Previewing the council by-elections of 04 Nov 2021

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

A quick update to last week’s item from Bromley Cross in Bolton. First, having been there on Tuesday night for a quiz league match I can report that the Dunscar Conservative Club have now found a picture of Boris Johnson, looking uncharacteristically serious, for their entrance hall. The late Duke of Edinburgh is still there, too.

I had thought that the concept of a safe Conservative ward in Bolton might be too much for some people to handle, and my goodness social media delivered last week. Some of the Twitter commentary on the Bromley Cross result was absolutely hilarious. All I can say is, you either need to get our more or read the Previews – at least then you won’t be making elementary mistakes. Hopefully.

Welcome to what is shaping up to be a busy November. Your columnist is currently aware of thirty-three local by-elections taking place this month, with the first six of them on 4th November 2021. The Conservatives defend three, Labour and the Lib Dems defend one each, and there is a free-for-all! This week we’ll travel from south to north, starting with the first Conservative defence on the south coast…

Bourne

West Sussex county council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Mike Magill.

W Sussex, Bourne

As stated, we begin in the south-western corner of West Sussex, just off the edge of the Portsmouth and Havant urban area. The Bourne electoral division bears no relation to a well-known film franchise of the same name: this area takes its name from the villages of Southbourne, Westbourne and Nutbourne, which lie on the north bank of Chichester Harbour roughly halfway between Portsmouth and Chichester. Southbourne is the largest population centre in the ward, and has a railway station linking it to the outside world. To the north are a number of smaller parishes within the South Downs National Park, including the country estate of Stansted Park with its Edwardian country house, where generations of Royals have been entertained.

The southern end of the ward is rather more bleak. Thorney Island (now linked to the mainland by seawalls) has been a military base for many years thanks to its isolated position in Chichester Harbour. It was on the front line of the Second World War as an RAF Coastal Command airfield; the Air Force moved out in the late 1970s and were replaced by the Army in the mid-1980s. In between Thorney Island provided a temporary home to hundreds of Vietnamese refugee families, before they were properly resettled in the UK.

The psephologist Robert Waller wrote in every edition of his magisterial and much-missed Almanac of British Politics that “even after the revolution the workers’ soviet for Chichester would be Tory”. Like all good jokes, there’s a grain of truth and a lot of exaggeration in that. The forerunner to the future Chichester Workers’ Soviet does normally have a Conservative majority, but the first election to the modern Chichester council in 1973 saw the Conservative group outnumbered by independent councillors, and at the Tory nadir of 1995 the Liberal Democrats were the largest party on a hung council.

It’s a mark of the volatile political times in which we live that the May 2019 election to Chichester council delivered no overall control: the Tories crashed from 42 seats out of 48 to 18 out of 36. They did return to a majority six months later by taking a by-election off the Lib Dems (Andrew’s Previews 2019, page 374), but some defections mean that the ruling Conservative group is now in a minority again with 17 seats. The opposition is made up of 11 Lib Dems (who took a by-election off Labour in June), 3 independents, 2 Green Party councillors, 2 Selsey localists and one remaining Labour councillor. This county division is mostly covered by the Southbourne ward (which voted Lib Dem in May 2019) and the smaller Westbourne ward (which voted Conservative on that occasion).

The Tories do still retain a strong majority on West Sussex county council. The Bourne division, thanks to its position in a corner of the county, has survived a number of boundary reviews to remain unchanged since at least 2005. In that timescale it has normally been Conservative, but did vote for UKIP in 2013. The Tories recovered the seat in May 2017, but then their county councillor Viral Parikh defected to Brexit Party.

Parikh subsequently relocated to Sunderland, and he was the Brexit Party’s parliamentary candidate for Sunderland Central in the December 2019 general election. He resigned from West Sussex county council in advance of that, and a by-election was held for Bourne division in November 2019 (Andrew’s Previews 2019, page 374). The Brexit Party didn’t defend their defection gain, and the Conservatives’ Mike Magill won the by-election with a 49-36 lead over the Lib Dems.

