Three by-elections on 27th October 2016 to round off the month. Let’s go to the seaside…


RHYL WEST

Denbighshire council; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Ian Armstrong. He had served since 2008.

Starting this week in a town which is probably fairly high up the “hate list” for many people in Granadaland. The North Wales coast has some nice seaside towns, but Rhyl is not one of them: it’s as brash and in-your-face as Blackpool but without Blackpool’s charm. Rhyl West is the town centre division, running from the railway station to the seafront and including the West Parade, the Seaquarium and the eyesore that is the Marine Lake, whose redevelopment was a casualty of the financial crash and has since been stymied by the fact that it’s located on the River Clwyd floodplain. It says something about the town that the most high-profile thing to have happened here in recent years involved Ched Evans.

Rhyl’s demographic indicators are pretty awful as well. One of this division’s census districts is right at the bottom of the 2011 Welsh indices of multiple deprivation; Rhyl West as a whole is in the top 10 wards in England and Wales for long-term sickness or disability (15% of the workforce) and in the top 20 wards for unemployment (12%). Those jobs which exist are determinedly working-class, while the seaside resort history leads to high levels of private renting. Politically, although Rhyl is in the marginal parliamentary seat of Vale of Clwyd this is a safe Labour ward; at the most recent Welsh local elections in 2012 Labour had 50% to 19% for an independent and 17% for Plaid Cymru.

Defending for Labour is Alan James, a Rhyl town councillor (for Trellewelyn ward, which is not in this division). Mark Webster, a former Labour councillor for the ward who sought (and lost) re-election in 2008 as an independent, tries to get back on the council. Another independent candidate on the ballot is Norman Shone, who was the Plaid candidate here in 2012. Completing the ballot paper are Les Harker for the Tories and Keith Kirwan for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Vale of Clwyd

May 2012 result Lab 378/361 Ind 142 PC 125 C 106/99
May 2008 result Lab 276/236 Ind 195/188 C 175/163 LD 130
June 2004 result Lab 404/339 Ind 277/252


COLLINGTON
DARWELL

Rother council, East Sussex; caused respectively by the resignations of independent councillor Tony Mansi and Conservative councillor Emily Rowlinson. Rowlinson had served since May 2015, Mansi since 2011.

For our two English by-elections of the week we stay in the seaside. The Rother district’s largest town is Bexhill-on-Sea, and Collington ward runs along the western end of its seafront, from Collington railway station to Cooden Beach station. If Rhyl is a nightmare, Bexhill, if you believe the fiction that’s been written about it, is almost as bad: the 2006 film Children of Men depicted it as a refugee camp for immigrants, and Spike Milligan’s memoirs describe a wartime Bexhill which Milligan’s company had the task of defending without any ammunition for their big guns (training on the big guns involved much shouting of the word BANG). In real life Collington is not a location for quarantined refugees straight out of the Jungle, but is the elephant’s graveyard to end all elephant’s graveyards: 45% of the population are aged 65 or over – the fifth highest figure in England and Wales – and 36% of the workforce are retired which is comfortably in the top 20 wards for that statistic. Bexhill’s ambience means that the town attracts more than its fair share of celebrities, and reportedly both Fanny Cradock and Graham Norton live or have lived in the ward.

Moving inland, Darwell ward is a large rural part of the Weald immediately to the north-west of Battle. None of the parishes in the ward are called Darwell, which is instead the name of a reservoir at the ward’s centre; its largest centre of population is Burwash, an old ironworking village which is best known for Bateman’s, a Jacobean mansion once owned by Rudyard Kipling and now open to the public.

Darwell is true blue now, although it did return an independent councillor from 2003 to 2011 who was not opposed by the Tory slate. Although part of the ward is covered by the Lib Dem-held Battle and Crowhurst county division, the Lib Dem vote in that division comes out of Battle town; most of the ward comes under the safe Tory county division of Rother North West. Last year the Tories polled 42% against a divided opposition: 17% for UKIP, 17% for the Lib Dems, 15% for the Green Party.

Collington’s elections are more interesting, with the Tories losing the ward to an independent slate in 2011; the independents then held a by-election in 2014 and were re-elected in 2015 with 40% of the vote, to 30% for the Tories and 13% for UKIP. At county level this is part of Bexhill King Offa division, which in 2013 split its two seats between the Tories and UKIP.

Defending for the Independents in Collington is Deirdre Earl-Williams, a former Tory councillor (under her previous name of Deirdre Williams) for the neighbouring Sackville ward who narrowly lost re-election as an independent in 2015. The Conservative candidate is Andrew Burton. UKIP have selected Michael Phillips and the ballot paper is completed by Labour candidate Sara Watson.

In Darwell the defending Conservative candidate is John Barnes, a retired history lecturer with a ridiculously extensive CV: as well as co-founding the Conservative History Group and writing or co-writing several books and papers on the subject, he was the Conservative candidate for Walsall North in 1964, ’66, and ’70; an alderman of the London Borough of Greenwich from 1968 to 1973; a Kent county councillor from 1973 to 1989, chairing the education committee for five years; and an East Sussex county councillor since 1997, presently representing Rother North West division which covers part of this ward. He was chairman of East Sussex county council in 2005/6 and 2006/7 and presently chairs Etchingham parish council. UKIP, the Lib Dems and Greens have all reselected their candidates from 2015 – Edward Smith, Mary Varrall and Andrew Wedmore respectively – and Labour’s Antonia Berelson completes the ballot paper.

Collington

Parliamentary constituency: Bexhill and Battle
East Sussex county council division: Bexhill King Offa

May 2015 result Ind 1309/1220 C 973/847 UKIP 417 Grn 282 Lab 280
June 2014 result Ind 570 C 378 UKIP 311 Lab 102
May 2011 result Ind 1096/1034 C 871/819 Lab 239
May 2007 result C 1159/1158 LD 497
May 2003 result C 1071/974 LD 575

Darwell

Parliamentary constituency: Bexhill and Battle
East Sussex county council division: Rother North West (part: Brightling, Burwash and Dallington parishes); Battle and Crowhurst (part: Mountfield and Whatlington parishes and part of Battle parish)

May 2015 result C 1419/1213 UKIP 574 LD 564 Grn 510 Lab 347
July 2014 result C 361 UKIP 182 Grn 154 Lab 84 LD 65
May 2011 result C 1168/1016 Grn 386 LD 363/341 Lab 228
May 2007 result C 1072 Ind 685 LD 469
May 2003 result C 858 Ind 756 LD 476