Last week’s parliamentary by-elections were the most significant electoral event of the year so far (possibly since 1878, by some metrics), but just a week afterwards we crank up a gear. The Northern Ireland Assembly is up for re-election this week following the resignation of the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness over a scandal involving the First Minister, DUP leader Arlene Foster, and a failed renewable energy incentive scheme. (Isn’t it refreshing to have a political crisis in Northern Ireland which isn’t about the elephant in the room?) Results for the Assembly will become clear by Friday evening although some of the later counts may fall over into Saturday; before then we have four local by-elections in England to look forward to with Tory defences in Dorset and Teesside, a Labour defence in Salford and a Lib Dem defence on Teesside. Read on…


MUDEFORD AND FRIARS CLIFF

Christchurch council, Dorset; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Andy Barfield, who had served since 2015. Barfield’s resignation was ostensibly due to increased work commitments, but it also came shortly after it was revealed that his own council had taken him to court over �3,000 in council tax arrears.

Last week this column went from north to south and finished on the south coast, so this week it’s time to reverse the direction. We start as we left off last week on the south coast, in Mudeford (“Muddyford”), on the north bank of the hazardous Christchurch Harbour – there has been a lifeboat station here since 1963. Mudeford’s once-isolated location made it a perfect place for smugglers, to the extent that a pitched battle – the Battle of Mudeford – was fought here in 1784 between smugglers and a group of Marines and men from the Revenue. Less than twenty years later King George III visited as a guest of Sir George Rose, MP for Christchurch and advisor to Pitt the Younger, and is recorded as having used a bathing machine.

Until the mid-1960s much of this ward was covered by Christchurch Airfield, home to a De Havilland aircraft factory and – during the Second World War – used by the RAF as an experimental airfield for radar testing (and also for production of one of the favourite answerlines for old men setting quizzes, the wooden Mosquito aircraft), then by the USAAF to provide air support for the D-Day landings. Once aircraft production had ceased the airfield was rapidly redeveloped for housing, and the ward has turned into an elephant’s graveyard: Mudeford and Friars Cliff is in the top 30 wards in England and Wales for population in the 65+ age group (40.1%), and just outside the top 50 for the proportion of the workforce who are retired (31.2%). For those who are still young enough to work, the economic profile of the ward is middle-class.

The Christchurch constituency was a famous by-election gain for the Lib Dems at the nadir of the Major government, but the Lib Dem organisation in the town has since fallen apart to the extent that they have not stood a candidate in this ward since 2007. The Tory slate was elected unopposed in 2011, and in 2015 beat UKIP 56-28. At county council level the Mudeford and Highcliffe division is equally safe for the Conservatives.

Defending for the Tories is Paul Hilliard, who is seeking to return to Christchurch council after losing his seat to UKIP two years ago in the neighbouring Grange ward. The UKIP candidate is Lawrence Wilson, who is fighting his third council by-election in six months; he stood in two by-elections last autumn in Ferndown north of Bournemouth, where he lives. Also standing are Julian Spurr for Labour, Fiona Cownie for the Green Party and independent candidate Sheila Gray.

Parliamentary constituency: Christchurch
Dorset county council division: Mudeford and Highcliffe

May 2015 result C 1900/1897/1437 UKIP 945 Lab 558/515
May 2011 result 3 C unopposed
May 2007 result C 1638/1575/1464 LD 507/477 Lab 290
May 2003 result C 1495/1426/1340 LD 598 Lab 381


KERSAL

Salford council, Greater Manchester; caused by the death of Labour councillor Harry Davies at the age of 55. A long-standing union member and avid beekeper, he had served since 2015.

Salford may have a reputation as one of the roughest cities in the UK, but Kersal most definitely gives the lie to that. Your columnist knows this well – I lived in the neighbouring ward of St Mary’s in Bury for the first twelve years of my life, used to make regular trips to Upper Park Road to get my teeth fixed by a rather incompetent orthodontist, and still travel to the ward each December in support of Broughton House, a nursing home for ex-servicemen.

