ICYMI: A hat-trick of Lib Dem GAINS in last night’s by-elections

Last night was a good night for Lib Dems across the country:

Brilliant from Martin Wrigley and team.

Congratulations, Margaret Evans and team.

Well done to Saul Penfold and team.

And we had some pretty impressive increases in vote share in 3 more contests.

Elsewhere, a solid result in Tendring from a standing start:

And in Northamptonshire we also put on vote share:

In Epsom and Ewell, a gain in the Labour vote seems to have come mostly from the Residents but slightly from us, too:

Unfortunately, there were a few by-elecitons in Falkirk and Halton Castle where we didn’t have a candidate, which is why it’s so good that Ben Marshall flew our flag in Grassmoor in North East Derbyshire.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Some encouraging results for the Lib Dems – and for Labour as well – which won’t do Mrs May’s grip on tenure much good. A hung Lab-Lib majority at Westminster and the start of an anti-Brexit bandwagon ?

    Clearly not too many for were listening to our flexible Foreign Secretary.

    The Chudleigh result is interesting in that the former Councillor was a Conservative Cabinet member before having the whip removed. He is now enjoying Her Majesy’s hospitality. An attempted murder charge was withdrawn but he was sentenced to three years for attacking his wife with a mallet.

  • The other thing of note is the disappearance of the Green Party in the Teignbridge results. They got over 500 votes in those two wards in 2015.

    Is there a bit of a realignment going on ?

  • Chris Bertram 16th Feb '18 - 10:51am

    Re us not standing in all contests, even the Tories and Labour couldn’t manage a full house yesterday. 11/14 is pretty good going. Next week it looks like 10/12 including some new entries and returns to the ballot paper.

    @David Raw – UKIP’s problems are often noted, probably because they had so much support to lose in some of these contests. And they are collapsing pretty spectacularly. Rumour has it that they may be on the verge of bankruptcy. I won’t miss them I admit. But the decline of the Greens has gone under the radar. They’d been working hard to build up a solid, if fairly low level of support, and by targeting had won seats here and there. But it’s all fading away. In York yesterday, they were a decent third last time around, and we were fourth. After the poll, we’d leapfrogged both them and the Tories to claim second spot, and their share had more than halved. They will be gutted with that.

    It’s surmised that the “Watermelon” section of their vote (green on the outside, red on the inside) has largely deserted them for Comrade Corbyn’s Labour party. I think that’s likely to be true. And we need also to work hard to get the “Mango” (orange on the inside) element onside with us. That won’t leave a lot behind. They had been managing to keep standing candidates in a lot of seats, even when there was no hope for them. I’ve noticed this starting to drop off, just as I have with UKIP failing to defend seats or be absent where they’ve done well before. There’s only a certain level of defeat you can take before becoming terminally demoralised. And that could be happening to the Greens now.

  • Ian Patterson 16th Feb '18 - 11:26am

    Whilst it is good for us to gain in both North Norfolk and Teinnbridge, it should be noted we have an M P in one and used to have one in the other. If we remove Brexit from the equation, the results indicate the pendulum which swung against us in 2015 is merely moving back to its regular pattern. We are still nailed to between 6 and 8 % nationally. It will be a long haul to 2022.

  • Chris Bertram 16th Feb '18 - 11:45am

    @Ian Patterson – so, if we *can’t* win council seats in those areas, we’re stuffed. Happily, we can, and with good swings. The national polls are static, that’s true. Local by-elections, however good they are, rarely make national news in a way that makes people think “Hold on …”, and the news media only seem to count the number of Westminster MPs. Barring a favourable by-election for Westminster, we just have to keep the background level of activity going. A good round of council elections in May will help, of course, with morale nationwide as much as anything else. And last night’s performances, including the good swings our way that didn’t win, will help too.

  • Even in the face of superb gains from the Tories some of us inevitably pay attention to how Labour are doing. Labour had a strong defence in York Holgate with a vote increase a little bit above the Lib Dem increase, earning York a “lovely people” tribute from Jeremy.
    There were a scattering of “not much change” performances. And then there was weird symmetry in a 10.3% drop in Labour North East Derbyshire and a 10.5% increase in Surrey! It may be about being establishment or insurgency – or is it moribund or motivated?

  • Ian Patterson 16th Feb '18 - 12:12pm

    @ Chris Bertram our recovery is encouraging but patchy. We are not yet firing on all thrusters. I myself will be working in three wards over next three days, only one is my own. It takes warm bodies to deliver leaflets etc. Our current moderate successs is a staging post not a destination.

  • Most people here probably already know this, but for those who don’t, there is an excellent website (Andrew’s Previews) which previews all local by elections every week, describing each ward and its recent electoral history. Yesterday’s listings give some good context to these results. http://britainelects.com/2018/02/13/previews-15-feb-2018/

  • Chris Bertram 16th Feb '18 - 12:33pm

    @Geoff Reid – We actually leapfrogged Labour to take second place in a couple of seats. Their progress is not uniformly good everywhere. But of course we need to work on their voters to persuade them our way too.

