Previews: 17 Oct 2019

Four by-elections on 17th October 2019:

Upper Dales

North Yorkshire county council; and

Hawes, High Abbotside and Upper Swaledale

Richmondshire council; both caused by the death of independent councillor John Blackie.

We start for the week with a trip to some of the most beautiful countryside imaginable: the Yorkshire Dales. The Upper Dales division is by a long way the largest county electoral division in England at 70,120 hectares (271 square miles); it's aptly named, combining most of Wensleydale with all of Swaledale upwards of Richmond. Anybody who is old enough to have seen All Creatures Great and Small or was hardy enough to watch the Tour de France or world championship cycling recently will immediately recognise the area. The Tour came to the area on its first stage in 2014, with the Buttertubs Pass from Wensleydale to Swaledale being its main climb that day; Reeth in Swaledale is the northernmost point ever reached by the world's greatest cycle race. Hikers are well-served by the Pennine Way and Wainwright's Coast to Coast Walk, which meet at Keld in Swaledale; for those of a more sedentary disposition, Aysgarth Falls on the Ure is a good place to admire the view.

Gorgeous countryside, but not many people. The Upper Dales division covers twenty-five parishes, of which the largest centre of population - with 869 electors on the roll - is Hawes. This tiny Wensleydale market town is a very remote place, to the extent that may of its services - the post office, the petrol station, the local bus - are run by a community partnership. Tourism is the main draw, but Hawes' largest single employer is the Wensleydale Creamery which makes the Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese - a product which has been given Protected Geographical Indication status by the EU, meaning that you can't legally make it outside the valley. One curiosity of Hawes' census return is an unusually high number of Buddhists - in 2011 the old Hawes and High Abbotside ward made the top 15 wards for Buddhism in England and Wales, although this only amounts to 43 people so not too much should be read into it.

Hawes may be doing reasonably well, but Swaledale has markedly declined in population since the nineteenth century when there was a leadmining industry here; the scars left by the miners can still be seen on the hillsides today if you know where to look. In the 2011 census the old Addlebrough and Swaledale wards were both in the top 100 in England and Wales for self-employment, reflecting that the main economic sector here now - as it has been for centuries - is sheep and dairy farming.

Politically, this area has been dominated at local elections by John Blackie since the mid-1990s. Blackie enjoyed very large majorities at county and district level for over two decades, sometimes with the Conservative nomination but more often as an independent. In the May 2017 county elections Blackie defeated the official Conservative candidate 61-30 in Upper Dales division, and he regularly polled over 87% in district council elections for the old Hawes and High Abbotside ward. Richmondshire got new ward boundaries this year which added Upper Swaledale to that ward, but that had very little effect on John Blackie's majority; he polled 85% in May in a straight fight with the Conservatives. The Tories are the largest party on the tiny Richmondshire district council, but they lost their overall majority in May's election and the administration is now run by a coalition of independents, Lib Dems and the single Green Party councillor.

As can be seen, Blackie's death leaves most of this division's voters looking for a new political home. Changes in these by-elections could be wild. There is a single defending independent candidate in both by-elections, whose name long-term readers of Andrew's Previews may recognise: she is Jill McMullon. Twice chair of Richmondshire council, McMullon is a former district councillor for Middleton Tyas - probably better known to outsiders as Scotch Corner - who lost her seat in 2015 and has stood without success in a few Richmondshire by-elections since. The Statement of Persons Nominated reveals that McMullon has relocated to Askrigg in Wensleydale, and she is heavily involved with the community partnership in Hawes.

For the county by-election McMullon is opposed by Conservative candidate Yvonne Peacock, who is a former leader of Richmondshire district council and sits on that council for Yoredale ward (central Wensleydale, including Askrigg, Aysgarth and Bainbridge). Also standing are Richmondshire councillor Kevin Foster for the Green Party and Simon Crosby, who is the first Lib Dem candidate for Upper Dales since 2005.

In the district by-election the Tories have reselected Pat Kirkbride to go up against McMullon. Kirkbride, who is the owner of the White Hart Hotel in Hawes, will be hoping at the very least for an improvement on the 15% she got against Blackie in May. Also standing is Green Party candidate Margaret Lowndes, who completes an all-female ballot paper. Not an unusual occurrence this week: equality campaigners may be pleased to note that women make up eleven of the fourteen by-election candidates in this column, although ironically none of them are from the Women's Equality Party.

Upper Dales

Parliamentary constituency: Richmond (Yorkshire)
Richmondshire council wards: Hawes, High Abbotside and Upper Swaledale; Lower Swaledale and Arkengarthdale; Yoredale; Leyburn (part: Carperby-cum-Thoresby parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northallerton
Postcode districts: DL8, DL10, DL11, LA10

Simon Crosby (LD)
Kevin Foster (Grn)
Jill McMullon (Ind)
Yvonne Peacock (C)

May 2017 result Ind 1540 C 740 Grn 129 Lab 99
May 2013 result Ind 1710 C 333 Lab 99 Grn 70
June 2009 result Ind 1859 C 369 Grn 236 Lab 66
May 2005 result C 2044 LD 1307

Hawes, High Abbotside and Upper Swaledale

Parliamentary constituency: Richmond (Yorkshire)
North Yorkshire county council division: Upper Dales
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northallerton
Postcode districts: DL8, DL11, LA10

Pat Kirkbride (C)
Margaret Lowndes (Grn)
Jill McMullon (Ind)

May 2019 result Ind 709 C 128

Princes Park

Liverpool council, Merseyside; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Timothy Moore, who had served since 2008.

And now for something completely different, as we travel from the countryside to the big city. Princes Park was opened in 1842 and named after the future Edward VII, who was Prince of Wales from his birth the previous year. It was the first public park laid out by Joseph Paxton, who at the time was head gardener for the Duke of Devonshire's estate at Chatsworth. As well as a large number of public spaces, Paxton's legacy includes such surprising items as the Cavendish banana - whose clones make up almost all of the bananas in the West - and the Crystal Palace in London. His services didn't come cheap, and the original plan was to meet the cost by developing grand Georgian-style houses around the park.

There were certainly plenty of large expensive houses already in the general area at the time. Canning, to the north, is entirely residential Georgian architecture - built for the most wealthy merchants of a wealthy city. The tree-lined Princes Road, connecting this area to the park, was more of the same. And, as the city boomed, terraces grew up behind these large houses for the people whose hard work made the city what it was. Some of the streets near Princes Park were given Welsh names, the developers hoping to attract some of people moving here from Wales for work in large numbers. It was a good area to live. They called it Toxteth.

Readers will probably know what happened next. Toxteth became a major focus for immigration after the Second World War, with a large community settling here from the Caribbean. Then Liverpool went into serious economic decline which hit Toxteth particularly hard, leaving extremely high unemployment, poverty and crime levels. Tensions boiled over into major riots in July 1981.

Nearly four decades on from the Toxteth riots, what has changed here? Well, decades of regeneration work are starting to have an effect, although perhaps not the effect intended. The area covered by this ward became extremely depopulated, and most of the housing stock was left vacant. Liverpool council's response to this was simply to demolish most of the old Victorian terraces - although some areas, like the Welsh Streets and the Granby Triangle, have been spared the wrecking ball after public outcry. As recently as 2017 one of the Welsh Streets stood in for 1920s Birmingham in Peaky Blinders, but regeneration work here is now well advanced and new tenants are moving in. The north-east corner of the ward, around Princes primary school and the Liverpool Women's Hospital, has seen major population growth in the last few years.

Despite all this regeneration work, the 2019 indices of multiple deprivation placed all but one of Princes Park ward's census districts within the 10% most deprived in England and Wales. At the time of the 2011 census almost 10% of the adults were unemployed and 11% were long-term sick or disabled - both of these were within the top 100 wards in England and Wales. The ward had very high bus use for a location outside London, particularly so for the area close to the park which is not within easy walking distance of the city centre. More than half of the households were socially rented (although a fair number of those will have been demolished since 2011). And it's just as multi-ethnic as ever: in 2011 Princes Park came in at number 1 in England and Wales for mixed-race population (9.95%) and number 11 for "other" ethnic groups (11.5%); given that major languages spoken here include Somali and Arabic, this latter statistic presumably refers to people of Middle Eastern extraction.

In current political conditions this is a very safe Labour ward. The most recent Liverpool elections were in May, when Labour polled 72% in Princes Park; best of the rest was 18% for the Green Party, who have been runner-up here at every election since 2011. The Lib Dems did win one of the three seats here in 2004, but that was then and this is now.

Defending this by-election for Labour is Joanne Anderson, who is heavily involved in the ward's regeneration efforts. She is no relation of the elected Mayor of Liverpool: Big Joe Anderson does have a daughter called Joanne, but she's already on the council. The Greens have reselected Stephanie Pitchers, an actress who has been runner-up in this ward at the last three elections and also fought the local seat of Liverpool Riverside at the last general election. Also standing are Lee Rowlands for Labour and Tory candidate Alma McGing, who will be hoping for better than the 96 votes she got when she stood here in 2006. Despite the sort of appalling electoral record which you would expect for a Tory in contemporary Liverpool, McGing did receive an MBE in the 2018 Birthday Honours for voluntary political service.

Parliamentary constituency: Liverpool Riverside
ONS Travel to Work Area: Liverpool
Postcode districts: L1, L7, L8

Joanne Anderson (Lab)
Alma McGing (C)
Stephanie Pitchers (Grn)
Lee Rowlands (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 1926 Grn 490 LD 144 C 81 Lib 29
May 2018 result Lab 2155 Grn 347 LD 122 C 111
May 2016 result Lab 1976 Grn 565 LD 146 TUSC 138 C 100
May 2015 result Lab 3974 Grn 1214 C 242 UKIP 208 TUSC 167 EDP 19
May 2014 result Lab 1890 Grn 459 Ind 148 TUSC 142 C 113 Lib 65
May 2012 result Lab 1920 Grn 437 TUSC 161 C 104 Lib 75
May 2011 result Lab 2263 Grn 355 LD 214 C 141 TUSC 104 Lib 57
May 2010 result Lab 2740 LD 1293 Grn 634 C 294 Lib 166
May 2008 result Lab 1227 LD 714 Grn 318 C 163 Lib 74
May 2007 result Lab 1193 LD 575 Grn 327 C 136 Ind 110
May 2006 result Lab 1184 LD 645 Respect 281 Grn 246 Lib 210 C 96
June 2004 rsult Lab 1029/1026/891 LD 935/857/788 Grn 420/381/206 Ind 173 C 154


Gravesham council, Kent; caused by the death of Labour councillor Ruth Martin who had served only since May this year.

Our final by-election is in the South East. Despite the name, Westcourt ward is on the eastern edge of Gravesend around an eponymous primary school. The ward covers housing to the south of the Rochester Road which was mostly developed after the Second World War; it includes Gravesend's most deprived census district.

Gravesend anchors the Gravesham constituency, which was traditionally seen as a bellwether seat: every time the government changed, Gravesham's allegiance changed to match. That record ended in 2005 when Adam Holloway gained the seat for the Conservatives with a majority of 654, and he has since made the seat safe. Holloway even got a swing in his favour in June 2017 when Theresa May was losing her majority. We can no longer reasonably call this constituency a bellwether.

Gravesham council is politically rather more curious. In normal circumstances the council is a two-party timewarp with the Conservatives polling the most votes across the district, but not necessarily winning the most seats. That's because the Tories tend to pile up huge majorities in a few safe wards outside Gravesend town, while Labour's vote is much better distributed. In 2003 the Tories polled 55% of the vote across Gravesham, had a 12-point lead over Labour, and won 21 seats to Labour's 23. Isn't England's electoral system wonderful?

Since then the council has changed hands at every election, with May's ordinary election giving Labour 24 seats to 18 Conservatives and two Independent Conservatives. Given that the ruling Tory group had split a few months previously with a rebel Independent Conservative group in minority control going into the election, it could have been worse from the Conservative point of view.

Westcourt ward is normally in the Labour column - in fact nobody opposed the Labour slate here in 2015 - but looks marginal on the basis of the May 2019 result. Labour won Westcourt earlier this year with 37% of the vote, against 29% for the Conservatives and 23% for UKIP. The ward is within the Gravesend East division of Kent county council, which covers two-thirds of the town and was an easy Conservative win in the 2017 county elections.

Defending for Labour is Lindsay Gordon, an NHS nurse and cub scout leader. The Tory candidate is Helen Ashenden, who is retired; in May she fought Higham ward, which is normally rock-solid Tory but voted for the Independent Conservative slate last time. UKIP have selected Linda Talbot, who in this time of Brexit (or not, as the case may be) is the last election candidate from an official Eurosceptic party until after the Article 50 deadline of 31st October. Completing our second all-female ballot paper of the week is Marna Gilligan for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Gravesham
Kent county council division: Gravesend East
Postcode district: DA12
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Helen Ashenden (C)
Marna Gilligan (Grn)
Lindsay Gordon (Lab)
Linda Talbot (UKIP)

May 2019 result Lab 490/462/437 C 381/378/320 UKIP 299 Ind 137
May 2015 result Lab unopposed
May 2011 result Lab 1056/1038/1012 C 654/651/617 LD 98/69
May 2007 result Lab 662/636/602 C 613/612
May 2003 result Lab 675/670/637 C 417/408/395

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Andrew Teale

Previews: 10 Oct 2019

Correction Corner

Before I start this week, there were a large number of mistakes in last week's column which need owning up to. First and foremost I would to like apologise unreservedly on behalf of myself and Britain Elects for wrongly writing that the Syston West by-election last week to Charnwood council had been caused by the death of former Conservative councillor Eric Vardy. A very large number of people have got in touch with me to point out that Mr Vardy is alive and well, and the by-election was in fact caused by his resignation from the council as he is relocating to a different part of the country. I am happy to set the record straight in that regard and I am sorry for any offence caused by my error.

Unfortunately this wasn't the only issue in the Previews for 3rd October. The late councillor Jean Adkins in Norton Fitzwarren and Staplegrove had left the Conservatives in 2016 and as such had been an independent for some time before May's election. The Clacton East by-election was in the constituency of Clacton, not Tendring as I wrote in the factfile. Aberdeen Labour have been in touch to point out that there was more of a selection contest for the Labour nomination in the Bridge of Don by-election than I implied by the word "imposed", although it's not entirely clear to me who was actually running the selection in question. I regret and apologies for all of these errors.

Hopefully this week's Previews will be more accurate. There are three by-elections on 10th October 2019, as follows:

Bramley and Sherfield

Basingstoke and Deane council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Venetia Rowland who had served since 2016.

Our three by-elections this week feature one defence each for the three main English parties, and they are all in wards which at first sight look very safe. The Tory defence is a few miles north-east of Basingstoke is a ward based on two large villages. Sherfield on Loddon lies on the main road between Basingstoke and Reading, while Bramley lies on the railway line between them and has a railway station - opened in 1895 at the behest of the Duke of Wellington, who was a major landowner in the area. With its easy access to Basingstoke and Reading this is an area popular with commuters, and almost half of the workforce at the time of the 2011 census were in one of the two management/professional occupational groups used by the ONS. In the week that the Nobel Prize winners are announced it's particularly appropriate to remember the physicist Lise Meitner, a pioneer in nuclear physics and radioactivity who was unjustly overlooked for the 1944 Nobel Prize in physics - which went solely to her collaborator Otto Hahn. Meitner is buried in Bramley; her legacy includes a number of scientific awards, while synthetic element 109 "Meitnerium" has been named in her honour.

Meitnerium, appropriately for our time, is an unstable element which falls apart in a matter of seconds or less. Bramley and Sherfield, however, is politically much more stable than the country as a whole. This ward was created in 2008 and has been generally Conservative ever since. Its councillors from 2008 to 2015 included Ranil Jayawardena, who was since gone on to greater things as MP for the local constituency of North East Hampshire. Jayawardena had the largest majority of any MP in the 2015 general election, at 29,916 votes - not bad for a first-time MP. The Conservatives did lose Bramley and Sherfield ward in 2012 to independent candidate Chris Tomblin; however, Tomblin retired four years later and Venetia Rowland recovered the seat for the Tories. At the most recent contest, in May this year, the Conservatives polled 56% in Bramley and Sherfield with the Greens (25%) as their nearest challenger. The Tories also hold the local county council division (Calleva), which was over 76% Conservative at the last Hampshire county council election in May 2017.

This by-election has a very different candidate list to the ordinary election in May. Angus Groom is the defending Conservative candidate. He is opposed by two independent candidates, both of whom are former Basingstoke and Deane councillors: Chris Tomblin (from Bramley) represented this ward as an independent from 2012 to 2016, while Joyce Bowyer represented the neighbouring Chineham ward of Basingstoke as a Conservative from 2015 to 2019. Whoever wins this by-election may need to work fast to secure re-election, as new ward boundaries are due to come in for Basingstoke and Deane in May next year - which will see this ward disappear.

Parliamentary constituency: North East Hampshire
Hampshire county council division: Calleva
ONS Travel to Work Area: Basingstoke
Postcode districts: RG24, RG26, RG27

Joyce Bowyer (Ind)
Angus Groom (C)
Chris Tomblin (Ind)

May 2019 result C 929 Grn 408 LD 201 Lab 114
May 2016 result C 934 Ind 606 Lab 180
May 2015 result C 1889 Ind 943 UKIP 302
May 2012 result Ind 776 C 603 Lab 115
May 2011 result C 1324 LD 385 Lab 292
May 2008 result C 1091/1063 LD 230/189 Lab 113


Watford council, Hertfordshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Joe Fahmy due to work commitments. He had served since 2016.

Our Liberal Democrat defence comes within the M25 but outside of London, in the town of Watford. The Tudor ward is based on the Tudor Estate at the eastern end of North Watford, an area of interwar terraces. To the south of this is a large business park that includes the respective head offices of the DIY chain Wickes and the pub company J D Wetherspoon, although the latter company may be rather disappointed that Tudor ward shares its name with the local Tudor Arms pub - which is owned by Greene King. This business park is next to the mainline railway station at Watford Junction, while Watford North station - on the St Albans Abbey branch - serves the local housing.

Watford council has been run by the Liberal Democrats for a long time now, and Tudor ward is in normal conditions firmly part of their majority. In May this year Joe Fahmy was re-elected with a 62-20 lead over Labour. We've come a long way since 2015, which was the only year since 2002 that the Lib Dems lost Tudor ward; that year (on slightly different boundaries) it voted Conservative. The Lib Dems aren't that much less safe in the local Hertfordshire county division, called Meriden Tudor after the two Watford wards it covers.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Bill Stanton. Labour have selected Seamus Williams, and the Tories' Carly Bishop completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Watford
Hertfordshire county council division: Meriden Tudor (most), Central Watford and Oxhey (small part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton
Postcode district: WD24

Carly Bishop (C)
Bill Stanton (LD)
Seamus Williams (Lab)

May 2019 result LD 1031 Lab 354 C 305
May 2018 result LD 951 Lab 615 C 564
May 2016 result LD 1067/804/790 C 514/495/303 Lab 430/392/372 Grn 150


Corby council, Northamptonshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Mary Butcher at the age of 63. A former dance teacher, supermarket worker and charity fundraiser, Butcher had served on Corby council since 2007 and was elected Mayor of Corby in 2010. She had also formerly sat on Northamptonshire county council.

