Wednesday, 30 March 2016

By-election Previews: 31 March 2016

Fifty years ago today Harold Wilson won his landslide, his biggest majority of 96 coming in the 1966 general election.  These days Wilson's Labour successors aren't doing quite so well, and they have few prospects of a gain among this week's by-elections although they should hold a safe seat in the South Wales Valleys (covered on Welsh Elections).  Over on Scottish Elections the SNP should have little trouble holding a seat in one of the strongest pro-independence areas of Scotland, while in England the Tories and Lib Dems both have seats to defend in the Yorkshire Dales.  But we start this week with an open seat in UKIP's strongest area of the country...

Essex county council
Caused by the disqualification of Tendring First councillor Pierre Oxley, after he pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation and was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for one year.  As the chairman of Clacton Sports Club, Oxley had forged invoices to persuade his own council, Sport England and the Big Lottery Fund to pay out grants of £95,000 for capital work which was never carried out, Oxley instead using the money to meet the club's running costs.  The court heard that Oxley, a former cabinet member on Tendring district council, had not personally profited from the fraud.

Beach Huts, Holland-on-Sea
It's after Easter, the weather's foul, so it must be time for a trip to the seaside.  The Clacton East division covers the eastern end of the Clacton seafront, including the suburb of Holland-on-Sea, together with the Great Clacton area to the north of the town centre.  This is retirement ghettoland and economically depressed, and as such perfect conditions to elect a UKIP MP, which Clacton as a whole has done twice in the last two years.

But dig down into this corner of Carswell-land and it all starts to get a bit more confusing.  Pierre Oxley was first elected to Essex county council from this division in 2005, winning easily as a Conservative candidate.  By 2009 he had defected to Tendring First, one of several competing localist groups in this obscure corner of Essex, and stood for re-election under his new colours, losing 43-26 to the new Conservative candidate Linda Mead; a third-place 12% for the BNP that year was an early demonstration that there is a populist right-wing vote here.  In the 2013 county election Oxley improved his vote to 34%, and that was enough to regain his seat as the Tory vote was split by UKIP, the Tories taking second place 27-25.  That was of course, before the Clacton by-election which resulted in Britain's first UKIP MP elected as such.

A look at the district council results for 2015 only serves to confuse the issue: of the four Tendring wards within the division, two are dominated by the Holland-on-Sea Residents Association, St Marys ward (covering Great Clacton) voted UKIP, and St Pauls ward (the part of the seafront nearest the town centre) split UKIP/Tory in 2015, but the UKIP councillor for that ward has decided to emigrate and a by-election for that seat is pending.  Overall UKIP came in second to the Tories in the 2015 Tendring council elections; in an inspired move, the Tendring Tories offered UKIP a coalition deal and Tendring UKIP promptly split over whether to accept it. Those councillors who ended up in the administration were expelled from the UKIP group which has since suffered further defections and problems.

Although Tendring First still exist as an elected force (they have a district councillor) they are not defending this seat which is up for grabs.  The Tory candidate Richard Bleach, whose Twitter profile disclaims "All views my own, normally moronic", stood for the district council last year.  UKIP's candidate is Ben Smith, who gives an address some distance away in Brightlingsea.  Labour have selected Christopher Bird, the Lib Dems Rain Welham-Cobb and the Holland-on-Sea Residents Association have entered the fray, selecting Colin Sargeant.

Parliamentary constituency: Clacton
Tendring district council wards: Haven, St Bartholomews, St Marys, St Pauls

May 2013 result Tendring First 1528 C 1194 UKIP 1106 Lab 477 LD 77 Grn 70
June 2009 result C 2270 Tendring First 1361 BNP 626 Lab 508 Grn 325 LD 238
May 2005 result C 4330 Lab 2427 LD 1206 Grn 263 Community Representatives Party 207

Craven district council, North Yorkshire
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Andy Quinn at the age of 65.  He had served as a councillor since 2002 and was chairman of Craven council in 2011/12.  Away from the council he had taught carpentry and joinery at the former Keighley College following a career in the military, and right up to his death was working as a lecturer and a health and safety consultant.

