Richmond Park by-election: Liberal Democrats have very big smiles

“The mood music,” says the BBC’s Chris Mason, “is that the Liberal Democrats are running Zac Goldsmith very close.” He says that the Liberal Democrats have the biggest smiles.

The Guardian live blog has some piles of votes looking very close. They report that Labour and Betfair are saying we have won. Mind you, Labour are not always the best judges of such things, though, so that comes with a big health warning. We had to convince them that they had won in Glenrothes in 2008. Our box counts had the result within half a percentage point. They thought the SNP had won when it was clear to us that they hadn’t.

Let’s put some context into this.

Last year, we were absolutely stuffed in that seat, not to put too fine a point on it. We had an excellent candidate in Robin Meltzer, but this was on of the seats where the Conservatives’ scare tactics about Ed Miliband and the SNP took hold. Our support bombed from 42% to 19.3%, while Zac took 58.2%. The Labour vote unsqueezed itself. Their 12.3% was their best result since 1997.

The real comparison for tonight’s result is with the 2010 result which was much closer. Zac beat Susan Kramer 49.7% to 42.8%. For the three elections before that, we had been on around 45% with the Tories on around 40%.

However, to rebuild anything like that level of vote from such a low base would be absolutely incredible.

All anyone will say is that it’s very close, so we know we have taken a massive leap forward.

Now, we wait.

While we wait, does anyone have any by-election stories that they want to share?

My best memory of waiting for a result is, of course, Dunfermline in 2006. The wait was made easier by the presence of the most beautifully cooked rare roast beef brought to us by agent Cllr Peter Barrett.

The result is expected some time between 2:30 and 4. Get the coffee on. It’s going to be a long night.

We’ve certainly run a fantastic campaign. Sarah Olney has shown grace when the right wing press went low, bringing her husband’s job 10 years ago, she has show intelligence and anti-Brexit passion. Like Liz Leffman in Witney before her, she has done the party proud.

The party has answered the call to arms wonderfully. We’ve had hundreds of people on the ground throughout the campaign.

And now VickiYoung from the BBC has this:

This makes me very nervous. I’d always rather pessimism that was proved wrong than optimism. But if we win, I won’t care.

My former co-editor Stephen Tall also makes the point that the swings we saw in the 1990s to the Liberal Democrats came at the end of long campaigns, months rather than weeks.

1:14 am

It looks like the counting is now over. It’s just a question of adding it all up and going through the spoilt papers. So, a bit more amusement. One of the things that has to be done is to go through all the spoiled ballot papers. This can be quite funny. What is the best spoiled paper that you have seen? In amongst the rude and sometimes very elaborate pictures of private parts, there are some gems of humour.

1:50 am

Sarah Olney is at the count. There’s lots of hugging and smiling going on amongst the Liberal Democrat contingent. Sky is calling it for us.

Let’s just not get too excited, though. I never like to celebrate until the result is declared.


Some of our number are getting a bit over-excited. Don’t have nightmares imagining this, people.


Faisal Islam from Sky News says that Sarah Olney has won by 2-3000!

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

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  • I’ve just come back from managing one of the Committee Rooms. Very busy all day in spite of the icy weather. But my favourite – and very simple story – was a couple of days ago.

    Me to canvasser: Did you use miniVan?
    Canvasser (in all innocence): No, I came by bike.

  • I remember Dunfermline too – I was due to win over a grand on Willie, and I got cold feet in the middle of the night and only walked away with about £400. Still my best betting night ever.

  • OK. Let’s have a go. 1993. Chris Rennard was telling people that we were going to win Newbury by 5,000 votes. Then halfway down the M4 I switched on the radio. Those long lilac ballot-papers had been counted, and 22,000 more of them had crosses for David Rendel than for the Tory whose name I forget. By the end of that night, Buckinghamshire was the only county where the Tories had outright control.

  • My proudest memory was PARKING THE BUS in front of the Hartlepool Offices while it was being egged by the Fathers for Justice group and walking in to cheers. It was awful that their candidate threw powder over Jody Dunn at the count, she should of been better protected by the staff due to the personal animosity from the F4J candidate.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Dec '16 - 1:07am

    I was pretty silent about this byelection. I ended up giving a partial endorsement to the independent remain Tory just before the polls closed (Fiona Syms) because she voted remain but accepts brexit, a bit like me.

    It looks like the Lib Dems have won it. I still think the Lib Dems should pursue a “soft brexit” strategy rather than this second referendum thing.

    Congrats to Sarah Olney and all those who helped her!

  • Eddie
    Fun with Fiona eh?

  • Richard Underhill 2nd Dec '16 - 1:49am

    There was drizzle cake in Eastleigh.
    There was drizzle cake in Richmond Park.

  • Congratulations Sarah – Fab result for you and all your team Well done 🙂

  • Great result. Well done Sarah.

  • One of the difficulties of winning this election is nicely illustrated in Caron’s article. Our MPs are referred to as Susan Kramer and Sarah Olney, but Goldsmith is just Zac. This persistent use of his first name by us, by journalists and his literature, made him sound like a best friend or family member. It was Nick Clegg being called Nick by Cameron and Brown which helped in 2010.
    Humanising, familiarising, the opposition is not a good tactic. i was told when i first canvassed in Mortlake, never say anything bad about, wait for it, “Zac”, because “he is so well liked”. The first two houses i called at said “anyone but Goldsmith”, before I even asked what they were going to do!

  • Simon Banks 4th Dec '16 - 11:55pm

    I think Goldsmith’s cult of personality had worn a bit thin.

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