Monday, 25 March 2013

By-Elections Preview: 28 March 2013

This year 28th March is Maundy Thursday.  Maundy Thursday used to be a "dies non" for electoral purposes, meaning it was not counted as a working day in the electoral timetable and elections could not be held on that day.  That rule was repealed in 2007, but there is still somewhat of a prejudice against holding a poll on Maundy Thursday; this is the first Maundy Thursday local by-election since 2010 and there have only been five previously (the other four all in 2008).

The column for this Maundy Thursday will start off by discussing a safe Labour ward in south London covering the old Deptford dockyard, and move on to two more interesting marginal wards in the east of England, one of which also has a connection to the old Deptford dockyard.  

All three contests are linked together by the seventeenth-century figure of Samuel Pepys.

Lewisham London Borough Council, South London; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Joseph Folorunso.  Cllr Folorunso, who resigned a week before he would have been disqualified for not attending any council meetings in six months, is focusing his attention on a Togo orphanage he has set up.

"Was the first Anniversary our Society for the Choice of new Officers, according to the Tenor of our Patent, & Institution; it being St. Andrews day, who was our Patron, each fellow wearing a St. Andrews Crosse of ribbon on the crowne of his hatt, after the Election was over, we all dined together, his Majestie sending us Venison:"
-John Evelyn, Diary, 30 November 1663

The old Metropolitan Borough of Deptford had a practice of naming its wards not after geography but after famous historical people associated with the borough.  Before 2002 Lewisham had five such wards covering the old Deptford borough: Drake, Evelyn, Grinling Gibbons, Marlowe and Pepys; however, the last boundary review abolished Grinling Gibbons ward and renamed the other three after geography (Drake becoming Brockley, Marlowe transforming into New Cross and Pepys being succeeded by Telegraph Hill), leaving only Evelyn ward, named after the diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706), one of the founders of the Royal Society.

Evelyn lived in the modern ward named after him at his Sayes Court house, next to a royal dockyard developed by King Henry VIII in the Deptford Strand parish, at the point where the Kent/Surrey boundary met the Thames.  Peter the Great learned how to build ships at Deptford, renting Sayes Court from John Evelyn at the time (and apparently trashing the place).  Much has, of course, changed since Evelyn's day; Sayes Court has long gone; most of its gardens, a Victorian pleasure spot, have disappeared; the industrial units on the old dockyard are now being redeveloped and railways criss-cross the area.  The ward is linked to central London by Deptford railway station, opened in 1836 on the original London and Greenwich railway and said to be the oldest suburban railway station in the world, with six trains per hour to London Bridge and Cannon Street.  Postally the area is almost entirely within the SE8 (Deptford) postal district, with small parts around the fringes in SE14 (New Cross) and SE16 (Rotherhithe).

The ward's social makeup has become caught up in London's transformation into a world city; 61% of the population is non-white according to the most recent census.  The ward features in several top 20 England and Wales lists for unusual population features: 18th-highest black population (35.9%); 11th-highest Black African population (22.2%); 8th-highest Buddhist population (3.9%).  The ward's Chinese population is also noticeably high (6.5%), perhaps a side effect of several University of London colleges in the general area; census figures tend to show a strong positive correlation between Chinese and student populations.  There is a large council estate in the ward (the Pepys estate) and more than half of the ward's housing is socially rented, 38% from Lewisham council.

Politically, there's not much to see here: this is a very safe Labour ward and the interest for the other parties usually lies in who comes a distant second.  The Greens were runners-up in 2002, the Tories in a June 2004 by-election and in 2006, the Lib Dems in 2010.  In last year's GLA elections Ken beat Boris here 66-19 and the list votes were Lab 65% C 11% Grn 9%.  The constituency part of the election was more surprising, with second place in that ballot going to the left-wing group Lewisham People Before Profit.

With that social and political makeup it would be a major shock if Labour's candidate Olufunke Abidoye did not emerge the victor this week; she is a company director from Deptford.  Hotly contesting that runner-up spot are Bill Town for the Liberal Democrats, a small business owner and former research chemist from Forest Hill; Simon Nundy for the Conservatives, who stood for Mayor of Lewisham in 2010 and also for the council in his native Blackheath ward, who now runs a pub in New Cross and has previously ran a recycling company and a record label; Barbara Raymond from Lewisham People Before Profit, the GLA constituency candidate in Greenwich and Lewisham from 2012, who gives an address in New Cross; and UKIP's Paul Oakley, another GLA constituency candidate from 2012 and a former Conservative council candidate, from Forest Hill.

