Monday, 20 April 2015

By-election Preview: 16 April 2015

One by-election on 16th April 2015:

Cumbria county council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Mandy Telford.  Your columnist vaguely remembers that Telford was Labour head of the NUS at the time he was trying to study; since then she has married John Woodcock, the Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and had two daughters by him.  Telford's resignation comes as her marriage has broken down and she is returning to her native Scotland.

Delhi Street, Vickerstown
Lancashire over the water here; and very much over the water, as we are on the low-lying Walney Island, the largest English island in the Irish Sea and the eighth largest island in the UK.  The Walney South ward covers everything on the island to the south of the Jubilee Bridge and Central Drive: it includes the settlements of Vickerstown and Tummer Hill, which are essentially extensions of urban Barrow-in-Furness, together with the small farming village of Biggar, while the southern end of the island is a nature reserve used as a stop by a large number of migrating seabirds.  Off the wide sandy beaches on the west coast can be seen a number of offshore windfarms, all built in the last ten years, while across the muddy east coast is Barrow Island, still dominated by Barrow's shipyards.  Although Walney is in much the same place as the fictional Island of Sodor, Thomas and his friends don't come here in real life; the island has never had a railway connection.

We are, of course, only three weeks away from polling in a general election which looks likely to result in a change of government.  Thanks to the action (or inaction, depending on how you view it) of the Lib Dems in the current government, the next government will have to make a decision about the renewal of the UK's Trident nuclear deterrent.  The current Forces plans are to build a new class of nuclear-equipped submarines in Barrow, starting in late 2016; and BAE Systems, current owner of the shipyard, has major expansion plans based on that programme.  However, this could yet be derailed by politics: the collapse of Labour support in Scotland means that after the election Labour may have to form a government relying on the support of the Scottish National Party, who are implacably opposed to Trident renewal.  It's hard to see how a positive decision for Barrow could come out of such a government.  The importance of the shipyards to Walney's economy is encoded in the name of one of the main settlements in the Walney South ward: Vickerstown, a planned village built at the turn of the twentieth century for workers at what was then the Vickers shipyard.  Barrow is already a seriously deprived working-class town; take the shipbuilding out and you're left with half-baked plans to build a cruise ship terminal (for liners to call at the Lake District) or a bridge or causeway across Morecambe Bay to improve connections with the town, which thanks to its location on the end of a peninsula is a very long journey from anywhere.

So much for the politics: now, what about the elections?  Both Cumbria county council and Barrow-in-Furness borough council have been redistricted in the last seven years, but in both cases the boundaries on Walney Island were left unchanged; since the Walney South county division has the same boundaries as the Walney South borough council ward, this means we have a good record of the area's electoral twists (at least up to 2011 when Barrow moved away from election by thirds).  Walney South was safe Labour until 2002, but turned into a a Labour/Tory marginal in 2003.  In 2006 the Tories got ahead of Labour for the first time, and by the end of that electoral cycle in 2009 they held all four of Walney South's elected offices and Labour were in some disarray.  The general election in 2010 and the formation of the Coalition changed all that, and this is now a very safe Labour area.  Telford completed the Tory rout by gaining the county council seat from the Conservatives in 2013: she polled 61% to 21% for the outgoing Tory county councillor and 18% for UKIP.

Those same three parties are contesting this final by-election before the general and local elections on 7th May.  The defending Labour candidate is Frank Cassidy, a Barrow borough councillor for the division; he is opposed by the Tories' Greg Peers and UKIP's Graham Pritchard, who appears to be the only candidate to live on the island.

Parliamentary constituency: Barrow and Furness
Barrow-in-Furness borough council ward: Walney South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Barrow-in-Furness

Frank Cassidy (Lab)
Greg Peers (C)
Graham Pritchard (UKIP)

May 2013 result Lab 705 C 242 UKIP 201
May 2011 borough council result Lab 966/914/856 C 583/422/411
May 2010 borough council result Lab 1819 C 959
June 2009 result C 598 Lab 363 People's Party (Furness) 210 LD 143
May 2008 borough council result C 637/594/592 Lab 528/525/506
May 2007 borough council result C 599 Lab 525
May 2006 borough council double vacancy C 641/565 Lab 394/389 Ind 223
May 2005 result Lab 1211 C 786 Ind 315 Ind 103
June 2004 borough council result Lab 810 C 658 Ind 295
May 2003 borough council result Lab 523 C 478
May 2002 borough council result Lab 746 C 466

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