Friday, 28 March 2014

Defection Watch: Lewes, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Harborough

A few defections have occured in the past few days.

Cllr James Page
Firstly, Cllr James Page (Lewes DC, East Saltdean and Telscombe Cliffs) has defected from Conservative to the Liberal Democrats.  Page was the leader of the council since May 2012, but ousted last month.

The three-member ward is safely Conservative, although Page's high profile presumably gives him something of a personal vote should he choose to stand for election again when his seat is up in 2015.  His defection means that the Conservative and Lib Dem groups on the council are now tied for the position of largest party with 19 seats each, with UKIP and an Independent holding the balance of power.

New council composition -
Conservative - 19 (-1)
Lib Dems - 19 (+1)
UKIP - 2
Independent - 1

Meanwhile, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, not one but two Lib Dem councillors from the same ward have defected to Labour.  Cllr Billy Welsh and Cllr Simon White (both Madeley ward) attacked the Lib Dems for failing to deal with what they called the ongoing cost of living crisis, and said they were joining Labour who offered a solution to it.

Madeley is a historically Lib Dem ward, although Labour gained the seat up for grabs here in 2011 only to then lose it back to the previous Lib Dem Cllr in a 2012 by-election.  There hasn't been a normal election here since 2011 though, so Labour still look to be in a strong position to hold their two new seats here.

New council composition -
Labour - 36 (+2)
Conservative - 15
Lib Dems - 8 (-2)
Independent - 1

Cllr Colin Golding
Finally, in Harborough, Cllr Colin Golding (Broughton Astley, Broughton ward) has quit the Conservative group, criticising its leadership.  He said that the leadership of the council failed to meet his "personal standards" and as such he could no longer support the local Conservative organisation.

Harborough is a safely Conservative council, and in the Broughton Astley, Broughton ward, Golding defeated Labour in a straight fight in 2011 with 624 votes to 251.

New council composition -
Conservative - 25 (-1)
Lib Dems - 9
Independents - 3 (+1)

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

By-Election Previews: 27 March 2014

Oxfordshire County Council; caused by the resignation of Conservative county councillor Caroline Newton.

High Street, Watlington
  © Copyright David Kemp and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
This large county division comes down from the Chiltern escarpment onto the flat plains of Oxfordshire.  Viewers of the TV programme "The Vicar of Dibley" will be familiar with the Stokenchurch cutting, in which the M40 motorway breaks out of the Chilterns on the way to Oxford and Birmingham; the motorway runs along the division's north-eastern boundary.  Despite the order of the names, the main town in the division is Watlington, a twee place at the bottom of the escarpment whose narrow streets have never entirely reconciled themselves to the realities of modern traffic.

Watlington is, of course, a very safe Tory area and outvotes Chalgrove, which at district council level is Lib Dem.  In 2013 (the only election so far on the current division boundaries) the Tories were a long way ahead of a fairly evenly divided opposition here.

Defending for the Tories is Stephen Harrod, chairman of Great Milton parish council and district councillor for Great Milton ward, part of which lies in this division.  The Lib Dem candidate is Susan Cooper, who fought Benson ward at the last district council election; the Labour candidate is Chalgrove parish councillor and wheelchair user Paul Collins.  Also standing are Colin Tudge (from Oxford) for the Green Party and Gavin Laird Craig (from Thame) for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Henley
South Oxfordshire district wards: Benson (part), Chalgrove, Great Milton (part), Watlington
ONS Travel to Work Areas: Oxford (part), Reading and Bracknell (part)
Postcode districts: HP14, OX9, OX10, OX33, OX44, OX49, RG9

Paul Collins (Lab)
Susan Cooper (LD)
Stephen Harrod (C)
Gavin Laird Craig (UKIP)
Colin Tudge (Grn)

May 2013 result C 1508 LD 465 Lab 330 Grn 310

Gedling Borough Council, Nottinghamshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Gordon Tunnicliffe due to ill-health.

Main Road Gedling
  © Copyright Tom Courtney and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Gedling is one of the contenders for the smallest places to have a district and parliamentary constituency named after them (see also Sefton).  The Gedling district is based on the north-eastern Nottingham suburbs of Arnold and Carlton, with Gedling itself being a former pit village which is now indistinguishable on the ground from Carlton and the Nottingham built-up area.

A safe Lib Dem ward throughout the Noughties, Gedling became interesting at the most recent election in 2011 when Labour, capitalising on a strong swing in the greater Nottingham area, came from a poor third at the previous election to take two of the ward's three seats, Gordon Tunnicliffe beating the alphabet to be the only Lib Dem survivor.  The Conservatives also increased their vote and were not far off winning a seat themselves, making this ward an interesting three-way marginal.  The ward is a small part of the very large two-seat county division of Carlton East, which Labour made safe in last year's county elections after the 2009 election split the two seats between Labour and the Tories, but a Lib Dem gain from Labour in a September 2011 by-election in the neighbouring Phoenix ward shows that the yellow machine in the area is still in working order.  This will be a fascinating contest.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Maggie Dunkin, one of the councillors for this ward who lost her seat in
2011.  Lynda Pearson, a UNISON organiser, hopes to complete the set of Labour councillors in this ward.  The Tories have selected James Faulconbridge, their candidate in the 2011 Phoenix by-election and chairman of the local Conservative association.  Completing the ballot paper is hospitality consultant Claude-Francois Loi, who is the UKIP candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Gedling
Nottingham county council division: Carlton East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Nottingham
Postcode districts: NG3, NG4

Maggie Dunkin (LD)
James Faulconbridge (C)
Claude-Francois Loi (UKIP)
Lynda Pearson (Lab)

May 2011 result Lab 856/855/759 LD 788/724/711 C 706/677/677 Grn 143/127/121
May 2007 result LD 1115/1041/985 C 634/622/619 Lab 409/393/348 Grn 165 UKIP 102
May 2003 result LD 1067/1060/970 C 508/489/461 Lab 317/303/269

Sunderland City Council, Tyne and Wear; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Lisa Smiles following a conviction for benefit fraud.

A Long Road
  © Copyright Brian Abbott and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
On the south bank of the River Wear and to the west of the A19 road, the St Anne's ward covers the Pennywell and South Hylton districts of the city.  Pennywell is Sunderland's largest council estate, street after street of 1940s and 1950s semis, while South Hylton is a rather isolated former industrial village (there is only one road in and out) which today is the southern terminus of the Tyne and Wear Metro system, which links the village with Sunderland city centre and the Newcastle conurbation beyond.

The ward votes pretty much like you'd expect a ward in the north of England consisting predominantly of council housing to vote - very safe Labour.  The Tories usually run second (except in 2010 when they were beaten to the runner-up spot by the Lib Dems, who now poll derisory scores here).  During the later years of the last Labour government there was a consistent BNP vote here, although the party never did better than third place; in 2007 there were two rival far-right candidates who polled 11% of the vote each.

Defending for Labour is Jacqui Gallagher, a UNISON rep who for many years worked for the city council in children's services.  The Tory candidate is Gulf War veteran Tony Morrissey, a former leader of the council's Tory group who lost his seat in Barnes ward two years ago.  The Green Party candidate is musician and University of Sunderland student Emily Blyth who, as a South Hylton resident, is the only candidate to live in the ward, and the ballot paper is completed by UKIP's Aileen Casey, a youth worker.  Sunderland's legendarily-quick counting team should ensure that we're not waiting too long for the result on Thursday night.

Parliamentary constituency: Washington and Sunderland West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Sunderland
Postcode district: SR4

Emily Blyth (Grn)
Aileen Casey (UKIP)
Jacqui Gallagher (Lab)
Tony Morrissey (C)

May 2012 result Lab 1743 C 339 Grn 268 LD 69
May 2011 result Lab 1908 C 436 Grn 238 LD 90
May 2010 result Lab 2263 LD 781 C 656 Grn 151
May 2008 result Lab 1089 C 528 BNP 415 LD 371
May 2007 result Lab 1172 C 399 BNP 260 N9S 257 LD 238
May 2006 result Lab 977 C 440 LD 368 BNP 362
June 2004 result Lab 1300/1252/1189 C 593/508 BNP 490
Fylde Borough Council, Lancashire; caused by the death of the Deputy Mayor of Fylde, Kath Harper, who was a councillor representing the Fylde Ratepayers Association.

