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.

SUTTON
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


HORNCASTLE
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


OSBOURNBY
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

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