Previewing the Super Thursday by-elections of 02 Dec 2021

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

Eleven by-elections on Super Thursday, 2nd December 2021, and we start with the Parliamentary Special:

Old Bexley and Sidcup

House of Commons; caused by the death of Conservative MP James Brokenshire.

We come into a frenetic final month of 2021. After the excitement* of the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner by-election last week, we now come to the fifth parliamentary by-election of the year. Welcome to Old Bexley and Sidcup.

Old Bexley and Sidcup

These are two towns which are administratively part of Greater London, and to all intents and purposes part of the London urban sprawl, but socially and demographically are very different to it. Old Bexley and Sidcup still are, to a large extent, Kentish towns which have been swallowed up by the capital.

Of the two towns in the constituency name Bexley is the outermost, lying 13 miles from Charing Cross on the River Cray as it flows north towards the Thames estuary. A couple of miles further in is Sidcup, which has a hilltop location on what was once the main road from London to Maidstone.

That road has been replaced by the A20, an arterial road which bypasses Sidcup to the south. The Sidcup bypass forms the southern boundary of the constituency, while to a large extent the seat’s northern boundary is defined by another arterial road: the A2 Rochester Way, which relieves the Roman road passing though Welling and Bexleyheath. However, part of the constituency extends over the A2, to take in the areas of Welling, Falconwood and East Wickham to the north.

This area was relatively undeveloped into the twentieth century, with all the places named still being independent countryside towns and villages. The railways came here quite late: the Dartford Loop line through Sidcup and Bexley opened in 1866, the Bexleyheath line through Welling wasn’t completed until 1895. It wasn’t until the Great War, when the expansion of the Woolwich Arsenal led to major housing developments at East Wickham, that housebuilding in this area really started to get going.

We can see this in the area’s parliamentary history. This column’s practice in writing Parliamentary Specials is to start in 1885, when a redistribution of seats led to single-member constituencies (as we still have today) becoming the norm rather than the exception. Before 1885 the area now covered by this constituency had been part of the large two-seat West Kent constituency, which was broken up into single-member seats. From 1885 to 1918 the modern-day London Borough of Bexley was covered by the Dartford constituency, with the exception of the parish of Foots Cray which formed part of the Sevenoaks constituency.

Sevenoaks was safely Conservative throughout this period, returning two MPs. Charles Mills, who represented the seat from 1885 to 1892 and also sat in the Lords from 1898 to 1919 as the second Lord Hillingdon, is recorded by Hansard as speaking only once in Parliament: he asked a question in 1889 on the Delagoa Bay railway in South Africa. Henry Forster, who was MP for Sevenoaks from 1892 to 1918, was rather more active in politics: he was a junior Treasury minister under Balfour and Financial Secretary to the War Office in the wartime coalition government, before leaving these shores in 1920 to become Governor-General of Australia. Forster was also a noted cricketer, having played at first-class level for Oxford University and Hampshire and serving as president of the Marylebone Cricket Club.

The first MP for Dartford was even more active in politics, being one of the major figures of the Conservative Party in the 1870s and 1880s. A former world rackets champion, Sir William Hart Dyke had first been elected in 1865 for West Kent and was one of the two MPs for Mid Kent in the previous parliament. Hart Dyke had been the chief whip in Disraeli’s second government from 1874 to 1880, and going into the 1885 election he was part of Lord Salisbury’s cabinet as Chief Secretary for Ireland. The Liberals won the 1885 election, but Hart Dyke won the new Dartford constituency safely enough: he defeated the Liberal candidate James Saunders (one of the architects of the London Pavilion on Piccadilly Circus) by 482 votes in the 1885 election, increasing his majority to 1,233 votes the following year.

The 1886 election returned the Conservatives to power. Following a government reshuffle in early 1887 Sir William Hart Dyke returned to the Cabinet as vice-president of the Committee of the Council on Education, roughly equivalent to the modern-day post of Education Secretary. Under the rules at the time, this required him to seek re-election in a by-election (as this was an office of profit under the Crown). Ministerial by-elections were common in those days, and were often left uncontested: the 1886-1892 Parliament had 34 ministerial by-elections, of which only two went to a poll. This was not one of them. The first Dartford by-election, in February 1887, duly re-elected Sir William Hart Dyke unopposed.

The Conservatives lost power in the 1892 general election, and that was the end of Hart Dyke’s ministerial career. However, he stayed in the Commons until 1906 when he was swept away in the Liberal landslide while seeking a twelfth term of office. Hart Dyke had served for 41 unbroken years, and if he had held his seat that year he would likely have become Father of the House.

The new MP for Dartford was James Rowlands, who had been an MP before: he had represented Finsbury East from 1886 to 1895. A watch-case maker by trade, Rowlands was a freeman of the Goldsmiths’ Company. Most of his work as an MP was on the subject of property law and housing: he ended up as secretary of the Land Law Reform Association, and he had also been associated with the Gas Consumers’ Protection League and the Leaseholds Enfranchisement Association.

Rowlands was defeated in January 1910 by the Conservative candidate William Foot Mitchell, who had recently become the first managing director of Royal Dutch Shell. Much of Mitchell’s previous career had been spent in the Far East: he chaired the Yokohama Foreign Chamber of Commerce for two years, and had been appointed to the Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Meiji Emperor of Japan.

Mitchell was Royal Dutch Shell’s managing director for 35 years, but he only served as MP for Dartford between the two 1910 elections. James Rowlands won the rematch in the December general election of that year, overturning Mitchell’s majority of 817 to win by 234 votes.

Rowlands had a much easier time at his final re-election in 1918, in which he had the Coalition’s coupon and was not opposed by the Conservatives. This time Labour stood a candidate against him, but they didn’t get very far.

By this time the Dartford constituency was the largest seat in Kent by electorate, and it stayed that way even after boundary changes for the 1918 election. That redistribution created a new constituency of Chislehurst, which took in Foots Cray urban district. That district covered Sidcup, which in pre-development days was a smaller and less important settlement than Foots Cray; the urban district was, however, renamed as Sidcup in the 1920s. A subsequent reorganisation in 1934 saw Sidcup urban district abolished, replaced by a new urban district of Chislehurst and Sidcup.

James Rowlands died in 1920, aged 68. He was the last Liberal MP for Dartford, as the resulting Dartford by-election of 27 March 1920 marked a seachange in the constituency’s politics. The coalition government gave its coupon to the Conservative candidate Richard Meller, a Surrey county councillor and the official lecturer on National Insurance. He would later serve for 17 years as MP for Mitcham. Judging from the candidate list, this selection appears to have offended quite a lot of people. The Dartford Liberal association nominated their own candidate, the former Grimsby and Houghton-le-Spring MP Thomas Wing. Meller was also opposed from the right by the Boer War and Great War veteran and machine-gun pioneer Lt-Col Reginald Applin, standing for the short-lived National Party; and by an independent Unionist candidate, Frank Fehr. Coming through the middle of all this mess was the Labour candidate John Mills, an Australian engineer who had become the senior union rep at the Woolwich Arsenal. Mills won the by-election with just over 50% of the vote against 17% for the Liberals and 16% for the Conservatives, Applin and Fehr losing their deposits; he enjoyed a majority of 9,048.

That was the first of three non-consecutive terms for Mills as MP for Dartford. He was defeated at the 1922 general election by George Jarrett, who stood as a National Liberal candidate without Conservative opposition: in contrast to the by-election two years earlier, this time the left-wing vote was split with the Liberals selecting the suffragist Alison Garland. Garland, the first woman to seek election as MP for this area, polled 2,175 votes and lost her deposit; Jarrett defeated Mills by 1,918 votes.

Lloyd George folded the National Liberals back into the Liberal Party after the 1922 election, but George Jarrett didn’t join them. Instead, he became a “Constitutionalist” MP, a label which came to be used by a number of independent right-wingers at this point including Winston Churchill. It didn’t do Jarrett much good. Although he was supported by the Conservatives in his re-election bid as a Constitutionalist candidate in 1923, this time the left-wing vote was unified behind Mills who returned as MP for Dartford with a majority of 2,829. Jarrett never returned to the green benches.

