Monday, 17 June 2013

By-Elections Preview: 20 June 2013

The number of local by-elections in June 2013 follows a Fibonacci sequence.  Since there were two in the first week and three last week, this week there are five local polls, all following the recent deaths of local councillors.  All five by-elections are taking place within Labour-held parliamentary constituencies and Labour are defending three of the seats up for election.  This post is confined to dealing with the three English by-elections; the two Scottish local by-elections as well as the Aberdeen Donside by-election will be covered by Kristofer Keane on the Scottish Elections blog later this week.

Milton Keynes Council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Rita Venn after just a year in office.

Museum of Computing, Bletchley Park
  © Copyright Paul Gillett and licensed for reuse
under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
"I told you to leave no stone unturned, but I did not expect you to take me literally."
 - Winston Churchill, on the staff of Bletchley Park

Bletchley lies at the intersection of many rather disconnected things.  Milton Keynes and things that existed before the 1960s; the West Coast Main Line and the Varsity Line; early computing devices and mansions of questionable architectural taste.

Mention Milton Keynes to people and they will probably think of 1970s housing as far as the eye can see, roundabouts at every junction and the inevitable concrete cows.  Bletchley isn't like that; it grew up in the Victorian era as a railway town in rural northern Buckinghamshire, well-sited at the junction of the West Coast Main Line and the Oxford-Cambridge line and with extensive railway yards providing employment.  The town quickly grew and merged with neighbouring Fenny Stratford, a vilage on Watling Street and the Grand Union Canal, at the end of the 19th century.

In those days the town centre was west of the railway line, and close to the architecturally-strange mansion of Bletchley Park, home of the local Liberal MP Sir Herbert Leon.  After Sir Herbert's widow died in 1937 the mansion and land was sold to a developer but quickly sold on to Adm Sir Hugh Sinclair.  Shortly afterwards a group of Government visitors described as "Capt Ridley's shooting party" turned up at the mansion, and as the Second World War got into full swing the Park became a hive of activity.

It wasn't revealed until the 1970s that the Park was the site of the UK's decryption establishment, the Government Code and Cypher School, which deciphered the codes of the Axis Powers during the War; this intelligence was so successful it is said to have shortened the war by at least two years.  In order to do this, some of the foremost mathematicians of the time, notably Alan Turing, developed electromechanical and electronic machines including "Colossus", the world's first programmable digital computer and a distant ancestor of the machine you are reading this column on.  In recognition of this, Bletchley Park is now a series of museums dedicated to the War, codebreaking and computing.

Bletchley in the 1970s had greatly changed from what it was in the 1940s, first with the construction of a London overspill estate and then with the designation of the New City of Milton Keynes in 1967.  In the early days (until the construction of Central Milton Keynes) Bletchley was the main shopping district for MK thanks to the Brunel Shopping Centre, which opened in the early 1970s and effectively transferred the town centre to the east side of the railway line.  The Brunel Centre is now in decline thanks to a number of large retail developments in the north of the ward at Denbigh, an industrial area on Watling Street (one of the main employers is Marshall guitar amplifiers) which also includes Stadium MK, home of the football team Milton Keynes Dons.

So, what does all this mean for local politics?  A fascinating marginal ward, that's what.  All the local industry creates a Labour base vote that allowed them to carry the ward up to 2004, but the town's railway station has frequent and relatively fast trains to Milton Keynes Central and London Euston, making Bletchley an attractive commuter area.  This makes the ward a close Conservative/Labour fight in normal circumstances, and the last two elections have both been decided by fewer than 100 votes, Labour turning around a 78-vote deficit in 2011 to beat the Conservatives by 47 votes in 2012.  Although the Liberal Democrats controlled MK council from 2002 to 2006, they have never come anywhere near threatening to win this ward.

