Tooting: success from fusing the old with the new

Tooting bdy

Yesterday we had the best by election result in Wandsworth for the Lib Dems in many a year. A solid third place with 10.6% may not look like much, but it is a significant and positive step. It shows that the EU referendum has given the party a new opportunity. It also shows that contesting “hopeless” elections can be fun, and you can learn much in the process.

Why I am so pleased? I have been part of the Wandsworth Alliance/Lib Dem scene since 1984 – pretty much the moment that fortunes turned against us. We have always been the underperforming local area. Neighbouring Lambeth, Richmond and Kingston moved on to great things; even Merton and Hammersmith achieved the odd breakthrough; we had no electoral success whatsoever. In terms of members and money we were never especially weak by Lib Dem standards, but we struggled to make any impact whatsoever. Unless we committed heroic amounts of effort (notably Graveney ward in Tooting from 1966 to 2010 – hanging on to a second place) activity generated no noticeable impact in votes cast.

And that dismal pattern showed itself earlier this year. In the London Assembly and Mayoral elections our target ward showed a very similar result to non-targets, apart from a tiny boost to Caroline Pidgeon’s mayoral vote. In the parliamentary by-election we lost our deposit and were pipped into fourth place by the Greens, notwithstanding an energetic candidate in Alex Glassbrook, and much more literature and activity than the constituency would normally get from us. The local by-election in a safe Labour ward, where we performed badly in 2014 in spite of it being a target, was unwelcome. Especially to those of us who had been campaigning continuously since February.

But the referendum changed everything. Wandsworth voted 75% Remain, one of the most decisive results for either side in the country. After the result, membership surged. And the new members were angry and much easier to engage than before. From amongst these new members we had several excellent volunteers to be the candidate. We picked Eileen Riley Arms, who proved an excellent spokesperson for the party.

And the referendum result changed things on the doorstep and on the doormat. We did quite a bit of canvassing, but not enough and over too short a time to have much impact – but enough for us to understand that referendum has opened people up to our message. But mostly the improved performance came from our literature alone – an unprecedented success and confirming that people are now more receptive.

The literature was a cooperation between us old hands and the newcomers. The latter told us that “less is more”, and our material was less wordy than our previous efforts, and those of the other parties. The blue ink letters (made shorter than normal) went down a storm.

And the campaign was fun! It leaves us in good shape for the next contest. I hope that all Liberal Democrats will take heart from it.

* Matthew is a Lib Dem activist who blogs at uk. He is Chair of the Battersea & Tooting Lib Dems.

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This entry was posted in Council by-elections.


  • Nice gain in Tony Greaves domain.

    Colne Town Council August 18, 2016

    LD Mary Thomas 328 [41.8%]
    Conservative 255 [32.5%]
    Labour 201 [25.6%]
    Majority: 73
    LD gain from Conservative

  • Nick mattey 20th Aug '16 - 9:05am

    There was a 20% turnout for this by election and the only people who turned out in any force were Labour Voters.
    This would indicate that in this by election Brexit was not important .
    The result indicates voter fatigue and Labour loyalty is alive and well in Tooting .

  • Malcolm Todd 20th Aug '16 - 11:32pm

    The same by-election is being touted by Corbynites as evidence that Corbyn’s Labour is outperforming expectations. ALL attempts to draw lessons from single council by-election results are rightly doomed to ridicule.

  • Floating Voter 22nd Aug '16 - 1:45pm

    Good article.

    It would be interesting if you could set down your memories of the 2010 election in Tooting and whether anyone in the Labour Party there turned a blind eye to Imam Gani’s hate campaign against the Ahmediyya Lib Dem candidate

  • Matt (Bristol) 23rd Aug '16 - 9:32am

    Matthew – the ‘less is more’ issue is one I know some people locally are discussing.

    Do you have examples of your literature you can link to?

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