The May 2021 elections, previewed (Part IV): the Parliamentary Special

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

Welcome to Andrew's Previews' lowdown on the May 2021 elections, which promise to be the biggest electoral event of this Parliament. The whole of Great Britain is due to go to the polls. And there's not just one type of election involved: many voters will have two, three or (in some cases) four or more ballot papers to juggle, and multiple electoral systems abound. It's complicated.

Because of its extraordinary length this Preview will be split into four parts, set out as follows:

  1. Introduction, Scotland, Wales and London.
  2. The North and Midlands.
  3. The South and East.
  4. The Parliamentary Special; and concluding remarks.

Without further ado, here is Part IV: the Cleveland police area, starting with the Parliamentary Special.

Hartlepool

House of Commons; caused by the resignation of Labour MP Mike Hill.

Including the Mayor of the Tees Valley; Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner; and local by-elections within the Cleveland Police area.

"The contest in Hartlepool will be very important, and no-one knows how it will turn out."

- The Spectator, 10 January 1891

It all started on the headland. The coast of Durham, like that of many counties on the east coast on England, is notably smooth; but a few miles north of the Tees estuary a small but solid peninsula juts out into the North Sea. Since ancient times this peninsula has been an obvious stopping-point for coastal trade. There's nothing to indicate that the Romans were ever here, but the Anglo-Saxons definitely were in residence; and the headland played its part in the survival of Christianity in these islands.

A lot of that survival is down to St Aidan, the Apostle of Northumbria. Aidan was originally based at the monastery of Iona along with a young and pious lad called St Oswald. Oswald was of royal stock, and in AD 634 he became king of Northumbria with a mission from God: a mission to bring Christianity back to his people. He sent for Aidan, who based himself at Lindisfarne and set about his missionary task with gusto.

One of Aidan's works, in 640, was to help with setting up an abbey on the headland. He installed as its first abbess St Hieu, an Irishwoman who is the first recorded woman to rule over a mixed religious settlement of both men and women. Hieu's foundation became known as Hereteu - a name of unclear origin. "Stag island" is the generally-accepted modern translation from the original Old English, although if you squint a bit it is possible to read Hieu's name into it.

St Hieu moved to Tadcaster nine years later and was replaced as abbess of Hereteu by one of the most important figures of the seventh century. Seen here in a detail from a painting of her at Hartlepool by West Hartledpudlian artist James Clark, St Hilda was by now in her mid-thirties; although she was of royal stock, she had become a nun and her star was rising under the influence of Aidan. It was at Hereteu - modern Hartlepool - that Hilda first gained her reputation for wisdom and skilled administration. Ihis was recognised in 655 by King Oswiu of Northumbria, who sent his one-year-old daughter Ælfflæd to be brought up as a nun under Hilda's guidance.

However, the placename that comes to mind for many people when St Hilda is remembered these days is not Hartlepool. In or around 658 Hilda founded a new double monastery further down the North Sea coast at Streanæshalch, modern-day Whitby, and continued the Lord's work from there. Hilda hosted the Synod of Whitby, convened in 664 by King Oswiu, which settled a dispute over the computus - the calculation of the date of Easter - by resolving that the Northumbrian church would celebrate Easter on the same day as the Roman Catholic church rather than follow the Celtic reckoning used at Iona. Hilda died in 680, and Ælfflæd succeeded her as abbess of Whitby.

Following Hilda's departure nothing more is heard of the abbey at Hartlepool, and nothing remains of it today. The abbey's cemetery has been excavated on the headland, and was the subject of an episode of Channel 4's Time Team broadcast in early 2000. On that occasion one of their trenches obliterated the car park of the local Conservative club, which will have given some satisfaction to the series presenter Tony Robinson, a noted Labour Party supporter.

The modern-day church on the headland dedicated to St Hilda, which occupies roughly the same site as the old monastery, is a Norman building whose size and quality clearly shows that there was a fair amount of money in Old Hartlepool in the twelfth century. It's not too fanciful to suggest that some of this will have been due to the patronage of the de Brus family, which controlled the town along with large estates in the north of England. Robert I de Brus had come over from Normandy in the 1090s, and was made Lord of Hartness in 1153, but his family also ended up with a Scottish peerage as Lords of Annandale. It was Robert I's son William de Brus, the 3rd Lord of Annandale, who persuaded King John to give Hartlepool a market charter in 1185. The de Brus family, however, left the story of Hartlepool in 1306 when Robert VII de Brus was crowned king of Scotland; that prompted Edward I to confiscate his English landholdings and fortify the town.

The market, together with Old Hartlepool's fishing industry and its status as the major port of County Durham, ensured the town's survival through the centuries. There was even a minor spa industry: the poet Thomas Gray turned up here in the eighteenth century for the waters. To this day Hartlepool has its own water company, now a subsidiary of Anglian Water, which - unusually for the north of England - supplies hard water to the town's homes and buildings.

However, the headland was a constrained site with little room for expansion, and the Industrial Revolution threatened to leave Hartlepool behind. By the early 1830s the town's population was only around 900, and its position as Durham's major port was under threat from new harbours at Seaham to the north, Port Clarence on the Tees estuary to the south, and a tiny but fast-growing settlement called Middlesbrough on the Yorkshire side of the river opposite Port Clarence. Something needed to be done to ensure Hartlepool's survival in this brave new modern industrial world.

The borough council's answer was to establish the Hartlepool Dock and Railway Company, to build a railway connecting the town with the Durham collieries and to build new, large docks for modern ships. The railway part of the plan worked pretty well. The dock part of the plan was another matter.

Enter Ralph Ward Jackson.

Hartlepool council had engaged railway entrepreneur Christopher Tennant to set up the Hartlepool Dock and Railway Company. Tennant died in 1839 and Ward Jackson, a solicitor from Stockton-on-Tees, took over the company's running with the dock part of the plan in some trouble. The fault lay with the council, which had placed onerous restrictions on the redevelopment of the existing port and the surrounding area.

Rather than work within these constraints, Ward Jackson decided to go it alone. He bought an area of sand-dunes just to the south-west of the headland, and built there a brand-new 8-acre dock, a brand-new railway to bring coal to the dock, and a brand-new town to serve the industries. The business venture paid off, and in the end there was nothing Hartlepool council could do about it.

Thus was born the town of West Hartlepool, which grew from nothing in 1841 to a population of 28,000 in the 1881 census, more than twice the size of Old Hartlepool. West Hartlepool was incorporated as a borough in 1887, and promoted to a county borough in 1902.

To the south of the two Hartlepools lay Seaton Carew, which was very different in character from the two industrial ports to the north. This is a small but perfectly formed seaside resort, originally developed in the eighteenth century for wealthy Darlington Quaker families. Seaton Carew's wide and sandy beach and art-deco bus station deserve to be better known, so it's a shame that the place has most recently come to public attention thanks to the 2002 canoeing accident in which local resident John Darwin faked his own death. The sands at Seaton Carew hide the remains of Doris, a Danish schooner which was wrecked here in a storm in 1930. Also washed up on the beach, by every tide, is a fine black powder: this is sea coal, from an open seam on the seabed.

Old and West Hartlepool, together with Seaton Carew, were enfranchised in the 1868 redistribution as the parliamentary borough of The Hartlepools. Thus was born a constituency whose boundaries are little changed to this day. Appropriately enough, its first MP was Ralph Ward Jackson who stood as the Conservative candidate and won - but only by 1,550 votes to 1,547, a majority of 3 over the Liberals' Thomas Richardson.

The following general election in 1874 was a rematch between Ward Jackson and Richardson, with Richardson winning handily to gain the seat for the Liberals. He was a major employer in West Hartlepool through the firm of T Richardson and Sons, which made marine engines. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards Richardson ran into financial trouble and was forced to leave the Commons.

The resulting first Hartlepools by-election, held in July 1875, was held for the Liberals by Lowthian Bell. An alderman of Newcastle upon Tyne, Bell had been elected in the 1874 general election as one of the two MPs for North Durham, but that election was voided by the Election Court for intimidation by agents of the Liberal campaign, and Bell had lost the resulting by-election. Lowthian Bell had also been elected in 1874 as a Fellow of the Royal Society and as the first recipient of the Bessemer Gold Medal; as well as being a metallurgist of some renown, he ran an enormous ironworks in Port Clarence with a number of associated quarries, was a director of the North Eastern Railway and had set up the UK's first aluminium smelter in Washington.

The 1880 general election in the Hartlepools featured two official Liberal candidates, with Thomas Richardson (his money problems now resolved) seeking to get his seek back and Bell looking for re-election. This did not cost the Liberals the seat. Richardson won with 1,965 votes, against 1,717 for Bell and 1,597 for the Conservative candidate, to return to the Commons after five years away.

The Liberal Party split in 1885 over the issue of Irish Home Rule, and Richardson was on the breakaway side of the split. He was re-elected in 1886 under his new Liberal Unionist colours, with a 58-42 lead over the replacement Liberal candidate.

Thomas Richardson died at the end of 1890, aged 69. The resulting second Hartlepools by-election in January 1891 pitted together two men who both symbolised what West Hartlepool had become. Defending the seat for the Liberal Unionists was Sir William Gray, who employed 2,000 men as a shipyard owner in this maritime town. Gray's shipyard had launched 18 ships in 1878, a British record at the time, and went to claim the title of the UK's most productive shipyard six times in the years between then and 1900. Gray had been knighted the previous year for his charitable work and service as Mayor of West Hartlepool.

In 1877 William Gray and Company had built a number of steamships for Thomas Furness and Company, a Hartlepool provision merchants firm which had decided to operate its own shipping fleet rather than rent space on other people's ships. Thomas Furness and Company split up in 1882, with Thomas keeping the provision merchants side of the business and his younger brother Christopher Furness spinning off the shipping line under the name of Christopher Furness and Company. Furness Line merged in 1891, the year of this by-election, with the Edward Withy shipyard in Hartlepool to form Furness Withy, which would grow into one of the UK's largest transport businesses and become the largest employer in the two Hartlepools.

With little to choose between Gray and Furness on background - they were both huge local employers with public profiles to match - many outside observers thought that the Irish Home Rule issue would decide the by-election. Not so, as it turned out: Furness successfully wooed the town's working-class (or at least those of them who had the right to vote) by saying that he would employ only union labourers. Furness won the 1891 Hartlepools by-election by 4,603 votes to 4,305, a majority of 298, and gained the seat for the Liberal Party. The Liberal Unionists cried foul and threatened to launch legal action against the result, but eventually thought better of it. As we shall see, this wasn't the only dodgy campaign associated with Christopher Furness, who holds the dubious distinction of being one of the few people to appear before the Election Court more than once.

The 1892 and 1895 elections in the Hartlepools were close contests between Furness for the Liberals and Thomas Richardson II, son of the late Hartlepools MP Thomas Richardson, for the Liberal Unionists. Thomas II had taken over the marine engineers T Richardson and Sons following his father's death. Furness won the 1892 contest by 4,626 votes to 4,550, a majority of 76; Richardson gained the seat in 1895 by 4,853 votes to 4,772, a majority of 81.

Sir Christopher Furness, as he was by now, then tried to get back into Parliament by contesting the York by-election of January 1898. After losing by 11 votes to the Conservative candidate, Rear-Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, he launched proceedings in the Election Court to force a recount. The recount resulted in a tie on 5,643 votes each with a number of dubious ballot papers reserved for the Court to adjudicate on; Furness was advised he wouldn't get enough of them to win, and the Court allowed him to withdraw the case.

The third Richardson v Furness contest in 1900 was a big win for Furness who recovered the Hartlepools seat he had lost five years earlier. Having defeated Thomas Richardson II at the ballot box, Sir Christopher Furness then took over his company: a series of mergers transformed T Richardson and Sons into the marine engineers Richardsons Westgarth and Company, with Furness Withy holding a controlling stake. This effectively neutralised the Liberal Unionist threat in the Hartlepools, and Furness was re-elected unopposed in the Liberal landslide of 1906.

Sir Christopher Furness finally over-reached himself in the January 1910 general election, at which he was opposed by W G Howard Gritten of the Conservatives. Furness won by 6,531 votes to 5,754, a majority of 777, but then found himself back in the Election Court over campaign irregularities. A wide variety of allegations were made against the Liberal campaign, particularly that it had gone over the election expense limit (Furness' election expense return was just a few shillings below the maximum), but the only such allegation that could be made to stick was that £5 of postage stamps had been omitted from the return, and the judges granted Furness relief for that. However, it was proven that Christopher Furness' election agent had hired a band of miners to go around the streets intimidating voters, and the verdict of the Court was that Furness, by his agents, was guilty of the electoral offence of undue influence. Accordingly he was unseated. That was the end of his Commons career, although he found himself translated to the Lords in short order as the first Lord Furness.

The resulting third Hartlepools by-election in June 1910 had a very similar look to the January 1910 ballot paper, because the Liberals selected Stephen Furness, Sir Christopher's nephew. Furness already had two winning election campaigns under his belt, having been elected to West Hartlepool borough council in 1897 and to Durham county council in 1898. W G Howard Gritten returned as Conservative candidate. Stephen Furness won the by-election by 6,159 votes to 5,993, a reduced Liberal majority of 166, and then won the Hartlepools' third parliamentary election in a year that December by 6,017 votes to 5,969, a majority of just 48 votes.

In 1912 Lord Furness died, and Stephen took over his uncle's business interests and became the new chairman of Furness Withy. He was made a baronet the following year. However, Sir Stephen didn't get to savour this power for very long: he died in 1914, having suffered an accident while on holiday, aged just 42.

The resulting fourth Hartlepools by-election in September 1914 took place during the wartime political truce, and was uncontested. The winner was Sir Walter Runciman of the Liberals; the father of the long-serving Liberal MP of the same name, Walter senior had run away to sea at 11 and by 1914 he was a shipping magnate, having founded the South Shields Shipping Company (later the Moor Line) in 1889.

Shortly afterwards, the war came to Hartlepool. The Imperial German Navy raided a number of east coast towns, including Hartlepool and West Hartlepool, between 8:10am and 8:50am on 16 December 1914. 1,150 shells were fired into the two towns; over a hundred civilians were killed as were seven soldiers. Private Theophilus Jones, Durham Light Infantry, was the first British soldier to die from enemy action on British soil for two centuries.

Runciman didn't seek re-election once the First World War was over. For the 1918 general election the coalition government endorsed the Liberal candidate Charles Macfarlane, but he was soundly beaten by the Conservative candidate W G Howard Gritten who had narrowly lost all three Hartlepools elections in 1910. This election broke the mould in many ways. It was the first Hartlepools election to feature a Labour candidate (locally-born trade unionist Will Sherwood, who polled 19% and saved his deposit), and it was the first Hartlepools election not to return a major player in the engineering or maritime industries. The first Conservative (as opposed to Liberal Unionist MP) for the seat since Ralph Ward Jackson, Gritten was the vice-president of the Tariff Reform Federation and was best known as a barrister and writer.

The Liberals bounced back from their disappointing performance in 1918 to defeat Gritten in 1922 by 18,252 votes to 17,685, a majority of 567. The new Liberal MP was William Jowitt. A schoolfriend of Clement Attlee (in whose cabinet he served as Lord Chancellor, many years later), Jowitt was a barrister who had made it to KC on the day before polling. He was re-elected in 1923 with a reduced majority, defeating Gritten again by 17,101 votes to 16,956, a majority of 145.

William Jowitt represented three different constituencies in the Commons (he was later elected for Preston and Ashton-under-Lyne), and he lost his seat in 1924 to another MP who represented three different constituencies. After service in the Royal Engineers in the Great War, Bolton-born engineer Wilfrid Sugden had been elected as MP for Royton in Lancashire in 1918, but had lost that seat in 1923. In 1924 he turned up as Conservative candidate for the Hartlepools, and defeated William Jowitt quite soundly. Sugden didn't seek re-election here in 1929, instead choosing to return to Lancashire by contesting Rossendale (which he lost); he later served as MP for Leyton West in the 1931-35 Parliament.

Sugden's move to Lancashire cleared the way for W G Howard Gritten to return as Conservative MP for the Hartlepools in 1929, although he was pushed all the way by Stephen Furness junior, the son of the 1910-14 MP of the same name. Gritten won by 17,271 votes to 17,133, a majority of 138, with Labour polling over 10,000 votes here for the first time. Furness, as a supporter of the National Government, didn't contest the 1931 election and that didn't go unnoticed; he went on to be elected in 1935 as a Liberal National MP for Sunderland, without Conservative opposition, and served as a junior minister in the Chamberlain administration.

W G Howard Gritten wasn't seriously challenged in the Hartlepools constituency after 1929. He was still in office when he died in 1943, aged 73. The resulting fifth Hartlepools by-election in June 1943 again took place during the wartime political truce, but this time there was a contest. The Tories' Thomas Greenwell, owner of a Sunderland shipyard, put the work in against independent Labour, independent Progressive and Common Wealth candidates and was rewarded with a 64% vote share - one of the best Conservative performances in any contested by-election during the Second World War. The Hartlepools' first female parliamentary candidate, Elaine Burton of Common Wealth (who would later serve as a Labour MP for Coventry), finished second and saved her deposit.

The 1945 general election broke the mould again with the first Labour win in the two Hartlepools. D T Jones, a railway signalman from south Wales who had been selected as Labour candidate for the 1939-40 general election that never happened, rode the Attlee landslide to defeat Greenwell by the narrow margin of 16,502 votes to 16,227, a majority of 275.

Labour quickly consolidated their position, and the Hartlepools swung strongly to Labour in 1950 against the national trend. That increased majority helped D T Jones to survive marginal results in 1951 (by 2,710 votes) and 1955 (by 1,585 votes).

It didn't help him in 1959 when the British film industry intervened. Ten years earlier, during the Chinese Civil War, the frigate HMS Amethyst had been travelling up the Yangtse River, to relieve another ship guarding the British Embassy at Nanking, when it was fired on by the People's Liberation Army with heavy casualties: 22 men aboard were killed, including the captain, and 31 men and the ship's cat were wounded. Lt-Cdr John Kerans, the assistant British naval attaché at Nanking, took over command of Amethyst and, after three months of fruitless negotiations with the PLA, pulled off a daring night-time escape down the river to the open sea. Kerans was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Order, while the ship's cat Simon became the only cat to date awarded the Dickin Medal for animal bravery. Since this is the internet and there is nothing which cannot be improved by a cat picture, here is a photograph of Simon.

Kerans, now promoted to Commander, acted as a technical advisor for the 1957 war film Yangtse Incident: The Story of HMS Amethyst, in which he was played by Richard Todd and Amethyst was brought out of retirement to play herself.

Two years later John Kerans was in Parliament, having defeated D T Jones to become, to date, the last Conservative MP for the Hartlepools. His margin of victory in the 1959 general election was 25,463 votes to 25,281, a majority of 182. He clearly didn't harbour a grudge against the People's Liberation Army, speaking in Parliament in favour of Communist China being admitted to UN.

Kerans did not seek re-election in 1964, and the seat reverted to Labour whose successful candidate was Ted Leadbitter. A teacher from Easington, Leadbitter went on to serve as a backbench MP for the constituency for 28 years. While his judgment may occasionally have been suspect (accusing Commander Kerans, of all people, of cowardice for not seeking re-election was unwise), he was noted for his parliamentary work and for his efforts on behalf of the towns. His parliamentary question in 1979 led to the revelation that Anthony Blunt, the Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures, was a Soviet spy.

My grandad lived in Hartlepool for many years. He was a senior firefighter and a strong Labour man who knew and respected Leadbitter. God knows what Grandad would have made of what has happened in the town since he died in 1997. My dad cast his first vote in one of the last elections for Hartlepool county borough council, and claims that his first ballot paper was a choice of Labour versus Independent Labour. Having looked at the county borough election results for the relevant period, all I can say is that I cannot verify this.

It was during Leadbitter's tenure that the two Hartlepools became one. Hartlepool borough and West Hartlepool county borough were merged into a single Hartlepool county borough in 1967, a move that did not go down well on the headland. In February 1974 the constituency's name was changed to "Hartlepool" to reflect this. Two months later Hartlepool town was transferred out of County Durham into the new county of Cleveland, a move that did not go down well among any Hartlepudlian. This was followed in 1983 by the only change of any significance to the parliamentary boundaries since 1867, with the transfer in of eight small rural parishes which were previously in the Easington constituency. This boosted the constituency's electorate by only about 3%, so describing the Hartlepool constituency as "semi-rural" is not accurate. (The present Rural West ward, as I shall discuss later, is misleadingly named.) The seat has had unchanged boundaries since 1983 and, having the same boundaries as Hartlepool council, is likely to escape the next boundary review unscathed.

The town has changed over the postwar years as well. The shipyards closed down in the 1960s, and the associated industries went into decline. There's still a lot of industry here: the nuclear power station is one of the town's largest employers, and the Liberty Steel factory makes pipes for the energy and construction industries, but the industries don't employ anything like the number of people they used to in the old days, the power station is coming to the end of its useful life and the steel mill is threatened by the recent collapse of Greensill Capital, its major lender. Unemployment has been a major and chronic problem here for decades, and this has led to an increase in the town's average age as young people leave to find work elsewhere.

Ted Leadbitter was run fairly close at his first election by the Tories' Geoffrey Dodsworth (later an MP for Hertfordshire in the 1970s), winning with a margin of 2,867. After that he made the seat safe, only being seriously challenged in February 1974 and 1983.

Leadbitter retired in 1992 and passed the seat on to one of the most influential figures in the Labour Party over the last 40 years. A grandson of the former London County Council leader and Attlee cabinet member Herbert Morrison, Peter Mandelson first came to prominence in 1985 when he was appointed as director of communications for the Labour party. He was elected as MP for Hartlepool in 1992, served as director of the Labour campaign for the 1997 general election with some success, and served in Cabinet in 1998 as trade and industry secretary and as Northern Ireland secretary from 1999 to 2001. Mandelson has long had a reputation as a master of the dark political arts - the character of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It was partially based on him - so it's ironic that both of those spells in Cabinet were terminated by scandal-induced resignations.

During this period a fair amount of regeneration money flowed into Hartlepool. The docks are still suitable for large ships, but much of the space in them was turned into a marina for pleasure boats. The town's main shopping parade, Middleton Grange, was given a roof to keep the weather out. The oldest Royal Navy warship still afloat, HMS Trincomalee, became the focus of a new maritime museum (now part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy) to bring in the tourists. The seafront at Seaton Carew was improved.

It was also during Mandelson's time in office that the county of Cleveland was dissolved and Hartlepool became a unitary council. It was also during Mandelson's time in office that Hartlepool council started to turn in weird election results. The fun begin in earnest in 2000 when the Liberal Democrats suddenly won seven out of 15 wards, a figure they have never matched before or since, and Labour lost overall control of the council. This wasn't caused by freak vote splits: six wards in that election were straight fights between Labour and the Lib Dems and, ironically in view of what was to come, there wasn't a single independent or minor-party candidate to be seen.

A referendum in October 2001 then produced a very close vote in favour of introducing an elected mayor (10,667 in favour, 10,294 against). The first mayoral election, held in May 2002, turned in an infamous result. The first round was very close between Labour, on 28%, and two independent candidates: Ian Cameron on 27% and Stuart Drummond on 29%. Drummond, a 28-year-old who had previously worked as the mascot for Hartlepool United football club and was standing as a publicity stunt for the club, went on to win the runoff against Labour by a 52-48 margin.

Peter Mandelson resigned in 2004 to become the UK representative on the European Commission. The resulting sixth Hartlepool by-election, held in September 2004, returned Labour's Iain Wright by a relatively narrow margin over the Lib Dems. At the time of his election Wright was a Hartlepool councillor (representing Rift House ward) and working as a chartered accountant. The UK Independence Party crept over 10% of the vote, beating the Conservatives into fourth place - something that was noteworthy at the time.

Back to the council. Mayor Drummond never did implement his only election pledge - free bananas for the town's schoolchildren - but his governing style proved to be sober and professional. He was re-elected in 2005 and 2009, and it took the passing of a mayoral abolition referendum in 2012 for the Labour council group to get rid of him and take back control of the council. In the meantime, UKIP broke through in the council chamber: their by-election candidate Stephen Allison won the headland ward of St Hilda in 2006, and UKIP won a second seat in 2008 in Foggy Furze ward. Neither UKIP councillor was re-elected, and a whole council election in 2012 on new ward boundaries (with a significant cut in the number of councillors, reflecting the mayoral structure that was about to be abolished) returned a Labour majority of 21 councillors against 5 independents, 4 councillors for the localist party Putting Hartlepool First, and 3 Conservatives in Rural West ward.

As this column has previously examined in detail (Andrew's Previews 2018, page 241), this ward is misnamed. Although Rural West does include most of Hartlepool's rural parishes, the core of the ward is the West Park area. West Park combines mansions for the shipyard owners of olden days with a series of privately-developed housing estates to add up to by far the most middle-class and most expensive part of Hartlepool proper. In 2018 the median house in West Park went for around £300,000, compared to asking prices of £100,000 or less in most of the rest of the town. This is the only part of Hartlepool that consistently votes Conservative at local elections.

The Kippers struck back in 2014, winning the Seaton ward (Seaton Carew) and the Jesmond ward in the north of the town. They took the 2015 general election seriously, selecting the former semi-professional wrestler Philip Broughton who finished second with 28% of the vote. Iain Wright's majority was cut to 3,024 and the seat became marginal. UKIP won nothing on the council that year, but in the 2016 Hartlepool council elections they gained three wards and followed up with a by-election gain in Headland and Harbour ward (Andrew's Previews 2016, page 219). The EU membership referendum in June 2016 saw Hartlepool turn in a Leave vote of 69.6%, the highest figure for any local authority in the north-east.

Iain Wright, who had become chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee after the 2015 election, didn't seek re-election in 2017. The Labour Party selected Mike Hill to hold the seat: the political officer for the Northern region of UNISON at the time, Hill had been the Labour candidate for Richmond (Yorkshire) in 2015. He won the June 2017 election very comfortably, with an 18-point lead over the Conservatives.

Then the wheels really started to come off the clown car that is Hartlepool council. This is complicated, please bear with me. In 2018 the five UKIP councillors walked out of the party and, eventually, rebranded as a new party called the Independent Union. Just before the May 2019 elections the ruling Labour group suffered a huge split, with most of the leadership group walking off to join the Scargillite Socialist Labour Party. The electorate were not impressed, and in May 2019 (below) Labour lost six of the nine wards they were defending and overall control of the council.

What a mess. The two wards I have coloured in far-right navy blue represent two different parties. This column is open to persuasion that the Veterans and People's Party (which won Foggy Furze ward) may be better characterised as populist right than far-right, but there can be little doubt that the For Britain Movement (which won De Bruce ward) is on the far side of that dividing line.

Following the implosion of Hartlepool Labour, a coalition of the Independent Union, Conservatives, and Veterans and People's Party was formed to run the town, with support from the Socialist Labour Party group. (Hands up whoever expected to see Scargillites supporting Conservatives.) John Tennant, a former leader of the Independent Union group, joined the Brexit Party and was elected as a Brexit Party MEP for north-east England three weeks later. The Independent Union and VPP councillors followed suit in September 2019, suddenly giving the Brexit Party control of Hartlepool council in coalition with the Conservatives.

Also in September 2019, Labour MP Mike Hill was suspended from the party over sexual harassment allegations. He was reinstated a month later, stood for re-election in December 2019 as an official Labour candidate, and was re-elected with a greatly reduced majority: 38% of the vote, against 29% for the Conservatives and 26% for the Brexit Party, whose candidate was the party chairman and MEP Richard Tice.

Following the December 2019 general election, the Brexit Party councillors walked out of the party as suddenly as they had walked in and (with the exception of former MEP John Tennant, who is now in Reform UK) reverted to their previous allegiances. What was left of the Labour group on the council then split again, with several councillors walking off to form a new localist group called Hartlepool People.

It would appear that the majority of Hartlepool councillors have taken to heart the unimprovable words of Groucho Marx: "those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others." If this sort of defection level had happened in a foreign parliament, the words "basket case" or even "banana republic" would not be far from commentators' lips. We should hold Hartlepool council up to the same standards. What has gone on here over the last three years is an embarrassment to British local government.

The last three ordinary elections to Hartlepool council have returned 14 Labour councillors, 5 independents, 4 UKIP, 3 councillors from Putting Hartlepool First (which is now defunct), 3 Conservatives, 2 councillors for the Independent Union, 1 For Britain Movement and 1 Veterans and People's Party. Following this dizzying series of defections (and the description above is nowhere near being an exhaustive list of everything that has happened) there are now 6 Labour councillors, 5 councillors for the Independent Union, 4 Conservatives, 4 Socialist Labour, 3 Hartlepool People, 2 Putting Seaton First, 2 independent councillors, 2 Veterans and People's Party, 1 For Britain Movement, 1 Reform UK and three vacant seats. (Checks arithmetic - yes, this does add up to 33 as required.) The Independent Union, Conservative, VPP and For Britain Movement councillors form the ruling coalition with 12 councillors, currently 4 short of a majority.

The usual medicine which central government administers to dysfunctional councils like Hartlepool is to send in the Commissioners and/or hit the factory reset button by holding a whole council election, preferably with new boundaries to shake things up a bit. As luck would have it the Local Government Boundary Commission have been in town recently, so the May 2021 Hartlepool council election will be all-up with new ward boundaries and an increase from 33 councillors to 36. To be honest, it's a wonder the Commissioners haven't gone in already; perhaps the cabinet minister responsible for local government would prefer to pick fights with easier targets like Liverpool.

The only party that is standing enough candidates to win an overall majority on the new Hartlepool council is Labour, with 31 candidates for 36 available seats. There are 25 independent candidates (including the three Hartlepool People councillors and the two Putting Seaton First councillors), 15 candidates for the Veterans and People's Party, just 13 Conservative candidates, 9 Reform UK, 7 Independent Union, 3 For Britain Movement, 3 Lib Dems, and one candidate each for the Heritage Party, the SDP and the Socialist Labour Party. None of the four current Socialist Labour councillors are seeking re-election.

In the meantime, the sexual harassment allegations against the Labour MP for Hartlepool Mike Hill have not gone away and he is due to answer them later this year in an employment tribunal. He has resigned as an MP prompting the seventh Hartlepool by-election, which will be the first parliamentary by-election of the 2019 parliament and the first since Brecon and Radnorshire in August 2019.

The Hartlepool parliamentary by-election and whole council election will both be held on 6th May alongside elections for the Mayor of the Tees Valley Combined Authority and the Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner. That's four ballot papers for the electors to fill out and for the counting team to juggle. And we do need to mention those county-wide elections before we come to the parliamentary candidate list.

The Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner since 2012 has been Barry Coppinger, a Labour man who had previously sat on Middlesbrough council. Having already announced his retirement, Coppinger resigned as PCC in 2020 and his deputy has taken over for the rest of his term. At Coppinger's re-election in 2016 he polled 41% of the first preferences against 23% for the Conservative candidate Matt Vickers and 21% for UKIP, and his lead over the Conservatives in the runoff was a handy 62-38.

The Tees Valley mayoral election the following year told a completely different story. The electorate here consists of the four Cleveland boroughs plus Darlington, and the addition of Darlington made all the difference in 2017. Ben Houchen, who had previously been leader of the Conservative group on Stockton-on-Tees council, was elected as the first Mayor of the Tees Valley by the narrow margin of 51.1% to 48.9% over Labour in the runoff, having led 39.5-39.0 on first preferences.

Almost nothing has gone right for Labour in the Tees Valley councils since then. We have already discussed Hartlepool council for quite long enough. In 2019 Middlesbrough council elected an independent mayor, Darlington council was gained by the Conservatives, the ruling Labour group in Stockton-on-Tees lost its majority, and as for Redcar and Cleveland...

...well, you would be hard pressed to guess from this map that Redcar and Cleveland now has two Conservative MPs. In the 2019 election the ruling Labour group crashed to 15 councillors, against 14 independents, 13 Lib Dems, 11 Conservatives, 2 UKIP and 4 localists. The ruling coalition is now made up of independent and Lib Dem councillors. Interestingly, the Conservative group on the council has fallen apart and there are now just two official Tory councillors left; the party will have a chance to do something about that on 6th May as they are defending three by-elections to Redcar and Cleveland council. Two of these are in Guisborough ward (covering the northern half of the town of the same name) and on the edge of the North York Moors National Park in Hutton ward (covering the western end of Guisborough together with the mini-Matterhorn of Roseberry Topping and the village of Newton under Roseberry). Hutton is safe Conservative and their candidate Stephen Waterfield should be favoured to hold, but Guisborough ward split its three seats in 2019 between an independent, the Conservatives and Labour. The defending Conservative candidate for Guisborough is Andrew Hixon, two independents have come forward (Sheila Berry and Fred Page) and the Labour candidate is Lisa Belshaw. Longbeck ward, based on New Marske, was the only ward within the Redcar parliamentary seat to return Conservative councillors in May 2019; the Tory slate had a narrow majority over an independent councillor, and new Conservative candidate Andrea Turner may have work to do to hold off new independent candidate Judith Findley.

There are five local by-elections on 6th May to Stockton-on-Tees council. All of them are defended by the opposition to the minority Labour administration, but none of them are in wards where Labour are in contention. In Yarm (for more detail on which see Andrew's Previews 2017, page 169, a by-election for a seat vacated by Ben Houchen after his mayoral election), the three seats available in 2019 split between an independent and two Conservatives; the Tories' Dan Fagan will seek to hold off independent candidates Tony Bell-Berry, Alan Gallafant and Christopher Johnson to defend this by-election. On the Durham side of the Tees we have a free-for-all in Billingham West ward which voted strongly for an independent slate in 2019; three different independents are standing (Mark Bellerby, Giles Harris and Paul Henderson), with the Tories' Lee Spence ready to pounce on any resulting freak vote split. The rural Western Parishes ward sees a bizarre by-election after Conservative councillor Andrew Stephenson was disqualified under the six-month non-attendance rule; Stephenson is seeking re-election as an independent in the poll caused by his own disqualification, while the Tories have selected Steve Matthews. On the western edge of Stockton proper, Lib Dem candidate Matthew Eves will seek to hold the borough's only Liberal Democrat ward of Bishopsgarth and Elm Tree. Finally, the Tories' Niall Innes will attempt to take over the seat in the safe-Conservative Hartburn ward vacated by Matt Vickers, who bounced back from losing the Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner election in 2016 to become the MP for Stockton South in 2019.

Full candidate lists for the council by-elections in Redcar and Cleveland, and Stockton-on-Tees can be found in this file (link).

The December 2019 general election results within the Tees Valley mayoral area were just as dire for Labour, if not more so. As well as Stockton South already mentioned, the Redcar and Darlington constituencies were also gained by the Conservatives as was the Sedgefield constituency, part of which is in Darlington borough. Ben Houchen's election as Mayor of the Tees Valley Combined Authority in May 2017 was seen at the time as a surprise, but given what has happened since he must be considering the prospect of re-election with some confidence. The 2021 Tees Valley mayoral election will not go to transfers because it is a straight fight: Houchen seeks re-election from the blue corner, while former charity CEO Jessie Joe Jacobs challenges from the red corner.

Labour had originally selected the former Stockton South MP Paul Williams as their candidate for Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner, but had to reselect at the last minute after Williams got the nomination for the Hartlepool by-election. Their replacement defending candidate is Matthew Storey, the leader of the Labour group on Middlesbrough council. The Conservatives have selected Steve Turner, who was elected in 2015 as a UKIP member of Redcar and Cleveland council; he defected to the Conservatives in 2017, but lost re-election in 2019. UKIP have not returned, so completing the PCC ballot paper are independent candidate Barry Cooper and the Lib Dems' Christopher Jones.

Which finally brings us to the Hartlepool parliamentary ballot paper of sixteen candidates. Right at the bottom, thanks to his position at the wrong end of the alphabet, is the Labour candidate Paul Williams. Williams has previous parliamentary experience as the MP for Stockton South from 2017 to 2019; away from politics he is a general practitioner and as such has been hard at work on the COVID front line for the last year and a bit. In the 2021 New Year Honours Williams was appointed OBE for services to Parliament and to healthcare in Stockton-on-Tees.

The Tories, having added together the Conservative and Brexit Party shares from December 2019 and concluded that they are in with a realistic chance of a rare government gain in a parliamentary by-election, have selected Jill Mortimer. Mortimer is a member of Hambleton council in North Yorkshire, representing the Raskelf and White Horse ward to the south and south-east of Thirsk in the Vale of York.

Third here in 2019 was Richard Tice of the Brexit Party, who have since morphed into Reform UK. Tice is seeking election to the London Assembly (he is top of the Reform UK list there and also contesting the Havering and Redbridge constituency), and the Reform UK candidate for the Hartlepool by-election is John Prescott. No not that one (the former Deputy Prime Minister of the same name is now in the Lords); this John Prescott is an IT consultant from the Houghton-le-Spring area. It will be interesting to see whether Prescott gets the same support from the Hartlepool council ruling group that Tice got in 2019.

No other candidates saved their deposit in Hartlepool in December 2019. The only minor party to return from that election is the Liberal Democrats, who have reselected their parliamentary candidate from 2017 and 2019 Andrew Hagon.

There are twelve other candidates to list. First alphabetically is David Bettney who has the nomination of the Social Democratic Party. The modern SDP is a very different beast to the one formed by the Gang of Four forty years ago, having been taken over by Euroseceptics. Nick Delves stands for the Monster Raving Loony Party under his nom-de-guerre "The Incredible Flying Brick"; his policies include relocating the Houses of Parliament to the Hartlepool marina, which would solve the town's unemployment problem at a stroke. The North East Party, a serious regionalist movement with a local government powerbase in nearby Peterlee, have nominated their party chairman Hilton Dawson; he is best known as the Labour MP for Lancaster and Wyre from 1997 to 2015. The Women's Equality Party have selected Gemma Evans, who fought Bury South in December 2019 and gives an address in the Sunderland area. Another Sunderland-based candidate is the Green Party's Rachel Featherstone, who was top of the Greens' list for north-east England in the 2019 European Parliament elections and is also seeking election to Sunderland council on 6th May. Adam Gaines, a former technology worker who now runs a pub on the Hartlepool marina, is standing as an independent candidate. Steve Jack is the candidate of the Freedom Alliance, an anti-lockdown group. Independent candidate Chris Killick, a former shop assistant, was revealed during the campaign to be on the sex offenders' register following a voyeurism conviction in 2020; he did not receive a custodial sentence and as such he is not disqualified from elected office (and even if he was disqualified the returning officer could not have rejected his nomination on that basis), but in the unlikely event Killick is elected it seems doubtful whether he could properly fulfil the role of an MP. Another Hartlepool-based independent candidate is Sam Lee, a businesswoman and former sports journalist. The Heritage Party, an anti-lockdown group whose most prominent personality would appear to be the outgoing ex-UKIP London Assembly member David Kurten, have selected Claire Martin. Thelma Walker, the Labour MP for Colne Valley from 2017 to 2019, is standing as an independent candidate with the support of the Northern Independence Party, which I would like to describe as a serious regionalist movement but whose conduct of the campaign has been rather too trollish to justify the adjective "serious". (Or "regionalist", given that they appear to be run out of the noted Northern city of Brighton. Or even "movement", given that the Electoral Commission threw out their application to register as a political party.) Finally, it's appropriate that we finish our discussion of the Hartlepool by-election candidates by going full circle back to the beginning of the town: Ralph Ward-Jackson, a businessman and great-nephew of the West Hartlepool founder of the same name, is standing as an independent candidate.

Two opinion polls of the constituency have been carried out during the campaign, both by Survation. Their first poll for the Communication Workers Union, with fieldwork from 29 March to 3 April and a sample size of 502, the poll showed the Conservatives in a position to win Hartlepool for the first time since 1959, with a 49-42 lead over Labour and no other named party with more than 2%. A further poll for ITV's Good Morning Britain programme, with fieldwork from 23 to 29 April and a sample size of 517, showed an increased Conservative lead of 50-33.

