Rochdale by-election – Lib Dem Iain Donaldson only mainstream party candidate to maintain vote

Waking up to the news that the divisive George Galloway has yet again been elected to Parliament is not what any liberal minded person ever wants to do.

Galloway topped the poll in Rochdale by over 6000 votes on a turnout of 39.7%. However, he is unlikely to be there for long given that there is a General Election coming very soon.

He won in a bitter campaign where both Labour and the Greens had disowned their candidates.

Here’s the result in full:

George Galloway (Workers Party of Britain) – 12,335 – 39.7% (+39.7%)
David Anthony Tully (Independent) – 6,638 – 21.3% (+21.3%)
Paul Ellison (Conservative) – 3,731 – 12% (-22%)
Azhar Ali (Labour’s disowned candidate) – 2,402 7.7% (-48.4%)
Iain Donaldson (Liberal Democrats) – 2,164 7% (0.0%)
Simon Danczuk (Reform UK) – 1,968 6.3% (Brexit Party got 8.2% in 2019)
William Howarth (Independent) – 523
Mark Coleman (Independent) – 455
Guy Otten (Green’s disowned candidate) – 436
Michael Howarth (Independent) – 246
Ravin Rodent Subortna (Monster Raving Loony Party) – 209

Massive thanks go to our Iain Donaldson and his agent, a veteran of many campaigns, Paul Trollope. If we are looking for positives, we are the only mainstream party to hold on to our General Election vote share which is no mean feat in a by-election like this.

There was some discussion about whether we should all drop everything, descend on Rochdale and sweep Iain to victory when the Labour candidate was disowned. Much as I think we would all have loved to have our 16th MP and defeated Galloway, it was not ever a realistic prospect.

In every by-election I have ever seen us win, we have been out-campaigning all our rivals from the nano-second that the by-election is a thing. We will have delivered the constituency multiple tines by the time nominations close and we’ll have knocked on most of the doors at least once.

We had not done this in Rochdale and with the best will in the world, you don’t win by starting an intensive campaign a few days before the postal votes go out.

Iain Donaldson would undoubtedly have been a much better MP than George Galloway. He would have worked to bring people together and he would have done all the things that Lib Dems do when we fight for our communities, but it was not going to happen for him in this seat.

It takes a huge effort to fight a campaign like this and Iain, Paul and their team should never have to buy themselves a drink at Conference ever again.

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

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47 Comments

  • Peter Martin 1st Mar '24 - 9:00am

    “If we are looking for positives, we are the only mainstream party to hold on to our General Election vote share…..”

    This is true. But, at the same time this vote share is only 7%. The lower it is, the easier it is to maintain it.

    Rochdale was held by the Lib Dems up until 2010 with 40+% of the vote. Your vote share has fallen consistently since. Why aren’t you able to do better in Labour facing seats?

    Is it because you’re only really enthusiastic when it comes to taking on the Tories?

  • “If we are looking for positives”……. there aren’t any, Caron……. but it’s very revealing about the state both of UK2024 and the Liberal Democrat Party.

    Unfortunately I’m old enough to remember Ludovic Kennedy polling nearly 18,000 votes there (with the active and regular support of then Party Leader Jo Grimond) from a standing start back in 1958.

    To be fair it’s a tad bit away from London (physically and mentally) and very different to the comfortable nice and cosy leafy Home Counties.

  • Roger Billins 1st Mar '24 - 9:17am

    I broadly support the strategy of treating the next General Election as a series of by elections in winnable seats and am lucky enough to live in one but, even if we had no chance of winning it, I think it was incumbent on the national party to fly the Liberal flag aginst the vile Galloway in a more upbeat way, perhaps with a visit by the leader. After all, Rochdale is a town with a Liberal tradition.

