“All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order”
There are four by-elections on Thursday 16th March 2017. Later Claud Eustace Teal, pride of Scotland Yard, will investigate a case of indecent proposition in Norfolk; before then we have three by-elections in the North of England. Two of these are in Lancashire wards which are Tory-held but might be promising Labour prospects, and one of those will determine majority control of South Ribble council; but we start with the only Labour defence of this week, in Newcastle upon Tyne. Read on…
Newcastle upon Tyne city council, Tyne and Wear; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Sophie White for family reasons. She had served since 2010.
To start this week we’re in the east of Newcastle upon Tyne in a ward of two halves. To the north of the East Coast railway line is Heaton itself, a district of Victorian and Edwardian terraces off Chillingham Road. To the south of the railway is an area extensively redeveloped in the 1970s off Shields Road which is generally considered to be part of Byker. In between is a large industrial area dominated by the Heaton railway marshalling yards and the steam turbine manufacturers Parsons (now part of Siemens). Byker and Chillingham Road metro stations link the ward to Newcastle city centre.
Newcastle’s two universities have filled the ward with students – 32% of the workforce are full-time students and consequently South Heaton is in the top 100 wards in England and Wales for 18- to 29-year-olds (53.75%), those educated to A-level (28.8%) and, interestingly, those of no religion (44.1%), while private renting is also high. However, the ward’s most famous daughter is not noted for her academic prowess: Cheryl Cole was born in Heaton.
This was one of the wards the Lib Dems could win in their Newcastle high-water mark during the early 2000s; in the 2004 election, the first on these boundaries, they split the ward’s seats 2-1 with Labour. Labour gained the two Lib Dem seats in 2007 and after the Coalition was formed the Lib Dem vote melted away – last year they failed to break three figures here. Second place in the ward to Labour has been taken over by the Greens, who have polled some good scores in recent years: in 2015, on a general election turnout, they had 28%. The Greens still have a long way to go, though: at the most recent poll in 2016 Labour beat them here by the score of 59-25. There are no implications for control of the council where Labour have a large majority (55 seats including this vacancy to 20 Lib Dems and 3 independents).
Defending for Labour is Clare Penny-Evans, who works for a children’s charity. The Greens have reselected their regular candidate Andrew Gray, an archivist who is fighting the ward for the tenth time. Also standing are Tony Sanderson for UKIP, Chris Murray for the Conservatives and Christopher Boyle for UKIP.
Parliamentary constituency: Newcastle upon Tyne East
May 2016 result Lab 1327 Grn 575 UKIP 156 C 106 LD 99
May 2015 result Lab 1987 Grn 1163 C 350 LD 274 UKIP 267 TUSC 59
May 2014 result Lab 1095 Grn 519 UKIP 209 LD 131 C 99 TUSC 45
April 2013 by-election Lab 798 Grn 205 LD 114 TUSC 69 C 52 Newcastle upon Tyne Community First Party 44 Ind 22
May 2012 result Lab 1188 Grn 210 LD 158 C 81 TUSC 74
May 2011 result Lab 1908 LD 311 Grn 293 C 150
May 2010 result Lab 1735 LD 1394 C 289 Grn 245 BNP 104
May 2008 result Lab 948 LD 813 Grn 190 C 107
May 2007 double vacancy Lab 904/879 LD 824/796 Grn 240/194 C 114/98
May 2006 result Lab 961 LD 748 Grn 176 C 100
June 2004 result LD 1015/967/920 Lab 938/909/732 Grn 393/295 C 219/177/175 Socialist Alternative 195
Blackpool council, Lancashire; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Tony Brown at the age of 79, while on a cruise. He had served since 2000 and was deputy mayor of Blackpool in 2015-16.
Oh we do like to be beside the seaside. We’re on Blackpool’s north shore here around Gynn Square, and if you’re looking for accommodation there’s no shortage of it: the first Google hit for Gynn Square begins with the words “196 hotels near Gynn Square”, and those will include the Edwardian behemoths of the Cliffs and the Savoy (venue for the European Quizzing Championships in 2007, and your columnist has the polo shirt to prove it although the identify of the Father of American Beekeeping still skips my mind…), while at the south end of the ward is what must be the ugliest, most out-of-place building in the North of England bar none – the Blackpool Hilton. Apart from that monstrosity, the building stock is almost entirely Edwardian. The ward’s demographics are mixed, with a declining population and a significant Scottish element, but in employment terms accommodation is pretty much the only game in town.
The old cliché was that landladies vote Tory, and to this day Blackpool’s Warbreck is a Conservative ward, although perhaps not safely so in perpetuity: in 2015 the Conservative slate had 37% to 29% for Labour and 19% for UKIP. A half-competent Labour campaign might be eyeing this one up, particularly so given its presence in a key marginal constituency (Blackpool North and Cleveleys). There are no implications for control of Blackpool council where Labour have a large majority (29 seats to 13 Conservatives, including this vacancy).
Defending for the Conservatives is Michele Scott, who runs a dementia charity and is deputy chairman of the party’s Blackpool North and Cleveleys branch. The Labour candidate is a treasure – Ian Treasure, who works in the health sector. UKIP have selected Walter Cairns, a management and business consultant, and the ballot paper is completed by – oh crumbs! – regular Lib Dem candidate Kevan Benfold.
Parliamentary constituency: Blackpool North and Cleveleys
May 2015 result C 1237/1197 Lab 962/876 UKIP 633 Grn 250 LD 237
May 2011 result C 938/911 Lab 621/582 LD 185/124 UKIP 185 Grn 112
May 2007 result C 1084/1057 Lab 453/417 LD 359/347 BNP 313
May 2003 result C 1210/1166 Lab 848/813 LD 477/450
South Ribble council, Lancashire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Andrea Ball. She had served since 2007.