The Elm Tree Inn, Embsay
England's other two by-elections this week both take place in the Yorkshire Dales.  We start with Embsay, a village just to the north-east of Skipton best known for steam; it is the western terminus of the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway, a preserved line linking the village with (surprisingly) Bolton Abbey.  The ward also includes the village of Eastby and part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Embsay-with-Eastby ward goes all the way back to the founding electoral arrangements of Craven district council in 1973 and only minor changes have been made since then (consequential on changes to the parish boundary).  It has been held by the Conservatives continuously since 1979 and was regularly uncontested in the 1980s and 1990s.  Quinn's final re-election came in May last year when he beat Labour 59-22.  The Tories also hold the local county council seat (Mid Craven).

Defending for the Tories is Trevor Kent, a retired baker and electrician.  He is opposed by an independent candidate, the Embsay-wth-Eastby parish council chairman Brian Shuttleworth.

Parliamentary constituency: Skipton and Ripon
North Yorkshire county council division: Mid Craven

May 2015 result C 677 Lab 249 Grn 221
May 2011 result C 496 Lab 217 LD 93
May 2007 result C 409 LD 236
May 2003 result C 404 Ind 199
May 2002 result C unopposed
May 1999 result C 521 LD 158
May 1995 result C unopposed
May 1991 result C unopposed
May 1987 result C unopposed
May 1983 result C 471 All 321
May 1979 result C unopposed
May 1976 result Ind 446 C 362
May 1973 result Ind 468 C 288

Richmondshire district council, North Yorkshire
Caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor John Robinson at the age of 63.  A fireman for 32 years, he had served on Richmond town council since 2003 and Richmondshire district council since 2007; he was Mayor of Richmond in 2007/8.

Frenchgate, Richmond
For our second Dales by-election of the week we move from Airedale to Swaledale and the town of Richmond.  Just outside the National Park, Richmond is a town whose greatest prosperity came before the Industrial Revolution as it was the marketplace for Swaledale wool and Arkengarthdale lead.  Today its economy is based on tourism and the military, and despite its relative isolation the town is still important enough to give its name to a parliamentary constituency.  The Richmond Central ward is rather misnamed; while it is the central of the three wards covering the town it only contains the eastern edge of the well-preserved town centre, which is mostly in Richmond West ward.

Richmond Central ward had elected two Liberal Democrats at every election this century but always with small majorities - John Robinson's majority was 15 votes in 2007 and 22 votes in 2011.  In that context the Lib Dem performance at the most recent election in 2015 - where they had 49% to 30% for the Tories and 22% for the Green Party - was impressive, although it remains to be seen how much of that was due to personalities in this tiny local government district.  Going up to county level only serves to confuse the issue, as the town's former Lib Dem county councillor was easily re-elected in 2013 under the label "Save the Friarage Hospital" and was not opposed by the Lib Dems that time.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Philip Knowles, a marketing consultant who last year fought his home ward (Newsham with Eppleby) and got nowhere.  The Tories have selected Nathalie Carter.  Anna Jackson stands for the Green Party, and Richmondshire Independents candidate Lorraine Hodgson completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Richmond (Yorkshire)
North Yorkshire county council division: Richmond

May 2015 result LD 673/610 C 411/409 Grn 298
May 2011 result LD 428/421 C 399/269 Ind 215
May 2007 result LD 493/480 C 465
May 2003 result LD 480/381 Richmondshire Independent Group 368 C 323

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

By-election Previews: 24 March 2016

Three by-elections on Thursday 24th March 2016:

Allerdale council, Cumbria
Caused respectively by the resignation of Conservative councillor Colin Sharpe and the death of Labour councillor Bill Bacon.  Bacon had served since 2007, Sharpe only since May 2015.

British Steel Mill, Moss Bay (in 1981)
Steel, steel, steel.  While Cumbria is probably most associated today with the Lake District and tourism, its coastal towns are surprisingly industrial.  Barrow was built on shipbuilding, Whitehaven on mining, Workington on steel.  Immediately to the south of Workington lies the Cumbrian iron ore field, which was known for its very-high-quality haematite; when Sir Henry Bessemer invented his new process for mass-producing mild steel, which required very-high-quality haematite, Workington was a natural place to produce it, and Moss Bay became the location of the first large-scale steelworks in the world, securing the town's future.  Associated industries included British Steel's engineering arm, production of railway rails (Workington rails were said to hold the world together) and bus and train manufacture - all now gone, and a Google search for Moss Bay steel now results in a scrapyard.  The collapse of the steel industry brought all the usual problems, and the location here of the British Cattle Movement Service (a BSE-era government agency) has done little to alleviate the town's depression, although the nuclear site at Sellafield does provide some employment for the area.

