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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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

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