Wednesday, 29 October 2014

By-election Previews: 30 October 2014

There are six by-elections this week.  The Police and Crime Commissioner post for South Yorkshire is up for grabs, as well as three other local council seats in England - all detailed below.  Meanwhile single contests are also taking place in Scotland and Wales, covered on the Scottish Elections blog and Welsh Elections blog respectively.

Caused by the resignation of Labour police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright.

South Yorkshire Police Headquarters, Sheffield
While Clacton may have a more long-term political impact, this is in numerical terms the second biggest by-election of the year (after the West Midlands PCC by-election in August).  The setting is the former metropolitan county of South Yorkshire, which is dominated by the city of Sheffield and also includes such other industrial towns as Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley, together with many other small towns and suburbs, most of which have an industrial or coal-mining history.

In November 2012 the county elected Shaun Wright, previously vice-chairman of the South Yorkshire Police Authority, as its first Police and Crime Commissioner.  Wright polled 51% of the first preferences to win in the first round, with David Allen of the English Democrats (who have some electoral strength in Doncaster) just pipping the Tories for second place.  The turnout was less than 15%.  Two weeks later there was a parliamentary by-election in Rotherham, caused by the resignation of Labour MP Denis MacShane who had submitted false expenses claims to Parliament.  UKIP, who had received much publicity during the by-election campaign, came a strong second to Labour who held easily.  The following May UKIP won a council by-election in Rotherham, and in May's local council elections the anti-EU party gained nine further seats and topped the poll in Rotherham.

Why do I mention Rotherham so much when it only forms around a fifth of the South Yorkshire electorate?  Because of the child sexual exploitation scandal in the town.  Professor Alexis Jay's report, published in August, estimated that around 1400 children had been sexually abused in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013, predominantly by British-Pakistani men.  Before becoming PCC Wright had been the Rotherham councillor responsible for children's services, and the fallout from the report cost him his job as PCC.

The parliamentary by-election in Heywood and Middleton three weeks ago was very nearly lost by Labour to UKIP, and Heywood had suffered from similar child grooming issues (although not on the same scale).  UKIP are campaigning directly on issues related to the scandal, and with a derisory turnout expected might be in with a chance of winning this by-election.

The defending Labour candidate is Revd Alan Billings, a former deputy leader of Sheffield city council who currently directs the Centre for Ethics and Religion at Lancaster University.  The English Democrats' David Allen, runner-up in 2012, is standing again.  The Tories have selected Ian Walker, who runs a Sheffield electrical company, and the UKIP candidate is Jack Clarkson, a former South Yorkshire police inspector who leads the party's group on Sheffield city council.  The Lib Dems have decided not to bother, so those are your four candidates.

Nov 2012 result Lab 74615 EDP 22608 C 21075 C 16773 LD 10223

Telford and Wrekin council, Shropshire
Caused respectively by the death of Labour councillor Dave Davies at the age of 61 and the resignation of Conservative councillor Adam Stanton.  Davies, who had served as leader of Telford and Wrekin council in the 1990s, had returned to the council for this ward in 2011.  Stanton, who had served since 2007, has resigned due to work commitments.

The Bridge at Ironbridge
While South Yorkshire may have been transformed by the Industrial Revolution, this is where it began, in the village of Coalbrookdale.  Coalbrookdale had been a centre for ironworking for many years before Abraham Darby I came along in 1709 and constructed the first successful coke-fired blast furnace.  His grandson, Abraham Darby III, erected the world's first cast-iron bridge over the nearby River Severn; opened in 1781 and still standing today, the Iron Bridge gave its name to a village which sprang up on the northern side of the Severn Gorge.  Many of the old industrial sites are now within the care of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, and in 1986 the area became a World Heritage Site.  Coal isn't mined here any longer but is still important to the area's economy; just outside the ward boundary is the coal-fired Ironbridge Power Station.

