Previews: 08 Aug 2019

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

Before we start this week, there is a notice to read out from the City of London. Sir Charles Bowman (Lord Mayor in 2017-18) had resigned as Alderman for Lime Street ward, and Sir Andrew Parmley (Bowman's predecessor as Lord Mayor) had resigned as Alderman for Vintry ward, both in order to seek fresh mandates from their electors after six years in office as is traditional in the City. Polls had been scheduled for Tuesday 6th August; but when nominations closed nobody had opposed Sir Charles and Sir Andrew for re-election, and they were formally returned to the Court of Aldermen at their respective Wardmotes on Monday this week. This column sends its congratulations.

That leaves three by-elections this week, on 8th August 2019. Despite that low number there is something for everyone in this set, with one Liberal Democrat defence, Labour interest in a couple of wards and two Conservative defences in marginal parliamentary seats, as the governing party attempts to win its first by-elections of the Johnson premiership. Read on...


Claines

Worcester council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Stuart Denlegh-Maxwell. A descendant of the "Salt King" of Droitwich John Corbett, and from a family with a long tradition of public service, Denlegh-Maxwell was originally elected to Worcester city council in 1988 for Claines ward. He stood down in 1994 due to the commitments of work and a young family, but returned to the council for Claines ward in 2018.

We start this week in the Severn Valley with a rare trip to the city of Worcester, which its today having only its third local by-election of the 21st century. The Claines ward is Worcester's northern end, on the east bank of the river along the road towards Kidderminster. The name is an old one: Claines village has a church dating from the 10th century which gave its name to a parish, but much of that parish has been incorporated into Worcester over the years. The ward's main area of population is not Claines village but Cornmeadow Green, a Worcester suburb which was mostly developed in the 1930s. Its most famous resident doesn't have a vote: Pineau de Re, the horse which won the 2014 Grand National, was trained in Claines.

Worcester is a marginal parliamentary seat, but the elections to Worcester city council (which has the same boundaries as the constituency) don't really reflect that excitement. Nearly all of the city's fifteen wards are safe, and as of May 2019 only one ward (Cathedral, which the Conservatives held in May) has split representation. Going into May's elections the Tories had a majority of one seat, which disappeared following a gain for the Green Party in St Stephen ward: that resulted in 17 seats for the Tories, 15 for Labour and 3 for the Greens. Worcester's cabinet is run on an all-party basis, with the Conservatives supplying the leader and Labour the deputy leader.

Claines ward, however, has a different story to tell. Until the advent of Coalition this was the only Lib Dem ward in Worcester, but the entry of the Conservatives into government led to some extremely close results. The Lib Dems held the ward by 17 votes in 2011, which was the last year they won Claines; the Conservatives gained it by 65 votes in 2012. After that the Tories pulled away a bit, but the last two years have seen them pegged back for some more narrow finishes: the Tory majorities in Claines were 62 votes in 2018 when Denlegh-Maxwell returned to the council, and 95 votes in 2019. Shares of the vote in May were 43% for the Conservatives and 39% for the Liberal Democrats. The Tories also hold the Claines division of Worcestershire county council, which spills over into part of the Labour-voting Arboretum ward.

Defending for the Conservatives is Jules Benham, a gardener and mother who gives her location on the ballot paper as an address within the ward and her location on Twitter as "usually close to a kettle". The Lib Dems have reselected Mel Allcott; she is fighting the ward for the sixth time, having stood and lost here every year from 2014 to date. Also standing are two more candidates who return from May's election, Stephen Dent for the Greens and Saiful Islam for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Worcester
Worcestershire county council division: Claines
ONS Travel to Work Area: Worcester and Kidderminster
Postcode district: WR3

Mel Allcott (LD)
Jules Benham (C)
Stephen Dent (Grn)
Saiful Islam (Lab)

May 2019 result C 1252 LD 1157 Grn 245 Lab 145 UKIP 137
May 2018 result C 1155 LD 1093 Lab 417 Grn 147 UKIP 42
May 2016 result C 971 LD 734 Lab 453 UKIP 261 Grn 178
May 2015 result C 2115 LD 1056 Lab 866 UKIP 558 Grn 394
May 2014 result C 1054 LD 794 UKIP 509 Lab 379 Grn 206
May 2012 result C 1182 LD 1117 Grn 374
May 2011 result LD 1313 C 1296 Lab 490 Grn 247
May 2010 result LD 2047 C 1920 Lab 716 Grn 263
May 2008 result LD 1551 C 1005 Grn 195 Lab 171
May 2007 result LD 1739 C 985 Lab 246 Grn 210
May 2006 result LD 1649 C 1067 Lab 253 Grn 209
June 2004 result LD 1709/1581/1399 C 1228/1165/1138 Lab 535


Irthlingborough Waterloo

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

For the 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. We wait to hear whether the 2020 Northamptonshire district elections, which have already been postponed once, will go ahead as planned or whether there will be another extension to their councillors' memberships.

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 a famous name in shoe leather. 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, whose head office was 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". Griggs outsourced production of Dr Martens to the Far East in 2003 following financial problems, and the money dried up. Dr Martens' head office is now elsewhere; 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. Waterloo is the northern ward, taking in the Nene Park site, the village of Knightlands 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 Walker, 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.

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

Caroline Cross (Lab)
Lee Walker (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


Newnham

Cambridge council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Lucy Nethsingha, who is now a Member of the European Parliament for the Eastern region. She had served since 2016, and is also a Cambridgeshire county councillor.

Normally when this column is drafting a preview, there's a certain lack of information on the local area to go on. Getting material for a few paragraphs on another identikit corner of South London or obscure small village in deepest darkest Lincolnshire can be quite the challenge. But for Newnham ward the problem is the opposite one: what to leave out?

Newnham is one of the student-dominated wards of the city of Cambridge. Many of the Cambridge University colleges west of the River Cam are here, together with the fast-growing West Cambridge site of university buildings and three colleges on the east side of the Cam: King's, Queens' and St Katz. The number of MPs past or present who have been educated here at some point in their lives is very high. Page 400 of The British General Election of 2017 by Philip Cowley and Dennis Kavanagh, the latest in the renowned Nuffield series on general elections, reports that 34% of Conservative MPs, 20% of Labour MPs and 17% of Lib Dems elected in June 2017 have passed through Cambridge or that other educational institution in the Thames Valley; and a fair proportion of those will have been studying in a college located in Newnham ward.

At the time of the 2011 census around 59% of Newnham's residents aged 16 to 74 were full-time students, the ninth-highest figure for any ward in England and Wales. Cambridge attracts students from all over the world, and Newnham makes the top 50 wards in England and Wales for those born in the EU-15; Germans are particularly strongly represented, and there is also a large Chinese contingent. On the other hand we are between academic years at the moment. Most of the students won't be here in August, so Newnham ward's permanent population - and this is one of the most affluent wards in Cambridge - will make up most of the voters for this by-election.

Whoever wins will be treading in the footsteps of some rather famous people. This ward has existed since the 1930s, and from 1945 to 1949 one of the councillors for Newnham ward was Alice, Lady Bragg, wife of the physicist and Nobel laureate Sir Lawrence Bragg who at the time was director of the University's Cavendish Laboratory. Lady Bragg was an independent councillor; after she resigned in 1949 Newnham became a Conservative ward which was often uncontested.

That changed in 1971 when Labour broke through, and the Labour slate won all four Newnham seats in 1973 at the first election to the modern Cambridge city council. Two of the people on that 1973 Labour slate are notable enough for Wikipedia. Ruth Cohen was a noted economist who had recently retired after eighteen years as Principal of Newnham College; while Robert Edwards was a reader in physiology at Churchill College working in the controversial area of human fertilisation. Edwards stood down from the council in May 1978, six months after performing a pioneering medical procedure on a woman from Oldham called Lesley Brown; in July 1978 Brown gave birth to a baby girl, Louise Brown, who was the first human conceived through in vitro fertilisation. For that achievement retired Cambridge city councillor Robert Edwards was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Many politicians have become Nobel laureates over the years; but there can't be many who did it in medicine.

Robert Edwards ended up with a knighthood, but his successor as Newnham ward councillor did even better than that in the honours stakes: Wendy Nicol, a board member of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, made it to the House of Lords as Baroness Nicol. Nicol inherited a safe ward, but passed on a marginal after the end of her single term in 1982: by this point the SDP had became strong in Newnham ward. Long-serving Labour councillor Gwyneth Lipstein (wife of the noted legal scholar Kurt Lipstein) was re-elected on the SDP ticket in 1984, and the party won a second seat in 1987 having finished four votes behind Labour in 1986.

The merger with the Liberals had less of an impact initially. Lipstein lost her seat to Labour in the 1988 election when the party was still called the Social and Liberal Democrats, and Newnham's first Liberal Democrat candidate proper finished in third place. He was Nicholas Whyte, who was a student at the time but later became a science fiction blogger, EU influencer and noted Northern Irish psephologist. Whyte's Northern Ireland Elections website (link) is now in its third decade as the go-to internet reference for election results in the province. Yes, I'll admit it: Northern Ireland Elections was a source of inspiration for the Local Elections Archive Project, which your columnist runs in his ever-decreasing spare time.

The Liberal Democrats grew their vote back to break through in Newnham ward in 1992, and the party has won Newnham at every Cambridge local election from 1998 onwards. It hasn't always been a safe ward for them in that time with Labour coming close to winning on several occasions in the Coalition years, but recent results suggest that the Labour challenge has faltered. In May 2019 the Lib Dems won with 50% of the vote, to 28% for Labour and 14% for the Green Party. This by-election will likely be the last contest on these Newnham ward boundaries, as a new ward map for Cambridge will be introduced next year; as such whoever wins this by-election will not be able to rest for long before hitting the campaign trail again.

Lucy Nethsingha MEP had only been on Cambridge city council since 2016, but since 2015 she had been leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Cambridgeshire county council where she also represents Newnham. She has been a county councillor since 2009, and will stay as a member of that council at least for the time being - a decision which has drawn criticism from the Conservative elected mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Josh Matthews, who is originally from Swansea and came to Cambridge to do a masters' degree in engineering management. The Labour candidate is Niamh Sweeney, a former president of the ATL education union. Another teacher on the ballot is Mark Slade of the Green Party, who also co-founded a live entertainment business. Completing the candidate list is Michael Spencer for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Cambridge
Cambridgeshire county council division: Newnham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode district: CB3

Josh Matthews (LD)
Mark Slade (Grn)
Michael Spencer (C)
Niamh Sweeney (Lab)

May 2019 result LD 1003 Lab 552 Grn 276 C 171
May 2018 result LD 1139 Lab 825 C 165 Grn 164
May 2016 result LD 939 Lab 787 C 234 Grn 216
May 2015 result LD 1387 Lab 1203 Grn 947 C 700
May 2014 result LD 1056 Lab 987 Grn 526 C 395
May 2012 result LD 917 Lab 641 C 263 Grn 241
May 2011 result LD 990 Lab 756 C 621 Grn 443
May 2010 result LD 1862 C 994 Lab 648 Grn 642
May 2008 result LD 870 C 427 Grn 238 Lab 200
May 2007 result LD 842 C 489 Grn 300 Lab 246
May 2006 result LD 974 C 475 Lab 336 Grn 321
June 2004 result LD 1018/931/904 C 429/411/395 Grn 400/282 Lab 317/288/279


If you liked these previews, there are many more like them in the Andrew's Previews books, which you can order from Amazon (link).

Andrew Teale


Previews: 01 Aug 2019

 

Three by-elections on Thursday 1st August 2019. Later we cover two Liberal Democrat defences in local government, but first it's a Parliamentary Special:


Brecon and Radnorshire

House of Commons; caused by a recall petition against Conservative MP Christopher Davies, who had served since 2015.

O, let me think on Hastings and be gone
To Brecknock, while my fearful head is on!
- William Shakespeare, Richard III

A picture, so they say, tells a thousand words. Some pictures are, of course, more beautiful than others. This column has long maintained - sometimes multiple times in the same sentence - that the Welsh Marches rank among the most beautiful places in the world, and with pictures like these it's hard to argue against that proposition.

One person who clearly agrees with me is a man called Chris Davies, who got himself a new job in 2015 and needed a new office to go with it. He set his office up in Builth Wells, a small town on the Breconshire side of the River Wye, which in days of olden time formed the county boundary between Breconshire and Radnorshire. Builth isn't much more than a village but it's a major point of convergence, with the bridge over the Wye in the picture above being part of the A470 - the main north-south highway in Wales, meandering from Cardiff all the way to Llandudno through some of the most gorgeous scenery imaginable. All the normal things needed to be done to get the office going - buy furniture, kit the place out with a telephone line and computers, hire staff, all that jazz - but there was something missing. Some nice pictures of the local area for the walls. That'll make things complete for the staff and the visitors. Suitable pictures were found, prints were ordered and delivered, frames were hung and the office was complete. A snip at £700. And in the normal course of events that would have been that.

This, of course, is not the normal course of events. (Why do you think I'm writing this?) Chris Davies' new job was as Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnorshire, and as such the House of Commons authorities gave him a pair of budgets: one to get his office established, and another to keep it running. All you have to do is keep an account of your expenses and make sure all the receipts and invoices are in order.

Which is where the problem came in. Instead of one invoice for £700 for the pretty pictures, two invoices totalling £700 were submitted to the parliamentary office which pays MPs' expenses. It became apparent that those invoices had been forged. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority called in the police, and Davies was charged. In March 2019 the case was heard by Westminster magistrates, with Davies pleading guilty to one charge of providing false or misleading information for an allowance claim, and a second charge of attempting to do so. The magistrates referred Davies to Southwark Crown Court for sentencing, and in the final reckoning he was fined £1,500 and ordered to undertake 50 hours of unpaid community service.

This is nowhere near the sentence level which would disqualify you from public office, although having that sort of criminal record is not exactly a good look for a Member of Parliament. However, the offence which Davies was prosecuted for triggered the Recall of MPs Act into action, and a petition was set up in the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency. Over six weeks, 10,005 of his electors - 19% of the total - signed the petition to recall Christopher Davies. As this was over 10% of the electorate, Davies was unseated and we are having this by-election.

It's rather a feat to get so many electors to sign on the line, for this is the largest constituency by area in England and Wales. The seat includes nearly all of the Brecon Beacons National Park together with many other upland areas. Agriculture is the major industry, and if sheep had the vote this seat would be an awful lot smaller in area. This is a constituency with no large towns.

Indeed, the largest centre of population here is a place whose name few people will recognise and even fewer will have any idea how to pronounce. Ystradgynlais is nestled in the south-west corner of Breconshire and isn't too far from Swansea down the Tawe valley; it's a town of around 8,000 souls which was called into being by heavy engineering, specifically the Ynyscedwyn Ironworks and the coal needed to run them. To this day Ystradgynlais is atypical of Brecon and Radnorshire as a whole: most of the seat's Labour voters and more than half of its Welsh speakers live here.

