LibLink: Elaine Bagshaw: Turning things round in Tower Hamlets

Last month, Liberal Democrat Expand launched with an ambitious plan for the party to widen its net, to work in those areas where we had disappeared.

After the devastating election result last year, one of the first people back into the fray was Elaine Bagshaw, who had to run in a by-election for Mayor in Tower Hamlets.

Since then, she has built a team that is out there on the streets several times a week building an organisation from the ground up.

She writes about what she’s been doing on the Liberal Democrat Expand website:

The first has been about being brave and changing the mindset about “no go” areas. Wards that we were told would never vote Lib Dem had actually never been asked. I’m still shocked that in some places people won’t go and knock on council houses because apparently “they aren’t our people”. We definitely haven’t found this to be the case in Tower Hamlets. From a London perspective, it’s a foolish way to approach things as people move so often. At one point in Tower Hamlets 25% the electoral roll would change every time a new one was issued.

My other issue with “no go” areas is that for us to be in majority government we absolute have to win in places like Poplar & Limehouse and other areas that we dismiss as ‘not our territory’. Poplar & Limehouse is a passion project of mine partly for this reason but also because it’s in these areas that people need Lib Dems the most. Every time we write-off an area we write-off the people in it and that’s not a narrative we should be signed up to.

We no longer talk about paper candidates – particularly if there is a by-election. We are clear with everyone that every election is to build more support and to practice techniques. We may not win this time but we are always building towards that end goal of taking a seat. People join the party because they’re passionate about making a difference. In Tower Hamlets we make sure that people know they can do that wherever they are in the borough.

From a logistics point of view, we’ve managed to change things by being ruthlessly organised. My day job is project management, so I’m treating taking the Poplar & Limehouse parliamentary seat like a project. We have particular things that we monitor like voter contact; number of members; delivery network coverage so we can see how we’re progressing. We also meet once a fortnight as an Exec to make sure we can react quickly to events and we’re in constant contact with social media.

You can read the whole article here.

The work of the Tower Hamlets team is truly inspiring. They know they are in it for the long haul, but, as Elaine says, if we are going to make an impact nationally, we need to win in places like that. It would certainly be fitting to see a gain in Poplar and Limehouse, given the history of the Limehouse Declaration in the history of the SDP. Good luck to Elaine and her team.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in LibLink.


  • Eddie Sammon 30th Jul '16 - 1:27pm

    It looks like Elaine is doing great work. I don’t know the complete demographics of Popular and Limehouse, even though I used to live there, but it shouldn’t matter too much. The party should try to win votes everywhere, even if targeting is necessary under FPTP.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Aug '16 - 5:00pm

    Elaine Bagshaw

    I’m still shocked that in some places people won’t go and knock on council houses because apparently “they aren’t our people”.

    A sign of how things have changed and the party of which I was once such a proud member no longer exists. There was a time, and it is WHY I joined the Liberal Party back in 1978, that council housing would have been the first place we targeted. In Conservative dominated areas that was because obviously the people living there didn’t want to vote for the party of the rich, but the Labour Party in those places was often weak or dominated by trendy middle class political theorist types who in practice despised council house tenants (er, a bit like those Elaine is writing about). In Labour dominated areas it was because Labour tended just to take their vote for granted and had got lay and complacent, and wasn’t doing a good job at running the council housing system.

    I represented a council estate ward in the London Borough of Lewisham 1994-2006. I was the first ward we won in the borough, and we won it because in those days that was the sort of ward that was considered we had a good chance in.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Aug '16 - 5:30pm

    Caron Lindsay

    It would certainly be fitting to see a gain in Poplar and Limehouse, given the history of the Limehouse Declaration in the history of the SDP. Good luck to Elaine and her team.

    Er, er, er ….

    Caron, do you know nothing about the history of Tower Hamlets and our party there?

    The issue back then was that the SDP were dismissing the Liberal Party as “sleepy” or a “Celtic fringe” party, while not even noticing that the Liberal Party had been building up in Tower Hamlets and already won a substantial number of council seats there, and was moving on to win control of the borough.

    The SDP started off with the idea that it would be the Labour Party Mark II, and win over the bulk of Labour votes. But the people running it and the media reporting it didn’t even notice that it was the Liberal Party who were winning in various places once supposed to be safe Labour, Tower Hamlets a prime example.

    In some way the media’s lack of attention to what was actually happening worked to our advantage, the obvious example being the Bermondsey by-election (which the media reported as a two-horse race between Labour and the Independent Labour candidate right up till the last week).

    So there is a MUCH more fitting reason why it would be good to see us winning again in Tower Hamlets than the one you give.

  • Adrian Sanders 4th Aug '16 - 7:01pm

    Yes, well noted Matthew Huntbach – And a Liberal Council that exercised political power over a quarter of a million residents, controlled a budget of millions and devolved power to the hamlets that made up the borough. Radical, Liberal and part of the story of our Party’s growth from single figure polls to being in a position to negotiate a coalition programme for government.

  • david thorpe 6th Aug '16 - 9:06pm

    the actual election results in tower hamlets have been poor..but maybe lib dems now exist in a world of post-results politics..

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