Tuesday, 2 July 2013

By-Election Previews: 4 July 2013

There are five by-elections on 4 July 2013 with both the major parties in action.  The Conservatives are under pressure from the Liberal Democrats in wards in Norfolk and Oxfordshire, while Labour are defending three coalfield wards: they should not be worried about losing a safe ward in Tyneside but will face a stiffer fight in a Staffordshire ward where UKIP are strong.  Labour's other defence is in Swansea, which will be covered on the Welsh Elections blog.

Vale of White Horse District Council, Oxfordshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Holly Holman in protest over the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

County Hall, Abingdon, Oxfordshire
  © Copyright Claire Ward and licensed for
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One of England's oldest towns, Abingdon on Thames has been occupied since the Iron Age.  The town had one of the oldest abbeys in England, the Saxon Abingdon Abbey; after the Conquest the Normans gave the place a vote of confidence as the future King Henry I was educated there.  Following the dissolution of the Abbey Queen Mary I granted the town a borough charter, after which it assumed the title of county town of Berkshire.  Although it lost this title to Reading in the mid-nineteenth century, Abingdon became a prosperous town in the twentieth century, with major employers including MG cars and the Morland brewery, original brewers of the Duke of Edinburgh's favourite tipple Old Speckled Hen.  Today the town is home to many professionals who work in science and computing, major scientific employers such as UKAEA, Harwell Laboratory and Oxford University being nearby, and the town also being the home of the educational computing supplier RM and the antivirus company Sophos.  Despite this prosperity, Abingdon is one of the largest towns in southern England without a railway station.

Local election results in Abingdon tend to be close fights between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.  This ward's two seats were split between the two parties in 2003; the Conservatives lost their seat to the Lib Dems in 2007 but won one seat back in 2011 to give the ward split representation again.  Continuing this theme, the ward is split between two divisions of Oxfordshire county council, one of which (Abingdon North) elected a Conservative and the other (Abingdon South) a Liberal Democrat.

This by-election, however, can only have one winner.  Defending for the Conservatives is town councillor Monica Lovatt, a former nurse who now volunteers with a Forces charity and has recently finished a term as Mayor of Abingdon; she is the wife of Sandy Lovatt, county councillor for Abingdon North, and was the unsuccessful Conservative candidate here in 2011.  The Lib Dem challenge is led by Jeanette Halliday, another of the town councillors for the ward.  Finally, George Ryall is the Labour candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Oxford West and Abingdon
Oxfordshire county council divisions: Abingdon North (part); Abingdon South (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Oxford

Jeanette Halliday (LD)
Monica Lovatt (C)
George Ryall (Lab)

May 2011 result LD 709/653 C 659/645 Lab 292
May 2007 result LD 802/784 C 551/543 Grn 155 Lab 90
May 2003 result LD 576/531 C 552/543 Lab 124/122 Grn 95

Broadland District Council, Norfolk; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Jo Cottingham.  Deputy leader of the council until last year and Aylsham ward councillor since 2004, Cottingham stepped down following a complaint about her conduct.

Town Centre of Aylsham
  © Copyright Richard Slessor and licensed for
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Here we have another ancient market town.  Nine miles to the north of Norwich on the River Bure, Aylsham was important in mediaeval times as a major centre for the linen and worsted industry.  Thanks to its location about halfway between Norfolk and Cromer, the town became a stop on the coaching route between them, and the coaching Black Boys Inn is one of the town's oldest buildings.  Still a local market town and agricultural centre, Aylsham was one of the first British members of the Cittaslow or "Slow City" movement.  As well as the town, the Aylsham ward includes the parishes of Burgh and Tuttington to the east, Marsham to the south, and Oulton and Blickling to the north; Blickling is a major tourist attraction thanks to the Jacobean stately home Blickling Hall, a former home of the Boleyn family.

Aylsham is a closely fought Lib Dem/Conservative ward and its three councillors have been split between the two parties since 2004; the 2004 election returned two Lib Dems and one Conservative, with the Tories gaining one of the Lib Dem seats in 2007 and topping the poll at the most recent election in 2011.  In May's Norfolk county council election the Liberal Democrats held the Aylsham county division (which also includes the much-smaller Buxton ward to the south-east) within an increased majority as UKIP split the Conservative vote.

With no UKIP candidate on the ballot paper for the district by-election, this should be a closer result.  Defending for the Conservatives is Judi Meredith, a former district councillor who unsuccessfully fought this ward in 2004 and 2007.  The other two candidates both live some distance away: Steve Riley, who lives on the RAF Coltishall airbase, will try to gain the seat for the Lib Dems, and the Labour candidate is Wroxham-based Malcolm Kemp.

