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

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Tamworth council, Staffordshire; both caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Richard Ford. 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.

St Helens is the smallest of England’s 36 metropolitan boroughs in terms of council size, with a total of 48 councillors. All of them were up for re-election in May with new ward boundaries being introduced; this resulted in an increased Labour majority with 35 council seats against 4 Lib Dems and three seats each for the Conservatives, Greens and independents. Moss Bank ward was left almost untouched by the boundary changes so we can read its political history over quite a long period: it was a safe Lib Dem ward until the Merseyside Lib Dem vote evaporated in 2010 on the formation of the Coalition, and has been a safe Labour ward since then. In May the Labour slate polled 52% here with the Conservatives and Lib Dems on 17% each. Littlemore ward is entirely within the Rose Hill and Littlemore county division, and by-elections are taking place to both of those units following the co-ordinated resignations of two Labour councillors in May. Michele Paule, who has sat on the county council since 2021, has stood down on health grounds. The county council by-election will be combined with a city council by-election to replace Nadine Bely-Summers, who narrowly gained the city-centre Holywell ward from the Greens in 2018 and transferred to safer pastures here in 2021. Bely-Summers’ successor will need to seek re-election at the next city council elections, which are in 2024; Oxford is one of the few English councils which re-elects half of its membership every two years, so there are no city council elections here in May this year.Kim Leadbeater is unlikely to be MP for Batley for much longer, though. The parliamentary map of West Yorkshire is being heavily redrawn at the next general election, resulting in the Batley and Spen seat being split up. Going forward Batley will be included in a new parliamentary seat of Dewsbury and Batley, which is the successor to the Conservative-held Dewsbury seat but is projected to be safely Labour even in December 2019 conditions. Interestingly Leadbeater has not gone for the Labour selection in Dewsbury and Batley, instead choosing to follow the majority of her electors into the redrawn seat of Spen Valley which is projected to be notionally Conservative. 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. 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). This by-election is also crucial for control of East Sussex county council, where the Conservatives have a small majority with 27 out of 50 seats. Two of those Conservative seats are currently vacant, and if the Tories fail to hold both this by-election and another by-election next week in Eastbourne then the county council will fall into No Overall Control. These are normally Conservative-voting areas. County councillor Rupert Simmons represented this area for almost 26 years until his death in April at the age of 70, starting his political career in 1997 on Heathfield and Waldron parish council; he had served continuously on East Sussex county council since 2001, and was also a Wealden district councillor from 1999 to 2003. His sixth and last re-election to the county council came in 2021 with a big lead of 59–19 over the Green Party.

The village of Devauden itself is the location where John Wesley first preached in Wales, doing so on the village green in 1739. The ward also includes a number of other small villages, as far west as Llangwm. This was historically hunting territory, and to some extent still is: the village of Itton at the southern end of the ward is home to the foxhounds of the Curre and Llangibby Hunt. Before we start this week, there are a couple of corrections to the Leicester piece from last week. Aasiya Bora may have finished as runner-up in last week’s by-election, but in fact she placed third in last year’s poll. Keith Vaz is no longer the chair of the Leicester East branch of Labour; he is now the constituency party’s campaigns officer, which can’t be a particularly comfortable position to hold given his candidate’s disastrous performance last week. We should be in a Conservative-majority period at the moment, but for some years now the Plymouth Conservatives have been in a state of civil war which makes the Republican group in the US House of Representatives look coherent and united. It’s a long story. Let’s join the action immediately after the 2021 local elections (mapped above), at which the Conservatives performed very well and Labour lost their majority on Plymouth council.Local by-election results don’t always reflect the national political scene, and we shouldn’t always expect them to. A rising political tide will normally work to lift all boats, but some get lifted more than others and there’s always something going on in the local picture to confound the national one if you look hard enough. At its eastern end the Royal Military Canal passes through Hythe, which was one of the five ancient Cinque Ports charged with defending England from the French in mediaeval times. Hythe is not a port now: its harbour silted up long ago, and vessels crossing the Channel now have to use the ports of Folkestone or Dover to the east. The town, however, remains and is mostly located within the Hythe West division of Kent county council. Fareham and Portsmouth are part of one continuous urban area, with Portchester being the hinge in the middle of it. This is because of the presence of the steep Portsdown Hill to the north which forces all lines of communication to run through this ward, including the M27 motorway and the West Coastway railway line. Portchester railway station has regular trains to Southampton, Portsmouth and London. In the UK, we ensure that the public have oversight of all this through regular local government elections. Every year, on the first Thursday in May, new councillors are elected while old councillors retire. In 2022 the UK’s local elections will most likely be the biggest electoral event of the year. Let’s have a look at what we might expect from them. Setting the scene 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.

Let’s start the week on the Saxon Shore. The southern coast of Kent has changed a lot over the last millennium, with extensive silting and a few enormous mediaeval storms creating the flat landscape of Romney Marsh. This has long been recognised as a vulnerable point in any invasion of England, and during the Napoleonic Wars the Royal Military Canal was constructed along the original shoreline, effectively cutting Romney Marsh off from the rest of the country. The Swadlincote South county division takes in the town centre, a large industrial area to the west and housing in the south of the town. The presence of the Leicestershire county boundary not far to the south-east and greenbelt land to the west means that most of Swadlincote’s urban growth has taken place in a northerly or southerly direction, resulting in the urban area absorbing the former village of Church Gresley. This was another industrial place, with pottery being the main local industry: the distinctive blue-and-white Cornishware kitchen pottery was manufactured in Church Gresley well into the 21st century.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. Eight weeks later, the Labour group found themselves a man down following the resignation of Labour councillor Drew Moore, who indicated that he could not balance his new democratic duties with a new job. Moore had won the final seat in the ward with a majority of just 33 votes over the lead Conservative Peter Berry, so Labour have work to do to hold this by-election. That’s not a majority which bodes well for this by-election, which — like the last Batley East by-election — has come out of the Councillors Behaving Badly file. The Councillor Behaving Badly here is Fazila Loonat, who was first elected in 2016 (under her previous surname of Fadia) and re-elected in 2021. What did for Loonat was the same thing that did for the Labour MP Fiona Onasanya and the Lib Dem MP Chris Huhne — lying about a speeding offence. On the same day Redfern was also elected to the county council, making safe a seat which the Conservatives had gained from Labour in 2017 by just 80 votes; shares of the vote here in 2021 were 59% for the Conservatives and 32% for Labour. This reflected the large Conservative majority for the local MP Heather Wheeler in December 2019 in the South Derbyshire constituency, which has the same boundaries as the council of that name. In 2021, the Conservatives won a clean sweep of all the county divisions in South Derbyshire.

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