Tuesday, 15 December 2015

By-election Preview: 16 December 2015

One by-election on Wednesday 16th December:

Conwy county borough council, North Wales
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Janet Howarth, who is now a member of the Senedd having taken over Antionette Sandbach's seat following Sandbach's election to Parliament in May.  Howarth had served on Conwy council since 2008, originally for the neighbouring Mostyn ward.

The name "Gogarth" refers to the Welsh name of the Great Orme, that huge limestone headland which dominates the North Welsh coast and the town of Llandudno.  The Great Orme has been populated for a very long time, with copper being mined here during the Bronze Age in workings that were first abandoned around 600 BC.  In mediaeval times the Bishop of Bangor had a palace on the Orme's south-west corner, although a combination of coastal erosion and Owain Glyndwr means that there isn't much of it left.  In Victorian times the town of Llandudno was created at the bottom of the Orme as a seaside resort, with a tramway (Britain's only remaining cable-hauled tramway) and now a cable car connecting the town to the summit, from which there are views as far away as the Lake District and the Isle of Man.

Beautiful as the Orme is, from a psephological perspective the interest lies in the town of Llandudno below it, of which this division is the northern part.  Here can be found part of the town centre along Mostyn Street, the West Parade, the North Parade and the Pier, together with an awful lot of hotels and guest houses.  This part of town has a decent Tory vote of around 30%, which is usually enough to win against divided opposition: not good news for Howarth the first time she fought the ward in 2004, when she was on the Lib Dem slate and came sixth.  In 2012 Tory councillor John Boyle stood down and Howarth did the chicken-run here from the neighbouring Mostyn ward, which is Labour-inclined, prompting the ward's other Tory councillor Margaret Lyon to stand as an independent: Lyon topped the poll with 31% to 27% for the Tories, 24% for Labour and 19% for Plaid Cymru.

Defending for the Tories in this interesting division is Harry Saville, who has recently graduated in International Politics from Aberystwyth and interns with Guto Bebb MP.  Mark Pavey, a heritage consultant, stands as an independent.  The Labour candidate is Llandudno town councillor Deborah Good.  Plaid's Greg Robbins will hope to improve on his sixth-placed finish last time.  Also standing is Roger Boon of the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Aberconwy
ONS Travel to Work Area: Llandudno and Colwyn Bay

May 2012 result Ind 368/212 C 317/248 Lab 279/259 PC 220 Ind 212
May 2008 result C 454/444 Lab 259 PC 248/280 Ind 216 LD 131/92 Ind 107
June 2004 reult C 380/324 Lab 313/154 Ind 296 LD 189/176 Ind 164 Lab 154 Ind 82 Ind 70

Thursday, 26 November 2015

By-election Preview: 26 November 2015

Nine by-elections on 26th November 2015, five in England, two in Wales and two in Scotland.  In Wales an independent seat in Newport is up for election, as is a Llais Gwynedd seat in the Lleyn.  Your columnist hasn't had a lot of spare time this week, so some of these entries may be slightly abbreviated.

Newport city council
Caused by the resignation of Independent councillor Noel Trigg on health grounds.  Trigg, who is 81 years old, made his name in boxing, holding both Welsh and British titles at amateur level: after National Service in the South Wales Borderers and the Welch Regiment he turned professional and held the Welsh light-heavyweight title from 1956 to 1958, finishing his career with a record of 16 wins (8 by knockout) and 9 losses.  After retiring from boxing he worked as a publican and boxing trainer before entering politics in 1990, sitting on the former Gwent county council and Newport city council.  He served as Mayor of Newport in 2008-9.

One of the themes of this column is that every so often we come across somewhere which claims to be one of the largest housing estates in Europe. This week's claimant is Bettws, a 1960s estate to the north-west of Newport.  Fifty years on from its building, Bettws remains a resolutely working-class area with high levels of unemployment.

As in many working-class wards of south Wales, this is a Labour/Independent fight.  Noel Trigg was elected at the top of the Labour slate in 2004 and had a large personal vote, but his running-mates weren't far ahead of independent candidate Susan Baker.  Baker finished fourth again in 2008, this time as top of the Lib Dem slate, but Labour increased their majority in a poll which had to be postponed to June after one of the original candidates died.  Trigg left the Labour party at the end of his mayoral term in 2009 and was re-elected in 2012 as an independent, bringing with him a running-mate (Keith Whitehead) as Labour lost two seats - the only two seats they lost in Newport that year.

In the 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner election, one of the ballot boxes for Bettws reportedly had no votes at all.  Let's hope for better in this by-election.  Two independent candidates have come forward to succeed Trigg: they are Janet Cleverly and Jason Jordan.  Glyn Jarvis, the Labour councillors who lost his seat in 2012, is trying to get it back.  Also on the ballot are Paul l'Allier of the Lib Dems, Peter Varley of the Green Party and Lewis Williams of the Tories.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Newport West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport and Cwmbran

May 2012 result Ind 840/779/534 Lab 616/594/584 Christian Party 158
June 2008 postponed poll Lab 1128/890/789 LD 586/451/408 C 331/260 PC 75/49 Ind 50/40

June 2004 result Lab 1150/754/660 Ind 539/483 C 178 LD 159 PC 156

Gwynedd council
Caused by the death at the age of 66 of Llais Gwynedd councillor Bob Wright, who had served on Gwynedd council since 2008.  A former Dwyfor district councillor (before that council's abolition in 1995) who owned a vehicle repair company, Wright received an MBE in 2008 for nearly forty years' service as a volunteer with the RNLI.  He is believed to have suffered a heart attack while on the Pwllheli lifeboat coming to the aid of a stranded yacht.

