If the Stoke and Copeland by-elections had happened at any point in the last Parliament, the Liberal Democrats would have been squeezed until our pips squeaked. We’d certainly have lost our deposit as we did in both seats in the 2015 General Election in both seats.
The results showed how far we have come. Our vote more than doubled in both seats and we did well to avoid a squeeze into oblivion. In Copeland we pushed UKIP into fourth as that party’s voters clearly felt comfortable enough voting for Theresa May’s Brexit Britain Party.
In Stoke, you have to wonder how much of Labour’s vote was actually people who wanted to vote Lib Dem holding their nose and voting Labour to keep the even nastier prospect of the torture-supporting, ultra right Paul Nuttall winning. For us to get almost 10% in those circumstances was a very healthy result indeed.
In both campaigns we had outstanding candidates in Rebecca Hanson and Dr Zulfiqar Ali. They would both enhance our parliamentary team and we need to make sure that we get them into Westminster one day.
There’s no denying that the results are depressing in some ways, though. Both contests were won by pro Drive-Us-Of-The-Edge-Of-The-Cliff Brexit parties. Even after a torrid campaign in which there was controversy about his address, he was found to have made false claims on his website and which was basically a disaster for UKIP, they still attracted 24% of the vote. That their vote swapped so easily to the Conservatives in Copeland also shows how interchangeable the two have become.
These were always going to be challenging seats for us but we embraced the challenge, ran positive campaigns and can be very proud of what we achieved.
Party President Sal Brinton spent the night in Stoke and had this to say:
The Potteries decided there was no need to have UKIP’s official leader in parliament when UKIP’s unofficial leader is already in Number 10, pursuing a hard Brexit.
We would have done even better but for many voters, drawn to the Lib Dems, who felt they just couldn’t risk being represented by a UKIP MP, so reluctantly backed Labour. Paul Nuttall called this seat Brexit Central but it turned out to be the end of the line for UKIP.
There is also little comfort for Labour, whose vote share has more than halved here in less than two decades. This is on top of an incredibly tough night for them in Copeland. It shows that if we are to turn out this divided and uncaring Conservative Brexit government, the Liberal Democrats will be the ones making the progressive case to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.
Since May the Liberal Democrats have made 30 council gains across the country, ten times more than any other party. They have won a famous parliamentary by-election in Richmond Park and their membership has almost doubled since the general election. Recently the party has won council by elections in Leave areas such as Sunderland and Rotherham, and two more tonight.
We started from a low base here but our vote is picking up and this is yet another sign that the Lib Dem fight-back is on.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron’s Musings