Mrs Copeland

Copeland is a place of significance for me, I love it to bits, and I wish I had been able to come up and help the campaign. On Thursday, Rebecca Hanson and team delivered a solid result for us in Copeland, doubling our vote share and forcing UKIP down into fourth place. Of course, we are by no means a close third, but over time could this become a Lib Dem target seat?

Neighbouring seat Westmorland and Lonsdale, held by our own Tim Farron, had a strong tradition of Lib Dem second places by the time he won in 2005, while in Copeland our vote has snuck above ten percent only twice; in 2005 and 2010. This by-election has been seen by some as purely a start to the Cumbria County Council elections in May, and I think that has its own benefits. Rebecca did a fantastic job of getting our name out there, even to the isolated villages in the fells.

My Grandma lives in one of those villages, and tells me that they have a lamppost at the bottom of her road which has been broken for approaching a year. The council have been contacted again and again to fix it, but nothing has been done, except a bloke coming to take the bulb out. This broken lamppost makes it incredibly difficult to see pedestrians or to pull out of the road at night – it is impossible to see the cars that race over the fells like lemmings, flinging themselves around corners without slowing or looking. A small thing to be sure, but this local dog-dirt politics is how we built ourselves up across the country – if evidence is needed, I refer you to Paddy Ashdown’s book ‘A Fortunate Life’ where he details how he won Yeovil on campaigns of this kind.

The comparison of Somerset and Cumbria is not, I think, a futile one. Both are predominantly rural, where the Tories hold court, while the towns are staunch Labour. Applying Paddy’s three-election method – the aim should be to take second place in 2020, claim the towns and set ourselves up as the opposition to the Tories. The choice presented to voters in this by-election was nuclear or NHS, and they chose nuclear – but the Lib Dems were the only ones offering both. Copeland has rejected Labour and the Conservatives won’t give the area the investment it needs. Here is a gap for us to push, using our usual ground-up methods. County council elections in May should be pushed, and every election afterwards.

I’m not saying that it’s a guaranteed win, or even a guaranteed second, but I think it’s a possibility and with the right local, committed candidate, it’s certainly worth a shot. I believe, even objectively, we had the strongest candidate on Thursday. Paddy has become Mr Yeovil, Tim is Mr Westmorland, could Rebecca, or someone like her, become Mrs Copeland?

* Ed Thornley is Constituency Organiser in Edinburgh Western, and helped deliver that constituency’s best ever result in May’s election.

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th Feb '17 - 2:23pm

    Not someone like her, but her , surely !

    An excellent candidate. With AV she might have won !

    We must keep trying for our terrific candidates to get into parliament.

  • PHIL THOMAS 27th Feb '17 - 3:13pm

    I thought Copeland was a very poor result especially as it was next to Tim Farron’s Constituency.

  • She came across very well in interviews and with a bit more work would’ve got to over 10%

  • David Evans 27th Feb '17 - 4:35pm

    Ed, Paddy didn’t win Yeovil for the Liberals. The Liberals won it for Paddy. Geoffrey Taylor and a lot of others had brought the Liberals up to equal second with 17,000 votes (only 7,000 votes behind the Conservatives) before Paddy came and helped take it forward to the next level.

    In Copeland we would be starting from 2,250 votes: 9,350 behind Labour and 11,500 behind the Conservatives.

    The question is who is prepared to commit to sacrificing the massive proportion of their life (personal and family) needed to try to build a team capable of doing it. And remember you are not talking about the five or ten years as we might have thought was needed in the 1990s or 2000s. You are talking about the 20 to 30 years a la Gordon Birtwistle, Ronnie Fearn or Patsy Carlton.

  • Phil Thomas: you are a happy soul, pray tell us what you say would have been a poor result and a good one in that order.

  • Andrew McCaig 27th Feb '17 - 6:13pm

    Anyone who wants to see what normally happens when a by-election is perceived as a two horse race with us as an also ran should have a look at Crewe and Nantwich (2009?). Our vote went down as the Tories took the seat from Labour. Copeland and Stoke were both good results in the circumstances of being squeezed, and showed the number of people prepared to vote for us on principle, not just for tactical reasons, is increasing again.

    There is still far to go before we get into real contention like in 2010 however. One small step at a time needs to be our motto! I think a good performance in the County Council elections will be accompanied by higher poll ratings, as people actually put their X next to a Lib Dem Candidate

  • Peter Watson 27th Feb '17 - 11:10pm

    “in Copeland our vote has snuck above ten percent only twice; in 2005 and 2010”
    According to the Wikipedia page (
    2001 10.7%
    1983 15.9% as SDP
    as well as being just below 10% a couple of times.

    Having read comments by Rebecca Hanson on this site over the last few years I am sure she was an excellent candidate (and hopefully will be again), so I would hate this to come across as a criticism of her. Going back over previous vote shares shows the progress that was made in this by-election (albeit in a campaign where resources from across the country could be brought to bear), but underlines just how damaging was the time under Nick Clegg’s leadership:
    2017 7.2%
    2015 3.5%
    2010 10.2%
    2005 11.5%
    2001 10.7%
    1997 9.2%
    1992 7.6%
    1987 9.1% as SDP
    1983 15.9% as SDP
    1979 5.9% as Liberals in Whitehaven
    1974 14.2% as Liberals in Whitehaven

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Feb '17 - 1:38am

    Thanks, Ed Thornley, for your enthusiasm for our constituency! It’s good to read the differing viewpoints above, and, thanks to Peter Watson, the detailed voter history. Yes, we have a long way to go in building up a local base, not only in the county council elections but in the district ones too. But I don’t think it will take decades – and it had better not, considering that our two most dedicated members, chair and vice-chair of our executive, are both 80 or more years old! Still, I enjoyed leafletting with an 18-year-old from Penrith and Border, Christopher who is in his gap year, and already active with Amnesty International, as well as with other Cumbrians who are far off pension age. And soon we shall have some welcome newcomers – the first refugees allowed by this grudging Government, due here at last in April. I imagine they may favour the Lib Dems in the future! Meantime, we shall try to look after them.

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