Parliamentary constituency: Broadland
Norfolk county council division: Aylsham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Norwich

Malcolm Kemp (Lab)
Judi Meredith (C)
Steve Riley (LD)

May 2011 result C 1336/1253/1010 LD 1182/846/752 Lab 542/471 Grn 446
May 2007 result LD 1137/1067/1024 C 1124/1082/1027 Lab 246/230/199
June 2004 result LD 918/907/845 C 854/822/797 Lab 719/461/421

North Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council; caused by Labour councillor Norma Redfearn being elected Mayor of North Tyneside in the May elections.

Coast train arrives at North Shields Metro Station
  © Copyright Roger Cornfoot and licensed for reuse
 under this 
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Last week this column took you to Jarrow on the south bank of the Tyne estuary; this week we travel north from Jarrow through the Tyne Tunnel to Riverside ward on the opposite bank of the river.  Straddling the old border between Wallsend and Tynemouth, Riverside ward consists of a series of disconnected residential areas, running from Willington Quay to the west to the centre of North Shields at the eastern end; other centres of population include Percy Main and the southern fringe of Howdon.  Fishing and coalmining were traditionally the major industries here; while coal is no longer mined here the collieries have been redeveloped into various business parks and industrial estates, and the link with the sea is still important as this ward includes Newcastle's international ferry port, from which there are daily sailings to Amsterdam.  The Tyne and Wear Metro links the ward together, with Howdon, Percy Main, Meadow Well and North Shields stations all serving the ward.

This ward has trended strongly to Labour in the last few years after a few close fights at the end of the Blair era: 54-46 against an Independent in 2006 and 56-44 against the Lib Dems in 2007.  The most recent election in 2012 was also a straight fight, but much more comfortable as Labour beat the Tories 85-15.

Defending for Labour is Wendy Lott, the wife of one of the remaining Labour councillors for the ward.  She is up against Barbara Stevens, a Conservative former councillor who stood down last year in Collingwood ward.

Parliamentary constituency: North Tyneside
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newcastle and Durham

Wendy Lott (Lab)
Barbara Stevens (C)

May 2012 result Lab 1684 C 306
May 2011 result Lab 1775 C 442 LD 249
May 2010 result Lab 2220 LD 1058 C 791
May 2008 result Lab 1199 LD 526 C 369 Grn 172
May 2007 result Lab 1262 LD 1003
May 2006 result Lab 1132 Ind 963
June 2004 result Lab 1217/1064/1038 Ind 769 LD 635 C 461/382 Ind 340

Newcastle under Lyme Borough Council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Thomas Lawton for personal reasons.  Lawton had not attended any meeting of the council in three months.

Silverdale Colliery
  © Copyright Malcolm Street and licensed for
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Another Labour defence, and another ward with a coal-mining heritage, in this case quite a recent one.  Silverdale is a large pit village just to the west of Newcastle-under-Lyme, whose mine (Silverdale Colliery) did not close until 1998 after being greatly expanded in the 1970s.

You might have thought this would produce a safe Labour ward like the other two Labour are defending this week, but if so, you would be wrong.  The fun started in 2003 when Labour spectacularly lost the ward (which had been very safe the previous year) to Eileen Braithwaite of the Caring Party.  Braithwaite thereafter joined the UK Independence Party, and Newcastle-under-Lyme's UKIP branch became one of the most successful in the country during the mid-noughties, building up a large group on the borough council.  It wasn't enough to deliver UKIP both seats in the ward, but Braithwaite was re-elected in the purple colours in 2007 before losing to Labour in 2011 by 40 votes.  UKIP actually peaked in Newcastle at the 2009 Staffordshire county elections in which they became the official opposition to the Conservatives; while they went backwards in May in terms of seats they did hold the county division covering this ward, by just four votes over Labour.

Defending for Labour in the by-election is Amelia Rout, a research officer and Unison official at Staffordshire University.  UKIP have selected Elaine Blake, who was a Labour councillor for this ward until stepping down in 2010.  An interesting fight is in prospect.  Also standing are James Vernon for the Conservatives and Richard Steele for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

Parliamentary constituency: Newcastle-under-Lyme
Staffordshire county council division: Keele, Knutton and Silverdale
ONS Travel to Work Area: Stoke-on-Trent

Elaine Blake (UKIP)
Amelia Rout (Lab)
Richard Steele (TUSC)
James Vernon (C)

May 2011 result Lab 471 UKIP 431 C 112
May 2010 result Lab 612 UKIP 457 C 320 LD 254
May 2007 result UKIP 537 Lab 282 C 107 LD 76
May 2006 result Lab 389 UKIP 296 C 125 LD 119
May 2003 result Caring Party 323 Lab 311 LD 83 C 75
May 2002 result Lab 480/369 Caring Party 110/100 LD 105/101 C 100/82

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