Andrew's Previews 2020: The year 2020, told through local by-elections

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Andrew's Previews 2020: The year 2020, told through local by-elections

Andrew's Previews 2020: The year 2020, told through local by-elections

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Parliamentary constituency: Bexhill and Battle (Heathfield North and Heathfield South wards), Wealden (Mayfield and Five Ashes ward) For the city council by-election the defending Labour candidate is Sandy Douglas, an associate professor at Oxford University who works in vaccine development; he was one of the team which developed the manufacturing process for the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. There is a lot of crossover between the county and city council ballot papers, with independent Michael Evans, the Conservatives’ Tim Patmore, the Greens’ David Thomas and the Lib Dems’ Theo Jupp all contesting both polls; the strong independent candidate for Littlemore ward last year is not standing again and she has signed Evans’ nomination papers. The only party other than Labour to nominate a different candidate for the city council is the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, who have selected Rachel Cox for the Littlemore by-election.

Which perhaps explains why Thorpe St Andrew has been an area where the Conservatives have traditionally dominated. North West ward returned a full slate of Conservative councillors at every election from 2004 (when the current boundaries were introduced) to 2019 when the Conservative slate had a 56–29 lead over Labour. The Conservatives also hold the Woodside division of Norfolk county council, which covers this ward. The Parliamentary Boundary Commission have not been fooled by the fact that this ward is outside the Norwich city limits and they have sensibly placed the area within the Norwich North constituency; this has been held since a 2009 by-election by the Conservatives’ Chloe Smith. The list of famous people associated with mining areas is often dominated by sportsmen, but possibly the most famous former pupil of Oakdale Comprehensive School (now Islwyn High School) was too young to have gone down the pits. Joe Calzaghe was born in London and spent some of his early life in his father’s native Sardinia, but he grew up in this corner of South Wales before embarking on a stellar boxing career. Calzaghe retired from the ring in 2009 with a perfect record of 46 wins from 46 professional fights, having unified three of the four super-middleweight world titles and spent more than a decade as WBO super-middleweight world champion before moving up to win more world titles at light-heavyweight. This from a lad who was bullied at high school, and left Oakdale Comprehensive without taking any GCSEs. If you got your GCSE results last week and they weren’t what you hoped for, remember that you’ve got a long life left to either put that right or make your mark in some other way.Defending for Labour is Carol Ferris, who stood in the other Thorpe St Andrew ward (South East) in May; she was elected to Thorpe St Andrew town council, but missed out on a seat on Broadland council then. Another Thorpe St Andrew town councillor on the ballot is the Conservatives’ Peter Berry, who finished as runner-up in the 2022 by-election and the 2023 Broadland district election in North West ward. Completing the ballot paper is Victor Morgan for the Liberal Democrats. In May 2023 the Tories lost their majority on Broadland council, falling from 33 to 21 seats out of a possible 47, and that cost them power. All the other councillors (14 Lib Dems, 8 Labour and 4 Greens) have joined together in a traffic-light coalition, under a Lib Dem leader. The result in Thorpe St Andrew North West was closer than in the October 2022 by-election, but a Labour lead of 48–42 was enough for Labour to take all three seats in the ward. Defending for the Conservatives is Peter Berry, who represents the area on Thorpe St Andrew town council. Labour have selected the wonderfully-named Calix Eden. Brian Howe completes the candidate list for the Lib Dems.

Our other English by-election takes place in the centre of the country, as we are only a few miles from Coton in the Elms, the hamlet generally recognised as the point in England furthest from the sea. Swadlincote is the southernmost town in Derbyshire, and it’s traditionally a mining centre as the town’s civic motto E terra divitiæ — “riches from the earth” — might suggest. As well as coal, the town lies on clay deposits of unusually high quality which were particularly suitable for manufacture of large pipes. The swing to Labour seen in the 2021 Senedd election in Monmouth was amplified in the 2022 Welsh local elections, where in Monmouthshire the Conservatives lost their majority and Labour finished as the largest party for the first time since 1995. Labour are now running the council as a minority with 22 out of 46 seats; a gain here will give their administration half of the council. How likely is that? Well, Labour contested Devauden ward this year for the first time this century, and finished in second place: Bob Greenland, who had been deputy leader of the Conservative group and of the council since 2008, was re-elected for a fifth term of office with a 49–31 lead. Greenland passed away in August 2022 from cancer; his last tweet was a criticism of the outgoing Prime Minster Boris Johnson.To take the county council by-election first, the defending Labour candidate is saxophonist and part-time music teacher Trish Elphinstone. The Conservatives have selected Tim Patmore, who previously contested Rose Hill and Littlemore division in 2013. Standing for the Greens is David Thomas, a former leader of the Green group on the city council; Thomas works as an engineer in the water industry. Also standing are independent candidate and Littlemore parish councillor Michael Evans who also contested this county council seat in 2021, Theo Jupp for the Lib Dems and Callum Joyce for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. Defending for the Lib Dems is Ciaran Urry-Tuttiett, who might be wanting to make his own journey to Liverpool fairly soon: he is a committed Eurovision fan who presents a Song Contest-themed radio show. Urry-Tuttiett contested Fareham North ward in May. The Conservatives have reselected Harry Davis, who is still a teenager but already has a previous campaign in this ward under his belt: he was runner-up here in May. Another young candidate on the ballot is Dominic Martin for Labour, who completes the candidate list along with Dave Wiltshire of the Fareham Independent Group. The local press have interviewed all the candidates, and you can find out more here ( link). Brooklands is the north-western of Wythenshawe’s five wards, covering Wythenshawe Park, Northern Moor, a large chunk of Baguley and the Southmoor industrial estate. It’s served by the Northern Moor, Wythenshawe Park, Moor Road and Baguley tram stops on the Wythenshawe/Airport branch of the Metrolink tram system. This tram line opened only in 2014; before then Wythenshawe was very poorly connected to the outside world, with no railway station and with the motorway network having to take much of the strain. This county division also covers a large rural area. Overlooking the Saxon shoreline is the high ground of Lympne, which was the location for a number of early aeronautical records: Amy Johnson set out from here in 1932 on a flight to Cape Town, which broke the record for a solo flight. On the modern shoreline is the fast-growing village of Dymchurch. Both of these were also fortified to guard the shore: Lympne by the Romans, Dymchurch in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The timeline means that it may be difficult for the Labour party to turn that lead into significant gains this time. The Labour party are defending over half of the seats up for election this year, and a large proportion of this set of elections is Greater London where Labour performed particularly well at the last local elections in 2018. Additionally, the big Conservative lead in the 2021 local elections turned into major gains in the rotational councils, and with those seats now in the bank for the Conservatives until 2024 the opposition parties will have to do just as well, in the other direction, to make significant headway. That gives the Tories a trifecta in this corner of Staffordshire, as they also have majorities on both Staffordshire county council and Newcastle-under-Lyme council. It perhaps helps that neither of those authorities had elections in 2023, which was not a good Tory year in Staffordshire; Newcastle council has an unusual electoral cycle and its last elections were in May 2022. The Conservatives had taken control of a hung council through defections in the 2018–22 term, and the 2022 borough elections saw this confirmed by the voters: Newcastle council returned 25 Conservative councillors against 19 for Labour.

