Thursday, 20 March 2014

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
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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 
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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
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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

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