Earlier in the week, on a whim, I collated figures for every vote cast so far this year,* by party, expecting either the Tories or Labour to lead by a decent margin. The actual result surprised me – prior to this week’s by-elections, the Lib Dems were leading Labour by over 800 votes despite standing in barely over half the contests. Even after those by-elections, which were decidedly mixed for the Lib Dems (1 hold, 1 gain, 2 losses, 1 no-show), we’re still leading the pack, 500 or so votes ahead of Labour.
I hadn’t planned to share this graph again for a while – it’s nice, but doesn’t really compare to the cumulative by-election changes graphs myself Brian and I have been preparing since the summer. But, next week we have six by-elections – one on Tuesday (!) in Basingstoke and five on Thursday. Two of those are Parliamentary, in Stoke-on-Trent and Copeland. You may have heard of them. Both are in “Labour heartlands” where we “can’t win”.
Here’s the thing, though: we are. We’ve stood in five fewer elections than Labour this year, and we’re still beating them. Labour’s largest win so far is smaller than our second-largest, their second-largest is only 5 votes more than our third-largest – and our third-largest win was Sunderland/Sandhill, which made jaws drop up and down the country.
Since the May elections, the Lib Dems have taken 7 seats off Labour, in every country in which they stand. Those seats were in places like Sheffield, and North-East Derbyshire, and Sunderland, and Rotherham. None of those victories were small; they were emphatic, none more so than our 2,000 votes in Rotherham, in the very ward of Orgreave Pit.
So when people say we can’t win, don’t believe them. Don’t accept it. Don’t internalise it and think they’re probably right. Parliamentary seats aren’t local ones, it’s true. Winning either is a big ask, but don’t think for one second that it’s impossible.
After a decidedly mixed run of by-elections I ran the numbers again, and guess what? We’re STILL beating the blighters! So, if anyone says we can’t win, consider showing them this. We can. We are.
* To be clear, reliable figures only exist for Parliamentary and principal local authority by-elections (and there are yet to be any of the former)
* John Grout is a member of Greater Reading Democrats.