Previews: 19 Mar 2020

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

For the moment, the show is going on. It appears that the government intends to call off local by-elections as a response to the COVID-19 crisis, but as I explained in an extraordinary edition of the Previews last week there is currently no way to stop an election thanks to force majeure. Stopping the democratic processes already in action will require primary legislation, which won't pass in time to prevent today's four contests. In what may be the last ordinary edition of Andrew's Previews for some time, there are four local by-elections on 19th March 2020:

Upper Stoke

Coventry council, West Midlands; caused by the death of Labour councillor Sucha Singh Bains at the age of 83.

Bains was born in the Punjab in 1935; he came to Britain in 1959 and settled in Coventry, studying at Lanchester Polytechnic - the forerunner to Coventry University - and working in the city's automotive industry. Bains entered politics and in 1990 achieved elected office, being elected to Coventry city council for the Upper Stoke ward. Apart from a gap in 2004-06 he had represented the ward ever since, and in 2003-04 Bains served as the first Asian Lord Mayor of Coventry.

Bains' Upper Stoke ward is centred on Stoke Heath, which was developed in the early years of the last century as housing for what was becoming a major industrial city. Initially munitions were the major local employer; there was a war on, and many of the local houses were occupied by refugees from Belgium. Once the war was over the area became dependent on the Morris Motors engine plant, which occupied several acres on Blackberry Lane. Because of the presence of the factory, this area suffered badly in the Coventry Blitz of November 1940. The Morris engine factory closed its doors in the early 1980s and housing now occupies the site. Today many of the ward's residents were, like the late Councillor Bains, born in India; Punjabi and Polish are major languages spoken here.

Upper Stoke ward was unusual in Coventry in the 2000s as it was the only ward of the city where the Liberal Democrats had any sort of presence. The Lib Dems won all three seats in the 2004 election, the first on the current boundaries, shutting Bains out. Bains got his seat back in 2006 with a majority of 30 votes, and Labour gained a second seat the following year by the even narrower margin of three votes, 1620 to 1617. The last Lib Dem councillor held out until 2012, but by then the Coalition had happened and the party's vote had fallen through the floor; Labour gained the seat with a majority of over 38 percentage points, and they have not been seriously challenged here since. In May 2019 Labour polled 50% in Upper Stoke, against 21% for the Conservatives and 16% for UKIP; and the ward will have been strongly in the Labour column at the December 2019 general election in the Coventry North East constituency.

Defending for Labour is local resident Gurdev Singh Hayre. The Conservatives have selected Gurdeep Singh Sohal, a consultant. UKIP - like the Lib Dems - have thrown in the towel, so the two remaining candidates are Chrissie Brown of the Green Party and Jane Nellist - wife of the former Militant MP Dave Nellist, now there's a blast from the past - for the Socialist Alternative.

Parliamentary constituency: Coventry North East

Chrissie Brown (Grn)
Gurdev Singh Hayre (Lab)
Jane Nellist (Soc Alt)
Gurdeep Singh Sohal (C)

May 2019 result Lab 1538 C 632 UKIP 501 Grn 394
May 2018 result Lab 1965 C 775 Grn 268 LD 204
May 2016 result Lab 1873 UKIP 546 LD 424 C 354 Grn 150 TUSC 89
May 2015 result Lab 3368 C 1273 UKIP 1227 LD 629 Grn 260 TUSC 215
May 2014 result Lab 1912 UKIP 809 LD 417 C 389 Grn 134 BNP 94 TUSC 56
May 2012 result Lab 2024 LD 682 C 275 Grn 213 BNP 156 Socialist Alternative 120
May 2011 result Lab 2536 LD 799 C 508 BNP 193 Grn 159 Socialist Alternative 95
May 2010 result Lab 3439 LD 1983C 1127 BNP 480 Socialist Alternative 185
May 2008 result LD 1694 Lab 1506 C 482 Grn 172
May 2007 result Lab 1620 LD 1617 C 521 BNP 291 Ind 183 Ind 25
May 2006 result Lab 1792 LD 1762 C 566
June 2004 result LD 2119/2047/1865 Lab 1776/1504/1480 C 526/480/457 Socialist Alternative 251

Clackmannanshire East

Clackmannanshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Bill Mason.

It's time for what is becoming the annual March trip to the Wee County on the north bank of the Firth of Forth. For the third year in a row, Clackmannanshire council is having a by-election in March. The returning officer here is used to having to hold by-elections in trying circumstances: the March 2018 by-election in the county's North ward took place on the 1st of the month, which may be recognised by the Met Office as the first day of spring but was blighted by exceptionally heavy snowfall.

This time we're in the East ward, which is based on the towns of Clackmannan and Dollar. Clackmannan may have given its name to a county but it's a pretty small place, with a population under 3,500. Originally it was a port on the River Black Devon, a tributary of the Forth, but centuries of silting-up mean that the river is now more than a mile away from the town centre. In mediaeval times Clackmannan was associated the Bruce family, who fortified it with the building of Clackmannan Tower - a structure that no longer exists.

Further up in the hills is Dollar, a village whose name may come from a Gaelic word meaning "dark" or "gloomy"; appropriate for the trying times in which we live. By coincidence or otherwise, Dollar is home to Castle Gloom, a 500-year-old building officially called Castle Campbell which was built as a Lowland centre for the Dukes of Argyll. Along with Muckhart, which was transferred into Clacks from Perthshire in 1971, Dollar forms one of the Hillfoots Villages along the A93 road from Stirling towards Fife.

Much of this ward has a coalmining history. In 2003 Labour carried the two wards based on Clackmannan while Dollar and Muckhart was the only part of the Wee County to return a Conservative councillor, Alastair Campbell. The introduction of this ward for the 2007 election along with proportional representation enabled the SNP to get a look-in, and the nationalists actually topped the poll in Clackmannanshire East at the 2007 and 2012 elections. For the May 2017 election the Conservatives took over the lead with 42% of the vote, against 30% for the SNP and 20% for Labour; the seat count remained at one for each party partly because the Tories only had one candidate. Alastair Campbell stood down and Bill Mason took over as the ward's Conservative councillor. As usual, Allan Faulds at the Ballot Box Scotland blog has got his slide-rule out to see what would have happened if the May 2017 votes were for a single seat: the answer is a big win for Mason, with a 59-41 lead over the SNP after redistributions.

The Wee County is part of the Ochil and South Perthshire parliamentary seat, which has unseated its MP at each of the three general elections over the last five years. Labour's Gordon Banks lost in 2015 to the SNP's Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, who lost in 2017 to the Tories' Luke Graham, who lost in 2019 to the SNP's John Nicolson. Clackmannanshire has a longer SNP pedigree in the Scottish Parliament, the party having represented it since 2003 (currently as part of the Clackmannanshire and Dunblane seat).

Bill Mason has stood down on health grounds halfway through his five-year term, prompting this by-election. Defending for the Conservatives is Denis Coyne, a business advisor from Dollar who is aged 71, so may have some trouble getting to the count. The SNP candidate is Stephen Leitch, a community councillor in Dollar. Labour have selected Carolynne Hunter, a former software engineer and now full-time carer for her disabled daughter. Also standing are John Biggam for the Lib Dems and Marion Robertson for the Scottish Greens.

