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

There are six by-elections for seven seats on Thursday 16th February 2017. So far the story of 2017’s local by-elections has been all about the Lib Dems who have gained five seats this year, but this week the party must move from attack to defence. There are three Lib Dem seats up for election, all of which look safe on paper but could spring some surprises; two of those defences are in the same ward in Essex, the other in Burton upon Trent. Labour have the easiest job this week with defences in safe wards in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, while UKIP have a more difficult task to hold a fragmented and confusing ward in Gloucestershire. But we start this week in Cheshire where the Tories may have a difficult time trying to hold off a localist party in a by-election caused in protest at Tory council policy…


Cheshire East council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Jon Weston in protest at a council decision to end free school buses in the district. He had served since 2015.

Welcome to Happy Valley. A couple of miles north-east of Macclesfield in the shadow of the Peak District (the ward borders the Peak District National Park), Bollington is located on the Macclesfield Canal and overlooked by the White Nancy monument, a fantastic viewpoint for the Cheshire Plain erected in 1817 to commemorate the British victory in the Napoleonic wars. Originally a classic Pennine textile town, Bollington specialised in silk and was the birthplace of John Ryle, who emigrated to the USA and became known as the Father of the US Silk Industry; other native Bollingtonians include the physicist Sir James Chadwick and the former Lebanese hostage Terry Waite, while the antiques expert David Dickinson lives in the town. He’s not the only person who have been attracted to Bollington, which has been affected by the nearby presence of Manchester’s stockbroker belt (centred on neighbouring Prestbury) and has a commuter economic profile.

The 2015 election in Bollington wasn’t exactly a real bobby-dazzler for the Tories who lost one of the ward’s two seats to a localist slate called Bollington First; shares of the vote in 2015 were 37% for Bollington First, 31% for the Tories and 21% for Labour. Bollington First had been rather unlucky to lose out four years earlier, in 2011 the Tories winning both seats in a three-way result with Labour also coming close.

Defending for the Conservatives is Philip Bolton, who gives an address in Prestbury and fought Macclesfield East ward in 2015. Bollington First’s candidate is James Nicholas, consort of the present Mayor of Bollington, a former independent Macclesfield borough councillor (Macclesfield Tytherington ward, 2007-9) and former TV news and war correspondent with ITN (he is the son of the former ITN chief executive Sir David Nicholas), Sky News and CNN; not surprisingly with that pedigree he is endorsed by the former Cheshire independent MP Martin Bell. Labour have gone for youth in selecting Rob Vernon, secretary of the party’s Macclesfield North branch. Completing the ballot paper are Sam al-Hamdani for the Lib Dems (who historically had some strength in the town) and Richard Purslow for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Macclesfield

May 2015 result Bollington First 1743/1380 C 1435/1403 Lab 1006 LD 511/427
May 2011 result C 814/813 Bollington First 788/758 Lab 778/714 Ind 575 LD 436/313


Oldham council, Greater Manchester; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor and former council leader Jim McMahon, who was elected to Parliament in the 2015 Oldham West and Royton by-election and is concentrating on his parliamentary duties. He had served on Oldham council since winning a by-election in November 2003.

From one old textile town to another. Failsworth has become completely indistinguishable from its neighbours, another small town in the agglomeration of small towns to the east of Manchester; it can be found sandwiched between Oldham and Manchester along the main road between them, just inside the M60 orbital motorway. The Failsworth East ward covers the Hollinwood area in the east of the town, together with the village of Woodhouses (at whose cricket club, a polling station for this by-election, the former England captain Mike Atherton learned to play cricket) and the Daisy Nook country park to the south. Much of the south of the ward is open country around the River Medlock, while on the northern boundary of the ward is Hollinwood tram stop on the Rochdale and Oldham branch of the Metrolink tram network.

