Sunday, 19 June 2016

By-election Preview: 23 June 2016

Only one local by-election on referendum day, 23 June.

Windsor and Maidenhead council, Berkshire
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor George Bathurst, who had served since 2011.  He is concentrating his time on promoting the Windsor Link railway project, which aims to link together Windsor's two railway stations and connect them to Heathrow Airport.

Sunninghill Post Office
As many disappointed bondholders in Lloyds Bank found out last week, it's always important to read the small print.  Electoral law has a lot of small print in it, and it's in a rather sorry state at the moment: the law governing elections in the UK was last consolidated in 1983, and the many electoral changes and constitutional innovations that have happened since then (the devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales and London, postal voting on demand, elected mayors, police and crime commissioners, the short-lived Inner London Education Authority) have resulted in bits and pieces being bolted on to the 1983 law until it's started to sag under its own weight.  One of the most impenetrable parts of electoral law relates to combination of polls, with the point of this being to streamline two elections which take place simultaneously: for example, allowing both ballot papers to be issued by the same polling staff.  Not all possible poll combinations are allowable, and the Government had to rush out new rules earlier this year to allow Welsh Assembly elections to be combined with Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

You might have noticed that this week there is a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.  Perhaps in order that there aren't any distractions from the referendum, the Government didn't make any provision for this referendum to be combined with any other poll, and the Electoral Commission tried to persuade returning officers and local parties not to schedule any local by-elections for this week. Unfortunately, either the message didn't reach Ascot or the local parties didn't bother to read the small print; whatever the reason, the electors of Sunninghill and South Ascot are going to have to queue up at two separate polling stations in order to cast their votes and the returning officer is going to have to incur the hassle of accommodating and the expense of staffing two separate polling stations.  Not good.

Anyway, this ward is fairly well described by its name, and is generally built-up and residential although it does include the Georgian country house of Tittenhurst Park, home at various times to the philanthropist Thomas Holloway, the prison reformer and London county councillor Xenia Field, the entrepreneur and failed Liberal Party candidate Peter Cadbury, John Lennon (who built a recording studio in the grounds), fellow Beatle Ringo Starr and Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed.  South Ascot is the less fashionable part of Ascot (if such a thing can be said to exist) although it was once home to the exiled King Zog of Albania; its census statistics are skewed by the presence of St Mary's boarding school, which propels the ward into the top 100 in the UK for population aged 16 or 17.  Ascot railway station (which lies on the Waterloo-Reading line and is a junction for trains to Guildford) can be found on the ward's northern boundary.

The ward is as Tory as you might expect and has got more so over the course of this century.  At the most recent election in 2015 the Tories had 42% of the vote here, with the Lib Dems (13%), an independent candidate (13%) and the Green Party (11%) leading a five-way fight to be runner-up.

Defending for the Conservatives is Julian Sharpe, who lives in Sunninghill and is an organiser for the local carnival.  The Lib Dem candidate is Tamasin Barnbrook, who fought Ascot and Cheapside ward last year.  The Independent candidate from last time is not trying again and neither are the Greens, so the ballot paper is completed by Spike Humphrey for Labour and Nicole Fowler for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Windsor

May 2015 result C 2012/1852/1635 LD 621/499 Ind 604 Grn 542 Lab 504 UKIP 492
May 2011 result C 1334/1326/1318 LD 430/268/235 Lab 420 Grn 339
May 2007 result C 1076/1072/1058 LD 542/455/441 Lab 163
May 2003 result C 914/904/896 LD 698/686/678 Grn 145 Lab 136

Thursday, 16 June 2016

By-election Preview: 16 June 2016

Only one local by-election this week, covered below.

King's Lynn and West Norfolk council
Caused by the death of long-serving independent councillor Mike Tilbury at the age of 80. One of the original King's Lynn and West Norfolk councillors from 1973, Tilbury had served as both Leader and Mayor of the council, and it was largely his efforts which saved the Dabbling Duck pub in Great Massingham, which was bought by the council to prevent its conversion into housing.  For some of his time on the council Tilbury had been a Labour figure, and he was the Labour candidate for North West Norfolk in the 1983 general election, coming third with 19% of the vote.

Sandringham House
In a week in which Britain has celebrated the (official) ninetieth birthday of its monarch, it's appropriate that the only local by-election to take place on 16th July 2016 is in a ward with royal connections.  The Valley Hill ward - answers on a postcard as to what this name represents - is a collection of seven parishes a few miles to the north-west of King's Lynn.  Furthest inland lie Great Massingham, home to an RAF airfield during the Second World War, and its sister village of Little Massingham; in the centre of the ward are Congham, Hillington, Flitcham with Appleton and Anmer, while the ward meets the Wash coastline at Peter Black Sand near the village of Wolferton.