Parliamentary constituency: Ochil and South Perthshire
Scottish Parliament constituency: Clackmannanshire and Dunblane

John Biggam (LD)
Denis Coyne (C)
Carolynne Hunter (Lab)
Stephen Leitch (SNP)
Marion Robertson (Grn)

May 2017 first preferences C 1452 SNP 1055 Lab 706 LD 151 Grn 132

Chilworth, Nursling and Rownhams

Test Valley council, Hampshire; caused by the death of long-serving Conservative councillor Nigel Anderdon.

Our two remaining by-elections are in the south-east of England. Chilworth, Nursling and Rownhams are three villages just outside Southampton, which are clearly dependent on the big city but haven't been incorporated into it. Chilworth, the point where Southampton ends on the main road towards Eastleigh and London, is home to a science park run by the University of Southampton and to the earth station from where Sky TV send their broadcasts to the satellites. Rownhams lies on the city's north-western edge, and is probably best known as the location of a service area on the M27 motorway.

This is greenbelt land and homes in this ward are sought-after and expensive. That adds up to a strongly Conservative area; on slightly revised boundaries in May 2019, the ward gave the Conservative slate a 58-30 lead in what was generally a poor set of local elections for the Tories. The Conservatives also hold the local county council seat, Romsey Rural.

This by-election will be a straight fight with Labour having withdrawn. Defending for the Conservatives is Terese Swain, a school business manager who site on Nursling and Rownhams parish council. Challenging for the Lib Dems is Karen Dunleavey, a former Mayor of Romsey.

Parliamentary constituency: Romsey and Southampton North
Hampshire county council division: Romsey Rural

Karen Dunleavey (LD)
Terese Swain (C)

May 2019 result C 1187/1123/1114 LD 612/517/470 Lab 236


Thanet council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Karen Constantine.

If this is to be the last by-election preview for some months to come, it's appropriate that it links back all the way to the start of the Andrew's Previews book series. This column has been going for almost ten years, and all columns from 2016 to 2018 have been collected in a series of paperbacks which are available from Amazon. Or not, as the case may be: I understand Amazon are not prioritising book deliveries at the moment, so if you order a copy you could be in for a long wait.

Those who are already lucky enough to have a copy of the first Preview book, that for 2016, will be able to turn to page 16 to see a by-election in the Newington ward of Thanet district, which took place on the 21st January and was the fourth of over 240 previews in the book. Newington ward is an inland and rather working-class part of Ramsgate, on the road towards Manston airport. Blessed with one of the widest runways in Europe - a legacy of the Second World War, when damaged RAF planes would regularly limp home here - Manston became a civilian airport from 1960 onwards. Attempts to develop the place into a budget airline hub foundered after the collapse of EUjet in 2005, and several later players couldn't make Manston work either. The last scheduled passenger flight, a KLM departure to Amsterdam, left in April 2014 and the airport closed the following month.

Since 2014 the airport site has been the subject of a tug-of-war. The site had been quickly sold to developers who wanted to build new housing and commercial units; the Government had an eye on its runway for use a lorry park in the event of no-deal Brexit; while several attempts have been made to reopen the site for cargo flights. In late 2014 Thanet council, then run by Labour, turned down a compulsory purchase order which would have allowed a reopening plan to proceed under the auspices of intended new operator RiverOak.

Thanet council was then taken over by UKIP, who won a majority of the district councillors in the 2015 election on the coattails of a widely-publicised but unsuccessful Parliamentary campaign by Nigel Farage. The new UKIP administration was much more sympathetic to the idea of reopening the airport, although there were further twists and turns before the site was eventually sold to RiverOak last year. In October RiverOak applied for a Development Consent Order for the work required to reopen; this went to the Department for Transport, which announced in January that it had delayed a decision until May 2020 to allow for further information to be provided. Given what has happened since, there must be a question-mark over whether RiverOak's business case for resuming cargo flights here still stacks up.

Newington ward had been safe Labour until it turned purple in the UKIP surge of 2015. Both of the new UKIP councillors, Mo Leys and Vince Munday, resigned within twelve of their election. Munday emigrated to Thailand at the end of 2015, and the resulting by-election in January 2016 was gained by Labour candidate Karen Constantine. Leys resigned in 2016, stating that he could no longer serve under the UKIP banner; the resulting by-election in July 2016 was held in the week after the EU membership referendum, and resulted in a UKIP hold for Roy Potts.

But by May 2019 UKIP were a spent force in Thanet politics. Potts didn't seek re-election, and Newington ward reverted to its previous safe Labour status. Shares of the vote were 51% for the Labour candidate, 26% for the Greens who came from nowhere to take second place, and 23% for the Conservative slate.

In the January 2016 by-election I described Karen Constantine as juggling the roles of executive coach, magistrate and mother-of-four while working in London for the Royal College of Midwives. From that by-election you could add to that Thanet district councillor; and a year later Constantine was elected to Kent county council as one of the two members for Ramsgate. She has resigned from the district council, but kept her county seat.

Which gives us this by-election, which could be crucial. Labour are in minority control of the hung Thanet council, but are the second-largest group after the Conservatives. A loss here could lead to even more instability on the council once normal service resumes.

Defending for Labour is Mary King, a former Ramsgate town councillor (who has previously contested elections under the name of Mary Dwyer-King). The Green candidate Katie Gerrard returns after her second-place finish last year. The Conservatives have selected Trevor Shonk, who has served four times as mayor of Ramsgate. Completing the ballot paper, fresh from another Ramsgate by-election earlier this year, is independent candidate Grahame Birchell.

If this is to the last local by-election for the foreseeable future (and at the moment the foreseeable future seems to be about three hours), then this is a truly dark time for psephologists. With any luck it will only be temporary, and normal service will resume before we reach the point where it is not worth normal service resuming. In the meantime, let me try and cheer you up in the closing words of the inimitable pair who brought the original Andrew Preview to our screens all those years ago.


Parliamentary constituency: South Thanet
Kent county council division: Ramsgate

Graheme Birchall (Ind)
Katie Gerrrd (Grn)
Mary King (Lab)
Trevor Shonk (C)

May 2019 result Lab 412/365 Grn 209 C 188/181
July 2016 by-election UKIP 295 Lab 281 C 125 LD 33
January 2016 by-election Lab 288 UKIP 229 C 156 Ind 49 Grn 20 LD 12 Ind 10
May 2015 result UKIP 884/845 Lab 728/713 C 390/363
May 2011 result Lab 705/702 C 370/351
May 2007 result Lab 471/438 Ramsgate First 268/196 C 208/197 UKIP 116
May 2003 result Lab 532/498 Ind 235 C 144/140

Andrew Teale

Previews: 12 Mar 2020

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

Four by-elections on 12th March 2020:

Park Farm North

Ashford council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Jo Gideon, who is now the MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central.

Our four by-elections today are in rural and small-town areas; but, unusually, the Conservative defence is the exception to the rule. We've come to Ashford, one of the boom towns of modern Britain as the first major town along the road from the Channel Ports to London. Ashford has expanded over recent years with new housing estates in nearly every direction, and Park Farm is one of the biggest of then.

