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

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