Thursday, 26 November 2015

By-election Previews: 26 November 2015

Nine by-elections on 26th November 2015, five in England, two in Wales and two in Scotland.  In England the Conservatives are defending seats in Essex and Lancashire, the Liberal Democrats one in Salisbury, and two by-elections in Nottinghamshire are caused by the resignation of the same Independent councillor.

Lancaster city council
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Christopher Leadbetter at the age of 64, while on holiday in Croatia.  Leadbetter had served on Lancaster city council only since May, having previously been a teacher at Our Lady's Catholic College in Lancaster for thirty years.

We start in the north this week at Carnforth, a small town a few miles north of Lancaster.  This is a railway town based around a major junction at which branch lines to Barrow-in-Furness and Skipton join the West Coast Main Line.  The railways are still an important part of the town's economy: the West Coast Railway Company has its headquarters here, maintaining and overhauling steam locomotives and charter trains; and the station itself is a focus for tourism as a result of its being used as a set for the wartime David Lean film Brief Encounter.  Legend has it that one of the extras in that film was a thirteen-year-old lad called Cecil Parkinson, the son of the stationmaster; he would go on to greater things as a fixture of Margaret Thatcher's cabinets in the 1980s.

Lancaster got new ward boundaries this year, in which the former Carnforth ward was expanded by taking in the Crag Bank area on the A6 at the south end of town, together with the village of Millhead - a nineteenth-century company village originally built to house local ironworkers who had come from a failing ironworks in Dudley.  The previous two-member Carnforth ward had been Labour in 2003, but split Tory/Independent in 2007, Labour regaining the independent seat in a 2011 result which was close between the two main parties.  The new ward boundaries would appear to have helped the Tories, who beat Labour 48-35 in the expanded ward in May.  The Tories also hold the local county council division, although this is not the best part of the division for them.

Defending for the Tories is George Askew, from the village of Warton just outside the ward.  Labour have reselected Paul Gardner, their councillor who lost his seat in May.  Also standing are Christopher Coates of the Green Party, Philip Dunster of the Lib Dems and UKIP's Michelle Ogden.

Parliamentary constituency: Morecambe and Lunesdale
Lancashire county council division: Lancaster Rural North
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lancaster and Morecambe

May 2015 result C 1405/1238/1184 Lab 1027/981/921 Grn 495

Nottinghamshire county council and Ashfield district council, Nottinghamshire
Both caused by the resignation of Selston Independent councillor Gail Turner.

We're in what Nottinghamshire county council is slightly hopefully calling the Hidden Valleys area in hope of encouraging tourism to an area which has been blighted by the decline of Nottinghamshire's heavy industry.  Selston itself is a large village on a hilltop just off the M1 motorway, around nine miles south-west of Mansfield, with a population of around 12,000; it is centred on Nottinghamshire's oldest church, dating to 1150 and dedicated to St Helen.  The county division, as well as Selston itself, takes in the former mining village of Jacksdale (Nottinghamshire's most westerly village) and almost all of the increasingly desirable Underwood ward.

Gail Turner had a very strong personal vote, having topped the poll in every district and county election in Selston since 2005, when she finished close behind Labour in the county election.  That makes it rather difficult to assess what will happen now she is gone.  The district ward has returned two independents at every election this century, usually under the Turnerite banner of "Selston Area Independent"; however, the other Selston Area Independent councillor, Sam Wilson, was re-elected in May as a plain-vanilla independent.  At county level, Turner beat Labour 72-23 in the last county council election in 2013.  Turner changed her description in May to "Selston Parish Independent".

In the county by-election the defending Selston Parish Independent candidate is David Martin, who fought Jacksdale ward in May's district elections and finished third.  He is opposed by Labour's Mike Hollis, Paul Saxelby of the Tories, independent district councillor Sam Wilson and UKIP's Ray Young.

The district by-election sees Christine Quinn-Wilcox, the runner-up in May's ordinary election, defend for the Selston Parish Independents.  She is opposed by Labour's Donna Gilbert, the Tories' Michelle Sims, independent Anna Wilson and UKIP's Ray Young (again).

