Wednesday, 23 September 2015

By-election Previews: 24 September 2015

Five local by-elections in England this week:

PONTEFRACT NORTH
Wakefield city council, West Yorkshire
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Paula Sherriff, who has been elected as Member of Parliament for Dewsbury.  Sherriff was first elected to Wakefield council in 2012.

"Post mortem patris pro filio" (After the death of the father, support the son), read the motto of the old Pontefract Borough Council; a reference to the town's Royalist sympathies during the Civil War.  Not that Pontefract has always been sympathetic to royalty; in 1399 King Richard II was starved to death in the town's castle.  Some precedents for the town's backbench Labour MP Yvette Cooper to reflect on following her failure in the Labour leadership election, perhaps.

In many ways Ponte Carlo is a strange town: one of several historic claimants for the title of most pubs per square mile in England, the main industries here were historically coalmining and liquorice.  Pontefract's liquorice industry has evolved into production of sweets, with Haribo and Tangerine Confectionery both having sweet factories here.  Coalmining was still a feature of the Pontefract North ward into the twenty-first century, until the closure of the Prince of Wales Colliery in 2002; just outside the ward is the coal-fired Ferrybridge Power Station and the doomed Kellingley Colliery, Britain's last deep coal mine.  Either or both of these factors may explain why the NUM nominated Cooper for the Labour leadership.  Next to the colliery site and occupying much of the western part of the ward is Pontefract Racecourse, one of the longest flat courses in Europe with a circuit of 2-and-a-half miles; the races used to have a tradition of starting afternoon meetings at the late time of 2:45pm to attract miners coming off the morning shift.  Away from these distractions, Pontefract North ward covers the town centre, the castle, the north and west of the town and the town's three railway stations: the main Monkhill station and the quieter Tanshelf and Baghill.

Very much the more working-class half of Pontefract, this all adds up to a safe Labour ward although the Tories did manage to win here by 29 votes at the height of their fortunes in 2008.  In May's ordinary election Labour had 52%, with UKIP (22%) just beating the Tories (21%) for the runner-up spot.

Defending for Labour is Lorna Malkin, a manager at the Castleford Heritage Trust.  Standing again from May is UKIP's regular candidate for the ward Nathan Garbutt.  The Tories have changed candidate and are now standing Anthony Hill.  Also on the ballot paper are Daniel Dearden of TUSC, Lucy Brown of the Yorkshire First party and Daniel Woodlock who is the ward's first Lib Dem candidate since 2010.

Parliamentary constituency: Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wakefield and Castleford
Postcode districts: WF7, WF8, WF11

May 2015 result Lab 3398 UKIP 1422 C 1375 Grn 286 TUSC 97
May 2014 result Lab 1645 UKIP 1205 C 463 TUSC 71
May 2012 result Lab 1649 Ind 769 C 481 UKIP 368 Grn 103 TUSC 76
May 2011 result Lab 2261 C 894 UKIP 403 Grn 205
May 2010 result Lab 3051 C 1594 LD 1008 BNP 585 Ind 279 Grn 150
May 2008 result C 1352 Lab 1323 Ind 398 Grn 240
May 2007 result Lab 1695 C 1517
May 2006 result Lab 1757 C 1077
June 2004 result Lab 2008/1716/1599 UKIP 994/848 C 838/838/783 Socialist Alternative 232


DERWENT VALLEY
Derbyshire county council
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Mike Longden at the age of 74.  A trained accountant who had run a manufacturing and distribution company, Longden was first elected to Derbyshire county council in 2009 and was cabinet member for education until the Tories lost control of Derbyshire in 2013.  Longden had stood down this year from Derbyshire Dales district council, on which he had represented Chatsworth ward for some years.

This rural county division lies within the heart of the Peak District, covering sixteen parishes running up the Derwent valley from the edge of Matlock all the way to Froggatt.  The famous and much-visited stately home of Chatsworth lies at the centre of the division; the various villages at the southern end are linked together by the A6 road and the Peak Rail preserved railway; while at the north end the cliffs of Stoney Middleton show that we are in the limestone "White Peak".  Much of the division lies within the Peak District National Park, although the ward's main population centre, the Matlock suburb of Darley Dale, is outside the park boundary.

