Preview: 16 Jan 2020

Welcome to the new year, the new decade, the new Parliament and the same old Andrew's Previews. I hope you've all had a refreshing Christmas and New Year break - I certainly have - and that you're ready for the tenth anniversary year of this column. There are many local elections to come in what looks set to be a full-length parliament, so let's dive right in with the first by-election of the majority Johnson administration:

Brislington East

Bristol city council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Mike Langley at the age of 73. A retired bus driver and passionate Bristol Rovers fan with a penchant for Hawaiian shirts, Langley had served for Brislington East since 2011 and had previously represented Frome Vale ward from 1990 to 1996. Tributes were paid to him at the full council meeting in November: the Labour group turned out in flowery tops, Bristol's elected mayor Marvin Rees described Langley as a "true working-class hero", and he is to have a street named after him in his ward.

Brislington is the first part of Bristol that visitors see as they travel into the city along the road and railway line from Bath, down the valley of the Avon. In days gone by this was a picturesque Somerset country village with many country homes occupied by Bristol merchants, but this is no longer the case; Brislington was annexed by Bristol in the 1930s, and has changed beyond all recognition since then.

The north end of the ward is St Anne's Park, a council estate mostly dating from the 1930s, with the Broomhill area lying further south. At the eastern end of the ward is St Brendan's sixth-form college on the Bath Road; this is in the grounds of Brislington House, a Palladian country pile which was built in 1806 not as a stately home for some aristocrat or businessman, but as a pioneering and influential lunatic asylum. The asylum building itself is now flats, and has been renamed Long Fox Manor after Edward Long Fox, the psychiatrist who set the place up all those years ago.

Bristol city council's electoral cycle has been sending your columnist mad for a long time. The 1990s reorganisation that got rid of the short-lived and unlamented county of Avon left Bristol as s unitary local government district using the thirds electoral system, in which one-third of the council was renewed in three of the four years of England's local government electoral cycle. Nothing unusual about that, but Bristol's implementation had two strange features. All of its wards elected two councillors rather than the normal three, and its "fallow year" when no elections were held at all was at a different point of the cycle to every other thirds council. Those features caused me no end of grief trying to keep track of things. These days the Local Government Boundary Commission has strict instructions that thirds councils should have a uniform pattern of three-member wards unless there are very good reasons otherwise, which meant that several districts have had to face the choice of having radical new ward boundaries imposed or moving off the thirds cycle. Bristol, in common with most councils that have faced this question, chose the latter; which means that the city now has an electoral cycle which is not unique. Gloucester, Stroud and Warrington councils will join Bristol in holding elections for all their members in May 2020 and every fourth year afterwards.

The decision by Bristol to move to whole-council elections meant that Brislington East, along with many of the city's wards, could carry on without much boundary disruption. For much of this century Brislington East has been closely fought between Labour and the Conservatives, although Labour generally had the upper hand - since 2002 the Conservatives had won here only once, in 2006, but there were plenty of other close results.

In those long-ago days of May 2016, the first and only previous poll on the present boundaries, Brislington East split its two seats between Labour councillor Mike Langley, who topped the poll with a big personal vote, and Conservative Tony Carey who gained a seat from Labour; the Labour slate polled 41% of the vote to 36% for the Conservatives and 13% for the Green Party slate. Since then it's been all change, particularly for Councillor Carey who has had a number of embarrassing stories printed about him in the local paper: for example, in the 2017 general election campaign the defending Labour MP for the local seat of Bristol East included an apparent endorsement from Carey in her election literature. In September 2019 Carey left the Conservative party over Boris Johnson's leadership, and defected to the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems have rarely troubled the scorers in Brislington East, but have long-standing strength in the neighbouring Brislington West ward and rumour has it that they are giving this by-election a go.

So this poll will serve as a curtain-raiser for the Bristol city council, Bristol mayoral and Avon and Somerset police and crime commissioner elections in May; whoever wins will have to be back on the campaign trail to seek re-election to the council in very short order. Defending for Labour is Timothy Rippington, a songwriter and campaigner for a functioning bus network (given that buses in Bristol are run by First, I understand his frustration). The Conservative candidate is Richard Williams, an urban designer who is fighting his first election campaign. Standing for the Greens is digital consultant Isaac Price-Sosner. Tara Murray, in the unusual position for an M of top of the ballot paper, completes the candidate list for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Bristol East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bristol
Postcode districts: BS4, BS31

Tara Murray (LD)
Isaac Price-Sosner (Grn)
Timothy Rippington (Lab)
Richard Williams (C)

May 2016 result Lab 1370/1060 C 1208/1072 Grn 439/389 LD 342/323

Andrew Teale

Previews: 12 Dec 2019

"All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"

It's general election day. Millions of words, fields of pixels and downpours of ink have been expended in the cause of getting your vote. Your cross on the ballot paper will (if you're lucky) go towards electing a Member of Parliament who should, all being well, serve to 2nd May 2024.

You've probably heard about all this already. What you almost certainly haven't heard about is the undercard: the thirty-four by-elections to our local councils which are being combined with this general election. Combining polls in this way has a lot of benefits: both for the council organising the election, which can administer two votes for the price of one; and for the voter, who only has to turn up at the polling station once. A few councillors who may have been planning to retire in the near future have brought forward their resignations so that their successor can be elected at this opportune moment.

Some of these polls will be worth keeping an eye on. Readers may remember from the last election the case of Canterbury, which was a Labour gain in the general election from seemingly nowhere (some models had picked it up as a possible good Labour result, but this went rather against the collective wisdom). There was also a local by-election in Canterbury on that day in the city-centre Westgate ward; that came through early on election night as a Labour gain from seemingly nowhere, and was a good pointer to the parliamentary result when it came through some hours later.

There are thirty-four by-elections on 12th December 2019, with twenty-one Conservative defences, twelve Labour and one free-for-all. You won't get the usual Andrew's Previews treatment, but I will mention them all in what follows. For the same reason there are no factfiles this week, but full candidate lists are available from Who Can I Vote For?, and you can click on each ward name in this column to find past election results from my very own Local Elections Archive Project. Without further ado, let's plunge in:

North West

We'll start in the Greater Manchester borough of Bury with the by-election in Church ward, which when it was formed - many decades ago in the days when Bury was a County Borough - was Bury's town-centre ward and named after the impressive church which overlooks the old Market Place. No longer; when Bury annexed the suburb of Elton over the river to the west, Church ward was expanded to cover this area; and subsequent boundary reviews removed the town centre which had given the ward its name. The modern Church ward is the southern of the two Bury town wards west of the Irwell, and definitely the more upmarket; a lot of its housing was developed privately in the 1970s on land previously occupied by the Lancashire Fusiliers' regimental depot.

The Church ward by-election has come about because of the death of Conservative councillor Susan Nuttall at an appallingly early age. She had served since winning a by-election in November 2012, at which point her husband David was the Conservative MP for the local Bury North constituency. As a committed Eurosceptic David Nuttall - who lost his seat in 2017 - must have been gutted to have missed out on the parliamentary games of the last two-and-a-half years, but he's not standing again and the Tories have put up a new candidate for Bury North against first-term Labour incumbent James Frith. Nobody I've met has a bad word to say about Frith, and he has an extremely high local profile as the figurehead of the campaign to get Bury FC back playing football in some shape or form; given this he may well have a better chance of re-election than the national picture would suggest. Bury North may be marginal, but Church ward is safe for the Conservatives - it's one of only two Bury wards to have voted Tory throughout the last fifteen years - and their candidate Dene Vernon is favoured.

The other two Greater Manchester by-elections are Labour defences. The Pendlebury ward of Salford is based on the Devil's Highway, the A666 from Irlams o' th' Height to Clifton; there's some surprisingly lovely countryside in the Irwell Valley here, and also industry around Clifton Junction and at Agecroft, which has transitioned from a coalmining village to a fast-growing Manchester suburb with a business park and prison attached. It's safely Labour and should elect Damian Bailey without much trouble; UKIP ran second here in May but aren't standing in this by-election. This will be the last by-election on the current set of Salford ward boundaries, as new wards will be introduced in May 2020; accordingly whoever wins will not be resting from the campaign trail for long. On the other side of Manchester is Denton West ward, centred on the Denton Island junction where the M60 and M67 motorways meet. Denton West is in the Denton and Reddish constituency of Labour's national campaign manager Andrew Gwynne, who used to be a councillor for this ward; it's again safely Labour and should return George Jones to Tameside council.

There has been a glut of by-elections in the city of Liverpool recently, and here are two more. We'll start by getting off at Edge Hill, which is the centre of Picton ward. Edge Hill was once the western terminus of the world's first intercity railway, and there are still extensive railway yards here. Also within the Picton ward boundary are the Wavertree Botanic Gardens and the Littlewoods Pools building, a beautiful example of 1930s architecture which has stood derelict for years but is now slated for conversion into a film studio. Picton ward was in the Liberal Democrat column when they were running Liverpool in the early part of this century, but in May it was 70% Labour with the Greens a distant second. Further out of the city is Clubmoor ward, a residential area around Queens Drive in Walton, in the north of Liverpool. Clubmoor is utterly safe for Labour who polled 75% here in May; second place went to the continuing Liberal Party, which in Liverpool is the personality cult of veteran councillor Steve Radford. For these by-elections don't bet against the defending Labour candidates, Tim Jeeves in Clubmoor and Calvin Smeda in Picton.

Liverpool was a city which made a small fortune off the back of the slave trade back in the day, and one visible reminder of that nasty episode in our history can be found in the Lancashire village of Sunderland Point. An incongruous collection of isolated Georgian buildings at the mouth of the River Lune, which can only be accessed at low tide due to flooding of the road over the saltmarshes to the outside world, Sunderland Point is the last resting place of Sambo, who came here from the distant West Indies as servant to a ship's captain and didn't survive in the UK very long. Sambo's Grave is neatly kept and can be visited - tide permitting - on the windswept shores of Morecambe Bay. When Sambo died here, Sunderland Point was a bustling port, handling ships which were too big to get up the estuary to Lancaster; the big ships now berth a couple of miles to the north at the port of Heysham, from where passenger ferries depart to the Isle of Man and the other side of the Irish Sea. Next to the port are the two Heysham nuclear power stations, which supply a large proportion of Lancashire's electricity. All of these lie within the Overton ward, which covers the villages south of Morecambe and Heysham within the marginal Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency. Overton's Conservative councillor Michael Smith was elected quite narrowly in May, with a 46-42 lead over Labour; he is standing down due to hearing loss, and this column wishes him well for the future. The defending Tory candidate is Andrew Gardiner, while Tom Porter returns for Labour after his near-miss seven months ago.

Yorkshire and the Humber

Moving to the wrong side of the Pennines, we come to three by-elections in the metropolitan boroughs of West Yorkshire. Two of these are in Kirklees, a sprawling district which runs from Dewsbury through Huddersfield to the spine of the Pennines. The River Colne runs down from the Pennine escarpment towards Huddersfield through the trendy villages of Marsden and Slaithwaite ("SLA-wit") which anchor the Colne Valley ward. If you've seen the ITV drama Where the Heart Is, you've seen the area.

There has been a Colne Valley parliamentary seat since 1885, covering the small towns and villages to the west and south of Huddersfield. It's seen some fantastic battles and famous names over the years: the Independent Labour MP Victor Grayson won a by-election here in 1907, while the first Labour Chancellor Philip Snowden represented the seat from 1922 to 1931. This seat was another of the surprise Labour gains in 2017, and Labour MP Thelma Walker will defend a majority of 915 votes in a re-match with former Conservative MP Jason McCartney at parliamentary level. The smaller Colne Valley ward is more complicated: it has been won by all three main parties in the last six years, but currently has a full slate of Labour councillors. Vote shares in May were 30% for Labour, 26% for the Liberal Democrats and 25% for the Conservatives, who lost a seat they were defending; Labour have selected Duggs Carre to hold the seat against the Lib Dems' Robert Iredale and the Tories' Donna Bellamy, who was a councillor here from 2011 to 2019 and is the only candidate to live in the ward.

At the far end of Kirklees district is Dewsbury, another marginal parliamentary seat which was an against-the-trend Labour gain in 2015; Paula Sheriff increased her majority to 3,321 votes in June 2017. A large chunk of that Labour majority will have come out of Dewsbury West ward, which is based on Dewsbury Moor and the textile village of Ravensthorpe and is still probably best known for the Shannon Matthews kidnap case in 2008. Dewsbury West has a large Pakistani Muslim population, a voting bloc which has turned out for the Lib Dems on occasion in the past but is now firmly in the Labour column; in May Labour had 72% of the vote here. This by-election will replace Labour councillor Paul Kane, who sadly died within a few days of handing in his resignation; the party will hope that Eric Firth is elected as Kane's successor.

Our last West Yorkshire by-election is in an area which would rather not be part of West Yorkshire at all. Wetherby is a long way from the major urban centres of the county: it's a town on the Great North Road, halfway between London and Edinburgh, and many of the coaching pubs in the town centre are still in business today. There's a lot of industry in Wetherby, mostly concentrated out of town at the Thorp Arch Trading Estate which is home to the British Library's major bookstore. The town is part of the safest Conservative seat in West Yorkshire, Elmet and Rothwell, and has voting patterns to match; Wetherby voted 57% Conservative in May. The party has selected Linda Richards to hold the seat.

East Midlands

We now move south to the Midlands, starting in the city of Lincoln. Labour are defending the Lincoln parliamentary seat in the general election after gaining it from the Tories in 2017 with a majority of 1,538. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are defending the Witham ward of the city of Lincoln, which is on the southern edge of the city, straddling both banks of the river from which it takes its name. Witham ward is the only reliable Conservative ward within the Lincoln city limits, and should be safe enough for new candidate Bill Mara.

Further down the River Witham is Boston, where there are two crucial by-elections to Boston council. Skirbeck ward lies in the south-east of Boston town across both banks of the river, and includes the town's docks. The Boston district covers a large rural area, and Kirton and Frampton ward is an enormous swathe of fenland some miles to the south and west of the town; Kirton in Holland, on the main road south to Spalding, is the main population centre. Both of these by-elections are Conservative defences, and if the party loses either of them their majority on Boston council will be gone. Skircoat split its three seats between UKIP, the Conservatives and Labour in 2015; the UKIP and Labour seats went to independent candidates earlier this year, so the Tories' Martin Howard has work to do to hold off independent candidates Don Jenkins and Sue Ransome. Kirton and Frampton elected two Conservatives and a UKIPper in 2015, with the UKIP seat being gained by an independent in May; here the major challenge would appear to be between the Tories David Brown and independent Lorraine O'Connor.

Our Leicestershire by-election is for the county council, in the division of Cosby and Countesthorpe. These are two large villages some miles to the south of Leicester; the division also includes part of the village of Whetstone and its industrial estate, where jet engines have been made since the days of Frank Whittle. This is a safe Conservative division in the safe Conservative seat of South Leicestershire and should elect the Tories' Lee Phillimore.

We now come to the local government disaster area of Northamptonshire, whose district councillors are now four years and seven months into a four-year term. Local government reorganisation is planned, and as part of that the 2019 Northamptonshire district elections were postponed to 2020; the final reorganisation plan will see those elections cancelled altogether and replaced with elections to two new unitary districts. However, the general election has thrown a spanner into the works, as the reorganisation order failed to get through Parliament before the dissolution. The councillors of Northamptonshire must be hoping that the new Parliament will give their plight some early attention.

Three Conservative councillors in the county haven't waited. Two of these are Anna Sauntson and Pam Whiting, who represented the small shoemaking town of Higham Ferrers. Sauntson sat for Chichele ward, named after the fifteenth-century Archbishop of Canterbury Henry Chichele who was born here; Whiting for Lancaster ward, named after the Duchy of Lancaster which was a major landowner in the town. We're in the strongly Tory district of East Northamptonshire here, and the Conservatives won Lancaster ward without a contest at the most recent Northamptonshire elections in May 2015; there was a by-election for the ward's other seat in February 2018 which was an easy Tory hold. Chichele ward normally elects independent candidate Richard Gell at the top of the poll, with Sauntson winning the other seat for the Conservatives at the last few elections. Peter Tomas defends Lancaster ward for the Tories, while the lack of an independent candidate will favour Conservative candidate Bert Jackson in Chichele ward where he was runner-up in 2011 and 2015. Both wards are in the Wellingborough parliamentary seat, where arch-Eurosceptic Peter Bone is seeking a fifth term in office.

