First of all – well done everybody who went and campaigned for Victoria Ayling, who achieved second place in the Sleaford by-election yesterday, putting Labour and the LibDems into third and fourth places.

Secondly – Paul Nuttall is right to say, as reported in the Daily Telegraph:

 “If someone would have offered me second place at the beginning of the campaign, considering we were in the middle of a leadership election and the party resembled a bit of a shambles over the summer, I would have bitten their hand off. I think it’s a really good way to get my leadership off the ground. This is a small step on a long road.”

Indeed.

But it is a long road, and to travel that road with any success, we do need to be critical. While we wait for an assessment from those who were actually there on the ground, here are a few points which we should not  overlook:

A usual in by-elections, turnout was low compared to the GE last year, with 37% as opposed to 70%. The surprise is that one party increased their % of votes while the other main Parties didn’t – and it wasn’t UKIP!

Here are the % of votes which must make us think very hard:

  • Conservatives:  from 56.2% in 2015 down to 53.5% in 2016
  • Labour: from 17.3% in 2015 down to 10% in 2016
  • UKIP: from 15.7% in 2015 down to 13.5% in 2016
  • Libdems: from 5.7% in 2015 a rise to 11% in 2016
  • Other: from 5.2% in 2015 a rise to 12% in 2016

So let’s take a look at the bare, naked numbers of votes:

The votes we got were 4,462, the LibDems in third place got 3,606 votes, and Labour 3,363 votes.

Not a lot of difference between votes cast for Labour, Libdems and UKIP, is there – especially when one looks at the numbers who voted for the Tories who won 17,517 of the total 32,891 votes cast. I suggest that crowing about Labour losses is, perhaps, a bit misplaced … and that it should give us food for thought that, unlike the Tory, UKIP and Labour vote, who declined according to the low turnout, the LibDem vote did not.

Let’s keep in mind that this was an election post-Brexit, in a constituency that had voted ‘Leave’, in a constituency that had a massive Tory majority.

While we all knew it was going to be an uphill struggle, while we all know that UKIP was entering this by-election at a difficult time for us, and while I am certain that our Party Leadership will take a very close and critical look at the action ‘on the ground’, how we did win second place so we can learn and do better, there is one glaring result which concerns all of us, especially in view of the coming Local Elections, and that is the rise, or should we say resurrection, of the LibDems.

This was a Northern Constituency, a Leave constituency – so what is going on? How did the LibDems do so well? Why did that happen? Was it due to the Richmond win a week ago? Or is this indicative of something else entirely?

I suggest that, post-Brexit, this result for the LibDems points to two aspects we disregard at our peril:

Firstly, we cannot take for granted that Leave Voters will automatically vote UKIP, turning from Labour to us.

Secondly, we cannot take for granted that Remain voters – who, as they keep reminding us, did get 48% of the EU Referendum vote – will put aside their resentment and vote according to local politics. They won’t, as this and the Richmond result show.

Since the triggering of Article 50 will be dragged out, since the Remainers are doing their utmost to scupper the EU Referendum vote, and since the relentless Remain propaganda will go on unabated, we must take very careful note of these results.

We know that locally, the Libdems are always running good and effective campaigns. We know that winning locally is our declared aim to get a springboard for the next GE. Therefore we must take the LibDems into account, and therefore we cannot afford to focus exclusively on winning Labour votes: people who voted in the Referendum do have another choice, as these last two by-elections have shown.

We must take on board that people who voted in the Referendum did not all vote for Leave, and we cannot afford to disregard those who voted Remain, in the fond but misguided hope that their votes won’t matter in Leave constituencies. Simply relying on Leave voters, simply assuming that they will vote UKIP, will be a fatal mistake, a mistake that will cost us votes and ultimately seats.

We must use the time between now and next May to work not only on our ‘boots-on-the-ground’ strategies, but on our overarching message. If that looks as if we need to fight the EU Referendum again, then yes: that is exactly what we have to do – because that is what the Remainers are doing, and that is why the LibDems rose from the ashes – and that is why we must be relentless in our fight for Brexit. 

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