W Sussex CC, 2021

Magill was re-elected in May this year with an increased majority over the Lib Dems of 51-29. He stepped down from the county council three months later, prompting this by-election.

Defending this second Bourne by-election in as many years is Conservative candidate Bob Hayes, who is a Southbourne parish councillor: he represented Southbourne on Chichester council from 2007 until 2019, when he lost his seat to the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems have re-selected Andrew Kerry-Bedell, who was their candidate here in May and in the 2019 by-election. Also standing are Ann Stewart for the Green Party and Alan Butcher for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Chichester
Chichester council wards: Southbourne, Westbourne, Harbour Villages (part: Chidham and Hambrook parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chichester and Bognor Regis
Postcode districts: PO9, PO10, PO18

Alan Butcher (Lab)
Bob Hayes (C)
Andrew Kerry-Bedell (LD)
Ann Stewart (Grn)

May 2021 result C 1869 LD 1064 Grn 400 Lab 336
November 2019 by-election C 1368 LD 1009 Grn 250 Lab 161 Patria 12
May 2017 result C 1357 UKIP 865 LD 659 Lab 264 Grn 234
May 2013 result UKIP 1241 C 1158 LD 360 Lab 295
June 2009 result C 1948 LD 1382 Lab 127
May 2005 result C 2377 LD 1922 Lab 841 Ind 375 UKIP 347
Previous results in detail

Huntingdon East

Huntingdonshire council, Cambridgeshire; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Trish Shrapnel.

For our Liberal Democrat defence of the week we come to a relatively-recent hotspot for the party: the county of Cambridgeshire. Following May’s elections this is one of two English county councils with a Lib Dem-led administration: the other is Oxfordshire, and the party is also the junior partner in the coalition running Cumbria county council.

In recent years the Liberal Democrats have had less luck in Cambridgeshire’s district councils. They hold a majority only in South Cambridgeshire district: the city of Cambridge itself is strongly Labour these days, and Peterborough has a minority Conservative administration. Cambridgeshire’s other three local government districts, including Huntingdonshire, have Conservative majorities. The elected Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is a representative of the Labour Party, elected in May thanks to Lib Dem transfers.

Hunts, Huntingdon E

The Huntingdon East ward is based on Hartford, an old village on the north bank of the River Great Ouse which has been swallowed up by the town’s growth. Hartford is located north-east of Huntingdon town centre, on the main road towards Wisbech.

Hunts, 2018

This has traditionally been a marginal ward of Huntingdon council which has returned councillors from the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and (on one occasion) UKIP in the last decade. Going into the 2018 election here Huntingdon East ward had two Liberal Democrat councillors and one Conservative; boundary changes cut the ward down to two councillors so someone was going to miss out, and in the end it was the Conservatives who lost as the ward voted Lib Dem by a 47-39 margin. There have been no ordinary elections to Huntingdonshire council since 2018, although this is the eighth by-election of the current council’s term: the score in the previous seven by-elections stands at 4 Conservative holds, 1 Lib Dem hold, 1 Labour hold and 1 independent gain from Labour.

Some weird boundaries mean that the part of this ward closest to Huntingdon town centre is part of the Godmanchester and Huntingdon South county division, which is Lib Dem-held. However, most of the Huntingdon East ward forms part of the Huntingdon North and Hartford division of the county council, which was an against-the-trend Conservative gain in May. Huntingdon North is traditionally the strongest Labour part of the district, and Labour fielded their district councillor Patrick Kadewere, who finished in second place; the Lib Dems, who were defending the seat, fell to third and the Conservatives came through the middle to win.

That will not happen in this by-election, as there is a straight fight. Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Michael Shellens, who represented the former Huntingdon East ward from 2008 to 2018 and also sat on Cambridgeshire county council from 2013 until May this year; on both occasions, he retired. Challenging for the Conservatives is Jonas King, a local resident who took over from Shellens in May as county councillor for Huntingdon North and Hartford.

