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...


CLACTON EAST
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


EMBSAY-WITH-EASTBY
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


RICHMOND CENTRAL
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

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