Thursday, 28 November 2013

By-Election Previews: 28 November 2013

There are five seats up for grabs across England this week, as well as one vacancy that has returned the Conservative candidate unopposed, while a by-election in the very northernmost ward of the UK mainland will be covered over on the Scottish Elections blog.

St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council, Merseyside; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Alison Bacon.  Bacon's resignation came in May, so this by-election has taken an unusually long time to be called.

The Billinge Arms, Billinge
  © Copyright Alexander P Kapp and licensed for
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A few weeks back we had a by-election in Winstanley, the first village out of Wigan on the road to Sentelens.  This week we travel a little further along that road over the Merseyside boundary to the village of Billinge, on a hilltop location overlooking the Merseyside conurbation; Billinge Hill is the highest point of Merseyside at 587 feet, with views all over north-west England and even as far as Snowdonia.

The Billinge Chapel End parish, which covers the village, is combined for electoral purposes with the parish of Seneley Green, or, as it's known to everyone else, Garswood.  Effectively a suburb of Ashton-in-Makerfield, Garswood has more of a commuter profile, lying as it does on the Wigan to Liverpool railway line.

The area's economy is historically based on coal-mining, although the coal here was close enough to the surface for drift mining to be preferred to deep mining, and there is still some opencast mining going on in the area.  That coal-mining history creates a Labour history in the ward, and Labour have won every contest in Billinge and Seneley Green since the last boundary changes in 2004 (including an October 2010 by-election), although they came within 43 votes of losing the ward to the Conservatives at the Labour nadir of 2008.  In recent years the opposition vote has fallen back and Labour can now look on this ward as a stronghold.

So the Labour candidate, Billinge Chapel End parish councillor Dennis McDonnell, shouldn't have too much to worry about.  His opposition will come from the Conservatives' John Cunliffe (from St Helens), the Green Party's Sue Rahman (from Billinge), UKIP's Laurence Allen (from St Helens), the BNP's Alan Brindle (from Billinge) and the Lib Dems' Noreen Knowles (from St Helens).

Parliamentary constituency: St Helens North
Constituent civil parishes: Billinge Chapel End, Seneley Green
ONS Travel to Work Area: Warrington and Wigan
Postcode districts: WN4 and WN5 (mostly)

Laurence Allen (UKIP)
Alan Brindle (BNP)
John Cunliffe (C)
Noreen Knowles (LD)
Dennis McDonnell (Lab)
Sue Rahman (Grn)

May 2012 result Lab 1802 C 536 Ind 371 Grn 140
May 2011 result Lab 1896 C 964 Ind 556 LD 170
Oct 2010 by-election Lab 1288 C 624 LD 229 BNP 141
May 2010 result Lab 2954 C 1795 LD 1216
May 2008 result Lab 1335 C 1292 LD 574
May 2007 result Lab 1321 C 922 LD 551 CPF 313
May 2006 result Lab 1504 C 970 LD 679
June 2004 result Lab 1503/1492/1229 Ind 917 C 905/893/878 LD 651/454/409

Central Bedfordshire Council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Ruth Gammons whose husband is seriously ill.

Caddington from the air
  © Copyright M J Richardson and licensed for
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This is Bedfordshire's southernmost ward, being a series of villages in the Chiltern Hills immediately to the south of Luton and Dunstable.  At the east end is Hyde parish, based around the Luton Hoo country house hotel and its large estate, a favourite location for film producers; Hyde has never been annexed by Luton, resulting in it forming a weird salient to the south of Luton within Central Bedfordshire council.  Moving further west we have the historically brickworking parishes of Slip End, where the official start-of-works ceremony for the M1 motorway took place, and Caddington itself.  To the west of the A5 Watling Street are the parishes of Kensworth, Studham and - the main reason to visit the ward - Whipsnade, home of the Zoological Society of London's Whipsnade Zoo.  The zoo, the chalk quarry at Kensworth, the Luton Hoo estate and commuting to Luton form the basis of the ward's economy.

Zoo animals don't vote, of course, so the area's political character is shaped by its human residents.  Don't be confused by the presence of Caddington, Hyde and Slip End within the safe Labour Luton South constituency; this is a strongly Tory area, the Conservatives polling almost two-thirds of the vote at the 2011 election and easily winning both seats.  The predecessor Bedfordshire county council divisions and South Bedfordshire district council wards were just as strongly Conservative.

Defending for the Conservatives is Caddington parish councillor Kevin Collins.  Kensworth resident Ian Lowery is the Labour candidate, the Lib Dems have selected Houghton Regis town councillor Alan Winter, Caddington-based Christine Smith stands as an independent and the UKIP candidate is Steven Wildman, who gives an address some distance the other side of Luton in Barton-le-Clay.

