Previewing the council by-elections of 09 Dec 2021

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

Seven by-elections on 9th December 2021, with the Conservatives defending six seats and the remaining one having previously been independent. We start with the six Conservative defences:

Anston and Woodsetts; and
Aughton and Swallownest

Rotherham council, South Yorkshire; caused respectively by the resignations of Conservative councillors Emma McClure and Jack Austin.

It’s been a while since this column has talked about Rotherham. The last local by-elections in this district were nearly five years ago, when two polls were held in February 2017 (Andrew’s Previews 2017, page 20); on that occasion Labour gained a seat in Dinnington ward from UKIP but lost Brinsworth and Catcliffe ward to an unexpected Liberal Democrat surge.

At that time, Rotherham council was being run by government Commissioners in the wake of an appalling scandal over child sexual exploitation. The scandal had already had huge effects on the town’s politics. It forced the resignation of the then South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright, the abuses having happened while he was the Rotherham council cabinet member responsible for children’s services. The resulting by-election in October 2014, with the appalling turnout we normally see for Police and Crime Commissioner elections, saw the UK Independence Party surge into second place.

This was not a flash in the pan. Five months previously, UKIP had won the 2014 Rotherham council election in vote terms. From virtually nowhere, they polled 44.3% of the vote across the district against Labour’s 40.9%, and won 10 wards to Labour’s 11. The party never really climbed those heights again: they only gained a further three seats in 2015, and won one further seat in 2016.

One permanent effect of the Rotherham scandal is that the council’s electoral cycle has been changed. The entire council membership was placed up for re-election in 2016, with Labour winning 48 seats, UKIP 14 and an independent candidate one – almost no change on the previous council. From that year on Rotherham went over to whole-council elections, and due to that and the pandemic there were no ordinary local elections in the borough between 2016 and 2021, something which is very unusual for a metropolitan borough.

That doesn’t mean other elections weren’t taking place here, particularly general elections. The borough covers the whole of the Rother Valley and Rotherham constituencies and most of the Wentworth and Dearne constituency, all of which saw huge swings to the right in December 2019. The Rotherham, and Wentworth and Dearne constituencies are now marginal, while Rother Valley was a convincing Conservative gain.

And it’s in the Rother Valley seat, covering a series of small towns and villages to the east of Sheffield, that today’s two local by-elections take place. The Tories gained Rother Valley in 2019 without having a single local councillor in the constituency (or indeed in Rotherham borough as a whole), which makes their parliamentary majority all the more impressive. The party followed up on that in convincing style at the Rotherham council elections in May, winning 20 seats from nowhere to become the official opposition on the council. Most of those gains came from wards in the Rother Valley constituency. Labour retained their majority with 32 seats, the Lib Dems won three, the former UKIP group – rechristened as the Rotherham Democratic Party – fell to three seats, and the remaining seat went to an independent.

Rotherham, Anston/Woodsetts

Three of the new Conservative councillors came from Anston and Woodsetts ward, which is based on the twin villages of North Anston and South Anston. The two Anstons now form a single urban area with Dinnington to the north, and they are pit villages only in the sense that Dinnington was dominated by a large colliery until the 1990s; the Anstons are clearly less deprived than Dinnington itself. Mind, the area’s geology continues to attract interest and there have been recent proposals for fracking under Woodsetts. These days the villages are commuter centres for Sheffield and Worksop, with the A57 road and Kiveton Park railway station providing quick links between the two. In the 2011 census the ward (which then had slightly different boundaries, as we shall come to) had the second-highest population born in the UK of any ward in Yorkshire (98.2%), and had high levels of owner-occupation.

Boundary changes for the 2021 election added the tiny parish of Thorpe Salvin and a small part of Dinnington to Anston and Woodsetts ward. The previous Anston and Woodsetts ward had been one of the stronger Conservative parts of Rotherham in this century, but the Tories only won it in 2008; their councillor Darren Hughes subsequently defected to Labour, sought re-election in 2012 on the Labour ticket, but lost his seat to independent candidate Clive Jepson. UKIP were within a handful of votes of winning seats here in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

I have already noted that the Tories won a full slate here in May, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Their share of the vote was only 33%, and their third seat was won by Emma McClure just fifteen votes ahead of the Liberal Democrat slate which polled 22%. This in a ward where the Lib Dems hadn’t previously stood a candidate in fifteen years. Labour fell to third with 20%, and independent councillor Clive Jepson finished in seventh place with 16% of the vote. There were a lot of ticket-splitters here, with wide variations in the shares of the vote between different candidates of the same party.

