Wednesday, 23 April 2014

By-Election Previews: 24 April 2014

There are four local by-elections taking place this week, rather unusually a lot so close to European and local elections now just four weeks away.  One contest is covered over on the Welsh Elections blog, with three in England covered here.

East Cambridgeshire District Council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Peter Moakes in protest at proposals for council cuts and restructuring.  Moakes, who was leader of the council from 2011 to 2013, had been a Sutton ward councillor since 2007.

East from Sutton Tower
The large village of Sutton-in-the-Isle can be found about fifteen miles to the north of Cambridge.  It lies on an island in the Fens overlooking the two Bedford Rivers, artificial waterways which were built in the seventeenth century to contain the overflow of the River Great Ouse and prevent it from flooding the Fens.  Unsurprisingly given its presence in the Fens, Sutton has an agricultural history; its biggest export today is tractors, construction and agricultural equipment from Cheffins' monthly auction, which is described as one of the biggest machinery auctions in Europe.

The ward is safely Conservative but its two seats split evenly between the Tories and Lib Dems in 2003 after the Conservatives only fielded one candidate.  At the most recent election in 2011 Labour took second place from the Lib Dems.  The Sutton county seat (which covers a wider area) is also safely Conservative.  Nonetheless the local Conservative party appears to be in some disarray; as well as the by-election having been caused by the resigning councillor being unhappy about council policy, the remaining district councillor for the ward Philip Read, who is also the local county councillor, has been so annoyed by the selection process for this by-election that he has resigned from the Conservative party and gone independent.

That selection process produced Ely resident Neil Hitchin, an architectural conservationist and historian, as the Conservative candidate.  Labour have selected Jane Francis, from Little Downham, who stood in the Ely East district by-election last September.  The Liberal Democrat candidate is local resident Lorna Dupre, the parliamentary candidate for North East Cambridgeshire in 2010 and runner-up in the 2013 county election here.  There's no UKIP track record in Sutton at local or county level but Cambridgeshire is a good area for them, so it will be interesting to see if their candidate Daniel Devine can exploit the splits in the Conservative camp; Devine also lives in Little Downham and is the county councillor for Littleport.

Parliamentary constituency: North East Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire county council division: Sutton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode districts:

May 2011 result C 554/593 Lab 379 LD 305/165
May 2007 result C 513/414 LD 364/258 Grn 127
May 2003 result C 492 LD 189/185

East Lindsey District Council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Steve Newton.

East Street, Horncastle
The market town of Horncastle can be found on the River Bain, about 20 miles east of Lincoln.  The Romans built a fort here, but it took until the thirteenth century for the town to become prosperous thanks to its annual horse fair, which continued well into the twentieth century.  Horncastle holds the UK's three-hour rainfall record, with 178mm falling in a cloudburst in 1960; flooding in the town is a recurring problem, and local folklore says that when the town changes its vicar a major flood will follow soon afterwards (although this didn't happen last time the vicar changed in 1999).

The Horncastle ward (which also includes the small village of Thimbleby to the west) is not closely contested politically, and its three seats have been split Tory/Lib Dem/Independent since the current ward was created in 2003.  Throughout this period the Conservatives have only ever stood one candidate (Newton, although in 2003 he was the independent councillor) and the second Lib Dem candidate generally polls terribly.  Newton topped the poll at the most recent election in 2011.  At county level the larger Horncastle and Tetford division had two consecutive photo-finish results: the Tories won by just ten votes from independent candidate William Aron at the 2005 election before losing the seat to him by two votes four years later; Aron, part of the well-organised Lincolnshire Independents county council group, was easily re-elected last year.

Defending for the Tories is Richard Avison, who lost a district council by-election to UKIP last year but this time is standing on home turf.  David Roark, who runs a garden landscaping company, stands as an independent candidate, and the ballot paper is completed by UKIP's Mike Beecham, a software developer from the village of Hemingby.

