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

Before we start this week, you may note that this column has had a name change. Although the denizens of Dave Leip’s US Election Atlas forum, where this column took its first faltering steps over five years ago, still refer to these scribblings as the “Holy Word”, in the whole of that time it has had no official name other than “By-election previews”. It was clearly time for a rebrand, and I am indebted to Robert Waller, the veteran psephologist and co-author of the Almanac of British Politics, for inspiring the alternative title “Andrew’s Previews”. If you’ve been led here under false pretences expecting to see Yehudi Menuhin, then, sorry, but hopefully this write-up of the seven local by-elections taking place on 15th December 2016 will form some sort of acceptable substitute. I’ll go get my baton – it’s in Devon…


BOVEY
CHUDLEIGH

Teignbridge council, Devon; caused respectively by the deaths of Conservative councillors Anna Klinkenberg and Patricia Johnson-King. Klinkenberg was first elected for Bovey ward in a by-election in November 1996; she was chairman of the council in 2007 and a founder member of a local home care company. Johnson-King had lived in Chudleigh for close to 50 years but was in her first term on Teignbridge council, having been elected in 2015 after nearly six years on the town council.

Three of this week’s seven polls are in the West Country, so it seems wise to start there. Two of them are in adjoining wards on the eastern slopes of Dartmoor. Bovey Tracey, the centre of Bovey ward, is the quintessential Dartmoor market town whose road signs – which bear the slogan “Gateway to the Moor” betray its importance as a tourist centre off the A38 Exeter-Plymouth road. The Bovey name comes from the river here, while the Tracey refers to the Norman de Tracy family who, despite one of their members being involved in the notorious Becket murder of 1170, turned Bovey into a successful market town. The town also came to notice during the English Civil War, with a victory at Bovey Heath for Cromwell in January 1646 preceded by an evening in which Cromwell caught a number of Royalist officers off-guard playing cards in a local pub. Bovey’s traditional industries were pottery and opencast clay mining, while some employment is now provided by the Dartmoor National Park Authority, which is located here. While the town itself and its satellite village of Heathfield lie outside the park boundary much of the northern part of the ward, including the small parish of Lustleigh, is within the NPA’s remit.

The National Park boundaries also take in part of Hennock parish, which is within the Chudleigh ward. In contrast to Bovey, which has a large retired population, Chudleigh functions as a commuter town for Exeter, bypassed by the A38 and close to the A380 Exeter-Newton Abbot road; the importance of its bypass to the local road network is demonstrated by the fact that before the bypass was built, the road closures for the Chudleigh carnival each summer could lead to 25-mile tailbacks. Although the Chudley Cannons have been playing Quidditch in the village since 1753 (according to JK Rowling, and I’m not going to contradict that), there is no word on how the team was affected by a major fire in 1807 which essentially destroyed Chudleigh, leaving only the church and seven houses standing.

Both these wards have unchanged boundaries since at least 1979; however, Teignbridge’s next boundary review is in progress at the moment, and the Local Government Boundary Commission’s draft proposals cut both Bovey and Chudleigh wards down to size. Hennock village is to move out of Chudleigh ward into Teign Valley ward, with Lustleigh parish transferred from Bovey to a new ward called Tedburn and Moretonhampstead. Consultation on those recommendations closed at the end of October and the LGBCE’s final plan is due out in the new year for implementation at the 2019 election.

Since the creation of Teignbridge council in 1973 Bovey ward’s politics had been dominated by long-serving councillor Fernley Holmes, who was elected here as a Labour candidate in 1973, lost her seat in 1976, got it back as an independent candidate in 1979 and finally retired in 2013; her final two re-elections were with the Conservative nomination. (I must apologise to Holmes for describing her as a man in the 24th October 2013 edition of this column.) Bovey ward’s other two seats have been generally Conservative although the ward did elect an Alliance councillor in 1983 and a Lib Dem in 1995, and the Lib Dem slate polled the most votes in the 2007 election but won only one of the three seats. Since 2011 Bovey ward has returned a full slate of Conservative councillors, one of whom also sits on Devon county council for the local county division; in 2015 the ward gave 37% to the Tory slate against 24% for the Lib Dems, 16% for the Green Party and 13% for Labour. In a multi-member first-past-the-post election candidates with surnames which are exotic or near the end of the alphabet can often underperform, and the Lib Dem slate in 2015 demonstrated this with Phil Page (yes, really) and Paul van Goor den Oosterlingh trailing a long way behind lead candidate Sally Morgan.

Chudleigh ward has traditionally returned independent candidates to Teignbridge council, with the first party candidate to break that pattern being Labour in their zenith year of 1995; the Labour seat was lost back to the independents in a November 1996 by-election. It took until 2003 for party candidates to get in on the act again with the election of a Lib Dem to one of the two seats in 2003; the Tories gained the Lib Dem seat in 2007 and the remaining independent seat in the 2015 election to hold both seats in the ward for the first time. As in Bovey, the Tories also hold the local county council division; also as in Bovey, there was a rather fragmented vote here in 2015 with 33% for the Tory slate, 25% for outgoing independent councillor Richard Keeling and 15% each for Labour and the Greens.

