July started poorly for the Conservatives with two seats lost out of three being defended on 6th July. In Lichfield the Labour Party gained a seat in Curborough ward with a 27.6% increase in their vote share after UKIP (who had previously received 25% of the vote) did not stand a candidate, allowing Labour to take its fifth seat on the Council.
On the same day, the Lib Dems gained Kingsmead in Bath and North East Somerset – part of the Parliamentary seat re-gained by the Lib Dems in 2017 although the Conservative still retain control of the Council by seven seats.
The third by-election held that day was in the county unitary of Shropshire. An easy hold for the Conservatives as they protected their 24-seat council majority, Labour didn’t manage to stand a candidate.
It was a busier week the following week with 10 by-elections taking place. In Barnsley the Old Town ward was held by Labour in a borough that is heavily Labour dominated (56 out of 63), but the interesting facet was the brand new right-wing Democrats and Veterans Party coming a strong second with more votes than the Conservatives and Lib Dems combined.
The Conservatives easily held a seat in the Oxshott area of Elmbridge and it was a good job for them that they did hold it as the Council is hung with 24 Conservatives, 15 various Residents Association Councillors and 9 Lib Dems. Any loss and control could change to some form of coalition.
Another close marginal council to see the largest party hold a seat was in Lewes where the Conservatives hold 20 out of 41 seats (running the Council as a minority administration). They managed to strip out enough of the ex-UKIP vote to hold off the Lib Dems in Chailey and Wivelsfield ward.
In Waveney, there were two by-elections on the same day. Pakefield ward proved to be a Conservative gain from Labour (a little surprising given they were over 700 votes behind in 2015) whilst Southwold proved to be a Lib Dem gain from the Conservatives. UKIP collapsed to only 1% vote share, the Greens didn’t stand in the by-election and Labour dropped to just 5.5%, so the Lib Dems seem to have soaked up all the non-Conservative vote having not stood a candidate in 2015. The Conservatives remain in control of the Council with 27 of 48 councillors, although the Council itself will disappear in May 2019 when Waveney merges with Suffolk Coastal.
Finally for 12th July, the Conservatives lost a seat to an Independent in Oakham in Rutland. It was previously a split ward anyway, but the Conservatives dropped to third in the by-election poll (still only 13 votes behind) after the Lib Dems stood a candidate (having not done so at the regular elections in 2015) and tied with the Independent, who then took the seat on the toss of a coin. Conservatives remain in control with 15 or the 26 councillors.
The following week the Lib Dems easily held a seat in Headington in Oxford City to maintain their 9 seats in the opposition. In Bury the Besses ward was held by Labour but they took a safe ward into a marginal one by losing 7.6% of their vote share whilst Conservatives increased theirs by 16.2%. Labour controls the Council with 31 of the 51 seats and the Conservatives have 17.
Labour also held a seat in the Bletchley East ward of Milton Keynes when both they and the Conservatives profited from the collapse of UKIP by increasing their vote share by 11% (Labour) and 14% (Conservative). The Council remains finely balanced with Labour having 21 Councillors and the Conservatives 23 but with Labour as the minority administration.
On 26th July Thanet held a by-election after the death of an ex-UKIP Councillor gone Thanet Independent. The Council was UKIP’s only one in the country until the group split in two in February 2018 and the Conservatives took over with a minority administration. It was the Conservatives who took the seat with 63% of the vote with neither UKIP nor the Thanet Independents standing candidates. The Conservative minority administration is now up to 22 councillors out of 56 with the next full elections in May 2019.
Torridge in Devon also saw a Conservative gain, this time from the Lib Dems, when the Hartland and Bradworthy ward voted their way after a Lib Dem councillor elected in a by-election in 2017 already resigned. Labour did not stand a candidate and the Conservatives took 58.5% of the vote to increase their Council majority to 4.
In West Lancashire the Conservatives held a seat on 19th July in Hesketh but there was one of the shortest council careers on record after a Labour councillor elected on 3rd May resigned by 18th June. She was replaced on the Council by a former councillor who lost his seat to local party Our West Lancashire in the May elections and must surely be thanking his lucky stars at having the opportunity to get back on the council so quickly.
In North East Lincolnshire, Labour just managed to hold on to a seat in a split ward that we highlighted last month in the then pending by-elections. The Conservatives gained 12.3% on their previous vote share but an Independent candidate took as much ex-UKIP vote as the Conservatives, allowing Labour to cling on by 42 votes. The win kept them the largest party by 1 seat and in control with a minority administration.
Labour lost a seat in Merthyr Tydfil to an Independent in the split Gurnos ward. The win strengthened the Independents hold over the council from a 3 seat majority to 5.
In the list of pending by-elections, Peterborough has one on 2nd August in Orton Longueville ward that could prove interesting as the ward is marginal having been split 2 Conservative and 1 UKIP in 2016. Labour were not far behind and it is one of the Conservatives that has resigned their seat. If Labour could take more of the UKIP vote and take the seat it would wipe out the Conservatives two seat majority and leave the Council hung.
Finally for the month, back in Rutland the Cottesmore ward has a by-election with no date yet set and where UKIP were the only challengers to the Conservatives in 2015. It will be interesting to see what happens if other parties decide to nominate candidates this time round.