The list of polling stations for the by-election reveals some curiosities.  The largest polling station for this by-election is the Whitworth Centre in Darley Dale, a name which commemorates the nineteenth-century engineer Joseph Whitworth, who is buried in Darley Dale and after whom a park and hospital in the town are named.  The divsion's second largest polling district will go to the polls at a pub, the Grouse Inn in Darley Dale.  More predictably, the polling station for Chatsworth parish is the Cavendish Hall in Edensor, while another Cavendish Village Hall, in Beeley, also acts as a polling station; both names, of course, refer to the Dukes of Devonshire who are or were the ultimate landowners for much of the division.

Derbyshire was redistricted at the most recent county elections in 2013 but Derwent Valley division was unchanged.  It was narrowly won by the Lib Dems in 2005 in a straight fight against the Conservatives, but the Tories easily gained in 2009.  In the 2013 county elections the Tories won with 43%, UKIP coming second with 24% and Labour third with 23%.  The Tories did very well here in May's district elections partly because the Lib Dems didn't defend their two councillors in Darley Dale; the Tories were also unopposed in Chatsworth and Stanton wards.  There were a couple of strange features here in the 2011 district election, where the only nominated candidate for Stanton ward withdrew, and the deeply rural Winster and South Darley ward (only part of which is in this division) was gained from the Tories by a Labour candidate, Colin Swindell, who clearly had a personal vote - Swindell stood for re-election in May as an independent and was returned unopposed.

Defending for the Conservatives is Jo Wild, district councillor for Stanton ward since winning the June 2011 by-election following the failure of the ordinary election.  The UKIP candidate is Mike Dawson, who gives an address in Swadlincote - an hour's drive away at the far end of the county.  Labour have selected Martin Rutter, from Matlock, and the Lib Dems' Michael Crapper completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Derbyshire Dales
Derbyshire Dales wards: Calver, Chatsworth, Darley Dale, Stanton, Winster and South Darley (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Matlock
Postcode districts: DE4, DE45, S32, S42

May 2013 result C 1674 UKIP 944 Lab 904 LD 387
June 2009 result C 2078 LD 1427 Ind 617 UKIP 374
May 2005 result LD 3367 C 3039


BLAKEBROOK AND HABBERLEY SOUTH
Wyre Forest district council, Worcestershire
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Ruth Gregory on health grounds.  Gregory, a retired charity shop volunteer, had served on Wyre Forest council for just three months.

The Tories' second defence of the week is a world away from the peace and grandeur of the Peak District.  Instead we are in Kidderminster; the Blakebrook and Habberley South ward covers the town centre and the western end of the town along the main road to Bewdley.  Kidderminster is perhaps best known for carpets - the red carpet used at the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding was made here - but other industries in the town include luxury yachts and solid-fuel rocket motors.

At the centre of the ward lies Kidderminster Hospital, the epicentre of one of the more unlikely political movements of recent years.  The Health Concern political party, formed in 1999 in protest against the withdrawal of A&E services from Kidderminster Hospital, ended up running Wyre Forest council for several years and held the town's parliamentary seat, in the form of Dr Richard Taylor, from 2001 to 2010.  Despite this, the A&E services haven't come back and Health Concern's vote has been on the slide in recent years, although it's fair to say that this area hasn't been the best part of the district for them.  Wyre Forest got radically new ward boundaries this year which makes comparison difficult, but the main predecessor ward (Habberley and Blakebrook) was generally a Labour-inclined marginal although Health Concern did win it at the 2002 and 2006 elections.  The new ward boundaries in May's election proved better for the Conservatives in a fragmented result; on highest votes the Tory slate won with 28%, to 20% for UKIP, 18% for Labour, 15% for the single Health Concern candidate and 11% for the Greens.  Comparison at county level is difficult because the ward is split between two divisions: St Johns division (which covers the western part of the ward) is consistently Conservative with UKIP second, while St Marys (which covers the town centre) was Labour in 2005 and Tory in 2009 before going UKIP in 2013, but the new UKIP county councillor died shortly afterwards and the Tories won the seat back at the by-election.

