Tuesday, 16 February 2016

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

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