For the four by-elections on 8th September 2016 we travel to four areas which look, at first sight, like they should be safe Labour. In reality they are anything but, and in many cases the threat to them comes not from the Conservatives but from the new forces which are assailing Labour in their strongholds: UKIP and independents. Up this week are a council estate in Kent which UKIP have already taken over; part of Mansfield, a depressed East Midlands town which voted 71% Leave less than three months ago; and a Labour vs UKIP fight on the edge of Sheffield. But we start in one of the towns which epitomised the reason why we have a Conservative government today, where Labour will be desperate to improve their position against a backdrop of their national policies threatening the town’s future…
Barrow-in-Furness council, Cumbria; caused by the death of Labour councillor Susan Opie at the age of 64. She had served since 2011 and previously from 2004 to 2008 for the former Parkside ward.
This is Barrow-in-Furness, a manufacturing town at the far end of the Furness peninsula, which is a very long way from anywhere thanks to the presence of the deeply-indented Morecambe Bay around which those who journey to Barrow (and there are few of them) must travel. The only game in town here is defence: Barrow’s economy is entirely based on the renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, and BAE Systems is gearing up to start building the Navy’s new Successor-class submarines in Barrow later this year following a Commons vote last July to renew Trident. One of those who voted against renewal was Jeremy Corbyn, and here lies Labour’s long-term problem in the town. While Barrow should be a safe Labour town in normal circumstances, Barrovians do not like voting for a party which opposes the nuclear deterrent: the town voted Conservative in the Thatcher landslides and the Tories cut the Labour majority in the constituency to under a thousand votes in last year’s general election, when it looked likely that a Labour government would need support from the anti-Trident SNP. Labour’s position looks even worse in the light of the forthcoming parliamentary boundary changes, in which Cumbria loses a seat with the Barrow and Furness constituency likely to take in some Tory-voting rural areas in the Lake District; that would turn it into a notional Tory seat once again.
The Parkside ward was once on the northern edge of town but is now in the centre of Barrow’s urban sprawl. It is named after the Edwardian Barrow Park, laid out around a hill which once housed a Bronze Age hillfort and now is home to the town’s cenotaph; but most of the population lives in terraces of the same era on the western side of Abbey Road, once the main road out of town. The ward also includes the town’s main secondary school, the troubled Furness Academy, and Barrow’s railway station, once run (as Barrow Central) by the Rev Awdry’s Fat Controller but now operated by Northern Rail and the southern terminus for the Cumbrian Coast line. The ward is in the top 10 in England and Wales for Apprenticeship qualifications (8.8% of the workforce) – an effect of all the shipbuilding – and is generally a fairly desirable part of town.
On slightly different boundaries, Parkside ward returned Tory councillors in 2006 and 2007, and in the first contest on the current boundaries in 2008 the winning candidates were two Independents and a Lib Dem. Since then it has been Labour all the way: the opposition to Labour in Barrow is now poorly organised, and Labour were guaranteed a seat in Parkside at the 2015 election thanks to the Tories, the only opposition candidates, not fielding a full slate. Despite this, Parkside turned in a close result, with Labour winning 55-45 and the third Labour candidate coming in just 47 votes ahead of the Tory slate. At county level the ward is divided between no fewer than four Cumbria county council divisions, but most of it lies in the Newbarns and Parkside division which is better territory for Labour.
Defending for Labour is Lee Roberts, who works for Rolls-Royce at the shipyard and gives an address on Walney Island. The Tories have reselected their second candidate from last year Roy Worthington, a taxi driver and president of the Furness Rotary Club. Completing the ballot paper is the ward’s first UKIP candidate Colin Rudd, chairman of the party’s Barrow branch.
Parliamentary constituency: Barrow and Furness
Cumbria county council division: Newbarns and Parkside (most), Hindpool (part), Risedale (part), Ormsgill (part)
May 2015 result Lab 1259/1106/1073 C 1026/708
May 2011 result Lab 863/857/787 C 503/444/414 Ind 235
May 2010 result Lab 1411 C 746 LD 472 BNP 113
May 2008 result Ind 495/476 LD 420 Lab 403/390/375 C 371/300/299
Sheffield council, South Yorkshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Isobel Bowler at the age of 52. Sheffield’s cabinet member for neighbourhoods, Bowler had also chaired the Police and Crime Panel for South Yorkshire. She had served since 2010.
