John Hemming's weekly round-up of the by-elections confirms a fantastic night for us, with gains in Bristol and Wantage and holds in Haringey and Southwark. And yet, none of these are the most fascinating result of the night. For that, we must head north to the land of the wag, for in Knutsford there were by-elections for both the existing Cheshire County Council seat and for a seat on the shadow Cheshire East unitary authority. And lo it came to pass that;
Cheshire CC, Knutsford
Con 1647 (58.7; +11.4)
LD Caroline Aldhouse 818 (29.1; -2.0)
Lab 342 (12.2; -9.4)
Percentage change is since May 2005
Cheshire East UA, Knutsford
Con 1679 (59.7; +2.1)
LD Caroline Aldhouse 817 (29.0; +5.0)
Lab 318 (11.3; -7.2)
Percentage change is since May 2008
The unusual factor here is that these are two simultaneous by-elections to essentially the same position; Cheshire East is a shadow authority until next May when it takes over from the County Council, so one job is real until then and the other job becomes real at the same point. As the wards themselves are coterminous (the shadow authority merely uses the existing county council wards, but with three councillors per ward instead of one) you have two identical votes with the same people going into the same polling stations on the same day.
And yet, the results are not identical; indeed, not only did seven more people vote in the unitary than in the county, there was a twenty-two vote swing from Labour to Conservative in the unitary over the county ballot.
There is, however, a possible reason; while the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates in both elections were the same, the Conservative candidates were not. The new County Councillor is a sitting borough councillor for part of the town, meaning she now has two jobs both of which are due to be abolished. Meanwhile, the new member of the unitary is the current Chairman of Cheshire County Council, on which he represents the neighbouring Bucklow ward.
The question, then, is why the new unitary authority member is changing seats. After all, Bucklow has three Conservative members of the unitary, all elected in May this year. Was he deselected in his own ward in May only to be thrown a lifebelt next door? If not, why does he want to stand for a different ward in October when clearly he didn't want to do so in May? Neither scenario suggests that the burghers of Knutsford have done well out of this little exercise in democracy.
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