Previewing the council by-elections of 29 July 2021

 

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

Before we start this week, it's Correction Corner time. I regret that there was an error in the Liscard preview for Wirral council, in which I incorrectly described Gary Bergin as the candidate of Reform UK; he was in fact nominated by the For Britain Movement. My apologies to Reform UK for the error. I am also grateful to a correspondent from the Land of Plastic for informing me that the two independent councillors in the Wirral are in fact one ex-Labour and one ex-Green, rather than both ex-Labour as I had thought.

Last week's heatwave also saw a nice piece of improvisation from one of the presiding officers in the Fortune Green by-election in Camden:

This may be a good time to remind readers that our polling stations do not run on electricity. The secret ballot is older than the domestic lightbulb. The Representation of the People Act is older than Windows and Macintosh. There is a long history of presiding officers using their own initiative to set up alternatives when the intended polling place is unexpectedly unavailable or, as on the above occasion, unsuitable. Those who think that modern technology can improve our polling stations might wish to consider whether it would be feasible in the above situation.

There are five by-elections on 29th July 2021. The schools have broken up, so inevitably there is rain in the weather forecast; and we try to avoid this by concentrating this week on the drier side of Britain. The Conservatives and Labour have two seats each to defend in the eastern half of England, with the final by-election as an independent defence. We have our first two vacancies from the Class of 2021, and two of this week's polls have rather unusual features. Read on...

Pitsea North West

Basildon council, Essex; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Gavin Callaghan.

Basildon, Pitsea NW

For our first by-election we come to a New Town. Pitsea is one of the villages which was swallowed up to create the New Town of Basildon; the Pitsea North West ward covers the New Town development areas of Felmore (mostly residential) and Burnt Mills (mostly industrial, so hopefully the name is not literal). These can be found at the eastern end of Basildon's built-up area, with the area to the east being green space separating Basildon from the village of Bowes Gifford.

Pitsea North West's 2011 census return has an unusual feature. It makes the top 40 wards in England and Wales for households in shared ownership, which form 4.8% of the ward; within the Eastern region, the only ward with a higher figure on this statistic was Bourn ward in South Cambridgeshire, which at the time covered the very new quasi-New Town of Cambourne. 18 of the top 20 wards in England and Wales for shared ownership are in London, the South East or the Eastern region, with Milton Keynes accounting for 9 of them including all of the top 6. In modern times shared ownership is promoted as a way of getting onto the housing ladder without having to raise the money to buy the house outright, so this clustering in areas with a large number of newish houses and high property prices makes sense. In 2018 the median property within Pitsea North West ward went for around £190,000 to £230,000, and when we look at the ward's educational profile (it's in the top 20 for those educated to Level 1, ie 1-5 GCSE passes or equivalent) and socioeconomic profile (35% in routine occupations) we can see that those prices might not be affordable for a large proportion of the people who might want to live here. The New Town legacy can also be seen in the census return, with just over 1 in 3 households being socially rented.

This mix creates a fascinating marginal ward, which has had at least one Labour councillor consistently since the current boundaries were introduced in 2002 but which the Conservatives and UKIP have won on a number of occasions in the past. The last Conservative win here was in 2010, while the UKIP wins came in 2014 and 2015; the UKIP councillor elected on the second occasion sought re-election as a Conservative in 2019 and was defeated.

Gavin Callaghan was first elected as a councillor for this ward in 2012, gaining his seat from the Tories. He was the Labour parliamentary candidate for Basildon and Billericay in 2015, and in 2017 he was elected as leader of Basildon council at the age of just 28.

This May's elections saw the Conservatives take overall control of Basildon, which had previously been a hung council with a Labour-led administration. Following some defections the Tories now have 24 seats, Labour have 11 plus this vacancy, and the remaining 6 seats are split between two independent groups. Gavin Callaghan was re-elected for a third term in Pitsea North West with a 47-42 lead over the Conservatives, but lost the council leadership. He resigned from the council a month later, indicating that he was looking to pursue other interests. The ward is part of the very large Essex county council division of Basildon Pitsea, which since 2017 has split its two county councillors between the Conservatives and Labour.

The winning Labour county council candidate here in May was Aidan McGurran, who has appeared in this column before: he successfully defended a by-election to Basildon council in Vange ward in 2019 (Andrew's Previews 2019, page 60). At the time he was the managing editor of Mirror Group Newspapers; he now works for a PR agency. McGurran lost re-election in Vange in May, but was elected to Essex county council by defeating his Labour running-mate Patricia Reid.

Aidan McGurran is the defending Labour candidate for this by-election, seeking a quick return to Basildon council. All three defeated candidates for Pitsea North West in May have returned for another go including the Conservatives' Stuart Terson, a local primary school governor and chairman of the Basildon and Pitsea carnival. Also back are Jake Hogg of the Basildon Community Residents Party and the ward's regular Lib Dem candidate Martin Howard, while Christopher Bateman of the For Britain Movement and Daniel Tooley of Reform UK (who stood here in the county elections in May) complete an all-male ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: South Basildon and East Thurrock
Essex county council division: Basildon Pitsea
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southend
Postcode district: SS13

Christopher Bateman (For Britain Movement)
Jake Hogg (Basildon Community Residents Party)
Martin Howard (LD)
Aidan McGurran (Lab)
Stuart Terson (C)
Daniel Tooley (Reform UK)

May 2021 result Lab 1101 C 987 Basildon Community Residents Party 213 LD 63
May 2019 result Lab 885 C 696 LD 246
May 2018 result Lab 956 C 655 UKIP 342 Democrats and Veterans 74
May 2016 result Lab 955 UKIP 720 C 480
May 2015 result UKIP 1731 Lab 1611 C 1424 LD 149
May 2014 result UKIP 1156 Lab 906 C 427 LD 73
May 2012 result Lab 932 C 564 UKIP 323 LD 97
May 2011 result Lab 1111 C 702 UKIP 391 LD 143
May 2010 result C 1654 Lab 1508 LD 770 BNP 460 UKIP 453
May 2008 result C 945 Lab 739 BNP 370 UKIP 266
May 2007 result Lab 734 C 714 BNP 362 UKIP 167 LD 162
May 2006 result C 1014 Lab 882 LD 388
June 2004 result C 838 Lab 789 LD 458
May 2003 result Lab 738 C 541 LD 248
May 2002 result Lab 997/893/856 C 543/491/456 LD 238/229

Gaywood South

Norfolk county council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Thomas Smith.

Norfolk CC, Gaywood S

We travel north from Basildon to the town of King's Lynn. Once most of the most important towns in England as a major port for agricultural East Anglia - a couple of Hanseatic League warehouses still exist here - King's Lynn has declined over the centuries into a provincial backwater. It now forms three-and-a-half divisions of Norfolk county council, of which Gaywood South is the eastern one.

The main feature of this division is the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the main hospital serving western Norfolk and nearby parts of Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire; it was named after Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother who was treated here on a few occasions. Possibly the most famous person to come out of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital's maternity unit was Alan Partridge, who according to my notes entered the world here in 1955. The present hospital was built in 1980 with a projected lifetime for the building of thirty years; forty years on, that projected lifetime has unfortunately proven to be accurate.

Despite its rapidly-decaying state the Queen Elizabeth Hospital dominates the local economy: it is in the Springwood ward of King's Lynn and West Norfolk, which in the 2011 census was the number 1 ward in England and Wales for employment in human health and social work activities (31.5% of those in employment). The other two wards which covered this county division in 2011, Fairstead and Gaywood Chase, are strongly working-class areas: Fairstead made the top 100 wards in England and Wales for semi-routine occupations, and the census picked up a significant Lithuanian minority. We may be remote from the big city here, but Fairstead was originally built as a London overspill estate.

Further housebuilding in the last decade has left the division oversized, and its electorate is now over 20% above the average Norfolk county council division. The Local Government Boundary Commission were intending to redraw the boundaries in advance of this year's election, but their review was knocked off course by the pandemic; instead a new, smaller Gaywood South division will be contested at the Norfolk county elections in 2025.

Although the division stretches to the edge of the town centre, facilities here are few. The Fairstead estate in particular is a seriously deprived area with no surviving pub and where - as the BBC reported earlier this month (link) - the charity shop was recently threatened with closure. Instead it has transformed into the Fairstead Community Shop, although the green armchair inside is not for sale: this is the "worry chair", for visitors to share and halve their problems over tea and biscuits.

Norfolk CC, 2021

Gaywood South was once a safe Labour area but in this century it has often been marginal, and the voters here have elected both Conservative and Labour councillors since 2005. Thomas Smith gained the division from Labour in 2017, and was re-elected in May with an increased majority of 48-36. Shortly afterwards he was offered a job in London, as a journalist on trade magazines, which was too good to turn down. As a diehard Andrew's Previews fan, Smith is clearly a man of good judgment.

So we have a by-election. Defending for the Conservatives is Phil Trask, who as a football referee will be hoping for a fair and clean election. Again, all three defeated candidates from May have returned for another go including Labour's Micaela Bartrum, a 40-year-old mother of two. Also returning are the Lib Dems' Rob Colwell and UKIP's Michael Stone, who are both regular candidates here (Stone finished a close second to Labour in 2013, but has faded since then), while shopowner Robin Talbot completes the ballot paper as an independent candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: North West Norfolk
King's Lynn and West Norfolk district wards: Fairstead, Gaywood Chase (part), Gaywood Clock (part), St Margaret's with St Nicholas (part), Springwood (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: King's Lynn
Postcode district: PE30

Micaela Bartrum (Lab)
Rob Colwell (LD)
Michael Stone (UKIP)
Robin Talbot (Ind)
Phil Trask (C)

May 2021 result C 980 Lab 724 LD 228 UKIP 99
May 2017 result C 857 Lab 758 LD 370 UKIP 230
May 2013 result Lab 835 UKIP 758 C 466 LD 173
June 2009 result C 865 Lab 551 LD 435 UKIP 376 BNP 273 Grn 196
May 2005 result Lab 2130 C 1765 LD 926

East Retford South

Bassetlaw council, Nottinghamshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Helen Richards, who is seeking re-election as an independent candidate.

Bassetlaw, E Retford S

We travel north to Retford, or East Retford as it's sometimes called. This is the smaller of the two major towns in the Bassetlaw district of Nottinghamshire, the other being Worksop. Worksop is a larger town, but Retford is better connected thanks to its location on the original Great North Road and the East Coast Main Line; these connections resulted in Retford having a market charter of unusually long standing.

East Retford was one of the most notorious rotten boroughs of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. In the eighteenth century it had been a pocket borough controlled by the Duke of Newcastle, who was the main landowner in the area, but by the 1820s East Retford was at the centre of a power struggle between Newcastle, Earl Fitzwilliam and the borough corporation's preferred candidates. This was good news for the town's freemen, who were paid large bribes for their votes by potential candidates; at a going rate of around 20 guineas per vote, and with the freemen trying to ensure that enough votes were bought to avoid the election being contested, campaigning here was an expensive business. Matters came to a head in the 1826 election which ended in a riot and with the result being voided by the House of Commons for corruption. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to disenfranchise the town, Parliament eventually extended the boundaries of the East Retford borough to cover the entire Wapentake of Bassetlaw, ensuring that the town's corrupt freemen could be comfortably outvoted in future.

Nearly 200 years down the line, the modern Bassetlaw constituency remains interesting for its politics. This was gained by the Conservatives in the December 2019 general election with an enormous majority on an enormous swing, and the Tories followed up on that in May by gaining two county seats from Labour here (Worksop North and Worksop South) and overall control of Nottinghamshire county council. Those gains involved enormous swings; by contrast, the swing in the local Retford East county division, a key marginal the Tories were defending, was under 3%. Mike Introna increased the Conservative majority from 37 votes to 212.

Bassetlaw, 2019

By contrast the last Bassetlaw district elections, in May 2019, were very poor for the Conservatives who only won one council seat within the constituency. East Retford South ward, covering the Ordsall area to the south of the railway lines, is a strongly working-class area which has returned Labour councillors on every occasion since 2002 with the exception of a Conservative win in 2008. In May 2019 Labour enjoyed a 68-17 win here over Introna, who on that occasion had the UKIP nomination.

Labour councillor Helen Richards had represented the ward since 2015, and was the losing Labour candidate in Retford East in May. She resigned from Bassetlaw council in June in protest at plans for a new development of 1,250 homes in East Retford South ward.

Having reviewed the situation, Helen Richards is now seeking re-election as an independent candidate, presumably on an anti-development ticket, in the by-election caused by her own resignation. Labour will want their seat back and have selected James Napier, who was a close runner-up in the other Retford county division in May. This may present an opening for Mike Introna, the runner-up here in May 2019, who is the Conservative candidate. That is your three-person ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Bassetlaw
Nottinghamshire county council division: Retford East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Worksop and Retford
Postcode district: DN22

Mike Introna (C)
James Napier (Lab)
Helen Richards (Ind)

May 2019 result Lab 897/679 UKIP 228 C 197/179
May 2015 result Lab 1194/1186 C 689 UKIP 488
May 2014 result Lab 642 UKIP 314 C 220
May 2012 result Lab 831 C 331
May 2010 result Lab 1287 C 730
May 2008 result C 526 Lab 459
May 2006 result Lab 618 C 468
June 2004 result Lab 746 C 575
May 2002 result Lab 591/527 C 283/261

Knaresborough Scriven Park

Harrogate council, North Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Samantha Mearns.

Harrogate, Knaresborough Scriven Park

For our Yorkshire by-election today we come to Knaresborough, a market town on the River Nidd which grew up around a Norman castle. This was held in the mid-12th century by Hugh de Morville, one of the four knights who murdered Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170; the assassins took refuge in Knaresborough Castle for a while before eventually being sent in disgrace to the Holy Land, from which they did not return. The Nidd runs through the town in a steep-sided and attractive gorge, and the town is photogenic enough that readers of a certain age might recognise it as the scene of the election in the opening episode of The New Statesman.

Knaresborough is one of the three major settlements in the Harrogate local government district, which extends into the Yorkshire Dales to take in Ripon, Masham and Pateley Bridge and whose acreage isn't far off that of Greater London. It appears that this isn't good enough for the government, who last week announced plans to sweep away all the district councils in North Yorkshire and replace them with a single unitary council for the whole county (except the city of York). That's one council for an area stretching from Settle to Selby to Scarborough and whose internal communications (with the exception of the A1(M)) are generally poor. Another piece of work brought to you by the cabinet minister responsible for local government, Robert Jenrick.

Harrogate, 2018

Harrogate's ward boundaries were redrawn in 2018 and, in all probability, won't be used again for an ordinary election. Scriven Park is the northern of the four wards covering Knaresborough, stretching along the road towards Boroughbridge, and it was very close in 2018 between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats: the Conservatives won with 38% of the vote to 37% for the Lib Dems and 24% for Labour, a majority of 16 votes. The Conservatives have a large majority on Harrogate council.