Things are different to the north-west of Kettering, in the town of Desborough. This is another small town which was dominated by the shoemaking industry, but it's located in the Kettering district which is much more politically lively than East Northamptonshire. St Giles is the south-eastern of Desborough's two wards, and looks safe enough for the Tories based on the 2015 result, but their defending candidate Jim French will have to hold off a very high-profile Labour candidate. Phil Sawford was first elected to Kettering council in 1977 for the other Desborough ward; he became leader of the council in 1991, and from 1997 to 2005 was the Labour MP for Kettering on two knife-edge majorities. Sawford lost his Commons seat to the Tories' Philip Hollobone in 2005 and failed to get it back in 2010; Hollobone is seeking a fifth term in Parliament, while Sawford is hoping to resume his local government career at the age of 69.

West Midlands

For our first by-election in the West Midlands we are in one of the most marginal constituencies in the country. In June 2017 Paul Farrelly was declared re-elected as Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme with a majority of just thirty votes, in one of the most chaotically-run election of recent times.

This column has told the story of the June 2017 Newcastle-under-Lyme election in some detail before (Andrew's Previews 2017, pages 374 to 380). At the root of the problem was the fact that Newcastle-under-Lyme's Electoral Services Officer and her line manager both left the council's employment in 2016, and weren't replaced. The effect of this was that Newcastle council's team for the 2017 Staffordshire county and general elections was a mixture of consultants, agency workers, temps and secondees, who proceeded though inexperience to make a series of mistakes that - mainly through postal votes not being sent out and applications to register not being properly processed - left hundreds of electors disenfranchised. Andrew Scallan of the Association of Electoral Administrators, who produced an independent report into what had gone wrong, put the number of people denied the vote they were entitled to at no less than 998. If the Election Court had seen that evidence they would have almost certainly voided the election and ordered a re-run; unfortunately, by the time the Scallan Report came out the 28-day deadline for challenging the result in the Election Court had long gone.

The Scallan Report made 16 recommendations, one of which was the self-evident "properly staff the elections office"; and another was "ask Staffordshire Police to investigate the Chief Executive of Newcastle council for breach of official duty", which is an electoral offence. It would appear that investigation went nowhere, as the Chief Executive John Sellgren was allowed to leave by mutual consent after some months under suspension. He had the decency not to take a payoff or claim his returning officer's fee. In an indication that nothing succeeds like failure, Sellgren quickly got another job as "executive director, place" of the new Dorset council.

There were political repercussions, too. The scandal led to the fall of the minority Labour administration on Newcastle-under-Lyme council, as the independent councillors pulled the plug and installed a Conservative minority administration which remains in office to this day. This administration doesn't include any members from Holditch and Chesterton ward, which covers a former coalmining area just to the north of Newcastle town; this was quite safely Labour at the most recent Newcastle elections in May 2018, but one of the ward's councillors resigned at the start of this year and Labour lost the resulting by-election to an independent candidate. The other Labour councillor for Holditch and Chesterton has now resigned provoking the second by-election here in nine months; Labour's David Grocott will try to defend the seat from independent candidate Lillian Barker.

While we're on the subject of Newcastle-under-Lyme I can't resist a shoutout to Aaron Bell, who as well as being the Tory candidate for the parliamentary seat is also a far better quizzer than I'll ever be. Bell was on the St John's College, Oxford team which was runner-up in the 2000-01 series of University Challenge, won the 2009 series of The Krypton Factor, was on the Epicureans team which won the 2010 series of Only Connect, and was runner-up in the Don Valley constituency at the 2017 general election. Following that last performance, Bell has a very good shot at a winnable constituency this time round. Labour MP Paul Farrelly, whose re-election in 2017 was so dubious through no fault of his own, is standing down and Carl Greatbatch will attempt to defend the parliamentary seat.

Moving to the other end of Staffordshire, we have two by-elections caused by the death of the Tories' David Greatorex, who sat on both Staffordshire county council and Tamworth council. His two areas didn't overlap each other: Greatorex' county council seat of Watling South is essentially Tamworth south of Watling Street, while his former borough ward of Mercian is Tamworth's north-west corner. Both areas are safe Conservative and should return Tory candidates Richard Ford to the county council and Steven Pritchard to the district council.

For our final West Midlands by-election we are in Warwick district for a case of Councillors Behaving Badly. In August 2017 Sukhi Sanghera had been declared bankrupt by Warwick County Court with debts of more than £140,000. Under the bankruptcy process Sanghera was obliged to disclose all his financial affairs and assets to the Official Receiver. Sanghera, however, owned a property in Coventry which he had let out for £1,900 per month, and he idiotically tried to conceal this. The Warwick branch of the Conservative party clearly had the wool successfully pulled over their eyes, because they selected Sanghera as a candidate for the 2019 local elections and he was subsequently elected in Warwick Myton and Heathcote ward. However, the Official Receiver eventually clocked what was going on, and Sanghera paid the price: the Coventry property was sold, raising £70,000 for creditors, and Councillor Sukhi Sanghera was made the subject of a ten-year bankruptcy restrictions order. As a result of that order he is now disqualified from holding elected office and we are having a by-election. Myton and Heathcote is Warwick town's south-eastern ward and extends to a number of business parks, including the head office of National Grid. It was safely Conservative in May but having one of your councillors done over by the courts is never a good look, and defending Tory candidate Hugh Foden must be hoping that the electorate will be too distracted by the general election to notice.

Wales and South West

There is just one by-election each in Wales and the South West to report. The Welsh poll is at the very north of the country. Trelawnyd and Gwaenysgor is a rural division covering villages at the northern end of the Clwydian Hills; Gwaenysgor is about a mile south of and several hundred feet above Prestatyn. Trelawnyd is a larger village on the road from Holywell to Rhuddlan. In the eighteenth century it was renamed as "Newmarket" by local industrialist John Wynne, who had sunk a lot of his own money into developing the place as a market town with a lead industry, but unfortunately that didn't stick and Rhyl became the major service centre for the area instead. The present name of Trelawnyd was adopted in the 1950s. Although this is in the Labour-held Delyn parliamentary constituency Trelawnyd and Gwaenysgor is safely Conservative at Flintshire county council level; the defending Conservative candidate is Tim Roberts, while independent candidate David Ellis is having another go after finishing second in the 2012 and 2017 local elections.

Down in the West Country the Conservatives are defending Topsham, a small town on the east bank of the Exe estuary which was once an important port, but declined with the growth of Exeter further up the river. Topsham was annexed by Exeter in 1966 and is now one of the city's few Conservative-voting wards. Most of it is within the East Devon parliamentary seat, where independent county councillor Claire Wright is having another go at getting into Parliament after finishing as runner-up in the last two general elections; this time Wright is not up against Conservative MP Hugo Swire, who is retiring, but on the other hand Swire was often thought of as having a negative personal vote. The Topsham by-election won't tell us much about that parliamentary fight, as there is no independent candidate; Keith Sparkes is the defending Tory here.


Moving to East Anglia where there are two by-elections, including a fascinating poll in west Norfolk. This is our other case this week of Councillors Behaving Badly. David Pope had been a member of King's Lynn and West Norfolk council for 18 years on the Conservative ticket, but was nominated for re-election this year as an independent candidate. Now, in order to stand for election you need to get ten electors in the constituency or ward to sign your nomination papers; it's a way of weeding out frivolous candidates. It turned out that one of the signatures on Pope's nomination papers this year was forged, and the Conservatives' election agent spotted the fraud. Last month Pope pleaded guilty to permitting a false signature on an election nomination paper before King's Lynn magistrates, who fined him £3,300. As a result of that conviction, he has been struck off the electoral register and barred from seeking public office again for five years. Pope had already resigned from King's Lynn and West Norfolk council, jumping before he was pushed.

So we need a successor to Pope in the Upwell and Delph ward, which is the only by-election this week not being defended by the two main parties. This is a large swathe of fenland to the north and west of Downham Market, extending across the Great Ouse to Upwell on the Cambridgeshire border. Pope had topped the poll in May and another independent candidate won the other seat against only Tory opposition.

Longtime readers of Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs column will recognise the name of the independent candidate hoping to succeed Pope in this by-election. During the Brown government Terry Hipsey was the Conservative leader of Thurrock council in Essex, but in 2009 he crossed the floor to Labour. Hipsey was re-elected under his new colours in 2012, and stood down from Thurrock council in 2016 having moved to this corner of Norfolk some years earlier. As stated he is standing as an independent candidate; the Tories will hope to recover their former seat with their candidate Vivienne Spikings, who was David Pope's ward colleague here for many years before standing down in May.

Some miles to the west is the Alconbury ward of Huntingdonshire, a collection of nine parishes to the north-west of Huntingdon. Alconbury lies on the Great North Road (since replaced by a motorway) at the point where it meets the A14 spur; up until this week that was a very important junction on the UK road network, but the opening of the Huntingdon Bypass last Monday - a year ahead of schedule - has rather changed traffic patterns in this area. One major local employer is Huntingdon Life Sciences, the research organisation which was a target of animal rights campaigners in the 1990s and 2000s. Huntingdonshire's last local elections were in 2018 when Alconbury was safely Conservative, and new Tory councillor Ian Gardener should be favoured to hold on.

South East

The South East outside London has turned up with five by-elections, all of which are Conservative defences. The standout one to watch is Kentwood ward in Reading, where Emma Warman - who was the Tory candidate in Brighton Pavilion at the last general election - has stood down from the council. This is western Reading, on the south bank of the Thames around Tilehurst railway station, and is closely fought between the Tories and Labour. In May the Conservatives had a 42-38 lead over Labour, who will be defending Kentwood ward at the May 2020 local elections. The ward is also part of a marginal parliamentary seat, Tory-held Reading West. The Tories have selected Jenny Rynn to hold Kentwood, and she is up against Labour's Glenn Dennis.

Moving south, we go offshore to the Isle of Wight where prominent local Conservative councillor Chris Whitehouse has vacated the Newport West division. He is moving to the mainland. The last Isle of Wight local elections were in May 2017 when Newport West was safe enough for Whitehouse; on the other hand, the Greens were second here two years ago and are reportedly having a serious go at the Isle of Wight parliamentary seat where the Lib Dems have stood down in their favour. The Tories' Richard Hollis should still be favoured to hold the second Newport West by-election of the year (after the parliamentary by-election in south Wales last spring), but watch out for this result as changes from May 2017 could be instructive.

West Sussex county council leader Paul Marshall is giving up his seat on Horsham district council, prompting a by-election for the Storrington and Washington ward. This covers villages to the north of Worthing in the shadow of the South Downs, and the Tories had a big lead here in May. Don't bet against their defending candidate, James Wright. On the far side of the South Downs is Worthing, which is having a by-election in Salvington ward. Worthing is turning into a very interesting place politically, with Labour having come from nowhere to win 10 out of 37 seats here over the last 19 months; but Salvington ward, on the northern edge of the town, hasn't been affected by the Labour surge and is still safely in the Conservative column. Richard Nowak should have little trouble in its defence.

Salvington ward is in the Worthing West parliamentary seat, whose MP Sir Peter Bottomley is seeking a twelfth term of office. With continuous service since 1975 (although he originally represented a London seat, doing the chicken run to Worthing in 1997), if Sir Peter holds his seat and Dennis Skinner loses his, as some have speculated, Sir Peter would become the Father of the House. Dame Margaret Beckett was an MP before Sir Peter Bottomley, having been first elected as MP for Lincoln in October 1974 (under her maiden name of Margaret Jackson); but for the Father of the House title it's continuous service that counts, and Backett was missing from the 1979-83 Parliament.

Our trip through the South East finishes on the front line of Brexit, with the resignation of the leader of Dover council, Kevin Morris. He had represented the ward of Guston, Kingsdown and St Margaret's-at-Cliffe, which covers the countryside between Dover and Deal including the famous White Cliffs. If you're a long-term reader of Andrew's Previews, you may be getting at this point - to borrow a phrase from those grey hills over the Channel - a sense of déjà vu, for there was another by-election in St Margaret's-at-Cliffe two years ago that was also caused by the resignation of the leader of Dover council. There must be something in the water here. This is a strongly Conservative ward and their defending candidate Martin Bates should have little trouble holding the seat despite the controversy over the outgoing MP for Dover. Charlie Elphicke, who had been the Tory member for the seat since 2010, is due to stand trial next year on sexual assault charges, and had lost the Tory whip; the Dover Conservatives have selected his wife Natalie as their replacement parliamentary candidate.


We finish in that London which, like the South East, has five by-elections - all Labour defences, this time. Two of these are in outer west London, both in the Feltham and Heston constituency: Feltham North ward, which lies between Feltham railway station and Hatton Cross underground station; and Heston West, centred on the Heston service area on the M4 motorway. Heston West has an extremely high ethnic minority population, mostly of Indian extraction. Feltham North voted Conservative up to 2010 but now looks safe for Labour; Heston West is very safely in the Labour column. The defending Labour candidates are Adesh Farmahan in Feltham North and Balraj Sarai in Heston West, and both of them look well-set for election.

The other three by-elections are all in central London constituencies represented by high-profile Shadow Cabinet members (which says something about how London-centric the present Labour party is). Camden's Haverstock ward is named after Haverstock Hill but extends to the Chalk Fara area, the Kentish Town West overground station, and the Maitland Hill estate; it's in Keir Starmer's constituency of Holborn and St Pancras. Hackney's Clissold ward, which reportedly is number 1 in London for residents who cycle to work, is based on Clissold Park in Stoke Newington; it's in Diane Abbott's constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington. Islington's St George's ward covers eastern Tufnell Park and is named after a local church; it's in Jeremy Corbyn's Islington North constituency. All of these wards have voted for someone other than Labour fairly recently: in 2010 Haverstock returned a full slate of Lib Dems and St George's split its seats between two Lib Dems and Labour, while Clissold returned a Green councillor in 2006 (on different boundaries). Despite this, all three wards are now safe for the Labour party. The defending candidates are Gail McAnana Wood in Haverstock, Kofo David in Clissold and Gulcin Ozdemir in St George's.

That completes our whistlestop tour of the 12th December by-elections, but there is one more piece of business to report to complete the psephological year of 2019. Three Aldermen of the City of London have resigned in order to seek re-election, as City Aldermen are expected to do every six years. Elections had been duly scheduled for next week; but when nominations closed no-one had come forward to oppose the outgoing Aldermen. Accordingly Peter Estlin of Coleman Street ward (who was Lord Mayor in 2018-19 and can expect the customary honour in the New Year), Alison Gowman of Dowgate ward and Vincent Keaveny of Farrington Within ward will be formally declared re-elected at their respective Wardmotes on Wednesday next week. And before anyone asks, Ms Gowman is an Alderman and not an Alderwoman; in the City Corporation's use of language "Alderman", to use the modern parlance, is a nonbinary term.

Review of the Year

"The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?"

Once those City aldermanic elections conclude next week, the psephological year of 2019 will be over as we head into the Christmas and New Year period. That's not a time for politics; it's a time dominated by traditions, when the nation pauses for a week to celebrate, take stock, meet friends and family, exchange gifts, sing Auld Lang Syne, toast the new year, and bid farewell to the old.

The excuse for all this is a religious festival, celebrating the birth of Jesus but incorporating elements from pre-Christian religious festivals based around the winter solstice. One of these was the Saturnalia, an ancient Roman holiday and excuse for merrymaking, gift-giving and general excess which marked the anniversary of the dedication of the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum. In its original form, Saturnalia commenced was sixteen days before the Kalends of January.

The name of January recalls one of the Roman pantheon of gods. Janus, in their mythology, was the god of beginnings and endings, doorways and passages, time and transition. Like your hate politician of choice, he had two faces: one looking forward at the future, one back upon the past.

This is the last Andrew's Previews of the year, an occasion on which this column traditionally takes the opportunity to look forward at the future and back upon the past. As a quick look at the Britain Elects opinion poll graph for the last few years shows, 2019 was a year of extraordinary political volatility. An examination of the 2nd May 2019 local election results only serves to confirm that impression.