Parliamentary constituency: Luton South (Caddington, Hyde and Slip End parishes), South West Bedfordshire (Kensworth, Studham and Whipsnade parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton and Watford
Postcode districts: LU1, LU2 and LU6 (mostly)

May 2011 result C 2215/2134 Lab 711/424 LD 404/213

Wakefield Metropolitan Borough Council, West Yorkshire; caused by the death of the Mayor of Wakefield, Labour councillor Brian Holmes, at the age of 75.

Horbury - west end of New Street
  © Copyright Dave Bevis and licensed for
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Horbury is the next centre of population up from Wakefield in the Calder Valley, and traditionally on the edge of Yorkshire's Heavy Woollen District.  As well as wool and other textiles (a major employer here was the tennis-ball manufacturer Slazenger) Horbury was also a centre for railway wagon manufacture, which continued right up until the 2000s when the Voyager trains were built here.

During the 2000s this ward was consistently marginal, the three seats splitting 2 to Labour and one to the Conservatives.  The Tories held their seat in 2006 and gained the Labour seats in 2007 and 2008, but could never make the ward safe; the largest Tory majority was 199 votes at the 2007 election.  In that context the Conservatives did very well to hold the ward at the 2010 election with a majority of 102, but after that it has been one-way traffic for Labour, who now hold all the ward's three seats following gains at the 2011 and 2012 elections and a July 2011 by-election.  The Tories will not have been helped at the 2012 election by their outgoing councillor Graham Jesty standing as an Independent and polling well.

Rory Bickerton, whose Twitter profile reads "25, Labour lad, Opera, Mozart and other nice things", defends the seat for Labour.   The Tories have selected Angela Holwell, who is fighting her first local election campaign for over seven years.  UKIP have recruited the independent candidate from 2012, former Tory councillor for this ward Chris Jesty, and regular Lib Dem candidate and Vote UK forum contributor Mark Goodair stands here for the seventh time since 2002.

Parliamentary constituency: Wakefield
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wakefield and Castleford
Postcode districts: WF4 and WF5

Rory Bickerton (Lab)
Mark Goodair (LD)
Angela Holwell (C)
Graham Jesty (UKIP)

May 2012 result Lab 1660 C 934 Ind 732 UKIP 429 LD 340
July 2011 by-election Lab 1776 C 1061 UKIP 232 LD 200 Horbury Ind 93 Ind 88
May 2011 result Lab 2433 C 2048 LD 473
May 2010 result C 3034 Lab 2932 LD 1517 BNP 558
May 2008 result C 1845 Lab 1657 Ind 576 LD 522
May 2007 result C 1822 Lab 1623 LD 825
May 2006 result C 1411 Lab 1245 LD 873 BNP 582
June 2004 result Lab 1724/1621/1228 C 1578/1507/1452 LD 1245/1176/929 BNP 978 Ind 452

Lambeth London Borough Council, South London; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Kingsley Abrams, apparently so he could seek selection as the Labour parliamentary candidate for the Brent Central constituency.  The selection is still ongoing, but he didn't make the shortlist.

Macartney House, SW9
  © Copyright Danny Robinson and licensed for
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This Lambeth ward runs south from Kennington Park along the Brixton Road, west of Clapham Road and south of Camberwell New Road.  Named after the first developer here in the 1820s, Henry Vassall-Fox, 3rd Baron Holland, the ward's Wikipedia entry notes the area's high level of deprivation and that more than half of the ward's households are socially rented.  Famous former residents include Vincent van Gogh and John Major, and from 1998 to 2002 two of the three ward councillors were journalist Dan Sabbagh, now national news editor of the Guardian, and economist (and niece of Peter and Virginia Bottomley) Kitty Usher, who would later serve one term as Labour MP for Burnley.

During the 2000s and into 2010 this Labour ward was under threat from the Liberal Democrats, who finally broke through at the 2010 election to take one of the three seats.  Although the Lib Dems crashed to fourth here in last year's GLA elections, they did poll a relatively good 11% in the Assembly ballot (to 54% for Labour, 15% for the Tories and 13% for the Greens).  Ken beat Boris in the ward's ballot boxes by 55% to 24%.

The defending Labour candidate is Paul Gadsby, a local resident described as an active local community campaigner.  Colette Thomas, a local childminder, is the Liberal Democrat candidate.  The Conservatives have selected the local Conservative Association treasurer Kelly ben-Maimon.  Also on the ballot paper are some names which will be familiar to regular readers of this column: Rachel Laurence for the Greens, Elizabeth Jones for UKIP, Danny Lambert for the Socialist Party and Steven Nally for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

With the six-month rule now in effect leading up to the 2014 local elections, this is expected to be the last local by-election in London before the all-out elections for the London boroughs on 22nd May 2014.  Any further London vacancies which occur before then will be left unfilled.

