Tuesday, 4 December 2012

By-Elections Preview: 6 December 2012

England sees five by-elections on 6th December, including a rare double by-election for two seats in the same ward.  The Liberal Democrats are defending a seat in one of their local government strongholds in London, while the Conservatives need to fend off Liberal Democrat challenges to hold marginal seats in the Essex and Oxford commuter belts, but should have less trouble holding a safe ward in the Wolverhampton commuter belt.  There are also by-elections in Cornwall and Wales which will be covered in the relevant blogs.


Brentwood District Council, Essex; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Lionel Lee, in order to spend more time with his wife who is ill.  Lee had served for Shenfield ward since 2004 and had previously been an Essex county councillor from 1993 to 2009.

Shenfield Station
  © Copyright Stacey Harris and licensed for reuse
under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Like St Erth in Cornwall (which also has a by-election today, see the Cornish Elections blog), Shenfield is a place probably best known for its railway station.  An outer suburb of the Essex town of Brentwood on the road to Chelmsford, Shenfield is the junction station for Southend-on-Sea off the Great Eastern main line and the terminus of the Great Eastern's inner-suburban service from Liverpool Street (which will become part of Crossrail from 2018).  This gives Shenfield a ridiculously frequent thirteen hourly trains to Liverpool Street, making it a perfect location for London commuters.  Shenfield's other claim to fame is that the minister of its church was once Nathaniel Ward, who wrote 'The Body of Liberties', the first constitution of Massachusetts.

For much of its recent electoral history, the ward has voted like a London commuter ward as a super-safe Conservative seat; the Tory vote peaked at 77.7% in both 2007 and 2008.  However, in May this year the Conservatives surprisingly lost the ward to the Liberal Democrats on a huge swing by the large margin of 242 votes.  I don't know why this is, although there are suggestions that the Conservative group on the council may be less than united.  The local county council division (Brentwood North) was a Liberal Democrat gain from the Conservatives in 2009, although the Lib Dem strength in the county division comes from Brentwood North and Pilgrims Hatch wards which have full slates of Lib Dem district councillors.

With the Tories having to defend another seat in the same ward less than seven months later this by-election could be very interesting.  The new Conservative candidate is Steve May, about whom I have no information, while the Liberal Democrats have selected 41-year-old mother-of-two Liz Cohen.  Labour and UKIP have both selected candidates who stood in neighbouring wards in May, Richard Millwood (from Brentwood North) and David Watt (from Hutton South, who stood here in 2011) respectively.

Parliamentary constituency: Brentwood and Ongar
Essex county council division: Brentwood North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southend and Brentwood

Liz Cohen (LD) (@ShenfieldLiz)
Steve May (C)
Richard Millwood (Lab)
David Watt (UKIP)

May 2012 result LD 853 C 611 Lab 116
May 2011 result C 1286 LD 609 UKIP 191 Lab 184
May 2010 result C 1937 LD 1175 Lab 216
May 2008 result C 1303 LD 269 Lab 104 [C 77.7]
May 2007 result C 1254 LD 281 Lab 79 [C 77.7]
May 2006 result C 1419 LD 323 Lab 101 [C 77.0]
June 2004 result (double vacancy) C 1401/1318 LD 405/378 Lab 140/114
May 2003 result C 1141 LD 239 Lab 123 [C 75.9]
May 2002 result C 964/876/767 Ind 605 LD 337/313/292 Lab 124/118/81


Sutton London Borough Council, South London; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Brendan Hudson, who was Mayor of Sutton in 2009/10.  Hudson now has a politically restricted post as chair of NHS Sutton Clinical Commissioning Board.

Ridge Road Library, North Cheam
  © Copyright Noel Foster and licensed for reuse
under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Another of the endless residential tracts that characterise south-west London, Stonecot ward falls into two main parts.  At the north-eastern end of the ward is the area around Sutton Common Road which is part of Sutton proper, while the south-western end is more properly part of North Cheam.  In the middle is Kimpton Industrial Estate, described by the council as "one of south London's key employment areas".

Sutton council is one of the longest-running sources of Liberal Democrat strength in the UK, having been continuously run by the yellow party since 1990.  The Conservatives fought back strongly in the 2006 election but failed to take control, and the Liberal Democrats increased their majority in 2010 and got a swing in their favour at a by-election earlier this year in Worcester Park ward, which borders Stonecot ward.  Stonecot ward was typical of this description of the wider borough; while the top Conservative was only 12 votes behind the third Lib Dem candidate in 2006, that gap widened to 694 votes in the 2010 election.

This May's London Assembly elections saw the ward vote strongly for Boris, who beat Ken by 58% to 25%; in the list section the Tories also topped the poll with 39%, with Labour beating the Lib Dems into second place and a relatively high UKIP vote (9%).

The five-strong field for the by-election is headed by the Liberal Democrats' Nick Emmerson, who is described as a freelance social interviewer, whatever that means.  His main challenge will come from the Tory candidate Graham Jarvis, a self-employed journalist and PR consultant.  Labour are standing former teacher Bonnie Craven, the Greens have nominated ex-Lib Dem councillor Joan Hartfield, and the UKIP candidate is retired aeronautical engineer Jeremy Wraith.  More information on the candidates can be found here.

