Thursday, 13 August 2015

By-election Previews: 13 August 2015

Six by-elections this week in an unusually busy August, with two each in England, Wales and Scotland.  One of the Welsh and both the Scottish polls are caused by newly-elected MPs resigning their council seats.

Warwickshire county council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Martin Heatley on health grounds.  Heatley, who has since died at the age of 71, had been a Warwickshire county councillor since 1993 and was the council's cabinet member for the environment; until May he was vice-chairman of the county council.  At the time of his resignation he was also facing allegations of benefit fraud.

It was Nuneaton that provided the "Basildon moment" of the 2015 general election: as one of the first marginal seats to declare its result, it was when the Conservatives increased their majority in the seat that it became clear that Labour were not going to form a government, thus plunging the party into an interminable leadership election (is there really another month of this to go?).  Much of the Tory vote within Nuneaton will have come from Whitestone, an area of postwar housing at the town's south-eastern corner off the Lutterworth Road.  The figure which really sticks out from Whitestone ward's census statistics is the owner-occupied percentage, which at 94.3% is the eighth-highest figure for any ward in England and Wales: there are also relatively high proportions of people with apprenticeships, and Sikhs.  The White Stone of the name can be found at the junction of Lutterworth Road, Bulkington Lane and Golf Drive.

However, differing boundaries at ward and county level make the comparison rather difficult: Whitestone county division only includes part of Whitestone ward, with the other half of the division coming from Attleborough on the other side of the West Coast Main Line.  Attleborough is an older area and much more socially mixed.

This difference is reflected in the local election results, although comparison is difficult as Nuneaton and Bedworth was one of the few English districts which did not hold local elections in May this year.  Whitestone ward is solidly Conservative, while Attleborough is a key marginal ward which Labour gained from the Tories at the most recent borough election in 2014.  This adds up to a safe Tory county division which Heatley won 53-31 at his last re-election in 2013.

Defending for the Tories is Jeff Morgan, a photographer and community activist who won a by-election to Nuneaton and Bedworth borough council from Arbury ward (in the south-west of the town) in December 2013, but lost his seat at the ordinary election five months later.  He should have an easier ride here.  Labour have reselected their 2013 candidate Andrew Crichton, a barman in his mid-twenties.  Also standing are Mick Ludford for the Green Party and Alwyn Waine for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Nuneaton
Nuneaton and Bedworth borough council wards: Attleborough (part), Whitestone (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Coventry
Postcode district: CV11

May 2013 result C 1173 Lab 697 Grn 348
June 2009 result C 1646 Lab 529 BNP 432 Grn 424
May 2005 result C 2748 Lab 2067

Exeter city council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Simon Bowkett, who is concentrating on his role as chief executive of the charity Exeter Council for Voluntary Service.  He had served on Exeter city council since 2012, gaining his seat from the Conservatives.

Incorporated into Exeter in 1966, Pinhoe is the north-eastern corner of Exeter, hard up against the M5 motorway.  Pinhoe was the site of a battle in 1001 in which Danish forces, fresh from besieging Exeter, defeated a Saxon army; another legacy of war is that the local community centre, America Hall, was built using funds donated by the families of US service personnel stationed here during the Second World War.  Pinhoe's railway station reopened in 1983, with hourly or two-hourly trains to Exeter St Davids and London Waterloo.  The main curiosity from the ward's census figures is a very high proportion of part-time workers.

At local level this is a hard-fought marginal where majorities are often tiny: Labour by 55 votes in 2004, Conservative gain by 83 votes in 2008, Labour gain by 4 votes in September 2010, Labour hold by 34 votes at the most recent election here in 2014, in which Labour had 37%, the Tories 35% and UKIP were a strong third with 19%; that 2014 poll was also notable for seeing one of the few local election candidates from the UKIP splinter group An Independence from Europe, who didn't quite manage 1% here.  Labour have less trouble at county level in which Pinhoe is paired with the safe Mincinglake city ward.

Defending for Labour is David Harvey.  The Conservatives have selected Cynthia Thompson, who was a councillor for this ward between 2008 and 2012, losing her seat to Bowkett, and has been trying to get back ever since.  Alison Sheridan, who fought St Loyes ward in the 2015 city elections, stands for UKIP.  Also on the ballot paper are Michael Payne for the Lib Dems, John Moreman for the Green Party and independent candidate David Smith.

May 2014 result Lab 862 C 828 UKIP 460 Grn 116 LD 71 An Independence from Europe 23
May 2012 result Lab 1022 C 742 UKIP 240 LD 69 Grn 68
Sept 2010 result Lab 903 C 899 UKIP 104 LD 74 Grn 48
May 2008 result C 993 Lab 910 Lib 212 LD 151
May 2006 result C 1071 Lab 735 LD 165 UKIP 133 Grn 110
June 2004 result Lab 952 C 897 LD 334
May 2002 result Lab 987 C 663 LD 204 Grn 65

Parliamentary constituency: Exeter
Devon county council division: Pinhoe and Mincinglake
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter and Newton Abbot
Postcode districts: EX1, EX4

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