Parliamentary constituency: Lewisham Deptford
GLA constituency: Greenwich and Lewisham
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Olufunke Abidoye (Lab)
Simon Nundy (C)
Paul Oakley (UKIP)
Barbara Raymond (Lewisham People Before Profit)
Bill Town (LD)

May 2010 result Lab 2795/2469/2367 LD 925/746/732 C 719/676/562 Grn 533/355/299 Lewisham People Before Profit 445 Ind 294
May 2006 result Lab 1317/1073/1021 C 347/296/263 LD 326/304/278 Grn 301/301/261
June 2004 by-election Lab 1432 C 463 Socialist Alternative 374 LD 367 Grn 199
May 2002 result Lab 1164/1011/942 Grn 274 LD 265/259 Ind 234/207/202 C 222/201/186
May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Ken 1812 Boris 544 Grn 135 LD 93 Benita 81 BNP 41 UKIP 36
Constituency: Lab 1725 Lewisham People Before Profit 273 C 255 Grn 194 LD 150 UKIP 62 BNP 60 NF 37
List: Lab 1801 C 293 Grn 250 LD 120 UKIP 76 BNP 69 CPA 43 TUSC 41 EDP 28 House Party 17 NF 12 Hayat 9 Alagaratnam 3

Tendring District Council, Essex; caused by the death of Labour councillor Les Double.  A Harwich town councillor since 1991 and Tendring district councillor since 1995, he had served as Harwich's county councillor from 1997 to 2009 and was a former Mayor of Harwich.  His legacy will be Harwich Connexions, a transport co-operative for local residents, and he was also a governor of Harwich School.

Long Meadows, Dovercourt
  © Copyright MJ Reilly and licensed for
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Deptford has several links to our next by-election.  In ancient times much of the modern Evelyn ward was covered by the parish of Deptford Strand, and in 1514 Henry VIII granted a Royal Charter to the "Master, Wardens and Assistants of the Guild, Fraternity, or Brotherhood of the most glorious and undivided Trinity, and of St Clement in the parish of Deptford-Strond in the County of Kent".  Still in existence today, this organisation is now known as Trinity House, and is responsible for every lighthouse in England, Wales and the Channel Islands.  While the head office is in the City of London opposite the Tower, Trinity House's operational headquarters, from where English and Welsh lighthouses are remotely controlled and monitored, is a brand-new modern office block in the Essex port of Harwich, the town for which Samuel Pepys was MP back in the day.

Harwich has always been an important port, thanks to it being the only safe anchorage in mediaeval times between the Thames and Humber.  The docks in town are little-used these days thanks to the opening of the modern Parkeston Quay by the Great Eastern Railway in the late nineteenth century.  This turned Harwich into a major passenger port, and there are still ferries from here across the North Sea to the Hook of Holland and Esbjerg.  The modern town incorporates the older seaside resort of Dovercourt, whose Warners holiday camp was the filming location for Maplin's in the sitcom Hi-De-Hi!.  Warners was demolished in the late 1980s and the site, just outside this ward, is now a housing estate.  The modern Harwich West ward covers much of the Upper Dovercourt area, away from the coast along the Ramsey Road.

The presence of the docks (which form part of the neighbouring Ramsey and Parkeston ward) has preserved a significant Labour vote in Harwich, and this ward was safe Labour when first fought on its current boundaries in 2003.  At the 2007 election the Conservatives caught up and gained one of the ward's two seats from Labour, and the 2011 election was essentially a repeat of 2007 although the Labour and Tory votes both rose at the expense of the localist Community Representatives Party and in the absence of a Liberal Democrat candidate.

The defending Labour candidate in the by-election is John Hawkins, who needs no introduction into the workings of Tendring District Council; he was the chief executive of the council from 1997 until his retirement in 2011.  Hugh Thompson, the losing Conservative candidate for the ward in 2011, is trying again.  Standing for the Community Representatives Party is former councillor Steven Henderson, who lost his seat two years ago in the neighbouring Harwich West Central ward.  (He is no relation to Harwich's former Labour MP Ivan Henderson, who now leads the Labour group on the district council.)  Completing the ballot paper is Simon Banks, the Liberal Democrat candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Harwich and North Essex
Essex county council division: Harwich
ONS Travel to Work Area: Colchester

Simon Banks (LD)
John Hawkins (Lab)
Steven Henderson (Community Representatives Party)
Hugh Thopmson (C)

May 2011 result Lab 683/557 C 671/547 Community Representatives Party 180/138 Ind 177
May 2007 result Lab 451/353 C 405/384 Community Representatives Party 321/297 Ind 247 LD 149
May 2003 result Lab 613/456 C 359 Community Representatives Party 320/256 Socialist Alliance 80

Fenland District Council, Cambridgeshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Robert Scrimshaw at the age of 56.