Parliamentary constituency: Louth and Horncastle
Lincolnshire county council division: Horncastle and Tetford
ONS Travel to Work Area: Louth and Horncastle
Postcode districts:

May 2011 result C 1145 LD 1089/594 Ind 747/720 Lab 376/345/316
May 2007 result LD 1119/637 C 945 Ind 857 BNP 369
May 2003 result LD 1021/483 C 876 Ind 720

North Kesteven District Council, Lincolnshire; caused by the death of Independent councillor Jim Cook at the age of 70.  An Osbournby parish councillor for more than 30 years, Cook had first been elected to the district council in 2007.

High Street, Osbournby
The Osbournby ward covers the sparsely-populated rural area south of Sleaford, a grouping of eleven tiny parishes.  Osbournby itself (the first B is silent) is a village at the centre of the ward on the A15 Lincoln-Peterborough road, but the largest parish within the ward is in fact Wilsford on the A153 Sleaford-Grantham road, which has 342 electors on the roll.  The smallest parish in the ward appears to be Walcot near Folkingham in the south of ward, which has just 47 electors.

Jim Cook had had a near-miss in the 2003 election to this ward, which he lost to the Conservatives by nine votes.  The 2007 election was another photofinish, but this time Cook was first over the line to gain the seat from the Conservatives with a majority of seventeen votes.  At his re-election in 2011 Cook won very comfortably with almost 70% of the vote in a straight fight with the Tories.  The local county division (Sleaford Rural South) is safely Conservative with Labour second in 2005, the Lincolnshire Independents as runners-up in 2009 and UKIP taking a strong second place in the 2013 county elections (38% to 50% for the Tories).

None of the candidates for this by-election live in the ward.  The new independent candidate for the ward is Fay Cooper who represents the Lincolnshire Independents group; she lives in Leasingham, just north of Sleaford, and contested that area in the most recent county and district elections.  Charity fundraiser Kate Cook, from Sleaford, is the Conservative candidate.  Also standing are Robert Greentham for Labour and Tony Richardson for the Lib Dems, both of whom give addresses in villages south of Lincoln.

Parliamentary constituency: Sleaford and North Hykeham
Lincolnshire county council division: Sleaford Rural South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lincoln
Postcode districts:

May 2011 result Ind 661 C 289
May 2007 result Ind 419 C 402
May 2003 result C 295 Ind 286 LD 247 Lab 67

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Defection Watch - Former Leicester Labour Whip Quits Party

Cllr Barbara Potter
Cllr Barbara Potter (Humberstone and Hamilton ward) has quit the Labour group on Leicester City Council.  Potter was the group's chief whip from 2010 until 2013 when she was ousted after complaints of "her style not going down well" with the other councillors.  During 2013, she was also banned from a city school, had a restraining order put on her by her ex-partner, and was charged with perverting the course of justice.

The controversial councillor was originally elected in 2007 after years of campaigning on a variety issues on behalf of her local community, which led to being invited to Downing Street in 2006 to discuss laws on how to tackle crime.  Her ward elected one Conservative and two Labour councillors in 2007, and then three Labour councillors in 2011.  Both times, she had the highest personal vote of the Labour councillors elected.

Last week, Potter announced her intention to contest the 2015 elections in Leicester as an Independent after the local Labour Party refused to re-select her.  She said that her Labour colleagues were trying to oppose her because she was more of "an activist, not a politician".   The new Labour chief whip simply said in reply that if Potter left the party, she ought to hold a by-election now rather than wait until 2015.

The odds of her being re-elected as an Independent will certainly be against her considering the overwhelming strength of the Labour Party in Leicester - in the last all-out elections in 2011, they won 52 of the 54 seats.

