Monday, 20 April 2015

By-election Preview: 16 April 2015

One by-election on 16th April 2015:

Cumbria county council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Mandy Telford.  Your columnist vaguely remembers that Telford was Labour head of the NUS at the time he was trying to study; since then she has married John Woodcock, the Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and had two daughters by him.  Telford's resignation comes as her marriage has broken down and she is returning to her native Scotland.

Delhi Street, Vickerstown
Lancashire over the water here; and very much over the water, as we are on the low-lying Walney Island, the largest English island in the Irish Sea and the eighth largest island in the UK.  The Walney South ward covers everything on the island to the south of the Jubilee Bridge and Central Drive: it includes the settlements of Vickerstown and Tummer Hill, which are essentially extensions of urban Barrow-in-Furness, together with the small farming village of Biggar, while the southern end of the island is a nature reserve used as a stop by a large number of migrating seabirds.  Off the wide sandy beaches on the west coast can be seen a number of offshore windfarms, all built in the last ten years, while across the muddy east coast is Barrow Island, still dominated by Barrow's shipyards.  Although Walney is in much the same place as the fictional Island of Sodor, Thomas and his friends don't come here in real life; the island has never had a railway connection.

We are, of course, only three weeks away from polling in a general election which looks likely to result in a change of government.  Thanks to the action (or inaction, depending on how you view it) of the Lib Dems in the current government, the next government will have to make a decision about the renewal of the UK's Trident nuclear deterrent.  The current Forces plans are to build a new class of nuclear-equipped submarines in Barrow, starting in late 2016; and BAE Systems, current owner of the shipyard, has major expansion plans based on that programme.  However, this could yet be derailed by politics: the collapse of Labour support in Scotland means that after the election Labour may have to form a government relying on the support of the Scottish National Party, who are implacably opposed to Trident renewal.  It's hard to see how a positive decision for Barrow could come out of such a government.  The importance of the shipyards to Walney's economy is encoded in the name of one of the main settlements in the Walney South ward: Vickerstown, a planned village built at the turn of the twentieth century for workers at what was then the Vickers shipyard.  Barrow is already a seriously deprived working-class town; take the shipbuilding out and you're left with half-baked plans to build a cruise ship terminal (for liners to call at the Lake District) or a bridge or causeway across Morecambe Bay to improve connections with the town, which thanks to its location on the end of a peninsula is a very long journey from anywhere.

So much for the politics: now, what about the elections?  Both Cumbria county council and Barrow-in-Furness borough council have been redistricted in the last seven years, but in both cases the boundaries on Walney Island were left unchanged; since the Walney South county division has the same boundaries as the Walney South borough council ward, this means we have a good record of the area's electoral twists (at least up to 2011 when Barrow moved away from election by thirds).  Walney South was safe Labour until 2002, but turned into a a Labour/Tory marginal in 2003.  In 2006 the Tories got ahead of Labour for the first time, and by the end of that electoral cycle in 2009 they held all four of Walney South's elected offices and Labour were in some disarray.  The general election in 2010 and the formation of the Coalition changed all that, and this is now a very safe Labour area.  Telford completed the Tory rout by gaining the county council seat from the Conservatives in 2013: she polled 61% to 21% for the outgoing Tory county councillor and 18% for UKIP.

Those same three parties are contesting this final by-election before the general and local elections on 7th May.  The defending Labour candidate is Frank Cassidy, a Barrow borough councillor for the division; he is opposed by the Tories' Greg Peers and UKIP's Graham Pritchard, who appears to be the only candidate to live on the island.

Parliamentary constituency: Barrow and Furness
Barrow-in-Furness borough council ward: Walney South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Barrow-in-Furness

Frank Cassidy (Lab)
Greg Peers (C)
Graham Pritchard (UKIP)

May 2013 result Lab 705 C 242 UKIP 201
May 2011 borough council result Lab 966/914/856 C 583/422/411
May 2010 borough council result Lab 1819 C 959
June 2009 result C 598 Lab 363 People's Party (Furness) 210 LD 143
May 2008 borough council result C 637/594/592 Lab 528/525/506
May 2007 borough council result C 599 Lab 525
May 2006 borough council double vacancy C 641/565 Lab 394/389 Ind 223
May 2005 result Lab 1211 C 786 Ind 315 Ind 103
June 2004 borough council result Lab 810 C 658 Ind 295
May 2003 borough council result Lab 523 C 478
May 2002 borough council result Lab 746 C 466

Thursday, 2 April 2015

By-election Preview: 1 April 2015

The General Election is imminent: Parliament is dissolved, the televised debates are under way, and for most of the country the political parties have bigger fish to fry this April than local by-elections.  Nonetheless, three contests have been scheduled for April, the first two of which are this week: both slightly unusual in that one is a Wednesday poll, while the other falls on Maundy Thursday - it's only a few years since electoral law prohibited polling on the Thursday before Easter.  The Thursday poll is in Gwynedd and will be covered on Welsh Elections, while on Wednesday a trip to the very southern edge of London awaits us.

