As the year began, there was only a single by-election on 4th January in Hertsmere, but it proved an interesting start, as the ward had been split 1 Conservative and 2 Labour in 2015. That Conservative had since left to go Independent before eventually being disqualified. When it came to the by-election the Conservative hopes of regaining the seat were hit when their vote share fell 14.4% and Labour took the seat by over 300 votes. The Council remains easily Conservative though, 35-4.
The Thanet by-election on 11th January saw the Conservatives defending their seat in a three-way split with UKIP and a local Independent. Considering Thanet is UKIP run (the only UKIP Council in the Country) and they have gone from majority control to minority through a series of defections to the Conservatives, it would be expected for UKIP to try to take this seat and help boost their Councillor numbers. As it turned out though they couldn’t even manage to field a candidate and the Conservatives comfortably held the seat with 49% of the vote. If UKIP can’t field a candidate in their strongest borough in the country, there must be a real question mark on the future viability of the Party.
In Bolton, the Labour Party suffered a reverse by losing a seat to the Conservatives in Hulton. Admittedly the three-seat ward had been split 2-1 in Labour’s favour in 2016, but Labour was at a low ebb at that point in time so to lose this seat should have been unlikely. However, UKIP collapsed from 24% to 6% with the Conservatives seemingly taking the votes and comfortably coming past by nearly 300 votes. Bolton does remain Labour with 36 of the 60 seats.
In Bournemouth, the Throop and Muscliff ward was held by an Independent against the Conservatives (who hold the other two seats). UKIP’s collapse this time helped the local Independent’s and Labour more than the Conservatives with the Independent just holding on by 22 votes and Labour pushing up from a distant fifth to third.
Amongst the pending by-elections the SNP defend a Falkirk seat on 15th February in a three-way split ward with the Conservatives and an existing Independent. The borough is currently very split with 12 SNP, 9 Labour, 7 Conservative and 2 Independents.
Still to be scheduled is a 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.
Weymouth and Portland hold two by-elections on February 8th in the neighbouring Tophill East and West wards (covering most of the actual Portland Bill peninsula). Tophill East elected two Independents in 2015 with Conservatives and Labour not far behind. Tophill West is split two Labour and one Conservative. The interesting part to this is that the Borough Council is run by a grand coalition of Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and UKIP with the Conservatives the largest Party (five short of a majority) but Labour only one seat behind. With these two by-elections plus a third still to be declared, either Party could soon be the largest and getting close to overall control.
In North Norfolk, the Worstead ward has a poll on 15th February where the Conservatives defend a 120-vote majority from 2015 over the Lib Dems in an area with a Lib Dem MP and a Lib Dem County Councillor. The Conservatives run a minority administration with 23 of the 48 Councillors so do not want the Lib Dems creeping any closer by taking the seat from them.
In Tendring UKIP defend another seat on 15th February. The Conservatives have a four-seat majority on the Council and share this split ward of St Pauls. The two questions based on recent by-elections to replace UKIP Councillors will be whether the Conservatives can extend their majority and whether UKIP will be able to field a replacement candidate.
In the Dawlish Central ward of Teignbridge, the Conservatives defend a seat where they hold all three in the ward but only 110 votes separated their third candidate in 2015 from the top Lib Dem. Were the Lib Dems to win it would reduce the Conservative majority to only four. The Conservatives will also defend a seat in Chudleigh on the same day, but that is a lot safer for them on past results.
In Boston and Skegness, the Conservatives defend a seat in a ward they share one each with UKIP. The Council is Conservative run after defections from UKIP (who have also lost Councillors to Independent and have gone from 12 seats to 7 since the 2015 elections).
Finally, in the Scottish Borders the Conservatives are defending a seat in Selkirkshire. The PR system in Scotland generally leads to split wards and this one is split one each between Conservatives, SNP and Independent. Scottish Borders is run by a Conservative/ Independent coalition with the Conservatives the largest Party with 15 seats and the SNP second with 9.