My Eastleigh experiences

This month marked my twentieth year of helping the Lib Dems in by-elections.

My first by-election was at Newbury in 1993. My wife and I threw ourselves into the campaign on our home turf, after losing our son Toby to meningitis aged 16 months (he died just three days after Judith Chaplin, the former MP whose sad demise caused the by-election). It was a bitter sweet time, but we were truly delighted to host Paddy at our home three times during the campaign, once accompanied by Jane and their dog, Luke. Paddy was and is a shining inspiration in the Lib Dem firmament.

Since those days I have helped at all sorts of parliamentary (and council) elections. Always, Erlend Watson seems to be the first person I bump into. Islwyn 1995 was probably the most rarefied campaign I helped with. 49 steps up to a house, 49 steps back down, then 49 steps up to the next one… I tried to deliver by leaning over to the next house, doing two in one, but I did my back in as a result.

Now I have been at it so long that the by-elections are repeating themselves. Oldham East was, more or less, a repeat of Littleborough and Saddleworth. And of course, we then come to the second Eastleigh by-election of the last twenty years.

Easy to get to, for me. Straight down the A34. I went down four times. The first occasion was the first Sunday after Chris Huhne’s guilty plea. The young lad at the desk gave me two full cardboard boxes of leaflets and envelopes to do in four hours. I managed half of the consignment and got soaked to the skin in the process. Happy days.

One of the papers said we copied the idea of blue hand-written envelopes from the Obama 2012 campaign. Um. I seem to remember we started those in Newbury 1993, if not soon afterwards. Wake up at the back.

I have two reflections from the campaign at Eastleigh:

1. The actual campaign organisation really did find an extra gear which I didn’t know existed. The slickness of the workings of the HQ were out of this world. And I was truly inspired by Liberal Youth’s contribution and the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ hard work and loyal support.

2. It is quite staggering that, after a month of intensive political insanity, Eastleigh voters were still greeting me with cheerfulness on polling day yesterday. Well done Eastleigh folk! You are a hardy breed!

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • I still have my badge which just says 22,055 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing this Paul.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 1st Mar '13 - 10:34am

    Many thanks Terry, and well done Hywel. I can’t currently find all my little yellow badges!….

  • Paul,

    I slept on the floor in your spare room during Newbury – remember it well! Sorry I didn’t see you at Eastleigh – you were just heading out clutching you box as I arrived on that v soggy sunday!

    Some great memories

  • 🙂
    Good on LDYS

  • Mark Inskip 1st Mar '13 - 1:45pm

    I remember helping hand write envelopes in the 1990 Eastbourne by-election and I’m sure that wasn’t the first time

  • Chris Rennard’s 1986(?) Winning Local Elections talks about doing handwritten blue envelopes.

    IIRC they dropped out of fashion for a while as I don’t recall them in Ribble Valley, Newbury or any of the 92-97 by-elections. The appeared again for some seats in 97.

    That said we handwrote envelopes in Lancaster in the early 90s but that was because no-one had a laser printer!

  • Patrick Smith 1st Mar '13 - 8:24pm

    Whatever the political weather the L/Ds always feel together as a Team performing at their very best.This sure-footed camaraderie has now paid the highest dividend in the latest By-Election remembering that only 4 out of 481 post War mid-term elections have been won by the incumbent government : and in this one the Lib Dems are in govt.The victory must quicken the step of all Focus Delivers this weekend and urge recruitment and new quality donors to help Nick Clegg`s Liberal Democrats hold and make gains in May 2015.The Eastleigh By-Election is a very distinctive L/D win and will never be forgotten and will spur us all on in our local journeys in the rounds of Local Elections.

  • “remembering that only 4 out of 481 post War mid-term elections have been won by the incumbent government”

    Surely there’s something wrong with that figure. I count 4 since 1999:
    Wigan, Hamilton South (1999), Sedgefield, Ealing Southall (2007).

  • Mark Inskip 1st Mar '13 - 9:40pm

    @Hywel – Pretty sure it was 1988 not 1986, launched at an event at the Bournemouth International Centre (still have my copy from that day somewhere)

  • Mark Inskip 1st Mar '13 - 10:07pm

    This confirms “Winning Local Elections” was 1988 but says it was launched at the Blackpool Special Assembly though don’t remember the launch there.

  • Patrick Smith 1st Mar '13 - 10:54pm

    In response to Chris,it is correct that only in 4 out of 485 post 1945 By-Elections have been won by the sitting govt. by turning out another Party.It is impossible to calculate amidst the right wing media cacophony, just how famous the victory in Eastleigh will be seen to be by many young Liberal Democrats who will tell their grand-children, that they were there and remembered the day and place when the L/D vote was resurgent and voting support was resilient in the face of such a deliberately biased Tory press.

  • Mark – I’m sure the person who put that booklet together will have researched the information thoroughly!

    My Copy says Jan 1988 at the front so looks about right

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