Wednesday, 24 February 2016

By-election Previews: 25 February 2016

Four by-elections on Thursday 25th February 2016:

Richmondshire district council, North Yorkshire
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Derek Sankey at the age of 67.  A former woodcutting machinist, Sankey had moved to Catterick in 1970 to join the RAF Regiment; his local government career began in 2012 when he joined Catterick parish council, and he had served as a Richmondshire councillor since May 2015.

High Street, Catterick
Welcome to what is, if not one of the oldest places in England, certainly one of the oldest names.  The second-century geographer Ptolemy drew a famous if rather inaccurate map of the known world, including a latitude system running from the first "clime" at the Equator to the thirty-third clime at the Arctic circle, identifying each clime by a list of places it passes through; Ptolemy's twenty-fourth clime is identified by Katouraktonion, a location in Britannia.  This was what the Romans were calling at the time Cataractonium, a Roman fort at the meeting point of the Great North Road, Dere Street and the River Swale.  Four centuries later, at around AD 598, Aneurin's Welsh-language poem Y Gododdin describes the Battle of Catraeth, in which the native Britons were routed and massacred by the invading Angles; the location of Catraeth is generally considered to be Catterick.  Catterick's location on the Great North Road meant that its economy has traditionally been based on coaching; an A1 bypass for the town was opened in 1959 by Lord Chesham at a cost of £1 million, and is now being rebuilt as a motorway for rather more money than that.  However, the main drivers for the town today are tourism, the local racecourse (which is just outside the ward boundary), and the military; Catterick airfield was one of the very first RAF bases, opened in 1914 by the Royal Flying Corps as a training centre (after the Second World War it was the RAF Regiment's training base), and is now run by the Army as Marne Barracks, part of the large Catterick Garrison complex.

In 2003 Catterick was one of a handful of wards to return a councillor from the continuing SDP: that was Tony Pelton, who stood down in 2007 but returned to the council in 2011 as an independent.  Pelton's personal vote means there is only space for one Conservative councillor from Catterick, and Sankey had taken over that role in 2015 from the long-serving Rob Johnson.  In 2015 Pelton topped the poll with 44% and the Tory slate had 40%.  At county level the ward is part of Catterick Bridge division which is safely Conservative.

This by-election is a straight fight.  Defending for the Tories is Simon Young, a Catterick parish councillor.  In the independent corner is Jill McMullon, a former Tory district councillor for Middleton Tyas ward who is seeking to return to the council after losing her seat last year.

Parliamentary constituency: Richmond (Yorks)
North Yorkshire county council division: Catterick Bridge

May 2015 result Ind 570 C 528/392 Grn 208
May 2011 result Ind 512 C 338/263
May 2007 result C 403 Ind 318 LD 247 BNP 123/98
May 2003 result SDP 492 C 326 LD 310

Dudley metropolitan borough council
Caused respectively by the resignation of Conservative councillor Natalie Neale and the death of Labour councillor Mary Roberts.  Roberts had served since 2007, Neale since 2014.

High Street, Dudley
Kingswinford is one of those old towns which has been swallowed up by the relentless growth of the Black Country.  Historically the town was rather more important than it is now - until 1950 there was a Kingswinford parliamentary constituency whose MPs included Arthur Henderson, Air Secretary in the Attlee administration and son of the Labour Party leader of the same name.  Boundary changes and the growth of neighbouring Brierley Hill have lessened Kingswinford's importance, leaving it as a determinedly suburban area with a demographic to match - there are high levels of owner-occupation and a large proportion of the population were born in the UK.

Very different is St James's which is Dudley's town centre ward, a triangular area with the town centre at the eastern corner and Russells Hall Hospital at the southern corner.  Dudley's Wikipedia entry makes for grim reading, painting a picture of a decrepit town with a failing town centre - partially the result of competition from the Merry Hell shopping centre in nearby Brierley Hill.  The census statistics for St James's ward are stereotypically working-class, with high levels of unemployment and social renting.

So these two wards are chalk and cheese, and their election results now reflect that, although both wards returned a full slate of Lib Dem councillors when they were last redrawn in 2004.  The winning candidate in St James's ward in 2002 was Lorely Burt, who would go on to serve as MP for Solihull from 2005 to 2015.  Labour broke through in St James's in 2006 to make a gain from the Lib Dems with just 26% of the vote in a four-way marginal result, with the BNP polling 21% and UKIP 12%.  Since then the ward has generally been a tight Labour/UKIP marginal, although UKIP have won the ward only once (in 2008); Labour were well ahead in the 2015 election where they had 45%, UKIP 28% and the Tories 24%, but a local election turnout and the start of the EU referendum campaign might prompt a closer result.

In fact, Labour are seriously on the defensive in Dudley: they presently hold 37 out of 70 seats on the council plus the St James's vacancy, so a net loss of two Labour seats in this year's elections would see Dudley go to no overall control - and this May they are defending seventeen wards, seven of which voted Tory last year.  One of those was Kingswinford North and Wall Heath, another former Lib Dem hotspot where the party has ceased to exist.  In this case the ward became a Lib Dem/Tory marginal from 2006: the Conservatives broke through in 2008 and by 2011 had a full slate of ward councillors.  Then in 2012 a perfect storm came together: the former Lib Dem councillor Lynn Boleyn (who represented this ward from 2006 to 2010) defected to Labour, the ward's Lib Dem machine collapsed to the extent that they failed to field a candidate, and one of the Tory councillors resigned creating a double vacancy.  In one of the most unexpected results of 2012, Labour gobbled up nearly all of the Lib Dem vote to overturn a 23-point Tory lead, and suddenly Labour had two out of three councillors for this affluent ward.  Boleyn lost re-election in 2014, narrowly falling to third behind UKIP, and the Tories had to make another gain from Labour in 2015 following a defection; that year the Tories won with 50% to 26% for Labour and 21% for UKIP.

Defending for the Conservatives in Kingswinford North and Wall Heath is Edward Lawrence.  Lynn Boleyn, councillor for this ward from 2006 to 2010 (for the Lib Dems) and 2012 to 2014 (for Labour), tries to get back on the council as the Labour candidate.  UKIP have selected Mick Forsyth, and the Greens' Andi Mohr completes the ballot paper.

St James's ward is a three-cornered fight.  Cathryn Bayton, a life coach (whatever that is), defends for Labour.  Graeme Lloyd is the UKIP candidate, and the Tories have selected Wayne Sullivan.