Parliamentary constituency: Huntingdon
Cambridgeshire county council division: Huntingdon North and Hartford (part), Godmanchester and Huntingdon South (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Huntingdon
Postcode district: PE29

Jonas King (C)
Michael Shellens (LD)

May 2018 result LD 896/749 C 744/626 Lab 264/256
Previous results in detail

Oakham North West

Rutland council; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Adam Lowe.

Rutland, Oakham NW

We stay in the east for our second trip this year to England’s “smallest” “county”, as we consider what must rank among the most bizarrely-shaped wards this column has seen in a long time. Your columnist’s first reaction on seeing the map above was to wonder what the Local Government Boundary Commission had been smoking. The Commission, of course, has far more integrity than that and there is an explanation for this bizarre shape.

The explanation is to do with Barleythorpe, which used to be a small village just out of Oakham on the road towards Melton Mowbray and which until 2019 was covered by Oakham North West ward. Barleythorpe’s Wikipedia entry quotes a population, from the 2001 census, of 178. No longer is that the case: there is a lot of new housing going up in Barleythorpe at the moment, and the village’s population is booming out of all recognition. Barleythorpe declared independence from Oakham in 2016 by becoming a parish of its own, and for the 2019 election the Boundary Commission drew a brand-new Barleythorpe ward based on that parish, with two Rutland councillors to allow room for further population growth in the next few years.

The shape we see here is basically what was left of Oakham North West ward after Barleythorpe was taken out. The ward doesn’t include the first Rutland branch of McDonald’s (which opened in November, to some local controversy, just outside the parish and ward boundary in Barleythorpe), but the salient to the north takes in an industrial area on Pillings Road and the Lands’ End factory outlet shop. However, the ward’s electors live in the southern part along the Cold Overton and Braunston Roads; landmarks here include the Oakham Memorial Hospital, the secondary school Catmose College, and the town’s railway station which lies on the ward boundary.

The 2003-2019 Oakham North West ward had two seats: one was held throughout this period by independent councillor Richard Gale, while the other seat was won by four different candidates (two independents, two Conservatives) at the four elections in this period. On the revised boundaries in 2019 only two candidates were nominated, Paul Ainsley for the Conservatives and independent Adam Lowe; since two seats were available in the ward, Ainsley and Lowe were both declared elected unopposed. The only elections here in May were for Leicestershire police and crime commissioner, so there is a distinct lack of information to go on in predicting this by-election.

Adam Lowe handed in his resignation as a Rutland councillor in September, explaining that he was seeking a better work:life balance. Lowe also sits on Oakham town council, and away from politics he works 12-hour shifts for the Probation Service and does all sorts of other worthy and time-consuming things. When push came to shove, there weren’t enough hours in his week and something had to give: Lowe chose to give up his county council role.

No new independent candidate has come forward to replace Lowe, so we have a free-for-all! It’s a straight fight. In the blue corner is Daniel Bottomley, a former Oakham town councillor. In the red corner is Leah Toseland, who is a mother of two children with special needs; she is described as a community campaigner.

Parliamentary constituency: Rutland and Melton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough
Postcode district: LE15

Daniel Bottomley (C)
Leah Toseland (Lab)

May 2019 result C/Ind unopposed
Previous results in detail

Longlevens

Gloucester council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Clive Walford.

Gloucester, Longlevens

We move to the western half of England for the three remaining by-elections this week, starting in the south-west with the city of Gloucester. The Longlevens ward is the north-eastern corner of the city’s built-up area, between the Tewkesbury and Cheltenham roads, and consists entirely of privately-developed lower-middle-class housing from the twentieth century, with very high levels of owner-occupation. This area was not fully incorporated into Gloucester until 1967, and it is still not fully linked with the city even now: since 2010, this ward has been part of the Tewkesbury parliamentary constituency.

