Newbury by-election: 20 years on

Newbury calamity and catastropheToday is the twentieth anniversary of the Newbury by-election victory for the Liberal Democrats on May 6th 1993.

It seems appropriate to thank all the Liberal Democrats who came to help in that campaign, to pay tribute once again to the party’s by-election machine, to its driving genius, Chris Rennard, and to David Rendel. David was, for twelve years, a first class MP for Newbury. He continues to be an inspiration as a model of liberalism and selfless integrity.

It seems a good day to report that the flame of Liberal Democracy continues to burn brightly in Newbury. The last general election campaign was the happiest campaign with which many of us have ever been involved. We have a wonderful set of West Berkshire councillors with a pugnacious leader in the shape of Jeff Brooks. We are extremely lucky to have a first-class parliamentary spokesperson in Judith Bunting, who is energising us all, alongside a young,  and inspirational agent, Shaughan Dolan. We control Thatcham Town Council and, provided we work very hard between now and Thursday, we will continue to control Newbury Town Council after a vital double by-election in Victoria ward, which is, essentially, the centre of Newbury.

My photo shows the front page of the London Evening Standard the day after Newbury by-election. Its headline “Calamity and catastrophe” sums up the Newbury by-election victory of David Rendel with a majority of 22,055 (in a previously safe Tory seat held by an acolyte of the then Prime Minister, John Major) and a devastating set of county council election results for the Tories.

In many ways it is an echo of what happened last week with UKIP. ‘Government rocked to its foundations’ and all that sort of thing.

UKIP was founded in the same year – 1993. Its first leader, Alan Sked, actually stood at Newbury by-election under the banner of the Anti-Federalist league. He came fourth with 601 votes.

Before any UKIP supporters now get carried away thinking the future is purple, they should pause for historical perspective. UKIP have 195 councillors. Two years after the Newbury by-election, in 1995, the Liberal Democrats became the second party of local government with over 5,000 councillors. I doubt whether we’ll see that many UKIP councillors in 2015.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • And, Paul, we certainly won’t see that number of Lib Dem Councillors, certainly without a radical change of direction. One spoilt ballot paper in last week’s count in the Division I was working in cut to the chase. By the Lib Dem box it said “Not while you’re in league with the Tories”. With 700 UKIP voters, and well over 1000 voters who stayed at home, it was pretty obvious what was happening and what will continue to happen outside very well reinforced strongholds. Unless we see a very rapid change of strategy, the next stage will see those strongholds either crumbling, or temporarily reinforced by electoral pacts. Welcome back 1955!

  • David Rendel was well aware of what was happening when he was not allowed to raise his more radical amendment at the Special Birmingham Conference that endorsed the 2010 Coalition.

  • David Evans 7th May '13 - 1:11pm

    Yes. A clear example of where we would have been if Nick hadn’t rushed into coalition and then mismanaged it so badly. Days gone by, opportunities lost, sadly missed.

  • David Hughes 7th May '13 - 3:52pm

    Readers might like to know that the defeated Conservative candidate at the Newbury by-election, one Julian Davidson, found himself marking the anniversary by failing to gain the Blackdown and Neroche division on Somerset County Council from our deputy group leader, Ross Henley, who increased his majority despite adverse boundary changes.

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