Progress for Lib Dems in local elections


The landscape of British politics has just shifted a small step towards the progressive stance of the Liberal Democrats. The #LibDemFightback is truly underway. This time we gained more seats than any other party in England. This time we gained Edinburgh Western from the SNP in Scotland. And this time we became the only opposition to the Labour party on Manchester council.

Our status as the part of communities has truly been backed by voters, and so thousands of voters now have a Liberal Democrat fighting their corner. Even in the areas where we have not made gains, the campaigns which we are delivering for our local people are truly inspiring.

We have turned the tables on the Tories since the last election. The Tories have lost the most council seats, the Lib Dems have gained the most. None of us knew for sure what the Lib Dems had achieved in coalition, until the Tories spent over fifteen million pounds and a knighthood on going it alone.

Despite their eagerness and desperation, this Conservative majority has failed. I say this, because any government being forced to make eleven U-turns in twelve short months is a failure. Most recently the Tories have hidden their failures behind election headlines. They have U-turned on academies and scrapped plans to extend rural broadband to every home, a plan championed by our party in government. It is worth noting that the Conservatives are not quite entirely to blame for this. It is a tragedy that this Labour opposition is the worst in living memory, as Tim Farron reminds us all.

It is also vital to acknowledge that despite the many hard months of campaigning some areas of the UK have further to go than others. But make no mistake; the #LibDemFightback is well and truly underway. It is a great shame that Kirsty, such a dedicated campaigning AM, has resigned as Welsh leader and I wish her all the best in her continuing work as an AM. Equally I am pleased to see Mark William appointed as Welsh Leader.  Caroline Pidgeon’s re-election to the London Assembly also comes despite a difficult night in London on Friday.

I am immensely proud of the campaigning we Lib Dems have done for last Thursday’s elections. This is despite the media virtually ignoring us for twelve long months. I look forward to the increased coverage brought about by our victories. We were the only party in the country to gain a council (Watford) at these English council elections.

For me personally this election mattered enormously. For me it is about our communities. In my home city the Liberal Democrats held every one of our seats and gained votes from Labour and the Tories across the board. And for the first time, as a teenager, I have felt a part of our democracy. I have campaigned in my local area, delivered leaflets and chatted with local people about my passionate party. In Moortown Chris Howley doubled the vote share in his seat, sending a strong message to the Labour party that they are failing local residents. My contribution was small, but the result we are all a part of is enormous.

As a member who joined the Liberal Democrats one year ago, campaigning is now what being a member all is about. I only look forward to the Conservatives giving me the vote next year. After all, with 11 U-turns so far, we are only due another 44 by the end of parliament!

* A Liberal in Leeds is the pseudonym for a Lib Dem member. His identity is known to the LDV team.

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  • clare sawdon-smith 9th May '16 - 5:18pm

    Tim Farron of the Lib Dems has sent this out to his members… its incorrect. Labour won Bristol council with a gain of seven seats to move it from no overall control…

    ‘Today I can tell you that we gained more council seats than any other party and became the only party to win control of a council….’

  • @Clare Sawdon-Smith – that is not how the BBC is reporting it.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 9th May '16 - 5:22pm

    Hi Carcatus,

    Limited media coverage makes it difficult for us to get a national message across easily until 2020. However, our MPs’ campaigning on Cannabis reform, mental health, refugees etc has gained coverage. Polls are impacted by this limited media coverage, and yet we have loads of local support. With the coverage and TV debates in 2020 we will gain ground cross the UK. For TV debates Tim is our secret weapon!

  • Neil Sandison 9th May '16 - 5:22pm

    Well here in Rugby we did .We retained 2 councillors and gained a 3rd taking our membership on the Borough Council to 9 .that’s equal to the Labour group .interesting thing was that the Labour wards had the lowest turn outs around 26% .Where we contested the seats the average turn out was between 38% and 44% .
    The fight back continues.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 9th May '16 - 5:23pm

    Hi Clare. I said we gained Watford Council. Bristol Council remains mostly Labour.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 9th May '16 - 5:24pm

    Well done Neil. Congratulations!

