Thursday, 4 February 2016

By-election Previews: 4 February 2016

Four interesting by-elections on 4th February 2016, all due to resignations:

Shropshire council
Caused by the resignation of the Leader of the Council, Conservative councillor Keith Barrow, over a scandal.  Barrow had failed to declare a personal and business relationship with a director of the accountants and auditors for IP&E, a private company owned by the council.  He had served on the unitary Shropshire council since its creation in 2009, and before then on the former Oswestry district council.

Oswestry Church Tower
Despite its population of only 17,000, Oswestry is one of the major towns in the Marches, that ill-defined and thinly-populated area which tracks the border between England and Wales.  Although Oswestry lies on the English side of the border it is economically more entwined with Wales, being the main service centre for much of northern Powys and home of The New Saints, the pre-eminent football team in the Welsh Premier League.  As if to prove this point, within Oswestry South division can be found streets with names such as English Walls and Llanforda Rise, an open space called Cae Glas Park, a polling station at the Horeb Welsh Methodist Rooms and a large Victorian building which was once the headquarters of the Cambrian Railways; although Oswestry no longer has a railway service, the station has been preserved and is now a museum.  As well as the town centre, as the name suggests this division covers the south and south-west quarter of Oswestry - the Castle and Victoria wards of Oswestry town council.

Barrow had represented Oswestry South since the creation of the unitary Shropshire council in 2009 and was previously a ward councillor for its predecessor, the Castle ward of the former Oswestry district council.  These electoral units were normally Conservative but not always safe: the Lib Dems won one of the two seats in Castle ward in 2003, and although Barrow was re-elected in 2013 - the last local elections in Shropshire - comfortably enough, his majority was cut by a strong Green Party performance, with 46% for the Tories, 32% for the Greens and 16% for UKIP.  The ward had a minor boundary change in 2013 to reflect changes to the Oswestry parish boundary, gaining a small area from Gobowen, Selattyn and Weston Rhyn division.

This by-election has a rather different line-up from the 2013 poll.  Defending for the Tories is Christopher Schofield, an Oswestry town councillor (for Cambrian ward) who runs a B&B.  The Green candidate from 2013, Duncan Kerr, is standing again: he is an Oswestry town councillor for Castle ward and children's social worker who fought North Shropshire in last year's general election and came close to saving his deposit.  There is no UKIP candidate this time.  Completing the ballot paper are the Lib Dems' Amanda Woof, another town councillor for this ward, and Labour's Carl Hopley.

Parliamentary constituency: North Shropshire

May 2013 result C 488 Grn 337 UKIP 175 LD 62
June 2009 result C 660 Grn 218 LD 301 Lab 79

East Cambridgeshire district council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Vince Campbell, who had served only since May last year, on health grounds.  He had previously had a distinguished military career in the Guards.

Pub and Post Office, Bottisham
Sometimes wards look gerrymandered even when they aren't.  Such is the case with Bottisham ward, which is based on Bottisham - a village midway between Cambridge and Newmarket noted for its fourteenth-century church.  Bottisham isn't quite large enough for two councillors of its own, and the population distribution and strange shape of East Cambridgeshire district combined with some very long and thin parish boundaries in the area means that the village is combined for electoral purposes with three tiny villages eight miles to the south-east on the Icknield Way - Brinkley, Burrough Green and the wonderfully-named Westley Waterless - which have no road connection to Bottisham.  The Lords of the Manor here were the Jenyns family, one of whom - Soame Jenyns - was an eighteenth-century MP for Cambridgeshire and commissioner of the Board of Trade, but is best remembered today as a writer and contemporary of Samuel Johnson.

For most of this century Bottisham has been a tightly-fought Tory-Lib Dem marginal at local level, but the Tories pulled away last year, partly thanks to the general election turnout, to beat the Lib Dems 52-32.  The ward forms part of a safe Conservative division (Woodditton) on Cambridgeshire county council.

Defending for the Tories is Alan Sharp, a qualified accountant who has recently retired after twenty years working for a central government department: he has previous experience of local government, being a Huntingdonshire district councillor in the early 1990s.  The Lib Dem candidate Steven Aronson, a chiropractor and part-time Hebrew teacher, is having his third tilt at the ward after unsuccessful runs in 2011 and 2015.  Also standing are Bottisham parish councillor Steven O'Dell for Labour and Cambridgeshire county councillor (for Littleport) Daniel Divine for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: South East Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire county council division: Woodditton
Constituent parishes: Bottisham, Brinkley, Burrough Green, Westley Waterless

May 2015 result C 1100/1002 LD 678/634 Lab 347/339
May 2011 result LD 644/588 C 626/607 Lab 279
May 2007 result LD 769/631 C 570/501 Lab 111
May 2003 result C 583 LD 561/454 Lab 176

North West Leicestershire district council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Tom Neilson after he was arrested on suspicion of drug dealing.  He had served since 2011 and was a former leader of the Labour group on North West Leicestershire council.

Measham Library
Measham may not have become a large town, but it was an early centre of the Industrial Revolution.  This was down to Joseph Wilkes, an industrialist and entrepreneur who became the Lord of the Manor of what was then a Derbyshire exclave (thanks to its ancient association with Repton priory), and essentially founded Measham's coal-mining and brickworking industry, together with promoting the Ashby Canal which once linked the village to the Coventry Canal at Bedworth.  Also associated with the area, although not actually produced here, was a type of turn-of-the-century pottery known as Measham Ware, which was particularly popular with canal workers, while the village's famous children include the former Astronomer Royal Sir Frank Dyson, who introduced the Greenwich "six pips" time signal.  Measham Colliery survived until 1986, while coalmining still goes on here at the controversial Minorca opencast mine.

The Measham South ward has existed only since May when the former two-member Measham ward was divided into two single-member wards.  The old Measham ward was Labour-inclined, reflecting the village's history, but it was also a key marginal which voted Conservative in 2007.  The only previous result for the present ward was in 2015, when Labour beat the Tories 55-45 in a straight fight.  Labour also hold the local county council seat (Forest and Measham), gaining it from the Tories in the 2013 election at which it was a Labour-UKIP marginal.

That Labour county councillor, Sean Sheahan, defends this by-election for Labour; he is hoping for a quick return to the district council, having been Neilson's ward colleague for Measham from 2011 to 2015 and losing his seat in Measham North last year.  Another former councillor hoping to make a quick return is the Tory candidate Annette Bridges, who represented Moira ward from 2007 until being a victim of the boundary changes in 2015.  Completing the ballot paper is UKIP's Martin Green, who was the runner-up in the 2013 county election and their parliamentary candidate here in 2010.

