Reflections on Mid Bedfordshire

I’m not going to lie. I’m disappointed this morning. Like many of you reading this, I wanted to wake up to Emma Holland-Lindsay becoming our 16th MP.

As a party we’ve put a huge amount of effort in to Mid Bedfordshire and we didn’t do it to become third. It’s a decent, double-our-vote third, not a squeezed till our pips squeak third, but even so, we’re allowed to feel a bit gutted.

Part of the reason I am so sad is that Emma is a huge talent and has been a magnificent candidate. I’ve heard of so many doorstep encounters where people knew who she was and really liked her.

She has spent pretty much the last year campaigning at full pelt. First of all to pull of her audacious gain in her Council ward with colleagues Chris Leaman and Shaun Roberts, and, since June, as by-election candidate. She should never, ever have to buy herself a drink at any Lib Dem event for the rest of her life.

Everyone who’s met her should add helping her get elected to Parliament one day to their to-do lists.

Emma, thank you for being one of the best by-election candidates we have ever had.  We have been very lucky this Parliament to have found such wonderful people to represent us.

While I can see the sense in the party’s messaging, that our surge in the villages took votes off the Tories and helped Labour over the line, none of us were put on this earth to help Labour win, so the fact that it rankles a bit is to be expected.

Some people are asking whether we should just have let Labour have Mid Beds, but why should we step aside if we think we have a reasonable chance of unseating the Tories? I was worried that the Tories might sneak through the middle, but this result showed that they are in so much trouble that in their heartland that they can’t even win when the two main opposition parties are scrapping it out.  With the loss of Tamworth, they have every reason to be crying into their porridge this morning.  Their prospects for a General Election look proper bleak now. They face losing the red wall, the Midlands to Labour and much of south east blue wall, and some of the south west to us.

One interesting thing from last night’s count. We were very quick to say publicly that Labour had won. Labour themselves were a bit more reticent. I wonder if they were just keeping their powder dry, or was it because they hadn’t worked it out. They only won by 1200 in the end, but they should have been able to see it from their box counts if we did. However,I’ve come across several instances where they haven’t been able to predict the result. In 2008, the SNP were widely expected to win Glenrothes. It was blindingly obvious that Labour were going to win – they were pretty much 20% ahead, but we had to tell them.

In the middle of the night, the party’s Chief Executive Mike Dixon emailed members to highlight “three big lessons” from Mid Bedfordshire:

First, we nearly doubled our vote share in the single most competitive by-election of this Parliament, in which both Labour and the Conservatives ran their strongest possible campaigns.

We have got used to beating all expectations in recent by-elections, so it is disappointing not to break even more records.

But we should take heart from our performance in Mid Beds.

We were the only party that gained votes compared to 2019: both Labour and the Conservatives went backwards.

We won thousands of votes from former Conservatives who had never considered us before.

And we got a swing of 20% from the Conservatives: far more than we need in the next General Election to win our target seats and get rid of this Conservative Government.

I want to say thank you to all the volunteers and staff who gave so much time, energy and effort to make this happen. It made a huge difference.

Second, the issues we identified and talked about – the NHS, cost of living and the local environment – resonated with people on the doorstep. They felt important and relevant to people’s lives.

We need to keep talking about what matters to people: that means continuing to knock on thousands of doors each week, and listening as much as we can.

Third, a candidate like Emma really matters. People on the doorstep smiled when you mentioned her name.

While it is disappointing that we could not get her into Parliament in this campaign, I am sure she will have a bright future in our party.

I want to say a particular thanks to Emma and her family: being a candidate in this kind of by-election is a huge undertaking.

She did us proud.

We didn’t leave anything on the field in this campaign and so it is sad not to win, but our wider prospects for the General Election have been bolstered by the absolute drubbing the Tories took overnight. As Mark said earlier:

What it does show is that we’re staring at a 1997 scenario, where voters are shopping around for the candidate most likely to defeat the Conservatives. And that gives us opportunities to win a number of seats across the South and South-West of England.

We have built very strong foundations in these seats in the past four years and we will surely consolidate on that effort whenever Rishi Sunak finds the courage, or is forced by the fact that the Conservative mandate has run out, to face the public.

 

 

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

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17 Comments

  • The main positive is a strong increase in vote share and continuing Conservative implosion. This image must be maintained. We were never going to do well in Tamworth but mid Beds is a wake up call that currently Labour does not have a ceiling. We must hunker down to 40ish target seats in a laser focussed campaign.

  • Well put. Adding 10% to our vote when Labour started from second place and was putting in maximum effort to win is a hugely impressive performance. My hope is that we learn lessons from this and adjust our list of target seats to maximise our gains at the next election rather than spreading our efforts too thinly and falling short in my places where a win is there to be won. Overall, excited and optimistic as ai look to the election next year.

