One by-election on 15th December and four by-elections on 17th December:
Spelthorne borough council, Surrey
Caused by the death of the Leader of the Council, Robert Watts, at the age of 64. A former civil engineer, he was elected to Spelthorne council in 2011 and had been Leader of the Council since 2013. He was killed in an accidental fire at his home.
This was once Middlesex, the part of what's now Surrey north of the River Thames. Shepperton is a thriving commuter town within a bend of the Thames; mostly on flood plain, industries here included ropemaking and extraction of brick clay, while in the early 19th century it was a favoured location for writers and artists - Canaletto and Turner both painted pictures of Walton Bridge which links the town with Walton-on-Thames. The railway came here in 1864 on a branch line from Waterloo, leading to the town being a favoured location for commuters. As well as Shepperton itself, the ward includes the village of Lower Halliford next to Walton Bridge and some flood plain on the road to Chertsey.
As you might expect, this is a strong Tory ward, although the Lib Dems did win one of the three available seats in the 2003 election. In May the Tory slate had 56% with UKIP best of the rest of 18%, although the Tory vote here is normally inflated by the presence on the ballot of long-serving councillor Robin Sider who has a large personal vote.
Defending for the Conservatives is Colin Barnard, a retired baker and director of his local residents association. The UKIP candidate is Brian Catt from Sunbury-on-Thames, who runs an IT consultancy and management business for the European market. Also on the ballot are Labour's Jonathan Button, the Lib Dems' Richard Dunn and Nigel Scott of the Green Party.
Parliamentary constituency: Spelthorne
Surrey county council division: Laleham and Shepperton
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
May 2015 result C 2502/2121/2029 UKIP 823/656 Lab 612/554/524 LD 532
May 2011 result C 1852/1726/1428 LD 698 UKIP 607
May 2007 result C 1489/1345/1248 LD 631/608/509 Lab 182
May 2003 result C 1239/1117/1040 LD 1059/955/864 Lab 144
London Borough of Brent
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Dan Filson at the age of 67. He had been a Brent councillor only since 2014, but previously served for twelve years on Hammersmith and Fulham council where he had been Mayor. Filson spent his career in the civil service, mostly in the Inland Revenue, before retiring in 2010.
This ward is rather misnamed: while it does include Kensal Green station, it's actually based on the eastern half of Harlesden, with Willesden Junction being the most convenient station for most of the ward. Kensal Green has traditionally been an immigrant area and is still in the top 30 wards for Irish population, as well as having a large black community - this is a traditional working-class area thanks to the presence nearby of the railway works at Old Oak Common (now a major construction site for Crossrail) and the large Park Royal industrial estate.
As you might expect, this is a safe Labour ward under present circumstances, although the Lib Dems were just 58 votes behind the third Labour candidate in the 2010 election in which Sarah Teather became the local MP. At the most recent Brent council election in 2014 Labour had 54% to 19% for the Green Party and 15% for the Lib Dems; in the 2012 London Assembly elections Ken beat Boris here 53-30, while on the list ballot Labour had 54% to 16% for the Tories and 13% for the Greens.
Defending for Labour is Jumbo Chan, who according to his LinkedIn is a teacher at Hampstead School and secretary of the Young Fabians Education Network. He is opposed by Jafar Hassan of the Greens, Sarah Dickson of the Lib Dems, Chris Alley of the Conservatives and the ward's first UKIP candidate, Juliette Nibbs.
Parliamentary constituency: Brent Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
May 2014 result Lab 1819/1808/1730 Grn 621 LD 510/502/481 C 394/382/330
May 2010 result Lab 2172/2064/1782 LD 1724/1601/1570 C 760/569/516 Grn 653/466/346 Ind 450
May 2006 result Lab 1331/1169/1108 LD 671/583/555 Grn 573/473 C 356/326/298
May 2002 result Lab 1157/1017/1008 Grn 303/239 C 292/280/273 LD 258/209/181
2012 GLA election (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Ken 1419 Boris 816 Grn 166 LD 132 Ind 108 UKIP 24 BNP 11
List: Lab 1444 C 433 Grn 357 LD 205 UKIP 65 Chr 60 TUSC 41 BNP 24 EDP 19 House Party 19 Hayat 7 NF 2 Alagaratnam 2
East Hertfordshire district council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Adrian McNeece, a secular atheist, after the failure of his motion not to have prayers at council meetings.
Essentially covering the open space between Hertford and Hoddesdon, Hertford Heath ward is not part of the town but named after the village of the same name. As well as Hertford Heath, the ward also includes the parish of Brickendon Liberty, a wonderful name for what is essentially a collection of hamlets. The ward is probably best known for Haileybury College, a public school originally built to train East India Company administrators, whose alumni include the former Prime Minister Clement Attlee and the present Tory MP Nick Herbert.
Hertford Heath's councillors seem to have been controversy magnets over the last couple of years. McNeece had only represented the ward since May, when he polled 45% to 21% for the previous Tory councillor William Ashley, standing as an independent, and 15% for UKIP. Ashley had got himself into a series of scrapes over planning applications at his farm in Brickendon, and was eventually dropped by the Conservative party. He had enjoyed much bigger majorities than McNeece before 2015, and was unopposed in the 2007 election. At county level this ward is part of the Ware South division, which is safely Conservative.
