+++Witney result: Biggest Con to Lib Dem swing since the 1997 Winchester by-election.

Con 17,313
Lib Dem Liz 11,611 😃
Labour 5,765
UKIP 1354
Green 1363

CON: 45.1% (-15.1)
LDEM: 30.2% (+23.5)
LAB: 15.0% (-2.2)
GRN: 3.5% (-1.5)
UKIP: 3.5% (-5.6)

Turnout 47%

19.3% swing from the Tories to the Lib Dems.

The Greens and UKIP lost their deposits.

The Tory majority was slashed from 25,155 of “ultra safe” for the Tories to 5,702!

Lib Dems rise from 4th to 2nd.

Via Neil Fawcett’s Live Facebook broadcast, Liz Leffman said:

This is a really great result. Thank you to everyone who helped in any way. This is a beginning for us – we can still go on and do even better.

You can read the 2015 result here.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in Parliamentary by-elections.


  • Looks like the Labour vote held up well.

  • Mark Goodrich 21st Oct '16 - 3:27am

    Brilliant result! Especially considering the strong Labour vote which hardly declined at all and the collapse in the UKIP vote. Still can’t help thinking what might have happened had an opinion poll shown this a few days ago….

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Oct '16 - 3:28am

    I didn’t think it was wise for the party to try to win Witney. It was David Cameron’s old seat and the party is currently polling less than 10%.

    Congratulations to those who helped out anyway and the candidate Liz Leffman. Maybe the experience will do the party well!

  • Congratulations are due to Liz and her team! The result is no mean feat considering that the horrors of the General Election are not that long ago. And the local results continue to give encouragement.

  • Great result for the only sensible anti-brexit party. As a lifelong Conservative voter, I’ll be voting LD next time. Hopefully before the damage is irreversible..

  • Congratulations to all who played a part in this great success. Back slaps and handshakes all round. Fabulous work.

  • Matt (Bristol) 21st Oct '16 - 8:17am

    Deeply encouraging for the party in Tory-facing areas, ie particularly southern England (where I grew up). And overall, I would say it is encouraging for all non-Tory parties — a sign has been sent that we are not a one-party state (particularly in southern and southwest England, where it has been starting to feel like it).

    For many those of us in Labour-facing areas, particularly where collapse in the Tory vote would not deliver significant results of itself, the light at the end of the tunnel is further off and will (arguably) require harder work on less resources and less public goodwill. On this Labour-dominated ex-council estate right here, I don’t think they’ll be talking about this news this morning.

    Not that I am suggesting the campaign in Witney did not require hard work! For the team there to build such an effective mechanism in a seat that was not a target for years, is hugely impressive.

    Ignoring Cameron, no second party has reached 30% in that seat since Shaun Woodward (later Labour cabinet minister) was the Tory MP elected there in 1997. Amazing.

    But listening to Question Time from Hartlepool last night, I was struck by how divided the country remains. There are several areas of the country we are not reaching with our message.

  • aron 21st Oct ’16 – 6:33am……..It shows that Lib Dems, not Corbyn’s Labour, are best placed to beat the Tories in seats like Witney………Labour voters should maybe reflect on who is going to beat the Tories and vote tactically for us in these contests. We need to work out how best to connect with these voters to persuade them to do so. We are capable of surging forward while all Labour could do was hold its own…………

    Sentences like the ones above are foolish…Labour was never going to get any real share of the vote in a staunch Tory seat…..
    We threw everything, including the kitchen sink, into the campaign (and were justly rewarded) but this was a very pro-remain area which had seen it’s popular ex-MP/PM humiliated and the resultant high protest vote is unlikely to be repeated elsewhere…

    A good result which bodes well for the future….But don’t let’s get carried away

  • I think you are right John, the Labour vote held up because they were second last time, and so many of their voters were convinced they were the party of protest, and their more hard-core voters still seem to think we’re to blame for the worst Tory behaviours.

    It didn’t take much analysis to work out that the Lib Dems were the only party with a hope of making serious gains, and denting the Tory majority, but it was very easy for the Labour campaigners to remind voters they were second last time, as if that’s the only thing that matters. I too wonder what would have happened if results of a local opinion poll had been published. Or if the national press hadn’t behaved as if we didn’t exist!

    I hope the result gives people confidence, and can be used to demonstrate that a big jump from our low in 2015 is possible where resources allow. I noticed that many of the campaigners travelled from other parts of the country, and it seemed like a very good experience for them. Obviously, resources can’t be used that way in a general election, but I hope this result has been great learning experience, and will be motivation to do more again next time.