Welcome to Pwllheli, the main town and railhead of the Lleyn peninsula, a tourist and sailing centre - if the Manchester bid for the 2000 Olympic Games had gone through, this is where the sailing would have been.  The Pwllheli South ward is based on the promenade, a long, sandy and popular beach with housing mostly developed in the 1890s when the town was expanded.

Pwllheli is the birthplace of Plaid Cymru, but Plaid haven't been doing well here of late: they lost the ward in 2008 to Llais Gwynedd, an anti-Plaid localist party.  Llais held the seat at the most recent election in 2012 by 60-40 in a straight fight with Plaid.

Defending for Llais Gwynedd is tanning salon owner Peta Pollitt, who is up against Alan Williams, the Plaid councillor who lost his seat in 2008 and tried to get back in 2012.  Also on the ballot are independent candidates Michael Parry and

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Dwyfor Meirionnydd
ONS Travel to Work Area: Pwllheli

May 2012 result LlG 374 PC 252
May 2008 result LlG 369 PC 211 C 187
June 2004 result PC unopposed

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

By-elections Preview: 19 November 2015

There are seven by-elections on 19th November 2015, of which three are in Wales and four in England, covered on the English Elections blog.  In Wales there are two seats up for election in Gwynedd, with Plaid Cymru and the localist Llais Gwynedd defending one each, together with a Labour defence in Carmarthenshire.

Gwynedd county council
Caused respectively by the resignations of Plaid Cymru councillor Eddie Dogan and Llais Gwynedd councillor Llywarch Jones.  Dogan was Bangor's longest-serving local councillor, having first been elected to Bangor city council in 1972.  He had represented Dewi ward continuously since 1978, originally on the former Arfon district council.  Along the way he served twice as Mayor of Bangor, was made a Freeman of the city and was given a Bene Morente award signed by Pope John Paul II.  Originally a Labour councillor who defected to Plaid Cymru in 2005, he is retiring on health grounds.  Jones had served on Gwynedd council since 2012.

Starting with Llanaelhaearn, a small village in the north of the Lleyn peninsula.  This is a religious settlement associated with Saints Aelhaiarn and Beuno, and St Aelhaearn's well in the village was a stop on the traditional pilgrimage route to Bardsey Island; however, the presence of a Latin gravestone in the churchyard bearing the name of an Aliortus of Elmet, a pre-Anglo Saxon kingdom covering what is now the West Riding of Yorkshire, suggests that the site may have been significant before Beuno's time.

Dewi, on the other hand, is an urban ward of southern Bangor, covering the Coed Mawr area and extending along the Caernarfon Road as far as the A55 bypass.  This is generally where Bangor's out-of-town shopping is.  The main demographic feature of the ward is a large student population, reflecting that Bangor is a university city.

Eddie Dogan's successor has a lot to live up to.  Dogan had large majorities in his last three re-elections, finishing his electoral career in 2012 by beating the Labour candidate 57-35.  Plaid have nominated Gareth Roberts to replace him.  The Labour candidate is Eirian Roberts, chair of the Coed Mawr Glanadda community group.  Also standing is Andrew Joyce of the Lib Dems.

Llanaelhaearn has a more interesting electoral history.  Plaid were unopposed here in 2004, but in 2008 lost the seat to independent candidate Dafydd Roberts by six votes in a three-way marginal result.  In 2012 Roberts stood down and Llais Gwynedd, an anti-Plaid localist group, convincingly gained the seat by beating another independent candidate 50-34.  The defending Llais candidate is Wynne Thomas Issac, who is opposed by independent Eric Cullen and Plaid's Aled Wyn Jones.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Arfon
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bangor, Caernarfon and Llangefni

May 2012 result PC 254 Lab 154 LD 35
May 2008 result PC 332 Lab 124
June 2004 result Lab 364 PC 135 LD 38

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Dwyfor Meirionnydd
ONS Travel to Work Area: Pwllheli

May 2012 result Llais Gwynedd 353 Ind 238 PC 85 Ind 32
May 2008 result Ind 248 PC 242 Llais Gwynedd 179
June 2004 result PC unopposed

Carmarthenshire county council
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Keith Davies.  A retired supermarket manager, Davies had served as a county councillor since 2012 and served for three years on the council's executive board with responsibility for education and children.

For the week's final Welsh by-election we travel to Carmarthen Bay and the town of Kidwelly.  Kidwelly is an old town, and its strategic location at the mouth of the River Gwendraeth led to the building of a castle by the Normans.  The present castle was commissioned by Edward I, but the Glyndwr rebellion meant it was not completed until 1422.  Kidwelly had some brickworking and tinworking during the Industrial Revolution, but all that remains of this today is an industrial museum.  The town is connected to the outside world by the Swansea to Carmarthen railway line, on which it is a request stop.

Keith Davies (not to be confused with the Llanelli AM of the same name) was first elected in 2008, defeating the previous independent councillor Gwilym Jones.  At his last re-election in 2012 he increased his majority, polling 44% to 23% for People First (a local Plaid Cymru splinter group) and 19% for independent candidate Fran Burke-Lloyd.

