Council by-election previews (16 Sep 2021)

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

Four by-elections on 16th September 2021, with two Labour defences, one Conservatives and one case where it's complicated:

Hobbayne

Ealing council, London; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Lewis Cox.

We start the week in Outer London in the valley of the River Brent, which runs generally south-west from Hendon to join the Thames at Brentford. The Brent valley was a major obstacle to the builders of the Great Western Railway on their way out of London; the result was the Wharncliffe Viaduct, whose eight arches carry Brunel's billiard-table over the valley. The viaduct was completed in 1838 and bears the coat of arms of the 1st Lord Wharncliffe, who piloted the GWR's bill through Parliament.

The valley to the north of the Wharncliffe Viaduct is maintained as a country park, partly because of the risk of flooding from the river. It includes Hanwell Zoo, a small zoological garden with a variety of small mammals, reptiles and exotic birds to see.

Ealing, Hobbayne

Hanwell Zoo is part of the Hobbayne ward of Ealing, which lies between the river to the west and north, the Great Western railway line to the south and the Greenford branch railway line to the east. Hanwell and Drayton Green railway stations lie on the ward boundary, and Greenford Avenue links the ward together.

The ward's census return shows a high immigrant population here. Hobbayne ward makes the top 20 wards in England and Wales for those born in Ireland (3.4%), the top 60 for those born in the new EU states (11.6%) and the top 80 for the White Other ethnic group (23.7%). The new EU immigrants are overwhelmingly Polish, and we shouldn't be too surprised by this: Ealing borough is home to one of the UK's longest-established Polish communities.

Ealing, 2018

Hobbayne ward has swung a mile to the left in the last decade after electing both Conservative and Labour councillors in 2006 and 2010. The most recent ordinary London borough elections were in 2018, when Labour won here with 51% against 20% for the Conservatives and 13% for the Greens. One of the Labour councillors, Anna Tomlinson, died from cancer in June 2020; the resulting by-election, which couldn't be held until May 2021, saw a swing to the Conservatives with 48% for Labour, 30% for the Conservatives and 13% for the Green Party.

We can compare and contrast this by-election result with the votes in the London Mayor and Assembly elections which took place on the same day. The ward breakdowns for the GLA elections exclude postal votes, which are tallied separately; the on-the-day vote gave 42% to Sadiq Khan for Labour, 32% to Shaun Bailey for the Conservatives and 9% to Siân Berry of the Green Party. In the London Members ballot Labour also polled 42%, against 28% for the Conservatives and 14% for the Greens. Taking into account that the GLA election had much longer ballot papers, the differences from the council by-election are not that great.

The voters of Hobbayne are going back to the polls for the second time in four months following the resignation in May of Labour councillor Lewis Cox, who had first been elected in 2018 and was in his first term office. He does not appear to be happy with the leadership of Ealing council's ruling Labour group.

Defending for Labour is Claire Tighe who is contesting her second Ealing by-election of the year; in May she stood in another poll for the Conservative-held Ealing Broadway ward. Tighe is vice-chair of the Labour Party Irish Society, and currently works in Keir Starmer's office. The Conservatives have reselected David Castle who was runner-up here in May's by-election; he is a law student, and like Tighe has worked alongside MPs in Westminster. The Greens have changed candidate to Alan Anderson, an editor for a health and wellbeing website. Completing the ballot paper are two other returning candidates from May's by-election, Alastair Mitton for the Liberal Democrats and Tony Gill for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

Parliamentary constituency: Ealing North
London Assembly constituency: Ealing and Hillingdon
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: W7

Alan Anderson (Grn)
David Castle (C)
Tony Gill (TUSC)
Alastair Mitton (LD)
Claire Tighe (Lab)

May 2021 by-election Lab 2345 C 1477 Grn 609 LD 366 TUSC 56
May 2018 result Lab 2595/2579/2479 C 1009/979/961 Grn 669 LD 344/327/284 Duma Polska 266/254 Ind 210
May 2014 result Lab 2854/2790/2707 C 1533/1189/1140 Grn 716 LD 309/256/164
May 2010 result Lab 2673/2580/2425 C 2447/2007/1855 LD 1187/861/838 Grn 598 Ind 245
May 2006 result C 1532/1319/1184 Lab 1298/1109/1039 LD 648/640/583 Grn 589
May 2002 result Lab 1501/1436/1374 C 879/824/776 LD 428/392/349 Grn 368

May 2021 GLA result (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1009 C 756 Grn 222 LD 70 Omilana 63 Reclaim 45 London Real 39 Count Binface 30 Rejoin EU 26 Let London Live 20 Women's Equality 19 Animal Welfare 17 Renew 13 Farah London 13 SDP 11 UKIP 11 Heritage 10 Burning Pink 7 Fosh 7 Obunge 3
London Members: Lab 1050 C 684 Grn 335 LD 112 Women's Equality 52 Animal Welfare 51 Rejoin EU 41 CPA 25 London Real 24 Reform UK 24 UKIP 19 Heritage 14 Let London Live 11 TUSC 11 SDP 8 Comm 7 Londonpendence 6 Nat Lib 2

Tenbury

Malvern Hills council, Worcestershire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Tony Penn.

Malvern Hills, Tenbury

For our rural by-election this week we travel to the Teme Valley. The Teme starts off as a Welsh river, rising near Newtown, and flows east through Knighton and Ludlow to eventually merge with the Severn near Worcester.

This is an agricultural area with an unusual focus. The town of Tenbury Wells is well-known as the venue for the UK's only mistletoe market, which take place in the run-up to Christmas each year. Outside the festive period, Tenbury has traditionally drawn an income from people coming to take the waters at the town's mineral springs: the architecturally-striking Pump Rooms are now in the hands of Tenbury town council, who have their offices and meetings here.

It's presumably the communication lines provided by the Teme valley that ensured Tenbury Wells ended up as part of Worcestershire. Tenbury, which has been a typical tiny Marches market town since the thirteenth century, is very much out on a limb within Worcestershire: this ward (consisting of five parishes, including Tenbury) forms a salient between Herefordshire to the south and Shropshire to the north. The main service centre and railhead for the town is Ludlow, further up the valley in Shropshire.

The Heath local government reform also took the view that the Herefordshire/Worcestershire county boundary was perhaps not the sanest. The 1974 big bang placed Tenbury Wells within the county of Hereford and Worcester and within the district of Leominster, which is a Herefordshire town but whose district took in much of north-western Worcestershire. This proved to be unpopular, and Hereford and Worcester were demerged in the 1990s. As a knock-on effect of this, Tenbury was transferred to the Malvern Hills district council in exchange for the Ledbury area, which returned to Herefordshire.

Malvern Hills, 2019

The present Malvern Hills council is hung after the Conservatives lost their majority in 2019. That year's elections returned 13 Conservative councillors, 10 independents, 9 Lib Dems, 5 Greens and (for the first time in many years) a Labour councillor. The present administration is a coalition of the independents, the Greens and the Lib Dems. The Malvern Hills Liberal Democrats have since fallen apart a bit and there are only four Lib Dem councillors left here; most of the defectors have joined the ruling independent group.

The voters of Tenbury didn't get to participate in this fun in 2019, because nobody stood against the Conservative slate of Tony Penn and Bridget Thomas who were therefore elected unopposed. Thomas was a new face; Penn was re-elected for his fourth term. The Conservatives have held both seats in the ward since 2007; in 2011 and 2015 they were opposed here only by Jonathan Morgan, who was an independent in 2011 and had the Labour nomination in 2015. On both of those occasions the scores were 70% for the Conservatives and 30% for Morgan. The Conservatives also polled 70% last May in the election for the Tenbury division of Worcestershire county council, which covers a larger area than this ward.

Tony Penn is a retired architect who grew up in Coventry during the Second World War, and he was in the city on the night of the Coventry Blitz in November 1940. With the passage of time, there are not many people left who can remember that night. Penn is now 87 years old, and he retired from the council in July to allow someone younger to take up his role.

Defending for the Conservatives is Liam Thompson, who was a candidate for the county council in May (he contested the Green-held Malvern Trinity division). Jonathan Morgan returns for his fifth attempt on Tenbury ward this century, again as the Labour candidate. The Tenbury town clerk Lesley Bruton is standing as an independent candidate, and she completes the ballot paper along with Jed Marson of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: West Worcestershire
Worcestershire county council division: Tenbury
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ludlow
Postcode districts: SY8, WR15

Lesley Bruton (Ind)
Jed Marson (LD)
Jonathan Morgan (Lab)
Liam Thompson (C)

May 2019 result 2 C unopposed
May 2015 result C 1414/991 Lab 618
May 2011 result C 966/730 Ind 416
May 2007 result C 1042/834 LD 451/419 Ind 269
May 2003 result C 748/675 Ind 691/324

Firth Park

Sheffield council, South Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Alan Law on health grounds.

Sheffield, Firth Park

Our remaining two by-elections this week are at opposite ends of traditional Yorkshire. We start in the city of Sheffield with a ward whose name derives from a prominent steelmaking firm of days gone by. Thomas Firth and Sons was set up in the 1840s and quickly grew: in the 1850s they had the largest rolling mill in Sheffield and a major contract with the Samuel Colt firearms company, making them a big player in the armaments market. Following a series of mergers over the last two centuries, Firth's became one of the ancestors of the modern Sheffield Forgemasters.

Mark Firth, one of the eponymous Sons and a founder of the business, used much of his wealth in major philanthropic works in Sheffield. He was Master Cutler in 1867-9 and Mayor of Sheffield in 1874-5, founded the educational institution of Firth College (now part of Sheffield University), and in 1875 he presented 36 acres of land to Sheffield Corporation as a public park. Firth Park, located around four miles north-east of Sheffield city centre, was officially opened in August 1875 by the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII.

Firth Park gave its name to a neighbouring council estate which was developed between the two world wars on what was then the northern edge of Sheffield. This remains a working-class area full of council houses (a massive 51% of households here are socially rented), but manufacturing here is not what it was. The major employer in Firth Park today is the Northern General Hospital, which lies just south of the ward boundary. At the 2011 census 22% of the ward's working adults were in human health and social work activities, which was the highest figure for any ward in Yorkshire and made the top 60 wards in England and Wales.

Sheffield city council fell into No Overall Control at the 2021 election, following controversy over the previous Labour administration's policy of felling a large number of the trees on the city's streets. The city is still Labour-led but the party now has to run Sheffield in coalition with the Green Party. There are currently 40 Labour (plus this vacancy) and 13 Green councillors opposed by 29 Lib Dems and a single Conservative. After a 15-year absence the Tories broke through onto Sheffield council in May, not in the middle-class areas of Hallam but in the isolated steelworking town of Stocksbridge.

One of Stocksbridge's former city councillors was Alan Law, who was elected there in 1991 but lost his seat to the Lib Dems the following year. In 1994 Law was elected as a councillor for Firth Park ward, which he had represented continuously since then: he was re-elected in 1995, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2016, winning his tenth term of office in May this year. Firth Park is a safe Labour ward, and four months ago Law enjoyed a 57-24 majority over the Conservatives. He subsequently stepped down in July on health grounds.

Defending for Labour is Fran Belbin, a community activist who fought Walkley ward in May and lost a seat which Labour were defending to the Green Party. That council seat had previously been held by Olivia Blake, who was elected in December 2019 as the Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam; Blake resigned from the council after her election to Westminster, and because of the cancellation of the 2020 local elections her seat was left vacant for more than a year. This should be safer territory for Belbin. The Conservatives have reselected Steve Toone who was runner-up here in May; he chairs a local brass band committee and is a wheelchair user. Also standing are two more returning candidates from May, Marieanne Elliot for the Greens and independent April Worrall, who complete the ballot paper along with Irshad Akbar for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough
ONS Travel to Work Area: Sheffield
Postcode district: S5

Irshad Akbar (LD)
Fran Belbin (Lab)
Marieanne Elliot (Grn)
Steve Toone (C)
April Worrall (Ind)

May 2021 result Lab 1896 C 810 Grn 327 Ind 157 LD 153
May 2019 result Lab 1573 Grn 779 C 453 LD 270
May 2018 result Lab 1931 C 577 Grn 478 LD 287
May 2016 result Lab 2424/1916/1844 UKIP 752/622/577 Grn 443/305/246 C 302/239/198 LD 269/229/190

Ladgate

Middlesbrough council, North Yorkshire; caused by the death of councillor June Goodchild, who was elected for Labour but was sitting as an independent aligned to the town's mayor.

Middlesbrough, Ladgate

We finish for the week in Teesside. The Ladgate ward is one of Middlesbrough's outer estates, running along the western side of Stokesley Road and divided into two halves by Ladgate Lane. The two halves of the ward form a rather stark contrast. The northern half is the Easterside estate, a 1960s open-plan development with large amounts of green space. The southern half of the ward, around the Marton Manor primary school, is higher in both elevation and social class.

Teesside has been a disaster area for the Labour party in recent years, as can be seen from the re-election of the Conservative Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen in May by the thumping margin of 73-27 over the Labour candidate. On paper Middlesbrough is the strongest of the five Tees Valley boroughs for Labour, but the borough uses the elected mayoral system. The first Middlesbrough mayor was independent Ray "Robocop" Mallon, who served three terms before standing down in 2015. That year's mayoral election was a very narrow win for Labour over new independent candidate Andy Preston, who resoundingly won the rematch in 2019.

The 2019 Middlesbrough mayoral election was combined with the Middlesbrough council election, which returned 23 independent councillors, 20 Labour and 3 Conservatives. Labour have performed very poorly in two subsequent by-elections: the independents held Park End and Beckfield ward in July 2019 (Andrew's Previews 2019, page 191), and the Conservatives resoundingly held a seat in Coulby Newham ward in February 2020 despite their previous councillor having been charged with seven historic child sex offences. Having been charged in July 2019, his trial is now not due to begin until April 2022.

Coulby Newham, like most of Ladgate ward, is part of the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland constituency which the Conservatives gained against the national trend in June 2017. That snap election was called by Theresa May the weekend after another excellent Conservative performance in a Coulby Newham by-election in April 2017 (Andrew's Previews 2017, page 99); the winner of that by-election is now the Conservative MP for Redcar.

Ladgate ward has been won by Labour at every election this century. There were no independent candidates here in 2019, and the Labour slate won by 60-40 in a straight fight with the Conservatives. That Labour slate included June Goodchild, who had been appointed MBE in 2007 for her voluntary work on the Easterside estate. Goodchild was first elected for the ward in 2015; she subsequently left Labour in 2020 and joined the council's Middlesbrough Independent Group. (It's quite difficult for an outsider to work out what is going on in the council, as there are three separate independent groups and the independent mayor all with their own agendas.)

June Goodchild passed away in July, aged 79. The by-election to replace her has a long ballot paper. Labour, who won the last election here, have selected Mick Thompson, who was their losing candidate in the 2019 Middlesbrough mayoral election; Thompson is a former Middlesbrough councillor currently working for UNISON. There are three competing independent candidates. The Middlesbrough Independent Group, which Goodchild was a member of when she died, have endorsed Tony Grainge: he is a community worker from Easterside and a school governor at Easterside Academy. The rival Middlesbrough Independent Councillors Association have endorsed Sharon Platt, a former marketing chief who is hoping to join her husband Jim (the former Middlesbrough and Northern Ireland goalkeeper) as a councillor. The third independent candidate on the ballot is Vic Hoban, who is a full-time carer for her daughter. Hoping to come through the middle of all this are the Conservatives, who have selected Lee Holmes: he is an NHS Responder volunteer and runs a small property business in Middlesbrough. Completing the ballot paper is Paul Hamilton for the Liberal Democrats, who are contesting Ladgate ward for the first time this century.

Parliamentary constituency: Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (most), Middlesbrough (Buckthorn Grove area)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Middlesbrough and Stockton
Postcode districts: TS4, TS5, TS7, TS8

Tony Grainge (Ind)
Paul Hamilton (LD)
Vic Hoban (Ind)
Lee Holmes (C)
Sharon Platt (Ind)
Mick Thompson (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 561/451 C 367/310
May 2015 result Lab 1070/946 C 516/399 UKIP 427


If you enjoyed this preview, there are many more like it - going back to 2016 - in the Andrew's Previews books, which are available to buy now (link). You can also support future previews by donating to the Local Elections Archive Project (link).

Andrew Teale


Previewing the six council by-elections of 09 Sep 2021

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

There are six local by-elections on 9th September 2021, with the Conservatives defending three seats, Labour and the Lib Dems one each, and one final case where it's complicated. Half of today's polls are in Derbyshire, including two locations this column has visited quite recently. The other half are in Tyne and Wear, which is where we start:

Cleadon and East Boldon

South Tyneside council, Tyne and Wear; caused by the disqualification of councillor Jeff Milburn.

Your columnist is going away for a few days. I was supposed to be travelling to a quiz in London, which has unfortunately fallen through; so rather than waste my leave instead I'm off to what will hopefully be the sunny and dry North East. (Please do the sun-dance on my behalf!) Putting this week's column together has certainly whetted my appetite for the trip.

S Tyneside, Cleadon/E Boldon

We start this week's Previews in the green belt between South Shields and Sunderland. Put away any preconceptions you may have about Tyne and Wear; there'll be time for those later, but Cleadon is a rather nice suburban village in pleasant if unspectacular countryside. It is first recorded in the twelfth-century Boldon Book, a Domesday-style survey of the estates of the Prince-Bishop of Durham. One of the first entries in the Boldon Book was for the Bishop's manor at Boldon, to which a large number of later entries refer (customal dues "as at Boldon").

Modern-day Boldon has split into three villages: Boldon Colliery, West Boldon and East Boldon. The first two are in the Boldon Colliery ward of South Tyneside, leaving East Boldon in this ward. This is by far the most upmarket of the three Boldons thanks to its location on the railway line between Newcastle and Sunderland, resulting in quite a strong commuter demographic. In 2002 East Boldon station was transferred to the Tyne and Wear Metro, on which it forms part of the Sunderland and South Hylton branch.

We can see this commuter demographic in the census return. 91.3% of households in Cleadon and East Boldon are owner-occupied, which is in the top 80 wards in England and Wales and the second-highest figure for any ward in Tyne and Wear. 48% of the workforce are in managerial or professional occupations.

Cleadon and East Boldon forms part of the South Tyneside metropolitan borough which, it has to be said, has not been well-served by its elected representatives in recent years. The Labour group, which has had impregnable control of the council for decades, is prone to infighting. The opposition councillors don't always give off a good impression either, as this column covered at the end of July with the case of independent councillor John Robertson. To cut a long story short, after acting like a dick on social media so badly and for so long that the council disciplined him twice, Robertson submitted his resignation to the council apparently by mistake, stood for re-election in the resulting by-election in Fellgate and Hedworth ward, and lost.

John Robertson was by no means the first opposition councillor in South Tyneside to turn out to be a controversy magnet. Unfortunately there has been a high concentration of these in Cleadon and East Boldon ward, which is the only ward of South Tyneside capable of electing Conservative councillors. The ward returned a full slate of Tories at the 2004 election, including a 21-year-old man called David Potts.

The then council leader Iain Malcolm exercised huge restraint in describing David Potts after his death as a "colourful but often controversial figure". Potts led the council's Conservative group for a while, but resigned from the party in 2011 after making an offensive tweet about David Miliband, who was the MP for South Shields at the time. His social media account also led to him being recognised as "Socialite of the Year 2012" by Private Eye, after he tweeted what looked like an invitation for people to join a sex party. More seriously, Potts was once cautioned by police for leaking confidential information to the local press. He eventually ended up in UKIP.

Sadly, underpinning all the controversies that attached themselves to David Potts was a horrific addiction to alcohol. By his own account, Potts would sometimes down a bottle of vodka in the morning, go to work as a financial investor, do his job while sipping from a hip-flask, and then wash his lunch down with up to eight gin and tonics. His alcohol intake reached, on occasion, 70 units a day. Eventually, it killed him. David Potts died in April 2013, aged just 30 years old.

The resulting by-election in June 2013 was a Labour gain and sparked a revival for the party in Cleadon and East Boldon. Following the 2016 council elections, when the last Tory councillor Jeffrey Milburn was defeated by 35 votes, Labour held all three seats in the ward for the first time. However, the Conservatives got one back in 2018, as Jeff Milburn returned to the council with a majority of 271.

Like John Robertson and the ill-fated David Potts, Jeff Milburn has trashed his reputation with his own destructive behaviour. He was elected to South Tyneside council in a September 2006 by-election as a Conservative candidate, and as stated lost his seat to Labour in 2016 but got it back in 2018. In 2019 he was thrown out of the Conservative party following claims - which he denied - that he had used racist language. From what happened next, it would appear that the party is well rid of him.

Some time later Milburn was stopped by police in Northumberland who suspected him of drink-driving. He was charged with failing to provide a specimen and the case was sent to South Tyneside magistrates, who imposed an 18-month driving ban and a 12-month community order. Milburn appealed against the sentence, and his driving licence was returned pending the outcome of his appeal. I haven't been able to find out the result of that appeal, but nothing turns on it.

While on his way into South Tyneside Magistrates' Court to answer the drink-driving charge in January 2020, Milburn was searched by the court's security team who found that he was carrying a lock knife. He was charged with possession of a bladed article, and at a subsequent hearing in July 2020 South Tyneside magistrates imposed a four-month suspended prison sentence and another community order, also ordering that the weapon be destroyed. Milburn appealed against that sentence, too.

In March 2020 Jeff Milburn went into a drunken meltdown during a family dinner, and the police were called to his home. A subsequent search found a number of swords, machetes and air weapons at Milburn's home along with two antique shotguns, in poor but working condition, which it was illegal for him to possess without a licence. At a hearing last month Milburn pleaded guilty to two firearms charges, and Newcastle Crown Court imposed a 20-month suspended prison sentence.

By this point Jeff Milburn had finally been kicked off South Tyneside council because of the knife conviction. The four-month suspended prison sentence for that offence disqualified him from being a councillor, but the disqualification could not kick in until Milburn's appeal against the sentence was disposed of. Which is why this by-election is only being held now, rather than having been combined with the ordinary council elections in May.

May's election in Cleadon and East Boldon was another Conservative gain, with a 48-37 lead over Labour. Labour had won the 2019 election here quite comfortably, so the seat count in the ward now stands at 1-1. If the Conservatives hold this by-election, they will be able to form a group on South Tyneside council (which currently stands at 45 Labour councillors, 4 independents, 3 Greens, 1 Conservative and this vacancy).

Defending for the Conservatives is Stan Wildhirt, a local businessman who had interests in the sportswear industry. The Labour candidate is Philip Toulson. Since I've had a pop at the Tories here, it's only fair to mention that Toulson has one thing in common with Jeff Milburn: back in 2000 Northumbria Police caught him drink-driving. For extra embarrassment points, Toulson was a Northumbria Police Inspector at the time and had been responsible for a "Pubwatch" scheme to stop drunken behaviour (link). Toulson, who has also served as an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, now works as an associate tutor at Sunderland University. Completing the ballot paper is David Herbert for the Green Party, who returns from May's election. The Shields Gazette has interviewed all the candidates, and you can find out more here (link).

Parliamentary constituency: Jarrow
ONS Travel to Work Area: Sunderland
Postcode districts: NE34, NE36, SR5, SR6

David Herbert (Grn)
Philip Toulson (Lab)
Stan Wildhirt (C)

May 2021 result C 1673 Lab 1300 Grn 450 Reform UK 63
May 2019 double vacancy Lab 1507/1076 C 839/594 Ind 386/359/284/152 Grn 363/354 LD 117
May 2018 result C 1601 Lab 1330 Grn 365
May 2016 result Lab 1503 C 1468 Grn 305
May 2015 result Lab 2631 C 2043 Grn 383
May 2014 result Lab 1249 C 1153 UKIP 713
May 2013 by-election Lab 991 C 899 UKIP 666
May 2012 result C 1692 Lab 1443
May 2011 result Lab 1931 C 1590 Progressive 238 Ind 88
May 2010 result C 2082 Lab 1978 Progressive 776 BNP 165
May 2008 result C 2224 Lab 1054 Lab 1054
May 2007 result C 1988 Lab 1080
September 2006 by-election C 1057 LD 669 Lab 601 Grn 124
May 2006 result C 1330 LD 700 Lab 660 Ind 546
June 2004 result C 1649/1569/1500 LD 1456/1177/1176 Lab 495/423/414

Castle

Newcastle upon Tyne council, Tyne and Wear; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Anita Lower.

We take the Metro from East Boldon north of the Tyne into what was once Northumberland and into Castle ward. We're in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne here, and given that what's left of the eponymous New Castle (established in the 1080s) is in the city centre, you might expect this by-election to be in the city centre.

You'd be wrong there, and the reasons why you'd be wrong go back centuries to the days when local government in England was administered on the basis of counties and hundreds, which were ancient subdivisions of counties that in many cases predated the Norman conquest. The hundred system didn't entirely cover the whole of England: a number of counties in the former Danelaw, including the three ridings of Yorkshire, were divided into wapentakes instead.

In the four northernmost ancient counties of England (Cumberland, Durham, Northumberland and Westmorland), the name "hundred" wasn't used either. Instead, those counties had "wards". The old county of Northumberland had six wards: in modernised spelling they were Bamburgh, Coquetdale, Glendale (covering the north of the county around Wooler), Morpeth, Tynedale and Castle. The remit of Northumberland didn't run to Bedlingtonshire, Norhamshire (the south bank of the Tweed, including Norham and Cornhill but not Berwick) or Islandshire (Lindisfarne and associated parts of the mainland), all of which were detached parts of County Durham until well into the nineteenth century; and it would probably be better not to discuss here the historical can of worms which is Berwick upon Tweed.

