Wednesday, 11 February 2015

By-election Previews: 12 February 2015

Three by-elections on 12th February 2015:

Cambridgeshire county council
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor John Reynolds at the age of 69, while returning from a holiday in Australia.  One of the longest-serving members of the county council, having been first elected in 1981, Reynolds had been a dedicated public servant for many years, and was also a long-standing guide dog trainer.

Village Hall, Bar Hill
This division follows the line of the A14 to the north-west of Cambridge, starting at Girton on the outskirts of Cambridge and including a series of villages to the south of the road: Dry Drayton, Lolworth, Boxworth are small while Bar Hill itself is by far the largest.  The A14 follows the line of a Roman road - the Via Devana - but the history of the ward is generally much more recent.  Since the Second World War the Cambridge area has essentially absorbed the population of a large new town without building a large new town, but there have been some purpose-built new villages: Bar Hill itself did not exist before 1967, and now has a population of around 4,000.

Girton, an old village just outside Cambridge, is the division's other main population centre: it actually has more registered electors than Bar Hill, but the roll here is swelled by the presence of Girton College.  England's first residential college for women (although now co-educational), Girton is part of Cambridge University and its alumni include the present Queen of Denmark, the political blogger Arianna Huffington and the GP, comedian and writer of Private Eye's "Medicine Balls" column Phil Hammond.  Girton also has one of the UK's largest populations of black squirrels.

Politically Bar Hill is a safe Tory division although the 2005 result just qualified as a Tory/Lib Dem marginal; at the most recent county election in 2013 the Tories had 45% to 22% for UKIP, 14% for Labour and 9% for the Greens, who narrowly pushed the Lib Dems into fifth place.  At district council level Bar Hill ward elected a Lib Dem councillor in 2002 but has been safely Tory since 2006, while Girton is more volatile with both a Tory and an independent district councillor since 2008; the Lib Dems also came close a couple of times before the coalition was established, while the Green Party ran second in Girton ward last year.

Defending for the Tories is Lynda Harford, a South Cambridgeshire district councillor (for Cottenham ward) who describes herself on Twitter as a "Grandma with attitude serving her community".  UKIP have selected Willingham resident Martin Hale, chairman of the party's Cambridge and SE Cambs branch.  Labour's candidate is Alex Smith, from Cambourne; also standing are Claudia Roland for the Green Party (who appears to be the only candidate to live in the division) and Fiona Whelan for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: South Cambridgeshire
South Cambridgeshire district wards: Bar Hill, Girton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cambridge
Postcode districts: CB3, CB23

Martin Hale (UKIP)
Lynda Harford (C)
Claudia Roland (Grn)
Alex Smith (Lab)
Fiona Whelan (LD)

May 2013 result C 1175 UKIP 570 Lab 352 Grn 242 LD 219 Loony 28
June 2009 result C 1866 LD 540 UKIP 340 Grn 320 Lab 284
May 2005 result C 2266 LD 1808 Lab 870

Harlow borough council, Essex
Caused by the resignation of UKIP councillor Jerry Crawford due to ill-health.

St Mary-at-Latton Church, Harlow
While Cambridgeshire's approach to population growth has mostly been to tack bits onto existing villages and develop a few new ones, Harlow is unambiguously a New Town: it was one of the first New Towns, built in the early 1950s to house families who had been bombed out of London.  One legacy of this history is that the town has the third-highest proportion of social housing of any district in England.  Harlow became an urban district in 1955 and now forms a local government district of its own.

Mark Hall was the first part of the New Town to be completed, and forms two separate residential areas either side of First Avenue, imaginatively named Mark Hall North and Mark Hall South.  In Mark Hall North can be found The Lawn, the UK's first modern residential tower block: built in 1951, it is now a listed building.  To the north of Mark Hall North is Temple Fields, a large industrial area next to the River Stort which includes the ward's railway station, Harlow Mill.

Mark Hall ward has a fascinating recent electoral history and a high councillor attrition rate: this is the ward's third casual vacancy in as many years.  The ward was strongly Lib Dem when it was first drawn up on its present boundaries for the 2002 election, but Labour turned the ward into a Lib Dem/Labour marginal and gained it from the Lib Dems surprisingly easily in 2004.  In the 2006 the outgoing Lib Dem councillor Jane Steer stood for re-election as a Conservative, the Lib Dems regaining her seat in a three-way marginal result with a majority over Labour of just 26 votes, which was cut to 12 votes in a 2007 result where all three parties polled within eleven votes of their 2006 score.  In 2008 the Labour nadir saw them fall to third place and the Lib Dems got their seat back.

