By-Election Special: Heywood and Middleton

by Jackie_South on October 9, 2014

Heywood&Middleton iconToday’s by-election in Heywood and Middleton should be won by Labour. But it might have been a different story if the election had been held on a different day.

Of today’s by-elections, the media will focus most on Clacton, where most (including us) predict that UKIP will win its first parliamentary election. But Labour’s decision to hold the contest for Heywood and Middleton, caused by the sad death of Jim Dobbin, on the same day was a wise one. If it had been at a different date, allowing UKIP to focus all its resources, there was a chance of an upset in this Greater Manchester seat.

The constituency

Heywood and Middleton takes up the western part of the Metropolitan Borough of Rochdale. Both titular towns are former mill towns that sit between Rochdale and Bury, with the M62 separating them.

Despite the name order, Middleton to the south is the larger of the two, sitting along the Rochdale canal. It has given the world an eclectic bunch of artists: comedian Steve Coogan grew up there, Bernard Manning lived there and indie band The Chameleons all came from there. Prosaically, it was named because it sits in the middle between Rochdale, Bury, Salford, Oldham and Manchester.

Heywood sits in the centre of the constiuency, on the River Roch. As well as cotton, Heywood had mines – it now has neither. Its most famous gifts to the world are Lisa Stansfield and Julie Goodyear, aka Bet Lynch from Coronation Street.

Beyond these two towns are some western suburbs of Rochdale itself. The largest is another working-class former mill town, Castleton. Across the River Roch is the more affluent Bamford.

At the northern end, the constituency becomes more rural as it takes in parts of the Greater Manchester green belt. The main settlement here is the large village of Norden, sitting just to the northwest of Rochdale.

Heywood&Middleton map

Past Elections

Heywood and Middleton was created in 1983 and has always been a Labour seat. Its first MP caused some confusion: called James Callaghan, but not that James Callaghan. He stood down in 1997, when Dobbin first stood. Dobbin did not have too much difficulty holding on to this safe seat in 2010, but it was Labour’s worst showing there since 1983. Here are the results from 2010:

Heywood&Middleton 2010result

Percentage-wise, the party shares of the vote were:

Heywood&Middleton 2010pie


Whilst the Liberal Democrats have held Rochdale (the other seat in the borough)in the past, it has always been the Conservatives that have come second in Heywood and Middleton.

Heywood&Middleton 83-10

Political make-up of the constituency

Of the constituency’s thirty councillors, twenty three are Labour, six are Conservative and one is Liberal Democrat. Despite the Lib Dems’ past strength in the Rochdale constituency, that solitary Lib Dem in North Heywood ward (Peter Rush) is now their only representative left on the council.

Heywood&Middleton cllrs

The Tories’ strength is in the north of the constituency. In most local elections, they take an outright majority of votes in Norden ward, although in 2014 the UKIP surge in the European elections the same day squeezed them to 41%. They also hold all three seats in Bamford ward. The Lib Dems used to push them close here, but Labour came second this May.

Labour is strongest in Middleton, exceeding 60% in East and West Middleton (hitting 69% on average in the latter). Labour usually exceeds 50% in four other wards: Castleton, North Middleton, West Heywood and Hopwood Hall (spanning the south of Heywood and the northernmost tip of Middleton). It lead is tighter in North Heywood (where one of the councillors is the Lib Dem) and South Middleton, based around the better off community of Alkrington.


Heywood&Middleton ward marginsUKIP’s chances

In past elections. UKIP’s showing in the constituency has been unimpressive. That changed in 2014’s local elections though. Whilst they did not win any seats, their tally of 23% of all the votes cast across the constituency was second only to Labour’s rather underwhelming 37%. The Conservatives took 20%, the Lib Dems (despite holding their North Heywood seat) only 9%.

That UKIP showing is more impressive when you realise that they did not stand in either Bamford or Castleton, whilst the other three parties stood in every ward. Of the eight wards where they did stand, they came second in seven (North Heywood was the exception where Lib Dems and Labour fought a tight contest).

Most concerning for Labour will be how close UKIP came in usually rock solid West Heywood ward. Since 2010, Labour has averaged 59% of the vote here, yet this may they only held on by a 23 vote majority over UKIP: 0.9% of the votes cast.

Those 2014 local election results indicate that this by-election might have been a close race between Labour and UKIP if the latter had been able to marshal all its resources here, rather than having to focus on Clacton.

The candidates

Labour’s Liz McInnes should, barring a major upset, win today. She is a councillor for the constituency’s northern neighbour, Rossendale.

The Conservatives are also putting up a councillor from a neighbouring borough: Bury’s Iain Gartside.

UKIP’s candidate is software businessman John Bickley, who came second in the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election earlier this year. Expect the same this time around.

The Liberal Democrats are also standing a businessman: local boy Anthony Smith.

The only other candidate, in what is quite a narrow field for a modern by-election, is the Green Party’s Abi Jackson. She is a recent graduate who lives in the constituency.

The polls

Polling has been light in a contest called barely a month after Dobbin’s death: there have been two, both in the last nine days. Survation’s poll for The Sun showed the following:

  •  Labour; 50% (+10% from 2010)
  • UKIP: 31% (+28%)
  • Conservative: 13% (-14%)
  • Lib Dem: 4% (-19%)
  • Green: 3% (n/a)

At the weekend, Lord Ashcroft published a poll with similar numbers:

  •  Labour: 47% (+7%)
  • UKIP: 28% (+25%)
  • Conservative: 16% (-11%)
  • Lib Dem: 5% (-18%)
  • Green: 4% (n/a)


Labour win.

The race for fourth place between Lib Dems and Greens is worth paying attention to. It might result in recounts as the poll numbers are close to the 5% level necessary to save the party’s deposit.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Harry October 9, 2014 at 8:10 pm

So basically what you’re saying is that Labour are only going to win because they didn’t give the people enough time to realise UKIP are by far the better choice. And the fact that even more labour pedophiles have been recently exposed, not that MSM will report, would have destroyed Labours rep even more.


Jackie_South October 9, 2014 at 10:04 pm

Harry – welcome to this blog.

No, I’m not saying that: my guess is that on a different day Labour would still have just won through but it would have been tighter.

On the paedophile point, they have been found in every party, including UKIP. The most infamous paedophile politician in the north west was of course Lib Dem Cyril Smith, MP for neighbouring Rochdale.


Ali October 9, 2014 at 11:07 pm

Just before the results are declared, and I’m really interested in the role of the Greens. I think they’ll increase their share of the vote, but it may squeeze Labour. Not enough for Labour to lose tonight, and not enough to win a seat – but they should keep this in mind for May


Joshua Mostafa October 10, 2014 at 2:19 am

Well done Jackie on your polite response to a hostile (and risibly uninformed) comment. I admire your restraint! Wouldn’t have been able to manage it myself 🙂


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: