By-election report from ADLC: 22nd July 2021

A very mixed picture this week in the world of local council by-elections. From the highs of the phenomenal hold in Camden, to the lows of not even standing in a Liberal Democrat held seat. Of the eight principal authority contests across England and Wales this week, we only stood in four. It’s essential that we, as a political party that takes local government and community seriously, give voters a Liberal Democrat to vote for at every available opportunity. Nevertheless, we also saw some good performances in some town and parish councils this week, managing to gain two seats, and seeing a narrow miss in another.

The headline story is of course winning the Fortune Green by-election in Camden.

In 2018 the legendary Flick Rea held her seat by just 28 votes. With her strong personal vote, this in theory made this by-election an extremely precarious proposition, with by-election expert Andrew Teale describing it as a ‘difficult defence’. However, Nancy Jirira made an extraordinary candidate, with some well-earned local credentials having previously served as councillor there between 2008 and 2014. Nancy’s inspiring personality, along with the Camden Lib Dems drawing support from far and wide, saw us not only keep the seat, but make a laudable improvement on the previous result. With a percentage improvement of over 10%, and a majority of 348 votes, this really is an extremely impressive result. Egg is, without a doubt, on the face of the Labour activists who were allegedly telling voters that the Tories were within 50 votes of winning. Huge congratulations to Cllr. Nancy Jirira and the team.

More good news was to be found in Beverley Town Council in the East Riding of Yorkshire. In a patch where we had never worked before and had been held by Labour for years, we saw a fantastic gain. It just goes to show that these by-elections can be excellent opportunities to give things a go. Often residents are pleased that someone else is finally taking an interest, and will, as in this case, reward you at the ballot box! Well done and congratulations to Cllr. Graham Johnson and the team.

Similarly in Christchurch Town Council, a straight Lib Dem/Independent contest saw the Liberal Democrats gain a seat that was formerly held by an independent councillor. A well deserved win – congratulations to Cllr. Carina Gordon and the team.

A near miss was seen in Chard Town Council in the historic liberal constituency of Yeovil. Whilst we didn’t gain it, we improved our vote share by 16%. The team should see this as a very encouraging result. With it being only 8 votes off, there’s a clear squeeze message that can be easily communicated for next time. Thank you to Gary Molloy and better luck next time.

Looking back to principal authorities, we fought a really tough by-election campaign in Alkham and Capel-le-Ferne in Dover. Unfortunately, covid related calamities and other difficulties stymied their efforts. It was a Conservative hold, but we still remain in second place and hopefully will build on this result next time. Thank you to Roben Franklin for standing.

Elsewhere, we also stood in Leicester and the Wirral. Whilst the results here weren’t as exciting as other places, we’re heartened to see us standing candidates, nonetheless. Thank you to Bicram Athwal and Sue Arrowsmith for standing.

Four other contests took place without Liberal Democrats in North Somerset, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Spelthorne, and Thanet. Whilst it’s always a shame to not see the Lib Dem bird on the ballot paper, it’s especially unfortunate when it’s a seat we had previously won very comfortably – such as in Congresbury and Puxton in North Somerset. The Greens therefore gained the seat, and voters were denied even the choice to vote Lib Dem.

Full results are available here.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Ian Patterson 24th Jul '21 - 10:45am

    Explanation needed for North Somerset giveaway.

  • The history of the Somerset Seat is that it was a safe Green Ward for several elections then we won when The Greens failed to stand. Is it just that both Parties find it hard to get people who will stand or is there a Local Agreement ? Someone in the local Libdems must know surely ?

    On the wider point, we have to get better at standing, every time, every Election – thats what Parties are for.

  • John Shoesmith 24th Jul '21 - 11:50am

    One of the biggest issues for me, and other relatively new members I know, is that of standing in every seat. We feel close to the Greens, can detect little difference between their policies and ours, and are reluctant to campaign against them. The same applies to a lesser extent with Labour. We want to defeat the Tories, whatever that takes.

    The party nationally faces the same issue. Johnson has unfettered power because the opposition vote is split in many constituencies.

    In 2019 Nigel Farage stood down in every Conservative held seat, ensuring Johnson’s victory. By doing so he ensured a victory that will blight this country for years to come. Can the Liberal Democrats show similar levels of ruthlessness and commitment?

    More established members have a different, more tribal position. They don’t understand this concern. They should face up to the question, because it is in many voter’s minds too.

  • Brad Barrows 24th Jul '21 - 12:08pm

    @John Shoesmith
    You make an excellent point but one that appears to fall on deaf ears as far as the Party leadership is concerned. I recall the disaster of 1983 when Thatcher won a landslide victory, winning 397 of the 650 seats on just 42.4% of the vote. Meanwhile Labour and the Liberal/SDP alliance won 232 seats with 53% of the vote between them. In 1983 the Alliance felt it was genuinely competing in all seats – that is not the case with the Liberal Democrats today. It is time for smart leadership to deliberately target winnable seats and stand aside elsewhere. I don’t believe Labour would respond in kind but individual Labour voters would get the message and be far more likely to be willing to vote for Lib Dem candidates where there own party has no chance.