Kingswinford North and Wall Heath
Parliamentary constituency: Dudley South

May 2015 result C 3672 Lab 1944 UKIP 1553 Grn 196
May 2014 result C 1704 UKIP 1090 Lab 1071 Grn 131
May 2012 double vacancy Lab 1574/1482 C 1464/1192 UKIP 560/419 Grn 151/87
May 2011 result C 1895 LD 1599 Lab 814 UKIP 272 Grn 93
May 2010 result C 2972 LD 2873 Lab 887 UKIP 622
May 2008 result C 2003 LD 1610 Lab 429 UKIP 402
May 2007 double vacancy LD 1829/1527 C 1489/1171 UKIP 760/698 Lab 563/285
May 2006 result LD 1874 C 1813 Lab 631
June 2004 result LD 2280/2127/1964 C 1606/1531/1443 Lab 563/562/478

St James's
Parliamentary constituency: Dudley North

May 2015 result Lab 2641 UKIP 1642 C 1398 Grn 186
May 2014 result Lab 1216 UKIP 1183 C 673 Grn 124
May 2012 result Lab 1321 UKIP 1132 C 396 Grn 109
May 2011 result Lab 1755 C 794 UKIP 554 LD 204
May 2010 result Lab 2030 C 1725 UKIP 1285 LD 853
May 2008 result UKIP 994 Lab 776 LD 631 C 625 BNP 311 Ind 142
May 2007 result Lab 1078 UKIP 814 LD 594 BNP 548 C 533
May 2006 result Lab 895 LD 844 BNP 743 C 586 UKIP 426
June 2004 result LD 1246/1234/1225 Lab 1051/956/838 C 849/796/749 Ind 323

Stratford-on-Avon district council, Warwickshire
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Nick Moon.

Manor House, Studley
This column often comes across claimants for the title of the largest village in England, so it's rather refreshing that the Wikipedia page for Studley, Warwickshire shoots that claim down by noting that Studley isn't even the largest village in Warwickshire.  It's a mere large village on the Roman Ryknield Street, now the A435 road, just to the south-east of Redditch.  Although the village traditionally had a needle-making industry, Studley is now very much in the economic orbit of Redditch and Birmingham.

Stratford-on-Avon district got new ward boundaries in 2015 which severely screwed the Lib Dems, who had a lock on the former Studley ward, by splitting the village in half and combining each half with adjoining rural areas.  This worked rather well for the Conservatives who at the 2015 election won all but one of the Stratford district council seats outside Stratford itself.  Studley with Sambourne ward is the western of the two Studley wards, containing most of the rural Sambourne parish; we can see from the 2015 result (C 33% LD 31% Lab 18% UKIP 10%) that this will be a difficult defence for the Tories whose majority is just 27 votes.  The Lib Dems do still hold the local county council seat, having gained it from the Tories in 2009.

That defence gets even more difficult when you consider a very interesting candidate list.  The outgoing councillor Nick Moon, who had cited a lack of time due to business and voluntary commitments as a reason for his resignation, is nonetheless standing for re-election as an independent.  Even more strangely, the official Conservative candidate is Paul Beaman, the Lib Dem councillor for the former Studley ward from 2004 to 2015 and runner-up here in the 2015 election; he is the Studley parish council chairman.  The official Liberal Democrat candidate is Hazel Wright, a former long-serving Lib Dem councillor for Studley ward who lost re-election in the other Studley ward last year.  Labour have re-selected their candidate from last year, Karen Somner-Brown.  Completing the ballot paper is UKIP candidate Nigel Rogers.

Parliamentary constituency: Stratford-on-Avon
Warwickshire county council division: Studley (part: formerly in Sambourne ward and Studley ward); Alcester (part: formerly in Alcester ward)

May 2015 result C 655 LD 628 Lab 364 UKIP 207 Ind 111 Grn 44

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

By-election Previews: 18 February 2016

Nine by-elections on 18th February 2016, seven in England, one in Wales and one in Scotland.

Chiltern district council, Buckinghamshire
Caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Davida Allen at the age of 76.  A former organic research chemist at the Radiochemical Centre, Allen was a district councillor from 1999 to 2011 and again from May to November 2015.

The Market Hall, Amersham
We start this week in the Chiltern hills at Amersham, the major north-western terminus of the London Underground.  The Amersham Town ward runs south from the Underground and railway station to cover the Old Amersham area in the Misbourne valley.  Old Amersham's economy was traditionally based on coaching inns, but today has diversified into more high-tech stuff: Thatcher's first privatisation, the Radiochemical Centre, was based here and was briefly called Amersham International (it is now part of GE Healthcare), and the ward is home to the head office of Halma, a FTSE 250 copmany which has come a long way from its roots as a Ceylon tea trader to become the UK's largest manufacturer of smoke detectors.  As might be expected from the town's Metroland and technology profile, this is a solidly middle-class ward: 32% of the workforce are in "lower management" jobs, a figure in the top 100 wards in England and Wales, and 46% of the population hold degree-level qualifications.  One major controversy is that the proposed route of High Speed 2 passes through the ward.

Davida Allen's campaigning turned Amersham Town into a Tory/Lib Dem marginal which usually elected Allen and one Conservative (except in 2011 when the Tory slate won both seats); Allen had a clear personal vote and usually ran a long way ahead of her running-mate.  Last year the Tory slate had 39%, the Lib Dems 33% and single UKIP and Labour candidates polled 14% each.  Without Allen on the ballot that Lib Dem strength doesn't translate to county council level, in which the ward is split between two safe Conservative divisions; in the 2009 and 2005 elections Allen stood in the former two-member Amersham division and turned it into a marginal, being on the wrong side of two photo-finishes.

Without Allen's personal vote this will be a difficult defence for the Lib Dems.  They have selected Richard Williams, a furniture designer and former district councillor.  In another twist, the Conservative candidate is Jules Cook who is Allen's daughter.  Also standing are Richard Phoenix for UKIP and Robin Walters for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Chesham and Amersham
Buckinghamshire county council divisions: Penn Wood and Old Amersham (part); Little Chalfont and Amersham (part)

May 2015 result C 1229/880 LD 1052/545 UKIP 455 Lab 450
May 2011 result C 909/855 LD 772/538 Lab 246/233
May 2007 result LD 713/533 C 644/605 Lab 111
May 2003 result LD 670/509 C 569/536 Lab 95/78

Cambridgeshire county council
Caused by the death of long-serving Conservative councillor Philip Read at the age of 73.  A farmer who attended the University of Leeds, Read's local government career went all the way back to 1973, when he was elected to East Cambridgeshire district council and Sutton parish council, which he chaired from 1975 to 1977.  Read was first elected to Cambridgeshire county council in a 1975 by-election; although he lost his seat in 2005, he returned in a 2007 by-election.