The defending Labour candidate is Mohammed Khan, who is described as a community activist.  He is up against John Bailey, the Conservative candidate from 2012, who runs a consulting business.  The Green Party have nominated West Bletchley parish councillor Keith Allen, from the bucolically-named Poets ward; Vince Peddle is the UKIP nominee; and the Lib Dems have selected Rosemary Snell, a former borough councillor for Emerson Valley ward (elected as Rosemary Drewett) who lost her seat in 2011.

Parliamentary constituency: Milton Keynes South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Milton Keynes and Aylesbury

Keith Allen (Grn)
John Bailey (C)
Mohammed Khan (Lab)
Vince Peddle (UKIP)
Rosemary Snell (LD)

May 2012 result Lab 1270 C 1223 Grn 420 UKIP 375 LD 161
May 2011 result C 1692 Lab 1614 Grn 545 UKIP 341 LD 278
May 2010 result C 2894 Lab 1993 LD 833 UKIP 466 Grn 253
May 2008 result C 1941 Lab 1199 UKIP 365 LD 325
May 2007 result C 1649 Lab 1377 Ind 597 LD 391 UKIP 179
May 2006 result C 1387 Lab 1260 Ind 777 LD 368
June 2004 result Lab 1448 C 1131 Ind 581 UKIP 460 LD 362
May 2003 result Lab 1813 C 1048 Ind 357 LD 294 UKIP 71
May 2002 result Lab 1626/1597/1524 C 1323/1249/1149 LD 550/539/529 UKIP 138

Allerdale District Council, Cumbria; caused by the death of Independent councillor Joe Mumberson at the age of 74.  Councillor for Boltons since 1995, he was the Mayor of Allerdale in 2006/7.

Old School and School House, Bolton New Houses
  © Copyright Bob Jenkins and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
The Boltons ward covers a swathe of beautiful countryside in the Lake District.  At the northern end is Boltons parish, named after the hamlets of Bolton Low Houses (on the Carlisle-Whitehaven road), Bolton New Houses, Bolton Wood Lane and Boltongate (on the Aspatria-Caldbeck road).  On country roads through the village of Ireby we enter the Lake District national park.  Reaching Bassenthwaite, the ward then runs down the eastern edge of the village's namesake Lake (the only Lake, as opposed to a Mere, Tarn or Water, in the Lake District) all the way to the edge of Keswick.  Thirteen of Wainwright's twenty-four Northern Fells are within the ward boundary (plus one, Great Sca Fell, lying on the boundary), including the wonderfully-named Great Cockup, but one dominates them all: Skiddaw, at 3053 feet the fourth-highest mountain in England.

The ward is now going to the polls for the fifth time in this Parliament thanks to two county council by-elections for the division then covering this ward in 2011 and 2012, the second one after the winner of the first by-election found himself TUPEd to work for the county council highways division.  The first county by-election was a straight fight between the Tories and Greens, while the second saw the Conservatives rather narrowly hold off a Labour challenge with a strong independent showing.  However, this isn't the sort of place where previous election results mean an awful lot.  Firstly, the Labour vote in the second county by-election will have mostly come from Aspatria, which isn't in the ward; secondly, Joe Mumberson had dominated the ward's district election results for many years.  Mumberson was unopposed in the 2003 and 2007 elections, and easily beat off a Conservative challenge at his final re-election in 2011.

There are two independent candidates in the by-election to replace Joe Mumberson.  Probably the favourite is Mary Mumberson, Joe's widow, from Ireby, although Marion Fitzgerald, from Bolton Low Houses, has a high profile in the area as an anti-windfarm campaigner.  The Conservatives have selected Caldbeck parish councillor (although he gives an address in Kirkbride, close to the Solway coast) Colin Smithson, and the ballot paper is completed by Dianne Standen, from Maryport, standing for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Workington
Cumbria county council division: Bothel and Wharrels (Bassenthwaite, Bewaldeth and Snittlegarth, Ireby and Uldale, and Underskiddaw parishes); Thursby (Boltons parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Workington and Keswick

Marion Fitzgerald (Ind)
Mary Mumberson (Ind)
Colin Smithson (C)
Dianne Standen (Grn)

May 2011 Ind 504 C 257
May 2007 Ind unopposed
May 2003 Ind unopposed

Salford City Council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Jan Rochford.

