“All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order”

It’s Disqualification Special this week on Andrew’s Previews. The Local Government Act has a rule whereby any councillor who fails to attend a council meeting within a six-month period is automatically disqualified, and this week features not one, not two, but three examples of this happening. Rather a fluke that these are all happening together, but that’s not the only flukish thing about this February’s by-election list: none of this month’s polls are the result of a death (normally around 40% of casual vacancies arise for that reason). Statistics throws up strange things like that sometimes. Last week we looked at the Labour versus UKIP versus (as it happened) Lib Dem battle in Rotherham, but this week is a change of scene with three polls in village-based wards in Gloucestershire and East Anglia for the Tories to defend, one in the Labour stronghold of Corby and the last being an election with an unusual feature in prosperous Lytham St Annes. Read on…


FAIRFORD NORTH

Cotswold council, Gloucestershire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Abagail Beccle, who had served since 2015.

For our south-western by-election this week we are in the south-eastern corner of Gloucestershire. Fairford, a picturesque village on the River Coln nine miles north of Swindon, is perhaps best known for its airfield: RAF Fairford was a major US Air Force base for heavy bombers during the Cold War and the Iraq War, with the UK’s only runway rated as long and strong enough to handle the Space Shuttle, and is still the home of the annual Royal International Air Tattoo, whose 2003 edition was recognised by Guinness as the world’s largest military air show. However, the airfield is located to the south of Fairford, and this ward is instead based on the village and a small hinterland to the north. Fairford’s church, dating from the late fifteenth century and little altered since, is noted for having the UK’s most complete set of mediaeval stained glass as well as a memorial in the churchyard to Tiddles, the church cat – who fell off the roof.

This ward was created in 2015 as a cut-down version of the former two-seat Fairford ward, which included the whole of the village and the village of Quenington to the north. Fairford was a safe Tory ward generally but its last election, in 2011, saw the Conservatives lose a seat to independent candidate Mark Wardle. In 2015, the only previous contest on these boundaries, the Conservatives won with 51% to 28% for the Lib Dems and 21% for UKIP. At county level the ward is combined with the nearby village of Lechlade on Thames to form a safe Tory division.

Defending for the Conservatives is Dom Morris who has already had a varied career: an RAF veteran who has worked for the Foreign Office in Helmand, Pakistan and Syria, Morris was the Conservative candidate for Exeter in the 2015 general election and combines work on the family farm (in Quenington) with being a government advisor who sits on the Social Security Advisory Committee. The Liberal Democrats have selected Andrew Doherty, who has recently joined Fairford town council. There is no UKIP candidate this time, so the ballot paper is completed by Green Party candidate Xanthe Messenger.

Parliamentary constituency: The Cotswolds
Gloucestershire county council division: Fairford and Lechlade on Thames

May 2015 result C 644 LD 351 UKIP 266


GREAT AND LITTLE OAKLEY

Tendring council, Essex; caused by the resignation of independent councillor Tom Howard. He had served since 2011, originally being elected under the “Tendring First” label.

For the first of our two by-elections in East Anglia we are on the Essex coast. Great and Little Oakley (not to be confused with the Great and Little Oakley in Northamptonshire, of which more later) are small villages a few miles to the south-west of Harwich to the north of Hamford Water, a tidal creek which forms a nature reserve noted for its waterfowl and rare plants. The traditional industry here was salt, and chemicals are still important to the ward’s economy – the EPC chemical works, producing hydrocarbons and handling explosives, is located next to the nature reserve on the site of the disused Great Oakley Dock. Closer to Harwich is Little Oakley, which has provided much work for archaeologists down the years: there was a Roman villa here in the fourth century, while 575,000 years before that a channel of the interglacial River Thames passed through the area (in those days, before the Ice Ages changed its course, the Thames flowed through Hertfordshire and East Anglia towards the proto-North Sea).

Tendring council has traditionally provided lots of votes for a variety of localist parties: since 2003 this ward has been contested by the now-defunct Community Representatives Party and by Tendring First, for whom Howard was first elected in 2011. Tendring First lost most of its seats on the council in the 2015 election, having been hit by fraud charges involving their leader (who eventually got two years in prison, suspended), and Howard sought re-election as an independent candidate, winning with a low vote share – 35%, to 28% for the Tories and 23% for UKIP. However, UKIP gained the local county council seat (Tendring Rural East) in 2013.