The area around Broughton House is a very leafy area full of large houses, and a very Jewish area. In fact Kersal is the most Jewish ward in England and Wales (41.0% of the population at the last census) and, with many of those being Orthodox Jews, in consequence Kersal makes the top 60 wards in England and Wales for under-16s (28.3% of the population). Adding to the demographic mix are some outlying halls of residence for Salford University, resulting in a significant student population. One non-Jewish notable religious figure on the electoral roll here is the Bishop of Manchester David Walker, whose official residence is here on Bury New Road; another Anglican associated with Kersal was John Byrom, lyricist for the hymn Christians Awake, poet and developer of a noted shorthand system. With the closure in 2009 of the Cussons soap factory next the Irwell (in a low-lying district which is prone to flooding and was badly inundated on Boxing Day 2015) Kersal ward is now almost entirely residential and has a mixed economic profile. In sport, the ward is home to the non-league football side Salford City, which is owned by several former Manchester United players and is presently seeking to redevelop the club’s home ground on Moor Lane.

With this economic and religious mix Kersal ward, although it has had a full slate of Labour councillors for decades, has been closely fought for many years. The Lib Dems, who were strong in Salford at that time, were just 23 votes away from winning a seat in 2004, and in 2006 Labour’s majority over the Tory candidate Shneur Odze was just 34 votes. Odze is now in UKIP (he finished a more distant second under his new colours in 2014 and is the prospective UKIP candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester in May) and his loss has blunted the Tory campaign in Kersal a bit; in 2016 the Labour lead was 47-36. However, on the same day in 2016 Labour lost the neighbouring ward of Sedgley in Bury – another heavily Jewish ward – with the Conservatives winning that ward for the first time since 1992, in a loss which was widely blamed on the Labour antisemitism scandal.

So this is not a done deal for Labour by any means, especially given the utter disarray in the national party following the loss of the Copeland by-election last week. Their candidate is Mike Pevitt, who gives an address in Wardley and now has a shot at a winnable seat after two campaigns in the safe Tory Boothstown and Ellenbrook ward. The Tories have reselected their regular candidate Arnie Saunders, a well-known local rabbi. Also standing are Christopher Barnes for UKIP, Jason Reading for the Green Party, Adam Slack for the Liberal Democrats and Jonny Wineberg, an independent candidate opposed to the football stadium redevelopment.

May 2016 result Lab 1219 C 942 UKIP 283 Grn 113 TUSC 31
May 2015 result Lab 2110 C 1872 Grn 250 TUSC 89
May 2014 result Lab 1549 UKIP 781 C 504
May 2012 result Lab 1519 C 548 LD 183
May 2011 reuslt Lab 1566 C 1037 UKIP 208 LD 161
May 2010 result Lab 2028 C 1645 LD 499 BNP 217 Respect 97
May 2008 result Lab 1385 C 1046 LD 356
May 2007 result Lab 1059 C 1025 LD 426
May 2006 result Lab 1077 LD 642 C 563
June 2004 result Lab 1615/1196/1128 LD 1105/1101/612 C 791


HUTTON

and

NEWCOMEN

To finish the week we travel north to what used to be part of the North Riding of Yorkshire but has declared independence under the banner of “Redcar and Cleveland”. There are two by-elections in Redcar and Cleveland council, North Yorkshire this week; caused respectively by the resignation of Conservative councillor Valerie Halton and the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Abbott at the age of 66. Halton, a former leader of the Conservative group, had served since 1999 and had represented Hutton ward since 2003. Abbott’s career in local government went back a lot further than that: an electrician by trade, he started out in the 1970s as a Liberal member of Whitby town council, fought Hartlepool in the 1979 general election, was first elected in Redcar in 1985 to Cleveland county council and in 1987 to what was then Langbaurgh district council, fought Redcar in the 1992 general election, served as Redcar and Cleveland’s cabinet member for housing and regeneration from 2003 to 2007 and at the time of his death was the council’s deputy mayor.

