Previewing the council by-elections of 11 Nov 2021

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

There are eight by-elections on Armistice Day, 11th November 2021, and this is a very interesting set. We have two seats defended by the Lincolnshire Independents, one defence each for the Conservatives, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, together with three free-for-alls! With hung councils galore, two councillors having left the country and a wide mix of places and issues to talk about, there really is something for everyone this week. Let’s start this week’s edition of Andrew’s Previews by talking turnout, in the UK’s most millennial ward…

University and Scotforth Rural

Lancaster council; caused by the resignation of Jack O’Dwyer-Henry.

Last week this column discussed a by-election in inner-city Salford, a place where there is a lot of building of new apartments going on. New apartment blocks in city centres can be very difficult places for political campaigns: they are often impossible to access or leaflet for people who don’t live there, and the people who do live there in many cases don’t stay for long before moving on. Those were some of the excuses given for the turnout in last week’s Blackfriars and Trinity by-election, which was a pathetic 10.06% of the electorate. Salford Council reckon this is the lowest ever turnout for an election in the city, and I’m not going to contradict that.

It’s not a record low turnout for the UK, though. The last by-election before the pandemic hit, in Coventry in March 2020, had a turnout of 9% – but that was with the public health emergency at its height. That’s a one-off factor (at least we hope so). For a turnout that’s really difficult to beat you need a highly transient population – preferably somewhere where the electorate completely turns over every year, perhaps have little connection to the area, and are largely absent for a large chunk of the year…

Lancaster University Chaplaincy

Welcome to Lancaster University. This is one of the 1960s “plate-glass” universities located on its own separate campus just to the south of Lancaster. The university is known for the high quality of its teaching: its alumni include the Opposition Chief Whip, Sir Alan Campbell, and the present Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood Cat Smith, while the former Labour cabinet minister Alan Milburn is the present Chancellor of the university. The University is on a growth spurt and has expanded beyond the original campus in recent years.

From 2003 to 2015 Lancaster council had a University ward, which covered the original Lancaster University campus and nothing else. Its 2011 census return is unique. 94% of the population were full-time students, 94% were aged between 18 and 29, 68% were educated to A-level but not (yet) further: all of these were by a long way the highest figures for any ward in England and Wales. University ward also made the top 100 in England and Wales for households living rent-free, which appears to be an artefact of the census enumerators recognising the university’s colleges as one household each – only 62 households were counted in the ward for 3,384 residents.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the most millennial ward in the UK turned out to be politically left-wing. University ward voted Lib Dem on its creation in 2003, then Green in 2007, was won by Labour in 2011 and went back to the Greens at a by-election in 2014.

Lancaster, University/Scotforth Rural

The University’s expansion has made a mess of the administrative boundaries in the area. The building of the original campus left Scotforth parish divided into two parts, while the new south-west campus forms part of Ellel parish. For the 2015 Lancaster elections an expanded University and Scotforth Rural ward was drawn up, taking in all of these areas. Scotforth parish covers some lovely but sparsely-populated countryside, so this expansion hasn’t had much effect on the ward’s unique demographic. The University and Scotforth Rural ward has not proven to be particularly workable in practice, and draft proposals from the Local Government Boundary Commission will break it up for the 2023 Lancaster elections. That change would create something similar to (but smaller than) the local county council division of Lancaster South East, which is safely Labour but has a permanent population to give the demographic profile a more conventional look.

The LGBCE faces an extra difficulty in its current work which it didn’t have in the last review of Lancaster: Individual Electoral Registration. When this was brought in for the December 2015 register the enrolment of University and Scotforth Rural ward dropped like a stone, because the University administration was no longer able to process applications to vote and send them to Lancaster electoral services en bloc. For the following academic year the University brought electoral registration back in-house with an opt-out for those students who for whatever reason don’t want to register: but this hasn’t brought the ward’s register back up to scratch in the long term. The December 2020 register, which the Commission are using for their current review, gives University and Scotforth Rural an entitlement of just 1.77 Lancaster councillors, a figure which is not projected to change significantly in the near future. The ward simply doesn’t have the electorate to justify its three councillors.

