Previewing the West Lancashire parliamentary by-election, and the five local by-elections of 9th… (2023)

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

Before starting this week, can I take a moment to thank all the people who have very kindly offered help, background sources and useful criticism for this week’s Previews. I wrote the first draft over the weekend while laid low with something which I thought was flu and subsequently turned out to be COVID, and what you are reading today has been greatly improved by the input of my correspondents. I’m not going to name them individually unless they wanted naming, but you know who you are. Thank you.

Six by-elections on 9th February 2023, starting with the Parliamentary Special:

House of Commons; caused by the resignation of Labour MP Rosie Cooper.

Previewing the West Lancashire parliamentary by-election, and the five local by-elections of 9th… (1)

The Ordnance Survey have symbols on their maps to denote current or former places of worship. These are denoted by a plus sign unless the place of worship has a tower (a plus sign on top of a black square) or a spire, minaret or dome (a plus sign on top of a black circle). It’s a neat scheme, and like all neat schemes it runs into troublesome edge cases.

Previewing the West Lancashire parliamentary by-election, and the five local by-elections of 9th… (2)

Consider the church of St Peter and St Paul, Ormskirk, which has a tower and a spire, and at the same end of the church to boot. It’s the only church in England with that design. This is the kirk in Ormskirk, the parish church for a prosperous market town located roughly midway between Liverpool and Preston. Ormskirk is known for its gingerbread, so make sure you try some if you visit.

In recent years Ormskirk has changed rather a lot with the granting of university status in 2006 to Edge Hill College, which may be named after the part of Liverpool where it was originally sited but has been based in Ormskirk since the 1930s. Edge Hill now brings around 13,000 students to a town of 24,000 people.

But even with that, Ormskirk has been overtaken as the main town in the area. This is now Skelmersdale, a New Town erected on the Lancashire coalfield in 1961. There are 38,000 people living in Skelmersdale, and they still get lost in the maze of roundabouts which is the town’s road network: Skem has only one set of traffic lights. It must have seemed a utopia for those people from northern Liverpool who were rehoused here, and we can get a sense of that positive feeling from the song “Bright New Day” which closes Act 1 of Willy Russell’s hit musical Blood Brothers.

Unfortunately Skem hasn’t really lived up to those expectations, and it has high unemployment. It is one of the largest towns in the UK without a railway station, and several recent attempts to plan one have all fallen through. Ormskirk does have a railway station, which is an end-to-end terminus for frequent Merseyrail Electric trains south towards Liverpool and occasional Northern diesels north towards Preston (except on Sundays, when that line is closed). The best-connected town in the constituency by rail is actually Burscough, which is served by both Preston-Ormskirk trains and by the busy Northern route from Wigan to Southport, but again arrangements here leave a lot to be desired with the two routes having separate stations in the town some distance apart. It would be a lot more convenient for the Merseyrail and Preston-Ormskirk trains to instead terminate at Burscough Bridge, by reopening the so-called Burscough Curves to traffic, but despite years of pressure from the council and local MPs Network Rail do not appear to be interested.

St Peter and St Paul, Ormskirk, has had the benefit through the centuries of receiving the patronage of one of the UK’s greatest families: the Earls of Derby. Nine Earls of Derby are buried in the church, including the 7th Earl who made the mistake of travelling to the Greatest Town in the Known Universe and got his head chopped off by the people of Bolton. Legend has it that his head and body are in separate coffins.

It’s pretty much impossible to talk about the history of Lancashire without mentioning the Earls of Derby, given that they basically owned much of the county. The Derbys were also powerful in national politics: the 14th Earl served three times as Prime Minister, while the 15th, 16th and 17th Earls were also Cabinet members. The 17th Earl was close enough to King George V that he could criticise the King to his face for bullying his sons, and get away with it.

The Derbys have also left us with a sporting legacy. The NHL Stanley Cup was presented by the 16th Earl while he was Governor-General of Canada, the 17th Earl donated the Lord Derby Cup in French rugby league, and the 12th Earl is commemorated by the name of one of the classic horseraces.

There has been a parliamentary constituency based on Ormskirk since single-member parliamentary seats became the norm in 1885, and until 1983 the seat was known as Ormskirk. The original Ormskirk constituency included a large chunk of territory which is now part of Merseyside: Maghull, Kirkby, Knowsley, Prescot, Aintree and even Litherland were part of the seat, long before they became swallowed up by the growth of the Liverpool urban area. We’ll be considering part of this area next week, with a by-election to Sefton council in the Netherton and Orrell ward.

This seat included the Earl of Derby’s seat at Knowsley, so it should come as no surprise that Ormskirk in the period 1885–1918 was a safe Conservative seat controlled by the Derby family. Indeed, it was often left uncontested. The first MP for Ormskirk was Sir Arthur Forwood, a cotton merchant from Liverpool who was Lord Mayor of Liverpool in 1878–79 and effectively led the city’s Conservative group. There is a statue of Forwood in the gardens outside St George’s Hall in Liverpool city centre. Forwood died in 1898, and the resulting Ormskirk by-election was won without a contest by Arthur Stanley, who had previously spent much of his career in the Diplomatic Service. As the Stanley surname might suggest, Arthur was a younger son of the 16th Earl of Derby.

The closest contest in Ormskirk during this period came in January 1910, when the Liberal candidate was William Lever. He was the business mastermind behind Lever Brothers, which is still going today as part of the Unilever empire. Lever had been elected in 1906 as the Liberal MP for the Wirral, the seat which included his new village at Port Sunlight. He had intended to stand down from Parliament after one term but was persuaded to stand as Liberal candidate for what was thought to be a hopeless cause in Ormskirk; Lever duly lost to Arthur Stanley, but he cut the Tory majority to 60–40. There aren’t many seats which swung to the Liberals after the landslide of 1906.

The 1918 redistribution took Litherland and the Derby seat at Knowsley out of the Ormskirk constituency, replacing it with the middle-class towns of Formby and Rainford. Really, this shouldn’t have changed the character of the seat very much, so it must have been an enormous shock when the revised Ormskirk constituency returned a Labour MP. This was mainly due to a split in the right-wing vote between the new Conservative candidate Thomas Fermor-Hesketh and Stephen Hirst, a candidate nominated by the National Farmers Union; Fermor-Hesketh polled 35% and Hirst 28%, and Labour’s James Bell, a cotton industry trade unionist from Oldham, came through the middle to win the seat with just 37%.

