vicky Price (LD)

May 2019 result LD 917/873 C 379/311 Lab 320/278
May 2015 result LD 1209/1158 C 814/723 Lab 596/586
Previous results in detail

Penyffordd

Flintshire council, Wales; caused by the death of independent councillor Dave Williams.

Flintshire, Penyffordd

For our wildcard this week we travel to north Wales, a few miles to the south-west of Chester. Penyffordd – “the summit of the road” – is a largish village on the road between Wrexham and Queensferry, in the Alyn valley. The valley forms an obvious communication link given the high ground of the Clwydian range to the west, and Penyffordd retains a railway station on the Borderlands line between Wrexham and the Wirral.

The Penyffordd ward runs along the main road to the north to take in the villages of Penymynydd and Dobs Hill, the latter lying on the busy A55 road through North Wales. The ward is in the top 10 wards in Wales for Apprenticeship qualifications, which is almost certainly driven by the nearby presence of the Airbus factory at Broughton. This employs 6,000 people making wings for Airbus commercial aircraft, and underpins the economy of this part of Flintshire.

Flintshire, 2017

This by-election could be crucial for control of Flintshire council. This has been hung since 2008, but the 2017 elections left Labour close to a majority with 34 seats; they run the council as a minority against 24 independents (plus this vacancy), six Conservatives and five Lib Dems. A gain in this by-election would give Labour half of the seats on the council.

Penyffordd’s local elections tend not to be exciting ones. Flintshire’s ward boundaries were last reviewed for the 1999 local elections, and ever since then the ward has returned one Labour councillor and one independent. No party other than Labour has stood here in that timeframe. The late Dave Williams had served since 2008, when he gained his seat from independent councillor Colin Bithell by 7 votes; the result that year gave 630 votes to new Labour councillor Cindy Hinds, 629 to Williams and 622 to Bithell. Williams increased his majority over Bithell to 201 votes in 2012, and that was the last contested election here. Nobody opposed Hinds and Williams at the last Welsh local elections in 2017, at which Penyffordd division’s boundaries were realigned to match changes to the community boundaries in the area (the map at the top shows the current boundaries, the Flintshire 2017 map hasn’t been updated and shows the old lines).

That electoral history is rather unusual, given this ward’s presence in a marginal Parliamentary seat. Alyn and Deeside has had only three MPs, all Labour, since it was created in 1950 under the name of East Flintshire; but Mark Tami, the last remaining Labour MP in North Wales, won his sixth term of office in December 2019 with a majority of just 213 votes over Conservative candidate Sanjoy Sen. (Your columnist has since had the pleasure of playing quiz against Sen: he knows his stuff.) This column extensively previewed Alyn and Deeside for the Senedd by-election there in February 2018 (Andrew’s Previews 2018, pages 38 to 46): Jack Sergeant, who held that by-election for Labour following the suicide of his father, was re-elected as the constituency’s MS in May by the convincing margin of 4,378.

However, yet again we have a Penyffordd contest which is entirely Labour versus Independent. There are three competing independent candidates seeking to take over Williams’ seat, all of whom are Penyffordd community councillors. To take them in ballot paper order, Pat Ransome has been on the community council on and off since the 1990s and she is a school governor at Ysgol Penyffordd; Steve Saxon is a former professional wrestler who works as a wrestling promoter and as general manager of the Red Lion in Penyffordd; and Roy Wakelam is the vice-chairman of the community council for 2021-22. Hoping to come through the middle of all this is community councillor Alasdair Ibbotson, who already has a parliamentary campaign under his belt: Ibbotson was the Green candidate for Alyn and Deeside in the 2015 general election, when he was 20 years old, but six years on he is now firmly in the Labour camp.

Parliamentary and Senedd constituency: Alyn and Deeside
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chester
Postcode districts: CH4, CH5, CH7

Alasdair Ibbotson (Lab)
Pat Ransome (Ind)
Steve Saxon (Ind)
Roy Wakelam (Ind)

May 2017 result Lab/Ind unopposed
May 2012 result Lab 812 Ind 563/362
May 2008 result Lab 630 Ind 629/622
June 2004 result Ind 694 Lab 693/446
May 1999 result Ind 758/607 Lab 696/451
Previous results in detail

Cranleigh East

Waverley council, Surrey; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Richard Cole.

Waverley, Cranleigh East

We now move to the Home Counties to consider one claimant for the hotly-contested title of “largest village in England”. Located around seven miles south of Guildford, Cranleigh parish contains around 11,000 souls most of whom live in Cranleigh itself. The ward is a centre for the local area but has few major industries: agriculture (in the form of plant nurseries) and the independent Cranleigh School form large sections of the local economy. Cranleigh is one of Surrey’s more remote areas, lying off the main roads and with Beeching having closed the local railway station many years ago.

