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

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