The Swan Inn - Samuel Pepys Slept Here
  © Copyright Richard Humphrey and licensed for
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Fenland seems to be having a rash of by-elections at the moment.  In the last six months this column has travelled to the town of Whittlesey just outside Peterborough and to Wisbech on the Cambridgeshire/Norfolk border.  This week we are in between with a trip to the Fens and a pair of parishes off the A47 Peterborough-Wisbech road, Wisbech St Mary (not to be confused with the town of Wisbech) and Parson Drove, which was visited by Pepys in 1663; he described it in his diary as a heathen place, although he was unlikely to have had a good word for it after apparently having his horse stolen.  Parson Drove's other claim to fame is that it was the site of Britain's last working woad mill.  Other hamlets within the ward include Guyhirn with its bridge over the Nene, Murrow and Thorney Toll.  It's ironic that the only by-election this week without a maritime connection is in the week's most low-lying ward - much of the area is below sea level.

This ward was one of the uncontested wards at the notorious Fenland 2007 election in which almost half the council was elected unopposed, but saw a pair of by-elections in 2008, the second of which happened after the winner of the first by-election resigned after just a few months in protest at the council giving approval for the opening of a sex shop.  Both of those were easy Conservative holds, Scrimshaw winning the second by-election, but the Tories contrived to lose one of the ward's two seats to the Liberal Democrats in 2011.  It will be interesting to see if the Lib Dems can repeat the trick.

Defending for the Conservatives is David Broker, who runs an architectural business in Wisbech St Mary.  The Liberal Democrat candidate is Mary Lane, from Murrow, an RSPCA volunteer who is actively involved in village life, running local Rainbows and Brownies groups.  There is no Labour candidate this time but there will be two candidates disputing the nationalist vote: Maria Goldspink, from Turves near Whittlesey, for the English Democrats, and Alan Lay, from Wisbech, for UKIP.

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

David Broker (C)
Maria Goldspink (EDP)
Mary Lane (LD)
Alan Lay (UKIP)

May 2011 result C 849/602 LD 652/405 Lab 303
Dec 2008 by-election C 512 LD 208 Lab 190 Grn 101
Apr 2008 by-election C 646 Lab 191 Ind 119 UKIP 55 LD 35
May 2007 result 2 C unopposed
May 2003 result C 683/630 Lab 264

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

By-Elections Preview: 21 March 2013

The pace of by-elections continues with six polls this week, all but one of which are in marginal wards.  This week's by-elections are all in London and the South, and can be grouped into three pairs.  Later this column shall consider two Conservative defences in northern Dorset (including the week's only safe ward) and two Labour/Lib Dem contests in Islington.  But first, we travel to Hemel Hempstead for the first of two Labour/Conservative contests in areas of twentieth-century London overspill.

Dacorum District Council, Hertfordshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Keith White, who has moved to Leeds to be close to his elderly mother.  He had been a district councillor since 1995.

Hemel Hempstead: A414 St Albans Road
  © Copyright Nigel Cox and licensed for
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One of the country's first New Towns, Hemel Hempstead has a rather old history thanks to its location on the main transport links from London to the Midlands - first the Grand Union Canal, then the London and Birmingham Railway were built through what was then an agricultural market town.  This all changed in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, when Hemel was designated as a New Town.  The first area to be developed, on a hill to the east of the old town, was Adeyfield, whose first New Town residents moved into their new homes on Longlands, the eastern boundary of the modern Adeyfield West ward, on 8th February 1950.  More than a third of the ward's housing is still rented from the council.  The ward essentially covers the residential area north of the A414 St Albans Road and east of the town centre.

Hemel is still growing slightly and has overtaken Watford to become Hertfordshire's largest town.  One effect of this population growth is that the curiously-named Dacorum district had a boundary review in time for the 2007 district elections.  The old ward called Adeyfield West was safe Labour in 2003, but the new ward has had very tight results at its three contests so far.  The 2007 district election saw the two seats split between Labour and the Conservatives with majorities of 16 and 6 votes; the Conservatives held their seat at a March 2010 by-election with a majority of 57 but with just 33% of the vote, the Lib Dems threatening to turn the ward into a three-way marginal and the BNP polling 14%.  The 2011 election was essentially a carbon copy of the one four years before, the Conservatives topping the poll this time and Labour winning the second seat with majorities of 25 and 17 votes.  To add to the spice, the ward is part of a county division (Hemel Hempstead St Paul's) which was gained by the Liberal Democrats in 2009 with Labour, who were defending the ward, not even coming close to holding their seat.  This is a weak area of the division for the Lib Dems, whose Hemel powerbase is Highfield ward, but we only have to look as far as last week's poll in Aldwick East to see an example of a Lib Dem county councillor winning an apparently hopeless ward in his own division.