Longlevens ward survived a boundary review implemented in 2016, the year in which Gloucester came off the thirds electoral cycle and moved to whole-council elections. In this century it has mostly voted Conservative, although the Lib Dems won the ward in 2004 and came close on a number of other occasions. The ward became safe Conservative during the coalition years, but turned back into a marginal at a by-election in November 2016 (Andrew’s Previews 2016, page 276) at which the Conservative majority was cut to 46-37.

That by-election returned Conservative councillor Clive Walford, who was fairly well-known in the city having played on the back row for Gloucester Rugby in the mid-1970s. Walford was re-elected quite narrowly in May 2021, with a majority of 62 votes over the Lib Dem runner-up Sarah Sawyer: overall the Conservatives polled 49% of the vote and won two seats, while the Lib Dem slate polled 45% and won one seat. The city council ballot paper only had Conservative, Lib Dem and Libertarian candidates: the Longlevens division of the county council, which takes in part of the Lib Dem-held Elmbridge ward, had a Labour candidate in addition and a much larger Conservative lead on the same day.

Clive Walford became deputy mayor and Sheriff of Gloucester for 2021-22, but he resigned in September partway through his term. Defending the resulting by-election for the Conservatives is Julie Evans, who was the losing Conservative candidate here in May. The Lib Dems have reselected Sarah Sawyer, who as stated was runner-up here in May. Also standing are Claire Carter for the Green Party and Alfie Harrison for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Tewkesbury
Gloucestershire county council division: Longlevens
ONS Travel to Work Area: Gloucester
Postcode districts: GL1, GL2

Claire Carter (Grn)
Julie Evans (C)
Alfie Harrison (Lab)
Sarah Sawyer (LD)

May 2021 result C 1645/1312/1129 LD 1523/1250/1147 Libertarian 204
November 2016 by-election C 1066 LD 852 Lab 223 UKIP 167
May 2016 result C 1657/1636/1410 Lab 696 UKIP 541 LD 515 Grn 494
May 2015 result C 2870 Lab 955 UKIP 815 LD 548 Grn 262
May 2014 result C 1545 UKIP 683 Lab 463 LD 282 Grn 135
May 2012 result C 1425 LD 1111 Lab 372 Grn 127
May 2011 result C 2005 LD 821 Lab 695
May 2010 result C 2958 LD 1686 Lab 863
May 2008 result C 1819 LD 1537 Lab 172
May 2007 result C 1884 LD 822 Lab 272 UKIP 158
May 2006 result C 1962 LD 1256 Lab 215
June 2004 result LD 1704 C 1650 Lab 247
May 2003 result C 1506 LD 1287 Lab 269
May 2002 result C 1511/1465/1367 LD 1246/1118/1001 Lab 386/329/307
Previous results in detail

Blackfriars and Trinity

Salford council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Raymond Walker.

Go on, admit it. When you think of inner-city Salford, was this the sort of image that came unbidden to your mind? If so, well, you are out of date.

Salford, Blackfriars/Trinity

If anywhere can be described as being the heart of Salford, this is it. The Blackfriars and Trinity ward lies in a bend of the River Irwell, immediately across the river from That Other City on the far bank. Salford is the only locality in this area mentioned in the Domesday Book – indeed, it was the centre of its own hundred – but the presence of That Other City means that it never really fulfilled its potential. Of the two main thoroughfares of original Salford, Chapel Street never became the major commercial destination that Deansgate turned into; while Greengate has all but disappeared under railway viaducts and relief roads. To add insult to injury, the railway station built on top of Greengate – Exchange station, which closed in the 1960s – bore the name of That Other City rather than Salford.

Mind, it’s not all bad. There is a five-star hotel within this ward: the Lowry, with its landmark footbridge over the Irwell. Employment is provided by (among others) HMRC, who occupy a large tower block next to the Lowry. Salford Cathedral, further along Chapel Street, will administer to your soul if you happen to be a Catholic. And a couple of blocks up from Salford Cathedral can be found the imposing building once occupied by Salford Royal Hospital, now turned into flats.

