Massive Lib Dem swing to GAIN Sunderland council seat from Labour in by-elections clean sweep

We’ve run some cracking results late on Thursday nights in the last 8 months but this one is pretty amazing even by those standards.

Last May, in the Sandhill ward in Sunderland, we got, to put it euphemistically, a modest 90 votes. Labour got 1229.

And tonight, this happened.

I’m sorry. What?!

Yes, you read it right.

Bowsers. Congratulations, Cllr Stephen O’Brien and your hardy team for running one hell of a polling day operation in the snow.

And there could be more good news on the way.

This is a ward which did have 3 Liberal Democrat councillors in 2014 but we lost a seat to the Tories in 2015.

There’s only two by-elections. Could we get a clean sweep?

And it is. The result has just been confirmed and it means that Three Rivers is once again a majority Lib Dem Council. Brilliant work by Alex Michaels and the superb Liberal Democrat team in Three Rivers.

Here’s the result. Normally a 24% increase in the vote would be spectacular but tonight it is slightly overshadowed.

So, two very different results. An amazing gain that few would have expected from Labour in the north. UKIP’s vote fell by a third, too. In contrast, we are also doing very well and re-gaining support in our areas of strength. Not bad for a bitterly cold Winter’s day’s work.

UPDATE: It’s been such a good night that the leader has had something to say about it:

We finished 2016 winning by-elections and tonight we have shown that the Lib Dem Fightback is going from strength to strength. Since May 2015 we have now gained over 20 council seats and won a parliamentary by-election in Richmond Park.

Thanks to the hard work of local campaigners and great candidates we have gained two new council seats and control of a council.

Tonight we gained seats from both the Conservatives and from Labour. People up and down the country want to see an open, tolerant and united UK. It is the Liberal Democrats who are standing up and representing them, we are the real opposition to this Conservative Brexit government.

And Edinburgh Western’s Lib Dem MSP got a little over-excited.

Photo or it didn’t happen…

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

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This entry was posted in News.


  • Ian Patterson 12th Jan '17 - 11:11pm

    Niall Hodson our man in Sunderland only got on Council last May. Labour have been unpleasant to him ever since.

  • Terence Weldon 12th Jan '17 - 11:13pm

    Staggeringly good news. With all the talk of UKIP making inroads into Labour’s working class vote up North, there had been some speculation that they might give Labour a run for their money in Sandhill. Instead – this!

    NumberCruncherPolitics on Twitter calculates this is a 37.5% swing, in an area that voted 60% leave.At least at local council level, LibDems are clearly making big, steady by-election gains in varied parts of the country, and in leave as well as remain areas.

    The challenge now will be to extend the pattern across a broader front, for the May county and other local elections.

  • Wow!! It’s hard to put into words just how impressive this is.

  • Congratulations to all concerned, what a start to the year.
    Were both seats last fought in 2016 ? Its a pretty impressive shift in not much more than 7 Months.

  • Well done.
    Fantastic news to go to bed on as it pours down with rain, outside.

  • Two very good results. However, you need to slow it down a little, you don’t want Corbyn sacked just yet!

  • Ian Patterson 13th Jan '17 - 12:07am

    And this was the Dear Leader’s Great Relaunch week and that worked out well, didn’t it!

  • Dave G Fawcett 13th Jan '17 - 1:19am

    For several years my local party; Gateshead; has been in the forefront of the Lib Dem electoral successes in the N.E. We bow to our masters. The young, new local party in Sunderland has totally wiped the floor and has shown us ‘old hands’ how things should be done. Forget (well maybe not) other recent national by-election results. Niall and now Stephen have taken wards from Labour in one of Labour’s traditional strongholds, in wards where, only 9 months ago we were trailing very badly. Many, many congratulations to (new) Councillor, Stephen O’Brien, to Councillor Niall Hodgson and to the whole Sunderland team and those who went in from other areas in Tyneside and Tees-side to campaign

  • ethicsgradient 13th Jan '17 - 3:52am

    Congratulations to the Lib Dems. A great result for you.

    I can only give my view as a non-alinged floating voter. Labour led by Corbyn are unelectable. He is all over the place, weak on defense and incoherent on many areas of policy. If I was/am annoyed with some of the things the Tories are doing, the NHS crisis or I had been a remain voter and wanting to give someone a kicking the only clear viable choice I would have is yourselves. I would vote Lib Dem.