The Hartlepool acting returning officer is going for an overnight count for the parliamentary by-election, but with verifications for four different elections having to be sorted out before the by-election count can commence it seems unlikely that the declaration will come much before dawn. Nevertheless, with very little other overnight counting taking place for this year's local elections it seems likely that the Friday morning breakfast TV bulletins will be dominated by the result from the Pool. Who will win? I don't know, but I'll be interested to find out.

In memoriam

Before wrapping this marathon 6th May preview up, I would like to pause here to remember and to pay tribute to the local councillors who have passed away over the two municipal years since May 2019. Some of these people were veterans of local government, others only just beginning their careers in our council chambers; in some cases their family, friends and colleagues left behind can reflect on a long life well lived, in others we mourn those who passed before their time. Some of these names have already appeared in this column over the last two years; but in too many cases, the pandemic has left insufficient space for their stories to be told here.

Where I have included a picture in the list below, that signifies that the councillor was reported to have died of COVID-19.

Mona Adams, Richmond upon Thames
Jean Adkins, Somerset West and Taunton
Les Alden, Adur
Derek Allcard, Reigate and Banstead
Pete Allen, Kingston upon Hull
George Allison, Newcastle upon Tyne
Nigel Anderdon, Test Valley

Henry Anderson, Perth and Kinross
Sonia Andjelkovic, East Staffordshire
Dick Angel, Wealden
Steffan ap Dafydd, Neath Port Talbot
Adrian Axford, Isle of Wight
Sucha Singh Bains, Coventry
Bob Band, Perth and Kinross
Cynthia Barker, Hertsmere
Peter Barnes, Stratford-on-Avon
Clarence Barrett, Havering
Malcolm Barron, Lancashire CC
George Barton, West Sussex CC and Adur
Ronen Basu, Tunbridge Wells
Margot Bateman, Pembrokeshire
Rajinder Bath, Hounslow
Jane Baugh, Trafford
Ruth Baxter, Ribble Valley
Stuart Bellwood, Redbridge
Pat Beresford, Adur
Peter Billson, Wolverhampton
Douglas Birkinshaw, Barnsley
John Blackie, North Yorkshire CC and Richmondshire
Chris Blakeley, Wirral
Chris Blanchard-Cooper, Arun
Chris Bond, Enfield
Joy Broderick, Tendring
John Bowden, Dacorum
Ray Bowker, Trafford

Anthony Brewer, Ashfield
Alan Bristow, Fenland

Mike Bryan, East Riding
Norman Bull, Amber Valley
Colin Bungey, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole
Mary Butcher, Corby
Colin Caller, Gravesham

Peter Callow, Blackpool
Peter Campbell, Thanet
John Caswell, Northampton
Henry Caunce, Chorley
John Chatt, Hounslow
Richard Chattaway, Warwickshire CC
Julia Cherrett, Stockton-on-Tees
Imelda Clancy, Basildon
Elizabeth Clare, Telford and Wrekin
Colin Clark, South Ribble
Richard Clayton, Wigan

Louise Coles, Peterborough
John Collinson, North Lincolnshire
Wendy Congreve, Cardiff
Paul Connor, Eden
Peter Connor, Salford
Norah Cooney, Redcar and Cleveland
Anne Court, Basingstoke and Deane
Dave Cowans, Conwy
Gary Crookes, Coventry
Leonard Crosbie, Horsham
Sybil Crouch, Swansea
George Cruickshank, Highland
Terry Cutmore, Essex CC and Rochford
Ray Darby, Broxtowe
Des Davies, Neath Port Talbot
John Davies, Huntingdonshire
Tim Davies, Cardiff
Andrew Davis, Elmbridge
John Daw, Mid Devon
Stephen Dehnel, Ashford
Stuart Denleigh-Maxwell, Worcester

Poonam Dhillon, Hounslow
Tony Dobson, Hyndburn
Ian Doggett, Torbay
David Dovey, Monmouthshire
Dawn Downes, North Warwickshire
Kevin Drum, Scottish Borders
Mark Ellen, Swale
Martin Ellis, Neath Port Talbot
Mike Ellis, Bradford

Keith Evans, Hampshire CC and Fareham
Nuala Fennelly, Doncaster
John Ferguson, Salford
Alison Finlay, Test Valley
Lawrence Fisher, Cumbria CC
Dorothy Flude, Cheshire East
Hilary Flynn, West Sussex CC
Alison Fox, Derbyshire CC
Nadine Fudge, Kingston upon Hull
Neil Fyfe, Hillingdon
Mike Garrett, Luton
David Gathercole, West Suffolk
Roger Glithero, East Northamptonshire
Ivan Glover, North Lincolnshire
Janet Goodwin, Peterborough
Brian Gordon, Barnet
Gill Gower, Canterbury
Michael Greatorex, Staffordshire CC and Tamworth
Lord Greaves, Pendle
Marilyn Greenwood, Calderdale
Christine Grice, Greenwich
Carmel Hall, Leeds
Andy Harland, Manchester
Richard Harrap, East Riding
Allan Harvey, Knowsley
Ken Harwood, Tandridge
Terence Haslam-Jones, Rossendale
Lily Henderson, Blackpool

Sandra Hevican, Sandwell
Austin Hicks, Gosport
Pattie Hill, Worcestershire CC and Redditch
Wendy Hinder, Maidstone
Ron Hogg, Durham Police and Crime Commissioner
Joe Holliday, Cumbria CC and Allerdale
Anna Holloway, Tewkesbury
Fergus Hood, Aberdeenshire
Sue Hordijenko, Lewisham
Len Horwood, Tunbridge Wells
Diane Hoy, Rochford

Kevin Hughes, Flintshire

Abid Hussain, Bradford
Bernard Hunt, Herefordshire
Paul James, Ceredigion
David Jennings, Leicestershire CC
Charles Wyn Jones, Gwynedd
Huw Jones, Denbighshire
Ken Jones, South Ribble
Sam Kay, Surrey Heath
John Kerslake, Brentwood
Jean Khote, Leicester
Hina Kiani, Hounslow
Graham Lambie, Stirling
Mike Langley, Bristol
Jack Lee, Waverley
Geoff Lewis, Sandwell
Keith Linnecor, Birmingham
Bob Lloyd, Sandwell
Thomas Lloyd, Wellingborough

Derek Longcake, North Lincolnshire
Gerald Luxton, Mid Devon
Brian Lyttle, Amber Valley
Rory McClure, Barrow-in-Furness

Richard McLinden, Liverpool
Ruth Martin, Gravesham

Frances Mason, Harlow
Brian Mattock, Swindon
David May, South Hams
Jim Meikle, West Suffolk

Pat Midgley, Sheffield
Des Moffatt, Swindon
Keith Morley, Halton
Ellen Morton, Argyll and Bute
Michael Mumford, Lancaster
Sue Murphy, Manchester
Pauline Nelson, Warrington
Graham Nicol, Dumfries and Galloway
Lise Noakes, Gloucester
Susan Nuttall, Bury
Michael O'Brien, Sefton

Bill Olner, Warwickshire CC
Terry O'Neill, Warrington
Robin Orchard, Eden
John Orrick, Tandridge
Pete Parish, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole
Judith Pattison, Exeter
Joyce Pawley, Derbyshire Dales
Graham Payne, Wiltshire
John Pearson, Blackburn with Darwen
Charles Petts, West Sussex CC and Crawley
Ron Pinnock, East Northamptonshire
Shaun Redmond, Isle of Anglesey
Peter Rippon, Sheffield
Brian Roberts, Cheshire East

Frank Rust, Rushmoor

Shabnum Sadiq, Slough
Jenny Samper, Canterbury
Len Scoullar, Argyll and Bute
Raj Sharma, Crawley
Patrick Sheard, Guildford
Alan Smith, South Tyneside
Norman Smith, Castle Point
Robert Smith, Rhondda Cynon Taf
Ralph Snape, Chorley
David Soans, Kettering
Syd Stavrou, Epping Forest
Bob Stevens, Warwickshire CC
David Stevenson, North West Leicestershire
Alan Storah, Uttlesford
Lewis Strange, Lincolnshire CC and West Lindsey
Sandy Stuart, Aberdeenshire
Graham Sutton, Dacorum
Hazel Sweet, Coventry
Tony Swendell, St Albans
Dennis Teasdale, Redcar and Cleveland
Geraint Thomas, Crawley
Ian Thomas, Kent CC and Canterbury
Nigel Todd, Newcastle upon Tyne
Christopher Tranter, Sandwell
Chriss Triandafyllou, Wealden
Paul van Looy, Southend-on-Sea
Geoff Walker, Waltham Forest
Geoffrey Walker, Sunderland
Noel Walsh, Ribble Valley
Alex Ward, Ashford
Sheena Wardhaugh, South Lanarkshire
Alan Wassell, Wakefield
James Watson, Bolsover
Geoffrey Watt, Wirral
Neil Weatherley, Gateshead
Geoff Webber, North Yorkshire CC
Richard Welch, North Yorkshire CC and Craven
Ian White, Lewes
Ian Whitehouse, Staffordshire Moorlands
Christine Wild, Bolton
Paul Wild, Bolton
Gerald Wilkinson, Leeds
Andy Williams, Chester West and Chester

Raymond Williams, Torfaen
Roger Wilson, Gloucestershire CC

Brian Wood, Castle Point
Kevin Woodbridge, Orkney Islands
Bill Wright, Blaby

Requiescat in pace.

Final remarks

The UK's electoral services teams, who work their socks off all year round to put this show on for your benefit, have been hard at work to make sure that these elections are being run in line with the current public health restrictions. If you are attending a polling station this year, you can have confidence that you can cast your vote safely. If you find yourself unable to attend a polling station due to self-isolation, contact your local council's elections office immediately (and definitely before 5pm on Thursday) as you will qualify for an emergency proxy vote.

The deadline to apply for a postal vote has passed. If you have a postal vote you should have received one by now. In Scotland almost a quarter of the electorate have secured postal votes for this election, which is the highest proportion on record; there's no reason to believe that similar increases won't happen in England and Wales.

The Britain Elects team have put a huge amount of work into preparing for these local elections. We are here to give you cold hard facts, facts which may turn out to be surprising. In fact I fully expect that some of the results will surprise, and that at least one ward will produce a result which makes my jaw drop. These previews have been researched to the best of my ability, in line with the Andrew's Previews policy of covering "all the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order"; but they can't and won't all turn out as expected. Any errors are, of course, my own.

We have never previously tried holding ordinary county council and district council elections together. Even in 1973, when the current local government structure was set up in many parts of England, the county and district elections were staggered with different tiers polling on different dates. Add the other polls on top of that, and this is going to make for some horribly complicated and protracted counts at a time when space in our counting halls is at a premium. Very few returning officers are going for a traditional overnight count this year; final results for the Scottish Parliament and the London Assembly won't be available until Saturday, and the count for several of the Police and Crime Commissioners won't even start until the Monday after the election. The election-watcher's vigil this May is going to be a long one. There will be plenty of time to hunker down with your snacks of choice and to read this primer on what to look out for in the results.

It only remains for me to wish the very best of luck to everybody participating in these elections - whether as a voter, as a candidate or as an administrator. Whoever you support, whoever you vote for, do have an enjoyable election, and I'll see you on the other side.

Andrew Teale


The May 2021 elections, previewed (Part III): the South and East

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

Welcome to Andrew's Previews' lowdown on the May 2021 elections, which promise to be the biggest electoral event of this Parliament. The whole of Great Britain is due to go to the polls. And there's not just one type of election involved: many voters will have two, three or (in some cases) four or more ballot papers to juggle, and multiple electoral systems abound. It's complicated.

Because of its extraordinary length this Preview will be split into four parts, set out as follows:

  1. Introduction, Scotland, Wales and London.
  2. The North and Midlands.
  3. The South and East.
  4. The Parliamentary Special; and concluding remarks.

Introduction

Parts II and III of this preview divide England (outside London) up into its police areas. Each section starts with a discussion of the Police and Crime Commissioner and (if any) the combined authority mayoral election, followed by the local councils within the police area.

These previews will make a lot of comparisons with 2019, for the purpose of establishing something of a "par score". The May 2019 local elections took place in a political scene much more like May 2016 than May 2017 and, unusually, happened at a time when both major parties were in a weak position but while the new forces taking votes off them, the Brexit Party and Change UK, were not ready for prime time. While there was a lot of anti-incumbent sentiment about, those new parties were unable to take advantage as they had no candidates; so that anti-incumbent sentiment manifested itself in many areas with large shares for independent candidates and localist parties. These small groups had been mostly swamped in 2015 by general election turnout, so 2019 marked something of a renaissance for them.

Since March 2020, local by-elections in England have been suspended due to reasons which are obvious. Some local by-elections have taken place in Wales, and the Scottish returning officers have efficiently cleared their vacancy backlog, but in England we have no information from real-life elections as to how things are going. We only have the national opinion polls, which suggest a national picture closer to May 2017 (when the Conservatives were well ahead in the opinion polls and in the local elections) than to May 2016 (when the two main parties were neck-and-neck). How this will translate into a series of local pictures is extremely difficult to predict, but one reasonable guess might be that the Conservatives consistently do better than the 2019 "par scores" set out in this preview.

Because of the limited space and time available and the extraordinary number of by-elections, I have applied a much stronger than usual filter when naming candidates in the 6th May previews. All mayoral and PCC candidates have been namechecked, but by-election candidates are generally only named in this text if their party was within 10% last time out. For a full list of by-election candidates I will refer you to this file (link). If you're a by-election candidate and you're not happy with not having your name in this preview, then I would love you to prove me wrong by going ahead and winning your contest. In most cases you can click on each by-election's name to see previous results from the Local Elections Archive Project. As usual, the maps are the results from the last time the seats up for election were contested, in most cases 2016 or 2017 - one electoral cycle ago.

Despite my best efforts, I am fully aware that there will be mistakes in this preview. Have fun finding them.

So now, here is Part III, covering the south of England outside London (for which, see Part I). We will start in the South West, and then flip over to East Anglia and the Home Counties.

Arrangement of police areas

Gloucestershire
Avon and Somerset
Wiltshire
Dorset
Devon and Cornwall
Norfolk
Suffolk
Cambridgeshire
Essex
Hertfordshire
Bedfordshire
Thames Valley
Hampshire
Surrey
Sussex
Kent

Gloucestershire

Police and Crime Commissioner

The post of Gloucestershire PCC has been held since 2012 by retired senior police officer Martin Surl, who was elected in 2012 and 2016 as an independent candidate. At the 2016 election Surl led in the first round with 41%, to 35% for the Conservatives and 24% for Labour; the Labour transfers broke heavily for Surl who won the run-off by the comfortable margin of 59-41.

Surl is seeking a third term. The Conservatives have selected Chris Nelson, a retired Army officer and former Cheltenham councillor. The Labour candidate is Simon O'Rourke, from Tewkesbury, and the ballot paper is completed by Lib Dem Christopher Coleman and independent candidate Adrian "Stratts" Stratton.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Gloucestershire county council and Gloucester and Stroud councils, and for one-half of Cheltenham council.

Gloucestershire county council was a Conservative gain in 2013 and has a relatively small majority: there are 31 Conservative seats against 14 Lib Dems, 5 Labour, 2 Greens and one county councillor for the People Against Bureaucracy Group, a long-standing localist group based in northern Cheltenham which is not standing again this year. With a number of Tory-held divisions across the county having small majorities, it won't take much of an unwind for a No Overall Control result.

Gloucester city council is in a similar position. It last polled in 2016, when the Conservatives won 22 seats in Gloucester against 10 for Labour and 7 Lib Dems. The ruling group has since lost a by-election to the Lib Dems and has two further vacancies; unfortunately one of these is an entry for the Councillors Behaving Badly file, because Conservative councillor Lee Hawthorne resigned after becoming one of the first people to be charged under recently-enacted laws against upskirting. Despite that scandal, the Conservative majority in Gloucester is probably stronger than it appears as most of their wards look fairly safe.

In Stroud district, which also last polled in 2016, the Conservatives are the largest party but the administration is a coalition of Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. The Tories will have to improve their position here significantly to take over the council. One-half of Cheltenham council is also up for election; this borough has a large Lib Dem majority which does not look in serious danger.

The four local by-elections in Gloucestershire consist of two either side of the Severn. On the east side, the Conservatives defend a by-election in the Fosseridge ward of Cotswold district, covering a number of villages to the north and east of Stow-on-the-Wold. Cotswold council was taken over by the Lib Dems in 2019 following a scandal over the Cotswold Water Park which has been ongoing for some years, but Fosseridge ward has remained firmly in the Conservative column and their candidate David Cunningham should be favoured to hold. The highest point of the Cotswolds is Cleeve Hill, which is not in the Cotswold district at all: Cleeve Hill gives its name to a ward of Tewkesbury district which wraps around the eastern side of the fast-growing settlement of Bishop's Cleeve north of Cheltenham. Again, this is safely Conservative and their defending candidate Keja Berliner should be confident of election.

Things are rather different to the west of the Severn in the Forest of Dean. The Forest's council is run by a coalition of independent and Green councillors, with the main parties in opposition. Berry Hill ward, the birthplace of Dennis Potter, returned two independent councillors in 2019 with the Conservatives in second place; Jamie Elsmore has come forward as a new independent candidate, while the Tories have nominated Terry Hale. Labour are defending a by-election in Cinderford East ward, which was safe for them two years ago; Shaun Stammers leads their defence.

Avon and Somerset

West of England Mayoralty

It's metro mayor time again as we come to the mayoralty for the Bristol area, generally known as the West of England Mayoralty. This is voted for by the voters of the city of Bristol and the districts of South Gloucestershire, and Bath and North East Somerset. North Somerset, on the far side of the Clifton suspension bridge, is not included.

The inaugural election for this position turned in a fragmented result on the first count. The Conservatives' Tim Bowles led with 27% of the vote; Labour candidate Lesley Mansell placed second with 22%; former Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams finished third with 20%; independent candidate John Savage polled 15% and the Green Party 11%. The Conservatives and Labour went through to the runoff, which Bowles won 52-48.

Tim Bowles is not seeking re-election. The Conservatives have selected Samuel Williams, who runs a communications consultancy. The Labour candidate is Dan Norris, who was the MP for Wansdyke from 1997 to 2010. The Lib Dems have reselected Stephen Williams; not to be confused with the Conservative candidate of a similar name, Stephen was the MP for Bristol West from 2005 to 2015. John Savage has not returned, so completing the ballot paper is the Green candidate Jerome Thomas, a member of the outgoing Bristol city council.

Police and Crime Commissioner

There is a wider electorate for the Avon and Somerset police and crime commissioner, whose remit covers the three boroughs in the West of England mayoralty, the Somerset county council area and the unitary district of North Somerset. Since 2012 the PCC has been independent figure Sue Mountstevens, who in 2012 was the only police and crime commissioner to receive a vote from more than 10% of their electorate - such was the awful turnout in those comedy elections. Things were different in 2016, when Mountstevens topped the poll in the first round with just 26% of the vote; Labour polled 24%, the Conservatives 19%, UKIP 9% and three other candidates all saved their deposits with 7% each. Sue Mountstevens and Labour candidate Kerry Barker went through to the runoff, which Mountstevens won 54-46.

Sue Mountstevens is not seeking re-election, but her deputy John Smith is standing as an independent candidate. Criminal barrister Kerry Barker tries again for Labour. The Conservatives have selected Mark Shelford, an Army officer of 32 years' service. UKIP have not returned, so completing the PCC ballot paper are Heather Shearer for the Lib Dems and Cleo Lake for the Green Party.

Local elections

For some reason, Bristol has ended up with three major single-member elected posts. As well as the Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner and the Mayor of the West of England, the Mayor of Bristol is up for re-election. This is currently Labour's Marvin Rees who had a big win here in 2016; on the first count he led with 40% against 23% for the outgoing independent mayor George Ferguson and 14% for the Conservatives, and Rees increased his lead in the runoff to beat Ferguson 63-37 in the final reckoning.

Rees is seeking re-election for a second term. Ferguson has not returned. The Conservatives have selected Alastair Watson, a former city councillor (serving as ceremonial Lord Mayor in 2014-15) and businessman. Also standing are Sandy Hore-Ruthven for the Green Party, Caroline Gooch for the Lib Dems, Tom Baldwin for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, independent candidates Sean Donnelly and Oska Shaw, and Reform UK candidate Robert Clarke.

Along with Rees' mayoralty, Labour are defending an overall majority of four seats on Bristol city council. In 2016 they won 37 seats against 14 Conservatives, 11 Greens and 8 Lib Dems.

There are no local elections this year in Bath and North-East Somerset, North Somerset or South Gloucestershire apart from by-elections. In South Gloucestershire the suburban Bristol ward of Frenchay and Downend is defended by the Conservatives; this is a safe ward which should return their candidate Liz Brennan. Things are politically rather different in the Portishead East ward of North Somerset, which voted strongly for the localist Portishead Independents in 2019; their defending candidate is Caroline Goddard.

The scheduled election for Somerset county council has been postponed to 2022 due to the possibility of further local government reorganisation in the county. As a result there are no local elections within the Somerset county council area apart from two by-elections. We have already had one recent reorganisation with the formation in 2019 of Somerset West and Taunton council, where there is a by-election to the ward of Trull, Pitminster and Corfe covering three rural parishes immediately south of Taunton. This was safely Lib Dem in 2019, and their candidate Dawn Johnson should be favoured to hold.

Things are rather different in the city of Wells, where there is a by-election in the Wells St Thomas' ward of Mendip council. This was a longstanding Lib Dem-Tory marginal, the Liberal Democrats normally having the better of the results (including in a 2018 by-election, for which see Andrew's Previews, page 380), which went safe Lib Dem in 2019. The party had selected Wells city councillor Tony Robbins to defend the by-election, but they cocked up his nomination papers and as a result there is no Lib Dem candidate on the ballot. Accordingly, this Wells St Thomas' by-election is an unexpected free-for-all between the Conservatives' Tanys Pullin and Labour's Adam Fyfe.

Wiltshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Wiltshire PCC is Angus Macpherson of the Conservatives, who was re-elected for a second term in 2016 comfortably. In the first round he had 47% of the vote against 23% for Labour and 16% for the Liberal Democrats; this lead was extended to 64-36 in the runoff.

Macpherson is standing down, and to replace him the Conservatives have selected Wiltshire councillor Jonathan Seed. The Labour candidate is Swindon councillor Junab Ali. Standing for the Lib Dems is Liz Webster, who fought North Swindon and The Cotswolds in the 2017 and 2019 general elections respectively. Also standing are Julian Malins (a former City of London alderman, former Conservative parliamentary candidate, and brother of the former Conservative MP Humfrey Malins) for Reform UK, Brig Oubridge for the Greens and independent candidate Mike Rees.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Wiltshire council and one-third of Swindon council.

The present Wiltshire council dates from 2009 when the county's local government was reorganised and its district councils were abolished. All three Wiltshire elections to date have returned Conservative majorities, with the party winning 68 seats out of a possible 98 in 2017. Although new division boundaries make comparisons difficult, there's no real reason to expect a change of control here.

Instead attention within the county will focus on the town of Swindon. This has a small Conservative majority that rests on a particularly good result in May 2019, when the Tories converted a 39.6-39.2 lead over Labour in votes into a 12-7 win in seats; this seat tally was impressive enough in its own right but was actually an improvement on the 11-8 Tory lead recorded on general election day in 2015. This year Labour and the Tories are defending nine wards each, plus a Conservative-defended by-election in the safe Chiseldon and Lawn ward, and a par score would be for the Conservatives to increase their majority on the council.

Dorset

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Dorset PCC since 2012 has been Martyn Underhill, a long-serving senior police officer who worked on (among other things) the Sarah Payne child murder investigation. Underhill was elected in 2012 as an independent candidate, being re-elected in 2016; in the first round he had 38% of the vote to the Conservatives' 29% and UKIP's 17%, and in the runoff he defeated Tory candidate Andrew Graham 60-40.

Underhill is not seeking re-election. He has endorsed new independent candidate Dan Hardy, a former Grenadier Guardsman and police officer. David Sidwick, according to his unimprovable Twitter description, is a "husband, dad, boardgame geek, wildlife lover, sci-fi nut, teacake fan, strategic leader and Conservative PCC candidate for Dorset". UKIP have not returned, so the ballot paper is completed by Patrick Canavan for Labour, Mark Robson for the Lib Dems and Claire Seymour for the Green Party.

Local elections

Following the reorganisation of Dorset's local government in 2019, the only local elections in the county this year are two by-elections to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council.

BCP council dates from the 2019 reorganisation as a merger of the former unitary districts of Poole and Bournemouth with the non-metropolitan district of Christchurch. This seems to have gone down very badly in Christchurch in particular: at parliamentary level Christchurch is one of the safest Conservative constituencies, but the Tories were thrashed in most of the town's wards by an independent slate and, largely as a result of that, failed to win a majority on the council. An anti-Conservative rainbow coalition with a slim majority was set up under the leadership of Lib Dem councillor Vikki Slade.

In April 2020 Colin Bungey, a former mayor of Christchurch and independent councillor for Commons ward (covering northern Christchurch and Bournemouth Airport), died. Because of the pandemic, no by-election could be held. The Conservatives promptly launched a no-confidence motion against Slade, which resulted in a tie and was rejected on the council chair's casting vote. Then in July 2020 Pete Parish, Lib Dem councillor for Canford Heath ward in Poole, died. Because of the pandemic, no by-election could be held. Another no-confidence motion was launched against the rainbow coalition, and this time Vikki Slade was ousted and a Conservative council leader installed.

The Conservatives now run a minority administration in BCP with 36 councillors, two short of a majority; if they can gain both of these by-elections they will have half of the seats. Will they manage that? Judging from the 2019 results, that seems like a tall order. The Christchurch Independents had a large majority in Commons ward two years ago, and they have since filed the paperwork with the Electoral Commission to register as a political party and use the name "Christchurch Independents" on the ballot paper. Their defending candidate is Vanessa Ricketts. Canford Heath has been a safe Lib Dem area for many years and their candidate Jennie Hodges will be a short-priced favourite.

Devon and Cornwall

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Devon and Cornwall PCC election turned in a close result in 2016. Top in the first round was Alison Hernandez of the Conservatives with just 24%; Gareth Derrick of Labour was second with 23%; UKIP polled 17%, independent candidate Bob Spencer got 15% and Lib Dem former MP Richard Younger-Ross finished fifth with 12%. Hernandez and Derrick went through to the runoff, and transfers from the other four candidates were very even which resulted in a Conservative win by 51.1-48.9, a majority of 3,794 votes.

Hernandez is seeking re-election in a reduced field of four candidates. Labour have reselected Plymouth councillor Gareth Derrick for another go, the Lib Dem candidate this time is former police officer Brian Blake, and the Greens' Stuart Jackson completes the ballot paper.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Devon county council, Cornwall council and the Isles of Scilly council, together with one-third of Exeter and Plymouth councils.

Both the cities of Exeter and Plymouth have Labour majorities. Labour control Plymouth with 30 seats out of 57. A repeat of the May 2019 results would see that majority wiped out with four losses to the Conservatives; however the opposition Conservative group have since suffered a major split. In the event that Labour lose their majority, the Tories would probably need to sort their own house out first before challenging for the council leadership.

The Labour majority in Exeter does not look in serious danger. As Plymouth is a unitary council, Exeter supplies the entire Labour group on Devon county council which has a large and secure-looking Conservative majority.

Things are different over the Tamar in Cornwall, where the Conservatives are the largest party but the administration is a Lib Dem-Independent coalition. There are major boundary changes in Cornwall with no fewer than 36 seats disappearing, which should shake things up quite a lot.

The tiny Isles of Scilly council is non-partisan. Sixteen candidates have come forward for the sixteen seats; there will be an election for the 12 seats on St Mary's as 13 candidates are standing there, but there will not be an election for the other four islands in the archipelago. Harry Legg has been elected unopposed in St Agnes, Tony Tobin-Dougan in St Martin's and Robert Dorrien-Smith in Tresco. No candidates came forward to represent the island of Bryher, and a by-election will have to be held there in due course - assuming, that is, that one of the locals (and Bryher's population is comfortably under 100) wants to be a councillor.

With all of Cornwall's local government being renewed this year, for local by-elections we have to cross back to Devon. There have been shenanigans in Mid Devon district over the last year: the Conservatives lost their majority in 2019 and an Independent-Lib Dem-Green administration took over, but following disagreements within the ruling coalition the Lib Dem cabinet ministers were sacked in August 2020 and the Conservatives have taken their place in the administration. Mid Devon council has three by-elections on 6th May, two of which are in Tiverton: Castle ward, covering the north of the town, returned two Lib Dem gains from the Conservatives in 2019 in a close a three-way marginal result, and the Lib Dems' David Wulff will face competition from the Tories' Elizabeth Slade (who lost her seat here in 2019) and Labour's Richard Cornley. Westexe ward, covering the west of Tiverton, has returned independent, Conservative, Labour and UKIP councillors this century and voted Conservative in a September 2017 by-election (Andrew's Previews 2017, page 248); in 2019 a full slate of independent councillors was elected, and three independent candidates have come forward for this by-election (Stephen Bush, Claire Hole and Adrian Howell). If they split the independent vote between them, that could present an opportunity for the Conservatives' Stephen Pugh or the Greens' Rosie Wibberley. Finally, the Conservatives defend the deeply-rural Taw ward, covering seven parishes on the western side of the Taw valley from Wembworthy to Zeal Monachorum; the Tories were unopposed here in 2019, and their candidate Peter Heal should have little trouble holding the Taw by-election.

In the South Hams district we have an intriguing by-election in the Ivybridge West ward, which returned two Conservatives in 2019 against opposition from a single Labour candidate and a single Lib Dem. The candidate list this time is the unusual combination of Conservative, Green Party, and Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition; Louise Jones defends for the Tories, while the Green candidate Katie Reville was a strong runner-up here in 2015 but didn't stand in 2019.

There are no local elections this year in Torbay apart from a local by-election in Clifton with Maidenway ward, which is located in western Paignton. Long-time readers of Andrew's Previews will remember a by-election here in November 2015 which was a big win for Adrian Sanders, the former Lib Dem MP for Torbay. Sanders didn't seek re-election to the council in 2019, but his old ward (on revised boundaries) remained safely Lib Dem, and their new candidate Cat Johns starts as favourite.

Our final Devon by-election takes place east of Exeter in the East Devon district, which was taken over by an independent-led administration after the 2019 election. One of the wards which voted independent was Whimple and Rockbeare, a few miles west of Ottery St Mary, but that will change in this by-election as there is no defending independent candidate. Richard Lawrence of the Conservatives takes on Lib Dem Todd Olive in a straight fight.

Norfolk

Police and Crime Commissioner

The outgoing Norfolk PCC is former Canadian diplomat Lorne Green. In the 2016 election he was top of the first round with 28%, against 24% for Labour and 17% each for UKIP and the outgoing independent PCC Stephen Bett, who finished fourth in his re-election attempt. The runoff saw Green beat the Labour candidate by 54-46.

Green is not seeking re-election and the Conservatives have selected the wonderfully-named Giles Orpen-Smellie, an Army veteran of 34 years' service including tours in Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the Gulf War, the Balkans, Sierra Leone and Iraq. The Labour candidate is Michael Rosen; this Michael Rosen is not the former Children's Laureate and near-casualty of COVID of that name, rather he is the former director of children's services for Norfolk county council. Also standing are John Crofts for the Lib Dems, independent David Moreland and the Greens' Martin Schmierer.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Norfolk county council and for one-third of Norwich council.

Norfolk county council was hung in the 2013-17 term thanks to a very good UKIP performance in May 2013; this has since unwound and the 2017 election gave the Conservatives 55 seats here against 17 Labour, 11 Lib Dems and one independent. It's difficult to see that changing, although the Green Party (which was wiped out here in 2017) will want to get back on the council.

The Green powerbase is in Norwich, whose city boundaries really do look like that thanks to the council holding harbour rights for most of the River Wensum. All of Norwich city council was up in 2019 on slightly-revised ward boundaries; that election gave 27 seats to Labour, 9 to the Greens and 3 to the Lib Dems, and none of the city's 13 wards look marginal so it will take a lot of effort for that seat count to change.

The Norfolk and Norwich elections this year will not be complete on 6th May. Eve Collishaw, who was standing as the Conservative candidate for the Sewell county division and ward, sadly died during the election campaign and the polls there have been postponed to 17th June.

Norfolk's four local by-elections on 6th May are defended by four different parties. Great Yarmouth council moved off the thirds cycle in 2019, but there are two by-elections here this year: in Claydon ward within the town, and Ormesby ward covering two parishes some distance to the north. Claydon has voted Labour in every election since 2004 with the exception of a UKIP win in 2014; Labour were well ahead here in 2019 and their candidate Jo Thurtle should be favoured. Ormesby's independent councillor Steven Scott-Greenard has resigned and the by-election to replace him is a straight fight between the Ron Hanton of the Conservatives (who hold the ward's other seat) and Alison Green of Labour.

Further along the Norfolk coast we come to the Coastal ward of North Norfolk council, based on Cley next the Sea and Blakeney. This ward was a big win for the Liberal Democrats in May 2019, but their councillor Karen Ward contracted COVID and is yet to regain her health. The Lib Dem candidate Phil Bailey should be favoured in the Coastal by-election. In May 2019 Coastal ward was part of a Lib Dem constituency, but the Liberal Democrats failed to defend it in the December 2019 general election; new Conservative MP Duncan Baker has vacated his North Norfolk council seat resulting in a by-election in the ward immediately to the south, Holt ward. Holt split its two seats between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in 2019, but the Lib Dems have failed to find a candidate for the resulting by-election: defending Conservative Eric Vardy will instead take on Labour's Jasper Haywood and two independents, Nick Coppack (a former Conservative North Norfolk councillor) and Jono Read (digital editor of the New European newspaper).

Suffolk

Police and Crime Commissioner

In the 2016 Suffolk easily re-elected the Conservatives' Tim Passmore as its police and crime commissioner. On the first count Passmore had a big lead with 44% of the vote, against 25% for Labour and 17% for UKIP; his lead in the run-off against Labour was 62-38.

Passmore is seeking re-election for a third term. The Labour candidate this time is Elizabeth Hughes, an Ipswich councillor who fought safe-Conservative Suffolk constituencies at the 2017 and 2019 general elections. UKIP have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Andy Patmore for the Green Party and James Sandbach for the Liberal Democrats.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Suffolk county council and for one-third of Ipswich council.

Unlike its northern neighbour, Suffolk county council narrowly re-elected its Conservative administration in 2013 with a 39-36 lead over the opposition; however, by 2017 that Tory majority had disappeared in a series of poor by-election results. The 2017 election marked a return to form for the Tories with 52 seats, against 11 Labour, 5 Lib Dems, 4 independents and 3 Greens. Local elections in the county two years ago were not that promising for the Conservatives, who lost control of Babergh and Mid Suffolk districts and performed particularly poorly in the rural west of the county (the constituency of the health secretary Matt Hancock, although that underperformance probably wasn't his fault). Despite that, there should be enough headroom for the Conservative administration to continue.

A lot of that underperformance in western Suffolk was a large independent vote resulting from the abolition of the former Forest Heath council, based on Newmarket and Mildenhall, whose area is now administered by West Suffolk council from Bury St Edmunds. Independent candidates did very well in the old Forest Heath area, as can be seen from the result in Lakenheath ward where independent David Gathercole, the only opposition to a two-man Conservative slate, topped the poll. This ward includes the RAF Lakenheath airbase occupied by the US Air Force; very few if any of the Americans here will have the right to vote, so Lakenheath ward shouldn't suffer the turnout problems seen in other military-dominated wards. Two independent candidates - David Chandler and Gerald Kelly - will try to take over the late David Gathercole's seat, while Colin Noble will seek to gain for the Conservatives.

That's just one of six local by-elections to West Suffolk council, the most for any council on 6th May. Two of these are in sprawling wards covering villages between Bury St Edmunds and Haverhill. Whepstead and Wickhambrook ward had a big Tory lead in May 2019 and their candidate Sarah Pugh should have few problems. Clare, Hundon and Kedington ward returned two Tories and an independent in 2019, but this by-election is a straight fight between the Conservatives' Nick Clarke and Kerry Rogers for Labour, who didn't stand here last time.

That leaves three local by-elections in Bury St Edmunds. Beyond the A14 on the eastern edge of the city lies Moreton Hall ward, which extends outside the city boundary to take in Rougham Airfield. Local elections here are dominated by independent councillor Trevor Beckwith; he topped the poll in 2019, with the other two seats going to independent Frank Warby and a Conservative. The by-election here is in respect of Warby, who had joined the Conservatives before resigning from the council; his replacement is likely to be a contest between independent Barry Thomas and Conservative Birgitte Mager. The Tories will also be looking to gain the city-centre Abbeygate ward, which returned one councillor each for the Greens and Conservatives in 2019; the Greens' Julia Wakeham will be looking to hold against the Tories' Nick Wiseman. Finally, Bury St Edmunds' Southgate ward was safe Conservative last time and should be an easy hold for their candidate Sarah Stamp.

Another new council created in 2019 was East Suffolk district, which stretches along the littoral from Felixstowe to Lowestoft. The Green Party will fancy their chances in both East Suffolk by-elections today. Framlingham, a tiny market town about 16 miles north-east of Ipswich, is the location of the "castle on the hill" in that song by Ed Sheeran, who is an elector here; Framlingham Castle is notable in its own right as the place where Mary Tudor was proclaimed Queen in 1553. The Conservatives won both seats here at the first East Suffolk council elections in 2019 with the Greens close behind; defending Tory candidate Lydia Freeman will be challenged this time by Green Party nominee Beth Keys-Holloway. The Greens have turned the Broads town of Beccles into a stronghold at local level, and Sarah Plummer should have little trouble defending the Beccles and Worlingham by-election.

Beccles lies on the northern boundary of Suffolk, while the Sudbury suburb of Great Cornard lies on the county's southern boundary. This is one of the strongest Labour areas within the Babergh district of southern Suffolk, although the Conservatives still won all three seats here in 2019. Simon Barrett is the defending Conservative candidate in the Great Cornard by-election, Jake Thomas will hope to gain for Labour.

Despite having a Tory MP since December 2019, Ipswich council has a large Labour majority which looks in no serious danger, although a repeat of the May 2019 results would see Labour lose two seats.

Cambridgeshire

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

The most rural of the metro mayoralties set up to date is that for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, which covers an area which is fast growing in population but still has a lot of green space (although quite a lot of that is fenland). The inaugural mayoral election in 2017 saw the Tories' James Palmer lead in the first round with 38%, with 23% for the Lib Dems and 19% for Labour. Palmer and the Lib Dem candidate Rod Cantrill went through to the runoff, which Palmer won by the easy margin of 57-43.

Palmer is seeking re-election for a second term as mayor. The Lib Dems have selected Aidan van de Weyer, the deputy leader of South Cambridgeshire council. Completing the mayoral ballot paper is Labour candidate Nik Johnson, an NHS consultant paediatrician and Huntingdonshire councillor.

Police and Crime Commissioner

A year earlier, the Cambridgeshire PCC election (which covers the same area) had a rather different result. Conservative PCC Jason Ablewhite was re-elected for a second term, polling 36% in the first round against 31% for Labour and 17% for UKIP; on this occasion the run-off was Tory versus Labour, with Ablewhite prevailing by the narrower margin of 53-47. Ablewhite resigned as PCC in November 2019 under something of a cloud, and his deputy has been acting in the role since then.

For this election the Conservatives have changed candidate to Darryl Preston, a former police officer now working for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. Labour have selected Cambridge city councillor Nicky Massey. UKIP have not returned, so completing the PCC ballot paper are Susan Morris for Reform UK and Rupert Moss-Eccardt for the Liberal Democrats.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Cambridgeshire county council, for the whole of Cambridge city council on new ward boundaries, and for one-third of Peterborough council.

