Council by-election previews (28 Oct 2021)

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

A quick update to an item from Nottingham earlier this month regarding David “Bus-Pass Elvis” Bishop. Elvis has been in touch and he assures me that he is ready for a Comeback Special, if this is necessary in the national interest. You heard it here first.

There are eight by-elections in England and Wales on 28th October 2021, with the Conservatives defending six seats (two of them to replace council leaders who have recently died), Labour defending one and a crucial free-for-all to finish off. We have a nice geographic and demographic spread this week, but there’s only really once place to start. Welcome to the Greatest Town in the Known Universe…

Bromley Cross

Bolton council, Greater Manchester; caused by the death of the Leader of the Council, Conservative councillor David Greenhalgh.

The Dunscar Conservative Club is a very well-appointed venue. Its entrance hall proudly proclaims that it was opened in 1974 by Enoch Powell, and above that plaque can be found portraits of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the present party leader. Mind, the last time your columnist was there for some quiz, in late 2019, the wall had a prominent gap where you might expect Boris Johnson to appear. A lot of money has been spent on the place since Enoch’s day, and with its large performance space, decent-sized breakout room (from which a bust of Churchill looks disapprovingly at your quiz answers), and good food and drink offerings it’s always a bustling place.

Bolton, Bromley Cross

Which is appropriate for the area it’s located in. We’re in Bromley Cross, a prosperous northern suburb of Bolton on the railway line towards Blackburn. With its attractive location in the Pennine hills and regular trains to the big city, Bromley Cross is an excellent location for the well-heeled Manchester commuter who might not be sufficiently well-heeled to afford a mansion in Cheshire. In 2011 the place was ranked by an investment and savings firm as the fifth-best place for a family to live in England and Wales. You can see why Theresa May, in her ill-fated 2017 general election campaign, made Bromley Cross her first stop.

Mind, one of Bromley Cross’ greatest claims to fame is not all that salubrious. This was the home of the Greenhalgh family, who raised hundreds of thousands of pounds over the years as one of the most diverse art forgery teams ever caught. A number of artworks forged in Bromley Cross by Shaun Greenhalgh were exhibited as the real thing by several museums and galleries, most notoriously Bolton Museum which was successfully fooled by – and paid £440,000 for – an ancient Egyptian-style statue, the Amarna Princess. Shaun’s parents George and Olive Greenhalgh, the public-facing part of the frauds, have now passed on; Shaun, after some years in prison, has gone straight and now produces art under his own name, with occasional TV work on the side.

Amarna Princess: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaun_Greenhalgh#/media/File:Amarna_Princess.JPG

The present Bromley Cross ward extends north-west to Egerton, a large village on the A666 Bolton-Blackburn road (and yes, the road number is appropriate given its dire accident record) and south to Bradshaw Brow and Canon Slade School. Canon Slade has a strong academic reputation, and its former pupils include one current MP (Lilian Greenwood, the opposition Deputy Chief Whip and Labour MP for Nottingham South), the current England cricketer Matt Parkinson, the noted actress Maxine Peake and the Radio 2 drivetime presenter Sara Cox.

The Bromley Cross area wasn’t incorporated into Bolton until the big bang of the 1970s, having previously been the major part of the Turton urban district. There has been a ward on roughly these lines since the modern Bolton borough was created, and it has voted Conservative on every occasion over the last half-century, normally with large majorities. This is one of the safest Conservative wards in Greater Manchester.

That may surprise, given that we are in a very marginal parliamentary seat here. The Bolton North East constituency was a Conservative gain in December 2019 with a majority of just 378 votes. However, Bolton North East is an extremely socially-divided constituency, with three prosperous middle-class Conservative-voting wards (this one, Astley Bridge and Bradshaw) counterbalanced by three deprived and Labour-voting wards (Halliwell, Crompton and Tonge with the Haulgh). Only one of the constituency’s seven wards, the working-class estates of Breightmet on the eastern edge of the town, can be described as marginal. That’s one reason why swings in this constituency don’t tend to be huge. The swing from June 2017 to December 2019 in Bolton North East was 4.6% Labour to Conservative, almost exactly in line with the national average. Bromley Cross is not Red Wall territory in the slightest, and anybody who describes it as such should be pointed to this Preview until they see the error of their ways.