For the 1924 general election the Conservatives selected their own candidate, Angus McDonnell. A son of the 6th Earl of Antrim, McDonnell had spent much of his time up to this point in the USA where he worked in the railway business. He put this experience to good use in the Great War, serving with a Canadian unit which built railways behind the front lines of the Western Front. McDonnell defeated John Mills by 20,108 votes to 19,352, a majority of just 756.

Angus McDonnell stood down after one term in the Commons to concentrate on his business interests. John Mills returned as Labour MP for Dartford in 1929 with a large majority thanks to the intervention of the Liberals, who saved their deposit. However, he was swept away in the 1931 disaster by the Conservative candidate Frank Clarke, who won by 34,095 votes to 27,349. In 1935 Clarke became the first MP for Dartford to be re-elected in seventeen years, defeating the new Labour candidate Jennie Adamson.

Frank Clarke died in 1938 at the early age of 51. For the resulting third Dartford by-election, held on 7 November 1938, the Conservatives selected Godfrey Mitchell. A veteran of the Great War where he had served in the Royal Engineers, Mitchell had taken over the construction company George Wimpey in 1919; he had already built the company up into a major player in the housebuilding business, with a pre-war peak of 1,370 homes completed in 1934. A seat like Dartford, which by now had become grossly oversized thanks to housebuilding and the growth of London, must have seemed appropriate. On the left-wing side Labour reselected their 1935 candidate Jennie Adamson, a member and former chair of the party’s National Executive Committee. Adamson had also previously served on the London County Council (as a councillor for Lambeth North), and she was married to William Adamson who was the Labour MP for Cannock. When the votes came out of the ballot boxes Adamson had won by 46,514 votes to 42,276, a majority of 4,238 on a turnout of 68%. Adamson ascribed her victory to the Munich Agreement, which had been concluded a few weeks earlier.

By contrast to this rapid turnover of MPs for Dartford, the Chislehurst constituency was safely Conservative throughout this period. Its first MP was Alfred Smithers, a businessman in the railway industry: Smithers was chairman of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in Canada, and the town of Smithers in British Columbia was named after him. He was knighted in 1919. Smithers stood down in 1922 and was replaced by Robert Nesbitt, a London solicitor. From 1924 to 1945 the MP for Chislehurst was Sir Waldron Smithers, the son of Sir Alfred Smithers, who remained on the backbenches throughout this period.

The scale of housebuilding in this corner of Kent meant that by the end of the Second World War both the Chislehurst and the Dartford constituencies were grossly oversized: Chislehurst had an electorate of almost 115,000, Dartford almost 135,000. In 1918 the figures had been 27,000 and 46,000 respectively, although this isn’t a like-for-like comparison because women under 30 didn’t have the vote in 1918. The emergency redistribution of 1945 reorganised this area into four new parliamentary constituencies called Bexley, Chislehurst, Dartford and Orpington.

The new Dartford and Orpington seats contain no part of the modern Old Bexley and Sidcup, which means that Sir Waldron Smithers (who sought and won re-election in the new Orpington seat) now leaves our story. And a good thing too from his point of view, as the revised Chislehurst fell to Labour in the 1945 landslide. The Conservatives and Labour both put up candidates who were straight from war service: the Tories’ Major Nigel Fisher, who earlier in the year had been awarded a Military Cross on the field, lost to Labour’s Sergeant George Wallace, RAF. Wallace enjoyed a majority of 6,279.

George Wallace was defeated in 1950 by just 167 votes by the Conservatives’ Patricia Hornsby-Smith. A former civil servant who had sat on Barnes borough council in Surrey from 1945 to 1949, Hornsby-Smith went on to increase her majority over Wallace at two rematches, winning by 980 votes in 1951 (Hornsby-Smith 31,679, Wallace 30,699) and by nearly 4,000 votes in 1955. She served as a junior minister in the Home Office from 1957 to 1959, and was sworn of the Privy Council in 1959.

Hornsby-Smith continued to serve as MP for Chislehurst until 1974 with the exception of the 1966-70 Labour government. During this time Chislehurst was a Labour seat represented by Alistair Macdonald, a bank clerk and officer of the National Union of Bank Employees. Macdonald had previously been a Chislehurst and Sidcup urban district councillor, and he was elected as an alderman of Bromley council on its creation in 1964.

The Bexley constituency of 1945-74 had the same boundaries as the pre-1964 Borough of Bexley, which covered Old Bexley, Bexleyheath, East Wickham and Welling. Dartford’s Labour MP Jennie Adamson sought and won re-election here in 1945. Adamson’s reward for this was to get a junior ministerial post in the Attlee government, in the Ministry of Pensions.

However, Adamson’s time as MP for Bexley was a brief one. She resigned from Parliament in 1946 to become deputy chair of the Unemployment Assistance Board. The resulting Bexley by-election of 22 July 1946 resulted in a sharp swing to the Conservatives, and the Labour candidate Ashley Bramall held the seat by just 1,851 votes.

This was the start of a long political career for Ashley Bramall, who had previously chaired the Labour club at Oxford University and served as treasurer of the Oxford Union, where he had often faced off in debate against the president of the Union, a young man called Edward Heath. Bramall had served in the Second World War in the Reconnaissance Corps and at the time of the by-election he had the rank of Major and was part of the Allied administration in Germany. (His younger brother Edwin did rather better in the military, winning an MC in the Normandy landings and ending up as Chief of the Defence Staff with the rank of Field Marshal.)

Ashley Bramall made his political career not on the national stage but on the municipal stage. He was elected as an alderman of Westminster city council in 1959, joined the London County Council in 1961 and transferred to the new Greater London Council in 1964. Bramall was one of eight councillors who served for the entire period of the GLC’s existence (1964-86), chairing the council in 1982-83, and from 1970 to 1981 he was leader of the Inner London Education Authority. During this period he was a contestant on Mastermind, appearing on the 1976 series with the specialist subject “British politics since 1918”. (In the Magnus era of Mastermind specialist rounds on British politics were generally written by the psephologist David Butler, who is still with us today at the age of 97.)

All that lay in the future when Bramall lost the Bexley seat in 1950 to his old university sparring partner Edward Heath. Heath polled 25,854 votes to Bramall’s 25,721, a majority of 133. A rematch in 1951 resulted in an increased majority of 1,639 for Heath. On both occasions a young Conservative candidate for the neighbouring Dartford seat, Margaret Roberts (later Thatcher), lost.

After graduating from Oxford, Heath had served in the Second World War as a Royal Artillery officer, taking part in the Normandy landings as an adjutant; he was mentioned in despatches for his service in France, and awarded a military MBE. After that he became a civil servant, but resigned from that to seek the Conservative nomination for Bexley. In Parliament he rose up the greasy pole via the Whips office, joining Cabinet in 1955 as Chief Whip. Following the Conservative loss of the 1964 general election Heath won the Conservative leadership contest of 1965, polling 150 votes against 133 for Reginald Maudling and 15 for Enoch Powell. He became Leader of the Opposition.

Party leaders usually get a boost in their constituencies at general election time, and that might well have saved Heath in 1966; he held his seat by just 2,333 votes. He did rather better in 1970, increasing his majority in Bexley to 8,058 despite the presence of an independent spoiler candidate who had changed his name to Edward Heath for the election. The Conservatives unexpectedly won the 1970 general election, and Heath became Prime Minister.

Heath’s three-and-a-half years as Prime Minister reshaped the country. They certainly reshaped the local government map: the two-tier system of county and district councils dates from the Heath administration and in many areas of England remains almost unaltered today. Heath saw his greatest achievement as Britain’s accession to the European Economic Community, which took effect on 1 January 1973. The decimalisation of Britain’s coinage was completed. Against this, Heath’s government came at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and his power-sharing deal to bring peace – the Sunningdale Agreement – quickly fell apart in the face of Unionist opposition. The Ulster Unionist MPs resigned the Conservative whip, and Northern Ireland’s party system has been divorced from Great Britain’s ever since. The Barber economic boom quickly turned into a Barber economic bust, inflation soared, and the winter of 1973-74 saw the introduction of a three-day week in the face of industrial action from the National Union of Mineworkers. On 7 February 1974, Heath asked the Queen for a dissolution on the question of “Who governs Britain?” As the Queen was in New Zealand at the time for the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, the dissolution was granted by the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret acting as Counsellors of State.