Until 1969 Wolferton had a railway station, a grand structure with Tudor-style waiting rooms completely out of kilter with the rural surroundings and sparsely-populated catchment area; the reason for this becomes clear when you consider that Wolferton was the railhead for Sandringham House, bought in 1862 by Queen Victoria as a residence for the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark, and now traditionally the winter home for the Queen and the Royal Family.  Also within the ward is Anmer Hall, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their family live when not in London.

The Royal Family might not vote, but one notable resident who will vote in this by-election is the local MP and Congham resident Sir Henry Bellingham, who has represented this area (with broken service) since 1983 when he defeated Tilbury and the outgoing MP Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler, who had been the only Conservative to defect to the SDP.  Sir Henry's home ward hasn't seen much change in its last three elections, with Mike Tilbury cruising to re-election against only Tory opposition: at his last re-election in 2015 Tilbury won by the margin of 66-34.  For a clue as to the ward's political leanings without Tilbury's personal vote, we can look up to county level: Valley Hill is in the Dersingham county division, where the Tories increased their majority in 2013 in what was generally a poor election for them in Norfolk.  In that year Dersingham gave 47% to the Conservatives, 28% to UKIP and 21% to Labour.

There is no independent candidate to succeed Mike Tilbury, so this seat is up for grabs.  Probably best placed is the Conservative candidate Tim Tilbrook, a financial advisor.  Taking the other candidates alphabetically, UKIP's Andrew Carr runs a dental company, the Green Party's Michael de Whalley is a computer software professional who stood here in the 2015 general election, Labour's Edward Robb gives an address in Great Massingham and the Lib Dems' Kate Sayer is a former Hillington parish councillor.

Parliamentary constituency: North West Norfolk
Norfolk county council division: Dersingham

May 2015 result Ind 899 C 466
May 2011 result Ind 766 C 238
May 2007 result Ind 597 C 299
May 2003 result Ind 701 C 344 Lab 97

Thursday, 9 June 2016

By-election Previews: 9 June 2016

The four local by-elections on 9th June 2016 are all in urban wards and fall into two pairs.  Two, appropriately given the pre-eminent political topic of the moment, are in towns in the East of England where UKIP have done well in recent years.  The other pair are two wards in south London, one of which had an unusual distinction in last month's Mayor and Assembly elections.  Read on...

Essex county council
Caused by the death of Labour councillor William Archibald at the age of 84. Archibald was a veteran of local government who started his career in 1963 on the former Basildon Urban District Council, and was leader of the UDC from 1971 to 1973 and its last chairman in 1973-74; in 1973 he was elected to Essex county council, serving as its chairman in 1986-87, and had served since then with the exception of the 2009-13 term.  He returned to Basildon district council in 2002 and served two further terms of office (2002-4 and 2010-14).  Away from local government he was an electrician and a passionate supporter of vocational education.

Royal Court, Laindon
For the first of this week's four local by-elections, all of which are in England, we travel to Basildon, an Essex new town which will forever be etched in psephologists' hearts thanks to its early declaration in the 1992 general election, indicating that the Major government was on course for re-election.  Like many New Towns, Basildon has shown some instability in its voting patterns over the years, and a series of swingy elections in recent years (UKIP did well in 2014, the Tories in 2015 and Labour in 2016) have left Labour as the largest party on Basildon council but the Tories, with half as many seats and being the third largest group, running a minority administration with the support of UKIP and two UKIP splinter groups.

This two-seat county division, which covers the northern third of Basildon between the A127 road and the railway line, takes in some of Labour's best wards in the town - Fryerns and Lee Chapel North voted Labour even during the nadir years of the last government while the Tories do best in Laindon Park ward - but that didn't stop Labour losing both seats in the county division in the calamitous county elections of 2009, the Tories gaining the division with just 32% of the vote to 29% for Labour, 22% for the BNP (remember them?) and 17% for the Lib Dems. Labour staged a recovery over the 2009-13 term, gaining Laindon Park ward on the district council in 2012, but then UKIP got organised in Basildon: in the 2013 county elections Labour gained one of the Tory seats, but UKIP gained the other; shares of the vote were 37% for the Labour slate, 36% for UKIP and 16% for the Conservatives.  Since 2013 we've had a full cycle of elections to Basildon district council; UKIP carried all three wards in 2014, 2015 was back to the status quo ante, while in May this year UKIP gained Laindon Park from Labour, who held Fryerns and recovered a by-election loss to UKIP in Lee Chapel North; shares of the vote across the division in May were 39% for Labour, 36% for UKIP and 22% for the Conservatives.

