What a campaign!


The Richmond Park campaign was the biggest the party has ever done. Phew!

In writing this post I don’t want to give away too many campaigning strategies, although the media have been pretty quick to spot our ways of working. They know that we are good at ‘deploying’ volunteers, but they don’t really understand how we do it. How, they wonder, do we manage to recruit 1000 people in one weekend, from all over the country? How do we get them to travel and stay at their own expense and then embark on some punishing walking, talking and delivering in the cold and dark for hours on end?

However, I know that many of our readers do understand what that is all about. We all care passionately about our values and the vision we have for our society, and we enjoy putting them into action in the company of like-minded people, who quickly become our friends.

Five weeks ago it all kicked off very quickly; after all, we had been expecting a by-election for the last year or so. But somehow Zac Goldsmith did not seem to be as well prepared as we were expecting.  He resigned on the Tuesday afternoon and over the next 24 hours he managed to compose and send an email to his constituents.

Over the same short period of time London Lib Dems had organised a demo against Heathrow outside No 10, and the campaign team had included a report and photos of the event in a tabloid, which was printed and delivered to two thirds of the constituency.  In 24 hours. The rest of the deliveries went out the following morning. That was the first of around 20 pieces of literature to be unleashed on the residents of Richmond Park.

The core campaign team was led by James Lillis, the Campaign Manager, with Shaun Roberts, our newish Director of Campaigns at Lib Dem HQ.

We had two main HQs, both near railway stations. The one in Kingston was amazingly found, negotiated and set up within a week. It had been a Chinese restaurant so had a convenient bar/servery and several storage places out the back which were ideal for building and storing stakeboards. It also had a rather grim industrial kitchen with rusting woks that we didn’t touch.

The campaign was greatly helped by the newer technologies, but perhaps not in the ways people might expect. For example, Facebook offered a terrific platform for energising and mobilising members from all over the country. And the contributions, especially the videos posted every day by members of the core team, were self-deprecating and fun. This was all about catching up with old friends and making new ones online, before meeting them face-to-face in Richmond and Kingston, helped by copious quantities of cake and chocolate.

On polling day we made full use of remote techniques for entering data collected on the doorstep and from tellers, and these were analysed centrally in real time. The operation was intensive but very well planned and executed.

Having said that, all the traditional means of communication were also used. The stakeboard team constructed and put up over 500 garden posters. In fact, one weekend they had to send out a plea to other local parties to borrow their stakeboards, and over 150 were delivered. I don’t know how many window posters we got up but we did see seven displayed in a convent.

Many door-knocking teams were out every day from the HQs, chatting with voters about the three main issues – Brexit, Heathrow and the NHS. Then there were the deliveries, which varied from card fliers to magazines, various styles of tabloid aimed at different readers, leaflets, target letters and blue letters.

Of course, we did get some comments about the volume of leaflets, but that was the only way we could fight the by-election on our terms. It could never have been a referendum on Heathrow as Goldsmith wanted, because we agreed with him on that. Indeed our question was how he thought he could do more to change the Government’s mind from a position outside the Conservative Parliamentary party than when he had been an insider.

Yesterday, nearly 900 activists got involved, both on the ground and on the phone. And 13,000 phone calls were made – that was during polling day alone.

I was looking after one of the seven Committee Rooms, mine covering one and a half wards in New Malden. We were very busy and got as far as the fifth knock-up. Our patch covered everything from Council estates, through suburban semis to some of the most expensive mansions in the UK. The latter were a nightmare – gated enclaves, very long drives, and security guards at each end of private roads. The drive to one of the polling stations involved a lengthy detour because of these restrictions.

The temperature didn’t get much above freezing all day, and at a couple of the polling stations the tellers had to stand outside in the cold – and for far too long in the dark. I regularly sent round a flask of Lib Dem hot chocolate with the person collecting the numbers.

