Tuesday, 15 January 2013

By-Elections Preview: 17 January 2013

Welcome back to political reality.  The New Year is now two weeks old, and the UK psephological year cranks into life this week with four local by-elections on 17th January.  The Conservatives are on the defensive in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire and Labour have a seat to defend in Lambeth, south London, while both parties will try to hold on to seats on the Wirral.  Saving the most interesting of the week's elections till last, this week's column starts in Brixton.

Lambeth London Borough Council, South London; caused by the Labour leader of the council Steve Reed being elected MP for Croydon North in the recent parliamentary by-election.

Lambeth Town Hall, Brixton
  © Copyright Malc McDonald and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Named after the road of the same name, part of the A23 to Brighton, Brixton Hill is essentially an entirely built-up ward running from the centre of Brixton to Streatham Hill.  Most of the area is within the SW2 (Brixton) postal district, except for its western fringes which are in SW4 (Clapham) and Lambeth Town Hall at the north-east corner of the ward which is covered by SW9 (Stockwell).  The only significant green spaces in the ward are Windmill Gardens at the centre of the ward and Holmewood Gardens to the south-east, while its most significant buildings are Lambeth Town Hall and Brixton Prison.  26% of the ward's population identified themselves as black in the 2001 census, with the majority of those being of Caribbean origin; a legacy of the first group of West Indian immigrants to Britain who settled in Brixton after disembarking from the Empire Windrush.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a safe Labour ward.  The Lib Dems ran Labour relatively close at the most recent borough election in 2010, polling 30% to 41% for Labour, but second place in this ward's elections normally goes to the Green Party who finished second here in the list section of last year's GLA elections.  In 2012 the ward voted for Ken over Boris by 53% to 25%, the Lib Dems' Brian Paddick, in the area he was most associated with before becoming a politician, finishing fifth.

With Steve Reed having gone to Croydon, Croydon have returned the favour; the Labour candidate is Martin Tiedemann, a Co-operative Party staffer who served two terms as a Croydon councillor until 2006.  The Liberal Democrats have selected 33-year-old Liz Maffei, who has just finished work as a procurement and commercial manager at LOCOG, the London Olympics organising committee, while the Greens have gone for former FT journalist Andrew Child.  The Tories have re-selected their top candidate in 2010, former film and TV actor Tim Briggs who served in Afghanistan with the Paras.  Also on a rather crowded ballot paper are UKIP's Elizabeth Jones, a solicitor, and two candidates disputing the far-left vote: Daniel Lambert of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, who stood in the Lambeth and Southwark GLA constituency last year and gives an address in Chislehurst, Kent; and Steve Nally of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), whom readers with
 long memories might recall as secretary of the All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation back in the day. 

All the candidates have given statements to the Brixton Blog giving more information about themselves and what they are standing for.

Parliamentary constituency: Streatham
GLA constituency: Lambeth and Southwark
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Timothy Briggs (C) (@BackingBrixton)
Andrew Child (Grn) (@andrewjchild)
Elizabeth Jones (UKIP) (@ukipbrixtonhill)
Daniel Lambert (SPGB)
Liz Maffei (LD) (@Liz_Maffei)
Steve Nally (TUSC)
Martin Tiedemann (Lab) (@mtiedemann)

May 2010 result Lab 2805/2699/2648 LD 2100/1873/1560 Grn 1108/1023/850 C 873/768/688
May 2006 result Lab 1354/1213/1206 Grn 714/596/559 LD 534/469/406 C 389/351/329
May 2002 result Lab 1067/1017/1015 Grn 459/393 LD 377/312/312 Socialist Alliance 292 C 272/251/249
May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Ken 1810 Boris 851 Grn 313 Benita 198 Paddick 197 UKIP 19 BNP 9
List: Lab 1775 Grn 599 C 511 LD 266 TUSC 73 UKIP 69 CPA 50 BNP 28 EDP 17 House Party 15 Hayat 6 NF 4 Alagaratnam 1

Fenland District Council, Cambridgeshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Bruce Wegg.  A Fenland district councillor since 1992 who served as Mayor of Wisbech in 2004/5, he was also a keen musician, being a long-serving choirmaster and church organist.