The Knaresborough division elects two members of North Yorkshire county council, and was a Conservative gain from the Lib Dems in May 2017. The 2021 county elections were cancelled in advance of the reorganisation and Harrogate council's next ordinary election isn't due until 2022, so the last local election here was a county council by-election in August 2018 (Andrew's Previews 2018, page 291) in which the Lib Dems took back one of the Knaresborough seats they had lost the previous year.

This by-election comes after the resignation of Conservative councillor Samantha Mearns, who is stepping down following a number of health issues among her family members. Cllr Mearns had also come under scrutiny following the collapse of her husband's car dealership in 2019, with allegations that a number of Porsches had gone missing. She was in her first term on the council, having served since 2018.

Defending for the Conservatives is Jaqui Renton, a former pub landlady. The Liberal Democrats have selected Hannah Gostlow, a Knaresborough town councillor. The Labour candidate is Sharon Calvert, a special needs teacher. Completing the ballot paper is Harvey Alexander for UKIP. The Local Democracy Reporting Service has interviewed all the candidates, and you can find out more from the Harrogate Advertiser here (link).

Parliamentary constituency: Harrogate and Knaresborough
North Yorkshire county council division: Knaresborough
ONS Travel to Work Area: Harrogate
Postcode district: HG5

Harvey Alexander (UKIP)
Sharon Calvert (Lab)
Hannah Gostlow (LD)
Jaqui Renton (C)

May 2018 result C 457 LD 441 Lab 291

Fellgate and Hedworth

South Tyneside council, Tyne and Wear; caused by the resignation of independent councillor John Robertson, who is seeking re-election.

S Tyneside, Fellgate and Hedworth

For our final by-election of the week we travel to the north-east. Fellgate and Hedworth can be found at the southern end of the town of Jarrow, on the edge of the Tyne and Wear built-up area. The ward's housing is concentrated in the northern corner, between the A19 and A194 dual carriageways as they approach the Tyne Tunnel; but the ward also includes a large open area to the south. Like most of the wards we have featured this week, this is a working-class area: Fellgate and Hedworth also makes the top 80 wards in England and Wales for those with Apprenticeship qualifications (7.1% of the workforce) and for those born in the UK (98.4%). Fellgate station, on the Tyne and Wear Metro, links the area to the centres of Gateshead and Newcastle.

While this has normally been a Labour-voting ward in recent years, Fellgate and Hedworth has shown that it can vote for independent candidates under the right circumstances. In the period 2006-08 it returned three independent councillors, Steven Harrison, George Waddle and Geraldine White. Waddle retired in 2011 and was replaced by Linda Hemmer; White lost re-election in 2012 as an independent candidate, and Harrison and Hemmer lost re-election in 2014 and 2015 respectively as UKIP candidates.

Since then Fellgate and Hedworth has generally been Labour-voting: in May Labour defeated independent candidate John Cullen here by 54-28. The exception to this pattern was 2019 when the ward returned independent candidate John Robertson. Robertson has previous with South Tyneside council: in 2011 he deliberately drove a lorry into a council office building following a row over contracts, causing over £160,000 worth of damage. For that he subsequently got 40 weeks in prison, suspended, and was declared bankrupt.

Robertson's bad behaviour did not stop when he was elected, nor when he became leader of the Independent Alliance opposition group on the council. He got straight into hot water over an offensive social media post aimed at one of his constituents, Michelle Potts, whose husband Jay's sister is divorced from Robertson (link). In February 2021 he was sanctioned by the council's standards committee for bullying a Labour councillor on social media, and suspended from the Jarrow and Boldon Community Area Forum (link). A month later the council sanctioned him again, this time for email and social media harassment of a senior officer at South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group; the council ordered that all Robertson's outgoing council emails be monitored by officers (link).

In yet another apparent rush of blood to the head, Robertson sent in a resignation letter to the council in June and posted a copy of it to his Facebook (link). He then had second thoughts, tried to retract his resignation and found out, as this column has previously discussed (Andrew's Previews 2018, pages 84 to 87), that you can't do that.

Instead, John Robertson is seeking re-election in the by-election caused by his own resignation. To stand against him Labour have selected the aforementioned Jay Potts. Also standing are Chris Smith for the Conservatives, Kelly Hill for the Green Party (who stood here in May), and David Wilkinson for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Jarrow
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newcastle
Postcode districts: NE10, NE31, NE32, NE36, NE37

Kelly Hill (Grn)
Jay Potts (Lab)
John Robertson (Ind)
Chris Smith (C)
David Wilkinson (LD)

May 2021 result Lab 1264 Ind 643 C 290 Grn 69 Ind 61
May 2019 result Ind 1163 Lab 959 LD 199 C 108
May 2018 result Lab 1365 Ind 460 LD 325 C 140 Grn 61
May 2016 result Lab 1541 C 282 Grn 248
May 2015 result Lab 2042 UKIP 1075 C 329 Grn 131
May 2014 result Lab 1163 UKIP 981 C 132
May 2012 result Lab 1226 Ind 786 BNP 83 C 81 Lib 33
May 2011 result Ind 1234 Lab 1101 C 113 BNP 76
May 2010 result Ind 1492 Lab 1478 C 336 BNP 236
May 2008 result Ind 1212 Lab 1090 C 209
May 2007 result Ind 1169 Lab 855 C 150 Grn 139
May 2006 result Ind 1162 Lab 852 C 187

June 2004 result Lab 1116/1071/1011 C 647


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 council by-elections of 22 July 2021

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

It's 22/7, and Andrew's Previews wishes a happy Pi Approximation Day to all readers. To celebrate in this heatwave, let's take a tour of the eight by-elections today in England and Wales. We have some hot electoral action to match this hot weather, with Labour defending three seats, two Conservative defences in Kent, a Lib Dem defence in London and, unusually, rather a focus on the Green Party. They have one defence and a good chance of a gain in an open seat which we start with:

Congresbury and Puxton

North Somerset council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Stuart Treadaway.

North Somerset, Congresbury and Puxton

Environmentalism has become a feature of our politics over the last few decades. The work which has already been done in this country is impressive. Within living memory there were times when the air we breathe was so polluted it could be impossible to see across a London street in choking fog, and the UK's rivers were, in many cases, lifeless drains for industrial and agricultural chemicals.

How times have changed. Smoke no longer fills the air from every industrial or domestic chimney, and (unless it's raining) the hills on the far horizons tempt the eye to look outwards for many miles from high viewpoints. Our coal-fired power stations now lie for the most part idle, superseded by wind turbines that rotate out to sea. Wheelie bins multiply and bring colour to our back yards, stopping our rubbish from going to waste. Our post-industrial landscapes have gone back to nature, which has taken up the task enthusiastically. The talk for the future is all of electric cars and environmental friendliness.

That doesn't mean everything is well in the garden. There's a lot to do to consolidate these gains and preserve them for the next generation. As usual, some of this will end up getting political; and in this argument there is one party whose raison d'être is environmentalism.

The Green Party has done very well at the ballot box in recent years. The most recent local elections cycle was their best ever: the party now has over 400 local councillors and is represented on more councils than ever before. The Greens run Brighton and Hove council as a minority, a Green-led administration has recently taken over in Lancaster, and the party participates in a number of ruling coalitions in other councils including North Somerset council. The Greens are now tied with Labour for the most council seats in Bristol, and are the official opposition in Mid Suffolk, Norwich and Solihull. Proportional representation has ensured that the Green Party has been consistently represented in the Scottish Parliament and the London Assembly since their formation over two decades ago, and the Greens' single MP Caroline Lucas was re-elected in December 2019 for her fourth term of office.

Not bad work for a minor party whose core vote is not geographically concentrated, and which accordingly struggles with England's first-past-the-post electoral system. Forty years ago, there were no Green councillors at all (indeed, the party was still known then by its previous name, the Ecology Party). Their breakthrough came in local government in the 1986 local elections in which the party won its first two council seats. One was won by John Marjoram, who was elected by the Trinity ward of Stroud council in Gloucestershire and was still a councillor there until he retired in May this year. The other was won by Richard Lawson. He was a GP from the village of Congresbury, located a few miles to the east of Weston-super-Mare in what was then the county of Avon, and he defeated an independent councillor to win the Congresbury ward of Woodspring council.

Once the Green Party get a foothold in a ward they have proven hard for other parties to shift. Congresbury continued to elect Dr Lawson and his Green successors continuously from 1986 until 2019. In that time, Woodspring council became a unitary council in 1995 under the name of North Somerset, and Congresbury ward was redrawn in 2015 and renamed as Congresbury and Puxton.

North Somerset, 2019

In 2019 the Green councillor Thomas Leimdorfer retired and the party didn't nominate a candidate to succeed him. Into this political vacuum stepped the Liberal Democrats' Stuart Treadaway, who defeated Labour by the score of 54-32. The Conservatives had been in second place last time, but fell to a poor third: they generally did badly in North Somerset in 2019, losing control of the council to an independent-led rainbow coalition.

This by-election is caused by Stuart Treadaway's resignation. The Lib Dems have not nominated a candidate to succeed him, so we have a free-for-all! Second last time were Labour who have selected Dawn Parry, a former Conservative figure: she was a North Somerset councillor for Weston-super-Mare West ward from 2007 to 2011 and fought Newport East as the Conservative candidate in the 2010 general election. Today Parry is a parish councillor in Banwell, just to the south, and runs a film production company. The Conservatives have reselected their usual candidate for this ward Samantha Pepperall, who runs a stables in the village of Wick St Lawrence to the west. However, given the ward's previous history the candidate to beat here is probably Phil Neve of the Green Party, whose LinkedIn profile describes him as "allegedly retired but not often unbusy". Neve has recently retired (allegedly) from a career in designing and building energy-efficient and sustainable houses; he is the chairman of Wrington parish council to the east, and was the Green candidate for North Somerset in the December 2019 general election. Those are your three candidates.

Parliamentary constituency: Weston-super-Mare
ONS Travel to Work Area: Weston-super-Mare
Postcode districts: BS24, BS40, BS49

Phil Neve (Grn)
Dawn Parry (Lab)
Samantha Pepperall (C)

May 2019 result LD 664 Lab 391 C 166
May 2015 result Grn 1269 C 787 Lab 222

Tyn-y-nant

Rhondda Cynon Taf council, Glamorgan; caused by the death of Labour councillor Clayton Willis.

RCT, Tyn-y-nant

We cross the Bristol Channel for our Welsh by-election today. The village of Tynant, to give it the Anglicised name it's usually known by in the area, lies around 4 miles south of Pontypridd; it has effectively merged with the neighbouring village of Beddau to the west to form a single urban area, although Beddau and Tynant are still separate wards of Rhondda Cynon Taf council. As with many villages in south Wales, Tynant is a former pit village which was dependent on its colliery: specifically Cwm Colliery, which was sunk in 1909 to provide coal for the Great Western Railway's locomotives. Cwm Colliery closed in 1986, but the associated coking plant stayed in production all the way to 2002 and is still there today, lying derelict while arguments are made over its redevelopment.

Like many pit villages, the area's best-known local heroes are sportsmen and women. A number of pupils at the secondary school for Beddau and Tynant, Bryn Celynnog, have gone on to play top-level sport: recent pupils here include the Paralympic table tennis player Sara Head and the legendary Wales prop of recent years Gethin Jenkins.

RhCT, 2017

Welsh local government was reorganised in 1995 creating the present Rhondda Cynon Taf council, and local man Clayton Willis had represented Tyn-y-nant continuously from then until his death last month at the age of 80. He had served on Rhondda Cynon Taf's cabinet from 2004 to 2014. Willis enjoyed very large majorities in his ward: his final re-election in 2017 was with the unusually close lead of 72-28 over the Conservatives, who had stood here for the first time. The Conservatives only have a handful of seats on Rhondda Cynon Taf council, which has a large Labour majority: Plaid Cymru are the largest opposition party. Tyn-y-nant is part of the Pontypridd constituency, which comfortably re-elected Labour MS Mick Antoniw in May.

A quick note on the maps. The map at the top of this section shows the present boundaries of Tyn-y-nant ward, which were modified in 2017 following changes to the boundary between the Llantrisant Town and Llantwit Fardre communities; in particular, the Cwm Colliery site was transferred into this division from Llantwit Fardre division. The map of the 2017 election results has not been updated to reflect these changes and shows the previous boundaries of the ward. Apologies for any confusion.

Defending for Labour is Julie Barton, a media consultant who sits on Llantrisant community council for the neighbouring Beddau ward. The Conservatives have selected Rob Green, who gives an address in Church Village to the east of the ward. Completing the ballot paper is Ioan Bellin for Plaid Cymru. All the candidates have been interviewed by Wales Online, and you can find out more here (link).

Parliamentary and Senedd constituency: Pontypridd
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cardiff
Postcode district: CF38

Julie Barton (Lab)
Ioan Bellin (PC)
Rob Green (C)

May 2017 result Lab 557 C 215
May 2012 result Lab 791 PC 116
May 2008 result Lab 700 PC 223
June 2004 result Lab 675 PC 219
May 1999 result Lab 890 PC 285
May 1995 result Lab 1018 PC 165

Liscard

Wirral council, Merseyside; caused the resignation of Labour councillor Sarah Spoor.

Wirral, Liscard

From the land of Wales we come to the island of the Welsh, as "Wallasey" literally means. Liscard (which, appropriately enough, is a Celtic name) is the middle of three extensively built-up wards on the Mersey side of the Wirral peninsula, lying in between the docks of Seacombe to the south and the sands of New Brighton to the north. The pedestrianised Egremont Promenade gives excellent views over the river to the Liverpool docks, while inland the Cherry Tree shopping centre acts as a focal point for the ward. All of the ward is in the bottom half of the deprivation indices (most of it in the most deprived 20%), and just 23% of the population are educated to degree level.

This is a good point to pick up an article which this column's genial host Ben Walker contributed to the New Statesman last month entitled "Which of the Conservatives’ “Blue Wall” seats are most vulnerable?" (link). Walker identified a number of deprived and/or Leave-voting areas in the Midlands and South, such as Shropshire and Worthing, which the Conservatives hold but where they are struggling in local elections. He goes on to say:

Here, again, are constituencies that have become more competitive despite supposedly favourable demographics for the Tories. This phenomenon, as also seen in areas such as Sunderland and the Wirral, could be attributed to parties being in power for prolonged periods of time without any effective opposition. In the instance of Sunderland and the Wirral, those establishments were Labour, but in the case of Worthing and Shropshire, they happened to be Conservative.

This column would have no difficulty agreeing with that assessment in the case of Sunderland, which has had a continuous Labour majority for decades; but with due respect to my host the Wirral is a bit of a different case. It's not all Birkenhead. There are some seriously attractive areas on the peninsula like West Kirby and Hoylake which give the Conservatives a secure base on the council even in their worst years, and which returned a Conservative MP solidly until 1997. Wirral council had a Conservative majority from its creation in 1974 until 1986, and since then it has alternated between Labour majorities and hung councils. As recently as 2008-2011 the Conservatives were the largest party, with Labour then in majority control from 2012 to 2021 when the council became hung again. The latest composition is 29 Labour councillors (plus this vacancy) forming a minority administration, against 23 Conservatives, 6 Lib Dems, 5 Greens and 2 independents who, I think, were originally elected as Labour.

