Wednesday, 29 July 2015

By-election Previews: 30 July 2015

Five by-elections on 30th July 2015.  Three will be held in mid-size English towns, two in the Midlands and one in Northumberland; while on Scottish Elections the SNP will try to hold two seats in Aberdeen after their councillors were elected to Parliament in the recent SNP surge.

Northumberland council
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Jimmy Sawyer at the age of 64, from pulmonary fibrosis.  A founder member of the unitary Northumberland council in 2008, Sawyer had started his political career on the former Wansbeck district council and worked for thirty years at Ellington Colliery.

Welcome to Ashington, one of the major towns of Northumberland around 15 miles north of Newcastle.  By tradition the world's biggest mining village, Ashington was called into existence in the 1840s when the Duke of Portland developed housing for workers at his collieries, and to encourage immigration from Ireland which was at the time in the grip of the potato famine.  Coal-mining was the dominant industry here right up to 2005 when Ellington Colliery closed.  Apart from coal, Ashington is known for the Ashington Group or Pitmen Painters, an art group made up of local miners, and for producing a very large number of professional footballers, most notably the Milburn and Charlton brothers.  It's perhaps fitting that the town is represented in Parliament by the former NUM chairman Ian Lavery, whose two sons both represent this division on Ashington town council.

The College division lies in the Hirst area of the town east of the railway line, and is named after what is now Northumberland College, the town's main FE provider; it runs down to the north bank of the River Wansbeck.  Most of the division's housing is of 1960s vintage and the population bears the hallmarks of ex-coalmining areas: almost uniformly British with high levels of unemployment, social housing and no qualifications.  Its politics also fall into that pattern: the only previous result on these boundaries (in 2013) saw Labour poll 90.7% in a straight fight with the Conservatives.

Defending for Labour is Ashington town councillor Mark Purvis, who faces opposition fom the Tories' Chris Galley, UKIP's Peter Curtis and the Lib Dems' Andy McGregor.

Parliamentary constituency: Wansbeck
ONS Travel to Work Area: Morpeth, Ashington and Alnwick

May 2013 result Lab 878 C 90

Wychavon district council, Worcestershire
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Glenise Noyes at the age of 71.  The Mayor of Droitwich in 2008/09, Mrs Noyes had been first elected to Wychavon district council in 2011 for Droitwich Central ward, and had moved to Droitwich East ward in May's election just a few weeks before her death.

Here we are in one of the oldest towns in Worcestershire.  The Anglo-Saxon suffix "wich" and the Roman name "Salinae" both give clues as to Droitwich's major industry: salt.  There are massive salt deposits underneath the town, some of which comes up to the surface in a series of pits which are almost pure brine and as concentrated as the Dead Sea.  In the nineteenth century Droitwich became a spa town, with swimming in the water marketed as providing muscle relief.  Since the Second World War Droitwich's population has trebled as a result of Birmingham overspill, thanks to the town's proximity to the M5 motorway and the relatively good railway service, with three trains each hour to Worcester and Birmingham.

Droitwich East ward covers the east of the town, hard up against the M5; its census statistics show a relatively high number of over-65s.  It has consistently returned two Conservatives to Wychavon council, although the 2003 result was quite close between the Tories and Labour.  In May's ordinary election the Tories had a comfortable win with 44% against divided opposition, with 21% for Labour, 20% for UKIP and 15% for the Lib Dems; all the opposition parties only had single candidates, pointing to a lack of organisation in the area.  The Droitwich East county division, which covers the whole of this ward and parts of two other wards, is more interesting: in 2005 Labour win a three-way marginal fight, but didn't defend their seat in 2009 with the Tories gaining in a close fight with the Lib Dems, while at the most recent county election in 2013 a residents' group came a strong second.

Those same four parties are contesting this by-election.  Hoping to gather the fallen and lift the masses is lingerie company boss Karen Tomalin, who is the defending Conservative candidate.  The Labour candidate is Jacqui O'Reilly, chair of Mid Worcestershire CLP who fought Droitwich West ward in May; she gives an address in Kidderminster.  The only candidate for this ward to return from May, and the only one to give an address in Droitwich, is Andy Morgan for UKIP.  Completing the ballot paper is the Lib Dem candidate Rory Roberson, from Fernhill Heath near Worcester.

Parliamentary constituency: Mid Worcestershire
Worcestershire county council division: Droitwich East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Worcester and Malvern

May 2015 result C 1587/1201 Lab 775 UKIP 724 LD 534
May 2011 result C 1033/998 Lab 585/538 LD 343
May 2007 result C 899/859 Lab 577/555 LD 408
May 2003 result C 788/716 Lab 691/667

North Kesteven district council, Lincolnshire
Caused by the resignation of Lincolnshire Independents councillor Jill Wilson on health grounds.  First elected to the district council here in 2007 as a Liberal Democrat candidate, she retired in 2011 but returned to the council in May's ordinary election.

Named after Mill Lane, this ward lies at the south-western edge of the Lincoln urban area.  It forms part of North Hykeham, a Lincoln suburb which has never been incorporated into the city proper.  The ward is relatively well off with high levels of full-time employment.

The Conservatives have consistently held one, but only one, of the two district council seats in this ward.  In 2007 the other seat went to Jill Wilson, the single Liberal Democrat candidate, who topped the poll.  Wilson stood down in 2011 and her seat was won by independent candidate Helen Clark in a close three-way result.  The 2015 election saw the Tory slate opposed only by Jill Wilson, standing for the Lincolnshire Independents, who defeated the second Tory candidate by eight votes.  At county level almost all of the ward is within the Skellingthorpe and Hykeham South division, which has been Lib Dem-held since 2009.

There is no defending Lincolnshire Independents candidate in this by-election, so this seat is up for grabs.  There is an independent candidacy in the shape of John Bishop, a former Lib Dem district councillor for another North Hykeham ward who lost his seat in May; he is standing under the "Hykeham Independents" label.  Mike Clarke, the Tory candidate who lost by eight votes in May, returns to the fray; he is the husband of the ward's Tory councillor since 2011 Andrea Clarke.  Also on the ballot paper are Elizabeth Bathory-Porter of the Green Party, Diana Catton of the Lib Dems and Terence Dooley for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Sleaford and North Hykeham
Lincolnshire county council division: (almost all) Skellingthorpe and Hykeham South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lincoln

May 2015 result C 1478/1005 Lincs Ind 1013
May 2011 result C 495/314 Ind 463 Lincs Ind 458
May 2007 result LD 396 C 315/304 UKIP 157

By-election Previews: 23 July 2015

Five by-elections on 23rd July 2015, with Labour defending four (one of which will be covered on Welsh Elections) and the Lib Dems one.

North East Lincolnshire council
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Mick Burnett.

It's July, the schools are out, the weather's nice (probably), so what else to do but go to the seaside?  The curiously-named Croft Baker ward covers the seafront and town centre of Cleethorpes, running south-east and south-west from the town's pier.  Like many resorts, Cleethorpes has seen better days, and the 2011 census paints a run-down picture: high levels of no qualifications, part-time work, unemployment and semi-routine occupations.  Not an unusual story for the seaside, where work is often low-paid and difficult to come by.

In the current political climate this ward is safe for Labour, although it was a Lib Dem-inclined marginal during the Noughties and UKIP came close in 2014.  Mick Burnett had gained his seat from the Lib Dems in 2007, and at his last re-election just two months ago he won with 40% of the vote, with the Tories (27%) and UKIP (23%) disputing second place.