Failsworth East is normally a safe Labour ward but did produce a freak result in 2008 when the Conservatives gained the ward by a majority of just eight votes, a performance they have never come close to repeating – the Tories didn’t even defend their seat when it came up for re-election in 2012. In May 2016 Labour beat the Tories 66-24, UKIP – who had been second in 2015, 2014 and a June 2012 by-election – not standing.

Defending for Labour is Paul Jacques, whose nomination papers have the distinction of being subscribed by two MPs – McMahon and David Heyes, in whose Ashton-under-Lyne constituency the ward lies. He is up against regular Tory candidate Anthony Cahill, regular Green candidate Andy Hunter-Rossall, Shaun Duffy of the Lib Dems and Nicholas Godleman of UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Ashton-under-Lyne

May 2016 result Lab 1410 C 509 Grn 166 LD 62
May 2015 result Lab 2571 UKIP 1118 C 809 Grn 156 LD 73
May 2014 result Lab 1055 UKIP 785 C 284 Grn 93 LD 24
June 2012 by-election Lab 1199 UKIP 209 LD 109
May 2012 result Lab 1585 LD 283
May 2011 result Lab 1925 C 674 LD 124
May 2010 result Lab 2492 C 1438 LD 546 Ind 235
May 2008 result C 1036 Lab 1028 Grn 173 LD 136
May 2007 result Lab 1476 C 825 Grn 154 LD 96
May 2006 result Lab 1227 C 806 Grn 356 LD 161
June 2004 result Lab 1780/1779/1351 C 760 Grn 561 LD 221/209/206


East Staffordshire council; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Michael Rodgers. He had served since 2007.

Mine’s an IPA, thanks. We’re in the town of Burton upon Trent, a mediaeval market town and crossing point for the River Trent: two major battles were fought at the old Burton Bridge, in 1322 (Edward II prevailing over the Earl of Lancaster) and in 1643 (when the Royalists took Burton during the Civil War). Burton Abbey, which had provided the economic base for the town in mediaeval times, passed upon the Dissolution to Sir William Paget, whose descendants owned the town and its hinterland for centuries thereafter; the Pagets (more on that story later) were responsible for developing the River Trent Navigation and building a wharf on the old Abbey site.

The Trent Navigation secured Burton’s future as a brewing centre by providing it with a link to the open sea at Hull, and onwards from Hull to London, Prussia, the Baltic and even India (for which market India Pale Ale was developed, specially brewed for preservation during the long sea voyage). At one point a quarter of all beer sold in Britain was produced in Burton, and to this day brewing and associated industries are the mainstay of the town’s economy with eight brewers based here, from some of the largest players in the business (Molson Coors and Marstons) to smaller concerns such as the highly-recommended Burton Bridge Brewery; also here is the National Brewery Centre museum, home to the English leg of the World Quizzing Championships a couple of years back.

The Burton ward is much smaller than the urban area: it’s concentrated on the town centre and located between the railway line and the River Trent, also taking in some floodplain to the north-east. EU immigration is a hot political topic at the moment, and this one of the areas most affected by it; in the 2011 census Burton ward made the top 60 in England and Wales for population born in the new EU states (11.6% of the population) and also has a significant Asian population. The economic profile is working-class but there are plenty of jobs in Burton and full-time employment is high.

Burton ward has been Lib Dem-held since 2007 and that must owe a lot to the personal vote of Michael Rodgers, who gained his seat from Labour and since 2011 has been the only Lib Dem member of East Staffordshire council. In 2015 Rodgers had 47% of the vote to 30% for Labour and 23% for the Conservatives. The task for Rodgers’ successor in holding this is illustrated by the 2013 Staffordshire county elections, in which Rodgers contested the local county division (Burton Town) and came fourth with 9%; Burton Town is safely Labour at county level.

So, the Lib Dems have a hard task ahead to stop their representation in East Staffordshire going for a Burton. Defending for them is Helen Hall, a small business owner who at 39 is a generation younger than the other three candidates. Labour’s candidate is Phil Hutchinson, a retiree and CAMRA member. The Tories have selected Hamid Asghar, a postmaster. Completing the ballot paper is the ward’s first UKIP candidate, Peter Levis.