Wirral, 2021

Conservative majorities on the Wirral have historically always included Liscard ward, which had a full slate of Conservative councillors until 1984 and again from 2008 to 2010. The ward has swung strongly to the left since 2010 in line with most of Merseyside, and interestingly the Labour vote has held up a lot better in the Wallasey wards than it has in Birkenhead where the Greens (as can be seen from the map) are doing very well at the moment. The Green Party were a very distant third in Liscard in May, with Labour beating the Conservatives here 57-26.

Sarah Spoor has resigned as a Labour councillor just over two years into her first term, indicating that she had been unable to juggle her work, family and democratic commitments. Defending the by-election to replace her is Labour candidate Daisy Kenny, a business support co-ordinator. The Conservatives have reselected their candidate from May Jane Owens, who was appointed MBE in 2016 for services to education on the Wirral; she is the chair of governors at a number of local schools. Also standing are Edward Lamb for the Green Party, Sue Arrowsmith (who has fought the ward at the last three elections) for the Liberal Democrats, Gary Bergin for Reform UK and independent candidate Lynda Williams, who finished second here in 2014 and 2015 as the UKIP candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Wallasey
ONS Travel to Work Area: Birkenhead
Postcode districts: CH44, CH45

Sue Arrowsmith (LD)
Gary Bergin (Reform UK)
Daisy Kenny (Lab)
Edward Lamb (Grn)
Jane Owens (C)
Lynda Williams (Ind)

May 2021 result Lab 1898 C 875 Grn 271 LD 221 Reform UK 71
May 2019 result Lab 1733 C 609 UKIP 374 Grn 360 LD 319
May 2018 result Lab 2241 C 756 LD 337 Grn 190
May 2016 double vacancy Lab 2240/1672 C 690/427 UKIP 504 Grn 338 LD 280
May 2015 result Lab 4397 UKIP 1352 LD 578 Grn 542 TUSC 118
May 2014 result Lab 1619 UKIP 815 C 649 Grn 273 LD 94
May 2012 result Lab 1882 C 1261 UKIP 400 Grn 230
May 2011 result Lab 2523 C 1673 UKIP 204 Grn 146 LD 121
May 2010 result Lab 3220 C 2474 LD 718 UKIP 238 Grn 231
May 2008 result C 2122 Lab 1369 UKIP 304 LD 195 Grn 159
May 2007 result C 2116 Lab 1609 LD 244 UKIP 149 Grn 143
May 2006 result C 2047 Lab 1396 LD 286 Grn 209 UKIP 166
June 2004 result Lab 1908/1789/1776 C 1760/1516/1450 LD 653/630/590

Humberstone and Hamilton

Leicester council; caused by the death of councillor John Thomas, who was elected for Labour but had been sitting as an independent.

Leicester, Humberstone and Hamilton

For our final Labour defence this week we come to the north-east corner of the city of Leicester. As the compound name suggests, Humberstone and Hamilton ward covers a number of different areas of the city: Humberstone itself is an old village which has been absorbed by Leicester's growth, Humberstone Garden is a garden city-style development from the turn of the 20th century, while Hamilton is a modern estate on the edge of the city. The ward is majority non-white and makes the top 40 wards in England and Wales for Hinduism (21% of the population).

This ward is part of the Leicester East constituency, which has been on the potential parliamentary by-election watchlist for some considerable time due to the behaviour of its MPs. From 1987 to 2019 it was represented by someone whose whose parliamentary career was not exactly a quiet one, the Labour MP Keith Vaz. (Apologies to any readers who may have been playing the Keith Vaz game). Vaz was replaced in 2019 by Islington Labour councillor Claudia Webbe, who was subsequently charged with harassment: she was due to stand trial in March this year, but the trial had to be adjourned after her defence barrister was taken ill and had to be sent to hospital. Also in March Webbe resigned her previous elected role on Islington council in London, and the by-election to replace her there was duly held in May.

The selection process that produced Webbe had been controversial, and was one factor in the resignation from the Labour party of Humberstone and Hamilton ward councillor John Thomas, a former Lord Mayor of Leicester who had been chair of the party's Leicester East branch. He was first elected to the city council in 1993 and had continuous service since 1999. In 2019 Thomas transferred to Humberstone and Hamilton ward which is, like most of the city, a safe Labour area: the Labour slate polled 49% of the vote that May against 26% for the Conservatives and 15% for the Green Party. John Thomas died in May after a long illness, aged 77.

Leicester, 2019

Thomas' resignation from Labour made no difference to the running of Leicester council, which has a directly-elected Labour mayor (Sir Peter Soulsby), and where the 2019 elections returned 53 Labour council seats out of a possible 54. The one that got away is a Liberal Democrat seat in Aylestone ward, at the other end of the city.

Defending for Labour is Abdul Abdul Ghafoor. The Conservatives have selected Daniel Crewe, a local builder. The Green candidate is Pam Bellinger, who appears to be linked to the local branch of Extinction Rebellion. Also standing are Bicram Athwal for the Liberal Democrats, David Haslett for the For Britain Movement and Raj Solanki for Reform UK.

Parliamentary constituency: Leicester East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode districts: LE5, LE7

Abdul Abdul Ghafoor (Lab)
Bicram Athwal (LD)
Pam Bellinger (Grn)
Daniel Crewe (C)
David Haslett (For Britain Movement)
Raj Solanki (Reform UK)

May 2019 result Lab 2095/1905/1895 C 1128/958/903 Grn 650 LD 421
May 2015 result Lab 3035/2759/2620 C 1983/1813/1624 UKIP 1021/9218/898 Grn 676 TUSC 368/320 Ind 205

Fortune Green

Camden council, London; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Flick Rea.

Camden, Fortune Green

We start the second half of this week's Previews with two polls in what was once Middlesex. The county of Middlesex, of course, no longer exists except in the anachronistic dreams of the Association of British Counties, having been almost entirely swallowed up by the growth of London. One of the first parts of it to disappear, becoming part of the County of London in the 1880s, was Fortune Green.

Fortune Green itself is an area of open space between Finchley Road and the Midland railway line, adjacent to Hampstead Cemetery. The ward of the name is often linked with West Hampstead to the south; there are no railway or Underground stations within the boundary, although Kilburn underground station is just off the southern corner. Fortune Green's census return from 2011 paints a picture of a generally middle-class area with very high levels of immigration from Ireland and other EU-15 countries: the ward was in the top 10 in England and Wales for those who did not answer the census' religion question (21.2%) and also made the top 100 for the White Other ethnic group (25.6%) and for those educated to degree level (57.8%).

Until the advent of Coalition Fortune Green was a safe Liberal Democrat ward and a secure base for one of the party's longest-serving councillors in London. Felicity "Flick" Rea had served as a councillor for this ward since 1986, and this by-election has come about because of her retirement after 35 years in office. It's clearly her personal vote which has enabled her to hold on for so long: Labour drew level with the Lib Dems here in 2014 and have held the ward's other two seats since then. The shares of the vote at the last Camden elections in 2018 were 36% each for the Lib Dems and Labour and 18% for the Conservatives. Camden council has a strong Labour majority, and Rea was one of only three Lib Dems elected to the council that year (the other two were in Belsize ward, a three-way marginal).

Camden, 2018

The Liberal Democrats generally do not perform well in London Assembly elections, and in May they placed fourth here in both the Mayoral and London Member ballots. The ward's ballot boxes gave 47% to Sadiq Khan, 23% to the Conservatives' Shaun Bailey and 10% to the Greens' Siân Berry, who represents Highgate on Camden council; she narrowly beat the Lib Dems for third place. The London Members ballot split 41% for Labour, 20% for the Conservatives, 16% for the Greens and 14% for the Lib Dems.

So this could be a difficult defence for the Lib Dems' Nancy Jirira, who won a by-election for this ward in February 2008 and served as a councillor for Fortune Green until losing her seat in 2014. (The Labour candidate she defeated in the 2008 by-election was Tulip Siddiq, who is now the MP for the local seat of Hampstead and Kilburn.) Jirira is a long-serving NHS nurse. Labour have selected Lorna Greenwood, who works in the arts and charity sector. Completing the ballot paper is a Conservative candidate whom the party intriguingly describe as "dry cleaner to the stars": he is Ian Cohen, who previously stood in this ward in 2014.

Parliamentary constituency: Hampstead and Kilburn
London Assembly constituency: Barnet and Camden
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: NW2, NW3, NW6

Ian Cohen (C)
Lorna Greenwood (Lab)
Nancy Jirira (LD)

May 2018 result LD 1496/1209/1138 Lab 1468/1353/1326 C 758/663/659 Grn 378
May 2014 result LD 1151/950/865 Lab 1028/967/904 C 893/739/686 Grn 403/326/318
May 2010 result LD 2123/1898/1788 C 1342/1335/1326 Lab 1207/1190/1177 Grn 595/536/287
February 2008 by-election LD 1206 C 551 Lab 405 Grn 178
May 2006 result LD 1446/1187/1132 C 667/608/576 Lab 580/545/402 Grn 354/305/291
May 2002 result LD 1295/1121/1111 Lab 483/414/409 C 326/323/314 Grn 221/199/132

May 2021 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 986 C 477 Grn 214 LD 209 Omilana 41 Reclaim 37 Count Binface 21 Rejoin EU 19 Women's Equality 19 Let London Live 17 London Real Party 16 UKIP 8 Animal Welfare 8 Obunge 8 Heritage Party 7 Farah London 6 Fosh 5 Renew 4 SDP 3 Burning Park 1
London Members: Lab 865 C 425 Grn 330 LD 291 Women's Equality 49 Animal Welfare 40 Rejoin EU 30 Reform UK 16 UKIP 13 CPA 12 Let London Live 9 Heritage Party 8 Comm 7 London Real Party 6 Londonpendence 5 SDP 4 TUSC 4 National Liberal 2

Staines

Spelthorne council, Surrey; caused by the resignation of Green Party councillor Jan Doerful.

Big up da West Staines Massive there. Yes, we have come to the home town of Ali G, a character of Sacha Baron Cohen who first hit our screens on The Eleven O'Clock Show more than two decades ago. (God, that makes me feel old.) For the benefit of those who are too young, too old or too uncool to remember Ali G, his shtick was to conduct a series of interviews, like the one above, with public figures and celebrities with the intention of getting them to say or do something stupid.

Spelthorne, Staines

Ali G's home town was of course Staines, a town on the north bank of the River Thames which was one of the few parts of Middlesex to escape incorporation into Greater London; it was instead transferred to Surrey in 1965. Since 1974 the parts of Surrey north of the Thames, including Staines-upon-Thames (as it now is), have formed the Spelthorne local government district.

Although Staines is outside Greater London, it is still within the M25 motorway and the town centre's railway station has very frequent trains to Waterloo station. Staines is also just a few miles to the south of Heathrow Airport, which has been badly hit by the current public health emergency.

This drastic downturn in Spelthorne's economy may spell bad news for the council. Spelthorne council's Conservative leadership had a cunning plan to offset the effect of cuts to local government by investing heavily in commercial property which could generate a solid rental income. Since 2016 the council has borrowed more than £1 billion from the Public Works Loans Board - equivalent to around 100 years' revenue - to buy a number of large office blocks and commercial developments in and around the district. While the developments are continuing to generate rent as intended, the council's auditors were reportedly not happy and the amount of debt involved could leave the council badly exposed in the event that the economy turns down - oh.

The Conservatives suffered large losses in the May 2019 Spelthorne elections, although they kept their majority in the council chamber at the time. However, the above scandal has led to a major split in the Conservative group which has left the council in a rather unstable state. The May 2021 AGM deposed the rump of the ruling Conservatives and elected a Liberal Democrat leader, who has formed a coalition with the Independent Spelthorne Group which controls just 9 of the 39 council seats. Following a by-election gain from the Lib Dems in May in the neighbouring Staines South ward, the Conservatives have 18 seats on the council, the Lib Dems have 7, Labour have 2, the Greens have 1 plus this vacancy, and the remaining ten seats are split between four different independent groups.

Staines ward was one of the Conservatives' losses in May 2019, with the Tories losing the three seats to a Green slate of two and a single Labour candidate. With the caveat that these partial slates make vote share calculations perhaps more unreliable than normal, the percentages were 39% for the Greens and 25% each for Labour and the Conservatives. The Staines division of Surrey county council (which is larger than this ward) was close in May between the Conservatives, an ex-UKIP independent candidate and the Greens. We have to go up to Parliamentary level for the Tories to breathe more easily: Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary and a member of the Trinity College, Cambridge team which won University Challenge in 1995, has represented the Spelthorne constituency since 2010 with large majorities.

So, this by-election needs watching closely. Defending for the Greens is Malcolm Beecher, who stood in May's Surrey county elections in the Ashford division. The ward's Labour councillor left the party in May to join a new Independent Labour group on the council, and it would appear that Labour here are still in some disarray from that: there is no Labour candidate in this by-election. The Conservatives have guaranteed a place at the bottom of the alphabetical ballot paper by selecting local man Michael Zenonos, who runs a logistics company. Also standing are Paul Couchman for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Gerald Gravett for Reform UK and independent candidate Paul West, who is a former UKIP figure.

Parliamentary constituency: Spelthorne
Surrey county council division: Staines
ONS Travel to Work Area: Slough and Heathrow
Postcode districts: TW18, TW19

Malcolm Beecher (Grn)
Paul Couchman (TUSC)
Gerald Gravett (Reform UK)
Paul West (Ind)
Michael Zenonos (C)

May 2019 result Grn 978/890 Lab 633 C 630/623/606 UKIP 297
May 2015 result C 1642/1610/1593 Lab 1144/673 Grn 1045 UKIP 905 Spelthorne Ind 699 TUSC 212
May 2011 result C 1179/1076/1069 LD 893/790/743
May 2007 result C 794/753/751 LD 520/439/432 Lab 260/223/210
May 2003 result C 686/681/667 LD 407/387/381 Lab 318

Cliftonville East

Thanet council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Lesley Game.

Thanet, Cliftonville East

Our final two by-elections next week come on the Kent coast. We start on the Isle of Thanet with Cliftonville East ward, the point where the north coast of Kent starts to curve southward towards the North Foreland. This ward is based on the Palm Bay estate, built in the 1930s overlooking the sandy beaches that turned Cliftonville into a seaside resort back in the day.

In the last section this column discussed the political instability and scandal surrounding Spelthorne council. Spelthorne have a lot to learn on both of those fronts from Thanet. The 2003 and 2007 Thanet elections returned a Conservative majority with a significant Labour opposition. Cliftonville East was a safe Conservative ward included in that majority, and from 2003 until 2010 ward councillor Sandy Ezekiel was leader of the council.

The Conservatives lost their majority in Thanet in 2011 against the national trend, and then the fun started. Initially they continued as a minority, but the independents who held the balance of power then deposed the Conservatives and installed a Labour minority administration. It then came out that Sandy Ezekiel had corruptly used the council's inside information to buy two properties in Margate via an intermediary: on 1 March 2013 a jury at Maidstone Crown Court found Ezekiel guilty of four charges of misconduct in public office, and Mr Justice Nicol sentenced him to eighteen months' imprisonment. A £2,000 confiscation order was added later.

