Glasgow East and the Lib Dems

Well, let’s not pretend it was a great result: losing three-quarters of your support is rarely likely to cheer a party up. But it would be equally silly to read anything of great significance into it, either. As I pointed out yesterday, in the 1999 Hamilton South by-election the Lib Dems trailed in a pretty dire sixth place: it meant diddly-squat for the party’s fortunes at the subsequent general election.

Yes, it’s true, the Tories managed only to suffer a small drop in support. But, then, it’s not much of a surprise to anyone to learn that the Tories have a larger core vote than the Lib Dems.

There’s a danger on a site like Lib Dem Voice that we focus only on the Lib Dem aspects of politics. But the plain truth is this by-election was never about us: it was about the voters using the second-placed party to give Labour a belting. End of.

Finally, though, let’s pay tribute to Ian Robertson and the Scottish Lib Dems. Fighting an election you know you’re not going to win can be pretty depressing: whatever the actual vote we won, our candidate did us proud.

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This entry was posted in Parliamentary by-elections.


  • Stephen – all true, and good points well made.

    But the big story is that Labour are going to get a kicking next time round, and we as a party need to factor that into everything we do to make sure we capitalise.

  • I would be interested to know quite what sort of campaign themes we used.

    Hopefully we didn’t claim “Lib Dems set for shock win!”

  • From what I’ve read, our candidate came across well, indeed “the best” as some have said.

    Just goes to show …

  • Different Duncan 25th Jul '08 - 12:11pm

    “But, then, it’s not much of a surprise to anyone to learn that the Tories have a larger core vote than the Lib Dems.” This is one of the most crucial things for long-term Lib Dem success, and I can’t help but detect a slightly complacent tone towards this.

    We need to establish a proper core support like the 2 main parties have. I don’t think we will ever achieve this by flip-flopping around, e.g. from being tax raisers to tax cutters.

  • After Crewe and Henley several people asked what would happen if the Lib Dems opted to not spend a huge amount of money on a by-election.

    Well now we know!

    Had we done the same in Henley we would, of course, the coverage of our result could have been very damaging.

  • Different Duncan is spot on.

    I have a number of Labour friends who are shocked this morning but already have a game plan for 2010 – target the core vote to save as many seats as possible.

    The Tories are calling for their core vote to come back to them as New labour is dying.

    We need a core vote and we dont have one.

  • It is distinctly possible that Brown will stage a (very mild) return to genuinely progressive policies over the next 18 months primarily, as has been said, to shore up its own core vote, but this will be followed by a defeat as bad as that suffered by the Tories in 1997, followed again by spending cuts that will make those imposed by Maggie and the crew look like a teddy bear’s picnic!

  • This by-election doesn’t particularly worry me but it would be nice to know that we have a plan to scoop up some of the votes that Labour are giving away with big pretty red bows on.

    What we need to do seems fairly obvious to me but what do I know really?

  • We do have a core vote, it just isn’t geographically concentrated and therefore isn’t great in FPTP.

    One thing that is bad is that the student vote, which has previously been a strong, concentrated vote for us is now polling tory.

  • To a certain extent we’ve been unlucky in the seats that have come up in by-elections.

    There would be no doubt that a by-election in any Labour seat with the Lib Dems in second would result in a Lib Dem win in the by-election.

    We’re in 1992-97 territory for Labour now – there is nowhere that they can win in by-election circumstances. And they are likely to face the same fate as Major’s Tories did…

  • > any Labour seat with the Lib Dems in
    > second would result in a Lib Dem win in
    > the by-election.

    We hope, ignoring both a) the rather obvious fact that there are few seats that meet these requirements and b) there is no reason that it should be the case, especially if is a distant second. (which most of them are)

    Another crumb of comfort might be that had the SSP been united, the lib Dems would have been 5th.

    Of course it has significance – if the mood and message is hammer Labour by voting SNP or Tory that doesn’t help the Lib Dems.

    Look what happend in 1997 when the Lib Dems dropped from 2 to 3rd place in many seats.


  • Mouse that’s bollocks.

    There are more than 100 Labour seats in the UK where the Lib Dems are in second.

    The mood and message is ‘hammer Labour’ and there is no evidence that voters are being discerning about who they vote for to do that.

    And what last night proved is that you don’t have to close behind Labour to give them a good kicking.

    So the Lib Dems would have no trouble turning over Labour if the results were reversed.

  • Dominic hannigan 25th Jul '08 - 1:35pm

    Dan is absolutely right. I would predict that any by-election that we were in second in would be ours for the taking.