The Castle Ward of Northumberland was the county's south-eastern corner, clearly based on the city of Newcastle. It took in basically all of the area of the current Newcastle and North Tyneside boroughs together with some areas which didn't make it into the 1970s metropolitan county, notably the modern towns of Cramlington and Ponteland.

By the time of the 1890s when the system of hundreds was finally swept away in favour of a new system of boroughs, urban and rural districts, Newcastle upon Tyne had declared independence as a county borough and much of the rest of Castle Ward was already industrial enough that it could be covered by urban districts. The remaining rural parishes to the west of Newcastle were grouped together into a new Castle Ward Rural District, with its offices in Ponteland. The Castle Ward Rural District was dissolved in the big bang reorganisation of the 1970s, with five of its parishes annexed by Newcastle.

Newcastle (Tyne), Castle

Three of those parishes - Brunswick, Dinnington and Hazlerigg - are covered by the modern Castle ward of Newcastle upon Tyne, which as can be seen takes its name from the old rural district (and the Ward of Northumberland before it). Dinnington is the most rural of these parishes, lying beyond the airport nine miles north of the city centre: this is an old pit village, and there were a number of collieries in the area back in the day. Brunswick Village (once called Dinnington Colliery) and Hazlerigg are rather better connected thanks to their location on the A1, although some housebuilding and rather confusing boundaries have left both of those villages as part of a single urban area split between Newcastle and North Tyneside boroughs.

To the south of these parishes, along the western side of the A1 bypass, can be found Newcastle Great Park. Partly built on the site previously occupied by Hazlerigg Colliery, Newcastle Great Park is described as the largest housing development in the North East, with thousands of homes either already built (construction has been ongoing since 2001) or in the planning stage. One of the estate's first occupiers was the technology company Sage, whose head office was here from 2004 until earlier this year. Most of the houses around the former Sage building have gone up in the last decade.

Some of the Newcastle Great Park estates form an add-on to the rather earlier development of Kingston Park, which dates from the 1970s and early 1980s. Located at the southern end of Castle ward, Kingston Park is connected to Newcastle city centre by the Tyne and Wear Metro: a station here on the Metro's Airport branch opened in 1985.

That's the Castle ward of Newcastle. Since 1983 this area has been part of the Newcastle upon Tyne North constituency, which is a safe Labour seat. (The present Newcastle North has little or nothing in common with the Newcastle North parliamentary seat which existed before 1983: that seat was based on the city centre, Heaton and Jesmond and consistently voted Conservative.) However, in local elections Castle ward votes for the Liberal Democrats, who form the major opposition to the Labour majority on Newcastle city council. The Lib Dems have lost this ward only once in the last twenty years (to Labour in 2015), and they improved their position here in May: the votes then were 41% for the Lib Dems, 28% for Labour and 20% for the Conservatives.

This by-election is to replace a veteran and high-profile Lib Dem councillor. Anita Lower, who died in July at the age of 64, had sat on Newcastle city council since 1994, originally representing Blakelaw ward before transferring to Castle ward in 2004. Lower had briefly served as deputy leader of the council in 2011 and was leader of the Liberal Democrat group from 2013 to 2020, and she was the party's parliamentary candidate for Newcastle upon Tyne North in the 2015 and 2017 general elections. Judging from the 2018 result, when all three seats in the ward were up following boundary changes, she had a significant personal vote.

A hard act to follow for the defending Lib Dem candidate Thom Campion, who (then under the name of Thom Chapman) was the party's parliamentary candidate for Blyth Valley in December 2019. Since I've already had a pop at the Conservatives and Labour this week, it's only fair to mention that Campion - in a case analogous to that of the Middlesbrough footballer Marc Bola - hit the headlines during the campaign for sexist and abusive messages he put on Twitter in 2012 and 2013 (link). Like Bola, Campion is aged 23 and was under 16 at the time he tweeted that, so hopefully he has grown up a bit since. Labour have reselected Andrew Herridge who fought the ward in May. The Conservatives have nominated John Watts, the chairman of the party's Newcastle upon Tyne branch. Also standing are regular Green Party candidate Andrew Thorp and Brian Moore, who was an independent candidate for this ward in 2018; for this by-election Moore has the nomination of the North East Party, a serious regionalist movement who are part of the ruling anti-Labour coalition on Durham county council.

Parliamentary constituency: Newcastle upon Tyne North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newcastle
Postcode districts: NE3, NE13

Thom Campion (LD)
Andrew Herrige (Lab)
Brian Moore (North East Party)
Andrew Thorp (Grn)
John Watts (C)

May 2021 result LD 1522 Lab 1026 C 731 Ind 230 Grn 197
May 2019 result LD 1085 Lab 945 C 394 UKIP 331 Ind 237 Grn 189
May 2018 result LD 1416/1118/1093 Lab 911/882/872 C 500/490/453 Ind 359/176/151 Grn 244

Camperdown

North Tyneside council, Tyne and Wear; caused by the death of Labour councillor Raymond Glindon.

We finish our tour of Tyneside just a mile or two east of Newcastle's Castle ward, but in the borough and constituency of North Tyneside. The name of Camperdown recalls a battle of 1797, a major British naval victory over the Dutch; this may have been fresh in the mind when the village of Camperdown grew up in the 19th century as yet another pit village on the Northumberland coalfield.

N Tyneside, Camperdown

Although this may look like a small-town area (the villages of Burradon and Annitsford are also part of the ward), Camperdown ward is not in fact like that. The ward takes in the western half of Killingworth, a quasi-New Town built by Northumberland county council in the 1960s with rather a lot of high-rise buildings, many of which didn't make it into the 21st century. Among the people who moved to Killingworth in its early days were Bob and Thelma Ferris in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?; one of the houses in this ward was used as the filming location for their home.

There's a fair amount of deprivation in western Killingworth and the villages, and Camperdown is a very safe Labour ward within a safe Labour parliamentary seat (North Tyneside). May's election here was a straight fight between Labour and the Conservatives, with Labour winning 68-32. North Tyneside council has an elected mayor, Labour's Norma Redfearn, who was re-elected in May almost as comfortably.

The Labour MP for the North Tyneside seat is Mary Glindon, whose husband Ray passed away in April at the age of 74. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer five years ago. Mary and Ray Glindon had been elected to North Tyneside council in 2004, representing Battle Hill ward in Wallsend; Ray lost his seat there to the Liberal Democrats in 2006 before finding a safer berth here in 2007. Mr Glindon's association with the council went back a long way: he started working for the council in 1974 as an electrician, worked his way up to building manager until his retirement in 2001, and as the cabinet member for finance he presented his final budget to the council earlier this year.

Defending for Labour is Tracy Hallway. The Conservatives have selected David Lilly, who contested the safe-Labour Chirton ward in May. There is a wider choice for the electors this time, with the nomination of Martin Collins for the Green Party and Nathan Shone for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: North Tyneside
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newcastle
Postcode districts: NE12, NE23

Martin Collins (Grn)
Tracy Hallway (Lab)
David Lilly (C)
Nathan Shone (LD)

May 2021 result Lab 1575 C 746
May 2019 result Lab 1281 UKIP 485 C 388
May 2018 result Lab 1565 C 547
May 2016 result Lab 1457 Ind 790 C 240
May 2015 result Lab 2915 UKIP 842 C 790
May 2014 result Lab 1391 UKIP 696 C 268
May 2012 result Lab 1747 C 353
May 2011 result Lab 1946 C 621
May 2010 result Lab 2675 C 814 LD 746 BNP 313
May 2008 result Lab 1312 C 562 BNP 363 LD 231
May 2007 result Lab 1330 C 460 LD 328 BNP 308
May 2006 result Lab 1327 C 612 BNP 405
June 2004 result Lab 1551/1399/1131 LD 610 Ind 574 C 463/462/383 BNP 309

Barlow and Holmesfield; and
Killamarsh East

North East Derbyshire council; caused respectively by the resignations of Conservative councillors Carol Huckerby and Nick Whitehead.

For the second half of this week's Previews we travel south to Derbyshire and to territory which this column has covered quite recently. We start with a journey from Killingworth to Killamarsh.

NE Derbys, Killamarsh E

Killingworth and Killamarsh have a lot of history in common, as it was coalmining that made both towns. Killamarsh lies on the eastern side of the Rother valley on the northern edge of Derbyshire, looking across the river and the county boundary to the quasi-New Town of Mosborough on the edge of Sheffield.

The town of Killamarsh has also caught the eye of housing developers thanks to its proximity to the big city. Its population has increased by half in the last fifty years, and from looking at the census return one suspects that white flight is a major part of that. In the 2011 census Killamarsh East ward was 98.5% White British, which was the second-highest figure for any ward in the East Midlands and within in the top 60 wards in England and Wales.

NE Derbys, Barlow/Holmesfield

The White British population in Barlow and Holmesfield isn't much lower, at 97.7%. However, this is a very different area. As can be seen from the map, Barlow and Holmesfield is a rural ward which covers a number of villages to the north-west of Chesterfield. The ward covers a large area, and much of its western half lies within the Peak District National Park.

Barlow and Holmesfield ward has had unchanged boundaries since North East Derbyshire council was set up in the 1970s, and Killamarsh East escaped a boundary review for the 2019 election unchanged. So we can compare results here over quite a long period of time. Not that there's much to report on in the case of Barlow and Holmesfield, which has been in Conservative hands since 1991. After standing here as an independent candidate in 1995, the Conservatives' Carol Huckerby had represented the ward continuously since 1999 without serious opposition: she was re-elected for a sixth term in 2019 with a 65-22 lead over Labour. She is standing down after 22 years' service.

NE Derbys, 2019

Killamarsh used to be such a strong Labour town that its local elections would regularly go uncontested. Labour won Killamarsh East ward unopposed in 1987, 1991, 1995, 2003 and 2007, and the Conservatives didn't stand a candidate here between 1979 and 2011. As recently as May 2015 the Labour slate had a 68-32 lead in Killamarsh East.

Since then Killamarsh has swung a mile to the right. In May 2019 the Conservative slate polled 53% to Labour's 47% and won both of the ward's seats, the second by a majority of one vote. Those two seat gains helped the Conservatives to gain control of North East Derbyshire council from Labour in the May 2019 elections, which returned 30 Conservative councillors against 18 Labour, 3 Lib Dems and two independents. A further Labour seat has since gone Conservative in a by-election.

The lead Conservative councillor in Killamarsh East, Kevin Bone, subsequently resigned from the council along with his wife Patricia (who was elected for Killamarsh West ward); both by-elections were held in May alongside the Derbyshire county council elections, and both of them were held by the Conservatives. The East ward by-election in May had an increased Conservative lead of 56-39 over Labour.

It's not technically accurate to describe Killamarsh as part of the Red Wall. Killamarsh (like Barlow and Holmesfield) is part of the North East Derbyshire constituency, which had already been an against-the-trend Conservative gain in June 2017. However, you can see from that recent history that it does share many characteristics with Red Wall-type areas.

May's Derbyshire county council elections also saw the Conservatives convincingly gain the two-seat Eckington and Killamarsh county division from Labour, after a near-miss in May 2017. Barlow and Holmesfield ward is part of the Dronfield West and Walton division of the county council, which was close between the Tories and UKIP in 2013 but is now very safe for the Conservatives.

Killamarsh East's other Conservative councillor, Nick Whitehead, has now resigned in his turn provoking the ward's second by-election in four months. He was the councillor elected in May 2019 by one vote, polling 354 votes to 353 for the lead Labour candidate.

So, this one should be closely watched. Defending Killamarsh East for the Conservatives is Wendy Tinley, who represents the ward on Killamarsh parish council. The Labour candidate is Tony Lacey, who appears to be fighting his first election campaign. Completing the ballot paper is Mark Firth for the Lib Dems.

The Conservatives should have an easier defence in Barlow and Holmesfield, where they have selected the wonderfully-named Bentley Strafford-Stephenson. He is described as actively involved in a number of local charitable and voluntary causes. Labour have selected Ross Griffin, who stood for the council in Tupton ward (on the far side of Chesterfield) in 2019. Again, the Lib Dems complete the ballot paper with their candidate John Wilcock.

Barlow and Holmesfield

Parliamentary constituency: North East Derbyshire
Derbyshire county council division: Dronfield West and Walton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chesterfield
Postcode districts: S17, S18

Ross Griffin (Lab)
Bentley Strafford-Stephenson (C)
John Wilcock (LD)

May 2019 result C 370 Lab 122 LD 75
May 2015 result C 719 Lab 286 UKIP 208
May 2011 result C 553 Lab 208
May 2007 result C 524 Lab 131
May 2003 result C 398 Lab 126
May 1999 result C 406 Lab 183
May 1995 result C 369 Lab 264 Ind 189
May 1991 result C 500 Lab 253 Ind 165
May 1987 result Ind 422 C 321 Lab 121
May 1983 result C unopposed
May 1979 result C 787 Ind 233 Lab 151
May 1976 result Ind 695 Lab 164
May 1973 result Ind 594 Lab 194

Killamarsh East

Parliamentary constituency: North East Derbyshire
Derbyshire county council division: Eckington and Killamarsh
ONS Travel to Work Area: Sheffield
Postcode district: S21

Mark Firth (LD)
Tony Lacey (Lab)
Wendy Tinley (C)

May 2021 by-election C 519 Lab 359 LD 42
May 2019 result C 395/354 Lab 353/348
May 2015 result Lab 1044/1017 C 502/496
May 2011 result Lab 743/652 C 282/206
May 2007 result 2 Lab unopposed
May 2003 result 2 Lab unopposed

Seales

South Derbyshire council; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Amy Wheelton, who was elected as a Conservative. She is seeking re-election.

It's traditional for a performance to be ended by clapping, so let's finish this week's edition of Andrew's Previews by considering Seales. Not maritime ones though. The Seales ward of South Derbyshire includes the village of Coton in the Elms, which is recognised as the farthest point in the UK from the sea. We are 70 miles away from the Wash, the Dee Estuary or the Severn Estuary.

S Derbys, Seales

Despite that, you can almost get to Coton in the Elms by boat. The village is one of six rural parishes making up Seales ward, which lies to the south-west of Swadlincote and is the southernmost ward of Derbyshire. The ward's western boundary is the River Trent, just beyond which (via the bridge at Walton on Trent) is the Derby-Birmingham railway line, the Roman Road of Ryknield Street (now the A38), the Trent and Mersey Canal and a marina at Barton-under-Needwood. From here it is possible to float to the North Sea, via the Trent and Mersey Canal, the navigable River Trent and the Humber estuary. Or, if you go the other way along the Trent and Mersey Canal, you can float to the Irish Sea, or to the Severn Estuary via the West Midlands' canal network.

Seales ward (perhaps not surprisingly, given its location) is part of a local government district called South Derbyshire. The ward was created in 2003 with two councillors as a merger of three previous single-member wards (Netherseal, Overseal and Walton) which were undersized, and it survived a boundary review in 2011 unchanged. Although there was a Labour history in some of the previous wards, Seales has proven to be a safe Conservative ward with the exception of the 2011 election, when it returned one councillor each from the Tories and Labour.

S Derbys, 2019

In 2019 the Conservative slate of Amy Wheelton, a farmer from Walton-on-Trent, and Andrew Brady won Seales ward with an increased majority of 51-30 over Labour. Both of them were new candidates. May 2019 was the fourth election in a row that the Conservatives had won a majority on South Derbyshire, although they did lose two seats nett for a 22-14 lead. The South Derbyshire district has the same boundaries as the parliamentary seat of that name, which the Conservatives have held since 2010 and where they now enjoy a very large majority.

However, the Conservative group in South Derbyshire has fallen apart over the last year or so. Going into the 2021 Derbyshire county elections there were four vacant seats on the district council, all following the resignations of Conservative councillors; Seales councillor Amy Wheelton had been suspended from the Party; and a number of other Conservatives had walked off to form a splinter group. They removed the Conservative leadership of the council and installed a Labour minority administration, which remains in place.

The Conservatives held all four by-elections to South Derbyshire council in May, one of which was in Seales ward following the resignation of Councillor Brady. In a straight Tory-Labour fight, the Conservatives increased their majority to 67-33. At the last count, the council was finely balanced with 15 Labour councillors, 15 Conservatives, 5 councillors in the splinter "Independent Group" and this vacancy.

Also in May Amy Wheelton fought the local Derbyshire county council division of Linton as an independent candidate. She finished a strong third with 23% of the vote, against 46% for the Conservatives and 31% for Labour - an against-the-grain swing to Labour compared with the 2017 Derbyshire election.

Wheelton stood down from South Derbyshire council in June provoking the ward's second by-election in four months. Although the reason for this was not disclosed at the time, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was to undergo a mastectomy. It appears that this procedure was a complete success, and in her case chemotherapy was not required.

Following this better-than-expected medical news Amy Wheelton is seeking re-election, as an independent candidate, in the by-election caused by her own resignation. It will be the second contest in four months between her and Conservative candidate Stuart Swann, who was elected in May as the local Derbyshire county councillor. Swann has sat on South Derbyshire council before, representing Church Gresley ward from 2015 to 2019 when he lost his seat to a running-mate. The Labour candidate is Louise Mulgrew, who contested Swadlincote South division in May's county elections. Completing the ballot paper is Amanda Baker for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: South Derbyshire
Derbyshire county council division: Linton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Burton upon Trent
Postcode districts: DE12, DE15

Amanda Baker (Grn)
Louise Mulgrew (Lab)
Stuart Swann (C)
Amy Wheelton (Ind)

May 2021 by-election C 1070 Lab 527
May 2019 result C 667/657 Lab 400/303 SDP 251
May 2015 result C 1371/1359 Lab 1005/925 UKIP 650
May 2011 result C 1015/919 Lab 928/730
May 2007 result C 1048/989 Lab 582/458
May 2003 result C 895/785 Lab 523/495


If you enjoyed this preview, there are many more like it - going back to 2016 - in the Andrew's Previews books, which are available to buy now (link). You can also support future previews by donating to the Local Elections Archive Project (link).

Andrew Teale


Previewing this week's council by-elections in the North of England (02 Sep 2021)

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

Three by-elections on 2nd September 2021, all in the North of England, with a Labour defence, a Residents defence and a free-for-all:

Park; and
Ryburn

Calderdale council, West Yorkshire; caused respectively by the death of Labour councillor Mohammed Naeem and the resignation of independent councillor Robert Holden.

Stott Hall Farm

We start this week on the wrong side of the Pennines, although only just, and with a sight which will be familiar to anybody who drives from Lancashire to Yorkshire regularly. After a long climb up the motorway from Milnrow, the M62 turns left then right into a cutting, passes a stone with a white rose marking the county boundary, runs under a footbridge carrying the Pennine Way, and suddenly the landscape opens out into wide and beautifully desolate moorland, sloping down to a reservoir on the left. The two carriageways separate, and travellers then pass one of the most famous landmarks in the north of England: the house in the middle of the M62. Stott Hall Farm, to give it its proper name, was saved from the motorway demolition men by a geological fault, which meant that a route around the farm was easier to build.

Calderdale, Ryburn

To the north of the motorway, the county boundary runs along the escarpment of Blackstone Edge to meet the head of the Ryburn valley. The River Ryburn runs east from Blackstone Edge to meet the Calder at Sowerby Bridge, and the Ryburn ward of Calderdale covers virtually all of its valley. The A58 Rochdale-Halifax road runs the length of the valley, whose main population centre is the village of Ripponden.

Calderdale, Park

Calderdale's Park ward provides a complete contrast. Whereas Ryburn ward is full of wide open spaces, Park covers the tightly-packed Victorian terraces of western Halifax. In comparison to Ryburn, which is 96% White British and has something of a commuter demographic despite its relatively poor transport links (it is in the top 10 wards in Yorkshire for those employed in the financial and insurance sector, and has above-average education levels), Park ward is in the top 20 wards in England and Wales for those who have never worked or are long-term unemployed (23.1%), for those looking after home or family (12.8%), for Islam (64.7%), and for Asian ethnicity (68.0%, mostly of Punjabi heritage). It's also in the top 30 wards in England and Wales for population aged under 16 (29.6%). It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that Park ward is Halifax's Pakistani ghetto.

The Calderdale metropolitan borough has two parliamentary constituencies, both of which are rather marginal. Park ward is in the Halifax constituency which has been Labour-held since 1964 with the exception of the 1983-87 Parliament, but has delivered a series of close results in the last decade. Labour held the constituency by 1,472 votes in the 2010 election, and by 428 votes in 2015 when the previous Labour MP Linda Riordan stood down. Holly Lynch was re-elected for a third term in 2019 with a reduced majority of 2,569; unusually for a target seat, the Conservative vote fell here in December 2019.

The Calder Valley constituency (which includes Ryburn ward) was a Conservative gain with a large majority in 2010. This large majority was rather deceptive, as the opposition vote was evenly split that year between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. That didn't apply in 2017, when the opposition vote to a large extent lined up behind Labour and Craig Whittaker was re-elected for a third term with a majority of just 609 votes. In December 2019 Whittaker increased the Conservative vote share for the fourth election in a row and took the seat to the edge of safety, with a 5,774 majority over Labour.

One of the unsuccessful candidates for the Calder Valley seat in 2017 was Robert Holden, who stood as an independent candidate, polled 1,034 votes and lost his deposit. Holden had been elected in 2014 as a Conservative councillor for Ryburn ward, but left the party a couple of years later after blowing the whistle over irregularities in the local party's accounts. He sought re-election to Calderdale council in 2018 as an independent candidate, lost his seat by 149 votes, but convincingly got it back in 2019: the vote shares that year were 50% for Holden and just 28% for the Conservatives. That was a very unusual result in what is normally a safe Conservative ward. In May this year, without Holden on the ballot, the Conservatives held Ryburn with 47% against 22% for another independent candidate and 21% for Labour.

Calderdale, 2021

Park ward is normally safe Labour - it has returned Labour candidates at every election since 2004 with the exception of a Lib Dem win in 2008 - but can also be electorally volatile. This is volatility of a different kind, depending rather less on the national scene and more on intangible variables like the ethnicity of the candidates and what's going on in the mosques at the time. You often see this sort of thing in strongly-Asian Pennine wards.

A look at the last three elections here serves to make the point. In 2018 Labour candidate Mohammed Naeem won Park ward with 57% of the vote, independent candidate Surraya Bibi (a former Labour figure who was reportedly unhappy with the party's selection process) coming in a strong second with 35%. The Conservatives, whose candidate here that year was serving ex-UKIP Yorkshire MEP Amjad Bashir, finished a poor third with just 5%. In 2019 Labour's Faizal Shoukat crushed the opposition, polling 87% of the vote as he was re-elected for a third term. In May this year Labour councillor Jenny Lynn was also re-elected for a third term, polling 61%; the second-placed Conservatives substantially improved to 33% with their candidate Shakir Saghir, who has made a number of attempts on this ward under a variety of political labels (normally Conservative, but he was the English Democrats candidate here in 2006).

Wild swings indeed. And if we go back long enough here, another source of electoral volatility comes into play. In the 1975 Calderdale local elections the area of the modern Park ward was covered by the former St John's ward, which was the scene of a howler by the counting team who accidentally overlooked one of the ballot boxes. Once the mistake was discovered the following day, the returning officer was upfront about the error: the votes in the missing box were counted, and it was found that they didn't change the winner of the election.

The Park by-election arises from the death in July of Labour councillor Mohammed Naeem, who represented St John's ward from 1989 to 1992; after some decades away, he returned to the council in 2018. Much of Naeem's career was spent working for racial equality organisations in Halifax, Bradford and Rochdale.

Naeem was part of the Labour majority on Calderdale council. Labour gained overall control here in 2019 and currently hold 27 seats plus this vacancy, with the opposition consisting of 15 Conservatives, 5 Lib Dems, two independents and Holden's vacant seat.

Defending Park ward for Labour is Mohammed Shazad Fazal, who may be the same Mohammed Shazad Fazal who was the Liberal Democrat candidate for this ward in 2007, 2010 and 2011. We have another returning figure for the Conservatives: Naveed Khan fought this ward in 2011 and 2019, and stood in the neighbouring Town ward in May. Also standing are Jacquelyn Haigh for the Green Party and Javed Bashir for the Lib Dems. Whoever wins will not be off the campaign trail for long as they will be due for re-election in May.

The Ryburn by-election is to replace independent councillor Rob Holden. Holden has been suffering from depression for some years without seeking treatment for it, until in June he attempted to take his own life. He has stepped down from the council to seek a recovery away from the public eye. This column wishes Holden well for the future.

There is no independent candidate to succeed Holden, so we have a free-for-all in Ryburn ward! On paper his seat should revert to the Conservatives who have selected Felicity Issott; she is a Ripponden parish councillor, representing Barkisland ward, and works as a science teacher. Labour have reselected Leah Webster, who finished third here in May. Completing the ballot paper are two more returning candidates from May, Freda Davis for the Green Party and Pete Wilcock for the Lib Dems.

