Julian Huppert writes…Stoking the flames of liberalism

Can you imagine how you’d feel, waking up on the 24th February, to hear the BBC headline ‘In what is being seen as a stunning boost to the hard Brexit campaign, Paul Nuttall, the leader of UKIP, sensationally snatched the seat of Stoke-on-Trent Central from a disintegrating Labour party. Nigel Farage is now live.’

I’d feel utterly gutted. The Tories, with Labour’s acquiescence, are already following the UKIP line closely enough, without an extra UKIP MP.

I’ve been talking to people in Stoke, and looking at the figures. Labour are in massive trouble there. It’s more than a decade since they got over 40% in any election, local or national there, with a huge decline in their actual votes. Less than half their voters in 2001 were still voting for them in 2015, with 14,000 having abandoned them, and that was even before Jeremy Corbyn. Sadly, many people are deserting Labour and looking for an alternative. For some, that alternative will be UKIP – we have to provide a better option for them.

Meanwhile, it’s clear the Tories are doing nothing much in Stoke, apparently believing that it’s better for them if UKIP win it. They got 7,000 votes last time around – but not all Tories want UKIP to win. However, they’re hardly going to vote Labour – we need to give them a positive option.

Take our existing votes, a decent chunk of the Tories, and some of the thousands who gave up on Labour, and we can stop UKIP. We can change the message.

I’m not saying winning Stoke-on-Trent Central is easy. Far stranger things have happened politically, and I think we should give it a shot. If we can win a council seat in Rotherham with a 38% swing, we can win Stoke. We should help our excellent candidate, Zulfiqar, in person, by phone, in cash. We should fight for what we believe in – and we can do it.

I’d much prefer the headline to be ‘In what is being seen as a stunning repudiation of Theresa May’s Brexit strategy, the people of Stoke-on-Trent Central elected a Liberal Democrat, Dr Zulfiqar Ali, as their new representative. We turn now to Tim Farron.’

Let’s try to make that happen.

* Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010-15

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  • Little Jackie Paper 3rd Feb '17 - 2:11pm

    ‘In what is being seen as a stunning repudiation of Theresa May’s Brexit strategy,’

    Well….It strikes me that there is a difference between repudiation of leaving the EU per se and repudiation of a particular strategy. I don’t know Stoke all that well – I’ve not been there for years. However looking at the result in the referendum I don’t get a feeling that the locals are all preparing to kiss an icon of Juncker and belt out Ode to Joy before volunteering for a free movement influx.

    Criticism of the government strategy is one thing, but I’m still not really seeing any sort of active pro-EU case or a plan for how things could be done differently in light of the referendum. To be clear Dr Huppert I make no criticism of you personally – I see scant positive EU cases being made by remainers of all parties.

    At times during the referendum the argument did skate rather close to ‘vote for the EU – it’s not all that awful.’ The argument since the vote doesn’t seem to have advanced all that much and whilst there may be short-term protest-type gain I don’t see much long-term thinking by anyone.

  • nvelope2003 3rd Feb '17 - 2:29pm

    I thought it was the party’s support for the EU which put many people off voting Liberal Democrat. Just look at the figures for the elections for the European Parliament. Is there any real sign that things have changed much in the national opinion polls ?

  • Michael Berridge 3rd Feb '17 - 3:17pm

    Something tells me your last two contributors to the comments column will not be out pounding the streets of Shelton and Hanley. Well I will, and the trouble with the Remain campaign before the referendum was that it was not positive enough. The way things are going, we can leave it to the Government and its friends to come up with the bad news.
    Winning Stoke-on-Trent Central is a big ask, but we’re in it to win it, and what a strong message it will send if we do!

  • Very well said Julian.
    Can I humbly suggest to all LD members and supporters – quite seriously – that instead of spending a few minutes of your time typing a message in this thread, you go instead RIGHT NOW to http://www.libdems.org.uk/byelections.
    There, tick one of the help options or make a donation. And then send the above link to all your local party contacts and urge them to do the same.
    And THEN, by all means come back here and tell us how it went. 🙂

  • Out of interest how much of the Rotherham literature mentioned Brexit etc?

  • Matt (Bristol) 3rd Feb '17 - 4:30pm

    Thanks, TonyJ – contribution to coffers made!

  • I’ve been. It was good. Please go if you can.

    (And I’m an EUsceptic!)

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Feb '17 - 6:17pm

    UKIP’s current leader has filed his nomination papers and has since moved in to a house in Stoke Central. Michael Crick on Channel 4 News on 2/2/2017 said that what matters is whether the statements on the nomination papers were true on the day they were filed.
    An unfortunate name, not to be confused with a Tory MP with individual views.

  • He wont be the MP – he will be behind bars for electoral fraud.

  • Terence Weldon 3rd Feb '17 - 8:34pm

    Contribution made.

  • Thanks Julianand thanks donors helpers activists telephoners deliverers and more

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Feb '17 - 11:19pm

    For reasons I don’t understand, the comment I wrote on this at 6 pm was held back and has not reappeared. Try again! I had thanked Tonyj for giving us the link to by-election involvement, which covered both by-elections, because until then I had not seen equal support from the party administration who send out emails, for Copeland as well as Stoke. And there is no doubt that Rebecca Hanson in Copeland is also fighting to win, against feeble opposition, and her campaign is gathering strength, although we do need more outside help to cover our large constituency with maximum effect. Tomorrow our wonderful President, Sal, will be with us, which will give us all a boost!

    But I also wanted to ask Julian, who has so much campaigning experience, whether you do not consider that Lib Dem concentration on the UKIP threat may not allow the Tories to creep in under your noses? For UKIP is surely an empty vessel now, a would-be emperor without clothes, a scarecrow of a party. I do not believe Tories ever concede to another party. I do believe that they are clever, unscrupulous schemers in general, who may hope to see the Lib Dems exhaust themselves, while they themselves quietly plot, and contact all possible voters with expensive targetted mailings. You will recall that they did that in our south-western supposed strongholds in the south-west, in 2015.
    Well, best wishes anyway with the Stoke campaign, I wish I could be in two places at once to lend a hand! I have fond memories of my year as a reporter there.

  • nvelope2003 4th Feb '17 - 10:34am

    Michael Berridge: I have sent a contribution to the by election fund as I am unable to pound the streets. You are right that it might have made a difference if the Remain campaign had been more positive and avoided the more extreme warnings, even though some have turned out to be only too true and the others might happen when we have left the EU. I hope that we get a good result in both by elections. I am not sure how standing down in favour of Labour in Stoke would do any good as seems to be be suggested in the press.

  • Reading Sarah Olney’s speech, published here yesterday, made me proud to have put £20.00 towards the Richmond campaign. I’m making a similar punt on Zulfiqar Ali. Brexit is going to be the defining issue of British politics for years to come. Our message on it must be clear and it must be the message Sarah gave.

  • Spent yesterday in Stoke, it is VERY worth supporting our first rate candidate, Dr Ali, who is making areal impact. IF we all go to help/donate/phone bank we may have a very special result. Also same applies to Copeland, another excellent candidate making real inroads.

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