There are five candidates in the by-election.  Defending, Labour's Mike Moore is a former district councillor, who lost his seat in the neighbouring Hemel Hempstead Town ward in 2011, and is currently a a member of the Hemel Hempstead Town Centre Partnership.  His main challenge may come from the Conservatives' Barry Newton, a 77-year-old actor who is described as "a first class character actor, easy to direct with a very low take rate"; Newton has had less success at the ballot box, having previously been a UKIP candidate but most recently standing for the Tories in Highfield ward in 2011.  The Lib Dems, hoping to emulate the success of their Sussex colleagues last week, have selected the ward's county councillor Ron Tindall.  Also on the ballot paper are former Markyate parish councillor Simon Deacon, standing for the English Democrats, and UKIP's Noel Swinford, a 78-year-old who worked as a bricklayer and in the paper industry.

Parliamentary constituency: Hemel Hempstead
Hertfordshire county council division: Hemel Hempstead St Paul's
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton and Watford

Simon Deacon (EDP)
Mike Moore (Lab)
Barry Newton (C)
Noel Swinford (UKIP)
Ron Tindall (LD)

May 2011 result C 619/594 Lab 611/592 LD 209/204
March 2010 by-election C 486 Lab 429 LD 362 BNP 203
May 2007 result Lab 518/502 C 508/481 LD 200/178

Havering London Borough Council, North London; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Dennis Bull at the age of 75.  Serving on Havering council from 1990 to 1994 and again since 2006, he was a charity worker on the committee of the Havering and Brentwood Bereavement Service.

Harold Hill Estate, Romford
  © Copyright David Kemp and licensed for
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Welcome to Harold Hill, like Adeyfield an enormous twentieth-century housing development.  Unlike the new town of Hemel Hempstead above, Harold Hill lies just within the M25, west of the A12 junction 28, and was built by the London County Council as an enormous housing development to try and decant people out of poor housing in central London.  This history has left its mark on the ward's population; this is one of the most white and homogeneously British wards remaining in Greater London, and 38% of the ward's housing is still rented from Havering council.

The ward has a similar electoral profile to Adeyfield West above, but with a more extreme right-wing slant in line with its former Essex location.  Safe Labour in 2002, the party narrowly lost all three of the ward's seats at the 2006 election, in wich a single BNP candidate topped the poll and the Conservatives won the other two seats; the BNP majority was 81 and the Conservative majorities were 37 and 1 over the leading Labour candidate.  The BNP successfully defended their seat at a March 2008 by-election, increasing their majority; Labour leapfrogged the Conservatives to finish second but were over 100 votes behind.  That springboard enabled Labour to gain the BNP seat and top the poll at the 2010 borough elections, but Labour failed to knock out the two Conservative councillors who were re-elected by majorities of 79 and 11 votes over the second Labour candidate.

Last year's GLA election still showed a lingering BNP vote in the area despite the virtual collapse of the party; this was one of the few wards where the BNP were third in the mayoral contest (Boris 46% Ken 34% BNP 7%), while Labour carried the ward in the Assembly poll thanks to a three-way split in the right-wing vote (Lab 35% C 27% BNP 13% UKIP 11%).  Labour will be hoping for a similar split this week.

Defending for the Conservatives is their unsuccessful candidate from 2010, Marcus Llewellyn-Rothschild, who is highlighting what his party has done for the area through their "Ambitions" project.  Labour's candidate is Christine McGeary, who works with disabled children's services and is a hospital governor.  The BNP are not giving up here and are standing Mick Braun, a former REME engineer who now drives HGV tankers.  UKIP's candidate is their London mayoral candidate from last year, electrician Lawrence Webb who also fought the 2008 by-election in the ward.  The ballot paper is completed by two competing Residents' Association candidate, Darren Wise for the Harold Wood/Hill/Park association and former borough councillor and ex-policeman Malvin Brown for the Residents Association of London.

Parliamentary constituency: Hornchurch and Upminster
GLA constituency: Havering and Redbridge
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Mick Braun (BNP)
Malvin Brown (Res Assoc of London)
Marcus Llewellyn-Rothschild (C)
Christine McGeary (Lab)
Lawrence Webb (UKIP)
Darren Wise (Harold Wood Hill Park Res Assoc)

May 2010 result Lab 1869/1603/1562 C 1682/1614/1551 BNP 1445/1346 UKIP 944 Harold Wood Hill Park Res Assoc 616/509/390
March 2008 by-election BNP 865 Lab 741 C 489 UKIP 70 National Liberal 62 LD 52
May 2006 result BNP 996 C 952/916/885 Lab 915/912/814 UKIP 379/321 Havering Res Assoc 199/162/157 Ind 88/84/78
May 2002 result Lab 1507/1415/1377 C 887/876/848 Ind Working Class Assoc 850/833/786 Havering Res Assoc 454/424/423
May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Boris 906 Ken 664 BNP 142 UKIP 108 Benita 48 Grn 43 LD 42
List: Lab 690 C 533 BNP 251 UKIP 224 Grn 61 EDP 54 CPA 48 LD 46 NF 36 TUSC 11 House Party 7 Hayat 1 Alagaratnam0

Islington London Borough Council, North London; caused respectively by the resignations of former Liberal Democrat councillor Arthur Graves and Labour councillor Jessica Asato.  Graves, who resigned from the Liberal Democrats in April 2012, is emigrating to Australia, while Asato has been selected as Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for the marginal Norwich North constituency.