For the most part this year's local elections renewed councillors who had been elected on 7th May 2015, the day when David Cameron got his parliamentary majority and voters turned out in general election numbers. This had a big effect, as 2019 is the largest year of the local electoral cycle: it's the year when the majority of councillors in the English shire districts - the Tory heartlands - come up for election. The Conservatives did very well, particularly so with breakthroughs in districts with an independent tradition. Local electoral observers - those who weren't distracted by what was going on in Westminster - talked of a bonfire of the independents, as minor parties were swamped by the national message. Something similar had happened on a smaller scale four years earlier, when the Alternative Vote referendum brought out to the polls people who might not normally have voted for their local councils but did want to vote No to AV. Something similar went on to happen at the general election two years later, when voters in England generally abandoned the minor parties and flocked towards the Big Two.

So 2019 was the first occasion for several cycles that the English shire district elections could stand alone and take centre stage. Expect that they didn't; Brexit threw a spanner in the works. Two postponements of exit day meant that the UK, rather unexpectedly, would have to take part in the European Parliament elections in late May 2019. These were organised at the last moment, making it impossible to combine the local elections with the Euro-elections and thereby save money for our cash-strapped local councils.

European elections in the UK always inject huge amounts of volatility into our politics and this year was no exception in that respect. This undoubtedly affected the local elections, which came three weeks before European election day; at a time when both the Conservative and Labour parties were extremely weak but when the new insurgent parties that were taking votes off them - the Brexit Party and Change UK - were not ready for primetime. Organisation, as we shall see, matters. In order to succeed in local elections you need to select and nominate candidates for thousands of council seats, and that requires a level of organisation which is impossible for an insurgent party to put together in a matter of weeks. The Brexit Party and Change UK didn't stand a single candidate in the May 2019 local elections; the Brexit Party have turned up for a handful of council by-elections since May, without success so far, but Change UK or whatever they're called this week are yet to have a single candidate named in this column.

With the absence of these new political forces from the local ballot paper, those voters who were annoyed with the two major parties or their council administrations had to go somewhere else. And they did. Where an unpopular national party and an unpopular local party combined, it was as often as not independent candidates who benefited in big numbers. To quote from this column's review piece written immediately after the May local election results were known:

Surrey ... was a bloodbath for the Conservative party. Of the 1300 or so seats they lost across England in these local elections, 120 were in Surrey. In Michael Gove's constituency of Surrey Heath the party collapsed from 36 seats out of 40 to 18 seats out of 35, a majority of one. In the hung Elmbridge district the party lost three seats and a coalition of the Residents and Lib Dems looks likely to take over. In Mole Valley district the Conservatives lost ten of the twelve seats they were defending (one of them by failing to get their nomination papers in) and the Lib Dems now have a majority. There is just one Conservative councillor remaining in Chris Grayling's constituency of Epsom and Ewell. Tandridge district has fallen into no overall control.

And in two particularly epic failures, which this column didn't see coming, Waverley council (the south-west corner, around Farnham and Godalming) became hung, and independents are now the largest group on Guildford council where the Tories were reduced to just nine councillors. ... Waverley district also had a by-election to Surrey county council in the Haslemere division, which the Conservatives lost to an independent candidate.

Those two paragraphs were clearly read by somebody, because shortly afterwards your columnist was offered the chance to talk election results, and specifically to talk about the rise of independents and localists, for a couple of minutes on the breakfast show of BBC Radio Surrey. Primtime, I know! I hope I was coherent.

Surrey has in some parts (like Epsom and Ewell) a long-established tradition of localist parties contesting local elections. But this time there were many more districts in (particularly) the London outer commuter belt where independents did well against Tory opposition. The Residents for Uttlesford, the Residents for Guildford and Villages, the Guildford Greenbelt Group, the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, independents in Southend-on-Sea; all of those groups did very well in May and many of them are now in council administrations. In the deeply rural areas which had experienced a bonfire of independent councillors in 2015, the pendulum swung back the other way with Tory losses in places like Torridge, East Devon, North Kesteven in Lincolnshire, Richmondshire in Yorkshire, Eden in Cumbria, a near-loss of Maldon in Essex.

In case you think I'm only having a go at the Tories here, the same factors were at work in Labour's strongest areas. It's been the case for years that in former coalfield areas independent candidates often perform well, and that trend has accelerated recently. There are lots of independent and localist councillors in Durham which wasn't up for election this year, and the party did particularly badly in May 2019 in the Midlands coalfield areas: Labour failed to knock out an independent/Tory coalition running Stoke-on-Trent, and squandered the majorities they had won in 2015 on Bolsover, Mansfield and Ashfield councils (although they did gain the Mansfield elected mayoralty from a localist group, so that was a nett plus there). In Ashfield's independent leader Jason Zadrozny we have a very charismatic politician who (now his legal troubles are over) could go very far indeed. In the industrial towns of West Cumbria, Labour lost a large number of seats to independents in Allerdale (Workington, Maryport, Keswick and a large rural area), and the independent Mayor of Copeland (Whitehaven, Sellafield and Millom) was re-elected with a large majority.

And where council administrations of both parties were complete basket cases, the weakness of the main parties meant that the national picture couldn't save them. Labour suffered big losses to independents and localists in Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Bolton, costing them control; only the thirds electoral system saved them in Sunderland. The same happened to the Conservatives in Rother and (as already mentioned) Tunbridge Wells, where again the Conservative majority is down to the thirds electoral system.

In general terms, there are two things that all these areas where independents and localist parties did well have in common. First, they were very strong areas for one or other of the main parties; second, they were places where the other main party is organisationally weak or non-existent. These two factors are strongly related to each other, because England's first-past-the-post electoral system makes it very hard for minority parties to win seats unless (and this will normally be the case for localist parties) their support is geographically concentrated. Without council seats and the allowances that come with them, it's harder for minority parties to raise the money and profile needed to compete.

Where both major parties are well-organised, we saw a different and more traditional picture, with one party doing well at the expense of the other. Labour gained Gravesham from the Conservatives, the Tories took overall control of North East Lincolnshire which had previously had a Labour minority administration. The Liberal Democrats did well in areas whether they can traditionally put together a campaign, gaining the London commuter belt districts of Chelmsford, St Albans and Mole Valley together with the brand-new district of Somerset West and Taunton.

Different dynamics will be in play for this general election, but my point about political organisation holds true. It's very rare for a party to win a seat where they have no local councillors, although not unknown - the Conservative gain of Mansfield in 2017 is the most recent example. But these are exceptions that prove the rule. Local election success and general election success are often linked, and there are many reason to expect them to be linked. I've named a few councils above which saw big changes in May, and it would not be a surprise for some of those changes to feed through to what happens in December. Organisation matters.

This week's election results will, of course, set the tone for the future. We'll have to wait a while for the first public reaction to the new government (whatever it is), as the next local by-elections will not take place until the second half of January 2020. A nice little month-long break for this column, but hopefully I shall not be idle for there is much to do to prepare for the ordinary local elections on Thursday 7th May 2020. On this date all of England and Wales will be going to the polls to elect the Police and Crime Commissioners, the Mayor and Assembly in London, and the Mayor of Greater Manchester. Further mayoral elections will take place in the Liverpool City Region, the Tees Valley and the West Midlands, and for the local authority mayors in Bristol, Liverpool and Salford. There will also be elections for the whole of Bristol, Gloucester, Rotherham, Stroud and Warrington councils, in those English metropolitan, unitary and shire districts which elect by halves or thirds, and the inaugural election to the forthcoming unitary Buckinghamshire council. Something will also be happening in Northamptonshire, although it'll be a while before we discover whether this will be the postponed 2019 district polls or the first elections to two new unitary councils. Watch this space. And you'll probably be able to see the results coming in without work interfering, as Friday 8th May 2020 is a bank holiday to mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day - although this worthy stuff will get overshadowed on the news bulletins by the local election results.

Later in 2020, all being well, Andrew's Previews - the "Holy Word", as one corner of the internet has rechristened it - will mark its tenth anniversary. Those ten years may have been interesting times, but it's been a privilege to report on them. There's a long archive of the Previews, some of which I've turned into three books - Andrew's Previews 2016 to 2018 - which you can buy on Amazon and will make an excellent Christmas present for the discerning psephologist. Or, indeed for anyone with an interest in learning new things about the UK; I know from feedback that the Previews have somehow ended up as recommended reading for the new generation of university quizbowlers, many of whom are already better quizzers than I'll ever be. If you'd like to support the Previews financially, buying one or more of the books is the best way to do it: I'll get the royalties to support future research, and you'll get a permanent reminder of your donation. If anybody would like me to put together a 2019 collection, do please let me know, either on Twitter or in the comments.

Since the middle of 2017 Andrew's Previews has been written for Britain Elects, the most high-profile UK poll aggregator on the internet. We don't just come out at election time, we work hard for you all year round. For this general election campaign Britain Elects has tied up with the New Statesman to bring you the best of all possible worlds: our reputation for truth and accuracy, the Staggers' formidable journalism, and, er, this column. If this partnership continues safely into the unknown territory of 2020, we'll have hit the big time. If it's only a temporary tie-up, don't worry; I don't intend to stop writing the Previews any time soon.

In the Christian calendar, this general election falls smack in the middle of Advent, a time of waiting for the coming of the Messiah: both at Bethlehem two thousand years ago, and the future Second Coming. My closing music for this column reflects these themes: Eric Ball's brass band selection The Kingdom Triumphant, featuring several Advent tunes which you may well recognise. After all, what's Christmas without a brass band? We wait to see whether our new Prime Minister is a new Messiah or a Very Naughty Boy, but one thing is certain: this will not be the Last Judgment of the electorate. Before too long the cycle will turn and there will be another election. That's democracy.

"The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?"
"The same procedure as every year, James."

And with that thought, it is time to close down for the year in the form of words which has become traditional. This column will return in time for the first local by-elections of 2020, to be held in Galloway and the London Borough of Brent on Thursday 23rd January; until then, may I wish you a very merry Christmas, and may your 2020 be an improvement on your 2019.

Andrew Teale


Preview: 05 Dec 2019

One by-election on Thursday 5th December 2019:


Rhondda Cynon Taf council, Glamorgan; caused by the resignation of Plaid Cymru councillor Darren Macey.

What's Christmas without a brass band?

The musicians of the Ynyshir Brass Band are no doubt at full stretch in this busy pre-Christmas period. So are the other voters of Ynyshir, who get to go to the polls this December in two consecutive weeks: next week for the parliamentary election in the Rhondda constituency, this week for a by-election to Rhondda Cynon Taf council. The by-election has come about because Darren Macey, who was elected here for the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru in the May 2017 local elections, has a new job which is part-funded by the council and as such is politically restricted.

Macey leaves behind a division based on two villages in the Rhondda Fach, the eastern of the two Rhondda valleys. Just above the confluence of those two valleys at Porth, Ynyshir is a classic Valleys mining village which did not exist before coal. The first deep coal mine in the Rhondda Fach was sunk in 1845 by Messrs Shepherd and Evans in Ynyshir, and many others followed. One of those, further up the valley, was the National Colliery whose owner, Edmund Hannay Watts, gave his name to the village it spawned: Wattstown. Mining is now long gone here, and Ynyshir and Wattstown have in some respects not recovered from that: the villages have high deprivation rates.

This division has unchanged boundaries since Rhondda Cynon Taf council was created in the 1990s reorganisation. Ynyshir was uncontested at the inaugural 1995 election, and at the following four polls Labour councillor Lionel Langford was returned comfortably. Langford retired in 2017, resulting in an upset gain for Plaid Cymru's candidate Macey who had a 63-37 lead over the new Labour candidate. This was a year after Plaid Cymru's then party leader, Leanne Wood, had gained the Rhondda seat in the Senedd (or Welsh Parliament, as we must now call it) on a similarly-large huge swing from Labour. Wood wasn't the only person from the Rhondda to appear on national television in 2017 in search of votes: Darren Macey's son Lloyd was a contestant on the 2017 series of X Factor.

Who will have the X Factor in this by-election? Like the 2017 and 2012 elections in Ynyshir, this is a straight fight. Defending for Plaid is Adrian Parry, a former secondary school teacher from Wattstown. Challenging for Labour is Julie Edwards, a community development practitioner and mother of two from Ynyshir.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Rhondda

Juie Edwards (Lab)
Adrian Parry (PC)

May 2017 result PC 692 Lab 414
May 2012 result Lab 606 PC 372
May 2008 result Lab 587 Ind 291 PC 196
June 2004 result Lab 747 PC 368
May 1999 result Lab 870 PC 530
May 1995 result Lab unopposed

Previews: 28 Nov 2019

"All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"

With two weeks to go to the general election, there are three local council by-elections on 28 November 2019:


Oxfordshire county council; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Lynda Atkins.

Compared to last week's interesting geographical spread, our three local by-elections this week are all superficially similar, being in small-to-medium sized towns in southern England. We've already had the last local by-elections from Scotland and the major urban areas of England before the December 2019 general election, so there is no more evidence to come on that score as to prospects for the Labour party. For those looking for straws in the wind, the fascinating by-election in Wallingford, Oxfordshire may well serve only to confuse matters even further.

Wallingford was an important crossing-point of the Thames in ancient times as the lowest point at which the river could be forded, and a town grew up here within the Kingdom of Wessex to exploit that. The Norman Conquest of 1066 effectively ended in Wallingford as Stigand, archbishop of Canterbury, surrendered to William, duke of Normandy; while the 1153 Treaty of Wallingford put an end to the Anarchy. In case you thought the last Parliament was anarchic, the Anarchy I'm referring to here was much worse, being essentially an eighteen-year civil war over the disputed succession to King Henry I. Wallingford Castle was a stronghold of Henry I's daughter, the Empress Matilda, and the Treaty of Wallingford settled the succession in favour of her son Henry.

In recognition of that Henry II, as he became, gave Wallingford borough status via a Royal Charter in 1155. The town and its castle remained in royal favour until the twin catastrophes of the Black Death in 1349 and the opening of Abingdon Bridge in 1416, which robbed Wallingford of much of its passing trade. Much of the castle's stone was transported down the river to improve Windsor, and much of what remained was destroyed after the castle's garrison backed the wrong side in a later civil war, that of the 1640s.

This being Oxfordshire you can't really escape the influence of the University in that city up the river; Oxford University and indeed Oxford Brookes University both have their boat clubs in Wallingford, taking advantage of a long unobstructed stretch of the Thames here. Major employers in the town include Fugro, a Dutch multinational in the energy and infrastructure sector; and Rowse Honey, the UK's largest honey supplier.

Wallingford's royal charter gave it the right to elect two Members of Parliament back in the day, and famous MPs for Wallingford in the Elizabethan era included Thomas Digges, an astronomer who translated Copernicus' heliocentric theory of the universe into English; and Sir John Fortescue of Salden, who served the first Elizabeth as Chancellor of the Exchequer. But by the eighteenth century the town was a notorious rotten borough. The franchise was restricted to male inhabitants paying the local tax of scot and lot, and at any one time there weren't more than about 300 electors; the inevitable consequence of this was that bribery was rife, with the going rate for a vote quoted as 40 guineas in the 1816 election. The Third Reform Act abolished the Wallingford constituency and the town found itself in the Abingdon division of Berkshire; the successor to that seat, the Wantage division of Oxfordshire, has been represented since 2005 by Ed Vaizey of the Conservative party. Vaizey was one of the 21 Tory MPs who lost the whip in September 2019 for voting against a no-deal Brexit; while he did subsequently get the Conservative whip back, Vaizey is not seeking re-election in two weeks' time.

From September to October this year Ed Vaizey was an independent, like Wallingford's county councillor Lynda Atkins. Atkins had served since March 2008 when she won a by-election in what had previously been a Liberal Democrat seat, the Lib Dems having stood down in her favour. She polled 66% of the vote in that by-election and was subsequently re-elected three times with large majorities on each occasion. The most recent Oxfordshire county council election was in May 2017, at which Atkins won with 39% of the vote against split opposition: 24% for the Conservatives and 13% each for the Lib Dems and Labour. The Tories had hopes of winning a overall majority on the hung Oxfordshire county council in 2017 but in the event remained static on 31 seats, one short of a majority; they have formed an administration with the support of some of the county's independent councillors, but not Atkins.