Cambridgeshire county council was a Conservative gain in 2017, with new division boundaries helping the party to 36 seats against 15 Lib Dems, 7 Labour councillors and 3 independents. The Tories have since performed very badly in the south of the county: the Lib Dems won a majority in South Cambridgeshire district in 2018, weren't far off winning control of East Cambridgeshire in May 2019 and weren't far off taking the South Cambridgeshire parliamentary seat in December 2019. Some of these trends were already evident in May 2017 (six of the 15 Lib Dem wins that year were in South Cambridgeshire district) so we shouldn't overstate the chance of major seat changes, but the Tories must be looking at their majority on the county council with some concern.

Peterborough council is currently hung, with a minority Conservative administration on 28 out of 60 seats (two of which are vacant) supported by the 3 Werrington localist councillors. A repeat of the May 2019 results would see the Conservatives lose three further seats and could result in Labour challenging for the council leadership. Mind, Peterborough is a city that had three different MPs in 2019, which shows a volatile local political scene firmly in keeping with the volatile events of that year. It would take a brave person to predict what will happen here.

Outside Peterborough we have a by-election to Fenland council from Lattersey ward, covering the south-east corner of Whittlesey around Whittlesea station. (When it comes to spelling, there's the right way, the wrong way and the railway.) The Conservatives won this ward unopposed in 2015 - Fenland district is like that - and had a 2-1 margin over Labour in 2019 so the defending Tory candidate Jason Mockett can be confident of his election chances.

Peterborough was once linked with the former county of Huntingdonshire, which is now a district under Cambridgeshire county council and sees four by-elections on 6 May. I mentioned earlier that the Police and Crime Commissioner Jason Ablewhite had resigned in November 2019; he had also resigned as a Huntingdonshire councillor, and a by-election was sneaked in during the winter of 2019-20 which resulted in a Conservative hold in the East ward of the town of St Ives. The other St Ives East councillor has now resigned, and the Conservatives should hold this seat with their candidate Craig Smith. The Tories also defend by-elections in St Ives South ward and in the Warboys ward in the fens between Huntingdon and Ramsey (with Rianna d'Souza and Michael Haines as the defending candidates), and might fancy their chances in the Labour-held ward of Huntingdon North (covering most of Huntingdon town), although Labour's candidate Marion Kadewere is defending a large enough majority from the last Huntingdonshire elections in 2018.

Finally, Labour are firmly in control of Cambridge city council, where all 42 seats are up for election this year on slightly-revised ward boundaries.

Essex

Police and Crime Commissioner

The 2016 Essex PCC election was open following the retirement of Tory PCC Nick Alston. New Conservative candidate Roger Hirst topped the poll in the first round with 33% of the vote, against 24% for former Conservative MP Bob Spink standing as the UKIP candidate, 20% for Labour and 13% for "Zero Tolerance Policing Ex Chief" Martin Terry. Hirst and Spink went through to the runoff, with Hirst winning comfortably by 57-43.

Roger Hirst is seeking re-election for a second term, and this time he won't have to face a UKIP candidate or Martin Terry. Labour have re-selected their 2016 candidate Chris Vince, a Harlow councillor and maths teacher. Also standing are Jon Whitehouse for the Lib Dems and Robin Tilbrook for the English Democrats.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Essex county council and for one-third of Basildon, Brentwood, Castle Point, Colchester, Epping Forest, Harlow, Rochford, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock councils.

Essex county council is one of the safest county councils for the Conservatives. The 2017 election returned 56 Conservative councillors against 7 Lib Dems, 6 Labour, 3 localists (2 from Canvey Island, the other from Loughton), 2 independents and a Green.

Instead attention within the county should focus on the districts and boroughs. To start with England's oldest town, Colchester council is currently hung; the Conservatives are the largest party with 23 seats (including one vacancy) out of 51, but the administration is a coalition of the Lib Dems, Labour and an independent group which has a lock on Highwoods ward. A repeat of the 2019 results would see that coalition increase its majority, with Stanway ward falling to the Lib Dems.

Moving to the towns on the north side of the Thames estuary, a similar rainbow coalition controls Southend-on-Sea council where the Conservatives are the currently the largest party on 20 seats out of 51. The Tories did very poorly here in May 2019, carrying only four of the borough's 17 wards; they are defending eight seats this year so there is the potential for some large changes on this council.

Rochford council, based on Rayleigh and the rural area to the north of Southend, has a strong Conservative majority which can be expected to increase. To the west of Southend, Castle Point council is stuck in a rut, with the Conservatives holding all the wards on the mainland in Benfleet and an independent group dominating offshore on Canvey Island; because Benfleet has more councillors than Canvey, this means a small but very stable Conservative majority. The Castle Point returning officer has taken the unusual step of filling casual vacancies in Boyce and St George's wards, on the mainland, with separate elections rather than combining them into a double vacancy election like every other RO in a thirds or halves council does, so if you are voting in those wards you will receive two ballot papers for the district council election (plus one for the county council and one for the PCC).

Billericay and Wickford are covered by the large Basildon council where the Tories lost control in 2019; Labour and a number of independent groups are now running the show. In 2016 Basildon returned three UKIP councillors, none of whom are still in the party; their respective wards returned one Conservative, one Labour and one independent councillor in 2019, so the Tories probably can't rely on a UKIP unwind here.

The UKIP factor was much larger in Thurrock in 2016. The Kippers topped the poll across the 17 wards up for election that year with 39% of the vote, and won 6 wards; Labour polled 32% and won 4 wards, and the Conservatives won 7 wards despite coming in third in votes with just 28%. Isn't England's first-past-the-post system wonderful? A number of those UKIP councillors (after a "Thurrock Independents" interlude) have ended up in the Conservative group since the 2019 election, which has resulted in the Tories gaining, albeit by defection, a majority on Thurrock council for the first time since 2007. Judging from the 2019 results, that majority could well be endorsed by the electorate this time round.

Brentwood (above) has a rather small Conservative majority - 20 seats out of 37 - following a good Lib Dem performance in 2019, but the scope for further Conservative losses is limited as they are only defending six wards this year. The Conservative majority in Epping Forest looks safe, as does the Labour majority in Harlow (below) where the Tories have yet to make their dominance at parliamentary and county council level stick. Harlow council currently has a 20-13 lead for Labour, who are defending 7 wards this year to the Conservatives' 4.

The standalone by-elections (other than the ones in Castle Point already mentioned) are an interesting bunch. We start in the county town of Chelmsford (below) where the Lib Dems defend Moulsham Lodge ward, in the south of the city proper; although the Tories won one of the two seats in 2015, this was safely Lib Dem in 2019 and the defending candidate is Hazel Clark.

To the east of Chelmsford is the deeply rural and very small Maldon district, which returned a tiny Conservative majority of 16-15 over independent councillors in 2019. That majority has since fallen apart thanks to a damaging split in the Tory group, and the independents took over the council leadership in November last year. Things could get worse for the Maldon Conservatives if they fail to defend the by-elections in Heybridge East ward (immediately north-east of Maldon, and including a large swathe of saltmarsh in the Blackwater estuary) or Tollesbury ward (a remote village in the marshes which returned a Labour councillor in a 2012 by-election, but was safe Conservative in 2019). The defending Conservative candidates are Bruce Heubner in Heybridge East and Debbie Keating in Tollesbury.

Uttlesford district, covering a large rural area in the north-west of Essex, was one of the councils where the Conservatives lost control in 2019: the ruling Residents for Uttlesford party has a large majority on the council which is not in danger even though they are defending two by-elections: in The Sampfords ward, covering five parishes east of Saffron Walden which was a Residents gain in 2019 on a big swing, and in Newport ward on the railway line from Stansted to Cambridge which R4U have held since 2015. On the other hand, the R4U councillor who vacated Newport had jumped to the Greens before leaving the council, so some debate can be had about whether the defending candidate there is Judy Emanuel for the Residents or Edward Gildea for the Greens. The Residents have nominated Uli Gerhard to hold the by-election in The Sampfords.

The Green Party have had a presence for some time in the Braintree district, but the two wards holding elections there on 6 May were both safely Conservative in 2019. These are Witham South ward, defended for the Tories by William Korsinah; and Hatfield Peverel and Terling ward, a rural area to the west of Witham town, where the Conservatives have nominated Darren White.

Saving the best till last, we come to the Tendring district which covers everything in Essex east of Colchester, including the town of Clacton-on-Sea which, seven long years ago, was the first constituency to elect a UKIP member of parliament. UKIP won a large number of seats on Tendring council at the following elections in May 2015; despite the inevitable split and a seventh-place finish in the 2019 elections, the Kippers did still hold on to five council seats here in May 2019. One of those was in the West Clacton and Jaywick Sands ward, based on the village of Jaywick.

When your own council leader describes your village as "an embarrassment to the whole country", as then Tendring leader Neil Stock said in 2012, you know you've got problems. Notorious for consistently being right at the bottom of the English indices of multiple deprivation, worse-off than anywhere in inner-city London or Manchester, Jaywick started off in the late 1920s as summer holiday homes for East Enders, and is now occupied year-round with increasingly dilapidated housing stock, mostly unadopted roads, a serious coastal flooding risk and intractable economic problems following the closure of the nearby Clacton Butlins camp in the 1980s. Despite this, there is clearly a community spirit in the village: Jaywick residents successfully fought off an attempt by the local council to bulldoze the place in 1970, and the use of the village in an attack ad by a 2018 US congressional Republican candidate resulted in uproar here and a climbdown from the candidate concerned. Those who would sneer at people who live in UKIP-voting areas (of whom your columnist is one) would do well to put those sneers away.

And a UKIP-voting area this is: West Clacton and Jaywick Sands ward elected an independent (easily) and a UKIP candidate (narrowly) as its two councillors in 2019. The UKIP councillor has resigned and the party is not defending the resulting by-election giving us a free-for-all. Andy White, who was the runner-up here in 2019 as an independent candidate, has returned for another go and this time he has the nomination of the localist group Tendring First; two other independents are standing (Brad Thompson and Andy Wood), while the ruling minority Conservative group on the council have nominated Jayne Nash for this by-election.

The Tories may have better chances in the other Tendring by-election, at the other end of Clacton-on-Sea. Eastcliff ward was close in 2019 between the localist group "Holland-on-Sea and Eastcliff Matters" and the second-placed Conservatives. The localists have nominated Rick Speller to hold the Eastcliff by-election, while former Tory councillor Mick Skeels senior will seek to make a comeback.

Hertfordshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Hertfordshire PCC since 2012 has been David Lloyd of the Conservatives. He was re-elected in 2016, polling 42% against 27% for former Labour MP Kerry Pollard and 16% for the Lib Dems. Lloyd's lead over Pollard in the final reckoning was 59-41.

The 2021 PCC election will feature only those three parties on the ballot. The Conservatives' Lloyd is seeking a third term, and is opposed by Labour's Philip Ross (a cybersecurity consultant) and the Lib Dems' Sam North (a North Hertfordshire councillor and former police officer).

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Hertfordshire county council and for one-third of Broxbourne, North Hertfordshire, St Albans, Stevenage, Three Rivers, Watford and Welwyn Hatfield councils. The only of those which looks completely safe for the Tories is Broxbourne, based on the towns of Cheshunt and Hoddesdon in the Lea Valley.

The A1/East Coast Main Line corridor is another matter entirely. The Conservatives lost their majority on Welwyn Hatfield council in 2019, but still run the district as a minority with 23 seats against 13 Labour and 12 Lib Dem councillors. If the 2019 election is repeated the Tories would lose three of the ten wards they are defending and fall further from overall control.

Similar considerations apply in the North Hertfordshire district, which is based on Hitchin, Letchworth and Royston; however, here the 22-strong Conservative group is in opposition to a coalition of Labour (16) and the Lib Dems (11). Stevenage council has had a Labour majority continuously since the 1974 reorganisation and that will not change this year.

Following a Tory bloodbath in 2019 St Albans council is tied, with the Conservatives and Lib Dems both on 24 seats; the balance of power is held by 5 Labour councillors, 4 independents and a single Green councillor. Since then the Lib Dems have gained the St Albans parliamentary seat after decades of trying. A repeat of the May 2019 results would result in four Lib Dem gains, mostly from the small parties, which would make their present minority administration more secure. The Liberal Democrats are more firmly in control of Watford (where they hold the elected mayoralty) and the Three Rivers district which wraps around the western side of Watford.

Hertfordshire county council has a large Conservative majority at present (51 councillors against 18 Lib Dems and 9 Labour), but there are enough marginal divisions for this majority to be in some real danger if the poor Conservative performance in 2019 is repeated two years down the line.

There are three standalone by-elections at opposite ends of the county. In East Hertfordshire district the Lib Dems have the task of defending Bishop's Stortford All Saints ward, covering the east of the town on the road towards the motorway and Stansted Airport; this ward has seesawed between the Tories and Lib Dems over the last couple of decades, but the Liberal Democrat win in 2019 was by a big enough margin that their defending candidate Richard Townsend should be favoured.

The Liberal Democrats also performed well in the 2019 elections to Dacorum council at the western end of Hertfordshire, making the Tring Central ward safe; Sheron Wilkie is their defending candidate there. The Dacorum district is based on the new town of Hemel Hempstead, which also hosts a by-election in Leverstock Green ward on the eastern edge of the town; this ward was safe Conservative in 2019 and their defence is led by Neil Harden.

Bedfordshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

In the 2016 police and crime commissioner elections Bedfordshire was the only police area which the Conservatives gained from Labour, whose win in 2012 had been rather surprising. Former TV presenter and journalist Kathryn Holloway topped the poll in the first round with 37% against 35% for outgoing Labour PCC Olly Martins and 12% for the Lib Dems; in the runoff Holloway won by 51.6-48.4, a majority of 2,883 votes.

Holloway is standing down after one term, and the Conservatives have selected Festus Akinbusoye, who runs a security business and briefly served as a special constable before his nomination papers went in. Akinbusoye was the Conservative candidate for West Ham in the 2015 general election. Labour have selected David Michael, who has 30 years' service as a Metropolitan Police officer under his belt. Akinbusoye and Michael are both black, and the Lib Dems make it a trio of BAME candidates from the major parties - not something you see very often in a shire county election - with their nomination of Jas Parmar, a postmaster and former police officer. Also standing are independent Patrick Hamill and the English Democrats' Antonio Vitiello.

Local elections

The only local elections this year in Bedfordshire are two by-elections to Luton council. High Town ward, immediately to the north of the town centre, has been vacated by the new Luton South MP Rachel Hopkins; as described in Andrew's Previews 2016, page 106, this is a safe Labour ward and their candidate Umme Ali shouldn't have much trouble holding it. The neighbouring Round Green ward is a very different matter, having returned candidates from all three main parties in the last two elections; the 2019 poll returned two Labour councillors and one Lib Dem, and this by-election promises to be closely fought between the defending Labour candidate Fatima Begum and the Lib Dem challenger Steve Moore. The pandemic has led to huge financial difficulties for Luton council, which wholly owns Luton Airport and funded a number of its services out of the airport's dividend payments; central government have effectively been forced to bail the council out to the tune of £35 million.

There are no local elections this year to Bedford or Central Bedfordshire councils.

Thames Valley

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Thames Valley is one of the largest of England's police areas, covering the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire to the north-west of London. The PCC since 2012 has been Anthony Stansfeld, a Falklands veteran and Conservative representative. In the 2016 PCC election Stansfeld led in the first round with 40% against 33% for Labour and 15% for the Lib Dems, winning the run-off over Labour by the relatively small margin of 54-46.

Stansfeld is standing down and the Conservatives have selected Matthew Barber, who is a former leader of Vale of White Horse council in Oxfordshire and presently serves as Stansfeld's deputy PCC. The Labour candidate is Laetisia Carter, a West Oxfordshire councillor and mental health practitioner. The Lib Dems have selected Oxfordshire county councillor John Howson, and completing a ballot paper of four Oxfordshire-based candidates is independent Alan Robinson.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Oxfordshire county council, the whole of the new Buckinghamshire council, the whole of Oxford council on new ward boundaries, and for one-third of Cherwell, Milton Keynes, Reading, Slough, West Oxfordshire and Wokingham councils.

To start in Buckinghamshire, which holds its first local elections since May 2017 following a reorganisation of the county's local government. The new council has carried over the electoral divisions from the old Buckinghamshire county council, which four years ago returned 41 Conservative councillors against an opposition of four Lib Dems (all from Aylesbury), three independents and a single Labour councillor. The new unitary council carries over the electoral divisions from the old county council but will have three times as many councillors, so for a par score those numbers should be scaled up accordingly.

The reforms in Buckinghamshire have left untouched the New City of Milton Keynes, whose council is very politically balanced; the ruling minority Labour group has 22 seats (one of which is vacant) against 19 Conservatives (including two vacant seats), 15 Lib Dems and an independent. The Conservatives lost five seats here in May 2019, which doesn't look good at first sight but that actually outperformed expectations given that they were defending ten marginal wards; the ward map this year is much more friendly to the Tories, and a repeat of the 2019 results would see them gain three seats from Labour and become the largest party.

The Conservatives did pretty poorly in the 2019 Oxfordshire council elections, but that underperformance was concentrated in the districts south of Oxford. The Tory vote generally held up better in Cherwell district (above), based on Banbury and the fast-growing town of Bicester; a repeat of the 2019 results for Cherwell council would see them lose one seat in Bicester and two seats in the Oxford satellite town of Kidlington, but that won't significantly threaten the Conservative majority on the council. Similar considerations apply in West Oxfordshire district (below), where the Conservatives are defending four wards (mostly in Witney town) which voted for the opposition in 2019; however they will have to do worse than that for the district to fall into No Overall Control.

There has been no Conservative local government presence for many years in the city of Oxford, where the whole council is up for election this year on revised ward boundaries. Oxford is, of course, more than just dreaming spires; there's a significant technological and manufacturing base to the city's economy, and that produces a safe Labour council.

That Tory underperformance in Oxford cost them a majority on Oxfordshire county council in both 2013 and 2017, the latter election resulting in 31 Conservative councillors against 14 Labour, 13 Lib Dems, 4 independents and a localist from Henley-on-Thames. The Conservatives rely on three of the independent councillors for control of the county. It will be interesting to see whether the party's poor May 2019 performances in the Vale of White Horse (Abingdon and Wantage) and South Oxfordshire districts are repeated, particularly with the Lib Dems and Greens in South Oxfordshire having apparently renewed their electoral pact.

Those two districts also see three local by-elections. One of these is in the home of the Williams Formula 1 team, the village of Grove which can found immediately north of Wantage in the Vale of White Horse district. Grove North was a ward gained by the Lib Dems in their takeover of that council in 2019, and Lib Dem candidate Andy Przybysz will look to defend a seat which should be safe for them now.

Further up the Great Western main line is the boom town of Didcot, within the South Oxfordshire district. In the town's North East ward a Tory slate was cleared out in 2019 and replaced by two Lib Dems and independent Simon Hewerdine; Hewerdine has resigned and his seat is open with no independent candidate contesting the resulting by-election. Paul Giesberg contests for the Lib Dems, while the Tories' Andrea Warren will hope to gain a seat back.

At the other end of South Oxfordshire district we come to the third contest Andrew's Previews has covered between the Tories' John Walsh (an accountant with Oxford University Press) and the Lib Dems' Tim Bearder (a former BBC journalist and son of the former Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder). Walsh and Bearder have previously faced off within this column in a 2013 by-election for the North ward of Oxford city council (which Labour won) and in a 2018 by-election for the Wheatley division of Oxfordshire county council (which Bearder won; Andrew's Previews 2018, page 420). With Bearder holding a 1-0 lead in the series, round 3 will take place immediately to the east of Oxford in the Forest Hill and Holton ward of South Oxfordshire. Walsh lost his district council seat here to the Lib Dems rather soundly in 2019, and following the withdrawal of Labour this by-election is a straight Lib Dem-Tory fight.

Berkshire county council disappeared in the 1990s, but three of its former districts are holding elections. In the county town of Reading (above), where boundary changes have been deferred until next year, Labour have a strong majority on the council and got a rare swing in their favour in the Reading East constituency at the 2019 general election. The Reading East constituency includes a large amount of territory which is part of the town's urban area but administered separately by Wokingham council (below); this is a council where the ruling Conservatives have been underperforming throughout the last electoral cycle, and a repeat of the 2019 results would see the Lib Dems gain five seats here and wipe out the Tory majority. Finally, the Labour majority on Slough council is in no danger whatsoever.

There are no local elections this year in Bracknell Forest, West Berkshire or Windsor and Maidenhead.

Hampshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

Hampshire's police and crime commissioner elections have been unusually interesting, with the inaugural contest in 2012 won by independent candidate Simon Hayes who defeated former Conservative MP Michael Mates. For the 2016 election the Tories changed candidate to Michael Lane, whose 29% of the vote was enough for a big lead in the first round. A four-way pileup for the other place in the runoff was won by Labour candidate Robin Price on 16%, ahead of outgoing independent PCC Hayes who finished third with 15%; close behind were the Lib Dems and UKIP on 14% each. The runoff between Lane and Price resulted in an easy Conservative gain with a 64-36 margin.

Lane is not seeking re-election, and the Conservatives have selected former Portsmouth council leader Donna Jones. The Labour candidate is Tony Bunday, who is fighting his first election campaign, runs an events company and is a former social worker. The Lib Dems have selected Richard Murphy, a businessman from Winchester, and completing the ballot paper is Steve James-Bailey for a new party called the Hampshire Independents.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Hampshire county council, for the whole of Isle of Wight council on new ward boundaries, for the whole of Basingstoke and Deane council on new ward boundaries, for one-half of Fareham and Gosport councils, and for one-third of Eastleigh, Hart, Havant, Portsmouth, Rushmoor, Southampton and Winchester councils.

To take the big one first, Hampshire county council has a long-standing and strong Conservative majority, the 2017 election returning 56 Conservative councillors against 19 Lib Dems, 2 Labour councillors (both from Basingstoke) and one councillor from the Community Campaign in Hart district, of which more later.

The 2017 election also saw the Tories gain overall control of the Isle of Wight council after four years of independent-led administration. Wight returned 25 Conservative councillors, 11 independents, 2 Lib Dems and one councillor each from Labour and the Greens. There have been no local elections on the Isle of Wight since then. The Labour slate for this year's Wight council election includes a former MP: Sarah McCarthy-Fry, who represented Portsmouth North in the 2005-10 parliament, is standing for the party in the Conservative-held Lake South division.

The districts which face Wight across the Solent are an interesting bunch. To start at the eastern end, Havant council was a rare bright spot for the Conservatives in the May 2019 elections: the party was defending every seat up for election that year, and did so successfully. The Tory majority there is under no danger. Things were different over the water in the city of Portsmouth (above) which was taken over by a minority Lib Dem administration; the most recent breakdown has 17 Lib Dems, 15 Conservatives, 6 Labour and 4 others (all of whom were elected on one of the above tickets). A repeat of the 2019 results would see the Lib Dems lose some ground: they are defending Eastney/Craneswater ward which voted Conservative in 2019, and St Jude ward which voted Labour in 2019. The Tories will also have their eye on the Labour seat in the volatile estates of Paulsgrove ward.

Over the water again, the Tories are defending a majority of two seats on Gosport council. This has bizarre voting patterns: in the 2019 election the Conservatives polled 52% of the vote across the district to the Lib Dems' 23%, but the Tories and Lib Dems won eight wards each. A repeat of those results would result in two Conservative losses and No Overall Control. To reach the rest of the country from Gosport you have to pass through Fareham district, whose Conservative majority is under no danger. The Lib Dem majority on the neighbouring Eastleigh council is even more impregnable.

The only Labour-controlled local authority in Hampshire is Southampton city council, where Labour have a 30-18 majority over the Conservatives. A repeat of the May 2019 results would see the Conservatives gain three seats nett.

Moving to the M3 corridor of inland Hampshire, the Tories performed very poorly in 2019 in Winchester district which now has a Lib Dem majority. Although the district does include a large rural area around the city, the Winchester Conservatives will be doing well if they can stem further losses. All the seats on the Basingstoke and Deane council are up for election on new ward boundaries; this district is currently hung, with 28 Conservatives forming a minority administration against 13 Labour councillors, 10 independents (a number of whom have split from Labour) and 7 Lib Dems.

In the north-east of the county, Hart district (based on Fleet and Yateley) is run by a coalition of the Liberal Democrats and the aforementioned Community Campaign, and that coalition's majority is in no danger. The Conservatives will remain in control of Rushmoor district, based on the aerospace and military towns of Aldershot and Farnborough.

Most Hampshire districts hold elections by thirds, but there are also five local by-elections to discuss. Three of these are in the Test Valley district, which runs all the way from Andover to the edge of Southampton. The edge-of-Southampton ward is called Chilworth, Nursling and Rownhams and represents some closure for your columnist, because I previewed a by-election here on 19th March 2020 which was called off at the last moment due to COVID. That by-election was to replace the late councillor Nigel Anderdon; since then a second councillor for the ward, Alison Finlay, has also died. Both of them were Conservative councillors for a safe ward. This double by-election is a straight fight between the Conservatives and Lib Dems; on the defending Conservative slate, Terese Swain returns from the aborted 2020 by-election and is joined by Mike Maltby.

The other two by-elections to Test Valley council are in Andover, where a localist slate called the Andover Alliance won seven seats in 2019 and appears to have since fallen apart in Handforthesque scenes. Both these by-elections will be free-for-alls as the Andover Alliance are not defending them. Andover St Mary's is a contest between the three main parties, with the Tories' Jan Budzynski possibly favourite although Nigel Long, who polled decently as an independent in 2019, is back for another go and now has the Lib Dem nomination. In Andover Millway, which was very close between the Conservatives and Andover Alliance in 2019, the localist torch has been taken up by Susana Ecclestone of the breakaway Andover Independents, while Jim Neal will seek to gain for the Conservatives.

Finally, we come to the two by-elections in East Hampshire district, both of which are in wards on the boundary with Surrey. Grayshott is essentially an extension of the Surrey village of Hindhead, while the large village of Liphook on the London-Portsmouth railway line anchors the Bramshott and Liphook ward. These are very safe Conservative wards and should be easily defended by Nick Sear (Bramshott and Liphook) and Tom Hanrahan (Grayshott) respectively.

Surrey

Police and Crime Commissioner

If you thought the Conservatives could never lose a county-wide election in true-blue Surrey, think again. It happened as recently as November 2012, when the first Surrey police and crime commissioner election was won by "Zero Tolerance Policing Ex Chief" candidate Kevin Hurley. For the 2016 election the Conservatives got their act together, and their Surrey PCC candidate David Munro led in the first round with 35% against 18% for Hurley, 13% for the Lib Dems and 12% for Labour. Munro and Hurley went through to the runoff which Munro won by the wide margin of 63-37.

For the 2021 election the Conservatives have deselected David Munro in favour of Lisa Townsend. Munro has not taken this well, and is seeking re-election as an independent. Zero Tolerance Policing Ex Chief Kevin Hurley is also trying to get his old job back. The Lib Dems have selected Mole Valley councillor Paul Kennedy, and train driver and Labour candidate Howard Kaye completes a five-strong ballot paper.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Surrey county council and for one-third of Elmbridge, Mole Valley, Reigate and Banstead, Runnymede, Tandridge and Woking councils.

The 2019 local elections were generally horrific for the Tories in Surrey, with the party losing more than 100 councillors across the county - 60 of them in Guildford and Waverley districts alone. In Guildford the Conservatives have a chance to recover from that with three local by-elections. They are defending the Army-dominated Pirbright ward, which was the safest Tory ward in the district in 2019 but where the previous Tory councillor, Gordon Jackson, had gone independent before resigning from the council; Keith Witham is the defending candidate. Friary and St Nicolas ward, covering Guildford town centre, was safe Lib Dem in 2019 and is defended by their candidate Cait Taylor. Send ward, between Guildford and Woking, has been held since 2015 by the Guildford Greenbelt Group and gave that party 71% of the vote in 2019; Guida Esteves is their defending candidate.

There are two other standalone by-elections in Surrey to mention. One of these arises out of the death in January 2020, at the horribly young age of 33, of a luckless man called Sam Kay. Readers may remember a controversy from 2009 involving the quartet from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, memorably captained by Gail Trimble and including Kay, which won the final of that year's series of University Challenge. Now, when your columnist did UC in the 2002-03 series it was made clear in the selection meeting that, because of the timing of the series recordings, final-year students were not eligible. Kay was a final-year student at the start of the 2008-09 series, but was intending to stay on at Oxford by applying for a PhD. That fell through. By the time the quarter-finals and later stages were recorded, Kay had left Corpus and found work as an accountant, but he still took part in the recordings in breach of the series rules. After the final was broadcast news of this got out, and the programme-makers Granada disqualified Corpus and stripped them of their title.

Regrettably, Sam Kay's local government career didn't last much longer than his reign as a University Challenge champion. He had been elected in May 2019 as a Liberal Democrat member of Surrey Heath council representing the town of Bagshot, beating the alphabet to top the poll and riding the anti-Tory wave in that election. Kay's death leaves the local Lib Dems with a tricky defence in a marginal ward within Michael Gove's constituency. Richard Wilson is the defending Lib Dem candidate, opposed in a straight fight by the Tories' Mark Gordon.

The other standalone by-election comes over the river in Spelthorne district, based on Staines-upon-Thames and one of the few parts of Middlesex that escaped incorporation into Greater London in the 1960s. The Conservatives lost a large majority here in the 2019 election and now run the district as a minority; one of the wards which fell was Staines South ward, which returned two Liberal Democrats and one Labour councillor. You get the impression that the opposition parties didn't see this result coming, as the Lib Dems finished with a big lead in votes but only had a slate of two for the three available seats. Over the last two years Spelthorne council has suffered a number of defections and regroupings, including Lib Dem Staines South councillor Nichola Cornes who went independent and then resigned from the council altogether. For the resulting by-election Rob Millist is the defending Lib Dem candidate, Harriet Digby stands for Labour and Sinead Mooney for the Conservatives. The sort of defection level seen in Spelthorne often indicates a slightly dysfunctional council, and this political dysfunctionality may soon be joined by financial dysfunctionality. Spelthorne council has invested massively in commercial property in recent years; their position is rather different to that of Croydon, who have made similar investments and run out of money, in that Spelthorne's portfolio is mostly generating rent, but whether the buildings are still worth what the council paid for them is another matter.

Of the Surrey councils holding elections by thirds this year, Mole Valley council (based on Leatherhead and Dorking) flipped straight to the Liberal Democrats in 2019; Elmbridge council (above, outer London suburbia around Weybridge and Walton-on-Thames) was taken over by a coalition of the residents groups and Lib Dems; while in Tandridge (below, the eastern end of the county, including Caterham and Oxted) and in Woking the Conservatives now have to rely on independent councillors for control. In those areas, the primary focus for the Surrey Conservatives must be to stop the rot. So far as Elmbridge is concerned, the Conservatives may be helped by what appears to be a breakdown in the Residents/Lib Dem pact: most of Elmbridge district is covered by the Esher and Walton parliamentary seat where the Lib Dems came close to knocking out foreign secretary Dominic Raab in December 2019, and the party appears to be trying to build on that success by contesting several Resident-held marginal wards. The election to fill a casual vacancy in the Felbridge ward of Tandridge has been called off after the Labour candidate died, and will be held at a later date.

The Tories do still retain overall control of Reigate and Banstead council (the M23/Brighton Line corridor) and the Runnymede district at the northern end of the county. All of the seats on those councils were up in 2019 with new ward boundaries, and there don't appear to be many opportunities for opposition parties in the seats up for election there.

One interesting question will be whether these May 2019 underperformance feeds through to Surrey county council. However, given that the Tories won 61 seats out of a possible 81 here in May 2017, it will take a lot for that majority to disappear.

Picture of the Corpus Christi University Challenge team from 2008-09 by Sean Blanchflower, blanchflower.org

Sussex

Police and Crime Commissioner

There was little of interest in the 2016 election for Sussex police and crime commissioner, which easily re-elected Conservative PCC Katy Bourne. In the first round she led with 42% against 22% for Labour and 16% for UKIP; the run-off against Labour produced a Tory majority of 62-38.

Bourne is seeking a third term for the Conservatives. Labour have selected Paul Richards, a former Whitehall special adviser. UKIP have not returned, so completing the Sussex PCC ballot are Jamie Bennett for the Lib Dems, Kahina Bouhassane for the Greens and independent candidate Roy Williams.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of East Sussex and West Sussex county councils, for one-half of Adur and Hastings councils and for one-third of Crawley and Worthing councils.

The stand-out one of these to watch is Crawley. This New Town got new ward boundaries in 2019 putting all 36 council seats up for re-election; in vote terms there was a photofinish with the Tories and Labour polling 42.6% each across the borough, while in seat terms Labour eked out a win by 19 to 17. Since then two Labour councillors have died and two more have left the party, which at one point left the Conservative group holding half of the seats; a highly unusual situation has developed, with the Conservatives declining to seek control of the council for themselves and instead shoring up the Labour administration in advance of these elections. Control of Crawley council is likely to come down to a handful of votes in one or more wards.

Things are on the other foot in the south coast resort of Worthing where Labour have made strong gains over the last electoral cycle. Worthing council currently stands at 23 Conservative councillors against 10 Labour, 3 Lib Dems and a UKIP councillor; nearly half of the Tory group is up for re-election this year, and a repeat of the 2019 results would result in five Labour gains and a sharply-reduced Conservative majority.

The Tories have much less margin for error in the neighbouring Adur district, based on towns such as Shoreham on the coastal strip between Worthing and Brighton; they currently hold 16 seats (including vacancies) out of a possible 29. Adur last went to the polls in 2018, and a repeat of those results would see the Conservatives gain two seats with UKIP wiped out.

The four local by-elections in West Sussex are all defences for the opposition. Arun council, which stayed Conservative throughout the lean times of the 1990s, is now run by a minority Lib Dem administration following impressive results in 2019. Among the Lib Dem gains that year were Brookfield ward (in Littlehampton) where the party holds both seats, and Pevensey ward (in Bognor Regis) where they split the two seats with an independent councillor. The Lib Dems are defending both by-elections: Bob Woodman should be favoured to hold Brookfield, while John Barrett is the defending candidate in Pevensey but may face a challenge from independent Jan Cosgrove.

There is more long-standing Lib Dem strength in the Trafalgar ward of Horsham, which covers the west of the town and where their candidate Martin Boffey is favoured. In Mid Sussex district the 2019 election saw the Conservatives lose Copthorne and Worth ward (immediately to the east of Crawley) to an independent slate; Norman Mockford has come forward as a new independent candidate for this by-election against the Tories' Bruce Forbes.

The Conservative majority on West Sussex county council is in no danger. East Sussex county council (above) is however more balanced, with the 2017 election returning 30 Conservatives against 11 Lib Dems, 5 independents and 4 Labour councillors. Since then the Tories have performed pretty poorly in the 2019 local elections in Bexhill-on-Sea and the 2018 local elections in Hastings, where all of the Labour county councillors come from. One-half of Hastings council (below) is up for election this year, and the Labour majority there looks safe.

Of the nine council by-elections in the East Sussex council area, eight are Conservative defences. The new Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart has vacated her seat on Rother council, provoking a by-election in Eastern Rother ward which covers the villages around Rye. This ward is safe Conservative and should return their candidate Lizzie Hacking. The Tories are defending four by-elections in the sprawling Wealden district (below), including both wards in Heathfield and two of the six wards in Hailsham. Three of these look safe and should be defended without fuss by their candidates Mike Baker (Heathfield North), Tom Guyton-Day (Heathfield South) and Kevin Balsdon (Hailsham South), but Hailsham North ward was a three-way marginal in 2019 and could again be closely contested between Chris Bryant of the Conservatives, Paul Holbrook of the Lib Dems and Rachel Chilton of the Greens.

Over on the coastal strip, the Conservatives are defending two of the five Seaford wards in by-elections to Lewes council. Both Seaford East (defended by Richard Turner) and Seaford West (defended by Linda Wallraven) look safe enough; the Greens ran second in both wards last time, but the decision by the Lib Dems to contest these by-elections may split their vote. Lewes shares a lot of its services with Eastbourne council, where Conservative MP Caroline Ansell has vacated Sovereign ward; this is based on a relatively new marina development and as such is very unlike the rest of Eastbourne. Sovereign ward is safe Tory and their defending candidate is Kshama Shore. Finally, in the north of Eastbourne the Lib Dems defend a by-election in the very safe Hampden Park ward; their candidate is Josh Babarinde.

There are no scheduled local elections this year in Brighton and Hove, but there are two by-elections to the city council from wards in Caroline Lucas' Pavilion constituency. Hollingdean and Stanmer ward runs out along the railway line towards Lewes up to and including the University of Sussex campus. This has been a Labour-Green marginal for the last decade, and in 2019 the ward split its representation between two Labour councillors and one Green. Labour's Leila Erin-Jenkins will defend the by-election, the Greens' Zoë John will hope to gain. Patcham ward lies on the northern edge of the city at the point where the road and railway line from London break through the South Downs; this is a safe Conservative ward which Anne Meadows should defend for the party.

Kent

Police and Crime Commissioner

Our final English PCC election is for the county of Kent, which returned independent candidate Ann Barnes as its first police and crime commissioner in 2012. Barnes retired in 2016 and the first round of the election to replace her saw Matthew Scott of the Conservatives top the poll with 33%. Second with 27% was UKIP candidate Henry Bolton, who subsequently had his fifteen minutes of fame as leader of that party. Labour's Tristan Osborne finished third with 19% of the vote, while independent candidate Gurvinder Singh Sander polled 10%. Last of the six candidates that year was Steve Uncles of the English Democrats, who polled 3% and lost his deposit; Uncles was subsequently sent to prison for seven months for electoral fraud in the 2013 Kent county council elections, having submitted seven sets of nomination papers for English Democrats "candidates" who either hadn't consented to their nomination or never existed in the first place. The run-off for the 2016 Kent PCC election was Conservative versus UKIP, with Scott beating Bolton by 54-46.

Matthew Scott is seeking re-election, and is opposed this time by two other candidates: Lola Oyewusi (who is also standing for the county council, in Sittingbourne South) for Labour and Graham Colley for the Lib Dems.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Kent county council and for one-third of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells councils. There are no local elections this year in the Medway towns.

Tunbridge Wells was extensively discussed by this column at the end of last year, as the 2019 local elections saw the Conservatives lose 13 of the 18 seats they were defending; one of the seats they held was won on the toss of a coin following a tied result in Paddock Wood West ward. To cut a long story short, a lot of that was down to proposals by the council for a new civic centre/theatre/underground car park complex which went down with the locals with, for want of a better word, disgust. That cunning plan has since fallen by the wayside, but the ruling Conservatives will have to rebound a heck of a lot from last year's performance to hold onto their council majority.

Maidstone council (above) is hung and likely to remain so; a Lib Dem-Independent administration is currently in place. Maidstone is also home to Kent county council (below), whose Tory majority shouldn't be in danger. The county council candidate lists have revealed a mistake by Labour who have managed to nominate two candidates for the Malling Central division (based on East and West Malling together with Larkfield off the M20 motorway); mind, Labour only polled 5% there in 2017 so this probably won't cost them a seat. Sadly, the Labour candidate for Elham Valley division (a large swathe of the North Downs to the north of Folkestone) has died, and the poll there will be postponed to a later date.

The Conservative revival in the polls in late 2019 saw its first fruits on 17th October that year with a by-election gain in the Westcourt ward of Gravesham (Andrew's Previews 2019, pages 323 and 329), a downmarket residential area in eastern Gravesend. That Westcourt poll was the first council by-election the Conservatives had gained from Labour in over a year. Well, we are back here again for a crucial local by-election to Gravesham council; if Labour lose this one as well, their council majority will go with it and they will be down to half of the seats. Karina O'Malley defends this Westcourt by-election for Labour, Samir Jassal challenges for the Conservatives.

