Wednesday, 29 October 2014

By-election Preview: 30 October 2014

As well as the by-election below, there are five other by-elections taking place this week.  The Police and Crime Commissioner by-election in South Yorkshire along with three other local by-elections are covered over on the English Elections Blog, while one more local by-election is featured on the Scottish Elections blog.

Neath Port Talbot county borough council, Glamorgan
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Mike Davies.  Davies had been a councillor for less than a year, having been elected at a by-election in Octoer 2013.

Housing Estates of Aberavon
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; a replacement is under construction.  One part of the complex which survived the fire is the home ground of the football side Afan Lido FC, who were relegated from the Welsh Premier League last season.  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 ordinary election 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, originally with his one-man "New Millennium Bean Party", then going serious as the candidate of the Neath Port Talbot Residents Association.  In that role Beany - under his real name of Barry Kirk - finished as
 runner-up in last year's by-election, although a wider opposition field meant his percentage score was much reduced.

This time the defending Labour candidate is Matthew Crowley, the son of former Labour councillor Collin Crowley whose death caused last year's by-election.  He faces opposition from two candidates who also appeared in last year's by-election: Keith Suter of UKIP, who must be relieved that Beany isn't here to beat him for a third time, and the Tories' Richard Minshull.

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)

Oct 2013 by-election Lab 718 Neath Port Talbot Res Assoc 222 UKIP 154 PC 69 C 40
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

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