Tag Archives: local elections


Dear subtext,
subtext 193 published a piece of widely-believed, but inaccurate, Lancastrian electoral trivia – that the 8 December 2016 University and Scotforth Rural by-election had the lowest turnout of any British election, at 7.12%. I understand the current record-holder to actually be the former Melrose ward, Liverpool City Council, in which at a 11 December 1997 by-election, only 6.3% of eligible voters cast a ballot. Where the 2016 by-election may well be a record-holder, however, is in returning a candidate with just 98 votes, as I doubt any other candidate has ever been elected with fewer votes.
Cllr Jack O’Dwyer-Henry


As coronavirus fever first gripped the country, and as the government prepared to enact emergency laws to postpone all public elections, one solitary local council by-election took place on Thursday 19 March 2020, for the Upper Stoke ward of Coventry City Council. Other by-elections had been scheduled for that day, but called off unilaterally by their returning officers, and no further by-elections are likely to take place anywhere in the UK for the foreseeable future.
Gurdev Singh Hayre (Labour) won the Upper Stoke ward with 639 votes, out of 1214 who cast ballots, 651 of whom were postal voters. A shockingly low turnout of 9.02%.
Surely this pandemic-affected turnout must be a record low for recent public elections? Apparently not, commentators concluded – there was another council by-election, in 2016, where the turnout had been even lower, 7.12%, and the winning candidate had been returned with just 98 votes. Where could that have been?
You’ve guessed it. The University & Scotforth Rural by-election for Lancaster City Council (see subtext 156), held on 8 December 2016, continues to defeat all comers in the apathy stakes. It’s comforting to know that even the fear of catching COVID-19 has nothing on our students’ tendency to avoid the polls on a cold day.


The last time subtext covered a city council by-election in University & Scotforth Rural ward (December 2016 – see subtext 156), the turnout fell to an all-time low for a public election this century. The last time campus residents went to the polls in a public election (June 2017 – see subtext 165), a series of ‘errors’ led to political posters being ripped down by campus authorities. So, what embarrassments to the democratic process would subtext witness at this month’s city council by-election on campus, won by Amara Betts-Patel and Oliver Robinson of the Labour Party?

To our pleasant surprise, it all went rather well. Poor voter registration? Almost all campus residents were on the electoral roll. Poor voter turnout? At 27%, with 1033 people voting, this was impressive for a by-election in a student area. Evidence of total apathy? They were queueing outside the Chaplaincy Centre to vote. Evidence of lies, backstabbing and intrigue? The candidates (if not quite everyone on their campaign teams) were getting on famously, with campaign stalls lined up next to each other in Alexandra Square. And there was a statue of Poseidon made of litter.

There were some brief shenanigans on polling day, when (it is alleged) some Conservative activists stole the giant Labour banner in Edward Roberts Court, but this was defused by a quick call to the police. The banner was back up soon afterwards. The Tories retired sheepishly to the bar.

The only other instance of disharmony came the day after polling day. During a shouty edition of Bailrigg FM’s ‘You Ask the SU’, LUSU Vice-President (Union Development) Qas Younis and Labour’s election agent Lucy Atkinson had a prolonged, testy exchange over who was responsible for the increased voter turnout. Mr Younis suggested that the increased turnout was largely due to ‘the work put in by the students’ union’, even though ‘it’s not our job to promote YOUR elections’ (it definitely is). Listen to the long, awkward altercation at https://www.mixcloud.com/BailriggFM/question-time-grad-ball-founders-you-ask-the-su/

More of this sort of election, please.



In a blow to the Labour Group on Lancaster City Council, Cllr Oscar Thynne, John O’Gaunt ward councillor and current Lancaster student, has relinquished the Labour whip and gone independent.

As you might expect, the announcement of his defection on Facebook hasn’t gone down well with local party members, with the level of abuse and indignation (some of which came from senior figures who should know better) reaching fever pitch. Cllr Thynne’s Facebook page vanished shortly thereafter.

The biggest  objection from local Labour activists was that, as Cllr Thynne had effectively changed his party allegiance without forcing a by-election, he was depriving residents of the opportunity to elect a councillor ‘who represents the party of their choosing.’

Fair enough…

… Although why local Labour members didn’t fulminate in the same way when Cllrs Andrew Kay and Sam Armstrong defected from the Greens to Labour without a by-election is anybody’s guess. Are the residents of Bulk and University & Scotforth Rural wards not entitled to a councillor who represents the party of their choosing or something?



It’s election time on campus! Again.

University & Scotforth Rural ward residents will soon choose two new councillors to serve in place of Cllrs Sam Armstrong and Lucy Atkinson, who are stepping down. Polling day is on Thursday 17 May and the successful candidates will serve for just under a year, before they’re up for re-election again in May 2019 along with all the other councillors. There are eight candidates: two each from the Conservatives, the Greens, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

subtext is pleased to see plenty of posters on campus – and equally pleased that so far no-one has wrongly tried to Enforce The Poster Code and remove them.

Aside from a vaguely warm feeling about democracy, though, why should those not living in the ward be interested? Well, there are two reasons to look out for the result. Firstly, the turnout. The last time there was a by-election on campus (see subtext 156), the turnout was a whopping 7.12% and the winner was elected with fewer than 100 votes cast, something that usually only happens in areas heavily depopulated due to war.

Secondly, control of the city council hangs on the result. If Labour wins both seats, it’ll have 31 out of 60 seats and retain overall control of our district. But if Labour fails to win either seat, it’ll be reduced to 29 out of 60 seats, and will need the support of other parties or independents every time it wants to get a proposal through the council.

Independents such as Cllr Oscar Thynne, who Labour members have done a sterling job of keeping on side thus far.