The Conservatives have three other local by-elections to defend in western Kent. In the Darent valley there are by-elections to Dartford council from Darenth ward (Maria Kelly defending) and from the cumbersomely-named neighbouring ward of Wilmington, Sutton-at-Hone and Hawley (Ellenor Palmer defending). In Sevenoaks district the Tories defend a by-election in Brasted, Chevening and Sundridge ward, covering villages immediately to the west of Sevenoaks at the south-east corner of the M25 (Keith Bonin defending). None of these look in any danger.

East Kent's by-elections have a rather left-wing bias to them. The by-election-prone Beaver ward in the south of Ashford town comes to the notice of this column for the fourth time in ten years, following the death of one of the Labour councillors; Dylan Jones is the defending Labour candidate for a ward that should be safe enough for them. In Dover district Labour defend Mill Hill ward, the western of the four wards covering Deal: Jeffrey Loffman is the Labour candidate here in a ward that had good showings in 2019 for both the Conservatives (who have selected David Hawkes) and the Greens (Mike Eddy).

We finally get around to the by-election in the Newington ward of Thanet, which I previewed all the way back on 19th March 2020 but which was pulled by the returning officer due to the pandemic. All four candidates who were nominated in that aborted poll have returned, with Mary King favoured to hold for Labour. Newington ward is in Ramsgate as is Central Harbour ward, which split its three seats between Labour and the Greens in 2019; confusingly, the defending Labour candidate has the name David Green, while the Greens have selected Tricia Austin. Over in Margate we have a by-election in the Dane Valley ward which is defended by the Thanet Independents, the main remnant of the UKIP group which won a majority on Thanet council in 2019. Dane Valley voted Conservative in 2007, Labour at a December 2009 by-election and in 2011, then UKIP in 2015 before splitting its three seats in 2019 between the two Thanet Independents candidates and Labour, with the Tories close behind. All three candidates for this Dane Valley by-election will feel they have realistic chances of winning: Mark Websper defends for the Thanet Independents, Martin Boyd is the Labour candidate, David Wallin stands for the Conservatives.

These three by-elections could be crucial to the future direction of Thanet council. The 2019 Thanet election returned 25 Conservative councillors, 20 Labour, 7 Thanet Independents, 3 Greens and 1 independent; a Conservative minority administration was originally installed, then deposed in favour of a Labour minority administration. The Labour council leader has recently resigned in an attempt to stave off a counter-coup attempt; a new leader will be elected on 13th May once the results of these by-elections are known.

Further along the north Kent coast Labour defend the town of Sheerness, where they have held two out of three Swale council seats since the current ward was introduced in 2015. The other seat went to UKIP in 2015 and to an independent candidate in 2019, so this by-election could be tricky to hold given the presence of a candidate from the Swale Independents council group. Nicola Nelson is the Labour candidate, Dolley White stands for the Swale Independents.

The only Conservative by-election defence in East Kent is the Swalecliffe ward of Whitstable, after Ian Thomas - who represented the area on both Canterbury council and Kent county council - took his own life after being arrested on suspicion of sexual assault. The by-election is for Canterbury council only, and the defending Conservative candidate is Mark Dance.

In Canterbury proper we have a by-election for the city-centre Westgate ward. This was the destination point for many pilgrimages to the shrine of Thomas Becket over the centuries, so it's fitting that our tour of England's local by-elections on 6th May 2021 ends here. Since it was redrawn in 2015 Westgate ward has returned councillors from all three main parties, with a Labour gain from the Conservatives at a by-election on 8th June 2017 (Andrew's Previews 2017, page 157) presaging the Labour gain of the parliamentary seat later on that election night. The May 2019 poll here returned one Lib Dem and two Labour councillors, with the Conservatives now out of the running. Pip Hazelton defends for Labour, Alex Lister will try to gain for the Lib Dems.

Coming soon: the concluding Part IV of Andrew's Previews for 6th May 2021, covering the Tees Valley and the Hartlepool by-election.

Andrew Teale


The May 2021 elections, previewed (Part II): the North and Midlands

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

Welcome to Andrew's Previews' lowdown on the May 2021 elections, which promise to be the biggest electoral event of this Parliament. The whole of Great Britain is due to go to the polls. And there's not just one type of election involved: many voters will have two, three or (in some cases) four or more ballot papers to juggle, and multiple electoral systems abound. It's complicated.

Because of its extraordinary length this Preview will be split into four parts, set out as follows:

  1. Introduction, Scotland, Wales and London.
  2. The North and Midlands.
  3. The South and East.
  4. The Parliamentary Special; and concluding remarks.

Introduction

Parts II and III of this preview divide England (outside London) up into its police areas. Each section starts with a discussion of the Police and Crime Commissioner and (if any) the combined authority mayoral election, followed by the local councils within the police area.

These previews will make a lot of comparisons with 2019, for the purpose of establishing something of a "par score". The May 2019 local elections took place in a political scene much more like May 2016 than May 2017 and, unusually, happened at a time when both major parties were in a weak position but while the new forces taking votes off them, the Brexit Party and Change UK, were not ready for prime time. While there was a lot of anti-incumbent sentiment about, those new parties were unable to take advantage as they had no candidates; so that anti-incumbent sentiment manifested itself in many areas with large shares for independent candidates and localist parties. These small groups had been mostly swamped in 2015 by general election turnout, so 2019 marked something of a renaissance for them.

Since March 2020, local by-elections in England have been suspended due to reasons which are obvious. Some local by-elections have taken place in Wales, and the Scottish returning officers have efficiently cleared their vacancy backlog, but in England we have no information from real-life elections as to how things are going. We only have the national opinion polls, which suggest a national picture closer to May 2017 (when the Conservatives were well ahead in the opinion polls and in the local elections) than to May 2016 (when the two main parties were neck-and-neck). How this will translate into a series of local pictures is extremely difficult to predict, but one reasonable guess might be that the Conservatives consistently do better than the 2019 "par scores" set out in this preview.

Because of the limited space and time available and the extraordinary number of by-elections, I have applied a much stronger than usual filter when naming candidates in the 6th May previews. All mayoral and PCC candidates have been namechecked, but by-election candidates are generally only named in this text if their party was within 10% last time out. For a full list of by-election candidates I will refer you to this file (link). If you're a by-election candidate and you're not happy with not having your name in this preview, then I would love you to prove me wrong by going ahead and winning your contest. In most cases you can click on each by-election's name to see previous results from the Local Elections Archive Project. As usual, the maps are the results from the last time the seats up for election were contested, in most cases 2016 or 2017 - one electoral cycle ago.

Despite my best efforts, I am fully aware that there will be mistakes in this preview. Have fun finding them.

So now, here is Part II, covering the north of England and the English Midlands. With the exception of the Cleveland police area, which will be the focus of Part IV.

Arrangement of police areas

Northumbria
Durham

Cumbria
Lancashire
Merseyside
Cheshire
Greater Manchester
West Yorkshire
North Yorkshire
Humberside
South Yorkshire
Derbyshire
Nottinghamshire
Lincolnshire
Northamptonshire
Leicestershire
Warwickshire
West Midlands
Staffordshire
West Mercia

Northumbria

Police and Crime Commissioner

Vera Baird, the former Labour MP for Redcar, was Northumbria PCC from 2012 until 2019 when she resigned to become Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales. The resulting by-election, held in July 2019, saw Labour's Kim McGuinness, a Newcastle upon Tyne city councillor, take the lead on first preferences: 38%, against 22% each for two Northumberland councillors, independent candidate Georgina Hill and Conservative Robbie Moore; the Lib Dems coming in fourth and last with 19%. Having placed second narrowly ahead of Moore, Hill got into the runoff and picked up most of the transfers, meaning that McGuinness was elected in the final reckoning by the narrow margin of 52-48.

McGuinness is seeking re-election. Georgina Hill has not returned but there is a new independent candidate, NHS doctor Julian Kilburn. The Tories have had to change candidate after Robbie Moore got elected to Parliament in December 2019 (more on that story later) and they have selected Duncan Crute. Completing the ballot paper is Gateshead councillor Peter Maughan, standing for the Lib Dems.

Local elections

The whole of Northumberland county council is up for election along with one-third of the seats in the five Tyne and Wear boroughs and the elected mayoralty of North Tyneside.

The Conservatives almost won an overall majority in Northumberland in May 2017. Their 12 net gains, for a total of 33 seats, were mostly due to a collapse by the Lib Dems who lost all their seats in the Berwick upon Tweed constituency. However, the Conservatives did also gain two seats in Cramlington (one of them from an obscure Labour councillor called Laura Pidcock, who subsequently had an ill-starred Parliamentary career in North West Durham) and they tied for first place in the South Blyth division whose Lib Dem councillor was re-elected on the returning officer's drawing of lots. This was a sign of things to come: Cramlington and Blyth are both in the Blyth Valley constituency which was the first declared Conservative gain of the December 2019 general election. With 33 seats against 24 for Labour, 7 independents and 3 Lib Dems the Conservatives formed a minority administration, although they're a man down at the moment after Robbie Moore went off to become MP for Keighley. His seat in Alnwick is vacant, and this was crucial in 2020 when the then Conservative leader Peter Jackson lost a confidence vote over a whistleblowing scandal by 33 votes to 32.

The largest of the five Tyne and Wear boroughs is another early declarer: the city of Sunderland. This column wrote in 2019 that Sunderland has a Labour administration which is very locally unpopular while also having a very secure majority, and despite the fact that Labour lost 12 councillors in 2019 that's still true. The Labour group currently has 51 seats (three of which are vacant), against 12 Conservatives, 8 Lib Dems, 3 UKIPpers and 1 Green (whose seat is vacant). There are 10 wards with split representation and Labour are defending every single one of them; but for the party's majority to be in serious danger they'd have to do far worse even than in 2019..

North Tyneside is different to the other four Tyne and Wear boroughs in that it has an elected mayor. The mayoralty has been held by both Labour and the Conservatives in the past with a number of very close results, but the last mayoral election in 2017 had a big lead for Labour's Norma Redfearn who was re-elected in the first round with a 56-31 lead over the Conservatives.

Redfearn is seeking re-election for a third term as Mayor. The Conservatives have selected Steven Robinson, a Royal Marine turned British Gas engineer. Also standing are John Appleby for the Lib Dems, Jack Thomson for UKIP and Penny Remfry for the Green Party.

Including vacancies, Labour hold 51 of the 60 seats on North Tyneside council against 7 Conservatives, a Lib Dem and an independent. A repeat of the 2019 results would result in no change to the Labour total, as they would pick up the Lib Dem seat in Northumberland ward to offset a net loss to the Conservatives. In the event that the Conservatives gain the mayoralty, it's likely that the new mayor will have to cohabit with a Labour-majority council.

Labour are secure in the other three Tyne and Wear boroughs, although they may suffer a net loss of seats in South Tyneside, where there has been some infighting in the Labour group, and in Newcastle upon Tyne where the Lib Dems and localists did reasonably well in 2019.

Durham

Police and Crime Commissioner

Ron Hogg, who had led the English police response against football hooliganism during the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan and South Korea, had been the Durham PCC since 2012. In 2016 he was re-elected in the first round, defeating the Conservatives 64-24. Hogg died in December 2019 and his deputy, Steven White, has been serving as PCC in an acting capacity since then.

The Labour Party have selected Joy Allen as their new candidate for Durham PCC; she is the Mayor of Bishop Auckland and a cabinet member on Durham county council. The Tories' George Jabbour, who claims to be the only candidate ever to run for election in all four nations of the UK, adds a PCC run to his previous attempts at elections to Parliament (in Inverclyde), the Senedd (in Bridgend), the Northern Ireland Assembly (in Belfast South) and three local authority mayoral elections (in Doncaster, Mansfield and Watford). He's never been particularly close to winning on any of those occasions. Anne-Marie Curry completes the ballot paper for the Lib Dems.

Local elections

There are whole council elections this year for Durham council. The last elections here were in 2017 and left Labour with a reduced majority. They won 74 seats against 25 for various categories of independents and localists, 14 for the Liberal Democrats (who are particularly strong in Durham city), 10 Conservatives and 3 seats for the North East Party, a regionalist movement with a powerbase in the New Town of Peterlee. None of the ten Conservative councillors were elected in the North West Durham constituency, which the party now holds in Westminster. There have been six by-elections since 2017, with Labour holding three, the Lib Dems holding one and gaining one from Labour, and a very fragmented by-election in Spennymoor in May 2019 which saw an independent candidate finish in first place with just 19% of the vote, succeeding a different independent.

There are no scheduled local elections this year in Darlington, but that borough will take part in the Tees Valley mayoral election which is discussed in the forthcoming Part IV of the preview. Darlington council does have two by-elections: Paul Howell, the new Conservative MP for Sedgefield, has vacated his seat in Hummersknott ward on the western edge of town, while on the eastern edge of town Labour are defending the Red Hall and Lingfield ward which Howell unsuccessfully contested in 2015. Both of those wards were safe in 2019, although Red Hall and Lingfield was fairly close in a November 2017 by-election (Andrew's Previews 2017, page 343).

Cumbria

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Cumbria PCC position has been held by the Conservatives since 2012. Peter McCall, a former Army officer who commanded a squadron during the Bosnian war, has served since 2016. On the first count he had 34% of the vote against 24% for Labour, 17% for the Lib Dems and 15% for an independent candidate; in the runoff McCall defeated the Labour candidate by 58-42.

McCall is seeking a second term. Labour have selected former Allerdale councillor Barbara Cannon. The Liberal Democrat candidate is Loraine Birchall, chair of the party's Barrow and Furness branch. The independent from last time has not returned, so those are your three candidates.

Local elections

When it comes to discussion of Cumbrian local elections, there's really only one place we can start.

This is your columnist's photograph of the Cursing Stone. Located in a pedestrian subway just outside Carlisle Castle in the city centre, and installed in 2001, it's a polished granite boulder inscribed with a 1,069-word curse placed on border reivers in 1525 by Gavin Dunbar, then archbishop of Glasgow. It has cursed Carlisle.

That's a strong statement to make, but consider: in the year the Stone was installed the farms of Cumberland were devastated by foot-and-mouth disease. The city has suffered a series of devastating floods, in 2005 and the Storm Desmond flood of 2015, which took out the McVitie's factory and led to a national biscuit shortage which lasted for months. The Cursing Stone has taken the blame for a series of well-publicised crimes, hits to the local economy and even Carlisle United's relegation from the football league in 2004. Coincidence?

Consider also: after the 2005 flood Jim Tootle, city and county councillor for Castle ward which then covered the Cursing Stone, proposed to the city council that it be removed or destroyed to prevent any further nasty things happening. The council voted to keep it. Seven years later Tootle was dead at the age of 59, and since then a series of other councillors for Castle ward have died at an early age or resigned. Since the Cursing Stone was installed, Carlisle's Castle ward has had a horrific councillor attrition rate, with nine by-elections here (either at city or county level) in the fifteen years from 2001 to 2016. Coincidence?

Consider also: the scheduled elections this year for the whole of Cumbria county council and one-third of Carlisle and South Lakeland councils have been cancelled, pending a possible reorganisation of local government in the area. As a result, only the PCC elections and a series of by-elections are taking place in the county on 6th May. One of these is a by-election to Carlisle city council for the renamed and redrawn ward of Cathedral and - you guessed it - Castle.

Coincidence?

Cathedral and Castle, Carlisle's city-centre ward, is just one of three by-elections in Carlisle which Labour have the task of holding on 6th May. These days it's a safe Labour ward, as is Newtown and Morton North ward in the inner west of the city; Labour also have a full slate of councillors in Harraby South and Parklands ward, along the London Road at the south-eastern entrance to the city, but the Conservatives and UKIP were both fairly close behind at the only previous poll on these lines in 2019. UKIP haven't returned, but the Conservatives have selected Linda Mitchell in Harraby South and Parklands, while the defending Labour candidate there is Abdul Harid. The Labour defences in the other two Carlisle city by-elections are led by Pete Sunter (Cathedral and Castle) and David Graham (Newtown and Morton North).

The Carlisle returning officer also has the task of organising a by-election to Cumbria county council in the Brampton division. This covers the town of Brampton, on the road and railway line from Carlisle to Newcastle, as well as six other parishes to the north-east of the town. Brampton division was safe Conservative at the last county council elections in 2019, and their defending candidate is Mike Mitchelson.

The returning officer for Allerdale is even busier, with seven by-elections to arrange. Two of these arise from the death of Joe Holliday, who was an independent member of both the district and the county councils. His district council ward was St John's, the eastern ward of Workington town; his county council seat of St John's and Great Clifton added two villages to the east of Workington. St John's returned two independents and a Labour councillor in 2019, while the county division was close between Holliday and Labour in 2017. Independent district councillor Paul Scott is standing to replace Holliday in the county by-election, while the district by-election has two defending independent candidates (George Campbell and Andrew Eccles); the Labour candidate for both by-elections is Antony McGuckin, who was runner-up to Holliday in 2017.

Facing St John's ward across the River Derwent is the Seaton and Northside ward of Allerdale council, which has been vacated by the new Workington MP Mark Jenkinson. Jenkinson was first elected to the predecessor Seaton ward in 2015 as a UKIP candidate, the other two seats in Seaton going to his Kipper running-mate Joe Sandwith and Labour's Celia Tibble. In the revised ward in 2019 Sandwith again topped the poll, this time as an independent candidate; a second independent was elected; and Jenkinson was re-elected to the final seat with the Conservative nomination and a massive personal vote. He polled 582 votes, enjoying a majority of 36 over the Labour slate, while his Tory running-mates only scored 117 and 97. Can all that Conservative vote transfer to another candidate? The Tories' Colin Sharpe will hope it can, while independent Aileen Brown and Labour's Beth Dixon will attempt to prove otherwise.

The Conservatives will fancy their chances of gaining two by-elections in the town of Cockermouth. One is for the county council in Cockermouth North, which was a Lib Dem gain from the Conservatives in 2017; Fiona Jayatilaka is the defending Lib Dem candidate here, while the Tories have selected Catherine Bell. The Allerdale district ward boundaries divide Cockermouth east-west rather than north-south, with Labour defending a by-election in Christchurch, the town's western ward; this was close between Labour and Conservative in 2019, and Labour's Helen Tucker has work to do to hold off the Tories' Alan Kennon.

Another chance of a Conservative pickup arises in the Ellen and Gilcrux ward, covering three parishes along the River Ellen to the east of Maryport. This ward elected the Labour slate in 2019, but one of the Labour councillors has been kicked off for non-attendance and the Tories are just about within marginal range. Martin Harris is the defending Labour candidate, while Patrick Gorrill will try to gain for the Conservatives. The neighbouring ward of Aspatria (pronounced a-SPAY-tree-a, for those who weren't aware) was the only seat won in 2019 by the localist movement Putting Cumbria First; the localist councillor defected to the Conservatives before resigning, and with no new Putting Cumbria First candidate the Tories' Lucy Winter will attempt to convert their defection gain into a by-election gain.

There are enough by-elections here that they could make a significant difference to control of Allerdale council, which currently stands at 17 independent councillors, 15 Conservatives, 12 Labour and 5 vacancies. An Independent-Conservative coalition was formed after the 2019 elections, but this has recently collapsed leaving the Conservatives in minority control.

In Copeland district, we finally get around to the by-election in Whitehaven Central ward which was postponed from March 2020. For those who haven't been to Whitehaven, you should: despite the predations of John Paul Jones it's a rather handsome port full of nice Georgian buildings. Whitehaven Central ward was created for the 2019 election, at which it split its three seats between two Labour candidates and an independent with the Conservatives not far behind. Joseph Ghayouba defends for Labour, Richard Donnan stands as an independent candidate, and there may be some confusion generated by the Conservatives and the Heritage Party nominating two different candidates both called William Dixon.

We finish our tour of Cumberland as was by travelling to Eden district. A few years ago Andrew's Previews visited the most White British ward in England and Wales, Hartside ward on the western slopes of the High Pennines (Andrew's Previews 2018, page 47); on that occasion Robin Orchard succeeded his late wife Sheila as the ward's Conservative councillor. Sheila Orchard, incidentally, had taken the seat over from John Lancaster, the father of the former England rugby head coach Stuart Lancaster. I am sorry to report that councillor Robin Orchard has since passed away in his turn. Orchard won the 2018 by-election easily and nobody opposed his re-election in 2019; for this by-election the defending Conservative candidate is Raymond Briggs (no, not that one). There is also a poll in Skelton ward, covering two far-flung parishes on the road from Penrith to Wigton and taking in the village of Unthank (no, not that one), which is vacated by the former Conservative council leader Kevin Beaty. Beaty had represented the ward since 2011 but only faced one contested election, defeating the Lib Dems easily in 2019; Colin Atkinson will try to hold his seat for the Conservatives. The Conservatives lost control of Eden council in 2019, and a recent attempt by them to topple a rainbow anti-Conservative coalition failed.

Two by-elections take place to Barrow-in-Furness council. Hindpool ward, covering part of the town centre and points west, is a very safe Labour area where their candidate Jo Tyson should knock out the opposition. The Conservatives' Jay Zaccarini should have few problems defending the village of Roosecote, just to the east of the town.

The Conservative challenge to the Tim Farron political machine in South Lakeland may have been dented by the retirement from frontline politics of James Airey, who was leader of the Conservative group on the county council and had also previously led the Conservative group on Lancaster council. Airey was the Conservatives' parliamentary candidate for Westmorland and Lonsdale in 2017 and 2019, losing narrowly to Farron on both occasions. He has taken up a new position with the National Farmers' Union.

Accordingly we have by-elections for Airey's seats on Cumbria county council and South Lakeland council. His county seat was Ulverston West; the town of Ulverston is developing a bit of a counter-culture vibe, but Airey had a large majority in 2017 and Andrew Butcher, the Conservative candidate for the county by-election, will start as favourite. Ulverston West has no overlap with Airey's district seat of Furness Peninsula, which must be a strong candidate for the UK's most cthulhoid ward. I mean, just look at it.

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn. Thankfully Cthulhu is not qualified to be a councillor as the house at R'lyeh is outside the boundaries of South Lakeland district; as such the electors will be unable to vote for the greater evil on this occasion. In the real world Furness Peninsula ward returned three Conservative councillors in 2018, the first contest on these boundaries, with the Lib Dems close behind; and the 2019 election saw the Lib Dems gain a seat. So this is one to watch between the defending Conservative candidate Ben Cooper and the Lib Dems' Loraine Birchall, who is also standing in the Ulverston West county by-election and for Police and Crime Commissioner.

There are three other by-elections to South Lakeland council on 6th May, two of which are difficult Conservative defences within the Lake District National Park. Broughton and Coniston ward split its three seats between two Conservatives and a Lib Dem in 2018 and was a Lib Dem gain in 2019. The final Conservative seat is up in this by-election, with their candidate Matt Brereton (who lost his seat in 2019) up against the Lib Dems' Heather Troughton. Kendal Rural ward wraps around the north of the town to take in the Lune Gorge, which travellers on the motorway and railway line to Carlisle and Glasgow will traverse; the largest settlement here is Staveley-in-Kendal. This ward returned two Lib Dems and a Conservative in 2018 with the Lib Dems holding one of their two seats in 2019; the Conservative seat is up in this by-election, and their candidate Luke Gudgeon will hope to defeat the Lib Dems' Ali Jama.

We finish our tour of Cumbria's by-elections on the county's south coast, in the Victorian seaside resort of Grange-over-Sands. This forms the Grange ward of South Lakeland council, which was close between the Lib Dems and Conservatives in 2018 but was safe Lib Dem in 2019. Pete Endsor is their defending candidate.

Lancashire

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Lancashire police and crime commissioner is Labour's Clive Grunshaw. In May 2016 he polled 44% in the first round against 32% for the Conservatives and 17% for UKIP, and went on to win the run-off by a 56-44 margin.

Grunshaw is seeking re-election for a third term. The Conservatives have selected Lancashire county councillor Andrew Snowden. UKIP's 2016 candidate James Barker stands again with the Reform UK nomination, and the ballot paper is completed by Neil Darby for the Liberal Democrats.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Lancashire county council, the whole of Chorley and Pendle councils on new ward boundaries, and one-third of Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Preston, Rossendale and West Lancashire councils.

Lancashire county council has swung rather wildly in recent years: Labour in 2005, Conservative in 2009, hung in 2013 with Labour as the largest party, Conservative in 2017. That election returned 46 Conservative councillors against 30 Labour, 4 Lib Dems, 2 independents, a Green councillor and the only UKIP councillor returned in 2017 (in Padiham and Burnley West; he is now in the Conservatives, and leads the Tory group on Burnley council as we shall come to later). The Tories had a majority of 8 seats which rests on particularly good results in marginal Rossendale and Colne and the New Town territory of Leyland. There are a large number of marginal divisions in these areas, and on current polling this will be a difficult council for the Conservatives to defend.

The Conservatives did particularly well in East Lancashire at the 2019 general election, but generally this wasn't off a strong local government base. Their strongest council is Pendle covering the towns of Nelson and Colne, but the Conservatives lost control here in May 2019 to a Labour/Lib Dem coalition. There are new ward boundaries in Pendle this year with all the seats up for election; at the time of writing the Conservatives hold 22 seats (two of which are vacant), Labour 16 (one of which is vacant), the Lib Dems have 9 (one of which is vacant) and there is one independent. One of the Tory vacancies is in respect of the new Bury South MP Christian Wakeford, who was the group leader here before he entered the Commons; Wakeford was subsequently thrown off Pendle council under the six-month non-attendance rule, which doesn't say much for his organisational skills.

Further down the Calder valley we come to Burrnley, which elected MPs from all three main parties in the last decade but whose council elections tell a rather different story. Labour lost their majority on Burrnley council in May 2019, and the council currently stands at 22 Labour seats against 8 Lib Dems, 6 members of the Burnley and Padiham Independent Party, 6 Tories (three of whom were elected for UKIP, whose council group have effectively performed a reverse takeover of the Burnley Conservatives), 2 Greens and an independent. A rainbow anti-Labour coalition was formed after the 2019 election, but this fell apart in September 2020 and Labour are back in minority control. If the 2019 results are repeated, Labour would lose Trinity ward to the Greens and Rosegrove with Lowerhouse to the localists.

Hyndburn district (based on Accrington) has a Tory MP now but a large Labour majority on its council, which currently stands at 26 Labour seats (one of which is vacant) and 8 Conservative seats (two of which are vacant). The vacant seats are in the politically split wards of Barnfield (in eastern Accrington), Overton (in Great Harwood) and St Andrew's (in Oswaldtwistle). The Overton ward has a rather tasty candidate list, with the defending Labour candidate being former council leader and Lancashire MEP Michael Hindley, and the Conservatives having selected Gareth Molineux who has previously been a Labour councillor for the area at both district and county level. A repeat of the 2019 results would result in two seats swapping to give no net change here.

By contrast Labour have a difficult defence of Rossendale council over the moors in the upper Irwell valley. They currently hold 19 out of 36 councillors, against 13 Tories and 4 independents and localists. This time Labour are defending two wards (plus one held by a councillor who was expelled from Labour and isn't standing again) which voted Conservative in 2019 together with Eden ward, a normally-Tory area which surprisingly went Labour in 2016 in the aftermath of severe flooding in Irwell Vale on Boxing Day 2015. This is one to watch.

South-facing Rossendale is paired for parliamentary purposes with north-facing Darwen, which is part of the borough of Blackburn with Darwen. This is strongly Labour (34 out of 51 seats at present) and if the 2019 results are repeated Labour would gain one seat from the Conservatives. The councillors up for election here were last elected in 2018 following boundary changes.

Perhaps surprisingly Labour have an even larger majority on Chorley council (37 out of 47 seats), having gained five seats here from the Conservatives in 2019. There are new ward boundaries in Chorley this year with all the seats on the council up for election, which may give the Tories some chance of fighting back although they start a long way behind.

New ward boundaries came in last year for Preston, resulting in a Labour majority with 30 seats against 9 each for the Tories and Lib Dems. Only one ward could be reasonably described as marginal on the basis of the 2019 results (Tory-held Sharoe Green ward in Fulwood) so we shouldn't expect much if any change here.

West Lancashire elections are normally a snoozefest, this being an extremely polarised district where two-party swings are low; however, this year promises to be interesting. Currently Labour have 29 seats, the Conservatives have 19 and there are 6 councillors from the OWL group. The OWLs are not what they seem: the initials represent Our West Lancashire, a localist group which won all three wards in Ormskirk in the 2019 election. This time round Labour are defending two of the Ormskirk wards, and if they lose them both it will probably be No Overall Control time.

There are nine other local by-elections to report. In the politically-balanced South Ribble council Labour defend the St Ambrose ward in central Leyland, while the Conservatives defend the Longton and Hutton West ward off the Preston-Liverpool road; these are safe wards and should return Labour's Kath Unsworth and the Tories' Julie Buttery respectively.

Further up the Ribble Valley we come to three Tory-held wards in the Ribble Valley local government district. Mellor ward covers three parishes immediately to the north-west of Blackburn; Billington and Langho ward is the northern terminus of the Devil's Highway, the A666 from Blackburn; West Bradford and Grindleton covers two villages north of Clitheroe which were once part of Yorkshire. All of these are very safe Conservative wards. The defending Tory candidates are Steve Farmer in Billington and Langho, Robin Walsh in Mellor and Kevin Horkin in West Bradford and Grindleton. For previous results in all three wards see here (link).

Blackpool council has recently lost two veteran councillors. Lily Henderson may have been the oldest serving local councillor in the UK when she died in January at the age of 94; she had first been elected to Blackpool council in 1983 as a Conservative, and since 2000 she had represented Highfield ward in the south of the town. Her death leaves a tricky by-election in a marginal ward which has split its two seats between Labour and the Conservatives since 2011. Bradley Mitchell defends for the Conservatives, Christine Wright is the Labour candidate.

At the other end of Blackpool it is my sorry duty to have to take you to Norbreck. At the time of writing the Norbreck Castle Hotel was rated by Tripadvisor as 75th out of 81 hotels in Blackpool, and having had the dubious pleasure of staying there on several occasions (at someone else's expense, thank goodness) I am not going to disagree with that assessment except to say that the Britannia group were lucky to find six worse hotels in the resort. This dilapidated building on the seafront, a tram ride away from anywhere better, dominates the northern end of Blackpool with discoloured crenellations that bring to mind a set of bad teeth.

The Norbreck ward which shares that hotel's name was represented throughout this century by Maxine and Peter Callow, who were originally Conservatives. Peter Callow was the leader of Blackpool council from 2007 to 2011, overseeing a huge investment programme which saw the council buy the Blackpool Tower and the Winter Gardens, and upgrade the trams with modern vehicles. The Callows were deselected by the Blackpool Conservatives for the 2019 election, but were easily re-elected as independent candidates. Peter Callow died in November at the age of 81; he was in hospital for general observations, but is listed as another victim of COVID-19. The by-election to replace him is contested by new independent candidate Pam Haslam, a recent jackpot winner on the People's Postcode Lottery, while Julie Sloman will seek to recover the ward for the Conservatives. These two by-elections are the only council polls in Blackpool this year.

Finally, there are two by-elections to Lancaster council. One of these is for Bulk ward, the north-eastern ward of the city itself along the road towards Caton. This is one of the few safe wards for the Green Party, who are strong in Lancaster, and their defending candidate is Jack Lenox. Outside the urban area we come to Kellet ward, covering five rural parishes east of Carnforth; this was safely Conservative in 2015 but the Lib Dems came from nowhere to win in 2019 with a majority of six votes. Ross Hunter is the new Lib Dem candidate, Stuart Morris will look to recover the seat for the Conservatives.

Merseyside

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Merseyside PCC position is held by Labour's Jane Kennedy. In 2016 she won in the first round with 62% of the vote, the Conservatives being her nearest challengers on 18%.

Kennedy has retired this year. Labour have selected Liverpool councillor Emily Spurrell. The Conservative candidate is Bob Teesdale, who is from Southport. Also standing are Kristofor Brown for the Lib Dems and Malcolm Webster for Reform UK.

Liverpool City Region mayoral election

The Liverpool City Region mayoralty covers a larger area than just Merseyside, with the Halton borough also included; this covers the towns of Runcorn and Widnes up the Mersey estuary. The first mayoral election was held in May 2017 and was a convincing win for the outgoing Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram, who defeated Tory candidate Tony Caldeira in the first round by 59% to 20%.

Rotheram is seeking re-election. The Conservatives have changed candidate to Jade Marsden, who was their parliamentary candidate for Bootle in 2015 and Sefton Central in 2017. Also standing are David Newman for the Lib Dems and Gary Cargill for the Green Party.

Local elections

There are elections this year for one-third of all the Merseyside boroughs plus the elected mayoralty of Liverpool.

The Liverpool mayoralty (not to be confused with the Liverpool City Region mayoralty, or the Lord Mayor of Liverpool) is likely to be the main point of interest in the big city. Labour's Joe Anderson performed poorly in 2016 relative to PCC Jane Kennedy; Anderson won in the first round with 53% compared to 20% for the Liberal Democrats and 11% for the Green Party. Recent well-publicised legal troubles, which prompted central government to send in the Commissioners, have forced him out of office. A controversial Labour selection produced Joanne Anderson; no relation of Big Joe, Joanne has appeared in this column before (Andrew's Previews 2019, page 321) when she won a by-election to the city council in Princes Park ward. She is not seeking re-election as a councillor this year, so the stakes are high for her. The Liberal Democrats have reselected their council group leader Richard Kemp, and the Green candidate is also their council group leader, Tom Crone. Completing the city mayoral ballot paper are Roger Bannister for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Katie Burgess for the Conservatives, Steve Radford for the Liberal Party and independent candidate Stephen Yip.

Regardless of the mayoral result, the Commissioners will continue to work with a Labour-majority city council. Labour currently hold 73 out of 91 seats; a repeat of the 2019 results would see them lose one seat nett to the Greens.

Labour control of Knowsley is also secure, despite a poor performance in the 2019 election - if those results happen again the Green Party would gain two seats and an independent would gain one. A similar story played out in St Helens in 2019, where the Greens won two wards from nowhere and were close in a number of others; a repeat of those results would see Labour lose four seats. This will be the last thirds election to St Helens council, which is going over to whole-council elections on new ward boundaries from next year.

By contrast Labour are on the rise in Sefton, having finally broken through into the traditional Lib Dem stronghold of Southport. They have a good chance of four seat gains this year (two from the Lib Dems in Southport, two from independents in Maghull) to increase the Labour majority. Currently Labour hold 43 out of 66 seats here, which is a mark of how far this area has swung to the left: Sefton had never had a Labour majority before 2012.

The Labour majority over the water in Wirral council has disappeared since the 2019 election partially as a result of infighting following a left-wing takeover. There are three wards with split representation, and this year Labour are defending all of them: Birkenhead/Tranmere and Prenton voted Green in 2019, whereas Pensby and Thingwall voted Conservative.

Cheshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

David Keane gained the Cheshire PCC post for Labour from the Conservatives in 2016. On first preferences he had 40% of the vote to 38% for the Tories and 12% for UKIP; in the run-off Cheshire went Labour by the narrow margin of 51% to 49%, a majority of 2,949 votes.

This election will be a rematch between Labour's David Keane and the Conservative PCC he beat in 2016, John Dwyer. With UKIP not standing again, the other candidates are Jo Conchie for the Lib Dems and Nick Goulding for Reform UK.

Local elections

Following the 2019 local elections Labour, for the first time, have a monopoly on local government in Cheshire, running as a majority or as a minority all the local government districts which cover the county. And this is true whatever current or historical definition of Cheshire you use. Rather striking for the county that includes the richest areas of north-west England.

There are elections this year for all the councillors in Halton and Warrington (above), with new ward boundaries coming in for Halton. Both of these councils have strong Labour majorities at present (51 out of 56 seats in Halton, 45 out of 58 seats in Warrington), and Labour have a number of seats in Halton guaranteed due to insufficient opposition candidates. The Conservatives gained the Warrington South parliamentary seat in December 2019 but that wasn't based on local government strength: in 2016 the party won just two seats on Warrington council, in the Real Housewives territory of Lymm South, and one of those has since gone Lib Dem in a by-election.

There are no local elections of any sort this year in Cheshire East or in Cheshire West and Chester apart from three by-elections. In Cheshire West and Chester Labour currently have half of the seats, and that shouldn't change even with a by-election to defend in the town of Neston at the foot of the Wirral; Neston was safely Labour in 2019 and their candidate Keith Millar should be favoured to hold. The opposition Conservatives should also have little trouble defending a by-election in Frodsham, after their councillor Andrew Dawson left these shores to take up a job with the Falkland Islands government; Christopher Basey can be expected to defend that poll. In the unlikely event that Labour hold Neston and gain Frodsham, they will gain an overall majority on the council. Over in Cheshire East the ruling Labour group should have little trouble holding a by-election in Crewe West ward, where their candidate is Connor Naismith.

Greater Manchester

Mayor of Greater Manchester

The Greater Manchester mayoralty was created in 2017, subsuming the Police and Crime Commissioner post. Andy Burnham had a big win in the inaugural GM mayoral election, crushing the Tory candidate Sean Anstee by 63% to 23% in the first round. Unusually, a ward-level breakdown of the count was published, and the number of wards Anstee carried in the county (out of a possible 214) can be counted on the fingers of two hands.

Burnham is seeking re-election to (among other things) complete his bus franchising policy, and little which has happened since 2017 suggests that he will struggle to achieve re-election. The Tories have selected Laura Evans, a former Trafford councillor. Also standing are Simon Lepori for the Lib Dems, Melanie Horrocks for the Green Party, Stephen Morris for the English Democrats, independent candidates Marcus Farmer, Alec Marvel and David Sutcliffe, and Nick Buckley for Reform UK.

The Returning Officer has sent a booklet to all households with candidate statements, and if you haven't received the booklet you can read it here (link). And if you have...

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Goldfish - sorry, Salford council on new ward boundaries, the Mayor of Salford, and one-third of the councillors in the other nine Greater Manchester boroughs.

The only Conservative-run metropolitan borough in the North of England is the Greatest Town in the Known Universe. Following a decisive rejection of Labour in the 2019 Bolton council election a minority Conservative administration was installed by a gaggle of localist groups, the Lib Dems and UKIP. After a confusing series of defections, the composition of Bolton council is now (deep breath) 18 Labour, 17 Conservatives (1 elected as LD, 1 elected as UKIP), 6 Lib Dems (1 elected as Labour), 4 Farnworth and Kearsley First, 3 for the Bolton Independent Group (all elected as Conservative), 2 Horwich and Blackrod First Independents, 2 UKIP, 1 "One Kearsley" councillor (who was elected for Farnworth and Kearsley First), 4 ex-Labour independents (including all three councillors for Crompton ward), 1 ex-Conservative independent, and 2 vacancies following the deaths of Conservative councillors Christine and Paul Wild. Christine was due for re-election this year in Westhoughton North and Chew Moor ward, while there will be a by-election in Astley Bridge ward to replace Paul. We finally see the back of the infamous former Labour council leader Cliff Morris, who is standing down in Halliwell ward.

Students of Bolton politics have been greatly helped over the last year by the Twitter account Bolton Elects, run by a group of students who have bravely commissioned monthly polling of the Greatest Town. Their final pre-election poll, released on 30 April 2021 poll (the most recent available at the time of writing) had topline figures of 34% for Labour, 26% for the Conservatives, 15% for the Lib Dems, 7% for the Greens and 14% for localist and other parties, which is a 3-point swing towards Labour since the 2019 elections but a 3-point swing to the Conservatives since 2016, the year these seats were last contested.

Of the 12 wards Labour won in 2016, Farnworth and Hulton wards have already gone to the localists and the Conservatives in by-elections, while Breightmet, Crompton and Westhoughton South wards have been lost to defection. Of those, only Crompton is likely to come back and that will probably be offset by further losses in the two Horwich wards (to Horwich and Blackrod First). Even with the Lib Dems having withdrawn support for the minority Conservative administration, it should continue after these elections. The localists are continuing to multiply: a new "Bolton for Change" slate (containing a number of ex-UKIP figures) is standing in a number of wards, and there are now two competing localist parties in Keawyed City (namely "Active for Westhoughton" and the "Westhoughton First Independents"). Of the two UKIP councillors who won in 2016, Mark Cunningham in Kearsley is seeking re-election as a Conservative (although he'll probably lose to Farnworth and Kearsley First), while Rees Gibbon in Little Lever and Darcy Lever is seeking re-election in what's clearly going to be a close contest with Labour and the Conservatives, judging from the deluge of leaflets coming through this column's letterbox. One other thing: the Bolton Elects team have published ward subsamples, which with sample sizes of just over 100 aren't much better than noise but are consistently showing the Green Party in contention to win their first ever Bolton council seat in Hulton ward, the centre of a championship golf course planning controversy. Their final poll also has Bolton for Change running Labour very close in Tonge with the Haulgh ward. Watch this space.