Park

Parliamentary constituency: Halifax
ONS Travel to Work Area: Halifax
Postcode districts: HX1, HX2, HX3

Javed Bashir (LD)
Shazad Fazal (Lab)
Jacquelyn Haigh (Grn)
Naveed Khan (C)

May 2021 result Lab 2375 C 1297 Grn 124 LD 100
May 2019 result Lab 3518 C 268 Grn 160 LD 90
May 2018 result Lab 2800 Ind 1742 C 245 Grn 143
May 2016 result Lab 2734 Ind 637 C 252 Grn 104 LD 97
May 2015 result Lab 4183 C 980 LD 299 Grn 268
May 2014 result Lab 2762 C 1281 Grn 206 LD 135
May 2012 result Lab 2657 C 838 LD 651
May 2011 result Lab 2353 LD 1272 Ind 444 C 416
May 2010 result Lab 2381 LD 1856 C 1196
May 2008 result LD 1838 Lab 1678 C 489 Ind 442
May 2007 result Lab 1500 Respect 1147 LD 1022 EDP 567
May 2006 result Lab 1339 LD 971 Ind 668 C 510 Ind 273
June 2004 result Lab 2377/2346/2264 C 2035/1820/1701 LD 994/892/721 Ind 595 Red and Green 343/300/274

Ryburn

Parliamentary constituency: Calder Valley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Halifax
Postcode districts: HD3, HX4, HX6

Freda Davis (Grn)
Felicity Issott (C)
Leah Webster (Lab)
Pete Wilcock (LD)

May 2021 result C 1785 Ind 848 Lab 798 Grn 207 LD 85 Reform UK 51
May 2019 result Ind 1852 C 1043 Lab 413 Grn 237 LD 144
May 2018 result C 1451 Ind 1302 Lab 805 LD 131 Grn 98
May 2016 result C 1258 Ind 1161 Lab 820 Grn 174 LD 131
May 2015 result C 3221 Lab 1382 UKIP 757 Grn 400 LD 380
May 2014 result C 1513 Lab 791 Grn 482 LD 186
May 2012 result C 1253 Lab 944 Grn 349 LD 229
May 2011 result C 1896 Lab 1089 Grn 300 LD 292
May 2010 result C 2687 Lab 1559 LD 1418 Grn 291
May 2008 result C 1667 LD 908 Lab 502
May 2007 result C 1570 LD 768 Lab 541 BNP 256
May 2006 result C 1338 LD 782 Lab 744
June 2004 result C 1800/1711/1457 LD 1137/991/876 Lab 1059/608/596

Wilmslow Dean Row

Cheshire East council; caused by the resignation of Residents of Wilmslow councillor Toni Fox.

In satellite towns
There's no colour and no sound
- Doves, Black and White Town

The Doves have a lot to answer for. If you hear their song Black and White Town, and particularly if you watch the video, you might have trouble parsing that the satellite town they are actually from is Wilmslow.

Yes, that's the Wilmslow which is possibly the richest town in the north of England. Located at the southern end of Manchester's built-up area, Wilmslow is a classic commuter town from which the stockbrokers of Manchester go to work on the train while the Real Housewives of Cheshire buy designer clothes in the local charity shop. I'm not exaggerating much. Almost the whole of the town is within the 10% least-deprived census areas in England, and Wilmslow has the busiest Aston Martin dealership in the UK and some of the most expensive housing in the north-west. The median property in Dean Row ward, the eastern end of the town north of the River Bollin, will set you back at least half a million pounds, and you'll be shelling out significantly more than that if you want to live in Dean Row itself.

Cheshire East, Wilmslow Dean Row

You'll be shelling out even more if you want to buy 43 Adlington Road, a five-bedroom semi-detached house in Dean Row ward which was placed on the market earlier this year for £1.1 million (link). From 1949 this house was owned by the mathematician Alan Turing, who died here in 1954 from cyanide poisoning at the age of 41. Turing is possibly the most illustrious in a long list of rich and/or famous people who have lived in Wilmslow over the years; even the local MP, Tatton's Esther McVey, is a TV star. It says something that Wilmslow High School gave us not just the Doves but also The 1975, whose lead singer Matty Healy is the son of the actors Tim Healy and Denise Welch.

Rather a contrast with the area immediately to the north of Wilmslow. Although this is outside the boundary of Dean Row ward and in that sense off-topic, we can't visit the Wilmslow area without mentioning the critically-acclaimed satirical drama that is Handforth Parish Council Planning and Environment Committee. If by some mischance you have not yet seen this video, go get yourself a drink and some popcorn and settle down. If you have seen this video before, do the same thing.

When your columnist first saw that video at the start of February it had under 2,000 views and was clearly going viral then. Seven months on, what has happened in Handforth since? Well, there has been a bit of a clearout on this notoriously dysfunctional council. Brian ("you have no authority") Tolver has been replaced as chairman by John ("the fact that there were no meetings held is irrelevant") Smith. Contrary to some press reports, Tolver is still a Handforth councillor, but Aled "read the standing orders" Brewerton and Barry ("where's the chairman gone") Burkhill have both resigned from that council. The vacancy discussed in the video, following the disqualification of Jean Thompson for not attending any meetings in six months ("the fact that there were no meetings held is irrelevant") was filled at a by-election in May by John Smith's wife Julie. No by-election was called to replace Burkhill and the council have co-opted another councillor allied to Smith, Kerry Sullivan, to replace him. A by-election to replace Brewerton took place in July in West ward and was won by Sam Milward. And Handforth Parish Council now longer exists under that name: the parish has rebranded itself as Handforth Town Council as of the end of July, and John Smith will become the Mayor of Handforth. It would appear that his faction has won the war.

Mind, Handforth Town Council may not last for very long in that form. Cheshire East council, which as the principal council for Wilmslow and Handforth ultimately has some responsibility for this mess, is in the middle of a review of its parish structure. One of their proposals is to abolish Handforth parish altogether with Wilmslow town council taking over the area's governance.

Handforth's two representatives on Cheshire East council are Barry Burkhill and Julie Smith. At the time of the video Burkhill was Mayor of Cheshire East. A number of complaints against his conduct as mayor were made on the strength of that video, but he was close enough to the end of his mayoral term that Cheshire East council were able to kick the matter into the long grass until it was too late to do anything.

Ches E, 2019

One suspects that the arithmetic in Cheshire East may have had something to do with that inaction. Burkhill, who has represented the ward since 2011 for the Handforth Ratepayers Independent slate, sits in the main independent group on the council which takes in a number of other councillors elected on residents' tickets, including the Residents of Wilmslow party. (Julie Smith, who was elected as an independent, is non-aligned on Cheshire East council.) A controversial Conservative administration lost its majority in Cheshire East in 2019, and the Labour group are now running the council in coalition with the main independent group. That coalition has little or no majority, and in early 2021 they were a man down following the death of Crewe Labour councillor Brian Roberts and the COVID-enforced cancellation of the April 2020 by-election to replace him.

The ruling coalition is also one down at the moment following the resignation of Toni Fox, who has represented Wilmslow Dean Row ward since 2015 for the Residents of Wilmslow. Fox, who was a Cheshire East cabinet member with the planning portfolio, is relocating to Shropshire. She gained her seat from the Conservatives in 2015 with a narrow majority of 50 votes, and was re-elected in 2019 by the much wider margin of 69% to 31% for the Conservatives.

Defending for the Residents of Wilmslow is Lata Anderson; she is a Wilmslow town councillor. The Conservatives have reselected Frank McCarthy who stood here in 2019; he is the vice-chairman of Wilmslow town council. The 2015 and 2019 elections here were straight fights; this time there is more choice for the local electors, thanks to the nominations of James Booth for the Green Party and Birgitta Hoffmann for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Tatton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode district: SK9

May 2019 result Residents of Wilmslow 930 C 409
May 2015 result Residents of Wilmslow 1189 C 1139
May 2011 result C 1072 Lab 262 LD 229


If you enjoyed this preview, there are many more like it - going back to 2016 - in the Andrew's Previews books, which are available to buy now (link). You can also support future previews by donating to the Local Elections Archive Project (link).

Andrew Teale


Previewing the council by-elections of 26 August 2021

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

Four by-elections on 26th August 2021:

Corby and Hayton

Cumbria county council; caused by the resignation of independent councillor William Graham.

Cumbria CC, Corby/Hayton

We start the week in the north with our rural by-election. The Corby and Hayton division of Cumbria county council covers the northern end of the Pennines, as the 621-metre summit of Cold Fell - the most northerly mountain not just in the Pennines but also in Cumbria - lies within the division boundary. On the slopes running down from Cold Fell north to Hallbankgate and west to the River Eden lie seven-and-a-half rural parishes.

The half refers to Great Corby, which lies directly across the Eden from the village of Wetheral and is part of Wetheral parish. The river is crossed here by Corby Bridge, a very early railway viaduct: the bridge has carried the Newcastle-Carlisle railway line across the Eden since 1834. A footpath runs next to the line, giving Great Corby's residents easy access to the railway station in Wetheral. The Hayton element of the division name refers to the village of Hayton which is located midway between Great Corby and Brampton; there is another Hayton in Cumbria, near Aspatria, so it's important to get the location right here.

This area has a commuter profile, with Carlisle - the largest city for miles around - not that far away. However, its electoral history has been dominated for some years by William Graham, who has served on Hayton parish council for 40 years. Graham, who contested all of his elections as an independent candidate, won a by-election to Carlisle city council in 1995 and held Hayton ward on that council until his retirement in 2016. He failed in an attempt to return in 2019 (following boundary changes, he was the runner-up in the new Wetheral and Corby ward). Graham served as Mayor of Carlisle in 2009-10.

Cumbria CC, 2017

Graham was first elected to Cumbria county council for this division in 2013 and was re-elected for a second term in 2017, on that occasion defeating the Conservative candidate by 48-35. Now aged 80, he is standing down from the county council on health grounds. He might well have retired if the May 2021 Cumbria county council elections had gone ahead, but they were cancelled pending reorganisation of the county's local government.

That reorganisation meant that the 2021 Carlisle city elections were cancelled as well. The most recent city elections were held in 2019 with new ward boundaries: Great Corby is part of the Wetheral and Corby ward which returned a full slate of Conservative councillors, while the rest of the division is covered by Brampton and Fellside ward which split its three seats between two Conservatives and an independent. The whole division is covered by the Penrith and the Border constituency, which has been Conservative-held for many years.

No new independent candidate has come forward to replace Graham, so there are a lot of votes up for grabs. The Conservatives, who were runners-up last time and represented the area on the county council before Graham's win, have selected Tim Cheetham, who lives within the division in Hallbankgate. Cheetham is a former Army warrant officer, with service in Northern Ireland to his credit, who has organised the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal in North Cumbria for some years. In a straight fight Cheetham is opposed only by Roger Dobson of the Liberal Democrats. A retired Human Resources professional, Dobson started his local government career some years ago as a community councillor in Anglesey; he was a Labour candidate for Anglesey county council in 2017 before joining the Lib Dems. Dobson also lives within the ward, and he is a parish councillor in Cumwhitton.

Parliamentary constituency: Penrith and The Border
Carlisle city wards: Brampton and Fellside (Carlatton, Castle Carrock, Cumrew, Cumwhitton, Farlam, Hayton and Midgeholme parishes), Wetheral and Corby (part of Wetheral parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Carlisle
Postcode districts: CA4, CA8

Tim Cheetham (C)
Roger Dobson (LD)

May 2017 result Ind 830 C 608 LD 177 Grn 124
May 2013 result Ind 1083 C 390

Graig

Newport council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Margaret Cornelious.

Newport, Graig

For our Welsh by-election this week we come to another area which is noted for a very old railway viaduct. In fact the Bassaleg Viaduct, built in 1826 over the Ebbw River for the Rumney Railway, is claimed to be the oldest operational railway viaduct in the world. Unlike Corby Bridge, the Bassaleg Viaduct is no longer in passenger service: the line crossing the viaduct is a freight-only branch line serving a quarry in Machen.

The Graig division of Newport lies to the west of the city, outside the M4 motorway bypass. It is based on Bassaleg, a middle-class suburb from which many professionals commute to Newport or Cardiff: in the 2011 census Graig division was in the top 20 divisions in Wales for people employed in the financial and insurance sector. However, the area is also known for its rugby players: the current Wales flanker Aaron Wainwright and the grand-slam winning Wales captain Ryan Jones head a long list of Welsh (or, in the case of Stuart Barnes, English) rugby players who attended Bassaleg School, the local secondary school. Bassaleg School also educated the present Monmouth MP and Welsh Office minister David TC Davies, the former Welsh secretary Ron Davies, the recently-retired Archbishop of Wales John Davies and the present Green Party deputy leader and leadership candidate Amelia Womack.

The Graig division extends to the west along the A468 Newport-Caerphilly road to include the villages of Rhiwderin and Lower Machen. The Ebbw River forms the division's north-eastern boundary, and new housing developments in this century have caused the village of Rogerstone to spill over the river into this division. The resulting Afon Village development and the adjoining Rogerstone branch of Morrison's - built on the site previously occupied by Rogerstone power station - are cut off from the rest of this division by a hill and the A467 road. Afon Village will be transferred out of this division at the next Welsh local elections in May 2022.

Although this area voted Labour at the height of their powers in the 1990s, Graig is essentially a Conservative area and has voted for that party at every election this century. Margaret Cornelious was first elected here in 1990 and has continuous service since 1999; she served as Mayor of Newport in 2011-12. She is stepping down on health grounds.

Newport, 2017

At the most recent Welsh local elections in May 2017 the Conservatives led Labour here 47-38. Since then we have had four elections for the marginal Newport West constituency, including an April 2019 parliamentary by-election following the death of long-serving Labour MP Paul Flynn. Ruth Jones, the Labour winner of that by-election, was re-elected in December 2019 with a reduced majority of 902 votes over the Conservatives. In May's Senedd election Newport West constituency of the Senedd re-elected Labour MS Jayne Bryant with a much larger majority of 3,906, although there was a small swing to the Conservatives here.

So, a marginal division in a marginal constituency. We should watch this one closely. Defending for the Conservatives is John Jones, who runs a recruitment agency in Newport and has lived in the division for some years. The Labour candidate is John Harris, who represents Bassaleg on Graig community council; he was worked for the NHS for over 30 years. Completing the ballot paper is Jeff Evans for the Liberal Democrats.

Westminster and Senedd constituency: Newport West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode district: NP10

Jeff Evans (LD)
John Harris (Lab)
John Jones (C)

May 2017 result C 1026/976 Lab 825/758 LD 194 Grn 153
May 2012 result C 902/805 Lab 718/580 LD 169
May 2008 result C 1187/1070 Lab 589 LD 317/241
August 2005 by-election C 770 Lab 503 Grn 69
June 2004 result C 1030/798 Lab 626/577 LD 348

Princes Park; and
Strood North

Medway council; caused respectively by the deaths of Tashi Bhutia and Steve Iles. Both were elected as Conservatives, although Iles was sitting as an Independent Conservative.

Medway, Princes Park

We finish for the week with two by-elections in the Medway towns. To start with Princes Park ward, which is based on the area around Princes Avenue in the southern part of Chatham. This area was mostly developed in the 1980s, partially as a council estate: social renting here is relatively low now, but despite the presence of a number of schools within the boundary educational attainment is not particularly high. In the 2011 census Princes Park ward was in the top 50 in England and Wales for those educated to Level 2 (5 or more GCSE passes or equivalent, but no further).

Medway, Strood N

Down by the riverside we have the town of Strood, the only Medway Town on the western bank of the river. Strood has been a major crossing-point of the Medway since the days of the Romans, who built a bridge here their route from the Channel Ports from London. Then known as Watling Street, now as the A2 road, the Roman road now forms the southern boundary of Strood North ward.

In this week's Cumbrian and Welsh by-elections we saw some very old railway viaducts. Strood goes to the other extreme with a very old railway tunnel, which was opened in 1824 as a canal tunnel linking the Medway towns to Gravesend. The Thames and Medway Canal was not a success, and in 1845 it was sold to the South Eastern Railway who converted Strood Tunnel into a railway tunnel. Strood railway station now has regular trains to London via the high speed route to St Pancras, and is the junction for the Medway Valley branch line to Maidstone and Paddock Wood.

Strood North has often been a marginal ward, and in the elections of 2007, 2011 and 2019 it split its three seats between one Labour and two Conservative councillors. On each of those occasions the winning Labour candidate was Stephen Hubbard who clearly has something of a personal vote. The May 2019 election saw the Conservative and Labour slates poll 32% each, with UKIP on 15% and the Greens on 12%. Princes Park has been marginal on occasion in the past but swung strongly to the Conservatives in the last decade; in May 2019 the vote shares here were 48% for the Conservatives, 28% for Labour and 25% for UKIP. Medway council went down the unitary route in the 1990s, so the only elections here in May were for Kent police and crime commissioner.

Medway, 2019

Both by-elections are to replace councillors who have recently died. Tashi Bhutia, who passed away last month, came to the UK after service as a Gurkha; he met his wife, Vicky, in Hong Kong while they were both serving in the Forces, and they settled in Chatham after marrying in 1980. Bhutia was first elected to Medway council in 2009, winning a by-election in Luton and Wayfield ward for the Conservatives; he transferred to the neighbouring Princes Park ward in 2015.

Steve Iles, who died in June at the age of 65, was first elected in 2015 but already had some experience of public life by then: his wife, Josie, was Mayor of Medway in 2013-14. Iles himself served as mayor in 2018-19 and was twice deputy mayor: however, his second term as deputy mayor of Medway was cut short in 2019 by a controversy over Islamophobic social media posts, which also saw him thrown out of the Conservative party. From then until his death Iles sat on the council as an Independent Conservative.

Defending Princes Park for the Conservatives is Robbie Lammas, a Parliamentary researcher who contested Luton and Wayfield ward in 2019. Labour have selected John Strevens, who fought the neighbouring Lordswood and Capstone ward last time out. UKIP have not returned, so the ballot paper is completed by Lib Dem John Castle, independent candidate Matt Durcan (who fought Rainham Central ward in 2019 and finished as a strong runner-up; he is endorsed by a localist Medway Independents slate) and Sonia Hyner for the Green Party.

The same five parties are contesting the Strood North by-election. Here the defending Conservative is Mark Joy, who was elected to Medway council in 2015 as a UKIP candidate from Strood South ward, but defected to the Conservatives in 2016. Joy contested Twydall ward in 2019, without success. The Labour candidate is Zöe van Dyke, who fought this ward in 2019; she has recently retired from a job as a mediator with UNISON. Again, there is no UKIP candidate this time. The Greens have selected Cat Jamieson, who fought Rochester West ward (where she lives) in 2019. Completing the ballot paper are independent Chris Spalding (who is also a Medway Independents candidate) and Alan Wells for the Liberal Democrats.

Finally, a shoutout is in order for Medway Elects, a rather flashy website which aims to create "the most in-depth array of electoral history for Medway available online". The work already done is very impressive, and if you would like to see it for yourself their address is www.medwayelects.co.uk. Long may Medway Elects prosper.

Princes Park

Parliamentary constituency: Chatham and Aylesford
ONS Travel to Work Area: Medway
Postcode district: ME5

John Castle (LD)
Matt Durcan (Ind)
Sonia Hyner (Grn)
Robbie Lammas (C)
John Strevens (Lab)

May 2019 result C 962/951 Lab 554/494 UKIP 497
May 2015 result C 1811/1633 UKIP 1144/907 Lab 1029/821 TUSC 60
May 2011 result C 1488/1317 Lab 1014/968 EDP 200 LD 119
May 2007 result C 1068/1029 Lab 975/832 EDP 252 Medway Ind Party 176/144 BNP 153
May 2003 result C 662/570 Lab 541/484 BNP 205 LD 205/203

Strood North

Parliamentary constituency: Rochester and Strood
ONS Travel to Work Area: Medway
Postcode district: ME2

Cat Jamieson (Grn)
Mark Joy (C)
Chris Spalding (Ind)
Zöe van Dyke (Lab)
Alan Wells (LD)

May 2019 result C 1331/1200/1055 Lab 1313/1118/1037 UKIP 604 Grn 499 Ind 410/349/264
May 2015 result C 2673/2230/2138 Lab 1841/1636/1500 UKIP 1791/1630/1513 Grn 630 TUSC 195
May 2011 result C 2016/1988/1699 Lab 1764/1480/1390 LD 318/228/198 EDP 282 TUSC 212
May 2007 result C 1771/1732/1593 Lab 1609/1402/1365 LD 477/445/340 UKIP 345
May 2003 result C 1604/1537/1531 Lab 1444/1355/1262 LD 347/276/251 UKIP 146


If you enjoyed this preview, there are many more like it - going back to 2016 - in the Andrew's Previews books, which are available to buy now (link). You can also support future previews by donating to the Local Elections Archive Project (link).

Andrew Teale


Previewing the by-elections of 19 August 2021

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

Eight by-elections on 19th August 2021, with the Conservatives defending five seats, the Liberal Democrats two and the Scottish National Party one. Without further ado, we start with the big one:

Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner

Caused by the disqualification of Conservative PCC Jonathan Seed, who did not make his declaration of acceptance of office.

Welcome to the biggest by-election of 2021. You thought the recent parliamentary by-elections in Hartlepool, Chesham and Amersham, and Batley and Spen were big; well, this poll is more than twice as big as those three put together. We have a county-wide by-election for the Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner.

You might reasonably ask what the hell is going on here. We only had police and crime commissioner elections in May, and now there's a by-election less than three months later? Well, bad luck is not involved here. The electors of the whole of Wiltshire are being called to the polls in the middle of the summer holidays, at a cost of £1,500,000 to the local council taxpayers, because of a series of failures and unintended consequences.

The story starts 29 years ago on 11 July 1992, when there was an incident in the village of Netheravon in Wiltshire. There was a hit-and-run car crash on the High Street; nobody was hurt but some damage was caused. The police caught the driver responsible: he was 34-year-old Jonathon Seed, a Royal Artillery officer, and tests revealed him to be nearly three times over the alcohol limit. Seed was charged with three offences arising from this incident: drink-driving, failure to stop at the scene of an accident, and failure to leave his name and address following a crash.

In March 1993 Seed appeared before Kennet magistrates and pleaded guilty to the first two offences, with the third charge being dropped. The magistrates fined him a total of £500 and disqualified him from driving for 18 months. And in most circumstances that would have been the end of the matter.

This column normally talks about by-elections to local government, and as a result your columnist knows what sort of court sentence can get you disqualified from being a local councillor. £500 and an 18-month driving ban, incurred 28 years ago, is nowhere near that threshold. Disqualification from being a local councillor kicks in if you have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of three months or more, including suspended sentences, within the last five years. There is one by-election coming up in the next few weeks where a councillor has fallen foul of this rule.

You can be far more of a crook than that and still be an MP, as we saw a couple of years ago with the case of Fiona Onasanya MP. She got four months in prison for perverting the course of justice, and had she still been a Cambridgeshire county councillor her political career would have ended then. However, it takes a twelve-month prison sentence to disqualify from Parliament, and the electors of Peterborough had to go through the hassle and expense of an election petition to force Onansanya off the green benches.

Jonathon Seed's offences from 1993 are now spent convictions. This is thanks to the Rehabiliation of Offenders Act 1974, which (to quote from official Police advice) "aims to rehabilitate offenders by not making their past mistakes affect the rest of their lives if they have been on the right side of the law for some time". And indeed Seed went on to a successful and laudable career: he eventually left the Army with the rank of Major, went into business and became the master of a hunt. Seed also went into politics: he has been a Wiltshire councillor since 2013, served on the council's cabinet, had been an agent for a number of Conservative MPs, and had applied (unsuccessfully, as far as I can tell) to be a Conservative parliamentary candidate. In 2018 Seed was selected as the Conservative candidate for Wiltshire police and crime commissioner in succession to Angus Macpherson, who was intending to retire at the 2020 election (subsequently postponed to 2021 for obvious reasons) after two terms.

The police and crime commissionerships in England and Wales are one of the few surviving constitutional innovations of the 2010-15 Coalition government. The legislation and rules for their elections and eligibility were written by the Home Office, who don't normally have anything to do with elections. And it shows. For those who know and work with the eligibility and by-election timing rules for local government, what the Home Office came up with is ludicrous in a number of aspects which directly affect this poll.

To start with eligibility: why are we having this by-election? The eligibility rules are set out in sections 64 to 69 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. To quote from the relevant parts of section 66 (subsections (3)(c) and (4)(a)(i)):

A person is disqualified from being elected as, or being, a police and crime commissioner if the person has been convicted in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man, of any imprisonable offence (whether or not sentenced to a term of imprisonment in respect of the offence).

For [this purpose] “imprisonable offence” means an offence for which a person who has attained the age of 18 years may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment.

There's no time limit here. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act doesn't apply. If you've ever been done over by the courts for something you could have been sent to prison for, whether you were actually sentenced to imprisonment or not, then you're not qualified to be a police and crime commissioner.

This rule caught out a number of intended candidates when the first police and crime commissioner elections rolled around in darkest November of 2012. The most high-profile case was that of Simon Weston, the Falklands War veteran and charity fundraiser, who had intended to seek election as the PCC for South Wales. At the age of 14 Weston had been caught as a passenger in a car which some older friends of his had stolen, and he received a police caution for that. Opinion was divided as to whether this disqualified him, and in the end Weston did not stand in the election.

Section 66(3)(c) clearly does apply to Jonathon Seed. He has been convicted of two historic driving offences, both of which are imprisonable (both now and in 1993). Under the current law, the maximum penalty for both drink-driving and failure to stop at the scene of an accident is six months' imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

Seed declared his previous convictions to the Conservative Party when he sought their nomination for the PCC position, and it appears he was wrongly advised by the party that he was eligible to stand. His nomination papers for the election included signing a declaration that "to the best of my knowledge and belief I am not disqualified from election as Police and Crime Commissioner".