  • I can see that I should have been more precise, we should stand in every Seat except where we make Local Deals with other, acceptable, Parties – that would potentially include The Greens (in England & Wales) or The Womens Equality Party.

    The problem is all those places where neither We nor The Greens stand – sometimes allowing Tories (or worse) to be “Elected” unopposed.

  • Laurence Cox 24th Jul '21 - 3:18pm

    @Ian Patterson
    The lack of a Lib Dem candidate puzzled me too, so I did a bit of digging. The village Facebook group seems to suggest they are having many issues with developers and were not getting the support they expected from their local councillor. It might be that the Lib Dem councillor who resigned had been selected as a paperless candidate, who won unexpectedly when the Greens failed to nominate a candidate. If this was the case, it illustrates the need for taking even the selection of paperless candidates seriously.

  • Christopher Clayton 25th Jul '21 - 12:29pm

    This is an important discussion but I do not find any reference to a key issue. A seat may not been contested because of a total inability to find anyone (suitable or otherwise) willing to stand, especially given the fact that unlike parliamentary elections there are strict though justifiable legalities which prevent ‘outsiders’ from being nominated. This can be the case both in areas where the Party is weak, obviously, but even in areas where the Party is (quite) strong. Having been active in the Party for more than 50 years (including as a councillor) I have experienced this on a number of occasions.

    I am no longer a member of ALDCA and do not know whether or not it has published advice on how to deal with and minimise this regrettable situation. If it has I would welcome information as it is something the Party is faced with in my own area.

  • Jason Conner 26th Jul '21 - 12:08pm

    I am really surprised you left out the Wirral result. This was a by election in Liscard and the Lib Dem candidate came 3rd and overtook the Green there, it was the other way round before. When I lived up there I remember putting leaflets through doors in Oxten Birkenhead for the Lib Dems and their councillors still represent this ward to this day as well as Eastham. The Wirral is a lovely place to live and it its own world over the Mersey from Liverpool.

  • Big Tall Tim 26th Jul '21 - 7:33pm

    We’re not so close in philosophy to the Greens or Labour that we should stand down for them. Both are centralist and statist. Yes, I’m in politics because of what I thought of the terrible damage Thatcher was doing to our country.
    But I’m not just anti-Tory. I’m also anti-Labour. The illegal war in Iraq springs to mind, as does the draconian 90 days detention.
    Ask our colleagues in Sheffield or Liverpool or Manchester, what campaigning against their rotten Labour-run Councils is like.
    Ask our colleagues in Brighton, what campaigning against their hopeless Green-run Council is like.
    I joined the SDP for negative reasons, but soon found positive reasons such as internationism and civil rights.
    I do not support a not standing pact. However, I have no problem with a non-aggression pact as per 1997 i. e. the Parties agree which seats should be targets for which Party and the other Party does nothing apart from stand e.g. In South Cambridgeshire, we pile in and all Labour do is stand. In Hartlepool, the reverse happens.
    I for one don’t think we would have won Chesham & Amersham if Labour hadn’t put up a candidate.
    A non-aggression pact is the best way to maximise the anti- Con vote without frightening the soft Tories we need to win sears like C&A.

  • The giveaway of the seat in North Somerset is a scandal. As for the so-called “Green” Party, maybe some people should find out what they are really like instead of believing all the Public Relations hype from them. In my Constituency of Brighton Pavilion, for example, the “Green” Councillors closed down/sold off N.H.S./Social Care facilities; voted to spend £40.2Million on a loss making folly (the i360); have a dreadful record on recycling; oppose park n ride schemes; and fail to consult with local residents about important issues. That party was formerly led by David Icke (the Conspiracy Theorist and alleged racist). They want the break up of Britain, which, besides being wrong for various reasons, would make it more likely that the Tories would have control in England. Some of their National Candidates support population control. They also quickly attempt to IMPOSE their own ideas on people because they arrogantly think that their particular brand of green-ism is correct.

  • Why give away a seat to a rival Party that constantly undermines our own Party when given the opportunity? Our Constitution states that we should promote Liberal Values and stand in elections to give people the chance to vote for us. Also, the policies and values of the so-called “Green” Party are quite dodgy. For example, in Brighton and Hove, their record on recycling is terrible; they oppose park and ride schemes; their Councillors voted to spend £40 Million on a loss making folly of a structure on the seafront; they closed down then sold off N.H.S. and Social Care facilities; and they fail to consult. Check the whatdotheyknow Freedom Of Information website for details!

    Nationally, their values and policies can also be dodgy. They were formerly led by the conspiracy theorist and alleged racist David Icke. Their Party OPPOSED the E.U. for many years. They want to see the break up of Britain, which would prevent co-operation on a range of issues but would also lead to Conservative domination at a national level in England. Some of their Candidates also seem to want to actively promote population control.

    These things are troubling to many Liberal Democrats.

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