We have six by-elections this week with two key contests taking place in the West Midlands. The minority Conservative group in Walsall are hanging on to control by a thread and a Labour gain tomorrow in the marginal Bloxwich East would bring the two parties level in seats. The Tories are also at risk in Newcastle-under-Lyme where the Newchapel ward is up for grabs. They lead a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in the Staffordshire Borough but Labour have the most seats and will be looking to take control in next May's elections.
Later today we have Kristofer Keane previewing the North Lanarkshire by-election, but without further ado I'll leave you with Andrew Teale's rundown of tomorrow's English contests. TH
Bloxwich East, Walsall MBC; caused by the death of Conservative Councillor Bill Tweddle.
Arguably the northernmost town of the Black Country, Bloxwich became famous in the nineteenth century as the UK's foremost manufacturer of awl blades, as well as for other light metalworking. The town was swallowed up into Walsall county borough relatively early, and Walsall Corporation built council houses on much of the land now in this ward, which is entirely on the eastern side of the A34 Walsall-Stafford road; as a result most of the census areas rank highly in the indices of multiple deprivation.
In Walsall this doesn't translate into a safe Labour ward because of Walsall Labour's wacky reputation; the three seats split 2C/1Lab when the ward was created in 2004 and stayed that way until this May; Labour held on by just thirteen votes in 2006, the Conservatives held in the following two years with increasing majorities (296 in 2007, 745 in 2008), and Labour held rather more comfortably in 2010 by 248 votes.
The change finally came in May with a Labour gain by just 6 votes, and Labour now have a chance to gain the final Conservative seat in this by-election.
Julie Fitzpatrick (Lab)
Les Beeley (Con)
Derek Bennett (UKIP)
Leandra Gebrakendan (Grn)
Chris Newey (ED)
Newchapel, Newcastle-under-Lyme BC (Staffordshire); caused by the resignation of Conservative Councillor Christian Barber.
The north-eastern corner of Newcastle-under-Lyme district, this ward covers a surprisingly hilly area between the towns of Kidsgrove and Biddulph which was once part of Kidsgrove Urban District. Running from Newchapel itself at the southern end, through Harriseahead and on to the hilltop village of Mow Cop, which rises to a summit of 335 metres (1100 feet) and straddles the Staffordshire/Cheshire border along the hill of the same name. The ward's two census areas are both in the middle of the deprivation indices.
The politics of the ward are quite interesting; when it was created in 2002 the Lib Dems won both seats, but promptly lost them in 2003 (to the Conservatives) and 2004 (to Labour; there was no Conservative candidate that year, presumably they messed up their nomination papers). The Conservatives decisively gained the Labour seat in 2008 but performed relatively poorly in a February 2010 by-election which saw a close three-way race for second place won by UKIP, who are very well organised in this borough.
Labour gained the ward in May by 50 votes and will now be looking to gain the other seat.
Newcastle-Under-Lyme Borough Council
Elsie Bates (Lab)
Carl Thomson (Con)
Tricia Harrison (UKIP)
Colin Brown (LD)
Bude North and Stratton, Cornwall (Unitary); caused by the resignation of Liberal Democrat Councillor Nathan Bale.
Cornwall's northernmost town, Bude is a Victorian seaside resort with good surfing conditions, while its twin town Stratton, about a mile inland, is a more ancient market town which was once the centre of one of Cornwall's ten hundreds. Created in 2009 for the unitary Cornwall council, the ward is one of two-and-a-half wards within the area covered by Bude-Stratton town council; it contains the northern half of Bude, all of Stratton and the village of Flexbury just to the north of Bude.
In 2009 it was a straight fight between Conservative and Liberal Democrats, with the latter winning a by landslide; the Lib Dem Councillor had previously represented Poughill and Stratton ward on North Cornwall district council. Poughill and Stratton ward normally split LD/Ind, while Bude ward was safe Lib Dem in 2007 but the two seats split in 2003 between Lib Dem and Mebyon Kernow, the Cornish nationalist movement, who were not far behind the two Lib Dem candidates in 2005 in the former Bude-Stratton county division.
Candidates for the by-election are the three main parties (and if there has ever previously been a Labour candidate here it's a very long time ago) plus an Independent amusingly named Louise Emo. It'll be interesting to see if there's an Emo vote here.
Bude North & Stratton
David Parsons (LD)
Trevor Macey (Con)
Louise Emo (Ind)
Adrian Jones (Lab)
Wyreside, Lancashire County Council; caused by the death of Conservative Councillor Bob Mutch.
This county division is basically the rural northern half of the Fylde peninsula, covering the area between Garstang and the Wyre estuary together with a few villages on the south side of the Wyre, the largest of which is Great Eccleston. The main settlements in the ward are Pilling, Preesall, Hambleton and Knott End-on-Sea, from which the ferry to Fleetwood departs that is the only link between Fleetwood and the rest of the Lancaster and Fleetwood parliamentary constituency. It's an agricultural and surprisingly low-lying area, with the main road from Pilling to Lancaster once regularly flooded by high tides. All of the division's census areas are within the 40% least deprived in England with the exception of Knott End, which has a significant retiree population.
The division is safe Tory and wasn't seriously contested in 2009; in 2005 it was a straight fight between Tory and Labour, the Conservatives winning with just under two-thirds of the vote. I'm not sure of the reason for the Green strength as the Greens only stood in one of the constituent district wards in May (Pilling, polling 21%), but this division does border the Green-held county division of Lancaster Central. The same Green candidate is contesting the election.
Vivien Taylor (Con)
Sue White (Grn)
Kevin Higginson (Lab)
Simon Noble (UKIP)
Thornton Dale and The Wolds, North Yorkshire County Council; caused by the resignation of Conservative Councillor Ron Haigh in order to care for his wife.
This is an enormously-sized division covering a swathe of countryside between Norton, Pickering and Scarborough. From the northern end it runs along the Whitby-Pickering road past the Hole of Horcum, down to the beautiful village of Thornton-le-Dale on the Pickering-Scarborough road (Thornton Dale ward), then across the low-lying Vale of Derwent to take in some small villages up on the Yorkshire Wolds (Rillington, Sherburn and Wolds wards). With the exception of Thornton-le-Dale, which is more upmarket, most of the census areas are in the middle of the deprivation indices.
The 2009 result suggests that this should be an easy Conservative hold.
Thornton Dale & The Wolds (North Yorkshire)
Janet Sanderson (Con)
Mike Beckett (LD)