Rather older is Brecon, which goes back to the Roman days when there was a fort called Cicucium guarding a ford on the River Usk. The Normans also fortified the place, and the military men have never left. There is an infantry training centre in Brecon and the surrounding moorland, and the town's St Mary ward ranked 14th in England and Wales for Buddhism in the 2011 census: not because Brecon is a New Age type of place (it isn't), but because there are Gurkhas stationed here. Brecon is home to the regimental museum of the South Wales Borderers, seven of whose Victoria Crosses came at the battle of Rorke's Drift in the 1879 Zulu War.

After Ystradgynlais and Brecon you're starting to struggle for towns in Breconshire, but there's one place here that gets international prominence. Just on the Welsh side of the border lies Hay-on-Wye, a tiny town a long way from anywhere (Hereford, nearly twenty miles away, is the nearest railhead) which has become known as the "town of books" because of its extremely large number of second-hand bookshops. If you're looking for a book, you'll probably find it in Hay (although it might take a bit of finding); who knows, an edition of the Andrew's Previews books may even be lurking on the shelves there. A few years back your columnist went to Hay with a budget of £20 and a mission to buy election-related books: I came away with the 1939 (and almost certainly final) edition of The Constitutional Year Book, an almanac published by the Conservative Party up to the Second World War; and British Parliamentary Constituencies: A Statistical Compendium by Ivor Crewe and Antony Fox, which went into great detail on the results of the 1983 general election. Both of these have been useful in drafting this preview. Richard Booth, whose bookshop I got those tomes from, appeared in the latter book: he was an independent candidate in the 1983 election, coming last with 0.7% in the Brecon and Radnor constituency. Booth may have retired now, but his legacy lives on with an annual literature festival taking over Hay-on-Wye every May and June and bringing visitors to Hay from all over the world.

Half-an-hour's walk from Hay over the river Wye you come to Clyro, a sleepy village off the Hereford-Brecon road. For seven years from 1865 to 1872 Francis Kilvert was curate of Clyro's parish church, and his diaries give a great impression of what the area was like back then. Particularly so as the village is very little changed from his day: you can still see Kilvert's vicarage and toast his legacy in the village pub, then called the Swan, now the Baskerville Arms. Your columnist has stayed in the Baskerville Arms and can recommend it: tell them I sent you.

The River Wye forms the border between Breonshire and Radnoshire, but it's the Wye valley which links the centre of this constituency together, from Hay up to Rhayader. A tiny market town where the A470 comes to a stop sign at the town centre crossroads, Rhayader lies at the junction of the Wye with the Elan Valley, which was drowned in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries underneath five reservoirs which provide drinking water for the city of Birmingham. Birmingham's wastewater drains into the River Trent, so some of the water from these reservoirs ends up in the faraway North Sea.

Wales is, of course, known for its wet weather; but it was water that actually brought people to Radnorshire back in the day. The Happiest Place in Wales according to a survey last year by Rightmove, Llandrindod Wells is a Victorian spa town, the largest centre of population in Radnorshire, and the railhead for the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency. A Victorian Festival, celebrating its 34th year in 2019, brings tourists to Llandrindod each August; but it's administration which underpins the town's economy. Powys county council was established here in 1974, leading to a mini economic boom thanks to a mismatch between national local government payscales and the relatively low cost of living in mid-Wales. As well as all the usual stuff you expect from local government, Powys council has a surprising national role: it is the regulator for estate agents in the UK.

But the major single contributor to the economy of Brecon and Radnorshire is one event held every year in July at Llanelwedd, the Radnorshire village on the opposite side of the Wye from Builth Wells. Celebrating its 100th edition last week, the Royal Welsh Show is one of the largest agricultural shows in the world: it runs for four days and attracts 200,000 visitors, some of whom arrive on special trains laid on from Cardiff by Transport for Wales. The BBC film it. The Prince of Wales is a regular visitor. Speaking at the Show last week, the president of the Farmers Union of Wales warned of the possibility of civil unrest in rural areas like this constituency in the event of a no-deal Brexit; we wait to see what effect that warning had on the then-Environment Secretary and now-Brexit Supremo Michael Gove, who was also in attendance. The Royal Welsh Show is a huge affair, and is the reason this by-election wasn't held last week. Apart from the traffic chaos the event brings and the fact that many of the electors will have been at the show, the exhibition centres on the Royal Welsh Showground are the only location in the constituency which can comfortably accommodate the count.

Like the rest of Wales, Breconshire and Radnorshire were enfranchised by Henry VIII and have sent members to Parliament since 1536. Radnorshire has always been one of the poorest, most remote and most depopulated parts of England and Wales, and in the late nineteenth century - once the Liberals started contesting the county - that manifested itself in a close Tory versus Liberal contest. The 1885 election, on an expanded franchise, returned Arthur Walsh by a majority of just 67 votes over the Liberal candidate, marking a Conservative gain. Walsh, who was re-elected for a second term the following year, was an Old Etonian who at the time was a lieutenant in the Life Guards; he followed his father and grandfather in becoming MP for Radnorshire. Also like his father and grandfather, Walsh ended up in the Lords as the 3rd Lord Ormathwaite; once his Commons career was over he entered royal service, and from 1907 to 1920 he was the last Master of the Ceremonies in the Royal Household. Now there's a job title. (Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps is the modern equivalent.)

Walsh retired from the Commons in 1892 and the Conservatives lost his Radnorshire seat to the Liberal Frank Edwards. A solicitor by trade, Edwards was a major supporter of disestablishment for the Church in Wales, going so far as to resign the Liberal whip in 1894 (along with a very young David Lloyd George) in protest after the Liberal government failed to introduce a disestablishment measure.

The following year Edwards lost his seat for the first time, as the Conservative candidate Powlett Millbank defeated him by 79 votes. Sir Powlett, as he became after inheriting a baronetcy, didn't seek re-election in 1900 and Frank Edwards got back as MP for Radnorshire on a virulently anti-Boer War ticket in the first of four contests against the Conservatives' Charles Dillwyn-Venables-Llewellyn. The score in contests was 3-1 in Edwards' favour, Llewellyn's sole win coming by just 14 votes in January 1910. A keen agriculturist and local JP, Llewellyn was one of 22 MPs who served only between the two 1910 elections, as Sir Frank Edwards (as he had now become) won the December 1910 contest in Radnorshire by 42 votes.

Things were different in Breconshire, which had twice the electorate of Radnorshire and some industry - ironworking in Ystradgynlais, coalmining in Brynmawr. Breconshire was gained by the Liberals in an 1875 by-election after the previous Tory MP succeeded to a peerage, and was continuously Liberal-held from then until 1918. The winner of the 1875 by-election was William Fuller-Maitland, who had entered politics after a distinguished cricket career, bowling for Oxford University and the MCC to devastating effect: he took 123 first-class wickets at an average of 15.72, with his best analysis (8 for 48) coming for Oxford University against Surrey in 1864. Fuller-Maitland retired from the Commons in 1895 and passed his seat on to Charles Morley, older brother of Arnold Morley who had been Postmaster-General in the Liberal government of 1892-95. Morley retired in 1906, the year of the Liberal landslide, and passed his seat on without trouble to Sidney Robinson, a former Cardiff councillor and timber merchant.

At the December 1910 general election Radnorshire had under 6,000 electors (all male in those days) and Breconshire just over 13,000. This was too low to sustain two MPs, and the redistribution of 1918 resulted in the two constituencies being merged into one. Radnorshire's Liberal MP Sir Frank Edwards retired, and Breconshire's Liberal MP Sidney Robinson won the 1918 election unopposed for his final parliamentary term.

In 1922 Robinson retired and there was a new face as MP for Brecon and Radnor, with William Jenkins elected as a National Liberal. A merchant from Swansea in the coal and shipbroking business, Jenkins defeated the seat's first Labour candidate very comfortably and no-one opposed him in the 1923 general election. However, the 1924 poll saw both Labour and the Conservatives intervene, and a close three-way contest was won by Walter Hall for the Conservatives.

The first Conservative MP for Breconshire for almost half a century, Hall had come into politics from the military where he had served with distinction in the Great War - winning an MC and Bar. He served two terms as MP for Brecon and Radnor, but they were not consecutive. The 1929 general election here had a remarkable result: Liberal candidate Wynne Cemlyn-Jones came in third with 14,182 votes, Hall lost his seat by finishing second on 14,324 votes, and Peter Freeman polled 14,551 votes to become the first Labour MP for Brecon and Radnor. With just 0.7% of the vote separating first from last, and Freeman winning with 33.7%, that is one of the closest three-way splits you will ever see in an election. On the other hand... with the opinion polls as they are at the moment, a snap election held in the next few months might turn up a lot of constituency results looking similar to that. Fragmentation may be the new norm.

Fragmentation didn't help Peter Freeman much. The 1929 general election brought to power the short-lived Labour government of Ramsay Macdonald, which fell apart two years later and crashed and burned in the 1931 election. Walter Hall returned as MP for Brecon and Radnor, and Freeman - a former Welsh lawn tennis champion - went back to running his family's Cardiff tobacco factory. Peter Freeman did eventually return to politics, serving as MP for Newport from 1945 until his death in 1956.

Hall retired at the 1935 general election, in which Brecon and Radnor was contested for Labour by Leslie Haden-Guest, who had been MP for Southwark North from 1923 until 1927, when he resigned to (unsuccessfully) seek re-election as a Constitutionalist candidate. Now back in the Labour fold, Haden-Guest lost to his near namesake Ivor Guest, elected as a supporter of the National Government with endorsement from both the Conservative and Liberal local parties. Guest was a scion of a wealthy industrial family - the Guests were the G in GKN, which is still in business as an aerospace company.

Ivor Guest succeeded to the title of Viscount Wimborne and entered the Lords in 1939, resulting in the first Brecon and Radnorshire by-election. This time the Tories and Liberals couldn't agree a joint candidate, and the local Conservatives selected Richard Hanning Phillips - second son of Lord Milford - while the Liberals stood down. By now Haden-Guest was back in the Commons, having won a by-election in Islington North, and Labour needed a new candidate: they selected William Jackson, a Herefordshire fruit farmer and former Liberal figure. In an interesting echo of this by-election, polling day was 1st August - eighty years ago today - making this the last parliamentary by-election to be held before the Second World War. Labour's candidate selection made all the difference in this agricultural seat, particularly as Hanning Phillips knew nothing about farming and admitted as such on the campaign trail. Jackson won the by-election with a majority of 2,636.

After serving through the war years, William Jackson retired to the Lords in 1945, and Labour held the seat easily. The new Labour MP was Tudor Watkins who was Breconshire born and bred. A former miner from a village near Ystradgynlais, Watkins was general secretary of the Breconshire Association of Friendly Societies. In office Watkins saved the lesser whitebeam Sorbus minima from extinction, after his Parliamentary questions prompted the Army to stop using its only known habitat for mortar practice. Watkins was also a strong supporter of CND and the Parliament for Wales campaign.

In 1945 Tudor Watkins very easily defeated Tory candidate Oscar Guest, uncle of Ivor; Oscar had started his parliamentary career in 1918 as Liberal MP for Loughborough, and in the 1935-45 Parliament had been the Conservative MP for the unlikely Tory seat of Camberwell North West. For the 1950 and 1951 elections the Conservatives had stronger opposition in the form of David Gibson-Watt, a farmer and forester who came from a noted Radnorshire family and had won an MC and two bars in the North African and Italy campaigns during the Second World War. Gibson-Watt did eventually get into Parliament, winning the Hereford by-election in 1956 and serving until October 1974.

From 1955 onwards Tudor Watkins had safe majorities in Brecon and Radnorshire, and on his retirement in 1970 he had no trouble passing the seat on to the new Labour candidate Caerwyn Roderick. Like Watkins, Roderick had been born in Ystradgynlais; before entering Parliament he had been a teacher. In office he campaigned against future rail closures for the area and opposed a new reservoir that would have flooded the Senni valley.

But in February 1974 Brecon and Radnorshire swung to the Conservatives, against the national trend, and became marginal. Roderick could not withstand the swing to Thatcher's party in 1979, and he lost his seat. The new Tory MP was Tom Hooson, cousin of the Liberal MP Emlyn Hooson who had lost the neighbouring seat of Montgomeryshire at the same election.

Hooson's position was boosted by boundary changes that came in for the 1983 election. Not all of Breconshire had ended up in Powys at the 1974 reorganisation: two villages at the heads of the Valleys had transferred to Mid Glamorgan, and two areas became part of Gwent. One of those areas was Brynmawr, a largish mining town and significant source of Labour votes, which consequently transferred into a Gwent constituency (specifically, Michael Foot's seat of Blaenau Gwent). The effect was to reduce the electorate of Brecon and Radnorshire by around 10,000, with a big fall in the Labour vote.

That was reflected in the 1983 general election, the first contest on the current boundaries, at which the Labour vote fell by 16 points and Hooson made his seat safe. The Labour candidate David Morris (who would later serve as an MEP for Wales from 1984 to 1999) was nearly overtaken for second place by a young Liberal called Richard Livsey.

Tom Hooson died suddenly in May 1985, having suffered a heart attack, at the early age of 52. This prompted the second Brecon and Radnor by-election, held on 4th July 1985. As in the 1939 by-election the Conservative candidate was a poor fit for the constituency: Chris Butler was a former Downing Street staffer who at this point was a special adviser to the Welsh secretary Nicholas Edwards. He would later serve one term as MP for Warrington South from 1897 to 1992. Labour selected Richard Willey, a Radnor councillor whose father was the long-serving former Sunderland MP Fred Willey. The Lib Dem candidate was again Richard Livsey, a smallholder and former lecturer at the Welsh Agricultural College; Livsey was fighting his fourth parliamentary election, having contested Perth and East Perthshire in 1970 and Pembroke in 1979.

The result of the by-election was a victory for Livsey, who polled 36% of the vote against 34% for Labour and just 28% for the Conservatives. Livsey's majority was 559 votes, and this was the start of a series of very close election results in Brecon and Radnor. He held his seat in the 1987 general election with a majority of just 56 votes over the new Tory candidate, Jonathan Evans; it was the closet result of that election.

Jonathan Evans was reselected for the 1992 general election, and defeated Richard Livsey by 130 votes on an extremely high turnout (85.9%) in one of only three Conservative gains at that election. A solicitor by trade, Evans only served five years as MP for Brecon and Radnor but had a long political career nonetheless: he fought Michael Foot in Ebbw Vale in both 1974 elections and stood in Wolverhampton North East in 1979. After losing Brecon and Radnor he was an MEP for Wales from 1999 to 2009, then returned to the Commons as MP for Cardiff North during the Coalition years.

A majority of 130 votes was never going to withstand the landslide of 1997, and Richard Livsey returned as Lib Dem MP for Brecon and Radnor with a large majority. He retired to the Lords in 2001 and passed the seat on to new Lib Dem candidate Roger Williams. A livestock farmer and former chairman of the local NFU branch, Williams was a long-serving Powys councillor who had fought Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire in the first Welsh Assembly election in 1999, finishing fifth. Williams was run close in 2001 by new Conservative candidate Felix Aubel, but prevailed with a majority of 751. In 2005 he made the seat safe (the Tory candidate that year was Andrew R T Davies, who would later serve as leader of the Welsh Conservatives) and there was almost no swing in 2010.

