Preview: 20 Feb 2020

One by-election on 20th February 2020:

Coulby Newham

Middlesbrough council; caused by the resignation of former Conservative councillor David Smith.

First World Problems, I know. That was me complaining on Facebook, on the morning of Good Friday 2017, about a night of disturbed sleep. The previous day there had been a by-election in the Coulby Newham ward of Middlesbrough, and it had been an impressive Conservative gain. The result came through shortly after midnight.

By-elections on Maundy Thursday used to be banned. The following day, Good Friday, is a public holiday and as such creates complications for running elections on Maundy Thursday; notably in recruiting and paying count staff. Bank holidays and public holidays in general cause problems for running elections, as was demonstrated by the two unexpected national elections that took place last year. The count for the 2019 European elections had to take place over a bank holiday weekend, and there was some confusion over the timetable for the recent general election because of the fact that St Andrew's Day, a week and a half before polling, is a bank holiday in Scotland. The Association of Electoral Administrators, the professional body for election staff, is not impressed. At their annual conference earlier this month a report by them on the administration of the December general election made five recommendations to government, one of which was to sort out the inconsistencies in the election timetables as regards bank holidays.

As far as your columnist is aware, the government are yet to reply to these concerns. They are also yet to reply to concerns previously raised by the AEA over the decision to move next year's early May bank holiday to 8th May for a VE Day 75th anniversary celebration. This has been done once before, for the 50th anniversary in 1995; but 8th May 1995 was a Monday whereas 8th May 2020 will be a Friday. Worse, it is the Friday immediately following the local elections on Thursday 7th May, in which the whole of England and Wales will go the polls thanks to the Police and Crime Commissioner elections taking place (except in Greater London and Greater Manchester, where there are mayoral elections instead). These are complicated counts which require co-ordination between lots of different councils. The Greater London mayoral and assembly election count has been planned for years on the basis that the votes will be counted on Friday 8th May 2020; the capital's big exhibition centres had already been booked for the occasion, and when the bank holiday announcement came it was too late to change the arrangements. Other councils are considering delaying their vote counts until Saturday. The reason for the bank holiday change may be a worthy one, but the consequences of it render the whole thing a questionable idea.

Just one of many questionable ideas that came out of the Theresa May administration, of which the most questionable of all has to be decision to go to the country in June 2017. At the time, however, it must have seemed like an easy decision to make. On Maundy Thursday 2017, as stated, there had been a by-election in the Coulby Newham ward of Middlesbrough, and it had been an impressive Conservative gain. Mrs May went hiking over the Easter weekend, no doubt mulling this result and other factors over in her mind, and when the country went back to work on Tuesday May announced that she would seek an election.

The Tory gain in Coulby Newham was certainly staggering enough. As I recounted in Andrew's Previews 2017, pages 99 and 100, this is a council estate on the southern edge of Middlesbrough which was developed from the 1970s onwards to the south of the A174 Parkway, Middlesbrough's southern bypass. The ward's main shopping centre, opened in 1986, is named after the Parkway and has been augmented in recent years by a large branch of Tesco; while St Mary's Cathedral, see of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Middlesbrough, was consecrated in 1998. Many housing estates have a church; but only Coulby Newham has a cathedral.

The growth of Coulby Newham (as with some other estates in the Teesside area, particularly Ingleby Barwick) hadn't been anticipated by the boundary-drawers of the 1970s. They drew a large Newham ward to cover the area between the villages of Stainton and Nunthorpe, gave the ward three councillors, and then filled the area with houses. By 2001 Newham ward had nearly 13,000 electors which would have entitled it to seven Middlesbrough councillors. The Boundary Commission split Newham ward up in 2003, and the present Coulby Newham ward covers half of the territory of the old ward. (Most of the rest ended up in Marton West ward.)

Appropriately, given the presence of a cathedral, the census statistics for Coulby Newham ward showed high levels of Christianity (72% of the population), while social renting was also high. These figures are for the 2003-2015 edition of Coulby Newham ward, but further boundary changes in 2015 were minor.

In local elections Coulby Newham developed into a fight between Labour and a slate of independent candidates, who gained a seat in the ward from Labour in 2011. In the 2015 election Labour restored their monopoly by polling 38% to 26% for the Tories and 23% for the independent slate. On the same day they gained the Middlesbrough mayoralty from retiring independent mayor Ray "Robocop" Mallon, and defended the parliamentary seat of Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland. Labour improved their position further in a by-election in May last year, polling 46% to 30% for the independents and 22% for the Conservatives.

In early 2017 Labour councillor Geoff Cole, the chairman of the council's planning committee, resigned forcing a second by-election. In hindsight, we can see this by-election as the point at which the wheels started to fall off the Labour juggernaut in the Teesside area. The Conservatives selected as their candidate Jacob Young: in a case of nominative determinism Young was just 24 years old and working as a technician in the petrochemicals industry. Despite his age he already had a general election campaign to his credit, having fought Redcar in 2015; he finished fourth with 16% of the vote. The Tories hadn't been that far off winning a seat in Coulby Newham in 2015, and they were riding high in the national polling. Young pulled off a victory which seemed to confirm what the opinion polls were saying, polling 38% to 35% for Labour and 24% for an independent candidate. He was the first Conservative to be elected for Coulby Newham ward. As stated, the following Tuesday a general election campaign began.

The national polls seemed to be confirmed three weeks later, when Coulby Newham voted in the inaugural Tees Valley mayoral election. On paper this post seemed to be Labour's to lose: at the time the party ran all of the councils covering the Tees Valley mayoral area (the former county of Cleveland, plus Darlington) and held all of the parliamentary seats except for Stockton South, which was in Conservative hands. For this election Labour had selected Sue Jeffrey, the leader of Redcar and Cleveland council; while the Tory candidate was Ben Houchen, the party's group leader on Stockton-on-Tees council. On the first count Houchen and Jeffrey both had 39% of the vote, the Lib Dems' Chris Foote-Wood (a former district councillor in County Durham and brother of the comedienne Victoria Wood) finishing third on 12% for the Lib Dems. Transfers from the Lib Dems and UKIP broke in favour of Houchen, who beat Jeffrey in the runoff by 51.1% to 48.9%. Houchen had polled particularly well in his home borough of Stockton, whose council covers middle-class Yorkshire towns like Thornaby and Yarm, and he also carried Darlington.

Five weeks after that we had the snap general election of 2017, which was the last recent piece of good news for Teesside Labour: the party unexpectedly gained Stockton South but just as unexpectedly lost Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, the constituency covering Coulby Newham, to the Conservatives. Councillor Jacob Young was selected as the Conservative candidate for the Middlesbrough constituency, taking second place from UKIP although still finishing a long way behind Labour MP Andy McDonald.

The 2019 local elections were disastrous for Labour in the Tees Valley mayoral area. The party now controls only one of the constituent districts, Stockton-on-Tees, and that as a minority. The Conservatives are in minority control of Darlington, Redcar and Cleveland council has a ruling coalition of independents and Lib Dems, while Hartlepool has a very fragmented anti-Labour coalition which runs the political gamut from the Conservatives to the Scargillites. (In the latest round of the ever-changing game of musical chairs in the Pool, the councillors who joined the Brexit Party last year have mostly now left the Brexit Party and reverted to their previous allegiances.) Arguably the worst Labour performance of the lot came in the Middlesbrough mayoral election, which was a resounding win for independent candidate Andy Preston who had only narrowly lost in 2015. Independent candidates won half of the 46 Middlesbrough council seats, with Labour falling from 33 seats to just 20, and the Conservatives winning the other three. The independents have split into two groups on the council: the larger Middlesbrough Independent Councillors Association, many of whose members were on Preston's side in the mayoral election; and the smaller Middlesbrough Independent Group.

Jacob Young was not one of them. Since winning the 2017 Coulby Newham by-election he had moved out of Middlesbrough to sunny Saltburn by the Sea, and he stood down from Middlesbrough council to seek election to Redcar and Cleveland council. He lost in Saltburn ward, but only narrowly, and went back to his job at the petrochemicals plant. Not for long though: in the December general election Young was selected to fight the volatile Redcar constituency for the second time, and he defeated the Labour MP Anna Turley on a 15% swing to become the Conservative MP for Redcar. Let that sink in for a moment: a Conservative MP for Redcar.

That gain also means that the Conservatives now have a majority of the parliamentary seats in the Tees Valley mayoral area. The party also recovered Stockton South and gained Darlington and Tony Blair's old Sedgefield seat, which takes in the rural parts of Darlington borough. The Conservative majority in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, the seat which includes Coulby Newham, is now 24 percentage points. The next Tees Valley mayoral election is in May, and on this evidence it looks like Houchen's to lose.

Young's retirement from Middlesbrough council last year left a hole in the Conservative organisation in Coulby Newham, and the party only fielded one candidate for the ward in May 2019 against a full Labour slate. With four candidates chasing three seats Labour were guaranteed two councillors, but new Tory candidate David Smith held his party's seat comfortably. Shares of the vote were 51% for Labour and 49% for Smith.

The Middlesbrough Conservatives must now be regretting having nominated David Smith. He had made his mark quickly by campaigning for Mayor Preston to trial gender-neutral toilets in council buildings, and also came to the attention of the local press for derogatory comments about people on benefits he had made to a Middlesbrough FC fan website. Then in July, two months after Smith's election, he was charged with a series of historic child sex offences, and he is awaiting trial on seven counts. Smith hadn't attended a council meeting since, and his resignation came shortly before he would have been disqualified under the six-month nun-attendance rule.

