Previews: 13 Dec 2017

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

There are two unusual Wednesday by-elections on 13th December 2017. We keep the recent south of England theme going, with a Labour defence in Exeter and a Conservative defence in Surrey, both in wards which look rather safe. Read on...


Newtown and St Leonard's

Exeter council, Devon; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Roger Spackman, who had served since September 2010 for the former Newtown ward and since 2016 for this ward. His resignation was ostensibly for personal reasons, but it has since been revealed that Spackman is being investigated by police on suspicion of making an indecent photograph of a child.

For the first of our two by-elections on the Wednesday of the week before Christmas, we are in the city of Exeter. The Newtown area lies immediately to the east of Exeter city centre. Always a poor area of town - the main industries here were workhouses and brick-making - Newtown was built-up by 1900, and many of the original houses have survived the Baedeker raids to the present day. Further south is the St Leonard's area, along the Topsham Road, which has seen extensive redevelopment since 2000. The walk is within walking distance of the city centre and many of its residents walk to work. One intriguing feature of the ward is that one of its census districts has a significant number of British Sign Language speakers: this is associated with the Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education, which lies just outside the ward boundary. Within the boundary are the city's bus station on Paris Street, the St Luke's Campus of the University of Exeter, the independent Exeter School and Belmont Park. Not surprisingly education is a major employer here.

Newtown and St Leonard's ward was created in 2016 when Exeter's wards were significantly reorganised. The pre-2016 Newtown ward had a large student population associated with the University of Exeter - the university's St Luke's Campus lies within the ward - while the old St Leonard's ward was much more upmarket with an urban professional demographic. The merger of the two wards was good news for Labour, who had a lock on Newtown ward; St Leonard's ward was safe Conservative before the Coalition years but turned marginal from 2012 onwards and was a Labour gain at its last election, in 2015. The 2016 election to the new ward - the only previous result on these boundaries - took its cue from the Newtown half rather than the St Leonard's half. Labour won the ward that year with 50%, to 23% for the Conservatives and 12% for the Green Party; further down the ballot was a rare local election outing for the UKIP splinter group An Independence from Europe, who came last with 3%. The elections earlier this year showed further good news for Labour, who won both of the county divisions which cover most of the ward (a small corner of the ward is within the safe-Tory division of Wearside and Topsham), and also performed well in June's general election in the Exeter constituency.

Even with the dubious circumstances of this by-election Labour can be confident here. Their defending candidate is Matthew Vizard, a caseworker for Exeter's Labour MP Ben Bradshaw; he is hoping to join on the council his wife Natalie who is another councillor for the ward. The Conservatives have selected Lucille Baker, the Conservative election agent for eastern Devon. Returning from the 2016 election is Green Party candidate Tom Milburn, a Unison organiser and long-serving chairman of the Exeter branch of CND. Completing the ballot paper are Alexandra Newcombe for the Liberal Democrats - who have won all three by-elections in Devon since the start of November but will be hard-pressed to keep that streak going here - and Alison Sheridan for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Exeter
Exeter county council division: St David's and Haven Banks (part: former St Leonard's ward); St Sidwell's and St James (part: former Newtown ward); Wearside and Topsham (small part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter
Postcode districts: EX1, EX2, EX4

Lucille Baker (C)
Tom Milburn (Grn)
Alexandra Newcombe (LD)
Alison Sheridan (UKIP)
Matthew Vizard (Lab)

May 2016 result Lab 1725/1562/1448 C 816/755/676 Grn 416/371/276 LD 244 UKIP 172 An Independence from Europe 104


Godalming Central and Ockford

Waverley council, Surrey; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Simon Thornton.

Our second Wednesday by-election is one of the five wards covering the Surrey town of Godalming. This is a prosperous town whose traditional industry was woollen cloth, later diversifying into papermaking, quarrying and coaching. The town's location in the North Downs five miles south of Guildford may look slightly out of the way, but it was a popular stopping point on the London to Portsmouth stagecoach run, while the River Wey was canalised in the eighteenth century to further connect Godalming to the outside world. The town was the first place in the world to have a public electricity supply and electric street lighting, but is probably better known for the curious case of Mary Toft, a local maidservant who in 1726 was the subject of a well-known hoax in which she claimed to have given birth to rabbits. The railway came in 1849, and Godalming station lies on the Portsmouth Direct line with two trains each hour to Guildford and Waterloo.

Ian Fleming may have satirised Godalming's demographic (in For Your Eyes Only) as full of retired colonial civil servants, but in truth Godalming Central and Ockford ward is a middle-class commuter area. The ward is well-described by its name, covering the town centre, the railway station and the suburb of Ockford to the south-west. Included in the ward is the head office of Waverley council (although Godalming is only the second-largest town in the district, after Farnham).

Like much of Waverley district, this ward had a strong Lib Dem vote in 2003 which has since completely fallen apart. The Tories gained Godalming Central and Ockford in 2007, and were easily re-elected in 2015 with 41% of the vote, to 26% for Labour and 17% for an outfit called "Something New" of which your columnist knows nothing. There was no Lib Dem candidate here in 2015, but the 2017 county elections suggest they may have got their act together: the party gained the Godalming North county division, which includes the town centre, from the Conservatives.

Defending for the Conservatives is Stella Andersen-Payne who is seeking to return to Waverley council; under her former name of Stella Payne she was elected unopposed for Frensham, Dockenfield and Tilford ward in 2011 but stood down after one term. Hoping that everything is in the right place for a Labour win is their candidate Richard Ashworth, a feng shui practitioner. Something New are now something old and have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Paul Follows of the Liberal Democrats and Susan Ryland of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Surrey
Surrey county council division: Godalming North (part: Godalming Central); Godalming South, Milford and Witley (part: Ockford)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Guildford and Aldershot
Postcode districts: GU7, GU8

Stella Andersen-Payne (C)
Richard Ashworth (Lab)
Paul Follows (LD)
Susan Ryland (Grn)

May 2015 result C 1180/1024 Lab 743 Something New 485 UKIP 437
May 2011 result C 829/731 LD 410 Lab 346
May 2007 result C 609/592 LD 522/501 Lab 115
May 2003 result LD 685/623 C 276/286 Lab 252/217 Grn 85


If you liked this piece, why not buy the book? Andrew's Previews 2016, with many more pieces like this, is now available from Amazon.


Previews: 14 Dec 2017

There are nine polls on 14th December 2017. It's the last week of elections before Christmas, and this volatile year of 2017 is certainly going out with a bang. We will finish with a Christmas Bonus in the City of London! visit the only place in the UK with an exclamation mark in its name! and try not to get mugged in Salford! There is just one Conservative defence this week (in Torquay) to two for the Liberal Democrats (one in Devon, one in Hertfordshire) and no fewer than five defences for Labour, one in Yorkshire, two in Greater Manchester and two in Staffordshire. We will start with the two Staffordshire polls, because there is, unfortunately, a lot to discuss about them this week. Read on...


Bradwell; and
Newchapel

Newcastle-under-Lyme council, Staffordshire; caused respectively by the death of Trevor Hambleton at the age of 71 and the resignation of Lionel Burch. Both were Labour councillors. Hambleton was first elected in 1999 and was Mayor of Newcastle in 2011-12; his widow Sandra remains a councillor for Bradwell ward. Burch, who had served since May 2016, resigned abruptly following unspecified allegations against his conduct from within the council's Labour group.

"For me a vote is not merely a mark on a paper; it symbolises my inalienable right to choose who shall govern me and set the tenor of my life for the next five years. This right and privilege has been won for us over many generations by brave and dedicated men and women and is a precious gift. That I have been robbed of it by administrative incompetence is an insult to their legacy and a grave disservice to me."

My text this week is taken from the Scallan Report, and is a letter written by an elector of Newcastle-under-Lyme. It is particularly poignant as today marks 99 years since the General Election of 1918, in which women (or at least those over the age of 30) were eligible to vote for the first time. That was the culmination of many years of pressure from the suffragette movement and others; as almost everybody who reads these words will be aware, people have died for the right to vote. For the last 99 years, we have all had cause to be grateful for their hard work and pressure.

In the 99 years since then, the number 99 has become indelibly associated with the word "flake". And so it is here, for we must start this week's previews not by discussing the delights of a particularly interesting and yet little-known area of Staffordshire, but in the Elections Office of Newcastle-under-Lyme. Your columnist, in his line of work. has long experience of trying to sort out official and administrative errors and thought he had heard it all; but the Newcastle-under-Lyme election of June 2017 is one of the most shocking examples of incompetence he has had cause to discuss and dissect for a long time.

The root cause of what went wrong in Newcastle in June is very simple, and rather worrying for those who care about the effectiveness of our local government: the Electoral Services Officer and her line manager both left the authority in 2016 and were not replaced. This meant that the county council elections in May 2017 were handled by a consultant who worked three days a week, a full-time temp and a part-timer both with experience of running elections, and two secondees. That election was generally handled well. However, there were further personnel changes for the general election because the consultant wasn't able to stay on and the full-time temp left, so a second consultant and a full-time agency worker had to be brought in in the middle of the election campaign. Crucially, the second consultant - who seems to have been appointed because he had previously worked in the Newcastle elections office - had little experience of the Individual Electoral Registration system which was introduced in 2015.

Once this is understood, the failings identified in the report compiled by Andrew Scallan all fall into place. Essentially it's the old story where incompetence is concerned: if you don't know what you're doing, you don't know what you're doing wrong. As a long-serving Director of Electoral Administration for the Electoral Commission, who was appointed CBE for his service, Scallan was certainly well-placed to get to the bottom of what went wrong. In fifty-eight pages of gory detail, his report identified the following failings by Newcastle-under-Lyme council at the 2017 general election:

  • 391 postal votes for UK addresses and 204 postal votes for overseas addresses were not sent out. 68 of those electors successfully complained that their postal votes had not arrived and were issued replacements, leaving 527 people disenfranchised. This error was not picked up by the elections office until after polling day, resulting in poor customer service to those electors who complained. In addition, postal polling cards were not sent out, resulting in those electors who had not received postal votes they had applied for not being aware of their rights and deadlines to request a replacement or not being aware that they could not vote in person.
  • Polling station staff were not provided with lists of postal voters, which resulted in at least one elector - who had been wrongly marked on the register as being a postal voter - being disenfranchised. (This error was also made in May's county elections.)
  • Some registration and postal vote applications handed in at council offices were lost.
  • Due to the staff's inexperience in Individual Electoral Registration and the volume of applications, 439 applications for registration were received before the deadline (22 May) but not processed in time for polling day; while 509 applications for registration were received before the deadline and processed in time for polling day, but were not added to the register for polling day because of a delay in switching the office's computer system to "election mode". 86 people complained about this, and the elections office misused their power to correct clerical errors to do what they should have done in the first place and add them to the register. An unknown number of other applications to vote needed further information to determine whether they were eligible, but this was not followed up by the elections office in a timely manner - that seems to been a particular problem for Keele University students. In addition electors who applied after the deadline were sent misleading letters suggesting that they would be eligible to vote in the general election.
  • On polling day, the elections office reaped what had been sown as all these problems came to a head. The staff were simply overwhelmed by the volume of enquiries and it is clear that not all of those enquiries were handled in a professional manner. Amid the chaos two people who were not eligible to vote in the election were allowed to do so.

The Scallan Report concluded that at least 998 electors in the Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency were disenfranchised as a result of these errors. It lays the blame for this squarely at the feet of inadequate performance by the Chief Executive as Acting Returning Officer, the Head of Audit who had line responsibility for the consultants, and the consultants themselves; together with the inexperience and under-resourcing of the election office's staff.

In most general elections 998 votes either way is not going to have an effect on the overall result; but as bad luck would have it the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, Paul Farrelly, was eventually declared the winner on 9th June with a majority of just thirty votes. There can be little doubt that, if it were given the evidence laid out in the Scallan Report, the Election Court would void that result and order a new election. Unfortunately, petitions questioning the result have to be filed with the Election Court within 21 days of the declaration, a deadline which has long gone. Through no fault of his own, Farrelly now finds himself with a mandate which is at best questionable and at worst illegitimate; and the only way for him to resolve the question as to whether he was duly elected is for him to resign and fight a by-election. At the time of writing, he has not resigned; and, given the state of the Newcastle-under-Lyme elections office (which according to the Scallan Report has one remaining non-suspended employee, who only works part-time) that's not surprising. Farrelly will want some kind of indication that this or something like it isn't going to happen again, and properly staffing the elections office - one of the 16 recommendations made to the council in the Scallan Report is that Newcastle-under-Lyme appoint a permanent Electoral Services Manager and at least two FTE supporting posts - would be a good start along that road.

Cases of incompetence in public office on this scale usually lead to demands for senior heads to roll, which rather misses the point that many of the problems with the Newcastle-under-Lyme election in June stemmed from senior heads not being there in the first place. Newcastle council have suspended the Chief Executive John Sellgren and the Head of Audit Elizabeth Dodd. At the time of writing, they have not resigned; and, given that the Scallan Report recommended that Staffordshire Police investigate for breach of official duty, an electoral offence which carries an unlimited fine, that's not surprising. They will want to protect their legal position.

However, this whole fiasco has resulted in the resignation of one person - the Labour Leader of the Council, Elizabeth Shenton. Newcastle-under-Lyme council is hung, with Labour as the largest group holding 24 seats plus these two vacancies but short of a majority; the Conservatives are on 22 seats and the balance of power is held by three Lib Dems, a Kipper and eight independent councillors of various stripes (several of whom were originally elected on the UKIP ticket). At last week's full council meeting the independents withdrew their support for the previous Labour minority administration and voted in the Conservatives, who have formed a minority administration of their own under new council leader Simon Tagg. If the Conservatives can gain both of today's by-elections they will draw level with Labour and running the council will become that little bit easier.

With the Returning Officer suspended and the Newcastle-under-Lyme elections office clearly in no fit state to administer a poll, the council has effectively outsourced the job of running today's two by-elections, at very short notice, to what Newcastle's Twitter feed coyly calls "our neighbouring authority". That would be Stoke-on-Trent. Local government watchers may have been given endless amusement by Stoke's political dysfunctionality over the years, but the city's elections staff come with a good reputation. We have to hope that they can sort out their sister borough's problems quickly.

That brings me to the by-elections themselves. To recap, these are Labour defences in Bradwell and Newchapel wards. Bradwell ward lies at the northern end of Newcastle town between the A34 and A500 roads. Once a coalmining area, this is now a riot of business parks benefiting from its proximity to the A500 and the Stoke-Manchester railway line - the JCB warehouse next to the railway at Chatterley Valley is particularly impressive. Despite all those jobs, qualification rates in the ward are low.

Newchapel ward deserves an article all to itself and it's a shame that hasn't happened this time. I covered the ward in a previous edition of Andrew's Previews in 2011, and after writing it up I thought it might be a nice place to visit. When I did eventually get there I was blown away. This is a high area on the hills between Kidsgrove and Biddulph, based on the village of Harriseahead and the Staffordshire half of the strange hilltop village of Mow Cop. Originally a quarrying village for millstones, Mow Cop is built around a 1,099-foot summit which is flanked by the rock formation of the Old Man of Mow and the folly of Mow Cop Castle. The Old Man and the Castle lie on the Staffordshire-Cheshire boundary, and on a good day provide fantastic views over the whole of the Cheshire Plain towards Manchester, the Peak District, the West Pennine Moors, the Shropshire hills, the Berwyn and Flintshire mountains and even Snowdonia. It's beautiful. You must go. The name "Newchapel" is rather appropriate: up here on the hill in 1807 two Wesleyan preachers, Hugh Bourne and William Clowes, held a successful camp meeting which - after they were thrown out of the Wesleyan Church - led to the development of Primitive Methodism. Today Newchapel's demographic can be best described as affluent working-class, with significant numbers of manufacturing jobs and a very high proportion of residents born in the UK.

That's led to some interesting election results in Newchapel over the years. In 2002 - the first election on the current boundaries - the Liberal Democrats won both seats, but they lost one to the Conservatives in 2003 and the other to Labour the following year. The Conservatives picked up the Labour seat in 2008. Labour gained both of the ward's seats in 2011 (one in the ordinary May election and the other in a November by-election), but the Conservatives got one seat back in 2015 and were very close to gaining the other last year. In a straight fight in 2016, Labour held their seat by 385 votes to 379 - a majority of six. The Conservatives narrowly gained the local county division (Kidsgrove) in May and will definitely see this as within range for a Tory gain - something we haven't seen much of recently.

Bradwell ward is a much safer Labour area which since 2002 has only voted Conservative once, at the Labour low point of 2008. Incidentally the losing Labour candidate that year was Gareth Snell, who is now the MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central. In 2016 Labour won here with 54%, to 24% for UKIP and 19% for the Conservatives. Again the Tories very narrowly gained the local county division of Bradwell, Porthill and Wolstanton in May; but as Porthill consistently votes Conservative and Wolstanton is politically volatile it is likely that Labour had a lead in Bradwell ward.

These will be the last elections to Newcastle-under-Lyme's current ward boundaries, as the council will be all-up in May on a new ward pattern - so whoever wins these by-elections will have to be back on the campaign trail in short order to seek re-election. Also next year the council will move away from election by thirds, so the next elections after May will be in 2022. Both Bradwell and Newchapel wards will see only minor changes in May, with Newchapel being renamed as "Newchapel and Mow Cop".

Defending Bradwell for Labour is Andrew Fox-Hewitt, a firefighter and secretary of the Cheshire branch of the Fire Brigades Union. There is no UKIP candidate - something which says volumes about the decline of the party, which has always been well-organised in Newcastle. The Conservative candidate is Gail Benbow. Richard Virr, of the Liberal Democrats, completes the ballot paper.

In Newchapel the defending Labour candidate is Angela Cooper. Jill Waring returns for the Conservatives after her near-miss last year. Completing the ballot paper is Nigel Morgan, an independent candidate endorsed by the council's Kidsgrove Independents group.

Let's hope for a smooth and orderly poll this time. It's not too much to ask.

Bradwell

Parliamentary constituency: Newcastle-under-Lyme
Staffordshire county council division: Bradwell, Porthill and Wolstanton

Gail Benbow (C)
Andrew Fox-Hewitt (Lab)
Richard Virr (LD)

May 2016 result Lab 732 UKIP 329 C 254 LD 45
May 2015 result Lab 1411 C 735 UKIP 712 Grn 97 LD 79 Ind 24
May 2014 result Lab 720 UKIP 527 C 208
May 2012 result Lab 972 C 391 LD 70
May 2011 result Lab 873 C 406 UKIP 346 LD 79
May 2010 result Lab 1441 C 999 LD 626
May 2008 result C 623 Lab 485 UKIP 413 LD 135
May 2007 result Lab 557 C 469 UKIP 289 LD 225
May 2006 result Lab 643 C 325 UKIP 310 LD 279
June 2004 result Lab 870 C 361 LD 303
May 2003 result Lab 756 C 247 LD 243
May 2002 result Lab 749/730/697 C 270/234/205 LD 243/152

Newchapel

Parliamentary constituency: Staffordshire Moorlands
Staffordshire county council division: Kidsgrove

Angela Cooper (Lab)
Nigel Morgan (Ind)
Jill Waring (C)

May 2016 result Lab 385 C 379
May 2015 result C 929 Lab 633 Grn 190
May 2012 result Lab 386 C 248 LD 54 Ind 39
Nov 2011 by-election Lab 248 C 160 UKIP 118 LD 17
May 2011 result Lab 304 C 254 Ind 168 UKIP 143 LD 60
Feb 2010 by-election C 208 UKIP 148 Lab 138 LD 127
May 2008 result C 416 Lab 220 LD 180 UKIP 127
May 2007 result C 314 Lab 258 LD 188 UKIP 131
May 2004 result Lab 352 LD 319 Ind 237
May 2003 result C 305 LD 238 Lab 222
May 2002 result LD 330/313 Lab 270/260 C 221/196


Shevington with Lower Ground

Wigan council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Damian Edwardson due to pressure of work. He had served since 2012.

We travel down the north escarpment of Mow Cop towards the first of three Labour defences in the North of England. Shevington lies on the edge of Greater Manchester to the north-west of Wigan; it's a rather diffuse set of villages in and overlooking the Douglas valley, with Shevington Vale, Shevington Moor, Gathurst and Crooke (the "Lower Ground" area) all lying within the ward boundary. In times past there was a coalmining and explosives industry here, but that's disappeared and the ward's residents instead make use of its good transport links to commute elsewhere. The M6 motorway passes through the ward from north to south, while from west to east run the Leeds-Liverpool Canal and the Manchester-Southport railway line, with stations at Gathurst and Appley Bridge (which is outside the ward and county boundary but within the Transport for Greater Manchester area) linking the ward to Wigan and Manchester.

During the 2000s this ward (and its predecessor, Langtree ward) was a closely-fought Labour versus Conservative marginal. However, after 2008 the Conservatives in Wigan suffered a damaging split, with the splinter group somehow managing to get the party name "Wigan Independent Conservatives" past the Electoral Commission and onto the register of political parties. The Wigan Independent Conservatives are associated with the Fairhurst family, who have a lock on the neighbouring ward of Standish with Langtree and one of whom was a former Conservative councillor for this ward. In recent years their candidates have attempted to obscure their Tory past by presenting themselves on the ballot paper with labels such as "Shevington Independents". The split allowed Labour to establish themselves in Shevington with Lower Ground ward, and they have held all three seats here since 2012. At the most recent borough election in 2016 Edwardson was re-elected with 40% of the vote, to 26% for the "Shevington Independents" and 19% for UKIP who pushed the Conservatives into fourth place. In May's Greater Manchester mayoral election - whose results were broken down to ward level - Labour's Andy Burnham led the Conservatives here 68-22.