Ezekiel did not resign from Thanet council following his conviction and sentence: instead he was disqualified as a councillor three weeks later, when the deadline to appeal against the conviction expired. Because of the timing of the disqualification, the resulting by-election had to be held a week after the 2013 Kent county council elections meaning that the voters of Cliftonville East were dragged out for elections on two consecutive weeks. On 2nd May 2013 UKIP won one of the two county council seats in Margate and Cliftonville division; on 9th May their candidate Rozanne Duncan won the Cliftonville East by-election.

Despite being on the north coast of the Isle of Thanet, Cliftonville East is included within the South Thanet parliamentary seat. This was the seat contested by the then UKIP leader Nigel Farage in the 2015 general election. He didn't win, but UKIP had the consolation prize of winning an overall majority on Thanet council. This majority included two of the three seats in Cliftonville East ward, although outgoing UKIP councillor Rozanne Duncan was not one of them: she sought re-election as an independent, and performed very poorly. The remaining seat went to new Conservative councillor Lesley Game.

Thanet, 2019

The large UKIP group on Thanet council fell apart in a number of stages, and by the time of the May 2019 election they had been deposed and the Conservatives were back in minority control. That election returned another hung council with 25 Conservative councillors, 20 Labour, 7 Thanet Independents (the main remnant of the former UKIP group), 3 Greens and an independent. Cliftonville East ward reverted to safe Conservative status, with a 60-23 lead over Labour. The Conservative minority administration continued, but was deposed later that year with Labour taking control. The Labour leader resigned in April ahead of three by-elections in Thanet in May, in which Labour lost a seat to the Greens and a seat to the Conservatives, who also picked up a seat from the Thanet Independents. A counter-coup at May's AGM resulted in the Conservatives taking back minority control of the council.

The May elections in Thanet also re-elected Lesley Game as the Kent county councillor for Cliftonville division. She has decided to stand down from Thanet council to concentrate on her county council role, provoking this by-election.

Defending for the Conservatives is Charlie Leys, a former Broadstairs and St Peter's town councillor who was deputy mayor of that town in 2017-18 and 2018-19. He has recently completed a degree in international conflict analysis at the University of Kent. The Labour challenger is Don Challinger. Completing the ballot paper is the last-placed candidate from 2019, Kanndiss Riley of the Women's Equality Party.

Parliamentary constituency: South Thanet
Kent county council division: Cliftonville
ONS Travel to Work Area: Margate and Ramsgate
Postcode districts: CT9, CT10

Don Challinger (Lab)
Charlie Leys (C)
Kandiss Riley (Women's Equality)

May 2019 result C 1076/951/870 Lab 410/375/349 Women's Equality Party 317
May 2015 result UKIP 1531/1354/1336 C 1349/1321/1261 Lab 614/611/603 Ind 228/201
May 2013 by-election UKIP 699 C 526 Lab 352 Ind 112 LD 32
May 2011 result C 1187/1165/1155 Ind 601/598 Lab 515/490/456 Grn 283
May 2007 result C 1381/1240/1225 Lab 574/522/452 Grn 352
May 2003 result C 1531/1400/1369 Lab 524/516/471

Alkham and Capel-le-Ferne

Dover council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor James Rose.

Dover, Alkham/Capel-le-Ferne

We finish on the south coast of Kent, atop the White Cliffs of Dover. On a clear day, the shore of France can be seen from here across the English Channel; in 1940 this put the village of Capel-le-Ferne, between Folkestone and Dover, on the front line of the Battle of Britain. In recent years this has been recognised by the Battle of Britain Memorial, opened in 1993 and expanded in 2015, which brings tourists to the cliffs south of Capel-le-Ferne. To the north of the village can be found the major transport arteries to Europe: the A20 to Dover on the ground, and the Channel Tunnel below.

Dover 2019

This ward at the terminus of the North Downs was created in 2019 as an expanded version of the former Capel-le-Ferne ward. Capel-le-Ferne ward was safe Conservative, and Alkham and Capel-le-Ferne has continued in that vein: its 2019 election, the only previous poll on the current boundaries, resulted in a 52-36 lead for the Conservatives over the Liberal Democrats. The ward is covered by the rural Dover West division of Kent county council, which is also safely Conservative.

There was some controversy over the Dover parliamentary seat in 2019, as the then Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke was awaiting trial on sexual assault charges when the December general election was confirmed. The Conservatives effectively deselected him in favour of his wife Natalie, who increased the Conservative majority. Mr Elphicke was subsequently found guilty of sexual assault and is now serving a two-year prison sentence. As we can see from subsequent election results, this controversy hasn't had much effect on the electors of Dover.

Defending the Alkham and Capel-le-Ferne by-election for the Conservatives is Martin Hibbert, the vice-chairman of Alkham parish council; he is retired after a career as a manager at the Port of Dover and as a health and safety advisor. The Liberal Democrats have selected Roben Franklin, a politics student at Canterbury Christ Church University and chair of the party's Dover branch. Also standing are Gordon Cowan for Labour and Nick Shread for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Dover
Kent county council division: Dover West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Folkestone and Dover
Postcode districts: CT15, CT18

Gordon Cowan (Lab)
Roben Franklin (LD)
Martin Hibbert (C)
Nick Shread (Grn)

May 2019 result C 455 LD 317 Lab 101


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 Tividale (Sandwell) by-election of 15 Jul 2021

One by-election on 15th July 2021:

Tividale

Sandwell council, West Midlands; caused by the death of Labour councillor Sandra Hevican.

Sandwell, Tividale

After the excitement of recent weeks this will be a short edition of Andrew's Previews with just one local by-election taking place today. We have come to the heart of the industrial Black Country, the upper slopes of the Rowley Hills. Rising to over 200 metres above sea level, the Rowley Hills divide Dudley from the Birmingham area and the Severn basin from the Trent catchment. Their northern slopes look down towards lower ground in Oldbury, beyond the Wolverhampton Road and the Birmingham Canal.

The A4123 Wolverhampton Road, built in the 1920s as an unemployment relief project, forms the northern boundary of Tividale ward. This is based on a number of housing estates of both private and council origin; the Tividale Hall and Grace Mary estates were started in the 1930s, but most of the houses here are postwar. The 2011 census return found a rather low White British population (82%); there are significant black and Asian minority groups in the ward, the Asian community here being mostly Sikhs of Punjabi heritage. In 2019 Tividale was assessed as one of the least-deprived wards of the Metropolitan Borough of Sandwell.

Sandwell council's elections had got very boring in the last few years. Since the fall of the Labour government in May 2010 Labour had won every ward at every Sandwell election, with just two exceptions: in 2011 the Conservatives held Charlemont with Grove Wale ward, and Princes End ward returned a UKIP councillor in 2014. UKIP also came close to winning Tividale that year, and Tividale has been fertile ground for the radical right in the past: the British National Party, in the days when they were a significant electoral force, won here in the 2006 local elections by the narrow margin of 33 votes. The BNP leader Nick Griffin himself had stood here in the 2000 Parliamentary by-election for the local seat of West Bromwich West, following the retirement of Speaker Boothroyd: he finished in fourth place and lost his deposit.

Since December 2019 West Bromwich West has been a Conservative parliamentary seat for the first time, in what must go down as a revolution in the politics of the Black Country. The Conservatives now control two-and-a-half of the three-and-a-half parliamentary seats in Sandwell, those being the two West Bromwich seats and the Rowley Regis part of Halesowen and Rowley Regis. They managed this despite the fact that Sandwell council had, at the time, 72 Labour councillors out of a possible 72.

Sandwell, 2021

The Conservatives followed up on their parliamentary gains by carrying six wards in the May 2021 Sandwell council election, by far their best performance in the borough since 2008. There was a very large number of casual vacancies filled in Sandwell in May, so this translated into 9 seats for the Conservatives; Labour continue to run the council with 59 seats plus this vacancy, and the remaining three councillors are independents who were elected on the Labour ticket. Tividale ward remained in the Labour column this May, but only narrowly so: the ward was a straight between Labour and the Conservatives, with Labour winning by 53-47.

Tividale councillor Sandra Hevican died from COVID-19 in late March, at the age of 55. Her death came just before the legal notices for the May elections were due to be published, and the by-election wasn't called in time to schedule this vacancy for May. Hevican had served as a councillor for Tividale ward since 2014; away from her democratic duties, she worked for Wolverhampton council as a housing benefits officer.

Defending for Labour is Sandra Hevican's widower, Robert Hevican. The Conservatives have reselected their candidate from May Emma Henlan, an MP's office manager who also works in the family aquarium business. There is a wider choice for the electors of Tividale in this by-election, as also standing are Nicholas Bradley for the Liberal Democrats, Richard Gingell for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, and independent candidate Energy Kutebura.

Parliamentary constituency: West Bromwich West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dudley
Postcode districts: B65, B69

Nicholas Bradley (LD)
Richard Gingell (TUSC)
Emma Henlan (C)
Robert Hevican (Lab)
Energy Kutebura (Ind)

May 2021 result Lab 1323 C 1173
May 2019 result Lab 1051 C 446 Grn 437
May 2018 result Lab 1137 C 637 Grn 226
May 2016 result Lab 1489 C 434 Grn 189
May 2015 result Lab 2447 UKIP 1445 C 1052 Grn 142
May 2014 result Lab 1085 UKIP 968 Grn 342 C 280
May 2012 result Lab 1637 C 390
May 2011 result Lab 1884 C 840 LD 189
May 2010 result Lab 2166 C 1571 LD 793 BNP 761
May 2008 result Lab 1485 C 1155
May 2007 result Lab 1309 BNP 938 C 567 LD 333
May 2006 result BNP 1191 Lab 1158 C 562 LD 308
June 2004 reuslt Lab 1735/1539/1438 BNP 1174

Catchup

Since it's a slow by-elections week, we've time to bring you some other election-related news. One piece of good news is that the Cabinet Office minister responsible for elections, Chloe Smith, has successfully completed her treatment for breast cancer and been given the all-clear. This column sends its congratulations.

Last week Miss Smith introduced into the Commons her major project for the new Parliamentary session, as the Elections Bill was given its first reading. The headline provisions in the bill relating to photographic ID being required for voting have generated some controversy, but there's a lot of other things going on in the Bill as well, including: allowing British citizens living overseas to vote in UK elections regardless of how long they have been away from the country; new rules on EU citizens' eligibility to vote and stand in English and Northern Irish local elections (Scotland and Wales have already made their own rules on this); changes to the role of the Electoral Commission; and requirements for digital campaign material to carry imprints. At the time of writing, a date for the second reading is yet to be set. As usual, the Parliament website has the text of the Bill and some explanatory notes (link).

The Association of Electoral Administrators, whose members will have the job of actually delivering these changes for your benefit, have published their report on May's giant local elections (link) together with their Blueprint for a Modern Electoral Landscape (link), a list of process changes which they want making or least considering. Top of their wishlist is a rationalisation and extension of the election timetable together with a new consolidation of election law. As your columnist wrote last year in my piece on issues around postponing elections in a pandemic, the last consolidation (the Representation of the People Act 1983)

"was passed into law at a much simpler time when there were only elections to Parliament, local councils and that newfangled thing called the European Parliament. Since then we have had all sorts of constitutional innovations: devolution to Wales and London, the establishment of the Electoral Commission, mayors of districts and boroughs, regional and metro mayors, police and crime commissioners, newfangled electoral systems, extensions to the franchise, you name it. All of that has to be bolted onto the 1983 Act which now has so many extensions that the structure is starting to sag under its own weight."

Yes, I forgot the elections to Scottish Parliament and the Inner London Education Authority, although to be fair not many people remember the Inner London Education Authority over thirty years after it was abolished. To give you a flavour of just how heavily the 1983 Act has been amended and how difficult it now is to follow, let's look at the sections of it relating to electoral registration. My printed copy of the Act has four A4 pages of text under the heading "Registration of parliamentary and local government electors", divided into six sections numbered 8 to 13. A Herculean effort from the team at legislation.gov.uk, who really shouldn't have had to do this, has finally managed to bring the 1983 Act completely up to date with all the hundreds (possibly thousands) of amendments which have been made by scores of later Acts in the following thirty-eight years. According to them, the relevant part of the table of contents now reads:

Registration of parliamentary and local government electors

8. Registration officers.
9. Registers of electors..
9A. Registration officers: duty to take necessary steps.
9B. Anonymous registration.
9C. Removal of anonymous entry.
9D. Maintenance of registers: duty to conduct canvass in Great Britain.
9E. Maintenance of registers: invitations to register in Great Britain.
10. Maintenance of registers: duty to conduct canvass in Northern Ireland..
10ZA. Northern Ireland: timing of canvass.
10ZB. The relevant registration objectives (Northern Ireland).
10ZC. Registration of electors in Great Britain.
10ZD. Registration of electors in Great Britain: alterations.
10ZE. Removal of electors in Great Britain from register.
10ZF. Digital registration and canvass in Northern Ireland.
10A. Maintenance of the registers: registration of electors in Northern Ireland..
10B. Register of electors in Northern Ireland: digital registration number.
11. Correction of registers..
12. Right to be registered..
13. Publication of registers..
13A. Alteration of registers..
13AB. Alteration of registers: interim publication dates.
13B. Alteration of registers: pending elections..
13BA. Alteration of registers in Northern Ireland: pending elections.
13BB. Election falling within canvass period.
13BC. Alteration of registers: recall petition.
13C. Electoral identity card: Northern Ireland.
13CZA. Provision of false information: application for electoral identity card.
13CA. Scottish local government elections: false information in connection with applications for absent voting.
13D. Provision of false information

I wish I was making this up. That's 29 sections and God knows how many sides of A4. I'm not trying to say all this isn't needed, but the thicket of suffix letters is a barrier to understanding not just for the average voter but for the election professionals in our local town halls. The AEA point out in section 3 of their post-poll report that this fragmentation of our electoral law caused problems in drafting last year's emergency legislation to deal with the current public health situation. So does the Elections Bill clean up this alphabet soup? No. In fact it adds two more sections relating to electoral registration (13BD and 13BE) among pages and pages of further amendments.

And this is just one example of how the state of the UK's electoral law got beyond a joke many years ago. The AEA are completely right to call for a single Electoral Administration Act, and hopefully they won't be repeating that call for much longer.

One welcome change in the Elections Bill is a restating of the electoral offence of undue influence, which dates from 1883 and whose definition - written in very Victorian and increasingly archaic language - hasn't significantly changed since. This change will hopefully help the Election Court in the future, although it won't be relevant to the three pending legal cases which this column is aware of arising from the May elections.

