Wednesday, 28 October 2015

By-election Previews: 29 October 2015

While last week's by-elections were mostly in super-safe wards, with the exception of an eye-catching Tory gain in Bury, this week's crop of six polls is much more mixed.  Three of them are in north-west England, with a key Labour/Tory marginal fight in Lancashire, a safe Tory ward in Congleton and a safe Labour ward in Cheshire.  The other three polls are in the south: while they all voted Tory in May, one poll in Peterborough is in a ward which is getting more interesting as the years go on, while one seat in East Sussex was a shock gain for the Tories which the Lib Dems will be desperate to regain.  But we start in Essex commuterland with a difficult defence for the Liberal Democrats...


Brentwood borough council, Essex 
Caused by the resignation of Lib Dem councillor Liz Cohen on health grounds.  Cohen had served as a councillor since winning a by-election in December 2012.
Shenfield station
Shenfield is a place probably best known for its railway station.  An outer suburb of the Essex town of Brentwood on the road to Chelmsford, Shenfield is the junction station for Southend-on-Sea off the Great Eastern main line and the terminus of Transport for London's inner-suburban service from Liverpool Street (which will become part of Crossrail in a few years' time).  This gives Shenfield a ridiculously-high thirteen hourly trains to Liverpool Street, making it a perfect location for London commuters.  Shenfield's other claim to fame is that the minister of its church was once Nathanial Ward, who wrote 'The Body of Liberties', the first constitution of Massachusetts.
For much of its recent electoral history, the ward has voted like a London commuter ward as a super-safe Conservative seat; the Tory vote peaked at 77.7% in both 2007 and 2008.  However, in 2012 the Liberal Democrats surprisingly gained two of the ward's three seats, including one in a by-election, capitalising on some disunity within the council's Tory group.  The Lib Dems confirmed the by-election gain in 2014, but the result in May's ordinary election reverted to "safe Tory hold", the Conservatives beating the Lib Dems 58-27.  At county level this is the most Tory part of the Brentwood North division, which the Lib Dems gained from the Conservatives in 2009 and made safe in 2013.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Alison Fulcher, a charity shop manager and secretary of the local bus and rail users' association.  With their lead in May, the Tory candidate Jan Pound will be hopeful of a gain: she is a former councillor for Warley ward who lost her seat to the Lib Dems in 2014.  Also standing are UKIP's Peter Sceats, Labour's Cameron Ball and the ward's first Green candidate John Hamilton.

Parliamentary constituency: Brentwood and Ongar
Essex county council division: Brentwood North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southend and Brentwood

May 2015 result C 1965 LD 934 UKIP 285 Lab 223
May 2014 result LD 892 C 783 UKIP 282 Lab 81
Dec 2012 by-election LD 728 C 557 UKIP 119 Lab 31
May 2012 result LD 853 C 611 Lab 116
May 2011 result C 1286 LD 609 UKIP 191 Lab 184
May 2010 result C 1937 LD 1175 Lab 216
May 2008 result C 1303 LD 269 Lab 104
May 2007 result C 1254 LD 281 Lab 79
May 2006 result C 1419 LD 323 Lab 101
June 2004 double vacancy C 1401/1318 LD 405/378 Lab 140/114
May 2003 result C 1141 LD 239 Lab 123
May 2002 result C 964/876/767 Ind 605 LD 337/313/292 Lab 124/118/81


Wealden district council, East Sussex
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Paul Soane, who has fallen out with the council's Conservative group and is standing for re-election as an independent candidate.  He had served as a councillor since May this year.

Entering Upper Dicker
This Sussex ward is slightly misleadingly named.  It does cover a large rural area in the Cuckmere valley, including the parishes of Hellingly and Arlington and the wonderfully-named hamlets of Upper Dicker and Lower Dicker; but most of the ward's electorate actually lies within the town of Hailsham, the largest of Wealden district's five towns and notable for its cattle market.  One of the more surprising elements of the ward's economy is motor racing, with Arlington hosting the Eastbourne speedway team.
During the period from 2003 to 2015 this was a safe Lib Dem ward, although not overly safe: the Lib Dem peaked in 2003 when they defeated the Conservatives 58-42.  That all changed in May when the Tories rode the general election turnout to turn the majority around and beat the Lib Dems by 48-35.  The Conservatives also hold the local county council division, but not safely: they beat the Lib Dems by six points in 2009 and UKIP by four points at the most recent county elections in 2013.

Although he didn't need to resign - he has his own mandate and could have just crossed the floor, lots of councillors do - outgoing councillor Paul Soane is standing for re-election as an independent candidate.  The Tories want their seat back, and have selected Hailsham town councillor Alex Willis.  The Lib Dems, having lost in May, also want their seat back, and their candidate is David White, who has chairman of Hellingly parish council for 25 years and was a district councillor for this ward from 2003 until losing his seat in May.  An interesting fight is in prospect.

