Monday, 7 March 2016

By-election Previews: 10 March 2016

Two by-elections on 10th March 2016:

KENDAL STRICKLAND AND FELL
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 OpenOffice.org, 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


MAIDENHEAD RIVERSIDE
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

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