Stirling Way, Sutton
Sutton county division covers a large swathe of fenland to the north-west and west of Ely.  It is named after Sutton-in-the-Isle, a large village on an island in the Fens overlooking the two Bedford Rivers, artificial waterways which were built in the seventeenth century to contain the overflow of the River Great Ouse and prevent it from flooding the Fens.  Unsurprisingly given its presence in the Fens, Sutton has an agricultural history; its biggest export today is tractors, construction and agricultural equipment from Cheffins' monthly auction, which is described as one of the biggest machinery auctions in Europe.  Also within this county division is the Downham Villages ward, of which the largest, counter-intuitively, is Little Downham.

As stated, Read had easily won every election for this area since 1975 with the exception of a fluke Lib Dem win in 2005; the new Lib Dem county councillor resigned less than two years later and normal service was resumed in the by-election.  At Read's final re-election in 2013 he beat the Lib Dem candidate 49-33; he later resigned from the Conservative party in 2014 in a dispute over the selection for a district council by-election in Sutton, but appears to have returned to the Tory fold since then.  That by-election resulted in the Tories losing the district council seat to the Lib Dem candidate Lorna Dupre, who was re-elected in 2015; the Tories hold the other three district council seats in this county division.

Defending for the Conservatives is Mike Bradley, a district councillor representing Downham Villages ward.  Lorna Dupre is reselected by the Lib Dems, having been runner-up in the 2013 county election.  Also standing are Pete Bigsby for UKIP and independent candidate Owen Winters.

Parliamentary constituency: North East Cambridgeshire
East Cambridgeshire district wards: Downham Villages, Sutton

May 2013 result C 817 LD 542 Lab 295
June 2009 result C 1131 LD 593 Ind 584 Lab 178
May 2007 by-election C 1077 LD 574 Ind 485 Lab 130
May 2005 result LD 2122 C 1617

Suffolk county council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Lisa Chambers, apparently after she was removed as the county council's representative on the Newmarket Vision steering group.  She had served on the county council since 2005.

Red Lodge Millennium Centre
This county council division really is appallingly drawn, although that has more to do with the weird shape of the Cambridgeshire-Suffolk boundary around the Newmarket salient.  Newmarket is too large to form one county council seat but not large enough for two, which results in this abomination which combines the north-eastern half of the town with five rural parishes, which have very little connection with Newmarket or each other (by road or otherwise) other than that they are in the right place to make up the numbers.  The largest of those villages is Red Lodge, a fast-growing twentieth-century village named after its oldest building, the Red Lodge Inn on what was once the main road from London to Norwich.  The three district council wards within the division are rather different demographically: Red Lodge and Severals (the part of Newmarket within the division) have very high levels of full-time employment; Red Lodge has a young age profile, reflecting its status as a relatively new development; Severals has a relatively high Irish population, reflecting Newmarket's status as a horseracing centre; while the more agricultural South ward (and it shows how badly the boundaries are drawn that the Boundary Commission couldn't come up with a better name) has one of the highest proportions of people living rent-free in England and Wales.

This disparate collection of areas had returned Lisa Chambers to Suffolk county council very comfortably since 2005.  At her last re-election in 2013 she had 45% of the vote to 28% for UKIP and 21% for Labour.  In the 2015 district council elections the Tories won four of the six district council seats within the division, with two seats in Severals ward going to independent candidates.

Defending for the Conservatives is Robin Millar, the deputy leader of the local district council (Forest Heath), a former Mayor of Newmarket, and parliamentary candidate in 2010 for, er, Arfon in Wales.  The UKIP candidate is Roger Dicker, who was Tory councillor for South ward from 2007 to 2011 and for Red Lodge ward from 2011 to 2015; he stood for re-election in Red Lodge in May as a UKIP candidate in what was his first contested election, and lost his seat by just two votes.  Labour have selected Newmarket town councillor Michael Jefferys, who from 2011 to 2015 was the only Labour member of Forest Heath district council; last year he lost his district council seat and was also unsuccessful as the Labour candidate for the West Suffolk constituency.  Also standing are Tim Huggan for the Lib Dems and Andrew Appleby, a district councillor for Severals ward, for the West Suffolk Independents.

Parliamentary constituency: West Suffolk
Forest Heath district council wards: Red Lodge, Severals, South

May 2013 result C 968 UKIP 615 Lab 450 LD 136
June 2009 result C 1072 LD 588 UKIP 397 Lab 202
May 2005 result C 1582 LD 932 Lab 883 UKIP 220

Broxtowe borough council, Nottinghamshire
Caused respectively by the death of Stuart Rowland and the resignation of Natalie Harvey.  Both were Conservative councillors.  Rowland, who was on holiday in Spain at the time of his death, had originally been elected in 2011 for the former Greasley (Giltbrook and Newthorpe) ward, while Harvey, who reportedly didn't enjoy being a councillor, had served only since May.

Toton Library
Not again, I hear you cry.  Yes, we are back in the greater Nottingham suburb of Toton, an area with a high councillor attrition rate and a middle-class owner-occupied demographic which belies an industrial past.  Toton is a railway town and the site of what was once Europe's largest railway marshalling yard, which took in coal from the Nottinghamshire coalfield and sorted it for distribution all over the UK.  The marshalling yard is still there although it's a lot less busy than it used to be, while there is an intriguing possible future development: if High Speed 2 gets off the ground, its East Midlands station could be sited here.

Toton and Chilwell Meadows' third district by-election in four years, and fourth in seven years, is combined with another by-election to Broxtowe borough council from Greasley ward.  This ward was brought into being in boundary changes last year but is very similar to the Greasley (Giltbrook and Newthorpe) ward which existed before then.  The settlement of Greasley itself was destroyed by the Earl of Rutland, according to Wikipedia, "so he could have a better view"; leaving only a parish of that name which sprawled around the eastern side of the ex-coalmining town of Eastwood.  Accordingly the population of the Greasley ward is located in Giltbrook and Newthorpe, modern suburbs of the mining town of Eastwood; the local economy is based on the Giltbrook Retail Park, located just off the A610 Eastwood Bypass and home to the East Midlands branch of IKEA.  Again, this is a middle-class area: owner-occupation is high and there is a significant retired population in the ward.  Last year's boundary changes brought in a small (in terms of population) part of the former Eastwood North and Greasley (Beauvale) ward, including the ruins of Beauvale Priory.

Eastwood North and Greasley (Beuvale) was a left-wing ward which was the subject of an election court case in 2011, after its two seats split between Labour and the Lib Dems; the Lib Dem slate was a husband and wife, and the returning officer messed up the count resulting in the wife being declared elected when (it eventually turned out) the husband had more votes.  However, the political tone of the new Greasley ward was set by the former Greasley (Giltbrook and Newthorpe) ward, which was safely Conservative; and so the new Greasley ward proved to be.  In last year's election the Tories won with 48%, with Labour on 26% and UKIP on 20%.  This ward provides the Tory majority in the key marginal Beauvale county council division.