  • Glenn Andrews 9th May '16 - 5:28pm

    @Clare Sawdon-Smith; Labour did win Bristol but I’m assuming this was a reference to net gain – Labour did lose control of a council too. on the subject of net gains if you factor in the by-elections last night Lib Dems finished on +46, UKIP +25, GREEN -3, LAB -15 and CON -58… on balance we are heading in the right direction whichever way you cut it.

  • A few more radical and relevant policies would be much more welcome than any amount of exaggerated chest puffing about nowt much in particular.

    Could have been worse, I suppose, but reminds me of the famous Tommy Docherty quote about his team did well to get nil.

    Always look on the bright side of life, eh ?

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th May '16 - 5:48pm

    Yes, Claire is right. Wish she wasn’t.

    Sorry Thomas.

    Labour won (just) a majority (36 out of 70 seats, I believe) and control of the council here, as well as the mayor. We have 8 seats, I think.

    The Bristol mayor – as in Watford – in fact has considerably more power than the council now, so there is a debate about how relevant having an overall majority is in either place, versus just having a large minority.

    I think it is easily possible that the Bristol result was overlooked by many due to the late nature of the count – only declaring yesterday – and the email was either drafted earlier on in the weekend, or was just not correctly proof-read.

    The claim that is being made in this thread that we are the only party to make a net increase in the overall number of councils that we control, is true, but it is just not the same thing as saying we ‘became the only party to win control of a council….’

    This isn’t to disparage the national fightback, which I do believe is underway, but:
    – we are still in the fight to regain our status as a genuine national party
    – our support is even more regionalised than before
    – our resources are being even more targetted than before
    – our opposition is even more diverse than before
    – there are many claimants ready to take intellectual and policy territory we previously felt ourselves the inalienable claimants of
    – claims of one clear national narrative of improvement, whilst statistically provable overall, can feel very hollow from individual vantage points.

    I do agree with Thomas that the Conservatives are stuttering (if not quite ‘stalling’) in their attempts to bring their majority to bear in the way they would wish. But:
    a) how much is this to do with LibDem action?
    b) whether the Tory sense of control and purpose genuinely begins to fragment in the next few months has much to do with the success of political projects we would not necessarily endorse, ie Corbynism or the anit-EU lobby.

    I am not completely despondent and there are good signs, and I understand why so many activists in this party are so happy after ‘years of hurt’. But for many LibDems infinitely more active and experienced than myself, going forward means gritting teeth and digging-in harder.

    When Tim was elected, I said (I think) that the new leader would need a decade. I stand by that opinion.

  • Peter Watson 9th May '16 - 5:53pm

    “Despite their eagerness and desperation, this Conservative majority has failed. I say this, because any government being forced to make eleven U-turns in twelve short months is a failure.”
    If the behaviour of the Conservative party in a majority government can be moderated by parties in opposition, was it really necessary for Lib Dems to bolster them in Coalition?

  • paul barker 9th May '16 - 6:33pm

    The reason we made a relatively small number of gains was that we got roughly the same vote share as 4 years ago, the last time these seats were contested. However, that was still a sunstantial rise on the vote share we got in the 2015 Locals – that is the Recovery we are talking about.
    Even if we make no progress at all over the next year, we could still expect to make more gains in 2017.
    The process works in the other direction of course so unless UKIP do substantially better next year they can expect heavy losses.

  • I think Thomas’ enthusiasm is very welcome – as part of a new generation of activists (some of whom are now Councillors) steps up to the plate we should be heartened that there are many who are both ready and willing to put in the time necessary for us to rebuild.

    No one doubts we have years of hard effort ahead of us, but the media (and it will in time cut through more to the voter) got the message that last year’s results were not a fatal blow and that there is indeed a viable, active Liberal party in the UK that can regroup and go out an win seats once more.

    We should never get into the realm’s of kidding ourselves, as Labour seem set to do, but let us not remove the context of the elections. Previously, when we’d have 1500 up for grabs we’d hope to gain 200 more. But we fought these seats with a context of a year in which others pushed the message that were were done, over and kaput. They can’t say that now.

    If you had told me this time last year we would gain more seats than anyone else, I’d have been delighted. And I am now.