We finish with the Labour defence of the week in one of the most unfashionable towns in the Midlands. Corby grew from virtually nothing in the 1930s to become a decent-sized town thanks to the opening of a steelworks and significant immigration from western Scotland. After the Second World War it became a New Town, and Beanfield ward's housing dates from the New Town expansion era. Corby's economy is still heavily dependent on manufacturing, and Beanfield ward (as it was then) was in the top 15 in England and Wales for the ONS "routine" employment category at the time of the 2011 census. Since then there have been boundary changes which saw Beanfield ward take over most of the former Tower Hill ward, but that won't have changed the demographic profile much.

Corby is part of that disaster area of modern local government, Northamptonshire. As this column has now related on several occasions, Northamptonshire county council's insolvency has forced structural change in the county, and in advance of that change (which is still yet to be finalised) Corby council's 2019 elections were cancelled. This means that the 2015 election is to date the only poll on the current Beanfield ward boundaries. In 2015 Labour polled 61% of the vote here, with UKIP as runner-up on 22%; this was on the same day that the Tories recovered the Corby parliamentary seat after a by-election loss in 2012, but the Corby parliamentary seat includes a large rural area of eastern Northamptonshire which counterbalances the strongly-Labour town. Labour hold the two Northamptonshire county council divisions covering the ward, enjoying similarly large majorities at the last county elections in 2017.

Defending this by-election for Labour is Alison Dalziel. UKIP have not returned to the fray. The Tories put in nominations for two different candidates, but one of them has withdrawn leaving Roy Boyd as their standard-bearer; he completes the ballot paper along with Lib Dem Chris Stanbra, who sits on Northamptonshire county council for a different area.

Parliamentary constituency: Corby
Northamptonshire county council division: Corby West (most), Kingswood (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Corby
Postcode district: NN18

Roy Boyd (C)
Alison Dalziel (Lab)
Chris Stanbra (LD)

May 2015 result Lab 2142/2112/2023 UKIP 785 C 581/523/467

Petition Watch

As there hasn't been much in the way of by-elections this week compared with recent offerings, I'll finish for the week with a roundup of what the Election Court has been doing recently.

There were two legal cases arising from the May local elections for the district councils. One was a well-publicised case from the Cotswold district, where Conservative candidate Stephen Hirst won the Tetbury Town ward with a majority of one vote over independent candidate Kevin Painter. This case turned on one ballot paper on which the voter had written the word "Brexit" with an arrow pointing to Hirst's name. The returning officer counted this as a valid vote for Hirst, giving him his one-vote majority, and last month the Election Court upheld that decision and confirmed that Hirst was duly elected. The other case was in Stafford district, asking for a recount in the Haywoods and Hixon ward; however, this has been settled out of court, with the petitioners agreeing to withdraw their action and Stafford council agreeing not to pursue them for the returning officer's legal costs. Stafford's council taxpayers shouldn't fret over this decision; the council has insurance to cover this sort of bill. The Brexit Party have put in a petition relating to the Peterborough parliamentary by-election in June; that one is yet to reach trial.

There has, however, been one councillor change this year as a result of an election petition. That was at parish level: the Swindon elections team messed up the count for May's election to Highworth town council, resulting in Conservative candidate Pauline Webster being incorrectly declared elected to one of the vacancies. The Election Court ordered a recount which showed that in fact independent candidate Kim Barber had more votes, and the Court declared Barber elected in Webster's place.

And one other petition has succeeded recently. In Sheffield, 5% of the city's voters subscribed to a petition calling for the council to change its governance arrangements from the "leader and cabinet" model to an old-style committee system. As a result of that petition, a referendum will be held on this subject, to take place alongside the next ordinary Sheffield elections in May 2020. Stay tuned for that.

Andrew Teale

Previews: 03 Oct 2019

In a varied week of local by-elections with something for everyone, there are six by-elections for seven seats on 3rd October 2019. The Tories defend three seats, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party defend one each, and there are two free-for-alls. Read on...

Bridge of Don

Aberdeen council, Scotland; a double by-election caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Brett Hunt and the death of Scottish National Party councillor Sandy Stuart. Stuart had served since 2012, Hunt since 2017.

We start this week with a rare by-election for two seats in Scotland - only the third time this has happened since Scottish local elections went over to proportional representation in 2007. Despite what might appear from the name, "Aberdeen" originally referred to a location not at the mouth of the River Dee but at the mouth of the Don, as it quietly flows into the North Sea. As the city grew, the settlement at the mouth of the Don became known as Old Aberdeen to differentiate it from the city centre area.

A fine granite bridge of five arches was thrown over the River Don in the early nineteenth century, and a suburb grew up on the far side of the bridge - named Bridge of Don after the crossing. This is the point of entry to Aberdeen for people arriving from the north, and for those who don't want to park in the city centre park-and-ride buses cross the bridge at frequent intervals. Bridge of Don has developed into a centre of its own, with a number of business parks for the oil industry within the ward boundary. The completion earlier this year of the much-delayed Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route has also removed some traffic from the area - the original 1930s bypass of Aberdeen had terminated here.

Since the introduction of PR Bridge of Don has been a single ward electing four members of Aberdeen city council; the ward boundaries were slightly expanded this year. The Scottish National Party have topped the poll at all three elections to date, but in the inaugural 2007 election they only had one candidate allowing the Liberal Democrats to win two seats; Labour took the other. Both Lib Dem councillors subsequently left the party and sought re-election as independent candidates: one, John Reynolds, topped the poll in 2012 and was easily re-elected, while the other, Gordon Leslie, finished ninth and lost his seat to Sandy Stuart of the SNP.

The May 2017 local elections saw the Conservatives break through across large swathes of Scotland, including in Bridge of Don where they surged from 6% to 26% of the vote in 2017. Their candidate Brett Hunt was elected in first place. The SNP polled 34% and held their two seats, and Reynolds polled 14% and was re-elected meaning that the Tory gain came from Labour. Labour polled just 11% in the election, although Unionist transfers meant that they weren't that far away from holding their seat in the final reckoning.

This by-election will however represent a stiffer test for all the parties. Votes at 16 and the Single Transferable Vote apply, and to win one of the two seats candidates will need to poll one-third of the vote - either on first preferences alone, or by attracting transfers from eliminated candidates. As usual Allan Faulds of the Ballot Box Scotland blog has crunched the numbers (link) and found that had the May 2017 election here been for two seats then the SNP and the Tories would have won one seat each, with Reynolds as a rather distant runner-up.

Unionist tactical votes were also important in the Westminster election of June 2017, in which most of the ward is within the Gordon constituency. This was one of the twelve Scottish Conservative gains that enabled the May government to continue after June 2017, and would have been particularly satisfying for the Scottish Tories as the SNP MP they knocked out was Alex Salmond. At Holyrood level the ward is covered by the Aberdeen Donside constituency; this has been represented by Mark McDonald since he won a by-election for the SNP in 2013, but McDonald left the party last year following a scandal over his behaviour towards women. He now sits as an independent MSP.

Aberdeen council has also been the subject of controversy, although of a strictly political nature. The SNP are the largest party with 17 out of 45 seats on the council (plus two vacant seats), but they are short of a majority and were shut out of power following the 2017 election by a coalition agreement between the Tories (10 seats plus one vacancy), Labour (9 seats) and independent councillors (3 seats). That coalition agreement led to the entire Labour group on Aberdeen council being suspended from the national Labour party, because apparently ideological purity is more important than political power. It will be noted that the Tory-Aberdeen Labour-Independent coalition has a majority of one, so if the Tories lose their seat in this by-election we could (depending who picks it up) be in minority administration territory.

None of the parties are standing two candidates for the two vacancies, so this by-election will result in a split decision. Defending the SNP's seat is Jessica Mennie, a PR worker who fought Northfield/Mastrick North ward in the 2017 city elections. The Tories have a fresh face to defend their seat in the form of local resident Sarah Cross. Aberdeen Labour have had a candidate imposed on them by the Scottish party: he is Graeme Lawrence, who lost his seat in the neighbouring Dyce/Bucksburn/Danestone ward two years ago. Also standing are Michal Skoczykloda for the Liberal Democrats, independent candidate Simon McLean (who stood here in 2017 and was eliminated in eighth place with just 91 votes), Philip Clarke for UKIP, Sylvia Hardie for the Scottish Green Party and Max McKay, the first ever election candidate for the Red Party of Scotland.

Parliamentary constituency: Gordon (most), Aberdeen North (part in Donmouth ward before 2007)
Scottish Parliament constituency: Aberdeen Donside
ONS Travel to Work Area: Aberdeen
Postcode districts: AB21, AB22, AB23

Philip Clarke (UKIP)
Sarah Cross (C)
Syvlia Hardie (Grn)
Graeme Lawrence (Lab)
Max McKay (Red Party of Scotland)
Simon McLean (Ind)
Jessica Mennie (SNP)
Michal Skoczykloda (LD)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 2462 C 1868 Ind 1045 Lab 805 LD 669 Ind 279 Ind 70 Solidarity 28

Whitchurch and Tongwynlais

Cardiff council, Glamorgan; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Timothy Davies. He had served since 2004, with a break in service from 2012 to 2017.

Would you like to visit a fairytale castle? Well, this column doesn't have the budget to bring you Schloss Neuschwanstein, Castelul Bran or that structure in the middle of Disneyland (although if you buy the Andrew's Previews books that situation might change) but we can offer you Castell Coch. Nestled on a steep hillside in South Wales, Castell Coch was literally a fantasy: the site is mediaeval, but the building and its interiors are as High Victorian as they come. Such was the taste of the 3rd Marquess of Bute, who commissioned the buildings we see today in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Below the castle was one of the first modern commercial vineyards in Britain (now occupied by a golf course), and the views over Cardiff from the castle are something to behold. The 5th Marquess of Bute gave Castell Coach to the nation in 1950, and it is now open to the public thanks to the Welsh government's heritage agency Cadw.

The location was no accident. The Butes were one of the richest families in Britain thanks to their involvement in the South Wales coal trade, and a large area of the Cardiff docklands is still called Butetown to this day. Another rich industrial family whose name is commemorated in an area of Cardiff is the Cory family: Sir Herbert Cory was a Conservative MP for Cardiff from 1913 to 1923, and the Coryton district is named after him. He should not be confused with Sir Clifford Cory, who had a similar biography but was on the Liberal side of politics (he was the Liberal MP for St Ives in Cornwall from 1906 to 1922 and again in the 1923-24 parliament) and was associated with Barry Docks and the Rhondda.

Sir Clifford's name has been immortalised by one of the best brass bands in the world, the Rhondda-based Cory Band, which won the British Open and European brass band championships this year. You can hear them here in a recent recording, appropriately playing T J Powell's contest march Castell Coch.

Castell Coch and Coryton can both be found within the same electoral division of Cardiff, Whitchurch and Tongwynlais. This is a wedge of north-western Cardiff along the A470 road, the main arterial route from the city centre towards Merthyr and the north. Whitchurch, a village which has been swallowed up by the growth of Cardiff, is the main component of the division with Tongwynlais being a relatively small village in the valley below Castell Coch. Coryton railway station, a branch line terminus, connects the area to Cardiff city centre.

Like Bridge of Don, this area elects four members of the city council. Unlike Bridge of Don, proportional representation is not in effect meaning that small swings can lead to drastic changes in the seat count. In 2008 the Conservative slate polled 40.5% to 36.5% for Labour, and that 4-point lead gave the Conservatives all four seats. In 2012 a 5% swing to Labour meant that the Labour slate gained all four seats with a lead of 41-36. The most recent Welsh local elections were in May 2017, when the Conservatives had 41% here, Labour 38% and Plaid Cymru 14%; and you guessed it, the Conservatives won all four seats.

Despite that, Labour did bounce back five weeks later to gain the local Cardiff North constituency from the Conservatives in the snap general election after a 7-year Tory interlude. Labour also hold Cardiff North at Welsh Assembly level, where the local AM since 2011 has been Julie Morgan, widow of the former First Minister Rhodri Morgan. Mrs Morgan won her seat by defeating another Morgan, the Tories' Jonathan Morgan who represented Cardiff North in the Assembly from 2007 to 2011; Jonathan's mother Linda Morgan is one of the remaining Tory councillors for Whitchurch and Tongwynlais.

A marginal electoral division in a marginal constituency overlooked by a fairytale castle - this is the sort of contest this column dreams of. Watch this one closely. Defending for the Conservatives is Mia Rees, a "youth policy nerd" according to her Twitter, she works for a local charity. Tha Labour candidate is Marc Palmer, an estate agent. Plaid have selected Dan Allsobrook who was on their slate here in 2017. Also standing are Sian Donne for the Lib Dems and David Griffin for the Green Party.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Cardiff North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cardiff
Postcode districts: CF14, CF15, CF83

Dan Allsobrook (PC)
Sian Donne (LD)
David Griffin (Grn)
Marc Palmer (Lab)
Mia Rees (C)

May 2017 result C 2905/2900/2856/2753 Lab 2700/2488/2461/2234 PC 962/951/885/856 LD 540/516/365/312
May 2012 result Lab 2529/2454/2354/2290 C 2206/2144/2080/2080 PC 641/623/600 588 Grn 495 LD 265/233/226/183
May 2008 result C 2948/2904/2857/2790 Lab 2658/2147/2023/1962 PC 771/748/715/669 LD 505/471/398/329 UKIP 398
June 2004 result C 2329/2282/2269/2180 Lab 2266/1956/1799/1631 LD 1060/1039/920/905 PC 742/724/720/711 Cardiff Citizens 481

Syston West

Charnwood council, Leicestershire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Eric Vardy who had served since 2011.

We move to England for the four remaining by-elections of the week. Syston is a town on the Fosse Way just to the north of Leicester; it's become become part of Leicester's built-up area but is yet to be incorporated into the city proper. The main local employer is Pukka Pies, which employs around 250 people in Syston and has made its name as a supplier of pies to football stadiums. According to the company, Rotherham United's supporters eat the most pies, which is a fact that will raise an eyebrow among anybody who has ever had anything do with Wigan Athletic. Pukka also sponsored the 2009 UK Snooker Championship and gave the winner, Ding Junhui, his body weight in pies; Ding, in a more classy move, donated the pies to a Sheffield homeless charity.

As Syston has not been annexed by Leicester yet, it is for the present two wards of Charnwood council. Both of these are safely Conservative; in the ordinary elections in May this year West ward gave 51% to the Tory slate, 26% to the Labour slate and 23% to the single Green Party candidate. The Tories also hold the local county division of Syston Ridgeway, getting a swing in their favour at a by-election in June last year (Andrew's Previews 2018, pages 228-9). The late councillor Vardy was no relation of the Leicester City star Jamie Vardy, but the big city has left its mark on Syston in other ways: Syston West was 15% Hindu in the 2011 census, a figure in the top 70 wards in England and Wales.

Defending for the Conservatives is Sue Gerrard, a former Charnwood councillor for East Goscote ward who had gained her seat in 2015 from one of the last BNP councillors in local government. Gerrard had fought Loughborough Hastings (a safe Labour area) in the May 2019 elections, while her old ward of East Goscote went Green. No, I don't understand it either. Labour have selected Sharon Brown, who stood in May in the other Syston ward (Syston East) and is a Syston town councillor. The Greens, who are rumoured to be making a serious effort at this by-election, have reselected Matthew Wise who stood here in May. He completes a ballot paper of three candidates.

Parliamentary constituency: Charnwood
Leicestershire county council division: Syston Ridgeway
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode district: LE7

Sharon Brown (Lab)
Sue Gerrard (C)
Matthew Wise (Grn)

May 2019 result C 632/610 Lab 316/236 Grn 290
May 2015 result C 1916/1541 Lab 899/851
May 2011 result C 1062/964 Lab 684/591
May 2007 result C 747/742 Lab 498/495 BNP 348
May 2003 result C 606/526 Lab 376/345 UKIP 132

Clacton East

Essex county council; caused by the resignation of independent county councillor David Sargeant who had served since winning a by-election in March 2016.

Our next pair of by-elections form an interesting contrast with each other as they cover two areas which form stereotypes of the two strands of thought which dominate the national political debate at the moment. In this time of Brexit (or not, as the case may be), it seems to be de rigeur for the media to send journalists out to some provincial town for a few vox pops to "see what Leave voters think" before said journalists retreat back to their safe space in the London bubble. The choice of provincial towns used for these exercises is telling. I note that none of the newspapers or TV stations have yet sent anybody to this column's own Little Lever, which as the only ward in Lancashire past or present to vote UKIP in 2019 certainly could be labelled as having Leave credentials; on the other hand, Little Lever is one change of public transport from Manchester, two changes from London. There are places out there which are more accessible to the London commentariat.

Despite the last paragraph, this column tries not to label areas as "leave" or "remain" in the Previews for various reasons. First, I'm as sick and tired of the whole business as you are (and given that I'm supposed to going to eastern Europe next month I've got to sit up and take notice of what's going on); second, referendum voting figures are generally not available at ward level; third, referendum voting figures are by definition a one-dimensional statistic and there is much more varied information out there to use; fourth, and probably most importantly, referendum voting figures tend not to translate into local elections very well. To date the number of Brexit Party candidates in local government can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and none of them have won.

Still don't believe me? Have a look at Clacton East. This division of Essex county council was previewed in this column less than four years ago (Andrew's Previews 2016, pages 67 and 68) without mentioning the B-word once. Alright, that by-election was on 31st March 2016 so it was pre-referendum, but it was after Douglas Carswell had been twice elected as MP for Clacton on the UK Independence Party ticket. The demographic profile of Clacton East - the eastern end of the Clacton seafront as you might have guessed from the name, based on Holland-on-Sea and Great Clacton which are economically depressed retirement ghettoland - certainly fits the profile of a Leave-voting area.

So, how does it vote at local election time? Probably not how you expected. Clacton East's election results were previously dominated by the figure of Pierre Oxley, who polled over 4,000 votes and had a big majority here as the Conservative candidate in 2005 but then broke away to found his own localist party, Tendring First. Oxley lost his seat to the Conservatives in 2009 but got it back in 2013.

Pierre Oxley was also the chairman of Clacton Sports Club, and in that role he forged invoices to persuade his own council, Sport England and the Big Lottery Fund to pay out grants totalling £95,000 for capital work at the sports club. This capital work was in fact never carried out, and Oxley instead used the money to pay the club's running costs. At a trial in early 2016 Oxley pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation and received a two-year suspended prison sentence, which disqualifies him from serving as a councillor for five years. Had he made any personal profit from the fraud, he would probably have done time.

