Previewing the four council by-elections of 16th February 2023 (2023)

All the right votes, but not necessarily in the right order

Before we start this week, a word needs to be said about last week’s Preview for the Masham and Fountains division of North Yorkshire county council. The Masham and Fountains division where the by-election took place last week was not the Masham and Fountains division which I described in the preview and which appears on the Ordnance Survey’s Election Maps website and Boundary Line product. The map I showed you last week was of the previous Masham and Fountains division before last year’s boundary changes. The current division does not include Dishforth as I stated; it instead runs south past the west side of Ripon, to take in the whole of the Fountains and Ripley ward. As such the division contains 30 parishes and sprawls right to the edge of Harrogate. My apologies for leading you astray there, and negative marks to Ordnance Survey for providing duff boundary information in North Yorkshire. That’s not good enough.

With that out of the way, there are four by-elections on 16th February 2023:

Cornwall council; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Tara Sherfield-Wong.

Previewing the four council by-elections of 16th February 2023 (1)

For the first of our four by-elections today we start in a very beautiful part of England. We’ve come to the south coast of Cornwall for a rural ward which stretches from coast to coast, covering a number of villages to the east of Penzance and the south of Hayle.

Curiously, the largest of these villages does not get a namecheck in the ward name. This is Goldsithney, located on high ground off the main road from Penzance to Helston in the parish of Perranuthnoe. The name of that parish refers to St Piran, the patron saint of Cornwall, and Perranuthnoe village has one of three Cornish churches dedicated to Piran.

The high ground on which Goldsithney lies marks the edge of the catchment area of the River Hayle, which flows towards Cornwall’s north coast through the village of St Erth. This has a railway station which has survived being named in Flanders and Swann’s Slow Train; St Erth railway station is the junction for the single-track branch line to St Ives, which makes it a busy station for interchange passengers.

For mainline trains, St Erth is the last stop before the Penzance terminus. Shortly before reaching Penzance station the railway line hits the south coast of Cornwall, goes down to a single track and passes some railway sheds on the landward side; this is Long Rock depot, where the Night Riviera sleeper trains are maintained during the day. Behind the railway depot is Penzance Heliport, which commenced operations in March 2020: this is a public heliport, with regular passenger flights to St Mary’s and Tresco on the Isles of Scilly.

Further along the coast from Long Rock is the ancient market town and artists’ bolthole of Marazion, which rather ambitiously applied for city status in the competition to mark the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee last year. Marazion used to be busy with pilgrims travelling to the offshore island of St Michael’s Mount, which is connected to Marazion by a causeway at low tide. This was once a daughter priory of that other famous tidal island of the same name on the other side of the Channel, Mont-St-Michel in Normandy. St Michael’s Mount is now a civil parish of its own and is still home to the St Aubyn family; the head of the family, the fifth Lord St Levan, chairs the parish meeting. His younger brother, Nick St Aubyn, was the Conservative MP for Guildford from 1997 to 2001. There’s no polling station on St Michael’s Mount, so its 22 electors will have to cross the water to Marazion to cast their votes in this by-election.

Previewing the four council by-elections of 16th February 2023 (2)

This ward was created in 2021 when the size of Cornwall council was drastically cut from 123 councillors to 87. It’s an expanded version of the former ward of Marazion and Perranuthnoe, which had narrowly returned Conservative councillor Sue Nicholas at the 2013 and 2017 Cornish elections: at the former election she had a majority of 67 votes over UKIP, while in 2017 she was re-elected just seven votes ahead of the Lib Dems. Long Rock and St Erth were also part of Conservative-held wards in 2017, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the new ward returned a Conservative councillor at its inaugural 2021 election.

(Video) Morning News NOW Full Broadcast - Feb. 16

Elected at the age of 24, Tara Sherfield-Wong is a bit of a rising star within the Conservative Party. She’s a busy woman, having founded organisations with the titles of “Conservative Friends of America” and “Conservative Friends of Saudi Arabia”. This clearly involves a lot of overseas travel, which included a trip to Kyiv last September for the Yalta European Strategy conference. (Yalta itself is reportedly just as nice a seaside resort as Marazion, but it’s located in Occupied Crimea, so they can’t exactly hold the conference there at the moment.)

