Wednesday, 12 June 2013

By-Elections Preview: 13 June 2013

English Elections apologises for the recent hiatus, caused by our preview writer working on other projects, and myself sitting finals.  All that is out the way now, so a very welcome back to our by-election previews!

13th June 2013 sees three local by-elections in England and there's a good mix of areas here.  Later in this column we will discuss a ward in industrial Southampton which Labour are defending, and a village in the Fens of Norfolk vacated by a Liberal Democrat councillor; but first we travel to the Heavy Woollen District of Yorkshire where the Conservatives are trying to hold on to a small industrial town.

Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council, West Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Margaret Bates due to ill health.  The Mayor of Kirklees in 2002/3, she had first been elected to the council in 1987; after two breaks in service, she had represented Liversedge and Gomersal since 2000.

Red House, Gomersal
  © Copyright BC and licensed for reuse
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Creative Commons Licence.
The old Spenborough Urban District lies almost at the geographic centre of West Yorkshire but was just a collection of various relatively small towns, such as Cleckheaton and Liversedge, which causes problems when deciding which of the major urban centres the area looks to.  Cleckheaton, just off the M62, is part of the Bradford postal district and the Bradford travel to work area; Liversedge is part of the Wakefield postal district and the Leeds travel to work area, so it was obvious that when West Yorkshire's five metropolitan boroughs were drawn up this area should end up in Kirklees, whose main urban centre is Huddersfield.

Liversedge and Gomersal both lie on the edge of the Heavy Woollen District, and in 1812 the area saw Luddite riots against the power looms, which have been immortalised by the unlikely figure of Charlotte Brontë (in her novel Shirley).  With the woollen industry now nearly dead, in modern times the area is essentially a commuter area for the various cities of West Yorkshire.

And it votes like a commuter area - since 2004 (when the ward was drawn on its current boundaries) Liversedge and Gomersal has never elected anything other than a Conservative councillor.  Not that the ward has always been safe - the BNP came within 150 votes of winning at their Kirklees high-water-mark in 2006, while Labour were reasonably close in 2004 and 2011 before falling back in 2012 at the final re-election of Margaret Bates, who clearly had a strong personal vote.

This by-election will be contested by just the three main parties.  Defending for the Conservatives is Sharon Light, from Birkenshaw, who is the wife of the Tory group leader on the council.  The Labour candidate is Simon Alvy, a schoolteacher and rugby league coach from Heckmondwike who is the son of a former Lib Dem councillor.  Also standing is last year's Lib Dem candidate for the ward, Cleckheaton businessman Richard Farnhill.

Parliamentary constituency: Batley and Spen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leeds

Simon Alvy (Lab)
Richard Farnhill (LD)
Sharon Light (C)

May 2012 result C 2021 Lab 1577 Grn 365 LD 155
May 2011 result C 2467 Lab 2189 Grn 334 LD 290
May 2010 result C 3667 Lab 2284 LD 1548 BNP 990 Grn 232
May 2008 result C 2592 BNP 936 Lab 797 LD 382 Grn 202
May 2007 result C 2157 BNP 1436 Lab 1006 LD 387 Grn 208
May 2006 result C 1791 BNP 1643 Lab 1017 LD 393 Grn 226
June 2004 result C 2245/2122/2075 Lab 1749/1463/1412 BNP 1478 LD 764/734/453 Grn 432

King's Lynn and West Norfolk Council, Norfolk; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Dr Ian Mack, who now holds a politically restricted post as chairman of West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group.

Signpost in Watlington
  © Copyright Ben Harris and licensed for reuse
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Creative Commons Licence.
Not to be confused with the Oxfordshire town of the same name, the Norfolk village of Watlington can be found seven miles south of King's Lynn in fen territory east of the River Great Ouse.  Some way off the main A10 road, Watlington is perhaps better connected to the outside world by rail: the village's railway station, reopened in 1989, is on the Fens Line with regular trains to King's Lynn, Cambridge and London.

Despite this the village still votes in a fashion typical of small, remote rural places with the ward's three previous elections all being two-candidate straight fights resulting in huge majorities.  The 2003 election saw the Tories beating the Lib Dems 72-28, but the Conservative councillor stood down in 2007 and Dr Mack, the local GP, beat the new Tory candidate 64-36.  In the most recent election in 2011 Mack polled 82% of the vote against only Labour opposition.  The ward went to the polls last month in the Norfolk county council election as part of Fincham division, which went from very safe Conservative to C/UKIP marginal this year.