Defending for Labour is Annie Darby, a former Lib Dem councillor (for Yarborough ward) who defected to Labour in 2013.  The Tories have re-selected their May candidate Hayden Dawkins, a letting agent.  UKIP's candidate Graham Critchley, a health and safety instructor, is also straight back on the campaign trail.  In fact the Lib Dems are the only opposition party to change their candidate from May, Roy Horobin being their replacement; also on the ballot paper are James Barker for the Green Party and Dave Mitchell for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

Parliamentary constituency: Cleethorpes

May 2015 result Lab 2056 C 1370 UKIP 1202 LD 220 Grn 202 TUSC 95
May 2014 result Lab 1031 UKIP 885 Ind 424 C 352 TUSC 104 LD 61
May 2012 result Lab 1327 UKIP 448 LD 418 C 364
May 2011 result Lab 1619 C 964 LD 460
May 2010 result Lab 1853 C 1521 LD 1198 UKIP 410 Ind 105
May 2008 result LD 1052 Lab 890 C 774 Ind 166
May 2007 result Lab 984 LD 975 C 621 Ind 222
May 2006 result LD 1217 Lab 943 Ind 463
June 2004 result LD 1242 Lab 1117 Ind 762 Ind 412 Ind 129
May 2003 result LD 1326/1135/1286 Lab 1250/1124/1078

Westminster city council, London
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Nilavra Mukerji.

This is in the north-west corner of the City of Westminster, within the W9 (Maida Vale) postal district generally to the north of the eponymous Harrow Road and radiating from its junction with Elgin Avenue.  Like much of central London, this is a heavily immigrant area: the White British population of 29% is one of the lowest scores in the country, while there are very high populations of Irish people (2%), people from EU-15 countries (8%) and people aged between 30 and 44 (31%).  43% of the ward's households are socially rented, indicating this is very much the more downmarket end of Westminster.

This is reflected in the ward's election results, which are safe for Labour.  At the last London borough elections in 2014 the Labour slate had 58% here, the Tory slate's 18% being best of the rest.  Flicking back a few years, at the bottom of the Conservative slate here in the 2002 was one Edward Vaizey, who has since gone on to greater things as MP for a safe Tory seat in Oxfordshire and as a junior minister responsible for digital industries.

In a three-cornered race, the defending Labour candidate is Tim Roca, a former president of Lancaster University Students' Union who was Labour candidate for his native Macclesfield in the recent general election.  The Tory candidate is Wilford Augustus, a digital PR consultant, and UKIP have selected Robert Stephenson, who fought the Cities of London and Westminster in the general election.

Parliamentary constituency: Westminster North

May 2014 result Lab 1788/1493/1415 C 546/406/349 Grn 464 UKIP 308
May 2010 result Lab 2730/2316/2137 LD 1152 C 1120/1018/950 Grn 740 UKIP 218
May 2006 result Lab 1036/899/877 C 523/520/520 LD 411/369/325
July 2005 by-election Lab 774 C 306 LD 150
May 2002 result Lab 1029/952/942 C 362/328/287 Grn 289 LD 278

Elmbridge borough council, Surrey
Caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Toni Izard.

For our second London-area by-election of the week we head out to the suburbs.  Just outside the Greater London boundary, Long Ditton is a residential area on the south bank of the River Thames, bisected by the Portsmouth Road and the South Western Main Line, although there is no station here.  While its census stats bear some of the London hallmarks, the figures which stand out are that 55% of the adult population work in some form of management and 49% hold a degree-level qualification.  Truly this is where the middle classes live.

From being a normally safe Lib Dem ward in the Blair and Brown years this ward has developed into a close Lib Dem/Tory marginal: in May's ordinary election the Lib Dems beat the Tories by 46% to 45%, a majority of 49 votes.  Despite this marginal status, the only time the Tories have actually won Long Ditton this century was a rather freakish 21-vote victory in 2008.  Toni Izard recovered that seat in 2012 with a majority of 28.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Neil Houston, who from 2010 to 2014 was a councillor for the neighbouring Surbiton Hill ward of Kingston upon Thames council.  The Tory candidate from May, Hugh Evans, is straight back on the campaign trail; he works for the NHS and also broadcasts on a local radio station (Brooklands Radio).  Also straight back on the stump is UKIP's Susannah Cunningham, and the ballot paper is completed by Laura Harmour who is the ward's first Green Party candidate for twelve years.

Parliamentary constituency: Esher and Walton

May 2015 result LD 1635 C 1586 UKIP 313
May 2014 result LD 1105 C 602 UKIP 259 Lab 158
May 2012 result LD 916 C 888 Lab 151
May 2011 result LD 1072 C 1029 Lab 223
May 2010 result LD 2022 C 1347
May 2008 result C 891 LD 870 Lab 84
May 2007 result LD 864 C 612 Lab 67
May 2006 result LD 1022 C 674 Lab 82
June 2004 result LD 1018 C 615 Lab 98
May 2003 result LD 760 C 415 Grn 102
May 2002 result LD 846 C 498 Lab 100

Blackburn with Darwen council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Carol Walsh.

South-west of the town centre, this ward is centred on the Mill Hill railway station on the Blackburn-Preston line.  The census stats show that this is a white working-class area of town, and the ward's safe Labour status bears this out - although the Lib Dems did win the predecessor to this ward in 2002 and nicked one of the three seats here at the first election on the current boundaries, in 2004.  The Lib Dem councillor lost his seat in 2007 and has been trying to get back ever since with an increasing lack of success.  UKIP took over second place in 2014, and in May's ordinary election Labour had 50% to 28% for UKIP and 17% for the Conservatives.

Defending for Labour is Carl Nuttall, seeking to make a quick return to Blackburn with Darwen council after losing his seat to the Tories in May in the neighbouring Meadowhead ward.  He shoud have an easier ride here.  All three of the unsuccessful candidates fom May try again: they are Michael Longbottom for UKIP, Helen Tolley for the Tories and former councillor Alan Dean for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Blackburn

May 2015 result Lab 1084 UKIP 618 C 375 LD 100
May 2014 result Lab 772 UKIP 401 C 149
May 2012 result Lab 874 C 175 LD 122
May 2011 result Lab 967 C 264 LD 220
May 2010 result Lab 1055 LD 583 C 436 BNP 332
May 2008 result Lab 676 LD 608
May 2007 result Lab 668 England First Party 302 LD 281 BNP 216 C 195
May 2006 result Lab 727 BNP 437 C 268 LD 266
June 2004 result Lab 758/520/507 LD 655/437/389 BNP 377 C 321 Ind 169

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

By-election Previews: 16 July 2015

Apologies for the lack of an article last week - your regular writer was unfortunately unwell, and your editor was too busy settling into his new day job to stand in.  One of these days I might actually clear my to-do list...

Eight by-elections on 16th July 2015, six in England and two in Wales:

Rother district council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Martin Noakes on health grounds.  Noakes had served as a councillor for just three weeks.

A few miles to the north-west of Hastings, Battle is inextricably linked with the events of 14th October 1066, the misnamed "Battle of Hastings" in which William, Duke of Normandy, put an end to the succession crisis following the death of King Edward the Confessor by defeating and killing Harold Godwinson, ending Saxon rule over England.  And the rest is history.  The Normans built an abbey on the site of the battlefield, which was dedicated in 1095, and a town grew up around Battle Abbey which now has a population of around 6,000.  Although the town was known in the eighteenth century for production of high-quality gunpowder, the main industry here now is tourism.

Battle's civil parish sprawls around a fairly large area of Sussex, but this ward consists only of the town itself.  Over the last fifteen years it has normally been a safe Liberal Democrat ward, but May's local election saw the Lib Dems narrowly lose one of the ward's two seats to a single Conservative candidate.  That result probably came as a surprise to the new Conservative councillor, who was not in the best of health during the campaign.  The surviving Lib Dem councillor is also the county councillor for the wider Battle and Crowhurst division and clearly has a personal vote: in May she gave the Lib Dem slate 47% of the vote to 38% for the Tory, the remaining 15% going to the Labour candidate.

Hazel Sharman defends for the Conservatives; she gives an address in Robertsbridge.  The defeated Lib Dem councillor in May, Kevin Dixon, wants his seat back.  Also on the ballot paper are Timothy Macpherson for Labour and the ward's first UKIP candidate, Tony Smith.