That changed in 2015, when Roger Williams suffered an eighteen-point drop in his vote and lost his seat to Christopher Davies of the Conservatives. A rural auctioneer and former estate agent who ran a veterinary practice in Hay-on-Wye, Davies had fought the seat in the 2011 Welsh Assembly election before being elected to Powys county council in 2012. He resigned from Powys council after his election to Parliament, and the resulting by-election in Glasbury division (which includes Clyro) was gained for the Lib Dems by James Gibson-Watt (yes, of the Radnorshire Gibson-Watts). Davies increased his majority in 2017 with Gibson-Watt as his Lib Dem opponent, polling 49% to 29% for Gibson-Watt and 18% for Labour candidate Dan Lodge. Turnout, as usual for this constituency, was high: almost 77% of electors cast a vote. Just before the dissolution Davies had sent a survey to his electors in House of Commons envelopes, which was seen as political campaigning in breach of Commons rules; he was forced to apologise and pay for the cost of the envelopes. Christopher Davies was a member of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, although he had come around to supporting the Withdrawal Agreement by the end of the Brexit debates earlier this year; perhaps wise given the effect that no-deal EU tariffs would have on the sheep farming which underpins his constituency's economy.

The large swing from Lib Dem to Conservative has not, to date, been seen when Brecon and Radnorshire goes to the polls for the Welsh Assembly. Since the establishment of the Assembly in 1999 the seat has been represented in Cardiff Bay by just one person: Kirsty Williams of the Liberal Democrats, whose majority has only fallen below ten points once (in 2011). The most recent Senedd election was in May 2016, when Williams defeated Conservative candidate Gary Price 53-25; that left her as the only Liberal Democrat member of the Assembly. With Labour holding 29 out of 60 seats and short of a majority, Williams joined the Welsh Government after the 2016 election as minister for education and skills in a coalition executive.

This constituency covers slightly more than half of Powys county council, which had a majority of independent councillors until the most recent Welsh local government election in 2017. Within this constituency in May 2017 independents won 15 seats, the Lib Dems won 10 (including former MP Roger Williams, who gained Felin-fâch from the independents), Labour won 7 (including all four seats in Ystradgynlais and two of the three Brecon seats), the Conservatives won 5 and the Green Party 1 (Llangors, on an almost perfect three-way split: 173 votes for the Greens, 157 for the Conservatives, 155 for the outgoing independent councillor). Llagors may be a very unlikely-looking Green area, but it's the first Welsh division ever to elect a Green Party councillor. No candidates applied for Yscir division; in consequence nominations there had to be reopened, and the Conservatives won the re-run. The contestation pattern and the large number of unopposed seats (five of the 7 Labour divisions were won without a contest) mean that vote shares are pretty meaningless.

Which brings us up to date in a by-election that could have some impact on the Parliamentary arithmetic, which I shall put down in detail here because it's a bit difficult to keep track of what's going on. There are 650 MPs, of whom the 7 Sinn Féiners don't turn up, while the Speaker and his three deputies don't vote in any division. That gives 639 participating members meaning that 320 votes are an effective majority. The Conservatives are on 310 (excluding the Speaker and the Tory deputy speaker) and they have confidence and supply from the 10 DUP members which gives the 320 votes necessary. The opposition are 245 Labour MPs (excluding two deputy speakers), 35 from the Scottish National Party, 12 Liberal Democrats, 5 Change UK MPs, 5 "The Independents", 4 Plaid Cymru, 1 Green and 11 independents (6 elected as Labour, 3 elected as Conservatives, 1 elected as Lib Dem, and Lady Hermon) which is a total of 318 and gives the government a majority of two seats. Were the Conservatives to lose this by-election, that majority would go down to one.

If you want to vote for a politician with convictions, here's your chance. Convicted expense fraudster Christopher Davies is standing for re-election as the Conservative candidate. It should be noted that that the previous two Brecon and Radnor by-elections, in 1939 and 1985, both saw the Conservatives lose a seat they previously held partly as a result of poor candidate selections. Davies will be hoping to buck that trend.

The Liberal Democrats have been installed as runaway bookies' favourites for this by-election, although the bookies have been known to be wrong before (see Peterborough, last month). The Lib Dem candidate is their Welsh party leader Jane Dodds, a trained social worker and former Richmond upon Thames councillor who fought Montgomeryshire (where she lives) in the 2015 general election, 2016 Senedd election and 2017 general election. Plaid Cymru and the Green Party have stood down in her favour.

The Labour candidate is Tomos Davies, a Brecon town councillor, qualified barrister and litigation officer.

Three candidates complete a gender-balanced ballot paper of three men and three women (there has never previously been a female MP for Brecon and Radnorshire). Liz Phillips is standing for UKIP; although she now lives in Kent she has fought this seat several times before on the UKIP ticket, and before then in 1997 she stood here for the Referendum Party. The Brexit Party have nominated Des Parkinson, a retired police officer who was the UKIP candidate for Montgomeryshire in 2015 ad 2016 and for Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016. Last alphabetically is local resident and saviour of the human race Lady Lily the Pink, standing for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.

Constituency opinion polling isn't tried much in the UK these days; it's difficult to get a sample with such a small electorate, and when it was tried on a large scale in advance of the 2015 election it fell victim to the same polling failures that beset that election. One amusing factoid from the 1985 by-election here is that a lot of commentators at the time expected a Labour victory because most of their vox pops had been done in Ystradgynlais. Nonetheless Number Cruncher Politics, the political blog run by Matt Singh, has done an online poll of 509 electors in Brecon and Radnorshire (link) which had Dodds with a big lead: she was put on 43%, with Davies on 28% and Parkinson on 20%. Fieldwork was from 10th to 18th July, which was before the election of Johnson and Swinson as leaders of their respective parties. Singh deserves a lot of thanks (at the very least) for paying for this poll and contributing to the debate, and it's disappointing that a lot of media outlets (including the by-election article in Tuesday's edition of The Times, I notice) have reported the poll without seeing fit to even credit its source.

Things might have changed since the poll was taken, you never know. This may not be the biggest by-election of the year so far in electorate, but it's certainly the most anticipated. The returning officer is going for an overnight count, although given the size of the constituency don't expect a quick result. We'll know by breakfast time whether the Conservatives have pulled off their first by-election win (parliamentary or otherwise) of the Johnson premiership, whether the Liberal Democrats have achieved a baker's dozen of MPs, or whether something even more dramatic has happened. Whoever wins in the third Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, there will be lots to pore over in the result.

Oh, and just one more thing: have I mentioned that the Welsh Marches are beautiful?

All pictures used in this preview are from Wikipedia or Geograph and published under a Creative Commons licence. I shall supply my invoice in due course...

If you enjoyed this preview, there are many more like it in the paperback collection Andrew's Previews 2018, which is now available to order from Amazon (link). By buying the book you will support future previews like this.

Powys electoral divisions: Aber-craf, Beguildy, Bronllys, Builth, Bwlch, Crickhowell, Cwm-twrch, Disserth and Trecoed, Felin-fâch, Glasbury, Gwernyfed, Hay, Knighton, Llanafanfawr, Llandrindod East/Llandrindod West, Llandrindod North, Llandrindod South, Llanelwedd, Llangattock, Llangors, Llangynidr, Llanwrtyd Wells, Llanyre, Maescar/Llywel, Nantmel, Old Radnor, Presteigne, Rhayader, St David Within, St John, St Mary, Talgarth, Talybont-on-Usk, Tawe-Uchaf, Ynyscedwyn, Yscir, Ystradgynlais
ONS Travel to Work Areas: Brecon, Llandrindod Wells and Builth Wells, Swansea
Postcode districts: CF44, CF48, HR3, HR5, LD1, LD2, LD3, LD4, LD5, LD6, LD7, LD8, NP7, NP8, SA9, SA10, SA11, SY18, SY23

Christopher Davies (C)
Tomos Davies (Lab)
Jane Dodds (LD)
Des Parkinson (Brexit Party)
Liz Phillips (UKIP)
Lady Lily the Pink (Loony)

June 2017 result C 20081 LD 12043 Lab 7335 PC 1290 UKIP 576
May 2016 Welsh Assembly election LD 15998 C 7728 Lab 2703 UKIP 2161 PC 1180 Grn 697
May 2015 result C 16453 LD 11351 Lab 5904 UKIP 3338 PC 1767 Grn 1261
May 2011 Welsh Assembly election LD 12201 C 9444 Lab 4797 PC 1906
May 2010 result LD 17529 C 14182 Lab 4096 PC 989 UKIP 876 Grn 341 Chr 222 Loony 210
May 2007 Welsh Assembly election LD 15006 C 9652 Lab 2524 PC 1576
May 2005 result LD 17182 C 13277 Lab 5755 PC 1404 UKIP 723
May 2003 Welsh Assembly election LD 13325 C 8017 Lab 3130 PC 1329 UKIP 1042
June 2001 result LD 13824 C 13073 Lab 8024 PC 1301 Ind 762 UKIP 452 Ind 80
May 1999 Welsh Assembly election LD 13022 C 7170 Lab 5165 PC 2356 Ind 1502
May 1997 result LD 17516 C 12419 Lab 11424 Referendum Party 900 PC 622
May 1992 result C 15977 LD 15847 Lab 11634 PC 418 Grn 393
May 1987 result Lib 14509 C 14453 Lab 1210 PC 535
July 1985 by-election Lib 13753 Lab 13194 C 10631 PC 435 Loony 202 One Nation C 154 Ind 43
May 1983 result C 18255 Lab 9471 Lib 9226 PC 840 Ind 278


Hazel Grove

Stockport council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Jon Twigge who had served since 2016. He is standing down to concentrate on running his business.

Our two local by-elections today are both defences for the Liberal Democrats. We start on the southern edge of Greater Manchester with a posh Stockport suburb. Hazel Grove is a rather diffuse area where the built-up area ends on the main roads from Manchester towards Buxton and Macclesfield, which meet at a triangular junction in the village centre. This was a busy junction in your columnist's experience, but may be a little less so now with the recent completion of the Manchester Airport Eastern Link Road, which runs along the southern boundary of Hazel Grove ward to terminate on a realigned Buxton Road.

This area was originally covered by the townships of Norbury and Torkington but by the eighteenth century had acquired the name "Bullocks Smithy" after a local inn. When a church was built in the 1830s to serve the area (which had previously been a nonconformist stronghold) the village elders had got tired of the jokes surrounding that name, and chose the new name "Hazel Grove" in an attempt to stop the rot. The name stuck.

The name stuck so well that Hazel Grove has given its name to a parliamentary seat since 1974. This has elected Liberals or Liberal Democrats on several occasions; the present seat, which also includes affluent towns like Marple to the east of Stockport, was Lib Dem in the Blair, Brown and Coalition years but was gained for the Conservatives in 2015 by William Wragg. Wragg is only 31 but is already in his second term as an MP, which shows just how fast-paced politics is these days. His first electoral contest came in 2010 in Hazel Grove ward, which was then safely Liberal Democrat, and Wragg built on that experience to gain the ward the following year.

The Tories gained a second seat in the 2014 election, but since the end of Coalition they have been on the defensive in Stockport. The Liberal Democrats recovered the Conservative seats in Hazel Grove in 2018 and May this year to restore their full slate; May's result was pretty decisive with 48% for the Lib Dems, 29% for the Conservatives (their worst performance since the current boundaries were introduced in 2004) and 11% for Labour.

Stockport council has been hung for many years and is presently on a bit of a knife-edge. Following May's elections Labour, who have run a minority administration for some years, and the Liberal Democrats were tied on 26 seats each, with the Conservatives (who are down to eight councillors after losing five seats in May) and the three Heald Green Ratepayers holding the balance of power. The Labour minority will continue until at least the next polls in May 2020, and the Lib Dems will want to hold this seat to give themselves the best chance of taking over the council following next year's elections.

https://youtu.be/lqRQsGStOQQ

Defending for the Lib Dems is Charles Gibson, a PR manager and brass bandsman with the Marple Band - which gives me an excuse to throw in the video above. The Tory candidate is Oliver Johnstone - "banker by trade, historian by vocation" according to his Twitter - who is not yet 30 but is already a former councillor for this ward, having served from 2014 to 2018. Labour have reselected their regular candidate Julie Wharton who is fighting Hazel Grove for the fifth time. Completing the ballot paper is Michael Padfield for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Hazel Grove
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode district: SK7

Charles Gibson (LD)
Oliver Johnstone (C)
Michael Padfield (Grn)
Julie Wharton (Lab)

May 2019 result LD 1993 C 1225 Lab 457 UKIP 321 Grn 183
May 2018 result LD 1965 C 1810 Lab 553 Grn 132
May 2016 result LD 1777 C 1494 Lab 634 UKIP 534 Grn 120
May 2015 result C 2944 LD 2145 Lab 1208 UKIP 1027 Grn 294
May 2014 result C 1700 LD 1414 UKIP 692 Lab 488 Grn 208
May 2012 result LD 1736 C 1668 Lab 724
May 2011 result C 1918 LD 1789 Lab 892 UKIP 331
May 2010 result LD 3777 C 2697 Lab 884
May 2008 result LD 2345 C 1668 Lab 262
May 2007 result LD 2265 C 1647 Lab 298
May 2006 result LD 2281 C 1509 Lab 296 Ind 142
June 2004 result LD 2844/2835/2782 C 1919/1904/1709 Lab 592/439/395


Godmanchester and Hemingford Abbots

Huntingdonshire council, Cambridgeshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor David Underwood. A former mayor of Godmanchester, Underwood was first elected in 2016 for Godmanchester ward and transferred to this ward in 2018. He was one of the country's few blind people to hold elected office.

From Greater Manchester we move to Godmanchester (stressed on the first syllable only, or pronounced Gumter if you're old-fashioned or the Leader of the House of Commons). This name has nothing to do with Manchester: it refers to a Roman fort ("chester") associated with an Anglo-Saxon called Godmund. The Roman fort was in a good location, defending the crossing point of Ermine Street, the Via Devana and the River Great Ouse, and a town grew up close to the southern end of the Old Bridge which connects Godmanchester to Huntingdon over the river. Until the twelfth century, this was the lowest bridge on the Great Ouse; and until 1975, when a new bridge was built as part of the Huntingdon bypass (now part of the A14), it was a major traffic bottleneck. The Huntingdon bypass is now itself a major traffic bottleneck being bypassed, with a motorway under construction to the south of Godmanchester to improve transport links between Cambridge and the west.

After losing its county status, Huntingdonshire has been a district within Cambridgeshire since 1974. It has a secure Conservative majority and a Tory MP (Jonathan Djonogly) to go with it. Godmanchester, on the other hand, is a quite recent Lib Dem hotspot. The old Godmanchester ward was Conservative from 2004 to 2012, but the Lib Dems broke through in 2014 after many years of trying and quickly built a large lead: Underwood was elected in 2016, the last election at which Godmanchester was a ward of its own, by the margin of 61-24.