A win with 37% of the vote was never likely to be the platform for a lasting tenure as an MP in a time when there were far fewer Parliamentary candidates than there are today, and Bell duly lost his seat in 1922 in a straight fight with the Conservatives. The new MP was Lancashire county councillor Francis Blundell, a prominent Catholic who owned the Crosby Hall estate in Little Crosby. Blundell enjoyed a majority of 3,547 votes over Bell.

But Labour didn’t give up in the Ormskirk seat, which became marginal at the 1923 election as new Liverpool estates continued to sprout within its boundaries. The Labour candidate here in 1923 and 1924 was Robert Walker, general secretary of the National Union of Agricultural Workers. In 1929 Labour changed candidate to Sam Tom Rosbotham, who was chairman of the Lancaster Farmers Association and farmed land within the constituency at Bickerstaffe. Rosbotham defeated Blundell by 20,530 votes to 17,761, a Labour majority of 2,589.

Sam Tom Rosbotham was one of the Labour MPs/traitors (delete to taste) who went over with Ramsay MacDonald to join the National Government in 1931. He was easily re-elected in 1931 and 1935 as a National Labour candidate, without Conservative opposition. In 1933 he was knighted for political and public service.

Sir Samuel Rosbotham had intended to retire at the expected general election in 1939 or 1940; when this failed to materialise as a result of the breakout of the Second World War, he chose to resign from the Commons. The resulting Ormskirk by-election of October 1939 fell under the wartime political truce, and the new National Labour candidate Stephen King-Hall was elected unopposed.

King-Hall had been a naval officer earlier in his career, serving in the submarine service during the First World War and resigning from the Navy in 1929 with the rank of Commander. After that he became a writer, with a number of naval-themed plays and political and historical pieces to his name. King-Hall never rose to ministerial rank, but his tenure as MP for Ormskirk has left a lasting impact on Parliament: in 1944 he became the founding chairman of the Hansard Society, which has been promoting parliamentary democracy in the UK for almost eighty years.

Stephen King-Hall eventually fell out with National Labour, and he sought re-election in 1945 as an independent candidate: he finished third with 18%, saving his deposit. In the Attlee landslide the Ormskirk seat went back to the official Labour candidate: this marked the start of the long parliamentary career of James Harold Wilson. Aged 29 at the time, Wilson had already made a name for himself as one of the youngest-ever Oxford dons, becoming a lecturer in economic history at New College at the age of 21. He had spent the war in the civil service, including working as a research assistant to the father of the welfare state, William Beveridge; Wilson rose to become director of economics and statistics at the Ministry of Fuel and Power, for which he was appointed OBE, and by the end of the war he was also a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society. Wilson was elected as MP for Ormskirk with 46% of the vote, ahead of the Conservative candidate on 36%.

Harold Wilson immediately found himself climbing the greasy pole of government, and in 1947 he became the youngest Cabinet minister of the century as President of the Board of Trade, aged just 31. On his watch, rationing in shoes, potatoes, bread and jam was ended.

The Ormskirk constituency was by now hugely oversized. Its electorate had grown by 225% between 1918 and 1945, although some of this rise is due to women under 30 gaining the vote in the interim. As a result, the constituency needed some substantial trimming. The parts of the seat which were lost were some of the most Labour-voting parts, including the coalfield area around the small town of Skelmersdale. Another part of the seat which was moved out was Kirkby, which became part of the new Huyton constituency. Harold Wilson chose to seek re-election there, and he now leaves our story. That left the Ormskirk constituency open.

The new Ormskirk seat was much better for the Conservatives than its predecessor, and in this incarnation it was a safe Conservative seat — although with rather a large turnover of MPs. The 1950 election was won by Sir Ronald Cross, who had lost his seat in Rossendale in 1945 after a rather poor war: he was sacked as Minister of Shipping in 1941 following press criticism, and spent the rest of the war absent from the UK as High Commissioner to Australia. Cross served for just a year before leaving the Commons in 1951 to become Governor of Tasmania; his seat was taken over by Arthur Salter, who had lost his seat at the previous election when the Oxford University constituency was abolished. Salter was raised to the peerage in 1953, and the resulting Ormskirk by-election of 12th November 1953 returned Sir Douglas Glover, who ran the family textile firm and held the rank of colonel in the Territorial Army. Glover served for 17 years before passing his seat on in 1970 to Harold Soref, a prominent figure in the right-wing Monday Club.

During this time the area which would become Skelmersdale New Town was part of the Ince parliamentary constituency, which was otherwise similar to the present Makerfield seat except that it included and was named after Ince-in-Makerfield (which is now part of the Wigan constituency). This seat was based on the Lancashire coalfield and was one of the safest Labour seats in the country, having been in Labour hands continuously since 1906; it definitely helped that the Labour nomination for the seat was effectively controlled by the mining unions. There were two Labour MPs for the seat during this period. Tom Brown, the so-called “miner’s champion”, was MP for Ince from a 1942 by-election until standing down on health grounds in 1964; he was replaced by Michael McGuire, who represented that seat and its successor Makerfield until 1987.

Back in Ormskirk, boundary changes for the first 1974 election moved Kirkby back into the seat. By now Kirkby had developed into a large Liverpool overspill town, so the effect of the boundary change was to turn Ormskirk into a Labour-inclined seat. Harold Soref was duly defeated by the new Labuor MP, Robert Kilroy-Silk. For those of us who remember Kilroy as a permatanned chatshow host and UKIP/Veritas MEP, it may come as a bit of a shock to learn that he started his career in Labour, being elected as a Labour MP after eight years lecturing in politics at Liverpool University. Kilroy-Silk won both 1974 elections easily, but held his seat in 1979 by just 858 votes.

By now the county boundaries in this area had substantially changed. Ormskirk and Skelmersdale were still part of the Lancashire county council area, but large parts of the Ormskirk seat — Formby, Kirkby, Rainford, Aintree — had been transferred to Merseyside, while Skem was out on a limb within the Ince constituency which had mostly ended up in Greater Manchester. The Boundary Commissioners’ solution to this was to put Ormskirk and Skem back into the same constituency, but under the new name of West Lancashire to match the name of the local council. The seat’s position in a corner of the Lancashire county council area has protected it from the whims of the Boundary Commission since 1983; there have been no changes to the seat’s boundaries since 1997, and the draft map for the current parliamentary boundary review leaves the seat unchanged going forward.

(Video) Lecture 1 - History of local government in the UK (POLI337 Week 1)

The new seat was projected to be notionally Conservative, and Labour MP Robert Kilroy-Silk chose to seek re-election in the new seat of Knowsley North where Kirkby had ended up. West Lancashire duly returned the Conservative candidate, Ken Hind, at its first election in 1983. Hind had previously been president of the students union at the University of Leeds; on his watch the University’s refectory was the scene for one of the greatest live rock albums, Live at Leeds by The Who.