The present Moss Bay ward was created in 1999 and lies at the southern end of Workington, containing the Moss Bay and Salterbeck areas along the Solway Road.  Its demographics are about as working-class as you can get: Moss Bay is in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for White British population (98.5%), social renting (53% of households), no qualifications (43%), semi-routine employment (24%) and routine employment (27%, this figure being the fifteenth highest in England and Wales).  It is as Labour-voting as you might expect from that introduction, and in all five previous elections Labour have been guaranteed at least one of the three seats due to insufficient opposition candidates.  The runner-up spot in all elections up to 2011 was held by independent candidate and former Workington town councillor John Bracken, who missed out by just two votes in 2007 but was more easily beaten 61-39 in 2011.  Bracken gave up in 2015 and Labour were unopposed here that year.  The last contested elections in the area were therefore the 2013 Cumbria county council elections, in which the ward was split between two divisions: Labour held off an independent candidate in Moss Bay and Moorclose division by just 20 votes, while Harrington division (which includes Salterbeck) is independent-held.  The losing independent candidate for Moss Bay took the result to the election court, basically because he was unhappy that the returning officer did not offer him a recount, and lost there as well.  From 2001 to 2009 the ward had the same boundaries as the former Moss Bay county division, and results for that county division are included in the table below.

Rather different is Dalton ward, which is a rural ward covering the Dean and Greysouthen (pronounced Greysoon) parishes to the south-west of Cockermouth.  This was traditionally a coalmining area, but mining ceased in Greysouthen in 1886 and since then the area has become more traditionally rural and commuter, although just as White British as Moss Bay and with a notably large population of 45- to 64-year-olds (37%).  Dalton ward was created in 2001 and has been won by the Tories at every election since then with the exception of 2011, when the incumbent Tory councillor stood for re-election as an independent and the Tories did not oppose him.  Dalton ward was uncontested in 2003 and 2007, but had an unusually wide (for Allerdale) choice of candidates at the most recent election in 2015, the Tories winning with 48% to 21% for the Lib Dems and 16% for the Green Party.  The Tories also hold the local county division (Cockermouth South).

The Dalton by-election has an even wider choice this time of five candidates.  The defending Tory candidate is Mike Johnson, who lives in Maryport and fought a Maryport ward last year.  Despite their second-place finish here last year the Lib Dems are not standing again; however, the Greens are in the shape of Felicity "Flic" Crowley, a retired schoolteacher from Cockermouth.  The UKIP candidate is Eric Atkinson, one of two candidates to live in the ward; the other is Labour candidate Ross Hayman, the husband of the Workington MP Sue Hayman.  Completing the ballot paper is independent candidate Marion Fitzgerald, an anti-windfarm campaigner who won a by-election to Allerdale council in June 2013 (from Boltons ward) but lost her seat last year.

Moss Bay has a three-strong field.  The defending Labour candidate is Frank Johnston, who controversially failed to be elected to Workington town council in 2015 due to a messup at the count, but does seem to be a town councillor now so presumably this has been sorted out.  He is up against the Tories' Louise Donnelly and UKIP's Bob Hardon, a former Allerdale councillor (Stainburn ward, 2007-2011) who fought Moss Bay as the Tory candidate in the 2005 county council elections.

Parliamentary constituency: Copeland
Cumbria county council division: Cockermouth South

May 2015 result C 510 LD 226 Grn 168 UKIP 153
May 2011 result Ind 456 Lab 167 Grn 97
May 2007 result C unopposed
November 2005 by-election C 220 Lab 83
May 2003 result C unopposed
May 1999 result C 305 Lab 122

Moss Bay
Parliamentary constituency: Workington
Cumbria county council division: Moss Bay and Moorclose (part); Harrington (part)

May 2015 result 3 Lab unopposed
May 2011 result Lab 620/596/572 Ind 395
June 2009 county council result Lab 411 Ind 277 BNP 130 LD 104 C 77
May 2007 result Lab 507/439/432 Ind 430
May 2005 county council result Lab 1172 C 316
May 2003 result Lab 613/531/485 Ind 228 LD 173
June 2001 county council result Lab 1555 LD 389
May 1999 result Lab 629/627/555 Ind 339

Kettering council, Northamptonshire
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Terry Freer, who had served since 1976, in order to spend more time with his family.

