Well, that was a very unexpected result from Uxbridge & South Ruislip. If you had asked me even a week before the vote, I would have assumed that Labour would win and Conservatives would be a very distant second place, with us in third, but really pressuring the Tories. Sadly this was entirely incorrect on every count, but there are definitely some lessons to learn from this by-election.
This email is also about the upcoming events in Hillingdon and Harrow, so if you’d like to join us for drinks or a barbecue, read on!
It’s fair to say that when we face challenges in life, we can either seek things to blame or we can look instead at how we can improve our own strategy so that next time is better. Obviously with an election like this, there will be a combination of things that we had no control over and things that we could have done better.
Out of Our Control
Starting with the things that were out of our control, it is worth mentioning that the Conservatives turned this into a referendum on ULEZ and Labour let them. In reality it wasn’t – ULEZ is a delegated Greater London Authority power, therefore the local MP has precisely as much power as any local citizen to stop ULEZ. The fact that Labour did not call the Conservatives out on this – as we did, repeatedly – was a major failure on their part that we have no control over.
In the absence of that very specific local issue, Steve Tuckwell’s campaign was largely non-existent. He wanted to keep Uxbridge police station open (all candidates agreed) and to fund Hillingdon hospital renovations (all candidates agreed). Otherwise his entire strategy was that he was the most local candidate, which is frankly a terrible reason to elect someone as an MP.
I suspect that Tuckwell would have performed worse had he actually showed up to the hustings event that he skipped, as he came across as a pretty deflated candidate and was roundly attacked by other candidates and the audience, but Danny Beales really dropped the ball by not showing up to two such events. His performance in the one he actually attended was good, and the numbers show that actually a decent performance at just one additional hustings might have been enough to make him the next MP for Uxbridge instead of Tuckwell.
Regardless, we can’t control how other candidates campaign, but you can be absolutely sure that we will refer to decisions made and promised broken at the next round of campaigning.
Under Our Control
This category is more difficult to approach rationally. I genuinely thought Blaise did really well in both the hustings and canvassing stages of the campaign. There’s really not much about his performance that I think we need to change, so it falls to the rest of the campaign team.
So what might we do better next time?
- Funding – we were lucky to go into this campaign with a couple of large donations, but in reality it would be better for us to build our war chest for campaigning in this non-campaigning period so that we can focus on the action itself when the next election rolls around. This will be extremely important, as we will be managing more elections across the borough, so there will be less opportunity for me to help Blaise out, for example. Our donation page is here, or you can get in touch if you would prefer to make a direct payment.
- Volunteers – we are lucky to have a few people that are happy to help out at any time, but we really need to increase our volunteer numbers, especially if the plan is to run successful campaigns in the coming General Election. If you’d like to help out, our volunteer page is here or you can get in touch.
- Materiel – it makes sense to spend some time during this period of low campaigning intensity making flyers and posters, even if they are never used. The goal here is to build a repository of useful documents that can be repurposed for specific campaign issues.
Should We Have Stood Aside?
I have seen plenty of comments lately that we should have stood aside, as the seat was not winnable. While I can appreciate that it might seem at first glance that our standing was enough to shift the winner from Labour to Conservative, I don’t believe this is the case. Some of the reasons for this include:
- We didn’t force anyone to vote for us. That was their democratic choice, and if Danny Beales had offered sufficient reasons to vote for him instead of us, that’s what would have happened. The simple fact is that voters clearly didn’t think that he offered enough of a change from the Conservatives, hence the very low turnout rate of only 46%.
- There are very significant deviations in core beliefs between us and Labour, most notably with respect to electoral reform. In short, we believe that it is absolutely impossible for the UK to shake itself loose of the Tories without Proportional Representation, and under Starmer Labour is currently opposed to this despite the wishes of its members. This would be a major stumbling block between our parties allying.
- In terms of the electorate, it is worth mentioning that there were three hustings events, and Danny Beales failed to turn up to two of them. Had he done so, maybe the outcome would have been different. Not doing so likely made the electorate feel taken for granted, which was definitely not the right approach.
Ultimately we are political candidates, Blaise and I, and that means that it is our job – albeit an unpaid one – to stand and campaign on the issues that make our party special. If we thought that the country would be best served by us not standing as Liberal Democrats, then we would already have stood down as candidates. In reality, we are both convinced that the Liberal Democrats values are absolutely essential to making sure that our country thrives in coming years while protecting both people and our planet, and we do not believe that Labour is the answer. As such, it would have been truly irresponsible of us to back Labour either by standing aside or by endorsing them.
As much as I hate the First Past The Post system and the fact that it necessitates tactical voting, I am absolutely unconvinced that the response of candidates should be not to stand at all. Voters still deserve the democratic choice between candidates, and removing their choice definitely does not make the system more democratic.