Parliamentary constituency: Wealden
East Sussex county council division: Alfriston, East Hoathly and Hellingly
ONS Travel to Work Area: Eastbourne

May 2015 result C 1722/1599 LD 1253/1145 Ind 608
May 2011 result LD 961/954 C 739/647 Lab 268
May 2007 result LD 943/929 C 727/653
May 2003 result LD 817/732 C 583/528

Peterborough city council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Nick Arculus, who is now working in the Falkland Islands as Crown Counsel to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands governments.  He had been a Peterborough councillor since 2010.

Longthorpe Village Cross, Peterborough
Moving north now, and we come to Peterborough.  West ward, as presently constituted, runs west from Peterborough's mainline railway station along the north bank of the River Nene to take in the suburb of Longthorpe.  While Peterborough is a New Town, Longthorpe is old: the Romans were here in the first century AD, and notable buildings within the ward include the fourteenth-century Longthorpe Tower, known for its mediaeval murals, and the mansion of Thorpe Hall, one of the few surviving buildings of the Commonwealth period and now a Sue Ryder hospice.  To the south of the ward is Nene Park with its large watersports centre; the new Peterborough City Hospital occupies the ward's northern corner, while the older Peterborough District Hospital lies in the south-east corner close to the railway station.
This is likely to be the last election on the current set of Peterborough ward boundaries, with boundary changes now before Parliament.  From next year West ward will be cut back to two councillors covering just Longthorpe, with the city hospital moving to an expanded Ravensthorpe ward and the station area moving into Central ward.

West ward's population is an interesting mix of middle-class and Asian.  The middle-class element generally prevails at elections and this is normally a safe Tory ward, although Labour came within seven points of winning at the 2014 election as UKIP ate into the Tory vote.  May's ordinary election was a return to safety, with the Tories winning on 45% to 32% for Labour and 15% for UKIP.

The Conservatives haven't looked far for a new candidate to replace Arculus, having selected Lynne Ayres, a senior partner at the same firm of solicitors and chair of the Peterborough School governors.  Labour's Mohammed Sabir fights the ward for the fifth time; he is a businessman and a former city councillor, representing Central ward from 2004 to 2006.  UKIP's regular candidate for the ward John Myles returns to the fray: he is now retired after working for twenty years as a surgeon at Peterborough District Hospital.  Also on the ballot paper are the Green Party's Alex Airey and the Lib Dems' Malcolm Pollack.

Parliamentary constituency: Peterborough
ONS Travel to Work Area: Peterborough

May 2015 result C 2312 Lab 1619 UKIP 755 Grn 418
May 2014 result C 991 Lab 805 UKIP 614 Lib 210 Grn 133
May 2012 result C 1079 Lab 547 UKIP 499 Ind 304 LD 156
May 2011 result C 1937 Lab 850 UKIP 343 LD 243
May 2010 result C 2664 Lab 1265 EDP 609
Dec 2009 by-election C 1252 Lab 341 LD 224 UKIP 177 EDP 93 Grn 58
May 2008 result C 1683 Ind 758 Lab 466 Grn 99 LD 93
May 2007 result C 1908 Lab 559 Grn 313
May 2006 result C 1988 Lab 766
June 2004 result C 2108/2104/2020 Lab 660/527/524 LD 655


Cheshire East council
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Peter Mason at the age of 75.  A long-serving councillor, he was first elected in 1991 to the former Congleton borough council and in 1993 to the former Cheshire county council; he was one of the original Cheshire East councillors elected in 2008 and was Cabinet member for procurement from 2009 to 2012.  Away from the council he was a keen Stoke City fan, and Congleton's leisure centre is to be renamed in his memory.

An orange valley
 For the final three by-elections this week we are in the north-west of England, starting in the Cheshire town of Congleton, a mediaeval market town in the Pennine foothills.  Like many Pennine towns, the traditional industry here was textiles, and many of the old mills still exist.  This ward covers the eastern half of the town: the Hightown, Mossley and Buglawton districts around the town's railway station and the Macclesfield Canal, together with the western slopes of The Cloud, a prominent Peak District hill which dominates the eastern Cheshire Plain.
The ward has the same boundaries as the former Congleton Town East division of the old Cheshire county council, and the 2005 and 2008 results for that division are shown in the table below.  In the days when Congleton borough council existed this area was covered by the Buglawton, Congleton North and Congleton South wards: a look at the old results for that council (which last went to the polls in 2007) shows that the Tory majority comes out of the old Congleton South ward - the Mossley and Hightown areas around the railway station - while the rest of the ward is marginal.  This adds up to a safe Tory ward: in May the Tories won with 39% against evenly divided opposition (20% for Labour, 17% for UKIP, 14% for an independent).

