Thursday, 30 June 2016

By-election Previews: 30 June and 1 July 2016

Five local by-elections this week, four in England, and one covered over on the Welsh Elections blog.  Of the four in England, three are being held on 30th June, and the other on 1st July.

Three by-elections on Thursday 30th June:

Bexley council, South London
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Joe Pollard, who is now working abroad.  Pollard had served since 2006.

Holmesdale Road, Bexley
Your columnist is writing this on Friday afternoon last week, as the UK dissolves into political and financial meltdown.  In this immediate wake of Brexit, it's not immediately clear what the impact of the Leave vote on the UK party system will be (if this is even an important consideration right now).  It's ironic that the first electors to get the chance to react to Brexit are those of St Michael's ward, covering the north-eastern corner of Welling.  This is a ward populated by London's aspirant working class: St Michael's is in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for intermediate-level jobs and Level 1 qualifications (ie fewer than five GCSEs), but also has high owner-occupation rates. Not surprisingly given this demographic, Bexley as a whole was 63% Leave last week - a rebuke to the political legacy of Sir Edward Heath, who was MP for this area (then part of the Bexley constituency) at the time he was leading Britain into the Common Market in 1973.

St Michael's election results are now almost unrecognisable from those in 2002, when Labour won all three seats in a three-way marginal result.  The Conservatives decisively gained the ward in 2006 and held all three seats until 2014 when they lost a seat to UKIP who only stood one candidate in the ward; shares of the vote were 35% for the Tories, 33% for UKIP and 22% for Labour.  This is the third time the ward has been to the polls in two months following the referendum and the London elections in May, in which the Tories' Zac Goldsmith carried the ward's ballot boxes with 51% to 25% for Labour's Sadiq Khan and 11% for UKIP's Peter Whittle; the GLA list vote was closer with 39% for the Conservatives, 23% for Labour and 20% for UKIP, while further down the results Britain First had 3% and finished sixth (out of twelve) on both ballots.

Defending for the Conservatives is Ray Sams, a councillor for this ward from 2006 until he lost his seat to UKIP in 2014; he was Mayor of Bexley in 2011-12.  The UKIP candidate is Keith Forster, the treasurer of the party's Bexley branch.  Labour have gone for youth in selecting Sam Marchant, a social media analyst.  Also on the ballot paper are Michael Jones of the BNP (whose head office used to be in Welling), Derek Moran for the Green Party and the Lib Dems' Simone Reynolds.

Parliamentary constituency: Bexleyheath and Crayford

May 2014 result C 1352/1314/1140 UKIP 1280 Lab 857/769/720 BNP 407
May 2010 result C 2692/2623/2298 Lab 1554/1392/1269 LD 884/724/615 BNP 813 EDP 562
May 2006 result C 2062/1907/1890 Lab 1101/1090/1023 LD 457/450/413
May 2002 result Lab 1023/981/972 C 887/775/766 LD 831/760/752 UKIP 134

May 2016 GLA results (excludes postal voters)
Mayor: C 1402 Lab 701 UKIP 302 LD 119 Grn 80 Britain First 74 BNP 35 Women's Equality 23 Respect 12 Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 12 One Love 5 Zylinski 1
List: C 1099 Lab 657 UKIP 546 LD 124 Grn 99 Britain First 91 Women's Equality 49 BNP 46 Animal Welfare 32 CPA 31 Respect 18 House Party 5

Mole Valley council, Surrey
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Santiago Mondejar Flores, an IT professional, who has served since 2015.

The Royal Oak, Leatherhead
Moving out of London, we come to the market town of Leatherhead, beloved of radio traffic reporters thanks to its location just off the congested M25 motorway.  The motorway's junction 9 lies within this ward, prompting several multinational companies to locate their UK offices here including CGI, Halliburton and Unilever; also here is the headquarters of the Police Federation.  That's not the only police connection to this ward as it was the former location of Surrey Sound Studios, where The Police recorded many of their early songs.  The ward also includes the town's railway station (a junction for the Victoria-Dorking and Waterloo-Epsom-Guildford lines) and its town centre; Leatherhead High Street came in the top five of a 2002 BBC poll for the UK's worst shopping street, but Wikipedia suggests it has improved a bit since then.  The ward's census statistics show that employment is high, with 48% of the workforce being employed full-time.

Former councillor Mondejar's Twitter feed is filled with Remain retweets, and Mole Valley - perhaps thanks to all those multinationals and the importance of research to its economy - voted 53% Remain last week.  At council level this ward and the council as a whole tends to be a close fight between the Lib Dems and Conservatives, the Lib Dems having won here eight times since 2002 to four times for the Conservatives and there have been some close majorities (including a couple of close three-way fights); since 2014 the score is 2-1 in the Tories' favour, but the Lib Dems won the most recent contest in May's ordinary election on a low share of the vote, 33% to 29% for the Tories, 18% for UKIP and 16% for Labour.  The ward is part of the Conservative-held county division of Leatherhead and Fetcham East, although the Tory majority comes from elsewhere in the division.