Preston Road, Lytham
  © Copyright Stephen McKay and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
This ward covers the south-eastern end of the Blackpool built-up area, the point on the north bank of the Ribble estuary where Lytham ends and fields and saltmarsh begin on the road to Preston.  The town of Lytham is essentially a retirement area underpinned by tourism, either to the Blackpool conurbation itself or associated with the Open Championship golf course in St. Annes.  Out of season, the main driver for the local economy is the aerospace factory at nearby Warton Aerodrome which assembles Eurofighter Typhoons; many of the workers at the factory live in Lytham.

The St Johns ward is essentially a fight at local level betwen Tories and the local Ratepayers Association, although the Ratepayers don't have the organisation to put up more than one candidate at a time (and in 2011 their candidate appeared on the ballot paper as an Independent for some reason).  The wider Lytham county division is safely Conservative, UKIP running second last year.

The defending Ratepayers candidate is Mark Bamforth, a local postmaster.  Retiree Brenda Blackshaw will hope to take back for the Conservatives the seat they lost to the Ratepayers in 2007.  Also standing are the Lib Dems' Carol Gilligan, who fought the local county seat last year, the Green Party's anti-fracking campaigner Bob Dennett and UKIP's Timothy Wood.

Parliamentary constituency: Fylde
Lancashire county council division: Lytham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackpool
Postcode district: FY8

Mark Bamforth (Fylde Ratepayers Assoc)
Brenda Blackshaw (C)
Bob Dennett (Grn)
Carol Gilligan (LD)
Timothy Wood (UKIP)

May 2011 result C 771/717/672 Ind 704 LD 424
May 2007 result C 612/547/471 Fylde Ratepayers Assoc 596 Lab 289
May 2003 result C 709/485/474 Fylde Ratepayers Assoc 388 Lab 337

Dartford Borough Council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor and former parliamentary candidate John Adams.

  © Copyright Ian Capper and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Draw up a list of things that men living in southern Essex hate, and it's a fair bet that fairly high up the list would be the Bluewater shopping centre (where the wife and/or girlfriend spends your hard-earned money) and the tolls on the Dartford Crossing (which you have to pay to get to the place where the wife and/or girlfriend spends your hard-earned money).  If you recognise yourself from this description, you might not want to read any further, for Stone ward includes them both.  Named after a village on the road from Dartford to Gravesend, most of the acreage of this ward is industrial, whether it's the Dartford Tunnel, the Queen Elizabeth II bridge and their southern approaches; the various factories that dominate the riverside; the shopping centre itself (located in a former chalk quarry and the UK's fourth-largest shopping centre); or the Thames Europort on the bank of the estuary, which handles sea-going freight traffic.  London commuters here are served by Stone Crossing railway station, with regular services to and from Charing Cross.

This ward has been trending at district level to the Tories: safe Labour in 2003 with the party polling 65% of the vote, Labour held onto the three seats only marginally in 2007 and the Tories managed to nick one of the Labour seats at the most recent election in 2011.  In the 2013 county elections Labour narrowly failed to regain the local county seat (Dartford East) which they had lost to the Tories in 2009.  The most recent by-election in Dartford, in the neighbouring Swanscombe ward last December, was a Labour gain, but that was with less than 30% of the vote and by a majority of just one vote over the local Residents Association, so there's little which can be read into that.

I'm not sure if demographic change has been at work here (the number of votes cast in the ward has been steadily rising), but going from 65% with your party in government to losing seats in the ward eight years later while in opposition does not look like a good performance.  Taken in that context, this by-election is much more competitive than it probably should be at this point of the electoral cycle.  The defending Labour candidate is Catherine Stafford, who at the last election in 2011 fought her home ward, the hopeless-for-Labour Longfield, New Barn and Southfleet.  The Conservatives have selected Stephanie Thredgle, vice-chairman of Stone parish council, and completing the ballot paper is UKIP's Jim Moore.

Parliamentary constituency: Dartford
Kent county council division: Dartford East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: DA2, DA9

Jim Moore (UKIP)
Catherine Stafford (Lab)
Stephanie Thredgle (C)

May 2011 result C 713/588/544 Lab 642/609/560 EDP 192
May 2007 result Lab 570/566/555 C 482/454/418 EDP 177
May 2003 result Lab 601/540/517 C 223/197/191 UKIP 100

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

By-Election Preview: 25 March 2014

City of London Corporation: caused by the death of Common Councilman Robin Eve.

Saint Vedast Foster Lane
  © Copyright Ian Rob and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Last week I described the arcane electoral structure of the Corporation of London, with its "residential" and "business" wards.  Portsoken, in which the Labour candidate in last week's by-election became the first ever official party candidate to win election to the Corporation, is a residential ward, while Cheap is one of the business wards with virtually no resident population.  The ward runs along the northern side of Cheapside from Old Jewry to King Edward Street.

The 2013 election in this ward was fought between the three City establishment candidates and three candidates associated with the Young Briton's Foundation, a right-wing think tank with links to the Conservative party and the American neo-con movement.  The Establishment candidates won easily.

Fighting this by-election are five non-party candidates: Nick Bensted-Smith, a partner at the financial firm Sarasin and Partners; Colin Gregory, who is on the council of the Hampstead Garden Suburb residents' association; Peter Hardwick, who gives an address in Clacton-on-Sea; Robert Pitcher, a lawyer with Eversheds specialising in finance and energy; and John Spanner TD, who was a Common Councilman for Farringdon Without ward from 1984 until losing his seat in the 2013 election, apparently after falling out with the meat traders at Smithfield Market.  I would assume from this summary that Spanner is the Establishment candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
GLA constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: EC1A, EC2R, EC2V

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Labour Gain First Ever City of London Councillor

Labour have gained their first ever councillor in the City of London.

Revd William Campbell-Taylor won the Portsoken by-election held yesterday, with 36.8% of the vote, becoming the only member of the City of London Corporation's Common Council to be officially elected on a party platform.  Some of the "independent" councillors are known to be activists from a number of parties, but most generally avoid standing under a party label as it has never brought success to any candidates before now.

The Common Council is made up of 100 members elected by 25 wards, and is something of an electoral anachronism with votes still given to businesses as well as residents, although Portsoken is one of the City's four predominantly residential wards.  A further by-election in the City of London will take place next Tuesday is the predominantly business Cheap ward, though Labour don't have a candidate in that contest.

In tonight's other results, the Conservatives have held Gamston and gained Cellarhead from the Staffordshire Independents.  We are still waiting for results from Wroxham and Bideford East.

By-Election Previews: 20 March 2014

City of London Corporation; caused by the resignation of Common Councilman Shadique Gani.

St Botolph without Aldgate,
Aldgate High Street

  © Copyright Robin Sones and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
It's Budget week, and that means a whole raft of traditions which only exist in this country at this time of year: a packed, rowdy House of Commons listening to the recitation of dry economic figures; the Government and Opposition spin machines going into overdrive; rises in taxes on cigarettes, alcohol and petrol; silly betting markets on what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to say, do or wear and how long he's going to do it for; and wondering what the effect of all this is going to be on the country's financial markets, which are overwhelmingly located in the ancient City of London.  You might think that a local by-election in Budget week to the City of London Corporation might be a good barometer of the effect of the Budget on Britain's financial businesses.

You'd be wrong. The City of London Corporation is a strange body with the non-party politics and population of a largish parish council but more responsibilities than the London Boroughs which surround it (for example, it runs its own police force).  Its structure is essentially unmodified since mediaeval times: the Lord Mayor is still elected by members of the City's ancient trade-based guilds, while other hangovers from a bygone age include the presence of aldermen (several decades after their abolition in the rest of the country) and an electoral register based not just on residence but on employment within the ward.  The City's electoral process is based on a public meeting called the wardmote, which is held the day before the poll and reconvened for the purpose of announcing the result.  The hours of the poll for this by-election are still 8am to 8pm.  Even the City's 25 wards are descended from their mediaeval predecessors with only very slight modifications, and the electoral process is in the hands of the Beadle for each ward; this by-election has been delayed because the returning officer suffered an injury while on a winter holiday and couldn't get into the office to do the paperwork.