The localist surge we have seen in Bolton could also spill over and cost Labour control of neighbouring Bury this year. This is a council to watch, as Bury is a small but perfectly formed metropolitan district. You can find everything here from Red Wall territory (Radcliffe) to trendy suburbs (Prestwich) to thriving towns (Bury) to well-off commuter areas (Tottington, Ramsbottom) to deprived estates (Dickie Bird). All human life is here.

Bury currently has 27 Labour councillors plus one vacancy, 14 Conservatives plus one vacancy, 4 Lib Dems, 1 independent elected as a Conservative and 3 independents elected on a localism ticket in the forgotten town of Radcliffe, giving a Labour majority of 3. In 2019 Labour lost Radcliffe North ward to the Conservatives, Radcliffe East ward to the localists and St Mary's ward in Prestwich to the Lib Dems; the localists subsequently took a by-election off Labour in working-class Radcliffe West. Labour are defending all those wards this year. There are several other marginal Labour wards which the Tories will have their eyes on, such as Elton and Unsworth in western and southern Bury; and of course this is a borough with two extremely marginal Conservative parliamentary seats. The Bury Conservatives have made the headlines with their nomination of Jihyun Park, the first North Korean defector to stand for election in the UK, on their slate for the Moorside ward of northern Bury; there are two seats up for election there this year following the resignation of a Labour councillor, but the Conservatives haven't won Moorside since 2006 and a gain this time would be a tall order.

On the positive side for Labour, they have a good chance of offsetting any losses in the previous paragraph by gaining marginal Conservative seats in Ramsbottom and Prestwich's Sedgley ward. Sedgley ward is 34% Jewish, the sixth-largest Jewish population for any ward in England and Wales, and was gained by the Conservatives in 2016; this was seen as a shock result at the time, and subsequent comfortable Labour holds in 2018 and 2019 suggest it might have been a fluke. The Tory defence here will be not be helped by the fact that their new candidate has put out a leaflet which managed to misspell "Prestwich" in three different ways. A Labour gain of Sedgley ward will likely be spun as an indication that the party is sorting out its anti-Semitism problem, but remember the 2018 and 2019 results before you accept that line.

The other major battle in Greater Manchester would appear to be for Stockport council. This is currently tied at 26 seats each for Labour and the Lib Dems, with 8 Conservatives and three Heald Green ratepayers holding the balance of power. In 2019 the Lib Dems gained five seats from the Conservatives and they have a chance of a further gain this year in Marple South and High Lane ward; that would probably make them the largest party on the council and could result in a change of control.

The other seven Greater Manchester boroughs have impregnable Labour majorities, and that includes Salford where all 60 councillors are up for re-election on new ward boundaries this year. The new lines have created a completely new ward in the inner city, reflecting large housing developments under construction in the Quays area; the new Quays ward is hugely undersized at the moment in population terms but this should resolve itself over the next few years.

Salford has an elected mayor of its own, currently Labour's Paul Dennett who won the 2016 mayoral election in the first round: he polled 51% against 26% for the Conservatives and 16% for UKIP. Dennett is standing for a second term. The Conservative candidate is Arnie Saunders, who has appeared in this column before: a rabbi from Broughton Park, he was the Tory candidate who won the Kersal by-election in 2017 (Andrew's Previews 2017, page 66), and has subsequently turned Kersal - the number 1 Jewish ward in England and Wales - into a Conservative stronghold. Saunders was the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Worsley and Eccles South in 2019. UKIP haven't returned, so completing the Salford mayoral ballot paper are Wendy Olsen for the Green Party, independent candidates Stuart Cremins and Stephen Ord, and Jake Overend for the Lib Dems.

West Yorkshire

Mayor of West Yorkshire

The latest piece in the devolution jigsaw will slot into place in these elections with the first poll for the West Yorkshire mayoralty. This position covers the five metropolitan boroughs of Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield, and will replace the West Yorkshire police and crime commissionership.

The outgoing PCC is Labour's Mark Burns-Williamson, who has overseen the county's police force almost continuously since 2003 when became chairman of the former West Yorkshire police authority. In the 2016 election he came very close to winning in the first round, polling just under 50% against 23% for the Conservatives and 14% for UKIP, and increased his lead to 66-34 in the runoff.

Burns-Williamson is not standing again. For the new mayoralty Labour have selected Tracey Brabin, a former Coronation Street actress who has been MP for Batley and Spen since winning the 2016 by-election after Jo Cox' murder (Andrew's Previews 2016, page 251). The Conservative candidate is Matt Robinson, a Leeds city councillor. There's no UKIP candidate this time, so completing the ballot paper are Stewart Golton for the Lib Dems, Thérèse Hirst for the English Democrats, Waj Ali for Reform UK, Bob Buxton for the Yorkshire Party and Andrew Cooper for the Green Party.

Local elections

There are elections this year for one-third of the councillors in all five West Yorkshire boroughs. All of these had Labour majorities following the party's gain of Calderdale in May 2019; that council's Labour group (currently 28 councillors out of 51) has the chance to substantially increase its majority this year, as the Conservatives are defending 6 wards which voted for Labour, Lib Dem or an independent candidate in 2019.

The Labour majority in Kirklees district, however, disappeared in November 2020 after three councillors walked out of the party and went independent. The party also faces a relatively difficult ward map - a repeat of the 2019 results would see Labour make a net loss of one seat. Two of the Conservative gains in West Yorkshire at the December 2019 election are within Kirklees district - Colne Valley and Dewsbury - but the party has some catching up to do at the local level. Also watch out for the Heavy Woollen District Independents, who won the closely-knit ward of Dewsbury East in 2019.

The other three West Yorkshire boroughs have comfortable Labour majorities, particularly so in Wakefield where the party holds three-quarters of the seats. The Conservatives made no impression at all here in May 2019 - they held the four seats they were defending but fell short in their target ward of Wrenthorpe and weren't particularly close anywhere else. Despite this, the party broke through to gain the Wakefield parliamentary constituency in December 2019. The council's ward map is better for the Conservatives this year, as they will have the chance to gain the two Ossett wards which Labour are now defending. Labour are also in trouble in Knottingley ward, which has suddenly turned into a Lib Dem hotspot. Regrettably, Wakefield has an entry for the Councillors Behaving Badly file: Alex Kear, elected two years ago as an independent councillor for Airedale and Ferry Fryston ward, is now serving a four-year prison sentence for paedophile offences, and there will be a replacement for him elected at this election.

North Yorkshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

The North Yorkshire PCC position is Conservative-held. The incumbent is Julia Mulligan, who in the 2016 election polled 40% against 26% for Labour and 23% for an independent candidate, beating Labour 59-41 in the runoff.

Mulligan is not standing again and the Conservatives have selected Philip Allott, a former leader of the Conservative group on Harrogate council and their parliamentary candidate for Halifax in 2015. Away from politics he runs a PR agency. The Labour candidate is Alison Hume, an award-winning TV screenwriter who was on the Labour list for Yorkshire and the Humber in the 2019 European Parliament elections. Also standing are independent candidate Keith Tordoff and the Lib Dems' James Barker.

Local elections

The scheduled elections this year for the whole of North Yorkshire county council and one-third of Craven council have been postponed to 2022, to allow time for a consultation on local government reorganisation. As a result, only by-elections are taking place to the county's local councils. Two of these are for the county council. The Liberal Democrats defend their seat in the two-member county division of Harrogate Bilton and Nidd Gorge, covering the northern end of Harrogate town; the other seat in this division was Lib Dem in 2005 and 2009, UKIP in 2013 and Conservative in 2017, so we can expect an interesting contest here. Andrew Kempston-Parkes is the defending Liberal Democrat candidate, Matt Scott will seek to gain for the Conservatives.

In the Yorkshire Dales National Park the Conservatives defend two by-elections in beautiful Ribblesdale, following the death of Richard Welch who sat on both the county council and Craven council. His county seat of Ribblesdale runs from the source of the Ribble all the way to the Lancashire border, with the town of Settle as the major population centre. Craven's Penyghent ward covers Ribblesdale from Stainforth northwards, together with the village of Giggleswick on the main road from Skipton to Kendal. Welch had large majorities in both wards, and the succeeding Tory candidates David Staveley (for the county seat) and Robert Ogden (for the district seat) will be favoured.

Staying in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, there is a second by-election to Craven council for the Barden Fell ward. This is based on Wharfedale around the village of Bolton Abbey, taking in the ruined Bolton Priory, and also extends west to cover the quarrying village of Rylstone. Barden Fell had been a Conservative-held ward until 2016, when it was gained by independent candidate David Pighills. Pighills was subsequently thrown off the council under the six-month non-attendance rule, but he is seeking re-election in the by-election caused by his own disqualification. That by-election is a straight fight with the Tories' John Dawson.

Our final North Yorkshire by-election couldn't be in a more different landscape. The Camblesforth and Carlton ward of Selby district takes in nine parishes on the flat agricultural land between the Aire and the Ouse before their confluence just north of Goole. The ward is dominated in every way by the massive Drax power station, which supplies 6 per cent of Britain's electricity; Drax was once the third-largest coal-fired power station in Europe, but its conversion to biomass fuel is well under way. Camblesforth and Carlton ward voted Conservative in 2015, but one of its councillors, Mike Jordan, subsequently defected to the Yorkshire Party and was re-elected in 2019 under the colours of the White Rose. Jordan is now back in the Tory fold, and following the resignation of his running-mate Paul Welburn the Yorkshire Party have not put up a candidate to defend this by-election. Camblesforth and Carlton can be expected to revert to the Conservatives, whose candidate is Charles Richardson.

Humberside

Police and Crime Commissioner

Labour gained the Humberside PCC position at the 2016 election, defeating Tory incumbent Matthew Grove 60-40 in the runoff; the first round had given 40% to Labour, 27% to the Conservatives and 18% to UKIP. Grove had won narrowly in 2012, defeating the UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom and former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

The Labour incumbent PCC is former police chief superintendent Keith Hunter, who is seeking re-election. The Conservatives had to change candidate at the last minute after Craig Ulliott, who was originally selected over a year ago, stood down just nine days before the nominations deadline; Hunter has since passed a file to Humberside Police with electoral fraud allegations against Ulliott. Jonathan Evison, the present Mayor of North Lincolnshire, is picking up the pieces of the Conservative campaign. With no UKIP candidate this time Bob Morgan, of the Liberal Democrats, completes the ballot paper.

Local elections

Two of the four Humberside boroughs are holding elections this year. North East Lincolnshire, based on Grimsby, Cleethorpes and surrounding villages, has swung a mile to the right in recent years at both parliamentary and council level; the Tories won an overall majority here in 2019, and a repeat of those results would see them gain four more seats.

Things are rather different over the Humber estuary in the big city of Kingston upon Hull. This has a rather narrow Labour majority of 31/57 seats, with a significant Liberal Democrat opposition of 24. The city got new ward boundaries in 2018, and a repeat of the 2019 results would result in no net changes.

There are no local elections this year in North Lincolnshire or in the East Riding except for by-elections. The amazing story of the Broughton and Appleby ward of North Lincolnshire is too long to tell here, but I have related it before in an extraordinary edition of Andrew's Previews in April 2020 (link), because I researched for it for a March 2020 double by-election that never happened. We are now having another go at filling the seats vacated by the late Ivan Glover and the new Scunthorpe MP Holly Mumby-Croft; Janet Lee and Carol Ross will defend this ward which is now safely Conservative. Also postponed from March 2020 is a by-election in the Ashby ward of eastern Scunthorpe, which is safe for the defending Labour candidate Christopher Skinner. Regrettably, the pandemic has added a fourth by-election to the list in North Lincolnshire: Derek Longcake, Conservative councillor for the Bottesford ward of southern Scunthorpe, died in the first wave of COVID-19. His widow Janet Longcake is the Conservative candidate for the resulting by-election, and she will start as favourite.

COVID-19 has also taken from us Mike Bryan, a Conservative member of the East Riding council. His ward was South West Holderness, based on the town of Hedon just east of Hull; this ward returned Lib Dem councillors until 2007 and an independent until 2011, but is now safe Conservative. David Winter is their defending candidate. There is also a by-election in the neighbouring ward of South East Holderness, a large rural area based on Withernsea and running to the now-island of Spurn. This ward has had a full slate of Conservatives at every election this century, but Labour came close in by-elections in 2012 and 2016 (Andrew's Previews 2016, page 149) and UKIP were a strong second in 2015. Despite this history, the Conservative candidate Claire Holmes should be favoured.

South Yorkshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

The South Yorkshire police and crime commissionership is held by Labour's Alan Billings, an academic and priest who has served since winning a by-election in 2014. He was re-elected in the first round in 2016, polling 52% against 20% for UKIP and 11% for the Conservatives.

Although he is now well into his seventies, Billings is seeking a third term. He won't face a UKIP candidate this time. The Conservatives have selected former senior police officer David Chinchen, and Joe Otten completes the ballot paper for the Liberal Democrats.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Rotherham council on new ward boundaries, the whole of Doncaster council and one-third of Barnsley and Sheffield councils.

Rotherham council has had a troubled recent history, being taken over by Commissioners in 2014 following a huge child sexual exploitation scandal. In that year's local elections the UK Independence Party won 10 seats on Rotherham council, which they increased to 14 at a whole-council election in 2016: Labour won 48 seats that year, and the remaining seat went to an independent candidate in Anston and Woodsetts ward. This year's election will be on new ward boundaries. The Rother Valley parliamentary seat, which the Conservatives gained in December 2019, is one of several constituencies with a Tory MP but no Tory local councillors; the party will have a chance to do something about that now. Rotherham UKIP have since rebadged as the "Rotherham Democratic Party" and are not giving up their seats on the council without a fight.

Doncaster went over to the elected mayoral system some years ago. The current mayor is Ros Jones of the Labour party, who narrowly defeated the English Democrats mayor Peter Davies in 2013; Jones had a much easier time in the 2017 mayoral election, winning in the first round with 51% of the vote against 21% for the Conservatives and 12% for UKIP. She is backed up by a large Labour majority on Doncaster council: the simultaneous 2017 council election returned 43 Labour councillors, 7 Conservatives, 3 localists from Mexborough and two independents.

Jones is seeking re-election for a third term as Mayor. The Conservatives have selected James Hart, a businessman and former leader of the Conservative group on the council, who is seeking to return to public office after standing down in 2017. There's no UKIP candidate this time; the other candidates are independents Joan Briggs and Frank Calladine, Andy Budden for the Yorkshire Party, Warren Draper for the Greens and Surjit Singh Duhre for Reform UK.

Despite some extremely wacky results in 2019, including two seat gains for the Democrats and Veterans Party (the "gay donkey" UKIP splinter group), the Labour majority in Barnsley looks completely safe.

The big city of Sheffield should, however, be hotly contested. Following a row over tree-felling which led to major losses in 2019, the ruling Labour group is currently on 45 councillors plus four vacant seats, with 43 being a majority. A repeat of the 2019 results would see Labour lose seven seats nett to the Lib Dems and Greens, putting that majority in danger. Sheffield also has a governance referendum, on whether the council should abolish the leader and cabinet system and move to the committee system of governance.

Derbyshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Derbyshire PCC election in 2016 was very close. In the first round Labour's Hardyal Singh Dhindsa led with just 37% of the vote, against 35% for the Conservatives' Richard Bright and 17% for UKIP. Bright picked up most of the transfers in the runoff, but it wasn't enough as Dhindsa prevailed by 50.5% to 49.5%, a majority of 1,613 votes out of over 150,000.

Dhindsa is seeking re-election for Labour. The Conservatives have selected Angelique Foster, a Derbyshire county councillor and leader of Dronfield town council. UKIP haven't returned, so completing the Derbyshire PCC ballot paper are Stan Heptinstall for the Lib Dems and Tim Prosser for UKIP.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Derbyshire county council and for one-third of Amber Valley and Derby councils.

Amber Valley is a very swingy council based on the towns of Belper and Heanor to the north of Derby. This was a Labour gain from the Conservatives in 2019, but the party will have a difficult time defending their majority; this year all the traditionally Labour-voting wards in the east of the district are due to poll. and the party is defending 11 of the 15 wards up for election. If the Conservatives are having a good night, they have a realistic chance of making the gains they need for outright control.

The Conservatives do currently run Derby city council as a minority. The city has become very politically balanced, with currently 19 Conservative councillors, 15 Labour, 8 Lib Dems, a five-strong Reform Derby group (who were elected on the UKIP ticket, and are standing in these elections with the joint nomination of Reform Derby and Reform UK), and three independents. A repeat of the 2019 results would see the Conservatives lose 1 seat and Labour lose 2. Derby is one of the few councils which will declare its ward results overnight, so expect some desperate spinning of its results on the Friday morning.

Derby city is not covered by Derbyshire county council, which has swung wildly between the two main parties at the last three elections: it was a Tory gain in 2009, a Labour gain in 2013 and a Tory gain again in 2017. In seat terms the Conservative win four years ago looks pretty large - 37 seats against 24 Labour and 3 Lib Dems - but in vote terms it won't take that much of a swing for many of those seats to change hands. For example, in the High Peak district the Conservatives hold three county seats in Buxton and Glossop on very small majorities; and the party hasn't performed particularly well there since, only narrowly gaining the High Peak constituency in December 2019 and resoundingly losing a by-election in Whaley Bridge to the former Labour MP Ruth George two months later. The Tory candidate to take Whaley Bridge back in this election certainly has name recognition - she is the former Conservative MP Edwina Currie, giving us a rare former MP versus former MP contest in a council election. Labour may have lost Dennis Skinner's Bolsover seat in December 2019, but given the majorities involved it will take another special Tory performance for them to gain any county divisions in that corner of Derbyshire.

This is borne out by the 2019 elections to Bolsover council, as while Labour did lose their majority there in 2019 it was mostly independent candidates who benefited from that. Labour have a crucial by-election to defend here in the Bolsover North and Shuttlewood ward, where they were opposed in 2019 only by a candidate from the left-wing Socialist Alternative; Donna Hales defends the seat for Labour, while the Socialist Alternative's Elaine Evans tries again with the nomination of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. The village of Pinxton voted strongly for independent candidate James Watson in 2019, with Labour winning the ward's other seat; Watson's death has resulted in a free-for-all by-election, with Kevin Rose looking to succeed him as an independent and Labour nominating Stan Fox. If Labour hold Bolsover North and Shuttlewood and gain Pinxton, they will regain their overall majority on the council.

The neighbouring district of North East Derbyshire now has a Conservative majority, as the memory of mining fades and towns like Eckington and Killamarsh continue their transition from industrial and pit settlements into dormitory towns for Sheffield just to the north. The two Killamarsh wards now have a full slate of Conservative councillors, although in 2019 they did win the second seat in Killamarsh East by a majority of just one vote over Labour. Both Killamarsh wards have by-elections following the resignations of Conservative councillors Kevin and Patricia Bone; in East ward David Drabble defends against Labour candidate John Windle, while in West ward the Conservative and Labour candidates are Alex Platts and Stuart Mullins respectively. The neighbouring ward of Eckington South and Renishaw was Labour in 2019, but is having a by-election after Labour councillor Clive Hunt was disqualified under the six-month non-attendance rule; I'm not sure of the circumstances behind this, but Hunt is seeking re-election while the Conservatives have selected Philip Wheelhouse.

The Conservatives also have a majority on Erewash council, where Labour are defending two by-elections. Hallam Fields, the southern ward of Ilkeston, was very close in 2015 and 2019 between Labour and the Conservatives; Labour won both seats in 2019, gaining one from the Conservatives, and their defending candidate is Jo Ward while the Conservatives have selected Jon Wright. Accordingly, the Lib Dems' Angela Togni is in the unusual position for a T of first on the ballot paper. Labour have a larger majority in the Nottingham Road ward of Long Eaton, based on the Trent railway junction, where their defending candidate is Adam Thompson.

"Some might say we will find a brighter day", according to the song by Oasis. The cover photograph for their single Some Might Say was taken at Cromford railway station in the Derbyshire Dales district, which is part of the Masson ward of Derbyshire Dales district. As well as Cromford, Masson ward also takes in the Little Switzerland of Matlock Bath, a spa village which is a huge tourist trap but worth a visit nonetheless. This beautiful scenery is the backdrop to one of the crucibles of the Industrial Revolution: it was at Cromford in 1771 that Richard Arkwright set up the world's first water-powered textile mill, using his revolutionary spinning frame. Arkwright's mill still stands today and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Arkwright's legacy to Cromford and the neighbouring town of Wirksworth is an engineering history and a large Labour vote. Masson ward consistently turns in close results between Labour and the Conservatives, and has split its two seats between Labour and the Tories since 2011. Labour are defending the Masson by-election on 6th May; their candidate is Nicholas Whitehead, while the Conservatives have selected Dermot Murphy. Wirksworth is the safest Labour ward within the Derbyshire Dales district, and their candidate Dawn Greatorex should be favoured to hold the by-election there.

Earlier in this section I mentioned Edwina Currie, who was the Conservative MP for South Derbyshire from 1983 to 1997. This is the sort of area which has swung strongly to the Conservatives in recent years; the December 2019 general election gave the Conservative candidate Heather Wheeler a majority of over 19,000 votes, and the May 2019 re-elected the Tory administration on South Derbyshire council (which has the same boundaries as the parliamentary seat) with a 22-14 majority over Labour. All seemed set fair; but in December 2020 the ruling Conservative group on the council suffered a huge split, and Labour have taken over as a minority administration.

The four South Derbyshire council by-elections on 6th May - and the Conservatives are defending all four of them - will be the electorate's first chance to make their views clear on this takeover. The Tories will be helped by the lack of any candidates from the dissident group. They are safe in Hilton ward (covering eight parishes on the main road towards Uttoxeter), where two of the three seats are up for election and are defended by Gillian Lemmon and Peter Smith. Seales ward, the southernmost point of Derbyshire, covers six parishes including the village of Coton in the Elms; this is recognised as the farthest point in the UK from the sea, being 70 miles from the Wash, the Dee Estuary and the Severn Estuary. Seales ward is also safe Conservative, with Simon Ackroyd defending. Things are politically very different in the Church Gresley ward of Swadlincote, which split its three seats between two Labour candidates and one Conservative in both 2015 and 2019; the Tories' Roger Redfern will defend this marginal against Labour's Sue Taylor. If Labour can gain the Church Gresley by-election, they will remain as the largest party on South Derbyshire council unless the Conservatives and ex-Conservatives can settle their differences.

Nottinghamshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Nottinghamshire PCC since 2012 has been Paddy Tipping, the former Labour MP for the Sherwood constituency who served for a time as Deputy Leader of the Commons during the last Labour Government. Tipping was re-elected quite easily in 2016: in the first round he led with 47% against 28% for the Conservatives and 12% for UKIP, and he increased his lead to 62-38 in the runoff.

Tipping is seeking a third term of office. He is up against Conservative candidate Caroline Henry, a businesswoman. UKIP have not stood again, so completing the ballot paper is David Watts for the Lib Dems.

Local elections

There are elections this year for Nottinghamshire county council only. There are no local elections this year in the city of Nottingham.

The Conservatives have had spectacular success in Nottinghamshire at parliamentary level in recent years. They now hold all eight constituencies in the area covered by the county council, having taken Ashfield and Bassetlaw in 2019 to add to the gain of Mansfield in 2017. The task now for the party is to make this dominance stick at county council level, as the Tories do not have a majority at the county hall in West Bridgford and are governing in coalition with the Mansfield Independent Forum. That group along with the Zadroznyite Ashfield Independents will form a large independent bloc on the new county council, so for the gains they need for a majority the Tories will likely have to look elsewhere: perhaps in the northern Nottingham suburbs of Arnold and Carlton, where there are a number of marginal Labour divisions. The Tories must have carried a number of divisions in Worksop in December 2019 given their huge majority in Bassetlaw, but as in neighbouring Bolsover the Labour county councillors there are sitting on very large majorities from May 2017.

In fact the May 2019 local elections in Bassetlaw were pretty poor for the Conservatives, who lost all but one of their seats within the Bassetlaw constituency. They have a good chance to get two of those seats back on 6th May. Sutton ward, covering a number of villages to the west and north of Retford, was gained from the Conservatives in 2019 by independent candidate Rob Boeuf; no independent candidate has come forward to succeed Boeuf, and the seat should revert to the Conservatives who have selected Denise Depledge. Immediately to the north of Sutton ward is Ranskill ward, which was a very surprising gain in 2019 for Labour partly thanks to the outgoing Tory councillor Michael Gray seeking re-election as an independent and splitting the right-wing vote. Labour haven't found a candidate to replace Nicholls, so the Ranskill by-election is likely to be gained by either the Tories' Gerald Bowers or by Michael Gray, who is standing again. Within Bassetlaw district but part of the Newark constituency is the Tuxford and Trent ward, which takes in the former power station site at High Marnham and one of Network Rail's test tracks for new rail vehicles; this was close in 2019 between the Conservative slate and an independent, but with the independent not returning the Tories' Lewis Stanniland should be favoured.

The Conservatives defend two other Nottinghamshire by-elections caused by newly-elected MPs vacating their district council seats. Brendan Clarke-Smith, the new Bassetlaw MP, was a Newark and Sherwood councillor for Boughton ward, located a few miles west of Tuxford and on the border of his constituency. This is part of the Nottinghamshire coalfield, which was operating round here until just a few years ago; Boughton ward was very close between the Tories and Labour in both 2015 and 2019, with Clarke-Smith gaining it in the latter year. Another close contest between defending Conservative candidate Tim Wildgust and Labour's Derek Batey can be expected. The Tories don't have many council seats in Mansfield, but one of them was held by Lee Anderson who is now the MP for Ashfield; Anderson represented the Oakham ward on the southern edge of Mansfield, which he gained from the Mansfield Independent Forum in 2019. The Tories have selected Robert Ellman to hold the Oakham by-election, while the result of the Forum's candidate Kevin Brown may be an early pointer as to whether they can get the Mansfield mayoralty back from Labour in 2023.

Lee Anderson had got elected to Parliament the hard way, as he had to defeat Jason Zadrozny who bestrides Ashfield politics like a colossus. Zadrozny is the leader of Ashfield council at the head of his own party, the Ashfield Independents, and most of the candidates on his slate were elected with enormous shares of the vote in 2019. This column has seen nothing like it since the Lib Dem takeover of Kendal nearly twenty years ago. The Ashfield Independents are defending two by-elections: in Skegby ward (the north-eastern ward of Sutton-in-Ashfield), after the council chairman Anthony Brewer died of COVID; and in Annesley and Kirkby Woodhouse ward next to the M1 motorway. Both of these wards were over 70% Zadroznyite in 2019, so it will take a lot for the defending candidates Jamie Bell (Annesley and Kirkby Woodhouse) and Will Bostock (Skegby) to lose these.

Things are more politically normal in the final three Nottinghamshire by-elections. Labour have two safe wards to defend in the Broxtowe district, covering a number of towns to the west of Nottingham; in Stapleford Sue Paterson defends the South West ward, while in Beeston Shaun Dannheimer is the party's candidate to hold Rylands ward. Over the Trent we have a safe Conservative defence to Rushcliffe council: Matt Barney should be favoured to hold the ward based on the village of Sutton Bonington.

Lincolnshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

The 2016 Lincolnshire PCC election turned in a fragmented first-round result after the independent incumbent retired. In a field of four candidates the Conservatives' Marc Jones led with 35% against 26% for UKIP candidate Victoria Ayling, 23% for Labour and 17% for the Lincolnshire Independents, a long-standing group of independent county councillors. Jones and Ayling went into the runoff, which Jones won 56-44 to gain the position for the Conservatives.

Marc Jones is seeking re-election for a second term, and this time he won't have to face a UKIP candidate. Labour have selected Lincoln city councillor Rosanne Kirk. The Lincolnshire Independents have returned with their candidate David Williams, a former army officer who chairs the Lincolnshire Police Independent Advisory Group. Also standing are Ross Pepper for the Liberal Democrats and Peter Escreet for Reform UK.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Lincolnshire county council and for one-third of Lincoln council. These shouldn't see much excitement. Lincoln city council (above) is the only Labour-controlled district in Lincolnshire; their majority over the Conservatives is 24-9, and a repeat of the 2019 results would see three Tory seats flip to Labour. Lincolnshire county council (below) returned a large Tory majority in the 2017 election, after a sizeable UKIP caucus in the 2013-17 term fell apart; unless something similarly seismic happens the Conservatives are in no danger at the county hall this time.

The Tories are defending four of the five by-elections to Lincolnshire's district councils. The odd one out is the Bassingham and Brant Broughton ward of North Kesteven district, which covers nine rural parishes east of Newark and south of Lincoln; this is normally a Tory ward but it was taken over by the Lincolnshire Independents in 2019, and their defending candidate Penelope Bauer will seek to defend against the Tories' Russell Eckert. In South Kesteven district the Tories defend Glen ward, which covers a number of villages to the west of Bourne including Little Bytham on the East Coast main line; this is very strongly Conservative and their candidate Penny Robins is opposed only by Labour.

The one genuinely urban Lincolnshire by-election on 6th May has given this column an awful lot of grief in trying to sort out what is going on. Skirbeck ward covers the docks of Boston, straddling both sides of the River Witham. In 2015, the first contest on the present boundaries, it elected one councillor each for UKIP, the Conservatives and Labour; in 2019 UKIP gave up their seat without a fight and Labour were defeated, the three councillors elected being Alistair Arundell for the Conservatives and independent candidates Anne Dorrian and Colin Woodcock. Arundell resigned shortly afterwards, and a by-election was held alongside the December 2019 general election (Andrew's Previews 2019, page 398) which was convincingly held by new Conservative candidate Martin Howard. Howard announced in July 2020 that he would step down to allow a by-election to be held in May 2021. Independent councillor Colin Woodcock then handed in his resignation in October 2020, prompting this column to put a double by-election on my vacancy list. As it turns out, Martin Howard never followed through on his resignation announcement and is still a Boston councillor, so this Skirbeck by-election is for Woodcock's seat only. Two independent candidates, Dale Broughton and Christopher Cardwell, are seeking to succeed Woodcock, but if the December 2019 by-election is any guide the Tories' Katie Chalmers should start as favourite here.

Things have got even more complicated on the beaches of Lincolnshire's east coast. There is a localist party here, the Skegness Urban District Society, which is seeking self-governance for Skeggy and won six seats in the 2019 East Lindsey council elections. The SUDS are now looking to clean up at Lincolnshire county council level, and they have nominated seven candidates - rather ambitious given that Skegness only has two county council seats and the other five candidates are standing for divisions outside the town. Two of these candidates are Steve Walmsley, who was nominated for Ingoldmells Rural county division; and Danny Brookes, who was nominated for both Ingoldmells Rural and Mablethorpe divisions. The deputy returning officer will have pointed out to Brookes that he could only stand for one of those, so he withdrew - from Mablethorpe, leaving SUDS with two candidates for one seat in Ingoldmells Rural.

The plot thickens when you consider that Ingoldmells Rural includes the East Lindsey ward of Chapel St Leonards. One of the oldest wards in England by population (in 2011 71% of the population were aged 45 or over - the place must be almost fully vaccinated by now), the seaside resort of Chapel St Leonards can be found about five miles north of Skegness. This is within range for the Skegness Urban District Society, and they have nominated a candidate for the East Lindsey council by-election here - but not Danny Brookes or Steve Walmsley. Instead, the SUDS candidate for the Chapel St Leonards by-election is Ady Findley, while Steve Walmsley is contesting the by-election as an independent. Confused? You will be. The Conservatives are defending the by-election with Graham Williams as their candidate, while Labour - who won a by-election here in 2013 and weren't far off holding their seat in 2015 - have selected Isaac Bailey to complete the ballot paper.

Thankfully our final by-election within Lincolnshire is strange only in the sense that the voters of Kelsey Wold ward will be electing a successor to the late Tory district and county councillor Lewis Strange. Strange had won his final term in 2019 in this ward of West Lindsey, based on the villages of North and South Kelsey between Brigg and Market Rasen, comfortably enough that new Conservative candidate Peter Morris should have few problems in holding the by-election.

Northamptonshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

Northants' police and crime commissioner election in 2016 was a three-way fight. The first round was relatively close with 41% for the new Conservative candidate Stephen Mold, 36% for Labour and 24% for UKIP; UKIP's transfers broke for the Conservatives giving them a 54-46 win in the final reckoning.

Stephen Mold is seeking a second term. Labour have selected Claire Pavitt, who was their parliamentary candidate for Kettering in December 2019. UKIP have not returned, so completing the ballot paper are Ana Gunn for the Liberal Democrats and Mark Hearn for Reform UK.

Local elections

Northamptonshire's local government has been reorganised this year following the financial failure of Northamptonshire county council. 2021 sees the inaugural elections for the two new councils of North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire.

West Northamptonshire is the larger of the two with around 307,000 electors on the roll. The county town of Northampton accounts for slightly under half of the electorate, and should be comfortably outvoted by the former rural districts of Daventry and South Northamptonshire which are generally true blue. Similar considerations apply in North Northamptonshire, which succeeds the former districts of Corby, East Northamptonshire, Kettering and Wellingborough. Corby is a strongly Labour-voting town, and the party can also perform decently in Kettering, but politically these will be red islands in a large blue lake. Mind, we only have parliamentary election data from Northamptonshire in recent years, because the May 2019 elections for all the districts here were cancelled in advance of the reorganisation.

Leicestershire

Police and Crime Commissioner

Leicestershire's police and crime commissionership was gained by Labour in the 2016 election. Lord Bach, who served as a junior minister for much of the Blair and Brown years in the defence and environment departments and the whip's office, led in the first round with 45% against 31% for the Conservatives and 13% for the Liberal Democrats; in the final reckoning he beat the Conservatives 57-43.

Bach is not standing again. The Labour candidate here is local government veteran Ross Willmott, who was first elected to Leicester city council in 1983. Willmott was leader of that council from 1999 until 2010, when he resigned the leadership to unsuccessfully contest North West Leicestershire in that year's general election. The Tories have selected Rupert Matthews, a former Kingston upon Thames councillor and prolific author on paranormal subjects; Matthews was a Conservative MEP for the East Midlands from 2017 to 2019. Completing the ballot paper is the Lib Dems' James Moore, a former Hinckley and Bosworth councillor who currently teaches history and politics at Leicester University. One thing to look out for in the Leicestershire PCC count is differential turnout, because there are no scheduled local elections in the Labour stronghold of Leicester to boost turnout for the PCC contest.

Local elections

There are, however, elections this year for Leicestershire county council. Unlike the PCC position this has a large Conservative majority thanks to the absence of Labour-voting Leicester city, which has unitary status; the Lib Dems form the main opposition on the county council thanks to their strength in Oadby, Wigston and Hinckley. The 2017 election returned 36 Conservatives, 13 Lib Dems and 6 Labour councillors. Not much is likely to change here.

As stated, there are no local elections this year in the city of Leicester apart from a by-election in the North Evington ward. At one point named as the UK's COVID hotspot, North Evington is a majority-Asian area about a mile east of Leicester city centre, which returned very high Labour votes in 2015 and 2019. Nine candidates have come forward for the by-election, but it will probably take a lot for any of them to defeat Labour's Vandevi Pandya.

There are four local by-elections within the Leicestershire county council area, and we should start our discussion with the Worthington and Breedon ward of North West Leicestershire which covers a number of villages between East Midlands Airport and Ashby de la Zouch. The ward's Conservative councillor David Stevenson, who had sat on North West Leicestershire council for all but one term since the council's first election in 1973, passed away in early November of 2019. No move was made by the local Conservatives to call a by-election over the winter, and the subsequent suspension of by-elections means that Worthington and Breedon's residents have now been without a councillor for almost eighteen months. Even given the exceptional circumstances of the last year and a bit, this should not have been allowed to drag on so long.

Stevenson enjoyed a large majority in Worthington and Breedon, and while his successor as Tory candidate Raymond Morris might not serve for quite as long he shouldn't have much trouble holding the by-election. Things are rather different in Ibstock East ward on the same council. This has been a Labour-inclined marginal in recent years, with Labour increasing their majority over the Conservatives to 10 points in 2019; but the outgoing Labour councillor Daniel Tebbutt, who was elected to the council at the age of just 18, defected to the Conservatives after four months in office and then resigned. The resulting Ibstock East by-election looks set to be an interesting contest between Labour's Carissma Griffiths and the Tories' Jenny Simmons.

Another relatively young Leicestershire councillor to have resigned recently is Frankie McHugo, who was first elected to Harborough council in 2011 at the age of 21. A blog post on Conservative Home from the time (link) listed her among twelve Conservative councillors under the age of 23. At least three of the people in that list (Jack Brereton, Jonathan Gullis and Gary Sambrook) are now MPs, although the presence of Gary Sambrook there is an error: as long-term readers of Andrew's Previews will know, Sambrook wasn't first elected to Birmingham city council until he won a by-election in February 2014. Keep an eye on this column after 6th May, you might just be seeing the stars of the future (as I described Jonathan Gibson, the new Mastermind champion, back in September 2019: Andrew's Previews 2019, page 288).

Anyway, Frankie McHugo served until 2015 when she stood down from Harborough council, then returned in 2019 as one of the two councillors for Market Harborough - Little Bowden ward, which is the south-eastern of Market Harborough's four wards. Her resignation creates a by-election in a marginal ward, as the other councillor here is a Lib Dem. The defending Conservative candidate is Peter Critchley, while the Lib Dems' James Ward will look to gain.

Our final Leicestershire by-election takes place in the Stanton and Flamville ward, which covers five parishes between Hinckley and the Fosse Way but is administered as part of the Blaby local government district. This ward is sufficiently safe for the Conservatives that nobody bothered to oppose their slate here in 2019; the defending Conservative candidate Mike Shirley will, however, face a contest in this by-election.

The Leicestershire police area includes Rutland, where there are no council elections this year.

Warwickshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

Independent Warwickshire PCC Ron Ball retired at the 2016 election leaving the position open. On the first count the Conservatives led with 31%, Labour had 25%, UKIP 13% and independent candidate Dave Whitehouse 11%; the Tories and Labour went through to the runoff where the Conservatives won by 55-45.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Warwickshire county council, for one-half of Nuneaton and Bedworth council, and for one-third of Rugby council.

The main contest here will be in Nuneaton and Bedworth which is currently on a knife-edge. The ruling Labour group has 17 seats - half of the council - with the Conservatives on 14, the Greens on 1 and two independents (who were elected for the Conservatives). This is one of the handful of councils which renew half of their members at every election, so the last local elections here were in May 2018 - and a repeat of those results would see the Conservatives gain six seats and a comfortable majority to go with their lead in the Nuneaton and North Warwickshire parliamentary seats.

The good Conservative result in Nuneaton and Bedworth in May 2018 was also seen at the Warwickshire county elections in May 2017 and allowed the Tories to gain overall control of the county hall in Warwick. The 2017 elections in Warwickshire returned 36 Conservatives, 10 Labour, 7 Lib Dems, two Greens and two localist independents. Labour will need to do a lot better in Nuneaton and Bedworth to force a hung council here.