    To be honest even as a leave voter, I would consider voting Lib Dem because although I would not be supporting your EU position, because brexit is going to happen (shape and form still to be argued over in the coming months and years) it would not hold me back from voting Lib Dem in by-elections/local elections, if I wanted to register my disappointment with the current government.

    I think I can see this signs of this in the results. Collapses in the Labour support, surge in Lib dems. Most (lots of leave voters?) not really too worried about voting in a by-election on a cold January day.

    To repeat myself/surmise: Lib Dems come across as a floater as having a clear coherent stance on most areas, seem united and focused and also clear credit for sticking to your principles and being a clear pro-EU party, both before and after the referendum vote. You are the only clear credible opposition in England at present. Good work Lib Dems and although I disagree with your EU position, all the best.

  • UKIP have never been a threat to anyone in these seats because they are a party of the extreme economic right. The conservatives should really have wrong footed everyone by ending the bedroom tax and rolling back on austerity.

  • I think perversely Lib Dem fortunes go hand in hand with how well Leave people think Brexit will happen. Most have factored that in and thus will vote for the main challenger to the majority party at the local level or who do the work on the ground. Having seen some of the literature I would have voted for Stephen O’Brien in Sunderland (as I suspect did many people who voted Leave) as the best person for the job of that election – that of a competent innovative hard-working local councillor. Perhaps the Lib Dems are becoming the anti-establishment party in some local elections?

  • Stuart Smith 13th Jan '17 - 9:02am

    Well done Tim he has the right idea 48% want to remain if he sticks to his word to keep us in the EU he automatically has 48% of the population voting Lib Dem. There are many more who have now shifted their opinion from leave to remain as the truth has started to come out so that would guarantee even more votes. KEEP at it Tim shout it loud and clear WE WANT TO REMAIN. I live in Spain you have a load of voters here that will vote for you we have had enough of Corbyn dilly dallying and May’s bombastic approach viva Lib Dems.

  • With Tristram Hunt resigning from Stoke-in-Trent Central a swing, based on our 2010 showing, could result in another scalp…

  • Just to put these two results in context: so far this year ALDC has reported one council HOLD (Alsager TC), three GAINS (Sunderland BC, Three Rivers BC, Ilkley PC) – and nothing else. In other words, we’ve won every council by-election so far this year.
    Of course, it is very likely that that there have been other by-elections that ALDC hasn’t spotted.
    And some naturally less euphoric types (Simon Shaw, step forward) may note that this is only five seats out of thousands. And they’ll be right.
    But it’s fun while it lasts.

  • …oops. Four seats, not five. Still nothing to complain about.

  • Great news from Sunderland and all the better for being – from 200 miles away – entirely unexpected!
    One humble request: please don’t let it entirely overshadow the groundswell of good work being done, not just in Three Rivers but across Hertfordshire, by a strong and motivated team on the ground.
    There is a real opportunity opening up in 2017, if we can focus on defining and then seizing it.

  • Ian Patterson 13th Jan '17 - 12:09pm

    Pace Copeland and now Stoke Central. Two young, male, ambitious Labour MP’s resign within weeks of each other. Which says a lot about the current state of things in Labour’s ranks.

  • Hopefully some good can come of Copeland and Stoke. If the Lib Dems take enough protest votes from Labour voters then the Tories could win both. Whilst hoping for a Tory victories is something I find hard to countenance, it will remove the nonsensical ‘UKIP threat’ narrative and, hopefully, Jeremy Corbyn. UK politics would be a brighter, more optimistic place without both.

  • @ angry steve “Hopefully some good can come of Copeland and Stoke. If the Lib Dems take enough protest votes from Labour voters then the Tories could win both.”

    Sorry, but that’s the sort of pro-Tory attitude that got the Lib Dems in such a mess after 2010.

    Being an empty protest vote is vacuous. We need a Liberal Democrat party that has measured radical policies appropriate to the needs of a very unequal society…. in other words a traditional radical Liberal stance. Anything else is empty fluff.

    Looking at the 2010 figures it is not impossible to win Stoke, and looking at the current local government by-elections anything is possible at the moment in Copeland – given the Tim machine in Westmorland is close at hand to help. Why anybody would want to do the Tories a favour at the moment is beyond my comprehension.

    As for UKIP, Mr Becket, – they offer nothing but ferrets in a sack plus a whiff of gobby aftershave.

