Previewing the Super Thursday by-elections of 25 Nov 2021

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

It’s Super Thursday today, with thirteen by-elections taking place today in England in the biggest test of public opinion remaining this year. There are six Labour defences, four Conservatives, two independent seats and a Lib Dem up for election in England. There are lots of stories to tell and there will be something for everyone to enjoy here. Without further ado, let’s start with the big one:

North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner; and
Raskelf and White Horse

The by-election for North Yorkshire PCC follows the resignation of Conservative PCC Philip Allott. The by-election for Raskelf and White Horse ward, Hambleton council, follows the resignation of Conservative councillor Jill Mortimer MP.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
—parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

Your columnist has a regular habit of doing a lot of Christmas shopping in the tiny city of Ripon. “Stay awhile amid its ancient charms”, say the signs leading into the city, and Ripon is certainly a charming place which the Industrial Revolution essentially passed by. The market square was described by Daniel Defoe as “the finest and most beautiful square that is to be seen of its kind in England”, and a few centuries on from Defoe’s time that’s still a fair assessment. Every evening at 9pm a hornblower turns up in the market square, providing a timecheck for the locals. The city’s impressive cathedral dates from the twelfth century, and includes a tiny crypt from a previous Anglo-Saxon monastery constructed by the seventh-century St Wilfrid.

Just to the west of Ripon is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in North Yorkshire. Studley Royal Park is a romantic landscape garden dating to the eighteenth century. You’re probably a bit too late in the autumn now to get the full effect of the tree colours, but the Studley Royal Park also contains the impressive ruins of Fountains Abbey. Fountains controlled extensive lands in the Yorkshire Dales back in the day, making it one of the largest and richest monasteries in England up until the time of dissolution.

The preservation of Fountains’ ruins owes a lot to the taste of John Aislabie, who was MP for Ripon for much of the early 18th century and owned the Studley Royal estate. Aislabie had been mayor of Ripon in 1702-03, and he erected the obelisk in the market square which still stands. He was appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1718, and in that capacity he negotiated a notorious deal whereby the UK national debt was taken over by the South Sea Company in return for government bonds. The South Sea Company subsequently collapsed in 1720 with huge losses for much of the UK’s upper classes. Parliament set up an inquiry, which reported that the government’s support for the scheme was a result of massive levels of corruption. Aislabie himself had received £20,000 in South Sea stock. He was expelled from the House of Commons and the Privy Council, which left him free to concentrate on the development of the Studley Royal garden once he was eventually released from the Tower of London.

The Industrial Revolution may have passed Ripon by, but it has had an effect on other locations in North Yorkshire. Most notably, Skipton, which is a classic Pennine textile town and also, these days, a commuter centre for the cities of west Yorkshire.

Skipton is also a major tourist draw, thanks to its proximity to the countryside of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Within striking distance of Skipton can be found the village of Malham, where generations of northern schoolchildren have been sent to learn geology; while for hikers there is the attraction of the Three Peaks of Whernside, Ingleborough and Penyghent. The countryside around Skipton and the Dales was brought to a wider audience in 2014, when the first two stages of the Tour de France were routed through Yorkshire.

The Dales give way in the east to the Vale of York, a low-lying area in the north of the county through which the main communication links to north-east England pass. Major towns here include Northallerton (the home of North Yorkshire county council), Thirsk and Richmond, together with the enormous Army garrison at Catterick. The military have an extensive presence in North Yorkshire. As well as Catterick, there are a number of RAF airbases in the Vale of York and two large intelligence stations: the “golf balls” at Menwith Hill which the US authorities use for surveillance, and the radar station on the coast at RAF Fylingdales watching for incoming missiles.

The Fylingdales radar station lies in North Yorkshire’s second national park, the North York Moors. This rugged (although not particularly high) moorland extends over a wide area in the north-east of the county, and takes in the port of Whitby. That town is a tourist trap for all sorts of reasons – Captain Cook, Dracula, goth culture, superlative fish and chips – but it should also be well known for an event which took place here in 664. The Synod of Whitby, hosted here in that year by St Hilda, led to a decision by King Oswiu that the kingdom of Northumbria should come into line with the Roman Catholic church in customs including the calculation of Easter. St Wilfred, builder of the tiny crypt under Ripon Cathedral, led the argument in favour of the Roman practice at the Synod.

Whitby is not the major town on the Yorkshire coast. This is the resort town of Scarborough, located either side of a promontory in the North Sea. Scarborough has a long history and a fishing industry, but it was made what it is today by the Victorians. The Grand Hotel in Scarborough, at the time of its opening in 1867, was the largest hotel in Europe. Unfortunately, it has fallen into the hands of the Britannia group.

The Victorians also made the largest and most expensive population centre covered by North Yorkshire county council. This is Harrogate, a spa town which has given us Yorkshire Tea (which, according to no less an authority than the Speaker of the House of Commons, is one of only two good things to come out of Yorkshire), Betty’s tearooms, a thriving conference industry and the 1982 Eurovision Song Contest. The Liberal Democrats have held a number of party conferences in Harrogate over the years.

The south of the county has an economy dominated by energy. Kellingley Colliery, which closed in December 2015, was the last deep coal mine in the UK. It was part of the Selby coalfield, which provided the fuel for three large coal-fired power stations at the southern end of North Yorkshire. The cooling towers at Eggborough power station were demolished last month, but some of Ferrybridge’s towers are still standing for reuse in a future gas-fired plant. And then there is Drax. Now fully converted to biomass operation, Drax is the largest power station in the UK and provides 6% of the country’s electricity.

In the centre of all this is an ancient city which was known as Eboracom to the Romans, Eoforwīc to the Anglo-Saxons and Jórvík to the Vikings. York, as centuries of smoothing of unnecessary letters have turned Jórvík into, was for centuries the major urban centre in the north of England. The Industrial Revolution has put paid to that status, but York is still by far the largest city in the North Yorkshire police area. Major employers here have traditionally included the Rowntree chocolate factory and the railways. The National Railway Museum, one of the UK’s largest and most-visited museums, has been located here since 1975. The University of York was founded in 1963, on a duck-infested campus at Heslington to the south-east of the city; it has educated a number of our most prominent politicians, including the Mother of the House Harriet Harman.

York may be the largest city in North Yorkshire but only about a quarter of the county’s population lives there (and this includes a significant rural hinterland which lies within the city boundary). Much of the acreage of North Yorkshire is agricultural, with prime farming land in the Vale of York complemented by upland sheep farming in the Dales. Those of a certain age might remember the books of the Yorkshire vet James Herriot, turned into the successful TV series All Creatures Great and Small; Herriot was the pseudonym of Alfred Wight, who worked as a vet in Thirsk for fifty years.

It’s this rural area, and the Conservatism which dominates it, that sets the tone for North Yorkshire’s elections. This is the most Conservative part of Yorkshire: even in the disaster year of 1997, the Tories still held four of the county’s eight parliamentary constituencies (three went to Labour and one to the Lib Dems). The Richmond constituency, which has voted Conservative at every election since 1886 with the exception of the 1906 Liberal landslide, has since 1983 been represented successively by three titans of modern Conservatism: the European Commissioner Leon Brittan, the party leader William Hague, and the current Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak.

Since 2010 North Yorkshire has represented by 7 Conservative MPs against 1 Labour (from the York Central constituency). The December 2019 general election gave the Conservatives 54% of the vote across the county, with Labour coming in second on 26%.

North Yorkshire, 2016-19

In the map above, the leading party for each ward in the last ordinary local elections in North Yorkshire is shown. Results are from May 2019 except for Harrogate (2018) and some wards in Craven (2018 or 2016), and each ward has been resized in proportion to its population. We can see that this extra detail gives a more diverse picture than the recent parliamentary results. The Conservatives control the district councils in Harrogate (which includes Ripon and a large rural area), Hambleton (covering the Vale of York) and Selby, and also have half of the seats in Craven district (based on Skipton and Settle) which they run in coalition with independents. The other four districts covering the county have anti-Conservative coalitions: York is run by the Lib Dems and Greens and is the weakest Conservative area of the county, Scarborough is run by Labour and independent councillors, Ryedale (based on the agricultural Vale of Pickering) is run by Lib Dem and independent councillors, and Richmondshire council has an independent-led coalition with the Lib Dems and Greens.