The resulting by-election was won very easily by David Colin Sargeant, standing for the Holland-on-Sea Residents Association. Sargeant was re-elected in May 2017 as an independent candidate, polling 41% of the vote to 31% for the Conservatives and 15% for UKIP.

This wasn't a flash in the plan. The Holland-on-Sea Residents Association are a long-established electoral force at the eastern end of Clacton. In the May 2019 Tendring council elections they were the most successful party within Clacton East, winning the two wards which cover Holland-on-Sea (Eastcliff and St Bartholomew's wards). Within Great Clacton the Conservatives won St Paul's ward, while St John's ward (not all of which is within this division) returned two independent candidates, one of whom - Mark Stephenson - had previously been elected on the UKIP ticket in 2015.

Despite Sargeant's independent label in 2017 the defending party here is effectively the Holland-on-Sea Residents Association, although they have changed their ballot paper description to "Holland On Sea & Eastcliff Matters". Their candidate is K T King, one of the Tendring councillors for St Bartholomew's ward. The Conservatives have reselected Chris Amos who was runner-up here in 2017; he represents Burrsville ward on Tendring council, which is not part of this division. The UKIP candidate who finished third here in 2017, the aforementioned Mark Stephenson, is also standing again but this time as an independent candidate. Completing the ballot paper are Geoff Ely for Labour, Callum Robertson for the Liberal Democrats and Chris Southall for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Tendring
Tendring council wards: Eastcliff, St Bartholomew's, St Paul's, St John's (part), Coppins (small part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Clacton
Postcode district: CO15

Chris Amos (C)
Geoff Ely (Lab)
K T King (Holland-on-Sea and Eastliff Matters)
Callum Robertson (LD)
Chris Southall (Grn)
Mark Stephenson (Ind)

May 2017 result Ind 1906 C 1458 UKIP 705 Lab 440 LD 82 Grn 74
March 2016 by-election Holland-on-Sea Res Assoc 1781 UKIP 961 C 628 Lab 387 LD 49
May 2013 result Tendring First 1528 C 1194 UKIP 1106 Lab 477 LD 77 Grn 70
June 2009 result C 2270 Tendring First 1361 BNP 626 Lab 508 Grn 325 LD 238
May 2005 rsult C 4330 Lab 2427 LD 1206 Grn 263 Community Representatives Party 207


St Albans council, Hertfordshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Caroline Brooke who had served since 2018.

Our remaining two by-elections are for wards in the south of England with Liberal Democrat strength, in parliamentary constituencies which the party will have their eye on in the cess of an early general election: one due to a Liberal tradition, the other due to marginality. St Albans is the marginal one, although a Tory majority of nearly 11% in June 2017 still looks a tall order to overturn and the Liberal Democrats have been tilting at this seat for decades without winning. Mind, the Conservatives did very badly here in May's local elections: they lost eight seats on St Albans council five months ago and went from holding half of the seats to second place behind the Lib Dems, who now run the district as a minority.

St Albans' Clarence ward is located east of the city centre and named after Clarence Park. It has, as I wrote in this column three years ago (Andrew's Previews 2016, pages 256 and 257), the middle-class commuter profile to end all middle-class commuter profiles. Despite the vagaries of Thameslink over 30% of the population travel to work by train from St Albans City station, most of them presumably going to London. The 2011 census return put Clarence in the top 25 wards in England and Wales for population with a degree, and in the top 100 for both the ONS higher- and lower-management employment categories. The presence in the ward of the head office of the Campaign for Rail Ale and and a number of businesses catering to the hipster market reinforces the impression that this is a very trendy place to live. Quite the contrast with Clacton in the previous preview.

Since the current St Albans ward boundaries were introduced in 1999 Clarence ward has consistently voted Liberal Democrat, and often very strongly so. In May this was one of the safest Lib Dem wards in the country, with a 64-15 lead for the party over their nearest challengers, the Conservatives. The Lib Dems also hold the local county council seat of St Albans Central, and this is clearly the ward that supplies their majority in that division (the other ward in St Albans Central is St Peter's ward, which covers the city centre and has bizarre voting patterns).

Defending for the Lib Dems is Josie Madoc, one of the city's many London commuters and a school campaigner: earlier this year her daughter was told that there were no places available for her in any of the local secondary schools. The Tories have reselected Don Deepthi who stood here in May. Also standing are Rebecca Michel for the Green Party and Gary Chambers for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: St Albans
Hertfordshire county council division: St Albans Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton
Postcode district: AL1

Gary Chambers (Lab)
Don Deepthi (C)
Josie Madoc (LD)
Rebecca Michel (Grn)

May 2019 result LD 1521 C 357 Grn 252 Lab 249
May 2018 result LD 1370 C 533 Lab 308 Grn 159
Oct 2016 by-election LD 916 C 388 Lab 193 Grn 98 UKIP 16
May 2016 result LD 1178 C 490 Lab 397 Grn 226 TUSC 23
May 2015 result LD 1606 C 1375 Lab 683 Grn 399 TUSC 28
May 2014 result LD 764 C 579 Lab 483 Grn 367 UKIP 145 TUSC 14
May 2012 result LD 880 C 494 Lab 383 Grn 312
May 2011 result LD 1021 C 899 Lab 551 Grn 267
May 2010 result LD 1807 C 1115 Lab 556 Grn 297
May 2008 result LD 979 C 629 Grn 237 Lab 211
May 2007 result LD 1070 C 433 Grn 255 Lab 229
May 2006 result LD 918 C 596 Lab 339 Grn 298
June 2004 result LD 985 C 514 Lab 416 Grn 180
May 2003 result LD 1315 Lab 356 C 343
May 2002 result LD 1095 Lab 423 C 331
May 2000 result LD 790 Lab 478 C 403
May 1999 result LD 1089/1018/1006 Lab 619/605/581 C 356/350/340

Norton Fitzwarren and Staplegrove

Somerset West and Taunton council; caused by the death of independent councillor Jean Adkins.

Our final by-election this week is a free-for-all in one of the new local government districts created in this year's reorganisations. We're north-west of the town of Taunton here.

Despite only just creeping over 3,000 population, Norton Fitzwarren has been a hive of industry over the years. There are lots of fast-flowing streams here giving plentiful opportunities for water power, and water-powered textile mills sprang up in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries - silk weaving was a major local employer. In more recent years the Taunton Cider company's main factory was here, producing brands such as Blackthorn until production was moved elsewhere in the late 1990s. The coming of the railways led to extensive development at Norton Fitzwarren, which became a junction for the Minehead branch off the Great Western main line and had extensive freight yards. Unfortunately Norton Fitzwarren has been an unlucky place: there were major fatal railway accidents here in 1890 (caused by a signalman's error allowing two trains to collide), 1940 (caused by a driver misreading the signals, leading to a derailment) and 1978 (when the Penzance to London sleeper train caught fire).

The victims of the 1940 accident included a number of military personnel travelling to Norton Fitzwarren, which that year had seen the development of a large logistics base for the Army. This was a huge site, used during the Second World War partly as a prisoner of war camp and mostly by the US Army. Royal Marines 40 Commando is still here for the time being at Norton Manor Camp, and the Marines show up clearly in the 2011 census return: Norton Fitzwarren parish was a ward of its own at the time, and was ward number 3 in England and Wales for those with 5 or more GCSE passes or equivalent but no further qualifications, was number 3 in England and Wales for the ONS "intermediate" employment category, and made the top 100 for full-time employment. However, these figures may now be rather out of date now because much of the old military site has been redeveloped in this decade: Norton Fitzwarren's population grew by over 10% between 2011 and 2014.

The creation of Somerset West and Taunton council this year led to the Local Government Boundary Commission drawing new wards for the new council. These merged the Norton Fitzwarren ward of the old Taunton Deane district with most of the previous Staplegrove ward to create a new ward of three councillors. The old Staplegrove ward was based on the north-western corner of Taunton, around the independent Taunton School, together with the parish of Staplegrove which is effectively a western extension of Taunton, and some villages to the north of the town. The presence of Taunton School and its boarders meant that in 2011 Staplegrove ward was in the top 40 in England and Wales for people aged 16 and 17, but the new ward boundaries place Taunton School in a different ward so that's no longer relevant. The Boundary Commission drew the new Norton Fitzwarren and Staplegrove ward with quite a low electorate, in order to allow for further population growth in the near future.

The inaugural Somerset West and Taunton council election was a bloodbath for the local Conservatives and to general surprise resulted in a majority for the Lib Dems. The surprise extended to the local Lib Dems themselves, as they had only partial slates in a number of wards which turned out to be extremely winnable. We saw an example of that in this column two weeks ago with the Vivary ward by-election, which the Liberal Democrats gained from the Conservatives to increase their overall majority to three seats; that was one of the wards where the Lib Dems only had a partial slate in May and ended up in an unexpected first place.

Here is another example of that. The old Norton Fitzwarren and Staplegrove wards had both been quite strongly Conservative, but the new combined ward saw the Lib Dems top the poll with 36% of the vote, against 20% for independent candidate Jean Adkins, 18% for the Green Party candidate Alan Debenham and just 17% for the Conservative slate. The Liberal Democrats had only nominated two candidates for the three seats allowing Adkins to win the final seat; she had been a Conservative councillor for the old Norton Fitzwarren ward since 2011 but it appears that she didn't get the Tory nomination.for the new council. Her death shortly afterwards has caused this by-election.

There is no independent candidate to replace Adkins so we have a free-for-all! There is an interesting candidate on the ballot paper in Andy Sully, who was Adkins' colleague as Tory councillor for the old Norton Fitzwarren ward from 2015 to 2019; Sully didn't seek re-election in May, subsequently joined the Liberal Democrats and now has their nomination for this by-election. The Green Party have selected Staplegrove parish councillor Alan Debenham, who was runner-up here in May's election; he is a retired maths teacher and local government veteran, having served on the former Taunton Deane council from 1973 to 1983 (as a Labour councillor for Creech St Michael ward) and again from 1991 to 2003 (as an independent and subsequently Green councillor for Bishops Hull ward). The official Conservative candidate is Rod Williams, who stood here in May. Completing the ballot paper is Michael McGuffie for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Taunton Deane
Somerset county council division: Lydeard (Norton Fitzwarren parish); Rowbarton and Staplegrove (Kingston St Mary and Staplegrove parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Taunton
Postcode districts: TA2, TA4, TA5

Alan Debenham (Grn)
Michael McGuffie (Lab)
Andy Sully (LD)
Rod Williams (C)

May 2019 result LD 929/818 Ind 525 Grn 478 C 448/422/383 Lab 195

Previews: 26 Sep 2019

We have five local by-elections on 26th September 2019. In contrast to last week's interesting geographical spread, all of this week's polls are in towns to the south of the Severn-Wash line - but with three Tory defences, a Labour seat, a free-for-all and a number of marginal parliamentary seats on the bill there is plenty to chew over. My apologies for the lack of graphics this week which was due to a lack of time in putting this piece together, but hopefully the text will be as informative as usual. Read on...

Three Bridges

West Sussex county council; and


Crawley council, West Sussex; both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Charles Petts.

We start south of London in the New Town of Crawley for our first two by-elections: one to the borough council and one to West Sussex county council. The two cover different areas.

Three Bridges (the bridges referred to cross local streams which flow into the River Mole) lies in the east of Crawley. Since the 1840s this has been an important railway junction: the Brighton Line runs arrow-straight from north to south, while a branch line to Crawley, Horsham and Portsmouth curves off to the west and another branch used to go east to East Grinstead. This is still an important railway centre: the main signalling centre for the Brighton Line and the Thameslink routes is here, and Thameslink have a large depot at Three Bridges where their shiny new trains are maintained.

Tilgate, on the other hand, is an area in the south of Crawley. The name goes back to tax records of the 13th and 14th centuries regarding land owned by William de Yllegate in Worth Forest. After some industrial use in the Weald iron industry (there was a blast furnace here in the seventeenth century) the woodland became a country estate, ending up in the hands of a London banking family. Tilgate Park (as the area had become known) was sold in 1939, and after a series of uses (from accommodating Canadian soldiers prior to D-Day to the flotation trials of Donald Campbell's boat Bluebird) ended up in the hands of Crawley council, which has turned it into a public park.

Both of these areas were transformed after the Second World War with the development of Crawley as a New Town. Tilgate became home to the Thomas Bennett school, named after the chairman of Crawley Urban Development Corporation; this was one of England's first comprehensive schools and at one point in the late 1960s claimed to be the largest secondary school in England. One of its many pupils at that time was Dawn Primarolo, who later served for 28 years as a Labour MP for Bristol: Baroness Primarolo, as she now is, served as a Treasury minister throughout the Blair administration, was a junior minister under Gordon Brown and then a Deputy Speaker of the Commons during the Coalition years.

Three Bridges developed a little earlier than Tilgate (early rather than late 1950s), and its secondary school - the Hazlewick School - opened in 1952. This school also gave us two Labour parliamentarians: Laura Moffatt, who was MP for Crawley from 1997 to 2010; and Alex Mayer, a Member of the European Parliament for the Eastern region from 2016 until losing her seat in 2019. Gareth Southgate, manager of the England men's football team, is also a Hazlewick School former pupil, while the school's former maths teacher Mr Ranganathan has recently forged a new career in comedy and TV presenting. Three Bridges is a slightly more upmarket area than Tilgate, with its easy connections to central London, Crawley town centre and Gatwick airport resulting in high employment levels.

Tilgate ward's boundaries are almost unchanged since 1983 when Crawley council's boundaries were expanded, but a review cut the ward from three seats to two in 2004 as the population hadn't grown as strongly as in other areas of Crawley. This coincided with the Conservatives starting to become competitive in what had previously been a safe Labour ward; the Tories broke through in 2007 and gained the second Labour seat in 2008. Labour got one seat back at a by-election in October 2010 and held it up to May this year, when Crawley got a new ward map; although there were no changes to Tilgate ward, that meant both seats in the ward were up for re-election. The Conservatives beat Labour here in May by 47-36, but much of that Tory lead was down to a personal vote for re-elected councillor Francis Guidera. Charles Petts defeated the lead Labour candidate, Kiran Khan, by just five votes for the second seat. There is an interesting situation here on the county council, where the local division (Tilgate and Furnace Green) is safely Conservative; its county councillor is Duncan Crow who also leads the party's group on Crawley council.

The Three Bridges county division dates only from May 2017, mostly having been created from the Northgate and Three Bridges division which had existed from 2009 to 2017. That area voted Labour in 2013, but the 2017 boundaries removed the Labour-voting Northgate ward and added part of a strongly Conservative ward (Pound Hill South and Worth) and that almost certainly tipped the balance in the Tories' favour. Shares of the vote in 2017 were 45% for the Conservatives and 40% for Labour. Most of the district is covered by the Three Bridges ward of Crawley council, which turned in a similar result in May this year.

This by-election won't have any serious effect on West Sussex county council which has a large Conservative majority. Crawley, however, is on a political knife-edge. Labour overcame adverse ward boundary changes to successfully defend their overall majority on Crawley council in the 2019 election, which resulted in 19 seats for Labour and 17 for the Conservatives. The district has the same boundaries as the Crawley parliamentary constituency, whose first MP in 1983 was noted Tory rebel Sir Nicholas Soames; at the next general election (whenever it happens) Crawley's current Conservative MP Henry Smith will defend a majority over Labour of 4.9%.

So it's marginals time. Defending the county seat of Three Bridges for the Conservatives is Brenda Burgess, a Crawley councillor for Three Bridges ward. Labour have selected Amanda Malik who also stood in that ward in May. Also standing are David Anderson for the Liberal Democrats, Danielle Kail for the Green Party and frequent Crawley election candidate Arshad Khan for his own Justice Party.

For the Tilgate by-election both the Tories and Labour have selected ethnic minority candidates - not something you see very often in a shire county. Defending for the Tories is Maureen Mwagale, who founded and runs a charity providing help to women in her native Uganda. The Labour candidate is Kiran Khan, a self-declared Momentumite, she was the runner-up in this ward in May. Also standing are Derek Hardman for the Green Party, Arshad Khan (again) who will be hoping to improve on the six votes he polled here in the 2010 by-election, and the Lib Dems' Angharad Old.

Three Bridge

Parliamentary constituency: Crawley
Crawley council wards: Three Bridges (part); Pound Hill South and Worth (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crawley
Postcode districts: RH10, RH11

David Anderson (LD)
Brenda Burgess (C)
Danielle Keil (Grn)
Arshad Khan (Justice Party)
Amanda Malik (Lab)

May 2017 result C 1303 Lab 1157 LD 164 UKIP 155 Grn 119


Parliamentary constituency: Crawley
West Sussex county council division: Tilgate and Furnace Green
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crawley
Postcode districts: RH10, RH11

Derek Hardman (Grn)
Arshad Khan (Justice Party)
Kiran Khan (Lab)
Maureen Mwagale (C)
Angharad Old (LD)

May 2019 result C 803/651 Lab 646/631 Grn 259
May 2016 result Lab 749 C 645 UKIP 244 Grn 50 LD 40
May 2015 result C 1362 Lab 1166 Grn 186 LD 166
May 2012 result Lab 878 C 482 Grn 119
May 2011 result C 921 Lab 837 Grn 142
October 2010 by-election Lab 764 C 656 UKIP 79 Justice Party 6
May 2008 result C 725 Lab 627 BNP 274
May 2007 result C 904 Lab 549 BNP 213 LD 123 Grn 50
June 2004 result Lab 748/745 C 661/645

Sweyne Park and Grange

Rochford council, Essex; caused by the resignation of Rochford District Residents councillor Toby Mountain.

For our free-for-all this week we travel to southern Essex. This is an area of towns which are now starting to run into each other thanks to rampant development of housing estates, and it can be difficult to determine where one town ends and the next begins. Such is the fate of Rayleigh, an old market town to the north-west of Southend-on-Sea and the largest town in the Rochford local government district. Sweyne Park and Grange is Rayleigh's western ward, running along London Road from the town's railway station (on the Shenfield-Southend line). This ward has existed since 2016 as a merger of two previous wards, both of which were in the top 80 in England and Wales for the ONS "intermediate" employment classification. It doesn't include Sweyne Park itself but does cover the school of that name; the Sweyne element refers to Sweyne of Essex, who is recorded in the Domesday Book as being the owner of Rayleigh Castle. (The castle no longer exists; it had become derelict by the fourteenth century and its stones ended up in other buildings in the town.)

As well as a local government district, Rayleigh anchors a parliamentary constituency which since 2001 has been represented by prominent European Research Grouper Mark Francois. In the selection contest for the Tory nomination in the 2001 general election Francois beat somebody called Boris Johnson - anyone know what happened to him? Answers on a postcard please to the usual address. Rochford council is strongly Conservative but Sweyne Park and Grange is not one of the Tories' better wards: its first election in May 2016 saw the ward's three seats split three ways. Top of the poll on 32.5% was Toby Mountain of the Rochford District Residents; second on 30% was the lead Tory candidate June Lumley, and winning the third seat on 23% was James Newport of the Liberal Democrats. Newport lost his seat to the Tories in 2018, and Lumley was re-elected in May 2019; shares of the vote were 49% for the Conservatives and 38% for the Liberal Democrats. June Lumley is also the ward's Tory county councillor, having easily gained the Rayleigh South division from UKIP in the 2017 county elections.