Labour's candidate to hold the by-election is Ryan Thomas, a 27-year-old former deputy mayor of Kidwelly, who was recently cleared of drunkenly groping a 19-year-old woman at last year's mayor-making ceremony.  The People First candidate is Stephen Bowen, who runs a taxi and minibus company.  Two independent candidates are standing: Fran Burke-Lloyd tries again after her third-place finish, while Vivian Summers is also nominated.  Also on the ballot paper are Stephen Davies of the Conservatives and Dilwyn Jones of Plaid Cymru.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Llanelli
ONS Travel to Work Area: Carmarthen and Llandovery

May 2012 result Lab 571 People First 300 Ind 238 Ind 177
May 2008 result Lab 429 Ind 330 PC 217 Ind 163 Carmarthenshire Ratepayers Association 79 Ind 26 Ind 21
June 2004 result Ind 664 Ind 440 Lab 144

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

By-election Previews: 12 November 2015

Four local by-elections taking place this week - two covered here and another two covered over on the English Elections blog.

Conwy county borough council, Clwyd
Caused by the resignation of Plaid Cymru councillor Mike Rayner.

Of this week's two Welsh by-elections, one is in the north and one in the south.  We start with the northern one, which covers some beautiful countryside on the eastern side of the Conwy valley.  Eglwysbach, Llanddoged and Tal-y-cafn are the main villages within the ward, but it is probably best known for the beauty spot of Bodnant Garden, a National Trust property known for its Laburnum arch and national collections of magnolia, rhododendron and other plants.

Eglwysbach has a high councillor attrition rate and this is the division's third by-election in ten years.  The division has been held by Plaid with massive majorities since the December 2005 by-election.  Mike Rayner was first elected in the November 2010 by-election, beating the Tories 73-27 in a straight fight; that was the last contested election in Eglwysbach as Rayner was unopposed at the 2012 ordinary election.

Defending for Plaid is Austin Roberts, an Eglwysbach community councillor.  He is opposed only by the Tory candidate, Colwyn Bay town councillor Hazel Meredith.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Aberconwy
ONS Travel to Work Area: Llandudno and Colwyn Bay

May 2012 result PC unopposed
Nov 2010 by-election PC 386 C 145
May 2008 result PC 591 C 80
Dec 2005 by-election PC 451 C 59 LD 47
June 2004 result Ind 562 Lab 150

Bridgend county borough council, Glamorgan
Caused by the resignation of Independent councillor Della Hughes.

Moving to south Wales, and we are in the Valleys - specifically, the Ogmore valley, which runs southwards to Bridgend and the Bristol Channel.  Ogmore Vale is the second highest of the wards in the valley, and is based on the coalmining village of the same name.  Almost entirely developed since the coming of the railway in 1865, Ogmore Vale and the neighbouring Wyndham are classic coalmining villages which have suffered badly from the closure of Wyndham Colliery in 1983.

Unusually for a coalmining division, Ogmore Vale has had some close results and no councillor here has been re-elected this century.  The division was narrowly won by Plaid in the 2004 election, with a majority of 23 votes of Labour; but Plaid's councillor lost his seat to Labour very convincingly in 2008.  Labour's councillor went on in turn to lose to Della Hughes in 2012 by a majority of 91 votes (55% to 45%).

This by-election has attracted a field of five candidates.  Defending for the independents is Ralph Shepherd, the Labour councillor for this division from 2008 to 2012.  The official Labour candidate is Dhanisha Patel, a legal assistant who according to her LinkedIn works in London. Also standing are Sally Hyde for UKIP, Tim Thomas for Plaid and Jamie Wallis for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Ogmore
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bridgend

May 2012 result Ind 505 Lab 414
May 2008 result Lab 724 PC 268
June 2004 result PC 423 Lab 400

Thursday, 8 October 2015

By-election Preview: 7 October 2015

Cardiff city council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Cecilia Love.  Love, whose resignation came for a combination of family reasons and poor attendance at council meetings, had served as a councillor since 2012.

There's a lot of rugby on at the moment, and Wales have been doing very well in the present World Cup.  They do have the advantage (like, er, England) of playing some of their games in their home venue, the large Millennium Stadium on the banks of the River Taff.  The Riverside division is the other side of the river from the Millennium Stadium, with much of the actual riverside forming the park of Sophia Gardens, home to Glamorgan cricket club's Test ground, the SSE SWALEC Stadium.  This is an interesting mix of areas.  At the northern end is Pontcanna, a leafy area favoured by the Welsh arts and media establishment (the so-called "crachach") which once hosted TV studios for HTV and S4C.  At the southern end is Riverside proper, an ethnic enclave with large Bangladeshi and Chinese populations - Love herself was a single mum from a Far Eastern background.

The England cricket team played a Test match at Sophia Gardens here in July, in which Joe Root was the star of an unexpectedly one-sided first Ashes test.  Like England cricket, this column seems to be returning to Riverside division on a very frequent basis, for the councillor attrition rate is high: this is the division's third by-election in five years.  This division is a Labour versus Plaid battle: the three seats split 2-1 in Plaid's favour in 2004 and Plaid gained the Labour seat in 2008, but since then the tide has turned: the March 2011 by-election was a big win for Labour, and they followed up by easily gaining the two remaining Plaid seats in 2012.  The most recent by-election, held in December 2013, saw Labour win with 50% and Plaid second on 35%, almost no swing since 2012.  To add to the division's interesting features, the number of votes was unusually low in 2008 and there was speculation at the time that the counting team might have missed a ballot box.  Even more interest can be added by noting that the ruling Labour group on Cardiff city council is in a state of civil war, and the council leader won re-election this year by just one vote - Love's vote.  There could be some interesting consequences from this by-election.