Parliamentary constituency: Bexhill and Battle
East Sussex county council division: Battle and Crowhurst
ONS Travel to Work Area: Hastings

May 2015 result LD 1481/1134 C 1199 Lab 469
May 2011 result LD 960/778 C 640/529 Lab 276 Grn 261
May 2007 result LD 892/759 C 649/532 Lab 165
May 2003 result LD 668/664 C 599/560 Lab 182

Norfolk county council
Caused respectively by the disqualification of UKIP councillor Matthew Smith and by the resignation of Labour councillor Deborah Gihawi.  Smith has pleaded guilty to causing or permitting a false statement to be included in nomination papers for the 2013 election.  Gihawi had fallen out with the Labour party over a Facebook comment she made on Jews, and had resigned her seat on Norwich city council earlier in the year; her resignation came shortly after her Labour party membership was reinstated.

These divisions are both urban.  Gorleston St Andrews division can be found in Great Yarmouth, based on the seaside resort of Gorleston-on-Sea at the mouth of the River Yare.  Mile Cross division is in north-western Norwich along the Drayton Road, and has the same boundaries as the Norwich city council ward of the same name; over half the households are socially rented, and nearly 5% of its population came from the new EU states according to the last census.

The Gorleston St Andrews by-election will be an interesting indication of the health of UKIP at the moment: Great Yarmouth is one of the party's strongest areas and Smith was the party's PPC for Great Yarmouth until the electoral fraud allegations came to light.  UKIP gained what had been a safe Conservative division in 2013, with a majority of 20 votes over the Labour candidate Tony Wright, who had been MP for Great Yarmouth from 1997 to 2010.  The division is made up of the Gorleston and St Andrews wards of Great Yarmouth council; St Andrews was Tory until 2008 but has been Labour since then, including in May's election, while the normally Tory-inclined Gorleston ward was last up in 2014, which was the year UKIP won on the way to getting ten out of a possible thirteen seats in the borough.

Adrian Myers defends this seat for UKIP; he is a Great Yarmouth borough councillor representing the rural Lothingland ward.  The Labour candidate is one of the few local by-election candidates to have their own Wikipedia page; he is Tony Wright, the former MP for Great Yarmouth.  The Tories have selected Graham Plant, another Great Yarmouth borough councillor (for Bradwell North ward).  Also on the ballot paper are Tony Harris for the Lib Dems and Harry Webb for the Green Party.

Mile Cross is normally a Labour area, but the Lib Dems won one of the city council seats in 2004, which was the first election on the current boundaries, going on to hold that seat in a July 2006 by-election; and the Green Party carried the area in the 2009 county council election.  Gihawi gained the Lib Dem city council seat in 2008 and the Green county council seat in 2013.  In May's city council election Labour had a big lead in a rather fragmented result, with 37% to 20% each for the Tories and UKIP and 18% for the Greens.  Labour's defending candidate is Chrissie Rumsby, who is opposed by Richard Edwards for the Green Party, Michelle Ho for UKIP, Chelsea Bales for the Tories and Tom Dymoke for the Lib Dems.

Gorleston St Andrews
Parliamentary constituency: Great Yarmouth
Great Yarmouth borough council wards: Gorleston, St Andrews
ONS Travel to Work Area: Great Yarmouth

May 2013 result UKIP 874 Lab 854 C 653
June 2009 result C 1223 UKIP 728 Lab 572
May 2005 result C 1798 Lab 1654 LD 736 UKIP 225

Mile Cross
Parliamentary constituency: Norwich North
Norwich city council ward: Mile Cross
ONS Travel to Work Area: Norwich

May 2015 city council result Lab 1675/1410 C 921/653 UKIP 905 Grn 802/605 LD 272/204
May 2014 city council result Lab 986 UKIP 568 Grn 481 C 292 LD 112
May 2013 result Lab 913 Grn 435 UKIP 397 C 217 LD 86
May 2012 city council result Lab 1019 Grn 409 C 297 LD 134
May 2011 city council result Lab 1227 C 445 Grn 343 LD 288 UKIP 105
Sept 2010 city council result Lab 797 LD 455 C 266 Grn 238 UKIP 90
June 2009 result Grn 620 Lab 614 C 547 LD 318
May 2008 city council result Lab 778 C 443 LD 439 Grn 325
May 2007 city council result Lab 1013 LD 707 C 305 Grn 298
July 2006 city council by-election LD 789 Lab 702 Grn 115 C 106
May 2006 city council result Lab 849 LD 700 Grn 250 C 235
May 2005 result Lab 1787 LD 799 C 537 Grn 322
June 2004 city council result LD 936/656/642 Lab 897/862/785 C 250/236/205 Grn 249/190/159 Legalise Cannabis Alliance 108

Tendring district council
Caused by the resignation of UKIP councillor Len Sibbald after just a few weeks in office.

The week's third by-election in the East of England, and another indicator of the current health of UKIP in their strongest area.  Rush Green is a ward on the western edge of Clacton-on-Sea, which is of course the constituency of UKIP's only MP Douglas Carswell.  It was a Labour ward in 2003, but the Tories gained convincingly in 2007 only to just as convincingly lose to UKIP in May: UKIP had 48% in May to 30% for the Conservatives and 21% for Labour.

Since May's election there have been some interesting machinations on Tendring council.  In the election UKIP were the second largest party on 22 seats, one seat behind the Conservatives who were themselves eight seats short of a majority.  The Tories offered UKIP a coalition deal, and the UKIP group split down the middle over whether to accept it; eight UKIP councillors eventually agreed to being part of the administration, a decision which has led to their being kicked out of the party.  Len Sibbald himself was briefly part of the rebel group before coming back into the official party fold and promptly resigning his seat.

Defending for UKIP is Richard Everett.  Danny Mayzes, the Tory councillor who lost his seat in May, wants it back.  The Labour candidate is Samantha Atkinson, and also standing is independent candidate William Hones.

Parliamentary constituency: Clacton
Essex county council division: Clacton North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Clacton

May 2015 result UKIP 870/751 C 540/439 Lab 385/357
May 2011 result C 491/467 Lab 374/344 LD 121/109 BNP 104
May 2007 result C 544/509 Lab 360/359
May 2003 result Lab 300/283 LD 224/217 C 198

Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames
Caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Chrissie Hitchcock.  Twice Mayor of Kingston, Hitchcock had represented Grove ward since 1990.

This week's London by-election is in Kingston upon Thames, a borough which is coming out in by-elections like a rash; this is the third Grove by-election in as many years, and the second in three months.  The Grove ward covers the town centre, running south from the railway station along the riverfront past the town hall, Surrey County Hall and Kingston University.  Several Saxon kings were crowned here in days of olden time, and as a result the town has the status of a Royal Borough.

The Conservatives won the Kingston parliamentary constituency two months ago, defeating the Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey.  Davey knew he had a fight on his hands, with a July 2012 by-election in Grove ward and the 2014 ordinary election being photo-finishes in what had previously been a safe Lib Dem ward.  The 2014 election saw the Tories gain one of the Lib Dem seats after the Lib Dems nominated a candidate with a Muslim name who lagged a long way behind his running-mates; sadly, not an uncommon pattern.  The ward's other Lib Dem councillor resigned this year due to work commitments, following criticism over his attendance, and the by-election was held simultaneously with May's general election resulting in a Lib Dem hold by just 18 votes; the Lib Dems and Tories polled 32% each, Labour 17% and the Green Party 9%.  In the 2012 GLA elections Boris beat Ken here by 48 to 26.

