It seems only fitting that the 182nd birthday of Leo Tolstoy would be an electoral epic. When the new government decided to reverse Labour’s plans for Exeter and Norwich to become unitary councils with fresh elections next year, they also triggered deferred elections for the twenty-six seats that should have been contested in May. Added to this haul are five principal council by-elections and a pair of non-principal contests in the towns, for a grand total of thirty-three elections to report on this week.
The big story, of course, were the deferred elections in Exeter and Norwich, both of which went to the polls to fill a full thirteen council places. For the incurable electoral anoraks amongst you, it should be acknowledged that one of Exeter’s thirteen elections was a by-election proper – a casual vacancy caused by Conservative resignation, but for the sake of narrative coherence, we’ll treat them all together. A total of three seats changed hands in Exeter on Sept 9th, Labour picked up two from the Tories, who mitigated their losses by taking the Heavitree ward from the local Liberal Party. Labour’s two net gains may yet be enough for them to take control of the council (currently a Lib Dem minority administration), the issue of control will be decided at a meeting on 21st. Two seats changed hands in Norwich, Labour picking up one from the Tories, and the formerly Lib Dem Thorpe Hamlet ward swinging dramatically to the Greens. The minority Labour administration in Norwich looks set to continue on the strength of their single net gain, with the Greens as second largest party keeping pace at only two seats behind.
Of the remaining five principal council by-elections, the Tories held the Aspatria and Wharrels division of Cumbria County Council, Labour held their seat in Ward 16 of Edinburgh City Council, and Jo Clements and the local Lib Dem team successfully held the Newtown seat on Poole. Labour received their comeuppance in the Ayresome ward of Middlesbrough, where the electorate took the seat back to Independent after the previous Independent councillor defected to Labour before their resignation sparked the contest.
The final result of the day was a much-needed victory for the Liberal Democrats in Northern England, as Karen Henshaw and the local Focus Team took the Kilnhouse ward on Fylde Borough Council from the Conservatives. Known not only for her politics, but also as a committed member of Fylde’s civic society, choir member and friend of local parks, Karen’s knowledge of, and residence in, the Kilnhouse ward proved a solid base on which to build a campaign. The local Lib Dem team kept the focus local, always the best practice, and successfully used a petition against a local tip closure as a basis for targeted mailings at election time. Getting out on the doorstep paid dividends in terms of visibility and new canvass data, with further target letters to first-time voters and new residents building on Karen’s profile. A well financed Tory campaign failed to deliver, and the absence of the candidate from the doorsteps was a common observation. With a 21% upswing in support, the Fylde campaign demonstrates the old ALDC adage that ‘where we work we win’. Our congratulations to Karen and the entire team in Fylde.
A brief glance around the towns; we had two Town Council by-elections reported to ALDC, both for Spennymoor T.C. in Co Durham. Labour held one, and lost the other to Lib Dem Benjamin Ord. Well done to Benjamin and his team, and the best of luck to our candidates and campaigners fighting by-elections across the country.
ALDC By-Elections Team