In 2010 Mark Hall ward had its fourth consecutive three-way marginal result, but this time Labour were on top by a majority of 31.  After that the Lib Dem collapse saw them lose heaily to Labour in 2011.  The remaining Lib Dem councillor (who by now was also Harlow's last remaining Lib Dem councillor) died shortly before he was due for re-election in 2012, and Labour easily gained his seat.  Safe Labour from then on?  No: there is one more twist in the tale.  One of the Labour councillors resigned before the 2014 election having taken on a new job, and UKIP - who had never contested the ward before - made a shock gain of both seats at the 2014 election, polling 38% to 34% for Labour and 20% for the Tories; the UKIP majorities were 60 and 44 votes.  At county level Mark Hall forms part of the Harlow North division which, like the parliamentary seat as a whole, is a key Labour/Tory marginal.

Defending for UKIP is Mark Gough, a former Tory borough councillor who is also UKIP's PPC for Chelmsford.  Labour's candidate is Danny Purton, a former Harlow council transport officer who fought the ward last year.  The Tory candidate is Jane Steer, a former Lib Dem and then Tory councillor for the ward until 2006.  Also standing are Lesley Rideout for the Lib Dems, a former long-serving councillor who lost her seat in the ward in 2011, and Ware resident Murray Sackwild for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Harlow
Essex county council division: Harlow North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Harlow and Bishop's Stortford
Postcode district: CM20

Mark Gough (UKIP)
Danny Purton (Lab)
Lesley Rideout (LD)
Murray Sackwild (Grn)
Jane Steer (C)

May 2014 double vacancy UKIP 662/646 Lab 602/599 C 346/346 LD 137/124
May 2012 result Lab 849 C 440 LD 312
May 2011 result Lab 913 LD 555 C 542
May 2010 result Lab 1145 LD 1114 C 961
May 2008 result LD 744 C 681 Lab 599
May 2007 result LD 752 Lab 740 C 570
May 2006 result LD 761 Lab 735 C 562
June 2004 result Lab 800 LD 584 C 381 Ind 290
May 2003 result LD 598 Lab 510 C 179 Socialist Alliance 48
May 2002 result LD 1098/1091/1075 Lab 791/782/772 C 276/269/255

Shropshire council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Martin Bennett who is moving to Warwick to care for his elderly mother.  Three times Mayor of Oswestry, Bennett had served on the unitary Shropshire council since it was created in 2009.

Oswestry Station
This week's column finishes in the Welsh Marches, an area which specialises in small market towns.  Oswestry is one of the larger towns in the Marches: with a population of 17,000 it is the third-largest town in Shropshire after Telford and Shrewsbury.  But despite its presence in England, Oswestry's cultural and transport links point more towards Wales: it is a border town which changed hands between England and Wales several times, and today is the main service centre for large parts of northern Montgomeryshire and still has a number of Welsh speakers.  The town's football team, The New Saints, are the reigning champions of the Welsh Premier League and a regular fixture in Champions League qualifying.  The town was once the headquarters of the Cambrian Railways, the major railway company in mid-Wales; although no trains run to Oswestry any longer, the station building is still a landmark in the town centre and gave its name to the town's Cambrian ward, one of three former wards of Oswestry district council which are the predecessors of this division.

Electoral contests in eastern Oswestry tend to be between Conservatives and Independents, but these labels are somewhat fluid: Bennett was formerly an independent member of the old Oswestry district council for the former Cabin Lane ward, while Peter Cherrington - who gained Oswestry East's other seat from the Tories at the 2013 election - sat on that council as a Conservative.  In 2013 Cherrington polled 32%, the two-man Tory slate had 30% and a single Labour candidate just missed out with 29%.

Defending for the Tories is Oswestry town councillor John "The Bus" Price, who is endorsed by Cherrington.  Labour have selected Claire Norris.  Also standing are Duncan Kerr for the Green Party and Amanda Woof for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: North Shropshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Oswestry
Postcode districts: SY10, SY11

Duncan Kerr (Grn)
Claire Norris (Lab)
John Price (C)
Amanda Woof (LD)

May 2013 result Ind 611 C 584/453 Lab 551 BNP 169
June 2009 result C 963/962 Ind 697 Lab 500 BNP 356


  1. I can't seem to find the results of the Bar Hill by election. Where are they published?
    Thank you

    1. Hi, sorry, I haven't published these yet on the website because I'm doing a lot of overtime at work at the moment. The results have been posted on the relevant forum thread though, here: