Previewing the 10 Jun 2021 council by-elections

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

Two by-elections on 10th June 2021:

Grove Green; and
Lea Bridge

Waltham Forest council, London; caused respectively by the death of Chris Robbins and the resignation of Yemi Osho. Both were Labour councillors.

Welcome to the first Andrew’s Previews of the 2021-22 municipal year. For those who haven’t been here before, this is a theoretically-weekly blog for Britain Elects which covers the most low-profile elections that take place in the UK: by-elections to our local councils. Our remit is to travel up and down the country every week, shining a spotlight on parts of the country which you might know well or not at all, giving a sense of what the area is like and whether you might want to visit. Or not, as the case may be.

At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. However, for pandemic-related reasons there have been no standalone local by-elections in England since March 2020, when Gurdev Singh Hayre was elected as a Labour councillor for the Upper Stoke ward of Coventry. Some local by-elections have taken place in Scotland and Wales since, but all English council vacancies which were unfilled on that date, and everything after that date, had their polling days postponed to May 2021 or cancelled altogether.

The cutoff date for by-elections to be called for May 2021 was the end of March. A number of vacancies have arisen since then, and there is also some unfinished business from 6th May which will be taken care of next week. Your columnist has a list of (at the time of writing) 45 vacancies in our local government, of which 33 have polling dates set over the next two months. There are a lot of interesting races still to come.

Two further by-elections also need to be noted. There was due to be a poll next week in the Caerphilly district of south Wales for the Aber Valley division; this is one of the smaller Valleys, with the division’s population concentrated in the villages of Abertridwr and Senghenydd north-west of Caerphilly town. These are pit villages, and Senghenydd was the scene of the UK’s worst-ever mining disaster: an underground explosion at the Universal Colliery on 14 October 1913 killed 439 miners and a rescuer, a huge loss in a valley whose modern-day population is under 7,000. Subsequent negligence charges led to fines of £24 for the colliery manager and £10 for the colliery company, which was calculated as equivalent to 1s 1¼d per life lost. In more recent times Senghenydd is notable as one of the areas covered by the Caerphilly Heart Disease Study, which since 1979 has tracked the health of adult males in the area who were born in 1918-1938. Aber Valley division has had a full slate of Plaid Cymru councillors since 2008, and Plaid enjoyed a 66-20 lead at the most recent Welsh local elections in May 2017; when nominations for the by-election closed Charlotte Bishop, of Plaid, was the only candidate and she has been declared elected unopposed.

We have also filled the first vacancy among the class of 2021, which arose offshore on the Isles of Scilly. This arises from the retirement of Marion, Lady Berkeley, who had served for many years as a Scilly councillor for the island of Bryher. A few years Marion married Anthony Gueterbock, the 18th Lord Berkeley; as this column has previously noted (Andrew’s Previews 2019, page 44) Lord Berkeley is an active Labour member of the House of Lords, and even in these days of remote sittings it’s rather difficult to do that from the Isles of Scilly. Lord and Lady Berkeley now divide their time between Cornwall and London. Lady Berkeley didn’t seek re-election to the Council of the Isles of Scilly in May’s election, and no candidates came forward to replace her so nominations for Bryher had to be reopened with a new election date set for 24th June. Bryher is one of the smallest electoral units in the UK, with a population comfortably under 100, so a contested election was never likely; when nominations closed for the second time there was just one candidate, local fisherman Andrew Frazer, who was accordingly declared elected unopposed. As with all Scilly councillors, he stood as a non-party candidate. This column sends its congratulations to newly-elected Councillors Bishop and Frazer.

