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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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

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