Wednesday, 4 March 2015

By-election Previews: 5 March 2015

Four by-elections will take place on 5th March, including the first three London local by-elections of the new year.  However, before reaching the Smoke we start in a Essex with a fascinating three-way marginal.

Essex county council
Caused by the death of UKIP councillor Gordon Helm at the age of 75.  A county councillor since 2013, Helm was also UKIP's PPC for Braintree in the forthcoming general election.

"If the curious enquirer will take pick and shovel he will find at any rate one corresponding dualism below the surface. He will find a Bocking water main supplying the houses on the north side and a Braintree water main supplying the south. I rather suspect that the drains are also in duplicate. The total population of Bocking and Braintree is probably little more than thirteen thousand souls altogether, but for that there are two water supplies, two sets of schools, two administrations. To the passing observer the rurality of the Bocking side is indistinguishable from the urbanity of the Braintree side; it is just a little muddier."

That was H G Wells, writing ninety-nine years ago at the height of the Great War about the differences between Braintree and Bocking, and using them to illustrate the difficulty in establishing world peace through a single world state.  Much of Wells' complaints are now dated: Bocking is now an urban suburb of Braintree; Braintree and Bocking were combined under a single council in 1974; the population of the combined town has more than trebled in the intervening century; and the establishment of the European Union, while not going as far as the World State of Wells' imagination, has done much to ensure seventy years of peace in western Europe.  Seen in that context, it becomes ironic that Bocking - that northern suburb divided from Braintree by a Roman road - elected a UKIP county councillor in 2013.

One of the joys of writing this column is finding unintended ironies like that, but of course what may seem ironic in one context could make perfect sense when viewed from another angle.  Like Braintree, Bocking's traditional industry is textiles, specifically silk: the major local employer was Courtaulds, whose founding family were from the area and made many donations to the town, such as Braintree town hall.

Bocking's industrial legacy has left a large Labour vote: Labour had a majority of the division's district councillors until 2003 and still hold three seats out of seven.  At the last district council elections in 2011, of the three wards covering the division Bocking Blackwater was safe Tory, Bocking North (despite a small rural area) was safe Labour and Bocking South was a key marginal: with Blackwater ward being larger than the other two that would normally translate to the county division being a Tory-inclined key marginal.  It hasn't quite worked out like that: Labour narrowly held the division in 2005 thanks to the simultaneous general election; the Tories turned Bocking into a safe division for them in 2009 as the Labour vote reached its nadir; and in 2013 UKIP executed a perfect come-through-the-middle move to beat the Tories by 20 votes and Labour by 114; the shares of the vote (UKIP 33% C 32% Lab 30%) show what a close three-way marginal result this was.  With the local Tory MP having got himself into a sex scandal and speculation that UKIP could have a serious tilt at the Braintree constituency, this will definitely be one to watch ahead of the forthcoming general election.

This is the second local by-election in Essex this year, and the first one saw UKIP lose a seat to Labour in a working-class part of Harlow.  Hoping that doesn't happen this time is UKIP's Michael Ford, who fought Braintree at the last general election.  The Tory candidate is Stephen Canning; in his early twenties, he is a district councillor for Bocking Blackwater ward and a deputy chairman of Conservative Future, and had a cameo role in Made in Chelsea shortly after his election.  Lynn Watson, the last Labour county councillor for Bocking who lost her seat to the Conservatives in 2009, will make a second attempt to get back onto the county council.  Also standing are John Malam of the Green Party and independent candidate Peter Sale.

Parliamentary constituency: Braintree
Braintree council wards: Bocking Blackwater, Bocking North, Bocking South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chelmsford and Braintree
Postcode district: CM7

Stephen Canning (C)
Michael Ford (UKIP)
John Malam (Grn)
Peter Sale (Ind)
Lynn Watson (Lab)

May 2013 result UKIP 1340 C 1320 Lab 1226 Grn 126 LD 91
June 2009 result C 1814 Lab 997 UKIP 859 LD 572 BNP 318 Grn 299
May 2005 result Lab 3231 C 3010 LD 1362 Grn 449

London borough of Brent
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Bhiku Patel at the age of 70, while on holiday in India.  He had served Kenton ward since 2010

Northwick Avenue, Kenton
For the first of this week's three London by-elections we travel to Metroland, that quadrant of north-west London which filled up with housing between the wars at the instigation of the Metropolitan Railway.  Over the last few decades this area has seen enormous demographic change, with 44% of the population at the last census having been born outside the UK.  This influx is overwhelmingly from India: 58% of the population is of Asian ethnicity and 36% are Hindu, which makes Kenton one of the top ten Hindu wards in England.  The ward forms a roughly triangular shape to the south of the Kenton Road, with Kenton underground station (Bakerloo and London Overground) at the western corner, Kingsbury station (Jubilee) at the eastern corner and Preston Road (Metropolitan) just off the southern corner.  This is generally a well-off, upwardly-mobile area.

