Previewing the Tuesday council by-election of 30 Nov 2021

One by-election on Tuesday 30 November 2021:

Franche and Habberley North

Wyre Forest council, Worcestershire; caused by the resignation of Health Concern councillor Susie Griffiths.

Wyre Forest, Franche/Habberley N

For a rare Tuesday by-election we travel to the Worcestershire town of Kidderminster. The Franche and Habberley North ward is the north-western of Kidderminster’s six electoral wards. Franche, an old village which has been swallowed up by Kidderminster’s growth, lies on the main road towards Bridgnorth, while the Habberley area can be found on the western edge of the town.

Kidderminster is the main town in the Wyre Forest district, where politics has never been quite the same since the rise of the Health Concern party at the start of this century in protest at the removal of A&E facilities at Kidderminster Hospital. Health Concern’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed a bit over the two decades since then. They were on a high tide in 2019, winning eight seats across Wyre Forest including all three seats in this ward; but that was in a rather fragmented political scene. Health Concern’s winning score in Franche and Habberley North was just 30%; the lead Conservative and Labour candidates tied for the runner-up spot on 20% each; UKIP had 11% and the Greens scored 10%.

Wyre Forest, 2019

From 2015 to 2019 Franche and Habberley North ward had split its representation between two Conservative councillors and one Labour; Franche, the main predecessor ward, had elected councillors on the Conservative, Health Concern, Labour and UKIP tickets between 2004 and 2015. From this you might conclude that this is a politically volatile area.

You might also conclude that from the makeup of Wyre Forest council, which is hung. The Conservatives are the largest party on 12 seats, but the adminstration is made up of a coalition of Health Concern (9 plus this vacancy), the Liberal Democrats (3) and the Greens (1). The Health Concern group includes two councillors who have defected from the Conservatives since 2019, but the ruling coalition is still in a minority; five independents and two Labour councillors hold the balance of power.

However, the county elections here tell a different story. Franche and Habberley North ward only dates from 2015, but it has the same boundaries as the St Barnabas division of Worcestershire county council which was last redrawn in 2005. This county division has been in Conservative hands since 2009, and in May this year the Conservatives had a strong lead: 46%, against 24% for Labour and 20% for Health Concern. Rather the contrast with what happened here in May 2019.

The Health Concern candidate here in the county elections was Susie Griffiths, who had served as a district councillor for this ward since 2019; she is the daughter of Health Concern’s party leader Graham Ballinger. Griffiths stood down in October, choosing to focus on her mental health and wellbeing.

There is no Health Concern candidate in the resulting by-election. We have a free-for-all, I repeat we have a free-for-all! Susie Griffiths has signed the nomination papers for independent candidate Doug Hine, who has previously contested Wyre Forest elections on the Green Party ticket. On paper the Conservatives may be best placed for a pickup, and they have selected David Ross: Ross was elected in May as the Conservative county councillor for St Barnabas, and he is the leader of Kidderminster town council and a former mayor of Kidderminster. Standing for Labour is local government veteran Nigel Knowles, who has represented this area at town, district and county level and served in all the major civic offices (mayor of Kidderminster, chair of Wyre Forest council, and chair of Worcestershire county council); Knowles’ first local election win came in London all the way back in 1982, and he was a Labour parliamentary candidate at every general election from 1979 to 2017, usually contesting seats he had little or no chance of winning. UKIP have not returned and the Greens do not seem to be opposing Hine, so the ballot paper is completed by the Lib Dem candidate Oliver Walker.

Parliamentary constituency: Wyre Forest
Worcestershire county council division: St Barnabas (same boundaries)

Doug Hine (Ind)
Nigel Knowles (Lab)
David Ross (C)
Oliver Walker (LD)

May 2021 county council result C 1114 Lab 586 Health Concern 493 Grn 158 LD 76
May 2019 result Health Concern 956/890/651 C 628/536 Lab 628/502 UKIP 338 Grn 318 LD 311
May 2018 result C 993 Lab 696 Health Concern 452 LD 110 UKIP 81 Grn 40
May 2017 county council result C 1405 Lab 898 UKIP 165 LD 89 Grn 55
May 2016 result Lab 867 C 695 Health Concern 436 UKIP 385 Grn 62
May 2015 result C 2006/1930/1347 Lab 1443/1113 UKIP 1039/809/742 Grn 437 TUSC 155/112
May 2013 result C 735 Lab 626 Health Concern 431 UKIP 416 TUSC 44 LD 39
June 2009 result C 1134 Health Concern 902 Lab 668 Lib 127 Grn 101
May 2005 result Lab 2013 C 1534 Health Concern 1531
Previous results in detail

If you enjoyed this preview, there are many more like it – going back to 2016 – in the Andrew’s Previews books, which are available to buy now (link) 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