As to why the ward has proven difficult in practice: remember that the vast majority of electors here are students. University students generally don’t vote in local elections. This may seem like a heretical question for a psephological piece to ask, but: why should they? Most students won’t hang around for a full electoral cycle. Student housing is let on contracts of one year or less: students will often move in and out of halls of residence, finding themselves in different wards or even different council areas from one year to the next. Student residences are exempt from council tax. And campus-based universities like Lancaster are very much their own bubble, with those inside the bubble taking very little notice of what is going on in the city next door. In May 2002 your columnist was a poll clerk at the campus polling station for another “bubble” campus university, Warwick, in the Coventry city council elections: we recorded an on-the-day turnout of 8.4%.

The first election for the present ward was in 2015, and it returned two Labour councillors (Lucy Atkinson and Matt Mann) and a Green (Sam Armstrong). The Tory slate, despite including a candidate with the name Ice Dong, finished in third place. Mann resigned from the council in late 2016, having taken up a new job outside Lancaster, and the resulting by-election featured a campaign visit from none other than Jeremy Corbyn.

This did help the new Labour candidate Nathan Burns hold the December 2016 University and Scotforth Rural by-election (Andrew’s Previews 2016, page 328) with 98, to 79 for the Greens and 68 for the Conservatives. Those figures are not percentages: they are votes. Nathan Burns holds the dubious distinction of being the only English district councillor this century (outside the City of London and the Isles of Scilly) to be elected with fewer than 100 votes at a contested election. The final turnout was around 7%, which this column suspects to be the record low turnout for a UK local election. It’s going to be very difficult to beat.

The other two ward councillors, Lucy Atkinson for Labour and Sam Armstrong for the Greens, both stood down in early 2018. The resulting double by-election in May 2018 (Andrew’s Previews 2018, page 173) returned the Labour slate of Amara Betts-Patel and Oliver Robinson quite comfortably with a much higher turnout: they polled 518 and 423 votes respectively. Labour held the ward at the May 2019 Lancaster city council elections with 41% of the vote, against 30% for the Green Party and 17% for the Conservatives: Robinson was re-elected, with Katie Whearty and Jack O’Dwyer-Henry joining the Labour slate.

Lancaster, 2019

Lancaster has been a hung council for many years. Labour came close to winning a majority here in 2015, but fell back in 2019 largely thanks to a resurgence from the Morecambe Bay Independents, a long-standing Morecambe localist party. The 2019 election returned 21 Labour councillors, 14 Morecambe Bay Independents, 12 Conservatives, 10 Greens and 3 Lib Dems. A by-election in the rural Kellet ward in May 2021 saw the Conservatives recover a seat they had lost to the Lib Dems in 2019.

The Labour group on the council has since split, with a number of councillors elected on their ticket forming a new “Eco-Socialist Independent” group. At the 2021 AGM the Eco-Socialist Independents deposed the Labour council leader and installed a new leader from the Green Party, who have formed a minority coalition with the Eco-Socialist Independents to run the council. The Greens have 10 councillors and the Eco-Socialist Independents have 4: the opposition now consists of 14 Labour councillors plus one vacant seat, 11 Conservatives plus two vacant seats, 9 Morecambe Bay Independents, 2 Lib Dems, 6 other councillors and this vacancy. Three different dates over the next few weeks have been set for the four pending by-elections, so this is the first in a three-part series of Previews covering Lancaster city council.

The 2021 University and Scotforth Rural by-election is to replace Jack O’Dwyer-Henry, who was one of the Labour councillors who defected to the Eco-Socialist Independents. O’Dwyer-Henry has now graduated from Lancaster University, and he has returned to his native Belfast to take up a new job with the Green Party of Northern Ireland.

There is no defending Eco-Socialist Independent candidate, so this by-election is a free-for-all! You need four people to make up a University Challenge team, and four people is what we have here. Labour will want their seat back: their candidate is (Sayeda) Fabiha Askari, who is described as a Lancaster lass and student. The Greens, whose policies are rather high on the news agenda at the moment with the ongoing COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, will presumably want to pick up the seat previously held by their Eco-Socialist Independent partners: their candidate is Jamie Payne, who is a final-year student reading politics and international relations. The Conservatives have broken with the trend and not selected a student for this by-election: their candidate is Matthew Maxwell-Scott, who represents the neighbouring Lancaster Rural East division on the county council. Completing the ballot paper is Zanna Ashton for the Lib Dems.

