The Liberal Democrats pulled back another Council seat that they lost in May as they defeated the Conservatives in Ipswich on Thursday. That was not the only gain of the night as Labour put another nail in Respect's coffin by winning the by-election in Sparkbrook, Birmingham. Labour also enjoyed comfortable holds in the London Boroughs of Redbridge and Islington.
I'll start in Ipswich where the St Margaret's ward was up for grabs following the resignation of Conservative Councillor Sarah Stokes, barely four months after her election. The Tories have fallen short of winning this marginal ward in recent years but in the midst of a terrible night for the Liberal Democrats in May they managed to finally gain a seat here. The implication is that Stokes was not expecting her victory and her subsequent resignation left the Conservatives with a difficult defence against the recovering Lib Dems.
As has been the case a number of times during the last few months the Liberal Democrats managed to regain a seat lost on May 5th as Cathy French won the by-election with a majority of 71. She enjoyed a 2.5% Con>LD swing to ensure that the Lib Dems hold all three seats in St Margarets again.
It would seem the Liberal Democrats benefited from the lack of Green candidate, although as is usually the case in by-elections the low turnout meant all the parties received fewer votes than they did in May. Despite a reportedly strong campaign in the ward Labour actually slipped back relative to their May performance and may well have suffered from squeeze tactics from the two front runners.
An interesting aspect of next May's local elections will be to see if the Liberal Democrats make these gains stick amidst a more national campaign. Opinion polling has not really registered the sort of recovery we are observing in by-elections and so we'll have to wait and see if the Lib Dems have touched their low water or whether there is still worse to come for the junior coalition partner.
St Margaret's (Ipswich)
Cathy French (E)
Although the Ipswich vacancy was top the billing last Thursday the night really belonged to Labour as they celebrated three victories across the country's two biggest cities. Their win in Sparkbrook, Birmingham was the most notable, especially as the result raises doubts about how much longer Respect will last in its current form.
The by-election was taking place because Respect's Leader Salma Yaqoob resigned due to ill-health and Labour would have immediately fancied their chances of gaining the seat having gained one of Respects three seats in the ward in May. Respect would also be without the personal vote of their Leader, who came a respectable second in Hall Green constituency in 2010 on the same day as she held her Council seat. Victoria Quinn managed to better Labour's performance in the spring and secured a 6.2% swing to easily win this by-election.
This loss leaves Respect with just one Councillor in Birmingham and a couple in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where George Galloway sensationally became the party's first and only Member of Parliament in 2005. However, although the Respect group in Tower Hamlets has been reduced to a rump a new grouping in support of the elected Mayor of the Borough Lutfur Rahman has a significant presence on the Council and it will be interesting to see if that survives through an election, or can be transferred beyond Tower Hamlets.
Birmingham City Council
Victoria Quinn (E)
In London Labour successfully defended two marginal wards against the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats respectively. The more difficult defence was in Redbridge where Labour's sole Councillor in the Aldborough ward had resigned because he couldn't keep up with the workload. They need not have worried as Debbie Thiara enjoyed a comfortable victory with a 7.7% swing from the 2010 result.
In Islington Labour were defending the St Mary's ward against the Liberal Democrats and so a hold seemed likely given differing electoral fortunes of the two parties since the ward was last contested. Despite the somewhat controversial circumstances surrounding the vacancy Labour secured an easy victory, with Gary Poole's win representng a 9.7% swing from the Lib Dems to Labour compared to the 2010 result.
Redbridge London Borough Council
St Mary's (Islington)
Debbie Thiara (E)
Gary Poole (E)