Park Farm lies just to the south of Ashford off the main road and railway line towards Romney Marsh, close to and part of the parish of the ancient village of Kingsnorth. The ward's housing mostly dates from the mid-1990s, and was clearly marketed to people with or planning families: at the 2011 census 29% of the ward's residents were under 16, putting Park Farm North in the top 40 wards in England and Wales on that statistic.

The development of Park Farm caused the old Kingsnorth ward of Ashford to become grossly oversized, and in 2003 the Local Government Boundary Commission divided it into three new wards of which this is one. The new ward returned a councillor from the Ashford Independents - a long-established localist party - in the 2003 election, but the independent retired in 2007 leaving an open seat which the Conservatives picked up. The Tories have held Park Farm North ever since. Joanna "Jo" Gideon took over as the ward's councillor in May 2019, defeating Labour 61-20 on slightly revised boundaries.

Like Darren Henry MP, whom we met on Tuesday in connection with a Wiltshire by-election, Jo Gideon already had a parliamentary campaign under her belt. In the 2017 general election she had fought the closely-watched seat of Great Grimsby, finishing around 2,500 votes short of Labour MP Melanie Onn. At the time of her election to Ashford council she was an aide to the local MP, Damian Green, and before that Gideon had been a small businesswoman.

When the December 2019 general election became a thing Gideon was selected as Conservative candidate for Stoke-on-Trent Central. Like Great Grimsby, this was a long-standing Labour constituency with significant UKIP strength, as seen in a by-election in February 2017 (Andrew's Previews 2017, pages 55 to 62). Like Great Grimsby, it fell to the Conservatives in December 2019. Jo Gideon is the first Conservative MP for Stoke Central since Harold Hales, a shipping magnate who had represented the predecessor seat of Hanley in the 1931-35 Parliament.

With Jo Gideon now dividing her time between London and the Potteries, she has left an open seat on Ashford council. Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Aline Hicks, a former Ashford councillor who represented the rural Weald South ward from 2015 to 2019; Hicks is presently a Kingsnorth parish councillor. The Labour candidate is Garry Harrison, who was a Labour candidate for Ashford council in May last year and a UKIP candidate for Kent county council in 2017. Also standing are Samuel Strolz for the Lib Dems, Trish Cornish for the Ashford Independents and Thom Pizzey for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashford
Kent county council division: Ashford Rural South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ashford
Postcode district: TN23

Trish Cornish (Ashford Ind)
Garry Harrison (Lab)
Aline Hicks (C)
Thom Pizzey (Grn)
Samuel Strolz (LD)

May 2019 result C 300 Lab 97 LD 91


South Somerset council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Tony Vaughan.

For other by-election in the South of England today we turn to the week's Lib Dem defence, which is on the southern border of Somerset. The Parrett ward, named after the river which forms its western boundary, is a rural division covering five parishes a few miles south-west of Yeovil. The largest of these is the wonderfully-named Haselbury Plucknett, which was an important place in the twelfth century as the home of Wulfric, a holy man and miracle worker who was one of the most influential priests of his time. Both Henry I and King Stephen sought his advice. Wulfric was never formally canonised, and the church where he is buried is dedicated not to him but to St Michael and All Angels.

The South Somerset district has been run by the Liberal Democrats for many years, and the party won a big majority in the 2019 local elections. But big seat majorities can be deceptive: the Tories are often very close behind here. Such is the story of Parrett ward, which has been Lib Dem at every election this century but has had a series of knife-edge results: the Lib Dem majority was just 30 votes in 2007, 88 votes in 2011 and 57 votes on the general election turnout in 2015. The winning candidate on each of those occasions was Ric Pallister, who for a time was leader of the council; he retired in May 2019 and his successor, Tony Vaughan, increased the Lib Dem majority to the much more comfortable level of 65% to 35%. The Conservatives, however, represent the area in Parliament and on Somerset county council.

Vaughan's resignation after less than a year in office has caused this by-election. Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Ollie Patrick, a local resident who sits on West and Middle Chinnock parish council. He's up against a strong Conservative candidate in Mark Keating, from Haselbury Plucknett, who is the ward's county councillor. Also standing are independent candidate Steve Ashton (who fought Eggwood ward May 2019 but lives here) and Robert Wood for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Yeovil
Somerset county council division: Coker
ONS Travel to Work Area: Yeovil
Postcode districts: BA22, TA14, TA18

Steve Ashton (Ind)
Mark Keating (C)
Ollie Patrick (LD)
Robert Wood (Grn)

May 2019 result LD 575 C 316
May 2015 result LD 785 C 728
May 2011 result LD 623 C 535
May 2007 result LD 519 C 479
May 2003 result LD 633 C 430


Stratford-on-Avon council, Warwickshire; caused by the death of independent councillor Peter Barnes at the age of 78.

For our final English by-election of the week we travel north to the Midlands. The village of Welford-on-Avon lies about four miles downstream from Stratford-upon-Avon, and claims to have one of England's tallest maypoles. The village anchors a ward of seven parishes to the south-west of the town, including Long Marston which was the site of a former military base that's now used as a dumping ground for unwanted trains. Much of this ward was a detached part of Gloucestershire until 1931, when boundary changes transferred it to Warwickshire.

The late councillor Frederick Peter Barnes was the longest-serving member of Stratford-on-Avon council. He had been the district councillor for Welford-on-Avon continuously since a November 1990 by-election, originally being elected on the Lib Dem ticket. Barnes also served on Warwickshire county council from 2001 to 2013. He left the Lib Dems during the Coalition years and was very narrowly re-elected in 2015 as the only independent member of Stratford-on-Avon council; Barnes polled 975 votes, just eleven more than the Conservative candidate. His final re-election, in 2019, was by the much more comfortable score of 65-21 over the Tories. The 2017 Warwickshire county results, in which the Conservatives had a big lead in Bidford and Welford division, suggest that without Barnes on the ballot the Conservatives would have a good chance here.

There is one independent candidate hoping to succeed Peter Barnes in this by-election: Neal Appleton is a local resident and former school governor. The Conservatives have reselected Richard Cox who stood here last year. Also standing are John Stott for the Green Party, Anthony Kent for Labour and Manuela Perteghella for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Stratford-on-Avon
Warwickshire county council division: Bidford and Welford
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leamington Spa
Postcode district: CV37

Neal Appleton (Ind)
Richard Cox (C)
Manuela Perteghella (LD)
Anthony Kent (Lab)
John Stott (Grn)

May 2019 result Ind 897 C 291 Grn 117 Lab 73
May 2015 result Ind 975 C 964 Lab 116

Eilean a' Cheò

Highland council, Scotland; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Ronald MacDonald.

We finish the week with another free-for-all, but it couldn't be more different as we swap the rolling hills of Warwickshire for the scenery of the Cuillins. These are some of most spectacular mountains in the whole of Scotland, and pictures of the Cuillins have graced many a guidebook and calendar over the years. The Cuillins aren't the tallest hills in Scotland - they include twelve Munros but the highest point, Sgùrr Alasdair, is only 992 metres in altitude - but they are technically demanding, and a traverse of the Cuillin ridge is one of the greatest challenges in British mountaineering. Their difficulty is reflected in the fact that Sgùrr Alasdair is named after Alexander Nicolson, who in 1873 was the first person to climb it; several other peaks in the range were named similarly.

