Tuesday, 29 January 2013

By-Election Preview: 31 January 2013

There are two by-elections on Thursday 31st January to round off the month.  One is in south Wales and will be dealt with on the Welsh Elections blog; the other is in a marginal ward in Dudley, in which the Conservatives will be hoping to stop the rot after losing all three of their sitting councillors in the space of a year.

Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, West Midlands; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Malcolm Knowles at the age of 79.  A metallurgist who built a successful engineering business, Knowles had served on Dudley council since 1975 (with a break from 1995 to 2002) and was Mayor of Dudley in 2004/5; he also served on the council's cabinet as lead member for regeneration from 2006 to 2009.

Parry People Mover at Stourbridge Town
© Copyright Roger Geach and licensed for reuse
under this Creative Commons Licence.
The most south-westerly town in the West Midlands conurbation, Stourbridge can be found about 13 miles west of Birmingham.  It is part of the Black Country region of industrial towns, and Stourbridge's main industry was glassmaking.  Glass isn't made in Stourbridge any more, but the town is the home of the British Glass Biennale, a two-yearly exhibition of the state of the current British glass scene.  Stourbridge's other claim to fame is that its Town railway station, which is included within this ward, is at the end of Europe's shortest branch line; change at Stourbridge Junction, three-quarters of a mile away, for all other destinations.

The Wollaston and Stourbridge Town ward runs west along the Bridgnorth road from the town centre, with its strange one-way ring road, to include the suburb of Wollaston.  The deprivation indices suggest that it's a polarised ward; Wollaston becomes less deprived as you approach the Shropshire border, while Stourbridge town centre is at the other end of the indices.

That polarisation may be one explanation for the huge turnaround in this ward's election results in the last few years.  In June 2004, the first election on the current ward boundaries, the ward elected one Liberal Democrat and two Conservative councillors.  From then until 2010 the ward was a Conservative-Lib Dem marginal in that order, the Tories gaining the Lib Dem seat in 2008.  It would appear that much of the Lib Dem support was tactical, and the Labour vote never entirely disappeared here; that put Labour in a good position to capitalise on Coalition discontent, and capitalise they did, moving into a strong second place in the 2011 election as the Lib Dem vote collapsed.  Suddenly this ward had turned from a Conservative-Lib Dem marginal into a Conservative-Labour marginal.  Then the wheels came off for the Conservatives as they lost all three of their ward councillors in 2012; first one of their councillors died early in the year, creating a double-vacancy election in May at which Labour gained two seats off the Conservatives, contributing to them gaining overall control of Dudley Council.  The Tories are now defending their last seat in this by-election.

There is a crowded field here of seven candidates.  After a root-and-branch review of their recent performances the Conservatives have reselected Matt Rogers, a tree surgeon who stood in this ward last year.  Barbara Sykes, who stood last year in the safe-Conservative Sedgley ward, is hoping to make Labour's third gain in this ward in the space of nine months.  The Lib Dems have brought out the big guns in the form of former Norton ward councillor Christopher Bramall, who stood in this ward last May and also in the Norton ward by-election in June last year, in which he failed to break 10%. 

Among the minor parties, UKIP are standing a former candidate for this ward: Barbara Deeley stood here in 2007 and 2011.  The Green Party is the only party other than Labour and the Conservatives represented on the council, and 22-year-old Ben Sweeney will hope to become Dudley's second Green councillor.  Ken Griffiths of the BNP is the only candidate to give an address outside Stourbridge (he is from Cradley Heath), while former local radio presenter Russell Eden, who helped to set up a litter-picking group in the town, is an independent candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Stourbridge
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dudley and Sandwell

Christopher Bramall (LD)
Barbara Deeley (UKIP)
Russell Eden (Ind) (@Russ4WST)
Ken Griffiths (BNP)
Matt Rogers (C)
Ben Sweeney (Grn)
Barbara Sykes (Lab)

May 2012 result (double vacancy) Lab 1397/1317 C 1213/1025 LD 478/435 UKIP 365/353 Grn 229/164
May 2011 result C 1772 Lab 1500 LD 656 UKIP 394 Grn 264
May 2010 result C 2545 LD 2138 Lab 1778 UKIP 412 Grn 223
May 2008 result C 1505 LD 1268 Lab 775 UKIP 326
May 2007 result C 1406 LD 1199 Lab 850 UKIP 581
May 2006 result C 1642 LD 1392 Lab 1014
June 2004 result LD 1688/1292/1271 C 1618/1600/1581 Lab 1007/813/775

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