Kettering General Hospital
St Peter's ward can be simply described as Kettering town west of the railway line.  This is a generally residential ward, although a large amount of its area is taken up by Kettering General Hospital, the main acute hospital for northern Northamptonshire, and the Kettering Business Park whose proximity to the A14 bypass has attracted a number of distribution companies on which Kettering's economy now relies, the traditional boot and shoe industry having gone into decline.  Also here are the out-of-town Kettering Conference Centre, the home of the English national volleyball teams.  This is a middle-class part of town with notably high employment, the town's thriving distribution industry combining with some commuting to London which is only an hour away by train.

That middle-class profile creates a Tory-voting ward, and Terry Freer with his ward colleague Mary Malin had represented this ward continuously since 1983, rarely being seriously challenged.  At the most recent election in 2015 they polled 40% to 25% for a single Labour candidate and 18% for a single UKIP candidate.  County-level contests here are more interesting, as St Peter's ward is combined with the safe-Labour William Knibb ward to produce a key marginal which narrowly went Labour in the 2013 county elections.

Defending for the Conservatives is Ian Jelley, whose name regular readers of this column might recognise from the 4th June 2015 election which covered the postponed Kettering council poll in the key marginal Rothwell ward; in that election Jelley lost his seat to his running-mate Karl Sumpter, having served one term as ward councillor for Rothwell.  He should have a safer berth here.  Labour have selected the wonderfully-named Eugene Dalton-Ruark, a Unite member who works in the distribution industry.  The UKIP candidate is Kevin Sills, a Desborough town councillor who was top of the English Democrats' East Midlands list in the 2014 Euro-elections.  Also standing are Kirsty Berry of the Greens, the only returning candidate from the 2015 local election here, and Mel Gosliga of the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Kettering
Northamptonshire county council division: Northall

May 2015 result C 1230/1038 Lab 768 UKIP 563 Grn 501
May 2011 result C 922/861 Lab 458/432 EDP 233
May 2007 result C 923/896 Lab 404/365

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

By-election Previews: 17 March 2016

Three local by-election on 17 March 2016:

Broadland district council, Norfolk
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Jo Cottingham who has moved away from the area.  Cottingham was first elected for Aylsham ward in 2004 and was deputy leader of Broadland council until 2012; she resigned in 2013 following a complaint about her conduct, but returned to the council in 2015.

Thatched Shelter, Aylsham
We start this week on the River Bure, nine miles north of Norwich.  Aylsham was an important town in mediaeval times, a major centre for the linen and worsted industry.  Thanks to its location about halfway between Norfolk and Cromer, the town became a stop on the coaching route between them, and the coaching Black Boys Inn is one of the town's oldest buildings.  Still a local market town and agricultural centre, Aylsham was one of the first British members of the Cittaslow or "Slow City" movement.  As well as the town, the Aylsham ward includes the parishes of Burgh and Tuttington to the east, Marsham to the south, and Oulton and Blickling to the north; Blickling is a major tourist attraction thanks to the Jacobean stately home Blickling Hall, a former home of the Boleyn family.

As you might have guessed from the introduction, this by-election is a repeat of one previously fought in 2013.  This is a closely-fought Lib Dem vs Conservative ward and neither party has held a full slate of councillors at any point since the ward was created in 2004.  In 2004 the Lib Dems won two seats to the Tories' one; the Tories gained a second seat in 2007, but lost in the 2013 by-election after Cottingham's first resignation.  The May 2015 result marked a return to the status quo ante, with Cottingham top of the poll and the Lib Dem by-election winner Steve Riley coming a poor sixth; in terms of votes the Tory slate had 32%, the Lib Dems 31% and a single Labour candidate polled 22%.  The Lib Dems hold the local county council seat, increasing their majority over the Tories in 2013 partly thanks to UKIP splitting the Tory vote.

This repeat by-election is a fight between the three main parties.  Defending for the Tories is their losing candidate from 2015, Hal Turkmen, who is the only candidate to give an address in the ward.  The Lib Dem by-election winner from 2013, Steve Riley, wants his seat back; he gives an address at RAF Coltishall.  Completing the ballot paper is Labour's candidate Christopher Jenner.