Selston (County council)
Parliamentary constituency: Ashfield
Ashfield district council wards: Jacksdale, Selston, Underwood (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Mansfield (Jacksdale and Selston wards); Nottingham (Underwood ward)

May 2013 result Selston Area Ind 2427 Lab 794 Ind 161
June 2009 result Selston Area Ind 1593 LD 1037 BNP 734 Lab 557 C 343 Grn 79
May 2005 result Lab 2523 Ind 2272 LD 1013

Selston (District council)
Parliamentary constituency: Ashfield
Nottinghamshire county council division: Selston
ONS Travel to Work Area: Mansfield

May 2015 result Selston Parish Ind 1977/738 Ind 1427 Lab 617/564 LD 306 TUSC 95
May 2011 result Selston Area Ind 1678/1463 Lab 380/347 LD 124/95
May 2007 result Selston Area Ind 1402/1114 Lab 391 Ind 366
May 2003 result Ind 750/708 Lab 596/570

Rochford district council, Essex
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Gillian Lucas-Gill, who had served as a councillor since 2008.

Moving into the Thames Estuary now and the small town of Rochford, just north of Southend-on-Sea.  This is a popular commuter town thanks to its location on the Liverpool Street-Southend railway line, and its transport links have only got better in recent years thanks to the development of Southend Airport, which lies within the ward and links Rochford to more than twenty holiday destinations across Europe.  Rochford is also notable for Sister Jean Ward, a nurse at the former Rochford General Hospital who discovered the phototherapy treatment for jaundice in newborn babies.

However, Rochford doesn't vote like a commuter ward.  Labour won one of the three seats here in 2002, losing it to the Tories fairly narrowly in 2006.  Since 2012 the ward has become marginal, Labour cutting the Tory majority to 45 votes in 2012 and gaining the ward in 2014 with a majority of 58; however, the Tories held the ward in May's ordinary election with 40% and a majority of 325, UKIP (31%) moving into second place just ahead of Labour (29%).  The ward is also part of a three-way marginal county division which was held by the Tories in 2013, just ahead of Labour with UKIP close behind in third.

This is the last time that Rochford's current ward boundaries will be used, as new boundaries come in for May's election next year; whoever wins this by-election is likely to be straight back on the campaign trail to seek re-election in May 2016.  Defending for the Tories is Gillian's widower Michael Lucas-Gill, who formerly ran a hardware shop in the town and is a former Rochford parish councillor.  UKIP's candidate is Nicholas Cooper, who fought Ashingdon and Canewdon ward in May.  Labour have selected Rochford parish councillor Matt Softly.  Daniel Irlam, the ward's first Lib Dem candidate since 2003, completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Rochford and Southend East
Essex county council division: Rochford South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southend and Brentwood

May 2015 result C 1372 UKIP 1047 Lab 998
May 2014 result Lab 653 C 595 UKIP 495 Ind 149
May 2012 result C 735 Lab 690
May 2011 result C 801 Lab 588 Grn 357 Ind 187
May 2010 result C 1813 Lab 834 Grn 607
May 2008 double vacancy C 864/796 Lab 361/357 EDP 347 Grn 205
May 2007 result C 970 Lab 442
May 2006 result C 877 Lab 782
June 2004 result C 957 Lab 625
May 2003 double vacancy C 455/406 Lab 412/409 Ind 220/193 LD 91/68
May 2002 result Lab 701/653/594 C 672/660/587

Wiltshire council
Caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Helena McKeown, who had served as a Wiltshire councillor since 2013 and as a Salisbury district councillor from 2007 to that council's abolition in 2009.

This is Salisbury's city centre ward, containing the city's main shopping area, the bus station, and the (parish-level) city council offices.  It lies generally to the east of the railway station and the north of the cathedral, without containing either.  The census figures show a fairly middle-class ward with high levels of immigration and private renting - an interesting mix.  This area has been a Lib Dem stronghold throughout the twenty-first century, and that pattern continued in the most recent poll in 2013 when the Lib Dems had 43% to 23% for the Tories and 14% for Labour.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Greg Condliffe, an architect and chairman of the local party branch.  He is opposed by the Tories' Atiqul Hoque, Labour's Frank Timbrell, Michael Pope of the Green Party and independent candidate Diana Dallimore.