Picture of the Chaplaincy Centre, Lancaster University copyright © Ian Greig and licensed for reuse under CC-BY-SA 2.0.

Parliamentary constituency: Lancaster and Fleetwood
Lancashire county council division: Lancaster South East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lancaster and Morecambe
Postcode districts: LA1, LA2

Zanna Ashton (LD)
Sayeda Askari (Lab)
Matthew Maxwell-Scott (C)
Jamie Payne (Grn)

May 2019 result Lab 295/278/267 Grn 217/175/142 C 119/113/112 LD 88/83/72
May 2018 double by-election Lab 518/423 Grn 264/235 C 184/184 LD 120/114
December 2016 result Lab 98 Grn 79 C 68 LD 36
May 2015 result Lab 605/500/480 Grn 555/440/417 C 405/391/339 LD 143/79/66
Previous results in detail

Melton Dorian

Melton council, Leicestershire; caused by the disqualification of Conservative councillor Alan Pearson, who failed to attend any meetings of the council in six months.

Melton, Melton Dorian

For our first East Midlands by-election this week we have come to what is, in population terms, the smallest remaining non-metropolitan district in England. Melton district council covers a population of just over 50,000, according to the latest ONS estimates; only Rutland (which this column visited last week), the City of London and the Isles of Scilly have smaller headcounts. Should the current proposals for reorganisation in North Yorkshire and Cumbria go through, Melton would be one of only three shire districts with a population under 60,000, along with West Devon and another Leicestershire council, Oadby and Wigston.

Slightly more than half of Melton district’s electors live in the town of Melton Mowbray, which has given us not only the famous pork pie but also Stilton cheese: the Tuxford and Tebbutt creamery is one of only six dairies in the UK permitted to produce the real thing. The town is surprisingly industrial for its size, and Dorian ward (covering the south-west corner of the town) is in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for those employed in manufacturing. Within the ward boundary is the Melton Foods factory, the world’s largest supplier of genuine Melton Mowbray pork pies.

Despite the presence of all that pork the Conservatives have a large majority on Melton council, and even with this manufacturing profile the Labour Party have won just two seats in Dorian ward this century, both in the 2011 election. At the first contest on the current boundaries in 2003 Dorian elected two Conservative councillors and an independent, Patricia Cumbers, who subsequently joined the party and has topped the poll at each ordinary election since. The ward returned a full slate of Conservatives in 2007 and 2015, but not in 2019 when the Tory slate was opposed only by Philip Wood as a Green Party candidate. Wood polled 48% and was elected in second place, with the Tory slate polling 52% and winning the other two seats. At other levels of government Dorian ward is part of safe Conservative units: the Melton West division of Leicestershire county council, and the Rutland and Melton parliamentary seat.

Alan Pearson had represented this ward on Melton council since 2015 and was also the ward’s county councillor from 2013 until this May, when he didn’t seek re-election. Pearson is currently in Western Australia, having gone there before Christmas to see family and get a second opinion following recent surgery on his shoulder. It appears that the second opinion was not a good one. Pearson has not returned to Leicestershire, and as a result he has now been thrown off Melton council under the six-month non-attendance rule.

The by-election to replace him has a curious candidate list, given the 2019 result. Defending for the Conservatives is Timothy Webster, a former manager of the town’s livestock market who is a trustee of the Melton Mowbray Town Estate. One of the longest-running forms of town government in England, the Town Estate has been doing good work in Melton since the sixteenth century and still runs the town’s parks, sports grounds and market. Curiously there is no Green Party candidate, so the opposition to Webster comes from Sarah Cox. A local resident, Cox is a former police chief inspector who also plays a leading role in local charities, and she has been nominated by the Labour Party. It’s a straight fight: seconds out!

Parliamentary constituency: Rutland and Melton
Leicestershire county council division: Melton West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode districts: LE13, LE14

Sarah Cox (Lab)
Timothy Webster (C)

May 2019 result C 477/429/385 Grn 438
May 2015 result C 1221/1146/1039 Lab 797/646/579 Ind 642
May 2011 result C 649/540/524 Lab 642/563
May 2007 result C 581/484/439 Ind 352 Lab 313
August 2004 by-election C 397 Lab 140 Ind 125
May 2003 result C 367/302 Ind 297 Lab 268/239/237 Melton Borough Progressive Alliance 188
Previous results in detail

Metheringham; and
Sleaford Castle

North Kesteven council, Lincolnshire. The Metheringham poll is a double by-election following the resignations of Lincolnshire Independents councillors Nick Byatt and Laura Pearson. The Sleaford Castle by-election follows the resignation of a third Lincolnshire Independents councillor, Cara Sandy.