New council composition -
Labour - 51 (-1)
Conservative - 1
Independent - 1 (+1)
Liberal Democrats - 1

Defection Watch - Mayor of Havering Joins UKIP

Cllr Eric Munday
The Mayor of the London Borough of Havering has defected from the Conservatives to UKIP just weeks ahead of the London-wide all-out elections.  The Mayor, Cllr Eric Munday (Squirrels Heath ward), was also joined by Cllrs Peter Gardner (Hylands ward) and Lynden Thorpe (Squirrels Heath) in this most recent wave of defections.  This brings the total size of the UKIP group on Havering Council to seven, and also deprives the Conservative administration of its majority.

Havering is a UKIP target going into May's elections.  Their presence on the council began with an unexpected by-election victory in Gooshays ward on 21 March last year, as they built momentum to their major national breakthrough in the local elections in May.  Three Conservative councillors then defected en masse to UKIP last July, followed by another three now.  Most of these defections seem to be the result of deselections by the Conservatives, although with momentum in the borough shifting behind UKIP, they may now in fact be more likely to hold their seats as UKIP candidates.

Havering is traditionally a Tory stronghold, with the main opposition coming from a variety of local reisdents groups.  Hylands ward was relatively marginal in 2010 with the Conservatives taking 39.1% to the Residents' 26.4%, and UKIP further behind on 12.2%. Squirrel's Heath in 2010 was much more safely Conservative with the party taking 62.9% over second-placed Labour's 19.9%, with no UKIP candidate.  With every seat up for election in May, there's all to play for, and UKIP could potentially gain control of the council outright.

New council composition -
Conservatives - 26 (-3)
Residents' Group - 12
UKIP - 7 (+3)
Labour - 5
Independent Residents' Group - 3
Vacant - 1

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

By-Election Previews: 10 April 2014

Four seats up for election this week.  One over on the Welsh Elections blog and three here:

Cumbria County Council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Ian Stockdale at the age of 74.  A stalwart of Carlisle Labour for more than forty years, Stockdale had served as a Carlisle city and Cumbria county councillor at various times since the 1970s, including as Mayor of Carlisle in 1984-85.  At the time of his death he was chairman of the county council's development control and regulation committee.

Hutton Way shops
  © Copyright Rose and Trev Clough and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
Belle Vue is Carlisle's western end, along the B5307 road out towards Silloth and along the left bank of the River Eden.  This is a socially divided division which follows the usual pattern of neighbourhoods closer to the city centre being more deprived than the housing further out, although here the differences between the better- and worse-off ends are more stark than usual.

The Belle Vue division has almost the same boundaries as the Carlisle city ward of the same name - the 2013 county council boundary review removed a single street from the division, resulting in the unusual situation of the county division being smaller than the corresponding city ward.  Carlisle city's thirds electoral system means that the city goes to the polls every year; from the combined city and county results we can see that Belle Vue became a closely-fought Labour/Conservative area in the later Blair and Brown years, although Labour always had the edge and the Tories were only able to win here twice: once at their high-water mark in 2008 plus a fluke gain in a county council by-election on European election day in 1999, in which the Tory majority was just six votes.  Ian Stockdale was the city councillor defeated by the Tories in 2008, but he came back to win the county division the following year.  Since 2010 Labour have progressively pulled away from the Conservatives here, easily regaining the Conservative city council seat in 2012.

Defending for Labour is the Mayoress of Carlisle Christine Bowditch, a retired teacher and long-serving chair of the Carlisle branch of MENCAP.  The Tory candidate is Nigel Christian from the village of Scotby east of the city, who formerly worked for the county council as manager of the waste team.  Completing the ballot paper is UKIP's John Stanyer, the party's prospective parliamentary candidate for the Carlisle constituency.

Parliamentary constituency: Carlisle
Carlisle city council ward: Belle Vue (part)
Postcode district: CA2

Christine Bowditch (Lab)
Nigel Christian (C)
John Stanyer (UKIP)

May 2013 result Lab 760 C 393

North East Derbyshire District Council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Mike Emmens.  A district councillor since 1999 and leader of Dronfield town council until 2012, Emmens was described as a family man known for many years of political, charitable and community works.

