Tuesday, 7 October 2014

By-election Previews: 9 October 2014

Essex county council
Caused by the resignation of UKIP councillor Roger Lord.

Aerial view of Brightlingsea
With such a high profile being given to the parliamentary by-election, the Essex county council by-election has been rather overlooked.  This is the for the division of Brightlingsea, which covers the south-west of the Tendring peninsula and is made up of the eponymous town and four nearby parishes. Brightlingsea grew up as a fishing port, taking advantage of the rich oyster fisheries around the mouth of the Colne; in the Middle Ages it became a Limb of Sandwich, making it the only part of the Cinque Ports confederation outside Kent and Sussex. Latterly boat-building became an important employer in the town, and the port came to prominence again in the 1980s and 1990s when attempts were made respectively to import coal and export live animals through it. The decline of the town's heritage to become more of a dormitory town for Colchester is marked by the recent construction of a marina over the old dock buildings.

Look on a map and you might get the suspicion that Brightlingsea was once an island; look at the town's etymology and that suspicion will be confirmed, as the name means something like 'island of the descendants of Berhtel', although the dozens of different spellings the place has had over recorded history serve to confuse rather than illuminate the issue. Brightlingsea wasn't connected to the mainland until the 16th century and there is still only one narrow road in or out. Whilst many of the complaints about the town's insularity are the standard intra-village rivalry you'll get anywhere, amongst the older generation in Brightlingsea you can still find people who've never been beyond Colchester, and some who've never even been that far. Nevertheless, as the largest settlement between Wivenhoe and Clacton, it does act as a local centre and it is here that the local secondary school, the Colne Community College, is located.

Head from the parish church out of town, and you'll find yourself on the Brightlingsea road going towards Thorrington Cross (look out for the preserved tide mill on your left). Thorrington is unusual in that it's not a particularly nucleated village, but instead has most of its population spread out along each of the four roads heading away from the Cross. Each one of these branches heads towards another parish in the division; take the road north-west along the B1027 and you'll come to Alresford. The name is derived from a ford over Alresford Creek (now so silted up as to be uncrossable), but these days the population is concentrated half a mile up the road, around the railway station (Alresford is on the Essex Sunshine Coast branch line). The bulk of the village was built in the early 1960s on the orchards which historically were Alresford's economic basis. These days the dwellers in the village's pleasant bungalows are (if not retired) more likely to work in Colchester, although some employment is also provided by the sand and gravel quarries which surround the village.

One stop further by train from Alresford, or along Station Road from Thorrington, and you'll come to Great Bentley. Unlike some other entrants in this column, Great Bentley doesn't claim to be Britain's largest village, but it does claim to have its largest green. Also in the parish but on the other side of the railway and half a mile down the road is Aingers Green, a mid-20th century development seemingly intended specifically for people moving out from London.

If you follow the B1027 from Thorrington eastwards towards Clacton, you'll come to the parish of St Osyth, which like Great Bentley contains two main settlements. St Osyth is a desirable village named after an Anglo-Saxon saint with a decidedly anachronistic life story. A priory sits near the village's centre, but is sadly inaccessible to the public due to a long-running planning dispute. To the west across St Osyth Creek is Point Clear, an isolated community at the mouth of the River Colne which is during the summer connected to Brightlingsea by a foot ferry. A significant proportion of the parish's population lives in static caravan parks, most notably in Point Clear Bay and in Seawick, just down the coast from Jaywick.

St Osyth parish is in the Clacton constituency and is covered by a two-member district ward of the same name, which is the only area which will go to the polls in both by-elections. Currently it is represented by two independents, although in 2007 the Conservatives took one of the seats by a single vote. The rest of the division falls within the Harwich and North Essex constituency. Alresford and Great Bentley are both single member wards, with the former held by the Liberal Democrats and the latter by the Conservatives. Thorrington is part of the concisely-named two-member Thorrington, Frating, Elmstead and Great Bromley ward, which is safely Conservative. Brightlingsea is Tendring's only three-member ward and returns two independents and one Conservative, who beat the alphabet to obtain more than double the votes of one of his running mates. Clearly, this is a place that votes for the person rather than the party.

The Brightlingsea division was safely held for many years by the Conservatives, but after the incumbent retired in 2013 it was narrowly won by UKIP's Roger Lord, with the Lib Dems (as stated above) just pipping the Conservatives to second.