For the ward's second by-election of the year the defending Lib Dem candidate is Jon Tolley, manager of an independent record shop.  The Tories have selected Jenny Lewington.  Laurie South tries again for Labour after finishing third in the May by-election.  The new Green candidate is Clare Keogh.  John Anderson, for UKIP, completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Kingston and Surbiton
GLA constituency: South West
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

May 2015 by-election LD 1634 C 1616 Lab 853 Grn 458 UKIP 241 Ind 238 TUSC 44
May 2014 result LD 1041/990/888 C 960/958/906 Lab 699/577/497 Grn 404/384/366
July 2012 by-election LD 720 C 687 Lab 440 Grn 123 UKIP 56 BNP 23 CPA 20
May 2010 result LD 2527/2391/2037 C 1505/1475/1390 Grn 713 Lab 618/584/576 Ind 272
May 2006 result LD 1186/1059/1000 C 881/814/782 Grn 452 Lab 231/205/203
Nov 2004 by-election LD 948 C 513 Lab 213 Grn 105 EDP 26 Soc Lab 17
May 2002 result LD 1290/1287/1172 C 616/603/576 Grn 148/115/99 Lab 142/132/122 CPA 42

May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Boris 902 Ken 497 Grn 167 Benita 147 Paddick 123 UKIP 37 BNP 10
London list: C 590 Lab 441 LD 338 Grn 299 UKIP 102 CPA 30 TUSC 26 BNP 17 EDP 16 House Party 10 Hayat 8 NF 4 Alagaratnam 4

Cumbria county council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Bert Richardson due to ill health.  He was first elected to Cumbria county council in 1989 and also served as a district councillor for eight years; in his working life he ran Caldbeck post office for 35 years.  Formerly a keen golfer, Richardson is an honorary life member of Keswick golf club.

This deeply rural division takes in seven parishes to the north and west of Penrith.  Most of the villages here are tiny: the largest centres of population are High Hesket and Plumpton on the A6 Penrith-Carlisle road, and Greystoke to the north-west of Penrith, all of which have populations comfortably under 700.  While Greystoke does have a Victorian castle on the site of an earlier Norman creation, any connection with Tarzan of the Apes is merely coincidental.  Much of the division lies within the Lake District national park, covering a chunk of Wainwright's Northern Fells including the well-known Blencathra, whose saddle-shaped summit dominates the Eden valley; Blencathra is currently up for sale, with negotiations over the price continuing between the landowner (the Earl of Lonsdale) and the community group Friends of Blencathra.

Cumbria was redistricted in 2013 and the only previous result on these boundaries is from that year, Richardson winning with 53% against very evenly divided opposition from UKIP and the Lib Dems.  The Tories won all the seats here in May's district council elections, but only one of the constituent wards (Hesket) was contested.

Defending this by-election from the blue corner is Tom Wentworth Waites, who runs a local food production business.  The challenger in the yellow corner is Eden district councillor Judith Derbyshire.

Parliamentary constituency: Penrith and the Border
Eden district council wards: Greystoke, Hesket, Skelton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Penrith and Appleby

May 2013 result C 723 UKIP 331 LD 312

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

By-election Previews: 2 July 2015

Note from the editor: Apologies for the lack of updates recently.  I've been severely unwell, eventually having to go into hospital for some urgent treatment for a bad infection.  On the mend now though, and hopefully things will start to get updated soon!

Two by-elections on Thursday 2nd July:

Richmond upon Thames London borough council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Tania Mathias, who defeated the Business secretary Vince Cable in May to become MP for Twickenham.  She had served as a Richmond councillor since 2010.

St John the Baptist, Hampton Wick
This ward is on the Middlesex side of Richmond borough, directly opposite Kingston upon Thames and running north-west along the Kingston Road and Broom Road from Kingston Bridge and Hampton Wick railway station (on the Kingston Loop line from Waterloo).  It is probably still best known as the location for the 1970s ITV sitcom George and Mildred.

Although Richmond council is closely fought between the Tories and Lib Dems, this is a safe Tory ward.  In 2014 the Tory slate had 50%, with the Lib Dem slate narrowly falling into third place behind the single Green candidate; both those parties polled 18%.  At the top of the Tory slate with a clear personal vote is Tony Arbour, who has been a Richmond councillor since 1968 and represents the borough on the London Assembly.  At the most elections to that Assembly, in 2012, Boris beat Ken 61-20 here in the Mayoral ballot, while the Tories topped the list ballot with 45% to 19% for Labour, 16% for the Lib Dems and 12% for the Greens.

Defending for the Conservatives is Jon Hollis, chairman of the Twickenham Conservative association, who describes himself on Twitter as "husband to a wife, father to a son, slave to 3 cats".  He lost his council seat in his home Teddington ward last year.  Standing for the Greens is construction entrepreneur Anthony Breslin, who appears to be the only candidate to live in the ward.  The Lib Dems have selected school governor Geraldine Locke, who only joined the party last month.  Also standing are Dr Paul Tanto for Labour, independent candidate Michael Lloyd and the ward's first UKIP candidate, Sam Naz.

Parliamentary constituency: Twickenham
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

May 2014 result C 1870/1708/1586 Grn 696 LD 676/647/593 Lab 522/520/474
May 2010 result C 2670/2321/2297 LD 1956/1908/1672 Grn 831 Lab 590/498/460
May 2006 result C 1949/1726/1721 LD 1061/804/721 Grn 577 Lab 248/242
May 2002 result C 1621/1484/1476 LD 741/693/636 Grn 370 Lab 297/278/275

May 2012 London Assembly results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Boris 1553 Ken 514 LD 152 Grn 150 Ind 119 UKIP 43 BNP 14
Assembly list: C 1153 Lab 480 LD 413 Grn 304 UKIP 105 BNP 31 EDP 22 CPA 21 TUSC 11 House Party 8 Alagaratnam 2 NF 1 Hayat 1

Lincolnshire county council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Jo Churchill, who is now the MP for Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

Barrowby Village Sign
This county division combines the south-west corner of the town of Grantham with the village of Barrowby just to the west.  The Grantham half of the division, based on the old Earlesfield district ward (the district wards were redrawn this year, but the county divisions here haven't yet caught up) has some light industry and distribution, notably the book distribution company Grantham Book Services.

The division was narrowly won by Labour at the 2005 election, but they fell to a poor third place in 2009 with the Tories gaining.  Jo Churchill was first elected here in 2013 in a three-way marginal result, polling 38% to 32% for an independent candidate and 30% for Labour.  District council results make it clear that the Labour vote comes out of the town rather than Barrowby, but in May's district council election the redrawn Grantham Earlesfield ward saw the Labour slate lose a seat to the single UKIP candidate, who was not opposed by the Tories and topped the poll.

Mark Whittington defends for the Tories: he is a self-employed accountant and Barrowby parish councillor.  The independent candidate from 2013, Mike Williams, tries again as candidate of the Lincolnshire Independents, a well-organised county council group.  Labour have selected Rob Shorrock, who lost his district council seat in Grantham Earlesfield in May.  Also on the ballot is UKIP's Maureen Simon.

Parliamentary constituency: Grantham and Stamford (Grantham part), Sleaford and North Hykeham (Barrowby part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Grantham

May 2013 result C 558 Ind 476 Lab 442
June 2009 result C 761 Lincs Ind 511 Lab 324 LD 253

May 2005 result Lab 1646 C 1486

By-election Previews: 25 June 2015

South Kesteven district council, Lincolnshire
Postponed from 7th May due to the death of outgoing independent councillor Reg Howard, who was standing for re-election.

Welcome to Market Deeping, the western half of the settlement known as The Deepings: a small town on the north bank of the River Welland which here forms the Lincolnshire/Cambridgeshire boundary.  The market of the name has been held here for eight centuries, but the town's economy is now underpinned by being a service centre for the fenland to the north, some light industry, and commuting to Peterborough.  Possibly the town's best-known resident is Martin Adams, a three-time winner of one flavour of the darts world championships.  The ward also includes the parish of West Deeping, a tiny village to the west of the town.