In a change to some advertised listings, our other East Midlands by-elections this week take place in North Kesteven council, which covers a large rural area immediately to the south of Lincoln. They were notified to this column very late; and by “very late” here I mean “two-and-a-half hours before polls closed”, which was the time I had to write this section. As such, take this piece with even more salt than usual.

N Kesteven, Sleaford Castle

The main town in the North Kesteven district is Sleaford, which has an important location at a place where the River Slea breaks through the ridge of high ground which runs south from Lincoln. The town had a castle to go with it: Sleaford Castle, located rather curiously on flat fenland, was constructed during the early twelfth century by the Bishop of Lincoln. Little remains of the castle today, and its site is a green space just to the west of the present-day town centre. Sleaford Castle is the central of the five wards for Sleaford town, and covers housing either side of the railway line to the west together with a small part of the town centre (the western side of South Gate).

N Kesteven, Metheringham

Sleaford’s main focus has always been as an agricultural town servicing the rich fenland of Lincolnshire. Some of the fenland villages are covered by the Metheringham ward, which covers four long and thin parishes about halfway between Sleaford and Lincoln. The shape of the parish boundaries show that these are spring-line villages, located at places on the ridge slope where streams rise before flowing down to the fens. Metheringham itself has a railway station, linking the village to Lincoln and Sleaford.

The North Kesteven district forms the basis for the Sleaford and North Hykeham parliamentary seat, which (with slightly different boundaries) returned the largest Conservative vote total and largest Conservative vote percentage in the 2017 general election. Less than two years later, the Conservatives lost overall control of the council: the 2019 election returned 22 independent and 20 Conservative councillors, with one vacancy due to insufficient nominations. The Conservatives won the resulting by-election (Andrew’s Previews 2019, page 175) and they have managed to stay in power on North Kesteven council – but only by peeling off some of the independent councillors to form a coalition administration.

A number of the opposition councillors were returned with the nomination of the Lincolnshire Independents, who at one point had a sizeable group on the county council but have been down to one county councillor since 2017. The Lincolnshire Independents are defending all three seats today, so there is a chance for the Conservative-led administration to increase its majority here. Both wards are in divisions which voted Conservative in May’s county elections by large margins.

Metheringham ward has only previously been contested by independent and Conservative candidates this century. In 2003 and 2007 all the candidates were independents; the Conservative slate gained the ward in 2011 without a contest, and held both seats in 2015 against a challenge from a single Lincolnshire Independent, Nick Byatt, who lost out by just four votes. The Lincolnshire Independents won both seats in 2019 rather convincingly, with a 60-40 margin.

Sleaford Castle ward has been in independent hands since 2011 when Keith Dolby gained the ward from the Conservatives. Dolby stood down in 2019 and his seat went to the Lincolnshire Independents in a close three-way result: Cara Sandy won with 194 votes, while the Labour candidate Linda Edwards-Shea and the Conservatives’ Steve Fields (a former Lincolnshire Independents councillor) tied for second place on 172 votes each. In percentage terms that’s 36-32-32, and it’s the closest Labour have come to winning a seat on North Kesteven council since they were wiped out in 2007.

The Sleaford Castle by-election is a free-for-all, with no defending Lincolnshire Independents candidate. There are, however, two independents on the ballot. Ken Fernandes is a Sleaford town councillor, while Steve Mason was an independent candidate in May’s Lincolnshire county elections (for Sleaford Rural division, which doesn’t cover this ward). Labour’s runner-up from last time Linda Edwards-Shea, the deputy mayor of Sleaford, is back for another go. The Conservatives’ offer to the electors is Malcolm Offer, who is also seeking election to the town council in a different by-election. Completing the Castle ballot paper is Susan Hislop for the Lib Dems.