With this sort of rural area selecting a good candidate is crucial. The Bovey Tories are hoping that Martyn “Taff” Evans will defend this by-election for them; he is a former Bovey town councillor and also seeking to return to the town council in a simultaneous by-election. The Lib Dems’ Sally Morgan is seeking to return to Teignbridge council after five years away; she sat for this ward from 2007 but lost her seat in 2011, and also represented the town on Devon county council until 2009. Labour have selected Christopher Robillard, a town councillor who stood here in 2011. There is no Green Party candidate this time, so the ballot paper is completed by independent candidates Eoghan Kelly (a Bovey town councillor) and Charlie West (who was the Lib Dem candidate here in the 2013 by-election) and UKIP’s Anne Bracher.

In Chudleigh the defending Tory candidate is Chris Webb, a town councillor and former police officer. Richard Keeling, independent councillor for the ward from 2011 to 2015, is seeking to return to the council and this time has the Lib Dem nomination. Labour have reselected their regular candidate Janette Parker; with no Green candidate this time the ballot paper is completed by UKIP’s Steven Harvey.

Bovey

Parliamentary constituency: Central Devon
Devon county council division: Bovey Tracey Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter

May 2015 result C 2264/2026/1910 LD 1434/1074/649 Grn 966 Lab 775/597 Ind 626
Oct 2013 by-election C 933 LD 472 UKIP 253 Lab 196
May 2011 result C 1682/1493/1452 LD 1131/897/843 Ind 483 Grn 348 Lab 330/303/298 UKIP 300
May 2007 result LD 1554/1302/1301 C 1466/1457/1190
May 2003 result Ind 1570 C 1402/1195 Lab 640
May 1999 result Ind 1274/904 C 1063 LD 933 Lab 373
July 1996 by-election C 504 LD 482 Lab 282 Ind 210
May 1995 result Ind 1143/746/569 LD 916/743 Lab 581
May 1991 result Ind 1449/999 C 814/780 LD 668 Lab 587
May 1987 result 2 C/1 Ind unopposed
May 1983 result Ind 1104 C 643 Alliance 540/517/325
May 1979 result C 1507/1481/1259 Ind 1378 Lab 492 Ind C 425

Chudleigh

Parliamentary constituency: Central Devon
Devon county council division: Chudleigh Rural
ONS Travel to Work Area: Exeter

May 2015 result C 1308/1159 Ind 985/592/516 Lab 597 Grn 585 LD 508
May 2011 result C 889/720 Ind 884/561 LD 500 Lab 475
May 2007 result Ind 1120/597 C 909 LD 799
May 2003 result Ind 645/566 LD 570/423 C 399/371
May 1999 result Ind 798/682 C 442 Lab 257
Nov 1996 by-election Ind 480 LD 230 Lab 171 (Ind gain from Lab)
May 1995 result Lab 586 Ind 570/479 LD 482 C 347 Loony 53
May 1991 result Ind 827/757/721
May 1987 result Ind 1046/667/574 Lab 179/119
May 1983 result Ind 739/403/349 Alliance 382
May 1979 result Ind 1251/805/713/652


BLACKDOWN

Taunton Deane council, Somerset; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Charlotte Edwards who had served since 2015. She had found it difficult to balance work and family commitments with her role as a councillor.

Staying in the West Country, we move just over the county boundary into Somerset. Somerset has two wards with the name Blackdown; this is the Taunton Deane one, a ward of tiny villages to the south of the M5 motorway covering the parishes of Churchstanton, Otterford and Pitminster. The ward has a relatively old age profile, being in the top 40 in England and Wales for people in the 45-64 age bracket (37% of the population).

On its present boundaries Blackdown ward was created in 1987 and has safely returned Conservatives at every opportunity: in 2015 the Tories had 53% to 21% for the Lib Dems and 15% for an independent candidate. On the other hand, no councillor for this ward has sought re-election since 1995 which suggests that there is some instability under the surface. Looking up to county level reinforces that impression as the Lib Dems narrowly hold the local county seat (Blackdown and Neroche).

So this by-election – which may the last to this ward in its present form, as Taunton Deane council is in merger talks with West Somerset, a tiny district council based on Minehead and Exmoor – might be more interesting than previous district elections would suggest. There aren’t many by-election candidates with an IMDB profile, but one of them is the defending Tory candidate Giuseppe Fraschini, an actor and voiceover artist who was born in Switzerland but has lived in the UK since infancy. The Lib Dems have selected their local county councillor Ross Henley, a former leader of Taunton Deane council who is seeking a quick return to the district council after losing his seat in Wellington East ward last year by just four votes. Completing the ballot paper is independent candidate Carl Benneyworth, a farmer and the only candidate to give an address within the ward (in Churchinford).

