THREE Andover town council by-elections have been staged in the last four months. That’s more than were held in the preceding eight years combined.

This comes with a significant cost, as the Advertiser revealed earlier this month, with the town council advised to budget in the region of £40,000 for the three recently held by-elections.

These votes were called to fill vacancies left by departing councillors – but why have we seen so many more leave than in previous years gone by?

One explanation that has frequently been put forward is the behaviour of certain councillors, labelled as ‘blockers’ and described as ‘churlish’ by others who have since resigned.

Or perhaps we need to go back to the start – or at least to when the current councillors were selected to stand as candidates – to better understand the situation.

Political parties typically go through extensive selection processes before deciding on local candidates.

Borough council leader Phil North says the Conservative Party employs a “rigorous” selection policy.

“This comprises various stages including completing a detailed application form, an interview in front of an approvals panel to vet people and ensure they have the time and skills to carry out the role, shortlisting of applicants for each seat, where necessary, and then final selection through an interview conducted by members of the party in the respective ward,” he said.

Likewise Labour have a strenuous process, with the assessment stage alone involving a nomination form, assessment centre interviews and exercises, recommendations and more.

Luigi Gregori, who was the Liberal Democrats parliamentary candidate during last December’s general election, said of such selection processes: “I think it’s important, and frankly we at the Lib Dems will not allow people to stand unless you get through a process.”

The Andover Alliance, meanwhile, approved candidates’ applications through a selection panel, but beyond that there was no further screening.

Candidates simply agreed which wards they would stand on as “we didn’t have enough people,” says party leader Richard Rowles – who adds that this is “very common” amongst other parties.

But Cllr Rowles denies that the selection process could have been stricter, adding: “Whatever our approval process, we gave people the choice where previously there would have been none.”

Perhaps then we need to look even further back – as far as the previous administration – for answers.

One former councillor explained that there were fewer by-elections in the past, as more candidates were decided via co-option – a process whereby existing councillors vote for candidates themselves.

They believe this wouldn’t work anymore due to party politics within the current council.

“While there was some party politics before,” the former councillor said, “there was mutual respect between councillors and we worked for the good of the town, not for the good of any one party.

“I don’t believe that would be the case with the current councillors.”

However, the current council chairman notes that the co-option process is only possible if electors don’t call for a vote. And in each of our recent by-elections, electors did indeed call for a vote.

He then offers his own assessment.

“I do not feel any guilt that there have been so many by-elections. The only guilt I feel is helping David Coole get elected.”

Selection processes, party politics, or the issue of respect between councillors – perhaps the reason for the rise in by-elections is a combination of all three.