This week we have seven by-elections, and a few of them look quite interesting on paper. Five of the by-elections are for top-tier councils and the other two are for District Councils. The by-election in Swindon looks like a potential Labour gain against the Tories, but they are also defending two seats against the Greens. In Cambridge there is another tight Tory/Labour marginal up for grabs so it is set to be an intriguing night.
I'll start in Swindon, where there is a vacancy for the Moredon ward. Conservative Councillor Steph Excell resigned in protest against the proposed cuts to public spending, and she has left her party a difficult seat to defend. Excell won her seat handily in 2007, but earlier this year the ward was a lot more competitive. Labour came within a 100 votes of gaining the seat and a cynic would suggest that as Excell's term finishes next spring this was in the back of her mind. Whoever wins will face the voters again next May, but it's always an advantage to fight an election as an incumbent. Labour need a 1.2% swing to gain the seat but even if they succeed the balance of power in Swindon won't be affected. The Tories currently hold 41 of the 59 seats, so will continue to control the Council whatever the result.
In London there is a vacancy for the Ladywell ward on the Lewisham Borough Council. The by-election has been called following the resignation of Labour Cllr. Tim Shand, who has left to work for a Human Rights group in South Africa. Shand was one of the three Labour candidates to gain all the seats in Ladywell from the Greens this May, and the environmentalist party will be seeking to take one back tonight. Their candidate, Ute Michel, was one of the defeated candidates earlier in the year. The Greens lost five of their six seats in Lewisham against Labour's General Election turnout, and as the smaller party they are disadvantaged in a by-election campaign. This election is sure to be well fought but it won't change the complexion of the Council. Labour have a handy majority in Lewisham and a loss wouldn't dent that.
They Greens are likely challengers in another by-election tonight, this time in Hulme, Manchester City Council. The vacancy is due to the resignation of Labour Cllr. Emily Lomax following her arrest for drink driving. Lomax was tipped as a rising star
within the Labour Party and was a defeated General Election candidate in May. She has admitted causing a three car crash which did not cause any fatalities (aside from her career(s)). With such exceptional circumstances surrounding the by-election there is the potential for a surprise result. Lomax won her election in 2008 by just 50 votes from the Green candidate, but it was the Liberal Democrats who sneaked into second place in May's election in this ward. The Lib Dems appear to be targeting this by-election, which doesn't bode well for the Greens chances. The Lib Dems are also Labour's main opposition on the Council, with 32 of the 96 seats, whilst the Greens do not currently have a Councillor elected in Manchester. Labour tend to pull around 40% of the vote in Hulme so if the opposition is split they may hold easily, despite the circumstances. This is the most likely scenario, but if Lomax's conduct harms Labour's vote then there could be an surprise gain…for someone!
In Wales there is a vacancy for the Cenarth ward, Camarthenshire following the death of Independent Councillor Haydn Jones. Jones easily won his seat against a sole Plaid Cymru challenger in 2008 and there will again be just two choices on the ballot paper. This time the Conservatives will battle with Plaid for the ward, and as the latter only polled 190 votes two years ago and the former do not hold any seats in the County there is little to go on. Plaid could do with the seat as a win would make them the largest group on the Council, although the anti-PC coalition would still have the majority. I'd assume Plaid are better organised locally than the Conservatives, but there must be a reason why they didin't even manage a quarter of the vote share two years ago.
Now, the only boring one! The Conservatives will be defending Ponteland East, Northumberland following the death of Cllr. Mel Armstrong. Armstrong won secured 60% of the vote in 2009 so the Tories shouldn't have much problem holding on to this one; especially as they've selected his widow as their candidate.
In the Districts there is an interesting by-election for Coleridge ward, Cambridge City Council. The Conservatives are defending the ward but the Labour candidate, George Owers, has been in contact with us to say they are working hard on this by-election. Recent results in Coleridge have been very close between the Tories and Labour, with a margin of victory as small as 14 votes in 2008; the term for which this by-election is for. In May Labour managed a relatively comfortably 160 vote victory, and with their by-election performances over the summer this looks like another potential gain for the reds.
Finally, there is a vacancy in a LibDem/Tory marginal on the South Lakeland (Cumbria). The Liberal Democrats won Lyth Valley by 55% to 45% in 2008 but there will be a Labour candidate on the ballot today which could shake things up. In a similar situation in Cheltenham last week the Lib Dems' vote held up much better than the Tories'. Also, this ward is within the Liberal Democrat Presidential candidate Tim Farron's constituency, which might help their chances.
Toby Elliott (CON)
Carl Handley (LAB)
Jenny Millin (LAB)
Ute Michel (GRN)
William Oram (UKIP)
Ingrid Chetram (LD)
Chris Ward (LD)
Ben Appleby (CON)
Helen Mercer (IND)
Amina Lone (LAB)
Deyika Nzeribe (GRN)
Henrietta Hensher (PC)
Will Stobart (CON)
Hazel Evans (CON)
Grace Baynham (LD)
Ponteland E (Northumber)
Eileen Armstrong (CON)
Andrew Duffield (LD)
Andy Avery (LAB)
Normal by-election service will be resumed on Thursday night, which is good; this week has some exciting races!