After that Ken Hind settled down to a career in the law, being called to the Bar in 1973 and acting in a number of prominent cases. He was an MP for only nine years (1983–92), but he served the Conservative Party a lot longer than that. After losing his seat in 1992, Hind was appointed to lead the Conservative response to the Boundary Commission’s consultations on the boundary changes which came into force in 1997, and he subsequently became chairman of the Conservative Candidates Association, training the party’s parliamentary candidates. In 2007 Hind returned to elected politics by being elected to Ribble Valley council; he served there for 12 years and rose to become Leader of the Council.

In 1992 the West Lancashire constituency was gained by Labour, who have held the seat ever since. The new MP was Colin Pickthall, who had been elected in 1989 as the Lancashire county councillor for Ormskirk; he was head of European Studies at Edge Hill College. Pickthall had lost to Hind in 1987 by 1,353 votes; a rematch in 1992 saw Pickthall victorious by 2,077 votes.

Colin Pickthall served three terms before retiring from the Commons in 2005. He then moved back to his native Cumbria, and contested a couple of local elections to South Lakeland council.

Since 2005 the Labour MP for West Lancashire had been Rosie Cooper. Cooper had started her political career early, being elected as a Liberal councillor in Liverpool in 1973 at the age of 22 and serving as Lord Mayor of Liverpool in 1992–93. She had two second-place finishes to her name in parliamentary elections as a Liberal or Liberal Democrat candidate: in the Knowsley North parliamentary by-election in 1986, after Robert Kilroy-Silk left politics to go into television, and in Liverpool Broadgreen in 1992. Rosie Cooper then defected to Labour in 1999, and won the Labour selection for West Lancashire after Colin Pickthall retired. As the daughter of two deaf parents, Cooper can take some satisfaction from piloting the British Sign Language Act 2022 through Parliament as a private members’ bill.

In another timeline, I could have been writing about a West Lancashire by-election in a very different context. In 2017 a number of people from north-west England were arrested as part of an inquiry into National Action, a neo-Nazi group which is banned in the UK. One of them, a young man from Skelmersdale called Jack Renshaw, is now serving a life sentence after being convicted of a terrorist plot to murder both Cooper and a police officer who was investigating him on suspicion of child sex offences. We can all be grateful that the plot was foiled, and that the only thing that came of it was a drama, The Walk-In, broadcast on ITV last autumn.

By the time The Walk-In was broadcast, Rosie Cooper had already announced that she would be leaving the Commons to take up a new job as chair of the Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust. This is a disqualifying office under the House of Commons Disqualification Act, meaning that Cooper would have to leave the Commons. Cooper’s new job was announced in September but her resignation was delayed until the end of November, amid reports that she was looking for a peerage which has not yet happened. She is the first female MP to leave the Commons to take up a paid office of profit under the Crown.

Rosie Cooper’s closest call in the West Lancashire seat came in 2010, when she had a majority of 4,343 over the Conservatives. In December 2019 she enjoyed a majority of 8,336 votes, beating the Conservative candidate Jack Gilmore by 52% to 36%. No other candidates saved their deposit, although the Liberal Democrats came very close to doing so.

Previewing the West Lancashire parliamentary by-election, and the five local by-elections of 9th… (3)

The local authority here is West Lancashire council, which regularly returns some of the most polarised local election results in the country. Most Skelmersdale wards are capable of voting over 80% Labour, while some of the rural wards like Scarisbrick (scares-brick) regularly turn in similar leads for the Conservatives. This is not a constituency with an abundance of swing voters, so don’t be surprised if the swing in this by-election turns out to be low.

Normally this polarisation adds up to a small but very stable Labour majority on the council; however, in recent years West Lancashire’s local politics has been shaken up by the OWLs, who are not what they seem. The initials stand for Our West Lancashire; a localist party which has done rather well in Ormskirk in recent years. The latest council composition reveals a hung council, with 25 Labour councillors, 20 Conservatives, 7 OWLs and 2 independents. The four northernmost wards of the council, covering the Marsh Towns east of Southport, are not part of this constituency; the Marsh Towns are strongly Conservative, so Labour’s position in the West Lancashire constituency is a bit better than that might suggest.

Because of the way in which West Lancashire’s wards come up for election, it’s not really possible to produce a constituency aggregate for elections to that council. However, we can instead do this exercise for elections to Lancashire county council, which most recently happened in 2021 — a good Conservative year. With the caveat that this includes votes from the small Rufford ward outside the constituency, the seven Lancashire county council divisions which cover the seat voted 44% for Labour, 33% for the Conservatives, and 10% for the OWLs who only stood in two divisions. Labour won four county council seats, the Conservatives three.

Which finally brings us to the candidates, and in drafting these I have had the benefit of being sent some candidate interviews which were conducted during the campaign by politics students at Edge Hill University. I am delighted to have the opportunity to highlight their work in this column.

After speculation linking Andy Burnham and Gary Neville with the Labour nomination, this eventually went to Ashley Dalton, who is making her third attempt to enter Parliament. In 2017 and 2019 she was the Labour candidate for the Essex constituency of Rochford and Southend East. She is the only candidate to give an address in the constituency. To quote from the interview from second-year student Lewis Melville:

Ashley Dalton demonstrated her deep understanding of the need for community engagement, being involved in youth politics as a student and being active in representing young people through the British Youth Council. Notably campaigning against the disparity of benefit funds for people under the age of 25. Her resolve led her to believe that to “influence policy for young people, party politics seemed like the best way to do that” soon after joining the Labour party as a member.

Dalton told me that if she is elected, her first priorities will include getting the Children’s A&E overnight service reopened. It was closed because of Covid restrictions. “ I want to know why it’s still closed, is it because of cost cutting, staffing shortages? If you’ve got a child who is ill in the middle of the night, you should be able to go around the corner to the A&E here. But no, you’ve got to go to Alder Hey or Southport” she says. Ashley also wants to prioritise transport and work towards a train station in Skelmersdale.

The Conservative candidate is Mike Prendergast, who lives in Southport and is leader of the Conservative group on Sefton council. Outside politics he works as a solicitor. He was interviewed by third-year student Sean McEvoy:

Away from the busy life of work and Politics, Prendergast told me he runs marathons, takes part in charity fundraising and enjoys golf and football. He is a father with two children.