The North Warwickshire constituency includes Bedworth together with the whole of the North Warwickshire local government district, which is based on the towns of Atherstone and Polesworth. Both of those towns see by-elections to the district council with Labour defending. Polesworth East is a safe Labour ward which shouldn't give their defending candidate Emma Whapples too much trouble. Although Atherstone Central ward has had a full slate of Labour councillors since a 2009 by-election, it remains marginal in vote terms and promises to be a close contest between Sara Bishop (Labour, defending) and Mark Jordan (Conservative). Although their resigning councillor had previously left the party and gone independent, the Conservatives should be given very little trouble in Curdworth ward, covering a number of villages east of Sutton Coldfield and south of Tamworth together with the Belfry golf club; their defending candidate is Sandra Smith.

Rugby council has a small Conservative majority which looks safe enough. A repeat of the 2019 results would see just one seat change hands, the Conservatives picking up the rural Dunsmore ward from an independent councillor.

The only other poll to report on here is a by-election to Warwick council from Leamington Clarendon ward. This is the town centre ward for Leamington Spa, taking in all the glorious Georgian buildings on the Parade and a fair amount of deprivation and student lets in the terraces behind. Clarendon was close in 2019 between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, and it will be interesting to see whether the student vote appears here at all given that Warwick University is generally closed to in-person teaching. The defending Labour candidate is Colin Quinney, while Hugh Foden challenges for the Lib Dems.

West Midlands

Mayor of the West Midlands

Both of the West Midlands metropolitan area's major elected officials will be up for election this year. On paper the mayoralty is the more interesting position, as this was very close in 2017. The first count gave Conservative candidate Andy Street, a former head of the John Lewis Partnership, a 42-41 lead over Birmingham Labour MP Siôn Simon; Simon got slightly more transfers, but it wasn't enough to take the lead in the runoff which Street won by 50.4-49.6, a majority of 3,766 votes across the county.

This election is significant enough that two opinion polls have been commissioned for it. Over the Easter weekend a poll by Find Out New and Electoral Calculus for the Daily Telegraph gave Andy Street a 45-38 lead over the Labour candidate on first preferences, narrowing to 52-48 in the runoff. Redfield and Wilton were in the field from 18 to 21 April, giving Street a 46-37 lead on first preferences. These polls will be rather discouraging to the Labour candidate, who is another Birmingham Labour MP: Liam Byrne has represented the Hodge Hill constituency since winning a by-election in 2004, and is perhaps best known for the "I'm afraid there is no money" note which he left for his successor as a Treasury minister after the Labour government's defeat in 2010. Also standing this time are Jenny Wilkinson for the Lib Dems, Pete Durnell (who was the UKIP candidate four years ago) for the Reform Party, and Steve Caudwell for the Greens.

Police and Crime Commissioner

By contrast the West Midlands police and crime commissionership, despite covering the same area, has always been safe for Labour. This post has been held by Michael Jamieson since he won a by-election in 2014. At the 2016 election Jamieson was less than a thousand votes short of being re-elected in the first round, polling 50% against 26% for the Conservatives and 17% for UKIP; in the final reckoning he beat the Conservative candidate 63-37.

Jamieson is standing down, and Labour have selected Simon Foster, a solicitor. The Conservative candidate is Jay Singh Sohal, a former TV journalist who is now a communications director. Also standing are independent candidate Jools Hambleton, Mark Hoath for Reform UK, Jon Hunt for the Liberal Democrat and Desmond Jaddoo, leader of the newly-formed We Matter Party.

Local elections

As in 2019, Dudley council is the West Midlands borough to watch. This currently stands at 35 Labour councillors, 34 Conservatives, two independents and one vacancy; the Conservatives have a minority administration, and the casting vote of the mayor helps in that. This year the ward map is in the Tories' favour; the 2016 results here had Labour winning 14 wards, the Conservatives 9 and UKIP 1, while in 2019 the Conservatives won 13 wards to Labour's 11. That would suggest that the Conservatives should be favoured for an overall majority here.

The Tories already have a majority in Walsall, although only a thin one: 31 councillors against 26 Labour, two Lib Dems and an independent. Again, this year the ward map is in their favour: a repeat of the 2019 results would see the Conservatives gain 3 Labour wards and all 3 of the seats held by other parties.

A sterner test for the government party will be to see whether they can make any headway in Sandwell. This is the Black Country council which includes the two West Bromwich constituencies, both of which were Tory gains in December 2019; however, the last three Sandwell council elections have returned 72 Labour councillors out of a possible 72. Judging from the May 2019 results the Tories should have their eyes on gaining Blackheath ward (based on Rowley Regis), but anything else looks a very tall order.

On the far side of Birmingham, the Conservatives have suddenly found themselves in trouble in Solihull where their majority is down to 26 seats out of 51. The opposition here is an unlikely one: it's the Green Party, who have broken through in some of the bourgeois ex-Liberal parts of Solihull proper and the tower blocks of Chelmsley Wood and Castle Bromwich. A repeat of the 2019 results would see the Conservatives lose Castle Bromwich ward to the Greens; although they should pick up a safe ward from a defector who is not standing again, if the Tories lose anything else then their majority on the council would go.

There are no local elections this year to Birmingham city council apart from four by-elections. In the north of the city we have the 1930s and 1940s estates of Oscott ward; in the west former Labour council leader John Clancy has vacated Quinton ward, off the main road towards Hagley and Kidderminster; while in the south of the city there are by-elections in the neighbouring wards of Billesley and Hall Green North. All of these are Labour defences with only Hall Green North (defended for them by Saima Suleman) looking completely safe. At the last city council elections in 2018 Labour had a 2-point lead in Quinton, and leads of just over 10 points in Billesley and Oscott. Quinton will be defended for Labour by Elaine Kidney, with the Conservatives selecting Dominic Stanford; in Oscott the two major-party candidates are Uzma Ahmed for Labour and Darius Sandhu for the Tories. The Billesley by-election has attracted no fewer than nine candidates, with Katherine Carlisle as the defending Labour candidate and Clair Felton challenging for the Tories.

The Labour majorities in Coventry and Wolverhampton are impregnable.

Staffordshire

Police and Crime Commissioner

The Staffordshire PCC position has been held since 2012 by the Conservatives' Matthew Ellis. In 2016 Ellis led the first round rather narrowly with 36% against 31% for Labour and 16% for UKIP; he increased his lead in the final round, but only to 53-47.

This year Ellis is standing down. The Conservatives have selected Ben Adams, a long-serving Staffordshire county councillor who was their parliamentary candidate for Stoke-on-Trent North in 2015 and 2017. The Labour candidate is Tony Kearson, a Newcastle-under-Lyme councillor and criminologist. UKIP haven't returned, so completing the ballot paper are independent candidate Deneice Florence-Jukes, Michael Riley for Reform UK and Richard Whelan for the Lib Dems.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Staffordshire county council and for one-third of Cannock Chase and Tamworth councils.

Staffordshire county council has had a large Conservative majority since 2009, when the ruling Labour group crashed from 32 seats to just 3. The local Labour party has never really recovered from that experience, although they didn't do quite as badly in the 2017 election which returned 51 Conservatives, 10 Labour and an independent. Any Labour recovery would need to start in Cannock, Tamworth and Newcastle-under-Lyme, and pre-pandemic results from Newcastle do not give much indication of that happening. What about Cannock and Tamworth, though?

Well, Labour do retain Cannock Chase council, but only as a minority after losing overall control in 2019. Going into these elections there are 17 Labour councillors, 15 Conservative seats (one of which is vacant), 2 Lib Dems and 7 others, most of whom were originally elected for the Green Party which has suffered a split here. More than half of the Labour group is up for re-election this year, and a repeat of the 2019 results would see the Conservatives become the largest party on the council.

And there's not much sign of a Labour revival in Tamworth either. The Conservatives have had a large majority here for a long time now - currently 21 seats against 5 Labour, 2 UKIP and 2 independents. A repeat of the 2019 results would see the Conservatives gain one seat each from Labour and UKIP, who are still active in Tamworth and have nominated a full slate of candidates for the borough elections.

There are no local elections this year in Stoke-on-Trent apart from a by-election following the abrupt resignation in May 2020 of councillor Mohammed Pervez. He had been leader of the Labour group on the council since 2010, and until 2015 was leader of the council. Pervez had a strong majority in Moorcroft ward, which covers the southern end of Burslem, and new Labour councillor Javed Najmi will be hoping to defend that. Regrettably, the voters of Moorcroft will not have the chance to vote for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party's candidate Sir Honkey Tonk James, who had turned 18 by polling day but was underage on the day his nomination papers went in; the Returning Officer, on the time-honoured principle of "I'd love to help you son, but you're too young to vote", rejected James' nomination.

Outside the Potteries we have four by-elections for five seats. Two of these occur in the town of Cheadle, within the Staffordshire Moorlands district. Cheadle's three wards returned a full set of independent councillors in 2019 with large majorities, but both of these by-elections see multiple independent candidates who could split the vote. In North East ward those are Liz Whitehouse - niece of the late councillor Ian Whitehouse whose death caused the by-election - and Paulette Upton, while Cheadle South East ward is contested on the independent side by Jamie Evans, Colin Pearce and Alan Thomas.

East Staffordshire district has a double by-election for both seats in Eton Park ward. This is not as bucolic as it sounds. Eton Park ward is the northern end of Burton upon Trent, and the area is dominated by a large Pirelli tyre factory. The ward was safe Labour until 2019 when one of its two seats was taken by independent candidate Dale Spedding. Long-time readers of Andrew's Previews may recognise that name. Spedding won a by-election to the East Staffordshire council in the neighbouring Stretton ward in 2017, with the Conservative nomination (Andrew's Previews 2017, page 263), then resigned two months later over harassment he was getting from his constituents (Andrew's Previews 2018, page 50). He lasted a little longer on the council second time round, but still didn't make it into a second year before resigning: the double by-election to replace Spedding and the late Labour councillor Sonia Andjelkovic was originally scheduled for 26th March 2020 before the pandemic intervened. There is no independent candidate this time to replace Spedding so his seat is open, and it should revert back to Labour: the Labour slate here is Louise Walker (who was runner-up in the 2019 election) and Thomas Hadley.

Finally, we come to the Summerfield and All Saints ward of Lichfield district, which again is less scenic than the name might suggest: this is the central of the five wards covering the former mining town of Burntwood. Summerfield and All Saints elected a full slate of three Conservative councillors in 2015, but Labour gained two seats in 2019 and are defending this by-election. A closely-watched contest can be expected between defending Labour cndidate Michael Galvin and the Tories' Heather Tranter.

West Mercia

Police and Crime Commissioner

The West Mercia police area covers three counties in the Severn and Wye valleys in the west of England: Worcestershire, Shropshire and Herefordshire. The 2012 PCC election returned an independent candidate, Bill Longmore, who didn't seek re-election in 2016. Five years ago the Conservatives topped the poll here with 33% against 21% for Labour, 17% for UKIP and 14% for an independent candidate; the Conservatives' John-Paul Campion and Labour's Daniel Walton went through to the runoff, which Campion won 60-40.

Campion is seeking re-election for a second term. The Labour candidate this time is Telford and Wrekin councillor Kuldip Sahota. Peter Jewell, who was the UKIP candidate five years ago, now has the Reform UK nomination. Completing the ballot paper is Margaret Rowley of the Liberal Democrats.

Local elections

There are elections this year for the whole of Shropshire council and Worcestershire county council and for one-third of Redditch and Worcester councils.

To start in Redditch, which is a New Town with voting patterns to match. The Conservatives run Redditch council with an 18-11 lead over Labour, and no fewer than seven of the Labour councillors are up for re-election this year. A par score for the council is difficult to assess, because of the way Redditch's wards come up for election, but would involve significant Conservative gains.

Worcester city council is currently hung: the Conservatives have 16 seats, Labour 15, the Greens 3 and the Lib Dems 1. An all-party administration is in place. The Conservatives will have their eye on gaining the city-centre Cathedral ward which they won two years ago, but the second gain they require for an overall majority may prove elusive.

Worcestershire county council has a big Conservative majority and that looks unlikely to change. The 2017 election here returned 40 Conservative councillors, 10 Labour, 3 Lib Dems, 2 Greens, 1 Kidderminster Health Concern and an independent.

The only local by-election within Worcestershire has fallen in the by-election-prone ward of Elmley Castle and Somerville, covering seven parishes in the Vale of Evesham to the north and east of Bredon Hill. This is a safely Conservative ward of Wychavon council which has generated a number of casual vacancies in the last decade. Elmley Castle and Somerville was represented by Anna Mackison until she died shortly before the 2011 election; it appears that nobody was planning to oppose her that year as no candidates were nominated for the ward, so a by-election had to be held in June 2011 which was won by the Tories' Roma Kirke. Kirke resigned shortly before the 2015 election, which was held for the Conservatives by Anna's widower George Mackison. George has now resigned in his turn, and Emma Kearsey will look to defend the ward for the Tories in a straight fight with the Green Party.

The ruling Conservative group on Shropshire council attracted rather a lot of bad publicity over the last decade, although the last term does seem to have been significantly quieter on that front suggesting things may have calmed down somewhat. The Tories are defending a large majority from the 2017 election which returned 49 Conservatives, 12 Lib Dems, 8 Labour (all from Shrewsbury and its satellite village of Bayston Hill), three independents, a Green councillor and a representative of Kidderminster Health Concern (in Cleobury Mortimer, for which Kidderminster is the main service centre). The Conservative defence will be helped by the fact that they have held Albrighton division unopposed - that's the only uncontested seat on the British mainland in this year's local elections.

There are no local elections this year in Herefordshire or Telford and Wrekin apart from three by-elections. In Herefordshire we pay a visit to Newton Farm ward on the south-western edge of Hereford, which elected independent candidates in the 2015 and 2019 elections; two new independents have come forward here in the shape of Alan Jones and Glenda Powell. Jones appears to be fighting his first election campaign; Powell was the runner-up here in 2015 as an independent, and finished fourth in 2019 with the Democrats and Veterans Party nomination. Second in this ward last time were the Lib Dems, whose candidate Jacqui Carwardine is standing again. The Labour candidate Steve Horsfield also deserves a mention thanks to his TikTok campaign video, which has become an unlikely viral hit.

Finally in this section, Labour have two by-elections to defend in Telford and Wrekin. Dawley and Aqueduct ward is in the south of the New Town (which was originally going to be called Dawley), while Donnington ward is in the north-east corner of Telford on the way to Newport. Both of these wards were safe Labour in 2019, and the defending candidates are Ian Preece and Sophie Thompson respectively.

Coming soon: Part III of Andrew's Previews for 6th May 2021, covering the South of England.

Andrew Teale


The May 2021 elections, previewed (Part I)

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

Welcome to Andrew's Previews' countdown to the May 2021 elections, which promise to be the biggest electoral event of this Parliament. The whole of Great Britain is due to go to the polls. And there's not just one type of election involved: many voters will have two, three or (in some cases) four or more ballot papers to juggle, and multiple electoral systems abound. It's complicated.

Because of its extraordinary length this Preview will be split into four parts, set out as follows:

  1. Introduction, Scotland, Wales and London.
  2. The North and Midlands.
  3. The South and East.
  4. The Parliamentary Special; and concluding remarks.

Introduction

The hybrid nature of the May 2021 elections means that any comparison is inevitably going to be confusing. There are two different baselines to consider.

Most of the posts up for election next year were last filled in 2016, which was a very close set of local elections in England. The BBC's Projected National Share put Labour under Jeremy Corbyn on 31%, the Conservatives under David Cameron on 30%, the Lib Dems on 15% and UKIP on 12%. In the Scottish Parliament, the SNP gained vote share but lost its overall majority; the party has been running Holyrood as a minority since. Labour fell short of a majority in the National Assembly for Wales (as it was then), but stayed in power with the support of the single Liberal Democrat member. Sadiq Khan gained the London mayoralty for Labour following the retirement of Boris Johnson who had chosen to re-enter politics on the national stage, with some success. Finally, the second set of Police and Crime Commissioner elections saw a bonfire of many of the independents who had been elected on comedy turnouts in November 2012.

May 2016 was very much another time, and by May 2017 things were very different. This set of local elections came slap-bang in the middle of Theresa May's snap election campaign, and very much in her honeymoon period. The BBC's Projected National Share had an eleven-point Conservative lead, with 38% against 27% for Labour and 18% for the Liberal Democrats. With 2017 being (in England) essentially a county council year, and with UKIP having done well in the 2013 county elections, that resulted in big seat gains for the Conservatives who gained Derbyshire from Labour and won majorities in Cambridgeshire, East Sussex, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Warwickshire and the Isle of Wight.

These previews will make a lot of comparisons with 2019, for the purpose of establishing something of a "par score". The May 2019 local elections took place in a political scene much more like May 2016 than May 2017 and, unusually, happened at a time when both major parties were in a weak position but while the new forces taking votes off them, the Brexit Party and Change UK, were not ready for prime time. While there was a lot of anti-incumbent sentiment about, those new parties were unable to take advantage as they had no candidates; so that anti-incumbent sentiment manifested itself in many areas with large shares for independent candidates and localist parties. These small groups had been mostly swamped in 2015 by general election turnout, so 2019 marked something of a renaissance for them.

Since March 2020, local by-elections in England have been suspended due to reasons which are obvious. Some local by-elections have taken place in Wales, and the Scottish returning officers have efficiently cleared their vacancy backlog, but in England we have no information from real-life elections as to how things are going. We only have the national opinion polls, which suggest a national picture closer to 2017 than to 2016. How this will translate into a series of local pictures is extremely difficult to predict, but one reasonable guess might be that the Conservatives consistently do better than the 2019 "par scores" set out in this preview.

The merging together of the 2020 and 2021 local elections, together with the filling of 352 casual vacancies, means that a total of exactly 5,000 councillors are up for election on 6th May. In councillor terms, this is not the largest set of local elections in the UK - 2019 was larger - but in vote terms that definitely is the case. Everybody in Great Britain has something to vote for, even if it's only the Police and Crime Commissioners.

Because of the limited space and time available and the extraordinary number of by-elections, I have applied a much stronger than usual filter when naming candidates in the 6th May previews. All mayoral and PCC candidates have been namechecked, but by-election candidates are generally only named in this text if their party was within 10% last time out. For a full list of by-election candidates I will refer you to this file (link). If you're a by-election candidate and you're not happy with not having your name in this preview, then I would love you to prove me wrong by going ahead and winning your contest. In most cases you can click on each by-election's name to see previous results from the Local Elections Archive Project. As usual, the maps are the results from the last time the seats up here were contested, usually 2016 or 2017 - one electoral cycle ago.

I am fully aware that there will be mistakes in this preview. Have fun finding them.

To start off, here is Part I covering the three parts of Great Britain where there are no ordinary council elections this year: Scotland, Wales and London.

Scotland

Scottish Parliament

This piece is not going to look in any great detail at the Scottish Parliament elections. There are plenty of other people doing this in far more detail than I can provide; I shall instead point you to Allan Fauld's Ballot Box Scotland blog, which is doing a sterling job in previewing this year's Holyrood polls. The Britain Elects team have also been working on a prediction model.

The last Holyrood elections in May 2016 returned 63 Scottish National Party MSPs, 31 Conservatives, 24 Labour, 6 Greens and 5 Lib Dems. The SNP formed a minority administration. The Conservative MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire resigned in 2017 to seek election to the House of Commons, and the Conservatives held the resulting by-election (Andrew's Previews 2017, pages 143 to 150). The Liberal Democrat MSP for the Shetland Islands resigned in 2019 to take up a new job and the Lib Dems held the resulting by-election (Andrew's Previews 2019, pages 260 to 268). Five regional MSPs (four Conservatives and one Labour) have been replaced since 2016 by candidates from their party's list.

The Scottish Parliament election is being extensively polled. At the time of writing, the polling indicates that the SNP government will be re-elected and there will probably again be a nationalist majority in the chamber - although whether the SNP can achieve an overall majority of their own or would need to rely on the Greens or other nationalist parties to govern remains an open question.

Local elections

Scotland's returning officers have efficiently filled all the vacancies which arose last year. The Scottish Parliament election for 2021 is combined with just one local by-election, in the Forth and Endrick ward of Stirling council. This is a large rural ward with no towns to speak of, located about 20 miles north of Glasgow beyond the Campsie fells. The eastern bank of Loch Lomond, the Munro of Ben Lomond and the village of Drymen lie within the boundaries of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, while the ward extends east down the Forth valley as far as Gargunnock. It's part of the Stirling constituency at both Holyrood and Westminster level. The Stirling Holyrood seat has been SNP-held since 2007, but the Conservatives carried this ward in 2017 with a 45-30 vote lead and a 2-1 seat lead over the SNP. The ward's SNP councillor Graham Lambie has died, and the Conservatives (who are the largest party on Stirling council, but in opposition to an SNP/Labour administration) are in a good position to gain a seat here. The defending SNP candidate is Paul Goodwin, while Jane Hutchison challenges for the Conservatives.

Wales

Senedd Cymru

Senedd Cymru holds its fifth election in 2021, but the first under its current name: until last year, when the body was upgraded to a Parliament, it was known as the National Assembly for Wales. The last elections in 2016 returned 29 Labour members, 12 Plaid Cymru, 11 Conservatives, 7 UKIP and a single Liberal Democrat who is not seeking re-election; the administration is a coalition of Labour, the Lib Dem and a Plaid Cymru defector who is not seeking re-election either. The Labour AM for Alyn and Deeside took his own life at the end of 2017, and Labour held the resulting by-election in 2018 (Andrew's Previews 2018, pages 38 to 46). Four regional MSs (two from Plaid and one each from the Conservatives and UKIP) have been replaced since 2016 by candidates from their party's list. It may not surprise to learn that the UKIP group has fallen apart: Neil Hamilton, the notorious former Conservative MP for Tatton, is the only MS still in the party, while the former Conservative and UKIP MP Mark Reckless is seeking re-election to the Senedd for the single-issue Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party.

This Senedd Cymru election is also being extensively polled, but Wales is a difficult country to poll well and this is reflected in a lot of volatility in the pollsters' readings. Although proportional representation is in use, forty of the sixty seats are single-member constituencies which can provide a big bonus for any party which does well in the constituencies. Traditionally this is Labour, which won 27 of the 40 constituencies in 2016; however in the December 2019 general election the party only won 22 constituencies here, against 14 Conservatives and 4 for Plaid. As such, any fall in the Labour constituency vote (which was 35% in 2016) could result in disproportionate seat changes. The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, is sitting on a particularly small majority over Plaid Cymru in his Cardiff West constituency; but he's safer than he looks, partly because he has a huge national profile now, and partly because the Plaid candidate from 2016, Neil McEvoy, has been thrown out of the party and taken a large chunk of the local Plaid activists with him into his new pro-Welsh independence party, Propel. If the polling is to be believed (and, as I say, it is volatile), then Welsh Labour are likely to continue in office with some form of support from Plaid Cymru.

Police and Crime Commissioners

Most of the focus of the 2021 elections in Wales will be on the Senedd, and with good reason. However, Wales also has four police and crime commissioners to elect. The 2016 Welsh PCC elections, also held alongside a Senedd poll, saw quite a lot of change due to the fact that they were contested by Plaid Cymru, who hadn't stood in 2012.

Plaid ended up gaining two PCC positions. One of those was North Wales PCC, covering the old counties of Clwyd and Gwynedd and thus not quite the same as the North Wales electoral region of the Senedd. That position was open following the retirement of 2012 winner Winston Roddick, who had won that year as an independent candidate despite being a Lib Dem party member. (Roddick's political career went all the way back to the 1970 general election, in which he was the Liberal candidate for Anglesey.) In 2016 the North Wales police area gave 31% to Plaid Cymru candidate Arfon Jones, 26% to Labour candidate David Taylor, 20% to the Conservatives and 12% to UKIP; Plaid picked up a lot of transfers to win the runoff against Labour 58-42.

Arfon Jones is standing down after one term and is replaced as Plaid candidate by Ann Griffith, an Anglesey county councillor. Labour have selected Flintshire councillor Andy Dunbobbin, the Conservative candidate is former Mayor of Ruthin Pat Astbury, and UKIP have not returned. Completing the ballot paper are independent Mark Young and Lisa Wilkins of the Lib Dems.

The 2012 election for Dyfed-Powys PCC had been a straight fight between the Conservatives and Labour, with the Tories' Christopher Salmon prevailing against former Welsh agriculture minister Christine Gwyther. There was a wider field for the 2016 election, with Plaid Cymru candidate Dafydd Llywelyn leading the first count on 28% against 25% for Salmon, 19% for Labour and 11% for UKIP who narrowly beat the Lib Dems for fourth place. In the runoff Llywelyn defeated Salmon by a 56-44 margin. Llywelyn is seeking re-election against Conservative candidate Jon Burns (a former Welsh city and county councillor) and Labour's Philippa Thompson (a former diplomat who contested Preseli Pembrokeshire in December 2019). Again, UKIP have not returned, so Tomos Preston of the Lib Dems completes the ballot paper.

The two PCC positions in industrial south Wales were both safely Labour. A three-cornered contest last time in Gwent saw Labour lead in the first round with 46% against 31% for the Conservatives and 23% for Plaid; Plaid's transfers gave Labour a 62-38 win over the Conservatives in the runoff. Incumbent Labour PCC Jeff Cuthburt is seeking re-election; the Tory candidate is Iraq veteran Hannah Jarvis, and Plaid have selected Caerphilly councillor Donna Cushing. Also standing are independent candidate Paul Harley, Clayton Jones of the pro-Welsh independence party Gwlad, and John Miller of the Lib Dems.

In the South Wales police area (corresponding to the old county of Glamorgan) former First Minister Alun Michael was re-elected for a second term as PCC in 2016 without fuss. Michael led in the first round with 41% of the vote. A three-way contest for the other place in the run-off saw the Conservatives and Plaid poll 18% each with independent Mike Baker in fourth on 17%; the Tory candidate Timothy Davies finished second, just 29 votes ahead of Plaid (70,799 to 70,770). That put Davies into the runoff, where he was duly crushed 68-32 by Michael. Michael is seeking re-election for a third term; the Conservative candidate is Swansea councillor and former police officer Steve Gallagher; Plaid have selected criminal justice campaigner Nadine Marshall, whose son was murdered six years ago by a person who was on probation at the time; and independent Mike Baker is trying again. Completing a six-strong ballot paper are Callum Littlemore of the Lib Dems and Gail John of Propel.

It should be noted that the elections in Wales on 6th May have different franchises. If you are aged 16 or 17, or you are resident in Wales but not a citizen of a Commonwealth or EU country, then you cannot vote for your Police and Crime Commissioner but you can vote for the Senedd and in any local by-elections. Which we shall come to next.

Local elections

There are no local elections in Wales this year, but there are ten council by-elections taking place. One of these is a direct result of COVID-19, which has taken from us Flintshire county councillor Kevin Hughes. He had served since 2017 as an independent councillor for Gwernymynydd division, taking over an open seat after a long-serving Liberal Democrat councillor retired; the Lib Dems didn't put up a candidate to defend the seat, and Hughes picked it up with a 58-29 lead over the Conservatives. Gwernymynydd is a village just south-west of Mold on the main road towards Ruthin, and the division includes a number of other hamlets to the south of Mold. Kevin Hughes' son Andy is seeking to follow in his father's footsteps as an independent candidate, and is opposed only by Plaid Cymru's Bob Gaffey.

At the far end of North Wales there are two by-elections to the Isle of Anglesey council. Seiriol division is the eastern end of the island, covering the town of Beaumaris and surrounding villages; Caergybi division is the town of Holyhead, and as such is on the front line of Brexit as the main port of embarkation for Dublin and Dún Laoghaire. The Caergybi division split its three seats between two independents and a Labour candidate in 2017; the late councillor Shaun Redmond was the second independent candidate, gaining his seat from Labour. Independent candidate Ken Evans will seek to succeed Redmond, as will Labour's Jennifer Saboor. Seiriol returned a full slate of Plaid Cymru candidates in 2017 and looks safe enough for the party, whose defending candidate is Gary Pritchard.

The other seven by-elections are in the industrial south of the country. Newport's Victoria division is on the east bank of the Usk immediately opposite the city centre; the division is centred on Rodney Parade, the home ground of the Dragons Pro14 rugby side. Victoria was the first division in Wales to elect a Muslim local councillor, Mohammad Asghar, who was returned here as a Plaid Cymru representative in 2004 and was subsequently elected to the Senedd on their ticket in 2007. Asghar was still an MS at the time of his death last year, although he had defected to the Conservatives in 2011. Victoria division is now safe for Labour, whose defending candidate is Farzina Hussain. Christine Jenkins resigned over a year ago, and the Victoria by-election was originally due to take place in April 2020 as were a number of other by-elections listed in this section.

The old county of Mid Glamorgan has given us three by-elections which have all generated varying degrees of controversy. Bridgend councillor David Owen has got his name firmly into the Councillors Behaving Badly file after he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment in March 2020: he was found guilty of conspiracy to steal and handling stolen goods, in relation to the theft of an agricultural vehicle worth £9,000 from a farm in Abergavenny. His resignation letter to the council was sent from his prison cell, shortly before he was due to be disqualified from office (this kicks in when the deadline for appeals expires, or once any appeal is disposed of). Owen had served since 2012 as an independent councillor for Nant-y-moel division, at the head of the Ogmore Valley, and had beaten Labour 62-38 in 2017. The Nant-y-moel by-election features an all-female ballot paper: new independent Mary Hughes is challenged by Labour's Lee-Anne Hill and the Tories' Clare Lewis.

In the large Rhondda Cynon Taf district, Conservative councillor Mike Diamond has fallen out with his former party and resigned as councillor for the Cardiff commuter area of Llantwit Fardre division, which is the only safe Tory division in the district; while the council's only member from the Cynon Valley Party, Gavin Williams, has been controversially disqualified under the six-month non-attendance rule, leaving a vacancy in the village with Wales' highest rates of child poverty according to official 2019 figures, Penrhiwceiber. Labour still hold the other seat in Penrhiwceiber division. Gavin Williams is seeking re-election in the by-election caused by his disqualification, this time as an independent candidate; Ross Williams will try to gain his seat for Labour. The defending Conservative candidate in Llantwit Fardre is Sam Trask.

Over in Port Talbot, Labour have the tricky task of defending the Aberavon division of Neath Port Talbot under the shadow of the M4 motorway. This is an electoral division of two parts, with the Aberavon and Baglan Moors areas divided from each other by the Neath Port Talbot Hospital and a large industrial estate. Aberavon division was a stronghold of the continuing SDP into the twenty-first century, long after they had disappeared from the national scene; but the SDP are now extinct here and the division's three seats split two to Plaid Cymru and one to Labour in 2017. Labour's Stephanie Lynch has the task of defending this by-election; Plaid's Andrew Dacey will look to gain.

Finally, Labour also have two by-elections to defend in the city of Swansea. Castle division (in the Swansea West constituency) covers the city centre, while Llansamlet division (in the Swansea East constituency) is in the north-east of the city and takes in the villages of Llansamlet and Birchgrove together with the Swansea Enterprise Park. Both of these returned full slates of four Labour councillors in May 2017 and should be safe for the party's candidates: Hannah Lawson in Castle (which has a field of nine candidates) and Matthew Jones in Llansamlet.

Greater London

Mayor and Assembly

A quick mention of the biggest single election in the country. The fifth Mayor of London election will grab a lot of the headlines; this was a Labour gain at the most recent poll in 2016 after Conservative mayor Boris Johnson stood down. (Anybody know what happened to him after that? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.) The Labour candidate, then Tooting MP Sadiq Khan, led the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith by 44-35 in the first round, and increased that lead to 57-43 in the runoff: 1,310,143 votes to 994,614.

Khan is seeking a second term, and a number of opinion polls suggest he will not struggle to get it. The Conservatives have selected Shaun Bailey, who has been a London Assembly member since 2016 and has stood twice for Parliament: he fought Hammersmith in 2010, and Lewisham West and Penge in 2017. Also standing are (deep breath): Siân Berry for the Green Party, Luisa Porritt for the Liberal Democrats, Peter Gammons for UKIP, Mandu Reid for the Women's Equality Party, Kam Balayev for Renew (an anti-Brexit group), Count Binface (who needs no introduction) for his self-titled party, Valerie Brown for the Burning Pink party (an Extinction Rebellion splinter group), Piers Corbyn for Let London Live (an anti-lockdown group), independent Max Fosh (a YouTuber), Laurence Fox for the Reclaim Party (another anti-lockdown group), Richard Hewison for a group called Rejoin EU, Vanessa Hudson for the Animal Welfare Party, Steve Kelleher for the Social Democratic Party, outgoing Assembly member David Kurten (who was originally elected for UKIP) for the Heritage Party, independent Farah London (a businesswoman), independent Nims Obunge (pastor of an evangelical church and head of an anti-crime charity), independent Niko Omilana (another YouTuber), and Brian Rose of the London Real Party (another anti-lockdown group).

The Greater London Assembly is the only English elected body to use proportional representation. In the 2016 election Labour polled 40% of the vote on the Londonwide list ballot and won 12 seats; the Conservatives polled 29% of the vote and won 9 seats; the Greens and UKIP polled 8% and 7% respectively and won 2 seats each; and the Liberal Democrats won 1 seat with 6%, just coming in over the 5% threshold which applies to the list vote. 13 seats would be an overall majority, and if Labour can improve their list vote that could be in range.

If you want to know more about this year's GLA elections, you could do worse than consult the On London Guide to the London Mayor and London Assembly Elections, 2021, by Dave Hill and Lewis Baston, which is available for the bargain price of £6 from this link and contains far more information than I can hope to give you.

Local elections

There are forty-six local by-elections in the capital on 6th May, all of which are being dealt with by the London Elects team as part of the centralised Mayor and Assembly count. This is being split over two days, with seven GLA constituencies due to declare on Friday 7th, and the other seven constituencies and the list votes to come in on Saturday 8th. Accordingly, it may take some considerable time for these by-election results to come through after the poll. It could be worse: Tower Hamlets could be running the show.

I'll go through these polls in an anti-clockwise direction, starting with two by-elections to Redbridge council. Seven Kings ward has a name which has nothing to do with seven kings; it was originally something like "Sevekings", and as such probably referred to a settlement of people associated with a man called Seofoca. This ward lies to the north of the Great Eastern railway line and Roman road, while Loxford ward lies to the south of those communication links on the east bank of the River Roding. Both of these wards were over 75% Labour in the 2018 local elections, so quite why Chaudhary Mohammed Iqbal, elected on the Labour slate in Loxford, thought it was necessary to commit electoral fraud to get elected there is difficult to fathom. Iqbal, who was living in Barking at the time of the election, had lied about his address on his nomination papers; he resigned from the council after pleading guilty to four criminal charges, and is now serving a 68-week prison sentence. The defending Labour candidates are Sahdia Warraich in Loxford and Pushpita Gupta in Seven Kings.

The River Roding flows into the Thames estuary at Barking Riverside, which forms the Thames ward of Barking and Dagenham council. Barking and Dagenham has had a full slate of 51 Labour councillors since 2010, and don't expect any change to that here: in 2018 Thames ward gave 83% of the vote to Labour in a straight fight with the Conservatives. This time there is more choice for the ward's voters with five parties and an independent candidate standing; although the Tories have put up a high-profile candidate in the form of Andrew Boff, who stood here in 2014 and has contested the Hackney mayoralty on a number of occasions, don't bet against Labour candidate Fatuma Nalule.

Barking and Dagenham's Thames ward is served by Dagenham Dock railway station, from which change at Barking for an Underground train to East Ham Central ward in the London Borough of Newham; similar considerations apply here, with Farah Nazeer as the defending Labour candidate. The poor voters of East Ham Central will have five ballot papers to juggle: three votes for the GLA, this by-election and the Newham governance referendum on whether to abolish the elected mayoralty and move to the committee system of governance. This was not without controversy: a group looking to move back to the leader and cabinet model had put a petition in for a referendum to that effect, which was ruled out of order because it had been delivered during the middle of pandemic restrictions. If the people of Newham decide to vote for a change in their governance, that would commence after the current Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz' term expires next year.

Another governance referendum has turned up in neighbouring Tower Hamlets, on scrapping the directly elected mayoralty (which, it's fair to say, has not proven an unqualified success here) and reverting to the Leader and Cabinet model of governance. Any change would happen from 2022 when current mayor John Biggs comes to the end of his term.

Rather different in character is the remaining by-election east of the Lea, in the Hatch Lane ward of Waltham Forest. This is the south-eastern of the three wards covering Chingford, a Tory holdout which returns Iain Duncan Smith to Parliament. Hatch Lane was safe enough for the Conservatives in May 2018, and their defending candidate is Justin Halabi.

Waltham Forest is part of the North East constituency of the London Assembly along with two Middlesex boroughs which have turned up with a large number of by-elections. There are four polls in Hackney, with Labour defending the trendy Hoxton East and Shoreditch ward on the edge of the City and also King's Park ward in the Lea Valley (the ward which includes the Hackney Marshes), both within the Hackney South and Shoreditch constituency. Both of the vacating councillors have gone on to greater things: Tom Rahilly (King's Park) now has a politically-restricted job, while Feryal Clark (Hoxton East and Shoreditch, elected under her maiden name of Feryal Demirci) was elected in December 2019 as the Labour MP for Enfield North. The wards are safe, and the defending Labour candidates are Anya Sizer in Hoxton East and Shoreditch, and Lynne Troughton in King's Park.

In the Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency, we have two fascinating by-elections in the Hasidic enclave of Stamford Hill. At the time of the 2011 census, Hackney's New River and Lordship wards both turned in a Jewish population of over 25%, ranking 12th and 13th of all the wards in England and Wales for Judaism. Since 2011 Hackney's ward boundaries have changed; much of this area is now covered by the Woodberry Down ward (very safe Labour in 2018) and the Stamford Hill West ward (a Conservative gain from Labour in 2018). Both of these wards have by-elections on 6th May. In Woodberry Down the defending Labour candidate is Sarah Young, while Stamford Hill West sees Conservative Hershy Lisser challenged by Labour's Rosemary Sales.

Islington borough has outdone Hackney with five by-elections. Bunhill ward runs from the northern edge of the City to the Angel, and takes in the Silicon Roundabout at Old Street underground station; St Peter's ward runs north-east from the Angel between Essex Road and the Grand Union canal; Mildmay ward is centred on the Overground station at Canonbury; Highbury West ward includes Arsenal football grounds old and new; and Holloway ward is based on the northern end of the Caledonian Road. The Bunhill by-election is to replace controversy magnet Claudia Webbe, who was elected in 2019 as a Labour MP for Leicester. Despite the presence of independent candidates in Bunhill and St Peter's standing on anti-Low Traffic Neighbourhoods tickets, none of these polls should give the defending Labour candidates (respectively Valerie Bossman-Quarshie, Toby North, Angelo Weekes, Bashir Ibrahim and Jason Jackson) any cause for concern.

Things are different in Enfield district where Labour are defending three by-elections. Chase ward, the northernmost ward within the Greater London boundary, takes in some genuinely rural areas within the M25 motorway; Crews Hill railway station, on the Hertford Loop, links the ward to the centre of the Great Wen. This ward has swung a mile to the left over the last two decades, although not far enough for Labour to consider the ward safe yet. Chris James defends for Labour, Andrew Thorp is the Conservative candidate. Also within the Enfield North constituency is Southbury ward straddling the Great Cambridge Road, which is safer for Labour; as is Jubilee ward, immediately to the south of Southbury and located within the Edmonton constituency. Ayten Guzel and Chinelo Anyanwu are respectively the defending candidates.

Also on the northern edge of Greater London is the Edgware ward of Barnet, where the Northern Line terminates; included within this ward is the Scratchwood or London Gateway motorway service area on the M1, assuming that the guns of HMS Belfast (which are aimed at Scratchwood) haven't destroyed it yet. This is a safe Conservative ward with a very large Jewish population; the defending candidate is Nick Mearing-Smith. Barnet by-election watchers are more likely to be focused on the poll in East Barnet ward, to the east of the East Coast main line and served by Oakleigh Park and New Barnet stations; this was narrowly gained by Labour in 2014, but the Tories took of the ward's three seats back in a close 2018 result. Labour candidate Linda Lusingu is defending the East Barnet by-election, the Tories' Nicole Richer will try to gain.

