Another Friday, another post detailing Labour's excellent by-election results from the night before... They have even managed to outdo themselves this week with a swing large enough to win almost any seat in the country! Their win in Sandwell wasn't a surprise, but the margin of victory certainly was. Labour also gained a seat off the Liberal Democrats in a double by-election in Liverpool and managed a large swing against the Tories in Hyndburn (Lancashire). The Conservatives were also soundly beaten in a couple of contests in Wales by Plaid Cymru and an Independent, although to be fair they weren't likely to be competitive.
I'll start in Sandwell where Labour cruised to victory in the Wednesbury North by-election. The vacancy had arisen following the resignation of the Conservative Cllr. Bill Archer, who essentially retired at the age of 83. Archer held his seat in 2008 with 80% of the vote, so Labour's win last night with twice as many votes as the Tories was quite astonishing. The ward was a lot more competitive in May as the Labour candidate Peter Hughes came within 51 votes of a surprise gain. Hughes stood again in this by-election and he received 62% of the vote to gain the seat. The victory represented a 16.4% swing from May, and an incredible 45% swing from Archer's victory two and a half years ago.
Now, although local factors can't completely account for Labour's excellent victory they certainly contributed to the magnitude. For starters, Archer was a popular Councillor across all parties in Sandwell, having not missed a meeting for over thirty years. In addition, Sandwell was at the centre of Michael Gove's bungled cut to the Building Schools for the Future fund. In response to the saga Conservative Cllr. Elaine Costigan defected to Labour. Costigan was not just any Tory in Sandwell; she represents the Wednesbury North ward and is Bill Archer's daughter. There have been suggestions that Archer had similar feelings to his daughter on the issue, but resigned instead of defecting after such a long time in the party. I imagine Labour's campaign leaflets wrote themselves! So Labour aren't likely to manage swings this large too often, but combined with other recent results in the region suggests they look set to make sweeping gains across the Midlands next May.
In the double by-election in Croxteth Labour managed to hold one seat and gain another from the Liberal Democrats. The first by-election was triggered by the death of Labour Councillor Rose Bailey in July and then a fortnight later the Lib Dem Councillor Phil Moffatt casued the second vacancy by resigning to move to Northern Ireland. The trend in Croxteth has clearly been towards Labour in recent years and they were expected to win both seats last night. Of more interest was how well the Lib Dem held up in an urban ward they have recently been competitive in. The good news for the Lib Dems was that they only lost 6.5% since May, which is less that current polls are suggesting. The bad news is their vote has halved in Croxteth since 2007 and these are the seats up for grabs next May. This result represents a 19% swing since Moffatt's win three and a half years ago and if the current political landscape remains Labour are likely to pick up a lot of urban seats from the Lib Dems in next year's Council elections.
The only other election in England yesterday took place for the Baxenden ward on the Hyndburn Borough Council (Lancashire). It was a safe Conservative ward and they held it comfortably. However, they won't be too comfortable with the 12% swing from them to Labour in the ward. On this performance the reds should gain literally hundreds of seats next May as they recover from what was a low water mark in 2007.
There was also a couple of by-election in Wales last night, with the Conservatives coming second out of two in both. The Eglysbach ward on the Conwy County Council was up for grabs following the resignation of Plaid Cymru Councillor Angharad Booth-Taylor, who has moved to Pembrokeshire. Mike Rayner easily held the seat for Plaid with 72% of the vote, but the Tories did manage a 16% swing from the 2008 result.
Finally, the Independent Richard Dew won the by-election for the Rhosneigr ward on the Isle of Anglesey Council. He narrowly lost to 'Original' Independent Phil Fowlie in 2008 but the Councillor has resigned due to ill health. Dew secured 84.6% of the vote against his Tory challenger to comfortably win his seat. I briefly summarised the odd political makeup of Anglesey Council on Wednesday and it is unclear which of the many groups of Independents Dew will sit with. When I do I'll comment on here and send out a tweet. Incidentally, although the Tories didn't do too well in last night's elections they were the only party who managed to put up a candidate in all the contests.
Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
Liverpool City Council
Peter Hughes (E)
Martin Cummins (E)
Stephanie Till (E)
Conwy County Council
Isle of Anglesey County Council*
Mike Rayner (E)
Richard Dew (E)
*Dew is omitted from the Council make-up as it has not been confirmed which group he will sit with. Rumour is he will join the 'Original' Independents (IND).