"They took my baby to Holloway jail,
They took my baby, down Holloway jail,
She was a lady when she went in,
Now she's in jail, and it's giving me hell."
-The Kinks, "Holloway Jail"

These two wards border each other.  Junction ward is named after Junction Road, which runs from the southern end of the ward at Tufnell Park underground station up to the major road junction with the A1 at Archway underground station (both on the High Barnet branch of the Northern line); also serving the eastern end of the ward is the Overground station at Upper Holloway, on the Gospel Oak-Barking line.  (There is a railway signalbox within the ward with the wonderfully redundant name of Junction Road Junction.)  The ward includes the Whittington Hospital  and the former Byam Shaw school of art, now part of Central St Martin's College, University of the Arts London.  It is essentially the south-western half of the N19 (Upper Holloway) postal district.  St George's ward covers the Tufnell Park area, being formed by the triangle of Tufnell Park Road, Brecknock Road and Camden Road and also including the Mercers Road area to the north.  Mostly within the N7 (Holloway) postal district, the most important building within the ward is the Holloway women's prison.

Islington has a reputation as one of those areas where the political profile is very homogeneous, so relatively small swings in votes can deliver wildly different results.  Junction and St George's wards rather give the lie to that stereotype, having remained relatively stable while Labour have made major advances across Islington over the last two elections.  Junction ward returned three Liberal Democrats fairly narrowly over Labour in 2002, but Labour gained one of the three seats in 2006.  2010 also saw one Labour and two Liberal Democrat candidates elected, the Labour councillor topping the poll nearly 500 votes ahead of his running-mates.  St George's ward has been even more stable, having returned two Liberal Democrat and one Labour councillor at every election since 2002; this ward actually swung to the Lib Dems in 2010 and Labour were not far off losing their seat.  In the GLA election last year both wards returned very similar results, backing Ken Livingstone by big margins (Junction: Ken 54% Boris 23% Grn 11%, St George's: Ken 53% Boris 23% Grn 12%), and in the list section of the election the Greens running second in both wards (Junction: Lab 53% Grn 18% C 13% LD 8%, St George's: Lab 53% Grn 20% C 13% LD 7%), although they have never made an impression here at borough level.

Six candidates will fight the Junction ward by-election.  Defending for the Lib Dems, although local press reports suggest they have somewhat given up in the ward, is former councillor Stefan Kasprzyk, a retired former Mayor of Islington who lost his seat in the ward to a running-mate in 2010.  Labour's candidate is Kaya Makarau-Schwartz, a mental health charity worker.  Mick Holloway, a minister, qualified civil engineer and school governor, is the Green Party candidate, and the Tories have selected Patricia Napier, a non-practising barrister.  Also on the ballot paper are Bill Martin from the Socialist Party (GB) and the BNP's Gary Townsend who is the only candidate to give an address outside the N19 postcode.

The St George's by-election appears to be harder-fought.  The defending Labour candidate is Kat Fletcher, a pub landlady who ran the Tufnell Park Tavern until last year.  Julian Gregory, an Islington-based barrister, is the Liberal Democrat candidate.  The Greens have selected Jon Nott, who is chief executive of a children's charity, the Conservative candidate is accountant Evan Williams, and 80-year-old Walter Barfoot stands for the BNP.

Parliamentary constituency: Islington North
GLA constituency: North East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Mick Holloway (Grn)
Stefan Kasprzyk (LD)
Kaya Makarau-Schwartz (Lab)
Bill Martin (Socialist Party GB)
Patricia Napier (C)
Gary Townsend (BNP)

May 2010 result Lab 2338/1899/1878 LD 2182/2125/2071 Grn 713/597/529 C 556/533/480
May 2006 result LD 1015/1014/873 Lab 936/870/772 Grn 386/320/291 Ind 263/212 C 228/200/188
May 2002 result LD 1219/1137/1132 Lab 1035/925/864 Grn 261/207/204 CPA 31
May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Ken 1625 Boris 700 Grn 320 Benita 162 LD 152 UKIP 32 BNP 22
List: Lab 1597 Grn 531 C 403 LD 252 UKIP 80 TUSC 47 BNP 31 CPA 27 EDP 13 House 10 Hayat 7 NF 4 Alagaratnam 2

St George's
Parliamentary constituency: Islington North
GLA constituency: North East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Walter Barfoot (BNP)
Kat Fletcher (Lab)
Julian Gregory (LD)
Jon Nott (Grn)
Evan Williams (C)

May 2010 result LD 2571/2473/1872 Lab 1939/1817/1802 Grn 836/814/664 C 571/552/480
May 2006 result LD 1179/1080/821 Lab 1075/975/938 Grn 477/474/393 C 213/212/197
May 2002 result LD 1298/1258/1091 Lab 1111/1086/995 Grn 309/288/239 CPA 49
May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Ken 1675 Boris 723 Grn 381 LD 160 Benita 159 BNP 28 UKIP 21
List: Lab 1684 Grn 619 C 419 LD 223 TUSC 52 BNP 47 UKIP 46 CPA 20 EDP 18 House Party 14 Hayat 10 NF 5 Alagaratnam 2

North Dorset District Council; caused respectively by the resignations of Conservative councillors Helen and Peter Webb, who are relocating to Somerset.  Peter is a former leader of the council.