Where a by-election arises in circumstances like this, this column's experience is that no majority is safe. The Tories may be riding high in Teesside at the moment but they will be doing well if they hold this seat. Their defending candidate is 21-year-old Luke Mason, a local resident who suffered appalling injuries in 2017 when a banned drink-driver crashed into him outside a Middlesbrough nightclub; despite that Mason did well enough in his A-levels last year to get into York University to study PPE. The Labour candidate is Alex Law; she is a 27-year-old mother-of-one and a school governor. There is more choice for the electors this time round with five candidates. The Lib Dems have nominated engineer Tom Carney, and there are two independent candidates: activist Ellie Lowther intends to remain non-aligned if elected, while photographer and former steelworker Ian Morrish has been endorsed by the Middlesbrough Independent Councillors Association.

Parliamentary constituency: Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland
ONS Travel to Work Area: Middlesbrough and Stockton
Postcode districts: TS7, TS8, TS9

Tom Carney (LD)
Alex Law (Lab)
Ellie Lowther (Ind)
Luke Mason (C)
Ian Morrish (Ind)

May 2019 result Lab 857/696/515 C 827
April 2017 by-election C 501 Lab 468 Ind 318 Grn 32
May 2016 by-election Lab 732 Ind 475 C 352 LD 48
May 2015 result Lab 1464/1291/1079 C 996 Ind 893/762/758 LD 524

Andrew Teale

Previews: 13 Feb 2020

There are six by-elections in England on 13th February 2020, and it's a interesting week with lots of unexpected threads linking the polls together. We have two contests in the Midlands, two in the East and two in the South East, and recurring themes include cabinet ministers from the Major government, a galaxy of stars of film and TV, a well-known national newspaper, and a few juicy scandals past and present. The Conservatives are defending four of today's by-elections and will have high hopes of gaining the other two, but one of their defences is an unpredictable marginal seat which all three main parties will have genuine hopes of winning. Let's start with that one:

Whaley Bridge

Derbyshire county council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Alison Fox.

We begin this week in the beautiful Peak District, an area of hills and valleys in that ill-defined area where the North West ends and the Midlands begin. One such valley is that of the River Goyt, which flows north from the Peak to meet the River Tame at Stockport, there forming the Mersey. The Goyt forms an easy way into the heart of the Peak District, and the railway lines connecting Manchester to Sheffield and Buxton both travel up the Goyt Valley.

Near the head of that valley lies Whaley Bridge, one of the classic small Pennine textile towns in days gone by. In those days the Goyt was a county boundary, with Cheshire on the west side and Derbyshire on the east side; on the Derbyshire side of the boundary was the village of Fernilee, clearly an extension of but outside the Cheshire urban district of Yeardsley-cum-Whaley. This was rather cut off from the rest of Cheshire by the high ground to the west. On reflection this proved not to be a fit local government arrangement, and in 1936 the two sides of this single town were brought together into a single urban district under the jurisdiction of Derbyshire county council.

The town is at the confluence of several valleys, and is also overlooked by a series of reservoirs which fed the Peak Forest Canal and powered the local mills and coalmines. This has spelt trouble in times of poor weather. In June 1872 a cloudburst dumped two inches of rain onto the surrounding hills, resulting in severe flooding. Last August more heavy rain damaged the Toodbrook Reservoir, resulting in damage to the dam; with the town directly below the Toddbrook dam and clearly in danger of inundation, large numbers of people had to be evacuated here and further down the valley for some days until the dam was made safe. The Environment Agency intends to rebuild the dam over the next few years to prevent a repeat of this.

The county division covers Whaley Bridge together with the ward of Blackbrook, which covers the villages of Buxworth and Chinley on the road towards Chapel-en-le-Frith, together with the offices of High Peak district council. Since 1974 this has been the local authority for Whaley Bridge, covering an area running from Buxton in the south to Glossopdale in the north. These are towns which look much more towards Manchester than to distant Derby over the hills, which makes it rather curious that the High Peak district ended up as part of the East Midlands region.

Many of the Pennine areas are fascinatingly marginal, and Whaley Bridge (or Whaley Bridge and Blackbrook, as this seat was known until 2013) is a case in point. In the 2000s it was a Lib Dem seat, narrowly in 2005 (when the Lib Dems had a 106-vote majority over the Conservatives, safely in 2009. In 2013 county councillor Barrie Taylor retired and passed his seat on to new Lib Dem David Lomax, but only narrowly so: Lomax polled 32% of the vote, against 28% for the Conservatives and 27% for Labour who had a big increase in their vote.

The May 2017 Derbyshire county elections were a big win for the Conservatives, who gained overall control of the county partly thanks to winning all but one of the available seats in High Peak. That included Whaley Bridge, which was again close: 35% for the winning Conservative candidate Alison Fox, 41 votes ahead of the Lib Dems' Lomax who had 34%, and a third-place finish on 28% for Labour's Ruth George. Now this is one of the cases where the seat count was deceptive: a lot of the Conservative seats in High Peak were won on tiny majorities like that, and their lead across the district in vote terms was much narrower than the number of county councillors suggested. In particular, there was a strong third-place vote for the Lib Dems, and it would appear that in the general election five weeks later their voters lined up behind Labour. 35 days after finishing third in Whaley Bridge, Ruth George finished first in the High Peak constituency and defeated the Tory MP Andrew Bingham.

The bad Tory performance continued in the 2019 High Peak council elections, in which the Lib Dems carried both Blackbrook and Whaley Bridge wards. In Blackbrook they gained a seat from the Tories, while Whaley Bridge elected David Lomax and two Labour councillors who gained their seats from the Conservatives and an independent. Overall Labour have a small majority on High Peak council, holding 22 out of 43 seats.

Since May 2019, of course, we have had a change of Prime Minister and a new general election, in which Ruth George had the task of defending the High Peak constituency: she lost to the new Tory candidate Robert Largan, but only by 590 votes on a below-average swing of 3% to the Tories. Largan could presumably rely on the vote of former Tory minister Edwina Currie, the woman who is probably best known now for a series of clandestine Brief Encounters with John Major; she is an elector in Whaley Bridge.

So this is a difficult defence for the Conservatives which could go any of three ways. The defending Tory candidate is Fredrick Walton, a former High Peak councillor from the Hope Valley who lost his seat to the Green Party last year.

The Lib Dems have selected David Lomax, who lost his seat here in 2017 but still sits on High Peak council for Whaley Bridge ward; he was the party's parliamentary candidate for High Peak two months ago. Labour have reselected former MP Ruth George, who lives in the area. Completing the ballot paper is Paddy Bann, or Paddy Bannion as he was last year, independent High Peak councillor for Chapel(-en-le-Frith) West ward.

Parliamentary constituency: High Peak
High Peak wards: Blackbrook, Whaley Bridge
Postcode district: SK23

Paddy Bann (Ind)
Ruth George (Lab)
David Lomax (LD)
Fredrick Walton (C)

May 2017 result C 1333 LD 1292 Lab 1062 Grn 157
May 2013 result LD 995 C 878 Lab 846 UKIP 424
June 2009 result LD 1808 C 1377 Lab 438 UKIP 396
May 2005 result LD 2232 C 2126 Lab 1382


East Staffordshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Alan Johnson.

For our other Midlands by-election of the week we travel south from rural Derbyshire to rural Staffordshire. The village of Yoxall lies a few miles to the west of Burton upon Trent, on the main road from Lichfield to Ashbourne which crosses the River Trent at Yoxall Bridge just to the south. It's one of the main centres of the former Needwood Forset, parts of which are now being replanted as part of the National Forest project. The Yoxall ward extends to the north, along the main road, to take in the parishes of Hoar Cross and Newborough.

Staffordshire has swung a mile to the right over the last decade or two, but this area was always safely in Tory hands. Johnson was first elected at a by-election in November 2011 with 84% of the vote in a straight fight with Labour. Nobody opposed his re-election in 2015; there was a contest for Yoxall ward in May 2019 at which Johnson's vote increased to 87%. The local county division (Needwood Forest) isn't much less safe, and Yoxall is also in a safe Tory parliamentary seat (Lichfield).

Despite vote shares like that this by-election is contested. Defending in the blue corner is Laura Beech, from Marchington on the way to Uttoxeter; challenging from the red corner is Labour candidate and Yoxall resident Michael Baker.

Parliamentary constituency: Lichfield
Staffordshire county council division: Needwood Forest
Postcode districts: DE6, DE13, ST14

Richard Baker (Lab)
Laura Beech (C)

May 2019 result C 706 Lab 101
May 2015 result C unopposed
November 2011 by-election C 478 Lab 89
May 2011 result C 867 Lab 226
May 2007 result C 827 Lab 124
May 2003 result C 780 LD 266 Lab 127

St Ives East

Huntingdonshire council, Cambridgeshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Jason Ablewhite.

Having met on our travels a curious man married polygamously to seven crazy cat ladies, we arrive at the first of our two by-elections in the east of England. The Cambridgeshire town of St Ives was an important mediaeval market town, with a good location at the lowest fording-point of the Great Ouse. The ford was replaced by a bridge in 1107, which was rebuilt in stone in 1414 and is one of only four bridges in England to still have a chapel in the middle. This bridge was well-used by drovers delivering livestock to Smithfield, and was an important route to London late enough for Cromwell to demolish some of its arches to prevent Royalist troops reaching London in the Civil War. Despite that, there is a statue of Oliver Cromwell in St Ives town centre today.