Defending for Labour is Marlaine Whitham, a trustee of the Homestart St Helens charity and local school governor. Janet Brown of the "Shevington Independents" returns after her second-place finish last year. UKIP have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Callum Chadwick for the Conservatives, regular Green candidate Joseph Rylance and Joshua Hindle of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Wigan

Janet Brown (Shevington Ind)
Callum Chadwick (C)
Joshua Hindle (LD)
Joseph Rylance (Grn)
Marlaine Whitham (Lab)

May 2016 result Lab 1239 Wigan Independent Conservative 813 UKIP 584 C 349 Grn 112
May 2015 result Lab 2717 C 1661 UKIP 1439 Grn 426
May 2014 result Lab 1050 Wigan Independent Conservative 797 UKIP 797 C 353 Grn 156
May 2012 result Lab 1362 C 532 UKIP 450 Wigan Independent Conservative 220 Ind 198
May 2011 result Lab 1557 C 974 Wigan Independent Conservative 672 UKIP 498
May 2010 result Lab 2180 C 1404 Wigan Independent Conservative 1210 LD 995 UKIP 534
May 2008 result C 1531 Lab 971 UKIP 251 LD 251 Ind 157
May 2007 result C 1377 Lab 1248 UKIP 337 LD 311
May 2006 result C 1827 Lab 1311
June 2004 result Lab 1843/1468/1461 C 1456/1288/1191 LD 739/664/607

May 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Lab 1912 C 616 LD 85 Grn 74 EDP 40 UKIP 40 Farmer 21 Aslam 6


Langworthy

Salford council, Greater Manchester; caused by the death of Labour councillor Paul Longshaw at the age of 49. The lead member for housing at Salford council, Longshaw had served only since 2016 but before then had worked in Salford council's housing department for 25 years, becoming a senior housing officer and leading the regeneration of Pendleton. The inquest heard that Longshaw had suffered from depression, and the coroner recorded a verdict of suicide.

We take the train from Gathurst station towards Manchester and alight at Salford Crescent, the railway station just outside but serving Langworthy ward. Lying between the M602 motorway and the A6 Broad Street, this is the part of Salford your parents warned you about and one of the very few places where your columnist - who is well-built enough to make muggers think twice - has ever felt unsafe. We're a mile and a world away here from the shiny apartments and jobs of Salford Quays. Over half of the ward's housing stock is socially rented - putting Langworthy in the top 80 wards in England and Wales for that statistic - and much of that social housing consists of metal-clad tower blocks which are giving Salford council an enormous financial, health and safety headache in this post-Grenfell world. A large proportion of the population is economically inactive - 11% of the workforce is disabled or long-term sick, and 13% are students at nearby Salford University.

At the centre of Langworthy ward is Salford Shopping City, originally developed by the council in the 1960s and one of the most depressing collections of bargain and discount stores your columnist ever hopes to see. Shopping City was extensively damaged in the August 2011 riots, and you can bet your bottom dollar that if a shocking crime is reported in Salford it's probably happened somewhere within the ward boundary.

It will not come as a surprise that every one of this ward's census districts is within the 20% most deprived in the UK. Shopping City being served by several bus routes, this ward has a very high proportion who travel to work by bus by the standards of England outside London. The 2011 census also picked up significant pockets born in China (presumably students), Nigeria and Scotland.

Being inner-city Salford this is a Labour area. The main opposition to Labour here traditionally came from the Liberal Democrats, who won Langworthy at the Labour low point of 2008, but Salford was one of the areas where Coalition destroyed the Lib Dem base. UKIP took over second place in 2014, and in 2016 Labour won with 49% to 25% for UKIP and 11% for an independent candidate. UKIP are not contesting this by-election, so a better guide might be the mayoral election in May where Labour beat the Conservatives here 68-14.

Defending for Labour is Wilson Nkurunziza, a Baha'i and a community worker focusing on refugees. There is no UKIP candidate but it appears that the local UKIP group are backing independent candidate Michael Felse, a tutor and former Manchester Pride queen who has previously stood as an independent candidate for Mayor of Doncaster; Felse was the English Democrats candidate for Dewsbury in the 2010 general election and in 2012 stood on their ticket for Mayor of Salford and Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner. Also on the ballot are Conservative candidate James Mount, Ian Pattinson of the Green Party and Liberal Democrat Jake Overend.

Parliamentary constituency: Salford and Eccles

Michael Felse (Ind)
James Mount (C)
Wilson Nkurunziza (Lab)
Jake Overend (LD)
Ian Pattinson (Grn)

May 2016 result Lab 1142 UKIP 586 Ind 264 C 151 Grn 139 TUSC 45
May 2015 result Lab 2424 UKIP 1065 C 460 Grn 341 TUSC 98
May 2014 result Lab 1250 UKIP 884 C 207 BNP 86 Motorcycle Alliance 50
May 2012 result Lab 1269 LD 416 BNP 282 C 147
May 2011 result Lab 1400 LD 368 C 198 BNP 167 UKIP 161 TUSC 98
May 2010 result Lab 1888 LD 1211 C 572 BNP 505 Ind 123
May 2008 result LD 1049 Lab 878 C 330
May 2007 result Lab 1038 LD 830 C 288
May 2006 result Lab 890 LD 758 C 253
March 2005 by-election Lab 720 LD 410 C 169
June 2004 result Lab 1195/973/917 LD 639/599 Lib 552/412 C 448

May 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Lab 1176 C 243 LD 95 UKIP 75 Grn 67 EDP 39 Farmer 17 Aslam 14


Rockingham

Barnsley council, South Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Emma Dures who had served since 2012.

What's Christmas without a brass band?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAEsPhmJs5s

We conclude our tour of this week's northern by-elections by travelling to the wrong side of the Pennines for the last Labour defence of the year. The name of Rockingham ward commemorates Thomas Watson-Wentworth, the first Marquess of Rockingham, who took his name from his Northamptonshire estates but was a major landowner in this part of Yorkshire. As well as the ward, Lord Rockingham gave his name to a local colliery, a brand new community and sports centre (the Rockingham Centre), a cricket club (no relation of Lord Rockingham's XI, who were a band) and a brass band, seen in the video competing in the Fourth Section (the lowest division) of the 2016 Yorkshire Brass Band Championships. That performance placed them second overall, and they picked up the prize for Best Percussion and a qualification spot for the National Finals.

The ward named after Lord Rockingham is based on the western half of Hoyland, a mining town a few miles south of Barnsley, together with the smaller villages of Hoyland Common and Birdwell. As might be guessed from the fact that Barry Hines, the author of Kestrel for a Knave, was from Hoyland Common, this was traditionally a coalmining area both deep and opencast. Despite its proximity to the M1 motorway Rockingham ward hasn't developed as a commuter area following the collapse of the Yorkshire mining industry. In an attempt to stimulate development of the old mining sites a new road, the Dearne Valley Parkway, was opened through the ward in the late 1990s on the principle of "if you build it they will come". The jury appears to be still out on that one.

During the Blair and Brown years this ward was closely fought between Labour and a localist slate called the Barnsley Independent Group who are now defunct. Labour have won every contest here since 2010, with UKIP taking over second place in the 2014 election. In 2016 Labour beat the Kippers here 52-32.

Defending for Labour is Nicola Sumner. UKIP have not returned - which makes it five out of five by-elections in the Midlands and the North this week, all of them in wards where the Kippers have finished second at some point, which the party have not contested. That means that the opposition to Labour comes from the Conservatives' Michael Toon, who has stood here twice before, and Liberal Democrat Paul Nugent who is the only candidate to give an address in the ward.

Oh, and as it's Christmas... wine gums anyone?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BktLpmDNwt0

Parliamentary constituency: Barnsley East

Paul Nugent (LD)
Nicola Sumner (Lab)
Michael Toon (C)

May 2016 result Lab 1258 UKIP 792 C 205 EDP 122 TUSC 63
May 2015 result Lab 2845 UKIP 1289 C 619 EDP 192 TUSC 135
May 2014 result Lab 1032 UKIP 829 Barnsley Ind Gp 652 C 192 EDP 69 TUSC 64
May 2012 result Lab 1611 Barnsley Ind Gp 774 EDP 253 C 168
May 2011 result Lab 1846 Barnsley Ind Gp 1263 C 333 BNP 210
May 2010 result Lab 2430 Barnsley Ind Gp 1381 C 710 BNP 544 Ind 239
May 2008 result Barnsley Ind Gp 1336 Lab 913 BNP 343 C 296 LD 159 Ind 128
May 2007 result Barnsley Ind Gp 1394 Lab 1301 C 360
May 2006 result Lab 1255 Barnsley Ind Gp 846 Ind 320 C 297
June 2004 result Ind 1494/1330/1242 Lab 1397/1342/1291 BNP 383 C 345


Handside

Welwyn Hatfield council, Hertfordshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Rachel Basch who had served since 2016. She has taken up a politically restricted job with the civil service.

We move into the south, and to the only town which was both a garden city and a New Town. Welwyn Garden City was founded in 1920 as the UK's second garden city (after Letchworth), laid out with a neo-Georgian town centre along the Parkway, a straight boulevard a mile long with a park in the middle. Off the Parkway is the Howard Centre, a modern shopping mall, with the town's railway station behind it. All of these are in Handside ward, which covers south-western Welwyn Garden City and is the core of the original garden city development. The name refers to Handside Road, which existed before the town was developed and was incorporated into it.

The modern Handside ward is clearly middle-class commuter territory, with high proportions of residents in management jobs, and good education levels. Its current boundaries date from 2008 and the ward survived a boundary review in 2016 unchanged.

At local level Handside has for many years been a tight marginal between the Tories and Lib Dems, with the Conservatives generally having the upper hand. The 2008 election resulted in a 2-1 Tory-Lib Dem split; the Conservatives gained the Liberal Democrat seat in 2014 with a a majority of just 77 votes, but the 2016 election with all three seats up again resulted in a 2-1 Tory-Lib Dem split. Shares of the vote in 2016 were 42% for the Conservatives, 36% for the Liberal Democrats and 16% for Labour.

Now, something strange has happened this year to the Conservative machine in Welwyn Hatfield. There are only five constituencies which the Conservatives hold where they polled fewer votes in 2017 than in 2010. One of those is Witney, where the Tory candidate in 2010 was the party leader; three are urban professional seats in London (Cities of London and Westminster, Chelsea and Fulham, and Richmond Park) where Brexit has taken the shine off the Tory brand among their core vote. Welwyn Hatfield, having voted Leave eighteen months ago, doesn't fall into either of those categories. One explanation might be that the local MP Grant Shapps, who has been a scandal-prone figure, has developed a negative personal vote; but that doesn't satisfactorily explain the Tory underperformance in the Hertfordshire county elections just a month earlier, in which the party won just three of Welwyn Hatfield's eight county divisions. The other five seats split three to the Liberal Democrats and two to Labour, who also came very close to beating the Conservatives in the new Hatfield East division. Safely in the Liberal Democrat column was Handside and Peartree division, which includes this ward together with the weak Conservative area of Peartree ward.

So, it will be interesting to see if the Lib Dems can hold this one or whether the Conservatives can gain it. Defending for the Lib Dems is Siobhan Elam, a retired policewoman who is heavily involved with the local Barn Theatre. The Conservatives have gone for youth in selecting Drew Richardson who isn't yet 22; he works for Apple and is a Metropolitan Police special constable. Also in her early 20s is the Labour candidate Belinda Yeldon, youth officer for the party's Welwyn Hatfield branch and a business manager for NHS England. Completing the ballot paper is Green candidate Berenice Dowlen. Whoever wins will need to get straight back onto the campaign trail to seek re-election in May 2018.

Parliamentary constituency: Welwyn Hatfield
Hertfordshire county council division: Handside and Peartree

Berenice Dowlen (Grn)
Siobhan Elam (LD)
Drew Richardson (C)
Belinda Yeldon (Lab)

May 2016 result C 1202/1170/1015 LD 1020/1016/824 Lab 451/430/386 Grn 180
May 2015 result C 1987 LD 1317 Lab 603 Grn 266
May 2014 result C 1029 LD 952 Lab 330 UKIP 294 Grn 159
May 2012 result C 1130 LD 673 Lab 354 Grn 176
May 2011 result C 1603 LD 970 Lab 515
May 2010 result LD 1824 C 1812 Lab 433
May 2008 result C 1385/1370/1221 LD 1338/1283/1278 Lab 167/159


Watcombe

Torbay council, Devon; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Roger Stringer at the age of 73. For many years postmaster at Barton post office in Torquay, Stringer was first elected to Torbay council in 2003 for St Marychurch ward, transferring to Watcombe ward in 2007. Away from the council he was a tireless charity campaigner, raising thousands of pounds to help children from eastern Europe.

Have you had enough of Devon by-elections yet after our recent glut? Of course you haven't, and here are two more for you. We start just off Devon's south coast in Torquay for our second Lib Dem defence of the week. Watcombe ward is the northern end of Torquay, running from Combe Pafford through Barton up to the 180-metre summit of Great Hill. Mostly developed in the 1950s and 1960s, this is a deprived ward of a deprived town.

Watcombe ward has been a Liberal Democrat stronghold for many years with the party's vote seemingly unaffected by the various travails of the Lib Dems on the national scene. In 2015 the Liberal Democrat slate had 43% to 23% for the Conservatives and 19% for Labour. However, the Conservatives got a swing in their favour in the Torbay constituency in June which would be enough to win this ward, so this could be worth looking at more closely than the majority might suggest.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Swithin Long, who might sound like he's walked straight out of the Harry Potter universe but is in fact an Age UK advisor and former MP caseworker. The Conservative candidate is Daniel Maddock, a mortgage broker. Labour have selected Julia Neal, a long-serving teacher and former president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Completing the ballot paper is Eleanor Taylor of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Torbay

Swithin Long (LD)
Daniel Maddock (C)
Julia Neal (Lab)
Eleanor Taylor (Grn)

May 2015 result LD 1383/1146 C 746/595 Lab 612/365 UKIP 277 Grn 194
May 2011 result LD 1122/1025 C 574/502 Lab 457 Grn 211
May 2007 result LD 1134/1050 C 812/790
May 2003 result LD 1289/1288 C 418/385 Lab 223 UKIP 186 BNP 169


Westward Ho!

Torridge council, Devon; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Peter le Maistre. Le Maistre resigned after being stopped by police on suspicion of drink driving while travelling home from a full council meeting in November. At North Devon magistrates court he subsequently pleaded guilty to failing to provide a specimen of breath for analysis, and was banned from driving for 30 months and given a community order. The council's lead member for internal resources, le Maistre had served since 2015.

We finish our by-elections this year by crossing from the south to the north coast of Devon for the only Conservative defence of the week. As any quiz player knows, the only place in the UK whose name includes an exclamation mark is Westward Ho!, a village named after the novel of the same name by Charles Kingsley which was set in nearby Bideford. The success of the book inspired developers to cash in, and within ten years development of the village was underway. A boarding school was even founded here - the United Services College which educated military officers' sons, including Rudyard Kipling. Today like much of the Devon coast this is a retirement centre: 34% of the population is aged 65 or over, and the ward makes the top 60 in England and Wales for retirement (31% of the workforce).

Le Maistre was elected for Westward Ho! in 2015, defeating independent councillor Roger Tisdale who had served since winning a by-election in November 2004. Le Maistre polled 40% of the vote to 36% for Tisdale and 24% for the Green Party. Tisdale had gained his seat from the Community Alliance, a localist slate which performed well in the 2003 Torridge elections but then disbanded. The Conservatives hold the local Devon county council division (Northam), increasing their majority in May.

This by-election has attracted a large field of six candidates. Defending for the Conservatives is Roger Levick. Two independent candidates have come forward, Nick Laws and Barry Mason; Laws runs an angling supplies business, while Mason is a driving consultant, former police traffic sergeant and former Mayor of Northam - the parish which covers Westward Ho! The Greens have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Stan Coats for Labour, Stephen Potts for the Liberal Democrats and the only UKIP candidate of the week, Derek Sargent.

That completes this year's by-elections, but Andrew's Previews is not finished yet for 2017. There is yet one more poll to come, and it's a very unusual one. Time for a Christmas Bonus...

Parliamentary constituency: Torridge and West Devon
Devon county council division: Northam

Stan Coats (Lab)
Nick Laws (Ind)
Roger Levick (C)
Barry Mason (Ind)
Stephen Potts (LD)
Derek Sargent (UKIP)

May 2015 result C 528 Ind 473 Grn 311
May 2011 result Ind 478 C 390
May 2007 result Ind 325 C 198 Ind 87 LD 72
November 2004 by-election Ind 257 LD 226 C 149 Ind 61
May 2003 result Community Alliance 428 Ind 315


Portsoken

City of London Corporation; caused by the resignation of Alderman Sir Michael Bear.

Even as we come to the end of the eighth year of Andrew's Previews, there are still some elections which appear here for the first time. Earlier in this preview I touched on the impact of Brexit on the Conservative vote in London. With many of the country's financial markets being located in the ancient City of London, you might think that a local by-election to the City Corporation might be a good barometer of the effect of the current political situation on Britain's financial businesses. Right?

Wrong. The City of London Corporation is a strange body with more responsibilities than the London Boroughs which surround it (for example, it runs its own police force) but with the non-party politics and population of a largish parish council. Its structure is essentially unmodified since mediaeval times: the Lord Mayor is still elected by members of the City's ancient trade-based guilds, while other hangovers from a bygone age include an electoral register based not just on residence but on employment within the ward, and the presence of aldermen decades after their abolition in the rest of the country. Which is where this poll comes in. The City has 25 aldermen, one for each of its wards (which are descended from their mediaeval predecessors with only very slight modifications). Technically the Aldermen are elected for life; in practice they submit themselves for re-election every six years, and retire upon reaching the age of 70 in one of those customs that isn't mandatory. Not at all.

Sir Michael Bear, Alderman for Portsoken ward, has not yet reached the retirement age - he turns 65 in January - but has decided to retire after two terms, having become an Alderman in 2005. Born in Nairobi before Kenyan independence and growing up in Cyprus, Bear worked for nineteen years until 2012 as managing director of Balfour Beatty Properties, working on private finance initiatives and public-private partnerships. He was Lord Mayor of London in 2010-11, and was described as a key figure in the redevelopment of Spitalfields Market.

The City's extensive business vote and small resident population (go here at a weekend and you could be forgiven for thinking that the apocalypse had arrived, so empty are the streets) means that twenty-one of the twenty-five wards are effectively in the hands of the business voters. Running along the eastern boundary of the City, Portsoken is one of the exceptions, one of the four so-called "residential" wards, although there are some business voters here as well; it consists of two blocks either side of Aldgate underground station along the western side of Mansell Street and Middlesex Street (home of the "Petticoat Lane" market), together with a small salient further into the City which consists of two buildings: the wonderfully-named church of St Botolphs Without Aldgate and the Sir John Cass's Foundation primary school, which was added to the ward in 2003 and is the only part of the ward within the original London Wall.

Some of this ward was in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets until boundary changes in the early 1990s, and the resident population shares many of the features of the neighbouring Whitechapel and Spitalfields/Banglatown wards; this is a deprived area. For that reason Labour have been taking the ward seriously in recent years: they came within 65 votes of winning a seat here in the 2009 election. That wasn't as impressive as it might sound given that the number of voters was tiny, but Labour kept plugging away and finally broke through in a by-election in March 2014, which was won on their ticket by former Common Councilman William Campbell-Taylor. Campbell-Taylor retired from the Court of Common Council at the March 2017 election, but the Labour slate topped the poll, held his seat and gained a second seat to hold two of Portsoken's four councilmen.

There are four candidates for this Aldermanic election whom I shall take in alphabetical order. At the top of the ballot paper is David Barker, who came last in this ward in March's City elections and did no better in June's general election, when he finished last as an independent candidate in Poplar and Limehouse. A former internet entrepreneur originally from a poor area of Manchester, Barker wants to reduce the ward's child poverty rate - which stands at an astonishingly high 53% - and has tried to stay involved with the ward community by founding a local chess club and Spanish-language classes.

Standing as an official Labour candidate is the Reverend Dr William Campbell-Taylor, vicar of St Thomas Clapton Common. Campbell-Taylor was the winner of the 2014 by-election here and had served before that as an independent Common Councilman for the ward. With Labour's recent electoral record in Portsoken he has a decent shot at becoming the first elected Labour Alderman of the City. (There is already an Alderman who is a Labour party member, Baroness Scotland of Asthal who is Alderman for Bishopsgate ward; but she was elected as a non-party candidate as is traditional in the City.)

Third on the ballot paper is Prem Goyal, Common Councilman for Bishopsgate ward. Originally from New Delhi, Goyal runs Global Markets Consultants, a management consultancy firm providing services to the financial industry. He was appointed OBE in 2012 for services to the economy and for promoting charitable giving. This isn't Goyal's only foray into politics: he had sought the Labour selection in his home constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark for the 2015 general election, didn't get it, and then founded his own political party. His All People's Party turned into a ramshackle group of disaffected Southwark Labour figures and made no impact at all. Goyal himself stood in Camberwell and Peckham in the 2015 election, coming sixth out of eleven candidates with 1.6%.

Completing the lineup is Anthony Samuels, a notary public and former non-executive chairman of Clydesdale Bank South London Region. Although he is standing as non-party as is traditional in the City, Samuels is the vice-Chairman of Surrey county council, representing Walton South and Oatlands division as a Conservative councillor, and served for several years on the county's cabinet as lead member for the Built Estate.

This being the City, the electoral process started on Wednesday with the Wardmote, a public meeting held at the Artizan Street Library and Community Centre which effectively functions as a hustings. The Wardmote has been adjourned for the poll, which will take place between 8am and 8pm today, and will reconvene for the announcement of the result.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
London Assembly constituency: City and East

David Barker (Ind)
William Campbell-Taylor (Lab)
Prem Goyal (Ind)
Anthony Samuels (Ind)


With no by-elections in the week before Christmas, that is that for the psephological year of 2017, the year in which that old Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times" was in full effect. It was the year when the government gained a parliamentary by-election from the opposition for the first time since the 1980s; the year in which Theresa May gambled on opinion poll leads of over 20 points and lost; the year in which Jeremy Corbyn answered his critics within the Labour Party; the year in which politics became polarised on the national level, and just that little bit nastier.

