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Friday, September 19, 2003

Brent East

Well, we did it! In the end Sarah Teather emerged from a hard fought campaign to record an historic victory. The first Labour by-election defeat for 15 years and a 29% swing as well. By-elections are always difficult to extrapolate from of course and many of them prove to be a false dawn. However, the significance of this one was its context. It forms part of a sustained increase in support for the Liberal Democrats in the UK that has us consistently scoring opinion poll ratings of 20% or more following on from a General Election where we recorded another high water mark. There is every reason to feel optimistic for the future, mid term Labour blues or not.

The last by-election Labour lost to us was Greenwich, which was taken by the SDP's Rosie Barnes. She was later notorious for the fluffy bunny party election broadcast in the 1987 General Election, which must go down in history as the worst PEB ever recorded. If I remember rightly they showed it twice during that election just to demonstrate how devoid of ideas the Alliance parties were at that time. When she stayed with the Owenites after merger there was a huge feeling of betrayal amongst Liberal activists who had invested massive resources, time and effort into her election. Perhaps it is better therefore to remember Labour's previous by-election loss to the Liberal Democrats when Simon Hughes took Southwark and Bermondsey on 24 February 1983. Simon is still the MP after 20 years and must have a very good shot at becoming Mayor of London when Londoners vote next year on the basis of this by-election result.

Of course the other parties were trying to find excuses for their poor performance. A number of politicians highlighted a pink A5 leaflet distributed by the Liberal Democrats that carried a picture of Bush and Blair with the legend, "These men need your help...You can show your full support for them by electing a Labour MP who will just do what Tony Blair says." Personally, I think this leaflet is fair comment and it is nowhere near as bad as some of the stuff put out by Labour and the Tories. However, just to confirm my instincts I have an additional endorsement for the leaflet. Lembit Opik who is becoming well known for his charter of fair play in elections has admitted to me that he delivered it. It must have been OK then!

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