Note from the editor: Apologies for the lack of formatting this week, but I'm posting this from my phone as I've had no internet access since Monday! The Scottish and Welsh previews for this week are also just here as well. Let me just wish all our readers a very merry Christmas, and hand over to Andrew Teale.
Let's get one last week of by-elections in before Christmas, shall we? The Tories have most to lose this week with six of their council seats up for election: two in West Sussex and four in the eastern counties of England. A Labour defence in Cwmbran will be covered in the Welsh Elections blog, while the Scottish Elections blog carries a preview of a contest in the Scottish Highlands. But we start this week close to home in Bolton - for why would you start anywhere else?
HARPER GREEN, Bolton metropolitan borough council, Greater Manchester; caused by the death of Labour councillor Margaret Clare who had represented Harper Green ward since 1992.
Ah, Farnworth. Even Bolton people think Farnworth is rough. That bastion of British good taste, the Daily Mail, has written a series of articles decrying the behaviour of the locals, notably in relation to the closure last year of the Flying Shuttle pub; apparently it took thirteen policemen to clear the place and they didn't feel safe when they walked in. Given that your columnist is looking for a house at the moment, perhaps it would be wise to avoid that area.
On the other hand, western Farnworth - which forms Harper Green ward - does have family connections. My mother worked for many years at Dennis Guest's bakery on Plodder Lane, the main road west out of the town, and his and Aunty Anne's house in the Flower Estate - a prestigious 1920s and 1930s development by Farnworth UDC - was a place to go each Christmas until Anne died a few years ago. Up the hill from the Flower Estate is the Royal Bolton Hospital, the busiest hospital in Greater Manchester, which it's traditional to describe as "troubled" because of the amount of money the NHS Trust loses, but which has been very good to us. Your columnist once spent a couple of weeks as a temp on the psychiatric wards, then had a wisdom tooth extracted there a couple of years ago. In the last year my mother has had four operations there: two for removal of cataracts, two in connection with treatment for breast cancer. Next year Mum will be starting
chemotherapy in earnest at the Royal Bolton, while my sister is booked into the maternity unit some time next spring - yes, in 2014 your columnist will, for the first time, become an uncle.
Much of the hospital lies on the site of Plodder Lane locomotive shed, closed in the 1960s or 1970s. To the south of the shed is the Highfield area off Plodder Lane; to the north is Lever Edge, part of Bolton proper. Highfield, Lever Edge and the Flower Estate each form around a third of the ward's population.
This is of course a safe Labour ward; even at the Labour nadir of 2008 they still carried this ward by 4.5 points (or 110 votes) over the Tories, and not even the deselection of councillor Laurence Williamson for the 2010 election could make a dent in the Labour majority; Williamson stood as an independent, polling 12%, but the Tories not only failed to capitalise but fell to a distant third place behind the Lib Dems. Since the formation of the Coalition the Labour vote has grown to 73% at the most recent election in 2012.
Defending for Labour is Asha Ali Ismail from the Gilnow area of inner-west Bolton; she fought the hopeless Bradshaw ward last year. The Tories' 2012 candidate Robert Tyler, a science teacher, tries again, while the Lib Dems have called for retired nurse Wendy Connor. The Greens have selected Royal Bolton Hospital worker Kathryn Sykes, and completing the ballot paper is the former Mayor of Horwich Peter McGeehan, standing for UKIP.
Parliamentary constituency: Bolton South East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bolton
Postcode districts: BL3, BL4
Asha Ali Ismail (Lab)
Wendy Connor (LD)
Peter McGeehan (UKIP)
Kathy Sykes (Grn)
Robert Tyler (C)
May 2012 result Lab 1656 C 389 LD 222
May 2011 result Lab 1918 C 616 LD 326
May 2010 result Lab 2312 LD 1023 C 903 Ind 625 Grn 114
May 2008 result Lab 1181 C 1071 LD 390
May 2007 result Lab 1172 C 719 LD 419
May 2006 result Lab 1194 C 768 LD 454
June 2004 result Lab 1272/1196/1195 C 850/740/716 LD 839/838/791
BLACK ISLE, Highland council; caused by the death of Independent councillor Billy Barclay at the age of 62. A farmer who died while tending to his cattle, he had been a Highland councillor since 2003.