Parliamentary constituency: Burton
Staffordshire county council division: Burton Town

May 2015 result LD 560 Lab 354 C 270
May 2011 result LD 397 Lab 267 C 179
May 2007 result LD 313 Lab 225 C 127
May 2003 result Lab 308 LD 153 C 139


Dudley council, West Midlands; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Glenis Simms. She had served since 2015.

Our second Midlands by-election of the week is also in an urban ward, but one very different from prosperous Burton. St Thomas’s ward is a deprived area to the south-east of Dudley town centre. It may be a little unfair to rely on Wikipedia for tourist information, but Dudley’s entry in the online encyclopedia makes for unusually grim reading, painting a picture of a decrepit town with a failing town centre. St Thomas’s census statistics bear this out; it is just outside the top 100 in England and Wales for population “looking after home or family (8.6% of the workforce) and has high levels of unemployment (8.4%), no qualifications (35% of the workforce), social renting (31% of households) and under-16s (25%); there is also a large Asian and Muslim population in the ward.

This is a safe Labour ward where UKIP have come second in all but one election since 2006; the exception was 2010 when the Tories were runner-up, but their candidate on that occasion (Bill Etheridge) has since defected to UKIP, is now an MEP, and was briefly a candidate in UKIP’s shambolic series of leadership elections last year. In 2016 Labour’s lead over UKIP here was 60-29.

Defending for Labour is Shaneila Mughal, a biomedical scientist in the NHS. UKIP have reselected Phil Wimlett, a retired engineer who is fighting the ward for the sixth time. Also standing are Jonathan Elliott for the Conservatives and bookseller Francis Sheppard for the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: Dudley North

May 2016 result Lab 1987 UKIP 957 C 353
May 2015 result Lab 3351 UKIP 1310 C 918 Grn 258
May 2014 result Lab 1747 UKIP 1109 C 459 Grn 113
May 2012 result Lab 2143 UKIP 523 C 317 Grn 124
May 2011 result Lab 2360 UKIP 621 C 599 Grn 125
May 2010 result Lab 2897 C 1188 UKIP 1163 LD 657 # C candidate was Bill Etheridge, now UKIP MEP and briefly leadership candidate
May 2008 result Lab 1587 UKIP 1006 C 555 LD 161 Ind 135
May 2007 result Lab 1534 UKIP 827 C 680 Respect 659
May 2006 result Lab 1574 UKIP 824 C 567 LD 444
June 2004 result Lab 1943/1912/1842 C 987/930/923 LD 811


Forest of Dean council, Gloucestershire; caused by the resignation of UK Independence Party councillor Colin Guyton. He had served since 2015.

For the first of today’s two rural wards we are on the north edge of Forest of Dean, overlooking the Wye Valley. Lydbrook is one of the ex-industrial villages which the Forest specialised in; ironworking, coalmining and timber were the traditional industries, and in 1861 Lydbrook reportedly rivalled Sheffield for the production of tinplate. During the early twentieth century Lydbrook was an important centre for manufacturing cables, and in the Second World War the cable factory had one of only four machines which could make lead alloy tube for PLUTO – the Pipe Line Under The Ocean which supplied the Allied invasion force in Normandy with fuel. Ruardean is an older village – there was a Norman castle here, which guarded the route from Gloucester to the Wye but was largely destroyed in the Civil War. The village is probably best known for an incident in 1889 in which two performing bears were killed and their French handlers badly beaten by a mob, and for being the birthplace of Horlicks – the Revd John Horlick, father of the drink’s developers, was Ruardean’s Congregationalist minister. Also within the ward are the smaller villages of Ruardean Hill, Ruardean Woodside and Joys Green.