Houses on Wilson Road
  © Copyright Andrew Hill and licensed for
reuse under this 
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The village of Coal Aston can be found on high ground on the eastern edge of Dronfield; residents here have good views north over Sheffield or west over Dronfield.  Politically part of Dronfield, essentially this a Sheffield commuter area, and as such very desirable; compare and contrast with the deprived council estates just inside the city limits to the north.

In recent times Coal Aston ward has voted like a commuter area by displaying strong Conservative support, although the party only stood one candidate for the two seats in the 2003 election - perhaps indicating relatively weak organisation - and the result of the most recent election in 2011 suggests that the Labour threat hasn't yet been seen off.  Boundary changes mean that there isn't much county-level elections can tell us: the vast majority of the ward was transferred last year from the former Dronfield North county division (Labour in 2005 with Mike Emmens 4.5 points behind, Tory in 2009 with a 10-point lead) into the new Eckington and Killamarsh division, which is dominated by the Labour-voting villages of those names and consequently was an easy Labour win, UKIP finishing as runners-up ahead of the Conservatives.

John Allsop defends for the Conservatives; he served one term as the local county councillor from 2009 but didn't seek re-election last year.  The Labour candidate is bank manager David Cheetham, who was once the youngest-ever Mayor of Dronfield.  The ward's first UKIP candidate is Charles Watson, the UKIP runner-up in last year's county elections; he is from the village of Ridgeway a couple of miles to the east and, with the local Lib Dems not standing, completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: North East Derbyshire
Derbyshire county council division: Eckington and Killamarsh (except for a small part of the ward in Dronfield East division)
Postcode district: S18

John Allsop (C)
David Cheetham (Lab)
Charles Watson (UKIP)

May 2011 result C 730/680 Lab 546/543 LD 198
May 2007 result C 569/514 Lab 378/341 LD 221/220
May 2003 result C 484 Lab 439/418

Vale of White Horse District Council, Oxfordshire; caused by the disqualification of former Conservative councillor John Morgan who has been convicted of theft.  The jury at Oxford Crown Court found him guilty of stealing £154,000 from an elderly woman with Alzheimer's disease; it's understood that Morgan gambled the money away.  Morgan, who resigned from the council's Conservative group after being convicted, is now serving a five-year prison sentence.

Market Place, Wantage
  © Copyright Nick MacNeill and licensed for
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An ancient town in the centre of the Vale of White Horse, Wantage is still probably best known as the birthplace of King Alfred the Great; it appears under the name "Alfredston" in Hardy's "Jude the Obscure" and in poetry by Betjeman, who lived here for many years.  The Wantage Charlton ward covers the central business district together with the east and south of the town.

The town's Wikipedia entry has a NIMBY overtone, complaining about large housing developments in the town, and it is noticeable that the number of votes cast in this ward has been increasing over the years.  It's not clear whether that has particularly benefited any party in what is a Tory/Lib Dem fight: the three seats split 2C/1LD in the 2003 election, while the Lib Dems gained a seat at the 2007 election - the one in which they won two-thirds of the seats on Vale of White Horse council despite polling fewer votes than the Conservatives.  The Conservatives pulled away slightly in the 2011 election to win a clean sweep of the three seats, but by-elections in circumstances like this often generate a huge swing against the defending party so the 11-point Tory lead might not be enough for them to hold on.