The present ward has existed only since 2018, when the Tory-voting villages of Hemingford Abbots, Offord Cluny and Offord d'Arcy were added along with a third councillor. If this was an effort to improve the Tory position, it didn't have the desired effect: the Lib Dem slate won with 52% of the vote against 34% for the Conservatives. Huntingdonshire moved away from election by thirds in 2018, so the next elections in the district will not be until 2022. The three parishes in the ward are all in different Cambridgeshire county council divisions: Godmanchester is the major part of the Godmanchester and Huntingdon South division, which is safely Liberal Democrat, while the Offords are part of the Lib Dem-held marginal of Brampton and Buckden, and Hemingford Abbots is the safe Tory division of The Hemingfords and Fenstanton.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Sarah Wilson, a Godmanchester town councillor and wife of the town's county councillor Graham Wilson. The Conservatives have selected Paula Sparling, who was born and brought up in Rhodesia according to her Twitter and runs a business admin company. Completing the ballot paper is independent candidate and former Huntingdon town councillor Nigel Pauley, who fought the old Godmanchester ward in 2012 and finished in a close third place; in 2018 he stood as a Labour candidate for a ward in St Neots.

Parliamentary constituency: Huntingdon
Cambridgeshire county council division: Godmanchester and Huntingdon South (Godmanchester parish), The Hemingfords and Fenstanton (Hemingford Abbots parish), Brampton and Buckden (Offord Cluny and Offord d'Arcy parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Huntingdon
Postcode districts: PE19, PE28, PE29

Nigel Pauley (Ind)
Paula Sparling (C)
Sarah Wilson (LD)

May 2018 result LD 1396/1150/1030 C 911/654/627 Lab 383


Preview: 30 Jul 2019

One by-election on Tuesday 30th July 2019:

Coleman Street

City of London Corporation; caused by the resignation of Common Councilman Stuart Fraser.

We've had a series of non-Thursday by-elections in the last few weeks and this is the last of them. Andrew's Previews returns to that Quaint British Tradition which is the City of London Corporation, which was established in the Middle Ages and whose structure is little changed since.

Coleman Street ward can be found in the north of the City. The name goes back to those mediaeval times, when charcoal burning was the main local occupation. Charcoal burning has, however, been replaced by all the usual City business - Legal and General have a large office here, and I have to be nice to them because they have my pension fund - and it's voters nominated by the ward's businesses and sole traders who will decide the result of this election. The main thoroughfare is no longer Coleman Street but Moorgate, and the ward includes the largest public park in the City: the elliptical roundabout of Finsbury Circus, occupied by gardens, a bowling green and a large construction shaft for Crossrail, whose Liverpool Street station platforms will lie beneath. Until the Elizabeth Line opens, Moorgate underground station is the main transport hub for the ward, with its four Underground lines and rail connection to North London and Hertfordshire providing excellent transport links to all corners of the conurbation.

Coleman Street ward's elections don't normally see much excitement. The ward was uncontested in the 2013 City elections, and in 2017 its four independent councilmen (Michael Cassidy, Sophie Fernandes, Fraser and Andrew McMurtrie) were all re-elected easily against opposition from Labour's Paul O'Brien (whom we saw in the Farringdon Within by-election last week).

So this by-election is unusually interesting by Coleman Street standards. There are three independent candidates whose names will all be familiar to longtime readers of Andrew's Previews. Timothy Becker is a solicitor from Wimbledon who regularly struggles to break the 10-vote barrier at City by-elections. Alpa Raja is an insolvency practitioner from Pinner, Middlesex. Dawn Wright has retired from frontline business and is campaigning on the issue of improving science education, something which her role at the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists might help with. Completing the ballot paper is Labour's Bren Albiston; he is the vice-chair of Junior Labour Lawyers and, according to his Twitter, an "occasional author of boring articles". Bless.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: EC1Y, EC2M, EC2R, EC2V, EC2Y

Bren Albiston (Lab)
Timothy Becker (Ind)
Alpa Raja (Ind)
Dawn Wright (Ind)


Previews: 25 Jul 2019

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

There are three hugely significant local by-elections on 25th July 2019:


Barnwood

and

Podsmead

Gloucester council; caused respectively by the death of Conservative councillor Lise Noakes and the resignation of Labour councillor Deborah Smith. Noakes had served since 2004,

It's last weekend as I write this, and it's shaping up to be the week that everything changed. We have a new leader of the Liberal Democrats, announced on Monday. We have a new leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party, announced on Tuesday. We should (assuming all has gone to plan) have a new Prime Minister.

The new party leaders will find themselves thrust straight into the most volatile political situation we have seen for decades. This is looking like an era of party realignment, with the two parties which have dominated Britain's governments since the 1920s suddenly becoming extremely weak both at the same time in the wake of a referendum which has divided the country.

Mind, that's not the first time such a thing has happened in this decade. Look back to Scotland in late 2014 and early 2015, when the traditional UK parties were diminished by their opposition to independence in a referendum. Despite being on the losing side in that argument, the Scottish National Party saw a huge upsurge in support and the Scottish Labour Party suffered a collapse which they have yet to recover from. It was the opinion polls that picked the realignment up first, but it was the local by-elections held in late 2014 and early 2015 that confirmed it was real.

Going into this week, all the opinion pollsters in England and Wales were painting a picture of a close four-way contest at UK level between a weak Conservative Party, a weak Labour Party, a resurgent Liberal Democrats and those new kids on the block the Brexit Party. The concept of two-party swing is obsolete or at best meaningless in this political context, and anybody who tries to translate current national polling figures into House of Commons seats is begging to have their work shot down. Faced with such voting figures, England's first-past-the-post electoral system would output seats ar rate somewhere on the scale between non-monotonic and random. Also, recent nationwide election campaigns have often seen big changes in opinion as polling day approaches; there's no reason to believe that the next general election will be different in that respect. If our new political leaders can escape the past, they will have the chance to shape the future.

Most of this national picture is being reflected in and confirmed by the local by-elections. Last week's set, in areas generally more Lib Dem-friendly than average, saw the Conservative vote fall by over 10 percentage points in every local by-election they contested. The loss of Brixworth, in Northamptonshire, was particularly embarrassing, and that embarrassment was entirely predictable. Longtime readers of Andrew's Previews could have spotted that all the ingredients for a safe seat loss were there: a bad reason for the by-election (previous Tory councillor not turning up to meetings), a bad choice of candidate (teenager from a town miles away from the ward), bad local issues (the insolvency of Northamptonshire county council), bad national issues disproportionately affecting the area (the economy is underpinned by a motor-racing engine factory), bad national polling in the background. And it added up to a bad result: not just for the Tories who lost, but also for Labour whose regular candidate didn't make any headway. The failure of the Conservatives to recover East Sheen in Richmond (Surrey), a ward which has now swung from Tory to Lib Dem by around 30% in five years, gives another side of the story: the Remain side of the Conservative base would appear to have upped sticks and gone. Trying to get that support back will be a challenge for the new party régime.

So, the Tory weakness is real and the Lib Dem strength is (generally) real. There wasn't much opportunity for the Labour Party to make an impact in last week's set, but by-election results in their strong wards over the last month or so have also had some embarrassing losses and poor vote shares. We can take Labour weakness as (generally) real also.

But there's one important piece of the argument which, thus far, has been missing in action. Is the Brexit Party surge, which we saw in the European Parliament elections two months ago, going to make itself felt at other levels of government? Well, we are now about to find out. Today's Barnwood and Podsmead by-elections in Gloucester see the first ever local government candidates for the Brexit Party.

Helpfully Barnwood and Podsmead are marginal wards with different political traditions. I'll start alphabetically with Barnwood ward, which is to the east of the city along the Roman Road towards Cirencester (here called the Barnwood Road). Most of the ward's population lives to the south of the Barnwood Road, while to the north of that road is a large business park. Electricity has been a major employer here for many years: the Barnwood Business Park was built in the 1970s around a large office development for the Central Electricity Generating Board, which subsequently became the headquarters of Nuclear Electric after privatisation and is now part of the EDF Energy empire. Barclays, and Cheltenham and Gloucester also have large offices in Barnwood providing financial services jobs.

Gloucester city council got new ward boundaries in 2016 at the same time as it moved off the thirds election cycle, so the last ordinary election results from the city are before the EU referendum. Going into these by-elections the Conservatives have a small but secure majority with 21 out of 39 seats plus the Barnwood vacancy; Labour have 9 seats plus the Podsmead vacancy, and the Lib Dems are on 7.

Throughout this century Barnwood ward has been closely fought between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems won all three seats at the 2002 election, with the Conservatives' Elizabeth Noakes gaining a seat in 2004 and the party getting a second seat in 2011. The 2016 boundary changes saw the south-western third of the ward hived off to become a new Coney Hill ward, which voted Labour with the Lib Dems close behind; but the boundary changes don't appear to have had much partisan effect on the rump Barnwood ward. In May 2016 the Conservatives polled 40% and won one seat, the Lib Dems polled 31% and won the other seat, and UKIP came in third with 12%. (I'm still trying to find out whether the Kippers were wrapped in plastic on that occasion.)

Podsmead ward, by contrast, was little changed by the Boundary Commission in 2016. This is a single-member council estate ward in the south of Gloucester, a triangular shape between the Bristol Road and the A38 bypass. The major local feature is the Crypt School, a grammar school which was founded in 1539 by Joan Cooke from money left by her late husband, four-time Mayor of Gloucester John Cooke. The list of Old Cryptians includes the political journalist Robin Day, although his brief time at the school was before it moved to Podsmead in 1943.

Throughout this century Podsmead ward has been closely fought between the Conservatives and Labour. Labour won the 2002 election very easily, but the Conservatives gained the ward in 2010 by 26 votes and increased their majority in 2014. On slightly revised boundaries in 2016, Labour regained Podsmead from the Conservatives in a straight fight by the margin of 52-48, a majority of 28 votes.

Since 2016 we have had the Gloucestershire county council elections, although comparison is difficult as the ward and county division boundaries don't match up well. Barnwood ward is mostly within the Barnwood and Hucclecote division; this voted Lib Dem in the 2017 county elections but also includes Hucclecote ward, where the Lib Dems are stronger than they are in Barnwood. Podsmead ward is split down the middle between two county divisions (Hempsted and Westgate, and Tuffley) which both voted Conservative in 2017.

So, with these being possibly the most significant local by-elections in years let's turn to the candidate lists. In Barnwood in 2016 the Tories and Lib Dems both had all-female slates; that is now reversed with an all-male ballot paper for this by-election. Defending for the Conservatives is Fred Ramsey, a retired RAF wing commander and Rotarian. The Lib Dem candidate, who had leadership contender Sir Ed Davey turn up last week to help out with his campaign, is Ashley Bowkett who has travelled the world working in the television industry and won awards for making documentaries. UKIP have selected Matthew Young, who in a case of nominative determinism is not yet 25 but two years ago became chairman of the party's Tewkesbury branch. Also standing are Chris Clee for Labour, Jonathan Ingleby for the Green Party, and Peter Sheehy - landlord of the Turk's Head in the city centre - for the Brexit Party.

Podsmead ward is another six-strong ballot paper. This will be a Labour defence and their defending candidate is community volunteer Lisa Jevins. The Tories have made an interesting choice of candidate in Byron Davis; not to be confused with the former Tory MP for Gower with a similar name, Davis is the teenage son of former Barnwood ward councillor David Mockridge, who died in 2000; he had campaigned for Labour in the last general election in Gloucester, but then because disillusioned with Corbynism and joined the Conservatives. It takes all sorts to make a world. Joining the fray are Michael Byfield for the Greens, Simon Collins for UKIP, former Gloucester councillor Sebastian Field for the Lib Dems, and former UKIP candidate Rob McCormick for the Brexit Party.

Barnwood

Parliamentary constituency: Gloucester
Cloucestershire county council result: Barnwood and Hucclecote (most), Coney Hill and Matson (small part), Abbey (small part)
Postcode districts: GL3, GL4

Ashley Bowkett (LD)
Chris Clee (Lab)
Jonathan Ingleby (Grn)
Fred Ramsey (C)
Peter Sheehy (Brexit Party)
Matthew Young (UKIP)

May 2016 result C 875/681 LD 685/594 UKIP 254 Lab 247/223 Grn 117

Podsmead

Parliamentary constituency: Gloucester
Cloucestershire county council result: Hempsted and Westgate (part), Tuffley (part)
Postcode districts: GL1, GL2

Michael Byfield (Grn)
Simon Collins (UKIP)
Byron Davis (C)
Sebastian Field (LD)
Lisa Jevins (Lab)
Rob McCormick (Brexit Party)

May 2016 result Lab 372 C 344


Hart

Hartlepool council, County Durham; caused by the resignation of Jean Robinson on health grounds. A councillor since 2011, she was elected for Labour but was sitting as an independent candidate.

And now for something completely different. Our other by-election this week is in Hartlepool, that strange and much-misunderstood town on the Durham coast. On the main road into town from Durham you bypass Hart Village, a rather nice place with an old history: its church is Anglo-Saxon, and its lords of the manor back in the day - the Norman de Brus family - were very influential. Robert de Brus VII has gone down in history as one of most famous kings of Scotland.

Beyond Hart village is Hartlepool's northern end, a fast-growing area with lots of new housing and (by Hartlepudlian standards) very high employment. In the 2011 census Hart ward was in the top 70 in England and Wales for Apprenticeship qualifications; however, the boundaries were redrawn in 2012 to bring in Hart village. There are more boundary changes planned for 2020, with an all-out election scheduled next year on the new lines.

Which will no doubt shake things up further in what is already an astonishingly volatile place even for the volatile political times in which we live. This column has long maintained that Hartlepool's politics was starting to get bizarre even before the Monkey Mayor came on the scene, and the abolition of his post by referendum has not changed the confusing nature of the council. There was a by-election in Hart ward last year, and readers of the paperback collection Andrew's Previews 2018 - out now for your reading pleasure, get it here from Amazon and support future Previews - will recall a confusing history. In 2012 Hart ward elected two Labour councillors and one independent. The independent lost his seat in 2014 to Putting Hartlepool First, a localist party which has since disbanded. The Putting Hartlepool First councillor retired in 2018 and his seat went to another independent.

And then things got even more complicated in the Pool. As described in this New Statesman article from April (link), there was an almighty row within the Hartlepool Labour party over candidate selection for the 2019 election, with a grassroots revolt (although not a Corbynite one) leading to several councillors being deselected. Councillor Paul Beck of Hart ward, who would have been up for re-election in May, decided to resign last year partly because of this, and Labour lost the resulting by-election to independent candidate James Brewer by the margin of 44-40. The row within Hartlepool Labour then came to a head. A large number of councillors defected, with Labour's remaining Hart ward councillor Jean Robinson going independent and five other Labour councillors joining Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party in the run-up to the 2019 elections, and the Labour majority on Hartlepool council was gone. One of the Labour councillors who joined the Socialist Labour Party was Christopher Akers-Belcher, the leader of the council. My grandad used to be a Hartlepool Labour supporter; goodness knows what he'd make of this if he were still alive.