The February 1974 election was fought on new boundaries, reflecting the reorganisation of London government in the previous decade. The new London Borough of Bexley was allocated three parliamentary seats, which meant that the Chislehurst constituency – which straddled the boundary between Bexley and Bromley – would have to be broken up. The Sidcup part of the Chislehurst seat was added to Old Bexley to create a new Sidcup constituency, while the rest of the Bexley constituency was renamed as Bexleyheath to reflect the boundary change. The boundary changes effectively forced the Chislehurst MP Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith out of Parliament; she had intended to seek the Conservative nomination for Sidcup, but found herself unable to challenge her party leader. Hornsby-Smith instead contested the Aldridge-Brownhills seat in the West Midlands, which she lost.

“Who governs Britain?” Well, not Edward Heath as it turned out. The result of the February 1974 general election was inconclusive, with a hung parliament being returned for the first time since 1929. Heath’s Conservatives had won the most votes, but Labour had won the most seats. After an attempt to seek Liberal support for a Conservative minority government failed, Heath tendered his resignation as Prime Minister. Harold Wilson, returning for a third term as Labour Prime Minister, called a new election for October 1974 at which his administration won a bare majority.

That was the end of Edward Heath’s government career. He was challenged for the Conservative leadership in 1975 by Margaret Thatcher, resigned after finishing behind Thatcher in the first round, and went to the backbenches. There he remained until finally retiring from the Commons in 2001, after more than 50 years’ continuous service as an MP. In 1992 Heath became a Knight of the Garter and (following the retirement of Sir Bernard Braine) the Father of the House.

Sir Edward Heath’s Sidcup constituency was renamed as Old Bexley and Sidcup in 1983, with no change to its boundaries. The current seat of that name contains the Welling and East Wickham areas, which as previously stated were in the Bexleyheath constituency from 1974 to 1997. Bexleyheath was a more marginal Conservative seat than Old Bexley and Sidcup, but it only returned one MP during this period. Sir Cyril Townsend had been an officer in the Durham Light Infantry for ten years before entering politics, serving in Cyprus and Malaya and as ADC to the governor of Hong Kong. Townsend remained on the backbenches throughout his 23 years in the Commons; his lasting legacy is the private member’s bill he introduced in 1977, which became the Protection of Children Act 1978.

The constituencies in Bexley borough were redrawn for the 1997 election, with the number of seats in Bexley and Greenwich reducing from six to five. The Old Bexley and Sidcup seat was expanded to take in Welling and East Wickham from the former Bexleyheath seat, together with a small area around Falconwood railway station which had been transferred into Bexley borough from Greenwich in the early 1990s. The new boundaries produced a Conservative seat which was strong enough to withstand the Labour landslde of 1997: Heath, by now in his seventies, held the redrawn seat with a majority of 3,569.

Sir Edward Heath’s successor as MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup had also started his political career young. Derek Conway had been elected to Gateshead council in 1974 at the age of 21, and he became leader of the Conservative group on Tyne and Wear county council at 26. After contesting Labour seats in the north-east in October 1974 and 1979, in 1983 Conway was elected to Parliament as MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham. He served three terms as MP for that seat, and was a government whip from 1993 until 1997 when he was swept away by the Labour landslide. Old Bexley and Sidcup, which Conway represented from 2001 to 2010, was a safer berth for him.

Derek Conway’s fall from grace was spectacular. In January 2008 the Commons Standards and Privileges committee reported that he had paid a large salary to his son Freddie for work as a part-time researcher, while Freddie was a full-time student at Newcastle University. The committee concluded that there was no record of what work Freddie had done and his salary was too high to represent a good use of Commons money. Conway was ordered to repay £13,000, was suspended for ten sitting days, and had the Conservative whip withdrawn. A further report by the standards committee the following year resulted in Conway being ordered to repay a further £3,758 which he had overpaid to his other son Henry.

The disgrace of Derek Conway provided an opportunity for another Conservative MP. James Brokenshire, a former corporate lawyer, had entered the Commons in 2005 by gaining the Hornchurch constituency, in the London Borough of Havering, from Labour. The Hornchurch seat was due to be abolished at the 2010 general election, and Brokenshire had unsuccessfully applied for the Conservative nomination in a string of safe seats before he finally won the selection for Old Bexley and Sidcup in 2008. Old Bexley and Sidcup’s boundary changes in 2010 were minor, with the Danson Park area transferred out of the seat into the Bexleyheath and Crayford constituency.

James Brokenshire served as a Home Office minister throughout the Coalition government, piloting the Modern Slavery Act 2013 through Parliament. He was sworn of the Privy Council in 2015. In 2016 he was appointed to Theresa May’s first Cabinet with the traditionally-difficult role of Northern Ireland secretary, in which role he called snap elections to the Stormont Assembly in 2017 following the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

In December 2017, Brokenshire started coughing up blood. He sought medical advice, and tests revealed early-stage lung cancer. He had never smoked. Brokenshire resigned as Northern Ireland secretary on his 50th birthday to put his health first, and in January 2018 he had part of his lung removed. Three months later he was back in the Cabinet with the job of Housing, Communities and Local Government secretary. He brought in legislation restricting landlords’ rights to evict their tenants and capping most tenancy fees and deposits.

James Brokenshire was not included in the Johnson cabinet, but did go to back to being a junior Home Office minister in 2020 in recognition of his effectiveness and competence as a minister. Unfortunately, his cancer returned. He took leave of absence in January 2021 in advance of another lung operation, and resigned from government in July after failing to recover. He passed away on 7 October 2021, at the appalling early age of 53.

The by-election to replace James Brokenshire will take place in a seat which, as already stated, is part of Greater London in practice but very unlike it in character. The 2011 census here was taken based on ward boundaries which have since been replaced, but the returns from the eight wards which then made up Old Bexley and Sidcup are very consistent. Six of the eight wards make the top 100 in the UK for “intermediate” occupations, three are in the top 10 wards in London for level 2 qualifications (5+ GCSE passes or equivalent), two are in the top 10 wards in London for level 1 qualifications (1-4 GCSE passes or equivalent), two are in the top 10 wards in London for owner-occupation, two are in the top 10 wards in London for population born in the UK, two are in the top 10 wards in London for White British ethnicity. This is a constituency which has been relatively unaffected by the transformation of London into a world city. Detached and semi-detached housing, much of it built on garden-city principles, predominates.

Old Bexley and Sidcup, 2018

Bexley council got new ward boundaries in 2014 as a result of which this seat is now covered by seven wards, two of which are mostly within Old Bexley and Sidcup but straddle the boundary with Bexleyheath and Crayford. With the caveat that some of these votes were cast outside the constituency, those seven wards voted 54% Conservative and 25% Labour at the last Bexley local elections in May 2018. The Conservatives topped the poll in all 7 wards and won all 20 council seats; overall the 2018 Bexley elections returned 34 Conservative and 11 Labour councillors, so we can see that over half of the council’s majority group represent wards in this constituency.

The London Mayor and Assembly elections from May are even more difficult to interpret than the most recent Bexley council elections, partly because of the boundary mismatch and partly because the ward breakdowns published for the London elections only include on-the-day votes (postal votes in GLA elections are tallied at borough level). For what it’s worth, the aggregate of the seven ward tallies gives a 63-17 lead for the Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey over Sadiq Khan, with a slightly lower Conservative lead of 58-18 in the London Members ballot.

The constituency is part of the Bexley and Bromley seat which is the safest Conservative constituency in the London Assembly. All three of Bexley and Bromley’s former AMs have gone on to serve in the Commons: Sir Bob Neill (2000-08) won the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election in 2006 and is now chair of the Commons Justice Select Committee, James Cleverley (2008-16) was elected in 2015 as MP for Braintree in Essex and is now a junior Foreign Office minister, and Gareth Bacon (2016-21) was elected in December 2019 as MP for Orpington. Bacon had been a Bexley councillor since 1998, and he stood down from Bexley council to allow a by-election in Longlands ward in May which was a safe Conservative hold.