We have seven candidates chasing the two available seats in Metheringham. The Lincolnshire Independents have put up a slate of Amelia Bailey and Mark Williams; Bailey runs a tearoom in Metheringham, while Williams is a qualified FA coach who works in IT for the county council. The Conservatives will be looking to recover their 2019 loss with their slate of Dave Parry and Fran Pembury; Parry is a Metheringham parish councillor, while Pembury runs a hairdressers’ in the village. For the first time this century other parties are getting in on the act here: Labour have nominated Paul Edwards-Shea and Calvin Rodgerson, while Diana Catton stands for the Liberal Democrats.

Metheringham

Parliamentary constituency: Sleaford and North Hykeham
Lincolnshire county council division: Metheringham Rural (part: Blankney, Dunston and Metheringham parishes), Potterhanworth and Coleby (part: Nocton parish)

Amelia Bailey (Lincs Ind)
Diana Catton (LD)
Paul Edwards-Shea (Lab)
Dave Parry (C)
Fran Pembury (C)
Calvin Rodgerson (Lab)
Mark Williams (Lincs Ind)

May 2019 result Lincs Ind 814/807 C 544/489
May 2015 result C 1641/1340 Lincs Ind 1336
May 2011 result 2 C unopposed
May 2007 result Ind 1054/949/585
Previous results in detail

Sleaford Castle

Parliamentary constituency: Sleaford and North Hykeham
Lincolnshire county council division: Sleaford

Linda Edwards-Shea (Lab)
Ken Fernandes (Ind)
Susan Hislop (LD)
Steve Mason (Ind)
Malcolm Offer (C)

May 2019 result Lincs Ind 194 Lab 172 C 172
May 2015 result Ind 678 C 451
May 2011 result Ind 492 C 225
May 2007 result C 271 LD 187 Lab 146
Previous results in detail

Llandrillo

Denbighshire council, North Wales; caused by the resignation of Plaid Cymru councillor Mabon ab Gwynfor.

Denbigshire, Llandrillo

We have reached the second week of November, which as long-term readers of Andrew’s Previews know can mean only one thing: it is now time for your columnist to mount the pulpit and read out the following notice.

The six-month rule has now come into effect as we approach the next ordinary local elections on Thursday 5 May 2022. What this means is that from now on, if a councillor who was due for re-election in May 2022 dies, resigns or gets disqualified, then there will be no by-election to replace them and their seat will be left vacant.

The May 2022 local elections will see all local councillors in Greater London, Scotland, Wales, Birmingham, Huntingdonshire, Newcastle-under-Lyme, St Helens and South Cambridgeshire up for election, together with one-third or one-half of those councils which hold elections by thirds or halves (generally, these are boroughs and districts in urban England outside London). If the government gets its act together, we may also have some form of elections to a new local government structure in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset.

My list of council vacancies currently has two entries in London (not counting the parliamentary vacancy in Old Bexley and Sidcup), four in Scotland and six in Wales (one of which, in Torfaen, has been left vacant for over six months now and nobody appears to be in any hurry to call it). Once those are cleared, this column will take its leave of London, Scotland and Wales until the summer of 2022 at the earliest. The first half of next year is looking likely to be an England-only diet for council by-elections.

So, savour today’s two Welsh polls while you can. We start in the north with a ward in the Dee valley at the southern end of Denbighshire. Llandrillo yn Edeirnion is a small village to the south of Corwen, in the shadow of the high Berwyn mountains. This is very much rural Wales. Llandrillo ward’s census return has an unusual feature: 27 of its 489 households were living rent-free, which is the highest proportion for any ward in Wales and in the top 50 for England and Wales.

Cadair Berwyn, on the ward boundary, rises to an altitude of 832 metres and dominates the horizon for a large swathe of western England: on the clearest of days, views from the summit of Cadair Berwyn extend north to the Lake District, over 100 miles away. The Berwyn range forms an impassable ward boundary to the east: that’s something which Henry II, in one of his invasions of Wales, failed to appreciate until it was too late. His 1165 campaign made the mistake of starting from Oswestry, struck west over the Berwyns, and quickly ground to a halt against guerilla military action and terrible weather. The mountains were also the scene of an obscure incident in January 1974 which some people have claimed to be a UFO crash; the MoD investigation ascribed the loud noise and bright lights on the Berwyns to a combination of a small earthquake, a meteor and poachers.