This is one of the Isles that you get in Great Britain that are anything but (see also Axholme, Ely and Thanet). The Black Isle is the peninsula dividing the Moray and Beauly Firths to the south and the Cromarty Firth to the north. Much of the area is agricultural, with the main exception being the fishing port of Cromarty (once the centre of its own - very fragmented - county). Communications to the Black Isle were greatly improved in 1982 with the opening of the Kessock Bridge connecting the peninsula to Inverness; the success of the bridge in boosting the local economy can be gauged by its appearing on the £100 note issued by the Bank of Scotland.
Barclay had first been elected in 2003 for the Avoch Fortrose ward, rather narrowly in a contest featuring three strong independent candidates, and topped the poll in the 2007 election for this ward, the first to use proportional representation. He was joined by a second Independent candidate, a Liberal Democrat and an SNP candidate. All four local councillors were re-elected at the most recent election in 2012, Barclay again topping the poll and being elected on first preferences alone.
Three independent candidates have come forward to succeed Billy Barclay. On past experience, the favourite for the by-election will be his widow Jennifer Barclay; also standing are Fortrose-based Bill Fraser and Gwyn Phillips from Rosemarkie. With the ward seeing strong votes for Independent candidates, the official party candidates will have to attract a lot of transfers to win: they are the Lib Dems' George Normington, who commutes over the Kessock Bridge to work in Inverness Citizens' Advice Bureau; the SNP's Jackie Hendry, wife of the SNP group leader on Highland council; the Greens' Myra Carus, who fought the ward in 2012; Labour's Shaun Finlayson, who is just 18 years old and will be the youngest-ever Highland councillor if elected; and the Conservatives' Douglas MacLean.
Parliamentary constituency: Ross, Skye and Lochaber
Holyrood constituency: Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch (Highlands and Islands region)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Inverness and Dingwall
Postcode districts: IV1, IV6, IV7, IV8, IV9, IV10, IV11
Jennifer Barclay (Ind)
Myra Carus (Grn)
Shaun Finlayson (Lab)
Bill Fraser (Ind)
Jackie Hendry (SNP)
Douglas MacLean (C)
George Normington (LD)
Gwyn Phillips (Ind)
May 2012 result Ind 2259 (2 seats) LD 646 (1 seat) SNP 610 (1 seat) Grn 292 Lab 216 C 141 Chr 57
May 2007 result Ind 2651 (2 seats) LD 973 (1 seat) SNP 558 (1 seat) C 408 Grn 267 Lab 192
CROESYCEILIOG NORTH, Torfaen county borough council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Cynthia Beynon. A former member of the Torfaen council cabinet, she had represented this division since 2012 after moving from Panteg division, where she had first been elected in 2004.
This Cwmbran suburb can be found to the north-east of the new town off the main Newport-Abergavenny road, and is a mostly residential area much of which is New Town development from the 1950s and 1960s. Traditionally the main employer here is local government; the old Gwent county hall was located here, and until 2012 this was the main administrative base for Monmouthshire county council (although Croesyceiliog is located outside Monmouthshire, it does form part of the Monmouth parliamentary constituency). The council buildings were demolished earlier this year, having developed concrete cancer.
The 2012 election in this division was the first contested election in Croesyceiliog North this century, Labour having been returned unopposed in 2004 and 2008. The two Labour candidates were easily elected, their main opposition coming from independent candidates.
Defending for Labour is Nigel Davies, three times chairman of Croesyceiliog and Llanyrafon community council and a community councillor for the division. One of the Independent candidates from the 2012 election, Terry Irons, is having a second go. The Tories have selected Nick Jones, Plaid Cymru fight the ward for the first time this century in the shape of Pontypool-based Darren Hackley-Green, and UKIP's candidate is Aneurin Preece.