The 1885 constituency map for Salford, which divided the borough into three parliamentary constituencies, shows that the modern area of this ward was covered by four of the twelve wards of Salford county borough at the time: Greengate, St Matthias, St Stephens, and Trinity. This area had enough population to be a constituency in its own right (although in the event it was divided between Salford North and Salford South).

But waves of slum clearance have swept away nearly all of old Salford. The Cathedral and the Royal Hospital are rare survivors of old buildings in Blackfriars and Trinity ward. There’s not much housing left here now that’s older than or indeed resembles the Cat Jumping photograph above. The area outside Trinity Way is characterised by low-rise residential areas, of much lower density than the terraces they replaced, while inside the inner relief road an orgy of modern tower blocks is going up – apartments for contemporary city living. Whether it’s Salford or That Other City.

We can see one effect of this just outside the ward boundary. Immediately opposite the old Salford Royal Hospital can be found Transport House, which was built in 2005 on a site which used to be offices for the Transport and General Workers Union and whose flats were sold as housing for key workers. A number of its apartments are in shared ownership. Transport House is a five-storey apartment block which has proved, in a post-Grenfell survey, to be unsafe in its current form thanks to flammable insulation; however, it is not tall enough to qualify for a government assistance fund for fire safety improvements. Instead, the occupiers have been presented by the freeholder with a bill for £3 million – more than the block cost to build in the first place – to remove the unsafe insulation from the building’s walls. Lewis Goodall, the policy editor of the BBC’s Newsnight programme, has covered the plight of Transport House’s leaseholders on a number of occasions this year.

Despite the experience of Transport House, the population projections for inner-city Salford are through the roof as more and more of these apartment blocks are built. The 2004-21 Ordsall ward, which covered the Chapel Street area along with Salford Quays, was becoming seriously out of shape. The Boundary Commission’s response was a new ward map for Salford, introduced in May this year, which effectively created a new ward in the inner city. The three previous wards of Irwell Riverside, Langworthy and Ordsall were reorganised into four new wards: this one, a cut-down Ordsall, Pendleton and Charlestown, and Quays. Apart from Pendleton and Charlestown, all of these were drawn with low headcounts to allow for population growth. Blackfriars and Trinity ward’s electorate was projected to grow by 80% between 2018 and 2024.

There has only been one previous contest on these boundaries, in May 2021. On that occasion the Labour slate won all three seats in Blackfriars and Trinity with a 54-27 lead over the Greens. There was wide variation between the candidates on the Labour and Green slates, partly because the lead Green candidate Wendy Olsen was also the Green candidate in the simultaneous Mayor of Salford election. (She finished third, polling 9%). In Blackfriars and Trinity Olsen polled twice as many votes as her running-mates, mostly at the expense of Labour’s Ray Walker for no obvious reason other than the fact that Walker’s name is at the wrong end of the alphabet.

Walker had been a council servant for decades, although he had only recently made it into the council chamber up in Swinton. He was employed by Salford council for 31 years as a librarian and on reception at the civic centre, and he got into politics through the trade union route. Walker had once been on the executive of the Communist Party of Britain, but he later joined the Labour Party. He was first elected in 2019 for Irwell Riverside ward, which covered the Blackfriars area, and transferred here in 2021 when that ward was broken up. Sadly, Ray Walker passed away in August after a sudden illness, aged 57. No age at all.