The modern Denbighshire district is based on the Vale of Clwyd, with its main towns being Rhyl and Prestatyn on the north coast. However, Llandrillo yn Edeirnion and its sister village of Cynwyd, further down the valley, are in the Dee valley rather than the Clwyd valley and form a rather remote corner of the district. Indeed, until its transfer to Clwyd in the 1974 reorganisation, this ward was a part of Merionethshire. So from February 1974 until the parliamentary boundaries caught up in 1983, Llandrillo was represented by the Plaid Cymru MP Dafydd Elis Thomas.

Thomas was the Baby of the Commons between the two 1974 elections (he was aged 27 when first elected), and his long career in politics didn’t finally come to an end until May this year when he retired from the Senedd. He was the leader of Plaid Cymru from 1984 to 1991, has been a member of the House of Lords (as Lord Elis-Thomas) since 1992, was Presiding Officer of the Welsh Assembly (as the post was then known) from 1999 to 2011, and he finished his political career from 2017 to 2021 as an independent MS and as a junior minister in the Welsh Government.

Lord Elis-Thomas sat in the Senedd until 2021 for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, the successor to the Merioneth constituency he had first won 47 years earlier. Upon his retirement that seat was recovered for Plaid Cymru by Mabon ap Gwynfor. A grandson of the first Plaid Cymru MP Gwynfor Evans, Mabon started his political career in 2004 by being elected to Aberystwyth town council; he made the step up to principal council level in May 2017 by winning the Llandrillo division of Denbighshire without a contest. His new Senedd constituency borders his old ward.

The Welsh Government have recently tightened up the rules on “double-jobbing” by elected representatives. Local councillors who are elected to the Senedd are now required to resign their council seat unless they are in or entering the final year of their council term. As the next Welsh council elections are due in May 2022 this exception applied to Mabon ap Gwynfor, who was eligible to finish his term on Denbighshire council but would need to stand down from either the Senedd or the council in May next year. Mabon was not required to resign his council seat before May, but he has chosen to do so.

Mabon ap Gwynfor had previously stood in the 2011 Senedd election and the 2015 Westminster election as the Plaid Cymru candidate for the Clwyd South constituency, which has covered Llandrillo since the 1997 election. (In that year the Conservative candidate for Clwyd South was one Boris Johnson; answers on a postcard to the usual address as to what happened to him.) Clwyd South was a Conservative gain from Labour in December 2019 making this area technically part of the Red Wall, but the seat re-elected its Labour MS Ken Skates quite comfortably in May.

These figures are unlikely to be replicated in this by-election, not least because there is no Labour candidate. Mabon ap Gwynfor’s predecessor as ward councillor was Plaid’s Cefyn Williams, who was re-elected for his penultimate term of office in 2008 with 78% of the vote. After that experience, nobody bothered to oppose Plaid here in either 2012 or 2017.

Denbighshire, 2017

The 2017 election left Denbighshire council very evenly balanced, with 16 Conservative councillors, 13 Labour (mostly from Rhyl), 9 Plaid, 8 independents and a Lib Dem. All the parties except Labour are represented in the ruling administration.

So this by-election is the first contested local election for Llandrillo in 13 years. Defending for Plaid Cymru is Gwyneth Ellis, a community councillor in Cynwyd. The other two candidates both give addresses in Llandrillo: they are independent candidate David Robinson, who was a distant runner-up here in 2008, and Julian Sampson for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary and Senedd constituency: Clwyd South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Rhyl
Postcode district: LL21

Gwyned Ellis (PC)
David Robinson (Ind)
Julian Sampson (C)

May 2017 result PC unopposed
May 2012 result PC unopposed
May 2008 result PC 405 Ind 93 C 19
June 2004 result PC 391 Ind 158
Previous results in detail

Heath

Cardiff council, Glamorgan; caused by the resignation of Heath and Birchgrove Independent councillor Fenella Bowden.

Cardiff, Heath

Our other Welsh by-election of the week is quite the contrast, as we travel from Wild Wales to suburban Cardiff. The Heath ward is a leafy area a few miles to the north of Cardiff city centre: much of the eponymous heath was built on in the inter-war years with spacious houses and large gardens located on tree-lined roads.