Defending for Labour is Caro Wild, a former rugby league coach who is now a campaigner on cycling and discrimination.  His main opposition will come from Ruksana Begum of Plaid, who are on a bit of a high in Cardiff after nearly winning the most recent city by-election in an even more crachach division than this one; however, that was in a commuter village, the opponent was the Tories and the Plaid candidate there had some name recognition as Dafydd Wigley's son.  Also on the ballot are Sean Driscoll for the Tories, Gareth Bennett for UKIP, Steffan Bateman for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, former Only Connect contestant Gwilym Owen for the Liberal Democrats and Hannah Pudner of the Green Party.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Cardiff West
Assembly electoral region: South Wales Central
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cardiff

Dec 2013 by-election Lab 1120 PC 773 C 107 UKIP 97 TUSC 70 LD 58
May 2012 result Lab 1731/1555/1431 PC 1153/944/940 Grn 294/272/189 C 286/276/263 LD 142/129/122 TUSC 99
March 2011 by-election Lab 1700 PC 1099 C 369 Grn 277 LD 187
May 2008 result PC 1064/1064/991 Lab 786/743/707 C 295/209/206 LD 280/250/235
June 2004 result PC 1448/1408/1248 Lab 1280/1135/1092 LD 693/658/561 Grn 605 C 465

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

By-election Preview: 3 September 2015

Caerphilly county borough council
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Ray Davies at the age of 85.  A former miner and steelworker, Davies had been a Labour councillor in Bedwas for over 50 years, starting his political career in 1964 on the old Bedwas and Machen Urban District Council.  Throughout his career he was a left-wing firebrand: a colourful campaigner for nuclear disarmament and the Palestinian cause, he was once shot while escorting ambulances into a Palestinian refugee camp.  Away from politics he was an enthusiast for the Welsh language and male voice choirs, being a proud member of Cor Cochion Caerdydd, the Cardiff Red Choir.

We're deep in the Valleys of south Wales here, in a ward which covers three communities running west to east along the Rhymney Valley.  Starting in the west, Bedwas is now effectively a Caerphilly suburb, while Trethomas is a twentieth-century village built by and named after William James Thomas, co-owner of the Bedwas Navigation Colliery which was completed in 1913 and effectively called both Bedwas and Trethomas into existence.  The colliery and associated British Benzol works, which processed coal into benzene and other hydrocarbons, were the mainstay of the ward's economy right up to the Miners' Strike of the mid-1980s, after which the colliery never reopened.  The site has never been redeveloped and remains a blot on the landscape.

Further down the Rhymney valley towards Newport is Machen, the ward's most easterly village.  Machen's economy was more diverse, with some ironworking and a still-operating large quarry.  A disproportionate number of high-ranking politicians have come from the village: one Alf Morgans, who in 1901 was briefly premier of Western Australia, was born here in 1850, but in terms of lasting impact he is eclipsed by the architect of Welsh devolution and noted badger-fancier Ron Davies, who was born here in 1946 and started his political career in 1969 on Bedwas and Machen UDC, becoming council leader the following year at the age of just 24.  Upon local government reorganisation Ron Davies became leader of the successor Rhymney Valley district council, and in 1983 he was elected to Parliament as Labour MP for Caerphily.

With this proud Labour heritage it's slightly surprising to look into the previous election results for this four-seat ward and find that Labour don't have a lock on local elections in the area.  The reason, as so often in coalfield wards, is the strength of independent candidates.  In the 2004 election one of the ward's three seats went to an independent, and at Labour's low point in 2008 they won just two of the four seats available, with Ron Davies - by now having fallen out with Labour following the Iraq War and his effective deselection for the 2003 Assembly election - topping the poll as an independent candidate.  Ron Davies supported the Plaid Cymru administration that took over in Caerphilly from the 2008 election, and served as cabinet member for regeneration; he stood for re-election in 2012 as a Plaid candidate, but lost badly as Labour surged to take all four seats in the ward.  The other defending independent did even worse, finishing eighth out of thirteen candidates.  On the Labour side, Davies topped the poll in 2012 with a huge personal vote and there is also a personal vote for his ward colleague Liz Aldworth, who polled the most votes here in 2004.

Labour have gone for youth in selecting Lisa Jones, from Bedwas, who is a community councillor for the ward.  Ron Davies is trying to get his seat back for Plaid.  Two independent candidates are on the ballot: Machen-based Ray Davies (not the same Ray Davies, though) and John Dew from Bedwas.  Rita Lukins is the ward's first Tory candidate this century, and UKIP have also entered the fray in the shape of Bobby Douglas, from Trethomas.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Caerphilly
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport and Cwmbran
Postcode district: CF83

May 2012 result Lab 1854/1574/1282/1181 PC 664/258 Ind 508/484/438/409/389/378/254
May 2008 result Ind 1702/1400 Lab 1243/1164/1017/875 PC 873
June 2004 result Lab 1594/1477/1424/1127 Ind 1394 Forward Wales 788 PC 713/607

Thursday, 13 August 2015

By-election Previews: 13 August 2015

Six by-elections this week in an unusually busy August, with two each in England, Wales and Scotland.  One of the Welsh and both the Scottish polls are caused by newly-elected MPs resigning their council seats.

Powys county council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Christopher Davies, who is now the Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnorshire.