The Forest of Dean’s voting patterns can be a right Horlicks at local level with strong support generally for Labour and Independent candidates. Lydbrook and Ruardean fits that pattern with independent councillor Andrew Gardiner topping the poll at every election this century. Normally Labour win the other two seats, but in 2015 UKIP’s Colin Guyton gained the ward’s third seat by a majority of four votes over the second Labour candidate to force a three-way split; shares of the vote in a fragmented field were 24% for Gardiner, 22% for Labour, 21% for UKIP and 16% each for the Tories and Greens. By 2015 Guyton already had two years under his belt as the ward’s county councillor, having won Drybrook and Lydbrook division in another close three-way result (29% for UKIP, 25% for Labour and 24% for Gardiner); he has also resigned from the county council, but as the next Gloucestershire county elections are less than three months away this by-election is just for his district council seat.

There are five candidates on the ballot paper, none of whom give addresses within the ward. Defending for UKIP is Roy Bardo, who was runner-up in 2015 in his home ward of Cinderford West. Labour have selected Karen Brown, who was runner-up in this ward in 2015 and is a Cinderford town councillor. The Conservative candidate is Kevin White, who gives an address in Lydney. The Greens have selected Sid Phelps, vice-chairman of Ruspidge and Soudley parish council, and the ballot paper is completed by Heather Lusty of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Forest of Dean
Gloucestershire county council division: Drybrook and Lydbrook

May 2015 result Ind 927 Lab 865/813/534 UKIP 817/704 C 636/631/572 Grn 621
May 2011 result Ind 964 Lab 797/720 UKIP 542 C 383/330/312
May 2007 result Ind 845/564 Lab 622/579 C 448/422/342
May 2003 result Ind 707/269/241 Lab 506/430/414 C 269/259/203


Uttlesford council, Essex; a double by-election caused by the resignations of Liberal Democrat councillors Rory Gleeson and Lizzie Parr. Gleeson, who had served since 2015, has been made redundant as a party staffer (he was the Lib Dem election agent in St Albans in 2015) and is retraining as a nurse. Parr, who was first elected in 2011, has moved away from the area.

To finish Thursday’s edition – but not the week, because there is a Friday by-election tomorrow – we have a rare double by-election here, as both seats in this ward have become vacant at the same time.

The confusingly-named Uttlesford district – the UK’s only local government district beginning with the letter “U” – covers a large swathe of north-western Essex around the town of Saffron Walden. The village of Elsenham can be found a few miles north-east of Bishop’s Stortford, whose postcodes it takes, on the Liverpool Street-Cambridge railway line. It was the home of Sir Walter Gilbey, a Victorian philanthropist and successful wine dealer, on whose estate were located the ridiculously expensive Elsenham Jam (although that’s now made elsewhere) and Elsenham Still Artesian Bottled water, which was reported in 2007 to be the world’s most expensive water at £30 a bottle. Elsenham is the last resting place of the great racehorse Golden Miller, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in five consecutive years in the 1930s and remains the only horse ever to win the Gold Cup and Aintree Grand National in the same year (1934). Incidentally Goldon Miller’s owner Dorothy Paget was a direct descendant, eleven generations down the line, of Sir William Paget who took over Burton Abbey earlier in this column.

In recent years Elsenham has featured in several controversies; the ward includes the northern end of the Stansted Airport runway and Stansted’s proposed second runway would have been located here; an eco-town of 5,000 homes was proposed for the area in 2008 but never came to fruition; while the village’s railway station was the scene of a fatal accident in December 2005 when two girls were hit by a train on the station level crossing.

For electoral purposes Elsenham is paired with Henham, a village to the north-east known for a dragon legend (although, as the BBC Domesday project relates, “not many people actually saw the dragon and those who did had usually just left one of the local public houses”) and as the home of the comedian Ed Byrne. Boundary changes in 2015 removed a third parish, Chickney, from the ward.