  • nigel hunter 1st Mar '24 - 9:53am

    Are we to be a national party or a party of the south with bits and pieces here and there? Comments are appearing on news channels that the voter is sick of the 2 main parties. That could include the LibDems as well. Something has to be done to raise our profile and to show we are better/different to the main parties

  • Alex Macfie 1st Mar '24 - 10:09am

    @Ian Sanderson: I very much doubt that Hanger Smith was on the minds of many Rochdale voters. He’s dead and he wasn’t on the ballot paper. Voters tend to look to the present and future, not the past, so the fall from grace of the present Labour and Green candidates was far more likely to matter to the electorate.

  • I know we have to put a glow on every result however poor, but 7%!!!!!!!!!

  • nigel hunter 1st Mar '24 - 10:13am

    The Indipendent candidate Mr Tully campaigned on local issues and came 2nd.The chance was there to raise our profile. Can the party learn from his campaign?

  • David Blake 1st Mar '24 - 10:39am

    And of course Nancy Seear fought Rochdale.

  • David Evans 1st Mar '24 - 10:48am

    Sadly, clinging at the straw of maintained vote share, is no way to start to solve our party’s problems. With 2,164 votes we didn’t even get out our vote from 2019 – 3,312. That alone would have put us ahead of Labour. Indeed, just getting out our vote in only two wards from the council elections of 2023 would.

    Likewise, getting out our vote from 2017 – 4,027, or 2015 – 4,667, would have put us ahead of both Labour and the Conservatives.

    Now that would be a payback in terms of publicity and motivation.

    The centre set their sights far too low from the start and never gave our activists a chance to even come close to the joy of getting a morale building result.

  • Neil Hickman 1st Mar '24 - 11:23am

    Of course at the outset it made no sense to chuck everything bar the kitchen sink at Rochdale; if Labour had selected Paul Waugh as their candidate they’d probably have walked it. And after the belated disowning of the Labour candidate, it was of course too late to organise a massive campaign.
    But Roger Billins is right, the Party could and should have done more once the opportunity presented itself. As David Raw observes, actually managing to avoid losing your deposit in a seat you held as recently as 2010 doesn’t really count as a positive.

  • So we’re celebrating getting 7% of the vote? In fairness holding the deposit in a crowded field was better than some other results but its still only 7%. The reality is that some people who would have voted Lib Dem in the past will have voted for Galloway.

  • We have to be careful as to what we say about George Galloway. He has a penchant for litigation. Pity that Rochdale voters couldn’t have received messages from Bethnal Green and Bow and Bradford West – both of which he failed to defend. It might be helpful if some reporter dares to ask him for his views on MPs having more than one job.

  • Depressing result again after last week. We just seem to be becalmed with Davy showing no energy or direction. Sorry SirEd you must show more passion and less slumber

  • David Allen 1st Mar '24 - 1:19pm

    Can’t help feeling the Lib Dems kept a deliberately low profile in Rochdale because they were scared that publicity could hurt them!

  • Ruth Bright 1st Mar '24 - 1:26pm

    Completely right to pay all due courtesies and thanks to our valiant candidate. This is, however, a truly bad result. Imagine how shocked we would be by a headline saying: “Lib Dems hold deposit in Bermondsey and Old Southwark”, also a very diverse Labour facing seat we held for many years.

  • Ian Patterson 1st Mar '24 - 1:57pm

    We fell of a cliff yesterday in Horsham in dual by elections there. Green gain from Ind in one and Tory gain from us in other. Horsham is Blue Wall isn’t it?

  • That the fact that we couldn’t win in this seat is bieng used as a reason for not trying is unfortunately very revealing about our party’s current strategy and overall mindset.

    Once labour gets into power we will have hardly any opportunities for future expansion after having fallen into 3rd and often 4th place in most of the seats where we once challenged them, and we now face much stiffer competition from the greens than when labour was last in power.

    Coming second in Rochdale would have put us in position to win the election after next. The fact that an independent candidate managed this shows just how easily this could have been achieved if we’d taken the by-election seriously.

    As things stand now it will at best take us three or four elections to regain Rochdale if we ever recover there at all.

  • Chris Moore 1st Mar '24 - 3:44pm

    Rochdale is no longer fertile territory for us.

    Other areas, which once were no-hopers, are now winnable.