Prendergast’s top issues for the constituency include the NHS, the local economy and dealing with anti-social behaviour (ASB) He claims the former MP did not prioritise the problems of ASB but says that this is something he wants to focus on. He is particularly interested in mental health services and making sure they are up to scratch, giving the poor rating of services in Sefton as an example of the need for improvement.

During campaigns, politicians need to speak to as many people as possible. Prendergast uses social media to communicate but is clear that speaking to people face to face is important. He also stresses that social media is not always good for politics, pointing to the fact that some users feel free to be a lot more abusive online than they would in person.

I was keen to know why Prendergast thought people in West Lancashire should opt for him. He told me “I have worked here for 15 years, I have got the skills needed to be an MP and I love the area and want to help the people here”.

Young people are often turned off from politics so I asked Prendergast about the importance of young voters. “We need to reach out more” he told me.

All five parties who contested the seat in 2019 are back for another go. The Liberal Democrat candidate is Jo Barton, Reform UK (as successors to the Brexit Party) have selected Jonathan Kay, and the Green candidate is Peter Cranie. Jo Barton was interviewed by first-year student James McConnell:

Lib Dem Candidate Jo Barton is a 51-year-old mother of five. Self-employed and living in neighbouring Southport, Jo has been an active Lib Dem for more than fifteen years. In that time her political experience has included being a local Councillor, a campaigner and a Parliamentary candidate. Aside from work, Jo enjoys riding around the county on her motorcycle and has a deep love for music.

Jo’s campaign themes emphasise trust and honesty. She also wants to stress how her party differs from the others. She told me: “The Lib Dems are the party of equality and the party of making a difference”.

Against a backdrop of Government “sleaze” Barton says the election is partly about “restoring confidence”, ensuring people can trust MPs and that MPs act with integrity.

Jo is passionate about education and the health service. She wants to tackle inequalities, particularly those developing between her generation and young people. Equality is in fact one of her key themes which she returns to as we talk.

She believes that her experience of being a local Councillor is an asset for a potential MP, particularly when it comes to representing people and solving problems. “What I see from the Liberal Democrats is very, very hard-working human beings who generally are about the people they serve”, she says.

I asked about her other priorities. She stressed that what matters most is finding out what the people living in West Lancashire want and need and then representing them well.

Unfortunately the Edge Hill students didn’t manage to get an interview with Reform UK’s Jonathan Kay, but the Greens’ Peter Cranie was a little easier for them to contact:

(Video) Lecture 2 - Structures of local government in the UK (POLI337 Week 2)

Peter Cranie has worked in social care, in the banking sector and in further education. He is now a Senior Lecturer at Edge Hill University. A married father of three, Cranie combines his paid work with campaigning for the Green Party in Lancashire and Liverpool.

This is not the first time Cranie has stood for election in West Lancashire. He carried the party’s banner in 2010 too and came very close to representing the Northwest in the European Parliament in 2009.

An active campaigner on a range of issues, Cranie numbers transport as one of his key topics. “It is a disgrace that after 60 years, with different parties in power, a town as large as Skelmersdale has no railway station. We hear a lot of talk about it but so far little action”. He also wants to see connections between Ormskirk and Southport, one of those who supports the re-opening of the Burscough curves.

An issue raised frequently in the by election is the vexed question of fracking. We have seen controversial proposals in Lancashire with plenty of loud opposition. Cranie is one of those opposing the idea. “Fracking is not the answer to our energy problems. We need to stop energy prices being set by the price of expensive fossil fuels and we need a huge programme of insulation to keep homes warm”. As you would expect, Cranie is a proponent of more sustainable forms of energy, but also believes MPs should show more of a lead in moving the country towards needing and using less carbon intensive energy. “Net zero is not just a nice slogan — it is a necessity” he tells us.

We asked him for his general views on Politics and democracy. He told us “Politics needs to be much more open and democratic. At the moment many people have little say in the decisions affecting their lives. In Scotland and Wales, voters get a proportional system to elect councillors and members of their respective parliaments. English voters get a raw deal, and they are stuck with an unrepresentative First Past the Post party with it big bias towards the red and blue parties. A more representative system will decrease the likelihood of political cronyism and potential corruption we see when just one party is handed power for 5 years with a minority of votes.”

Former Conservative councillor and former Mayor of West Lancashire Paul Greenall tried to put a crowdfunder together to pay for a by-election campaign, but fell short of his target and he is not on the ballot paper. That leaves only one “fringe” candidate to list. 80-year-old Alan “Howling Laud” Hope, who has been sole leader of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party since his cat died in a road accident in 2002, is making, if I’ve counted correctly, his 29th attempt to get elected to Parliament; so far, his efforts have cost him £14,000 in lost deposits. He completes a ballot paper of six candidates.

Picture of Ormskirk Parish Church © Thomas Petersson, CC-BY-SA 2.0

Lancashire county council divisions: Burscough and Rufford (part: all except Rufford ward), Ormskirk, Skelmersdale Central, Skelmersdale East, Skelmersdale West, West Lancashire East, West Lancashire West
West Lancashire council wards: Ashurst, Aughton and Downholland, Aughton Park, Bickerstaffe, Birch Green, Burscough East, Burscough West, Derby, Digmoor, Halsall, Knowsley, Moorside, Newburgh, Parbold, Scarisbrick, Scott, Skelmersdale North, Skelmersdale South, Tanhouse, Up Holland, Wrightington
ONS Travel to Work Area: Liverpool (most), Warrington and Wigan (eastern fringes)
Postcode districts: L31, L33, L37, L39, L40, PR7, PR8, PR9, WA11, WN5, WN6, WN8

Jo Barton (LD)
Peter Cranie (Grn)
Ashley Dalton (Lab)
Howling Laud Hope (Loony)
Jonathan Kay (Reform UK)
Mike Prendergast (C‌)

December 2019 result Lab 27458 C 19122 LD 2560 Brexit Party 2275 Grn 1248
June 2017 result Lab 32030 C 20341 LD 1069 Grn 680 War Veterans Pro-Traditional Family 269
May 2015 result Lab 24474 C 16114 UKIP 6058 Grn 1582 LD 1298 Ind 150
May 2010 result Lab 21883 C 17540 LD 6573 UKIP 1775 Grn 485 “Clause 28” 217
May 2005 result Lab 20746 C 14662 LD 6059 UKIP 871 EDP 525 “Clause 28” 292
June 2001 result Lab 23404 C 13761 LD 4966 Ind 523 Ind 317
May 1997 result Lab 33022 C 15903 LD 3938 Referendum Party 1025 Natural Law 449 Ind 392

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

Denbighshire council, North Wales; caused by the death of Labour councillor Brian Blakeley.

