Seats changing hands more frequently
Professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher are Directors of Plymouth University's Elections Centre
December is not an ideal time to be filling casual vacancies but the 7 per cent turnout in Lancaster's University and Scotforth Rural ward came close to an unenviable record.
Only two other examples have gone lower (also December contests) leaving Tamworth's Stonydelph (5.7 per cent in 1998) as the record holder.
By contrast, voters in Pendle's Reedley ward again turned out in force (58.3 per cent) recording the third highest by-election turnout of the year in a closely fought race edged by former mayor, Pauline McCormick.
Conservative candidates were successful elsewhere, capturing seats from the Greens in Bath and from UKIP in Dorset. The 2013 county elections marked a major breakthrough for UKIP, including the Ferndown division.
Three of the five by-elections held in early December saw the defending party defeated. While Labour gained some compensation by taking a seat on Telford and Wrekin council, there were two gains by Independents from the two main parties.
More than 260 by-elections were held in 2016 with more than 400,000 votes cast. Deaths and resignations accounted for a large majority of the vacancies. Vacant seats caused by resignation are more likely to change hands than where the incumbent died in post – maybe electors are sympathetic to the circumstances.
Electoral volatility is on the increase. Seats changed hands with greater regularity than in recent years with a change of party now occurring in 31 per cent of all vacancies.
Conservative defences accounted for almost half the by-elections. The party lost 45 of these, with losses to the Liberal Democrats running at twice the level of those to Labour. The Conservative profit and loss account was compensated with 13 gains, mostly from Labour.
This was not a good year for Labour with 18 losses and only 13 gains. Its candidates secured an average vote share of 31 per cent, one point behind the Conservatives but still nine points ahead of the Liberal Democrats.
But the Liberal Democrat strategy means it contested fewer than eight in ten vacancies (although this is a higher rate than for UKIP and the Greens). It emerged as the most successful party, securing a net gain of 25 seats. Candidates averaged 21 per cent of votes, ahead of UKIP on 15 per cent and the Greens' 9 per cent.
Turnout averaged 28 per cent, comparable with recent years. Almost 1,200 candidates stood, an average of 4.4 for each vacancy.
Attention will now turn to the battle for the county and unitary councils this May. There were 38 by-elections in these areas over the year. Changes in vote share since 2013 show a nine-point fall for UKIP and modest declines too for both Conservative and Labour. The Liberal Democrat vote is seven points better than four years ago, suggesting significant gains for the party next May.
Please click here for an excel document containing additional data on all recent local by-election results.
Basingstoke & Deane, Tadley South
12.3% over Lib Dem
Bath & North East Somerset, Abbey
CON GAIN FROM GREEN
7.2% over Lib Dem
22% over Con
LIB DEM GAIN FROM CON
32.1% over Con
CON GAIN FROM UKIP
26.6% over UKIP
38.2% over Lib Dem
27.1% over Lab
Lancaster, University & Scotforth Rural
6.8% over Green
Maldon, Maldon West
IND GAIN FROM CON
14.6% over Con
Mansfield, Warsop Carrs
12.4% over Ind
IND GAIN FROM LAB
39% over Con
Newcastle Upon Tyne, Blakelaw
5.4% over Lib Dem
CON GAIN FROM LAB
4.5% over Lab
South Northamptonshire, Grange Park
33.3% over Lab
South Somerset, Turn Hill
11.1% over Lib Dem
LIB DEM HELD
26.6% over Con
Telford & Wrekin, Horsehay & Lightmoor
LAB GAIN FROM CON
8.5% over Con
Tonbridge & Malling, Trench
40.5% over Lab
Tower Hamlets, Whitechapel
IND GAIN FROM THF
12.6% over Lab
Warwick, Myton & Heathcote
28.6% over Lib Dem
Welwyn Hatfield, Haldens
3.3% over Lab
6 January 2017