As there aren't many by-elections this month, your columnist intends to fill the gap by turning his gaze to the national picture, and putting together a prediction for the general election which you can all laugh at.  Stay tuned.

By-election on 1st April 2015:

Tandridge council, Surrey
Caused by the disqualification of Conservative councillor Tom Dempsey, who failed to attend any meetings of the council in six months.

Godstone Road, Whyteleafe
Nestled in a dry valley in the North Downs, Whyteleafe is named after the aspen trees that used to grow in White Leaf Field here: the olde-worlde spelling is a gimmick seized on by property developers following the coming of the railway in the second half of the nineteenth century.  Development of housing here proved to be so lucrative that there are now three railway stations in the ward on two separate lines (Whyteleafe and Whyteleafe South on the Caterham branch, and Upper Warlingham on the Oxted branch).  Despite the presence of Upper Warlingham in Travelcard Zone 6, Whyteleafe lies just outside the Greater London boundary; another slightly unexpected feature of the village is that the main employer here is the head office of Ann Summers.  Ahem.

Over the last five years the ward's political representation has turned fifty shades of blue, as the Conservatives gained what was before May 2010 a safe Lib Dem ward - the May 2010 Tory gain came just three months after the Lib Dems had easily held the ward in a by-election.  At the most recent election the Tories (43%) made the ward safe, with the Lib Dem vote falling away to 27% and UKIP polling 20%.  The Tories also hold the local county council seat (Caterham Valley) which at the most recent county election in 2013 had very similar shares of the vote.

Defending for the Conservatives is Peter Sweeney.  He is opposed by David Lee, the winner of the February 2010 by-election, who lost his seat to the Tories in 2012 and has been trying to get it back ever since.  UKIP have selected Martin Ferguson, a bus driver.  Labour aren't bothering this time, so these are your three candidates.

Parliamentary constituency: East Surrey
Surrey county council division: Caterham Valley
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Martin Ferugson (UKIP)
David Lee (LD)
Peter Sweeney (C)

May 2014 result C 470 LD 300 UKIP 216 Lab 116
May 2012 result C 457 LD 376 UKIP 115
May 2010 result C 922 LD 771 Lab 136
Feb 2010 by-election LD 444 C 236 UKIP 99
May 2008 result LD 526 C 407 Lab 45
May 2006 result LD 547 C 364
June 2004 result LD 627 C 343
May 2002 result LD 531 C 354 Lab 55

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

By-election Previews: 5 March 2015

Four by-elections will take place on 5th March, including the first three London local by-elections of the new year.  However, before reaching the Smoke we start in a Essex with a fascinating three-way marginal.

Essex county council
Caused by the death of UKIP councillor Gordon Helm at the age of 75.  A county councillor since 2013, Helm was also UKIP's PPC for Braintree in the forthcoming general election.

"If the curious enquirer will take pick and shovel he will find at any rate one corresponding dualism below the surface. He will find a Bocking water main supplying the houses on the north side and a Braintree water main supplying the south. I rather suspect that the drains are also in duplicate. The total population of Bocking and Braintree is probably little more than thirteen thousand souls altogether, but for that there are two water supplies, two sets of schools, two administrations. To the passing observer the rurality of the Bocking side is indistinguishable from the urbanity of the Braintree side; it is just a little muddier."

That was H G Wells, writing ninety-nine years ago at the height of the Great War about the differences between Braintree and Bocking, and using them to illustrate the difficulty in establishing world peace through a single world state.  Much of Wells' complaints are now dated: Bocking is now an urban suburb of Braintree; Braintree and Bocking were combined under a single council in 1974; the population of the combined town has more than trebled in the intervening century; and the establishment of the European Union, while not going as far as the World State of Wells' imagination, has done much to ensure seventy years of peace in western Europe.  Seen in that context, it becomes ironic that Bocking - that northern suburb divided from Braintree by a Roman road - elected a UKIP county councillor in 2013.

One of the joys of writing this column is finding unintended ironies like that, but of course what may seem ironic in one context could make perfect sense when viewed from another angle.  Like Braintree, Bocking's traditional industry is textiles, specifically silk: the major local employer was Courtaulds, whose founding family were from the area and made many donations to the town, such as Braintree town hall.

Bocking's industrial legacy has left a large Labour vote: Labour had a majority of the division's district councillors until 2003 and still hold three seats out of seven.  At the last district council elections in 2011, of the three wards covering the division Bocking Blackwater was safe Tory, Bocking North (despite a small rural area) was safe Labour and Bocking South was a key marginal: with Blackwater ward being larger than the other two that would normally translate to the county division being a Tory-inclined key marginal.  It hasn't quite worked out like that: Labour narrowly held the division in 2005 thanks to the simultaneous general election; the Tories turned Bocking into a safe division for them in 2009 as the Labour vote reached its nadir; and in 2013 UKIP executed a perfect come-through-the-middle move to beat the Tories by 20 votes and Labour by 114; the shares of the vote (UKIP 33% C 32% Lab 30%) show what a close three-way marginal result this was.  With the local Tory MP having got himself into a sex scandal and speculation that UKIP could have a serious tilt at the Braintree constituency, this will definitely be one to watch ahead of the forthcoming general election.