As I packed up the Committee Room last night I knew for certain that the result was very close, but didn’t dare risk a prediction. On TV, the look on the faces of the Lib Dems after they had completed their box counts (referred to sweetly as ‘sampling’) gave the game away. Then Alistair Carmichael – the one MP at the Count – confirmed it by saying that he was “cautiously optimistic”. That’s the moment when I dared to believe it. We had won Richmond Park! And Sarah Olney is now an MP!

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames where she is still very active with the local party.

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  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Dec '16 - 5:53pm

    Well done but one thing that has to go is “fake news of the left”. You can’t rally against fake news from the right and issue newspapers called the Richmond Gazette (or something) and talk about a “senior Gazette reporter” with no Lib Dem logo on the masthead.

    I’ve got a few examples of fake news from the left, which I won’t go into here, but if it isn’t nipped in the bud then complaining when the right does it will just look like sour grapes.

  • John Peters 2nd Dec '16 - 6:14pm

    Already calls for the by-election to be re-run.

  • It will be re-run in 2020. Calm down.

  • And of course, I should have said well done to Sarah, and a big round of applause to all of the hard-working volunteers.

    There will always be whingers and whiners, and you can’t please everyone all of the time. I’m sure there will be things to be learnt from this by-election campaign, but clearly an awful lot more went right than wrong.

    Of course, there are some who wished that less had gone right, and are gutted by Sarah’s victory. They will be wailing and gnashing their teeth today, but we must be very wary of pandering to them. Their intention is to undermine the result, and they want us to take the bait.

  • Is a party tabloid “fake news”. I would say a firm no. Is quoting someone as a “senior reporter” fake news? Probably wouldn’t do it myself but not fake news.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Dec '16 - 6:45pm

    I would understand, but that’s like saying the £350 million per day to the EU isn’t fake news, because it represents the cost before the rebate.

  • It would be really good if when people make a comment they could state what they did to help the campaign.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Dec '16 - 7:38pm

    I didn’t realise that was a requirement Mary. I’ve already said, I didn’t support either Zac or Sarah in the campaign and offered a partial endorsement to one of the independents (Fiona Syms).

    I didn’t know where else to highlight a criticism of the campaign. It was done in a polite manner, but I understand if you want the site to be for supporters only.

    Anyway, let’s try to stay on topic.

  • @ Eddie Sammon: Complete wrong comparison to call the “Richmond Gazette” as ‘Left news’, doubtless picking this up from the Conservative MP for Braintree who posed fake outrage on the Andrew Neil By-election show last night with this tosh.
    Such party news papers in this style have been used by Conservatives, Labour & LibDems in various competitive seats for at least the last 15 years. My local Conservatives deliver a newspaper promoting the MP every so often without any Tory logo on the masthead.
    Far worse, sometimes my local conservatives even buy the local free newspaper front and back pages with a headline that looks EXACTLY like the regular local paper (as uses its strapline at the top, to attack mainly the Labour party, as is mainly a Con/Lab area) and has no mention that it’s actually a Conservative party sheet.

  • @Eddie Sammon: Party literature dressed as a local paper (done for ages by all parties, and bleedingly obvious who they promote, regardless of party names & logos!) isn’t
    “like saying the £350 million per day to the EU isn’t fake news, because it represents the cost before the rebate”.
    The true equivalent is like saying that George Osbourne would have introduced an emergency budget immediately after a Brexit vote if only he had stayed as Chancellor.
    It had to be his silliness that tainted the credibility of the Remain campaign.
    Although the current Chancellor’s November budget is a consequence of the vote …

  • PS Congratulations to Sarah Olney for her smashing win. I confess to helping out over many occasions since the By-election and am very glad to help a brilliant candidate defeat an overrated one who was unjustly promoted by the Conservative editor of the Evening Standard, Sarah Sands, in 2010. Sarah Sands cattily championed her man as a contest between ” Beauty and the Beast”.