Of those three cases, the most straightforward would appear to be the one in the Banbury Ruscote division of Oxfordshire county council, which Labour are challenging on the basis that the result was declared for the Conseravtives incorrectly following an administrative error at the count. In Coldhurst ward, Oldham, an independent candidate has lodged a case making various allegations about the conduct of the poll (link to Manchester Evening News report). Finally, the Liberal Democrats have launched a case in the Totteridge and Bowerdean ward of High Wycombe (link to Bucks Free Press report), where they lost in the Buckinghamshire county elections to an independent slate. As this column has pointed out in the past (Andrew's Previews 2019, pages 29 and 33) Totteridge and Bowerdean is a ward where elections before 2021 have led to electoral fraud allegations, so this could be a fun one for the Election Court to sort out. Andrew's Previews will of course keep an eye on what's going on with those cases, and once an update comes to my attention I will pass it on.

Finally, if you enjoyed the preview above, there are many more like it – 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 council by-elections of 8 July 2021

 

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

The political editor of the New Statesman Stephen Bush, a kind patron of the Local Elections Archive Project, remarked last week that he was surprised how few errors I make in researching Andrew's Previews. Inevitably, he's put the mockers on me, and before we start this week there are some entries to note for Correction Corner.

First, I regret that there was an error in the Batley and Spen preview last week regarding the seat which included Batley in the period 1885-1918. Although Batley was technically part of the Morley division of the West Riding at this point in time as I stated, it was also within the area covered by the parliamentary borough of Dewsbury, and most of the people in Batley who were eligible to vote would have voted for the MP for Dewsbury rather than Morley. My apologies for referring you to the wrong seat there.

Second, a rather lost and exhausted-looking carrier pigeon has arrived from the Potteries with news that the Stoke-on-Trent Conservatives had dumped the City Independents some time ago and are ruling the city on their own as a minority. The former City Independents councillor, Randy Conteh, had also left the group some time before his resignation from the council which provoked last week's by-election there. Hopefully that's clear.

With that now out of the way there are six local by-elections, for seven seats, on 8th July 2021, with the Conservatives defending three, Labour two, the Lib Dems one and the final seat being a free-for-all. All of today's polls are in the south of England, but there's a wide variety of areas up for election with something for everyone to enjoy. As you will hopefully discover if you read on...

Aldeburgh and Leiston

East Suffolk council; a double by-election following the resignations of Conservative councillors Jocelyn Bond and TJ Haworth-Culf.


A piece of music to get you in the mood, as we start our discussion of today's by-elections with a "venal little borough" on the Suffolk coast. The name "Aldeburgh" comes from Old English words for an "old fortification", which - along with a number of other places along the rapidly-eroding Suffolk coast - no longer exists today. We are left with an old fishing port and minor seaside resort with a notable electoral record.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Nov 1908

The town of Aldeburgh was enfranchised in 1571, giving its freemen the right to send two members to Parliament. It was one of the rotten boroughs swept away by the first Reform Act in 1832, but its most striking electoral feature came in local government. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first British woman to qualify as a doctor and as a surgeon, retired to Aldeburgh in the early 1900s. As we shall see, she had family in the area, and in 1908 she followed in the footsteps of her father Newson Garrett by being elected as Mayor of Aldeburgh. She was the first woman to serve as a mayor in England.

Given that big leap for equality, it's a bit of a shame that it's not Garrett Anderson's name which immediately comes to mind when the name "Aldeburgh" is mentioned. She's not even the only twentieth-century mayor of Aldeburgh notable enough for Wikipedia: in the 1970s Gerry Fiennes, some years on from trying to run a railway, served a year as the town's first citizen. But they have been upstaged.

In 1942 an up-and-coming composer called Benjamin Britten moved to the town, shortly after reading The Borough, a poetry collection by the nineteenth-century Aldeburgh poet George Crabbe. Britten turned one of Crabbe's poems, Peter Grimes, into an opera which premiered in June 1945 at Sadler's Wells: Britten's partner Peter Pears played the title role opposite Joan Cross, manager of the Sadler's Wells company, in the lead female role of Ellen Orford. Britten, Pears and Cross are still in Aldeburgh today, lying in eternal rest in the town's churchyard.

Peter Grimes was a huge success, firmly establishing Britten as a composer of the first rank. Its prologue scene is set in Aldeburgh's Moot Hall, a timber-framed Tudor building where Garrett Anderson, Fiennes and all the other mayors of Aldeburgh over the centuries have presided over council meetings. Aldeburgh town council is still based in the Moot Hall to this day.

Having given Aldeburgh to the world of music, Britten and Pears then brought the world of music to Aldeburgh with the founding of the annual Aldeburgh Festival, attracting some of the world's greatest musicians to this corner of Suffolk each June. Since 1967 the Aldeburgh Festival has had a permanent home, although not in Aldeburgh itself. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson's father, Newson Garrett, was an entrepreneur who had built a factory in Snape, a few miles up the Alde estuary, which turned Suffolk barley into malt for export down the river to breweries in London and on the Continent. The Snape Maltings complex went out of business in the early 1960s, and was quickly turned into an arts centre under Britten's direction. The largest malthouse in the complex became an 832-seat concert hall, opened by the Queen in 1967 and re-opened by her in 1970 after burning down the previous year.

Snape Maltings wasn't the only industrial centre of note in the Aldeburgh area. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson's great-grandfather, Richard Garrett, founded a company in the nearby town of Leiston in 1778 making agricultural machinery. By the late 19th century Richard Garrett and Sons, under the management of Newson Garrett's brother Richard Garrett III, was the largest employer in Leiston. As I wrote in Andrew's Previews 2018, page 179, they had one of the world's first industrial assembly lines going, with parts going in at one end of the "Long Shop" building and traction engines and other steam-powered vehicles coming out of the other end. Garrett's works went out of business in the 1980s and were mostly redeveloped, but the Long Shop was saved from the demolition men and turned into a museum. For one day only, it's also a polling station for this by-election.

But for all this art and industry, it's energy which is Aldeburgh and Leiston's most important export. To the east of Leiston, next to the North Sea, can be found two rather large buildings: the Sizewell A and B nuclear power stations. Sizewell A is now being slowly decommissioned after generating electricity from 1967 to 2006; Sizewell B, with its distinctive white dome, came online in 1995 as the UK's only commercial Pressurised Water Reactor plant. I wrote three years ago that construction of the next nuclear plant on the site, Sizewell C, seemed "several years off at best"; there has been some progress to report since, as last year EDF Energy put the planning application in to East Suffolk council and applied for the relevant nuclear power licences, but ground is yet to be broken on the scheme.

East Suffolk, Aldeburgh and Leiston

All this adds up to a fascinating electoral ward, which was created in 2019 for the first elections to the brand-new East Suffolk council. The Conservatives did well in those elections, winning 39 seats out of a possible 55 and generally sweeping the rural wards: but they didn't have it all their own way here. Top of the poll in Aldeburgh and Leiston were two of the three Conservative candidates, Terry-Jill "T-J" Haworth-Culf (who had previously represented Aldeburgh on the predecessor Suffolk Coastal council) and Jocelyn Bond, but the third seat went to independent candidate Tony Cooper who had previously been an independent Suffolk Coastal councillor for Leiston. He won with a majority of three votes over the third Conservative candidate, 1154 to 1151. Shares of the vote were 29% for the Conservatives, 26% for Cooper, 19% for Labour (who can often poll respectably in Leiston, although not usually respectably enough to finish first) and 16% for the Greens.

East Suffolk, 2019

T-J Haworth-Culf was subsequently elected in May 2021 as the Suffolk county councillor for Aldeburgh and Leiston, defeating Labour in a straight fight by almost two to one. Unusually, the county division of that name is actually smaller than this district ward: it doesn't cover the Snape area or a couple of rural parishes to the north-west of Leiston, which are in different safe-Conservative divisions. Haworth-Culf and her Conservative ward colleague Jocelyn Bond promptly handed in their resignations as East Suffolk councillors; Haworth-Culf is concentrating on her new elected office, while Bond has expressed dissatisfaction with the Sizewell C project.

Defending this double by-election for the Conservatives are Russ Rainger and Andrew Reid. Rainger retired in May as the county councillor for Aldeburgh and Leiston, while Reid was re-elected in May as the county councillor for the Wilford division which includes the Snape area. There are no independent candidates this time, so it will be interesting to see where their votes go. The Labour slate consists of two losing candidates from May, Ian Ilett (the unsuccessful candidate in the Aldeburgh and Leiston county division) and Mark Turner. Matt Oakley, the lead Green candidate for this ward in 2019, returns and is joined by Thomas Daly. who lost to Reid in May's county elections. Completing a ballot paper of seven candidates is Steve Marsling, who has the nomination of the Communist Party of Britain.

Picture of Mayor Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, 1908, from @MunicipalDreams on Twitter.

Parliamentary constituency: Suffolk Coastal
Suffolk county council division: Aldeburgh and Leiston (Aldeburgh, Aldringham cum Thorpe, Knodishall and Leiston parishes), Blything (Middleton and Theberton parishes), Wilford (Benhall, Friston, Snape and Sternfield parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ipswich
Postcode districts: IP15, IP16, IP17

Thomas Daly (Grn)
Ian Ilett (Lab)
Steve Marsling (Comm)
Matt Oakley (Grn)
Russ Rainger (C)
Andrew Reid (C)
Mark Turner (Lab)

May 2019 result C 1265/1179/1151 Ind 1154/1051 Lab 835/779/612 Grn 717/577/504 LD 429

St Neots East

Huntingdonshire council, Cambridgeshire; caused by the election of Labour councillor Nik Johnson as Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Not all of East Anglia is rural and full of nice-looking old buildings, as we now demonstrate by turning to two wards which were entirely developed in the last seventy-five years. One of these is in a New Town; the other is much newer than that.

Hunts, St Neots E

The population of Cambridgeshire has rocketed in recent decades, but (with the notable exception of Cambourne) this growth hasn't been achieved by building entirely new settlements. Instead housing estates have been tacked on to the sides of existing towns and villages. One of the largest of these is the Love's Farm development, started in the last ten years and still growing, which took the town of St Neots over to the east side of the East Coast main line for the first time.

Love's Farm became a ward of its own in 2018, under the name of St Neots East. The development is so new that statistics on it are rather hard to come by. Figures from the 2021 census are not yet available; at the time of the 2011 census the area was part of a larger St Neots ward, Priory Park, but that was really before the development got going. The current ward was drawn with a very low 2015 electorate, to allow room for future growth.

This area was only incorporated into St Neots in 2010. Before then it was part of the now-abolished St Neots Rural parish and the rural ward of Gransden and the Offords. (It's still shown as part of Gransden and the Offords in the Huntingdonshire maps for 2010-16 on the Local Elections Archive Project, as I hadn't appreciated before writing this Preview just how extensive the interim Huntingdonshire boundary changes in the early 2010s were. Apologies for anyone who might have been confused by that.) Love's Farm and other developments have turned St Neots into the largest town in Cambridgeshire without city status, overtaking Huntingdon; and the draft Boundary Commission proposals for the new parliamentary map create a completely new parliamentary seat based on St Neots and the surrounding area.

Hunts, 2018

Huntingdonshire district last went to the polls in 2018, which was a year when the Conservatives did pretty badly in St Neots town. A localist slate swept two of the town's other wards, while East ward surprisingly saw Labour candidate and local children's doctor Nik Johnson top the poll with 40% of the vote, a long way ahead of his running-mate. Johnson had previously been the Labour parliamentary candidate for the local Huntingdon seat in 2017, putting in a decent performance. The Conservatives polled 32% and won the ward's other seat, with the Lib Dems close behind on 28%. Johnson and Tory councillor David Wells' vote totals of 345 and 273 in this two-seat ward were the lowest scores for any winning candidate in Huntingdonshire that year, including those in the district's single-member wards; as indicated above, this isn't an unusually low turnout but a symptom of the ward having an unusually low electorate. If the growth forecasts are any good, the population should be a lot larger now than it was three years ago.

Johnson was one of four Labour councillors elected in Huntingdonshire in 2018, and the only one outside Huntingdon town. He was selected as the Labour candidate for the May 2021 Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayoral election, campaigning on a ticket to introduce bus franchising to the county and to cancel an ambitious (bordering on crazy) plan from the incumbent Conservative mayor, James Palmer, for an "autonomous metro" for Cambridge. In the first round Palmer topped the poll but only with 41% of the vote, against 33% for Labour's Johnson and 27% for the Lib Dem candidate. In the runoff an unusually-high 73% of the Lib Dem transfers went to Labour, ensuring that Johnson won in the final reckoning by 113,994 votes to 108,195 (51.3% to 48.7%). He promptly delivered on part of his manifesto, cancelling the "autonomous metro" project in his first week in office.

The Cambridgeshire county council elections were held on the same day. This ward is part of the St Neots East and Gransden county division, which the Conservatives lost to an independent candidate by just 9 votes; that was one of the losses which cost them control of the county council, which is now run by a Lib Dem-led coalition of all the other groups. The Tories remain in control of Huntingdonshire council.

We saw in Batley and Spen last week that Labour are capable of defending marginal by-elections caused by their elected representatives becoming metro mayors. They will have to repeat that trick here, because Johnson's seat on Huntingdonshire council was vacated as a result of his election to the mayoralty.

Defending for Labour is Helen Stroud. The Tories have selected Sam Collins, who was on the wrong end of that 9-vote defeat in the county division two months ago. The Lib Dem candidate is Geoff Seeff, a party veteran who has recently relocated to Love's Farm from Waltham Forest: Seeff has stood for Parliament six times, most recently in Chingford and Woodford Green in 2019, and he was the party's candidate for Havering and Redbridge at the first London Assembly elections in 2000. Also standing are Lara Davenport-Ray for the Greens (who also stood here in the county elections in May) and independent candidate Ben Pitt, who represents the area on St Neots town council. The Love's Farm Community Association has interviewed all the candidates, and you can find out more from them here (link).

Parliamentary constituency: Huntingdon
Cambridgeshire county council division: St Neots East and Gransden
ONS Travel to Work Area: Huntingdon
Postcode district: PE19

May 2018 result Lab 345/186 C 273/193 LD 235

Sam Collins (C)
Lara Davenport-Ray (Grn)
Ben Pitt (Ind)
Geoff Seeff (LD)
Helen Stroud (Lab)

Mark Hall

Harlow council, Essex; caused by the death of Labour councillor Danny Purton.

As we have seen, Cambridgeshire's approach to population growth has mostly been to tack bits onto existing towns and villages. The neighbouring county of Essex has historically taken a different tack.

Harlow, Mark Hall

Harlow is unambiguously a New Town. In fact, it was one of the first New Towns, built in the early 1950s to house families which had been bombed out of London; one legacy of that history is that the town has the third-highest proportion of social housing of any district in England. Harlow became an urban district in 1955, and now forms a local government district of its own.

Mark Hall was the first part of the New Town to be completed. It consists of two separate residential areas either side of First Avenue, which are imaginatively named Mark Hall North and Mark Hall South. In Mark Hall North can be found The Lawn, built in 1951 as the UK's first modern residential tower block. Many of the tower blocks which came later have bitten the dust over the years, but The Lawn has survived and it is now a listed building. To the north of Mark Hall North is Temple Fields, a large industrial area next to the River Stort which includes the ward's railway station, Harlow Mill on the West Anglia main line.

