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
  © Copyright P L Chadwick and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
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


  1. May I just respectfully point out that your reference to the BNP candidate in Royton being "wheelchair bound" is an unacceptable term in the disability community? We are not bound to our wheelchairs, but merely use them, so the more accurate terminology would be "wheelchair user". Sorry to be picky, but the more we can eradicate language such as this the quicker we can move away from the "does he take sugar" attitude towards disability that will be all to prevalent on Friday's Comic Relief telethon.

    1. Hi there, you are quite right. As editor for the blog, I apologise. I usually try to screen out any things like this from our contributors, but this poor choice of phrase somehow slipped my attention. I will pass your comments onto the contributor, and I will do my best to carry on promoting a positive attitude towards disability across all of my publications. Many thanks for your comment!