After a sleepy January, with only three months to go to the ordinary May elections it’s time for the psephological year of 2017 to wake up. There are three by-elections this week: later this column will discuss a standard Tory versus Labour contest in Staffordshire, but we start the week with an extended look at the urban Labour versus UKIP contest, with both parties having a seat to defend in South Yorkshire…
BRINSWORTH AND CATCLIFFE
Rotherham council, South Yorkshire; caused respectively by the resignations of Labour councillor Andrew Roddison and UKIP councillor Ian Finnie. Roddison, who had served since 2011, resigned from the council after being found guilty of sexual assault following an incident in which he groped a fellow councillor at a public function; he was sentenced to a community order with a six-month curfew. Finnie, who was first elected in 2014, has resigned for personal and health reasons.
“Oh God! You’d better leave town
Before you get caught in the Catcliffe Shakedown”
– Pulp, Catcliffe Shakedown
In a week in which Parliament debates Britain’s future or lack of it in the European Union, Labour have the tricky task of defending a by-election from UKIP, in dubious circumstances, in a safe Labour council which has developed into a notorious basket case. Not Stoke-on-Trent Central – that’s in a few weeks’ time – but Rotherham in South Yorkshire, whose council was essentially dismissed and its services taken over by central government in early 2015 following the Jay and Casey reports into an appalling child sexual exploitation scandal. Nearly two years on, the Commissioners appointed by central government are still in place; although the council cabinet has got most of its functions back, children’s services and HR are still very much off-limits.
Faced with such appalling performance by the council, some of whose members or former members were reportedly implicated in the scandal, the government resorted to the usual trick of trying to get new blood into the council chamber by changing the electoral scheme – variants on this theme have previously been seen in Doncaster, Stoke and Anglesey. In Rotherham’s case this was achieved by having a whole council election in 2016, and the council will not be going back to the usual thirds model for metropolitan boroughs; the next Rotherham local elections are not scheduled until 2020.
The child exploitation scandal has left its electoral mark on a town where the radical right was already strong, the BNP having returned two councillors here in the 2008 election. Rotherham was the focus for two controversial by-elections in the 2010 parliament, the first one in 2012 when the Rotherham parliamentary seat became vacant after Labour’s Denis MacShane was forced to resign due to his involvement in the parliamentary expenses scandal. UKIP came second in the resulting by-election with 22% of the vote – a record score for the party at the time. That UKIP strength followed through into the 2014 council elections, in which UKIP actually topped the poll across Rotherham borough with 44% of the vote to 41% for Labour, and were rather unlucky to win only ten seats to eleven for Labour – five of the eleven wards Labour held had majorities under 100 votes.
Once the full gory details of the scandal became public knowledge, the most high-profile political casualty was the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright, who had been Rotherham’s cabinet member responsible for children’s services from 2005 to 2010: in the resulting by-election, with an awful turnout of just 15%, Labour beat UKIP 50-32 across South Yorkshire and 43-40 in Rotherham borough. The general election turnout meant that 2015 returned to the normal pattern of large Labour majorities; interestingly, the whole council election in 2016 changed almost nothing, with Labour coming out unchanged at 48 seats to 14 for UKIP and one for an independent, the only net change being UKIP knocking out the last Conservative councillor.
The village of Brinsworth, a few miles south of Rotherham just off the M1 motorway, was suggested in a 2014 article by Michael Wood as a possible location for the Battle of Brunanburh, a decisive 937 victory for King Athelstan over a joint Scottish, Viking and Irish force which has been described as the point of origin for English nationalism. No-one now knows where Brunanburh was fought, but if it was in Brinsworth it’s supremely ironic that Brinsworth and Catcliffe was one of the two Rotherham wards carried by the BNP in the 2008 local elections. Brinsworth certainly has an old history – there was a Roman fort at Templeborough just outside the ward boundary – but the modern village got going in the nineteenth century with the advent of coalmining, before growing to its modern size just after the Second World War with the building of new housing estates thanks to its proximity to Rotherham and Sheffield. One of the families who lived here in the immediate post-war years were the Prescotts – John Prescott attended Brinsworth Manor primary school.