  • Denis Loretto 21st Oct '16 - 9:01am

    Of course this is a very encouraging result for us and shows our “fightback” is not limited to local governmenf but the real significance is on brexit. I hope the post by James above is genuine. We must get fully behind Tim and Nick in the effort to lead the fight to keep as much as possible of our crucial relationshjp with the EU countries.

  • Chris Bertram 21st Oct '16 - 9:06am

    So what happened to all those previous non-voters that Jezza was supposed to “energise” into coming out to vote for a “genuine alternative”?

    Turned out they still stayed at home. Back to the drawing board for Jezzbollah 🙂

  • Daniel Walker 21st Oct '16 - 9:11am

    @Chris To be fair, I suspect Witney is not fertile recruiting ground for Mr Corbyn 🙂

    30% Is an excellent result, though. Cracking stuff.

  • Stevan Rose 21st Oct '16 - 9:12am

    Never mind the %s, look at the number of votes. Labour’s halved. UKIP collapsed. Tory halved. Lib Dems trebled. That was a huge effort to get the vote out. Well done.

  • @Eddie Sammon – you think we should have done what instead?

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Oct '16 - 9:50am

    Simon, the party should do whatever it enjoys, I just thought the expectation management was wrong and I wouldn’t push so hard unless I thought there was a better chance of winning.

    Congratulations to the team again. This debate is best conducted by the people who helped out, not me who didn’t. I was in different who won. I would have wanted the Conservative to win until I found out he voted for Brexit.

  • Massive effort by activists but only managed to knock 2% off Labour vote, seems that Left of centre voters are not prepared to forgive the Coalition.

  • Matt (Bristol) 21st Oct '16 - 10:28am

    Eddie – I think the Tories seriously miscalculated by putting up a pro-Brexit candidate in a pro-Remain area. That was the opportunity for us and, in part, I guess, the reason for pushing so hard (not that I’m on a hotline to HQ).

    What this represents for the party is a chance to ‘blood’ the new recruits who have been coming to us over the last few months – particularly out of the anger and shock caused by the Brexit vote results – and to give them a tangible proof that participating in the LibDems produces results and we are not the no-hopers the world says we are.

    It also gives use something to build on further. From the outside it does, I’m sure, look to some people like an almighty waste of time, but I really hope it represents a move forward in terms of practical politics – although several questions of identity and narrative for the party overall are deeply unresolved.

    For eg I can’t help wondering what Gareth Epps, a former candidate in Witney himself, makes of the moves in some of the literature coming out of the constituency, to wrap ourselves in the Coalition colours as we won over Tory remainers.

  • Stevan Rose 21st Oct ’16 – 9:12am…………….Never mind the %s, look at the number of votes. Labour’s halved. UKIP collapsed. Tory halved. Lib Dems trebled. That was a huge effort to get the vote out. Well done………..

    Only just over half of those who voted in 2015 bothered this time; how many of that extra 25,000 plus will vote Tory again when it matters?
    A good result; but in a GE we will not be able to target Witney (and seats like it) in the same way….

  • Richard Underhill 21st Oct '16 - 11:07am

    There was a vigorous campaign on the NHS.
    The result in the Eastbourne bye-election helped the Ribble Valley bye-election, which helped the bye-election in Kincardine and Deeside.
    At the time, 1990, 1991, the Tory Party chairman, Chris Patten, MP for Bath, was being constantly asked about the date of the general election. His answers were studiously vague, although he was close to the then Prime Minister, John Major.
    After the general election he became Governor of Hong Kong and a peer. He did not want his dogs to go into quarantine and therefore campaigned for dog passports.

  • David Pearce 21st Oct '16 - 11:09am

    I would put a word of caution about the relaitively poor performance of Labour. He was an anti-Corbyn and pro getting on with Brexit candidate. I have not seen any results suggesting Corbyn himself is really a drag on the party, particulalry its core voters. What is massively a drag is how they have all behaved, claiming they are unfit to govern.

  • John> only managed to knock 2% off Labour vote

    But their vote dropped from 10,046 in 2015 to 5,765 (4,281) yesterday. Ukip dropped a similar number, 3,998 votes, and that shows as -5.6%. Percentages tell a limited story.

    Great result for us, well done Liz!

  • I wonder if the Labour vote would have held up so well if they had been third or fourth at the 2015 election and the Liberal Democrats had been second ? I suspect not so it makes the Liberal Democrat achievement all the greater. The Labour vote dropped and the Lib Dem vote increased.

