Six local by-elections will take place on 22nd October 2015. Most of these should be safe Tory holds, with the party unlikely to be troubled in Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Essex or central London, while Labour should have little trouble defending one of the grimmer parts of Oxford. But we start this week with a Labour defence on the edge of Greater Manchester which the Tories have a good chance of gaining.
Bury metropolitan borough council, Greater Manchester
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Simon Carter. A councillor since 2012, Carter's resignation came after pleading guilty to making indecent images of children.
Welcome to the West Pennine Moors. Up in the hills a few miles to the north-west of Bury, Tottington is essentially an affluent Bury suburb, although like many towns in the area it grew greatly during the Industrial Revolution with some textile working in the town. Famous entertainers from Totty include the actress Lisa Riley and most of Elbow, while the Tottington Public Band claims to be one of the UK's oldest brass bands having been in continuous existence since 1835. Also in the ward are the village of Walshaw to the south and the hamlet of Affetside, high on a hill with fantastic views over Manchester, the Cheshire plain and (on a good day) as far as Snowdonia, while the ward also includes a small part of Bury proper around Elton High School, where your columnist's brother-in-law teaches.
In terms of local politics - did I say affluent? Even in the Tory nadir year of 1995, when they won fewer than twenty wards in the whole of Greater Manchester, Tottington was one of them - although the boundaries were a little more favourable for the Tories then. In that context the Labour win in 2012 - the only time Labour have won Tottington since the formation of Bury metropolitan borough in 1973 - is even more surprising, but in 2012 the Conservatives underperformed in Bury very badly partly thanks to a planning-related scandal involving two senior Tory councillors. May's ordinary election saw a return to Tottington's normal safe Tory status, with the Tories winning on 49% to 29% for Labour and 14% for UKIP. This ward will clearly have provided the Tory majority in Bury North at the general election. Ladbrokes are taking bets on the outcome of this by-election, and my tip is to back the Tories.
Defending for Labour is Martin Hayes, who stood in neighbouring Elton ward in May's ordinary election and narrowly lost it to the Conservatives. Retired policeman Greg Keeley is hoping to make the first Tory gain in a metropolitan borough by-election since March 2014. UKIP's candidate is Ian Henderson, who fought Bury North in the general election. Completing the ballot paper are the Green Party's John Southworth and the Lib Dems' David Foss.
Parliamentary constituency: Bury North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Manchester
May 2015 result C 2682 Lab 1592 UKIP 785 Grn 247 LD 194
May 2014 result C 1295 Lab 1019 UKIP 605 Grn 109 LD 88
May 2012 result Lab 1085 C 965 UKIP 379 LD 135
May 2011 result C 1646 Lab 1323 LD 283
May 2010 result C 2521 Lab 1608 LD 1098 BNP 337
May 2008 result C 1700 Lab 614 LD 456 BNP 210
May 2007 result C 1565 Lab 726 LD 354 BNP 345
May 2006 result C 1590 Lab 711 LD 478
June 2004 result C 1796/1563/1479 Lab 1111/1044/980 BNP 663 LD 580
Oxford city council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Scott Seamans, who has a new job as a policy advisor at the Treasury. First elected in 2010 when he was 23 years old, Seamans had served since 2012 as the council's cabinet member for housing and regeneration, forming plans for the refurbishment of Oxford's tower blocks and the regeneration of Blackbird Leys.
Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water, along comes another Oxford by-election: this is the seventh council by-election in Oxford since the last ordinary elections in the city in 2014, and the second in this ward within twelve months. Northfield Brook ward is on the city's southern edge, and covers the south-western half of the notoriously deprived and crime-ridden Blackbird Leys estate.
This is a strongly left-wing area, to the extent that during most of the Noughties it was closely fought between Labour and a local left-wing group called the Independent Working Class Association, who gained the Labour seats in 2004 and 2006 and held both seats in the ward from 2006 to 2010. However, the IWCA stopped contesting elections after 2008 and in their absence the ward has become a Labour monolith. The most recent poll here was a by-election in November 2014, caused by the ward's other Labour councillor resigning to stand in a county council by-election: on a dismal turnout Labour had 71%, with the Tories' 11% best of the rest.
Defending for Labour is Jennifer Pegg. Her opposition will come from the Tories' Gary Dixon (returning from last year's by-election), the Greens' Lucy Ayrton, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition's James Morbin (who also stood in the by-election last year) and the ward's first UKIP candidate Joe Lawes.