Rails and Road to Liverpool
  © Copyright Gerald England and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
When your columnist was nobbut a lad, his mum worked as a school secretary at Hope High School on Eccles Old Road, just up the hill from Hope Hospital, where many of Salford's residents begin and end their days.  Times have changed since then: Hope Hospital has been renamed Salford Royal Hospital and comprehensively redeveloped, while Hope High - always a challenging school to run because of the nature of the local kids - became an academy and moved last year to a new site behind the shiny new BBC buildings at MediaCityUK, on the banks of the Ship Canal.

MediaCity is just outside the south-east corner of Weaste and Seedley ward, and beyond MediaCity is the point where there is still some industry on the banks of the Ship Canal.  Going north from the canal, we first meet the Eccles New Road with its tramline (Ladywell, Weaste and Langworthy stops are all within the ward boundary), then the roaring chasm that contains the Liverpool and Manchester railway and the M602 motorway.  Immediately to the north of the motorway the main residential part of the ward begins, still dominated by the sort of Coronation Street-like terraced housing that is becoming more and more scarce within the M60.  It can't be denied that this is the model of a deprived inner-city ward, but there are some relatively affluent bits, particularly once you get north of Eccles Old Road.  There are far more deprived wards in Salford than this.

During the Blair and Brown years Weaste and Seedley ward was a consistently close fight between the Liberal Democrats and Labour, the Lib Dems finally breaking through with new ward boundaries in 2004 to take the ward's three seats off Labour.  Labour had to wait until 2010 to get the ward back, and since then it has been plain sailing for Labour as the formation of the Coalition led to the disintegration of the Lib Dem vote in Salford.  It won't have helped the Lib Dems that their former ward councillor Geoff Ainsworth ran for re-election in 2011 as an Independent, beating the official Lib Dem candidate into third place.

There's a lot of choice on the ballot paper for this by-election, with nine candidates (a tenth candidate was nominated but withdrew).  Defending for Labour is Co-op pharmacist Paul Wilson, a former Hope High pupil and GMB member, and son of one of the two remaining councillors for the ward.  Valerie Kelly is the Liberal Democrat candidate, and hospital consultant Adam Kennaugh, the only candidate to give an address within the ward, stands for the Conservatives again after coming third here in 2012.  Kay Pollitt has been nominated by the BNP, last year's Lib Dem candidate (and former Claremont ward councillor) Mary Ferrer is now standing for the Green Party, Terry Simmons is the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate and further education teacher Glyn Wright will try to get elected for UKIP.  Finally, there are two Independent candidates standing, Matt Simpson and former Preston Lib Dem councillor Alan Valentine.

Parliamentary constituency: Salford and Eccles
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester

Mary Ferrer (Grn)
Valerie Kelly (LD)
Adam Kennaugh (C)
Kay Pollitt (BNP)
Terry Simmons (TUSC)
Matt Simpson (Ind)
Alan Valentine (Ind)
Paul Wilson (Lab)
Glyn Wright (UKIP)

May 2012 result Lab 1240 LD 424 C 287 BNP 197 CA 119
May 2011 result Lab 1333 Ind 439 LD 406 C 377 Grn 222
May 2010 result Lab 1884 LD 1623 C 941
May 2008 result LD 1282 Lab 682 C 478
May 2007 result LD 1086 Lab 997 C 328
May 2006 result LD 1003 Lab 888 C 345
June 2004 result LD 1298/1264/1158 Lab 916/907/796 C 538

1 comment:

  1. The photographer caught the railway before they started electrifying it. That process is now in full swing.