Monday, 17 December 2012

By-Elections Preview: 19/20 December 2012

The last act of the psephological year for 2012 will be five local by-elections in the week before Christmas.  Three of them, unusually are being held on Wednesday 19th December: Labour and the Green Party have safe wards to defend in Norwich, while the Liberal Democrats also have a safe seat up in Sunbury-on-Thames.  On Thursday 20th it's the Tories' turn to defend safe wards, with county and district council seats up for election in the Gravesend area.

By-elections on Wednesday 19th December:

Norwich City Council; caused respectively by the resignations of Labour and Green Party councillors.  Jenny Lay, outgoing Labour councillor for Crome ward and Lord Mayor of Norwich in 2011/12, has been diagnosed with cancer, while former Nelson ward councillor David Rogers has spectacularly fallen out with the Green Party.

City Hall, Norwich
  © Copyright Katy Walters and licensed for reuse
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Rather unusually, here we have two wards that are named after people.  Nelson ward is obviously named in honour of Admiral Lord Nelson, the victor of Trafalgar, while Crome ward is named after John Crome, the founder of the Norwich school of painters.

The Crome ward is the most north-easterly ward of Norwich city, although its external boundaries are entirely built up as the city limits haven't kept pace with the growth of Norwich suburbia.  The ward includes the city's prison and part of Mousehold Heath, known for its role in Kett's Rebellion of 1549 and painted by Crome in about 1818-1820.  In later years much of the ward was the site of the first Norwich Airport, now redeveloped into the Heartsease housing estate which contains most of Crome ward's population.

The Heartsease estate is a pretty deprived area, and that contributes to this being a safe Labour ward in current political conditions.  In the May 2012 election the ward had the largest Labour majority in Norwich (884 votes).  Labour did come fairly close to losing it at the height of their unpopularity in the Brown years, being just 99 votes ahead of the Conservatives at the June 2009 Norfolk county council election (Norwich's wards and county council divisions have the same boundaries) but Labour have pulled away strongly since then.

Nelson ward is a complete contrast.  Just west of the city centre and stretching west from the city's cathedral, this entirely built-up ward has some of the most upmarket residential areas in the city.  The recently-released 2011 census statistics also show this is a student area, with 20% of the ward's population being aged between 20 and 24; the ward is not far from the University of East Anglia campus and borders the city's University ward.

Given these demographics, it's probably not much of a surprise to find that Nelson is Norwich's strongest Green Party ward.  Since gaining the ward when it was drawn on its current boundaries in 2004 the Greens have never been seriously threatened here at city or county council level.  One of the ward's former councillors is Adrian Ramsay, former deputy leader of the party who stood down from the council in 2011.  Labour have occupied the runner-up spot here since 2008.

So, a couple of by-elections in what are possibly the two least interesting wards in Norwich from a psephological point of view.  In Crome ward the Labour candidate is Marion Maxwell, who wasn't far off gaining the city-centre Mancroft ward from the Greens in May; she had success in a recent campaign to stop Norwich's streetlights being switched off at midnight.  She will be opposed by former Tory councillor and 2009/10 Lord Mayor Eve Collishaw, who lost her seat in Catton Grove ward last year; Judith Ford for the Greens, who, like Collishaw, fought Catton Grove in May this year; Michael Sutton-Croft for the Lib Dems, who works in the environmental department of Norwich County Council; and Glenn Tingle for UKIP, an ex-Army medic who fought the Norwich North parliamentary by-election in 2009.

Like Labour in Crome, the Greens in Nelson have gone for a candidate with a proven track record: Andrew Boswell who has been the ward's county councillor since 2005.  His main opposition will come from UEA student Layla Dickerson who is the Labour candidate.  Also standing are Alexandra Davies for the Tories, who fought this ward in May, and the Lib Dems' Helen Whitworth, who stood in Wensum ward in May and had the dubious distinction of being the lowest-polling candidate in the city.

Norfolk county council division: Crome
Parliamentary constituency: Norwich North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Norwich

Evelyn Collishaw (C)
Judith Ford (Grn)
Marion Maxwell (Lab)
Michael Sutton-Croft (LD)
Glenn Tingle (UKIP)

May 2012 result Lab 1272 C 388 Grn 273 LD 125
May 2011 result Lab 1450 C 684 Grn 267 UKIP 217 LD 148
Sept 2010 result Lab 1085 C 543 Grn 199 LD 137 UKIP 100
June 2009 county council result Lab 811 C 712 Grn 518 LD 381
May 2008 result Lab 954 C 704 Grn 348 LD 273
May 2007 result Lab 1110 C 684 LD 402 Grn 303
May 2006 result Lab 1058 C 645 LD 357 Grn 296
May 2005 county council result Lab 2110 LD 896 C 866 Grn 242
June 2004 result Lab 1025/927/825 C 567/479/465 LD 505/480/475 Grn 284/241/208 Legalise Cannabis Alliance 79