The ward is normally safe Tory at council level, but forms part of the safe Labour constituency of Brent North; Labour came close here in the 2010 borough elections, which coincided with the last general election, and in a February 2011 by-election.  In the 2014 borough elections the Tories polled 51%, to 32% for Labour and 10% for the Green Party; it would seem that the Tories have benefited from the collapse of the Lib Dem vote here.  In 2012 Boris beat Ken here 57-33 but the GLA London member ballot was closer, with 45% for the Conservatives and 38% for Labour.

The Tories have suffered a split on Brent council since the 2014 election, with their Brondesbury Park ward councillors walking off to form a separate group.  However, there is a single Tory candidate for the by-election: Michael Maurice, chairman of the Brent North branch of the party.  The Labour candidate is Vincent Lo, who has worked for a variety of City financial firms and recently went for the Labour parliamentary selection in Holborn and St Pancras; during the campaign he has had to apologise for defamatory leaflets about the Tory candidate.  Also on the ballot paper are Michaela Lichten of the Green Party, who appears to be the only candidate to live in the ward, and former Brent borough councillor Bob Wharton for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Brent North
GLA constituency: Brent and Harrow
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: HA3, NW9

Michaela Lichten (Grn)
Vincent Lo (Lab)
Michael Maurice (C)
Bob Wharton (LD)

May 2014 result C 1798/1796/1669 Lab 1139/1040/946 Grn 348 LD 221/153/125
Feb 2011 by-election C 1063 Lab 907 Ind 185 LD 179 Grn 75
May 2010 result C 2805/2667/2333 Lab 2218/1832/1799 LD 1013/782/630 Grn 287/265/230
May 2006 result C 1944/1891/1828 Lab 1043/976/779 LD 526/483/369 Grn 276
May 2002 result C 1712/1668/1660 Lab 1042/946/850 LD 276/269/214

2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Boris 1636 Ken 946 Ind 92 LD 85 Grn 76 UKIP 27 BNP 12
London member: C 1288 Lab 1082 Grn 143 LD 120 UKIP 98 CPA 45 Alagaratnam 27 BNP 21 EDP 15 TUSC 12 Hayat 7 NF 6 House Party 6

London borough of Camden
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Peter Brayshaw at the age of 67.  Brayshaw had served several terms on Camden council, first being elected in Bloomsbury ward in 1990, then returning to the council by winning a by-election in 2000.  He lost his seat to the Tories in 2006 but returned for St Pancras and Somers Town ward in 2010.  Away from the council he was known as anti-apartheid campaigner and a member of the Local Authority Pension Fund forum.

"It went the half hour as I came through the Polygon"
- Charles Dickens, "The Pickwick Papers"

Entering St Pancras Station
Journey down to London by Overground train from Kenton, or by express train from the north or the Continent, and this is where you will end up: the marvellously-refurbished St Pancras and Kings Cross railway stations are here, while Euston station is just outside the ward boundary.  The census paints an interesting picture of the ward's population, with a diverse population (25% Asian, 14% Black, 31% born outside the EU, 25% Muslim), a large student population (around 19%) and, most tellingly, 61% of households are socially rented, which is one of the top 20 figures in the country.

Somers Town is one of the oldest parts of London, being named after its eighteenth-century landowner Charles Cocks, 1st Lord Somers.  There has been housing here since the 1780s - Mary Wollstonecraft died here in 1797 - but the area went into a social decline in the 1830s as it became a favoured location for labourers building the railway lines down to the Euston Road, and by the late Victorian era Somers Town was one of London's most notorious slums and a favourite subject of Dickens, who briefly lived here.  Many of the slum dwellings were cleared between the wars to be replaced with social housing by the St Pancras House Improvement Society and the London County Council.  The area was a popular location for hospitals: St Pancras hospital is here while 2015 will see the opening of the Francis Crick Institute, a new biomedical research centre opposite St Pancras station and located next door to the British Library.  On the opposite side of St Pancras Station, the former Kings Cross goods yard - once a notorious red-light district - is being developed into a new business area known as Kings Cross Central, which is important enough to have gained its own postcode district (N1C).