Not for much longer though, probably. Local government reorganisation is in the works, and the likelihood is that all of these councils (except for York, which has unitary status) will probably be swept away in a takeover by North Yorkshire county council, which has a Conservative majority. Mind, anybody who thinks that Bentham is local to Scarborough or Selby, despite their being in the same county, probably hasn’t grasped the concept of local in local government. All of those locations are over an hour (in some cases, well over an hour) by road from Northallerton, where the new North Yorkshire council will likely be administered from.

The three elections to date for North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner have resulted in Conservative wins, although they have all gone to runoffs with the exception of the 2012 election (which only had two candidates). The Conservative majority over Labour has steadily increased, from 58-42 at the comedy elections of November 2012 to 61-39 at the last PCC elections in May this year. The Tories weren’t far off winning six months ago on first preferences alone: the first count gave 47% to the Conservatives, 26% to Labour and 14% to independent candidate Keith Tordoff.

That was the first major election win for Philip Allott, a former leader of the Conservative group on Harrogate council who had been elected as Mayor of Knaresborough when he was just 25 years old. Allott had previously stood for parliament four times, losing three contests in marginal seats: in Bolton West in 2005, and in Halifax in 2010 and 2015. On the last occasion, he finished just 428 votes behind the new Labour candidate. He finally got his chance at high office after the previous Conservative PCC Julia Mulligan, who had served since 2012, was deselected.

Philip Allott served for just five months as North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner. His downfall came as the result of an interview he made to BBC Radio York following the sentencing of a police officer for the murder of Sarah Everard in London. Allott’s remarks that women should be “streetwise” caused sustained outrage, and he resigned as commissioner two weeks later after losing the confidence of the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Panel.

This kicks into action the police and crime commissioner by-election rules, which have been criticised in this column on a number of previous occasions. Suffice to say that the timing of Allott’s resignation meant that the by-election would have to take place either this week or next week. It’s a ridiculously short time to organise a by-election across such a large area for such an important post.

Anyway, we are here now. Defending for the Conservatives is Zoë Metcalfe, a project manager for a property asset management company, who sits on North Yorkshire county council and on Harrogate council. She represents the town of Knaresborough on the county council and Claro ward, which covers a number of villages to the north and east of Knaresborough, on the district council. Metcalfe has stood for Parliament twice, on both occasions in safe Labour seats (Doncaster Central in 2015, Leeds West in 2017).

Labour have gone for youth in selecting Emma Scott-Spivey, a 23-year-old student paramedic. Scott-Spivey lives in Thirsk and is the daughter of two police officers.

There are three other candidates on the ballot, headed by independent candidate Keith Tordoff who returns after his third-place finish in May. Tordoff served as a police officer in Leeds for 20 years, working on the Yorkshire Ripper investigation, and went on to work for the Bank of Scotland; for 20 years he has run the sweetshop at Pateley Bridge, in Nidderdale, and in the 2018 Birthday Honours he was appointed MBE for services to the community. Also returning from May’s election is the Lib Dems’ James Barker, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who represents the Rural West York ward on York city council. Completing the ballot paper is Hannah Barham-Brown, a junior doctor who sits on the council of the British Medical Association; Barham-Brown is the candidate for and deputy leader of the Women’s Equality Party.

Hambleton, Raskelf/White Horse

There is one local by-election taking place in North Yorkshire to help drive up turnout for the PCC by-election. The Raskelf and White Horse ward covers seventeen parishes in the countryside between Thirsk and Easingwold. Part of the ward is within the North York Moors National Park, including the eponymous White Horse at Kilburn: thought to be England’s most northerly hill figure, the White Horse dates from the nineteenth century and dominates the horizon of the southern Vale of York. As well as the White Horse tourists can visit Shandy Hall, the former home of the Tristram Shandy writer Laurence Sterne, which is now a museum in the village of Coxwold. The ward runs downhill through Raskelf, which is the largest population centre in the ward with 443 electors on the roll, and its western boundary is the River Swale at Helperby and Myton-on-Swale. Myton-on-Swale was the location of a battle in 1319 when an army of locals, led by the Archbishop of York William Melton, were defeated by Scottish raiders.

This ward was created in 2015 as a merger of the former Helperby ward with most of the former White Horse ward, neither of which had been contested in the 2003, 2007 or 2011 Hambleton elections. The new ward was also Conservative unopposed in 2015, but the Greens stood a candidate in 2019 after the previous Conservative councillor Caroline Patmore stood down: new face Jillian Mortimer won a straight fight by 59-41. Patmore remains the county councillor for Stillington, which covers the former White Horse ward; this was one of only two county council seats in the whole of England to go uncontested in the May 2017 local elections. We can see that contested local elections in this corner of the Vale of York are relative novelties.

Hambleton, 2019

Jill Mortimer is now an MP, having gained the Hartlepool parliamentary seat in May’s by-election, and she has taken the opportunity to stand down from Hambleton council to concentrate on her duties in Westminster. To succeed her the Conservatives have selected Philippa James. The Greens have returned with new candidate Adam Harper, who gives an address in the ward in the village of Helperby, and the ballot is completed by the ward’s first Liberal Democrat candidate Neil Beckwith.

Don’t wait up for these two results: although all the other by-elections today are overnight counts, the PCC and Raskelf by-election votes won’t start being counted until Friday morning.

North Yorkshire PCC

Parliamentary constituencies: Harrogate and Knaresborough, Richmond (Yorks), Scarborough and Whitby, Selby and Ainsty, Skipton and Ripon, Thirsk and Malton, York Central, York Outer

Hannah Barham-Brown (Women’s Equality)
James Barker (LD)
Zoë Metcalfe (C)
Emma Scott-Spivey (Lab)
Keith Tordoff (Ind)

May 2021 first preferences C 73657 Lab 40803 Ind 22338 LD 19773; final C 84737 Lab 53442
May 2016 first preferences C 53078 Lab 34351 Ind 30984 LD 13856; final C 65018 Lab 44759
November 2012 result C 47885 Lab 34328

Raskelf and White Horse

Parliamentary constituency: Thirsk and Malton
North Yorkshire county council division: Easingwold (part: Birdforth, Brafferton and Helperby, Fawdington, Myton-on-Swale, Raskelf, Tholthorpe and Thormanby parishes), Stillington (part: Angram Grange, Carlton Husthwaite, Coxwold, Husthwaite, Kilburn High and Low, Newburgh, Oulston, Thirkleby High and Low with Osgodby, Thornton-on-the-Hill and Wildon Grange parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: York (part: part of Easingwold county division), Northallerton (part: part of Stillington county division)
Postcode districts: YO7, YO61

Neil Beckwith (LD)
Adam Harper (Grn)
Philippa James (C)

May 2019 result C 560 Grn 396
May 2015 result C unopposed
Previous results in detail

Speldhurst and Bidborough

Tunbridge Wells council, Kent; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Julian Stanyer.

Tunbridge Wells, Speldhurst/Bidborough

For our discussion of the remaining local by-elections this week we will start in the south and work our way back north. The Speldhurst and Bidborough ward covers the rural villages to the west of Tunbridge Wells which are part of the Tunbridge Wells district. As well as the two eponymous villages, the ward extends along the A264 road towards East Grinstead as far as Ashurst, which is the ward’s railhead (Ashurst station is on the Uckfield branch line). Also here is the village of Langton Green, which for many years was home to the factory which made Subbuteo figures.