For our first proper Labour vs UKIP contest of the week we travel south-east from Barrow to south-east Sheffield. Incorporated into Sheffield only in 1967, before which it was part of Derbyshire, Mosborough ward covers a series of housing estates on the edge of Sheffield most of which have been developed from the 1970s onwards. The largest of these is the Halfway estate, built in 1975 and laid out in such a way that no two houses look directly onto each other; the curious name comes from the Halfway House pub in what was originally a mining village called Holbrook, that name being dropped because there was already another Holbrook in Derbyshire. Mosborough itself has also been greatly expanded by housing development, while in the north of the ward is the Waterthorpe council estate and the large Crystal Peaks shopping centre, opened in 1988 to serve the city but suffering in competition with the larger and better-connected Meadowhall which opened two years later. A bus station at Crystal Peaks, together with the Halfway branch of Sheffield’s tram network, links the ward to Sheffield city centre.
The building of the estates led to the old Mosborough ward becoming grossly oversized, and it was divided in two in the 2004 boundary changes with the present Mosborough being only the southern half of the pre-2004 one (the northern half became the new Beighton ward). Since then the population has stabilised and the ward was unchanged in Sheffield’s rewarding this year. Like much of Sheffield in that period, Mosborough was a Labour versus Lib Dem contest in the Noughties but the Lib Dems won it only once, in the Labour nadir of 2008. UKIP took over second place in 2014, and in May’s election Labour easily held the three seats with 43%, to 22% for a two-person UKIP slate and 14% for a single Tory candidate who just squeaked ahead of the Lib Dem slate.
Defending for Labour is Julie Grocutt who gives an address in Stocksbridge, over fifteen miles away on the far side of the city, where she is a town councillor. UKIP have reselected Joanne Parkin, the runner-up in May’s election. The Tory candidate is Andrew Taylor, who fought Beauchief and Greenhill ward in May. Also standing are Gail Smith, Lib Dem councillor for Mosborough from 2008 to 2012, and Green Party candidate Julie White.
Parliamentary constituency: Sheffield South East
May 2016 result Lab 1992/1833/1661 UKIP 1022/831 C 646 LD 636/586/532 TUSC 159 Grn 142/138/122
May 2015 result Lab 3639 UKIP 2024 C 1565 LD 980 Grn 281 TUSC 99
May 2014 result Lab 1844 UKIP 1414 LD 620 C 492 Grn 205 TUSC 52
May 2012 result Lab 2463 LD 1113 UKIP 518 C 297 Grn 166
May 2011 result Lab 3069 LD 1762 C 608 Grn 248
May 2010 result Lab 3270 LD 3013 C 1506 BNP 473 UKIP 307 Grn 126
May 2008 double vacancy LD 2451/2019 Lab 1660/1626 C 746/561 Grn 290
May 2007 result Lab 1859 LD 1510 C 685 UKIP 248 Grn 161
May 2006 result Lab 1623 LD 1125 C 696 UKIP 308 Grn 224
June 2004 result Lab 2350/2038/1977 LD 1531/1193/1077 C 1204/1156/1129 Grn 451
Mansfield council, Nottinghamshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Lee Probert at the age of 51. A volunteer with several charities who worked for Mencap, Probert was the first mental health champion at Mansfield council. She had served since 2015.
Moving further to the south-east, we are in Mansfield Woodhouse, a large village to the north of Mansfield and to all intents and purposes part of it. One of several claimants to the title of UK’s largest village, Mansfield Woodhouse was traditionally a quarrying and mining area, and for over a century this ward has been the headquarters of the Mine Rescue Service, now a health and safety firm called MRS Training and Rescue. Taking its name from Yeoman Hill Park, this ward was formed in 2011 having previously been the southern half of Priory ward.
