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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Dunfermline revisited

In his analysis of the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, the Western Mail's Political Editor, Tomos Livingstone, has fallen for some of the spin being put about by the other parties. How else to explain a sensational and unexpected result by a leaderless party in some disarray?

Just as journalists did not believe us when we said we were going to win Ceredigion last May, so they dismissed our claims that we were on the verge of an historic result in Scotland. However, this success cannot just be put down to our "formidable by-election machine" as Tomos Livingstone indicates for, important as effective organisation is, it is quite clear that in both cases people voted for us because they liked our message and because they identified with what we stand for. All the fuss about sexual scandals and the party being in freefall has been proved to be the sole obsession of the Westminster village and just went over their heads. Once again, the political hacks and the scribblers have been proved to be out-of-touch with the concerns of ordinary people.

Secondly, the Labour-inspired spin that they lost the seat because of local issues does not add up either. Yes, there were local issues that proved to be a factor in helping people to decide how to vote and yes, there was a protest vote as well. However, we must not forget that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was evident throughout the campaign, pushing Labour's record in Government, whilst the Liberal Democrats themselves, also promoted their own national agenda. The was as much a rejection of Gordon Brown and his 'New Labour project' and as much an endorsement of Liberal Democrat policies and principles, as it was a protest against the Forth Bridge tolls or the state of Dunfermline town centre.

Finally, Tomos Livingstone draws attention to Charles Kennedy's visit to the constituency and his popularity in Scotland as a key factor. Putting aside the fact that this conflicts with his later claim that it was all about local issues, organisation and Labour failing to get their vote out, it is interesting to see this being talked about as decisive. The sub-text of course is that we would be better off with Charles reinstalled as leader. Unfortunately, the Liberal Democrats have moved on, so has Charles Kennedy and so have the voters. I could just as easily point to the many visits by neighbouring MP, Menzies Campbell, or Simon Hughes and Chris Huhne as key moments in the campaign. All of this is nonsense. The Liberal Democrat campaign was a team effort and if there is any one person who should be singled out as being key to its success it is the candidate, Willie Rennie, who proved to be very capable, likeable, popular and above all, eminently electable.
Quite right Peter.

Organisation alone cannot win you an election or else the ammount of money and organisation the Tories appeared to put into last May would have seen Michael Howard as Prime Minister now. It was a team effort and what a team but it was made so much easier because of such a great and personable candidate as Willie.
I wonder if the media writing off the lib dems actually helped them.

The main issue of the by election was the increased bridge tolls. These are being introduced by a Lib dem Transport minister and were supported by Lib dem councillors on the TRansport authority.

Although this was brought up in the by election it hardly got any media coverage as until the last few days nobody thought the Lds could win.

The long term problem is what happens when the bridge tolls come in, the Lib dems having voted for
them. Willie is a very skillful campaigner but he m,ay struggle to get round this.
As I understand the toll hike is under consideration and no decision has yet been made. The problem was that there is a process to be gone through that could not be foreshortened by the by-election. I heard a piece on Radio Four this morning that implied that by failing to understand that this was a devolved issue Labour's reaction effectively drew all the criticism onto themselves. Complete political ineptitude but hey, I am not complaining.
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