Low turnout as Tories retain Old Bexley and Sidcup with reduced majority

Conservative Louie French won the suburban London seat yesterday but the vote saw the Tories’ majority of nearly 19,000 slashed to just 4,478. The by-election had been called after the death in October of the well-liked former cabinet minister James Brokenshire. French won 11,189 votes, well head of the Labour challenger Daniel Francis who gained 6,711 votes. The turnout was low at 34 per cent compared to almost 70 per cent in the constituency at the 2019 general election.

Labour increased its share of the vote by over 7 per cent while the Conservatives’ share of the vote fell by more than 13 per cent. Reform UK kept its deposit, while both Lib Dems and the Greens lost theirs.

It was not expected to be a good night for the Lib Dems and it wasn’t. Two weeks ago, Ed Davey told the Guardian that we would be putting our efforts into North Shropshire and that is what we have been doing. Hundreds of people have travelled to North Shropshire to campaign, including the Lib Dem chief executive Mike Dixon, our MPs and Ed Davey himself. So many more have joined the marophone sessions.

I don’t think this result has significant implications for North Shropshire, except for the low turnout of 34%. On average, turnout at by-elections has been 51%.

The Old Bexley and Sidcup turnout emphasises the need to get boots on the ground and voices on the phones in North Shropshire to get out the vote. Omicron and the cold weather are thought to be factors in the low turnout yesterday.

As we know from both local and national campaigns, where we work, we can win. Old Bexley and Sidcup was not for us but North Shropshire is within our reach. A leaked internal poll suggests that on postal votes we were with 10 per cent of the Conservatives.

There is everything to win in North Shropshire but as Helen Morgan said this week, we need even more people knocking on doors, stuffing envelopes and pushing leaflets through letterboxes.

Come and join the campaign. Come and take part in what could be a historic victory. Come and give a real bloody nose to the Tories who have been mismanaging our country and mismanaging Shropshire for far too long.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Thursday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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  • Trevor Andrews 3rd Dec '21 - 7:44am

    Whilst I thank you for this information and agree, a foot soldier effort is required, it’s frustrating to see that with such a sham of a government in power the Conservatives still get over 50% of the votes.

  • It’s disappointing that Labour couldn’t get closer to the Conservatives here. I’d say it’s telling that the Conservatives vote share was down, but still over 50% and half of that was to REFUK

    In spite of that, we were right to run a low-key campaign. Although it’s not filtered through to everyone in Labour in and around North Shropshire, I hope that the sentiment has been appreciated by some who are now backing us to win there.

    Not that it made a difference to the outcome here, but it would be interesting to know if the Greens put effort into campaigning here, or if their vote share is a reflection of those who want to make a statement on the environment and assumed a vote for the Greens would do just that. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where some of the Conservative vote went.

    It’s hard to judge which votes went where when overall turnout is down so much, but it is disappointing that Labour didn’t seem to make much, if anything, in gains from people switching from the Conservatives. While focusing on North Shropshire means we were right to go low-key here, it is frustrating that all that a casual observer will see is the Conservatives still in power and the Greens overtaking us. I know it was a very, very traditionally Tory area, but it must be disappointing for Labour activists, who perhaps need to reflect on their approach. On the other hand, it perhaps shows just how well our by-election machine works, and that we are in the better position to take those votes from Conservative voters.

  • Fiona 3rd Dec ’21 – 8:33am………… I know it was a very, very traditionally Tory area, but it must be disappointing for Labour activists, who perhaps need to reflect on their approach. On the other hand, it perhaps shows just how well our by-election machine works, and that we are in the better position to take those votes from Conservative voters………

    I’m sorry but that makes no sense..The only parties whose vote fell were a Tory party wracked by sleaze and this party…
    Please explain how, in the current situation, when our share of the vote fell it “shows just how well our by-election machine works, and that we are in the better position to take those votes from Conservative voters”?

  • If we do not try we do not get the votes. By any standard last night the Lib Dem vote was pretty rotten.
    On the other hand some good local by elections, a special mention to Lancaster where I got married and my better half’s homes town, two gains, one was on the cards but the second was a bit of a triumph. Disappointing in North Norfolk but very good elsewhere in the County, 40% from a standing start..

  • John Marriott 3rd Dec '21 - 11:55am

    @Trevor Andrews
    This is a conservative country with a small ‘c’, at least around 40% of it is. The problem is that it’s often this 40% that tends to vote most times.

    It will be interesting to see how the Lib Dem approach to full fat by election campaigning in North Shropshire compares with Labour’s semi skimmed approach down south. However, whatever the result in the next by election, it’s not these votes that win General Elections, where intense local campaigning gives way largely to sound bites in the national media.

  • I think the real story is that the winner got 11,189 votes. His predecessor had 29,786.
    Labour were down about 4,000, so can’t just be explained by ‘it’s a by-election;, or ‘cold weather’.
    Means a lot of people who’d never vote anything but Conservative stayed at home, because they didn’t want to endorse Johnson and co.

  • Chris Moore 3rd Dec '21 - 4:43pm

    We only ran a skeleton campaign in this by-election. This was the correct decision given past performance here. Nothing is gained by increasing our vote a few % in a seat like this.

    No general conclusions can be drawn.

    Many say they want (tacit or open) co-operation between progressive parties. This is what it looks like.

