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  That rule was repealed in 2007, but there is still somewhat of a prejudice against holding a poll on Maundy Thursday; this is the first Maundy Thursday local by-election since 2010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
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
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
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
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

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