Friday, December 13, 2019

Liberal Democrats in Suffolk - how did it go?

Let's be honest, had there been any prospect of a Liberal Democrat gain in Suffolk, we'd have been in 1906 territory, but you do have to look forward some of the time, especially after a night like this one just past. And, if things go as badly as some suspect, Conservatives in local government may be the first harbingers of public unhappiness. And maybe, just maybe, if we do things better, we might persuade the electorate to turn to us.

So, how did we get on?

I'll start in Waveney, now part of East Suffolk District Council, as it has been a bit of a black hole for us for some years despite the gallant efforts of a small hardcore of activists. Our vote there over the three elections since 2015 has gone as follows;
  • 2015 - 1,055 votes, 2.0%, fifth place (out of five)
  • 2017 - 1,012 votes, 1.9%, fifth place (out of six)
  • 2019 - 2,603 votes, 5.1%, fourth place (out of five)
We did save our deposit, which is great news, and it is a very "brexity" neighbourhood, with Lowestoft at its core, and thanks to Helen Korfanty for flying the flag.

Heading to the other end of the county, West Suffolk has no Liberal Democrat Councillors at County or District level, following retirements in 2015. Our vote there has gone:

  • 2015 - 2,465 votes, 5.0%, fourth place (out of five)
  • 2017 - 2,180 votes, 4.2%, fourth place (out of five)
  • 2019 - 4,685 votes, 9.1%, third place (out of four)
That's not a bad result from Elfreda Tealby-Watson, who must be getting used to the place by now, having fought the seat on each occasion. And, another saved deposit.

We have a presence in Ipswich, with a county councillor and three borough councillors, but as it's a key marginal, voting Conservative in 2015, Labour in 2017 and now Conservative again, we tend to get squeezed;
  • 2015 - 1,400 votes, 2.9%, fifth place (out of five)
  • 2017 - 1,187 votes, 2.3%, fourth place (out of six)
  • 2019 - 2,439 votes, 4.9%, third place (out of five)
Bad luck for the returning Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett, who was forty votes short of saving our deposit, but selflessly led campaigning teams to Cambridgeshire to support our more likely prospects there. Thanks, Adrian, you were a star.

Next, I turn to South Suffolk. I've always felt that it was the sort of seat where, with the right combination of candidate and activist base, Liberal Democrats could win. But, for whatever reason, we don't. This time, we improved quite sharply;
  • 2015 - 4,044 votes, 7.8%, fourth place (out of six)
  • 2017 - 3,154 votes, 5.8%, third place (out of five)
  • 2019 - 6,702 votes, 12.5%, third place (out of four)
David Beavan has dragged us back towards respectability, but it's a far cry from the 30.8% we achieved in 2010.

I can see Central Suffolk and Ipswich North from the end of our lane, and it's another seat where we had a solid vote prior to the Coalition, but not since;
  • 2015 - 3,314 votes, 6.1%, fourth place (out of six)
  • 2017 - 2,431 votes, 4.3%, third place (out of five)
  • 2019 - 6,485 votes, 11.5%, third place (out of four)
I'm pleased for James Sandbach, in that he seemed to enjoy the campaign, and was a fine ambassador for Mid Suffolk Liberal Democrats.

The last seat contested was Suffolk Coastal, which probably saw more activity than in recent years past;
  • 2015 - 4,777 votes, 8.6%, fourth place (out of five)
  • 2017 - 4,048 votes, 7.0%, third place (out of five)
  • 2019 - 8,719 votes, 15.0%, third place (out of five)
The Jules Ewart campaign was certainly busy and prominent, and there's definitely something there to build upon going forward.

You'll notice that I haven't mentioned Bury St Edmunds, my own constituency. We were stood down in favour of the Greens as part of the Unite to Remain alliance. I can't say that it went down all that well, but sometimes you have to compromise in search of an over-riding goal. The Greens came third, with 15.7% of the vote, and it's probably one of their best results in the country, but as Jo Churchill ended up with a majority of 24,988, it probably didn't affect much.

So, looking at it in the round, we're back in third place across the county, and whilst that might not seem like much of an achievement, it is at least progress in the right direction. Our vote share increase averaged out at 5.4% across the six contested seats, slightly better than the Party did nationally, and we averaged 9.7% in terms of vote share, a bit behind the national performance, but a reflection of the relative weakness of the Party in sleepy Suffolk.

Setting aside the Police and Crime Commissioner election, our next county-wide contest is the County Council election in 2021, which will be fought on new boundaries. Here in Mid Suffolk, our strategy is pretty obvious, I suspect, but it might be worth paying some attention to the boundary changes. The consultation phase ends next month...