Toton and Chilwell Meadows, which escaped the 2015 boundary changes unscathed, is even safer for the Conservatives: last year the Tories had 45% to 21% for Labour, UKIP narrowly taking third place with 13%.  Again, this ward provides the Tory majority in a marginal county council division (Chilwell and Toton, this time).

In Greasley Eddie Cubley defends for the Conservatives: he fought the safe Labour Eastwood Hilltop ward last year.  Chris Chandler, who was on the Labour slate here last year, tries again as does Tracey Cahill for UKIP.  The Lib Dems' Keith Longdon completes the ballot paper.

To hold Toton and Chilwell Meadows the Tories have selected Stephanie Kerry, a deputy manager at a nursery.  The Labour candidate is Lisa Clarke, a nurse and one of the activists behind the No More Page Three campaign.  There is no UKIP candidate this time.  Graham Heal, who contested the ward as an independent last year and polled 11%, now has the Lib Dem nomination, while the Greens (who got 10% here last year) have selected Gordon Stoner.

Parliamentary constituency: Broxtowe (part: former Greasley (Giltbrook and Newthorpe) ward); Ashfield (part: part of former Eastwood North and Greasley (Beauvale) ward)
Nottinghamshire county council division: Beauvale

May 2015 result C 1933/1726/1605 Lab 1036/993/896 UKIP 795/678 LD 263/220/182

Toton and Chilwell Meadows
Parliamentary constituency: Broxtowe
Nottinghamshire county council division: Chilwell and Toton

May 2015 result C 2631/2570/1939 Lab 1243/1187/1022 UKIP 773 Ind 632 Grn 585
Dec 2014 by-election C 952 Lab 454 UKIP 340
March 2012 by-election C 831 Lab 385 LD 300 UKIP 228
May 2011 result C 1529/1491/1413 Lab 926/925/837 LD 377/334/304 UKIP 305
Sep 2009 by-election C 1081 LD 474 Lab 296 BNP 58
May 2007 result C 1394/1315/1301 LD 725/719/669 Lab 411/402/387 BNP 205 UKIP 149
May 2003 result C 1183/1126/1118 Lab 504/490/452 LD 446/358

Manchester city council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Anna Trotman for family reasons.  She was first elected in 1999 for the former Blackley ward.

Heaton Hall
All the people, so many people.  Welcome to Europe's largest municipal park, the 243-hectare Heaton Park.  Once the grounds of the Earl of Wilton, it is home to the scandalously neglected eighteenth-century Heaton Hall, the highest point within the Manchester city boundary from where there are uninterrupted views to the Pennines (when it's not raining, and rain-free days have been in short supply recently).  The Earl of Wilton sold the park to Manchester Corporation in 1902; here can now found a difficult municipal golf course, a preserved tramway, one of England's few reinforced concrete towers (owned by BT and used for telecommunications) and a reservoir which is the terminus of the Haweswater Aqueduct which supplies a large proportion of Manchester's water.  Since the 1980s Heaton Park has played host to a large number of open-air events, with headliners as diverse as Oasis, Proms in the Park and Pope John Paul II; the park was the venue for the lawn bowls at the 2002 Commonwealth Games (your columnist remembers it well, he was there), while since 2013 it has hosted the annual Parklife music festival.  As well as being a large suitable space for this kind of event, most of the housing around Heaton Park is within the borders of Bury council so Manchester don't have to worry too much about the disruption caused to local residents.

Large and interesting though Heaton Park is, this ward is called Higher Blackley and that's where its electorate lives, in generally inter-war housing on the eastern side of the River Irk either side of Victoria Avenue.  This is a working-class area, with high levels of social renting and long-term sickness combined with a significant Irish population.  This obviously creates a Labour-voting profile although there is a right-wing populist vote: the BNP had a couple of second places here in the late Noughties, and last time the ward polled in 2015 Labour beat UKIP here 57-26.  Labour have won every single ward election within the City of Manchester since 2011, and on previous form there is no sign of the redwash ending here.

Defending for Labour is Paula Sadler, who has spent 25 years working for the city council and Northwards Housing.  UKIP's candidate is Martin Power who also stood here in 2011 and 2014; a second-generation Irishman, he got into trouble last year as parliamentary candidate for Blackley and Broughton by printing libellous election leaflets and trying to cover this up by scribbling over the contentious bits in biro.  Also standing are David Semple for the Tories, Anne Power for the Green Party, Peter Matthews for the Lib Dems and George Walkden for the Pirate Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Blackley and Broughton

May 2015 result Lab 3155 UKIP 1414 C 540 Grn 231 LD 151
May 2014 result Lab 1737 UKIP 1046 C 194 Grn 142 LD 53
May 2012 result Lab 1753 C 226 BNP 221 UKIP 198 LD 100 Grn 98
May 2011 result Lab 1953 C 381 BNP 321 UKIP 235 LD 112 Grn 81
May 2010 result Lab 3037 C 820 BNP 813 LD 581 Respect 111
May 2008 result Lab 1328 BNP 828 C 467 LD 248 Grn 164
May 2007 result Lab 1449 BNP 716 C 372 LD 268 Grn 108 UKIP 82
May 2006 result Lab 1477 C 506 LD 383 Grn 226
June 2004 result Lab 1829/1823/1818 C 601/484/483 LD 597/395/391

Lichfield district council, Staffordshire
Caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Marion Bland on health grounds.  She was first elected to Lichfield district council in 2007 and had continuous service since a 2014 by-election.

Not again, I hear you cry.  Yes, we are back in the north-western ward of the generally beautiful and well-preserved Midlands cathedral city of Lichfield, a ward which has twice hosted the British leg of the World Quizzing Championships.  Note that I said "generally beautiful and well-preserved", for this ward is the exception to the rule: it's a tract of postwar housing, much of it socially rented, which includes Lichfield's most deprived census district.  And it votes like it, too.