    @Ian Patterson – totally agree that the destination is some way away. But the signs of recovery are there – more candidates, more gains in share, more gains in seats, and not always in obvious places. There are still some seats where our candidate is paper only and gets a derisory number of votes, and still some black holes – some of these being long-term, long predating coalition. These will need fixing. But let’s enjoy this moment for a day or so. Eeyore’s turn can come later.

  • paul barker 16th Feb '18 - 1:07pm

    Its pretty clear that a significant chunk of those Voters who turn out for Local Elections (perhaps a quarter) want to vote for us, when we let them. We have to keep pushing for more LD candidates, even paper ones, the voters cant vote for us if we dont stand.
    We have seen a real, substantial & (so far) continuing inprovement in our performance since the low point of last Summer.
    We have along way to go but we have made a good start, lets celebrate that.

  • David Blake 16th Feb '18 - 1:54pm
  • Kevin Hawkins 16th Feb '18 - 1:55pm

    There were some good results this week which go some way to compensate for the dismal performance last week. However it makes little sense to look at a few results in isolation. I have a spreadsheet of local by-election results going back to the 1990s and I believe you get a much more realistic view by looking at a reasonably large set of results. Looking at the most recent fifty local by-elections (excluding parishes and Scotland) we obtained 20.2% of the vote. This is a considerable improvement on our performance a few months ago when we were averaging around 12%. However we are still down on where we were at this time last year – the most recent fifty by-elections to Feb 16th 2017 we were at 25.5%. (The Richmond Park parliamentary by-election win in December 2016 may have given us a short-term boost in local by-elections last winter.)

  • As people may be aware the politistats uk twitter account https://twitter.com/PolitiStatsUK gives the following statistics for the 170 local by-elections since the General Election. (number won, gains, vote share, change over last time fought).

    LAB: 68 (+6) – 35.3% +6.4%
    CON: 65 (-13) – 32.5% +0.7%
    LDM: 23 (+10) – 14.8% +5.1%
    UKIP 0 (0) – 2.2% -10.4%

    While nearly 15% is double our opinion poll rating, it does also contain a bit of warning. The BBC estimated a projected national vote share for the local elections was

    May 2017:
    Lab 27%
    Con 38%
    LDM 18%

    And for 2014:
    Lab 31%
    Con 29%
    LDM 13%
    UKIP 17%

    Of course it is impossible to know how comparable the two are.

    Not all parties stand in all by-elections and the by-elections may not be representative of the UK as a whole. However it is likely that a party is more likely not to stand where it wouldn’t have done that well anyway and it is quite likely that a by-election is a fairly random event and not skewed towards any particular type so 170 should be relatively representative.

    Again it does take into account any difference over time. Party X say might be doing much better at the beginning than the end. But there haven’t been any major swings in the opinion poll over that time. Also local parties may put more effort into a by-election which may get more spread out over a whole council area when there are more elections – although this might get cancelled out between parties.

    It suggests that making any gains this May off Labour will be tough and off the Conservatives will be difficult. UKIP must be facing a near wipe-out – especially as they seem to have had more defections and resignations etc. than the other parties – including all 17 Thurrock UKIP councillors resigning from UKIP and forming a new party there. 2014 was also the same day as the European elections which UKIP did well in and must have helped the turnout of their voters.

  • @ David Blake Your post sheds light on what ought to be a major concern – the defection of Councillor Alison Wall to the Conservatives in Three Rivers. She states :

    “My heart has always been in community work and was asked to stand for the local Lib Dem elections in 2014 by Cllrs Chris Lloyd and Phil Brading – with full understanding that I was a Conservative”.

    What on earth were two Lib Dem Councillors doing recruiting a professed Conservative voter ?

    It also throws up questions about the rigour of Lib Dem selection processes. To what extent does the party maintain quality control standards – or is it so desperate that this doesn’t matter ? Is it a case that just anyone can stand on the Lib Dem label ? It also applies to ‘flag flyers’ getting 14 votes (0.8%) and make no effort.

    The party needs to respond to this if it is to be taken seriously in what ought to be a serious activity.

  • @ David Blake My understanding is that there is a twelve month waiting time as a party member before anyone can stand as a Labour candidate. They also have a booklet
    outlining the role and responsibility of local Councillors and what is expected of them.

    Do the Lib Dems have such a rule, and is any training involved before selection ?

  • David Raw – if you read the comments under the article, the local LDs in Three Rivers say they did properly vet the candidate, and she made no comments then about being a Conservative.
    It will be unfortunate if this thread focuses too much on the negative story of one recalcitrant councillor. However regrettable a single defection may be, our focus here should be on the very good set of results from last night – and on the people who worked hard to achieve them.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Feb '18 - 3:37pm


    You are correct, Labour have this rule we do not. It is better not to, I know excellent people encouraged to move from voter to member because a local party encourages them t stand for council seat.