Parliamentary constituency: North West Leicestershire
Leicestershire county council division: Forest and Measham

May 2015 result Lab 654 C 533

Northumberland council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Colin Cessford for family reasons.  Cessford was in his first term on Northumberland county council, having entered politics in 2012 by winning a by-election to Hexham town council after retiring from a 34-year career with the North East Ambulance Service.  He had been a county councillor since 2013.

Former Tynedale Hydropathic Hotel
Welcome to Hexham, the major service centre for the upper Tyne Valley.  This is an old town which grew up around a monastery which goes all the way back to the seventh century; Hexham Abbey still dominates the town although the current building is largely nineteenth-century.  There was a battle here in 1464, a victory for the Yorkists during the Wars of the Roses; while in 1715 the Earl of Derwentwater rose the Old Pretender's standard in the marketplace.  The town's traditional industry is leather, while other industries are botanic beer (Fentimans is based here) and tourism, the town being the main railhead for the best-preserved parts of Hadrian's Wall.  Also here - and part of Hexham West division which covers the western outskirts of the town plus a small rural hinterland - is Hexham racecourse, the most northerly National Hunt course in England.

Hexham racecourse's altitude and exposed position mean that no races are held here in February, so local racewatchers will have to be content with watching the ballot boxes.  This one could be interesting, as the large Tory lead in 2013 (when they had 48% to 31% for the Lib Dems and 15% for Labour, whose candidate rejoiced in the name of David Crockit) masks the fact that this was a Lib Dem stronghold before that election.

In a strong field of candidates, Tom Gillanders defends for the Conservatives: he is a retired engineer and Hexham town councillor for Leazes ward (which has the same boundaries as this division) who organises the local Poppy Appeal and recently stepped down from the Territorial Army with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel after over forty years' service.  There is no official Lib Dem candidate, but there is an unofficial one: Derek Kennedy, the former Lib Dem county councillor here (2005-2013) and still a town councillor for Leazes ward, is standing as an independent.  Town councillor (for Gilesgate ward) Nuala Rose, a former GP, stands for Labour.  Anne Pickering, a former town councillor, ecological consultant and artist who recently organised a 10,000-signature petition against the proposed relocation of Hexham bus station, stands as an independent.  Completing the ballot paper is Lee Williscroft-Ferris, a teacher, trade unionist and gay rights blogger standing for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Hexham

May 2013 result C 848 LD 540 Lab 261 UKIP 105

Thursday, 28 January 2016

By-election Preview: 28 January 2016

Stockton-on-Tees council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor David Rose due to work commitments.  He had served on Stockton council since 2011.

Yarm Road Methodist Church
Welcome to Stockton-on-Tees, the second town within the Teesside conurbation.  Although Stockton is an old town which since mediaeval times had had a market and a small port on the Tees estuary, it was the Industrial Revolution that created the town as we know it today.  The 1820s saw the opening of the world's first passenger railway, connecting the town with the coalmining district of Shildon and allowing coal to be transported to the town's rapidly-growing ironworking industry.  A number of the blast furnaces were in this ward along the north bank of the Tees, although redevelopment means that this area is now industrial estates together with a brand new link road from Stockton to the new town of Ingleby Barwick.  However, the ward's population lives in the Oxbridge area to the west of the town centre, Victorian terracing along the Yarm Road and Oxbridge Lane.  Also within this ward is the traditional Victorian splendour of Ropner Park, named after the former Conservative MP for the town Sir Robert Ropner, a Prussian immigrant who ran a local shipyard and shipping company.

The sudden and explosive growth of Ingleby Barwick (from almost nothing in 1971 to over 16,000 population in 2001) created problems for the Boundary Commission, as bickering over what to do about the town's representation meant that the 2003 ward boundaries were not ready in time.  A special election therefore had to be held in 2005 to bring in the new ward boundaries, which saw some major changes to the former Parkfield ward which took the Oxbridge area from Grangefield ward while losing part of the town centre.  Since all these areas are safe Labour anyway that boundary change didn't have much partisan effect: although this ward is part of the marginal seat of Stockton South, it's not the area of it that gave the Tories an unexpected hold here in last year's general election.  Last year's local elections gave the Labour slate here 46%, to 27% for the Tories and 12% for independent candidate Shakeel Noor, with Rose beating the alphabet to come top of the poll.

Defending for Labour is Allan Mitchell, a public sector worker and Ingleby Barwick town councillor.  The Tory candidate is Stephen Richardson, who fought the neighbouring Grangefield ward last year.  Shakeel Noor is not trying again.  Completing the ballot paper are the Lib Dems' Drew Durning and UKIP's Peter Braney.

Parliamentary constituency: Stockton South

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

Sunday, 17 January 2016

By-elections Preview: 21 January 2016

Six by-elections on 21st January 2016.  Five covered here on English Elections, with one more contest taking place in Scotland covered on the Scottish blog, here.

London Borough of Southwark
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Dan Garfield, after being fined and sentenced to a 12-month community order for beating his wife.  Ironically the Labour group's chief whip, Garfield had served since 2010.

Thurlow Street, Wendover
Welcome to inner-city South London.  Faraday ward lies on the northern edge of Burgess Park, one of London's more controversial parks having been developed since the Second World War from what was a heavily built-up residential and industrial area.  However, the ward is named after one of Southwark's most famous sons: the nineteenth-century scientist Michael Faraday, whose discovery of electromagnetic induction, making practical the use of electricity, has greatly shaped the modern world.  A primary school named after Faraday lies at the centre of the ward.

Faraday's discoveries have not led to great riches for the residents of the ward named after him.  This has always been a poor area of London.  At the same time as the Burgess Park area was being cleared, the area immediately to its north was being redeveloped: the result is that byword for urban decay which is the Aylesbury Estate, now being redeveloped in its turn.  The presence of the Aylesbury Estate means that Faraday ward is in the top 10 wards in England and Wales for social housing; the ward also has one of the top 10 black populations in England and Wales.  Unsurprisingly in the current climate the ward is very safe Labour, although the Lib Dems did come close in 2002; at the most recent local election in 2014 the Labour slate had 62%, with the Green Party best of the rest on 12%.  In the 2012 London Assembly election Ken beat Boris 67-18 in the ward's ballot boxes, while in the London Member ballot Labour led the Green Party 67-9.  One of the more unusual features of the previous results for this ward is the presence on the ballot in 2002 of Piers Corbyn, the colourful weather forecaster and brother of a backbench Labour MP called Jeremy: standing as an independent, Corbyn polled 12% and came seventh out of fourteen candidates.