  • Unlike Eddie Sammon, I knew there was a clear chance. It was a big ask, but it was not by any means impossible. Just look at the facts
    1) A Conservative MP who (although he wouldn’t put it this way) resigned in disgrace after betting the country’s future on a short term fix for the huge chasm that splits the Conservative party. Ho lost and we’re paying.
    2) A Labour party in total disarray with a split between most of its MPs and the vast majority of its members.
    3) UKIP – what more can you say?
    4) Liz Leffman, an excellent local candidate, who made the breakthrough in 2005, that got us into second place as the main opposition in the seat.
    5) 2010 we were a very clear second, over 3,000 ahead of Labour
    6) On each occasion since the seat was established in 1983, when the sitting Tory MP stood down, at the subsequent election, the combined Lab and Lib Dem vote was more than that of the Conservative replacement.
    1997 – Con (Shaun Woodward) 24,282; Lib Dem + Lab 28,456
    2001 – Con (David Cameron) 22,153; Lib Dem + Lab 24,180
    7) Massive over-development in the area and huge traffic problems, and the Conservative party proposing yet more.

    Let’s be honest, if we hadn’t had the self inflicted disaster of the coalition years, we would have been a shoo in to win this by-election.

    Remain Conservatives would have been a source of a good number of votes and Labour leaning voters would have turned to us in droves, if only we hadn’t totally alienated most of them between 2010 and 2015. As it was the Labour vote held up too much and we didn’t get as close as would have wanted. But winnable, probably with one or two extra weeks and few thousand more visits from activists – yes it could have happened. You get nothing from coming second.

  • David Evans I agree with every word of your excellent posting – except for the last 6 words. I think we do get something for coming second. Of course I would rather have won, but this very good result is like a shot of much-needed adrenalin in the arm, in terms of morale and belief. We’ve all seen the membership surge and the amazing local by election gains (which continued yesterday of course), but yet the national polls have been stubbornly holding under 10%, so its been hard to really believe we are getting anywhere. This result changes that. Yes it’s disappointing not to win, and we shouldn’t get carried away. But equally we shouldn’t under-estimate what Liz and the fantastic team achieved here. The morale boost, the raised eyebrows among media folk who had written us off, the membership surge the local party will get, the positive training and experience for thousands of our activists (many of them new), and no doubt our campaigns dept has used the experience to test different techniques and messaging etc. The fightback was always going to be a long slog, but I believe in years to come we will look back on Witney as an important staging-post.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Oct '16 - 1:31pm

    So much speculation and ‘what ifs’.

    I was surprised that the Labour vote held up so well in such an area. Cameron the ‘bolter’ clearly lost some of his personal vote as a ‘liberal’, ‘detoxifier’.

    As for being a credible opposition, if one thinks that Labour, a party with a proud history, is a mess at the moment, the answer would be for as many people as possible who share its values and principles, to join the party to help return it to its former glory, not bolt at the first sign of trouble.

  • David Evans 21st Oct '16 - 2:54pm


    Good point, well made.

  • Andrew McCaig 21st Oct '16 - 3:04pm

    It is clear that in the last 10 days Labour put in a big effort to shore up their vote in Witney. I saw one tweet from a resident who had had 17 Lib Dem leaflets and 10 from Labour in the campaign. I also saw the picture of the Labour leaflet with an archetypal dodgy bar chart with us 4th and the Labour vote 2/3 of the way to the Tory vote. Given that they had local councillors in those areas and plenty of members (1000 in the constituency) to reinforce the idea that they were in second place, I am not at all surprised that they defended their vote in the pockets of strength. In a constituency where we started in second place they would not be able to do that, especially after what has happened in Witney. That is why this has to be seen as a stepping stone, perhaps towards success in Richmond Park or some other constituency where our starting position is better

  • Paul Kennedy 21st Oct '16 - 3:19pm

    Labour voters I met in Witney were absolutely convinced they were going to win, and that Lib Dems would struggle to beat UKIP. I suspect many Tory voters there thought the same.

  • This is a very encouraging result for the Lib Dems, but of course some people here are getting just a little over-excited. The Lib Dem vote is only up a few points on what they used to get prior to the coalition. As for the Tories, their vote share is exactly the same as Cameron was getting before he became Tory leader. From where I’m sitting – quite far away from Witney, it has to be said – this still looks like a rock solid Tory seat to me.

  • Helen Farrell 22nd Oct '16 - 6:53am

    I went out campaigning in Witney despite not being a party member! I was angry at Theresa May’s Tory party speech and her attempts at giving us a UKIP government and saw somewhere on Facebook an appeal for help in the constituency. So it seemed like the most practical thing I could do right there and then! I was made very welcome and enjoyed the experience. I don’t feel I wasted my time at all – I think the result will at least give pause for thought in the government about it turning itself into UKIP.