The electorate does not look kindly on basket cases like Hartlepool Labour, and delivered a withering assessment in the May 2019 local elections. In 2015 Labour had won 9 seats out of a possible 11; in May that reduced to just 3, with gains for UKIP and the first ever council seats for the Veterans and Peoples Party and that far-right group led by Anne-Marie Waters, the For Britain Movement. Having won the October by-election, James Brewer was re-elected for a full term as councillor for Hart ward in a landslide, defeating Labour 67-33 in a straight fight; he stood in May under the banner of the Independent Union, a new group of independent, localist and ex-UKIP councillors which is now the major party in the coalition running Hartlepool council. That coalition must be one of the most bizarre administrations ever assembled, with eight Independent Union councillors (including Tom Cassidy, elected as an independent for Hart ward in May 2018), four from the Socialist Labour Party, three Conservatives, three Seaton Carew localists and two independents making a total of 20 seats out of a possible 33. Hands up who ever expected to see the Conservatives and Scargillites working together. In opposition are the rump of Labour (9 councillors) and the single councillors representing the For Britain Movement, UKIP and the Veterans and Peoples Party.

Goodness knows what's going to happen here this time. Labour will want their seat back, and have selected Ann Johnson in an attempt to get their act together after May's shellacking; she is now a support worker for children with educational needs after finishing a long career in the Navy, and fought Burn Valley ward in May - resoundingly losing to outgoing Labour councillor Ged Hall who was re-elected as an independent. The Independent Union will be hoping to get a full slate of Hart ward councillors, and they have selected Ian Griffiths who runs a print and design company; in May Griffiths stood in the Old Hartlepool-based Headland and Harbour ward for the Democrats and Veterans Party (the "gay donkey" UKIP splinter group), finishing third out of four candidates. Also standing are Graham Craddy for the For Britain Movement, Graham Harrison for UKIP and Michael Ritchie for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Hartlepool
ONS Travel to Work Area: Hartlepool
Postcode districts: TS26, TS27

Graham Craddy (For Britain Movement)
Ian Griffiths (Ind Union)
Graham Harrison (UKIP)
Ann Johnson (Lab)
Michael Ritchie (Grn)

May 2019 result Ind Union 1325 Lab 647
October 2018 by-election Ind 637 Lab 582 C 200 Grn 27
May 2018 result Ind 778 Lab 685 C 304
May 2016 result Lab 568 UKIP 529 Ind 394 C 383 Grn 70
May 2015 result Lab 1186 UKIP 981 C 798 Putting Hartlepool First 787 Ind 547
May 2014 result Putting Hartlepool First 534 UKIP 446 Ind 435 Lab 376 C 234
May 2012 result Lab 713/571/522 Ind 532/368/333/257 C 417 Putting Hartlepool First 266 UKIP 262

Andrew Teale


Preview: 24 Jul 2019

Just one council by-election for the 24th of July...

Farringdon Within

City of London Corporation; caused by the resignation of independent
Common Councilman Thomas Anderson.

"When will you pay me?"
Say the bells of Old Bailey

For a Wednesday by-election today we are in the City of London with an election to that unique democratic body, the Court of Common Council. This was very much the template for what local government developed into in the nineteenth century, with its multi-member electoral wards and aldermanic structure being copied all over the country; but all subsequent local government reforms have left the City of London Corporation intact and the result is now an anachronism.

The shape of Farringdon Within ward attests to that, as it's in two distinct parts. The southern part of the ward starts just north of Blackfriars station and runs past Ludgate Hill to the Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey) and City Thameslink railway station. There is then a narrow neck along King Edward Street and Little Britain to a northern area of the ward, which includes the church of St Bartholomew the Great and the Barbican Underground station. A large building site on the northern edge of the ward is an eastern entrance to the future Farringdon Crossrail station.

The name of the ward recalls Nicholas de Farndone, a goldsmith who served four times as Lord Mayor of London during the early 14th century. Nicholas was Alderman for the ward from 1293 (when he took the seat over from his father-in-law Willian de Farndone) until his death in 1334, and is remembered for banning football (in its mediaeval form) from the City due to the noise and disturbance the game caused. The "Within" of the name came from the fact that the ward was originally inside the Roman Wall in its entirety, although boundary changes in the 21st century mean that this is no longer the case.

This ward includes the oldest residential building in the City of London, at 41-42 Cloth Fair, which dates from not later than 1614. The street name recalls the great Bartholomew Fair, an annual mediaeval event held within the grounds of St Bartholomew's priory. The church itself was originally 300 feet long and larger than many cathedrals; its many spin offs included a hospital which became Barts and is still going strong today. St Bartholomew the Great escaped both the Great Fire of 1666 and the enemy bombing of the Second World War to become one of the oldest and largest churches in the City; W G Grace was a regular in the congregation, Deborah Mitford married the 11th Duke of Devonshire here, and John Betjeman lived opposite the church at 45 Cloth Fair. Its interior has featured in many films, from Four Weddings and a Funeral through The Other Boleyn Girl to such modern fare as Avengers: Age of Ultron. All human life is here, and by City standards rather a lot of human life: the 2011 census recorded a residential population of 276.

Farringdon Within is one of the City's largest wards, electing eight of the 100 Common Councilmen. In the most recent City elections in March 2017 the ward attracted 15 candidates, with Anderson being elected at the top of the poll with 247 votes and Graeme Smith taking the eighth and last seat with 159 votes. All the candidates last time out were independents.

There's another long ballot paper for this by-election with six candidates for the electors to choose from. Two unsuccessful candidates from the last election return: Virginia Rounding, who had topped the poll here in 2013, finished as runner-up in 2017 with 148 votes, and John Edwards was one place behind on 143 votes. Rounding is an author who has written such non-fiction fare as Grandes Horizontales, a study of courtesans in nineteenth-century Paris; a biography of Catherine the Great; and a recent work The Burning Time on the religious martyrs who were burned at the stake in Smithfield, just outside the ward, during the first Elizabethan Age. Probably more relevant here is that Rounding is the clerk to the Worshipful Company of Builders' Merchants. John Edwards is a local resident, giving an address on Carter Lane at the south end of the ward. At the top of the ballot paper is David Barker, a social entrepreneur who has won an award for his charity work. Ciara Murphy works within the ward as a commercial property manager. Emma Palmer is the remaining independent candidate on the ballot, and party politics has broken out with the nomination of City resident Paul O'Brien, who worked for the NHS for over 25 years, as an official Labour candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
London Assembly constituency: City and East
Postcode districts: EC1A, EC1M, EC4A, EC4M, EC4V

David Barker (Ind)
John Edwards (Ind)
Ciara Murphy (Ind)
Paul O'Brien (Lab)
Emma Palmer (Ind)
Virginia Rounding (Ind)


Previews: 18 Jul 2019

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

Before we start this week, I have a special announcement to make.

Andrew's Previews 2018

Slightly delayed for various reasons, the 2018 paperback version of Andrew's Previews has now been published. This is a revised and slightly updated collection of all the Previews published last year, together with some previously unpublished material. To quote the blurb:

2018 was another year of volatility in the UK's politics, with the hung parliament and the ongoing Brexit controversies pushing Westminster towards breaking point.

But there is more to UK's politics than just the House of Commons. Important decisions are taken every day in hundreds of local councils up and down these islands. All of those districts have their own political and historical story to tell.

In 2018 over half a million votes were cast in by-elections to our local councils, providing a weekly 'pulse check' on our democracy. Andrew Teale previewed them all for the website Britain Elects, describing the issues, the demographics, the candidates, the history, and why you might (or might not) want to visit the area.

Now published in book form, relive 2018 as it happened, and join Andrew in travelling the country - from the comfort of your armchair - in the service of democracy.

2018 may be only seven months ago, but so much water has flowed under the bridge since that politically it feels like another age. But it's important to know what things were like then to understand how we got where we are today. The Previews are a weekly contemporary record of what things were like in 2018, and you might learn something about our country and its people along the way. If you would like to support Andrew's Previews in future, the best way to do it is to buy the book: the profits will go towards future research, and you'll get a permanent reminder of your donation. I commend Andrew's Previews 2018 to the House, and you can get it here.

If you're undecided as to whether to buy Andrew's Previews 2018, have a look at this week's edition and see if you like it; there are many more previews like these in the book. There are six by-elections on Thursday 18th July 2019 with something for everyone this week, and we start with the big one:


Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner

Caused by the resignation of Labour PCC Dame Vera Baird, who has been appointed as Victims Commissioner for England and Wales. A former Solicitor-General for England and Wales and MP for Redcar from 2001 to 2010, Dame Vera had been the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner since the post was established in 2012.

It's time for the biggest single-member electoral event of 2019, a Police and Crime Commissioner by-election. And this is a by-election for one of the larger police forces: Northumbria Police's remit extends not just to Northumberland but also to the metropolitan county of Tyne and Wear. Over a million people will be eligible to vote in this by-election.

The two counties involved here are exceptionally diverse. Northumberland is one of most beautiful parts of England and has its own National Park, a very sparsely-populated area covering the Cheviot Hills, the Kielder Forest and Hadrian's Wall. Built in AD 122 by order of the Emperor Hadrian (history is silent as to whether the Picts paid for it), the Wall marked the northern frontier of the Roman Empire and is a World Heritage Site. The well-preserved remains of the forts at Housesteads and Vindolanda give some idea of what life was like on the borderlands all those centuries ago; and another perspective is given by the Vindolanda tablets, postcard-like wooden documents with Latin inscriptions written in ink. One of these, an invitation to a birthday party for Claudia Severa held around AD 100, is the world's oldest surviving writing known to be written by a woman.

A few centuries further down the line, we come to the so-called Dark Ages in which Northumbria was one of the major centres of Christianity. King Edwin of Northumbria converted to the religion in AD 626, and shortly afterwards a group of monks looking for the quieter life settled on the tidal island of Lindisfarne at the invitation of Edwin's successor King Oswald. The great Christian missionaries St Aidan and St Cuthbert both served as abbot of Lindisfarne, and their exploits were recorded and popularised by another of the great figures of Anglo-Saxon history: St Bede the Venerable. Described as the most important European scholar of the seventh century, and the only Briton recognised as a Doctor of the Catholic Church, Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People is still the major historical source for his time. This, like all of Bede's many other books, was composed in the dual monastery of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow where he lived virtually all his life. A museum dedicated to Bede's life and times can be visited on the banks of the Tyne in Jarrow; nearby is a restored version of the 7th-century Jarrow monastery church, which claims to have the world's oldest stained-glass window. (This claim is slightly misleading: the glass does date from around AD 600, but it was found in excavations and hasn't been in the window for quite that long.)

Northumbria has never really ceased to a borderland. Lindisfarne Abbey became unviable following Viking raids, which is why Cuthbert's and Bede's remains ended up in the more defensible Durham Cathedral. Once England and Scotland came into being as coherent entities, Northumbria was in the firing line between them. The Normans fortified the area by building several castles, including Norham, Bamburgh and a new castle which gave its name to a city. Many of the great battles between England and Scotland were fought in this area: at the Battle of Flodden, held five centuries ago a few miles from Berwick-upon-Tweed, King James IV of Scotland and many of his noblemen were killed. The town of Berwick-upon-Tweed changed hands many times between the countries, and its complicated history led to an urban legend that the town was still at war with the Russian Empire after being left out of the Treaty of Paris which concluded the Crimean War. Berwick is still the major economic and service centre for the old county of Berwickshire, over the border in Scotland, and its football team Berwick Rangers plays in the Scottish league system.

But Berwick and Lindisfarne are not typical of Northumbria as it is today. There was a lot of coal under south-eastern Northumberland, and the Tyne and Wear estuaries were major centres for shipbuilding and related engineering. The coal was mined in towns like Ashington and Blyth which form the major conurbation within Northumberland today, while the engineering made the fortunes of Newcastle upon Tyne, its sister town of Gateshead and the city of Sunderland. And if you fancied a beach holiday, the sandy beaches of Whitley Bay and Bamburgh aren't far away. Today Newcastle and Gateshead together form the major urban and cultural centre for north-east England, with all roads and communication links converging on the bridges over the Tyne. The Port of Tyne is also still busy, with daily overnight car ferries crossing the North Sea to Amsterdam - a relaxing way to travel.

The North East of England is a stronghold for the Labour party and has been so for generations. Labour controls five of the six local government districts covered by Northumbria Police, and fourteen of the sixteen MPs for the area were elected as Labour candidates.

The odd one out in both cases is Northumberland, which since a reorganisation in 2009 has been a single local government district. Northumberland council last went to the polls in May 2017 and was nearly a sensational gain for the Conservative party, which finished one seat and one vote short of an overall majority on the council; the deciding result was in South Blyth division, where the Tories' Daniel Carr tied with outgoing Lib Dem councillor Lesley Rickerby on 356 votes each. Don't let anybody tell you that your vote never made a difference. When elections are tied in the UK we don't go to a Super Over or invoke a dodgy tiebreak: instead the returning officer draws lots to decide the winner. The lot fell on Rickerby who was declared re-elected, and that left the Tories on 33 seats out of a possible 67. The Conservative surge wasn't based on making inroads in the Labour mining towns of south-east Northumberland (with the exception of Cramlington, which is essentially a small New Town and a Newcastle commuter area); instead it was based on cleaning up in the rural areas around Hexham, Alnwick and Berwick where the Lib Dems had previously done well. Berwick-upon-Tweed had a Liberal Democrat MP, Sir Alan Beith, up to 2015; his old constituency now has no Lib Dem councillors.

Northumberland, however, makes up less than a quarter of the electorate here. As can be seen from the cartogram above, in which each ward or division has been resized according to its electorate, the police area's population is concentrated in the five Tyne and Wear boroughs. All of these have Labour majorities now, although Newcastle upon Tyne was run by the Lib Dems during the last Labour government and the elected mayoralty for North Tyneside (which covers Wallsend, Whitley Bay and Tynemouth) has been won by the Conservatives a couple of times.

In the May 2019 Tyne and Wear local elections Labour lost seats in all five boroughs, spectacularly so in Sunderland where their administration has become very unpopular and the party lost twelve of the 24 seats they were defending. Those losses included the first ever election wins in Tyne and Wear for UKIP which won three seats, and for the Greens who gained Washington South ward by three votes. It's hard to imagine a more unlikely Green Party area than Washington New Town, but the fact that the previous Labour councillor for the ward had been prosecuted for internet grooming shortly before the election will not have gone down well with the voters. The Greens also picked up a seat in South Tyneside borough, taking the South Shields town centre ward of Beacon and Bents after several years of trying, and were second in votes across the South Shields constituency on 2nd May.

Also taking place on 2nd May was the inaugural election for the Mayor of the North of Tyne, the latest piece in the government's devolution jigsaw. These regional mayoral elections have not thus far been happy experiences for Labour, who conspired to lose the West Midlands and Tees Valley posts at the 2017 election; and although Labour's Corbynite candidate Jamie Driscoll did win the North of Tyne mayoralty his performance doesn't inspire confidence. Across Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside Driscoll led in the first round of counting but only with 34% of the vote, against 25% for the Conservative candidate Charlie Hoult (who was top across Northumberland), 17% for independent candidate John McCabe and 13% for the Lib Dems. Driscoll and Hoult went through to the runoff, which Driscoll won 56-44.