Including Portchester. The Saxon Shore fort here, generally identified as Portus Adurni, is located on a promontory at the head of Portsmouth Harbour. It is described as the best-preserved Roman fort north of the Alps, with nearly all of the Roman outer walls and bastions still standing today. Some of the space within the fort is now occupied by a Norman castle, which was a frequent destination for English kings from Henry II onwards. Portchester was a regular embarkation point for English armies looking for a fight with the French; as late as the Napoleonic Wars, over 7,000 French prisoners of war were incarcerated here. Our Welsh by-election this week takes place in the south-eastern corner of the county. Devauden ward is a hilly and rural area lying between the Wye valley to the east and the Usk valley to the west. We should note here that the Conservatives have often put in particularly poor by-election performances in recent years along the High Speed 2 route, a record which includes the Chesham and Amersham parliamentary by-election two years ago. The Gerrards Cross part of this ward will transfer into Chesham and Amersham at the next general election; for now, Denham is wholly part of the Beaconsfield parliamentary seat which is safely Conservative. As one Tony Blair found out when he stood there as a Labour candidate in a 1982 by-election; in those days you needed 12.5% of the vote to save your deposit, and he didn’t manage that. George Galloway’s political appeal comes overwhelmingly from Muslims, and it’s possible that he carried Batley East ward in the 2021 by-election. Indeed, the following year’s Kirklees council elections saw a strong challenge from a Workers Party of Britain candidate in Batley East. Labour held the ward in May 2022 with 45%, against 33% for the Gallowayite candidate and 15% for the Conservatives. Since 2004 this ward had been represented on Monmouthshire council by the Conservatives’ Bob Greenland, who was elected without a contest in 2008 and had large leads over the Lib Dems in 2004, 2012 and 2017. All of those local elections also resulted in Conservative-led government of Monmouthshire county council, the party winning an overall majority in 2004, 2008 and 2017 and ruling from 2012 to 2017 in coalition with the Lib Dems.

Suddenly that 27-point Conservative lead from two years ago in Swadlincote South isn’t looking all that safe. And the Conservatives will have to defend that lead in this county council by-election following the death of Roger Redfern in June, at the early age of 61. Redfern had started his career in the coalmines, before working for over 30 years as a pub landlord at the Miners Arms in Church Gresley. In the case of South Derbyshire, the Tory collapse on the district council had already started before 2021 with a damaging split in the party; the splinter group on the council voted out the Tory leader in 2020 and installed a Labour minority administration, which went on to win a majority in 2023. Roger Redfern lost his seat on the district council three months ago as Labour won Church Gresley ward by 60–40 in a straight fight with the Conservatives. Swadlincote South division also includes half of the Swadlincote district ward, which Labour won by 62–38 in May. For the other East Midlands region we take another trip to England’s “smallest” “county” as we come to Uppingham, which with a population of just under 5,000 is the second-largest metropolis in Rutland. Uppingham is best-known to outsiders for its public school, which clearly shows up in its 2011 census return: the ward’s proportion of 16- and 17-year-olds (10.2%) is the sixth-highest of any ward in England and Wales and the highest figure for any ward in the East Midlands, and Uppingham ward is also in the top 50 for those employed in education (22.4%). The pupils are of course too young to vote, and for the adults Uppingham’s elections are curiously balanced affairs with no party ever standing a full slate for the three available seata. Four of the ward’s five ordinary elections this century have returned candidates from three different political traditions, including the 2019 election at which the Tories’ Lucy Stephenson and independent Marc Oxley were re-elected, while the Green Party’s Miranda Jones (who had been the Labour candidate here in 2015) defeated Tory councillor Rachel Burkitt for the final seat.Kelly has now formed an Independent Alliance group on the council which includes other defectors from both the Conservatives and Labour. As we shall now discuss, in November a further Conservative councillor was suspended and two more resigned altogether.

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