Personalities and parties

As if to emphasise that local elections are about personalities as much as parties, former councillors played a notable role in three recent contests.

Bassetlaw Labour councillor Helen Richards resigned in June as a protest against housing development plans in her own ward. 

Standing as an Independent in the consequent by-election, she fell just five votes short of victory, but split the former Labour vote sufficiently to allow the Conservatives to win East Retford South for the first time since 2008.

In South Tyneside, Independent John Robertson – twice sanctioned by the council’s standards committee – submitted his resignation and then failed in an attempt to rescind it. He, too, stood in the by-election in the Fellgate and Hedworth ward, but came a distant second to the victorious Labour candidate.  

The successful Aspire candidate in the Weavers ward of Tower Hamlets, Kabir Ahmed, had been elected as a Labour councillor in 2010. He narrowly lost his seat in 2014 having defected to Tower Hamlets First. His victory now is a reminder that politics in the borough continues to be intense and volatile.

Elsewhere, there were by-elections in two authorities that are likely to cease to exist soon. 

The Liberal Democrats easily retained the Grange ward in their South Lakeland stronghold: a council on which they have enjoyed an overall majority since 2006. They may find the going more testing if and when South Lakeland joins Barrow-in-Furness and Eden in a new East Cumbria unitary in 2023. 

In Harrogate, the Liberal Democrats gained the marginal Knaresborough Scriven Park ward from the Conservatives. The party controlled the district council for several years in the 1990s, but the proposed unitary North Yorkshire will be less fertile territory.

A similar county-wide unitary authority is also in prospect in Somerset. The Liberal Democrats currently control two of the county’s four districts, so may feel that reorganisation could be less damaging to their prospects here. 

If these changes are enacted, the number of district councils across England will shrink by 17 to 164, with four ‘county’ unitaries replacing three extant county councils. The precise impact on overall councillor numbers remains unclear, but it is likely that more than 600 elected posts will be cut. 

In 1973 there were more than 21,000 councillors in England; in 2023, there may be scarcely 16,000 – a reduction of almost a quarter.

local by-elections
Basildon, Pitsea North West
Con gain from Lab
25.9% over Lab
Turnout 15%
Bassetlaw, East Retford South
Con gain from Lab
0.4% over Ind
Turnout 32.1%
Camden, Fortune Green
Lib Dem held
13.6% over Lab
Turnout 29.8%
Dover, Alkham and Capel-Le-Ferne
Con held
21.9% over Lib Dem
Turnout 24.7%
East Su!olk, Orwell Villages
Con held
3.8% over Lib Dem
Turnout 24.7%
Harrogate, Knaresborough
Scriven"Park
Lib Dem gain from Con
22.4% over Con
Turnout 31.1%
Leicester, Humberstone and
Hamilton
Con gain from Lab
11.4% over Lab
Turnout 16.7%
Norfolk, Gaywood South
Lib Dem gain from Con
5.3% over Lab
Turnout 17.3%
North Somerset,
Congresbury and Puxton
Green gain from Lib Dem
35.2% over Con
Turnout 28.6%
Rhondda Cynon Taf, Tyn-y-Nant
Lab held
70.4% over Con
Turnout 26.2%
South Lakeland, Grange
Lib Dem held
39.4% over Con
Turnout 42.9%
South Tyneside, Fellgate and
Hedworth
Lab gain from Ind
17% over Ind
Turnout 30.6%
Spelthorne, Staines
Green held
11.1% over Con
Turnout 23%
Thanet, Cliftonville East
Con held
52.7% over Lab
Turnout 18.9%
Tower Hamlets, Weavers
Aspire gain from Lab
17.8% over Lab
Turnout 27.9%
Wirral, Liscard
Lab Held
26.1% over Con
Turnout 19%

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