Thursday, 28 February 2013

By-Elections Preview: 28 February 2013

As well as the major contest in Eastleigh, Andrew Teale has previewed the three local elections taking place this week in England as well.  The sole Scottish by election this week in Coatbridge will be covered by Kristofer Keane on the Scottish Elections blog.

Ashford District Council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Rebecca Rutter after just over a year in office, believed to be for personal reasons.

Having comprehensively gone over my word limit on Eastleigh, the local by-election previews this week may be a little abbreviated.

One of the boom towns of modern Britain thanks to its location and good transport links, Ashford is an old market town which became a major railway junction in the nineteenth century.  It is now linked to London and the Channel Ports by the M20 motorway and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, with high-speed trains taking just 37 minutes to reach St Pancras.  The growth of Ashford has meant the town has spilled outside its old boundaries to swallow up several surrounding villages, and Beaver ward (named after Beaver Lane), which was originally the south-west corner of the town, is now just part of the urban sprawl.

Beaver ward is a fairly working-class area and was safe Labour in 2003. Unusually it swung towards the Conservatives at the next two ordinary elections.  In May 2011 the two Labour candidates were just 29 and 27 votes ahead of the Conservatives; the Ashford Independents, a well-organised localist group with five Ashford councillors, finished in a strong third place.  One of the Labour councillors died shortly afterwards; the resulting by-election, in November 2011, saw Labour increase their majority over the Conservatives in a much more crowded field, and there was much worse to come for the local Tories as their candidate in the by-election, landlord Cengizhan Cerit, was found to have forged nine of the ten signatures on his nomination papers.  Cerit was found guilty of electoral fraud earlier month and is now serving a one-year prison sentence.  This by-election is caused by the resignation of the winner of the November 2011 by-election.

Defending for Labour is Jill Britcher, a retired tutor organiser.  This time the Conservatives have selected Jane Martin, the daughter of Ashford councillor Marion Martin and the only candidate to live outside the town (in the North Downs village of Shottenden, which is closer to Canterbury than Ashford).  Retired voluntary worker Jack Cowen is trying again for the Liberal Democrats after contesting the last by-election.  The Ashford Independents have selected the former councillor and 1995/6 Mayor of Ashford Palma Laughton, who runs a sewing workshop.  Mark Reed, a public sector worker, tries again for the Green Party.  Angharad Yeo, the daughter of Ashford Labour councillor (and NEC member) Harriet Yeo, is the UKIP candidate, and 2009/10 Mayor of Ashford John Holland is standing as an independent.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashford
Kent county council division: Ashford South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ashford

Jill Britcher (Lab)
Jack Cowen (LD)
John Holland (Ind)
Palma Laughton (Ashford Ind)
Jane Martin (C)
Mark Reed (Grn)
Angharad Yeo (UKIP)

Nov 2011 by-election Lab 336 C 249 LD 173 Ashford Ind 111 Grn 26
May 2011 result Lab 481/479 C 452/335 Ashford Ind 308/261
May 2007 result Lab 554/545 C 377/369 LD 184/175
May 2003 result Lab 636/619 C 261/259

Kingston upon Thames Royal Borough Council, South London; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Frances Moseley.  A Kingston councillor since 2006, she was the council's lead member for Better Homes.

London suburban sprawl here; this part of Surbiton is a commuter area just off the south-western main line, running south-west from Berrylands railway station (half-hourly trains to Waterloo, taking 24 minutes).  Like Eastleigh further down the main line, this is a hard-fought marginal area between the two coalition parties.  The Conservatives won all three seats convincingly in 2002; the Lib Dems took all three seats in 2006, the third seat by just six votes from the lead Conservative candidate; and the 2010 result was effectively a carbon copy of 2006 except that this time the lead Conservative was six votes ahead of the third Lib Dem.  In last year's GLA elections Boris beat Ken here 55-23, while the list vote had decent shares for all four parties represented in the Assembly (C 38 Lab 21 LD 18 Grn 11).

