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

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