Labour were celebrating key victories in the Midlands last Thursday as they gained two seats from the Conservatives on tight Councils. In Walsall Labour followed up their gain in Bloxwich West last year with another in Bloxwich East, which now leaves control of the Council very much in the balance as both them and the Tories now hold 27 seats a piece on the 60 seat Council. Labour also put the pressure on the Conservatives in Newcastle-under-Lyme as their win in Newchapel reduced the Conservative/Liberal Demcorat coalition's majority on the Council to seven with another vacancy pending in the Borough. Labour may need to make a net gain of just four seats in May to take control of the Council.
The vacancy in Bloxwich West was caused by the death of Conservative Councillor Bill Tweddle, who had held his seat very comfortably in 2008 with almost 60% of the vote. Since then Labour have won the other two seats in the ward, although their margin of victory in May was just 14 votes. Julie Fitzpatrick had a much less stressful evening as a 2% swing towards Labour since the spring election gave her a majority of 88 votes over the Conservative candidate Les Beeley.
Julie Fitzpatrick (E)
Derek Bennett (UKIP)
Chris Newey (ED)
Labour's victory in Newchapel, Newcastle-under-Lyme BC was much more emphatic as Elsie Bates secured a 5.4% swing from the Conservatives compared to the May result. It seems Labour benefited from the absence of Independent candidate Victor Jukes, who polled a respectable 18% in the spring. Most of his support seemed to head to Labour, although it is worth noting that due to the low turnout they received less actual votes than in May's election.
UKIP's performance in this by-election is notable as they increased their vote share by 6% compared to May. It has been suggested that this may be as a result of last week's EU Referendum debate in Parliament but I am sceptical. UKIP are relatively well organised in Staffordshire and the increase in vote share (although, not in actual votes) is likely to be a reflection of their ability to commit activists to a by-election campaign. After all, they did marginally better in the 2010 by-election that took place in this very ward. The fact UKIP's results in the other by-elections last week were unremarkable suggests the anti-EU haven't significantly benefited from the news cycle at a local level.
Newcastle-Under-Lyme Borough Council
Elsie Bates (E)
Elsewhere the Conservatives held two safe county divisions in the north of England; Lancashire and Yorkshire to be precise. The Liberal Democrats also enjoyed a comfortable win in north Cornwall.
Thornton Dale & The Wolds (North Yorkshire)
Vivien Taylor (E)
Janet Sanderson (E)
Bude North & Stratton
David Parsons (E)