    Now, as others have said, is the time for new policies and a new message. We have to get people in their gut, to make them get a feeling feeling of what Liberalism is and why it a matters – to build that core Liberal vote. I’m sure most of us here can’t imagine belonging or voting for another party and now is the time to show people why they alsp must vote LibDem and maybe join – and we’re lucky to have new members ready and up for helping do so.

  • PS – good point from paul barker on vote share. We moved up to second again in many places and, thank goodness, kept quite a few more deposits than recent years…

  • Tony Greaves 9th May '16 - 6:54pm

    “We have turned the tables on the Tories since the last election”

    This is sadly completely wrong. We did very well in a very few places. We made a bit of progress or held our own in rather more. There are a few beacons lighting the path to future glories (lIVEPOOL mACNEHSTER)

  • Tony Greaves 9th May '16 - 6:58pm

    Sorry, last posting went off before I intended. You can work out the places I meant to quote! To continue my posting…

    Overall we stopped the rot and did not go down any further. But in most places we did badly and in many abysmally, not least in Wales, London and most of Scotland. In many parts of the England the party is hollowed out.

    To say this is not to suggest we lie down and die – the reverse. But unless we recognise clearly where we are and are honest about it, we will be deluding ourselves and will simply not do what is needed.


  • Bill le Breton 9th May '16 - 7:01pm

    Wise thoughts from ATF as usual. But we got 16% national vote share in 2012 and a net loss of seats between the 2012 and 2016 elections in these seats of 290. Should that not be telling us something?

    It is also interesting to see that Labour managed to hold on to almost all of their 823 2012 gains. The media is bashing them and so are half of their PLP but this should worry us.

    Of further concern is that we have been kept afloat in this election by the usual superb campaigners. When they have reached their old high water mark, where will future gains come from? That is the nature of elections by 1/3rds.

    At this rate we shall have crawled our way back to 2005 levels in forty years time. I shall be long dead. I can’t wait for that. Nor can I wait for Tim to have the chance to excel in a 2020 TV debate.

    We have to gain traction NOW. And that means being very different from how we have been not just from the 2007-15 lunacy but from the year 2015/16.

    It looks like we have to wait for the Euro ref before we dare to be different (from the rest). And, then, of course it is summer time… so the first chance to be different could be delayed until September. Hummmmm. I’d dare to be different now and expose the appalling campaigns of both Leave and Remain. Campaigns which are likely to leave half the population celebrating and half the population in despair. Heralding more and more strife across our nations.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 9th May '16 - 7:33pm

    Hi Matt and Clare. I was referring to net gains nationally in English elections, not in every individual council. Please look at the BBC English results page linked to by Mary and in the article.

  • Martin Land 9th May '16 - 7:34pm

    We must have the patience to build slowly. The pace of gains will increase as time goes on, but we must build stronger foundations than we had in the past. Councillors need to work more closely to identify better candidates and we need to work harder on retention strategies. The party needs to invest what limited funds we have in ALDC and in grassroots campaigning. Select PPCs NOW! Let candidates play a key role in rebuilding. And please, lets go back to Orange Diamonds, EARS and decent leaflet design software!
    I sincerely believe we are our own worst enemies sometimes. We need to FOCUS!

  • Thomas Shakespeare 9th May '16 - 7:36pm

    Hi Matt,

    I agree that there is more to be done of course. But I am heartend by all the gains and campaigning, including from so many new members.

  • paul barker 9th May '16 - 11:35pm

    Some commenters are being very confident in their predictions on the basis of a single years results. To me, the rise in our vote share since last year suggests that we might be able to reverse the losses of the Coalition period in a single Parliament but the key word is might. I would feel a lot more confidence with the results from two years of recovery.
    We need to keep the wider context in mind – the splits in both our major rivals.

  • Could I draw readers’ attention to the fact that at the recent elections the Liberal Party (the party headed by Steve Radford) won only two wards in the entire country – Steve Radford’s own ward in Liverpool and the Dogsthorpe ward in Peterborough (where due to re-warding all three of the sitting Liberal councillors were up for re-election and were in fact re-elected). Without going into the intellectual reasons why the Liberal Party maintains a separate identity from our party, I do wonder whether it is useful or practical that the energies of those involved with the Liberal Party are channelled into so small a political organisation.

