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

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