The Rochford District Residents are not defending this by-election so we have an open seat. The Tories will be hoping to gain a clean swap in this ward with their candidate Danielle Belton. The Lib Dems have reselected Lisa Newport who stood here in May, and an all-female ballot paper is completed by Jill Waight for the Green Party. Whoever wins this by-election is likely to be back on the campaign trail in short order, as they will be due for re-election in May 2020.

Parliamentary constituency: Rayleigh and Wickford
Essex county council division: Rayleigh South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southend
Postcode district: SS6

Danielle Belton (C)
Lisa Newport (LD)
Jill Waight (Grn)

May 2019 result C 702 LD 538 Lab 180
May 2018 result C 784 LD 622 Lab 200
May 2016 result Rochford District Residents 847 C 785/514/464 LD 599 Lab 375


Ipswich council, Suffolk; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Adam Leeder who had served since 2012.

Our Labour defence of the week falls in Ipswich, the largest town and major urban centre of Suffolk. Like many towns, Ipswich goes back a long way: it claims to the oldest town established and developed by the English, having started to coalesce in the seventh or eighth centuries as a major port for the Kingdom of East Anglia. The old town was on the waterfront at the head of the Orwell estuary, and all the major North Sea traders had a presence here. In the eighth century, Frisians set up England's first large-scale pottery industry in Ipswich, while in later times exports included Suffolk cloth and people heading for the Massachusetts Bay colony. The shrine of Our Lady of Ipswich drew pilgrims from the twelfth century until its destruction in the Reformation, although various legends suggest that the statue of the Madonna and Child from the shrine survives and is now in Nettuno on the west coast of Italy.

All of these things can or could be found in Alexandra ward, which covers the town centre and the waterfront area of Ipswich. The name refers to Alexandra Park, which was opened in 1904 and named after the Queen. The town centre remains the major shopping and business district for eastern Suffolk, while the waterfront has been very shinily regenerated in recent years. Some of its new buildings are home to the University of Suffolk, one of the UK's newest higher education institutions.

Ipswich is a marginal parliamentary seat which Labour gained from the Conservatives in 2017, but the borough council (which covers a rather larger area) has a strong Labour majority. Included in that majority is Alexandra ward, which was Lib Dem until the advent of Coalition but is now strongly in the Labour column. In May Labour had 55% of the vote here, against 19% for the Conservatives and 17% for the Green Party. The ward is split between three divisions of Suffolk county council, all of which are safe Labour.

Defending for Labour, and in the unusual position for an R of top of the ballot paper, is Adam Rae who is hoping to join his wife Jane Riley (last year's Mayor of Ipswich, and re-elected in May) as a councillor for this ward. Standing for the Conservatives is Lee Reynolds, a former Ipswich councillor who lost his seat in May in a ward with stronger Tory support. The Green Party have reselected Tom Wilmot who was third in May's election. Completing an all-male ballot paper is Henry Williams for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Ipswich
Suffolk county council division: Bridge (western part), St Helen's (central part), St John's (part east of Felixstowe railway line)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ipswich
Postcode districts: IP1, IP2, IP3, IP4, IP5, IP6, IP8, IP9

Adam Rae (Lab)
Lee Reynolds (C)
Henry Williams (LD)
Tom Wilmot (Grn)

May 2019 result Lab 1034 C 379 Grn 341 LD 172
May 2018 result Lab 1245 C 499 Grn 190 LD 147
May 2016 result Lab 1019 C 478 Grn 219 LD 177
May 2015 result Lab 1805 C 1327 Grn 534 LD 311
May 2014 double vacancy Lab 935/917 UKIP 444 C 400/331 Grn 390 LD 215/180
May 2013 by-election Lab 772 UKIP 279 C 274 Grn 193 LD 126 [Labour gain from LD]
May 2012 result Lab 1005 LD 349 C 311 Grn 197
May 2011 result Lab 1158 LD 577 C 449 Grn 155
May 2010 double vacancy LD 1293/1271 Lab 1150/1084 C 899/828
May 2008 result LD 681 Lab 508 C 408 Grn 211
May 2007 result LD 756 Lab 531 C 377 Grn 188
May 2006 result LD 734 Lab 603 C 413 Grn 213
June 2004 result LD 802 Lab 661 C 483
May 2003 result LD 807 Lab 649 C 321 Grn 106
May 2002 result Lab 794/720/672 LD 687/675/651 C 355/328/316


Luton council, Bedfordshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Mike Garrett at the age of 76. Garrett was a veteran of local government who was first elected in 1976 with a break in service from 1995 to 2003; he was Mayor of Luton in 1982-83 and for many years was leader of the town's Conservative group.

We finish for the week in one of the most unfashionable towns in the south of England. Luton isn't as old as Ipswich but does lie on one of the major prehistoric routes through the country: the Icknield Way, which in days gone by connected Norwich to Wiltshire. Luton's Icknield ward lies on the Icknield Way, in the north of the town covering the Warden Hill area, and its major features these days are the Icknield High School and the A6 road which runs north towards Bedford.

Although Icknield makes the top 20 wards in England and Wales for those born in the Republic of Ireland, it's one of the parts of Luton which has been least affected by immigration over the years. It's also one of Luton's least deprived wards according the 2015 indices of multiple deprivation. The 2019 indices come out today, replacing the 2015 version; but unfortunately there wasn't time to incorporate them in these previews before my filing deadline. Maybe next week.

This demographic has made Icknield atypical in Luton in being a safe Conservative ward. Until May 2019, that is: earlier this year the Tories had their worst tally of this century, and an adverse 7% swing saw Labour close the gap to 42-40 and suddenly make Icknield a marginal ward. This despite all sorts of problems for Labour at the parliamentary level: the Labour MP for Luton North, Kelvin Hopkins, had a safe seat but has been suspended from the party for nearly two years over sexual misconduct allegations.

Long-serving magistrate John Baker has the task of trying to defend this marginal ward for the Conservatives; he is the chairman of the Luton branch of the party, but lost his Luton council seat in Round Green ward in May 2019 after serving one term. Labour have reselected Asif Masood, who was runner-up here in May 16 votes behind Mike Garrett's running-mate; Masood is the only candidate to give an address in the ward. Also standing are Steve Moore for the Lib Dems and the ward's first Green candidate this century, Marc Scheimann.

Parliamentary constituency: Luton North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton
Postcode districts: LU2, LU3

John Baker (C)
Asif Masood (Lab)
Steve Moore (LD)
Marc Scheimann (Grn)

May 2019 result C 822/803 Lab 787/663 LD 251/221
May 2015 result C 1854/1761 Lab 1289/969 LD 389/300
May 2011 result C 1325/1226 Lab 930/856 LD 245/172
May 2007 result C 1383/1328 Lab 437/267 LD 385/332
May 2003 result C 977/948 Lab 461/449 LD 240/226

Previews: 19 Sep 2019

Six by-elections on 19th September 2019:


Somerset West and Taunton council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Catherine Herbert.

This week's six by-elections are split evenly between three Conservative and three Labour defences, and not all of them are safe seats, not by any means. I'll start with the Tory wards, two of which are in the West Country - a region where the party did very poorly in May's local elections.

One feature of May's local elections was a reorganisation which saw six non-metropolitan districts, four in Suffolk and two in Somerset, paired off into three new ones. These are the first completely new non-metropolitan districts created since the big bang of the 1970s, as the trend for tinkering with local government is to create unitary councils outside the two-tier structure. So our first preview this week is a bit of a novelty, as we have our first by-election in one of these completely new district councils.

This council, with a name that manages to be both ugly and unimaginative - "Somerset West and Taunton" - was created in April out of a merger of the former West Somerset and Taunton Deane districts. You can see why this was done. West Somerset was England's smallest non-metropolitan district in population terms, with a headcount of around 35,000 and a hard economic dependence on tourism and the business rates generated by the Hinkley Point nuclear power stations. Those 35,000 people had a median age of 52, from which it can be inferred that there are a lot of pensioners here. Not the sort of demographic that gives you a high council tax return, and the Age of Austerity led to some financial difficulties for West Somerset council.

So, it was merger time. As stated, in April West Somerset council disappeared along with Taunton Deane, a rather more viable district based on Somerset's county town of Taunton. Unlike West Somerset, which in pre-Coalition days tended to have a large number of independent councillors, Taunton Deane has been closely fought for many years between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at both parliamentary and local level. Despite this, a lot of observers - including this column - had expected the Conservatives to win the first Somerset West and Taunton election in May 2019. It didn't happen like that. The Tories did very badly in the district, coming out with just 10 seats; 14 seats went to independents, but the Liberal Democrats were the winners taking 30 seats out of a possible 59 and a majority of one.

The only Conservative councillor to hold her seat in Taunton town was Catherine Herbert, who had been the last mayor of Taunton Deane council and since 2007 had represented the Taunton Killams and Mountfield ward. This was in the south of Taunton, along the road towards the racecourse, and is one of the more middle-class parts of the town. Killams and Mountfield had voting patterns to match: in the 2015 election the Conservative slate had 47% to 27% for the Liberal Democrats, and the Tories won both seats very easily.

Some quick footwork by the Local Government Boundary Commission produced a brand new ward map for the brand new council, which expanded Killams and Mountfield slightly towards the town centre and added Vivary Park to it, resulting in a name change to Vivary ward. It must have been a surprise to everyone involved when the inaugural Vivary result came through. The Liberal Democrats topped the poll with 34% of the vote, but had only nominated one candidate for the two available seats. That enabled Herbert, as top of the Tory slate, to hold her seat with 28% of the vote, ahead of independent candidate Nick Messarra who was runner-up with 25%. True, this ward is mostly part of the Taunton South division of Somerset county council, which is Lib Dem-held, but Taunton South also includes Blackbrook and Holway ward which is longstanding Liberal Democrat territory.

Starting from second place, the Conservatives have an uphill struggle to hold this by-election. Their defending candidate is Sharon Fussell, who is a team leader at a local supermarket. The Lib Dem candidate is Derek Perry, a barrister specialising in criminal, regulatory and personal injury law. Standing as an independent is Neil Rudram, who appears to be a veterinary surgeon. Completing the ballot paper are Robert Noakes for Labour and Marguerite Paffard for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Taunton Deane
Somerset county council divisions: Taunton South (most), Bishop's Hull and Taunton West (northern end), Comeytrowe nad Trull (Vivary Park)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Taunton
Postcode district: TA1

Sharon Fussell (C)
Robert Noakes (Lab)
Marguerite Paffard (Grn)
Derek Perry (LD)
Neil Rudram (Ind)

May 2019 result LD 709 C 581/413 Ind 514 Lab 261


Wiltshire council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Jerry Wickham, who had served since winning a by-election in March 2014.

For some reason Wiltshire seems to be generating a lot of by-elections at the moment: there have already been two polls to Wiltshire council this year and a fourth is in the pipeline. The most recent of those was in Westbury North, which the Lib Dems held in July; we now move to the neighbouring division of Ethandune, which surrounds Westbury on three sides. Here can be found the villages of Dilton Marsh (home to the ward's railway station on the Westbury-Salisbury line) to the west of Westbury, Heywood and Hawkeridge to the north, and Bratton, Edington and Coulston to the east.

The name Ethandune reflects one of the decisive moments in the history of these islands - I would say English history but this was a time before England was thought of. The year was AD 878, the time was May. The 870s had been a good decade for the Vikings who had overrun most of what would become England, but the Kingdom of Wessex under Alfred was proving a tougher nut to crack. The Danish commander Guthrum had been harassing Wessex since 875, and nearly captured Alfred in a night attack on his court at Chippenham on Twelfth Night 878. Alfred fled into the Somerset Levels, reputedly burned some cakes and got some guerilla warfare going. In early May 878 he called his loyal men to Egbert's Stone, from where they travelled a few days later to meet the Danes in battle at Ethandune - now generally identified as Edington in Wiltshire.

The resulting Battle of Edington was a decisive victory for the West Saxons, and led to a peace settlement under which Guthrum was baptised as a Christian and the Vikings kept out of Wessex. The so-called "Peace of Wedmore" lasted, with Guthrum subsequently becoming King of East Anglia and reigning there for eleven years, while Alfred continued to rule Wessex to such effect that he is one of only two English kings known as "the Great". Thirty-six generations down the line, his descendant Elizabeth still rules over the area today.

The military have never really left Edington, which lies in the shadow of Salisbury Plain; part of this Army training area is within the boundary of Ethandune division. This is normally a safely Conservative area, although the Tories were given a scare at the March 2014 by-election when Jerry Wickham was first elected: in that poll he had 36%, to 28% for the Lib Dems, 17% for UKIP and 14% for independent candidate Francis Morland. Morland and the Lib Dem candidate Carole King turned up again in this column two months ago in the Westbury North by-election, which King won. Wickham was easily re-elected for a second term at the most recent Wiltshire elections in 2017, defeating the Lib Dems 72-28 in a straight fight.

Today's Battle of Edington will be another straight fight. Defending from the blue corner is Suzanne Wickham, Jerry's widow. Challenging from the yellow corner is Alan Rankin, a counsellor, former Coldstream Guards bandsman and interim chair of the party's Devizes branch.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Wiltshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Trowbridge
Postcode districts: BA11, BA13, BA14

Alan Rankin (LD)
Suzanne Wickham (C)

May 2017 result C 1059 LD 416
March 2014 by-election C 480 LD 372 UKIP 236 Ind 192 Lab 69
May 2013 result C 748 LD 303 Lab 182
June 2009 result C 1004 LD 467 Lab 157


Canterbury council, Kent; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Jenny Samper. Twice Lord Mayor of Canterbury, Samper was a veteran of local government who had sat on Canterbury council since 1976, with a break in service from 1991 to 1995.

For our final Conservative defence of the week we travel east to Kent. Chestfield is a village near the north coast of Kent just outside Whitstable, on the northern slopes of the Blean Forest. Those slopes are broken within this ward by the A299 dual carriageway, which bypasses Whitstable on its way to the Isle of Thanet; however, the A299 was built with a tunnel to avoid disturbing Chestfield's golf course. The ward includes south-eastern fringes of Whitstable, and Chestfield and Swalecliffe railway station (on the Faversham-Ramsgate line) lies on its northern boundary.

This is a safely Conservative ward. In May this year the Tory slate polled 53% against very evenly-split opposition: 17% for the Lib Dems, 16% for Labour, 15% for the Green Party candidate. However, the result here will still be worth watching as the ward is part of the Canterbury parliamentary seat, which was such an unexpected Labour gain in the 2017 general election and will no doubt be very near the top of the Tory target list when the next general election comes around. Chestfield ward is part of the Canterbury North division of Kent county council, which was safely Conservative in the May 2017 county elections and at a by-election in November last year.

Defending for the Conservatives is Ben Fitter-Harding, whom readers with long memories may note has appeared in this column before: he won a by-election to Canterbury council in 2012 from the neighbouring ward of Blean Forest (which covers the University of Kent campus), but lost his seat there in 2019. The Lib Dems have selected Peter Old, a local resident. The Labour candidate is Morag Warren who fought the neighbouring Swalecliffe ward in May. Completing the ballot paper are Nicole David for the Green Party and independent candidate Joe Egerton.

Parliamentary constituency: Canterbury
Kent county council division: Canterbury North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Canterbury
Postcode districts: CT5, CT6

Nicole David (Grn)
Joe Egerton (Ind)
Ben Fitter-Harding (C)
Peter Old (LD)
Morag Warren (Lab)

May 2019 result C 1084/1071 LD 342/340 Lab 324/257 Grn 314
May 2015 result C 2342/2049 UKIP 925 Lab 648/584 LD 395/289 Grn 391

Fulham Broadway

Hammersmith and Fulham council, North London; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Alan de'Ath who had served since 2014. De'Ath has taken up a new job which is politically restricted.

Having covered the three Tory defences this week we now turn to the Labour side, starting in London. Your columnist was in London over the weekend playing in the Quiz League of London's annual quizbowl tournament, as part of the "Bloc Trebekois" team pictured above: from left Ben, Rob, Paddy, some random hanger-on and Jonathan. We only went and won a title, the Plate competition! Thanks everyone. Because of that and other quiz commitments there has been very little time to research this week's Previews, so I am grateful to Hammersmith and Fulham Labour Party for making my job easier by sending me an informative copy of their submission to the Local Government Boundary Commission, which has started work on a new ward map for the 2022 Hammersmith and Fulham election.

Games of a rather different kind to quiz regularly affect the Fulham Broadway ward, as Chelsea FC's Stamford Bridge stadium is just outside the boundary. Until 2022 at least Fulham Broadway ward is rather misnamed, as it covers only a small part of the road of that name. Instead we run north from the Broadway along North End Road as far as Lillie Road, which is the ward's northern boundary; to the east lies the West London Overground line, while to the west are the tower blocks of the Clement Attlee council estate. In the south-east corner is the London Oratory School, where a number of prominent recent politicians including the man Labour love to hate, Tony Blair, had their children educated. West Brompton railway and Underground station lies at the ward's north-east corner, and Fulham Broadway Underground station is on the southern boundary.

Outside the Attlee estate, the census return makes it pretty clear that this is the sort of area where London's professional classes like to live. In 2011 Fulham Broadway was in the top 40 wards in England and Wales for those born in the new EU states (10.1%), in the top 70 for the White Other ethnic group (24.6%) and in the top 80 for those born in the Republic of Ireland (2.6%).

Despite or perhaps because of that demographic, Hammersmith and Fulham council has been run by Labour for most of the period since it was established in 1965, although there was a recent interlude of Tory control from 2006 to 2014. Top of the poll in Fulham Broadway in the 2006 election was Aidan Burley, who went on to serve as a controversial Tory MP for the Staffordshire constituency of Cannock Chase during the Coalition years. Fulham Broadway ward was part of that Conservative majority, but Labour regained the ward in 2014 and increased their majority to 56-36 in the 2018 borough elections. However, Fulham Broadway was carried by the Tories at the 2016 GLA elections: Zac Goldsmith beat Sadiq Khan here 44-37, and the Conservative lead over Labour in the London Members ballot was 38-33. The ward is also in the safe Conservative parliamentary seat of Chelsea and Fulham.