Parliamentary constituency: Broadland
Norfolk county council division: Aylsham

May 2015 result C 1588/1513/1125 LD 1521/1065/926 Lab 1082 UKIP 719/658
July 2013 by-election LD 688 C 501 Lab 181
May 2011 result C 1336/1253/1010 LD 1182/846/752 Lab 542/471 Grn 446
May 2007 result LD 1137/1067/1024 C 1124/1082/1027 Lab 246/230/199
June 2004 result LD 918/907/845 C 854/822/797 Lab 719/461/421

North Kesteven district council, Lincolnshire
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Geoffrey Whittle at the age of 92.

Church Street, Digby
One of the oldest local councillors in England, Whittle may also have been the last local councillor to have served in the Second World War; he spent 19 years in the Royal Air Force followed by 26 years in the NAAFI, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for navigating his damaged and burning Lancaster back to Britain during a September 1943 operation over Hannover.  On Whittle's final retirement from the Forces in 1988 he took up local politics, being elected to East Hampshire district council in 1991 and serving as its chairman in 2000-01.  In 2007 Whittle transferred to North Kesteven district council, and one of his final public appearances was at the unveiling of the International Bomber Command Centre just outside Lincoln in October last year, along with 310 other surviving veterans of Bomber Command.

It's particularly appropriate that a person with such a strong association to the RAF as Geoffrey Whittle should have ended up as the local councillor for RAF Cranwell, the home of the Royal Air Force College which trains new RAF officers.  Also based here are the Central Flying School, which trains RAF flying instructors, two of the RAF's three military bands and a number of Air Force headquarters and admin divisions.  All this adds up to a population of around 3,000 for Cranwell as a whole, dwarfing the village of Ashby de la Launde and the ward's other five parishes, all of them villages off the A15 Sleaford-Lincoln road; however, voter registration and turnout among the military tends to be very poor, so the villages will punch above their weight when it comes to the actual election.

Whittle only had a majority of 16 votes over the Lib Dems when was he first elected to this then new ward in 2007, but the Tory slate here was unopposed in 2011 and in 2015 crushed a single independent candidate 67-33.  Things are less safe for the Tories at county council level, where this ward forms two-thirds of the Ruskington and Cranwell division which the Tories held in 2013, three points ahead of UKIP.

Interestingly, that independent candidate crushed by the Tory slate in 2015, Luke Mitchell, is the defending Conservative candidate for this by-election.  He is up against Steve Clegg of the Lincolnshire Independents, a well-organised group who hold eight seats on the county council, and Clare Newton of the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Sleaford and North Hykeham
Lincolnshire county council division: Ruskington and Cranwell

May 2015 result C 1789/1504 Ind 871
May 2011 result 2 C unopposed
May 2007 result C 734/586 LD 570 BNP 297

Redcar and Cleveland council, North Yorkshire
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Peter Spencer at the age of 80.  A qualified accountant, Spencer had been involved in local politics since the 1960s and had represented Hutton ward since 1999; in 2005-6 he was Mayor of Redcar and Cleveland.

Roseberry Topping
The Teesside press reported this month about the recent death of Keith Heaviside of Great Ayton, who had climbed the nearby 1049-foot hill of Roseberry Topping 6,100 times during his life.  Anybody who knows Teesside knows why he kept going up there - it's an attractive hill, a miniature Matterhorn, and a fantastic viewpoint.  Its summit lies within the Hutton ward of Redcar and Cleveland, which is the western of the three wards covering the town of Guisborough.  Traditionally a market town for the local area, Guisborough became prosperous during the Industrial Revolution as a centre of Cleveland ironstone mining; one of the people who became rich from that, ironfounder and Liberal MP Sir Joseph Pease, built the Gothic revival Hutton Hall here as his country seat.  Today Guisborough is a commuter town for the Teesside conurbation, with many of its residents working in the chemical industry and attracted by the town's location on the edge of the North York Moors national park.

With that commuter economic profile comes a Tory-voting electoral profile, and this ward is safe Conservative.  At the most recent election in 2015 the Tory slate beat Labour here 54-29.

Defending for the Tories is Caroline Jackson, who is up against Labour's Ian Taylor, the Lib Dems' Graeme Kidd, UKIP's Harry Lilleker and independent George Tinsley.