The St Ives East ward is rather misnamed in that it covers the northern end of the town's housing. It has existed since 2004 and was slightly reduced in size at a boundary review in 2018. St Ives is part of the Huntingdon parliamentary seat, represented back in the day by John Major and just as safe for his Conservative successor Jonathan Djanogly; and in its political makeup St Ives East ward is not significantly different from the parliamentary seat as a whole.

Good news for Jason Ablewhite, who was first elected for this ward in 2004 and quickly rose up the greasy pole. Ablewhite served for five years as leader of Huntingdonshire council before going on to greater things in May 2016. Sir Graham Bright (the former Luton South MP) was standing down as Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner, and Ablewhite got the party's nomination to replace Bright. He led on the first count with 36%, against 31% for Labour and 17% for UKIP; although Labour got slightly more of the transfers, it wasn't enough to overturn the Conservative lead and the final round was 53-47 in Ablewhite's favour.

On the same day Ablewhite was re-elected for a fourth term on Huntingdonshire council, with 45% against 26% for UKIP and 20% for Labour. As stated, a boundary review cut that term short and Ablewhite had to seek re-election to the new St Ives East ward in 2018. On that occasion the Conservative slate had 46% against 29% for the Labour candidate and 25% for the Lib Dem candidate. Huntingdonshire moved off the thirds electoral cycle from the 2018 election, so have been no local elections here since.

Unfortunately, things have all gone wrong for Jason Ablewhite over the last few months. He resigned as Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner on 11 November 2019, and left Huntingdonshire council shortly afterwards, after the Independent Office for Police Conduct opened a misconduct hearing into him. The allegation is that he had sent explicit photographs to a woman he had met on a tour of the Cambridgeshire Police HQ in Huntingdon.

There has not been a by-election to replace Ablewhite as Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner because the next scheduled election to the post, in May this year, is imminent. Ablewhite's deputy, Ray Bisby, is acting as PCC until then. However, there will be a by-election to Huntingdonshire district council at which Adam Roberts will attempt to defend what should on paper be a safe seat. With lots of new housing planned for the area, local resident Roberts is campaigning on an unashamedly NIMBY ticket. The Labour candidate is Barry O'Sullivan, who works for Cambridgeshire county council where he is a UNISON rep; unusually for an O, he is top of the ballot paper. Colin Saunderson stands for the Lib Dems; he has briefly been a Huntingdonshire district councillor before, having won a by-election to Fenstanton ward in February 2010 before losing his seat in May 2011. Completing a four-strong ballot paper is Philip Pope, the Mayor of St Ives in 2018-19, who is an independent candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Huntingdon (almost all), North West Cambridgeshire (small part)
Cambridgeshire county council division: St Ives North and Wyton
Postcode districts: PE27, PE28

Barry O'Sullivan (Lab)
Philip Pope (Ind)
Adam Roberts (C)
Colin Saunderson (LD)

May 2018 result C 766/758 Lab 492 LD 414

Borehamwood Kenilworth

Hertsmere council, Hertfordshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Kumail Jaffer.

We now come to a series of three by-elections in the Home Counties, to fill seats left behind by councillors who were first elected in May 2019 and had been in office for only a matter of months. Staying in the East of England for the first of this series we come to Hertfordshire, and in the week following the Oscars it's only appropriate that we're in the land of film and TV. Most of the Los Angeles film studios known generically as Hollywood are actually in neighbouring towns, and similarly the series of film and TV studios generically known as Elstree were and are in fact mostly in what has become the town of Borehamwood.

Much of the acreage of Borehamwood's Kenilworth ward is taken up by the former site of the MGM-British Studios, which from 1948 to 1970 made a series of notable films, and not just for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The Inn of the Sixth Happiness was made here by 20th Century Fox, and the site was used for the TV series The Prisoner and UFO. MGM-British Studios were essentially put out of business in 1970 by Stanley Kubrick, who tied the site up for two whole years with production of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the studio site was developed for housing. Appropriately the main road through the development is called Studio Way while other streets in the ward commemorate giants of the film industry: among others Korda, Novello, Niven and Danziger (the Danziger brothers also had an Elstree Studio) are all remembered in this way.

Kenilworth ward's population has traditionally lived on the south side of Elstree Way, next to the A1 in housing from the great boom immediately after the war which made Borehamwood what it is today. This is a strongly Jewish area: at the 2011 census, on slightly different boundaries, Kenilworth ward was in the top 40 wards in England and Wales for Judaism. Social renting in the ward is high, and there is an unusually large black population (6.3%) for a ward in a shire county.

Borehamwood is traditionally the most Labour-inclined part of the strongly Conservative Hertsmere district, which runs along the outer edge of Greater London from Bushey to Potters Bar; but over the last fifteen years or so it has been a key marginal ward. The Conservatives gained one Labour seat in 2006 by 12 votes, and the other in 2007 by 49 votes; that year the outgoing Labour councillor Frank Ward stood for re-election as an independent candidate and polled 216 votes, so Labour could argue that their vote was split. Labour regained the Tory seats here in 2011 and 2014, but in 2015 Hertsmere moved away from the thirds electoral system putting both seats up for election, and the Conservatives narrowly gained both seats in Kenilworth ward. Labour got one seat back at a by-election in October 2017; their candidate on that occasion was Jeremy Newmark, then chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement. Newmark was subsequently implicated in a controversy over financial irregularities dating from his time as chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council; however, no charges were brought. He was successfully re-elected to Hertsmere council in May last year, transferring from here to Borehamwood Cowley Hill ward.

Boundary changes for the 2019 election increased Borehamwood Kenilworth's representation from two councillors to three. Elected at the top of the poll with 987 votes was Labour's Rebecca Butler, who transferred here from Borehamwood Cowley Hill which she had won in a January 2018 by-election. Butler was a long way ahead of a race for the final two seats which was extremely close: Cynthia Baker, top of the Conservative slate, finished second on 822 votes, while the remaining two Labour candidates Kumail Jaffer and Dan Ozarow tied for third place on 819 votes each. Only one of them could be elected: lots were drawn, and the lot fell on Jaffer who was therefore elected on the returning officer's casting vote. In vote terms the Labour slate led here 55-45. The ward includes territory from both of Borehamwood's county council divisions, which are Conservative-held.

Newly-elected councillor Jaffer is a young man trying to get into the journalism trade. He was recently one of two students to be awarded a Stephen Lawrence Scholarship, a scheme to give people from deprived and/or BAME backgrounds a leg-up into national journalism. Accordingly Councillor Jaffer was recently taken on by the Daily Mail in what will hopefully be a big break for his career. He hadn't anticipated that the Mail would send him to Glasgow as a Scottish affairs correspondent, a posting which has left him unable to fulfil his democratic duties in Hertfordshire.

So we have a by-election. Defending this marginal ward for Labour is Dan Ozarow, who lost the drawing of lots to Jaffer nine months ago; Ozarow is the chairman of the party's Hertsmere branch and a lecturer at Middlesex University. The Conservatives have selected Brett Rosehill, who is fighting his first election campaign and works in the brewery trade. Two other candidates have come forward to increase choice for the local electors: they are John Humphries for the Green Party (who was their parliamentary candidate for Hertsmere two months ago), and Andy Lewis for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Hertsmere
Hertfordshire county council division: Borehamwood South (part south of Elstree Way), Potters Bar West and Shenley (part north of Elstree Way)
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: WD6

John Humphries (Grn)
Andy Lewis (LD)
Dan Ozarow (Lab)
Brett Rosehill (C)

May 2019 result Lab 987/819/819 C 822/738/724


Waverley council, Surrey; caused by the death of independent councillor Jack Lee.

We travel anticlockwise around London to the North Downs. Milford is a small town on the main road and railway line from London to Portsmouth, which had some passing trade but really got going as a town with the coming of the railway. This is another area that's been important for light entertainment over the years. Milford was home to a TB sanatorium, opened in 1928 by the health minister Neville Chamberlain, whose patients in 1948 included Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. One of the legendary comedy scriptwriting teams was thus born in Milford Hospital. Some years later Doctor Who (Pertwee, at the time) fought the Silurians in the hospital, while in real life the former High Sheriff of Surrey Dame Penelope Keith is an elector in Milford. However, it should be noted that Milford railway station is not the Milford railway station in Noël Coward's play Still Life, which was made into the famous 1945 film Brief Encounter; that station was, of course, Carnforth in Lancashire.

The Waverley district, which covers this south-west corner of Surrey and is based on the town of Farnham, has seen some wild political flings over the years. The 2003 election returned a Lib Dem majority on the council, the party winning 30 seats to the Tories' 27 despite polling fewer votes. The Lib Dems crashed and burned in 2007, and were wiped out in the 2011 election when the Conservatives won 56 seats here out of a possible 57. The single opposition councillor was Diane James, independent councillor for Ewhurst ward, who subsequently joined UKIP: she finished in second place at the 2013 Eastleigh parliamentary by-election, and some years later became leader of the party for about thirty seconds. James lost her council seat to the Conservatives in 2015; the Tories went slightly backwards that year thanks to the emergence of a localist party in Farnham, but were still in a comfortable position with 53 seats against 3 Farnham Residents and an independent.