Norfolk county council division: Nelson
Parliamentary constituency: Norwich South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Norwich

Andrew Boswell (Grn)
Alexandra Davies (C)
Layla Dickerson (Lab)
Helen Whitworth (LD)

May 2012 result Grn 1644 Lab 697 C 249 LD 173
Sept 2010 result Grn 1297 Lab 535 LD 198 C 186
June 2009 county council result Grn 2103 Lab 421 LD 420 C 355
May 2008 result Grn 1906 Lab 359 LD 356 C 283
May 2007 result Grn 1899 LD 518 Lab 397 C 271
May 2006 result Grn 1805 LD 523 Lab 353 C 264
May 2005 county council result Grn 2135 LD 1270 Lab 879 C 467
June 2004 result Grn 1691/1643/1624 LD 1128/1047/823 Lab 416/405/366 C 241/232/223 Legalise Cannabis Alliance 158 Ind 143


Spelthorne Borough Council, Surrey; caused by the resignation of Independent councillor Robbie Collison-Crawford.  Cllr Collison-Crawford has been suffering from ill-health and was also the subject of a scandal this year after a small number of child porn images were found on his council laptop; Collison-Crawford's son was found to be responsible for this and received a police caution.  Collison-Crawford was elected as a Liberal Democrat but had been sitting as an independent since the scandal broke.

Rush hour traffic at Sunbury Cross
  © Copyright Rod Allday and licensed for reuse
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In the traditionally Middlesex part of Surrey, Sunbury-on-Thames is the first town you hit at the end of the M3 motorway on the way into London.  To outsiders it's probably best known as the location of Kempton Park racecourse, venue for the King George VI Chase each Boxing Day, and as the original home of the London Irish rugby union team (who now play their home matches in Reading).  However, neither of these are in Sunbury Common ward, which is a triangular shaped ward to the north and west of the Sunbury Cross roundabout at the end of the motorway, bounded to the west by the A244 Cadbury Road and Windmill Road.  This is a generally residential and industrial area, with BP and Chubb being major employers.  The ward is probably the least middle-class ward in Sunbury, although that isn't saying much.

Spelthorne is a generally middle-class area.  The Tories generally clean up at the Staines end of the borough having seen off the Labour threat (at the 2011 elections Labour only contested the Heathrow-influenced Stanwell North ward), but the Lib Dems have more strength in Sunbury and this is by far the strongest Lib Dem ward in the whole of Spelthorne, actually swinging towards the Lib Dems at the most recent election in 2011.

The Lib Dems have selected Bernie Spoor to hold the by-election; he is a retired computing expert who also worked as an engineer for London Underground, and has been married for fifty years; he fought Halliford and Sunbury West ward at the 2011 elections and is the only candidate to give a Sunbury address.  By contrast the Conservatives have gone for youth; their candidate Matthew Want, who appears to be in his early twenties, owns a taxi company in nearby Shepperton and works for Executive Secretary magazine.  UKIP have selected Bob Bromley, who lives in the neighbouring town of Ashford and fought an Ashford ward last year.  Finally, Labour have decided to re-enter Spelthorne politics by nominating John Went, from Shepperton, who is on the board of governors at a primary school in the ward.

Surrey county council division: Sunbury Common and Ashford Common
Parliamentary constituency: Spelthorne
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Bob Bromley (UKIP)
Bernie Spoor (LD)
Matthew Want (C)
John Went (Lab)

May 2011 result LD 1127/1094/881 C 528/489/467 UKIP 332
May 2007 result LD 1122/1087/966 C 602/545/485 Lab 175
May 2003 result LD 794/748/644 C 392/353/334 Lab 185

By-elections on Thursday 20th December:
Kent County Council and Gravesham District Council, Kent; both caused by the death of Conservative county and district councillor Mike Snelling at the age of 66.  A retired banker, he had been leader of Gravesham council from 2007 to 2011.

Cricket on Meopham Green
  © Copyright Jerry Clarke and licensed for reuse
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There are some wards where by-elections just seem to come up with amazing regularity, and Meopham North is definitely high up on that list.  This is the second by-election in the ward since Gravesham district council's ordinary election in May 2011, and the fourth since 2003 (one of which was a postponed poll after a candidate in the 2007 ordinary election died).  Neither of the Tory councillors elected for Meopham North in May 2011 now remain on the council, indicating a very high councillor attrition rate.

