On Thursday 21st March, Lib Dems, right at the start of spring, won the Esh and Witton Gilbert by-election in Co Durham. Though in a Labour heartland, it was actually a Lib Dem defense. Predictions based on individual by-elections are unwise as some local issues not relevant elsewhere can affect the result. Nevertheless, the strong rise in the Lib Dem vote and the fall in the Labour vote were noteworthy. Labour's candidate, when speaking to the press, said she had "challenging conversations on the doorstep." This is probably the most noteworthy point about the Labour campaign as it chimes with what we are picking up on the doorsteps back over the border here in Gateshead.
While the numbers canvassed are not yet gigantic, one of the most regular points raised is people's dissatisfaction with Labour. Our canvassing has been focused on Dunston Hill and Whickham East, Lobley Hill and Bensham and Pelaw and Heworth wards so, as with the Esh by-election result, some caution needs to be exercised about projecting the findings on a wider scale. Nevetheless, what happened in Esh is what is happening in Gateshead.
So, are the green shoots of spring coming through for the Lib Dems? Possibly it's too early to say but I go into the May local elections feeling more confident than I have done for a decade.
Esh and Witton Gilbert by-election result (21 March 2019)
LDEM: 63.2% (+9.5)
LAB: 20.7% (-8.0)
IND: 8.8% (+8.8)
CON: 7.3% (-10.3)