Even with McNeece gone the troubles for the local Conservative group are not over: the Tory agent messed up his party's nomination papers with the result that their candidate, 32-year-old mother-of-one Charlotte Snowdon, is on the ballot paper without a description. UKIP's Sheila Pettman tries again after her third-place finish in May. Also standing are Labour's Graham Nickson, the Lib Dems' Rob Lambie and the Greens' Hilary Cullen.
Parliamentary constituency: Hertford and Stortford
Hertfordshire county council division: Ware South
ONS Travel to Work Area: Harlow and Bishop's Stortford
May 2015 result C 739 Ind 344 UKIP 249 Lab 204 Grn 96
May 2011 result C 753 Lab 319
May 2007 result C unopposed
May 2003 result C 528 Lab 109 LD 90
Worcestershire county council
Caused by the death of Health Concern councillor Jim Parish. Parish was a former Mayor of Stourport who first entered politics in 1997; he was first elected to Worcestershire county council in 2001, lost his seat in 2005 but returned in 2009. He had also served on Wyre Forest district council until losing his seat in May. Away from politics, Parish formerly ran an engineering business in Wednesbury, and had represented England and Worcestershire at bowls.
This column often talks about railway towns, towns that sprung up in the Victorian era around major railway works or railway junctions. Stourport is a rare example of a canal town, which grew up in the early Georgian era around the junction of the River Severn and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, and for many years goods were transshipped from canal boats to Severn trows (river boats). However, Stourport's prosperity didn't last for very long, as it was bypassed by the Worcester and Birmingham Canal and later by the railways.
Stourport is part of the Wyre Forest district, where politics has never been quite the same since 1999 and the foundation of the Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern party, initially a single-issue party pressing for the restoration of Kidderminster Hospital's casualty unit which briefly controlled the district council. Stourport has been a traditional strong point for Health Concern, although they performed poorly in the borough elections this year. The town forms a two-member county council division whose results have been a mess. In 2005 the seats split betwen Health Concern and the Tories with Labour not far behind; while in 2009 Health Concern won comfortably. The May 2013 election saw UKIP top the poll with just 28% and split the seats with Health Concern, Labour and the Tories being close behind, but the UKIP councillor lasted just 13 days in office before it turned out that his Facebook had anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic stuff on it which was too hot even for UKIP to handle. The resulting by-election at the end of June 2013 saw Health Concern regain their seat with 31%, UKIP polling 26%, the Tories 22% and Labour 18%. The Conservatives did well here in the 2015 district elections and despite starting in third place will fancy their chances of making a gain.
Defending for Health Concern is Nicky Martin, a Stourport town councillor. UKIP have reselected their candidate from the June 2013 by-election, former Tory district councillor John Holden. The Conservative candidate is Tony Muir, a district councillor in the division and a triathlete still in his mid-twenties. Retired social worker Jill Hawes stands as the Labour candidate, and the ballot is completed by the Greens' Phil Oliver.
Parliamentary constituency: Wyre Forest
Wyre Forest district wards: Areley Kings and Riverside, Lickhill, Mitton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Kidderminster
June 2013 by-election Health Concern 1055 UKIP 892 C 753 Lab 607 Grn 77 BNP 39 LD 30
May 2013 result UKIP 1385/1151 Health Concern 1335/1167 Lab 1141/894 C 984/964 Grn 195
June 2009 result Health Concern 2396/2231 C 1894/1764 Lab 724/703 Ind 510 Grn 318 LD 313 Lib 237
May 2005 result Health Concern 3339/2624 C 3266/3060 Lab 2670/2649 Grn 539/507
Ryedale district council, North Yorkshire
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Phil Evans. He had served only since May.
For our final by-election of the week we head to North Yorkshire and an agglomeration of fifteen parishes to the east, south and west of the twin towns of Malton and Norton. The ward is named after the river Derwent, which drains the Vale of Pickering and divides the ward into two parts, either side of the steep Kirkham Gorge. Many tourists are attracted to the ward by the Baroque stately home of Castle Howard, still in private hands and well-known as "Brideshead" in the 1981 Granada TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited.
While Ryedale does have some of a Liberal tradition, this ward is usually safe for the Tories - they have held both seats in every election this century except 2007 when there was only one Conservative candidate. In May's district election the Tory slate had 47% to 29% for an independent candidate and 25% for the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems do hold the county council seat for Norton, which covers half the ward, but their vote is concentrated in Norton itself.
This time round an interesting ballot paper could create vote splits on both the Tory and Liberal fronts. The official defending Conservative candidate is Kerry Ennis, a Malton town councillor. The ballot paper shows two independent candidates; Stephen Shaw, the former Tory county councillor for Norton who was runner-up here in May, and Darren Allanson who is in fact the official Lib Dem candidate but screwed up his nomination papers (see also Hertford Heath above; it's an amazing coincidence that two candidates can make the same mistake in the same week). Also standing are Tony Barran for Yorkshire First, and Mike Potter of the unreconstructed Liberal Party who have a power base in Pickering.
Parliamentary constituency: Thirsk and Malton
North Yorkshire county council division: Hovingham and Sheriff Hutton (part: Bulmer, Coneysthorpe, Henderskelfe, Howsham, Huttons Ambo, Welburn and Westow parishes); Norton (part: Acklam, Birdsall, Burythorpe, Langton, Leavening, Scagglethorpe, Scrayingham and Settrington parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Malton and Pickering
May 2015 result C 1077/750 Ind 659 LD 574
May 2011 result C 719/628 Ind 410 LD 329 Lab 265
May 2007 result C 753 LD 444 Ind 401
May 2003 result C 603/510 LD 419