Bolton, 2019

Bolton council elections (outside Bromley Cross) are a different matter. A discredited Labour administration of the borough has crashed and burned over the last electoral cycle, and following the 2019 election, mapped above, Bolton became the only Conservative-run metropolitan borough in the north of England. David Greenhalgh (no relation of the art forgers), who had represented Bromley Cross ward on the council since 2006 and had led the Conservative group since 2013, became leader of a minority Conservative administration propped up in office by the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and a gaggle of localist parties for the small towns outside Bolton proper.

Greenhalgh’s time as leader was generally not a happy one, and that wasn’t his fault. Almost nowhere in the UK has been worse hit by COVID and lockdown than Bolton. For those who moan on Twitter that the government were slow to lock down in autumn 2020, all I can say is that you did not have the same experience I did as a Bolton resident. And if you had had it, you wouldn’t have enjoyed it. Household visiting was banned here from the end of July 2020, a decision announced by the Health Secretary on Twitter with 2.5 hours’ notice; the town’s pubs and restaurants were closed down in the first week of September 2020, with no notice whatsoever. Other measures changed so many times that I lost track, at a time when losing track of what was permitted, where it was permitted and who it was permitted for could lead to a criminal offence. It might not surprise to learn that these measures had little discernible effect on the spread of the virus.

Despite this, the Conservative administration led by David Greenhalgh became the largest party on Bolton council after the May 2021 elections. Bromley Cross ward had a 62-28 Conservative lead over Labour, representing almost no swing since 2016, but the gains came elsewhere. The latest council composition is 20 Conservatives plus this vacancy, 18 Labour, 5 Lib Dems, 5 Farnworth and Kearsley First, 3 Horwich and Blackrod Independents, 2 Bolton Independent Group (both elected as Conservative), 2 Crompton Independents (both elected as Labour), 2 other independents (1 elected as Conservative, 1 as Labour), a “One Kearsley” councillor (elected as Farnworth and Kearsley First) and a UKIP councillor (elected as UKIP, twice). The Lib Dems have withdrawn support for the Conservative administration, but there are enough localist and ex-Conservative councillors in the chamber for this not to matter too much.

Immediately after the May 2021 local elections, Bolton – and specifically the Great Lever, Harper Green and Farnworth wards – became the first part of the UK to be hit by the Delta variant of COVID in a big way. Rather than bring in yet more local lockdowns, this time the local health leaders thought outside the box and organised more effective ways to damp down the outbreak, by bringing vaccination to the heart of the communities and areas affected and damn the people in Whitehall telling them not to do that. The Vaccine Bus became a regular feature in the Greatest Town, and the people who hopped onto it included your columnist: I got my second vaccine dose from the bus in Moses Gate Country Park on a wet Saturday morning in July.

In the event that you haven’t been vaccinated yet, it’s still not too late to board the Vaccine Bus yourself. It will be parked in Victoria Square in Bolton town centre between 1000 and 1600 hours on Saturday. Pfizer, first and second doses available.

It’s a shame that David Greenhalgh never lived to see the ultimate success of the vaccine programme. He passed away at the end of June, only a couple of weeks after badgering Nicola Sturgeon to lift a travel ban between Scotland and Greater Manchester. Greenhalgh’s health had never been particularly good, as a moving obituary published by Bolton council made clear. His early career performing in musicals on the West End stage was cut short by his first kidney failure, and he ended up under the surgeon’s knife at various points for two kidney transplants, a heart valve replacement and a broken spine. But even given all that, 53 is no age at all. Rest in peace, David.

Those are big shoes to fill for David Greenhalgh’s successor as councillor for Bromley Cross. Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Amy Cowen, who chairs a community group in Egerton where she lives. Labour have reselected Emily Mort, who stood here in May. Also standing are the ward’s regular Green candidate Liz Spencer, James Haslam for the Lib Dems and Laura Armstrong for “Bolton for Change”, another new localist group which failed to establish itself in May.