On a personal level, it was the year in which this column transferred to Britain Elects, and I'm very grateful to the Britain Elects team for their support and encouragement. Thank you. Thanks are also due to Election Data, who published and supported these pieces in the early part of 2017. Thank you. Thanks are also due to those intrepid people (hello Sid, hello Doris) who bought your columnist's first book - Andrew's Previews 2016. (If there is demand, perhaps a similar 2017 book of these columns might be worth doing? Please let me know what you think.) And finally, thanks to those who read this column week after week, and to those who take the time to send me animated GIFs of Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter. You know who you are.

The electoral cycle never stops turning, and before you know it Christmas will be over and the New Year will be upon us. There is no sign in the immediate future of these "interesting times" letting up, and 2018 will be a bumpy ride if it is even half as unpredictable as this year. If there is no snap general election (and, as we saw this year, that cannot be ruled out), then the main electoral event of 2018 will be the local elections in May, which will be concentrated in London and the major urban areas of England. There's a long way to go before we get there, of course, but no doubt there will be plenty more by-elections to dissect in the interim. Already in the pipeline is a Welsh Assembly by-election to replace the late Carl Sargeant, and your columnist is aware of a few dozen local government vacancies which may turn into by-elections in due course. Fear not, there are plenty more columns to come.

While we are discussing the future, it is best to note that from mid-March 2018 your columnist will be out of a job and seeking new employment. Please send reasonable job offers to the usual address.

That's for the future, and it's time to close down for the year in the words which have become traditional. This column will return in time for the first local by-election of 2018, to be held in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire on 4th January; until then, may I wish all readers of this column a very Merry Christmas, and may your 2018 be an improvement on your 2017.


Previews: 07 Dec 2017

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

Two by-elections on 7th December 2017:


Newport

North Devon council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Michael Harrison at the age of 79. Harrison was first elected in 2003 and immediately joined North Devon's executive committee; he was Leader of the Council from 2007 to 2009 and then became the executive member for finance. Away from the council, Harrison was a major supporter of the Royal British Legion and arranged the local Poppy Appeal for many years.

Welcome to Barnstaple, the main town and administrative centre for the North Devon district. This is an old town which before the Norman Conquest was sufficiently important to have its own mint; Barnstaple thrived during the Middle Ages as a textile centre and as a thriving port, exporting wool to the outside world. Today retail and tourism are important to Barnstaple's economy; these are sectors with large amounts of part-time work, and Newport ward makes the top 100 wards in England and Wales for part-time employment (18% of the workforce).

Newport is Barnstaple's southern ward, based on a former village which was incorporated into the town in the twentieth century, and generally lying on the east bank of the Taw along South Street and Landkey Road. On the west bank of the Taw is the Tarka Tennis Centre, which until a few years ago hosted an annual international women's tournament. This is one of the better-off parts of town, with much new housing having gone up in recent years within the town's southern bypass - part of the ridiculously long A361 road which meanders from Ilfracombe for over 200 miles before finally running out of steam at a roundabout in rural Northamptonshire.

As stated Michael Harrison had represented this ward since 2003, and in 2007 his running-mate gained the ward's other seat from the Liberal Democrats. However, this is not a safe ward: in 2015 the Conservative slate had 40% to 32% for the Liberal Democrats and 28% for the Green Party. After their clean sweep in last week's four by-elections, together within their gain in North Devon council's last by-election (in Braunton in November) the Lib Dems will definitely see this as within range. On the other hand, in May's county elections the Conservatives increased their majority in the local county division (Barnstaple South).

Defending for the Conservatives is Martin Kennaugh who, as his name might suggest, is of Manx descent; he is a Barnstaple town councillor for this ward. The Lib Dem candidate Caroline Leaver, who despite her name was a Remainer last year, has ruffled feathers with a leaflet headed "Newport schools in cash crisis" which provoked the headteacher of Newport Primary School to write to parents in response. Standing for the Green Party is retired teacher and former Barnstaple town councillor Ricky Knight, who fought North Devon in the 2015 and 2017 general elections and was on the party's South West list in the 2014 Euro-elections. Completing the ballot paper is Labour candidate Siobhan Strode.

Parliamentary constituency: North Devon
Devon county council division: Barnstaple South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Barnstaple
Postcode district: EX32

May 2015 result C 1025/889 LD 812/510 Grn 728/477
May 2011 result C 624/557 LD 498/394 Grn 353/200 Lab 143
May 2007 result C 623/611 LD 495/470 Grn 450/281
May 2003 result C 431/391 LD 416/408 Grn 286


Enfield Highway

Enfield council, North London; caused by the death of Labour councillor Turgut Esendagli at the age of 55. Born in Cyprus but having lived in London for many years, Esendagli had served since 2014 and was described as a popular, hard-working and effective councillor. He will also be missed in the world of football: Esendagli held a UEFA Pro Licence in coaching, and at the time of his death was a scout for the Turkish national football team, chief scout and under-23 coach for the League Two side Crawley Town, and chairman and former manager of the local non-league side Waltham Forest AFC.

For our second and last by-election in this quiet week, we are in North London. The Enfield Highway area took its name from Hertford Road, the eponymous Highway, and the ward named after it runs east from the Highway to the Brimsdown area in the Lea Valley. East of the Lea Valley railway line are the large Brimsdown Industrial Estate, one of Enfield's main commercial centres, and the gas-fired Enfield power station; and to the east of those is the King George V Reservoir which supplies London with drinking water. Brimsdown railway station (two trains each hour to Liverpool Street) links the ward to central London. Most of the housing stock is inter-war including 284 Green Street, a council house which became notorious in the late 1970s for alleged poltergeist activity.

Multiculturalism is the order of the day in Enfield Highway ward's demographics. The ward has a large Muslim population, mostly of Turkish heritage although there are Bangladeshi pockets in the ward, and the area has also seen significant immigration from "other EU accession countries" - given that this is Enfield, Cyprus is probably the most important contributor to that statistic. The White British population in Enfield Highway is 38%, and the ward makes the top 200 in England and Wales for black (22%), White Other (20%), mixed-race (6%) and "other" (6%) ethnic groups.

To see how the demographics of Enfield Highway have changed in this century, take a look at its local elections. Labour polled the same share of the vote here in both 2002 and 2014, at 47%, but over those twelve years the Conservative share has crashed from 53% to just 19%. Some of that will be down to a wider field - 2002 was a straight fight, while the 2014 election saw UKIP come in third with 18% and two other parties on the ballot. However, if May's by-election in the neighbouring Enfield Lock ward is any guide the Conservative share has further to fall here. That by-election came shortly before Labour's Joan Ryan was re-elected in the local Enfield North constituency with a greatly increased majority. Looking back a year to the London Mayor and Assembly elections in 2016, Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith here 57-25 in the ward's ballot boxes while the London Members ballot had a bigger Labour win, 58-19 over the Tories; UKIP were third in both those ballots.

Defending for Labour is another candidate from the Turkish community, Ergun Eren. According to a profile in the local Turkish-language newspaper Olay Gazetesi Eren is 35 years old, a father of two children and a founder-manager of an insurance firm. The Tories have selected Andrew Thorp, who according to his Twitter was once "branded dangerously coercive by Nicky Campbell" (funny that, I remember Campbell being rather more complimentary about me when I spent a couple of days working with him...). Also a father-of-two, Thorp works in media relations for the Scouts and is therefore presumably well-prepared for the campaign. With UKIP having not returned, completing the ballot paper is Green Party candidate Andreea Malin. The recent Liberal Democrat by-election winning streak ends here, because there is no Liberal Democrat candidate.

This column will now take its leave of London for a few months. All of the capital's local government will be up for re-election next May, there are less than six months to go until then, and this was the last vacancy which occurred before the six-month rule kicked in. Our next visit to the Great Wen will be in the summer of 2018, by which time the city's political map may well look very different.

Parliamentary constituency: Enfield North
London Assembly constituency: Enfield and Haringey
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: EN3

May 2014 result Lab 2013/1959/1848 C 842/788/547 UKIP 774 Grn 409 BNP 289
May 2010 result Lab 3003/2876/2850 C 2038/1705/1690 LD 842 UKIP 537 BNP 450 Grn 437
May 2006 result Lab 1540/1419/1406 C 1250/1093/1036 Save Chase Farm 886 UKIP 496
May 2002 result C 1459/1396/1387 Lab 1300/1223/1199

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1650 C 710 UKIP 165 Grn 95 LD 58 Britain First 52 Respect 50 Women's Equality 32 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 30 BNP 26 Zylinski 8 One Love 5
London Members: Lab 1710 C 574 UKIP 247 Grn 89 LD 63 Britain First 58 CPA 50 Respect 42 Women's Equality 41 Animal Welfare 35 BNP 33 House Party 13


If you liked this post, please consider buying the book! Andrew's Previews 2016, containing many more previews like this, is now available from Amazon.


Previews: 30 Nov 2017

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

The Met Office might recognise St Andrew's Day as the last day of autumn, but a quick look out of your columnist's window to the brooding, whitened mass of Winter Hill will serve to tell that winter has arrived. Winter is a slow time for local by-elections, partly due to the prevailing weather and partly due to the fact that we are now on the countdown to the May 2018 local elections. That gives by-election watchers the chance to pause for breath as we have just four polls this week, the fewest since the middle of September. All of these are south of the M4 corridor, but that doesn't mean a lack of political diversity with all three major parties having one defence each. Read on...


North

Maidstone council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Michael Hemsley who had served since 2015.

Last week we finished on the edge of Kent as the Conservatives held a ward based around the White Cliffs of Dover; this week we move inland to Kent's county town. North ward saw an important development in English history in 1076 with the Trial of Penenden Heath. This trial resolved a dispute between Odo, bishop of Bayeux and earl of Kent, and Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, in Lanfranc's favour. The subsequent Domesday Book records Pinnedenna as the place for Kent's landowners to report to the Shire Court.

Penenden Heath crops up many times later in history: it was a meeting-place in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, in Wyatt's Rebellion of 1554 and during the Civil War, when the Royalist army assembled here in advance of their loss in the 1648 Battle of Maidstone. Early cricket matches were played on the heath: in August and September 1795 Kent lost to England here by five wickets, proving that the England cricket team can win a match on occasion. In later times Penenden Heath became a place of execution, then a recreation ground, before being built on in the 1960s.

The Heath forms about half of the present North ward, which runs north from Maidstone East railway station along the A229 road (towards Rochester) and the east bank of the Medway. Much of the ward's acreage is taken up by the barracks of Invicta Park, home to 36 Engineer Regiment. This regiment includes two squadrons of Gurkhas, whose presence puts North ward in the top 50 wards in England and Wales for Buddhism. Also within the ward boundaries are Maidstone Prison (as seen in the title sequence of Porridge), and the Gallagher Stadium, home to the non-league football team Maidstone United and the first English football stadium built with 3G artificial turf. The census picked up a significant Polish population at the southern end of the ward, but this may be an effect of the prison which holds a large number of foreign nationals within the UK's penal systems.

Now, in this by-election the stakes are high. North ward is normally a safe Liberal Democrat area, although the Conservatives came close in 2011 and UKIP were not far off winning a seat in 2014. Since the current ward boundaries were introduced in 1979 the Conservatives have won only four seats here: two in that initial 1979 election, one in 1992 and Michael Hemsley's seat in 2015 which came with a majority of just 25 votes over the Lib Dems. Local elections since 2015 do not give much cause for optimism that the Conservatives can hold this one: in the 2016 election the Liberal Democrats won here with 43%, to 24% for the Conservatives and 17% for UKIP; and the Lib Dem had a similar lead in May's Kent county elections in the local Maidstone North East division. To add to that, this by-election will determine who is the largest party on the hung Maidstone council: going into this poll the Lib Dems (who run the council as a minority administration) and Conservatives were tied on 22 seats each, with four independents, four Kippers and two Labour councillors holding the balance of power.

Defending for the Conservatives is Cheryl Taylor-Maggio, chairman of Langley parish council (located a few miles south-east of Maidstone); she fought the county seat here in May. Hoping to return to the borough council is Liberal Democrat candidate Rob Field, who was councillor for Park Wood ward from a November 2006 by-election until standing down in 2012; he works in the health sector. UKIP have not returned to the fray, so the ballot paper is completed by Labour's Maureen Cleator who fought this ward in 2016, and the Greens' Derek Eagle who has stood here on several previous occasions.

Parliamentary constituency: Maidstone and the Weald
Kent county council division: Maidstone North East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Medway
Postcode districts: ME14, ME99

Maureen Cleator (Lab)
Derek Eagle (Grn)
Rob Field (LD)
Cheryl Taylor-Maggio (C)

May 2016 result LD 851 C 473 UKIP 328 Lab 261 Grn 68
May 2015 result C 1255 LD 1230 UKIP 783 Lab 445 Grn 215
May 2014 double vacancy LD 949/597 UKIP 529/479 C 380/334 Lab 206 Grn 199
May 2012 result LD 907 C 381 Lab 206 UKIP 167
May 2011 result LD 871 C 782 Lab 330 UKIP 152 Grn 140
May 2010 result LD 1978 C 1225 Lab 299 UKIP 194 Grn 104
MAy 2008 result LD 1012 C 552 Grn 141
May 2007 result LD 973 C 500 Grn 145 Lab 106 Ind 77
May 2006 result LD 1077 C 530 Grn 141 Lab 129
June 2004 result LD 997 C 486 UKIP 214 Lab 169 Grn 80
May 2003 result LD 849 C 379 Lab 161 UKIP 65
May 2002 result LD 1020/974/841 C 402/390 Lab 226 UKIP 109
May 2000 result LD 762 C 341 Lab 136 Grn 46
May 1999 result LD 844 C 434 Lab 166 Grn 34
May 1998 result LD 684 C 400 Lab 231 Grn 46
May 1996 result LD 839 Lab 393 C 327 Grn 63
May 1995 result LD 655 Lab 580 C 451 Grn 36
May 1994 result LD 967 C 606 Lab 484 Grn 86
May 1992 result C 1165 LD 679 Lab 289
May 1991 result LD 1046 C 797 Lab 351
May 1990 result SLD 1370 C 700 Lab 544
May 1988 double vacancy All 1108/994 C 752/740 Lab 272/251
May 1987 result All 1405 C 1000 Lab 264
May 1986 result All 1067 C 871 Lab 321
May 1984 result All 1206 C 599 Lab 274
May 1983 result All 1681 C 720 Lab 230
May 1982 result All 1203 C 757 Lab 297
May 1980 result Lib 976 C 737 Lab 496 NF 22
May 1979 result Lib 1540/1380/1362 C 1502/1468/1371 Lab 907/867/807


Westway

Tandridge council, Surrey; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Caroline Warner who had served since 2016. She is moving away from the area.

We move west along the North Downs and inside the M25 motorway, although just outside the Greater London boundary, to the town of Caterham. Administratively Caterham is not one town, but two: Westway lies within the western half, known as Caterham on the Hill for obvious reasons. We retain a link with the Army: much of Westway ward was formerly occupied by Caterham Barracks, which closed in the 1990s with the site having been redeveloped for housing in the 1990s and 2000s.

Westway is the most deprived of the five wards covering Caterham on the Hill and Caterham Valley, and despite high employment levels has relatively large amounts of social housing. This enabled the ward to vote Labour at the height of Tony Blair's powers, and as recently as 2002 Labour polled 36% of the vote here. The Lib Dems got ahead of Labour in the 2004 election, and then the Labour vote collapsed in their favour to create a Lib Dem/Tory marginal. Since 2008 the ward's two seats have been split between the Conservatives and Lib Dems; the Liberal Democrats held their seat last year on a rather low share of the vote, 36% to 29% for the Conservatives and 19% for UKIP. In May's Surrey county elections the local Caterham Hill division produced a photo-finish, the Liberal Democrats holding their seat by just 12 votes.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Helen Rujbally, a local resident who works supporting people with learnings disabilities: she was a victim of flash-flooding in 2016. Alex Standen is standing for the Conservatives; he was a UKIP candidate in the 2016 local elections. The official UKIP candidate is Helena Windsor, a former Surrey county councillor (Godstone, 2013-17). Completing the ballot paper is Labour candidate Lucy McNally.

Parliamentary constituency: East Surrey
Surrey county council division: Caterham Hill
ONS Travel to Work Area: London (part); Crawley (part)
Postcode district: CR3

Lucy McNally (Lab)
Helen Rujbally (LD)
Alex Standen (C)
Helena Windsor (UKIP)

May 2016 result LD 416 C 335 UKIP 220 Lab 183
May 2014 result C 358 LD 265 UKIP 243 Lab 155
May 2012 result LD 496 C 204 Lab 120 UKIP 79
May 2010 result C 828 LD 799 Lab 158 UKIP 106
May 2008 result LD 573 C 485 Lab 70
May 2006 result C 584 LD 414 Lab 97
June 2004 result C 521 LD 232 Lab 181
May 2002 result C 477 Lab 344 LD 127
May 2000 result C 447/440 Lab 327/320 LD 181/138


Bridgemary North

Gosport council, Hampshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Jill Wright at the age of 69. The Mayoress of Gosport in 2001-02, Wright was first elected to Gosport council in 1997 for Rowner ward, transferring to Bridgemary South ward in 2002. She lost her seat in 2008 but returned to the council in 2012 for Bridgemary North ward. Away from the council, Wright worked for 26 years as practice manager at the Bridgemary medical centre.

We travel south-west from Caterham to the Solent conurbation. This is a badly-planned area of large towns and associated housing estates, with Bridgemary being one of the largest estates. Almost entirely developed since the Second World War, this is the northern end of the town of Gosport hard up against the border with Fareham. Gosport is of course a naval town, and within the boundaries of Bridgemary North ward is Fleetlands Heliport, opened during the war as a naval air yard and now used as a maintenance base for both military and civil helicopters. Also within the ward is the misleadingly-named Fareham Business Park, home to the book printers Ashford Colour Press and the pharmaceutical testing company Wickham Laboratories. So, despite the ward's low qualification levels (it is just outside the top 100 in the UK for those with between 1 and 5 GCSE passes or equivalent) there are plenty of jobs here.

The ward was created in 2002 as part of a major reorganisation of Gosport's wards, in which the town became one of the handful of English districts to introduce the system of election by halves. Bridgemary North's working-class economic profile normally creates a safe Labour ward, although the Conservatives did win here in 2008 with a majority of just 50 votes. Jill Wright recovered that loss for Labour in 2012 to rejoin on the council her husband Dennis, who is the ward's other councillor. In 2016 Jill was re-elected for the last time, beating the Conservatives 72-28 in a straight fight. However, Labour did very badly here in May's county elections, losing their seat in the Bridgemary division and actually falling to third place behind the Tories and Lib Dems.

Defending for Labour is local resident James Fox, who is retired after a career spent working for local firms and the MoD. The Conservative candidate Richard Dickson is hoping to make a quick return to the council after losing his seat in Christchurch ward in 2016; he had represented that ward since 2004 and was Mayor of Gosport in 2012-13. Completing the ballot paper is Stephen Hammond, who has been tempted by his second-place performance in May's county elections to become the ward's first Liberal Democrat candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Gosport
Hampshire county council division: Bridgemary
ONS Travel to Work Area: Portsmouth
Postcode district: PO13

Richard Dickson (C)
James Fox (Lab)
Stephen Hammond (LD)

May 2016 result Lab 796 C 310
May 2014 result Lab 829 C 331
May 2012 result Lab 708 C 418
May 2010 result Lab 1002 C 733 EDP 381
May 2008 result C 594 Lab 544
May 2006 result Lab 809 C 384
June 2004 result Lab 643 C 473
May 2002 result Lab 814/795 C 253/235


Torrington

Torridge council, Devon; caused by the resignation of councillor Roger Darch, who had been elected for the UK Independence Party but was sitting as an independent.

For our final poll of the week we enter the West Country. Readers of Henry Williamson's Tarka the Otter will have an image in their mind's eye of the Torridge valley, of which Great Torrington is the major settlement. Williamson's work has brought some tourists to the town, which still retains a large number of independent shops because it's too small and remote to interest the national chains. However, the largest employer in the town is glass-making: Dartington Crystal runs the UK's last remaining crystal factory here.

This market town may be tiny, but in 1958 Torrington gave its name to a parliamentary seat which was gained by the Liberal Party in a famous by-election. More recent results in the town have been fragmented: this is the sort of area where a local independent can build up a high profile, and long-serving independent councillor Margaret Brown has developed a clear personal vote to do just that. In the 2007 election her ward colleagues were a Conservative and a Liberal Democrat; the Lib Dem councillor resigned in 2013 as he was moving to Norfolk, and the party did not defend the resulting by-election which was won by the Green Party's Cathrine Simmons. Brown and Simmons were re-elected in first and second place in 2015, with the Conservatives losing their seat to UKIP's Roger Darch; shares of the vote were 25% for Brown, 22% for the Greens, 21% for UKIP and 20% for the Conservatives. The Tories had a big lead in the local county seat (Torrington Rural) in May, with UKIP's Darch falling to fourth place. On a more sour note, a by-election in August to Great Torrington town council - which has the same boundaries as this ward - created controversy after the (unsuccessful) Liberal Democrat candidate reportedly sent an explicit picture of himself dressed as a mouse to the (unsuccessful) Labour candidate.

Hopefully this by-election will be more decorous, although anyone without local knowledge would be hard-pressed to pick a winner. Defending for UKIP is John Pitts, secretary of Great Torrington bowls club and Darch's running-mate here in 2015. Standing as an independent candidate is Di Davey, who has recently succeeded Darch as Deputy Mayor of Great Torrington. The Green Party have selected Sue Clarke, who is a teacher. Returning from the 2015 election is the Conservatives' Harold Martin, who is seeking to return to Torridge council; he represented Two Rivers ward from 2011 to 2015 when he unsuccessfully sought election here. Completing the ballot paper is Liberal Democrat candidate Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin, a teacher and sheep farmer.

