I lay in bed this morning listening to the news of a stupendous Lib Dem majority in Chesham & Amersham. As I did so I tried to work out how many other times I similarly lay in bed listening to the ‘post match’ analysis. I couldn’t because there have too many of them. So, you might just think that all those gains were flashes in the pan. The Lib Dems still only have 12 MPs and 2,500 councillors although we have, at times, had many more.
We should not discount the scale of what happened here. We didn’t squeak in. we went from a 16,000 deficit to an 8,000 majority. This is one of the most spectular gains in our history. It suggests that many other seats could fall in a variety of demographically similar seats nationally. It would, for example, see Lisa Smart and Tom Morrison elected from Cheadle and Hazel Grove.
What I do know is that winning a by-election, especially so spectacularly, has two effects which are often unseen by the general public AKA voters.
Firstly, it puts a spring in the step of Lib Dems. All over the Country there will be Lib Dems now deciding to bring forward the next Focus or add in another canvassing session. I’ll be out when I have finished this to finish off a Focus delivery although to be honest, I would have done that anyway!! Ed Davey managed to get out an appeal for funds by 4 a.m. this morning. That energy is so important for us.
The last 11 years have been very difficult for us. There have been few highlights and many lowlights! We’ve hung on in difficult times but have patiently built back our membership, increased our number of councillors and generally reorganised our Party mechanisms to become far more effective. We can now combine all those things to get on the winning trail again. I have no doubt that that this will mean a large number of new members for us all over the UK.
Secondly, it reminds the press that we exist. Because the national media concentrates on the Westminster village where there are only 11 Lib Dems and 90+ peers it makes it very difficult to be noticed no matter how good your speech or well prepared your arguments it doesn’t make much difference if you are the 23rd speaker coming on at 11 p.m. Now the press will be more likely to listen, ‘just in case’ to what the Lib Dems have to say. More exposure means more votes. It makes people realise that politics is not a two-Party fight. It is a series of two Party fights with different players in different areas.
Is this a flash in the pan? I don’t think so. If you look at my blog written after the local elections in May I talked about the changes in politics. By and large Lib Dems didn’t do very well in the North while Labour did badly.
But in the South, particularly the ‘Home Counties’ Lib Dems did rather well. We took the leadership of Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire County Councils. We did well in Durham which has large numbers of voters very similar to those in the South East inside and just outside the University City.
My judgement is that just as the Labour Party is clearly split in two (or more) factions which can be broadly typified as Corbyn v Starmer supporters. There are clearly now two Tory Parties. There appears to be a move back to the sort of ‘one Nation’ Tory Party where educated, compassionate Tories are beginning to revolt against the lip curling sneers of the likes of Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Neither of these splits are represented in the Parliamentary Parties which were, of course, set before the last General Election. I believe that both Parties will have difficulties managing a North South Split, a left right split and a Westminster/ activist split. I think that neither Party will be able to manage these splits because both believe in controlling the Country from the bunkers of Whitehall and Westminster. The only way that we can be a strong and united country is to allow each bit of it to make their own decisions to meet local need and local circumstances.
On Monday I will be talking to a Congress of Europe delegation about the state of local government in the UK. I will be telling them that I believe local democracy is in a poor state. Even the regional bodies, never mind the local councils, are constrained by lack of cash and lack of decision-making delegation. We basically have to go central government cap in hand to deliver projects that largely suit national prescription. Often, we deliver well – Liverpool, of course, is a dreadful deliverer!
I am particularly pleased that our new MP is a woman. Two thirds of our MPs are now women. The three councils that we took the leadership of, Durham, Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire are all now led by strong Lib Dem women. We achieve this with no special programmes except of support to help women overcome multiple challenges that men don’t face. Our innate liberalism helps us choose the best person for the job and not just the best man.
So, we Lib Dems can now face the future with even more confidence than we did yesterday. Our Party is small, but growing, can take differences of opinion without rancour and hove few ideological splits of any moment. We are all internationalist Europeans who believe in fairness, equality, devolved decision making and a green and sustainable Country with clean and green jobs.
As the factions battle each other the next two years could be the most interesting time for UK politics for decades. That will be true in the Country but I have also no doubt that this by-election and others to come will encourage backbenchers to revolt more.
In the meantime well done Sarah Green MP, well done Ed Davey with your first parliamentary gain under your belt and well done all those Lib Dems who kept the faith, travelled to Chesham and Amersham and put another notch on the Lib Dem bedpost!
If you want to join us please do so at http://www.liverlibdems.org.uk.