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Local By-Election Preview: Local Election Polling Day (May 22nd 2014)

May 22nd, 2014

As there are 74 local by-elections being held today it would be impossible to profile them all, so I have chosen the ones that could be rather juicy given the prospect of the expected UKIP flood.

Willingham on Cambridgeshire (Con defence)
Result of last election to council (2013): Conservatives 32, Liberal Democrats 14, United Kingdom Independence Party 12, Labour 7, Independents 4 (No Overall Control, Conservatives short by 3)
Result of last election in ward (2013): Conservative 882 (40%), United Kingdom Independence Party 636 (29%), Labour 387 (17%), Green 175 (8%), Liberal Democrat 148 (7%)
Candidates duly nominated: Susan Gymer (Lib Dem), John Hale (UKIP), Peter Hudson (Con), Ben Monks (Lab), Helen Stocks (Green)

Cambridgeshire has changed beyond all recognition over the last twenty years. The Cambridgeshire that was elected in 1993 (Con 33, Lab 21, Lib Dem 21, Ind 1, Rates 1) had Labour strength in Peterborough and Cambridge to balance the vast Conservative support in the rest of the county, however by 2001 Peterborough had become a unitary authority and Cambridge was trending towards the Lib Dems so it should come as no suprise that Labour from 19 seats on a 77 seat council to just 9 on a 59 seat council and things just got progressively worse for them.

In 2005, Labour won just 4 seats on the council and in 2009, they came within a whisker of being wiped out winning just 2 seats (with a combined majority of just 300 votes). So you can imagine what a huge relief it must have been for Labour to see the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats being hit for twelve in the local district elections in 2011 and 2012, however Labour’s joy was about to be short lived as in the local elections last year UKIP had a barnstormer of an election, coming from nowhere (having just polled 3% of the vote in 2009 and not winning a single seat) to polling 21% of the vote and winning 12 seats leaving Labour room to make only five gains. And since those elections, as we have seen, UKIP are on more of a tear now than then, so could Labour find themselves the bridesmaids again as UKIP surge forward?

Hartshill on Warwickshire (Lab defence)
Result of last election to council (2013): Conservatives 26, Labour 22, Liberal Democrats 9, Greens 2, Independents 2, Ratepayers 1 (No Overall Control, Conservatives short by 6)
Result of last election in ward (2013): Labour 704 (35%), United Kingdom Independence Party 676 (34%), Conservatives 579 (29%), Green 58 (3%)
Candidates duly nominated: Chris Clark (Lab), Carol Fox (Ind), Bella Wayte (UKIP), David Wright (Green)

Hartshill (on the border between North Warwickshire and Nuneaton) always used to be a Labour heartland. In 2001, Labour romped home polling 54% of the vote, compared to the Conservatives 28% of the vote. However in 2005, something odd happened in Hartshill. The Labour vote collapsed to just 43% with the Conservative vote increasing to 38% turning a rock solid Labour heartland into a marginal.

The reason? Well, across the district of North Warwickshire there was a 5% swing to the Conservatives (a swing double that of the general election) and as the couty elections of 2009 neared and Labour’s poll rating plunged the writing was on the wall as in those elections the Conservatives gained the ward on a 11% swing from Lab to Con and the Labour candidate came within 9% of being beaten into third by the Lib Dems but as we have seen already by 2013 all of that had changed and so a Labour GAIN was more than expected.

What was not expected is that UKIP (again from a complete standing start, having never contested Warwickshire before then) ran Labour so close as to force a recount. In the end Lab did gain the ward but only by 28 votes (with the Conservatives only 5% behind that). So when it was announced that the newly elected Labour councillor was standing down (after less than a year in the post) plus when the nominations closed the former Conservative district councillor for Arley and Whitacre was standing as an Independent candidate with the defeated UKIP candidate having a second bit at the cherry, if UKIP do not gain this ward then UKIP’s campaign department needs to have a lot of navel gazing.