Defending for Labour is Gavin Callaghan, the leader of the Labour group on the district council and re-elected for another four years in Pitsea North West ward in May.  The UKIP candidate is Frank Ferguson, UKIP's district councillor for Lee Chapel North ward since 2014.  The Conservatives have selected Gary Maylin, a mature student studying sociology at the LSE who came second in Laindon Park ward in May's district elections.  Completing the ballot paper is Philip Rackley of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Basildon and Billericay
Basildon district council wards: Fryerns, Laindon Park, Lee Chapel North

May 2013 result Lab 2277/1980 UKIP 2175/1684 C 958/784 LD 215/187 NF 171 Grn 138/116 Ind 119 TUSC 73
June 2009 result C 2349/2282 Lab 2094/1686 BNP 1612/1608 LD 1240/1215
May 2005 result Lab 6707/5349 C 4107/3904 LD 1903/1539 Grn 1177

North East Lincolnshire council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Chris Stanland, who had served since 2015.

Dame Kendal Grove, Nunsthorpe
We travel north to what is still called, for historical reasons, the South ward of Grimsby although that name is no longer geographically accurate.  Grimsby has been dealt a rough hand by geography, history and culture; although the Grimsby-Cleethorpes conurbation is one of the largest urban centres in Lincolnshire, it's a long way from anywhere else of importance; the major local industry (fishing) was destroyed by the Cod Wars with Iceland; and the town has recently suffered the indignity of having Sacha Baron Cohen satirise it in a film (which was filmed not here but in Tilbury, Essex).  Recent media which was filmed here included the 2006 film This Is England, a story of young skinheads set in 1983, and the second series of Skint, a Channel 4 reality TV series following the long-term unemployed.

As you might have guessed from those last two items, this is not a rich town.  South ward in particular, a tract of housing off the A46 Laceby Road, has all the demographic hallmarks of a sink council estate: unemployment is extremely high (nearly 11% at the time of the 2011 census, putting the ward in the top 40 in England and Wales), those jobs that exist are all at the bottom end of the social scale, 41% of the workforce have no qualifications, 40% of the households are socially rented, and 25% of the population are under 16.  Awful though those indicators are, this isn't even the worst ward in Grimsby for multiple deprivation.

Put all this together with the current political climate, and you can see why UKIP made the Great Grimsby constituency a top target for the 2015 general election; they had a track record in the town's local elections, the long-serving Austin Mitchell, who had succeeded Tony Crosland in a 1977 by-election, was retiring, and UKIP had recruited as their parliamentary candidate the former Tory who had lost to Mitchell by just 714 votes in the 2010 election.  In fact UKIP finished third and Labour increased both their majority and their share of the vote.  That good 2015 result was reflected in South ward, which Labour comfortably held after having lost the ward to UKIP by 30 votes in 2014; the UKIP councillor elected that year was a Labour defector, re-elected under her new colours.  Created on its current boundaries in 2003, South ward was a Labour/Lib Dem marginal in the Blair and Brown years, the Lib Dems being helped in the Blair years by an electoral pact with the Tories who didn't stand in the ward.  The ordinary election results in May suggest that UKIP have peaked in Grimsby, Labour beating them in South ward 54-28.

Defending for Labour is Janet Goodwin, who finished a close second in May in the normally-Tory Scartho ward, immediately to the south of South ward.  The UKIP candidate is Stephen Whittingham, chairman of the party's Great Grimsby branch.  Also standing are Paul Batson for the Tories, Val O'Flynn for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and Loyd Emmerson for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Great Grimsby

May 2016 result Lab 913 UKIP 483 C 251 TUSC 54
May 2015 result Lab 1681 UKIP 1278 C 742 Lab 172 TUSC 83
May 2014 result UKIP 690 Lab 660 Ind 238 C 200 LD 97 Grn 52
May 2012 result Lab 968 UKIP 421 LD 264 Ind 198
May 2011 result Lab 1411 LD 496 UKIP 456
May 2008 result LD 689 Lab 563 C 338 Ind 175 Ind 135 Ind 68
May 2007 result Lab 763 LD 735 C 314
May 2006 result LD 770 Lab 675 Ind 529
June 2004 result LD 929 Lab 824 Ind 507 Ind 249
May 2003 result Lab 719/562/516 LD 714 Ind 656/613/574

Lambeth borough council, South London
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Niranjan Francis at the age of 59.  A former Merchant Navy captain who ran the Gipsy Hill post office and a Kent care home, Francis had served on Lambeth council since 2010.

Northwood House, Hamilton Road
We move into London for the second half of this week's previews.  Gipsy Hill is the south-eastern corner of the London Borough of Lambeth, covering most of the West Norwood area and served by Gipsy Hill and West Norwood stations on the Crystal Palace line.  West Norwood was traditionally rather middle-class, and Gipsy Hill was a safe Conservative ward as recently as 2006, but rapid demographic change in recent years has turned the ward into a Labour fortress: in the 2011 census 29% of the population was black and 9.3% (the fifth-highest figure in England and Wales) were mixed-race, and social renting and unemployment are fairly high.

In the 2014 local elections the Labour slate beat the Tories 67-13, which is an amazing swing of 34% since the 2006 elections; at the GLA elections in May Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith 59-18 in the ward's ballot boxes, while the list ballot gave Labour 50% with the Greens second on 16% and the Tories third on 15%.

