Lessons from London – Winning in Hampstead

Thanks to the Hampstead Lib Dems for sharing their expertise on beating Labour and the Conservatives in London!

The context

We’d hadn’t even finished our May election expenses when we found out we had a by-election.

It was in Hampstead Town ward, which had been Tory from 2014 – 2022, and where Labour had surprisingly won a seat in May 2022, without any campaigning. The new Labour Councillor, who’d obviously been assured he had no chance of winning, resigned straight away, and the by-election was set for July 7th, 2022.  

The Liberal Democrats had councillors in Hampstead from 1994 – 2006 and 2008 – 2014. We’d campaigned there in 2019 and 2021, and although it hadn’t been a target ward in May 2022, it had returned our best non-target ward result.

The challenge

Within 24 hours we established that Linda Chung, who’d had been a councillor there before, was keen to stand again. We debated for another 24 hours whether to go for it. Would we split the vote and let the Tories back in? We concluded it was a risk worth taking. We discussed our campaign approach – we were in third, in a split ward. It was hard to tell who we were switching and squeezing – so we had to attack both Labour and Conservatives!

Campaign messages

We started with positive messages about Linda, her record of action, and her experience as a former councillor. We focused on Linda as a councillor you could trust, contrasting her with the Labour councillor who had walked away, and the sad state of the Tory party. Election day coincided with Boris Johnson’s resignation announcement!

To Labour voters we argued they could get both a hard-working councillor, and still have the Labour-dominated council they’d elected in May. To Tory voters we stressed Linda’s local credentials, and that voting Lib Dem would strengthen our hand as the opposition to Labour on the Council.

Campaign Approach

We did four things we’d learnt from Cllr Nancy Jirira’s successful by-election in 2021:

  • We targeted both literature and door-knocking on regular voters – those who’d voted in May 2021 and/or May 2022. Every leaflet except the first one was addressed.
  • We ran two sequential campaigns – Postal Voters and on the day voters. In the end, PV turnout was 64%, against 28% on the day, meaning that Postal Voters cast 52% of the total votes.
  • We anticipated a Labour last-minute push and back ended our literature, relying on people coming from across London in the final week.
  • Along with lots of literature and door-knocking, we had a strong poster campaign. The scale & visibility of our campaign gave Labour voters confidence that we were best placed to beat the Conservatives.

We did some new things too:

  • When we got feedback that our leaflets were looking “samey” we art-worked a postcard of Linda in the beauty spots of Hampstead to use as a calling card. It gave a positive message about the ward and people loved them!
  • We ran our front-of-house polling day operation from a street stall on the high street – WhatsApping photos of the telling slips to our office on the other side of the borough, and WhatsApping MiniVan codes back. It was a visible reminder that it was polling day to residents, easy to find for volunteers, and worked well on a sunny July day.

We won with an 18.6% swing to us, and a 12% swing away from both Labour and the Conservatives. Our last by-election gain was in 2008 – we’re hoping it isn’t quite so long before our next one!

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