Previewing the West Lancashire parliamentary by-election, and the five local by-elections of 9th… (4)

For the five council by-elections taking place today we’ll take a circular tour of England and Wales, in an anticlockwise direction. That brings us first to the coast of North Wales and to the largest town in the Denbighshire council area. Welcome to Sunny Rhyl.

North Wales is not short of seaside resorts. Llandudno, Colwyn Bay and Rhyl basically exist to serve the tastes of the British holidaymaker as they were a century ago. Llandudno and Colwyn have the benefits of a rather dramatic landscape for those who don’t want to sunbathe on the beaches (in warmer conditions than we have at the moment); Rhyl, by contrast, is located on flat ground close to the mouth of the River Clwyd. Socially, it’s quite a step down from Llandudno in particular. In the 2008 Welsh indices of multiple deprivation Rhyl West ward was ranked as the most deprived ward in Wales.

Tŷ Newydd is the Welsh for “new house”, and the ward of that name certainly has a few newish houses on the eastern edge of Rhyl. This is an inland ward, running between the North Wales Coast railway line and the main road towards Dyserth. The main feature of the ward is Rhyl High School, one of two secondary schools in the town; this has been educating pupils since the nineteenth century, and a number of politicians have been educated here. Possibly the most notable of them was Lord Williams of Mostyn, who served as Attorney-General and Leader of the Lords in the Blair administration.

Another former pupil here was Ann Jones, who until recently represented Rhyl in the Senedd as the Labour MS for the Vale of Clwyd constituency. Jones retired in 2021 and her seat was gained by the Conservatives with a majority of 366 seats. The Vale of Clwyd was the only Senedd constituency which the Conservatives gained from Labour in 2021, and that followed a good Conservative performance across North Wales in the 2019 Westminster election. Tory MP James Davies has a majority of 1,827 votes in a constituency which has been very marginal in recent years.

Local elections in Wales often tell a different story to the national picture. The local authority here is Denbighshire council, which runs southward from Rhyl and Prestatyn along the Clwyd valley and on to Llangollen. This varied physical and political area has been under no overall control since the current council was created in 1996, but since 2007 the council had been led by independent councillor Hugh Evans. This despite the fact that the Conservatives were the largest party on the council after the 2017 Welsh local elections, with sixteen councillors.

2022 was generally not a good local election cycle for the Welsh Conservatives, and this extended to Denbighshire too. Labour are now the largest party on the council after winning 19 seats last year; there are 12 independent councillors, 8 from Plaid Cymru, just six Conservatives, two Greens and a Lib Dem. Labour have taken over the council leadership, and now run Denbighshire in alliance with Plaid.

Ward boundary changes had added an extra councillor to Denbighshire, and that addition came in this corner of Rhyl. The former ward of Rhyl South East, which had previously had three councillors, was divided into two new wards called Rhyl Tŷ Newydd and Rhyl Trellewelyn with two councillors each. In this century Rhyl South East had often been closely fought between the Conservatives and Labour, and at the 2017 election here the former ward’s three seats split two to Labour and one to the Conservatives. All three outgoing councillors sought re-election last year in Rhyl Tŷ Newydd; with only two seats available, somebody was going to lose out and in the end it was the Conservative councillor who lost his seat. A straight fight between the two parties resulted in a win for the Labour slate by 59–41.

This by-election follows the death of long-serving Labour councillor Brian Blakeley, who was first elected to Rhyl South East ward in a 2003 by-election. He was 82 years old. Blakeley had served as chair of the council in 2014–15, and was also Mayor of Rhyl in 2006–07.

Defending this by-election for Labour is the current deputy mayor of Rhyl, Jacquie McAlpine, who is also kept busy as a business owner, law student and single mum. Former Conservative councillor and Denbighshire cabinet member Brian Jones, who lost his seat here in 2022, is trying to get back on the council. There’s a lot more choice this time for the local voters, with three other candidates standing: Plaid Cymru’s John Hughes-Jones, the Lib Dems’ Keith Kirwan, and independent candidate Simon Rowlands.

Parliamentary and Senedd constituency: Vale of Clwyd
ONS Travel to Work Area: Rhyl
Postcode district: LL18

John Hughes-Jones (PC)
Brian Jones (C‌)
Keith Kirwan (LD)
Jacquie McAlpine (Lab)
Simon Rowlands (Ind)

May 2022 result Lab 682/612 C 465/396
Previous results in detail

Cheltenham council, Gloucestershire; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Louis Savage.

Previewing the West Lancashire parliamentary by-election, and the five local by-elections of 9th… (5)

Our first Conservative defence this week can be found on the eastern edge of Cheltenham, as the ground rises towards the Cotswold escarpment. The Battledown estate is a very wealthy enclave of the town which has seen a lot of new housing developed in this century, with more to come as Oakley Farm is redeveloped with 250 houses. This might not help the cause of affordable housing in the town, because Battledown ward contains some of Cheltenham’s most expensive housing.

We can see this very clearly in Battledown ward’s 2011 census return, in which 32% of the workforce were in “lower managerial, administrative and professional occupations”; that was the highest figure for any ward in the South West and in the top 75 wards across England and Wales.

We can also see this demographic makeup very clearly in Battledown’s local election results. This is the safest Conservative ward in Cheltenham; indeed, in May 2022 it was the only Conservative ward in Cheltenham, with a narrow Tory lead over the Lib Dems of 46–41. Cheltenham council has had a Liberal Democrat majority since 2010. The Conservative lead in the parliamentary seat, which is slightly smaller than the borough, was under 1,000 votes in 2019.

(Video) Levelling up health – a national strategy driven by local government

This by-election follows the resignation in December of Conservative councillor Louis Savage, who stood down to concentrate on his employment as an NHS doctor. He was first elected at a by-election in May 2015.

Defending for the Conservatives is Marcia Jacko, a former teacher who has lived in the area for 35 years. The Lib Dem candidate is Ed Chidley, who returns from last year’s election. Also standing are Ian Cameron for the Greens and Caroline Gavin for Labour.