The City's extensive business vote and small resident population (go here at a weekend and you could be forgiven for thinking that the apocalypse had arrived, so empty are the streets) means that twenty-one of the twenty-five wards are effectively in the hands of the business voters.  Running along the eastern boundary of the City, Portsoken is one of the exceptions, one of the four so-called "residential" wards, although there are some business voters here as well; it consists of two blocks either side of Aldgate underground station along the western side of Mandell Street and Middlesex Street (home of the "Petticoat Lane" market), together with a small salient further into the City which consists of two buildings: the wonderfully-named church of St Botolphs Without Aldgate and the Sir John Cass's Foundation primary school, which was added to the ward in 2003 and is the only part of the ward within the original London Wall.

Some of this ward was in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets until boundary changes twenty years ago, and the resident population shares many of the features of the neighbouring Whitechapel and Spitalfields/Banglatown wards; this is a deprived area.  For that reason Labour have been taking the ward seriously in recent years and came within 65 votes of winning a seat in the 2009 election (although, given the tiny number of voters, that isn't as impressive a performance as it might sound).  Labour fell back at the most recent election in March 2013 as three of the ward's four Common Councilmen were re-elected, the fourth seat going to Shadique Gani whose resignation has caused this by-election.

Taking the seven candidates in ballot paper order, at the top is Muhammad al-Hussaini, senior imam at the Hampstead Mosque.  Marie Brockington is a local resident connected with the Ward Club, and effectively the Establishment candidate.  The Labour candidate is Revd William Campbell-Taylor from Clapton, a former Common Councilman for the ward (although then he was an independent, as usual).  Roger Jones is a local resident, while Syed Mahmood gives an address in Ilford and apparently runs a translation company.  Local resident Evan Millner is a social libertarian with links to the Occupy movement, while the final candidate, AndrĂ© Walker, is a Wandsworth-based Conservative party activist, very much on the right wing of the party, who recently resigned from a job with Windsor and Maidenhead Council after being recorded trying to undermine the council's deputy leader.

Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
GLA constituency: City and East
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: E1, EC3A, EC3N

Muhammad al-Hussaini
Marie Brockington
William Campbell-Taylor (Lab)
Roger Jones
Syed Mahmood
Evan Millner
André Walker

Torridge District Council, Devon; caused by the death of Independent councillor Steve Clarke at the age of 62.  A district councillor since 2003, Clarke ran a successful heavy plant hire company, and was appointed OBE in the 2008 New Year honours list for services to maritime heritage; he was responsible for restoring the historic ship Kathleen & May, and just before his death had donated a new building to the town's sea cadets.

East-The-Water from Bideford Quay
  © Copyright Steve Daniels and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
This ward covers all of the part of the town of Bideford on the eastern side of the Torridge estuary (a district with the unromantic name of East-the-Water).  Although Bideford became rich as a port town, once being England's third-largest port, East-the-Water's economy has historically been based on mining for Bideford Black, a coal-based pigment.  The Bideford East ward extends beyond the town to include the parish of Weare Giffard up the Torridge valley, and the inland parishes of Alverdiscott and Huntshaw.

Torridge District Council has a large number of independent councillors and strange things have happened electorally here over the years - in the 2003 election both the Greens and UKIP (in one of their earliest local government successes) won a seat.  In that 2003 election a localist group called the Community Alliance did well, winning seven seats, two of which came from this ward (the other seat going to an Independent).  One of their members was Steve Clarke, who topped the poll in Bideford East.  By the 2007 election the Community Alliance had disbanded and Clarke was successfully re-elected as an Independent, the ward also returning a second independent and a Lib Dem councillor.  At the most recent district election in 2011 the Conservatives contested the ward for the first time this century and won two of the three seats, Steve Clarke holding the third seat.  The Bideford East county division (which covers a wider area including most of the town) has been won by three different parties in the last three elections: by the Lib Dems in 2005 (by 13 points over the Tories), by the Tories in 2009 (by 5 points over the Lib Dems), by UKIP last year (by just 1.2 points over the Tories).

Confused?  You will be.  Three independent candidates are standing to succeed Steve Clarke.  Taking them in ballot paper order, David Ratcliff is a former Mayor of Bideford who runs a contract cleaning company.  Sam Robinson is the former Tory county councillor for this area who lost in 2013 to UKIP: interestingly the UKIP county councillor who defeated him, French-born Gaston Dezart who has been standing in elections here for a decade, has subscribed to Robinson's nomination papers.  The third independent candidate is Alan Smith, a builder and property developer from Westward Ho!  The official Tory candidate is scaffolder Dermot McGeough.  The Lib Dems have nominated Bob Wootton, town councillor and part-time supermarket worker, who was runner-up in this ward in 2007 but crashed and burned as an unofficial Lib Dem candidate in last year's Shebbear and Langtree by-election to the district council.  Completing the ballot paper is Labour candidate James Craigie.

Parliamentary constituency: Torridge and West Devon
Devon county council division: Bideford East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bideford
Postcode districts: EX31, EX38, EX39

James Craigie (Lab)
Dermot McGeough (C)
David Ratcliff (Ind)
Sam Robinson (Ind)
Alan Smith (Ind)
Bob Wootton (LD)

May 2011 result C 609/553 Ind 445/288/184 LD 379 UKIP 365 Lab 289
May 2007 result Ind 678/512/225 LD 613/245/244 UKIP 173/171/115 Lab 152/86
May 2003 result Community Alliance 653/516/461 Ind 481 LD 293/284/161 Lab 158/144/87

Staffordshire Moorlands District Council; caused by the death of May Day, a Staffordshire Independent Group councillor, at the age of 71.  Described as an outstanding ambassador for the village of Werrington, Day was a pensioner who had previously run an electronics shop.

Cottages at Cellarhead Crossroads
  © Copyright Steven Birks and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Cellarhead is a village at a crossroads: here the A52 Stoke-Ashbourne road croses the A520 Leek-Stone road at the top of a high hill (the ward is over 800 feet above sea level).  The settlement at Cellarhead is very small, and most of this ward's population is actually the eastern half of the village of Werrington, which follows the A52 and essentially functions as a commuter village for Stoke-on-Trent; Stoke's commercial centre at Hanley is less than five miles away.  The main feature of the ward is HMP Werrington, a prison for young offenders.

At local level this area has turned into a Tory/Independent fight, with the Staffordshire Independent Group gradually gaining the upper hand; they have held the county seat since 2009 (the county councillor is May's widower Bill, a former Tory district councillor) and gained one of the two district seats in 2011, the Tories holding the other.

Defending for the Staffordshire Independent Group is Jean Hodgetts, who was Day's running-mate in the 2007 and 2011 district elections here.  Barbara Hughes, a former district councillor for the neighbouring Werrington ward who lost her seat to the Independents in 2011, is the Conservative candidate.  Jocelyn Morrison, a regular Labour candidate in the area, tries again.  Alex Povey, the son of a former UKIP county and district councillor in Leek who failed to hold the by-elections following his father's death, stands for UKIP, and the ballot paper is completed by Phil Routledge who is the ward's first Liberal Democrat candidate this century.

Parliamentary constituency: Staffordshire Moorlands
Staffordshire county council division: Caverswall
ONS Travel to Work Area: Stoke-on-Trent
Postcode district: ST9

Jean Hodgetts (Staffs Ind Gp)
Barbara Hughes (C)
Jocelyn Morrison (Lab)
Alex Povey (UKIP)
Phil Routledge (LD)

May 2011 result Staffs Ind Gp 533/393 C 432/358
May 2007 result C 410/361 Staffs Ind Gp 350/248 Lab 288/278
May 2003 result C 400/351 Lab 269/253 Ratepayers (Staffs Moorlands) 243/210

Rushcliffe District Council, Nottinghamshire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Mike Hemsley at the age of 74.  A borough councillor since 2003, Hemsley was retired after a career in management consultancy, and played drums for a pop group who were once offered a professional contract.

Houses on Main Street, Gamston
  © Copyright Oxymoron and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
The Gamston ward is essentially the eastern edge of West Bridgford, the town that lies on the other side of the Trent Bridge from Nottingham.  West Bridgford's growth is such that Gamston, although it is still a separate parish, has been absorbed into the urban area; the ward also contains part of the Edwalton area to the south, and the parish of Holme Pierrepont to the east; the Holme Pierrepont parish contains a large area of flood plan on the right bank of the River Trent which is used as the National Watersports Centre, with international-standard facilities for rowing, canoeing, white-water rafting and water-skiing.

