2021 – the year in review: May (part 1)

Conservatives 10% ahead in the polls, a set of English County elections in friendly territory for them, a disrupted campaign phase. It was going to end badly, right?

But it didn’t, as Liberal Democrat groups across the country demonstrated that, if you worked hard, had a clear strategy and took advantage of the resources available from ALDC, you could win seats from the Conservatives despite their air war advantage. Across the country, complacent Conservative administrations fell, and although the overall result was pretty much break even – a small net gain – it felt like a win. In fact, whilst the Conservatives were up more than 200 councillors overall, those gains were at the expense of Labour, whilst the night’s other big winners were the Greens, albeit from a low base. Which reminds me, Theakes promised to run round his kitchen naked if we made net gains – is there a record of this event?

In Scotland, we took a step backwards, despite doing well in our held constituencies, losing one of the five seats previously held in an election where remarkably little changed from five years previous. And despite pleas to withhold a majority from the SNP, their informal (later to become formal) agreement with the Greens meant that Holyrood had a clear majority for independence.

The Party clung on in Wales by its fingertips, losing Brecon and Radnorshire following Kirsty Williams’ retirement but benefitting from the opportunity that created on the Mid and West Wales regional list. Party Leader Jane Dodds joined the Senedd but, with Labour making the one gain required to reach 50% of the seats, our influence, so strong with Kirsty in the administration, weakened significantly. Our vote fell significantly too, leaving a hard road ahead west of Offa’s Dyke.

London saw an increase in our vote, breaching the 10% barrier and gaining a list seat. We got close to winning a constituency seat in South West but otherwise came fourth everywhere except Croydon and Sutton, where we came a distant third. Caroline Pidgeon continues to punch well above her weight, and the addition of Hina Bokhari is most welcome.

Elsewhere, whilst the Party’s performance was better across the South, in places of recent Liberal Democrat strength – Liverpool, Sheffield and Stockport to name but three – the slow resurgence continued, whilst Sunderland saw some astonishing gains from Labour. St Albans was gained from no overall control, reward for a well-organised, disciplined campaign team, whilst Lucy Nethsingha in Cambridgeshire, Amanda Hopgood in Durham and Liz Leffman in Oxfordshire found themselves leading “rainbow” coalitions.

What, in retrospect, did we learn?

That, whilst Labour were still to persuade voters that the Corbyn years were far enough in the rear view mirror, and were increasingly weak in rural areas, there wasn’t exactly a lot of love for the Conservatives. Where Greens or Liberal Democrats could demonstrate credibility, the Conservative vote was pretty soft. In places like Suffolk, whilst urban seats were lost by Labour to the Conservatives, both Greens and Liberal Democrats could win from a long way behind.

But the proof of that theory still lay ahead…

* Mark Valladares is the Monday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice. This review was brought to you by the letters A, L, D and C.

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  • The ‘slow resurgence in areas of former LD strength’ also continued in ‘none Core Vote’ urban, ex mining area, Labour facing, Chesterfield.

    We gained a Labour County Council seat and eliminated the sole Conservative County Council seat. The only Party to make gains in Chesterfield and the only Lib Dem gains in all Derbyshire in 2021.

    Which followed on from gaining 7 Labour Borough Council seats (the largest such gains in England) and eliminating the sole UKIP seat in the 2019 Borough elections. Plus gaining 3 out of 3 Council by elections from Labour since 2016.

    Working on the 2023 Borough elections now.

  • Yes I did, actually round the house, inside of course. I was 100% naked unlike Stephen. If I recall I did make an entry a few days later on this web site.
    I suppose next year expectations will be higher. Let us hope we achieve them, would be a great help to sustain the momentum by fighting and winning Southend West.

  • Brad Barrows 29th Dec '21 - 5:33pm

    The Scottish Liberal Democrat performance at the Scottish elections were actually quite shocking and, without incumbent MSPs picking up Unionist tactical votes, the final result could have been even worse. The Party now finds itself with only 4 MSPs – half as many as the Scottish Green Party – and a new low point in the relentless decline that has occurred since the Party had 17 MSPs elected in the first two Scottish Parliament elections in 1999 and 2003. I keep hoping that the Party will change its current strategy of seeking to compete for a bigger share of the Unionist vote, but I have seen no sign that anything as radical is Remotely possible.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 29th Dec '21 - 6:07pm

    @ Paul,

    Indeed, Chesterfield had some excellent results, reward for hard work, commitment and dedication. And you offer hope (and an example) to Liberal Democrat groups in similar places…

    @ Brad,

    I’m a diplomat and, perhaps, not quite so hung up on the Union. But this is a federal Party, and I respect the stance my Scottish friends take, even where I don’t share it. I do find myself wondering if a variant on the Northern Ireland model, where a societal divide is straddled by the Alliance Party, might work better for us in Scotland – independence sceptic but not wholly opposed.

  • Chris Moore 29th Dec '21 - 6:09pm

    Brad, the strategy is flawed in the same way as the self-defeating Remain Alliance was flawed.

    If you only try to appeal to half the electorate, and fish in the same small pond as Labour and Tories, you can’t expect to get anything other than a very mediocre result.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 30th Dec '21 - 11:43am

    yes, or course, where we work we win. But there are times when other forces negate the work.
    In my old seat in Stockton on Tees there had been good continuous work, and the focus to go with it since 1981. It became a 2 seat ward in 2005 with my colleague Julia Cherrett taken the 2nd seat and continuing to work hard, and well from then on.
    She tragically died suddenly in October 2020. In the by election in May 2021 the other cllr David Minchella and new candidate Matt Eves worked so hard along with a very small but hardworking few getting the deliveries out, and me non stop on the phone. But the seat was lost to a never heard of before Tory who worked for our Red Wall tory MP.
    Tories had been in 3rd place and continually squeezed for decades, but burst through. The same result elsewhere in Tees Valley. The Tory Mayor was restoring holiday flights to europe from Teesside airport in our brexit area, and people loved the idea.
    There was a deluge of tory votes in every election for every position as well as our by election.
    It was terrible to lose that seat held by such a hard working good Liberal Democrat who was our friend too. NOT because there was no work done, but sadly there are times when a lot of money bunged at a populist project brings in more votes.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 31st Dec '21 - 12:23am

    @ Suzanne,

    Indeed, you can do everything right and still not succeed. Bad luck, unfortunate timing and the tide of politics can mean that you come up short, and that’s why retail politics sucks sometimes.

    In Suffolk, I see too many truly mediocre Conservatives get elected over good local activists, simply because their air war and the ability to pay for delivery outguns any opposition.

    I can only hope that you’re able to come back from the disappointment but your recent success augurs well.

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