The town's local election results are weird.  In 2003 there were only three candidates for the three seats who were therefore elected unopposed: Reg Howard and one candidate each from Labour and the Tories.  The Labour councillor lost his seat for non-attendance in 2006 and the Tories won the by-election, again unopposed.  In 2007 there was finally a contested election, which saw the Tories lose their second seat to an independent candidate, Bob Broughton.  There was no change in partisan balance in 2011, but the previous Conservative councillor Michael Exton lost his seat to his running-mate, Paul Cosham; that year the Tory slate topped the poll with 40% to 35% for the independents and 26% for the Green Party.  At county level the Market and West Deeping county division (which is slightly larger than this ward) is normally safe Conservative but in 2013 the Tories finished only seventeen votes ahead of the Lincolnshire Independents candidate.

The Conservatives this time stand only one candidate.  Paul Cosham has stood down and is replaced by Nick Neilson.  On the independent side, Bob Broughton is standing for re-election and is joined by Ashley Baxter, who fought this ward for the Green Party in 2007 and 2011 and was runner-up in the 2013 county election here, and David Shelton.  There is a full UKIP slate of William Learoyd, Robert O'Farrell and Roger Woodbridge (two of whom give addresses in Bourne, Lincolnshire) and the ballot paper is completed by a single Lib Dem candidate, Adam Brookes.

Parliamentary constituency: South Holland and the Deepings
Lincolnshire county council division: Market and West Deeping
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough

May 2011 result C 959/766 Ind 847/844/533 Grn 622/330/302
May 2007 result Ind 903/806 C 827 Grn 667 Lab 360
March 2006 by-election C unopposed
May 2003 result Lab/Ind/C unopposed

Cambridgeshire county council
Caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Killian Bourke, who has a new job in London.  He had been a Cambridgeshire county councillor since winning a by-election in May 2008.

Romsey is a division of eastern Cambridge, to the east of the railway line.  Developed either side of Mill Road during the Victorian era, it was predominantly settled by railway workers and is thus very much on the "town" side of Cambridge's traditional town/gown divide.  Romsey Town, as the area is known, is traditionally a working-class area and its local politics had a socialist tradition.

That socialist tradition can be seen in Colin Rosenstiel's excellent archive of Cambridge's election results, and comparison is eased by the fact that this county division has the same boundaries as the Romsey ward of Cambridge city council.  There has been a Romsey ward since before the Second World War, and from 1935 until 1998 the ward voted Labour at both county and city level at every opportunity, with the exception of a by-election in November 1981 which was won by the SDP.  In 1998 the Lib Dems broke through to the city council; they gained a second city council seat from Labour in 2003, completed the set in 2004 and finished off by gaining the county council seat from Labour in 2005.  By 2010 Romsey had become safe Lib Dem, but the changed political environment after the formation of the Coalition turned the ward back into a Labour/Lib Dem marginal during the Parliament just gone.  Labour gained city council seats in 2011 and 2014, but the Lib Dems held the other city council seat in 2012 and the county seat in 2013. Killian Bourke did well in his last re-election in 2013 to beat Labour 48-32, the Greens' 6% winning a close four-way race for third.  Romsey went to the polls in May to elect a Cambridge city councillor: Labour held the seat with 38%, the Lib Dems were second on 30% and the Greens had a strong performance to finish third on 22%.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Nichola Martin.  Zoe Moghadas, who retired as a city councillor here in May, is the Labour candidate.  The Green Party have selected Debbie Aitchison.  Also standing are Rahatul Raja for the Tories (who is straight back on the campaign trail after standing for the city council in May) and UKIP's Richard Jeffs.

Parliamentary constituency: Cambridge
Cambridgeshire county council division: Romsey
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough

May 2015 city council result Lab 1636 LD 1314 Grn 951 C 436
May 2014 city council result Lab 1205 LD 1093 Grn 394 C 206
May 2013 result LD 1118 Lab 741 Grn 138 UKIP 118 Cambridge Socialists 118 C 103
May 2012 city council result LD 1020 Lab 813 Cambridge Socialists 457 C 175
May 2011 city council result Lab 996 LD 870 Grn 411 C 360 Cambridge Socialists 356
May 2010 city council result LD 1615 Lab 928 Grn 697 C 600 Cambridge Socialists 404
June 2009 result LD 829 Lab 493 Ind 425 Grn 297 C 270 UKIP 96
May 2008 by-election LD 781 Lab 597 C 289 Grn 237 Left List 207
May 2008 city council result LD 791 Lab 535 Left List 328 C 285 Grn 189
May 2007 city council result LD 774 Lab 496 Respect 358 Grn 271 C 238
May 2006 by-election LD 955 Lab 656 Grn 265 C 258 Respect 240
May 2006 city council double vacancy LD 1065/815 Lab 623/491 Grn 358/216 Respect 294/268 C 235/216
May 2005 result LD 1668 Lab 1235 Grn 402 C 359 UKIP 45
June 2004 city council result LD 1192/1184/1125 Lab 746/658/577 Grn 394/360 C 206/186/172 UKIP 119

By-election Previews: 18 June 2015

Two postponed polls on 18th May, both in southern England:

Mole Valley district council, Surrey
A double-vacancy election, caused by the resignation of the council's only UKIP member Stephen Musgrove, which was postponed from 7th May due to the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Mick Longhurst, who had been nominated for re-election.  Longhurst, who died at the age of 82, had been a Mole Valley District councillor for fifteen years following a 30-year career at Johnston Engineering in Dorking; a keen Chelsea fan, he had formerly been vice-president of Dorking FC.  Musgrove, who had been a councillor for less than a year, has moved away from the district and now lives in East Sussex.

The Holmwoods ward lies immediately south of Dorking and covers various localities called Holmwood.  Much the larger is North Holmwood, effectively a Dorking suburb much of which is built on the site of the former Dorking Brickworks, which closed in 1983 after exhausting the local clay supply.  Further south along the A24 Dorking-Horsham road is South Holmwood, centre of the Holmwood civil parish and birthplace of the 1930s novelist E Arnot Robertson.

During the last Labour government Holmwoods was a safe Liberal Democrat ward, with the Tories in a fairly distant second.  The general election turnout enabled the Conservatives to get within nine points of the Lib Dems in 2010, and after a further pro-Tory swing in 2011 the Lib Dem lead was down to six points, but the Lib Dems pulled away in 2012 as the Tories bled votes to UKIP.  The Lib Dems also easily won the local county division (Dorking South and The Holmwoods) in 2013.  So is the ward safe Lib Dem now?  Not a bit of it: a close three-way result in 2014 saw a UKIP gain with 32% of the vote, to 29% for the Tories and 26% for the Lib Dems, with Labour's 7% just beating the Greens for fourth place.  The Lib Dems are very much on the defensive here, having lost four seats to the Conservatives in May in the rest of Mole Valley district, while UKIP's local machine does not appear to be in good shape; Musgrove was due to be the UKIP parliamentary candidate for Mole Valley in May, but he was actually the second choice after the previous candidate, UKIP general secretary Roger Bird, stood down over accusations of - what else with a name like that? - sexual harassment.

UKIP and the Lib Dems are defending one seat each.  On the UKIP slate are Michael Foulston, who fought this ward in 2012 for UKIP and in 2002 and 2003 for the Tories, and Stephen Morgan.  The Lib Dems have selected Claire Malcomson, who appears to be an actress who once appeared on Jonathan Creek, and Clayton Wellman.  The Tory slate consists of James Baird, a former Horley town councillor who was runner-up here in 2014, and his fiancĂ©e Emma Whittinger.  Labour appear to have given up, so the ballot paper is completed by the Green Party slate, Jeff Zie (who fought the ward in 2014) being joined by second choice candidate Eugene Suggett.