This is, obviously, a safe Labour ward and the main interest is usually who comes second.  This was the Lib Dems in 2002 and 2010, but Respect were runners-up in 2006 and the Green Party took over second place last year.  The lead Green candidate in 2010, greatly outpolling her running-mates, was none other than Natalie Bennett who now leads the party nationally, although if her performance in recent interviews is anything to go by she's probably forgotten about standing here five years ago.  In 2014 Labour polled 68% with the Greens, as stated, being best of the rest on 15%; two years earlier Ken beat Boris here 66-22 with Labour polling 62% in the London Member ballot to 13% for the Tories and 12% for the Greens.

Paul Tomlinson is the defending Labour candidate; he is described as having lived in the ward for many years and having links with his local tenants association.  He is opposed by Tina Swasey for the Green Party, Shahin Ahmed for the Tories and Zack Polanski for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Holborn and St Pancras
GLA constituency: Barnet and Camden
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: N1C, NW1

Shahin Ahmed (C)
Zack Polanski (LD)
Tina Swasey (Grn)
Paul Tomlinson (Lab)

May 2014 result Lab 2511/2488/2423 Grn 562/526/440 C 368/351/295 LD 245/192/178
May 2010 result Lab 2744/2650/2614 LD 1024/1011/927 Grn 738/467/422 C 721/701/688
May 2006 result Lab 1399/1264/1212 Respect 781 Grn 517/369/213 C 440/429/422 LD 433/332/317 Ind 181
May 2002 result Lab 960/902/865 LD 379/353/349 C 263/259/249 Grn 219/124/116 Socialist Alliance 211

May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Ken 1791 Boris 605 Grn 172 Ind 84 LD 71 UKIP 55 BNP 46
London member: Lab 1770 C 362 Grn 336 LD 99 UKIP 98 BNP 63 TUSC 42 CPA 23 EDP 21 House Party 18 NF 9 Hayat 5 Alagaratnam 0

London borough of Croydon
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Gerry Ryan on his 57th birthday.  A Selhurst councillor since 1998, Ryan had been the Labour candidate for Croydon Central in the 2010 general election; by profession he was a telecommunications engineer and an official with the Communications Workers Union.  He had been fighting cancer for six years.  Recognising his work, the CWU are to establish an annual award in Ryan's name for the union's best recruiter and negotiator.

Holy Saviour Parish Church, Croydon
Another suburban area of South London, Selhurst is located to the north of Croydon.  Like much of London, this is an area which has seen much demographic change since the Second World War.  The largest ethnic group in the ward is now Black; with 35% this is in the top 20 Black wards in England, and the mixed-race population (9%) is in the top 10 wards in England.  The area is mostly residential and centred on Selhurst railway station on the Brighton line, which is adjacent to a large depot which is the main engineering and maintenance centre for Southern Trains.  At the northern corner of the ward is Selhurst Park, home of the Premier League side Crystal Palace FC.

Croydon's wards are almost all safe for one or other of the main parties, and Selhurst is on the Labour side.  At the most recent election in 2014 Labour polled 52% against a fragmented field, with the Tories second on 14% just ahead of a two-man UKIP slate, whose 13% was one of their better results in London.  In the 2012 GLA elections Ken beat Boris here 64-22, while Labour beat the Tories 64-14 in the London Member poll.

Defending for Labour is David Wood, a father-of-two, governor of a local primary school and son of a former Bishop of Croydon.  The Tories have selected Tirena Gunter, who is bidding to become the only Afro-Caribbean Tory councillor in Croydon.  The UKIP candidate is Annette Reid, and also on the ballot paper are Tracey Hague for the Green Party and the Lib Dems' Geoff Morley.

Parliamentary constituency: Croydon North
GLA constituency: Croydon and Sutton
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: CR0, SE25

Tirena Gunter (C)
Tracey Hague (Grn)
Geoff Morley (LD)
Annette Reid (UKIP)
David Wood (Lab)

May 2014 result Lab 2086/2079/1996 C 546/515/471 UKIP 504/396 Grn 341/269/267 LD 240 Ind 128 TUSC 88 Comm 77
May 2010 result Lab 3355/3353/3324 C 1407/1286/1240 LD 1150 Grn 516/515/515 Comm 93
May 2006 result Lab 1652/1597/1452 C 906/893/861 Grn 588 LD 570
May 2002 result Lab 1685/1641/1535 C 597/558/540 LD 367/335/332

May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Ken 1826 Boris 632 Ind 108 LD 96 Grn 84 UKIP 68 BNP 45
London member: Lab 1834 C 411 Grn 164 UKIP 136 LD 92 CPA 88 BNP 50 TUSC 29 EDP 20 Hayat 20 Alagaratnam 18 NF 8 House Party 8