This is a safe Conservative district ward where nobody has got close to the Tories in this millennium.  Although most of the ward is within the county division of West Bridgford Central and South, which was gained by Labour in last year's county elections, this is not the Labour-voting part of the division.

Defending for the Tories is Jonathan Wheeler, a manager at a cinema chain.  He is opposed by Labour's Alan Hardwick, the Lib Dems' Davinder Virdi and UKIP's Matthew Faithfull.

Parliamentary constituency: Rushcliffe
Nottinghamshire county council division: West Bridgford Central and South (Gamston parish, unparished area); Ratcliffe on Trent (Holme Pierrepoint parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Nottingham
Postcode districts: NG2, NG12

Matthew Faithfull (UKIP)
Alan Hardwick (Lab)
Davinder Virdi (LD)
Jonathan Wheeler (C)

May 2011 result C 1015/837 Lab 466/460 Grn 204 LD 187
May 2007 result C 1068/863 Lab 391 Grn 335
May 2003 result C 1051/920 Lab 552/514

Broadland District Council, Norfolk; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Ben McGilvray, who is moving away from the district.

Riverside houses at Wroxham
  © Copyright Steve Daniels and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
For the week's final by-election we travel to the Norfolk Broads and the village of Wroxham, on the southern bank of the River Bure.  The village has effectively merged with Hoveton on other side of the river (which here is the boundary between the Broadland and North Norfolk districts), and is sometimes called the capital of the Broads; its location on the Norwich-Cromer railway line meant Wroxham was one of the first places in the Broads where tourism became important, and Arthur Ransome's book Coot Club gives a flavour of what the area was like in the 1930s.  The modern Wroxham ward also includes the parishes of Salhouse and Rackheath to the south, and the detached village of Belaugh on the opposite bank of the Bure, with no bridge connecting Belaugh to the rest of the ward.

Wroxham's local politics has never been the same since a council by-election in October 2009 in which the dominating issue was a plan to turn Rackheath into an eco-town with thousands of homes.  At the time the ward's representation had been split between one Conservative and one Independent district councillor, but the death of the independent prompted the by-election, in which the Lib Dems made a sensational gain having polled just 8% of the vote at the previous election in 2007; their winning candidate was Ben McGilvray, who at the time was a 19-year-old history student at the University of York.  The Lib Dems proved it wasn't a fluke at the 2011 election by gaining the ward's other seat from the Conservatives.  The wider Wroxham county division remains fairly safe Conservative, with the oppsition evenly split four ways at last year's county elections.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Alex Cassam, a Spixworth resident, whose opposition is most likely to come from the Tory candidate Fran Whymark, who lives in Rackham and is chair of the local community trust.  Also standing are regular Labour candidate Malcolm Kemp, and UKIP's David Moreland.

Parliamentary constituency: Broadland
Norfolk county council division: Wroxham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Norwich
Postcode districts: NR12, NR13

Alex Cassam (LD)
Malcolm Kemp (Lab)
David Moreland (UKIP)
Fran Whymark (C)

May 2011 result LD 985/829 C 741/537 Lab 227 Grn 197
May 2007 result C 996 Ind 933/755 LD 194/144 Grn 188 Lab 92/81
June 2004 result Ind 798/526 C 585/546 LD 225/174 Grn 197 Lab 183

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Defection Watch: And More...

In addition to the two defections picked up today in Barking and Dagenham, a further two have also been reported - it's almost as if there's an election coming up!

Cllr Jayne Wilkinson
In Sandwell, the Green Party have picked up their first ever councillor with an ex-Labour member signing up.  Tividale Cllr Jayne Wilkinson left the Labour Party in February 2013, saying that she felt bullied into not speaking out on issues that mattered to her.  She had been sitting since then as an "Independent Ratepayer" councillor, and reportedly previously expressed that she had no interest in standing again for election, though her new found Green-ness just prior to her seat coming up for election suggests that she may now be intending to stand again.

Sandwell is another council where opposition to Labour has now all but evaporated, with them winning every single seat in the last round of elections.  Tividale ward itself was a straight Labour-Conservative fight with Labour winning overwhelmingly with 80.8% of the vote.  It has not always been safely Labour though, and Tividale elected BNP councillors in the past - Cllr Wilkinson having gained her seat off of the last such BNP member.

The Greens have a limited presence in Sandwell, although their seat on Dudley council isn't geographically too far from Tividale, but local activists will presumably be focused on trying to gain a second seat there.  Overall, Wilkinson's chances to hold her seat look slim, assuming she does stand again at all.

New council composition -
Labour - 67
Conservative - 3
Independents - 1 (-1)
Green - 1 (+1)

Cllr Tony Woodcock
The other reported defection today comes from Poole, where Parkstone Cllr Tony Woodcock has switched from the Conservatives to UKIP.  He accused the Conservative Party of having "modernised and detoxified itself out of existence", saying that UKIP now represented the policies he believed in.  Particularly, he seemed to be opposed to a windfarm development that had been supported by the council.

Poole Borough Council (confusingly named, as it has actually been a unitary authority since 1997) has been in no overall control since the last elections, with a small localist party called Poole People holding the balance of power between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.  UKIP had a few candidates here in 2011, but most had a pretty limited impact coming last or close to last in each contest they fought.  UKIP's lone Dorset County Council seat lies right on the outskirts of the town though, suggesting there is maybe some potential for them here since their recent growth in support.

Woodcock himself has said he has no intention of standing down, and can be presumed to be planning to stand again in the next all-out elections in 2015.  Parkstone ward is fairly marginal, voting 35.6% Conservative in 2011 (however, the figures are distorted as only the Conservatives fielded a full slate of three candidates, every other party only fielded one, so non-Conservative voters would have been splitting their votes across three parties' totals).  The UKIP candidate in that election managed 10.4% (same proviso applying), coming last.

The council remains in no overall control, with the Poole People group still holding the balance of power.

New council composition -
Conservative - 20 (-1)
Liberal Democrats - 18
Poole People - 3
UKIP - 1 (+1)

Defection Watch: Labour Meltdown in Barking

Cllr Tariq Saeed
Another two councillors have left the ruling Labour group on Barking and Dagenham Council in the last two days.  Cllr Tariq Saeed (Abbey ward) has defected rightwards to UKIP, while Cllr Barry Poulton (Thames ward) has defected leftwards to the Socialist Labour Party.

Labour managed a clean sweep of all 51 seats in Barking and Dagenham in 2010, but through a series of defections since then the combined opposition has grown from zero to eight councillors - UKIP are the largest opposition group now with four members, the Socialist Labour Party are up to two, with one Conservative and one Independent both also sitting on the council.

Both Saeed and Poulton have highlighted their unhappiness with the direction of the Labour Party as a whole for their defections, although it is interesting the different directions that dissatisfied Labour councillors are splitting off into in this council area.

Cllr Barry Poulton
As a former BNP hotspot, UKIP must be betting on being able to capitalise on local opposition to immigration to be able to gain seats in May, and Barking and Dagenham probably is their best bet for a significant breakthrough on a London borough council.  The Socialist Labour Party have a less clear electoral strategy, although with two ex-Labour councillors now sitting for them here, and presumably both planning to defend their seats in May, they too may be able to organise some regional support for a decent campaign here.  Their party leader Arthur Scargill lives in central London, and will presumably put in an appearance.

However, with Labour having pulled off a clean sweep here in 2010, and with polls generally showing them in a better position now compared to then, there is every chance of another Labour clean sweep coming in May.  Saeed's Abbey ward is particularly safely Labour with 67.1% of the vote last time to the second-placed Conservatives' 13.2%.   Thames ward was a little more marginal by the monolithically Labour standards of Barking and Dagenham with a Labour vote of 49.4% to a second-placed BNP's 17.1%.  Neither ward has history of UKIP or Socialist Labour candidates though, so further speculation on electoral chances would have no basis.

New council composition - 
Labour - 43 (-2)
UKIP - 4 (+1)
Socialist Labour - 2 (+1)
Conservative - 1
Independent - 1

Friday, 14 March 2014

Defection Watch: Ex-Lib Dem Labour Cllr Goes Conservative

Cllr Zahid Shah
Cllr Zahid Shah (Wolverhampton, St. Peter's) has defected from Labour to the Conservatives.  He accused the Labour administration of being unable to manage the council's budget effectively, saying that trying to push them to support 'better financial discipline' was like 'banging my head against a brick wall'.

Shah has however defected before.  He was twice the Liberal Democrat candidate for St. Peter's ward, polling a respectable 37.6% in 2008 and 33.4% in 2010, before becoming the Labour candidate for the ward in 2011 when he was comfortably elected with 78.7% of the vote.  The Lib Dem and Conservative votes in the ward have collapsed since 2010, and the most recent election confirmed that the ward is now very safely Labour.

If Shah chooses to defend his seat as a Conservative in 2015, the odds will certainly be against him holding on.

New council composition -
Labour - 43 (-1)
Conservatives - 13 (+1)
Lib Dems - 3
Vacant - 1

Cllr Bob Riley
There has also been another defection reported today - Cllr Bob Riley (Corby, Rural West) has left the Lib Dems and joined Labour.  Riley accused Nick Clegg of 'letting Corby down' through his support for coalition policies that were 'making life harder for people in Corby'.  Rural West ward was a straight Lib Dem-Conservative fight in 2011, so Labour strength in the area is hard to judge.  However, Corby overall is now strongly Labour.

New council composition -
Labour - 23 (+1)
Conservatives - 4
Lib Dems - 2 (-1)

Thursday, 13 March 2014

By-Election Preview: 12/13 March 2014

Ten by-elections are scheduled for this week in what is likely to be the busiest week for local polls before the European and ordinary local elections on 22nd May.  On Wednesday the Conservatives have two seats to defend in the Hampshire town of Petersfield, while Thursday's eight local by-elections see the Tories and Labour defending four seats each: the Labour wards (in Crewe, Derbyshire, Huyton and Luton) all look safe, but the Tories are under threat from the Lib Dems in Kent and Ludlow, have to defend a three-way Tory/Labour/UKIP marginal in Surrey, and might have trouble in their one truly safe defence in Lincolnshire due to a poor choice of candidate. 
Read on...

Wednesday 12th March:

Hampshire County Council, and East Hampshire District Council; both caused by the death of Conservative councillor John West at the age of 73.  West, who was first elected to the county council in 1997, was retired after a career as a chartered engineer, and was chairman of the county council in 2005 and a member of the first county council cabinet.

These areas are both based on the western half of the town of Petersfield.  Possibly the largest town within the South Downs National Park, Petersfield was originally a coaching town on the road from London to Portsmouth.  It remains primarily a rural market town, with some commuting to London and Portsmouth and some tourism thanks to its location in the Downs.

The Bell Hill district ward, one of six covering the town, is the town's western end, running from the railway station to the A3 bypass.  It has consistently voted Conservative since the millennium, and at the most recent election in 2011 the Tories had 57% of the vote against evenly divided Lib Dem and Labour opposition.  The wider Petersfield Butser county division includes three other Petersfield wards in the centre and south of the town, together with two rural wards in the Downs to the south; this area includes the beauty spot of Butser Hill which gives its name to the second half of the division, together with the village of Clanfield which is essentially the northern end of the Portsmouth built-up area.  The county division was a very narrow Lib Dem win in the 2005 election, but the Tories gained it easily in 2009 and the Lib Dems fell to third behind UKIP at the most recent county election last year.

In these unusual Wednesday polls, defending the county division for the Tories is Ken Moon, a district councillor for Clanfield and Finchdean ward and briefly leader of the district council from 2012 to 2013.  The UKIP candidate is Horndean-based research analyst David Alexander, chairman of the party's East Hampshire branch.  The Lib Dem candidate is Richard Robinson, from the village of Buriton just south of Petersfield.  Regular Labour county candidate Bill Organ tries again,
and the ballot paper is completed by the Greens' Adam Harper.

In the district ward the defending Tory candidate is Peter Marshall, the current Mayor of Petersfield and retired after a career in engineering.  The Lib Dems have selected Liss-based Roger Mullenger, a former district councillor who fought this ward in 2007 and serves on several National Park committees.  The Labour candidate is Colin Brazier and the UKIP candidate is Peter Dimond.

Petersfield Butser
Parliamentary constituency: East Hampshire (all except Clanfield and Finchdean ward), Meon Valley (Clanfield and Finchdean ward)
East Hampshire district wards: Clanfield and Finchdean, East Meon,
Petersfield Bell Hill, Petersfield Causeway, Petersfield Heath,
Petersfield St Mary's
ONS Travel to Work Area: Portsmouth

David Alexander (UKIP)
Adam Harper (Grn)
Ken Moon (C)
Bill Organ (Lab)
Richard Robinson (LD)

May 2013 result C 1618 UKIP 940 LD 877 Lab 386 Grn 359
June 2009 result C 2800 LD 1946 Lab 330
May 2005 result LD 3733 C 3670 Lab 1180

Petersfield Bell Hill
Parliamentary constituency: East Hampshire
Hampshire county council division: Petersfield Butser
ONS Travel to Work Area: Portsmouth

Colin Brazier (Lab)
Peter Dimond (UKIP)
Peter Marshall (C)
Roger Mullenger (LD)

May 2011 result C 572 LD 235 Lab 193
May 2007 result C 396 LD 311 Lab 37
May 2003 result C 250 LD 210 Lab 103

Thursday 13th March:

South Kesteven District Council, Lincolnshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Debbie Wren, due to work commitments.

Historical name alert: last week we had Ethandune, this week it's the turn of Aveland.  There is no village called Aveland.  The ward of that name consists of a series of tiny parishes off the A15 Bourne-Sleaford road: from south to north, Dunsby, Rippingale, Kirkby Underwood, Downsby, Aslackby and Laughton, and Pointon and Sempringham.  Instead, the name commemorates the mediaeval Wapentake of Aveland, one of nine wapentakes in the Parts of Kesteven which were the main unit of local government here from the days of the Danelaw until their abolition in 1888; in mediaeval times the main gathering point for the Wapentake of Aveland was in a field near Aslackby.

This ward follows the pattern of many rural wards in having a lot of unopposed returns combined with high councillor turnover; none of the district councillors elected here this century have sought re-election.  The only contested election in that period is the most recent one in 2011, an easy win for the Conservatives against only Lib Dem opposition.  The local county division (Folkingham Rural) is also safely Conservative, with last year's county elections seeing the well-organised Lincolnshire Independents surging into a strong second place.

It will be interesting to see whether the strong Conservative majority can withstand the selection by the Tories of Dr Peter Moseley, a Rippingale parish councillor; the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight has reported that his name and personal details are on the leaked BNP membership list from 2008. Moseley's only opposition is Grantham-based Labour candidate John Morgan, who was the Labour
candidate for the county division last year.

Parliamentary constituency: Grantham and Stamford
Lincolnshire county council division: Folkingham Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough

John Morgan (Lab)
Peter Moseley (C)

May 2011 result C 624 LD 241
May 2007 result C unopposed
May 2003 result C unopposed

Canterbury City Council, Kent; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Bill Oakey, from cancer.  In his second of two non-consecutive terms on the council, Oakey was also a Barham parish councillor and his obituary shows him to a be a person who threw himself wholeheartedly into village life.

This is a rural ward in the North Downs, being a series of villages on the old A2 Canterbury-Dover Roman road.  The largest of these is Barham, with the ward also including the parishes of Kingston, Womenswold and Adisham, which includes the ward's railway station on the Canterbury-Dover line.

Barham Downs ward was safe Lib Dem in 2003, and Oakey was the defeated Conservative candidate here in the 2007 election after moving from the neighbouring North Nailbourne ward.  The retirement of the Lib Dem district councillor in 2011 meant the seat was open, and Oakey narrowly
gained the seat from the Lib Dems; he bequeaths to his successor a majority of just 28 votes.  The county elections last year show the Lib Dems with some momentum in the area, as they cut the Tory majority in the local county division (Canterbury South East) from 12 points to 5 points.

The ward has suffered from the very wet winter, with the local river (the Nailbourne) having burst its banks and flooded large parts of the area.  Because of the ongoing disruption, the city council is advising residents to consider using a postal vote in this by-election in case they are unable to reach the polling stations.

According to Wikipedia, one of the electors in this ward is the TV historian David Starkey, who would no doubt find some trenchant things to say about the candidates in this by-election.  Defending for the
Conservatives is Stuart Walker, an Adisham parish councillor and supermarket manager.  Michael Sole tries again for the Lib Dems after near-misses in the 2011 district and 2013 county elections; he is an
accountant from the village of Bridge, just up the road towards Canterbury, and has sat on the district council in the past for another ward.  The Greens, who had a decent share of the vote in the last
district election, have selected charity worker Pat Marsh, who is unhappy about the recent flooding.  Also standing are Dave de Boick, a former police officer and paramedic, for UKIP, and David Wilson for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Canterbury
Kent county council division: Canterbury South East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Canterbury

May 2011 result C 538 LD 510 Grn 206
May 2007 result LD 656 C 413 Lab 44
May 2003 result LD 761 C 318 Lab 34

Dave de Boick (UKIP)
Pat Marsh (Grn)
Michael Sole (LD)
Stuart Walker (C)
David Wilson (Lab)

Runnymede Borough Council, Surrey; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Peter Boast.  A councillor for less than a year and a half, Boast received the British Empire Medal in 2012 for his
community involvement; among other things, he was chairman of the local cricket club.

"Come now towards Chertsey with your holy load."
- William Shakespeare, Richard III, Act I, Scene 2

Chertsey Meads ward is the eastern of the two wards covering the town of Chertsey, an ancient town thanks to the now-disappeared Chertsey Abbey, founded in AD 666 and at its peak one of the largest Benedictine abbeys in England.  King Henry VI was originally buried at the Abbey in 1471 (his remains are now in St George's Chapel, Windsor).  The town has made a good recovery from being destroyed by Martian fighting machines in HG Wells' War of the Worlds and is now an affluent London commuter area; although its rail link to Waterloo is rather slow and indirect it makes up for this by having easy access to the M25.

Chertsey is a bit different from the rest of Surrey electorally in that it had a Labour county councillor until 2009, although the Meads ward has never elected anything other than Conservatives since 2002.  Of the nine contests since 2012, five of them have seen perennial UKIP candidate Chris Browne fill the runner-up spot; and the most recent ordinary election in the ward was also the closest, the Tory majority over UKIP falling to 343 votes.  The most recent county election last year saw the Conservative consolidate their majority in Chertsey, while UKIP took second place from Labour.

Long-suffering readers of this column may recognise almost everything up this point as lifted wholesale from an edition in September 2012, which previewed a by-election in that month caused by the death of Tory councillor Diana Cotty.  That by-election was even closer than the ordinary election the previous May, the Tory majority being cut to 138 votes over both UKIP and Labour, who tied for second place.  The winning Tory candidate in that by-election was Peter Boast, whose death has caused this by-election.

After selecting the chairman of Chertsey cricket club in the last by-election, the Chertsey Conservatives have this time called for the secretary, Mark Nuti.  After trying nine times in this ward, regular UKIP candidate Chris Browne got himself elected to the borough council via a by-election for another ward last year, so the UKIP standard passes to Grahame Leon-Smith, a former Tory borough councillor (elected for a ward in Addlestone in 1998) who has since sought election in 2006 for his own Senior Citizens Party.  The Labour candidate is local accountant David Bell.  After an appalling performance at the September 2012 by-election (34 votes) the local Lib Dems have thrown in the towel, but an even more appalling performance in that poll (10 votes) hasn't put off last-placed candidate Keith Collett, who tries again for the Monster Raving Loony Party; he will again appear on the ballot paper as
his alter-ego Crazy Crab.

Parliamentary constituency: Runnymede and Weybridge
Surrey county council division: Chertsey
ONS Travel to Work area: Guildford and Aldershot

David Bell (Lab)
Crazy Crab (Loony)
Grahame Leon-Smith (UKIP)
Mark Nuti (C)

September 2012 by-election C 450 UKIP 312 Lab 312 LD 34 Loony 10
May 2012 result C 624 UKIP 281 Lab 239 LD 96
May 2011 result C 945 Lab 330 UKIP 320 LD 146
May 2010 result C 1499 LD 566 Lab 451 UKIP 337
May 2008 result C 826 UKIP 294 Lab 247
May 2007 result C 809 UKIP 249 Lab 208 LD 134
May 2006 result C 750 UKIP 256 Lab 221 LD 178
June 2004 result C 725 UKIP 300 Lab 247 LD 225
May 2003 result C 522 LD 227 Lab 222 UKIP 138
May 2002 result C 672 Lab 345 LD 189

Cheshire East Council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Peter Nurse.  A former chairman of the Cheshire county council education committee and the Cheshire police authority, Nurse had served on Cheshire East council since 2011.

This is a suburban ward on the western side of Crewe, located around Queen's Park on the south
side of the railway line to Chester.  Crewe is, of course, an engineering town, brought into existence by the London and North Western Railway's engineering works (the town is named after the railway station, not the other way round) and also a centre for motor vehicle manufacturing: across the railway line from this ward is a large factory which was formerly the home of Rolls-Royce cars and now produces Bentleys.  It's fitting that one of the town's current famous residents has a railway connection: TV Egghead and former train driver Chris Hughes lives in Crewe.

The modern Crewe West ward has very similar boundaries to the old Valley ward which existed on Crewe and Nantwich district council until its abolition in 2009.  Valley ward's final election in 2006 saw a Lib Dem gain from Labour, but that was then and this is now, and like many towns with an industrial or northern heritage the formation of the coalition saw the Lib Dem vote here evaporate.  At the most recent district election in 2011 (the only one so far on the current boundaries) Labour won easily with the Tories in a distant second place.  Proof of Labour's hegemony came in the inaugural election to Crewe town council, held in May last year, in which Labour won every seat.

Defending for Labour here is town councillor Kevin Hickson.  His opposition will come from the Tories' Chris Waling, the Lib Dems' Robert Icke, independent Chris Curran and UKIP's Richard Lee.

Parliamentary constituency: Crewe and Nantwich
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crewe and Northwich

Chris Curran (Ind)
Kevin Hickson (Lab)
Robert Icke (LD)
Richard Lee (UKIP)
Chris Waling (C)

May 2011 result Lab 1252/1182 C 561/527 LD 402/280

Luton Council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Robin Harris.  In charge of the council's finance portfolio until his resignation, Harris had served on Luton council since it became unitary in 1995.

South-western Luton, essentially, Farley ward runs up Farley Hill from the edge of Luton town centre as far as the M1 motorway.  The ward includes the large Stockwood Park and the Stockwood Discovery Centre, a museum focusing on local history and with a large collection of horse-drawn carriages.

This is a safe Labour ward and there's nothing in previous election results to suggest that's going to change any time soon.  The three previous results this century have all had very similar Labour leads over the Conservatives.

Paul Castleman is the defending Labour candidate; he is opposed by the Tories' David Coulter, the Lib Dems' Anne Mead, UKIP's Charles Lawman (who has stood here in every election this century to no effect) and the Greens' Marc Scheimann.

Parliamentary constituency: Luton South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Luton and Watford

May 2011 result Lab 1549/1518/1496 C 508/420/409 LD 294/229/187 BNP 250 UKIP 218
May 2007 result Lab 1429/1412/1378 C 469/439/345 BNP 357 Grn 235 LD 205/170/150 UKIP 182/158
May 2003 result Lab 1133/1126/1087 C 386/351/347 LD 320/289/252 UK 86/76/73

Amber Valley Borough Council, Derbyshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Bob Janes after a long illness.  Janes had served on Heanor town council since 1991 (including a year as Mayor of Heanor), was the town's county councillor from 1997 to 2009 and had been an Amber Valley district councillor since 2012.

Overlooking the Erewash valley on the Derbyshire side, Heanor is one of Derbyshire's small industrial towns, traditionally specialising in coal-mining and textiles.  With those industries now having declined to almost nothing the main local employer is a food factory which traditionally specialises in Christmas puddings.

Despite the name, Heanor West is actually the central of the three wards covering Heanor and Loscoe parish.  In local elections this century it has been something of a far-right hotspot: the BNP started contesting what had previously been a safe Labour ward in 2004 and finished a strong second.  The Labour majority fell further in 2006 to just 15 votes, and the BNP made a strong gain at the 2008 election, polling almost 40% of the vote in one of their best scores in the country that year.  The 2010 election saw another marginal result, but this time with Labour 190 votes ahead of the Conservatives on a much higher turnout.  The BNP did try to defend their seat at the most recent ward election in 2012, but crashed to last place, confirming their busted flush status, and Heanor West is now back in the column marked "safe Labour", a status confirmed by the result for the local county division last year.