Not any more. The Conservatives performed appallingly across Surrey at the May 2019 local elections, and in Waverley the party lost 30 of the 53 seats they had won four years previously. Their council group of 23 is still the largest group, but a rainbow coalition of all the other parties is now running the show: 15 Farnham Residents, 14 Lib Dems, two Greens and even two Labour councillors elected in that noted socialist stronghold of Godalming. One of those Labour councillors is Nick Palmer, who during the last Labour government was the MP for Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire.

Eagle-eyed readers will have noted that those figures add up to 56 rather than the required 57, and the odd one out was independent councillor Jack Lee of Milford ward. Lee had stood for election here in 2011 and 2015, coming very close to winning a seat on the second occasion in what was a safe Conservative ward. He was retired after a career in scientific and medical publishing, and was a parish councillor for the Witley parish which this ward is part of. Jack Lee stood for election to Waverley council for the third time in May 2019, and was elected; the Lib Dems, standing a candidate here for the first time in twelve years, topped the poll on 35%, Lee had 34% and the Tory slate crashed to just 19% of the vote.

The Tories do have big leads at other levels of government: they hold the local county division of Godalming South, Milford and Witley (elected in 2017, before this débâcle), but did go backwards in the December 2019 general election although former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt was still re-elected safely enough in his South West Surrey constituency. South West Surrey and its predecessor seat of Farnham have had just three MPs in the last half-century, all of them prominent Tory frontbenchers: Hunt succeeded Virginia Bottomley, who won the 1984 by-election after Maurice Macmillan died.

Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone and her husband, the Father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley, are electors in this by-election which may be a sterner test for the blue team. There are two independent candidates vying to succeed Jack Lee; of them, the better-placed is Maxine Gale, the chairman of Witley parish council, who has been firmly endorsed by the coalition running Waverley council. The Lib Dems, who topped the poll here last year, have stood down in her favour; also reportedly in Gale's corner is David Munro, the Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner, who has been deselected by the Conservatives. The other independent candidate is Rosaleen Egan, who finished fifth and last here as the UKIP candidate in May 2019. The Conservatives have selected Carmel Oates, another Witley parish councillor, who completes an all-female ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Surrey
Surrey county council division: Godalming South, Milford and Whitley
Postcode district: GU8

Rosaleen Egan (Ind)
Maxine Gale (Ind)
Carmel Oates (C)

May 2019 result LD 646 Ind 629 C 356/315 UKIP 203
May 2015 result C 1436/845 Ind 808 UKIP 521
May 2011 result C 1044/732 Ind 482 UKIP 212
May 2007 result C 1240/1132 LD 294/279
May 2003 result C 894/775 LD 595/575

Cliffsend and Pegwell

Thanet council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor David Stevens.

For our final by-election of the week we travel to the east Kent coast, a place which has seen all sorts of famous landings over the years. In AD 597 St Augustine of Canterbury landed on the Isle of Thanet, at a site now marked by a golf course near the village of Cliffsend named in his honour. Long before that, in the fifth century, Hengist and his wife (or horse?) Horsa turned up in Thanet as, if the legends are to be believed, the leaders of the Anglo-Saxon-Jutish invasion of Britain. This was commemorated in 1949, fifteen centuries after the event, by the arrival of a Danish ship: the Hugin, a replica Viking longship which was rowed from Denmark from Kent by a crew of 53 men. The Hugin was subsequently bought by the Daily Mail, at a time when the Daily Mail was prepared to celebrate people coming across from Europe to the Kent coast in boats; the Mail donated the ship to the town of Ramsgate, where it can still be seen today. Thanet council, together with some EU grant money, paid for a restoration of it fifteen years ago.

The Hugin can now be found in the Thanet ward of Cliffsend and Pegwell. Pegwell is the south-western corner of Ramsgate, giving its name to a bay where the River Stour empties into the North Sea. The housing lies on top of chalk cliffs, which are pockmarked by tunnels: some of these were used by smugglers back in the day, while there is one large new tunnel which opened in 2000 underneath Pegwell and carries the main road to the port of Ramsgate.

This was a particularly busy tunnel until 2013, when the ferry link to Oostende in Belgium bit the dust. Later plans by Seaborne Freight to reintroduce ferries on the route in 2019 turned into a well-publicised scandal thanks to political and financial backing from then-transport secretary Chris Grayling. Once it became clear that Seaborne Freight owned no ships, the ports were not ready to handle its proposed service and there were some concerns about the business model, not to mention the offence taken by Eurotunnel (which launched legal action) and the port of Calais, Grayling was promoted to the sought-after status of international laughing stock.

To be fair, people with far better political skills than Grayling have come a cropper in Thanet politics which has been Byzantine for a very long time. None of the last three Thanet council elections have produced an administration which lasted a full term. In the 2011 elections the Conservatives lost their majority on the council; they formed a minority administration with 27 out of 58 seats, which fell a couple of years later after a series of defections and by-election losses. Labour took over with a minority administration of their own.

The 2015 Thanet council elections coincided with a general election and an injection of populism into the area's politics. Nigel Farage, then an MEP and leader of UKIP, was contesting the South Thanet constituency based on Ramsgate. In the end he didn't win, but UKIP did get the consolation prize: a majority on Thanet council mostly at the expense of Labour, who crashed to just four seats.

The usual experience of UKIP council groups has been that they fall apart sooner or later. The size of the Thanet UKIP group meant the falling-apart took a little longer than usual to complete, but the split eventually came and the Conservatives took back control with a minority administration in 2018. In the May 2019 election we were back to the status quo ante with a hung Thanet council: 25 Conservatives, 20 Labour councillors, 7 Thanet Independents (some of whom were originally UKIPpers) and three Greens, who won seats in the area for the first time. The Conservatives initially renewed their minority administration, but this was voted out of office in October 2019 and Labour are now running the council again.

Throughout all this turbulence Cliffsend and Pegwell ward was one of the most politically constant areas of Thanet: normally safe Tory except in 2015 when UKIP won one of the two seats. The UKIP councillor didn't seek re-election last year and his seat reverted to the Tories with David Stevens joining the council. Stevens, however, resigned in December after just seven months in office, citing bullying and intimidation in his resignation statement.

The Tory slate in this ward was elected fairly comfortably in 2019, polling 37% against split opposition - 18% for the Greens, 16% for an independent candidate, 15% for Labour. At Kent county council level the ward is part of the large Ramsgate electoral division, which split its two seats between Labour and the Conservatives in 2017. The Labour vote, however, tends to come from other parts of Ramsgate.

Defending for the Conservatives is Marc Rattigan; he was the losing candidate on their slate in Ramsgate for the Kent county elections in 2017, and fought St Peter's ward in 2019 - losing to the Green Party by five votes. The Greens have selected Charlotte Barton, who lives in Cliffsend and works in the NHS. The independent candidate from 2019, Grahame Birchall, is standing again; he was previously the leader of the Party for a United Thanet and stood for parliament here in 2015. In his 2019 campaign Birchall was advocating a mayoral referendum for the district. Labour have selected David Green, a Ramsgate town councillor who sat on Thanet council from 1999 to 2015; he completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: South Thanet
Kent county council division: Ramsgate
Postcode districts: CT11, CT12

Charlotte Barton (Grn)
Grahame Birchall (Ind)
David Green (Lab)
Marc Rattigan (C)

May 2019 result C 648/596 Grn 319 Ind 278 Lab 267/227 For Britain 255
May 2015 result C 1109/895 UKIP 951/919 Lab 475/398 Grn 196 Reality Party 82
May 2011 result C 966/859 Lab 502/384 Ind 439
May 2007 result C 871/822 Lab 392/315 Grn 252
May 2003 result C 899/834 Lab 444/398

Andrew Teale

Preview: 06 Feb 2020

One by-election on 6th February 2020:

Burtonwood and Winwick

Warrington council, Cheshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Terry O'Neill.

So, Britain is alone in Europe and - it appears - needs to be on good terms with the Americans pronto. Which makes the location of today's local by-election appropriate. We've come to the southern end of Occupied Lancashire, a ward covering two villages immediately to the north of Warrington.

The older and better-connected of the two is Winwick, on the main road between Warrington and Newton-le-Willows. This is one of several places in the UK which claims to be connected with St Oswald, the seventh-century king of Northumbria who in his day was the most powerful ruler of what became England: he was overlord of eastern and southern Britain from Exeter to East Lothian. Bede, who gave Oswald a glowing writeup in his Ecclesiastical History a century later, records that Oswald was killed fighting the Mercians at the Battle of Maserfield in 642. The location of Maserfield is generally identified with Oswestry in modern-day Shropshire, but the people of Winwick think they know better. In Winwick and the surrounding area can be found a holy well and a church, parts of date back to the twelfth century, dedicated to the cult of St Oswald.

One cold January day in 1887, a young seaman called Edward Smith married Sarah Pennington in St Oswald's, Winwick. 25 years later, Smith went down with his ship as captain of the RMS Titanic. That's just one of many pieces of bad luck associated with Winwick, which was the site of a Civil War battle in 1648 which damaged St Oswald's church. The railways came in the nineteenth century and Winwick became an important junction on the West Coast main line, which was the scene of a fatal accident in 1934 caused by a signalman's error.