For many years Speldhurst and Bidborough has been won by the team playing in blue, as you would expect for a leafy middle-class area in west Kent. A majority of the workforce in this ward are in managerial or professional occupations. However, Tunbridge Wells council has courted controversy in recent years with a now-abandoned plan for a new civic centre in the town which went down with the locals with, for want of a better word, disgust. The Conservatives performed appallingly here in the May 2019 local elections, with Speldhurst and Bidborough ward being won by the anti-civic centre Tunbridge Wells Alliance group, and there was enough residual disquiet that the ruling Conservatives lost their majority on the council this year. The Tories currently have 23 seats plus this vacancy, against 13 Lib Dems, 5 seats each for Labour and the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, and an independent; the Conservatives need to hold this by-election in order to retain control via the Mayor’s casting vote.

Both of the remaining Conservative seats in Speldhurst and Bidborough came up for election this May following the resignation of councillor Julia Soyke. After the disaster of 2019 the Tories recovered to hold both seats quite comfortably: shares of the vote were 42% for the Conservatives, 22% for the Tunbridge Wells Alliance and 14% for the Green Party. Julian Stanyer, a chartered surveyor who had represented the ward since 2008 and was Mayor of Tunbridge Wells in 2014-15, was re-elected in second place; that meant that he would need to finish Soyke’s term and seek re-election next May. As will the winner of this by-election. The Tories also won with 42% in May in the local county division of Tunbridge Wells West, where the Lib Dems ran second; this is not the strong Lib Dem part of the division.

Defending for the Conservatives is Rowena Stanyer, who will be hoping to take over the seat previously held by her father. Rowena works as a communications specialist. The Tunbridge Wells Alliance have reselected their runner-up from May Matthew Sankey, who is a restaurateur. The Greens have not returned, so the ballot paper is completed by Labour candidate Aleksander Klimanski.

Parliamentary constituency: Tunbridge Wells
Kent county council division: Tunbridge Wells West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Tunbridge Wells
Postcode districts: TN3, TN4, TN11

Aleksander Klimanski (Lab)
Matthew Sankey (Tunbridge Wells Alliance)
Rowena Stanyer (C)

May 2021 double vacancy C 912/860 Tunbridge Wells Alliance 486 Grn 311 LD 290/246 Lab 176/174
May 2019 result Tunbridge Wells Alliance 1007 C 613 LD 351
May 2018 result C 1186 LD 361 Lab 251
May 2016 result C 1139 Lab 283 UKIP 212
May 2015 result C 2289 LD 491 UKIP 446 Lab 366
May 2014 result C 1255 UKIP 396 LD 201 Lab 198
May 2012 result C 1011 UKIP 221 Lab 212 Lab 164
May 2011 result C 1613 LD 517 UKIP 265
May 2010 result C 2272 LD 921 UKIP 249
May 2008 result C 1345 LD 331 UKIP 152
May 2007 result C 1302 LD 457
May 2006 result C 1400 LD 451
June 2004 result C 1373 LD 568
May 2003 result C 1011 LD 333 Grn 89
May 2002 result C 1128/1126/1096 LD 420/415
Previous results in detail

Bedford

Wandsworth council, London; caused by the resignation of former Labour councillor Hannah Stanislaus.

We move into Greater London for what may be the last local by-election before all the London borough councillors are due for re-election next year. This is one of only two council vacancies in the capital at the moment which occurred before the six-month rule came into effect: the other is in the Kenton West ward of Harrow, which will have one fewer councillor once boundary changes kick in next year, and accordingly nobody seems to be in any hurry to call a by-election there for a seat which will shortly disappear anyway. However, this column will return to Greater London next week for the Parliamentary Special in Old Bexley and Sidcup.

Before then, we discuss a borough which will be the subject of a lot of column inches in the run-up to next year’s elections: the borough of Wandsworth. This district now has three Labour MPs following the gain of Putney, against the national trend, in the 2019 general election. However, the Conservatives have run Wandsworth council for decades with an aggressive low-council-tax policy, which has found favour with many local residents who would normally vote Labour for other levels of government.

Wandsworth, 2018

Despite this, Wandsworth council has been trending to the left in recent years. The 2006 borough elections returned 51 Conservatives and 9 Labour; but by 2018 (above) the Tory lead was down to 33-26, with one independent councillor. Labour actually topped the poll in the 2018 Wandsworth elections, polling 38.6% against 38.1% for the Conservatives, but their vote was not well distributed.

Wandsworth, Bedford

We can see this leftward shift in the electoral history of Bedford ward. If Balham is the Gateway to the South, then Bedford ward is the area immediately beyond the Gateway. The ward is named after Bedford Hill and takes in most of Tooting Common; Tooting Bec underground station, on the Northern Line, lies on the ward boundary. Unsurprisingly, the area is part of the Tooting constituency. This is another middle-class ward but is very different in character to Speldhurst and Bidborough. In the 2011 census Bedford ward made the top 40 wards in England and Wales for full-time employment (57.0%) and for residents with degree-level qualifications (61.1%), was in the top 50 for those employed in professional, scientific and technical activities (19.1%), and was in the top 60 for lower managerial, administrative and professional occupations (33.0%) and for the 30-44 age bracket (31.7%).

Up until the 2014 borough elections Bedford ward had a full slate of Conservative councillors. In May 2014 Labour gained two seats in the ward, and both of their elected candidates that year went on to become MPs. Rosena Allin-Khan made it to the green benches just a couple of years later by winning the June 2016 Tooting by-election after Sadiq Khan’s election as Mayor of London, while Fleur Anderson was the Labour candidate who gained the Putney constituency in December 2019.

Allin-Khan saw out her term on Wandsworth council, retiring at the 2018 election at which Labour won all three seats in Bedford ward with a large majority of 50-34 over the Conservatives. Anderson resigned from the council earlier this year to allow a by-election to be held alongside the 2021 London mayor and assembly election: that by-election gave 48% to Labour’s Hannah Stanislaus, 32% to the Conservatives and 15% to the Green Party.

We can contrast these results with the Mayor and Assembly elections held on the same day, however some caution as required as the ward breakdowns for those elections do not include postal votes (which were tallied at borough level). The on-the-day vote in Bedford ward gave the former local MP Sadiq Khan a 54-25 lead over the Conservatives’ Shaun Bailey, while in the London Members ballot Labour led with 45% to 26% for the Conservatives and 15% for the Greens.

Hannah Stanislaus’ time on Wandsworth council proved to be brief. Stanislaus left the Labour party at the end of August, citing bullying allegations, and subsequently resigned from the council in October after a couple of months sitting as an independent councillor.

As such the voters of Bedford ward are being called out for the second by-election here in six months. Defending for Labour this time is former Wandsworth councillor Sheila Boswell, who was the Labour parliamentary candidate for Putney in the 2015 general election and is now chair of the party’s Tooting branch. The Conservatives have reselected Thomas Mytton, who will be hoping for a result which improves on what he got in May’s by-election. The Greens’ Roy Vickery returns after standing here in 2014 and 2018; Vickery worked for over 40 years as a botanist at the Natural History Museum in central London, and he still helps out with the museum’s lichen collection as well as lecturing on plant folklore and studying the flora on Tooting Common. Completing the ballot is Paul Tibbles for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Tooting
London Assembly constituency: Merton and Wandsworth
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: SW12, SW16, SW17

Sheila Boswell (Lab)
Thomas Mytton (C)
Paul Tibbles (LD)
Roy Vickery (Grn)

May 2021 by-election Lab 2714 C 1778 Grn 815 LD 310
May 2018 result Lab 2835/2719/2376 C 1955/1889/1794 Grn 525 LD 354/317/295
May 2014 result Lab 1935/1843/1716 C 1895/1828/1826 Grn 673 LD 329/288 UKIP 243
May 2010 result C 3351/3068/3023 Lab 2673/2299/2025 LD 1458/1310/1309 Grn 710/5
25
May 2006 result C 1960/1929/1836 Lab 1093/1093/1062 Grn 750 LD 521/464 Ind 95
May 2002 result C 1394/1366/1276 Lab 1254/1057/1019 Grn 533 LD 468
Previous results in detail

May 2021 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 2272 C 1055 Grn 405 LD 156 Count Binface 61 Reclaim 57 Omilana 42 Women’s Equality 40 London Real 31 Rejoin EU 20 Animal Welfare 17 Farah London 15 Let London Live 14 Fosh 14 Heritage 10 SDP 9 Obunge 9 Burning Pink 6 UKIP 6 Renew 3
London Members: Lab 1936 C 1102 Grn 640 LD 235 Women’s Equality 115 Rejoin EU 50 Animal Welfare 45 CPA 24 Reform UK 24 London Real 16 Comm 14 Let London Live 14 Heritage 13 TUSC 11 SDP 8 UKIP 7 Londonpendence 3 Nat Lib 2

Lee Chapel North

Basildon council, Essex; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Kayode Adeniran.