Defending for the Conservatives is Geoff Baggott, an independent financial advisor and Congleton town councillor.  Labour have also selected a Congleton town councillor, psychiatric nurse Robert Boston.  Yet another Congleton town councillor on the ballot is UKIP's Dawn Allen, while the Lib Dem Denis Murphy completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Congleton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Stoke-on-Trent

May 2015 result C 2969/2603/2361 Lab 1506/1436/1340 UKIP 1290/1055 Ind 1067 LD 736/666/658
May 2011 result C 2139/1982/1849 Lab 1268/1190/1087 Independent Voice of Congleton 959 LD 632
May 2008 result C 2189/2143/2078 LD 709/625/597 Lab 688
May 2005 county council result C 3098 Lab 1772 LD 1282 Grn 423


Chorley borough council, Lancashire
Caused by the disqualification of Labour councillor Mike Handley who failed to attend any meetings in six months.

Euxton library
First, a pronunciation guide: EX-ton.  This is a village which many pass through but few visit, lying on the old Preston-Wigan road and the West Coast mainline and bypassed by the M6 motorway.  Euxton's traditional industry was munitions: just outside the ward is the site of ROF Chorley, an enormous munitions factory which at its height employed over 40,000 people.  Today the ward has a fairly middle-class, commuter profile with the main oddity from the census figures being a notably high "Christian" figure - in Lancashire this usually indicates a large Catholic population.
This is a key marginal ward: Labour in 2002 and 2004, Tory from 2006 to 2010, Labour since 2012.  The ward last polled in 2014 when Labour had 45%, the Tories 37% and UKIP 19%.  At county level the ward is grouped with Buckshaw Village and Whittle-le-Woods in the Chorley North division - despite the fact that Chorley North has been Tory since 2005, all of this is key marginal territory, and indeed it is part of the marginal Chorley parliamentary constituency, currently held for Labour by the Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle.

Defending Euxton North for Labour is Tommy Gray, a former Labour councillor for the ward who lost his seat to the Conservatives in 2006.  His main opposition will come from the Tories' Alan Platt.  UKIP's Christopher Suart, of Whittle-le-Woods, completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Chorley
Lancashire county council division: Chorley North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Preston

May 2014 result Lab 692 C 570 UKIP 289
May 2012 result Lab 847 C 549 UKIP 179
May 2010 result C 1388 Lab 1215
May 2008 result C 908 Lab 745
May 2006 result C 833 Lab 718
June 2004 result Lab 1016 C 890
May 2002 result Lab 1086/989 C 773/769 LD 234


Barrow in Furness borough council, Cumbria
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Lesley Graham, who has a new job as the public health locality manager for Barrow.  She had served as a councillor since 2011.

'Frying Plaice', Barrow-in-Furness
We finish this week in the town of Barrow-in-Furness, a town which neatly demonstrates just how the Conservatives won May's general election by playing on anti-Scottish sentiment.  The census figures bear out that this is a manufacturing town - Risedale ward, as well as having a working-class profile, has one of the UK's populations of people with apprenticeships.  The only game in town here is defence: Barrow has an active shipyard actively preparing to build the next generation of submarines for Britain's nuclear deterrent.  That's why Labour lost the Barrow parliamentary seat in 1983, and there was a 5-point swing to the Conservatives here in May which cut the Labour majority in Barrow and Furness to three figures.
Nonetheless, at exactly the same time Labour kept their grip on Barrow-in-Furness council, losing just two seats to the Tories.  The opposition to Labour is poorly organised in the town - Labour won six seats unopposed - and there was no Tory slate in Risedale ward, an entirely built-up area in the south-eastern corner of town along the Roose Road and Risedale Road.  The Tories actually won one of the ward's three seats in 2008, when the ward was last redrawn, but lost it back to Labour in 2011.  This May the three-person Labour slate was opposed by just two UKIP candidates, who were trounced 77-23.  The Risedale county council division - which has somewhat different boundaries - is also safe Labour.

Defending for Labour is Lee Mack lookalike Michael Cassells, chairman of the Furness branch of Mind among other things.  UKIP have selected Colin Rudd, chairman of the party's South Cumbria branch.  Also standing is Carole Friend for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Barrow and Furness
Cumbria county council division: Risedale (most); Roosecote (part: Roose Gate)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Barrow-in-Furness

May 2015 result Lab 1474/1361/1310 UKIP 438/348
May 2011 result Lab 827/820/812 C 326/269/263 UKIP 159
May 2010 result Lab 1647 C 599 Socialist People's Party 252
May 2008 result C 461 Lab 427/395/387

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