With all that overseas travel, Sherfield-Wong was rarely seen in Cornwall. Matters came to a head when five parish councils submitted a complaint that she had been neglecting her duties in the county; Cornwall Council’s monitoring officer upheld the complaint, ruling that Sherfield-Wong had failed to act in a way that preserves public confidence. After not attending any meetings of the council since October, she resigned at the start of January citing health reasons.

Sherfield-Wong’s winning score two years ago was only 36% of the vote, so the Conservatives might well need to put some work in to hold this one. Last time round the Lib Dems were second with 23%, an independent candidate had 17% and Labour polled 12%, just ahead of the Greens. The ward is part of the St Ives parliamentary constituency, which is often the last seat to declare in general elections because of the difficulty of getting the ballot boxes off the Isles of Scilly to the count on the mainland; St Ives is a Conservative-Lib Dem marginal seat.

Defending for the Conservatives is Will Elliott, who is the deputy mayor of Penzance; he works in the constituency office of the St Ives MP Derek Thomas, and fought Penzance Promenade ward in the 2021 Cornish elections. The Lib Dem candidate is John Martin, who is a Helston town councillor, graphic designer, photographer and musician. The independent candidate from 2021 has not returned, but the Labour candidate from 2021 has: that’s Nastassia Player, who works for a small Cornish independent business and at the Tate St Ives art gallery and is chair of St Erth parish council. Completing the ballot paper is another St Erth resident, Catherine Hayes of the Green Party.

Parliamentary constituency: St Ives
ONS Travel to Work Area: Penzance
Postcode districts: TR17, TR18, TR20, TR27

Will Elliott (C‌)
Catherine Hayes (Grn)
John Martin (LD)
Nastassia Player (Lab)

May 2021 result C 874 LD 563 Ind 419 Lab 280 Grn 267
Previous results in detail

From May, you will need photo ID to vote in person at a parliamentary election in Great Britain or a local election in England. If you don’t have one of the accepted forms of photo ID, you can apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate or a postal vote from your local council elections office. Do it now and beat the rush.

For more information and to apply for a VAC or postal vote, go to

Barnet council, London; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Melvin Cohen.

Previewing the four council by-elections of 16th February 2023 (3)

Our other Conservative defence of the week couldn’t be in a more different part of the UK. We have come to Golders Green, an almost entirely built-up area of London located just within the North Circular road: the A406, which forms the present boundary of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone, is the north-western boundary of this ward.

Golders Green has been known for many years as a centre of London’s Jewish community. On its then boundaries, this ward had the third-highest Jewish population of any ward in England and Wales in the 2011 census, at 37.1%; the two higher wards were the neighbouring Garden Suburb ward, and Kersal ward in Salford. Golders Green was also in the top 20 wards in England and Wales for people employed in the property industry (4.1%) and, perhaps because of its high Jewish population, was in the top 100 wards for children aged under 16 (27.2%). This ward does not cover the centre of Golders Green, instead taking in the north-west corner of the area; the local Underground station is Brent Cross, on the Edgware branch of the Northern line.

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The local authority here is Barnet council, which voted Labour in the 2022 London borough elections for the first time ever and by quite a large margin to boot: there are 41 Barnet Labour councillors against just 22 Conservatives. Golders Green ward remains safely in the Conservative column as it has throughout this century, although boundary changes for the 2022 election removed the south-west corner of the ward to a new Cricklewood ward and cut Golders Green from three councillors to two. The Conservative ward councillors elected here in May 2022 were father and son Melvin and Dean Cohen, who defeated the Labour slate by the wide margin of 65–20. The local parliamentary seat of Finchley and Golders Green, which has been Conservative-held since 2010, is another seat where the Lib Dems finished second in 2019, although that has more to do with candidate selection as this is an area where there is no Lib Dem track record at all: the Liberal Democrat candidate here in 2019 was Luciana Berger, the former Labour/Change UK MP for Liverpool Wavertree.