Parliamentary constituency: Torridge and West Devon
Devon county council division: Torrington Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bideford
Postcode district: EX38

Sue Clarke (Grn)
Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin (LD)
Di Davey (Ind)
Harold Martin (C)
John Pitts (UKIP)

May 2015 result Ind 986 Grn 901/627 UKIP 841/659 C 786/736 Lab 496
September 2013 by-election Grn 292 UKIP 181 Ind 160 Ind 106 C 88
May 2011 result C 809 Ind 792/480 LD 641/209 Lab 312 UKIP 208
May 2007 result Ind 693/490/476/179 C 620 LD 495 Grn 352
May 2003 result Ind 645/424/254 LD 376/364/243 Grn 212


If you liked this piece, please consider supporting future columns by buying the book! Andrew's Previews 2016, containing many more pieces like this, is now available from Amazon.


Previews: 23 Nov 2017

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

With another ten by-elections this week in what has been a very busy autumn, this is the largest edition of Andrew's Previews in what remains of 2017. After last week's procession of nine safe wards and one marginal, this week looks a little more interesting. Marginal parliamentary seats are a theme: we visit four constituencies (Stroud, Stockton South, Rutherglen and Hamilton West, and Perth and North Perthshire) which were decided in June on majorities of less than 1,000 votes. To deal with the safe seats, there are solid Conservative defences in Kent, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire; Plaid Cymru will defend a seat in Glamorgan; and Labour should have little problem holding seats in Leicester, Wakefield and Teesside. That leaves three stand-out contests: a rare Tory-Green-Labour three-way marginal in the Gloucestershire countryside, and two particularly unpredictable by-elections in Scotland. All four of the main Scottish parties will think they have a genuine chance of winning in either Rutherglen or Perth (or in the case of the SNP, both). Read on...


Perth City South

Perth and Kinross council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Michael Jamieson who had served only since May. He has been charged with possession of indecent images of children.

Welcome to the Fair City of Perth, gateway to the Highlands and the northern end of the UK's motorway network: the M90 terminates here. Strategically located at head of the Tay estuary and the junction of major roads and railway lines to Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness, Perth has been a major city since the 12th century when King William the Lion gave it the status of a Royal Burgh. Perth benefited from its closeness to Scone Abbey, one of the centres of the Scottish monarchy, to become a major port trading with continental Europe. Industry came in the eighteenth century with the founding of Perth Academy, and the city became and remains a major railway junction. Today there is a diverse economy with a significant financial services presence: the largest employers are the local council and the bus company Stagecoach, which is based here, and the city (formally re-created as such for the Diamond Jubilee in 2012) is a major service centre for the local area.

For electoral purposes the city is divided into three wards, with Perth City South electing four councillors by proportional representation. This is the south-west of the city to the west of the railway line, running along the Glasgow Road to the Broxden Roundabout and including the Friarton area to the south. Boundary changes in May this year expanded the ward slightly to the north. This is by a long way the least deprived of Perth's three wards.

The ward's politics are dominated by Liberal Democrat councillor Willie Wilson who has a large personal vote and has topped the poll here at every election since PR was introduced in 2007. In that year Wilson got a running-mate elected, with the Conservatives and SNP sharing the other two seats. The Lib Dems lost their second seat to Labour in 2012. In May this year the Liberal Democrats topped the poll with 35%, to 26% for the SNP, 25% for the Conservatives and just 6% for Labour, who were defending a seat; although they picked up most of the Lib Dem and Tory surpluses, that was too far back for Labour to catch the second SNP candidate. That made 2 seats for the SNP to one each for the Lib Dems and Conservatives. The by-election is unlikely to affect control of the council, which is run by a coalition of the Conservatives, Lib Dems and independents.

Despite the Tory near-miss in June's general election here, when they finished just 21 votes behind the SNP in Perth and North Perthshire, this will be a very difficult defence starting from third place and considering the circumstances of this by-election. Their defending candidate, on a rare all-female ballot paper of six candidates, is Audrey Coates, a businesswoman whose husband Harry is councillor for Perth City North ward. Also keeping it in the family are the Liberal Democrats: their candidate Liz Barrett, who runs a consultancy business, is married to the group leader Peter Barrett. The SNP have selected Pauline Leitch, a former police officer and community councillor. Also standing are Tricia Duncan for Labour, independent candidate Denise Baykal and Elspeth Maclachlan of the Scottish Green Party. A quick reminder that, this being a Scottish local election, the Alternative Vote will be used in this by-election and those aged 16 and 17 are eligible to vote.

Parliamentary constituency: Perth and North Perthshire
Scottish Parliament constituency: Perthshire South and Kinross-shire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Perth
Postcode districts: PH1, PH2

Liz Barrett (LD)
Denise Baykal (Ind)
Audrey Coates (C)
Tricia Duncan (Lab)
Pauline Leitch (SNP)
Elspeth Maclachlan (Grn)

May 2017 first preferences LD 2417 SNP 1793 C 1757 Lab 444 Ind 253 Grn 213 Ind 96


Rutherglen Central and North

South Lanarkshire council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Ged Killen, who is now the MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West. He had served on South Lanarkshire council since winning a by-election to Rutherglen South ward in February 2013, transferring to this ward in May.

For our second Scottish by-election of the week we are in Greater Glasgow. Rutherglen was in fact part of Glasgow from 1975 to 1996, until it regained independence as part of South Lanarkshire district. The ward is bisected by the West Coast Main Line and the recently-completed M74 motorway; south of these lie the town centre and main shopping district, while to the north next to the River Clyde lies a former heavy industrial area. Here can be found Shawfield, former home of Clyde FC and now Scotland's only venue for greyhound racing. However, Shawfield's money came not from sport but from chemicals: the local chemical works supplied the majority of the UK's chromium products, leading to a legacy of contamination which has taken decades to clean up. Before the dangers were properly realised, Greggs sited their main Scottish bakery here. It should be no surprise from that description that this ward is a seriously deprived area.

Created in 2007, Rutherglen Central and North ward elected two Labour councillors and one SNP councillor that year, and re-elected them in 2012. Ged Killen's by-election gain of Rutherglen South ward in 2013 had given Labour an overall majority on South Lanarkshire council, which was never likely to withstand the SNP poll surge following the 2014 independence referendum. Labour put up two new candidates in Central and North for the 2017 election including Killen, but didn't hold their second seat: the SNP topped the poll with 39%, to 31% for Labour and 16% for the Conservatives, who benefited from Unionist transfers to gain the second Labour seat. As in Perth, this seat was a photofinish in June's general election with Killen enjoying a majority of 265 votes; and the SNP now have the dubious pleasure of running a minority administration on South Lanarkshire council with just 25 out of 64 seats. A Nationalist gain in this by-election might shore their position up a bit.

Defending for Labour is Martin Lennon who was Killen's running-mate in May but polled a long way behind him. The SNP candidate is David Innes who gives an address a long way up the M74 in Stonehouse. The Conservatives have selected Taylor Muir who isn't yet 23 but already has the experience of an electoral veteran: he fought Rutherglen and Hamilton West in the 2015 general election and Rutherglen in the 2016 Holyrood election. Also standing are Ellen Bryson for the Liberal Democrats, Brian Finlay for the Scottish Greens and Janice Mackay for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Rutherglen and Hamilton West
Scottish Parliament constituency: Rutherglen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Glasgow
Postcode districts: G44, G73

Ellen Bryson (LD)
Brian Finlay (Grn)
David Innes (SNP)
Martin Lennon (Lab)
Janice Mackay (UKIP)
Taylor Muir (C)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 2030 Lab 1592 C 835 LD 478 Grn 206


Parkfield and Oxbridge

Stockton-on-Tees council, County Durham; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Allan Mitchell who is moving away from the area. He had served since winning a by-election in January 2016.

We move from Scotland to England. The Tees Valley towns have come out in local by-elections this year like a rash; last week there was a by-election in Hartlepool and two in Darlington, including a rare Conservative gain from Labour. This week the focus turns to Stockton-on-Tees, an old market town and port on the Durham bank of the Tees which, like Rutherglen, was transformed by the Industrial Revolution. The opening of the Stockton and Darlington railway in the 1820s secured Stockton's ironworking industry by linking the town with the coalmines at Shildon, and a number of blast furnaces grew up next to the Tees. Some of those were in the area now covered by this ward, but redevelopment means that the former ironworks area is now occupied by industrial estates and a link road to the fast-growing new town of Ingleby Barwick. To the north of that area is the ward's population, in Victorian terracing along Yarm Road and Oxbridge Lane, together with the Victorian Ropner Park whose name commemorates Sir Robert Ropner. Ropner was a Prussian immigrant who became Conservative MP for Stockton, and ran a local shipyard and shipping company.

Politically this is a safe Labour ward, but it is located in the marginal parliamentary seat of Stockton South which was a Labour gain in June by just 888 votes. The swing will therefore be interesting. In the 2015 election here Labour had 46% to 27% for the Tories and 12% for independent candidate Shakeel Noor. One of the Labour councillors resigned shortly afterwards due to work commitments, and the by-election in January 2016 saw very little swing with Labour leading the Conservatives 53-32. Allan Mitchell, who won that by-election, has now resigned in his turn.

Defending for Labour is a candidate with extensive local government experience: Louise Baldock was a Liverpool city councillor until she was selected as Labour's prospective candidate for the 2015 general election in Stockton South. She failed to win that year, but has stayed on in the town. Hoping to get back on Stockton council is Conservative candidate Aidan Cockerill, who fought this ward in 2005 before serving as councillor for Grangefield ward from 2007 to 2011. (The Tory nomination was not without controversy; although it was accepted by the returning officer, a clerical error meant that one of the signatures on it had been wrongly attributed to someone else with a similar name, who as bad luck would have it turned out to be a prominent Labour member in the ward.) Completing the ballot paper are independent candidate Shakeel Noor, returning to the fray after sitting out the last by-election, and Lib Dem candidate Drew Durning who fought the 2016 by-election and the Stockton South parliamentary seat in June.

Parliamentary constituency: Stockton South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Middlesbrough and Stockton
Postcode district: TS18

Louise Baldock (Lab)
Aidan Cockerill (C)
Drew Durning (LD)
Shakeel Noor (Ind)

January 2016 by-election Lab 598 C 363 UKIP 113 LD 65
May 2015 result Lab 1608/1501 C 950/887 Ind 419 Grn 285 LD 192/179 Libertarian 58
May 2011 result Lab 801/771 Stockton Inds Assoc 451/250 C 444/345 Ind 255 LD 106/93
May 2007 result Lab 820/749 C 410/409 LD 278/276
May 2005 result Lab 1316/1199 C 652/556 LD 482/451


Wakefield West

Wakefield council, West Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Ryan Case. Appointed last year as Wakefield's first LGBT champion, Case had served since 2015.

Moving over the Tees into Yorkshire, we travel south to the city of Wakefield. An ancient market town which in 1888 became a city and headquarters of the old West Riding county council, Wakefield suffered all the usual problems from the collapse of its traditional industries (coalmining, glassmaking and textiles); transport and distribution has become a major sector here thanks to the city's proximity to the M1 motorway.

The Wakefield West ward's boundaries can be simply stated: it lies south of the Dewsbury Road, east of the M1 motorway, north of the River Calder and west of the city centre. The main area of population is Lupset, a large inter-war council estate; smaller communities in the ward include Thornes to the south and Clayton Hill - an area with significant Polish and Pakistani populations - near the city centre. Thornes is notable for an athletics stadium, home to Wakefield Harriers, and as the birthplace of the fomer Archbishop of York David Hope, who later became a member of the House of Lords in his own right as Lord Hope of Thornes.

Despite being a deprived council estate ward Wakefield West was solidly Conservative-voting until the advent of Coalition. Labour cut the Conservative majority to 180 votes in 2010 (on a general election turnout) and just 48 votes in 2011 before finally breaking through in 2012. Since 2015 the ward has had a full slate of Labour councillors, and the 2017 parliamentary election saw only a very small swing to the Conservatives across the marginal Wakefield constituency. At the most recent local elections in 2016 Labour led the Conservatives here 49-30.

Defending for Labour is Michael Graham, who describes himself on Twitter as a teacher, school governor, volunteer and tennis enthusiast. The Conservative candidate is Dawn Hunt who is the only candidate to give an address in the ward. Completing the ballot paper are Peter Williams for the Liberal Democrats and Paul Phelps for the Yorkshire Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Wakefield
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wakefield and Castleford
Postcode districts: WF1, WF2, WF5

Michael Graham (Lab)
Dawn Hunt (C)
Paul Phelps (Yorkshire Party)
Peter Williams (LD)

May 2016 result Lab 1563 C 962 Grn 324 LD 196 TUSC 143
May 2015 result Lab 2521 C 1714 UKIP 1324 Grn 298 TUSC 69
May 2014 result Lab 1506 C 885 Grn 504 TUSC 189 LD 172
May 2012 result Lab 1456 C 1101 EDP 594 Grn 226
May 2011 result C 1569 Lab 1521 Save Thornes Park and Lightwaves 448 Grn 208 LD 140
May 2010 result C 2432 Lab 2252 LD 909 BNP 559 Grn 208
May 2008 result C 2479 Lab 738 BNP 348 LD 252 Grn 156 British Voice 142
May 2007 result C 2202 Lab 845 LD 366 British Voice 324 Grn 277
May 2006 result C 2318 Lab 1241 LD 500
June 2004 result C 2637/2586/2491 Lab 1620/1218/1133 LD 949


Eyres Monsell

Leicester council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Rory Palmer, who has been promoted to the European Parliament to replace retiring MEP Dame Glenis Wilmott. He had served since 2007.

Further down the M1 we come to Leicester and to a ward with very similar demographics to Wakefield West. Eyres Monsell is the southernmost ward of the city of Leicester, although that doesn't mean it's the most southerly ward in the Leicester built-up area; the ward merges seamlessly into the suburbs of Glen Parva to the west and South Wigston to the east which are most definitely not Leicester. The ward name commemorates Bolton Eyres-Monsell, the first Viscount Monsell, who served for 25 years as Conservative MP for Evesham, was Conservative chief whip during the turbulent 1920s and later First Lord of the Admiralty. Lord Monsell had some interesting links with travel and exploration: he was the uncle of the Arctic explorer Gino Watkins and father-in-law of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Leicester city council compulsorily purchased Monsell's land in 1950 in order to build a council estate on it. The ward named after him is one of the areas of Leicester which has been least changed by immigration, with a 95% White British population. Unemployment is high and all of the ward's census districts score very badly on the deprivation indices.

Politically this ward has been Labour since 2007, when a Lib Dem administration on the city council was almost wiped out - in the 2007 election the Lib Dems actually finished fourth behind Labour, the Conservatives and the BNP. The BNP score that year was 21%, showing potential for the populist right, and UKIP cashed in on that to finish second here in the 2015 election. Shares of the vote in 2015 were 43% for Labour, 26% for UKIP and 18% for the Conservatives.

Defending for Labour is Elaine Pantling, an actress who runs a one-woman theatre company. UKIP have not returned to the fray. The Conservative candidate is Christopher Doyle, a student at De Montfort University. Completing the ballot paper is Tony Faithfull-Wright of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Leicester South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode district: LE2

Christopher Doyle (C)
Tony Faithfull-Wright (LD)
Elaine Pantling (Lab)

May 2015 result Lab 1439/1229 UKIP 874/778 C 613/376 LD 253/179 Grn 203
May 2011 result Lab 1402/1306 LD 446/406 C 408/401
May 2007 result Lab 1097/870 C 627/611 BNP 620 LD 474/266 Lib 87
May 2003 result LD 1239/1041 Lab 837/762 C 527/385 BNP 299 Grn 72/64


Bryn-côch South

Neath Port Talbot council, Glamorgan; caused by the death of the Mayor of Neath Port Talbot, Plaid Cymru councillor Janice Dudley, at the age of 73. Dudley had served since 2004, and had previously chaired the Mid and West Wales fire authority. Her death came when she was suddenly taken ill after officially starting the Round the Pier swim at Aberavon Beach.

For our Welsh by-election this week we come to the Vale of Neath. Bryn-côch South division lies on the north bank of the River Neath opposite Neath itself; this is one of the relatively better-off parts of Neath Port Talbot although it does include the Caewern council estate. Bryncoch has an association with the evolutionary scientist Alfred Russell Wallace, who lived here for a time while working as a surveyor for the Great Western Railway.

Since 1999 this division has evolved into a close fight between Labour and Plaid Cymru, with the parties sharing the two seats in the 1999 and 2012 elections. In May the Tories, Lib Dems and Greens stood for the first time since the ward was created in 1983, and that expansion seems to have come at the expense of Labour: Plaid won with 45%, to just 24% for Labour and 19% for the Conservatives.

Defending for Plaid Cymru is Jo Hale, vice-chair of the local Blaenhonddan community council. In a ballot paper with a majority of double-barrelled surnames, Labour have reselected Emma Denholm-Hall who fought the seat in May. The Conservative candidate is Peter Crocker-Jacques, who fought Neath in the 2016 Senedd election and a few months later got four (4) votes in a council by-election in Blaengwrach further up the valley; this should be better territory for him than Blaengwrach. Completing the ballot paper are Sheila Kingston-Jones for the Liberal Democrats and Darren Thomas for UKIP.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Neath
ONS Travel to Work Area: Swansea
Postcode district: SA10

Peter Crocker-Jacques (C)
Emma Denholm-Hall (Lab)
Jo Hale (PC)
Sheila Kingston-Jones (LD)
Darren Thomas (UKIP)

May 2017 result PC 848/808 Lab 460/393 C 366/290 Grn 110 LD 102
May 2012 result Lab 856/703 PC 825/744
May 2008 result PC 1024/841 Lab 820/660
June 2004 result PC 971/958 Lab 691/664
May 1999 result PC 983 Lab 902/863
May 1995 result Lab 915/819 PC 509/485
May 1991 Neath district council result Lab 1026/723 PC 605
May 1987 Neath district council result Lab 1077/832 PC 454 Alliance 428
May 1983 Neath district council result Lab 1031/755 Ratepayers 359 PC 315 SDP 250


Bishops Frome and Cradley

Herefordshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Patricia Morgan, who intends to sail around the world with her husband Julian. She was first elected in 2007 for Frome ward and had served for this ward since 2015.

After six urban wards, it's time for a change of scene as we finish this week with four wards in the English countryside. They don't get much more rural than Bishops Frome and Cradley, a group of six parishes on the Herefordshire/Worcestershire border which essentially fill the space between the Malvern Hills and Bromyard. Despite the order of names, the largest parish within the ward is Cradley with 1526 electors, more than the rest of the ward put together; the smallest parish in the ward, Evesbatch, has just 60 electors on the roll.

Bishops Frome and Cradley ward was created for the 2015 election and has no direct predecessor. At the time of the 2011 census Cradley parish anchored Hope End ward, which seems to have attracted some commuters to Malvern and Worcester, while the rest of the area was covered by Frome and Bromyard wards. Judging from the stats for those wards Bishops Frome and Cradley has a relatively old age profile with high levels of self-employment; typical for a deeply rural area.

Rural Herefordshire tends to be a contest between Conservatives and independents. No independent candidate came forward in Bishops Frome and Cradley ward in 2015, but the Conservatives were opposed by the Green Party and beat them 69-31.

This by-election has a wider field of candidates. Defending for the Conservatives is Robert Carter, who lives in the ward in the village of Acton Beauchamp. He is opposed by three candidates who fought the North Herefordshire constituency in June's general election: Ellie Chowns for the Green Party, Jeanie Falconer for the Liberal Democrats and Roger Page for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: North Herefordshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Hereford
Postcode districts: HR7, HR8, WR6, WR13

Robert Carter (C)
Ellie Chowns (Grn)
Jeanie Falconer (LD)
Roger Page (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1331 Grn 610


Chalford

Stroud council, Gloucestershire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Elizabeth Peters at the age of 73. A long-serving organiser of the Brimscombe village fete, Peters caused controversy in 2014 by using racially offensive language after a council meeting, for which she apologised. She had served on Stroud council since 2002.

We cross the boundary from Herefordshire into Gloucestershire where there are two polls this week, but for the first of these we keep our connection with Frome - this time, the River Frome which cuts through the Cotswolds in a narrow, gorge-like valley. Clinging to the northern side of that valley is the village of Chalford. Chalford expanded rapidly in the eighteenth century with the arrival of Flemish weavers, who brought with them a high-quality textile industry; and it was made accessible to the outside world by the opening of the now-derelict Thames and Severn Canal. Also within the ward is the village of Bussage, which grew strongly in the 1980s with the development of the Manor Farm Estate.

Through most of this century Chalford ward has had a large Conservative lead with Labour and the Greens splitting the opposition vote fairly evenly. The 2016 election changed things a bit as the Conservative vote markedly declined; although the party held the ward's three seats, their vote share fell to just 32% to 28% each for the Greens and Labour. There was more bad news for the Conservatives here in 2017: in May's county elections, they lost the local Minchinhampton county division to the Green Party in a straight fight, by the small margin of 2,320 votes to 2,293; and in June's general election they lost the Stroud constituency to Labour, again by a small margin (29,994 to 29,307 on a high turnout of 77%). The returning Labour MP, David Drew, has an electoral career going back a long way: he stood against Peters in a Stroud council by-election in 1986.

Defending this intriguing three-way marginal for the Conservatives is Darren Loftus, a 33-year-old property manager from Chalford. The Greens have selected Robin Lewis, a semi-retired college lecturer. The Labour candidate is Karen Pitney, a former long-serving BBC employee now working for the Gloucestershire GP Co-operative. Completing the ballot paper is Kris Beacham for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Stroud
Gloucestershire county council division: Minchinhampton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Gloucester
Postcode districts: GL5, GL6

Kris Beacham (LD)
Robin Lewis (Grn)
Darren Loftus (C)
Karen Pitney (Lab)

May 2016 result C 930/927/905 Grn 810 Lab 799/738 UKIP 353
May 2015 result C 1920 Lab 919 Grn 781 UKIP 431
May 2014 result C 878 Grn 546 Lab 406 UKIP 348 TUSC 17
May 2012 result C 945 Lab 481 Grn 381
May 2011 result C 1302 Grn 649 Lab 638
May 2010 result C 2033 Grn 1041 Lab 872
May 2008 result C 1217 Grn 633 Lab 195 UKIP 121
May 2007 result C 1114 Grn 492 Lab 250 UKIP 158
May 2006 result C 1100 Grn 447 LD 259 Lab 220
June 2004 result C 880 Grn 402 LD 325 UKIP 255 Lab 250
May 2003 result C 875 Lab 316 Grn 306 LD 277 UKIP 107
May 2002 result C 941/887/743 Lab 522/473 LD 487 Grn 399/352/232 UKIP 192


Grumbolds Ash with Avening

Cotswold council, Gloucestershire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Jim Parsons at the age of 82. Parsons was first elected in 1999 for the former Avening ward as an independent, gaining the Conservative nomination in 2007 and transferring to Grumbolds Ash with Avening ward in 2015.