At district level this ward has voted for all three main parties in the last thirteen years; it returned a Tory and a Labour councillor in 2003 before the Conservatives gained the Labour seat at a by-election just before Christmas 2005.  In May 2007 the Lib Dems gained one of the Conservative seats, only to lose it back to the Tories in 2011.  One of the Tory councillors was kicked off for non-attendance in late 2013, and the by-election at the end of January 2014 resulted in a Lib Dem gain with the Tories crashing to fourth place behind Labour and UKIP.  Boundary changes for the 2015 election saw Chadsmead ward gain an area around Gaiafields Road from Curborough ward and a few streets off Eastern Avenue from Leomansley ward; under these new boundaries the Tories did recover to top the poll, with Marion Bland - who clearly had a personal vote - narrowly holding off Labour for the other seat: the shares of the vote were 33% for the Conservatives, 25% for the Lib Dems, 24% for Labour and 17% for UKIP.  Labour do have representation here because they gained the county council seat from the Tories in 2013, and given that the Lichfield City North county division (which covers the whole of the present ward except the part transferred from Leomansley last year) has a safe Tory ward in it Labour must have carried Chadsmead that year.

Paul Ray has the difficult task of defending this three-way marginal ward for the Lib Dems; a solicitor specialising in banking and finance law, he fought Lichfield in last year's general election.  The Tory candidate is Brian McMullan, a councillor on the parish-level Lichfield city council and a business studies lecturer at Coventry University.  Labour have selected Colin Ball, a credit union volunteer and chairman of the North Lichfield Initiative Board.  Jan Higgins, a Kings Bromley parish councillor who fought Tamworth in the general election, stands for UKIP, and the Green Party's Adam Elsdon completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Lichfield
Staffordshire county council division: Lichfield City North (part formerly in Chadsmead and Curborough wards); Lichfield City South (part formerly in Leomansley ward)

May 2015 result C 747/515 LD 563/357 Lab 547/524 UKIP 382/284

By-election Previews: 11 February 2016

Four by-elections on 11th February, all due to deaths:

Bolton metropolitan borough council, Greater Manchester
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Sufrana Bashir Ismail at the age of 47, from cancer.  The first Muslim woman to be elected to Bolton council, Ismail had served since 2006 and had held a number of senior roles on the council; following treatment for breast cancer, in 2012 she founded a charity, Chemokits, to supply essential items to those undergoing chemotherapy.

Back o' th' Bank House, Bolton
Where better to start than in the greatest town in the known universe?  Crompton ward is inner north Bolton, running north from Deansgate and Churchgate in the town centre along the Blackburn Road as far as the Astley Bridge junction.  Here can be found most of the Halliwell area along Halliwell Road (Halliwell ward is badly misnamed), together with the area around the Iron Church on Blackburn Road, the Theatre Church (RIP) on Seymour Road and the Hall i'th' Wood estate off Crompton Way, named after an early sixteenth century manor house which was once the home of Bolton's most famous son: Samuel Crompton, the inventor of the Spinning Mule which revolutionised the textile industry and led to the rapid industrialisation of Lancashire during the nineteenth century.  Crompton is further memorialised in the name of this ward.  Hall i'th' Wood itself is now run as a small museum by Bolton council, but the major contributors to the ward's economy now (apart from the town centre) are the Valley, an out-of-town cinema and leisure complex overlooked by Crompton Way; and the Back o'th' Bank Bakery, since 1915 the headquarters and major bakery for Britain's second-largest food and drink brand (after Coca-Cola) and most popular bread, Warburton's.  There was formerly an RBS call centre within the ward off St Peter's Way (your columnist once applied for a job there), but that was a casualty of the recession; the building's owner now wants to turn it into a hotel, but the council aren't keen on the idea.

Your columnist made his first steps into quiz league in this ward in around 2004, turning out for the Astley Bridge Conservative Club (which lies less than a hundred yards outside the Crompton ward boundary) in an away match at the Bowling Green on Blackburn Road.  The Bowling Green has gone now, and the two pubs next to it along that stretch (the Victoria British Queen and the Old Original British Queen) are derelict.  In fact, quiz league venues in this ward don't seem to be doing very well.  The Fox and Stork on Halliwell Road closed down around the time of the 2010 general election (during which David Cameron was photographed at Warburton's in front of a large stack of sliced bread) and its team decamped to the Breightmet Conservative Club; since there was already a team playing out of there, the Fox and Stork took account of the new political situation by renaming themselves "Breightmet Coalition".  A sadder note was struck last year by the abrupt closure of the grimy but much-loved Dog and Partridge, on Bank Street in the town centre, following an accident in which a Land Rover crashed into the pub and took out the entire bar area; the Dog's quiz team (who bring a bust of Lenin to all their matches) have moved just outside the ward boundary to the thirteenth-century Man and Scythe on Churchgate, but haven't yet plucked up the courage to change their name.

A tale of pubs closing?  As well as the fact that pubs haven't been doing too well of late generally, the population of Crompton ward presents particular challenges for the trade.  A third of the ward's population are Asian, overwhelmingly from Pakistan, and 33% of the population are Muslim - a figure just outside the top 100 wards in England and Wales.  Other highlights of the ward's census figures include a relatively young population (23% of the population are under 15), high unemployment and a lack of qualifications, together with a very high number of economically inactive people (26%, of which 8% are "looking after home or family", 8% are long-term sick or disabled and 6% are students) - all entirely consistent with the general picture.  It's not for nothing that Peter Kay's "Max", when he's not running the door at the Phoenix Club, can be found wearing a Pakistan cricket shirt.  It's also not for nothing that the main story within the ward over summer 2014 was the proposal for a "super" mosque, soon to be built next door to the present mosque on Blackburn Road; a proposal which attracted noisy protests from all the usual suspects.

Crompton ward was created in 2004 and was the successor to the previous Central ward, which had been safe Labour since its creation in 1980 - one of its early councillors was Brian Iddon, who would go on to become the MP for Bolton South East.  Roger Hayes, the current Lib Dem group leader on Bolton council, stood as the Alliance candidate here in 1982 and got nowhere.  It took until 2000 for the ward to become interesting when the Tories selected an Asian candidate and suddenly cut the Labour lead to four points, but there was really no sign that Labour could ever lose here until the Iraq War of 2003: in the local elections of that year Labour lost Central ward for the first and only time to the Lib Dem candidate Valibhai Patel, who had come third here as an independent the previous year in a ward with no Lib Dem track record.

The creation of Crompton ward in 2004 and the associated all-out election enabled the Lib Dems to consolidate their position by winning all three of the new ward's seats.  However, 2004 was the high-water mark for the Lib Dems in Bolton; Valibhai Patel lost re-election in 2006 to Labour's Sufrana Bashir-Ismail, and after that the ward's Lib Dem vote vanished as quickly as it had appeared.  By 2007, thanks to a by-election gain, there was a full slate of Labour councillors again and normal service had been resumed.  UKIP briefly took over second place in 2014 but didn't stand here in last year's election, at which the 2012-13 mayor Guy Harkin beat the Tories 63-22.  This is very much the Labour heart of the very polarised Bolton North East constituency.

