Labour had a very good night in byelections held on Thursday 26 March. The party defended two marginal wards and made an impressive gain from the Conservatives in a marginal Parliamentary constituency. The gain was in Central ward of Redditch borough council, where the seat came vacant after the disqualification of the sitting Conservative councillor who was jailed for six months after pleading guilty to dangerous driving. In a second Redditch byelection, the Conservatives held Headless Cross and Oakenshaw ward although there was a big swing to Labour there as well.
The heavily contested Royal Docks ward byelection in Newham borough council resulted in a Labour win by only 15 votes over the Conservatives, after a recount. In Headington Hill and Northway ward of Oxford city council, Labour increased its majority to just over 100 in a three-way marginal ward. Labour also held the safe Ettingshall ward on Wolverhampton city council.
The two other byelections on the night saw a Conservative hold in Long Clawson and Stathern ward, Melton borough council, and the Liberal Democrats holding Yarborough ward, North East Lincolnshire council.
There have been some spectacular defections this week, which touch on council control. Terry Hipsey, Conservative leader of Thurrock borough council since 2006 and councillor for Stanford-le-Hope West ward, resigned as council leader and immediately announced his decision to join the Labour Party citing disapproval of the Conservative Party’s policy on inheritance tax. However, it is understood that the driving factor was infighting within the Conservative group. His shift brings Labour and the Conservatives to parity on the council, with the balance of power held by two Independents (who were, long ago, Labour councillors but are long since estranged) and one British National Party councillor. A Conservative administration is still in power, now under Garry Hague.
Dundee city council is highly likely to change control next week, after the decision of Lord Provost John Letford (elected as Labour councillor for Lochee ward) to leave the party and sit as an Independent. He will support the election of an SNP administration at a special council meeting on Monday. After the recent SNP byelection gain, they are practically certain to have enough votes.
Another civic convenor changing parties is Noel Trigg, Mayor of Newport city council and councillor for Bettws ward, who has announced that he will leave the Labour Party and will sit as an Independent at the end of his Mayoral term. On Bedford borough council, Myrtle Stewardson (Putnoe ward) has left the Liberal Democrats to sit as an Independent; her son and daughter also sit on the council but remain in the party.
Much media attention was given this week to Deva Kumarasiri, the Nottinghamshire postmaster who refused to serve people who did not speak English. He was also a Liberal Democrat councillor on Gedling borough council (Valley ward), but has now been thrown out of the party as it considers his opinions make continuing membership incompatible. He will sit as an independent but has said he is considering starting a ‘Britishness Forever’ group.