Parliamentary constituency: Taunton Deane
Somerset county council division: Blackdown and Neroche
ONS Travel to Work Area: Taunton

May 2015 result C 744 LD 299 Ind 211 Grn 152
May 2011 result C 508 LD 304 Lab 90
May 2007 result C 480 LD 280
May 2003 result C 493 LD 259 Ind 83
May 1999 result C 472 LD 272
May 1995 result C 507 LD 294
May 1991 result C 550 LD 245
May 1987 result C 475 Ind 198 All 94 Ind 31


MORETON HALL

St Edmundsbury council, Suffolk; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Terry Buckle. He had served since 2003.

For our East Anglian by-election this week we have come to the city of Bury St Edmunds. Moreton Hall itself is an 18th-century country house designed by Robert Adam which now functions as a preparatory school. The ward named after Moreton Hall is a post-war housing development which is responsible for much of Bury’s population growth over the last twenty years and is still growing; the ward is cut off from the city by the A14 and connected to the outside world by junction 44 of that road. This is essentially a middle-class commuter area with high employment – the ward is only just outside the top 100 in England and Wales for full-time employment.

Moreton Hall ward was created in 2003 taking three-quarters of the electorate of the former Eastgate ward, which had become grossly oversized because of all the new development. The old Eastgate ward had split its two seats between Labour and the Tories in 1999; at the first election to Moreton Hall ward the Tories beat Labour 58-42 in votes, but Labour had been guaranteed a seat because the Tories didn’t have a full slate. The Labour councillor, Trevor Beckwith, then turned independent and topped the poll in the 2007 and 2011 elections, but lost his seat to the Conservatives in 2015 after twenty years’ service; shares of the vote were 44% for the Conservatives – who were guaranteed a seat due to insufficient opposition candidates – to 34% for Beckwith and 23% for Labour. Beckwith still holds the local county council seat (Eastgate and Moreton Hall), having gained it from the Conservatives in 2009.

Defending for the Tories is Sue Bill. Trevor Beckwith is back as an independent candidate, seeking to make a quick return to the borough council. The Labour candidate is Alex Griffin, and the ballot paper is completed by UKIP’s Julian Flood and the Lib Dems’ Chris Lale.

Parliamentary constituency: Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk county council division: Eastgate and Moreton Hall
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bury St Edmunds

May 2015 result C 1862/1668/1551 Ind 1428 Lab 961
May 2011 result Ind 1443 C 1211/990 Lab 500/364
May 2007 result Ind 837 C 782/758/586 LD 403/402
May 2003 result C 868/861 Lab 624/439/391


WELSHPOOL LLANERCHYDDOL

Powys council; caused by the death of independent councillor Ann Holloway. A retired teacher who sat on the Welsh Joint Education Committee and the University of Wales Aberystwyth court, Holloway was one of the original Powys county councillors since its reorganisation in 1996; she was chairman of the Montgomeryshire committee in 2002-03, chairman of the county council in 2005-06 and Mayor of Welshpool in 2009-10, welcoming the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to the town.

Llanerchyddol is the northern of the three divisions covering Welshpool, one of those small rural market towns in which the Welsh Marches specialises. Welshpool is large enough to be a rural centre but too small for most of the large high street chains to be interested in it, leading to a relatively unspoilt town centre with much Georgian architecture, most of which is contained within this division. Public buildings included in the Llanerchyddol division include Welshpool town hall, the town’s library, the Victoria Memorial Hospital and the Sainsbury’s store.

Holloway had represented this division for twenty years, but her last re-election – in 2012, by which time she was in her eighties – was by just three votes over the Lib Dems, 358 to 355 in a straight fight. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean much as this is mid-Wales, where the candidate matters more than the party label.

One independent candidate has come forward to succeed Holloway: he is Graham Breeze, who was elected to Welshpool town council in a by-election to this division in 2014. The Lib Dem candidate is Richard Church, who was the party’s candidate for Dyfed-Powys police and crime commissioner earlier this year. Completing the ballot paper is Ruth Canning, who runs a local care home and is a CAB volunteer. Whoever wins is likely to be straight back onto the campaign trail to seek re-election in May next year.

This column will now take its leave of Wales for a few months: all of the principality’s local councillors will be up for re-election in May 2017 and we have entered the final six months of the term. Any vacancies which occur between now and May will be left unfilled, and there are no more Welsh polls in the pipeline for vacancies which happened before November. Our next visit to Wales will be in the second half of 2017, by which time there will be a whole new set of local election results to discuss and analyse.