Map of Lea Bridge ward

So, for our first standalone local by-elections in England for 15 months we have to go to that London and the borough of Waltham Forest. In order to reach there we travel to one of the UK’s newest railway stations. Lea Bridge station, after being closed in 1985, reopened in May 2016 with regular trains south to Stratford and north up the Lea Valley. The Lea Bridge itself was originally built in 1745 over the river Lea or Lee (the spelling, like the river, is a little bit fluid), and the Lea Bridge Road over it is the only road link between Hackney and Walthamstow. Unusually for London, Lea Bridge ward includes a significant amount of wild open space: the Leyton and Walthamstow Marshes, much of which are given over as nature reserves or for sport.

Map of Grove Green ward

If you came to Grove Green ward expecting similar open space, then you’d be disappointed. The name refers to a road running along the eastern end of the ward, which has been almost entirely built-up for more than a century. This is a residential area lying between Leyton to the west and Leytonstone to the east; Leyton Midland Road station, on the Gospel Oak-Barking line of the Overground, lies on the ward’s northern boundary.

Like much of East London, the demographic profiles of these wards have been transformed by London’s becoming a world city. In the 2011 census, the most census for which these figures are available, Grove Green ward was in the top 20 wards in England and Wales for population born in the countries which joined the EU this century (16.2%) and within the top 75 in England and Wales for White Other population (24.2%). Lea Bridge is even more of a melting-pot, being in the top 100 wards for those born in EU accession countries (10.6%) and for black population (24.0%), although Asian is in fact the largest ethnic group here (30.3%). Both wards have significant Muslim populations, mostly of Pakistani heritage.

Map of Waltham Forest, 2018

Both wards are also very safe for the Labour party these days. Lea Bridge ward has returned a full slate of Labour councillors at every election this century; Grove Green ward split its three seats between Labour and the Lib Dems in 2002, but has been solidly Labour since 2006. At the most recent Waltham Forest council elections in May 2018, Labour beat the Lib Dems 54-24 in Grove Green and enjoyed a 59-17 lead in Lea Bridge over the Green Party. The 2018 elections returned a strong Labour majority in Waltham Forest, with 46 councillors against 14 Conservatives (all of whom represent wards in the Chingford area), and the safe Labour theme is continued at parliamentary level with both of these wards being (for the moment) in safe Labour parliamentary seats. At present Lea Bridge is part of the Walthamstow constituency, with Grove Green in Leyton and Wanstead; the Boundary Commission for England’s provisional map for the next redistribution of seats doesn’t change that.

In the London Mayor and Assembly elections just five weeks ago, Sadiq Khan beat Shaun Bailey 59-14 in Grove Green and 55-18 in Lea Bridge. The Greens ran second here in the London Members ballot for the Assembly: Grove Green had 54% for Labour against 17% for the Greens and 10% for the Conservatives, while the shares of the vote for those three parties in Lea Bridge were 56%, 16% and 13% respectively. As usual with GLA results quoted by this column, these figures are only for those voting on the day and do not include postal votes, which are tallied at borough level and traditionally skew to the right; however, the May 2021 elections saw a much higher uptake of postal votes than normal, and many boroughs reported unusually little difference between their postal and on-the-day returns.

So we shouldn’t expect too much of a surprise in these two by-elections. The Grove Green by-election is to replace the previous mayor of Waltham Forest, Labour councillor Chris Robbins, who died in April at the age of 76. He had sat on the council since 2002, and became leader of the Labour group in 2009 and Leader of the Council in 2010. Robbins served as council leader for seven years, being appointed CBE in 2017 for his public service, and was elected as mayor for 2019-20; his term was extended to two years on account of the pandemic. Lea Bridge ward is also vacated by a former mayor of Waltham Forest: that’s Yemi Osho, a long-serving nurse who was first elected to the council in 2014 and was the borough’s first citizen in 2017-18.

Defending Lea Bridge for Labour is Jennifer Whilby, a black rights activist and local party officer. The Green candidate for the ward is the unusually-capitalised RoseMary Warrington, who was their parliamentary candidate for Ilford South in December 2019. Also standing are Sazimet Imre for the Conservatives, Naomi McCarthy for the Lib Dems and independent candidate Claire Weiss who has lived in the ward for more than forty years.