Vera Baird, in a larger and more Labour-friendly area, never had to go to preferences in her two PCC wins. The last Police and Crime Commissioner elections were in May 2016 and saw Baird re-elected in the first round with 55% of the vote; best of the rest was 18% for the Conservatives.

Dame Vera is resigning to take up a new job as Victims Commissioner for England and Wales, which means that the provisions for a Police and Crime Commissioner by-election have been activated. The relevant legislation - the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 - was written by the Home Office who don't normally have anything to do with elections. And it shows. In most cases when a UK elected office falls vacant there is no maximum length of time before an election is held to fill it; the main exceptions are Scottish local government, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, which specify a maximum vacancy of three months unless there is an ordinary election within the next six months. There have been exceptional cases in England and Wales of council seats remaining vacant for over a year.

Police and Crime Commissioner vacancies, on the other hand, have to be filled within 35 working days - just seven weeks plus bank holidays for the parties to select and nominate candidates and the election offices of a county (or in this case, more than one county) to organise a poll and a count. It's a ridiculously short length of time and leads to ridiculous consequences. On 1st July 2014 the Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands, Bob Jones, unexpectedly died in office; to fit the timescale Birmingham city council had to publish notice of election before Jones' funeral could be held, and the only realistic date for the poll was 21st August when many of the West Midlands' electors were on their summer holidays. The electorate treated this with the contempt it deserved, and the turnout only just broke 10%.

It should also be pointed out that these are major transferable-vote elections and they need large count venues. These can be difficult to book. The biggest count in the European elections just gone was that for Northern Ireland, which as a transferable-vote election really needs a single count venue for the whole province; this year's venue was Magherafelt Leisure Centre, which is centrally-located within Northern Ireland but (with due apologies to the people of Magherafelt) rather off the beaten track. One suspects that the choice of this venue, rather than somewhere more readily accessible in greater Belfast, was motivated by what venues the Chief Electoral Officer could get for a Bank Holiday Monday at short notice.

This is not just Northern Ireland's problem. Last month it was announced by the Government that the May Day bank holiday for 2020 would be moved from Monday 4th to Friday 8th May to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day. To quote from the BBC's report on this, the holiday "will form part of a three-day weekend of commemorative events", and your columnist should know as the military band I play in has already been booked for one of them. The Business Secretary, Greg Clark, was quoted as saying:

It will ensure as many people as possible have the opportunity to remember and honour our heroes of the Second World War and reflect on the sacrifices of a generation.

Greg Clark is a politician, and as such it beggars belief that he hadn't clocked that Thursday 7th May 2020 - the day before this specially-moved bank holiday - is ordinary local election day. Next year we have a lot of major transferable-vote elections coming up: the Mayor of Greater Manchester, the Police and Crime Commissioners, and the London Mayor and Assembly. The Mayor of London and Assembly election is so big that the 32 London borough councils, who normally run their own counts, aren't trusted with it. Instead the Greater London returning officer has reserved three of the country's largest exhibition centres - ExCeL, Olympia and Alexandra Palace - for Friday 8th May 2020 as centralised count venues, which will be filled with electronic counting machines that scan your completed ballot papers and produce results for the mayor, the two Assembly ballots and any local by-elections that are taking place in the capital that week. ExCeL, Olympia and Ally Pally have told the Greater London returning officer that they are fully booked for weeks afterwards; in other words, it's already too late to change the London mayoral election date. So, rather than having Bank Holiday Friday 8th May 2020 as a VE Day commemoration, it looks like it's going to be dominated by election count news instead; and the returning officers are going to have to budget unexpectedly for staff time at bank holiday rates. Well done Mr Clark.

That shouldn't be read as a slight on the Northumbria PCC election counters. This election is under the overall supervision of the returning officer for Sunderland, whose counting team are traditionally the best in the business but are being given a run for their money these days by Newcastle upon Tyne council. We can expect no nonsense on the administrative side.

Defending this election for Labour is Kim McGuinness, who is a Newcastle upon Tyne city councillor for Lemington ward. McGuinness works for a military charity and is the Newcastle cabinet member for culture, sport and public health.

The Conservatives have selected Robbie Moore, a rural surveyor and Northumberland councillor. He represents Alnwick division, having gained his seat from the Lib Dems in 2017.

Also standing are Jonathan Wallace, who leads the Lib Dem group on Gateshead council; and independent candidate Georgina Hill who is a Northumberland councillor for Berwick East division and former press officer for the Berwick-upon-Tweed MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan. In a widely-reported gaffe during the campaign, Hill posed for a photograph outside a deserted "Alnwick Police" station while complaining about police staffing levels, not having realised that the "Alnwick Police" station was in fact a set for the forthcoming Sky One TV series The Heist.

With all four candidates being local councillors, whoever wins this by-election there will be another one on the way: you can't be a PCC and local councillor at the same time. However, that vacancy thankfully won't have any time limit to dictate when the poll can be.

Constituent districts: Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside, Sunderland
ONS Travel to Work Areas: Berwick, Blyth and Ashington, Hexham, Newcastle, Sunderland

Georgina Hill (Ind)
Kim McGuinness (Lab)
Robbie Moore (C)
Jonathan Wallace (LD)

May 2016 result Lab 180479 C 58713 UKIP 52293 LD 34757
November 2012 result Lab 100170 C 45845 UKIP 18876 LD 13916


Llanbadarn Fawr Sulien

Ceredigion council, Dyfed; caused by the death of Plaid Cymru councillor Paul James at the age of 61. James was killed in a road accident while training for a cycle ride to raise money for two hospitals which had treated him for heart trouble. He had been a Ceredigion councillor since 2004; away from the council James worked in security for Aberystwyth University and had also served in the military.

Nid byd, byd heb wybodaeth ("A world without knowledge is no world at all")
- motto of Aberystwyth University

Back to the normal diet of council by-elections, and we start in mid-Wales. Llanbadarn Fawr is an eastern suburb of Aberystwyth and essentially part of its built-up area. As well as being a seaside resort and major centre for the local area, Aberystwyth is a university town; and many of the Aberystwyth University students live on the university's main Penglais campus, which spills over into Llanbadarn Fawr Sulien division.

This severely skews the division's census return. In 2011 Llanbadarn Fawr Sulien ranked no 8 in England and Wales for those educated to A-level but no further and was in the top 20 for the 18-29 age bracket, with 65% of the residents being full-time students. One has to wonder whether holding this by-election out of the University's term (exams finished at the start of June) was a good idea from a turnout point of view. Just outside the division boundary is the National Library of Wales, which as one of the UK's legal deposit libraries is entitled to a free copy of Andrew's Previews 2018.

Paul James enjoyed large majorities as a Ceredigion councillor. At his final re-election in May 2017 he polled a relatively low 71% of the vote, with 15% for the Lib Dems as best of the rest. Plaid Cymru also hold Ceredigion at Westminster and Senedd level; the Welsh nationalists gained the parliamentary seat from the Lib Dems in June 2017 with a majority of just 104 votes.

Defending for Plaid Cymru is Matthew Woolfall Jones, a former Aberystwyth University student who stood in the 2016 Welsh Assembly election as the party's candidate for the Torfaen constituency in south Wales. The Lib Dems have selected Michael Chappell, an Aberystwyth town councillor who in the last academic year was chairman of the party's Aberystwyth University branch. Completing the ballot paper is Richard Layton for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Ceredigion
ONS Travel to Work Area: Aberystwyth
Postcode district: SY23

Michael Chappell (LD)
Richard Layton (Lab)
Matthew Woolfall Jones (PC)

May 2017 result PC 267 LD 58 Lab 33 Grn 20
May 2012 result PC 338 LD 46 C 19
May 2008 result PC 346 LD 74
June 2004 result PC 316 LD 42


Brixworth

Daventry council, Northamptonshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Fabienne Fraser-Allen who had served since 2016. She had failed to attend any council meetings in the previous six months and was about to be disqualified for non-attendance.

We move to England with what will almost certainly be the last by-election to Daventry council, which is expected to be abolished in April next year. Brixworth is a large village a few miles to the north of Northampton, bypassed by the main road to Market Harborough. This is an old village: the parish church, dedicated to All Saints, is our second 7th-century church of the week (after St Paul;s, Jarrow) and is described as "the finest Romanesque church north of the Alps". In more recent years quarrying of iron ore has been a major industry here, while the main local employer today is an interesting one: a Mercedes-Benz plant which supplies high-performance engines to the Mercedes, Williams and Racing Point Formula One teams. When Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix elsewhere in Northamptonshire last Sunday, his engine came from Brixworth.

Brixworth was profiled in Andrew's Previews in November 2014 when there was a by-election for the larger county division of the same name, following the resignation of county councillor Catherine Boardman to concentrate on her farming business. I wrote then that Boardman had been "credited with turning around the county's poorly-rated children's services", a sentence which has not stood the test of time. The county's children's services are now effectively in special measures on top of Northamptonshire county council twice running out of money last year. Because of that insolvency, local government reorganisation is now in the works which should see Daventry council subsumed into a new "West Northamptonshire" district next year.

That reorganisation meant that the 2019 election to Daventry council was cancelled, so the most recent Brixworth election was in May 2018. In that year the Tories - for whom this is a safe ward - beat Labour 65-24. The local county division is also safe for the Conservatives.

The Conservatives have turned to the next generation to hold this by-election: their defending candidate, Daventry resident Lauryn Harrington-Carter, is not yet 20. Labour have reselected their regular candidate for the ward Stuart Coe, a Brixworth parish councillor, teacher and NUT figure. Completing the ballot paper is another Brixworth resident, Jonathan Harris, for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Daventry
Northamptonshire county council division: Brixworth
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northampton
Postcode district: NN6

Stuart Coe (Lab)
Lauryn Harrington-Carter (C)
Jonathan Harris (LD)

May 2018 result C 1183 Lab 428 LD 197
May 2016 result C 928 Lab 317 UKIP 306 LD 137 Grn 123
May 2015 result C 2601 Lab 726 Grn 517
May 2014 result C 1082 UKIP 468 Lab 255 Grn 153 LD 123
May 2013 by-election C 1082 Lab 307 Grn 258 LD 89
Nov 2012 by-election C 857 Grn 484
May 2012 result C 1004/924/859 Grn 497 LD 376 Lab 321


Westbury North

Wiltshire council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor David Jenkins.

For our second by-election in the English provinces we travel south-west from Northamptonshire to Wiltshire. Westbury is one of the smaller towns of Wiltshire but for centuries gave its name to a parliamentary seat, originally as a pocket borough; that record lasted until 2010 when the Westbury name was dropped by the Boundary Commission in favour of the more prosaic "South West Wiltshire". The town's location off the north-west corner of Salisbury Plain means that many transport routes pass through here: Westbury is a major railway junction where the London-Plymouth and Bristol-Salisbury lines intersect. The North division - one of three covering the town - is relatively recently developed (most of its housing is from the 1980s) and runs generally between the Station Road and the Trowbridge Road.

David Jenkins had represented Westbury North since the modern Wiltshire council was created in 2009. At his last re-election in 2017 he had a safe seat, defeating the Conservatives 54-32. Given the large swing towards the Liberal Democrats at the recent by-election in Trowbridge, the next town to the north, a hold for the party seems the most likely result.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Carole King, a retired local government worker who fought the Westbury West division at the 2017 election. The Conservatives have selected Antonio Piazza. Also standing are Jane Russ for Labour and two independent candidates, Francis Morland (who stood here in 2009) and Ian Cunningham.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Wiltshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Trowbridge
Postcode district: BA13

May 2017 result LD 596 C 299 Lab 134
May 2013 result LD 493 Ind 199 C 113 Lab 107
June 2009 result LD 508 C 379 Ind 162


Downs North

Ashford council, Kent; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Stephen Dehnel at the age of 67. A former Grenadier Guards officer who reached the rank of Major and was appointed MBE, Dehnel had served on Ashford council since 2015. At the time of his death he was about to be promoted to the council's cabinet, with the culture portfolio.

The final rural by-election of this week takes place in the North Downs (or, as the ward name has it, Downs North) of Kent. The Downs North ward covers four small parishes midway between Ashford and Canterbury, of which the largest is Chilham in the Great Stour valley. This is a relatively unspoilt and very photogenic village which has appeared in several TV dramas, including the 2009 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma and editions of ITV's Agatha Christie's Marple and Poirot. That Poirot episode, set during a snowbound Christmas, heavily featured the village's oldest building: Chilham Castle, which dates from 1174 and is still in private occupation. The current occupier of Chilham Castle is the spread betting millionaire and former UKIP treasurer Stuart Wheeler.

Until now Wheeler has not had a UKIP local election candidate to vote for in Downs North. Instead the ward has been strongly Conservative this century with interest usually lying in who comes second. The current Tory weakness was however reflected in a vote-share fall to 47% in May's ordinary election, the Greens coming second with 24% and the Lib Dems third on 19%. The Conservatives also strongly hold the local Kent county council division, Ashford Rural East. Damian Green, who was effectively Theresa May's cabinet deputy in 2017 before being forced to resign over a sexual harassment and pornography scandal, is the local MP and has a secure base in his Ashford constituency.

Defending for the Conservatives is Stephen Dehnel's son Charles. The Green Party have selected Geoff Meaden, who lives within the ward in the wonderfully-named village of Old Wives Lees. The Lib Dem candidate Adrian Gee-Turner is a former Hackney councillor in London, was runner-up in the 2010 election for Mayor of Hackney and has stood for Parliament three times, most recently in Ashford in 2017; he lives in Ashford town and works in the healthcare industry. Also standing are Carly Ruppert Lingham for Labour (who stood here in May's election), Rachael Carley for the Ashford Independents (a well-organised local party), Philip Meads for UKIP and local resident Sarah Williams who completes the ballot paper as an independent candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashford
Kent county council division: Ashford Rural East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ashford
Postcode districts: CT4, TN25

Rachel Carley (Ashford Ind)
Charles Dehnel (C)
Adrian Gee-Turner (LD)
Geoff Meaden (Grn)
Philip Meads (UKIP)
Carly Ruppert Lingham (Lab)
Sarah Williams (Ind)

May 2019 result C 375 Grn 186 LD 148 Lab 82
May 2015 result C 932 Lab 291 Grn 290
May 2011 result C 580 Ashford Ind 279 Grn 162
May 2007 result C 511 Grn 240 LD 102
May 2003 result C 599 LD 158


East Sheen

Richmond upon Thames council, South London; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Mona Adams who had served since 2018. During her only completed year in office, 2018-19, she was Deputy Mayor of Richmond upon Thames.

We finish for the week in South London. East Sheen lies in the Surrey half of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, with the South Circular Road being the main thoroughfare and Mortlake railway station (on South Western's Hounslow and Kingston loop lines) providing connections to central London. This is one of the most affluent parts of the capital; it makes the top 40 wards in England and Wales for both the "higher management" and "lower management" census occupational groups which together account for 62% of the workforce, and over 61% of the workforce are educated to degree level. Those high-powered residents have lots of open space to enjoy, as the East Sheen ward includes part of the open space of Richmond Park.