This is the second local by-election in Essex this year, and the first one saw UKIP lose a seat to Labour in a working-class part of Harlow.  Hoping that doesn't happen this time is UKIP's Michael Ford, who fought Braintree at the last general election.  The Tory candidate is Stephen Canning; in his early twenties, he is a district councillor for Bocking Blackwater ward and a deputy chairman of Conservative Future, and had a cameo role in Made in Chelsea shortly after his election.  Lynn Watson, the last Labour county councillor for Bocking who lost her seat to the Conservatives in 2009, will make a second attempt to get back onto the county council.  Also standing are John Malam of the Green Party and independent candidate Peter Sale.

Parliamentary constituency: Braintree
Braintree council wards: Bocking Blackwater, Bocking North, Bocking South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chelmsford and Braintree
Postcode district: CM7

Stephen Canning (C)
Michael Ford (UKIP)
John Malam (Grn)
Peter Sale (Ind)
Lynn Watson (Lab)

May 2013 result UKIP 1340 C 1320 Lab 1226 Grn 126 LD 91
June 2009 result C 1814 Lab 997 UKIP 859 LD 572 BNP 318 Grn 299
May 2005 result Lab 3231 C 3010 LD 1362 Grn 449

London borough of Brent
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Bhiku Patel at the age of 70, while on holiday in India.  He had served Kenton ward since 2010

Northwick Avenue, Kenton
For the first of this week's three London by-elections we travel to Metroland, that quadrant of north-west London which filled up with housing between the wars at the instigation of the Metropolitan Railway.  Over the last few decades this area has seen enormous demographic change, with 44% of the population at the last census having been born outside the UK.  This influx is overwhelmingly from India: 58% of the population is of Asian ethnicity and 36% are Hindu, which makes Kenton one of the top ten Hindu wards in England.  The ward forms a roughly triangular shape to the south of the Kenton Road, with Kenton underground station (Bakerloo and London Overground) at the western corner, Kingsbury station (Jubilee) at the eastern corner and Preston Road (Metropolitan) just off the southern corner.  This is generally a well-off, upwardly-mobile area.

The ward is normally safe Tory at council level, but forms part of the safe Labour constituency of Brent North; Labour came close here in the 2010 borough elections, which coincided with the last general election, and in a February 2011 by-election.  In the 2014 borough elections the Tories polled 51%, to 32% for Labour and 10% for the Green Party; it would seem that the Tories have benefited from the collapse of the Lib Dem vote here.  In 2012 Boris beat Ken here 57-33 but the GLA London member ballot was closer, with 45% for the Conservatives and 38% for Labour.

The Tories have suffered a split on Brent council since the 2014 election, with their Brondesbury Park ward councillors walking off to form a separate group.  However, there is a single Tory candidate for the by-election: Michael Maurice, chairman of the Brent North branch of the party.  The Labour candidate is Vincent Lo, who has worked for a variety of City financial firms and recently went for the Labour parliamentary selection in Holborn and St Pancras; during the campaign he has had to apologise for defamatory leaflets about the Tory candidate.  Also on the ballot paper are Michaela Lichten of the Green Party, who appears to be the only candidate to live in the ward, and former Brent borough councillor Bob Wharton for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Brent North
GLA constituency: Brent and Harrow
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: HA3, NW9

Michaela Lichten (Grn)
Vincent Lo (Lab)
Michael Maurice (C)
Bob Wharton (LD)

May 2014 result C 1798/1796/1669 Lab 1139/1040/946 Grn 348 LD 221/153/125
Feb 2011 by-election C 1063 Lab 907 Ind 185 LD 179 Grn 75
May 2010 result C 2805/2667/2333 Lab 2218/1832/1799 LD 1013/782/630 Grn 287/265/230
May 2006 result C 1944/1891/1828 Lab 1043/976/779 LD 526/483/369 Grn 276
May 2002 result C 1712/1668/1660 Lab 1042/946/850 LD 276/269/214

2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Boris 1636 Ken 946 Ind 92 LD 85 Grn 76 UKIP 27 BNP 12
London member: C 1288 Lab 1082 Grn 143 LD 120 UKIP 98 CPA 45 Alagaratnam 27 BNP 21 EDP 15 TUSC 12 Hayat 7 NF 6 House Party 6

London borough of Camden
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Peter Brayshaw at the age of 67.  Brayshaw had served several terms on Camden council, first being elected in Bloomsbury ward in 1990, then returning to the council by winning a by-election in 2000.  He lost his seat to the Tories in 2006 but returned for St Pancras and Somers Town ward in 2010.  Away from the council he was known as anti-apartheid campaigner and a member of the Local Authority Pension Fund forum.