This ward has a very strange electoral history, although those who remember the Heneage preview from Grimsby last week may start to feel a sense of déjà vu. It was generally Liberal Democrat until 2008, then developed into a Labour ward. The last Lib Dem councillor for the ward died just before his term was due to end in 2012, and Labour picked the seat up easily. In 2014 one of the Labour councillors resigned for work reasons, resulting in two of the ward's seats being up for election, and UKIP came from nowhere to win both of them. One of the UKIP councillors resigned shortly afterwards on health grounds; Labour's Danny Purton won the resulting by-election in February 2015, and Labour gained the other UKIP seat in May 2015.

Towards the end of the last decade Harlow was in a rather unusual electoral position. Since 2010 it has had a Conservative MP, Robert Halfon, whose position was bolstered by the fact that the town isn't quite big enough to form a parliamentary seat on its own and the Harlow constituency consequently includes a significant amount of rural territory outside the town. Since 2017 the Harlow borough has had a full slate of four Conservatives on Essex county council. But, despite all that, the borough council had a consistent Labour majority. This was partly due to boundary effects, as the Conservative vote in Harlow was not well-distributed. Most of the party's voters were packed into four safe wards, which meant that in an even year nationally Labour would generally win the ward count 7-4; and the district council election years in 2015-19 were all even years. In May 2019, despite some well-publicised left-wing infighting among the ruling group, Labour polled 43% of the vote in Mark Hall ward, to 25% for UKIP and 23% for the Conservatives.

So the 2021 Harlow borough elections must have come as a shock. The Tories won ten of the town's eleven wards in May, some of them for the first time this century, and suddenly found themselves in control of the council with a large majority: they now have 20 councillors, while Labour have 12 left plus this vacancy. The result in Mark Hall ward in particular was something to behold: 61% for the Conservatives against just 32% for Labour, a swing since 2019 of nearly 25%.

Danny Purton, who had been a senior manager at the council before his election in 2015, passed away a few days before the May election. The by-election to replace him is looking like a difficult defence for the Labour candidate Kay Morrison, who will have to call on all of her extensive previous local government experience. Before she relocated to Harlow from Scotland, Morrison was a member of Fife council from 1999 to 2017, representing wards in another New Town (Glenrothes) and serving as depute provost of Fife. She was also the Labour candidate for Mid Fife and Glenrothes in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election. The Conservative candidate is John Steer. The ward's regular Lib Dem candidate Lesley Rideout, who lost her council seat here in 2011 and has tried to get it back at every election from 2014 onwards, is having another go; she completes the ballot paper along with Jamie Gilbert of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Harlow
Essex county council division: Harlow North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode district: CM20

Jamie Gilbert (Grn)
Kay Morrison (Lab)
Lesley Rideout (LD)
John Steer (C)

May 2021 result C 1033 Lab 539 LD 120
May 2019 result Lab 613 UKIP 354 C 335 LD 139
May 2018 result Lab 761 C 503 UKIP 140 LD 121
May 2016 result Lab 751 UKIP 449 C 390 LD 104
May 2015 result Lab 1296 C 1060 UKIP 731 LD 175
February 2015 by-election Lab 586 UKIP 353 C 334 Grn 55 LD 47
May 2014 double vacancy UKIP 662/646 Lab 602/599 C 346/346 LD 137/124
May 2012 result Lab 849 C 440 LD 312
May 2011 result Lab 913 LD 555 C 542
May 2010 result Lab 1145 LD 1114 C 961
May 2008 result LD 744 C 681 Lab 599
May 2007 result LD 752 Lab 740 C 570
May 2006 result LD 761 Lab 735 C 562
June 2004 result Lab 800 LD 584 C 381 Ind 290
May 2003 result LD 598 Lab 510 C 179 Socialist Alliance 48
May 2002 result LD 1098/1091/1075 Lab 791/782/772 C 276/269/255

Ardingly and Balcombe

Mid Sussex council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Andrew Macnaughton.

Mid Sussex, Ardingly and Balcombe

We travel south of London to the High Weald of Sussex. The Ardingly and Balcombe ward is a landscape of woods and hills to the south of Crawley; not easy territory through which to thread a railway, and the builders of the Brighton Line had to construct a long tunnel to the north of Balcombe and a long viaduct over the River Ouse to the south of it. In between is Balcombe railway station, which has brought the area within the range of London commuters.

If Balcombe has a commuter dependence, as do the villages of Pease Pottage and Handcross on the main road from Crawley to Brighton, Ardingly (pronounced "Ardinglye", apparently) has an economic base of its own. This is partly due to the presence of Ardingly College, a boarding school which propels the ward into the top 100 in England and Wales for the 16-17 age group; a number of future Conservative MPs have passed through Ardingly over the years, and other Old Ardinians include the Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, the author Neil Gaiman and the upper-class twit Tim Nice-But-Dim. To the north of the village is Wakehurst, a sixteenth-century stately home whose grounds have been taken over by Kew Gardens. Also here is the South of England Showground, an excellent venue for the sort of events which - oh.

The late councillor Andrew Macnaughton had served this ward as a councillor continuously since 1987. At the time of his death he was Mid Sussex council's cabinet member for housing and planning. He had a safe ward, notwithstanding a rather large fall in the Tory vote here in 2019: the Conservative slate polled 39% against 27% for the Liberal Democrats and 23% for the single Green candidate. In May's election to West Sussex county council the local Worth Forest county division was much safer for the Tories.

Defending for the Conservatives is Lorraine Nunes-Carvalho, who lives in the Balcombe area: she is a finance director for a company providing services to the hotel and leisure industry. The Lib Dem candidate is Ben Jerrit, a teacher at Ardingly College who has previously worked behind the camera in the TV and film industry; his credits include a number of episodes of The Bill and EastEnders and a Harry Potter film. The Greens have selected Jenny Edwards, a business coach and West Hoathly parish councillor. Completing the by-election is independent candidate Carole Steggles, a parish councillor in Turners Hill (not part of this ward) who also stood here in the county elections two weeks ago. The Mid Sussex Times has interviewed all the candidates, and you can find out more here (link).

Parliamentary constituency: Horsham
West Sussex county council division: Worth Forest
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crawley
Postcode districts: RH10, RH11, RH16, RH17, RH19

Jenny Edwards (Grn)
Ben Jerrit (LD)
Lorraine Nunes-Carvalho (C)
Carole Steggles (Ind)

May 2019 result C 684/642 LD 470/404 Grn 409 Lab 192
May 2015 result C 1620/1596 Grn 692 Ind 594 Lab 543
May 2011 result C 1233/1104 LD 556
May 2007 result C 934/879 Grn 396 LD 387
May 2003 result C 868/706 LD 328/222

Feniton; and
Honiton St Michael's

East Devon council; caused respectively by the resignations of independent councillor Susie Bond and Liberal Democrat councillor Luke Jeffery.

We finish in the West Country with a trip to the East Devon district. This is one of the larger second-tier districts, covering nearly everything in Devon to the east of Exeter. Exmouth is the major town in the district, with other towns including Sidmouth on the coast and, inland, Honiton.

E Devon, Honiton St Michaels

Honiton is an old market town, located on the Fosse Way and the A30 London-Exeter road and known for its Georgian architecture and its traditional lace-making industry. The Georgian buildings are a byproduct of the town having been mostly destroyed by fire in the mid-eighteenth century; and heat is also a feature of the town's annual Hot Pennies ceremony, dating from the Anarchy, in which warm pennies are thrown from balconies in the High Street to crowds of local people each of July. The Hot Pennies organisers are hoping for a particularly special event this year on 27th July, to mark the 800th anniversary of Honiton's market charter. The town is divided into two wards, of which St Michael's is the south-western one.

E Devon, Feniton

Immediately to the south-west of Honiton lies the Feniton ward, covering three parishes in the Devon countryside. Feniton village was greatly expanded by the coming of the railways, to the extent that it's actually two separate settlements: the original Feniton around the parish church, and the larger "New Feniton" around the railway station. There was a junction here on the Waterloo-Exeter main line for branch line trains to Sidmouth, and until the 1960s the station had the name "Sidmouth Junction". The station then fell victim to the Beeching cuts, but this closure was quickly reversed in 1971.

E Devon, 2019

The Conservatives had badly underperformed in this corner of Devon in recent years. In the 2019 elections they crashed to 20 out of 60 seats, and the administration was taken over by an independent-led coalition which includes the Lib Dems and Green Party. The Tories did, however, stop the rot in the 2021 Devon county elections, holding all their seats in the district and gaining a seat from the independents on both the county council and in a district council by-election. Both of today's by-elections take place within the Feniton and Honiton county division, which swung strongly to Labour but was still safe Conservative. Given that, what chance of two more Tory gains here?

Well, Honiton St Michael's could be a distinct possibility. The Conservatives have topped the poll in every election here since 2007, including a by-election in July 2016 (Andrew's Previews 2016, page 130). On slightly adjusted boundaries, in 2019 the Conservative slate were opposed only by Lib Dem councillor Luke Jeffery who was elected in third place; shares of the vote were 53% for the Conservatives and 47% for the Lib Dems.

For Feniton, however, your guess is as good as mine. Independent councillor Susie Bond won the ward (then known as "Feniton and Buckerell") at a by-election in May 2013, and has been re-elected twice since with extremely large shares of the vote. In 2019 she polled 83% against Conservative and Labour opposition.

No independent candidate has come forward to succeed Bond in Feniton, so that's a lot of votes up for grabs. The Conservatives have picked a candidate with local government experience: Alasdair Bruce, a beekeeper, was a Thanet councillor from 2007 to 2015 and set on that council's cabinet. The Labour candidate is local resident Linda Baden. Finally, the Liberal Democrats contest Feniton ward for the first time since 2011; their candidate is Todd Olive, a Warwick University postgraduate student who is fighting his second East Devon council by-election in three months, as he was the losing candidate in the Whimple and Rockbeare by-election last May.

For Honiton St Michael's the defending Liberal Democrat candidate is Jules Hoyles, a former chairman of the party's Tiverton and Honiton branch. He fought Axminster in May's county elections. Returning for the Conservatives is the winner of the 2016 by-election, Jenny Brown; in 2019 she attempted to transfer to the town's other ward, Honiton St Paul's, but lost to her running-mate by one vote. Due to what appears to be an error in filling out her nomination papers, she will appear on the ballot as "Brown Jenny". Completing the Honiton St Michael's ballot paper is Labour's Jake Bonetta, who put in a creditable performance here in the county council elections in May.

Feniton

Parliamentary constituency: Tiverton and Honiton
Devon county council division: Feniton and Honiton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter
Postcode districts: EX5, EX14

Linda Baden (Lab)
Alasdair Bruce (C)
Todd Olive (LD)

May 2019 result Ind 638 C 97 Lab 37
(Previous results as "Feniton and Buckerell")
May 2015 result Ind 1048 C 288
May 2013 by-election Ind 772 C 113
May 2011 result C 512 LD 394
May 2007 result C 401 LD 391
May 2003 result C 420 LD 258 Lab 61

Honiton St Michael's

Parliamentary constituency: Tiverton and Honiton
Devon county council division: Feniton and Honiton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter
Postcode district: EX14

Jake Bonetta (Lab)
Jules Hoyles (LD)
Brown Jenny (C)

May 2019 result C 790/763/530 LD 700


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 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

Heneage

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

Heneage

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

Bridge

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

Writtle

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

Tollington

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


Council by-election previews: 24 Jun 2021

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

There are six local by-elections on 24th June 2021. In England, Labour and the Liberal Democrats defending one seat each, while the Conservatives attempt to defend one seat and recover a second which they lost to defection. There are also two independent defences in Wales and Scotland, with which we start:

Murdostoun

North Lanarkshire council, Scotland; caused by the death of independent councillor Robert McKendrick.

Murdostoun

It's time for this column to return to North Lanarkshire for the third time in four months, following council by-elections in Fortissat and Thorniewood wards in March and the Airdrie and Shotts parliamentary by-election in May. A small corner of the Airdrie and Shotts constituency, around the village of Newmains, lies in a ward named after the Murdostoun estate, centred on the fifteenth-century Murdostoun Castle.

Murdostoun Castle was in the hands of the aristocratic Inglis-Hamilton family until the 1850s, when it was bought by the Lord Provost of Glasgow Robert Stewart. Stewart was one of a number of industrialists who had cashed in on the discovery of extensive ironstone and coal reserves under this corner of Lanarkshire in the 1830s; by 1840 a number of ironworking factories were already in place at Newmains and Coltness, and the opening of a railway line to Coatbridge in 1841 secured the future of heavy industry in this corner of Scotland. The Coltness Iron Works made it into the 21st century, diversifying into brick and cement manufacture, but they were demolished in 2004.

Newmains is the largest standalone population centre in the modern Murdostoun ward, as Coltness (which saw large population growth after the Second World War with the building of new estates) is effectively now a suburb of Wishaw. The ward's railhead, however, is at the pit village of Cleland which lies on the recently-electrified line between Edinburgh and Glasgow via Shotts.

Politically, Newmains was unusual in the 2003 North Lanarkshire elections in that it returned an independent councillor. In fact, both of the top two places in that ward were taken by independents, with David McKendrick narrowly beating his brother Robert McKendrick. If press reports from the time are anything to go by, they weren't exactly on good terms. David McKendrick stood down at the 2007 election, which was the first to be held for the modern Murdostoun ward under proportional representation: Labour won two seats, with the other two seats going to the SNP and to Robert McKendrick.

That's still the political balance in the ward today, following an extremely close result in the May 2017 election. On slightly revised boundaries Robert McKendrick topped the poll with 28% of the first preferences, and was re-elected on the first count; the SNP also polled 28%, Labour crashed to 24%, and the Conservatives polled 13%. The two Labour candidates were well-balanced, with outgoing councillor Nicky Shevlin and new candidate Louise Roarty starting on 12.2% and 11.5% each; by contrast, two-thirds of the SNP first preferences went to Cameron McManus, with his running-mate Anum Qaisar starting on just 9.1% of the vote. In Scotland's proportional representation system, piling most of your party's votes on your lead candidate tends not to be a winning strategy because it leaves your trailing candidates vulnerable to being knocked out before the final stages: sure enough, Qaisar was the last candidate to be eliminated. Her transfers were just enough to enable both Labour candidates to overtake the Conservatives in the final count: Roarty finished on 1,014 votes, Shevlin was re-elected to the final seat on 1,008 votes, and the Conservative candidate Cindy Mackenzie finished as the runner-up with 1,005 votes. Anum Qaisar-Javed, as she now is, has subsequently put that defeat behind her to go on to greater things: she won the Airdrie and Shotts parliamentary by-election last month.

North Lanarkshire May 2017

Elsewhere in North Lanarkshire the Labour party lost their majority in 2017, but they still continue to govern as a minority. At the last count the council had 31 Labour members, 27 SNP, 8 Conservatives, 8 independents, 2 councillors who had defected to Alex Salmond's new party Alba, and this vacancy.