So, probably not too much of a problem for the defending Labour candidate Samantha Jury-Dada, a recent LSE politics graduate who is presently working in Parliament for the Brentford and Isleworth MP Ruth Cadbury.  She is up against the Greens' Nick Hooper, who works in the software industry; the Tories' David Furze; Alhaji Kanumansa of the All People's Party (essentially a Labour splinter group of former Southwark councillors), Lauren Pemberton-Nelson of the Lib Dems, independent candidate Dean Porter and UKIP's Toby Prescott.

Parliamentary constituency: Camberwell and Peckham

May 2014 result Lab 1590/1567/1508 Grn 302/262/251 C 245/216/210 All People's Party 171/163/124 LD 163/139/106 TUSC 113
May 2010 result Lab 2696/2682/2450 LD 869/704/654 C 547/542/444 Grn 293/255 EDP 157
May 2006 result Lab 1809/1728/1641 LD 870/870/839 Respect 359 Ind 219/207 C 210/176/168 Grn 149/145/134
May 2002 result Lab 1301/1220/1198 LD 1128/1114/1079 Ind 349/313 C 96/80/71 Grn 94/92/74

May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Ken 1503 Boris 414 Grn 112 LD 80 Ind 76 UKIP 30 BNP 25
London Members: Lab 1517 Grn 202 C 193 LD 113 UKIP 78 CPA 45 BNP 42 TUSC 24 EDP 20 House Party 14 NF 9 Hayat 3 Alagaratnam 0

Thanet district council, Kent
Caused by the resignation of UKIP councillor Vince Munday, who has emigrated to Thailand.  He had served on the council since May last year.

Newington Community Centre
Readers of this column might have noticed that there was a fair bit of attention on Thanet during last year's election campaign, as a result of the UKIP leader Nigel Farage standing for Parliament in the South Thanet constituency, based on Ramsgate and Sandwich.  He didn't get in, but UKIP had the consolation prize of winning an overall majority on Thanet council, which had previously been evenly split between Labour and the Tories.  The Thanet council term in 2011-15 was very fissiparous, with a long list of defections and by-election changes which eventually cost the ruling Tory group their majority and led to Labour taking control part-way through.  Has anything changed in the brave new UKIP-controlled world since May?  On the face of it, no: as well as this vacancy, five UKIP councillors have left the party to form a "Democratic Independent" group and cost UKIP its majority on the council.  Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Judging from the seat count, the UKIP surge in Thanet last year came at the expense of Labour who now hold just four seats on the council.  In that context it's unsurprising that one of the seats to fall was Newington ward, a working-class inland suburb of Ramsgate off the road to Manston, whose closed airport and the future thereof is one of the political hot potatoes in this part of the world.  Previously a safe Labour ward, Newington gave 44% to UKIP last year and just 36% to Labour, the Tories coming in third with 19%.  Labour weren't helped by deselecting their long-serving councillor Mike Harrison over homophobic comments he had made about former Labour councillor Ian Driver, who following a dizzying series of defections has ended up in the Green Party.  UKIP also hold the ward's county council seats, with the two-member Ramsgate division being safe for them in 2013 but previously Labour-inclined.

Defending for UKIP is Duncan Smithson, who narrowly missed out in Cliftonville East ward last year.  Labour have reselected their runner-up from last year Karen Constantine, who somehow juggles the roles of executive coach, magistrate and mother-of-four while working in London for the Royal College of Midwives.  Law teacher Adam Dark stands for the Conservatives.  Also standing on a crowded ballot paper are independent candidate Grahame Birchall, the aforementioned Ian Driver for the Green Party, independent candidate Alan Hodder and Jordan Williams of the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: South Thanet
Kent county council division: Ramsgate

May 2015 result UKIP 884/845 Lab 728/713 C 390/363
May 2011 result Lab 705/702 C 370/351
May 2007 result Lab 471/438 Ramsgate First 268/196 C 208/197 UKIP 116
May 2003 result Lab 532/498 Ind 235 C 144/140

Wealden district council, East Sussex
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Peter Cowie at the age of 74.  Cowie had only stepped up to the district council in May, but was first elected in 2007 to Crowborough town council; he was Mayor of Crowborough in 2013-14 and was instrumental in setting up the town's new community centre.  In his working life he had worked for Anglian Water for 21 years and in the Department of the Environment.

Stone Cross Road, Crowborough
Seven miles south-west of Tunbridge Wells, Crowborough is East Sussex' largest inland town, growing 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.

Crowborough East is in the top five wards in England and Wales for "other religions", a statistic which appears to be explained by the presence of a large Scientology centre.  In the real world, this is a ward which has trended strongly to the Tories over recent years: it elected two Lib Dems in 2003, but the Tories gained one seat in 2007 and picked up the other in 2011 when the remaining Lib Dem councillor (Jane Clark) stood down.  Clark was back in the fray last year, losing 65-35 to the Tory slate.  The ward is located within the two-seat Crowborough county division, which is safe Conservative.

Defending for the Tories is Philip Lunn.  Former Lib Dem councillor Jane Clark again tries to get her seat back, and the ballot paper is completed by Labour's Linda Scotson.

Parliamentary constituency: Wealden
East Sussex county council division: Crowborough

May 2015 result C 1668/1526 LD 885
May 2011 result C 1026/950 Lab 549
May 2007 result C 581/565 LD 579/510
May 2003 result LD 555/540 C 422/408 Lab 118

Hertfordshire county council
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Steve O'Brien.  Originally elected in 1998 to Watford borough council, he served on Hertsmere borough council from 2008 to 2015 and was first elected to Hertfordshire county council in 2009.  O'Brien served for ten years as chairman of the Watford branch of the Conservatives, and in the 2015 Birthday Honours was gazetted MBE for voluntary political service.

The Avenue, Bushey
For the last of this week's four by-elections in southern England, we travel immediately to the east of Watford.  Now essentially a Watford suburb, the growth of Bushey was essentially snuffed out by the creation of the Green Belt, and much of this ward is given over to sport and a large Jewish cemetery.  The census figures paint a middle-class commuter profile, with a large Jewish population, and the M1 motorway (which originally terminated here) links the ward to the outside world.

Bushey was a long-standing Lib Dem hotspot up until the late noughties when long-serving district and county councillor Michael Colne retired, and the Lib Dem vote retired with him.  Steve O'Brien gained the county division from the Lib Dems in 2009 and made it safe in 2013, when he had 44% to 23% for UKIP and 19% for Labour.  Last year's election results for the one-and-a-half Hertsmere council wards within the division confirm that the area is now safely Conservative.

