Witney scale swing to Lib Dems would wipe out Conservative majority

The huge swing to the Liberal Democrats of 19.3% per cent would wipe out Theresa May’s majority and hand 26 seats from the Conservatives to Tim Farron’s party. The swing rivals many that were seen in famous by-election wins under the leadership of Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy.

Tim Farron, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, said:

The result not only signals that the Liberal Democrats are back in the political big time and the return to three party politics, it is a clear rejection of the Conservative Brexit government’s plan to take Britain out of the Single Market.

This was the tenth safest Tory seat in the country with a massive 25,000 majority, yet the Conservatives were seriously rattled. They are riding high in the polls, but my sense is that has largely been because people did not feel there was a real opposition to the Conservative Brexit government. Witney proves there is now a real opposition, and that opposition is the Liberal Democrats.

It’s the best by-election swing against the Conservatives since the Winchester by-election victory nearly two decades ago, and the Conservatives have under-performed relative to their positions in the polls in one of their safest seats in the Country.

Tim Farron added:

We started here in fourth place but have blown Labour and UKIP out of the water. Voters rejected Labour because it has no economic credibility and is unfit for government.

Real election results are proving that this party is revitalised, with amazing campaigning strength. Since May we have gained 21 council seats, and in Witney our inspirational candidate Liz Leffman has proved that when voters hear the Liberal Democrat message, they will support us.

Voters who used to support David Cameron are turning away from a Conservative Party that is divisive, uncaring and extreme. This is a shot across Theresa May’s bows, and the pressure will now be intense to abandon plans for a Hard Brexit, and instead to give parliament a vote on the terms of our negotiations.

But whatever now happens to the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats are back.

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This entry was posted in Parliamentary by-elections.


  • It’s a low turnout mid term by-election which gets exactly this type of result.

  • nvelope2003 21st Oct '16 - 9:48am

    47% turnout is not low for a by election and it is not mid term yet. Moving from fourth place with 6.8% to over 30% and second place is quite an achievement when the Government is getting 47% support according to a recent opinion poll. Previous by election successes were usually achieved when the Conservatives were very unpopular.
    Well done.

  • William Ross 21st Oct '16 - 10:01am

    Yes it was a good result for the LibDems so congrats on that. However, it was never Labour that was going to surge in Whitney what with the safe Tory nature of the seat and the awful state of Labour. Cameron may also have put off Conservative voters and UKIP are in meltdown with their principal objective achieved. Characteristically, Tim Farron massively overplays the result. There is no ” intense” pressure on the Govt over Brexit.
    Sorry Tim, you are not getting the chance to invalidate the people’s choice in a parliamentary vote over Article 50.

    The other thing that is worth commenting on is the Batley seat, tragically made vacant by the murder of Jo Cox. Mrs Brabin for Labour got over 85% in a situation where the major parties did not run. So far as I can see, the genuine racists of NF plus others got less than 5%. They lost their deposits which was wonderful to see. If you were a xenophobe the Batley by-election was a fairly good opportunity to send a message. There was barely a whisper. Despite all the invective of the major parties we should remember that the UK is very tolerant country and long may it stay that way. As a fervent Brexiteer, I speak as one whose wife is an immigrant and whose son holds two passports.

    May I repeat a point I have made earlier. This is a pretty good interesting site, even if I am not much in agreement with the sentiments.

  • David Pearce 21st Oct '16 - 10:59am

    Batley didnt mean much since all the main parties pulled out. If labour had a similar result against real opposition, that would have been impressive. Or indeed, libs doing as well there as Witney.

    William, I must disagree with you there is no pressure over Brexit. Sure, there are complicating factors about reasons for the result, there always are. But there is only one topic in politics today, which is Brexit. This result was likely much more a referendum re-run than who voters wanted to form a government.

    One never knows how the voters shift between parties, but the result was UKIP staunch leave, down halved. Conservative pushing through Brexit, lost a quarter. labour sitting on the fence and in time out, much the same. libs critical of Brexit quadrupled their percentage and tripled their vote.

    My guess is that if the libs were opposing Brexit fully, they would have done better still.

  • Paul Pettinger 21st Oct '16 - 11:05am

    A great result, but it’s not May 2015 anymore. We are no longer a Party defined by incoherent centrist economics, but by being the defenders of Open Britain. As such we shouldn’t be forgetting to highlight that – under Corbyn – Labour is also a Brexiter’s Party.

  • David Evershed 21st Oct '16 - 11:45am

    Back to reality.

    Westminster voting intention:
    CON: 42%
    LAB: 26%
    LDEM: 8%
    UKIP: 12%
    GRN: 5%
    (Election Data / YouGov 19-20th Oct)@britainelects

    Country wide people don’t know what the Lib Dems stand for.

  • Batley and Spen looks set for significant boundary changes anyway. Meanwhile, on a day which was heavy with council by-elections, let us applaud (our) Denis Healey’s suburb gain in East Riding and salute all those who provided a candidate in every English contest bar one. People are getting the message …

  • For the Lib Dems to form the next government after the GE in 2020 or hopefully post a defeat of Theresa May in a confidence vote sooner, what swing would be required?

  • As MQBlogger pointed out the 19.3% swing ONLY produces 26 extra MPs. This makes a total of 34, which is of course better than the 20 in 1992, but not the 46 in 1997.