Parliamentary constituency: Cheltenham
Gloucestershire county council division: Battledown and Charlton Kings
ONS Travel to Work Area: Cheltenham
Postcode districts: GL52, GL54

Ian Cameron (Grn)
Ed Chidley (LD)
Caroline Gavin (Lab)
Marcia Jacko (C‌)

May 2022 result C 893 LD 785 Grn 246
May 2021 result C 1005 LD 850 Grn 185 Lab 132
May 2018 result C 971 LD 503 Lab 108 Grn 87
May 2016 result C 850 LD 444 Lab 137 Grn 98
May 2015 by-election C 1477 LD 1037 Grn 243 Lab 200 UKIP 181
May 2014 result C 814 LD 741 UKIP 215
May 2012 result C 771 LD 414 Grn 204
May 2010 result C 1563 LD 1438
May 2008 result C 1013 LD 442 Lab 64
May 2006 result C 1032 LD 387 Lab 92
June 2004 result C 1035 LD 523 Lab 142
May 2002 result C 711/711 LD 701/699 Lab 97
Previous results in detail

Dartford council, Kent; caused by the resignation of Conservative councillor Ellenor Palmer.

Previewing the West Lancashire parliamentary by-election, and the five local by-elections of 9th… (6)

We now come to a corner of Kent which may seem rather familiar to regular readers of this column. Let’s travel to the ward of Wilmington, Sutton-at-Hone and Hawley, which lies in open countryside just to the south of the town of Dartford. This ward includes some of the rare pieces of open countryside within the M25 motorway, as travellers might well have time to appreciate at leisure if the Dartford Tunnel is having one of its moments.

Wilmington and Hawley lie within the M25, with Sutton-at-Hone outside the ring road. Sutton-at-Hone is the closest village to the railway station at Farningham Road, on the Chatham and Dover main line, and it lies in the valley of the River Darent which, further downstream, gives its name to Dartford.

Sutton-at-Hone used to be a rather more important place than it is now. In days of olden time there was a Lathe of Sutton-at-Hone, a division of Kent which covered a huge swathe of what is now Greater London and western Kent. Surviving from those days is the thirteenth-century chapel known as the Sutton-at-Hone Preceptory, or St John’s Jerusalem; as the latter name might suggest, this was built by and for the Knights Hospitallers. The chapel is set in gardens surrounded by a moat, with the River Darent forming one side of the moat. Unfortunately, it is rarely open to the public.

The Darent has traditionally supplied water power and industry for all three villages in this ward, although the growth of Dartford has rather cut Wilmington off from the river these days. In more recent times the valley has provided rich pickings for the family-owned local firm J Clubb Ltd, who describe themselves as the leading provider of aggregates and concrete to North Kent and London. Clubb have been extracting gravel from the Darent valley floor for nearly a century, leaving a legacy of flooded gravel pits. The company have also had strong representation in the area’s politics over the years. Jimmy Clubb junior, son of the company’s founder of the same name, was a Dartford Rural District councillor back in the day; and Jimmy Clubb senior’s grandson Lucas Reynolds sat as a Dartford councillor for this ward until quite recently.

Previewing the West Lancashire parliamentary by-election, and the five local by-elections of 9th… (7)

This ward was created in 2019 when the former Sutton-at-Hone and Hawley ward was merged with the former Wilmington ward. Both wards previously had two Conservative councillors, and the present ward has three seats; so, somebody was going to lose out in the Conservative selection contest, and in the end Wilmington ward councillor Eddy Lampkin got deselected. He then stood for re-election as an independent in the new ward, finishing as a rather distant runner-up; the Conservative slate polled 51%, Lampkin 19% and UKIP 17%.

The three-man Conservative slate elected in 2019 consisted of Derek Hunnisett, Calvin McLean and Lucas Reynolds. McLean was an effective young councillor who was also making the right impression with his employment; in March 2021 he secured a new job as a senior Westminster city council director. This was a politically-restricted post, meaning that McLean had to resign his position as a Dartford councillor. The resulting by-election in May 2021 returned the Conservative candidate Ellenor Palmer with a 74–22 lead over Labour.

In October 2021 the long-serving Kent county councillor for Wilmington, Ann Allen, passed away meaning that there would have to be a by-election for the county council in the Wilmington half of this ward. District councillor Lucas Reynolds then decided to submit his own resignation, which allowed the Dartford returning officer to cut costs by holding both by-elections at the same time in January 2022. That Wilmington, Sutton-at-Hone and Hawley by-election returned Conservative candidate George Holt with a 68–19 lead over Labour.

That history means that this is the third Wilmington, Sutton-at-Hone and Hawley by-election of the current council term — which has less than three months to go before the next Dartford council is elected on 4th May. As for quite why we are having a poll now, it appears to be a case of the goalposts moving unexpectedly at the last minute. Local government law can be strange sometimes.

In England and Wales, councillors who are elected in the ordinary May local elections take up their office on the fourth day after the poll; and their predecessors retire on the same date. This year’s local elections are on Thursday 4th May, so that means that the term of office for the current Dartford councillors ends on Monday 8th May. Additionally, if a council seat becomes vacant within six months of the end of the term, then that’s too late for a by-election and the seat is to be left vacant until the end of the term. Counting back, that means that the cut-off for the so-called “six-month rule” was Tuesday 8th November 2022.

Ellenor Palmer, who had been a Conservative councillor for Wilmington, Sutton-at-Hone and Hawley since winning the 2021 by-election, wanted to stand down from the council but also wanted to avoid the cost and inconvenience of yet another by-election in the ward. So, in accordance with this logic, she submitted a resignation letter dated 8th November 2022.

And all would have been quiet. Except that two days previously, on Sunday 6th November 2022, there had been an announcement from the government that Monday 8th May 2023 will be declared as a bank holiday to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla the previous Saturday.

The returning officer for Dartford took the view that this additional bank holiday would delay the end of the term for the current Dartford council until Tuesday 9th May. Suddenly Ellenor Palmer’s resignation letter, dated 8th November 2022, was now outside the protection of the six-month rule. With some reluctance, the returning officer published a notice of vacancy for the ward with the following footnote:

PLEASE NOTE: Local Elections are scheduled for the 4 May 2023 for all Councillors seat at Dartford Borough Council. Therefore the term office for any successful candidate in a contested or uncontested election would end on the 9 May 2023.

If this was intended as a hint to put off anybody who was thinking of requesting a by-election, it didn’t work. The by-election was duly requested by two electors, and here we are.

So, defending the last by-election of the current Dartford council term is Eddy Lampkin. As stated above, he is a former Dartford Conservative councillor, representing Wilmington from 2003 to 2019 and serving as Mayor of Dartford in 2011–12; he contested the 2019 election here as an independent after being deselected by the Conservatives, but is clearly now back in the fold. The Labour candidate this time is Jonathan Wynne, who lives in Wilmington and has recently retired from a career in online and academic publishing. Julian Hood, of the Green Party, completes the ballot paper.