The usual Scottish disclaimers apply, with Votes at 16 and the Alternative Vote in effect. We saw in May 2017 that transfers can be absolutely crucial, and that might be the case this time round as well. If we re-count the votes cast in May 2017 for one seat, it goes to Robert McKendrick with a 59-41 margin over the SNP in the final count. There's a good chance we might see something like that happen again in this by-election, because Robert McKendrick's son - also called Robert McKendrick - is seeking to take over his late father's seat on North Lanarkshire council. Like his father, Robert junior is standing as an independent candidate. The SNP needed to find a new candidate after Qaisar's election to Westminster; they have selected Julia Stachurska, a local resident who is studying for a society, politics and policy degree at the University of the West of Scotland and who is the national convenor of SNP Students. Like the McKendricks and the SNP, Labour have also turned to the next generation by nominating Chris Roarty, the son of ward councillor Louise Roarty; Chris is a construction worker and drummer who sits on Cleland community council. The Conservatives have reselected Cindy Mackenzie after her very close near-miss in 2017. Completing the ballot paper are independent candidate Robert Arthur who also stood here in 2017, polling 2.4% and finishing eighth out of nine candidates; Nathaniel Hamilton of the Scottish Greens; Julie McAnulty, a former SNP North Lanarkshire councillor who is now the deputy leader of the Independence for Scotland Party which makes its electoral debut here; and Billy Ross, who is the first Scottish council by-election candidate for Reform UK.

Westminster constituency: Motherwell and Wishaw (most of ward), Airdrie and Shotts (Newmains area)
Holyrood constituency: Motherwell and Wishaw
ONS Travel to Work Area: Motherwell and Airdrie
Postcode districts: ML1, ML2

Robert Arthur (Ind)
Nathaniel Hamilton (Grn)
Cindy Mackenzie (C)
Julie McAnulty (Independence for Scotland)
Robert McKendrick jnr (Ind)
Chris Roarty (Lab)
Billy Ross (Reform UK)
Julia Stachurska (SNP)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 1791 Ind 1765 Lab 1520 C 825 Ind 284 Ind 154 UKIP 67

Harlech

Gwynedd council, Wales; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Freya Bentham.

Harlech Castle, Sept 2020, by the author

For our Welsh by-election, it's time for something completely different. Welcome to the west coast of Wales, to the Snowdonia National Park, and to the tiny town of Harlech. This is a major location in Welsh and indeed British history thanks to the well-preserved Harlech Castle, which was built on a coastal location at the command of the English King Edward I in the 1280s. The castle saw action in the Glyndŵr rebellion of the 1400s, serving as Owain Glyndŵr's headquarters; two centuries later, it was the last Royalist castle to surrender in the English Civil War. In between, during the Wars of the Roses, the Yorkists besieged the castle for seven years; that siege inspired the military march and song Men of Harlech.

In the 1280s Harlech Castle lay on the shoreline and had a watergate; today it's set back a long way from the sea, overlooking a flat landscape of sand dunes, a golf course, the town's railway station (a passing-place on the Cambrian Coast line), and the Ysgol Ardudwy secondary school. Ysgol Ardudwy, whose former pupils include the novelist Sir Philip Pullman, serves the entire Ardudwy area from Barmouth in the south to Penrhyndeudraeth in the north; many pupils commute into the school on the railway.

Ffordd Pen Llech, Sept 2020, by the author

The Ardudwy area contains a relatively large amount (by Meirionnydd standards) of flat, fertile land, but once the ground starts to rise it rises very quickly towards the impassible Rhinog mountains in the east. So quickly, indeed, that Ffordd Pen Llech (a single-track road climbing around the north side of the castle) was once considered the steepest street in the world. (Unfortunately, since the sign above was installed Guinness have reverted that title back to Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand.) The sign at the top end of Ffordd Pen Llech warns of a gradient of 40%, which is a slight overexaggeration, with the statement "Unsuitable for motors"; should you wish to ignore that warning, the street is one-way for motor traffic in the downhill direction only. Having walked up the street myself last year as a pedestrian, all I can say is that I wouldn't want to walk down it.

Harlech division

But unless you're prepared to walk, there is no way east from Harlech. All communication links follow the coast south towards Barmouth and Dolgellau, or north towards Porthmadog or Ffestiniog. The road and railway line north will take you through Talsarnau, which is part of the Harlech electoral division, and to the railway and road bridge of Pont Briwet which forms the link across the Traeth Bach estuary to Penrhyndeudraeth. The original Victorian wooden toll bridge, which despite its Grade II listing had become increasingly dilapidated, was demolished in 2014 and replaced by a modern structure for which no tolls are charged.

Gwynedd, May 2017

Harlech is part of Gwynedd council, which is controlled by the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru. From 1999 to 2017 it was represented on the council by local sheep farmer Edmund Caerwyn Roberts of Plaid, who didn't face a contested election until 2012 when he despatched a candidate from Llais Gwynedd (an anti-Plaid localist party) without much trouble. However, in 2017 Roberts lost his seat to independent candidate Freya Bentham by just five votes, 297 to 292; Bentham and Roberts both polled 39% of the vote.

For this by-election two independent candidates have come forward to succeed Bentham. One is Lisa Birks, who describes herself as a working parent from Talsarnau. The other is Martin Hughes, who sits on Harlech community council and on the standards committee for the Snowdonia National Park; he is an energy broker who previously was finance director of Coleg Harlech, a now-defunct adult education college in Harlech. Plaid Cymru will want the seat back and they have selected Gwynfor Owen, a professional translator who has previously served on Gwynedd council (Porthmadog East, 1995-99); Owen gives an address outside the division in Penrhyndeudraeth. Those are your three candidates: more information on all of them is available from the Local Democracy Reporting Service here (link). Don't forget that Wales has recently extended its local election franchise, so Votes at 16 apply in this by-election.

Westminster and Senedd constituency: Dwyfor Meirionnydd
ONS Travel to Work Area: Tywyn and Dolgellau
Postcode districts: LL41, LL46, LL47

Lisa Birks (Ind)
Martin Hughes (Ind)
Gwynfor Owen (PC)

May 2017 result Ind 297 PC 292 C 70 Lab 70 UKIP 24
May 2012 result PC 471 Llais Gwynedd 187
May 2008 result PC unopposed
June 2004 result PC unopposed
May 1999 result PC unopposed
May 1995 result Ind 462 PC 360

North Curry and Ruishton

Somerset West and Taunton council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Phil Stone.

As we move into England, it would be remiss of me not to talk about the Liberal Democrats following their important by-election win last week. No, not the one in Chesham and Amersham: I'm talking about the Old Cleeve and District ward of Somerset, one of two polls in consecutive weeks which the Liberal Democrats needed to win to preserve their overall majority on Somerset West and Taunton council. The Conservatives cut the majority in the seat to just six votes, but a win is a win and the Lib Dems can now move on to the second part of this two-part series.

SWAT, North Curry and Ruishton

So, for some spicy electoral action we come to the ward of North Curry and Ruishton. This is a diverse rural area, running from the eastern edge of Taunton at Ruishton down to the Somerset Levels at Burrowbridge. The excellence of the area's mediaeval churches demonstrates that this was a rich agricultural area in centuries gone by; indeed North Curry was the centre of its own Hundred. Stoke St Gregory, down on the Levels, is home to the Willows and Wetlands visitor centre; tennis fans can also travel there to visit the grave of Bunny Austin, the last Briton before Sir Andy Murray to reach the Wimbledon men's singles final, who lies at rest in the Stoke St Gregory churchyard. Part of the modern-day village of Athelney lies within the ward, although the Isle of Athelney itself is over the boundary in Sedgemoor district.

This ward, like Somerset West and Taunton council itself, was created in 2019. Before then the area was covered by two wards of Taunton Deane council: North Curry and Stoke St Gregory ward was the political fiefdom of veteran Lib Dem councillor Phil Stone, while Ruishton and Creech ward was a Conservative-inclined marginal. The Conservatives did very badly in the inaugural Somerset West and Taunton elections in 2019, and the Lib Dems won both seats in the new ward with a large majority of 75-25.

The Lib Dems unexpectedly won a majority of one seat on the new council in those 2019 elections, and bolstered that by gaining two by-elections later that year. However, there appears to have been some infighting within the group. North Curry and Ruishton councillor Phil Stone resigned earlier this year, 34 years after his first election to Taunton Deane council, after falling out with the council leadership; and other defections mean that the party has to hold this resulting by-election to preserve its majority on the council. Following last week's by-election, the council composition stands at 29 Lib Dems plus this vacancy, 14 independents, 10 Conservatives, 3 Labour and 2 Greens.

That this may be a more difficult task than it looks is shown by the last Somerset county council elections, which were held in May 2017 at a better time for the Tories. The North Curry half of the ward is part of the safely Conservative county division of Monkton and North Curry, while the Ruishton half is covered by the Blackdown and Neroche county division which the Conservatives gained from the Lib Dems in 2017. There were no county council elections in Somerset in 2021, to allow for a consultation on further local government reform in the county.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Barrie Hall, a physics teacher at Richard Huish sixth-form college in Taunton. The Conservatives have selected Tom Linnell, who describes himself as a local businessman and resident. Completing the ballot paper is Cathy Parmenter for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Taunton Deane
Somerset county council division: Monkton and North Curry (Burrowbridge, North Curry and Stoke St Gregory parishes); Blackdown and Neroche (Ruishton, Stoke St Mary and Thornfalcon parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Taunton
Postcode districts: TA3, TA7

Barrie Hall (LD)
Tom Linnell (C)
Cathy Parmenter (Grn)

May 2019 result LD 1362/1090 C 455/443

Priory Vale

Swindon council, Wiltshire; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Emma Faramarzi, who was elected as a Conservative.

For our other South West by-election we consider something completely different. The town of Swindon has seen large population growth in this century, and this has been achieved through the development of large housing estates. Such as the parish of Haydon Wick, once a rural area on the northern edge of Swindon, which has been almost entirely filled with houses over the last 25 years.

To some extent, the Local Government Boundary Commission saw this coming. In their review of Swindon's wards which was implemented in May 2000, they created a brand-new ward called Abbey Meads with three councillors and a 1998 electorate of 992 (in a year when the average three-member ward in Swindon would have had an electorate of 6,900). By May 2000 the electorate was up to 2,649 voters, who returned a Conservative slate including a recent Oxford Brookes graduate called Justin Tomlinson. Abbey Meads grew and grew and grew into a safe Conservative ward, and Tomlinson used it as a springboard into Parliament: since 2010 he has been the MP for the local seat of North Swindon, and he has joined the government ladder as a junior DWP minister.

We can paint a fairly accurate picture of the sort of people who were attracted to all these new houses from Abbey Meads' return in the 2011 census. It made the top 20 wards in England and Wales for full-time employment (59.8%) and the top 20 wards in England and Wales for the 30-44 age bracket (34.1%, which was the highest figure for any ward in the South West). The proportion of under-16s (26.4%) is the third-highest figure in the South West. High proportions of the workforce are in managerial and professional work, although the number with degrees is a bit lower than you might expect given that.

Swindon, Priory Vale

By 2010 Abbey Meads ward had grown far beyond the 1998 projections to 13,408 voters, a figure which was still rising strongly, in a year when the average three-member ward in Swindon would have had an electorate of 7,989. The ward was broken up for the 2012 election, with much of it going into a new ward called Priory Vale covering the western half of Haydon Wick parish. Priory Vale has continued as a safely Conservative area; in the ordinary Swindon elections last month the Tories beat Labour here 54-33. Excellent local election performances in 2019 and 2021 have given the Conservatives a strong majority on Swindon council: they hold 36 seats, Labour have 20 and the remaining seat is this vacancy left behind by former council cabinet member Emma Faramazi. She had left the Conservatives in 2020, some months before her recent resignation from the council.

Defending for the Conservatives is Kate Tomlinson, the wife and constituency office manager of Justin Tomlinson MP. Labour have reselected Ian Edwards, who fought the ward in the ordinary election in May. Two other candidates returning from May are Stephen Litchfield of the Greens and independent candidate Elena Mari; together with Joseph Polson of the Lib Dems, they complete the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: North Swindon
ONS Travel to Work Area: Swindon
Postcode districts: SN2, SN25

Ian Edwards (Lab)
Stephen Litchfield (Grn)
Elena Mari (Ind)
Joseph Polson (LD)
Kate Tomlinson (C)

May 2021 result C 1470 Lab 891 Grn 211 Ind 138
May 2019 result C 1260 Lab 860
May 2018 result C 1605 Lab 798 Grn 146 LD 118 UKIP 67
May 2016 result C 1131 Lab 505 UKIP 258 LD 88 Grn 83
May 2015 result C 3314 Lab 1213 UKIP 658 Grn 282
May 2014 result C 1232 UKIP 519 Lab 513 LD 158
May 2012 result C 1227/1161/1109 Lab 466/464/459 UKIP 308 LD 145

Wolvey and Shilton

Rugby council, Warwickshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Chris Pacey-Day.

Rugby, Wolvey and Shilton

For our Midlands by-election this week it's back to the villages. In these football-mad weeks the name "Shilton" might bring to mind the great England goalkeeper of yesteryear, but the Shilton I'm talking about in this article is a village just to the north-east of Coventry. Together with the village of Wolvey to the north, Shilton is part of an electoral ward which runs from the edge of Coventry to the Roman Road of Watling Street.

Despite its location close to the city of Coventry and to the towns of Nuneaton and Hinckley, Wolvey and Shilton ward is administered as part of the Rugby local government district. Rugby council got new ward boundaries in 2012 which created this ward, and the Conservatives' Chris Pacey-Day had sat since then with very large majorities. He was last re-elected in 2018, defeating Labour in a straight fight by exactly 3 to 1 (561 votes to 187). The ward went to the polls in May as part of the Fosse division of Warwickshire county council, which had a wider choice of candidates but was also safely Conservative.

Defending for the Conservatives is Becky Maoudis, who lives in Shilton. Labour have selected Richard Harrington, who has contested a few local elections in the Rugby area in recent years with no success to date. Completing the ballot paper is the ward's first Liberal Democrat candidate, Sam Edwards.

Parliamentary constituency: Rugby
Warwickshire county council division: Fosse
ONS Travel to Work Area: Coventry
Postcode districts: CV2, CV7, CV11, CV12, CV23, LE10, LE17

Sam Edwards (LD)
Richard Harrington (Lab)
Becky Maoudis (C)

May 2018 result C 561 Lab 187
May 2014 result C 545 Lab 171 Grn 91
May 2012 result C 465 Lab 225

Chichester East

Chichester council, West Sussex; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Kevin Hughes.

Chichester, Chichester East

We finish for the week in the cathedral city of Chichester, the home of West Sussex county council and one of the oldest cities in the UK. The Romans knew the city as Noviomagus Reginorum, there are extensive Roman remains here, and Chichester was the southern end of the Roman Road of Stane Street which ran to a small town on the Thames estuary called Londinium. Stane Street started at the city's eastern gate and ran (now as the A285 road) through what's now Chichester East ward, which has become extensively built up over the last two millennia.