  • Matt (Bristol) 10th May '16 - 9:53am

    Hi Thomas, I really do appreciate that is what you meant to say, but that is not what you typed.

  • Matt (Bristol) 10th May '16 - 9:58am

    Sorry Thomas – to clarify — What I intended to say is that Clare was responding to Tim’s email, which made a claim that was not strictly accurate, and she was right when she pointed it out. Several people directed her to the net gain in an attempt to correct her. Your contention in the thread that Labour remained the largest party in a no overall control situation here, was not strictly true.

    As I said above, it is definitely true that we are the only party to make a net gain — and this is something we can be proud of.

    Anyway, this is the department of pedantry, and I don’t wish to over-emphasis my point.

  • Roger Billins 10th May '16 - 12:52pm

    Although we shouldn’t get carried away, there is no doubt that the rot has stopped. It is also true that the fight back is likely to be a long process although politics is a funny business. I fought my first election for the party in 1978- when we were down to barely registering support in the wake of Thorpe. We did Ok in the 1979 GE but that’s all. Who would have imagined that within 2 years the SDP would have been formed and our alliance with them causing a political storm. We now have the European issue tearing apart the Tories and Corbyn doing the same to Labour. Who knows what’s around the corner !

  • Sue Sutherland 10th May '16 - 1:41pm

    We are right to be quietly happy about our local election results because they have obviously invigorated our campaigners and rewarded them for a lot of hard work and the courage to carry on after such a humiliating defeat last year. Whoever made the decision to do a local election ppb highlighting our diversity and to concentrate on the locals rather than perhaps the more attractive London Mayor and Welsh and Scottish national contests made a good call. We have consolidated and grown in what has always been our political base, local communities.
    We probably won’t get the media coverage we would like to for those results but quiet building is no bad thing. I do hope that the EU referendum doesn’t prevent the sort of discussions the party should be having about where do we go from here. I noticed that the Liberals in Canada went away on a 3 day retreat to come up with fresh ideas about their party and I hope we follow their example.

  • Simon Banks 10th May '16 - 4:44pm

    We gained Watford. We had the mayor, but not a majority on the council. Getting that majority is what “gaining Watford” means, Caractacus. If you take out about ten councils we made no gains at all? If you take out about, I don’t know, twenty seats the Conservatives made no gains in the general election. There were no huge shifts for anyone, even the Greens whose vote collapsed in many places but whose net loss of seats was small; but our shift was in the right direction and not only in a few strong places (Watford, Hull) but in places like Sunderland where we were not strong. We suffered losses (in Newcastle, for example) but we chalked up the biggest net gain of any party and as we’ve been reminded for years as our number of councillors declined, irrespective of the total vote, having more councillors strengthens the party and having fewer weakens it.

    Certainly this is not yet a big revival, which would see our votes up just about everywhere even if we lost the odd seat, but it’s a start. We do still need to do some hard thinking about strategy and organisation (it may be that Tim Farron, like Charles Kennedy and unlike Paddy Ashdown, is not an organisational thinker, but that’s no problem if the Party President, senior staff and Federal Executive do the strategising and organisational planning and he backs them). But we’ve won seats, we’ve got plenty of keen new members fully engaged and we’re on the move. We should celebrate that.

  • A Liberal in Leeds 10th May '16 - 8:09pm

    @Simon Banks Just to clarify we gained a majority in Watford, and the mayor is also a Lib Dem. Please see:

  • A Liberal in Leeds 10th May '16 - 8:11pm

    Here’s a better link for Watford elections

  • clive english 11th May '16 - 9:46am

    on caractus’ comment. What maths is he using. There were 124 councils up for election, so how did we fail to make progress in 170?

  • The Lib Dems did reasonably well in a small number of councils, held the line in some others and continued/finished off the coalition collapse in others. Overall, we did better than the other parties only in comparison with 2012 which was a pretty disastrous year for us. We still have a long way to go and in large parts of the country there is also a need to alter direction before trying to go anywhere.

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