We travel out of London to one of the first New Towns, built to take overspill from London in the post-war era. This is Basildon, which now forms another link in the chain of towns on the north side of the Thames Estuary running from London to Southend.

Basildon, Lee Chapel North

Lee Chapel North ward is one of the New Town-type developments in Basildon. It covers the area between Laindon in the west and Basildon town centre in the east, and Laindon railway station lies on the ward boundary. The New Town origins are betrayed by Lee Chapel North’s census return: it is in the top 20 wards in England and Wales for adults with “Level 1” qualifications (in real money, 1-5 GCSE passes or equivalent) and despite a few decades of Right to Buy over 40% of the households are still socially rented.

This makes Lee Chapel North one of the safest Labour wards in a town noted for its electoral volatility. Basildon was of course the constituency whose Conservative hold in April 1992, by the late and much-missed David Amess, symbolised the re-election of the Major government that year. In the local elections a month later the Conservatives won every ward in Basildon; two years later, they lost every ward in Basildon.

Since the current ward boundaries were introduced in 2002 Labour have only lost Lee Chapel North ward once. That was in 2014 when the winners were the UK Independence Party, who ran riot across Basildon that year in a result never repeated before or since. Labour regained the UKIP seats here in 2016 and 2018.

The May 2021 elections in Basildon were good for the Conservatives, who gained two seats from what was left of Basildon UKIP and two seats from Labour to regain overall control of the district, two years after losing control to a Labour-led hung council. The Conservatives scored a big swing in Lee Chapel North to take their best result yet on the current boundaries, although it wasn’t quite enough to win here: shares of the vote were 39% for Labour, 37% for the Conservatives and 14% to the Basildon Community Residents Party. However, there was relatively little swing in the simultaneous Essex county council election: this ward is part of the large county division of Basildon Laindon Park and Fryerns, which continued to split its representation between a Conservative and a Labour county councillor.

So this is a marginal seat for Labour to defend following the resignation of Kayode Adeniran. He had won the last by-election here in June 2018 (Andrew’s Previews 2018, page 221) and was re-elected for a full four-year term in 2019, so the winner of this by-election will serve until 2023.

Defending this marginal seat for Labour is Terry Webb. The Conservatives have reselected Deepak Shukla after his near-miss in May. Also returning from May’s election is Kay Quested of the Basildon Community Residents Party, which was formed in opposition to extensive redevelopment proposals by Basildon council for the town centre. Completing the ballot paper are former UKIP county councillor Frank Ferguson for Reform UK, and Michael Chandler for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Basildon and Billericay
Essex county council division: Basildon Laindon Park and Fryerns
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southend
Postcode district: SS15

Michael Chandler (LD)
Frank Ferguson (Reform UK)
Kay Quested (Basildon Community Residents Party)
Deepak Shukla (C)
Terry Webb (Lab)

May 2021 result Lab 966 C 921 Basildon Community Residents Party 354 Reform UK 123 LD 113
May 2019 result Lab 870 C 437 LD 348
June 2018 by-election Lab 612 C 267 UKIP 145 BNP 42
May 2018 result Lab 1160 C 552 UKIP 369
May 2016 result Lab 1003 UKIP 814 C 363 Ind 26
May 2015 result Lab 1895 UKIP 1825 C 1131 LD 215
May 2014 double vacancy UKIP 983/924 Lab 922/919 C 329/263 LD 99/91 National Front 80
May 2012 result Lab 1048 UKIP 359 C 343 National Front 107 LD 85
May 2011 result Lab 1408 C 740 National Front 244 LD 173
May 2010 result Lab 1818 C 1649 LD 855 BNP 536
May 2008 result Lab 972 C 604 BNP 358 LD 160 Grn 126
May 2007 result Lab 875 C 628 BNP 361 LD 218 Grn 134
May 2006 result Lab 1009 C 610 BNP 560 LD 212 Grn 153
June 2004 result Lab 996 C 604 BNP 519 LD 261 Grn 145 Respect 57
May 2003 result Lab 766 C 434 BNP 285 LD 207 Grn 114 Ind 80
May 2002 result Lab 1165/1159/1085 C 530/518/515 LD 241/229/214 Socialist Alliance 93
Previous results in detail

Horringer

West Suffolk council, Essex; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Terry Clements.

This is getting beyond a joke. West Suffolk district has only existed for two and a half years, but this is already the ninth by-election which has been held to the council. Some councils haven’t had nine by-elections so far this decade. Now, West Suffolk is on the large side for a shire district council with 64 members, but even so that’s already a vacancy rate of 14% with eighteen months of the council term still to go. We shouldn’t necessarily read too much into this: while high numbers of by-elections can sometimes reflect a dysfunctional political culture, other times it can just be the result of random chance.

W Suffolk, Horringer

The latest West Suffolk by-election occurs in Horringer ward, which covers six parishes immediately to the south of Bury St Edmunds. Horringer is the largest of these parishes with 799 electors on the roll; it is located on the main road from Bury St Edmunds to Haverhill. Just to the west of Horringer is the neoclassical stately home of Ickworth House, until recently home to the Marquess of Bristol and now in the hands of the National Trust.

The retirement of Terry Clements brings to an end a long political career. Clements had served continuously as a councillor for this area since 1983, when he was elected to the former St Edmundsbury council. He was Mayor of St Edmundsbury in 2017-18, and also served on Suffolk county council from 2005 to 2017.

West Suffolk, 2019

Clements had won his final term in Horringer ward in 2019, defeating Labour by a 69-31 margin. The area is just as safe Conservative at other levels of government: it is part of the wonderfully-named county division of Thingoe South, and is split between the Bury St Edmunds and West Suffolk constituencies.

Defending for the Conservatives is Nick Wiseman, a landscape gardener and fencing contractor. Labour have gone for youth in selecting Aaron McIntyre, who has only just turned 18; McIntyre is president of the students union at Abbeygate sixth-form college in Bury St Edmunds. Completing the ballot is Daniel Linehan of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Bury St Edmunds (part: Great Whelnetham, Horringer, Ickworth, Little Whelnetham and Nowton parishes), West Suffolk (part: Hawstead parish)
Suffolk county council division: Thingoe South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bury St Edmunds
Postcode districts: IP29, IP30

Daniel Linehan (LD)
Aaron McIntyre (Lab)
Nick Wiseman (C)

May 2019 result C 524 Lab 237
Previous results in detail

Bar Pool

Nuneaton and Bedworth council, Warwickshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Patricia Elliott.

We now travel west for two difficult Labour defences in the West Midlands, starting in Nuneaton, a place this column hasn’t profiled in detail since 2015 (and then only for the county council). There is a lot to catch up on.

Nuneaton/Bedworth, Bar Pool

The Bar Pool ward lies in western Nuneaton, taking its name from a local brook which opens out into a series of ponds on the ward’s northern boundary. The ward takes in the eastern part of the Stockingford area along the Arbury Road; its eastern boundary is the Coventry Canal, while the ward extends south to take in St Thomas More secondary school. Nuneaton is an industrial town and this is a strongly working-class area of it, with over 41% of the workforce in routine or semi-routine occupations. The ward also includes a lot of council housing and takes in Nuneaton’s most deprived census district.

