Saturday, August 02, 2008

What this by-election means

So what to make of the Whickham South and Sunniside by-eleciton in Gateshead? Well, we achieved all our campaign objectives: we won, we increased our share of the vote, and we squeezed the Tories back into third place.

Winning was not in any great doubt. This is after all one of the strongest Lib Dem council wards in the country, though we never take it for granted. Meanwhile, getting an increase in share of the vote was challenging but achievable.

It was the third objective that was going to be difficult to achieve and which, frankly surprised us the most when we saw the Conservatives collapse. In the May local elections, on the back of no campaign whatsoever, not even a leaflet, the Conservatives moved into 2nd place. Part of that was a measure of the weakness of Labour but it was also a measure of how well the Conservatives were doing nationally.

Since the Conservatives were continuing to do well, it seemed fair to assume that even a minimal campaign from them in the ward would at least help them to solidify their 2nd place, even if it is a rather distant one. Though we set out to ensure that that did not happen, I was not particularly convinced that we could push the Conservatives into 3rd place.

Yet in the end there was a collapse in the Conservative vote and as I said in this blog on Wednesday, tactically it was better for us for the Conservatives to come third. That focuses people's minds on this constituency of Blaydon and Gateshead generally being a battle between Lib Dems and Labour.

To the Conservative Party, it probably doesn't matter a fig that they were third in the ward. Gateshead and Blaydon are unlikely ever to register on their radar screens. So ultimately, getting squeezed from 18% to just under 10%, and falling behind Labour when Labour themselves are doing everything in their power to fall apart, does not matter much to them.

The outcome however matters to Labour. A resurgent Tory party in Blaydon constituency and across Gateshead is what they need to hold onto their seats. Splitting the anti-Labour vote could save their skins. By getting back into 2nd place in the ward, Labour have gained a tactical disadvantage. There is no longer a threat to the Lib Dems, even if it were previously just on paper, from the Conservatives here. Labour have just made life easier for us...and harder for themselves.

The photo is of Cllr Marilynn Ord, myself and newly elected Cllr John McClurey after the count on Thursday. The three of us represent Whickham South and Sunniside.

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