Parliamentary constituency: Mole Valley
Surrey county council division: Dorking South and the Holmwoods
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crawley

May 2014 result UKIP 608 C 551 LD 504 Lab 133 Grn 127
May 2012 result LD 727 C 447 UKIP 287 Lab 154
May 2011 result LD 863 C 743 UKIP 238 Lab 226
May 2010 result LD 1507 C 1208 UKIP 319 Lab 297
May 2008 result LD 870 C 563 UKIP 269
May 2007 result LD 894 C 556 UKIP 107 Lab 100 Grn 85
May 2006 result LD 1062 C 532 Lab 130
June 2004 result LD 996 C 694 Lab 160
May 2003 result LD 848 C 441 Lab 135
May 2002 result LD 965 C 430 Lab 207

Christchurch district council, Dorset
Postponed from 7th May due to the death of Labour candidate Richard Walls.

Dorset's most easterly electoral ward, this covers the northern half of the town of Highcliffe, now part of the Bournemouth/Poole conurbation but in Victorian and Edwardian times a popular health and leisure resort: Wilhelm II stayed in Highcliffe in 1907 to recover from the strain of political scandals in Germany.  At the north-west corner of the ward is Highcliffe's railway station, curiously named Hinton Admiral.  The census bears out the fact that this is a retirement area: 25% of the population is retired and 32% are aged 65 or over; owner-occupation rates are also notably high.

Christchurch was the site of a famous Lib Dem by-election win during the Major government, but Liberalism is essentially extinct here now.  The most recent district election here saw the Tory slate poll 75% against opposition from a single Labour candidate.  However, the 2013 Dorset county council elections suggest that UKIP could be stiffer competition: the Kippers had 39% across the larger Highcliffe and Walkford county division, although it wasn't enough to beat the Tories who had 50%.

The two previous Tory councillors for the ward, Sally Derham Wilkes and Nick Geary, are both standing for re-election.  On the Labour slate Donald Barr, the only opposition candidate in 2011, is joined by Richard Walls' son Gareth.  The ballot paper is completed by the UKIP slate of Robin Grey and Janet Hatton.

Parliamentary constituency: Christchurch
Dorset county council division: Highcliffe and Walkford
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bournemouth

May 2011 result C 1136/1001 Lab 381
May 2007 result C 1117/1004 LD 415 Lab 179
May 2003 result C 651/627 LD 503/470 UKIP 129 Lab 65

Monday, 8 June 2015

By-election Previews: 9 and 11 June 2015

The second week of June 2015 sees four by-elections.  One, an unusual Tuesday poll in Worcestershire, is a piece of unfinished business from May's ordinary election. The three Thursday polls are all in London, and two are controversial.  Read on...

One by-election on Tuesday 9th June 2015:

Wyre Forest district council, Worcestershire
Postponed from 7th May due to the death of Independent Community and Health Concern candidate Nigel Thomas at the age of 70.  Thomas had been a district councillor for the former Areley Kings wards from 2006 to 2014, and had been a former leader of the Health Concern group on Wyre Forest council.

Stourport Bridge
This newly-drawn ward covers part of the town of Stourport-on-Severn, around the canal basin and the Lickhill Road, together with the village of Areley Kings on the opposite side of the River Severn.  Areley Kings has connections with the late 12th/early 13th century Arthurian poet Layamon, who was priest here, while Stourport is an unusual example of a town brought into existence by a canal, being located at the junction of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal with the Severn.

Wyre Forest's politics underwent a revolution in 1999 with the foundation of Health Concern, which started off as a single-issue party campaigning for the restoration of Kidderminster Hospital's casualty unit.  At the height of Health Concern's powers it controlled the district council and had the local MP (Dr Richard Taylor); although the party's fortunes have declined a bit since then it is still a major political force in Wyre Forest.  The district introduced new ward boundaries this year: Areley Kings and Riverside is a new ward, consisting of the whole of the old Areley Kings ward together with parts of the old Lickhill and Mitton wards.  On the outgoing council Areley Kings had three Labour councillors prior to this election, while Lickhill was Health Concern's strongest ward and Mitton was a normally Tory ward won by Health Concern in 2012 and UKIP (standing a former Tory councillor) in 2014.

Three seats are up for election, which means that at least two councillors will lose their seats.  For Labour, all three outgoing Areley Kings ward councillors are standing for re-election: they are Vi Higgs, Rob Lloyd and Jamie Shaw.  Health Concern have two councillors standing for re-election, Dixon Sheppard (Lickhill ward since 2006) and Cliff Brewer (Mitton ward since 2012); they are joined on the Health Concern slate by John Thomas, a county councillor for Stourbridge-on-Severn and district councillor for Areley Kings ward from 2007 to 2011.  There is a full UKIP slate of Martin Clapton, Ian Jones and Trevor Newman, and the Tory slate is Malcolm Gough and Ken and Lin Henderson.  Completing the ballot paper is John Davis for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Wyre Forest
Worcestershire county council division: Stourport-on-Severn
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kidderminster

No previous results on these boundaries

Three by-elections on Thursday 11th June 2015:

London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Caused by the disqualifications of Lutfur Rahman and Alibor Choudhury respectively, for reasons which will be discussed below in great detail.

"Welcome to Tower Hamlets"
About once a year this column has to write about the Byzantine politics of Tower Hamlets, and for someone who is looking at the borough from two hundred miles away it all gets a bit confusing and repetitive.  No doubt my readers (hello Sid, hello Doris) think the same thing.  However, in the circumstances of this particular by-election I make no apology for the length of this preview, nor for rehashing and expanding on material that has appeared here several times before.  Let's start by rewinding ten years and looking at a couple of quotes from April and May 2005:

"...evidence of electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic..."
- Richard Mawrey QC, 4th April 2005

"A shambles of an election which would disgrace a banana republic"
- George Galloway, 6th May 2005

The second quote was newly-elected Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, George Galloway, castigating the Returning Officer for Tower Hamlets for her conduct of the 2005 general election.  It clearly echoes the first quote, taken from a judgment made by election commissioner Richard Mawrey that six Labour seats in two heavily-Asian wards of Birmingham city council were won in 2004 by widespread postal vote fraud.  At the time, observers of politics thought this was shocking.  We could not have predicted what was to come ten years later.

The East End of London has always been an industrial area, cut through with docks off the River Thames and criss-crossed by railways serving London and the docklands.  It's been a focus for left-wing politics for generations: Labour Party leaders George Lansbury and Clement Attlee both cut their teeth in local government here and represented constituencies within the area, and the last Communist MP returned to Parliament was elected here in 1945.  It's been a focus for immigration for centuries, with successive waves of Flemish weavers, French Huguenots, Irish weavers, European Jews, sailors from South Asia and China, and most recently a huge influx of people from Sylhet in Bangladesh, most of that settlement coming in the 1960s and 1970s.  It's always been a poor area, with the main employment traditionally coming from cloth and the docks: the high crime levels that level of poverty implies are most famously exemplified by the unsolved "Jack the Ripper" murders in 1888 Whitechapel.

The East End was heavily bombed and depopulated in the Second World War, and within decades afterwards the docks in the area were closed.  The Tory government of the 1980s started a massive regeneration project for the Docklands, which has been fantastically successful with the Canary Wharf area turning into one of the main financial centres of the world.  However, despite some gentrification since 2000 little of that wealth has trickled down into the local area, which remains generally poor and heavily multi-racial.  The 2011 census figures are stark and show the extent of the centuries of immigration into what is now Tower Hamlets: Islam is now the predominant religion with 35% of the population, compared to 27% who said they were Christian, while 55% of the population are from ethnic minorities: 32% being Bangladeshi, compared to a White British figure of 31%.  The Bangladeshi community in the borough is generally close-knit and a large proportion do not speak English as a first language.

This sort of population leads to problems with racism.  Stepney was the site of the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, and the British National Party won a by-election in Millwall ward - which was then a white working-class area - in 1993, coming through the middle of an even split between Labour and the Lib Dems to beat Labour by just seven votes.  It was the BNP's first ever electoral success, and they have never come close to repeating it since: Labour had no problem taking the seat back in the 1994 council election in which they defeated a two-term Lib Dem administration.  Unfortunately the Tower Hamlets Labour party has suffered from serious infighting virtually from that day to this: a row from early in the 1994-98 term, ostensibly over staff reorganisation, played its part in the 2014 election as will be discussed later.  In 2000 the Labour leader from that term, John Biggs, was elected to the London Assembly to represent Tower Hamlets, the City and two other East End boroughs; he still holds that seat today.

