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May’s by-election report


The local elections that took place on May 2nd affected 8,800 council seats across much of England and all of Northern Ireland in a way that created more political change in local government than has been seen for decades. The expected straight forward re-election of councillors in many Districts and Boroughs across England turned out to be anything but.

The Conservatives suffered particularly badly in places like Surrey, Essex and Oxfordshire but made gains further north in places like Lincolnshire, Walsall and Darlington. Labour suffered in some of their northern heartlands but struggled less than the Conservatives overall. The Greens, Independents and Lib Dems by contrast had very successful campaigns and increased the number of councillors significantly.

In amongst all of the regular elections taking place that day there were also a few by-elections taking place for seats that otherwise would not have been up for election – mostly County Councils but with two in Lewisham as well.

In Northumberland, Labour retained a seat in the Holywell division that had previously been a Labour/ Conservative marginal and remained so. A Conservative win would have taken them from a one seat minority to a one seat majority on the County Council.

In Surrey, the Conservatives on the County Council were as successful in defending seats as their colleagues were at District level, the Haslemere division was taken by an Independent with 65% of the vote. The Lib Dems were previously in second, albeit 860 votes behind the Conservatives in 2017. The Conservatives are down to 61 of the 81 seats on the County Council.

In Kent there were two by-elections – one defended by Labour in Northfleet and Gravesend West and the other a Conservative held seat in Sittingbourne North. Labour were successful in their defence, but the Conservatives lost their seat to the Swale Independents giving them their first seat on the County Council, with Labour second and Conservatives back in third. Conservatives remain comfortably in charge with 65 of the 81 seats.

In Lewisham, Labour were defending two safe seats in Whitefoot and Evelyn wards. They comfortably won both elections and retain every seat on the Council.

The rest of the month was slow as far as by-elections were concerned. On 9th May there were only two by-elections, one in the Haddington and Lammermuir ward of East Lothian where the Conservatives held their seat. The ward remains split (as is common under the Scottish PR system for Councils) with one Conservative, one SNP and two Labour members. The Council is minority run by Labour with nine of the 22 seats.

In Havering, the Upminster and Cranham Residents Association easily held the Cranham ward following the death of their Group Leader. They took 68.5% of the vote and that was actually a reduction on the 82.3% they achieved at the full council elections in 2018. The Conservatives recently had a defection to them from the Residents’ Group, but Havering remains a very politically divided borough with 26 Conservatives opposed by a Residents’ Group (7); Independent Residents’ Group (6); Upminster and Cranham Residents Group (6); Labour (5); North Havering Residents Group (3) and one ex-Conservative Independent.

There were no by-elections on 16th May. On 23rd May Labour defended a seat in the Resolven ward of Neath Port Talbot but lost it to an Independent candidate that took 59.7% of the vote. The Council remains safely Labour run with 40 of the 64 seats. In North Wales there was due to be a by-election in the Morfa Nefyn ward of Gwynedd on the Lynn Peninsular but at the close of nominations only Plaid Cymru nominated a candidate in defence of their seat. The uncontested election has meant Plaid Cymru remain in control with 41 of the 75 councillors versus 26 Independents, six from local political party Llais Gwynedd and only one each from Labour and the Lib Dems with no Conservatives.

In the Tendring ward of St Osyth in Essex, there was a double by-election that was a deferred poll from 2nd May following the death of one of the original Conservative candidates. Both seats were easily won by Independents, including the Chairman of the Planning Committee. Since the May 2nd elections, Tendring Council is now a grand coalition of Conservatives, UKIP and Residents.

The final by-election of the month on 30th May was in Gosport for the Brockhurst ward, the Lib Dems successfully defended a previously marginal seat that they look to have made a lot safer with a 12% increase in their vote share. The Conservatives have a slim two seat majority over Lib Dems and Labour.

In the pending by-elections, South Staffordshire, Herefordshire, North Devon, South Ribble and Forest of Dean all have elections during June following countermanded polls for the death of a candidate before the regular May 2nd elections.

The Llanbadarn Fawr-Sulien ward of Ceredigion is due a poll defended by Plaid Cymru. The Council is run by a coalition of Plaid Cymru, Independents and the sole Labour councillor.

Wandsworth’s Furzedown ward will see Labour defending what should be a safe seat for them and the Conservatives defend a marginal seat in Salford’s Walkden South ward.

Finally, in North Kesteven in Lincolnshire the Billinghay, Martin and North Kyme ward is holding a by-election on 13th June after only one candidate (Conservative) was nominated for the main May elections in a two member ward. The Council is run by a Conservative and two Independents in an NK Administration Group after the Conservatives lost eight seats in May and fell two seats short of majority control.

May's by-election report