    We have been unlucky in that none of the recent by-elections have been like this and we have been unable to do the leap from third that we achieved in the past because the media have given the tories and snp the credibility which they did not in the past.

  • Dominic hannigan 25th Jul '08 - 1:35pm

    And I mean second to labour before someone quotes henley at me.

  • Will the scale of the Labour melt down help the possiblity of some form of PR, before the next GE?

  • Dominic hannigan 25th Jul '08 - 1:55pm


    I was a wee young un in the run up to 97, but it certainly seems like the evidence is there to say that in by elections where Labour were in second to the Tories, we got absolutely hammered and went on to double the number of our MPs at the next election.

    The other thing is, that the Tories, without a shadow of a doubt will have spent near to 100K on this by election, because they can afford to spend that sort of money to get third place – we can’t!

  • >There are more than 100 Labour seats in the >UK where the Lib Dems are in second.

    Were second, don’t you mean ?

    There are about 20 seats where the Libs start within 20% of Labour, and would win on a 10% swing. (assuming another 5% swing to get back to the 2005 base line!)

    I’d be delighted if any of these seats cmae up for a by-election but the odds must be about 3%.

    Face facts, the SNP started this by-election on 18%, the Lib Dems on 12%, it wasn’t an insurmountable situation.

  • There are a lot more seats than that that we could win in a by-election.

    The interesting one is if a seat like L&S were to come up, whether we could hold off the Tory surge while winning, or would they jump 3rd to 1st. That’s when we’d find out how good our by-election system really was.

    As for the question of how much difference it makes, compare SE Staffs with Wirral South; two seats where we went into by-elections from third and finished third. We fought off the squeeze in Wirral South, and got hammered in SE Staffs. The LD vote in Wirral South is now three times the size of that in Tamworth.

  • Hywel Morgan 25th Jul '08 - 4:16pm

    “The way Labour are now losing safe seats in by-elections reminds me of the Callaghan government from 1977-79.”

    Way worse than that – in 77-9 Labour only lost 4 by-elections and won 9. The three losses to the Tories all came prior to autumn 1978 when the theory is Callaghan was thinking of calling the election and would have won and the last was Ilford North which was hardly safe territory.

    Now, they’ve lost 2 in 2 months

  • “As I pointed out yesterday…” and as Jo Swinson pointed out on (by)election night TV.

    Neil: Yeah, I’m sure all the people who switched from us to the SNP did so because we weren’t liberal enough for them: what they really want is someone who said he wanted to make abortions more difficult and would have voted against the stem cell research bill. Stick to your day job mate.

    I agree with Stephen’s analysis (though I find it DEEPLY depressing as a philosophical liberal): the Tories core vote is not inclined to shift whereas our supporters (or about 2,500 of them) saw an opportunity to shift a labour seat and took it. All of which bodes rather well for Ian come the next general election if he chooses to stand in Rutherglen and Hamilton West again where we are the best challengers.

    The SNP interpretation that this was a massive vote of confidence in the Scottish government doesn’t hold up to what we were hearing on the doorsteps (those canvassed were consistent in their admiration of Ian and his performances on the televised debates and non-televised hustings): this was a violent reaction against Labour by one of the poorest areas of the country where residents feel betrayed.

    “Face facts, the SNP started this by-election on 18%, the Lib Dems on 12%, it wasn’t an insurmountable situation.”

    Yes, but the SNP threw in the full £100,000 spending limit and bussed in everyone they could find. Our campaign was considerably more modest. This left people with the (perhaps reasonable) impression that it was the SNP and not ourselves who were the most credible challengers to Labour.

  • “Yes, but the SNP threw in the full £100,000 spending limit and bussed in everyone they could find. Our campaign was considerably more modest.”

    But there’s an element of chicken and egg here, isn’t there?

    If the SNP had been deeply unpopular and we had been “on a roll” in national terms, we could have become the main challengers and it would have been worth throwing everything into the campaign. But given the state of opinion nationally, it was always obvious that the SNP would be the main challengers.

  • Chris: I’m interested in understanding what you have to say. Could you make it comprehensible please. (It might sound like it, but I’m not being funny. I really can’t make head nor tail of your comment but it does sound worth understanding).

    To support what I was saying earlier: even in the early days of the campaign the media portrayed the election as a two horse race:

    “But given the state of opinion nationally, it was always obvious that the SNP would be the main challengers.”

    Maybe. I for one should like us to play the do-or-die card in every by-election, but for that reason it’s probably wise that I don’t control party funding.

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