  • “I don’t know how many window posters we got up but we did see seven displayed in a convent.”
    The best line of the day, made me chortle 🙂

  • The guardian said the campaign said they had distributed 1000 posters and got 700 stake boards up. Though those figures sound low and the ratio of posters to stake boards much to low.

    I didn’t help in any way FWIW – but I’m not a member or really a supporter (i would have voted for sarah with reservations) so that would have been a bit odd

  • Undoubtedly a well run campaign – but things people need to keep in mind are

    1) The Lib Dems had an army of volunteers, volunteers need to be motivated, not treated how they were under Clegg’s leadership

    2. Plenty of people who voted lib Dem had previously voted labour/green/conservative – which means that a lot of people who voted lib Dem in 2010 (when Susan Kramer got 25,370 votes) have still not returned to the party. 3) Of the 27 seats the conservatives won off the Lib Dems in 2015, it is estimated only 7 voted to remain in the EU.

  • Ruth Bright 3rd Dec '16 - 11:00am

    It is not really helpful to hand out “white feathers” to those not involved in the campaign. Those of us who worked on the referendum campaign and watched many local parties outside London sit on their backsides and do absolutely nothing (or worse, support Brexit like my local branch) could go down that route too!

    It is an amazing result and bigger than Orpington or Eastbourne in that it potentially has some importance beyond the UK.

  • John Peters,
    I think we get you don’t like Lib Dems, that’s fine, I’m not fond of Tories and Nationalists, I’m even less fond of. The bad news for you is no matter how much you complain we are not going away, in fact we are getting stronger and unlike Ukip we are growing and not falling apart.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Dec '16 - 1:38pm


    If one thing is ,and was, irritating, about the approach to being very united and encouraging it in the wider world , it is the sameism of socialism approach, to coin my own phrase ! Our party does actually have people who do not think the EU a good thing in its current form and feel it from a Liberal and Democrat perspective and can make the case well.

    I voted remain. I am a strong critic of the EU. If the behaviour of its leaders continues as present , whatever deal is forthcoming, if there is a referendum on it , and I support that idea as a policy, I am more than likely to support it .

    I do not think we should be referring to parties outside London “sitting on their backsides ” or “worse supporting Brexit “! My local party , which I rate immensely, Nottingham, was so active in the referendum for remain, I would have liked more debate for those not as convinced of the need for such a level of unanimity!

  • I think (and I stand to be corrected) the difference between Liberals and other political ideologies is we don’t assume the world is great or can only be improved by going back to some golden age ( the Tories, UKIP and other Nationalists), a paradise will ensue if only we embrace the ideology of socialism or so other ism. We accept the world is not perfect and people will make decisions which puzzle us, but we try to make things better.

  • Sue Sutherland 3rd Dec '16 - 2:24pm

    I know from experience that the Tories are nasty when they lose and quite often even nastier when they win. I’m glad that Sarah was at a loss at how to handle this poisonous interviewer because the questions were ridiculous. Of course it’s being shared by the Brexiteers because they’re running scared. Sarah has made no secret of her newness to politics and I hope she’ll use that freshness to point out where politics alienates those members of the public who genuinely want the best for themselves, their families, their jobs and their communities.
    She has entered politics at a time when the country has never been more polarised and people never more vicious politically and she has won! Brilliant!

  • Trefor Hunter 3rd Dec '16 - 2:50pm

    I have always believed that whatever they say, generally by-election results are down to turning-out your supporters however deep you have to drill.
    Given the historic voting in Richmond (100% of all council seats at one point in Richmond and Twickenham) and the fact that the Kingston part of Richmond Park, Canbury Ward, had Liberal Democrat and Liberal Councillors for many years.
    So Yes, this was a prime target which the LIb Dems had to win in order to defribulate members back to life; drilling deep not only with our special tungsten carbide drill tips but a fair bit of fracking to make sure. ( Green Party look away now)
    Every part of the campaign was necessary to win including not having a green candidate diluting the vote. Squeezing Labour should not be too difficult in an area with LibDem Councillors in what few wards were previously Labour.
    I’ve said before, locally, that we are really back to 1974.
    Seven years later we were at 51% in the opinion polls.
    Yet we did not manage the break-through.
    From 2015 we have some fascinating data of how many votes we got in each ward.
    Here in Brighton we polled 2.5 times the GE vote in the Council vote on a lower turnout.
    Motivating our supporters will produce better results than trying to convert people. This will be a golden rule once the country gets PR.