    I’m an affiliated Labour supporter through my Trade Union membership but live in a constituency which was LD until 2010. So if my local LDs are happy for me to retain my Labour membership but campaign for them locally then that’s what I will do. And that is a result of my Witney experience. Maybe there are a few others like me.

  • Julian Heather 22nd Oct '16 - 9:18am

    David Evans’ analysis is excellent (though he and I would disagree over our stances on the Coalition !) and so is Andrew McCaig’s. As far as the Labour’s vote more or less holding up at the byelection, that does make sense, given that they have over 1000 members in Witney (according to Andrew).

    Labour did also have a credible candidate in Duncan Enwright, who is a district councillor in one of the four wards in Witney town, and who is clearly well established in the town itself (which has a 25,000 population), though not elsewhere in this predominantly rural constituency. He did also benefit from having stood as the Labour candidate in Witney in the 2015 General election, when he achieved a second place, behind the Conservatives.

    Labour clearly did have a good campaign going, though largely limited to the two wards in Witney town, where they have councillors, and to Chipping Norton, the third largest town in the constituency (after Carterton), where they hold both council seats.

    They did also manage to have a good display of posters in large parts of Witney town, (and I presume in Chipping Norton, though I never got there to see), which must have bolstered their claims as the main challengers to the Conservatives. despite the brilliant efforts of our poster team in getting Liz’s posters up all over the constituency, including the rural areas.

    And, of course, the fact that we were in 4th place in 2015, with under 7% of the vote share. didn’t exactly help us, initially, to persuade Labour voters that it was a “two horse race”, ie between us and the Conservatives, and therefore of the value of voting tactically, if defeating the Conservatives was their priority.

    I still think in the end we managed to win over a lot of former Labour voters. I was one of a number of people at LDHQ on polling day, phoning people we had identified during the campaign, and previous to the campaign, as Labour, or “Soft Labour”. It seemed that about half of these Labour-leaning electors that I phoned said they had ended up voting for Liz.

    Labour dropped from to 10, 046 votes in the 2015 General Election to 5,765 votes in the byelection. I suspect that a lot of former Labour voters were energised to go out and vote at the by-election, but a good number of them ended up in the Lib Dem pot.

  • Simon Freeman 22nd Oct '16 - 2:03pm

    Looking at % and vote totals on a lower turn out than 2015 is difficult. I suspect Tories took votes off UKIP, Labour took votes off Greens, and Libdems took a larger number of Tory Votes and some Labour. With a decent Labour Candidate and their vote at its bedrock level it probably wasn’t going to fall much more than it did.

    Great result for LibDems and a strong candidate. It does confirm the party is clawing it’s way back into the game. Tim Farron talking a lot of sense. I saw Nick Clegg speak in Sheffield and read his book which I enjoyed. I keep humming and hawing about re-joining after 22/23 years voting labour but with a couple of crosses to the Greens. You need to remember the potential spread of LibDem voters is broad-pale blue Tory Remainers to pale pink social democrats like me as well as pavement politics types.

    Keep Going and I wish you well. congratulations to Liz and the Witney team on a great result.

  • "Ne pas to brexit" 23rd Oct '16 - 6:59am

    As a resident of a village in witney district and swing voter I would like to make the following observations on your campaign.
    The day before the bye election I was contemplating voting Green since I saw no hope of unseating the Tories. In this area it’s staunch blue rosette everywhere. But then I received in the post a hand-addressed envelope containing a printed letter. This personal touch swung me into voting lib-dem.
    I had also seen advertising on Facebook by your candidate but none by the other parties.
    I expect Facebook advertising and personalised post are very expensive so one take-away from this is that you are going to need to focus on raising large sums of money ahead of the General election.
    Another point that everyone seems to have overlooked is that being overtly anti-brexit hasn’t harmed your chances. Quite the contrary.
    However the anti-brexit message does sound a bit garbled at times with alterately accepting it but protesting, then being firmly against and willing to vote it down. Have the courage to go further down the anti-brexit road.
    With an increased number of mps immediately following a general election you are in the realms of lib-lab pact. I can’t see Labour voters accepting anti-brexit easily but I can see mr Corbyn wanting to be a prime minister. But the biggest obstacle is your own feelings towards coalitions or pacts etc.
    So a lot of work to do but a lot of progress already achieved in a short time.

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