Previewing the council by-elections of 21 Oct 2021

 

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

Three by-elections on 21st October 2021, Trafalgar Day, as we replace three councillors who had 83 years of local government service between them. There is something for everyone to enjoy as we consider villages, a city and a town, with Labour defending one seat and the Lib Dems two. Let’s start with the Labour defence which, for reasons which will become clear, is the village ward…

Rainworth South and Blidworth

Newark and Sherwood council, Nottinghamshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Kathleen Arnold.

Newark/Sherwood, Rainworth S/Blidworth

We start this week with our Labour defence in the heart of Sherwood Forest. Indeed the village of Blidworth, around five miles to the south-east of Mansfield, is sometimes cited as the burial place of Will Scarlet, one of Robin Hood’s Merrie Men. However, there is no documentary evidence to support this or the claim that Maid Marian was born here.

We’re on safer ground when considering the area’s recent history. Blidworth was a small rural village until the 1920s, when Blidworth Colliery was sunk as the latest development of the Nottinghamshire coalfield. The colliery remained in operation until 1989, leaving behind a village of around 4,500 souls.

The village of Rainworth – or at least the part of it which hasn’t been incorporated into Mansfield – has a similar history. Rainworth’s mine was Rufford Colliery, which closed in 1993 and whose site is now being returned to nature, after the locals fought off an attempt by the county council in 2008-12 to site an incinerator there.

There used to be rather a lot of nature round this corner of Nottinghamshire thanks to the efforts of Joseph Whitaker, a noted naturalist of the early 20th century. Whitaker lived in Rainworth for most of his life, and his animal and bird collections included his own deer park here with 21 acres of land. He died in Rainworth in 1932, having lived long enough to see the collieries begin operation in the local villages.

With the local landscape now being decidedly post-industrial, the local politics is following suit. It’s only in the last decade that the Conservatives have started contesting this area in local elections, and for much of this century Blidworth’s local elections were instead contests between Labour and an independent candidate, Geoff Merry. Merry represented Blidworth on both Newark and Sherwood council and Nottinghamshire county council, eventually retiring in 2015 and 2017 respectively.

With Merry off the scene, the 2015 local election – the first for this ward – was an easy win for the Labour slate of Yvonne Woodhead and Kathleen Arnold. Woodhead and Arnold were re-elected in 2019 but rather more narrowly: Labour polled 40% that year while an independent slate and the Conservatives had 30% each.

Newark/Sherwood, 2019

Subsequent results will give the opposition to Labour grounds for optimism. This ward is part of the Sherwood constituency, where the Government Chief Whip Mark Spencer now has a very large majority over Labour. In the May 2021 Nottinghamshire county council elections Yvonne Woodhead lost her seat in the Blidworth division, finishing a poor third: the Conservatives gained the division, but only with a majority of 54 votes over independent candidate Tina Thompson.

That result introduces some unpredictability into this by-election, which follows the death of veteran Labour councillor Kathleen Arnold. She had first been elected for Blidworth ward in 1991, and served on Newark and Sherwood council for a total of 22 years (excluding 2007-15).

Defending this seat for Labour is Callum Walsh, on whom I have no information. Independent candidate and Blidworth resident Tina Thompson returns to the campaign trail after her near-miss in May’s county elections. Completing the ballot is another candidate who gives an address in Blidworth: she is Sheila Jackson for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Sherwood
Nottinghamshire county council division: Blidworth
ONS Travel to Work Area: Mansfield
Postcode districts: NG18, NG21

Sheila Jackson (C)
Tina Thompson (Ind)
Callum Walsh (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 450/401 Ind 345/334 C 341/292
May 2015 result Lab 1401/1361 C 792/732 Ind 304
Previous results in detail

Yardley East

Birmingham council, West Midlands; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Neil Eustace.

Birmingham, Yardley E

We stay within the Midlands for our big city by-election, which takes place in the city of Birmingham. If you start in Birmingham city centre and travel east, you will pass through a heavily Muslim area in Bordesley Green and Sparkhill before coming to outer and whiter areas on the way to the airport. This is the core of Yardley, which was a part of Worcestershire until it was incorporated into Birmingham in the 1910s.

Although the Asian population here is increasing, Yardley is still best characterised as a white working-class area. But it doesn’t have the sort of electoral history you would expect for a white working-class area. For decades now this has been Birmingham’s Liberal Democrat hotspot. Yardley was the political home of John Hemming, who was the only third-party MP elected for a Birmingham seat in the last fifty years: Hemming represented the Yardley constituency from 2005 to 2015 and came close to winning on a number of other occasions.

Hemming’s election agent was Neil Eustace, who was one of the longest-serving members of Birmingham city council. Eustace was first elected as a city councillor for the former Yardley ward in 1986, gaining the seat from the Conservatives. The hard work of Eustace and his ward colleagues quickly turned Yardley and a number of neighbouring wards into Liberal and then Liberal Democrat strongholds, providing the base for their parliamentary campaigns. Eustace’ seat was redrawn in 2004 with the name Stechford and Yardley North, but – with the exception of a narrow Labour win in 2015 – remained in the Lib Dem column.