  • Joseph Bourke 3rd Dec '16 - 2:59pm

    Hounslow borough sits across the Thames river from Richmond and many of our members have been active participants in Sarah’s campaign over the past few weeks. In common with other local parties, we saw a surge in membership after the 2015 GE that saw us lose MP’s like Vince Cable and Ed Davey from our neighbouring boroughs. This membership surge was repeated again in the wake of the Brexit vote more than doubling our local party membership since the summer of 2015. I thought we were doing very well in Hounslow, until I found out that Ealing Libdems were racing ahead of us in membership numbers. We are seeing the same trend again since yesterday, with new members joining following Sarah’s victory. This is as a direct consequence of heightened interest in the Libdems parliamentary stance on opposition to a hard brexit.

    Hounslow borough was split fairly evenly on the EU referendum vote with a small majority in favour of remain. We have a similar split across the borough on the 3rd runway at Heathrow, with many of the residents working at Heathrow in favour of expansion. On the NHS we have a high degree of commonality on the main issues across the borough. Our challenge remains to persuade as many of the leave and Heathrow expansion voters as we can, of the merits of our positions on these issues. Sarah’s victory in the Richmond by-election and the new membership surge, can only be a boost to all the neighbouring local parties in meeting that challenge.

  • paul barker 3rd Dec '16 - 3:31pm

    Can I reccomend a piece on the Political Betting site. Theres a graphic adding up the votes in The 5 Parliamentary Byelections since 2015, excluding Batley of course. Even though 3 of the 5 were in Labour seats The LD votes topped Labours total. Thats a good sign for the future.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Dec '16 - 4:11pm

    “How, they wonder, do we manage to recruit 1000 people in one weekend, from all over the country?”
    I always struggle to reconcile Lib Dem claims to be the party of devolution and localism with the way it musters activists from all over the country (and beyond!) to campaign in by-elections and targeted election campaigns. I first noticed this about 25 years ago when I was assisting with our excellent local Social & Liberal Democrat councillor’s attempt to become a county councillor and realised that the lady I was with had come from outside the county to help.

  • Well, congratulations Lib Dems, good luck to the new MP.
    Love democracy.

  • Ruth Bright 3rd Dec '16 - 4:44pm

    Lorenzo – sounds like you need a free transfer to my local party and I need a free transfer to yours! x

  • John Nicholson 4th Dec '16 - 5:43pm

    Having done a telling slot from 7.00-8.00 am at Meadows Hall, Richmond, with the temperature rising from -4 degrees to -2 in that hour (according to the thermometer in my car), I wish someone had thought to send round something hot to my location… Never mind, it was worth it for the result.

  • Obviously I haven’t read all the commentary on the Richmond result but nothing I have seen has picked up on the historic significance of this election. It is very rare in British politics that by-elections are fought on issues of major significance, results usually being a snapshot reflection of public opinion of the government of the day. Ribble Valley may have killed the poll tax, but you really need to go back to 1938 and the Oxford and Bridgewater by elections, which were fought largely on the issue of Chamberlain’s appeasement at Munich, to find an election fought on a matter of similar importance to the future of our country. In both those by elections the Tory was opposed by a single anti-appeasement candidate (a More United analogy perhaps? – not that I favour the approach). In Oxford Quintin Hogg held the seat for the Tories, though with a large adverse swing, but in Bridgewater the Tory lost to the anti-appeasement independent. We are in a period where history is being made at an unusually rapid rate: when it is written Richmond will feature prominently.

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