Brockworth on Tewkesbury (Lib Dem Defence)
Result of last election to council (2011): Conservative 24, Liberal Democrats 11, Independent 3 (Conservative majority of 10)
Result of last election in ward (2011): Emboldened denotes elected
Liberal Democrats 1,151, 1,142, 1,028
Conservatives 763, 725, 600
Candidates duly nominated: Edward Buxton (Lab), Phillip Quarry (Lib Dem), Robert Rendell (Green), Harry Turbyfield (Con)

Tewkesbury (in the heart of the north Gloucestershire countryside) is your typical Conservative / Independent battleground. In 2003, the Conservatives were denied overall control because of the Independents (Con 18, Lib Dem 9, Ind 8, Lab 3) and so started a process of reducing the Independent bloc (as they had done in other parts of the country), and it worked as in the 2007 local elections only two Independents were elected. Sadly for the Conservatives, however, most of those seats were Lib Dem gains (Con +1, Lib Dem +8, Ind -6, Lab -3).

So the Conservatives had to wait until the next set of elections in 2011 and this time (although there was one Independent gain) most of the Conservative gains came direct from their coalition partners and so the Conservatives were able to gain an overall majority. And despite elsewhere in the country, the Conservatives must feel rather chipper about Brockworth because there’s no UKIP candidate and as we know there has been a massive Lib Dem to Lab swing since the last election so here, maybe, there is the chance for some Conservative smiles on election night.

Oban South and the Isles on Argyll and Bute (SNP defence)
Result of last election to council (2012): Independents 15, Scottish National Party 13, Liberal Democrats 4, Conservatives 4 (No Overall Control, Independents short by 4)
Result of last election in ward (2012) : Emboldened denotes elected
Scottish National Party 830, 767, 349 (58%)
Independents 281, 269, 257, 237 (31%)
Conservatives 191 (6%)
Liberal Democrats 184 (5%)
Candidates duly nominated: John MacGregor (Ind), Neil MacIntyre (Lab), Ian MacLean (SNP), David Pollard (Lib Dem), Andrew Vennard (Con)

Ah, the isles off the west coast of Scotland. For years they have both enthralled people with their beauty and at the same time made people curse when it pours down with rain. And thanks to the SNP winning the Argyll and Bute constituency in the Scottish Parliament at the 2007 elections (on a 9% swing from Lib Dem to SNP) it is now one of their strongest areas (with a 51% vote share in the 2011 elections).

However, since those elections, the SNP have had a few banana skins in local government. Last year they lost six seats in local government by-elections (four to Labour and two to the Independents) and although most experts believe they will win a third MEP in the Euros, it will be because Labour is losing support to UKIP rather than the SNP gaining support, so will Oban South be part of an SNP vanguard ahead of the independence referendum or will the Independents (who used to rule the roost pre STV) come back with a bang?

Arrow Valley East on Worcestershire (UKIP defence)
Result of last election to council (2013): Conservatives 30, Labour 12, United Kingdom Independence Party 4, Liberal Democrats 3, Greens 2, Independents 2, National Health Action Party 2, Liberals 1, Ratepayers 1 (Conservative majority of 3)
Result of last election in ward (2013): Emboldened denotes elected
United Kingdom Independence Party 1,792, 1,511 (35%)
Labour 1,543, 1,426 (32%)
Conservative 1,176, 989 (23%)
Independents 213 (2%)
Liberal Democrats 198, 171 (4%)
Greens 188, 128 (3%)
British National Party 164 (2%)
Candidates duly nominated: Isabel Armstrong (Ind), Emma Bradley (Green), Peter Bridle (UKIP), Juliet Brunner (Con), Phil Mould (Lab), Simon Oliver (Lib Dem)

Worcestershire has not been a happy place for UKIP since winning their first seats on the county council last year. In fact of the four seats they won last year, this will be their third by-election defence in that timescale and if past history is a guide, they probably won’t like the future. The first hiccup came in Stourport on Seven when just days after the county elections, the elected UKIP councillor resigned from the council after posting some rather dubious comments online.

Net result? National Health Action Party GAIN from UKIP. Then a few months later came St. Mary’s, again another gain (this time by the Conservatives) so UKIP will be hoping that the surge in support since the counties will perhaps spare their blushes. Myself, I think that given the closeness between Labour and UKIP (and the fact that Labour is still on a bit of a tear itself since last year) this could well be the closest result of them all (and is possible that we may even have one or two recounts).

Harry Hayfield