These results are certainly not out of line with the result of the 2019 general election here, which re-elected James Brokenshire for a fourth term in the seat with 65% of the vote, against 23% for Labour.

The Boundary Commission are, of course, beavering away on a new constituency map for the currently-scheduled general election in May 2024. Their draft proposals leave this seat largely unchanged apart from realignment to Bexley’s current ward boundaries, which would mean that the Danson Park area is transferred into the seat from Bexleyheath and Crayford. Possibly more controversial is that the Commission propose to drop Old Bexley from the name of the constituency, which would become “Sidcup and Welling”.

Defending for the Conservatives is Louie French, the deputy leader of Bexley council. French represents Falconwood and Welling ward, which is partly in this constituency. In December 2019 he was the Conservative candidate for the neighbouring constituency of Eltham. He works in financial services in the City, specialising in sustainable investing and research.

The Labour candidate for the by-election is also a Bexley councillor. Daniel Francis, who represents Belvedere ward although he gives an address in this constituency, has sat on Bexley council for 17 of the last 21 years and was until recently the leader of the Labour group on the council.

The only other party to save their deposit here in 2019 were the Lib Dems, who polled 8.3%. They have reselected their candidate from last time, Simone Reynolds, who has appeared in this column before: Reynolds was the Lib Dem candidate for a by-election in the St Michael’s ward of Bexley in the week after the EU membership referendum in 2016 (Andrew’s Previews 2016, page 104). She has since contested Bexleyheath and Crayford in the 2017 general election, and stood in Sidcup ward in the 2018 Bexley council elections. Reynolds works in social care for a local authority in south-east London.

The Greens were fourth here in 2019 with 3.2%. Their candidate for this by-election is Jonathan Rooks, who is a challenge for any stereotypes you may hold regarding Green Party candidates: Rooks is a lecturer in accounting at South Bank University. He was the Green candidate for Bexley and Bromley in the 2012 London Assembly elections. The 2019 ballot paper was completed by Carol Valinejad, who polled 0.5% for the Christian Peoples Alliance; Valinejad is standing again.

Six other candidates complete the ballot, and I shall take them in alphabetical order. Top of the ballot paper is Elaine Cheeseman for the English Democrats, who fought this seat in 2010 and finished sixth with 1.1%. Cheeseman was on the English Democrats’ list for London in the 2009 European Parliament elections. Richard Hewison was the mayoral candidate and top of the list in May’s GLA elections for the Rejoin EU party, whose signature policy is left as an exercise for the reader. David Kurten was elected as a UKIP member of the London Assembly in 2016, and was the UKIP candidate for his home constituency of Bognor Regis and Littlehampton in 2019; he subsequently set up the Heritage Party, and was their candidate for Mayor of London and top of their London Assembly list in May (failing to hold his seat). The official UKIP candidate is John Poynton, who fought Ealing Southall in the 2015 general election. Our third party leader on the ballot (after Hewison and Kurten) is Richard Tice of Reform UK; Tice was a Brexit Party MEP from 2019 to 2020, and in May’s GLA elections he stood in the Havering and Redbridge constituency and was top of the Reform UK list. Completing the ballot paper is Mad Mike Young of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, who is hoping for a Loony mudslide in the election.

Bexley council wards: Blackfen and Lamorbey, Blendon and Penhill, Longlands, St Mary’s and St James, Sidcup, East Wickham (part: in this ward before 2014), Falconwood and Welling (part: in this ward before 2014)
London Assembly constituency: Bexley and Bromley
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: DA5, DA14, DA15, DA16, SE9

Elaine Cheeseman (EDP)
Daniel Francis (Lab)
Louie French (C)
Richard Hewison (Rejoin EU)
David Kurten (Heritage Party)
John Poynton (UKIP)
Simone Reynolds (LD)
Jonathan Rooks (Grn)
Richard Tice (Reform UK)
Carol Valinejad (CPA)
Mad Mike Young (Loony)

December 2019 result C 29786 Lab 10834 LD 3822 Grn 1477 CPA 226
June 2017 result C 29545 Lab 14079 UKIP 1619 LD 1572 Grn 820 BNP 324 CPA 83
May 2015 result C 24682 Lab 8879 UKIP 8528 LD 1644 Grn 1336 National Health Action 1216 Chr 245 BNP 218
May 2010 result C 24625 Lab 8768 LD 6996 BNP 2132 UKIP 1532 EDP 520 Ind to Save Queen Mary’s Hospital 393 Grn 371 Loony 155


Wealden council, East Sussex; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Chris Hardy.

Old Bexley and Sidcup is not the only poll taking place today. After last week’s Super Thursday, it’s time for another one: there are ten local by-elections today in what is proving to be a very busy end to the year. Unlike last week’s diet, Conservative defences predominate today: there are seven Conservative local seats up for election. Three of them are in Sussex.

Wealden, Hartfield

The Hartfield ward lies on the northern boundary of East Sussex, covering a large chunk of the High Weald between East Grinstead and Crowborough. Much of this hilly area was once part of the Ashdown Forest, which was used for hunting by mediaeval kings; the word “forest” here denotes hunting territory rather than woodland, and to this day much of the Ashdown Forest is open heathland.

The forest fell out of favour for hunting during the Tudor monarchy, instead turning into a minor industrial centre. Within this ward can be found the remains of England’s first modern ironworks and blast furnace, established at Newbridge in 1496 to supply iron for Henry VII’s military campaigns. There’s a lot of ironstone under the High Weald, and the Newbridge Furnace was the seed from which Britain’s iron and steel industry grew. But by the time the Industrial Revolution got going the Weald’s ironworking industry had already died out, and this area remained rural.

In the twentieth century the Ashdown Forest came to a new audience thanks to an author who lived locally. Alan Alexander Milne, who lived on a farm near Hartfield (which, many years later, was also the home of Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones), composed two best-selling books in the 1920s about a boy called Christopher Robin, based on his own son, and a number of animal companions. A A Milne and his illustrator E L Shephard both took inspiration from the countryside of Ashdown Forest in Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner: the [Five] Hundred Acre Wood is entirely within this ward, as is the bridge on which the game of Poohsticks was invented. The bridge was rebuilt in 1999 by East Sussex county council, with the Disney company donating much of the necessary funds; bring your own sticks.

Wealden, 2019

The Hartfield ward of Wealden district has been Conservative-held at every election this century, and was uncontested in 2003. There were major boundary changes for the 2019 election, which re-elected the Conservative ward councillor Chris Hardy for a third term; he was opposed only by the Green Party, who put up a decent showing in a 57-43 defeat. The Greens made an effort at the 2019 Wealden council elections, finishing in second place in vote terms with 21% across the district; this only got them two seats, in Forest Row and Withyham wards both of which border Hartfield. In May this year the Green Party built on that to gain the local county council seat (Forest Row and Groomsbridge) from the Conservatives.

The Hartfield by-election is to replace Conservative councillor Chris Hardy, who passed away in September after developing cancer. Hardy was retired from a long career as a loss adjuster – he was a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Insurers – and he had also dabbled in racehorse ownership, with 25 winners to his name. He was chairman of Wealden council from 2016 to 2019.

Like the county elections here in May, this by-election is a straight fight. Defending this by-election from the blue corner is Bruce Rainbow, a retired accountant who lives in the ward. Challenging from the green corner is Rachel Millward, who has a background in the arts and film sector; she is described as a local resident and environmental campaigner.

Parliamentary constituency: Wealden
East Sussex county council division: Forest Row and Groombridge
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crawley (part), Tunbridge Wells (part)
Postcode districts: RH18, RH19, TN3, TN6, TN7, TN8, TN22

Rachel Millward (Grn)
Bruce Rainbow (C)

May 2019 result C 566 Grn 428
Previous results in detail


Adur council, West Sussex; caused by the death of Conservative councillor David Simmons.