Parliamentary constituency: Salisbury
ONS Travel to Work Area: Salisbury

May 2013 result LD 526 C 281 Lab 177 UKIP 148 Grn 92
June 2009 result LD 849 C 364 UKIP 201 Lab 119

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

By-election Previews: 19 November 2015

There are seven by-elections on 19th November 2015, of which four are in England and three in Wales, covered over on the Welsh Elections blog.  In England Labour have a seat to defend in Ashford, Kent, while the Lib Dems face an uphill struggle in Epsom, Surrey.  But we start this week with two crucial by-elections in Norfolk.

Norfolk county council
Caused respectively by the resignations of Liberal Democrat councillor David Thomas and UKIP councillor Stan Hebborn.  Thomas' resignation is due to work commitments, while Hebborn, who was deputy leader of the UKIP group, is disillusioned with politics.

Norfolk county council is having a glut of by-elections at the moment: these are the fifth and sixth by-elections to the county council this year, and possibly the most important.  We start in the west of the county at Watton, about 25 miles west of Norwich.  This is a small market town probably best known for the former RAF Watton, a Bomber Command and USAF base during the Second World War which has now been mostly developed for housing.  The county division also includes four parishes to the east of the town which formerly formed Templar ward on the district council.

South Smallburgh, on the other hand, is a rural division in the north-east of the county with no large town, running from the coast at Waxham inland to the Broads.  The name refers not to Smallburgh itself - which is not in the division - but to the Smallburgh Rural District which existed before 1974.  The largest polling station, with just over 1,000 electors, is in Ludham.

The reason these by-elections are crucial is the makeup of Norfolk county council.  The Conservatives lost control in the 2013 election and the council is now run by a coalition of everybody else.  Going into these by-elections, the ruling coalition controls 42 seats plus these two vacancies, to 40 seats for the Conservatives, so if the Tories can gain both by-elections they will hold half the seats and might challenge for the council leadership.

Let's see how likely that is.  Turning first to South Smallburgh, which is that rarest of things - a council by-election in a Lib Dem-held constituency, in this case North Norfolk.  This will be a hard fight: South Smallburgh has voted Lib Dem in the last two elections but is not safe.  The Lib Dems gained the division from the Conservatives in 2009 with a majority of 139 votes, but the Lib Dem councillor then defected to the Tories and stood for re-election in 2013 as a Conservative.  The 2013 result turned into a close three-way marginal, with the Lib Dems reversing the defection to win with just 31% of the vote, 45 vote ahead of the Tories (who had 29%) and 111 ahead of UKIP (27%).  The division is made up of three whole district council wards, which in May returned three Tories and one Lib Dem - a Tory gain of one seat from the Lib Dems.

In 2009 Watton was one of the safest Tory divisions in the country, the Tories winning 76-24 in a straight fight with Labour, so it was remarkable that UKIP could turn that around four years later.  UKIP's gain came with 34% of the vote, 146 votes ahead of the Tories (27%) and 239 ahead of independent candidate Keith Gilbert (24%), a district councillor for Watton ward.  Breckland got new ward boundaries in May which makes comparison a little difficult, but there was no change in the division's council representation: the unchanged Watton ward continued to elect Gilbert (who topped the poll) and two Tories, while the former Tory Templar ward was split between two new Tory wards.

Turning to the candidate lists, the big surprise is that there is no defending UKIP candidate in Watton.  Instead of running a candidate of their own UKIP have endorsed Keith Gilbert, who is again standing as an independent candidate.  Gilbert is up against Tory candidate Claire Bowes, one of his colleagues as district councillor for Watton.  Also standing are Joe Sisto for Labour and Timothy Birt for the Green Party.