Defending for the Conservatives is Jane West, a borough councillor within the division.  UKIP have selected David Hoy.  Watford councillor Seamus Williams stands for Labour, and the ballot paper is completed by the Lib Dems' Shailan Shah.

Parliamentary constituency: Hertsmere
Hertsmere district council wards: Bushey North, Bushey St James (part)

May 2013 result C 995 UKIP 524 Lab 437 LD 321
June 2009 result C 1510 LD 1257 Grn 277 Lab 234
May 2005 result LD 2559 C 1807 Lab 876 Grn 223

St Helens metropolitan borough council, Merseyside
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Sheila Seddon at the age of 69.  Having previously worked at Beecham's pharmaceuticals, Seddon had served on St Helens council since 1999 and was Mayor of St Helens in 2007-08.

Elephant Lane, Thatto Heath
This is a south-western suburb of St Helens, sandwiched between the recently-electrified Liverpool-Manchester and Liverpool-Wigan railway lines, with Thatto Heath railway station lying on the latter line.  It has a very high Christian population - in a Lancashire context that generally means Catholic - and a working-class profile, as you might expect given that much of the northern corner of the ward is taken up by the enormous Greengate site run by the glass manufacturers Pilkington's.  Traditionally the largest employer in St Helens, Pilkington's has been knocked about a bit by the recent recession, but the Greengate site still produces 180,000 tonnes of glass every year.  Thatto Heath is also responsible for another St Helens export: Johnny Vegas grew up in the ward.

This is a safe Labour ward whose previous election results show little of interest.  In recent years the Labour vote peaked at 75% in 2012, which was Seddon's last re-election.  At the most recent election in 2015 Labour beat UKIP 66-15.

Defending for Labour is Nova Charlton; she is opposed by UKIP's Alastair Sutcliffe, the Tories' Lisa Mackarell and the Greens' Damien Clarke who stood here last year.  Whoever wins this by-election will be straight back onto the campaign trail to seek re-election in May.

Parliamentary constituency: St Helens South and Whiston

May 2015 result Lab 3757 UKIP 871 C 740 Grn 351
May 2014 result Lab 1510 UKIP 483 C 194 Grn 140 LD 85 BNP 51
May 2012 result Lab 1857 Grn 187 C 178 BNP 136 LD 124
May 2011 result Lab 2409 C 395 LD 282
May 2010 result Lab 2995 LD 1071 C 684 BNP 349
May 2008 result Lab 1328 LD 581 C 301 BNP 284
May 2007 result Lab 1274 LD 794 C 201 BNP 187 Community Action 180
May 2006 result Lab 1308 LD 453 Community Action 363 C 217
June 2004 result Lab 1406/1351/1139 LD 713/502/380 UKIP 429 C 326

Monday, 4 January 2016

By-election Preview: 7 January 2016

Welcome to the 2016 psephological year in the United Kingdom.  Thanks to the two people who enquired after your columnist's health: he had a hernia operation just before Christmas and recovery has been rather slow.  However, there is no problem in putting together a preview for the first council by-election of the year.

Carlisle city council, Cumbria
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Terry Scarborough.  A former chairman of the Botcherby Community Centre who had played football for Carlisle United, Scarborough had served on Carlisle city council since 2003.

St Andrews Church, Botcherby
Northern-based readers of this column might have noticed that the weather over the last two-and-a-half months has been filthy.  Rain upon rain upon rain upon rain upon rain upon rain continuously since at least the middle of October or so.  Your columnist still shudders at the memory of the back half of 2009, when it rained continuously from Wimbledon to Christmas.  What happens when you get all this rain?  Flooding, that's what.  A big problem in a low-lying place like Botcherby ward, an eastern Carlisle suburb incorporated into the city in 1912 and located along the A69 road towards Newcastle, between the rivers Eden and Petteril.  And so it came to pass that when Storm Desmond hit Carlisle on 6th December, Botcherby ward's flood defences - installed at a cost of tens of millions of pounds following a similarly appalling flood in 2005 - were overtopped.

It so happened that while all this devastation was going on, nominations were open for a council by-election in Botcherby ward.  It remains to be seen how many electors are left to vote here, and it is notable that two of the four polling stations for this by-election are portakabins.  The ward itself runs south from the A69 Warwick Road and includes not just Botcherby but also part of the Harraby area, across the Newcastle-Carlisle and Settle-Carlisle railway lines to the south.  It's a very working-class part of Carlisle, with high levels of social renting and in the top 60 wards in England and Wales for semi-routine occupations and part-time working.

Botcherby ward has existed since 1983 and was traditionally as safe Labour as you'd expect with that demographic profile; even at the Labour low point of 1995 they beat the Tories here 82-18.  In fact, the only year in which the Tories carried Botcherby was 1999 - fortunately for them, that was the year the current ward boundaries came into effect, so Labour had to spend the next four years getting their seats back, Terry Scarborough completing the process in 2003.  In recent years Labour have come under pressure in the ward from independents: Robert Betton became the ward's county councillor in 2009 and was elected to the city council in 2010.  In his final re-election in May Scarborough was only 97 votes ahead of independent candidate John (Jack) Paton: in terms of votes Labour had 33%, Paton 29%, the Tories 21% and UKIP 14%.  Until 2013 the ward had the same boundaries as the Botcherby division of Cumbria county council (the present Botcherby division is rather different), and the relevant county council results are shown in the table below.

Defending for Labour is Stephen Sidgwick, who in May contested his come ward, the hopeless Longtown and Rockliffe.  Jack Paton stands again as an independent, and the Tories have selected Robert Currie who in May was on the wrong side of a photofinish in the city's Belle Vue ward.  UKIP aren't bothering this time, so those are your three candidates.

Parliamentary constituency: Carlisle
Cumbria county council division: Botcherby (most), Harraby North (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Carlisle

May 2015 result Lab 822 Ind 725 C 516 UKIP 345 Grn 75
May 2014 result Ind 773 Lab 358 UKIP 217 C 131
May 2012 result Lab 693 Ind 311 C 141 UKIP 107 Grn 24
May 2011 result Lab 720 Ind 432 C 287
May 2010 result Ind 1119 Lab 822 C 443 BNP 134
June 2009 county council result Ind 507 Lab 428 C 366 BNP 116 LD 85 Grn 38
May 2008 result Lab 509 C 443 Ind 313 BNP 145
May 2007 result Lab 618 C 400 BNP 217
May 2006 result Lab 602 C 314 Ind 168
May 2005 county council result Lab 1456 C 591
June 2004 result Lab 813 C 602
May 2003 result Lab 698 C 452
May 2002 result Lab 761 C 445
May 2001 county council result Lab 1361 C 581 LD 320
May 2000 result Lab 484 C 456 Socialist Alternative 305
May 1999 result C 611/609/576 Lab 575/557/549

Monday, 21 December 2015

By-election Preview: 23 December 2015

You're probably sick of Christmas by know and wondering when it's going to be over.  Spare a thought for your columnist, who had a hernia repaired last week and is presently laid up in that phase they euphemistically call "recuperation".  Luckily he found time before his operation to preview the last local by-election of 2015, just two days before Christmas.  Brill, you say?  Correct...

