I love it when a plan comes together

By-elections are funny old things.

In a by-election, the focus on the candidate is huge. Every utterance is monitored and liable to blow up a minefield.

I remember David Rendel, returning to the 1993 Newbury by-election HQ after a long evening’s canvassing. Just outside the entrance he was approached by, ostensibly, a member of the public who wanted to express their support for him. It turned out that they had a microphone stuck up the back of their jacket and were trying to catch David off-guard. Their plan failed. Apart from anything else, David on-the-record was just like David off-the-record!

Town council elections are often held on the same day as district/unitary elections so they often merge into the background. However, in a by-election situation, town council or “parish level” elections can suddenly take on an extraordinary importance. A first-time candidate can find themselves caught up in an extraordinary and somewhat surreal whirlwind.

Such was the case with the Clay Hill by-election for Newbury Town Council last Thursday.

Apart from the P&CC election, there were no other elections last Thursday in West Berkshire.

The Clay Hill town seat had previously been held by the Conservatives. Unfortunately for residents, their councillor was disqualified after non-attendance of the requisite number of meetings. Hence the by-election in a seat which the Tories won in 2019 by just 9 votes – well in “squeaky bum” territory.

The Conservatives selected a former local “Super Head” headteacher as their candidate. Paul Dick is well known locally and well-respected as an effective headteacher.

As I get older and progress into my dotage, I derive great joy from seeing younger people get involve in campaigning for the Liberal Democrats.

So, I was delighted to see how our candidate Stuart Gourley (wearing the rosette above) took to campaigning like a duck to water. Agent and organiser Andy Briggs did a textbook ALDC campaign, even down to a full ward delivery of individually addressed “Good Morning Firstname Surname” leaflets before 7am last Thursday.

The team worked their socks off for several months. It was a joy to behold. Stuart, Andy and team richly deserved the result, a Lib Dem gain.

Here’s what Stuart had to say after the result was declared:

It was great to be able to get out and hear from residents of Clay Hill over the campaign, and thank you for the warm welcome.
This result is a result for someone who lives in Newbury, who cares about Newbury, our town and our community.
It’s a result for making Newbury a greener, more caring and compassionate place.
It’s a result to send a message, a message that residents want change, a message that residents want to be listened to and heard.
The result is a validation of the great work that the Liberal Democrat lead Newbury Town Council have been doing, and will continue to do in behalf of residents.
Its important to remember that this seat was a seat for the Conservative to defend, and they didn’t. This is a Conservative loss, and a gain for the residents of Clay Hill, Newbury and the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives are now all but extinct in Newbury, and can’t claim to talk for Newbury.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Please add Peter Hirst (a regular contributor to LDV) to the list of new LD town councillors, the gain was in Cledford ward Middlewich, Cheshire.
    The first LD elected in Middlewich for some years.

  • Trevor Martin 11th May '21 - 11:30am

    Nice to see I remember coming to help in that 1993 Newbury by-election. It is true that although here we had PCC, Kent County Council and 3 Town Council by-elections on 6th May, the turnout appeared to be boosted in those three wards. KCC was a Lib Dem hold for former MEP Antony Hook, and we won all three Town Council seats making Faversham TC 12 Lib Dems 2 Labour as we held 2 defences and won one from an Independent.

  • Tony Vickers 11th May '21 - 11:31am

    As someone who mentored Stuart, the winning candidate, I’d like to comment on Paul’s lovely piece. What really encourages me about this campaign is that almost everyone responsible for its success wasn’t even a member of the Lib Dems until AFTER the Coalition. My generation needs to have faith in theirs – they can do it!
    The success of the campaign goes back to candidate selection. We carried out approvals of four applicants in December. We then selected from three of three who applied. Stuart was overwhelmingly the best but the other two were also very good. Best of all, both of the candidates NOT selected campaigned for Stuart as hard as anyone else, despite all three of them having full-time jobs and young families.
    We had to content with good candidates for Greens and Labour, who each campaigned hard and produced good literature. It was a clean, fair contest which the Tory man probably thought he was entitled to win because of who he was. Stuart and his team have put him back in his box.
    Some local people asked “Why did we bother?” We won all but 4 of the 23 seats on Newbury Town Council in 2019, so we could have just let another Party have the ‘fair share’ of representation that our Fair Votes policy would have given them. The Labour candidate was cheeky enough to make that point in the local paper!
    But Clay Hill Ward is, at District, a 2-member Ward that we didn’t put out a single piece of literature in 2 years ago. So it returned two Tories, one of whom is excellent (and often supports us on town council) but getting frail and unlikely to defend the seat in 2023. We were very surprised to win 3 of the 5 town council seats in 2019, so the by-election was a golden opportunity to do a full canvass in a seat which could enable us to gain an overall majority on West Berkshire Council in 2023.
    It was also a great morale boost and opportunity to practice the new young campaign team under our excellent Organiser Andy Briggs (left of picture) and Campaign Manager Sue Lister (right).
    Before the weekend was out, Stuart put down his first Question to Council. I’m really looking forward to working alongside him on Newbury TC and helping him win a District seat in 2023.

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