Parliamentary constituency: Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

May 2015 result C 1997/1963/1792 Lab 1071/950/856 LD 643
May 2011 result C 1562/1532/1367 Lab 940/717/622 LD 672
May 2007 result C 1646/1620/1478 Lab 681
May 2003 result C 1835/1816/1708 LD 847/791/767 Lab 613/605

Monday, 7 March 2016

By-election Previews: 10 March 2016

Two by-elections on 10th March 2016:

Cumbria county council
Caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor John McCreesh at the age of 61.  A former IT engineer with Royal Bank of Scotland and, McCreesh had entered politics in 2010 by being elected to Kendal town council, and had served on Cumbria county council since winning a by-election in May 2012.  He was a member of the county council's cabinet, holding the Environment portfolio.

County Council Offices, Kendal
One of five county divisions covering all or part of the old county town of Westmorland, Kendal Stickland and Fell covers the north-western quarter of Kendal, running from the town centre along the Windermere Road.  Kendal is the economic powerhouse for much of South Lakeland; although the eponymous K Shoes are no longer made here, there are still three competing mint cake companies, while tourism, paper and snuff are all important industries in the town.  In this ward can be found the town's main shopping street together with the town hall, the district council offices and the old Westmorland County Hall, while visitors can also see the Quaker Tapestry, a Bayeux-style embroidery illustrating the history of Quakerism.  The division's eastern boundary is the River Kent, and this area was badly affected by the Storm Desmond floods in Cumbria last December.

This division has existed in some form or other since the establishment of Cumbria county council in 1973, although the current boundaries date only from 2013.  Originally this was a Conservative division, but it was gained by Labour in 1993 and has been Lib Dem only since 2009, when the Lib Dems put together an amazing 37-point swing from Labour to gain the seat with 72% of the vote.  The reason for this strange electoral trajectory is one Timothy James Farron, a former county councillor for Milnthorpe who managed to mobilise virtually the entire Labour vote in Kendal to vote him into Parliament in 2005; he is now the leader of what remains of the Liberal Democrats, and his party still has a strong grip on his Westmorland powerbase.  While Labour had recovered a bit by the most recent county election in 2013 the Lib Dems still had a handy lead of 52-27, and at the 2014 district council elections (the last time Kendal polled) the Lib Dems had 55% across the three wards covered by the division, with the Greens and Labour on 13% each.  The division has a rather mixed social profile, with Kendal Fell ward (covering the town centre and points west) being quite middle-class, Kendal Underlay ward relatively working-class (with notably high levels of part-time working) and Kendal Strickland somewhere in between.

The Lib Dems are taking no chances with the defence of this by-election by selecting Peter Thornton, the leader of South Lakeland district council (on which he represents his home Whinfell ward, a large rugged area north and east of Kendal).  Labour have selected Virginia Branney, who came third in Kendal Fell ward in the 2014 district council elections.  Also standing are Harry Taylor for the Tories, David Walker for UKIP and Andy Mason of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Westmorland and Lonsdale
South Lakeland district council wards: Kendal Fell, Kendal Strickland, Kendal Underley

May 2013 result LD 980 Lab 506 C 191 UKIP 186 TUSC 15

Windsor and Maidenhead council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Andrew Jenner. The Mayor of Windsor and Maidenhead in 2013-14, Jenner's resignation came for personal and family reasons: he has reportedly been in Australia since October.  He had served as a councillor since 2011, and before then from 2000 to 2003 for the former St Mary's ward.

The Thames Path near Maidenhead Court
We move south from Kendal to another flood-prone ward.  Maidenhead Riverside covers the area you might expect from the name: this is north-eastern Maidenhead, running north along the west bank of the Thames from the A4 bridge.  Maidenhead is a prosperous, middle-class town and this ward is typical of it, although there is a sizeable Asian element to the population and 16% of the residents were born outside the EU; ironic given that this is the Home Secretary's constituency.

There are several interesting electoral links between Kendal and Maidenhead.  Both seats are represented in Parliament by MPs who fought the North West Durham constituency in 1992.  Both seats were the subject of a Lib Dem "decapitation" strategy in 2005 in which the party went after senior Tory targets: Tim Collins was knocked out in Westmorland, but Theresa May survived in Maidenhead.  The two town's recent electoral histories have to be understood in the context of that decapitation strategy.  Before 2003 this area was covered by St Mary's ward, which was safe Conservative until 1991 when the Lib Dems gained one out of three seats, following up with the other two gains in 1995.  Andrew Jenner nicked one seat back for the Tories in 2000, but lost his seat in 2003, and it was those 2003 results which persuaded the local Lib Dems that Theresa May was vulnerable in the 2005 general election.  In the end May remained in situ and it has been downhill for the Lib Dems in Maidenhead ever since; although the Lib Dems did hold on to two seats in 2007 partly thanks to Jenner falling out with the Tories and standing as an independent that year, the ward has had a full slate of Tory councillors again since 2011, and last year the Tory slate polled 49% to just 15% for the Lib Dems and 13% for Labour.