    I wonder if our pro-membership of the single market approach is a reason why we couldn’t make good inroads in the Labour vote.

  • paul barker 21st Oct '16 - 3:57pm

    I have to say that I dont get this 26 Seats business. If we apply the vote changes to the 2015 Election we get something like :
    Con 23%
    Lab 29%
    LD 32%
    This would give us around 150 MPs.
    How do we get to 34 ?

  • David Evans 21st Oct '16 - 6:12pm

    Paul, we get to 34 MPs by a huge amount of hard work and effort by our leader, our MPs, councillors, activists and members all across the country. We get there by earning the trust of voters again, and we get there by being relevant once again to the needs of the people of this country.

    We won’t get there by pretending 2010-2015 just didn’t happen; hoping that the electorate will just forget the mistakes that made them not trust us; and applying vote changes in a one off by election to the national picture so we can pretend things will be alright on the night – cf “the build up to May 2015, 57 By-elections Strategy – RIP.” (LDV passim).

  • @DavidEvans. On this site its common practise to read someones comment before you criticise it.
    The 34 MPs figure has been widely quoted but it looks like nonsense to me, on the basis of a 19% swing. It just doesnt seem to make any mathematical sense.
    If we are talking about the best way to gauge the meaning of this result then I would suggest we look at the changes in actual votes since 2015, rather than vote shares. Witney, looked at that way would suggest a National vote share of around 23% & around 60 MPs.
    Of course its just a Byelection but its also just the begining, we should not be setting any limits to how well we might do over the next few years, The Referendum has thrown everything up in the air.

  • @ Paul Barker
    “I have to say that I dont get this 26 Seats business”

    Newshound provided this figure. He/She should justify this figure. Our vote was up 23.4 points therefore any Conservative seat where we were less than 23.4 points behind the Conservatives I think should be counted. Therefore Mid Dorset and North Poole with a Tory majority of 22.6 % should be a seat we would take, but Newton Abbot with a Tory majority of 23.4 points is not. http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/2015guide/lib-dem-targets/ lists the 50 seats with the lowest percentage majorities. Mid Dorset and North Poole is the 28th seat. However Watford should also be included where we are third but only 17.5 points behind the Conservatives. Therefore using the list of 50 seats we can find 29 seats we would win with an extra 23.4 points from the Conservatives. We might also expect to take Cambridge from Labour. It is more difficult to decide how much of the Conservative vote in the other Labour seats we would capture, but it would not be 19.3 points. It should be safe to say that if the Witney result was applied to these 30 seats we could capture them.

    However 38 MPs is not 150 as in your first post or around 60 as in your second.

  • David Evans 22nd Oct '16 - 1:33am

    @Paul Barker – I fear you are reading a bit more into my post than is called for when you say “its common practise to read someones comment before you criticise it.” I was merely commenting on your question “how do we get to 34 MPs?” not criticising your post in general. Indeed, I think we agree that implying that on the basis of one by-election swing that we would win 150 MPs is perhaps just a bit over optimistic.

    Now if I was pointing out that your comment “On this site its common practise to read someones comment before you criticise it,” was a non-sequitur and missing two apostrophes, that would be a bit of criticism. 🙂 🙂

  • paul barker 22nd Oct '16 - 8:43am

    Sorry I was grumpy, I dont think I realised how tired I was.
    Witney confirms what Local byelections had suggested, that our recovery has made a good start but has a long way to go.
    If I was actually predicting how we would do in the extremely unlikely event of a General Election soon, I would suggest a vote share in the 15-20% range. How many MPs that would give us would depend on how Tories & Labour did & that is the big unknown. How will voters respond when they realise that we arent dead (again) ?

  • Seen it all before. It’s quite meaningless unless you’re going to start targetting wards there. Lib Dems conveniently forget that they had to pour thousands of person hours to get the second place – something that won’t be available in 2020 in Witney.

  • sally haynes-preece 22nd Oct '16 - 2:24pm

    While the Witney result is pleasing, it is not an indication of anything major for the party.I am old enough to have seen more by- election results than you can imagine. Including Orpington. This result shows that when we have enough resources we can get our message across (although I am unclear what the message is….and I am a Lib Dem member!) and persuade people to vote for us. But we don’t have the resources to put a Witney sized effort into every seat at a general election. I am not even sure we can put that sort of effort into even a few target seats. Given the current state of politics drawing any inference from this by election is risky . Its not bad news – but lets not get carried away.

  • Just because other parties do ludicrous “if the swing in this by election was projected. . . . .” headlines, do we have to do it too?

    Or do we want the electorate to continue to think forever that all dishonest politicians are the same?

  • David Pearce 27th Oct '16 - 8:32am

    Any talk of swings to libs needs to bear in mind the reason for disaffection with the government, which is Brexit. Their supporters divide on this issue, so an anti-Brexit stance is only appealing to maybe 1/3 -1/2 of conservatives. Witney may have captured a good chunk of these. Conservatives are divided roughly equally on the economic impact of Brexit, so there may be scope for drawing support to soft Brexit, but the party is still the traditional home of the nationalists who might be most keen on hard Brexit.

    Brexit Remain got more votes than the conservative party.

  • Chippy Socialist 18th Oct '17 - 2:19pm


    In the June 2017 General Election Labour came second in Witney, ahead of all the also-rans.

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