Wednesday, 12 February 2014

By-Election Preview: Wythenshawe and Sale East

WYTHENSHAWE AND SALE EAST
House of Commons; caused by the death of Labour MP Paul Goggins at the age of 60, after collapsing while running.  Entering the Commons at the 1997 general election after a career in child care and childrens' charities, and seven years as a Salford city councillor, Goggins served as a junior Home Office minister from 2003 to 2006 with responsibility for prisons and probation, later serving as a junior Northern Ireland Office minister.  He claimed that his family inspired the Mrs Goggins character in the Postman Pat series.


2012 Results
Map by Andrew Teale.
Created for the 1997 general election as a result of the number of seats in Manchester and Trafford being reduced from eight to seven, this constituency straddles the Manchester/Trafford borough boundary.  On the Trafford side is three-fifths of Sale, an old town dominated by straight lines: from west to east, the old Roman Road between Chester and York (now the A56 Chester Road and the western boundary of this constituency), the Bridgewater Canal and, next to the canal, the Altrincham branch of Manchester's Metrolink tram network.


The Metrolink opened in 1992, taking over a railway line which had existed since 1849 and had turned Sale into a middle-class commuter area.  Sale's middle-classness can be inferred from its sports: the building of the motorway along the Mersey valley between Sale and Stretford led to a large gravel pit being excavated, which was flooded and turned into Sale Water Park, a watersports centre; the Sale Harriers athletics club is long-established and produced the sprinter Darren Campbell, who won a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics as part of the GB sprint relay team; and (here's the ultimate indication of poshness in the North West) Sale supports a professional rugby union team, Sale Sharks, although due to the lack of a good venue in the town they now play on the other side of the Ship Canal in the new Salford City Stadium at Barton-upon-Irwell.  Probably Sale's most famous resident is the physicist James Joule, after whom the SI unit of energy is named; Joule is buried in Brooklands Cemetery.

Nonetheless, Sale (population around 55,000) is outvoted by the eleven square miles of council housing that is Wythenshawe (population around 86,000); built by the City of Manchester from the 1920s as an overspill estate, Wythenshawe is one of the stronger candidates for the perennially contested title of "Europe's largest council estate".  Effectively, it's a municipal New Town.  Intended as a garden city-type development to attract skilled workers, Wythenshawe turned out to be the exact opposite; it says something that much of the Channel 4 series Shameless was filmed here.  Despite employment from the large Sharston Industrial Estate and Wythenshawe Hospital, a large teaching hospital associated with Manchester University, one of Wythenshawe's wards (Benchill ward, since abolished in boundary changes) came right at the bottom of the 2000 indices of multiple deprivation, and the other wards aren't much better.

One thing you might notice from the map of the constituency's wards is that Woodhouse Park ward is much larger than the rest.  The ward's population is actually concentrated in the northern corner; the rest of the area (forming the city of Manchester's only parish, Ringway) is almost completely filled by the buildings, apron and one of the runways of Manchester Airport, Britain's third busiest airport and busiest outside London.  Underpinning the constituency's economy, the wildly profitable airport is majority-owned by a consortium of the ten Greater Manchester boroughs, with Manchester City Council holding the largest stake of 35.5%, and the dividends paid by the airport have perhaps helped to, very slightly, reduce the effect of the cuts on Greater Manchester's local government.

The airport is the best-connected location in a constituency criss-crossed by motorways; the constituency's only railway station is here, and the Metrolink people are finishing off their current expansion project by building a new branch past Sale Water Park and through Wythenshawe to the airport; not due to open until 2016, the result at present is a linear building site which runs the entire length of the constituency.  If High Speed 2 goes ahead as planned it will include a Manchester Airport station.

Before the Second World War the whole of this area (which was all originally in Cheshire) was part of the Altrincham constituency which was as safe Tory as you might expect.  The growth of Wythenshawe meant that by 1935 Altrincham was twice the size of every other seat in Cheshire; in the general election of that year the Tory candidate, journalist, First World War hero and former Governor of Kenya Lt-Col Sir Edward Grigg, polled over 50,000 votes to 21-and-a-half thousand for Labour.  Unsurprisingly this was one of the seats which was split up in the interim 1945 boundary review, Sale becoming part of the new Altrincham and Sale constituency (which has basically persisted ever since, although with less and less of Sale as time has gone on) and Wythenshawe going into the short-lived Bucklow constituency along with such middle-class towns as Cheadle, Hale and Lymm and a significant rural area (the Bucklow Rural District).  In the '45 election Bucklow was comfortably Conservative, returning new MP Lt William Shepherd, director of Manchester Chamber of Commerce and recently returned from the campaign in France, Belgium and the Netherlands; he defeated the Labour candidate by 30165 votes to 22497.