The council got new ward boundaries in 2002 which gave a nod to the huge Bangladeshi immigrant community by naming a ward as "Spitalfields and Banglatown".  Two of the Labour councillors elected from that ward that year were called Helal Abbas and Lutfur Rahman, and they formed part of a strong Labour majority on the council with 35 seats to 16 for the rump of the Lib Dem group, who by now were confined to the northern wards with Labour having a lock on the wards down by the riverside.  However, it was around this time that demographic change and the Iraq war led to the wheels starting to come off for Labour in Tower Hamlets.  In 2004 Labour lost a by-election to Respect in St Dunstan's and Stepney Green ward - the first council seat ever won by Respect - then lost a by-election in now-rapidly-gentrifying Millwall ward to the Tories - the first council seat won by the Tories on Tower Hamlets council - then lost the Bethnal Green and Bow parliamentary seat to George Galloway the following year.  In 2006 Respect made a strong assault on Tower Hamlets council and came up just short: Labour emerged with a majority of one, with Respect now the official opposition and the Tories sweeping the Isle of Dogs.

The Respect breakthrough didn't last long - a pattern that has since been seen in Bradford - and their council group quickly fell apart with a number of councillors defecting to Labour - again, a pattern that his since been seen in Bradford.  This changed the balance of power within the factions of the Labour group, which at the time was led by Helal Abbas with Rahman as his main challenger.  At the time most of the Rahmanite councillors within Labour were Bangladeshi, and most of the non-Rahmanite Bangladeshi Labour councillors were on the other side of the main division in Bangladesh's politics, between Jawaat-e-Islami and the Awami League - a demonstration of the strong links between the Bangladeshi community and their relatives back in Bangladesh.  Rahman was able to oust Abbas as leader in 2008, and embarked on an administration that attracted a lot of bad press - not just in Private Eye's "Rotten Boroughs" column - and proved very controversial, with the effective sacking of the (white) Chief Executive combined with more outlandish (and unproven) accusations that Rahman had links with extremist Islamists.  During this administration a petition was organised to establish an elected mayoralty for Tower Hamlets, a proposal which was confirmed by a referendum held simultaneously with the 2010 general and borough elections.

Those elections went well for Labour, which recovered the Bethnal Green and Bow parliamentary seat and greatly increased its majority on the council.  This changed the balance of power within Labour again, and Rahman lost the council leadership back to Helal Abbas.  However, in short order Labour needed to select a candidate for the first Tower Hamlets mayoral election in October 2010.

That selection turned into a farce.  The initial shortlist - drawn up by the regional Labour party - consisted of John Biggs and two little-known Bangladeshi candidates.  Rahman appealed, and the selection was re-run; he was again left off the shortlist and only put onto it after a second appeal.  In the ballot of Labour party members Rahman won, with Biggs second and council leader Helal Abbas third.  However, Abbas then presented a series of serious allegations against Rahman to Labour's National Executive Committee, which unilaterially removed Rahman as Labour candidate and imposed Abbas in his place.  But Lutfur Rahman had the last laugh: he stood for election for Mayor as an independent, and won in the first round.

During Rahman's term as Mayor he quickly attracted a number of councillors to his cause - most of them defections from Labour, all of them Bangladeshi - and registered a political party called Tower Hamlets First to support his re-election.  In this column in July last year, I was slightly reticent to expand on the details of Rahman's 2010-2014 mayoral term beyond those facts, mainly because there were many claims and counter-claims and I hadn't a clue what was going on.  It seems that central government shared my confusion, and following a Panorama exposĂ© in March 2014 they sent in the auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers to take a look.

PwC noted that Rahman's ruling style was autocratic, with essentially no power being delegated to the Mayor's cabinet, unlike what happens in other councils with elected mayors.  In particular, the Mayor made a high proportion of decisions on council grants himself.  PwC also determined that large grants of public money were paid to organisations that weren't deemed eligible for grants by Council officers; that nearly £100,000 was paid in grants to Bangladeshi or other Muslim organisations for lunch clubs when none of them had applied for a grant; that wards which voted for Tower Hamlets First had their grant allocation increased and wards which voted for Labour had their grant allocation reduced.  Following those findings central government sent in Commissioners to take over the council's functions relating to grant allocation.

Rahman's autocratic nature extended to his political party, Tower Hamlets First, which was never run in accordance with the law on political parties.  Most notably, the party never had a bank account: while it does appear to have paid its bills, its financial arrangements are a mystery.

Rahman was due for re-election in 2014, and was up against Labour's new candidate John Biggs.  Rahman and Alibor Choudhury, his election agent, decided to play the race card.  Biggs had been interviewed by the BBC's Sunday Politics programme in September 2013 in which he said
"All [Rahman's] councillors are from the Bangladeshi community and the primary focus of his policy making has been on the Bangladeshi community. A very important community in Tower Hamlets but not the only community in Tower Hamlets."  Biggs went on to talk about his vision of the borough's different communities working together.

Choudhury reported the first sentence of that quote to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who initially sent an ill-advised response suggesting that it might amount to a hate crime and should be reported to the police, then sent a second letter retracting that opinion.  Knowing about this retraction, Choudhury then issued a press release to the effect that the EHRC had substantiated the complaint against Biggs.

Choudhury then found a 1995 document written by then Labour councillor Michael Keith, who would later become Leader of the Council and is now an Oxford professor, as part of the staff reorganisation row.  The document was written in support of a fellow Labour councillor who was facing disciplinary action for sending a bogus fax.  In comparing an allegedly-racist election leaflet distributed by the Liberal Democrats featuring a picture of the boxer Mike Tyson with allegations by John Biggs that his opponents were "loony left", Keith's document said
"In this context it is proper to see John Biggs’ use of the loony leftism accusations in the same light, they cannot be freed from their bigoted connotations, as the East London Advertiser made clear when they subsequently went to town in their usual poisonous way when John Biggs’ assimilation memo was ‘leaked’ to them. In short I would also accuse John Biggs of racism, no more and no less than those who put together the Mike Tyson leaflet..."
Lifting the words "In short I would also accuse John Biggs of racism" completely out of their context, Choudhury issued a further press release clearly implying that Biggs is a racist and the Labour Party have known this for two decades.

On election day, Rahman had a big lead on first preferences but won re-election quite narrowly over Biggs, who picked up nearly all of the second preferences from other parties.  Rahman's re-election was challenged in the election court by four electors from Tower Hamlets, led by Andy Erlam who had unsuccessfully stood for the council on a left-wing anti-corruption ticket.

The case was heard by election commissioner Richard Mawrey.  Mawrey made his reputation as a hanging judge with the Aston and Bordesley Green cases in Birmingham in 2004, and had disqualified councillors in similar circumstances to Birmingham in Slough (2007) and Woking (2012).  In a long and complicated trial he had to hear a catalogue of allegations against Rahman.  On some counts Rahman was exonerated:

  • The Scrutiny did not find sufficient evidence to support allegations that votes already cast were illegally altered.
  • A dinner held at Canary Wharf for the great and good of Tower Hamlets four months before the 2014 election, which the Rahman campaign declared as election expenses, did not amount to the electoral offence of treating.
  • In possibly the most disturbing part of the judgment, a large number of allegations of intimidation at polling stations by Tower Hamlets First supporters were found not to constitute the electoral offence of undue influence.