Nuneaton and Bedworth is one of the few councils which re-elects half of its members every two years. Until this year, Bar Pool ward had voted Labour in every Nuneaton and Bedworth election since the current boundaries came into force in 2002, with one exception. That was 2008, when the British National Party came through the middle of a tight race between Labour and the Conservatives: the winning BNP candidate that year polled 663 votes, the Conservatives 650 and Labour 624. There has often been a strong Conservative vote here, but they could never break through until this year.

The May 2021 Nuneaton and Bedworth election was a stunning victory for the Conservatives, and its impact was all the greater because this was one of the few councils this year which counted its results overnight after polls closed. Going into the election Nuneaton and Bedworth had been a hung council with Labour holding 17 seats, half of the total; in opposition to them were 13 Conservatives, 3 councillors from a Tory splinter group and a Green. In a result well out of kilter with what had gone before, the Conservatives won 15 seats this year, out of a possible 17, to take overall control with a strong majority.

That total included ten gains from Labour, one of which was Bar Pool ward where the Conservatives suddenly ran out winners by the score of 56-33. Let me again stress, this is a ward which had not previously voted Conservative this century. On the same day the Stockingford division of Warwickshire county council, which has very similar boundaries, turned in a very similar result.

Following the May elections there were just seven Labour councillors left in Nuneaton and Bedworth, with six of them due for re-election next year. One of those was Patricia Elliott, who has represented Bar Pool ward since 2014. Elliott handed in her resignation last month, and there is just time to squeeze in a by-election before her term finishes.

The difficult task of defending this ward for Labour falls to Abi Olaifa, who is described by the party as a career-driven professional. Oliafa stood in May in the St Nicolas ward of Nuneaton and Bedworth and in the Coleshill North and Water Orton division of the county council, both of which are more traditionally weak Labour areas. The Conservatives have gone for youth in selecting Jamie Hartshorn, who works in COVID testing. Completing the ballot paper is Andrew Heritage for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Nuneaton
Warwickshire county council division: Stockingford
ONS Travel to Work Area: Coventry
Postcode district: CV10

Jamie Hartshorn (C)
Andrew Heritage (Grn)
Abi Olaifa (Lab)

May 2021 result C 917 Lab 536 Grn 135 Ind 54
May 2018 result Lab 744 C 607 Grn 135
May 2016 result Lab 677 C 429 UKIP 254 Grn 73
May 2014 result Lab 695 UKIP 402 C 382 BNP 71 TUSC 40
May 2012 result Lab 815 Ind 281 C 235 BNP 121
May 2011 by-election Lab 1034 C 519 BNP 204 LD 142 UKIP 65 TUSC 38
May 2010 result Lab 1513 C 907 LD 517 BNP 394 Socialist Alternative 40
May 2008 result BNP 663 C 650 Lab 624
May 2006 result Lab 762 C 632
May 2005 by-election Lab 1507 C 846 LD 615
June 2004 result Lab 622 Lib 377 C 371
May 2002 result Lab 620/570 C 380 Lib 273/227
Previous results in detail

Knutton

Newcastle-under-Lyme council, Staffordshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Brian Johnson.

Newcastle-under-Lyme, Knutton (zoom in)

For our other Midlands by-election this week we come to another district where Labour have been under pressure in recent years. The village of Knutton lies on the edge of the urban sprawl of the Potteries, about a mile to the north-west of Newcastle-under-Lyme town centre. Knutton lies on the North Staffordshire coalfield, which was still operating into the 1990s, and it remains a strongly working-class village. The present ward is a cut-down version of the Knutton and Silverdale ward which existed until 2018, and that ward made the top 100 in England and Wales for routine occupations at the 2011 census.

Newcastle-under-Lyme, Knutton (zoom out)

The collieries may have gone, but the site of the mines have now been put to other uses. As we can see by moving to a smaller-scale map: suddenly, there’s Walley! Just to the south of the Knutton ward boundary lies Walleys Quarry, a landfill site which has been the scene of one of the most pungent political controversies in recent years. And when I say pungent, I mean pungent: the place stinks, and has stunk the borough out for years with high levels of hydrogen sulphide emissions. In September the High Court ruled that the Environment Agency’s enforcement action against the landfill site operator had been inadequate, and ordered that action be taken to bring the emissions to safe levels by January next year. The Environment Agency have come up with a new plan to do this, and we wait to see whether that will work.

Newcastle (Lyme), 2018

Before then, there’s an election to talk about. Newcastle-under-Lyme council last went to the polls in May 2018, and the only previous result on these boundaries is from that year with Labour beating the Conservatives 75-25. As will become clear, there’s more to this area’s local elections results than that.

The previous ward of Knutton and Silverdale was generally Labour but rather complicated. Its first two elections, in 2002 and 2003, saw the runner-up spot go to Derrick Huckfield, standing for the “Caring Party”. Huckfield then joined UKIP, came close to winning in 2006 and gaining the ward in 2007.

Without Huckfield as candidate UKIP struggled to make headway here in 2010, and the ward went to new Labour candidate Gareth Snell who later had a brief term as MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central. Huckfield then lost his seat to Labour in 2011 by 30 votes.

In 2014 Snell moved to contest Chesterton ward (which he lost), and Labour selected as their candidate for Knutton and Silverdale Baroness Golding, who had been the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme from 1986 to 2001. Golding resoundingly lost the ward to Derrick Huckfield, who returned as a UKIP councillor. Huckfield left UKIP the following year, and he has ended up in the Conservatives.

The 2018 Newcastle-under-Lyme elections were held in the wake of a damning report into the running of the 2017 general election here (Andrew’s Previews 2017, page 374). That report led to the resignation of the Labour leader of the council and the installation of a Conservative-led administration. The 2018 borough elections returned a hung council, with the Conservatives polling more votes than Labour but winning fewer seats: 20 Labour councillors were returned, 18 Conservatives, 3 independents and 3 Lib Dems. Huckfield sought re-election in the new Silverdale ward, this time with the Conservative nomination, and lost. The Tory-led administration continued.

Since 2018 Labour have lost a by-election in Holditch and Chesterton ward to an independent candidate (Andrew’s Previews 2019, page 64). All four independent councillors joined the Conservative group earlier this month: together with a previous defection from the Lib Dems, that means that the Tories now have a majority on Newcastle-under-Lyme council.

This builds on excellent Conservative results at other levels of government. The Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency (which is rather more urban than the district) was a gain for the former Krypton Factor superperson Aaron Bell in December 2019, and the Conservatives won a full slate of Staffordshire county council seats in the district in May. That full slate included an excellent performance for Derrick Huckfield, who convincingly gained the Keele, Knutton and Silverdale county division from Labour. Huckfield had previously won the division in 2013 for UKIP, defeating Labour’s Gareth Snell by two votes.

This by-election is a straight fight. Defending for Labour is Steph Talbot, who stood in May’s county council elections for Newcastle South division; she runs Alice, a charity supporting disadvantaged and vulnerable families in Newcastle and Stoke. Challenging for the Conservatives is county councillor Derrick Huckfield. Despite the 3:1 margin in favour of Labour three years ago, this column would rate Huckfield as favourite.

Parliamentary constituency: Newcastle-under-Lyme
Staffordshire county council division: Keele, Knutton and Silverdale
ONS Travel to Work Area: Stoke-on-Trent
Postcode district: ST5

Derrick Huckfield (C)
Steph Talbot (Lab)

May 2018 result Lab 355 C 120
Previous results in detail

Halton Castle

Halton council, Cheshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Harry Howard.

Halton, Halton Castle

Now Runcorn lay over on one side of stream,
And Widnes on t’other side stood,
And, as nobody wanted to go either place,
Well, the trade wasn’t any too good.

One evening, to Ted’s superlative surprise,
Three customers came into view:
A Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom it were,
And Albert, their little son, too.

‘How much for the three?’ Mr Ramsbottom asked,
As his hand to his pocket did dip.
Ted said: ‘Same for three as it would be for one,
Per tuppence per person per trip.’