But it wasn't the railway which made Winwick and - particularly - Burtonwood what they are today. Burtonwood was traditionally a small village based on the mining and brewing industries, but that changed in 1940. There was a war on, and the RAF took over the open land south of Burtonwood to build a new airfield for aircraft maintenance. Two years later, the US Army Air Force arrived, and changed Burtonwood forever.

By the time the war was over, Burtonwood was the largest airfield in Europe with over 18,000 servicemen and -women stationed there. The Yanks built their own village to house the airmen and their families, and after they moved out in 1959 the population of Burtonwood parish halved. However, the Americans came back to Warrington in 1966 after France withdrew its support for NATO; the US Army turned Burtonwood into a major supply depot and it stayed that way for the rest of the Cold War.

The alignment of the main runway at RAF Burtonwood was reused in the 1960s for the M62 motorway, the main road between Liverpool and Manchester. When the motorway was built and for many years afterwards it had no junction 8, that number being left spare for a future junction between Warrington and Widnes. This was eventually built in the 2000s as part of the Omega Project, which is rapidly redeveloping the old airfield site as an enormous business park. Travellers on the M62 in recent years have watched giant warehouses spring up for many businesses, particularly in the distribution sector: Asda, Travis Perkins, Hermes couriers, Amazon and so on. These developments have rendered the parish and ward boundary here rather out of date: the Burtonwood parish boundary actually cuts through the middle of the Amazon warehouse.

This area south of the motorway was transferred into Burtonwood and Winwick ward at a boundary review in 2016. While it generates lots of business rates for Warrington council, nobody actually lives there so I've treated Burtonwood and Winwick as having been unchanged in the table of previous results below. Apart from that wrinkle, the ward has had the same boundaries since its creation in 1997, the year Warrington became a unitary council.

Since 1983 this ward and its predecessors have been part of the Warrington North parliamentary constituency, which has been Labour-held throughout that time. Its first MP was Doug Hoyle, who gained Nelson and Colne in the October 1974 general election, lost that seat in 1979 and got back into Parliament two years later by defeating Roy Jenkins in the 1981 Warrington by-election. Doug Hoyls is now a Lord, and his son Lindsay now sits in the Speaker's chair in the Commons. Hoyle senior was succeeded in the 1997 landslide by Helen Jones, who stood down in 2019 and passed the seat on to new Labour MP Charlotte Nichols. Unlike Hoyle and Jones, Nichols doesn't have a safe seat; a big fall in the Labour vote two months ago led to the party's majority crashing to 1,509 votes, the closest result in Warrington North since the seat was created in 1983.

You might think from that that the Warrington Conservatives would have a local government bsae to build from. You'd be wrong. Warrington council was last elected in May 2016, a year when Labour did very well in the town. The Conservatives won just two seats on Warrington council that year out of a possible 59, both in the Real Housewives of Cheshire territory of Lymm South ward (Andrew's Previews 2018, page 142); and one of those seats was subsequently lost to the Lib Dems in a by-election. Much of the Warrington North seat is New Town territory which is firmly in the Labour column under normal political conditions; the Tories have no councillors in the constituency.

Burtonwood and Winwick ward doesn't cover any of the New Town housing, but it still votes like the towns around it. In May 2016 the Labour slate beat the Conservative candidate here 62-23, and there is nothing in the previous results going back to 1997 to indicate that scoreline was anything out of the ordinary. On the occasions when both of the ward's seats were up (1997, 2004 and 2016) the Tories have only managed to find one candidate, a tell-tale sign of weak local organisation.

Throughout that period one of the two councillors for Burtonwood and Winwick had been Terry O'Neill, who was first elected in 1983 to Burtonwood parish council and joined the borough council's ranks in 1991. Labour gained an overall majority on the council in 2011, defeating a Lib Dem-led administration, and O'Neill became Leader of the Council. In his seven years as leader Warrington boomed, with the Omega redevelopment being just one example of how the place is open for business. The town centre's in pretty good shape too. There are many towns out there that could learn a thing or two from Warrington's experience.

Whoever succeeds Terry O'Neill will have a hard act to follow, and they won't be able to rest on their laurels for long as the whole of Warrington council is up for re-election in just thirteen weeks' time. Labour have taken no chances in securing the spot at the top of the alphabetical ballot paper by selecting Alex Abbey, a personal trainer from Burtonwood. The Conservative candidate is Paul Campbell, a former Warrington councillor (Penketh and Cuerdley ward, 2008-12) and chairman of the party's Warrington branches; he was the Tory candidate for Warrington North at the 2010 general election. Completing the ballot paper is Trevor Nicholls, woo runs a carpet and upholstery cleaning firm and stood for parliament in Warrington North in 2015; on that occasion Nicholls was a UKIP candidate, this time round he is an independent.

Parliamentary constituency: Warrington North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Warrington and Wigan
Postcode districts: WA2, WA5, WA9, WA12

Alex Abbey (Lab)
Paul Campbell (C)
Trevor Nicholls (Ind)

May 2016 result Lab 1083/1065 C 399 LD 265
May 2015 result Lab 1926 C 1062 LD 295
May 2012 result Lab 1241 C 316 LD 89
May 2011 result Lab 1406 C 656
May 2008 result Lab 809 LD 457 C 332
May 2007 result Lab 771 LD 441 C 415
June 2004 result Lab 1025/978 C 586 LD 528/509
May 2002 result Lab 942 C 249 LD 248
May 2000 result Lab 877 C 243 LD 140
May 1999 result Lab 1040 C 301 LD 134
May 1997 result Lab 1977/1973 C 616 LD 439/328

Andrew Teale

Previews: 30 Jan 2020

Two by-elections on 30th January 2020:

Newmarket and Red Lodge

Suffolk county council; and

Newmarket North

West Suffolk council; both caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Robin Millar.

General elections often lead to a spike in local by-elections and thus in work for Andrew's Preview. The general election itself provides a rare occasion (indeed, now that European Parliament elections are no longer a thing in the UK, the only ordinary occasion) on which the entire UK goes to the polls at the same time. This can be an opportunity that's too good to miss for the local parties, who will often arrange a resignation or few so that the resulting by-election can be piggybacked onto the national poll. That's a win-win situation: the parties will get a high turnout for the by-election, and because there is only one polling day to organise there are economies of scale for the returning officer and the local taxpayers, who will ultimately be paying for the polls through their council tax.

Once the general election is over, we enter a new phase. A lot of newly-elected MPs - particularly after a poll like December 2019 which had a large intake of new boys and girls - will also have been local councillors, and in many cases they'll be looking to divest themselves of their local role so that they can concentrate on the national picture. There are already several vacancies in the pipeline caused by new MPs resigning as councillors, and first out of the blocks was the Conservative MP Robin Millar.

Millar has since December been the MP for Aberconwy, a seat based on Llandudno and the Conwy Valley in beautiful North Wales. He's got a marginal seat on his hands; the Tories were defending a majority of just 635 votes over Labour from the 2017 election, and Millar got only a relatively small swing in his favour to win last month with a majority of 2,034. Millar had previously fought the neighbouring seat of Arfon (based on Bangor and Caernarfon) at the 2010 general election, and got his opportunity in Aberconwy following the expulsion of Guto Bebb, who had represented the seat since its creation in 2010. Bebb was one of the 21 Conservative MPs who got thrown out of the party by Boris Johnson in September 2019 over Brexit; he didn't seek re-election three months later.

Millar may now be a Welsh MP, but his local government career was based in faraway East Anglia. Which is where today's by-elections are. We've come to Newmarket, the home of the world's horseracing industry: the town and its surroundings reportedly have one racehorse for every five humans. In the town centre can be found many institutions related to the sport of kings, while much of the surrounding area is given over to gallops and stud farms.

Newmarket is one place where our administrative boundaries are unfit for purpose. Centuries of argument over whether the town is in Suffolk or Cambridgeshire have left the place as a salient of Suffolk, almost entirely surrounded by Cambridgeshire. This compromise has led to some awful boundaries for Suffolk county council elections, as the town is too big for one county councillor but not big enough for two. The inevitable result is an abomination of an electoral unit called Newmarket and Red Lodge, which combines the northern half of the town with the village of Red Lodge on the A11 towards Norwich - via the Godelphin stables and the parishes of Moulton, Dalham and Kentford, the direct way to Red Lodge being blocked by Cambridgeshire.

Red Lodge is very unlike Newmarket in that it is a late twentieth-century village and its population is growing fast. The name comes from the Red Lodge Inn, which once served the stagecoaches travelling between London and Norwich. As with some other late twentieth-century developments in this part of East Anglia (such as Cambourne, on the other side of Cambridge), Red Lodge has a young age profile with lots of working families and young children. It's rather detached from Newmarket, being included within the Thetford and Mildenhall Travel to Work Area (whereas Newmarket is within the economic orbit of Cambridge) and having Bury St Edmunds postcodes.

Until last year Newmarket was the largest town in the Forest Heath local government district, which covered the north-west corner of Suffolk and stretched to Mildenhall and Brandon. Forest Heath had some interesting features in its census return - such as a 9% non-white population, very high for such a rural area - because of the large number of US servicemen and -women stationed at Mildenhall and Lakenheath. The fact that the district had a very low population (estimated at 65,500 in mid-2018) contributed to this skew and also contributed to the district's demise: it was too small to raise the council tax needed to run its services, and the result of that was a long-standing partnership with the neighbouring St Edmundsbury council (covering Bury St Edmunds and Haverhill) to deliver services jointly across the two districts. Effectively it ended up as a takeover by St Edmundsbury, which was completed by a local government reorganisation last year that merged Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury districts into a new district, with the imaginative name of West Suffolk.