Picture of the Amarna Princess by “geni” and licenced under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Parliamentary constituency: Bolton North East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: BL2, BL7

Laura Armstrong (Bolton for Change)
Amy Cowen (C)
James Haslam (LD)
Emily Mort (Lab)
Liz Spencer (Grn)

May 2021 result C 2748 Lab 1261 Grn 282 LD 164
May 2019 result C 2566 Lab 658 UKIP 342 Grn 296 LD 241
May 2018 double vacancy C 2928/2257 Lab 1023/910 Grn 374 LD 303/196
May 2016 result C 2443 Lab 1022 UKIP 460 LD 196 Grn 183
May 2015 result C 4340 Lab 1589 UKIP 1057 Grn 424 LD 368
May 2014 result C 2312 Lab 957 UKIP 878 LD 169
May 2012 result C 2207 Lab 1215 LD 317
May 2011 result C 2821 Lab 1244 Grn 336 LD 327
May 2010 result C 4236 Lab 1774 LD 1456 Grn 303
May 2008 result C 2933 Lab 705 LD 331 Grn 147 You Party 141
May 2007 result C 2784 Lab 677 LD 362 Grn 350
May 2006 result C 2725 Lab 712 LD 462 Grn 292
June 2004 result C 3315/3286/3257 Lab 1043/997/890 LD 938/782/614
Previous results in detail

Gresford East and West

Wrexham council, North Wales; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Andrew Atkinson.

Wrexham, Gresford E/W

We travel south-west from Bolton into the Welsh Marches. Gresford is close enough to the border to have been listed in the Domesday Book as part of Cheshire, but is now most definitely part of Wales.
The village of Gresford lies over coal measures just to the north of Wrexham, and has a handy location on the main road and railway line between Wrexham and Chester.

Gresford boomed in the early 20th century with the sinking of Gresford Colliery, one of the deepest mines in the Denbighshire coalfield. This came at a cost: the mine proved to be working coal seams containing high levels of gas. At 2:08am on 22 September 1934 Gresford Colliery was the scene of one of Britain’s worst coalmining disasters, with 266 men killed by an underground explosion and fire; only eleven of the bodies were recovered. The disaster was commemorated in music with the composition of the so-called “Miner’s Hymn”, Gresford, played here by the Black Dyke Band.

Gresford Colliery finally closed in 1973, and its site has been redeveloped as an industrial estate. The mining heritage has left its mark: Gresford East and West ward has a much more working-class demographic profile than the village-based wards around it.

With the death of mining in Gresford, the Labour stranglehold on this ward has been well and truly broken. The ward became marginal in 2004 and has voted for three different parties in its last three elections: Liberal Democrat in 2008, Labour in 2012, Conservative in May 2017.

Wrexham, 2017

The Tory win was a very convincing one, with a 73-16 lead over Labour for new councillor Andrew Atkinson. Atkinson had a high local profile at the time, as he was the Conservatives’ parliamentary candidate for the Wrexham constituency at the general election five weeks later; on that occasion he finished 1,832 votes behind Labour, having lost by 1,831 votes two years previously. Atkinson had also contested the Wrexham seat in the 2016 Welsh Assembly election.

The Wrexham constituency was eventually gained by the Conservatives in the December 2019 general election (without Atkinson as the candidate), but it stayed with Labour in the May 2021 Senedd election. Wrexham council had been hung at every ordinary election this century, but the May 2017 election here gave independent councillors half of the council: 26 seats, against 12 Labour, 9 Conservatives, 3 Plaid Cymru and two Lib Dems. Two by-elections since then have resulted in gains for Plaid Cymru: one from an independent in Gwersyllt North in February 2020 (Andrew’s Previews 2020, page 57) and one from Labour in March.

Continuing this mixed political picture, the Wrexham council cabinet consists of independent and Conservative councillors. It included Andrew Atkinson as cabinet member for children’s services. Atkinson attracted controversy in July this year after it emerged that he was on a working holiday to Panama ahead of a planned emigration, and that he was carrying out his council duties remotely from there. He was eventually forced to announce his resignation from the cabinet and council, effective from the end of August.

Defending this seat for the Conservatives is Jeremy Kent, who was the losing Conservative candidate for Wrexham in May’s Senedd election and in the 2020 Gwersyllt North by-election. Kent is a former restaurant manager who now works with the Air Cadets. Labour have selected Aled Canter, who gives an address in Llay on the far side of the River Alyn. Also standing are the ward’s former Lib Dem councillor (2004-08) Beryl Blackmore, Alan Butterworth for the Green Party, Charles Dodman in a rare local election outing for Reform UK, and Aimi Waters for Plaid Cymru who have not contested this ward since 1999.