Adur, Hillside

Our other two by-elections in Sussex take place on the coastal strip. The Hillside ward of Adur is aptly named: the hill here is Southwick Hill, which is part of the South Downs National Park overlooking the town of Southwick and the sea. As there was no other way of improving the area’s road network for through traffic, two tunnels were bored under Southwick Hill in the 1990s which now carry the A27 Shoreham Bypass.

Southwick is a suburb of Brighton and Hove which has never been incorporated into the city, even though it’s clearly part of the same urban area. The Hillside ward lies immediately outside the Brighton city boundary; it is a lower-middle-class area with a very similar demographic profile to neighbouring Portslade.

However, its political profile is very different. Portslade generally votes Labour in local elections, but Hillside is a longstanding Conservative ward which forms part of the Tory majority on Adur council. In May this year Hillside gave the Conservatives a 62-30 lead over Labour, which was a slight swing to Labour from 2018. The Southwick division of West Sussex county council is also safe Conservative.

Until May this year Southwick was represented on the county council by David Simmons, a retired senior police officer. He was first elected to Adur council in 2006, transferring to this ward in 2014. Sadly, Simmons passed away in September.

Whoever wins this by-election will need to seek re-election again in May, so they won’t be able to rest for long. Defending for the Conservatives is Leila Williams, who is a senior manager in the NHS. The Labour candidate is Rebecca Allinson, whose late father Les Alden was the leader of the Labour group on Adur council. Completing the ballot paper is Russell Whiting for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: East Worthing and Shoreham
West Sussex county council division: Southwick
ONS Travel to Work Area: Brighton
Postcode districts: BN42, BN43

Rebecca Allinson (Lab)
Russell Whiting (Grn)
Leila Williams (C)

May 2021 result C 702 Lab 338 Grn 89
May 2018 result C 652 Lab 290 Grn 69 LD 33
May 2016 result C 551 Lab 253 UKIP 186 Grn 40 LD 37
May 2014 result C 529 UKIP 402 Lab 214 Grn 65 LD 59
May 2012 result C 499 Lab 268 UKIP 150 LD 61
May 2010 result C 1008 LD 667 UKIP 294 Grn 141
May 2008 result C 611 Lab 165 UKIP 149 LD 119
September 2006 by-election C 445 LD 184 Lab 124
May 2006 result C 684 LD 250 Lab 219
June 2004 result C 793/657 LD 429 Lab 353
Previous results in detail


Worthing council, West Sussex; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Tim Wills.

The last of our three Sussex polls today is in a very interesting ward which this column has covered before. Although we do have to double-check we have the right Marine ward here: there are three Marine wards in West Sussex, of which this is the middle one. The other two are in Bognor Regis and Shoreham by Sea.

Worthing, Marine

This Marine ward is in western Worthing, taking its name from Marine Gardens on the seafront. The ward runs north from there, through 1930s housing along Grand Avenue and George V Avenue, to the West Coastway railway line (between West Worthing and Durrington-on-Sea stations).

Worthing has a very long history: in the fourth millennium BC this was Britain’s largest flint-mining area, and archaeologists have had a lot of fun excavating the local prehistoric hill forts. The town as we know it started up as a seaside resort in the eighteenth century.

But there’s more to Worthing than the beach. The town has managed to escape the fate of many seaside resorts by successfully diversifying its economy. The local water company Southern Water, the pharmaceutical giant Glaxo SmithKline and a large HM Revenue and Customs office provide year-round employment. And the town has changed demographically in recent years: it has become a popular place to live for people of working age who have been priced out of London and Brighton. A number of the seaside resorts in Sussex are forgotten towns, elephants’ graveyards or both: Worthing is neither.

The Marine ward has had unchanged boundaries since at least 1983. There were were 22 elections here between that year and 2010, all of which resulted in a Conservative win (usually very comfortably) over the Lib Dems in second place. Then from 2011 onwards this demographic change and the formation of the Coalition combined in unexpected ways. Labour took over second place in 2011 and 2012, UKIP were runners-up in 2014 and 2015, Labour again in 2016.

In 2017 one of Marine ward’s Conservative councillors, Joan Bradley, resigned on health grounds. Unfortunately, she died before the resulting by-election took place in August 2017.

Looking back at what this column wrote then (Andrew’s Previews 2017, page 211), I did not see what was coming. The Labour candidate Beccy Cooper, fresh from contesting the local parliamentary seat of Worthing West in the general election two months previously, pulled off a stunning swing of 17% from the Conservatives to win the by-election by a 47-39 margin. Let’s put this result into context: Labour had never polled over 20% in this ward before, never mind over 40%, and there had never previously been a Labour councillor elected from any ward in Worthing.

The 2017 Marine by-election broke the mould of Worthing politics. Suddenly, Labour became the main challengers in a number of the town’s wards. In the May 2018 election they won 4 seats; they won 5 more seats in 2019, the same figure as the Conservatives. All of those were gains.

That red wave also extended to West Sussex county council in May’s elections. Three of the town’s county councillors are now Labour, including Beccy Cooper who gained Worthing West division (which includes this ward) from the Conservatives.

The May 2021 elections for Worthing council saw the Labour party gain five more seats from the Conservatives, while Beccy Cooper was also re-elected for a second term in Marine ward. All of those Labour gains were on small majorities, and Marine was no exception: Cooper’s majority fell to 47-43. The Conservatives lost their majority in Worthing as a result, and they now run the town as a minority with 17 seats plus this vacancy, against 16 councillors for Labour (who have recently picked up a defector from the Lib Dems), 2 Lib Dems and one ex-Conservative independent. If Labour can win this by-election they will draw level with the Conservatives to become the largest party; if Labour can win this by-election and repeat May’s result next year, they will take overall control of Worthing council for the first time ever. It’s incredible to write that sentence, given that just over four years ago there had never been a Labour councillor in Worthing.

It has to be said that the circumstances of this by-election are not propitious for the Conservatives. The outgoing councillor is Tim Wills, who was first elected in 2019. Last month an investigation by Hope Not Hate, an anti-fascist group, revealed that Wills was a supporter of a far-right white nationalist group called Patriotic Alternative. After the council’s monitoring officer had taken a look at the story Wills was given an ultimatum by the Conservative leader of the council: deny the allegations or resign. He chose to resign.

Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Syed Ahmed, a businessman who runs a restaurant in the town. The Labour candidate is Vicki Wells, a former BBC science producer who works at the Worthing Theatres and Museum. Also standing are Sonya Mallin for the Green Party and Emma Norton for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Worthing West
West Sussex county council division: Worthing West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Worthing
Postcode districts: BN11, BN12

Syed Ahmed (C)
Sonya Mallin (Grn)
Emma Norton (LD)
Vicki Wells (Lab)

May 2021 result Lab 1456 C 1324 Grn 181 LD 140
May 2019 result C 1140 Lab 907 Grn 267 UKIP 234 LD 232
May 2018 result C 1460 Lab 1136 LD 194 UKIP 94
August 2017 by-election Lab 1032 C 846 LD 246 Grn 55
May 2016 result C 961 Lab 415 UKIP 348 LD 217 Grn 185
May 2015 result C 2296 UKIP 741 Lab 663 LD 472 Grn 455
May 2014 result C 1114 UKIP 692 Lab 298 Grn 264 LD 189
May 2012 result C 959 Lab 357 UKIP 349 LD 260
May 2011 result C 1614 Lab 465 LD 448 UKIP 312
May 2010 double vacancy C 2339/1981 LD 1467/1339 UKIP 510
May 2008 result C 1351 LD 508 UKIP 278
May 2007 result C 1511 LD 344 Grn 201 UKIP 171 Lab 155
May 2006 result C 1489 LD 383 Grn 271 Lab 173 UKIP 166
June 2004 result C 1713/1640/1637 LD 586/499/469 Grn 488 Lab 290
May 2003 result C 1282 LD 373 Lab 222 Grn 140
May 2002 result C 1235 LD 388 Lab 230 Grn 182
May 2000 double vacancy C 1207/1162 LD 562/544 Grn 182/169
May 1999 double vacancy C 1357/1267 LD 510/444 Lab 245 Grn 176
May 1998 result C 1174 LD 521 Lab 216 Grn 76
May 1996 result C 1263 LD 630 Lab 291 Grn 79
May 1995 result C 1316 LD 1132 Lab 310 Grn 69
May 1994 result C 1212 LD 1121 Lab 283 Grn 106
May 1992 result C 1619 LD 584 Lab 102 Grn 80
May 1991 result C 1580 LD 611 Grn 239
May 1990 result C 1802 SLD 582 Lab 479
May 1988 result C 1571 SLD 358 Lab 226
May 1987 result C 2054 Alliance 654 Lab 181
May 1986 result C 1545 Alliance 894 Lab 181
May 1984 result C 1642 Alliance 626 Lab 141
May 1983 result C 1866/1828/1764 Alliance 630/601/586 Residents 558/445
Previous results in detail


North Norfolk council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Marion Millership.