Defending for Labour is Luke Murphy, an "irregular hiker" according to his Twitter who gives an address in Brixton.  The Tory candidate is Leslie Maruziva, a black Zimbabwean working in regeneration.  Also standing are Pete Elliott for the Green Party, Rose Jesse for the Lib Dems, Elizabeth Jones for UKIP, independent candidate Robin Lambert and Steve Nally of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

Parliamentary constituency: Dulwich and West Norwood

May 2014 result Lab 2242/2202/2183 C 436/434/423 Grn 364/317/257 LD 164/161/133 UKIP 142
May 2010 result Lab 2670/2597/2588 C 1654/1611/1585 LD 1055/1016/852 Grn 462/347/332
May 2006 result C 1402/1352/1283 Lab 915/838/790 Grn 631 LD 521/408/368
May 2002 result C 1579/1571//1509 Lab 1034/1001/899 Grn 251/182/178 LD 237/180/165

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 2102 C 622 Grn 376 LD 153 Women's Equality 118 UKIP 62 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 36 Britain First 28 Respect 24 BNP 11 One Love 9 Ind 6
List: Lab 1795 Grn 581 C 522 LD 209 Women's Equality 206 UKIP 107 CPA 39 Animal Welfare 29 Britain First 29 Respect 26 House Party 17 BNP 13

Southwark borough council, South London
Caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Lisa Rajan, who is moving to Manchester where her husband has a new job.  She had served since 2002.

Lavender Pond, Rotherhithe
Low-lying, marshy and close to the river, unsuitable for farming but close to the City and downstream of London Bridge, the Rotherhithe peninsula was a natural location for dockbuilding.  In 1696 the Howland family, the local landowners, had built here the largest dock of its kind in the world, able to accommodate 120 sailing ships.  The dock became successful as a base for Arctic whalers, eventually being renamed Greenland Dock in their honour, and expansion over the years led to the peninsula being covered by nine docks at the time of the Second World War.  Damage caused by wartime bombing and the advent of containerisation, which the Surrey Docks couldn't handle, led to the docks closing in 1969 and most of the docks themselves were filled in.

From the Thatcher years the derelict Surrey Docks area was extensively redeveloped under the auspices of the London Docklands Development Corporation, with a huge number of yuppie flats for young professionals springing up together with some new industry (including the printworks for the Daily Mail and Evening Standard), while the remaining docks were turned into London's largest marina.  And so it came to pass that there is now enough population in the Surrey Docks to form an electoral ward, although the ward name is now an anachronism, "Surrey Quays" (as in the East London Line station which serves the ward) being more generally applied to the area nowadays.

The yuppie flats have left their mark on the ward's demographics: Surrey Docks ward is in the top 100 in England and Wales for population aged 30-44 (33%), White non-British (23%), Buddhism (1.75%), degree-level qualifications (56%) and full-time employment (55%), just outside the top 100 for population born in other EU-15 countries (7%) and over half the workforce are at management or professional level.  Politically this adds up to a Lib Dem ward, particularly given that Simon Hughes was the local MP until last year.  At the most recent local elections in 2014 the Lib Dem slate topped the poll with 31% of the vote, Labour were second on 21%, the Tories (who were the main challengers in the ward through the Noughties) fell to 19% and UKIP had one of their better figures in inner London with 15%.

In the GLA elections in May this was the ward with the strongest Lib Dem vote share in London on all three ballots, and the Lib Dems actually carried the ward (by 9 votes over Labour) on the constituency ballot - not something you see very often in a GLA election.  Sadiq Khan led here in the mayoral ballot with 37% to 29% for Zac Goldsmith and 17% for the Lib Dem candidate Caroline Pidgeon, while Labour won the list vote with just 27% to 24% for the Lib Dems, 21% for the Conservatives and 13% for the Green Party.

So the Lib Dems still appear to be in relatively good shape in this corner of London.  Their defending candidate is Dan Whitehead, a solicitor whose manifesto includes more buses for Surrey Quays and a footbridge over the river to connect the ward with the Isle of Dogs. The Labour candidate is Will Holmes, a trade union official and charity trustee.  The Tories have selected Craig Cox, a strategy consultant advising government departments who has local government experience as a councillor in Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire in 2011-2012 (for the by-election-prone Toton and Chilwell Meadows ward, for which see this column passim).  Toby Prescott is the UKIP candidate, fighting his third Southwark by-election of the year.  Completing an all-male ballot paper are Colin Boyle of the Green Party and John Hellings, an independent candidate who was on the UKIP slate in 2014, an independent candidate in 2010 and on the Labour slate in 2006.