Despite their height these mountains are not part of the British mainland. The Cuillins instead anchor the Isle of Skye, the largest of the Inner Hebrides and the third-largest island in Scotland. Skye is an island with a long history, although not much of it was written down until comparatively recent times. It was Norse territory until 1266, when the king of Norway ceded Sodor and Man to Scotland under the terms of the Treaty of Perth. By this time the island was effectively controlled by the clan system, which gave us such structures as Dunvegan Castle, home to this day to the chief of the Clan MacLeod.

Many of the clan leaders ended up on the losing side in the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, which ended with the lad who was born to be king being ignominiously carried over the see to Skye. After that the island was taken over by landed estates, and the Highland Clearances started to bite. To some extent Skye still hasn't recovered from that episode: even with some population growth in recent years, the island's headcount now is half of what it was in 1821.

Today a third of Skye's residents are employed in the public sector with tourism also being important. The island's main exports are fish and Talisker whisky, while Dunvegan Castle and the local folk music scene are major draws. The Skye Bridge links the island to the mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh, while ferries cross the sea to Mallaig on the mainland and to Harris and North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. The main centre of population is Portree, a fishing port on the east coast home to the island's secondary school and around a quarter of its population.

Skye, of course, isn't the only island in the area. The electoral ward covers associated islands including Soay, Staffa and Raasay. Of these, only Raasay has any population worth speaking of. Staffa is uninhabited but nevertheless is world-famous thanks to Fingal's Cave, immortalised in Felix Mendelssohn's overture The Hebrides which has rarely been out of the orchestral repertoire since it was published in the 1830s.

In recent decades Skye has been associated with some very prominent politicians on the faraway Westminster scene. The current MP for Skye is Ian Blackford, leader of the Scottish National Party's group in the House of Commons; he won his seat in 2015 by defeating the former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, who had first been elected here on the SDP ticket in 1983.

Local elections here are a bit different. Skye is part of the sprawling Highland council area, and at the first Highland council election of this century it was divided into four-and-a-half wards; the eastern end of the island was in the Kyle and Sleat ward which also included Kyle of Lochalsh over the bridge. All of these voted for independent candidates except Portree ward, which voted Lib Dem; Skye Central ward was uncontested.

That was the last first-past-the-post election to Highland council, which as with all of Scottish local government went over to proportional representation for the 2007 election. Under the new régime Skye and its associated islands formed a single ward of four councillors. In a nod to the fact that nearly half of the islanders have some knowledge of Scottish Gaelic, the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland settled on a Gaelic name for the ward. Rather than the island's standard Gaelic name, An t-Eilean Sgitheanach, the poetic Eilean a' Cheò (island of the mist) was chosen as the new ward name. This led to some confusion in the run-up to the 2007 election, as an urban myth arose that the Highland council was «hanging the name of the island as a whole; the Telegraph went so far as to print a story to that effect on its front page, and the council was forced to issue a clarification. The new ward duly came into effect and has had unchanged boundaries ever since. Skye is still Skye.

In the 2007 election to Eilean a' Cheò ward all four councillors for wards wholly on Skye stood for re-election. Three of them made it back, Drew Millar for the Lib Dems and independent candidates Hamish Fraser and John Laing. Iain MacDonald, outgoing councillor for Snizort and Trotternish ward, was eliminated in seventh place and lost his seat; that seat was picked up by Ian Renwick of the SNP, who fairly narrowly defeated independent candidate John Murray in the final count. Shares of the vote were 52% for the four independent candidates, 21% for the Lib Dems and 15% for the SNP, so a 2-1-1 split was an equitable outcome. John Laing retired at the 2012 election and his seat was taken by a new independent, John Gordon, with the other three councillors being re-elected very comfortably.

The 2017 election, by contrast, saw a lot of change. All four councillors sought re-election, but Millar was this time standing as an independent, having left the Lib Dem group when the party attempted to discipline him for sharing Britain First stuff on his social media. Several new independent candidates stood, including John Finlayson who topped the poll with 29% of the vote and was elected on the first count. Three of the twelve candidates on the ballot paper were called MacLeod, but in the final reckoning there could be only one: Calum MacLeod won the second seat for the SNP, defeating his running-mate Ian Renwick. The SNP had started with 19%, ahead of new independent Ronald MacDonald on 14% and outgoing independent councillors John Gordon and Hamish Fraser on 9% and 7% respectively; and that was the order they finished in, with MacDonald winning the third seat and Gordon being the only Eilean a' Cheò councillor to be re-elected. Since May 2017, SNP councillor MacLeod has left the party group following a domestic abuse charge.

As can be seen, in this corner of the world we have a lot of votes for independent candidates; the seven independents on the ballot polled 71% between them in May 2017. Reading across voting patterns from Westminster and Holyrood elections is not that helpful in these circumstances.

This by-election has been caused by the resignation of independent councillor Ronald MacDonald. A former consultant to international institutions such as the World Bank, MacDonald is a professor of macroeconomics and international finance at the University of Glasgow's business school. He had stood for election to Highland council on a single issue of improving health and social care services on the island. This has been the subject of a wide-ranging recent report by Sir Lewis Ritchie, and Professor MacDonald has stood down from the council so that he can work on getting the recommendations made in the Ritchie report implemented.

So we have this by-election for which there are six candidates. Two of them are independents. Màrtainn Mac a' Bhàillidh, who appears to have changed his name to Màrtainn Misneachd for this election (misneachd is the Gaelic for "confidence"), is associated with a Gaelic-language pressure group and his campaign policies go strong on language issues. Although the local newspaper, the West Highland Free Press, describes Misneachd as living and working on Skye, he has given an address in Glasgow on his nomination papers. The other independent candidate is Calum Munro, a former schoolteacher who has also run his own joinery business; among various community works he chairs the parent council/forum for Kilmuir primary school. Munro may therefore be familiar with the SNP candidate Andrew Kiss, whose wife is the headteacher at that primary school; Mr Kiss, who defeated former councillor Drew Millar for the SNP nomination, is a consulting engineer in the automotive industry and has also run a bed and breakfast business. The Scottish Conservatives have looked to the next generation in selecting Ruraidh Stewart, from Balmacara near Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland; he's currently studying at St Andrews University and has previously represented Skye in the Scottish Youth Parliament. The Lib Dem candidate is Fay Thomson, a former manager for the Federation of Small Businesses who has also run a café in Portree; like outgoing councillor MacDonald, she's involved with the Ritchie report implementation. Completing the ballot paper is Dawn Kroonstuiver Campbell, from the Scottish Green Party, who is calling for the council to impose a tax on tourists visiting Skye.

This is a Scottish local government election, so the standard reminder applies: Votes at 16 and the Alternative Vote are in force. Please mark your ballot paper in order of preference. There are 21 polling stations for this by-election, one of which is on Raasay whose ballot box will have to be transported over the sea in order to reach the count in Portree. Accordingly the returning officer is not going for an overnight count, so don't stay up all night waiting for this result.

