Tim Farron MP writes…Thanks to our team in Oldham West and Royton

I am not going to sugar-coat it, the result in Oldham West and Royton is disappointing.

It was always going to be tough. Liberal Democrats have never won this seat and the highest we have ever finished is third.

But, nevertheless, I am hugely proud of Jane and the campaign the team has run. I cannot thank her, Claire, Nassar, Lisa and Chris enough.  They went above and beyond.

Jane worked tirelessly and was a great candidate for the party whether it was in hustings on the television.

It is has been great to get back to pounding the streets and even better to see so many new activists getting involved.

Since May more than 20,000 people have joined the party.

They joined because they believed our fight was worthwhile and they got their first taste of a by-election in Oldham West and Royton.

So, many knocked on doors, delivered leaflets and manned the phones for the first time. And, do you know what, they enjoyed the campaign.

Our team had the opportunity to test a number of new techniques – on social media and the doorstep – which will be crucial in the election battles going forward.

We launched tests on Facebook and campaigners have gained invaluable training.

While it didn’t translate into a result at the ballot box, the mood on the doorstep was far more favorable that it’s been for years.

Jane is the exactly the kind of the person this party needs to lead the fightback. I am confident we will see her in Westminster one day.

But, over the last few weeks, so many of you also showed the energy and enthusiasm on the campaign trail we need to battle back.

There were signs in Oldham that made me confident we are heading in the right direction.​

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Agriculture and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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23 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Dec '15 - 1:46am

    Again, well done to Jane. I’ve been wanting to talk about strategy going forward since the Syria vote. This is not about the right and wrongs of the vote, but the strategic impact – even those who have disagreed with me such as Jennie Rigg have said we might not be experts, but we have a good understanding of political positioning.

    Personally I think there is now a good opportunity to position the party as acting in the national interest as well as the wider world. The centrist message in my opinion is good, but the party has relied too much on it recently. A lot don’t understand centrism, but patriotism is very popular and whether it is far right parties such as the one who won recently in Poland, Tony Blair in 1997 or the far left Syriza party in Greece – they all present themselves as standing up strongly for the national interest.

    It needs to be seen in practice too. Personally I recommend toughening up on the European union as a start. It is fine to recommend more integration here and there, but the party can’t sound like the EU’s representative to the UK.

  • John Roffey 4th Dec '15 - 2:09am

    Eddie Sammon 4th Dec ’15 – 1:46am

    Although I don’t agree with your conclusions Eddie – I do believe that the Party does need to carefully examine its strategy – as it is in danger of becoming extinct as far as national politics is concerned.

    Can you tell me who, at present, is responsible for devising the Party’s strategy?

  • Foreign policy rarely exercises the electorate. The workings of the EU are little understood. I feel sure community politics can take the Liberal Democrats forward. People can relate to the concerns around them.

  • John Roffey 4th Dec '15 - 5:33am

    Manfarang 4th Dec ’15 – 3:28am

    I certainly agree that the Party must focus on issues that are affecting voters on a regular basis – and community politics falls into this category for many – particularly now that Osborne has passed the problem of managing local community services, with insufficient cash, to the councils. However, I think the most important change is that it is recognized that the Party is, at present, a fringe party – and act accordingly. If it continues to try to behave as a mainstream party – it will spread its resources too thinly and do nothing well – particularly with such limited exposure in the MSM.

    Just a handful of policies can be pursued with any impact on the electorate in the present circumstances – and these need to be carefully selected to provide maximum interest. I have previously suggested climate change/global warming because it is an issue that is going to attract ever more attention in the next decade as the deadline for the necessary action to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees of per industrial levels gets ever closer. This is also an issue that is drawing increasingly more young people into politics and one of paramount importance.

    If this path is followed, whatever issues are chosen – it is going to be extremely difficult for long-term Liberals to focus on a limited range of matters in the short-term and abandon cherished issues until the Party’s popularity has increased significantly. However, if this is not done – the risks to its continued existence as a national party are extremely high.

  • Despite a decent candidate and extra resources of a by-election, this was a disappointing result with no improvement on the nadir of the general election. Hopefully the techniques tested can be put into future battles with more benefit.

    I agree with John that policies to highlight need to be picked carefully. Given the Greens seem to have prioritised social policies over green issues, agree that area might be one to consider.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 4th Dec '15 - 8:12am

    I agree with Alex and John. As Tim said Jane seems a strong candidate and everyone worked hard but I’m not sure whether we had a very strong ‘what do you stand for?’ answer, e.g. in phone canvassing.