Compared to this, the Shropshire town of Newport is chalk and cheese.  Hard up against the Staffordshire boundary, Newport is Shropshire's fifth-largest town, a Norman market town which specialises in agricultural services and education; here can be found Shropshire's only university, Harper Adams, which specialises in rural and agricultural education.  The Newport West ward covers much of the town centre and the south-west of the town, and has been safely Conservative since the previous independent councillor retired in 2007.

Ironbridge Gorge's election results are more interesting; it was safely Labour in 2003 but has been swinging to the Tories, who in 2011 turned the ward into a marginal, losing to Labour by 53% to 47% in a straight fight.

The Gorge will be defended for Labour by Ken Stringer, a B&B owner and drug and alcohol specialist.  The Conservatives have selected Elizabeth Mollett.  This time four candidates are contesting the ward: Avon Horden is an independent candidate, and Richard Soame stands for UKIP.

In Newport West the defending Tory candidate is Rodney Pitt, a Newport town councillor who works in publishing.  Labour's candidate is town councillor Phil Norton, pub manager Warwick McKenzie will stand for UKIP and town councillor Peter Scott is an independent candidate.

Ironbridge Gorge
Parliamentary constituency: Telford

May 2011 result Lab 589 C 523
May 2007 result Lab 510 C 414
May 2003 result Lab 614 C 271 LD 217

Newport West
Parliamentary constituency: The Wrekin

May 2011 result C 606 Lab 341
May 2007 result C 734 Lab 182
May 2003 result Ind 424 C 273 Lab 233 LD 183

Castle Point borough council, Essex
Caused by the disqualification of Canvey Island Independent Party councillor Gail Barton, who failed to attend any council meetings in six months.

Canvey Island from the Air
There has been much discussion recently of building a new island in the Thames estuary to hold a new airport for London.  It looks like nothing will come of this, but the experience of Canvey Island shows that it is certainly possible to reclaim land from the sea here.  There has been a Canvey Island here since antiquity (the Romans occupied it, and had a salt-making industry here), but the modern island begins in the seventeenth century when Dutch engineers made the island safe to inhabit and reclaimed a large amount of land in the process.  Canvey became a small seaside resort in Victorian times, and the housing of Canvey Island East ward (which runs south down to the beach and the Chapman Sands) dates from this era.  London overspill caused the island's population to more than double since 1961.

The menace of the sea has not gone away - the North Sea flood of 1953 claimed many victims on the island - and the undeveloped west of the island features in several flood-alleviation ideas to deal with the rising sea levels caused by global warming.

The Island's politics is dominated by the localist Canvey Island Independent Party, who form the opposition on Castle Point borough council; the island is outvoted by the mainland communities of Hadleigh and South Benfleet, which are uniformly Tory - or were until May this year, when UKIP won five seats on the mainland and wiped out the Tory majority.  The Conservatives continue to run the council as a minority, and will get their overall majority back if they win this by-election. Not that that looks likely to happen based on previous results; in May the CIIP polled two-thirds of the vote.

The defending CIIP candidate - who is endorsed by UKIP - is John Albert Payne, who was elected for the ward in 2010 but stood down in May.  Chas Mumford is the Tory candidate; he is deputy chairman of the party's Castle Point branch.  Also standing are Labour's Jackie Reilly and independent candidate Colin Letchford.

Parliamentary constituency: Castle Point
Essex county council division: Canvey Island East

May 2014 result CIIP 1006 C 318 Lab 182
May 2012 result CIIP 595 C 291 Ind 195 Lab 158
May 2011 result CIIP 960 C 509 Lab 239
May 2010 result CIIP 1572 C 1041 Lab 402
May 2008 result CIIP 962 C 508 Lab 155
May 2007 result CIIP 833 C 630 Lab 245
May 2006 result CIIP 772 C 537 Lab 373 Grn 67
June 2004 result CIIP 847 C 510 Lab 449 Third Way 47
May 2003 result C 655/633/629 Lab 593/561/542 Grn 135

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