"A wild rainy night. They are holding Clyro Feast Ball at the Swan opposite. As I write I hear the scraping and squealing of the fiddle and the ceaseless heavy tramp of the dancers as they stamp the floor in a country dance. An occasional blast of wind or rush of wind shakes my window. Toby sits before the fire on the hearthrug and now and then jumps up on my knee to be stroked. The mice scurry rattling along the wainscot and Toby darts off in great excitement to listen and watch for them."

That was the curate of the Radnorshire village of Clyro, the well-known diarist Francis Kilvert, being annoyed by festivities at the pub opposite his house during the early 1870s.  The Swan is now known as the Baskerville Arms, and your columnist can recommend it for a good night's stay in the Marches: a brisk 20-minute walk to the south-east will bring you over the River Wye to Hay-on-Wye, the second-hand booklover's Mecca and also the largest town for miles in any direction; while Clyro, just outside the Brecon Beacons National Park, is located in some spectacular walking country.

The Glasbury division covers a large area of a surprisingly remote part of the Marches.  The division is rather misnamed, in that while Glasbury-on-Wye is the largest centre of population this division only contains the Radnorshire half of the village; a rather better name would have been Painscastle, as despite having comfortably under 2,000 electors the division has the same boundaries as the former Painscastle rural district of Radnorshire, which was abolished in 1974.  Painscastle itself is a village in the north of the division built around a Norman castle which saw much action during the wars between the Normans and Welsh.  In modern times the division's population is relatively old, with high numbers of households living rent-free and almost 28% of the adult population being self-employed, one of the highest figures in England and Wales.

That self-employment figure reflects the division's remoteness from large towns.  Despite the area's historic location within Radnorshire, the main service centre for the area is Brecon while, just to confuse matters, Clyro gets its post from Hereford (over twenty miles away) and so has an English postcode.  Local election results in rural Wales tend to be just as confusing to the by-election pundit, as electorates are small, personalities matter and polls are often uncontested.  Such was the case here in 2004 and 2008 when Margaret Morris was elected as independent councillor for Glasbury without opposition.  She lost her seat in 2012 to the Tory candidate Christopher Davies by 51% to 30%.

Defending for the Conservatives is James Evans, who gives an address in the hamlet of Rhosgoch near Painscastle; he works for Davies as his communications officer.  The other three candidates all give addresses in Clyro.  Independent candidate David Hood JP, a Clyro community councillor and husband of the local postmistress, stands again after coming third here in 2012 with 18%.  Louise Davies, who runs a shop in Hay-on-Wye selling fairtrade items, stands for the Green Party.

Completing the ballot paper is the division's first Liberal Democrat candidate this century, James Gibson-Watt.  Gibson-Watt is a former Mayor of Hay-on-Wye and until losing his seat in 2008 was county councillor for Hay.  His family connections deserve a paragraph of their own.  He is a nephew of the former Conservative MP David Gibson-Watt, who won the Hereford by-election in 1956 and served as MP for Hereford until October 1974, later entering the House of Lords as Lord Gibson-Watt; a sometime father-in-law to the future Labour Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, David's parliamentary career included two spells as a junior minister (at the Treasury under Macmillan and in the Welsh Office under Heath), while before entering politics he had served with distinction in the Welsh Guards in North Africa and Italy, winning an MC and two bars.  James is also a grandson of the former Eton cricket captain, head of the World War Two Special Operations Executive, director of the Bank of England and Great Western Railway and chairman of Hambro's Bank Sir Charles Hambro.  Not only that, James Gibson-Watt comes from a family which once owned much of Radnorshire; his father Andrew Gibson-Watt, his grandfather James Miller Gibson-Watt and his great-grandfather James Watt Gibson-Watt all served as High Sheriffs of Radnorshire or (in Andrew's case) of Powys; while his great-great-great-grandfather is none other than James Watt himself.  An interesting pedigree to round off an interesting by-election.

Parliamentary constituency: Brecon and Radnorshire
ONS Travel to Work Area: Brecon
Postcode districts: HR3, LD2, LD3

May 2012 result C 502 Ind 299 Ind 180
May 2008 result Ind unopposed
June 2004 result Ind unopposed

Caerphilly county borough council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Michael Gray on health grounds.  First elected in 1985, Gray was the last mayor of the old Islwyn council and served as mayor of Caerphilly in 2013/4.

The village of Cross Keys is a classic Welsh valleys mining village, located about seven miles north-west of Newport at the confluence of the Rivers Ebbw and Sirhowy.  The village has recently been reconnected to the outside world with the reopening of Crosskeys railway station, with hourly trains to Ebbw Vale and Cardiff.  The division also includes the village of Pontywaun, the next village to the north along the Ebbw valley.

There's not much to see here in terms of previous results: Gray had thirty years continuous' service as councillor for the village and there is nothing to indicate that Labour won't hold the seat very easily.  At the most recent election in 2012 Labour had 55% here, with an independent candidate coming in second on 28%.

The defending Labour candidate is Julan Simmonds of Cross Keys, a governor at the local Waunfawr Primary School; he is opposed by the regular local Plaid candidate, Pontywaun resident Christopher Cook, and by the division's first UKIP candidate, Joe Smyth.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Islwyn
ONS Travel to Work Area: Newport and Cwmbran
Postcode district: NP11

May 2012 result Lab 543 Ind 281 PC 126 C 39
May 2008 result Lab 531 PC 291 C 125 Ind 115
June 2004 result Lab 749 PC 195 C 108

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

By-election Preview: 23 July 2015

Five by-elections on 23rd July 2015, four covered over on English Elections, and the remaining one here.