Little Ashley Cottage - West Stour
  © Copyright Mike Searle and licensed for
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These are two rather different wards.  Lodbourne is an urban ward, one of four covering Gillingham, a town on the Waterloo-Exeter railway line which has grown rapidly in recent years.  (Pronunciation guide: the G is a hard G, not a J as in Gillingham, Kent.)  The Lodbourne ward covers the area immediately north of the town centre, and is named after the River Lodden which forms the ward's eastern boundary.

The Stours ward, on the other hand, is a large rural area in the Blackmore Vale to the south of Gillingham.  It consists of six parishes: East Stour and West Stour on the A30 Shaftesbury-Sherborne road, and Fifehead Magdalen, Stour Provost, Todber and Margaret Marsh to the south.

North Dorset elections can be characterised as a battle between Lib Dem urban wards and Tory rural wards.  Lodbourne ward was won by the Lib Dems unopposed in 2003, and they held it easily in a 2005 by-election (against only independent opposition) and 2007 (in a straight fight with the Conservatives).  The Lib Dem councillor stood down in 2011 and the Conservatives narrowly gained the ward, beating the Lib Dem candidate by 322 votes to 295.  The Stours has been truer to the stereotype, returning Peter Webb by big majorities in the last three elections.

Defending Lodbourne for the Conservatives is Mike Gould, a financial advisor.  He is opposed by Gillingham town councillor Richard Arnold, for the Liberal Democrats.  Bob Messer, who runs the Gillingham Action for Nature Group, is the Labour candidate.

The Stours is yet again a two-horse race.  The Conservative defence is led by Traci Handford, of Blandford Forum, who works for the family car sales company.  The Lib Dems have retired from the fray this time, but Labour have ensured a contested election; their candidate is Shaftesbury town councillor Joseph Pestell.

Parliamentary constituency: North Dorset
Dorset county council division: Gillingham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Shaftesbury and Blandford Forum

Richard Arnold (LD)
Mike Gould (C)
Bob Messer (Lab)

May 2011 result C 322 LD 295
May 2007 result LD 436 C 173
July 2005 by-election LD 308 Ind 131 Ind 96
May 2003 result LD unopposed

The Stours
Parliamentary constituency: North Dorset
Dorset county council division: Stour Vale
ONS Travel to Work Area: Shaftesbury and Blandford Forum

Traci Handford (C)
Joseph Pestell (Lab)

May 2011 result C 552 LD 255
May 2007 result C 400 LD 151
May 2003 result C 329 LD 168

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

By-Elections Preview: 14 March 2013

There should be relatively little excitement in the results of the four by-elections to be held on 14th March 2013, as the Conservatives and Labour each have a pair of safe seats to defend.  Later this column shall discuss Labour-held wards in London and Greater Manchester and a Tory-held ward in Surrey, but we start in West Sussex retirement territory with a Conservative defence.

Arun District Council, West Sussex; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Robin Brown.  A research and design engineer first elected to Arun District Council in 1987, he had served continuously since 1999, including ten years as cabinet member for housing and community care, and also spent three terms as a member of West Sussex county council before losing his seat in 2009.

Aldwick Street
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The population of West Sussex can be divided fairly neatly into a "landward" half and a "coastal" half, the coastal half being concentrated into a series of retirement towns along the seashore between Brighton and Bognor Regis, of which the largest is Worthing.  Directly to the west of Bognor Regis, the village of Aldwick is effectively the second most western settlement in this coastal strip, and population growth in the area has been such that the village is now part of Bognor in all but name.  One reason for this came in 1929, when King George V convalesced here from illness, a visit which led to the suffix "Regis" being bestowed upon Bognor.  The large population of retirees (32% according to the 2011 census) gives this ward a very old age profile with a median age of 59, twenty years higher than for England as a whole.

With that sort of age profile, it's no surprise to find that this is a safe Conservative ward, their majority having grown at every election since the ward was created on current boundaries in 2003.  The Liberal Democrats ran second here at the last election in 2011 but were more than 900 votes behind the second Conservative candidate.  Robin Brown had been county councillor for the division covering the ward (Bognor Regis West and Aldwick) but lost his county seat in 2009 to the Liberal Democrats by just 61 votes; however, the Lib Dem vote is concentrated in Bognor itself and this is a weak part of the division for them.

