Wednesday, 1 July 2015

By-election Previews: 18 June 2015

Two postponed polls on 18th May, both in southern England:

Mole Valley district council, Surrey
A double-vacancy election, caused by the resignation of the council's only UKIP member Stephen Musgrove, which was postponed from 7th May due to the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Mick Longhurst, who had been nominated for re-election.  Longhurst, who died at the age of 82, had been a Mole Valley District councillor for fifteen years following a 30-year career at Johnston Engineering in Dorking; a keen Chelsea fan, he had formerly been vice-president of Dorking FC.  Musgrove, who had been a councillor for less than a year, has moved away from the district and now lives in East Sussex.

The Holmwoods ward lies immediately south of Dorking and covers various localities called Holmwood.  Much the larger is North Holmwood, effectively a Dorking suburb much of which is built on the site of the former Dorking Brickworks, which closed in 1983 after exhausting the local clay supply.  Further south along the A24 Dorking-Horsham road is South Holmwood, centre of the Holmwood civil parish and birthplace of the 1930s novelist E Arnot Robertson.

During the last Labour government Holmwoods was a safe Liberal Democrat ward, with the Tories in a fairly distant second.  The general election turnout enabled the Conservatives to get within nine points of the Lib Dems in 2010, and after a further pro-Tory swing in 2011 the Lib Dem lead was down to six points, but the Lib Dems pulled away in 2012 as the Tories bled votes to UKIP.  The Lib Dems also easily won the local county division (Dorking South and The Holmwoods) in 2013.  So is the ward safe Lib Dem now?  Not a bit of it: a close three-way result in 2014 saw a UKIP gain with 32% of the vote, to 29% for the Tories and 26% for the Lib Dems, with Labour's 7% just beating the Greens for fourth place.  The Lib Dems are very much on the defensive here, having lost four seats to the Conservatives in May in the rest of Mole Valley district, while UKIP's local machine does not appear to be in good shape; Musgrove was due to be the UKIP parliamentary candidate for Mole Valley in May, but he was actually the second choice after the previous candidate, UKIP general secretary Roger Bird, stood down over accusations of - what else with a name like that? - sexual harassment.

UKIP and the Lib Dems are defending one seat each.  On the UKIP slate are Michael Foulston, who fought this ward in 2012 for UKIP and in 2002 and 2003 for the Tories, and Stephen Morgan.  The Lib Dems have selected Claire Malcomson, who appears to be an actress who once appeared on Jonathan Creek, and Clayton Wellman.  The Tory slate consists of James Baird, a former Horley town councillor who was runner-up here in 2014, and his fiancĂ©e Emma Whittinger.  Labour appear to have given up, so the ballot paper is completed by the Green Party slate, Jeff Zie (who fought the ward in 2014) being joined by second choice candidate Eugene Suggett.

Parliamentary constituency: Mole Valley
Surrey county council division: Dorking South and the Holmwoods
ONS Travel to Work Area: Crawley

May 2014 result UKIP 608 C 551 LD 504 Lab 133 Grn 127
May 2012 result LD 727 C 447 UKIP 287 Lab 154
May 2011 result LD 863 C 743 UKIP 238 Lab 226
May 2010 result LD 1507 C 1208 UKIP 319 Lab 297
May 2008 result LD 870 C 563 UKIP 269
May 2007 result LD 894 C 556 UKIP 107 Lab 100 Grn 85
May 2006 result LD 1062 C 532 Lab 130
June 2004 result LD 996 C 694 Lab 160
May 2003 result LD 848 C 441 Lab 135
May 2002 result LD 965 C 430 Lab 207

Christchurch district council, Dorset
Postponed from 7th May due to the death of Labour candidate Richard Walls.

Dorset's most easterly electoral ward, this covers the northern half of the town of Highcliffe, now part of the Bournemouth/Poole conurbation but in Victorian and Edwardian times a popular health and leisure resort: Wilhelm II stayed in Highcliffe in 1907 to recover from the strain of political scandals in Germany.  At the north-west corner of the ward is Highcliffe's railway station, curiously named Hinton Admiral.  The census bears out the fact that this is a retirement area: 25% of the population is retired and 32% are aged 65 or over; owner-occupation rates are also notably high.

Christchurch was the site of a famous Lib Dem by-election win during the Major government, but Liberalism is essentially extinct here now.  The most recent district election here saw the Tory slate poll 75% against opposition from a single Labour candidate.  However, the 2013 Dorset county council elections suggest that UKIP could be stiffer competition: the Kippers had 39% across the larger Highcliffe and Walkford county division, although it wasn't enough to beat the Tories who had 50%.

The two previous Tory councillors for the ward, Sally Derham Wilkes and Nick Geary, are both standing for re-election.  On the Labour slate Donald Barr, the only opposition candidate in 2011, is joined by Richard Walls' son Gareth.  The ballot paper is completed by the UKIP slate of Robin Grey and Janet Hatton.

Parliamentary constituency: Christchurch
Dorset county council division: Highcliffe and Walkford
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bournemouth

May 2011 result C 1136/1001 Lab 381
May 2007 result C 1117/1004 LD 415 Lab 179
May 2003 result C 651/627 LD 503/470 UKIP 129 Lab 65

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