Elsenham and Henham has been a safe Lib Dem ward at each election this century. In 2015, the only previous contest on the current boundaries, Gleeson and Parr had 47% of the vote to 27% for an independent candidate and 21% for the Tory slate. This echoed a surprisingly poor performance in Uttlesford for the Tories in 2015, as they lost a number of seats across the council to a new localist slate called Residents for Uttlesford, who didn’t contest this ward. With the Essex county council elections less than three months away, the Tories may be looking with some concern at the 41-32 lead over the Lib Dems in the Stansted county division which they secured four years ago.

The defending Lib Dem slate in this double by-election is Lorraine Flawn and Sinead Holland; Flawn is a part-time driving instructor who formerly worked as an advisor to BT, while Holland is a former journalist and campaigner against the eco-town development who works in marketing. Petrina Lees, the independent runner-up in 2015, now has the Residents for Uttlesford nomination and is joined by running-mate Garry LeCount; Lees is a retired nurse and former chair of Elsenham parish council, while LeCount is a Henham parish councillor and former senior executive in the music and video industry. On the Tory slate are Alexis Beeching and Joe Rich; Rich is a barrister and former Uttlesford councillor (Stansted North ward, 2011-15) who fought Stoke-on-Trent South at the last general election, while Beeching is a hospital inspector and former small business owner. At the bottom of the ballot paper can be found the Labour slate of Carl Stewart and Hilary Todd; also standing are Paul Allington and Karmel Stannard for the Green Party, and David Allum and Sharron Coker for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Saffron Walden
Essex county council division: Stansted

May 2015 result LD 1009/912 Ind 590 C 455/444 Lab 110/102

One by-election on Friday 17th February 2017:


Wokingham council, Berkshire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Christopher Singleton, who has apparently fallen out with his ward colleagues. He had served since 2010.

The Emm Brook is a stream which flows east of Reading into the River Loddon. It gives its name to Wokingham’s north-western ward, centred on the town’s railway station (the junction of the Reading-Waterloo and Reading-Guildford lines) and running north along the Reading Road. Wokingham is a strangely unlovely town with a confusing one-way system, but it must be doing something right: Emmbrook ward has a distinct commuter demographic, with over half the workforce being in management-level jobs, 44% educated to degree level and high levels of full-time employment and owner-occupation.

At the ballot box Emmbrook ward was safe Tory for the first decade after it took on its current boundaries in 2004, but Singleton got into controversy in 2014 which eventually led to his being reprimanded by the council’s standards committee for bullying a member of the public. Sensing an opportunity, the Lib Dems had a go at the ward that year and came up just short, with Singleton being re-elected by just eleven votes. With that encouraging performance the Lib Dems have kept campaigning, but so far to no avail; May 2016’s election was another photo-finish with the Tories winning by thirteen votes, 43.5% to 43.1%. With another Wokingham Tory councillor having left the party recently, there are signs that not all may be well in the borough’s Conservative group.

Defending for the Tories is Kevin Morgan, who represents part of the ward on Wokingham town council; he is the only candidate to give an address in the ward. The Lib Dems’ Imogen Shepherd-Dubey, an IT consultant who also represents part of the ward on Wokingham town council, is trying again after coming close to winning in 2016 and 2014; she is hoping to join her partner Rachelle Shepherd-Dubey on the council. Completing the ballot paper are Christopher Everett for Labour and Phil Ray for UKIP.

Parliamentary constituency: Wokingham

May 2016 result C 1235 LD 1222 Lab 260 Grn 119
May 2015 result C 2156 LD 1731 UKIP 452 Lab 419 Grn 233
May 2014 result C 1085 LD 1074 UKIP 447 Lab 287
May 2012 result C 1202 UKIP 330 Lab 313 LD 291
May 2011 result C 1863 LD 741 Lab 444 UKIP 272
May 2010 result C 2376 LD 1574 UKIP 462 Lab 418
May 2008 result C 1521 LD 788 UKIP 289 Lab 128
May 2007 result C 1307 LD 892 UKIP 317 Lab 138
May 2006 result C 1448 LD 757 UKIP 277 Lab 171
June 2004 result C 1549/1306/1258 LD 774/668/666 UKIP 492/355 Lab 276

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