Wisbech fire station
  © Copyright Kevin Hale and licensed for reuse
under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Hill ward is one of six wards covering the town of Wisbech, a rather isolated market town in the Fens located on the tidal River Nene.  The draining of the Fens and diversion of the Nene to serve the town turned Wisbech into a prosperous inland port with lots of nice-looking Georgian architecture. 

However, as the name suggests, Hill ward is away from the riverfront; it covers the southern end of the town along the A1101 dual carriageway road to Downham Market, which runs along the route of the long-abandoned Wisbech Canal.  The main feature of this residential area is the Isle and Wisbech campuses of the further education College of West Anglia.  Running behind the Isle campus is Ramnoth Road, on which one of Wegg's predecessors as town mayor, Bill Trumpess, lived; he was killed in 1979 when a Harrier jump jet on a training exercise crashed into his house.

Fenland is a strongly Conservative district, and it took the Tory nadir of 1995 for them to lose Fenland with that election producing a Labour majority which looks improbable today.  In 2007 the Tories had a majority before a vote was cast thanks to a large number of unopposed returns (including in Hill ward); after that experience the opposition ensured in 2011 that every ward was contested.  Not that this made much of a difference in the end, as Hill ward continued to return two Conservative councillors with large majorities.  There is a row going on at the moment over the council's planning committee (which seems to include half the councillors) but this didn't have much of an effect at another by-election in Whittlesey a few months ago in which the Conservatives had a swing in their favour.

To hold the by-election the Tories have selected a strong candidate who is no stranger to by-elections: Samantha Hoy, the current deputy mayor of Wisbech, narrowly beat off a strong Liberal Democrat challenge in a county council by-election in Wisbech North division in April 2010.  She should have an easier ride this time.  Dean Reeves, a civil servant, is trying again for Labour after finishing as runner-up in the 2011 district council election; however, his vote could potentially be split by the remaining candidate, independent former councillor John White, who was a Labour candidate for Wisbech town council that year and also fought the town's Staithe ward district by-election in September 2011.

Parliamentary constituency: North East Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire county council division: Wisbech South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wisbech

Samantha Hoy (C) (@SamanthaHoy)
Dean Reeves (Lab) (@DeanLReeves)
John White (Ind)

May 2011 result C 797/677 Lab 366 LD 202
May 2007 result 2 C unopposed
May 2003 result C 621/574 Lab 258

Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council, Merseyside; caused respectively by the deaths of Conservative councillor Peter Johnson and Labour councillor Anne McArdle.  Cllr Johnson was a 74-year-old with a varied career, most recently working as a newsagent and farmer; he had served on the council since 1991 and was Mayor of Wirral in 2006/7.  Cllr McArdle, who died of cancer at the age of 66, had been the Wirral cabinet member for adult social care and public health, and had previously worked as a teacher and a schools inspector in Liverpool.

Leasowe Castle
  © Copyright Alexander P Kapp and licensed
for reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence
Now here's a contrast.  We're in the Wirral here, the adjunct of Merseyside over the water which is most definitely not Liverpool, and people from the Wirral are most definitely not Scousers.

On the north side of the Wirral can be found the Wallasey suburbs of Leasowe and Moreton.  Built in the sand dunes which make up the northern coast of the Wirral, Leasowe is a residential area with some interesting landmarks, including the Solar Campus school, the world's most northerly building heated entirely by solar energy; the Leasowe Castle, a hotel on the seafront built by the 5th Earl of Derby which contains the original ceiling from the Star Chamber at the Palace of Westminster (and very nice it is too); and the Leasowe Lighthouse, Britain's oldest brick-built lighthouse.  Further inland is Moreton, which is similar to Leasowe but also has some manufacturing; Typhoo tea is made in Moreton.  The ward is served by two railway stations, Leasowe and Moreton, both located on the West Kirby branch of the Merseyrail Wirral Line with four trains each hour to Liverpool.  The ward is rather starkly socially divided, with the deprivation indices putting the census area around the Leasowe Castle in the top 30% nationally but the rest of the ward in the bottom 40%.

