ALDC by-election report: 29th July 2021

With Lib Dems competing in four of the five principal authority by-elections on Thursday, this really was one to watch. Two fantastic principal authority gains in Harrogate and Norfolk, and some great town council performances with a win in Knaresborough and near miss in Woodley meant a good night for Lib Dems.

In Knaresborough Scriven Park in Harrogate, we saw two seats up for grabs triggered by the resignation of a Conservative district and town councillor. In 2018 we missed out on the district seat by just 16 votes, and so was prime material for some Lib Dem by-election magic. Of course, a strong campaign saw us flip the seat and now have a majority of 251 votes, with a percentage increase of 19.6%. Congratulations to new Cllr Hannah Gostlow!

Electing to field two candidates for each seat rather than a single candidate, the Lib Dems also saw a very healthy gain in the same ward on Knaresborough Town Council. Whilst we topped the poll there last time in 2018, we still saw a whopping increase in our vote share by 29.0%. A huge well done to new Cllr Andy Bell!

Earlier this year in May, we got just 11% in Gaywood South ward of Norfolk County Council – and so when the incumbent Conservative councillor resigned, this looked like an unlikely gain at first glance. Nevertheless, the local team were not dissuaded by this David vs Goliath task and applied for an ALDC by-election fighting fund grant to help them put forward the best campaign they could. Putting out a healthy amount of leaflets, target mail, and making sure to hit postal voters as a priority were key ingredients to their success. Identifying key local issues also allowed them to position themselves as community champions, to great effect. Gaining the seat from the Conservatives with a staggering increase of 28.0% is a monumental achievement. Just goes to show what excellent opportunities by-elections can be for breaking through. Congratulations to Rob Colwell and the local team!

We also had a very close call in Woodley Town Council in Theresa May’s constituency – where a stunning increase of 20.6% wasn’t quite enough to flip the seat in our favour. Just 7 votes off does however tee things up very nicely for next time. Thank you to David Provins for standing!

We also stood in one of the two by-elections this week contested by candidates whose own resignation had caused the vacancy. In South Tyneside an Independent councillor with a controversial history attempted to retract his resignation, which to his chagrin is not possible. Forced to contest the by-election, he lost to Labour. David Wilkinson stood for us there, where we saw a moderate increase from last time. Thank you David for standing!

Similarly, a Labour councillor in Bassetlaw resigned and decided to unsuccessfully re-contest the election as an independent, with the Conservatives sweeping up enough votes to gain East Retford South. Unfortunately, we did not stand a candidate this time, where the unusual circumstances may have provided space for us to break through.

Finally, we also flew the flag in Pitsea North West in Basildon. Also a significant Conservative gain from Labour, we at least gave Lib Dem voters someone to vote for. Thank you to Martin Howard for standing for us!

Overall then, two excellent gains for the Lib Dems, with every other principal authority by-election also resulting in a change of party. It’s become a truism to say we live in turbulent times, but voters really are increasingly volatile, presenting some otherwise less obvious opportunities.

The full results of the local council by-elections can be found here, as well as forthcoming by-elections here.

ALDC works to support Liberal Democrat councillors and campaigners across the country. Members of ALDC can apply for a by-election fast track Fighting Fund grant of up to 50% of the maximum expense limit, see more information here.

* Ollie Bradfield is a Campaigns and Communications Intern at ALDC with responsibility for the by-elections reporting service

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  • Yes great results, however caveats:
    – Tory candidate in Norfolk election apparently upset a lot of people over his tweets,
    they certainly appears unwise
    – no competing Green candidates, perhaps a lesson here
    – YouGov have Greens ahead of us, although to be fair they consistently identify the
    Green vote as higher than all other polling firms,
    otherwise yes a glass or two to celebrate!

  • Kevin Hawkins 31st Jul '21 - 3:34pm

    While I am delighted with our gains this week (especially as I live in one of the winning areas) I would point out that a by-election report that covers just one week’s results is very misleading and gives little indication of how we and other parties are really performing. I have by-election data going back to 1996 on an Excel spreadsheet and find it more meaningful to look at the most recent fifty results – this eliminates the statistical noise in the data that occurs when looking at only a handful of results.
    Thus my data to the end of July gives the following figures:
    Con 39.2%, Lab 29.6%, Green 12.5%, LD 11.2%
    This is the first time ever we have been overtaken by the Greens, and is the first time we have been in fourth place in local by-elections since the fifty by-elections to end of June 2015 when we were behind UKIP. Out of the last 50 by-elections we have achieved 1 net gain, whereas the Greens have 4 net gains. This is in spite of us contesting 39 out of the last 50 by-elections compared to only 28 by the Greens.
    The Tory percentage lead over Labour is marginally up this month and has been fairly consistent since by-elections restarted in the Spring. (Tories have two net gains, Labour two net losses)
    So, while our by-election gains this week are obviously welcome the overall picture is not as good as these wins suggest. Just before lockdown we were on 19.7%.
    (This data is for England and Wales and does not include parish/town councils)

  • John Bicknell 31st Jul '21 - 4:39pm

    I, too, was looking at results over a time period; that of local council by elections since May 6th, where there has been a gain or a loss. These show Conservatives G7, L5, Labour G2, L7, Lib Dems G4, L2, Greens G3, L0, and Independents G1, L3.
    They suggest that the Conservatives are continuing to make inroads against Labour (G5, L0), but are vulnerable to the Lib Dems and the Greens where those parties have local strength.

  • A mixture of encouraging and bizarre results. Labour were down everywhere – including the seat they gained!

  • Paul Barker 1st Aug '21 - 9:53am

    On The Polls, individual Polls are worse than useless. Looking at an average of recent Polls, We are around 9% & The Greens around 6%.

    Looking at Local Byelections is much more difficult – there isnt even an agreed definition of what counts as Gains or Losses.

  • Jason Conner 2nd Aug '21 - 11:42am

    I am glad you mentioned Pitsea North West in Basildon. I know the area well. Interestingly in Basildon they don’t close off all their side streets to cars but plant grass verges and trees so there is plenty of greenery everywhere a an example how successful town planning can be done. Anyway going back the result, the Lib Dems could do much better here if they delivered leaflets and not just stood on paper. Plenty of local issues like the closure of a local swimming pool, rubbish and fly tipping, drug dealing/crime etc which need attention. The local council tends to neglect this part of Basildon when it comes to these bread and butter issues. I frequently send reports, the last one on graffiti, which months later has still not been dealt with.

  • @Jason Conner

    Can I suggest you get campaigning. I don’t know if you want to do that as a lib dem. But if the council are not getting things done then get your neighbours to sign a petition, email etc. Etc. and get the council to institute better systems.

    The “liberal democrats” are not some separate body they are us! Community politics was developed in the 70s not as a means of electoral success but as a way of campaigning on issues. And even if we live in the blackest of black holes electorally for the lib Dems we should be throwing our metaphorical stones at labservative councils and other public bodies. And I appreciate that it’s dispiriting and disheartening if campaigning work is not going to lead to immediate electoral success but you can achieve much without electoral success. And one should aim to leave this planet slightly better than we found it and just one pothole filled is a life well lived in my opinion!

    So if you’re not a member Jason, do join, start putting out leaflets and join aldc as providing lots of help and support.

    Off to report graffiti on a phonebox to BT….

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