It’s worth saying a few words on the subject of Tendring UKIP, if only because the district includes the seat of their MP Douglas Carswell (although this ward is not part of his constituency). Carswell’s re-election in 2015 coincided with the last Tendring council election: UKIP, which had won nothing in 2011, rode Carswell’s coat-tails in 2015 to become the second largest party on Tendring council in 2015, winning 22 seats, one fewer than the Tories who lost their majority. Large UKIP council groups have not been noted for their internal cohesion, but the splits in Tendring’s UKIP group started immediately thanks to an inspired move by the local Tories who offered UKIP a coalition deal to run the council. Several more defections and less than two years later, only 11 of the 22 Kippers elected in 2015 are still in the party.

To that wave of defections can be added Andy Erskine, the UKIP county councillor for Tendring Rural East, who has defected to the Conservatives and is their candidate in this by-election – he was the UKIP candidate for this ward in 2015 and finished third. There is no independent candidate to succeed Howard, so this seat is up for grabs and the Tories, who held it from 2003 to 2011, must fancy their chances of a regain. The UKIP candidate is Mike Bush, who is the only candidate to give an address in the ward. Also standing are Robert Shepherd for Labour and the Lib Dems’ Matthew Bensilum, who will hope to improve on the 55 votes he polled here back in 2007.

Parliamentary constituency: Harwich and North Essex
Essex county council division: Tendring Rural East

May 2015 result Ind 405 C 319 UKIP 261 Lab 166
May 2011 result Tendring First 342 C 313 UKIP 141
May 2007 result C 303 Lab 130 Tendring First 125 LD 55
May 2003 result C 228 Lab 215 Community Representatives Party 109


WATERSIDE

North Norfolk council; caused by the disqualification of Conservative councillor Ben Jarvis, who failed to attend any council meetings in six months. He had served since 2011.

Our second East Anglia by-election, and first disqualification, of the week takes place in Waterside ward – an apt name, as the ward is surrounded on three sides by the Broads National Park. To the west is the River Ant, while to the south and east is the River Thurne, which includes to the north-east the largest of Norfolk’s broads, Hickling Broad. In the middle is the ward’s population, which is organised into six villages: Hickling, Hickling Green and Hickling Heath in the north-east of the ward, Catfield in the west of the ward on the A149 Cromer-Great Yarmouth road, Ludham in the south-west on the A1062 Hoveton-Potter Heigham road, and Potter Heigham in the south-east where the two roads meet at a medieval bridge over the Thurne. The ward has a very white, very British-born and very old population – 29% of the workforce are retired, a figure just outside the top 100 wards in England and Wales.

We have the rare sight here of a by-election within a Lib Dem parliamentary constituency – North Norfolk – and Waterside ward had a full slate of two Lib Dem councillors until 2011, when the party cocked up their nomination papers and only got one candidate on the ballot, the Tories gratefully making the pickup. The remaining Lib Dem councillor resigned shortly afterwards; the Lib Dems held that by-election, but were swept away in 2015 by the general election turnout – the Tories won both seats with 38%, to 23% for the Lib Dems and 22% for UKIP. The local county seat (South Smallburgh) was gained by the Lib Dems from the Tories in both 2009 and 2013, on the second occasion after the elected Lib Dem county councillor had defected, and was held by the Lib Dems in a November 2015 by-election with a much increased majority.

Defending for the Tories is Tony Lumbard, a Ludham parish councillor. The Lib Dem candidate is Marion Millership, who runs a care company. UKIP have selected Barry Whitehouse, from Ludham, and completing the ballot paper is former district council chairman David Russell for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: North Norfolk
Norfolk county council division: South Smallburgh

May 2015 result C 882/845 LD 538/537 UKIP 505/393 Lab 210/160 Grn 158/142
Apr 2012 by-election LD 494 C 410 Lab 246 UKIP 233 Grn 73 Ind 69
May 2011 result C 773/553 LD 752/318 Lab 311/220
May 2007 result LD 861/679 C 601/458 Lab 149
May 2003 result LD 781/563 Ind 545 C 459/369


KINGSWOOD AND HAZEL LEYS

Corby council, Northamptonshire; caused by the disqualification of councillor Kenneth Carratt, who failed to attend any council meetings in six months. He was elected for Labour but had left the party.