– Mariott Edgar, The Runcorn Ferry

We now come to two by-elections on the south side of the Mersey, within the Liverpool City Region. The first of these lies not in Merseyside but in Runcorn, as we come to our second New Town by-election of the week. Halton Castle ward is definitely one of the New Town areas, taking in the Castlefields and Halton Village residential areas away from the river and the industrial units of Astmoor down by the Ship Canal bank.

Astmoor has had a swathe cut into it in recent years thanks to the construction of the Mersey Gateway Bridge. Opened to traffic in 2017 to replace the ageing and congested Silver Jubilee Bridge (which replaced the Runcorn-Widnes Transporter Bridge, which replaced the ferry), the Mersey Gateway Bridge has an impressive cable-stayed design with three supporting towers. Unlike the former Silver Jubilee Bridge, there is a toll for crossings of £2. Stanley Holloway’s “tuppence per part of a person per part of a trip” is clearly some years of inflation in the past.

At the time of the 2011 census Halton Castle ward was called Castlefields, after its main New Town development, and had slightly different boundaries. It is a seriously deprived area, with 13% of the workforce being long-term sick or disabled and 51% of the households being socially rented – both figures are in the top 100 wards in England and Wales. As I set out in Andrew’s Previews 2018, page 69, this ward was closely fought between Labour and the Lib Dems until the Coalition era, when the Lib Dem vote disappeared in line with the regional swing in Merseyside. Halton council got new ward boundaries in May this year meaning that all three seats in this ward came up for election; the Labour slate was re-elected with 52% of the vote, with left-wing independent candidate Darrin Whyte and the Conservatives polling 18% each.

This by-election is to replace councillor Harry Howard, who passed away in September at the age of 75. Howard was part of the council’s majority Labour group, and he had sat on Halton council since winning a by-election for this ward in 2006. He had beat the alphabet to top the poll in May, so the winner of this by-election will be due to serve until 2024.

Defending for Labour is Sharon Thornton, a café owner and community volunteer. Darrin Whyte, who has contested this ward in every election since 2014 (originally for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, since 2016 as an independent candidate) is back for another go; he has been runner-up in the last four elections here. The Conservatives’ Danny Clarke has also had a few goes at standing for Halton council, and he hit the headlines in 2019 with an attack on the number of takeaways in Runcorn. Also standing are Anthony Dalton for the Lib Dems and Iain Ferguson for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Halton (almost all), Weaver Vale (small parts)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Warrington and Wigan
Postcode district: WA7

Danny Clarke (C)
Anthony Dalton (LD)
Iain Ferguson (Grn)
Sharon Thornton (Lab)
Darrin Whyte (Ind)

May 2021 result Lab 669/635/560 Ind 234 C 229 LD 144
Previous results in detail

Oxton

Wirral council, Merseyside; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Andy Corkhill.

Wirral, Oxton

For our Liberal Democrat defence of the week we are well and truly in the land of the plastic Scouser. The Birkenhead suburb of Oxton, located south-west of the town centre and well away from the riverfront, has for well over a century been the sort of place where people who work in Liverpool and have money prefer to live and to commute from. The 2011 census showed Oxton to be the most middle-class ward in the Birkenhead constituency, and the ward’s fine Victorian houses show that this status has been maintained for generations.

This being Merseyside, that doesn’t translate to Oxton being a Conservative-voting area. Instead this has been a Liberal Democrat ward, with one exception, throughout this century. Oxton was safely Lib Dem until the advent of the Coalition, and then turned into a Lib Dem-Labour marginal in line with Merseyside’s lurch to the left. However, Labour were only able to break through once, in 2015. In recent years the Lib Dems have pulled away again and the ward has reverted to safety: May’s result gave the Liberal Democrats 57% against just 26% for Labour.

That rise provided an opportunity for Lib Dem rising star Andy Corkhill, who was elected in May 2019 and recovered the seat his party had lost to Labour four years earlier. Corkhill went on to be the Lib Dem candidate for the Wirral West constituency in the December 2019 general election, and he had been selected as the party’s candidate for the recent Liverpool City Region mayoral election.

Unfortunately, Andy Corkhill had to give that up after being diagnosed with cencer. His health continued to decline after surgery in February, and he passed away in October at the appallingly early age of 36.

The resulting by-election is unlikely to affect control of Wirral council. This has swung in recent years between Labour majorities and hung councils; the 2021 election brought in another hung phase. Currently, 30 Labour councillors form a minority administration against 23 Conservatives, 5 Lib Dems plus this vacancy, 5 Greens and two independents.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Orod Osanlou, a consultant physician in clinical pharmacology and therapeutics. He was one of the doctors working on the clinical trial of the Novavax COVID vaccine, which at the time of writing is awaiting approval from the UK medical regulator. Labour have selected Sue Mahoney, who stood in May in the neighbouring ward of Birkenhead and Tranmere: she resoundingly lost to the Green Party a seat which Labour were defending. Also standing are Philip Merry for the Conservatives and Mary Heydon for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Birkenhead
ONS Travel to Work Area: Birkenhead
Postcode districts: CH41, CH42, CH43

Mary Heydon (Grn)
Sue Mahoney (Lab)
Philip Merry (C)
Orod Osanlou (LD)

May 2021 result LD 2311 Lab 1050 C 328 Grn 306 Reform UK 58
May 2019 result LD 2627 Lab 1298 UKIP 245 C 220
May 2018 result LD 2073 Lab 1700 C 376 Grn 205
May 2016 result LD 2381 Lab 1568 C 275 Grn 183
May 2015 result Lab 3085 LD 2788 C 854 UKIP 615 Grn 424
May 2014 result LD 1620 Lab 1483 UKIP 563 C 310 Grn 250
May 2012 result LD 2026 Lab 1763 UKIP 258 C 232 Grn 149
May 2011 result LD 1918 Lab 1792 C 655 UKIP 234 Grn 222
May 2010 result LD 2941 Lab 2310 C 1425 UKIP 301 Grn 276
May 2008 result LD 1910 C 748 Lab 614 UKIP 179 Grn 139
May 2007 result LD 2007 Lab 693 C 611 Grn 193 UKIP 158
May 2006 result LD 2067 Lab 646 C 565 UKIP 267 Grn 185
June 2004 result LD 3295/3074/2924 Lab 999/997/985 C 843/663/661 Grn 489
Previous results in detail

Carnforth and Millhead

Lancaster council; caused by the resignation of John Reynolds, who was elected for Labour but sitting as an independent.

Lancaster, Carnforth/Millhead

We’ll divert north for the first of our Lancashire by-elections today. Carnforth is the most northerly town in Lancashire, and is a major railway junction. The Cumbrian Coast Line and a branch line towards Skipton both leave the West Coast main line here, at a station which is famous as the filming location for the acclaimed 1945 film Brief Encounter.

Carnforth station has been sympathetically restored and is a place of pilgrimage for fans of the film. Mind, on the occasion your columnist had a brew in the station’s refreshment room the nuclear flask train turned up from Sellafield, and then stopped at the end of the platform waiting for its slot on the main line. Suddenly the station was swarming with armed police. Not exactly the sort of image that the tourist board like to tell you about.

Legend has it that a teenage Cecil Parkinson was an extra in Brief Encounter: Parkinson was from Carnforth, and his father was the stationmaster at the time. There is a large railway depot behind the station, maintaining and overhauling steam locomotives for excursion trains; and that continued railway influence has meant that Carnforth is historically a Labour-inclined town. However, it’s not quite large enough for three Lancaster councillors of its own, so the neighbouring village of Millhead was added to the ward in 2015 to make up the numbers. This has made the Conservatives competitive.

The Tories won the first contest for Carnforth and Millhead ward in May 2015 fairly easily. One of the Conservative councillors, Christopher Leadbetter, passed away shortly afterwards while on holiday in Croatia; the Tories held the resulting by-election in November 2015. The by-election winner was George Askew, a former Pendle councillor who had been the election agent for Pendle’s Conservative MP Andrew Stephenson; Askew had also been a regional director for the Vote Leave campaign.