It took some fantastic work from the team of investigative journalists at ITV News, who deserve an award for this, to uncover the truth. Unfortunately, the story of Seed's disqualification broke after polling day on Thursday 6 May 2021, but before the votes in the election were counted on the following Monday. On first preferences, Seed polled 41% of the vote against 17% each for the Lib Dems and Labour and 15% for an independent candidate. The Lib Dems beat Labour for second place by 866 votes and went through to the runoff, which Seed won 63-37. Accordingly, the returning officer declared Seed elected as PCC in the full knowledge that he was disqualified from the office. Sometimes you just have to do these things.

Which brings us to the second question: why is this by-election being held now, in the middle of the summer holidays? Well, this is another case of the PCC elections legislation being ludicrous. The timing rules for by-elections, set out in section 51 of the 2011 Act, say that (unless the term is within its last six months) PCC by-elections must be held within 35 working days of the vacancy occurring. Given that notice of election has to be published 25 working days before the poll, and the nomination deadline is 19 working days before the poll, this gives almost no flexibility for the polling day. One of these days we will end up with a PCC by-election having to be scheduled over the Christmas and New Year period because of this.

There has have already been one instance of a PCC by-election taking place in the summer holidays. That was the West Midlands PCC by-election of 21 August 2014, held after the death of the incumbent on 1 July. The turnout just about crawled over 10%.

For comparison, vacancies in Scottish local government, the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd have to be filled within three months. There is no deadline for filling vacancies in Parliament or in English and Welsh local government, although it's considered bad form to leave seats vacant for months on end without a good reason.

Now, we are clearly more than 35 working days on from the May ordinary elections, so why hasn't this poll happened already? Well, in order to take up the office of PCC (and its salary and pension benefits), Seed had to make a declaration of acceptance of office under section 70 of the 2011 Act. He chose not to do so for the police and crime commissionership (although Seed had also been re-elected to Wiltshire county council, which he is not disqualified from, and he did accept that office). The deadline for making the declaration was 7 July, and the returning officer could not confirm that the position was vacant and start the timetable for election until that date had passed. Inevitably, this resulted in a polling date in the second half of August. Well done everyone.

It might take a high-profile mess-up like the one involving Seed for the Conservatives to lose this by-election. As stated, they had a 63-37 lead over the Lib Dems in May, and the two previous PCC elections (in November 2012 and May 2016) were comfortable Conservative wins as well. Wiltshire is divided into seven parliamentary constituencies, which have returned a full slate of seven Conservative MPs since 2015. The Tories have had a majority of Wiltshire's MPs continuously since 1924, with only the seat or seats based on Swindon having ever returned Labour MPs; the rest of the county has been true blue for 97 years with the exception of 2010, when the Liberal Democrats won the newly-drawn Chippenham seat.

Wiltshire, 2021

The May 2021 elections were combined with local elections in every one of Wiltshire's 118 electoral wards: the 98 wards of Wiltshire council (above) were up for election in the ordinary course, the 2020 elections for one-third of Swindon council (below) were postponed to this year for obvious reasons, and there was a by-election in the one ward of Swindon which was not scheduled to hold an ordinary election. Adding up the votes cast across the county, the Conservatives polled 48%, the Lib Dems 22% and Labour 15% (the vast majority of which was from Swindon); the council seats split 77 to the Conservatives (including Jonathon Seed in Melksham Without West and Rural), 27 to the Lib Dems, 8 to Labour and 7 to independent candidates. The Conservatives have majorities on both councils, losing seats in Wiltshire in May but gaining seats in Swindon.

Swindon, 2021

Defending for the Conservatives is another ex-military officer. Like Jonathon Seed, Philip Wilkinson is ex-Royal Artillery; he has also served as a commando, as a Para and with the special forces in Northern Ireland. He was appointed MBE for his service in Northern Ireland, and promoted to OBE for writing the NATO manual on peace support operations. Since leaving the Army with the rank of Colonel, Wilkinson has worked on security with the Rwandan, Iraqi, Afghan (oh dear), Palestinian and most recently the Somali governments.

The Lib Dems have selected Brian Mathew, who is a Wiltshire county councillor for the Box and Colerne ward and also sits on the Wiltshire Police and Crime Panel. Mathew was the Lib Dem candidate for the North Wiltshire constituency in the last three general elections.

Standing again for Labour is Junab Ali, who finished third in May. Ali, who runs an electrical contracting business, is the chair of the Wiltshire Police and Crime Panel; he has sat on Swindon council since 2008, currently represents the town's Central ward, and was Mayor of Swindon in 2018-19. In the 2010 general election Ali was the Labour candidate for the Devizes constituency.

Also returning is independent candidate Mike Rees, who finished in fourth place in May with 15% of the vote. Rees is a former Wiltshire Police detective inspector, who had a 30-year career with the force; he now runs a cleaning business.

Completing the ballot paper is Julian Malins, the Reform UK candidate, who finished sixth and last in May with 2% of the vote. The brother of the former Conservative MP Humfrey Malins, Julian is a former Alderman of the City of London and has been a Conservative parliamentary candidate in the past.

As with all police and crime commissioner elections the Supplementary Vote will be in use, and you can mark two preferences on your ballot paper. Polls will be open across Wiltshire from 7am to 10pm.

Parliamentary constituencies: Chippenham, Devizes, North Swindon, North Wiltshire, Salisbury, South Swindon, South West Wiltshire
ONS Travel to Work Areas: Salisbury, Swindon, Trowbridge
Postcode districts: BA2, BA11, BA12, BA13, BA14, BA15, GL7, GL8, GL9, RG17, SN1, SN2, SN3, SN4, SN5, SN6, SN8, SN9, SN10, SN11, SN12, SN13, SN14, SN15, SN16, SN25, SN26, SO51, SP1, SP2, SP3, SP4, SP5, SP6, SP7, SP9, SP11

Junab Ali (Lab)
Julian Malins (Reform UK)
Brian Mathew (LD)
Mike Rees (Ind)
Philip Wilkinson (C)

May 2021 result C 84885 LD 35013 Lab 34147 Ind 31722 Grn 16606 Reform UK 4348; runoff C 100003 LD 58074
May 2016 result C 56605 Lab 28166 LD 19294 UKIP 18434; runoff C 68622 Lab 39365
November 2012 result C 28558 Lab 16198 Ind 11446 LD 10130 UKIP 7250 Ind 5212; runoff C 35319 Lab 21157

Election Court Watch

The Election Court didn't need to get involved in the wrongful election of Jonathon Seed in Wiltshire, but they have disposed of one of the petitions before them arising from May's elections. This was the case of Cherry v Strangwood affecting the Banbury Ruscote division of Oxfordshire county council, in which the deputy returning officer for Cherwell had declared the Conservative candidate Jayne Strangwood to be elected with outgoing Labour county councillor Mark Cherry in second place. It was widely reported at the time that the vote totals for Cherry and Strangwood had been accidentally swapped around in the declaration, and at last week's hearing the Election Court accepted this evidence. They have accordingly quashed Strangwood's election and declared that Cherry was the rightful winner in Banbury Ruscote. With this Cherry added on top the Labour group on Oxfordshire county council has now increased to 16 councillors, while the Conservatives fall to 21 and are now tied with the Lib Dems for the status of largest party on the council. This is an increase in the majority for the pretentiously-named Oxfordshire Fair Deal Alliance, a coalition of the Lib Dems, Labour and Greens which runs the county council.

Sandwich

Dover council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor MJ Holloway.

Dover, Sandwich

We now turn to the seven local by-elections today in England and Scotland, starting in Sandwich. This is a Cinque Port, originally located on the estuary of the River Stour, but changes in the Kent coastline over the centuries have left Sandwich several miles away from the sea.

Back in the the day Sandwich was the scene of a number of French invasions which they don't tell you about in GCSE history. In 1216 a French force under the future Louis VIII landed here, supporting the Barons' side in the First Barons' War against King John. The French were back in 1457 with a raiding party, burning much of Sandwich to the ground; one of the dead was the town's mayor, and the present Mayor of Sandwich wears a black robe in memory of this incident.

In the space between the town and the sea is one of the world's best-known links golf courses. Royal St George's is the only golf course in the south of England on the Open Championship rota, and last month it hosted the 149th Open Championship won by the American Colin Morikawa. Ian Fleming was a member of Royal St George's, and the course appears under an assumed name in the James Bond novel Goldfinger.

The town's largest employer for many years was the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which has had a large base in Sandwich since 1954 concentrating on research and development. Pfizer scaled back its operations here in 2011, and their site is now operated as "Discovery Park" with other businesses having joined the site.

Dover, 2019

Sandwich is located at the northern end of the Dover local government district, and has consistently returned Conservative candidates at all levels of government in recent years. There were new boundaries in 2019 which reduced the number of councillors for the ward from three to two: the Conservative slate won with 34%, outgoing Conservative councillor Paul Carter polled 25% as an independent candidate, while the Lib Dems and Labour polled 14% each. The Sandwich division of Kent county council (which is larger than this ward) was safely Conservative in May, and the ward is part of the Conservative-held South Thanet constituency. This was the seat contested by UKIP leader in Nigel Farage in 2015, and UKIP ran riot in that year's local elections across much of the constituency but did comparatively poorly here.

Outgoing councillor Michael John "MJ" Holloway had represented the ward since 2015. Previously he had been a senior official in the Diplomatic Service: he was the British Ambassador to Panama from 2011 to 2013, and before that from 2005 to 2010 he was the Foreign Office's director for consular services in Iberia, work for which he was appointed OBE in 2009. Holloway was deputy leader of Dover council from October 2019 until his resignation in June 2021.

Defending for the Conservatives is Dan Friend, a Sandwich town councillor who runs a group of IT businesses in the town. In a straight fight, Friend is opposed by fellow Sandwich town councillor Anne Fox, a retired environmental health officer, who is the Liberal Democrat candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: South Thanet
Kent county council division: Sandwich
ONS Travel to Work Area: Margate and Ramsgate
Postcode districts: CT3, CT13

Anne Fox (LD)
Dan Friend (C)

May 2019 result C 883/872 Ind 639 LD 371 Lab 351/314 Grn 328

Downs North

Ashford council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Charles Dehnel.

Ashford, Downs N

We move inland within Kent to the North Downs. Or, as the ward name has it, Downs North. This ward covers four small parishes midway between Ashford and Canterbury, of which the largest is Chilham in the Great Stour valley. Chilham is a relatively unspoilt and very photogenic village which has appeared in several TV dramas, including the 2009 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma and editions of ITV's Agatha Christie's Marple and Poirot. That Poirot episode, set during a snowbound Christmas, heavily featured the village's oldest building: Chilham Castle, which dates from 1174 and is still in private occupation. Until his death last year the castle's occupier was Stuart Wheeler, the spread betting millionaire and former treasurer of the UK Independence Party.

Ashford, 2019

Wheeler had previously been a significant donor to the Conservative party, and the Downs North ward was traditionally a strong area for them. It survived a boundary review in 2019 unchanged, re-electing Tory councillor and former Grenadier Guards officer Stephen Dehnel with a relatively-low score of 47% of the vote; the Greens came second on 24% and the Lib Dems were third with 19%. Ashford's 2019 results have just been added to the Local Elections Archive Project, and the above map comes to Andrew's Previews hot off the press.

Sadly, Stephen Dehnel died very shortly afterwards. The by-election to replace him took place in July 2019 (Andrew's Previews 2019, page 212) and saw a large ballot paper - with seven candidates in total - and an unusually close result for the ward. The Conservative candidate Charles Dehnel won the by-election to succeed his father on the council with a majority of just 39 votes, polling 37% of the vote against 31% for the Green Party and 11% for the Liberal Democrats.

Charles Dehnel has now stood down from Ashford council after two years in office, provoking the second Downs North by-election of this council term. Defending for the Conservatives is Sarah Williams, who was an independent candidate here in the July 2019 by-election; on that occasion she polled 17 votes and tied for last place with Labour. Williams is the chair of Molash parish council, one of the four parishes which make up this ward. The Green Party have reselected Geoff Meaden, who lives within the ward in the wonderfully-named village of Old Wives Lees and sits on Chilham parish council; he's a former geography lecturer who has been in the Greens since the days when they were called the Ecology Party. Meaden was the Greens' parliamentary candidate for Canterbury in 2010, was a close runner-up in the July 2019 by-election, and was also runner-up (although much further back) in May's elections to Kent county council, where he contested the local division of Ashford Rural East. The Liberal Democrat candidate is Carol Wilcox, who stood in Ashford's Bockhanger ward in the 2019 borough elections. Only the top three parties from the July 2019 by-election have returned, so that is your ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashford
Kent county council division: Ashford Rural East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ashford
Postcode districts: CT4, TN25

Geoff Meaden (Grn)
Carol Wilcox (LD)
Sarah Williams (C)

July 2019 by-election C 229 Grn 190 LD 70 Ashford Ind 67 UKIP 22 Lab 17 Ind 17
May 2019 result C 375 Grn 186 LD 148 Lab 82
May 2015 result C 932 Lab 291 Grn 290
May 2011 result C 580 Ashford Ind 279 Grn 162
May 2007 result C 511 Grn 240 LD 102
May 2003 result C 599 LD 158

Oakham South

Rutland council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Nick Woodley.

Rutland, Oakham S

The quiz I was playing at the weekend contained the following question:

In November 2020 McDonalds opened their first “restaurant” in England’s smallest county. This was in which town, the county town?

The answer expected was Oakham. Now, as this column has pointed out in the past the definition of those crucial words "smallest" and "county" can be rather troublesome; but Oakham is indeed the county town of Rutland which has claimed the title of England's smallest county for many years.

The Oakham McDonald's is on the northern edge of town, whereas today we are concentrating on Oakham South ward. This ward takes in part of the town centre but is mostly residential, covering a series of outlying estates on the southern edges of the town. It has only existed since 2019, having been created from the merger of two predecessor wards called Oakham South East and Oakham South West.

Both predecessor wards had by-elections which were described this column in 2018. Oakham South East ward had elected an independent and a Conservative councillor in 2015, and the March 2018 by-election (Andrew's Previews 2018, page 102) resulted in the Conservatives losing their seat to another independent. The volatile Oakham South West ward had also elected an independent and a Conservative councillor in 2015, and the July 2018 by-election (Andrew's Previews 2018, page 245) also resulted in the Conservatives losing their seat to another independent.

In the case of South West, thereby hangs a tale. The defending Conservatives fell to third position in a close three-way result, independent candidate Richard Alderman tied for first place with the Lib Dems' Joanna Burrows on 177 votes each, and Alderman won the by-election on the returning officer's drawing of lots. Very shortly afterwards newly-elected Councillor Alderman was arrested over some very dubious stuff on his Facebook aimed at the then-Prime Minister Theresa May and other high-profile MPs; he subsequently pleaded guilty to four charges of making menacing or grossly offensive social media posts, and was sentenced by Birmingham magistrates to a six-month community order and a six-month night-time curfew. The terms of his curfew prevented Alderman from attending council meetings, and he was subsequently kicked off Rutland council under the six-month non-attendance rule. By this time the May 2019 elections were imminent, so there was no further by-election to replace him.

The South West and South East wards were merged into a new Oakham South ward in 2019 as stated, with one fewer councillor than previously. Curiously, none of the four previous independent councillors sought re-election here, and the candidate list saw a Conservative slate of three opposed only by the Lib Dems' Joanna Burrows. She topped the poll with 58%, the Conservative slate polling 42% and winning the other two seats by default.

Conservative councillor Nick Woodley resigned at the end of June in protest at a planning decision, which saw the Rutland council planning committee approve a new development of 62 homes on a greenbelt site off Braunstone Road within the ward. The by-election to replace him will again be a straight fight between the Conservatives and Lib Dems.

Defending for the Conservatives is Andy Burton, who has previous local government experience: he sat from 1999 to 2019 on East Riding council in Yorkshire (which we shall come to presently), representing Wolds Weighton ward, and held several portfolios in the council's cabinet. Burton, who has recently been co-opted onto Oakham town council, runs a business advising farmers on sustainable agriculture. Challenging for the Liberal Democrats is Paul Browne, a retired solicitor who previously ran a large practice in the town. The local press reported that a number of fake ballot papers for this by-election were discovered in a public litter bin during the campaign (link), but there are security measures to guard against this sort of thing and electors can rest assured that the returning officer will only admit genuine ballots into the count.

Parliamentary constituency: Rutland and Melton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough
Postcode district: LE15

Paul Browne (LD)
Andy Burton (C)

May 2019 result LD 856 C 620/551/435

East Wolds and Coastal

East Riding council, East Yorkshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Paul Lisseter at the age of 58.

E Riding, E Wolds/Coastal

We move to the north of England, starting for once on the wrong side of the Pennines. The East Wolds and Coastal ward sprawls across an enormous area of the East Riding, covering twenty-one rural parishes between Bridlington to the east and Driffield to the west. With an area of 148 square miles, this was at one point the second-largest electoral ward in England (although subsequent reorganisations have seen it fall a long way down the table).

Back in the day the most important settlement in the ward was Kilham, which was an important market town on the old Roman road from York to Bridlington and had a larger population than Driffield. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries there was also a major centre at Skipsea, whose Norman castle - built around 1086, the year of Domesday - defended the region against Danish invaders. Today, with just over 3,000 electors on the roll, the largest population centre in this ward is Nafferton; this is a village just off the main road and on the railway line between Driffield and Bridlington.

E Riding, 2019

East Wolds and Coastal is a safe Conservative ward. (William) Paul Lisseter had represented the area since winning a by-election in May 2016 and was re-elected for a second term in 2019. He ran a housing development company. Earlier this year Lisseter had been suspended from the Conservative group over comments he made to a public inquiry into housing plans for the East Riding: he denied any wrongdoing, but was still sitting as an independent at the time of his sudden death in June.

The May 2019 election here had only three parties on the ballot, with the Conservatives beating the Green Party slate 56-31 and Labour being the only other party to stand. With Humberside county council being long gone, the only elections here in May were for Humberside police and crime commissioner.

Defending for the Conservatives is Charlie Dewhirst, who has previous local government experience: he sat from 2010 to 2018 on Hammersmith and Fulham council in London, representing Ravenscourt Park ward. (One of his ward colleagues was the political journalist Harry Phibbs.) Dewhirst has now returned to his native East Yorkshire and works as an adviser to the British pig industry. The Green Party have reselected John Scullion who was on their slate here in 2019; he is the local coordinator for the National Cycle Network charity Sustrans. Also standing are Daniel Vulliamy for Labour (who returns from 2019), Peter Astell for the Liberal Democrats and Kim Thomas for the Yorkshire Party.

Parliamentary constituency: East Yorkshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bridlington (part); Hull (part)
Postcode districts: YO15, YO16, YO25

Peter Astell (LD)
Charlie Dewhirst (C)
John Scullion (Grn)
Kim Thomas (Yorkshire Party)
Daniel Vulliamy (Lab)

May 2019 result C 2242/2072/1856 Grn 1222/928/757 Lab 522/522
May 2016 by-election C 1885 Lab 860 UKIP 835
May 2015 result C 4185/3788/3366 UKIP 2080 Lab 1527/1334 Grn 1393 LD 1040
May 2011 result C 2769/2595/2511 Grn 949 Lab 883/778/609 LD 470/431/418
May 2007 result C 2439/2347/2333 Grn 690 Ind 639 LD 568/533 Lab 477
May 2003 result C 2146/2055/2015 Lab 1046

Littlemoor; and
Primrose

Ribble Valley council, Lancashire; caused respectively by the resignations of Liberal Democrat councillor Sue and Allan Knox.

We cross over the border to Lancashire for two Liberal Democrat defences in the town of Clitheroe. Located in the Ribble Valley some distance to the north of Blackburn, Clitheroe is based around Clitheroe Castle, a Norman building with one of the smallest keeps of any British castle. The town around it was a textile centre like much of Lancashire.

In 1902 Clitheroe gained the distinction of being first parliamentary seat won by the Labour Party at a by-election. The previous Liberal MP Sir Ughtred Kay-Shuttleworth had been elevated to the peerage, and David Shackleton of the Labour Representation Committee won the resulting by-election unopposed. The key to understanding this result is that at the time Clitheroe was not typical of the seat named after it, which from 1885 to 1918 was based on the fast-growing textile towns of Nelson and Colne on the far side of Pendle Hill. The seat was called Clitheroe because it took in the previous parliamentary borough of Clitheroe, which had been disenfranchised by the 1885 redistribution.

In the 21st century Clitheroe has a very different political context because it is the main town in the Ribble Valley local government district and parliamentary seat. Those units have Conservative majorities and Labour representatives are nowhere to be seen. Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans has represented the Ribble Valley constituency since 1992, while the 2019 elections to Ribble Valley council returned 28 Conservative councillors, 10 Lib Dems and 2 independents. The Liberal Democrat vote is strongly concentrated in Clitheroe town, which returned nine Lib Dem councillors and one Conservative.

Ribble Vy, Primrose

Littlemoor and Primrose are the two southern wards of Clitheroe. Primrose ward (above) runs south along the railway line towards Blackburn from Clitheroe Castle and the Booths supermarket, which lie at the ward's northern end. (For the benefit of those who may be confused by this reference, Waitrose is the non-Lancashire equivalent of Booths.) Littlemoor ward (below) lies immediately to the east between the Whalley Road and the Pendle Road, which goes straight up the hill towards the Nick o'Pendle pass. In between the two is the Primrose nature reserve, a mill lodge which has recently been restored and opened to the public.

Ribble Vy, Littlemoor

Both of these are safe Liberal Democrat wards. The May 2019 elections, the only previous results on these boundaries, gave the Lib Dems leads of 58-24 over the Conservatives in Littlemoor and 60-24 over Labour in Primrose. Both wards are part of the Clitheroe division of Lancashire county council, which has the same boundaries as the town. This county division has consistently been a photofinish in recent years. The Lib Dems' Allan Knox held the seat by 23 votes over the Conservatives in 2009; he finished third in a close three-way result in 2013, the Conservatives gaining the seat with a 45-vote majority over an independent; in 2017 the Tories were re-elected with a majority of five votes over the Lib Dems, and they increased their majority to 12 votes in May this year.

Ribble Valley, 2019

Former Lib Dem county councillor Allan Knox was the leader of the opposition on Ribble Valley council, having sat for Primrose ward since 1997, and his wife Susan had served as one of the councillors for Littlemoor ward since 2011. Both of them have previously served as Mayor of Clitheroe. They are relocating north of the border, where Sue has a new job in St Andrews.

Defending Littlemoor for the Lib Dems is Gaynor Hewitt. The Conservatives have selected Jimmy Newhouse, who runs a waste management company. Also standing in Littlemoor are Mandy Pollard for Labour and Anne Peplow for the Green Party.

The same four parties are contesting the Primrose by-election. Here the defending Lib Dem candidate is Kerry Fletcher, wife of St Mary's ward councillor Stewart Fletcher. Labour have selected Michael Graveston, who was their county council candidate here in May. Katei Blezard for the Conservatives and Malcolm Peplow for the Greens complete the Primrose ballot paper.

Littlemoor

Parliamentary constituency: Ribble Valley
Lancashire county council division: Clitheroe
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackburn
Postcode district: BB7

Gaynor Hewitt (LD)
Jimmy Newhouse (C)
Anne Peplow (Grn)
Mandy Pollard (Lab)

May 2019 result LD 474/411 C 193/151 Lab 151/150

Primrose

Parliamentary constituency: Ribble Valley
Lancashire county council division: Clitheroe
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackburn
Postcode district: BB7

Katei Blezard (C)
Kerry Fletcher (LD)
Michael Graveston (Lab)
Malcolm Peplow (Grn)

May 2019 result LD 418/403 Lab 166/151 C 109/98

Mid Formartine

Aberdeenshire council, Scotland; caused by the resignation of Scottish National Party councillor Karen Adam.

Aberdeenshire, M Formartine

We finish north of the border in Aberdeenshire. Formartine (a Gaelic name meaning "Martin's land") is an agricultural area to the north and north-west of Aberdeen. This area has boomed in population in recent years, and commuting to the big city and engineering (connected to the North Sea oil industry) have added to the area's economic mix in recent decades.

The main population centre in the Mid Formartine ward is Oldmeldrum, on the main road between Aberdeen and Banff. Oldmeldrum is home to one of Scotland's oldest distilleries: Glen Garioch whisky has been made here since 1797, trading on the area's reputation for producing Scotland's finest barley.

The Mid Formartine ward runs south-east from Oldmeldrum through Pitmedden (home to the Highland League football team Formartine United) to the coast at Potterton and Balmedie. These lie just outside Aberdeen and as such are mostly commuter villages, although Balmedie does have some work of its own: part of the major sand-dune system here has been turned into the Trump International Golf Links, which have a Balmedie address but lie just outside the ward boundary. Unlike Royal St George's which we discussed earlier, Trump International is yet to be added to the Open Championship rota.

This ward was created in 2007 and modified in 2012, losing some villages to the north to Turriff and District ward. In 2007 it elected two Lib Dems and one councillor each from the SNP and the Conservatives. For the 2012 election one of the Lib Dem councillors, Paul Johnston, was re-elected as an independent while the other lost his seat to the SNP.