Aylesbury Vale district council, Buckinghamshire
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor John Cartwright at the age of 75.  Cartwright had had a thirty-year career in local government, starting in June 1985 when he won a by-election in the former Grendon Underwood ward, and served as leader of Aylesbury Vale district council from 2001 to 2013.  He also served on Buckinghamshire county council from 1997 to 2013, and his legacy will be the Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury, whose VIP suite is named after him.

St. Leonards, Grendon Underwood
We come to Buckinghamshire, to a group of eight parishes on the Oxfordshire border.  The village of Grendon Underwood lies within the countryside, away from the main road between Aylesbury and Bicester; a good location for the SOE, which had a base here in the Second World War, and now home to a couple of prisons.  The ward named after it extends to the south to include the villages of Ludgershall and (following boundary changes this year) Brill, previously the centre of its own ward and once rather bizarrely the north-western terminus of the London Underground.  Famous people associated with the ward include Tony and Cherie Blair, who bought a house here in 2008 for £4 million; and the Great Train Robbers who hid out in Leatherslade Farm not far away from the Blairs.

Because of the rewarding this year results from Grendon Underwood ward in previous years are not directly comparable, although it's fair to say that on the 2003-2011 boundaries the ward was safe Conservative and Cartwright was unopposed in 2003.  The only previous result on these boundaries is from May, where the Tories beat UKIP 55-22.  UKIP did better in 2013 in the larger Grendon Underwood county division, cutting the Tory majority to nine points; and this ward lies on the proposed route of HS2 so it will be interesting to see whether that has any effect on the election.

The Blairs (if they are registered to vote here) may be disappointed that there is no Labour candidate.  As it's Christmas, the defending Tories have brought out the Branston: Cameron Branston, a Canadian who is the UK commercial officer for the Government of Alberta.  Voters who find Branston not to their taste can choose between UKIP's Gary Good or the Lib Dems' Julian Newman.  Because Thursday this week is Christmas Eve and (understandably) nobody wants to spend Christmas night counting votes, polling for this by-election will be on Wednesday 23rd December.

And that is that for the UK electoral year of 2015.  This column will return in time for the first local by-election of 2016, to take place in flood-hit Carlisle on 7th January; until then, all that remains is for Kris and I to wish both our readers a very Merry Christmas, and a New Year that's better than the year just gone.

Parliamentary constituency: Buckingham
Buckinghamshire county council division: Grendon Underwood
ONS Travel to Work Area: Oxford

May 2015 result C 1068 UKIP 427 Grn 246 LD 213

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

By-election Previews: 15 and 17 December 2015

One by-election on 15th December and four by-elections on 17th December:

15th December:
Spelthorne borough council, Surrey
Caused by the death of the Leader of the Council, Robert Watts, at the age of 64.  A former civil engineer, he was elected to Spelthorne council in 2011 and had been Leader of the Council since 2013.  He was killed in an accidental fire at his home.

This was once Middlesex, the part of what's now Surrey north of the River Thames.  Shepperton is a thriving commuter town within a bend of the Thames; mostly on flood plain, industries here included ropemaking and extraction of brick clay, while in the early 19th century it was a favoured location for writers and artists - Canaletto and Turner both painted pictures of Walton Bridge which links the town with Walton-on-Thames.  The railway came here in 1864 on a branch line from Waterloo, leading to the town being a favoured location for commuters.  As well as Shepperton itself, the ward includes the village of Lower Halliford next to Walton Bridge and some flood plain on the road to Chertsey.

As you might expect, this is a strong Tory ward, although the Lib Dems did win one of the three available seats in the 2003 election.  In May the Tory slate had 56% with UKIP best of the rest of 18%, although the Tory vote here is normally inflated by the presence on the ballot of long-serving councillor Robin Sider who has a large personal vote.

Defending for the Conservatives is Colin Barnard, a retired baker and director of his local residents association.  The UKIP candidate is Brian Catt from Sunbury-on-Thames, who runs an IT consultancy and management business for the European market.  Also on the ballot are Labour's Jonathan Button, the Lib Dems' Richard Dunn and Nigel Scott of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Spelthorne
Surrey county council division: Laleham and Shepperton
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

May 2015 result C 2502/2121/2029 UKIP 823/656 Lab 612/554/524 LD 532
May 2011 result C 1852/1726/1428 LD 698 UKIP 607
May 2007 result C 1489/1345/1248 LD 631/608/509 Lab 182

May 2003 result C 1239/1117/1040 LD 1059/955/864 Lab 144

17th December:
London Borough of Brent
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Dan Filson at the age of 67.  He had been a Brent councillor only since 2014, but previously served for twelve years on Hammersmith and Fulham council where he had been Mayor.  Filson spent his career in the civil service, mostly in the Inland Revenue, before retiring in 2010.

This ward is rather misnamed: while it does include Kensal Green station, it's actually based on the eastern half of Harlesden, with Willesden Junction being the most convenient station for most of the ward.  Kensal Green has traditionally been an immigrant area and is still in the top 30 wards for Irish population, as well as having a large black community - this is a traditional working-class area thanks to the presence nearby of the railway works at Old Oak Common (now a major construction site for Crossrail) and the large Park Royal industrial estate.

As you might expect, this is a safe Labour ward under present circumstances, although the Lib Dems were just 58 votes behind the third Labour candidate in the 2010 election in which Sarah Teather became the local MP.  At the most recent Brent council election in 2014 Labour had 54% to 19% for the Green Party and 15% for the Lib Dems; in the 2012 London Assembly elections Ken beat Boris here 53-30, while on the list ballot Labour had 54% to 16% for the Tories and 13% for the Greens.

Defending for Labour is Jumbo Chan, who according to his LinkedIn is a teacher at Hampstead School and secretary of the Young Fabians Education Network.  He is opposed by Jafar Hassan of the Greens, Sarah Dickson of the Lib Dems, Chris Alley of the Conservatives and the ward's first UKIP candidate, Juliette Nibbs.