On the other side of the motorway and on the floor of the Rother valley lies Catcliffe, a flood-prone industrial village noted for its glass cone – built as part of an eighteenth-century glassworks and claimed to be the oldest surviving glass cone in Western Europe. Catcliffe was the birthplace of Gordon Banks, England’s World Cup-winning goalkeeper, and of his nephew Nick Banks, the drummer with Pulp who once rehearsed in the village. Coal-mining and glassworking may have gone, but Catcliffe is still at the cutting edge of British manufacturing – it is the location for the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, a joint venture of Sheffield University and Boeing (and one of the polling stations for this by-election) which has spawned an associated industrial estate manufacturing components for the aerospace industry. Not surprisingly, working-class jobs dominate the ward’s economic profile.
Rather different is Dinnington, whose inclusion in a metropolitan borough is a rather curious choice at first sight – this is a large area of five-and-a-half parishes hard up against the southern boundary of Yorkshire and closer to Worksop than it is to Rotherham and Sheffield (whose postcodes it takes). Dinnington itself is one of Yorkshire’s more obscure towns, having gained town status only in 2003; it was called into being in 1905 as a pit village to serve the Dinnington Main Colliery, the village’s population rising from 250 to 5,000 between the 1901 and 1911 censuses. Despite the end of coalmining in 1992 resulting in desperately high unemployment, Dinnington is becoming a commuter base for Worksop, Sheffield and Rotherham and was formerly the home of the Manor motor racing team, which competed in Formula 1 under various names (including Marussia and Virgin) before going bust last week, because apparently it’s not possible for smaller teams to make a profit in a sport as awash with money as Formula 1 is.
Not that you could accuse either of these wards as being exactly awash with money either. Both Brinsworth and Catcliffe, and Dinnington have been close fights between Labour and UKIP in recent years just like the rest of the borough. As stated, Brinsworth and Catcliffe voted BNP in 2008; while the BNP councillor didn’t finish his term of office (a few months before the end he was kicked off the council under the six-month non-attendance rule, of which we will hear more next week) his party were still in second place as recently as 2012. In the 2014 election UKIP finished forty votes behind Labour in a straight fight, and finally gained a seat in the ward in 2016; shares of the vote that year were 43% for the Labour slate, 29% for UKIP and 16% for the Lib Dems, but the Labour score is boosted by a large personal vote for their remaining councillor Alan Buckley and their third candidate, Shabana Ahmed, lost her seat to UKIP by 120 votes.
Dinnington ward came close to voting Conservative in the Labour nadir of 2008, but is now also split between 2 Labour councillors and one Kipper. Here the UKIP gain came in 2014, and a close three-way result in 2016 saw no change in terms of seats: last year the Labour slate topped the poll with just 28%, to 26% for UKIP, 22% for an independent slate of Dinnington St John’s town councillors and 14% for the Conservatives.
With the fight between Labour and UKIP in the north being a source of much speculation at the moment, particularly given the two parliamentary by-elections in Cumbria and Stoke later this month, these are definitely two polls to watch. The thankless task of defending Brinsworth and Catcliffe for Labour, given the dubious circumstances of the by-election, has fallen to Shabana Ahmed, a former councillor for the ward who gained her seat from the BNP in 2012 but lost it to UKIP in 2016. The UKIP candidate is Steve Webster, a full-time carer and vice-chairman of the party’s Rotherham branch. The Lib Dems, who if rumour is to be believed are having a serious go at this one, have selected Adam Carter, a doctor and rugby referee. Completing the ballot paper are John Oliver for the Conservatives and Bex Whyman for the Greens.
The Dinnington ballot paper is rather more complicated and another fragmented result looks on the cards. Defending for UKIP is Lee Hunter, who gives an address in Maltby and was runner-up in Wingfield ward last year, missing out on election by ten votes. Labour have selected their unsuccessful candidate from last year John Vjestica, who is currently a governor of the Rotherham College of Arts and Technology (which has a campus in Dinnington) and worked in HR for Rotherham council for many years. Most of the independent town council slate from last year are standing again: Dave Smith, chairman of the town council, has stood in Dinnington ward in every election from 2011 onwards, and is joined on the ballot paper by fellow town councillors Jean Hart and Steven Scott. The Tories have selected Christopher Middleton, who was their last Rotherham councillor (Sitwell ward, 2012-16) before losing his seat to UKIP last year. Completing the ballot paper are David Foulstone for the Green Party and Steven Thornley for the Lib Dems.
