Lib Dem MP Says "Blue Wall Attack" Will Ramp Up After By-Election Victory
New MP Sarah Dyke celebrated with Lib Dem leader Ed Davey (Alamy)
The strong Liberal Democrat victory in the Somerton and Frome by-election means the party should aim to “retake full possession” of their old strongholds in the south west of England and in Scotland, according to Lib Dem MP Jamie Stone.
Sarah Dyke, the Lib Dem candidate for Somerton and Frome, overturned a Conservative majority of more than 19,000 on Thursday, winning 21,187 votes and 54.6 per cent of the vote compared to 10,179 votes for the Tories with just 26.2 per cent of the vote share. Dyke now has a majority of more than 11,000.
Although the Somerset constituency did have a Lib Dem MP between 1997 and 2015, it has been in Tory hands since, meaning the 28.4 per cent swing has been seen by many in the party as a symbolic victory.
“I’ve never quite had canvassing like this before,” Jamie Stone, the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, told PoliticsHome.
“I was astounded to find pretty little villages, with lovely roses and gardens that normally would be “true blue” – and you could see they were switching.
“There’s no reason why we can’t retake full possession of our heartlands.”
Lib Dem leader Ed Davey agreed: following the result, he said: “This stunning victory shows the Liberal Democrats are firmly back in the West Country.
“The people of Somerton and Frome have spoken for the rest of the country who are fed up with Rishi Sunak’s out-of-touch Conservative government.”
For Stone, who spent multiple days knocking on doors in Somerton and Frome in the run-up to the by-election, the result proved the Lib Dems should be aiming high and particularly set their sights on ‘blue wall’ constituencies in the southwest of England.
“We should concentrate our attack on the ‘blue wall’ and getting old seats back in the south west,” he said.
“I think that’s where we can do the most productive work.”
He added that while there have been discussions around the Lib Dems focusing on areas to the west of London and parts of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, the Somerton and Frome result shows they can go further west to Devon and Shropshire.
“Judging by the reactions of Conservatives to what's happened, they are really worried about all the blue wall seats, even in Shropshire,” he insisted, while acknowledging that his party’s resources will be spread more thinly across the country for the next general election.
Some of those resources will also concentrate in Scotland, where the Lib Dems used to enjoy strong support before losing the vast majority of their seats to the SNP.
Stone’s own seat is in Scotland, and he hopes the Lib Dems will succeed in regaining control of old heartlands there too.
“Coupled with the collapse of the SNP and the imminent rumour that there are going to be charges in the next few days, it makes you wonder what could happen,” he mused.
“[Former prime minister] Jim Callaghan once said every thirty years or so there is a sea change, and I think that now there is a sea change.”
Describing a sense of “fatigue” among voters with the present Conservative government, Stone said he thought many Tory voters in Somerton and Frome simply did not vote, while others switched their allegiance.
He also said he was “surprised” to also find ample support on the doorsteps for the Lib Dems among younger generations.
“The young vote was coming to us a lot,” he said.
“The movement in the young vote is interesting and this is dangerous for the Conservative Party. These people are not bound by any party loyalty, and social media is playing a much, much bigger role in this in terms of who people vote for.”
Some pollsters agree that the Somerton and Frome result spells trouble for the Tories.
Scarlett Maguire, Director at JL Partners Polls, told PoliticsHome that although it would be unwise to use by-election results as a direct representation of what could happen at a general election, it can indicate which areas are likely to be battlegrounds.
“The Lib Dems chalking up another huge win in the 'blue wall' also spells real trouble for the Conservatives, and confirms that they will be fighting serious battles on multiple fronts in 2024,” she said.
Political scientist Sir John Curtice told BBC News that he believes tactical voting also had a role in the Conservatives defeat in Somerton and Frome, as well as in Selby and Ainsty.
“Anti-Conservative tactical voting is something the Conservatives have to worry about given these by-election results,” he said.
“The Liberal Democrat vote was squeezed both in Selby and in Uxbridge while Labour was down to fifth place in Somerton and Frome which the Liberal Democrats picked up, recording yet another very spectacular swing.”
Ahead of polling day, a Lib Dem campaigner told PoliticsHome that they had noticed a shift with Labour and Green voters considering voting tactically to get Tories out of the seat.
Stone said that Labour figures had privately told him ahead of the triple by-election that they had been worried about their prospects in Uxbridge. However, he said it was just a “one off” and that he expects that if Labour “keep steady” they will do well at the next general election.
Additional reporting by Adam Payne.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe