Labour were celebrating a gain in Bristol last night as they took a seat in the Southmead ward from the Liberal Democrats. To add insult to injury the Lib Dems were pushed to a poor third behind the Conservatives, who appear to have ran a strong campaign in this by-election. Elsewhere, an Independent comfortably won a ward in North Somerset, replacing another Independent, and the Tories easily held a seat in Essex.
I'll start in Bristol where the Liberal Democrats made an unsuccessful defence of a seat in Southmead. The vacancy arose following the resignation of Cllr. Jacqueline Bowles due to ill health. It was a seat the Lib Dems snatched in 2009 when Labour in the doldrums so it seemed likely this would switch back. Bowles' margin of victory in 2009 was only 20 votes and a year later Labour easily held the other seat in Southmead on the General Election turnout.
Brenda Massey comfortably won the seat for Labour and she increased her party's share of the vote by 5.1% on last year's election. Although that was expected, the strength of the Conservative vote in this by-election came as a surprise. They managed to increase their vote share by 10.7% on the 2010 result, pushing the Liberal Democrats into a disappointing third. The Lib Dem vote was down 12.2% from last year and 17.1% on their victory in 2009.
During the naughties the Conservatives were consistently ahead of the Liberal Democrats in Southmead, which was a pretty safe Labour ward before they started to really struggle electorally in the later part of the last Parliament. Despite this the Tories found it difficult to get more that 25% of the vote and so their performance in this by-election is quite impressive.
The Liberal Democrats have been running Bristol as a minority administration since this May's elections and this result is unlikely to change this. The next partial council elections are due to take place in 2013.
Bristol City Council
Brenda Massey (E)
There was another by-election taking place last night just down the road from Bristol in Backwell, North Somerset. The vacancy was caused by the death of Independent Councillor Tom Collinson, who had won first his seat in 2007. Previous to that it had been a solid Conservative ward but Collinson, along with his running mate, changed that and the two Independents easily held their seats in May.
The sole Independent running in this by-election Geoff Coombs was endorsed by the sitting Independent and also happens to be the Chair of a Parish Council within the ward. All that, combined with the fact he was the only candidate who lived in the ward, made Coombs favourite to win this rural by-election and he didn't disappoint. Coombs received over 60% of the vote and there was little to suggest the Conservatives will be challenging for this seat anytime soon. Labour and the Liberal Democrats both fielded candidates when they didn't in May and neither made much of an impression.
The Conservatives have a huge majority on North Somerset Council with the next all-out elections due to take place in 2015.
Backwell (North Somerset)
Geoff Coombs (E)
The other by-election taking place yesterday was across the country in Essex. The vacancy in the Stock division was caused by the disqualification of the former Conservative Leader of the Council Lord Hanningfield as he was sentenced to nine months on jail for false accounting. He had claimed £14,000 for overnight stays in London when he was anywhere but, and the disgraced peer was finally ousted from the County Council when his appeal against the conviction was rejected.
Despite the fact the Conservatives had suspended Lord Hanningfield's membership when he was charged there was a chance his actions would affect their performance in this by-election. As it was they held the seat with ease and Ian Grundy's victory represented just 5% drop in vote share compared to the 2009 election. What was interesting in this by-election was the strong performance from UKIP, who polled 24% from nowhere. Given that we have generally seen their vote drop when compared to 2009 results, which took place on the same day as the European Union elections, it is interesting that they didn't field a candidate two years ago.
The Conservatives enjoy a large majority on Essex County Council with the next all out election due to take place in 2013.
Ian Grundy (E)