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

Thursday 13th April 2017 is Maundy Thursday, which was once a day on which elections could not legally be held. That rule was changed a few years ago, but there are still relatively few by-elections called for Maundy Thursday, partly because of its proximity to the ordinary May elections which are now only three weeks away. Nonetheless there are two polls this week, both in safe wards which will also poll in May, one in Dorset and one in the Tees Valley mayoral area. Read on…


West Dorset council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Peter Hiscock.

This week we start in the Dorset Downs in the valley of the River Piddle, which rises at the village of Alton Pancras and flows south into Poole Harbour. The largest village in the ward is Piddletrenthide, whose curious name (pronounced trent-hide) derives from the name of the river and the fact that the 1086 Domesday survey assessed the village for tax purposes as thirty hides – an unusually large amount for a rural village – and the theme of ancient prosperity is continued by the ward’s other main village of Buckland Newton, which was once the centre of its own hundred. Boundary changes to the ward in 2015 added two parishes to the east of the valley, Cheselbourne and Dewlish. The pre-2015 Piddle Valley ward made the top 70 wards in England and Wales for population in the 45-64 age bracket, and in common with many wards in rural areas had high self-employment levels.

With all those piddling names, it was a fine, if dubious, example of nominative determinism that Piddle Valley ward should have been represented by councillor Peter Hiscock. He was first elected in 2015, inheriting a safe Conservative ward and beating the Green Party by 69-20. At county level most of the ward is within the Three Valleys division, which is also safe Conservative, although Dewlish parish forms part of Linden Lea division – one of the few electoral units to take its name from literature – which is a Lib Dem-Tory marginal.

Defending for the Conservatives is Brian Haynes, whose wife Jill is seeking re-election in May as the county councillor for Three Valleys division. He is opposed only by Carol Byrom of the Green Party, who gives an address in Cheselbourne and retired last year after 30 years as practice manager at the GP surgery in Puddletown.

Parliamentary constituency: West Dorset
Dorset county council division: Three Valleys (Alton Pancras, Buckland Newton, Melcolmbe Horsey, Piddlehinton and Piddletrenthide parishes), Linden Lea (Cheselbourne and Dewlish parishes) (Cheselbourne parish transfers to Three Valleys division in May)

May 2015 result C 1095 Grn 315 Lab 182


Middlesbrough council, North Yorkshire; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Geoff Cole. He had served on Middlesbrough council since 1999 and at the time of his resignation was chairman of the planning committee; in 2012 he was the subject of an arson attack in which his car was set on fire while parked outside his home.

There aren’t many housing estates which can boast not a church but a cathedral. Coulby Newham is one. This is a council estate on the southern edge of Middlesbrough, which was developed from the 1970s onwards to the south of the A174 Parkway, Middlesbrough’s southern bypass. The ward’s main shopping centre, opened in 1986, is named after the Parkway and has been augmented in recent years by a large branch of Tesco; while St Mary’s Cathedral, see of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Middlesbrough, was consecrated in 1998. Appropriately the census statistics for Coulby Newham ward show high levels of Christianity (72% of the population), while social renting is also high; these figures are for the 2003-2015 edition of Coulby Newham ward, but boundary changes in 2015 were minor.

In recent years Coulby Newham has developed into a fight between Labour and a slate of independent candidates, who gained a seat in the ward from Labour in 2011. In the 2015 election Labour restored their monopoly by polling 38% to 26% for the Tories and 23% for the independent slate, Cole topping the poll with a clear personal vote. Labour improved their position in a by-election in May last year, polling 46% to 30% for the independents and 22% for the Conservatives.

Defending this by-election, the second in the ward in twelve months, for Labour is Annalise Higgins who is described as a community activist. The independent candidate is local resident Mike Allen. The Tories have selected Jacob Young, a technician in the petrochemicals industry who despite still being under 25 already has a general election campaign under his belt: he fought Redcar in the 2015 election. Completing the ballot paper is Emma Alberti for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

May 2016 by-election Lab 732 Ind 475 C 352 LD 48
May 2015 result Lab 1464/1291/1079 C 996 Ind 893/762/758 LD 524

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