If the May 2017 performance was disappointing for the Oxfordshire Conservatives, much worse was to come two years later. Wallingford is part of the South Oxfordshire local government district, which in the 2015 election returned 33 Conservative councillors out of a possible 36. In June 2018 the Lib Dems pulled off a big swing to gain Benson and Crowmarsh ward, over the river from Wallingford, at a by-election. I remarked at the time (Andrew's Previews 2018, page 194) that there was no Green candidate for that by-election, and from what happened next it appears that this was part of a plan. The Liberal Democrats and the Green Party formed an electoral pact for the May 2019 South Oxfordshire election, and it was extremely effective: the Tories collapsed to just 9 seats and the Lib Dems (13) and Greens (6) found themselves with a majority together. Those two parties shared the two seats in Wallingford town proper. The rural parts of this county division were also subject to the Tory collapse: Brightwell-cum-Sotwell is in the Cholsey ward which split Tory/Lib Dem, while the village-based ward of Sandford and the Wittenhams returned an astonishing 73-27 win for the Green Party in a straight fight with the Conservatives. The Greens had never previously stood in that ward.

So this by-election looks completely unpredictable. There is one independent candidate standing to succeed Lynda Atkins: she is Elaine Hornsby, who was elected as a Conservative district councillor for Wallingford in 2015 but was suspended from the party in January this year over a planning row. Hornsby sought re-election in May as an independent candidate for Wallingford ward, finishing as runner-up. The official Conservative candidate is Adrian Lloyd, a former Wallingford town councillor. Labour have reselected their candidate from 2017, George Kneeshaw. The Lib Dems have not done so and it would appear that their pact with the Green Party is still in effect; given that and the district council results here in May, it would be foolish to count out the Green candidate Pete Sudbury despite the fact that his party finished last in May 2017 with 11% of the vote. A retired senior doctor and Greenpeace activist, Sudbury completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Wantage
South Oxfordshire council wards: Wallingford, Cholsey (part: Brightwell-cum-Sotwell parish), Sandford and the Wittenhams (part: Little Wittenham and Long Wittenham parishes)

Elaine Hornsby (Ind)
George Kneeshaw (Lab)
Adrian Lloyd (C)
Pete Sudbury (Grn)

May 2017 result Ind 1143 C 699 LD 379 Lab 363 Grn 318
May 2013 result Ind 1103 UKIP 492 C 435 Lab 247 Grn 139 LD 86

Trowbridge Lambrok

Wiltshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Deborah Halik who had served since May 2017. She was also a Trowbridge town councillor, serving as the Mayor of Trowbridge in 2017-18.

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Staying in Wessex, we come to the fifth Wiltshire council by-election in as many months. The first of this series was held in Trowbridge Drynham ward on 4 July, and resulted in a Lib Dem gain from the Conservatives; subsequently the Lib Dems held a seat in Westbury North, while the Tories held the more rural divisions of Ethandune and Melksham Without South. We now return to Wiltshire's county town of Trowbridge for a by-election in the Lambrok division, which is the western end of the town.

Lambrok division was created in 2009 as part of the formation of the unitary Wiltshire council. While most of it was previously in the Tory-held West Wiltshire ward of Trowbridge North West, it also incorporated territory from the old Trowbridge South West ward which was the political fiefdom of the Osborn family. Helen Osborn won elected as the first councillor for Trowbridge Lambrok in 2009 on the Lib Dem ticket, and increased her majority in 2013 as an independent without Lib Dem opposition. Osborn retired in May 2017 and the Conservatives' Deborah Halik picked up the seat; she had 46% of the vote against 32% for the Lib Dems and 15% for Labour. Wiltshire's district councils were abolished in 2009, so there have been no local elections here since.

This by-election will be a straight fight. Defending for the Tories is David Cavill, the present Mayor of Trowbridge; he is an author, publisher and dog show judge. Challenging for the Lib Dems is Jo Trigg; a local school governor.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Wiltshire

David Cavill (C)
Jo Trigg (LD)

May 2017 result C 488 LD 344 Lab 165 Grn 73
May 2013 result Ind 662 C 307
June 2009 result LD 700 C 522

Sheringham North

North Norfolk council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Brian Hannah.

Behold, the sea. We have come to the north coast of Norfolk for the last of our three local by-elections today, to a town where Vaughan Williams did much of the work on his Sea Symphony. It was the sea that made Sheringham what it is, as the fishing village of Lower Sheringham merged with the railway town of Upper Sheringham during the nineteenth century. This was a fruitful marriage: the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway brought jobs to Sheringham while enabling the town's fisherman to become prolific suppliers of the London crab and lobster market. There are still a handful of fisherman operating out of the town, but the main product from the sea here is now electricity. Eleven miles offshore is the Sheringham Shoal windfarm, opened in September 2012 by Haakon, crown prince of Norway (most of the development was paid for by Norwegian companies) and Ed Davey, then the energy secretary in the UK coalition government.

Davey was a Liberal Democrat, like outgoing Sheringham North councillor Brian Hannah and outgoing North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. Sir Norman, as he now is, had been the MP for North Norfolk since 2001 and had developed a large personal vote in his constituency. He sought the Lib Dem leadership after the near-wipeout of 2015, losing to Tim Farron. Lamb suffered a stroke in April 2018, and he is not seeking re-election to Parliament in two weeks' time, giving the Lib Dems a conundrum as they seek to defend a 48-42 majority over the Conservatives in a constituency which voted Leave in 2016.

Brian Hannah is also retiring on health grounds from a long political career, having served as a Sheringham North ward councillor for 22 years. His ward runs from the cliffs on the seafront up to the railway station, at which a branch line from Norwich and the preserved North Norfolk Railway both terminate. Although this is a town-centre ward, it has an old population. Boundary changes for the May 2019 election cut the ward back slightly and reduced it from two councillors to one: Brian Hannah won it very easily in May, with a 63-25 lead over the Conservatives.

In May 2015 the voters of North Norfolk had re-elected Lamb but returned a Tory majority to his local council, with 33 Conservative seats against 15 Lib Dems. Infighting and by-election losses - mostly infighting - meant that by 2019 that sizeable Conservative majority had completely fallen apart, and the Lib Dems had taken over minority control. The May 2019 election confirmed the Lib Dems in office with a large majority (currently 29 seats plus this vacancy, against just six Conservatives and four independents). The Conservatives do, however, still hold the Sheringham seat on Norfolk county council having gained it from the Lib Dems in May 2017.

So, one to watch. Defending for the Lib Dems is Liz Withington, a Sheringham town councillor. Standing for the Conservatives is Richard Shepherd, a former North Norfolk councillor who lost his seat in Sheringham South ward in May. Labour's Sue Brisbane completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: North Norfolk
Norfolk county council division: Sheringham

Sue Brisbane (Lab)
Richard Shepherd (C)
Liz Withington (LD)

May 2019 result LD 472 C 187 Lab 85

If you liked these previews, there are many more like them in the Andrew's Previews books, the delightful Christmas present for the discerning by-election enthusiast. The Black Friday sale is now on: until 2359 Saturday, Andrew's Previews 2018 is available for 25% off the normal price. Order your copy now!

Previews: 21 Nov 2019

"All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"

Well, Britain Elects is going up in the world thanks to our tie-up with the New Statesman, but the local by-election cycle continues to crank on as if nothing had happened. There are ten local by-elections remaining before the general election on 12 December, and six of them are taking place today. With three polls in England, two in Scotland and one in Wales there is a nice geographical spread, and Andrew's Previews starts the week with a little piece of electoral history: the first casual vacancy generated by the Brexit Party. Read on...


West Sussex county council; and


Chichester council, West Sussex; caused respectively by the resignations of Viral Parikh and Natalie Hume. Parikh had been elected as a Conservative but had defected to the Brexit Party; Hume had been elected as a Liberal Democrat but had defected to the Green Party. They had served since 2017 and May 2019 respectively.

Our first two by-elections are at the western end of Sussex. The Bourne division is the south-western corner of the county, hard up against the border with Hampshire. Its main centre of population is Southbourne, on the road and railway line between Chichester and Portsmouth; also here are the villages of Westbourne and Nutbourne, some smaller parishes to the north within the South Downs National Park, and Thorney Island to the south. No longer an island thanks to the construction of seawalls, Thorney Island's isolated position in Chichester Harbour has made it attractive to the military for many years: it was a Royal Air Force Coastal Command base during the Second World War, and is now used by the Army. There was an interval between the RAF moving out in the late 1970s and the Army moving in during the mid-1980s; in that time Thorney Island was a temporary home to hundreds of Vietnamese refugee families being resettled in the UK.

Some miles to the north is Loxwood ward, lying in the Low Weald on the border with Surrey. This is one of the most remote parts of south-east England, with scattered villages, no railways and few major roads. The largest parish in the ward is Plaistow with nearly 1,600 electors; other major settlements include Loxwood itself and Wisborough Green on the A272 road. Notable electors here include the actors James Bolam and Susan Jameson and the Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, who live in and around Wisborough Green. A shoutout is due to the Stag Inn in Balls Cross, which is doing its bit for democracy as a polling station for this by-election.

The psephologist Robert Waller wrote in every edition of his magisterial and much-missed Almanac of British Politics that "even after the revolution the workers' soviet for Chichester would be Tory". Like all good jokes, there's a grain of truth and a lot of exaggeration in that. The forerunner to the future Chichester Workers' Soviet does normally have a Conservative majority, but the first election to the modern Chichester council in 1973 saw the Conservative group outnumbered by independent councillors, and at the Tory nadir of 1995 the Liberal Democrats were the largest party on a hung council. It's a mark of the volatile political times in which we live that the May 2019 election to Chichester council delivered no overall control: the Tories crashed from 42 seats out of 48 to 18 out of 36, and are having to rely for their majority on the casting vote of the council chairman, Cllr Mrs Hamilton.

Loxwood ward was one of the areas where the Tories did badly in May. It was a new ward, including all of the former Plaistow and Wisborough Green wards which were Tory-held at every election this century. And the voters of Plaistow certainly had a lot of chances to reconsider that allegiance: there were by-elections for the old Plaistow ward in 2003, 2009, February 2010, November 2010 and 2012, every one of which was caused by a Tory councillor resigning and every one of which saw the Lib Dems' Ray Cooper finish as runner-up. So it must have been a surprise to the local Tory group when the Lib Dems won the inaugural Loxwood election in May, prevailing 56-44 in a straight fight. Topping the poll on the Lib Dem slate was Natalie Hume, who subsequently joined the Green Party and then resigned from the council prompting this by-election.

The Bourne division of West Sussex county council has survived a number of boundary reviews to be unchanged since at least 2005. In the late Noughties it was Tory with the Lib Dems in second, but the 2013 election here was a gain for UKIP. The Conservatives recovered Bourne at the most recent West Sussex county elections in May 2017, with 40% of the vote against 26% for UKIP and 20% for the Lib Dems. Topping the poll on the Tory slate was Viral Parikh, who subsequently joined the Brexit Party and then resigned from the council prompting this by-election. Parikh has relocated to Sunderland and he is the Brexit Party candidate for Sunderland Central in the forthcoming general election; since Sunderland is famous for its early declarations you'll probably see him on the telly on election night.

Bourne division is mostly covered by the Southbourne and Westbourne wards of Chichester council; these returned a full slate of Tory councillors in 2015, but the Conservatives have since lost their three seats in Southbourne ward: one to the Lib Dems at a December 2016 by-election (Andrew's Previews 2016, page 315), the second to the Lib Dems in May 2019, and the third to the Boundary Commission which cut Southbourne down to two councillors in May. Loxwood ward is part of the Petworth county council division, which was strongly Conservative in 2017.

Having relinquished their Bourne supremacy, there we be no Bourne legacy for the Brexit Party as they are not defending the Bourne by-election. Yes, it's a free-for-all! The Tories will want their seat back and have selected Mike Magill, a Westbourne parish councillor and former Royal Navy officer. The Liberal Democrat candidate is Andrew Kerry-Bedell, a business growth and marketing specialist who will be presumably putting those transferable skills to good use in his election material. Also standing are Jane Towers for Labour, Michael Neville for the Green Party and Andrew Emerson, a former Labour parliamentary candidate who has founded his own far-right group, Patria, and occasionally rises to the dizzy heights of ten votes. We wait to discover the Bourne identity of the new councillor as the electors deliver their Bourne ultimatum.

The electors in the Loxwood by-election have a wider choice than in May. The defending Green Party candidate is listed on the local party's website as Frencesca Sechi but on the ballot paper as Frencesca Chetta; whatever her name is, she is a mother-of-two who moved to Plaistow eight years ago after 20 years living and working in London. The Lib Dems will want back the seat they lost to defection and have selected Plaistow resident Alexander Jeffery. The Tories will want back the seat they lost to the Lib Dems and have selected Janet Duncton, who is the ward's county councillor; if she wins, the Conservatives will gain an overall majority on Chichester council. The aforementioned Andrew Emerson completes the ballot paper.


Parliamentary constituency: Chichester
Chichester council wards: Southbourne, Westbourne, Harbour Villages (part: Chidham and Hambrook parish)
Postcode districts: PO9, PO10, PO18

Andrew Emerson (Patria)
Andrew Kerry-Bedell (LD)
Mike Magill (C)
Michael Neville (Grn)
Jane Towers (Lab)

May 2017 result C 1357 UKIP 865 LD 659 Lab 264 Grn 234
May 2013 result UKIP 1241 C 1158 LD 360 Lab 295
June 2009 result C 1948 LD 1382 Lab 127
May 2005 result C 2377 LD 1922 Lab 841 Ind 375 UKIP 347


Parliamentary constituency: Chichester (part: Loxwood, Northchapel and Plaistow parishes), Horsham (part: Ebernoe, Kirdford and Wisborough Green parishes)
West Sussex county council division: Petworth
Postcode districts: GU8, GU28, RH14, RH20

Francesca Chetta (Grn)
Janet Duncton (C)
Andrew Emerson (Patria)
Alexander Jeffery (LD)

May 2019 result LD 1088/938 C 868/781


Cardiff council, Glamorgan; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Phil Bale. A former leader of Cardiff council, he had served since 2012.

We return to Cardiff for the Welsh capital's fourth local by-election of the year and second in as many months. The name of Llanishen refers to a llan or religious enclosure established on the slopes of Caerphilly Mountain by St Isan, shortly before his death in AD 537. St Isan's community was a small one until the 1870s, when the Rhymney Railway built a new railway line to Cardiff through a tunnel under Caerphilly Mountain; this led to a population boom as Llanishen became a commuter centre for Cardiff down the hill. Between them the two Rhymney line railway stations serving the division (Llanishen, and Lisvane and Thornhill) serve over half a million passengers a year, with four departures each hour to Cardiff city centre.

Llanishen has continued to see significant development since the Second World War. First was Parc Tŷ Glas, an industrial estate which includes Cardiff's tallest office building: an 18-story tower block occupied by HM Revenue and Customs. The Welsh-language television channel S4C and the National Eisteddfod also have their head offices on Parc Tŷ Glas, while Ty Glas railway station on the Coryton branch line serves the estate. Next door is the site of the former Cardiff Royal Ordnance Factory, which closed down in 1997 and has since been redeveloped for housing. These are at the southern end of Llanishen division; by contrast the northern half of the division is taken up by Thornhill, a large housing development from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Llanishen and Thornhill are relatively upmarket areas, although not to the extent of Lisvane on the other side of the Rhymney line; that's one of the most exclusive areas not just of Cardiff but of Wales. Nevertheless this profile gives the Tories the edge in Llanishen although Labour can win seats here in a good year. The division has unchanged boundaries since 1983 (the population growth in Thornhill was dealt with simply by adding a fourth councillor in 1999) so we can track that over a very long period of time. Labour won one seat out of three in 1991, all three seats in 1995, all four seats in 1999, then nothing until 2012 when the seats split three to Labour and one to the Conservatives. Llanishen councillor Phil Bale became Leader of the Council, and a big personal vote meant that he was the only Labour councillor to hold his seat in a very close result at the last Cardiff city elections in 2017, when the Conservatives led Labour 37-36 in Llanishen.