Parliamentary constituency: Bermondsey and Old Southwark

May 2014 result LD 1039/837/780 Lab 712/697/632 C 655/562/548 UKIP 502/468 Grn 486/360
May 2010 result LD 2385/2310/1986 C 1463/1331/1259 Lab 942/902/788 Grn 445 Ind 185
May 2006 result LD 1100/1037/1009 C 735/702/665 Lab 441/384/340 Grn 334/244
May 2002 result LD 1034/1012/966 C 351/339/311 Lab 268/210/189 Grn 124/84/76

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1140 C 901 LD 538 Grn 267 UKIP 108 Women's Equality 65 Respect 27 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 17 Britain First 16 BNP 11 Ind 10 One Love 6
List: Lab 857 LD 752 C 668 Grn 398 UKIP 204 Women's Equality 122 CPA 36 Animal Welfare 31 Britain First 29 Respect 20 BNP 15 House Party 12

Thursday, 2 June 2016

By-election Preview: 2 June 2016

Seven by-elections on 2nd June 2016, one of which is unfinished business from May. Four are covered here, one over on the Scottish Elections blog, and two more on the Welsh Elections blog.

Rushmoor borough council, Hampshire
Postponed from 5th May due to the death of the Conservative candidate Ron Hughes.  Hughes was an outgoing councillor with ten years' service in Manor Park ward, and had served as the council's cabinet minister for housing; he had been deselected in Manor Park and had found a new berth in this ward.

Aldershot Park
The large May elections usually generate various pieces of unfinished business; with tens of thousands of candidates standing, there are usually a few candidates who sadly die between their nomination being submitted and polling day.  That causes the election in the ward to be postponed to a later date with nominations reopened.  Aldershot Park is the only ward to suffer this fate this year, which is an unusually low figure for even-numbered May elections (odd-numbered years are on different scales and not really comparable).

Aldershot Park is a working-class ward covering the south-eastern corner of the army town of Aldershot.  I say "working-class", but the Army presence makes interpreting the census statistics fairly difficult; there are high rates of social renting and "lower supervisory, technical" work, but employment rates are unusually high for such an area.  There is also a fast-growing Buddhist population in the ward, an effect of Gurkha immigration in recent years which has been concentrated in the Aldershot area.

Rushmoor's wards were redrawn in 2012 but this ward had only minor changes from the Heron Wood ward which existed from 1979 to 2012.  For much of this period Heron Wood was a three-way marginal, but Labour only lost the ward twice: to the Lib Dems in 2004 and 2008 (in both cases Labour won the seats back in by-elections).  The Lib Dem challenge disappeared in the Coalition years, but the Tory vote has remained strong and they gained a seat from Labour in Aldershot Park in 2015; the shares of the vote last year were 38% for the Tories, 35% for Labour and 27% for UKIP who fought the ward for the first time.  At county level almost all of the ward is within the Aldershot East division, a marginal which Labour gained from the Tories in 2013.

The outgoing Labour councillor Mike Roberts, a veteran councillor who has represented this ward and Heron Wood since 1979, is standing for re-election to what would be his eleventh term of office.  The replacement Tory candidate, following Ron Hughes' death, is Matthew Collins.  Jeffery Boxall is the UKIP candidate, and the Green Party - who weren't on the original candidate list - have entered the fray with Lucy Perrin.

Parliamentary constituency: Aldershot
Hampshire county council division: Aldershot East (most)

May 2015 result C 1153 Lab 1065 UKIP 840
May 2014 result Lab 877 C 693
May 2012 result Lab 811/754/677 C 451/406/401 LD 202

Mid Suffolk district council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor David Card, who had served since 2015.

Somersham from the Air
This is a rural ward covering seven parishes in central Suffolk, a few miles north-west of Ipswich.  Despite the order of names, the largest of these (with 597 electors) is Somersham, although Barking is perhaps more accessible with Somersham being in the middle of nowhere and accessible only by country lanes.  Also within the ward is a small corner of the town of Needham Market.  The ward has a old age profile and a large retired population.

If you thought that this bucolic description meant a sleepy Tory ward, you'd be wrong: 2015 was the first time there had been a Tory councillor for this area.  The old Barking ward was independent-held up to 1995, and then Lib Dem from 1995 to 2007 (several elections before 2007 were uncontested).  In 2007 the ward was gained by a localist party which is in contention for the title of "most risible party name on the register", being called "Suffolk Together".  It took the general election turnout in 2015 for the Tories to knock out the Suffolk Together councillor; the result last year was 42% for the Conservatives, 32% for Suffolk Together and 15% for UKIP.  The Tories do not hold the local county division (Bosmere), which has been Lib Dem for some years.

Defending for the Tories is a young candidate, Jemma Lynch of Needham Market.  Neither Suffolk Together nor UKIP have returned to the fray, so completing the ballot paper are Lib Dem Mark Valladares, Anne Killett of the Green Party and Labour's William Marsburg.

Parliamentary constituency: Central Suffolk and North Ipswich
Suffolk county council division: Bosmere

May 2015 result C 542 Suffolk Together 411 UKIP 194 LD 154
May 2011 result Suffolk Together 493 C 310 LD 121
May 2007 result Suffolk Together 362 C 286 LD 266
Oct 2004 by-election LD 281 C 183 UKIP 86
May 2003 result LD unopposed

Lewes district council
Caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Daisy Cooper who had served only since 2015.

