Previewing the 1 July 2021 by-elections (Parliamentary Special)

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

There are eight by-elections taking place in England on 1st July 2021 with nine seats up for election. It's a balanced picture with three defences each for the Conservatives, Labour and independent councillors, and a nice spread between the North, the Midlands and the South. All the local by-elections are in the Midlands and the South, but we'll start with the Parliamentary Special in the sun-soaked north:

Batley and Spen

House of Commons; caused by the resignation of Labour MP Tracy Brabin, who is now the Mayor of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

Welcome to what this column determinedly calls the Wrong Side of the Pennines. To quote no less a figure than the Speaker of the House of Commons, there are only two good things that come out of Yorkshire: Yorkshire Tea (slightly too many cups of which have powered the writing of this column) and the M62 taking you to Lancashire. Those intrepid souls who traverse the M62 in the opposite direction, into the Land of the White Rose, will find themselves soon enough within the constituency known as Batley and Spen, which covers a series of small towns in the space between West Yorkshire's large urban centres: Leeds lies to the north-east, Bradford to the north-west, Wakefield to the east, Huddersfield to the south-west.

Map of the Batley and Spen constituency

The largest town in the seat is Batley, which has come a long way since the days of the Batley Ladies Townswomen's Guild. This is a classic Pennine textile town, but the textiles here weren't wool or cotton but shoddy: that is, recycled rags and clothes. In order to staff the textile mills Batley saw large amounts of immigration from the subcontinent in the 1950s and 1960s, mostly from Gujarat and the Punjab. Batley East ward is majority Asian (54%) and majority Muslim (52%), and makes the top 30 wards in England and Wales for those looking after home or family (11.3% of the workforce). 17% of the ward's workforce have never worked or are long-term unemployed. There are also significant Asian populations in Batley West and Heckmondwike. With the demise of the textile industry, the major contributions to Batley's economy come from the Fox's Biscuits factory and The Mill, a factory outlet in a renovated textile mill.

But Batley is only a third of the seat. The Spen Valley towns, on the other hand, have a low non-white population and in places a commuter demographic, being within easy reach of both Leeds and Bradford (if the M62 is playing nicely, and this is a notoriously congested stretch of it); while Leeds and Bradford come here to shop at the West Yorkshire IKEA store in Birstall. This is a land of small towns like Cleckheaton, Birstall, Liversedge and Birkenshaw: places that are little-known and little-visited outside by-election time. Meat and drink for this column.

In another timeline, Birstall could have been famous as the name of a parliamentary seat. The 1885 redistribution, which essentially created the single-member constituency system the UK has today, split up the old Eastern Division of the West Riding (plus the Knaresborough and Ripon borough constituencies, which were abolished) into six single-member constituencies, one of which - covering Liversedge, Cleckheaton and associated towns in a corner of the old Eastern Division - was identified in the accompanying map as "Birstal". (This is Yorkshire, we don't bother with unnecessary letters.) There was some debate over this name in Parliament, and the seat which eventually emerged had the same boundaries but a different name: "Spen Valley", after the river running through the area.

At this time the Spen Valley seat was dominated by the woollen industry and by nonconformism. This was a recipe for Liberal votes, and throughout the period 1885-1910 this was a Liberal constituency. Both of its MPs during this period were newspaper proprietors: Joseph Woodhead, who served from 1885, had been a co-founder of the Huddersfield Examiner newspaper, while Thomas Whitaker, who took over from Woodhead in 1892, had edited a number of periodicals. Whitaker's smallest majorities were 821 in the 1895 election and 496 in December 1910; otherwise, his seat was safe.

Things were similar in Batley, which before 1885 had been in the Southern Division of the West Riding. This area was a huge winner from the redistribution, going up from 7 MPs to 16. One of the new seats which resulted was a constituency with the name Morley, running from the town of Morley in the north through Batley and around the eastern side of Dewsbury as far as Ossett and Mirfield. Morley was a safe Liberal seat throughout this period, and nobody bothered to oppose the Liberal candidate in 1886, 1906 or December 1910. It had three MPs during this time: Charles Milnes Gaskell (a barrister, and later chairman of West Riding County Council) from 1885 to 1892, Alfred Hutton (from a wool manufacturing family) from 1892 to January 1910, and Gerald France (a businessman and Northumberland county councillor) from January 1910. Like his colleague Thomas Whitaker in the Spen Valley, France was a temperance campaigner.

The 1918 redistribution redrew the two seats in this area. Mirfield transferred from the Morley seat to the Spen Valley seat, while the remainder of the Morley constituency was renamed as "Batley and Morley". Both outgoing MPs were re-elected in 1918 as Coalition Liberals, in straight fights with Labour. Spen Valley was safe enough for Whitaker, but Gerald France held Batley and Morley with a majority of just 1,468 votes.

Thomas Whitaker died in November 1919 at the age of 69. The resulting Spen Valley by-election, held five days before Christmas but not declared until 3 January, broke the mould of British politics. At the time the Liberal Party was split over whether to continue in the coalition government, and two Liberal candidates contested the by-election: Colonel Bryan Fairfax with the coupon, and the former Home Secretary and Attorney-General Sir John Simon (who had lost his seat in 1918) without. Fairfax polled 8,134 votes, Simon beat him with 10,244; but both of them lost the Spen Valley by-election to the Labour candidate Tom Myers, a Dewsbury councillor who had previously fought the seat in 1918. Myers polled 11,962 votes, or 39%, winning with a majority over Simon of 1,718. The Labour Party had arrived, and shown themselves as a political force to be reckoned with.

Sir John Simon won the rematch against Myers in 1922 by 787 votes, regaining the Spen Valley seat for the Liberals. Batley and Morley, however, went the other way with a big win for the Labour candidate Ben Turner, a Batley councillor and general president of the newly-formed National Union of Textile Workers.

The Liberals made ground in both seats in 1923 and 1924. By 1924 Sir John Simon's majority in Spen Valley was over 4,000 votes, and the Liberal candidate Walter Forrest defeated Ben Turner in Batley and Morley by 16,369 votes to 15,966, a majority of 403. A former West Riding county councillor and Mayor of Pudsey, Forrest had previously served in parliament after winning the 1919 Pontefract by-election, but had lost his seat there in 1922.

Both seats swung back to Labour in 1929. Turner easily defeated Forrest in Batley and Morley (no Liberal has represented Batley since), while Sir John Simon's majority in Spen Valley was cut to 1,739. Simon's re-election was helped by a deal with the Conservatives, as he had agreed to chair the so-called Simon Commission on constitutional reform in India on condition that the Conservatives did not stand against him in 1929.

During the 1929 parliament Simon became the leader of the faction of the Liberals which opposed Lloyd George's maintenance in office of the second Ramsay Macdonald Labour government. Matters came to a head in June 1931 when Sir John Simon resigned the Liberal whip, precipitating a split in the party: he became the leader of the Liberal National Party, or the "Simonites". (As opposed to the Simmonites, who were based on the other side of Huddersfield in Holmfirth and were best known for riding down hillsides in bathtubs.) Simon contested the October general election of that year under the new Liberal National label, was re-elected in Spen Valley by a landside, and following the election he returned to Cabinet as Foreign Secretary.

The 1931 general election was a notorious disaster for Labour, and one of the seats they lost was Batley and Morley. Wilfred Wills, from the Wills tobacco family, became the first Conservative candidate and the only Conservative MP for that seat, defeating Ben Turner in a landslide.

Labour made a recovery in 1935, regaining Batley and Morley with a majority of 2,828 on a 15% swing. The seat's new MP was Willie Brooke, a Bradford city councillor who had served from 1929 to 1931 as MP for Dunbartonshire. After a torrid time as Foreign Secretary, Sir John Simon held Spen Valley by 21,671 votes to 21,029 for Labour, a majority of just 642. Following the election, Stanley Baldwin reshuffled Simon to Home Secretary; he became Chancellor of the Exchequer in Neville Chamberlain's first government.

Neither Brooke nor Simon made it to the end of the 1935-45 Parliament. Willie Brooke's health failed in 1938, and he died in January 1939 at the age of just 43. After some speculation that J B Priestley might contest the resulting Batley and Morley by-election as an Independent Progressive candidate (plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose), the candidate list settled down to Labour versus Conservative as in 1935. Wilfred Wills tried to get his old seat back, but was defeated by the new Labour candidate Hubert Beaumont who was elected to Parliament at his fourth attempt. Beaumont increased the Labour majority to 3,896. Sir John Simon was appointed Lord Chancellor in 1940 and accordingly elevated to the Lords as the first Viscount Simon; the resulting Spen Valley by-election was held during the wartime political truce, and the new Liberal National candidate William Woolley was returned unopposed.

The Attlee landslide of 1945 swept Woolley away. Labour won the Spen Valley seat rather easily with their new candidate Granville Sharp, who had spent the Second World War as a senior Army officer, mostly serving on the Allied staff; by polling day he had the rank of lieutenant-colonel. The Batley and Morley MP Hubert Beaumont was also re-elected, and following the election he was appointed as a Deputy Speaker.

Hubert Beaumont died in December 1948 at the age of 65, and the resulting Batley and Morley by-election of February 1949 returned Labour's Alfred Broughton without fuss. Broughton was a doctor and (at the time) a Batley councillor.

The 1950 redistribution abolished the Spen Valley seat and cut the Batley and Morley seat down to just the two towns of the same name, with Ossett being transferred into the Dewsbury constituency. The Dewsbury seat also took in Mirfield and Heckmondwike from the Spen Valley constituency, with the remaining towns (by now merged into the Spenborough urban district) joining with three towns to the west: Brighouse, Queensbury and Shelf, all of which had previously been in the Elland constituency. The Spen Valley MP Granville Sharp elected to retire, and Brighouse and Spenborough was won in the February 1950 general election by the outgoing Labour MP for Elland, Frederick Cobb. Cobb had been a radio engineer before entering politics, having worked on radios for the Merchant Navy, 2LO and the Indian Broadcasting Company. He defeated the former Spen Valley Liberal National MP William Woolley (now standing as a National Liberal and Conservative) by 25,588 votes to 23,456, a majority of 2,132.

Frederick Cobb died just five weeks later at the age of 49, cutting the Attlee government's overall majority to just three seats. The resulting first Brighouse and Spenborough by-election, held in May 1950, was narrowly held by the Labour candidate John Edwards who had lost his seat in Blackburn at the general election. Edwards had been general secretary of the Post Office Engineering Union before being elected in Blackburn in 1945, and he was a junior minister from 1947 in the Ministry of Health and the Board of Trade. He beat William Woolley by 24,004 votes to 23,567, a reduced majority of 437.

The 1950 Parliament was short-lived, but there was time for Edwards to get back on the ministerial ladder as a junior Treasury minister. He held his seat in 1951 with a majority of 2,277 over Woolley. With Labour now in opposition, Edwards became chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee and some years later, the first British president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Boundary changes for the 1959 election, which restored Heckmondwike to the seat with Queensberry and Shelf transferred to Bradford South, shored up his marginal seat but only a little. Edwards held Brighouse and Spenborough in 1955 by 1,626 votes, and he was re-elected in 1959 by 23,290 votes to 23,243, a majority over the Conservative and National Liberal candidate Michael Shaw of just 47 votes.

Just a month after the 1959 election John Edwards died suddenly at the age of 55, while in Strasbourg on Council of Europe business. The resulting second Brighouse and Spenborough by-election, which didn't take place until March 1960, has entered British electoral folklore as one of only five (arguably six) occasions since the Second World War in which the governing party has taken a seat off the opposition at a by-election. (The other four or five are Sunderland South in 1953, arguably Bristol South East in 1961, Mitcham and Morden in 1982, Copeland in 2017, and Hartlepool two months ago.) With the Macmillan government at the height of its power, on a swing of under 1% the National Liberal and Conservative candidate Michael Shaw overturned a Labour majority of 47 to win by 22,472 votes to 21,806, a majority of 666 votes.

Michael Shaw, who died in January this year at the age of 100, went on to have a long Parliamentary career, but not from Brighouse and Spenborough as he lost re-election here in 1964. He served from 1966 to 1992 as Conservative MP for Scarborough (or its successor seat, Scarborough and Whitby), and was subsequently elevated to the Lords in 1994.

Shaw was defeated in Brighouse and Spenborough in 1964 by Labour's Colin Jackson, who had lost the by-election four yours previously; Jackson won with a majority of 922 after losing less support than Shaw to a Liberal intervention. The first Liberal (as opposed to National Liberal) candidate for the Spen Valley since 1929 was James Pickles, a barrister and former Labour Brighouse councillor who at the time was best known as a nephew of the actor Wilfred Pickles; James, who saved his deposit in the election in the days when you needed 12.5% to do that, subsequently became a somewhat controversial judge and writer.

The 1970 election in Brighouse and Spenborough resulted in yet another photofinish. Colin Jackson polled 22,894 votes, but lost his seat to the Conservatives' Wilf Proudfoot who polled 22,953 votes and won with a majority of 59. Proudfoot was an entrepreneur with a growing chain of Yorkshire supermarkets and a number of sidelines, including politics. He had been elected in 1950 as the youngest member of Scarborough council, and this was his second stint in the Commons after serving from 1959 to 1964 as Conservative MP for Cleveland. Since then, in 1966-67 Proudfoot had been the managing director and main financial backer for Radio 270, a pirate station broadcasting from a ship off Scarborough. One of Radio 270's DJs, Sir Roger Gale, is now a long-serving Conservative MP; another of Proudfoot's employees, Christine Holman, who worked as a secretary during his spell as MP for Brighouse and Spenborough, later became famous under her married name of Christine Hamilton.

Colin Jackson got his seat back in February 1974, defeating Wilf Proudfoot by 1,546 votes; a rematch between them in October 1974 resulted in Jackson increasing his majority to 2,177. That was the last Parliamentary campaign for both of them, as Jackson didn't seek re-election in 1979.

While all this action was going on Brighouse and Spenborough, Batley and Morley was re-electing Dr Alf Broughton as its Labour MP with large majorities on each occasion. By the late 1970s Sir Alfred (as he now was) was in his tenth and final term of office, he was in his mid-70s, and he was in poor health. With the Labour government having lost its majority, his hospital treatment in Yorkshire was constantly being interrupted by trips to London so that he could be counted in important parliamentary votes. Matters came to a head on 28th March 1979, with Broughton close to death and the government facing a confidence motion on the floor of the Commons; the Prime Minister James Callaghan declined to ask him to come to London to vote, and the Labour government was no-confidenced by 311 votes to 310. Sir Alfred died five days later, aged 76. He had served as MP for Batley and Morley for just over 30 years.

Broughton's death left the Batley and Morley seat open going into the 1979 general election, and it was held for Labour without fuss by Kenneth Woolmer who had won the Labour selection for the seat back in 1976. A university lecturer, Woolmer was at the time the leader of West Yorkshire county council. Brighouse and Spenborough, meanwhile, was gained by the Conservatives; Gary Waller became the new MP, defeating the Labour candidate Michael McGowan (who would later serve three terms as MEP for Leeds) by 1,734 votes.

The redistribution of 1983 created the current seat of Batley and Spen, reflecting the creation of the Kirklees metropolitan borough in 1974. Both the previous seats crossed the new boundary. Batley and Morley was broken up, with Morley (now part of the city of Leeds) joining the new seat of Morley and Leeds South; while the Brighouse half of Brighouse and Spenborough (now part of the Calderdale borough) joined the new Calder Valley constituency. The remaining halves were fused together into a new seat covering six wards at the northern end of Kirklees: Batley East, Batley West, Birstall and Birkenshaw, Cleckheaton, Heckmondwike and Spen. These are basically the boundaries we have today, although Spen ward was redrawn in 2004 as Liversedge and Gomersal, and Heckmondwike was absent from the constituency from 1997 to 2010.

The new seat was projected to be friendly to the Conservatives, although not friendly enough for the Brighouse and Spenborough MP Gary Waller to go for the Conservative nomination. Instead he transferred to the Keighley constituency. (After losing Keighley in 1997, Waller subsequently served on Epping Forest council in Essex from 2011 until his death in 2017: Andrew's Previews 2017, page 296.) The Batley and Morley MP Kenneth Woolmer did stand here, but he lost to North Yorkshire county councillor Elizabeth Peacock, who was the Conservative candidate and won by 21,433 votes to 20,563, a majority of 870. She was the first female MP for the area. A rematch between Peacock and Woolmer in 1987 saw Peacock increase her majority to 1,362, and there was no swing in the 1992 election at which Peacock's majority was 1,408.

Batley and Spen grew a reputation for being a seat with relatively low swings. Even when Peacock was one of the MPs to fall in the Labour landslide of 1997, the swing to Labour was relatively low at 7.7% allowing for boundary changes, and a rematch in 2001 between Peacock and the new Labour MP again resulted in almost no swing. Peacock is still with us, now aged 83.

The Labour MP who defeated Peacock was Mike Wood. He was a former deputy leader of the local Kirklees council, had represented Cleckheaton as a councillor, and had fought the safe Tory seat of Hexham in 1987. He had worked as a probation officer and social worker. Wood was on the left of the Labour party, and he managed John McDonnell's abortive campaign for the Labour leadership in 2007. Like Peacock before him, his time in the Commons was spent on the backbenches.

Mike Wood stood down in 2015 and passed his seat on to Jo Cox, the head of policy for Oxfam GB and a campaigner for Syrian refugees. In an election with a relatively high swing of 1.7% to Labour, Cox won with an increased majority of 6,057. As an MP, she continued her campaigning and founded the all-party Parliamentary Friends of Syria group.

In June 2016, a week before what would have been her 42nd birthday, Jo Cox turned up for a constituency surgery at Birstall Library, and was murdered in the street by a right-wing extremist who I won't bother to name here; I will simply note that he is serving a whole-life order.

The resulting first Batley and Spen by-election didn't take place until October 2016, with none of the major parties standing against Labour as a mark of respect to Jo Cox. The nine candidates opposing Labour were all independents or representing fringe parties, mostly on the right or far-right of British politics, and they all lost their deposits. Labour's Tracy Brabin won with 86% of the vote on a turnout of just 26%.

With normal political service resumed for the June 2017 election, Brabin beat the Conservatives by 8,961 votes, a majority which was cut to 3,525 votes in December 2019. On that occasion Brabin polled 43% to 36% for the Conservative candidate Mark Brooks. Third place, with 12% of the vote, went to Paul Halloran of the Heavy Woollen District Independents, a localist party active in Batley, Spen and Dewsbury which holds one seat on Kirklees council (in Dewsbury East ward, which is not in this constituency).

Like Jo Cox before her, Tracy Brabin was born in Batley. Before entering politics she was best known as an actress and TV screenwriter: she played Tricia Armstrong in Coronation Street for three years in the 1990s. In Parliament she briefly served in the Shadow Cabinet at the tail-end of the Corbyn leadership, shadowing the digital, culture, media and sport portfolio from January to April 2020.

Tracy Brabin has left the Commons for a job with more power and responsibility than being an opposition MP can provide. She was elected in May as the first Mayor of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, with control over regional transport, adult skills, housing and West Yorkshire Police. In the first round Brabin led with 43% of the vote, to 29% for the Conservatives and 10% for the regionalist Yorkshire Party; her win in the runoff came with a 60-40 margin, 310,923 votes to 208,957.

Kirklees 2021

The mayoral election was combined with the most recent elections to Kirklees council (link to the Local Elections Archive Project). For many years the six wards which make up the constituency have been stuck in a rut: at every election from 2007 onwards Labour have won the two Batley wards and Heckmondwike (which was a BNP hotspot in the mid-Noughties), the Conservatives have won Birstall and Birkenshaw, and Liversedge and Gomersal, and the Liberal Democrats have won Cleckheaton. The only exception to this pattern came in a 2013 by-election in which Labour won Liversedge and Gomersal. The Conservatives performed well in this constituency in May 2021, narrowly coming out on top in votes cast across the seat and coming close to gaining Heckmondwike ward; shares of the vote were 40% each for the Conservatives and Labour and 12% for the Liberal Democrats, nearly all of which came out of Cleckheaton. Kirklees is the only one of the five West Yorkshire boroughs not to have a Labour majority: Labour currently run the council as a minority with 33 councillors, against 19 Conservatives, 9 Lib Dems, 3 Greens and 5 independents (one of whom is the aforementioned Heavy Woollen District independent).

As you can hopefully tell from the above paragraphs and from an excellent piece which the Britain Elects co-founder Ben Walker has written on Batley and Spen for the New Statesman (link), this constituency is not Hartlepool. It's not anything like Hartlepool. (In fact, there are very few places which are anything like Hartlepool, with the possible exception of Grimsby; more on that story later.) Recall from the beginning of this piece that the Batley and Spen seat has a significant commuter demographic in the Spen Valley, and a large Muslim population in Batley; neither of these can be found to any significant extent in Hartlepool, which is a very white and unusually self-contained town. This is a seat which will need different techniques to win from those which were successful in Hartlepool.

As we can see from various rows which have characterised this discordant by-election campaign, such as the furore over a teacher at Batley Grammar School showing Charlie Hebdo cartoons to his pupils, or the planning controversy over Amazon proposing to put a warehouse next to the Chain Bar roundabout on the M62 (in Cleckheaton ward). You wouldn't have seen either of those happen in the Pool.

Defending for Labour is Kim Leadbeater, sister of the late Jo Cox. She is a personal trainer and, until this campaign started, she was an ambassador for the Jo Cox Foundation and chair of More in Common Batley and Spen, two charities which are trying to build something positive out of her sister's death. Leadbeater was appointed MBE in the 2021 New Year honours for services to social cohesion, to the community in Batley and to combatting loneliness during Covid-19. She lives in Liversedge, and is the only one of the sixteen candidates in this by-election to give an address in this constituency.

Second here in December 2019 were the Conservatives. Their candidate is Ryan Stephenson, a Leeds city councillor representing the rural and affluent Harewood ward (although he lives just outside the Leeds city boundary, and accordingly his nomination lists an address in the Selby and Ainsty constituency).

The Heavy Woollen District Independents, who finished third in 2019, have not returned for this by-election. They hadn't contested any of the constituency's wards in May either.

There were three other parties standing in 2019, none of whom saved their deposits. The Lib Dems had to reselect after their original candidate for this by-election stood down on health grounds; their replacement candidate is Tom Gordon, a Wakefield councillor for Knottingley ward who was their parliamentary candidate for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford in 2019. His record in Knottingley, which you can look up on the Local Elections Archive Project (link), speaks for itself; but this may be a tougher nut to crack. The Brexit Party were fifth last time: their successors, Reform UK, have endorsed the Conservative candidate. There's no candidate from the Greens either: they had selected Ross Peltier, a professional rugby league player, but dropped him at the last moment after finding out that he had sent offensive tweets when he was 19 years old, 10 years ago. The Greens didn't have a substitute candidate in place and there wasn't time for them to find one before nominations closed.

Of the other thirteen candidates, one stands out for his impact on the campaign. TV and radio presenter and failed Celebrity Big Brother contestant George Galloway is currently the leader of two political parties, the left-wing Workers Party of Great Britain and the anti-Scottish independence All for Unity. In May's Scottish Parliament election he was top of the All for Unity list for the South of Scotland region, which polled 1.5% of the vote and finished in sixth place. For this by-election he has the Workers Party nomination. Galloway has won a Yorkshire by-election before (Bradford South in 2012) so it would be foolish to count him out.