Labour have performed poorly in Cardiff local by-elections this year, losing Ely division (in the west of the city) to Plaid Cymru in February and seeing a swing to the defending Conservatives in the marginal Whitchurch and Tongwynlais division last month. Following that loss Labour are down to 38 seats plus this vacancy, against 20 Conservatives, eleven Lib Dems and five independents. Most of those independents were elected on the Plaid Cymru ticket; the Plaid group on Cardiff council walked out of the party earlier this year in solidarity with Cardiff councillor, Welsh Assembly member and controversy magnet Neil McEvoy, who was expelled from the Plaid group in the Senedd last year. As can be seen, if Labour lose this by-election their majority on Cardiff council will be down to one seat. This result will be another pointer towards Conservative and Labour chances in the general election, where Labour are defending the marginal Cardiff North constituency.

Defending for Labour is Garry Hunt, who was a councillor for this division from 1991 to 2004 and again from 2012 to 2017; he lost his seat in the 2017 election, finishing as runner-up five votes behind the third Conservative candidate. Hunt has been a civil servant for almost 40 years. The Conservatives have selected Siân-Elin Melbourne, a Welsh teacher. Also standing are Chris Haines for Plaid Cymru, Will Ogborne for the Liberal Democrats, Michael Cope for the Greens and independent candidate Lawrence Gwynn, who stood here on the UKIP ticket in 2012 and 2017.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Cardiff North
Postcode district: CF14

Michael Cope (Grn)
Lawrence Gwynne (Ind)
Chris Haines (PC)
Garry Hunt (Lab)
Siân-Elin Melbourne (C)
Will Ogborne (LD)

May 2017 result C 2890/2804/2528/2383 Lab 2805/2523/2282/2254 PC 666 LD 593/575/543/449 Grn 528 UKIP 323/240/220/180
MAy 2012 result Lab 2394/2362/2302/1992 C 2033/1980/1948/1782 PC 418/384/308/246 UKIP 396 Grn 313 LD 286/268/222/215
May 2008 result C 2923/2828/2734/2623 Lab 1769/1496/1491/1478 LD 664/605/544/449 PC 592/588/377/329
June 2004 result C 1999/1847/1827/1807 Lab 1774/1534/1531/1388 LD 1167/1145/1116/1062 PC 559 Ind 449/373
May 1999 result Lab 2436/2427/2363/2354 C 1608/1608/1486/1385 LD 1081/1016/1011/1002 PC 1052
May 1995 result Lab 3367/3240/3167 C 1532/1148/1138 LD 616/593/443 PC 301
May 1991 result C 2382/2316/2158 Lab 2308/2252/2239 LD 989/951/900
May 1987 result C 2308/2272/2228 Lab 1758/1665/1662 All 1706/1662/1661
May 1983 result C 1909/1904/1890 Lab 1578/1550/1506 All 707/705/599 PC 130/110

Birch Green

West Lancashire council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Claire Cooper who had served since 2016.

We travel north to a town where the air is so pure you get drunk just by breathing, the washing stays clean on the line, and there's not a single traffic light to bring your commute to a full stop. A veritable Utopia; or, as Scousers call it, Skelmersdale. This is a New Town of around 40,000 residents, who still get lost in the maze of roundabouts which is the local road network. Birch Green is the ward covering Skem's town centre, for which West Lancashire council have ambitious and badly-needed redevelopment plans. The ward's census return still bears all the New Town hallmarks: high levels of social housing, low qualifications, relatively high unemployment, you name it. A ward dominated by the so-called "Labour Leavers" we have heard a lot of in the general election so far?

Well, there may be other factors at work. Skem is in cultural terms an exclave of Merseyside located in central Lancashire, and its voting patterns suggest not Leyland but Liverpool. Birch Green is traditionally the sort of place where the Labour vote is not counted but weighed; Claire Cooper was elected here in 2016 with 89% in a straight fight with the Conservatives. The May 2019 poll, however, broke the mould with the intervention of a localist party, the Skelmersdale Independents; Labour eventually prevailed but only by 59-35, by far the closest result in Birch Green this century. Skem provides the Labour majority in the West Lancashire constituency, so this result should be watched closely for any sign of weakness in the red fortress. Labour's majority on West Lancashire council is small: going into this by-election they have 28 seats plus this vacancy, against 19 Conservatives and six seats for "Our West Lancashire", a localist party based in Ormskirk and the surrounding area.

Defending for Labour is Sue Gregson, a registered social worker. The Skelmersdale Independents have reselected Andrew Taylor who was runner-up here in May. Completing the ballot paper is the Conservatives' George Rear, whose surname is also his likely finishing position in this by-election. Whoever wins here will need be back on the campaign trail in short order, as they will be due for re-election in May 2020.

Parliamentary constituency: West Lancashire
Lancashire county council division: Skelmersdale Central
Postcode district: WN8

Sue Gregson (Lab)
George Rear (C)
Andrew Taylor (Skem Ind)

May 2019 result Lab 463 Skem Ind 277 C 50
May 2016 result Lab 662 C 83
May 2015 result Lab 1255 UKIP 272 C 135
May 2012 result Lab 686 C 60 Grn 45
May 2011 result Lab 789 C 105
May 2008 result Lab 394 C 125
May 2007 result Lab 424 C 97
June 2004 result Lab 676 C 159
May 2003 result Lab 323 C 59
May 2002 result Lab 410/320 Ind 165 C 56

Keith and Cullen

Moray council, Scotland; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Ron Shepherd.

Our two Scottish by-elections this week are both in the north-east of the country, in parliamentary seats which the Conservatives gained in 2017 and will need to defend next month. We start with Moray, where the defending Tory MP is 36-year-old Douglas Ross, a qualified football referee (he was a linesman in the 2015 Scottish Cup final) who ended 30 years of Scottish National Party representation in Moray by defeating Angus Robertson in June 2017. A particularly embarrassing loss for the SNP, as Robertson was their Westminster group leader going into the election. Ross had previously been elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2016 from the Highlands and Islands list, and before that was part of the ruling Tory-Independent coalition on Moray council.

Also part of that coalition was councillor Ron Shepherd, a veteran of local government. He had started his public career before the 1970s reorganisation on the Royal Burgh council for Cullen, a small fishing village on the coast of what was then Banffshire. Cullen was the site of the death of Indulf, king of Alba, in 962 fighting the Vikings; a later king of Scotland, no less than Robert the Bruce, had awarded an annuity to the local kirk to say prayers in memory of his wife, who had died in Cullen. These payments - currently set at £2.10 per annum - fell into abeyance after the dissolution of the Royal Burgh of Cullen in 1975, but were restarted by Moray council in 2000. The council have also made good 25 years' arrears to the kirk.

Shepherd returned to local government in 1999 as independent councillor for the Rathford ward of Moray council, covering Cullen and some villages to the south of it. In 2007, with the advent of proportional representation for Scottish local government, this was merged into a larger ward based on the towns of Keith and Cullen, with three councillors. If Cullen depends for tourism on picturesqueness (there are a lot of holiday homes there), Keith's tourism appeal comes from whisky: there are three distilleries in the town, with Strathmill, Glenkeith, Strathisla and Chivas Regal all being made here. Keith is located on the main road and railway line between Aberdeen and Inverness, giving it good connections to the outside world.

In the 2007 election to Keith and Cullen ward the SNP topped the poll with 37% of the vote and won one seat, the remaining two seats going to independent candidates Shepherd and Stewart Cree. The SNP polled over 50% - two full quotas - in 2012, but they blew their chance of a second seat with terrible vote balancing that allowed the two independent councillors to be re-elected.

The Conservatives broke through in the May 2017 local elections, increasing their vote from 10% to 34% in a sign of what was to come here at the general election five weeks later. On first preferences the SNP led with 39% and won one seat, the Conservatives had 34% and won one seat, and Ron Shepherd polled 17% to win the final seat very comfortably ahead of the second SNP candidate. The Tories picked up the seat previously held by independent Stewart Cree, who retired. As usual, Allan Faulds of Ballot Box Scotland has done the redistributions, and found that if the 2017 Keith and Cullen election had been for one seat then it would have gone Conservative; the Tories would have picked up the lions' share of Shepherd's transfers to beat the SNP 52-48 in the final reckoning.

The ruling Conservative-Independent coalition in Moray fell apart in 2018, and the SNP - who are the largest party with 9 out of 26 seats - are now in minority control. Going into this election there were eight Conservatives, seven independent councillors plus this vacancy, and one Labour councillor.

With Ron Shepherd's retirement we have an open seat. There is one independent candidate looking to succeed Shepherd: he is Rob Barsby, who stood here in May 2017, polled 9% and was eliminated in fifth and last place. The SNP have selected Jock McKay, whose varied career has included running a pub and working as a prison officer and school janitor. The Tory nominee is Laura Powell, who like Barsby is from Portknockie on the coast; Powell is involved with local groups in Portknockie and has worked in local government and run a Post Office. Completing the ballot paper is Ian Aitchison for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Moray
Scottish Parliament constituency: Moray (Keith), Banffshire and Buchan Coast (remainder of ward)
Postcode districts: AB45, AB54, AB55, AB56

Ian Aitchison (LD)
Rob Barsby (Ind)
Jock McKay (SNP)
Laura Powell (C)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 1463 C 1298 Ind 655 Ind 354
May 2012 first preferences SNP 1619 Ind 702 Ind 474 C 312
May 2007 first preferences SNP 1555 Ind 827 Ind 698 Ind 582 LD 300 C 256


Aberdeen council, Scotland; caused by the resignation of Scottish National Party councillor Catriona Mackenzie who had served since 2017.

We finish in the centre of Aberdeen with a ward which is almost all part of the Aberdeen South parliamentary seat. Like Moray, this is a constituency represented by a young Tory who had gone through the route of local council to MSP to MP. Ross Thomson wasn't yet 20 when he had his first election campaign, finishing third in Coatbridge and Chryston at the 2007 Holyrood election. He went on to stand unsuccessfully for Gordon at the 2010 general election, Aberdeen Donside at the 2011 Holyrood election and 2013 Holyrood by-election, Aberdeen South at the 2015 general election, and Aberdeen South and North Kincardine at the 2016 Holyrood election. Thomson's first success came in May 2012 when he was elected to Aberdeen city council, and he got into the Scottish Parliament in 2016 through the Conservative list for North East Scotland.

Ross Thomson was elected in June 2017 as MP for Aberdeen South at the age of 29, defeating the SNP's Callum McKaig (another young rising star who had become leader of Aberdeen city council at the age of 26). Thomson was a right-wing Brexiteer, having been a Scottish spokesman for Vote Leave; he was the only Scottish Conservative to join the European Research Group, and ran the Scottish wing of Boris Johnson's leadership campaign. His year in Holyrood and single term in Westminster were dogged by controversy, and ultimately an allegation that he had groped Labour MP Paul Sweeney in a Commons bar led to Thomson losing the confidence of his constituency party. Aged 32, he is now an ex-MP seeking new employment. New candidate Douglas Lumsden has the task of trying to hold Aberdeen South for the Tories on 12th December.

Before then the SNP are defending an Aberdeen council by-election in Torry/Ferryhill ward. This is a ward spanning both sides of the River Dee. On the north bank is Ferryhill, an early suburb of Aberdeen just south of the city centre (indeed this ward includes Aberdeen railway station and the associated shopping centre). On the south bank is Torry, a former fishing village which was once a Royal Burgh in its own right. Torry is a more suburban area but does have some jobs associated with the fishing and North Sea oil industries.

In 2003, at the last first-past-the-post elections to Aberdeen council, the Ferryhill area had returned two Lib Dems while Torry was represented by a Labour and an SNP councillor. The introduction of PR in 2007 allowed the Conservatives to win one of the Lib Dem seats, partly helped by the SNP (who topped the poll) only having one candidate. The SNP put that mistake right for the 2012 election and won a second seat, gaining it from the Lib Dems; Labour actually had more first preferences than the SNP but poor balancing of their two candidates cost them a seat.

Things were even more interesting in the 2012 Aberdeen election for the neighbouring ward of Hazlehead/Ashley/Queens Cross, a middle-class area in the west of the city. Nine candidates were nominated in the election: two Lib Dems, two SNP, one each from the Tories (Ross Thomson, no less), Labour and Scottish Greens, and two independent candidates. The first of these, Jim Farquharson, had been elected as that ward's Conservative councillor five years earlier but was seeking re-election as an independent. The second, Helena Torry, had no previous electoral experience. As it turned out, there was a good reason for this. "Helena Torry" was in fact a mannequin who had been entered into the election by one Renée Slater to represent "the voice of the silent majority" and specifically campaigning against an unpopular proposed redevelopment of the city's Union Terrace Gardens. Slater had been named on the paperwork as Torry's election agent.

This column does not like to criticise election administrators, who make sometimes-superhuman efforts to put an election on for your benefit. It's a hard job, it's not always well paid, and it's often unappreciated, thankless work. We should support our council election teams, not denigrate them.

Having said that, the Aberdeen elections office must look back on the Helena Torry affair and conclude, with the benefit of hindsight, that it was not their finest hour. Once the realisation sunk in that they'd been pranked, the returning officer threw her toys out of the pram. The police were called, Slater was arrested (which, as I will discuss, was fair enough), and Torry was seized by Grampian Police as evidence for a future prosecution. The returning officer then proceeded to publish a new Notice of Poll without Torry's name on the candidate list; there is an argument that this wasn't legally the right thing to do, but in the event nobody complained and the election went ahead on that basis.

What definitely wasn't legally the right thing to do was what happened next. Renée Slater was charged by the procurator fiscal with an offence under section 65A of the Representation of the People Act 1983, and went on trial in February 2013 at Aberdeen sheriff court. Section 65A relates to false statements in nomination papers, and given that Torry's nomination papers were clearly fictitious it must have appeared to be an open-and-shut case. Unfortunately the procurator fiscal or whoever was advising them hadn't got to the bottom of section 65A and read subsection (2), which says that section 65A only applies to parliamentary elections and local elections in England and Wales. False statements in nomination papers for Scottish local elections are covered by different legislation, section 65B of the 1983 Act. This error caused the trial to collapse; after two days of evidence the sheriff ruled that Slater had no case to answer, she walked free from court, and the mannequin that caused all the trouble was released from police custody and returned to her.

Renée Slater subsequently stood in the May 2017 Aberdeen council elections in her own right, as the Scottish Green candidate for (appropriately enough) Torry/Ferryhill ward; she polled 5% and was eliminated in eighth place. There were big changes in the votes for the main parties: the SNP moved up to first on 31%, the Tories up to second with 24%, Labour down to third with 23%, independent candidate David Fryer polled 10%. Despite that, there was no change in 2017 to the seat distribution for Torry/Ferryhill, which remained at two seats for the SNP and one each for the Conservatives and Labour. Catriona Mackenzie of the SNP won the final seat, comfortably ahead of Fryer in the final reckoning. Again Allan Faulds has crunched the numbers for a one-seat election here on the 2017 votes, finding that it would have gone easily to the SNP.

Mackenzie has now resigned prompting this by-election. Audrey Nicoll will seek to hold her seat for the SNP; she is a part-time lecturer and retired police officer. Another retired police offer standing is Conservative candidate Neil Murray, who now works for a mental health charity. Aberdeen council's entire Labour group is currently suspended from the national party because they formed a coalition with the Tories and others to run Aberdeen council, so there could be a conundrum for the national Labour leadership if Labour candidate Willie Young wins this by-election; Young is a former Aberdeen councillor who lost his seat in Bridge of Don ward in 2017. David Fryer has not returned, but there is an independent candidate to replace him: Simon McLean, who stood in Bridge of Don ward in 2017 and polled 70 votes. Also standing are Gregory McAbery for the Lib Dems, Betty Lyon for the Scottish Greens and Roy Hill for UKIP. As in Moray earlier, a quick remainder that this is a Scottish local government by-election, which means that Votes at 16, the Alternative Vote and, of course, section 65B apply in this by-election.

Parliamentary constituency: Aberdeen South (almost all), Aberdeen North (Aberdeen railway station)
Scottish Parliament constituency: Aberdeen Central (north of the Dee), Aberdeen South and North Kincardine (south of the Dee)
Postcode districts: AB10, AB11, AB12

Roy Hill (UKIP)
Betty Lyon (Grn)
Gregory McAbery (LD)
Simon McLean (Ind)
Neil Murray (C)
Audrey Nicoll (SNP)
Willie Young (Lab)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 1757 C 1337 Lab 1310 Ind 580 LD 286 Grn 269 UKIP 49 NF 10
May 2012 first preferences Lab 1479 SNP 1325 C 657 LD 331 Ind 169 Grn 131 Ind 91 Ind 61 NF 23 Ind 21
May 2007 first preferences SNP 1900 Lab 1623 LD 1347 C 729 Grn 287 Ind 163 Solidarity 102

If you liked this week's edition of Andrew's Previews, there are a lot more like them in the Andrew's Previews books which are available now from Amazon.