Caerphilly county borough council
Caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Gerald Jones, who is now the MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.

There's not a lot to say about New Tredegar really: it's an ex-pit village deep in the Rhymney Valley, with everything that implies.  Almost uniformly British, 42% of the adult population have no qualifications, and there are high levels of unemployment, long-term sickness and routine occupations.  The division includes all of the village together with other hamlets in the valley which are part of the New Tredegar community, such as Brithdir.  The ward is linked to Cardiff by Brithdir and Tir-Phil railway stations on the Rhymney Valley line.

Labour have not been seriously challenged in this ward in the last few elections, and in 2012 the two Labour councillors were opposed only by a single Independent candidate who lost by 73% to 27%.  The ward's other Labour councillor died shortly afterwards, and Labour did even better in the resulting by-election, polling 85% against opposition from Plaid (12%) and the Tories.

This second by-election in New Tredegar in the 2012-2016 term is defended for Labour by Mark Evans.  He is opposed by Robert Lea for the Tories and Ian Gorman for UKIP.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

Oct 2012 by-election Lab 692 PC 95 C 24
May 2012 result Lab 965/744 Ind 362
May 2008 result Lab 930/804 PC 325/310
June 2004 result Lab 1083/928 PC 326

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

By-election Preview: 16 July 2015

Apologies for the lack of an article last week - your regular writer was unfortunately unwell, and your editor was too busy settling into his new day job to stand in.  One of these days I might actually clear my to-do list...

Eight by-elections on 16th July 2015, six in England and two in Wales:

Denbighshire county council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor James Davies, who is now MP for the Vale of Clwyd after gaining the seat from Labour in May's general election.

Welcome to Sunny Prestatyn, a minor seaside resort on the North Wales coast.  The home town of Carol Vorderman and John Prescott, Prestatyn marks the north end of the Clwydian hills and the Offa's Dyke Path, and its wide sandy beach has good views of the North Hoyle offshore wind farm.  The Prestatyn East division includes the eastern end of the town and the Pontin's holiday camp, once the venue for qualification rounds for the major snooker tournaments.

The voters of Prestatyn East prefer the blue in their break-building; at the last election in 2012 the Conservatives had 42% of the vote to 29% for Labour and 26% for an independent slate.  The Tories have selected William Davies.  Carol Holliday stands for Labour.  There are two competing independent candidates, Gary Bourne ("Prestatyn Independent") and former Prestatyn town councillor Mike German.  Scott Brown, the ward's first Lib Dem candidate this century, completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Vale of Clwyd
ONS Travel to Work Area: Rhyl and Denbigh

May 2012 result C 524/463 Lab 364/341 Ind 322/300 Grn 50
May 2008 result C 847/739 Lab 320
June 2004 result C 620/564 PC 303 Ind 294 Lab 264 Ind 185 PC 141

Wrexham county borough council
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Malcolm Taylor.

A few miles north of Wrexham, Llay is a pit village mostly dating from the twentieth century.  Llay Main Colliery was at one time Wales' largest colliery and, when it closed in 1966, was the deepest pit in the UK.  While the mine has long gone, there is still industry in the area, including a Sharp Electronics factory which until 2013 manufactured solar panels.  Both Welsh by-elections this week have a snooker connection: Llay's snooker connection is that Dennis Taylor now lives here.

Llay's local politics is, like snooker, a contest between the white (Independent) and the reds (Labour) - a pattern common to many ex-coalmining areas.  The independents were on top here in 2004 and 2008; Malcolm Taylor was elected for the division in 2012 after losing in 2004 by 54 votes and in 2008 by just five votes.  In 2012 the Labour slate defeated the two independent councillors 65-35.

Defending for Labour is Pete Evans.  There are two independent candidates, David Dodd (who stood here in 2008) and David Broderick.  Also standing are Jeanette Bassford-Barton for UKIP, Emlyn Phennah for the Tories and Rob Walsh for the Lib Dems.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Wrexham
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wrexham and Whitchurch

May 2012 result Lab 825/702 Ind 450/340
May 2008 result Ind 748/563/391 Lab 558/146

June 2004 result Ind 757/611 Lab 557/472

By-election Preview: 30 June 2015

One by-election on Tuesday 30th June:

Cardiff city council
Caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Craig Williams, who is now MP for Cardiff North.  He had served on Cardiff city council since winning a 2008 by-election.

This division is a rural area, covering the villages of Pentyrch and Gwaelod-y-Garth and part of Taff's Well to the north-west of Cardiff.  The division lies on the slopes of Garth Hill, thought to the inspiration for the book "The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain", which gives good views of the city of Cardiff and the Bristol Channel.  Taff's Well is named after a hot spring, the only spa in Wales, but its traditional industry was ironworking.  Pentyrch division was annexed by Cardiff in 1996 and, according to the 2011 census, has Cardiff's largest proportion of Welsh speakers.

In 2004 Pentyrch was a three-way marginal, with Labour topping the poll on 35%, four points ahead of the Conservatives who were themselves five points ahead of Plaid.  The Conservatives gained the division from Labour in 2008 with a majority of 49 votes, but their new councillor Simon Roberts had to resign almost immediately on health grounds.  Craig Williams held the by-election in July 2008 with a majority of 12 votes, and made his seat safe in 2012 with a 54%-29% win over Labour, the Plaid score dropping to 12%.