Parliamentary constituency: Wrexham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wrexham
Postcode districts: LL12, LL13

Beryl Blackmore (LD)
Alan Butterworth (Grn)
Aled Canter (Lab)
Charles Dodman (Reform UK)
Jeremy Kent (C)
Aimi Waters (PC)

May 2017 result C 917 Lab 204 LD 125 UKIP 11
May 2012 result Lab 314 LD 311 C 248
May 2008 result LD 386 C 347 Lab 286
June 2004 result Lab 401 C 343 LD 181
May 1999 result Lab 470 PC 278
May 1995 result Lab 695 C 268
Previous results in detail

Kinver; and
Wombourne South East

South Staffordshire council; caused respectively by the deaths of Conservative councillors Brian Edwards (who was Leader of the Council) and Reginald Williams.

We cross back over the border into England for the rest of this week’s column, considering two wards which lie just off the western edge of the Black Country. Not all of southern Staffordshire ended up in the West Midlands metropolitan county at the 1970s reorganisation: a small rural fringe, sandwiched between the Black Country and Shropshire, remains part of Staffordshire. And that’s where we are today.

S Staffs, Wombourne SE

The South Staffordshire district is effectively everything in south-western Staffordshire which didn’t get incorporated into Stafford, Cannock, Wolverhampton or anywhere else in the Black Country. A number of its settlements are clearly part of somewhere else: Great Wyrley is part of the Cannock urban area, Perton is effectively a part of Wolverhampton which has escaped over the border. The district contains no large towns of its own and Wombourne, a settlement south-west of Wolverhampton which readers may reasonably have never heard of despite its population of around 14,000, is its largest independent urban area.

As this column has previously discussed (Andrew’s Previews 2019, page 170), Wombourne is in effect a Black Country industrial town which managed to escape the urban sprawl. Its traditional nailmaking industry has been effectively supplanted by commuting to Wolverhampton and the other Black Country towns.

S Staffs, Kinver

Kinver, located at the southern end of the district a few miles to the west of Stourbridge, has a rather older history than that of Wombourne. The name is first recorded in AD 736 as Cynibre, the second half of the name referring to a steep hill: this is most likely Kinver Edge, which was home to a hillfort in prehistoric times. Kinver Edge is a local beauty spot which deserves to be better known, and a tourism industry here was established here in the 20th century thanks to the opening of the Kinver Light Railway, a tram line from the village to Amblecote. The steep sandstone rock of Kinver Edge provided a base for England’s last troglodyte dwellings: the Rock Houses on Holy Austin Rock were inhabited into the 1960s, and some of them have been restored by the National Trust. A visit is strongly recommended, although you can surely do better than this photograph which I took earlier this year.

Rock Houses, Kinver

Kinver has left its mark on our elections in an unusual way, following the death on 2 May 2005 of Josephine Harrison. This was three days before the 2005 general and local elections, in which Harrison was the Liberal Democrat candidate for the South Staffordshire constituency and for the Kinver division of Staffordshire county council. Both elections were postponed to allow nominations to be reopened, eventually taking place on 23 June 2005; the postponed polls eventually re-elected county councillor Brian Edwards, who in the interim had been elected as leader of South Staffordshire council, and the long-serving MP Sir Patrick Cormack. This was the first time for many years that a general election had been postponed following the death of a candidate. Cormack was unhappy with the experience, and he sponsored an amendment to the Representation of the People Act to allow parliamentary elections to proceed to polling if an independent candidate dies during an election campaign. The Cormack amendment doesn’t apply to local elections in England and Wales, but one Scottish council by-election and at least one parliamentary general election (following the death of former Eurovision contestant Ronnie Carroll) have since proceeded to polling with a deceased candidate on the ballot paper.

Sir Patrick Cormack retired to the Lords in 2010, after successfully fighting off a deselection attempt from his local party, and was replaced as MP for South Staffordshire by Gavin Williamson who remains in situ eleven years later. Williamson’s times in Cabinet have been notably ill-judged: he was dismissed as defence secretary on 1 May 2019 by Prime Minister May for leaking confidential information, and a subsequent appointment as education secretary in the Johnson government did not reflect well on anyone involved.