Andrew Teale

Preview: 31 Oct 2019

Preview: 31 Oct 2019

One by-election on Thursday 31st October 2019:


Andrew Teale

Bromsgrove South

Worcestershire county council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Chris Bloore, who is emigrating to Canada. He had served since 2013.

It’s Hallowe’en. Or Samhain, if you prefer. Time to make preparations: get the parkin in for Bonfire Night, make sure you have a poppy ready for Remembrance, write up the Christmas present list, dodge the trick-or-treaters and, in my case, get ready for Brexit as your columnist flies to Bulgaria next week for some quiz and sightseeing. It’s Sunday as I write this, and it would be nice to know which immigration queue to head for when I land in Sofia; and whether my EHIC card has any value left given that it’s not supposed to expire until 2021.

There’s just one by-election scheduled for today, in Bromsgrove. This was an old town with a cloth trade in mediaeval times followed by nail-making during the Industrial Revolution. However, Bromsgrove is not a Black Country town: it’s firmly in Worcestershire and separated from the West Midlands conurbation by the Clent Hills. Rising up the Clent Hills from Bromsgrove is the Lickey Incline, a famously-steep gradient on the railway between Birmingham and Bristol. Bromsgrove railway station, at the foot of the incline, was rebuilt on a new site in 2016; and it’s now enjoying a greatly-improved service as one of the two southern termini of the Cross City line to Birmingham and Lichfield.

Bromsgrove’s new railway station lies at the north-east corner of this division and is hopefully attracting some commuters who would previously have gone to work by car. There’s certainly a commuter market if you look at the census return for Stoke Prior, which in the nineteenth century was home to the largest saltworks in Europe but is now a southern extension of Bromsgrove with very high owner-occupation levels. In nearby Stoke Heath is the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings, an open-air museum where dozens of old and not-so-old buildings have been re-erected.

Bromsgrove has been a Conservative-held parliamentary seat for many years (its current MP is Sajid Javid, the Chancellor of the Exchequer) but the Bromsgrove South county division is a Labour-inclined marginal. The Tories have won it only once on the current boundaries, in 2009, and that was with a rather low vote share; Labour recovered Bromsgrove South in 2013 and held it in May 2017 with a lead of 50-41 over the Conservatives. The Bromsgrove council results make clear that the Labour vote comes out of Bromsgrove town with Stoke Prior and Stoke Heath voting Conservative, although the ward boundaries no longer match up following changes at district level in 2015. Labour performed well here in the 2019 Bromsgrove council elections, making Rock Hall ward safe (it had been marginal in 2015) and coming just one vote short of gaining Aston Fields ward which stayed Conservative by 419 votes to 418. Never let anybody tell you your vote never changed anything.

Defending this by-election for Labour is Bren Henderson, a stained-glass artist and secretary of the party’s Bromsgrove branch. The Conservatives have selected Kyle Daisley, a 22-year-old Virgin Atlantic flight attendant and parish councillor in Hagley, some miles to the north. Completing thee ballot paper are Joshua Robinson for the Lib Dems and independent candidate Rachel Jenkins, who was an independent Worcestershire county councillor for Clent Hills division from 2013 to 2017 and sits on Bromsgrove council as an independent councillor for Hagley East ward.

Parliamentary constituency: Bromsgrove
Bromsgrove council wards: Avoncroft, Aston Fields (part), Charford (most), Rock Hill (most)

Kyle Daisley (C)
Bren Henderson (Lab)
Rachel Jenkins (Ind)
Joshua Robinson (LD)

May 2017 result Lab 1263 C 1013 LD 123 Grn 102
May 2013 result Lab 1088 C 733 Grn 166 BNP 163 LD 93
June 2009 result C 934 Ind 557 Lab 519 BNP 385 Grn 353
May 2005 result Lab 1934 C 1824 LD 925

Election Court Watch

Since this is a slow week, we’ve time to note two recent pieces of news from the Courts. First, we track back to a by-election last year in Upton ward, Wirral council, where it appears that the winning Labour campaign accidentally went over the election expense limit. The candidate and election agent applied to the courts for relief – essentially, immunity from prosecution – and I assume that they got it. Losing parties tend not to make a fuss over marginal accidental overspending because they know that the same thing could just as easily happen to them in the future. Also, while relief may be a get-out-of-jail card it’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card; only the High Court has the power to grant relief, so this episode will have landed Wirral Labour with quite a large legal bill in addition to the money they spent on the by-election.

The other piece of legal news is that the Brexit Party have thrown in the towel as regards their legal action from the Peterborough by-election in June. They have applied to the Election Court to withdraw their election petition and will pay the legal costs for the winning Labour MP and the Returning Officer. Unfortunately the text of the petition was never made public, so the allegations made remain a mystery to this column.

Andrew Teale

Preview: 30 Oct 2019

One by-election on Wednesday 30th October 2019:


Windsor and Maidenhead council, Berkshire; caused by the resignation of the Leader of the Council, Conservative councillor Simon Dudley, who is concentrating on national politics. He had served since 2007.

For the second in our three-part series of by-elections this week we are in Maidenhead. Riverside ward obviously refers to the Thames: it's Maidenhead's north-eastern ward, running north from the Maidenhead Bridge which carries the A4 into town from London. There has been a bridge on this site since 1280, and that crossing was the making of Maidenhead at a town. The name was originally Maidenhythe, referring to a "new wharf" which was built next to the bridge to take advantage of that passing trade. This isn't the only "hythe" on the Thames: the word "hythe" (an Old English term meaning "landing-place") appears in heavily-disguised form some miles downstream in Putney (Putta's landing-place), Chelsea (chalk landing-place), Lambeth (lambs' landing-place), Stepney (Stebba's landing-place) and Rotherhithe (oxen landing-place).

Over the centuries Maidenhead has grown into a prosperous middle-class commuter town and Riverside ward is typical of it. In 2011 the Maidenhead Riverside ward had almost half of its workforce in upper-middle-class occupation; the population also had a sizeable Asian element and 16% of its residents were born outside the EU. Rather ironic given that this is the seat held in Parliament by Theresa May, whose ill-advised term as prime minister was preceded by some years as Home Secretary. Ward boundary changes for the 2019 election removed the "Maidenhead" prefix, a small corner of the ward and one of the three councillors, but it's still basically the same unit.

Mrs May had seen the Tory vote in her constituency grow at both parliamentary and district level since she fended off a "decapitation" attempt from the Lib Dems at the 2005 general election. In May 2015 the Home Secretary was re-elected with 66% of the vote and the Tories won all but one of the Windsor and Maidenhead council seats in her constituency. There was a by-election in Maidenhead Riverside ward in March 2016 (Andrew's Previews 2016, page 57) whose result gave the Tories no cause for concern.

That was then, and this is now. The Conservatives came uncomfortably close to losing their majority on Windsor and Maidenhead council in May this year, finishing with 23 out of 41 seats; rather a drop from 54 out of 57 four years earlier. The Lib Dems had a resurgence to nine seats, and a variety of minor parties and residents' groups won nine seats between them. One of those minor parties was a new grouping with the curiously-capitalised name of tBf ("the Borough first"), a localist group which won three seats and came a close second in Riverside ward. Shares of the vote in this ward were 35% for the Conservative slate, 28% for tBf and 20% for the Liberal Democrats.

So this looks likely to be a much more marginal affair than the March 2016 by-election. Defending for the Conservatives is Gregory Jones, who runs an estate agency. tBf have reselected their party leader Claire Stretton, a graphic designer and former Conservative councillor who was runner-up here in May; she previously represented Boyn Hill ward from 2015 to 2019, and before that sat on Wokingham council (for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe ward) from 2008 to 2011. The Lib Dems have also reselected a candidate from May, Kashmir Singh. Completing the ballot paper are Craig McDermott for the Green Party, Sharon Bunce for Labour and Deborah Mason for the Women's Equality Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Maidenhead

Sharon Bunce (Lab)
Gregory Jones (C)
Deborah Mason (WEP)
Craig McDermott (Grn)
Kashmir Singh (LD)
Claire Stretton (tBf)

May 2019 result C 851/777 tBf 678/600 LD 476/450 Grn 215 Lab 182/168

Sharon Teresa BUNCE, Windsor and Maidenhead [Labour Party]
Gregory Granville JONES, 6 Amberley Court, Maidenhead SL6 8LJ [The Conservative Party Candidate]
Deborah Celia MASON, 5 Rayfield, Ray Park Avenue, Maidenhead SL6 8DL [Women's Equality Party]
Craig Colquhoun MCDERMOTT, 58 Ray Park Avenue, Maidenhead SL6 8DX [Green Party]
Kashmir SINGH, 21 Sperling Road, Maidenhead SL6 7LB [Liberal Democrats]
Claire Elizabeth STRETTON, Little House, Boyn Hill Avenue, Maidenhead SL6 4HA [tBf - the Borough first]

Preview: 29 Oct 2019

One by-election on Tuesday 29th October 2019:

Leamington Lillington

Warwick council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Heather Calver on health grounds. She had served only since May.

After last week's excitement there are just three local by-elections this week, and they are all on different days. It's only convention that elections in the UK are normally held on Thursdays; for by-elections any working day will do and we normally get a few by-elections each year which are not on a Thursday (particularly in the City of London). Before this week the last non-City by-election to be held otherwise than on a Thursday was in Cardiff earlier this year, with Cyncoed division going to the polls on Tuesday 16th July.

Today's Tuesday by-election is in Leamington Spa. Lillington is Leam's north-eastern ward, based around the Midland Oak at the junction of Lillington Road and Lillington Avenue. That oak tree, seen here in an old postcard, had stood for centuries and was reputed to mark the centre of England. The tree in the picture died in the 1960s and was cut down, but one of its acorns was planted in its place in 1988 and is doing well.

The land around the Midland Oak has blossomed with houses. The old village of Lillington was incorporated into Leamington Spa in the 1890s, and a large council estate was developed here after the Second World War. At the time of the 2011 census the estate was covered by Crown ward, which sticks out like a sore thumb in the town's census return: it had the highest social housing rates, the highest rate of people with no qualifications, and the youngest population in a town which is made young again each October by Warwick University. Many of Warwick's students live in Leamington, but Lillington is away from the main bus routes to the campus and not the sort of place where the students live.

Since 2011 Warwick council's ward boundaries have changed twice, the most recent boundary change in May this year merging Crown ward with most of Manor ward to create Lillington ward. This doesn't vote how you might expect. Despite its council estate history Crown ward consistently voted Liberal Democrat during this century, while Manor was generally Lib Dem but went Conservative in 2015. The only previous result for the new Lillington ward was a big Lib Dem win in May this year: their slate polled 48%, against 22% for Labour and 17% for the Conservatives. There was a similar result in the 2017 Warwickshire county elections for Leamington North division, all of which is within this ward. The May elections saw the Conservatives lose control of Warwick council, which was the only district in the West Midlands that Remain carried in the June 2016 referendum; however, the Tories are still in control thanks to a coalition with the Whitnash Residents Association. That coalition holds half of the seats, and a Conservative gain in this by-election will give it a majority.

Daniel Russell defends this by-election for the Liberal Democrats. Labour have selected Luc Lowndes, who is chairman of the Lillington Community Centre. The Tory candidate is Hayley Key, who is the manager of a local ski and outdoor leisure shop; she completes a ballot paper of three candidates.

Parliamentary constituency: Warwick and Leamington (part of Leamington Spa parish), Kenilworth and Southam (Blackdown parish and part of Cubbington parish)
Warwickshire county council division: Leamington North (most), Leamington Milverton (small part), Cubbington and Leek Wootton (Blackdown parish)

Hayley Key (C)
Luc Lowndes (Lab)
Daniel Russell (LD)

May 2019 result LD 1698/1505/1464 Lab 773/760/700 C 606/532/485 Grn 448/408/362

Previews: 24 Oct 2019

There are eight local by-elections on 24th October 2019, with the Conservatives defending four seats, Labour defending three and one free-for-all:

Abbey North

Daventry council, Northamptonshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Aiden Ramsey who had served since 2018.

Things have probably Happened this week, and after all the excitement it's time to look at some real votes from real people. For those who are new to Andrew's Previews, let me explain the premise.

Every week there are local by-elections in a few corners of the country to fill vacancies in our local government. Are these by-election results representative of what's going at the national scene, as the opinion polls attempt to measure? The answer to that is almost certainly no: there's no such thing as an average ward or area of the country. And even if there were, local factors would come into play: the usual question of "how effective/useless is your government" is augmented and in some cases trumped by "how effective/useless is your local council", or even "how effective/useless is your party's candidate". The job of the Previews is to set the scene: to describe the ward in terms of how it differs from the national picture, to attempt to outline the local and/or candidate issues where I am aware of them, and to leave readers to make up their own mind about what will happen next.

To illustrate this, I've dug into the archives and come up with the following list of previous by-elections:

  1. 3 August 2017: St Margarets and St Nicholas ward, King's Lynn and West Norfolk council
  2. 16 November 2017: St Margaret's ward, Waveney council
  3. 14 December 2017: Newchapel ward, Newcastle-under-Lyme council
  4. 18 January 2018: Hulton ward, Bolton council
  5. 12 July 2018: Pakefield ward, Waveney council
  6. 27 September 2018: Clifton North ward, Nottingham council

What links the six entries above is that these are the wards which saw Conservative gains from the Labour Party during this Parliament. There are several things which immediately stand out about this list: it's quite short (I fitted it into a tweet last week) and hadn't been added to for over a year. Moreover avid readers of the Previews (or of the Previews books, which you can order now from Amazon and will make an excellent Christmas present for the psephologist in your family) could have found local factors, explanations and/or excuses for what might appear to be against-the-trend performances. Consider: in (1) the previous Labour councillor had been kicked out under the six-month non-attendance rule, which is never a good look. (2) and (5) are wards in Lowestoft, a town which is clearly shifting culturally towards the Conservatives at a rapid pace: the local Waveney constituency was the only seat which voted Leave in June 2016 where the Labour vote fell in June 2017. (3) came hot on the heels of an official report which slammed Newcastle-under-Lyme's election team for running the 2017 general election so incompetently that we cannot have confidence that Paul Farrelly was correctly elected as the town's MP; the Labour council leader resigned, the Returning Officer was suspended, and in order to deliver the poll the council had to hire in Stoke-on-Trent's election team at the last possible moment. (4) was affected by a major planning issue and was the first sign of the collapse of the scandal-ridden and deeply unpopular Bolton Labour administration, which went on to lose more than a dozen more seats and control of the council by May 2019. In (6) candidate selection appears to have been a major factor: put simply, the Tories picked a candidate who was a good fit for the area, and Labour didn't.

Last week a new entry was added to that list: in the Westcourt ward of Gravesend, Kent. Moreover, the Westcourt by-election result wasn't close, represented a big swing from Labour to Conservative since May this year and there were no obvious local factors that came to my attention. This fits into what has been a noticeable trend over the last few weeks: the Conservatives have suddenly started putting in good performances in local by-elections, while the Labour vote is more often than not falling. This suggests that whatever malaise has affected the Tory local election vote for most of the year may be starting to lift.

Will this continue? Well, on paper the most obvious place for a Tory gain this week is in Daventry. This is an old market town which was on the coaching route from London to Holyhead, and still has a number of coaching inns run by what Shakespeare, in Henry VI Part I, called "red-nosed innkeepers of Daintree". However, the Industrial Revolution basically passed the place by. Despite this, Daventry has grown strongly since the Second World War thanks to Birmingham overspill with industries to match: for example, Cummins have a large factory in the town making big diesel engines to power ships, railway trains and generators. Daventry's location close to the centre of England also means that distribution is a major part of the economy, and Abbey North ward - the northern of Daventry's four wards - includes most of the distributors' warehouses. The effect of this is that Abbey North has the unusual combination of a working-class demographic profile and high employment levels.