Defending for the Tories is Judith Diment, a Rotarian who is heavily involved in the campaign to eradicate polio.  The Lib Dem candidate is Saghir Ahmed who is fighting the ward for the third time; he is the secretary of the Maidenhead Mosque.  Labour have selected Nigel Smith, a former councillor in Ealing in west London (Victoria ward, 1986-90) and chartered surveyor.  Also standing are George Chamberlaine of UKIP and independent candidate Jeff Lloyd.

Parliamentary constituency: Maidenhead

May 2015 result C 2167/2116/1995 LD 685/653/604 Lab 562/529 Grn 517 UKIP 499
May 2011 result C 1513/1506/1398 LD 864/749/738 Lab 240/231/184 Grn 214
May 2007 result LD 1094/1066/851 C 1048/998/990 Ind 448/270/270 Lab 126/73
May 2003 result LD 1374/1341/1294 C 877/784/723 Lab 117 Grn 86

Thursday, 3 March 2016

By-election Previews: 3 March 2016

Four by-elections on 3rd March 2016:

Blackpool council, Lancashire
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor John Jones.  He had served on Blackpool since winning a by-election in May 2012; a former hotelier, he was Blackpool's cabinet member for school improvement and children's safeguarding.

Rigby Road Tram Depot
It's March, the sea's biting cold, the weather forecast isn't much better, so let's go to the seaside to cheer ourselves up.  Yes, here we are on the Golden Mile between the Central Pier and the South Pier, in a ward which includes the old Blackpool tram depot on Rigby Road (which now services only the "heritage" trams following a recent modernisation programme) and the home ground of Blackpool FC.  The ward is generally in two halves: behind the Promenade is a warren of terraces most of which are now hotels, while behind that is the former site of Blackpool Central railway station, now demolished with the space occupied by a large car park.  Blackpool FC were in the Premier only a few years ago but have horribly fallen from grace since then, and the same is true of Blackpool itself which has never recovered from the package holiday revolution of the late twentieth century.  In consequence Bloomfield's wards demographics do not make for pleasant reading: the ward is in the top 50 in England and Wales for unemployment (11%), long-term sickness (13%) and private renting (54% of households), the last clearly being an effect of all the hotels in the area.

Despite all this Bloomfield ward was a three-way marginal during the last Labour government, and in 2007 the Lib Dems - who are very weak in Blackpool - gained a seat off Labour.  Four years later the Lib Dem vote was down to 4 (four) percent and this ward is now very safe for Labour.  Last year the Labour slate had 45% here to 25% for a single UKIP candidate and 20% for the Tories.

Jim Hobson is Labour's choice to defend the by-election; he has been inspired by his selection to start blogging.  The UKIP candidate is the wonderfully-named Spencer Shackleton.  Tony Jones stands for the Tories, and the ballot paper is completed by the Greens' Phill Armstrong and the Lib Dems' Neil Close.

Parliamentary constituency: Blackpool South

May 2015 result Lab 1045/902 UKIP 585 C 463/294 Grn 202 Ind 37
May 2012 by-election Lab 731 C 216 Ind 193 LD 73
May 2011 result Lab 849/777 C 322/282 UKIP 159/146 LD 54
May 2007 result LD 555/414 Lab 502/466 C 317/274 Ind 202 UK Fags 193
May 2003 result Lab 822/793 LD 779/662 C 675/657

Rutland council
Caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Sam Asplin on health grounds.  Still in his early twenties, Asplin was first elected in a by-election in October 2014 when he was a 21-year-old teaching assistant at Whissendine primary school.

Whissendine Windmill
Here we have Rutland's most north-westerly ward, a tiny village in a tiny county.  Whissendine lies off the Oakham-Melton road, about 30 miles north-west of Peterborough, and is probably best known for its thirteenth-century church and nineteenth-century windmill.  The ward has a relatively old and British demographic and a largish retired population.