Brinsworth and Catcliffe
Parliamentary constituency: Rotherham
May 2016 result Lab 1764/1288/1070 UKIP 1190 LD 637 C 480
May 2015 result Lab 2744 UKIP 2318 C 684
May 2014 result Lab 1651 UKIP 1611
May 2012 result Lab 1618 BNP 872 C 461
May 2011 result Lab 2147 C 668 BNP 581
May 2010 result Lab 2610 BNP 982 C 974 Ind 594 UKIP 411
May 2008 result BNP 1430 Lab 1369 C 708
May 2007 result Lab 1515 BNP 1149 C 610
May 2006 result Lab 1542 LD 823 C 488
June 2004 result Lab 2018/1912/1872 LD 1200 C 865
Parliamentary constituency: Rother Valley
May 2016 result Lab 1012/913/827 UKIP 954/871 Ind 795/657/620 C 492 Grn 380
May 2015 result Lab 2037 UKIP 1746 C 1106 Ind 515 Grn 351
May 2014 result UKIP 1293 Lab 1195 Ind 579
May 2012 result Lab 1384 UKIP 454 Ind 416 C 400
May 2011 result Lab 1725 C 761 Ind 465 UKIP 324
May 2010 result Lab 2713 C 1584 UKIP 1156
May 2008 result Lab 979 C 862 LD 502 UKIP 413
May 2007 double vacancy Lab 1216/1080 C 789/560 UKIP 570
May 2006 result Lab 1238 C 827 LD 555
June 2004 result Lab 1604/1559/1552 C 1090 LD 871
East Staffordshire council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Karen Haberfield. An accountant and Mayor of Uttoxeter in 2014-15, Haberfield had served since 2015.
There are two Town wards in Staffordshire, so make sure you get the correct one. The town here is Uttoxeter, a market town on the main road and railway line between Stoke-on-Trent and Derby. Uttoxeter’s economy is underpinned by the construction plant company JCB: the eponymous Joseph Cyril Bamford was born in the town in 1916, and the company he founded is still based in Rocester a few miles to the north. Fox’s Biscuits also have a plant in the town, while agriculture and tourism are important to the local economy: the town is close to the Peak District national park and the Alton Towers theme park, while Uttoxeter Racecourse is well-sited next to the town centre and railway station, and hosts the Midlands Grand National each March. That’s not Uttoxeter’s only sporting link: Adam Peaty, the Olympic champion in the 100m breaststroke and world record holder in the 50m and 100m breaststroke, was born here and the town’s swimming pool is named after him.
On the face of it Town ward’s previous results don’t call for much comment, in that it’s a safe Conservative ward with Labour in a strong second place (the Tory lead was 53-33 at the last election in 2015). However, there were interesting shenanigans in the 2011-15 term involving Town ward: its then Tory councillors Peter Ball and Malcolm Barrett joined a splinter group in mid-term which wiped out the Tory majority on the council, and proceeded to depose the Tory administration and vote in a Labour one. Neither Ball nor Barrett sought re-election in 2015 and it’s unclear what electoral impact the split had. Both the Tories and Labour will be looking for a good performance here in advance of the county elections in May: the local county division (Uttoxeter Town) is a key marginal with the Tories defending a 104-vote majority from 2013. One possible fly in the ointment is that this by-election is being combined with a referendum in Uttoxeter on the subject of neighbourhood planning.
Defending this by-election for the Tories is Philip Hudson, a driving instructor who represents this ward on Uttoxeter town council. The Labour candidate is Zdzislaw “David” Krupski, who runs a consultancy firm and chairs a partnership which distributes and invests Lottery funds in the town. Completing the ballot paper is Norman Moir for UKIP.
Parliamentary constituency: Burton
Staffordshire county council division: Uttoxeter Town
May 2015 result C 1819/1543 Lab 1138/995 Grn 501
May 2011 result C 921/909 Lab 671/654 Ind 514/446
May 2007 result C 1073/937 Lab 495/426
Aug 2006 by-election C 664 Lab 255 UKIP 104
May 2003 result C 901/897 Ind 833 Lab 477/449