But the rest of the judgment was damning, finding Rahman or his campaign team had committed no fewer than seven different electoral offences:

  • Three Tower Hamlets First candidates were falsely registered as electors and cast votes unlawfully.
  • A fourth Tower Hamlets First candidate may have been falsely registered as an elector and two votes were cast in his name.
  • There was evidence of postal vote fraud having been committed: voters had handed their votes in to Tower Hamlets First campaigners, and a handwriting expert found that large numbers of postal vote documents and associated ballot papers had been completed in the same hand and the same ink.
  • The press releases by Choudhury implying that Biggs is a racist, on the grounds of the retracted EHRC letter and the 1995 Keith memo, were false statements impugning Biggs' character or conduct, and Choudhury knew that they were false.
  • The Rahman campaign had illegally paid canvassers.
  • The misuse of grants uncovered by PricewaterhouseCoopers amounted to the electoral offence of bribery.
  • The Council had paid the borough's Bengali-language media to portray Rahman in a favourable light, even after five Bengali TV channels had been censured by Ofcom for making such broadcasts.  Again, this amounted to the electoral offence of bribery.
  • In the most sensational part of the judgment, Rahman played the religious card by soliciting and obtaining the support of the borough's Muslim clerics: the leader of the local Council of Mosques, Hafiz Moulana Shamsul Hoque, gave speeches in support of Rahman, and 101 local imams wrote a letter in Bengali to a local newspaper saying that it was the religious duty of Muslims in the borough to vote for Rahman.  This amounted to the electoral offence of undue spiritual influence, an offence which had not been invoked since the nineteenth century.
  • The 2014 election in Tower Hamlets generally was corrupt.

As a direct consequence of the court's decision, Mayor Lutfur Rahman and his election agent, Councillor Alibor Choudhury, were disqualified from public office and struck off the electoral register for five years.  The Court has also reported Mr Rahman, who is a solicitor, to the Solicitors' Regulation Authority.  There were some other knock-on effects.  The then Communities secretary Eric Pickles (as he was then) sent in more Commissioners to take over more of the council's functions; the Deputy Mayor, another Rahmanite councillor, resigned that post due to a conflict with his job in the civil service; and the Electoral Commission realised it hadn't been paying attention and struck Tower Hamlets First off the register of political parties.

The Mayoral by-election will have ten candidates.  The defending Rahmanite candidate, standing as an independent, is Rabina Khan, a councillor for Shadwell ward and formerly Rahman's cabinet member for housing.  Labour have reselected John Biggs, London Assembly member for the borough since 2000 and Labour's budget spokesman in the Assembly.  The Conservatives have selected Peter Golds, councillor for Island Gardens ward and leader of the Tory group on the council.  UKIP have reselected Nicholas McQueen, who came fourth in the 2014 Mayoral election and third in the general election in Bethnal Green and Bow last month; John Foster is the Green Party candidate; standing for the Lib Dems is Elaine Bagshaw, who also fought Bethnal Green and Bow last month.  Two new parties have entered the fray: Andy Erlam, mastermind of the petition which removed Rahman from office, stands on his own "Red Flag - Anti-Corruption" ticket, while Vanessa Hudson is the candidate of the Animal Welfare Party.  Completing the ballot paper are two independent candidates: Hafiz Kadir (who came last in the 2014 mayoral election) and Mohammed Motiur Rahman Nanu.

An official booklet with publicity for all ten candidates is available here from the Tower Hamlets website.

Turning to the lower-profile by-election in Stepney Green ward, a generally residential area between the Mile End Road and the Commercial Road, and centred on Stepney Way and the Green itself.  In 2014 - the only previous result on the present ward boundaries - Tower Hamlets First polled 43% to Labour's 33%, the Green Party's 9% being best of the rest.  The defending Rahmanite candidate is Abu Talha Chowdhury, a youth leader and social worker standing as an independent.  Labour have reselected Sabina Akhtar, who greatly outpolled her non-Bangladeshi running-mate in the 2014 election.  The Green candidate is Kirsty Chestnutt, who is originally from Australia and has lived in Stepney Green for fifteen years.  Also standing are Paul Shea for UKIP, Safiul Azam for the Tories, Will Dyer for the Lib Dems and Jessie MacNeil-Brown under the description "Something New".

Although allegations in the election petition against the returning officer were not pursued, it must be remembered that the 2014 count for the Mayoral, borough and European elections was an epic fiasco as this column has previously covered.  With a bit of luck, we may get a result for these by-elections within 118 hours of the polls closing.  And reports over the weekend of more breaches of electoral law during these by-elections only demonstrate that while Lutfur Rahman may have gone, the electoral culture he fomented in this 21st-century rotten borough lives on.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets
Parliamentary constituencies: Bethnal Green and Bow, Poplar and Limehouse
London Assembly constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

May 2014 result THF 36539 Lab 27643 C 7173 UKIP 4819 Grn 4699 LD 1959 TUSC 871 Ind 205 Ind 164 Ind 162; runoff THF 37935 Lab 34143
Oct 2010 result Ind 23283 Lab 11254 C 5348 LD 2800 Grn 2300

Stepney Green
Parliamentary constituency: Bethnal Green and Bow
London Assembly constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

May 2014 result THF 2023/1965 Lab 1568/954 Grn 411 UKIP 387 C 209/166 LD 151

London Borough of Sutton
Caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Colin Hall at the age of 54, from cancer.  Hall was a constituency organiser for the Lib Dem MP Tom Brake, and had served on Sutton council since 1998; at the time of his death he was deputy leader of the council.

Beddington Gardens, Wallington
Now here's a rare thing: a council by-election in a Lib Dem-held parliamentary seat.  Following the general election meltdown, Carshalton and Wallington is now the only Lib Dem constituency in London, and Tom Brake is the party's longest-serving MP having been here since 1997.

The Wallington South ward runs south from Wallington railway station.  As in many London suburban areas, the railway was the spur for development here: Wallington station (then known as Carshalton station) opened in 1847 on the Victoria-West Croydon-Sutton line, and a number of imposing Victorian and Edwardian villas were built around it.  Before suburbanisation - which was complete by the time of the First World War - the main local industry was agriculture, particularly lavender.

Wallington South has been a safe Liberal Democrat ward for many years.  At the most recent election in 2014 the Lib Dem vote fell to 37% but their majority increased; the Conservatives had 19%, UKIP 16% and a candidate standing to save the local St Helier Hospital polled 9%.  In the 2012 London Assembly elections Boris polled 55% here, to 25% for Ken Livingstone and a relatively impressive 7% for the Lib Dems' Brian Paddick, while the Tories topped the list vote with 36% to 22% for Labour, 17% for the Lib Dems and 9% for UKIP.

Defending for the Lib Dems, in their first major test since the general election meltdown, is Steve Cook who has lived in Wallington for 35 years and formerly worked in the film industry, running a business specialising in sound and post-production.  The Conservatives have selected Jim Simms who has recently retired as a mechanical engineer and chairs Woodcote Green Residents Association.  UKIP's candidate is Andy Beadle, a Carshalton resident who fought Bermondsey and Old Southwark in the general election.  Completing the ballot paper are Sarah Gwynn of Labour, Rosa Rajendran of the Green Party (who stood in the ward last year) and independent candidate Duncan Mattey.

May 2014 result LD 1593/1558/1221 C 825/649/571 UKIP 694 Keep Our St Helier Hospital Party 377 Lab 374/358/283 Grn 301/274 EDP 110
May 2010 result LD 2674/2633/2439 C 1891/1839/1684 Lab 559/542/455 Grn 544
May 2006 result LD 1575/1550/1490 C 1305/1247/1224 Grn 339/210 Lab 221/215/189
May 2002 result LD 1465/1427/1411 C 1074/1065/1004 Lab 232/211/183 Grn 207/185 Loony 89

May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Boris 1286 Ken 591 LD 166 Grn 98 Ind 94 UKIP 85 BNP 31
List: C 838 Lab 519 LD 403 UKIP 209 Grn 190 CPA 59 BNP 54 EDP 40 TUSC 20 NF 11 Alagaratnam 9 Hayat 4 House Party 3