Wythenshawe finally got a seat of its own (as Manchester Wythenshawe) for the 1950 general election.  Shepherd moved to the new seat of Cheadle, leaving Manchester city councillor and catering firm manager Eveline Hill to defend Wythenshawe for the Tories; and defend it she did, surviving adverse boundary changes in 1955 to hold her increasingly marginal seat until 1964.  This wasn't because Wythenshawe was a particularly Tory area (far from it) but because the seat as then drawn included the rich suburb of Didsbury on the other side of the Mersey.

The Labour candidate who defeated Hill was Alf Morris, brother of another Labour MP for Manchester and uncle of Estelle Morris, an Education secretary under Tony Blair.  Having seen his father die a long and lingering death as a result of First World War injuries (losing a leg and a eye, and being gassed), Morris became a tireless campaigner for disability rights: in 1970 he successfully negotiated through Parliament the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, the world's first legislation giving rights to the disabled, and in 1974 Morris was appointed by Wilson as the world's first ever Minister for the Disabled.  After his first election, Morris was never seriously threatened at the ballot box and bequeathed a large majority to Goggins upon his retirement in 1997.  Goggins, similarly, was never seriously threatened; at his final re-election in 2010 he had a majority of 7,575 over the Conservatives.

Wythenshawe Precinct
  © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Local election results in the constituency basically confirm the pattern you might expect.  It's now almost four years since anyone other than Labour won a ward in the City of Manchester, but near the bottom of Labour's local government fortunes the Lib Dems did manage to win Northenden ward (one of the relatively nicer parts of Wythenshawe) at the 2008 and 2010 elections.  The Lib Dems were still trying to gain Northenden's third seat at the 2011 election when they lost every single seat and Manchester got redwashed, but on the other hand nobody saw the redwash coming, not even Manchester Labour.  There is still a Lib Dem councillor in Northenden (until May's council election, anyway) and she is their candidate for this by-election.  The Tories (who have not won a council seat within the Manchester city limits for more than two decades) made a few serious efforts at Manchester's Brooklands ward in the mid-Noughties, but eventually gave up.  In 2011 and 2012 every Wythenshawe ward was safe for Labour.

Sale is, obviously, where most of the Tory vote in this seat comes from, although they are now down to one ward within the constituency, Trafford's Brooklands (confusingly, this seat includes two different Brooklands wards).  Priory ward (around Dane Road tram stop) is Labour's best ward in Sale, while Sale Moor is a marginal ward with Labour in the ascendancy at the moment.

Confirmation, if confirmation were needed, of Labour's ascendancy in Wythenshawe and Sale East is provided by an opinion poll of the constituency commissioned by major Tory donor Lord Ashcroft, which found figures of Lab 61 UKIP 15 C 14 LD 5.  While constituency polling in the UK has a notoriously poor record, it will take quite a lot for Labour to lose this one.

The Labour candidate for the by-election is Mike Kane, a former city councillor (losing Northenden to the Lib Dems in 2008) who is currently running a campaign against payday lenders for Movement for Change, a grassroots activist organisation founded by David Miliband.  The Tory candidate is 26-year-old Revd Daniel Critchlow, vicar of St Hilda's, Firswood, Old Trafford.  The Lib Dems have nominated their last remaining councillor in the constituency, Mary di Mauro of Northenden ward.  Salford-based Eddy O'Sullivan, a Sale Grammar School old boy, is the BNP candidate.  UKIP have selected Cheshire-based businessman John Bickley, who was brought up in Wythenshawe and runs a software company.  Also standing are the Green Party's Trafford organiser Nigel Woodcock and the Monster Raving Loony Party's Mark Chapman, who will appear on the ballot paper as his alter ego "Captain Chaplington-Smythe".

Constituent wards: Baguley, Brooklands, Northenden, Sharston, Woodhouse Park (Manchester); Brooklands, Priory, Sale Moor (Trafford)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: M22, M23, M32, M33, M90, WA15

John Bickley (UKIP)
Captain Chaplington-Smythe (Loony)
Daniel Critchlow (C)
Mary di Mauro (LD)
Mike Kane (Lab)
Eddy O'Sullivan (BNP)
Nigel Woodcock (Grn)

May 2010 result Lab 17987 C 10412 LD 9107 BNP 1572 UKIP 1405 TUSC 268
May 2005 result Lab 18878 C 8051 LD 7766 UKIP 1120 Soc Alternative 369
June 2001 result Lab 21032 C 8424 LD 4320 Grn 869 Soc Lab 410
May 1997 result Lab 26448 C 11429 LD 5639 Referendum Party 1060 Soc Lab 957

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