So this may be more marginal than the 2018 result would indicate. Defending for Labour is Helen Rowbottom who works in the healthcare sector. The Tories have reselected Aliya Afzal Khan who was on their slate here in 2018; she is a former local TV presenter and director of the Conservative Friends of Pakistan. Completing the ballot paper is Jessie Venegas of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Chelsea and Fulham
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode district: SW6

Aliya Afzal Khan (C)
Helen Rowbottom (Lab)
Jessie Venegas (LD)

May 2018 result Lab 1720/1611/1590 C 1094/1045/1028 LD 267/260/258
May 2014 result Lab 1571/1540/1524 C 1242/1232/1211 LD 218/217/188
May 2010 result C 2178/2131/2007 Lab 1369/1311/1138 LD 876/873/814
May 2006 result C 1682/1644/1610 Lab 1191/1146/1111 LD 305/235/210 BNP 236
May 2002 result Lab 1276/1253/1217 C 1183/1169/1166 LD 233/188/165

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: C 1068 Lab 891 Grn 118 LD 74 UKIP 74 Women's Equality 69 Britain First 30 Respect 29 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 28 BNP 16 Zylinski 12 One Love 4
London Members: C 934 Lab 796 Grn 191 UKIP 147 Women's Equality 124 LD 91 Animal Welfare 36 Britain First 36 Respect 31 BNP 19 CPA 18 House Party 15

Old Swan

Liverpool council, Merseyside; caused by the resignation of the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Labour councillor Peter Brennan, who had served since 2011. Brennan resigned after it emerged that he had shared a racist video on WhatsApp.

For our other big city by-election we travel north-west to Liverpool. If you're arriving into Liverpool from the east Old Swan ward is probably the first part of the city you'll see: the south-eastern corner of the ward is the Rocket junction where the M62 motorway comes to a juddering halt at a set of traffic lights. Edge Lane continues into the city from here, as does the older Prescot Road. The world's first intercity railway, the Liverpool and Manchester railway line, forms Old Swan ward's southern boundary, but you won't see much from it: this is the western end of the Olive Mount cutting, an 80-foot-deep vertical gash in the Liverpool sandstone. At the western end of the cutting is the oldest intercity railway's newest station, Wavertree Technology Park, which opened in 2000.

The curious name of this ward comes from the eighteenth century, when there was a pub called the Three Swans at the junction of Prescot Road and Broadgreen Road. There is now an Old Swan pub on the junction (and there used to be a Cygnet as well), but the site of the original Three Swans is now occupied by a well-known national chain of coffee shops. Such is progress.

Old Swan ward is in many ways a stereotype of Liverpool as outsiders see it: high deprivation levels, high unemployment and all the rest. It is a place whether the Labour vote is weighed rather than counted; on general election day in 2015 Peter Brennan polled over 5,000 votes here, and in May he was re-elected for Labour with 72% of the vote against five other candidates. So it's a surprise to learn that in those pre-Coalition days, when the Liberal Democrats were running Liverpool, Old Swan was a strong ward for them; in 2007 the Lib Dems beat Labour here 65-23. Seven years later the Lib Dems polled 3% and finished seventh in Old Swan - quite the turnaround. Since Peter Brennan's resignation, Old Swan has also gained a Liberal Democrat MP thanks to the defection of Luciana Berger, in whose Wavertree constituency the ward is.

Will that have an effect on this by-election? We shall see. Defending for Labour is William Shortall, a member of the Merseyside Pensioners Association and former Green Party figure who has called for Berger to seek re-election in a by-election of her own. Shortall is opposed on an all-male ballot paper by George Maxwell for the Greens, Mick Coyne for the continuing Liberal Party (which in Liverpool is the personality cult of veteran city councillor Steve Radford), Chris Lea for the Lib Dems, Peter Andrew for the Conservatives and Martin Ralph, who regularly stands here for his own anti-austerity party Old Swan Against the Cuts.

Parliamentary constituency: Liverpool Wavertree
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: L7, L13

Peter Andrew (C)
Mick Coyne (Lib)
Chris Lea (LD)
George Maxwell (Grn)
Martin Ralph (Old Swan Against the Cuts)
William Shortall (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 2021 Grn 218 Lib 215 LD 166 C 89 Old Swan Against the Cuts 84
May 2018 result Lab 2174 LD 162 Old Swan Against the Cuts 157 C 144 Grn 136 Lib 126
May 2016 result Lab 2260 Old Swan Against the Cuts 395 LD 278 Grn 161 C 109 Lib 86
May 2015 result Lab 5244 UKIP 628 Old Swan Against the Cuts 437 Grn 282 C 263 LD 210 Lib 186
May 2014 result Lab 2135 UKIP 549 Old Swan Against the Cuts 296 Grn 150 Lib 139 C 107 LD 104 EDP 21
May 2012 result Lab 2577 Lib 267 LD 221 Grn 185 TUSC 123 EDP 111 C 98
May 2011 result Lab 2689 LD 751 UKIP 202 C 118 Lib 116 Grn 97 TUSC 74 EDP 58
May 2010 result Lab 3557 LD 2341 BNP 242 C 231 Grn 194 Lib 100
May 2008 result LD 1372 Lab 824 Lib 321 BNP 300 Grn 130 C 127
May 2007 result LD 2248 Lab 814 Lib 161 Grn 132 C 127
May 2006 result LD 1436 Lab 859 Lib 172 UKIP 150 C 148 Grn 134 United Socialist 68
June 2004 result LD 2290/2286/2239 Lab 1096/807/786 Lib 206/176 Socialist Alliance 171/169/112


North Lanarkshire council, Scotland; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Hugh Gaffney, who was elected in June 2017 as the Labour MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill.

We finish for the week in Scotland, that place where politics is in flux at the moment. Thorniewood ward lies just outside the eastern edge of Glasgow, and is an area where the population boomed after the Second World War. This was due to new industry coming in, such as a coalmine and a large Caterpillar factory, and to house the people needed to run these industries the town of Viewpark was born.

Viewpark combines with the neighbouring areas of Tannochside and Birkenshaw to form the Thorniewood ward. In case you have never heard of these places and are wondering why this is, none of these areas are recognised as towns by the Royal Mail, which classifies almost every address within the ward as "Uddingston, Glasgow" - but Uddingston proper is over the district boundary in South Lanarkshire. The ward name "Thorniewood" is shared by Thorniewood United, a local junior football team. This column has been confused by this concept before, so let me explain: in Scottish football "junior" refers not to the age of the players but to the level of football, roughly equivalent to non-league in the English system.

This ward in the heart of the Central Belt was created in 2007 when Scottish local elections moved to using proportional representation. Until the Indyref this was one of the strongest Labour wards in Scotland, with the party polling over 68% of the first preferences and winning two out of three seats in the 2007 and 2012 elections. The remaining seat was held by the SNP, who successfully defended it in a by-election in 2015 at the height of the party's powers: that by-election saw the Nationalists lead Labour 47-43 in the first round and win by 52-48 after transfers.

The losing Labour candidate on that occasion was Hugh Gaffney, who did get elected to North Lanarkshire council two years later. On revised boundaries in May 2017 Labour polled 50% in Thorniewood ward and the SNP 39%, the seat count remaining at 2-1 to Labour. A month later Gaffney was elected to the Westminster Parliament, defeating single-term SNP MP Phil Boswell by 1,586 votes on a swing of over 13% in the local seat of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. The SNP hold the local Scottish Parliament constituency of Uddingston and Bellshill, having gained it from Labour in 2016.

With a general election possibly around the corner, this by-election should be watched to see how Labour are doing in the Central Belt which is an area full of SNP versus Labour marginal seats. If Corbyn or Sturgeon can get their message right for this area, the payoff could be substantial. An SNP gain could have implications for North Lanarkshire council, where Labour hold 32 seats plus this vacancy and the SNP have 31; the balance of power is held by eight Conservatives and five independents, and Labour run the the council as a minority.

Defending this by-election for Labour is Norah Mooney, an NHS practice manager. The SNP have gone for youth in selecting Eve Cunnington, whose first vote was in the independence referendum five years ago yesterday. It's been a long five years, hasn't it? Also standing are Lorraine Nolan for the Conservatives, Rosemary McGowan for the Greens and Colin Robb for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill
Scottish Parliament constituency: Uddingston and Bellshill
ONS Travel to Work Area: Motherwell and Airdrie
Postcode districts: G69, G71

Eve Cunnington (SNP)
Rosemary McGowan (Grn)
Norah Mooney (Lab)
Lorraine Nolan (C)
Colin Robb (LD)

May 2017 first preferences Lab 2354 SNP 1811 C 519

Andrew Teale

Previews: 12 Sep 2019

Five by-elections on 12th September 2019, with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats defending two seats each and one independent defence:

St Mark's

Rushmoor council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Alain Dekker who had served only since May this year. Dekker's partner is being relocated to Germany by her employer.

For our by-election this week we come to a local government district which is guaranteed to score you quiz points. The 1970s reorganisation of local government created a district covering the towns of Aldershot and Farnborough in the north-east corner of Hampshire. The local politicians have never been able to agree whether to call this council "Aldershot and Farnborough" or "Farnborough and Aldershot", and so the neutral name "Rushmoor" was adopted.

This rather curious name refers to the open-air Rushmoor Arena, which was built by the Army in 1923 to accommodate the annual Aldershot Tattoo. This Tattoo was a major event in the first half of the twentieth century, with up to half a million attendees per year, but stopped for the Second World War and was never revived afterwards. The location is appropriate: Aldershot has been the home of the British Army since the middle of the nineteenth century, and its garrison essentially fills the space between Aldershot and Farnborough. That garrison is divided into two parts by the Basingstoke Canal, and St Mark's ward covers the northern half - the so-called North Camp. The Army presence can be seen in the ward's 2011 census return, which had very high levels of full-time employment and a score in the top 60 wards in England and Wales for Buddhism. Gurkhas, in other words. North Camp railway station, just over the county boundary on the Reading-Guildford line, serves the ward.

If Aldershot is synonymous with the Army, Farnborough is synonymous with aviation. Most of the western half of St Mark's ward's acreage is taken up by the runways, apron and buildings of Farnborough Airport. This was the site of the first powered flight in Britain, made on 5 October 1908 by the former Wild West showman Samuel Cody (no relation to Bufallo Bill), who settled in Britain and was buried in Aldershot after his death in a flying accident five years later. Cody has a statue and a business park in this ward named after him. He would probably have been delighted that Farnborough Airport was used by the RAF for experimental aircraft for many years. One spinoff of that is the Farnborough Airshow, held here every even-numbered year, at which the latest civilian and military aircraft are demonstrated. The Air Accident Investigation Branch is just one of the many aviation-related industries which can be found in Farnborough.

To the east of the airport and the north of the military camp can be found St Mark's ward's permanent population at the southern end of Farnborough. This was a Conservative ward up until the middle of this decade but was also the only Rushmoor ward where the Liberal Democrats had some strength - they had won here on several occasions in the Noughties. The Lib Dems were, however, wiped out in 2012 following minor boundary changes, and it took until 2018 for them to break through again, their candidate Abul Koher Chowdhury winning at the fifth attempt with a majority of 33 votes.

In May 2019 the Liberal Democrats increased their lead to 65 votes and gained a second seat from the Conservatives, bringing them up to group status on Rushmoor council; shares of the vote were 38% for the Lib Dems, 34% for the Conservatives and 16% for Labour. The other 13% of the vote went to the British Union and Sovereignty Party, yet another anti-EU outfit which doesn't run very many candidates but tends to get decentish scores when it does stand. They are however not standing in this by-election, which may give the Conservatives some hope that they can pick up extra votes as a result. The Tories still hold one of St Mark's three council seats and are safe in the local county council seat (Farnborough South).

Defending this marginal seat for the Liberal Democrats is Thomas Mitchell, a former retained firefighter who works in the optics industry; he fought Wellington ward (which covers the other half of the Aldershot military base) in May. The Tories have selected Leon Hargreaves who according to his Twitter is a 24-year-old IT manager. Returning for his sixth attempt at the ward is Carl Hewitt, who stood here as a Green in 2014 and 2015 and as an independent in 2016 but since 2018 has had the Labour nomination; he completes a three-strong ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Aldershot
Hampshire county council division: Farnborough South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Guildford and Aldershot
Postcode districts: GU11, GU14

Leon Hargreaves (C)
Carl Hewitt (Lab)
Thomas Mitchell (LD)

May 2019 result LD 556 C 491 Lab 226 British Union and Sovereignty Party 184
May 2018 result LD 577 C 544 Lab 301 British Union and Sovereignty Party 57
May 2016 result C 611 LD 439 Lab 219 UKIP 178 Grn 70 Ind 43
May 2015 result C 1619 LD 663 Lab 536 Grn 404
May 2014 result C 549 LD 426 Grn 292 Lab 242 Christian Party 58
May 2012 result C 720/597/562 LD 483/472/371 Lab 249/220/214 Christian Party 93

Bishop's Castle

Shropshire council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Jonathan Keeley who had served since winning a by-election in September 2016.

Farnborough is the only large town on the menu this week and all the remaining four by-elections are in wards based on villages or small towns in the Midlands. One of those small towns is Bishop's Castle in the beautiful Welsh Marches. The Marches specialise in tiny market towns, and despite its small population (the parish's electorate is 1,428 according to the Notice of Poll) Bishop's Castle was until the 1960s a full-blown borough with a mayor and all the trimmings.

"The Castle" - whose local pronunciation is rather difficult to reconcile with the English alphabet - is the largest settlement in a far-flung ward of eleven other parishes next to the Montgomeryshire border, of which the largest is Lydney North and the other ten are all tiny agricultural villages with under 200 electors. Within the boundary is part of that strange upland plateau, the Long Mynd.

Rather like neighbouring Montgomeryshire (or Montgomeryshire as it was before Lembit Öpik got his hands on it) this is an area which responded well to old-school Liberalism. On the old South Shropshire council Bishop's Castle was represented for many years by Peter Phillips, who was in that old-school Liberal vein and was rather narrowly elected in 2009 as the division's first representative on the reorganised Shropshire council. Phillips resigned in 2011 and the resulting by-election was easily held for the Lib Dems by Charlotte Barnes. Barnes resigned in 2016 and the resulting by-election (see Andrew's Previews 2016, page 191) was easily held for the Lib Dems by Jonny Keeley. Keeley increased the Lib Dem majority further to 74-21 over the Conservatives at the 2017 Shropshire council election.

Jonny Keeley's resignation means that the Lib Dems are defending Bishop's Castle in a by-election for the third time this decade. They have selected Ruth Houghton, a Bishop's Castle town councillor and former Shropshire Council officer. The Tory candidate is Edward Thompson. Completing a three-strong ballot paper is Andy Stelman for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Ludlow
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ludlow
Postcode districts: SY5, SY6, SY7, SY9, SY15

Ruth Houghton (LD)
Andy Stelman (Lab)
Edward Thompson (C)

May 2017 result LD 960 C 273 Grn 71
15 September 2016 by-election LD 862 C 430 Lab 95 Grn 37
May 2013 result LD 907 C 449 Grn 107
Sept 2011 by-election LD 801 C 544 Lab 80 Grn 74
June 2009 result LD 754 C 641 Grn 186


Wellingborough council, Northamptonshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Barbara Bailey who had served since winning a by-election in September 2016.

Our two Tory defences of the week are both in that disaster area of modern local government, Northamptonshire, and in both cases are to replace councillors who have been elected in by-elections since the last Northamptonshire district elections in May 2015. The 2019 district polls in Northants were cancelled pending a reorganisation which has now suffered some delays; ostensibly the winners of these by-elections will serve until May 2020, but that might end up getting extended if the government can get its act together sufficiently to get the necessary legislation drafted.

Like Jonny Keeley in Bishop's Castle, Barbara Bailey was elected at a by-election in September 2016 (Andrew's Previews 2016, page 212). Her ward was Finedon, which was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 under the name of Thingdon as one of four towns in Northamptonshire with a population greater than 50. Despite that, the village never achieved greatness although it has a decent-sized population and a good location on a major road junction: the A6 Kettering-Bedford and A510 Wellingborough-Thrapston roads meet here, a few miles to the north-east of Wellingborough. The ward has a fine parish church with a rather surprising incumbent: the multi-talented Radio 4 broadcaster, Communards singer, Strictly Come Dancing contestant and priest Richard Coles tends his flock here.

Coles wasn't the only Finedon resident to appear in a TV game show. John Bailey had captained Selwyn College, Cambridge on one of the early series of University Challenge before embarking on a 49-year career as councillor for Finedon, being first elected to the old Wellingborough urban district council in 1967. Bailey held all the major local government positions - leader of Wellingborough council for six years, twice Mayor of Wellingborough, chairman of Northamptonshire county council - and was appointed MBE for his public service, somehow juggling this with a career in economics, statistics, business analysis and database administration and with writing several books on the history of Finedon.

John Bailey had a safe seat in Finedon: at his last re-election in 2015 he had a big personal vote, giving 47% to the Conservative slate against 27% for Labour and 26% for UKIP. Upon his death the following year his widow Barbara took his seat over, winning the by-election in September 2016 with a margin of 62-19 over Labour. In May 2017 the Conservatives easily held the Finedon division of Northamptonshire county council, while a month later arch-Brexiteer Peter Bone was safely re-elected as MP for the local seat of Wellingborough.

Defending this by-election for the Conservatives is Finedon town councillor Andrew Weatherill. The Labour candidate is Isobel Stevenson, a former Irthlingborough town councillor. The Lib Dems have selected Chris Nelson and Marion Turner-Hawes stands for the Green Party; however, Weatherill's biggest challenge may well come from the chairman of Finedon town council Laurence Harper, who is standing as an independent candidate.

And a Thought for the Day to leave this preview on. As can be seen from the map at the top of this section Finedon is next door to Irthlingborough which this column discussed last month. I am not proud of the mistakes which led me to reissue that Irthlingborough preview, but they did stick in my mind - and that controversy helped me to get the question on Dr Martens which came up in the British Quizzing Championships last Saturday. Yet another demonstration that the best way to get stuff right is often to get things wrong and learn from your mistakes, and that applies to real life just as much as it does to quiz. As the vicar of Finedon may reflect from his time on Strictly, ridicule is nothing to be scared of.

Parliamentary constituency: Wellingborough
Northamptonshire county council division: Finedon
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kettering and Wellingborough
Postcode districts: NN8, NN9

Laurence Harper (Ind)
Chris Nelson (LD)
Isobel Stevenson (Lab)
Marion Turner-Hawes (Grn)
Andrew Weatherill (C)

September 2016 by-election C 758 Lab 235 UKIP 137 LD 86
May 2015 result C 1250/944 Lab 720 UKIP 698
May 2011 result C 935/847 Lab 612
May 2007 result C 909/720 Lab 539
May 2003 result C 768/652 Lab 527/407

Middleton Cheney

South Northamptonshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Jonathan Riley who had served since winning a by-election in April 2018.

For our second Northamptonshire by-election of the week we travel to Middleton Cheney, a large village at the western end of Northamptonshire within the economic orbit not of Northampton but of Banbury, which is just over the county boundary in Oxfordshire. It is perhaps best known for being the birthplace of Vice-Admiral Lancelot Holland, commander of HMS Hood when it was sunk by the Bismarck.

