It’s no great revelation that a council by-election in Sheffield in the current political circumstances is not exactly a mouthwatering prospect. But that’s what we ended up with. But despite this and despite the bravado of Labour, the Liberal Democrat vote tonight has hardly changed at all. In the end, whilst Labour’s vote was up, the Liberal Democrat vote barely moved. If a coalition with the Conservatives, spending cuts and the cancellation of the Sheffield Forgemasters loan results in a 0.5% drop in the Liberal Democrat vote, then clearly even in Sheffield the coalition is either not as unpopular as our opponents would have us think, or people decide who to vote for locally on different criteria.
Firstly, a bit of background for those who don’t know the area. The Woodhouse by-election was caused by the death of Labour councillor Marjorie Barker – a councillor who was popular across the party divide. Woodhouse is a ward that has a demographic that is not bad for the Liberal Democrats, but has simply not been targeted by the party in the past. The exception is that many years ago we came within a couple of hundred votes of victory and there is one small part of it that has previously been in a different ward that was held by the Lib Dems for four years. However despite this, it was one of Labour’s largest majorities in the city, the Lib Dems had little local infrastructure and so any campaign there was a daunting prospect.
This evening’s final result on a 26% turnout was:
Labour 1,855 52.3% +5.4
Liberal Democrats 757 21.3% -0.5
UKIP 491 13.8% +4.3
Conservatives 154 4.3% -10.1
BNP 143 4.0%
Green 83 2.3% -0.4
Independent 58 1.6%
As a complete psephological anorak, I had to look at the result over time, with the following outcome:
So although the vote dropped by just 0.5% this year, the Lib Dem vote has risen by 6% since 2008 when the council elections and the general election weren’t on the same day with the inevitable skewing of the election results. The vote tonight has stayed at the level we had before the coalition. However, it’s worth saying that this result has taken a lot of hardwork led by candidate Joe Otten, myself as campaign organiser and agent, and huge help from the likes of Cllrs Shaffaq Mohammed, Steve Ayris and Gail Smith, and party activists Diana Stimely and Roger Beaverstock.
Just as some background to expectations in the city, one recent comment on the internet has included:
would bet a lot of money that the Lib Dem vote will slump [from former Sheffield Hallam Tory MP, Irvine Patnick]
There were also other websites that predicted a surge in the BNP vote. This was topped off by a complaint from the independent candidate in the Sheffield Star (including many he sent privately to the Lib Dem candidate by email) about the Lib Dems delivering too many leaflets. This letter then had the unintended consequence that Derek Hutchinson then had to defend his past position as the BNP candidate in the ward (apparently he didn’t realise they were offensive or racist when he first got involved, although as he stood at least twice it clearly took him a while to realise!).
Perhaps more bizarre though, were the comments from Labour councillor Jack Scott:
Polls opening now for #woodhouse by-election. LibDems “hoping the [sic] don’t come last” ! Good luck to Jacquie [sic] Satur!!
and even after the result was still saying:
slaughter for LibDems in#Sheffield by-election!
Clearly deluded and not exactly good with his predictions. Labour will be disappointed tonight if they were expecting this to prove the Liberal Democrats are in trouble in Sheffield, after all getting roughly the same number of votes as you got in May is not exactly a massive slump in fortunes.