Tuesday, 18 February 2014

By-Election Preview: 20 February 2014

Charnwood District Council, Leicestershire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Stuart Jones at the age of 67.  A Leicester bus driver for some years, Jones had served on several council committees since first being elected in 2007, and was also a Birstall parish councillor.

"Mountsorrel he mounted at,
Rodely he rode by,
Onelep he leaped o'er,
At Birstall he burst his gall,
At Belgrave he was buried at."
Leicestershire folk rhyme

Most of the electorate of this ward lives in the western half of Birstall, which until the start of the twentieth century was a tiny village on the edge of Leicester.  In 1899 the Great Central Railway came to Birstall and it became a commuter village; during the twentieth century the population increased eighteenfold to over 11,000.  The railway doesn't go to Leicester any longer, but has been turned into one of the UK's most ambitious preserved railways, with steam trains connecting the village with Loughborough at the weekends.

To the north of Birstall, on the other side of the A6, is the tiny village of Wanlip (163 electors, compared with 4818 in the three west Birstall polling districts); once the home of slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce, Wanlip is probably best known as the location of Leicestershire's sewage works.  Wilberforce's former home at Wanlip Hall supports a baronetcy, currently held by the Palmer family; the hall is now owned by an offshoot of that family, Charles Palmer-Tomkinson.  A Winter Olympian in 1964, competing for Britain in skiing (and son and brother of other Olympic skiers), friend of the Prince of Wales and father of socialite and TV personality Tara, Palmer-Tomkinson is the ultimate landowner for most of this ward.

Charnwood is having a ridiculous number of by-elections at the moment; this is the seventh poll in the district since the last full council election in 2011, and the fourth in the last six months.  Historically Birstall is Charnwood's Lib Dem hotspot, the party splitting the two seats in this ward with the Conservatives in both 2003 and 2007, but the party was wiped out here in 2011, their defending councillor falling to third place behind the Tories and Labour (who didn't stand here in 2007).  The Birstall county division (which also includes the stronger Lib Dem ward of Birstall Watermead) was also a Tory gain from Lib Dem in last year's county council elections.

Defending for the Conservatives is Birstall parish councillor Mary Allen.  Labour have reselected Marilyn Cowles, who beat the alphabet to finish as runner-up in the 2011 district election.  Simon Sansome, the Lib Dems' county candidate here last year, stands for the district ward this time.  There are no minor party candidates, so that is your ballot paper.

Mary Allen (C)
Marilyn Cowles (Lab)
Simon Sansome (LD)

Parliamentary constituency: Charnwood
Leicestershire county council division: Birstall
ONS Travel to Work Area: Leicester
Postcode districts: LE4, LE7

May 2011 result C 1102/830 Lab 642/461 LD 564
May 2007 result LD 875/774 C 822/779 BNP 250
May 2003 result LD 716/562 C 708/653 Lab 189/161

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