The start of February brought two by-elections at either end of England. In Sunderland the Lib Dems took a seat off Labour by going from 4% of the vote to 54%. Probably a surprise for Labour to lose so badly in a ward where they had 50.7% in 2016, but they do still hold 65 of the 75 seats on the Council.
In Cornwall, Labour retained the Falmouth Smithick seat that had been held by former Falmouth and Cambourne MP Candy Atherton until her death in October. Atherton had won the Parliamentary seat in Labour’s 1997 general election landslide, unseating Seb Coe before losing to the Lib Dems in 2005 and becoming a Cornwall Councillor in 2013.
The Conservatives won both by-elections In Weymouth and Portland held on 8th February, holding off Labour in Tophill West by doubling their share of the vote to 53.9% at the expense of UKIP and taking a seat from the Independents in Tophill East with the Independents not fielding a candidate. The wards cover most of the Portland Bill peninsula. Tophill East elected two Independents in 2015 with Conservatives and Labour not far behind. Tophill West was split two Labour and one Conservative. The interesting part to Weymouth and Portland is that the Borough Council is run by a grand coalition of Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and UKIP with the Conservatives the largest Party and now only four seats from a majority.
Residents maintained their dominance of Epsom and Ewell Council (held since the 1930s) by retaining the marginal Ruxley ward. The Conservatives are close in this ward having only been 35 votes off winning the third seat in 2015, but the Council remains an RA stronghold despite healthy Parliamentary majorities for Chris Grayling as the MP.
In North Norfolk, the Conservatives were defending a seat in Worstead where they won the single member ward in 2015 by 122 votes against the Lib Dems in an area with a Lib Dem MP and a Lib Dem County Councillor. The result was a Conservative collapse with the Lib Dems sweeping up 72.7% of the vote and the Conservatives only just beating Labour into second. The Conservatives remain in minority control of the Council but since being elected with 33 of the 48 Councillors in 2015, the Conservatives have also lost nine members through defections and this by-election leaves the Conservatives at only 22 Councillors, four ahead of the Lib Dems.
In Teinbridge, the Conservatives were defending two seats in Dawlish and Chudleigh. The Dawlish Central and North East ward was a marginal with the Lib Dems and they duly lost it by a wide margin as Labour, Greens and a local Independent all avoided standing and their votes went straight across to the Lib Dem candidate who won with 70.6% of the vote share. This reduced the Conservative majority to four. In Chudleigh, the Conservative majority was much safer having been over 600 votes ahead of Labour in 2015. However, despite the Conservatives increasing their vote share by 11% the Lib Dems increased theirs by 29% to take the seat by 11 votes. As a result, the Conservatives are down to only a two-seat majority for the Council and must be praying for no more by-elections soon.
UKIP were defending another seat on 15th February, this time in Tendring in Essex in a ward they shared one each with the Conservatives. With many of the recent UKIP defended by-elections, the party have failed to even field a candidate. This time they did manage to put a candidate forward, but their fortunes still suffered as their vote collapsed from 36.5% to 7.4%. Labour and the Lib Dems stood candidates (having not done so in 2015) as did two local independents, all of whom beat UKIP and pushed them from first to sixth and left the Conservatives to comfortably take the seat and increase their overall Council majority to six.
In Falkirk, the SNP successfully defended their Bonnybridge and Larbert seat. The ward remains a three-way split with Conservatives and an Independent. The Council remains very mixed with 12 SNP, 9 Labour, 7 Conservative and 2 Independents.
On the south coast in what is traditionally strong Conservative territory, Arun has seen another seat switch from the Conservatives to Lib Dems (following a by-election in November). The Marine ward was split one Conservative and one Independent with the Lib Dems not even standing a candidate in the borough wide elections in 2015. This time the Lib Dems took the Independent and UKIP votes to come through and leave Conservatives in third behind Labour. The Council remains strongly Conservative though with 43 of the 54 seats.
North Kesteven saw the Conservatives take a seat from Independents in a ward that was split in 2015 because only the Independent and a second Conservative stood, so the election was uncontested. When it was contested Conservatives took 57.8% of the vote against the local Lincolnshire Independents with the Lib Dems only getting 64 votes. The Council is Conservative run with 29 of the 43 seats.
The Conservatives gained another seat in Bridport in West Dorset by taking the third seat in a ward they previously split 2-1 with the Lib Dems in 2015. The winning Lib Dem had been 1,000 votes ahead of her co-candidates so obviously had some local popularity and her resignation allowed the Conservatives to take full control of the ward. The Council is safely Conservative run but only until May 2019 when it will be abolished as part of the creation of two unitary authorities for the whole of Dorset.
Over into West Somerset, Minehead saw the Lib Dems take a seat from Independents (ex-UKIP) having not stood in the 2015 elections. No new Independent or UKIP candidates stood in the by-election with most of the vote going seemingly straight to the Lib Dem candidate leaving the Conservatives in second place despite increasing their own vote share by 3%.
In the pending by-elections, still to be scheduled after several months is the by-election in Crawley where Labour are defending a seat in a split ward held 2-1 in their favour with the Conservatives. Labour currently lead the Council with 20 seats to the Conservatives 17, so a switch of the seat would make the Council a knife edge majority.
In Thurrock, the Ockendon ward has a by-election on 22nd March to replace a Thurrock Independent Councillor who was elected as UKIP. The whole Group of 17 UKIP councillors resigned from UKIP in January 2018 to form local Independents and are the second largest group after Conservatives (18) who run a minority administration. Labour have 14 Councillors.