  • Chris Moore, I am not quite sure I would define Labour as a progressive party not that you actually said that. After all, they still think they can win a general election all by themselves despite the evidence of this by election and other results and still won’t countenance a change to Britain’s archaic and profoundly unrepresentative FPTP electoral system. For me and I suspect many others this contempt for real democratic values marks them out as very REGRESSIVE. At least the Tories are openly contemptuous of fairness in elections!

  • Jason Connor 3rd Dec '21 - 6:54pm

    I was very disappointed for the Lib Dem candidate with that result coming from a clear 3rd last time and dropping to 5th with vote share decreasing by over 5% this time. It’s a pity the London region did not put a bit more effort into the campaign. I did not even realise there was a by election here until I read about it on this site. It’s a seat not too far from my Inner London neck of the woods but I was a bit relieved that it didn’t go to Labour as some in the press and that party were predicting. It’s bad enough being represented by a do-nothing inner city London Labour MP who does very little to reverse bank branch closures and a party that over centralises local government.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 4th Dec '21 - 9:50am

    I don’t even know the name of our candidate in Bexley, but they should be applauded by the party, loudly.
    It must have been tough to be standing in a by election and getting only minimum support from the party, for all the reasons that most of us agree with. But they will still have had to put their life on hold for many weeks, be mugged up on national and local issues and Lib Dem policy on such. No doubt they will still have had to interviews and hustings and be prepared for such.
    This person will also have had an agent I don’t know who it is, and hopefully at least a small band of supporters.
    A big round of applause for them. our result in N S will reflect that sacrifice.

  • Suzanne Fletcher is right. (As usual).

  • Graham Jeffs 4th Dec '21 - 2:53pm

    I do not accept that the lack of effort at this election was acceptable. It is no way to treat either our potential supporters or our candidate.

    Yes, priorities need to be made. But how many people from ‘south of the Thames’ would have been deflected from going to North Shropshire if there had been any encouragement to go to Bexley? Strategy is not our strong point.

  • @ Graham, I would say the party made that decision because they were thinking strategically.

    It’s not just that WE concentrated on North Shropshire, but that thinking longer term, towards the next election, we want (need) a decent number of Labour activists to return the favour. We’re hoping they’ll do that now in North Shropshire, and it seems some are. Some remain reluctant, but being able to point to the minimal campaigning in Bexley & Sidcup helps our case.

    Thinking strategically means accepting that losing our deposit in OB&S is a price worth paying if it means improving our probability of winning in NS, and a whole string of Tory/LD seats at the next general election.

    Suzanne is absolutely correct that we should applaud our candidate there, along with her agent and others who navigated a tricky path in difficult circumstances, knowing that success comes with accusations of failure.

    @Cassie also makes a great point about how low turn-out was here. Citing the change in absolute vote difference paint Labour in a generous light, but suggests their candidate wasn’t inspiring enough. Thankfully in NS we have a candidate that I hope will inspire people to visit their local polling stations.

  • Alex Macfie 4th Dec '21 - 4:01pm

    Just think though, what if the Lib Dems had run a stronger campaign in OB&S which had taken additional votes from the Tories (i.e. soft Tories who stayed at home in the actual by-election voted for us instead), pushing the Tory share below 50%. We would then be facing the accusation that we “split the anti-Tory vote”, including by some of the same people who are attacking us for running a token campaign. We’re dammed if we do, damned if we don’t.

  • Graham Jeffs 4th Dec ’21 – 2:53pm….I do not accept that the lack of effort at this election was acceptable. It is no way to treat either our potential supporters or our candidate….

    I agree..The idea that TWO by-elections within weeks makes supporting both impossible says much about our chances in a GE..
    On a wider note, had our vote increased instead of falling that would have enhanced our chances at North Shropshire; what possible strategy advantage is gained by losing votes against a party whose headlines, even in the right wing press, are mostly about sleaze and incompetence?
    The message, on the doorstep, to North Shropshire should have been, “If we can send a message to this government by increasing our vote in a ‘no-hope’ area, just think what message a win here would send?”

  • Christopher Moore 5th Dec '21 - 2:51pm

    Hello, ex-pats, if there had been by-elections in two very promising constituencies, we would be fighting both hard.

    However, as OB and Sid was not promising territory at all, we chose to run a low-key campaign.

    However, if our candidate had then received a very positive welcome on the doorsteps or there’d been some other new indicator of promise, then more effort would have been put in. But this didn’t happen. OB and Dic was not remotely winnable. It made sense then to downgrade effort and give Labour a clearer run. They are partly returning the favour in N Shrop.

    In N Shrop, the basic indicators are more favourable – principally more strength at local level. But also more potent campaign issues.

    However, N Shrop was far from being a clear prospect on day one. But our candidate and canvassers then received a very positive welcome and so the effort at N Shrop has been upgraded.

    This is how it works at by-elections. If after a few days it had become clear that it was an uphill struggle at N Shrop, effort would have been downgraded.

    One thing the party is good at is by-election strategy.

    We go to win and for no other reason. The candidate at OB + S will understand this, and her candidacy in an unpromising seat will add to her CV, if she ever presents herself as a candidate for a more winnable seat.

    I’m against a “progressive” alliance, if this involves standing down LD candidates, as this has knock on negative effects in Tory/Lib Dem marginals. But the sort of low-level semi-cordination of these two by-elections seems to me to be positive and proportional.

  • Chris Moore 5th Dec '21 - 2:54pm

    PS one issue that doesn’t interest voters on the doorstep in N Shrop is the level of our vote in OB and Sid. Surprisingly, they have other more pressing concerns.

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