Wednesday, 7 September 2011

By-Election Preview (8th September)

There are three by-elections taking place tomorrow, including two barely 10 miles apart from each other. The Liberal Democrats are defending Southmead, Bristol whilst just south west of the city a vacancy in Backwell, North Somerset will be filled. The third contest is taking place in Essex where the Conservatives will be hoping the disqualification of a peer jailed for fiddling his Parliamentary expenses doesn't prevent them from holding the seat.

I'll start in Bristol where a currently split ward is up for grabs. The by-election in the Southmead ward is taking place following the resignation of Liberal Democrat councillor Jacqueline Bowles due to ill health. She won her seat in 2009 by just 20 votes, ousting the sitting Labour Councillor in the process. A year later Labour comfortably won the other seat in the ward, with the General Election turnout working against the Lib Dems.

Given the drop in support for the Liberal Democrats since last May it will be a tough ask for them to hold this seat tomorrow. The 2009 result was a blip in what is general a solidly Labour ward and with this by-election it is likely to revert back to form.

The contest has sparked controversy locally as a row over a Liberal Democrat leaflet has broken out. In it the Lib Dems attack the Labour leader in Bristol, who coincidently was the former Southmead Councillor beaten by Bowles, with apparently little say about candidates running in the by-election.

The result of the by-election is unlikely to affect control of the Council as the Liberal Democrats currently run Bristol as a minority administration. Of course, losing another seat, on top of the five in May, will not help the Lib Dems with the next partial Council election due to take place in 2013.

Bristol City Council












By-Election Candidate



Brenda Massey (Lab)



Barry Cash (LD)



Rondo Brace (Con)






Chris Millman (Grn)



Stephen Wright (ED)



Despite being within 10 miles of each other geographically Southmead, Bristol and Backwell, North Somerset couldn't be further apart politically. Whilst the former is a working class urban ward the latter would a safe Conservative seat but for a strong Independent presence in recent years. The by-election in Backwell is taking place following the death of Independent Councillor Tom Collinson, who had won first his seat in 2007. With a particular focus on planning and highways issues Collinson, along with his running mate, secure two gains from the Tories which they successfully defended in 2011.

The Independent standing in the by-election Geoff Coombs has been endorsed by the other sitting Independent in Backwell and is the strong favourite to replace Collinson. Coombs is not only the Chairman of a Parish Council within the ward but he is also the only candidate who lives there. It seems fairly unlikely any of the political parties will be able to make a successful challenge against such a strong Independent.

Even if this by-election produces an upset the political balance of North Somerset is unlikely to be affected. The Conservatives enjoy a huge majority on the Council with the next full elections due to take place in 2015.

Backwell (North Somerset)

By-Election Candidate


Geoff Coombs (Ind)


Peter Burden (Con)


Terry Connell (Lab)


Nick Alderton (LD)


The other by-election taking place this week is in Essex and the vacancy was caused by a fairly unusual reason. The Parliamentary Expenses scandal caused a Westminster by-election and countless MPs chose not to face re-election last year but the fate of one former Conservative Lord has resulted in a Council by-election. Lord Hanningfield had claimed up to £14,000 for overnight stays in London when he wasn't actually in the capital. Not only did the former shadow Business spokesman hold a seat in the Upper House of Parliament but also represented the Stock division on Essex County Council, as well as being the Council leader when he was charged in February last year.

Hanningford would have been disqualified from his Council seat when he was sentenced to 9 months in prison for false accounting but as he appealed against his conviction he was still technically a Councillor. Despite calls to resign he stuck it out, angering many in the local area as he was still claiming his Councillors allowance until the Council voted to suspend it. When his appeal was finally rejected a date was set to replace the disgraced ex-Tory peer.

Whilst all this may hurt the Conservatives in this by-election Cameron suspended Hanningford party membership when he was charged last February. As such he has spent the last year or so sat as an Independent and the local Tories will be hoping this will distance them from unsavoury circumstances leading this by-election. Their main advantage in this by-election is that it is difficult to see where a challenge will come from given that the Liberal Democrats were second in 2009 with just 12.5% of the vote. The Conservatives are likely to hang on to this almost by default.

The Conservatives enjoy a huge majority on Essex County Council so a surprise defeat will not affect the political balance. The next full Council elections are due to take place in 2013.

Stock (Essex)

By-Election Candidate


Ian Grundy (Con)


Marian Elsden (LD)


Reza Hossain (Grn)




Maurice Austin (Lab)


Kesse Pryke (UKIP)



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