Parliamentary constituency: Brent Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

May 2014 result Lab 1819/1808/1730 Grn 621 LD 510/502/481 C 394/382/330
May 2010 result Lab 2172/2064/1782 LD 1724/1601/1570 C 760/569/516 Grn 653/466/346 Ind 450
May 2006 result Lab 1331/1169/1108 LD 671/583/555 Grn 573/473 C 356/326/298
May 2002 result Lab 1157/1017/1008 Grn 303/239 C 292/280/273 LD 258/209/181

2012 GLA election (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Ken 1419 Boris 816 Grn 166 LD 132 Ind 108 UKIP 24 BNP 11
List: Lab 1444 C 433 Grn 357 LD 205 UKIP 65 Chr 60 TUSC 41 BNP 24 EDP 19 House Party 19 Hayat 7 NF 2 Alagaratnam 2

East Hertfordshire district council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Adrian McNeece, a secular atheist, after the failure of his motion not to have prayers at council meetings.

Essentially covering the open space between Hertford and Hoddesdon, Hertford Heath ward is not part of the town but named after the village of the same name.  As well as Hertford Heath, the ward also includes the parish of Brickendon Liberty, a wonderful name for what is essentially a collection of hamlets.  The ward is probably best known for Haileybury College, a public school originally built to train East India Company administrators, whose alumni include the former Prime Minister Clement Attlee and the present Tory MP Nick Herbert.

Hertford Heath's councillors seem to have been controversy magnets over the last couple of years.  McNeece had only represented the ward since May, when he polled 45% to 21% for the previous Tory councillor William Ashley, standing as an independent, and 15% for UKIP.  Ashley had got himself into a series of scrapes over planning applications at his farm in Brickendon, and was eventually dropped by the Conservative party.  He had enjoyed much bigger majorities than McNeece before 2015, and was unopposed in the 2007 election.  At county level this ward is part of the Ware South division, which is safely Conservative.

Even with McNeece gone the troubles for the local Conservative group are not over: the Tory agent messed up his party's nomination papers with the result that their candidate, 32-year-old mother-of-one Charlotte Snowdon, is on the ballot paper without a description.  UKIP's Sheila Pettman tries again after her third-place finish in May.  Also standing are Labour's Graham Nickson, the Lib Dems' Rob Lambie and the Greens' Hilary Cullen.

Parliamentary constituency: Hertford and Stortford
Hertfordshire county council division: Ware South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Harlow and Bishop's Stortford

May 2015 result C 739 Ind 344 UKIP 249 Lab 204 Grn 96
May 2011 result C 753 Lab 319
May 2007 result C unopposed
May 2003 result C 528 Lab 109 LD 90

Worcestershire county council
Caused by the death of Health Concern councillor Jim Parish.  Parish was a former Mayor of Stourport who first entered politics in 1997; he was first elected to Worcestershire county council in 2001, lost his seat in 2005 but returned in 2009.  He had also served on Wyre Forest district council until losing his seat in May.  Away from politics, Parish formerly ran an engineering business in Wednesbury, and had represented England and Worcestershire at bowls.

This column often talks about railway towns, towns that sprung up in the Victorian era around major railway works or railway junctions.  Stourport is a rare example of a canal town, which grew up in the early Georgian era around the junction of the River Severn and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, and for many years goods were transshipped from canal boats to Severn trows (river boats).  However, Stourport's prosperity didn't last for very long, as it was bypassed by the Worcester and Birmingham Canal and later by the railways.

Stourport is part of the Wyre Forest district, where politics has never been quite the same since 1999 and the foundation of the Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern party, initially a single-issue party pressing for the restoration of Kidderminster Hospital's casualty unit which briefly controlled the district council.  Stourport has been a traditional strong point for Health Concern, although they performed poorly in the borough elections this year.  The town forms a two-member county council division whose results have been a mess.  In 2005 the seats split betwen Health Concern and the Tories with Labour not far behind; while in 2009 Health Concern won comfortably.  The May 2013 election saw UKIP top the poll with just 28% and split the seats with Health Concern, Labour and the Tories being close behind, but the UKIP councillor lasted just 13 days in office before it turned out that his Facebook had anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic stuff on it which was too hot even for UKIP to handle.  The resulting by-election at the end of June 2013 saw Health Concern regain their seat with 31%, UKIP polling 26%, the Tories 22% and Labour 18%.  The Conservatives did well here in the 2015 district elections and despite starting in third place will fancy their chances of making a gain.

Defending for Health Concern is Nicky Martin, a Stourport town councillor.  UKIP have reselected their candidate from the June 2013 by-election, former Tory district councillor John Holden.  The Conservative candidate is Tony Muir, a district councillor in the division and a triathlete still in his mid-twenties.  Retired social worker Jill Hawes stands as the Labour candidate, and the ballot is completed by the Greens' Phil Oliver.

Parliamentary constituency: Wyre Forest
Wyre Forest district wards: Areley Kings and Riverside, Lickhill, Mitton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kidderminster

June 2013 by-election Health Concern 1055 UKIP 892 C 753 Lab 607 Grn 77 BNP 39 LD 30
May 2013 result UKIP 1385/1151 Health Concern 1335/1167 Lab 1141/894 C 984/964 Grn 195
June 2009 result Health Concern 2396/2231 C 1894/1764 Lab 724/703 Ind 510 Grn 318 LD 313 Lib 237
May 2005 result Health Concern 3339/2624 C 3266/3060 Lab 2670/2649 Grn 539/507

Ryedale district council, North Yorkshire
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Phil Evans.  He had served only since May.

For our final by-election of the week we head to North Yorkshire and an agglomeration of fifteen parishes to the east, south and west of the twin towns of Malton and Norton.  The ward is named after the river Derwent, which drains the Vale of Pickering and divides the ward into two parts, either side of the steep Kirkham Gorge.  Many tourists are attracted to the ward by the Baroque stately home of Castle Howard, still in private hands and well-known as "Brideshead" in the 1981 Granada TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited.

While Ryedale does have some of a Liberal tradition, this ward is usually safe for the Tories - they have held both seats in every election this century except 2007 when there was only one Conservative candidate.  In May's district election the Tory slate had 47% to 29% for an independent candidate and 25% for the Lib Dems.  The Lib Dems do hold the county council seat for Norton, which covers half the ward, but their vote is concentrated in Norton itself.