Abbey North also has rather unusual voting patterns. The current boundaries were introduced in 2012 and returned one Conservative and two Labour councillors. Since then every election in Abbey North has resulted in a change of party. In May 2014 UKIP gained one of the Labour seats; in 2015 the Conservatives gained the other Labour seat; the 2016 and 2018 polls both saw Labour gains, one from the Tories and the other from UKIP.

The 2016 winner here was Ken Ritchie, a psephologist who was Labour's parliamentary candidate for Daventry in 1997 and served from that year until 2010 as chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society. The 2018 winner was Aiden Ramsey, who was elected at the relatively young age of 27. Ramsey has resigned from the council as he is relocating to Wales, where his partner is studying. In his resignation statement he encouraged younger people to get involved with their local authority, saying:

"Don't let it be intimidating. I've spoken to a lot of young people and the idea I get from them is that because there’s this image of councillors and district councils, and this expectation of knowledge, background and experience, then younger people feel like it's not a world that they can step into.

When I got elected I wouldn't say that I had answers to 100 per cent of the questions I was asked. But as long as you have that passion, then it's something I would urge people to push ahead with, as they will learn along the way."

The May 2018 result gave 40% to Labour, 27% to the Conservatives and 21% to the Liberal Democrats, who suddenly came from nowhere to take third place. This was to date the last election to Daventry council, which is within that disaster area of local government called Northamptonshire. 2018 was the year that Northamptonshire county council ran out of money not once but twice, and that insolvency means that local government reorganisation is in the works. Daventry council is collateral damage from that, and will probably be abolished in the near future. In anticipation of this the 2019 council elections here were officially postponed to 2020, but no legal instrument has yet been published relating to the proposed reorganisation - so the default is that in May 2020 two of Abbey North ward's three seats will be up for re-election. On the county council most of the ward is within the Daventry West division, which was a Tory gain from UKIP in 2017 but with Labour just 30 votes behind; the northern half of the division, including the industrial estates, are in the Braunston and Crick division which is safe Tory.

Defending for Labour is Emily Carter. The Tories have taken Ramsey's advice to heart by selecting Lauryn Harrington-Carter, who is not yet 21 but has already appeared in this column before. She was the Conservative candidate for the Brixworth by-election to Daventry council in July, embarrassingly losing the seat to the Liberal Democrats who came from nowhere to win. Harrington-Carter will have the advantage this time of being in her home ward. The Liberal Democrats have selected Alan Knape, a Daventry town councillor and financial controller who completes a ballot paper of three candidates.

Parliamentary constituency: Daventry
Northamptonshire county council division: Braunston and Crick (north part), Daventry West (south part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northampton
Postcode district: NN11

Emily Carter (Lab)
Lauryn Harrington-Carter (C)
Alan Knape (LD)

May 2018 result Lab 599 C 407 LD 312 Ind 112 UKIP 73
May 2016 result Lab 510 C 484 UKIP 300 LD 64
May 2015 result C 1299 Lab 871 UKIP 757
May 2014 result UKIP 495 C 482 Lab 349
May 2012 result C 397/336/335 Lab 379/358/308 UKIP 245 LD 86


West Lindsey council, Lincolnshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Stuart Kinch who had served since 2003.

For our other East Midlands by-election and first Conservative defence of the week we travel north from the Northamptonshire hills to flatter terrain. The Torksey ward covers seven parishes on the east bank of the River Trent, roughly equidistant from Lincoln and Gainsborough. The ward extends to Gate Burton in the north and Newton on Trent - where the A57 crosses the river at a toll bridge - in the south.

Torksey is its central parish and is a location with a long history. There are Roman remains in the area, and the Great Heathen Army of Viking invaders spent the winter of 872-3 here. More recently the village was the location of a manor house built during the first Elizabethan era by Sir Robert Jermyn, which became known as Torksey Castle; however, the Jermyn family found themselves on the losing side in the Civil War, and Torksey Castle was essentially destroyed. Its remains stick out of the River Trent's banks rather incongruously. Also sticking out of the river here is a viaduct, thrown over the Trent in the 1840s by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway; this bridge was of an innovative design which is now recognised as one of the first box girder bridges. The railway through Torksey is long gone, but the viaduct has taken on a new life as a pedestrian and cycle bridge.

Torksey ward has been represented on West Lindsey council by Stuart Kinch since 2003. Nobody opposed Kinch in 2015, which was the first election on the ward's current boundaries; in May this year the Lib Dems put up a candidate, who lost 59-41. Kinch has resigned not long into his fifth term of office to focus on his business interests, which are increasingly causing conflicts with his public role; his resignation statement also had some harsh words for the current state of our politics, which he described as "visceral". He had retired in 2017 as the local county councillor, and his Tory successor Richard Butroid enjoys a large majority in the Gainsborough Rural South division.

Kinch's resignation could disturb the delicate balance of West Lindsey council. The May 2019 election left the Tories with a majority of 2, holding 19 seats against 12 Lib Dems and five independents; however, a defection has since wiped that majority out, and if the Conservatives lose this by-election they will be in a minority on the council. That could be bad news for the council's Tory leader Giles McNeill, a diehard Andrew's Previews fan...

...who has helped this column out on a few occasions in the past.

Torksey's voters will have a larger choice of parties this time around than they had in May. Defending for the Conservatives is Jayne Ellis, who lives just outside the ward in Saxilby. The Lib Dems have reselected their candidate from May Noel Mullally, who lives in Newton-on-Trent. Also standing are Nick Pearson in a rare local government outing for the Brexit Party (and that's the only time you'll see the B-word mentioned here this week, isn't that refreshing?), and Labour candidate Perry Smith.

Parliamentary constituency: Gainsborough
Lincolnshire county council division: Gainsborough Rural South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lincoln
Postcode districts: DN21, LN1

Jayne Ellis (C)
Noel Mullally (LD)
Nick Perason (Brexit Party)
Perry Smith (Lab)

May 2019 result C 472 LD 334
May 2015 result C unopposed

Coupe Green and Gregson Lane

South Ribble council, Lancashire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Sarah Whittaker who had served only since May.

For our token Northern by-election we come to the Preston commuter belt. Coupe Green (or Coup Green) and Gregson Lane are two villages to the east of Bamber Bridge, along the A675 Preston-Bolton road, although it's hard to tell this from the address because the Royal Mail counts the whole area as part of Hoghton - a village over the border in Chorley district. In 2011 the ward made the top 40 in England and Wales for Christianity; high scores for this statistic are often seen in Lancashire where, for cultural reasons, lapsed Christians are much more likely to list their old religion on the census form than lapsed Christians elsewhere in the country. Coupe Green and Gregson Lane's residents also have very high takeup of apprenticeship qualifications, while owner-occupation is high. Boundary changes for the 2015 election added part of Walton Summit to the ward, although this won't have much effect on its demographics.

Now, you may have rather unkindly thought from time to time that your elected representatives are idle toads. In the case of Coupe Green and Gregson Lane, that actually happened. Let me explain. In 1997 Tom Sharratt, a former Guardian journalist who at the time represented the area at district and county level in the Labour interest, was deselected. He didn't take this well, and his response was to start distributing newsletters in the ward with the ironic name of The Idle Toad. Sharratt was subsequently re-elected in 1999 under the Idle Toad banner, and a curiously-named political party was born. At their height the Idle Toads held three seats on South Ribble council and one seat on Lancashire county council, and they successfully defended Coupe Green and Gregson Lane at a by-election in October 2004.

That by-election winner was Jim Marsh, who subsequently left the party, joined the Conservatives and was re-elected under their banner in 2007. In a bizarre episode, Sharratt subsequently described Marsh as a "defecator" in the newsletter, prompting a complaint from Marsh and a censure from South Ribble council's standards committee; however, that censure was overturned on appeal after Sharratt countered that he had misspelled the word "defector". Only a former Grauniad journalist could make that sort of argument with a straight face.

All good things must come to an end. Sharratt lost his seat in 2011 to the Tories' Warren Bennett, another former Idle Toad, and that was the end of that. With the Idle Toad(s) off the scene this became a safe Conservative ward; in May the Tory slate of Marsh and new candidate Sarah Whittaker beat Labour by the margin of 50-32. The Conservatives have a larger lead in the South Ribble East county council division, and this area is in the Ribble Valley constituency which is safe for Tory eurosceptic and former Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans.

South Ribble council, on the other hand, is rather delicately poised. The Conservatives lost control of the council earlier this year; they are still the largest party with 22 seats plus this vacancy, but Labour (who also have 22 seats) have formed a minority administration with the support of the five Lib Dems. It's a slight surprise that Labour have no candidate for this by-election; the Tories need to hold this seat to remain as the largest party.

Defending for the Tories is Gareth Watson, who fought Walton-le-Dale West ward in May and lost what had been a Conservative seat to Labour. As stated there is no Labour nominee, but two other candidates have come forward to secure a contested election: they are independent Graham Dixon (who was the Green Party candidate for this ward in 2015) and Lib Dem Stephanie Portersmith.

Parliamentary constituency: Ribble Valley
Lancashire county council division: South Ribble East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Preston
Postcode district: PR5

Graham Dixon (Ind)
Stephanie Portersmith (LD)
Gareth Watson (C)

May 2019 result C 710/679 Lab 455/405 UKIP 257
May 2015 result C 1382/1371 Lab 794 Grn 592

Bagillt West

Flintshire council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Mike Reece who had served since 2008.

Our next three by-elections are all in Wales, although for the first we are still firmly in Granadaland. Bagillt is a small town about halfway down the Welsh bank of the Dee estuary, looking over towards the Wirral on the far side. There was a castle here in days by, where the thirteenth-century Prince of Wales Dafydd ap Llewelyn was born; but modern Bagillt is a town of the Industrial Revolution, with a lead smelting works here in the eighteenth century and a number of collieries and ironworks operating in the nineteenth. The Laxey Wheel, a waterwheel which is one of the symbols of the Isle of Man, was built in Bagillt; and in recognition of that Laxey is now twinned with the town. All this industry has gone now, but Flintshire is still a major manufacturing area and Bagillt West is in the top 70 wards or divisions in the UK for the ONE "routine" employment classification.

Welsh local elections tend to have a lot of unopposed returns, and Bagillt West is a case in point. It has been held by Labour throughout this century, but you have to go all the way back to 2008 to find a contested election here: that year Labour beat the Liberal Democrats in a straight fight by 63-37. Across Flintshire Labour made net gains in the May 2017 election, but they are still in a minority with 33 out of 70 seats plus this vacancy; the opposition on Flintshire council is made up of six Tories, six Lib Dems and four independent groups which add up to 24 councillors between them.

The Bagillt West by-election will be the first contested poll here in over a decade. Defending for Labour is Kevin Rush, who stood in the other Bagillt division (East) in May 2017 and lost a Labour seat to an independent candidate by three votes. Challenging is independent candidate David Stanley.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Delyn
ONS Travel to Work Area: Rhyl
Postcode districts: CH6, CH8

Kevin Rush (Lab)
David Stanley (Ind)

May 2017 result Lab unopposed
May 2012 result Lab unopposed
May 2008 result Lab 333 LD 198
June 2004 rssult Lab 290 C 223

Llandrindod North; and
Newtown South

Powys council; caused respectively by the resignations of independent councillor Gary Price, who had been elected as a Conservative; and Conservative councillor Alan Morrison.

Our other two Welsh by-elections today are in Powys, that county which runs almost the length of Wales but is often overlooked in favour of more touristy areas. This is a shame, for Powys has a charm all of its own. It's an area of many villages, lots of sheep and a handful of not-very-large towns, on which we will concentrate.

As the English name of Newtown suggests (the Welsh-language name "y Drenewydd" is a direct translation of the English), this was not an old Welsh settlement, instead being founded in the late 13th century by the Anglo-Norman Roger de Montgomery as part of military manoeuvres against Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. The co-operative pioneer Robert Owen was born here in 1771, at a time when Newtown was booming thanks to the textile industry.

Newtown has significantly changed since the Second World War as, appropriately enough, it was designated a New Town in 1967. That turned it into Powys' largest urban centre, although its population is comfortably under 12,000. Some of that New Town development can be seen in Newtown South division, which is still majority social rented and whose census return is more reminiscent of something you might see in the Valleys: Newtown South makes the top 100 wards or divisions in England and Wales for semi-routine employment (26%, which is in the top 15) and those of no religion (45%). Through the hillside to the south of the houses threads a new bypass for Newtown, which opened in February after 70 years of planning hell and has eased the town's notorious traffic problems.

Some miles to the south of Newtown lies Llandrindod Wells. This has a very different history, being originally a Victorian spa town before being designated as the county town of Powys in the 1970s reorganisation. This led to a population boom in Llandrindod, followed by an economic boom as national local government payscales combined with the relatively low cost of housing in mid-Wales to give lots of disposable income. Powys county council is still the major local employer.

Newtown anchors the Montgomeryshire constituency which has been a bright spot for the Conservatives over the last decade. The Tories did particularly well in Montgomeryshire in the 2017 Powys council elections, and one of the divisions they gained was Newtown South where a long-serving independent councillor retired. With that independent off the scene Conservative candidate Alan Morrison gained the seat with a 55-29 majority over Plaid Cymru.

Llandrindod North is going to the polls for the second time in the short-lived Johnson premiership, following the Brecon and Radnorshire parliamentary by-election which the Tories lost to the Lib Dems in August. North division has notionally changed hands at all of the last three Powys elections. In 2008 Conservative candidate Mike Hodges knocked out independent councillor Keith Tampin; Hodges was defeated in 2012 by independent candidate Gary Price, who transferred here from Llandrindod East/Llandrindod West division which he had represented for some years beforehand. Price was re-elected in 2017 with the Conservative nomination, defeating the Green Party candidate 54-26, but subsequently left the party and became independent again.

No independent candidate has come forward to replace Price, so Llandrindod North is a free-for-all. The Tories will want their seat back and have selected Tom Turner, a Builth Wells-based paramedic who was elected in 2012 as councillor for Llandrindod South division at the age of 20. Turner lost his seat there to the Lib Dems in 2017. The Green Party have not returned. Labour have selected local resident Rosie McConnell, and the Lib Dems have nominated Jake Berriman to try and build on their recent parliamentary by-election success.

In Newtown South the defending Tory candidate is Les Skilton, a former Mayor of Newtown and the only candidate to give an address in the division. Plaid Cymru have reselected Richard Edwards who was runner-up here in 2017. Also standing is Kelly Healy for the Liberal Democrats.

Llandrindod North

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Brecon and Radnorshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Llandrindod Wells and Builth Wells
Postcode district: LD1

Jake Berriman (LD)
Rosie McConnell (Lab)
Tom Turner (C)

May 2017 result C 360 Grn 177 Lab 132
May 2012 result Ind 393 C 215 Lab 88 LD 21
May 2008 result C 391 Ind 302
June 2004 result Ind 365 Ind 324

Newtown South

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Montgomeryshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newtown and Welshpool
Postcode district: SY16

Richard Edwards (PC)
Kelly Healy (LD)
Les Skilton (C)

May 2017 result C 203 PC 109 Ind 58
May 2012 result Ind 177 Lab 85 LD 42 C 27
May 2008 result Ind 332 LD 103 Ind 37
June 2004 result Ind 380 LD 93

Melksham Without South

Wiltshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Roy While.

Our final two by-elections of the week are in south-west England. The curious name of Melksham Without South comes from the 1890s, when Melksham became an Urban District; as part of this the old Melksham parish was divided, with the new urban district covering only the built-up area. Its hinterland became a new parish, called Melksham Without, which surrounds the town. Malksham Without is big enough for two councillors and this division is the southern half of it.

Things have changed here since the nineteenth century. In 1940 the Royal Air Force opened RAF Melksham, a training centre for its electricians which lasted into the 1970s. When the RAF moved out their base was redeveloped for housing and industry and the result was Bowerhill, effectively a small new village a couple of miles south-east of Melksham. The population has continued to grow in the 21st century, with Knorr-Bremse (a German railway engineering firm) and Herman Miller (an American office furniture manufacturer) having set up in Bowerhill in recent years.

Roy While was a veteran of local government who had represented this area since the establishment of the modern Wiltshire council in 2009, and sat on the old Wiltshire county council and West Wiltshire district council for some years before that. Before seeking elected office he had been chief executive of West Wiltshire council. He has resigned on health grounds. While was run close by UKIP in 2013, but at his last re-election his majority had improved to 55-18 over the Lib Dems.