Mansfield’s local politics is not what you might expect it to be at all, mainly thanks to a businessman called Stewart Rickersey who masterminded a 55% “Yes” vote in a 2002 referendum on whether Mansfield should have an elected mayor, then ran the mayoral campaign for independent candidate Tony Egginton, who came from behind on first preferences to beat Labour on transfers in the first (October 2002) mayoral election. Ever since then Mansfield council has been closely fought between Labour and a pro-mayor slate called the Mansfield Independent Forum. The Forum have never relinquished the mayoralty but the council has been another matter, returning a blocking Labour majority in 2011 (when Egginton came from behind to be re-elected for his final term by just 67 votes) and being finely balanced after the 2015 election when Labour won 18 of the 36 seats, to 16 for the Forum, 1 independent and 1 Kipper. Yeoman Hill’s results have reflected the council as a whole in that time, being safe Labour in 2011 but very close in 2015 when Labour held the seat in a straight fight with the Forum by 721 votes to 716, a majority of five. Labour do better at county level, where almost all of this ward is covered by the safe North Mansfield division.
Defending for Labour is John Coxhead, former secretary of the party’s Mansfield branch. The Forum’s candidate is Neil Williams, who has worked in mining for 41 years. Also on a much longer ballot paper than last year are David Hamilton (runner-up in the 2013 county elections) for UKIP, Daniel Redfern for the Tories and independent candidate Philip Shields, who contested the mayoral election last year and came third (out of three candidates) with 21%.
Parliamentary constituency: Mansfield
Nottinghamshire county council division: North Mansfield (almost all); South Mansfield (small part)
May 2015 result Lab 721 Mansfield Ind Forum 716
May 2011 result Lab 399 Mansfield Ind Forum 259 C 106 TUSC 61 LD 59
Maidstone council, Kent; caused the death of UKIP councillor Dave Sargeant at the age of 77. A keen sportsman in his youth – he played cricket for Yorkshire Boys and football for Sheffield Wednesday’s junior team – Sargeant had been a pastor and a windowcleaner in his working life; first elected to Maidstone council in 2014, at the time of his death he was leader of the UKIP group.
After all this travel south-east we have finally reached the South East. Shepway South is the southern half of a large and rather isolated council estate on the south-eastern edge of Maidstone, mostly dating from the 1950s and 1960s. Shepway South suffers from all the usual social problems of large council estates; one of the people who tried to fix them in the past was Alan Barnsley, a GP for the estate in the 1960s but better known for writing poetry and fiction under the pseudonym Gabriel Fielding.
While this ward was safe Labour when it was created in 2002, the party has struggled here in recent years. In 2006 the Tories cut the Labour majority to eleven votes, and a by-election in December 2007 resulted in another eleven-vote margin – but this time for the Conservatives. By 2010 both seats were in Tory hands, and while Labour did get one back in 2012 they failed to make a second gain in 2014, when UKIP contested the ward for the first time since 2014 and had a big win. A second big UKIP win last May means they now have both Shepway South’s councillors: shares of the vote in May were 38% for UKIP, 28% for the Tories and 25% for Labour. Maidstone council is finely balanced, with the Tories as the largest party but five seats short of a majority, and the Lib Dems forming a minority administration with independent and Labour support. At county level this ward is part of the Maidstone South East division, which has been Tory since 2009 thanks to the presence of the true-blue Leeds ward.
Defending for UKIP is John Barned, a retired Daily Telegraph and Sun journalist and former Maidstone council housing officer who is seeking to return to the council; he was a Tory councillor for Harrietsham and Lenham ward from 2010 to 2014. The Conservatives have reselected Bob Hinder, chairman of Boxley parish council, Tory councillor for this ward from 2008 to 2012 and runner-up here in May. The Labour candidate is Dan Wilkinson, a Momentum figure and campaigner for the homeless. Completing the ballot paper are Milden Choongo for the Lib Dems and independent candidate Jon Hicks.
Parliamentary constituency: Faversham and Mid Kent
Kent county council division: Maidstone South East
May 2016 result UKIP 448 C 325 Lab 290 LD 69 Grn 25 EDP 14
May 2014 result UKIP 542 Lab 339 C 275 LD 77
May 2012 result Lab 418 C 265 Ind 260
May 2010 result C 928 LD 649 Lab 632 Ind 167
May 2008 result C 525 Lab 324 LD 163
Dec 2007 by-election C 251 Lab 240 LD 173 Grn 34
May 2006 result Lab 397 C 386 UKIP 148 LD 140
June 2004 result Lab 453 C 390 UKIP 231 LD 140
May 2002 result Lab 578/516 C 388