Five candidates are standing in the Brightlingsea by-election. Defending for UKIP is Anne Poonian, secretary of the Clacton branch. She gives an address in Frinton, on the other side of Clacton from the division. The Conservative candidate is Alan Goggin, district councillor for Brightlingsea and cabinet member for finance on Tendring district council. Standing for possibly the fifth time is Gary Scott, the Lib Dem district councillor for Alresford, who clearly has a strong personal vote in that village; he is the election agent for the Colchester MP Bob Russell. The Labour candidate is Carol Carlsson Browne, an Alresford resident and recently-retired headteacher. The Greens fill out the ballot paper, standing Brightlingsea resident Beverley Maltby.  Although it's bound to be overshadowed by the parliamentary by-election, there'll be plenty of worried faces at the Brightlingsea count which will take place on Friday morning: the Tories will be hoping to recover a seat they never expected to lose and to show they can beat back the UKIP juggernaut; UKIP will want to show they aren't just a flash in the pan; and if either Labour or the Lib Dems win they would then become the leader of the opposition at County Hall, with all that implies.

Carol Carlsson Browne (Lab)
Alan Goggin (C)
Beverley Maltby (Grn)
Anne Poonian (UKIP)
Gary Scott (LD)

May 2013 result UKIP 1429 LD 1264 C 1156 Lab 585 Grn 165 Tendring First 102
June 2009 result C 2387 LD 1577 Lab 588 BNP 537 Grn 468
May 2005 result C 4157 Lab 2327 LD 2258 Grn 478

Rushmoor borough council
Caused by the resignation of UKIP councillor Malcolm Small following a conviction for arson, for which he was sentenced to twelve weeks in prison suspended for two years.  Small had burnt clothes belonging to his wife after an argument over their attendance at the Mayor of Rushmoor's Valentine's Day ball.

Birchbrook Reserve, West Heath
With all this focus on UKIP possibly gaining their first elected parliamentary seat this week, it's easy to forget that there is now a UKIP local government caucus which is big enough to generate by-elections of its own.  The second of three UKIP seats up for election this week is West Heath, a residential area in north-western Farnborough based around the Cove Brook and to the north of West Heath Road.  One fact which stands out from the last census is that this ward is in the top 10 wards in England and Wales for the highest Buddhist population, with 4.25% of the population having that faith - a legacy of Gurkha immigration in recent years.

In that context, it's startling to find that this is a safe UKIP ward, although it is Rushmoor's only UKIP ward.  Rushmoor was re-warded in 2012 so it's difficult to determine trends before that, although the previous Westheath ward was safely Conservative since 2008 and a Tory/Lib Dem marginal before that.  In the Hampshire county elections last year UKIP gained Farnborough West, which covers most of this ward, from the Conservatives by 3.5 points, and were 3 points behind the Conservatives in Farnborough North which covers a small part of the ward.

Defending for UKIP is Dave Bell.  Brian Parker stands for the Conservatives, hoping to return to the council after standing down from Empress ward in May.  Sue Gadsby stands for Labour and Charlie Fraser-Fleming for the Lib Dems.

Dave Bell (UKIP)
Charles Fraser-Fleming (LD)
Sue Gadsby (Lab)
Brian Parker (C)

May 2014 result UKIP 970 C 612 Lab 321 LD 179
May 2012 result UKIP 868/828/821 C 498/473/451 LD 252/230/223 Lab 237/220/186

Crawley borough council, West Sussex
Caused by the resignation of Karl Williamson due to work commitments.  Willamson had been elected as a Conservative councillor but had defected to UKIP since his election.  He works as a flight attendant and has been spending an increasing amount of time out of the UK.

Barrington Lodge, Crawley
The week's final UKIP defence, in the new town of Crawley.  Southgate ward lies just to the south of Crawley town centre and railway station; while it is mostly New Town development there are some older features, including Goffs Park.  The census figures give this ward a mostly white-collar profile with a relatively high Hindu population.

Crawley is a key Tory/Labour marginal parliamentary constituency, and this is a key marginal Tory/Labour ward.  New Towns often have a reputation for political volatility, but swings here have been quite low and majorities often small.  Labour won all three seats up for the ward after Crawley was last re-warded in 2004, but the Tories gained the Labour seats between 2006 and 2008.  The last three elections have all been decided by fewer than 100 votes: Tory by 95 in 2011, Tory by 66 in 2012, Labour by 65 in May this year.  The ward is part of an equally marginal county division (Southgate and Crawley Central) which Labour gained last year.