The defending Conservative candidate is Gavin Hill John, who is campaigning against the planned reopening of Creigiau quarry nearby.  Labour have selected Paul Fisher, a barrister.  Plaid's candidate is local businessman Hywel Wigley, Ruth Osner stands for the Greens, Cadan ap Tomos for the Lib Dems and Munawar Mughal is an independent candidate.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Cardiff West
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cardiff

May 2012 result C 772 Lab 413 PC 171 Grn 40 LD 22
July 2008 by-election C 554 Lab 542 PC 129 LD 97
May 2008 result C 478 Lab 429 PC 275 LD 110 Ind 99
June 2004 result Lab 482 C 421 PC 358 LD 134

Thursday, 2 April 2015

By-election Preview: 2 April 2015

The General Election is imminent: Parliament is dissolved, the televised debates are under way, and for most of the country the political parties have bigger fish to fry this April than local by-elections.  Nonetheless, three contests have been scheduled for April, the first two of which are this week: both slightly unusual in that one is a Wednesday poll, while the other falls on Maundy Thursday - it's only a few years since electoral law prohibited polling on the Thursday before Easter.  The Thursday poll is in Gwynedd, while on Wednesday a trip to the very southern edge of London awaits us, covered over on English Elections.

As there aren't many by-elections this month, your columnist intends to fill the gap by turning his gaze to the national picture, and putting together a prediction for the general election which you can all laugh at.  Stay tuned.

By-election on 2nd April 2015:

Gwynedd county council
Caused by the death of Plaid Cymru councillor Huw Edwards.  A Gwynedd councillor since 2005 and chairman of the council in 2013, Edwards served three times as Mayor of Caernarfon and spent over 30 years in the Caernarfon Male Voice Chior.

Cae Mur, Caernarfon
This division covers the bits of Caernarfon the tourists don't normally see: it's a residential area in the east of the town, between the Bethel Road and the Llanberis Road, together with a small part of the town centre.  Caernarfon is a bastion of the Welsh language, and the 2011 census found that 86% of the population of Cadnant division were Welsh speakers - one of the highest figures in the whole of Wales.  Other parts of the census figures for the division paint a working-class picture, with relatively high levels of social renting and long-term sickness.

Edwards had been the councillor here since winning a by-election just before Christmas 2005: he had also stood in the 2004 ordinary election as an independent, finishing second.  At his final re-election in 2012 Edwards won 60-40 in a straight fight with Labour.

Defending for Plaid Cymru is Glyn Tomos, who works for the Welsh-language local newspaper Papur Dre.  He is not to be confused with Glyn Thomas, the Labour candidate who fought the division in 2012 and represents the division on Caernarfon town council.  Maria Sarnacki, who finished second to Plaid in a town council by-election here last year, is standing as an independent candidate; Jason Parry, a barber, represents the anti-Plaid regionalist party Llais Gwynedd; and the ballot paper is completed by the Conservatives' David Hibbert, who gives an address in Bangor and is presumably therefore a paper candidate.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Arfon
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bangor, Caernarfon and Llangefni

David Hibbert (C)
Jason Parry (LlG)
Maria Sarnacki (Ind)
Glyn Thomas (Lab)
Glyn Tomos (PC)

May 2012 result PC 397 Lab 268
May 2008 result PC 424 C 120 Lab 118
Dec 2005 by-election PC 250 Lab 155 Ind 80 Ind 51 Ind 32
June 2004 result Ind 427 Ind 260 Lab 79 Ind 73

Friday, 27 March 2015

By-election Preview: 26 March 2015

Five by-elections on 26th March 2015, four in Scotland and one in Wales:

Vale of Glamorgan county borough council
Caused by the death of councillor Keith Geary who represented the Llantwit First Independents.

Llantwit Major
The third largest town in the Vale (after Barry and Penarth), Llantwit Major is an old town going back into antiquity: there was an Iron Age fort close to the modern beach, the Romans were here, and in the late fourth century the Emperor Theodosius I established a college here: the first known school established in Great Britain, it was named after the Emperor as "Cor Tewdws".  Many well-known Celtic saints attended the college, including St David himself.  As it was attached to a monastery, the school closed as part of the Dissolution; but the town around it survived at essentially the same size until growing substantially after the Second World War, thanks to the development of the large airfield of RAF St Athan just to the east of the town.  The future of the airfield is now uncertain following the withdrawal of the RAF and the cancellation by the Coalition of a plan into a major defence training academy: the current Welsh Governemnt plan is to turn it into a civilian airfield.  One new development which has gone ahead is the reopening of the town's railway station in 2005, with hourly trains to Bridgend and Cardiff.

Together with the neighbouring communities of Llan-maes and St Donats, Llantwit Major forms a four-seat division on the Vale of Glamorgan council.  Those four seats are currently held by a localist slate called the Llantwit First Independents, although in the 2004 and 2008 elections the Tories had one of the seats.  At the most recent election in 2012 the Llantwit First Independents polled 56% of the vote, to 22% for the Tories and 15% for Labour.  Lovers of comical names will appreciate the woman at the bottom of the Conservative slate in the 2004 election: Vera Way.

