Saturday 22 October 2016
Happy results, and food for thought, at the Witney by-election
At this by-election to fill the Witney seat after David Cameron broke his promise to continue being their MP and resigned after all, the first surprise is not that the Conservative candidate won it, but that their share of the vote fell from the 60% they achieved in 2015 to a more modest 45%. The Theresa May brand of Toreyism is not carrying all before it.
But the even pleasanter surprise is that we Liberal Democrats quadrupled (yes, quadrupled ) our share of the vote, from the paltry 6.8% received in 2015 to a healthy 30%. I have been out walking in the Pennines all day so haven't heard many news bulletins but I'm sure Tim Farron and et al have been out and about trumpeting loudly and clearly that our fight-back is taking off and neither Tories nor Labour can take anything for granted.
This is not actually the first "green shoot" of our recovery: We have won several local government seats up and down the country from both Labour and Conservatives since May 2015, but these are noticed only by political anoraks. The Witney result will resonate much more loudly, even if it isn't quite another Orpington.
There is, however, another lesson, or perhaps two, to be learned from the Witney result. The Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green votes combined would have beaten the Tory. With Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour Party I believe we really are in a new era of politics. If our three parties, with so many overlaps in policies, ethos and intentions, had combined to put up a joint candidate we could have kicked out the Tories in the seat of the former Prime Minister. Now that would have been another Orpington of cataclysmic proportions. Our party apparatchiks should be quietly exploring this possibility ready for the next time.
An alternative approach, in the present circumstances, could be even more relevant. The Tory candidate is a Brexiteer. If our three parties, all pre-Referendum in favour of Remain, had combined, perhaps even with others who share our views, to field a pro-Remain candidate, a victory would undermine the complacency of the Referendum victors who are making the running in the government at the moment.. A series of such by-election victories could put an end to the nonsense of continuing to dig a hole for ourselves in the basis of the narrow Referendum result achieved on a false prospectus.
Remain Tories could be co-opted into such a scheme, and the nation rescued, with dignity, from its present self-harming course.