In South Smallburgh the defending Lib Dem candidate is Allison Bradnock, a graphic designer from Neatishead.  Potter Heigham resident Paul Rice, the Lib Dem turned Tory county councillor from 2009 to 2013, stands again for the Conservatives.  UKIP's candidate is Barry Whitehouse, from Ludham, while Labour (David Spencer) and Green (Anne Filgate) candidates complete the ballot paper.

South Smallburgh
Parliamentary constituency: North Norfolk
North Norfolk district council wards: St Benet, Waterside, Waxham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Norfolk (part); Great Yarmouth (part)

May 2013 result LD 879 C 844 UKIP 768 Lab 274 Grn 107
June 2009 result LD 1283 C 1144 UKIP 693 Lab 198
May 2005 result C 2414 LD 2019 Lab 738

Parliamentary constituency: Mid Norfolk
Breckland district council wards: Watton; All Saints and Wayland (part: Caston and Griston parishes); Saham Toney (part: Carbrooke and Ovington parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Thetford and Mildenhall

May 2013 result UKIP 808 C 662 Ind 569 Lab 270 Grn 102
June 2009 result C 1843 Lab 562
May 2005 result C 1975 Lab 1127 LD 964

Ashford borough council, Kent
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Kate Hooker for family reasons.  She had represented the ward since May.

Moving south to Ashford, Kent, a late twentieth-century boom town which has benefited from good road and rail links to London and the Continent, thanks to its Eurostar international station.  The Aylesford Green ward covers two distinct parts of south-eastern Ashford bisected by the High Speed 1 line, with only footpaths connecting them: to the east is Aylesford Green itself, an area of postwar London overspill housing named after a small area of open space next to the Old Mill Stream; while to the west lies the New Town area, originally built by the South Eastern Railway in the 1840s as its main locomotive works with adjacent housing for railway staff.  Railway use of the site ended here in the 1980s and the works are now the Old Railway Works Industrial Estate.

The history of the ward is reflected in a distinctly working-class population and high levels of social housing.  Despite that, the ward has a history of close results.  In 2003 it was won by the Ashford Independents, a well-organised localist group who beat Labour by 35 votes.  Labour didn't contest the 2007 election, in which the Ashford Independents lost their seat to the Lib Dems by just ten votes.  However, the Lib Dems didn't defend their seat in 2011 and Labour made the pickup, beating the Ashford Independents by a single vote.  May's election was relatively sedate, Labour winning 55-45 in a straight fight with the Conservatives.  At county level this is part of the Ashford East division, which has been Lib Dem since 2005 but was a three-way marginal in 2013 with UKIP second and the Tories third.

Defending for Labour is Gordon Miller, a Unite member and Salvationist who stood in May's election in the neighbouring Norman ward and lost it to the Conservatives.  The Tories have gone for youth in selecting Alex Howard, chairman of the Ashford branch of Conservative Future.  Also on the ballot paper are a couple of familiar names.  The Lib Dems' Adrian Gee-Turner is a former Hackney councillor and was runner-up in the Mayor of Hackney election in 2010; the Ashford Independents' candidate Christine Kathawick-Smith is a retired nurse hoping to join her husband David on the council; the Green Party have selected Thom Pizzey, a parish councillor for the village of Stanhope which was been swallowed up by Ashford's expansion; last but not least UKIP are represented by Harriet Yeo, a former Labour borough councillor (for the neighbouring Norman ward) and NEC member who fought Folkestone and Hythe for UKIP in the general election.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashford
Kent county council division: Ashford East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Ashford

May 2015 result Lab 725 C 592
May 2011 result Lab 241 Ashford Ind 240 C 183
May 2007 result LD 209 Ashford Ind 199 C 110
May 2003 result Ashford Ind 168 Lab 133 LD 98 C 52 NF 51

Surrey county council
Caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Stella Lallement, who has fallen out with her local party.  She had been a Surrey county councillor since 2013.