The ward named after the village, which also includes the neighbouring parish of Warkworth, has unchanged boundaries since at least 1976. During the twentieth century there was a significant Labour vote here, perhaps reflecting the transformation of nearby Banbury by London overspill; Labour and the Conservatives split the ward's two seats at every election from 1976 to 1987. In 1991 Labour stood down and the ward returned an independent and a Conservative unopposed. Labour convincingly took both seats in 1995, but lost one to the Conservatives in a by-election on general election day in 2001 and the other to an independent candidate in 2003.

After that Labour stopped standing in Middleton Cheney, which resulted in a lack of contested elections. The independent and Conservative councillors were re-elected unopposed in 2007; in 2011 the independent councillor retired and his seat was gained by the Conservatives, again unopposed. One of the Conservative councillors sought re-election in 2015 as an independent, giving a contested election which he lost 64-36.

In the 2017 Northamptonshire county elections the Conservatives made the Middleton Cheney division safe after being run close by UKIP in 2013. A month later failed Tory leadership candidate and environment secretary Andrea Leadsom was safely re-elected as MP for the local seat of South Northamptonshire; following the election she was reshuffled to Leader of the Commons, and at the time of writing she serves in the Johnson cabinet as business secretary.

Conservative councillor Judith Baxter resigned last year, and party politics broke out at the resulting Middleton Cheney by-election (Andrew's Previews 2018, page 137). By this point the insolvency of Northamptonshire county council had become apparent, and that issue combined with what has become a feature of several local by-elections in the south Midlands in recent years: poor Conservative performances in by-elections along the proposed High Speed 2 route. The Tories did hold the 2018 Middleton Cheney by-election, but their vote fell to 42%; the Liberal Democrats fought the ward for the first time and finished a close second on 34%, and Labour returned with a third-place finish on 20%.

The winner of last year's by-election, Jonathan Riley, has now resigned in his turn provoking another by-election. Defending this one for the Conservatives is Alison Eastwood, who gives an address outside the ward in the village of Moreton Pinkney. The Lib Dems have reselected their candidate from last year's by-election Mark Allen, who is a computer programmer and Middleton Cheney parish councillor. Labour have changed candidate to Arthur Greaves, a retired IT consultant and former Luton councillor (Limbury ward, 1996-99). Completing the ballot paper, and returning from last year's by-election, is Adam Sear of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: South Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire county council division: Middleton Cheney
ONS Travel to Work Area: Banbury
Postcode district: OX17

Mark Allen (LD)
Alison Eastwood (C)
Arthur Greaves (Lab)
Adam Sear (Grn)

April 2018 by-election C 391 LD 316 Lab 183 Grn 38
May 2015 result C 1527/1151 Ind 868
May 2011 result 2 C unopposed
May 2007 result C/Ind unopposed
May 2003 result Ind 457 C 435/393 Lab 305
June 2001 by-election C 981 Lab 845
May 1999 result Lab 653/457 C 422/348
May 1995 result Lab 896/737 C 398/395
May 1991 result Ind/C unopposed
May 1987 result C 824 Lab 701/292
May 1983 result C 767/657 Lab 690
May 1979 result C 930/617 Lab 799/421 Ind 765
May 1976 result Lab 691/621 C 688/546

Ryhall and Casterton

Rutland council; caused by the disqualification of independent councillor Chris Parsons, who did not sign his declaration of acceptance of office following May's election. He had served since 1995, originally being elected to the old Rutland district council.

Our final by-election of the week is a wildcard. We travel to Rutland, whose claim to being England's smallest county does rather depend on your definition of those troublesome words "smallest" and "county", but the Rutland local government district certainly has a very low population.

The Ryhall and Casterton ward covers five parishes to the north of Stamford. In the centre of the ward is Ryhall, one of Rutland's largest villages with 1,337 electors according to the notice of poll; to the west lies Great Casterton on the Great North Road, while the ward's eastern parish is Essendine on the East Coast Main Line. Despite its presence in Rutland Great Casterton is associated with the Northamptonshire peasant poet John Clare, who was married in its impressive parish church in 1820; and the village is also the location of one of Rutland's three secondary schools. The railway through Essendine was the location of a world record on 3 July 1938, when Mallard was recorded at a speed of 126 miles per hour just north of the village - still a record speed for a steam locomotive.

Rutland is a politically sleepy area. Chris Parsons had represented Ryhall and Casterton since the ward was created in 2003 (he had previously been councillor for the single-member Ryhall ward), on each occasion with a Conservative holding the ward's other seat. Parsons was usually elected as an independent, although in 2011 he had the Conservative nomination. The May 2019 election here was uncontested; the most recent poll on these boundaries was in 2015 when the Conservative slate won one seat with 54% and Parsons won the other with 46%.

With no defending independent candidate and the unusual sight of party politics breaking out, this by-election is a free-for-all! The Conservatives hold the other seat in Ryhall and Casterton ward, and they have selected Richard Coleman who is a former Essendine parish councillor and served in the Army for 22 years; he now works with RAF service personnel. The Green Party have selected Steve Fay, and the wonderfully-named Beverley Wrigley-Pheasant completes the ballot paper for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Rutland and Melton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough
Postcode district: PE9

Richard Coleman (C)
Steve Fay (Grn)
Beverley Wrigley-Pheasant (LD)

May 2019 result C/Ind unopposed
May 2015 result C 868/703 Ind 739
May 2011 result C 592/524 Ind 509
May 2007 result C/Ind unopposed
Nov 2005 by-election C unopposed
May 2003 result Ind 493/272 C 370

Previews: 05 Sep 2019

Three by-elections on 5th September 2019:


Coventry council, West Midlands; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Gary Crookes. A former Lord Mayor of Coventry, he had served since 1995.

Has it been a difficult week? Are you not feeling sufficiently Zen at the moment? Let me fix that. Have a look at the Koan:

This is going to be a cultural week, with the latest UK City of Culture coming up later in this week's edition of the Previews. However, we start with the next UK City of Culture, Coventry, which will have that status in 2021. No doubt a fair amount of the cultural stuff will end up taking place in the Warwick Arts Centre, the largest arts centre in the UK under one roof outside London. All sorts of people have trod its boards including your columnist and someone called Bill Clinton, who gave a speech in the main auditorium at the end of his presidency in December 2000.

Warwick Arts Centre is at the heart of the main campus of Warwick University, which - as its students continually have to point out - is on the edge of Coventry and nowhere near Warwick. Founded in the 1960s expansion of higher education on a greenfield "bubble" site on the Coventry/Warwickshire border, Warwick has a formidable teaching reputation and regularly makes the top 10 in all sorts of higher education rankings. Two Nobel laureates and a Fields medallist teach or have taught here, while alumni include the President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and the former Brexit secretary and failed Tory leadership candidate David Davis to name but a few. All this attracted your columnist, who studied at Warwick and has honorary life membership of the Students' Union to show for it.

On the first Thursday in May 2002, your columnist took over a room in the Ramphal Building on the main campus. I was the poll clerk for the university polling station in the Coventry City Council election of 2002, at which the campus (or that part of it which is within the city limits) was in Wainbody ward. The turnout was not good: just 8.4% of the electorate, almost all of whom were students living on campus, turned up to cast a vote, a turnout which rather justified the council's decision to have one polling station for an electorate of four or five thousand. Warwick may have had a reputation for student activism in the past, but that's no longer the case when it comes to local election voting.

Instead it's the permanent population on these southern outskirts of Coventry which decide Wainbody's elections. As a look at the housing in Finham and Gibbet Hill will tell you, this is one of the most affluent parts of the city, with high levels of owner-occupation. The 2011 census also picked up a large Sikh population. Drive into Coventry along the Kenilworth Road, with its arrow-straight wide tree-lined avenues, and you might be forgiven for thinking that it's a beautiful city. A lot of the ward is greenbelt, although if some development proposals go through they could nibble away at that.

In 2002 the Tory candidate for Wainbody, John Blundell, turned up at the polling station to see how we were getting on. He seemed a nice sort and was elected easily. Wainbody is the longest-standing Conservative ward in Coventry and the only ward in the city which has elected Conservatives at every election since the current lines were drawn in 2004. Blundell, Crookes and Tim Sawdon were the Tory slate in 2004 and had been re-elected at every occasion since. Labour made the ward marginal in the Coalition years but then fell back; in May 2019 Sawdon was re-elected with 48% of the vote, against 26% for Labour and 11% for the Green Party. Warwick's new academic year doesn't start until the end of the month so there will be almost no students here for this by-election, although this isn't likely to affect turnout much if my experience is anything to go by.

Defending this safe seat for the Conservatives is Mattie Heaven, who according to her Twitter is a human rights activist researcher advocating against Islamic misconceptions and misinterpretations. Labour have reselected their regular candidate for the ward, Abdul Jobbar. The Greens failed to get a nomination in, so completing the ballot paper are James Morshead for the Lib Dems and George Beamish for the Brexit Party. And that's the only time you'll hear the B-word mentioned in this piece. Isn't that refreshing?

Parliamentary constituency: Coventry South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Coventry
Postcode districts: CV3, CV4

George Beamish (Brexit)
Mattie Heaven (C)
Abdul Jobbar (Lab)
James Morshead (LD)

May 2019 result C 1666 Lab 919 Grn 381 LD 312 UKIP 207
May 2018 result C 1867 Lab 1271 LD 204 Grn 182 UKIP 109
May 2016 result C 2018 Lab 1232 LD 209 Grn 209 TUSC 67
May 2015 result C 3701 Lab 2367 UKIP 738 Grn 561 LD 446 TUSC 85
May 2014 result C 1823 Lab 1497 UKIP 742 Grn 499 LD 227 TUSC 45
May 2012 result C 1540 Lab 1214 UKIP 449 Grn 210 LD 172 Soc Alt 54
May 2011 result C 2452 Lab 1909 LD 410 Grn 393 UKIP 379 Soc Alt 83
May 2010 result C 3641 Lab 2457 LD 1830 BNP 217 Ind 190 Soc Alt 75
May 2008 result C 2470 Lab 755 LD 468 Grn 353
May 2007 result C 2324 Lab 981 LD 524 Grn 358
May 2006 result C 2612 Lab 1013 LD 751
June 2004 result C 2811/2753/2736 Lab 1382/1240/1032 LD 1356

Penrith South

Eden council, Cumbria; caused by the death of independent councillor Paul Connor, who had served only since May this year.

We want the finest by-elections available to humanity, we want them here and we want them now. Let me oblige. Welcome to Penrith, a town at which the major communication links from England to Scotland collide: the M6 and West Coast Main Line on their descent from Shap Summit towards Carlisle cross the A66 on its descent from Bowes and Scotch Corner. Overlooking the road junction where they meet are the Wetheriggs and Castle Hill parts of the town, a council estate area which is the major part of Penrith South ward.

Penrith only has a population of around 15,000 but it's the largest settlement for miles in any direction and as such is a major local centre. It's the home of the Eden local government district, which at 827 square miles is larger than Greater London but has a population of only around 50,000. Penrith also attracts a lot of tourists; the Lake District and the High Pennines are within easy reach, while those whose major form of exercise is lifting a charged glass (and there are many) travel here to see the filming locations for Withnail and I. (But don't travel to Penrith expecting to see the Penrith Tea Rooms; that scene was in fact shot in the old Milton Keynes district of Stony Stratford.) Noted hiker and failed Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart is clearly a good fit as MP for the area.

Eden is one of those councils which tends to have lots of unopposed elections, and it took until 2015 for there to be a contested poll in Penrith South this century. That year the two outgoing ward councillors, Malcolm Temple of the Conservatives and independent Margaret Clark, were re-elected. Temple stood down in May 2019 and his seat was gained by Paul Connor, who topped the poll with 261 votes; Clark was re-elected in second place with 256, and new Conservative candidate Helen Fearon was runner-up on 210. That wasn't the only Eden seat the Conservatives lost in May; as a result they lost their majority on the council which is now run by a rainbow coalition of the Lib Dems, independents, Labour and the Greens.

Following Paul Connor's untimely death the voters of Penrith South are going back to the polls in short order. Defending for the independents is Lee Quinn, a magazine publisher, local radio host and Penrith town councillor. Quinn fought the local seat of Penrith West in the 2017 Cumbria county council election, finishing third as the Tories' Helen Fearon was re-elected for a third term; Fearon has been reselected by the Conservatives for this by-election. Also standing are Dave Knaggs for Labour and Kerryanne Wilde for the localist slate Putting Cumbria First.

Parliamentary constituency: Penrith and the Border
Cumbria county council division: Penrith West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Penrith
Postcode districts: CA10, CA11

Helen Fearon (C)
Dave Knaggs (Lab)
Lee Quinn (Ind)
Kerryanne Wilde (Putting Cumbria First)

May 2019 result Ind 261/256 C 210 Lab 94
May 2015 result C 615 Ind 576 LD 302
May 2011 result Ind/C unopposed
May 2007 result Ind/C unopposed
May 2003 result 2 Ind unopposed

St Andrew's and Docklands

Kingston upon Hull council, East Yorkshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Nadine Fudge. A member of Hull city council since it became a unitary council in 1995, Fudge was the Lord Mayor of Hull in 2013 and a tireless advocate for her community and for the Missing People charity.

We finish for the week in the UK's most recent City of Culture. Yorkshire has always been known for its wool, and in the thirteenth century the monks of Meaux Abbey, a Cistercian foundation near Beverley, wanted to raise funds by exporting the Abbey's wool to the continental markets across the North Sea. The abbey owned some low-lying land at the confluence of the Rivers Hull and Humber, and founded a port on that land at a place called Wyke within the parish of Myton. In 1293 the Abbey sold their new town of Wyke to King Edward I, who granted a charter to it renaming the town as Kingston upon Hull.

Hull thrived, and for centuries it was the most important port on the east coast of England. Everyone wanted a piece of the action: the Hansa, the Low Countries, France, Spain, Portugal, in time the New World, Australia and New Zealand sent their products through Hull Docks. All the trades came through here: whaling, deep sea trawling, people (many emigrants to North America passed through Hull). The profits from this made Hull a city, with a fine centre of imposing buildings and one of the UK's largest railway stations, aptly named Paragon. Hull has left its mark in literature as well: Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, whose story was published 300 years ago this year, set off from Hull to commence his various adventures.

The port is still important today. Every morning, two ferries dock in Hull from Rotterdam and Zeebrugge and disgorge hundreds of lorries straight into the morning rush hour, with all of the lorries trying to get through the city centre and out the other side onto the Hessle Road. However, the loss of the Cod War with Iceland, Hull's relative isolation (it's a long way from anywhere of a similar size) and the usual problems affecting city centres have taken their toll on the economy. In the 2011 census the city-centre Myton ward came in at number 12 of all the wards in England and Wales for unemployment, while St Andrew's ward (along the Hessle and Anlaby Roads to the west of the city centre) was number 5 with over 13% unemployed. St Andrew's ward also made the top 20 for "routine" employment, the most working-class of the ONS' seven employment categories; and was in the top 40 for those born in the new EU states.

There were boundary changes in Hull for the 2018 election that abolished Myton ward, whose southern half was added to St Andrew's ward to form a new ward called St Andrew's and Docklands. Both of the predecessor wards had been safely Labour but could turn in respectable scores for UKIP; however, UKIP didn't stand in the first election on these lines and the Labour slate won all three seats very easily. In May this year Labour held St Andrew's and Docklands with 53% of the vote, a close race for the runner-up spot being won by the far-right For Britain Movement (14%) with the Lib Dems (13%) close behind. Labour have a relatively small majority on Hull city council where they are under pressure from the Lib Dems; the 2019 election resulted in no net change to the party strengths, so there are 30 Labour seats plus this vacancy against 24 Lib Dems and two Conservatives.

Defending for Labour is Nadine Fudge's daughter Leanne Fudge, a former Hull councillor for Derringham ward (2015-18). She now has a tilt at a safe seat. The For Britain Movement have not returned for this by-election. The Lib Dems have reselected Tracey Henry who stood here in May. Completing the ballot paper is Dan Bond for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Hull West and Hessle
ONS Travel to Work Area: Hull
Postcode districts: HU1, HU2, HU3, HU9

Dan Bond (C)
Leanne Fudge (Lab)
Tracey Henry (LD)

May 2019 result Lab 985 For Britain Movement 267 LD 241 Grn 208 C 143
May 2018 result Lab 1357/1297/1252 C 300/273/222 LD 271/270/200 Ind 136

Previews: 29 Aug 2019

There are three by-elections on 29th August 2019. Later we shall come to two by-elections in Scotland, one of which is for the Scottish Parliament; but we are living in extraordinary times. After a traumatic few days, this column will now get off the fence and proceed to say what your columnist really thinks.

Radcliffe West

Bury council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of the Leader of the Council, Labour councillor Rishi Shori, who is taking up a new job in Birmingham. He had served since winning a by-election in June 2009.

This column has a routine in drafting these Previews. The first draft is done over the weekend, it's left to brew until Tuesday night, and then (if I still like it) it goes off to Britain Elects on Wednesday. Sometimes, things happen in the interim. The original draft for this week had the big Scottish Parliament by-election in the Shetland Islands up first; but in this column's opinion the lead story has changed this week.

Let me take you to Ulundi Street in Radcliffe, a Coronation Street of terraces in a cluster of Coronation Streets a few hundred yards west of the old town hall building. In 1948 a 23-year-old man moved to Ulundi Street from Jamaica, with a job offer to play cricket for the local club and a place at university if that didn't work out.

Radcliffe Cricket Club had pulled off quite the coup in landing this young man's services. Frank Mortimer Maglinne Worrell had just made his Test debut for the West Indies, and became a star of international cricket as one of the "Three W's" on the Windies team which toured England in 1950 and won the series 3-1. Worrell played in 51 Tests, becoming the first black player to captain the West Indies, and his Test averages (49.48 in batting and 38.72 in bowling) speak for themselves. He ended up with a knighthood and an appointment to the Jamaican Senate, but didn't live long to savour those honours: Worrell developed leukaemia, and died in 1967 at the appallingly early age of 42. A few hundred yards away from the house on Ulundi Street which he'd left eleven years earlier, Radcliffe borough council flew the town hall flag at half-mast in Frank Worrell's memory. There is now a plaque on Worrell's old house, although it's almost obscured by a buddleia bush which has taken over the front yard.

These days a young cricketer of Frank Worrell's talent would have the chance to make his fortune playing in the Indian Premier League or other such competitions. But in 1948 limited-overs cricket was unheard of and opportunities to make a living in the sport were limited. Not so much, though in Lancashire where the clubs of the Lancashire League and the Central Lancashire League (like Radcliffe CC) would pay decent money for a professional - often from overseas - to bolster their team. As late as July 1992 a 21-year-old professional from Queensland called Matthew Hayden was plying his trade for Greenmount Cricket Club just a few miles away from Radcliffe. In one memorable match that season he scored 140 not out to defeat Astley Bridge Cricket Club from Bolton in a cup semi-final, sharing in an unbeaten stand of 236 for the third wicket. (This column's former patron Ian Warren, with typical Bolton partisanship, still maintains that Hayden was plumb LBW on nought.)