Rotherham, Aughton/Swallownest

The boundary review for this year’s Rotherham election created the new ward of Aughton and Swallownest, covering territory which had previously been part of Holderness and Rother Vale wards. Aughton and Swallownest are both part of the parish of Aston cum Aughton, which covers three large villages which are just outside the Sheffield city boundary and function as Sheffield suburbs. The ward also includes the tiny parish of Ulley to the north-east and what’s left of the parish of Orgreave to the west; this ward doesn’t cover the former Orgreave colliery site, which is being extensively redeveloped for housing and industry and has declared independence as the new parish of Waverley.

The extensive boundary changes make comparisons with previous years difficult, but for what it’s worth both predecessor wards voted Labour at every election since 2004 with the exception of UKIP wins in Rother Vale (in 2014) and Holderness (one out of three seats in 2016). In May the new Aughton and Swallownest ward split its representation. Labour topped the poll with 40% of the vote, and former Holderness ward councillor Lyndsay Pitchley was re-elected a long way ahead of her running-mate. That allowed the Conservatives, who polled 32%, to win the ward’s other seat; third place went to the Rotherham Democratic Party, whose outgoing councillor Mick Elliot finished on 16% and lost his seat.

The two outgoing Conservative councillors only served for five months before handing in their resignations in October. Emma McClure of Anston and Woodsetts ward cites changes in her family circumstances, while Jack Austin of Aughton and Swallownest ward is concentrating on running his engineering business. The two by-elections to replace them have attracted a lot of interest, with fifteen candidates standing for the two vacancies.

Defending Anston and Woodsetts for the Conservatives is Adrian Knight, who lives in Woodsetts and is a former manager of Dinnington Town FC’s junior side. The Lib Dems’ Drew Tarmey is having another go after his near-miss in May; Tarmey is the vice-chairman of Anston parish council, and his day job is teaching medical students at the University of Manchester. The Labour candidate is Simon Tweed, who was a Rotherham councillor (representing Dinnington ward) from 2008 until May when he fought this ward and lost his seat. Another former Rotherham councillor who wants to get back is independent candidate Clive Jepson, who lost his seat here in May. Independent candidate (and former Labour councillor) Jonathan Ireland and David Foulstone for the Green Party also stood here in May, and they complete the Anston and Woodsetts ballot paper together with Allen Cowles for the Rotherham Democratic Party and the former Yorkshire Party leader Chris Whitwood.

On paper Aughton and Swallownest looks like a more difficult Conservative defence. The party have given that job to Julia Mitchell, who lives in Swallownest and works part-time in a dental practice. The Labour candidate is former Rotherham councillor Robert Taylor, who represented Anston and Woodsetts ward from 2015 to 2016 and Holderness ward from 2016 to 2021. The Rotherham Democratic Party have changed candidate to Gavin Shawcroft, who contested Sitwell ward in May. Also standing are Mark Lambert for the Liberal Democrats, Dennis Bannan for the Yorkshire Party, Louisa Barker for the Green Party and Paul Marshall for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

Anston and Woodsetts

Parliamentary constituency: Rother Valley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Sheffield
Postcode districts: S25, S26, S80, S81

Allen Cowles (Rotherham Democratic Party)
David Foulstone (Grn)
Jonathan Ireland (Ind)
Clive Jepson (Ind)
Adrian Knight (C)
Drew Tarmey (LD)
Simon Tweed (Lab)
Chris Whitwood (Yorkshire Party)

May 2021 result C 1491/1341/1020 LD 1005/786/522 Lab 906/744/461 Ind 737/535 Grn 375 Workers Party 47
Previous results in detail

Aughton and Swallownest

Parliamentary constituency: Rother Valley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Sheffield
Postcode districts: S13, S20, S26, S66

Dennis Bannan (Yorkshire Party)
Louisa Barker (Grn)
Mark Lambert (LD)
Paul Marshall (TUSC)
Julia Mitchell (C)
Gavin Shawcroft (Rotherham Democratic Party)
Robert Taylor (Lab)

May 2021 result Lab 817/503 C 666/625 Rotherham Democratic Party 341 Workers Party 136 LD 107
Previous results in detail

Old Bracknell

Bracknell Forest council, Berkshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Malcolm Tullett.