For our second Gloucestershire by-election of the week we stay in the Cotswolds but travel to the southern boundary of the county. This is a diffuse ward of eight parishes to the north and west of Tetbury, running from Cherington in the north to Didmarton on the Wiltshire boundary. None of the parishes are called Grumbolds Ash, a name which instead commemorates an ancient Hundred of Gloucestershire. Avening, on the Tetbury-Nailsworth road, is the ward's largest settlement with 888 electors; by comparison the small parish of Ozleworth has just 34 electors on the register. Here can be found the Forestry Commission's National Arboretum at Westonbirt together with Nan Tow's Tump, a Bronze Age barrow next to the A46 Bath-Nailsworth road.

At the time of the 2011 census most of this area was in the former Grumbolds Ash ward, which made the top 20 in England and Wales for households living rent-free (8.5%) and had high self-employment levels. The present ward was created in 2015. The old Grumbolds Ash ward was strongly Conservative and frequently uncontested, and that has carried through to the present ward where in 2015 the Tories beat the Liberal Democrats 71-29 in a straight fight.

Defending for the Conservatives is Richard Morgan, a Tetbury resident who runs an adventure travel business. The Liberal Democrat candidate is Nicky Baber, a Kemble and Ewen parish councillor. Completing the ballot paper is Labour candidate Edward Shelton who is the only candidate to live in the ward (in Didmarton).

Parliamentary constituency: The Cotswolds
Gloucestershire county council division: Tetbury
ONS Travel to Work Area: Swindon
Postcode districts: GL6, GL8, GL9, GL12

Nicky Baber (LD)
Richard Morgan (C)
Edward Shelton (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1108 LD 442


St Margaret's-at-Cliffe

Dover council, Kent; caused by the resignation of the Leader of the Council, Conservative councillor Paul Watkins, who is retiring from politics. A former nurse who later founded a nursing home company, Watkins was first elected in 1983 for Lower Walmer ward; he stood down in 1995 but returned to the council in 1999 from St Margaret's-at-Cliffe ward. Watkins was chairman of Dover council from 1989 to 1992 and had served as Leader of the Council since 2003.

For our final stop this week, welcome to the front line of Brexit. In fact, welcome to the front line full stop. This is the ward which contains the iconic White Cliffs of Dover, traditionally Britain's first line of defence against invasion from the Continent, and the first part of the UK which visitors see as they approach the port of Dover on the ferry from Calais. The ward overlooks the point where those ferries reach dry land, Dover Eastern Docks. Not surprisingly for such a strategic location, the military are still here ready for any invasion: St Margaret's-at-Cliffe ward includes Fort Burgoyne and the Duke of York's Royal Military School, on the hills behind Dover Castle. A significant number of Gurkhas live in the ward, putting St Margaret's-at-Cliffe in the top 10 wards in England and Wales for Buddhism, while the Duke of York's school means that the ward is in the top 100 in England and Wales for 16- and 17-year-olds. (That school is one of only three schools in England and Wales to have military colours; the other two are Cheltenham College and, inevitably, Eton.)

The ward itself essentially covers the area between Dover and Deal. At its centre is the village of St Margaret's at Cliffe itself, which marks the point where the North Sea ends and the English Channel begins. The village was mostly evacuated during the Second World War as it was within range of German artillery in France. Further inland is Martin Mill, home to the ward's railway station on the Dover-Deal line.

The White Cliffs have been a source of much controversy in recent years. A couple of months ago an appeal by the National Trust raised £1 million to prevent the cliffs being sold to developers, while a few years back a well-known UKIP election poster depicted an escalator going to the clifftop. That didn't stop UKIP taking second place in this ward in the 2015 local elections: they had 25% to 53% for the winning Conservative slate and 22% for Labour. In May's county elections the Conservatives pulled away from Labour in the previously marginal division of Dover North, which includes this ward.

Defending for the Conservatives is Peter Jull, who fought his home ward of North Deal in 2015. With UKIP not returning to the polls, in a straight fight Jull is opposed by Charles Woodgate, who fought the local county seat in May and stood in Tunbridge Wells in June's general election; Woodgate is described as having a strong business background with 30 years working in international trade, finance and banking.

Parliamentary constituency: Dover
Kent county council division: Dover North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Folkestone and Dover
Postcode districts: CT14, CT15, CT16

Peter Jull (C)
Charles Woodgate (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1424/1221 UKIP 684 Lab 590/555
May 2011 result C 1257/1185 Lab 500/467
May 2007 result C 1058/969 LD 343 Lab 276/248
April 2004 by-election C 749 LD 234 Lab 213 Ind 43
May 2003 result C 836/756 Lab 304/274 Ind 235


If you liked this post, please consider supporting future columns by buying the book! Andrew's Previews 2016, containing many more pieces like this, is now available from Amazon.


Previews: 16 Nov 2017

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

There are ten by-elections on 16th November 2017 in England's towns and villages. There is one Liberal Democrat defence, in Penrith; four Labour defences, two in the Tees Valley towns and two in Suffolk; and five Conservative defences, two in Lincolnshire and one each in Darlington, Lancashire and Buckinghamshire. With eight of this week's by-elections being in safe wards we shouldn't expect much change, although two of those polls are in the marginal parliamentary seat of Darlington and should therefore be given some attention as to the swing. We shall come later to the Lib Dem defence, which looks particularly unpredictable; but we start this week with what is clearly the marquee contest. It's time to go to the far East...


Kirkley; and
St Margaret's

Waveney council, Suffolk; caused respectively by the resignations of husband and wife Stephen Logan and Louisa Harris-Logan, who were Labour councillors. Both were first elected in 2015, and are resigning due to work commitments.

For the first of our two towns this week with two by-elections we travel to the UK's easternmost town, Lowestoft. Kirkley ward lies in southern Lowestoft, on the far side of the Bascule Bridge. Developed in the Victorian era by the railway entrepreneur Sir Samuel Peto, Kirkley still retains many of its period houses, including the birthplace of Benjamin Britten on Kirkley Cliff Road. (It's a B&B now, in case you fancy staying.) That old housing stock and seaside location doesn't necessarily translate into a desirable place to live: Kirkley ward includes the most deprived census district in Suffolk and has the county's lowest life expectancy.

Not much further up the social scale is St Margaret's ward, which covers postwar housing in the north-east corner of the town and has seen some new development in recent years off the town's recently-completed bypass, Millennium Way.

The two wards may look similar from the census but have interestingly different political histories. Kirkley was traditionally a Labour versus Lib Dem fight, the Liberal Democrats carrying the ward every year from 1999 to 2008, but this was one of the areas where Coalition led to the Lib Dem vote disappearing. In 2015 Labour led here with 36%, to 21% for the Conservatives, 20% for UKIP and 15% for an independent candidate.

By contrast, St Margaret's ward has never failed to return a Labour councillor in the 44-year history of Waveney council. Despite that, for many years now it has been a very tight fight between Labour and the Conservatives: the closest the Tories got to gaining the ward was in 2006 when they were just eight votes behind Labour. In 2015 Labour again led with 36%, to 30% for the Conservatives and 26% for UKIP. Those looking for a Conservative gain to offset several Tory losses in recent week's by-elections may take further heart from the fact that Labour performed very badly in Lowestoft in May and June: both St Margaret's and Kirkley are in county divisions which the Conservatives gained in May, and the local parliamentary seat (Waveney) was the only seat which voted Leave in 2016 where the Labour vote fell in June's general election.

Both by-elections have attracted a full field of candidates from all five main parties. Defending Kirkley for Labour is Peter Byatt, a retired teacher and Lowestoft town councillor; he was a Suffolk county councillor (for Pakefield division) until losing his seat to the Conservatives in May. The Conservatives have selected Gilly Gunner. The UKIP candidate is Phillip Trindall, who ran a carpentry and joinery business for over 35 years; he stood in the last Lowestoft by-election (in Oulton Broad ward in September) and did poorly. Completing the ballot paper are Ben Quail for the Greens and Dominic Leslie for the Lib Dems.

In St Margaret's the defending Labour candidate is 27-year-old Nasima Begum, a Lowestoft town councillor who runs a Tandoori restaurant. Returning from the 2015 election is the Conservatives' Linda Coulam, who runs a taxi firm with her husband. UKIP have also reselected their 2015 candidate for the ward, Bernie Guymer. Completing the ballot paper are Baz Bemment for the Green Party and Liberal Democrat Shaun Waters.

Kirkley

Parliamentary constituency: Waveney
Suffolk county council division: Lowestoft South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lowestoft
Postcode district: NR33

Peter Byatt (Lab)
Gilly Gunner (C)
Dominic Leslie (LD)
Ben Quail (Grn)
Phillip Trindall (UKIP)

May 2015 result Lab 1272/1150/1097 C 733/533/509 UKIP 704 Ind 543 Grn 320/320
May 2011 result Lab 783/719/712 LD 496/431 C 333/295/252 Grn 293 UKIP 248
May 2010 result Lab 1102 LD 986 C 711 Grn 184
May 2008 result LD 660 Lab 375 C 256 Grn 123
May 2007 result LD 689 Lab 379 C 206 UKIP 173 Grn 102
May 2006 result LD 728 Lab 375 C 240 Grn 108
June 2004 result LD 807 Lab 568 C 257 Grn 132
May 2003 result LD 710 Lab 416 C 178 Grn 82
May 2002 result LD 886/850/798 Lab 694/652/632 C 193

St Margaret's

Parliamentary constituency: Waveney
Suffolk county council division: Oulton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lowestoft
Postcode district: NR32

Nasima Begum (Lab)
Baz Bemment (Grn)
Linda Coulam (C)
Bernie Guymer (UKIP)
Shaun Waters (LD)

May 2015 result Lab 1680/1491/1462 C 1379/1273/979 UKIP 1200 Grn 359/291
May 2011 result Lab 1051/1037/1024 C 858/707/675 UKIP 375 Grn 269 LD 208
May 2010 result Lab 1656 C 1411 LD 642 Grn 196
May 2008 result Lab 658 C 578 UKIP 315 LD 206 Grn 137
May 2007 result Lab 711 C 629 LD 166 UKIP 140 Grn 97 Ind 68
May 2006 result Lab 679 C 671 LD 268 Grn 126
June 2004 result Lab 675 C 624 Ind 502 Grn 133
May 2003 result Lab 626 C 540 LD 202 Grn 71
May 2002 result Lab 913/818/784 C 518 LD 421 Socialist Alliance 119


Penn and Coleshill

Chiltern council, Buckinghamshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Alan Hardie who had served since 2011.

From one of the most deprived parts of Britain to one of the least. Two weeks ago this column was in one of England's most expensive towns to buy property, Beaconsfield; this week we hop north over the town and district boundary to Penn and Coleshill ward. Despite the ward name (which is taken from the two parishes it covers) the largest centre of population is Knotty Green which is essentially a northern extension of Beaconsfield. Knotty Green claims England's oldest freehouse, the Royal Standard of England (first attested in 1213 when it was called The Ship). The village of Penn itself lies on the eastern edge of High Wycombe, while Coleshill - once a detached part of Hertfordshire - lies halfway between Beaconsfield and Amersham. This is a leafy part of the Chiltern Hills which is much in demand from TV and film companies due to its proximity to several major film studios. The census stats show that Penn and Coleshill is clearly a commuter area: 55% of the workforce are in some form of management or professional occupation and half of the workforce hold degrees.

Penn and Coleshill is as true blue as you would expect from that introduction. The 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections all saw the Conservatives poll over 70% of the vote in a straight fight with the Liberal Democrats. The 2011 election here gave the Tories a 75-25 majority; in 2015 the Lib Dems gave up and the Conservative slate was elected without a contest. The ward is split between two Buckinghamshire county divisions which are both safe Conservative.

Defending for the Conservatives, and in the unusual position for a W of top of the ballot paper, is Jonathan Waters who lives some distance away in a village near Chesham. Ensuring a contested election this time is the Lib Dem candidate Richard Williams, an Amersham resident who fought the ward in 2003, 2007 and 2011.

Parliamentary constituency: Chesham and Amersham
Buckinghamshire county division: Penn Wood and Old Amersham (Penn parishes); Chalfont St Giles (Coleshill parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: High Wycombe and Aylesbury
Postcode districts: HP7, HP9, HP10

Jonathan Waters (C)
Richard Williams (LD)

May 2015 result 2 C unopposed
May 2011 result C 1477/1311 LD 484
May 2007 result C 916/902 LD 251/236
May 2003 result C 818/805 LD 325/313


Sudbrooke

West Lindsey council, Lincolnshire; caused by the resignation of Conserative councillor Stuart Curtis on health grounds. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and has since died at the age of 72. Curtis lived all his life in the village of Sudbrooke, working for fifty years for a Lincoln firm of solicitors; he specialised in conveyancing, and had chaired the local branch of the Institute of Legal Executives. Away from work he had been a qualified football referee, once taking charge of a Lincoln City testimonial match in front of over 5,000 spectators. He had served on West Lindsey council since 1999.

From a safe Conservative ward in Buckinghamshire we move to two more safe Conservative wards in Lincolnshire. The first of these is in Sudbrooke, a village about five miles north-east of Lincoln off the A158 Lincoln-Skegness road. Sudbrooke's population grew strongly in the 1980s as a middle-class commuter village, dwarfing the older village of Scothern to the north; one legacy of that growth is that the ward makes the top 75 in England and Wales for owner-occupation (92% of households).

Sudbrooke ward was created in 1999 and has unchanged boundaries since then, having survived boundary reviews in 2007 and 2015. It had also had unchanged representation, with Curtis having been the councillor since the ward's creation: he was originally an independent candidate and was returned unopposed in 2000, before gaining the Conservative nomination from 2004 onwards. At Curtis' last re-election in 2015 his lead over the Labour candidate was 69-20. The ward is within a safe Conservative Lincolnshire county division (Welton Rural) and a safe Conservative parliamentary seat (Gainsborough).

Defending for the Conservatives is Bob Waller - not the well-known psephologist but the vice-chairman of Sudbrooke parish council. A former Army officer, Waller formerly ran an apprentice engineering training company and is also a former Teesside magistrate. In a straight fight, he is opposed by Labour candidate and Sudbrooke resident Gareth Hart.

Parliamentary constituency: Gainsborough
Lincolnshire county council division: Welton Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lincoln
Postcode districts: LN2, LN3

Gareth Hart (Lab)
Bob Waller (C)

May 2015 result C 1121 Lab 324 LD 181
May 2011 result C 860 Lab 289
May 2008 result C 790 LD 204
June 2004 result C 656 LD 484
May 2000 result Ind unopposed
May 1999 result Ind 452 LD 280


Whaplode and Holbeach St John's

South Holland council, Lincolnshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Mike Pullen at the age of 82. Originally from London - his first job was as a rigger in the East End docks - Pullen had retired to Lincolnshire after jobs in brewing and insurance. He had served on South Holland council since 2015.

For our second Lincolnshire by-election of the week we travel to the Fens, that agricultural landscape reclaimed from the North Sea which is every bit as flat and unremarkable as the map above might suggest. Wards and parishes in this area tend to be long and thin, following the relatively high ground between the drainage ditches; this ward runs for 20 kilometres from the Cambridgeshire boundary to the intriguingly-named Saracen's Head on the A17 Sleaford-King's Lynn road. Of the two villages in the title, Whaplode makes the unusual claim of having Lincolnshire's highest sculpture-to-population ratio, while Holbeach St Johns is a village slightly to the east on the line of the Greenwich Meridian.

Local politics in South Holland is, like the landscape, not the most exciting affair. In the last two elections to Whaplode and Holbeach St John's ward the Conservatives have been guaranteed one of the two available seats due to insufficient opposition candidates. Pullen was the opposition candidate in 2011 as an independent, losing an independent-held seat, before being elected in 2015 on the Tory slate. That year the Conservatives had 57% to 43% for a single UKIP candidate. The ward is split between three different Lincolnshire county divisions, all of which are safe Conservative.

Defending for the Conservatives is Janet Whitbourn, who lives in Spalding and was a presenter and manager on the local radio station Tulip Radio until its closure earlier this year; she now runs an events company. In another straight fight Whitbourn is opposed by Jennie Thomas, an admin assistant and mother-of-four from Holbeach, who is the Labour candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: South Holland and the Deepings
Lincolnshire county council division: Crowland (part: Drove ward of Holbeach parish and Drove ward of Whaplode parish); Holbeach (part: Saracen's Head ward of Whaplode parish); Holbeach Rural (part: St John's ward of Holbeach parish and St Catherine and Village wards of Whaplode parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Spalding
Postcode districts: PE6, PE12

Jennie Thomas (Lab)
Janet Whitbourn (C)

May 2015 result C 1270/1232 UKIP 969
May 2011 result C 849/727 Ind 507
May 2007 result C 647/569 Ind 606/525


Staining and Weeton

Fylde council, Lancashire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Albert Pounder due to ill-health. He had served since 2003.

After five by-elections in the east and the south of England it's time to move north. Staining and Weeton ward covers a large area at the centre of the Fylde peninsula, immediately to the east of Blackpool. Staining is the larger of the two villages covered by the ward, but Weeton is the more interesting one; defence is the main game in town here with a large barracks within the ward boundary, and Weeton hosts an annual reunion each June for the King's Own Royal Border Regiment. In recent times the main controversy in the area has been fracking; Cuadrilla bored a test well in the ward in 2011 but had to stop operations after the drilling set off two minor earthquakes.

Staining and Weeton ward was created in 2003 by merging two single-member wards: a decision which spelt the end of the political career of Labour's Alfred Goldberg who had represented Staining ward since 1991. The ward is now safely Conservative and in 2015 the Tories led Labour here 65-35. However, the Tories don't always get it all their own way in rural Fylde: the local county councillor is an independent.

Defending for the Conservatives is Jayne Nixon, an administration manager and Staining parish councillor. The Labour candidate is Nick Ansell (from Blackpool), and completing the ballot paper is Beverley Harrison (from Lytham St Annes) of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Fylde
Lancashire county council division: Fylde West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackpool
Postcode districts: FY3, FY4, FY6, PR4

Nick Ansell (Lab)
Beverley Harrison (LD)
Jayne Nixon (C)

May 2015 result C 971/746 Lab 531
May 2011 result C 582/475 Ind 355 Lab 242 Grn 96
May 2007 result 2 C unopposed
May 2003 result C 527/441 Lab 418


Penrith North

Eden council, Cumbria; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Robin Howse, who is retiring on health and age grounds. He had served since 2011.

As Samuel Johnson once said, "the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England". For many who journey between England and Scotland, whether in Johnson's day or in the modern day, their journey takes them through or past Penrith. The Romans had a road which passed through Penrith on the way to Hadrian's Wall, and its modern successors (the A6 and M6), together with the West Coast main line, all pass through Penrith North ward. As well as a rural hinterland, Penrith North is based on the northern part of the town: the Townhead district and the New Streets. Fittingly some of the streets in the ward are named in honour of a pioneer of roads: John Loudon McAdam, who for a time lived in Penrith.

Penrith is the largest town in the Eden local government district, which despite its geographical size is the smallest local government district by population in north-west England; Penrith North is the district's largest ward but is still comfortably under 3,500 electors. With small electorates like that the candidate starts to become more important than the party, and this is reflected in Penrith North's previous results where it's rare for any party to field a full slate. Since 2011 the Liberal Democrats have held two seats in the ward to one for the Conservatives; shares of the vote in 2015 were 43% for the Lib Dems (two candidates), 32% for the Conservatives (full slate) and 25% for Labour (one candidate). In May's county elections the Tories greatly increased their majority in the Penrith North county division, but that's much more rural in character than this ward.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is local resident Mark Rudhall. The Tory candidate is John Forrester, who runs a motorcycle training business and fought Penrith East in May's county elections. The Labour candidate is Karen Lockney, a lecturer at the University of Cumbria. Completing the ballot paper is Douglas Lawson of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Penrith and the Border
Cumbria county council division: Penrith North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Penrith
Postcode district: CA11

John Forrester (C)
Douglas Lawson (Grn)
Karen Lockney (Lab)
Mark Rudhall (LD)

May 2015 result LD 1037/909 C 773/746/742 Lab 606
May 2011 result LD 783/532 C 574 Ind 499 Lab 304
May 2007 result Ind 531 C 523 LD 417 Lab 186
May 2003 result Ind 536 LD 441 C 419 Lab 163


Mowden; and
Red Hall and Lingfield

Darlington council, County Durham; caused respectively by the resignations of Conservative councillor Bill Stenson and Labour councillor Lynne Haszeldine. One of the longest-serving councillors in the UK, Stenson is retiring after fifty-two years' service on Darlington council: he was first elected in 1965 for the Mowden ward of the former Darlington County Borough. Haszeldine, who had served Lingfield ward and then Red Hall and Lingfield in tandem with her husband Ian since 2007, is suffering from poor health.

We finish the week with three contests in the Tees Valley mayoral area, two of which are in the town of Darlington. Darlo has a reputation as a Quaker town, having been built through the efforts of many wealthy Quaker families, but is also known for the railways and heavy engineering: it was the terminus of the UK's first passenger railway, the Stockton and Darlington, became an important railway manufacturing centre, and for well over a century has been known for bridge-building. The Cleveland Bridge company, which built such well-known bridges as the Tyne Bridge, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Humber Bridge, is based in Darlington. That economic prosperity helped make Darlington, until it became a unitary council in the 1990s, the largest town in County Durham.