The Cranleigh East ward contains most of the village and returns three members of Waverley council, which is named after Waverley Abbey and covers the towns to the west and south of Guildford. Farnham and Godalming are its main population centres. This district and the neighbouring Guildford district saw extraordinarily high Conservative losses in tha May 2019 local elections. In 2015 the Conservatives had won 53 seats on Waverley council out of a possible 57; four years later they crashed to 23 seats, with 15 going to the Farnham Residents slate, 14 to the Liberal Democrats, 2 each to Labour and the Green Party and one to an independent. The independent councillor died shortly afterwards and the resulting by-election in February 2020 returned another independent candidate (Andrew’s Previews 2020, page 37). All the non-Conservative councillors have formed a coalition to run the council.

Cranleigh East ward had a bit of a Lib Dem tradition from when that party had a majority on this council back in the Noughties. In 2003 the ward returned split representation of two Lib Dem councillors and one Conservative; the Lib Dems held their seat at a by-election in July 2004 and gained the Conservative seat in 2007. The Tories subsequently won a full slate in 2011 and 2015, on the latter occasion with a 45-25 lead over the Liberal Democrats (an independent finished third with 16%). So the 2019 result was a bit of a turnaround: the Lib Dem slate polled 45% and gained two seats from the Conservatives, who polled 39% and held one seat.

Waverley, 2019

Subsequent results have shown that this was not a flash in the pan. Cranleigh is part of the Guildford parliamentary seat, which saw a large swing to the Liberal Democrats in December 2019 and is now firmly in the marginal column. Matters on the Tory side were not helped by the outgoing Conservative MP for Guildford Anne Milton being thrown out of the party for voting in Parliament against a no-deal Brexit. Milton stood for re-election as an independent, and saved her deposit. Then, in the Surrey county council elections five months ago the Liberal Democrats narrowly gained the Cranleigh and Ewhurst division from the Conservatives. That seat had previously been safe Tory, and from 2009 to 2011 its county councillor was Jonathan Lord who is now the MP for Woking.

This by-election follows the resignation of Lib Dem district councillor Richard Cole, who had been the losing runner-up here in the 2017 county council elections. Cole has reportedly relocated to Devon. Like nearly all the ruling councillors in Waverley, he was in his first term on the council.

The candidate list for the by-election reveals a straight fight. Defending in the yellow corner is Philip Townsend, who runs a gardening firm and is the husband of the ward’s newly-elected county councillor Liz Townsend. Challenging from the blue corner is Rosemary Burbridge, a teacher who represents the ward on Cranleigh parish council.

I can’t leave Cranleigh without giving you some music. One of the most prolific composers you’ve never heard of, Derek Bourgeois (1941-2017), attended Cranleigh School and later became a music teacher there. For his first wedding in 1965 Bourgeois composed his Serenade, a lovely piece of music which was designed to be impossible to march to and therefore is rather a test for a military band. Bourgeois’s Serenade is on the programme for your columnist’s military band in our first concert back this weekend: if you can get to All Saints Church, Hindley, Wigan on Saturday night for 7:30pm, we’d love to see you in the audience.

Parliamentary constituency: Guildford
Surrey county council division: Cranleigh and Ewhurst
ONS Travel to Work Area: Guildford and Aldershot
Postcode district: GU6

Rosemary Burbridge (C)
Philip Townsend (LD)

May 2019 result LD 779/702/664 C 678/648/610 Lab 280
May 2015 result C 1652/1600/1570 LD 901/879/831 Ind 600 Lab 509/490
May 2011 result C 1219/1201/970 LD 850/804/745 Lab 394/387
May 2007 result LD 1237/1173/1170 C 1121/1093/1031
July 2004 by-election LD 936 C 855 Lab 156
May 2003 result LD 1029/975/884 C 915/836/803 Lab 228/210/189
Previous results in detail

Comeytrowe and Trull

Somerset county council; and

Wilton and Sherford

Somerset West and Taunton council; both caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Alan Wedderkopp.

We finish the week with yet another visit to the district of Somerset West and Taunton. This is getting beyond a joke, now. Somerset West and Taunton council has only existed for two-and-a-half-years, and this is the sixth by-election that has been held to it and the fourth this year. There are some councils out there that haven’t yet got to six by-elections so far this century. Sort it out, please.