To take the remaining candidates in ballot paper order: Paul Bickerdike, a foster carer from Tingley near Wakefield, is standing for the Christian Peoples Alliance. Mike Davies has the nomination of the Alliance for Green Socialism, a left-wing group based in Leeds which has been contesting Leeds city council elections for years and whose candidates have been known to reach the dizzy heights of 100 votes. (The AGS were originally on the party register with the name "Left Alliance", and for many years one of their registered logos was the Highway Code "No Right Turn" sign, but I see they have dropped that now. A pity.) Immediately above George Galloway on the ballot is another candidate who comes hotfoot from May's Scottish Parliament election, but there the similarities end: independent candidate Jayda Fransen, the former deputy leader of the far-right Britain First, finished eighth and last in the Glasgow Southside constituency two months ago with 0.1% of the vote, less than a third of the total amassed by somebody who had changed his name for the election to "Greg Energy Adviser". Fransen, who gives an address in Northern Ireland, is currently disqualified from being a local councillor on account of a 36-week prison sentence she picked up in 2018 for religiously aggravated harassment. Answers on a postcard to the usual address as to why that disqualifies her from being a councillor but not from being an MP. Thérèse Hirst is back on the campaign trail for the English Democrats: she was the runner-up in the 2016 by-election after Cox' death, and she finished seventh and last in May's West Yorkshire mayoral election with 1.5% of the vote. The Official Monster Raving Loony Party leader Howling Laud Hope is back for his umpteenth election campaign. Susan Laird is the candidate of the Heritage Party, a socially conservative group led by the former UKIP London Assembly member David Kurten. Oliver Purser, from County Durham, stands for the Social Democratic Party. The Yorkshire Party, a serious regionalist movement as can be seen from their 10% score in the West Yorkshire mayoral election, have selected Corey Robinson; he is a senior medical research engineer. Andrew Smith, who gives an address in Oxfordshire, stands for Rejoin EU whose central policy is left as an exercise for the reader. The official UKIP candidate is Jack Thomson, who gives an address on Tyneside. Jonathan Tilt is having a tilt at this by-election as candidate of the Freedom Alliance, an anti-lockdown party. Completing the ballot paper is Anne Marie Waters, leader of the far-right For Britain Movement.

At the time of writing one opinion poll has been conducted for this by-election, carried out by Survation for the Daily Mail and showing the Conservatives leading on 47%, Labour on 41% and Galloway on 6%. Fieldwork was conducted from 9 to 17 June with a sample size of 510. There is, of course, plenty of time for things to change from that in any direction.

Looking forward, this seat is unlikely to survive the forthcoming boundary changes unaltered. The current draft proposal from the Boundary Commission is for the Heckmondwike ward to move back into the Dewsbury constituency, to be replaced by the Hipperholme and Lightcliffe ward from over the border in Calderdale, and with a name change to "Batley and Hipperholme". The Spen Valley, which forms half of the electorate of the new proposed seat, doesn't get a mention. The Boundary Commission are consulting on these proposals until the start of August, so there is time for you to make representations should you so wish.

We can safely say that this Batley and Spen by-election won't be like the one that Tracy Brabin won five years ago. Will it be like the 1960 poll in the predecessor seat of Brighouse and Spenborough: a government gain? Will it be like both Brighouse and Spenborough by-elections: a photo-finish? Will it be like the Spen Valley by-election of 1919, showing the emergence of a new political force to be reckoned with? We'll know when the votes come out of the ballot boxes on Thursday night and Friday morning. Until then, we turn to the local by-elections which are also taking place on 1st July...

Kirklees council wards: Batley East, Batley West, Birstall and Birkenshaw, Cleckheaton, Heckmondwike, Liversedge and Gomersal
ONS Travel to Work Area: Huddersfield (Batley, Heckmondwike and Liversedge); Bradford (Cleckheaton and Birkenshaw); Leeds (Birstall)
Postcode districts: BD4, BD11, BD12, BD19, WF3, WF12, WF13, WF14, WF15, WF16, WF17

Paul Bickerdike (Christian Peoples Alliance)
Mike Davies (Alliance for Green Socialism)
Jayda Fransen (Ind)
George Galloway (Workers Party of Great Britain)
Tom Gordon (LD)
Thérèse Hirst (EDP)
Howling Laud Hope (Loony)
Susan Laird (Heritage Party)
Kim Leadbeater (Lab)
Oliver Purser (SDP)
Corey Robinson (Yorkshire Party)
Andrew Smith (Rejoin EU)
Ryan Stephenson (C)
Jack Thomson (UKIP)
Jonathan Tilt (Freedom Alliance)
Anne Marie Waters (For Britain Movement)

December 2019 result Lab 22594 C 19069 Heavy Woollen District Ind 6432 LD 2462 Brexit Party 1678 Grn 692
June 2017 result Lab 29844 C 20883 LD 1224 Ind 1076 Grn 695 Ind 58
October 2016 by-election Lab 17506 EDP 969 BNP 548 Ind 517 English Independence 241 Liberty GB 220 Ind 153 Ind 118 NF 87 One Love 34
May 2015 result Lab 21826 C 15769 UKIP 9080 LD 2396 Grn 1232 TUSC 123 Patriotic Socialist 53
May 2010 result Lab 21565 C 17159 LD 8925 BNP 3685 Grn 605


North East Lincolnshire council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Chris Nichols.


I promised you more on Grimsby, and here we are as we turn to the seven local council by-elections taking place on 1st July. First on the bill is the Heneage ward of Grimsby, an utterly working-class ward located south-east of the town centre. As well as the grid of Victorian terraces along Heneage Road, the ward runs to the south and east to take in the newer housing at Weelsby and Old Clee.

One of the Conservative gains in 2019, the Great Grimsby constituency has since 1995 anchored the local government district of North East Lincolnshire. This has a more complicated history than you might expect, because North East Lincolnshire is not just Grimsby: the district also covers the seaside resort of Cleethorpes, the hive of industry that is Immingham and a large rural hinterland. A couple of years back I travelled to Waltham, just south of Grimsby, which struck me as an extraordinarily nice place to live. Waltham ward last went to the polls in May 2019, and voted Conservative. It wasn't up for election last month, when Heneage ward also voted Conservative.

There the similarities between Waltham and Heneage end. Heneage ward's current boundaries date from the election in 2003, when the Labour administration of North East Lincolnshire was unpopular and the Tories and Lib Dems put together an electoral pact to oust Labour. It worked very well: despite polling the most votes across the district Labour won just 7 seats out of a possible 40, with the Conservatives on 16 and the Lib Dems on 13. Heneage ward was a straight fight between Labour and the Lib Dems, the Lib Dem slate winning very comfortably. It took the advent of Coalition for Labour to defeat the last Lib Dem councillor here.

In the simultaneous local and European elections of 2014 North East Lincolnshire put in one of the best performances for the UK Independence Party, which topped the poll across the district and won 7 of the 15 seats up for election, including Heneage ward. UKIP weren't far off taking a second seat in 2015, but then their vote faded away and Labour recovered the seat in 2018. In May 2019 Labour polled 43% of the vote here against 29% for the Conservatives and 27% for UKIP.

That was generally a bad year for Labour locally, as they lost a number of seats and the Conservatives won an overall majority on the council. 2021 was far worse in that regard: Labour went into last month's polls defending seven of the twelve wards up for election in North East Lincolnshire, and lost the lot. The Lib Dems held East Marsh ward, and the Conservatives won everything else including, for the first time this century, Heneage. Shares of the vote were 50% for the Conservatives and 39% for Labour.

Suddenly this by-election is looking rather difficult for Labour to defend, particularly given that the local Labour party appears to have issues. The outgoing councillor Chris Nichols resigned after falling out with the group leadership, citing particular disappointment over the deselection of his former ward colleague Ros James for the 2021 election. She was replaced as Labour candidate by Emma Clough, who lost the seat in last month's ordinary election and now has the task of defending this by-election. The Conservatives have also selected a losing candidate from May, Catherine Hogan (who stood in East Marsh ward, the only ward the Conservatives didn't win). Completing the ballot paper are Les Bonner for the Lib Dems and David Bolton, a former North East Lincolnshire cabinet member who finished fourth here in May for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

Parliamentary constituency: Great Grimsby
ONS Travel to Work Area: Grimsby
Postcode district: DN32

Les Bonner (LD)
David Bolton (TUSC)
Emma Clough (Lab)
Catherine Hogan (C)

May 2021 result C 931 Lab 734 LD 73 TUSC 64 Freedom Alliance 57
May 2019 result Lab 800 C 595 UKIP 552
May 2018 result Lab 996 C 681 UKIP 322 TUSC 46
May 2016 result Lab 948 UKIP 500 C 345 LD 158 TUSC 51
May 2015 result Lab 1730 UKIP 1335 C 917 LD 289 TUSC 105
May 2014 result UKIP 918 Lab 779 C 408 LD 108 Grn 97 TUSC 43
May 2012 result Lab 1039 LD 366 UKIP 304 C 244 Ind 103
May 2011 result Lab 1089 LD 585 C 525 UKIP 299
May 2010 result Lab 1357 LD 1212 C 1175 UKIP 575
May 2008 result LD 865 C 666 Lab 484
May 2007 result LD 861 Lab 676 C 453
May 2006 result LD 1229 Lab 758
June 2004 result LD 1507 Lab 1002
May 2003 result LD 1308/1214/1198 Lab 793/662/610

Penkhull and Stoke

Stoke-on-Trent council, Staffordshire; caused by the resignation of City Independents councillor Randy Conteh.

Penkhull and Stoke

We travel to another place where the local Labour party has issues. Welcome to Stoke-upon-Trent, one of the six towns in northern Staffordshire that were fused together in the pottery kiln of local government to create a single borough in 1910. Although Hanley is the main commercial centre in the area, the borough took the name of Stoke (the main railhead for the Potteries) and the city council has been based in Stoke-upon-Trent since federation.

Despite this fame, Stoke-upon-Trent itself is a rather small place in the scheme of things. Its tiny town centre is located in a corner of this ward, which stretches west through the districts of Hartshill and Penkhull to the Royal Stoke University Hospital. The presence of the hospital means that almost a quarter of the ward's population were employed (at the time of the 2011 census) in human health and social work, a figure which is in the top 15 wards in England and Wales and the second-highest figure for any ward in the West Midlands.

Stoke-on-Trent city council has had unitary status since the 1990s, and its first elections as a unitary council returned 60 Labour councillors out of a possible 60. That didn't last: the 2002 elections, on new ward boundaries, returned a majority of independent councillors. One of them was Randolph Conteh, who won one of the three seats in Hartshill and Penkhull ward, the other two going to Labour.

The independents and Labour ebbed and flowed on the council, and not always at elections: Stoke council became notorious among local government watchers for the frequency of defections between its council groups. Eventually central government lost patience with this political dysfunctionality, and the usual medicine was applied: a move to all-out elections with a cut in the number of councillors, which came in for the 2011 election. This has, to a large extent, stopped the merry-go-round of independent groups, but it hasn't knocked out the independent councillors who coalesced into a single group with the name of "City Independents". Labour lost control of Stoke council in 2015, and a coalition of the Conservatives and City Independents has governed the city since then.

Stoke-on-Trent election 2019

That coalition included Randy Conteh, who had represented Penkhull and Stoke ward since its creation in 2011. He made it onto the council's cabinet for a time, stepping down from the communities and safer cities portfolio in June 2020. That followed a rather narrow re-election in May 2019, when he held Penkhull and Stoke with a 44-41 lead over Labour, a majority of 59 votes. Conteh was one of 12 City Independents councillors; also elected in May 2019 were 16 Labour members, 15 Conservatives (who, as stated, are part of the ruling coalition with the City Independents) and a standalone independent. The Conservatives are now the largest party by some distance with 20 councillors, mostly due to a collapse among the City Independents who have just five left in their group; a by-election gain in a safe Labour ward last month counts towards that Conservative total as well. The ward is part of the Stoke-on-Trent Central constituency which, like the other two Stoke seats, was a Conservative gain in December 2019.

This by-election has come about because Randy Conteh resigned from the council after being charged with rape. The offences are alleged to have taken place in 1995-97, before he became a councillor, and to involve a girl aged under 16. Conteh appeared before Cannock magistrates last month and was bailed to appear at Stoke-on-Trent crown court later this month.

Defending for the City Independents is Hazel Lyth, a former Stoke councillor. She was elected in 2007 as a Conservative councillor for the East Valley ward and served on the council's cabinet with the health portfolio, but lost her seat in 2011 and had not sought election to the council since. The Labour candidate is Lee Polshaw, whose nomination papers were signed by the former Stoke Central MP Gareth Snell; she is described as having lived in the ward for over a decade. Also standing are Adam Colclough for the Green Party (who was an unsuccessful candidate for Staffordshire county council in May) and Dean Richardson for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Stoke-on-Trent Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Stoke-on-Trent
Postcode district: ST4

Adam Colclough (Grn)
Hazel Lyth (City Ind)
Lee Polshaw (Lab)
Dean Richardson (C)

May 2019 result City Ind 679 Lab 620 Grn 129 C 99
May 2015 result City Ind 1209 Lab 745 C 521 Grn 279 LD 79
May 2011 result Ind 727 Lab 567 C 156 LD 128 UKIP 120 Community Voice 50


Newark and Sherwood council, Nottinghamshire; a double by-election caused by the resignations of independent councillors Irene Brown and Gill Dawn.

Newark and Sherwood, Bridge

Our other independent defences of the week come further down the River Trent in the town of Newark-on-Trent. The Bridge ward of Newark is one of those wards where successive boundary reviews have removed the feature that originally gave it its name: the Trent Bridge, where the original Great North Road crossed the river, is now part of Castle ward. There are, however, bridges within the ward boundary, including a large viaduct which takes the A46 bypass over the river and the East Coast main line. Adjacent to this viaduct is the Newark flat crossing, at which that railway crosses the Nottingham-Lincoln railway line on the same level - a major bottleneck on the main line. Express trains to London and the north depart from Northgate station within the ward, while the slower A1 trunk road (with its poorly laid-out junction at Winthorpe) lies on Bridge ward's eastern boundary.

This is the northern of the four wards covering Newark town, and for many years it has been the fiefdom of independent councillors Gill Dawn and Irene Brown. Dawn was originally elected, with the Labour nomination, at a by-election in May 1989; her 33 years' service included spells as both leader and chairman of the council. Irene Brown, who recently completed two years as mayor of Newark, had continuous service since winning a by-election in January 2002.

Newark and Sherwood, 2019

The Boundary Commission had cut Bridge ward from three councillors to two in 2003, and Brown and Dawn had been the two councillors for the ward continuously since then with large majorities. In May 2019 they polled 54% of the vote against 24% for a single Labour candidate and 22% for the Conservative slate. Going up to county council level doesn't really help in determining how this ward might vote without Brown and Dawn on the ballot, because most of Bridge ward is covered by the Collingham county division which returned an independent, Maureen Dobson, to Nottinghamshire county council last month.

So, this rare double by-election could be quite unpredictable. Brown and Dawn have endorsed two new independent candidates to succeed them: they are Ryan Bickerton and Debbie "Deb's" Darby, both of whom are voluntary workers and charity fundraisers in the area. Bickerton is the manager of Newark's Bridge Community Centre, and Darby and him both support Gill and Irene's Food Pantry, a foodbank opened by Brown and Dawn last autumn. The Labour Party have nominated Lisa Geary, who took over from Brown last month as mayor of Newark, and Mark Palmer. Two new candidates have also come forward for the Conservatives, who run Newark and Sherwood council: Simon Haynes lost his seat in 2019 in the town's Devon ward and is seeking to come back, while Jack Kellas has recently represented Newark in the Youth Parliament. Also standing are Ryan Cullen and Keith Melton for the Liberal Democrats, and Steve Platt and Mike Poyzer for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Newark
Nottinghamshire county council division: Collingham (most of ward), Newark East (south-west corner)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lincoln
Postcode district: NG24

Ryan Bickerton (Ind)
Ryan Cullen (LD)
Deb's Darby (Ind)
Lisa Geary (Lab)
Simon Haynes (C)
Jack Kellas (C)
Keith Melton (LD)
Mark Palmer (Lab)
Steve Platt (Grn)
Mike Poyzer (Grn)

May 2019 result Ind 671/647 Lab 300 C 269/230
May 2015 result Ind 920/794 C 461 Lab 411 UKIP 404


Chelmsford council, Essex; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Malcolm Watson.

Chelmsford, Writtle

For our only rural by-election of the week we come to a place which was described in 1909 as "one of the loveliest villages in England, with a ravishing variety of ancient cottages". Hopefully it's just a nice a century later. Lying just to the west of Chelmsford, the large village of Writtle was held in mediaeval times by the de Brus family, whose most famous member - the future Scottish king Robert the Bruce - married his second wife Elizabeth de Burgh here in 1302.

In modern times employment here is provided by Writtle University College, a higher education institution specialising in agriculture and horticulture; while from 1996 to 2017 Writtle hosted the southern leg of the V Festival, with tens of thousands of people turning up each August for a good time. We didn't know that was so precious then. The festival was held in the grounds of Hylands House, a neoclassical stately home which is now in the hands of Chelmsford council.

Chelmsford 2019

Chelmsford city council was one of a number of councils in the London commuter belt taken over by the Liberal Democrats in 2019. (Yes, I know the map says "Chelmsford town"; the ward boundaries haven't changed since city status was granted and I simply haven't bothered to update the outline map.) The Lib Dem majority is concentrated in the Chelmsford urban area, and Writtle ward remains safe for the Conservatives. In May 2019 the Tory slate beat the Lib Dems here by 61-39, and the local Essex county council seat (Broomfield and Writtle) and parliamentary seat (Saffron Walden) are also safely Conservative. The late councillor Malcolm Watson was first elected in 2011 for Chelmsford's Waterhouse Farm ward, moving to safer pastures here in 2019.

Defending for the Conservatives is Andrew Thorpe-Apps, a local solicitor. The Liberal Democrat candidate is Lynne Foster. Also standing are Ronnie Bartlett for the Green Party and Edward Massey for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Saffron Walden
Essex county council division: Broomfield and Writtle
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chelmsford
Postcode districts: CM1, CM2

Ronnie Bartlett (Grn)
Lynne Foster (LD)
Edward Massey (Lab)
Andrew Thorpe-Apps (C)

May 2019 result C 829/662 LD 537/410
May 2015 result C 1592/1344 LD 883/720 UKIP 551
May 2011 result C 1269/1237 Lab 424/413 LD 267/242
May 2007 result C 992/983 LD 632/598 Lab 136/135
May 2003 result C 692/690 LD 661/644 Lab 191/167 Ind 171 Grn 68

Bush Hill Park

Enfield council, London; caused by the resignation of Will Coleshill, who was elected for the Conservatives.

Enfield, Bush Hill Park

We cross into North London for two contrasting by-elections, starting with the one further out from the centre. Since 1880 Bush Hill Park has been the last stop for branch line trains (London Overground trains, these days) going to Enfield Town; the station was opened to serve a housing estate built on the grounds of a country house of the same name. We're a fair way from central London here and the estate was rather slow to grow, a process not helped by its developer going bankrupt in 1887; but the growth of the firearms industry in Enfield to supply the Boer War caused demand to pick up, and by the outbreak of the First World War Bush Hill Park was fully developed. Many of those Edwardian houses are still with us today thanks to a conservation area being created in the mid-1980s; only the northern end of the ward, around Enfield cricket club, has seen significant redevelopment.

For parliamentary purposes Bush Hill Park is within the Edmonton constituency and is by far the least-deprived ward within it. That gives a right-wing slant to its politics which would have pleased one of the ward's most famous residents: Ross McWhirter, the sports journalist and Guinness Book of Records co-founder, lived in this ward on Village Road and was murdered there by the IRA in 1975. McWhirter had been the Conservative candidate for Edmonton in the 1964 general election, doing rather poorly in what had five years earlier been a very close seat.

In fact the Edmonton constituency was often a key marginal until quite recent times. The Conservatives gained it at the 1987 election and held it in 1992; but since then the Tory vote across Enfield has fallen off a cliff and by June 2017 the Conservatives had just 23% of the vote across this constituency, a 12-point swing against them since the Coalition was formed. A large proportion of those Tory votes will have come out of Bush Hill Park, which is the only ward within the seat to reliably return Conservative councillors. Until the 2010s, that is: Labour came from a long way back to gain one of the ward's three seats in 2014, and while the Tories got that seat back in May 2018 it was only with a majority of 64 votes. Vote shares were 39% for the Conservatives, 37% for Labour and 11% for the Green Party.

Enfield 2018

The Conservative slate elected here in May 2018 included Will Coleshill and Jon Daniels. Coleshill had the Conservative whip suspended shortly afterwards for making racist comments in a council meeting, and it appears that he was never readmitted to the group. Daniels resigned after a few months, finding himself unable to balance his democratic duties with his family and work commitments: the resulting by-election in November 2018 saw a big swing to the Conservatives, with their candidate James Hockney (a former South Cambridgeshire councillor, and the Tory candidate in the 2011 Barnsley East parliamentary by-election) defeating Labour by 52% to 28%. Hockney went on to be the Conservatives' parliamentary candidate for Edmonton in December 2019, putting together a 4% swing to the Tories but still finishing nearly 40 points behind the Labour MP Kate Osamor. Coleshill, who has since picked up a fixed penalty notice for breaching lockdown restrictions, has now resigned provoking this further Bush Hill Park by-election.

This column was last in London three weeks ago, previewing two by-elections in Waltham Forest borough. Those were the first standalone by-elections in Greater London since the Mayor and Assembly elections in May, and this column quoted the results from two of the three votes which took place in those elections: the Mayoral ballot, and the London Members list vote. Your columnist has been doing this as standard practice in almost eleven years of previewing council by-elections.

Following the 10th June Previews there were some comments raised on the Twitter as to whether the London Assembly constituency ballot might be a better comparator for council by-elections. There are arguments for doing this. The London Members ballot traditionally attracts a galaxy of parties competing for your vote, whereas Assembly constituencies and council by-elections tend to have a much more restricted choice: in May there were 18 parties seeking list votes, while this Bush Hill Park by-election has six candidates.

To answer this, I would point out that in an Additional Member system, like those in London, Scotland, Wales, Germany and New Zealand, the constituency vote and the list vote are two separate things posing two separate questions. The constituency ballot is asking "who do you want to be your MP", but the list vote is asking "who do you want to run the country/assembly"? For most voters, the answer to those two questions will be the same; but some might want a local MP or AM or equivalent from a different political tradition to the one they want to run the government. We saw this in the 2012 Assembly election in which Brian Coleman, the controversial Conservative AM for Barnet and Camden, massively underperformed his party's list and lost re-election as a result.

The list vote (in this case, the London Members ballot) is also the more powerful of the two votes. A constituency vote only elects one AM; in London, the list vote can contribute to the election of eleven AMs. Partly for that reason, in a number of polities which use the Additional Member system of PR only the list vote is the subject of opinion polls. This is the case in, for example, Germany; and published German opinion polls (which election watchers will see a lot of in the run-up to the next Bundestag election in September) refer only to what is known there as the "second vote" (Zweitstimme). The constituency vote (Erststimme or "first vote") is simply ignored by the pollsters.

In this column's opinion - and I accept that some psephologists may disagree with me on this - the GLA list vote does a better job than the GLA constituency vote of stripping out local factors and giving us something close to the ward's underlying political persuasion. This column has plenty of space to discuss the local factors for readers' consideration, as long as I'm aware of them. So, I'm not going to change my practice going forward.

However, on this occasion as a one-off I will quote the GLA constituency vote for Bush Hill Park last month: it was 44% for the Conservatives, 36% for Labour and 11% for the Green Party. The London mayoral ballot in May was more decisive, with Shaun Bailey defeating Sadiq Khan in the ward's ballot boxes by 46-32; the London Members list vote was narrower, with 40% for the Conservatives, 33% for Labour and 10% for the Greens.

Those results came against the backdrop of a mini-revival for the Conservatives in Enfield, continuing the swing we saw in the Edmonton constituency in December 2019. In three council by-elections held in May, simultaneously with the GLA elections, the Tories gained the semi-rural Chase ward from Labour and gained vote share in the more urban wards of Jubilee and Southbury, although those two wards remained safe for Labour.