Another Labour-held marginal to watch is the Brent ward of Brondesbury Park in Willesden, which has returned slates from all three major parties in the last three local elections. Labour gained this ward from the Conservatives in 2018 by the narrow margin of 45% to 43%. Three by-election results in Brent in January 2020 were very poor for Labour, but things may have changed since then. Gwen Grahl defends for Labour, Sapna Chadha will try to gain for the Conservatives.

Also keep an eye on the Churchill ward of Westminster city council. Located at the southern end of Westminster either side of Grosvenor railway bridge, this ward includes the Victoria coach station and Chelsea Barracks but is based on Churchill Gardens, a highrise postwar housing estate on the far side of the river from Battersea Power station. As with East Barnet, Churchill ward was Conservative up to 2010, voted Labour in 2014, and split its three seats two to Labour and one to the Conservatives in 2018. If Labour can repeat their good December 2019 result in the local Cities of London and Westminster constituency, this by-election should be a comfortable hold for them. Labour's Liza Begum is challenged by the Conservatives' Shaista Miah.

Moving into west London, we come to three by-elections in the Ealing borough. Two of these are caused by Conservative councillors being elected to Westminster: Alex Stafford (of Ealing Broadway ward) is now the MP for Rother Valley in Yorkshire, Joy Morrissey (of the neighbouring Hanger Hill ward, running from North Ealing underground station to the notorious Hanger Lane gyratory) has taken on the task of representing Beaconsfield in the Commons. These were the only two Ealing wards which the Conservatives carried in the 2018 local elections, and both of these by-elections should be safe Conservative holds for Julian Gallant and Fabio Conti respectively. Labour should just as easily defend Hobbayne ward, which runs north from Hanwell station on the Great Western main line to Ruislip Road East; their candidate here is Louise Brett.

Further out we come to the Charville ward of Hillingdon borough, a perennial marginal in Hayes to the north of the Uxbridge Road. Unusually for a London ward, Charville has swung to the right over the last two decades: it returned a full slate of Labour councillors in 2002 and a full Conservative slate in 2018, with split representation at the three elections in between. Defending Tory candidate Darran Davies, who got himself into trouble during the campaign for some offensive stuff on his Facebook, is challenged by Labour's Steve Garelick.

Mrs Gaskell's charming literary village of Cranford is located (checks notes) at the eastern end of the Heathrow Airport runways within the borough of Hounslow, and its economy is dependent on the airport - not good news at the moment. Poonam Dhillon was one of the local residents who once drew a wage from services related to air travel (in her case, catering); in January 2021 she died from COVID-19, aged 58, during her third term as a councillor. The by-election to replace her takes place at the same time as another by-election to Hounslow council, in the neighbouring Hounslow Heath ward. Both of these are safe for Labour, whose candidates are Devina Ram and Madeeha Asim respectively.

Our final by-election north of the river takes place in Hampton Wick ward, across the water from Kingston upon Thames. This ward in the borough of Richmond upon Thames was safe Conservative up to 2014, when the councillors elected on the Tory slate here included Tony Arbour and Tania Mathias. Arbour is a veteran of local government who was first elected to Richmond council as far back as 1968, won one of the last by-elections to the Greater London Council in 1983, and has represented the South West constituency of the London Assembly since the establishment of the Assembly in 2000. (He retires from the Assembly this year.) Mathias was elected in 2015 as the MP for the local Twickenham constituency, defeating cabinet minister Vince Cable; she promptly resigned from Richmond council, and the resulting by-election surprisingly went to the Liberal Democrats. This was a harbinger of things to come: Richmond upon Thames was comprehensively taken over by the Liberal Democrats at the 2018 election. A number of wards in that election saw joint slates of Lib Dem and Green Party candidates, and Hampton Wick was one of them; this by-election is one of them, and this by-election is caused by the resignation of Hampton Wick's Green councillor Dylan Baxendale. He won the final seat in 2018 with a majority of 98 votes over Tony Arbour, a long way behind the Lib Dem slate. This one looks interesting, particularly as the Lib Dems are standing a candidate. Chas Warlow defends for the Greens, Petra Fleming challenges for the Lib Dems, Nina Watson stands for the Conservatives.

If Richmond's by-election is interesting, the by-election in Kingston upon Thames looks bizarre. This is in Chessington South ward, the salient of Greater London between Esher and Epsom. Chessington South is safe Lib Dem, and the by-election has come about due to the resignation of their councillor Patricia Bamford who has topped the poll here in every election this century. Her son Charles Bamford is contesting the by-election - for the Labour Party, while the former Labour MP for Thurrock Andrew Mackinlay (who was a Labour member of Kingston council many years ago) is also contesting the by-election - as the defending Liberal Democrat candidate. This may be the constituency of the Lib Dem leader Ed Davey, but Chessington South ward also contains the pub run by the Official Monster Raving Loony Party's deputy leader Jason "Chinners" Chinnery, and Chinners has recruited not one, not two, but thirteen OMRLP candidates for this by-election, which deserves some sort of award (the Turner Prize would probably be the most appropriate one). On the other hand, I suppose it's possible that all those Loonies might end up splitting the vote. Overall the ballot paper has nineteen candidates, which must be a record for a single-member local by-election.

Labour have a seat to defend in each of the boroughs of Merton and Wandsworth. The Merton by-election is in Merton's half of the St Helier estate; this ward has had a few by-elections in previous years (Andrew's Previews 2016, page 81; 2017, page 196) which have given Labour no trouble, and neither should this poll. Helena Dollimore defends.

The Wandsworth seat is vacated by Fleur Anderson, who scored the only Labour gain from the Conservatives in December 2019 by winning the Putney constituency. Her former Bedford ward is in the Tooting constituency; it's named after the Bedford Hill and includes much of Tooting Common. Anderson gained her council seat from the Conservatives in 2014 alongside Rosena Allin-Khan, who now represents Tooting in Parliament. Bedford ward swung further to Labour in 2018 to return a full Labour slate for the first time, but the defending Labour candidate Hannah Stanislaus shouldn't forget that when it comes to local elections Normal Rules Do Not Apply within the borough of Wandsworth.

The troubled finances of the London Borough of Croydon will not be helped by having to organise five council by-elections this May. Two of these are due to the resignations of the former Labour council leader Tony Newman and former finance cabinet member Simon Hall, on whose watch the borough ran out of money. Newman and Hall, who are suspended from the Labour party, have respectively vacated Woodside ward (south-east of Norwood Junction station) and New Addington North (the northern half of the isolated quasi-New Town of New Addington). Labour are also defending a by-election in South Norwood ward (west of Norwood Junction station), while the Tories have seats to defend in Park Hill and Whitgift ward (south-east of Croydon town centre) and Kenley ward (on the road and railway lines towards Warlingham and Caterham on the southern edge of Greater London). None of these should give the defending parties much cause for concern in ordinary course, although with the special circumstances that apply in Croydon at the moment there is the potential for some big swings. The defending Tory candidates are Ola Kolade in Kenley and Jade Appleton in Park Hill and Whitgift, while the Labour candidates for New Addington North, South Norwood and Woodside are respectively Kola Agboola, Louis Carserides and Michael Bonello. Independent candidate Mark Samuel, a regular fixture in Croydon local by-elections who sometimes achieves the dizzy heights of ten votes, put in nomination papers for all five by-elections but was only allowed to contest one: he has chosen Woodside ward. Croydon council have recently received a petition for a mayoral referendum, which will be held over until the autumn.

Greenwich and Lewisham have turned up with four by-elections each, all of them Labour defences. In Lewisham, promising young Labour councillor Tom Copley is now a Deputy Mayor of London in Sadiq Khan's administration, while Joe Dromey (the son of Jack Dromey and Harriet Harman) has also taken up a new job which is politically restricted. They have vacated Sydenham and New Cross wards respectively. There also by-elections in the south of the borough in the Bellingham ward (for more on which see Andrew's Previews 2016, page 133) and the neighbouring ward of Catford South. All of these were safe for Labour in 2018. The defending Labour candidates are Rachel Onikosi in Bellingham, James Royston in Catford South, Samantha Latouche in New Cross and Jack Lavery in Sydenham.

Turning our attention to Greenwich, a mention is due to the first Muslim to become a UK local council leader. Mehboob Khan led the Labour group on Kirklees council in West Yorkshire from 2003 to 2014, and was leader of that council from 2009 to 2014. In 2015 he resigned from Kirklees council and transferred to Greenwich, taking over the seat in Greenwich West ward vacated by the newly-elected Greenwich and Woolwich MP Matthew Pennycook. Khan has now taken a politically-restricted job and accordingly a by-election needs to be held in Greenwich West. This is the core of historic Greenwich, taking in the town centre, the Royal Naval College, Greenwich Park and the old Observatory building, whose position defines the Greenwich Meridian of 0 degrees longitude.

The by-election in Greenwich's Glyndon ward, covering the area between Plumstead and Woolwich, is less savoury. Tonia Ashikodi, who won a by-election here in May 2016 and was re-elected on the Labour slate in 2018, had accepted a council house in the borough in 2012 without revealing that she was the owner of three other properties. She was found guilty of two charges of fraud by false representation, and in March 2020 she resigned from the council after being given an 18-month suspended sentence. A by-election was immediately called to replace her but the pandemic intervened before it could be held, and Ashikodi's dishonesty has meant her council has had a vacant seat for over a year.

The other two Greenwich by-elections are both Labour defences, in the wards of Kidbrooke with Hornfair and Shooters Hill along the Roman road towards the Channel ports. On paper, none of these should give Labour any cause for concern. The defending Labour candidates are Sandra Bauer in Glyndon, Pat Slattery in Greenwich West, Odette McGahey in Kidbrooke with Hornfair, and Clare Burke-McDonald in Shooters Hill.

The final two by-elections in London are both the result of councillors moving on to greater things. Conservative councillor and London Assembly member Gareth Bacon was elected in 2019 as the MP for Orpington, and he has vacated his Bexley council seat in Longlands ward (the western end of Sidcup). Labour councillor Marina Ahmad is contesting and is favourite to win the Lambeth and Southwark constituency in this year's London Assembly elections, and she has resigned her Bromley council seat in Crystal Palace ward. These should be safe defences for their respective parties' candidates: Lisa-Jane Moore for the Conservatives in Longlands, Ryan Thomson for Labour in Crystal Palace.

As stated, this is the first of four parts of my previews of the 6th May 2021 elections. Keep an eye out for Part II, which will cover the North of England and the English Midlands.

Andrew Teale


Some thoughts on the parliamentary boundary changes

The starting gun has been fired on the latest review of parliamentary constituency boundaries. In one sense, it's not before time. The current set of boundaries came into force in 2010 (2005 in Scotland) and were based on electorate data from December 2000, and we have had more than two decades of population movement since then. The map is becoming increasingly mis-shapen, as trendy inner-city areas and shire counties have new apartments and housing estates built, while other areas get left behind with declining populations. In the March 2020 electoral register to be used in the review (taken just before the pandemic hit), the largest English constituency (the Isle of Wight, with 111,716 parliamentary electors) has more than twice the electorate of the smallest (Stoke-on-Trent Central, 54,551).

The historical context

Boundary changes used to be the preserve of Parliament itself, and this led to a lot of stasis. After the redistribution of 1885 led to single-member constituencies becoming the norm, there was only one further set of boundary changes in the next sixty years (in 1918). By the time of the Second World War, some constituencies had become grossly oversized. The most extreme example was the Romford division of what was then Essex, which had been filled with houses by the London County Council's Becontree estate and similar developments; between the 1918 and 1935 elections, Romford's electorate grew from 37,000 to almost 168,000 electors, far in excess of any other constituency. Examples like this are the reason that we have a boundary review process. An emergency change for the 1945 election spit Romford up into four new constituencies and also divided a number of other outsize seats into two, with a major overhaul following in 1950 at which the last of the two-seat borough constituencies disappeared.

A Speaker's Conference in 1944 resulted in the periodic boundary review process which we have today, run by four independent boundary commissions. The original rules set out a fixed number of 12 constituencies for Northern Ireland (which was deliberately under-represented due to the existence of the Stormont Parliament), set out that the number of seats in Scotland and Wales should not fall below the 71 and 35 seats those countries respectively had after the 1918 redistribution, set out a presumption that "as far as practicable" constituencies should not cross county, county borough or (in London) metropolitan borough boundaries, and gave the Commissions power to depart from those rules if they needed to in order to draw reasonable constituencies.

With some tweaks over the years, in particular to the frequency between reviews, those rules lasted into the twenty-first century through five redistributions (in 1955, February 1974, 1983, 1997 and 2010). The allocation for Northern Ireland was changed to 16-18 seats in 1983 following the demise of the Stormont Parliament, and the floor of 71 seats for Scotland was removed following the establishment of the Scottish Parliament; the Scottish boundary commission immediately got to work, and a review for the 2005 general election cut the number of constituencies in Scotland from 72 seats to 59. Despite the advent of devolution for Wales, the floor there was not removed and the current 40 constituencies for Wales represents a major over-representation; the review in progress will cut that to 32. Of the ten seats with the smallest constituencies in the UK, seven are in Wales and the other three are in the sparsely-populated Scottish highlands and islands, where "special geographical considerations" could be justified.

The seat allocation formula tended to have a "ratchet" effect, because when counties' seat allocations were rounded up to the nearest whole number that had the effect of increasing the number of seats in the quota for following reviews. From 625 seats in 1950, the size of the Commons peaked at 659 in 1997 before falling to the present 650 seats in 2010 (mostly due to the Scottish reduction in 2005).

The Commissions also had the power to do interim reviews between major redistributions. This was normally done to tidy up cases where local government boundaries had changed, but one interim review for the 1992 election had the effect of awarding a second seat to the fast-growing town of Milton Keynes.

What changed?

Since the formation of the 2010-15 Coalition government, boundary reviews have got more political. The Conservatives' 2010 manifesto proposed reducing the size of the Commons and ensuring that all seats were very close to the electoral quota. Following some haggling with their coalition partners, the targets were set at 600 seats and plus or minus 5% (with a small number of exceptions, all relating to offshore islands), and the time between reviews was cut to 5 years from the previous 8-12.

The Boundary Commissions immediately got to work to create a new ward map to be ready for the scheduled May 2015 election. Their preferred unit was the electoral ward, as this was the only readily-available geographical unit which covered the whole country and bore some relation to what might be considered as a local community. Several problems immediately became apparent.

The relationship between wards and communities is rather more tenuous than the Commission might like to think. Local government wards are drawn up by a separate boundary commission using basically the same rules as those for drawing constituencies. It's primarily a numbers game. If the numbers on the electoral register force the Local Government Boundary Commissions to split a community between wards, or put a number of disparate communities in the same ward, sometimes that's what they have to recommend doing. The constituency boundary-drawers, drawn from a different set of staff, didn't have the benefit of knowing which wards represented communities better than others.

Most wards in England are not single-member: many elect two councillors, and three-councillors are the norm in most urban areas. To take one example, let's look at the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, which has 66 councillors elected from 22 three-member wards. Since 1983 it has had four parliamentary constituencies (Birkenhead, Wallasey, Wirral South and Wirral West).

The Wirral

The December 2000 electoral register gave the Wirral 247,183 electors (an average of 11,236 per ward) which entitled it to just 3.53 seats. For the review implemented in 2010 the Boundary Commission originally felt that a continued allocation of four seats wasn't justified by the numbers, but they were unwilling to draw a constituency crossing the Merseyside-Cheshire boundary. The result was a provisionally-proposed seat called Wallasey and Kirkdale, consisting of territory either side of the Mersey estuary connected only by the Wallasey tunnel. This proposal went down like a cup of cold sick and was thrown out by the public inquiry, and the Commission were eventually forced to apply the "special geographical considerations" rule to retain Wirral's four seats. As there were 22 wards to divide between 4 constituencies, two seats had to get six wards each with the other two getting five each which created a bit of a disparity and two seats (Wirral South and Wirral West) with very low electorates. Given the choice between that and "Wallasey and Kirkdale", fair enough.

Fast-forward to 2011. The Wirral's entitlement had by now fallen below 3.5 seats, but because of the new tolerance rules it was not low enough to get three seats of its own. Given the furore "Wallasey and Kirkdale" had created, there would have to be a seat crossing the Wirral-Cheshire boundary in the Boundary Commission's next review which was due to report in 2013. And that seat - along with every other seat in the country - would have to be within 5% of the quota.

Then we get to the problems around what to do with the Wirral itself. This was a borough whose wards had an average of around 11,000 electors, with (because they were drawn to be approximately equal in electorate) not much variation in that figure. The Boundary Commission were faced with the task of using building blocks of 11,000 electors to hit a 5% tolerance level which was less than 8,000 electors wide. Things were similar in Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside. The Commission were unwilling to split wards between constituencies. You don't have to be a mathematician to realise that this is going to run into trouble.

This was what the Boundary Commission came up with for the Wirral and related parts of Cheshire in their original proposals:

Let's take a look at what's going on here. We have not one but two constituencies crossing the county boundary: one ward from Cheshire in constituency 27, two wards from Wirral in constituency 42. We have Bidston ward, an integral part of Birkenhead, in the Wallasey-based constituency 59 to make the numbers fit. We have Ellesmere Port divided between constituencies 18 and 42.

In fact, just look at that constituency 42. This is not the answer to life, the universe and everything which the Commission clearly thought it was. We have two suburban/industrial wards from the Wirral, most but not all of industrial Ellesmere Port, the rural towns of Frodsham, Helsby and Weaverham which have no connection to Ellesmere Port without going through constituency 18, and to the north the villages of Hale and Ditton which are separated from everything else in the seat by several miles of Mersey estuary, Manchester Ship Canal and saltmarsh. Seemingly at a loss for anything else to call this Frankenstein's monster of a constituency, the Commission gave it the name "Mersey Banks".

The 2011 Mersey Banks was by any metric the worst proposal in a car-crash map for North West England which gave little impression of respecting any of the Commission's statutory criteria except the 5% tolerance. It brought the whole process into disrepute. Your columnist attended the first day of the public inquiry into these proposals, which deservedly threw the entire map out and substituted a counter-proposal of its own which was a heck of a lot letter.

That counter-proposal, however, was never used for real because the Liberal Democrats killed off the 2013 boundary review in protest at losing House of Lords reform. The next review, which reported in 2018, never saw the light of day either: the Government sat on the report without bringing it to Parliament for approval, and the 2019 snap election means that the Commissions are due to report again before the next scheduled general election in May 2024. (Which is slightly galling for your columnist, because the public inquiry accepted my counter-proposal for those boundaries.)

The new review

Following their election victory in December 2019, the Conservatives have passed some tweaks to the current boundary review which is due to report in 2023. The reduction to 600 seats is gone; the Commission is now able to take account of new ward boundaries which had been finalised by December 2020 but are yet to be used in an election; the 5% tolerance remains. Because of the tolerance requirement, we are going to see a number of seats crossing county boundaries and many more seats crossing London and metropolitan borough boundaries than previously. The "Devonwall" seat which has caused an awful lot of grief at the last two reviews is no longer necessary, but we are likely to see:
- a seat in the Morecambe Bay area containing parts of Lancashire and Cumbria
- at least one seat crossing the Wirral/Cheshire boundary
- a seat crossing the Staffordshire/West Midlands boundary, probably in the Dudley area
- a Warwickshire seat containing all of Staffordshire
- a seat crossing the boundary between Berkshire and one of its neighbouring counties (probably Hampshire)
- a seat crossing the boundary between Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire
- a seat crossing the boundary between Suffolk and either Essex or Norfolk.

The 5% tolerance is going to cause issues all over the place. In the metropolitan borough of Wigan, the current Makerfield (74,400) and Wigan (75,607) seats are within the required tolerance, but the Leigh constituency (77,416) is 354 voters over the upper limit. This can be fixed, but the least disruptive fix involves transferring the two wards covering Golborne and Lowton (19,091 electors) from the Leigh seat into the Makerfield seat while Hindley and Hindley Green (18,422 electors) go the other way; that's a minimum of 37,513 electors moved between constituencies to fix one seat being 354 voters too large.

And no doubt this sort of thing will be repeated in future reviews. We will see more disruption caused by perfectly reasonable seats falling narrowly out of tolerance. The cross-county seats are unlikely to be popular and unlikely to last very long, as populations continue to move and entitlements change.

In the meantime, the Boundary Commissions are hard at work on their provisional proposals. The English Commission is hoping to be able to open consultation in the early summer, with public hearings scheduled for early 2022. This column awaits the initial report with interest and your columnist will certainly be making representations about his own area. Hopefully you will do so too.

Andrew Teale


Tales of tight contests, among other things

Back in the day, the Guinness Book of Records was a serious reference book whose annual editions were eagerly awaited by collectors. For many years it had a record for "Closest election", which cited the Zanzibari general election of January 1961.

There are some problems with this claim. Let me explain.

Zanzibar is a series of islands off the east coast of Africa, which have been a major trading centre for millennia: the name is not Swahili but Persian, and the islands have been ruled at various times by Portugal and Oman. A power struggle after the death of the Omani sultan Said bin Sultan in 1856 resulted - after some arbitration from the British - in a division of his former territories, with Zanzibar becoming a separate principality under Sultan Majid bin Said.

Zanzibar's economy at the time was based on trading, cash crops, spices, all manner excellence of ivory, slaves; and the souls of men. The slavery bit was a particular problem for the British, who got their heads together with the Germans (the nearest colonial power) to restrict the sultans' power on the mainland, and used the threat of Royal Navy blockades to force a series of anti-slavery treaties on the Zanzibari rulers.

The eventual result of this was a treaty signed in Berlin in 1890 between the British and the German Empire. The Germans did well out of the arrangement: they gained a strip of land giving German South-West Africa access to the Zambezi River (known as the Caprivi Strip after the then Chancellor of Germany, Leo von Caprivi), the North Sea island of Heligoland, and the rights to the East African coast around Dar es Salaam. In return for this Britain got control of a small sultanate on what's now the Kenyan coast, and a free hand in Zanzibar. The British immediately declared Zanzibar to be a British protectorate, remaining under the sovereignty of the newly-succeeded Sultan Ali bin Said. Ali was made a knight of the Star of India, as was his successor Hamad bin Thuwaini who ascended the throne in 1893.

Hamad's sudden death on 25 August 1896, aged 39, forced a change in Zanzibar's governance. The accusation was that he had been poisoned by his cousin Khalid bin Barghash, who immediately installed himself as the new Sultan. That didn't go down well with the British, who didn't like Khalid and wanted Hamoud bin Muhammed to inherit instead. Khalid hadn't fulfilled his treaty requirements and sought permission from the British consul to succeed to the sultanate, and this gave the British the excuse to declare war.

The Anglo-Zanzibar War has gone down in the annals of history (and the Guinness Book of Records) as the shortest recorded war of all time. The Royal Navy opened fire at 9:02am on 27 August 1896; by 9:40am the war was over with the palace and harem severely damaged and the Zanzibari royal yacht Glasgow sunk. And that was pretty much the end of resistance to British influence in Zanzibar.

In 1957 the British introduced a limited form of democratic government to Zanzibar, with popular elections for six of the eighteen seats on an expanded Legislative Council. East Africa's first democratic election was held in July 1957, with a turnout of 90% of a very restricted franchise (only around one in seven Zanzibaris had the right to vote). Five of those seats went to the Afro-Shirazi Party, a Marxist-Leninist group, with the other going to the Muslim Association party dominated by the islands' Indian minority.

This experiment in democracy was seen as rather flawed, and reforms were quickly introduced to greatly expand the franchise and the size of the Legislative Council, which was increased to 22 seats elected from single-member constituencies. A new election on these lines was scheduled for 17 January 1961.

This was the poll listed in the Guinness Book of Records. Third place went to the Zanzibar and Pemba People's Party, an ASP splinter group which polled 18% of the vote and won three seats. Second place went to the Zanzibar Nationalist Party, which had been shut out in the 1957 election, polling 39% and winning 9 seats. The winner of the election, with 43% of the vote and 10 seats, was the Afro-Shirazi Party; their tenth seat, in the constituency of Chake-Chake on Pemba Island, was won with 1,538 votes against 1,537 for the Zanzibar Nationalist Party, a majority of one vote.

A lead of one seat won by a majority of one vote. You can see why Guinness were impressed. However, from what happened next it became clear that the Afro-Shirazi Party had not in fact won the election. They were the largest party on a hung council, two seats away from a majority, with the three Zanzibar and Pemba People's Party members holding the balance of power. Two of them pledged their allegiance to the Zanzibar Nationalist Party and just one to the Afro-Sharizo Party, which left the Legislative Council deadlocked with each bloc on 11 seats.

A fresh election had to be held in June 1961, with a 23rd constituency added to break the deadlock. On a turnout of 96.5% that election resulted in a coalition government of the Zanzibar Nationalist Party and the Zanzibar and Pemba People's Party which between them controlled 13 seats. The Afro-Shirazi Party, despite polling an absolute majority of the votes, won only 10 seats and was shut out.

The ZNP/ZPPP alliance moved to consolidate its hold on power, and greatly increased its majority at an early general election in 1963 held on new and gerrymandered lines: the Afro-Shirazi Party, despite polling 54% of the vote, won just 13 seats out of a possible 31. This led to some social and ethnic tensions, as the government was dominated by Zanzibar's Arab and South Asian minorities. The government successfully negotiated independence from the UK, and the British protectorate was lifted in December 1963 with Zanzibar becoming a constitutional monarchy under the Sultan.

Not for long. An ASP-led revolution overthrew the Sultan, the government and the entire ruling class in January 1964. The new ASP régime sought a merger with Tanganyika on the mainland, and the new country of Tanzania was born in April 1964.

In terms of close elections, can we do better than this? Yes, we can. Let me transfer the scene from sunny Zanzibar to sunny Scunthorpe. We have come to the district of North Lincolnshire, which was created in 1996 when the unloved county of Humberside was abolished. Before then the area had been covered by the borough of Scunthorpe, the rural Glanford district which entirely surrounded Scunthorpe, and the Boothferry district whose largest urban centre was Goole but which included the Isle of Axholme. Scunthorpe council was solidly Labour as you might expect; Glanford council often had Conservative majorities but had fallen into No Overall Control at the 1991 election.

The first election to North Lincolnshire council had taken place in 1995, at the lowest point of the Major government, and was a big win for the Labour party which won 35 seats to just 7 for the Conservatives. A Tory revival in 1999 reduced the majority to 23-19. New lines were brought in for the 2003 election, reducing the council size from 42 seats to 41 and creating a new ward called Broughton and Appleby, based on the town of Broughton and a series of villages on Ermine Street, to the east of Scunthorpe.

The 2003 North Lincolnshire election was even closer than the famous January 1961 Zanzibar election. Across the district the Conservative party polled the most votes, 41.1%; Labour were in second with 40.3%. In Burton upon Stather and Winterton ward - a large rural ward north of Scunthorpe along the south bank of the Humber and the east bank of the Trent, and including the ill-fated chemical plant and Flixborough - Labour won two seats, with the lead Conservative candidate Helen Rowson defeating the third Labour candidate Sylvia Hotchin for the third and final seat by 1873 votes to 1872, a majority of one vote. In Broughton and Appleby ward the Tories' Arthur Bunyan won the first of the two seats comfortably; the second Conservative candidate Ivan Glover defeated the lead Conservative candidate Kenneth Edgell by 1083 votes to 1082, a majority of one vote. Those two seats brought the Conservatives to 21 councillors against 20 for Labour: an absolute majority of one seat resting on two separate majorities of one vote. Take that, Zanzibar.

But, like in the Indian Ocean forty-two years previously, that wasn't the end of the story. The Labour Party took the result to the Election Court, which found that there had been irregularities in the Broughton and Appleby count. Specifically, postal votes had been allowed into the count which should have been rejected for not being returned with a valid declaration of identity. The Court couldn't sort out what should have happened, so it voided Ivan Glover's election and ordered a re-run. With control of the council resting on the resulting by-election, held a week before Christmas 2003, Ivan Glover increased his majority from one vote to 101 and Conservative control of North Lincolnshire council was secured.

Ivan Glover had increased his majority in Broughton and Appleby ward at every election since. In 2015 his ward colleague Arthur Bunyan retired and Holly Mumby-Croft took over the seat; the daughter of a Scunthorpe steelworker, Mumby-Croft is now the Conservative MP for Scunthorpe, having gained the seat from Labour in December 2019 on an enormous swing.

Ivan Glover died in January 2020, and Mumby-Croft subsequently resigned from North Lincolnshire council to concentrate on her Parliamentary duties. A by-election for both seats was scheduled for 26th March, but did not take place. Neither did any other by-election on that date or since, or indeed three of the by-elections which I previewed on 19th March.

The reason is, of course, COVID-19, which has forced the effective suspension of our electoral arrangements among so much else. On 14th March 2020 the Government announced that legislation would be brought forward to postpone the May 2020 local elections to May 2021. I wrote a piece that evening (link) explaining some of the problems with this which the implementing legislation would have to resolve. Most (but not all) of these have been duly addressed:

  1. The Lazarus by-elections: These related to vacancies in England which occurred within six months of May 2020 and were being left vacant until then. The snappily-named Local Government and Police and Crime Commissioner (Coronavirus) (Postponement of Elections and Referendums) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 has made clear that these vacancies will now be left vacant to be filled at the May 2021 ordinary elections. Moreover, retrospective protection was given by the Coronavirus Act 2020 and these Regulations to protect Returning Officers against any legal action arising from not holding these or other scheduled polls in the period March 2020 to May 2021 (in ordinary circumstances this is breach of official duty, an electoral offence for which the penalty is an unlimited fine).
  2. The democratic deficit: Local government reorganisation went ahead in Buckinghamshire on 1 April as scheduled and it looks like the interim council is indeed going to last until May 2021. The reorganisation in Northamptonshire, scheduled for April 2021, is yet to be sorted out; the most logical route would be to set up interim councils for April-May 2021, on similar lines to Buckinghamshire, to fill in the gap between the abolition of the present Northamptonshire councils in April 2021 and the first elections to the new councils in May 2021.
  3. The boundary changes: These have been postponed to 2021 along with the elections. That could cause some interesting difficulties for the 2021 census; no date has yet been set for this as far as I can tell, but census night is usually in March or April.
  4. The casual vacancies: All council by-elections in England are postponed to May 2021 by the above Regulations. The devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland (and Northern Ireland, although council by-elections there are rarer than hen's teeth) still need to make separate provision for their areas; if they do anything different this column will report back.

So that's everything that Andrew's Previews normally writes about gone, with two exceptions. One is the City of London Corporation, which is outside the normal local government legislative structure and seems to have been overlooked by the drafters of the Coronavirus Act. The City Remembrancer may well prove to have dropped the ball on that one. There are no vacancies on the Court of Common Council at the moment, but the Aldermanic bench is a different matter: David Graves, Alderman for Cripplegate ward, is due for re-election in June at the end of his second six-year term. Baroness Scotland of Asthal, Alderman for Bishopsgate ward, is also due for re-election this year but that can wait until December, by which time the worst of this may (touch wood) be well in the past. The next Common Council elections in the City are due in March 2021, and there are apparently no plans to postpone those at this stage.

The other exception is Parliamentary by-elections, and that has been thrown into sharp relief with news of the hospitalisation of the Prime Minister and the MP for Rochdale. Parliamentary by-elections in these circumstances are the last thing this column wants to be writing about, and I'm sure all readers will join your columnist in sending best wishes for a full and swift recovery to Boris Johnson, Tony Lloyd, and indeed any other parliamentarian who may have the bad luck to come down with this disease in future.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 is a disease which wreaks the greatest havoc upon the demographic who tend to serve in our council chambers. The coronavirus death toll already includes several local councillors. The Times this week profiled Slough councillor Shabnum Sadiq, a 39-year-old mother of five (including four quadruplets), who went to Pakistan in early March to attend a wedding and never came back. This column is also aware of COVID or its complications having taken from us the chairman of Ashfield council Anthony Brewer, veteran Rushmoor councillor Frank Rust and Sheffield councillor Pat Midgley. That list is almost certainly not final.

This edition of Andrew's Previews is almost certainly not final either. Normal life will come back at some point, even if I have no by-election material to write about for the next thirteen months. The day will come when this column can once again talk about all the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order. I have some ideas for pieces to keep us going through the lean times, and my Twitter is always open if you have suggestions for material or interesting pieces. Take care, and I shall see you soon.

Andrew Teale


The 2020 local elections have been postponed - here's what that means

14 March, 2020| Local Elections

The 2020 local elections have been postponed – here’s what that means


Andrew Teale, the Britain Elects Previewer, offers his analysis of the implications and pitfalls of postponing the 2020 local elections


It’s time to talk about the horrible thing that is dominating the news agenda worldwide. Coronavirus. To quote from the BBC today:

Coronavirus: English local elections postponed for a year

Local and mayoral elections in England will be postponed for a year to May 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Downing Street said it would be impractical to hold the elections as planned, as they would come during the peak of the spread of the virus.

Polls were due in 118 English councils, the London Assembly and for seven English regional mayors.

Voting was also due to take place for the London mayor and police and crime commissioners in England and Wales.

The BBC has carefully chosen its wording here. The May 2020 local elections in England and Wales almost certainly will be postponed, but as of this writing that hasn’t happened yet. The Cabinet Office and the Welsh Government need to bring forward emergency legislation to that effect, which will need to be done in some haste and will almost certainly have no problem getting through Parliament or the Senedd. Given the public health crisis sweeping the UK and indeed the world, this is not controversial stuff.

That doesn’t mean it’s simple. In this article I want to set out some of the potential pitfalls and explain why this is not going to be a simple one-line bill.

Setting the scene: the normal rules

“In every year after 1974 the ordinary day of election of councillors shall be the same for all local government areas in England and Wales and shall be the first Thursday in May or such other day as may be fixed by the Secretary of State by order made not later than 1st February in the year preceding the first year in which the order is to take effect.”

That was section 43 of the Local Government Act 1972, the omnibus piece of legislation which set up local government in England and Wales as we know it today. For an Act which in its original form sprawled over 464 pages, section 43 is pretty short: it fixes the date in simple terms and sets up a mechanism for changing it by ministerial order if this is thought necessary.

Section 43 has since been replaced by the Representation of the People Act 1983, which consolidated all the earlier pieces of electoral law for Great Britain into one document. In the 1983 Act this appears as section 37(1) in essentially the same form.

General postponements of local elections

There have been five occasions since 1974 when local elections have been subject to a general postponement. None of them have involved a ministerial order under section 37 of the 1983 Act. The text effectively imposes a fifteen-month deadline on changing local election dates by order, and politicians can’t think that far in advance. (Can you?)

Moreover, there are problems with section 37 other than the deadline. The 1983 Act was passed into law at a much simpler time when there were only elections to Parliament, local councils and that newfangled thing called the European Parliament. Since then we have had all sorts of constitutional innovations: devolution to Wales and London, the establishment of the Electoral Commission, mayors of districts and boroughs, regional and metro mayors, police and crime commissioners, newfangled electoral systems, extensions to the franchise, you name it. All of that has to be bolted onto the 1983 Act which now has so many extensions that the structure is starting to sag under its own weight. (The bit of the Act relating to electoral registration originally had six sections numbered 8 to 13; legislation.gov.uk now lists 26 sections with an alphabet soup of suffix letters, and I’m not convinced that that list is up to date.)

Somehow, section 37(1) has managed to escape this expansion in several important respects. Most importantly, local elections in Wales are now a devolved matter but section 37 hasn’t been updated to reflect this. Moreover, the minister making a section 37 order doesn’t have to consult with any of the official bodies which might have an interest (like the Welsh Government and the Electoral Commission), nor are section 37 orders subject to any form of Parliamentary control as far as I can tell. One gets the impression that the whole process has simply lapsed into obsolescence because nobody has ever used it.

Instead, general postponements of local elections have come about under other powers. The first general postponement of recent years was in 1986, when Thursday 1st May was the last day of the Jewish religious festival of Passover; a clause was included in the Representation of the People Act 1985, a bill which made various changes to electoral law, to provide that the 1986 local elections would take place instead on Thursday 8th May. This hit the statute book in July 1985, so there was plenty of notice.

The third, fourth and fifth general postponements of recent years took place in 2004, 2009 and 2014 respectively in order that the local council and European Parliament elections could coincide and benefit from increased turnout. The 2004 postponement was made by orders under the Local Government Act 2003; it was clearly seen as a success because a permanent procedure was then brought in as sections 37A and 37B of the 1983 Act. Section 37A (for England) and 37B (for Wales) orders only apply to European Parliament election years, and have to be made six months in advance. Because of that the local elections of last year were not postponed to coincide with the 2019 European Parliament elections, which were organised in the UK at the last possible moment by which point the six-month deadline was long gone. Following Brexit this process will not be used again, although for technical reasons sections 37A and 37B are still on the statute book for the time being.

The second general postponement came in very similar circumstances to those we find ourselves in now with a public health emergency: not for humans, but for livestock. The first half of 2001 saw a major outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease leading to severe movement restrictions in the British countryside, with disinfectant everywhere and animal funeral pyres that could be seen from space. The countryside was most definitely closed and an election in these circumstances was inadvisable. The result was a piece of emergency legislation, the Elections Act 2001, which postponed the local elections that year from 3rd May to 7th June. By the time this hit the statute book on 10th April the election process was well underway and the candidate lists for 3rd May had come out, so special provision had to be made. (Specifically, nominations for the 3rd May election were held good for the new date, notices of uncontested election were revoked, and the campaign spending limits were increased by 50%.)

Other postponements

There are other circumstances in which you can postpone an election. The most common reason is that one of the candidates dies after being nominated but before the result is declared. At every year’s local elections there are a handful of wards where this happens, and a postponement for this reason has happened twice this century at general elections: in South Staffordshire in 2005, and in Thirsk and Malton in 2010. Sir Patrick Cormack, who was the Tory MP for South Staffordshire at the relevant time, was rather worried by the episode: he sponsored an amendment to the parliamentary elections rules which provides that in some circumstances elections can proceed to polling with a deceased candidate on the ballot paper. The Cormack amendment, however, doesn’t apply to English and Welsh local elections. Postponements for this reason can happen at any time up to and including polling day.

There is one very unusual recent case of an election being called off by legal action. At the start of 2018 Steve Jones, an independent member of Wigan council in Greater Manchester, submitted a postdated resignation letter to the council and then withdrew it before the date on the letter. The Wigan council chief executive, however, had decided that postdating a resignation letter wasn’t possible under local government law and declared Jones’ seat vacant straight away. Jones took the council to judicial review, and the High Court ruled that he had not resigned and the seat was not vacant, issuing an injunction to stop the resulting by-election on the day before polling day (Andrew’s Previews 2018, pages 84-87). Steve Jones still sits on Wigan council today; he was due for re-election in two months’ time.

The High Court taketh away but it also giveth. Another bizarre case occurred in 2010, when the Brown government in its final days had approved a plan to give unitary status to the cities of Exeter and Norwich. As part of that process the Exeter and Norwich city council elections in May 2010 were cancelled, with councillors’ terms extended to 2011 when a whole council election was intended to be held. The incoming Coalition government quickly cancelled the unitary plans, resulting in a High Court ruling that the order cancelling the May 2010 elections in Exeter and Norwich was void, and the councillors elected in May 2006 had finished their terms in May 2010. Given that by now we were in July, suddenly a third of those cities’ councillors were out of office. Extraordinary elections had to be held in both cities in September to fill the vacancies. There was, however, good news for the Lib Dems’ Tim Payne, who had won a by-election to Exeter’s Pennsylvania ward in May 2010; the High Court decided that was in fact an ordinary election and upgraded his term of office to a full four years.

All election rules provide for the poll in an election to be adjourned to the following day in case of rioting at a polling station, although thankfully I’m not aware of any recent instance where this has actually happened. There’s no other force majeure way of adjourning a poll; in case of fire, flood, severe weather or natural disaster the polling station is expected to stay open for business regardless.

