Readers, the votes cast in this week's local by-elections this week were as follows:
Herefordshire UA, Leominster South: Green 318 (40.8%, +10.1%), It's Our County 143 (18.3%), Conservative 139 (17.8%, -8.7%), No Description 116 (14.9%), Liberal Democrats 64 (8.2%). Green gain from Conservative
West Somerset DC, Dunster & Timberscombe: Liberal Democrats 174 (49.7%), Conservative 115 (32.9%, -26.7%), Green 38 (10.9%, -29.6%), Labour 23 (6.6%). Liberal Democrat gain from Conservative.
Blackburn with Darwen UA, Higher Croft**: Labour 445 (59.6%, -10.4%), UKIP 169 (22.6%), Conservative 133 (17.8%, -12.2%)
**This particular by-election result has been declared null and void, on the grounds that the victorious Labour candidate, Adam Holden, was actually disqualified from standing from election due to having paid employment with Growth Lancashire, which is owned by six authorities within Lancashire of which Blackburn with Darwen Council is one. He is therefore ineligible to stand for office under s.80(1) of the Local Government Act 1972 as long as he holds this position.
It is rather rare for there to be a second local by-election gain from the Green Party in only five weeks, but rural areas out in the West of England, and West Mercia (Herefordshire, Shropshire, and Worcestershire) are proving fertile ground for Green politics, especially in places where Labour has never had any significant support (due to simply lacking the requisite voter base more than anything else) and where the Liberal Democrats are no longer in contention. A lack of endorsement from the It's Our County group (who made some pacts with the Green Party in the 2015 elections in Herefordshire) proved to be no hindrance to the Green Party, who have been well-organised and respected in Leominster for many years. The fact that the Conservatives finished third here is a sign of increasing resentment of the Conservatives in rural areas which many of them still treat as natural fiefdoms in the same way Labour view many inner-city areas as natural fiefdoms.
When the Liberal Democrats get organised in these areas, however, the task becomes much more difficult for the Green Party, as the Dunster & Timberscombe result showed. The Liberal Democrats came from nowhere, in what is their weakest area in Somerset (a county where the Liberal Democrats have traditionally had strong support overall), to manage a 38.2% swing from the Conservatives, which at the same time caused one of the heaviest hits to the Green Party's vote share in a local by-election. In reality this margin of victory was only by 59 votes, as the ward contains fewer than 2000 people. The Green Party were the only opponents to the Conservatives in these villages in 2015; this time the Liberal Democrats and Labour entered. In spite of this the Green Party still finished ahead of Labour, although this is generally par for the course almost anywhere in Somerset even when the Green Party do not win the seat in question.
In the midst of all this, the City of London Corporation, a sui generis authority which is the only remaining council in the UK to have a business franchise (which it has had for over 800 years), and the only remaining UK council to have aldermen (25, to be precise), held its full elections. Because businesses frequently nominate candidates in many of the wards without a significant resident population, large numbers of councillors being elected unopposed is generally a foregone conclusion. The City of London's council is traditionally non-partisan, but this City of London Corporation election resulted in a political group being elected for the very first time, since Labour managed to win 5 seats. This is partly due to the fact that the City of London absorbed a small area from Tower Hamlets approximately 20 years ago, which has made Labour a viable prospect in some areas of the City of London (Cripplegate and Portsoken in particular), where other political parties do not even field candidates there. Nevertheless, control remains in the hands of Independent councillors, who for the most part are determined to defend the City of London's ancient privileges and financial power.
We are now at this point only six weeks away from the next round of local elections in Britain (Scotland and Wales will be having council elections as well). In England, the main points of contention at present are how much the Conservatives can recover from 2013 when they lost many county council seats to UKIP, whether Labour declines in key battleground areas to the extent polls predict them to (Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in particular), whether the Liberal Democrats can make any comeback in the South West after all, the impending disintegration of UKIP support in most counties, and whether the Greens can achieve their potential in rural areas whilst at the same time countering Labour's challenge in such cities as Cambridge, Norwich, and Oxford.