Readers, the results of yesterday's local by-elections were as follows:
Cheshire East UA, Bollington: Bollington First 939 (50.6%, +15.5%), Conservative 319 (17.2%, -14.7%), Labour 239 (12.9%, -9.7%), Liberal Democrats 198 (10.7%, +0.1%), Green 162 (8.7%). Bollington First gain from Conservative.
Dudley MBC, St Thomas's: Labour 1466 (60.6%, +0.3%), UKIP 653 (27.0%, -2.0%),Conservative 249 (10.3%, -0.2%), Green 52 (2.1%). All changes are since May 2016.
East Staffordshire DC, Burton: Liberal Democrats 271 (52.7%, +5.2%), Labour 127 (24.7%, -5.4%), UKIP 60 (11.7%), Conservative 56 (10.9%, -11.9%).
Forest of Dean DC, Lydbrook & Ruardean: Green 360 (35.3%, +18.4%), Conservative 248 (24.3%, +7.6%), Labour 231 (22.7%, +2.5%), UKIP 113 (11.1%, -9.7%), Liberal Democrats 67 (6.6%). Green gain from UKIP.
Oldham MBC, Failsworth East: Labour 829 (58.4%, -7.3%), Conservative 360 (25.4%, -1.6%), UKIP 166 (11.7%), Green 49 (3.5%, -4.1%), Liberal Democrats 16 (1.1%, -1.8%). All changes are since May 2016.
Uttlesford DC, Elsenham & Hadenham: (rare double by-election): Residents for Uttlesford 824/716 (59.6%, +31.5%**), Liberal Democrats 316/259 (22.1%, -23.5%), Conservative 141/120 (10.0%, -11.3%), UKIP 68/64 (5.1%), Labour 39/28 (2.6%, -2.5%), Green 8/6 (0.6%). Two Residents for Uttlesford gains from Liberal Democrat. **One of the successful Residents for Uttlesford candidates was the highest-polling Independent candidate for this ward in 2015.
This has been by some measure the most interesting local by-election week this year, and it ends the run of Liberal Democrat surprises and surges that local by-elections across England have experienced. It must be said that the Green gain in Forest of Dean owes itself to personal votes and demographic changes in the Forest of Dean area in addition to rising Green Party support in the West of England in general. Our new councillor there, Sid Phelps, is chairman of the nearby parish council of Rushbridge & Soudley and he does his job well as he did when he was a Green councillor in Oxford. It has often been the case in the West of England that character and profile matter more than the colour of your rosette, particularly in rural and small-town areas, but nonetheless the West of England is very promising for the Green Party overall, as has been shown in the last two years alone. The Forest of Dean, once a West Country heartland of mining and industry, transitioned away from its traditional industry earlier than many ex-mining areas, meaning that whilst it was solidly Labour for many decades, it elected a Conservative MP as early as 1979 (many similar constituencies arguably trending towards the Conservatives away from Labour, such as North East Derbyshire and Bishop Auckland, have nevertheless elected Labour MPs continuously since 1935, and were reliably Labour throughout the 1980s) and, since Labour's decline there long-term, can now be considered to be a safe Conservative seat with increasing Green potential.
Elsewhere, localist associations are becoming more popular particularly in more rural areas, as decisive localist wins in the Cheshire village of Bollington and the rural district of Uttlesford (covering Saffron Walden and surrounding villages) in northwest Essex showed, on swings of 15.1% from the Conservatives and 27.5% from the Liberal Democrats. Before the 1970s, villages and small towns were often independent/non-partisan at a local level and there is a trend back towards this particularly in areas which feel that their distinct identity is being threatened. The Residents for Uttlesford victory (which partly accounts for our bottom placed finish there, since many green-minded residents almost certainly voted tactically for the Residents' candidates to oust the Liberal Democrats) came in light of planned developments around the Elsenham area, which are strongly opposed by residents there (especially since the majority of these developments are mainly planned to line property developers' pockets) and there is a lot of rural land in the Uttlesford area which should be left unspoiled. Labour has generally had a poor week in by-election terms, with their holds unlikely to change hands anytime soon anyway and with them being knocked back elsewhere.
In the midst of all this, the dangerous trade agreement known as CETA was unfortunately passed by the European Parliament on Wednesday 15th February, by a margin of 408 votes to 254, with 33 abstentions (which included many S&D MEPs). As expected, the EPP, ECR, and ALDE groups were all in favour of it (and arch-liberal Guy Verhofstadt was particularly pleased with the result), but the split amongst the Socialists & Democrats group of MEPs (including the Labour Party) was what proved decisive to the vote. Many were in favour, many were against, and many abstained altogether, and the Labour Party proved no exception to this with 7 Labour MEPs supporting CETA and 10 Labour MEPs voting against it. This is a dark moment in international politics and social justice, as CETA is almost as dangerous as the aborted TTIP/TPP agreements, and contains the infamous ISDS clause that could lead to potentially irreversible wholescale privatisation of the public sector, especially regarding health and the environment. The Green-EFA group and United Left group, however, remained unanimously opposed, and I commend them (and particularly the UK's Green MEPs, Jean Lambert, Molly Scott-Cato, and Keith Taylor) for their opposition to this dangerous deal. The only realistic chance of stopping it now is if the Netherlands require a referendum to be held on it, which could result in them blocking the deal; Ireland will likely require one as well just as they did on the Lisbon Treaty six years ago.