Parliamentary constituency: Monmouth
Assembly electoral region: South Wales East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport and Cwmbran
Postcode district: NP44
Nigel Davies (Lab)
Darren Hackley-Green (PC)
Terry Irons (Ind)
Nick Jones (C)
Aneurin Preece (UKIP)
May 2012 result Lab 627/479 Ind 256/224/92 C 175
May 2008 result 2 Lab unopposed
June 2004 result 2 Lab unopposed
HAYWARDS HEATH EAST, West Sussex county council; and HAYWARDS HEATH FRANKLANDS, Mid Sussex district council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor John de Mierre, who had been a county councillor from 2005 to 2009 and again since May 2013, and a district councillor since 2011.
The archetypal commuter town, Haywards Heath owes its size and location to its position on the Brighton railway line, which has linked the town with London and Brighton since 1841. The development which is covered by the modern Franklands ward, which covers the south-east of the town, mostly arose from a 1920s scheme to help families on low incomes to become self-sufficient.
Franklands is the strongest Conservative ward in Haywards Heath and the party have not been seriously challenged there in recent years. The Lib Dems normally finish second.
The Haywards Heath East county division combines the Franklands ward with Haywards Heath Bentswood ward, an interesting three-way marginal which elected two Labour councillors in 2003, split Lib Dem/Labour in 2007 and split Conservative/Labour in 2011. This split nature spills over into the county division: first fought in 2005, this was a three-way split with less than six percentage points separating John de Mierre, who won with 36%, from third-placed Labour on 31%. The 2009 vote saw a Labour collapse in the Lib Dems' favour and a narrow Lib Dem win over the Conservatives by 43 votes. By contrast, the May 2013 election saw a close four-way split: the Tories gained the seat from the Lib Dems but with only a third of the vote, UKIP were second with 27%, Labour third with 21% and the Lib Dems crashed to fourth place and 18% of the vote.
So, the county division looks like a very interesting contest in which nobody can be counted out with confidence. Defending for the Conservatives is Stephen Hillier, a town councillor and Deputy Mayor of Haywards Heath. UKIP's Charles Burrell tries again after his near-miss in May, as do Labour's Richard Goddard and former Lib Dem county councillor Anne Hall. Joining in this time is the Green Party's Paul Brown, who gives an address in East Grinstead.
The same five parties are represented in the Franklands by-election, but with different candidates in each case. Town councillor Roderick Clarke defends the district council seat for the Conservatives. Anne-Marie Lucraft stands for the Lib Dems, Gregory Mountain for Labour, Howard Burrell for UKIP and Miranda Diboll for the Greens.
Haywards Heath East
Parliamentary constituency: Mid Sussex
Mid Sussex wards: Haywards Heath Bentswood, Haywards Heath Franklands
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crawley
Postcode districts: RH16, RH17
Paul Brown (Grn)
Charles Burrell (UKIP)
Richard Goddard (Lab)
Anne Hall (LD)
Stephen Hillier (C)
May 2013 result C 789 UKIP 647 Lab 505 LD 424
June 2009 result LD 1237 C 1194 Lab 406 BNP 168
May 2005 result C 1779 LD 1615 Lab 1504
Haywards Heath Franklands
Parliamentary constituency: Mid Sussex
West Sussex county council division: Haywards Heath East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crawley
Postcode districts: RH16, RH17
Howard Burrell (UKIP)
Roderick Clarke (C)
Miranda Diboll (Grn)
Anne-Marie Lucraft (LD)
Gregory Mountain (Lab)
May 2011 result C 950/897 LD 400/389 Lab 214/209
May 2007 result C 756/675 Ind 420 LD 239/226 Lab 125
May 2003 result C 548/521 LD 330/324 Lab 134/133
ELM AND CHRISTCHURCH, Fenland district council, Cambridgeshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Mac Cotterell. A freelance journalist and photographer, Cotterell was in his fiftieth year in local government, first having been elected to Wisbech Rural District Council in 1964; he had been a Fenland district councillor since 1979, serving for over a decade as Leader of the Council, and was chairman of Elm parish council for more than twenty years. His service to the community was recognised in 2006 when he was appointed MBE.