Brian Edwards proved to have rather more staying power at the top. He was first elected to South Staffordshire council in 1983 and to Staffordshire county council in 1989, and as stated he became leader of South Staffordshire council in 2005. Edwards was still holding that office when he passed away in August 2021 at the age of 81, after 38 years as a district councillor and 16 years as council leader. He had been appointed MBE in 2015 for his work to local government and communities.

Edwards’ death came a week after the passing of another long-serving district councillor, Reg Williams, at the age of 90. Williams had sat on Wombourne parish council for 25 years, and also represented the town’s South East ward on South Staffordshire council. He had a reputation as a planning expert, but suffered a reverse in 2013 with an abortive plan to erect a wooden replica of Stonehenge in Wombourne; South Staffordshire council asked Williams to carry out a public consultation, which revealed concerns from locals that the structure would become an “arena for alcohol”. A shame.

Williams had won his district council seat in 2003 in a close fight in Wombourne South East ward, but he was not remotely threatened at later elections. The ward was uncontested in 2015, and in May 2019 the Tory slate beat Labour here 73-27.

South Staffordshire, 2019

Kinver ward, which is more rural in nature and covers a number of hamlets outside Kinver itself, split its three seats in 2003 and 2007 between Brian Edwards for the Conservatives, an independent and a Lib Dem candidate. In 2011 the Lib Dem councillor stood down and the independent was narrowly defeated, and since then this ward has been safely Conservative. The 2019 election saw the Conservative slate of three candidates opposed only by a single Green and a single Lib Dem candidate; shares of the vote were 45% for the Conservatives, 29% for the Green and 26% for the Lib Dem.

Which brings me to a point I’ve seen discussed on the Twitter recently: there have been a number of good Green Party performances in recent local by-elections. Since normal service resumed in June the party has gained six by-elections, mostly from the Conservatives in unlikely-looking places, and come close to winning a few other contests. For a party which historically tends not to have a lot of luck in local by-elections, this is notable. With environmentalism and the forthcoming climate summit in Glasgow high on the political agenda, and with hard work by local Green Party activists having given the party representation on an increasing number of councils over the last electoral cycle, we might reasonably expect this trend to continue in the near future. In this context I note that the Greens won three seats on South Staffordshire council at the last district elections in 2019; one of their councillors is long-serving activist Ian Sadler, who was a close runner-up in Wombourne South East back in 2003 as a Liberal Democrat candidate. (Green Party district councillor Ian Sadler should not be confused with Conservative Kinver parish councillor Ian Sadler; they are different people.)

Something to think about, perhaps, as we turn to the candidate lists, although the fact that the Conservative vote share was over 70% in May’s county elections in both Kinver and Wombourne may dampen grounds for opposition optimism.

Defending Kinver for the Conservatives is parish councillor Geoff Sisley. The Greens have reselected Bernadette McGourty, who was runner-up in the 2019 district elections and a much more distant runner-up in May’s county elections in Kinver. The Lib Dems have not returned, so Labour’s Michael Vaughan completes the ballot paper.

In Wombourne South East the defending Conservative candidate is Mark Evans, who gives an address in the neighbouring Wombourne South West ward. The other two candidates on the ballot both contested Wombourne in May’s county elections: Denis Beaumont stands for Labour, Claire McIlvenna for the Green Party.

Kinver

Parliamentary constituency: South Staffordshire
Staffordshire county council division: Kinver
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dudley
Postcode districts: DY6, DY7, DY8, DY10, DY11

Bernadette McGourty (Grn)
Geoff Sisley (C)
Michael Vaughan (LD)

May 2019 result C 1022/1004/889 Grn 665 LD 598
May 2015 result C 2903/2760/2521 Lab 1055
May 2011 result C 1659/1655/1122 Ind 1071 Lab 644
May 2007 result C 1305/977/976 Ind 1096 LD 1002
May 2003 result C 972/765/600 Ind 947 LD 941/743
Previous results in detail

Wombourne South East

Parliamentary constituency: South Staffordshire
Staffordshire county council division: Wombourne
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wolverhampton and Walsall
Postcode districts: DY3, WV5

Denis Beaumont (Lab)
Mark Evans (C)
Claire McIlvenna (Grn)

May 2019 result C 677/585 Lab 250/172
May 2015 result 2 C unopposed
May 2011 result C 873/860 UKIP 501
May 2007 result C 784/636 UKIP 432
May 2003 result C 556/545 LD 494 Ind 458
Previous results in detail

South

Luton council, Bedfordshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Paul Castleman.