Wiltshire is having a rash of by-elections at the moment: this is the fourth casual vacancy for Wiltshire council since June, and a fifth by-election is in the pipeline. This by-election is a straight fight. Defending for the Conservatives is Nick Holder, who represents Bowerhill on Melksham Without parish council. Challenging for the Lib Dems is Vanessa Fiorelli, a Melksham town councillor.

Parliamentary constituency: Chippenham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Trowbridge
Postcode districts: BA14, SN12

May 2017 result C 709 LD 232 UKIP 178 Ind 163
May 2013 result C 478 UKIP 449 LD 142 Lab 99
June 2009 result C 571 LD 361 UKIP 162 Ind 116 BNP 92 Lab 73

Vanessa Fiorelli (LD)
Nick Holder (C)

Heavitree and Whipton Barton

Devon county council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Emma Brennan who had served since 2017.

For our final by-election of the week we are in the east of the city of Exeter. If you're feeling under the weather then this is the place to go, because the major employer within this county division is the Met Office, which has forecasted the weather from Exeter since 2004 with occasional success. The Met Office HQ can be seen on the right-hand side as you enter Exeter on the A30 from the Honiton and London direction.

Once past that business park you enter Heavitree, an old village which was swallowed up by the city late enough to be an urban district of its own until 1913. This was the site of the last executions in the UK for witchcraft, when the three Bideford Witches went to the gallows in 1682. Notable people from Heavitree include Sir Thomas Bodley, who has a library in Oxford named after him.

Devon county council got new division boundaries in 2017, but the only thing which changed about this division was the name: it was previously called Heavitree and Whipton and Barton, reflecting the two wards of Exeter which it covered. Perhaps one of Bodley's Oxford commas would have been in order. Whipton and Barton ward no longer exists: a major rewarding of Exeter in 2016 has left this division split between five different wards of the city. Whatever the name, this is a safe Labour area: in May 2017 Labour beat the Conservatives 51-31 here.

Defending for Labour is Greg Sheldon, who represents Heavitree ward on Exeter city council and has sat on that council since 1996. The Conservative candidate is John Harvey, a former Exeter city councillor who worked for 18 years as Exeter City Centre Manager. Also standing are Rowena Squires for the Liberal Democrats, Lizzie Woodman for the Greens and Frankie Rufolo for the For Britain Movement.

Parliamentary constituency: Exeter
Exeter wards: Heavitree (part), Mincinglake and Whipton (part), Pinhoe (part), Priory (part), St Loyes (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter
Postcode districts: EX1, EX2, EX4

John Harvey (C)
Frankie Rufolo (For Britain Movement)
Greg Sheldon (Lab)
Rowena Squires (LD)
Lizzie Woodman (Grn)

May 2017 result Lab 2151 C 1317 LD 283 Grn 249 UKIP 192
May 2013 result Lab 1655 C 803 UKIP 605 LD 190 Grn 186
June 2009 result Lab 1214 C 1059 Lib 601 UKIP 464 Grn 348 LD 324 BNP 146
May 2005 result Lab 2419 Lib 1454 LD 1379 C 1201 UKIP 285

Andrew Teale

Previews: 17 Oct 2019

Four by-elections on 17th October 2019:

Upper Dales

North Yorkshire county council; and

Hawes, High Abbotside and Upper Swaledale

Richmondshire council; both caused by the death of independent councillor John Blackie.

We start for the week with a trip to some of the most beautiful countryside imaginable: the Yorkshire Dales. The Upper Dales division is by a long way the largest county electoral division in England at 70,120 hectares (271 square miles); it's aptly named, combining most of Wensleydale with all of Swaledale upwards of Richmond. Anybody who is old enough to have seen All Creatures Great and Small or was hardy enough to watch the Tour de France or world championship cycling recently will immediately recognise the area. The Tour came to the area on its first stage in 2014, with the Buttertubs Pass from Wensleydale to Swaledale being its main climb that day; Reeth in Swaledale is the northernmost point ever reached by the world's greatest cycle race. Hikers are well-served by the Pennine Way and Wainwright's Coast to Coast Walk, which meet at Keld in Swaledale; for those of a more sedentary disposition, Aysgarth Falls on the Ure is a good place to admire the view.

Gorgeous countryside, but not many people. The Upper Dales division covers twenty-five parishes, of which the largest centre of population - with 869 electors on the roll - is Hawes. This tiny Wensleydale market town is a very remote place, to the extent that may of its services - the post office, the petrol station, the local bus - are run by a community partnership. Tourism is the main draw, but Hawes' largest single employer is the Wensleydale Creamery which makes the Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese - a product which has been given Protected Geographical Indication status by the EU, meaning that you can't legally make it outside the valley. One curiosity of Hawes' census return is an unusually high number of Buddhists - in 2011 the old Hawes and High Abbotside ward made the top 15 wards for Buddhism in England and Wales, although this only amounts to 43 people so not too much should be read into it.

Hawes may be doing reasonably well, but Swaledale has markedly declined in population since the nineteenth century when there was a leadmining industry here; the scars left by the miners can still be seen on the hillsides today if you know where to look. In the 2011 census the old Addlebrough and Swaledale wards were both in the top 100 in England and Wales for self-employment, reflecting that the main economic sector here now - as it has been for centuries - is sheep and dairy farming.

Politically, this area has been dominated at local elections by John Blackie since the mid-1990s. Blackie enjoyed very large majorities at county and district level for over two decades, sometimes with the Conservative nomination but more often as an independent. In the May 2017 county elections Blackie defeated the official Conservative candidate 61-30 in Upper Dales division, and he regularly polled over 87% in district council elections for the old Hawes and High Abbotside ward. Richmondshire got new ward boundaries this year which added Upper Swaledale to that ward, but that had very little effect on John Blackie's majority; he polled 85% in May in a straight fight with the Conservatives. The Tories are the largest party on the tiny Richmondshire district council, but they lost their overall majority in May's election and the administration is now run by a coalition of independents, Lib Dems and the single Green Party councillor.

As can be seen, Blackie's death leaves most of this division's voters looking for a new political home. Changes in these by-elections could be wild. There is a single defending independent candidate in both by-elections, whose name long-term readers of Andrew's Previews may recognise: she is Jill McMullon. Twice chair of Richmondshire council, McMullon is a former district councillor for Middleton Tyas - probably better known to outsiders as Scotch Corner - who lost her seat in 2015 and has stood without success in a few Richmondshire by-elections since. The Statement of Persons Nominated reveals that McMullon has relocated to Askrigg in Wensleydale, and she is heavily involved with the community partnership in Hawes.

For the county by-election McMullon is opposed by Conservative candidate Yvonne Peacock, who is a former leader of Richmondshire district council and sits on that council for Yoredale ward (central Wensleydale, including Askrigg, Aysgarth and Bainbridge). Also standing are Richmondshire councillor Kevin Foster for the Green Party and Simon Crosby, who is the first Lib Dem candidate for Upper Dales since 2005.

In the district by-election the Tories have reselected Pat Kirkbride to go up against McMullon. Kirkbride, who is the owner of the White Hart Hotel in Hawes, will be hoping at the very least for an improvement on the 15% she got against Blackie in May. Also standing is Green Party candidate Margaret Lowndes, who completes an all-female ballot paper. Not an unusual occurrence this week: equality campaigners may be pleased to note that women make up eleven of the fourteen by-election candidates in this column, although ironically none of them are from the Women's Equality Party.

Upper Dales

Parliamentary constituency: Richmond (Yorkshire)
Richmondshire council wards: Hawes, High Abbotside and Upper Swaledale; Lower Swaledale and Arkengarthdale; Yoredale; Leyburn (part: Carperby-cum-Thoresby parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northallerton
Postcode districts: DL8, DL10, DL11, LA10

Simon Crosby (LD)
Kevin Foster (Grn)
Jill McMullon (Ind)
Yvonne Peacock (C)

May 2017 result Ind 1540 C 740 Grn 129 Lab 99
May 2013 result Ind 1710 C 333 Lab 99 Grn 70
June 2009 result Ind 1859 C 369 Grn 236 Lab 66
May 2005 result C 2044 LD 1307

Hawes, High Abbotside and Upper Swaledale

Parliamentary constituency: Richmond (Yorkshire)
North Yorkshire county council division: Upper Dales
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northallerton
Postcode districts: DL8, DL11, LA10

Pat Kirkbride (C)
Margaret Lowndes (Grn)
Jill McMullon (Ind)

May 2019 result Ind 709 C 128

Princes Park

Liverpool council, Merseyside; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Timothy Moore, who had served since 2008.

And now for something completely different, as we travel from the countryside to the big city. Princes Park was opened in 1842 and named after the future Edward VII, who was Prince of Wales from his birth the previous year. It was the first public park laid out by Joseph Paxton, who at the time was head gardener for the Duke of Devonshire's estate at Chatsworth. As well as a large number of public spaces, Paxton's legacy includes such surprising items as the Cavendish banana - whose clones make up almost all of the bananas in the West - and the Crystal Palace in London. His services didn't come cheap, and the original plan was to meet the cost by developing grand Georgian-style houses around the park.

There were certainly plenty of large expensive houses already in the general area at the time. Canning, to the north, is entirely residential Georgian architecture - built for the most wealthy merchants of a wealthy city. The tree-lined Princes Road, connecting this area to the park, was more of the same. And, as the city boomed, terraces grew up behind these large houses for the people whose hard work made the city what it was. Some of the streets near Princes Park were given Welsh names, the developers hoping to attract some of people moving here from Wales for work in large numbers. It was a good area to live. They called it Toxteth.

Readers will probably know what happened next. Toxteth became a major focus for immigration after the Second World War, with a large community settling here from the Caribbean. Then Liverpool went into serious economic decline which hit Toxteth particularly hard, leaving extremely high unemployment, poverty and crime levels. Tensions boiled over into major riots in July 1981.

Nearly four decades on from the Toxteth riots, what has changed here? Well, decades of regeneration work are starting to have an effect, although perhaps not the effect intended. The area covered by this ward became extremely depopulated, and most of the housing stock was left vacant. Liverpool council's response to this was simply to demolish most of the old Victorian terraces - although some areas, like the Welsh Streets and the Granby Triangle, have been spared the wrecking ball after public outcry. As recently as 2017 one of the Welsh Streets stood in for 1920s Birmingham in Peaky Blinders, but regeneration work here is now well advanced and new tenants are moving in. The north-east corner of the ward, around Princes primary school and the Liverpool Women's Hospital, has seen major population growth in the last few years.

Despite all this regeneration work, the 2019 indices of multiple deprivation placed all but one of Princes Park ward's census districts within the 10% most deprived in England and Wales. At the time of the 2011 census almost 10% of the adults were unemployed and 11% were long-term sick or disabled - both of these were within the top 100 wards in England and Wales. The ward had very high bus use for a location outside London, particularly so for the area close to the park which is not within easy walking distance of the city centre. More than half of the households were socially rented (although a fair number of those will have been demolished since 2011). And it's just as multi-ethnic as ever: in 2011 Princes Park came in at number 1 in England and Wales for mixed-race population (9.95%) and number 11 for "other" ethnic groups (11.5%); given that major languages spoken here include Somali and Arabic, this latter statistic presumably refers to people of Middle Eastern extraction.

In current political conditions this is a very safe Labour ward. The most recent Liverpool elections were in May, when Labour polled 72% in Princes Park; best of the rest was 18% for the Green Party, who have been runner-up here at every election since 2011. The Lib Dems did win one of the three seats here in 2004, but that was then and this is now.

Defending this by-election for Labour is Joanne Anderson, who is heavily involved in the ward's regeneration efforts. She is no relation of the elected Mayor of Liverpool: Big Joe Anderson does have a daughter called Joanne, but she's already on the council. The Greens have reselected Stephanie Pitchers, an actress who has been runner-up in this ward at the last three elections and also fought the local seat of Liverpool Riverside at the last general election. Also standing are Lee Rowlands for Labour and Tory candidate Alma McGing, who will be hoping for better than the 96 votes she got when she stood here in 2006. Despite the sort of appalling electoral record which you would expect for a Tory in contemporary Liverpool, McGing did receive an MBE in the 2018 Birthday Honours for voluntary political service.

Parliamentary constituency: Liverpool Riverside
ONS Travel to Work Area: Liverpool
Postcode districts: L1, L7, L8

Joanne Anderson (Lab)
Alma McGing (C)
Stephanie Pitchers (Grn)
Lee Rowlands (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 1926 Grn 490 LD 144 C 81 Lib 29
May 2018 result Lab 2155 Grn 347 LD 122 C 111
May 2016 result Lab 1976 Grn 565 LD 146 TUSC 138 C 100
May 2015 result Lab 3974 Grn 1214 C 242 UKIP 208 TUSC 167 EDP 19
May 2014 result Lab 1890 Grn 459 Ind 148 TUSC 142 C 113 Lib 65
May 2012 result Lab 1920 Grn 437 TUSC 161 C 104 Lib 75
May 2011 result Lab 2263 Grn 355 LD 214 C 141 TUSC 104 Lib 57
May 2010 result Lab 2740 LD 1293 Grn 634 C 294 Lib 166
May 2008 result Lab 1227 LD 714 Grn 318 C 163 Lib 74
May 2007 result Lab 1193 LD 575 Grn 327 C 136 Ind 110
May 2006 result Lab 1184 LD 645 Respect 281 Grn 246 Lib 210 C 96
June 2004 rsult Lab 1029/1026/891 LD 935/857/788 Grn 420/381/206 Ind 173 C 154


Gravesham council, Kent; caused by the death of Labour councillor Ruth Martin who had served only since May this year.

Our final by-election is in the South East. Despite the name, Westcourt ward is on the eastern edge of Gravesend around an eponymous primary school. The ward covers housing to the south of the Rochester Road which was mostly developed after the Second World War; it includes Gravesend's most deprived census district.

Gravesend anchors the Gravesham constituency, which was traditionally seen as a bellwether seat: every time the government changed, Gravesham's allegiance changed to match. That record ended in 2005 when Adam Holloway gained the seat for the Conservatives with a majority of 654, and he has since made the seat safe. Holloway even got a swing in his favour in June 2017 when Theresa May was losing her majority. We can no longer reasonably call this constituency a bellwether.

Gravesham council is politically rather more curious. In normal circumstances the council is a two-party timewarp with the Conservatives polling the most votes across the district, but not necessarily winning the most seats. That's because the Tories tend to pile up huge majorities in a few safe wards outside Gravesend town, while Labour's vote is much better distributed. In 2003 the Tories polled 55% of the vote across Gravesham, had a 12-point lead over Labour, and won 21 seats to Labour's 23. Isn't England's electoral system wonderful?

Since then the council has changed hands at every election, with May's ordinary election giving Labour 24 seats to 18 Conservatives and two Independent Conservatives. Given that the ruling Tory group had split a few months previously with a rebel Independent Conservative group in minority control going into the election, it could have been worse from the Conservative point of view.

Westcourt ward is normally in the Labour column - in fact nobody opposed the Labour slate here in 2015 - but looks marginal on the basis of the May 2019 result. Labour won Westcourt earlier this year with 37% of the vote, against 29% for the Conservatives and 23% for UKIP. The ward is within the Gravesend East division of Kent county council, which covers two-thirds of the town and was an easy Conservative win in the 2017 county elections.

Defending for Labour is Lindsay Gordon, an NHS nurse and cub scout leader. The Tory candidate is Helen Ashenden, who is retired; in May she fought Higham ward, which is normally rock-solid Tory but voted for the Independent Conservative slate last time. UKIP have selected Linda Talbot, who in this time of Brexit (or not, as the case may be) is the last election candidate from an official Eurosceptic party until after the Article 50 deadline of 31st October. Completing our second all-female ballot paper of the week is Marna Gilligan for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Gravesham
Kent county council division: Gravesend East
Postcode district: DA12
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Helen Ashenden (C)
Marna Gilligan (Grn)
Lindsay Gordon (Lab)
Linda Talbot (UKIP)

May 2019 result Lab 490/462/437 C 381/378/320 UKIP 299 Ind 137
May 2015 result Lab unopposed
May 2011 result Lab 1056/1038/1012 C 654/651/617 LD 98/69
May 2007 result Lab 662/636/602 C 613/612
May 2003 result Lab 675/670/637 C 417/408/395

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Andrew Teale