In a ward with this social composition, it was perhaps inevitable that somebody would try to play the race card by alleging postal vote fraud, although it's more surprising that the person who originally brought it up was the Tories' election agent.  Fraud or no fraud, this election should be very easy for the Labour candidate Bilkis Bashir Ismail, Sufrana's sister.  The Tories' Ryan Haslam fights the ward for the third time.  Also standing are Gary Veevers for the Lib Dems, Laura Diggle (who stood for Parliament here last year) for the Greens and Paul Eccles of UKIP.

May 2015 result Lab 3895 C 1343 LD 641 Grn 306
May 2014 result Lab 2363 UKIP 826 C 456 LD 148 Ind 121
May 2012 result Lab 2375 C 523 LD 273
May 2011 result Lab 2403 C 713 Grn 218 LD 164
May 2010 result Lab 3749 C 1325 LD 938
Oct 2009 by-election Lab 1528 C 935 Ind 377 LD 284 Grn 99
May 2008 result Lab 1985 C 1113 LD 873
May 2007 result Lab 1662 C 1035 LD 482
July 2006 by-election Lab 1793 C 978 LD 224 Grn 96 Soc Lab 35
May 2006 result Lab 1932 LD 1132 C 941 Veritas 190 Soc Lab 129
June 2004 result LD 2258/2225/2043 Lab 1135/929/820 C 954/902/874 Soc Lab 231 Ind 228

Coventry city council, West Midlands
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Phil Townshend at the age of 57.  A solicitor, Townshend had represented Lower Stoke ward since 1999 and at the time of his death was Deputy Leader of the Council; in recent years he did much work behind the scenes to persuade Jaguar to invest in the city, and Coventry City FC to return.  His business dealings were less successful: his former solicitors' practice Townshends LLP went into liquidation in 2013 owing a six-figure sum to the taxman, and at the time of his death he was being investigated by police on suspicion of defrauding a vulnerable elderly woman.

Stoke Green, Coventry
To describe this ward in eastern Coventry, your columnist can do little better than quote forum member "greenchristian", a Green Party activist in Coventry who describes it thus:

"This ward contains Stoke, Stoke Park, Stoke Aldemoor, and most of Lower Stoke, all of which are working class areas. Stoke Aldemoor has a particularly bad reputation. The Lower Stoke area contains a large amount of student housing (all of it Coventry University students), and HMOs have been a major issue in that part of the ward, although the rest of the ward has very few students (at the last census, the ward as a whole had fewer students than the city average). Lower Stoke's demographics are very close to those of the city as a whole. It has, historically, been one of TUSC's better wards in the city - bordering Dave Nellist's former ward St Michaels (and at the end where he does best). At the last by-election here in 2011 (also due to a councillor death), the Socialists managed to turn out almost all of their voters, and given the lack of a TUSC candidate this time I'm wondering how those voters will split (I suspect it will be between some combination of Labour, Green, and UKIP)."

While the Tories did win the ward in 1982 and 1992 and still had enough strength in the early-to-mid Noughties to just about turn it marginal, Lower Stoke ward is safe Labour with not much to comment on, other than the independent candidate here from 2004 to 2008 who was Christine Oddy, the former Labour MEP who fell out with the party after being effectively deselected in 1999. The TUSC candidates in 2014 and 2015 and the Socialist Alternative candidates before 2014 are Nellistites. At the most recent poll in 2015 Labour won with 50% to 21% for the Tories and 18% for UKIP.

Defending for Labour is Rupinder Singh, a Unite activist who defeated former councillor Lynette Kelly for the nomination; Kelly had stood down from the council last year on the mistaken expectation that she would win the Warwick and Leamington parliamentary seat.  The Tories have selected school governor and champagne supplier Elaine Yebkal.  The UKIP candidate is Harjinder Singh Sehmi, who was a Labour councillor for Cheylesmore ward from 2010 to 2014 before being the Kipper candidate for Cov North West in last year's general election. Also standing are the Greens' Aimee Challenor, who despite being only 18 chairs the party's national LGBT etc group, and the Lib Dems' Christopher Glenn.

Parliamentary constituency: Coventry North East

May 2015 result Lab 4053 C 1736 UKIP 1493 Grn 499 TUSC 397
May 2014 result Lab 1854 UKIP 938 C 600 Grn 259 TUSC 248 BNP 70
May 2012 result Lab 1748 C 484 Soc Alt 310 UKIP 233 LD 168 Grn 161 BNP 101
Oct 2011 by-election Lab 1366 C 563 Soc Alt 254 BNP 149 Grn 114 LD 79
May 2011 result Lab 2608 C 1018 Grn 353 Soc Alt 291 BNP 261
May 2010 result Lab 3535 C 1647 LD 1264 BNP 503 Soc Alt 273 Grn 256
May 2008 result Lab 1682 C 858 Ind 405 BNP 359 LD 308 Grn 160
May 2007 result Lab 1810 C 1060 Ind 629 BNP 419
May 2006 result Lab 1483 C 1076 Ind 539 LD 457 Soc Alt 292
June 2004 result Lab 1975/1852/1602 C 1396/1334/1163 Ind 1156 LD 765 Soc Alt 561

Eastleigh borough council, Hampshire
Caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Tony Noyce at the age of 72.  He had served as an Eastleigh councillor since 2007 and was Mayor of Eastleigh in 2014-15.

Moorgreen Hospital
There is one London by-election this week, but this isn't it.  Instead this is the edge of the Southampton built-up area, although confusingly the north-eastern corner rather than the west end thereof; the M27 motorway runs through the ward and the area to the north of the motorway is essentially open space.  The ward's main public building is the small Moorgreen Hospital, while a street through the ward is named after the forester and environmental activist Richard St Barbe Baker, who was born in West End.  Not within the ward - although only accessible from it - is the Rose Bowl cricket ground, a Test venue which since 2001 has been home to Hampshire county cricket club.

Eastleigh council has been Lib Dem-controlled for a long time, and if anything is more popular than the sequence of Lib Dem MPs for Eastleigh from the 1994 by-election to 2015 (Chris Huhne in particular seems to have had a negative personal vote).  Like much of Eastleigh, West End North has trended to the Lib Dems over the years: the Tories narrowly won it in 2003, but Noyce recovered the seat in 2007 by which time West End North was already a safe ward.  Until 2015, that is, when the general election led to a revival of the Tory vote: the Lib Dems eventually won that year with 40% to 35% for the Conservatives and 15% for UKIP.  The Lib Dems also hold the local county council seat, although the effect of the 2013 by-election can be seen in the county council result where UKIP cut the Lib Dem majority to less than seven points.