There is no defending Liberal Democrat candidate, so the seat is up for grabs.  Labour are standing again; their candidate is King's Lynn-based Emilia Rust, who fought Heacham ward at the last district election and came last of four candidates in North Coast division last month.  Conservative candidate John Dobson also comes hotfoot from the county campaign trail; in May he was easily re-elected as county councillor for Dersingham, north of King's Lynn.  Dobson was thrown out of the Conservative group on the county council in August last year after moving a motion to overthrow the then leader of the council over the King's Lynn incinerator controversy, but would appear to have been rehabilitated.  The most local candidate is Ashley Collins of UKIP, who gives an address a few miles away in Wiggenhall St Germans; he came within 5% of the Conservatives in the county division (Fincham) covering Watlington last month.  With this ward's propensity for huge swings and blowout results, pretty much anything could happen here.

Parliamentary constituency: South West Norfolk
Norfolk county council division: Fincham
ONS Travel to Work Area: King's Lynn and Fakenham

Ashley Collins (UKIP)
John Dobson (C)
Emilia Rust (Lab)

May 2011 result LD 635 Lab 135
May 2007 result LD 515 C 293
May 2003 result C 501 LD 193

Southampton City Council; caused by the resignation of the Labour Leader of the Council Richard Williams following a scandal.  Cllr Williams was found, in an independent report, to have misled the public about the reasons for Cllr Keith Morrell's resignation from the council cabinet in May 2012: Williams had stated that the resignation was due to ill health, whereas in fact there were policy disagreements; and several damaging allegations against Williams in the first draft of the report were removed from the final published version.

Woolston, Victoria Road
  © Copyright Mike Faherty and licensed for reuse
under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
An area with a long history, Woolston started off life as a Viking camp in the tenth century, overlooking the Saxon port of Hamwic on the opposite side of the Itchen estuary.  The Itchen has always been a major barrier to travel between Woolston and Southampton; while there is an hourly train to Southampton from Woolston's railway station the line takes a very circuitous route around the estuary, and for centuries the easiest way into town was by ferry until the Itchen toll bridge opened in 1977 and put the ferry out of business.

While Woolston was not incorporated into Southampton until the 1920s, it was already a major industrial area by that point thanks to John I Thornycroft & Company, whose shipbuilding works was Woolston's major employer for decades until the successor company VT Group upped sticks to Portsmouth in 2004.  Woolston was also a centre for aircraft manufacturing, and the Supermarine aircraft company which designed and manufactured the famous Spitfire fighter aircraft was based here; the Supermarine factory here was completely destroyed, and Woolston was extensively damaged, by enemy bombing during the Battle of Britain.

Southampton local politics in the last decade has been rather weird.  The council was hopelessly hung for much of the period up to 2007 with all three of the main parties on roughly the same number of seats and many wards being three-way marginal.  In 2008 the Conservatives decisively took control with a 1960s-style landslide, winning fourteen of the sixteen wards; because of this result Labour have only been in overall control since 2012 when they had a landslide of their own, winning 12 wards to the Tories' 4.  In this time, as befits its heavy industrial heritage, Woolston has been one of Labour's staunchest wards in the city: in the last eleven years Labour have only lost the ward once, to the Liberal Democrats in 2003.  The Conservatives came within 107 votes of winning in their 2008 landslide (partly a reaction to an unpopular Lab/Lib administration) but they have fallen back since then and the Lib Dems now struggle to break 10% here.

Labour's candidate to hold the by-election is Christopher Hammond, who is a parliamentary assistant to Alan Whitehead, the MP for Southampton Test.  The Conservatives' Alex Houghton is having another go at the ward after his second place in 2012; he is a manager at the John Lewis Partnership.  Standing for the Lib Dems is businessman Adrian Ford, while the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition have nominated Sue Atkins.  Also standing are the Greens' Chris Bluemel, who fought Southampton Test at the 2010 general election, and UKIP's John Sharp whose policies include abolishing the Itchen Bridge tolls outside peak times.

Parliamentary constituency: Southampton Itchen
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southampton

Sue Atkins (TUSC)
Christopher Bluemel (Grn)
Adrian Ford (LD)
Christopher Hammond (Lab)
Alex Houghton (C)
John Sharp (UKIP)

May 2012 result Lab 1607 C 931 LD 243 TUSC 138
May 2011 result Lab 1768 C 1071 LD 354 TUSC 163
May 2010 result Lab 2447 C 1755 LD 1281 Grn 270
May 2008 result Lab 1250 C 1143 LD 373 Grn 255
May 2007 result Lab 1346 C 840 LD 666
May 2006 result Lab 1525 C 792 LD 693
June 2004 result Lab 1445 LD 1073 C 689
May 2003 result LD 1261 Lab 1091 C 382 BNP 189 Socialist Alliance 38
May 2002 result Lab 1443/1412/1372 LD 1077/1025/958 C 365/363/339

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