Wednesday, 30 October 2013

By-Election Preview: 31 October 2013

Only one by-election on Hallowe'en 2013, in Newport.

Newport City Council, Gwent; caused by the death of Labour councillor Ron Jones at the age of 78 after nearly fifty years of almost continuous service as a Newport councillor.

Commercial Road, Newport
  © Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
More or less immediately to the south of Newport city centre, Pillgwenlly is Newport's docklands ward and its history and demography has been shaped by the docks.  Legend has it that the name came from the Welsh "Pwll Gwynllyw" ("St Gwynllyw's harbour), Gwynllyw originally being a pirate who was based here.  The development of the docks in Victorian times led to a large amount of immigration, first from England and Ireland, then later from all over the world: the result of this immigration is that Pillgwenlly is now one of the most ethnically diverse wards in Wales.  At the 2011 census 22% of the population were Asian and 6% Black, very high figures in a Welsh context.  Several bridges connect Pill with the eastern bank of the Usk, including the Newport Transporter Bridge, the oldest and largest of the UK's transporter bridges and a symbol of the city.

Ward affected by docks votes Labour!  There's a surprise.  In truth this ward hasn't always been safe for Labour, particularly in the 2008 election when all four of the Welsh parties polled decently here; the fourth-placed Lib Dems were only 130 votes behind the two winning Labour candidates.  The even split in the opposition allowed Labour to hold on that year, and the 2012 result shows a ward which is now very safe for the party. 

A Hallowe'en by-election is a psephological treat.  So where's the trick?  Well, dirty tricks have been provided in abundance by what proved to be a very messy Labour selection: the originally selected candidate, former miner Chris Herriot, was dropped after a video emerged on the internet in which Herriot said he'd be prepared to dance on Margaret Thatcher's grave.  The replacement Labour candidate is Omar Ali, a community worker from the local Somali population.  The Tories have reselected their usual candidate for the ward, convenience store owner Zafar "Tony" Ismail, and Plaid Cymru have followed suit in reselecting local resident and regular candidate Khalilur Rahman.  Completing the ballot paper is the Lib Dem candidate, former minister Paul Halliday who runs a computer repair business in the city.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Newport West (South West Wales region)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport and Cwmbran

Omar Ali (Lab)
Paul Haliday (LD)
Tony Ismail (C)
Khalilur Rahman (PC)

May 2012 result Lab 756/703 C 306 PC 277 LD 150/71
May 2008 result Lab 466/464 C 377/327 PC 375/346 LD 331/278
June 2004 result Lab 673/582 PC 498 Ind 294 LD 233

Monday, 14 October 2013

By-Election Preview: 17 October 2013

Six by-elections will be held on 17th October.  Five contests are covered on the English Elections blog, while Labour are on the defensive in a Port Talbot by-election with several bizarre features.

Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, West Glamorgan; caused by the death of long-serving Labour councillor Collin Crowley.  Crowley had been a councillor for more than forty years, starting in 1972 on the old Port Talbot borough council; he spent most of his working life with British Steel after serving in the Merchant Navy.

Housing estates of Aberavon
  © Copyright Jonathan Billinger and licensed for
reuse under this 
Creative Commons Licence.
You might have thought that a rather depressed council estate built on sand dunes behind the Port Talbot seafront wouldn't have many interesting features.  You'd be wrong: in fact this column could turn into an episode of Ripley's Believe it or Not if I'm not careful.

First up, we have the south-west facing Aberavon Beach, once a traditional seaside resort for the population of the Valleys.  Draw a straight line from the beach in the right direction and the first land you hit is in Brazil; with the entire Atlantic ocean to generate waves Aberavon Beach is very popular with Wales' surfers.  For swimmers of a gentler disposition there was the Afan Lido, a leisure centre on the seafront which also hosted a gym and a concert hall until it was destroyed by fire at the end of 2009; Neath Port Talbot council recently gave planning permission for a replacement.  One part of the complex which survived the fire is the home ground of the Welsh premier league football side Afan Lido FC.  Other attempts to prettify the promenade include the "Kite Trail" sculpture by Andrew Rowe, which is claimed to be the largest sculpture in Wales.

Interesting though all these things are, we should attempt to get back on topic and consider the ward itself, the housing estate behind the seafront, which was built in the 1950s to house workers at Port Talbot steelworks and their families.  The first seriously bizarre thing about the ward is its boundary: the ward has a detached part.  This detached part is a roughly circular area less than twenty metres across on land within Port Talbot Docks.  This is private land but essentially empty, with nothing today in the detached part of the ward but grass.  Old maps fail to shed any light on why this detached part exists.  With an area of 0.094 hectares (less than a quarter of an acre) this is the smallest electoral unit in the United Kingdom, or it would be if it was populated.

While the populated part of Sandfields East ward does have the strong Labour vote you might expect from a depressed estate in a place like Port Talbot, this isn't enough for Labour to sweep the board at election time due to the presence of popular and long-serving Independent councillor Lella James, who has topped the poll at every contest in this ward since the turn of the century.  Normally finishing at the other end of the ward's contests (although he did beat an independent candidate in the 2012 election) is the other seriously bizarre thing about this ward, eccentric charity fundraiser and baked bean museum curator Captain Beany ("from the Planet Beanus"), who has been appearing on the area's ballot papers for the last two decades with his one-man "New Millennium Bean Party". 

Mike Davies, defending for Labour, is probably favourite to win to the by-election.  Captain Beany, having wound up the New Millennium Bean Party, will fight his 22nd election campaign as candidate of the Port Talbot Residents Association, fresh from pushing a vacuum cleaner around the Cardiff Half-Marathon course earlier this month in a time of just over four hours; this time he appears on the ballot paper under his real name, Barry Kirk.  Also on the ballot paper are representatives of three parties who have not previously contested the ward: Richard Minshull for the Conservatives, Keith Suter for UKIP (whose record against Beany in this area is played 1, lost 1) and Daniel Thomas for Plaid.

Believe It or Not.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Aberavon
Assembly electoral region: South Wales West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Swansea Bay

Mike Davies (Lab)
Barry Kirk (Port Talbot Res Assoc)
Richard Minshull (C)
Keith Suter (UKIP)
Daniel Thomas (PC)

May 2012 result Ind 1116/622 Lab 1041/879/750 Neath Port Talbot Ind 669
May 2008 result Ind 1251 Lab 921/912/609 Neath Port Talbot Res Assoc 520/472 New Millennium Bean Party 369
June 2004 result Ind 1478 Lab 1010/900/819 New Millennium Bean Party 522