Main parties in three-way fight for two East Devon by-elections

This is the headline of the Devon Live article (see below) announcing the candidates for the Feniton and the Honiton St Michaels ward by-elections.

Unfortunately, a macho three-way “bare fist, winner takes all” fight is the way the national political parties would like to see it play out. 

But two of them are misguided to the point of deluded naivety if they really think this is the way to give the voters the choice of an alternative to the Tories. 

Repeatedly taking part in local elections, just for the sake of it, splitting the opposition vote and losing, isn’t the way, in Owl’s opinion, to increase your credibility with the electorate.

In fact, there is no natural majority support for the Tories here in East Devon local politics. Since 2019 the Tories only have just over a third of the seats in East Devon and despite having won two thirds of the Devon County seats this May, they did so on only 42% of the votes. But splitting the opposition vote will assuredly let them in.

Historically, the strong influence of religious nonconformity coupled with the independent nature of rural industries such as fishing and farming has produced a radical streak in Devon politics. For years it was the bedrock of liberalism. It could be again.

However, we live in strange times, in a fragmented political landscape, with no real prospect, under the first past the post system, that either Labour or the Liberal Democrats could win the next general election. 

The gradual emergence of alliances and coalitions in Local politics, is being chronicled on East Devon Watch. They are locally led and gaining momentum. So why do Labour and the Lib Dems insist on fielding a candidate  in every election? Where is any sign of them working together? 

This is the politics of self-indulgence, not politics for the people.

Unashamedly in this post, Owl is going to try to knock some sense into Labour and Lib Dem heads with a no-holds review of their candidates. Two are strong but two are weak no-hopers. Their parties should be smart enough to see this for themselves. If it’s any consolation to them, Owl thinks both Tory candidates are also weak. But with a split opposition they are likely to win. This would be an awful outcome for both wards.


This ward is vacant following Cllr Susie Bond’s move to Berkshire to be closer to family and the end of virtual meetings, meaning it is no longer practical for her to carry on in the role. (How long has she been telecommuting from Berkshire?). However, she did return to vote at the annual meeting, supporting Cllr Andrew Moulding for Leader. Someone about as old and stale a member of the “Old Guard” as you can find. Inexplicable behaviour for a supposed Independent councillor.

Privately, Owl has always thought she was one of those councillors who were “really-not-very-independent-at-all-but-I probably-wouldn’t have-got-in-if-I-still-called-myself-Tory”.

This ward will be contested between Linda Baden (Labour), Alasdair Bruce (Conservatives), and Todd Olive (Liberal Democrats).

Alasdair Bruce (brother of Fiona) stood against East Devon Alliance Paul Hayward for Yarty, in the Tory rout of 2019 and lost by a substantial margin. Not exactly a strong candidate.

Todd Olive came a close second to the Tories in this May’s by-election for the district council seat formerly held by Kathy Mclauchlan (Independent Whimple and Rockbeare), where he received 44% of the vote and is learning how to campaign fast.

Against these, Linda Baden looks to be a candidate in name only with simply no chance of success.

Honiton St Michaels

This ward is vacant after Cllr Luke Jeffery, Lib Dem, stepped down to focus on his University course.

The ward will be contested between Jake Bonetta (Labour), Jules Hoyles (Liberal Democrats) and Jenny Brown (Conservatives).

Here the picture Owl sees is very different.

Jenny Brown is the wife of Cllr. Colin Brown (current leader of EDDC Tory group). She has been a previous councillor but was rejected by Seaton voters in 2015. Owl places her in the mould or supporter of former EDDC councillor Sarah Randall-Johnson (SRJ) who, when leader of EEDC, was defeated by Claire Wright in 2011. A defeat that started the decline in Tory fortunes in EDDC.

SRJ’s style of abrasive Conservatism is amply chronicled in the EDW archive. See how she ignored a motion to debate hospital bed closures in 2017 – a Tory hardline policy we are living to regret.

Tory husband and wife teams aren’t new in EDDC. Sasha Swire outrageously described one pair as “toilet seats”, demonstrating that there is often little love lost between fellow Tories. 

The Conservatives look to be scraping the barrel in choosing Jenny Brown. She isn’t the candidate for the testing times of the post-covid years.

Jake Bonetta came a close second in the May 2021 County Council elections for the Feniton and Honiton Division with 38% of the vote. In this contest he is fighting directly on his home patch. He was born and bred in Honiton and has taken an active part in Honiton Forward which, amongst other things, seek better governance in Honiton Town Council.The “goings on” there are also well recorded in EDW.

An “impressive head on young shoulders”, Owl believes he is the sort of young blood local government needs more of. The 2019 election did see a welcome change in this direction amongst newly elected councillors, long may this trend continue.

Jules Hoyles was the spoiler candidate in the Axminster County election gaining 5% of the vote and could reprise the same role.

Spoiler alert on another race for second place with potentially dire consequences

Here is another example of just how potentially dangerous this tit-for-tat competition for second place can be.

Owl understands that Labour is putting up a candidate for the Upper Culm Valley Mid Devon District by-election, again splitting the vote. The Lib Dems currently hold Mid Devon, but if Conservatives win this seat, they take back Mid Devon. 