Defending for the Conservatives is Peter Fallart, whose policies include greening the ward's streets by restoring weekly bin collections, planting more trees, installing pollution monitors and opposing Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. The Labour candidate is Nia Stevens. Also standing are Ade Adetula for the Lib Dems, Benjamin Maydon for the Green Party, John Dolan for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and former Enfield Labour councillor Clive Morrison for the recently-founded Taking The Initiative Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Edmonton
London Assembly constituency: Enfield and Haringey
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: EN1, N9, N13, N21

Ade Adetula (LD)
John Dolan (TUSC)
Peter Fallart (C)
Benjamin Maydon (Grn)
Clive Morrison (Taking The Initiative Party)
Nia Stevens (Lab)

November 2018 by-election C 1540 Lab 828 LD 313 Grn 127 Women's Equality 79 Ind 50
May 2018 result C 1976/1959/1926 Lab 1862/1831/1681 Grn 539 LD 484 UKIP 144
May 2014 result C 1679/1521/1334 Lab 1522/1277/1223 UKIP 897 Grn 621 LD 453
July 2011 by-election C 1108 Lab 668 Ind 230 LD 177 Grn 100 UKIP 70 BNP 61 Christian Party 45 EDP 29
May 2010 result C 3451/3225/3224 Lab 2230/2077/2049 LD 1747 Grn 942 UKIP 618
January 2009 by-election C 1320 Lab 413 LD 129 UKIP 123 Grn 97
May 2006 result C 2248/2178/1827 Save Chase Farm 1442 Lab 780/683/649 Grn 604 LD 547/533 UKIP 298
May 2002 result C 2400/2276/2272 Lab 974/867/830 LD 565/433/421 UKIP 187/144

May 2021 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: C 1423 Lab 983 Grn 203 LD 99 Omilana 73 Reclaim 61 London Real Party 40 Count Binface 30 Women's Equality 24 Rejoin EU 23 Obunge 19 UKIP 16 SDP 15 Let London Live 14 Heritage Party 14 Animal Welfare 13 Farah London 13 Renew 10 Burning Pink 3 Fosh 3
Constituency: C 1401 Lab 1141 Grn 343 LD 234 Reform UK 59 Ind 22
London Members: C 1285 Lab 1044 Grn 329 LD 160 Women's Equality 63 Animal Welfare 60 Rejoin EU 48 CPA 35 Reform UK 32 London Real 30 UKIP 23 Let London Live 20 Comm 17 Heritage 17 SDP 15 TUSC 8 Londonpendence 7 Nat Lib 5


Islington council, London; caused by the resignation of the Leader of the Council, Labour councillor Richard Watts.

Islington, Tollington

We travel south from Enfield towards a ward with an old name. Tolentone was mentioned in the Domesday Book as a manor within the ancient parish of Islington, but the manor fell into the hands of Clerkenwell Priory in the thirteenth century and the name of Tollington rather fell out of use after that. There is still a road called Tollington Park along the south-east boundary of this ward, but that's about it. To outsiders the main feature of the ward is probably the railway station at Crouch Hill, on the recently-electrified Gospel Oak to Barking line.

In the 2011 census return, Tollington just crept into the top 100 wards in England and Wales for mixed-race population (6.75%) and was just outside the top 20 for those born in the Republic of Ireland (3.35%). The ward has high levels of social renting.

Islington council is a Labour fiefdom these days. The last two elections to the council in 2014 and 2018 both returned 47 Labour councillors out of a possible 48, with a Green councillor in Highbury East being the one that got away. Tollington has returned a full Labour slate at every election this century: in 2018 Labour polled 69% of the vote here, with the Greens in second in 17%.

Islington, 2018

Labour and the Greens were also the top 2 here in the London Mayor and Assembly elections last month. In the ward's ballot boxes Sadiq Khan beat Siân Berry 59-14, while the list vote had a closer but still comfortable Labour lead at 53-21. There wasn't much love for anti-lockdown campaigner Piers Corbyn, who placed ninth here in the mayoral ballot and whose list finished twelfth in the London Members vote; the voters of Tollington have, however, taken a liking to his brother Jeremy who has represented the area in Parliament for 38 years and counting. Only four current MPs (Dame Margaret Beckett, Sir Peter Bottomley, Barry Sheerman and Harriet Harman) have longer service on the green benches.

All those people are notable enough for Wikipedia as, apparently, is the outgoing councillor Richard Watts. Watts had represented this ward since 2006, and had served since 2013 as Leader of the Council. He has joined Sadiq Khan's team at City Hall as Khan's deputy chief of staff, a role which is politically restricted.

Defending for Labour is Mick Gilgunn, a Unite activist who works in a maintenance department at a London university. The Green candidate is Jonathan Ward, who is described by the local party as an "expert sustainability engineer" (whatever that is) and local resident. Also standing are Jane Nicolov for the Lib Dems, who also stood here in 2018, and Vanessa Carson for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Islington North
London Assembly constituency: North East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: N4, N6, N7, N19

Vanessa Carson (C)
Mick Gilgunn (Lab)
Jane Nicolov (LD)
Jonathan Ward (Grn)

May 2018 result Lab 2764/2727/2707 Grn 674/456/380 LD 328/322/278 C 216/212/200
May 2014 result Lab 2355/2320/2302 Grn 1006/951/752 LD 400/393/313
May 2010 result Lab 2476/2350/2263 LD 1604/1466/1425 Grn 1199/1044/883 C 732/642/547
May 2006 result Lab 1338/1312/1270 LD 827/790/757 Grn 531/429/406 C 226/222/183
May 2002 result Lab 1185/1176/1168 Save Arthur Simpson Library 437 Grn 364/319/245 LD 356/325/304 Socialist Alliance 191

May 2021 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1940 Grn 475 C 422 LD 83 Omilana 61 Count Binface 54 Women's Equality 52 Reclaim 42 Let London Live 34 London Real 33 Animal Welfare 20 Heritage Party 17 Rejoin EU 15 Burning Pink 14 Farah London 10 Fosh 8 Renew 6 SDP 6 Obunge 6 UKIP 5
London Members: Lab 1801 Grn 721 C 278 LD 165 Women's Equality 140 Animal Welfare 57 Rejoin EU 35 Reform UK 31 CPA 26 TUSC 24 London Real 20 Let London Live 19 Heritage Party 17 Londonpendence 14 UKIP 13 Comm 11 SDP 8 National Liberal 2

Cobham and Downside

Elmbridge council, Surrey; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Dorothy Mitchell.

Elmbridge, Cobham and Downside

We finish this week outside Greater London, but still (mostly) within the M25. Cobham is the sort of place that confirms any stereotypes you might have about Surrey: it's a village full of middle-class commuters to London and a place with a lot of money. The census return bears out the middle-class commuter demographic (just over 50% of the workforce are in managerial and professional work) but the money doesn't necessarily follow from that: the training ground for Chelsea FC is just over the ward boundary in Stoke d'Abernon, and consequently a number of Chelsea players live here. Hopefully those players who are still involved in Euro 2020 have sorted out absent votes.

To the south of Cobham, over the River Mole, is the small village of Downside, next to the M25 motorway whose recently-completed Cobham service area is here. In between is the country estate of Cobham Park, home in the eighteenth century of John Ligonier who was commander-in-chief of the Army during the Seven Years' War; the present country house, built in the 1870s after the previous one was destroyed by fire, was divided into apartments in 2001.

Further confirming any stereotypes you might have about Surrey, Cobham and Downside forms a safe Conservative ward of Elmbridge council. At the first election on the current boundaries, in 2016, it returned the Conservative slate of Mike Bennison, James Browne and Dorothy Mitchell. Browne was re-elected in 2018, and he became leader of the Conservative group and Leader of the Council in January 2019. James Browne's leadership of the council may have felt good at the time but proved to be a short one: although his ward colleague Mitchell was re-elected in May 2019, the Conservative council administration was defeated that year and a coalition of the Residents Associations and Lib Dems took over. In September 2019 Mike Bennison defected to the Brexit Party. Bennison's term was subsequently extended to 2021 because of COVID, but he failed to finish it; he was kicked off Elmbridge council in June 2020 under the six-month non-attendance rule.

Once the May 2021 elections rolled around, these shenanigans didn't have much effect on the Conservative vote. The Tories beat the Lib Dems here by 65% to 22%, a swing in their favour since May 2019. Mike Bennison, trying to get his old seat back as a Reform UK candidate, finished fifth and last with 3% of the vote. The Residents/Lib Dem coalition running Elmbridge council was re-elected. The Conservatives held the Cobham division of Surrey county council, which covers nearly all of this ward, by a similar margin.

Curiously, the parliamentary seat covering Cobham is much more marginal. This is part of the Esher and Walton constituency, where the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was nearly unseated by the Liberal Democrats in December 2019. The Boundary Commission's draft proposals for the new parliamentary map move Cobham and Downside ward out of the Esher and Walton constituency into a new seat called Weybridge and Chertsey, which may have the effect of notionally wiping out Raab's majority.

This by-election has come about because of the death of veteran Conservative councillor Dorothy Mitchell, who was first elected as a councillor for the Cobham area in 1983 and had served continuously since then. She was Mayor of Elmbridge in 1991-92, and after that she was the Surrey county councillor for Cobham from 2001 to 2009. It'll be hard for her successor to match that length of service.

Defending for the Conservatives is Corinne Sterry, a local businesswoman. The Liberal Democrats have selected Robin Stephens, an entrepreneur in the software sector. Also standing are Irene Threlkeld for Labour (who stood here for the county council in May), Elaine Kingston for Reform UK and Laura Harmour for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Esher and Walton
Surrey county council division: Cobham (almost all), Hersham (small part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Guildford and Aldershot
Postcode district: KT11

Laura Harmour (Grn)
Elaine Kingston (Reform UK)
Robin Stephens (LD)
Corinne Sterry (C)
Irene Threlkeld (Lab)

May 2021 result C 1416 LD 475 Lab 185 UKIP 63 Reform UK 56
May 2019 result C 902 LD 598 UKIP 238 Lab 166
May 2018 result C 1280 LD 268 Lab 253 UKIP 128
May 2016 result C 1157/1155/1041 LD 593 UKIP 378 Lab 370

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

Andrew Teale

Previewing the by-election bumper specials of 17 Jun 2021

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

Eight polls on 17th June 2021, and we start with a Parliamentary Special:

Chesham and Amersham

House of Commons; caused by the death of Conservative MP Dame Cheryl Gillan.

Through Amersham to Aylesbury and the Vale,
In those wet fields the railway didn't pay.
The Metro stops at Amersham today.

- John Betjeman, Metroland

I'd like to start this piece by paying tribute to someone who was taken from us at the very start of the current pandemic. Jon Jacob was a property lawyer by trade, but I knew him as a quizzer. What Jon didn't know about classical music wasn't worth knowing, and his general knowledge was good enough to compete at the highest level.

Jon was one of four people (to date) to have beaten your columnist on BBC Mastermind, doing so in the heats of the 2013-14 series with his subject "The Life and Work of Sir Arthur Sullivan". Two of the other three people to have beaten me on that series are a former Brain of Mensa and a Fifteen-to-One champion, which tells you just how good Jon was. When he died of COVID in March 2020, aged 69, tributes came in from all over the quiz community. We all miss him.

Jon Jacob

Jon played quiz league for many years, competing both in London where he worked and in the Chiltern quiz league, near where he lived. His team was the Hen and Chickens B, from Botley just outside Chesham, which despite the name was for many years the strongest team in the league. The Chiltern quiz league comprises a number of teams in the general area of Chesham, Amersham and Rickmansworth, and they are always looking for new players and teams. If you are local to the area and at a loose end on a Tuesday evening, you could do worse than to visit their website (link) and get in touch.

Map of Chesham and Amersham constituency

Prospective Chiltern quiz league players will find themselves in some rather nice licensed premises in some rather nice towns in some rather nice countryside. The largest of these towns is Chesham, whose history can be nearly summed up by four words beginning with the letter B: boots, beer, brushes and Baptists. Not many of these industries are left now, with the possible exception of Baptists.

Chesham is rather tucked out of the way in the Chess valley, and the town of Amersham is much better connected. This is another market town, located in the Misbourne valley on the railway line from London to Aylesbury. Brewing was a traditional key industry here, but this was supplanted during the Second World War by an unusual new trade: the Radiochemical Centre, Amersham (since spun off and now part of the GE Healthcare empire) made radioactive products for the pharmaceutical industry.

The railway linking Chesham and Amersham to London is an unusual one. It was built by the Metropolitan Railway, which started out in central London in 1863 as the world's first underground railway, and then built a branch line north from Baker Street. The railway soon came to see this branch line as its main route, and they extended it to Chesham in 1885, to Aylesbury via Amersham in 1892, and then onwards into the Aylesbury Vale as far as Brill and Verney Junction. The Metropolitan aggressively promoted the development of new suburbs along its route, resulting in the creation of "Metroland" and giving a commuter profile to its catchment area. It escaped the railway grouping of the 1920s, but ended up in the hands of London Transport from the 1930s; as a result of that, Chesham and Amersham are London Underground stations - the western termini of the Metropolitan line - despite being a very long way out of Greater London. London Transport sold everything beyond Amersham to British Rail in the 1960s, and mainline Chiltern Railways services between Marylebone and Aylesbury also call at Amersham.

There are other towns in the area. West of Amersham on the road and railway to Aylesbury can be found Great Missenden, for many years the home of the author Roald Dahl and now the location of a museum in his memory. To the south-east of Amersham are the Chalfonts, some of the most expensive and exclusive villages in the country. Chalfont St Giles was the place where John Milton completed his poem Paradise Lost after the Great Plague forced him out of London; while Chalfont St Peter can be heard around the world as the home of BFBS Radio, which broadcasts around the clock to British service personnel.

All this is in the county of Buckinghamshire which is a surprisingly diverse area, running a long way from the banks of the Thames in the south, through the Chiltern Hills, to the Aylesbury Vale. Like much of the English county system, it is of Anglo-Saxon origin; but the ancient county town of Buckingham, tucked away at the northern end of the county it gave its name to, never grew into a significant town and is now rather a backwater. Since its creation in the 1880s the Buckinghamshire county council has been based in Aylesbury, while the county's largest urban centre isn't old enough to be drawing a pension yet: that's the New City of Milton Keynes.

Buckinghamshire has played its part in politics over the years. John Hampden, one of the prime movers behind the English Civil War, was from a prominent Buckinghamshire family and was one of the two MPs for the county from 1640 until his death in 1643. In those days Bucks enjoyed fourteen members of Parliament, two for the county and two each for the six boroughs of Wycombe, Wendover, Great Marlow, Buckingham, Aylesbury and a "thriving little market town" in the Chilterns called Amersham.

The Amersham parliamentary borough had a relatively democratic franchise, with all householders paying scot and lot having the right to vote. However, in practice it was a pocket borough controlled by the wealthy Drake family of the nearby Shardloes stately home. The last contested election for the borough was a by-election in February 1735, and from 1768 onwards all the town's MPs were Drakes (later Tyrwhitt-Drakes). This was exactly the sort of abuse which the first Reform Act of 1832 intended to put a stop to, and Amersham was one of the many boroughs which were disenfranchised by the first Reform Act in 1832.

Following the passage of the third Reform Act in 1885, all of the parliamentary boroughs in Buckinghamshire were swept away and the county was reduced to just three MPs, elected from single-member constituencies. The Buckingham constituency covered the vale at the northern end of the county; the Wycombe seat covered the western Chilterns and the southern end of Buckinghamshire, including a small place on the Great Western Main Line called Slough; while in the middle lay the Aylesbury constituency. The Aylesbury seat of 1885-1945 was much larger than the seat of the same name which exists today, covering a large swathe of central Buckinghamshire and the eastern Chilterns, including the whole of the modern Chesham and Amersham constituency.

If the pre-reform Amersham constituency had been dominated by the wealthy Drakes, the Aylesbury constituency at this time was dominated by an even more wealthy and far more influential family. The first election for the new Aylesbury constituency at the end of 1885 was won easily by the Liberal candidate, Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild. "Ferdy" had entered the Commons just a few months earlier, contesting and winning a by-election for the old Aylesbury borough in July 1885 after his cousin Sir Nathan Rothschild MP was elevated to the peerage. The first non-baptised Jew to enter the Lords, Nathan had been a partner in the London branch of the Rothschild banking empire, financing ventures including the Suez Canal and Cecil Rhodes' adventures in southern Africa as a well as a number of philanthropic schemes and good (or at least less dubious) works.

Ferdinand de Rothschild's country house, Waddesdon Manor to the west of Aylesbury, was nearing completion at the time and already filling up with the Baron's extensive art collection. It also quickly became a place of political intrigue. The Rothschilds left the Liberals over the Irish Home Rule controversy, joining the breakaway Liberal Unionists, and Ferdy hosted a number of prominent Conservative politicians in meetings which led to the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists forming an alliance. Ferdy was re-elected in 1886 under his new Liberal Unionist colours with a massive 74-26 lead over the new Liberal candidate, and he was never seriously challenged in Aylesbury after that. His last re-election as MP for Aylesbury, in 1895, came without a contest.

Ferdinand de Rothschild died in December 1898, on his 59th birthday. The resulting Aylesbury by-election of January 1899 was won by the Liberal Unionist candidate Walter Rothschild, son and heir of the 1st Lord Rothschild, who was declared elected unopposed after the Liberals decided not to contest the by-election. Aged 30 at the time, Walter had been put to work in the family banking business even though he had little aptitude for finance, and he was best known at this time as a zoologist. Walter's zoological collection was opened to the public in 1892, and now forms the basis of the Natural History Musuem at Tring in Hertfordshire.

Walter Rothschild only faced one contested election in Aylesbury, holding out against the Liberal landslide of 1906 with a 56-44 majority (the Liberal candidate that year was Silas Hocking, a Methodist preacher and bestselling novelist). Walter decided to retire from politics in 1910 and left the Commons, although as it turned out that retirement was short-lived. He inherited his father's titles and entered the Lords in 1915 as the 2nd Lord Rothschild, was the recipient of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, and served from 1925 to 1926 as president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Walter Rothschild was a prominent Zionist, but his successor as MP for Aylesbury was anything but. Lionel de Rothschild, who took over the seat in January 1910, came to prominence in 1915 as vice-chairman of the Central Jewish Recruiting Committee, attempting to persuade Jews to enlist for military service; for this he was in the very first tranche of military OBEs when the Order of the British Empire was established in 1917. In response to the Balfour Declaration Lionel was a co-founder of the League of British Jews, an anti-Zionist organisation which opposed the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine (although it was in favour of helping Jews who wanted to settle there). Away from politics, Lionel de Rothschild was a noted gardener whose legacy today is the Exbury Gardens in Hampshire.

The Aylesbury seat experienced boundary changes in 1918, with the town of Beaconsfield being transferred in from the Wycombe constituency and Linslade, now part of Leighton Buzzard, moving into the Buckingham seat. This didn't change things immediately, as Lionel de Rothschild was re-elected unopposed in 1918; but in 1922 he was run very close by the Liberals' Thomas Keens who lost by 13,406 votes to 12,835, a majority of 571. Lionel chose to retire in 1923, breaking the Rothschild family's hold on the Aylesbury constituency.

The stage was set for two contests in Aylesbury between the new Unionist candidate Alan Burgoyne, who had lost his seat in Kensington North the previous year, and the reselected Liberal candidate Thomas Keens, an accountant who was active in local politics in his native Luton. Keens served on Bedfordshire county council from 1901 to 1952, and went on to be knighted in 1934 for his public service. Despite the intervention of a Labour candidate (Fred Watkins, who went on to serve two non-consecutive terms as MP for Hackney Central), Keens won the 1923 election by 13,575 votes to 13,504, a majority of 71. He was, to date, the last Liberal MP for the area: Burgoyne won the rematch in 1924 very easily.

Alan Burgoyne retired in 1929 and was replaced as Unionist MP for Aylesbury by Michael Beaumont, a former Coldstream Guards officer who was the son and grandson of Liberal MPs. He enjoyed a majority of 2,844 over Keens in 1929, and wasn't seriously challenged in 1931 or 1935. In 1935 the second-placed Liberal candidate was Margaret Wintringham, who fourteen years earlier has become the party's first female MP by winning the 1921 Louth by-election. Many years later, Michael Beaumont's son Timothy became the first Green Party member of the Houses of Parliament, joining the party three decades after entering the Lords as a life peer.

Michael Beaumont resigned as MP for Aylesbury in May 1938. The resulting by-election later that month was held for the Conservatives by Stanley Reed, a journalist who had retired to the UK after a long career in India: he was editor of The Times of India from 1907 to 1924. Reed enjoyed a large majority over the Liberal candidate Atholl Robertson, a fine arts publisher who had been MP for Finchley in 1923-24.

Stanley Reed was re-elected as MP for Aylesbury in 1945, with Labour moving into second place in the constituency for the first time. Unusually, the Aylesbury seat was subject to a boundary change that year. The town of Slough had seen huge growth in its population since 1918, resulting in the Wycombe constituency becoming hugely oversized, and Wycombe was one of the seats which was split up in the emergency wartime redistribution of that year. Most of Wycombe's electors went into a new seat with the establishment-friendly name of "Eton and Slough", while the rump Wycombe seat grabbed the Princes Risborough area from Aylesbury to make up the numbers.

Having been granted a fourth MP in the 1945 wartime review, Buckinghamshire got a fifth MP in 1950 with the division of Aylesbury into two new seats. The northern end of the old constituency, including Chesham, stayed in the Aylesbury seat, while the Amersham and Beaconsfield end of the seat formed the major part of the new South Buckinghamshire constituency. With Stanley Reed choosing to retire, both seats were open.

The revised Aylesbury seat proved to be rather more marginal than the old one. For the 1950 election the Conservatives selected Spencer Summers, who came from a North Wales steelworking family and had been the MP for Northampton from 1940 until losing his seat in 1945; Summers had been a junior trade minister in the caretaker government going into that election. The Labour candidate was Tony Harman, a farmer from Chesham who, many years later, became a Guardian columnist and wrote a bestselling memoir Seventy Summers which was televised by the BBC. Summers beat Harman with a majority of 3,361, which increased at rematches in 1951 and 1955; after that he was only seriously threatened in 1966 when Labour got within 3,907 votes. Away from politics, Spencer Summers had suffered tragedy in 1961 when his son Shane Summers, a promising young racing driver, was killed in a practice session at Brands Hatch at the age of 24.

Summers retired as MP for Aylesbury in 1970 after twenty years and passed the seat on without fuss to the new Conservative candidate Timothy Raison, a journalist who went on to represent the seat for 22 years. Both Summers and Raison were, however, outdone in the length-of-service stakes by Sir Ronald Bell, who was elected as Conservative candidate for South Buckinghamshire in 1950 and was still an MP in 1982, when he suffered a fatal heart attack in his Commons office. As well as 32 years as MP for South Buckinghamshire (being the only MP to represent that seat) and then Beaconsfield, we can add four weeks as MP for Newport after Bell won the last of the 219 by-elections to the wartime 1935-45 parliament (Andrew's Previews 2019, page 77). A barrister by career and a prominent member of the Monday Club, Bell came to public notice in the 1970 Parliament as an implacable opponent of Edward Heath's leadership, to the point where Heath unsuccessfully tried to get Bell deselected in favour of Michael Heseltine. Heseltine needed a new political home, as his Tavistock constituency was disappearing in the forthcoming boundary changes.

Those boundary changes granted a sixth MP to Buckinghamshire from the February 1974 election, and the new seat was given the name Chesham and Amersham. Amersham and the Chalfonts came in from the old South Buckinghamshire seat (the remainder of which was renamed as Beaconsfield), with the Chesham area and Great Missenden transferred from the Aylesbury constituency. The new seat had exactly the same boundaries as the Chesham and Amersham seat of today, although different boundaries were in force from 1983 to 2010.