    Some parties , in areas the party is not strong, lack potential candidates. In countries like the US being a registered voter for a party is all the party membership is.

    We need to broaden and appeal, this means uniting with voters who like us, and persuading them to stand is part of it for some.

  • Laurence Cox 16th Feb '18 - 3:50pm

    @David Raw

    Lorenzo is quite right, local councillor selection is the responsibility of local parties. Unlike Labour, we don’t let Party HQ dictate who can and cannot be a candidate. For areas like London that have all-up elections it can often be hard to find enough members willing to stand as candidates, particularly in no-hope wards. For all elections above local councils (MPs, MSPs, AMs, PCCs, Elected Mayors) Party HQ controls candidate assessment and training.

  • @ Laurence Cox Being a member for twelve months is not letting “Party HQ dictate who can and cannot be a candidate”, It is a prudent method of establishing the bona fides of the prospective candidate.

    @ TonyH. Somebody is not telling the actualite….. if it’s the former Councillor it proves her unsuitability in the first place which should have been established then ….. if it’s not….. I don’t think the Comments you quote fully answer the issue.

    Yes, lets be pleased about the general results, but also remember it is a serious matter of trust with the electorate who we select. Their ability to do the job in order to serve and to maintain the repute of the party. Due diligence matters if the accusation of woolly amateurism and worse is to be avoided.

  • Kevin Hawkins 16th Feb '18 - 5:18pm

    Michael1 – Taking all of the 170 by-elections since the general election is not that useful – it is too long a time frame and fails to detect that we went into something of a decline after the general election but have made a recovery since. In order to make any sense of by elections you need to choose a period that is neither too long nor too short. That is why I use the most recent fifty elections which is typically a two or three month period. To give you an extreme (meaningless though true) statistic – there have been 5,435 local by-elections in the last 21 years resulting in a total of 179 Lib Dem net gains. Our percentage vote share over that period was 22.4%. This doesn’t tell us anything about how we are performing today let alone how we might perform in May. Using all of the by-elections since the last general election is not quite as silly but in my view is not much more useful and will get less useful month by month.

  • Chris Bertram 16th Feb '18 - 5:51pm

    Kevin, I think your rolling average is a good thing to track. How has it been moving over, say, the last six months?

  • paul barker 16th Feb '18 - 6:51pm

    I have been using a rolling average of the last 25 contests, looking at changes in Vote percentages. Right now I believe that we are around 25%, in the seats we stand in or stood last time. If we were to stand in 4 out of 5 seats this May, that 25% would translate into 20% ( on the National Equivalent basis used by The BBC) but if we only stand in 2 out of 3, that would only be 17%, a bit less than last Year. The more seats we stand in, the more votes we get & the more notice will be taken of us.
    We can feel hopeful about this May but its way too soon to make predictions, as last Year demonstrated we are vulnerable to events over which we have no control.

  • John Marriott 16th Feb '18 - 9:21pm

    Thank goodness from an existentional point of view that Lib Dem candidates can still win. However, the party has had some stonking wins in by elections at all levels between General and Local Elections in the past.

    What really counts is what happens when all seats are up for grabs and the effort has to be spread more thinly. The May elections will be a better guide, although success there is no guarantee of success in the next General Election.

  • @Kevin Hawkins

    Very interesting post – thanks!

    It would be interesting if you would generously share your data online etc. as a Google spreadsheet etc. ????

    “170 by-elections since the general election is not that useful – it is too long a time frame”


    There seem to be a few things that would be useful from your data.
    The percentages for the parties from the last 50 by-elections.
    The trends of a ROLLING average of (say) the last 50 by-elections.

    The comparison against the last May election it was fought would also be interesting – compared against the projected national share. From which you could compute a projected national vote share for local elections.

    It seems even from the Politistats data that some things are clear:
    The UKIP vote has completely collapsed – we probably knew this already.
    The Labour vote is doing pretty well. A guesstimate that it is up 5% compared to 4 years ago would not be unreasonable.
    The Tory vote is doing OK.

    From your data: a dip in our vote after the general would not be unexpected – often a general election share is exaggerated in the local election vote and the opinion poll rating. (Perceived) winners going up, (perceived) losers going down.

    It is possible though from what you say that we have only recovered to possibly a point below that of the May 2017 local elections. That would indicate (at best) a share a few percentage above our share 4 years ago.

    All this is consistent with the UKIP vote returning to Labour, some to the Conservatives and a little to the Lib Dems. There will also be some who turned out in 2014 – the same day as the European elections to send a message on Europe – who won’t this time.

    It would SEEM with the collapse of the UKIP vote that our vote is up a little but Labour may be up more and Tories also up but may be less than Labour.
    All this would suggest a swing from us to Labour at the May elections.

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