"It went the half hour as I came through the Polygon"
- Charles Dickens, "The Pickwick Papers"

Entering St Pancras Station
Journey down to London by Overground train from Kenton, or by express train from the north or the Continent, and this is where you will end up: the marvellously-refurbished St Pancras and Kings Cross railway stations are here, while Euston station is just outside the ward boundary.  The census paints an interesting picture of the ward's population, with a diverse population (25% Asian, 14% Black, 31% born outside the EU, 25% Muslim), a large student population (around 19%) and, most tellingly, 61% of households are socially rented, which is one of the top 20 figures in the country.

Somers Town is one of the oldest parts of London, being named after its eighteenth-century landowner Charles Cocks, 1st Lord Somers.  There has been housing here since the 1780s - Mary Wollstonecraft died here in 1797 - but the area went into a social decline in the 1830s as it became a favoured location for labourers building the railway lines down to the Euston Road, and by the late Victorian era Somers Town was one of London's most notorious slums and a favourite subject of Dickens, who briefly lived here.  Many of the slum dwellings were cleared between the wars to be replaced with social housing by the St Pancras House Improvement Society and the London County Council.  The area was a popular location for hospitals: St Pancras hospital is here while 2015 will see the opening of the Francis Crick Institute, a new biomedical research centre opposite St Pancras station and located next door to the British Library.  On the opposite side of St Pancras Station, the former Kings Cross goods yard - once a notorious red-light district - is being developed into a new business area known as Kings Cross Central, which is important enough to have gained its own postcode district (N1C).

This is, obviously, a safe Labour ward and the main interest is usually who comes second.  This was the Lib Dems in 2002 and 2010, but Respect were runners-up in 2006 and the Green Party took over second place last year.  The lead Green candidate in 2010, greatly outpolling her running-mates, was none other than Natalie Bennett who now leads the party nationally, although if her performance in recent interviews is anything to go by she's probably forgotten about standing here five years ago.  In 2014 Labour polled 68% with the Greens, as stated, being best of the rest on 15%; two years earlier Ken beat Boris here 66-22 with Labour polling 62% in the London Member ballot to 13% for the Tories and 12% for the Greens.

Paul Tomlinson is the defending Labour candidate; he is described as having lived in the ward for many years and having links with his local tenants association.  He is opposed by Tina Swasey for the Green Party, Shahin Ahmed for the Tories and Zack Polanski for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Holborn and St Pancras
GLA constituency: Barnet and Camden
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: N1C, NW1

Shahin Ahmed (C)
Zack Polanski (LD)
Tina Swasey (Grn)
Paul Tomlinson (Lab)

May 2014 result Lab 2511/2488/2423 Grn 562/526/440 C 368/351/295 LD 245/192/178
May 2010 result Lab 2744/2650/2614 LD 1024/1011/927 Grn 738/467/422 C 721/701/688
May 2006 result Lab 1399/1264/1212 Respect 781 Grn 517/369/213 C 440/429/422 LD 433/332/317 Ind 181
May 2002 result Lab 960/902/865 LD 379/353/349 C 263/259/249 Grn 219/124/116 Socialist Alliance 211

May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Ken 1791 Boris 605 Grn 172 Ind 84 LD 71 UKIP 55 BNP 46
London member: Lab 1770 C 362 Grn 336 LD 99 UKIP 98 BNP 63 TUSC 42 CPA 23 EDP 21 House Party 18 NF 9 Hayat 5 Alagaratnam 0

London borough of Croydon
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Gerry Ryan on his 57th birthday.  A Selhurst councillor since 1998, Ryan had been the Labour candidate for Croydon Central in the 2010 general election; by profession he was a telecommunications engineer and an official with the Communications Workers Union.  He had been fighting cancer for six years.  Recognising his work, the CWU are to establish an annual award in Ryan's name for the union's best recruiter and negotiator.

Holy Saviour Parish Church, Croydon
Another suburban area of South London, Selhurst is located to the north of Croydon.  Like much of London, this is an area which has seen much demographic change since the Second World War.  The largest ethnic group in the ward is now Black; with 35% this is in the top 20 Black wards in England, and the mixed-race population (9%) is in the top 10 wards in England.  The area is mostly residential and centred on Selhurst railway station on the Brighton line, which is adjacent to a large depot which is the main engineering and maintenance centre for Southern Trains.  At the northern corner of the ward is Selhurst Park, home of the Premier League side Crystal Palace FC.

Croydon's wards are almost all safe for one or other of the main parties, and Selhurst is on the Labour side.  At the most recent election in 2014 Labour polled 52% against a fragmented field, with the Tories second on 14% just ahead of a two-man UKIP slate, whose 13% was one of their better results in London.  In the 2012 GLA elections Ken beat Boris here 64-22, while Labour beat the Tories 64-14 in the London Member poll.