Parliamentary constituency: Montgomeryshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newtown and Welshpool

May 2012 result Ind 358 LD 355
May 2008 result Ind 426 LD 353
June 2004 result Ind 546 LD 248


HIGHER CROFT

Blackburn with Darwen council, Lancashire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Mike Johnson at the age of 62. He was first elected to Blackburn council in 1990 from the former Revidge ward and had served for Higher Croft ward since 2007. Away from the council he was a tutor at Blackburn College and his interests included cycling, real ale, morris dancing and his campervan.

For our Northern by-election this week we are in Blackburrn. The Higher Croft ward is in the south of the town, between the Roman Road and the railway line to Darwen. This is one of Blackburn’s newer wards, with most of the housing stock being post-war; generally the buildings get newer the further out of town you go, with the south end of the ward covering part of a large office park which has mostly gone up since 2000. Blackburn has some quite startling demographic distinction between its wards: Higher Croft is a white working-class ward with manufacturing still being an important employer.

Higher Croft ward has existed since 1979 and took on its current boundaries in 2004. That 2004 election was the only time since 1979 that Higher Croft returned a councillor other than Labour, the Lib Dems’ Fred Gollop winning one of the three seats; Gollop served a three-year term before losing to Johnson in 2007, and the Lib Dems haven’t stood here since. There is a radical right-wing vote in the ward: the BNP ran second here in 2006, the England First Party beat the Tories for third place in 2007 and UKIP polled well in 2015, the only previous time they have stood in Higher Croft. Last May’s election was a straight fight between Labour and the Tories with Labour winning 74-26.

Defending this by-election for Labour is Mike Johnson’s daughter Amy. The Tory candidate is former Mayor of Blackburn Maureen McGarvey, seeking to return to the council after representing Roe Lee ward from 1997 to 2011. Completing the ballot paper is Ian Grimshaw for UKIP.

This may be the last election to Higher Croft ward in its current form, as the LGBCE is working on an electoral review of Blackburn with Darwen at the moment with a recommendation to drastically cut the size of the council from 64 members to 51. If you would like to make a proposal to the Commission on future ward boundaries, their consultation is open until 30th January.

Parliamentary constituency: Blackburn
ONS Travel to Work Area: Blackburn

May 2016 result Lab 874 C 309
May 2015 result Lab 1283 UKIP 927 C 570
May 2014 double vacancy Lab 908/877 C 389
May 2012 result Lab 1037 C 275
May 2011 result Lab 980 C 417 BNP 179
May 2010 result Lab 1361 C 885 BNP 551
May 2008 result Lab 723 C 487 BNP 396
May 2007 result Lab 696 LD 535 England First Party 269 C 266
May 2006 result Lab 659 BNP 527 LD 369 C 228
June 2004 result Lab 794/613/574 LD 736 C 469 Ind 434


LEVEN, KENNOWAY AND LARGO

Fife council; caused by the resignation of SNP councillor Alistair Hunter who is emigrating to Australia. He had served since 2007.

For our Scottish by-election this week we are in the Kingdom of Fife. The ward covers one of the more depressed parts of the Kingdom: Leven, its largest town, is a failed seaside resort on Largo Bay. The town’s economy was traditionally based on coalmining and tourism; the coal ran out in the mid-1960s just as the town’s rail link disappeared, but tourism is still important thanks to the area’s long sandy beaches and numerous golf courses. The main employer nowadays is the large Diageo distillery at Cameron Bridge, at which a number of well-known whisky and other spirit brands are manufactured.

In 2003 the two Leven wards voted Labour, Kennoway went for the SNP and Largo for the Lib Dems, so the introduction of PR in 2007 resulted in a gain for the SNP, who won two seats to one for Labour and one for the Lib Dems (who got transfers from Labour). The Lib Dem vote fell in 2012 and their seat was gained by Labour; shares of the vote were 41% for the SNP, 35% for Labour and 10% for the Lib Dems.

Defending for the SNP is Alistair Suttie, an RBS IT professional and chairman of Leven community council. The Labour candidate is Colin Davidson, a high school teacher. The Lib Dem candidate is Steve Wood, and the ballot paper is completed by Graham Ritchie for the Conservatives and Iain Morrice for the Scottish Green Party.  Whoever wins is likely to be straight back onto the campaign trail to seek re-election in May next year.

Parliamentary constituency: Glenrothes (part: former Kennoway, and Leven West and Kirkland wards), North East Fife (part: former Largo and Leven East wards)
Scottish Parliament constituency: Mid Fife and Glenrothes
ONS Travel to Work Area: St Andrews and Cupar (part: eastern Leven and Largo); Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy (part: western Leven and Kennoway)

May 2012 first preferences SNP 2425 Lab 2086 LD 589 All Scotland Pensioners Party 409 C 402
May 2007 first preferences SNP 3044 Lab 2254 LD 1118 C 799 UKIP 89