Previewing The Littletons (Wychavon) council by-election of 13 Jan 2022

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

There is one by-election on 13th January 2022, as we consider what might appear at first sight to be an everyday story of country folk:

The Littletons

Wychavon council, Worcestershire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Richard Lasota.

Wychavon, The Littletons

After last week’s surprisingly-exciting by-election in the Nottingham suburbs, we move to the Vale of Evesham for the second implicit work event – sorry, council by-election of 2022. The Littletons are three villages, namely South Littleton, Middle Littleton and North Littleton, which can be found a few miles to the north-east of Evesham. The ward named after the three villages also takes in the village of Cleeve Prior to the north.

The largest of these villages is South Littleton, with 1,115 electors on the roll. South Littleton’s population, however, is much larger than this. That’s because the parish includes HM Prison Long Lartin, a maximum-security men’s prison which houses some of the UK’s most notorious offenders. The prison has a capacity of 622, and in 2017 it was reported that two-thirds of Long Lartin’s inmates were serving life sentences. None of these people have the right to vote during their incarceration, although the presence of the prison may account for The Littletons ward appearing in the top 50 wards in England and Wales for the “Inactive: Other” category of economic activity at the 2011 census.

There’s a surprising amount of industry here for such a rural location. Next to Long Lartin prison is part of the large Unipart Logistics base at Honeybourne, which spills over into this ward; in fact the main warehouse on the site straddles the ward boundary. Unipart started off as the parts and services division of British Leyland, and is one of the larger players in the UK’s supply chain: the Honeybourne base is kept busy distributing parts to the automotive industry. However, in jobs terms it may be eclipsed by the Kanes Foods factory in Middle Littleton: Kanes, which prepares and supplies fresh food products, advertises itself as the largest private employer in Worcestershire.

In between all these there are now very few people here employed in agriculture, which was the mainstay of the ward’s economy within living memory. Middle Littleton’s tithe barn, which was built for Evesham Abbey in the 14th century or earlier and is one of the largest tithe barns in England, is now in the hands of the National Trust and open to the public.

Wychavon, 2019

The Littletons is a Conservative ward in elections to Wychavon council, which covers most of eastern Worcestershire including the towns of Evesham, Pershore (where the council is based) and Droitwich. However, it’s not the Tory monolith you might expect from looking at this May’s result in the Littletons division of Worcestershire county council (which covers a larger area).

In 2007, Conservative ward councillor Mary Smith was challenged by independent Richard Lasota. They split the right-wing vote, allowing the Liberal Democrats to come through the middle of a close three-way result to win. In 2011 Lasota secured the Conservative nomination and defeated the Lib Dems by a 55-45 margin. Lasota’s last re-election in 2019 was also by a 55-45 margin, but on that occasion the Green Party were his only challengers. One thing which local by-election watchers may have noticed at the back end of last year is some very good local by-election performances which have put in by the Green Party in odd-looking places, some of which aren’t too dissimilar to The Littletons ward. With the recent Green track record here, this by-election should be watched closely.

Away from the council Richard Lasota had run Happy Little Sole, the fish and chip shop in South Littleton, until it closed down in January 2020 after receiving a one-star rating in a food hygiene inspection. Shortly before his death Lasota had been appointed as chairman of the local non-league football team, Littleton FC. He passed away in September at the age of 71.

Defending for the Conservatives is Mary Smith, who is seeking to make a return to Wychavon council some years after losing her seat in 2007. Smith works as a teaching assistant and is the vice-chairman of Cleeve Prior parish council. The Green Party have selected Hannah Robson, who gives an address in South Littleton. Completing the ballot paper is David Quayle for the Lib Dems, giving The Littletons ward its first three-way contest since 2007.

Parliamentary constituency: Mid Worcestershire
Worcestershire county council division: Littletons
ONS Travel to Work Area: Evesham
Postcode district: WR11

David Quayle (LD)
Hannah Robson (Grn)
Mary Smith (C)

May 2019 result C 398 Grn 331
May 2015 result C 951 Grn 618
May 2011 result C 616 LD 501
May 2007 result LD 390 Ind 385 C 326
May 2003 result C 532 LD 354
Previous results in detail

Catchup

Since there’s not much going on today on the election front, we’ve time to bring you up to date with a couple of other things that have happened this week. First, this column regrets to note the passing of Councillor David Horton, the long-serving chairman of Dibley parish council in Oxfordshire. Horton had also served as a Conservative member of the district council in the past, and he had been appointed MBE for his services to the local community.

A poll to fill a parish council vacancy has to be called by ten electors, rather than two as is the case for a district council by-election in England and Wales. This rule is there to protect small parishes, like Dibley, whose councils might not have the finances to pay for an unscheduled poll. If the required ten signatures aren’t received before the deadline for calling a poll, then Dibley parish council will be able to co-opt someone to fill the vacancy. This column has a long-standing policy of not covering parish council by-elections, but perhaps the BBC will be able to fill us in on the resulting shenanigans in due course.

Our other piece of news is that the Election Court has now disposed of another of the legal cases before it arising from the May 2021 elections. This was the petition relating to the Coldhurst ward of Oldham, which was brought by independent candidate Montaz Ali Azad who had narrowly lost in the ward last year. Mr Azad had made a number of claims, mostly relating to the conduct of the poll by the returning officer and her staff. At a hearing this week the Election Court allowed Mr Azad to withdraw the case, and he will now have to pay the legal costs of the returning officer and the winning Labour candidate. That leaves one outstanding case before the Court, relating to the May 2021 election in the Totteridge and Bowerdean ward of Buckinghamshire council, where a losing Liberal Democrat candidate has made allegations of electoral fraud. Andrew’s Previews will continue to keep an eye on that.


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Andrew Teale