Defending for Labour is David Wood, a father-of-two, governor of a local primary school and son of a former Bishop of Croydon.  The Tories have selected Tirena Gunter, who is bidding to become the only Afro-Caribbean Tory councillor in Croydon.  The UKIP candidate is Annette Reid, and also on the ballot paper are Tracey Hague for the Green Party and the Lib Dems' Geoff Morley.

Parliamentary constituency: Croydon North
GLA constituency: Croydon and Sutton
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: CR0, SE25

Tirena Gunter (C)
Tracey Hague (Grn)
Geoff Morley (LD)
Annette Reid (UKIP)
David Wood (Lab)

May 2014 result Lab 2086/2079/1996 C 546/515/471 UKIP 504/396 Grn 341/269/267 LD 240 Ind 128 TUSC 88 Comm 77
May 2010 result Lab 3355/3353/3324 C 1407/1286/1240 LD 1150 Grn 516/515/515 Comm 93
May 2006 result Lab 1652/1597/1452 C 906/893/861 Grn 588 LD 570
May 2002 result Lab 1685/1641/1535 C 597/558/540 LD 367/335/332

May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Ken 1826 Boris 632 Ind 108 LD 96 Grn 84 UKIP 68 BNP 45
London member: Lab 1834 C 411 Grn 164 UKIP 136 LD 92 CPA 88 BNP 50 TUSC 29 EDP 20 Hayat 20 Alagaratnam 18 NF 8 House Party 8

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

By-election Previews: 12 February 2015

Three by-elections on 12th February 2015:

Cambridgeshire county council
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor John Reynolds at the age of 69, while returning from a holiday in Australia.  One of the longest-serving members of the county council, having been first elected in 1981, Reynolds had been a dedicated public servant for many years, and was also a long-standing guide dog trainer.

Village Hall, Bar Hill
This division follows the line of the A14 to the north-west of Cambridge, starting at Girton on the outskirts of Cambridge and including a series of villages to the south of the road: Dry Drayton, Lolworth, Boxworth are small while Bar Hill itself is by far the largest.  The A14 follows the line of a Roman road - the Via Devana - but the history of the ward is generally much more recent.  Since the Second World War the Cambridge area has essentially absorbed the population of a large new town without building a large new town, but there have been some purpose-built new villages: Bar Hill itself did not exist before 1967, and now has a population of around 4,000.

Girton, an old village just outside Cambridge, is the division's other main population centre: it actually has more registered electors than Bar Hill, but the roll here is swelled by the presence of Girton College.  England's first residential college for women (although now co-educational), Girton is part of Cambridge University and its alumni include the present Queen of Denmark, the political blogger Arianna Huffington and the GP, comedian and writer of Private Eye's "Medicine Balls" column Phil Hammond.  Girton also has one of the UK's largest populations of black squirrels.

Politically Bar Hill is a safe Tory division although the 2005 result just qualified as a Tory/Lib Dem marginal; at the most recent county election in 2013 the Tories had 45% to 22% for UKIP, 14% for Labour and 9% for the Greens, who narrowly pushed the Lib Dems into fifth place.  At district council level Bar Hill ward elected a Lib Dem councillor in 2002 but has been safely Tory since 2006, while Girton is more volatile with both a Tory and an independent district councillor since 2008; the Lib Dems also came close a couple of times before the coalition was established, while the Green Party ran second in Girton ward last year.

Defending for the Tories is Lynda Harford, a South Cambridgeshire district councillor (for Cottenham ward) who describes herself on Twitter as a "Grandma with attitude serving her community".  UKIP have selected Willingham resident Martin Hale, chairman of the party's Cambridge and SE Cambs branch.  Labour's candidate is Alex Smith, from Cambourne; also standing are Claudia Roland for the Green Party (who appears to be the only candidate to live in the division) and Fiona Whelan for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: South Cambridgeshire
South Cambridgeshire district wards: Bar Hill, Girton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode districts: CB3, CB23

Martin Hale (UKIP)
Lynda Harford (C)
Claudia Roland (Grn)
Alex Smith (Lab)
Fiona Whelan (LD)

May 2013 result C 1175 UKIP 570 Lab 352 Grn 242 LD 219 Loony 28
June 2009 result C 1866 LD 540 UKIP 340 Grn 320 Lab 284
May 2005 result C 2266 LD 1808 Lab 870

Harlow borough council, Essex
Caused by the resignation of UKIP councillor Jerry Crawford due to ill-health.

St Mary-at-Latton Church, Harlow
While Cambridgeshire's approach to population growth has mostly been to tack bits onto existing villages and develop a few new ones, Harlow is unambiguously a New Town: it was one of the first New Towns, built in the early 1950s to house families who had been bombed out of London.  One legacy of this history is that the town has the third-highest proportion of social housing of any district in England.  Harlow became an urban district in 1955 and now forms a local government district of its own.