Heath's attempt to deselect Ronald Bell came to nothing, and Michael Heseltine ended up with the Conservative nomination for the Henley seat. Bell sought re-election in Beaconsfield and Timothy Raison stayed in Aylesbury, so the new Chesham and Amersham seat was open. It proved to be a nice Parliamentary berth for the outgoing Defence Secretary Ian Gilmour, whose career to date had included service in the Grenadier Guards and the editorship of The Spectator. Gilmour had been elected in a 1962 by-election for the Central Norfolk constituency, which disappeared in the 1974 boundary changes. He was a junior minister for most of the Heath administration, being appointed as Secretary of State for Defence and joining Cabinet in January 1974. Gilmour won with a majority of 10,416 over the Liberals.

Sir Ian Gilmour, as he became in 1977 after inheriting a baronetcy, went on to serve for 18 years as MP for Chesham and Amersham. He returned to Cabinet in 1979 as Lord Privy Seal, but was very much on a different political wavelength to Margaret Thatcher and was on the backbenches from 1981 onwards.

Gilmour retired to the Lords in 1992, although he didn't end his career on the Conservative red benches: he was thrown out of the Tories in 1999 for supporting the Pro-Euro Conservative Party, of which more later. He passed the Chesham and Amersham seat on to the first female MP for this corner of Buckinghamshire, Cheryl Gillan. A former member of the LSO chorus, Gillan had spent her career to date in marketing although she had served in 1987-88 as chair of the Bow Group think-tank. In the 1989 European Parliament elections she had contested the safe Labour constituency of Greater Manchester Central.

Cheryl Gillan saw off a number of future Labour MPs in her 29 years as MP for Chesham and Amersham: Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne 1997-2005) stood here in 1992, Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme 2001-19) in 1997, Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton 2015-) in 2005. She got on the government ladder in 1995 as a junior education minister. Gillan made Shadow Cabinet rank in 2005 as shadow Welsh secretary, and served as Welsh secretary for the first half of the Coalition government.

Gillan left the frontbenches in 2012 amid a huge local controversy in her constituency. Chesham and Amersham lies on a straight line between London and Birmingham, and the High Speed 2 railway line was planned to run through the constituency from end to end. This did not go down well among the voters of Chesham and Amersham, but High Speed 2 duly passed its Parliamentary stages. Construction began last month on a 9.9-mile tunnel to take the new railway underneath this constituency.

This is not the only local controversy here. In a constituency with a census district (in Little Chalfont) where the median property price in 2018 was £1.3 million, there is significant local opposition to moves to try and make housing affordable by the simple expedient of building more of it. To make things more complicated, almost all of the constituency is within the London Green Belt. Cheryl Gillan was working to get the Chilterns designed as a National Park, which would have provided a further brake on development.

Cheryl Gillan was appointed DBE, becoming a Dame, in 2018. She died from cancer in April 2021 at the age of 68, prompting this third by-election of the 2019 Parliament. In December 2019 Gillan had been re-elected for an eighth term of office with a 55-26 lead over the Liberal Democrats, a majority of 16,223 votes.

By length of service Dame Cheryl Gillan was the most senior female Conservative MP, a title which is now shared by the Deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing and the former Prime Minister Theresa May who were both first elected in 1997. Only seven Conservative MPs (Sir Peter Bottomley, Sir Edward Leigh, Sir David Amess, Sir Roger Gale, Sir Bill Cash, Sir John Redwood and arguably David Davis) have longer continuous service in the Commons than Gillan.

Buckinghamshire CC, 2021

From 2010 to 2020 this seat had the same boundaries as the Chiltern district of Buckinghamshire, whose last local elections in 2015 returned 35 Conservative councillors, 3 Lib Dems and 2 independents. Chiltern district council was abolished in May 2020 in favour of a single Buckinghamshire council, which at its first elections last month (map above) returned a large Conservative majority. Across the nine Buckinghamshire wards which cover this constituency, the Tories polled 43% of the vote in May against 25% for the Lib Dems and 16% for the Greens, with the Conservatives carrying all nine wards and winning 26 councillors out of a possible 27; a Lib Dem seat in Chiltern Ridges ward (covering a number of villages to the north-west of Chesham plus part of Chesham town) was the one that got away. In a parliamentary by-election, this sort of Conservative lead is not foolproof: the last by-election where the Conservatives held all but one council seat within the constituency took place in Richmond Park in 2016 (Andrew's Previews 2016, page 311). They lost that one.

Chesham and Amersham may superficially share some similarities with Richmond Park (Remain-voting, lots of London commuters, sky-high property prices, that sort of thing) but this is an area which the Conservatives have represented continuously since 1924. This was one of the two-dozen or so seats which were over 50% Conservative even against the Labour landslide of 1997. Both of the previous MPs for the current seat have served in Conservative or Conservative-led cabinets. There is a lot of Tory pedigree here.

Defending for the Conservatives is Peter Fleet, whose only previous parliamentary campaign was in that 1997 landslide where he contested Southampton Itchen. Fleet has spent much of the intervening 24 years living and working in the Far East as a senior executive with Ford Motors; now back in the UK, he is the current chairman of the Retail Automotive Alliance. If he is elected, with a height reported as 6 feet and 9 inches he would probably be the tallest MP of al time.

Fleet gives an address in this constituency as does the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Green, who runs a communications firm. Again, this is not her first parliamentary contest: in 2010 she was the Lib Dem candidate for Arfon in North Wales.

Third here in December 2019 with 13% of the vote were Labour, who have selected Natasa Pantelic. Pantelic is a Slough councillor, sitting on the council's cabinet with the social care and public health portfolios.

The only other party to stand here in 2019 were the Greens, who narrowly saved their deposit. Their candidate is Carolyne Culver, a former Labour councillor in Hampshire who now leads the Green group on West Berkshire council; she is running on an explicitly anti-High Speed 2 ticket. And there was me thinking the Greens were in favour of improving public transport on environmental grounds.

Four other candidates have come forward, and I shall take them in ballot paper order. Brendan Donnelly has come to the notice of this column again: he was elected as a Conservative MEP for Sussex in 1994, unsuccessfully sought re-election in 1999 as co-leader of the Pro-Euro Conservative Party, and has since popped up at a number of elections under a wide variety of pro-EU labels with (to date) a total lack of success. Last month Donnelly was fifth on the Rejoin EU list which came sixth with 1.9% of the vote in the London Assembly elections, and for this by-election he again has the nomination of Rejoin EU, whose political programme is left as an exercise for the reader. Fighting its first election campaign is the Breakthrough Party, which describes itself as a "democratic socialist party, led by the younger generations set to inherit a world in crisis"; they have selected local resident Carla Gregory to try to make their breakthrough. Finally we come to two candidates who appear to be going for the political space to the right of the Conservatives: Adrian Oliver (a former Green Party candidate for Camden council, now based in High Wycombe) is the candidate of the anti-lockdown Freedom Alliance, while Alex Wilson has the nomination of Reform UK.

Buckinghamshire council wards: Amersham and Chesham Bois, Chalfont St Giles, Chalfont St Peter, Chesham, Chess Valley, Chiltern Ridges, Great Missenden, Little Chalfont and Amersham Common, Penn Wood and Old Amersham
ONS Travel to Work Area: High Wycombe and Aylesbury
Postcode districts: HP4, HP5, HP6, HP7, HP8, HP9, HP10, HP15, HP16, HP22, HP23, SL9, WD3

Carolyne Culver (Grn)
Brendan Donnelly (Rejoin EU)
Peter Fleet (C)
Sarah Green (LD)
Carla Gregory (Breakthrough Party)
Adrian Oliver (Freedom Alliance)
Natasa Pantelic (Lab)
Alex Wilson (Reform UK)

December 2019 result C 30850 LD 14627 Lab 7166 Grn 3042
June 2017 result C 33514 Lab 11374 LD 7179 Grn 1660 UKIP 1525
May 2015 result C 31138 UKIP 7218 Lab 6712 LD 4761 Grn 2902
May 2010 result C 31658 LD 14948 Lab 2942 UKIP 2129 Grn 767
(1983-2005 elections on different boundaries
May 1979 result C 32924 Lib 12328 Lab 7645 NF 697
October 1974 result C 25078 Lib 14091 Lab 10325
February 1974 result C 27035 Lib 16619 Lab 9700


Norfolk county council; and


Norwich council, Norfolk; both postponed from 6th May following the death of Conservative candidate Eve Collishaw at the age of 76.

The parliamentary by-election in Chesham and Amersham is not the only electoral action taking place today. We also have seven local elections to consider, four of which comprise unfinished business from the main local elections in May. These are cases where a candidate died after close of nominations, and the election had to be postponed in consequence.

Two of these arise in Norwich following the death in April of Eve Collishaw, who was a Conservative candidate for both Norfolk county council and Norwich city council. She had served on both councils before: Collishaw was a county councillor for 12 years (1997-2009) and a city councillor for 7 years (2004-11), serving in 2010-11 as the 100th Lord Mayor of Norwich.

Collishaw had continued to do her bit for the local Conservative cause by standing for election nearly every year. This year she was contesting Sewell, a ward to the north of Norwich city centre. Norwich has a tradition of naming some of its wards after local worthies: the Norwich School artist John Crome and the half-blind Norfolk admiral Viscount Nelson are commemorated in ward names here, as are the Sewell family who gave the city the open space of Sewell Park in 1908. This is the same family that gave us Anna Sewell, the author of the perennially popular novel Black Beauty; a horse trough has been placed in the park in Anna's memory.

Map of Sewell

The Sewell ward has a relatively young population, and makes the top 60 wards in England and Wales for people of no religion (45.3%). The city ward was created in 2004, and the county division has had the same boundaries since 2005. Norfolk county council was due to get new division boundaries this year, but the Local Government Boundary Commission's review was knocked off course by the pandemic and couldn't report in time. The city ward was left unchanged by a separate boundary review which was implemented in 2019; accordingly, two years ago all three of the Norwich city councillors for Sewell ward were up for election.

Norfolk CC 2017

On its current boundaries Sewell has voted Labour on every occasion except the 2009 county council elections, when the Green Party won here. In the May 2017 Norfolk county elections (mapped above) Labour led the Conservatives here 60-17; the city council election here in May 2019 (mapped below) was a bit closer with the Labour slate enjoying a 53-28 lead over the Green Party. Norwich city council has a Labour majority, while Norfolk county council is run by the Conservatives. Sewell is part of the Norwich North constituency represented by the Conservative minister Chloe Smith, who has spent much of the last few months being treated for breast cancer: this column sends our best wishes to her for a full and swift return to health.

Norwich 2019

Both outgoing Labour councillors for Sewell are seeking re-election. Defending the county council seat is Julie Brociek-Coulton, who has represented the area on the county council since 2013 and is seeking a third term in office. The replacement Conservative candidate is Simon Jones, a financial consultant and chairman of the party's Norwich branch. Also standing in the county by-election are Adrian Holmes for the Green Party and Helen Arundell for the Lib Dems.

For the city council the defending Labour candidate is Laura McCartney-Gray, who was elected in third place two years and accordingly was due for re-election this year; she is seeking a second term of office. The Green Party have selected Gary Champion, a teacher who stood here two years ago. Simon Jones is again the replacement Conservative candidate, and he and the Lib Dems' Helen Arundell complete the city by-election ballot paper.

Sewell (Norfolk county council)

Parliamentary constituency: Norwich North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Norwich
Postcode district: NR1, NR3

Helen Arundell (LD)
Julie Brociek-Coulton (Lab)
Adrian Holmes (Grn)
Simon Jones (C)

May 2017 result Lab 1591 C 466 Grn 300 LD 197 UKIP 118
May 2013 result Lab 805 Grn 631 UKIP 368 C 322 LD 64
June 2009 result Grn 826 Lab 676 C 553 LD 477
May 2005 result Lab 1632 LD 797 C 643 Grn 487 Norwich over the Water 423

Sewell (Norwich council)

Parliamentary constituency: Norwich North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Norwich
Postcode district: NR1, NR3

Helen Arundell (LD)
Gary Champion (Grn)
Simon Jones (C)
Laura McCartney-Gray (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 1451/1152/1143 Grn 779/750/581 C 318/276/252 LD 212/191/139
May 2018 result Lab 1652 C 431 Grn 325 LD 155
May 2016 result Lab 1257 Grn 402 C 321 UKIP 254 LD 160
May 2015 double vacancy Lab 2018/1454 Grn 1058/1015 C 1046/1031 UKIP 628 LD 383/205
May 2014 result Lab 983 Grn 712 UKIP 446 C 343 LD 121 Left Unity 52
May 2012 result Lab 990 Grn 770 C 332 LD 123
May 2011 result Lab 1187 Grn 720 C 573 LD 243 UKIP 160
September 2010 result Lab 792 Grn 604 C 333 LD 168 UKIP 103
May 2008 result Lab 687 Grn 579 C 425 Norwich over the Water 354 LD 290
May 2007 result Lab 931 Grn 573 C 453 LD 428
May 2006 result Lab 674 Norwich over the Water 463 LD 416 Grn 401 C 317
June 2004 result Lab 748/693/639 Norwich over the Water 561/499/424 LD 405/369/366 C 350/332/294 Grn 328/313/278 Legalise Cannabis Alliance 94

Elham Valley

Kent county council; postponed from 6th May following the death of Chris Deane, who had been nominated as the Labour candidate.

Map of Elham Valley

We continue our unfinished business with a trip to the frontline of Brexit. Part of the Folkestone terminal of the Channel Tunnel can be found within the Elham Valley division of Kent county council; this is named after the village of Elham ("Eel-ham"), lying in the North Downs a few miles north of Folkestone and Hythe. The river here is the Nailbourne, which flows north to meet the River Stour at Thanet. Elham was the birthplace of the Kent and England wicketkeeper of yesteryear Les Ames, while other notable people associated with the village include the actresses Audrey Hepburn (who spent some of her schooldays here) and Pam Ferris.

Elham is just one of fourteen parishes which make up this division. The largest of these is Hawkinge, a village just to the north of Folkestone which has greatly expanded in population in recent years. Hawkinge was the location of the closest RAF airfield to France, and consequently it saw much action during the Battle of Britain. Some of the RAF Hawkinge site is now occupied by the Kent Battle of Britain Museum, but most of it has been given over to housing.

Kent CC 2017

This division was last redrawn for the Kent county council elections in 2017 (mapped above), when it elected the Conservatives' Susan Carey with 54% against evenly-split opposition: 13% for UKIP, 12% for the Greens, 10% each for the Lib Dems and Labour. In the May 2019 elections to Folkestone and Hythe district council the Tories won all five seats in the North Downs East and North Downs West wards which cover this division; Susan Carey was one of them, finishing top of the poll in North Downs West.

Susan Carey has represented Elham Valley on the county council since 2005, and she is seeking re-election for a fifth term of office as part of the majority Conservative group. UKIP have not returned. The Green Party, who have a significant group on Folkestone and Hythe council now, have selected Douglas Wade: he is a district councillor for Hythe Rural ward, which is not in this division. Labour have changed their candidate to Gordon Cowan, and independent Joe Egerton (who was on the ballot paper in May for a by-election to Canterbury council, polling 24 votes in Swalecliffe ward) completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Folkestone and Hythe
Folkestone and Hythe district wards: North Downs East, North Downs West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Folkestone and Dover
Postcode districts: CT4, CT15, CT18, CT21, TN25

May 2017 result C 2706 UKIP 639 Grn 616 LD 515 Lab 513


Tandridge council, Surrey; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Ken Harwood, and postponed from 6th May following the death of Christopher Kelly, who had been nominated as the Labour candidate.

Our last piece of unfinished business from 6th May is rather unusual, in that this is a by-election to fill the longest-standing vacancy in British local government. Ken Harwood, a Tandridge councillor for Felbridge ward who had served since winning a by-election in 2004, died from cancer in May 2020. Because of the pandemic, the by-election could not be held before May 2021. Tandridge is one of those districts which renews a third of its councillors at each election, but Felbridge ward is only large enough for one councillor and Harwood wasn't due for re-election until 2023, so this is a by-election rather than an ordinary election. The by-election subsequently had to be postponed again to give Labour time to nominate a replacement for their original candidate, the late Christopher Kelly.

Map of Felbridge

The village of Felbridge is now essentially a suburb of the neighbouring town of East Grinstead; but East Grinstead itself is over the county boundary in West Sussex. Accordingly, Felbridge continues to get its services from Surrey county council and from Tandridge council, which is based in Oxted. This is very much a middle-class area - in 2011 46% of Felbridge's population were in the ONS' professional and managerial occupational groups - but following May's elections Tandridge council is no longer run by the Conservatives. They are still the largest group on 14 seats and they are defending this by-election, but the council is controlled by a minority coalition of 10 independents and 8 councillors from the localist and anti-development Oxted and Limpsfield Residents Group. The remaining 9 seats on the council are held by the Lib Dems, who are strong in the North Downs commuter towns of Caterham and Warlingham.

Tandridge 2019

Here at the other end of Tandridge district, Ken Harwood enjoyed very large majorities in his almost 16 years on the council. In 2015 he polled 89% of the vote in a straight fight with Labour; at his last re-election in 2019 (mapped above) Harwood defeated an independent candidate by 65-23.

This by-election has a larger field. The defending Conservatives have turned to the next generation by selecting Harry Baker-Smith. Local resident Judy Moore, who has recently been made redundant after 34 years working for Mid Sussex council, is standing as an independent candidate as is Mark Taylor. Completing the ballot paper are Richard Fowler of the Lib Dems and the replacement Labour candidate Emba Jones.

Parliamentary constituency: East Surrey
Surrey county council division: Lingfield
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crawley
Postcode districts: RH7, RH10, RH19

Harry Baker-Smith (C)
Richard Fowler (LD)
Emba Jones (Lab)
Judy Moore (Ind)
Mark Taylor (Ind)

May 2019 result C 489 Ind 175 Grn 88
May 2015 result C 1151 Lab 145
May 2011 result C 709 LD 91 UKIP 68
May 2007 result C 611 LD 95 UKIP 37
June 2004 by-election C 601 LD 135 UKIP 61
May 2003 result C 379 LD 155

Old Cleeve and District

Somerset West and Taunton council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Pilkington.

Map of Old Cleeve and District

For our final two English by-elections today we travel to the West Country, starting on the Somerset coast. The Old Cleeve and District ward covers eight parishes to the west and south of Watchet, including the eastern end of the Exmoor National Park. This is an area of steep hills as the name Old Cleeve ("Old Cliff") suggests; the Old in the name distinguishes the village from the site of Cleeve Abbey, a nearby Cistercian foundation from 1198. Over the six centuries since its dissolution the Cleeve Abbey church has disappeared, but the rest of its buildings are well-preserved and can be visited under the auspices of English Heritage.

Another old building here, often pressed into service as a polling station, is the 14th-century tithe barn at the ward's other main population centre of Dunster. Lying on the edge of the National Park, Dunster is a major tourist centre on the road and railway line to Minehead as I described in Andrew's Previews 2017, page 87. At this time of year, it should be buzzing.

Until 2019 this area was part of the West Somerset district, which had a tiny and ageing population and which relied heavily on business rates from the Hinkley Point nuclear power station. The Age of Austerity led to financial difficulties for West Somerset council, forcing a merger with the larger and (as it was thought two years ago) more secure district of Taunton Deane. The resulting local government district of Somerset West and Taunton may well end up having an extremely short lifespan, because further local government reform for Somerset is clearly in the works: the 2021 Somerset county council elections were postponed for a year to see how things work out.

Both Taunton Deane and West Somerset councils had Conservative majorities going into the 2019 election, although in the past Taunton Deane had been Lib Dem-controlled and West Somerset could return large numbers of independent councillors. To general surprise the inaugural 2019 Somerset West and Taunton election returned a Liberal Democrat majority with 30 councillors, against 14 independents, 10 Conservatives, 3 Labour and 2 Greens. The Lib Dems bolstered their position with two by-election gains later that year, but have suffered a couple of defections and also have two vacancies in their group at the moment; they will need to hold this by-election and a further one next week to keep their majority on the council.

Old Cleeve and District was included in the Lib Dem majority in 2019: the party won the ward's two seats with 45% of the vote, against 31% for the Conservative slate and 24% for an independent candidate. The ward makes up the vast majority of the Dunster division of Somerset county council, which was Conservative in May 2017; as stated, the 2021 county elections didn't take place here. Peter Pilkington, whose resignation for family reasons has caused this by-election, served in the council's cabinet with the climate portfolio. The other Lib Dem councillor for the ward, Marcus Kravis, has since left the party and gone independent but still sits on the council cabinet.

So, a difficult defence for the Lib Dem candidate Steve Griffiths, who lives outside the ward in Watchet; he served on West Oxfordshire council from 1991 to 1999 before relocating to Somerset. As well as doing community work, he volunteers on the preserved West Somerset railway as an assistant stationmaster and trainee signalman. The other two candidates were both elected in 2015 as Conservative councillors for the former Old Cleeve ward of West Somerset council, and both lost re-election here in 2019; Martin Dewdney, who was the runner-up two years ago, has the Conservative nomination, while Richard Lillis tries again as an independent candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Bridgwater and West Somerset

Somerset county council division: Dunster

ONS Travel to Work Area: Minehead

Postcode districts: TA4, TA23, TA24

Martin Dewdney (C)

Steve Griffiths (LD)

Richard Lillis (Ind)

May 2019 result LD 757/705 C 514/496 Ind 401

Upper Culm

Mid Devon council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Glanmor Hughes at the age of 90.

Perlycombe, Perlycross and Perliton, are but as three pearls on one string, all in a line, and contiguous. The string is the stream; which arising at the eastern extermity of Perlycombe parish, passes through the village, then westward through Perlycross, and westward still through the much larger village of Perliton. At Perlycombe it is a noisy little brook, at Perlycross, a genial trout stream; while Perliton, by the time it gets there, entitles it "the River Perle" and keeps two boats upon it, which are not always more aground than landsmen should desire.

-R D Blackmore, Perlycross

Map of Upper Culm

For our second by-election we travel to the Devon/Somerset border. The Culm valley is the major transport artery into Devon, being followed down to Exeter by the Great Western main line and the M5 motorway; but its upper reaches are less well-connected. The river rises in Somerset in the Blackdown Hills, flowing west into Devon through the villages of Hemyock and Culmstock whose major access to the outside world is a dead-end B-road.

These villages - disguised as Perlycombe and Perlycross in the novel Perlycross by the Victorian novelist R D Blackmore, who lived in the area for some years in his youth - form the core of Upper Culm ward of Mid Devon district, which covers four parishes a few miles south of Wellington. Hemyock is the major population centre in the Blackdown Hills, whose main industry is farming: until the 1990s the major employer here was the St Ivel factory which made dairy products such as "Utterly Butterly".

Appropriately enough, every election in Upper Culm this century has resulted in the winning councillors covering a spread of political opinion. (Thomas) Glanmor Hughes was first elected in 2003, and represented the ward until 2019 in tandem with independent councillor Frank Rosamond. Hughes and Rosamond were elected without a contest in 2007, and enjoyed large majorities over Labour in 2011 and UKIP in 2015. Things changed for the 2019 election when Rosamond retired: the Lib Dems' Simon Clist topped the poll, and Hughes saved his seat with a margin of just 22 votes over the second Lib Dem candidate Sean Ritchie. The vote shares were 50% for the Lib Dem slate and 36% for the Conservatives. Clist was the Lib Dem candidate here in the Devon county council elections last month, but the Conservatives easily held the local county division of Willand and Uffculme.

Mid Devon 2019

Elsewhere in the 2019 Mid Devon council elections, the Conservatives lost their majority. A coalition of independent, Lib Dem and Green councillors was formed, but following ructions in 2020 the Lib Dem councillors were sacked from the ruling coalition and replaced by the Conservative group. In May there were three by-elections to the council, with the Conservatives gaining two seats in Tiverton; they now hold 19 of the 42 seats against 11 Lib Dems, 9 independents, 2 Greens and this vacancy.