This column may not be following in the footsteps of the Romans, but the ground I write about has definitely been trodden before by the great psephologist Robert Waller, whose magisterial Almanac of British Politics forms the benchmark against which all future electoral commentary is judged. Believe me, this previewing game is harder than it looks; there have been many occasions on which Andrew's Previews has been weighed in the balance of Waller's work and found wanting. Every edition of Waller's Almanac joked that "even after the revolution the workers' soviet for Chichester would be Tory"; well, like all good jokes, there's a grain of truth and a lot of exaggeration in that.

Chichester may be a city, but its city council is a parish-level body: this by-election is for Chichester district council, which covers a huge swathe of true-blue rural Sussex all the way up to the Surrey boundary. The forerunner to the future Chichester Workers' Soviet does normally have a Conservative majority, but the first election to the modern Chichester council in 1973 saw the Conservative group outnumbered by independent councillors, and at the Tory nadir of 1995 the Liberal Democrats were the largest party on a hung council. The May 2019 elections to the city also saw the Conservatives lose their majority on the council, crashing from 42 seats out of 48 to 18 seats out of 36; and there are signs that the long-awaited left-wing revolution may be cranking into life here. The Labour Party won two seats on Chichester council in 2019, both of them here in Chichester East ward: that's the first time Labour had won a seat on this council since 1995, and the first time ever that Chichester had returned more than one Labour councillor. Shares of the vote in Chichester East were 30% for Labour, 25% for the Conservatives and 18% each for the Lib Dems and Greens.

This Cicestrian red wave didn't translate through to the May 2021 West Sussex county elections, partly because Labour's performance last month was generally nothing to write home about and partly because the county division boundaries give the city four "rurban" divisions, with each of the four Chichester divisions covering significant territory outside the city proper. The larger Chichester East county division remains safe Conservative.

The ruling Conservative group on Chichester council got their majority back in November 2019 by taking a by-election off the Lib Dems (Andrew's Previews 2019, page 374), but they have suffered two defections since then to put them in a minority again. There are currently 17 Conservative councillors, 10 Lib Dems, 5 independents across two council groups, 2 Greens, and 1 Labour plus this vacancy. As can be seen, the Tories need to gain this by-election to get back to half of the seats, while Labour need to hold the seat to retain group status on the council.

Defending for Labour is Clare Walsh. The Conservatives have selected their constituency party chairman Jane Kilby, who was a councillor for the previous Chichester East ward from 2015 to 2019 and also sat on the district council before then from 1987 to 2003. The Liberal Democrat candidate is Bill Brisbane. The Green Party have not nominated a candidate, so that is your ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Chichester
West Sussex county council division: Chichester East
ONS Travel to Work area: Chichester and Bognor Regis
Postcode districts: PO18, PO19

Bill Brisbane (LD)
Jane Kilby (C)
Clare Walsh (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 462/441 C 380/355 LD 283/246 Grn 279 UKIP 146


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

Sewell

Norfolk county council; and

Sewell

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

Felbridge

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 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


Previewing the Torfaen by-elections of 08 Apr 2021

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

Before we start, I would like to apologise for a major error in the Local Elections Archive Project which affected last week's preview for the St Kingsmark division of Monmouthshire. Based on the LEAP record, I stated that at the 2017 election the Conservatives had polled 65% of the vote, with an independent candidate and Labour tying for the runner-up slot on 94 votes or 13% each. It has since come to my attention that the 2017 vote for the independent candidate Lia Hind was in fact 407 votes rather than 94, and so the Conservative win in percentage terms was 45-40 over Hind. The LEAP record has now been corrected. In a database with (at the time of writing) 327,598 candidacies I am well aware that there must be errors lurking somewhere, but I take great pride in the quality of the Local Elections Archive Project's data and I am sorry to have let you down last week.

In the last contests before the 6th May local elections, there are three by-elections on 8th April 2021:

Abersychan;
Cwmyniscoy; and
New Inn

Torfaen council, Gwent; caused respectively by the death of independent councillor Raymond Williams and the resignations of Labour councillor Neil Waite and Conservative councillor Raymond Mills.

There are four weeks to go until local elections resume in England on 6th May 2021. Before then, we have three local by-elections to bring you from the Torfaen district of south-east Wales. Torfaen district is based on the New Town of Cwmbran and the older town of Pontypool, in which general area all three of today's by-elections are concentrated.

The village and division of Abersychan can be found north of Pontypool, in the Lwyd valley on the way to the World Heritage Site of Blaenavon. Like Blaenavon, the Abersychan area started out with an ironworking industry, which gave way to coalmining by the twentieth century. By the 1920s one of the major local figures in the mineworkers' unions was Arthur Jenkins, who was elected in 1935 as Labour MP for Pontypool; his son Roy Jenkins, born in Abersychan in 1920, became one of the most significant politicians of the late 20th century.

The modern Abersychan division covers a number of villages in the valley, including Cwmavon and Varteg. Varteg made the headlines around the world a few years back with a proposal from the Welsh Language Commissioner to change the spelling of its name to the Welsh-language Y Farteg, which it's fair to say caused a bit of a stink among the locals. In the 2011 census Abersychan came in the top 100 divisions or wards in England and Wales for population born in the UK.

Immediately to the south of Pontypool can be found the Cwmyniscoy division, which is based on the Cwmfields area along Cwmynyscoy Road. This division includes the local campus of the further education college Coleg Gwent. However, most of the division's acreage is upland, pockmarked with quarries.

Very different in character is New Inn, on the eastern side of the valley. Pontypool is rather unlike other Valleys towns in that it was an important railway centre, and New inn was once at the centre of that: there were extensive marshalling yards here, and a steelworks down the hill at Panteg also offered employment. The only survivor of this industry is the railway station on the Marches Line, now an unstaffed halt called Pontypool and New Inn with irregular trains to Newport, Hereford and beyond.

These three divisions have contrasting political traditions. New Inn division was created by boundary changes in 2004, which merged together the previous New Inn Lower and New Inn Upper divisions. The division was gained by the Conservatives in 2008, and these days it votes as if it was in Monmouthshire over the border: New Inn has become one of two reliable Conservative divisions in Torfaen. (The other is Llanyrafon East and Ponthir, on the eastern edge of Cwmbran). In May 2017 the Conservative lead over Labour here was 55-31, with the division's councillors accounting for three-quarters of the Conservative group on Torfaen council. Raymond Mills had sat for New Inn since 2008.

The other two divisions go back to the founding electoral arrangements of Torfaen council in 1995. Cwmyniscoy is a single-member division which took until 2008 to see a contested election; in that year Neil Waite, who had sat since 1999, lost his seat by 19 votes to People's Voice. This was one of three seats won in Torfaen that year by People's Voice, which was a political party associated with Peter Law, the Labour-turned-independent MP and AM for Blaenau Gwent, and which continued after Law's death until being wound up in 2010. Neil Waite got his seat back in 2012, and was re-elected in 2017 with a 56-44 margin in a straight fight with UKIP.

Recent elections in Abersychan have tended to be a free-for-all between Labour and a large number of independent candidates. The late independent councillor Ray Williams was first elected in 2004, lost his seat in 2012 and got back in 2017 by winning the last of the division's three seats with a 200-vote majority over the second Labour candidate, Wayne Tomlinson. Sadly, Williams died in December 2020 from COVID-19, aged 84.

Former Labour councillor Wayne Tomlinson is one of two independent candidates seeking to succeed Raymond Williams in the Abersychan by-election. Tomlinson has contested every election in this division from 1999 onwards, being elected as an independent candidate in 2008 and as a Labour candidate in 2012. The other independent candidate is Charlotte Hill, who runs a specialist cheese shop in Blaenavon. Labour have selected Lynda Clarkson, who represents part of the division (Garndiffaith and Varteg ward) on Pontypool community council. Also standing in Abersychan are Tristan Griffin for the Conservatives and Kieran Gething, in the first election for a new political party: Gething is standing for Propel, a Welsh nationalist movement led by the former Plaid Cymru MS Neil McEvoy.

In Cwmyniscoy the defending Labour candidate is John Killick, the deputy leader of Pontypool community council. Killick has been a Torfaen councillor before: he won a by-election in Pontypool division in 2011 partly thanks to six independent candidates splitting the opposition vote, but lost his seat there in 2012. With no UKIP candidate this time, Killick is opposed in Cwmyniscoy by Propel candidate Ben Evans and independent Bridgette Harris.

Finally, the defending Conservative candidate for New Inn is Keith James, a solicitor. Labour have reselected IT worker Farooq Dastgir, who was on their slate here in 2017. Completing the New Inn ballot paper is independent candidate Ross Attfield.

Abersychan

Westminster and Senedd constituency: Torfaen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode district: NP4

Lynda Clarkson (Lab)
Kieran Gething (Propel)
Tristan Griffin (C)
Charlotte Hill (Ind)
Wayne Tomlinson (Ind)

May 2017 result Ind 1242/906 Lab 1000/706/504 C 338
May 2012 result Lab 845/679/623 Ind 570/244/238/199/175/137 PC 252 Grn 178
May 2008 result Ind 1148/810/734 Lab 862/725/465 Grn 446
June 2004 result Lab 1062/970/614 Ind 773/661/568/398 Grn 265
May 1999 result Lab 1348/1327/1204 Ind 732/611
May 1995 result Lab 1559/1313/1104 Ind Communist 822 Ind 593 Ind Lab 565 Grn 167

Cwmyniscoy

Westminster and Senedd constituency: Torfaen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode district: NP4

Ben Evans (Propel)
Bridgette Harris (Ind)
John Killick (Lab)

May 2017 result Lab 192 UKIP 150
May 2012 result Lab 274 Ind 225 PC 10 C 9
May 2008 result People's Voice 232 Lab 213
June 2004 result Lab unopposed
May 1999 result Lab unopposed
May 1995 result Lab unopposed

New Inn

Westminster and Senedd constituency: Torfaen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode districts: NP4, NP44

Ross Attfield (Ind)
Farooq Dastgir (Lab)
Keith James (C)

May 2017 result C 1171/1067/1013 Lab 655/594/576 Ind 314
May 2012 result C 1086/1061/1050 Lab 739/724/671 PC 219
May 2008 result C 977/913/813 Ind 805 Lab 667/630/570 People's Voice 609
June 2004 result Lab 934/933/916 UKIP 811 C 711 LD 368

Andrew Teale


Previewing the St Kingsmark (Monmouthshire) by-election (01 Apr 2021)

One by-election on 1st April 2021:

St Kingsmark

Monmouthshire council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor David Dovey.

Do not adjust your calendar. Today is April Fool's Day, and it is also Maundy Thursday. It's not so long since Maundy Thursday was a day on which elections were not allowed to be held, and even since this was legalised not that many by-elections have been scheduled for the Thursday before Easter. The proximity of the May local elections - now just five weeks away - and the prospect of paying bank holiday rates to the count staff makes a Maundy Thursday by-election a generally unappealing proposition for everyone involved.

There are now just four local by-elections left before the ordinary May elections, all of which are in south-east Wales. We will have three polls to discuss next week in the Torfaen district, but first we cross the border over the tidal River Wye to come to the town of Chepstow.

Chepstow is an important location in English and Welsh history. It is the lowest point at which the Wye can be crossed, and as such it was fortified immediately after the Norman conquest: Chepstow Castle was founded in 1067 by the Earl of Hereford, William fitz Osbern. As a free port under the jurisdiction of the Marcher Lords, mediaeval Chepstow was the largest port in Wales and the town remained as an important shipping centre into the nineteenth century. The decline in trade was offset by the late 18th-century "Wye Tour", the prototype from which the modern tourist industry grew. After all, as this column has often pointed out, sometimes multiple times in the same sentence, the Welsh Marches are beautiful and the Wye Valley particularly so. We are only a few miles downstream from the picturesque and ruined Tintern Abbey.

Tintern Abbey dates from the twelfth century, but religion has been going on in this corner of Britain a lot longer than that. Six centuries before Tintern's foundation St Dubricius was preaching the good word in the kingdom of Ergyng, based on the Wye Valley. Dubricius' disciples included a rather obscure figure called Cynfarch or Kynemark, who was renowned for his holiness. Under the Anglicised name of Kingsmark, a number of churches in Wales and the West Country are dedicated to him, one of which - founded in the 7th century - was in Chepstow. This was replaced in 1270 by an Augustinian priory, which was dissolved in the sixteenth century along with all the other monasteries and has since disappeared without trace.

Except for this ward name. St Kingsmark is the northern of the five electoral divisions covering Chepstow, and has somewhat unusual demographics for Wales. According to the 2011 census, 51% of the workforce are in managerial or professional occupations, while 47% of adults living here have a degree-level qualification. This is the sort of demographic that in England, on the other side of the river, would scream "middle-class commuter centre", and that is what Chepstow has become. The opening of the Severn Bridge in 1966 (and the removal of its tolls in December 2018) brought the town within easy commuting range of Bristol on the far side of the river, while Newport and Cardiff are easily accessible via the railway and the M4 motorway.

St Kingsmark division turns in the sort of election results you would expect for that demographic. It has voted Conservative at all six local elections since the present Monmouthshire council was established in 1995, and also voted Conservative at all six local elections to the predecessor Monmouth district council. David Dovey had represented the division from 2008 until his death in January 2021, and at his last re-election in May 2017 he polled 65% of the vote; an independent candidate and Labour tied for the runner-up slot on 94 votes or 13% each.

This is quite typical of Monmouthshire, which is the only county or county borough council in Wales with a Conservative majority. The May 2017 elections here returned 25 Conservatives against 10 Labour, 5 independents and 3 Lib Dems. The Monmouth constituency, which covers a very similar area, has been Tory-held at Westminster since 2005 and is the only Welsh constituency which has voted Conservative in every Senedd election to date. However, the outgoing Tory MS Nick Ramsay has been deselected for the 2021 election in favour of the council leader Peter Fox; Ramsay has not taken this well, and is threatening to seek re-election as an independent.

Will these ructions have an effect on the St Kingsmark by-election? We shall see. Defending for the Conservatives is Christopher Edwards, who fought his home division of Trellech United (further up the Wye Valley) in 2017 and narrowly failed to unseat an independent councillor. Labour have selected Tom Kirton, who was Mayor of Chepstow in 2019-20. Completing the ballot paper is the Lib Dem candidate, Jenni Brews.

Westminster and Senedd constituency: Monmouth
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport
Postcode district: NP16

Jenni Brews (LD)
Christopher Edwards (C)
Tom Kirton (Lab)

May 2017 result C 456 Ind 94 Lab 94 LD 62
May 2012 result C 422 LD 257
May 2008 result C 474 LD 270 Lab 110
June 2004 result C 422 LD 385 Lab 87
May 1999 result C 539 Lab 223 LD 176
May 1995 result C 456 Lab 390
(Earlier results are for Monmouth district council)
May 1991 result C 570 Lab 227 LD 145
May 1987 result C 497 All 220 Lab 149
May 1983 result C 551 Lab 176
May 1979 result C 823 Lab 322
May 1976 result C 423 Lab 191
May 1973 result C 286 Lab 102

Andrew Teale