Chapel Hill, Lewes
Here we have an old and rather beautiful town, located within the South Downs National Park at the point where the River Ouse cuts through the South Downs.  Tourism, together with administration (East Sussex county council and Sussex Police Authority are based here) and manufacturing are major employers, with tourists drawn not just by the town's old buildings and beautiful location but also by the Lewes Bonfire, a celebration of Guy Fawkes Night in which well-known figures are burned in effigy.  Fawkes himself and Pope Paul V are always on the bill, but there are also more up-to-date characters - recent Lewes Bonfires have burned Osama bin Laden, Sepp Blatter, Jeremy Clarkson and David Cameron (complete with a pig).  Despite or perhaps because of this, Lewes Bridge ward has a high proportion of people claiming no religious affiliation. The Bridge ward, one of three covering the town, covers part of the town centre and railway station together with the suburbs of Cliffe and South Malling on the east bank of the Ouse.

The local Lib Dems are no doubt still smarting from the 2015 election in which they lost not only the Lewes parliamentary constituency but also one of the two seats in Lewes Bridge ward, which was gained by the Green Party.  In a fractured 2015 result, the Lib Dem slate had 28% of the vote in Lewes Bridge, the Greens 21%, an independent 16%, Labour 16% and the Tories 12%.  The Lib Dems do still hold the local county division (Ringmer and Lewes Bridge).

Defending for the Lib Dems is Will Elliott, who represents the ward on Lewes town council.  The Greens have selected Johnny Denis, a business management consultant.  The Labour candidate is acupuncturist Richard Hurn.  Completing the ballot paper is Roy Burman for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Lewes
East Sussex county council division: Ringmer and Lewes Bridge

May 2015 result LD 905/641 Grn 677/410 Ind 540 Lab 529/447 C 395/359 UKIP 240
May 2011 result LD 735/620 Grn 576/424 Lab 324/318 C 280/255
May 2007 result LD 687/532 Ind 402 Seagulls Party 262 Grn 249/246 C 203/201 Lab 113
May 2003 result LD 585/583 C 239/212 Grn 196/192 Lab 160/159

Dorset county council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Michael Bevan who had served since 2009.

Local Shop and Post Office, Yetminster
Large rural division time: Sherborne Rural county division covers no fewer than forty parishes completely surrounding the town of Sherborne. The largest centre of population is Yetminster, a stop on the Heart of Wessex railway line about four miles south of Sherborne, whose population just creeps above 1,000.

Sherborne Rural has been a tight Tory-Lib Dem battle at county level for many years: Bevan gained it from the Lib Dems in 2009 and held it in 2013 with 37% of the vote, to 35% for the Lib Dems and 22% for UKIP. Recent boundary changes in West Dorset mean that the wards and county divisions no longer match up, but in the wards wholly or partly in the division the Tories hold five council seats and the Lib Dems one (in Yetminster and Cam Vale ward).

Defending for the Tories is Mary Penfold (oh crumbs!), district councillor for Frome Valley ward which covers part of the division.  The Lib Dems have selected Matthew Hall, a district and town councillor in Sherborne.  UKIP have not returned to the fray, so the Labour candidate Geoff Freeman completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: West Dorset
West Dorset district council wards: Beaminster (part), Frome Valley (part), Queen Thorne, Yetminster and Cam Vale

May 2013 result C 1258 LD 1168 UKIP 746 Grn 129 Lab 85
June 2009 result C 2080 LD 1871 Lab 112
May 2005 result LD 2993 C 2809

Thursday, 26 May 2016

By-election Previews: 26 May 2016

North Yorkshire county council; and
Hambleton council
Both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Tony Hall at the age of 66.  A structural engineer by trade, Hall had dedicated many years of his life to public service: four times Mayor of Northallerton, he joined Hambleton council in 1999 and served in its cabinet from 2006 to 2010; at the time of his death he was vice-chairman of Hambleton council.  Hall had been a North Yorkshire county councillor since 2005, and was the county council's executive member for children's services from 2012 to 2015.

Northallerton Market
Northallerton has been in the news this week, as North Yorkshire county council - based in the town and its largest employer - approved a proposal to carry out fracking in the Ryedale district.  It might seem strange that this small town - population around 16,000 - is the county town of North Yorkshire rather than such larger and more important towns as Scarborough, Harrogate and York itself, but Northallerton became a major town in mediaeval times under the auspices of the Bishops of Durham.  Later the town became a stopping point on the Great North Road from Edinburgh to London, and for the East Coast Main Line, and its location in the centre of the Vale of Mowbray - the wide valley between the Pennines and the North York Moors - meant it became a major agricultural and market centre.  Agriculture and light industry still underpin Northallerton's economy today.