If a large proportion of your vote comes from rich people with high-powered responsible jobs who would like to keep them, then the first rule of your political campaigning is not to piss off rich people with high-powered responsible jobs who would like to keep them. Which is where the Conservative Party has been going wrong over the last four years. Until 2015 East Sheen was a Tory ward which gave big majorities to the blue slate. One of its councillors, Nicholas True, was leader of Richmond upon Thames council from 2010 until retiring in 2017, as well as being a special adviser and speechwriter to ministers in the Thatcher and Major governments. True was appointed CBE in the 1993 New Year Honours, and became a member of the House of Lords in 2010 as Lord True.

At True's final re-election in 2014 things were going swimmingly: his party had a large majority on Richmond upon Thames council, he had a Tory MP to work with in the form of Zac Goldsmith for Richmond Park (the seat which includes East Sheen), and on the far side of the Thames the Twickenham MP and Lib Dem cabinet minister Vince Cable was attracting all sorts of publicity, not all of it positive. In the 2015 general election Cable lost his seat and Goldsmith was re-elected with a huge majority. A year later Zac Goldsmith was the Conservative candidate to succeed Boris Johnson (what's he doing these days?) as Mayor of London; in East Sheen ward's ballot boxes Goldsmith crushed Sadiq Khan 65-20 and ran a long way ahead of the Conservative list for the London Members, which polled 54% to 14% for Labour and 12% for the Liberal Democrats.

And then all hell broke loose. Zac Goldsmith went against the majority of opinion in his constituency by backing the Leave side in the EU referendum, and later that year he resigned his seat in Parliament to seek re-election in opposition to proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport. The problem with that idea is that you can't keep parliamentary elections to a single issue like that. Ostensibly standing as an independent but without Tory opposition, Goldsmith sensationally lost the 2016 Richmond Park by-election to the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney, who turned the by-election into an argument over Brexit and exposed just how far Goldsmith's position on that issue was from that of his constituents.

Lessons from that experience were not learned. When Mrs May called the snap general election a few months later she found out, as Goldsmith had, that you can't keep an election campaign on your own preferred single issue. Goldsmith, now an official Conservative again, did reverse the by-election loss and narrowly get his seat back, but that was about the only thing which went right for the Richmond Tories. Vince Cable returned as MP for Twickenham with a large majority, and subsequently became party leader; and of course the Conservative overall majority in the Commons was lost.

Then the 2018 Richmond upon Thames borough election came along, at which the councillors who formed the Tory majority in Twickenham and Richmond Park were scattered like, well...

https://youtu.be/3GRSbr0EYYU

In 2014 the Conservatives had won 39 seats in Richmond upon Thames to 15 for the Lib Dems; that was reversed in 2018 with 39 seats for the Lib Dems, 11 Conservatives and four Greens (who had an electoral pact with the Lib Dems). It was the worst Conservative performance in a Richmond election since the Major administration. The Lib Dem surge even hit East Sheen ward, with a 17% swing bringing them up to parity with the Conservatives. The Tories (now without Lord True, who retired) polled 47% in East Sheen and held two seats, the Lib Dems polled 46% and gained one seat.

So this by-election is a crucial test as to whether the Lib Dems can maintain their momentum in this affluent corner of south-west London. Defending for them is Julia Cambridge who fought the ward in 2018; she is vice-chair of the party's Campaign for Gender Balance. The Tories will want this marginal seat back and have selected Helen Edward, a deputy chair of the party's Richmond Park branch. Also standing are Giles Oakley for Labour and Trixie Rawlinson for the Women's Equality Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Richmond Park
ONS Travel to Work Area: Slough and Heathrow
Postcode districts: SW14, TW10

Julia Cambridge (LD)
Helen Edward (C)
Giles Oakley (Lab)
Trixie Rawlinson (Women's Equality)

May 2018 result C 2026/1979/1928 LD 1982/1927/1724 Lab 276/244/176
May 2014 result C 2159/2128/1995 LD 790/725/586 Grn 561 Lab 410/404/393
May 2010 result C 3225/2974/2971 LD 2010/1839/1758 Grn 713 Lab 414/337/321
May 2006 result C 2181/2126/2096 LD 994/973/938 Grn 570 Lab 212/193
May 2002 result C 1697/1684/1651 LD 792/768/726 Grn 314/295/284 Lab 245/207/198

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor; C 2424 Lab 761 LD 239 Grn 170 Women's Equality 87 UKIP 33 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 17 Britain First 14 Respect 11 Zylinski 2 BNP 1 One Love 1
London Members: C 2012 Lab 538 LD 466 Grn 330 Women's Equality 196 UKIP 112 Animal Welfare 44 Britain First 21 CPA 12 House Party 12 Respect 9 BNP 6

Andrew Teale


Preview: 16 Jul 2019

One by-election on Tuesday 16th July 2019:


Cyncoed

Cardiff council, Glamorgan; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Wendy Congreve who had served since May 2017.

By-elections are traditionally held on Thursdays, but any working day will do; and this is the first of three consecutive weeks where non-Thursday by-elections are in the diary. To start off we're in the capital city of Wales. Although Cyncoed is within the Cardiff Central constituency this is one of the city's northern wards, mostly developed in the 1950s on the eastern side of the railway line towards Caerphilly and the Rhymney Valley. Heath High Level station, on the division boundary, provides connections to the city centre. The main local feature is the Victorian Roath Park, set around a lake with a lighthouse in it; this lighthouse is not an aid to shipping but a memorial to the ill-fated Scott expedition to the South Pole, which had set off from Cardiff in 1910.

Despite the presence of a significant student population and a campus of Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cyncoed is one of the most affluent electoral divisions in Cardiff with high levels of owner-occupation. This manifests itself in a low Labour vote; in this century the Liberal Democrats have instead dominated the representation here. The Conservatives were in a poor second place but caught up in the 2017 local election; shares of the vote two years ago were 36% each for the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, with the Lib Dems winning two seats and the Tories gaining one. Labour came in third with 19%. The Lib Dems used to hold the Cardiff Central parliamentary seat at both Westminster and Assembly level and came close to regaining the Senedd seat from Labour at the last Welsh Assembly election in 2016.

Recent local by-elections have seen some big gains for the Liberal Democrats, who may therefore be confident of holding this marginal seat. Their defending candidate is Robert Hopkins, who has recently retired from a long career in local government which included heading Cardiff council's school improvement service for some years. The Conservatives have selected Peter Hudson, who narrowly missed out in the 2017 election in the neighbouring Heath division. The Labour candidate is Madhu Khanna-Davies, who appears to be a charity shop manager, and the ballot paper is completed by Morgan Rogers for Plaid Cymru.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Cardiff Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cardiff
Postcode district: CF14, CF23

Robert Hopkins (LD)
Peter Hudson (C)
Madhu Khanna-Davies (Lab)
Morgan Rogers (PC)

May 2017 result LD 1874/1769/1727 C 1852/1737/1733 Lab 996/757/710 Grn 415
May 2012 result LD 1809/1727/1698 C 1093/1006/966 Lab 683/661/614 PC 241/177/168 Grn 217
May 2008 result LD 2294/2166/2152 C 1439/1383/1320 Lb 518/475/415 PC 275
June 2004 result LD 2490/2384/2347 C 1106/1081/1080 Lab 508/454/441 PC 226/219


Previews: 11 Jul 2019

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

Before we start this week, there is an entry for Correction Corner. Last week's Middlesbrough preview clearly touched a nerve with some Teesside Corbynites on Twitter, who have asked me to clarify that although the Middlesbrough mayor Andy Preston did move back up north his residence is outside the borough boundary. I am happy to make this clear, although I am tempted to point out that if you came across to the electorate the same way you came across to me then that might go some way towards explaining just how badly the Labour Party did in the by-election. I used to resolve complaints for a living, so let me give you a tip: if the person resolving your complaint has to make a decision which could reasonably go either way, it will be easier to make a case in favour of the complainant if the complaint is a polite one.

There are two local by-elections on 11th July 2019:


Bridlington North

East Riding council, East Yorkshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Richard Harrap. A retired travel agent and former Mayor of Bridlington, Harrap had served since 1999 and had been a member of the East Riding cabinet since 2003, latterly holding the adult and carer services portfolio.

It's July, it's holiday season, so let's go to the beach. Bridlington is a good location for that, with its wide sandy beach produced by extensive coastal erosion. At Bridlington the geology changes and with it the coast, as the soft clay cliffs of East Yorkshire are replaced by the harder chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head which lie within this ward. These are the only chalk seacliffs in the North of England, and they've seen a lot of history. Danes Dyke, a prehistoric ditch, forms a defensive barrier across the headland; while in September 1779 you could look from the cliffs onto the Battle of Flamborough Head, a victory for John Paul Jones and his Franco-American naval squadron during the American War of Independence. These days those who cast their gaze on the cliffs tend to be birdwatchers, on the lookout for migrant birds and the seabirds that nest here.

Just outside the protection of Danes Dyke is Sewerby Hall, a Georgian country house in extensive gardens which has recently reopened to the public as a museum. The hall lies on the outskirts of Bridlington, a minor port and classic seaside resort which is home to most of the ward's population. Bridlington lies on a bay which has been known since antiquity: Ptolemy, in his 2nd-century AD atlas, described it as a "bay suitable for a harbour", and 2nd-century BC Greek coins have been found by archaeologists in the modern Bridlington harbour area.

The modern population of Bridlington may not be Greek but does tend towards the ancient. In the 2011 census Bridlington North ward ranked 12th in England and Wales for retired population (37% of the workforce) and made the top 50 wards for those aged 65 or over. Anybody under 45 living here is young.

In that context it should not be a surprise to find that this is a strongly Conservative ward in normal conditions, although UKIP did take a seat off the Tories in 2015. The Kipper councillor didn't seek re-election in May this year and the three-strong Conservative slate was opposed only by a single Labour candidate, who was crushed 71-29. Bridlington is the major town in the East Yorkshire parliamentary seat, which provides a secure base for Tory MP Sir Greg Knight.

This by-election has much more choice for the local electors with eight candidates standing. Defending for the Conservatives is Martin Burnhill who has recently retired after a 46-year career at Sewerby Hall, rising from 16-year-old assistant gardener to senior manager at East Riding council which owns the hall. Standing for Labour is Mike Dixon, a Bridlington town councillor. Former Mayor of Bridlington Terry Dixon is standing as an independent candidate, as he did in 2015 (finishing last out of six candidates in this ward with a creditable 18%). Mike Heslop-Mullins is the ward's first Lib Dem candidate since 2007; he is a Bridlington town councillor, as is independent candidate Thelma Milns who was the UKIP councillor here from 2015 to 2019. Former town councillor David Robson is a third independent candidate on the ballot; he is another former UKIP East Riding councillor, representing Bridlington South ward from 2015 to 2019. Official UKIP candidate Gary Shores comes hotfoot from the recent European Parliament elections, when he was on the party's list for Yorkshire and the Humber. Completing the ballot paper is Paul Walker, a businessman standing for the devolutionist Yorkshire Party which won two seats on East Riding council in May.

Parliamentary constituency: East Yorkshire ONS Travel to Work Area: Bridlington Postcode districts: YO15, YO16

Martin Bunhill (C) Mike Dixon (Lab) Terry Dixon (Ind) Mike Heslop-Mullins (LD) Thelma Milns (Ind) David Robson (Ind) Gary Shores (UKIP) Paul Walker (Yorks Party)

May 2019 result C 2101/2050/1929 Lab 855 May 2015 result C 3115/2505/1904 UKIP 2185 Lab 1796 Ind 1533 May 2011 result C 2713/2449/2161 Lab 1313/1085/990 May 2007 result C 2231/1921/1894 LD 1225/1223 BNP 1162 Lab 757/675 May 2003 result C 1487/1319/1275 Ind 718/546/517/239 LD 520/588 Lab 571/499 SDP 426/202/183


Whitecross

Herefordshire council; caused by the disqualification of It's Our County (Herefordshire) councillor Sue Boulter, who was elected to Herefordshire council on 2nd May 2019 while ineligible to stand. The Mayor of Hereford in 2018-19, Boulter is disqualified from being a Herefordshire councillor as she has a support role with the council's education department.

For our other by-election this week we travel to the southern capital of the beautiful Welsh Marches, the city of Hereford. Whitecross ward lies in the west of the city along the main road towards Brecon and Radnorshire, which we shall hear rather more of in this column in due course. The ward covers housing which is mostly from the 1950s and which includes a large Welsh-born population.

This ward was created in 2015 having previously been the western half of St Nicholas ward. St Nicholas had a high councillor attrition rate, with by-elections taking place in 2004, 2010 and 2012; the 2010 election was the first success for a localist party called It's Our County, which quickly established itself after that as the major opposition to the Conservatives on Herefordshire council. It's Our County held the 2012 by-election with a celebrity candidate, the classical music composer Anthony Powers who is notable enough to have his own Wikipedia page. The first election for Whitecross ward in 2015 was held by It's Our County on a low share of the vote against fragmented opposition; Sue Boulter made the ward safe in May by polling 48% of the vote, against 20% for UKIP and 18% for the Liberal Democrats.

That 2019 Herefordshire council election saw the county's Conservative administration, which had an appalling reputation locally, deservedly crash and burn. Similar to what we saw in Middlesbrough last week, the new independent-led administration has had a few teething problems with defections, as a five-strong splinter group called "True Independents" has been been formed since the election reducing the coalition's majority to just three seats. The Herefordshire Independents lead the administration with 13 seats; their junior coalition partners are It's Our County (seven councillors plus this vacancy) and the Greens (seven councillors). The Tories (13), Lib Dems (7) and True Independents (5) form the opposition.

Sue Boulter wasn't able to seek re-election as Herefordshire council required her to work her notice period. Instead her husband Dave Boulter will seek to hold Whitecross ward for It's Our County. UKIP have not returned after their second-place finish two months ago. The Lib Dems have reselected Tricia Hales, who came third here in May; she is involved in various charities and for many years has organised an annual raft race on the River Wye here. Completing the ballot paper is Rob Williams for the Conservatives.

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

Dave Boulter (It's Our County) Tricia Hales (LD) Rob Williams (C)

May 2019 result It's Our County 400 UKIP 169 LD 148 C 122 May 2015 result It's Our County 444 C 358 UKIP 318 LD 291 Ind 119


Andrew Teale is Britain Elects' by-election previewer and also edits the Local Elections Archive Project.


Previews: 04 Jul 2019

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

Four by-elections on 4th July 2019, with the Conservatives defending two seats, Labour one and independents one. Let's start with the independent defence:


Park End and Beckfield

Middlesbrough council, North Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Jan Mohan who had served since winning a by-election in July 2017.

Our first northern by-election brings to mind one of the most consequential local by-elections of recent time. On Maundy Thursday 2017 the Conservative party, riding high in opinion polls, pulled off an impressive gain of the Coulby Newham ward, an estate in southern Middlesbrough. Having taken the Easter weekend to think things over, the prime minister Theresa May then called a general election the following Tuesday. And we all know how that turned out.

But it's not just the Conservative party which has been confounded by recent Middlesbrough local elections. This is one of the towns which went over to the elected mayoral system at the start of this century; despite long-standing Labour strength in Middlesbrough its first mayor was independent candidate and former police officer Ray Mallon. "Robocop" retired at the 2015 mayoral election after three terms, and Labour's Dave Budd - who had been Mallon's deputy - very narrowly gained the mayoralty, finishing 252 votes ahead of independent candidate Andy Preston.