Bracknell Forest, Old Bracknell

All our remaining by-elections today are in the south of England, and we start our tour of the south with what might at first appear to be an oxymoron. There is very little that is old about Old Bracknell ward, but the ward does include much of Easthampstead.

Back in the day, Easthampstead was important enough to have a Rural District of Berkshire named after it. In fact Easthampstead Rural District is one of the very few pre-1974 districts to have survived unchanged to the present day: it’s now called Bracknell Forest, after the New Town which has swallowed Easthampstead in its urban sprawl.

Bracknell is one of the most consistently right-wing of England’s New Towns, and the Conservatives hold 38 seats on Bracknell Forest council out of a possible 42 following the 2019 elections. That was actually their worst performance here since 2003, when Old Bracknell ward voted Labour. The Conservatives gained this ward in 2011 and held it in 2019 with a 48-38 lead over the Labour slate.

Malcolm Tullett had first been elected to Bracknell Forest council in 2015, at the time representing Hanworth ward; he moved here in 2019. He had left the council’s ruling Conservative group in July this year but remains a member of the Conservative group on Bracknell town council, a move which has reportedly led to some infighting among the local Conservative councillors. Tullett eventually submitted his resignation from Bracknell Forest council in October.

The by-election to replace Tullett is a straight fight. Defending from the blue corner is Iain McCracken, a former Conservative councillor who represented this ward from 2011 to 2019 when he stood down. Challenging from the red corner is Paul Bidwell, a Bracknell town councillor who works in the security industry; he was the Labour parliamentary candidate for Bracknell in 2017 and 2019.

Parliamentary constituency: Bracknell
ONS Travel to Work Area: Reading
Postcode district: RG12

Paul Bidwell (Lab)
Iain McCracken (C)

May 2019 result C 626/569 Lab 493/485 LD 180
May 2015 result C 1191/1087 Lab 819/797 UKIP 461/406 TUSC 68/62
May 2011 result C 824/784 Lab 774/736
May 2007 result Lab 782/668 C 600/598 LD 171
May 2003 result Lab 628/624 C 565/534 LD 126 Grn 79
Previous results in detail

Castle;
Kings Hill; and
West Malling and Leybourne

Tonbridge and Malling council, Kent; caused respectively by the resignation of Jack Austin, the disqualification of Millie Langridge for non-attendance and the resignation of Liam O’Toole. All were Conservative councillors, and all had been first elected in 2019.

We now come to Kent for a Magical Mystery Tour around three wards within the Tonbridge and Malling district and parliamentary constituency.

Tonbridge/Malling, Castle

To start with the first half of that name, Tonbridge itself is a market town which grew up at a crossing of the River Medway. To guard this crossing, the Norman invader Richard fitz Gilbert erected the first Tonbridge Castle, a motte-and-bailey structure typical of eleventh-century Norman castles.

It didn’t stay that way for long. Fitz Gilbert’s descendants, the de Clares, rebelled against King William Rufus, who besieged the castle in 1088; after a two-day siege Tonbridge Castle fell to William, who reportedly had both the castle and the town of Tonbridge burnt in revenge. This didn’t put off the de Clares, and by the end of the thirteenth century Tonbridge Castle was a rather impressive stone structure. A few centuries of decay have taken their toll, but the gatehouse is now adjoined by an eighteenth-century mansion. This mansion was bought in 1900 by Tonbridge urban district council, and their successors Tonbridge and Malling council use it as offices.

Tonbridge/Malling, Kings Hill

However, Tonbridge Castle is no longer the head office of Tonbridge and Malling council. This is now located in the Malling area of the district, in the village of Kings Hill. It would certainly be accurate to describe Kings Hill as a new village. Until 1989 the area now occupied by Kings Hill was an airfield, which operated from 1940 to 1969 as RAF West Malling; in the 1970s it was a temporary home for thousands of Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin. The officers’ mess at RAF West Malling still stands and now serves as the council offices; it has been renamed as the Gibson Building after Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC, who was stationed here with 29 Squadron.

Tonbridge/Malling, W Malling/Leybourne

To the north of Kings Hill lie the town of West Malling and the village of Leybourne. West Malling is a market town on the old road and railway line from London to Maidstone, which gives its name to the Malling area. It is is the site of Malling Abbey, which was founded in the eleventh century by Gundulf, bishop of Rochester, the abbey was dissolved in 1538, but refounded at the end of the 19th century. Despite its name Malling Abbey was always a nunnery, and there is still a Benedictine community of nuns here to this day.

