19 June 2012
No by-elections clashed with the Queen's jubilee celebrations but some semblance of normal party politics resumed with six vacancies filled on 14 June.
This was the first opportunity in a decade for electors in Bryn-crug/Llanfihangel to vote in a local election. The incumbent, previously returned unopposed, decided to retire at short notice before this year's May election, providing insufficient time for others to prepare their own nominations. Five candidates contested the seat with Independent Beth Lawton enjoying a 15-point gap over her Plaid Cymru challenger on a high turnout.
Other electors enjoying a rare visit to the polling stations were in Barnwell, East Northamptonshire. A strong Conservative vote clearly dissuades challengers with the seat uncontested since formed in 2007. Derek Capp received two-thirds of the vote as the Liberal Democrats managed to edge Labour for the runners-up spot.
There have been opportunities to vote in South Buckinghamshire's Iver Heath ward but the choice is mostly restricted to Conservative or Liberal Democrat. Until, that is, UKIP contested the by-election. Previous results have favoured the Conservatives; reasonably competitive in 2003, the ward swung even further in their favour. This time UKIP attracted three in ten votes with the Liberal Democrat vote falling sharply but Conservative Luisa Sullivan's election was never in doubt although turnout was just 17 per cent.
The ballot paper in Wealden's Frant & Withyam ward also presented fresh choices. In 2011 the two seats were contested in full by the Conservatives, joined by solitary Green and Labour challengers. While no Green candidate stood this time, a Liberal Democrat joined the fray but the Conservative vote increased considerably.
Much of southern England has seen Conservatives battling with Liberal Democrats. In Tunbridge Wells East, that battle has sometimes been intense. On general election day 2005 the gap was just three percentage points between them but four years later it increased. With both parties out of favour it is UKIP that now benefits, almost doubling its vote on a smaller turnout.
A Conservative retreat is certainly in evidence in Oldham, Failsworth East, where the party failed to nominate a candidate both at the May local elections and for this by-election. In 2011 the party came second with a quarter of the vote but those voters are swinging behind UKIP while Labour's grip tightens further.
* Professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher are the Directors of Plymouth University's Elections Centre
17 July 2012