Surprise victories and hopeless causes

For local Conservative associations fighting council by-elections, the misery continues. 

The party was defending 12 seats and lost eight of them. The Liberal Democrats gained half of these, Labour three and the Greens one. 

Behind the headlines, however, some of the background details may mitigate Conservative despair.

It is not entirely clear why the Conservatives failed to defend Rutland’s Oakham South division, but the prospect of certain defeat may have played its part.

In the 2019 May election, only four candidates fought for three seats, with the Conservatives winning two, and the Liberal Democrats, fielding only one candidate, winning the other.

In an August 2021 by-election the Conservatives lost heavily to the Liberal Democrats, leaving them with this seat.

While this latest by-election would have brought certain defeat, for the Conservatives the failure to defend is a highly unusual occurrence – with only three previous examples over the past 40 years.

Another hopeless Conservative cause featured in Waverley’s Hindhead ward. In the 2019 election, the Liberal Democrats topped the poll with 544 votes with their second candidate tied with a Conservative on 542 votes.

The second seat was decided by lot, with Conservative Peter Isherwood the winner. His death prompted this by-election and it proved relatively simple for the Liberal Democrats to succeed.

A by-election in another split ward brought further Conservative defeat but from an unexpected source. 

It was the Green party that topped the poll in Bernwood’s inaugural election to the newly established Buckinghamshire unitary authority in 2021. The other two seats went to Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats not in the running. 

This time round, on paper, the Greens were favourites to win, but were beaten by the Liberal Democrats.

The 2019 election for East Riding of Yorkshire’s Bridlington North ward saw the Conservatives easily win three seats, challenged only by a single Labour candidate.

Shortly afterwards, the death of a councillor prompted a by-election which provided a surprise victory for the Liberal Democrats, given the party had last contested the ward in 2007. 

The recent death of another councillor prompted a second by-election, with the Liberal Democrats winning again.

Given the context, none of Labour’s three gains from the Conservatives are surprising. 

Marco Lorenzini was elected for Harlow’s Bush Fair ward earlier this year before content on his social media account led to the Conservative whip being withdrawn followed by his resignation.

A winning margin of just four votes coupled with controversy gave the defending party little hope. 

Disunited parties never fare well and so it proved in South Derbyshire. A split in the Conservative majority led to a group led by Councillor David Angliss sitting as Independents with Labour running a minority administration. 

His resignation brought about a by-election for Midway ward which in 2019 had elected him alongside two Labour councillors. Negative publicity over council management and a split-ward are not ideal conditions for the Conservatives, even at the best of times.

Another tight contest provides the background for Labour’s gain from Conservative in Breckland’s Thetford Boudica.

When the votes were counted in 2019, Labour edged the third-placed Conservative by just 15 votes, thereby taking the second seat. Labour’s winning margin in this by-election three years later? Fifteen votes.

Green party gains from the Conservatives are now a regular occurrence. 

Mole Valley has seen support slipping away from the Conservatives, largely to the Liberal Democrats who now control the council. Charlwood ward, however, has proved a challenge with only a single victory and that in 1973. 

Instead, the Greens took second in 2019. This by-election saw the Greens make the gain, ahead of the Liberal Democrats, with the defeated Conservatives relegated to third place.

Despite these defeats the Conservatives did succeed in winning a seat in Wyre Forest, albeit from the Independent Community and Health Concern which did not contest after announcing it would no longer promote candidates.

Finally, an unusual Lib Dem gain from Labour to report in Camden’s Hampstead Town ward.  Labour’s Adrian Cohen believed that he was standing as a paper candidate in the May election, only to discover that he’d been elected.

Due to begin a new job, he decided to resign his seat which no doubt went down badly with voters. Wisely, the Liberal Democrats chose a former councillor for the area, Linda Chung, who won easily.

CORRECTION

In a table in ‘Local elections dilemma’ (first 672), we mistakenly stated that Plaid Cymru had gained nine seats and other parties had lost six seats in the Welsh local elections in May. In fact, the reverse was true. We apologise for any upset caused.
local by-elections
Breckland, Thetford Boudica
LAB GAIN FROM CON
1.9% over Con
Turnout 21.7%
Buckinghamshire, Bernwood
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
4.3% over Green
Turnout 34.7%
Camden, Hampstead Town
LIB DEM GAIN FROM LAB
13.3% over Con
Turnout 37.9%
Chesterfield, Hollingwood and Inkersall
LAB GAIN FROM IND
4.6% over Ind
Turnout 26.8%
East Riding of Yorkshire, Bridlington North
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
25.6% over Con
Turnout 30.1%
Harlow, Bush Fair
LAB GAIN FROM CON
8.9% over Con
Turnout 23.6%
Middlesbrough, Berwick Hills & Pallister
LAB GAIN FROM IND
24.7% over Ind
Turnout 11.1%
Mole Valley, Charlwood
GREEN GAIN FROM CON
10.9% over Lib Dem
Turnout 36.7%
Rutland, Oakham South
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
Unopposed
Shropshire, Highley
LIB DEM GAIN FROM IND
30.3% over Con
Turnout 40.5%
South Derbyshire, Midway
LAB GAIN FROM CON
5.3% over Con
Turnout 18.3%
Waverley, Hindhead
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
9.3% over Con
Turnout 29.8%
Wyre Forest, Franche and Habberley North
CON GAIN FROM ICHC
9.3% over Lab
Turnout 24.5%

Only results where there was a change of political control are shown here. For all the results and more detailed information, please view our election results spreadsheet.

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