  • Bill le Breton 4th Dec '15 - 8:17am

    Catching a Falling Knife.

    Time may show that this was not, repeat NOT, a disappointing result.

    This could have been so much worse. We were not beaten by the Greens. We were not beaten by the Monster Raving Loony Party.

    An existential fight has its own character. It takes bravery and cussedness to catch a falling knife – symbolised very well by Jane’s service to the Liberal Democrats.. Thanks and admiration must go to her and her team and all those who have campaigned in the wards of this constituency and across the town over many years.

    A decade ago we ran the Council with imagination and verve. Before that we had an MP who was similarly radical and a campaigner first and last.

    We got to our previous high point here and across our countries not by aping the Establishment, and feeding off the crumbs from their High Table, but by battling against them – an insurgency.

    And the best campaigning technique? Truth, always truth. Openness, always openness. Empathy, always empathy.

  • John Roffey 4th Dec '15 - 8:46am

    I did ask earlier who is now responsible for devising Party strategy – I presume the strategists whose strategy led to the Party getting 8 seats in 2015 from 57 in 2010 have been dismissed for obvious reasons.

    Can anyone help?

  • Dave Orbison 4th Dec '15 - 8:55am

    Eddie – wasn’t the line “we are acting in the national interest” re the necessity for the Coalition that got you here in the first place. Having failed so catastrophically last time and with none of the improved fortunes achieved as expressed on LDV only recently, what reason is there to believe this is just wishful thinking. The result is no reflection on the candidate but it does underline the sorry state the party is in. Once by-elections for LibDems were there for the taking now it’s all about whether deposits can be saved and can we beat the Monster Raving Looney Party.

  • Ruth Bright 4th Dec '15 - 9:19am

    Bill le Breton is quite right. This could have been a humiliating “bye bye Liberal Democrats” result but Jane and team held their own. Still in the game thanks to them. There is no glamour or clamour in keeping our heads above water but it is very, very important so to do.

  • Agree with Bill and Ruth that this could have been worse. And certainly thanks and kudos to Jane for taking it on and working so hard. But, as I have posted at greater length elsewhere, we cannot continue as a party trashing the few things that the public have identified us with (tuition fees, standing against military adventurism in the Middle East) and we desperately need to find a handful of new, distinctive issues that we spend the next few year relentlessly trying to make our own. Because without the abilities to learn from past mistakes and to identify some core issues and stick to them, we aren’t going anywhere…

  • Richard Underhill 4th Dec '15 - 10:22am

    John Roffey 4th Dec ’15 – 5:33am
    John Roffey 4th Dec ’15 – 8:46am
    Just listen to the leader’s speech at Bournemouth and since:
    1) Compassion on reugees
    2) build more affordable housing
    3) shout loudly
    4) be willing to stand up for people in work on low incomes on tax credits
    5) maintain a sense of humour
    6) do not reform the rock band, sorry, too busy.

  • We need a new strategy for byelections where we are not 1st or 2nd (or a close 3rd!).

    When was the last time we didn’t get smashed where we started outside the top 2?

    Crewe & Nantwich? 2008!

  • We do need to look at our campaigning tecchniques. We were savaged last night, on this week, for a bar chart in Oldham. I’m all for barcharts in winnable contests, but where we can’t win, like in Oldham lets not lie. We have a problem with trust – our own polling points this out – so why do we say in Oldham thats its between us and Labour – this was just stupid.

  • What are the plans to report details of these, “new techniques – on social media and the doorstep – which will be crucial in the election battles going forward.” along with their effectivenes to local parties so they can use them in their campaigns for May 2016?

  • Richard Whelan 4th Dec '15 - 5:43pm

    The Liberal Party took 2 years to begin to recover from the disaster of 1970. Initially, just after the June 1970 poll the Liberal Party fell from the 7.5% share of the vote they got in that election to 6.5% by the December of that year. It was only mid way through 1972 that the party regularly posted shares of the vote in the mid teens.