George Askew didn’t live to see the eventual success of that campaign. In February 2016 he was found dead by his fiancée at their home, aged just 32. The coroner heard that his death was the result of alcohol and drug abuse. The resulting by-election in May 2016 was narrowly gained by the Labour candidate John Reynolds.

Lancaster, 2019

All three outgoing councillors – Reynolds for Labour, Peter Yates and Mel Guilding for the Conservatives – were re-elected in 2019, with Reynolds polling almost twice as many votes as his Labour running-mates. He topped the poll with 37%, against 32% for the Conservatives and 19% for an independent slate. The ward is Conservative-held at other levels of government; it is the most Labour part of the safe Tory county division of Lancaster Rural North, and it is covered by the Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency.

John Reynolds has now stood down from the council for personal reasons, having previously left the Labour group last year. So we have the second episode in our current three-part series on Lancaster council, which kicked off with the Labour hold in University and Scotforth Rural ward two weeks ago. This will be a tougher defence for Labour, who have given the job of holding this seat to Luke Taylor. Taylor sat on Blackpool council from 2014 to 2019, representing Clifton ward; he was on the Labour slate for this ward in 2019 and stood here for Lancaster county council in May. (The preview I wrote for the 2014 by-election Taylor won in Clifton ward was the only one I ever wrote in verse. I intended it as a parody of Albert and the Lion. It was godawful.) The Conservatives have selected former Lancaster councillor Stuart Bateson, who lost his seat in Heysham South ward in 2019. The independents from last time have not returned, so the ballot paper is completed by Patrick McMurray for the Green Party and Tony Saville for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Morecambe and Lunesdale
Lancaster county council division: Lancaster Rural North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lancaster and Morecambe
Postcode districts: LA5, LA6

Stuart Bateson (C)
Patrick McMurray (Grn)
Tony Saville (LD)
Luke Taylor (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 680/395/356 C 588/499/440 Ind 354/332 Grn 199/142/108
May 2016 by-election Lab 702 C 671 UKIP 134 LD 74 Grn 49
November 2015 by-election C 545 Lab 320 Grn 52 LD 38 UKIP 37
May 2015 result C 1405/1238/1184 Lab 1027/981/921
Previous results in detail

Bryn

Wigan council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Steve Jones.

It’s now time for this column to consider an important question. When is a resignation not a resignation?

Wigan, Bryn

Our other by-election today in what was once Lancashire takes place in the town of Ashton-in-Makerfield. Located halfway between Wigan and Warrington, Ashton was once of the main towns of the Lancashire coalfield; but the pits are now replaced by the industrial estates and the spoil heaps have been landscaped into the Three Sisters Recreation Area, a nature reserve of woodlands and ponds. Bryn, the northern ward of Ashton-in-Makerfield, has excellent connections to the main towns and cities of north-west England via the M6 motorway, while Bryn railway station links the area to Wigan, St Helens and Liverpool.

In the 2011 census the Bryn ward had the 74th highest return of any ward in England and Wales for Christianity, at 80.4%. This is a common feature of the census results for north-west England (of the 73 wards with higher Christian results, 71 are in the north-west). For whatever reason, lapsed Christians (particularly lapsed Catholics) living in the north-west are more likely to list their old religion on the census form than lapsed Christians elsewhere in the country.

Bryn may be an ex-mining area, but that doesn’t mean it’s a Labour ward. The 2004 election returned a full slate of councillors for the now-defunct Community Action party, which at the time was the official opposition on Wigan council. Labour have only won here on current boundaries in 2010, 2014 and 2015; all the rest of the elections in Bryn since 2007 have returned independent councillors. With one exception.

The 2016 election here returned independent candidate Steve Jones, standing with the nomination of the Wigan Independent Network, for his first term of office with a narrow majority of 77 votes over Labour. Jones got into a number of controversies the following year: he was prosecuted for drink-driving, and at the end of 2017 he accepted a police caution for common assault. The leader of Wigan council, Lord Smith of Leigh, branded Jones as “unfit for office” and advised him to “seek professional help”.

As the year ticked over to 2018, and as his assault arrest became public, Jones decided that he wanted to tender his resignation as a councillor, but he wasn’t in a good enough financial position to leave the council immediately. So Jones emailed the council’s chief executive on 5 January 2018, to advise that he would be stepping down on 20 February 2018.

At which point somebody at Wigan council decided to look in their copy of the Local Government Act 1972. Section 84 subsection (1) of that Act relates to resignation of councillors and, so far as is relevant, reads as follows:

A person elected to any office under this Act … may at any time resign his office by written notice delivered … to the proper officer of the council; … and his resignation shall take effect upon the receipt of the notice by the person … to whom it is required to be delivered.

Wigan council’s interpretation of this was that councillor resignations could not be postdated (“shall take effect upon the receipt of the notice”), and that Jones had delivered a written notice within the meaning of the section. Accordingly, they promptly declared Jones’ seat to be vacant and a by-election was quickly called for 22 February 2018.

Steve Jones withdrew his resignation notice three days later. He tried to sit in a full council meeting on 10 January, but was thrown out of the chamber.

For the by-election polling stations were booked, ballot papers were printed and postal votes were issued and returned, causing significant expenditure for Wigan council. Your columnist put time into researching and drafting a preview, which wasn’t published at the time (for reasons which will become clear) but has been rescued from my archives: it appears in Andrew’s Previews 2018, page 84. Candidates were nominated by Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. Steve Jones also stood in the by-election to seek re-election.

Jones had also taken Lord Smith’s advice by seeking professional help – from lawyers. He took Wigan council to judicial review over its decision to declare his seat vacant. On 21 February 2018 – the day before polling day in the Bryn by-election – the High Court heard the judicial review at the Manchester Civil Justice Centre (Stephen Jones v Wigan Council [2018] EWHC 528 (Admin)). The judge, Mr Justice Martin Spencer, ruled that Steve Jones’ email of 5 January was not a resignation letter within the meaning of the Act but merely a notice of an intention to resign on some future date; as the notice had subsequently been withdrawn, it followed that Jones’ seat was not vacant. He found in favour of Jones and issued an injunction against the Returning Officer of Wigan to stop the by-election going ahead (Andrew’s Previews 2018, page 86).

All this appears, in the end, to have had a positive effect on how Steve Jones’ electors saw him. Jones was re-elected in May this year for a second term of office with a stonking majority of 67-23 over Labour.

Jones has now sent his resignation in to Wigan council again, and it’s just as messy as the last time. I quote Wigan council’s statement on the matter, published on 24 September, in full:

Joint statement from Wigan Council and Councillor Steve Jones:

“Wigan Council has developed a culture of kindness and compassion among its workforce and elected members. At the time of his resignation [in July 2021], Councillor Steve Jones was under a lot of pressure, which is why the resignation was not accepted immediately to give time for reflection and proper consideration.

“Unfortunately, this decision has been challenged by an individual who is threatening legal action against the council. Therefore, in the interest of taxpayers and in agreement with Councillor Jones we have no choice but to accept the resignation.”

Councillor Steve Jones, independent member for Bryn ward, added: “I have thoroughly enjoyed my role as a local councillor and have been involved in some great community projects. I’d like to thank my constituents for voting me into office and my colleagues at the council for all their support over the last five years. I’d like to thank the council for all the help and support they’ve given me, especially Alison who has always shown me and other members nothing but kindness.”

Councillor David Molyneux, leader of Wigan Council, said: “I’d like to thank Councillor Jones for his hard work and commitment to his constituents during his time as a councillor. I’d like to wish him and his family all the best.”

This column would submit that Wigan council and Steve Jones both need to get a grip on reality. After the fiasco of Wigan council accepting an invalid resignation, and incurring substantial legal and administrative costs for Wigan’s council tax payers as a result, it appears that this time round they were prepared to reject a valid resignation. That’s not something the council has the power to do either, and the High Court would likely have dressed them down a second time had it gone that far. As for Jones, meanwhile, while this column wishes him well for future I really don’t want to have to write about him again.