Melvin Cohen passed away in December after 40 years’ service as a Conservative councillor for Golders Green, a period during which he served twice as Mayor of Barnet (in 2003–04 and again in 2013–14). Away from the council he was a solicitor, and he put that experience to good use as the council’s cabinet member for planning from 2004 to 2010. He’ll be a hard act for his successor to follow.

Defending for the Conservatives is Peter Zinkin, who is a Wykehamist like his party leader; Zinkin is a former chairman of the Golders Green Synagogue and a former Barnet councillor, who lost his seat in the neighbouring Childs Hill ward last year. The Labour candidate is Sue Waller who stood in this ward last year; she is described as an experienced housing professional and is a member of the Jewish Labour Movement. Also standing are Gabrielle Bailey for the Green Party, James Goldman for the Lib Dems and former Conservative MEP Brendan Donnelly, who after standing for a bewildering number of parties over the last 25 years (anyone remember the Pro-Euro Conservative Party?) becomes the first local by-election candidate for Rejoin EU.

Parliamentary constituency: Finchley and Golders Green
London Assembly constituency: Barnet and Camden
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: NW2, NW11

Gabrielle Bailey (Grn)
Brendan Donnelly (Rejoin EU)
James Goldman (LD)
Sue Waller (Lab)
Peter Zinkin (C‌)

May 2022 result C 2171/2146 Lab 650/613 Grn 205 LD 190/156 Women’s Equality 113
Previous results in detail

Cambridgeshire county council; caused by the death of St Neots Independent Group councillor Derek Giles.

Previewing the four council by-elections of 16th February 2023 (4)

We now travel up the A1 from Golders Green to the town of St Neots. The modern carriageway bypasses the town of St Neots to the west, while the old Great North Road — also does the same thing. St Neots’ urban area is divided into two halves by the River Great Ouse, and until 1965 that river was a county boundary: Huntingdonshire lay on the east bank, Bedfordshire on the west bank. Until the Bedfordshire side became part of St Neots urban district in 1965, the Great North Road didn’t pass through St Neots: instead it passed through the villages of Eaton Socon and Eaton Ford.

The name of Eaton Socon refers to an old administrative unit, a Soke, and until the 1930s there was a Eaton Socon rural district of Bedfordshire. But since then the area has changed out of all recognition. In the 1950s and 1960s Eaton Ford and Eaton Socon saw large amounts of new housing being built as a London overspill development, with the A1 and the East Coast Main Line providing fast links to the capital.

Today this area is part of the parliamentary constituency represented by the Conservatives’ Jonathan Djanogly, who’s had some bad press this month over how his wife treats the domestic staff. Djanogly enjoys a large majority in the Huntingdon seat, but the Tories have suffered some bad reverses over the last couple of years in this area’s local government. The local authority is Huntingdonshire council, which had a Conservative majority for 46 years until last May’s local elections, when the Tories lost control. They remain the largest party with 22 seats, but they are outnumbered by 15 independent councillors, 10 Lib Dems, 4 councillors for Labour and a Green councillor. A coalition of everyone but the Conservatives has been formed to run the council, under a Lib Dem leader.

Previewing the four council by-elections of 16th February 2023 (5)

It’s a similar story at Cambridgeshire county council level: the Tories lost control here at the 2021 county elections. They are still the largest party with 28 seats, but a coalition of the Lib Dems (20), Labour (9) and independent councillors (4) is running the show. The mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is Nik Johnson of the Labour Party, elected in 2021 on Lib Dem transfers.

