The Sleaford Result is another success for our Newbies (with oldies support)


Newbie Ross Pepper ably supported by an oldie (politically!) Baroness Sal Brinton

I woke up this morning to hear news of another good result from the trio of Parliamentary by-elections that we have had over the autumn. Ross Pepper and his team did incredibly well given:

  1. They started from a very low base – the sort of base that most of us are facing if we look back at the terrible results of the last General Election.
  1. Sleaford was totally over shadowed by Richmond Park. A tiny, tiny team worked to keep things going until a much greater number of people started to come in last Friday.
  1. This was a big Brexit Constituency although as our leaflets said of the 10 candidates only Ross Pepper could speak for the 38% of the constituency who voted remain. There are many MPs who get elected on 38% of the vote.

So despite all this they gave us a really good headline – “Labour squeezed into 4th place”. The continuing headlines that have developed during the day are all about Labour’s failure than the Tory success. As one Labour MP put it, “If we can’t do better than this with a local binman as our candidate we are in terrible trouble”. Not quite the way I would have put it but nevertheless true! This was no HQ shoo-in but an authentic Labour working class candidate who surely should have appealed to the small, presumably working class vote that Labour had in the Constituency. It didn’t appeal at although the campaign was run by the efficient Vernon Coaker and supported on the penultimate day by the ultimate bruiser, Lord Prescott.

What can we make of the other parties including the thoughts from last week’s Richmond Park election?

The Tories are flying high. Enough said!

The Greens are almost none-existent. In Richmond Park they backed the Lib Dems and in Sleaford they backed a candidate who lost her deposit! There are few signs locally or nationally that the Greens are a serious political party.

UKIP is a busted flush. If they cannot do well in Sleaford they cannot do well anywhere. I’ve just been looking at the story of UKIP in what was one of their most successful areas – Cornwall – where in the last County elections in 2013 they elected 6 councillors. Today only one of them is still both in UKIP and a councillor. All but one of their 6 parliamentary candidates in 2015 have now left the Party. In Liverpool their vote is 2%. They have no money, nor discipline and no resources. If it wasn’t for a declining handful of financial backers and the continued support of red top newspapers and the BBC they would have ceased to exist a year ago. Their demise is certain.

And what about poor old Labour? Fourth this week and their first lost deposit in London since 1909 last week. As a Labour councillor in Liverpool desperately trying to stave off Momentum told me last week. “We’re too busy fighting each other to take on the Tories”. Every day on Twitter we see tweets from Labour members who have either just left the Party or have left the Party and joined us. The people who are leaving are the backbone of any Party. The people who deliver leaflets; knock on doors and support the candidates. The people staying are the Militant type people who love meetings, infighting and squabbling over arcane points of order, procedure and doctrine. I’d love to see Momentum out on the streets of my ward. They would bolster our vote hugely but I suspect that they won’t be around – too much like hard work.

Finally once again a crawling paragraph about our Newbies. New members who are beginning to reshape and reorganise our Party. Ross Pepper is such a newbie. He was not a rounded politician when he started the campaign and perhaps he isn’t quite yet a rounded politician. But when I saw, listened to and spoke to him I found a lovely bloke full of principle and the desire to put those principles into practice. Let’s hope that he starts that more formal political career by gaining a County Council seat next year. But I hope he never becomes the practiced, urbane politician that we see too often on our TV screens. Whilst Ross Pepper and our countless newbies remember that it is not our job to represent the council or parliament in the community but to represent the community in council and parliament all will be well.

The Liberal Democrat Party is a bottom up party. We see national and council-wide politics through firstly the prism of liberalism but more importantly through the greater prism of our communities. We sometimes say different things in different places not because we have different principles but because we have the same principles which must be interpreted in different ways in different circumstances. I understand that we have had another 1,500 people join us since the RP bye-election. I welcome every one of those Newbies to our Party. I look forward to handing over to you when you are ready and the time is right.

Let’s not forget either that continued drip, drip of council by-election gains. This year between the May elections and bye-elections we have gained about 70 seats on principal councils (plus loads more on town and parish councils). Every one of those new councillors adds to the publicity in local papers; adds to the knowledge within the Party adds to the sense of momentum for the Party as a whole. The Westminster bubble does not think these elections are as important but local observers and journalists take note and begin to give us more publicity than when they thought we were a dead duck. Yesterday we averaged an 8% increase in our vote in 5 of the local elections held.

In only one did we fall back where we did not put up a candidate but instead supported Labour as did the Greens. It didn’t work. That should tell us a lot about developing ‘Progressive Alliance’ and what the public think of that. It should be the public who decide who works with who after an election not us stitching up a deal beforehand.

The year isn’t over yet with more bye-elections and at least one more council bye-election gain to be looked for in Somerset (Ross Henley will, I am sure deliver the goods as he is well known and being helped by the whirling dervish Daisy Benson). But in 2016 we have put behand the annus horribilis of 2015. Baby steps they may be that we are now taking but they are steps that are increasingly confident and powerful. For the first time in 7 years I can truly say that I am really looking forward to the local elections on May 4th. Our Newbies and our Oldies will once again do us proud.

Lastly, however just spare a thought for Jane Brophy our candidate in last year’s December bye-election in Oldham. Her campaign, because it was the only one, was better organised and better resourced and went on for longer. Yet she lost her deposit. Just think what would have happened if that election was to have been held this year rather than last. People like Jane kept our Party alive in hard times. Let’s not forget them as we glory in triumphs anew.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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2 Responses to The Sleaford Result is another success for our Newbies (with oldies support)

  1. As someone who first campaigned for the party in the 1959 general election – I suppose that must make me an oldie, but I’m a newbie at heart – Richard’s review of the political scene warms the cockles of my heart!

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