The ballot paper has four candidates, all of whom fought the last Arun council election in 2011.  The defending Conservative candidate is Bill Smee, husband of the current council chairman Ann Smee.  The Liberal Democrats have selected their county councillor for the ward, Paul Wells.  UKIP, who ran third here ahead of Labour in the 2011 and 2007 elections, will be represented by Janet Taylor, and Labour have re-selected their candidate from the 2011 election here, Richard Dawson.

Parliamentary constituency: Bognor Regis and Littlehampton
West Sussex county council division: Bognor Regis West and Aldwick
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chichester and Bognor Regis

Richard Dawson (Lab)
Bill Smee (C)
Janet Taylor (UKIP)
Paul Wells (LD)

May 2011 result C 1310/1226 LD 320/302 UKIP 283 Lab 264
May 2007 result C 1110/1001 Ind 695 UKIP 293 Lab 168/161
May 2003 result C 890/872 LD 529/524 Lab 154/125

Camden London Borough Council, North London; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Sean Birch.

"Here from my eyrie, as the sun went down,
I heard the old North London puff and shunt,
Glad that I did not live in Gospel Oak."
- John Betjeman, "Summoned by Bells"

Gospel Oak is one of those places that could have become seriously fashionable.  When development began here in the mid-nineteenth century the landowners had plans for elegant streets, with Lismore Circus as their focal point, but the railways got there first, with first the North London Railway and then the Midland Railway building lines through the district.  This scared the desired residents away and when the neighbourhood was built it was much more working-class than originally intended.  That prejudice against Gospel Oak compared to neighbouring more middle-class or fashionable areas like Hampstead, Highgate and Camden Town was still in evidence in 1909, when Betjeman's family moved to nearby Highgate, and was to some extent reinforced after the Second World War when Camden council built a series of council estates in the area.

Today the ward is a rather socially mixed area, whiter and older than the average for London but still with 25% of its population born outside the EU.  Almost 40% of the ward's households are still council rents.  Postally it is split between the NW3 (Hampstead) and NW5 (Kentish Town) postal districts, and it is served by two London Overground stations on the North London line, Hampstead Heath and Gospel Oak (which is also the terminus of the "Goblin" Gospel Oak to Barking line).

Politically the ward is normally Labour, but was lost to the Conservatives in 2006 before Labour regained the three seats at the 2010 election.  At the most recent electoral contest, the GLA elections in May 2012, Ken beat Boris here 50-31 and Labour polled exactly 50% of the list votes, to 20% for the Conservatives and 15% for the Greens.

Labour's candidate to hold the by-election is Maeve McCormack, a 26-year-old charity worker and school governor, who gives an address in Swiss Cottage.  The Tories have selected Leila Roy, a French-born freelance television researcher and single mother.  Moving up a generation, the Lib Dem candidate is Laura Noel, a volunteer counsellor who retired a few years ago as chief executive of the Waltham Forest health authority; she has fought the ward at the last two elections.  Constantine Buhayer, a teacher who finished 12th of the 12 candidates in the 2010 election, tries again for the Green Party.  Also on the ballot paper are wheelchair user Somers Town resident Stephen Dorman, for the BNP, and John Reid, the RMT's London Transport regional secretary, for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

Parliamentary constituency: Holborn and St Pancras
GLA constituency: Barnet and Camden
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

Constantine Buhayer (Grn)
Stephen Dorman (BNP)
Maeve McCormack (Lab)
Laura Noel (LD)
John Reid (TUSC)
Leila Roy (C)

May 2010 result Lab 2015/1965/1825 C 1421/1344/1305 LD 1107/1006/860 Grn 602/595/548
May 2006 result C 1378/1333/1297 Lab 1225/1220/1150 LD 519/461/373 Grn 428/411/337
May 2002 result Lab 880/846/791 C 550/506/459 LD 430/347/336 Grn 311/291/264 CPA 50
May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Ken 1393 Boris 862 Grn 214 Benita 130 LD 121 UKIP 52 BNP 28
London list: Lab 1403 C 553 Grn 409 LD 165 UKIP 95 BNP 56 TUSC 45 CPA 36 EDP 21 House Party 13 NF 5 Hayat 4 Alagaratnam 1

Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, Greater Manchester; caused by the death of Labour councillor Philip Harrison from lung cancer.  First elected to Oldham council in 1996, he was the serving cabinet member for social services and community health.