In many towns and the cities in the UK the western end is a more desirable place to live than the eastern end, which typically suffers from pollution blown over from the rest of the town on the prevailing westerly wind. Such is the case in Darlington and that's neatly illustrated by the two by-elections this week. On the western edge of town is Mowden, the least-deprived ward in Darlington town; located south of Staindrop Road, the ward is centred on Bushel Hill Park. Much of the ward was developed in the 1960s and 1970s, and judging from its age profile many of the original householders are still in situ: the ward is in the top 100 in England and Wales for retired population and owner-occupation is high. Darlington's heavy engineering is illustrated by Mowden ward making the top 50 in England and Wales for apprenticeship qualifications and the top 25 for the census' "intermediate" occupational classification. Mowden ward escaped a boundary review in 2015 unchanged.

That boundary review created Red Hall and Lingfield ward on the eastern edge of town, which took in the eastern areas of the former Lingfield and Haughton East wards. If Mowden is where Darlington's well-off engineers live, this is where they work: Red Hall and Lingfield ward is dominated by Morton Park, a large industrial estate presently being redeveloped. Companies based on Morton Park include the engine manufacturer Cummins and the English office of the beleaguered Student Loans Company.

Darlington has a reputation as a Labour-inclined marginal area, but boundary effects mean that that doesn't always reflect the votes cast. The parliamentary seat is drawn tightly around the town, whereas the district includes a few Tory-voting villages in its hinterland: that bolsters the Labour position at general election time (although Darlington did return the now ex-Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to Parliament during the Thatcher landslides). Boundary effects are also at work at council level: the Conservatives polled the most votes across the district in both the 2007 and 2015 elections, but a poor vote distribution meant that Labour had a secure majority on the council both times. Given the description above it shouldn't be surprising that Mowden is in the Conservative column with Red Hall and Lingfield in the Labour one: in 2015 Mowden had 46% for the Conservatives, 32% for Labour and 15% for UKIP, while Red Hall and Lingfield gave 47% to Labour, 29% to the Conservatives and 12% to the Green Party. Interestingly the Conservatives performed very badly in a by-election in Mowden on Euro-election day in 2014, Labour cutting their majority to 33 votes; on the other hand the Tories can take heart from the fact that they carried Darlington in the Tees Valley mayoral election in May.

This column hasn't been able to find out much information about the Mowden candidates beyond their names. Defending Mowden for the Conservatives is Alan Marshall. The Labour candidate is Eddie Heslop. UKIP are not contesting the seat this time, so the ballot paper is completed by Kathy Barley for the Green Party and Sarah Jordan for the Liberal Democrats.

By contrast the Red Hall and Lingfield by-election candidates are a well-attested and interesting bunch. Labour have gone for youth in defending the seat: their candidate Sharifah Rahman isn't yet 20 but she's already the secretary of Darlington Young Labour. The Conservatives' selection of Jonathan Dulston has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons: a 28-year-old long-standing community volunteer and special constable, he was fined earlier this year by Newton Aycliffe magistrates for being drunk and disorderly and obstructing a police officer. According to a report in the Mirror, Dulston claimed that "the fracas meant he was a candidate who 'represents reality' and has 'life experience'", which if true is the most impressive display of brass neck this column has seen for some time. The Green candidate is Mike McTimoney, a lecturer who in 2009 was appointed as Darlington's official Tweeter-in-residence, whatever that is. Also standing are Harry Longmoor for the Liberal Democrats and independent candidate Kevin Brack, who was the UKIP candidate for Darlington in June's general election.

Mowden

Parliamentary constituency: Darlington
ONS Travel to Work Area: Darlington
Postcode district: DL3

Kathy Barley (Grn)
Eddie Heslop (Lab)
Sarah Jordan (LD)
Alan Marshall (C)

May 2015 result C 1172/1090 Lab 798/586 UKIP 373 Grn 186
May 2014 by-election C 647 Lab 614 UKIP 235 LD 93
May 2011 result C 1090/992 Lab 629/494
May 2007 result C 1126/987 Lab 315/247 LD 209 UKIP 169
May 2003 result C 1318/1229 Lab 646/557

Red Hall and Lingfield

Parliamentary constituency: Darlington
ONS Travel to Work Area: Darlington
Postcode district: DL1

Kevin Brack (Ind)
Jonathan Dulston (C)
Harry Longmoor (LD)
Mike McTimoney (Grn)
Sharifah Rahman (Lab)

May 2015 result Lab 831/770 C 515/464 Grn 222 LD 212


Victoria

Hartlepool council, County Durham; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Trisha Lawton for family reasons. She was first elected in 2010 for Rossmere ward, lost her seat in 2012, and returned to the council in 2015 for this ward.

We finish for the week in that most interesting of towns, Hartlepool. Or, more accurately, two towns: Victoria ward covers the town centre of what was West Hartlepool, a nineteenth-century town built to serve docks on what was previously sand-dunes. Here can be found the main shopping centre, Middleton Grange; and Hartlepool United's ground at Victoria Park, where the former mayor Stuart Drummond used to parade in his monkey suit. Thanks to its proximity to the North Sea, Victoria Park had a reputation as the coldest ground in the Football League until the Pools got relegated last summer. Also in the ward is some housing to the west of the town centre along Hart Lane. At the time of the 2011 census most of the present ward was in Grange ward or Stranton ward, which were both notable for extremely high unemployment (nearly 13% in Stranton, over 10% in Grange).

Grange and Stranton wards had had full slates of Labour councillors since 2010, and that has carried forward to the current Victoria ward. UKIP took over second place here in 2015 from the localist party Putting Hartlepool First: in 2016 Labour's lead over UKIP was 51-30.

Defending for Labour is Katie Trueman, who gives an address in Old Hartlepool on the headland. The UKIP candidate is Jacqui Cummings, a carer. Completing the ballot paper is Conservative candidate Andrew Martin-Wells.

Parliamentary constituency: Hartlepool
ONS Travel to Work Area: Hartlepool
Postcode districts: TS24, TS26

Jacqui Cummings (UKIP)
Andrew Martin-Wells (C)
Katie Trueman (Lab)

May 2016 result Lab 727 UKIP 421 C 169 Grn 103
May 2015 result Lab 1264 UKIP 696 Putting Hartlepool First 461 C 345 Grn 213
May 2014 result Lab 731 Putting Hartlepool First 517 C 145 LD 63
May 2012 result Lab 753/745/737 Putting Hartlepool First 364/322/312 UKIP 166 C 146/113 LD 97/77 Ind 87


Preview: 14 Nov 2017

As your columnist returns from the European Quiz Championships in Zagreb garlanded with medals (I wish!) here's one that was made earlier: a rare Tuesday by-election in the ancient city of London...


Bishopsgate

City of London Corporation; caused by the resignation of Common Councilman Pooja Suri Tank.

Through crystal roofs the sunlight fell,
And pencilled beams the gloss renewed
On iron rafters balanced well
On iron struts; though dimly hued.
With smoke o'erlaid, with dust endued.
The walls and beams like beryl shone;
And dappled light the platforms strewed
With yellow foliage of the dawn
That withered by the porch of day's divan.

- John Davidson, "Liverpool Street Station"

For a rare Tuesday poll this week we are in the north-east corner of the ancient City of London. Here can be found the mainline railway terminus of Liverpool Street, the UK's third-busiest railway station; the Broadgate development on the site of the former Broad Street railway station; and the 164m-high Broadgate Tower, completed in 2009 and the fifth-tallest building in the old City. The map shown here is extremely up-to-date, showing as it does the tunnels for the Elizabath Line which is due to open in December 2018.

In many ways the Corporation is a hangover from the way local government was done in days of olden time, and the main effect of that hangover is business voting. Bishopsgate ward has very few local residents and its electorate is dominated by sole traders and electors nominated by businesses located within the ward. Those businesses run the gamut from the Swiss bank UBS, whose UK headquarters are in the Broadgate development, to Coventry University which has a small campus off Devonshire Square.

Bishopsgate ward was uncontested in the last City elections in March, so despite the fact that this by-election comes after the Lord Mayor's Show it's unlikely to be an anticlimax. The City's politics are non-partisan so all the candidates are independents. The establishment candidate would appear to Benjamin Murphy, an investment banker who is nominated by outgoing councilman Suri and other sitting councilmen for the ward. Former common councilman for the ward Patrick Streeter is trying to get back after standing down in May; he is a former Liberal Democrat figure who like Murphy, commutes into London from a village in the Harlow area. Completing the ballot paper is Timothy Becker, a barrister from Wimbledon.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
London Assembly constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: E1, EC2A, EC2M, EC2N, EC2P, EC3A

Timothy Becker (Ind)
Benjamin Murphy (Ind)
Patrick Streeter (Ind)


Previews: 09 Nov 2017

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

By the time you read these words your columnist will be in Zagreb, Croatia, where the European Quizzing Championships are taking place over the weekend. There's an interesting crossover between quizzers and psephologists: the entry list for the EQC includes at least two former UK local councillors, and several members of the Vote UK psephological web forum are active on the university quizbowl circuit and University Challenge. The Ipsos MORI pollster Roger Mortimore played for many years in the Quiz League of London and was in the last series of University Challenge before it was dropped by ITV in 1987. University Challenge was revived following its inclusion in a special BBC "Granadaland" night in 1992, and Granadaland is a theme which runs through the first two previews this week.

9th November 2017 is the quietest week for by-elections for some time, with only five polls this Thursday: three Conservative defences and two for Labour. If you can get your head around the concept of a Tory-Lib Dem-UKIP marginal, there is one up for election on the Solent coast. Following from poor Conservative performances last week, in which the party lost three seats to the Liberal Democrats, this week's other four by-elections are in constituencies where Labour outperformed and the Tories underperformed expectations in June. One each of those defences occurs in London in what will be this column's last visit to the London Boroughs for some time. But we start with a Labour defence in north Wales and a Conservative defence in Derbyshire in wards which have more in common that it might seem at first sight. Read on...


Limestone Peak

High Peak council, Derbyshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Daren Robins. He had served since 2015.

Welcome to the Peak District. We're just north of Buxton here in the village of Dove Holes, one of the highest villages in England at an altitude of over 1100 feet and, if you believe a 2001 poll for Radio 5 Live, the ugliest village in England. That's not an assessment your columnist agrees with - there are far worse places out there - but Dove Holes' setting on the busy A6 Buxton-Manchester road and the fact that the local industry is, as the ward name suggests, limestone quarrying doesn't help in the beauty stakes. Rather more beautiful is the Derbyshire Wye Valley, a dramatic gorge between Buxton and Millers Dale, while in between lie the quarrying village of Peak Dale, the older village of Wormhill and the hamlet of Tunstead which was the birthplace of the canal pioneer James Brindley. The limestone quarrying has left its mark on the local workforce: Limestone Peak is in the top 40 wards in England and Wales for the ONS "lower supervisory, technical" occupational group.

Up here on the limestone plateau we really are in the debatable lands: where does the North end and the Midlands begin? The official regional boundaries suggest that the East Midlands begins at the Cheshire-Derbyshire boundary, but the High Peak borough of Derbyshire is dominated by small towns like Glossop and New Mills that look towards Manchester rather than Derby as the nearest big city. Those towns and Buxton are politically counterbalanced by some lovely but rather sparsely-populated countryside which has seen some interesting political fights over the last two years, often swinging in different directions at the same time. In 2015 the Conservatives gained overall control of High Peak council with a majority of three at the same time as their MP Andrew Bingham was re-elected for a second term as MP for the High Peak constituency (which has the same boundaries). Included in that majority was the Limestone Peak ward where the Tories had 50% of the vote (to 27% for Labour and 23% for UKIP).

The Conservatives had an eye-catching performance across High Peak in May's Derbyshire county elections, gaining three seats from Labour and one from the Lib Dems to finish with six of the borough's eight county councillors to one each for Labour and the Lib Dems. But this was an occasion where large seat changes are deceptive: all four of those gains were by majorities of fewer than 100 votes, with the Conservative majority in Buxton North and East (which includes Peak Dale and Wormhill but not Dove Holes) being just 27 votes, and in vote terms Labour were only four percentage points behind the Conservatives across the borough last May with a large Lib Dem vote to squeeze. Once you take that into account, together with the fact that High Peak is culturally a Granadaland seat rather than a Midlands one, the Labour gain of High Peak in the general election five weeks later starts to make a bit more sense as a reflection of the strong Labour performance in north-west England.

No doubt Limestone Peak ward will now start swinging in a new direction just to confound us all further. Defending for the Conservatives is Peter Roberts, a local resident from Peak Dale. Labour have reselected their 2015 candidate Jim Lambert; a gain for him (or anyone else) would cut the Conservative majority on the borough council to one. UKIP have not returned to the fray, so completing the ballot paper are Peter Crook for the Green Party and Alistair Forbes for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: High Peak
Derbyshire county council division: Buxton North and East (Wormhill and Green Fairfield parishes), Buxton West (part of Buxton), Chapel and Hope Valley (part of Chapel en le Frith parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Buxton
Postcode districts: SK17, SK23

Peter Crook (Grn)
Alistair Forbes (LD)
Jim Lambert (Lab)
Peter Roberts (C)

May 2015 result C 575 Lab 306 UKIP 263


Buckley Bistre West

Flintshire council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Ron Hampson at the age of 79. A veteran of local government, Hampson was first elected in 1991 to the former Alyn and Deeside council and had served on the modern Flintshire council since its first election in 1995. He was Mayor of Buckley in 1997 and at the time of his death chaired Flintshire council's community and enterprise overview and scrutiny committee.

We move over the Welsh border to a location which has many similarities with Dove Holes. Like Dove Holes, Buckley is on the top of a hill. Like Dove Holes, Buckley is not within north-west England but shares many cultural affinities with Granadaland. Like Dove Holes, Buckley's main industry - in this case, a cement factory - is not exactly pleasing to the eye. Like Limestone Peak ward, Buckley Bistre West is in the top 40 wards in England and Wales for the ONS "lower supervisory, technical" occupational group. Like Dove Holes, Buckley is within a constituency - in this case, Alyn and Deeside - where Labour did well and the Conservatives underperformed expectations in June's general election. This column will be returning to Flintshire to discuss that subject further in due course, following the recent sad and untimely death of the local Welsh Assembly member, Carl Sargeant.

Buckley is rather obscure given that it is Flintshire's second largest town by population; perhaps its obscurity comes from being overshadowed in population terms by Mold, just a few miles to the west, while the main service centre for the area is Chester, over the border in England. Buckley Bistre West ward is the south-west quadrant of the town and the most deprived part of it.

Hampson's death brought to an end the double-act between him and the Liberal Democrats' Neville Phillips. They had been the two councillors for Buckley Bistre West since the establishment of the modern Flintshire council. Hampson was actually the junior member of the partnership: Phillips has represented this ward continuously on Flintshire council or the former Alyn and Deeside council since at least 1973, and may well have sat on predecessor councils before that. At their last re-election in May 65% of the electors gave a vote to Hampson as top of the Labour slate, with Phillips on 46% comfortably ahead of Hampson's running-mate.

A loss for Labour could be significant for control of the council, as Labour are running Flintshire as a minority administration with 33 out of 70 seats plus this vacancy. They have reselected Andy Williams to defend this by-election: he is a Buckley town councillor for this ward, was Mayor of Buckley in 2016-17 and was Hampson's running-mate in May's Flintshire election. The Liberal Democrat candidate is Gren James. Also standing are Louis Fox for the Conservatives and two Buckley town councillors standing as independent candidates: Edith Hutchinson and Martyn Teire.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Alyn and Deeside
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chester
Postcode district: CH7

Louis Fox (C)
Edith Hutchinson (Ind)
Gren James (LD)
Martyn Teire (Ind)
Andy Williams (Lab)

May 2017 result Lab 750/445 LD 527 Ind 250
May 2012 result Lab 886 LD 638 Ind 337
May 2008 result LD 896 Lab 825 Ind 380
June 2004 result Lab 916 LD 839 Lab 329
May 1999 result 1 Lab/1 LD unopposed
May 1995 result Lab 1156/580 LD 932
May 1991 Alyn and Deeside result LD 993 Lab 870/815 Ind 676 C 333
May 1987 Alyn and Deeside result 2 Lab/1 SDP unopposed
May 1983 Alyn and Deeside result Alliance 1136/735 Lab 992/766
May 1979 Alyn and Deeside result Lib 1458 Lab 1412 C 840 Ind 591
May 1976 Alyn and Deeside result Lib 708 C 619 Lab 602/576/497
May 1973 Alyn and Deeside result Lab 821/769/721 Lib 726 C 466


Stubbington

Fareham council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Chris Wood who was originally elected as UKIP.

We move to the south and to Stubbington, a village a couple of miles inland from the Solent coast between Portsmouth and Southampton. Stubbington claims to be the location of Hampshire's first cricket match - played on 22nd May 1733 between a Married team and a Single team - but otherwise is rather nondescript, having mostly developed since the war as a satellite of Fareham and Gosport. With its proximity to Gosport, defence is a major employer in the ward; but Stubbington, like many places on the south coast, has a relatively old population with high retirement levels.

This ward was a close-fought marginal between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats until the advent of Coalition: the Lib Dems won both seats in the ward in 2002, the Tories gained one of the seats in 2004 by a majority of eight votes, and the Lib Dems held their remaining seat in 2006 by 66 votes. The Tory and Lib Dem councillors then both developed personal votes which led to the ward seesawing between the two parties at every election until 2014, when the Lib Dems lost their seat - to UKIP, who had come second two years previously. UKIP followed up in 2016 by gaining the Conservative seat in a three-way marginal result: the Kippers' winning score was 35%, while the Lib Dems and Conservatives tied for the runner-up spot on 772 votes (30%) each. May's county elections suggest that UKIP will struggle to win this ward again: they had just 7% across the local Fareham Crofton division, which they had won four years previously.

Woods' defection means that the defending candidate is the Tories' Pal Hayre; she is the local county councillor, having gained the county seat from UKIP in May. UKIP want their seat back and have selected Andy Annear. The Liberal Democrat candidate is Jim Forrest, councillor for this ward from 2002 to 2004 and from 2006 to 2014. Completing the ballot paper is Labour's Matthew Randall. Whoever wins is likely to be straight back onto the campaign trail to seek re-election in May 2018.

Parliamentary constituency: Gosport
Hampshire county council division: Fareham Crofton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Portsmouth
Postcode districts: PO13, PO14

Andy Annear (UKIP)
Jim Forrest (LD)
Pal Hayre (C)
Matthew Randall (Lab)

May 2016 result UKIP 899 LD 772 C 772 Lab 123
May 2014 result UKIP 1227 C 841 LD 646 Lab 114
May 2012 result C 940 UKIP 833 LD 650
May 2010 result LD 2159 C 1773 Lab 302
May 2008 result C 1485 LD 1111 Lab 91
May 2006 result LD 1240 C 1174 Lab 130
June 2004 result C 1190 LD 1182 Lab 162
May 2002 result LD 1276/1063 C 923/913 Lab 167/165


Gospel Oak

Camden council, North London; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Theo Blackwell who is taking a politically-restricted post as Chief Digital Officer for London. A former Camden cabinet member for finance, Blackwell had represented this ward since 2010 and was previously councillor for Regent's Park ward from 2002 to 2010.

"Here from my eyrie, as the sun went down,
I heard the old North London puff and shunt,
Glad that I did not live in Gospel Oak."

- John Betjeman, "Summoned by Bells"

To finish the week we have two by-elections in London, a place we haven't seen much of this year: before this week there had only been nine local by-elections in the capital in 2017. We start north of the river in Gospel Oak, one of those places that could have become seriously fashionable but may now be being reappraised. When development began here in the mid-nineteenth century the landowners had plans for elegant streets, with Lismore Circus as their focal point, but the railways got there first, with first the North London Railway and then the Midland Railway building lines through the district. This scared the desired residents away and when the neighbourhood was built it was much more working-class than originally intended. That prejudice against Gospel Oak compared to neighbouring more middle-class or fashionable areas like Hampstead, Highgate and Camden Town was still in evidence in 1909, when Betjeman's family moved to nearby Highgate, and was to some extent reinforced after the Second World War when Camden council built a series of council estates in the area.

Some of the council estates are now being redeveloped by Camden council, and Gospel Oak has benefited from its proximity to fashionable Hampstead Heath. This together with improved transport links (the North London Line has undergone a renaissance over the last decade, and the Gospel Oak-Barking line is being electrified) have led to Gospel Oak going a little up the social scale in recent years. Today the ward is a rather socially mixed area, whiter and older than the average for London but still with 25% of its population born outside the EU - there are significant French, Bangladeshi and Filipino populations.

Politically the ward is normally Labour, but was lost to the Conservatives in 2006 before Labour regained the three seats at the 2010 election. At the most recent borough election in 2014 Labour won with 47%, to 18% for the Conservatives and 15% for the Greens. In the GLA elections in May 2016 Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith in the ward's ballot boxes 58-19 and Labour topped the London Members ballot with 51%, to 15% for the Tories and 14% for the Greens: both of those figures were swings to Labour from 2012. This is the third Gospel Oak by-election in five years, the last one having been only in May: Labour won that by-election with 50%, the Lib Dems interestingly moving into second on 20% ahead of the Tories' 18%.

Defending for Labour is Jenny Mulholland, who works in IT and is the only candidate to live in the ward. The Lib Dem candidate is Jill Fraser who is presumably hoping to batter the opposition - she runs a local fish and chip shop - and may be familiar to Camden voters as a former councillor (winning Haverstock ward in a 2003 by-election and serving until 2014), Mayor of Camden in 2006-07 and parliamentary candidate for the local seat of Holborn and St Pancras in 2015. Returning from May's by-election is Marx de Morais who, to paraphrase Hilary Benn, is a Marx but not a Marxist: born in Communist East Germany, de Morais is a professional food designer (whatever that is) from the liberal/Remain wing of the Conservative Party, and his rather unique style of campaigning has included planting flowerbeds in the ward's council estates. Completing the ballot paper is Max Spencer; she was the UKIP candidate for Holborn and St Pancras in 2015 but now has the English Democrats nomination.