Defending for the Lib Dems is Janice Asman, a West End parish councillor.  The Tories' Steven Broomfield, who won the 2003 election here but lost his seat in 2007, is seeking to make a return to the council after nine years away.  UKIP have selected Hugh McGuinness, a Fair Oak and Horton Heath parish councillor.  Also standing are Andy Andrews for Labour and Glynn Fleming for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Eastleigh
Hampshire county council division: West End and Hedge End Grange Park

May 2015 result LD 1156 C 1020 UKIP 446 Lab 280
May 2014 result LD 854 UKIP 408 C 294 Lab 78
May 2011 result LD 853 C 526 Lab 163 UKIP 161
May 2010 result LD 1497 C 969 Lab 231 UKIP 128
May 2007 result LD 904 C 560 Lab 99 UKIP 77
May 2006 result LD 871 C 577 Lab 100 UKIP 64
May 2003 result C 578 LD 547 Lab 108
May 2002 result LD 613/593 C 467/425 Lab 166

Hounslow borough council, North London
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Sohan Sangha at the age of 73.  Originally from the Punjab in what was then British India, Sangha had served on Hounslow council since 2002; away from the council he was a legal consultant and an active member of the Southall gurdwara.

Cranford from the Air
For our final preview of the week we travel to a small market town not far from the large industrial city of Drumle, as we examine small-town customs and values in Victorian England... (consults notes) Sorry, wrong Cranford.  This isn't a Mrs Gaskell novel, it's one of the smallest and prettiest villages in Middlesex, which has since turned into the point on the A4 (Bath Road) and A30 (Great South West Road) where the London built-up area ends and Heathrow Airport begins.  This ward has a majority Asian population, mostly from India: 21% of the population are Sikh, putting Cranford within the top 20 Sikh wards in England and Wales, and a further 14% are Hindu.  Cranford does have an important impact on the economy thanks to the Cranford Agreement, which bans eastbound takeoffs from the northern runway at Heathrow; Cranford is directly beyond the end of that runway.

Your columnist has memories of being put up in an airport hotel within this ward courtesy of Sky TV, whose studios are a few miles up the A4, in early November 2011.  I spent that evening drowning my sorrows at a poor TV quiz performance, buying drinks for the show's winner Rob Hannah and persuading him that he would get a prize (he did, I think), marvelling at the fact that Ceefax still existed in London and learning that the local MP Alan Keen had died that day.  The resulting by-election, held just before Christmas 2011, was an easy Labour hold; not too surprising given the previous results for Cranford ward which is very safe for Labour.  At the most recent London local election in 2014 Labour beat the Tories here 55-26; confusingly, the lead candidate on the Tory slate had headed localist slates in 2010 (Beavers Cranford Party) and 2006 (Hounslow Independent Alliance).  The Beavers Cranford Party wasn't the only animal associated with this ward's previous elections thanks to the presence on the ballot in 2002 of A BEE C, a Brentford FC supporters/campaign group.  In the 2012 GLA ballot Ken beat Boris here 68-24, while the Labour lead over the Tories was even greater on the list votes (72-16).

Defending for Labour is Sukhbir Dhaliwal, a former bus driver who is seeking to return to Hounslow council having represented Hendon West ward from 2006 to 2010; in 2010 he had contested Feltham North ward, which was then safe Conservative, and lost.  The Tory candidate is BA cabin crew member and former Metropolitan Police constable Sukhdev Singh Maras, who fought this ward on the localist slates in 2006 and 2010.  Also standing are George Radulski for UKIP, Hina Malik for the Lib Dems and Nico Fekete for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Feltham and Heston

May 2014 result Lab 2085/1813/1643 C 987/851/801 UKIP 508 LD 235
May 2010 result Lab 2318/2261/2228 C 1313/1286/1009 Beavers Cranford Party 1030/966/838 BNP 202
May 2006 result Lab 1346/1275/1254 Hounslow Independent Alliance 971/922/815 C 491 LD 431/417 Ind 61
May 2002 result Lab 1122/1036/1035 C 548/541/539 A BEE C 279

May 2012 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: Ken 1203 Boris 432 Ind 42 Grn 34 LD 30 UKIP 17 BNP 11
List: Lab 1287 C 292 Grn 55 UKIP 45 LD 31 BNP 19 Hayat 18 CPA 16 EDP 13 TUSC 7 Alagaratnam 4 House Party 3 NF 0

Thursday, 4 February 2016

By-election Previews: 4 February 2016

Four interesting by-elections on 4th February 2016, all due to resignations:

Shropshire council
Caused by the resignation of the Leader of the Council, Conservative councillor Keith Barrow, over a scandal.  Barrow had failed to declare a personal and business relationship with a director of the accountants and auditors for IP&E, a private company owned by the council.  He had served on the unitary Shropshire council since its creation in 2009, and before then on the former Oswestry district council.

Oswestry Church Tower
Despite its population of only 17,000, Oswestry is one of the major towns in the Marches, that ill-defined and thinly-populated area which tracks the border between England and Wales.  Although Oswestry lies on the English side of the border it is economically more entwined with Wales, being the main service centre for much of northern Powys and home of The New Saints, the pre-eminent football team in the Welsh Premier League.  As if to prove this point, within Oswestry South division can be found streets with names such as English Walls and Llanforda Rise, an open space called Cae Glas Park, a polling station at the Horeb Welsh Methodist Rooms and a large Victorian building which was once the headquarters of the Cambrian Railways; although Oswestry no longer has a railway service, the station has been preserved and is now a museum.  As well as the town centre, as the name suggests this division covers the south and south-west quarter of Oswestry - the Castle and Victoria wards of Oswestry town council.

Barrow had represented Oswestry South since the creation of the unitary Shropshire council in 2009 and was previously a ward councillor for its predecessor, the Castle ward of the former Oswestry district council.  These electoral units were normally Conservative but not always safe: the Lib Dems won one of the two seats in Castle ward in 2003, and although Barrow was re-elected in 2013 - the last local elections in Shropshire - comfortably enough, his majority was cut by a strong Green Party performance, with 46% for the Tories, 32% for the Greens and 16% for UKIP.  The ward had a minor boundary change in 2013 to reflect changes to the Oswestry parish boundary, gaining a small area from Gobowen, Selattyn and Weston Rhyn division.

This by-election has a rather different line-up from the 2013 poll.  Defending for the Tories is Christopher Schofield, an Oswestry town councillor (for Cambrian ward) who runs a B&B.  The Green candidate from 2013, Duncan Kerr, is standing again: he is an Oswestry town councillor for Castle ward and children's social worker who fought North Shropshire in last year's general election and came close to saving his deposit.  There is no UKIP candidate this time.  Completing the ballot paper are the Lib Dems' Amanda Woof, another town councillor for this ward, and Labour's Carl Hopley.