Because he was the third-placed candidate in May 2021 Walker was due for re-election next May, so the winner of this by-election will not be able to rest for long. Defending for Labour is Roseanna Wain, who stood in May on the Labour slate for Kersal and Broughton Park and got thrashed by the Conservatives in the most Jewish ward in the UK. Wendy Olsen is no longer on the scene in Salford so the Green Party needed a new candidate: they have selected David Jones, who stood in Broughton ward (over the river to the north) in May: Jones was the Green candidate for Blackley and Broughton in the 2019 general election. Also standing are Christopher Bates for the Conservatives and Joseph Allen for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Salford and Eccles
ONS Travel to Work Area: That Other City
Postcode district: M3

Joseph Allen (LD)
Christopher Bates (C)
David Jones (Grn)
Roseanna Wain (Lab)

May 2021 result Lab 1226/1205/946 Grn 606/349/276 C 177/137 LD 142/96/61 Ind 118
Previous results in detail

North Meols

West Lancashire council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Tom Blane.

W Lancs, N Meols

We finish as we began: by the seaside. The word “meols” (here pronounced “meals”) is a Norse-derived word for sand-dunes which appears in a number of places on the Lancashire and Cheshire coasts, but the landscape of North Meols ward is utterly flat and dominated by saltmarsh and worse. Don’t set off walking towards the bright lights of Lytham to the north: that way lies the Ribble estuary, which is impassable unless you have a hovercraft handy. Even more of this area was under water until Martin Mere was drained in the nineteenth century, and the result of this land reclamation is utterly flat and very rich agricultural land.

While the ward’s arable landscape may look similar to somewhere in Lincolnshire or the Dutch polders, this is Lancashire. The largest population centre is the village of Banks, just to the east of Southport off the main road towards Preston. Although Southport is the main service centre for the area, it is part of Merseyside whereas North Meols has remained part of Lancashire. So for the moment the ward is part of the South Ribble parliamentary seat, based on Leyland and southern suburbs of Preston, while its council services are administered from Ormskirk by West Lancashire council.

West Lancashire went into No Overall Control at May’s council elections after many years of Labour majority. The main reason for this is the OWLs, who are not what they seem: OWL here is Our West Lancashire, a localist group which now holds seven seats on the council. There is also one independent, 19 Conservatives plus this vacancy and 26 Labour councillors, two short of a majority. Labour continue to run West Lancashire as a minority administration, and if they gain this by-election they will hold half the seats on the council.

W Lancs, 2019

What are the chances of that? Well, West Lancashire district tends to have very few marginal wards but this can now be counted as one of them. North Meols voted Labour in 2018 for the first time this century, the party winning 55-45 in a straight fight having never come particularly close in previous years. The ward last went to the polls in 2019 (above), when Tom Blane was re-elected for a second term of office by a 49-38 margin over Labour. The Conservatives enjoyed a much larger majority in May’s Lancashire county council elections, at which North Meols ward was part of the West Lancashire North division.

Tom Blane passed away in September at the age of 78, leaving an intriguing by-election which is a straight fight. Defending for the Conservatives is John Howard, a North Meols parish councillor. Challenging for Labour is Liz Savage, who is a former West Lancashire councillor (for Ashurst ward in Skem, 2011-19) and has three very creditable parliamentary campaigns under her belt: Savage was the Labour candidate for the neighbouring Southport constituency in 2015, 2017 and 2019, taking her party’s share of the vote in Southport from 9% in 2010 to 39% in 2019. This could be one to watch.

Parliamentary constituency: South Ribble
Lancashire county council division: West Lancashire North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Liverpool (part), Preston (part)
Postcode district: PR9

John Howard (C)
Liz Savage (Lab)

May 2019 result C 595 Lab 459 UKIP 152
May 2018 result Lab 625 C 503
May 2015 result C 1026 Lab 586 UKIP 420
May 2014 result C 439 UKIP 364 Lab 277
May 2011 result C 785 Lab 422
May 2010 result C 1192 Lab 638
May 2007 result C 567 LD 254 Lab 137
May 2006 result C 620 Ind 243 Lab 126 Grn 108
May 2003 result C 386 Ind 286 Lab 117
May 2002 result C 549/548 Ind 383 Lab 304
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