Our Labour defence this week is in our southernmost by-election, taking place in the aptly-named South ward. We have been wafted from paradise to the centre of Luton, the largest town in Bedfordshire and rather different from the rest of the county. This is quite an industrial town, having grown during the Industrial Revolution on hat manufacturing and then in the twentieth century on vehicle manufacturing. The Vauxhall Motors factory here was in operation from 1907 to 2002, and Luton Airport was opened in 1938.

Luton Airport has always been owned by the borough council, and over the last couple of years this has proved to be bad news. The council had been funding a number of its services using its income from the airport’s dividend; when this dried up overnight as the pandemic hit, the council suddenly found itself unable to balance its budget. Despite passing an emergency budget in July 2020 with £22 million of cuts, central government still had to step in with a bailout of £35 million to stabilise the council’s finances.

Luton councillors have faced the full wrath of their public before. On 19 July 1919, a special bank holiday known as “Peace Day” marking the end of the First World War, Luton town hall was burned to the ground by rioters who were unhappy with the town’s high unemployment rate. The replacement town hall, an Art Deco building opened in 1936, is located on the same site in the town centre.

Luton, South ward

Luton’s town centre is contained in the town’s South ward, which runs south to take in the New Town and Park Town areas and the business park at Capability Green. Luton railway station and Luton Airport Parkway railway station lie on the ward boundary, providing fast links to London and the East Midlands. The ward includes a number of buildings belonging to the University of Bedfordshire, together with a large number of students.

That gives South ward’s census return a very different look from your average ward in the East of England. The ward is in the top 30 wards in England and Wales for people born in the EU 2004-07 accession countries, is in the top 40 for those born in the Republic of Ireland, and is in the top 70 for private renting and full-time students.

South ward has voted Labour at every election this century, usually quite comfortably. At the most recent poll, in May 2019, the Labour slate had 40% of the vote against 19% for the Green Party, 16% for the Conservatives and 14% for UKIP.

Luton, 2019

The ward is part of the Luton South parliamentary seat, which was a Conservative seat until the 1997 Labour landslide but is now safe Labour. Its 2010-19 MP Gavin Shuker was one of the Labour MPs who defected to Change UK; he sought re-election in 2019 as an independent candidate, saving his deposit. The seat’s new Labour MP Rachael Hopkins was a Luton councillor for the neighbouring ward of High Town; she resigned her council seat after being elected, and the resulting by-election was held there in May 2021.

Councillor Paul Castleman, who passed away in August, was a lifelong Lutonian who was first elected in a March 2014 by-election in the neighbouring Farley ward. He transferred to this ward in 2015. Until a reshuffle in May, he had been the council’s cabinet member for planning and transport.

Defending the South ward by-election for Labour is Fatima Begum, a “lover of all things good” according to her Twitter. Marc Scheimann, who had been the ward’s regular Green Party candidate and has contested general and European elections under the Green banner, is standing this time as an independent candidate without Green opposition. The Conservatives have selected Abid Aziz, a businessman and former special constable. UKIP have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Markus Kearney for the Communist Party of Britain and Nigel Marshall for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Luton South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton
Postcode districts: LU1, LU2, LU3, LU4

Abid Aziz (C)
Fatima Begum (Lab)
Markus Kearney (Comm)
Nigel Marshall (LD)
Marc Scheimann (Ind)

May 2019 result Lab 938/813/710 Grn 445 C 373/316 UKIP 339 Ind 259
May 2015 result Lab 1898/1787/1655 C 1075/1061/773 Grn 649
May 2011 result Lab 994/957/930 C 653/528/518 UKIP 196 Grn 161/150/108 LD 149/142/114
May 2010 by-election Lab 1493 C 1015 LD 616 UKIP 201 Grn 155
May 2007 result Lab 840/734/657 C 619/610/447 Grn 266 LD 249/221/162
May 2003 result Lab 681/681/678 C 354/289/250 LD 261/234/221 Ind 242/120
Previous results in detail

Grantham Arnoldfield; and
Stamford All Saints

South Kesteven council, Lincolnshire; caused respectively by the resignation of Helen Goral and the death of Mike Exton, both of whom were Conservative councillors.