Defending for the Conservatives is James Bartlett, a dairy farmer from just over the county boundary in Sampford Arundel. The Lib Dems have reselected their runner-up from two years ago Sean Ritchie, who is the only candidate to live in the ward (in Hemyock). Also standing are Fiona Hutton for Labour and Adam Rich for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Tiverton and Honiton

Devon county council division: Willand and Uffculme

ONS Travel to Work Area: Taunton

Postcode districts: EX14, EX15, EX16, TA21

James Bartlett (C)

Fiona Hutton (Lab)

Adam Rich (Grn)

Sean Ritchie (LD)

May 2019 result LD 666/464 C 486/452 Lab 185

May 2015 result C 1401 Ind 1066 UKIP 768

May 2011 result C 924 Ind 843 Lab 372

May 2007 result C/Ind unopposed

May 2003 result C 539/381 Ind 505/178 LD 299

East Garioch

Aberdeenshire council; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Fergus Hood at the age of 64.

Map of East Garioch

We finish with something rather different as we travel to the north of Scotland. The Garioch (pronounced Geerie) is an agricultural area to the north-west of Aberdeen, centred on Inverurie. East Garioch ward lies between Aberdeen and Inverurie, immediately outside the Aberdeen city boundary.

The main population centre here is Kintore, which has been a Royal Burgh since the ninth century. Kintore lies on the main road and railway line from Aberdeen to Inverurie, and it gained a railway station in October last year as a part of major improvement works to the railway. The station was clearly needed: Aberdeen's economy has boomed as the home of the North Sea oil industry, and Kintore's population has nearly doubled since 2000.

The ward was created in 2007 when Scotland's local elections went over to proportional representation. In that year it elected two Lib Dems, Martin Ford and Nan Cullinane, and an SNP councillor, Fergie Hood. Ford subsequently defected from the Lib Dems to the Greens, being appalled at what Donald Trump was doing long before that became fashionable; he was re-elected in 2012 under his new colours.

Aberdeenshire 2017

Boundary changes for the 2017 election bumped the ward up from three councillors to four, reflecting the population growth, with a slight boundary extension to the west of Kintore. The outgoing SNP councillor, Fergus Hood, had by this time defected to the Liberal Democrats and he sought re-election under his new colours. The Conservatives surged into first place, polling 31% of the first preferences against 27% for the SNP and 19% each for the Greens and Lib Dems; those four parties all won one seat each. Had the count been for one seat, the Conservatives would have beaten the SNP by 57% to 43%.

Most of the ward is within the Gordon constituency at Westminster, and the Tories carried forward that good performance into the June 2017 general election to gain the seat from the then-SNP now-Alba figure Alex Salmond. The SNP took the Gordon constituency back in 2019, and new SNP MP Richard Thomson resigned from Aberdeenshire council; the Nationalists held the resulting council by-election in Ellon and District ward last October. In May the ward went to the polls for the Scottish Parliament election: the Aberdeenshire East constituency, which covers the Newmachar and Fintray part of the ward, was held by the SNP, while Kintore and Blackburn are covered by the Conservative-held constituency of Aberdeenshire West.

The fourth-placed Liberal Democrats are defending this by-election following the death of Fergie Hood, who had chaired the council's Garioch area committee since 2014. They will have to improve their position significantly to get into the final two, never mind win. The Lib Dems are part of the ruling coalition on Aberdeenshire council, which consists of 18 Conservatives, 13 Lib Dems plus this vacancy and 9 independents; in opposition are 17 SNP councillors plus a further vacancy, 5 independents, 3 councillors who have defected to Alba, 1 Labour councillor, 1 Green councillor and a Scottish Libertarian.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Trevor Mason, who finished a distant third in the Ellon and District by-election last October. I described him then as the chair of Ellon community council, having lived in that town for 36 years. The Conservatives, who probably start as favourites, have selected David Keating who lives in Kintore and has worked in the oil industry for more than 40 years. The SNP's Dan Ritchie also lives in the ward, in Newmachar; he also worked in the oil industry before setting up a retail business. Standing for the Scottish Greens is Jamie Ogilvie, who is currently an NHS vaccination support worker. Completing a ballot paper of five candidates is Labour's Andy Brown, who was their Holyrood candidate for Aberdeenshire West last month. The usual Scottish disclaimers apply: it's Votes at 16 and please mark your ballot paper in order of preference.

Westminster constituency: Gordon (most of ward), West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Blackburn)

Holyrood constituency: Aberdeenshire East (Newmachar and Fintray); Aberdeenshire West (Kintore and Blackburn)

ONS Travel to Work Area: Aberdeen

Postcode districts: AB21, AB32, AB51

Andy Brown (Lab)

David Keating (C)
Trevor Mason (LD)
Jamie Ogilvie (Grn)
Dan Ritchie (SNP)

May 2017 first preferences C 1429 SNP 1239 Grn 850 LD 842 Lab 179

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

Andrew Teale

Previewing the Airdrie & Shotts by-election (13 May 2021)

After the excitement of last week, there is one by-election on 13th May 2021:

Airdrie and Shotts

House of Commons; caused by the resignation of Scottish National Party MP Neil Gray.

An honest man's the noblest work of God.

- Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

It all started with the monks. In 1140 a group of monks came to the Lothian area from Melrose abbey, under the patronage of King David I, and founded a Cistercian religious house called Newbattle Abbey. The abbey thrived, with many kings of Scotland making generous bequests, including (in 1160) a grant from Malcolm IV of extensive lands in central Scotland. That area became known as the Monklands.

The largest town in the Monklands was traditionally Airdrie, located on high ground in the middle of the Central Belt. Airdrie became a market town in 1695 by an Act of the old Scottish Parliament, and by the early nineteenth century it was an important weaving and coalmining centre. Following the Radical War of 1820 the town became an independent burgh with a rather wide franchise for the time: anybody who could scrape together three guineas was entitled to vote here, and in the first local elections here in 1821 a boy under the age of 10 is recorded as having cast a vote.

Airdrie marks the eastern end of what might be termed the Greater Glasgow area, and the area to the east of Airdrie is still mostly agricultural with no large towns until Livingston. This rural area is at a relatively high altitude, which explains why Airdrie was bypassed by the original railway and canal links between Edinburgh and Glasgow (which ran on lower ground via Falkirk). The railway line through Airdrie is very much a secondary route between the two major cities, and wasn't fully reopened until 2010.

The only other significant population centre in this area is Shotts, where Andrew's Previews has been very recently. Shotts was primarily a mining town with some ironworking, but one of the major local employers now is the high-security prison HMP Shotts. The town lies on a different Edinburgh-Glasgow railway line, which has recently been electrified.

Normally in these Parliamentary Specials I start in 1885, because the redistribution of that year arising from the Third Reform Act more or less created the single-member constituency system we have in Westminster to this day. Lanarkshire was a big winner from the Third Reform Act: its representation went up from two MPs to six, while the city of Glasgow (which was physically much smaller then than it is today) increased from three to seven members of Parliament. Part of this increase was masterminded by Donald Crawford, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, an advocate and political secretary to the Lord Advocate. Crawford was appointed to the Boundary Commission for Scotland in 1884 by Sir Charles Dilke, who was the president of the Local Government Board, one of the prime movers behind the Third Reform Act, the MP for Chelsea and a rising star of the Liberal Party. A year later Crawford was elected as an MP for the newly-drawn constituency of North East Lanarkshire, covering most of the area around Airdrie.

Donald Crawford wasted no time at all in making his mark in public affairs. In 1881 he had married Virginia Smith, a daughter of the Liberal MP and shipping magnate Thomas Smith. The marriage was not a happy one. By the time of the 1885 election, which Donald Crawford won with a narrow majority of 159 over the Unionists, Donald had sued for divorce on the grounds of an affair between Virginia and Sir Charles Dilke. A sensational trial in early 1886 granted the divorce and essentially destroyed the political career of Dilke, who lost his seat in the 1886 general election and never returned to the frontbenches. (By contrast, Virginia's representation did recover: she became a prominent feminist and suffragist.) Crawford was re-elected as MP for North East Lanarkshire in 1886 with an increased majority of 279 over the Liberal Unionists, although his seat was still very marginal. In 1892 he won a third term by 5,281 votes to 5,184 for the Unionists, a majority of 97.

Donald Crawford left the Commons in 1895 to become Sheriff of Aberdeen, and his seat was taken over in that year's general election by John Colville with a 537-vote majority over the Unionists. The father of the future Scottish secretary of the same name, John Colville was the Provost of Motherwell, a Lanarkshire county councillor, and ran an iron and steel manufacturing firm in Motherwell. He was re-elected easily in 1900 and the seat looked safe.

Not so. John Colville died in 1901 at the early age of 49, and the resulting North East Lanarkshire by-election was contested by John Smillie as the Scottish Workers candidate. Smillie, who by this time already had a number of parliamentary campaigns under his belt, was the president of the Scottish Miners' Federation and a founder member of the Independent Labour Party. The defending Liberal candidate was Cecil Harmsworth, the younger brother of the newspaper proprietors Alfred and Harold Harmsworth. Harmsworth and Smillie split the left-wing vote, allowing the Liberal Unionist Sir William Rattigan to win with a majority of 904. The 1901 North East Lanarkshire poll goes down as something which had become increasingly rare in recent years -a government gain in a parliamentary by-election.

Sir William Rattigan had come to the UK from a prominent legal career in India, having previously been vice-chancellor of Punjab University and a member of the Punjab's legislative council. One wonders whether the Scottish weather was all that agreeable to him. He died in 1904 at the age of 61, and by this time the Liberals were on the up. The Liberal Unionists had passed the right-wing nomination over to their Unionist partners who selected George Touch for the second North East Lanarkshire by-election. Touche, as George changed his name to a couple of years later after getting tired of people mispronouncing his surname, was a chartered accountant whose name survives as the Touche in the modern Big 4 accounting firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu (to give it its full name). The Scottish Workers candidate was the up-and-coming trade unionist John Robertson, who had started work down the pits at 13 and eventually rose to become MP for Bothwell. However, the winner on this occasion was the Liberals' Alexander Findlay, who ran a structural engineering firm in Motherwell and was provost of the town. Findlay won with a majority of 942, reversing the Liberal Unionists' gain in the 1901 by-election

Findlay stood down at the January 1910 election and his seat was taken over by Thomas Wilson, a Glasgow solicitor and long-serving Lanarkshire county councillor who had been a Liberal election agent for many years. Wilson was re-elected in December 1910 but resigned from the Commons almost immediately, forcing a third North East Lanarkshire by-election in March 1911. James Millar, who held the by-election for the Liberals with a reduced majority of 1,200, was a prominent advocate who had been the MP for the St Andrews Burghs in the January-December 1910 Parliament; this by-election represented a quick return for him.

The mention of St Andrews Burghs brings up one of the more curious aspects of Scottish elections during this period: the use of District of Burghs constituencies grouping together a number of disconnected towns. One of these was the Falkirk District of Burghs, which from 1885 to 1910 connected together Falkirk (in Stirlingshire), Linlithgow (in the county now called West Lothian) and three Lanarkshire burghs: Lanark, Hamilton, and Airdrie. This separation could cause some tension, as was seen in 1885 when there was a dispute over the Liberal selection and the Hamilton Liberal Association nominated its own candidate (who subsequently withdrew, but was credited with 14 votes at the declaration). The Falkirk Burghs were generally Liberal during this period, but did return Liberal Unionist candidates in 1886 (by 19 votes), 1895 and 1900 and a number of other elections were marginal.

The 1918 redistribution dissolved the Falkirk Burghs and placed Airdrie in a new constituency with the name of Coatbridge, while most of the rural area around it (from Shotts to Easterhouse) became part of the North Lanarkshire constituency. The blast furnaces of the Industrial Revolution had created Coatbridge from almost nothing in the middle of the nineteenth century; the town grew up on a site west of Airdrie which was low-lying, relatively flat, and thus much easier for the canals and railways to serve than Airdrie was. Immigration from Ireland caused Coatbridge to boom and turned it into a strongly Catholic town, in contrast to Airdrie which remained a Protestant centre.

But by 1918 Coatbridge was already on the economic slide. All the ironstone under the Monklands had been worked out, raw materials were having to be imported from elsewhere, and the town's housing stock - which was horrifically overcrowded from the day it was built - had never been improved. Even in the 1930s, when the blast furnaces ceased firing and after a large proportion of the population had decamped south of the border to Corby, Coatbridge was still the most overcrowded town in Scotland.

It's in this context that we start to look at Airdrie's parliamentary history, as part of the Coatbridge constituency. Coatbridge's first election in 1918 was a Unionist versus Labour contest, with the government endorsing the Unionist candidate Arthur Buchanan who won easily. Buchanan came to the Commons from a long career in the Army including 25 years serving with the Gordon Highlanders; he had fought in the Boer War, and had spent the Great War at the Gordon Highlanders' depots in Aberdeen and France.

Buchanan was defeated in 1922 by the first Labour MP for Coatbridge. James C Welsh had started work in the pits at 12 and was a full-time mining official by this point. He was also a published novelist, drawing on his experience down the pits for his books Songs of a Miner and The Underworld. Buchanan won four terms as MP for the seat, being re-elected in 1924 by the narrow margin of 12,782 votes against 12,725 for the Unionist candidate Thomas Moore (later a long-serving MP for the Ayr Burghs).

In 1929 the Unionists changed candidate to a talented young sportsman called Lord Dunglass, who had played first-class cricket for Oxford University, Middlesex and MCC (on their tour of Argentina in 1926-27). The heir to the Earl of Home, Dunglass had joined the TA and by this point he was a captain in the Lanarkshire Yeomanry. Today we know him better as Alec Douglas-Home. This was the first parliamentary contest for the future Conservative prime minister, who lost Coatbridge in 1929 by 7,669 votes but learned valuable lessons for his later election campaigns.

The Labour collapse of 1931 swept away James C Welsh, who lost his seat to the Unionists' William Templeton by 1,501 votes. Templeton had been the MP for Banffshire in the 1924-29 parliament. He stood down in 1935 and Coatbridge resoundingly returned to the Labour fold: their candidate was the Reverend James Barr, who had been the MP for Motherwell from 1924 to 1931. Barr was a Presbyterian minister who had been strongly opposed to the 1929 merger of the United Free Church with the Church of Scotland, which may have helped him to pick up some extra votes in Airdrie.

Barr retired in 1945 and handed a safe seat on to Labour's Jean Mann, a campaigner for better housing and planning. This was not without controversy. At the time of the election Mann was a remunerated member of the Rent Tribunals established under the Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Act 1943, and a select committee subsequently decided this was an "office of profit under the Crown" which disqualified her from being an MP. A special Act of Parliament (the Coatbridge and Springburn Elections (Validation) Act 1945) had to be rushed through to confirm her election and regularise her position.

The Coatbridge constituency's electorate grew from 31,557 in 1918 to 40,104 in 1945, partly as a result of the granting of the vote to women under 30 during this period. However, there was much higher population growth in the North Lanarkshire seat, which went from 40,014 electors in 1918 to 69,064 at the 1945 election - by far the largest seat in the county - thanks to the development of Glasgow suburbs within its boundaries. The former North East Lanarkshire Liberal MP James Millar didn't seek re-election here in 1918, choosing to contest Motherwell (which he lost), and the seat went to the Unionists' Robert McLaren who had the coalition's coupon. McLaren lost his seat in 1922 to Labour's Joseph Sullivan, the president of the Lanarkshire Miners' County Union and the first Labour MP for the area.

Sullivan lost his seat in 1924, the Unionists' Sir Alexander Sprot winning North Lanarkshire with a majority of 2,028. Sprot had a distinguished military career, serving in Afghanistan and the Boer War, and had had the distinction of defeating the former Prime Minister Herbert Asquith in the 1918 general election. He went on to serve as MP for Asquith's old seat of East Fife until 1922.

Sir Alexander Sprot died in February 1929 at the age of 75, forcing a tricky by-election for the government. The Unionists nominated Lord Scone, the 29-year-old heir to the earldom of Mansfield and Mansfield. Joseph Sullivan had by now returned to Parliament by winning a by-election in Bothwell, and Labour needed a new candidate: they selected a 24-year-old schoolteacher from Fife called Jennie Lee who, like Scone, was fighting her first election campaign. Scone was old enough to vote; Lee was not, because only women aged 30 or over had the vote at the time. By the time the by-election took place on 21 March it was clear that a general election was imminent and the by-election winner would not serve for long. Jennie Lee won with a majority of 6,578, gaining the seat for Labour with a swing of almost 16%, and became the Baby of the House. She was re-elected in the general election two months later with a reduced majority over Scone, following the withdrawal of the Liberals.

Jennie Lee started as she meant to go on as a fiery left-winger. Her maiden speech was an all-out attack on the Conservatives' budget which included accusing Winston Churchill, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of "cant, corruption and incompetence". Churchill was impressed by the style, if not the content. Lee was opposed to the formation of the National Government under Ramsay MacDonald; she sought re-election in 1931 for the Independent Labour Party, but was one of many left-wingers swept away by the National Government landslide.

The Unionist candidate who defeated Lee was even younger than she was. Aged 26 at the time of the 1931 election, William Anstruther-Gray came from a military family and had gone from Eton and Oxford into the Coldstream Guards, serving in the Shanghai Defence Force in 1927-28. He enjoyed a majority of 4,693 over Jennie Lee in 1931, which increased to 5,034 at the 1935 election when the left-wing vote was split between Lee and an official Labour candidate.

Anstruther-Gray, who later represented Berwick and East Lothian for thirteen years, was the last Conservative or Unionist MP for North Lanarkshire. He was defeated in the 1945 Attlee landslide by Labour's Peggy Herbison, an English and history teacher who had been born and brought up in Shotts. Her father had recently died in a colliery accident, and his colleagues had put Herbison forward for the Labour nomination.

Peggy Herbison went on to serve as MP for North Lanarkshire for 25 years, retiring in 1970 from a seat where she had never been seriously threatened. She was a member of Harold Wilson's first Cabinet as Pensions and National Insurance minister (renamed to Social Security minister in 1966), serving at the top table until 1967. Herbison is also thought to have been the only woman to attend the first parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe in 1949.

The neighbouring Coatbridge seat - which was renamed in 1950 as Coatbridge and Airdrie - also developed into a safe Labour constituency after the Second World War, with the exception of the 1959 election when Jean Mann retired and Labour changed candidate. James Dempsey won his first election by 22,747 votes to 21,953 votes for the Unionists, a majority of 794, but was not threatened thereafter.

Dempsey served seven terms as MP for Coatbridge and Airdrie, dying in office in 1982 at the age of 65. The resulting Coatbridge and Airdrie by-election in June 1982 returned Labour's Tom Clarke, who had started his political career in that 1959 election, aged 18, as James Dempsey's election agent. Clarke had served on Coatbridge town council from 1964 until its abolition in 1975, and had been provost of the successor Monklands council - covering Airdrie and Coatbridge - from 1974 to 1982. He won the by-election with no fuss whatsoever.

Tom Clarke went on to serve in the Commons until 2015, and is still with us at the age of 80. In the last New Year honours list he was knighted for his political and public service. However, he now leaves the story of Airdrie and Shotts. The 1983 redistribution radically redrew the parliamentary boundaries in this corner of Lanarkshire, placing Airdrie and Coatbridge into separate constituencies. The North Lanarkshire seat disappeared, with Shotts becoming part of the new constituency of Motherwell North, and much of the area to the north of Shotts joining with Airdrie to become the Monklands East constituency. Tom Clarke sought re-election in the Coatbridge-based seat of Monklands West, leaving Monklands East free for the Labour MP who had represented North Lanarkshire since 1970.

That man had also started his electoral career early, fighting the 1961 East Fife by-election as the Labour candidate while he was a 23-year-old law student. He graduated from Glasgow University in 1962 and became an advocate at the Scottish bar in 1967. John Smith was 31 years old when he was elected in 1970 as MP for North Lanarkshire, and he quickly rose through the ranks. He got on the ministerial ladder in October 1974 in the Department of Energy, and had the responsibility of getting the Callaghan government's bills for Scottish and Welsh devolution through the Commons. In November 1978 John Smith made the Cabinet, as President of the Board of Trade. It was his only Cabinet position.

John Smith served in the Shadow Cabinet throughout the 1979, 1983 and 1987 Parliaments, and he was elected leader of the Labour Party in 1992. With his election coming straight after Britain's ignominious exit from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, Smith quickly took the Labour Party to a big lead in the opinion polls. The local elections on 5 May 1994 saw huge losses for the Major government.

Seven days later, on 12 May 1994, John Smith suffered a fatal heart attack. He left behind a wife, three daughters (one of whom, Sarah, is now the Scotland editor of BBC News) and a very tricky by-election for Labour to defend. While John Smith had dominated the national stage, things were not going well for the ruling Labour group on Monklands council. A well-publicised scandal, inevitably dubbed "Monklandsgate" by the press, alleged that there was a sectarian bias in the council's spending in favour of Coatbridge (it may be relevant to note here that all 17 Labour councillors were Catholics, although I should point out that the sectarian allegations were never proven) and that relatives of Labour councillors had been given preference for council jobs. The controversy led to a big increase in support for the Scottish National Party, which had run a distant second here in April 1992. They selected social worker Kay Ullrich who was standing for Parliament for the fourth time, while the Labour candidate was Helen Liddell, a former journalist and former aide to the press baron Robert Maxwell. Liddell won with a majority of just 1,640 votes over the SNP.

The constituency name of Airdrie and Shotts was created for the 1997 general election, with the Shotts area added to the Monklands East constituency. On the new boundaries, Liddell's seat reverted to safety in 1997 and 2001. Helen Liddell's parliamentary career peaked in 2001-03, when she served in Cabinet as Scottish secretary. She retired from the Commons in 2005 to become the British High Commissioner to Australia, and now sits in the Lords.

The most recent Scottish redistribution, in 2005, had reduced the number of constituencies in Scotland following the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. Airdrie and Shotts was left relatively untouched by this process, losing a small area to Motherwell and Wishaw and gaining the Holytown area from the abolished seat of Hamilton North and Bellshill. It also gained the MP for Hamilton North and Bellshill, John Reid. An MP since 1987 (originally representing Motherwell North), Reid was one of the big hitters of the Blair government and held a remarkable number of government posts. He entered Cabinet in 1999 as Scottish secretary, and served successively as Northern Ireland secretary (the first Catholic to hold that role), Labour Party chairman, Leader of the Commons, and Health Secretary. Following the 2005 election he was reshuffled to Defence Secretary, and finished his time in government with a year as Home Secretary - his seventh Cabinet position in eight years. Reid stepped down from the frontbenches at the end of the Blair administration, and retired to the Lords in 2010.

John Reid passed his seat on in 2010 to his parliamentary assistant Pamela Nash. She was 25 years old at the time of the election and became the Baby of the House. Iain Gray, then leader of the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament, went so far as to say that Nash had a "big future in Scottish politics".

To date that hasn't come to pass, thanks to the political realignment in Scotland following the 2014 independence referendum. Nash was defeated in 2015 on a 27% swing by the Scottish National Party candidate Neil Gray, who enjoyed a majority of almost 20%. A former athlete who represented Scotland in the 400 metre race, Gray was 29 at the time of his election and had worked as a reporter for BBC Radio Orkney and as the office manager for the Nationalist MSP Alex Neil.

Which is a good point to discuss what has happened to this area in the Scottish Parliament. When the Holyrood Parliament was originally set up its 73 constituencies were the same as the Westminster seats (except that Orkney and Shetland were given separate representation), and as such there has been an Airdrie and Shotts constituency since 1999. Its first MSP was Karen Whitefield, who won easily in 1999 and 2003 but saw her majority fall to 1,446 votes in 2007.

The SNP's Alex Neil gained the seat in 2011 with a majority of 2,001 votes, and was re-elected easily in 2016. He retired at last week's Holyrood election after 22 years in office, having been elected from the SNP list for Central Scotland in 1999, 2003 and 2007. Neil served in the Scottish cabinet from 2011 to 2016, holding the Infrastructure and Capital Investment, Health and Wellbeing, and Social Justice portfolios. He was the only Scottish National Party MSP to have declared on the record a Leave vote in the 2016 EU membership referendum.