Aberdeenshire, 2017

The Conservatives moved into first place here in 2017, polling 35% against 26% for the SNP, 21% for Johnston and 9% for the Lib Dems. As with many Aberdeenshire wards the Conservatives could have won two seats here in 2017 if they had stood two candidates; instead their transfers gave the final seat to the Lib Dems who gained a seat back from the SNP. New face Karen Adam defeated outgoing councillor Cryle Shand for the SNP seat; the other elected councillors for the ward were Jim Gifford of the Conservatives, independent Paul Johnston and Andrew Hassan of the Lib Dems. Gifford subsequently became leader of the council at the head of a Unionist coalition, but left the leadership and the Conservative party last year.

If we re-run the 2017 count for one seat, the Conservatives beat Johnston 52.5-47.5; a Conservative-SNP final two is more of a blowout, with a 59-41 lead for the Tories against the two SNP candidates.

As we can see, the SNP face an uphill struggle to hold this by-election. Their councillor Karen Adam was elected to the Scottish Parliament in May as the MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast, holding the seat by the narrow majority of 772 votes over the Conservatives. She was the first MSP to take the oath of office in British Sign Language (her father is deaf). Adam has resigned from Aberdeenshire council to concentrate on her duties in Holyrood.

Defending for the Scottish National Party is Jenny Nicol, who manages the post office in Potterton. The Conservatives also have a Potterton-based candidate, Sheila Powell. Jeff Goodhall, who was an independent candidate here in 2017 (polling 5% and finishing as runner-up), returns with the Lib Dem nomination and the unlikely endorsement of Jim Gifford, the former Conservative leader of Aberdeenshire council; Goodhall completes a four-strong ballot paper along with Peter Kennedy of the Scottish Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Gordon (almost all)
Scottish Parliament constituency: Aberdeenshire East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Aberdeen
Postcode districts: AB21, AB23, AB41, AB51, AB53

Jeff Goodhall (LD)
Peter Kennedy (Grn)
Jenny Nicol (SNP)

Sheila Powell (C)

May 2017 first preferences C 1797 SNP 1340 Ind 1070 LD 491 Ind 249 Lab 245


If you enjoyed this preview, there are many more like it - going back to 2016 - in the Andrew's Previews books, which are available to buy now (link). You can also support future previews by donating to the Local Elections Archive Project (link).

Andrew Teale


Previewing the English and Scottish council by-elections of 12 August 2021

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

There's something for everyone in the 12th August 2021 edition of Andrew's Previews with six by-elections, three in England and three in Scotland. All of the four largest parties in Westminster are defending one seat each, but we start with two independent defences in the Scottish Highlands:

Inverness West; and
Wick and East Caithness

Highland council, Scotland; caused respectively by the resignations of independent councillors Graham Ross and Nicola Sinclair.

Welcome to the far north. We start with two by-elections to the Highland council, which (using the standard European area metric) sprawls across 0.84 Belgiums at the northern end of Great Britain. This area is mountainous and extremely sparsely populated, with most of the Highland Council's 235,000 or so constituents concentrated in the city of Inverness and other towns.

Highland, Wick and E Caithness

Around a tenth of the Highland council's residents live in the historic county of Caithness, a generally low-lying area which includes one of Europe's largest boglands, the Flow Country. Most of Caithness' residents live in the two burghs of Thurso and Wick, leaving the rest of the county essentially empty. On the coast between Thurso and Wick can be found the traditional northeastern corner of Great Britain, the village of John o'Groats from where ferries go to the Orkney islands in summer.

Highland, Inverness W

161 railway miles from Wick, and a rather shorter distance along the A9 trunk road, lies the city of Inverness, the commercial and administrative capital of the Highlands. The Inverness West ward covers the city's western residential suburbs: Balnafettach and Clachnaharry on the western side of the Caledonian Canal, and Ballifeary between the canal and the River Ness.

Highland, 2017

Politically, the Highlands are an area where the candidate often matters more than the party label. Political trends in the rest of the UK reverberate less strongly here when general elections come around; and local elections have traditionally been dominated by independent candidates to the point that they often went uncontested. The introduction of PR for Scottish local elections in 2007 put a stop to unopposed elections here, meaning that everybody had something to vote for, and it also broke the independent stranglehold on the council chamber in Inverness. At the last Scottish local elections in 2017 the Highlands' electors returned 28 independent councillors, 22 SNP, 10 Conservatives, 10 Lib Dems, 3 Labour and a Green. The main independent group still leads the council, but they rely on a coalition with the Lib Dems and Labour for overall control.

Inverness West ward dates from the introduction of PR in 2007 and was redrawn in 2017. Its three ordinary elections to date have all returned one independent, one Lib Dem and one SNP councillor. The Lib Dems won a by-election in April 2009 for a seat previously held by an independent councillor, but didn't defend their gain in 2012. In May 2017 the SNP topped the poll with 29% of the first preferences, the Lib Dems had 28%, independent councillor Graham Ross was re-elected with 21%, and the Conservatives finished as runner-up with 12%. If we recount the votes for one seat, the Lib Dems finish top with a convincing 61-39 lead over the SNP.

The 2017 boundary changes cut the size of Highland council from 80 councillors to 74, and the big loser in the redistribution was Caithness which went down from ten councillors to eight. Previously the burghs of Thurso and Wick had formed separate wards with a Landward Caithness ward covering all the rural villages; following the reduction the Landward Caithness ward was split up, with its southern and eastern parts being added to Wick ward to form a new ward called Wick and East Caithness.

The previous Landward Caithness ward was dominated by independent candidates, and going into the 2017 election it had a full slate of four independent councillors following a by-election gain from the SNP in November 2013: the SNP councillor had been forced to resign after it came out that he had gone over the expense limit in the 2012 election. Wick ward started off with independent dominance too, but an SNP gain in an April 2011 by-election broke the mould; the new SNP councillor, Gail Ross, was re-elected in 2012 at the top of the poll with 46% of the vote.

Ross didn't seek re-election in 2017, and the first election for the new Wick and East Caithness ward returned to independent dominance, with five independent candidates polling 62% of the vote between them. Top of the poll was Willie Mackay, outgoing councillor for Landward Caithness ward, who polled 22% of the vote and was elected on the first count. Also elected on the first count was new independent candidate Nicola Sinclair, who polled 21%. Another Sinclair on the ballot was Andrew Sinclair of the Conservatives, who polled 14% and won the third seat. Raymond Bremner of the SNP (12%) narrowly defeated Neil Macdonald (9%), the outgoing Labour councillor for Wick ward, for the fourth and final seat.

So, for the same council we have two very different wards over a hundred miles apart geographically and almost as far apart politically. The by-election in Wick and East Caithness has arisen due to the resignation of independent councillor Nicola Sinclair, the chair of Highland council's Caithness committee, who is going back to her previous career in local journalism. In this connection she has written this article (link) for the Press and Journal on the candidates to succeed her on the Highland council.

For the Wick and East Caithness poll you might fancy the independent candidate on previous form, and there is only one defending independent candidate here. He is Bill Fernie, who was a long-serving independent councillor for Wick West ward from 2003 to 2007 and then for Wick ward from 2007 to 2017. Fernie topped the poll in Wick in 2007 with 30% of the vote, but his star has fallen somewhat since then; he scraped in on the final count in 2012, and in 2017 he polled 7% in this ward and was eliminated in sixth place. The Conservative candidate Daniel Ross was given a large interview in the local paper (link), calling for devolution to Caithness in full "glumly pointing at potholes" mode. Most of Ross' fire was trained on the SNP, who have selected Michael Cameron. Also standing are Jill Tilt for the Liberal Democrats (who represent Caithness at Westminster) and Libertarian candidate Harry Christian.

The Inverness West by-election is also an independent defence following the resignation of Graham Ross, the deputy provost of Inverness. Ross had served since 2012, and is leaving the council for family reasons. Again, there is one independent candidate to replace him: Duncan McDonald, who is semi-retired after a 34-year Army career in the Royal Logistics Corps. McDonald has been firmly endorsed by the Highland council's ruling independent group. The SNP have selected Kate MacLean, who works for the NHS as a community development officer. The Lib Dem candidate is 25-year-old Colin Aitken, a native Canadian who moved to the Highlands in 2015. Another young candidate is the Conservatives' Max Bannerman. Completing a ballot paper of seven candidates are Iain Forsyth of the Independence for Scotland Party, Libertarian Calum Liptrot and Ryan Mackintosh of the Scottish Greens. The usual Scottish disclaimers apply: Votes at 16 are in force and the Alternative Vote will be used, please fill out your ballot paper in order of preference.

Inverness West

Parliamentary constituency: Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey
Scottish Parliament constituency: Inverness and Nairn
ONS Travel to Work Area: Inverness
Postcode districts: IV1, IV3

Colin Aitken (LD)
Max Bannerman (C)
Iain Forsyth (Independence for Scotland)
Calum Liptrot (Libertarian)
Ryan Mackintosh (Grn)
Kate MacLean (SNP)
Duncan McDonald (Ind)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 1022 LD 964 Ind 849 C 416 Lab 235

Wick and East Caithness

Parliamentary constituency: Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
Scottish Parliament constituency: Caithness, Sutherland and Ross
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wick
Postcode districts: KW1, KW2, KW3, KW5, KW6, KW7, KW12, KW14

Michael Cameron (SNP)
Harry Christian (Libertarian)
Bill Fernie (Ind)
Daniel Ross (C)
Jill Tilt (LD)

May 2017 first preferences Ind 2902 C 649 SNP 549 Lab 404 LD 172

Dalry and West Kilbride

North Ayrshire council, Scotland; caused by the resignation of Scottish National Party councillor Joy Brahim.

N Ayrshire, Dalry/W Kilbride

For our remaining Scottish by-election we move to a ward which covers a large chunk of rural Ayrshire. Dalry (pronounced Dal-RYE, for those who weren't aware) is an industrial town on the main railway line from Glasgow to Ayr and the A737 road towards Paisley; a bypass road for Dalry has recently been opened. The main industry here back in the day was ironworking; today a large employer is the DSM chemical factory, improving the health of the nation by producing vitamins.

This would no doubt have pleased the 1st Lord Boyd-Orr, who grew up in the nearby small town of West Kilbride on the Firth of Clyde coast. He was briefly an MP, representing the Combined Scottish Universities from an April 1945 by-election to 1946. John Boyd Orr was the first Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, a position which followed on from a career doing important scientific research in nutrition. In 1949 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Boyd-Orr was one of eleven British winners of that prize, eight of whom have served in the House of Commons: the other three are the 1976 winners Mairead Corrigan (now Maguire) and Betty Williams, and the 1977 winner Amnesty International.

West Kilbride has also given us Nicola Benedetti, a classical violinist who was born here in 1987 and whose musical career has blossomed since she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year award in 2004. This column isn't always appreciative of string players, but Benedetti can certainly play. You might have heard her at the Proms last Saturday, performing Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No 2 with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (link). Here she is in action, inspiring the next generation of musicians and music lovers.

But this area's main export has traditionally been not music but energy of some form or another. Just up the coast from West Kilbride is Hunterston, home to two nuclear power stations (one closed 1990, the other about to cease generation) and a port through which raw materials were imported into the UK for the Ravenscraig steelworks and our coal-fired power stations. With Ravenscraig long gone and coal-fired power stations about to go the same way, the Hunterston terminal's coal-handling facilities are now being demolished.

Dalry and West Kilbride ward also has a large rural element, so it's not a strong left-wing area. Its first election, in 2007, returned independent councillor Elizabeth McLardy, Robert Barr for the Conservatives and John Reid for Labour. Barr successfully sought re-election as an independent candidate in 2012, when Reid lost his seat to the SNP's Catherine McMillan.

There was a clearout here in the 2017 election, as the SNP's McMillan stood down and independent McLardy lost her seat to the Conservatives after polling 8% and finishing in sixth place. The new SNP candidate Joy Brahim topped the poll with 24%, the Conservatives returned Todd Ferguson with 22%, and independent Robert Barr was re-elected with 19%. A second independent, Kay Hall, was runner-up with 12%, and Labour crashed to 8%. The five independent candidates polled 46% between them, and if we rerun the count for one seat then it goes to Robert Barr, who leads Brahim by 56% to 44%.

N Ayrshire, 2017

Across North Ayrshire council the SNP and Labour tied for first place on 11 seats each in the May 2017 election, despite the SNP polling 35% while Labour had just 26%. There is a Unionist majority on the council (the other 11 councillors are 7 Conservatives and 4 independents). Labour run the council as a minority, and they recently became the undisputed largest group after one of the SNP councillors walked off to join Alex Salmond's new Alba party.

The SNP's Joy Brahim is now working outwith Dalry, and she has resigned from the council. To replace her the Nationalists have selected Robyn Graham; she is the national secretary of the SNP's youth branch YSI. As with the two Highland by-elections above there is one independent candidate here: John Willis previously fought this ward in 2017, polling 27 first-preference votes and finishing in eighth and last place. Standing for the Conservatives is Ronnie Stalker, who runs a butchers shop in Dalry. The Labour candidate is Valerie Reid, who stood in 2017 as the second Labour candidate in Saltcoats ward. Completing the ballot paper are the Lib Dems' Ruby Kirkwood, who stood in the local seat of Cunninghame North in the Scottish Parliament elections three months ago; and James McDaid of the Socialist Labour Party. Whoever wins may have to move fast to seek renomination for the 2022 North Ayrshire elections, when there will be new boundaries and this ward will be broken up.

Parliamentary constituency: North Ayrshire and Arran
Scottish Parliament constituency: Cunninghame North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kilmarnock and Irvine
Postcode districts: G78, KA3, KA13, KA14, KA15, KA21, KA22, KA23, KA24, KA25

Robyn Graham (SNP)
Ruby Kirkwood (LD)
James McDaid (Soc Lab)
Valerie Reid (Lab)
Ronnie Stalker (C)
John Willis (Ind)

May 2017 first preferences Ind 2335 SNP 1219 C 1137 Lab 432

Grange

South Lakeland council, Cumbria; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Dave Khan.

S Lakeland, Grange

We come down the coast into England to reach Lancashire over the Sands. The town of Grange-over-Sands lies on the west bank of the Kent estuary, as it flows into the flat and dangerous sandbanks and mudflats and saltmarshes of Morecambe Bay. This mini-riviera is a Victorian seaside resort, with the railway line over the estuary and around the bay to Lancaster being the main link with the outside world. The railway runs along the coast next to a mile-long promenade, which is interrupted by the forlorn remains of the Grange Lido: this is an Art Deco open-air swimming pool which closed in 1992 and which the council may now be deciding to do something about. The Grange ward extends to the west, beyond the town boundary, to take in the village of Allithwaite.

Grange-over-Sands was included within Cumbria in 1974, and now forms part of the South Lakeland district and the Westmorland and Lonsdale parliamentary constituency. This is the last major holdout of Liberalism in north-west England: Westmorland and Lonsdale is the region's only Lib Dem parliamentary seat (held by the former party leader, Tim Farron), and South Lakeland is the only district in the region with a Liberal Democrat majority. For now, at least; Farron's seat is due to be broken up in the next parliamentary boundary changes, and local government in Cumbria is up for reorganisation as well. The current plan is for South Lakeland to merge with Eden and Barrow-in-Furness districts into a new council from 2023 onwards.

S Lakeland, 2019

In advance of this plan the May 2021 county and district elections in South Lakeland were cancelled, but Grange ward went to the polls anyway in May because a by-election was held alongside the election for Cumbria Police and Crime Commissioner. Grange-over-Sands is part of the Lib Dem majority in South Lakeland, and the Liberal Democrats held the by-election by the wide margin of 60-26 over the Conservatives. That was a swing to the Lib Dems since May 2019 South Lakeland elections (mapped above), when their lead was 58-28.
The Grange division of Cumbria county council was safely Conservative when it was last contested in May 2017, but it has very different boundaries to this ward (the county division extends north as far as the eastern shore of Windermere).

This second Grange by-election of 2021 is the result of the resignation of Lib Dem councillor Dave Khan, who was their candidate for the county division in 2017. He was narrowly elected for the Grange ward in 2018 (when the current boundaries were drawn up) and easily re-elected in 2019.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Fiona Hanlon, a singer and guitarist from Grange. The Conservatives have selected Steve Chambers, who was runner-up here in 2018 just 63 votes behind Khan; Chambers is a businessman and former police officer from Allithwaite and a governor of Allithwaite primary school. Also standing are Robin le Mare for the Green Party (who returns from May's by-election) and Patricia Wright for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Westmorland and Lonsdale
Cumbria county council division: Grange (Grange-over-Sands parish), Cartmel (part of Lower Allithwaite parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kendal
Postcode district: LA11

Steve Chambers (C)
Fiona Hanlon (LD)
Robin le Mare (Grn)
Patricia Wright (Lab)

May 2021 by-election LD 1427 C 627 Grn 163 Lab 155
May 2019 result LD 1366 C 665 Grn 202 Lab 134
May 2018 result LD 1215/1139/1121 C 1058/1016/975 Grn 272/115/75 Lab 189

Orwell and Villages

East Suffolk council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Melissa Allen.

E Suffolk, Orwell/Villages

For our Conservative defence of the week we travel to rural Suffolk. The Orwell and Villages ward covers the countryside between Ipswich and Felixstowe, from the Orwell estuary in the south to the Deben estuary in the north. Anything coming in or out of Felixstowe - and there is a lot of traffic here, because Felixstowe is one of the UK's largest container ports - has to traverse this ward.

The largest population centres in the ward are the twin villages of Trimley St Martin and Trimley St Mary, named after two different churches which share the same churchyard. These are the last villages on the main road before Felixstowe, and they were bypassed in the 1970s.

E Suffolk, 2019

This area is the southern end of the East Suffolk district which was established following a reorganisation in 2019; previously it was the southern end of Suffolk Coastal district. The inaugural election for the current ward was close between the Conservatives and an independent slate led by Sherrie Green, a former Conservative councillor who had represented the Trimleys on Suffolk Coastal council. Shares of the vote were 35% for the Conservatives, 31% for the independent slate and 21% for the Green Party. The ward is split between two divisions of Suffolk county council, both of which were safe Conservative in May's election.

Defending for the Conservatives is Trimley St Mary resident and Felixstowe town councillor Mick Richardson, a former policeman and Police Federation rep who now runs a business flying drones. The independent slate and the Greens have not returned, so Richardson is opposed for the vacancy by Michael Ninnmey of the Lib Dems and Labour candidate David Rowe; Rowe returns from May's county council elections, in which he stood for Felixstowe North and Trimley.

Parliamentary constituency: Suffolk Coastal
Suffolk county council division: Martlesham (Bucklesham, Falkenham, Hemley, Kirton, Levington, Nacton, Newbourne, Stratton Hall and Waldringfield parishes); Felixstowe North and Trimley (Trimley St Martin and Trimley St Mary parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ipswich
Postcode districts: IP10, IP11, IP12

Michael Ninnmey (LD)
Mick Richardson (C)
David Rowe (Lab)

May 2019 result C 1179/1141 Ind 1040/1017 Grn 694 Lab 459

Weavers

Tower Hamlets council, London; caused by the death of Labour councillor John Pierce.

Tower Hamlets, Weavers

"What was too vile for Kate Street, Seven Dials, and Ratcliffe Highway in its worst day, what was too useless, incapable and corrupt - all that teemed on the Old Jago."
-Arthur Morrison, A Child of the Jago

We finish for the week in the east end of London. This has always been a poor and industrial area, and in the eighteenth century the Spitalfields area became a major centre for silk-weaving. London was a melting-pot even then, and most of the weavers were immigrants: French Huguenots and Irish were the main groups. The Huguenot and Irish weavers did not always see eye to eye, and there were major riots in Spitalfields in 1769.

As the population of Spitalfields grew, the weaving district expanded northwards into the west end of Bethnal Green, whose population trebled between 1801 and 1831. By the middle of the century, what is now Weavers ward was almost entirely built-up. This is the north-west corner of the modern borough of Tower Hamlets, located north of the Great Eastern railway line and west of Warner Place, Squires Street and Vallance Road. Shoreditch High Street railway station, on the East London line of the Overground, lies within the ward boundary.

This is not the sort of weaving industry those of us in the textile towns of the Pennines are used to. In Lancashire and Yorkshire the large industrial mills dominated, with their ranks of power looms producing miles of cloth on a daily basis. By contrast, the Bethnal Green textile industry harked back to an earlier time: weaving here was still the preserve of small family units living and working in specialised weaver's cottages. Some of these cottages (with their trademark large windows, allowing natural light to illuminate the looms) have escaped the predations of the wrecking ball and the London Blitz, and still stand today.

There aren't many of those cottages left though, and one reason for that is that Bethnal Green was, to put it mildly, a poor and deprived part of the city. The modern Weavers ward included Old Nichol Street, one of the most notorious slums in the whole of Victorian London, which inspired Arthur Morrison's 1896 novel A Child of the Jago quoted above. By the time that novel came out, Old Nichol Street was already being demolished; its replacement, the London County Council's Boundary Estate, has the distinction of being one of the UK's first council housing schemes. The estate is centred on Arnold Circus, a roundabout named after the chairman of the LCC Alderman Arnold, and much of it is Grade II listed. The superlative London vlogger Jago Hazzard has recently looked into the Boundary Estate in some detail, and his video on the subject is worth a watch.

Despite further improvement schemes over the 120 years since the Boundary Estate was opened, this is still a rather poor area. The entire Weavers ward was in the more deprived half of the 2019 indices of multiple deprivation. The weaving industry here is long gone, and the Irish and Huguenots have generally moved on to be replaced by immigrants of a different kind. In the early twentieth century, the Boundary Estate had a large Jewish population fleeing from pogroms on the continent. Some decades later the 2011 census return, taken when Weavers ward had slightly different boundaries to those of today, found a significant population of Bengali heritage - appropriate for a ward which takes in the northern end of Brick Lane. However, the same census placed Weavers ward in the top 50 wards in England and Wales for those employed in professional, scientific and technical activities, and in the top 100 for those born in the EU-15 countries. The reason for this is obvious: the ward borders the trendy Shoreditch area and (particularly in the south-west corner) is easily within walking distance of the City of London and the jobs located there.

If you thought that history and demographic mix was interesting, wait till I start talking about the local politics.

Weavers ward was created in 1978 and redrawn in 2002 and 2014. It was one of the last strongholds in Tower Hamlets of the Liberal Democrats, who had won a majority on the council in 1986 and 1990; Labour won the 1994 and 1998 elections here partly due to a split which saw rival Lib Dem slates standing, but the unified Lib Dems came back to win the ward in 2002.

The 2002-06 term of Tower Hamlets council saw politics here start to become racial. The area became the first stronghold of the Respect party, a far-left group with strong support among the Muslim community. Respect topped the poll in the 2004 European Parliament elections across Tower Hamlets and won its first ever council seat at a by-election the following month. In 2005 the expelled Labour MP George Galloway, whose Glasgow seat had disappeared in boundary changes, fought the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency and narrowly defeated the sitting Labour MP Oona King. That acrimonious campaign set the tone for what was to come.

The 2006 council elections resulted in a one-seat Labour majority, with Respect winning 12 council seats. The Respect party progressively fell apart after that and many of their councillors ended up in the Labour group, changing the balance of power within the group and leading to the election of Lutfur Rahman as group leader and Leader of the Council. Rahman's administration proved to be controversial and polarising. He was deposed as leader after the 2010 borough elections (which returned a large Labour majority, including three gains from the Lib Dems in Weavers ward).

What happened next has led to this column describing Tower Hamlets on a number of occasions as a "21st-century rotten borough". And, unfortunately, we do need to go through this all over again in some detail for reasons which will become apparent.

The 2010 borough elections were combined with a referendum at which the voters of Tower Hamlets voted in favour of an elected mayoralty for the borough. Lutfur Rahman sought the Labour nomination for the October 2010 mayoral election, was blocked from getting it, stood as an independent candidate and won in the first round. His election led to a number of Labour councillors leaving the party to rally round his banner, forming a Lutfurite ruling group on the council. In the spirit of placename localism, they called themselves "Tower Hamlets First".

The Mayor and council came up for re-election together in May 2014, with the council cut from 51 to 45 members on new ward boundaries. Weavers ward, on slightly smaller boundaries, lost a seat. Of the three Labour councillors elected here in 2010, Anna Lynch had resigned in 2012 and been replaced in a by-election by Labour's John Pierce. He and Abdul Mukit sought re-election as Labour candidates, and Kabir Ahmed stood for re-election on the Lutfurite ticket. At least one of them was going to lose out.

The resulting election in Weavers ward was extensively dissected by the Election Court. I quote here directly from paragraphs 322 to 327 of the judgment of the Commissioner, Richard Mawrey QC (link to the whole judgment):

"Next we have Mr Kabir Ahmed. He is one of several brothers and is an active member of the Mayor's team. Mr Ahmed was a Labour Councillor in the previous administration and was one of those who had 'defected' to Mr Rahman and become an independent. He was 'selected' as a THF candidate for Weavers Ward in 2014 and stood unsuccessfully.

For some time Mr Ahmed had given his address as 236a Bethnal Green Road E2, a flat above a shop. This was said to be a property with four double en-suite bedrooms and a shared living room. The other occupants were said to be: Mr Ahmed's wife Sibly Rahman, his brother Mohammed Ansar Hussein, a Mohammed Mokit and Ala Uddin, who was said to work in the shop on the ground floor. According to Councillor Mohammed Abdul Mukit MBE, who knew Mr Ahmed well, he was not actually resident at that address, although he undoubtedly used it as an address for receiving mail. Both Mr Mukit and Mr [Andrew] Gilligan stated that the room allegedly occupied by Mr Ahmed and his wife was completely bare except for one bed, one chair and one desk.

