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Local Government by-election report – August 2018

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August started well for the Conservatives who saw off their opposition to retain three seats. Two of them were safe seats comfortably held in the district councils of Fylde in Lancashire and King’s Lynn & West Norfolk.

The third though was a closer affair in the Orton Longueville ward in Peterborough, this was one of the pending by-elections we highlighted as interesting last month. Previously it was split 2 Conservative and 1 UKIP with Labour not far behind. The UKIP vote partially collapsed (they still kept 7.3%) and Labour gained more than the Conservatives but not enough to take the seat. The win meant the Conservatives kept majority control of the Council, they have 31 of the 60 councillors. Peterborough is also interesting politically in that they still have two councillors from the Liberal Party – from before the SDP/Liberal merger created the Lib Dems.

On the 9th August in Cornwall the Council held a by-election in Newquay Treviglas that saw an unusual reversal for the Lib Dems who lost a previously safe seat to the Conservatives. Labour fielded a candidate, having not previously done so before, probably stripping some vote from the Lib Dems. Cornwall is also a strongly pro-Brexit area and this might well have contributed to the vote swing. The Lib Dems did retain their Bude seat later in month though when an Independent stripped out most of the Conservative vote instead and moved into second place. Cornwall is a unitary council responsible for the entire workload of local government in the county and is as widely divided politically as it has been since its creation in 2009: Conservatives (47), Lib Dems (36), Independents (32), Labour (4) and Mebyon Kernow (4).

Neath Port Talbot at the western end of the South Wales valleys held a by-election in Gwynfi on 16th August where the ruling Labour party lost a seat to a local Independent when they shed 43.1% of their vote share and dropped to third place behind Plaid Cymru. Of note is that the Conservatives polled only 4 votes (even though in council elections a candidate must secure the agreement of 10 electors in the ward for the candidate to stand) and this is despite the fact that they are an experienced previous parliamentary candidate in the area.

Later on in August, Labour held seats in Knowsley and Wirral councils – either side of Liverpool. On the Wirral it was an easy hold to maintain their 10 seat majority. In Knowsley the win was a bit tougher in a ward currently split by Labour with an Independent councillor, but they have easy control of the Council with 40 of the 45 seats.

In East Hertfordshire the Lib Dems gained a seat from the Conservatives despite not having stood in the ward in the last regular elections in 2015, they pushed the Conservatives into a distant second after they lost 36.4% of their vote share. This is the Lib Dems first seat on the Council and they join four Independents (two of whom were defectors from the Conservatives) in opposing the 45 strong Conservative group.

The Conservatives in North Warwickshire managed to hold on to a seat in Newton Regis by a slim 38 votes after Labour increased their vote share by 25.3%. The ward was previously fairly safe. The Council is now a two party state after the sole Independent defected to the Conservatives during August leaving North Warwickshire with 25 Conservatives and 13 Labour councillors.

In the by-elections pending list Cottesmore ward in Rutland is yet to set a date and is a seat 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 and (likely) impact of UKIP’s support going elsewhere.

The first London by-election of the new cycle takes place in Lambeth on 13th September. It would be a major shock though if Labour did not retain the seat after finishing 1200 votes ahead of the Greens in May.

Labour will also be defending a seat in Carlisle which should be comfortably held, but they run a minority administration as the largest single party and were they to lose it to the Conservatives then they would only be one seat ahead.

In Winchester the Conservatives will be defending a seat that means the difference for them between a majority or minority control administration. It was a case of the Conservatives having a one seat majority over Lib Dems (23-22) but the groups have seen a bit of change recently with a Conservative defecting to Independent in June (losing them their majority), then a Lib Dem defected to the Conservatives in July (giving the majority back) and now the resignation of a Conservative in the Meon Valley has put them back into minority.

Down in East Devon, Ottery St Mary has a by-election to replace a disqualified East Devon Alliance councillor in a ward split one each with the Conservatives. Clifton North in Nottingham is a ward that was split 2-1 between Labour and Conservative in 2015 but where one of the Labour councillors went Independent and has now resigned.

Finally, in Lichfield, a Conservative councillor elected at a by-election in February has changed their mind and resigned the seat already.

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