Sterner tests ahead

It has been a long time since the Conservative party has endured so many defeats in council by-elections. 

The party lost half the vacancies it was defending since our last update, but it is premature to conclude that this marks a sea-change in its fortunes.

The first of these defeats came at the hands of the Green party, which captured Ashford’s Downs North ward. A look back at the previous May election shows a 20-point Conservative majority but a by-election held shortly afterwards saw the majority cut to just 39 votes ahead of the Greens. 

Standing in both elections was Geoff Meaden, a seasoned local campaigner, who proved too experienced for his Conservative opponent.

The Conservative loss to the Liberal Democrats in Rutland’s Oakham South is no surprise either. In May 2019, the three available seats attracted a full slate of Conservatives and only a solitary Liberal Democrat who topped the poll on that occasion. 

That relatively rare event, ‘Lab gain from Con’, features twice. 

The first took place in Medway’s Strood North ward. In 2019, the three-member ward returned two Conservatives and one Labour councillor. This vacancy arose after the death of Steve Iles who had finished third in that election.

Killamarsh East in North East Derbyshire became only the fourth recorded Labour gain from the Conservatives since the last General Election. Here, too, there were two by-elections in close succession, the first of which the Conservatives held. 

The 2019 result was closely contested – 47 votes separating first from fourth with the Conservatives only securing the second seat by a single vote. In both 2003 and 2007, Labour won both seats unopposed.

The fifth Conservative defeat, in Seales ward in South Derbyshire, has more twists and turns than most. Cllr Amy Wheelton, first elected in 2019, became a casualty of a schism within the authority’s Conservative group and sat as an Independent Conservative. 

Earlier this year she took issue with aspects of the local administration, including its perceived lack of social diversity. She appealed for more women and ethnically diverse candidates to contest by-elections being held on 5 May.

One of these by-elections was for the other seat in her ward which saw Simon Ackroyd for the Conservatives defeat Steven Frost standing for Labour – not the type of competition Cllr Wheelton was seeking. 

Last June, she resigned her seat on health grounds but following good news on that front she decided to contest her own vacancy and won by nine votes.

Each of the Conservative defeats, therefore, contain features that make it difficult to identify a broad trend. The party has proved remarkably resilient in defending its territory, but with its national poll ratings slipping perhaps sterner tests in council by-elections lie ahead.

local by-elections
Ashford, Downs North
GREEN GAIN FROM CON
6.5% over Con
Turnout 26%

Calderdale, Park
LAB HELD
74% over Con
Turnout 25.3%

Calderdale, Ryburn
CON GAIN FROM IND
17.6% over Lab
Turnout 24.9%

Cheshire East, Wilmslow Dean Row
RES HELD
10.6% over Con
Turnout 22.5%

Cumbria, Corby and Hayton
LIB DEM GAIN FROM IND
42% over Con
Turnout 30.4%
Dover, Sandwich
CON HELD
3.2% over Lib Dem
Turnout 27.4%
East Riding of Yorkshire,
East Wolds and Coastal
CON GAIN FROM IND
33.7% over Lab
Turnout 18.4%
Medway, Princes Park
CON HELD
45.4% over Lab
Turnout 18.8%
Medway, Strood North
LAB GAIN FROM CON
7.5% over Con
Turnout 23.5%
Newcastle, Castle
LIB DEM HELD
17.3% over Lab
Turnout 34.2%
Newport, Graig
CON HELD
6.3% over Lab
Turnout 24%
North East Derbyshire,
Barlow and Holmesfield
CON HELD
47.9% over Lab
Turnout 26.5%
North East Derbyshire,
Killamarsh East
LAB GAIN FROM CON
6.9% over Con
Turnout 20%
North Tyneside, Camperdown
LAB HELD
42.2% over Con
Turnout 18.6%
Ribble Valley, Littlemoor
LIB DEM HELD
11.5% over Con
Turnout 21.8%
Ribble Valley, Primrose
LIB DEM HELD
17.8% over Con
Turnout 17.6%
Rutland, Oakham South
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
35.7% over Con
Turnout 35.6%
South Derbyshire, Seales
IND GAIN FROM CON
0.9% over Con
Turnout 23%
South Tyneside,
Cleadon and East Boldon
CON HELD
1.6% over Lib Dem
Turnout 40.7%

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