After a very quiet first month of the year, February picked up for by-elections taking place in those seats that are not holding regular elections in May.
Two of those elections were on the 7th in Tower Hamlets for Lansbury and Shadwell wards. Tower Hamlets has been a turbulent Borough of late. The former Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, who was ousted for electoral fraud allegations in 2015 led Tower Hamlets First (THF) on the Council. With his downfall and the banning of THF as a political party, his supporters split into two new parties – Aspire and the People’s Alliance of Tower Hamlets (PATH), both of whom stood candidates in the May 2018 Council elections. Splitting the ex-THF vote allowed Labour to win virtually all of the seats with PATH winning one seat and the Conservatives two. The PATH councillor (who also represents Shadwell) almost immediately defected to the Lib Dems and PATH was disbanded.
Moving forward nine months and the by-elections were a tale of two polls. Lansbury proved straight forward and uncontroversial with Labour holding the seat and the Lutfur Rahman led Aspire coming a strong second with 31.3% of the vote. The Shadwell election was more chaotic though with Labour and the Lib Dems focused on attacking each other and the Lib Dems disowning their own candidate days before the election for anti-Semitic comments. The result was the Aspire candidate taking the seat by 98 votes over Labour, giving them their first seat back in the Council chamber since the May 2018 elections and reuniting him with the former PATH (now Lib Dem) councillor with whom he previously shared the ward when they were both Tower Hamlets First councillors!
On the same day as Tower Hamlets had its two by-elections, Lambeth was holding a poll in Thornton ward after the Labour Chief Whip resigned to take a politically restricted job. Labour won this election, but its share of the vote dropped from 63.8% to 44.8% with the Lib Dems coming back in a ward they have previously held seats in with a 21% swing in their favour. There is now due to be a re-run in the near future after Lib Peck, who was Leader of the Council, resigned from the same ward in January to take a job at City Hall.
Also, on 7th February in Bradford, the Bolton and Undercliffe ward staged a by-election after former Council Leader Ian Greenwood passed away having only returned to the Council last May when he snatched a seat from the Lib Dems. It was a ward the Lib Dems had held since the ward’s inception and the defeated Lib Dem councillor in 2018 re-claimed the seat by 580 votes. Labour retain a 12 seat majority on the Council.
In Wokingham, the Lib Dems successfully defended a seat they took in 2018 from the Conservatives by increasing their vote share from 46.7% to 63.1%. Evendons ward is split with two other Conservatives, who hold Council control by 29 seats.
Finally for the 7th, Labour (sort of) gained its second seat on Buckinghamshire County Council when it took the Totteridge and Bowerdean division from East Wycombe Independents. The problem here is that the Labour candidate was suspended by the Party a few days before the election when it was too late to replace him. He sits as an Independent instead. The Conservatives hold 41 of the 49 seats, at least until May 2020 when the county and districts are abolished to form a new unitary authority.
On 14th February the Conservatives comfortably held a seat in the Rhoose ward of Vale of Glamorgan with a 19% increase in their vote share to 61.5%. The winning candidate was Andrew RT Davies, the former Leader of the Welsh Conservatives and Assembly Member for South Wales Central. The Council remains Conservative controlled with one Independent sitting with them and thereby giving them majority control – the Conservatives have 23 of the 47 council seats.
On 21st February the Conservatives regained a seat in the Oundle division of Northamptonshire County Council after the former Leader (who had left to go Independent in August 2018 following the financial problems faced by the Council) resigned from the Council altogether. Whilst the Conservatives hold 42 of the 57 seats, the legal responsibility for managing the County Council now sits with two Government appointed Commissioners and the Council will be abolished in 2020, along with the seven district councils, to form two new unitary authorities.
In the Cardiff ward of Ely, Labour were defending a seat where they were 660 votes ahead of Plaid Cymru in 2017. Plaid managed to pull off a 52 vote win to take their third seat in the Welsh capital and reduce the Labour majority to just three (39 out of 75 seats).
To end the month, the Conservatives comfortably held the Berkeley Vale ward of Stroud in Gloucestershire to remain the largest Party on the Council with 22 of the 51 seats. The administration is run by a Labour/ Green/ Lib Dem grand coalition.
In the pending lists, Thurrock has a poll on 21st March in Averley and Uplands ward following the resignation of former UKIP MEP Tim Aker who now represents the Thurrock Independents. In Sutton, the Lib Dems defend a 600 vote majority in Wallington North ward and Labour defend seats in Kensington and Chelsea and Croydon.