Staying in Lancashire, we come to another Tory ward, this time in the Preston sphere of influence. Whereas Blackpool Warbreck is a bit of a special case, Walton-le-Dale East is a more stereotypical Tory ward being affluent suburbia on what was once the main road into Preston from the south. Those suburbs have run together to the extent that it’s difficult for a non-local to know where Walton-le-Dale ends and Bamber Bridge begins – clearly a difficulty the Boundary Commissioners have shared, because this ward was created in 2015 boundary changes but is essentially a slightly modified version of the ward previously called Bamber Bridge North.
This being Lancashire the ward may be affluent but it’s not safe Tory: the old Bamber Bridge North had a very high Christian response in the 2015 census, something which in Lancashire often indicates a large Catholic population, and Labour won one of the two seats in the old Bamber Bridge North in both 2003 and 2011. The Tories did better in 2015 winning 55-45 in a straight fight with Labour – although it’s unclear how much of this was a boundary effect and how much a genuine change. The ward is also part of a key marginal division on Lancashire county council (Bamber Bridge and Walton-le-Dale), but not at parliamentary level where it forms part of the safe Tory Ribble Valley constituency.
There are local factors here which could weigh on the Conservative vote: South Ribble council, which the Tories run, was hit by a scandal last year after it was revealed that the council had been issuing taxi licences without carrying out proper background checks, leading to child safeguarding issues; and Ball had fallen out with the ruling Tory group to the extent that since June she had been sitting in an Independent Conservative group on the council which had cost the Tories their majority. The remaining Tory group has 25 seats to 18 Labour, four Independent Conservatives (including this vacancy), two Lib Dems and one Independent Labour. As can be seen, overall control of the council rests on this by-election.
With those recent Tory travails in South Ribble a half-competent Labour campaign might be eyeing this one up, particularly so given that the Tories have gone for the establishment candidate: they have selected Carol Chisholm, who was a councillor for the former Bamber Bridge North from 2003 until losing her seat to Labour in 2011, and sat on the council cabinet for some years. The Labour candidate is Alex Watson, and for the first time this century the ward is not a straight fight thanks to the intervention of Lib Dem Alison Hesketh-Holt.
Parliamentary constituency: Ribble Valley
Lancashire county council division: Bamber Bridge and Walton-le-Dale
May 2015 result C 1123/950 Lab 937/906
Breckland council, Norfolk; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Charles Carter. He had served since 2011, until 2015 representing Haggard de Toni ward; his resignation came after he was filmed making lewd and inappropriate comments to a protester against foxhunting.
For our token southern by-election this week we are in East Anglia. With an exotic double-barrelled name like that, we could hardly be anywhere else. Saham is an Anglo-Saxon name meaning “town of the lake”, while Toney comes from Roger de Toni, standard-bearer to William the Conqueror who took over the area after the Norman Conquest. The village gives its name to a ward which wraps between the larger villages of Shipdham and Watton; despite the name, the largest parish within the ward is Carbrooke with 1,631 electors, partly thanks to a recent housing estate being built within the parish boundary on the outskirts of Watton, and the ward also includes the smaller parishes of Bradenham to the north, Scoulton to the east and Ovington in between. Famous former residents of the ward include the former Prime Minister Sir John Major, who was evacuated to Saham Toney during the Second World War. This is an obscure corner of Norfolk a long way from anywhere of note: the ward gets its post from Thetford, over fifteen miles to the south.
This is another ward which was created in 2015, but unlike Walton-le-Dale East there is no obvious predecessor. Before 2015 Bradenham and Saham Toney were part of a ward with a wonderful name, “Haggard de Toni”, while Ovington and Carbrooke were in the only slightly less evocative Templar ward and Scoulton was included in All Saints ward. (Yes, we started this week with Cheryl Cole and finished with All Saints. Those readers of a different age might prefer a different irony of having neighbouring wards called All Saints and Templar.) All of these were safely Conservative and not always contested in recent years: the new two-member Saham Toney ward comfortably elected Charles Carter (formerly of Haggard de Toni ward) and John Rogers (formerly of Templar ward), who beat the UKIP slate 51-32. The ward is split between two county divisions, both of which were strongly Conservative in 2005 and 2009 but close in 2013: Watton voted UKIP in 2013 on a low vote share, but the UKIP councillor resigned in 2015 and the Conservatives gained the by-election in a close race against a UKIP-endorsed independent, while Yare and All Saints division was narrowly held by the Tories over UKIP in 2013. There are no implications for control of Breckland council where the Tories have a large majority (41 out of 49 seats including this vacancy).
Defending for the Tories is Theresa Hewett, Carter’s predecessor as councillor for Haggard de Toni ward who is seeking to return to the council after standing down in 2011. UKIP’s candidate Dave Williams is also seeking to return to Breckland council: a retired civil servant and former RAF NCO, he was a veteran Conservative councillor who represented Nar Valley ward from 1999 to 2015 and still sits on the parish council in Narborough (Norfolk), where he lives. Also standing are Joe Sisto for Labour, Andrew Thorpe for the Lib Dems and independent candidate Pat Warwick, who is the only candidate to give an address within the ward.
Parliamentary constituency: Mid Norfolk
Norfolk county council division: Watton (part: Carbrooke and Ovington parishes), Yare and All Saints (part: Bradenham, Scoulton and Saham Toney parishes)
May 2015 result C 1194/920 UKIP 743/535 Grn 411