To start with Hutton, which is the Cleveland ward. This ward includes the 1049-foot summit of Roseberry Topping, a miniature Matterhorn which dominates the horizon of the Teesside area, but in population terms Hutton 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.

Rather different is Newcomen ward, located in sunny Redcar and running south from Redcar Central railway station along the western edge of Redcar racecourse. In the 2011 census this was a classic working-class ward underpinned by the Redcar steelworks, but the subsequent closure of the steelworks in late 2015 has tipped Redcar into severe economic depression meaning that those stats are now very out of date.

The recent economic instability in Redcar has been mirrored by political instability, with some wild swings in the town between Labour and the Liberal Democrats over the last decade. The Lib Dems won the parliamentary seat in 2010, having made some big council by-election gains in the precending years; but a year later Labour gained an overall majority on Redcar and Cleveland council. Newcomen ward had been one of the Lib Dem bastions in Redcar with its two councillors, Chris and Glynis Abbott, having represented the ward for many years with large personal votes; but Glynis died in late 2011 and the Lib Dems made a very poor choice of candidate for the resulting by-election. Dave Stones turned out to have anti-Islamic stuff on his Facebook which was offensive enough to make the national press, and duly lost the by-election to Labour in January 2012. The Labour group on Redcar and Cleveland council split so badly in early 2015 that the Lib Dems were in control of the council going into the 2015 elections; Labour easily gained the parliamentary seat but finished three votes short of geting back overall control of the council. (The 2015 election to Redcar and Cleveland was not one of the finest adverts for England’s first-past-the-post system, with Labour’s 29/59 seats coming from less than 30% of the vote and the Lib Dems coming second in seats but fourth in votes.) Newcomen ward remained split Lib Dem/Labour with 40% for the Lib Dems, 34% for Labour and 18% for UKIP. With much of that Lib Dem score down to Chris Abbott’s personal vote – he polled over 200 votes ahead of his running-mate – this is a difficult defence.

Hutton ward has had a quieter recent history, being a safe Tory ward, but is having its second by-election in twelve months after one of the other Tory councillors died in early 2016. The Tory lead was 54-29 over Labour in the 2015 ordinary election; in the March 2016 by-election the Conservative vote was 45%, to 27% for the Lib Dems and 19% for Labour.

The task of defending Newcomen ward for the Lib Dems falls to Laura Benson, who fought the neighbouring Dormanstown ward (which covered the steelworks site) in 2015. The Labour candidate is Charlie Brady, a caseworker for the town’s Labour MP Anna Turley who had no chance in the safe-Lib Dem West Dyke ward two years ago but has a winnable seat this time. UKIP’s candidate is Andrea Turner, who stood in Dormanstown ward in 2015. Also on the ballot paper are independent candidates Mark Hannon and Dave Stones (yes, that Dave Stones) and Maret Ward for the Conservatives.

In Hutton former Tory councillor Alma Thrower (Westworth ward, 2003-07) is seeking to return to the council. The Lib Dems have reselected Graeme Kidd who was runner-up in last year’s by-election. The Labour candidate is Ian Urwin and the ballot paper is completed by Barry Hudson for UKIP.

Hutton

Parliamentary constituency: Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

March 2016 by-election C 879 LD 536 Lab 368 UKIP 116 Ind 56
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

Newcomen

Parliamentary constituency: Redcar

May 2015 result LD 863/621 Lab 735/624 UKIP 400 Ind 176
January 2012 by-election Lab 539 LD 484 C 76
May 2011 result LD 781/733 Lab 442/393 C 100
May 2007 result LD 725/637 Ind 346/249 Lab 204 C 111
May 2003 result LD 1423/1301 Lab 418 C 197/123

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