Sunday, 4 July 2010

Lib Dems gain a seat in Shropshire, and hang on in Yeovil

Thursday night was good one for the Liberal Democrats in Council by-elections. The two top tier battles taking place were both caused by Councillors resigning in disgrace in seats the Lib Dems were second last time round, and they managed to take the ward of Clee in Shropshire from the Conservatives. However, in Lambeth Labour had a big enough majority to comfortably hold Tulse Hill in spite of the circumstances. The Liberal Democrats were also defending two wards on Town Councils in David Laws' Yeovil constituency and they'll be pleased to hold onto one of them considering the MPs less than favourable recent media coverage.

The by-election in Clee, Shropshire was triggered because the sitting Conservative Councillor was found guilty of making 'persistent and personal attacks' on a junior employee. Considering the Lib Dems only needed a 0.6% swing to take the seat they would have been fairly confident of a gain here, and it was easily achieved. Richard Huffler won with 60% of the vote; an increase of almost 25%. It doesn't dent the huge majority the Tories enjoy on Shropshire Council, but given their declining polling numbers this result has given the Lib Dems something to celebrate.

Shropshire County Council















Vote %


Richard Huffer (E)




Hayley Fernihough




Graeme Perks




There was also a chance of a gain for the Lib Dems in Lambeth, but this was always going to be a much harder seat to win. Although the sitting councillor was arrested on suspicion of having child porn images on his computer Labour received over 20% more of the vote in Tulse Hill less than two months ago. The by-election result was very comfortable for Labour as Ruth Ling was elected with a majority of 490 votes. The Lib Dems only managed a 1.2% swing which doesn't bode well for them in the forthcoming by-elections in London.

Lambeth Borough Council















Vote %


Ruth Ling (E)




Terry Curtis




George Graham




Will Blackburn




Robin Lambert




As for the rest of last Thursday's by-elections the results for the Central Ward of Yeovil Town Council (Somerset) and the Crimchard Ward of Chard Town Council (Somerset) were the most intriguing. The local press were billing these elections as a test for the local Liberal Democrats in the wake of David Laws' resignation from the Cabinet in May. The results were fairly inconclusive as the Lib Dems held Yeovil with a majority of 351 votes and lost in Chard to an Independent by 59 votes. On balance, I'd say it suggests the party won't be spectacularly losing Paddy Ashdown's old seat at the next election unless something else crops up!

So for a round up of the other by-elections from last week, the Conservatives gained Ribby with Wrea on the Flylde Borough Council (Lancashire) from an Independent and they held Huntington and Hatherton on the South Staffordshire District Council. However, the Tories failed to gain Rainworth from Labour on the Newark & Sherwood District Council (Nottinghamshire) when a swing of just over 3% was all that was required. The Conservatives also lost Shepton West on the Mendip District Council (Somerset) to the Liberal Democrats to round of an inconsistent night for the party. Finally, Labour comfortably held Peel on the Hyndburn Borough Council (Lancashire).

All in all it was a pretty good night for the Liberal Democrats in light of the recent polls. Although they are almost 10 points down on their General Election performance they do not appear to be suffering when the voters head to the polling booths. The third party usually polls poorly during the mid term so it's debatable whether their current figures are much worse than if they were shut out of the debate in opposition. Labour have been doing well in by-elections since the General Election and they'll be hoping this will continue through July. They are defending four seats in top-tier Councils on Thursday, which will be a much sterner test than they've had so far. The Conservatives are facing a tough couple of months in local elections now they're in Government. Their current number of Councillors represents a high watermark achieved whilst in opposition nationally, and they'll struggle to defend every seat against a resurgent Labour Party. The Tories are defending at least 6 wards in top tier Councils later in the month and it will be interesting to see how they fare.


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