This adds up to a Labour ward, but not an overly safe one by the standards of the region; the Conservatives won here in 2008 following a near-miss in 2007, and on the 2012 result - a Labour win by 51% to 43% - the ward still counts as a marginal.  This will be easily the most interesting contest of the week.

Heswall, on the other hand, can be found on the poorly-defined western coast of the Wirral.  It is a filthy rich town - the 7th richest town in the UK, according to a 2001 Guardian report - and feels like it should still be part of Cheshire as it once was.  Perhaps surprisingly for such a rich town, it doesn't have a direct rail link to the main regional centres; Heswall station (on the eastern edge of town) is on the Bidston-Wrexham 'Borderlands' line. 

Heswall also votes like part of Cheshire; it's rare for the Tory vote to fall below 60% here, and on a general election turnout in 2010 the Conservative candidate here polled 5,000 votes.  Labour have taken over the runners-up spot since 2011 following the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote.

The Heswall by-election has a shortlist of five candidates.  The Tory candidate will win; she is Kathryn Hodson who was a distant runner-up in Bromborough ward last year, and is the wife of another Heswall councillor, Andrew Hodson.  Standing against her are Michael Holliday for Labour, David Scott for UKIP (who fought the ward in 2011 and 2012), the Greens' Barbara Burton (likewise) and Gregory North for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.  As if it wasn't bizarre enough that TUSC are standing somewhere like Heswall in the first place, North doesn't help his cause by giving an address in Anfield, Liverpool; the TUSC vote here could give a new meaning to the word 'derisory'.

Leasowe and Moreton East is made even more interesting by the list of six candidates, none of whom appear to live in the ward.  The Labour candidate is a minor celebrity, although apparently not notable enough to have a Wikipedia page; she is actress and comedienne Pauline Daniels.  Hoping to have the last laugh is Ian Lewis, a former Vote UK poster who was the winning Conservative candidate in 2008 and served one term before losing his seat in 2012; he is standing again.  Susan Whitham, who fought Moreton West and Saughall Massie ward last year, is the UKIP candidate, while James McGinley stands for the Green Party.  Another Vote UK poster, Daniel "Strontium Dog" Clein, is the Lib Dem nominee, and TUSC are standing Mark Halligan.

Parliamentary constituency: Wirral South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wirral and Ellesmere Port

Barbara Burton (Grn)
Kathryn Hodson (C)
Michael Holliday (Lab)
Gregory North (TUSC)
David Scott (UKIP) (@DavidAScottUK)

May 2012 result C 2766 Lab 785 UKIP 413 Grn 261 LD 186
May 2011 result C 3745 Lab 1065 LD 392 UKIP 290 Grn 281
May 2010 result C 5000 LD 1534 Lab 1465 Grn 251 UKIP 213
May 2008 result C 3599 LD 513 Lab 453 Grn 219 UKIP 101
May 2007 result C 3385 LD 618 Lab 589 Grn 292
May 2006 result C 3412 LD 600 Lab 544 Grn 348
May 2004 result C 3844/3655/3591 LD 1202/1090/1011 Lab 820 Grn 755

Leasowe and Moreton East
Parliamentary constituency: Wallasey
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wirral and Ellesmere Port

Daniel Clein (LD)
Pauline Daniels (Lab) (@pauline_daniels)
Mark Halligan (TUSC)
Ian Lewis (C)
James McGinley (Grn)
Susan Whitham (UKIP)

May 2012 result Lab 2094 C 1776 UKIP 144 Grn 89
May 2011 result Lab 2442 C 1564 UKIP 149 Grn 143 LD 111
May 2010 result Lab 3404 C 1948 LD 866 UKIP 216 Grn 129
May 2008 result C 2025 Lab 1373 LD 222 Grn 171 Ind 147
May 2007 result Lab 1682 C 1664 LD 244 Grn 204
May 2006 result Lab 1426 C 1050 LD 406 Grn 243
May 2004 result Lab 1981/1909/1695 C 1218/1184/1163 LD 516/425/398

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