This poorly-drawn ward covers the large expanse of fenland betwen March and Wisbech. The larger Elm parish is directly to the south of Wisbech, with Elm village serving as a suburb of the town; it is a generally agricultural area specialising in fruit orchards, and the village of Friday Bridge has a hostel for migrant agricultural workers which started off life in the Second World War as a prisoner-of-war camp. To the south-east across the old course of the Nene (which has no crossing point here) is Christchurch parish, based on a tiny village hard up against the Norfolk border. One former rector of Christchurch was the father of Dorothy L Sayers, whose Lord Peter Wimsey novel The Nine Tailors is set in the area.
Unsurprisingly, Cotterell had a big personal vote and ran far ahead of his running-mate in the 2007 and 2011 elections to Elm and Christchurch ward. Runner-up spot in the ward traditionally goes to independents, with Phil Webb (who was elected as Cotterell's Tory running-mate in the 2007 election) finishing in that position in 2003 and 2011. One factor which can't be seen from previous district results is UKIP, who in 2013 gained from the Conservatives the Waldersey county division which covers Elm parish, and nearly gained the March East county division which covers Christchurch parish.
Defending for the Conservatives is Michelle Tanfield, a Wisbech town councillor. Phil Webb, from Friday Bridge, is again trying to get back onto the council as an independent. Labour have selected Wisbech-based Dean Reeves, the Lib Dems have called for March-based Trevor Brookman, and UKIP's candidate is Alan Burbridge, from Elm.
Parliamentary constituency: North East Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire county council division: March East (Christchurch parish), Waldersey (Elm parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wisbech
Postcode districts: PE13, PE14, PE15
Trevor Brookman (LD)
Alan Burbridge (UKIP)
Dean Reeves (Lab)
Michelle Tanfield (C)
Phil Webb (Ind)
May 2011 result C 711/489 Ind 268/198 Lab 221 LD 118
May 2007 result C 700/540 Ind 319
May 2003 result C 550/486 Ind 368
MARKET, Forest Heath district council, Suffolk; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Malcolm Smith at the age of 63, from lung cancer. A Mildenhall parish councillor for many years, Smith served as chairman of Forest Heath District Council from 2009 to 2010.
"Then at last, the mighty ship
Descending on a point of flame
Made contact with the human race at Mildenhall"
-Pink Floyd, "Let There Be More Light"
This is one of two wards covering the Suffolk town of Mildenhall. The administrative centre for Forest Heath council, Mildenhall is best known for two things: the Mildenhall Treasure, a hoard of 4th-century Roman silver found in the area; and the enormous US Air Force base, which results in 18% of the town's residents being US citizens. Market ward covers none of the base, instead consisting of the southern half of the built-up area plus most of Mildenhall Woods to the east of the town.
The ward has an interesting electoral history. At the 2003 election the Tories won both seats, but their majority over the single Labour candidate for the second seat was just one vote. Since then it has been plain sailing for the Tories in the ward, handily defeating UKIP in a straight fight in 2007 and Labour in a straight fight in 2011. On the other hand, the Tories held off UKIP in the wider Mildenhall county division by just seven votes in May's county election.
So this has the potential to be an interesting by-election. The Tories have picked a strong candidate to defend the ward: John Bloodworth, the chairman of Mildenhall parish council. He is up up against another Mildenhall parish councillor, UKIP's David Chandler. This is a straight fight.
Parliamentary constituency: West Suffolk
Suffolk county council division: Mildenhall
ONS Travel to Work Area: Thetford and Mildenhall
Postcode district: IP28
John Bloodworth (C)
David Chandler (UKIP)
May 2011 result C 615/570 Lab 261/237
May 2007 result C 494/436 UKIP 254/214
May 2003 result C 339/251 Lab 250 West Suffolk Independent Alliance 149 Ind 108 UKIP 106/86
SCOTTER RURAL, Lincolnshire county council; and SCOTTER, West Lindsey district council; both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Chris Underwood-Frost, who had served on the district council since 1999 and on the county council for 12 years.