We're in Surrey commuter territory here, an area lying generally to the north-west of the Sutton-Epsom-Dorking railway line.  Although Epsom, a former spa town which gave its name to a magnesium sulphate compound, lies within the built-up area of London it has never been incorporated within the Greater London area.  The town's location on the North Downs together with its good railway service (five trains per hour to Victoria and four to Waterloo) makes it a very desirable place to live, and Epsom and Ewell council's Stamford ward - covering the west of the town - has all the demographic hallmarks of a middle-class London commuter area.  The Court ward to the north-west of the town centre, on the other hand, rather sticks out with high levels of social housing - and half of it is included within this county division.

Local election results in Epsom are very difficult to read for several reasons.  One is that the borough's county divisions were redrawn at the last election in 2013: Epsom West is based on the former Lib Dem division of Epsom and Ewell South West, but with half of Town ward transferred to Epsom and Ewell South East (which was renamed Epsom Town and Downs).  Another is that this is a stronghold of the Residents Associations, who have controlled the local district council since it was created as a municipal borough in 1937.  The county division contains the whole of Stamford ward and half of Court and Town wards: Court, reflecting its demographics, is a Labour stronghold, while Stamford was Lib Dem from 2003 until May's elections, when it was lost to the Residents who also hold Town ward.  As stated, the only previous result on the current county division boundaries is from 2013, where the Lib Dems won with just 28% to 23% for the Residents, 20% for Labour and 16% for UKIP who pushed the Tories into fifth place.  Not often that happens in Surrey.

The Lib Dems are facing an uphill struggle to hold this one, having lost all their seats on the borough council in May.  Their candidate is former borough councillor Julie Morris.  The Residents' candidate is Neil Dallen, borough councillor for Town ward since 2007.  Labour's candidate is Kate Chinn, borough councillor for Court ward.  UKIP have selected Robert Leach, a former Residents figure who fought Epsom and Ewell in the general election.  Also standing are Karen Persand for the Tories and Chris Crook, who gives an address in Dorking, for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Epsom and Ewell
Epsom and Ewell borough council wards: Stamford, Court (part), Town (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: London

May 2013 result LD 854 Residents Associations of Epsom and Ewell 693 Lab 616 UKIP 494 C 389

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

By-election Previews: 12 November 2015

Four local by-elections taking place this week - two covered here and another two covered over on the Welsh Elections blog.

Dorset county council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Dan Brember due to work commitments.

Despite the name, this is Weymouth: the southern side of the Wey estuary, running from the Nothe Fort along the edge of Weymouth harbour.  Now Dorset's largest town after Bournemouth and Poole gained unitary status, Weymouth is one of the most long-standing tourist resorts in the world, thanks its being the favoured holiday residence of King George III: the town gained a new audience in 2012 when it was the venue for the sailing events in the London Olmypics.  Tourism and sailing are the mainstay of the town's economy, although it is also the headquarters of the fashion chain New Look.

Weymouth's local elections are a fractured mess, with significant support for all five of the UK's political parties and many wards being won on low shares of the vote.  The Rodwell county division is consistently marginal: in 2005 Labour beat the Tories 37-31, but the Tories made the gain in 2009 by beating the Lib Dems 42-38, Labour falling to third place in their nadir year.  Labour recovered in 2013 to win the division with just 29% of the vote in a four-way marginal result, with the Tories coming second on 24%, the Greens third on 23% and UKIP fourth on 19%.  The division covers two wards of Weymouth and Portland council: Weymouth East is generally a Lib Dem/Tory marginal, but the Lib Dems didn't contest it in May's election and the Tories held their seat, beating the Green Party 38-28 with Labour third on 19%.  Weymouth West is a key Tory/Labour marginal, although the Tories built up a big lead in May (C 44% Lab 33% Grn 22%) having been just five votes ahead of Labour in 2014.  The Tories were clearly ahead across both wards in May and Labour - who are defending Weymouth West next year - might have an uphill struggle to hold this by-election.