Mr Ahmed's non-residence in the Borough was a matter of some notoriety. Councillor Peter Golds, an indefatigable letter-writer had written to various people to complain about this more than once and had raised it in open council. Councillor Mukit confirmed that Mr Ahmed actually lives at 52 Gants Hill Crescent, Ilford [in the London Borough of Redbridge]: he had attended his wedding, the invitation to which had given that property as Mr Ahmed's address. Mr Ahmed admitted in cross-examination that he paid no rent for 236a Bethnal Green Road and that he spent a lot of time in Gants Hill visiting his elderly parents.

Mr Gilligan told the court that Tracesmart and credit records he had checked also showed Mr Ahmed and his wife as resident in Gants Hill.

Applying the statutory test of residence ..., I am quite satisfied that 236a Bethnal Green Road was not such a 'residence' as would entitle Mr Ahmed to be registered to vote from that address and I am equally satisfied that this was a mere accommodation address, used for administrative purposes. I did not accept that Mr Ahmed had any genuine belief that this was his residence: he quite clearly knew that the falsity of the residence was well-known to his political opponents and he continued to use that address.

It follows that Mr Ahmed's registration was a false registration and that his votes were unlawful."

The declared result in Weavers ward gave 1,237 votes to Abdul Mukit for Labour and 1,223 to Mukit's running-mate John Pierce, with the Lutfurite Kabir Ahmed finishing as a close runner-up with 1,214 votes and losing his seat. As Ahmed was not a councillor the Election Court took no further action against him, although his false registration was an electoral offence and it is noticeable that he was absent from the candidate list for the 2018 Tower Hamlets election.

Shocking enough. But there was more to come. Mawrey's judgment went on to conclude that postal voting fraud had taken place in Weavers ward. I quote from paragraphs 353 and 355 to 359:

"The principal evidence of the [postal vote] frauds was the testimony of Councillor Mukit and, to a smaller extent, Mr Gilligan, and the expert evidence of Mr Robert Radley.
...

The reliability of Mr Mukit was put in issue. Unfortunately for Mr Rahman, Mr Mukit was cross-examined on his instructions about one episode (the Water Lily wedding event...) where it was suggested to Mr Mukit that his evidence was deliberately untruthful. Mr Mukit stuck to his guns. Subsequent evidence was turned up that completely vindicated Mr Mukit's account and, at the same time, established that the account of the same incident given by Mr Rahman had not been the truth.

The court accepted Mr Mukit as a truthful and reliable witness.

Mr Mukit knows the Weavers Ward well, having lived there for over thirty years. For the 2014 election he canvassed a large number of properties in the ward. He discovered a considerable quantity of addresses where there appeared to be no trace of the voter whose name appeared on the register. Though some of his evidence was admittedly hearsay, it painted a pattern of postal voters having been asked by supporters of Mr Rahman to hand over their postal votes and of voters having handed completed [Application to Vote] forms to Mr Kabir Ahmed and his brothers. Mr Mukit was astonished to discover several voters who told him that they had voted by post at a time when the postal votes had not yet been sent out. It turned out that these voters had been induced to hand over their completed ATV forms in the belief that they were actually voting. Mr Mukit discovered evidence that at one address, 7 Bacon Street E1, seven postal votes had been 'collected by Mr Rahman's men' which apparently meant that they had collected the completed [personal voting statements] but uncompleted accompanying ballot papers.

One of the voters mentioned was an elderly lady, Gulab Bibi. This lady gave evidence in response to a witness summons (properly using an interpreter). Other members of her family also gave evidence. Both she and her family were adamant that she had cast her postal vote herself. A chance question from the Bench, however, revealed that what she had done was to sign a document and hand it over (clearly the PVS) and she denied ever having put a cross on a piece of paper. On the face of it this was a further instance of the first of the two frauds having been perpetrated on this lady (and the electorate).

Mr Gilligan told the court:

"We also visited another address, 37 Cavell Street E1, a small block of about twelve flats reserved for elderly Bangladeshi people, where I was told that a number of the residents had had their blank ballot papers taken from them against their will by supporters of Lutfur Rahman and Tower Hamlets First. Through the translator, one resident told me that this had indeed occurred. She said: 'A woman came and said, we are here from Lutfur Rahman's party. Many people of your age have voted for him already, so I'm here to take your vote. They came to me and took my signature and then took the blank ballot paper from me. I normally go to the polling station. I told them I was used to doing it myself and didn't understand why it was different this year. I am a long-term Labour supporter and would never have supported Lutfur Rahman...'""

The Election Court went on to consider the evidence of Mr Radley, a document expert, who reported on a number of postal ballot papers which had been admitted into the count and their associated paperwork. Mr Radley examined 134 ballot papers, of which 105 were from Weavers ward, and found a number of features which indicated that a large number of the ballots and documents had been completed by the same person. To return to the judgment (paragraphs 369 to 372):

"Many of the unusual features were present in groups of documents ostensibly emanating from the same household, a finding which is consistent with documents from several voters in one household coming into the hands of a third party who later completed them.

It is not without significance that a large proportion of the questioned documents came from Weavers Ward where there was already the evidence of Councillor Mukit as to the activities of Mr Kabir Ahmed and his brothers and as to other voter irregularities within the ward.

None of these pieces of evidence is necessarily conclusive in isolation. The question is whether, taking all the evidence of ... voter fraud mentioned above, the court can be satisfied to the appropriate standard that voter fraud ... had occurred. In my view it can and I am so satisfied.

Furthermore the pattern and number of the irregularities, particularly in Weavers Ward is such that, in my judgment, it would be perverse to come to any conclusion other than that these frauds were organised by persons who meet the criteria of agent [of Lutfur Rahman]."

The Election Court accordingly concluded that Lutfur Rahman was guilty by his agents of personation and postal vote fraud. It was one of a number of electoral offences which were committed by him or by agents in the most corrupt British election campaign of modern times, and which resulted in his disqualification as Mayor of Tower Hamlets and the voiding of the 2014 mayoral election.

The resulting Mayoral by-election in June 2015 returned the Labour candidate John Biggs, then a member of the London Assembly, who defeated the continuity Lutfurite candidate Rabina Khan. Biggs was very easily re-elected for a second term in May 2018, by which time the Lutfurites had split into two parties: the moderate People's Alliance of Tower Hamlets and the more hardline Aspire. PATH returned a grand total of one councillor in the 2018 elections, the aforementioned Rabina Khan who has since wound the party up and joined the Lib Dems. Aspire came out of the 2018 elections empty-handed, despite finishing second in votes across the borough, but have since got back onto the council by winning a February 2019 by-election in Rabina Khan's Shadwell ward (Andrew's Previews 2019, page 17). Abdul Mukit and John Pierce were re-elected as Labour councillors for Weavers ward with a big majority, the Labour slate polling 50% against 15% for Aspire and 10% for the Green Party.

Tower Hamlets, 2018

For a look at what happens here in elections without a Lutfurite or two on the ballot, we can go up to London Assembly level. In May Weavers ward's ballot boxes gave a 56-16 lead to Sadiq Khan over the Conservatives' Shaun Bailey, while in the London Members ballot Labour polled 54% against 17% for the Greens and 12% for the Conservatives. Also in May, another referendum was held across Tower Hamlets which resulted in a strong vote in favour of retaining the mayoralty.

Mind, May's GLA results might not be too relevant for this by-election. The poll is to replace John Pierce, who died in June at the appallingly early age of 40. Pierce was an Irishman who moved to London at the age of 19; he worked for the National Housing Association, an industry body for social housing providers, and he had served on Tower Hamlets council since winning a by-election in May 2012.

Defending for Labour is Nasrin Khan, who describes herself on Twitter as a would-be barrister and secretary of the party's Stepney Green branch. Fasten your seatbelts, as the Aspire candidate is former councillor Kabir Ahmed who has learned one lesson from his corrupt 2014 election campaign: the Statement of Persons Nominated gives his address as "in the London Borough of Redbridge". The Green Party have selected Nathalie Bienfait, who works in legal marketing and is studying for a master's degree at Birkbeck. Also standing in Weavers ward are Emanuel Andjelic for the Lib Dems, Elliott Weaver for the Conservatives (a nice bit of nominative determinism there, although it didn't help him much in 2018), and former UNISON general secretary candidate Hugo Pierre for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

Parliamentary constituency: Bethnal Green and Bow
London Assembly constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: E1, E2

May 2018 result Lab 1773/1516 Aspire 533/517 Grn 342/316 LD 266/139 Peoples Alliance of Tower Hamlets 231/141 C 220/194 Renew 154
May 2014 result Lab 1237/1233 Tower Hamlets First 1214/1128 Grn 557/527 UKIP 316 C 254/197 LD 202 TUSC 113

Kabir Ahmed (Aspire)
Emanuel Andjelic (LD)
Nathalie Bienfait (Grn)
Nasrin Khan (Lab)
Hugo Pierre (TUSC)
Elliott Weaver (C)

May 2021 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1668 C 469 Grn 312 Omilana 106 LD 86 Count Binface 45 Reclaim 45 London Real 35 Women's Equality 34 Animal Welfare 32 Farah London 21 Let London Live 20 Burning Pink 13 Rejoin EU 13 Fosh 12 UKIP 12 Obunge 10 Heritage 9 Renew 7 SDP 5
London Members: Lab 1631 Grn 520 C 361 LD 139 Women's Equality 85 Animal Welfare 43 Rejoin EU 42 Reform UK 28 Comm 27 London Real 23 TUSC 20 UKIP 20 Let London Live 16 Heritage 12 SDP 10 CPA 9 Londonpendence 8 Nat Lib 4


If you enjoyed this preview, there are many more like it - going back to 2016 - in the Andrew's Previews books, which are available to buy now (link). You can also support future previews by donating to the Local Elections Archive Project (link).

Andrew Teale


Previewing the East Livingston by-election of 05 August 2021

One by-election on 5th August 2021:

East Livingston and East Calder

West Lothian council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Dave King.

July's local by-elections were an exciting set: nineteen of the twenty-eight council seats up for election were gained from the incumbent party, confirming the sense that our politics is very much in flux at the moment. August is traditionally a slow month for by-elections before we hit the peak period of the autumn, but there are still eighteen polls for this column to bring to you over the next month. Just one of those takes place on 5th August, in the county of West Lothian.

West Lothian, East Livingston and East Calder

The main population centre in West Lothian is the New Town of Livingston, which forms two-and-a-half of the nine electoral wards of the county. This is the half, covering the eastern end of the town around the Pumpherston area. Pumpherston was a pre-New Town mining and industrial village which sprang up at the end of the nineteenth century: the ground underneath what is now Livingston contained large reserves of shale oil, and Pumpherston became the location of a major refinery for Scottish Oils Ltd, a subsidiary of what is now BP. The Pumpherston retort, a vessel which refined the shale rock into oil and gas, is named after the village.

Much of Pumpherston is still given over to industry today, particularly the northern end of the ward approaching Uphall railway station (on the Bathgate line). To the south of Pumpherston lies Craigshill, one of the first parts of Livingston New Town to be developed. These areas lie to the east of the A899 road which forms the western boundary of the ward; on that boundary can be found the Cousland Interchange, one of the UK's two remaining cloverleaf road junctions and the only surviving cloverleaf in Scotland.

On the southern side of the River Almond can be found the villages of Midcalder and East Calder and the ward's other railhead: the station at Kirknewton on the Shotts line. To the south-west of these is a large rural area running into the Pentland Hills as far as Cobbinshaw, a small hamlet at the summit of the Edinburgh-Carstairs railway line; the railway passes Cobbinshaw Reservoir, built in the 1810s to supply the Union Canal with water.

Since 1992 East Calder had been the electoral base of West Lothian councillor Dave King, who died in May at the age of 79 after 29 years' service on the council. King had been the Depute Provost of West Lothian since 2012, and served on the council's executive with the culture and leisure portfolio. Following his death, West Lothian council unanimously voted to rename the East Calder Partnership centre in King's honour.

From 2007 onwards King was one of four councillors for the East Livingston and East Calder ward. This ward returned two Labour and two SNP councillors in both 2007 and 2012, with the local pressure group "Action to Save St John's Hospital" finishing as runner-up on both occasions and coming close to winning a seat in 2007. In 2017 the Labour vote fell and they lost their second seat: the SNP polled 41% and won 2 seats, with the other two seats split between Labour (31%) and the Conservatives (22%).

This by-election is for one seat, and with the Alternative Vote in use Labour may need to rely on Unionist transfers from the Conservatives to hold it. Quite how many transfers they can expect is a matter of some debate. The indefatigable Allan Faulds of Ballot Box Scotland, who really should be on your reading list if you are not following his work already, has crunched the numbers (link) and found that had the 2017 election in East Livingston and East Calder been for a single seat then King would have beaten the lead SNP candidate, Frank Anderson, by 3,255 votes to 2,928 (52.6% to 47.4%). That SNP score is actually lower than the 3,008 first preferences the three SNP candidates scored, reflecting the fact that some votes failed to transfer or leaked out of the SNP ticket when their other two candidates were eliminated. As Faulds points out in his article on this by-election:

The SNP have a clear first preference lead, but oddly the rate of exhaustion is such that they end up with fewer votes at the finish line here. Even if they held onto all of their votes, Conservative preferences would have still pushed Labour out in front for a single seat election anyway.

Faulds' analysis is normally excellent and, as I say, comes strongly recommended; but this appears to be a rare error in his arithmetic. By this column's reckoning, if we take the votes cast in 2017 and redistribute the votes for the Conservatives and other parties, then in fact the three SNP candidates end up with 3,291 votes between them while the two Labour candidates have 3,219 between them (50.6% to 49.4%).

Mind, for all this talk of transfers Labour are not going to hold this by-election unless they can retain their vote share from May 2017. In this connection we should note that there was a by-election in March in the neighbouring ward of Livingston South, which saw the SNP hold a seat they were defending with a 7% swing in their favour.

W Lothian, 2017

That by-election hold meant that the SNP retained their position as the largest party on West Lothian council, with 13 out of 33 seats. However, the council has a Unionist majority and a minority Labour administration is in place: Labour have 11 seats plus this vacancy, with 7 Conservatives and an independent holding the balance of power.

Defending this by-election for Labour is Danny Logue, a former West Lothian councillor for Livingston South ward who lost his seat there in 2017. The SNP have selected Tom Ullathorne, an autism service manager and founder member of West Lothian Shinty. The Conservative candidate is David Philip, a former chair of the East Calder community council and founder of a mental health charity. Also standing are Neal Drummond for the Scottish Green Party who returns from the 2017 election, Hans Edgington for the Lib Dems and John Hannah for the Independence for Scotland Party.

Westminster constituency: Livingston
Holyrood constituency: Almond Valley
ONS Travel to Work Area: Livingston
Postcode districts: EH27, EH52, EH53, EH54, EH55

Neal Drummond (Grn)
Hans Edgington (LD)
John Hannah (Independence for Scotland)
Danny Logue (Lab)
David Philip (C)
Tom Ullathorne (SNP)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 3006 Lab 2274 C 1620 Grn 265 LD 198
May 2012 first preferences SNP 2607 Lab 2596 Action to Save St John's Hospital 380 C 372
May 2007 first preferences Lab 3302 SNP 2713 Action to Save St John's Hospital 625 C 591 LD 421 SSP 133


If you enjoyed this preview, there are many more like it - going back to 2016 - in the Andrew's Previews books, which are available to buy now (link). You can also support future previews by donating to the Local Elections Archive Project (link).

Andrew Teale


Previewing the council by-elections of 29 July 2021

 

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

Before we start this week, it's Correction Corner time. I regret that there was an error in the Liscard preview for Wirral council, in which I incorrectly described Gary Bergin as the candidate of Reform UK; he was in fact nominated by the For Britain Movement. My apologies to Reform UK for the error. I am also grateful to a correspondent from the Land of Plastic for informing me that the two independent councillors in the Wirral are in fact one ex-Labour and one ex-Green, rather than both ex-Labour as I had thought.

Last week's heatwave also saw a nice piece of improvisation from one of the presiding officers in the Fortune Green by-election in Camden:

This may be a good time to remind readers that our polling stations do not run on electricity. The secret ballot is older than the domestic lightbulb. The Representation of the People Act is older than Windows and Macintosh. There is a long history of presiding officers using their own initiative to set up alternatives when the intended polling place is unexpectedly unavailable or, as on the above occasion, unsuitable. Those who think that modern technology can improve our polling stations might wish to consider whether it would be feasible in the above situation.

There are five by-elections on 29th July 2021. The schools have broken up, so inevitably there is rain in the weather forecast; and we try to avoid this by concentrating this week on the drier side of Britain. The Conservatives and Labour have two seats each to defend in the eastern half of England, with the final by-election as an independent defence. We have our first two vacancies from the Class of 2021, and two of this week's polls have rather unusual features. Read on...

Pitsea North West

Basildon council, Essex; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Gavin Callaghan.

Basildon, Pitsea NW

For our first by-election we come to a New Town. Pitsea is one of the villages which was swallowed up to create the New Town of Basildon; the Pitsea North West ward covers the New Town development areas of Felmore (mostly residential) and Burnt Mills (mostly industrial, so hopefully the name is not literal). These can be found at the eastern end of Basildon's built-up area, with the area to the east being green space separating Basildon from the village of Bowes Gifford.

Pitsea North West's 2011 census return has an unusual feature. It makes the top 40 wards in England and Wales for households in shared ownership, which form 4.8% of the ward; within the Eastern region, the only ward with a higher figure on this statistic was Bourn ward in South Cambridgeshire, which at the time covered the very new quasi-New Town of Cambourne. 18 of the top 20 wards in England and Wales for shared ownership are in London, the South East or the Eastern region, with Milton Keynes accounting for 9 of them including all of the top 6. In modern times shared ownership is promoted as a way of getting onto the housing ladder without having to raise the money to buy the house outright, so this clustering in areas with a large number of newish houses and high property prices makes sense. In 2018 the median property within Pitsea North West ward went for around £190,000 to £230,000, and when we look at the ward's educational profile (it's in the top 20 for those educated to Level 1, ie 1-5 GCSE passes or equivalent) and socioeconomic profile (35% in routine occupations) we can see that those prices might not be affordable for a large proportion of the people who might want to live here. The New Town legacy can also be seen in the census return, with just over 1 in 3 households being socially rented.

This mix creates a fascinating marginal ward, which has had at least one Labour councillor consistently since the current boundaries were introduced in 2002 but which the Conservatives and UKIP have won on a number of occasions in the past. The last Conservative win here was in 2010, while the UKIP wins came in 2014 and 2015; the UKIP councillor elected on the second occasion sought re-election as a Conservative in 2019 and was defeated.

Gavin Callaghan was first elected as a councillor for this ward in 2012, gaining his seat from the Tories. He was the Labour parliamentary candidate for Basildon and Billericay in 2015, and in 2017 he was elected as leader of Basildon council at the age of just 28.

This May's elections saw the Conservatives take overall control of Basildon, which had previously been a hung council with a Labour-led administration. Following some defections the Tories now have 24 seats, Labour have 11 plus this vacancy, and the remaining 6 seats are split between two independent groups. Gavin Callaghan was re-elected for a third term in Pitsea North West with a 47-42 lead over the Conservatives, but lost the council leadership. He resigned from the council a month later, indicating that he was looking to pursue other interests. The ward is part of the very large Essex county council division of Basildon Pitsea, which since 2017 has split its two county councillors between the Conservatives and Labour.

The winning Labour county council candidate here in May was Aidan McGurran, who has appeared in this column before: he successfully defended a by-election to Basildon council in Vange ward in 2019 (Andrew's Previews 2019, page 60). At the time he was the managing editor of Mirror Group Newspapers; he now works for a PR agency. McGurran lost re-election in Vange in May, but was elected to Essex county council by defeating his Labour running-mate Patricia Reid.

Aidan McGurran is the defending Labour candidate for this by-election, seeking a quick return to Basildon council. All three defeated candidates for Pitsea North West in May have returned for another go including the Conservatives' Stuart Terson, a local primary school governor and chairman of the Basildon and Pitsea carnival. Also back are Jake Hogg of the Basildon Community Residents Party and the ward's regular Lib Dem candidate Martin Howard, while Christopher Bateman of the For Britain Movement and Daniel Tooley of Reform UK (who stood here in the county elections in May) complete an all-male ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: South Basildon and East Thurrock
Essex county council division: Basildon Pitsea
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southend
Postcode district: SS13

Christopher Bateman (For Britain Movement)
Jake Hogg (Basildon Community Residents Party)
Martin Howard (LD)
Aidan McGurran (Lab)
Stuart Terson (C)
Daniel Tooley (Reform UK)

May 2021 result Lab 1101 C 987 Basildon Community Residents Party 213 LD 63
May 2019 result Lab 885 C 696 LD 246
May 2018 result Lab 956 C 655 UKIP 342 Democrats and Veterans 74
May 2016 result Lab 955 UKIP 720 C 480
May 2015 result UKIP 1731 Lab 1611 C 1424 LD 149
May 2014 result UKIP 1156 Lab 906 C 427 LD 73
May 2012 result Lab 932 C 564 UKIP 323 LD 97
May 2011 result Lab 1111 C 702 UKIP 391 LD 143
May 2010 result C 1654 Lab 1508 LD 770 BNP 460 UKIP 453
May 2008 result C 945 Lab 739 BNP 370 UKIP 266
May 2007 result Lab 734 C 714 BNP 362 UKIP 167 LD 162
May 2006 result C 1014 Lab 882 LD 388
June 2004 result C 838 Lab 789 LD 458
May 2003 result Lab 738 C 541 LD 248
May 2002 result Lab 997/893/856 C 543/491/456 LD 238/229

Gaywood South

Norfolk county council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Thomas Smith.

Norfolk CC, Gaywood S

We travel north from Basildon to the town of King's Lynn. Once most of the most important towns in England as a major port for agricultural East Anglia - a couple of Hanseatic League warehouses still exist here - King's Lynn has declined over the centuries into a provincial backwater. It now forms three-and-a-half divisions of Norfolk county council, of which Gaywood South is the eastern one.

The main feature of this division is the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the main hospital serving western Norfolk and nearby parts of Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire; it was named after Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother who was treated here on a few occasions. Possibly the most famous person to come out of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital's maternity unit was Alan Partridge, who according to my notes entered the world here in 1955. The present hospital was built in 1980 with a projected lifetime for the building of thirty years; forty years on, that projected lifetime has unfortunately proven to be accurate.

Despite its rapidly-decaying state the Queen Elizabeth Hospital dominates the local economy: it is in the Springwood ward of King's Lynn and West Norfolk, which in the 2011 census was the number 1 ward in England and Wales for employment in human health and social work activities (31.5% of those in employment). The other two wards which covered this county division in 2011, Fairstead and Gaywood Chase, are strongly working-class areas: Fairstead made the top 100 wards in England and Wales for semi-routine occupations, and the census picked up a significant Lithuanian minority. We may be remote from the big city here, but Fairstead was originally built as a London overspill estate.

Further housebuilding in the last decade has left the division oversized, and its electorate is now over 20% above the average Norfolk county council division. The Local Government Boundary Commission were intending to redraw the boundaries in advance of this year's election, but their review was knocked off course by the pandemic; instead a new, smaller Gaywood South division will be contested at the Norfolk county elections in 2025.

Although the division stretches to the edge of the town centre, facilities here are few. The Fairstead estate in particular is a seriously deprived area with no surviving pub and where - as the BBC reported earlier this month (link) - the charity shop was recently threatened with closure. Instead it has transformed into the Fairstead Community Shop, although the green armchair inside is not for sale: this is the "worry chair", for visitors to share and halve their problems over tea and biscuits.

Norfolk CC, 2021

Gaywood South was once a safe Labour area but in this century it has often been marginal, and the voters here have elected both Conservative and Labour councillors since 2005. Thomas Smith gained the division from Labour in 2017, and was re-elected in May with an increased majority of 48-36. Shortly afterwards he was offered a job in London, as a journalist on trade magazines, which was too good to turn down. As a diehard Andrew's Previews fan, Smith is clearly a man of good judgment.

So we have a by-election. Defending for the Conservatives is Phil Trask, who as a football referee will be hoping for a fair and clean election. Again, all three defeated candidates from May have returned for another go including Labour's Micaela Bartrum, a 40-year-old mother of two. Also returning are the Lib Dems' Rob Colwell and UKIP's Michael Stone, who are both regular candidates here (Stone finished a close second to Labour in 2013, but has faded since then), while shopowner Robin Talbot completes the ballot paper as an independent candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: North West Norfolk
King's Lynn and West Norfolk district wards: Fairstead, Gaywood Chase (part), Gaywood Clock (part), St Margaret's with St Nicholas (part), Springwood (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: King's Lynn
Postcode district: PE30

Micaela Bartrum (Lab)
Rob Colwell (LD)
Michael Stone (UKIP)
Robin Talbot (Ind)
Phil Trask (C)

May 2021 result C 980 Lab 724 LD 228 UKIP 99
May 2017 result C 857 Lab 758 LD 370 UKIP 230
May 2013 result Lab 835 UKIP 758 C 466 LD 173
June 2009 result C 865 Lab 551 LD 435 UKIP 376 BNP 273 Grn 196
May 2005 result Lab 2130 C 1765 LD 926

East Retford South

Bassetlaw council, Nottinghamshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Helen Richards, who is seeking re-election as an independent candidate.