Parliamentary constituency: Dartford
Kent county council division: Wilmington (part: part of Wilmington parish), Dartford Rural (Sutton-at-Hone and Hawley parish)
ONS Travel to Work Area: London
Postcode districts: BR8, DA1, DA2, DA4

Julian Hood (Grn)
Eddy Lampkin (C‌)
Jonathan Wynne (Lab)

January 2022 by-election C 996 Lab 272 LD 200
May 2021 by-election C 1465 Lab 445 Reform UK 88
May 2019 result C 1184/1112/1021 Ind 433 UKIP 394 Lab 314/307/294
Previous results in detail

Hertfordshire county council; caused by the death of Labour councillor Judi Billing.

Previewing the West Lancashire parliamentary by-election, and the five local by-elections of 9th… (8)

We now strike north again along the East Coast Main Line. This has a major junction at Hitchin, where northbound trains can turn right towards Cambridge or continue straight on for the north. This flat junction was a major bottleneck on the line, but that was eased in 2013 with the opening of a flyover which took Cambridge-bound trains away from interfering with southbound expresses.

Hitchin is also the main town in the North Hertfordshire local government district, which is currently hung. The latest composition has 19 Conservative councillors, 16 Labour plus this vacancy and 13 Lib Dems; Labour and the Lib Dems run the council in coalition, and the coalition made gains here in May 2022 as the Conservatives squandered a good opportunity to take an overall majority. In truth, that never looked likely following a county council by-election in Hitchin South in March 2022, which saw the Lib Dems hold a marginal seat with a massive majority; Labour had stood down in the Lib Dems’ favour, but this doesn’t explain the huge vote changes.

The Liberal Democrats are now returning the favour by standing down for the Hitchin North by-election. This is a safe Labour ward which has been represented since 2013 by Judi Billing. Billing, who passed away in November at the age of 71, spent more than half her life in local government: she was first elected to North Hertfordshire council in 1980, and she was appointed MBE in 2015 for services to local government. At the time of her death, she was the leader of the Labour group on Hertfordshire county council.

(Video) Thurrock Council - Full Council, 25/01/2023

Previewing the West Lancashire parliamentary by-election, and the five local by-elections of 9th… (9)

Judi Billing was re-elected for her third and final county council term in 2021, holding Hitchin North by a 52–27 margin over the Conservatives. The ward roughly corresponds to the Hitchin Bearton and Hitchin Walsworth wards of North Hertfordshire council, which are both safe Labour wards and together returned a 50–20 lead over the Conservatives in 2022. Billing also represented Hitchin Bearton ward on the district council; she was due for re-election there in May, so her district council seat is being left vacant until then and this by-election is for her county council seat only.

Defending for Labour is Ian Albert, who also represents Hitchin Bearton ward on the district council; he is North Hertfordshire’s cabinet member for finance. The Conservative candidate is Ralph Muncer, who is also a North Hertfordshire councillor (representing Kimpton ward). Also standing are Deolinda Eltringham for the Greens and Leigh Smith for the Christian Peoples Alliance.

Parliamentary constituency: Hitchin and Harpenden
North Hertfordshire council wards: Hitchin Bearton (most), Hitchin Walsworth (most)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City
Postcode districts: SG4, SG5

Ian Albert (Lab)
Deolinda Eltringham (Grn)
Ralph Muncer (C‌)
Leigh Smith (CPA)

May 2021 result Lab 2701 C 1366 Grn 530 LD 484 CPA 71
May 2017 result Lab 2223 C 1215 LD 550 Grn 321 TUSC 35
Previous results in detail

North Yorkshire county council; caused by the death of Conservative councillor Margaret Atkinson.

Previewing the West Lancashire parliamentary by-election, and the five local by-elections of 9th… (10)

We finish for the week in some of the most gorgeous countryside you can find that isn’t in a National Park — although this ward does have a boundary with the Yorkshire Dales National Park. This is a very, very beautiful part of the world.

Previewing the West Lancashire parliamentary by-election, and the five local by-elections of 9th… (11)

Countryside doesn’t get much more beautiful than the Studley Royal estate, which in 1986 was one of the first six places in the UK to be designated as a World Heritage Site. (The other five were the Giant’s Causeway, Durham Cathedral, Ironbridge Gorge, “Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites”, and “Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd”.) Studley Royal is one of the best-preserved landscape gardens of the 18th century, and this owes a lot to one of the largest and most notorious corruption scandals ever to hit UK politics. Your modern-day hate figure of choice has nothing on the actions of John Aislabie.

Aislabie, who inherited the Studley Royal estate in 1693, quickly rose up the greasy pole of politics. He was elected to Parliament in 1695 as an MP for nearby Ripon, served as Mayor of Ripon in 1702–03 and paid for the obelisk which still stands in Ripon’s market square.

In 1718 Aislabie became Chancellor of the Exchequer, and this is the point where we start talking serious money. The following year Aislabie piloted through Parliament a scheme whereby the UK’s national debt would be taken on by the South Sea Company, in a scheme which essentially amounted to a cash injection into the UK economy of around 7% of GDP. The South Sea Bubble burst shortly afterwards with huge losses for much of the UK’s elite, and an investigation by Parliament found that Aislabie had been given South Sea stock worth £20,000 for promoting the scheme — that’s something like £3 million in today’s money. He was expelled from the Commons and the Privy Council, and spent time in the Tower of London before retiring to Studley Royal to continue the development of the gardens.

John’s son William Aislabie took over his disgraced father’s seat in Parliament and served as MP for Ripon for 60 years until his death in 1781, a record at the time. In 1768 he expanded the Studley Royal estate by buying the adjacent Fountains Estate. This included the impressive ruins of Fountains Abbey, which was founded in 1132. In time Fountains became the UK’s richest monastery thanks to its extensive landholdings in the Yorkshire Dales.

Unlike some other religious institutions, Fountains Abbey didn’t spawn a town next to it. Instead the main town in the area is Masham (the H is silent), which can be found in Wensleydale on the main road going north-west from Ripon. Masham itself had unusual ecclesiastical arrangements: until the 19th century it was part of the diocese of York but effectively ran its own affairs as a Peculier. Although the town only has 927 electors on the roll (which still makes it the largest of the 33 parishes covered by Masham and Fountains division), Masham claims to have the largest market square in Yorkshire and makes good use of the available space: events scheduled here for 2023 include a steam engine rally in July and the annual Sheep Fair on 30th September-1st October.

Today the old Peculier arrangement is commemorated in the name of the beer Old Peculier, brewed in Masham by Theakston’s. Also in Masham is the Black Sheep Brewery, founded in 1991 by a member of the Theakston family who wasn’t happy with the rest of his family selling the Theakston’s brewery to Scottish and Newcastle. Both breweries’ outputs are particular favourites of your columnist.