Mark Hall was the first part of the New Town to be completed, and forms two separate residential areas either side of First Avenue, imaginatively named Mark Hall North and Mark Hall South.  In Mark Hall North can be found The Lawn, the UK's first modern residential tower block: built in 1951, it is now a listed building.  To the north of Mark Hall North is Temple Fields, a large industrial area next to the River Stort which includes the ward's railway station, Harlow Mill.

Mark Hall ward has a fascinating recent electoral history and a high councillor attrition rate: this is the ward's third casual vacancy in as many years.  The ward was strongly Lib Dem when it was first drawn up on its present boundaries for the 2002 election, but Labour turned the ward into a Lib Dem/Labour marginal and gained it from the Lib Dems surprisingly easily in 2004.  In the 2006 the outgoing Lib Dem councillor Jane Steer stood for re-election as a Conservative, the Lib Dems regaining her seat in a three-way marginal result with a majority over Labour of just 26 votes, which was cut to 12 votes in a 2007 result where all three parties polled within eleven votes of their 2006 score.  In 2008 the Labour nadir saw them fall to third place and the Lib Dems got their seat back.

In 2010 Mark Hall ward had its fourth consecutive three-way marginal result, but this time Labour were on top by a majority of 31.  After that the Lib Dem collapse saw them lose heaily to Labour in 2011.  The remaining Lib Dem councillor (who by now was also Harlow's last remaining Lib Dem councillor) died shortly before he was due for re-election in 2012, and Labour easily gained his seat.  Safe Labour from then on?  No: there is one more twist in the tale.  One of the Labour councillors resigned before the 2014 election having taken on a new job, and UKIP - who had never contested the ward before - made a shock gain of both seats at the 2014 election, polling 38% to 34% for Labour and 20% for the Tories; the UKIP majorities were 60 and 44 votes.  At county level Mark Hall forms part of the Harlow North division which, like the parliamentary seat as a whole, is a key Labour/Tory marginal.

Defending for UKIP is Mark Gough, a former Tory borough councillor who is also UKIP's PPC for Chelmsford.  Labour's candidate is Danny Purton, a former Harlow council transport officer who fought the ward last year.  The Tory candidate is Jane Steer, a former Lib Dem and then Tory councillor for the ward until 2006.  Also standing are Lesley Rideout for the Lib Dems, a former long-serving councillor who lost her seat in the ward in 2011, and Ware resident Murray Sackwild for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Harlow
Essex county council division: Harlow North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Harlow and Bishop's Stortford
Postcode district: CM20

Mark Gough (UKIP)
Danny Purton (Lab)
Lesley Rideout (LD)
Murray Sackwild (Grn)
Jane Steer (C)

May 2014 double vacancy UKIP 662/646 Lab 602/599 C 346/346 LD 137/124
May 2012 result Lab 849 C 440 LD 312
May 2011 result Lab 913 LD 555 C 542
May 2010 result Lab 1145 LD 1114 C 961
May 2008 result LD 744 C 681 Lab 599
May 2007 result LD 752 Lab 740 C 570
May 2006 result LD 761 Lab 735 C 562
June 2004 result Lab 800 LD 584 C 381 Ind 290
May 2003 result LD 598 Lab 510 C 179 Socialist Alliance 48
May 2002 result LD 1098/1091/1075 Lab 791/782/772 C 276/269/255

Shropshire council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Martin Bennett who is moving to Warwick to care for his elderly mother.  Three times Mayor of Oswestry, Bennett had served on the unitary Shropshire council since it was created in 2009.

Oswestry Station
This week's column finishes in the Welsh Marches, an area which specialises in small market towns.  Oswestry is one of the larger towns in the Marches: with a population of 17,000 it is the third-largest town in Shropshire after Telford and Shrewsbury.  But despite its presence in England, Oswestry's cultural and transport links point more towards Wales: it is a border town which changed hands between England and Wales several times, and today is the main service centre for large parts of northern Montgomeryshire and still has a number of Welsh speakers.  The town's football team, The New Saints, are the reigning champions of the Welsh Premier League and a regular fixture in Champions League qualifying.  The town was once the headquarters of the Cambrian Railways, the major railway company in mid-Wales; although no trains run to Oswestry any longer, the station building is still a landmark in the town centre and gave its name to the town's Cambrian ward, one of three former wards of Oswestry district council which are the predecessors of this division.

Electoral contests in eastern Oswestry tend to be between Conservatives and Independents, but these labels are somewhat fluid: Bennett was formerly an independent member of the old Oswestry district council for the former Cabin Lane ward, while Peter Cherrington - who gained Oswestry East's other seat from the Tories at the 2013 election - sat on that council as a Conservative.  In 2013 Cherrington polled 32%, the two-man Tory slate had 30% and a single Labour candidate just missed out with 29%.