N Norfolk, Stalham

We now move to two local by-elections in Norfolk, starting at the northern end of the Broads. The Museum of the Broads, containing a collection of boats and material on history of this landscape, can be found fifteen miles north-east of Norfolk in the small market town of Stalham. The ward named after Stalham takes in two further parishes to the south, as far as Catfield. Catfield parish has some bizarre boundaries, leading to this ward taking in part but not all of the Broads’ largest body of open water, Hickling Broad.

Stalham is part of the North Norfolk district and parliamentary seat, which swung in opposite directions in the 2019 local and general elections: North Norfolk now has a Conservative MP, but the council had gained a Liberal Democrat majority at the local elections seven months earlier. Before boundary changes in 2019 most of this area was covered by the former Stalham and Sutton ward, which split its representation between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats at every election from 2003 to 2015; however, the new and larger Sutton ward returned the Lib Dem slate quite comfortably in May 2019, with 48% of the vote against 29% for the Conservative slate and 15% for the Green Party candidate. However, the Hoveton and Stalham county division (which covers most of this ward) was very safely Conservative in May’s Norfolk county council elections; Catfield parish is part of the South Smallburgh division, a longstanding Conservative-Lib Dem marginal which swung to the Tories in May.

Marion Millership had first been elected to North Norfolk council in a 2017 by-election for Waterside ward, which at the time covered Catfield (Andrew’s Previews 2017, page 29); she transferred here in 2019 following boundary changes. She has stepped down from the council for personal reasons.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Barbara McGoun, a former North Norfolk councillor who was chairman of the council in 2007-08: she represented the St Benet ward from a 2005 by-election until 2019, when she stood down to care for her late husband. McGoun has had a varied working life, having worked for British Airways as a stewardess and in a number of broadcasting roles, including behind-the-scenes work on Radio 4’s news and current affairs programmes in the 1980s. The Tories have selected a candidate a couple of generations younger than McGoun: Matthew Taylor is only 22 but is already a Stalham town councillor. The Greens have not returned, so Labour’s Richard Stowe completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: North Norfolk
Norfolk county council division: Hoveton and Stalham (part: Stalham and Sutton parishes), South Smallburgh (part: Catfield parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Norwich
Postcode districts: NR12, NR29

Barbara McGoun (LD)
Richard Stowe (Lab)
Matthew Taylor (C)

May 2019 result LD 762/733 C 464/397 Grn 232 Lab 127
Previous results in detail


Breckland council, Norfolk; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Trevor Carter.

Breckland, Hermitage

For our other Norfolk by-election we move west to higher ground at the northern end of the large Breckland district. Hermitage is a ward of seven parishes in the countryside roughly halfway between Norwich and King’s Lynn. The largest of these is Mileham, with 515 electors on the roll: this village is at the summit of the original road between Norwich and Lynn, with the Wensum (flowing east) and the Yar (flowing west) both rising nearby. A couple of miles to the north of Mileham can be found the site of Godwick, a village which had been abandoned by the 17th century; only the ruins of the church tower remain above ground. The ward extends north to the village of Colkirk, a couple of miles south of Fakenham. This is a strongly agricultural area, and in the 2011 census Breckland had four of the top ten wards in the Eastern region for those employed in agriculture, forestry or fishing: Hermitage ward, at just under 10% of the workforce, was one of them.

The ward boundaries changed in 2015 with the addition of Mileham parish. This brought Mileham within the remit of Trevor Carter, a former Army officer and retired teacher who had represented Hermitage ward since 2011. Carter enjoyed large majorities at the 2015 election (when he was challenged only by UKIP) and in May 2019, when he defeated Labour 71-29 in a straight fight. The local county council division (Necton and Launditch) was also strongly Conservative in May.

Carter has stood down for personal reasons after ten years in office, resulting in a by-election with four candidates. Defending for the Conservatives is Robert Hambidge, a former mayor of Dereham who farms sugar beet. The Labour candidate is Paul Siegert, who was a candidate for Norfolk county council in May (he contested Yare and All Saints division, which does not cover this ward). Also standing are Graeme Briggs-White for the Workers Party of Britain, and James Minto for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Mid Norfolk
Norfolk county council division: Necton and Launditch
ONS Travel to Work Area: King’s Lynn
Postcode districts: NR20, NR21, PE32

Graeme Briggs-White (Workers Party)
Robert Hambidge (C)
James Minto (LD)
Paul Siegert (Lab)

May 2019 result C 561 Lab 226
May 2015 result C 1016 UKIP 472
Previous results in detail


Newport council, Gwent; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Majid Rahman.

For our Welsh by-election we come to a place with happy memories for your columnist. In June 2006 I travelled down to Newport in South Wales for the British leg of the World Quizzing Championships, held at the Newport Gwent Dragons (as they were then) stadium in Rodney Parade, Newport. The great and the good of the British quiz world were all there. Kevin Ashman off Eggheads won the main event.

While the scores in the main event were being totted up a giant game of Fifteen-to-One broke out, in which all the great and the good of the British quiz world concentrated on knocking each other out and some random twentysomething from Bolton came through the middle of all this to win from nowhere. Winning “Last Man Standing” against that field remains one of my greatest quiz achievements. The question that secured me the win asked for the name of the band which released the 1999 album The Man Who – the answer appears at the bottom of this piece.

Newport, Victoria

Happy memories indeed as we consider the Victoria division of Newport, which takes in Rodney Parade. This division is on the east bank of the Usk, immediately opposite the city centre, and takes in much of the Maindee area. It is one of the most ethnically-diverse wards in Wales. In the 2011 census Victoria returned an Asian population of 24.2%, mostly of Pakistani Muslim heritage, which was the highest figure for any ward in Wales. Victoria’s black population of 4.2% was also in the top 10 wards in Wales, and it returned the third-highest Muslim population in Wales.

Appropriately enough, Victoria was the first place in Wales to elect a Muslim local councillor. That was Mohammad Asghar, who topped the poll here in 2004 to become the only Plaid Cymru member of Newport council. Asghar quickly got up a leg-up the greasy pole and was elected to the Senedd in 2007 as a Plaid Cymru regional member for South Wales East. In 2009 he crossed the floor to the Conservatives and was re-elected on their ticket in the 2011 and 2016 elections. He died in office last year at the age of 74, but there is still an Asghar in the Senedd after his daughter Natasha was elected as a Conservative MS in May.

Mohammed Asghar stepped down from Newport council at the 2008 election, at which Victoria ward was gained by the Liberal Democrats. In 2012 the Lib Dems lost the ward to the Labour slate of Christine Jenkins and Majid Rahman, who were easily re-elected in 2017: shares of the vote were 48% for Labour, 21% for the Conservatives and 20% for the Liberal Democrats.

Newport, 2017

Christine Jenkins resigned from Newport council on health grounds in March 2020. A by-election was scheduled for April 2020 to replace her but had to be called off due to the pandemic, resulting in her seat being vacant for over a year. When the by-election eventually took place in May 2021 it resulted in a Labour hold with an increased majority of 58-20 over the Liberal Democrats. On the same day Labour easily held the local Senedd constituency of Newport East, with that seat’s MS John Griffiths becoming one of only four members who have continuous service since the advent of devolution in 1999. (The other three are Jane Hutt and Lynne Neagle of Labour, and Elin Jones of Plaid Cymru.)

