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


  1. According to the Hexham Courant, Mr Kennedy has reigned from the Lib Dems so in that case there wasn't even an unofficial Lib Dem candidate.