Hayden's partner in that double-century stand was a 17-year-old apprentice sportsman who went on to benefit from the tide of money which pours into certain corners of a different sport. He had already been the captain of a side which won the FA Youth Cup, and two months after scoring an unbeaten century of his own against Astley Bridge Gary Neville made his senior debut for Manchester United, the first of 400 appearances in a sparkling career for the club. Since retiring from the game Neville has put the substantial amount of money he made from it into a higher education body (University Academy 92), various property developments and a stake in Salford City FC. Five years and four promotions later, Salford City are playing league football.

Gary's parents Neville and Jean Neville were for many years directors of Bury FC, who aren't playing league football in a turn of events which reflects badly on everyone involved. For want of the sort of money which Man United or City would spend on a few weeks' wages for one of their stars, for want of the sort of money which would probably buy you Ulundi Street in Radcliffe, Bury are now out of the game thanks to an abject failure of the Football League's "fit and proper persons" test, which allowed a man with a string of failed businesses who had never previously been to Bury to take the club and its debts over for a pound. Steve Dale, if there is any justice, will find himself unable to pay his creditors and spend the rest of his life throwing himself upon the mercy of the Department for Work and Pensions. The League, who engineered this week's appalling turn of events, need to recognise their failure and responsibility; if there is any justice, heads will roll in short order. Neville Neville, whom Bury honoured after his death by naming the main stand at Gigg Lane after him, will presumably be spinning in his grave. And for the fans - of whom I counted myself as one - and the town of Bury? Well, sympathy from other people will only get you so far; but the hit to the town's pride, to its reputation, to its self-confidence, to its economy from this no-deal crash-out will take some time to become fully apparent.

And this in a town - Bury - which was doing well for itself by Greater Manchester standards. Quite the contrast with nearby Radcliffe. This is a classic Lancashire industrial town that, with the death of the coal, textile and papermaking industries, is now looking for a future and mostly failing to find it. With a population of just under 30,000 Radcliffe is larger than Shetland (which we shall come to later), but the West ward is only a third of it. It comes in three parts.

The southern part of the ward rises steeply from the road bridge over the Irwell along Stand Lane and Outwood Road. The East Lancs Paper Mill was the main landmark here until it was demolished, and the site redeveloped, a few years ago. Radcliffe West comes in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for Judaism, with a Jewish population of around 4.5% which is concentrated in this part of the ward. Also here is the village of Outwood - where my mother grew up - which was once home to a major colliery.

The northern part of the ward, above the derelict Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal, rises slightly less steeply along the Bolton Road. This is part of the Coronation Road Estate and is generally the newest part of the ward as far as housing is concerned. Between the canal and the river the ward skirts Radcliffe town centre but does include its main supermarket, a manufacturing area along the riverside, and a district of Coronation Street-style terraces off School Street which date from the Victorian era. Which brings us back where we started - to Frank Worrell's old house on Ulundi Street.

That's the Radcliffe West ward, which Labour have never lost since it was drawn up for the 2004 elections. There have however been some calls, particularly so in a June 2009 by-election at which Rishi Shori was first elected; he had a majority over the Conservatives that year of just nine votes. Coincidentally that by-election was also triggered by a former council leader leaving to take up a new job; in this case the outgoing councillor was Wayne Campbell who was going to work for the local housing association. In 2016 Rishi Shori followed in Campbell's footsteps by becoming the youngest ever leader of Bury council, and the first person from an ethnic minority to lead any Greater Manchester borough; the voters of Radcliffe West endorsed that by giving him a large majority at his final re-election in 2018.

However, the anti-politics vibe which was such a feature of the May 2019 local elections was at work here as well. Radcliffe has a lot of similarities with Farnworth to the west, in that it's seen by locals as a forgotten town: a poor relation to the big place up the road. This is a town with 30,000 residents and no secondary school; local teenagers have to commute to Bury, Whitefield or Little Lever to continue their education. Radcliffe's civic suite, a sleek and versatile brick building which was opened in 1974 by Harold Wilson, was demolished in 2016 and replaced by housing. The town's swimming baths were demolished in the same year following storm damage and replaced by, well, nothing. The town centre is appalling, with its banks falling over themselves to get out of the place and charity shops struggling to make ends meet. Cast your eyes over that town centre, and the idea of a Test cricketer coming from sunnier climes to Radcliffe to make a living now looks unbelievable.

In Farnworth, as this column has previously related, a localist party called Farnworth and Kearsley First sprang up in early 2018 to meet similar residents' concerns, and was a runaway success at the ballot box; Farnworth and Kearsley First now holds all three council seats for Farnworth ward. Their success inspired a copycat "Radcliffe First" independent slate to stand in Radcliffe in the May 2019 local elections. The Radcliffe First slate gained Radcliffe East ward from Labour by 66 votes, and finished 80 votes short in Radcliffe West - an encouraging start, particularly given that they missed the party registration deadline meaning that their candidates were on the ballot paper in May as independents. Shares of the vote were 39% for Labour, 36% for Radcliffe First and 15% for the Conservatives.

So this is a difficult defence for Bury Labour. Their candidate is Jamie Walker, who is not yet 24 but is already a former councillor, having lost his seat to the Conservatives in Radcliffe North ward in May. The Radcliffe First candidate is Mike Smith. Young Conservative and public transport worker Jordan Lewis returns to the notice of this column after contesting last year's Besses ward by-election. Completing the ballot paper are Kingsley Jones for the Lib Dems and Anthony Clough for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Bury South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode district: M26

Anthony Clough (UKIP)
Kingsley Jones (LD)
Jordan Lewis (C)
Mike Smith (Radcliffe First)
Jamie Walker (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 886 Ind 806 C 350 Grn 152 LD 65
May 2018 result Lab 1283 C 531 Grn 242 LD 64
May 2016 result Lab 1303 C 458 UKIP 438 Grn 83 LD 53
May 2015 result Lab 2164 C 1294 UKIP 968 Grn 195 LD 90
May 2014 result Lab 1361 C 619 Grn 303 LD 62
May 2012 result Lab 1523 C 331 UKIP 275 LD 62
May 2011 result Lab 1901 C 719 LD 97
May 2010 result Lab 1970 C 1345 LD 928 BNP 509
June 2009 by-election Lab 879 C 870 BNP 459 LD 429 EDP 228
May 2008 result Lab 1187 C 727 BNP 484 LD 175 UKIP 89
May 2007 result Lab 1299 C 582 BNP 503 LD 196
May 2006 result Lab 1231 C 709 Ind 301
June 2004 result Lab 1652/1601/1562 C 852/842/821 LD 561

Shetland Islands

Scottish Parliament; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott, who is taking up a new job with Scottish Rugby.

Með lögum skal land byggja
- motto of Shetland

Connoisseurs of August by-elections have enjoyed a vintage 2019, with the Brecon and Radnorshire parliamentary by-election poll at the start of this month and this by-election at the end of it. There can be few more interesting and remote places to go for a by-election than the Shetland islands.

These islands have an old history which - as anyone who has attended Up Helly Aa can attest - isn't all that Scottish. There are very few trees here, so the islands' buildings have been made in stone for millennia and prehistoric sites are common. One site, a midden on the south coast of Mainland, has been dated to the fifth millennium BC. Nearby is Jarlshof, at which buildings and objects dating from the 17th century AD back to the middle of the third millennium BC have been excavated. Many of the Jarlshof remains are Norse, dating from when the archipelago was a Viking colony; Harald Fairhair, king of Norway, annexed the islands in AD 875.

Things then got complicated from a governance point of view. According to the sagas, Harald created the title of jarl (earl) of Orkney and Shetland for Rognvald Eysteinsson "the Wise", and he and his successors as jarl ran the place. The Vikings gave the name Hjaltland to the place; this was originally transliterated into the Latin alphabet using the letter yogh, as Ȝetland, when then mutated into a Z when the yogh fell out of use. It's from that Z we get the now-archaic form Zetland for the islands and their postcode, ZE.

The jarls of Orkney and Shetland also had extensive holdings on the Scottish mainland, for which they were accountable to the king of Scotland rather than the Norwegian royals, and by the twelfth century the jarls also held the Scottish title of Earl of Caithness. This was bound to result in trouble sooner or later. King Sverre Sigurdsson of Norway brought Orkney and Shetland under direct rule following a rebellion in 1194 by the Øyskjeggs (or "Island Beardies"). The last Norse jarl, Jon Haraldsson, was killed in 1231 - sources differ as to whether he foundered in a shiprewck or was murdered in Thurso - and after that the Earls of Caithness were Scottish noblemen and acted accordingly. This and other issues eventually provoked the Scottish-Norwegian War, whose highlight was a 1263 expedition to Scotland by King Haakon IV of Norway in support of his claims to Shetland, Orkney, the Hebrides and the Isle of Man. The expedition got nowhere, and after Haakon IV's death in Kirkwall in December 1263 the war eventually petered out with a peace treaty under whose terms the Hebrides and Man were ceded to Scotland.

Orkney and Shetland stayed in Norse hands until 1469, when Margaret of Denmark married King James III of Scotland. Margaret's father Christian I, king of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, ended up giving the islands to Scotland in lieu of her dowry. From 1472 Orkney and Shetland were represented by one MP in the Scottish Parliament - and later the Westminster Parliament - as a constituency whose boundaries have been unchanged ever since.

By this point Shetland had developed into a major trading post. The Hanseatic League had a presence here, allowing export of the islands' fish, wool and dairy products to the continent. A new town, Lerwick, was founded as a seaport to trade with the Dutch fishing fleet. However, the Union of England and Scotland in 1707 meant increased tariffs on those goods, which forced the Hansa traders elsewhere and resulted in an economic depression in Shetland. The 1840s potato famine hit Shetland hard, and resulted in a relief plan which did increase the population to nearly 32,000 at the 1861 census. Significant emigration since then means that the islands have never had such a high population since.

The late nineteenth century brought a change in the economy, with the passing of crofting legislation by the Gladstone government to improve the island's agriculture together with investment in the local fishing industry by the Dutch. That maritime focus meant that Shetland lost over 500 men in the First World War, many of them on the Atlantic convoys. In the Second World War SOE set up a Norwegian naval unit in Scalloway: the resulting "Shetland Bus" made around 200 trips to Norway transporting agents, or for special forces operations. Leif "Shetlands" Larsen, a Norwegian refugee who did 52 of those tours, was the most highly-decorated Allied naval officer of the war.

Today fishing, wool, tourism and agriculture are still major economic sectors in Shetland. The islands are home to Britain's most northerly veg box scheme. However, the impact of those industries is dwarfed by that of fossil fuels. The sea between Shetland and Norway is Europe's largest oil field, and Shetland is at the centre of it. Zetland County Council obtained an Act of Parliament in 1974 allowing it to force the various oil companies to build a single terminal to land all this oil; the result was Sullom Voe, which was opened by the Queen in 1981 as the largest oil terminal in Europe. Sullom Voe is still going strong today, and the taxes on its revenues have made the Shetland Islands Council (which took over from Zetland County Council in 1975) very wealthy by local government standards.

A lot of that wealth goes on communication between the islands. The vast majority of Shetland's population live on the largest island, aptly called Mainland, which is the fifth-largest of the British Isles by area (only Skye, Lewis with Harris, Ireland and Great Britain are larger). There are however fifteen other inhabited islands in the archipelago, from the isolated Fair Isle and Foula to Bressay over the water from Lerwick, Yell, Fetlar and Unst. Out Stack, an uninhabited rock off the north coast of Unst, lies at a latitude of nearly 61 degrees north and is the northernmost of the British Isles. Shetland council sponsors a series of ferries between the islands and air links from Tingwall airport near Lerwick; external flights land and take off from Sumburgh airport at the south end of Mainland, while for those who prefer the slower journey there are overnight ferries to Aberdeen. There also used to be a ferry link to Bergen in Norway, but this ceased some time ago.

Yell, Fetlar, Unst and associated islands form the North Isles ward of Shetland council, which returns three of the council's 22 members. That ward may be broken up for the next Shetland local elections in 2022 following the passage of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, which allowed electoral wards of fewer than three members where islands are concerned. The Islands (Scotland) Act also provided that official maps which show Shetland and the Scottish mainland now have to show them in the right place, as a reaction to the common practice among mapmakers of putting Shetland in an inset. So don't do this in future:

The December 2018 electoral register listed 17,670 people eligible to vote in local government and (by extension) Scottish Parliament elections in Shetland. That will be boosted for this by-election thanks to a Yorkshireman called John Hirst, who in 1979 was sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment after pleading guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Hirst eventually served 25 years in prison thanks to violent behaviour and other offences while inside. Also while inside he launched a series of legal actions against the prison authorities and other people, culminating in a 2005 European Court of Human Rights ruling - Hirst v United Kingdom (No 2) - that the UK's blanket ban on prisoners voting was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Scottish Government, being cognisant of its responsibilities under human rights law and towards democracy in a way that the UK government is not, has introduced legislation to Holyrood to add prisoners serving sentences of twelve months or less to the Scottish local government electoral register, which should be enough to satisfy the ECHR that something is being done to remedy their ruling. That legislation won't get through Holyrood in time for this by-election, so an emergency ministerial order has been made to give prisoners from Shetland who meet those criteria the right to register and to cast postal votes in this by-election only. There won't be many people this applies to, but they will be the first prisoners in the UK who will get to vote in a public election. Scotland has already given 16-year-olds the right to vote in Scottish Parliament and local government elections, so the electoral register here is rather wider than would be the case at a Westminster election.

These remote islands have a rather different political culture to the UK mainland. As stated, Orkney and Shetland have together formed a constituency since the fifteenth century, and since the 1832 Reform Act all but three of its MPs have been Liberals or Liberal Democrats. The first exception to that was Thomas Balfour, a Conservative who served for two years from 1835 to 1837. The second was the wonderfully-named Cathcart Wason, a farmer who had previously been elected three times as an independent member of the New Zealand parliament; in 1900 he defeated Liberal MP Leonard Lyell (who had served since 1885) by just 40 votes as a Liberal Unionist candidate.

In 1902 Wason crossed the floor of the Commons to sit with the Liberal opposition (who included among their members his brother Eugene), and resigned in order to seek re-election under his new colours. The local Liberal association - who had already selected London county councillor Thomas Wood as their PPC - refused to endorse him, so Wason stood as an independent Liberal, while the Liberal Unionists tried to hold their seat by selecting sailor and steamship owner Theodore Angier. In the by-election on 18th and 19th November Angier only narrowly saved his deposit, with Wason defeating Wood by 47-39, a majority of 211 votes. Cathcart Wason immediately retook the Liberal whip, and served until 1921.

Wason's successor didn't have as long a tenure. Sir Malcolm Smith, elected unopposed in the 1921 election, was from a Shetland crofting family but at this point was a businessman based in the port of Leith, and had served for nine years as the Provost of Leith. In 1921 he had the Coalition government's coupon, but in the snap general election the following year Smith stood as a National Liberal and lost his seat to the official Liberal candidate, Robert Hamilton, by 625 votes.

Sir Robert Hamilton had made his career in the civil service before entering politics - he had been Chief Justice of the East Africa Protectorate. He was re-elected in 1923 with an increased majority against opposition from a very young Conservative candidate - Bob Boothby, the future broadcaster and gay rights campaigner who at this point was 23 years old and fighting his first election campaign.

Following the Liberal split of 1931, Robert Hamilton joined the Samuel side of the split and entered the National Government as a junior minister in the Colonial Office. He was unopposed in the 1931 Tory landslide, but then left the government and lost his seat in 1935 to the Conservatives' Basil Neven-Spence.

The last Tory MP for Orkney and Shetland, Neven-Spence came from a prominent Shetland family but had made his name as a military physician. Serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps, he was seconded to the Egyptian army after graduating from Edinburgh University in 1911, and served in the Middle East and Darfur during the First Wold War. Retiring from the Army in 1927 with the rank of Major, Neven-Spence had contested Orkney and Shetland in 1929 and was vice-convenor of Zetland county council. He defeated Sir Robert Hamilton in 1935 by the comfortable margin of 2,226.

Neven-Spence was narrowly re-elected in 1945 thanks to a split in the opposition vote. Labour contested the seat for the first time: their candidate, the wonderfully-named Prophet Smith, came third with 30%, a new Liberal candidate finished second with 34%, and Neven-Spence won with 36% and a majority of 329 votes. The new Liberal candidate however returned to contest the 1950 election, and gained the seat easily.

That man was Joseph Grimond, an Old Etonian and barrister who had a long and influential political career. As a big fish in a small pond, Grimond became leader of the Liberal Party in 1956 (succeeding Clement Davies) and led it through the 1959, 1964 and 1966 general elections and back to respectability as a significant political force (in votes if not seats). Jo Grimond was also the party's interim leader in 1976 after the disgrace of his successor, Jeremy Thorpe. He served as MP for the islands for thirty-three years, rarely being significantly challenged.

Grimond retired to the Lords in 1983, and his old seat was contested by high-profile candidates from the Conservatives and the Scottish National Party. The SNP candidate was the indefatigable Winnie Ewing, who had been an MP twice before and was the MEP for the Highlands and Islands; she would later reconvene the Scottish Parliament as the oldest member of the original Class of 1999. She finished third behind Tory candidate David Myles, who had been MP for Banffshire since 1979 but whose seat had been abolished by boundary changes. Myles finished a rather poor second behind the new Liberal candidate, Jim Wallace.

Wallace was an MP in the mould of Grimond and no less influential. An advocate who had studied law at Cambridge and Edinburgh, Wallace had fought his native Dumfriesshire in the 1979 general election and the South of Scotland in the 1979 European Parliament election. In 1992 Wallace succeeded Malcolm Bruce as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, and played a major role in the setting up of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. Wallace was elected to the new Parliament in that year as MSP for Orkney, and entered the first Scottish Government - a coalition of Labour and the Liberal Democrats - as deputy first minister. From this position Wallace stepped up twice as acting First Minister, once after the death of Donald Dewar in 2000, the second time a year later after the resignation of Dewar's successor Henry McLeish. Wallace also had the Justice portfolio from 1999 to 2003, and from 2003 until retiring from the leadership and frontbench in 2005 was the Scottish minister for lifelong learning.

That retirement from the frontline didn't last for long, though. In 2007 Jim Wallace was translated to the House of Lords and started a new career in Westminster politics. He served throughout the Coalition years as Advocate-General for Scotland, and from 2013 to 2016 was also leader of the Lib Dem group in the upper house.