This time round an interesting ballot paper could create vote splits on both the Tory and Liberal fronts.  The official defending Conservative candidate is Kerry Ennis, a Malton town councillor.  The ballot paper shows two independent candidates; Stephen Shaw, the former Tory county councillor for Norton who was runner-up here in May, and Darren Allanson who is in fact the official Lib Dem candidate but screwed up his nomination papers (see also Hertford Heath above; it's an amazing coincidence that two candidates can make the same mistake in the same week).  Also standing are Tony Barran for Yorkshire First, and Mike Potter of the unreconstructed Liberal Party who have a power base in Pickering.

Parliamentary constituency: Thirsk and Malton
North Yorkshire county council division: Hovingham and Sheriff Hutton (part: Bulmer, Coneysthorpe, Henderskelfe, Howsham, Huttons Ambo, Welburn and Westow parishes); Norton (part: Acklam, Birdsall, Burythorpe, Langton, Leavening, Scagglethorpe, Scrayingham and Settrington parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Malton and Pickering

May 2015 result C 1077/750 Ind 659 LD 574
May 2011 result C 719/628 Ind 410 LD 329 Lab 265
May 2007 result C 753 LD 444 Ind 401
May 2003 result C 603/510 LD 419

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

By-election Previews: 10 December 2015

Seven local by-elections this week - six taking place in England with one more covered over on the Scottish Elections blog.

Bournemouth council, Dorset
A rare double by-election caused by the elections of Conservative councillors Norman Decent and Roger Marley being voided by the election court.  Both councillors had served only since May.

Sometimes things just go wrong.  When the polls opened on 7th May this year for the ordinary local election in Bournemouth, it quickly became apparent that there was a problem: the books of blank ballot papers which had been sent to the polling stations in Kinson South were actually ballot papers for Kinson North ward, and vice versa.  It took an hour for the problem to be sorted out, and just over 100 voters were affected by what was essentially a printing error.  Unfortunately, these things do happen sometimes.  Even more unfortunately, the votes here in May were close enough that the error might have affected the result, in which two Tory councillors and a UKIP councillor were elected.  The fourth-placed candidate, long-serving Labour councillor Beryl Baxter, took the result to the election court.  The UKIP councillor finished top of the poll, and his majority is large enough that he would have been elected anyway; but the election court has voided the election of the two Conservatives who will now have to go to the electorate all over again.

Kinson itself lies inland, a former village to the north-west of Bournemouth which was annexed by the town in 1931, necessitating a change to what was then the Hampshire/Dorset county boundary.  Kinson South is normally Bournemouth's Labour stronghold, in sharp contrast to the rest of the town which these days votes Conservative; however, the Tories gained one of the three Labour seats in 2011.  The voided 2015 election had a very fractured result: UKIP topped the poll with just 25% of the vote, with the Tories just behind also on 25%, Labour polling 22% and 10% of the vote each for the Bournemouth Independent Alliance and the Green Party.

This double by-election has attracted a field of twelve candidates.  The two outgoing Tory councillors, Norman Decent and Roger Marley, are standing for re-election.  UKIP, interestingly, only have a single candidate, Duane Farr, who according to his Twitter is an "NHS pain management volunteer".  The mind boggles.  On the Labour slate, Beryl Baxter is hoping to complete the job of getting her seat back after winning her case in the election court; she is joined by Mel Semple, a doctor who has fought the ward in the last two elections.  Philip Davenport and Roger West stand for the Bournemouth Independent Alliance: Davenport stood here in May while West is a former Lib Dem borough councillor.  The Greens have two new candidates, Geoffrey Darnton and Carla Gregory-May.  Completing the ballot paper are Phil Dunn and Gill Pardy, who form the Lib Dem slate, and Kevin Dixon who is the candidate of Patria, an obscure far-right group.

Parliamentary constituency: Bournemouth West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bournemouth

May 2015 partially void result UKIP 1224 C 1188/1147/919 Lab 1083/951/875 Bournemouth Independent Alliance 489 Grn 471 LD 378
May 2011 result Lab 1043/992/892 C 922/787/782 LD 308/256
May 2007 result Lab 861/736/711 LD 536/534/523 C 493/486/476 UKIP 233/211 Ind 118
May 2003 result Lab 940/876/862 C 457/448/437 LD 321/268/251

Huntingdonshire district council, Cambridgeshire
Caused by the resignation of UKIP councillor Andrew Hardy on health grounds.  Having served since May 2014, he was about to be disqualified for non-attendance.

Moving north, we take the Great North Road and come to Huntingdon, a thriving market town in Cambridgeshire which was once the centre of its own county.  One of three wards covering the town itself, Huntingdon East ward covers part of the town centre but is based on Hartford, a suburb which now forms the eastern edge of town.

This ward has traditionally been a Tory/Lib Dem marginal: it elected three Conservatives at the first poll in its current form in 2004, with the Lib Dems gaining two of the seats in 2006 and 2008 respectively.  That balance persisted until 2014, when UKIP topped the poll in a close three-way result and gained a seat from the Lib Dems.  At the most recent ordinary election in May the Tory seat was up, and the Conservatives held it with 35% to 28% for the Lib Dems and 23% for UKIP, a Conservative majority of 331.  The ward forms part of a county council division based on Godmanchester which has been trending towards the Lib Dems over the last decade, although the most recent county election was a very close three-way split with Lib Dem majorities of 55 and 24 over UKIP.

Defending for UKIP is Martin Cohen, the runner-up here in 2013's county council election.  Tom Fletcher hopes to make the gain for the Conservatives.  The Lib Dems have selected Ste Greenall, a district councillor for this ward from 2010 until losing his seat to UKIP in 2014.  Completing the ballot paper is Labour's Duncan Williams.

Parliamentary constituency: Huntingdon
Cambridgeshire county council division: Godmanchester and Huntingdon East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Huntingdon

May 2015 result C 1595 LD 1264 UKIP 1065 Lab 566 TUSC 52
May 2014 result UKIP 882 LD 848 C 702 Lab 282
May 2012 result LD 823 C 789 UKIP 336 Lab 282
May 2011 result C 1424 LD 989 Lab 492
May 2010 result LD 2075 C 1766 Lab 453 Grn 202
May 2008 result LD 1239 C 1016 Lab 154 UKIP 145 Grn 64
May 2007 result C 1173 LD 901 Lab 188 Grn 125
May 2006 result LD 1326 C 1073 Lab 247
June 2004 result C 1236/1146/1114 LD 1040/988/960 UKIP 442 Lab 297/289/272

Harborough district council, Leicestershire
Caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Callis at the age of 76.  Callis had a long career in local government, sitting on Harborough district council from 1979 to 1983 and continuously since 1991, and also on Leicestershire county council from 1993 to 2009.  Away from politics he worked as a carpet fitter, and leaves behind a wife and two sons.