Defending for UKIP is Simon Darroch, who fought the town's Maidenbower ward in May.  The Tories want their seat back, and have selected Jan Tarrant who was runner-up in May's election here.  In an interesting move, Labour have recruited Michael Pickett who was the independent candidate for this ward in May.  Completing the ballot paper is Arshad Khan, a regular in Crawley local by-elections for his Justice Party.

Simon Darroch (UKIP)
Arshad Khan (Justice)
Michael Pickett (Lab)
Jan Tarrant (C)

May 2014 result Lab 888 C 823 UKIP 590 Ind 228
May 2012 result C 920 Lab 854 Grn 294
May 2011 result C 1091 Lab 996 Grn 366
May 2010 result C 1839 Lab 1603 BNP 322
May 2008 result C 1040 Lab 786 LD 323
May 2007 result C 900 Lab 721 LD 289 BNP 235 Grn 171
May 2006 result C 936 Lab 738 LD 271 BNP 263 Grn 212
June 2004 result Lab 722/721/674 C 671/605/554 LD 438 Grn 409/369 BNP 294

Chelmsford city council
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Michael Harris at the age of 67, from lung cancer.  Described as "a great loss to the city", Harris had been a Chelmsford city councillor since 2007 and also sat on East Hanningfield parish council.

The White Swan, Bicknacre
Yes, that ward name does indeed have two "and"s in it.  Despite that ungrammaticalness, this ward is pretty much as described in the name; three prosperous villages to the south of Chelmsford.

Look at the previous district results, and this by-election looks very boring; the Tories polled 72% of the vote at the last district election in 2011 and 79% four years previously.  The last county election results show that if UKIP stand they can give the Conservatives a run for their money here, although the local county division (Stock) is still safely Conservative.

Defending for the Tories is Matt Flack, from Rettendon Common.  Labour's candidate is Tony Lees, from East Hanningfield, and the Lib Dems have selected Andy Robson from Chelmsford.  Also standing are two new parties for the ward at district level: the Greens, with Reza Hossain; and UKIP, with David Kirkwood.

Matt Flack (C)
Reza Hossain (Grn)
David Kirkwood (UKIP)
Tony Lees (Lab)
Andy Robson (LD)

May 2011 result C 1322/1279 Lab 298/281 LD 225/216
May 2007 result C 1222/1212 LD 168/152 Lab 150/136
May 2003 result C 734/667 Ind 474/177 LD 331 Lab 147/103

Blackpool council
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Tony Lee at the age of 71.  A Blackpool councillor since 2007, Lee served as Deputy Mayor of Blackpool in 2010/1.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach
We finish this week as we started, by the seaside, on Blackpool's South Shore.  While Clacton is a little bit out of the way, this Blackpool ward is one of the most touristy locations in the country.  Here can be found the South Pier; the Sandcastle, an indoor water park on the seafront; the southern end of the Golden Mile; part of the Illuminations; and the Pleasure Beach, the UK's single most-visited tourist attraction.  Linking them all together is the Blackpool tramway along the Promenade; if you've not been to Blackpool for a while you may be in for a bit of a surprise, as the tramway has been completely refurbished in recent years with a fleet of shiny new trams, although the traditional trams still exist and operate occasionally for the benefit of tourists.  However, there is less good transport news in Blackpool, with the nearby Blackpool Airport threatened with closure next week unless a buyer is found.

This is a Labour/Tory marginal ward where swings are relatively low - more of a Big Dipper than a Big One.  The two parties split the ward's two seats in 2003; the Tories took the Labour seat in 2007 but Labour got one seat back in 2011 to give split representation again.  There was a noticeably large gap in 2011 between the two Labour candidates, which is probably explained by the second Labour candidate having an Asian name.

Fittingly for the location, the Tory and Labour candidates are both hoteliers: the Tories' Derek Robertson runs the Wilmar Hotel, while Labour's Kathy Ellis is propietor of the Castle Holiday Flats.  The Lib Dems have selected Mike Hodkinson, UKIP's candidate is John Braithwaite and the BNP stand Jack Renshaw.

John Braithwaite (UKIP)
Kathy Ellis (Lab)
Mike Hodkinson (LD)
Jack Renshaw (BNP)
Derek Robertson (C)

May 2011 result Lab 937/659 C 793/728 LD 263
May 2007 result C 972/940 Lab 713/605 LD 297
May 2003 result C 1027/895 Lab 1011/887 LD 592/545

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