  • Tristan Ward 20th Oct '23 - 11:31am

    Agree with almost everything Caron has said here.

    It ‘s nice to think about a 1998 scenario, but I don’t believe we are in the same place. Then by election turnouts were much higher, and the winning party gained lots of votes over 1992. That didn’t happen last night, and it didn’t happen in our previous 4 by election. wins either.

    Somehow we have to get a message of gone into our rhetoric. And I don’t think “we’ll spend more money” is that message. The voters are not stupid – they know tax has gone up and that for money to be spent would have to go up more.

  • Outstanding local by election campaigning and hard work can’t mask the fact these are two poor results. John Curtice made the point that the local election results didn’t really point to significant progress in LD vote share and the Tamworth results suggests our core vote is very low indeed.

    The party needs to promote a distinctively Liberal message, not simply be a pale shadow of Labour. The focus on the NHS is pointless unless we are prepared to radically reform the service. We need to have credible economic policies that address long term decline and which the public can understand. We also need to be willing to stand up for international law in the way Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown did, whatever the mainstream media say. If we don’t, and the two major opposition parties look the same, most people will vote for the one with 200 seats rather than the one with 15.

  • Steve Trevethan 20th Oct '23 - 12:33pm

    Well commented, James Moore!

    What are our « headline » policies?

    What might be our party’s « dull quotient »?

  • Graham Jeffs 20th Oct '23 - 12:36pm

    James Moore – I wish someone was listening!! We are a shadow, people don’t see us as distinctive, we don’t put over our key philosophy and relate our policies to that.

    It’s no good us constantly churning out platitudes. We need to get a grip and stop behaving as if being anti-Conservative is an end in itself.

  • @James Moore “The focus on the NHS is pointless unless we are prepared to radically reform the service. ”

    No thanks. The Lib Dems had a chance to ‘reform’ the NHS, and they did it by ramming through the Tory Health and Social Care Act in 2012, supplying the needed votes. It wasn’t part of the coalition agreement but the Lib Dems supplied the needed votes anyway, and it lead in large part to the fragmented service with large chunks of privatisation that you see today.

    Reform is not necessary, unless you mean taking it back into public ownership. But regardless of the structure, the simple fact is the UK spends far less on health than comparable economies, and as a result has far fewer doctors and hospital beds, and so on. Money is needed.

  • James Fowler 20th Oct '23 - 1:33pm

    I agree with Tim.

  • David Blake 20th Oct '23 - 2:09pm

    I’ve no idea how much we spent on the Mid Beds by-election, but it would be interesting to know how much each vote cost – quite a lot, I expect.

  • Nom de Plume 20th Oct '23 - 3:32pm

    Money well spent. It showed that we are still competitive against the Tories in certain areas and got us talked about in the media. Well done to all those who were actively campaigning. Pity Emma did not win.

  • Jason Connor 20th Oct '23 - 4:00pm

    I agree with Former Dem on the NHS. There are still Lib Dem elements which harbour a privatisation agenda but I could still not vote for labour.

  • With regards to the Tamworth vote share meaning Lib Dems have a low core vote, the same could be said of Labour who got less than 3% in the recent Somerton & Frome by-election.

  • Mick Scholes 20th Oct '23 - 9:52pm

    Tory vote 12,680 plus Reform UK vote 1,487 = 14,167 = Tory Victory by 295 votes.

    Don’t forget in 2019 Brexit Party stood down at last hour in seats where splitting the right-wing vote would let in Labour / Lib Dem.

  • James Fowler 20th Oct '23 - 10:54pm

    Sadly we do have a low core vote – about 7% nationwide as the GEs of 2015 and 2017 helpfully revealed. The Tamworth result was terrible of course, but at this time I’d rather that Labour won than we retained our deposit which was all we could hope for.

  • Jonathan Maltz 21st Oct '23 - 3:13am

    I would say our core vote is no more than 5%. I would put the Tories & Labour’s core at 18-19% each. That gives them a helluva head start.

  • Lee_Thacker 21st Oct '23 - 7:49am

    @Mick Scholes – do you think Nigel Farage and the Reform Party will do the same thing in the 2024 general election? My guess is he will want to cause maximum damage to the Conservatives. After the election Reform will dissolve itself with its members joining what remains of the Conservative Party.

  • James Fowler 21st Oct '23 - 9:22am

    Hi Jonathan. I’m a tiny bit more optimistic about us, but (unfortunately) there’s never been an election in the last century or more when the Conservatives have taken less than 30% of the votes cast. Labour isn’t far behind on 27%. I think those probably represent their minimums, unless there’s profound social change.

    It can happen – look at the SNP who, despite their current travails are now a permanent and major feature of Scottish politics. The other interesting cases are the Liberal disappearance, ditto the Irish Nationalists, and Labour’s own rise.

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