The lessons are already flowing in from the stunning LibDem byelection win in Chesham and Amersham (C & A):
- This was a master class in tactical voting, again mostly started by conversations over back fences, in back gardens and pubs
- It shows the practical wisdom of a progressive alliance, in this case an unofficial and informal one rising up from below
- There is a growing distrust of Boris Johnson and the Tories and they can be beaten in long-time Tory seats
- In byelections, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of local issues, in this case H2S and development on the green belt.
The raw statistics themselves tell us how Sarah Green handily won C & A on 17 June and ended the Tory grip on this Buckinghamshire seat ever since it was created in 1974 (there was no Tory incumbent because the previous long-time MP, Cheryl Gillam, died in April).
The main statistics are these:
- The LibDem vote of 14,627 in 2019 went up to 21,517 on Thursday, even though overall voter turnout slumped, as is common in by-elections, from 76.8% to 52.2%
- The swing from the Tories to the LibDems was an astounding 25.2%.
WHERE DID THE OTHER VOTES COME FROM?
Where did these additional 6,890 LibDem votes come from? We will never know precisely. At least to our knowledge, there was no sophisticated exit polling done that asked C & A voters who voted Lib Dem the question: “which party did you vote for in 2019?”
Our educated guess – and it is only that – is that most of these 6,890 voters voted Labour, Green and, significantly, Conservative in 2019.
This time the Labour vote plunged from 7,166 in 2019 to an embarrassing low of 622 on Thursday. Labour finished fourth and the Greens dropped from 3,042 to 1,480 votes this time and finished third. The Tory voted was cut in half.
We suggest many C & A voters made a rough calculation based on a “this-is-the-way-the-political- wind-is-blowing” sense of things based on their following observations:
- “I am not pleased with certain Tory policies, such as HS2 and bad planning laws on OUR green belt;
- The LibDems have the most volunteers here of any party; I see yellow everywhere!;
- My friends and family tell me the LibDems have a good shot at winning;
- The LibDems finished second here in 2019…and it is usually easier for a second place party to beat the first place party the next time out;
- This is a good moment to vote LibDem.”
FELT RIGHT NOT TO BE IGNORED
In other words, the shift to the LibDems was sort of an “instinctual” one because “it felt right NOT to be ignored for a change” …and not the result of some “organisational plan” by Sarah Green and her campaign team, though she was a strong local candidate and again, this was only a byelection.
Here is how Keith Nevols, a LibDem member of the cross party/no party group GET PR DONE! put it in our Facebook group a few hours later:
I can tell you that we worked very hard in this campaign – ignored as usual by the media….The point for the ‘progressive alliance’ argument to learn is that there was realistically only one non-Conservative party that could win – last time Labour had 14% and the Greens had 5% and both lost votes [this time.] Both of those parties tried hard but we found many of their supporters prepared to lend their vote to send a message to the Conservatives.
This also proves that other parties do not necessarily need to step down. Just that the main non-Conservative party needs to step up. [which this time was the LibDems]. ”
Compass director Neal Lawson also welcomed the result. He tweeted: This wasn’t just about Lib Dems ‘winning here’, but about progressive tactical voters in their thousands winning against the Tories…. The results show the Tories can be beaten, but not by Labour on its own.
And surely this is the most important lesson. Although LibDems will properly savour this victory, it is but one step along the road to achieving the much wider reform goal of LibDems and other progressives: building a more democratic Britain. This means, in part, creating a voting system where seats won match votes cast.
Labour is best placed to lead this struggle in cooperation with other parties and electoral reform groups. We need to convince them.
IF YOU SUPPORT PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION, HERE ARE THREE THINGS YOU CAN DO.
- If you are a member of the Labour Party, make sure your Constituency Labour Party (CLP) has passed a motion in favour of PR. A total of +220 CLPs have. And try to make sure a motion gets before the Labour Party conference in Sept. 2021. Copies of a sample motion can be found HERE. PR is essential to future inter-party cooperation.
- The tactical voting used in the C & A byelection was informal. A tactical voting system for the next GE would need to be more formal and organised. The largest – and most successful – tactical voting pact in recent years was the 1997 GE deal between Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown.
- How that fairly secret pact worked in practice will be the subject of the GET PR DONE! Zoom speaker session on 24 June at 19:00. Neal Lawson – the same one – will be our guest and we have already nearly allocated all available tickets. You can get yours HERE.
- Join a pro-PR campaign group. Our group is called GET PR DONE! Here is our website and here is our friendly Facebook group of 2495 members. Another is Make Votes Matter. Join us. Right now we are busy organising the pro-PR campaigning we will be doing in London on 26 June at huge Peoples Assembly march and rally. Again, details at GET PR DONE! Facebook.
IN PROPORTION is the blog of the cross-party/no-party campaign group GET PR DONE! We are campaigning to bring in a much fairer proportional representation voting system. Unless otherwise stated, each blog reflects the personal opinion of its author.
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