  • Dave Beckett take your points. I live in the area we have probably met over the years. But the world is larger than brexit etc. Proper campaign based on local issues nhs for one, the other night I walked past a lot of old people in a corridor off a & e at stoke hospital, there is also the closure planned for one of 3 local a& e’s. there is a lot to seize on and run with plus the potential college vote. You can get 50-1 at Ladbroke today on us winning looks worth a punt to me

  • 92% didn’t vote BNP 10 years ago.

    A Tory victory might seem unlikely but they’re the only party that are likely to take it from Labour imho. UKIP are finished now that their single issue is resolved and May has parked her tanks on their lawn. Enough Labour voters protesting by voting Lib Dem could give the Tories victory.

  • @David Raw

    I was speaking from my perspective as a non-Lib Dem. I agree that it is in the interests of your party that is “has measured radical policies appropriate to the needs of a very unequal society”

    However, I was giving an opinion based on what I think is likely to happen rather than what I think is best for the Lib Dems in the long run. It’s a by-election and people use by-elections for protest votes. There are enough disgruntled Labour voters out there with pro-EU or centrist views that would be happy to kick Corbyn where it hurts. Believe me, I’d much rather see the Lib Dems take the seats than the Tories – I just think it’s more likely on the basis of previous results and current polling that the Tories will take them.

  • Sue Sutherland 13th Jan '17 - 2:42pm

    David Raw, I agree with you. We are Lib Dems, (at least I think you are) our party believes in a fair society and for many Leave voters Brexit is seen as a better deal than what’s happening to them at the moment and I think Tim Farron gets that. We must fight for these people because it’s our duty. They aren’t all racist or unintelligent, they just want a better deal and so would I if I were in their situation, so I believe we must offer them that deal, campaign to stop austerity, which isn’t even working, start investing in housing, health, social services and education and try to create a more cohesive society.

  • ethicsgradient 13th Jan '17 - 3:48pm

    I am picking up some chat about about the two by-elections to come; Copeland and now Stoke.

    My feeling is although both will see a rise in Lib Dem support and Lib Dem support is definitely rising as you replace Corbyns Labour as the only credible centrist alternative choice, these two by-elections are the ‘wrong’ type of by-elections for you.

    I think Copeland will go Tory, Labour losing because of Corbyns long held Anti-nuclear views and freedom of movement stance. Lib dems will improve massively picking up remain votes and NHS crisis protest votes. But Tories will win out on this one because of brexit and Nuclear.

    Stoke I think will seeing a huge labour swing to Ukip, with Ukip taking the seat. I do expect a strong surge in Lib dem support as any remain voters will vote for you and any one unhappy with the Tories but can’t vote Ukip are heading your way. Ukip win though.

    I do like a bit of crystal ball gazing…

    Congrats though as I put in my earlier comment up above. Lib Dems are on the march and are the only credible centerist opposition to the Tories. The big test is any 50/50 leave/remain Tory/Lib dem sort of seat. That will be interesting.

  • Richard Underhill 13th Jan '17 - 4:09pm

    John Bicknell 13th Jan ’17 – 6:40am The Daily Politics covered the council by-elections on 13/1/2017. All the parties in England made losses except us. The graphs should be worth reproducing.
    Since local elections in May 2016: 190 ward by-elections in England, Wales and Scotland.
    “Around” 70 seats changed hands.
    Tories minus 15. Labour minus 12. UKIP minus 3. Lib Dems plus 26.
    SNP minus 2. Plaid Cymru plus 3.
    Commentary from Professor Tony Travers (LSE). 2 further Lib Dem gains as above.

  • Theakes

    “You can get 50-1 at Ladbroke today on us winning looks worth a punt to me”

    It would have been if I could have got the price – the best I could get was 7/1 and it was only 6/1 at Ladbrokes. The odds for a Lib Dem victory in Copeland are also dropping, yesterday the shortest price was 50/1 today it’s 22/1. Stoke looks very winnable to me with UKIP being the main dangers. Copeland looks harder, but you could push the Tories close. Labour has no chance in Copeland and very little chance in Stoke, north of Watford Corbyn is a laughing stock.

  • Nigel Jones 13th Jan '17 - 4:30pm

    Tristram Hunt’s resignation from Stoke is no surprise. Although he achieved some good things for the constituency and conscientiously met many people, his views and approach were out of sink with so many. He represents the establishment of experts and, as one local activist is on record as saying, did not speak with a Stoke accent. My friend David Becket gives a good impression of the area, where so many people are parochial, anti-establishment and conservative (small c).
    There is a recent history of major support for BNP and Ukip and I cannot envisage a Conservative winning, but maybe an Independent with conservative views. The Independents/Conservatives running the council are generally considered better than previous Labour administrations. Like depressed parts of the USA, many would welcome a return to the good old days of coalmining, steelmaking, pottery and other large scale manufacturing. Donald Trump could win here.
    In the past, many were disillusioned with New Labour, but even those who then considered us would never turn to us again because of the national coalition. Our only hope lies in the small number who are internationalist in attitude and in the future, those young people who will replace the present majority of older folk.
    Nigel Jones, Parliamentary spokesperson, Newcastle under Lyme, next door to Stoke.