There is one other scenario which, although severely tasteless even to contemplate, may happen sooner or later (hopefully later) and needs careful planning for when it occurs. If a Demise of the Crown were to occur during a general election campaign, then the poll is postponed by fourteen calendar days (or to the next working day if that’s a bank holiday). There’s no equivalent of this rule for local elections or any by-election. This needs sorting out so that returning officers have some guidance on what to do in this circumstance, and it preferably needs sorting out before Operation London Bridge has to commence.

Problem 1: the Lazarus by-elections

Now I turn to some specific problems which the parliamentary drafters will need to overcome for the forthcoming emergency legislation. In the previous section I mentioned the aborted local government reforms in Exeter and Norwich; another recent local government reform has created an important precedent.

Claudia Webb (who should not be confused with the recently-elected Labour MP with a very similar name) had been elected in 2014 as a member of Weymouth and Portland council. She resigned in December 2017, which was within six months of the scheduled end of her term in May 2018; accordingly the six-month rule applied and her seat was to be left vacant. However, because of the structural changes in Dorset the May 2018 council elections in Weymouth and Portland were subsequently cancelled, and the terms of councillors elected in 2014 were extended to 2019. This extension meant that the six-month rule no longer applied, and a by-election was duly held for Webb’s seat.

This is a precedent which the emergency legislation will need to address in a way that – because of the length of the postponement – wasn’t necessary in 2001. There are currently twenty-one vacancies which are covered by the six-month rule because the original office-holders were due for re-election in May 2020. A year’s postponement would mean that the six-month rule falls away and make it possible to call by-elections for them.

That’s going to cause a major problem, because two of those vacancies are police and crime commissionerships. Tha PCC for Durham died at the end of last year, and the PCC for Cambridgeshire resigned under a cloud last November as I related on Andrew’s Previews a few weeks back. Taking these vacancies out of the protection given by the six-month rule would trigger the absurd and, in this case, arguably dangerous legal procedure for police and crime commissioner by-elections, which have to be held within 35 working days of the vacancy occurring. This is clearly counter to the point of the emergency legislation.

Problem 2: the democratic deficit

Durham and Cambridgeshire aren’t the only areas which give specific problems. There is local government reform in the works for Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire. A year’s postponement causes problems for both of these.

In the case of Buckinghamshire, the county and district councils are due for abolition at the end of this month. The intention was that a new Buckinghamshire council would be elected in May, and to fill the gap between the end of March and the beginning of May all of the county’s district and county councillors would join together in a shadow council. The abolition process is probably too far advanced to halt now – apart from anything else, the council tax bills have already gone out for next year – but the shadow Buckinghamshire council wasn’t intended to be anything other than short-term and extending its lifespan from one month to thirteen is very suboptimal. Apart from anything else, there is no provision for filling casual vacancies on it, nor (given that all the old wards and divisions will disappear along with the old councils) is there any obvious way in which that could be done.

Northamptonshire has a different problem. The May elections here were intended to be for brand-new shadow councils of North Northants and West Northants, which would take up their full roles in April 2021 when the county and district councils in Northamptonshire are due to be abolished. The postponement of the May 2020 elections to May 2021 would, unless something changes, leave the county without any elected local government at all for April 2021.

Problem 3: the boundary changes

The Local Government Boundary Commission for England is constantly beavering away to keep the country’s ward map in good order. There are several councils in England which, as a result of the LGBCE’s work, were due for boundary changes this year. What was supposed to be the final piece of the puzzle turned up only last week, when the electoral changes order for Pendle passed into law. This and all the other electoral changes orders due for implementation this year are going to need amendment, because they all have hardcoded into them “the ordinary day of election of councillors in 2020” which now seems unlikely to happen.

Problem 4: the casual vacancies

This column is aware of forty-seven casual vacancies in local government which were not covered by the six-month rule. 22 of these have dates already scheduled, including four next Thursday, with most of the rest likely being held back for combination with the May 2020 ordinary elections. A decision needs to be taken as to what to do with these – whether to let them run as scheduled or, given the public health emergency, to postpone to some point in the future. If so, how do you do that while being fair to the candidates? That’s a question the drafters may have to address.

Issues for 2021

The May 2020 local elections were already looking pretty big. In between the Mayor and Assembly elections in London, the mayoral election in Greater Manchester, the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in the rest of England and Wales, various mayoral posts and 118 local councils, all parts of England and Wales were due to be going to the polls. For 2021 you can add to that the English county councils and the Scottish and Welsh Parliament elections. These are going to be big elections, with many electors having multiple ballot papers, and will be complicated to administer and count.

This is a particular problem in London, where the normal count venues for the mayor and assembly elections – ExCeL, Olympia and Alexandra Palace – may not be available for the revised dates even with a year’s notice. The mayor and assembly elections have always been counted electronically, as no-one involved believes that a traditional hand-count would be feasible. In the short-term, trying to get out of arrangements with the counting machine supplier and three of the biggest and most expensive exhibition centres in the country may prove very costly for the GLA’s returning officer.

One final issue to address is what happens after 2021. Councillors’ terms are four years unless specified otherwise, so if the intention is to go back to the current electoral cycle then it would follow that the district and borough councillors returned in 2021 would only serve three-year terms. There could also be issues for the metro mayors. A decision on this will need to be made.

None of this is to say that postponing the May 2020 local elections is the wrong decision. We are where we are; you don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept that life can’t go on as it is at least in the short term. For the moment I still have my health; for how long, who knows?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to work out what to do with the Bolton quiz leagues.

Andrew Teale


Authorities to keep an eye on in LE2018

3 May, 2018| Local Elections

Authorities to keep an eye on in LE2018


Hey - you! Stop focusing on Westminster.


Today polls across London and much of urban England open in what looks set to be an interesting smorgasburg of local elections. Below I’ve taken a look at a number of authorities worth keeping an eye on as the night progresses.

Plymouth

2014: Con 30.3%; Lab 30.8%; LDem 0.9%; UKIP 31.1%
Seats up: Con 9; Lab 7; UKIP 3

Labour is no stranger to having a majority in Plymouth. Conservative until 2012 and Labour until 2015, the city went hung and then came back to the Tories with the defection of three UKIP councillors. Labour are hopeful of taking back control through the three seats they lost to UKIP in 2014, and what with being behind in all of them by a few hundred votes, a Labour gain in Plymouth seems almost certain.

The Tories, like UKIP, also seem to be the ones at risk of falling back this year, with Budshead ward, a seat won from Labour in 2014 thanks to what appears to have been vote splitting by the purples (Con 35%; Lab 31%; UKIP 32%), also at risk of being repainted red.

Dudley

2014: Con 29.1%; Lab 32.1%; LDem 0.9%; UKIP 32.4%
Seats up: Con 7; Lab 7; UKIP 10

The Conservatives performed admirably in both Dudley constituencies last year, boosting their vote share in June by 16pts in the north (Lab held) and 13pts in the south (Con held). With seven UKIP seats at threat of being lost (though I understand they still have a very active operation in the borough) and a history of the Tories being serious competitors, notably topping the poll every time the council went to the electorate in the previous decade, it’s understandable the blues are bullish about becoming the largest party here, if not taking overall control. Though they technically already govern the authority with tacit support from the Kippers, this is one to keep an eye on.

It should also be worth keeping a a lookout for the performance of the now suspended Conservative candidate for Cradley & Wollescote ward…

Birmingham

2014: Con 22.7%; Lab 43.7%; LDem 14.7%; UKIP 13.6%; Grn 3.4%
Seats up: Con 29; Lab 80; LDem 10; Ind 1

Though playing host to a Conservative mayor for the West Midlands region, Birmingham is unlikely to see much headway by the Tories this year. The success of said mayor more so appears to have been a consequence of personality politics, a Labour party sitting at 25 per cent in the polls nationally and UKIP votes from the Black Country. A poor performance by the Tories in the city last June put paid to the idea of Birmingham being fertile ground outside Sutton Coldfield.

Following boundary changes, 101 seats are up for grabs and Conservative losses appear probable. It is understood the leader of their group, representing a ward in Erdington, is in for the fight of his political life. I hear Tory activists too are worried about their seats in Edgbaston and Northfield. Labour hegemony will likely continue.

Trafford

2014: Con 38.8; Lab 38.2; LDem 7.8; UKIP 5.9; Grn 9.2
Seats up: Con 12; Lab 9; LDem 1

On paper Trafford should be an easy win for Labour but the Tories have a history of over-performing in local elections here. Altrincham and Sale West, the constituency which covers much of the borough, is one of the rare 28 seats in Britain to have seen the Tories suffer a fall in vote share last June.

The two seats which represent the Davyhulme area, generally reliably Conservative, are understood to be both at risk and a target of Labour’s. With only a majority of two, the Tories shouldn’t be surprised at losing control of this borough, though do stay up to see whether they will have as bad a night as losing largest party status to Labour…

Stockport

2014: Con 23.2; Lab 29.2; LDem 26.1; UKIP 13.3; Grn 4.2
Seats up: Con 4, Lab 7, LDem 9; Ind 1

No party will attain a majority in Stockport so long as the authority remains split three ways, and there is no impression of any party at risk of losing — or gaining — much ground. Labour are competitive in Offerton ward, particularly with the Lib Dem incumbent standing down, but unless there’s a seismic loss of support for either the yellows or blues, little will change: Labour will continue to govern as a minority.

Kirklees

2014: Con 26.9; Lab 38.5; LDem 12.5; UKIP 4.5; Grn 11.8
Seats up: Con 7; Lab 10; LDem 5; Grn 1; Ind 1

and…

Calderdale

2014: Con 30.1; Lab 33.0; LDem 12.4; UKIP 11.1; Grn 6.9
Seats up: Con 6; Lab 9; LDem 1; Ind 1

Both authorities are worth watching out for as a barometer of the parties’ performances in the towns of the north, that being Halifax, Dewsbury, Batley and Huddersfield. The Tories are understood to be putting resources into their Calderdale operation but writing off Kirklees; and Labour, following a very poor showing in Calderdale in 2016, are also bullish of making gains. Labour, needing only a net gain of one, seem pretty confident about taking control of Kirklees.

Great Yarmouth

In 2014 UKIP all but swept Great Yarmouth, taking ten seats and leaving the Conservatives to sneak by with two and Labour one. The vote splits had UKIP 41%, Lab 29%, Con 27%.

This year, what with there being little chance of the purples holding the line, we will likely see the Tories consolidate their position as the majority party on the authority. The borough’s constituency MP Brandon Lewis last year saw his vote improve 11pts on 2015, with UKIP’s falling 17pts and Labour’s up 7pts.

Basildon

2014: Con 35.0; Lab 20.8; LDem 4.7; UKIP 39.0
Seats up: Con 5; UKIP 10

Basildon stands as one of the few last UKIP strongholds in Britain… or, rather, it was one of the few UKIP strongholds.

The party suffered collapse in the area during the Essex county contests of last year, and there’s yet to be any indication today shan’t be a repeat. What is worth keeping a look-out for however is where UKIP’s votes will go. Basildon once played the part of bellwether constituency in general elections, but now the two seats which represent the town are held by Conservative MPs with majorities north of 20pts, and until 2014 Basildon saw Labour make inroads, with the party in 2012 netting four of 15 seats up for contest.

Thurrock

2014: Con 28.2; Lab 30.0; LDem 2.5; UKIP 39.0
Seats up: Con 5, Lab 6, UKIP 5

Thurrock, on the other hand, down the road on the way to London, is forever a marginal constituency. Another one of UKIP’s former strongholds, it recently saw witness to the local party recently going rogue during the Henry Bolton days and standing as independents.

Conservative (re)gains from UKIP are more likely than Labour gains here, but nothing should be ruled out. With the ‘Thurrock Independents’ throwing a spanner into the works and an ever changing electorate, your guess is as good as mine.

Kingston upon Thames

2014: Con 33.9; Lab 15.8; LDem 26.8; UKIP 11.4; Grn 10.6
Seats up: Con 28; Lab 2; LDem 18

An impressive comeback for the Liberal Democrats last year in Richmond Park and Kingston & Surbiton suggests the party pipping control from the Tories this year is a near certainty. An ever existing Lib Dem local presence in the area and an anti-Brexit backlash from 2015 Tory voters appears to be what’s driving the fightback for the yellows here.

As to how much of a win for the Lib Dems Kingston will give is yet to be seen, but some campaigners on the ground tell me the Tories are on course to lose up to 20 of their 28 seats. I’ll… wait for the results.

Westminster

2014: Con 41.0%; Lab 33.5%; LDem 6.3%; UKIP 3.9%; Grn 13.5%
Seats up: Con 44; Lab 16

Oh boy…

I think it’s a fair assertion that much of the media and ‘online activist’ focus recently has been on the prospect of Labour taking Westminster City Council, an authority that since its creation in 1964 has stayed stoically Conservative.

Labour gains are likely, but to my eye only seem to be guaranteed in the northern half of the authority (such potential already proven by the reds turning Westminster North into a safe seat last June). This wouldn’t be enough to see them take control, however…

As has been attested in previous years in previous contests, the overbearing presence of the personal votes of incumbent councillors impact and often blunt or exaggerate anticipated swings. The Tory councillors in Westminster have proven themselves to outperform their parliamentary equivalents, notionally ‘topping/winning’ that same Westminster North parliamentary area in 2014, and so expected uniform swings to Labour (as the first YouGov poll for the Mile End Institute had suggested) might not be as forthcoming as some may so wish.

The incumbency bonus, however, may not be much of a card available to the Tories this year, for 14 of their 44 councillors will not be contesting their seats, making the route for a Labour win easier, but still in no way certain.

Westminster is one to watch. For Labour to win Westminster will be a symbolic mark on the changing politics of London, be they for reasons of demographics, Brexit, or otherwise.

Wandsworth

2014: Con 39.8%; Lab 32.2%; LDem 7.7%; UKIP 5.7%; Grn 12.6%
Seats up: Con 41, Lab 19

Labour need to make 12 gains from the Tories to take overall control of Wandsworth. Inner London polling puts the borough on a knife-edge of going red, and both Labour and Tory sources tell me the same, that too many wards are too close to call.

For Labour to net the 12 gains needed requires a swing of close to 10pts. The most recent YouGov voting intention has the inner London swing to Labour at around 8pts.

If London voted the same way as it did in the general election, with the same turnout from the same set of demographics, then Wandsworth would most likely go Labour — as would Westminster and Barnet, but this isn’t a general election and turnout across the English authorities is anticipated to be half that of the GE. To give the cop out answer, whichever party turns out their vote best is the party which will win Wandsworth.


Previewing the mayoral contests and council by-elections

Previewing the mayoral and council by-elections for LE2018

by Andrew Teale, 01 May 2018


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

So the ordinary May elections are upon us. I’m not going to try and cover all of the thousands of council seats up for election this year in the Andrew’s Previews series, as I’d never finish such a piece and you’d never read it anyway. Instead I intend to look at a few aspects of the 2018 local elections. This piece will cover the local by-elections in councils which are not holding ordinary local elections this year, together with the mayoral elections; and a companion piece will look in some detail at your columnist’s own county of Greater Manchester.


Sheffield City Region

Let’s start at the top of the pile, shall we? Unquestionably the largest single position being elected this year is the Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, the latest piece of the puzzle in the government’s regional devolution strategy.

This poll was originally supposed to take place last year, but got deferred for a year mainly thanks to disputes over what area the Sheffield City Region should cover. It doesn’t help that Sheffield is hard up against the Yorkshire boundary, and indeed quite a lot of the present Sheffield council area has been annexed from Derbyshire over the years. Pretty much anything in the Sheffield commuter belt south of the city itself is outside Yorkshire.
And that has been the root of the delay. Bassetlaw council in Nottinghamshire and a number of Derbyshire districts had expressed interest in joining the City Region, but Derbyshire county council wasn’t as keen and launched legal action to stop the 2017 election going ahead. The withdrawal of Bassetlaw and the Derbyshire districts has meant that the electors for the Sheffield City Region mayor are only those who live in the four metropolitan boroughs of South Yorkshire.

But even those four boroughs can’t agree on what their devolution deal should look like. Barnsley and Doncaster had expressed support for a devolution arrangement covering the whole of Yorkshire, an idea which also has support from several other Yorkshire councils particularly in West Yorkshire. So it’s quite possible that this mayoral post may not exist for very long at all before it gets subsumed into something bigger.

We wait and see, and in any event it’s unlikely that this election will be an exciting one. There have been three previous elections for a county-wide post in South Yorkshire, all for the Police and Crime Commissioner. The first one was the farcical inaugural PCC election in November 2012, which was noted for its comedy low turnout but still safely returned Labour candidate Shaun Wright in the first round. The English Democrats, who at the time held the Doncaster mayoralty, were a distant second. Wright had come to the police and crime commissionership from Rotherham, where he had been councillor in charge of children’s services; and when the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal broke two years later, he was forced to resign. The resulting by-election in October 2014 elected Labour candidate Alan Billings, a priest and former deputy leader of Sheffield council, in the first round, with UKIP second. Revd Billings was safely re-elected for a full term in 2016, polling 52% to 20% for UKIP and 11% for the Conservatives.

The 2017 general election showed yet again that Labour are in the ascendancy across South Yorkshire. For the first time they won all of the county’s constituencies, gaining Sheffield Hallam from Nick Clegg, and polled 57% across the four boroughs to 30% for the Conservatives.

So really the question here is whether the Labour candidate will win in the first round. He is Dan Jarvis, who came to politics from a career in the military. From Sandhurst he was commissioned into the Parachute Regiment, ending with the rank of Major and a military MBE, and served in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan (twice). Jarvis resigned his commission in 2011 when he was selected as Labour candidate for the Barnsley Central by-election, after former MP Eric Illsley was convicted of fraud charges arising from the Parliamentary expenses scandal. By this time Jarvis’ first wife had died from cancer at the age of just 43, leaving him as a single parent of two children.

Jarvis rose up the parliamentary ranks even more quickly than he had done in the Army; within a year of his election he was in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet, and there was speculation that he would stand for the Labour leadership in the 2015 election. In the event, Jarvis decided to put his family first (by now he had remarried and had a young child with his second wife) and endorsed Andy Burnham. Fat lot of good that did him, and Jarvis has not featured in Corbyn’s shadow cabinets. With his career stalled at Westminster, presumably Jarvis feels that being a regional mayor – even with the currently proposed mayoral position being a bit of a non-job – would be a better use of his skills. If elected he intends to combine the mayoral job with his Westminster duties.

With UKIP not standing the main challenge to Jarvis is likely to come from the Conservative candidate Ian Walker. He is a businessman who runs an engineering firm in Sheffield, and this is his third go at running for county-wide office: Walker was the Tory candidate for South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner in the 2014 by-election and in 2016, either side of fighting Sheffield Hallam in the 2015 general election.

Five other candidates are on the ballot paper: Hannah Kitching for the Liberal Democrats, David Allen for the English Democrats, Mick Bower for the Yorkshire Party, Naveen Judah for an outfit called “South Yorkshire Save Our NHS”, and the Greens’ Robert Murphy.

This by-election will be combined with elections to two of the four South Yorkshire boroughs: Doncaster council was moved away from thirds elections in an attempt to combat longstanding political dysfunctionality, while Rotherham suffered the same fate after the child sexual exploitation scandal revealed that the council, to put it charitably, hadn’t been paying attention to what was going on in their bailiwick. The Commissioners which central government sent in after the scandal are still there and still running Rotherham’s children’s services. That leaves Sheffield city council and Barnsley council electing a third of their councillors; despite a local controversy in Sheffield over extensive tree-felling, in neither of those councils do Labour look under serious threat of losing their majority.

South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner elections

David Allen (EDP)
Mick Bower (Yorks Party)
Dan Jarvis (Lab)
Naveen Judah (S Yorks Save Our NHS)
Hannah Kitching (LD)
Robert Murphy (Grn)
Ian Walker (C)

May 2016 result Lab 144978 UKIP 57062 C 29904 LD 28060 EDP 19114
October 2014 by-election Lab 74060 UKIP 46883 C 18536 EDP 8583
November 2012 result Lab 74615 EDP 22608 C 21075 UKIP 16773 LD 10223

Other mayoral elections

Five local government mayors are up for re-election this year. The stand-out one to watch is Watford, where Baroness Thornhill is standing down after four terms of office. Despite the Lib Dems’ travails nationally they are strong in Watford at local level. Thornhill was re-elected in 2014 for her final term by defeating Labour 65-35 in the runoff; in the 2016 local elections the Lib Dems won 25 seats to 11 for Labour, and polled 39% to 26% for Labour and 20% for the Conservatives, who won nothing. Councillor Peter Taylor is the new Liberal Democrat candidate, 2014 runner-up and Labour candidate Cllr Jagtar Singh Dhindsa tries again, and the Conservatives have selected George Jabbour.

The other four mayoral elections on 3rd May are in Greater London and are all Labour defences. Tower Hamlets is probably the one to keep an eye on, just to see what shenanigans happen this time. Labour’s John Biggs, who won the mayoral by-election in 2015 after Lutfur Rahman was unseated by the Election Court for a corrupt 2014 election campaign, is seeking re-election for a full term. Lutfur Rahman is disqualified from voting or holding elected office until 2020, but the Lutfurites have not gone away. Their candidate Rabina Khan lost the 2015 by-election to Biggs by the relatively narrow margin of 55-45. On the other hand, the Lutfurites have split into two factions: Rabina Khan is trying again with the nomination of PATH, the People’s Alliance of Tower Hamlets, while former deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed is standing for the more hardline Aspire party. Also standing are Anwara Ali for the Conservatives, Ciaran Jebb for the Green Party, Elaine Bagshaw for the Lib Dems and Hugo Pierre with the nomination of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. Those who remember the appalling and embarrassing shambles which was the Tower Hamlets count in 2014 will no doubt be praying, to whatever deity they may believe in, that there will be no repeat this time.

The Newham mayoralty has never been far from political controversy either, but the interesting element of the 2018 Newham election has already happened: outgoing mayor Sir Robin Wales was deselected by Labour, after four terms of office and seven years as council leader before that, in favour of new candidate Rokhsana Fiaz. Described as an East Ender through and through, Fiaz is an outgoing councillor for Custom House ward, and was appointed OBE for her work on race, faith and identity. She will have no problem being elected in this one-party state. The battle for second place looks likely to be won by the Conservatives’ Rahima Khan, a teacher and personal life coach according to her Twitter. Also standing are Gareth Evans for the Lib Dems; Chishala Kumalinga for the evangelical Christian Peoples Alliance, which once had councillors in Newham; and Daniel Oxley for the UKIP splinter Democrats and Veterans Party.

Another four-term mayor standing down – voluntarily this time – is Lewisham‘s Sir Steve Bullock. The new Labour candidate is Damian Egan, who sits in Bullock’s cabinet and is outgoing councillor for Lewisham Central ward; despite therefore being associated with last year’s controversy over compulsory purchase of land around Millwall FC’s stadium he should have little problem being elected. Last time round a close five-way race for second was won by the Conservatives, whose new candidate Ross Archer is a manager at a not-for-profit anti-fraud body. Third place in 2014 went to Duwayne Brooks of the Lib Dems; Brooks has since fallen out with the party and is standing as an independent, while the new Lib Dem candidate is Chris Maines who had several goes at gaining the Orpington parliamentary seat back in the 90s and 00s before finally giving up. Maines was the Lib Dem candidate for Lewisham mayor in 2010, finishing second and taking Bullock to a runoff; these are probably less propitious times for him. Completing this year’s Lewisham mayoral candidates are John Coughlin for the Green Party, John Hamilton for the local left-wing group Lewisham People Before Profit, and Democrats and Veterans candidate Will Donnelly.

Finally, outgoing Hackney mayor Philip Glanville should be similarly untroubled; he won a by-election in 2016 after former mayor Jules Pipe left to join Sadiq Khan’s administration in City Hall, and now has the chance to win a full term of his own. Second in the by-election was the Green Party, whose candidate is film and events producer Alastair Binnie-Lubbock. Also standing are Imtiyaz Lunat for the Conservatives, Pauline Pearce for the Liberal Democrats, Harini Iyengar of the Women’s Equality Party and independent candidate Vernon Williams.


Local by-elections

Only 150 of the 400 or so local councils in Great Britain are up for election this year, which means that there are plenty of people in England (not to mention all of Scotland and Wales) who are sitting this round of local elections out. In those councils there are thirteen by-elections, which I’m just going to namecheck here rather than go through in the usual level of detail.

We start with our token northern by-election which is a crucial poll to Cheshire West and Chester council. Labour are defending the Ellesmere Port Town by-election and with it their council majority; they hold 37 seats on the council plus this vacancy to 36 Conservatives and a single independent. Don’t expect a change of control: this is a very deprived and very safe Labour ward which should elect new candidate Mike Edwardson without much trouble.

The other Labour defence in this set of by-elections comes in Leamington Spa, where the Warwickshire county council seat of Leamington Willes is up for election. Former county councillor Matt Western has gone on to greater things by gaining Warwick and Leamington for Labour in last year’s general election; he leaves behind a division covering south-eastern Leam, an area popular with Warwick University students. The student influence can be seen in the fact that the Green Party ran second here in 2017; however, new Labour candidate Helen Adkins should be favoured to hold the seat.

The Conservatives defend two seats in the East Midlands. In Leicestershire we have a by-election for the county council in Stoney Stanton and Croft, a rural division covering much of the area between Leicester and Hinckley. This was very strongly Conservative last year and should be an easy win for new Tory candidate Maggie Wright. Things may be different in the fens of Lincolnshire; the large rural ward of Donington, Quadring and Gosberton in South Holland district has since 2011 split its three seats between two Conservatives and independent councillor Jane King. One of the Tory seats is up in this by-election and the Conservatives’ Sue Wray should be wary of an independent challenge from Terri Cornwell.

As so often seems to happen, the Eastern region of England has turned up with lots of by-elections. Two of these are in Haverhill, to St Edmundsbury council. following the resignations of a husband-and-wife couple of Conservative councillors; this isolated London overspill town in the south-western corner of Suffolk had a very high UKIP vote until not so long ago, but the Kippers’ collapse means that they can’t find candidates here now. Both Haverhill East and Haverhill North split their seats between UKIP and the Tories in 2015; in the absence of the populist right North should be safe enough for Tory candidate Elaine McManus, but in East ward Labour’s Malcolm Smith could be within range of upsetting the defending Conservative Robin Pilley. These may (tempting fate!) be the last by-elections your columnist has to describe for St Edmundsbury district, which is in merger talks with the neighbouring Forest Heath district council.

Another close Tory-Labour contest looks in prospect over the border in Essex. Bocking North split its two Braintree council seats between the two parties in 2015, and it’s the Tory seat that’s up this time. Dean Wallace leads the Tory defence while Labour’s Tony Everard, who lost his seat in 2015, will try to get back. Also in Braintree district, the Conservatives should have less trouble in Hatfield Peverel and Terling ward, a series of villages wrapping around the western side of Witham; James Coleridge leads the defence there.

The only Lib Dem defence in this set is in the Hertfordshire city of St Albans, and it’s an interesting one. We’re in the St Albans North division of Hertfordshire county council, which is a consistent three-way marginal. It voted Lib Dem in 2005 and 2009, was gained by Labour in 2013, and then regained last year by the Lib Dems who defeated Labour by 71 votes and beat the Tories by 436 votes. That was a good Liberal Democrat performance considering that the party polled poorly in the two St Albans district council wards covering this area in 2016: Batchwood is looking safe for Labour now while Marshalswick South now has a full slate of Tory councillors (and some very expensive housing to boot). Karen Young defends the seat for the Liberal Democrats, and is challenged by two local district councillors. Batchwood’s Roma Mills is the former Labour county councillor seeking to get her seat back; Mills is also up for re-election to the district council this year, giving her two chances to win or lose. On the Tory side, their candidate is Marshalswick South ward councillor, and former Mayor of St Ablans, Salih Gaygusuz; as the name might suggest, he is Turkish-born.

Moving into the South East proper, your columnist had a bit of a rant at Aylesbury Vale council a few weeks back after they put the notices for a couple of district by-elections on their website, but only to people who had registered for an online account with the council. I invited Aylesbury Vale to get in touch and claim their certificate for a useless council website. Fair play to them, they got in touch with me and apologised, and as a result I agreed to suspend the issue of the certificate pending publication of notices for the Quainton by-election. I am pleased to report that the council webmasters have got it right this time, and there will be no further action.

Quainton ward itself is a series of villages in northern Buckinghamshire, a long way from anywhere of note. Nevertheless this was once bizarrely an outpost of the London Underground network, whose Quainton Road station is now preserved as a museum. The ward is of course safe Conservative; although their candidate Steven Walker is the only nominee who does not live in the ward he should have little trouble holding the seat.

For our other by-election in the South East we are going offshore to the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. The electors of Sheppey East ward are in the villages of Eastchurch, Warden and Leysdown-on-Sea at the eastern end of the island, and I have to be specific in referring to “electors” here because the ward also includes a number of large prisons. Sheppey East split its two seats in 2015 between the Conservatives and UKIP, and the Tory seat is up here. The two frontrunners both have rather androgynous names: Lynd Taylor is hoping that he will defend the Conservative seat, while UKIP have selected Sunny Nissanga to try and make a rare gain.

Our final two by-elections of this set are in the South West, and this is where it gets complicated. We have a poll in Dorset for the Weymouth West ward of Weymouth and Portland council, which has been on your columnist’s list of vacant seats since December but had previously been marked under the heading “no further action” because the outgoing councillor was due for re-election this year. Not so, as it turned out: local government in Dorset is due for reorganisation, and as part of that process the 2018 Weymouth and Portland council elections have been cancelled with councillors’ terms extended to 2019. As a result we are now having a by-election for this vacancy. Just to make things more complicated, Weymouth West is a Tory-Labour marginal but the outgoing councillor, Claudia Webb, had been elected for the Tories before defecting to the Green Party. That puts the Green candidate Val Graves into the defending position; the Tories will want their seat back and have selected Richard Nickinson, while Labour – who won Weymouth West at the most recent district poll in 2016 – have selected David Greenhalf. One to watch, this one.

We finish this preview with a free-for-all on the banks of the Torridge river in the town of Bideford. Bideford East is based on the suburb of East-the-Water together with a number of villages in Bideford’s hinterland. The ward has a complicated political history with independent and Lib Dem candidates having been successful here this century, but in 2015 it elected a Tory and two UKIP candidates. This poll is caused by the death of Sam Robinson, who won a 2014 by-election here as an independent before being re-elected in 2015 on the UKIP ticket; UKIP haven’t nominated anyone to replace him so this by-election will result in a change to the political balance of Torridge council. Given the volatile history of this ward I’d better go through the whole candidate list: James Hellyer is standing for the Conservatives, Anne Brenton for Labour, Pauline Davies and Jude Gubb as independents, Gregory de Freyne-Martin for the Greens and Jamie McKenzie for the Lib Dems. Predictions for this one are best left to the locals.


A further piece of Andrew’s Previews will follow shortly, which will look in detail at my own county of Greater Manchester. Stay tuned for that.


Trees, Grenfell, Anti-Semitism, Windrush, and Voter IDs - All About the Locals

30 April, 2018| Local Elections

Trees, Grenfell, Anti-Semitism, Windrush, and Voter IDs - All About the Locals


3rd May will see the first England-wide test of voter support for the country's political parties since the General Election last June.


Photo: Getty Images

The 3rd of May will see the first England-wide test of voter support for the country’s political parties since the General Election last June. Voters will head to the polls to elect councillors up and down the country, and in six of those areas there will also be mayoral elections. Though the general stories of Labour doing well in cities (particularly London) and with young voters and the Conservatives strengthening their grip on many pro-Brexit heartlands in the North and Midlands will most likely continue, there are many individual contests and battlegrounds with their own unique stories and nuances which may well buck - or exacerbate - the overall trends.

The General Story

Both the Conservatives and Labour look set to be up in terms of vote share on 2014. But while Labour are expected to make a fair amount of seat gains, the Conservatives look set to fall back. Recent polling over the last few days however suggests that the Labour gains may not be so large was anticipated perhaps a couple of weeks ago. Furthermore, though gains do seem likely, Labour might struggle to make a huge impact in terms of taking control (or removing opposition majority control) of local authorities this time around. As Professor Rob Ford pointed out on Saturday, many of the areas up for grabs on Thursday are already dominated by Labour councillors. They are also re-contesting a strong set of results produced by Ed Miliband’s Labour Party in 2014.

That said, there are a few places in which, if Labour are indeed having a good night, they can expect to move into the driving seat and would have cause to celebrate. They will be keeping a close eye on London where, after a strong General Election performance last year, they have some highly ambitious targets - including taking the Conservative controlled boroughs of Wandsworth and Westminster. There may well be further success for the party in other Councils such as Amber Valley, Plymouth, and perhaps North East Lincolnshire and Newcastle-Under-Lyme.

The Conservatives seem set for a quietly disappointing showing, but given the current political climate (and the usual painful nature of local election nights for governing parties) they may be fairly happy with a result of anything around 100 seat losses. They might, if they are able to continue their strong pickup of ex-UKIP voters, even have something to cheer about in places such as Thurrock, Basildon, and Great Yarmouth (seeking overall control in each).

According to forecasts, the Liberal Democrats are expected to, once again, have a frustrating night and make only a handful of limited advances. The may be looking to Maidstone (seeking overall control) and Stockport (seeking to displace Labour) for some good news. London may provide some further encouragement, with the prospect of regaining substantial ground in Richmond (where they were pipped to the post in 2017 by the born-again-Conservative Zac Goldsmith) and Kingston upon Thames on the cards.

UKIP look set for another terrible night. They will, after a rapid two-year decline, fall behind the Greens in terms of council seats in England on Thursday; all but a dreadfully poor night for the Greens, which is not expected, should see them cement 4th place on the English local representation leader board.

Away from the general patterns, there are four stories worth picking out where local factors and controversies could provide some very interesting results and trends.

Trees in Sheffield

Sheffield City Council: Labour control, 30 seat majority, 28 seats up.

Firstly, a significant test of the extent to which voters ‘think local’ in council elections when a scandal is unfolding and ongoing around them. The Labour Administration in Sheffield is currently under huge amounts of scrutiny over their ongoing controversial tree felling programme. Such has been the strength of opposition and controversy that the events have hit national and international headlines. In 2012 the Council contracted a private company, Amey, to cut down over half of the city’s 36,000 trees over a 25-year period as part of a ‘highways improvement’ programme worth £2.2 billion. Needless to say, this has not gone down well with many of the local residents from a city which prides itself on its green credentials. Rallies and marches against the destruction of health street trees have attracted thousands of residents, young and old, and the support of some very high-profile supporters - including Michael Gove, Chris Packham, and Jarvis Cocker.

Opposition parties - namely the Liberal Democrats and Greens - will be seeking to capitalise on local anger and frustration. Intriguingly, in six wards their campaigns will be assisted by a non-partisan campaigning group which was founded this year with the specific aim of putting boots on the ground to unseat Labour incumbents in marginal wards - the “It’s Our City” campaign. Equally, the non-partisan “Sheffield Trees Action Groups” (or STAG) campaign, over 10,000 members strong, are also actively supporting the removal of the current Administration. Labour are mounting a total of 19 defences in Sheffield, meaning that they could theoretically lose control of the council in the face of this widespread opposition. This is however very unlikely, with Labour defending some very friendly (as well as some not so friendly) seats.

A further layer of interest in Sheffield comes from the sole Green seat being defended this year in the city. The current incumbent there is Councillor Alison Teal - one of four Greens on the council. Cllr Teal has a majority of just eight votes, and has been right at the heart of the tree campaign - as well as one of its most vocal critics, she was arrested and then taken to court by her own Council for protesting against a tree felling in her ward (Nether Edge and Sharrow). She was subsequently cleared of any and all wrongdoing. Nether Edge has been the centre of many of the most intense and controversial episodes of the tree felling saga, and so results in Cllr Teal’s leafy city-centre seat as well as other tree felling flash-points of Broomhill and Sharrow Vale, Ecclesall, Gleadless Valley, and the Crookes and Crosspool and Dore and Totley wards (both at the heart of Jared O’Mara’s Sheffield Hallam constituency) will definitely be worth keeping an eye on for an anti-Labour backlash in a city which turned all red only last year.

Grenfell Tower Fallout in Kensington and Chelsea

Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea: Conservative control, 24 seat majority, all seats up.

The story here is of course the political fallout from the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire. With the Public Inquiry ongoing, former Kensington and Chelsea Council leader Nicholas Paget-Brown has already quit and the huge amount of anger, frustration, and shame felt by many residents toward their local leaders is expected to make it a tough night for many Conservatives defending their seats. Indeed, Jeremy Corbyn has made clear his ambition to take the Council away from the Conservatives. That would require them to overturn a 24-seat majority.

Unlikely as that seems, as with the rest of London all of Kensington and Chelsea Council’s seats (50) are up for election, which does increase the possibility of a change of overall control. Furthermore, Labour did pull of quite the shock and take the Kensington constituency from the Conservatives, by a margin of 20 votes, in 2017.

Taking the council may be much more difficult however; by and large, there were not that many wards where Labour were all that close to the Conservatives in 2016, particularly towards the Thames in the South of the borough. Grenfell Tower sits in the Notting Dale ward, where Labour already hold all three council seats by a healthy margin over the Conservatives. Neighbouring wards may though provide the best opportunity for Labour to work toward reducing the Conservative majority. To the north is St. Helen’s ward, where the two parties were neck and neck in 2016 - taking one seat each. That one Conservative seat just over the road from Grenfell would be an obvious first target. Meanwhile, to the South the Conservatives comfortably won both seats in the Norland ward in 2016 but might find themselves in trouble there too if voter anger spills over. Elsewhere, less than 25% swings - not unthinkable given the circumstances - would be required in Chelsea Riverside, Earl’s Court, Pembridge, and Holland in order for Labour to take a potential 10 further seats. If Labour took every Conservative seat in each of the above six wards, they would indeed take control of the Council. Stranger things have happened.

Jewish Populations in Barnet and Bury

Borough of Barnet Council: Conservative control, 2 seat majority, 21 seats up

Borough of Bury Council: Labour control, 8 seat majority, 17 seats up

Labour may well perform substantially under-par on Thursday in Councils such as Barnet and Bury where a number of wards are home to substantial Jewish populations. In fact, the damage and rift caused between Labour and many parts of the Jewish community as the anti-Semitism row continues could cost the party control of Barnet, where a two-seat gain would see them replace the ruling Conservative administration. Taking marginal wards such as Childs Hill and Hale could be crucial to Labour taking overall control, but the seats’ substantial Jewish populations (around 20% according to the 2011 Census) may well stop Labour doing so if the backlash is significant enough.

In Bury, Labour are already in fairly strong control of the council and are defending in some very strong Labour areas. The impact of a reaction to the anti-Semitism row therefore may not be so consequential here. That said, look out for wards such as the ultra-marginal Pilkington Park (Labour less than 1% ahead in 2014, approximately 25% Jewish) and the much more safer seats of Sedgley (approximately one-third Jewish) and St. Mary’s (around 10% Jewish) as potential backlash lightning rods. Relatedly, though Labour are generally already well in control of areas with substantial ethnic minority voter populations, in the wake of the Windrush scandal - which only yesterday claimed the scalp of the Home Secretary - the Conservatives may see below-par performances even by their expected London standards in high-density black voter boroughs such as Lambeth and Lewisham.

Voter ID in Swindon

Swindon Borough Council: Conservative control, 4 seat majority, 19 seats up

Swindon is one of the five areas in which a pilot voter identification scheme will be taking place on Thursday. What makes Swindon stand out is that it is very much a Labour target, and they need only four additional seats to take it (two to become the largest party). It will be interesting to see if turnout is significant affected by the trial, and how many stories come out of registered voters being turned away from polling stations due to a lack of suitable identification. With control of the council in the balance and Labour, then this pilot and its timing could create some controversy if it goes badly. Keep an eye out for results and turnout stories coming in from the Covingham & Dorcan, Haydon Wick, Lydiard & Freshbrook, and Shaw wards, where Labour stand a good chance of making the gains necessary to take control of the Council.