No prizes for guessing what dominates Nick’s weekly letter: the Eastleigh by-election, which he learned the Lib Dems had held with a majority of almost 1,800 when director of campaigns Hilary Stephenson texted him. ‘We didn’t win in Eastleigh “in spite” of our record. We won because of our record,’ says Nick. Significantly, though, there is also a paragraph dedicated to the party’s response to the allegations against Chris Rennard: ‘It’s clear mistakes were made in the handling of allegations and that is something we have to put right.’ Here’s his letter in full…
What a victory! After three weeks of seriously intense campaigning, we’ve done it. Mike Thornton is the new MP for Eastleigh.
Waiting for news from the count was nerve-wracking. We knew we’d had a stellar polling day operation and got our voters out: but was it going to be enough?
And then Hilary Stephenson, our campaigns director, texted me to say: the result is in. we’ve done it. And we did – a majority of nearly 1,800 votes.
There were hundreds of Lib Dems who made it to Eastleigh during this campaign. And the number of young people I saw out there confirmed for me, so clearly, that our party isn’t just alive but it’s thriving.
The most exhilarating thing for me about this victory is that no-one can dismiss it as a protest vote like they used to in the past.
Our critics have been telling us for two and a half years that joining a coalition would prevent us from winning elections again. We wouldn’t be able to fight on our own values and record again, they said. Well, this week we proved them wrong. We can be in power – locally and nationally – and still win elections.
The decision of the Eastleigh voters to stick with us is a vindication of the decisions we’ve taken, and the steps we make every day, whether in local or in national government, to deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling every person in Britain to get on in life.
Keith House, the leader of Eastleigh council, and his team have done an amazing job over the last ten years, building support from local people by listening and delivering. Protecting green spaces. Cutting council tax. Investing to create jobs. Ask anyone who was out on the doorsteps in Eastleigh and they’ll tell you: it’s a winning message.
And now, on top of those local achievements we have a great story to tell about what we’re delivering in government in Westminster. Lower income tax for hard working families. A million new apprentices. A million new jobs.
We didn’t win in Eastleigh “in spite” of our record. We won because of our record.
I’m going to be so proud to welcome Mike to Westminster to help us continue that work, fighting for fair taxes, a balanced economy and opportunity for our young people.
Of course, this week wasn’t only about good news. The allegations of sexual harassment that have come to light in the last week or so are extremely serious. For me, the most important thing now is to ensure those women who have come forward are heard, with respect and dignity. That’s why I have established two investigations to follow up these allegations – and also to how we as a party deal with complaints and concerns. It’s clear mistakes were made in the handling
of allegations and that is something we have to put right.
I want to thank everyone who helped make our victory possible in Eastleigh: those of you who made it down to campaign in person, those who gave money or made phone calls. Whatever your contribution, you can be incredibly proud of the difference it made.
Our opponents threw everything they had at us over the last month. And we still emerged triumphant. That’s the kind of party we are: the harder they push us, the stronger we get.
The lesson from Eastleigh is clear: we can be in government and win if we work together. Let’s remember that in the next two months as we campaign for the local elections. They can push us as hard as they like; we will just get stronger.
Mike Thornton can win. We can win.
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* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.