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

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