Parliamentary constituency: Vauxhall
GLA constituency: Lambeth and Southwark
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: SE5 and SW9

Kelly Ben-Maimon (C)
Paul Gadsby (Lab)
Elizabeth Jones (UKIP)
Danny Lambert (Soc)
Rachel Laurence (Grn)
Steven Nally (TUSC)
Colette Thomas (LD)

May 2010 result Lab 2533/2308/2146 LD 2193/1793/1617 C 706/593/525 Grn 542/477/476
May 2006 result Lab 1426/1421/1306 LD 1146/1092/1044 C 369/360/341 Respect 287/257/234
May 2002 result Lab 1056/943/895 LD 851/846/744 Grn 257 C 188/181/165 Socialist Alliance 127

May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Lab 1629 (55%) C 708 (24%) Grn 246 LD 197 Benita 155 UKIP 16 BNP 10
Assembly: Lab 1617 C 450 Grn 396 LD 326 TUSC 51 CPA 45 UKIP 44 BNP 22 EDP 14 House Party 9 Hayat 8 NF 4 Alagaratnam 1

Bracknell Forest Council, Berkshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Mary Ballin at the age of 72.  Ballin had been the council's executive member for transport and planning for many years, and had been the election agent for Andrew MacKay, the former MP for Bracknell.

Maiden's Green
  © Copyright Alan Hunt and licensed for reuse
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One of the rural wards of Bracknell Forest, this ward is essentially the area between Bracknell and Windsor Great Park; the northern end of the large Winkfield parish together with a small part of Warfield parish.  Obviously, it's a very Tory area; the closest the Conservatives have come to losing the ward in recent years was in 2007 when they had majorities of 280 and 260 over an independent candidate, who had fought the ward in 2003 as a Lib Dem.  The 2011 election gave the Conservatives 71% of the vote here against evenly divided Labour and Lib Dem opposition.

The defending Tory candidate is Winkfield parish councillor Susie Phillips, who runs a company which makes and sells paper flower decorations.  Chartered accountant Paul Birchall is the Lib Dem candidate, Janet Keene - who fought the Bracknell parliamentary seat in 2005 - stands for Labour, and business advisor Ken la Garde is the ward's first UKIP nominee.

Parliamentary constituency: Windsor
ONS Travel to Work Area: Reading and Bracknell
Postcode districts: RG12, RG42, SL4, SL5

May 2011 result C 1308/1250 LD 269 Lab 255/252
May 2007 result C 844/824 Ind 564 Lab 262/229
May 2003 result C 807/802 LD 357/231 Lab 160

We should also note an unopposed result from the by-election in Topcliffe to Hambleton District Council, North Yorkshire, caused by the resignation of Conservative former council leader Neville Huxtable.  

Snowy morning in Front Street
  © Copyright Gordon Hatton and licensed for
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The name might suggest a clifftop location, but Topcliffe is in fact a village in the centre of the Vale of York, on the left bank of the Swale.  Its location, and the fact that the Vale tends to fill with freezing fog in the winter, means that the village has a propensity for very low temperatures; three years ago the Topcliffe weather station set the Yorkshire low temperature record at minus 19 degrees Celsius.  That weather station is located at Topcliffe Airfield, an army barracks which is also used by the RAF for glider training.  The ward named after Topcliffe is a large rural area to the south and south-west of Thirsk, stretching from Skipton-on-Swale at the west end to Hutton Sessay at the east end.

Your columnist has fond memories of the Happy Eater on the A168 at Topcliffe, a favourite stop on childhood journeys to see grandparents in Hartlepool.

Huxtable had been the councillor for Topcliffe throughout the last decade, and was unopposed at the 2007 election; in 2003 and 2011 he defeated Liberal Democrat opposition very comfortably indeed.  Polling for the by-election caused by his resignation had been set for 12th December, but when nominations closed last week there was only one candidate, the Conservatives' Garry Key, who has therefore been elected unopposed.

Parliamentary constituency: Thirsk and Malton
North Yorkshire county council division: Sowerby
Constituent parishes: Skipton-on-Swale, Catton, Topcliffe, Dalton, Sessay, Hutton Sessay
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northallerton and Thirsk
Postcode district: YO7 (mostly)

Nov 2013 by-election C unopposed
May 2011 result C 550 LD 185
May 2007 result C unopposed
May 2003 result C 483 LD 133

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