For the final previews of the year, we head to the northwestern corner of the county of Lincolnshire. Although this is the last act of this column for 2013, it is in fact the first in a two-part series, as Scotter ward's other district councillor has also recently died. A separate by-election will be held for that vacancy in the new year.
The Scotter ward is a series of tiny villages to the north of Gainsborough. Inland are the parishes of Scotter itself, Scotton, Northorpe and Laughton, while on the right bank of the River Trent can be found the parishes of East Ferry, Wildsworth, East Stockwith and Walkerith (one of the smallest parishes in the country with an area only just creeping over one square kilometre). Those last two parishes form a sort of salient with only a very narrow neck of land connecting them to the rest of the ward. The Scotter Rural division also includes the neighbouring Thonock ward to the south, which is the same only more so, consisting of the parishes of Morton, Thonock, Blyton (perhaps the largest village in the division) and Pilham.
While both the ward and the division have been consistently won by the Conservatives over the last decade, both of them came under pressure from the Lib Dems around the middle of the last decade. The Tory majority was 131 votes in Scotter ward in 2004 and 170 votes in Scotter Rural in 2005, before falling to zero at the 2007 ward election in which 1562 votes split 781 to Underwood-Frost and 781 to his Lib Dem opponent, Underwood-Frost holding his seat thanks to the toss of a coin. After coming so close, the Lib Dem challenge has since faded away; the runner-up spot at the most recent district election in Scotter in 2011 was taken by an Independent, while UKIP were second here in May's county council election.
The defending Conservative candidate for the county division is Sturton-by-Stow resident Richard Butroid, whom I described in this column in February as an electrician in the health and safety sector who has represented Lincolnshire at clay pigeon shooting; he will be hoping for better luck this time than he had in a district council by-election in Gainsborough in February or in May's county council election, in which he finished fourth in the Gainsborough Hill division. Lincoln resident Nick Smith tries for UKIP, regular Lib Dem county candidate Lesley Rollings (from Pilham) tries again, and Chris Darcel stands for the Lincolnshire Independents.
In the Scotter ward by-election John Cox, from Sturton-by-Stow, defends for the Conservatives. His opposition will come from independent candidate Chris Day, from Scotter; the Lib Dems' Barry Coward, from Gainsborough; and UKIP's Howard Thompson, from Claxby near Market Rasen and another veteran of that district council by-election in February.
Parliamentary constituency: Gainsborough
West Lindsey district council wards: Scotter, Thonock
ONS Travel to Work Area: Scunthorpe
Postcode districts: DN17, DN21
Richard Butroid (C)
Chris Darcel (Lincs Ind)
Lesley Rollings (LD)
Nick Smith (UKIP)
May 2013 result C 717 UKIP 428 LD 392 Lab 172
June 2009 result C 1447 LD 791 Lab 204
May 2005 result C 1844 LD 1674
Parliamentary constituency: Gainsborough
Lincolnshire county council division: Scotter Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Scunthorpe
Postcode districts: DN17, DN21
Barry Coward (LD)
John Cox (C)
Chris Day (Ind)
Howard Thompson (UKIP)
May 2011 result C 1164/924 Ind 623 LD 332
May 2008 result C 945 LD 705
May 2007 result C 782 LD 781
June 2004 result C 850 LD 719
May 2003 result C 920 LD 319
And that's a wrap for the electoral year in Great Britain. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the readers of column (yes, both of you) for sticking with me through another year; I hope that you learned many interesting and illuminating facts, and that any errors which crept in were at least amusing. This column will return in 2014 in time for the New Year's first by-election in Swinton, Greater Manchester, on Tuesday 7th January; until then, I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and a New Year that's better than the year just gone.