In between Masham and Ripon can be found the theme park of Lightwater Valley. This used to he home to The Ultimate, which when it opened in 1991 was the longest rollercoaster in the world at 2.26 kilometres. It’s so long that the building contractors for it were British Rail. Unfortunately you can no longer ride The Ultimate: it hasn’t operated since 2019, and is now being dismantled. You’ll have to settle for recordings of the ride on YouTube, made before it closed.

Masham has an unusual distinction in the present membership of the House of Lords. Susan Cunliffe-Lister, the dowager Countess of Swinton, has sat in the Lords by virtue of a life peerage (Baroness Masham of Ilton) since 1970, and she is currently the longest-serving life peer. Baroness Masham was disabled in a riding accident in 1958, but hasn’t let that stop her taking a full role in life: as well as her political career, she has Paralympic gold medals to her name in swimming and table tennis.

Mention of the surname Cunliffe-Lister might well cause some historians of Conservative history to prick their ears up. Just outside Masham is the Swinton country estate, centred on the castle/stately home of Swinton Park which was bought in 1888 by Samuel Cunliffe-Lister. He had made a fortune in the Bradford wool industry, combining a talent for business with an inventive streak which led to the Lister nip comb: this was a machine which straightened raw wool fibres ready for spinning. In 1891 Cunliffe-Lister was elevated to the Lords with the hereditary title of Lord Masham.

The title of Lord Masham died out with the death of Samuel’s younger son John Cunliffe Lister, the 3rd Lord, in 1924. Samuel’s granddaughter Molly Boynton was at this point married to Sir Philip Lloyd-Greame, who was the Conservative MP for Hendon and a prominent frontbencher: Lloyd-Greame was a Cabinet member under every Conservative leader from Bonar Law to Churchill’s peacetime administration. The Conservatives won a large majority at the general election in October 1924, and the following month Stanley Baldwin appointed Philip Lloyd-Greame for the second of his three stints as President of the Board of Trade. Later in November 1924, Philip changed the family surname to Cunliffe-Lister so that his wife Molly could inherit the Swinton estate near Masham. Eleven years later Philip Cunliffe-Lister was elevated to the Lords, taking the title of Viscount Swinton; he was promoted to 1st Earl of Swinton in 1955, at the end of his ministerial career.

Following the Second World War, Lord Swinton allowed the Swinton Park castle to be used by the Conservative Party for training purposes. A number of MPs, candidates and activists were schooled here over the years, which was how Nicholas Cunliffe-Lister, who eventually became the 3rd Earl of Swinton, met and married Willie Whitelaw’s daughter Susan. (She’s still involved in the community, and runs the Masham Sheep Fair.) In 1976 the castle was taken over by the Lindley Educational Trust, a charity which provides outdoor learning for young people; they moved out in 1998, and the 4th and present Earl and Countess of Swinton — Mark and Felicity Cunliffe-Lister — have renovated Swinton Park into a country house hotel.

North Yorkshire is going through local government reorganisation at the moment. At present Masham and Fountains are part of the Harrogate local government district, which has a larger acreage than Greater London but a tiny fraction of the capital’s population. This will be swept away in April in what’s effectively a takeover by North Yorkshire county council, which will administer the area from closer by in Northallerton.

In preparation for this a county council election was held in North Yorkshire last year on new division boundaries, which saw the Masham and Fountains county division extended to the east to take in a number of villages to the north and north-east of Ripon as far as the River Swale. This includes Dishforth next to the A1 motorway, a military airbase currently used by the Army Air Corps.

North Yorkshire county council wasn’t the only brand-new council elected in 2022 as a result of local government reorganisation. The other three new authorities all saw a large electoral backlash against the Conservative government. Somerset county council now has a Liberal Democrat majority, as does Westmorland and Furness; while Cumberland, a new district which the Conservatives will have had strong hopes of winning, instead has a large Labour majority. North Yorkshire county council is still run by the Conservatives, but we can also see the backlash here: the 2022 elections saw the Conservatives fall from 55 seats out of 72 to 47 seats out of 90. If the Conservatives lose this by-election then their council majority will be down to just two seats.

Even in Masham and Fountains, normally a safely Conservative area, the party polled a minority vote in 2022. That’s unusual: Margaret Atkinson’s previous winning scores here for North Yorkshire county council and Harrogate district council were normally 70% of the vote or more, and those sort of Conservative scores are not at all unusual for rural parts of Harrogate district. But last year Atkinson was re-elected in Masham and Fountains with just 44% of the vote: second place with 30% went to independent candidate Felicity Cunliffe-Lister, the Countess of Swinton, with the Lib Dems finishing third on 25%.

Following the May 2022 election Margaret Atkinson became chair of North Yorkshire county council. She had sat on the county council since 2013, and had also been a Harrogate district councillor since 2002, most recently representing Fountains and Ripley ward on that council. Outside of public life she was a semi-retired farmer. This by-election results from Atkinson’s sudden death in November; Harrogate council will disappear at the end of next month, so the by-election is only for her county council seat.

Defending for the Conservatives is Brooke Hull, who will be hoping to join her husband Nathan (who represents the ward of Washburn and Birstwith) as a North Yorkshire county councillor. In a straight fight she is opposed by the independent candidate from last year, who this time has the Liberal Democrat nomination: returning for another go at the seat is the Countess of Swinton, Felicity Cunliffe-Lister. Both candidates have been interviewed by the local press, and you can find out more from the Stray Ferret here (link). This column likes to highlight pubs which do their bit for democracy by serving as a polling stations, so a shoutout is due to The Inn in South Stainley.

Parliamentary constituency: Skipton and Ripon
Harrogate council wards: Masham and Kirkby Malzeard, Bishop Monkton and Newby (part: Cundall with Leckby and Norton-le-Clay parishes), Fountains and Ripley (part: Aldfield, Azerley, Eavestone, Grantley, Lindrick with Studley Royal and Fountains, Sawley, Skelding, Studley Roger and Winksley parishes), Wathvale (part: Asenby, Baldersby, Dishforth, Hutton Conyers, Melmerby, Middleton Quernhow, North Stainley with Sleningford, Norton Conyers, Rainton with Newby and Wath parishes)
ONS Travel to Work Area: Northallerton (northern part), Harrogate (southern part)
Postcode districts: HG4, YO7, YO61

Brooke Hull (C‌)
Felicity Cunliffe-Lister (LD)

May 2022 result C 1076 Ind 738 LD 620
Previous results in detail

(Video) The History of Manchester / Salford

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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