There were five principal local council by-election held on Thursday 15th December. The Tories held three but lost one to an Independent and there was an Independent hold. There were no parish or town council by-election result reported to ALDC. Simon Hughes (left) chatting with Kamala Kugan and Rupert Nichols our Coombe Vale candidates

Coombe Vale Ward in New Malden is part of the Lib Dem controlled London Borough of Kingston upon Thames. The balance on the council as a whole is LD 27 Con 21. We held three seats in the ward until 2002, when the Tories took one but it’s been solidly Tory since 2006. Despite it being in the Richmond Park parliamentary constituency it did not have a great record after 2006. However in 2010 we came within 89 votes of taking a seat and we had high hopes of two gains in this double by-election. We lost both seats. So what happened?
As ever with our ruminations on by-elections, it’s early days and there is much analysis to be done. The first thing to say was that it was not due to a lack of work or expertise. We had experienced, reliable canvassers on the doorsteps, good literature and a great team using the latest techniques. Two years ago this campaign would have won.
The Tories should have been on weak ground. One of the their two resignations was for a councillor  who had moved  to the US and continued to claim his allowance for four months. However they sought to insulate themselves from this by running two female candidates out of the well-resourced Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith’s) office.
We thought we were squeezing the Labour vote hard but obviously not effectively enough as their vote went up. They repeated the mantra that “it’s Labour or the Coalition” whereas the reality was that voting Labour let the Tories in. The turnout, 43% was much higher than expected in a by-election a week before Christmas. In the 2006 all-outs it had been 51% and on general election day in 2010 74%. Much higher than in the Feltham and Heston parliamentary by-election down the road.
We had a huge amount of canvass data two thirds of which was current, and our eve of poll and polling day feedback suggested that we were winning. But we lost all the ballot boxes at the count.  This suggests some fundamental problems. As we develop our responses to those problems over the coming months we need, as London have done, to use by-elections to test their impact.
We can, and should use the time over Christmas to reflect on whether the problem is:

  1. Voters are being truthful but change their mind (why?) before they get to a ballot box. –  do we need to counter late voting influences, if so how?
  2. Voters don’t like to offend the nice local Lib Dems and even good canvassers are failing to pick it up –  do we need better methods of gathering voter ID that avoid this misinformation, if so, what?.
  3. Are we mistaken in our previously held beliefs about who votes when they are identified and knocked up?

ALDC would be keen to hear from those who have theories or suggestions to make.

Other elections

Mid Devon DC, Clare and ShutternMelton BC, Frisby on the WreakeShetland UA, Shetland Central

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