That reorganisation seems to have gone down pretty badly in the former Forest Heath area. This was a strongly Tory district, the party having won 21 or more seats out of a possible 27 at all four of its elections this century. However, the inaugural May 2019 elections to West Suffolk council saw a majority of seats in the old Forest Heath area go to independent candidates, many of whom have been organised for some time under the banner of the West Suffolk Independents. This localist slate won both seats in Red Lodge ward, which was renamed Iceni ward (and, confusingly, has nothing in common with the old Forest Heath Iceni ward), carried Kentford and Moulton ward and won one of the two seats in the brand-new ward of Newmarket North.

Newmarket North is a cut-down version of the old Severals ward of Forest Heath, covering the north of the town along the Exning and Fordham roads as far as the Studlands Park estate. Severals ward had extended to the town centre and had three councillors, but the new boundaries removed the town centre and cut its representation to two seats. Severals had been one of the weaker Conservative wards of the old district, having returned two Lib Dems and an independent in 2007, and two independents and a Conservative in 2015; but ironically in May 2019 Newmarket North was one of the better Tory performances in the area. Top of the poll in Newmarket North was Michael Anderson, who had also topped the poll in Severals in 2011 and 2015 as a Tory candidate, but this time Anderson was standing for the West Suffolk Independents. Robin Millar, who had been a former deputy leader of Forest Heath council (he represented the old All Saints ward in southern Newmarket for many years) only narrowly got in to win the second seat, 42 votes ahead of outgoing councillor Ruth Allen who was the other West Suffolk Independents candidate. Shares of the vote were 43% for the West Suffolk Independents, 36% for the Conservatives and 21% for Labour, who hadn't stood here in 2015.

Millar was also the local county councillor, having won Newmarket and Red Lodge at a by-election in February 2016 (Andrew's Previews 2016, pages 38 and 39) with a 10-point margin over UKIP. He was easily re-elected in May 2017, polling 50% of the vote against 16% for Labour and 14% for UKIP. Since then the local West Suffolk parliamentary seat has twice re-elected Matt Hancock, who has served in Cabinet since January 2018; Hancock was briefly culture secretary before taking on the ever-difficult job of health secretary that summer.

So we have two by-elections which look more difficult defences than Hancock's majority might suggest. To take the county council by-election first, the defending Tory candidate is Andy Drummond, who is a West Suffolk councillor for Newmarket West ward (which is not covered by this division) and is the district council's cabinet member for planning. The Labour candidate is Theresa Chipulina. UKIP have not returned, so the ballot paper is completed by former Forest Heath councillor Andrew Appleby (who stood here in 2017 and the 2016 by-election) for the West Suffolk Independents, Jonny Edge for the Lib Dems and Alice Haylock for the Green Party.

The Conservatives have a fight on their hands to hold Newmarket North, and their defending candidate for that vacancy is Karen Soons; she's the Suffolk county councillor for the wonderfully-named division of Thingoe South, which is a large collection of villages surrounding the southern half of Bury St Edmunds. The West Suffolk Independents have selected Ruth Allen, who represented the old Severals ward on Forest Heath council from 2015 to 2019 and was runner-up here last year. There is a lot of crossover between these two by-elections with Chipulina (Labour), Edge (Lib Dem) and Haylock (Green) standing for both vacancies. Completing the Newmarket North ballot paper is independent candidate Frank Stennett, who runs a haulage firm and is a parish councillor in Fornham St Martin, just north of Bury St Edmunds.

Newmarket and Red Lodge

Parliamentary constituency: West Suffolk
West Suffolk wards: Iceni, Newmarket North, Newmarket East (part: within former Severals ward), Kentford and Moulton (part: Kentford and Moulton parishes), Chedburgh and Chevington (part: Dalham parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge (all except Iceino ward), Thetford and Mildenhall (Iceni ward)
Postcode districts: CB8, IP28

Andrew Appleby (West Suffolk Ind)
Theresa Chipulina (Lab)
Andy Drummond (C)
Jonny Edge (LD)
Alice Haylock (Grn)

May 2017 result C 1203 Lab 373 UKIP 322 West Suffolk Ind 273 LD 213
February 2016 by-election C 644 UKIP 494 Lab 284 West Suffolk Ind 123 LD 76
May 2013 result C 968 UKIP 615 Lab 450 LD 136
June 2009 result C 1072 LD 588 UKIP 397 Lab 202
May 2005 result C 1382 LD 932 Lab 883 UKIP 220

Newmarket North

Parliamentary constituency: West Suffolk
Suffolk county council division: Newmarket and Red Lodge
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode district: CB8

Ruth Allen (West Suffolk Ind)
Theresa Chipulina (Lab)
Jonny Edge (LD)
Alice Haylock (Grn)
Karen Soons (C)
Frank Stennett (Ind)

May 2019 result West Suffolk Ind 404/289 C 331/220 Lab 195/182

Previews: 23 Jan 2020

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

Four by-elections for five seats on 23 January 2020:

Barnhill; and
Wembley Central

Brent council, North London. The Alperton by-election is caused by the resignation of James Allie; the Barnhill double by-election by the resignations of Sarah Marquis and Michael Pavey; and the Wembley Central by-election by the resignation of Luke Patterson. All were Labour councillors.

Beyond Neasden there was an unimportant hamlet where for years the Metropolitan didn't bother to stop. Wembley. Slushy fields and grass farms.
- John Betjeman, Metro-Land

Welcome to the London suburb where all football teams aspire to play one of these days, Wembley. We're some distance out of central London here and Wembley remained in Middlesex up to the creation of Greater London in 1965.

Until the 18th century this was agricultural land, which since the Dissolution of the Monasteries had been in the hands of the Page family of Sudbury, Middlesex. In the 1790s Richard Page, lord of the manor, decided to turn some of his land into a landscaped country estate and he employed Humphrey Repton to do it. An acclaimed landscape architect, Repton turned a large area of what's now Wembley into landscaped parkland and erected a tower on the high ground of Barn Hill. He called it Wembley Park.

Wembley's position north-west of London meant that it has been crisscrossed by the major communication links between London and the north. First were the canals, with the opening of the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal in 1801 linking Alperton - south of Wembley - with central London and the Midlands. The railways came in the late 1830s, and in 1842 the London and North Western Railway opened a station called "Sudbury" next to the High Road in Wembley as the second station north out of their Euston terminus. (The only station between London and Sudbury was at Willesden, and that was opened in a very sparsely-populated area solely for the convenience of one of the railway's managers, who happened to live there.)

But a lot of modern Wembley can be traced to the ambition of one man. That man was Sir Edward Watkin, and he wasn't a Londoner: he came from a family of Salford cotton merchants. Having founded a liberal newspaper in Manchester Watkin entered the railway business, and for forty years he was chairman or general manager of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire railway company. He was also chairman of several other railways, including the Metropolitan in London, the South Eastern and the French Chemin de Fer du Nord. This gave rise to an ambitious scheme by Watkin to run passenger trains on his railways from Manchester to Paris, via a London extension to the MSLR and a Channel Tunnel; more than a mile of this tunnel was excavated from Shakespeare Cliff near Dover in 1880, but political opposition and national security objections led to Parliament stopping the project in its tracks. As a Liberal MP himself, representing the Kent coast constituency of Hythe, Watkin might have been none too pleased about this; and after this episode he was rather semi-detached from the Gladstone administration.

The London extension was, however, built, and it joined onto the Metropolitan Railway which had opened an extension to Harrow, through Wembley Park, in 1880. Nine years later, the railway company bought Wembley Park for Sir Edward Watkin's last scheme: pleasure gardens centred around a steel tower which, if completed, would have been bigger than that brand-new structure which Gustave Eiffel had just erected in Paris. Watkin's tower opened in 1896, but only the first stage of it was ever built and it wasn't long before that started leaning. The tower closed to the public in 1902 and was demolished five years later.

The 1920s changed Wembley Park out of all recognition. To the north of Wembley Park station the Metropolitan Railway started building houses for commuters, while to the south Watkin's pleasure gardens were turned into the British Empire Exhibition which - despite initial opposition from Wembley urban district council - brought prestige and a lot of investment into the area. Once the exhibition was over, most of its site was given over to light engineering providing jobs for the area, while the retention of the Empire Stadium - built on the site previously occupied by the ill-fated tower - kept Wembley in the public eye for generations to come. By 1930 the old landscaped park had been almost entirely built on, with only the top of Barn Hill being an open space.

The centrepiece came in 1940 with the completion of the modernist Wembley town hall on Forty Lane, one of the high points of interwar municipal architecture (although the Second World War had broken out by the time it was completed). Pevsner, writing eleven years after its opening, described the building as "the best of the modern town halls around London, neither fanciful nor drab". When the London Borough of Brent was formed in the mid-1960s the local politicians agreed with that, and Wembley town hall became Brent town hall. The council moved out in 2013, and the building is now occupied by the Lycée International de Londres Winston Churchill, a French independent school which was opened by President François Hollande in 2015.