Kings Hill has a reputation as one of the richest villages in the country, and the 2011 census bears this out to some extent: over half of the ward’s workforce are in managerial or professional occupations, and the proportion of adults with no qualifications (10.0%) is extremely low. Its development led to West Malling being bypassed quite recently (the bypass, linking Kings Hill with the M20 motorway and West Malling railway station, opened in 2007). In common with some other quasi-New Towns developed in the last decade or two, Kings Hill also makes the top 20 wards in England and Wales for under-16 population (31.3%); a more unusual feature is that it is in the top 100 wards for shared property ownership. Tonbridge Castle ward also has an unusual age distribution, making the top 40 wards in England and Wales for 16- and 17-year-olds; this is due to the presence here of Tonbridge School, a boys’ public school with a significant number of boarders.

Tonbridge and Malling, 2019

These three wards returned a full slate of eight Conservative councillors in 2015, when the current ward boundaries came in (although none of these wards were changed to any significant extent in 2015). The seat count changed in 2019 when the Liberal Democrats gained one of the three seats in West Malling and Leybourne ward: shares of the vote there were 36% and 2 seats for the Conservatives, 32% and 1 seat for the Liberal Democrats, and 26% for an independent slate. Kings Hill voted 47% Conservative, 35% for an independent slate and 18% Lib Dem; Castle ward had shares of 44% Conservatives, 24% Lib Dem and 23% Green Party.

Castle ward is part of the two-seat Tonbridge division of Kent county council, which now has two Green councillors who gained their seats from the Conservatives in May. Kings Hill is part of the Malling Rural East county division which is strongly Conservative; West Malling and Leybourne is split between the Malling North division (safe Conservative) and Malling Central (safe Lib Dem). An administrative error led to Labour nominating two candidates for Malling Central in May’s county elections; they polled 4.5% and 1.0%, so this didn’t cost the party a seat.

The Tonbridge Castle by-election arises following the resignation of Karen King, who has moved away from the area. Defending for the Conservatives is Johurul Islam, who works for Royal Mail and also runs an Indian restaurant in Kings Hill. Despite their second-place finish last time there is no Liberal Democrat candidate, so Islam’s main competition may well come from the Green Party’s Anna Cope, who teaches English at a secondary school in Tonbridge. Completing the Castle ballot paper is Julian Wilson for Labour.

There are also three candidates for Kings Hill, where voters will elect a successor to Millie Langridge who was kicked off the council under the six-month non-attendance rule. Here the defending Conservative candidate is Dan Harman, who grew up in this area but has recently returned to the UK after a spell in New Zealand. There is a new independent candidate: local resident Louis Westlake is a 19-year-old student reading law and philosophy at the New College of Humanities in London, and he is standing on an anti-development ticket. The Lib Dem candidate is Raja Zahidi, a solicitor and Kings Hill parish councillor.

Finally we come to West Malling and Leybourne, where Liam O’Toole has resigned for personal reasons. The Conservatives have selected West Malling parish councillor David Thompson to replace him. Standing for the Lib Dems is Leybourne resident Paul Boxall, who currently works in London for a watch company but has also worked in theatre production and in the Middle East. There’s no independent in West Malling and Leybourne this time, so Robin Potter for Labour and Jordan Mahoney for the Green Party complete the ballot paper.

Castle

Parliamentary constituency: Tonbridge and Malling
Kent county council division: Tonbridge
ONS Travel to Work Area: Tunbridge Wells
Postcode districts: TN9, TN10

Anna Cope (Grn)
Johurul Islam (C)
Julian Wilson (Lab)

May 2019 result C 640/623 LD 342 Grn 338/323 Lab 129/92
May 2015 result C 1485/1392 Grn 787 LD 751
Previous results in detail

Kings Hill

Parliamentary constituency: Tonbridge and Malling
Kent county council division: Malling Rural East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Medway
Postcode districts: ME6, ME19

Dan Harman (C)
Louis Westlake (Ind)
Raja Zahidi (LD)

May 2019 result C 887/770/672 Ind 651/474 LD 344/269
May 2015 result C 2719/2044/1855 UKIP 843 Ind 747 Lab 673
Previous results in detail

West Malling and Leybourne

Parliamentary constituency: Tonbridge and Malling
Kent county council division: Malling Central (West Malling parish), Malling North (Leybourne parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Medway
Postcode district: ME19

Paul Boxall (LD)
Jordan Mahoney (Grn)
Robin Potter (Lab)
David Thompson (C)

May 2019 result C 833/743/715 LD 739/661/608 Ind 613/393 Lab 138
May 2015 result C 1608/1524/1468 UKIP 761 LD 671/612/578 Ind 552/377/334 Lab 395 Grn 335
Previous results in detail

Northam

Torridge council, Devon; caused by the disqualification of independent councillor Giuseppe Rossi for non-attendance.