For the week’s Labour defence we are in Corby, that part of Northamptonshire that is forever Scotland. Kingswood and Hazel Leys ward is a residential area of Corby off the Oakley Road (which runs to the Corby suburb of Great Oakley and the village of Little Oakley, not to be confused with the villages of the same name in Essex); its name derives from the King’s Wood, a local nature reserve surrounded by the built-up area, and the Hazel Leys Academy, a secondary school in the centre of the ward.

Corby got new ward boundaries in 2015, but the only change to Kingswood ward was to add Hazel Leys to its name; this means that we are able to compare results for this ward back to 2003. The ward is a bastion of the working class; in 2011 it had the fifth-highest proportion of any ward in England and Wales of people employed in occupations classified by the census as “routine” – 28% of the workforce – and just sneaks into the top 100 for “semi-routine” employment. Not surprisingly unemployment and social renting are high while qualifications are low. The ward has a young age profile and a high immigrant population, with 8% being born in the post-2001 EU states and a further 1.5% in the Republic of Ireland – appropriately the main social focus of the ward is the Corby Irish Centre.

Corby town (as opposed to the Corby constituency, which contains a large chunk of rural Northamptonshire) is an area of such strength for Labour that in the 2007 and 2011 elections to what was then Kingswood ward Labour were guaranteed seats due to insufficient opposition candidates. In the 2015 election, with a wider ballot paper, the Labour slate beat UKIP 54-22. Labour also comfortably hold the Kingswood county division (which contains the whole of this ward and parts of four other wards).

Defending for Labour is Isabel McNab. With no UKIP candidate this time, she is opposed by Stan Heggs for the Conservatives and Michael Mahon for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Corby
Northamptonshire county council division: Kingswood

May 2015 result Lab 1522/1472/1450 UKIP 606 C 399/314/303 Grn 275/218
Nov 2013 by-election Lab 722 UKIP 246 C 154 LD 18
May 2011 result Lab 1052/1027/1015 C 413/332
May 2007 result Lab 708/705/651 C 454 LD 345
May 2003 result Lab 719/650/644 C 562/441 LD 416


ST JOHNS

Fylde council, Lancashire; caused by the disqualification of Fylde Ratepayers councillor Mark Bamforth, who failed to attend any council meetings in six months. He had served since winning a by-election in March 2014.

We finish in the north and next to the seasde. St Johns ward marks the south-eastern terminus of the Blackpool built-up area, the point on the north bank of the Ribble estuary where Lytham ends and fields and saltmarsh begin on the road to Preston. The town of Lytham is essentially a retirement area underpinned by tourism, either to the Blackpool conurbation itself or associated with the Open Championship golf course in St Annes. Out of season, as we are, the main driver for the local economy is the aerospace factory at nearby Warton Aerodrome which assembles Eurofighter Typhoons; many of the workers at the factory live in Lytham and that gives St Johns ward a commuter economic profile.

The St Johns ward is essentially a fight at local level betwen the Tories and the Fylde Ratepayers, who have held one of the three seats here since 2007, although in 2011 the Ratepayers councillor, Kath Harper, appeared on the ballot paper as an independent. Harper died in 2014 and the resulting by-election was held at a canter by the Ratepayers’ Mark Bamforth, who was re-elected at the top of the poll in 2015 with a huge personal vote and got a running-mate in on his coat-tails; shares of the vote were 45% for the Ratepayers, 26% for the Tories and 13% for Labour. The wider Lytham county division is safely Conservative, with UKIP running second in 2013.

This is the most controversial of the three disqualifications this week under the six-month non-attendance rule, as Bamforth’s excuse for not attending council meetings is that he suffers from agoraphobia and is unable to leave his house. Nevertheless he is seeking re-election in this by-election. There have been a few previous cases over the life of this column of councillors seeking re-election at the by-election caused by their own non-attendance, and they do normally get back in; given Bamforth’s clear personal vote it would be difficult to bet against that happening here. The Tory candidate is Paul Lomax, a caterer. Labour have selected Jayne Boardman, and the ballot paper is completed by Paul Hill for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Fylde
Lancashire county council division: Lytham

May 2015 result Fylde Ratepayers 1607/1028 C 916/856/585 Lab 473 Ind 390 LD 192
March 2014 by-election Fylde 804 C 205 UKIP 100 LD 62 Grn 53
May 2011 result C 771/717/672 Ind 704 LD 424
May 2007 result C 612/547/471 Fylde Ratepayers 596 Lab 289
May 2003 result C 709/485/474 Fylde Ratepayers 388 Lab 337

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