Picture of the Cuillin Mountains by Stefan Krause, Germany - Own work, FAL, Link. Picture of the Portree harbourfront by DeFacto - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Parliamentary constituency: Ross, Skye and Lochaber
Holyrood constituency: Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch
ONS Travel to Work Area: Portree (north of ward), Broadford and Kyle of Lochalsh (south of ward)
Postcode districts: IV40, IV41, IV42, IV43, IV44, IV45, IV46, IV47, IV48, IV49, IV51, IV55, IV56, PH41

Andrew Kiss (SNP)
Dawn Kroonstuiver Campbell (Grn)
Màrtainn Misneachd (Ind)
Calum Munro (Ind)
Ruraidh Stewart (C)
Fay Thomson (LD)

May 2017 first preferences Ind 3551 SNP 936 C 319 Lab 98 LD 97
May 2012 first preferences Ind 1850 SNP 830 LD 641 Lab 157 C 91
May 2007 first preferences Ind 2365 LD 960 SNP 669 Lab 351 C 178

Andrew Teale

Preview: 10 Mar 2020

One by-election on Tuesday 10th March 2020:

Till and Wylye Valley

Wiltshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Darren Henry, who is now the MP for Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire.

Yes, it's a Tuesday by-election. And why not? It's only tradition that says elections are normally held on Thursdays; any working day will do, and sometimes Thursday is not the best time to hold an election for various reasons (a polling station being unavailable, the returning officer going on holiday, and so on).

For this Tuesday by-election we're in Wiltshire, a council which has seen a large number of by-elections in recent months: this is the sixth Wiltshire council by-election in eight months, and a seventh poll is in the pipeline. All of last year's Wiltshire elections were in the west of the county, around Trowbridge and Westbury; this time we move to the south.

Till and Wylye Valley is a sprawling division covering nine parishes on and around Salisbury Plain. It's named after two rivers. The Wylye valley is the major communication link between Salisbury and the towns in the west of the county, with the main road and railway lines passing along it. The Till flows into the Wylye at the village of Stapleford, after rising some miles to the north in the village of Tilshead. As the village name of Winterbourne Stoke on the A303 might suggest, strictly the Till is not a river but a winterbourne in that it only flows following the winter rains.

Halfway up the Till valley is the village of Shrewton which is the ward's major population centre; like the other eight parishes in the division, it's a picture-postcard kind of place full of lovely old buildings. However, the area is rather overshadowed in the tourism stakes by Stonehenge, which lies about a mile east of the division boundary.

Given the division's rural nature and presence in the safe Conservative parliamentary seat of Salisbury, it might surprise to find that for decades this area was strongly Liberal Democrat. Ian West had represented this area for thirty years in the Lib Dem interest, originally sitting on Wiltshire county and Salisbury district councils; when Wiltshire's local government was reorganised in 2009 West was elected to the present division fairly comfortably.

Ian West was, however, defeated at the last Wiltshire elections in May 2017 by new Tory candidate Darren Henry, who won with a 54-44 margin. A former RAF logistics officer, Henry had a parliamentary campaign under his belt having fought Wolverhampton North East in the 2015 general election. It would appear that his enthusiasm for the national stage wasn't undimmed, and Henry's chance at a winnable Parliamentary seat came in 2019 when Anna Soubry, the Conservative MP for Broxtowe, walked off to join Change UK. This left an open seat; Henry got the Tory nomination and was duly elected in December as MP for Broxtowe, increasing the Conservative majority from 863 votes to 5,331. Soubry, standing for re-election under the banner of the Independent Group for Change (as they were called that week) finished third with 8.5%.

With Darren Henry now dividing his time between London and Nottinghamshire, he has left an open seat of his own on Wiltshire council. Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Kevin Daley, who sits on the parish-level Salisbury city council and runs a business specialising in health and safety, food safety and training for businesses. The Lib Dems have passed on the torch to a new generation by selecting Harry Ashcroft, a gardener and former care home assistant who works within the division. Completing the ballot paper is Labour candidate Timothy Treslove. None of the candidates live in the ward. Some of the electors may be interested to know that their polling station is a pub: a shoutout is due to the Bell Inn at Winterbourne Stoke, which is doing its bit for democracy today.

Parliamentary constituency: Salisbury
ONS Travel to Work Area: Salisbury
Postcode districts: BA12, SP2, SP3, SP4

May 2017 result C 1134 LD 923 Lab 34
May 2013 result LD 895 C 645 Lab 84
June 2009 result LD 1064 C 693 BNP 141

Previews: 27 Feb 2020

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

Seven by-elections on 27th February 2020, six in England and one in Wales. There are three Conservative defences, three Labour defences and a free-for-all:

Hillingdon East

Hillingdon council, North London; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Pat Jackson, who had served since 2006. Her resignation is believed to have been on health grounds.

We start for the week in that London, although on the outer fringes of it. The London Borough of Hillingdon is London's westernmost borough and has one of those neutral names which try not to offend anybody living in the multiple suburbs covered by the district. Hayes, Harlington, Northwood, Ruislip, Uxbridge, West Drayton and Yiewsley are all part of the borough but are larger than Hillingdon itself.

Hillingdon was one of the ancient parishes of Middlesex, with its boundaries including a small village called Uxbridge. When Uxbridge grew into a town, Hillingdon was left behind as a rural area, and stayed that way well into the 20th century. Uxbridge annexed part of Hillingdon in 1894 leaving a rump rural parish called Hillingdon East, which had similar boundaries to this ward.

Much of the present ward is still open space today. However, in the 1920s the Metropolitan Railway, having run out of places to develop houses and season ticket revenue nearer the capital, set its eyes on the Hillingdon area. Hillingdon (Swakeleys) station opened in 1923, and over the next decade and a half the fields to the south of it adjacent to Long Lane were filled up with Metroland houses. Reflecting the increasing urbanisation of the area, Hillingdon East parish had been absorbed into Uxbridge by the time the Second World War broke out. The original Hillingdon station no longer exists, as it was demolished in the early 1990s to enable improvements to Western Avenue, which is one of London's major arterial roads and forms the northern boundary of this ward; the replacement Hillingdon station, slightly south of the original, is an architecturally striking building with frequent Metropolitan and Piccadilly line trains to London and Uxbridge.

Hillingdon East ward is quite socially divided, with the northern half (close to Western Avenue) being significantly whiter and less deprived than the southern half (close to Uxbridge Road) which has a significant Asian population. Unusually, all of the major subcontinental religions are well represented among the ward's residents.

The London Borough of Hillingdon has had a Conservative majority since 2006 and the Tories increased their lead on the council to 44-21 over Labour in the 2018 borough elections, gaining two seats. Hillingdon East ward is part of that majority, although in the 2002 election (the first on the current boundaries) it returned a full slate of three Lib Dems with Labour in second place. The Conservatives came from third to gain two seats from the Lib Dems in 2006 and picked up the other seat in 2010. The Hillingdon Liberal Democrats have since fallen to the point that they didn't even contest this ward in 2018, when the Conservative slate beat Labour here 60-36. Some of that lead may well have been on the coat-tails of the local MP Boris Johnson, who at the time was Foreign Secretary; we have seen a similar phenomenon at recent elections outside his constituency.