In the six years since 2015 Neil Gray has been re-elected twice to the House of Commons. His majority was cut to just 195 votes over Labour in June 2017, but recovered to 5,201 votes in December 2019. On that occasion he polled 45%, with Labour's Helen McFarlane on 32%, the Conservatives' Lorraine Nolan on 18% and no other candidate saving their deposit.

Following Alex Neil's retirement, Neil Gray sought and won the SNP nomination for the Holyrood Airdrie and Shotts constituency. On the Holyrood boundaries (which are slightly smaller than the Westminster seat, excluding Holytown and the village of Newmains) he beat Labour last week by 51% to 33%, a reduced majority of 5,468 votes. The Labour candidate here was Richard Leonard, who was leader of Scottish Labour from 2017 until January this year; Leonard is, however, back in Holyrood as one of the seven MSPs for the Central Scotland region.

The seat is entirely within the North Lanarkshire council area. The most recent Scottish council elections were in May 2017; the ward boundaries don't quite match up with the parliamentary boundaries, but across the four wards wholly in the seat (the three Airdrie wards and Fortissat) the SNP polled 33% of the first preferences against 32% for Labour and 18% for the Conservatives; with proportional representation in effect this translated into six SNP councillors, five Labour, four Conservatives and an independent. The seat also contains part of the Mossend and Holytown ward, which was close between Labour and the SNP in May 2017, and a small corner of the Murdostoun ward which had a large independent vote in May 2017. The independent councillor for Murdostoun ward, Robert McKendrick, has recently died and this column will return to North Lanarkshire in due course once the by-election to replace him is held.

The Scottish National Party had required Gray to resign his Westminster seat in order to stand for Holyrood. The original plan had been to hold the two polls at the same time, but the returning officer for North Lanarkshire was unhappy with this citing public health grounds. As a result, the voters of Airdrie and Shotts are having to travel to the polls two weeks in succession.

Due in part to the high turnover of Scottish MPs at the last three Westminster elections, this is the first Westminster by-election in Scotland since Inverclyde in June 2011. It's also the first ever parliamentary by-election at which the Scottish National Party are defending. Their candidate is Anum Qaisar-Javed, a modern studies teacher and (in a previous political life) a former general secretary of Muslim Friends of Labour. She was an SNP candidate for Murdostoun ward in 2017, finishing in sixth place.

The Scottish Labour Party have selected Kenneth Stevenson, who has been a North Lanarkshire councillor since 2017 representing the Fortissat ward (based on Shotts and the surrounding rural area). In May 2017 the council seats in Fortissat split two to Labour and one each to the SNP and Conservatives; Labour have since gained both the Conservative and the SNP seats in by-elections (in September 2017 and March 2021 respectively). Stevenson defeated Pamela Nash for the Labour nomination.

The Conservative candidate is Ben Callaghan, who has appeared in this column very recently as the Conservative candidate in the March 2021 Fortissat by-election. On that occasion he polled 23% of the vote and finished in third place; his transfers ensured that Labour won the election very comfortably over the SNP. However, the usual Scottish disclaimers do not apply here: this is a Westminster election, so it's Votes at 18 and there is no transferable voting.

There are a total of eight candidates for the Airdrie and Shotts by-election. The Lib Dems have selected Stephen Arrundale, who was their parliamentary candidate for Midlothian in December 2019; according to his Twitter he's the treasurer of the party's Scottish branch and a (presumably long-suffering) Hartlepool United fan. (Up the Pools!) The other four candidates are all from fringe Unionist parties. Reform UK's Martyn Greene was an election agent for the party in last week's Holyrood elections. Donald Mackay turned up in this column back in March as the leader of Scottish UKIP, contesting a council by-election in Glasgow. On that occasion he polled 0.5% in Partick East/Kelvindale ward, finishing last out of six candidates; last week he topped the UKIP list for the Lothian region, which polled 0.11% and finished 17th out of 19. One of the two lists which UKIP Lothian beat was that of the Social Democratic Party, which polled 0.06% and finished in eighteenth place; second on the SDP's Lothian list was Neil Manson, one of two candidates in this by-election (along with Labour's Kenneth Stevenson) to give an address in this constituency. Finally, former UKIP figure Jonathan Stanley, who was second on the All for Unity list which polled 0.8% in the Central Scotland region last week, has the nomination of the Scottish Unionist Party.

This column will now take a rest before returning in mid-June for our next by-elections.

Scottish Parliament constituency: Airdrie and Shotts (most), Motherwell and Wishaw (part), Uddingston and Bellshill (part)
North Lanarkshire wards: Airdrie Central, Airdrie North, Airdrie South, Fortissat, Mossend and Holytown (part), Murdostoun (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Motherwell and Airdrie
Postcode districts: EH47, FK1, G67, ML1, ML2, ML4, ML5, ML6, ML7

Stephen Arrundale (LD)
Ben Callaghan (C)
Martyn Greene (Reform UK)
Donald Mackay (UKIP)
Neil Manson (SDP)
Anum Qaisar-Javed (SNP)
Jonathan Stanley (Scottish Unionist Party)
Kenneth Stevenson (Lab)

December 2019 result SNP 17929 Lab 12728 C 7011 LD 1419 Grn 685
June 2017 result SNP 14291 Lab 14096 C 8813 LD 802
May 2015 result SNP 23887 Lab 15108 C 3389 UKIP 1088 LD 678 Ind 136
May 2010 result Lab 20849 SNP 8441 C 3133 LD 2898 Ind 528
May 2005 result Lab 19568 SNP 5484 LD 3792 C 3271 SSP 706 Scottish Independence Party 337

Previews: 01 Aug 2019


Three by-elections on Thursday 1st August 2019. Later we cover two Liberal Democrat defences in local government, but first it's a Parliamentary Special:

Brecon and Radnorshire

House of Commons; caused by a recall petition against Conservative MP Christopher Davies, who had served since 2015.

O, let me think on Hastings and be gone
To Brecknock, while my fearful head is on!
- William Shakespeare, Richard III

A picture, so they say, tells a thousand words. Some pictures are, of course, more beautiful than others. This column has long maintained - sometimes multiple times in the same sentence - that the Welsh Marches rank among the most beautiful places in the world, and with pictures like these it's hard to argue against that proposition.

One person who clearly agrees with me is a man called Chris Davies, who got himself a new job in 2015 and needed a new office to go with it. He set his office up in Builth Wells, a small town on the Breconshire side of the River Wye, which in days of olden time formed the county boundary between Breconshire and Radnorshire. Builth isn't much more than a village but it's a major point of convergence, with the bridge over the Wye in the picture above being part of the A470 - the main north-south highway in Wales, meandering from Cardiff all the way to Llandudno through some of the most gorgeous scenery imaginable. All the normal things needed to be done to get the office going - buy furniture, kit the place out with a telephone line and computers, hire staff, all that jazz - but there was something missing. Some nice pictures of the local area for the walls. That'll make things complete for the staff and the visitors. Suitable pictures were found, prints were ordered and delivered, frames were hung and the office was complete. A snip at £700. And in the normal course of events that would have been that.

This, of course, is not the normal course of events. (Why do you think I'm writing this?) Chris Davies' new job was as Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnorshire, and as such the House of Commons authorities gave him a pair of budgets: one to get his office established, and another to keep it running. All you have to do is keep an account of your expenses and make sure all the receipts and invoices are in order.

Which is where the problem came in. Instead of one invoice for £700 for the pretty pictures, two invoices totalling £700 were submitted to the parliamentary office which pays MPs' expenses. It became apparent that those invoices had been forged. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority called in the police, and Davies was charged. In March 2019 the case was heard by Westminster magistrates, with Davies pleading guilty to one charge of providing false or misleading information for an allowance claim, and a second charge of attempting to do so. The magistrates referred Davies to Southwark Crown Court for sentencing, and in the final reckoning he was fined £1,500 and ordered to undertake 50 hours of unpaid community service.

This is nowhere near the sentence level which would disqualify you from public office, although having that sort of criminal record is not exactly a good look for a Member of Parliament. However, the offence which Davies was prosecuted for triggered the Recall of MPs Act into action, and a petition was set up in the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency. Over six weeks, 10,005 of his electors - 19% of the total - signed the petition to recall Christopher Davies. As this was over 10% of the electorate, Davies was unseated and we are having this by-election.

It's rather a feat to get so many electors to sign on the line, for this is the largest constituency by area in England and Wales. The seat includes nearly all of the Brecon Beacons National Park together with many other upland areas. Agriculture is the major industry, and if sheep had the vote this seat would be an awful lot smaller in area. This is a constituency with no large towns.

Indeed, the largest centre of population here is a place whose name few people will recognise and even fewer will have any idea how to pronounce. Ystradgynlais is nestled in the south-west corner of Breconshire and isn't too far from Swansea down the Tawe valley; it's a town of around 8,000 souls which was called into being by heavy engineering, specifically the Ynyscedwyn Ironworks and the coal needed to run them. To this day Ystradgynlais is atypical of Brecon and Radnorshire as a whole: most of the seat's Labour voters and more than half of its Welsh speakers live here.

Rather older is Brecon, which goes back to the Roman days when there was a fort called Cicucium guarding a ford on the River Usk. The Normans also fortified the place, and the military men have never left. There is an infantry training centre in Brecon and the surrounding moorland, and the town's St Mary ward ranked 14th in England and Wales for Buddhism in the 2011 census: not because Brecon is a New Age type of place (it isn't), but because there are Gurkhas stationed here. Brecon is home to the regimental museum of the South Wales Borderers, seven of whose Victoria Crosses came at the battle of Rorke's Drift in the 1879 Zulu War.

After Ystradgynlais and Brecon you're starting to struggle for towns in Breconshire, but there's one place here that gets international prominence. Just on the Welsh side of the border lies Hay-on-Wye, a tiny town a long way from anywhere (Hereford, nearly twenty miles away, is the nearest railhead) which has become known as the "town of books" because of its extremely large number of second-hand bookshops. If you're looking for a book, you'll probably find it in Hay (although it might take a bit of finding); who knows, an edition of the Andrew's Previews books may even be lurking on the shelves there. A few years back your columnist went to Hay with a budget of £20 and a mission to buy election-related books: I came away with the 1939 (and almost certainly final) edition of The Constitutional Year Book, an almanac published by the Conservative Party up to the Second World War; and British Parliamentary Constituencies: A Statistical Compendium by Ivor Crewe and Antony Fox, which went into great detail on the results of the 1983 general election. Both of these have been useful in drafting this preview. Richard Booth, whose bookshop I got those tomes from, appeared in the latter book: he was an independent candidate in the 1983 election, coming last with 0.7% in the Brecon and Radnor constituency. Booth may have retired now, but his legacy lives on with an annual literature festival taking over Hay-on-Wye every May and June and bringing visitors to Hay from all over the world.

Half-an-hour's walk from Hay over the river Wye you come to Clyro, a sleepy village off the Hereford-Brecon road. For seven years from 1865 to 1872 Francis Kilvert was curate of Clyro's parish church, and his diaries give a great impression of what the area was like back then. Particularly so as the village is very little changed from his day: you can still see Kilvert's vicarage and toast his legacy in the village pub, then called the Swan, now the Baskerville Arms. Your columnist has stayed in the Baskerville Arms and can recommend it: tell them I sent you.

The River Wye forms the border between Breonshire and Radnoshire, but it's the Wye valley which links the centre of this constituency together, from Hay up to Rhayader. A tiny market town where the A470 comes to a stop sign at the town centre crossroads, Rhayader lies at the junction of the Wye with the Elan Valley, which was drowned in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries underneath five reservoirs which provide drinking water for the city of Birmingham. Birmingham's wastewater drains into the River Trent, so some of the water from these reservoirs ends up in the faraway North Sea.

Wales is, of course, known for its wet weather; but it was water that actually brought people to Radnorshire back in the day. The Happiest Place in Wales according to a survey last year by Rightmove, Llandrindod Wells is a Victorian spa town, the largest centre of population in Radnorshire, and the railhead for the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency. A Victorian Festival, celebrating its 34th year in 2019, brings tourists to Llandrindod each August; but it's administration which underpins the town's economy. Powys county council was established here in 1974, leading to a mini economic boom thanks to a mismatch between national local government payscales and the relatively low cost of living in mid-Wales. As well as all the usual stuff you expect from local government, Powys council has a surprising national role: it is the regulator for estate agents in the UK.

But the major single contributor to the economy of Brecon and Radnorshire is one event held every year in July at Llanelwedd, the Radnorshire village on the opposite side of the Wye from Builth Wells. Celebrating its 100th edition last week, the Royal Welsh Show is one of the largest agricultural shows in the world: it runs for four days and attracts 200,000 visitors, some of whom arrive on special trains laid on from Cardiff by Transport for Wales. The BBC film it. The Prince of Wales is a regular visitor. Speaking at the Show last week, the president of the Farmers Union of Wales warned of the possibility of civil unrest in rural areas like this constituency in the event of a no-deal Brexit; we wait to see what effect that warning had on the then-Environment Secretary and now-Brexit Supremo Michael Gove, who was also in attendance. The Royal Welsh Show is a huge affair, and is the reason this by-election wasn't held last week. Apart from the traffic chaos the event brings and the fact that many of the electors will have been at the show, the exhibition centres on the Royal Welsh Showground are the only location in the constituency which can comfortably accommodate the count.

Like the rest of Wales, Breconshire and Radnorshire were enfranchised by Henry VIII and have sent members to Parliament since 1536. Radnorshire has always been one of the poorest, most remote and most depopulated parts of England and Wales, and in the late nineteenth century - once the Liberals started contesting the county - that manifested itself in a close Tory versus Liberal contest. The 1885 election, on an expanded franchise, returned Arthur Walsh by a majority of just 67 votes over the Liberal candidate, marking a Conservative gain. Walsh, who was re-elected for a second term the following year, was an Old Etonian who at the time was a lieutenant in the Life Guards; he followed his father and grandfather in becoming MP for Radnorshire. Also like his father and grandfather, Walsh ended up in the Lords as the 3rd Lord Ormathwaite; once his Commons career was over he entered royal service, and from 1907 to 1920 he was the last Master of the Ceremonies in the Royal Household. Now there's a job title. (Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps is the modern equivalent.)

Walsh retired from the Commons in 1892 and the Conservatives lost his Radnorshire seat to the Liberal Frank Edwards. A solicitor by trade, Edwards was a major supporter of disestablishment for the Church in Wales, going so far as to resign the Liberal whip in 1894 (along with a very young David Lloyd George) in protest after the Liberal government failed to introduce a disestablishment measure.

The following year Edwards lost his seat for the first time, as the Conservative candidate Powlett Millbank defeated him by 79 votes. Sir Powlett, as he became after inheriting a baronetcy, didn't seek re-election in 1900 and Frank Edwards got back as MP for Radnorshire on a virulently anti-Boer War ticket in the first of four contests against the Conservatives' Charles Dillwyn-Venables-Llewellyn. The score in contests was 3-1 in Edwards' favour, Llewellyn's sole win coming by just 14 votes in January 1910. A keen agriculturist and local JP, Llewellyn was one of 22 MPs who served only between the two 1910 elections, as Sir Frank Edwards (as he had now become) won the December 1910 contest in Radnorshire by 42 votes.

Things were different in Breconshire, which had twice the electorate of Radnorshire and some industry - ironworking in Ystradgynlais, coalmining in Brynmawr. Breconshire was gained by the Liberals in an 1875 by-election after the previous Tory MP succeeded to a peerage, and was continuously Liberal-held from then until 1918. The winner of the 1875 by-election was William Fuller-Maitland, who had entered politics after a distinguished cricket career, bowling for Oxford University and the MCC to devastating effect: he took 123 first-class wickets at an average of 15.72, with his best analysis (8 for 48) coming for Oxford University against Surrey in 1864. Fuller-Maitland retired from the Commons in 1895 and passed his seat on to Charles Morley, older brother of Arnold Morley who had been Postmaster-General in the Liberal government of 1892-95. Morley retired in 1906, the year of the Liberal landslide, and passed his seat on without trouble to Sidney Robinson, a former Cardiff councillor and timber merchant.

At the December 1910 general election Radnorshire had under 6,000 electors (all male in those days) and Breconshire just over 13,000. This was too low to sustain two MPs, and the redistribution of 1918 resulted in the two constituencies being merged into one. Radnorshire's Liberal MP Sir Frank Edwards retired, and Breconshire's Liberal MP Sidney Robinson won the 1918 election unopposed for his final parliamentary term.

In 1922 Robinson retired and there was a new face as MP for Brecon and Radnor, with William Jenkins elected as a National Liberal. A merchant from Swansea in the coal and shipbroking business, Jenkins defeated the seat's first Labour candidate very comfortably and no-one opposed him in the 1923 general election. However, the 1924 poll saw both Labour and the Conservatives intervene, and a close three-way contest was won by Walter Hall for the Conservatives.

The first Conservative MP for Breconshire for almost half a century, Hall had come into politics from the military where he had served with distinction in the Great War - winning an MC and Bar. He served two terms as MP for Brecon and Radnor, but they were not consecutive. The 1929 general election here had a remarkable result: Liberal candidate Wynne Cemlyn-Jones came in third with 14,182 votes, Hall lost his seat by finishing second on 14,324 votes, and Peter Freeman polled 14,551 votes to become the first Labour MP for Brecon and Radnor. With just 0.7% of the vote separating first from last, and Freeman winning with 33.7%, that is one of the closest three-way splits you will ever see in an election. On the other hand... with the opinion polls as they are at the moment, a snap election held in the next few months might turn up a lot of constituency results looking similar to that. Fragmentation may be the new norm.

Fragmentation didn't help Peter Freeman much. The 1929 general election brought to power the short-lived Labour government of Ramsay Macdonald, which fell apart two years later and crashed and burned in the 1931 election. Walter Hall returned as MP for Brecon and Radnor, and Freeman - a former Welsh lawn tennis champion - went back to running his family's Cardiff tobacco factory. Peter Freeman did eventually return to politics, serving as MP for Newport from 1945 until his death in 1956.

Hall retired at the 1935 general election, in which Brecon and Radnor was contested for Labour by Leslie Haden-Guest, who had been MP for Southwark North from 1923 until 1927, when he resigned to (unsuccessfully) seek re-election as a Constitutionalist candidate. Now back in the Labour fold, Haden-Guest lost to his near namesake Ivor Guest, elected as a supporter of the National Government with endorsement from both the Conservative and Liberal local parties. Guest was a scion of a wealthy industrial family - the Guests were the G in GKN, which is still in business as an aerospace company.

Ivor Guest succeeded to the title of Viscount Wimborne and entered the Lords in 1939, resulting in the first Brecon and Radnorshire by-election. This time the Tories and Liberals couldn't agree a joint candidate, and the local Conservatives selected Richard Hanning Phillips - second son of Lord Milford - while the Liberals stood down. By now Haden-Guest was back in the Commons, having won a by-election in Islington North, and Labour needed a new candidate: they selected William Jackson, a Herefordshire fruit farmer and former Liberal figure. In an interesting echo of this by-election, polling day was 1st August - eighty years ago today - making this the last parliamentary by-election to be held before the Second World War. Labour's candidate selection made all the difference in this agricultural seat, particularly as Hanning Phillips knew nothing about farming and admitted as such on the campaign trail. Jackson won the by-election with a majority of 2,636.

After serving through the war years, William Jackson retired to the Lords in 1945, and Labour held the seat easily. The new Labour MP was Tudor Watkins who was Breconshire born and bred. A former miner from a village near Ystradgynlais, Watkins was general secretary of the Breconshire Association of Friendly Societies. In office Watkins saved the lesser whitebeam Sorbus minima from extinction, after his Parliamentary questions prompted the Army to stop using its only known habitat for mortar practice. Watkins was also a strong supporter of CND and the Parliament for Wales campaign.

In 1945 Tudor Watkins very easily defeated Tory candidate Oscar Guest, uncle of Ivor; Oscar had started his parliamentary career in 1918 as Liberal MP for Loughborough, and in the 1935-45 Parliament had been the Conservative MP for the unlikely Tory seat of Camberwell North West. For the 1950 and 1951 elections the Conservatives had stronger opposition in the form of David Gibson-Watt, a farmer and forester who came from a noted Radnorshire family and had won an MC and two bars in the North African and Italy campaigns during the Second World War. Gibson-Watt did eventually get into Parliament, winning the Hereford by-election in 1956 and serving until October 1974.

From 1955 onwards Tudor Watkins had safe majorities in Brecon and Radnorshire, and on his retirement in 1970 he had no trouble passing the seat on to the new Labour candidate Caerwyn Roderick. Like Watkins, Roderick had been born in Ystradgynlais; before entering Parliament he had been a teacher. In office he campaigned against future rail closures for the area and opposed a new reservoir that would have flooded the Senni valley.

But in February 1974 Brecon and Radnorshire swung to the Conservatives, against the national trend, and became marginal. Roderick could not withstand the swing to Thatcher's party in 1979, and he lost his seat. The new Tory MP was Tom Hooson, cousin of the Liberal MP Emlyn Hooson who had lost the neighbouring seat of Montgomeryshire at the same election.

Hooson's position was boosted by boundary changes that came in for the 1983 election. Not all of Breconshire had ended up in Powys at the 1974 reorganisation: two villages at the heads of the Valleys had transferred to Mid Glamorgan, and two areas became part of Gwent. One of those areas was Brynmawr, a largish mining town and significant source of Labour votes, which consequently transferred into a Gwent constituency (specifically, Michael Foot's seat of Blaenau Gwent). The effect was to reduce the electorate of Brecon and Radnorshire by around 10,000, with a big fall in the Labour vote.

That was reflected in the 1983 general election, the first contest on the current boundaries, at which the Labour vote fell by 16 points and Hooson made his seat safe. The Labour candidate David Morris (who would later serve as an MEP for Wales from 1984 to 1999) was nearly overtaken for second place by a young Liberal called Richard Livsey.

Tom Hooson died suddenly in May 1985, having suffered a heart attack, at the early age of 52. This prompted the second Brecon and Radnor by-election, held on 4th July 1985. As in the 1939 by-election the Conservative candidate was a poor fit for the constituency: Chris Butler was a former Downing Street staffer who at this point was a special adviser to the Welsh secretary Nicholas Edwards. He would later serve one term as MP for Warrington South from 1897 to 1992. Labour selected Richard Willey, a Radnor councillor whose father was the long-serving former Sunderland MP Fred Willey. The Lib Dem candidate was again Richard Livsey, a smallholder and former lecturer at the Welsh Agricultural College; Livsey was fighting his fourth parliamentary election, having contested Perth and East Perthshire in 1970 and Pembroke in 1979.

The result of the by-election was a victory for Livsey, who polled 36% of the vote against 34% for Labour and just 28% for the Conservatives. Livsey's majority was 559 votes, and this was the start of a series of very close election results in Brecon and Radnor. He held his seat in the 1987 general election with a majority of just 56 votes over the new Tory candidate, Jonathan Evans; it was the closet result of that election.

Jonathan Evans was reselected for the 1992 general election, and defeated Richard Livsey by 130 votes on an extremely high turnout (85.9%) in one of only three Conservative gains at that election. A solicitor by trade, Evans only served five years as MP for Brecon and Radnor but had a long political career nonetheless: he fought Michael Foot in Ebbw Vale in both 1974 elections and stood in Wolverhampton North East in 1979. After losing Brecon and Radnor he was an MEP for Wales from 1999 to 2009, then returned to the Commons as MP for Cardiff North during the Coalition years.