A previous incarnation of this column previewed the last Meopham North by-election in October 2011 thus:
"The Kentish village of Meopham (pronounced MEPPam) is located in the North Downs five miles south of Gravesend; this ward is the northern half of the Meopham parish and includes the whole of Meopham itself plus the hamlets of Meopham Green and Meopham Station; as the name suggests Meopham Station has a railway station on the London-Chatham main line, with trains taking 48 minutes to London Victoria; this makes Meopham a very well-off area popular with London commuters.  Under first-past-the-post Gravesham council has had a few wrong-winner results in recent years caused by the Tory votes piling up in super-safe wards, and this is one of those [wards]; the result in May was C 71.1% Lab 28.9%, and the local county council division (Gravesham Rural) had an even larger majority in 2009.  Candidates for the by-election are the three main parties plus UKIP."

That by-election, in October last year, had a few interesting features, chief among them possibly the first ever opinion poll for a UK local by-election.  ITN Meridian commissioned Survation to survey 300 people in the ward; the headline figures were C 52% UKIP 26% Lab 20% LD 2%, with the poll also showing strong opposition to plans to develop housing in the green belt at Meopham.  The Labour and Lib Dem figures turned out to be a bit off (the Lib Dems finished third) but it did indeed come to pass that UKIP were a strong second to the Conservatives, whose majority in the ward crashed to just 186 votes having never previously been under 400 votes.

The wider county division of Gravesham Rural covers a series of villages to the south and east of Gravesend, of which the largest are probably Meopham and Higham (on the Gravesend-Strood railway line).  It is super-super-safe Conservative; on a general election turnout in 2005 Snelling polled over 7,000 votes here and at his last re-election in 2009 he was the only candidate to poll over 4,000 in a single-member Kent division.  That translated to 60% of the vote, with the English Democrats finishing as best of the rest on 11% and Labour and the Lib Dems fourth and fifth behind the Greens.

This will be the last county council by-election before the ordinary county council elections in May, as new vacancies before May will now remain unfilled under the six-month rule and this is the last vacancy which occurred before that rule kicked in.  The Tories' choice of candidate for the county by-election will raise a few eyebrows; he is Bryan Sweetland, who is already a Kent county councillor for Gravesham East division and sits on the council's cabinet.  Having gained Gravesham East (which covers about two-thirds of Gravesend town) off Labour at the 2009 election with just 35% of the vote, it would appear that he's doing the chicken run to a safer seat.  (In that he is copying his colleague in that two-seat county division: John Cubitt, who won the last Meopham North district by-election.)  If Sweetland wins this by-election his seat in Gravesham East would become vacant, but with the six-month rule now operative there wouldn't be a further by-election.

Sweetland is opposed for the county by-election by three candidates, who don't include the English Democrats (runners-up here in 2009) or the Green Party (third here last year).  Douglas Christie, the Labour candidate in 2009, is standing again; he has fought a variety of wards within the division at Gravesham district level, including Meopham North in 2011.  The Lib Dems have a candidate with the tongue-twisting name of Gill McGill, who lives outside the division in Northfleet and is a regular candidate in Gravesend and Northfleet wards and county divisions.  Finally, UKIP's Geoffrey Clark is standing after his strong result in the October 2011 Meopham North by-election.

The Tory candidate to hold Mike Snelling's district council seat is local resident Julia Burgoyne, who has earned a tilt at a safe ward after three unsuccessful attempts at the safe-Labour ward of Northfleet South.  Geoffrey Clark doubles-up at district and county level for UKIP, as does Douglas Christie for Labour.  The ballot paper is completed by Gravesend-based Martin Wilson for the Liberal Democrats, whose most recent electoral outing was in Northfleet's Painters Ash ward last year.

Gravesham Rural
Gravesham district wards: Higham; Istead Rise; Meopham North; Meopham South and Vigo; Shorne, Cobham and Luddesdown
Parliamentary constituency: Gravesham
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Douglas Christie (Lab)
Geoffrey Clark (UKIP)
Gill McGill (LD)
Bryan Sweetland (C)

June 2009 result C 4109 EDP 740 Grn 722 Lab 652 LD 624
May 2005 result C 7083 Lab 2691 LD 1291 Grn 561 Loony 235

Meopham North
Kent county council division: Gravesham Rural
Parliamentary constituency: Gravesham
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Julia Burgoyne (C)
Douglas Christie (Lab)
Geoffrey Clark (UKIP)
Martin Wilson (LD)

Oct 2011 by-election C 648 UKIP 462 LD 148 Lab 112
May 2011 result C 1220/1051 Lab 497/389
June 2007 postponed poll C 681/682 LD 200/178 Grn 104 Lab 59/57 Loony 31
Jan 2004 by-election C 643 Lab 105 LD 58
May 2003 result C 892/887 Lab 243/216 Grn 190

That concludes the by-election previews for 2012.  This column wishes all its readers (hello Sid, hello Doris) a very merry Christmas and happy New Year, and will return in time for the first council by-election of 2013 on 17 January.

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