Whissendine ward has a high councillor attrition rate and this is the ward's third by-election in eight years.  It had voted Tory in 2003 and nobody opposed the Conservatives in 2007, but in 2008 Brian Montgomery, the first chairman of the Rutland unitary council, won a by-election as an independent with a majority of just six votes.  He made the ward safe in 2011 but died in 2014, and the pattern then repeated itself: the Tories again narrowly lost the by-election, this time to the Lib Dems by 13 votes, and the new Lib Dem councillor increased his majority in 2015 to 66-34.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Kevin Thomas.  Christopher Clark is the Conservative candidate, and Marietta King stands for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Rutland and Melton

May 2015 result LD 511 C 265
Oct 2014 by-election LD 192 C 179
May 2011 result Ind 335 C 247
Nov 2008 by-election Ind 154 C 148 LD 71
May 2007 result C unopposed
May 2003 result C 285 Lab 186

Havant borough council, Hampshire
Caused by the death of Conservative councillor Frida Edwards at the age of 55.  Havant's first black councillor, Edwards had been the owner of the Hayling Ferry, which connects Hayling Island with Portsmouth, until it went bust last year.  She had been a Havant councillor since 2010.

Whitsbury Road, Havant
Moving to the south coast and the town of Havant.  Havant was greatly expanded in the 1960s by the building of a large council estate in conjunction with Portsmouth Corporation, and Bondfields, covering the West Leigh area, is the eastern of the wards covering that estate; 42.5% of the ward's households are still socially rented and there is a definite working-class profile, although unemployment is reduced by the presence in the ward of a large Pfizer pharmaceutical plant which packages over a million doses of vaccines and other injectable medicines every week.  The ward's other main feature is West Leigh Park, the home ground of the non-league football team Havant and Waterlooville.

This is not a safe Labour area.  Bondfields ward has voted for all three major parties in the last eight years, with the Lib Dems gaining a seat from Labour in 2006 before losing it to the Tories in 2010.  Edwards was re-elected in 2014, the last time this ward went to the polls, in a close three-way marginal result with 34% for the Tories, 28% for Labour and a surprising 27% for the Green Party who had not previously fought the ward.  To add to the confusion, the local county division (Bedhampton and Leigh Park) elected one UKIPper and one Tory in the 2013 county elections.

Defending for the Tories is Lance Quantrill, an electricity and gas meter reader and former Richmond upon Thames councillor (West Twickenham ward, 2002-6).  Labour, who will be defending this ward in the ordinary elections in two months' time, have selected Tony Berry who has fought unwinnable wards in the last two Havant elections.  The Greens are not standing again so it will be interesting to see where their votes go.  Completing the ballot paper are the Lib Dems' Catherine Billam and UKIP's Geoff Whiffen.

Parliamentary constituency: Havant
Hampshire county council division: Bedhampton and Leigh Park

May 2014 result C 401 Lab 340 Grn 318 LD 135
May 2012 result Lab 503 C 335 LD 134
May 2010 result C 882 LD 845 Lab 669 EDP 190
May 2008 result Lab 385 C 318 LD 257 UKIP 121 EDP 71
May 2006 result LD 608 Lab 479 C 228
June 2004 result Lab 555 C 293 LD 285
May 2002 result Lab 803/741 C 226/209 LD 187

East Dorset district council
Caused by the resignation of the Leader of the Council, Conservative councillor Ian Monks, who had fallen out with his council group and the Conservative MP for Christchurch over local government reorganistion.  Monks had been in favour of subsuming his council into some larger unitary council area.  He had been Leader since September 2013 and a councillor since winning a by-election in October 2008.

Oak Road, Alderholt
We finish this week in Alderholt, a large village on the Dorset/Hampshire border around fifteen miles north of Bournemouth.  There's not really much to say about Alderholt either from a points of interest or a demographic point of view, although owner-occupation in the village is quite high.

The ward's previous election results aren't very interesting either, with Monks having a very safe seat; in 2011 he was returned unopposed, and last year he beat UKIP 63-19.  The local county council seat (Cranborne Chase) is just as safe.

So this by-election is unlikely to be a problem for the Tory candidate Gina Logan, who chairs Alderholt parish council.  She is up against Chris Archibold for Labour and David Tooke for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: North Dorset
Dorset county council division: Cranborne Chase

May 2015 result C 1133 UKIP 338 Grn 332
May 2011 result C unopposed
Oct 2008 by-election C 499 LD 442
May 2007 result C 582 LD 242 UKIP 63
May 2003 result C 530 LD 169