A majority of 130 votes was never going to withstand the landslide of 1997, and Richard Livsey returned as Lib Dem MP for Brecon and Radnor with a large majority. He retired to the Lords in 2001 and passed the seat on to new Lib Dem candidate Roger Williams. A livestock farmer and former chairman of the local NFU branch, Williams was a long-serving Powys councillor who had fought Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire in the first Welsh Assembly election in 1999, finishing fifth. Williams was run close in 2001 by new Conservative candidate Felix Aubel, but prevailed with a majority of 751. In 2005 he made the seat safe (the Tory candidate that year was Andrew R T Davies, who would later serve as leader of the Welsh Conservatives) and there was almost no swing in 2010.

That changed in 2015, when Roger Williams suffered an eighteen-point drop in his vote and lost his seat to Christopher Davies of the Conservatives. A rural auctioneer and former estate agent who ran a veterinary practice in Hay-on-Wye, Davies had fought the seat in the 2011 Welsh Assembly election before being elected to Powys county council in 2012. He resigned from Powys council after his election to Parliament, and the resulting by-election in Glasbury division (which includes Clyro) was gained for the Lib Dems by James Gibson-Watt (yes, of the Radnorshire Gibson-Watts). Davies increased his majority in 2017 with Gibson-Watt as his Lib Dem opponent, polling 49% to 29% for Gibson-Watt and 18% for Labour candidate Dan Lodge. Turnout, as usual for this constituency, was high: almost 77% of electors cast a vote. Just before the dissolution Davies had sent a survey to his electors in House of Commons envelopes, which was seen as political campaigning in breach of Commons rules; he was forced to apologise and pay for the cost of the envelopes. Christopher Davies was a member of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, although he had come around to supporting the Withdrawal Agreement by the end of the Brexit debates earlier this year; perhaps wise given the effect that no-deal EU tariffs would have on the sheep farming which underpins his constituency's economy.

The large swing from Lib Dem to Conservative has not, to date, been seen when Brecon and Radnorshire goes to the polls for the Welsh Assembly. Since the establishment of the Assembly in 1999 the seat has been represented in Cardiff Bay by just one person: Kirsty Williams of the Liberal Democrats, whose majority has only fallen below ten points once (in 2011). The most recent Senedd election was in May 2016, when Williams defeated Conservative candidate Gary Price 53-25; that left her as the only Liberal Democrat member of the Assembly. With Labour holding 29 out of 60 seats and short of a majority, Williams joined the Welsh Government after the 2016 election as minister for education and skills in a coalition executive.

This constituency covers slightly more than half of Powys county council, which had a majority of independent councillors until the most recent Welsh local government election in 2017. Within this constituency in May 2017 independents won 15 seats, the Lib Dems won 10 (including former MP Roger Williams, who gained Felin-fâch from the independents), Labour won 7 (including all four seats in Ystradgynlais and two of the three Brecon seats), the Conservatives won 5 and the Green Party 1 (Llangors, on an almost perfect three-way split: 173 votes for the Greens, 157 for the Conservatives, 155 for the outgoing independent councillor). Llagors may be a very unlikely-looking Green area, but it's the first Welsh division ever to elect a Green Party councillor. No candidates applied for Yscir division; in consequence nominations there had to be reopened, and the Conservatives won the re-run. The contestation pattern and the large number of unopposed seats (five of the 7 Labour divisions were won without a contest) mean that vote shares are pretty meaningless.

Which brings us up to date in a by-election that could have some impact on the Parliamentary arithmetic, which I shall put down in detail here because it's a bit difficult to keep track of what's going on. There are 650 MPs, of whom the 7 Sinn Féiners don't turn up, while the Speaker and his three deputies don't vote in any division. That gives 639 participating members meaning that 320 votes are an effective majority. The Conservatives are on 310 (excluding the Speaker and the Tory deputy speaker) and they have confidence and supply from the 10 DUP members which gives the 320 votes necessary. The opposition are 245 Labour MPs (excluding two deputy speakers), 35 from the Scottish National Party, 12 Liberal Democrats, 5 Change UK MPs, 5 "The Independents", 4 Plaid Cymru, 1 Green and 11 independents (6 elected as Labour, 3 elected as Conservatives, 1 elected as Lib Dem, and Lady Hermon) which is a total of 318 and gives the government a majority of two seats. Were the Conservatives to lose this by-election, that majority would go down to one.

If you want to vote for a politician with convictions, here's your chance. Convicted expense fraudster Christopher Davies is standing for re-election as the Conservative candidate. It should be noted that that the previous two Brecon and Radnor by-elections, in 1939 and 1985, both saw the Conservatives lose a seat they previously held partly as a result of poor candidate selections. Davies will be hoping to buck that trend.

The Liberal Democrats have been installed as runaway bookies' favourites for this by-election, although the bookies have been known to be wrong before (see Peterborough, last month). The Lib Dem candidate is their Welsh party leader Jane Dodds, a trained social worker and former Richmond upon Thames councillor who fought Montgomeryshire (where she lives) in the 2015 general election, 2016 Senedd election and 2017 general election. Plaid Cymru and the Green Party have stood down in her favour.

The Labour candidate is Tomos Davies, a Brecon town councillor, qualified barrister and litigation officer.

Three candidates complete a gender-balanced ballot paper of three men and three women (there has never previously been a female MP for Brecon and Radnorshire). Liz Phillips is standing for UKIP; although she now lives in Kent she has fought this seat several times before on the UKIP ticket, and before then in 1997 she stood here for the Referendum Party. The Brexit Party have nominated Des Parkinson, a retired police officer who was the UKIP candidate for Montgomeryshire in 2015 ad 2016 and for Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016. Last alphabetically is local resident and saviour of the human race Lady Lily the Pink, standing for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.

Constituency opinion polling isn't tried much in the UK these days; it's difficult to get a sample with such a small electorate, and when it was tried on a large scale in advance of the 2015 election it fell victim to the same polling failures that beset that election. One amusing factoid from the 1985 by-election here is that a lot of commentators at the time expected a Labour victory because most of their vox pops had been done in Ystradgynlais. Nonetheless Number Cruncher Politics, the political blog run by Matt Singh, has done an online poll of 509 electors in Brecon and Radnorshire (link) which had Dodds with a big lead: she was put on 43%, with Davies on 28% and Parkinson on 20%. Fieldwork was from 10th to 18th July, which was before the election of Johnson and Swinson as leaders of their respective parties. Singh deserves a lot of thanks (at the very least) for paying for this poll and contributing to the debate, and it's disappointing that a lot of media outlets (including the by-election article in Tuesday's edition of The Times, I notice) have reported the poll without seeing fit to even credit its source.

Things might have changed since the poll was taken, you never know. This may not be the biggest by-election of the year so far in electorate, but it's certainly the most anticipated. The returning officer is going for an overnight count, although given the size of the constituency don't expect a quick result. We'll know by breakfast time whether the Conservatives have pulled off their first by-election win (parliamentary or otherwise) of the Johnson premiership, whether the Liberal Democrats have achieved a baker's dozen of MPs, or whether something even more dramatic has happened. Whoever wins in the third Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, there will be lots to pore over in the result.

Oh, and just one more thing: have I mentioned that the Welsh Marches are beautiful?

All pictures used in this preview are from Wikipedia or Geograph and published under a Creative Commons licence. I shall supply my invoice in due course...

If you enjoyed this preview, there are many more like it in the paperback collection Andrew's Previews 2018, which is now available to order from Amazon (link). By buying the book you will support future previews like this.

Powys electoral divisions: Aber-craf, Beguildy, Bronllys, Builth, Bwlch, Crickhowell, Cwm-twrch, Disserth and Trecoed, Felin-fâch, Glasbury, Gwernyfed, Hay, Knighton, Llanafanfawr, Llandrindod East/Llandrindod West, Llandrindod North, Llandrindod South, Llanelwedd, Llangattock, Llangors, Llangynidr, Llanwrtyd Wells, Llanyre, Maescar/Llywel, Nantmel, Old Radnor, Presteigne, Rhayader, St David Within, St John, St Mary, Talgarth, Talybont-on-Usk, Tawe-Uchaf, Ynyscedwyn, Yscir, Ystradgynlais
ONS Travel to Work Areas: Brecon, Llandrindod Wells and Builth Wells, Swansea
Postcode districts: CF44, CF48, HR3, HR5, LD1, LD2, LD3, LD4, LD5, LD6, LD7, LD8, NP7, NP8, SA9, SA10, SA11, SY18, SY23

Christopher Davies (C)
Tomos Davies (Lab)
Jane Dodds (LD)
Des Parkinson (Brexit Party)
Liz Phillips (UKIP)
Lady Lily the Pink (Loony)

June 2017 result C 20081 LD 12043 Lab 7335 PC 1290 UKIP 576
May 2016 Welsh Assembly election LD 15998 C 7728 Lab 2703 UKIP 2161 PC 1180 Grn 697
May 2015 result C 16453 LD 11351 Lab 5904 UKIP 3338 PC 1767 Grn 1261
May 2011 Welsh Assembly election LD 12201 C 9444 Lab 4797 PC 1906
May 2010 result LD 17529 C 14182 Lab 4096 PC 989 UKIP 876 Grn 341 Chr 222 Loony 210
May 2007 Welsh Assembly election LD 15006 C 9652 Lab 2524 PC 1576
May 2005 result LD 17182 C 13277 Lab 5755 PC 1404 UKIP 723
May 2003 Welsh Assembly election LD 13325 C 8017 Lab 3130 PC 1329 UKIP 1042
June 2001 result LD 13824 C 13073 Lab 8024 PC 1301 Ind 762 UKIP 452 Ind 80
May 1999 Welsh Assembly election LD 13022 C 7170 Lab 5165 PC 2356 Ind 1502
May 1997 result LD 17516 C 12419 Lab 11424 Referendum Party 900 PC 622
May 1992 result C 15977 LD 15847 Lab 11634 PC 418 Grn 393
May 1987 result Lib 14509 C 14453 Lab 1210 PC 535
July 1985 by-election Lib 13753 Lab 13194 C 10631 PC 435 Loony 202 One Nation C 154 Ind 43
May 1983 result C 18255 Lab 9471 Lib 9226 PC 840 Ind 278

Hazel Grove

Stockport council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Jon Twigge who had served since 2016. He is standing down to concentrate on running his business.

Our two local by-elections today are both defences for the Liberal Democrats. We start on the southern edge of Greater Manchester with a posh Stockport suburb. Hazel Grove is a rather diffuse area where the built-up area ends on the main roads from Manchester towards Buxton and Macclesfield, which meet at a triangular junction in the village centre. This was a busy junction in your columnist's experience, but may be a little less so now with the recent completion of the Manchester Airport Eastern Link Road, which runs along the southern boundary of Hazel Grove ward to terminate on a realigned Buxton Road.

This area was originally covered by the townships of Norbury and Torkington but by the eighteenth century had acquired the name "Bullocks Smithy" after a local inn. When a church was built in the 1830s to serve the area (which had previously been a nonconformist stronghold) the village elders had got tired of the jokes surrounding that name, and chose the new name "Hazel Grove" in an attempt to stop the rot. The name stuck.

The name stuck so well that Hazel Grove has given its name to a parliamentary seat since 1974. This has elected Liberals or Liberal Democrats on several occasions; the present seat, which also includes affluent towns like Marple to the east of Stockport, was Lib Dem in the Blair, Brown and Coalition years but was gained for the Conservatives in 2015 by William Wragg. Wragg is only 31 but is already in his second term as an MP, which shows just how fast-paced politics is these days. His first electoral contest came in 2010 in Hazel Grove ward, which was then safely Liberal Democrat, and Wragg built on that experience to gain the ward the following year.

The Tories gained a second seat in the 2014 election, but since the end of Coalition they have been on the defensive in Stockport. The Liberal Democrats recovered the Conservative seats in Hazel Grove in 2018 and May this year to restore their full slate; May's result was pretty decisive with 48% for the Lib Dems, 29% for the Conservatives (their worst performance since the current boundaries were introduced in 2004) and 11% for Labour.

Stockport council has been hung for many years and is presently on a bit of a knife-edge. Following May's elections Labour, who have run a minority administration for some years, and the Liberal Democrats were tied on 26 seats each, with the Conservatives (who are down to eight councillors after losing five seats in May) and the three Heald Green Ratepayers holding the balance of power. The Labour minority will continue until at least the next polls in May 2020, and the Lib Dems will want to hold this seat to give themselves the best chance of taking over the council following next year's elections.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Charles Gibson, a PR manager and brass bandsman with the Marple Band - which gives me an excuse to throw in the video above. The Tory candidate is Oliver Johnstone - "banker by trade, historian by vocation" according to his Twitter - who is not yet 30 but is already a former councillor for this ward, having served from 2014 to 2018. Labour have reselected their regular candidate Julie Wharton who is fighting Hazel Grove for the fifth time. Completing the ballot paper is Michael Padfield for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Hazel Grove
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode district: SK7

Charles Gibson (LD)
Oliver Johnstone (C)
Michael Padfield (Grn)
Julie Wharton (Lab)

May 2019 result LD 1993 C 1225 Lab 457 UKIP 321 Grn 183
May 2018 result LD 1965 C 1810 Lab 553 Grn 132
May 2016 result LD 1777 C 1494 Lab 634 UKIP 534 Grn 120
May 2015 result C 2944 LD 2145 Lab 1208 UKIP 1027 Grn 294
May 2014 result C 1700 LD 1414 UKIP 692 Lab 488 Grn 208
May 2012 result LD 1736 C 1668 Lab 724
May 2011 result C 1918 LD 1789 Lab 892 UKIP 331
May 2010 result LD 3777 C 2697 Lab 884
May 2008 result LD 2345 C 1668 Lab 262
May 2007 result LD 2265 C 1647 Lab 298
May 2006 result LD 2281 C 1509 Lab 296 Ind 142
June 2004 result LD 2844/2835/2782 C 1919/1904/1709 Lab 592/439/395

Godmanchester and Hemingford Abbots

Huntingdonshire council, Cambridgeshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor David Underwood. A former mayor of Godmanchester, Underwood was first elected in 2016 for Godmanchester ward and transferred to this ward in 2018. He was one of the country's few blind people to hold elected office.

From Greater Manchester we move to Godmanchester (stressed on the first syllable only, or pronounced Gumter if you're old-fashioned or the Leader of the House of Commons). This name has nothing to do with Manchester: it refers to a Roman fort ("chester") associated with an Anglo-Saxon called Godmund. The Roman fort was in a good location, defending the crossing point of Ermine Street, the Via Devana and the River Great Ouse, and a town grew up close to the southern end of the Old Bridge which connects Godmanchester to Huntingdon over the river. Until the twelfth century, this was the lowest bridge on the Great Ouse; and until 1975, when a new bridge was built as part of the Huntingdon bypass (now part of the A14), it was a major traffic bottleneck. The Huntingdon bypass is now itself a major traffic bottleneck being bypassed, with a motorway under construction to the south of Godmanchester to improve transport links between Cambridge and the west.

After losing its county status, Huntingdonshire has been a district within Cambridgeshire since 1974. It has a secure Conservative majority and a Tory MP (Jonathan Djonogly) to go with it. Godmanchester, on the other hand, is a quite recent Lib Dem hotspot. The old Godmanchester ward was Conservative from 2004 to 2012, but the Lib Dems broke through in 2014 after many years of trying and quickly built a large lead: Underwood was elected in 2016, the last election at which Godmanchester was a ward of its own, by the margin of 61-24.

The present ward has existed only since 2018, when the Tory-voting villages of Hemingford Abbots, Offord Cluny and Offord d'Arcy were added along with a third councillor. If this was an effort to improve the Tory position, it didn't have the desired effect: the Lib Dem slate won with 52% of the vote against 34% for the Conservatives. Huntingdonshire moved away from election by thirds in 2018, so the next elections in the district will not be until 2022. The three parishes in the ward are all in different Cambridgeshire county council divisions: Godmanchester is the major part of the Godmanchester and Huntingdon South division, which is safely Liberal Democrat, while the Offords are part of the Lib Dem-held marginal of Brampton and Buckden, and Hemingford Abbots is the safe Tory division of The Hemingfords and Fenstanton.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Sarah Wilson, a Godmanchester town councillor and wife of the town's county councillor Graham Wilson. The Conservatives have selected Paula Sparling, who was born and brought up in Rhodesia according to her Twitter and runs a business admin company. Completing the ballot paper is independent candidate and former Huntingdon town councillor Nigel Pauley, who fought the old Godmanchester ward in 2012 and finished in a close third place; in 2018 he stood as a Labour candidate for a ward in St Neots.

Parliamentary constituency: Huntingdon
Cambridgeshire county council division: Godmanchester and Huntingdon South (Godmanchester parish), The Hemingfords and Fenstanton (Hemingford Abbots parish), Brampton and Buckden (Offord Cluny and Offord d'Arcy parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Huntingdon
Postcode districts: PE19, PE28, PE29

Nigel Pauley (Ind)
Paula Sparling (C)
Sarah Wilson (LD)

May 2018 result LD 1396/1150/1030 C 911/654/627 Lab 383

Previews: 06 Jun 2019

by Andrew Teale of Andrew’s Previews

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

Three polls today, but we’ll start with the most important one:


House of Commons; caused by a successful recall petition against Labour MP Fiona Onasanya, who had served since 2017.

Speed kills. Speed kills lives. Driving a vehicle over the speed limit is an offence, and with good reason. For as long as there have been motor vehicles there have been speed limits, with the intention of protecting other road users from the danger caused by driving at excessive speeds. A pedestrian hit by a car is more likely to survive the slower the car is going, and partly because of this there has been a trend in recent years towards lowering speed limits on Britain’s roads. In many cases such changes are supported by our elected representatives; campaigning for speed limits to be cut in residential areas or at accident blackspots is a cheap and effective way for our local councillors to attract publicity and protect public safety.

Speed also kills careers. This column has previously covered instances of councillors who campaigned for a speed camera to be installed in their patch, and subsequently being caught speeding by that very same camera. In most instances people who are caught speeding own up, take the punishment (speed awareness course, fine, penalty points, disqualification for the most serious cases) and life goes on.

This was not, however, the option pursued by former Liberal Democrat MP and leadership candidate Chris Huhne, who got caught trying to pin the blame for a speeding ticket on his wife and ended up behind bars for perjury. Nor did owning up to this offence seem a good option for a Labour backbencher called Fiona Onasanya. A solicitor of Nigerian ancestry, Onasanya entered politics in 2013 at the age of 30 by being elected as a Labour Party member of Cambridgeshire county council. In 2017 she sought the nomination as Labour candidate for the elected mayoralty of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough; although she didn’t get it, shortly afterwards she was selected as Labour candidate for the Peterborough constituency in the snap general election. To some surprise, Onasanya was elected as MP for Peterborough in June 2017, and a month later was reported as saying that she wanted to become Britain’s first black female prime minister.

Also in July 2017, Fiona Onasanya was caught speeding by a camera in Thorney, a village within her constituency. The Court heard that Ms Onasanya and her brother Festus told the police investigating that the car was being driven by a Russian man who had had the bad luck to be their tenant; however, police inquiries found that this Russian was in fact in Russia at the time of the offence. Prosecutions were launched – not for the speeding offence, but for the cover-up. Festus Onasanya pleaded guilty to three charges against him, and in December 2018 the jury unanimously found Fiona Onasanya guilty of one count of perverting the course of justice. Both Onasanyas were committed to prison, in Fiona’s case for three months. Ms Onasanya refused to resign her seat in Parliament and sought to appeal against the conviction; she appeared before the Court of Appeal without legal representation or notes. Remember, kids, she is a trained legal professional; don’t try this at home. The Appeal judges were not impressed, and on 5 March 2019 refused permission to appeal.

If Ms Onasanya had still been a local councillor (she retired from Cambridgeshire county council in May 2017) then that would have been the end of the matter. The Local Government Act disqualifies anybody who has been sentenced to three months’ or more imprisonment (including suspended sentences) in the last five years from being a councillor, and once the appeal was disposed off Onasanya would (had she been a councillor) automatically have left office and I would have been writing about a by-election in the second half of April in a very different political context. But until 1981, when IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands was elected to parliament from his prison cell in a by-election for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, there was nothing to stop prisoners being elected to Parliament or serving as MPs; the Representation of the People Act 1981, rushed through Parliament by the Thatcher government after Sands’ election, only disqualifies from Parliament persons who are or should be serving a prison sentence of one year or more. The Onasanya case raises an issue which needs to be looked at by Parliament sooner rather than later: if somebody sentenced to three months in prison is not fit to be a councillor, why are they fit to be an MP? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

In those halcyon days when we had a strong and stable government running the country, there was an answer to this. The Recall of MPs Act 2015, one of the last pieces of legislation passed by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government, introduced a system of recall petitions for MPs who passed some kind of misdemeanour threshold. We have already had one such petition, after the DUP MP Ian Paisley junior was suspended from Parliament for 30 days for not declaring visits to Sri Lanka paid for by that country’s government. The North Antrim recall petition failed to reach the target of being signed by 10% of his North Antrim electors, and Baby Doc remained as an MP.

Incidentally, your columnist has just come back from a week playing music with a military band in Northern Ireland. (Which is why this has had to be written in one day. Sorry if it reads like that.) One of our engagements was in Baby Doc’s North Antrim constituency, providing a music lesson/performance for the children of Bushmills Primary School. It was great fun and a good time was had by all. I hope that the children of Bushmills were inspired by our performance to take up a musical instrument.

While I’m on the subject of Northern Ireland it may be worth pointing out that residents of Great Britain would do well not to label its politics as peculiar. On my visit to Bushmills Primary School, there was a lamppost outside with a poster attached to it, that poster bearing a large portrait of and advocating a first preference vote for Jim Allister. The leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party, a DUP splinter group which believes that the party sold out in going into government with Sinn Féin, Allister was runner-up in Northern Ireland’s European Parliament election two weeks ago and is a member of the Dormant Assembly and former MEP. Like Great Britain, Northern Ireland has severe political problems: like Great Britain, there is a sovereignty issue which dominates political debate above all else; like Great Britain, the province’s traditional political parties are being marginalised at election time by forces (like Allister’s) on the more intransigent sides of that debate; like Great Britain, the province’s government has effectively failed to function for over two years; like Great Britain, nobody appears to be in the mood to make the compromises necessary to get out of the mess and move forward.

Unlike Great Britain, in Northern Ireland all of this is bound up in the sectarian conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism. This war of religion has been going on for centuries, and in its earliest forms in the UK can be traced back to a row over one woman: Catherine of Aragon. Catherine had a luckless life. She was brought to England as a child from sunny Iberia as a bride for Arthur, Prince of Wales, son and heir of Henry VII. Had Arthur lived, history may have been very different; but he died in Ludlow five months after their wedding and Catherine found herself a 16-year-old widow. Worse was to come, as Catherine stayed on in England and subsequently married Arthur’s idiot younger brother. They had a daughter together, and then he dumped her for a younger woman; except that the Pope would not grant a divorce. Not getting the answer he wanted from his negotiations with Europe, and not being in the mood to make the compromises necessary to get out of the mess and move forward, Henry VIII chose the No Deal option and formed his own church, the Church of England, for the sole purpose of getting a divorce from Queen Catherine. We are still working through the consequences of that decision today.

Catherine of Aragon died in 1536 and lies in eternal rest in a spectacular building which gave its name to a city and has survived the centuries virtually intact. This building was located at a point where the River Nene enters the low-lying Fens, a rich agricultural area. The Romans had been here, with a major first-century fort at Longthorpe and a distinctive style of pottery called Nene Valley Ware, but the original church was founded in 655 by Peada of Mercia, king of the Middle Angles in a location called Medeshamstede. In the tenth century the church was fortified, creating a burgh – the Old English ward for a fortified place. There are lots of burghs around so disambiguation was needed: the patron saint of the church, St Peter, was added to the name, and “Peterborough” was born.

The modern Peterborough Cathedral dates from the twelfth century after the previous building was destroyed by fire in 1116. Its size bears witness to what was one of the richest monastic settlements in England, deriving its income from the agriculture of the Fens. As such it was an obvious target in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and Catherine of Aragon’s ex-husband had the abbey shut down five years after her burial; however, religion didn’t stop here as Peterborough Abbey was converted, more or less seamlessly, into a cathedral.