Defending for the Conservatives is Tracy Keeley, who stood in Fetcham West ward in May and had a very bad result in what previously had been a Tory-held ward; a violin teacher, she has previous local government experience as a town councillor in Yorkshire.  The Lib Dem candidate is Joe Crome, general manager of the Leatherhead Youth Project.  UKIP's Simon Chambers and Labour's Marc Green try again after their third- and fourth-place finishes here in May, and the Green Party's Vicki Elcoate completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Mole Valley
Surrey county council division: Leatherhead and Fetcham East

May 2016 result LD 528 C 453 UKIP 279 Lab 255 Grn 66
May 2015 result C 1064 LD 915 UKIP 571 Lab 455 Grn 122
May 2014 result C 525 LD 519 UKIP 512 Lab 248
May 2012 result LD 535 C 495 Lab 270 UKIP 213
May 2011 result LD 820 C 669 Lab 278 UKIP 209
May 2010 result LD 1125 C 1113 Lab 353 Ind 275 UKIP 187
May 2008 result LD 866 C 621 UKIP 170
May 2007 result LD 829 C 577 Lab 190 UKIP 105 Grn 43
May 2006 result C 757 LD 754 Lab 221
June 2004 result C 511 LD 492 Lab 489
May 2003 result LD 517 C 364 Lab 343
May 2002 result LD 721 Lab 438 C 317

Luton council, Bedfordshire
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Aysegul Gurbuz.  Just 20 years old and having served since 2015, Gurbuz resigned after a series of anti-Semitic tweets by her were revealed.

High Town Road, Luton
The High Town area of Luton lies immediately to the north of the town centre, a hilly area dominated by Victorian terraces.  The local economy was originally based on hat-making, and there are still a number of hatters here.  Wardown Park, the home of the minor cricket county of Bedfordshire, lies within the ward, and High Town's Wikipedia entry paints a Bohemian picture with a large number of small shops and businesses.  Luton railway station, a major stop on the Midland main line from St Pancras to Bedford and Leicester, lies on the ward's southern boundary.  Students at Bedfordshire University form a large part of the population, and High Town is a highly multiracial area (41% White British, 21% White Other, 18% Asian, 12% Black); the ward is in the top 100 in England and Wales for population from the new EU states (13%) and private renting (46% of households).

A ward like this is of course safe Labour, although the Tories came close to gaining High Town in the 2007 election.  At the most recent poll in 2015 Labour beat the Tories here 53-29, although on the Labour slate Gurbuz was a long way behind her running-mate Andy Malcolm who was standing for re-election.  In last week's referendum Luton voted 56.5% Remain.

To replace Gurbuz Labour have selected another young Asian woman, but this time one whose equality credentials are impeccable: Maahwish Mirza graduated last year from the University of Warwick, in which she was Education Officer and Deputy President of the Students' Union in 2014-15.  (Declaration of interest: your columnist has honorary life membership of Warwick Students' Union.)  The Tory candidate is Sue Garrett, who runs the party's Luton branch office.  Also standing are Lyn Bliss for the Green Party, independent candidate John French, UKIP's Grace Froggatt and Clive Mead for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary constituency: Luton South

May 2015 result Lab 1442/1039 C 791/748 Grn 479/329
May 2011 result Lab 1008/899 C 491/437 Grn 191 LD 176/126
May 2007 result Lab 672/617 C 592/563 Grn 248 LD 195/191
May 2003 result Lab 647/497 C 462/461 LD 205/149 Grn 175 Ind 114

One by-election on Friday 1st July:

Thanet council, Kent
Caused by the resignation of UKIP councillor Mo Leys, who said in a resignation statement that he could no longer stand under the UKIP banner.  A former soldier, he had served since 2015.

St James Avenue, Ramsgate
For the second time in six months we return to the Isle of Thanet, but in a rather different political context to our last visit.  We're in the South Thanet constituency from which Nigel Farage sought election to Parliament last year; although he didn't get in, UKIP had the consolation prize of winning an overall majority on Thanet council, which had previously been evenly split between Labour and the Tories. The Thanet council term in 2011-15 was very fissiparous, with a long list of defections and by-election changes which eventually cost the ruling Tory group their majority and led to Labour taking control part-way through.  The Kipper takeover appears to have made not a jot of difference to this political culture, with four or five UKIP councillors wandering off to form a splinter group and wiping out the Kipper majority; on top of that, a further UKIP councillor emigrated to Thailand shortly after his election last year, and the resulting by-election was lost to Labour.  Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Judging from the seat count, the UKIP surge in Thanet last year came at the expense of Labour who now hold just five seats on the council, following that by-election win.  In that context it's unsurprising that one of the seats to fall was Newington ward, a working-class inland suburb of Ramsgate off the road to Manston, whose closed airport and the future thereof is one of the political hot potatoes in this part of the world.  Previously a safe Labour ward, Newington gave 44% to UKIP last year and just 36% to Labour, the Tories coming in third with 19%. Labour weren't helped by deselecting their long-serving councillor Mike Harrison over homophobic comments he had made about former Labour councillor Ian Driver, who following a dizzying series of defections ended up in the Green Party.  This was the ward where the by-election was held after a UKIP councillor emigrated; the by-election took place in January and resulted in a Labour gain with 38% of the vote, to 30% for UKIP and 20% for the Tories.  UKIP hold the ward's county council seats, with the two-member Ramsgate division being safe for them in 2013 but previously Labour-inclined.

Faced with the prospect of losing their last seat in the ward, UKIP have selected Roy Potts to defend this by-election.  Having got one of their 2015 slate elected in January, Labour are hoping to do the double by selecting their other candidate from 2015, former Mayor of Ramsgate David Green, who has sixteen years' services on Thanet council as a member for Eastcliff ward (1999-2015).  The Conservatives have reselected their January candidate Adam Dark, a law teacher, while the Lib Dems' Matthew Brown completes the ballot paper, hoping to improve on the 12 votes his party got in January.

Parliamentary constituency: South Thanet
Kent county council division: Ramsgate

Jan 2016 by-election Lab 288 UKIP 229 C 156 Ind 49 Grn 20 LD 12 Ind 10
May 2015 result UKIP 884/845 Lab 728/713 C 390/363
May 2011 result Lab 705/702 C 370/351
May 2007 result Lab 471/438 Ramsgate First 268/196 C 208/197 UKIP 116
May 2003 result Lab 532/498 Ind 235 C 144/140

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