For our final poll this week we return to an occasional series in this column with the general title of “post-1066 invasions of England which they don’t tell you about in GCSE history”.

The scene here is shortly after the Norman conquest, with William in the ascendant after defeating King Harold Godwinson at Hastings, and with the Saxon nobles having settled on Edgar the Atheling as their claimant to the English throne. It might be guessed that these events didn’t go down particularly well with Harold’s family. His queen, Gytha Thorkelsdóttir, had holed herself up in Exeter from where she was causing trouble for the Norman conquerors. William himself turned up in Exeter at the start of 1068 and laid siege to the city; Exeter fell after 18 days of fighting, and Gytha fled.

Attention now turns to Harold’s sons (and Gytha’s stepsons) Godwin and Edmund, who shortly afterwards turned up at the court of Diarmait, the High King of Ireland. Diarmait fitted them out with some ships and soldiers, and Godwin and Edmund started raiding the coasts of Devon and Cornwall. The following June they came back with an invasion force and landed at Appledore on the north coast of Devon. Unfortunately Norman troops arrived quickly and beat the raiders back to their ships, which had become stranded on the beach by a low tide.

In the resulting Battle of Northam the Saxon army managed to hold the line until the tide came in and they were able to get away. They had taken heavy casualties. High King Diarmait appears to have been less than happy with the result of his investment, and that was pretty much the end of Godwin and Edmund’s attempts to claim the English throne: their later attempts to persuade the king of Denmark to fund and supply another invasion attempt fell on stony ground.

Torridge, Northam

Appledore is part of Northam parish, but it is not covered by the Northam ward. Northam parish is rather large, and following major boundary changes here in 2019 it is divided into three wards: one for Appledore, one for Westward Ho!, and this one. The present Northam ward takes in most of Northam town plus the former Orchard Hill ward, which is effectively a northern suburb of Bideford.

Goodness knows what’s going to happen here. In the 2015 Torridge elections the previous Northam ward had split its seats between the Conservatives and UKIP, while Orchard Hill ward voted Conservative. However, the 2019 election (the only previous poll on these boundaries) comfortably returned an independent slate: shares of the vote were 40% for the independents, 20% for the Conservatives, 16% for UKIP and 13% for the Liberal Democrats. Top of the independent slate was Chris Leather, a former UKIP figure, with Giuseppe Rossi elected in third place with a comfortable majority. The larger Northam division of Devon county council was safely Conservative in May, but the Tory share of the vote was quite low against evenly-divided opposition from an independent and the Lib Dems. The local MP is the Conservatives’ Geoffrey Cox, whom you’d think might have a spare bob or two to put towards his party’s campaign here.

This by-election could be important for control of Torridge council. This is run by an independent administration which controls 17 seats, plus this vacancy: that adds up to 18, plus the chairman’s casting vote. In opposition are the Conservatives on 10, Labour on 3, the Lib Dems and Greens on 2 each and a non-aligned councillor: that also adds up to 18. An independent loss here would tip their administration into a minority.

The Northam by-election arises from the disqualification of independent councillor Giuseppe Rossi under the six-month non-attendance rule. One independent candidate has come forward to succeed him: Timothy Tennant is an artist, doing paintings in the impressionist style which look rather nice on his Instagram. Standing for the Conservatives is Carrie Woodhouse, who contested Westward Ho! ward in the 2019 Torridge elections. UKIP have not returned. The Lib Dem candidate Sam Newman-McKie has previous local government experience, having sat on Winchester council in Hampshire from 2011 to 2016; she is now a Northam town councillor. Completing the ballot paper are Jen Radford for Labour and Wendy Lo-Vel for the Green Party (which won a seat in the former Northam ward, way back in 2007).

Parliamentary constituency: Torridge and West Devon
Devon county council division: Northam
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bideford
Postcode district: EX39

Wendy Lo-Vel (Grn)
Sam Newman-McKie (LD)
Jen Radford (Lab)
Timothy Tennant (Ind)
Carrie Woodhouse (C)

May 2019 result Ind 783/602/539 C 381/372/296 UKIP 305 LD 255 Lab 214/209/175
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