Six years later the city which took its name from Peterborough Cathedral sent members to Parliament for the first time, and no Parliament since then has been without an MP for Peterborough. The city thrived partially thanks to its special legal status; while it was officially part of Northamptonshire it and its hinterland, the Soke of Peterborough, effectively formed a county within a county under its Lord Paramount, the Marquess of Exeter. The Marquess of the day objected to the railways coming to his seat at Stamford, and so Peterborough became a major railway centre instead, as a major junction on the East Coast main line to Scotland. Brickworking – many of London’s bricks came from Peterborough – became a major local industry, and Peterborough also in time became a centre for engine manufacture: by the 1930s Perkins diesel engines was the major local employer.

The city’s representation was reduced from two members to one by the 1885 redistribution, and that election pitted the two former MPs for Peterborough against each other: official Liberal candidate Sydney Buxton and independent Liberal candidate John Wentworth-Fitzwilliam. The fifth son of the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam, John Wentworth-Fitzwilliam had been an MP since winning a by-election in 1878 (when he was in his mid-twenties) and was the last in a long line of Fitzwilliams which had represented Peterborough almost without a break since the restoration of the monarchy. He defeated Buxton by 54% to 46%, a majority of 258 votes, in the first of a long series of close election results in Peterborough.

Like today, 1885 was a time of major political controversy over a sovereignty issue – in this case, Home Rule for Ireland – and Wentworth-Fitzwilliam was one of the MPs who broke away from Gladstone’s Liberal party to form the Liberal Unionists, who allied themselves with the Conservatives in opposition to home rule. This forced an early general election in 1886, at which Wentworth-Fitzwilliam was re-elected under his new Liberal Unionist colours with a slightly increased majority over the Liberals.

John Wentworth-Fitzwilliam died in 1889, aged just 37, after being thrown off his horse. The resulting by-election was a Liberal gain for Alpheus Morton, an architect and surveyor who was also a councilman of the City of London (he represented Farringdon Without ward from 1882 until his death in 1923) and was largely responsible for opening the gardens at Finsbury Circus to the public. He defeated the new Liberal Unionist candidate, Robert Purvis, on an 8% swing with a majority of 251 votes.

Purvis reduced Morton’s majority to 158 in the 1892 general election, and then got the better of Morton in 1895 with a 5% swing delivering a Liberal Unionist gain with a majority of 239 votes. (This wasn’t the end of Morton’s parliamentary career, as he was elected as MP for Sutherland in 1906 and served until 1918.) Robert Purvis was a barrister and supporter of “imperial preference”. He was narrowly re-elected in 1900 in a contest with a new Liberal candidate, brickmaking entrepreneur and former Spalding MP Halley Stewart, and was knighted in 1905.

Sir Robert Purvis was swept away in the Liberal landslide of 1906 by George Greenwood. One of the select band of MPs to have played first-class cricket (he represented Hampshire in a heavy defeat to Kent, scoring one run in each innings), Greenwood was a barrister and writer who had previously fought Peterborough in the 1886 election. In parliament he supported animal protection measures and independence for India, and served on the RSPCA council; at the same time he was also deeply involved in the Shakespeare authorship controversy, publishing several books which advocated the view that Shakespeare had not written the plays attributed to him (although Greenwood never named another author).

After Purvis unsuccessfully tried to get his seat back in the January 1910 election, the opposition to the Liberals in Peterborough passed from the Liberal Unionists to their allies, the Conservatives. Henry Lygon was selected for the Tories, reducing Greenwood’s majority to 303 votes. A son of the 6th Earl Beauchamp, Lygon was the half-brother of Lady Mary Trefusis (née Lygon), who was a friend of the composer Edward Elgar and is generally thought to be the subject of his thirteenth and penultimate Enigma variation.

At this time the Peterborough constituency was tightly drawn around the core of the city itself, and the Soke was part of the rural constituency of North Northamptonshire. The list of North Northamptonshire’s MPs is even more dominated by the local aristocrats. Brownlow Cecil, Lord Burghley, represented the seat from 1877 until he inherited the title of Marquess of Exeter in 1895, and at the general election of that year Edward Monckton was elected unopposed to replace him.

Monckton retired in 1900 and was replaced by Sackville Stopford-Sackville, who returned as MP for North Northants twenty years after losing his seat in the 1880 election; he was the great-grandson of George Germain, 1st Viscount Sackville, whose monstrous incompetence at both political and military matters had contributed to the loss of the American War of Independence. Stopford-Sackville had inherited Germain’s estate at Drayton House.

In the Liberal landslide of 1906 George Nicholls defeated Stopford-Sackville by 685 votes and gained North Northamptonshire for the Liberals. A smallholder and pastor, Nicholls stood for parliament eight times as a Liberal or Labour candidate but this was his only win, as he lost his seat in January 1910 in the Conservatives’ Hanry Brassey. Nicholls later served as Mayor of Peterborough from 1916 to 1918 and was involved in many agricultural and charitable bodies.

Henry Brassey came from a family which had grown rich thanks to the Industrial Revolution; he was a grandson of Thomas Brassey, a noted civil engineer who made a fortune building railways all over the world. At Thomas’ death in 1870 his estate was valued at £5.2 million; some of that fortune must have come the way of Henry Brassey, who bought the Jacobean Apethorpe Hall from the Earl of Westmoreland in 1904. Brassey was still young enough to serve in the First World War, fighting in the Northamptonshire Yeomanry and the West Kent Yeomanry and reaching the rank of Major.

The 1918 redistribution effectively merged the North Northamptonshire and Peterborough constituencies, to create a new Peterborough constituency which covered the whole of the Soke and adjacent parts of Northamptonshire (including Oundle). The Peterborough MP George Greenwood was by this time suffering from rheumatism and decided to retire, and Henry Brassey fought and won the new Peterborough constituency as a Conservative candidate with the coupon. He was, however, run close by the first Labour candidate for the area, John Mansfield. Mansfield was a trade unionist with the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, and later served as Mayor of Peterborough; a school in the city was later named after him. Brassey and Mansfield fought three more elections against each other, with larger Tory majorities on those occasions.

In 1929 Labour broke through in Peterborough, with Frank Horrabin defeating Brassey by 525 votes. Horrabin was a cartoonist and journalist who had co-written socialist books such as Working Class Education and The Workers History of the General Strike. His tenure as MP for Peterborough was brief, as the Macdonald government fell apart, and the Peterborough constituency swung a mile to the Conservatives in 1931.

The new MP for Peterborough was one of those people whose biographies seem unbelievable. David Cecil, Lord Burghley, was a gifted athlete who three years earlier had won the gold medal in the 400 metres hurdles at the Olympic Games in Amsterdam; he also won three gold medals (in the hurdling events and the 4 x 440 yards relay) at the inaugural Commonwealth Games, held in 1930 in Hamilton, Ontario. Burghley was also the first athlete to complete the Great Court Run, successfully sprinting 367 metres around the Great Court at Trinity College, Cambridge in the time it takes the college’s clock to strike 12 o’clock. The character of Lord Andrew Lindsay in Chariots of Fire was partially based on him.

Lord Burghley may have been an MP, but his athletics career was nor yet over and he was given a leave of absence from the Commons in 1932 to compete in the first Los Angeles Olympics, finishing fourth in the 400 metres hurdles and winning a silver medal as part of the 4 x 400 metres relay team. The following year he became a member of the International Olympic Committee, and in 1936 he as elected chairman of the British Olympic Association.

Burghley resigned from the Commons in 1943 to take up the post of Governor of Bermuda, giving him a curious distinction: he was the last MP for Peterborough to leave at a time of his own choosing. After the Second World War was over Burghley served for thirty years as president of the athletics governing body, the IAAF, and at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics he presented the medals to Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the ceremony which saw the “Black Power” salute. (Burghley is wearing red in the picture below.) By this time he had succeeded to his father’s titles, becoming the 6th Marquess of Exeter.

The Peterborough by-election of October 1943 took place during the wartime political truce but was nonetheless closely contested; Samuel Bennett, who had been selected as the prospective Labour candidate for the anticipated 1939 or 1940 general election, stood as an Independent Labour candidate. Bennett finished close behind the new Conservative candidate John Hely-Hutchinson, Viscount Suirdale.

Hely-Hutchinson was cut from a similar aristocratic stock to Burghley; he was the heir to the Earl of Donoughmore, and in 1948 succeeded to his father’s titles as the 7th Earl. In the Lords he became a prominent Freemason and colonel in the TA, and was kidnapped in 1974 by the IRA who held him for a week as a political hostage. He was also related to the composer Victor Hely-Hutchinson, who was appointed as the BBC’s Director of Music in 1944; both of them were descended from the 4th Earl of Donoughmore. Victor clearly didn’t end up with the family fortune, as he died during the notoriously cold winter of 1947 after refusing to spend licence fee payers’ money on heating his BBC office. Talking of bleak midwinter, this may be a good time to point out that there are only 201 shopping days until Christmas.

Hely-Hutchinson’s succession to the peerage didn’t cause a by-election, as he had lost his seat by 571 votes in the Attlee landslide of 1945. The new Labour MP for Peterborough was Stanley Tiffany, an electrical engineer and Yorkshireman who was a director of the local Co-operative Society.

Tiffany lost his seat in the 1950 election in the first of a series of nailbiting wins for the Conservative MP Harmar Nicholls. A non-practising barrister and chairman of Darlaston urban district council in the Black Country, Nicholls had fought with the Royal Engineers in India and Burma before demobilisation and fought Nelson and Colne in the 1945 general election and Preston in a 1946 by-election. He defeated Stanley Tiffany by 144 votes, increasing his majority to 373 in the 1951 general election.

Nicholls’ majorities then increased to more comfortable levels through the rest of the 1950s; his biggest win came in the Macmillan landslide of 1959 when the Labour candidate was a very young Betty Boothroyd. He was created a baronet in 1960. However, Sir Harmar’s win in the 1966 general election has gone down in the record books: after seven recounts (a figure never surpassed before or since) Sir Harmar was declared the winner over Labour candidate Michael Ward by 23,944 votes to 23,941, a majority of three votes. Don’t let anybody ever tell you your vote never changed anything.

That was the first of four faceoffs between Sir Harmar and Ward. There was another photofinish in February 1974, in which the Pizza Express entrepreneur and prominent local businessman Peter Boizot was the Liberal candidate; Sir Harmar held on on that occasion by 22 votes, but his luck finally ran out in October 1974 when Michael Ward won the seat with a majority of 1,848. That wasn’t the end of Sir Harmar Nicholls’ political career; he was translated to the Lords as Lord Harmar-Nicholls and later served as MEP for Greater Manchester South from 1979 to 1984. His daughter, Sue Nicholls, is famous to millions: she has played Audrey Roberts on Coronation Street since 1985.

During Sir Harmar Nicholls’ tenure as MP for Peterborough the city saw major changes. There was a large influx of immigrants from Italy during the 1950s, many of the Italians finding jobs at the brickworks. The area also saw two bouts of local government reorganisation, with the Soke merging with Huntingdonshire in 1965 to form a new county of “Huntingdon and Peterborough” which was itself absorbed into Cambridgeshire nine years later. The current Peterborough city council dates from 1974 and became a unitary council in the 1990s; as well as all of the old Soke, it includes Peterborough suburbs to the south such as Fletton which were formerly in Huntingdonshire, together with the fenland around Thorney which until 1965 was part of the Isle of Ely. Peterborough was designated as a New Town in 1967 and its population has grown strongly ever since; however, many of the New Town areas were south of the Nene and thus part of the Huntingdonshire constituency until 1983.

Michael Ward was the third Labour MP for Peterborough. A PR firm director, he had been a Havering councillor in east London and local government advisor. Like Frank Horrabin and Stanley Tiffany before him, he did not achieve re-election, as the Conservatives recovered the constituency in 1979.

The new Tory MP was Brian Mawhinney, an Ulsterman who had lectured on radiation in medicine before entering politics. During the Thatcher years Mawhinney slowly worked his way up the ministerial greasy pole, finally entering Cabinet in the accident-prone later years of the Major administration where he was first Transport Secretary and later Conservative Party Chairman/Minister without Portfolio. Mawhinney had large majorities during this period; in 1987 he saw off Andrew Mackinlay, the future Labour MP for Thurrock, by almost 10,000 votes.

There were major boundary changes for the 1997 election which pretty much created the Peterborough seat we have today. Strong population growth in Peterborough and the neighbouring Huntingdon constituency led to the Boundary Commission creating a brand-new seat of North West Cambridgeshire which took in the city’s wards south of the River Nene. This was correctly projected to be a safe Conservative seat, and Brian Mawhinney was re-elected there in 1997, leaving the revised Peterborough as an open seat.

In the Blair landslide teacher Helen Brinton was elected as the fourth Labour MP for Peterborough, defeating the Tories’ Jacqueline Foster (who later served as an MEP for the North West from 1999 to 2004 and again from 2009 to 2019) and the Lib Dems’ David Howarth (who went on to serve as MP for Cambridge from 2005 to 2010). In 2001 Brinton became the first and so far only Labour MP for Peterborough to be re-elected; later that year she married Alan Clark, a political reporter for the Meridian ITV franchise, and changed her name to Helen Clark. Two years later Clark captained the House of Commons team pictured below on a Professionals series of University Challenge: this rogues’ gallery of MPs lost very badly to a team of journalists which included a young man called Michael Gove. (Whatever happened to him? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.)

Clark lost her seat in 2005 to Conservative candidate Stewart Jackson, a prominent Brexiteer who is planted firmly on the right wing of the party. Jackson had previously stood in Peterborough in 2001; before then he was an Ealing councillor from 1990 to 1994, and served half a year as president of the University of London Union before resigning rather than face a confidence motion. In twelve years as an MP Jackson never got above Parliamentary Private Secretary in the ministerial ladder, resigning as PPS in 2011 to vote in favour of an EU referendum. He got back on the ladder in 2016 as PPS to the Brexit secretary David Davis. Jackson rather unexpectedly lost his seat in 2017 to Labour’s Fiona Onasanya, who prevailed by 48% to 47%, a majority of 607 votes; subsequently he became Davis’ special advisor.

Which brings us up to date. The recall petition against Onasanya succeeded, with 19,261 electors or 27.6% of the electorate signing it – far above the 10% threshold required. As a result, Onasanya was unseated and we are having this by-election. This is the first by-election precipitated by a recall petition, but it may not be the last; another petition is open at the moment in the Brecon and Rednorshire constituency, after Tory MP Christopher Davies was fined for submitting false expense claims.

The population of Peterborough has changed very rapidly in recent years thanks to extensive immigration from the post-2001 EU members; in the 2011 census Peterborough’s Central ward was ranked number 5 in England and Wales and Park ward was ranked number 8 for population born in the new EU states. Over 20% of the residents of Central ward (on the 2011 boundaries) had such a place of birth. Many of those people will not have the right to vote in a parliamentary election, where the franchise is restricted to British, Irish and certain Commonwealth citizens. Central ward also had a large Muslim population. The Peterborough district has seen a big population increase, but this has been concentrated in the areas covered by the North West Cambridgeshire constituency whose parliamentary electorate has grown by 23.7% since 2000; the Peterborough constituency’s electorate has actually fallen over that period.

This was one of the councils which the Conservatives lost overall control of in the May 2019 local elections, although the party is still running the city as a minority with the support of the Werrington First group. As can be seen from the map there have been ward boundary changes in Peterborough since the constituency was drawn up; the parts of Central and East wards outside the seat have no population, but the Peterborough constituency only includes half of Fletton and Woodston ward (a strange ward which straddles the Nene) and a small corner of Glinton and Castor. If we include all of Fletton and Woodston but exclude Glinton and Castor, then on 2 May Labour carried the constituency with 33% to 31% for the Conservatives, 14% for the Lib Dems and 8% for UKIP. Those local elections were held on the day after the six-week Onasanya recall petition closed, and since then we have had a European election on 23 May followed by this by-election. Given how busy she has been recently I hope that the Acting Returning Officer for Peterborough has a long holiday booked soon; she deserves it.

It’s exceptionally difficult to map European election results onto parliamentary elections, but since the European elections were only two weeks ago and fresh in the mind we may as well mention it. The Peterborough district as a whole gave 38% to the Brexit Party, 17% to Labour, 15% to the Liberal Democrats and 11% to the Conservatives, who beat the Green Party for fourth place by 31 votes. Figures for this constituency are not available.

Which brings us to this by-election which has a candidate list of 15. Fiona Onasanya was eligible to stand for re-election, but has decided not to do so. Defending for Labour is Lisa Forbes, who fought this seat in 2015 and – as is the case for several candidates in this by-election – was selected before the recall petition had succeeded. The party is almost certainly regretting that decision now, after the Jewish Labour Movement disowned her for anti-Semitism on social media. Ms Forbes is a former Peterborough councillor, serving for Orton Longueville ward (outside this constituency) from 2012 to 2016.

The Conservative candidate is Paul Bristow, a former chairman of the Linford Christie Trust who runs a business “helping charities and patients campaign for greater access to life changing therapies and technologies within the NHS”, according to his website. Bristow is a former Hammersmith and Fulham councillor, and in the 2010 general election he fought Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.

Third here in 2017 were the Liberal Democrats, who have reselected their candidate Beki Sellick. She is an engineer working in the rail industry. The only other party to stand in 2017 were the Greens; they have selected Joseph Wells, who fought Gunthorpe ward in May and polled 4% of the vote.

The bookies’ favourite however is Mike Greene, a self-made man who in 2011 appeared in the Channel 4 series Secret Millionaire. Since then Greene has raised large amounts of money for charities based in Peterborough. He is the first parliamentary candidate for the Brexit Party.

Taking the other ten candidates in ballot paper order, first is Stephen Goldspink who fought this seat in the 1997 general election for the ProLife Alliance, finishing seventh out of seven candidates. Goldspink was subsequently a Peterborough city councillor for ten years, representing East ward for the Conservatives from 2002 to 2012; this times round he has the English Democrats nomination. Howling Laud Hope is the Official Monster Raving Loony Party candidate for the umpteenth time. Pierre Kirk comes hotfoot from the European campaign trail as the candidate of the UK EU Party; two weeks ago he was top of their list in London, polling 0.8%. Andrew Moore is standing as an independent candidate. Standing for the SDP is Patrick O’Flynn, an outgoing MEP for the Eastern region who was elected in 2014 on the UKIP ticket. Two Christian candidates with very similar names appear next to each other on the ballot, Dick Rodgers for Common Good and Tom Rogers for the Christian Peoples Alliance. Independent candidate Bobby Smith, a fathers’ rights activist, will be hoping for more than the three votes he got in the 2017 general election when he stood in the Maidenhead constituency against Theresa May; no doubt he’ll turn up to the count dressed again as Elmo from the Muppets. Peter Ward is the candidate of Renew, a pro-Remain outfit. Completing the ballot paper is a former Peterborough UKIP councillor who lost his seat to the Lib Dems in May, John Whitby.

Picture of Fiona Onasanya’s car speeding from the BBC; picture of the House of Commons University Challenge team from Sean Blanchflower.

Paul Bristow (C)
Lisa Forbes (Lab)
Stephen Goldspink (EDP)
Mike Greene (Brexit Party)
Howling Laud Hope (Loony)
Pierre Kirk (UK EU Party)
Andrew Moore (Ind)
Patrick O’Flynn (SDP)
Dick Rodgers (Common Good)
Tom Rogers (CPA)
Beki Sellick (LD)
Bobby Smith (Ind)
Peter Ward (Renew)
Joseph Wells (Grn)
John Whitby (UKIP)

May 2017 result Lab 22950 C 22343 LD 1597 Grn 848
May 2015 result C 18684 Lab 16759 UKIP 7485 LD 1774 Grn 1218 Lib 639 Ind 516
May 2010 result C 18133 Lab 13272 LD 8816 UKIP 3007 EDP 770 Grn 523 Ind 406

Ross North

Herefordshire council; postponed from 2 May following the death of Gareth Williams, who had been nominated as a UK Independence Party candidate.

There are two other elections going on today, both of which should have taken place on 2 May along with the other ordinary elections but were postponed after a candidate died. We start in the beautiful Welsh Marches with a town where the English tourist industry arguably started, with boat trips on the River Wye and views of the Wye Gorge and Black Mountains drawing visitors as early as the eighteenth century. Observations on the River Wye, a 1782 book by William Gilpin, is cited as the UK’s first illustrated tour guide. As well as the tourism, the town of Ross-on-Wye benefits from accessibility: it’s located on the main road from the English Midlands to South Wales, and is the terminus of the curiously-quiet and very picturesque M50 motorway.

Ross North ward was created in 2015 when the number of councillors for Ross-on-Wye was cut from four to three. The only previous result is from the 2015 election when the Conservatives beat the Lib Dems by 53-47 in a straight fight. The Tory councillor, Jenny Hyde, subsequently died in February 2019; as the May 2019 elections were imminent no by-election was held. Going into those ordinary elections the Tories had a majority on Herefordshire council, but their administration was very unpopular and the party crashed and burned in May; a coalition of independents, the Green Party and localist party It’s Our County has taken over.

Four candidates had originally been nominated, but with Gareth Williams’ death and no new candidates coming forward we are down to three. Defending for the Conservatives is Nigel Gibbs, who was Mayor of Ross-on-Wye in 2017-18. The Liberal Democrats have selected another former Mayor of Ross-on-Wye, former Herefordshire councillor Chris Bartrum. Completing the ballot paper is Melvin Hodges for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Hereford and South Herefordshire

Chris Bartrum (LD)
Nigel Gibbs (C)
Melvin Hodges (Lab)

May 2015 result C 833 LD 744

Wombourne South West

South Staffordshire council; postponed from 2 May following the death of outgoing Conservative councillor Mary Bond, who had been nominated for re-election. She had served since 2007.

We finish for the week at the southern end of Staffordshire. Wombourne is described as a large village, although with a population of over 14,000 “town” would be a better description; it’s located just outside the Black Country, four miles to the south-west of Wolverhampton. To some extent Wombourne is a Black Country centre which escaped the urban sprawl; it had a significant nail-making industry in years gone by, and since the Second World War a large number of people have moved here from the West Midlands towns and cities; particularly so in the 1950s when Wolverhampton Corporation built a large council estate in Wombourne. There is still some industry here, with a significant McCain potato processing plant located in the South West ward.

Wombourne is in the constituency of Gavin Williamson, whose brief recent tenure as Defence Secretary was far more lively than the village’s political scene. South Staffordshire is a strongly Conservative local government district and opposition candidates can be hard to find. Wombourne South West ward last went to the polls all the way back in 2007, when the Conservatives won both seats with 59% of the vote and the Lib Dem candidate was runner-up on 25%. Nobody had challenged the two Conservative candidates, Mary Bond and Mike Davies, since then. Further back in 2003 the ward gained some notoriety as Sharron Edwards, a former deputy leader of the British National Party, topped the poll as candidate of the shortlived Freedon Party; she didn’t seek re-election in 2007. The Conservatives also hold the local county division (Wombourne).

This election will be contested. New candidate Vince Merrick remains from the original Conservative slate; he is joined by replacement candidate Mike Davies, the county councillor for Wombourne and district councillor for this ward since 2011. It appears that Davies had originally intended to retire. Claire McIlvenna stands for the Green Party, Pete Stones is the Lib Dem candidate, and the delay to this poll has allowed Labour to nominate a slate of Adam Freeman and Michael Vaughan.

Parliamentary constituency: South Staffordshire
Staffordshire county council division: Wombourne

Mike Davies (C)
Adam Freeman (Lab)
Claire McIlvenna (Grn)
Vince Merrick (C)
Pete Stones (LD)
Michael Vaughan (Lab)

May 2015 result 2 C unopposed
May 2011 result 2 C unopposed
May 2007 result C 633/604 LD 274 Lab 175
May 2003 result Freedom Party 641 C 483/457

Andrew Teale