Anyway, he’s finally gone.

Three independent candidates put nomination papers in to replace Steve Jones in Bryn ward, but one of them has withdrawn. Jones has signed the nomination papers for independent Gareth Fairhurst, who has his own history with Wigan council. The Fairhurst family are from Standish on the other side of Wigan; Gareth’s father George Fairhurst, who passed away earlier this year, had served as a Conservative member of the council before falling out with the party and forming his own localist group. He actually managed to get the party name “Wigan Independent Conservatives” registered with the Electoral Commission, in one of that Commission’s more questionable decisions. The new group proved locally popular and at one point all three councillors for Standish with Langtree ward were Fairhursts. Gareth sat for that ward from 2012 to 2016 and got into a number of his own disputes with the council: in 2017 Wigan council took the unusual step of distributing a leaflet to Standish residents to remind them who their councillors are, following complaints that Gareth was continuing to hold surgeries and act as an elected member despite having lost his seat the previous year. The other independent candidate is James Richardson, who lives in the ward and whose nomination papers have been signed by one of Bryn ward’s two remaining independent councillors. Labour have selected Sam Flemming, a politics and international relations student. Completing the ballot are Paul Martin for the Conservatives and David Burley for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Makerfield
ONS Travel to Work Area: Warrington and Wigan
Postcode district: WN4

David Burley (LD)
Gareth Fairhurst (Ind)
Samuel Flemming (Lab)
Paul Martin (C)
James Richardson (Ind)

May 2021 result Ind 2047 Lab 703 C 252 LD 51
May 2019 result Ind 1147 Lab 1072 UKIP 284 C 131 LD 84
May 2018 result Ind 1065 Lab 973 C 198 UKIP 133 LD 67
February 2018 by-election cancelled
May 2016 result Wigan Ind Network 1200 Lab 1123 UKIP 438 C 161
May 2015 result Lab 2245 Wigan Ind Network 1717 UKIP 948 C 378 Ind 267 Community Action 141
May 2014 result Lab 1190 UKIP 724 Ind 625 Community Action 289 C 131
May 2012 result Ind 1516 Lab 1352 C 146
May 2011 result Ind 1955 Lab 1363 C 274
May 2010 result Lab 2274 Ind 1697 Community Action 609 BNP 531 C 525
May 2008 result Ind 1606 Lab 765 Community Action 394 BNP 284 C 204
May 2007 result Ind 1667 Lab 1030 BNP 307 C 179
May 2006 result Community Action 1429 Lab 1050 BNP 457 C 171 New Party 45
June 2004 result Community Action 2370/2297/2239 Lab 1233/1183/986 C 326
Previous results in detail

Maryport South

Allerdale council, Cumbria; caused by the disqualification of independent councillor Peter Little.

If you thought Bryn ward was bad for elected representatives saying and doing stupid things, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s time to finish this week’s column with a bang.

Allerdale, Maryport S

There has been a harbour for centuries on the coast of West Cumbria, at the point where the River Ellen flows into the sea. The first record of Maryport is in AD 122, under the name of Alauna, when it was a Roman port: part of the coastal defences on the Solway Firth which were developed at the same time as Hadrian’s Wall.

Similar to Whitehaven further down the coast, modern Maryport is a planned settlement dating from the eighteenth century. Its developer was Humphrey Senhouse, who obtained an Act of Parliament in 1749 to construct the town at a location then known as Ellenfoot; Senhouse renamed the settlement as Maryport, after his wife. The town became a major port for the Cumberland coalfield, and there were a number of pits in the area. In the 1840s Maryport was linked to the railway network with the opening of the highly-profitable Maryport and Carlisle Railway.

Maryport is part of the Allerdale district of Cumbria, which also takes in Workington, Keswick and a large agricultural area between the mountains and the Solway coast. Allerdale council got new wards at its last election in 2019, and Maryport South is an expanded version of the previous Ewanrigg ward. The 2011 census placed Ewanrigg in the top 80 wards in England and Wales for adults with no qualifications (42.2%) and for those working in construction (13.4%), and in the top 30 for those in routine (25.6%) and semi-routine (25.0%) occupations. There are few wards more working-class than this.

As well as the southern half of Maryport, this ward takes in the village of Broughton Moor. This was historically a pit village, but the mine here closed in the 1930s; after that, the colliery site was reused by the Royal Navy as an armaments depot. RNAD Broughton Moor was subsequently used by the West German and American forces under the auspices of NATO, before closing in 1992 upon the end of the Cold War. The extensive depot site is only now starting to be redeveloped, with the Derwent Forest Development Consortium having ambitious plans for lots of new houses there.

Although Workington has a Tory MP these days, Maryport is Labour at other levels of government. The last Cumbria county council elections, in May 2017, returned a Labour councillor for the Maryport South division (which is larger than this ward) with a big majority. In its previous contests this century Ewanrigg ward had been safe Labour, and nobody bothered to stand against the Labour slate in 2003.

Allerdale, 2019

Things changed in the 2019 Allerdale elections, when Labour lost a seat in the new Maryport South ward to independent candidate Peter Little. Shares of the vote were 43% for the Labour slate, with long-serving councillor Carni McCarron-Holmes re-elected at the top of the poll, and 39% for Little who won the ward’s second seat with a majority of 23 votes over the second Labour candidate.

Peter Little has a bulging record in the Councillors Behaving Badly file. In May this year he got into a parking dispute with his neighbours while extremely drunk; the police were called and Little was arrested after his behaviour got worse. He was taken to Workington police station where he insulted and homophobically abused police officers, and that bad behaviour continued even after he had spent a night in the cells sobering up. Little subsequently pleaded guilty to three public order offences; in August the magistrates’ court sentenced him to 12 weeks in prison, suspended. He was kicked out of the independent group on Allerdale council, but kept his position as a councillor. The threshold at which councillors are disqualified for convictions is 13 weeks’ imprisonment, and Little’s sentence was one week short of that.

A month later Little was back before the magistrates again, having sent an email on 9 September to the chief executive of Allerdale council in offensive terms, making threats against him and Mark Jenkinson, the Conservative MP for Workington. Little pleaded guilty to sending an email that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character, and the case was adjourned for pre-sentence reports. His sentencing hearing was scheduled for 18 October.

On that day, the news was dominated by the killing of the Conservative MP Sir David Amess, which had happened three days earlier. Workington magistrates, no doubt seeking to send a message loud and clear that abuse of public servants and elected representatives will result in consequences, sentenced Peter Little to six weeks in prison for the threatening communication and activated the 12-week suspended sentence for the public order offences, the two sentences to run consecutively.

You can’t really blame the Allerdale council staff for wanting to get Little off their council as soon as possible. The council added 6 weeks and 12 weeks together, noticed that the sum came to more than the 13-week threshold, and promptly pronounced him to be disqualified. A by-election was just as promptly called to replace him.

The by-election comes with Allerdale council rather evenly balanced between the three main groups. The Conservatives are in minority control but only hold 18 of the 49 seats; opposing them are 17 independents (plus this vacancy) and 13 Labour councillors.

One new independent candidate has come forward: he is Eric Galletly, a retired electrician who has been endorsed by the council’s independent group. Labour have selected Bill Pegram, who is a Maryport town councillor and former Mayor of Maryport; he contested Maryport North in the 2019 Allerdale elections. The Conservatives’ Steve Newton completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Workington
Cumbria county council division: Maryport South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Workington
Postcode districts: CA13, CA15

Eric Galletly (Ind)
Steve Newton (C)
Bill Pegram (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 377/324 Ind 347 For Britain Movement 98 C 60/55
Previous results in detail


If you enjoyed these previews, there are many more like them – going back to 2016 – in the Andrew’s Previews books, which are available to buy now (link) and would make an excellent Christmas present for the discerning psephologist. You can also support future previews by donating to the Local Elections Archive Project (link).

Andrew Teale