Labour celebrated a solid result in a by-election last night in Ealing as their candidate Claire Tighe prevailed by a comfortable margin in the residential Hobbayne ward, which has been known to elect Conservative councillors in the Tories’ better elections. This successful defence will be a relief to Labour following the stinging defeat in the previous borough by-election in the Tower Hamlets ward of Weavers two weeks ago.
Hobbayne is basically Hanwell north of the Great Western main line, south and west of the curve of the River Brent and west of the little branch railway from Ealing to Greenford. It is a spacious and pleasant suburb, mostly of inter-war vintage but with some Edwardian development from when Ealing was gaining her crown as “Queen of the Suburbs”.
There is a well-designed and attractive inter-war London County Council estate in the ward around Cuckoo Lane. While Greenford Avenue, running north to south through the ward, is a secondary thoroughfare the ward lacks the sort of rat-runs that lead to Low Traffic Neighbourhood designation and the resulting controversy. With a quarter of the ward in social housing, a bit over half owner-occupied, and 37 per cent BAME at the time of the 2011 Census, it is a bit of a microcosm of the sort of London that makes up Transport for London’s Zone 4.
This was the second Hobbayne by-election of 2021. The first was held in May, to fill the seat left vacant by the death of councillor Anna Tomlinson. It attracted relatively little attention because it was contested alongside the London Mayor and Assembly and was one of 46 borough by-elections to take place that day because of the backlog of vacancies caused by the suspension of local elections since March 2020. Labour also won that by-election fairly comfortably despite suffering a swing to the Tories of over seven per cent – pretty typical for that batch of elections.
Yesterday’s by-election was triggered by the resignation of Labour councillor Lewis Cox amid ructions following Ealing’s vexed leadership election in May. Cox did not mince his words, calling Ealing Labour a “toxic brand” and describing “a system very much based on patronage, back-room deals and cronyism”. It was not an ideal way for the incumbent party to start the defence of the seat.
Conservative candidate David Castle, a law student, stood in May and tried again this month, as did Liberal Democrat Alastair Mitton and socialist Tony Gill. The Greens went with a new candidate, Alan Anderson. The candidates seemed keen on housing development, as long as it did not impinge on the green fields around Hobbayne, or sprout in skyscrapers around the borough, or…
Tighe is a familiar figure in Labour more widely: she works at party headquarters in stakeholder engagement and is vice chair of the Labour Party Irish Society. She was born in Ealing but grew up in Ballina, County Mayo, and was educated in Dublin. Ealing has strong Irish connections: in Hobbayne, 3.4 per cent of people were born in Ireland and many more have an Irish background. Tighe won 1,617 votes, while Castle was in second place with 865. The result for Labour was not as good as it was in May 2018, but better than the party had done in any of the elections in May 2021.
The swing was three per cent to Labour since May, but four per cent to the Conservatives since 2018 – more or less back to how the ward voted in the 2014 elections. The swings are consistent with what the national polls tell us – the Conservatives are still ahead but by less than they were in May. It does not seem as if there were overpowering local issues on the ballot in Hobbayne. Turnout was 31.1 per cent, fairly respectable for a stand-alone council by-election although less than what it was in May (49 per cent) or 2018 (43 per cent). The residents of Hobbayne will be back at the polls for a third time in a year in May 2022, but the ward name will have vanished by then. The successor ward is called North Hanwell – easier to find on the map, but perhaps less quirky and interesting.
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