The Lib Dems will try to hold this by-election with solicitor Sushila Abraham.  Her main rival is the Tories' Mike Head, a former bank manager.  Sports journalist Tony Banks is the Labour candidate, Ryan Coley is standing for the Greens and Michael Watson for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Kingston and Surbiton
GLA constituency: South West
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Sushila Abraham (LD)
Tony Banks (Lab)
Ryan Coley (Grn)
Mike Head (C)
Michael Watson (UKIP)

May 2010 result LD 2333/2080/1933 C 1939/1894/1884 Lab 508/477/396 Grn 507 CPA 92/89/84
May 2006 result LD 1555/1456/1400 C 1394/1347/1337 Grn 329 Lab 194/172/152 CPA 97
May 2002 result C 1205/1067/1066 LD 892/876/845 Lab 325/321/291 CPA 111
May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Boris 1176 Ken 499 Paddick 150 Grn 132 Benita 127 UKIP 48 BNP 19
London List: C 822 Lab 459 LD 380 Grn 231 UKIP 131 CPA 39 BNP 28 EDP 21 TUSC 21 House Party 10 NF 8 Alagaratnam 4 Hayat 3

Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council, Merseyside; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Don McCubbin, who is retiring and moving to London.

Thingwall is a good name for a council ward; the "thing" in the name is an old Norse word meaning "assembly", a word which also occurs in Tynwald, the name of the Manx parliament (a word with an identical etymology to Thingwall - "assembly field"), and the Althing, the name of the Icelandic parliament.  This Thingwall is not in a tax haven, but on the Wirral, that strange peninsula between Liverpool and Wales which would rather be part of neither.  Thingwall and Pensby are two villages which have merged together in the centre of the peninsula, on the road from Birkenhead to Heswall; Pensby in particular is effectively part of Heswall.

Pensby and Thingwall together create an interesting ward which has turned into a three-way marginal.  When the ward was created in 2004 the three council seats here were split between two Conservatives and one Liberal Democrat councillor.  The Lib Dems held their seat in 2006 and then gained the two Conservative seats in 2007 and 2008.  One of the Lib Dem councillors resigned in early 2010 because of work commitments, so there was a double vacancy election on general election day in 2010, at which the Lib Dems topped the poll but the Conservatives gained the by-election seat, the Labour vote here recovering to respectability after plumbing the depths in the later Blair and Brown years.  The Tories confirmed their by-election gain at the 2011 election, the Lib Dems crashing to third and Labour finishing just 245 votes behind the Conservatives.  In 2012 Pensby and Thingwall elected a councillor from its third different party in as many years, Labour gaining a seat from the Lib Dems in a close three-way marginal result, Labour being 189 votes ahead of the Conservatives who in turn were 138 votes ahead of the Lib Dems.

This adds up to a fascinating ward which pretty much anybody could still win.  Labour have the advantage of being the most recent of the three main parties to win here, but they did poorly in the last two Wirral by-elections just four weeks ago, losing Leasowe ward to the Conservatives.  The Tories can take heart from that result and a strong hold in the neighbouring Heswall ward on the same day, although they are on the defensive here and those two January by-elections were the last local by-elections they won; so far the Conservatives have drawn a complete blank in February, losing the two seats they were defending.  The Lib Dems can take solace from the fact that this is one of the few Merseyside wards where their vote has not utterly collapsed since the formation of the Coalition.

The Tory defence is led by Sheila Clarke, a former councillor who lost her seat in Bebington ward last year.  Labour's candidate Phillip Brightmore had a good go at the safe Conservative Clatterbridge ward this year and his reward is an eminently winnable by-election.  The Lib Dems, UKIP and the Greens have all re-selected their candidates from last May, Damien Cummins, Jan Davison and Allen Burton respectively, and the ballot paper is completed by the English Democrats' Neil Kenny.

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

Phillip Brightmore (Lab)
Allen Burton (Grn)
Sheila Clarke (C)
Damien Cummins (LD)
Jan Davison (UKIP)
Neil Kenny (EDP)

May 2012 result Lab 1406 C 1217 LD 1079 UKIP 394 Grn 190
May 2011 result C 1881 Lab 1636 LD 1209 UKIP 196 Grn 180
May 2010 double vacancy LD 2854/2297 C 2479/2103 Lab 1673/1517 UKIP 518 Grn 448
May 2008 result LD 2071 C 1813 Lab 564 UKIP 160 Grn 135
May 2007 result LD 2110 C 1777 Lab 742 Grn 170
May 2006 result LD 1843 C 1710 Lab 754 Grn 256
June 2004 result C 2037/2033/1810 LD 1894/1427/1329 Lab 1311/1265/1022 Grn 586

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