The population figure above is slightly misleading, as the Northallerton urban area has outgrown the parish boundary and much of the built-up area to the south of the railway station - including County Hall - is part of Romanby parish rather than Northallerton proper.  Just to make things even more confusing, there have been recent ward boundary changes in Hambleton which means that the ward and county division boundaries don't match up.  The Northallerton county division covers all of Northallerton parish except for the part of the town centre which was within Northallerton Broomfield ward before 2015; Northallerton South ward covers the town centre and east of the town but not the south of the built-up area so might better have been called Northallerton Central (as the predecessor ward was before 2015).

Tony Hall had a safe county council seat; at his the most recent re-election in 2013 he beat UKIP 52-31.  On the district council, from 2003 to 2015 Hall shared representation of Northallerton Central ward with independent councillor John Coulson.  In 2015 Coulson retired and Hall easily topped the poll in the new Northallerton South ward with an enormous personal vote, polling nearly twice as many votes as his running-mate Huw Jones who finished just four votes behind UKIP for the second seat; shares of the vote were 49% for the Conservatives, 26% for UKIP and 25% for Labour who weren't far off winning a seat themselves.

There's a large degree of crossover between the candidates in these two by-elections.  Defending both seats for the Conservatives is Caroline Dickinson.  UKIP have selected Stephen Place to contest the county by-election, while their candidate in the district poll is Northallerton town councillor Dave Robertson.  The Labour candidate in by-elections is David Tickle.  Completing the ballot papers are Chris Pearson of Yorkshire First, standing in both polls, and the Greens' Michael Chaloner who stands only in the county by-election.

Parliamentary constituency: Richmond (Yorkshire)

May 2013 result C 825 UKIP 489 Lab 259
June 2009 result C 1191 Lab 431
May 2005 result C 1311 Lab 983 Ind 925

Northallerton South
May 2015 result C 1414/758 UKIP 762 Lab 739/654

East Staffordshire council
Caused by the resignation of East Staffordshire's only UKIP councillor Steven Dyche after less than a year on the council.  Dyche was elected in 2015 and served on the council's audit and health scrutiny committees.

Main Street, Stapenhill
Stapenhill is essentially a suburb of Burton upon Trent located on the far side of the river.  Traditionally a brickmaking settlement, Stapenhill's character was greatly changed from the interwar period by the construction of large council estates by Burton Corporation, and this can still be seen in the ward's demography: Burton's economy being based on brewing and manufacturing, the ward has very high levels of routine and semi-routine working; however, unemployment is not particularly high.

This demographic mix creates a Labour ward with UKIP potential in the current political climate.  The BNP had come second in Stapenhill in the 2007 election with 30% of the vote, demonstrating the potential for a radical right-wing party to break through here; and so it came to pass that UKIP did indeed break through in 2015, polling 31% with their single candidate Dyche; the Labour slate topped the poll with 32%, but their third candidate lagged a long way between the two councillors seeking re-election.  The Tories were third, not far behind on 25%. Labour have a lock on the local county division, the badly-drawn Burton Trent which was one of only three seats the party won in the 2009 county elections; in 2013 Labour had 47% to 29% for UKIP and 19% for the Tories.

Defending UKIP's toehold on East Staffordshire council is Sally Green, who was runner-up here in the 2013 county elections.  Labour want their seat back, and have selected their Burton party secretary Craig Jones who is still in his twenties.  The Tory candidate is Michael Teasel, secretary of the Staffordshire Regimental Association.  Also standing are Thomas Hadley of the Green Party, Stapenhill parish councillor Susan Paxton - the only candidate to give an address in the ward - standing as an independent, and former district councillor Hugh Warner for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Burton
Staffordshire county council division: Burton Trent

May 2015 result Lab 1251/1235/865 UKIP 1228 C 963/819/714 Grn 488
May 2011 result Lab 913/891/825 C 584/487/474 BNP 342 Ind 269
May 2007 result Lab 962/707/685 BNP 592 C 473/468/400
Sept 2005 by-election Lab 624 C 268 UKIP 45
May 2003 result Lab 1436/1180/1139 C 585/569/518

Thursday, 19 May 2016

By-election Preview: 19 May 2016

Merton council, South London
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Maxi Martin.  A councillor for St Helier ward since 1998, Martin had been Mayor of Merton in 2003-04 and had served since 2010 as Merton's cabinet member for children's services.

St Helier Hospital
With the May elections now safely out of the way for another year, the local by-election calendar resumes this week with a single contest in South London.  We're in the St Helier estate here, one of several 1930s "cottage" housing estates built on garden-city principles by the London County Council; in this case 40,000 people were homed by 1936 on what had previously been lavender fields between the village of Morden and the town of Carshalton.  The estate straddles what is now the border between Merton and Sutton boroughs, and confusingly both boroughs have a St Helier ward; this is the Merton one.  At the centre of this ward lies St Helier railway station, opened in 1930 to serve the estate on what is now the Sutton Loop line, while the northern end of the ward is better served by the London Underground's southernmost station, Morden on the Northern Line.  The name of the estate, incidentally, is in honour of the former London County Council alderman Baroness St Helier.

