Chester sends a message to Rishi

Labour held on to Chester in the Parliamentary by-election yesterday. That was, of course, no surprise; even the swing of 12% could have been predicted. But the Tories vote share was down not by 12% but by 16%, with support haemorrhaging in all directions.

Lib Dems put up a candidate and benefitted from that in a small way, with their vote share up 1.5%. So thank you to Rob Herd for flying the flag for the party.

Meanwhile something interesting is happening in the Tory held seat of Totnes. There is a call for the three main opposition parties to agree to put forward just one opposition candidate. Voters would select which of three opposition candidates they want to stand through the South Devon Primary process.

The idea of using a primary to select a candidate is not new to the constituency. Sarah Wollaston was selected for the Conservatives in an open primary and she subsequently won the seat in 2010, which she retained comfortably in the 2015 and 2017 elections. In 2019 she left the Conservatives and joined the Change UK group, then the Liberal Democrats.

Later that year Wollaston was defending the seat again but this time as a Liberal Democrat. The Green candidate stood aside, but the Tory still won. But the combined votes for our candidate and for the Labour candidate were pretty close to the Conservative vote. With the current collapse of Tory support this makes the seat winnable by someone other than a Tory. It remains to be seen whether the proposed South Devon Primary will find favour with local Lib Dems as well as with Labour.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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24 Comments

  • >The idea of using a primary to select a candidate is not new
    Perhaps this should be considered for other key constituencies where having say three opposition candidates (of the appropriate independent/party affiliation) is splitting the opposition vote.

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Dec '22 - 11:28am

    Do the people organising this have any existing political history – party membership etc.?

    It appears that there will be a vote at each local meeting – so effectively an open primary with possibly many meetings with the votes tallied after all the meetings have taken place – have I got this right?

    Isn’t there a risk with open primaries that the vote could be sabotaged – lots of tory supporters voting for the candidate thought least likely to take the seat from them?

  • Massimo Ricciuti 2nd Dec '22 - 12:15pm

    Thank you, Mary. The idea of using a primary to select a candidate is not new also here in Italy. Sometimes we use to and sometimes not. It’s since twn years ago we use this way expecially for local candidates. It works well for knowing how people appriaces a candidate… Best wishes to all LibDem candidates and congratulations

  • Mick Taylor 2nd Dec '22 - 12:27pm

    We should have nothing to do with denying voters choice. Encouraging tactical voting is one thing, but not offering voters a LibDem choice is quite another. Quite apart from anything else it insults voters intelligence because it is surely up to them to decide to vote tactically for a candidate or support their first choice party, not ours or anyone else’s to second guess them.

  • John Bicknell 2nd Dec '22 - 12:28pm

    Martin – Caroline Voaden, the former MEP, has been selected as the Lib Dem PPC for the Totnes seat, as things currently stand.

  • Good chance of a Lib Dem gain at Totnes, we should proceed on that basis, otherwise we may lose the chance – we have few enough opportunities as it is, be wasteful to throw away this one.

  • What a wonderful win Kings Lynn yesterday, Gaywood North, seem to exemplify that we should stay on our own at Totness, does it not

  • @Mick Taylor – I see the holding a primary as an intelligent form of “Making Votes Fair”.

    The process also makes it very clear that the winner (of the Primary) represents the constituents more than the party they are aligned with, which is fully in line with the obligations placed on MP’s.

  • Mick Taylor 2nd Dec '22 - 2:54pm

    Sorry, Roland. This sort of so-called primary is so open to abuse that it no more represents the will of constituents than drawing a name out of a hat.
    I am firmly of the view that we make no deals or pacts for anyone to stand down. Voters deserve a full range of choice. Anyway, Labour won’t stand down even if they didn’t win any such primary, because their constitution doesn’t allow them to.
    It’s a non-starter and we should refuse to take part in any such charade.
    If we tacitly agree to focus on some seats more than others and Labour do the same, as in 1997, we get the benefits of tactical voting without denying voters a choice.
    People in our party really do have to get over this stupid idea of pre election pacts. They just don’t work, except in very exceptional circumstances like allowing independent Martin Bell a free run in Tatton.

  • Kay Kirkham 2nd Dec '22 - 3:03pm

    Mick – absolutely right.