Times change, of course. The Lib Dems ran a very poor third in the Yardley seat in December 2019, with future Labour leadership candidate Jess Phillips winning a third term in the Commons very easily. By contrast, the last Birmingham city council election was in 2018 on radical new ward boundaries; Stechford and Yardley North ward was split up, with about half of it forming the new ward of Yardley East. Neil Eustace stood for re-election here and was returned by the wide margin of 65-30 over Labour.

Birmingham, 2018

Eustace passed away last month at the age of 65, having served the residents of Yardley for 35 years. Hoping to step into his shoes is the defending Lib Dem candidate Deborah Harries, who has worked for Birmingham council and for central government in senior communications roles. The Labour candidate is Carmel Corrigan, who contested Longbridge and West Heath ward in the 2018 city council elections; she is a caseworker for Jess Phillips MP. Completing the ballot paper is Pervez Akhtar, a retired railwayman, for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Birmingham Yardley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Birmingham
Postcode districts: B25, B26, B33

Pervez Akhtar (C)
Carmel Corrigan (Lab)
Deborah Harries (LD)

May 2018 result LD 1856 Lab 863 C 140
Previous results in detail

Forest

Horsham council, West Sussex; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Godfrey Newman.

Horsham, Forest

We finish for the week back in what is nominally a forest, but really one in name only. The Forest ward of Horsham is the eastern ward of Horsham town, and actual forested territory is confined to the ward’s eastern fringe. This marks the edge of St Leonards Forest, which covers much of the area between Horsham and Crawley.

Horsham was the major town of inland western Sussex before the New Town of Crawley got going, and its history is mainly as a market town for the surrounding agricultural villages. The area was a major centre for iron smelting back in the day, but this industry had died out long before the Industrial Revolution got going and modern Horsham is not politically left-wing. Major industries in the town these days include brickmaking and brewing, while RSA Insurance and the RSPCA (whose head office is located just outside the town) are important local employers.

Forest ward was extensively redrawn for the 2019 local elections, taking in a large chunk of the abolished Horsham Park ward around Horsham railway station and going up from one councillor to three. It would probably be more accurate to say that Horsham Park ward was the main predecessor: this was rather more downmarket than the old Forest ward and included Horsham’s most deprived census district, although that’s not really saying much. Both Horsham Park and the old Forest ward had been closely fought between the Lib Dems and Conservatives in the period 2003-15, and the 2015 elections in the two wards had returned two councillors from each party.

Horsham, Forest

May 2019 was a good election for the Horsham Lib Dems, who won the new Forest ward comfortably with 39%. Surprisingly, the Conservatives finished in third place with 21% of the vote, behind the Labour slate on 22%. The ward is split between all three Horsham divisions of West Sussex county council, all of which voted Liberal Democrat in May’s county elections (the party held Hurst and Riverside, and gained East from the Conservatives). The Tories do, however, still have a large majority on Horsham council and in the Horsham constituency.

As with our two other polls this week, the voters of Horsham will be replacing a long-serving councillor. (David) Godfrey Newman was first elected for Forest ward in 1991, gaining his seat from the Conservatives; he lost his seat in the 2007 election by just 13 votes, but returned in 2011 with a convincing majority. Newman was also the Liberal Democrats’ parliamentary candidate for Horsham in 2010. He is standing down from the council due to ongoing health issues, having served his constituents for 26 years.

Defending this by-election for the Lib Dems is Jon Olson, who sits on a local residents’ group and volunteers at a primary school in the area. The Labour candidate is David Hide, who works as a technical manager at a plant nursery and was a candidate in May’s county elections. The Conservatives’ Ross Dye has a point to prove after losing the Horsham East county division in May: he is recently retired from an IT career and is a parish councillor in Southwater, just to the south of the town. Completing the ballot paper is Jon Campbell for the Green Party.

This is a slow week for by-elections, so in order to fill some space let me finish this week’s column by bringing you some gratuitous music. One of Horsham’s other wards is called Trafalgar, and there was a by-election there last May. By coincidence today is Trafalgar Day, marking the 216th anniversary of Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. To celebrate, let me bring you this recording made in 2005 for the 200th anniversary of the battle. The narrator here is a real-life Admiral, Lord Boyce (the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and formerly Chief of the Defence Staff); while the Plymouth Band of the Royal Marines, under the baton of Major Paul Weston, demonstrate yet again why they are the best in the business.

Parliamentary constituency: Horsham
West Sussex county council divisions: Horsham East (part), Horsham Hurst (part), Horsham Riverside (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crawley
Postcode district: RH13

Jon Campbell (Grn)
Ross Dye (C)
David Hide (Lab)
Jon Olson (LD)

May 2019 result LD 1305/1224/1120 Lab 742/719/613 C 703/623/567 Peace Party 314 UKIP 243
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