The task of holding Rodwell for Labour falls to Hazel Priest, a gardener and designer.  The Tory candidate is Richard Nickinson, treasurer of the local Conservative association.  The Green Party candidate is Clare Sutton, who was the Labour county councillor for this division from 2005 to 2009 and is a regular Green candidate in the area.  UKIP have selected their Weymouth and Portland borough councillor, the wonderfully-named Francis Drake.  The Lib Dems' Graham Winter completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: South Dorset
Weymouth and Portland borough council wards: Weymouth East, Weymouth West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Dorchester and Weymouth

May 2013 result Lab 722 C 583 Grn 565 UKIP 467 LD 132
June 2009 result C 1126 LD 1019 Lab 566
May 2005 result Lab 1734 C 1476 LD 1186 UKIP 305

Shropshire council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Mansel Williams.

For the second of this week's two English by-elections we are in Shrewsbury.  The Belle Vue division lies on the south bank of the Severn, running from the English Bridge at the north end, through the suburb of Coleham and along the Belle Vue Road - once the main road to Hereford.  This is a built-up ward with mostly nineteenth and early twentieth-century housing stock, which (particularly in Coleham) is prone to flooding due its proximity to the river.

Williams was a long-standing councillor for Belle Vue, having represented the ward for some years on the former Shrewsbury and Atcham borough council which was abolished in 2009.  He seems to have had a large personal vote given that the ward's demographics are fairly mixed: at his last re-election in 2013 he beat the Tories 76-24 in a straight fight.  On the other hand, Labour had the same lead in the Shrewsbury town council elections here on the same day, and the ruling Conservative group on Shropshire council has a rather right-wing reputation.

Defending for Labour is Amy Liebich, although describing herself on Twitter as a "prospective Labour councillor" for the ward is perhaps a little bit presumptive.  The Tory candidate is Andrew Wagner, town councillor for the Quarry and Coton Hill ward which covers Shrewsbury town centre.  Also standing are town councillor Beverley Baker for the Lib Dems and Sam Taylor of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Shrewsbury and Atcham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Shrewsbury

May 2013 result Lab 939 C 289
June 2009 result Lab 797 C 571 Grn 161 LD 117

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

By-election Preview: 5 November 2015

Torbay council, Devon
Caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Ruth Pentney at the age of 62, from motor neurone disease.  A Torbay councillor since 2003, Pentney was the election agent for the former Torbay MP Adrian Sanders in his four general election wins from 1997 to 2010, and had held pretty much every available post in the local party.

This ward is an entirely built-up section of Paignton, the middle of the three towns on the shore of Tor Bay.  Clifton-with-Maidenway ward is the landward side of town, a residential ward running from Primley Park at the southern end to Maidenway Road at the northern end.  This is generally a poor area with large levels of part-time working; not unusual demographics for a seaside resort.

The Tory vote has grown here, and from 2003 to 2011 this ward developed from a Lib Dem bastion into a Lib Dem-leaning marginal: in 2011 the Lib Dem slate beat the Tories 37-32, with Labour fighting the ward for the first time and polling 18%, and the two Lib Dem councillors holding majorities of 119 and 59 votes.  In that context the Lib Dems did extremely well to hold on to the ward in May's ordinary election with majorities of 54 and 46; in shares of the vote the Lib Dems had 30%, the Conservatives 29%, UKIP 20% and Labour 12%.

So, a key marginal by-election which might be an indicator of whether the Lib Dems have any strength left in the south-west following the loss of all their MPs from the region in May.  The Lib Dems have served an indicator that they are going all-out to hold this seat by selecting Adrian Sanders, the MP for Torbay from 1997 to May this year and a former Torbay councillor (from 1984 to '86).  The Tories' Richard Barnby tries again after his near-miss in May; he greatly outpolled his running-mate in that election and clearly has a large personal vote.  UKIP's candidate is Anthony Rayner, while Labour have selected Eddie Harris; the Greens' Stephen Pocock completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Torbay
ONS Travel to Work Area: Paignton and Totnes

May 2015 result LD 1162/1154 C 1108/740 UKIP 766 Lab 480 Grn 370/232
May 2011 result LD 859/799 C 740/621 Lab 421/419 Grn 280
May 2007 result LD 942/887 C 704/653 UKIP 305/265 BNP 113
May 2003 result LD 1281/1255 C 566/511