Moving into the Midlands with another market town on a main line from London.  Market Harborough has a long history as a royal manor and a service centre for Rockingham Forest, an ancient royal hunting forest.  In the early nineteenth century the town was joined to the canal network with a branch of the Grand Union canal terminating here; a century later a National Festival of Boats held in the canal basin kickstarted a revival in the canal network for leisure use.  One of four wards covering the town, Logan ward is the north-west corner, containing part of the town centre and the canal basin, and is named after Logan Street which connects the canal with the Coventry Road.

Peter Callis had a strong personal vote and tended to run well ahead of his Lib Dem running-mate in this ward, which is one reason that the ward's two seats have split Lib Dem/Tory at every election since 2007.  In May's local elections the Lib Dem slate was top with 36% to 35% for the Tories and 15% for Labour, Callis being just 21 votes ahead of the new Tory candidate.  The Conservatives hold the local county council seat, defeating Callis in 2009 by just eight votes and increasing their majority in 2013 to eighteen votes.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Barbara Johnson, a former district councillor for the town's Great Bowden and Arden ward who lost her seat in May.  The Tories' Paul Bremner is also hoping to make a quick return to the council, having been the Tory councillor here from 2007 until standing down in 2015.  The Labour candidate is Anne Pridmore, a disability rights campaigner.  Also standing are UKIP's Robert Davison and Darren Woodiwiss of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Harborough
Leicestershire county council division: Market Harborough East and Foxton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester

May 2015 result LD 996/660 C 975/645 Lab 416 Grn 368
May 2011 result LD 734/609 C 729/508 Lab 230/220 Ind 98
May 2007 result C 718/584 LD 663/528
Aug 2004 by-election LD 615 C 570
May 2003 result LD 876/808 C 592/460

North East Derbyshire district council
Caused respectively by the resignation of Conservative councillor Gary Griffin-Chappel and the death of Labour councillor Tricia Williams at the age of 64.  Griffin-Chappel's resignation comes after just five months on the council as he is moving to New Zealand.  Williams was a retired NHS administrator who had served on North East Derbyshire council since 1996.

Continuing our trip north, we come to two Derbyshire wards which despite being within the same district are chalk and cheese.  Centred on junction 29 of the M1, Holmewood and Heath is a rather strange name for a ward which is based on the parish of Heath and Holmewood: the explanation for this reversal is that Holmewood is now the major player in the division, the village having been built essentially from scratch in 1905 by and for the Williamthorpe Colliery Company.  Yes, this is a pit village, which has suffered massive unemployment since the Williamthorpe Colliery closed in 1970.  In response, the Thatcher government and the local council set up an enterprise zone, using the village's proximity to the M1 and a series of financial incentives to lure business to the area.  It's a textbook example of the decline of the former pit villages, and indeed the story of Holmewood was used as an example in a 2004 GCSE geography textbook.  The ward has politics to match, being Labour at every election this century except a by-election in April 2008 which saw a freak Lib Dem win; that seat was recovered by Labour at a further by-election in February 2010 and the Lib Dems haven't been seen here since.  Last May's election was a straight fight between Labour and the Tories, with Labour winning 71-29.

Given what I've just said, you might have expected that Coal Aston would have a similar history and economy.  You'd be wrong: it's a village on the eastern edge of Dronfield and just outside the Sheffield city limits.  In other words, it's a commuter village and has politics to match: it has been trending towards the Tories in recent years and in May the Tories beat Labour here 51-34.

So, two by-elections in safe seats, both of which are straight fights between the Tories and Labour.  In Coal Aston, Dronfield town councillor Gareth Hopkinson (Conservative) is opposed by banker David Cheetham (Labour).  In Holmewood and Heath the Labour candidate, "business advisor, social enterprise expert and employability coach" Suzy Cornwell Ball (appearing on the ballot paper as Suzy Cornwell) is opposed by the Tories' Caroline Ellis.

Coal Aston
Parliamentary constituency: North East Derbyshire
Derbyshire county council division: Eckington and Killamarsh (most); Dronfield East (small part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Sheffield and Rotherham

May 2015 result C 1034/941 Lab 691/608 UKIP 283
May 2011 result C 730/680 Lab 546/543 LD 198
May 2007 result C 569/514 Lab 378/341 LD 221/220
May 2003 result C 484 Lab 439/418

Holmewood and Heath
Parliamentary constituency: Bolsover
Derbyshire county council division: Sutton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chesterfield

May 2015 result Lab 925/841 C 376/325
May 2011 result Lab 607/582 C 248
Feb 2010 by-election Lab 373 C 209
Apr 2008 by-election LD 382 Lab 356 C 165
May 2007 result Lab unopposed
May 2003 result Lab unopposed

Fylde district council, Lancashire
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Len Davies, who had served on Fylde council since winning a by-election in November 2009.

A bit bracing at this time of year, but welcome to the seaside.  This is the centre of Lytham, covering the East Beach (almost as far as the windmill) and Lytham railway station.  The ward is named after the Clifton family, who controlled Lytham until the middle of the twentieth century, and has a reputation as the rich end of the Blackpool conurbation.

Despite that, this ward hasn't been plain sailing for the Tories who are often run close by independent candidates, and in 2011 for some reason the Conservatives only stood two candidates for the three seats.  In May's election the Conservatives recovered the monopoly on the ward which they had lost in 2007, but outgoing independent councillor Kenneth Hopwood lost his seat by just six votes; he had 36% to 46% for the Tory slate and 18% for Labour.  The Conservatives do better here at county council level where Lytham is a safe seat.

Defending for the Tories is Peter Anthony, a singer, entertainer and bar owner who fought Blackpool South in this year's general election.  Noreen Griffiths stands as an independent candidate.  Labour have selected Jed Sullivan, a youth worker who fought Fylde in this year's general election.  Also on the ballot are Luke Gibbon of the Lib Dems and Tim Wood of UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Fylde
Lancashire county council division: Lytham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackpool

May 2015 result C 1385/1136/1087 Ind 1081 Lab 554
May 2011 result C 828/699 Ind 813/804
Nov 2009 by-election C 386 Fylde Ratepayers 372 LD 241 Lab 80 Grn 13
May 2007 result C 837/739/710 Ind 735 Lab 239
May 2003 result C 874/722/651 Fylde Ratepayers 609/559 Lab 232