We travel to the East Midlands for contests in two towns off the A1 Great North Road. The town of Stamford, located at the point were Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Rutland all meet, was as important in the Danelaw as the great cities of the East Midlands, but never really grew into a major city. Some miles to the north lies Grantham, the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher. Grantham is home to the headquarters of South Kesteven district, which also covers all of Stamford and a large rural area in south-western Lincolnshire.

S Kesteven, Grantham Arnoldfield

The Arnoldfield ward of Grantham is the town’s north-western corner. It covers two disconnected urban areas either side of the railway line towards Nottingham: the larger of these is Gonerby Hill Foot, on what was once the Great North Road. The ward was drawn up for the 2015 election and includes a small amount of overspill beyond the town boundary: this is still part of the Sleaford and North Hykeham constituency, leaving the ward split between two seats at parliamentary level. The Boundary Commission should sort this out for the 2024 general election.

S Kesteven, Stamford All SS

Further south the Great North Road entered Stamford, whose narrow town-centre streets ensured that this was one of the first towns on the A1 to be bypassed, in 1960. Stamford’s four wards are all named after ecclesiastical parishes: All Saints is the town’s north ward, covering housing around the Little Casterton Road.

S Kesteven, 2019

All Saints ward suffered from a lack of opposition candidates in the 2019 election: the two-person Tory slate was opposed only by a single Labour candidate, who lost 62-38. The ward returned an independent councillor in 2007 and 2011 and also elected a Lib Dem in 2007. Arnoldfield ward was brand new for 2015: the predecessor wards, Green Hill and Greyfriars, had consistently returned Conservative councillors this century. Arnoldfield is split between two divisions of Lincolnshire county council which both voted Conservative in May; All Saints ward is split between the two Stamford county divisions, with East voting Conservative and West gained in May by an independent candidate, Richard Cleaver.

So, on this evidence the Stamford All Saints by-election looks the more interesting of these two contests to South Kesteven council. It follows the death of Conservative councillor Mike Exton, who passed away in August at the age of 80. A double kidney transplant recipient and passionate supporter of opening up the organ donor register, Exton had served on South Kesteven council since winning a by-election in 2005; he had also previously sat on Lincolnshire county council, and he was Mayor of Stamford in 2003-04.

The Grantham Arnoldfield by-election is caused by the resignation of Helen Goral, who is concentrating on her other roles as a mother of two children and with the housing and planning PR company which she works for. Goral had stood down from the council cabinet last year for the same reason.

Defending Grantham Arnoldfield for the Conservatives is Kaffy Rice-Oxley. A cousin of the Keane songwriter and keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley, Kaffy is a singer and music teacher and she has recently been appointed as secretary of the Conservatives’ Grantham and Stamford branch. The Labour candidate is Stuart Fawcett, who trains horses for carriage driving. Also standing is Mike Turner for the Green Party.

In Stamford All Saints the defending Tory candidate is Amanda Schonhut who is a freelance photographer, director of fundraising at Grantham Museum and founder of a charity for domestic and workplace abuse victims. She is opposed by three independent candidates. Richard Cleaver, as already stated, was elected in May as Lincolnshire county councillor for Stamford West; Maxwell Sawyer contested this ward in 2011 and 2015 on a Stamford localist slate; and Tony Story is a former Mayor of Stamford.

Grantham Arnoldfield

Parliamentary constituency: Grantham and Stamford (almost all), Sleaford and North Hykeham (small part)
Lincolnshire county council division: Grantham North (part), Grantham West (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Grantham
Postcode district: NG31

Stuart Fawcett (Lab)
Kaffy Rice-Oxley (C)
Mike Turner (Grn)

May 2019 result C 655/612 Lab 232/225
May 2015 result C 1203/886 UKIP 516/483 Lab 382/349 Ind 335
Previous results in detail

Stamford All Saints

Parliamentary constituency: Grantham and Stamford
Lincolnshire county council division: Stamford East (part), Stamford West (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough
Postcode district: PE9

Richard Cleaver (Ind)
Maxwell Sawyer (Ind)
Amanda Schonhut (C)
Tony Story (Ind)

May 2019 result C 562/533 Lab 343
May 2015 result C 1100/826 Stamford Group of Inds 646/609 UKIP 603 Lab 529
Previous results in detail

Currock and Upperby

Carlisle council, Cumbria; caused by the death of UKIP councillor John Denholm.