Majid Rahman has now resigned, and there is just time to squeeze in a by-election before the next Newport council elections in May 2022. Defending for Labour is Gavin Horton, who spent twenty years working in the Newport steelworks before setting up his own independent coffee shop, Horton’s Lounge. The Lib Dem candidate is John Miller, who was their parliamentary candidate for Torfaen in 2019; Miller has spent most of his career in the steel trade. Completing the ballot paper is Muhammad Tariq for the Conservatives, who returns for another go after contesting May’s by-election.

Parliamentary constituency: Newport East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode districts: NP19

Gavin Horton (Lab)
John Miller (LD)
Muhammad Tariq (C)

May 2021 by-election Lab 1138 LD 402 C 259 Grn 167
May 2017 result Lab 840/795 C 371/336 LD 344/333 PC 123 Grn 84
May 2012 result Lab 769/674 LD 418/345 C 224/174 PC 156/108
May 2008 result LD 618/604 Lab 486/450 PC 413/197 C 231
June 2004 result PC 571/459 Lab 561/511 LD 286/282
Previous results in detail


Warwick council; caused by the death of Whitnash Residents Association councillor Tony Heath.

We now turn to the West Midlands, where the Conservatives – as flagged in advance by this column – performed very well in last week’s council by-elections. This will be a tougher nut for them to crack.

Warwick, Whitnash

To all intents and purposes, Whitnash is a suburb of Leamington Spa – although this column is probably going to get into trouble for saying that. There was originally a small village here, but it has long been swallowed up by the growth of the town.

Leam is not like other towns in Warwickshire. It looks grand and Georgian, but those nice-looking terraces hide a lot of deprivation, a significant number of Warwick University students and an ethnically-diverse population. Whitnash has mostly escaped the deprivation and the students, but it has a significant Asian minority of Punjabi Sikh heritage: this ward is in the top 50 wards in England and Wales for Sikhism, at 12% of the population.

Warwick, 2019

Interestingly, Whitnash ward has gone for localism in its local elections: since the 1980s its councillors have all come from the Whitnash Residents Association. In the May 2019 election the Residents won here with 49% of the vote, against 22% for Labour and 11% for the Green Party. The 2019 Warwick elections resulted in a hung council with 19 Conservatives, 9 Liberal Democrats, 8 Greens, 5 Labour and 3 Whitnash Residents; the Residents are the junior partner in a coalition with the Conservatives which controls half of the seats on the council. The ward has the same boundaries as the Whitnash division of Warwickshire county council, which in May’s elections gave 46% to the Residents, 26% to Labour and 16% to the Conservatives.

This by-election is to replace Tony Heath, a veteran of local government who sat on Whitnash town council and the parish council before it for over 40 years until his death in September, including four years as Mayor of Whitnash or chair of the parish council. Heath had also sat on Warwick district council for over 20 years. He will be a hard act to follow.

Defending for the Whitnash Residents Association is Adrian Barton, another former Mayor of Whitnash. Labour have selected Lucy Phillips, a secondary school English teacher. The Green candidate is Sarah Richards, a hydrologist looking after the country’s canals. Also standing are John Kane for the Conservatives and Trevor Barr for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Warwick and Leamington
Warwickshire county council division: Whitnash
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leamington Spa
Postcode districts: CV31, CV33, CV34

Trevor Barr (LD)
Adrian Barton (Whitnash Res Assoc)
John Kane (C)
Lucy Phillips (Lab)
Sarah Richards (Grn)

May 2019 result Whitnash Residents Association 1487/1376/1260 Lab 661/536 Grn 317/202/200 C 198/157/142 UKIP 194 LD 150
Previous results in detail

Bare; and
Upper Lune Valley

Lancaster council; caused respectively by the deaths of Conservative councillors Stephie Barber and Stewart Scothern.

We now come to the final part of our current three-part series of Lancaster by-elections. Over the last month Labour have recovered seats from two Labour councillors who went independent. This time the focus turns to the Conservatives who have two seats to defend today, one urban, one rural.

Lancaster, Bare

The rural parts of the district may be looking bare at the moment with the leaves now almost all off the trees, but Bare is in fact our urban ward this week. This is the eastern end of Morecambe, served by Bare Lane railway station, and it’s very much a retirement centre. At the last census 8% of the ward’s population was aged over 85, which was in the top 40 wards in the UK and the second-highest figure for any ward in the north-west. Boundary changes for the 2015 election expanded the ward south of the railway line, into an area which was previously part of Torrisholme ward, and added a third councillor.

Lancaster, Ur Lune Vy

Upper Lune Valley ward is a very different area. This is the northernmost ward in modern-day Lancashire, covering ten rural parishes to the south and east of Kirkby Lonsdale (which is over the border in Cumbria). Here can be found the highest point of Lancashire, the 628-metre summit of Green Hill. The largest centre of population here is Hornby, located in lovely countryside on the main road between Lancaster and Skipton.

Until 2007 Upper Lune Valley ward was represented by James Airey, who subsequently transferred to Cumbria: he came very close to unseating the Lib Dem MP Tim Farron in the 2017 and 2019 general elections. Airey and his successor Peter Williamson enjoyed large majorities, but things suddenly changed at Stewart Scothern’s first election in 2019: he saw the Conservative lead here slashed to 46-44 over the Liberal Democrats, a majority of 17 votes.

Bare ward has been closely fought in this century between the Conservatives and the Morecambe Bay Independents, a Morecambe localist group which once – many years ago – ran Lancaster council as a whole. Three of the ward’s five elections during that period have returned split representation, including both contests on the current boundaries. In May 2019 the Morecambe Bay Independents topped the poll with 35% and won two seats (gaining one from the Conservatives), the Conservatives polled 31% and won one seat, and Labour came third with 17%.

The Morecambe Bay Independents didn’t stand in May’s county council elections, in which Bare ward was part of the Morecambe North division. As this column has pointed out before (Andrew’s Previews 2018, page 71), this is a rather misleading name for an electoral unit of which a large chunk is Bolton-le-Sands. This and Lancaster Rural East division (which includes Upper Lune Valley) were both safe Conservative in May’s Lancashire county elections.

Lancaster, 2019

Following the two by-elections held over the last three weeks the administration of Lancaster council consists of 10 Green councillors and 4 Eco-Socialist Independents. The opposition is now made up of 16 Labour councillors, 11 Conservatives plus these two vacancies, 9 Morecambe Bay Independents, 6 other independent councillors and 2 Liberal Democrats.

Both of today’s polls are to replace councillors who have passed away. Stewart Scothern, who had represented Upper Lune Valley since 2019, died in October at the age of 73. Stephie Barber entered politics in 2019 after retiring from a 44-year career in the transport industry, finishing as a director of the bus giant Stagecoach; although she quickly rose to become leader of the Conservative group, Barber passed away in May at the age of 68 after battling cancer for several years.

Defending Bare for the Conservatives is Jane Cottam, who contested Torrisholme ward in the last Lancaster elections and Skerton division (which covers Torrisholme) in May’s county council elections. The Morecambe Bay Independents, who will have a full set of councillors if they gain this seat, have selected June Ashworth who has previously represented this ward from 2007 to 2019; she was Mayor of Lancaster in 2013-14. The Labour candidate is Valerie Rogerson, who fought the neighbouring ward of Bolton and Slyne in 2019. Completing the Bare ballot paper are Gerry Blaikie for the Liberal Democrats and James Sommerville for the Green Party.

In Upper Lune Valley the Tory defence is led by Iain Harbinson, a registered nurse who is a parish councillor in Yealand Redmayne; in 2019 he fought Silverdale ward, which covers that parish. The Lib Dems have reselected Ross Hunter who stood here in 2019; Hunter had less luck earlier this year when he failed to defend a Lib Dem seat at a by-election in the neighbouring Kellet ward. Also standing are Faith Kenrick for Labour and Nicky Sharkey for the Green Party.