Parliamentary constituency: Sutton and Cheam
GLA constituency: Croydon and Sutton
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Bonnie Craven (Lab)
Nick Emmerson (LD)
Joan Hartfield (Grn)
Graham Jarvis (C)
Jeremy Wraith (UKIP)

May 2010 result LD 3023/2664/2508 C 1814/1801/1774 Lab 632/490/459 BNP 413
May 2006 result LD 1590/1446/1425 C 1413/1370/1350 Lab 237/230/199
May 2002 result LD 1623/1679/1679 C 710/706/689 Lab 207/184/175
May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Boris 1225 Ken 522 Paddick 157 Benita 74 UKIP 72 Grn 40 BNP 33
List: C 826 Lab 443 LD 349 UKIP 200 Grn 90 BNP 77 EDP 52 CPA 49 Alagaratnam 17 NF 15 TUSC 12 House Party 4 Hayat 2


Vale of White Horse District Council, Oxfordshire; a rare double by-election caused by the resignation of Jane Crossley for undisclosed reasons and the disqualification of Tim Foggin who failed to attend any meetings of the council in six months.  The Conservatives will be defending both seats in this two-seat ward.
"Runs it not here, the track by Childsworth Farm,

Past the high wood, to where the elm-tree crowns
The hill behind whose ridge the sunset flames?
The signal-elm, that looks on Ilsley Downs,
The Vale, the three lone weirs, the youthful Thames?--
This winter-eve is warm,
Humid the air! leafless, yet soft as spring,
The tender purple spray on copse and briers!
And that sweet city with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty's heightening."
-Matthew Arnold, "Thyrsis"

Now here's a slice of rural/commuter England in the Oxford area.  Despite the order of the names, the largest village in this ward is Wootton, on the road from Abingdon to Eynsham about three miles north-west of Abingdon.  To the west of Wootton is the tiny parish of Besselsleigh on the Oxford-Swindon road, while the village of Sunningwell lies at the ward's eastern end.  To the north-east of Wootton can be found Boars Hill, whose views of Oxford, the Vale and the upper Thames valley inspired Matthew Arnold's poem "Thyrsis", quoted above.  That poem attracted lots of people to settle on Boars Hill; the settlers built houses with fences and walls and planted trees, which had the effect of spoiling the view for modern generations.

Abingdon and the surrounding area is another strong Liberal Democrat area, but unlike Sutton the Tories have been making serious inroads in recent years and are now clearly in the ascendency here, having gained from the Liberal Democrats the two county council divisions covering the ward in 2009, the parliamentary seat (Oxford West and Abingdon) in 2010 from shadow minister Evan Harris, and this ward's two district council seats in 2011.

On the 2011 result this ward still just about counts as a marginal, and the Liberal Democrats will hope that they can profit from the double vacancy to win at least one seat back.  The Tories can take some comfort from the fact that the by-election is a straight Tory-Lib Dem fight and there is no UKIP candidate this time.  The defending Conservatives are Adam Hardiman and Richard Treffler, both of whom live in Oxford; Hardiman is a semi-retired computer engineer who is a parish councillor and tuba player with the City of Oxford Silver Band, while Treffler works for the kitchen and electrical appliances manufacturer Miele.  The challenging Liberal Democrats, both from Boars Hill, are retired social worker Elizabeth Miles and former district councillor Valerie Shaw, who lost her seat in this ward in 2011 but still sits on Wootton parish council.

Parliamentary constituency: Oxford West and Abingdon
Oxfordshire county council divisions: Kennington and Radley (Sunningwell parish), Wootton (rest of ward)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Oxford

Adam Hardiman (C)
Elizabeth Miles (LD)
Valerie Shaw (LD)
Richard Treffler (C)

May 2011 result C 854/814 LD 666/589 UKIP 255 Lab 178
May 2007 result LD 887/846 C 487/476
May 2003 result LD 816/725 C 376/354 Lab 102


South Staffordshire District Council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Joan Williams at the age of 81.  A member of South Staffordshire council since 1979, she had served as the council's cabinet member for environmental services.
Walkers Way, Wombourne
  © Copyright A Holmes and licensed for reuse
under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
One of many claimants to the title of "largest village in England", Wombourne is in the long tail of the curiously-shaped South Staffordshire district, which runs along the western edge of the West Midlands metropolitan county.  Wombourne is off the A449 Wolverhampton-Kidderminster road, and is the first village encountered after leaving the Wolverhampton built-up area.  The village is close enough to the Black Country to have some industry thanks to its location on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal; historically it was a small centre for nail-making, while today one of the major employers in Wombourne is McCain's, who have a plant here making frozen potato products.

The Wombourne North and Lower Penn ward, one of three covering the town, also takes in the much smaller village of Lower Penn to the north.

Unlike the two other commuter belt wards the Conservatives are defending this week, Wombourne politics are not seriously contested.  The Conservatives won the ward unopposed in 2007 and in 2011 the only non-Conservative candidate contesting the ward's three seats was a single UKIP candidate.

The ballot paper for this by-election has three candidates.  Barry Bond, the new Conservative candidate, fought the strongly Independent ward of Essington in the 2011 election.  His main opposition from UKIP's Lyndon Jones, the opposition candidate from 2011 who is trying again.  Both Bond and Jones live in Wombourne; the remaining candidate, Labour's John Brindle, is from Featherstone at the other end of Wolverhampton, and was runner-up in his home ward last year.

Parliamentary constituency: South Staffordshire
Staffordshire county council division: Wombourne
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wolverhampton

May 2011 result C 1345/1267/1236 UKIP 707
May 2007 result 3 C unopposed
May 2003 result C 976/971/965 Ind 688

Barry Bond (C)
John Brindle (Lab)
Lyndon Jones (UKIP)

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