Parliamentary constituency: Oxford East
Oxfordshire county council division: Leys
ONS Travel to Work Area: Oxford
Nov 2014 by-election Lab 401 C 65 Grn 50 TUSC 34 LD 18
May 2014 result Lab 700 C 112 Grn 111 LD 55
May 2012 result Lab 564 Grn 73 LD 68 C 61
May 2010 result Lab 1264 LD 503 C 419 Grn 140
May 2008 result IWCA 537 Lab 471 C 78 LD 56 Grn 44
May 2006 result IWCA 620 Lab 502 LD 91 Grn 62
July 2005 by-election Lab 592 IWCA 300 LD 141 C 31 Grn 19
June 2004 result IWCA 555 Lab 439 C 90 LD 89 Grn 61
May 2002 result Lab 406/308 IWCA 354/328 LD 70/59 Grn 44/38
South Oxfordshire district council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Martin Akehurst on health grounds. A former mayor of Henley-on-Thames, Akehurst joined the Conservatives earlier this year after having previously been a Henley town councillor for the Henley Residents Group. He remains a Henley town councillor.
Staying within Oxfordshire and we move to the county's most southeasterly ward, essentially occupying the space between Reading and Henley-on-Thames. Sonning Common itself is a relatively new village in the Chiltern foothills: the Sonning Common parish has existed only since 1952. The ward's other main population centre is the rather older Shiplake on the banks of the Thames, home to the ward's railway station on the Henley branch (change at Twyford for Reading and Paddington).
South Oxfordshire was re-warded this year so comparisons with previous years are difficult, but the former Shiplake and Sonning Common wards were Tory bastions and this May's election suggests more of the same: in May the Tory slate had 60%, with Labour runners-up on 16%. The Sonning Common county council division - which covers a larger area - is also safely Conservative.
Defending for the Conservatives is William Hall, who is seeking to make a quick return to South Oxfordshire council having lost his seat in the neighbouring Henley-on-Thames ward in May; currently a parliamentary assistant, he is the son of Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the present Director-General of the BBC. His opposition will come from Labour's David Winchester, who was runner-up here in May and is the only candidate to live in the ward, and the Lib Dems' Sue Cooper.
Parliamentary constituency: Henley
Oxfordshire county council division: Sonning Common
ONS Travel to Work Area: Reading and Bracknell
May 2015 result C 2444/2432 Lab 651/510 Grn 519 LD 431/424
Hampshire county council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative county councillor Colin Davidovitz.
Continuing our trip around the home counties, we now move south to Hampshire. Effectively a westward extension of Eastleigh, Chandler's Ford is a nineteenth century town which did not become a parish until 1897. The completion of the M3 motorway has turned the town into a Southampton commuter area and the division's profile is very middle class, particularly so in the two Hiltingbury wards whch make up two-thirds of the division.
Although this division is in Eastleigh district which is a Lib Dem bastion, it forms part of the Winchester parliamentary constituency and so has a slghtly different electoral dynamic to the rest of Eastleigh. Since 2005 Chandler's Ford has been the only Conservative division in Eastleigh district: at the most recent county elections in 2013 the Tories won with 39%, the Lib Dems were second on 32% and UKIP third on 22%. At district level the two Hiltingbury wards are the only reliable Tory wards in Eastleigh, while Chandler's Ford East was Conservative in 2002 but has voted Lib Dem ever since.
Defending for the Conservatives is Judith Grajewski, a district and parish councillor for Hiltingbury West ward. The Lib Dems have selected James Duguid, the vice-chairman of Chandler's Ford parish council. UKIP's candidate is John Edwards, a self-employed gardener and chairman of UKIP's Winchester branch. Labour's Sarah Smith completes the ballot paper.
Parliamentary constituency: Winchester
Eastleigh borough council wards: Chandler's Ford East, Hiltingbury East, Hiltingbury West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southampton
May 2013 result C 1919 LD 1557 UKIP 1073 Lab 238 Grn 124
June 2009 result C 2860 LD 1928 UKIP 573 Lab 215
May 2005 result C 3951 LD 3592 UKIP 844 Lab 329
DEDHAM AND LANGHAM
Colchester borough council, Essex
Caused by the disqualification of Conservative councillor Mark Cable, who failed to attend any meetings of the council in six months.