Defending for the Conservatives is Tracey Onslow, formerly a Wyre Forest councillor from 2007-2015 and looking for a quick return to the council after her former Sutton Park ward disappeared in May's boundary changes.  Another former Wyre Forest councillor standing is UKIP's Michael Wrench, who lost his seat in May in another ward having served for just a year.  Labour's lead candidate Bernadette Connor tries again.  Health Concern have selected Jim Lawson, Richard Taylor's election agent.  The Green candidate is Natalie McVey who was top of the Green slate here in May.  The Lib Dems' Adrian Beavis completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Wyre Forest
Worcestershire county council divisions: St Marys (town centre), St Johns (rest)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kidderminster
Postcode districts: DY10, DY11

May 2015 result C 1232/1194/1070 UKIP 871/833/699 Lab 792/790/612 Health Concern 669 Grn 481/289/206 LD 211 TUSC 88


LODDON
Norfolk county council; and
CHEDGRAVE AND THURTON
South Norfolk district council
Both caused by the death of Conservative councillor Derek Blake at the age of 78.  Blake was found dead in June on his drive, with severe head injuries and a shotgun lying next to him; Norfolk police are not treating his death as suspicious.  Blake had served as a county councillor for less than two months since winning a by-election in May, held simultaneously with the ordinary election; he had served on South Norfolk district council since 2003 and as chairman of Bergh Apton parish council since 2011.  Before retiring to Norfolk and seeking elected office, he had a successful career working all over the world in the electrical and power industry.

For our final by-elections of the week we come to the Norfolk Broads.  Loddon is a small market town around twelve miles south-east of Norwich on the road to Beccles and Lowestoft.  The town is located on the River Chet and as such is a focal point for tourism to the Broads, with boating and boatbuliding being major contributors to the local economy.  Loddon forms the eastern end of a deeply rural county division of twenty-two parishes, of which perhaps the most notable is Seething, home to a US air force base during the Second World War and now a private aerodrome.  Six of those parishes form the Chedgrave and Thurton ward, which lies on the south bank of the Yare and is perhaps most notable for the ruined Langley Abbey.  Parts of the county division and ward lie within the Broads National Park.

The political profile of this area is true blue: the county by-election in May, held on general election day, saw the Tories poll 50% to 17% for Labour and 15% for UKIP; while in the simultaneous district election the Tories had 46%, Labour 20% and UKIP 16%.  The closest in recent years that the Tories have come to losing either ward was Blake's first district election in 2003, where he had 55% in a straight fight with Labour.

The defending Tory candidate in the county by-election is Barry Stone, who was elected to the district council in May from a ward elsewhere in the district.  Labour have reselected their candidate from May's by-election (David Bissonnet) as have UKIP (Alan Baugh), while the Lib Dems (Christopher Brown) complete the ballot paper.

In the district by-election the Tories have selected Jaan Larner, a consultant solicitor with an MBA from Oxford who has published books on how to be a cad and on his experience competing in an Ironman triathlon in 2012.  He is opposed by Labour's Sarah Langton, UKIP's Ron Murphy and the Lib Dems' Ernest Green.

Loddon
Parliamentary constituency: South Norfolk
South Norfolk district council wards: Brooke, Chedgrave and Thurton, Loddon, Hempnall (part), Rockland (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Norwich
Postcode districts: NR14, NR15, NR35

May 2015 by-election C 3002 Lab 1018 UKIP 923 Grn 555 LD 496
May 2013 result C 2001 UKIP 594 Lab 383 LD 163
June 2009 result C 3087 LD 481 Lab 233 Ind 176
May 2005 result C 3834 LD 939 Lab 802 Grn 318

Chedgrave and Thurton
Parliamentary constituency: South Norfolk
Norfolk county council division: Loddon
ONS Travel to Work Area: Norwich
Postcode districts: NR14, NR15

May 2015 result C 688 Lab 299 UKIP 243 Ind 144 LD 129
May 2011 result C 600 LD 244 UKIP 202
May 2007 result C 573 LD 318
May 2003 result C 425 Lab 349

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