In Grove Green the defending Labour candidate is Uzma Rasool, a teacher, researcher and long-standing local resident. The Liberal Democrats have reselected Arran Angus who was runner-up here in 2018; he is currently taking a career break to bring up his children. Completing the Grove Green ballot paper are Mark Dawes for the Green Party, Shahamima Khan for the Conservatives and Kevin Parslow for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

So, there you are. Not the most exciting of Previews this week, but at least we are back to considering local by-elections in England after too long away. And stay tuned for next week’s Previews, which will include a Parliamentary Special.

Grove Green

Current Parliamentary constituency: Leyton and Wanstead
Proposed Parliamentary constituency (from 2023 or later): Leyton and Wanstead
London Assembly constituency: North East
Postcode districts: E10, E11

May 2018 result Lab 2052/2047/1997 LD 897/725/623 Grn 456/416 C 247/216/200 TUSC 128
May 2014 result Lab 1858/1751/1686 LD 1009/865/856 Grn 507/485 C 345/335/335 TUSC 160/86
May 2010 result Lab 2342/2271/2178 LD 1681/1639/1563 C 608/599/594 Grn 429/383
May 2006 result Lab 1517/1430/1356 LD 1286/1173/1171 Grn 480 C 270/265/235
May 2002 result Lab 1169/1081/949 LD 1103/1052/1048 Grn 265/218/167 C 235/226/191 Socialist Alliance 163

May 2021 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1776 C 415 Grn 350 LD 111 Omilana 78 London Real 45 Count Binface 44 Women’s Equality 34 Rejoin EU 29 Reclaim 27 Let London Live 23 Animal Welfare 16 Farah London 16 Heritage 15 Burning Pink 11 Obunge 8 SDP 6 Renew 5 UKIP 5 Fosh 4
London Members: Lab 1671 Grn 511 C 317 LD 183 Women’s Equality 83 Animal Welfare 69 Rejoin EU 60 Reform UK 29 TUSC 28 London Real 24 CPA 19 Comm 19 Let London Live 17 Heritage 13 UKIP 12 SDP 11 Londonpendence 7 Nat Lib 4

Lea Bridge

Current Parliamentary constituency: Walthamstow
Proposed Parliamentary constituency (from 2023 or later): Walthamstow
London Assembly constituency: North East
Postcode districts: E5, E10, E17

Sazimet Imre (C)
Naomi McCarthy (LD)
RoseMary Warrington (Grn)
Claire Weiss (Ind)
Jennifer Whilby (Lab)

May 2018 result Lab 2313/2131/2036 Grn 660 C 408/262/222 LD 252/240/175 TUSC 214 Duma Polska 97
May 2014 result Lab 2259/2020/1871 Grn 619 LD 429/375/233 C 379/370/289 TUSC 276
May 2010 result Lab 2891/2850/2730 LD 1810/1435/618 Grn 711 C 661 Ind 215
May 2006 result Lab 1375/1327/1240 LD 517/509/471 C 451/360/320 Grn 429
May 2002 result Lab 1207/1126/1110 LD 536/427/356 C 463/445/436 Socialist Alliance 120

May 2021 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1690 C 559 Grn 323 Omilana 93 LD 52 London Real 50 Reclaim 44 Let London Live 44 Count Binface 36 Rejoin EU 35 Women’s Equality 30 Farah London 26 UKIP 18 Obinge 17 SDP 14 Animal Welfare 13 Burning Park 11 Heritage 6 Renew 5 Fosh 3
London Members: Lab 1794 Grn 507 C 403 LD 90 Women’s Equality 79 Animal Welfare 56 Rejoin EU 52 CPA 50 Let London Live 29 London Real 27 TUSC 26 UKIP 24 Comm 16 Reform UK 12 SDP 11 Heritage 9 Londonpendence 7 Nat Lib 2

Andrew Teale