In Hertfordshire, the Three Rivers Rural division saw the Liberal Democrats transform a 3 per cent Conservative majority into a healthy 15-point margin of their own.The vacancy arose following the resignation of former council Deputy Leader,Chris Hayward. His successor is Phil Williams, who contested the seat at the previous May election.
The Conservatives’ second defeat was inflicted by the Kirklees Labour Party. Denby Dale ward has a long history of electing candidates from the two main parties. Recently, the Conservatives won in both 2015 and 2018, with Labour victorious in 2016.
Unfortunately, Cllr Billy Jewitt – elected only last May with a slender majority – was forced to resign on health grounds, prompting the by-election. Again, the winning party selected the losing candidate at the previous election meaning that 21-year old Will Simpson becomes Denby Dale’s new councillor.
Both defeats were in marginal wards. In two other tightly fought wards defended by the Conservatives, the party bene ted from UKIP’s absence.
In South Derbyshire’s Linton ward, the party safely negotiated what might have been a tricky defence because UKIP, which polled 27 per cent of the vote in2015, did not contest. Similarly, the Ashford Independents failed by just 20 votes to snatch victory in Kennington ward. Again, the withdrawal of UKIP, which polled 15 per cent of the vote in 2015, perhaps assisted the Conservative cause.
A rather different story lies behind another seat. Suffolk’s Bosmere division was captured by the Conservatives in 2017 after being in Liberal Democrat hands since the early 1990s. The victor then – Anne Whybrow – died in August with the party selecting Kay Oakes as her replacement. The Liberal Democrat hopeful was Steve Phillips. Both candidates are well known in the local area, but Oakes prevailed – by the slender margin of just 21 votes.
Nine of these 22 seats (41 per cent) became vacant following the death of the sitting councillor. Although these contests straddle October and November, this figure is above average for both months (39 and 32 per cent respectively, based on 2,000 by-elections held since May2010). December and January have the highest average rates (48 and 62 per cent respectively).
In general, however, the biggest cause of casual vacancies remains councillor resignations – often because of health issues– which account for 59 per cent of these contests.