Royton Town Hall
  © Copyright Stanley Walker and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Located immediately north of Oldham on the road to Rochdale, Royton has been mentioned in the name of a parliamentary constituency continuously since 1918 (Royton 1918-50, Heywood and Royton 1950-83, Oldham Central and Royton 1983-97, Oldham West and Royton since 1997) which is rather strange considering how small the place is.  Until the Commonwealth, the Byrons (the family that would later produce the romantic poet) were lords of the manor here, but Royton didn't really grow until the Industrial Revolution: the town claims to have the first water-powered cotton mill, sent a contingent to the Peterloo massacre, and became a classic Lancashire textile town entirely dependent on cotton.  No cotton is spun here any longer: the mills have either been demolished or turned into light engineering or distribution centres.

Safe Labour with the BNP second at its first election on current boundaries in 2004, Royton South ward became a key Labour/Lib Dem marginal in the late Blair and Brown years as Labour and the Lib Dems battled for control of Oldham council.  The Liberal Democrats gained Labour seats in 2006 and in 2008 (defeating Harrison), and were only 111 votes behind Labour in the 2007 election.  Harrison convincingly gained one of the Lib Dem seats back in 2010, and after the formation of the Coalition the Lib Dem vote here melted away just as spectacularly as anywhere in the Liverpool area; from 42.7% in 2008 to 8.7% in 2011 and 5.9% in 2012.  With the Tory vote falling as well, Labour have mopped up disaffected Lib Dem supporters and turned Royton South into a super-safe ward, the party just failing to break 70% in the 2012 election.

The Labour candidate is Marie Bashforth, wife of Steve Bashforth, another Labour councillor for the ward.  The Conservatives have re-selected their perennial candidate Allan Fish, a retired builder who is fighting the ward for the eighth consecutive election.  Also on the ballot paper are the Lib Dems' Stephen Barrow and the Greens' Roger Pakeman.

Parliamentary constituency: Oldham West and Royton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Rochdale and Oldham

Stephen Barrow (LD)
Marie Bashforth (Lab)
Allan Fish (C)
Roger Pakeman (Grn)

May 2012 result Lab 1566 C 544 LD 134
May 2011 result Lab 1932 C 776 LD 257
May 2010 result Lab 2047 LD 1484 C 1416 Respect 61
May 2008 result LD 1333 Lab 953 C 832
May 2007 result Lab 1079 LD 968 C 598 UKIP 265
May 2006 result LD 1086 Lab 900 BNP 688 C 600
June 2004 result Lab 1438/1438/1112 BNP 964 C 865/745/701 UKIP 537 LD 522/345/288 Grn 326

Runnymede Borough Council, Surrey; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Frances Barden at the age of 68.  The Mayor of Runnymede in 2005/6, she had sat for Foxhills ward since 1999 and was serving as chairman of the council's regulatory committee.

Ottershaw village sign
  © Copyright P L Chadwick and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Directly to the south-west of the M25 and M3 junction at Thorpe, Foxhills is perhaps the only truly rural ward in Runnymede district.  There is no village called Foxhills, although there is a resort hotel of that name within the ward; instead the largest centre of population within the ward is Ottershaw, located at a crossroads on the Chertsey-Woking road.  Also included in the ward is St Peter's Hospital on the edge of Chertsey, which apparently specialises in treating erectile dysfunction.

Foxhills ward's fine upstanding members of society always return Conservatives to the district council, and usually the excitement in the ward's results lies in who comes second.  Since 2011 the runner-up spot has been a close race between the perennial Labour candidate John Gurney and the UK Independence Party; UKIP beat Labour in 2011 by eight votes and in 2012 by ten votes.  The Conservative vote fell below 50% at the 2012 election, although it remains to be seen how much of this drop was a reaction to the Tory candidate having an Arabic name in a ward which is only 1.1% Muslim; while the ward does have a relatively large Asian population (7.9% according to the last census, presumably an effect of the hospital) most of these are Filipino- or Indian-born.

The by-election is a three-cornered race.  Defending for the Conservatives is Barry Pitt, who stood last year in the Resident-dominated Egham Town ward.  Chris Browne, who tied for second place in a by-election last September for the neighbouring Chertsey Meads ward, is the UKIP candidate, and John Gurney stands here for Labour for the seventh consecutive election.

Parliamentary constituency: Runnymede and Weybridge
Surrey county council division: Foxhills and Virginia Water
ONS Travel to Work Area: Guildford and Aldershot

Chris Browne (UKIP)
John Gurney (Lab)
Barry Pitt (C)

May 2012 result C 581 UKIP 284 Lab 274 LD 107
May 2011 result C 993 UKIP 325 Lab 317 LD 155
May 2010 result C 1587 LD 583 Lab 378 UKIP 305
May 2008 result C 975 Lab 227 UKIP 187
May 2007 result C 859 UKIP 195 LD 191 Lab 167
May 2006 result C 819 Lab 230 LD 194 UKIP 165 Senior Citizens Party 115
June 2004 result C 806 UKIP 270 LD 233 Lab 216
May 2003 result C 784 Lab 189 LD 184 UKIP 98
May 2002 result C 999 Lab 327