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Local By-Election Preview: April 10th 2014

April 10th, 2014

Belle Vue on Cumbria (Labour Defence)
Result of last election to council (2013): Labour 35, Conservatives 26, Liberal Democrats 16, Independents 7 (No Overall Control, Labour short by 8)
Result of last election in ward (2013): Labour 760 (66%), Conservatives 393 (34%)
Candidates duly nominated: Christine Bowditch (Lab), Nigel Christian (Con), John Stanyer (UKIP)

Trying to get a majority on Cumbria County Council could be compared to trying to get an ice cube to remain frozen in a desert. Since 1993 there has only been one overall majority election on the council (1997) but every other election has seen a hung council. In 1989, the Conservatives had a lead of three over Labour which became a Labour lead of 12 following the 1993 disaster for the Conservatives, however unlike most councils in 1997 where there was a Conservative recovery in Cumbria Labour piled on the pressure gaining five seats (four of which came from the Conservatives) and gaining overall control. It didn’t last long as in 2001, Labour lost control (four losses) as the Conservatives started attacking the Liberal Democrats and Independents. However, that was quickly reined in by the Liberal Democrats in 2005 who gained Westmorland and Lonsdale in the general election. It was the 2009 elections that really put the brakes on majority control as Labour lost eight seats, the Conservatives gained six, the Liberal Democrats gained five, the Independents gained three and even a local Independent gained a seat (Omsgill) on a 19% swing away from Labour. Last year’s elections saw things return to some sense of normality as Labour recovered the majority of it’s 2005 and 2009 losses (with the Liberal Democrats sighing a massive sigh of relief as they remained unchanged) but with this by-election being a fight between a rock solid Labour core (which elected a Labour councillor in the disaster of 2009) and two parties on the right Labour have to lot to win or a lot to lose.

Flint, Trelawny on Flintshire (Labour Defence)
Result of last election to council (2012): Labour 31, Independents 23, Liberal Democrats 7, Conservatives 7, Plaid Cymru 1 (No Overall Control, Labour short by 4)
Result of last election in ward (2012): Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 578, 570 (72%)
Independent 303 (19%)
Liberal Democrats 143 (9%)
Candidates duly nominated: Paul Cunningham (Lab), Swapna Das (Con), Nigel Williams (UKIP), John Yorke (Ind)

If Cumbria is impossible to get a majority on, then in theory Flintshire should be easy for a majority to be created and yet in recent years Labour have come off the worse. When the authority was created in 1995, Labour romped home polling 51% of the vote and getting an overall majority of 22 (Lab 47, Ind 15, Lib Dem 5, Con 2, Plaid 1, Others 1) a result that was little changed in 1999 (Labour polling 48% and a majority of 14) and repeated in 2004 (Labour polling 44% and an overall majority of 3) however in the 2008 elections, things went badly wrong for Labour. Their vote collapsed by 14% (polling just 30%) and their overall majority was wiped out with a staggering 15 net losses. This allowed the Independents to take the lead (polling 34%) and left the council in a situation of No Overall Control (Ind 26, Lab 21, Lib Dem 12, Con 9, Plaid 1). Naturally Labour recovered in 2012 but despite making 10 gains and going back to their 2004 level of support they were unable to retake majority control of the council. However with UKIP contesting this by-election (where they have gone from 5% in 1999 to 17% in 2009) as well as Mr. Yorke who has contested this ward since 2008 (polling on average 20% in 2008 and 2012), could the Conservatives overtake the Liberal Democrats on the council?

Coal Ashton on North East Derbyshire (Conservative Defence)
Result of last election to council (2011): Labour 34, Conservatives 17, Independents 2 (Labour overall majority of 15)
Result of last election in ward (2011): Emboldened denotes elected
Conservatives 730, 680
Labour 546, 543
Liberal Democrats 198
Candidates duly nominated: John Allsop (Con), David Cheetham (Lab), Charles Watson (UKIP)

North East Derbyshire is a true Labour heartland, which just goes to show how bad the poll ratings were for Labour back in 2007. In 2003, Labour had an overall majority of 19 on the council (Lab 36, Con 8, Lib Dem 5, Ind 4) which collapsed to just 5 in 2007 as Labour lost 7 seats to the Conservatives (+2), the Liberal Democrats (+2) and the Independents (+3) which as we know was the last election that Tony Blair fought as Prime Minister before he stood down a few weeks later and Gordon Brown was appointed Prime Minister in his place. Four years later and with a deeply unpopular coalition government in place, Labour reaped the benefits recovering all but two of their 2007 losses, the Conservatives gaining seven (with the Lib Dems being wiped out) and the Independents losing five, so therefore logic would suggest that with UKIP fielding a first time candidate in this ward, Labour’s majority could well reach 17.

Wantage, Charlton on Vale of the White Horse (Independent Defence, Elected as Conservative)
Result of last election to council (2011): Conservatives 31, Liberal Democrats 19, Labour 1 (Conservative overall majority of 11)
Result of last election in ward (2012): Emboldened denotes elected
Conservatives 1,235, 1,179, 1,131
Liberal Democrats 940, 754, 714
Labour 442, 428
Candidates duly nominated: Kevin Harris (Green), Julia Reynolds (Con), Jim Sibbald (Lib Dem), Nathan Sparks (Lab)

Vale of the White Horse has been a right old Lib Dem sob story of late. Back in 2003 it was controlled by the Liberal Democrats (along with Windsor and Maidenhead, Watford, Three Rivers, Waverley, Uttlesford and Milton Keynes) creating several Liberal Democrat pockets in what should be rock solid Conservative areas. Well, as you might expect the Conservatives were not going to take this challenge lying down and in 2007 robbed the Lib Dems of control in Milton Keynes, and gained control of Uttlesford, Waverley and Windsor and Maidenhead, leaving just the Vale of the White Horse in Lib Dem hands. That was until 2011 when the Conservatives pounced on their coalition partners inflicting fifteen net losses (with the Conservatives picking up 14 seats and the other one going Labour) leaving just Three Rivers and Watford in Lib Dem hands north of London. So will the Conservatives be able to continue this dominance at this by-election or will the Lib Dems recover from what has been in their own words a nightmare since 2010?

Harry Hayfield