It isn’t very often that Liberal Democrats are wont to celebrate a good defection, but June 17th marks a unique anniversary in the combined histories of Cold War geopolitics and international dance. It was 49 years to the day since ballet superstar Rudolf Nureyev danced a hasty pas de deux with his Soviet bodyguards before vaulting into airport security in Paris to claim political asylum in France. Unfortunately, our by-election teams proved a little less nimble out in the field – of the four principal council by-elections on the 17th, Liberal Democrats were defending in one, standing in three, and won in none.
Our one loss for the week took place in the North Holme ward of East Lindsey District Council in Lincolnshire. The key to understanding this dramatic decline is hidden in the percentage change, the Lib Dem vote was down roughly 60% on 2007 – such a high figure usually indicates the lack of another major party candidate in the previous election, and in 2007 the contest was solely between us and the BNP. Whilst it was inevitable we’d lose a number of votes when Labour and the Tories fielded candidates this time around, all losses are disappointing and in this case we finished behind the BNP, who took third place by fourteen votes. Labour took the seat with a majority of thirty-one. Labour won in Hastings, with a 12% Con-Lab swing and our candidate dropping roughly 2% to place third. The Tories gained a measure of compensation with two gains of their own. Firstly, a near 20% swing won the Conservatives a seat in the Earls Barton ward of Wellingborough Council in Northamptonshire and, secondly, walking in unopposed to a by-election victory in Chichester.
Slightly better news on the non-principal front, with a handsome double-victory on Theydon Bois Parish Council in Epping Forest. In a low-key campaign, the team merged a Parish election Focus with their post-General Election ‘Thank You’ artwork and a subsequent parish-wide special leaflet, using our candidates’ established reputations as community activists to full effect in an area where the electorate focus more on local achievements than party affiliation. The Tories weighed in with a heavy attack leaflet on the final day of campaigning, alleging that they offered to have both parties stand one candidate each and have them co-opted without election – thus making the Lib Dems responsible for all costs incurred as part of the by-election process. Using a ‘rapid rebuttal’ strategy, the team in Theydon Bois integrated a counter-attack into their Good Morning leaflets overnight, accusing the Tories of using vexatious allegations to force a party political advantage. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating – and with two new Lib Dem Parish Councillors in Theydon Bois, one assumes our local campaign teams have a well-sated sweet tooth this week!
The by-election wheel keeps on turning next week, with a distinctly average three principal by-elections and five contests out in the towns. Congratulations to our successful Parish Councillors in Essex, and the best of luck to all our teams out pounding the (increasingly sunny) streets.