Damn you, Mark Cole, for doing the title I wanted to do first. Even so, I was up tonight waiting for the by-election result with bated breath… and we lost by 3,000 votes. It’s actually not bad, if you think about it. The Lib Dems are riding on 8-10% in the daily YouGov polls, but we still make a decent showing at the first major poll, to the point our share in the vote rises just ever so slightly. Tim Farron was right to call this a “score draw”.
Because, really, Debbie Abrahams didn’t win because she was a good candidate. She isn’t. Colne Valley, depending on the time of the week, is the next constituency over from me, and she didn’t really have a support base; indeed, I saw more support for the Lib Dem candidate (which was dwarfed by the support for the Conservative candidate and eventual winner Jason McCartney). She also fantastically crashed on polling day taking a Labour seat into third (although, admittedly, Colne Valley is a three-way marginal).
The real reason Abrahams won the seat was because of anti-cuts sentiment among the public (who voted for the Conservatives – what do you expect from them!?). It’s as simple as that. Like nearly every by-election in the past thirty or forty years, it’s been an effective protest polling. It’s actually hard to see why exactly Labour won, though: was it due to the Lib Dems haemmoraging support, the Tories losing support, or the customary third-placed-party squeeze (and an easing off the pedal by Cameron)? The answer is probably all three, really.
But still, this gives the Lib Dems a new narrative in the morning. Despite a poor showing in the polls, they can stand decent candidates with a decent chance of winning. And who knows? Maybe the “shy Lib Dem” effect from pollsters (especially YouGov, who currently poll them doing worse than ICM or Angus Reid) will start to evaporate, and they’ll start moving back to the mid-teens. Tonight showed that the Lib Dems aren’t dying at all: they’re just unpopular at the moment and their popularity will probably come back (especially if we’re allowed to push along AV, drug reform, and civil liberties, and set aside the spectre of tuition fees), even if it takes time.