For this by-election the Conservatives have pulled off the coup of selecting Julia Reynolds, a former Lib Dem district councillor for this ward who served from 2004 to 2007 as Mayor of Wantage.  Another former Mayor of Wantage, local British Legion branch chairman Jim Sibbald, is the official Lib Dem candidate.  Also standing are Nathan Sparkes for Labour and Kevin Harris for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Wantage
Oxfordshire county council division: Grove and Wantage
Postcode district: OX12

Kevin Harris (Grn)
Julia Reynolds (C)
Jim Sibbald (LD)
Nathan Sparkes (Lab)

May 2011 result C 1235/1178/1131 LD 940/754/714 Lab 442/428
May 2007 result LD 1089/1018/831 C 961/892/873 Lab 273/225/220
May 2003 result C 800/670/657 LD 727/595/593 Lab 229/226 Grn 205

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Defection Watch: Wolverhampton Lib Dem Leader Joins UKIP

Cllr Malcolm Gwinnett
The leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Wolverhampton City Council has defected to UKIP.  Cllr Malcolm Gwinnett (Spring Vale ward) was first elected in 1990, and has previously served as the Mayor of Wolverhampton, but was de-selected apparently after requesting a delay in the reselection procedure to allow for him to wait to hear back the results of a medical examination, which the Lib Dems refused.

He also accused the Lib Dems of having become out of touch with local people on issues such as immigration and the High Speed 2 railway project.

Gwinnett becomes the first UKIP councillor in Wolverhampton, in a ward which has elected the council's only Lib Dems in the last few years.  By 2012, it had become fairly marginal with the Lib Dems holding by 48.4% to Labour's 40.1%.  There was no UKIP candidate in this ward in 2012, and Wolverhampton has generally been a weaker council area for them, compared to the likes of neighbouring Dudley.  Nevertheless, Gwinnett has said he plans to defend his seat as a UKIP candidate next month.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

By-Election Preview: 3 April 2014

Just one by-election on 3rd April.

Pendle Borough Council, Lancashire; caused by the disqualification of Conservative councillor Shelagh Derwent who failed to attend any meetings of the council in six months.  Derwent has reportedly moved to Dorset to be near her family, and stood down from Lancashire County Council at the 2013 elections.

Gisburn Road, Blacko
  © Copyright Bill Boaden and licensed for
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The village of Blacko can be found at the point where the towns in the Lancashire Calder valley end and the hills begin.  Blacko parish itself only has a population of around 600 and much of its area is moorland; a notable landmark is Stansfield or Blacko Tower on the hill above the village, which commands views across the Pendle district.  Although Blacko is a Lancashire village, the moorland behind Blacko Tower was originally part of Yorkshire (the detached part of Brogden parish) and didn't become part of Blacko parish until 1987.  At the bottom of the hill is the village of Higherford, a Barrowford suburb on the other side of Pendle Water and part of the Barrowford parish.  The two parts of the ward are linked together by the A682 Barrowford-Long Preston road, which was described by the European road safety group EuroRAP in 2007 as the UK's most dangerous road, and you can see why if you drive it; it's laid out like a racetrack with sharp corners in long twisty sections, long relatively straight sections which tempt high speeds into those long twisty sections, hidden junctions with little visibility, gradients which are steeper than you think (particularly in Blacko village) and a mix of high- and low-speed traffic which encourages dubious overtaking decisions.

In electoral terms this is a very safe and very boring Conservative ward.  Derwent had been the local councillor since before the modern ward was created in 2002, and polled 79.8% of the vote at both of her most recent re-elections in 2007 and 2011.  Her vote peaked in 2003 at 84.4%.  The ward is also part of a safe Conservative county council division (Pendle East).

Defending for the Conservatives is Noel McEvoy, a qualified football referee.  His opposition comes from Labour's Robert Oliver, who is vice-chairman of Barrowford parish council; the Lib Dems' Darren Reynolds, a former Burnley councillor who fought this ward in 2007; and UKIP's first candidate for the ward, Mick Waddington.

Parliamentary constituency: Pendle
Lancashire county council division: Pendle East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Burnley, Nelson and Colne

Noel McEvoy (C)
Robert Oliver (Lab)
Darren Reynolds (LD)
Mick Waddington (UKIP)

May 2011 result C 583 Lab 148
May 2007 result C 566 Lab 80 LD 63
May 2003 result C 552 Lab 62 LD 40
May 2002 result C 569 Lab 67 LD 60