Defending for Labour is county councillor Celia Fox, who is hoping to inherit Janes' district council seat after taking over his county council seat in 2009; she is a former district councillor for this ward who lost her seat to the BNP in 2008.  Her opposition comes from the Tories' Mark Burrell, Philip Rose for UKIP and Kate Smith from the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Amber Valley
Derbyshire county council division: Heanor Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Nottingham

May 2012 result Lab 838 C 381 BNP 272
May 2010 result Lab 1160 C 970 BNP 542 LD 413
May 2008 result BNP 727 Lab 560 C 412 LD 137
May 2006 result Lab 607 BNP 592 LD 427 C 273
June 2004 result Lab 683 BNP 515 C 451 LD 320
May 2002 result Lab 601 LD 413 C 263

Mark Burrell (C)
Celia Cox (Lab)
Philip Rose (UKIP)
Kate Smith (LD)

Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council, Merseyside; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Diane Reid following a conviction for drink-driving.  The Mayor of Knowsley in 2010-11, Reid had served as a Longview ward councillor since 1991 and was chairman of a council working group focusing on road safety.

The fourth consecutive safe Labour ward in this week's selection, and the safest of the lot.  Longview is a Liverpool overspill estate dating from the 1930s off the A57 Huyton-Prescot road, and today just off the M57 motorway which cuts off the area from the Earl of Derby's Knowsley estate.

Every contest in this ward since 2002 has been a straight Labour/Lib Dem fight.  The best Lib Dem performance in this period was a 59%-41% loss in 2007; the worst was a 94%-6% loss in 2012. Labour hold every single seat on Knowsley council, a fact that is surely related.

Defending for Labour is Margi O'Mara, who has had a long career in Knowsley's health and social care sector.  The Lib Dems have thrown in the towel, but the Tories (Adam Butler) and an independent candidate (Paul Woods) have ensured a contested election.

May 2012 result Lab 1362 LD 90
May 2011 result Lab 1477 LD 154
May 2010 result Lab 2321 LD 702
May 2008 result Lab 675 LD 465
May 2007 result Lab 702 LD 495
May 2006 result Lab 716 LD 276
June 2004 result Lab 914/912/898 LD 416/374/346

Shropshire Council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Rosanna Taylor-Smith, who has moved away from the area.

We finish this week in the beautiful town of Ludlow, a mediaeval market town which was in the front line of the Marches.  The eleventh-century Ludlow Castle, which was once effectively the capital of Wales, lies in the centre of town on a hill in a bend of the River Teme.  Outside the castle is a market town whose street pattern is little changed from mediaeval days, with narrow fortified gates on many of the roads going away from the market place outside the castle.  The cliff on the opposite bank of the Teme is an internationally-recognised geological site, giving its name to the Ludlow Group of Silurian rocks.

The town's economy is based on tourism (Shropshire is, of course, beautiful), services (Ludlow is the largest town for miles in any direction) and, rather surprisingly, gastronomy.  Ludlow has attracted
what might be derided as poncy arts types with money; the most eyecatching effect of this is that there are two restaurants here with Michelin stars (there used to be a third), and the town is a full member of the "Cittaslow" or slow food movement.

Many of those people live in the Ludlow North division; very much the posher end of the town, Ludlow North includes the town centre and the road north (Corve Street; the row when Tesco built a store on Corve Street was something to behold).  To the north of the town the division includes the parish of Bromfield, the location of Ludlow's racecourse.

The two elections here to the unitary Shropshire council have both been close calls between the Tories and Lib Dems, the Conservative majority being 185 votes in 2009 and falling to 85 votes at the most recent election in 2013.

Defending for the Tories is Anthony Bevington, formerly finance officer at Shropshire Council and current vice-chairman of a local sheltered housing association.  His main challenge will come from Andy Boddington, re-selected as the Lib Dem candidate, whose twitter describes him as a planning,
environment and history writer.  Recent university graduate and food bank volunteer Danny Sweeney, from the village of Pontesbury just outside Shrewsbury, stands for Labour, while Ludlow town councillor Graeme Perks is an independent candidate.

Parliamentary constituency: Ludlow
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ludlow

May 2013 result C 505 LD 420 UKIP 126 Lab 109 Grn 69 Ind 21
June 2009 result C 685 LD 500 Ind 206 Grn 119 BNP 54

Thursday, 6 March 2014

By-Election Previews: 6 March 2014

Bury Metropolitan Borough Council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Joanne Columbine, who wants to spend more time with her husband who works in Dubai.

The Tilted Vase
  © Copyright Paul Anderson and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Those who don't know Ramsbottom don't know what they're missing.  (Stop sniggering at the back.)  Effectively the southernmost town in Rossendale, this is a beautiful market town deep within the steep-sided Irwell valley.  The town was effectively founded by Sir Robert Peel, father of the prime minister of the same name, who started manufacturing textiles here at the end of the eighteenth century; later developers included the industrialists William and Daniel Grant, who were ruthless enough to have inspired the Cheeryble brothers in Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby; their home on the Market Place is now a rather ornate pub called the Grant Arms.

Outside the Grant Arms lies the Grecian Urn Tilted Vase, a modern sculpture at the main road junction in the centre of town.  Down the hill from that junction is the town's railway station, closed in the 1960s but now part of the preserved East Lancashire Railway which brings many tourists here at the weekend from Bury and Rawtenstall.  Next to the railway station can be found Rammy's football and cricket grounds, making use of the few relatively flat spaces there are in the town, for once you're across the Irwell it's straight up a 1-in-6 slope over the M66 motorway to the village of Shuttleworth, a linear village on the A56 Bury-Rawtenstall road.

Going up the hill from the Tilted Vase is the Ramsbottom Rake, known in the road cycling community as one of the most notorious hill climbs in the North West: although it's only a few hundred yards to the top of the Rake and the village of Holcombe, the gradient of the road reaches 1 in 4.  And Holcombe isn't even the top of the hill, which is a few hundred feet further up to the 128-foot Peel Monument on Holcombe Hill, a memorial to Robert Peel junior erected in 1852.  The Peel Monument is a landmark for the whole of south-east Lancashire, and on the clearest of days there are views from it as far as Shropshire and Snowdonia.  It's a local tradition to climb the hill on Good Friday.

With the cricket team (which plays in the Lancashire League and has attracted many professionals from overseas, including the future Australian test captain Ian Chappell who spent the 1963 season here), the football team and the cycling, Ramsbottom has a sporting heritage, but there are few places that can claim anything as bizarre as the Black Pudding Throwing World Championships, held here each year on the August bank holiday.  (If you're inspired to try black pudding for yourself, the Bury style is to boil it and serve it with mustard.)

So, as I say, if you've not been to Rammy, why not?  It's pleasant to look at, the town centre buildings all being stone-built in the typical Pennine style, and the town hasn't yet been overrun by all the national chains: there are still a large number of independent businesses here, two of which are run by the Labour and Conservative candidates for this by-election.

On the other hand, this column is supposed to be psephological, so I'd better move away from the tourist information and start discussing Rammy's electoral history, which is fascinating.  Back in the mists of time former Labour MP Lord Campbell-Savours started his political career here in the last ever election to Ramsbottom urban district council, but essentially Rammy is a bellwether marginal which tends to be won by whichever of Labour and the Tories is leading nationally.  The modern Ramsbottom ward, created in 2004, therefore elected three Tory councillors in that year and it took until the 2011 election for Labour to start winning seats back in the ward.  That 2011 result was decided on the toss of a coin after Labour and the Conservatives tied on 1822 votes each; the toss was won by Labour, which gave them the twenty-sixth of the twenty-six seats on Bury council required for an overall majority.  Not many elections are closer than that.  Labour followed up with a second gain in the 2012 election to hold two seats in Ramsbottom ward to the Tories' one.

A major issue in the by-election is a current planning application to convert a quarry above Shuttleworth into an anaerobic digestion plant.

