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

Two by-elections on Thursday 22nd December 2016:


Dover council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Tommy Johnstone, who had served since 2015. He had reportedly been deselected.

What’s Christmas without a brass band?

For the last two by-elections of the year, we start in rural Kent. The large village of Aylesham can be found in eastern Kent, midway between Canterbury and Dover on the railway line linking the two towns. Although it might look from the map like just another Kent village, this isn’t the case at all – Aylesham was founded in 1926 as a pit village, to provide accommodation for miners on the tiny Kent coalfield. Although its planner, Sir Patrick Abercrombie, had intended Aylesham to grow into a fair-sized town the short life of the Kent coalfield meant it never got past village status, and in the 2011 census Aylesham parish had a population one person below 4,000. The coalfield past has never really gone away – the picture is of the Snowdown Colliery Welfare Band, one of only two remaining colliery bands in the south of England – and Aylesham’s economic base remains much more working-class than its neighbouring wards.

Aylesham still votes like a coalfield ward, too. In its most recent poll in 2015 the Labour slate was opposed only by UKIP and Labour won 68-32. A previous council by-election in September 2007 was notable for independent candidate Edward Lee-Delisle being recorded as polling only one vote, a rather steep drop from the 75 votes he had scored in the ordinary election four months earlier. The presence of Aylesham also keeps Labour competitive in the Dover North county council division.

Defending this by-election in the red corner is Gordon Cowan, a Kent county councillor representing Dover Town division. Challenging in the blue corner is Pauline Catterall, who lives in the ward in the village of Nonington.

Parliamentary constituency: Dover
Kent county council division: Dover North

ONS Travel to Work Area: Canterbury

May 2015 result Lab 1683/1274 UKIP 779/661
May 2011 result Lab 1077/975 C 341/303
Sept 2007 by-election Lab 661 C 108 Ind 59 Ind 1
May 2007 result Lab 831/808 C 311/287 Ind 75
May 2003 result Lab 816/783 C 149/123 Grn 136


Eastleigh council, Hampshire; caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Emma Norman. She had served since 2015.

What’s Christmas without a brass band?

Aylesham is to Hedge End as chalk is to cheese, although they do have one thing in common – they date from the twentieth century. Hedge End, an outer suburb of Southampton, became a town only in 1992 and Wildern ward – the central of Hedge End’s three wards, adjacent to junction 7 of the M27 motorway – has mostly been developed since 1983. The ward’s census figures are unremarkable and the main recent event of import in Hedge End appears to be an incident in 2011 in which a local zoo was asked for help in tranquilising an escaped white tiger – which turned out to be a stuffed toy.

The main road through Wildern ward is named Charles Watts Way, not after the Rolling Stones drummer but in honour of a former local councillor. He was a Labour figure, but the Liberal Democrats have dominated Wildern ward’s recent elections. The Lib Dem councillors elected for the ward in 2002, when the present ward boundaries were introduced, were Keith House, who has led Eastleigh council for 22 years and counting, and Sharon Mintoff, who stood down the following year and is now a Labour member of Southampton city council. House and his ward colleague have a safe ward: at the most recent poll in 2015 the Lib Dems had 42%, to 28% for the Conservatives and 14% for UKIP. The Lib Dems also hold the local county seat, although the 2013 county election (held just after the parliamentary by-election) was close between them and UKIP.

This is likely to be the last election to Wildern ward: boundary changes will abolish it in 2018 and split its territory between the new wards of Hedge End North and Hedge End South. Since the net effect will be to reduce Hedge End from seven council seats to six whoever wins this by-election may have to work quickly to secure a berth for the 2018 election.

Defending for the Liberal Democrats is Ian Corben, a Hedge End town councillor. The Tories have gone for youth in selecting Ben Burcombe-Filer, who hasn’t let his cerebral palsy stop him becoming a tutor to the children of the super-rich. UKIP have not nominated a candidate – which doesn’t say much for their organisation given that they have several county council seats to defend in Eastleigh next year – so the ballot paper is completed by Labour’s Terry Crow.

Parliamentary constituency: Eastleigh
Hampshire county council division: Botley and Hedge End
ONS Travel to Work Area: Southampton

May 2015 result LD 1183 C 779 UKIP 391 Lab 336 Ind 127
May 2014 result LD 821 UKIP 369 C 246
May 2011 result LD 906 C 387 Ind 202 Lab 152 uKIP 103
May 2010 result LD 1663 C 810 Lab 195 UKIP 151
May 2007 result LD 764 C 563 UKIP 103 Lab 62
May 2006 result LD 920 C 550 UKIP 103
May 2003 result LD 609 C 471 Lab 84
May 2002 result LD 704/641 C 299/204 Lab 120/96

And that is that for the psephological year of 2016. What a year it’s been. It was the year of the Brexit vote; of the rise and rise of Donald Trump; of the Labour takeover of London; of the May takeover of Downing Street; of the end of Zac Goldsmith’s political career; of post-truth politics; of the Great Celebrity Purge; of Leicester City winning the Premier League, the Chicago Cubs the World Series and Hibs the Scottish Cup. It’s been a privilege to try and guide my readers (hello Sid, hello Doris) through this rollercoaster of a year, and on a personal level eternal thanks are due to Election Data for giving this column a new home and a wider audience, and to Kristofer Keane for kindly hosting this work for several years beforehand. Thank you both.

Like the great god Janus after whom the next month of our calendar is named, as well as looking backwards we must look forward. There is much to look forward to: next year in English local government will be the year of the regional mayor, and next May will also see a renewal of the English county councils and the whole of Scottish and Welsh local government. No doubt there also will be plenty more by-elections to dissect, and at the time of writing there are already four confirmed polls in the pipeline for the New Year.

It only remains for me to sign off for 2016 in the time-honoured fashion. This column will return in time for the first local by-elections of 2017, to be held in Sunderland and Hertfordshire on 12th January; until then, may I wish all readers of this column a very Merry Christmas, and may your 2017 be an improvement on your 2016.