Parliamentary constituency: Holborn and St Pancras
GLA constituency: Barnet and Camden
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: NW3, NW5

Marx de Morais (C)
Jill Fraser (LD)
Jenny Mulholland (Lab)
Max Spencer (EDP)

May 2017 by-election Lab 1468 LD 587 C 523 Grn 273 UKIP 75
May 2014 result Lab 1687/1590/1534 C 634/551/456 Grn 549/527/429 UKIP 361 LD 248/245/158 TUSC 110
March 2013 by-election Lab 1272 C 419 Grn 134 LD 132 TUSC 109 BNP 57
May 2010 result Lab 2015/1965/1825 C 1421/1344/1305 LD 1107/1006/860 Grn 602/595/548
May 2006 result C 1378/1333/1297 Lab 1225/1220/1150 LD 519/461/373 Grn 428/411/337
May 2002 result Lab 880/846/791 C 550/506/459 LD 430/347/336 Grn 311/291/264 CPA 50

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1867 C 603 Grn 308 LD 142 Women's Equality 93 UKIP 89 Respect 42 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 27 Britain First 20 BNP 14 One Love 6 Zylinski 3
London Members: Lab 1653 C 493 Grn 468 Women's Equality 184 LD 182 UKIP 144 Respect 32 Britain First 30 Animal Welfare 27 BNP 19 CPA 15 House Party 11


Thamesfield

Wandsworth council, South London; caused by the death of the Mayor of Wandsworth, Conservative councillor Jim Madden. Madden had served on Wandsworth council since 2002 and was in his second year as Mayor, having previously held the title in 2006-07. Before entering local politics Madden had been a Metropolitan Police officer, retiring in 1999 with the rank of Inspector having been in charge of policing in Putney and Roehampton for seven years, and had been national chairman of the Neighbourhood Watch network. In the 2015 New Year Honours Madden was appointed OBE for his services to policing and the community.

And thus we take leave of Putney, one of the pleasantest of the London suburbs, as well as the most accessible. The immense increase in the number of houses in late years testifies to its popularity; but there is still an almost unlimited extent of open ground which cannot be covered; and with wood and water, common and hill, there will always be an element of freshness and openness in Putney seldom to be obtained so near London.

- J C Geikie, The Fascinations of London, 1903

As we are now in the second week of November it's time to go through some administrative notices which have to be made at this time of year. The six-month rule has now kicked in in advance of next year's ordinary local elections, which will take place on Thursday 3rd May 2018. Up in 2018's local elections will be (with some modifications for boundary changes) one-third of the councillors in those English districts and metropolitan boroughs which elect by thirds, one half of the councillors in that handful of English districts which elect by halves, and every councillor in the 32 London Boroughs.

What the six-month rule means is that if any councillors who are due for re-election in May 2018 die, resign or otherwise leave office between now and then, there will not be a by-election to replace them and the seat will remain vacant until it is filled in May. So, as there are no further polls in the pipeline, this will be the last local by-election in Wandsworth before the 2018 London borough elections.

It's helpful that Wandsworth is holding a by-election so close to the end of the council term, buecause the Wandsworth 2018 election is already proving to be one of the most-discussed and most-anticipated elections of next year. Now it shows just how far the Conservatives sunk in the capital in June's general election that Wandsworth is even discussed as being in play: the party has controlled Wandsworth council continuously since 1978, in the 2006 election they won 51 seats out of a possible 60, and in the 2014 borough elections the Conservatives won 41 seats to 19 for the Labour opposition. Wandsworth has long been known as the Conservatives' "flagship" borough, because over the years the Tory administration has aggressively privatised and outsourced as many local services as it can. The payoff for this policy was that it allowed Wandsworth to set unbelievably low council tax rates, and that has proven to be a serious vote winner over the years. The Tory control from 1978 wasn't remotely affected by the two Blair landslide elections, in which Labour won all three of the borough's parliamentary seats (Battersea, Putney and Tooting). At Parliamentary level the Conservatives gained Putney in 2005 and Battersea in 2010, and rapid demographic change in recent years - with an influx of urban professionals - had been thought to have made the Battersea seat in particular safe. What happened?

Well, the first clue is in what I just wrote: urban professionals. To demonstrate this let's look at Thamesfield ward, which is the core of Putney: Putney High Street, Putney Bridge Road and Lower Richmond Road are the main thoroughfares in the ward, Putney railway station (on the Waterloo-Windsor line) serves the ward and East Putney underground station (on the Wimbledon branch of the District Line) is just outside the boundary. Despite a number of skyscrapers having gone up next to the Thames in recent years, this is an old, attractive suburb which still retains much of its pre-twentieth century housing stock. The ward runs along the south bank of the river either side of Putney Bridge; when Boat Race captains choose to start from the Surrey station (as they nearly always do) Thamesfield ward is where they start from.

Thamesfield ward stands out in a large number of 2011 census categories. It is number 2 in England and Wales for the proportion of the workforce with degrees, at nearly 69%. It is number 2 in England and Wales in the census "lower management, admin, professional" economic category and number 8 in England and Wales in the "higher management, admin, professional" economic category - almost two-thirds of the ward's workforce are in some sort of management or professional position. It is in the top 20 wards in England and Wales for people in the 30-44 age bracket. It is in the top 30 wards in England and Wales for full-time employment. It has a high concentration of people born in the EU-14 states (6%) or outside the EU (22%), with London's highest proportion of Australians and New Zealanders and some of its census districts having particularly high proportions of South Africans, south-east Asians and Thai speakers.

So, if you have a ward and a council which you would like to hold and whose electorate is dominated by young cosmopolitan professionals, perhaps some policies which might appeal to young cosmopolitan professionals might be in order. And that's where the Conservatives have been going wrong over the last eighteen months given that their flagship policy is Brexit: Wandsworth voted 3:1 Remain last year and little in the May administration's handling of Brexit thus far speaks to young urban professionals. The Conservatives reaped what had been sown in the 2017 general election, in which they lost Battersea and only narrowly survived a swing to Labour of over 10% in the Putney constituency.

Despite that it would still be a surprise if the Conservatives lost Thamesfield, although the swing in this by-election will be interesting. Like the Boat Race, Thamesfield ward is always won by a team in some shade of blue: at the last London borough elections in those long-ago days of 2014 the Conservative slate won with 49% to 18% for Labour and 16% for the Lib Dems. That followed on from a by-election in June 2011 which by all accounts Labour worked hard and performed well in, cutting the Tory majority to 46-31. In the GLA elections last year, Zac Goldsmith (whose constituency borders this ward) beat Sadiq Khan 52-29 in the ward's ballot boxes, while in the London Members ballot the Conservatives had 48% to 21% for Labour and 12% for the Greens; those were relatively good results for Labour who gained the local London Assembly constituency, Merton and Wandsworth.

Defending for the Conservatives is John Locker, who is seeking to return to Wandsworth council after losing his seat to Labour in Bedford ward in 2014. (One of the Labour councillors he lost to, Rosina Allin-Khan, has since gone on to greater things as MP for Tooting.) A senior manager working in the telecommunications industry, Locker had chaired the council's Strategic Planning and Transportation committee during the 2010-14 term. The Labour candidate is local resident Sally Warren, a disability campaigner. The Greens have also selected a long-term resident of the ward, Di McCann. Competing the ballot paper is Ryan Mercer of the Liberal Democrats, who fought the Putney parliamentary seat in June. Wandsworth council has a reputation for quick election counts, so an early declaration can be expected.

Parliamentary constituency: Putney
GLA constituency: Merton and Wandsworth
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: SW15, SW18

John Locker (C)
Di McCann (Grn)
Ryan Mercer (LD)
Sally Warren (Lab)

May 2014 result C 2579/2466/2437 Lab 953/880/790 Grn 846 LD 554/479/399 UKIP 298
June 2011 by-election C 1497 Lab 1022 LD 545 Grn 202
May 2010 result C 4938/4685/4654 Lab 1559/1387/1192 LD 1479/1194/1043 Grn 849
May 2006 result C 2470/2446/2423 Lab 595/581/546 Grn 553 LD 498/447/391
May 2002 result C 1838/1834/1768 Lab 663/661/660 Ind 627/479 LD 372/318

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: C 2476 Lab 1374 Grn 390 LD 251 Women's Equality 141 UKIP 50 Respect 27 Britain First 21 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 18 Zylinski 9 BNP 7 One Love 3
London Member: C 2300 Lab 990 Grn 594 LD 373 Women's Equality 245 UKIP 122 Animal Welfare 43 Respect 38 Britain First 22 House Party 19 CPA 15 BNP 7


If you enjoyed this post, why not buy the book? Andrew's Previews 2016, containing many more pieces like this, is now available from Amazon.


Previews: 02 Nov 2017

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

As we move into the eleventh month of 2017 the frenetic pace of council by-elections does not let up, with six polls this week to start November. Following two weeks of by-elections in safe Conservative and safe Labour wards - polls for the purists, one might say - the new month marks a change of scene. Of the five Conservative defences this week two, in Devon and Southport, are clearly vulnerable to the Liberal Democrats, while the only Labour defence of the week is in the Copeland constituency where the Tories clearly have momentum following the parliamentary by-election earlier this year. Away from the littoral, we visit a town which has a good claim to be the spiritual home of Conservatism, but we start on the south coast by discussing a safe Tory seat in a seaside resort. Along the way we will visit a number of model villages, see the inspiration for the boulevards of Paris, get our rubbish collected by the best-dressed binmen in history, play a game of skittles, have a Brief Encounter on a Grand Day Out and indulge in the favourite sport of all politicians everywhere. Read on...


Aldwick West

Arun council, West Sussex; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Jacquie Maconachie. One of the longest serving Arun councillors, Maconachie was first elected in 1995 and was chairman of Arun council in 2001-02. She leaves behind her husband Dougal - also an Arun councillor - a daughter, a son, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

We start this week both alphabetically and geographically on the south coast. West Sussex' population can be divided fairly neatly into two halves, a landward half and a coastal half. The coastal half consists of a series of seaside towns running all the way from Brighton to Bognor Regis. Directly to the west of Bognor lies the parish of Aldwick which is entirely built-up and a part of Bognor in all but name.

Aldwick's development started in 1929, the year Bognor gained its "Regis" suffix from George V, with the building of the Aldwick Bay Estate: interesting period houses behind the seafront marketed to seriously wealthy Londoners who wanted a second home on the seaside. The estate was so exclusive that the dustbin men were required to wear ties. Rose Green - added to the ward in boundary changes in 2015 - also dates from the 1930s, while most of the housing in between is postwar.

The smaller towns on the Sussex coast have a reputation as retirement centres, and Aldwick West ward is no exception. On its 2011 boundaries it made the top 60 wards in England and Wales for population aged 65 or over, with over 30% of the population being retired. Pension day must be fun in the local post office.

As the profile might suggest this is a safe Conservative ward. In 2015 the Tory slate beat UKIP here 52-30, although Maconachie was a long way behind her running-mate Philip Hitchins. May's county elections saw the Conservatives win both of the county seats covering the ward, gaining Bognor Regis West and Aldwick division from the Liberal Democrats.

Defending for the Conservatives is Guy Purser, a consultant for a dry ice cleaning company and chairman of the Bognor Freemasons Hall. UKIP have not nominated a candidate, so Purser is opposed by Martin Smith for the Liberal Democrats, Carol Birch for the Green Party and Ian Manion for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Bognor Regis and Littlehampton
West Sussex county council division: Nyetimber (part); Bognor Regis West and Aldwick (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chichester and Bognor Regis
Postcode district: PO21

Carol Birch (Grn)
Ian Manion (Lab)
Guy Purser (C)
Martin Smith (LD)

May 2015 result C 1962/1397 UKIP 1122 LD 698/635


Beaconsfield (Buckinghamshire county council); and
Beaconsfield North (South Bucks council)

Both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Alan Walters at the age of 71. Known for his community work - for which he was appointed MBE in 2015 - Walters was first elected to South Bucks council in a December 2001 by-election, serving as the council's chairman from 2010 to 2013. He was also a Beaconsfield town councillor and served as Mayor of Beaconsfield in 2004. Walters had only served on Buckinghamshire county council for four months, having been first elected to County Hall in May.

Staying in the South East, we come to the Chiltern hills and the town of Beaconsfield. On the old road from London to Oxford, Beaconsfield has been a market town since mediaeval times; the old part of Beaconsfield, along the Oxford Road, had an economy based on coaching, while in Edwardian times a New Beaconsfield sprang up to the north next to Beaconsfield railway station, along the Chiltern rail line from London Marylebone to Birmingham. This is the archetypal rich commuter town, and Beaconsfield regularly comes top or near the top of lists of the UK's most expensive places to buy property: according to July 2014-June 2015 figures, the town's median house price is £790,000. One wonders whether this is proportionally reflected in Bekonscot, built in the 1920s as the world's first model village - as in scale model.

This being Buckinghamshire with its close proximity to Pinewood Studios and other film and TV areas, Beaconsfield is a popular location for filming. Films from Brief Encounter to Hot Fuzz have been shot here, and Midsomer Murders regularly uses the railway station as a substitute for Causton. The film and TV link is further cemented by the presence of one of the world's leading film schools, the National Film and Television School. Opened in 1971 on the site of a former film studio, the NTFS is still receiving royalties from the first Wallace and Gromit film A Grand Day Out, which was started here while Nick Park was a student as his graduation project.

In the 2011 census the former Beaconsfield North ward had a majority of the workforce educated to degree level and/or in a management or professional occupation. Boundary changes in 2015 reduced the size of the ward, removing the areas south of the railway line, but probably didn't much change its social composition given that the town's other two wards aren't that much further down the social scale.

The town has an association with Conservatism from the birth of Conservatism as an ideology. Edmund Burke died here in 1797, while twice Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli served for 29 years as an MP for Buckinghamshire before being translated to the House of Lords as the Earl of Beaconsfield. There is still a Beaconsfield Conservative link in the present House of Commons: Anne Main, the MP for St Albans, was brought up here. In that context it's no surprise that in the 1982 parliamentary by-election the Labour candidate for Beaconsfield polled less than one-eighth of the votes and, that being the rule in those days, lost his deposit. He was the man the Labour party loves to hate, Tony Blair.

The most recent local election results show no deviation from that pattern. In Beaconsfield North ward in 2015 the Conservatives polled 86% in a straight fight with UKIP, while in May's county elections Beaconsfield as a whole saw the Tories beat the Lib Dems 70-16.

In the county election the defending Tory candidate is Anita Cranmer, the present Deputy Mayor of Beaconsfield; she is a former schoolteacher and former South Bucks district councillor. UKIP have not returned to the campaign, but the Lib Dems have ensured a contested election by nominating Marlow resident Mark Skoyles. The district by-election is also a straight fight between the Tories and Lib Dems: the defending Conservative candidate, local resident Damian Saunders, is opposed by Liberal Democrat Paul Henry.

Beaconsfield

Parliamentary constituency: Beaconsfield
South Bucks council wards: Beaconsfield North, Beaconsfield West, Beaconsfield South (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: High Wycombe and Aylesbury
Postcode districts: HP7, HP9, HP10

Anita Cranmer (C)
Mark Skoyles (LD)

May 2017 result C 1828 LD 424 Lab 179 UKIP 175
May 2013 result C 1366 UKIP 590 LD 299

Beaconsfield North

Parliamentary constituency: Beaconsfield
Buckinghamshire county council division: Beaconsfield
ONS Travel to Work Area: High Wycombe and Aylesbury
Postcode districts: HP7, HP9

Paul Henry (LD)
Damian Saunders (C)

May 2015 result C 1285 UKIP 207


Braunton East

North Devon council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Roy Lucas. He had served since 2003.

After three safe Tory defences, it's time for the week's by-elections to start getting interesting as we consider two Conservative wards where the Liberal Democrats will be eyeing up gains. We start with a large village in northern Devon, a few miles north-west of Barnstaple on the main road to Ilfracombe. Braunton is a village of over 8,000 souls on the River Caen notable for one of the South West's premier surfing beaches; for England's largest sand-dune system, the Braunton Burrows; and for its proximity to the Royal Marines base at Chivenor. None of these lie within East ward, which covers the eastern half of Braunton and associated hamlets: the ward is chiefly notable for the village's mediaeval parish church, dedicated to St Brannock, together with the local secondary school Braunton Academy.

Braunton East ward was created in 1983 and has unchanged boundaries since then. In the 1980s and 1990s this was an Alliance and then a Liberal Democrat hotspot, but the Liberal Democrats lost their seats in 2003 to Lucas, then standing as an independent, and to the Conservatives. Lucas then joined the Conservatives and was re-elected in 2007 under his new colours. The Lib Dems gained a seat in the ward in 2011 but lost it back to the Conservatives in 2015 by just three votes; shares of the vote that year were 36% for the Conservatives, 34% for the Liberal Democrats and 21% for the Greens. The local county division (Braunton Rural) has been Tory-held since 2009 but swung towards the Lib Dems in May's county election, as did the North Devon constituency the following month.

Defending this highly marginal seat for the Conservatives is 23-year-old Felix Milton, who wants to tackle local problems with air pollution and flooding. The Lib Dem candidate is Derrick Spear, the chairman of Braunton parish council and a North Devon councillor for this ward from 1991 to 2003 and again from 2011 to 2015; he is contesting this ward for the eighth time. Also on Braunton parish council is the Green Party's candidate Brad Bunyard. Labour's Mark Cann, a regular parliamentary candidate for North Devon, completes the ballot paper. Some of the electors may be pleased to note that their polling place is a pub, the Ebrington Arms in Knowle whose Skittle Alley will host a polling station: we wait to see which of the candidates will topple their opponents like ninepins.

Parliamentary constituency: North Devon
Devon county council division: Braunton Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Barnstaple
Postcode districts: EX31, EX33

Brad Bunyard (Grn)
Mark Cann (Lab)
Felix Milton (C)
Derrick Spear (LD)

May 2015 result C 802/769 LD 766/764 Grn 467/348 Lab 158 TUSC 54
May 2011 result C 621/489 LD 517/495 Grn 276/191 Lab 173
May 2007 result C 653/531 LD 514/469 Grn 220
May 2003 result Ind 580 C 554/328 LD 444/420
May 1999 result LD 673/604 C 290 Lab 260/193
May 1995 result LD 984/892 C 261/219 Lab 218
May 1991 result LD 1060/1017 C 609 Ind 513
May 1987 result All 949/720 C 724/613
May 1983 result All 858 C 674 Ecology Party 365


Duke's

Sefton council, Merseyside; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Patricia Ball on health grounds. She had served since 2011.

Before we start this section, let me go all Lynne Truss on you for a moment. Punctuation is very important, and one of the most misused pieces of punctuation is the humble apostrophe. To take an example of its misuse and inconsistency, there are many wards and electoral units in the UK named after St John (or, more accurately, after a church of that name) but it's complete pot luck as to whether the actual name of the ward is St John, St John's or even St Johns - all of these exist somewhere in the UK, and Worcestershire county council even manages to have two entries from this list. When I was compiling the 2002-03 Sefton council results for the Local Elections Archive Project I ran into a similar problem with the official legal boundary sources, which were not consistent as to whether Southport's Duke's ward at that time had an apostrophe. It took an hour for me to sort that out, and that's an hour I'm not going to get back. Please proofread, people.

The apostrophe is very important in the name of Duke's ward, because it indicates that we are talking about one man. That man was William Sutton, who in 1792 built a bathing house and hotel in an isolated area of extensive sand dunes, much to the amusement of the locals who described him as "The Mad Duke" and his hotel as "Duke's Folly". Sutton had the last laugh. In the early nineteenth century his Folly came to anchor the southern end of one of the most beautiful streets in the world, Lord Street. Still Southport's main shopping street to this day, Lord Street had a huge influence on the modern face of Paris after Louis-Napoleon (as he was then) briefly lived in Southport in 1846; on becoming Emperor Napoleon III, he had Paris rebuilt with broad tree-lined boulevards in the Lord Street style.

It's not just the shopping that brings people to the Mad Duke's ward. Southport is one of the most popular seaside resorts in the UK with good train links to Manchester and Liverpool - Southport station lies within the ward with Birkdale and Hillside stations on its boundary - and the opening of the A5758 Brooms Cross Road, some distance to the south, in 2015 has made the town more accessible for drivers. The Promenade looks over a boating lake, pleasure gardens, a model village (again, as in scale model) and the town's notoriously long pier, which lies on the ward boundary. Further to the south, much of Duke's ward's acreage is taken up by the Royal Birkdale Golf Club, which this year hosted the Open Championship. Next to the Open course is Ainsdale Sands, a nature reserve with many rare species living here, while a climb to the top of the sand dunes is rewarded on a clear day with a breathtaking view of the mountains of North Wales.

This being a seaside resort, Lord Street is in the middle of a very deprived area with a significant Polish community having sprung up around the town centre in recent years. Almost 30% of the ward's population is aged 65 or over and 35% of households are privately rented - a very high rate for a non-student area.

Southport is a very atypical part of the county of Merseyside and many of its residents would prefer not to be in Merseyside at all. The town's location in Sefton borough has led to resentment from Sandgrounders who see much of their council tax going on attempts to regenerate Bootle, a faraway place of which they know nothing. A look at Southport's previous local election results will show a history of decent scores and the occasional councillor for a former secessionist outfit called the Southport Party, which never achieved the support necessary to declare UDI in the true Catalan style. The Boundary Commission have recently acknowledged that Southport sees itself as a Lancashire town rather than a Merseyside one: in the event that their proposals for new constituencies go through as they are at present the Southport seat will be expanded by taking in some villages from over the county line in Lancashire proper.

The town is the only one of Merseyside's parliamentary constituencies which Labour have never won, instead being traditionally a Lib Dem versus Tory battle - although the Liberal Democrats fell to third here in June after their MP John Pugh retired. Duke's is traditionally one of the more Conservative wards in Southport, but the uselessness of the Southport Tories at campaigning cannot be overestimated: the Lib Dems gained a seat in the ward in 2012, very much against the national trend, and held it at the most recent local election in 2016, when they had 45% to 28% for the Conservatives and 13% for Labour. Both the Lib Dems and Tories have run into trouble with their councillors for Duke's ward: Tony Dawson has been suspended from the Liberal Democrats for refusing to support their general election candidate this year, while the remaining Tory councillor for the ward, David Barton, is also suspended from his party because he is awaiting trial on a charge of money laundering.