Some of the open space survives as Heath Park and Cathays Cemetery, but in 1960s more of the heath disappeared with the construction of the University Hospital of Wales. Run by the NHS and Cardiff University, UHW is the largest hospital in Wales, and its presence propels Heath ward into the top 100 wards in England and Wales for those working in health or social work (21.1% of the workforce, according to the 2011 census).

The Heath ward extends west across the Caerphilly Road to take in the Birchgrove area. This is rather lower down the social scale, with terraces rather than semis or detached houses dominating. Famous former Birchgrove residents include the Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas and the athlete Colin Jackson.

Heath ward has spectacularly volatile voting patterns and has returned councillors from all three main parties this century. In 2004 it was safely Liberal Democrat, but the Conservatives took two of the ward’s seats off the Lib Dems in 2008. The remaining Lib Dem seat went to newly-elected Fenella Bowden, who subseuently left the party in late 2010: she then formed her own localist party, the Heath and Birchgrove Independents. The 2012 and 2017 elections here both returned a three-way split between Fenella Bowden, the Conservatives and Labour. Shares of the vote in May 2017 were 31% for Labour, 28% for the Conservatives and 27% for the Heath and Birchgrove Independents.

Cardiff, 2017

Again, this is rather different from the local parliamentary seat. Heath ward is part of the Cardiff North constituency, a traditional marginal seat which has been trending to Labour in recent years. Cardiff North was gained by Labour in 2011 for the Senedd and in June 2017 for Westminster, and the Conservatives lost ground here in the last Westminster and Senedd elections.

Fenella Bowden has had some serious health problems over the last couple of years, and she has stood down on health grounds after 13 years in office,. There is just time to squeeze in a by-election for her seat before the next Cardiff city council elections in May 2022. To add extra excitement, there is no defending Heath and Birchgrove Independents candidate. It’s a free-for-all! Labour, who topped the poll here in 2017 and will increase their very small majority on the council with a gain in this by-election, have selected Julie Sangani: she is a healthcare volunteer and school governor at Ton yr Ywen primary school. The Conservatives have selected Peter Hudson, the husband of their current ward councillor Lyn Hudson. Also standing are Gwennol Haf for Plaid Cymru and Kathryn Lock for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Cardiff North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cardiff
Postcode districts: CF14, CF23

Gwennol Haf (PC)
Peter Hudson (C)
Kathryn Lock (LD)
Julie Sangani (Lab)

May 2017 result Lab 2010/1704/1667 C 1830/1602/1477 Heath and Birchgrove Ind 1737/1143/930 PC 410 Grn 251 LD 244/163/119
May 2012 result Heath and Birchgrove Ind 1500/1151/888 Lab 1416/1240/1116 C 1277/1242/1101 LD 349/175/140 PC 325 Ind 262 Grn 253
May 2008 result C 2205/2135/1819 LD 1877/1642/1545 Lab 896/656/575 PC 468 Grn 435
June 2004 result LD 2380/2305/1929 C 1040/1026/992 Lab 920/634/612 Cardiff Citizens 502/367/288 PC 265/248 Grn 244
Previous results in detail

Thanet Villages

Thanet council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Green Party councillor Trevor Roper.

Thanet, Villages

And now for something completely different as we finish the week at the eastern end of Kent. The Thanet Villages ward covers the relatively undeveloped south and western ends of the Isle of Thanet, together with the low-lying ground which was once under water and made Thanet a genuine island. The ward’s largest population centre, the village and railway junction of Minster-in-Thanet, is a long way from the sea now; but in AD 597 it was the location where St Augustine of Canterbury landed on English soil on a mission from God and the Pope. Non Angli, sed angeli.

Much of the acreage of Thanet Villages is taken up by the apron and very wide runway of Manston Airport. Opened in the winter of 1915-16 by the Royal Flying Corps, Manston has the UK’s eleventh-longest and widest runway – wide enough for three planes to land simultaneously – and its location close to the Continent placed it on the front line during the Battle of Britain. Manston was heavily bombed, and often became the final destination for damaged RAF planes limping home to the UK. After use by the US Air Force in the early part of the Cold War, Manston from 1960 became a joint civilian and RAF airport with the occasional charter and scheduled flight. It was renamed Kent International Airport in 1989, but efforts to attract budget airlines were derailed by the collapse of EUjet – which had bought Manston – in 2005 and by the financial crash of 2008. Manston saw its final scheduled flight on 9 April 2014, a KLM departure to Amsterdam, and officially closed on 15 May 2014 with the loss of 144 jobs. Possibly the widest prominence for the airport came in 2001, when it featured as a North Korean airbase in the James Bond film Die Another Day.