  • Graham Jeffs 2nd Dec '22 - 3:35pm

    Primary elections – no thank you. Apart from any other considerations I would never be prepared to vote for either Labour or the Greens – and I suspect they have supporters who feel exactly the same about us!!

  • And don’t forget Starmer does not believe in PR. Why on earth should any liberal support a Labour candidate when that party will refuse to get rid of 1st past the post. The very system that necessities tactical voting?

  • Chris Moore 2nd Dec '22 - 4:13pm

    Utterly ridiculous and naive for any LD in Totnes to go along with this absurd charade, open to abuses at many procedural points.

    The LDs are clearly best placed to win in Totnes.

    This is not democratic and not good electoral politics.

    I don’t imagine the Labour Party will be open to open primaries in THEIR target seats.

    Why are some LDs so politically naive?

  • Neil Hickman 2nd Dec '22 - 6:07pm

    Open selection is indeed open to abuse. I recall that when one town first elected a Mayor, it was alleged that the front row of the Conservative selection meeting was occupied by Lib Dems who were determined to sabotage the strongest candidate. They succeeded (and a Lib Dem won).
    But standing down and assuming that the electors will dutifully vote as you hope is seriously misguided. I remember a batty and very Blue great-aunt telling me back in the 1970s “Be a Liberal if you must, but don’t you be a Socialist or I’ll disown you…” If someone like that was a disgruntled Tory in a constituency where the obvious challenger was Labour, the result of the LibDem standing down would be a clothespeg on nose vote for the Tory, not a dutiful vote for Labour. The 1997 strategy was the correct one.
    BTW, I agree that Starmer on electoral reform is not good. But if Starmer reforms the Lords to a democratically elected upper chamber, that will make the continued use of X-voting for the Commons unsustainable. It’s just possible that Starmer is playing a rather canny long game.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Dec '22 - 6:46pm

    @Martin: We weren’t targeting Chester, so what happens to our vote there is not indicative of what might happen in, say, Totnes. As for Sarah Wollaston, she is now the head of her local NHS trust, a role which is not really compatible with active partisan politics, so I’m not expecting her to stand for election anywherte in the next GE.

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Dec '22 - 7:09pm

    @Martin
    I suggest you go and look at some past results for Chester – it’s a long time since we’ve had a decent result there.
    See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_Chester_(UK_Parliament_constituency) from 2005 it’s mainly been marginal between Labour and Conservatives

  • Peter Davies 2nd Dec '22 - 8:08pm

    or to put it another way, Labour lost 9773 votes, Tories lost 14583 and we only lost 1366.

  • Peter Davies 2nd Dec ’22 – 8:08pm……….or to put it another way, Labour lost 9773 votes, Tories lost 14583 and we only lost 1366………

    or, to put it another way; why bother with PR, just declare the winner on who lost the fewest votes.

  • Agree with Mick, the 1980’s Alliance battles over who stood where was bad enough, let alone dealing with Labour.
    The Chester team fought a hard campaign in a limited number of wards with very limited resources, given the previous MP was an active constituency MP i think there was a sympathy vote for him (despite the allegations found against him), it could have been a lot worse for us.
    We should thank Rob and his team for all they achieved.

  • Alex Macfie 3rd Dec '22 - 11:48am

    @Andy Hyde: I’m sceptical of “sympathy votes”, which don’t seem to happen very much in the UK. The Tories didn’t seem to benefit from any sympathy vote in the Chesham & Amersham by-election, caused by the premature death of the sitting Tory MP from cancer. Nor did it happen in the Southend West fake by-election, based on the rock-bottom turnout and the record number of spoiled ballot papers.
    Nor are voters inclined to punish the child for the sins of the parent, so to speak. They certainly didn’t in this by-election. I can only say, once more with feeling, that by-election voters generally don’t think about the event that caused the by-election, but instead about current political issues.

  • Robert Packham 3rd Dec '22 - 1:16pm

    In the boundary changes there will not be Totnes it will be called South Devon

  • Paul Barker 3rd Dec '22 - 2:44pm

    Looking at the wider picture , an average of the last ten Polls puts The Tories on 25%, slightly down on the Peak of the Post-Truss bounce.
    Labour are steady on 48% or so & We are steady on 9%.
    Just taking the last five Polls puts The Conservatives on 23% – probably a statistical blip but worth keeping an eye on.

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