Goodness knows what effect all this will have on the electorate. Defending for the Conservatives is Ann Pearmain, a former NHS nurse and qualified TEFL teacher. No doubt still smarting from their general election performance, the Lib Dems have selected without question the most high-profile candidate they have available: John Pugh, the MP for Southport from 2001 until standing down in June. Hoping to become the first Labour councillor in Southport for many a long year is Frank Hanley, who has extensive local government experience as a former Head of Service at Bradford city council. Completing the ballot paper are Terry Durrance for UKIP, who fought the parliamentary seat in June, and Nick Senior for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Southport
ONS Travel to Work Area: Liverpool
Postcode districts: PR8, PR9

Terry Durrance (UKIP)
Frank Hanley (Lab)
Ann Pearmain (C)
John Pugh (LD)
Nick Senior (Grn)

May 2016 result LD 1496 C 927 Lab 438 UKIP 349 Grn 107
May 2015 result C 2186 LD 1689 Lab 991 UKIP 967 Grn 283
May 2014 result C 1117 LD 969 UKIP 682 Lab 368 Southport Party 249 Grn 166
May 2012 result LD 996 C 827 Lab 473 UKIP 390 Southport Party 359 Ind 288
May 2011 result C 1475 LD 1152 Lab 581 Southport Party 376 UKIP 296
May 2010 result C 2589 LD 2137 Lab 687 Southport Party 635
May 2008 result C 1979 LD 790 Southport Party 497 Lab 297
May 2007 result C 1742 LD 845 Southport Party 481 Lab 326
May 2006 result C 1620 LD 885 Southport Party 531 Lab 263
June 2004 result C 2056/2003/1974 LD 1003/978/935 Southport Party 886/835 Lab 463/421/398


Egremont South

Copeland council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Lena Hogg. The Deputy Mayor of Copeland at the time of her resignation, Hogg had served since 2011.

We finish this week in an area which is going to the polls for the fourth time this year, following the general election in June, the county elections in May and the parliamentary by-election in February - a rare gain for the Government at what, just eight months later, now appears to be the peak of the May administration's powers.

We're in West Cumbria in an old market town on the main road from Whitehaven to Millom which still retains its mediaeval road layout, focusing on the Norman Egremont Castle. This was traditionally a mining town, although the mineral here was not coal but haematite: when it closed in 2008 Florence Mine, just outside the ward boundary, was the last deep iron ore mine in Western Europe. The mine buildings are now occupied by an arts centre and paintmaking company. Rowntree's once had a factory in Egremont, but the main industry here today is very different to all of these: Egremont is the closest town to the nuclear reprocessing site at Sellafield, which was a big issue in the parliamentary by-election and is very much still in operation. (Your columnist saw the Sellafield nuclear flask train going through Carnforth station last month with a swarm of accompanying transport police; rather different to the Brief Encounter image with which Carnforth station likes to associate itself.)

The importance of Sellafield to the local economy cannot be overstated. Egremont South makes the top 10 wards in England and Wales for the census "lower supervisory, technical" occupational category, is in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for Apprenticeship qualifications, and has high employment for a town in such a rural and isolated area. Take Sellafield out of the equation, and the local economy would fall apart.

Henry III's market charter of 1266 also granted to Egremont the right to hold an annual fair. The resulting annual Crab Fair, on the third Saturday in September, is known worldwide for the World Gurning Championships, and other events held at the fair include Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling together with a sport which will be familiar to all politicians, greasy pole climbing. All recent local contests have seen Labour win the Egremont South greasy-pole climbing competition - in 2015 the Labour slate had 43% to 25% for the Conservatives and 24% for an independent candidate - but in May's county elections Labour only narrowly held off the Tories 54-46 in the Egremont county division. A small part of the ward is within the Gosforth county division, which includes Sellafield and is a safe Tory seat.

Defending for Labour is Tom Higgins, a former financial advisor who was elected to Egremont town council for this ward in a by-election last year. In the blue corner is Conservative candidate Jeff Hailes, of Moor Row. With the independent candidates from 2015 not returning, this by-election is a straight fight.

Parliamentary constituency: Copeland
Cumbria county council division: Egremont (part: part of Egremont parish), Gosforth (part: part of Lowside Quarter parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Whitehaven
Postcode districts: CA22, CA24, CA28

Jeff Hailes (C)
Tom Higgins (Lab)

May 2015 result Lab 915/732/623 C 518 Ind 511/379 Grn 168
May 2011 result Lab 803/694/676 C 398/374 Ind 295
May 2007 result Lab 667/618/580 C 488/488/465
May 2003 result Lab 1184/1043/1005 C 592/572/537


If you liked this post, please consider buying the book! Andrew's Previews 2016, containing many more pieces like this, is now available from Amazon.


Previews: 26 Oct 2017

There are six by-elections for seven seats on 26th October 2017. Labour are defending four seats, with a rare double by-election in Loughborough joining polls in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. There are also two Conservative defences in Derbyshire and West Sussex. Rather like last week, all of those are in safe wards with the most intersting contest being a defence by a localist party in a city which has become politically weirder and weirder. Read on...


Droylsden East

Tameside council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Jim Middleton, who is retiring after 27 years' service.

We start this week in that greatest of counties, Greater Manchester. The Tameside district is an agglomeration of small mill towns to the east of Manchester, and Droylsden is the westernmost of them, merging seamlessly into the Manchester urban area just four miles east of the city centre - the town lies within the M60 motorway and has a Manchester postcode, M43. Droylsden is a classic Lancashire milltown which claims to be the birthplace of the terry towel, first machine-woven by W M Christy and Sons in 1851. Robertson's jam factory, next to the Ashton Canal, was also a major employer. All this is gone now - the site of Christy's factory is now occupied by a Tesco off Ashton New Road. That Tesco and the proximity to the big city has clearly badly affected Droylsden's shopping centre, which when your columnist visited a few years ago was a parade of charity shops as bad as anything in Bolton. The Metrolink came here along Ashton New Road in 2013: Droylsden was briefly the terminus of the East Manchester line which now continues to Ashton-under-Lyne. Droylsden tram stop is within Droylsden East ward, which covers the Fairfield area south of Ashton New Road and also extends north along Market Street and Lumb Lane - in general, the further away you get from Ashton New Road, the nicer the neighbourhood becomes.

There was briefly a Droylsden parliamentary constituency, created in the 1950 redistribution and abolished in 1955, and if the Boundary Commisison get their way something similar could be created for the 2022 election. The Droylsden constituency was marginal between Labour and the Conservatives in the 1950 and 1951 elections, but the Conservative vote in Tameside has basically fallen apart over the post-war period - the Tories have only one reliable ward in the borough, Stalybridge South - and it's the radical right who have filled the runner-up spot in Droylsden East over the last decade. The BNP ran second here from 2006 to 2010, and UKIP were runners-up from 2011 onwards, getting within ten points of Labour in 2014. At Middleton's last re-election in 2016 his lead over UKIP was 51-34. In May's mayoral election Andy Burnham beat the Conservative candidate here 67-19.

This by-election will see a change to that pattern, as there is no UKIP candidate this time. Defending for Labour is local resident David Mills, who is opposed by Matt Stevenson for the Tories, Jean Smee for the Greens and Shaun Offerman for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashton-under-Lyne
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: M11, M34, M43, OL7

David Mills (Lab)
Shaun Offerman (LD)
Jean Smee (Grn)
Matt Stevenson (C)

May 2016 result Lab 1449 UKIP 948 C 256 Grn 166
May 2015 result Lab 2826 UKIP 1698 Grn 399 Ind 299
May 2014 result Lab 1431 UKIP 1168 C 250 Grn 163
May 2012 result Lab 1640 UKIP 480 BNP 236 C 221 Grn 90
May 2011 result Lab 1969 UKIP 595 C 455 Grn 112
May 2010 result Lab 2761 BNP 840 C 824 LD 671 UKIP 269
May 2008 result Lab 1408 BNP 1000 C 648
May 2007 result Lab 1582 BNP 665 C 411 LD 287
May 2006 result Lab 1396 BNP 619 C 453 Local Community Party 410
June 2004 result Lab 1726/1563/1422 Local Community Party 1044 BNP 764 C 714

May 2017 Greater Manchester mayoral election Lab 1506 C 425 LD 82 EDP 81 UKIP 76 Grn 45 Farmer 22 Aslam 7


Batley East

Kirklees council, West Yorkshire; caused by the disqualification of former Labour councillor Amanda Stubley, who failed to attend any council meetings in six months. Stubley had been suspended from Labour following a confrontation - broadcast by Channel 4 News - with English Democrat supporters in Batley during the Batley and Spen by-election campaign last year. She later quit the party. Stubley had served since 2011.

We move over to the wrong side of the Pennines to another smallish industrial town, although one very different in character from Droylsden. Like Droyslden, Batley is a textile town, but the industry here was shoddy - that is, recycled wool rags and clothes. Unlike Droylsden, which has been relatively little touched by immigration over the decades, Batley attracted large numbers of people from the subcontinent (particularly Gujarat and the Punjab) from the late 1950s to work in the town's textile mills. Batley East ward - based on the town centre and including its railway station - now has a majority Asian and a majority Muslim population, and there are significant proportions of Gujurati speakers and people born in India or Pakistan.

Textiles are still important to the local economy - one of the local mills has been done up as The Mill, a factory outlet attracting people from all over West Yorkshire - but the largest single employer in the town is Fox's Biscuits, whose head office and main factory is here. Monty Python fans may remember the Batley Ladies Townswomen's Guild, but Batley was known for more professional performances than that: Batley Variety Club was a major draw to punters and artists from all over the world, with in its heyday such well-known American acts as Louis Armstrong, Roy Orbison and Neil Sedaka treading its boards. However, the club finally closed its doors to live music in 2016, and a gym opened in the building earlier this year. One famous musician from Batley was the late Robert Palmer, while the town has also given us a Nobel laureate, the IVF pioneer Sir Robert Edwards, and the late and much-lamented MP Jo Cox.

This is a safe Labour ward in current political conditions, although the Liberal Democrats did win a seat in the ward in 2003. Boundary changes in 2004 knocked the Lib Dem councillor out and it has generally been plain sailing for Labour since then. At the most recent local election in 2016 - before the parliamentary by-election and snap general election - Labour beat the Conservatives here 70-12.

Defending for Labour is Habiban Zaman, a Pakistan-born local community worker; she was awarded the British Empire Medal in the 2014 Birthday Honours for outstanding services to women. The Conservative candidate is Paul Young, from Batley. Also standing are the Liberal Democrats' Jon Bloom (the Lib Dem councillor here from 2003 to 2004; he has fought the ward on several occasions since losing his seat and gone backwards nearly every time), David Smith of the Green Party and Aleks Lukic, who was the UKIP candidate for Batley and Spen in the 2015 general election, fought that seat as an independent in June and is now standing for his own party, the Heavy Woollen District Independents.

Parliamentary constituency: Batley and Spen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Huddersfield
Postcode districts: WF3, WF12, WF13, WF15, WF16, WF17

Jon Bloom (LD)
Aleks Lukic (Heavy Woollen District Ind)
David Smith (Grn)
Paul Young (C)
Habiban Zaman (Lab)

May 2016 result Lab 3487 C 594 Ind 512 LD 248 Grn 156
May 2015 result Lab 5321 C 2194 LD 463 Grn 359 TUSC 122
May 2014 result Lab 2670 Ind 1356 C 527 Grn 386 LD 252 TUSC 181
May 2012 result Lab 3876 C 740 Ind 462 LD 230
May 2011 result Lab 3834 C 1028 LD 333 Ind 295 Grn 212
May 2010 result Lab 4843 C 1774 LD 1274 BNP 678 Grn 186
May 2008 result Lab 3060 C 823 BNP 759 LD 653 Grn 296
May 2007 result Lab 2793 LD 1147 C 852 BNP 754 Grn 185
May 2006 result Lab 2779 LD 1103 BNP 869 C 621 Grn 232
June 2004 result Lab 3024/2697/2370 LD 2008/1750/1564 C 1053/758/639 BNP 958 Grn 553


Ashbourne South

Derbyshire Dales council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Phil Chell, who had served since 2015.

Moving into the Midlands, we come to the week's first Conservative defence in a picture-postcard Derbyshire town. Variously described as the Gateway to the Peak District or the Gateway to Dovedale, Ashbourne's South ward doesn't contain much of the impossibly pretty town centre but is instead based on two areas south of it. The Leys is an area of old houses on low-lying ground along Clifton Road and Station Street, while up on the hill along the Derby Road and Old Derby Road is an area of much newer housing and industrial units on the site of the old RAF Ashbourne airfield, one of the highest military airfields built during the Second World War at an altitude of 610 feet. Manufacturing is important to the ward and the population has grown strongly in recent years.

Unitl 2015 South ward was the political fiefdom of the Conservatives' Andrew Lewer, who was elected to this ward in 2003, elected to Derbyshire county council in 2005, and in 2009 became leader of the county council at the age of just 37. The Tories lost Derbyshire back to Labour in 2013, but that wasn't the end of Lewer's political rise: he was elected to the European Parliament the following year at a time when that was still something for UK politicians to aspire to, and in June's general election entered Westminster as MP for Northampton South. Lewer retired from Derbyshire Dales council in 2015 and easily passed his seat on to Chell; that year the Tory slate had 54% to 25% for Labour and 22% for the Greens. In May's county elections the Tories had a huge lead in the local Ashbourne division, which does not have the boundaries you might expect: this is a mostly rural county division which bizarrely does not include Ashbourne town centre. (Ashbourne town centre is in Dovedale division.)

Defending for the Conservatives is local resident Dermot Murphy. The Labour candidate is Andy White, a travel agent, former Ashbourne town councillor (1995-2003) and former Mayor of Ashbourne. There is no Green candidate this time, so the ballot paper is completed by Rebecca Goodall of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Derbyshire Dales
Derbyshire county council division: Ashbourne
ONS Travel to Work Area: Derby
Postcode district: DE6

Rebecca Goodall (LD)
Dermot Murphy (C)
Andy White (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1308/1187 Lab 596 Grn 527
May 2011 result C 883/583 Lab 464
May 2007 result 2 C unopposed
May 2003 result C 517/487 Lab 210/165


Loughborough Hastings

Charnwood council, Leicestershire; a double by-election caused by the resignations of Labour councillors Sarah Maynard Smith and Anne Williams. Williams had served since 2011, Maynard Smith since winning a by-election in October 2013.


Four years to the week after the last by-election in Loughborough Hastings we are back with a rare double by-election, as both seats in the ward are up for election. This is Loughborough's eastern ward, including part of the town centre and based around the preserved Great Central Railway station. Hastings ward is a generally low-lying area and more than half of the ward is left empty as flood plain. Much of the ward's built-up area is social housing and there has been extensive redevelopment in recent years; with that and high levels of long-term unemployment it's no surprise to find that Hastings ward includes Loughborough's most deprived census district. There is also a significant Bangladeshi population in the ward, while Loughborough University provides some employment.

Luffbra has a track record of producing surprising by-election results - most recently, the Conservatives cut the Labour majority in the neighbouring Shelthorpe ward to four votes at a by-election in August - but Hastings ward should be safe Labour under any circumstances. In 2015 the Labour slate won with 45%, to 23% for the Conservatives and 17% for UKIP, and the Labour lead was bigger in May's county elections in the local division (Loughborough East).

The defending Labour slate is Mary Draycott and Colin Hamilton. Hamilton is a local resident; Draycott is a former Lord Mayor of Leicester and long-serving Leicester city councillor with a curiously bad electoral record in Charnwood. Having lost a Labour-held seat to the Conservatives in a 2012 by-election, she was elected to Charnwood council in a by-election for Loughborough Ashby ward (covering the University campus) in September 2013 but lost her seat two years later to 19-year-old Conservative candidate Harley Hachem. The local Labour party are still smarting over that, with reports in the local press that Hachem's election agent received a police caution for forging a signature on Hachem's nomination papers, and that Hachem has been absent from Loughborough for much of the last year. This should be a safer berth for Draycott, who lives in Shepshed. The Conservatives have nominated a single candidate, Jane Hunt: she is a former Charnwood councillor (Loughborough Nanpantan ward, standing down in 2015) who stood here in May's county elections and also fought Leicester East in the 2010 general election, losing to Keith Vaz. (Apologies to any readers who may have been playing the Keith Vaz game.) UKIP have selected their go-to Charnwood by-election candidate Andy McWilliam, who stood here in the 2013 by-election; his running-mate is Simon Murray. Completing the ballot paper are the Green slate of Mia Woolley and Lewis Wright.

Parliamentary constituency: Loughborough
Leicestershire county council division: Loughborough East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode district: LE11

Mary Draycott (Lab)
Colin Hamilton (Lab)
Jane Hunt (C)
Andy McWilliam (UKIP)
Simon Murray (UKIP)
Mia Woolley (Grn)
Lewis Wright (Grn)

May 2015 result Lab 1339/1241 C 690/606 UKIP 506 Grn 416
October 2013 by-election Lab 554 C 127 UKIP 111 British Democratic Party 85 LD 26
May 2011 result Lab 1163/1104 C 612/492
May 2007 result Lab 799/769 C 529/507
May 2003 result Lab 836/693 LD 333 C 272


Kings Acre

Herefordshire council; caused by the resignation of It's Our County councillor Mark Mansell, who proved unable to balance his council duties with having a full-time job due to Herefordshire council holding all of its meetings in normal working hours. He had served since 2015, and continues to serve the ward on the parish-level Hereford city council.

For our final Midlands by-election we travel west to the Marches. The Kings Acre ward is in the north-west corner of the city of Hereford, between the Kings Acre Road and the Roman Road and covering housing off the Three Elms Road. Also within the ward and the city boundary is some open space, including the village of Huntington, the Whitecross High School and the Hereford Livestock Market, which controversially moved here from the city centre in 2011.

This area is a little difficult to interpret demographically because Herefordshire had ward boundary changes in 2015; at the time of the 2011 census this was the western half of Three Elms ward. The 2011 census found Three Elms ward to have high employment with a working-class profile and a significant Eastern European population, although drilling down to a lower level suggests that the largest non-English country of birth in Kings Acre ward's population is Wales.

The area is also a little difficult to interpret politically. Pre-coalition Three Elms ward was a Lib Dem stronghold, but in the 2011 election the party lost two of the three seats in the ward to It's Our County, an anti-Tory localist slate. In the 2015 election It's Our County mostly swept the non-Tory vote in Herefordshire, performing particularly well in the city of Hereford and the county's other towns whose residents are unhappy with the Tory farmers running the show - something which goes back to the 1995 local government reform in which Herefordshire's district councils were abolished. The Tories didn't stand in King's Acre in the 2015 election, and It's Our County beat the Lib Dems in the ward that year 50-33.

Defending for It's Our County is Matt Bushkes, a Hereford city councillor, teaching assistant at Whitecross High School and director of a roller-skating rink in the city. The Lib Dem candidate is Lucy Hurds, who fought North Herefordshire in the 2010 general election and stood in Hereford and South Herefordshire in the 2015 and 2017 general elections: it shows how far the party has sunk in Herefordshire that Hurds finished fourth on both of those occasions in a seat her party held until 2010. Also standing are independent candidate Clare Fenton, Stuart Anderson for the Conservatives and David Lewer for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Hereford and South Herefordshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Hereford
Postcode district: HR4

Stuart Anderson (C)
Matt Bushkes (It's Our County)
Clare Fenton (Ind)
Lucy Hurds (LD)
David Lewer (Lab)

May 2015 result It's Our County 775 LD 517 Ind 257


East Grinstead Imberhorne

Mid Sussex council, West Sussex; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Bob Mainstone. A long-serving teacher at Imberhorne School, Mainstone was Mayor of East Grinstead in 2016-17; he had served on Mid Sussex council since 2011 and was originally elected as a Liberal Democrat.

We finish with our token southern by-election in by far the least deprived ward of the week. East Grinstead Imberhorne is the western of East Grinstead's five wards: despite the fact that one of the town's main arterial routes is called Beeching Way this is a classic railway commuter area, with East Grinstead station (at the end of a branch line from Croydon and also the terminus of the preserved Bluebell Line) lying on the ward's eastern boundary. Some non-commuter employment is provided by the Birches Industrial Estate, while also here is Imberhorne School which educated Right Said Fred. The ward's housing stock is postwar and there has been strong population growth in recent years.

This ward has swung a mile to the right over the last decade: in 2007 the Liberal Democrats had 67% of the vote here, but they lost one seat to the Conservatives in 2011, lost the other seat when Mainstone defected to the Tories in 2014, and failed to stand in the 2015 election. In 2015 the Tories beat Labour here 61-21 on their way to winning every single seat on Mid Sussex council, as can be seen from the map above. The Lib Dems have since got a seat back in a by-election earlier this year, breaking the Tory monopoly, and a gain here will give them group status. In May's county elections the local division (Imberdown) was safely Conservative with an independent in a strong second place.

Defending for the Conservatives is Rex Whittaker who fought the ward in 2011; he is the leader of East Grinstead town council on which he represents this ward. The Labour candidate is David Wilbraham, a chartered civil engineer. Also standing are Tim Martin for the Lib Dems and an independent candidate, 18-year-old local resident Ian Sanders.

Parliamentary constituency: Mid Sussex
West Sussex county council division: Imberdown
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crawley
Postcode district: RH19

Tim Martin (LD)
Ian Sanders (Ind)
Rex Whittaker (C)
David Wilbraham (Lab)

May 2015 result C 1706/1589 Lab 581 UKIP 531
May 2011 result C 955/794 LD 865/671
May 2007 result LD 995/986 C 404/368 Ind 89
May 2003 result LD 624/565 C 464/429