Defending for the Llantwit First Independents is the serving Mayor of Llantwit Major, Mick Mason, a former serviceman who was posted to St Athan in 1974 and stayed in the area upon retiring from the Forces in 1981.  The Tory and Labour candidates, Tony Bennett and Jack Hawkins respectively, will both be looking for good performances ahead of the general election in May, in which the Vale of Glamorgan will be a key marginal.  Completing the ballot paper is Plaid's Wynford Bellin.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Vale of Glamorgan (South Wales Central region)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Bridgend

Wynford Bellin (PC)
Tony Bennett (C)
Jack Hawkins (Lab)
Mick Mason (Llantwit First Ind)

May 2012 result Llantwit First Ind 2068/1603/1490/1327 C 813/759/544/536 Lab 541/502/471/411 PC 269
May 2008 result Llantwit First Ind 1894/1748/1470/1164 C 1291/1127/901/871 Lab 438/400/348/298 PC 270 Ind 262
June 2004 result Ind 1879/1371/1360/957 C 1146/988/744/671 Lab 783/741/706 PC 437

Monday, 23 March 2015

By-election Preview: 19 March 2015

One by-election on 19th March 2015:

Denbighshire county council
Caused by the death of Labour councillor Margaret McCarroll at the age of 80.  A supporter of many voluntary organisations, McCarroll had owned a furniture business for many years and twice served as Mayor of Rhyl; she was in her first term on the county council.

Frederick Street, Rhyl
Obvious name alert: this division covers south-western Rhyl, a generally residential area south of the railway line, running from Rhyl railway station to the banks of the Clwyd estuary.  The census paints a picture of a very working-class division, with high levels of social renting, no qualifications, unemployment, sickness and routine occupations: the sort of things which often come up in depressed seaside towns, and Rhyl, whose economy is based on tourism and its beach, most certainly fits that definition.  The North Wales Daily Post reported this week that Rhyl station - on the division's northern boundary - is one of the most violent in Britain, although this may be more of a statistical freak with only twelve such incidents reported there in 2013-14.  At the eastern end of the ward is the Corbett Sports Stadium, home of the Welsh Premier League side Rhyl FC.

Perhaps not surprisingly this is a very safe Labour division.  Not even the deselection of the division's two Labour councillors for the 2012 election could make any dent in the Labour majority: in that election the official Labour slate polled 68%, while the two outgoing Labour councillors stood as an independent slate and came in second with 16%.  The division lies within the Vale of Clwyd constituency, which is a Labour-held marginal at Parliamentary level and safe Labour in the Welsh Assembly.

Defending for Labour is Rhyl town councillor Pete Prendergast.  He will face opposition from independent candidate Diana Hannam, a former Mayor of Rhyl who stood as a Tory candidate in the 2012 elections; the official Tory candidate Melanie Jones; David Dear of the Lib Dems, who stood here in 2012 and polled 6%; and David Wilmot who is the division's first Plaid candidate this century.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Vale of Clwyd
ONS Travel to Work Area: Rhyl and Denbigh

David Dear (LD)
Diana Hannam (Ind)
Melanie Jones (C)
Pete Prendergast (Lab)
David Wilmot (PC)

May 2012 result Lab 797/647 Ind 184/141 C 116/96 LD 71
May 2008 result Lab 587/532 C 267/266 BNP 138
June 2004 result Lab 599/563 Ind 355

Monday, 16 February 2015

By-election Preview: 19 February 2015

Carmarthenshire county council
Caused by the death of Labour councillor George Edwards at the age of 68.  A Carmarthenshire councillor since 2012, Edwards was known for his community work; his death was announced on the opening day of Ysgol Ffrwnes, a new school in the division which he had championed.  Before becoming a councillor Edwards had a varied life, having worked as an apprentice toolmaker, fitter and club steward.

Pwll Post Office
This is a rather misnamed division: immediately to the north-west of Llanelli, this is a rural area full of hamlets.  Hengoed is not of them: the Hengoed-fawr and Hengoed-fach hamlets lie within the neighbouring division of Felinfoel.  Such is life.  Actually within the division are the Furnace area on the outskirts of Llanelli, the village of Pwll on the road towards Burry Port, together with the site of one of the most famous venues in Welsh sport: the now-demolished Stradey Park, formerly the home of Llanelli Scarlets.  Every Welshman of a certain age will claim to have been in Stradey Park on the night that Llanelli beat the All Blacks.

This division has generally been typical of the Llanelli constituency as a whole, in that it is a key fight between Labour and Plaid Cymru.  The two parties split the ward's two seats in 2004 although that was partly due to Labour only fielding one candidate.  Plaid surged into first place in 2008, but then appear to have got into difficulties: one of the Plaid councillors, Sian Caiach, walked off to join the localist group People First, and was re-elected in 2012 under her new colours.  Labour gained the ward's other seat in what was a close three-way marginal: the votes in 2012 were 28% each for Labour and People First, 26% for Plaid and 18% for independent candidates.

This by-election will be a family affair.  Defending for Labour is George Edwards' widow Penny, from Pwll, while People First have selected George's nephew Wynford Samuel.  Samuel lives on Sandy Road, as does Plaid's candidate Martin Davies who represents the ward on Llanelli Rural community council.  Former Labour county councillor Edward Skinner is standing as an independent.  Also on the ballot paper are the Tories' Martin Davies and UKIP's Bramwell Richards.

Parliamentary and Assembly constituency: Llanelli
ONS Travel to Work Area: Swansea Bay
Postcode districts: SA15, SA16 (one postcode)

Martin Davies (PC)
Stephen Davies (C)
Penny Edwards (Lab)
Bramwell Richards (UKIP)
Wynford Samuel (People First)
Edward Skinner (Ind)

May 2012 result Lab 338/253 People First 337/261 PC 315/271 Ind 213/89
May 2008 result PC 628/516 Lab 359/334 Ind 270/217
June 2004 result Lab 432 PC 398/359 Ind 271 C 157/127