Wallace had given up his seat in the Commons in 2001 to concentrate on his duties in Holyrood, and passed it on without trouble to yet another solicitor: Alistair Carmichael who has been MP for Orkney and Shetland ever since. During that time Carmichael was seriously challenged only once, when he held off the SNP surge of 2015 to win by 41-38, a majority of 817 votes. The SNP took that result to the Election Court over misleading statements which Carmichael - who had been Scottish secretary during the campaign - made about himself, but lost there as well. Carmichael made the seat safe again in June 2017.

Orkney and Shetland are one constituency at Westminster, but two at Holyrood. The Shetland constituency has only had one MSP since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999. Tavish Scott had been a parliamentary assistant to Jim Wallace before becoming a farmer and Shetland councillor. He had junior roles in the Labour-Lib Dem coalition which ran Holyrood from 1999 to 2007, piloting the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004 which changed the electoral system for Scottish local government to proportional representation; and from 2005 to 2007 he was Scottish minister for transport. In 2008 Scott became leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, but resigned after a poor showing in the 2011 Holyrood elections. His final re-election in 2016 was by the large margin of 67-23 over the SNP candidate Danus Skene, Chief of the Clan Skene, who had had the near-miss against Carmichael a year previously. Skene died shortly afterwards, making this the last event in his long and wandering political career - he had been a Labour candidate in both 1974 general elections and had also sought election for the Liberals and Lib Dems in the past.

This Liberal and Lib Dem dominance in Shetland is not seen at elections to the Shetland Islands Council, which are non-partisan affairs. In the May 2017 local elections 32 candidates stood for the 22 seats; 29 of them were independents, there were two Conservative candidates who polled 2.6% in Lerwick North and 4.0% in Shetland North, and the SNP nominated one candidate, Robbie McGregor, who was elected unopposed as one of three councillors for Shetland South. The last time the independents lost a Shetland council seat in a contested election was way back in 2003, when the Lib Dems won the former South Central ward.

Tavish Scott has resigned to take up a new job with Scottish Rugby, provoking a by-election with a long candidate list. At the bottom of that list alphabetically, defending for the Liberal Democrats, is Beatrice Wishart; she is a councillor for Lerwick South ward and depute convenor of the council.

The Scottish National Party, who by all accounts are throwing the kitchen sink at this by-election campaign, have selected Tom Willis who works in the renewable energy sector.

Labour, who finished third here in 2016, have selected Johan Adamson; she is an accountant and works for the local newspaper Shetland Times. Adamson is top of the ballot paper immediately above the Conservative candidate Brydon Goodlad, who works in the building trade.

Two new parties have entered the fray. Stuart Martin, who works in the transport sector, is the UKIP candidate. The Scottish Green Party, who may well struggle in an archipelago with a hard economic dependence on the oil industry, are also fighting the seat for the first time with their candidate Debra Nicolson. And this being Shetland you cannot count out the independent candidates, of whom there are four: Ian Scott (councillor for Shetland Central ward), Michael Stout (former councillor for Lerwick North ward), Peter Tait (standing on a single issue of bringing the monarchy back to Scotland) and Ryan Thomson (councillor for North Isles ward).

Parliamentary constituency: Orkney and Shetland
ONS Travel to Work Area: Shetland
Postcode districts: ZE1, ZE2, ZE3

Johan Adamson (Lab)
Brydon Goodlad (C)
Stuart Martin (UKIP)
Debra Nicolson (Grn)
Ian Scott (Ind)
Michael Stout (Ind)
Peter Tait (Ind)
Ryan Thomson (Ind)
Tom Willis (SNP)
Beatrice Wishart (LD)

May 2016 result LD 7440 SNP 2545 Lab 651 C 405
May 2011 result LD 4462 Ind 2845 SNP 1134 Lab 620 C 330
May 2007 result LD 6531 SNP 1622 C 972 Lab 670
May 2003 result LD 3989 SPN 1729 C 1281 Lab 880 SSP 766
May 1999 result LD 5455 Lab 2241 SNP 1430 C 872

East Kilbride Central North

South Lanarkshire council, Scotland; caused by the death of Sheena Wardhaugh, who had been elected for the SNP but was sitting as an independent councillor. She had served since 2007.

The Shetland by-election to the Scottish Parliament isn't the only Scottish business this week. We also have a by-election in the Glasgow area to finish with. A few miles to the south of Glasgow, East Kilbride was Scotland's first New Town, designated in 1947 as overspill for the city; named after a pre-existing village, it's built around Scotland's largest indoor shopping mall at its centre with roads radiating from it. Central North, one of the town's five wards, includes that shopping centre together with the original village and East Kilbride railway station, which was built to serve the village and in consequence is now rather poorly sited.

Central North ward was created in 2007 when, as stated in the previous piece, proportional representation came in for Scottish local elections. In the 2007 and 2012 local elections it elected two councillors each from Labour and the SNP by comfortable margins. Boundary changes for the 2017 elections took a bite out of the ward's eastern boundary and reduced it from four councillors to three; the SNP topped the poll on the new lines with 42% and won two seats, Labour polled 32% and won one seat, and the Conservatives polled 19% and were rather unlucky to miss out. Good SNP balancing meant that Wardhaugh was the last candidate to be elected, starting 80 votes ahead of the Conservative candidate and finishing 100 votes ahead. As usual, the Ballot Box Scotland blog have crunched the transfers, finding a two-party preferred figure of 54-46 for the SNP over Labour.

Wardhaugh resigned from the SNP within a month of her re-election. She leaves an open seat which, if the SNP can get it back, will shore up the minority nationalist administration in South Lanarkshire. Going into this by-election the SNP have 24 seats, Labour are on 17, the Conservatives have 13, there are six independents, three Liberal Democrats and this vacancy.

This is a Scottish local by-election, so the Alternative Vote and Votes at 16 will apply here. Defending for the SNP is Grant Ferguson, who is profoundly deaf and a British Sign Language user; he works for an IT and business consulting firm. Labour, who are not out of this if they can stay ahead of the Conservatives and pick up Unionist transfers, have selected former social worker and trade unionist Kirsty Williams. The Tory candidate is Graham Fisher. Also standing are Antony Lee for the Scottish Green Party, Paul McGarry for the Lib Dems, David Mackay for UKIP and Stephen McNamara for the Libertarian Party.

Parliamentary constituency: East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow
ONS Travel to Work Area: Glasgow
Postcode districts: G74, G75

Grant Ferguson (SNP)
Graham Fisher (C)
Antony Lee (Grn)
David Mackay (UKIP)
Paul McGarry (LD)
Stephen McNamara (Libertarian)
Kirsty Williams (Lab)

May 2017 first preferences SNP 2617 Lab 1958 C 1163 Grn 239 LD 153 Hope Over Fear 69

My apologies for the lack of graphics this week, which is due to issues with my computer. Normal service should hopefully be resumed soon.

If you liked this piece and would like to read more or support future Previews, the Andrew's Previews books are available from Amazon. Get the 2018 collection here.

Andrew Teale

Preview: 22 Aug 2019

One by-election on 22nd August 2019:

Rokeby and Overslade

Rugby council, Warwickshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Nick Long who had only served since May 2019.

A game for ruffians played by gentlemen, so the saying goes. Not politics, but rugby. The World Cup in rugby union is due to start next month in Japan, and the winning team will pick up a handsome gold trophy bearing the name of one William Webb Ellis. Webb Ellis, so it is said, invented that game while a pupil at Rugby School, by picking the ball up during a game of football and running with it. This story may or may not be true, but the town certainly milks its association with the sport for all it's worth: Rugby council's (rather ugly) logo is a stylised rugby ball, and there is a large sculpture of a rugby ball greeting visitors at the exit from Rugby station.

It was the station, not the school, which was responsible for the town's growth. This was once a sleepy rural market town whose name was attested in 1200 as Rokebi. Half a century before that Henry de Rokeby, the lord of the manor, had persuaded Henry II to give the town a market charter. The name Rokeby is preserved today in a local primary school, which gives its name to part of this ward. In this context, Rokeby has nothing to do with the Walter Scott poem of that name or the title of the Velazquez painting Rokeby Venus: both of those names refer to a stately home in what's now County Durham.

The railways came here in 1838 with the opening of the London and Birmingham Railway, and this small rural market town quickly developed into Britain's most important railway junction. That led to all sorts of infrastructure problems: the town's sanitation and water supply initially couldn't keep up with the population growth, and in 1849 Rugby became the first English town to set up a Local Board of Health in an attempt to sort these issues out.

Rugby's population growth continued in the early 20th century as it became a centre for heavy engineering. Many of those new arrivals settled in the south of the town in the Overslade area, to the south of Rugby School off the Dunchurch Road, which started developing at around this time. At the time of the 2011 census this area was covered by the Overslade ward of Rugby council, and one corner of it turned up with a significant Polish-born population.

Overslade ward was safely Conservative although Labour came close to winning a couple of times; however, 2011 was the last year it held an election. In 2012 the Boundary Commission merged Overslade ward with housing on the east side of Dunchurch Road, which had previously formed the major part of Caldecott ward. Caldecott had been a Liberal Democrat area, and this clash of political traditions made the 2012 election for the merged "Rokeby and Overslade" ward rather unpredictable. In the event Labour came through the middle to top the poll in 2012, winning one out of three seats with the Conservatives winning the other two seats and the Lib Dems close behind.

Rokeby and Overslade, however, then developed very quickly into a safe Liberal Democrat ward. The Lib Dems gained the Conservative seats in 2014 and 2015 and completed the set by gaining the Labour seat in 2016. In May this year Nick Long was elected with 63% of the vote, to 18% for Labour who finished two votes ahead of the Conservatives.

The Lib Dems, however, are nowhere here at Warwickshire county council level, where this ward is split between two divisions. New Bilton and Overslade county division, which covers the northern part of this ward, takes its cue from the strongly-Labour New Bilton area and is Labour-held. The south of the ward, on the other hand, is in the Bilton and Hillside county division which is strongly Conservative.

So this may be a more difficult Lib Dem defence than it looks at first sight, particularly given that the by-election is caused by a councillor resigning just a matter of weeks after he was elected. Their defending candidate is Glenda Allanach, a retired mental health practitioner and former Rugby councillor (Paddox ward, 2000-05). Labour have reselected Beck Hemsley who fought the ward in May; Hemsley, who identifies as non-binary, was also a candidate for Rugby council in 2018 (in a different ward) and drew an apology from Rugby Conservatives over a tweet during that campaign which was seen as transphobic. Also standing are Deborah Keeling for the Conservatives, Richard Hartland who is only the third local government candidate for the Brexit Party, and Becca Stevenson for the Greens.

Parliamentary constituency: Rugby
Warwickshire county council division: Bilton and Hillside (part), New Bilton and Overslade (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Coventry
Postcode district: CV22

Glenda Allanach (LD)
Richard Hartland (Brexit Party)
Beck Hemsley (Lab)
Deborah Keeling (C)
Becca Stevenson (Grn)

May 2019 result LD 1276 Lab 373 C 371
May 2018 result LD 1265 C 552 Lab 512 Grn 80
May 2016 result LD 1196 C 527 Lab 471 Grn 88 TUSC 48
May 2015 result LD 1462 C 1323 Lab 935 Grn 247
May 2014 result LD 1151 C 697 Lab 540 Grn 138 TUSC 71
May 2012 result Lab 615/564/496 C 613/612/557 LD 504/491/372 Grn 205 TUSC 125

Preview: 15 Aug 2019

Angust is a slow time of year for local by-elections and there is just one poll on 15th August 2019, in Shrewsbury. Before we get to that, I'd like to apologise to everyone concerned for what proved to be a very badly-researched article on Irthlingborough in last week's Previews. Particular apologies are due to the winning Conservative candidate, Lee Wilkes, whose name I got wrong. I take full responsibility for the errors I made.

In an attempt to set the record straight, I will start this week by reissuing last week's Irthlingborough article with (hopefully) all the mistakes expunged. If you enjoyed it last time, hopefully the repeat will be equally worthwhile.

Irthlingborough Waterloo (8th August 2019)

East Northamptonshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Marika Hillson who had served since 2011.

For [last] week's other Tory defence we come to the disaster area of modern local government: Northamptonshire. This column has rehearsed the gross mismanagement and insolvency of Northamptonshire county council several times in recent months, and the effect of that insolvency is that local government reorganisation is in the works. Northamptonshire's 2019 local elections didn't take place as scheduled: they were postponed until 2020, with the intention that by then the county council and its seven districts would be swept away in favour of a new map with two unitary councils: West Northamptonshire (to include the town of Northampton) and North Northamptonshire (based on Kettering, Corby and the rural east of the county).

However, there has been another twist to report. In May it was announced that the reorganisation had been postponed, and the plan is that it will now be 2021 before the new councils take up their roles. Your columnist missed that announcement at the time, and only started asking questions when the legislation to bring the new councils into existence failed to appear before the summer recess. I am grateful to Wellingborough councillor Adam Henley for bringing me up to speed with the latest scheme for the Northamptonshire reorganisation: Councillor Henley, who is now in the fifth year of his increasingly inaccurately-described four-year term, informs me that the plan now is that there will be shadow elections to the new North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire unitary councils in May 2020, while Henley and his fellow Northamptonshire district councillors will have their terms further extended to 2021. So now you know. More news as we get it.

If and when this process eventually reaches a conclusion, Irthlingborough would end up in the North Northamptonshire district despite being close to the southern edge of the county. This is a small town on the River Nene, whose fortunes were made on boots and shoemaking - including an association with a famous name. The story goes back to early 1945 and a German army doctor called Klaus Märtens, who decided to spend a period of leave by going to the Bavarian Alps for some skiing. He injured his ankle, and found that his army boots weren't helping his injury; so he drew up some changes to his boots, including air-cushioned soles. The Second World War ended a few months later with chaos in Germany, and Märtens ended up with some leather from a cobbler's shop and rubber from now-disused airfields to put his new boot design into production. It was a success, particularly so with the older German housewife.

In 1959 R Griggs, a Northamptonshire cobblers' firm, bought the rights to Dr Märtens' design, added yellow stitching and dropped the umlaut, and the Dr Martens boot was born. Launched in 1960, the DM boot quickly became an icon of British design. It made a lot of money for Griggs, which had several factories in this corner of Northamptonshire including one in Irthlingborough. The company owner Max Griggs put a lot of that money into the local football team Rushden and Diamonds, which entered the Football League in August 2001 and played there for five seasons from its base at Nene Park in Irthlingborough.

But as a wise woman once said "these boots are made for walking and that's just what they'll do". The money dried up; following financial problems, Griggs closed its Irthlingborough factory in 2003 and outsourced production of Dr Martens to the Far East. Rushden and Diamonds FC folded in 2011, and Nene Park (after being used by Kettering Town for a time) was demolished in 2017.

That, however, wasn't the end of industry in Irthlingborough. The food company Whitworths still has a large factory here, employing over 300 people, and there is other manufacturing in the town. And that creates a town with a high Labour vote within the very strongly Conservative district of East Northamptonshire. Nearly all of the district is within the Corby parliamentary constituency, providing the counterbalance to the strongly Labour town which gives the constituency its name and producing a marginal seat in the Commons.

Irthlingborough has two electoral wards. The southern is called John Pyel, commemorating a fourteenth-century Lord Mayor of London who was born here and improved the local parish church. The northern ward, Waterloo, reflects an ancient film of the Battle of Waterloo story which was shot in Irthlingborough in 1913; so many locals were extras in that film that two of the town's shoe factories had to close until the filming was over. Waterloo ward includes the Nene Park site, a little countryside to the north and some of the lakes in the Nene Valley, which has been extensively quarried for gravel.

In the 2011 elections to East Northamptonshire council these were the only wards which returned Labour councillors, with Labour and the Conservatives winning a seat each in both wards. The Tories then gained the Labour seat in Irthlingborough Waterloo ward in 2015, at which election the shares of the vote were 55% for the Conservative slate and 35% for Labour.

The cancellation of Northamptonshire's 2019 elections means that there have been no polls for Waterloo ward since the days of Coalition, so we have to look up to county council level for anything more recent. In May 2017 the Conservatives easily held the Irthlingborough county council division with 50% of the vote, Labour falling to 23% and Marika Hillson - whose resignation caused this by-election - standing as an independent and polling 22%.

With this by-election being in a marginal parliamentary seat the result will be closely watched. It's a straight fight. Defending in the blue corner is Lee Wilkes, who gives an address in the town of Raunds to the north-east: he is deputy mayor of that town. Challenging from the red corner is Irthlingborough town councillor Caroline Cross, who was runner-up here in the 2015 district election and 2017 county election. The recent Lib Dem winning streak in by-elections ends here, as there is no Liberal Democrat candidate.

And, since this was last week, I can give you the result:

New Conservative councillor Lee Wilkes goes down in history as the first Conservative election-winner of the Johnson era.

Parliamentary constituency: Corby
Northamptonshire county council division: Irthlingborough
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kettering and Wellingborough
Postcode district: NN9

Caroline Cross (Lab)
Lee Wilkes (C)

May 2015 result C 1054/1043 Lab 671/662 BNP 179
May 2011 result Lab 594/465 C 542/531 Lab 465
May 2007 result C 637/529 Lab 432/371

Meole (15th August 2019)

Shropshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Nic Laurens. He had served since winning a by-election in December 2015.

Having completed our trip in the time machine to last Thursday, this column now goes back to the future for today's single local by-election. Our focus is on Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire and largest town of the beautiful Welsh Marches. The Meole ward is the first part of Shrewsbury which travellers entering the town from the south along the road from Hereford see; it's based on Meole Brace, an old village which has been absorbed by the town's urban sprawl. The main local feature is Meole Brace School, the largest secondary school in Shrewsbury; its former pupils include the Burnley and England goalkeeper Joe Hart, who was head boy in his final year at the school and started his football career with the local side Shrewsbury Town. Meole division turned up in the top 15 wards in England and Wales for part-time working in the 2011 census, although there's no obvious reason why this should be.

This is a safely Conservative area. Nic Laurens was re-elected in 2017 for a full term with a 55-27 margin of Labour; he had first been elected in a December 2015 by-election with 43% of the vote, against 27% for Labour and 20% for the Liberal Democrats. Laurens was part of the large Conservative majority on Shropshire council.

So the Tories should be confident of holding this by-election. Their defending candidate is Gwendoline Burgess, who runs a café in Shrewsbury town centre. Labour have selected Darrell Morris, an USDAW rep. Completing the ballot paper are Lib Dem Adam Fejfer (who also stood here in 2017) and Emma Bullard for the Greens.

Parliamentary constituency: Shrewsbury and Atcham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Shrewsbury
Postcode districts: SY3, SY5

Emma Bullard (Grn)
Gwendoline Burgess (C)
Adam Fejfer (LD)
Darrell Morris (Lab)

May 2017 result C 710 Lab 352 LD 155 Grn 64
December 2015 by-election C 490 Lab 303 LD 223 UKIP 64 Grn 56
May 2013 result C 689 Lab 473 LD 92
June 2009 result C 1035 LD 416