Bassetlaw, E Retford S

We travel north to Retford, or East Retford as it's sometimes called. This is the smaller of the two major towns in the Bassetlaw district of Nottinghamshire, the other being Worksop. Worksop is a larger town, but Retford is better connected thanks to its location on the original Great North Road and the East Coast Main Line; these connections resulted in Retford having a market charter of unusually long standing.

East Retford was one of the most notorious rotten boroughs of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. In the eighteenth century it had been a pocket borough controlled by the Duke of Newcastle, who was the main landowner in the area, but by the 1820s East Retford was at the centre of a power struggle between Newcastle, Earl Fitzwilliam and the borough corporation's preferred candidates. This was good news for the town's freemen, who were paid large bribes for their votes by potential candidates; at a going rate of around 20 guineas per vote, and with the freemen trying to ensure that enough votes were bought to avoid the election being contested, campaigning here was an expensive business. Matters came to a head in the 1826 election which ended in a riot and with the result being voided by the House of Commons for corruption. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to disenfranchise the town, Parliament eventually extended the boundaries of the East Retford borough to cover the entire Wapentake of Bassetlaw, ensuring that the town's corrupt freemen could be comfortably outvoted in future.

Nearly 200 years down the line, the modern Bassetlaw constituency remains interesting for its politics. This was gained by the Conservatives in the December 2019 general election with an enormous majority on an enormous swing, and the Tories followed up on that in May by gaining two county seats from Labour here (Worksop North and Worksop South) and overall control of Nottinghamshire county council. Those gains involved enormous swings; by contrast, the swing in the local Retford East county division, a key marginal the Tories were defending, was under 3%. Mike Introna increased the Conservative majority from 37 votes to 212.

Bassetlaw, 2019

By contrast the last Bassetlaw district elections, in May 2019, were very poor for the Conservatives who only won one council seat within the constituency. East Retford South ward, covering the Ordsall area to the south of the railway lines, is a strongly working-class area which has returned Labour councillors on every occasion since 2002 with the exception of a Conservative win in 2008. In May 2019 Labour enjoyed a 68-17 win here over Introna, who on that occasion had the UKIP nomination.

Labour councillor Helen Richards had represented the ward since 2015, and was the losing Labour candidate in Retford East in May. She resigned from Bassetlaw council in June in protest at plans for a new development of 1,250 homes in East Retford South ward.

Having reviewed the situation, Helen Richards is now seeking re-election as an independent candidate, presumably on an anti-development ticket, in the by-election caused by her own resignation. Labour will want their seat back and have selected James Napier, who was a close runner-up in the other Retford county division in May. This may present an opening for Mike Introna, the runner-up here in May 2019, who is the Conservative candidate. That is your three-person ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Bassetlaw
Nottinghamshire county council division: Retford East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Worksop and Retford
Postcode district: DN22

Mike Introna (C)
James Napier (Lab)
Helen Richards (Ind)

May 2019 result Lab 897/679 UKIP 228 C 197/179
May 2015 result Lab 1194/1186 C 689 UKIP 488
May 2014 result Lab 642 UKIP 314 C 220
May 2012 result Lab 831 C 331
May 2010 result Lab 1287 C 730
May 2008 result C 526 Lab 459
May 2006 result Lab 618 C 468
June 2004 result Lab 746 C 575
May 2002 result Lab 591/527 C 283/261

Knaresborough Scriven Park

Harrogate council, North Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Samantha Mearns.

Harrogate, Knaresborough Scriven Park

For our Yorkshire by-election today we come to Knaresborough, a market town on the River Nidd which grew up around a Norman castle. This was held in the mid-12th century by Hugh de Morville, one of the four knights who murdered Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170; the assassins took refuge in Knaresborough Castle for a while before eventually being sent in disgrace to the Holy Land, from which they did not return. The Nidd runs through the town in a steep-sided and attractive gorge, and the town is photogenic enough that readers of a certain age might recognise it as the scene of the election in the opening episode of The New Statesman.

Knaresborough is one of the three major settlements in the Harrogate local government district, which extends into the Yorkshire Dales to take in Ripon, Masham and Pateley Bridge and whose acreage isn't far off that of Greater London. It appears that this isn't good enough for the government, who last week announced plans to sweep away all the district councils in North Yorkshire and replace them with a single unitary council for the whole county (except the city of York). That's one council for an area stretching from Settle to Selby to Scarborough and whose internal communications (with the exception of the A1(M)) are generally poor. Another piece of work brought to you by the cabinet minister responsible for local government, Robert Jenrick.

Harrogate, 2018

Harrogate's ward boundaries were redrawn in 2018 and, in all probability, won't be used again for an ordinary election. Scriven Park is the northern of the four wards covering Knaresborough, stretching along the road towards Boroughbridge, and it was very close in 2018 between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats: the Conservatives won with 38% of the vote to 37% for the Lib Dems and 24% for Labour, a majority of 16 votes. The Conservatives have a large majority on Harrogate council.

The Knaresborough division elects two members of North Yorkshire county council, and was a Conservative gain from the Lib Dems in May 2017. The 2021 county elections were cancelled in advance of the reorganisation and Harrogate council's next ordinary election isn't due until 2022, so the last local election here was a county council by-election in August 2018 (Andrew's Previews 2018, page 291) in which the Lib Dems took back one of the Knaresborough seats they had lost the previous year.

This by-election comes after the resignation of Conservative councillor Samantha Mearns, who is stepping down following a number of health issues among her family members. Cllr Mearns had also come under scrutiny following the collapse of her husband's car dealership in 2019, with allegations that a number of Porsches had gone missing. She was in her first term on the council, having served since 2018.

Defending for the Conservatives is Jaqui Renton, a former pub landlady. The Liberal Democrats have selected Hannah Gostlow, a Knaresborough town councillor. The Labour candidate is Sharon Calvert, a special needs teacher. Completing the ballot paper is Harvey Alexander for UKIP. The Local Democracy Reporting Service has interviewed all the candidates, and you can find out more from the Harrogate Advertiser here (link).

Parliamentary constituency: Harrogate and Knaresborough
North Yorkshire county council division: Knaresborough
ONS Travel to Work Area: Harrogate
Postcode district: HG5

Harvey Alexander (UKIP)
Sharon Calvert (Lab)
Hannah Gostlow (LD)
Jaqui Renton (C)

May 2018 result C 457 LD 441 Lab 291

Fellgate and Hedworth

South Tyneside council, Tyne and Wear; caused by the resignation of independent councillor John Robertson, who is seeking re-election.

S Tyneside, Fellgate and Hedworth

For our final by-election of the week we travel to the north-east. Fellgate and Hedworth can be found at the southern end of the town of Jarrow, on the edge of the Tyne and Wear built-up area. The ward's housing is concentrated in the northern corner, between the A19 and A194 dual carriageways as they approach the Tyne Tunnel; but the ward also includes a large open area to the south. Like most of the wards we have featured this week, this is a working-class area: Fellgate and Hedworth also makes the top 80 wards in England and Wales for those with Apprenticeship qualifications (7.1% of the workforce) and for those born in the UK (98.4%). Fellgate station, on the Tyne and Wear Metro, links the area to the centres of Gateshead and Newcastle.

While this has normally been a Labour-voting ward in recent years, Fellgate and Hedworth has shown that it can vote for independent candidates under the right circumstances. In the period 2006-08 it returned three independent councillors, Steven Harrison, George Waddle and Geraldine White. Waddle retired in 2011 and was replaced by Linda Hemmer; White lost re-election in 2012 as an independent candidate, and Harrison and Hemmer lost re-election in 2014 and 2015 respectively as UKIP candidates.

Since then Fellgate and Hedworth has generally been Labour-voting: in May Labour defeated independent candidate John Cullen here by 54-28. The exception to this pattern was 2019 when the ward returned independent candidate John Robertson. Robertson has previous with South Tyneside council: in 2011 he deliberately drove a lorry into a council office building following a row over contracts, causing over £160,000 worth of damage. For that he subsequently got 40 weeks in prison, suspended, and was declared bankrupt.

Robertson's bad behaviour did not stop when he was elected, nor when he became leader of the Independent Alliance opposition group on the council. He got straight into hot water over an offensive social media post aimed at one of his constituents, Michelle Potts, whose husband Jay's sister is divorced from Robertson (link). In February 2021 he was sanctioned by the council's standards committee for bullying a Labour councillor on social media, and suspended from the Jarrow and Boldon Community Area Forum (link). A month later the council sanctioned him again, this time for email and social media harassment of a senior officer at South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group; the council ordered that all Robertson's outgoing council emails be monitored by officers (link).

In yet another apparent rush of blood to the head, Robertson sent in a resignation letter to the council in June and posted a copy of it to his Facebook (link). He then had second thoughts, tried to retract his resignation and found out, as this column has previously discussed (Andrew's Previews 2018, pages 84 to 87), that you can't do that.

Instead, John Robertson is seeking re-election in the by-election caused by his own resignation. To stand against him Labour have selected the aforementioned Jay Potts. Also standing are Chris Smith for the Conservatives, Kelly Hill for the Green Party (who stood here in May), and David Wilkinson for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Jarrow
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newcastle
Postcode districts: NE10, NE31, NE32, NE36, NE37

Kelly Hill (Grn)
Jay Potts (Lab)
John Robertson (Ind)
Chris Smith (C)
David Wilkinson (LD)

May 2021 result Lab 1264 Ind 643 C 290 Grn 69 Ind 61
May 2019 result Ind 1163 Lab 959 LD 199 C 108
May 2018 result Lab 1365 Ind 460 LD 325 C 140 Grn 61
May 2016 result Lab 1541 C 282 Grn 248
May 2015 result Lab 2042 UKIP 1075 C 329 Grn 131
May 2014 result Lab 1163 UKIP 981 C 132
May 2012 result Lab 1226 Ind 786 BNP 83 C 81 Lib 33
May 2011 result Ind 1234 Lab 1101 C 113 BNP 76
May 2010 result Ind 1492 Lab 1478 C 336 BNP 236
May 2008 result Ind 1212 Lab 1090 C 209
May 2007 result Ind 1169 Lab 855 C 150 Grn 139
May 2006 result Ind 1162 Lab 852 C 187

June 2004 result Lab 1116/1071/1011 C 647


If you enjoyed these previews, there are many more like them - going back to 2016 - in the Andrew's Previews books, which are available to buy now (link). You can also support future previews by donating to the Local Elections Archive Project (link).

Andrew Teale


Previewing the council by-elections of 22 July 2021

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

It's 22/7, and Andrew's Previews wishes a happy Pi Approximation Day to all readers. To celebrate in this heatwave, let's take a tour of the eight by-elections today in England and Wales. We have some hot electoral action to match this hot weather, with Labour defending three seats, two Conservative defences in Kent, a Lib Dem defence in London and, unusually, rather a focus on the Green Party. They have one defence and a good chance of a gain in an open seat which we start with:

Congresbury and Puxton

North Somerset council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Stuart Treadaway.

North Somerset, Congresbury and Puxton

Environmentalism has become a feature of our politics over the last few decades. The work which has already been done in this country is impressive. Within living memory there were times when the air we breathe was so polluted it could be impossible to see across a London street in choking fog, and the UK's rivers were, in many cases, lifeless drains for industrial and agricultural chemicals.

How times have changed. Smoke no longer fills the air from every industrial or domestic chimney, and (unless it's raining) the hills on the far horizons tempt the eye to look outwards for many miles from high viewpoints. Our coal-fired power stations now lie for the most part idle, superseded by wind turbines that rotate out to sea. Wheelie bins multiply and bring colour to our back yards, stopping our rubbish from going to waste. Our post-industrial landscapes have gone back to nature, which has taken up the task enthusiastically. The talk for the future is all of electric cars and environmental friendliness.

That doesn't mean everything is well in the garden. There's a lot to do to consolidate these gains and preserve them for the next generation. As usual, some of this will end up getting political; and in this argument there is one party whose raison d'être is environmentalism.

The Green Party has done very well at the ballot box in recent years. The most recent local elections cycle was their best ever: the party now has over 400 local councillors and is represented on more councils than ever before. The Greens run Brighton and Hove council as a minority, a Green-led administration has recently taken over in Lancaster, and the party participates in a number of ruling coalitions in other councils including North Somerset council. The Greens are now tied with Labour for the most council seats in Bristol, and are the official opposition in Mid Suffolk, Norwich and Solihull. Proportional representation has ensured that the Green Party has been consistently represented in the Scottish Parliament and the London Assembly since their formation over two decades ago, and the Greens' single MP Caroline Lucas was re-elected in December 2019 for her fourth term of office.

Not bad work for a minor party whose core vote is not geographically concentrated, and which accordingly struggles with England's first-past-the-post electoral system. Forty years ago, there were no Green councillors at all (indeed, the party was still known then by its previous name, the Ecology Party). Their breakthrough came in local government in the 1986 local elections in which the party won its first two council seats. One was won by John Marjoram, who was elected by the Trinity ward of Stroud council in Gloucestershire and was still a councillor there until he retired in May this year. The other was won by Richard Lawson. He was a GP from the village of Congresbury, located a few miles to the east of Weston-super-Mare in what was then the county of Avon, and he defeated an independent councillor to win the Congresbury ward of Woodspring council.

Once the Green Party get a foothold in a ward they have proven hard for other parties to shift. Congresbury continued to elect Dr Lawson and his Green successors continuously from 1986 until 2019. In that time, Woodspring council became a unitary council in 1995 under the name of North Somerset, and Congresbury ward was redrawn in 2015 and renamed as Congresbury and Puxton.

North Somerset, 2019

In 2019 the Green councillor Thomas Leimdorfer retired and the party didn't nominate a candidate to succeed him. Into this political vacuum stepped the Liberal Democrats' Stuart Treadaway, who defeated Labour by the score of 54-32. The Conservatives had been in second place last time, but fell to a poor third: they generally did badly in North Somerset in 2019, losing control of the council to an independent-led rainbow coalition.

This by-election is caused by Stuart Treadaway's resignation. The Lib Dems have not nominated a candidate to succeed him, so we have a free-for-all! Second last time were Labour who have selected Dawn Parry, a former Conservative figure: she was a North Somerset councillor for Weston-super-Mare West ward from 2007 to 2011 and fought Newport East as the Conservative candidate in the 2010 general election. Today Parry is a parish councillor in Banwell, just to the south, and runs a film production company. The Conservatives have reselected their usual candidate for this ward Samantha Pepperall, who runs a stables in the village of Wick St Lawrence to the west. However, given the ward's previous history the candidate to beat here is probably Phil Neve of the Green Party, whose LinkedIn profile describes him as "allegedly retired but not often unbusy". Neve has recently retired (allegedly) from a career in designing and building energy-efficient and sustainable houses; he is the chairman of Wrington parish council to the east, and was the Green candidate for North Somerset in the December 2019 general election. Those are your three candidates.

Parliamentary constituency: Weston-super-Mare
ONS Travel to Work Area: Weston-super-Mare
Postcode districts: BS24, BS40, BS49

Phil Neve (Grn)
Dawn Parry (Lab)
Samantha Pepperall (C)

May 2019 result LD 664 Lab 391 C 166
May 2015 result Grn 1269 C 787 Lab 222

Tyn-y-nant

Rhondda Cynon Taf council, Glamorgan; caused by the death of Labour councillor Clayton Willis.

RCT, Tyn-y-nant

We cross the Bristol Channel for our Welsh by-election today. The village of Tynant, to give it the Anglicised name it's usually known by in the area, lies around 4 miles south of Pontypridd; it has effectively merged with the neighbouring village of Beddau to the west to form a single urban area, although Beddau and Tynant are still separate wards of Rhondda Cynon Taf council. As with many villages in south Wales, Tynant is a former pit village which was dependent on its colliery: specifically Cwm Colliery, which was sunk in 1909 to provide coal for the Great Western Railway's locomotives. Cwm Colliery closed in 1986, but the associated coking plant stayed in production all the way to 2002 and is still there today, lying derelict while arguments are made over its redevelopment.

Like many pit villages, the area's best-known local heroes are sportsmen and women. A number of pupils at the secondary school for Beddau and Tynant, Bryn Celynnog, have gone on to play top-level sport: recent pupils here include the Paralympic table tennis player Sara Head and the legendary Wales prop of recent years Gethin Jenkins.

RhCT, 2017

Welsh local government was reorganised in 1995 creating the present Rhondda Cynon Taf council, and local man Clayton Willis had represented Tyn-y-nant continuously from then until his death last month at the age of 80. He had served on Rhondda Cynon Taf's cabinet from 2004 to 2014. Willis enjoyed very large majorities in his ward: his final re-election in 2017 was with the unusually close lead of 72-28 over the Conservatives, who had stood here for the first time. The Conservatives only have a handful of seats on Rhondda Cynon Taf council, which has a large Labour majority: Plaid Cymru are the largest opposition party. Tyn-y-nant is part of the Pontypridd constituency, which comfortably re-elected Labour MS Mick Antoniw in May.

A quick note on the maps. The map at the top of this section shows the present boundaries of Tyn-y-nant ward, which were modified in 2017 following changes to the boundary between the Llantrisant Town and Llantwit Fardre communities; in particular, the Cwm Colliery site was transferred into this division from Llantwit Fardre division. The map of the 2017 election results has not been updated to reflect these changes and shows the previous boundaries of the ward. Apologies for any confusion.

Defending for Labour is Julie Barton, a media consultant who sits on Llantrisant community council for the neighbouring Beddau ward. The Conservatives have selected Rob Green, who gives an address in Church Village to the east of the ward. Completing the ballot paper is Ioan Bellin for Plaid Cymru. All the candidates have been interviewed by Wales Online, and you can find out more here (link).

Parliamentary and Senedd constituency: Pontypridd
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cardiff
Postcode district: CF38

Julie Barton (Lab)
Ioan Bellin (PC)
Rob Green (C)

May 2017 result Lab 557 C 215
May 2012 result Lab 791 PC 116
May 2008 result Lab 700 PC 223
June 2004 result Lab 675 PC 219
May 1999 result Lab 890 PC 285
May 1995 result Lab 1018 PC 165

Liscard

Wirral council, Merseyside; caused the resignation of Labour councillor Sarah Spoor.

Wirral, Liscard

From the land of Wales we come to the island of the Welsh, as "Wallasey" literally means. Liscard (which, appropriately enough, is a Celtic name) is the middle of three extensively built-up wards on the Mersey side of the Wirral peninsula, lying in between the docks of Seacombe to the south and the sands of New Brighton to the north. The pedestrianised Egremont Promenade gives excellent views over the river to the Liverpool docks, while inland the Cherry Tree shopping centre acts as a focal point for the ward. All of the ward is in the bottom half of the deprivation indices (most of it in the most deprived 20%), and just 23% of the population are educated to degree level.

This is a good point to pick up an article which this column's genial host Ben Walker contributed to the New Statesman last month entitled "Which of the Conservatives’ “Blue Wall” seats are most vulnerable?" (link). Walker identified a number of deprived and/or Leave-voting areas in the Midlands and South, such as Shropshire and Worthing, which the Conservatives hold but where they are struggling in local elections. He goes on to say:

Here, again, are constituencies that have become more competitive despite supposedly favourable demographics for the Tories. This phenomenon, as also seen in areas such as Sunderland and the Wirral, could be attributed to parties being in power for prolonged periods of time without any effective opposition. In the instance of Sunderland and the Wirral, those establishments were Labour, but in the case of Worthing and Shropshire, they happened to be Conservative.

This column would have no difficulty agreeing with that assessment in the case of Sunderland, which has had a continuous Labour majority for decades; but with due respect to my host the Wirral is a bit of a different case. It's not all Birkenhead. There are some seriously attractive areas on the peninsula like West Kirby and Hoylake which give the Conservatives a secure base on the council even in their worst years, and which returned a Conservative MP solidly until 1997. Wirral council had a Conservative majority from its creation in 1974 until 1986, and since then it has alternated between Labour majorities and hung councils. As recently as 2008-2011 the Conservatives were the largest party, with Labour then in majority control from 2012 to 2021 when the council became hung again. The latest composition is 29 Labour councillors (plus this vacancy) forming a minority administration, against 23 Conservatives, 6 Lib Dems, 5 Greens and 2 independents who, I think, were originally elected as Labour.

Wirral, 2021

Conservative majorities on the Wirral have historically always included Liscard ward, which had a full slate of Conservative councillors until 1984 and again from 2008 to 2010. The ward has swung strongly to the left since 2010 in line with most of Merseyside, and interestingly the Labour vote has held up a lot better in the Wallasey wards than it has in Birkenhead where the Greens (as can be seen from the map) are doing very well at the moment. The Green Party were a very distant third in Liscard in May, with Labour beating the Conservatives here 57-26.

Sarah Spoor has resigned as a Labour councillor just over two years into her first term, indicating that she had been unable to juggle her work, family and democratic commitments. Defending the by-election to replace her is Labour candidate Daisy Kenny, a business support co-ordinator. The Conservatives have reselected their candidate from May Jane Owens, who was appointed MBE in 2016 for services to education on the Wirral; she is the chair of governors at a number of local schools. Also standing are Edward Lamb for the Green Party, Sue Arrowsmith (who has fought the ward at the last three elections) for the Liberal Democrats, Gary Bergin for Reform UK and independent candidate Lynda Williams, who finished second here in 2014 and 2015 as the UKIP candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Wallasey
ONS Travel to Work Area: Birkenhead
Postcode districts: CH44, CH45

Sue Arrowsmith (LD)
Gary Bergin (Reform UK)
Daisy Kenny (Lab)
Edward Lamb (Grn)
Jane Owens (C)
Lynda Williams (Ind)

May 2021 result Lab 1898 C 875 Grn 271 LD 221 Reform UK 71
May 2019 result Lab 1733 C 609 UKIP 374 Grn 360 LD 319
May 2018 result Lab 2241 C 756 LD 337 Grn 190
May 2016 double vacancy Lab 2240/1672 C 690/427 UKIP 504 Grn 338 LD 280
May 2015 result Lab 4397 UKIP 1352 LD 578 Grn 542 TUSC 118
May 2014 result Lab 1619 UKIP 815 C 649 Grn 273 LD 94
May 2012 result Lab 1882 C 1261 UKIP 400 Grn 230
May 2011 result Lab 2523 C 1673 UKIP 204 Grn 146 LD 121
May 2010 result Lab 3220 C 2474 LD 718 UKIP 238 Grn 231
May 2008 result C 2122 Lab 1369 UKIP 304 LD 195 Grn 159
May 2007 result C 2116 Lab 1609 LD 244 UKIP 149 Grn 143
May 2006 result C 2047 Lab 1396 LD 286 Grn 209 UKIP 166
June 2004 result Lab 1908/1789/1776 C 1760/1516/1450 LD 653/630/590

Humberstone and Hamilton

Leicester council; caused by the death of councillor John Thomas, who was elected for Labour but had been sitting as an independent.

Leicester, Humberstone and Hamilton

For our final Labour defence this week we come to the north-east corner of the city of Leicester. As the compound name suggests, Humberstone and Hamilton ward covers a number of different areas of the city: Humberstone itself is an old village which has been absorbed by Leicester's growth, Humberstone Garden is a garden city-style development from the turn of the 20th century, while Hamilton is a modern estate on the edge of the city. The ward is majority non-white and makes the top 40 wards in England and Wales for Hinduism (21% of the population).

This ward is part of the Leicester East constituency, which has been on the potential parliamentary by-election watchlist for some considerable time due to the behaviour of its MPs. From 1987 to 2019 it was represented by someone whose whose parliamentary career was not exactly a quiet one, the Labour MP Keith Vaz. (Apologies to any readers who may have been playing the Keith Vaz game). Vaz was replaced in 2019 by Islington Labour councillor Claudia Webbe, who was subsequently charged with harassment: she was due to stand trial in March this year, but the trial had to be adjourned after her defence barrister was taken ill and had to be sent to hospital. Also in March Webbe resigned her previous elected role on Islington council in London, and the by-election to replace her there was duly held in May.

The selection process that produced Webbe had been controversial, and was one factor in the resignation from the Labour party of Humberstone and Hamilton ward councillor John Thomas, a former Lord Mayor of Leicester who had been chair of the party's Leicester East branch. He was first elected to the city council in 1993 and had continuous service since 1999. In 2019 Thomas transferred to Humberstone and Hamilton ward which is, like most of the city, a safe Labour area: the Labour slate polled 49% of the vote that May against 26% for the Conservatives and 15% for the Green Party. John Thomas died in May after a long illness, aged 77.

Leicester, 2019

Thomas' resignation from Labour made no difference to the running of Leicester council, which has a directly-elected Labour mayor (Sir Peter Soulsby), and where the 2019 elections returned 53 Labour council seats out of a possible 54. The one that got away is a Liberal Democrat seat in Aylestone ward, at the other end of the city.

Defending for Labour is Abdul Abdul Ghafoor. The Conservatives have selected Daniel Crewe, a local builder. The Green candidate is Pam Bellinger, who appears to be linked to the local branch of Extinction Rebellion. Also standing are Bicram Athwal for the Liberal Democrats, David Haslett for the For Britain Movement and Raj Solanki for Reform UK.

Parliamentary constituency: Leicester East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode districts: LE5, LE7

Abdul Abdul Ghafoor (Lab)
Bicram Athwal (LD)
Pam Bellinger (Grn)
Daniel Crewe (C)
David Haslett (For Britain Movement)
Raj Solanki (Reform UK)

May 2019 result Lab 2095/1905/1895 C 1128/958/903 Grn 650 LD 421
May 2015 result Lab 3035/2759/2620 C 1983/1813/1624 UKIP 1021/9218/898 Grn 676 TUSC 368/320 Ind 205

Fortune Green

Camden council, London; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Flick Rea.