We finish in the north with our city by-election of the week. The city here is Carlisle, for the moment the capital of Cumbria and home to both Cumbria county council and Carlisle city council.

Carlisle, Currock/Upperby

The Currock and Upperby ward is on the southern edge of the city, lying in between the West Coast railway line and the Maryport railway line. Drawn for the 2019 local elections, it takes in the majority of two previous wards. The former Upperby ward, on the southern edge of the city, was an utterly working-class area: at the 2011 census 27.1% of the workforce were in semi-routine occupations, which was the highest figure for any ward in the North West region and the seventh-highest figure in England. (Four of the six wards with higher figures were in Boston, for what that is worth.) Currock ward, which extended into part of the city centre around Citadel railway station, was in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for 1-5 GCSE passes or equivalent (19.6%), part-time employment (18.4%) and, again, semi-routine occupations (18.9%).

With that sort of profile, you’d expect this to be a Labour area; but stranger things have happened in elections. When this ward was contested for the first time in May 2019 Labour did indeed top the poll, but only with 37% of the vote; and the ward’s third and final seat went to UKIP candidate John Denholm. Denholm had contested both predecessor wards in the past without much success; but this time his tally was enough to beat Labour’s third candidate Robert Rynn by a margin of one vote, 556 to 555. Don’t let anybody tell you your vote never changed anything.

Carlisle, 2019

Having won the ward’s third and final seat, John Denholm would have been due for re-election in May 2020 when Carlisle council went back to elections by thirds. However, the May 2020 elections were postponed to May 2021 because of the pandemic; and then the May 2021 Carlisle elections were postponed to May 2022 in advance of local government reorganisation. The same thing happened to the May 2021 Cumbria county elections. This ward covers the whole of the Upperby county division, and most of the Currock county division, both of which were safe Labour at the last Cumbria elections in May 2017.

John Denholm suddenly passed away in July 2021, 27 months into his 12-month term of office. He was 73 years old. His death leaves the UK Independence Party (who recently elected Neil Hamilton as their leader, for those who are keeping track or want to win Pointless) with nine councillors remaining: two in Folkestone and Hythe, and one each in Bolton, Bournemouth/Christchurch/Poole, Great Yarmouth, Pembrokeshire, South Staffordshire, Tamworth and Tendring. Councillor Dowson in Pembrokeshire (who was elected as an independent and subsequently joined UKIP) is due for re-election next year, with all the rest being up in May 2023. The Bolton UKIP councillor represents my ward and might have enough name recognition to get re-elected, but faced with this evidence even your columnist has had to accept that UKIP are no longer a major national party.

The UK Independence Party are not defending this by-election. We have a free-for-all, I repeat we have a free-for-all! And this could have a major impact on the council composition. Labour lost control of the council in 2019 with the Conservatives becoming the largest party on the council, and the Tories formed a minority administration. In May the Tories took two by-elections off Labour in working-class city wards not dissimilar to Currock and Upperby, and that has left them with 19 seats on the council to 13 Labour, 4 independents, 1 Green, 1 Lib Dem and this vacancy. If the Conservatives can gain this by-election from UKIP, they will win overall control of Carlisle city council.

With Labour holding the other two seats in this ward they should start as favourites here. Their candidate is Chris Wills, who lives in this ward and works for the National Trust; in May he fought a council by-election on less-promising territory in Brampton, coming third. The Conservatives, who are reportedly giving this by-election some serious hard work, have selected Geoff Mitchell who gives an address in the village of Scotby; he fought Dalston and Burgh ward in 2019, and his wife Linda won one of the May by-elections to Carlisle council. The Greens have selected Tom Adams, who gives an address some distance away in Brampton; and he completes a ballot paper of three candidates.

Parliamentary constituency: Carlisle
Cumbria county council division: Upperby, Currock (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Carlisle
Postcode district: CA2

Tom Adams (Grn)
Geoff Mitchell (C)
Christopher Wills (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 798/667/555 UKIP 556 C 326/293/283 Grn 251 LD 237
Previous results in detail


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Andrew Teale