Since 2015 little has gone right for Middlesbrough Labour. As well as the Coulby Newham by-election referenced above, the party lost the Tees Valley mayoral election to the Conservatives in May 2017, lost the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland parliamentary seat to the Conservatives in June 2017 and resoundingly lost the Middlesbrough mayoralty in May 2019. Andy Preston, a philanthropist who had moved back to his native town after making a fortune in the land of City of London hedge funds, returned this year for a second go at the mayoralty and crushed new Labour candidate Mick Thompson; Preston won in the first round with a margin of 59-23 over Labour. At the same time as this, Labour also lost their majority on Middlesbrough council, the 2019 council elections returning 23 independents against 20 Labour councillors and three Conservatives.

There has been independent strength on the council for a long time as is demonstrated by the history of Middlesbrough's Park End and Beckfield ward, in the east of the town hard up against the boundary with Redcar. At the time of the 2011 census Park End and Beckfield were two separate wards, both of which made the top 100 wards in England and Wales for the proportion of the workforce with no qualifications or in "routine" work, the lowest of the seven occupation categories used by the census; Park End also made the top 30 in England and Wales for "semi-routine" work. This ward and its predecessors has returned a full slate of independent councillors since 2011, and in May the independent slate polled 82% of the vote against Labour and Green opposition. Some of that vote share may be related to disruption caused by the demolition of the local Southlands leisure centre, which commenced in April; the council has plans for a new community hub to be built in its place.

If Andy Preston had intended to shake up Middlesbrough politics he's clearly got his wish, but perhaps not in the way he intended: Preston's new administration hasn't shown much stability in its first two months in office. Jan Mohan had been named as his cabinet member for children's services, but she then resigned immediately citing health reasons and prompting this by-election. Two other members of Preston's cabinet have since left the main independent group on the council - the Middlesbrough Independent Councillors Association - which has left Labour as the largest single party. A change in this by-election could affect the balance of power further.

There are two competing independent candidates. The continuity candidate would appear to be Steven James, a social care professional who is supported by Mayor Preston. The other independent candidate is Stephen Hill, who fought Marton East ward in May. Also standing are Paul McGrath for Labour, Ian Jones for the Lib Dems and Val Beadnall for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Middlesbrough (former Beckfield ward), Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (former Park End ward) ONS Travel to Work Area: Middlesbrough and Stockton Postcode districts: TS3, TS7

Val Beadnall (C) Stephen Hill (Ind) Steven James (Ind) Ian Jones (LD) Paul McGrath (Lab)

May 2019 result Ind 1050/979/910 Lab 178/118/117 Grn 46 July 2017 by-election Ind 505 Lab 302 C 59 Grn 12 LD 10 May 2015 result Ind 1177/1082/1043 Lab 989/716/608 C 178


Eccleston and Mawdesley

Chorley council, Lancashire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Henry Caunce at the age of 71. He had served since 2004.

For our other Northern by-election we travel to central Lancashire, arriving in the large village of Eccleston. Some miles to the west of Chorley on the opposite side of the M6 motorway, Eccleston has a name meaning "settlement by a Celtic church" (compare the Welsh word for "church", eglwys) and retains strong religious associations to this day. The Eccleston and Mawdesley ward came in the top 60 in England and Wales for Christianity in the 2011 census; high scores for this statistic usually correlate with a large Catholic population, and Eccleston's famous sons include St John Rigby who was executed for Catholicism in 1600. Rigby is recognised by the Catholic Church as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, and was canonised in 1970. However, the most obvious modern memorial in Eccleston is a golden postbox which was painted in honour of the village's most famous current resident: Sir Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 Tour de France winner and most decorated British Olympian of all time (with five gold medals, one silver and two bronze) lives in Eccleston.

The Chorley district of Lancashire has swung strongly towards the Labour party in recent local elections, but this ward of it has gone the other way. Eccleston and Mawdesley ward was closely fought between the Conservatives and Labour up to 2014 (although Labour only won one seat out of a possible 12 in this period, at the inaugural election of 2002) but since then the Conservatives have built a significant lead. Two months ago at the ordinary local elections the Tory majority over Labour was 54-33, with UKIP being the only other party to stand; that poll was held the day after Caunce died. In the 2017 Lancashire county elections the Tory lead in the local division of Chorley Rural West was similar; Eccleston and Mawdesley is also part of a Conservative-held constituency, South Ribble.

This time there is a straight fight. Defending in the blue corner is Val Caunce, Henry's widow; back in the 1960s she won the Miss New Brighton beauty contest, and subsequently she ran a modelling agency. Challenging from the red corner is Martin Fisher, a retired maths teacher and former NUT figure.

Parliamentary constituency: South Ribble Lancashire county council division: Chorley Rural West ONS Travel to Work Area: Preston Postcode districts: L40, PR7, PR26

Val Caunce (C) Martin Fisher (Lab)

May 2019 result C 1066 Lab 649 UKIP 250 May 2018 result C 1179 Lab 762 LD 190 UKIP 56 May 2016 result C 953 Lab 823 UKIP 292 May 2015 result C 1856 Lab 1377 UKIP 442 May 2014 result C 944 Lab 741 May 2012 result C 1009 Lab 914 UKIP 241 May 2011 result C 1247 Lab 945 May 2010 result C 2015 Lab 1484 May 2008 result C 1306 Lab 956 May 2007 result C 1245 Lab 824 May 2006 result C 1176 Lab 998 June 2004 result C 1358 Lab 1168 May 2003 result C 1399 Lab 1320 May 2002 result Lab 1798/1400/1150 C 1455/1429/1325


Trowbridge Drynham

Wiltshire council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Graham Payne at the age of 71. Described as "the best councillor Trowbridge ever had", Payne was a veteran of local government who was first elected in 1976 to the former West Wiltshire council. Away from public life he had worked in civil engineering and the building trade.

Payne's ward was Drynham, which is the southern of Trowbridge's seven wards and is named after the Drynham Road, which it includes. One of England's more obscure county towns, Trowbridge was unusual for the south of England in being a textile town: woollen cloth has been made here since the 14th century, and in 1820 Trowbridge's textile production rivalled that of Manchester. Today food production is the main economic sector in town along with the administration generated by Wiltshire council.

Payne was a popular councillor who enjoyed big majorities. He had represented Trowbridge Drynham ward since Wiltshire's local government was reorganised in 2009, and at his last re-election in May 2017 had a 66-21 lead over the Labour runner-up. Trowbridge is included within the South West Wiltshire parliamentary seat which is just as safe for the Conservatives.

Defending for the Conservatives is Kam Reynolds, who is claiming to have a new approach to politics. The Labour candidate is Shaun Henley, who fought the Trowbridge Central division in the 2013 Wiltshire elections. Also standing are Andrew Bryant for the Lib Dems and independent candidate John Knight.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Wiltshire ONS Travel to Work Area: Trowbridge Postcode district: BA14

Andrew Bryant (LD) Shaun Henley (Lab) John Knight (Ind) Kam Reynolds (C)

May 2017 result C 654 Lab 203 LD 130 May 2013 result C 504 LD 195 June 2009 result C 641 LD 358


Rhondda

Rhondda Cynon Taf council, Glamorgan; caused by the death of Labour councillor Robert Smith who had served since 2004.

We finish for the week with our Welsh by-election about which a word about nomenclature is in order. We are in the Rhondda division of the Rhondda Cynon Taf local government district, but we are not in the Rhondda constituency. The Rhondda division is instead the western of the eight divisions covering Pontypridd; it takes its name from the River Rhondda, and runs westward up the Rhondda valley from the edge of Pontypridd town centre. Settlements within the division include Maesycoed (where many rugby teams have come to grief over the years at the hands of Pontypridd RFC), Pantygraigwen, Hopkinstown and part of Trehafod.

All of these are classic nineteenth- and early twentieth-century pit villages. The population boomed in those years with miners and their families moving in, and they needed services in every sense of the word. On 1 November 1907 Capel Rhondda in Hopkinstown inaugurated its new organ; sat at the console in that service was John Hughes, who led a hymn featuring words of William Williams set to a new tune of Hughes' own composition. The tune was a success, and can be seen sung here in a scene from a film which was set in the South Wales Valleys (although the Second World War meant that it had to be filmed in California). That film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, and famously beat Citizen Kane to the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1941. It was, of course, How Green Was My Valley, and the tune was the evergreen Cwm Rhondda.

https://youtu.be/oevNjFeWUyQ

The Rhondda division has returned a full slate of two Labour councillors since 2004, when Robert Smith gained his seat from Plaid Cymru who had done very well in the 1999 Rhondda Cynon Taf election. The most recent Welsh local elections were in May 2017 when Labour polled 43% to 26% for Plaid and 17% for the Lib Dems. Shortly afterwards Pontypridd's Labour MP Owen Smith was re-elected in the snap general election; Smith will have had more trouble from his own party than from his electors, having challenged Jeremy Corbyn for the party leadership in 2016.

Defending this seat for Labour is Loretta Tomkinson, the present Deputy Mayor of Pontypridd; she represents Rhydfelen Central ward on the town council. Plaid Cymru have selected Eleri Griffiths, who lives in Pantygraigwen and has worked in children's policy for many years. The Lib Dem candidate is Karen Roberts, campaign manager for the party's Rhondda Cynon Taf branch. Also standing are Alexander Davies for the Conservatives and Adrian Dunphy, who heads a rare local by-election outing for the Communist Party.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Pontypridd ONS Travel to Work Area: Cardiff Postcode district: CF37

Alexander Davies (C) Adrian Dunphy (Comm) Eleri Griffiths (PC) Karen Roberts (LD) Loretta Tomkinson (Lab)

May 2017 result Lab 558/554 PC 333/260 LD 221 C 193/164 May 2012 result Lab 623/531 Ind 434/303/155 Grn 176 PC 169 May 2008 result Lab 619/565 PC 532/463 LD 485 June 2004 result Lab 721/632 PC 379/353 LD 214 May 1999 result PC 865/653 Lab 699/661 LD 370/299 Grn 81 May 1995 result Lab 1035/943 Ind 535/423 PC 241

Andrew Teale


Preview: 27 Jun 2019

Just one by-election on 27th June 2019:


Sandhurst

Mansfield council, Nottinghamshire; caused by the election of Labour candidate on 2nd May Andy Abrahams as Mayor of Mansfield.

We're eight weeks on now from the 2nd May 2019 local elections and the 23rd May 2019 European elections are five weeks gone. All of the unfinished business from those elections was cleared last week, and it's now time to start working through the file marked "matters arising".

There are a few matters arising from May, aren't there? Realignment of the party system could be one of them. This has been coming for a while. In the last Andrew's Previews of 2018 this column mused on the volatility of Britain's politics, writing:

...in the aftermath of Brexit...there will be an awful lot of disappointed people - some of whom may be looking for a new political home. There are credible ways in which both main parties can deliver knockout blows on the other; there are realistic scenarios in which one or both of the main parties implode under the weight of their own contradictions. There might even be opportunities for minor parties if they can play their hand well. Volatile political times may very quickly turn into volatile electoral times. Watch this space.

Given how much water has flowed under the bridge in the intervening six months, that prediction has held up pretty well. Support for both the major parties appears to be in freefall, and the void has been filled by minor parties: the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, independent candidates and those new kids on the block the Brexit Party. This column's former patron Ian Warren broke cover from his shed last week to write on the dilemmas facing the two traditional major parties in the national context (link) and his analyses should provide food for thought for anybody in Conservative or Labour HQs who fancies an early general election. It's like those TV gameshows where one person beats all comers to win the episode, then gets offered the chance to gamble all the Brucie Bonuses they have won so far for an all-or-nothing shot at the Star Prize. Is the gamble worth it?

This column has a different brief, to look at electoral performances in the sub-national context - a very different place. Last week we had some large swings in wards with a large proportion of Remain supporters, particularly in London where one of the candidates I filed under "also standing are" actually won (the Lib Dem candidate in Merton). It's always interesting when that happens. Now you can't rely on national publicity to win a local by-election, which is probably why we are still yet to see a Brexit Party local government candidate. That's a shame: a Brexit Party candidate in today's local by-election in Mansfield, one of the totemic Leave-voting places, would have truly been something worth writing about.

Mansfield is a strange enough place as it is politically, having already undergone a realignment of the party system in recent years. The town's council was strongly Labour in the twentieth century; but it then went over to the elected mayoral system, and the town's first mayoral election in October 2002 returned an independent candidate. Supporters of that independent mayor, Tony Egginton, coalesced into a new political party called the Mansfield Independent Forum, and pretty much ever since then the town has closely fought at local level between the Forum and the Labour party.

It's been common in recent years for the mayoralty and council to go different ways: in 2011 and 2015 Labour won a council majority but the Forum won the mayoral election. That was reversed in 2019, when the Forum became the largest party on Mansfield council but Labour won the mayoralty for the first time. Andy Abrahams, a former teacher and civil engineer who had only got the Labour nomination at the last minute (the originally-selected candidate fell out with the party, and the first replacement candidate was dropped for anti-Semitism) led in the first round by 1,021 votes over the incumbent mayor Kate Allsop, and that was only just enough. Allsop came back strongly in the runoff with transfers from the Conservatives and two other independents, but Abrahams ended up winning in the final reckoning by 7,930 votes to 7,928, a majority of two. Don't let anybody tell you your vote never changed anything. With Labour holding 15 out of 37 seats on Mansfield council plus this vacancy, Mayor Abrahams will have the power to shake things up in the town as his opponents don't have the two-thirds majority necessary to block his budget.

Abrahams had also been elected to Mansfield council in May from the Sandhurst ward, which is south of the town centre across the River Maun and includes the Fisher Lane and Spider Parks. As Abrahams can't serve as mayor and councillor at the same time, the council seat he had won was automatically vacated and we are having this by-election. He had gained the ward from Forum councillor Dave Saunders, polling 42% against 34% for Saunders and 22% for the Conservatives, who may hold the Mansfield parliamentary seat but don't normally figure in the town's local elections. Sandhurst ward is in the Mansfield South division of Nottinghamshire county council, which voted strongly for the Independent Forum in the 2017 county elections; the Forum are the junior partners in the Conservative-led coalition running the county.

Defending for Labour is Michelle Swordy, who contested Netherfield ward in May and lost a previously-Labour ward to the Forum. Dave Saunders, who was Forum councillor for this ward from 2015 to 2019, wants his seat back. The Conservatives have selected Cathryn Fletcher, and Daniel Hartshorn completes the ballot paper for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: MansfieldNottinghamshire county council division: Mansfield SouthONS Travel to Work Area: MansfieldPostcode district: NG18

Cathryn Fletcher (C)Daniel Hartshorn (UKIP)Dave Saunders (Mansfield Ind Forum)Michelle Swordy (Lab)

May 2019 result Lab 284 Mansfield Ind Forum 230 C 152 LD 16May 2015 result Mansfield Ind Forum 716 Lab 528May 2011 result Lab 402 Mansfield Ind Forum 290 LD 87