Defending for the Tories is Oswestry town councillor John "The Bus" Price, who is endorsed by Cherrington.  Labour have selected Claire Norris.  Also standing are Duncan Kerr for the Green Party and Amanda Woof for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: North Shropshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Oswestry
Postcode districts: SY10, SY11

Duncan Kerr (Grn)
Claire Norris (Lab)
John Price (C)
Amanda Woof (LD)

May 2013 result Ind 611 C 584/453 Lab 551 BNP 169
June 2009 result C 963/962 Ind 697 Lab 500 BNP 356

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

By-election Preview: 5 February 2015

One by-election on 5th February 2014:

Derbyshire county council
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Walter Burrows at the age of 80.  A former miner who had been at work on the day of the Markham colliery disaster in 1973, Burrows had been a Labour party member for half a century and county councillor for Brimington since 1993.  He served as chairman of Derbyshire county council from 2005 to 2007.

Brimington Social Club
Just to the east of Chesterfield on the main road to Staveley, Brimington is a large village on a hill above the River Rother, with a history which is typical for northern industrial areas. Brimington boomed in the Victorian era following the arrival of the railways and the development of the local coalmining and ironworking industry.  However, Brimington was more of a residential village, with the coalmines and ironworks being concentrated in Staveley to the east and Sheepbridge to the north-west.  Now a satellite of Chesterfield, Brimington has expanded with housing estates in several directions, notably New Brimington to the north-east of the village centre; the county division also includes the village of Brimington Common to the south and Tapton, which is essentially an extension of Chesterfield over the River Rother, to the west.

Although boundary changes in 2013 confuse the issue slightly, the Brimington county division was and is a safe Labour area; at his final re-election in 2013 Burrows polled 69% of the vote, with the Tories finishing second on 11%.  In the last borough election in 2011 all of the two-and-a-half Chesterfield borough wards covering the division became safe Labour, although Brimington South, and Hollingwood and Inkersall (which includes New Brimington) were Lib Dem-held marginals until 2011.

Defending for Labour is Tricia Gilby, who is the only candidate to live in the division.  She is opposed by Lewis Preston for the Tories, John Ahern for the Lib Dems, independent candidate Mick Bagshaw (who was a Lib Dem borough councillor until 2011 and fought the division as a Lib Dem in 2009) and the division's first UKIP candidate, Paul Stone.

Parliamentary constituency: Chesterfield
Chesterfield borough council wards: Brimington North; Brimington South; Hollingwood and Inkersall (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chesterfield
Postcode districts: S41, S43

John Ahern (LD)
Mick Bagshaw (Ind)
Tricia Gilby (Lab)
Lewis Preston (C)
Paul Stone (UKIP)

May 2013 result Lab 1857 C 301 LD 250 Ind 175 Ind 119

Thursday, 29 January 2015

By-election Previews: 28/29 January 2015

One by-election on Wednesday 28th January:


West Berkshire council
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor David Betts. A former chairman of Purley on Thames parish council, Betts had been a West Berkshire councillor since 2007 and had served as West Berkshire's executive member for highways and transport.

Long Lane, Purley on Thames
Despite Purley's presence within the West Berkshire district, this is where the Reading built-up area ends and the countryside begins; the area of Reading council has never really kept pace with the growth of the town. Purley on Thames itself is a prosperous Reading suburb which suffers regularly from flooding due to its location on the Thames; the ward also includes the Denefield part of Tilehurst parish (also part of the Reading built-up area) together with the smaller villages of Tidmarsh and Sulham to the south-west.

This is a safe Conservative ward on the district council, although West Berkshire has had no local elections since 2011 which makes it difficult to ascertain more recent trends such as the rise of UKIP. In 2011 the Tories led 67-21 over Labour, who took over second place in that election from the Lib Dems.

Defending for the Conservatives is Rick Jones, the chairman of Purley on Thames parish council. He is opposed by Labour's Ian Stevens, Steve Bown for the Lib Dems (who fought the ward in 2007) and the ward's first UKIP candidate, Catherine Anderson.

Parliamentary constituency: Reading West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Reading and Bracknell
Postcode districts: RG8, RG31

Catherine Anderson (UKIP)
Steve Bown (LD)
Rick Jones (C)
Ian Stevens (Lab)

May 2011 result C 1621/1536 Lab 512/318 LD 282/226
May 2007 result C 1272/1261 LD 278/238 Grn 264 Lab 261
May 2003 result C 577/550 LD 414/376 Grn 194/113 Lab 108

One by-election on Thursday 29th January:


St Albans city council
A double by-election caused by the resignations of Conservative councillors Heidi Allen and Seema Kennedy. Both former councillors have been selected as Conservative parliamentary candidates for the forthcoming general election: Allen is expected to take over the safe seat of South Cambridgeshire, while Kennedy will defend the marginal South Ribble constituency in Lancashire. Both councillors are going before the end of their first term; Kennedy served for less than a year following her election in May 2014.