Johnson had served as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip since 2015, at which point he was still Mayor of London. He retired from the mayoralty at the 2016 election, and the voters of Hillingdon East clearly endorsed his Conservative successor Zac Goldsmith; the ward's ballot boxes gave Goldsmith a 48-31 lead over Labour's Sadiq Khan, while in the London Members ballot the Conservative list polled 40%, Labour had 30% and UKIP were third with 12%.

Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Colleen Sullivan, a local resident who is involved with organisations including the council's Safer Neighbourhood Board. Labour have selected Annelise Roberts, who stood in Charville ward in 2018. In 2018 the only other party to contest Hillingdon West was the Democrats and Veterans Party, the "gay donkey" UKIP splinter group; this time there is a wider choice for the electors with Geoff Courtenay standing for UKIP, Chris Hooper for the Lib Dems and Mark Keir for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Uxbridge and South Ruislip
ONS Travel to Work Area: Slough and Heathrow
Postcode district: UB10

Geoff Courtenay (UKIP)
Chris Hoopsr (LD)
Mark Keir (Grn)
Anneslise Roberts (Lab)
Colleen Sullivan (C)

May 2018 result C 2200/2053/2052 Lab 1333/1314/1239 Democrats and Veterans Party 153
May 2014 result C 1572/1448/1400 Lab 1005/786/769 UKIP 763 LD 507/448/445 TUSC 106
May 2010 result C 2595/2387/2345 LD 1823/1713/1670 Lab 1362/1234/1201
May 2006 result LD 1303/1195/1135 C 1279/1200/1152 Lab 677/591/554 Ind 222
May 2002 result LD 1244/1164/1159 Lab 1045/1001/969 C 904/833/833

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: C 1395 Lab 896 UKIP 201 Grn 114 LD 106 Britain First 56 Respect 33 Women's Equality 33 BNP 26 Cannabis is Safter than Alcohol 24 One Love 7 Zylsinki 6
London Members: C 1183 Lab 895 UKIP 345 Grn 153 LD 125 Britain First 86 Women's Equality 39 CPA 31 Respect 26 BNP 26 Animal Welfare 23 House Party 7


Cambridgeshire county council; and


South Cambridgeshire council; both caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Peter Topping.

Our other two by-elections of the week come on the southern edge of Cambridgeshire. Duxford is a small village, but its name is well-known. In 1918 Duxford Aerodrome was opened as one of the first Royal Air Force airfields, with most of its buildings having been constructed by German prisoners of war. The Air Force put on a show here for George V and Queen Mary in the Jubilee year of 1935. Subsequently RAF Duxford was on the front line of the Battle of Britain in September 1940, before being taken over by the US Air Force later in the war.

The RAF moved out in 1961 and since then the site has had various uses, including much of the shooting of the 1969 film Battle of Britain. Duxford Aerodrome is now in the hands of the Imperial War Museum and there are several aircraft collections here. The runways and apron are occasionally used by Formula 1 teams; in 2012 driver Maria de Villota was seriously injured in a crash at Duxford while testing for the Marussia team. De Villota never fully recovered from the accident, and she died from its effects the following year.

Duxford had been represented on Cambridgeshire county council since 2013 by Peter Topping, a Conservative councillor who had gained his seat from the Liberal Democrats. Topping was also a South Cambridgeshire district councillor, having gained Whittlesford ward from the Lib Dems in 2008. This is a village further down the Cam valley from Duxford which is home to Duxford's railhead, the station of Whittlesford Parkway on the West Anglia main line which links the area to Cambridge and London.

Both Duxford county division and Whittlesford ward were redrawn for their most recent elections. In Duxford Topping was re-elected in May 2017 by a 55-33 margin over the Lib Dems, and in Whittleford in May 2018 he had a 63-16 lead over Labour in second place. The county council result was nothing out of the ordinary, but the district council result a year later sticks out by a mile. The South Cambridgeshire local government district, which covers most of the Cambridge commuter belt, was stormed by the Liberal Democrats in the 2018 local elections, and Topping was the only Conservative councillor left standing for some miles around Whittlesford. He had been leader of the council going into that election. Topping submitted his resignation on New Year's Day, his 61st birthday, as he is relocating to Northumberland where his wife works in the NHS.

At the time the MP for South Cambridgeshire was the Tories' Heidi Allen, who had taken over a safe Tory seat from the former health secretary Andrew Lansley in 2015. Allen had previously been a member of St Albans council, and resigned from that council when she was selected as a PPC prompting a double by-election in Marshalswick South ward. (This was a double by-election because another prospective Tory MP for the same ward, Seema Kennedy, had resigned from St Albans council at the same time; Kennedy subsequently served in the Commons for South Ribble from 2015 to 2019.) A bit of a gamble, but it all turned out right in the end; the Conservatives held the Marshalswick South double by-election in January 2015, and Allen was safely elected to the Commons in May 2015.

Heidi Allen became increasingly estranged from the Conservative group in Parliament, and in February 2019 she was one of three Tory MPs to join the short-lived Independent Group/Change UK party. She led that party for a while, before leaving in May 2019; after an interlude leading her own independent group in the Commons she joined the Liberal Democrats in October 2019. Allen stood down from Parliament in December 2019, but her political journey left its mark on her electors; South Cambridgeshire's new Tory MP, former journalist and banker Anthony Browne, was elected only narrowly in December against a Lib Dem surge.

Given the recent political realignment of this part of southern Cambridgeshire and the fact that Peter Topping would appear to have had a significant personal vote, these two by-elections are worth watching. They are straight fights.

For the Duxford county council seat the defending Conservative candidate is Stephen Edwards, who lives within the division in Ickleton. He fought Duxford ward in the 2018 South Cambridgeshire election, losing the seat to the Lib Dems; and the following year he contested the Newmarket North ward of West Suffolk council, polling rather poorly in comparison to his running-mate as I explained in Andrew's Previews last month. This is Edwards' second matchup against Lib Dem Peter McDonald, who is the South Cambridgeshire district councillor for the smaller Duxford ward and was the Lib Dem candidate for the county division in 2017.

In the South Cambridgeshire by-election for Whittlesford ward we have a ballot paper of two candidates who are both associated with the University of Cambridge or its linked industries. The defending Tory candidate is Richard Williams, a Whittlesford parish councillor and the University's Hogan Lovells lecturer in corporate law. He is challenged by the Lib Dems' James Hobro, a research scientist at the Schlumberger Gould research centre, who gives an address outside the ward in the village of Fowlmere.


Parliamentary constituency: South Cambridgeshire
South Cambridgeshire wards: Foxton, Duxford (part: Duxford, Hinxton, Ickleton and Pampisford parishes), Melbourn (part: Shepreth parish), Whittlesford (part: Thriplow and Whittlesford parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode districts: CB10, CB21, CB22, SG8

Stephen Edwards (C)
Peter McDonald (LD)

May 2017 result C 2066 LD 1248 Lab 286 Grn 148


Parliamentary constituency: South Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire county council division: Duxford (Thriplow and Whittlesford parishes), Saston and Shelford (Newton parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode districts: CB22, SG8

James Hobro (LD)
Richard Williams (C)

May 2018 result C 714 Lab 180 LD 164 Grn 70


Blaby council, Leicestershire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Bill Wright. The mayor of Braunstone in 2017-18, Wright had served on Blaby council since 2007.