    The same happens with other parties. Think St Albans: Labour-held in recent memory.

    We shouldn’t obsess about this by-election: coming a poor third is worse than poor fifth, if we have to pour resources in.

    G Galloway is very popular with many Muslim voters. However, that’s on the basis of proclamations and stances which most LD members would not find liberal.

  • Big Tall Tim 1st Mar '24 - 3:49pm

    Usual moaners commenting. We were never going to get anywhere close to a good result for all sorts of reasons. Iain did very well in extremely strange circumstances.

  • Big Tall Tim 1st Mar '24 - 3:52pm

    Rochdale or Palestine? Ed made absolutely the right choice.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Mar '24 - 4:10pm

    Bermondsey & Old Southwark is demographically very different from Rochdale — it voted Remain by a large margin (73:27) and is younger, more educated and more middle class (but with a smaller percentage of homeowners; that’s Inner London house prices for you). [Information from Electoral Calculus] The Lib Dem vote there has held up since Simon Hughes lost it in 2015, so although the seat looks safe for Labour for now, we have a respectable 2nd place and could win it back once disillusionment with Labour among ‘progressive’ voters sets in.
    The picture is very different in Rochdale and the rest of the post-Industrial North of England where we used to be strong — our vote collapsed in 2015 and we fell to 4th place.

    As for the Horsham results, almost certainly local factors were at play there. We’d have to see a run of similarly disappointing Blue Wall results for us before concluding a new trend.

  • If the Liberal Democrats can’t do better than this in a seat they used to hold given the circumstances of the main two parties then hope is low indeed

  • Ruth Bright 1st Mar '24 - 6:13pm

    Has anyone here ever read Rebecca’s Solnit’s “Men explain things to me”? Highly recommended. Thanks Alex, yes I was a Lib Dem councillor in Southwark for eight years and Deputy Leader of the Opposition with roots that go back to my mixed race Great grandfather who was born on the New Kent Road in 1877.

  • I am gobsmacked by the depressing comments here from a small group of commenters. Have you forgotten the amazing by-election results in Somerset and Frome, Tiverton and Honiton, North Shropshire, Chesham and Amersham? Or the excellent local election results in 2023 and 2022?
    I don’t understand this level of negatively about one very peculiar contest. You seem to have forgotten that campaigners need to be encouraged not fed constant put downs.

  • David Blake 1st Mar '24 - 6:23pm

    Interesting – Lib Dem council candidate supported Galloway https://www.lbc.co.uk/news/lib-dems-urged-to-suspend-rochdale-council-candidate/

  • Paul Barker 1st Mar '24 - 6:40pm

    The big Political News of the day is that The Tories average in The Polls has fallen to 24% after Months hovering around 25% – I was surprised, I thought they were down to an irreducible core.

    Of course all the “Journalists” will be fulminating about Rochdale – a result that will largely forgotten in a couple of Weeks.

    The essential truth about politics is that very little has been happening & that we mostly know The Result of the coming Election. Journalists can’t say that because their money is made from selling News & as far as domestic Politics goes there is very little News to sell.

  • James Fowler 1st Mar '24 - 6:47pm

    Chris Moore is right, events, issues and demographics have simply moved on. 2010 is several major evolutions of the politic scene away now, and what we held then is only a partial (and mostly misleading) guide to what ‘ought’ to be feasible now – we even had the 1958 by-election trotted out in support of this general sentiment! While I love a good historical by-election, this makes as much sense as talking up our prospects in Lincolnshire by citing the 1929 Holland with Boston result.

    I was surprised but heartened that we held the deposit. I suspect we have a few hundred middle class disgusted (and sadly temporary) ex-Labour voters to thank for that.

  • Peter Watson 1st Mar '24 - 8:33pm

    @Alex Macfie “more educated and more middle class”
    Sadly, the Lib Dems give the impression that they are a party of and for the “more educated and more middle class”. Exclusively so.
    A higher profile in campaigns in less affluent, less southern areas, even when there is little expectation of winning, would at least contradict that image, but perhaps it speaks volumes that there is no appetite to do so. 🙁

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Mar '24 - 8:40pm

    @Mary Reid
    “Have you forgotten the amazing by-election results in Somerset and Frome, Tiverton and Honiton, North Shropshire, Chesham and Amersham?”