Parliamentary constituency: North Shropshire

May 2013 result C 488 Grn 337 UKIP 175 LD 62
June 2009 result C 660 Grn 218 LD 301 Lab 79

East Cambridgeshire district council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Vince Campbell, who had served only since May last year, on health grounds.  He had previously had a distinguished military career in the Guards.

Pub and Post Office, Bottisham
Sometimes wards look gerrymandered even when they aren't.  Such is the case with Bottisham ward, which is based on Bottisham - a village midway between Cambridge and Newmarket noted for its fourteenth-century church.  Bottisham isn't quite large enough for two councillors of its own, and the population distribution and strange shape of East Cambridgeshire district combined with some very long and thin parish boundaries in the area means that the village is combined for electoral purposes with three tiny villages eight miles to the south-east on the Icknield Way - Brinkley, Burrough Green and the wonderfully-named Westley Waterless - which have no road connection to Bottisham.  The Lords of the Manor here were the Jenyns family, one of whom - Soame Jenyns - was an eighteenth-century MP for Cambridgeshire and commissioner of the Board of Trade, but is best remembered today as a writer and contemporary of Samuel Johnson.

For most of this century Bottisham has been a tightly-fought Tory-Lib Dem marginal at local level, but the Tories pulled away last year, partly thanks to the general election turnout, to beat the Lib Dems 52-32.  The ward forms part of a safe Conservative division (Woodditton) on Cambridgeshire county council.

Defending for the Tories is Alan Sharp, a qualified accountant who has recently retired after twenty years working for a central government department: he has previous experience of local government, being a Huntingdonshire district councillor in the early 1990s.  The Lib Dem candidate Steven Aronson, a chiropractor and part-time Hebrew teacher, is having his third tilt at the ward after unsuccessful runs in 2011 and 2015.  Also standing are Bottisham parish councillor Steven O'Dell for Labour and Cambridgeshire county councillor (for Littleport) Daniel Divine for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: South East Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire county council division: Woodditton
Constituent parishes: Bottisham, Brinkley, Burrough Green, Westley Waterless

May 2015 result C 1100/1002 LD 678/634 Lab 347/339
May 2011 result LD 644/588 C 626/607 Lab 279
May 2007 result LD 769/631 C 570/501 Lab 111
May 2003 result C 583 LD 561/454 Lab 176

North West Leicestershire district council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Tom Neilson after he was arrested on suspicion of drug dealing.  He had served since 2011 and was a former leader of the Labour group on North West Leicestershire council.

Measham Library
Measham may not have become a large town, but it was an early centre of the Industrial Revolution.  This was down to Joseph Wilkes, an industrialist and entrepreneur who became the Lord of the Manor of what was then a Derbyshire exclave (thanks to its ancient association with Repton priory), and essentially founded Measham's coal-mining and brickworking industry, together with promoting the Ashby Canal which once linked the village to the Coventry Canal at Bedworth.  Also associated with the area, although not actually produced here, was a type of turn-of-the-century pottery known as Measham Ware, which was particularly popular with canal workers, while the village's famous children include the former Astronomer Royal Sir Frank Dyson, who introduced the Greenwich "six pips" time signal.  Measham Colliery survived until 1986, while coalmining still goes on here at the controversial Minorca opencast mine.

The Measham South ward has existed only since May when the former two-member Measham ward was divided into two single-member wards.  The old Measham ward was Labour-inclined, reflecting the village's history, but it was also a key marginal which voted Conservative in 2007.  The only previous result for the present ward was in 2015, when Labour beat the Tories 55-45 in a straight fight.  Labour also hold the local county council seat (Forest and Measham), gaining it from the Tories in the 2013 election at which it was a Labour-UKIP marginal.

That Labour county councillor, Sean Sheahan, defends this by-election for Labour; he is hoping for a quick return to the district council, having been Neilson's ward colleague for Measham from 2011 to 2015 and losing his seat in Measham North last year.  Another former councillor hoping to make a quick return is the Tory candidate Annette Bridges, who represented Moira ward from 2007 until being a victim of the boundary changes in 2015.  Completing the ballot paper is UKIP's Martin Green, who was the runner-up in the 2013 county election and their parliamentary candidate here in 2010.

Parliamentary constituency: North West Leicestershire
Leicestershire county council division: Forest and Measham

May 2015 result Lab 654 C 533

Northumberland council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Colin Cessford for family reasons.  Cessford was in his first term on Northumberland county council, having entered politics in 2012 by winning a by-election to Hexham town council after retiring from a 34-year career with the North East Ambulance Service.  He had been a county councillor since 2013.

Former Tynedale Hydropathic Hotel
Welcome to Hexham, the major service centre for the upper Tyne Valley.  This is an old town which grew up around a monastery which goes all the way back to the seventh century; Hexham Abbey still dominates the town although the current building is largely nineteenth-century.  There was a battle here in 1464, a victory for the Yorkists during the Wars of the Roses; while in 1715 the Earl of Derwentwater rose the Old Pretender's standard in the marketplace.  The town's traditional industry is leather, while other industries are botanic beer (Fentimans is based here) and tourism, the town being the main railhead for the best-preserved parts of Hadrian's Wall.  Also here - and part of Hexham West division which covers the western outskirts of the town plus a small rural hinterland - is Hexham racecourse, the most northerly National Hunt course in England.

Hexham racecourse's altitude and exposed position mean that no races are held here in February, so local racewatchers will have to be content with watching the ballot boxes.  This one could be interesting, as the large Tory lead in 2013 (when they had 48% to 31% for the Lib Dems and 15% for Labour, whose candidate rejoiced in the name of David Crockit) masks the fact that this was a Lib Dem stronghold before that election.

In a strong field of candidates, Tom Gillanders defends for the Conservatives: he is a retired engineer and Hexham town councillor for Leazes ward (which has the same boundaries as this division) who organises the local Poppy Appeal and recently stepped down from the Territorial Army with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel after over forty years' service.  There is no official Lib Dem candidate, but there is an unofficial one: Derek Kennedy, the former Lib Dem county councillor here (2005-2013) and still a town councillor for Leazes ward, is standing as an independent.  Town councillor (for Gilesgate ward) Nuala Rose, a former GP, stands for Labour.  Anne Pickering, a former town councillor, ecological consultant and artist who recently organised a 10,000-signature petition against the proposed relocation of Hexham bus station, stands as an independent.  Completing the ballot paper is Lee Williscroft-Ferris, a teacher, trade unionist and gay rights blogger standing for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Hexham

May 2013 result C 848 LD 540 Lab 261 UKIP 105