For our Midlands by-election we travel to Leicester. Or not, as the case may be. Travellers entering Leicester from the M1 or M69 motorway by means of the Fosse Way may plunge straight into the city's built-up area, but this is not technically Leicester. Instead you first have to get through Braunstone Town, a suburb of Leicester which is yet to be annexed by the city.

Millfield ward is the southern of the three wards covering Braunstone Town and generally the newest, with most of its housing dating from the 1950s and 1960s. It's pretty well off by Leicester standards but there are echoes of the big city's demographic in its census return, notably so with an 8% Sikh population which just puts Millfield into the top 100 Sikh wards in England and Wales.

Local elections in Braunstone can be confusing affairs. The Conservatives don't always put up a candidate here but can be competitive when they do stand. They narrowly won Millfield ward in 2003 but gave up their seat without a fight in the 2007 election, allowing Labour's Bill Wright to be elected unopposed for his first term of office. Wright won his fourth and final term in May 2019, defeating the Conservatives 53-47 in a straight fight. The ward is part of the Braunstone division of Leicestershire county council, which was similarly marginal in 2017. The large Conservatives majorities on Blaby council and in the South Leicestershire parliamentary constituency come from elsewhere.

Defending this seat for Labour is Nick Brown, leader of the parish-level Braunstone town council. The Conservatives have reselected Anthony Cashmore who was runner-up here last year. For the first time this century a Millfield ballot paper will have more than two candidates, with the intervention of the Green Party's Christiane Startin-Lorent.

Parliamentary constituency: South Leicestershire
Leicestershire county council division: Braunstone
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode districts: LE3, LE19

Nick Brown (Lab)
Anthony Cashmore (C)
Christiane Startin-Lorent (Grn)

May 2019 result Lab 282 C 248
May 2015 result Lab unopposed
May 2011 result Lab 483 C 401
May 2007 result Lab unopposed
May 2003 result C 306 Lab 278

Clayton and Opsnehaw

Manchester city council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Andy Harland at the age of 59. He had served since 2018.

For the first of our two by-elections in north-west England we travel to east Manchester. This is a ward dominated by the world of sport. In 1994 the Manchester Velodrome opened as part of the city's ill-fated Olympic bids; at the time it was Britain's only Olympic-standard velodrome, and its facilities propelled Teams GB and Sky to the top of world cycling. The velodrome was one of the 2002 Commonwealth Games venues, and has hosted the track cycling world championships three times.

The velodrome was the first component of what became Sportcity, whose most important component is the Premier League champions (although probably not for much longer) Manchester City. City's academy and training ground, opened in December 2014, are within the boundary of Clayton and Openshaw ward; the Academy Stadium is an impressive structure in its own right with a capacity of 7,000. (They're not the only club to be associated with this area: in 1892 new entrants to the Football League Newton Heath FC started playing at Bank Street in Clayton. That club moved to Old Trafford in 1910, having been renamed as Manchester United six years earlier.)

All of this was a big redevelopment of a post-industrial landscape: not Eastlands but wastelands. The Etihad Stadium, just outside the ward boundary, was formerly home to Bradford Colliery. The Academy Stadium site was occupied for over a century by Clayton Aniline, one of the UK's most important dyestuffs factories; its employees in the 1900s included a part-time research consultant called Chaim Weizmann, who would go on to become the first president of Israel.

Clayton Aniline took its name from a Manchester suburb which was annexed by the city in 1890. The 15th-century Clayton Hall, named after its founding family, still stands here and gave its name to the area. Part of the Clayton area became a public park in 1846, one of the first municipal parks in the world, thanks to the efforts of Manchester MP Mark Philips after whom the park is named. Philips Park now runs into Clayton Vale, a post-industrial landscape in the Medlock valley which has been turned into a country park.

Clayton and Openshaw both share similar histories, having come to prominence as 19th-century suburbs based on all this heavy industry - Clayton on the Ashton New Road, Openshaw on the Ashton Old Road. With the disappearance of that industry and redevelopment of some of the housing the area has substantially depopulated. The scale of this depopulation can be seen by the fact that there was a Manchester Clayton parliamentary seat from 1918 to 1955, followed by a Manchester Openshaw parliamentary seat from 1955 to 1983. Nearly all of the census districts covered by the ward are in the 10% most deprived in England, and in the 2011 census bus use in the constituency was very high. That census took place before the opening of the tram line to Ashton-under-Lyne, which runs along Ashton New Road and whose Velopark and Clayton Hall stops are within the ward boundary.

Clayton and Openshaw may be depopulating, but the same cannot be said of central Manchester as a whole. The city centre has seen enormous population growth over the last couple of decades, and as a result the Manchester Central constituency - which covers this area - is now badly oversized. The failure of two parliamentary boundary reviews within the last decade means that nothing has been done to sort that out. The Local Government Boundary Commission have, however, taken action at Manchester city council level, where the former City Centre ward was split into two new wards at a redistribution in 2018. That redistribution also sorted out some rather weird ward boundaries east of the city centre, where the previous wards had been long and thin, radiating from the centre: Clayton was in a ward with Ancoats, while Openshaw was previously in the Bradford ward along with Beswick. The new lines divide east-west rather than north-south, placing Clayton and Openshaw together in the same ward.

The 19th-century MP Mark Philips may have been a Liberal, but Manchester elections in this decade have been dominated by the Labour party. Labour won every single seat in the city at the 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015 local elections. The spell was broken in 2016 with a Lib Dem gain in Didsbury West ward, but the Lib Dems still only amount to three out of 96 city councillors.

Clayton and Openshaw, however, has an interesting story to tell. At the first election on the current lines, in May 2018, the Labour slate won easily with 61% and the runner-up spot went to independent candidate Ken Dobson on 18%. A lot of the Labour vote went to their top candidate Andy Harland, a former binman and lifelong trade unionist who had previously served on Manchester city council from 1998 to 2002 for the former Beswick and Clayton ward. Outgoing Labour councillors Donna Ludford and Sean McHale trailed some way behind. Dobson, a coach at the Mancunian Boxing Club, had form in the former Ancoats and Clayton ward: he finished second there in a December 2013 by-election (as a continuing Liberal Party candidate) and in 2016 (as an independent). Those were fairly distant runner-up performances, but in May 2019 Dobson came very close to being elected as the first independent Manchester city councillor since the 1930s. Labour councillor McHale was re-elected, but with a majority over Dobson of just 22 votes; both McHale and Dobson polled 45%.

So Labour have work to do to hold this seat. Their defending candidate is Sherita Mandongwe, founder of a charity for families with disabled children. Kenneth Dobson returns as an independent candidate. Also standing are Jake Welsh of the Greens (who returns from the May 2019 election), Sham Akhtar for the Conservatives and Claude-Diele Nsumbu for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Manchester Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: M11, M40, M43

Sham Akhtar (C)
Kenneth Dobson (Ind)
Sherita Mandongwe (Lab)
Claude-Diele Nsumbu (LD)
Jake Welsh (Grn)

May 2019 result Lab 1346 Ind 1334 Grn 109 C 106 LD 99
May 2018 result Lab 2103/1722/1592 Ind 603 LD 279/162/118 Grn 220 C 217/152/142

Crewe South

Cheshire East council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Dorothy Flude. The Cheshire East cabinet member for children and families, Flude was a former Mayor of Cheshire East and leader of the council's Labour group. She had represented Crewe South on Cheshire East council since the council's establishment in 2009, and before that was a Cheshire county councillor for the same area.