That gives you some idea that modern Wembley is a multicultural area. And then some. In the 2011 census 61% of Wembley Central ward's residents were born outside the EU, the third-largest proportion of any ward in England and Wales; Alperton ward came in at number 6 with a score of 56%, and Barnhill ward was in the top 50. Alperton ward was 47% Hindu, the third-largest proportion of any ward in England and Wales; Wembley Central ward came in at number 5 with a score of 45%, and Barnhill ward was in the top 50. On the census ethnicity question, Wembley Central and Alperton both had a return over 64% Asian, and were in the top 40 wards in England and Wales for that metric. Across the three wards Gujarati is the major foreign language, with pockets of Tamil and Polish speakers in Alperton and some Somalis, Romanians and Arabic speakers in Barnhill.

Brent council has been Labour-controlled on and off since a Tory majority elected in the 1968 landslide was defeated in 1971, but Labour haven't had it all their own way since then. There have been periods of No Overall Control, most recently in the 2006-10 term when politics here had been shaken up by the 2003 parliamentary by-election in Brent East. The Lib Dems had taken that seat after Paul Daisley, who had been leader of Brent council before his short parliamentary career, died at an appallingly young age. None of these wards were in Brent East: at the time Alperton nnd most of Wembley Central were in the Brent South constituency, while Barnhill formed part of Brent North. That's a seat which has had just two MPs since its creation in 1974: the Conservative Rhodes Boyson enjoyed large majorities in Brent North until his defeat in the 1997 landslide by Labour's Barry Gardiner, who has enjoyed equally large majorities since. The boundary changes of 2010, which cut Brent's parliamentary representation from three seats to two-and-a-half, left all three of the Brent wards up for election today in Gardiner's constituency.

The first elections on the present Brent ward boundaries were in 2002, when Barnhill ward was safely in the Conservative column, Wembley Central elected three Lib Dems narrowly over Labour and Alperton elected the Lib Dem slate easily over Labour. Labour broke through in 2010, gaining Barnhill, Wembley Central and one of the three seats in Alperton; they picked up a second seat there in 2012 with the defection of Lib Dem councillor James Allie, and the third and final Alperton seat in 2014. At the most recent Brent elections in 2018 all three wards were in the Labour column with the Conservatives in second place: Alperton voted 56% Labour and 24% Conservative, Barnhill saw a 64-25 Labour lead while Wembley Central was the safest of all at 66% Labour to just 16% for the Conservatives. Just three of many good results for Labour in Brent two years ago; Labour ended up with 60 seats out of a possible 63, with three Tories as the opposition.

Two years earlier, the 2016 GLA elections saw some bizarre things going on here at the bottom end of the ballot. Alperton and Wembley Central were by far the two best wards in London for Ankit Love of his One Love Party, who finished last of the twelve mayoral candidates across the capital with 0.2% of the vote. Love claims to be the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir and his parents founded a socialist political party there which he now leads, so presumably this was the Indian-heritage vote at work. (He was nearly killed in an Islamist terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir in August 2017.) Rather more inexplicably, Alperton was the only ward in London to give more than 100 votes to the Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol candidate Lee Harris; and George Galloway's 149 votes in Barnhill was his best total for any ward in the capital (although not his best percentage score). Things were more predictable at the top end, with Sadiq Khan carrying all three wards: his margins over Tory candidate Zac (now Lord) Goldsmith were 53-25 in Alperton, 52-31 in Barnhill and 52-28 in Wembley Central. Unusually, Khan underperformed the Labour list in the London Members ballot in the strongly-Hindu wards of Alperton (where the Labour lead over the Conservatives was 56-22) and Wembley Central (55-24), suggesting that as a Muslim his appeal in these areas might have been limited. There have been some indications in recent years that the Conservatives have been gaining ground among Hindu voters in an echo of politics far away on the subcontinent; indeed Narendra Modi himself turned up at Wembley Stadium a few years ago, addressing a rally of around 60,000 British Indians. In the general election a month ago Brent North swung fairly strongly to the Conservatives, although Gardiner was safe enough.

By polling day last month these by-elections were already in the pipeline. There is a rare double by-election taking place in Barnhill ward where councillors Sarah Marquis and Michael Pavey have resigned; both of them were first elected in 2014. Marquis was a high-flying City lawyer until her appendix burst in 2008; this wasn't diagnosed for three days, leading to an abdominal infection which destroyed her legal career and left her infertile. In her time on the council she rose to become chair of the Brent planning committee, while Pavey rose to become deputy leader of the council. Marquis and Pavey appear to be a couple; in the council's register of member's interests they gave the same address and the same job for Pavey, who is a primary school teacher some distance away in Stanwell. They have both resigned for family or personal reasons, making the choice to leave public life together before the Duke and Duchess of Sussex made that fashionable.

Another teacher standing down from Brent council is Luke Patterson, who had been a councillor for Wembley Central ward since May 2018. Patterson explained to the local press that he has been given increased responsibilities in his job and was about to become a father for the third time; accordingly he no longer has any time to devote to his democratic duties.

Unfortunately, the final Brent by-election this week appears to be one for the Councillors Behaving Badly file. That seat is vacated by long-serving councillor James Allie, a solicitor who had represented Alperton ward since 2002 and was the Lib Dem candidate for Brent North in the 2010 general election; he defected to Labour in 2012 and was subsequently twice re-elected on their ticket. The trouble started in June 2016 with the death of Ruth Ballin, a wealthy lady who had left her estate to the Canon Collins Educational and Legal Assistance Trust, a charity which does good work in the social justice and educational sector in southern Africa. Ballin's estate was valued at just under £1.6 million, and Allie was appointed as its executor.

The High Court heard last month that, rather than carrying out Ruth Ballin's wishes, Allie had diverted her assets to buy a property for himself (via a company of which he was sole director) at a cost of £580,000. Once this came to light last year the charity was finally told of the bequest due to it, and launched legal action to get its money; in December the High Court ordered Councillor Allie to vacate the property by the end of this month and hand over anything that's left of the inheritance. With his reputation and his legal career in shreds (his firm had already sacked him), Allie handed in his resignation to Brent council the following day.

For Labour to lose one councillor for Alperton ward might be an accident; but to lose two smacks of carelessness. The party had selected Chetan Harpale as their defending candidate for the Alperton by-election, apparently without looking at his Twitter account first. When other people started looking at Harpale's Twitter, all sorts of disturbing anti-Muslim nasties emerged, from tweets alleging that Pakistan is a terror state through allegations that Jeremy Corbyn is a jihadist via rants about "Londonistan" to admiration for the Conservative Harrow MP Bob Blackman. Labour are understood to have suspended Harpale, but it was too late to withdraw him from the election and he will still appear on the ballot paper as the official Labour party candidate. This unforced selection error could present an opportunity for a shock gain for another party, so keep an eye on the Tory candidate Harmit Vyas (a chef and DJ); the Lib Dems' Anton Georgiou (who fought Brent Central in the 2017 general election at a very young age) and the Greens' Andrew Linnie.

Things are quieter in the two other by-elections. The defending Labour candidate for Wembley Central is Sonia Shah, a "leadership advisory coordinator" (whatever that means). She's up against Tory candidate Sai Karthik Madabhushi, who according to his Twitter is "changing the world one day at a time". Also standing in Wembley Central are Jyotshna Patel for the Lib Dems and William Relton for the Greens.

Finally we come to the by-election in Barnhill, where there are two seats available and accordingly twice as many candidates to list. The defending Labour slate are Mansoor Akram and Gaynor Lloyd, both of whom will be joining relatives in the council chamber if elected; Lloyd is married to Brent Labour councillor Keith Perrin, while Akram's brother-in-law is Muhammed Butt, the leader of the council. The Conservatives have selected Kanta Mistry and Stefan Voloseniuc; Mistry is a former Brent councillor (Queensbury ward, 2006-10) and she is deputy chair of the party's Brent North branch, while Voloseniuc appears to be fighting his first election campaign. Also standing are Michael Brooke and Larry Ngan for the Lib Dems, and the Green Party slate of Martin Francis and Peter Murry.