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Some of the independent members of both Cambridgeshire county council and Huntingdonshire council were elected under the banner of the St Neots Independent Group, a localist party which has been performing well in the town’s wards for some time now. Indeed Derek Giles had represented this half of the town on the county council since 2013, originally gaining his seat from the Conservatives as an independent candidate. He was re-elected for a third term in 2021 quite narrowly, polling 42% against 36% for the Conservatives and 13% for Labour. Giles stood down from Huntingdonshire council in 2022 after 27 years’ service, having been first elected in 1991, and saw the council name him as an honorary Alderman of Huntingdonshire before he succumbed to cancer in November. Derek Giles had also served his constituents as mayor of St Neots. Again, he’ll be a hard act to follow.

One independent (although not St Neots Independent Group) candidate has come forward to succeed Giles: he’s St Neots town councillor Colin Maslen, who was a St Neots Independent Group candidate for the district council last year in St Neots Eatons ward, which covers most of this county division. That ward was closely fought last year, and Maslen finished as runner-up to the Conservatives. The Conservative candidate is Andrew Jennings, who is one of the two Conservative district councillors for that ward. Standing for Labour is Taylor Purdon; he does voluntary work after a long career in the aerospace industry. Completing the ballot paper is Geoffrey Seeff for the Liberal Democrats.

Parliamentary constituency: Huntingdon
Huntingdonshire council wards: St Neots Eatons, St Neots Priory Park and Little Paxton (part)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Huntingdon
Postcode district: PE19

Andrew Jennings (C‌)
Colin Maslen (Ind)
Taylor Purdon (Lab)
Geoffrey Seeff (LD)

May 2021 result St Neots Ind Group 1404 C 1217 Lab 432 Grn 287
May 2017 result St Neots Ind Group 1506 C 893 Ind 388 LD 250 Lab 217
Previous results in detail

Before turning to the week’s Labour defence, we’ve time to bring you some news from the Election Court. Elections in the Aston ward of the city of Birmingham have a habit of ending up before this Court; and one of the running themes here is the long-running rivalry between Labour’s Muhammad Afzal and the Lib Dems’ Ayoub Khan.

Readers with long memories might remember the infamous “banana republic” Election Court case from 2005, in which the election of six Labour councillors in the Aston and Bordesley Green wards of Birmingham in 2004 was voided by commissioner Richard Mawrey due to a massive fraud involving postal votes. One of those six councillors was Muhammad Azfal, declared elected for Labour in Aston ward. Normally this Election Court finding would result in a five-year disqualification from public office, but Afzal took the Election Court to judicial review and the High Court quashed the findings against him. However, his election remained void and he was not a candidate in the eventual Aston by-election of July 2005, which returned the Liberal Democrat slate with Ayoub Khan at the top of the poll.

Muhammad Afzal eventually returned to Birmingham council in 2007, gaining his seat from the Liberal Democrats. Again, there was controversy and the case ended up in the Election Court. The defeated Liberal Democrat candidate Saeed Aehmed brought a case alleging a smear campaign by Afzal. This case was eventually thrown out, with commissioner Timothy Straker criticising Aehmed for dishonestly obtaining disability improvement grants from the council. Straker also had harsh words for councillor Ayoub Khan, who was found to have taken part in a plot to falsely accuse Afzal of witness intimidation.

Muhammad Afzal’s career in public life continued. He became chairman of the Birmingham Central Mosque, and he was Lord Mayor of Birmingham in 2021–22. But Afzal’s mayoral year came to a crashing end in May 2022 when he lost his seat in Aston ward to the Liberal Democrats. Yet again, we return to the courtroom. This time Afzal brought the case, alleging that the winning Liberal Democrat candidates had spread false claims that he had “treated” voters during the campaign, which took place during the holy month of Ramadan, by giving away gifts of food: specifically, boxes of dates with Labour Party stickers on the them. “Treating” is an electoral offence.

There was just one problem with Afzal’s legal case — he had in fact done exactly what the Liberal Democrats had alleged. Ayoub Khan obtained video footage, taken from doorbell cameras within Aston ward, showing Labour campaigners giving away boxes of dates with Labour Party stickers on them and with Muhammad Afzal present.