Camden, Fortune Green

We start the second half of this week's Previews with two polls in what was once Middlesex. The county of Middlesex, of course, no longer exists except in the anachronistic dreams of the Association of British Counties, having been almost entirely swallowed up by the growth of London. One of the first parts of it to disappear, becoming part of the County of London in the 1880s, was Fortune Green.

Fortune Green itself is an area of open space between Finchley Road and the Midland railway line, adjacent to Hampstead Cemetery. The ward of the name is often linked with West Hampstead to the south; there are no railway or Underground stations within the boundary, although Kilburn underground station is just off the southern corner. Fortune Green's census return from 2011 paints a picture of a generally middle-class area with very high levels of immigration from Ireland and other EU-15 countries: the ward was in the top 10 in England and Wales for those who did not answer the census' religion question (21.2%) and also made the top 100 for the White Other ethnic group (25.6%) and for those educated to degree level (57.8%).

Until the advent of Coalition Fortune Green was a safe Liberal Democrat ward and a secure base for one of the party's longest-serving councillors in London. Felicity "Flick" Rea had served as a councillor for this ward since 1986, and this by-election has come about because of her retirement after 35 years in office. It's clearly her personal vote which has enabled her to hold on for so long: Labour drew level with the Lib Dems here in 2014 and have held the ward's other two seats since then. The shares of the vote at the last Camden elections in 2018 were 36% each for the Lib Dems and Labour and 18% for the Conservatives. Camden council has a strong Labour majority, and Rea was one of only three Lib Dems elected to the council that year (the other two were in Belsize ward, a three-way marginal).

Camden, 2018

The Liberal Democrats generally do not perform well in London Assembly elections, and in May they placed fourth here in both the Mayoral and London Member ballots. The ward's ballot boxes gave 47% to Sadiq Khan, 23% to the Conservatives' Shaun Bailey and 10% to the Greens' Siân Berry, who represents Highgate on Camden council; she narrowly beat the Lib Dems for third place. The London Members ballot split 41% for Labour, 20% for the Conservatives, 16% for the Greens and 14% for the Lib Dems.

So this could be a difficult defence for the Lib Dems' Nancy Jirira, who won a by-election for this ward in February 2008 and served as a councillor for Fortune Green until losing her seat in 2014. (The Labour candidate she defeated in the 2008 by-election was Tulip Siddiq, who is now the MP for the local seat of Hampstead and Kilburn.) Jirira is a long-serving NHS nurse. Labour have selected Lorna Greenwood, who works in the arts and charity sector. Completing the ballot paper is a Conservative candidate whom the party intriguingly describe as "dry cleaner to the stars": he is Ian Cohen, who previously stood in this ward in 2014.

Parliamentary constituency: Hampstead and Kilburn
London Assembly constituency: Barnet and Camden
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: NW2, NW3, NW6

Ian Cohen (C)
Lorna Greenwood (Lab)
Nancy Jirira (LD)

May 2018 result LD 1496/1209/1138 Lab 1468/1353/1326 C 758/663/659 Grn 378
May 2014 result LD 1151/950/865 Lab 1028/967/904 C 893/739/686 Grn 403/326/318
May 2010 result LD 2123/1898/1788 C 1342/1335/1326 Lab 1207/1190/1177 Grn 595/536/287
February 2008 by-election LD 1206 C 551 Lab 405 Grn 178
May 2006 result LD 1446/1187/1132 C 667/608/576 Lab 580/545/402 Grn 354/305/291
May 2002 result LD 1295/1121/1111 Lab 483/414/409 C 326/323/314 Grn 221/199/132

May 2021 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 986 C 477 Grn 214 LD 209 Omilana 41 Reclaim 37 Count Binface 21 Rejoin EU 19 Women's Equality 19 Let London Live 17 London Real Party 16 UKIP 8 Animal Welfare 8 Obunge 8 Heritage Party 7 Farah London 6 Fosh 5 Renew 4 SDP 3 Burning Park 1
London Members: Lab 865 C 425 Grn 330 LD 291 Women's Equality 49 Animal Welfare 40 Rejoin EU 30 Reform UK 16 UKIP 13 CPA 12 Let London Live 9 Heritage Party 8 Comm 7 London Real Party 6 Londonpendence 5 SDP 4 TUSC 4 National Liberal 2

Staines

Spelthorne council, Surrey; caused by the resignation of Green Party councillor Jan Doerful.

Big up da West Staines Massive there. Yes, we have come to the home town of Ali G, a character of Sacha Baron Cohen who first hit our screens on The Eleven O'Clock Show more than two decades ago. (God, that makes me feel old.) For the benefit of those who are too young, too old or too uncool to remember Ali G, his shtick was to conduct a series of interviews, like the one above, with public figures and celebrities with the intention of getting them to say or do something stupid.

Spelthorne, Staines

Ali G's home town was of course Staines, a town on the north bank of the River Thames which was one of the few parts of Middlesex to escape incorporation into Greater London; it was instead transferred to Surrey in 1965. Since 1974 the parts of Surrey north of the Thames, including Staines-upon-Thames (as it now is), have formed the Spelthorne local government district.

Although Staines is outside Greater London, it is still within the M25 motorway and the town centre's railway station has very frequent trains to Waterloo station. Staines is also just a few miles to the south of Heathrow Airport, which has been badly hit by the current public health emergency.

This drastic downturn in Spelthorne's economy may spell bad news for the council. Spelthorne council's Conservative leadership had a cunning plan to offset the effect of cuts to local government by investing heavily in commercial property which could generate a solid rental income. Since 2016 the council has borrowed more than £1 billion from the Public Works Loans Board - equivalent to around 100 years' revenue - to buy a number of large office blocks and commercial developments in and around the district. While the developments are continuing to generate rent as intended, the council's auditors were reportedly not happy and the amount of debt involved could leave the council badly exposed in the event that the economy turns down - oh.

The Conservatives suffered large losses in the May 2019 Spelthorne elections, although they kept their majority in the council chamber at the time. However, the above scandal has led to a major split in the Conservative group which has left the council in a rather unstable state. The May 2021 AGM deposed the rump of the ruling Conservatives and elected a Liberal Democrat leader, who has formed a coalition with the Independent Spelthorne Group which controls just 9 of the 39 council seats. Following a by-election gain from the Lib Dems in May in the neighbouring Staines South ward, the Conservatives have 18 seats on the council, the Lib Dems have 7, Labour have 2, the Greens have 1 plus this vacancy, and the remaining ten seats are split between four different independent groups.

Staines ward was one of the Conservatives' losses in May 2019, with the Tories losing the three seats to a Green slate of two and a single Labour candidate. With the caveat that these partial slates make vote share calculations perhaps more unreliable than normal, the percentages were 39% for the Greens and 25% each for Labour and the Conservatives. The Staines division of Surrey county council (which is larger than this ward) was close in May between the Conservatives, an ex-UKIP independent candidate and the Greens. We have to go up to Parliamentary level for the Tories to breathe more easily: Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary and a member of the Trinity College, Cambridge team which won University Challenge in 1995, has represented the Spelthorne constituency since 2010 with large majorities.

So, this by-election needs watching closely. Defending for the Greens is Malcolm Beecher, who stood in May's Surrey county elections in the Ashford division. The ward's Labour councillor left the party in May to join a new Independent Labour group on the council, and it would appear that Labour here are still in some disarray from that: there is no Labour candidate in this by-election. The Conservatives have guaranteed a place at the bottom of the alphabetical ballot paper by selecting local man Michael Zenonos, who runs a logistics company. Also standing are Paul Couchman for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Gerald Gravett for Reform UK and independent candidate Paul West, who is a former UKIP figure.

Parliamentary constituency: Spelthorne
Surrey county council division: Staines
ONS Travel to Work Area: Slough and Heathrow
Postcode districts: TW18, TW19

Malcolm Beecher (Grn)
Paul Couchman (TUSC)
Gerald Gravett (Reform UK)
Paul West (Ind)
Michael Zenonos (C)

May 2019 result Grn 978/890 Lab 633 C 630/623/606 UKIP 297
May 2015 result C 1642/1610/1593 Lab 1144/673 Grn 1045 UKIP 905 Spelthorne Ind 699 TUSC 212
May 2011 result C 1179/1076/1069 LD 893/790/743
May 2007 result C 794/753/751 LD 520/439/432 Lab 260/223/210
May 2003 result C 686/681/667 LD 407/387/381 Lab 318

Cliftonville East

Thanet council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Lesley Game.

Thanet, Cliftonville East

Our final two by-elections next week come on the Kent coast. We start on the Isle of Thanet with Cliftonville East ward, the point where the north coast of Kent starts to curve southward towards the North Foreland. This ward is based on the Palm Bay estate, built in the 1930s overlooking the sandy beaches that turned Cliftonville into a seaside resort back in the day.

In the last section this column discussed the political instability and scandal surrounding Spelthorne council. Spelthorne have a lot to learn on both of those fronts from Thanet. The 2003 and 2007 Thanet elections returned a Conservative majority with a significant Labour opposition. Cliftonville East was a safe Conservative ward included in that majority, and from 2003 until 2010 ward councillor Sandy Ezekiel was leader of the council.

The Conservatives lost their majority in Thanet in 2011 against the national trend, and then the fun started. Initially they continued as a minority, but the independents who held the balance of power then deposed the Conservatives and installed a Labour minority administration. It then came out that Sandy Ezekiel had corruptly used the council's inside information to buy two properties in Margate via an intermediary: on 1 March 2013 a jury at Maidstone Crown Court found Ezekiel guilty of four charges of misconduct in public office, and Mr Justice Nicol sentenced him to eighteen months' imprisonment. A £2,000 confiscation order was added later.

Ezekiel did not resign from Thanet council following his conviction and sentence: instead he was disqualified as a councillor three weeks later, when the deadline to appeal against the conviction expired. Because of the timing of the disqualification, the resulting by-election had to be held a week after the 2013 Kent county council elections meaning that the voters of Cliftonville East were dragged out for elections on two consecutive weeks. On 2nd May 2013 UKIP won one of the two county council seats in Margate and Cliftonville division; on 9th May their candidate Rozanne Duncan won the Cliftonville East by-election.

Despite being on the north coast of the Isle of Thanet, Cliftonville East is included within the South Thanet parliamentary seat. This was the seat contested by the then UKIP leader Nigel Farage in the 2015 general election. He didn't win, but UKIP had the consolation prize of winning an overall majority on Thanet council. This majority included two of the three seats in Cliftonville East ward, although outgoing UKIP councillor Rozanne Duncan was not one of them: she sought re-election as an independent, and performed very poorly. The remaining seat went to new Conservative councillor Lesley Game.

Thanet, 2019

The large UKIP group on Thanet council fell apart in a number of stages, and by the time of the May 2019 election they had been deposed and the Conservatives were back in minority control. That election returned another hung council with 25 Conservative councillors, 20 Labour, 7 Thanet Independents (the main remnant of the former UKIP group), 3 Greens and an independent. Cliftonville East ward reverted to safe Conservative status, with a 60-23 lead over Labour. The Conservative minority administration continued, but was deposed later that year with Labour taking control. The Labour leader resigned in April ahead of three by-elections in Thanet in May, in which Labour lost a seat to the Greens and a seat to the Conservatives, who also picked up a seat from the Thanet Independents. A counter-coup at May's AGM resulted in the Conservatives taking back minority control of the council.

The May elections in Thanet also re-elected Lesley Game as the Kent county councillor for Cliftonville division. She has decided to stand down from Thanet council to concentrate on her county council role, provoking this by-election.

Defending for the Conservatives is Charlie Leys, a former Broadstairs and St Peter's town councillor who was deputy mayor of that town in 2017-18 and 2018-19. He has recently completed a degree in international conflict analysis at the University of Kent. The Labour challenger is Don Challinger. Completing the ballot paper is the last-placed candidate from 2019, Kanndiss Riley of the Women's Equality Party.

Parliamentary constituency: South Thanet
Kent county council division: Cliftonville
ONS Travel to Work Area: Margate and Ramsgate
Postcode districts: CT9, CT10

Don Challinger (Lab)
Charlie Leys (C)
Kandiss Riley (Women's Equality)

May 2019 result C 1076/951/870 Lab 410/375/349 Women's Equality Party 317
May 2015 result UKIP 1531/1354/1336 C 1349/1321/1261 Lab 614/611/603 Ind 228/201
May 2013 by-election UKIP 699 C 526 Lab 352 Ind 112 LD 32
May 2011 result C 1187/1165/1155 Ind 601/598 Lab 515/490/456 Grn 283
May 2007 result C 1381/1240/1225 Lab 574/522/452 Grn 352
May 2003 result C 1531/1400/1369 Lab 524/516/471

Alkham and Capel-le-Ferne

Dover council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor James Rose.

Dover, Alkham/Capel-le-Ferne

We finish on the south coast of Kent, atop the White Cliffs of Dover. On a clear day, the shore of France can be seen from here across the English Channel; in 1940 this put the village of Capel-le-Ferne, between Folkestone and Dover, on the front line of the Battle of Britain. In recent years this has been recognised by the Battle of Britain Memorial, opened in 1993 and expanded in 2015, which brings tourists to the cliffs south of Capel-le-Ferne. To the north of the village can be found the major transport arteries to Europe: the A20 to Dover on the ground, and the Channel Tunnel below.

Dover 2019

This ward at the terminus of the North Downs was created in 2019 as an expanded version of the former Capel-le-Ferne ward. Capel-le-Ferne ward was safe Conservative, and Alkham and Capel-le-Ferne has continued in that vein: its 2019 election, the only previous poll on the current boundaries, resulted in a 52-36 lead for the Conservatives over the Liberal Democrats. The ward is covered by the rural Dover West division of Kent county council, which is also safely Conservative.

There was some controversy over the Dover parliamentary seat in 2019, as the then Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke was awaiting trial on sexual assault charges when the December general election was confirmed. The Conservatives effectively deselected him in favour of his wife Natalie, who increased the Conservative majority. Mr Elphicke was subsequently found guilty of sexual assault and is now serving a two-year prison sentence. As we can see from subsequent election results, this controversy hasn't had much effect on the electors of Dover.

Defending the Alkham and Capel-le-Ferne by-election for the Conservatives is Martin Hibbert, the vice-chairman of Alkham parish council; he is retired after a career as a manager at the Port of Dover and as a health and safety advisor. The Liberal Democrats have selected Roben Franklin, a politics student at Canterbury Christ Church University and chair of the party's Dover branch. Also standing are Gordon Cowan for Labour and Nick Shread for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Dover
Kent county council division: Dover West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Folkestone and Dover
Postcode districts: CT15, CT18

Gordon Cowan (Lab)
Roben Franklin (LD)
Martin Hibbert (C)
Nick Shread (Grn)

May 2019 result C 455 LD 317 Lab 101


If you enjoyed these previews, there are many more like them – going back to 2016 – in the Andrew’s Previews books, which are available to buy now (link). You can also support future previews by donating to the Local Elections Archive Project (link).

Andrew Teale

 


Previewing the Tividale (Sandwell) by-election of 15 Jul 2021

One by-election on 15th July 2021:

Tividale

Sandwell council, West Midlands; caused by the death of Labour councillor Sandra Hevican.

Sandwell, Tividale

After the excitement of recent weeks this will be a short edition of Andrew's Previews with just one local by-election taking place today. We have come to the heart of the industrial Black Country, the upper slopes of the Rowley Hills. Rising to over 200 metres above sea level, the Rowley Hills divide Dudley from the Birmingham area and the Severn basin from the Trent catchment. Their northern slopes look down towards lower ground in Oldbury, beyond the Wolverhampton Road and the Birmingham Canal.

The A4123 Wolverhampton Road, built in the 1920s as an unemployment relief project, forms the northern boundary of Tividale ward. This is based on a number of housing estates of both private and council origin; the Tividale Hall and Grace Mary estates were started in the 1930s, but most of the houses here are postwar. The 2011 census return found a rather low White British population (82%); there are significant black and Asian minority groups in the ward, the Asian community here being mostly Sikhs of Punjabi heritage. In 2019 Tividale was assessed as one of the least-deprived wards of the Metropolitan Borough of Sandwell.

Sandwell council's elections had got very boring in the last few years. Since the fall of the Labour government in May 2010 Labour had won every ward at every Sandwell election, with just two exceptions: in 2011 the Conservatives held Charlemont with Grove Wale ward, and Princes End ward returned a UKIP councillor in 2014. UKIP also came close to winning Tividale that year, and Tividale has been fertile ground for the radical right in the past: the British National Party, in the days when they were a significant electoral force, won here in the 2006 local elections by the narrow margin of 33 votes. The BNP leader Nick Griffin himself had stood here in the 2000 Parliamentary by-election for the local seat of West Bromwich West, following the retirement of Speaker Boothroyd: he finished in fourth place and lost his deposit.

Since December 2019 West Bromwich West has been a Conservative parliamentary seat for the first time, in what must go down as a revolution in the politics of the Black Country. The Conservatives now control two-and-a-half of the three-and-a-half parliamentary seats in Sandwell, those being the two West Bromwich seats and the Rowley Regis part of Halesowen and Rowley Regis. They managed this despite the fact that Sandwell council had, at the time, 72 Labour councillors out of a possible 72.

Sandwell, 2021

The Conservatives followed up on their parliamentary gains by carrying six wards in the May 2021 Sandwell council election, by far their best performance in the borough since 2008. There was a very large number of casual vacancies filled in Sandwell in May, so this translated into 9 seats for the Conservatives; Labour continue to run the council with 59 seats plus this vacancy, and the remaining three councillors are independents who were elected on the Labour ticket. Tividale ward remained in the Labour column this May, but only narrowly so: the ward was a straight between Labour and the Conservatives, with Labour winning by 53-47.

Tividale councillor Sandra Hevican died from COVID-19 in late March, at the age of 55. Her death came just before the legal notices for the May elections were due to be published, and the by-election wasn't called in time to schedule this vacancy for May. Hevican had served as a councillor for Tividale ward since 2014; away from her democratic duties, she worked for Wolverhampton council as a housing benefits officer.

Defending for Labour is Sandra Hevican's widower, Robert Hevican. The Conservatives have reselected their candidate from May Emma Henlan, an MP's office manager who also works in the family aquarium business. There is a wider choice for the electors of Tividale in this by-election, as also standing are Nicholas Bradley for the Liberal Democrats, Richard Gingell for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, and independent candidate Energy Kutebura.

Parliamentary constituency: West Bromwich West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dudley
Postcode districts: B65, B69

Nicholas Bradley (LD)
Richard Gingell (TUSC)
Emma Henlan (C)
Robert Hevican (Lab)
Energy Kutebura (Ind)

May 2021 result Lab 1323 C 1173
May 2019 result Lab 1051 C 446 Grn 437
May 2018 result Lab 1137 C 637 Grn 226
May 2016 result Lab 1489 C 434 Grn 189
May 2015 result Lab 2447 UKIP 1445 C 1052 Grn 142
May 2014 result Lab 1085 UKIP 968 Grn 342 C 280
May 2012 result Lab 1637 C 390
May 2011 result Lab 1884 C 840 LD 189
May 2010 result Lab 2166 C 1571 LD 793 BNP 761
May 2008 result Lab 1485 C 1155
May 2007 result Lab 1309 BNP 938 C 567 LD 333
May 2006 result BNP 1191 Lab 1158 C 562 LD 308
June 2004 reuslt Lab 1735/1539/1438 BNP 1174

Catchup

Since it's a slow by-elections week, we've time to bring you some other election-related news. One piece of good news is that the Cabinet Office minister responsible for elections, Chloe Smith, has successfully completed her treatment for breast cancer and been given the all-clear. This column sends its congratulations.

Last week Miss Smith introduced into the Commons her major project for the new Parliamentary session, as the Elections Bill was given its first reading. The headline provisions in the bill relating to photographic ID being required for voting have generated some controversy, but there's a lot of other things going on in the Bill as well, including: allowing British citizens living overseas to vote in UK elections regardless of how long they have been away from the country; new rules on EU citizens' eligibility to vote and stand in English and Northern Irish local elections (Scotland and Wales have already made their own rules on this); changes to the role of the Electoral Commission; and requirements for digital campaign material to carry imprints. At the time of writing, a date for the second reading is yet to be set. As usual, the Parliament website has the text of the Bill and some explanatory notes (link).

The Association of Electoral Administrators, whose members will have the job of actually delivering these changes for your benefit, have published their report on May's giant local elections (link) together with their Blueprint for a Modern Electoral Landscape (link), a list of process changes which they want making or least considering. Top of their wishlist is a rationalisation and extension of the election timetable together with a new consolidation of election law. As your columnist wrote last year in my piece on issues around postponing elections in a pandemic, the last consolidation (the Representation of the People Act 1983)

"was passed into law at a much simpler time when there were only elections to Parliament, local councils and that newfangled thing called the European Parliament. Since then we have had all sorts of constitutional innovations: devolution to Wales and London, the establishment of the Electoral Commission, mayors of districts and boroughs, regional and metro mayors, police and crime commissioners, newfangled electoral systems, extensions to the franchise, you name it. All of that has to be bolted onto the 1983 Act which now has so many extensions that the structure is starting to sag under its own weight."

Yes, I forgot the elections to Scottish Parliament and the Inner London Education Authority, although to be fair not many people remember the Inner London Education Authority over thirty years after it was abolished. To give you a flavour of just how heavily the 1983 Act has been amended and how difficult it now is to follow, let's look at the sections of it relating to electoral registration. My printed copy of the Act has four A4 pages of text under the heading "Registration of parliamentary and local government electors", divided into six sections numbered 8 to 13. A Herculean effort from the team at legislation.gov.uk, who really shouldn't have had to do this, has finally managed to bring the 1983 Act completely up to date with all the hundreds (possibly thousands) of amendments which have been made by scores of later Acts in the following thirty-eight years. According to them, the relevant part of the table of contents now reads:

Registration of parliamentary and local government electors

8. Registration officers.
9. Registers of electors..
9A. Registration officers: duty to take necessary steps.
9B. Anonymous registration.
9C. Removal of anonymous entry.
9D. Maintenance of registers: duty to conduct canvass in Great Britain.
9E. Maintenance of registers: invitations to register in Great Britain.
10. Maintenance of registers: duty to conduct canvass in Northern Ireland..
10ZA. Northern Ireland: timing of canvass.
10ZB. The relevant registration objectives (Northern Ireland).
10ZC. Registration of electors in Great Britain.
10ZD. Registration of electors in Great Britain: alterations.
10ZE. Removal of electors in Great Britain from register.
10ZF. Digital registration and canvass in Northern Ireland.
10A. Maintenance of the registers: registration of electors in Northern Ireland..
10B. Register of electors in Northern Ireland: digital registration number.
11. Correction of registers..
12. Right to be registered..
13. Publication of registers..
13A. Alteration of registers..
13AB. Alteration of registers: interim publication dates.
13B. Alteration of registers: pending elections..
13BA. Alteration of registers in Northern Ireland: pending elections.
13BB. Election falling within canvass period.
13BC. Alteration of registers: recall petition.
13C. Electoral identity card: Northern Ireland.
13CZA. Provision of false information: application for electoral identity card.
13CA. Scottish local government elections: false information in connection with applications for absent voting.
13D. Provision of false information

I wish I was making this up. That's 29 sections and God knows how many sides of A4. I'm not trying to say all this isn't needed, but the thicket of suffix letters is a barrier to understanding not just for the average voter but for the election professionals in our local town halls. The AEA point out in section 3 of their post-poll report that this fragmentation of our electoral law caused problems in drafting last year's emergency legislation to deal with the current public health situation. So does the Elections Bill clean up this alphabet soup? No. In fact it adds two more sections relating to electoral registration (13BD and 13BE) among pages and pages of further amendments.

And this is just one example of how the state of the UK's electoral law got beyond a joke many years ago. The AEA are completely right to call for a single Electoral Administration Act, and hopefully they won't be repeating that call for much longer.

One welcome change in the Elections Bill is a restating of the electoral offence of undue influence, which dates from 1883 and whose definition - written in very Victorian and increasingly archaic language - hasn't significantly changed since. This change will hopefully help the Election Court in the future, although it won't be relevant to the three pending legal cases which this column is aware of arising from the May elections.

Of those three cases, the most straightforward would appear to be the one in the Banbury Ruscote division of Oxfordshire county council, which Labour are challenging on the basis that the result was declared for the Conseravtives incorrectly following an administrative error at the count. In Coldhurst ward, Oldham, an independent candidate has lodged a case making various allegations about the conduct of the poll (link to Manchester Evening News report). Finally, the Liberal Democrats have launched a case in the Totteridge and Bowerdean ward of High Wycombe (link to Bucks Free Press report), where they lost in the Buckinghamshire county elections to an independent slate. As this column has pointed out in the past (Andrew's Previews 2019, pages 29 and 33) Totteridge and Bowerdean is a ward where elections before 2021 have led to electoral fraud allegations, so this could be a fun one for the Election Court to sort out. Andrew's Previews will of course keep an eye on what's going on with those cases, and once an update comes to my attention I will pass it on.

Finally, if you enjoyed the preview above, there are many more like it – going back to 2016 – in the Andrew’s Previews books, which are available to buy now (link). You can also support future previews by donating to the Local Elections Archive Project (link).

Andrew Teale