Parliamentary constituency: Morecambe and Lunesdale
Lancashire county council division: Morecambe North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lancaster and Morecambe
Postcode districts: LA4

June Ashworth (Morecambe Bay Ind)
Gerry Blaikie (LD)
Jane Cottam (C)
Valerie Rogerson (Lab)
James Sommerville (Grn)

May 2019 result Morecambe Bay Ind 827/800/597 C 721/708/598 Lab 406/396/178 LD 282/167/131 Ind 97
May 2015 result C 1288/1179 Morecambe Bay Ind 1098/1021/932 Lab 794/782/734 UKIP 603 Grn 384/298 LD 372
Previous results in detail

Upper Lune Valley

Parliamentary constituency: Morecambe and Lunesdale
Lancashire county council division: Lancaster Rural East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lancaster and Morecambe
Postcode districts: LA2, LA6

Iain Harbinson (C)
Ross Hunter (LD)
Faith Kenrick (Lab)
Nicky Sharkey (Grn)

May 2019 result C 419 LD 402 Lab 92
May 2015 result C 1103 Lab 221 Grn 187
May 2011 result C 829 Grn 277
May 2007 result C 776 Grn 210
May 2003 result C 653 LD 279
Previous results in detail

Fort William and Ardnamurchan

Highland council, Scotland; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Ian Ramon.

It’s time for the voters of Corrour (if there are any people who live here year-round) to make a healthy, informed, democratic decision – hopefully one not involving heroin. Corrour is part of the Fort William and Ardnamurchan ward of Highland council, which sprawls across a thousand square miles of the Scottish Highlands. To put this into some sort of context, 1,000 square miles is almost exactly equal to one Luxembourg. This large area is very sparsely populated, with 8,939 electors on the roll.

Highland, Ft William/Ardnamurchan

Around a third of those people live in Fort William, at the head of Loch Linnhe. Fort William is the major settlement in the western Highlands and, together with its suburbs of Caol and Corpach which are not part of this ward, has a larger population than anywhere in the Highland council area except Inverness. The town itself dates from the seventeenth century, having originally been a military fort built by Cromwell’s army. It has had a number of names over the years, with the current name commemorating the Butcher himself: Prince William, Duke of Cumberland.

Fort William’s location at the foot of the UK’s highest point Ben Nevis makes it a major tourist trap, but it also has a lot of industry. The town is home to the UK’s only remaining aluminium smelting plant, which is presently recovering from the collapse of its main lender Greensill Capital. Aluminium smelting involves a huge amount of electricity, which the Fort William plant derives sustainably from the Lochaber hydroelectric scheme.

To the south of Fort William lies Ballachulish, where an impressive bridge carries the main road to Glasgow over Loch Leven. The south side of Loch Leven was once part of Argyll and is known for the valley of Glencoe, which has gone down in infamy as the site of a 1692 massacre of members of the Clan MacDonald by UK government forces.

There’s no bridge over Loch Linnhe, so a rickety ferry crossing at Coggan or a long detour out of the ward via Glenfinnan are the only way to Ardnamurchan. Also once part of Argyll, the peninsula of Ardnamurchan leads to Corrachadh Mòr, at 6 degrees 13 minutes West the most westerly point of the British mainland. Just to the north of Corrachadh Mòr is the lighthouse at Ardnamurchan Point, which gets a namecheck just before 1am every morning in the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4.

“Ardnamurchan” in this ward name refers to the pre-1975 Ardnamurchan district of Argyll, which covered not just the peninsula itself but the whole area south of Glenfinnan and Loch Shiel. The main population centres here are Acharacle at the foot of Loch Shiel, and Strontian which is the location of the Ardnamurchan High School. Before the high school was built in 2002, Ardnamurchan’s secondary school students had to travel from here to Fort William, to Mallaig, or over the water to Tobermory on Mull. Strontian was a lead-mining centre from the 18th century, and it has given its name to the chemical element of strontium. Strontium is one of the alkaline earth metals, and used to be in major demand for making cathode ray tubes for colour TVs; these are rather out of fashion now, but strontium salts are also popular in the fireworks industry because they burn with a deep red colour.

That’s the Fort William and Ardnamurchan ward, whose boundaries have been unchanged since PR came in for Scottish local elections in 2007. The main benefit of PR in places like the Highlands was to ensure contested elections, and we certainly had that in 2007 when eleven candidates stood for the four seats in this ward. The seats went to the Lib Dems, an independent (Donald Cameron), the SNP and Labour, with Labour having a 55-vote majority over independent Patricia Jordon in the final count. Jordon had done well to get that far, having started in eighth place and overtaken two other independents and the Conservative candidate.

That Conservative candidate was Andrew Baxter, who subsequently stood in the 2012 election as an independent and topped the poll. He repeated the trick again at the last Highland elections in May 2017, being elected on the first count with 37% of the first preferences. The SNP polled 33% and won two seats, while the Conservatives polled 13% and won a seat here for the first time. At the decisive count the second SNP candidate Niall McLean finished 120 votes ahead of Labour, with a Conservative surplus of 9 still to distribute. If we re-run the votes cast here in 2017 for a single vacancy then Andrew Baxter wins very comfortably. Since 2017 Baxter has been kicked out of the independent group which leads the coalition running Highland council, and he has rejoined the Conservatives.

Highland, 2017

This ward is represented by the SNP in the Westminster and Holyrood parliaments, and is part of the Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency which returns the SNP’s Westminster group leader Ian Blackford.

Ian Ramon, who had been a lighthouse keeper and tour guide on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, passed away in September. There is just time for a by-election to take place before the next Scottish local elections in May 2022.

Defending this difficult seat for the Conservatives is Ruraidh Stewart, who has appeared in this column before: he fought last year’s by-election in Eilean a’ Cheò ward, covering the Isle of Skye (Andrew’s Previews 2020, page 64). Stewart, who has recently graduated from St Andrews, has previously represented Skye in the Scottish Youth Parliament. You cannot count out independents here, and there are three of them on the ballot paper. Joanne Matheson, who is from Acharacle, stood here in 2017 and finished last with 4.3% of the vote, and has reportedly given up on her campaign after concluding that she doesn’t have the spare time to be a councillor; Mark Drayton is on the Fort William community council; and Andy McKenna is a photographer working in the tourist sector in Fort William. The SNP candidate is French-born Sarah Fanet, who lives in Kinlochleven and also works in the tourism sector. Completing the ballot are Roger Liley for the Liberal Democrats and the ward’s first Scottish Green Party candidate, Kate Willis. The standard Scottish reminders apply: Votes at 16 are in use as is the Alternative Vote, and transfers could end up being very important. Please mark your ballot paper in order of preference.

Parliamentary constituency: Ross, Skye and Lochaber
Scottish Parliament constituency: Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch
ONS Travel to Work Area: Fort William
Postcode districts: PA38, PA80, PH30, PH33, PH36, PH37, PH38, PH49, PH50

Mark Drayton (Ind)
Sarah Fanet (SNP)
Roger Liley (LD)
Joanne Matheson (Ind)
Andy McKenna (Ind)
Ruraidh Stewart (C)
Kate Willis (Grn)

May 2017 first preferences Ind 1550 SNP 1369 C 530 Lab 344 LD 192 Ind 177
May 2012 first preferences SNP 980 Ind 647 Lab 574 Ind 468 Ind 448 LD 180 C 175
May 2007 first preferences LD 1059 Ind 939 SNP 778 Lab 501 C 372 Ind 322 Ind 317 Ind 271 Ind 241 Ind 195 Ind 194
Previous results in detail

And the answer to the quiz question: the 1999 album The Man Who was, of course, by Travis.

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

Andrew Teale

Andrew Teale is the Britain Elects previewer. He edits the Local Elections Archive Project, sometimes tweets at @andrewteale and plays quiz a bit. Read his meticulously-researched previews for the full lowdown on each local by-election, what you need to know and why you might (or might not) want to visit.

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