Our last two by-elections of the week are in areas which were, but are no longer, part of the so-called Red Wall. One of these is Crewe, a town in Cheshire which was brought into being by the railways: the Grand Junction Railway (forerunner to the mighty London and North Western) opened its locomotive works here in the 1830s, and a town grew up to serve it. The railway works are still here (although a lot less busy then they used to be) and manufacturing is the economic bedrock of the town, with a large Bentley car factory providing high-paid jobs.

South ward was drawn for the 2011 election, and covers the area to the west of Crewe railway station along the Nantwich road. Local landmarks include Gresty Road stadium, the home of Crewe Alexandra FC who are having a good season; they are second in League 2 at the time of writing.

The inaugural 2011 election in the present Crewe South ward had to be postponed from May to June after one of the candidates died. There were two councillors seeking re-election here that year, one Labour and one Lib Dem, but Labour won both seats easily and haven't been seriously challenged here since. In May 2019 the Labour slate beat the Conservatives here by a 62-25 margin.

That was a good result for Labour, who defeated a controversial Conservative administration on the large Cheshire East council. The Tories are still the largest group with 33 councillors, but Labour have formed the administration in a minority coalition with a large bloc of independent councillors and localist parties. As a result of this gain, since the 2019 local elections we have had something which has never happened before: Labour or Labour-led administrations are now running every local government district in Cheshire past or present.

For their candidate selection here Labour have taken no chances. Their nominee is Laura Smith, the former MP for Crewe and Nantwich; previously a schoolteacher, Smith gained the constituency in 2017 by a majority of 48 votes, but lost her seat in December very badly. That margin in December may give hope to the Tory candidate Martin Deakin, although this ward is a lot more left-wing than the seat as whole; Deakin is a former Cheshire East councillor, serving for Alsager ward from 2015 to 2019. There are two independent candidates on the ballot paper: on the left wing is former Mayor of Crewe Roy Cartlidge, who had been a Labour member of Crewe and Nantwich district council when it was abolished in 2009; while on the right wing is former Tory Cheshire East councillor Brian Silvester, who since 2011 has defected to a series of increasingly right-wing parties and seen a series of decreases in his shares of the vote. Completing the ballot paper is Alsager resident Richard McCarthy, standing for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Crewe and Nantwich
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crewe
Postcode district: CW2

Roy Cartlidge (Ind)
Martin Deakin (C)
Richard McCarthy (Grn)
Brian Silvester (Ind)
Laura Smith (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 1138/1052 C 471/466 LD 240
May 2015 result Lab 2159/1727 C 1104/1016 UKIP 632/560 Grn 389
June 2011 postponed poll Lab 970/899 C 507/489 LD 147/146

Gwersyllt North

Wrexham council, North Wales; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Barrie Warburton. He had served since 2017.

We finish for the week with our Welsh by-election. Gwersyllt is a large village north-west of Wrexham, on the road towards Mold. Like many places in the Valleys but comparatively few in north Wales, it was brought into being by the coal industry as a colliery village; the collieries has gone, but the people are still here partly thanks to a large council estate being built here after the Second World War. That council estate forms the Gwersyllt West ward, which was reported in a 2018 Lancet article as having the lowest life expectancy at birth for women of any ward in England and Wales. Gwersyllt North, however, is based on the more upmarket Summerhill area and is doing better than that, although with manufacturing being the dominant industry here there is a definite left-wing slant to the area's politics.

North division returned Labour councillor Michael Williams with big majorities at its first three elections this century, from 2004 to 2012; in 2012 Williams was opposed only by Plaid Cymru and won by the score of 72-28. This was a better Labour performance than in Wrexham as a whole, which is a perennially hung council with, as often happens in Wales, large numbers of independent candidates getting elected.

In the 2017 election the number of independent Wrexham councillors went up from 19 to 26, or half of the council. One of those was Barrie Warburton in Gwersyllt North, who picked up the seat left open by Michael Williams' retirement. Warburton had an easy win, polling 40% to 28% for Labour and 20% for the Conservatives. There are two independent groups on the council, who govern in coalition with the Conservative group.

Gwersyllt is part of the Wrexham parliamentary and Senedd constituency, which finally fell to the Conservatives in December after some years of marginality. It's not the first time that Labour have lost the Wrexham constituency in recent years - it voted for independent ex-Labour AM John Marek in the 2003 Assembly election - but it was the first time in over a century that the Wrexham area had had a Tory MP.

Will this be reflected in this by-election? We shall see. There is a very long ballot paper of eight candidates, three of whom are independents looking to succeed Warburton. Of those, Martyn Davies represents this ward on Gwersyllt community council; Helen Hay is a local resident; and Bernie McCann is a former Wrexham councillor who lost his seat in Gwersyllt East and South at the 2017 election. The Labour candidate is Colin Powell, who lives in Gwersyllt (although not in this division) and is a Caia Park community councillor in Wrexham town. The Conservatives have selected Jeremy Kent, a governor of Ysgol Bryn Alyn school in Gwersyllt. Also standing are Graham Kelly for the Liberal Democrats, Duncan Rees for the Green Party, and Phil Rees - who also represents this area on Gwersyllt community council - for Plaid Cymru. With a candidate list like that, don't rule out a fragmented result with the winning candidate getting a low share of the vote.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Wrexham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wrexham
Postcode districts: LL11, LL12

Martyn Davies (Ind)
Graham Kelly (LD)
Helen Hay (Ind)
Jeremy Kent (C)
Bernie McCann (Ind)
Colin Powell (Lab)
Duncan Rees (Grn)
Phil Rees (PC)

May 2017 result Ind 282 Lab 195 C 142 Ind 89
May 2012 result Lab 430 PC 164
May 2008 result Lab 408 Ind 151 LD 75
June 2004 result Lab 401 Forward Wales 104 LD 84

There are no by-elections next week so there will be no Previews next week. I shall have a week off and see you all in time for the next local by-election on Tuesday 10th March.

Andrew Teale

Preview: 20 Feb 2020

One by-election on 20th February 2020:

Coulby Newham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Teale

Previews: 13 Feb 2020

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

Whaley Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Richard Baker (Lab)
Laura Beech (C)

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

St Ives East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 2018 result C 766/758 Lab 492 LD 414

Borehamwood Kenilworth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cliffsend and Pegwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Teale

Preview: 06 Feb 2020

One by-election on 6th February 2020:

Burtonwood and Winwick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Teale

Previews: 30 Jan 2020

Two by-elections on 30th January 2020:

Newmarket and Red Lodge

Suffolk county council; and

Newmarket North

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newmarket and Red Lodge

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

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

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

Newmarket North

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

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

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

Previews: 23 Jan 2020

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

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

Barnhill; and
Wembley Central

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Wembley Central

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

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

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

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

Mid Galloway and Wigtown West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mid Galloway and Wigtown West

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

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

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

Preview: 16 Jan 2020

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

Brislington East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Teale