Somerset CC, Comeytrowe and Trull

Anyway, we’re in the Somerset county council division of Comeytrowe and Trull. Trull parish covers the rural area immediately to the south of Taunton, but most of the division’s electors live in 1970s and 1980s estates on the southern fringe of Taunton. Although this is an integral part of the Taunton urban area, only the area of Wilton and Sherford ward (the north-east corner of the division, mapped below) is actually part of Taunton proper. Instead the majority of the electors live in the parish of Comeytrowe, which was created in 1986 from an area previously included in Trull parish.

SWAT, Wilton/Sherford

At the time of the 2011 census, this area was covered by two-and-a-half wards of what was then Taunton Deane district: Comeytrowe, Trull, and the southern half of Taunton Manor and Wilton. Both Comeytrowe, and Manor and Wilton wards made the top 50 wards in England and Wales for those employed in human health and social work activities: many of those will work at Musgrove Park Hospital, the largest acute hospital in Somerset, which is just outside the boundary. Manor and Wilton ward also made the top 60 wards in England and Wales for population aged 85 or over, which is surprising to say the least given that it included much of the town centre; presumably the boundaries took in an unusually large number of nursing homes.

Somerset CC, 2017

In Taunton Deane district elections this century Comeytrowe ward was consistently Lib Dem, Manor and Wilton was consistently Conservative (although not all of it was in this division), and Trull was strongly Conservative but had a small electorate. The Comeytrowe and Trull county division was created in 2013 as a cut-down version of the former Taunton and Trull division, which was a rather curiously drawn Conservative-held marginal; by contrast, in its two elections to date Comeytrowe and Trull has been a Lib Dem-held marginal. Alan Wedderkopp was re-elected for a second term in May 2017 (mapped above) with a 48-40 lead over the Conservatives; the May 2021 county elections were cancelled pending another reorganisation of Somerset’s local government.

SWAT, 2019

That reorganisation may mean that the 2019 Somerset West and Taunton election proves to be only ordinary election to that council. The two maps above form quite the contrast, don’t they? In May 2019 the Liberal Democrats rather unexpectedly won a majority, with 30 seats against 14 independents, just 10 Conservatives, 3 Labour and 2 Greens. Comeytrowe parish was included in a ward with Bishop’s Hull, which returned an independent and two Lib Dems; Trull parish was included in a large rural ward with Pitminster and Corfe, which surprisingly returned two Lib Dems; and the brand-new ward of Wilton and Sherford returned the Lib Dems’ Alan Wedderkopp with a 68-32 majority over the Tories in a straight fight. The Lib Dems subsequently gained two seats in by-elections (Andrew’s Previews 2019, pages 284 and 311), and also held Trull, Pitminster and Corfe ward in a by-election held on 6 May this year. However, they have also suffered from defections, and if the Wilton and Sherford by-election is lost their overall majority will be gone.

Frederick Alan Wedderkopp died in July at the age of 89. He had a long and varied life. Wedderkopp was brought up in North Shields where his father was a docker, served in the Korean War (although he never saw action), and spent most of his career in the oil industry, ending up supervising the running of entire rigs in the North Sea. After leaving the rigs he ended up in Taunton as a taxi driver, got into politics and served as a Lib Dem councillor for a total of eighteen years.

Defending Wedderkopp’s county council seat is Dawn Johnson, who won the district by-election for Trull, Pitminster and Corfe ward in May and now has the chance to double up at district and county council level. For how long, who knows? Ruth Harmon also has the chance to double up as she is the Conservative candidate for both the county and district by-elections; she is involved with the Wilton and Sherford Community Association. Completing the ballot paper is Michael McGuffie for Labour.

A different set of three parties contest the Wilton and Sherford by-election for the district council. Here the defending Lib Dem candidate is Tom Deakin, a digital consultant who has recently moved to Taunton from Exeter. As stated Ruth Harmon is the Conservative candidate, and also standing here is Fran Hicks for the Green Party.

Comeytrowe and Trull

Parliamentary constituency: Taunton Deane
Somerset and West and Taunton wards: Wilton and Sherford; Comeytrowe and Bishop’s Hull (part); Trull, Pitminster and Corfe (part); Vivary (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Taunton
Postcode districts: TA1, TA3, TA4, TA21

Ruth Harmon (C)
Dawn Johnson (LD)
Michael McGuffie (Lab)

May 2017 result LD 1790 C 1496 Lab 219 Grn 132 UKIP 128
May 2013 result LD 1498 C 1164 UKIP 713 Lab 243 Grn 139
Previous results in detail

Wilton and Sherford

Parliamentary constituency: Taunton Deane
Somerset county council division: Comeytrowe and Trull
ONS Travel to Work Area: Taunton
Postcode district: TA1

Tom Deakin (LD)
Ruth Harmon (C)
Fran Hicks (Grn)

May 2019 result LD 692 C 320
Previous results in detail


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