The demographics of St Helier ward bear all the usual London hallmarks of a diverse population, and also show high levels of social renting and long-term unemployment.  This is, as you might expect from those statistics, a working-class area and a safe Labour ward.  In the 2014 local elections the Labour slate polled 59% of the vote here, with UKIP's 20% best of the rest despite their candidate, Andre Lampitt, having been disowned by the party during the campaign for racist tweets.  Two weeks ago London was at the polls for the Mayor and Assembly elections; Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith in the ward's ballot boxes 45-33, while the list votes split 48% for Labour, 23% for the Tories and 10% for UKIP (the ward breakdowns for the Mayor and Assembly elections don't include postal votes, so these figures aren't directly comparable with 2014).

Defending for Labour is Jerome Neil, a co-founder of a multimedia company and the only candidate to give a Morden address.  Continuing the theme of UKIP candidates here with distinctly dubious tweets is Richard Hilton, a former Tory councillor (Lower Morden ward, 2010-14) who fought the local parliamentary seat in last year's general election and got into trouble then for a tweet saying that "Jihadi John" should have killed himself; he gives an address over 70 miles away in Newbury, Berkshire.  Also standing are Susan Edwards for the Conservatives, Asif Ashraf for the Lib Dems and John Barraball for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Mitcham and Morden

May 2014 result Lab 2010/1916/1673 UKIP 663 C 505/435/421 LD 203
May 2010 result Lab 2385/2206/2185 C 1373/1189/1161 LD 762 BNP 426/358
May 2006 result Lab 1347/1246/1196 C 974/931/778 BNP 599 Ind 583 LD 430
May 2002 result Lab 958/947/840 C 532/519/509 LD 324 BNP 302 Grn 192/178 UKIP 164

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1222 C 907 UKIP 188 Grn 112 LD 94 Britain First 50 Respect 47 Women's Equality 35 CISTA 32 Ind 26 BNP 23 One Love 7
List: Lab 1335 C 638 UKIP 286 Grn 134 LD 114 Women's Equality 67 Britain First 63 Respect 45 CPA 33 BNP 26 Animal Welfare 23 House Party 10

Thursday, 14 April 2016

By-election Preview: 14 April 2016

Three by-elections this week, the final contests before the full elections take place in May.  Two are covered over on the Cornish Elections blog, and the other one below:

Taunton Deane district council
Caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Christopher Appleby in order to join the police.  He had served only since May last year.

The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, Taunton
For a town some distance from the sea, it's curious that Taunton Halcon ward's largest employer is the UK Hydrographic Office, a government-owned organisation which produces Admiralty charts, tide tables and other nautical and astronomical publications for the benefit of the Royal Navy and sailors all over the world.  The Hydrographic Office is in the most unfashionable part of Somerset's county town; Halcon ward lies in eastern Taunton running to the M5 motorway at junction 25, and is a deprived working-class area.  The ward has one of the highest rates of part-time working in England and Wales (19.3%) and its census figures also stick out for high levels of semi-routine work, low qualifications, social renting and children.

Most areas with this sort of demographic profile vote strongly Labour, but Labour are not organised here (their stronghold on Taunton Deane council is in the small but politically radical town of Wellington).  Instead the Lib Dems perform strongly in Halcon and held all the district and county council seats until 2015 when the Tories nicked one of the three district council seats with a majority of just two votes; the votes last year were 40% for the Lib Dems, 36% for the Tories and 24% for the Green Party, although the Green share may be affected by the Tories not running a full slate and there being no Labour or UKIP candidates.  The local Lib Dems seem to have trouble holding on to their district councillors: this is the third local by-election here caused by the resignation of a Lib Dem councillor in as many years.

Defending for the Lib Dems is twenty-something Chris Booth, the organiser for the Taunton Deane branch of the Lib Dems.  The Tories have also gone for youth in reselecting Livvi Grant, their unsuccessful candidate here last year, who is a researcher for Taunton Deane's Tory MP Rebecca Pow.  Continuing the young-candidate theme is Craig Rossiter, the youth officer for the local branch of the Green Party.  Completing the ballot paper are Robert Bainbridge for UKIP and Kieran Canham for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Taunton Deane
Somerset county council division: Taunton East (most), Taunton South (part)

May 2015 result LD 1012/1001/889 C 891/851 Grn 605
Oct 2013 by-election LD 282 UKIP 172 C 165 Lab 146
May 2013 by-election LD 457 UKIP 295 C 179 Lab 159 Grn 78
May 2011 result LD 694/539/529 C 475 Lab 420
May 2007 result LD 804/709/679 C 372/354/326 Lab 154