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