Caught red-handed in the act, Afzal had no option but to apply to withdraw the petition. The Lib Dems opposed this, presumably on the grounds that they wanted to raise the stakes by running up Afzal’s legal bill, but commissioner Richard Foster allowed the petition to be withdrawn. Foster has also written to the Director of Public Prosecutions about Afzal’s conduct, so it’s possible we might not have heard the last of this matter yet.

Sefton council, Merseyside; caused by the resignation of Labour councillor Robert Brennan.

Previewing the four council by-elections of 16th February 2023 (6)

We finish for the week in a very working-class corner of Liverpool’s built-up area. Netherton and Orrell ward can be found immediately behind the grandstands of Aintree racecourse, and contains mostly 1930s housing along the eastern boundary of the old Bootle borough. The ward runs from Bootle Cemetery all the way to the tangle of traffic lights which is Switch Island, at the north-eastern corner of Bootle. Although this ward borders the city of Liverpool it has never been incorporated into the city, and remains independent as part of the modern borough of Sefton.

Previewing the four council by-elections of 16th February 2023 (7)

The Bootle end of Sefton borough is a place where Labour votes are not counted but weighed. The Labour vote in Netherton and Orrell ward is so large that the interest here usually lies in who comes second: that place went to a socialist slate until 2008, to the Lib Dems in 2010, to UKIP in 2011–19 except for 2018, to the Conservatives in 2018 and to independent candidates in this decade. In May 2022 Labour’s Ian Maher, the leader of the council, polled 73% of the vote here against 20% for independent John Rice. Peter Dowd had an even larger lead in December 2019 when he was elected for a third term as MP for Bootle.

This by-election follows the resignation of Robert Brennan, who was first elected here in 1994 and has 28 years’ unbroken service on Sefton council. He has denied that his resignation was linked to a row over the future of playing fields at Orrell Mount Park.

Defending for Labour is 27-year-old Tom Spring, who has one previous Sefton council campaign under his belt: in 2021 he contested Duke’s ward at the other end of the borough in Southport. (The winning Tory candidate on that occasion was Mike Prendergast, who was also their candidate in the West Lancashire by-election last week.) Spring’s most stern opposition may well come from Ian Smith, who was an independent candidate for the last Bootle by-election in Linacre ward last November; Smith is standing again here, but this time he appears on the ballot paper under the mononymous name of “Champian”. Completing the ballot paper is Katie Burgess for the Conservatives.

Parliamentary constituency: Bootle
ONS Travel to Work Area: Liverpool
Postcode districts: L9, L20, L21, L30

Katie Burgess (C‌)
Champian (Ind)
Tom Spring (Lab)

May 2022 result Lab 1739 Ind 473 C 177
May 2021 result Lab 1785 Ind 340 C 248
May 2019 result Lab 1670 UKIP 255 Grn 240 C 131
May 2018 result Lab 1976 C 182 UKIP 121 Grn 118
May 2016 result Lab 1787 UKIP 286 C 111 Grn 77
May 2015 result Lab 4456 UKIP 843 Grn 285 TUSC 156 Left Unity 66
May 2014 result Lab 1620 UKIP 526 TUSC 232 C 143
May 2012 result Lab 1804 UKIP 241 TUSC 227 C 108 LD 59
May 2011 result Lab 2206 UKIP 271 C 200 TUSC 171 LD 97
May 2010 result Lab 3430 LD 670 UKIP 409 C 371 TUSC 311
May 2008 double vacancy Lab 1036/982 Socialist Alternative 373 C 306/193 UKIP 297/270 BNP 213
May 2007 result Lab 1273 Socialist Alternative 425 UKIP 329
May 2006 result Lab 1149 Socialist Alternative 338 LD 253 UKIP 201 C 151
June 2004 result Lab 1853/1757/1743 Socialist Party 706/537/485 C 497
Previous results in detail

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If you enjoyed these previews, there are many more like them — going back to 2016 — in the Andrew’s Previews books, which are available to buy now (link). You can also support future previews by donating to the Local Elections Archive Project (link).

Andrew Teale


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