Salvaging some pride

Congratulations to Labour’s Jake Bonetta, aged just 18 years, who achieved a famous victory in East Devon’s Honiton St Michael’s ward. In so doing, he salvaged some pride for his party. 

Following its successful defence of the Batley and Spen parliamentary constituency, Leader Sir Keir Starmer declared that “Labour is back”. Judged by other results, it is not.

Bonetta’s victory should take centre stage, however. Before his win, Labour last had a councillor on East Devon in 2002. The party did not contest the ward in 2019.  

However, at last May’s county elections, Labour won 38 per cent of the vote in the larger Honiton and Feniton division, more than doubling its previous share.  

Another notable personal performance belongs to Ben Pitt, an Independent candidate who reduced three main party rivals to a combined 141 votes on his way to winning Huntingdonshire’s St Neot’s East ward. 

Labour, whose Nik Johnson’s election as the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough caused the vacancy, were reduced to 26 votes.

The Greens gained two seats after nail-biting finishes. In Mid Sussex, the party finished with a 43-vote majority in the Ardingley and Balcombe ward after early reports suggested that the Conservatives had held the seat.  

More dramatic still was the count for the double vacancy in East Suffolk’s Aldeburgh and Leiston ward, where the new Sizewell C power station is proposed. Nine votes separated first from fourth place, with Tom Daly becoming the first Green councillor elected to the council. 

His fellow candidate was edged out by two votes by the Conservative’s Russ Rainger, who until recently had represented the area on Suffolk County Council.

Another close finish came in Harlech, where the contest to sit on Gwynedd Council saw Plaid Cymru’s Gwynfor Owen secure 161 votes, ahead of two remaining candidates with 154 and 153 votes respectively.

We return to the struggles facing Labour. It lost Chichester East to the Liberal Democrats, whose task was made much simpler when the Greens did not contest the vacancy. Labour finished in third and last place. 

Three further losses were sustained at the hands of the Conservatives, with each defeat highlighting the difficulties facing Labour’s recovery.  

In North East Lincolnshire’s Heneage ward, Labour appeared to have rebuffed the UKIP challenge after losing the seat in 2014 but winning it thereafter – until last May, that is, when the Conservative candidate polled more than half the votes.  

A by-election defeat seemed likely, therefore, but Labour only narrowly avoided slipping into third place.

Harlow’s Mark Hall ward shows a similar pattern, with UKIP winning in 2014 but Labour successful at the four subsequent contests. Last May, there was a remarkable turnaround as the Conservatives took 61 per cent of the vote to Labour’s 32 per cent. Labour did close the gap slightly but racked up another defeat.

Since it was first established in 2004, Sandwell’s Tividale ward had only once elected a non-Labour councillor, when the BNP were successful in 2006. But its majority over the Conservatives fell to just 150 votes last May and Labour lost the by-election by 176 votes. 

Symptomatic of Labour’s generally precarious position is that it fell 10 votes short of preventing a Conservative gain over the City Independents in Stoke-on-Trent’s Penkhull and Stoke ward.  

In 1997, when Tony Blair won a landslide victory, Labour held all 60 council seats. Following this win, the Conservatives are now the largest party, holding half of the council’s 44 seats.

local by-elections
Chelmsford, Writtle
CON HELD
10% over Lib Dem
Turnout 35%
Chichester, Chichester East
LIB DEM GAIN FROM LAB
12% over Con
Turnout 22.3%
East Devon, Feniton
CON GAIN FROM IND
25.3% over Lab
Turnout 21.2%
East Devon, Honiton St Michael’s
LAB GAIN FROM LIB DEM
20.5% over CON
Turnout 24.8%
East Suffolk, Adleburgh and Leiston
GREEN GAIN FROM CON/CON HELD
0.1% over Con
Turnout 26.6%
Elmbridge, Cobham and Downside
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
6.3% over Con
Turnout 27.6%
Enfield, Bush Hill Park
CON HELD
26.7% over Lab
Turnout 29%
Gwynedd, Harlech
PLAID CYMRU GAIN FROM IND
1.5% over Other
Turnout 31.7%
Harlow, Mark Hall
CON GAIN FROM LAB
4.7% over Lab
Turnout 22.3%
Huntingdonshire, St Neots East
IND GAIN FROM LAB
9% over Green
Turnout 23.6%
Islington, Tollington
LAB HELD
23.4% over Green
Turnout 22.2%
Mid Sussex, Ardingly and Balcombe
GREEN GAIN FROM CON
3.5% over Con
Turnout 24.8%
Newark and Sherwood, Bridge
2 CON GAIN FROM IND
8.1% over IND
Turnout 17.2%
North East Lincolnshire, Heneage
CON GAIN FROM LAB
13.5% over Lab
Turnout 15.2%
Rugby, Wolvey and Shilton
CON HELD
64.2% over lab
Turnout 24%
Sandwell, Tividale
CON GAIN FROM LAB
9.4% over Lab
Turnout 20.1%
Somerset West and Taunton, North Curry and Ruishton
LIB DEM HELD
7.5% over Con
Turnout 37.1%
Stoke-on-Trent, Penkhull and Stoke
CON GAIN FROM CITY IND
0.7% over Lab
Turnout 30.6%
Swindon, Priory Vale
CON HELD
33.6% over Lab
Turnout 22%

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