Wednesday, 30 July 2014

By-election Previews: 31 July 2014

Four by-elections are taking place this week.  Two are covered here, and the other two over on the English Elections blog.

Flintshire county council
Caused by the disqualification of independent councillor Patrick Heesom, for reasons which will be outlined below.

Duke of Lancaster
Viewers of the Open Championship at Hoylake last weekend may have noticed some TV shots over the Dee estuary to the North Wales coastline.  On that coastline is the small port of Mostyn. This was once a ferry port with regular passenger services to Dublin, but since that service ended ten years ago the port has specialised in industrial applications; the wings for new Airbus A380 aircraft are transferred to a France-bound ship here after being floated down the estuary from the Airbus factory in Broughton, while the port has also been a construction base for the windfarms which have been constructed in the Irish Sea over the last decade.  Apart from the port, the coastal strip is mainly occupied by industry (there is also a large bleach factory here, and a plan for an incinerator which has produced a predictably negative response from locals), the North Wales Coast main line and the A548 coastal road, with most of the population living up on the hillside in the villages of Mostyn and Maes Pennant.  Another maritime connection to the division is the former "fun ship" Duke of Lancaster, now laid up in dry dock at Llannerch-y-Mor at the southern end  of the division.  The fun ship's owners closed the ship (which had been used as a bar and arcade) in 2004 after having had enough of repeated long-running legal attacks from the local council.

Long-running legal cases involving the local council seems to be a theme when you examine the circumstances of Patrick Heesom's disqualification.  The original complaint was made in 2009, and the Adjudication Panel for Wales - the relevant tribunal - found that Heesom had bullied, harassed and intimidated three council officers.  The disqualification was made in July 2013 for a period of two-and-a-half years, but the by-election couldn't be held before now because Heesom appealed to the High Court to try to get the decision overturned.  The High Court upheld the Panel's decision but did reduce his suspension to eighteen months.  The extended legal process means that this seat has now been vacant for more than a year.

Heesom had represented Mostyn since 1996, was a former leader of Flintshire council's independent group, and was last re-elected in 2012 - after the bullying and harassment claims became public knowledge - by a 2-to-1 margin over Labour.  All previous contests in the division this century have been straight fights between Heesom and Labour, so there is little information that can be gleaned from previous election results.

With Heesom now definitely out of the picture we can finally get the by-election underway.  David Roney is the new independent candidate; he is a Mostyn community councillor and spokesman for the anti-incinerator campaign group.  The Labour candidate is Pam Banks, from Ffynnongroyw just up the coast.  Also standing are Richard Pendlebury, a software engineer from Flint, for the Conservatives, and building manager Liz Soutter who is the UKIP candidate.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Delyn
Assembly electoral region: North Wales
ONS Travel to Work Area: Chester and Flint

Pam Banks (Lab)
Richard Pendlebury (C)
David Roney (Ind)
Liz Soutter (UKIP)

May 2012 result Ind 385 Lab 188
May 2008 result Ind 487 Lab 157
June 2004 result Ind 443 Lab 370

Merthyr Tydfil county borough council
Caused by the death of UKIP councillor Neil 'Jock' Greer at the age of 66.  Greer had been a Merthyr councillor since 2008, originally being elected as an independent before joining UKIP in 2009.

Remains of Penydarren Tramway
This tract of housing in the north-east of Merthyr Tydfil has an interesting history.  There was a first-century Roman fort at Penydarren, but the division itself is famous for the Penydarren Ironworks, one of the factories which made Merthyr into a powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution.  Always ready to try new ideas, the ironworks' owner commissioned Richard Trevithick to build what became one of the world's first steam locomotives; in 1804 "Penydarren" successfully hauled ten tons of iron almost ten miles to Abercynon.  Penydarren House, the home of the ironworks' owners, was the main Government stronghold during the Merthyr Rising.  The works started to redeveloped for housing in the late nineteenth century and Penydarren became Merthyr's "premier middle-class suburb", if it is possible for such a thing to exist in one of the UK's most depressed post-industrial towns.

Nonetheless it is possible to see this middle-class heritage in Penydarren's election results.  Labour have a lock on parliamentary elections in Merthyr, but this dominance doesn't necessarily translate to the local level in which there is a large amount of support for independent candidates; at Labour's low point in 2008 they held just eight of the 33 seats on Merthyr council and topped the poll in only one of the town's eleven divisions.  In 2004 Penydarren returned two independents and one councillor from the now-defunct group People Before Politics, one of whose unsuccessful candidates was Neil Greer.  Greer won election in 2008 as an independent candidate, as stated, with all three seats in that election going to independents.  At the most recent election in 2012 one of the independent councillors (Christopher Davies) stood down, Allan 'Salty' Jones stood for re-election and topped the poll, and Greer was re-elected under his new UKIP colours; Labour gained the division's third seat.

There is no new UKIP candidate to defend Greer's seat, which is therefore up for grabs.  There are two independent candidates on the ballot paper: Clive Barsi was elected as the People Before Politics councillor here in 2004, lost his seat in 2008 and tried unsuccessfully to get it back in 2012, while Kerry Baker Thomas is involved with a local autism support group.  Labour have selected John McCarthy who fought the division in 2012.  The Lib Dems and Tories have also found candidates; they are Robert Griffin and Kimberley Murphy respectively.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney
Assembly electoral region: South Wales East
ONS Travel to Work Area: Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare

Kerry Baker Thomas (Ind)
Clive Barsi (Ind)
Robert Griffin (LD)
John McCarthy (Lab)
Kimberley Murphy (C)

May 2012 result Ind 656/438/315/230 UKIP 588 Lab 569/435/337
May 2008 result Ind 942/715/606/551 Lab 360/345/253
June 2004 result Ind 874/599 People Before Politics 601/517/461 Lab 472/374/353

Thursday, 24 July 2014

By-election Preview: 24 July 2014

Rhondda Cynon Taf county borough council, Glamorgan
Caused by the death of the Leader of the Council, Labour councillor Anthony Christopher, at the age of 67.  Leader of the council since 2012 and councillor for Aberaman North for a quarter of a century, Christopher had been suffering from leukaemia for eleven years.

Jubilee Road, Aberaman
High up in the Cynon Valley, Aberaman lies on the western side of the valley and is the first village downstream from Aberdare.  It's a classic South Wales pit community, whose population boomed in the nineteenth century with the development of a coal-mine at Blaengwawr.

The area votes like you'd expect an ex-pit area to vote; strongly Labour.  In the three elections held here so far this century the two Labour candidates have been opposed only by a single Plaid Cymru candidate, who in all cases finished a long way behind.

There will be more choice on the ballot paper this time, although Sheryl Evans, the defending Labour candidate, will obviously start as a strong favourite.  The Plaid candidate this time is Julie Williams, a martial arts coach.  Also standing are Mia Hollsing for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Lewis Israel for the Conservatives and independent candidate Andrew Thomas, webmaster of the localist website Aberdare Online.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Cynon Valley
Assembly electoral region: South Wales Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare
Postcode district: CF44

Sheryl Evans (Lab)
Mia Hollsing (TUSC)
Lewis Israel (C)
Andrew Thomas (Ind)
Julie Williams (PC)

May 2012 result Lab 900/781 PC 396
May 2008 result Lab 1006/820 PC 521
June 2004 result Lab 1104/940 PC 454