  • A few local Council by-election victories and the Lib Dems think they are gong places. It was ever thus. Yes, there will always be scope for high intensity campaigning – for which read lots of leaflets repeating the same messages in which the Lib Dems find a few local grievances to shout about – but as far as support for the party itself is concerned the country has about as little interest as it they did at the last General Election. Just look at the most recent opinion polls. The country just isn’t interested in the party. The other piece of moonshine being put about is the idea that these by-election victories show some sort of link between people’s votes and core party policies. The snag to that particular moonshine is that Focus leaflets rarely mention core party policies. What do Lib Dems claim to be one of their most important victories in the last Parliament? Redefining marriage. And how many people ever saw any mention of that in a Focus leaflet? The Lib Dem MP in my constituency never mentioned it the whole five years. And conveniently forgot to mention it in 2015 election literature. At the moment Remain is all the rage in Lib Dem circles. But do we expect to find that highlighted in Lib Dem literature in areas which voted to leave? What do you think? So, cut the garbage about by-election victories showing public support for the Lib Dems’ policies of being ‘open, tolerant and whatever’. All they show is that there is a correlation between voting and the number of leaflets delivered and the number of telephone calls made. And once they decline Lib Dem support plummets dramatically. Incidentally, what’s the carbon footprint of all these people who drive around the country helping in by-elections? Thought that we were supposed to be taking personal action to reduce carbon footprints.

  • Yes 50-1 @ 11, 7-1 @ 2 wow. 7-1 put me off when I got to the shop. We are lower price than the tories. We need a good local candidate. UKIP will fall back. At Copeland we have a locally known candidate and don’t laugh, I think she may win. Stoke central is a high density inner urban area easy to organise deliveries, should suit us down to the ground. See you there.

  • Leekliberal 13th Jan '17 - 5:27pm

    @David Beckett ‘ 3 Lib Dems left in Newcastle and none in Stoke or Staffordshire.’
    Small correction – We have 2 councillors in nearby Staffordshire Moorlands District

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Jan '17 - 5:43pm


    I agree with you and David above , but we would do better ,if, as well as listening to voters , we did so of members, too, many are not happy to be written off or criticised as lliberal when we are pragmatic on freedom of movement in the EU and prepared to limit this , or more understanding of dissatisfaction with the EU and prepared to accommodate this. All things to all men , and women , got as far electorally once , this is no more , we need to be , however , a broad party.

    Tim is right on much . Where he lacks clout , is saying , we understand your concerns, but are so gung ho pro EU ,we are ,at best, complacent ,on some of the economic concerns expressed, which EUrophilia has done very little to improve or ever would !

    I do think we need to get with the view that corporate capitalism , rather than liberal capitalism, means dominant companies , good or bad , wanting cheaper labour , are seen , rightly or wrongly , as running the show , calling the shots. We meet this by being the party of ethical business, that does not mean having no priorities or policies on the economy other than , whatever business wants , business gets!

    Because , in the process of Brexit , the Tories are no longer thus , business as usual,they can pretend to be both moderates , and champions , of British values, and peoples concerns. If we decry the one and pay lip service to the other , even if as perception , we fail !

  • Simon Shaw: What you say needed saying. UKIP continues to get about 13% support in most opinion polls, similar to their 2015 General Election showing and until recently the Liberal Democrats were getting about 8% as in the GE. However, the latter are winning seats but UKIP are rarely doing well in elections, even where they contest them, particularly in seats where they came close last time or held the seat. Labour’s performance was mixed but seems to be deteriorating recently even in the North and Midlands and the Conservatives are not really gaining support. There seems to be something wrong with the pollsters methods. There is a suspicion some are presenting the results their clients want to hear – Conservatives up, UKIP holding support, Labour dropping but not too much as that would make them seem less dangerous, and the Liberals and Greens seemingly getting nowhere, which might be true for the Greens. Only those tiresome voters are spoiling this scenario.

    Changes in political allegiance take some time but when they reach a tipping point can be dramatic.

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