    No but there have been too many other by-elections in the past few years where LibDems have achieved a derisory result.

  • Mary’s comments are spot on.

    Also, why are Lib Dem Voice comments dominated by such a small number of commentators? Many of them seem male and not exactly under the age of 30.
    I feel most of the angrier people rarely propose what should happen – they just find it easier to complain.

  • @Mary Reid
    The problem is that those by elections were Tory seats. We can only make those sorts of gains from the Tories when they are unpopular but we have no long term plan or ambition for regrowing the party in labour facing areas.

    And what do we ultimately want to win seats for? They do allot to boost our profile sure, but don’t we really want there to be a hung parliament in which we can force a labour government to introduce PR so that we can finally become a regular party of government? We can only make that more likely by taking seats from labour; taking seats from the Tories will only create hung parliaments when the Tories are popular like in 2010.

  • Maurice Leeke 2nd Mar '24 - 7:52am

    I went from Norfolk to Rochdale to help Iain, twice. The truth is that, as in Mid Beds (another story) not enough Lib Dems came to help.
    Next time there is a by-election please put your boots on and come and help.

  • Martin Gray 2nd Mar '24 - 8:00am

    Obviously Galloway is an effective campaigner in by-elections & a first rate orator…Not everyone’s cup of tea but thats democracy.. For those decrying the result – at least Galloway’s not some establishment stooge trotting out meaningless bland phrases . Too many MPs seem to have lost the notion of independent thought …

  • It is unfair to criticise either the National or Rochdale Lib Dem campaign teams for not having foreseen the unforeseeable in the Rochdale byelection.

    There is not much for us to learn from the success of George Galloway. He has a unique firebrand personality, a (thankfully) unique style of campaigning and, in Rochdale, a unique set of favourable circumstances.

    Rather, the Lib Dems should look at why/how David Tully gained 21.3% of the vote, while the Lib Dem candidate only gained 7% (I deliberately did not Iain’s name, because this difference is not due him personally). He has no previous political experience and almost certainly did little doorstep campaigning (whether canvassing or delivery). He undoubtedly benefited from being a ‘none of the above’ candidate – but he did gain ten times the votes of the other independent candidates.

    The longstanding ‘mantra’ of the Lib Dems is “where we work, we win” – that we do similar things to the two main political parties, but do them better and more intensively. David Tully’s vote suggests that this is not the only important factor – or perhaps not the most important. His much larger vote share than the other the other independents suggests that there was a positive element, rather than just a vote for ‘none of the above’ (although, with a surname starting with ‘T’, he was bottom on the ballot paper).

    We can learn much more from the success of David Tully in Rochdale than from George Galloway winning.

  • nigel hunter 2nd Mar '24 - 9:58am

    Yes as Simon says we can learn more from Mr Tully as to how to campaign.HQ should take note.

  • David Evans 2nd Mar '24 - 10:55am

    I too am gobsmacked by the depressing comments here from a tiny group of commenters – possibly as small as four. Most posters haven’t forgotten the amazing by-election results in Somerset and Frome, Tiverton and Honiton, North Shropshire, Chesham and Amersham, because many of them were there campaigning in them. Nor have they forgotten the excellent local election results in 2023 and 2022. All this was achieved by activists turning out to do what was needed.

    A good proportion of the posters here are very long standing members with decades of experience and know what is needed for real success because they helped build that success through the 1970s, 80s, 90s and 00s. What they don’t understand is the level of negatively a few influential people put out about them because they have been correctly calling out the manifest failings at the centre since 2010 of isolated leadership, surrounded by a small but very influential group of cheerleaders. A total contrast to much of the leadership prior to that period.

    Instead we have a centre that repeatedly ignores and belittles people’s concerns, despite the fact that they are the people have been repeatedly proved right over the entire period.