The Ridgeway, Marshalswick
Like Purley on Thames above, Marshalswick is an area on the edge of a large town which has seen a lot of development since the First World War; in this case the town is St Albans, which has annexed part of Marshalswick from the neighbouring parish of Sandridge. The part of Marshalswick within the St Albans city limits now forms Marshalswick South ward. This heterogeneous ward contains several different demographics: Marshalswick itself is possibly the most affluent area of St Albans, while Bernard's Heath and Sandridge New Town have transformed from Victorian slumland into a bohemian middle-class area. Bernard's Heath was the site of the Second Battle of St Albans, a Lancastrian victory during the Wars of the Roses; many of the ward's street names (Battlefield Road, Lancaster Road, Warwick Road and so on) commemorate the battle.

Election results here have been intriguing. During the last Labour government this was a Lib Dem/Tory marginal ward, but the Lib Dems generally had the edge and the Tories won only once in this period: in 2006 when their Turkish-born candidate Salih Gaygusuz gained the ward by 32 votes, only to lose his seat four years later by 30 votes. Since 2010 the Lib Dem vote has fallen and the ward has turned safe Tory; in 2014 the Tories won with 39% to 23% for Labour, 19% for the Lib Dems and 10% for the Greens, who were just ahead of UKIP. To add to the mix, at county level this ward is paired off with one of the strongest Labour areas of St Albans to produce the three-way marginal St Albans North division, which Labour gained from the Lib Dems in 2013.

Defending for the Conservatives are housing manager Richard Curthoys and hypnotherapist and psychotherapist Steve McKeown. On the Labour slate are Richard Harris and Vivienne Windle. The Lib Dems have reselected Mark Pedroz who fought the ward last year, and he is goined by Elizabeth Needham. The Green slate consists of first choice Jill Mills and second choice Tim Robinson, while UKIP's nominees David Dickson (who fought the ward in 2014) and Michael Hollins complete the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: St Albans
Hertfordshire county council division: St Albans North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton and Watford
Postcode districts: AL1, AL3

Richard Curthoys (C)
David Dickson (UKIP)
Richard Harris (Lab)
Michael Hollins (UKIP)
Steve McKeown (C)
Jill Mills (Grn)
Elizabeth Needham (LD)
Mark Pedroz (LD)
Tim Robinson (Grn)
Vivienne Windle (Lab)

May 2014 result C 972 Lab 573 LD 486 Grn 258 UKIP 232
May 2012 result C 929 LD 651 Lab 441 Grn 188 UKIP 123
May 2011 result C 1433 LD 776 Lab 560 Grn 303
May 2010 result LD 1706 C 1676 Lab 596 Grn 247
May 2008 result LD 1190 C 848 Lab 254 Grn 202
May 2007 result LD 1177 C 843 Lab 270 Grn 172
May 2006 result C 985 LD 953 Lab 343 Grn 251
June 2004 result LD 1193 C 1025 Lab 313
May 2003 result LD 1364 C 858 Lab 338
May 2002 result LD 1353 C 667 Lab 321

Friday, 23 January 2015

By-election Preview: 22 January 2015

Welcome to English Elections as we enter the general election year of 2015.  Your columnist must start with an apology for missing the year's first by-election, a Labour hold in Bolsover, Derbyshire two weeks ago; in my defence, the publicity for the poll was clearly as poor as the turnout.  We get up to speed properly this week with a Tory defence in East Sussex and an SNP defence in Fife, which will be covered on Scottish Elections.


Wealden district council, East Sussex
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Anthony Quin.  Quin had served as a Wealden councillor since 1999 after a career in the Royal Marines, from which he retired with the rank of Major.  He served on several committees during his time as a councillor and for some years chaired the regulatory and audit committee.

Crowborough High Street
The largest inland town in East Sussex, Crowborough can be found in the High Weald seven miles south-west of Tunbridge Wells.  The town grew in the mid-Victorian period following the completion of the town's rail link to London; at the time it was promoted as health resort thanks to its relatively high altitude and surrounding forest.  Crowborough lies on the eastern edge of Ashdown Forest, the setting for A A Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh stories, and also has literary connections as the home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who died here in 1930; Conan Doyle has a statue in the town centre and Crowborough once hosted an annual Sherlock Holmes festival.

The Crowborough West ward is a safe Tory ward where the party are not seriously challenged.  At the most recent election in 2011 the two-person Tory slate polled 73% in a straight fight with a single Labour candidate.  The Tories hold both the county council seats for the town as a whole, with the runner-up spot at the last county elections in 2013 going to an independent who was just ahead of the UKIP slate.

Whoever wins this by-election is likely to be back on the campaign trail immediately in order to seek re-election at May's ordinary election.  Defending in the blue corner is Jeannette Towey, an accredited tennis referee and volunteer at Citizens Advice.  Challenging in the purple corner is Simon Staveley, a manager at an IT company.

Parliamentary constituency: Wealden
East Sussex county council division: Crowborough
ONS Travel to Work Area: Tunbridge Wells
Postcode districts: TN6, TN7

May 2011 result C 1387/1225 Lab 517
May 2007 result C 992/954 LD 336 Lab 192
May 2003 result C 814/812 LD 394 Lab 238