The fate of Marston Airport has been a political open sore for many years. Thanet council elected a UKIP majority in 2015 with a manifesto pledge to reopen the airport to traffic, mainly air freight. A plan by the landowners to redevelop the airport site for housing, business and leisure now appears to have fallen through in favour of an eventual reopening. The transport secretary Grant Shapps granted a development consent order for the reopening in July 2020, but the High Court subsequently threw this out in February; and further assessments have questioned the long-term need for another air freight hub in the UK.

In the meantime, Manston hit the headlines last December for all the wrong reasons. The Government has for some years hired the airport for use as an emergency lorry park in the event of disruption at the Channel ports. In late December 2020, this actually happened: thousands of lorries and their drivers were trapped at Manston in December, spending Christmas in their cabs, thanks to chaos at Dover and Calais.

Thanet, 2019

Thanet council’s politics has just as turbulent over the years. Since the last election in 2019 alone a Conservative minority administration has been deposed in favour of a Labour minority administration, which was then deposed in a counter-coup at June’s AGM in favour of another Conservative minority administration. The latest available composition gives 26 Conservative councillors, three short of a majority, against 17 Labour, 6 Thanet Independents (the main remnant of the UKIP group which won a majority here in 2015), 3 other independents, 3 Green Party councillors and this vacancy.

Thanet Villages ward has been politically split at every election this century. From 2003 to 2015 it was represented by two Conservatives and an independent councillor; in 2015 UKIP took one of the Conservative seats. In 2019 the Conservatives defeated the UKIP councillor, while independent councillor Bob Grove stood down. His seat went to the Green Party candidate Trevor Roper in a close fight for the final seat: Roper polled 599 votes, the Lib Dem candidate had 567 and the outgoing UKIP councillor ended on 551. Shares of the vote were 25% for the Conservatives, 23% for the Greens, 22% for the Lib Dems and 21% for UKIP.

Thanet Villages ward forms part of the large Birchington and Rural county division, which returns two Kent county councillors and is safely Conservative. Following May’s county elections one of the Conservative county councillors for Birchington and Rural is Derek Crow-Brown, the former UKIP councillor for Thanet Villages.

So this could be a difficult seat for the Green Party to hold, particularly given the circumstances of the vacancy. Trevor Roper travelled to France last year with the intention of buying a home he and his wife could retire to, and then found himself unable to return to the UK. He resigned from the council after his situation was exposed by a local blogger.

Defending this by-election for the Green is Abi Smith, who lives in Westgate-on-Sea and has previously worked for Thanet’s library service. The Conservatives have selected their unsuccessful candidate from 2019 Guy Wilson, who ran rather a long way behind his running-mates last time: Wilson is a Manston parish councillor. The Lib Dem candidate Jeremy de Rose runs a railway service company and a bicycle business, and like Smith he was on the Kent county council ballot here in May. Thanet UKIP now appear to be defunct, so those are your three candidates.

Parliamentary constituency: North Thanet
Kent county council division: Birchington and Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Margate and Ramsgate
Postcode districts: CT7, CT9, CT12

Jeremy de Rose (LD)
Abi Smith (Grn)
Guy Wilson (C)

May 2019 result C 638/602/460 Grn 599 LD 567 UKIP 551 C 460 LD 416 Lab 223
January 2018 by-election C 620 LD 313 Lab 206 Grn 66 Ind 52
May 2015 result Ind 1326/335 C 1273/1083 UKIP 1197/1033/916 Grn 601 Lab 515
May 2011 result Ind 1209/523 C 1011/837/720 Lab 516/472
June 2009 by-election Ind 937 C 596 LD 316 Lab 133
May 2007 result Ind 793 C 670/625/434 Lab 368/359

May 2003 result C 687/574/572 Ind 627/424/419 Lab 499/380/284
Previous results in detail


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Andrew Teale