The Labour selection for the by-election had to be re-run after the original candidate dropped out due to pressure of work.  The new defending Labour candidate is Sarah Southworth, who manages to combine running a wedding dress business in the town centre with being a chartered accountant and working as a finance manager for a digital arts organisation in Manchester.  The Tories have selected Robert Hodkinson, the candidate who was on the losing side of the 2011 coin-toss; he runs a clothes shop in Rammy and is treasurer of the local traders' association.  UKIP's candidate is Dave Barker, the Lib Dems have selected Robert Foss, and the Green Party candidate is Glyn Heath, a prosthetics lecturer at Salford University who was once a Labour Bury councillor back in the day.

Parliamentary constituency: Bury North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
Postcode districts: BL8, BL9, BL0

Dave Barker (UKIP)
David Foss (LD)
Glyn Heath (Grn)
Robert Hodkinson (C)
Sarah Southworth (Lab)

May 2012 result Lab 1605 C 1241 UKIP 300 LD 103
May 2011 result Lab 1822 C 1822 LD 241 (Lab won on drawing of lots)
May 2010 result C 2668 Lab 2043 LD 1298 Grn 254
May 2008 result C 2010 Lab 872 LD 354
May 2007 result C 1766 Lab 1007 LD 398
May 2006 result C 1759 Lab 939 LD 427
June 2004 result C 2329/2106/1813 Lab 1406/1147/1127 LD 815

King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council, Norfolk; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Garry Sandell at the age of 67.  Retired after a career in aircraft fitting, civil engineering and the building trade, together with 18 years in the Volunteer Royal Observer Corps, Sandell was first elected to the borough council in 1999 and served as deputy mayor in 2012/13; he was also a North Creake parish councillor for more than twenty years.

Burnham Market
  © Copyright Richard Croft and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
This ward covers six of the seven Burnhams by the sea, a group of villages on the North Norfolk coast close to the River Burn.  The identity of the seven villages has changed over the centuries as settlements have grown and merged together; in mediaeval times three of the Burnhams amalgamated into Burnham Market, the largest settlement in the ward and a rather desirable place for affluent Londoners to own second home.  To the south is the village of North Creake, location of the ruin of Creake Abbey, while between North Creake and Burnham Market lies Burnham Thorpe, the birthplace of Horatio Nelson whose father was the rector here.  Also included are the parishes of Burnham Overy and Burnham Norton; Burnham Deepdale is the Burnham that got away, being included in the neighbouring Brancaster ward.

Garry Sandell had not faced serious opposition in his district ward for many years, his three most recent re-elections being lopsided contests against token Lib Dem or (at the most recent election in 2011) Labour opposition.  Last year Sandell contested the local county council seat, which was an open seat after the former Tory county councillor was elected as police and crime commissioner for Norfolk, but lost the seat to an independent candidate.

There will still be a Sandell on the ballot paper in the Burnham ward, as Garry's son Sam, from North Creake, is the Conservative candidate.  True to form, there is only one other candidate: this time it's UKIP Jean Smith, who gives an address in the King's Lynn area.

Parliamentary constituency: North West Norfolk
Norfolk county council division: North Coast
ONS Travel to Work Area: King's Lynn and Fakenham
Postcode districts: NR21, NR23, PE31

Sam Sandell (C)
Jean Smith (UKIP)

May 2011 result C 556 Lab 208
May 2007 result C 564 LD 155
May 2003 result C 700 LD 270

Nottingham city council; caused by the disqualification of Labour councillor Lee Jeffery who did not attend any meetings of the council in six months.

Clifton Centre tram stop
  © Copyright Alan Murray-Rust and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Here we go with another claimant for the title "largest council estate in Europe".  On the right bank of the Trent is the rather detached Nottingham suburb of Clifton, located on the main road from Nottingham city centre to the M1 for London.  Much of the housing stock here is postwar, although Clifton North also includes the linear village of Wilford closer to the city centre.  An extension to Nottingham's tram system is currently under construction; expected to open later this year, this line will link Wilford and Clifton to Nottingham city centre.

This is one of those persistently marginal wards, bellwethers where swings are low and majorities are small.  The ward returned a full slate of Tory councillors in 2003 and 2007, but Labour managed to nick one of the Tory seats at the 2011 election in which they won Nottingham by a landslide.  Lee Jeffery was elected at the top of the poll, the Tories holding the other two seats.  It's likely that most of the Tory vote comes from Wilford, which is much more upmarket than the rest of the ward.

Defending for Labour is Patricia Ferguson.  Andrew Rule will hope to regain the seat for the Conservatives.  Also standing are regular frivolous candidate David Bishop for his Bus-Pass Elvis Party, Kevin Clarke for UKIP and Tony Marshall for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Nottingham South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Nottingham
Postcode district: NG11

David Bishop (Bus-Pass Elvis)
Kevin Clarke (UKIP)
Patricia Ferguson (Lab)
Tony Marshall (LD)
Andrew Rule (C)

May 2011 result Lab 1902/1720/1589 C 1834/1772/1767
May 2007 result C 1883/1749/1694 Lab 1265/1164/1087 LD 389/320
May 2003 result C 1714/1610/1560 Lab 1335/1317/1124 LD 372

Wiltshire Council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Linda Conley at the age of 65.  Conley, who served in the WRNS and had worked as an IT executive, had been a Wiltshire politician for more than ten years, initially serving on the now-abolished West Wiltshire district council; since 2009 she had been the portfolio holder for waste, and under her watch the council won several national awards for Best Kept Local Conveniences.

Edington Church
  © Copyright Rog Frost and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
This rural division covers a string of villages surrounding the town of Westbury on three sides: Dilton Marsh to the west, Heywood and Hawkeridge to the north, and the parishes of Bratton, Edington and Coulston to the east.  The name goes deep back into history: it is a reference to the Battle of Ethandune in May 878, in which the Wessex army under Alfred the Great defeated a Viking army from the Danelaw under Guthrum; the defeat put paid to any Danish hopes of conquering Wessex.  The battle is generally considered to have taken place at Edington.  There are still military manoeuvres here in modern times, as the division includes part of the army training area of Salisbury Plain.

There's nothing in the previous election results for this division to suggest that the Tories are in much danger of losing in the near future.  At the most recent election, in May last year, the Tories polled 61% of the vote against Lib Dem and Labour opposition, vindicating Conley's decision to move here from a more marginal division.

Defending for the Tories is Jerry Wickham, from a village in the Trowbridge area, who is opposed by Carole King (of Westbury) for the Liberal Democrats, Shaun Henley (of Trowbridge) for Labour, UKIP's Rod Eaton (from Melksham) and independent candidate Francis Morland (from a village near Westbury).

Parliamentary constituency: South West Wiltshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Trowbridge and Warminster
Postcode districts: BA11, BA13, BA14

Rod Eaton (UKIP)
Shaun Henley (Lab)
Carole King (LD)
Francis Morland (Ind)
Jerry Wickham (C)

May 2013 result C 748 LD 303 Lab 182
June 2009 result C 1004 LD 467 Lab 157

Ashford District Council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Steve Wright due to work commitments.

Wye Library
  © Copyright David Anstiss and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Not to be confused with the river of the same name in the Marches, the Kent village of Wye can be found a few miles north-east of Ashford, at the point where the River Great Stour breaks through the North Downs.  Wye's position at a ford on the Great Stour made it important in mediaeval times, although modern communication links (with the exception of the Ashford-Canterbury railway, which has a station here) bypass it.

At district level this ward has developed into a battle between the Conservatives and the well-organised Ashford Independents.  The Independents gained the seat from the Conservatives in 2007, and narrowly lost it back at the most recent election in 2011.  The local county division (Ashford Rural East) is safely Conservative.

Defending for the Tories is Ian Cooling, the former district councillor who lost the ward to the Ashford Independents in 2007.  The Ashford Independent candidate is Noel Ovenden.  Labour have selected Dylan Jones, the UKIP candidate is Elaine Evans (who gives an address some distance away in Pluckley), the Lib Dem is regular candidate Ken Blanshard and the Greens have selected Geoff Meaden who, like Blanshard, fought the county division last year.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashford
Kent county council division: Ashford Rural East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ashford
Postcode district: TN25

Ken Blanshard (LD)
Ian Cooling (C)
Elaine Evans (UKIP)
Dylan Jones (Lab)
Geoff Meaden (Grn)
Noel Ovenden (Ashford Ind)

May 2011 result C 392 Ashford Ind 318 Lab 112 UKIP 97 LD 89
May 2007 result Ashford Ind 589 C 276 LD 40
May 2003 result C 470 Grn 252 LD 57