    Some seem to have forgotten that the last 14 years have been five years of catastrophic collapse, and nine when the Tories have run riot destroying so much of what we hold dear. Experienced, long standing campaigners should have been listened to and their concerns addressed, not fed constant put downs.

  • Ruth Bright 2nd Mar '24 - 5:41pm

    Mary, I am extremely optimistic about the three seats I know well. I think Eastleigh will be won back and there will be a tremendous amount of ground clawed back in Southwark and in Hampshire. But as Caron has put it elsewhere, is sewage and the NHS enough? I also don’t appreciate turning on the Sunday political telly (with a morning ahead delivering FOCUS) to be collectively put down by my leader as a “think tanker”. Is this meant to be motivational?

    If people are critiquing our leadership it is only because they are worried about the future. David Evans has put it well.

  • Just listened to Friday’s the newsagents pc on Rochdale election. All parties got a mention except Liberal Democrats

  • Alex Macfie 3rd Mar '24 - 12:15pm

    @Ruth Bright: My comment wasn’t particularly directed at you, it was intended to point out why, in my opinion, comparing Rochdale with Bermondsey is apples and oranges. I did not intend to impugn your knowledge or experience and your gender certainly doesn’t come into it.

    There is very little for us to learn from this Rochdale by-election IMHO. What happened in Rochdale will stay in Rochdale. Voters don’t tend to give much thought to what happened in a by-election in another part of the country, which is a pity because if the voters of Rochdale had been aware of George Galloway’s electoral history they would have known what a charlatan he is and would have given him a very wide berth indeed. There was a suggestion on LDV that our lost deposit in Old Bexley & Sidcup would make it harder for us to win North Shropshire. That didn’t happen, it just wasn’t a factor. Voters in our target seats won’t care in the slightest about Rochdale or any other by-elections where we did poorly.

    The next GE will be fought on bread & butter issues, not on the Middle East or any other foreign policy issue, and if Labour gets its act together it will likely win Rochdale back from Galloway.

  • It seems we fought the by-election on the NHS, the cost of living and sewage, while both George Galloway and David Tully fought on more local issues, and in Tully’s case including criticism of the council, the football club (recently demoted out of the League Two after 102 years as a Football League club) and other local football issues. Simon Pike makes valid points (2nd March 9.09am).

    It seems there were all up council elections in Rochdale in 2022 and we achieved 17.26% of the vote. In 2008 we achieved 36% of the vote and had over half of the councillors. We took two seats from Labour and lost one to them. Even though that was 16 years ago I would expect us still to have some old data on 8000 voters who at that time voted for us or Labour. Last year we held one ward and were second in four to Labour, so those areas could have been worked. With enough effort and a better campaign it is possible we could have beaten the Conservatives. Then come the general election we might even have had the opportunity to come third behind Labour and Galloway.

  • Ruth Bright 5th Mar '24 - 3:21pm

    Hia Alex – I think gender does come into it. Women’s comments are outnumbered 10 to 1 on this site most of the time. Your comments about Southwark clearly were addressed to me as I was the only one to mention Southwark. It isn’t your fault that I have had the psephology and demographics (of places I knew like the back of my hand) mansplained to me since I was 18. 39 years of it becomes a little wearing! I am done here anyway but I think you should reflect about the way you go about your business on this site. I’ll happily do the same.

  • As usual, Ruth Bright hits the mark……. though she can console herself with the thought that Alex thinks the population of Southwark is – and I quote – “better educated” than Rochdale.

  • Chris Moore 6th Mar '24 - 6:06pm

    We are all on the same side.

    These are disagreements over tactics, not vital values.

    Let’s tone down the bitterness.

    Younger members value the experience and knowledge of veterans on here; and veterans should understand that electoral reality has changed significantly since 2010 in Rochdale and elsewhere, let alone over decades.

    We now have a host of new winnable seats in the south where we were nowhere in 2010 or 1970(!!).

    Btw as far as I understand it, btw, we DID campaign in the few winnable council seats in Rochdale.

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