Owl hopes for the best but fears the worst. 

Main parties in three-way fight for two East Devon by-elections

Daniel Clark

The candidates for a pair of by-elections being held in East Devon have been announced – with both being a three-way fight between the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Vacancies on the council have arisen in the Feniton and the Honiton St Michaels ward, with polls taking place on Thursday, July 8.

One of the Honiton St Michaels seats became available after Cllr Luke Jeffery stepped down to focus on his University course, while the Feniton seat is vacant following Cllr Susie Bond having moved to Berkshire to be closer to family and the end of virtual meetings, plus the allowing of by-elections again, meaning it is no longer practical for her to carry on in the role.

The list of candidates nominated in both seats have now been announced, with the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all fielding a candidate in both wards.

In Feniton, the seat, which was held by an Independent, will be contested between Linda Baden (Labour), Alasdair Bruce (Conservatives), and Todd Olive (Liberal Democrats).

In Honiton St Michaels, which was held by the Liberal Democrats, the seat will be contested between Jake Bonetta (Labour), Jules Hoyles (Liberal Democrats) and Jenny Brown (Conservatives).

The by-elections will both take place on Thursday, July 8, with anyone wishing to vote needing to be registered by Tuesday, June 22.

Following the two resignations, the composition of East Devon District Council consists of Conservatives (21), East Devon Alliance (13), Independents (12), Liberal Democrats (7), Cranbrook Voice (3), and Green Party (2), with two seats vacant.

The council is currently run by a coalition of the East Devon Alliance, Liberal Democrats, Greens, and some of the Independents.

5 thoughts on “Main parties in three-way fight for two East Devon by-elections

  1. Those who have read my comments previously will know that I am generally pretty aligned with Owl’s opinions, but on this occasion Owl is so off the mark as to be obnoxiously objectionable.

    I knew Susie Bond quite well when I lived near Feniton and I would NEVER in a million years characterise her as a Tory-loyal fake-independent. All my experiences with Susie were that she was fiercely and fearlessly independent, acting as her conscience told her to and never cow-towing to the Conservatives or following the directions of any party whip. Indeed, despite being pretty well aligned with the independents in the East Devon Alliance, sharing many if not all of their goals, she didn’t want even the possible perception that she had compromised her independence by being part of the EDA either. The contrast with Tory-all-along Ben Ingham (who I also knew pretty well) is immense – they are at opposite extremes.

    Susie served the residents of Feniton extremely well for many years and she does not deserve to be characterised in this way. In my opinion, to describe Susie as “Someone about as old and stale a member of the “Old Guard” as you can find. Inexplicable behaviour for a supposed Independent councillor.” and “Privately, Owl has always thought she was one of those councillors who were ‘really-not-very-independent-at-all-but-I probably-wouldn’t have-got-in-if-I-still-called-myself-Tory’.” is about as insulting as you can possibly get, and new Owl should be utterly ashamed of themselves.

    I hope that Owl issues an abject apology at the first opportunity.


    • Paul F is spot on in his praise for Susie Bond. As a former Chair and Vice-Chair of EDA, and as a resident and Parish Councillor of the ward in which Susie was District Councillor, I can say that she has been outstanding: a truly fierce and fearless independent. Her professionalism has been an example to all – not least in responding with her characteristic patience and good humour to the obnoxious comment by the current Owl. (The original Owl would have been the first to spring to Susie’s defence.)

      As for the slight that Susie is a closet Tory … the voters of her ward were able to make up their own minds on this matter in the District Council elections of 2019. In that year Susie stood against John Tristram (Conservative) and Adam Powell (Labour). Susie won 82.6% of the vote, compared to Tristram’s 12.6%. That result alone should answer any possible confusion as to her political independence. The best wishes and thanks she has garnered on local social media for her work as a District Councillor will come as no surprise to those who know her.


  2. Oh dear Anonymous Owl …. do get your facts right! I ‘telecommuted’, as you call it, for a year during which Covid emergency measures meant no elections could be held at any level. Stepping down at that stage would have left Feniton ward with no representation at all. It worked extraordinarily well once Zoom meetings were embraced by councillors, officers and members of the public alike. Sadly, the Government did not extend emergency measures, so my position was no longer tenable.

    Yes, I attended Annual Council (you got that right), but I didn’t vote for Cllr Moulding for Leader. I voted for Colin Brown for leader (Cllr Moulding didn’t stand for leader, he stood for chair against Cllr Thomas, who I did vote for). I voted for Colin Brown, rather than abstain. I could not vote otherwise.

    I’m not sure on what basis you consider me a Conservative … I have stood as an Independent from 2013 till now. I certainly wouldn’t hide behind the Independent banner if I were a Tory. All independents come from all different political persuasions … being Independent means you listen to all views and make up your mind without given consideration to any party view. Being a true Independent is actually quite difficult, but you keep the residents of East Devon at the forefront of your mind.

    Am always happy to discuss one to one if you need clarification on any of the above. You’ve got my phone number! Would be grateful if you could remove the link to my blog from your sidebar (it refers to Cllr Susie Bond, which is no longer accurate).


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