So, three by-elections have been held in England and the three main English Parties have come out with 1 each. It’s a bit more complicated than that of course. The Lib Dem one was a gain, the Tories gained one with a large majority but lost one with a large majority. Labour squeaked in to hold one that the Tories were expecting to win but lost one. Indeed, they probably would have won two if it hadn’t been for the behaviour and outing of Matt Hancock.
We are now once again hear siren voices call for a ‘progressive alliance’ to defeat the Tories. A closer look at the results in the three by-elections, however, suggests that this is not only unnecessary but absolutely undesirable.
In Amersham and Chesham, the Lib Dems were clearly the top dog opposition party. Everyone knew that. The Lib Dem candidate was very competent and could sense the issues where our Lib Dem beliefs coincided with the feelings of the electorate. Labour voters knew that and decided that THEY wanted to get the Tory out by voting for a Party that was clearly their normal second choice.
In the other two by-elections we started in a poor third place and many Lib Dem voters decided that THEY would prefer to help Labour defend the seat from the Tories. However, it gets more complicated than that. It is clear that in Batley & Spen most of those that voted Lib Dem would not have voted Labour but would probably have voted Tory which would have given them the seat.
The similarity between these elections is clear. Local people knew local circumstances and made their own decision about who to support. This was not only the case in deciding whether or not to support the obvious second place but also looked at local judgements about who was saying what mattered to them int eh circumstances of that constituency. Our candidates in both the other two by-elections were good and very presentable. However, all they could do is present our Party as best they could in adverse circumstances.
So, there are two key lessons that can be gained from these elections for progressive alliance supporters;
Firstly, that the Parties cannot deliver their vote to another Party. People support a party for a number of reasons and come to the party from a number of directions. We can see large numbers of former Labour supporters who now happily vote Tory. They delivered their own vote where they wanted it to go. Nothing that a Party Leader would have said would have moved the vote to another camp. Most of those small numbers of people would simply not have voted.
Secondly, that there is no need for an alliance because people can come to their own conclusion as to the best way to defeat the Tories IF that is their major desire.
This is nothing new. It has happened for a long time. When I first went canvassing in the 1960s I got so depressed by the number of people who told me that they would vote for us if they thought that we could win. This is a chorus I have heard for the whole of my political life. Consistently, when asked the question, “would you vote Lib Dem if you thought they could win?” the number is approximately 3 times the number of those who say that they will vote for us.
Sometimes this works to the advantage of a variety of Parties. In Liverpool where the Tories have been insignificant since 1973 and last got a councillor elected 27 years ago Tory voters in certain parts of the City look askance at Labour locally and loyally turn out to vote Lib Dem as the only realistic alternative.
Perhaps the other thing of significance is the fact, that with the exception of Galloway, the right-wing fringe have become a rump. Yes, I know that Johnson’s Tories have become the Brexit Party but most of them are not as toxic as the likes of Farage, Tice and Widdecombe.
Galloway is another matter. He is one of the vilest, egocentric and bigoted of any politician of his generation. He just doesn’t care what s**t he stirs up in the area on which he descends but never stays. He moves on with his small and foul entourage leaving responsible politicians like Kim Leadbetter and Baroness Kath Pinnock to pick up the pieces.
As things move on, am I brave enough to try and say what happens next? Probably not!! I can discern trends however. The number of one nation Tories see a Party in power which does not represent them and share their values and will increasingly desert them. Labour will continue to struggle internally. As I did predict 7 years ago Momentum, like Militant before them, has lost most of its influence and control of local Labour Parties. Labour is not a happy place with much of its behaviour still being Red on Red.
As for the Lib Dems I see a Party transformed since the depths of 2015. We’ve added 750 councillors and about 30 councils where we lead or control to our tally. Our membership continues to be about 100,000 but with a much higher number of people who have been blooded in battle and know how to run things from elections to councils. Our Parliamentary Party is small but perfectly formed pulling well above their weight in the media and parliamentary terms.
I’m optimistic about the future potential of our Party. All we need to do is clarify what we want to achieve politically and I believe that the torch we old folk can pass on to the next generations is shining bright indeed.