Official: Lib Dems the winners in 2009 local by-elections

by Stephen Tall on December 23, 2009

There’s been a fair degree of criticism of the Lib Dems’ parliamentary by-election performances in the last couple of years: the 2006 ‘glory days’ of beating Labour in Dunfermline, and coming oh-so-close against the Tories in Bromley have seemed an increasingly distant memory. So, let’s celebrate an arena where the party is doing well: local government by-elections. And not merely doing well: in fact, doing better than the other two major parties.

(Hat-tips to John’s Liberal Revolution blog and to middle englander on the Vote 2007 website).

Here are the summary results of the 280 by-elections held during 2009:

  • Lib Dems: gained +28, lost -11. Net gain: +17 seats.
  • Tories: gained +10, lost -34. Net loss: -24 seats.
  • Labour: gained +23, lost -11. Net gain: +12 seats.

So there you have it: the Lib Dems’ performance in local government by-elections was the best of the major parties.

The results come with caveats, of course:

(i) the Tories were defending many more seats – just over half of those they contested, in fact – and they won more seats overall (123 to the Lib Dems’ 68 and Labour’s 60);

(ii) the retention rate, defined as seats retained as the proportion of seats defended, of all three parties was broadly similar: the Lib Dems were a nose ahead, retaining 79% of seats we defended, with the Tories and Labour each on 78%; and

(iii) probably most significantly, that the Tories are losing more seats than they’re winning does not mean the opinion polls are wrong. In the last quarter of 1996, Labour chalked up a net loss of two seats, while the Tories achieved a net gain of 16: yet the Tory parliamentary party was decimated in the election that followed.

However, I think the Lib Dems can justly take some pride (or draw some comfort, depending on your disposition) that, while in the last quarter of 1996 we made a net loss of 13 seats, in the last three months of 2009, we gained five seats – and that we’re successfully defending more seats in 2009 than we were managing in 1996.

Congratulations to those councillors elected, to their local parties, and to ALDC, for achieving these results.