    What I am trying to say is this: we suffered a heavy defeat in May of this year and it is going to take time to recover. Recovering our vote share and seats means that we have to campaign on what we are rather than on what we are not. We also have to be open and honest about what we would do in the event of a hung parliament and not try and sweep this issue under the carpet. My view is that in the years prior to 2010 we built our support on sand because we sought protest votes rather than votes for who we were. We were also not candid enough about what we would do in the event of a hung parliament. The upshot of these two factors was that when the hung parliament arrived in 2010 the electorate did not know what to expect but had the perception, because of our past campaigns, that we were closer to Labour than the Conservatives. Going into coalition with the Conservatives, whatever our justification that it was the only coalition possible given the parliamentary arithmetic at the time, was therefore our downfall.

    If we are going to rebuild successfully we have to rebuild as Liberal Democrats not as Conservative lite or Labour lite. That is not to take anything away from hard-working candidates like Jane Brophy. It is just we cannot succeed by building a strategy on sand.

  • Andrew McCaig 4th Dec '15 - 11:37pm

    I would not get too depressed about that result – look what happened to the Tory vote!

    Labour clearly did a great job of GOTV, explaining the higher than normal turnout for a December by-election. It remains to be seen if they were also overenthusiastic in farming postal votes (I am not keen on postal votes BTW. Normal votes are cast in a private booth with election officials looking on. Postal votes may be anything but secret. The should only be for people who genuinely cannot vote in person).

    Labour also did a surprisingly good job of managing expectations. All those “Labour sources” saying that the majority would be <1000 votes, and Labour "activists" blogging about panic and despondency. Given my dislike of UKIP I would have been considering voting Labour to keep them out myself. They seem to have picked a decent candidate with good local credentials as council leader. All the trailing parties got squeezed, including us, I would suggest

    I reckon if the Tories had been in a distant second place instead of UKIP and there had been no suggestions of a close result the turnout would have been 30% and our vote much the same in numbers, but more like 6%.

    I do agree though that we should keep the bar charts for when we really are in first or second place, or at least have some data that applies to the constituency (which the number of borough councillors did not…)

  • Tony Greaves 5th Dec '15 - 3:53pm

    I have great admiration for the people who work hard in hopeless by-elections (and I have too many scars on that front from the past) and for candidates such as Jane who give us dignity and credibility in such contests But there is no escaping the fact that this is a poor result. At the GE the LDs, by all accounts, did nothing, and got 3.7%. At this by-election they put out a lot of leaflets, did a lot of canvassing and phone canvassing, and got 3.7%. Yes it could have been worse, and yes, not many will notice how we did given that it was all about Corbyn and UKIP. But it does seem to be the case that at present we do not know what we stand for, have little to say to the voters, and have forgotten how to fight elections in hopeless seats.

  • Richard Underhill 5th Dec '15 - 6:10pm

    The Liberal Democrat leaflet showed Labour first, in terms of numbers of councillors in Oldham.

  • Andrew McCaig 5th Dec '15 - 11:53pm

    Richard Underhill

    The leaflet told no lies, but the reality is that Labour have 100% of the councillors in Oldham West and Royton…. And UKIP were second in votes in local as well as general elections

    It is misleading to use data in a by-election leaflet that do not apply to that constituency, unless it is clear that is what you are doing… Of course it is nothing compared to the direct dishonesty of some of the UKIP leaflets….

    In a by-election where you have no chance of winning and where you are trying to repair a reputation for dishonesty amongst the electorate, it would be better to be scrupulous about what you say. No problem with “Liberal Democrat opposition hold Labour council leader to account”

  • Richard Whelan – unfortunately the difference between the situation in 1970 and now is that after 1970 we developed and implemented the community politics strategy which clearly defined us as being, and doing, something different from the other parties. Since that time the other parties, having seen how successful we were as a result of that strategy, have copied us with the result that what we do looks very similar to what everybody else does. Of course we are not going to be successful again unless we are seen to be active in our communities, but community politics alone is not going to save this party. As many people have said, we need clear political statements that people can identify us with and which differentiate us clearly from the other parties.

  • Andrew McCaig 6th Dec '15 - 11:33am

    tonyhill

    there are still many many communities where there is no community politics going on though.. Generally the other parties have responded to us, and where we are inactive, so are they, just like before.. Even in marginal seats like Pudsey (where I used to live), nothing much goes on between General Elections. Or at least nothing much visible..

    The problem is that the others have worked out that if we show signs of life then they need to respond – and Labour currently have the keen mobile resources to do that. And they are trying to systematically kill us off where we still have councillors

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