Parliamentary constituency: Brent North
London Assembly constituency: Brent and Harrow
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: HA0, NW10

Anton Georgiou (LD)
Chetan Harpale (Lab)
Andrew Linnie (Grn)
Harmit Vyas (C)

May 2018 result Lab 3185/3174/2961 C 1337/1162/1026 LD 582/500/362 Grn 577
May 2014 result Lab 2370/2309/2305 LD 1691/1669/1553 C 612/506/452 Grn 325
May 2010 result LD 2608/2599/2115 Lab 2594/2206/1970 C 970/905/830 Grn 266/230/190 Ind 123
May 2006 result LD 1624/1560/1481 Lab 1126/1061/1033 C 790/699/645 Grn 151
May 2002 result LD 1623/1553/1522 Lab 991/944/857 C 432/392/381

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 2291 C 1099 LD 196 Grn 157 Cannabis is Safter than Alcohol 101 Respect 77 UKIP 75 Britain First 72 BNP 70 One Love 69 Women's Equality 60 Zylinski 52
London Members: Lab 2504 C 991 LD 252 Grn 159 UKIP 130 BNP 97 Women's Equality 89 Britain First 73 Respect 70 CPA 43 Animal Welfare 41 House Party 21


Parliamentary constituency: Brent North
London Assembly constituency: Brent and Harrow
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: HA3, HA9, NW9

Mansoor Akram (Lab)
Michael Brooke (LD)
Martin Francis (Grn)
Gaynor Lloyd (Lab)
Kanta Mistry (C)
Peter Murry (Grn)
Larry Ngan (LD)
Stefan Voloseniuc (C)

May 2018 result Lab 2411/2408/2403 C 950/947/946 LD 290/277/271 Ind 126
May 2014 result Lab 2055/2010/1988 C 1023/983/911 LD 352/233/174 Grn 335 Ind 139
May 2012 by-election Lab 2326 C 1180 Grn 457 Ind 156
May 2010 result Lab 2796/2440/2382 C 2091/1879/1818 LD 987/903/799 Grn 421/343/310
May 2006 result C 1622/1460/1435 Lab 1012/872/851 LD 386/386/377 Grn 374
May 2002 result C 1591/1518/1501 Lab 894/890/860 LD 255/244/209 Grn 205

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor (Barnhill): Lab 1961 C 1158 Grn 159 Respect 149 LD 104 UKIP 58 Britain First 53 Women's Equality 43 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 35 Zylinski 30 BNP 15 One Love 11
London Members: Lab 1944 C 1019 Grn 186 Respect 142 LD 141 UKIP 109 Women's Equality 86 CPA 62 Britain First 52 Animal Welfare 28 BNP 25 House Party 20

Wembley Central

Parliamentary constituency: Brent North
London Assembly constituency: Brent and Harrow
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: HA9, HA0, NW10

Sai Madabhushi (C)
Jyotshna Patel (LD)
William Relton (Grn)
Sonia Shah (Lab)

May 2018 result Lab 3210/3187/2996 C 768/755/734 LD 540/435/288 Grn 318
May 2014 result Lab 2228/1990/1726 LD 1571/1400/1300 C 525/470/402 Grn 282
December 2011 by-election Lab 1402 LD 1022 C 349 Grn 130
May 2010 result Lab 2649/2352/2277 LD 2122/1977/1917 C 1119/1092/963 Grn 210/174/144
July 2009 by-election LD 1195 Lab 934 C 423 Ind 240 Grn 100
May 2006 result LD 1824/1738/1709 Lab 1619/1443/1420 C 480/458/383 Grn 185
May 2002 result LD 1314/1287/1248 Lab 1194/1068/979 C 591/530/491 Brent Residents and Motorists 255/236 Soc All 59

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor (Wembley Central): Lab 2046 C 1114 LD 147 Grn 145 Respect 103 BNP 75 Britain First 72 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 56 UKIP 56 Women's Equality 55 One Love 51 Zylinski 21
London Members: Lab 2233 C 977 LD 176 Grn 138 Respect 98 UKIP 93 BNP 88 Women's Equality 82 Britain First 81 CPA 70 Animal Welfare 22 Hosue Party 19

Mid Galloway and Wigtown West

Dumfries and Galloway council, Scotland; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Graham Nicol. He had served since 2007, representing the former Mid Gallwoay ward from 2007 to 2017, and was depute leader of the Conservative group on the council.

And now for something completely different as we come to the first Conservative defence of the 2019 Parliament. We're in Galloway here, the far south-west of Scotland, with a large and remote ward into which the borough of Brent could fit several times over.

You've probably heard of Iona as a centre of early Christianity in Scotland (or, if you're reading this blog, as the burial place of former Labour Party leader John Smith). Contrary to what you might have heard, Iona was not Scotland's first Christian site. Let's backtrack 150 years before St Columba's time to the end of the fourth century AD, while the Romans were still guarding the west end of Hadrian's Wall on the far side of the Solway Firth. At this point St Ninian came to the coast of Galloway, and established a church known by the Latin name of Candida Casa - the White House. This was a centre of learning, a beacon within the Dark Ages, and eventually at what's now called Whithorn there was a cathedral, a monastery and a shrine to St Ninian. Through many unstable centuries of history, this religious complex attracted pilgrims and sent forth missionaries to preach the Holy Word all over what's now Scotland and Ireland.

The White House may have been important in early mediaeval times, but Whithorn has now declined in importance. The main centre of population here these days is Newton Stewart, a town of just over 4,000 souls at the lowest crossing-point of the River Cree which is recognised by the ONS as the centre of its own Travel to Work Area. This is a proper new town as the name suggests, having been founded in the 17th century; its founder was William Stewart, a son of the Earl of Galloway. Newton Stewart's traditional industries were textiles and mining (the local granite is much in demand); today there is some passing trade on the road from England to the Northern Irish ferries at Stranraer, and some tourists are drawn here by the proximity of the Southern Uplands and the filming locations for the famous 1970s horror film The Wicker Man, which may have been set on some remote Scottish island but was nearly all filmed in Galloway. What St Ninian would have thought about The Wicker Man is thankfully not recorded. Some miles north of Newton Stewart is Merrick, at 843 metres the highest point in the Southern Uplands and theoretically visible from Snowdon, 144 miles to the south. The name Merrick comes from the Gaelic word for "finger", referring to its location in the attractively-named Range of the Awful Hand.

In between Newton Stewart and Whithorn lies Wigtown, which was designated in the 1990s as Scotland's National Book Town, drawing inspiration from the second-hand bookshops of Hay-on-Wye, in an attempt to regenerate a town which had just lost both its major local employers (although the Bladnoch Distillery, Scotland's southernmost whisky producer, is now back in business here). Wigtown was once important enough to give its name to the county of Wigntownshire, which occupied the south-west corner of Scotland.

Following the wipeout of the Scottish Conservatives in the 1997 general election, this was the point where their revival started with the election in 2001 of Peter Duncan as Tory MP for the constituency then known as Galloway and Upper Nithsdale. That seat and its successor of Galloway and West Dumfries has returned Conservatives to the Scottish Parliament continuously since 2003. Boundary changes for the 2005 Westminster election, which moved Dumfries town into the seat, did for Duncan's chances, and the new constituency of Dumfries and Galloway returned a Labour MP - Russell Brown - until the SNP landslide of 2015. The Nationalists' Richard Arkless was defeated in 2017 by Allister Jack of the Conservatives, who was re-elected last month with a reduced majority but an increased share of the vote - no mean feat in the face of an SNP fightback across Scotland. Jack was the first MP from the 2017 intake to make it to Cabinet rank, having been appointed by Boris Johnson as his first Scottish secretary.

Scottish local councils went over to proportional representation in 2007, at which point this area was mostly part of the Mid Galloway ward. In the 2007 election this was one of only two wards in Dumfries and Galloway with the SNP carried; its three seats went to the SNP's Alistair Geddes, new Tory candidate Graham Nicol and the Lib Dems' Sandra McDowall. McDowall retired at the 2012 election and the Lib Dems haven't been seen here since; her seat went to independent candidate Jim McColm.

There were boundary changes for the 2017 election which brought in a large rural area on the road towards Stranraer, which had previously been part of Wigtown West ward. This area is sparsely populated but does have enough people in it to warrant a fourth councillor for the ward and, rather more dubiously, a name change (the old Wigtown West ward included much of the Rhins of Gallwoay and was much more worthy of the compass point). The Conservatives did very well in the 2017 Scottish local elections and topped the poll in the new ward of Mid Galloway and Wigtown West, taking 39% of the vote and winning two out of four seats; the other two seats went to the SNP (who polled 24%) and McColm (18%). The indefatigable Allan Faulds of Ballot Box Scotland has crunched the numbers to see what would have happened had the May 2017 election been for one seat, and found that the Conservatives would have had a relatively narrow win over Jim McColm (55-45) once all 99votes are redistributed, but a Tory-SNP head-to-hand would have been much more comfortable for the Unionists.

The Conservatives are the largest party on Dumfries and Galloway council, which like all Scottish mainland councils has no overall majority. They ran the council from 2012 in coalition with the Scottish National Party, until October 2013 when the Tory group split and the SNP formed a new coalition with Labour. That coalition was renewed after the 2017 elections and has held steady despite some defections - including two Labour councillors and an independent walking off to form a Socialist group on the council last year. The SNP have 10 seats and Labour have 8, putting the ruling coalition in a minority against 14 Conservatives (plus this vacancy), five independent councillors, the three-strong Socialist group and a single Lib Dem.

Like in the three Brent by-elections above, there are four parties standing here. Defending for the Conservatives is Jackie McCamon; she's a freelance small business marketer from Newton Stewart. The SNP have selected Tony Berretti, who once drove around Europe in car powered by sunflower oil and has roles in various Newton Stewart-based community organisations. This is a Scottish local election so Votes at 16 and the Alternative Vote apply; as such if Berretti and McCamon are the top two then transfers from the two other candidates - Gill Hay for Labour and Peter Barlow for the Scottish Greens - could be decisive.

Mid Galloway and Wigtown West

Parliamentary constituency: Dumfries and Galloway
Scottish Parliament constituency: Galloway and West Dumfries
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newton Stewart; Stranraer
Postcode districts: DG7, DG8, DG9

Tony Berretti (SNP)
Peter Barlow (Grn)
Gill Hay (Lab)
Jackie McCamon (C)

May 2017 first preferences C 2126 SNP 1273 Ind 976 Ind 475 Lab 368 Grn 116 Ind 48

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

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Andrew Teale