'Ello 'ello 'ello. Evenin' all. We're in Constable country here, running north from the edge of Colchester along the A12 to the River Stour and the Suffolk border. It was the early nineteenth-century artist John Constable who made this area famous for its beauty: Constable was schooled in Dedham and many of his most famous paintings - notably "Dedham Vale" - are set within the ward. Given Constable's legacy in bringing tourism to what is still a generally agricultural area, it's fitting that the local county council division is named after him.
Dedham and Langham last went to the polls in 2012, when Mark Cable was elected for the first time. He inherited a super-safe Tory ward, polling 71% of the vote against evenly split opposition - the Lib Dems and Labour tied for second place. However, the Tories weren't nearly as dominant in the 2013 county council elections in Constable division, finishing a mere 13 points ahead of UKIP.
Defending for the Conservatives is Anne Brown, Constable division's county councillor since 2009. She is opposed by George Penny of the Lib Dems, John Spademan of Labour and the ward's first UKIP candidate Bill Faram.
Parliamentary constituency: Harwich and North Essex
Essex county council division: Constable
ONS Travel to Work Area: Colchester
May 2012 result C 596 LD 81 Lab 81 Grn 78
May 2008 result C 895 LD 102 Lab 46 Grn 38
June 2004 result C 991 LD 180 Lab 84
May 2002 result C 747 LD 197 Lab 73
BRYANSTON AND DORSET SQUARE
Westminster city council, London
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Audrey Lewis.
We finish this week in the heart of London: the mansion territory of Marylebone. The ward's southern end is at Marble Arch, and it includes the western end of Oxford Street, before running up past the narrow Bryanston Square to the Edgware Road, and across it to include Dorset Square and Marylebone station, the terminus for Chiltern Railways' services to Buckinghamshire, Birmingham and (in the next few years) Oxford. As well as Marylebone, the ward is well-served by the Underground, with Marble Arch and Edgware Road (Circle) within its boundaries: also here is the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street. Quiz League of London players may be familiar with the Carpenters Arms on Seymour Place, which going into this week's matches was home to the league's top two teams (Broken Hearts and Nomads).
Anyway, who actually lives and (more importantly) votes in these lovely Georgian mansions? A walk along the southern end of the Edgware Road will persuade you that there's a huge amount of immigration here: in the last census only 39% of the ward's population was British-born and 42% were born outside the EU. As you might expect from the Edgware Road's shisha bars, Bryanston and Dorset Square has one of the UK's highest populations from the Middle East, with 9% of the population hailing from there. Most of those people, however won't have the vote - and the fact that the ward's average property price is around £950,000 gives a hint of the sort of people here who do have the vote: rich people. This is a very safe Tory area: at the most recent borough election in 2014 the Tory slate had 52% to 20% for Labour and 16% for the Green Party. In the 2012 GLA elections Boris beat Ken here 67-20 and the Tories led Labour 55-21 in the London Member ballot. Although the Returning Officer for this by-election is called Charlie Parker, the music coming out of the ward's ballot boxes is likely to be blues.
Defending for the Conservatives is Julia Alexander, a community activist who has worked as a writer and in English teaching. Labour have selected Ananthi Paskaralingam, a former debt advisor who volunteers at an activity centre for older people. Also on the ballot are Hugh Small of the Green Party, the Lib Dems' Martin Thompson, UKIP candidate Jill de Quincey, and Steve Dollond who is standing on a platform of opposing two-way traffic along Baker Street.
Parliamentary constituency: Cities of London and Westminster
London Assembly constituency: West Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
May 2014 result C 1207/1180/1049 Lab 468/415/391 Grn 381 LD 286/240
May 2010 result C 1993/1990/1965 LD 810/728/670 Lab 747/666/621 Grn 475
May 2006 result C 1266/1250/1187 Grn 352 LD 317/263/256 Lab 262/247/233
May 2002 result C 1157/1147/1123 Lab 295/277/264 LD 260/232
May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Boris 1309 Ken 396 Ind 95 Grn 76 LD 59 UKIP 22 BNP 6
Assembly: C 1085 Lab 422 Grn 186 LD 130 UKIP 66 CPA 20 EDP 14 House Party 13 BNP 10 TUSC 9 Hayat 5 NF 4 Alagaratnam 1