Brave Defence of Liberal Democrat Values by Sally Symington in South West Hertfordshire

December 17, 2019 1:44 AM
Originally published by West Hertfordshire Liberal Democrats

Sally Symington with Campaign Team BerkhamstedIn the context of the 2019 General Election, S W Herts was not a very important constituency. It was not a target seat and the result was expected to be a comfortable Conservative hold. Nevertheless, there was a chance that the Labour vote might weaken. The Liberal Democrats approach was therefore to run a reasonable campaign, consistent with providing support to St Albans - which was a Lib Dem target seat and which was in fact won. The aim in S W Herts was to improve the Liberal Democrat vote share as a foundation to future success.

However, about 4 years ago, the sitting MP David Gauke began a complex and inconsistent history of voting regarding Brexit and Brexit-related issues - which turned into a problem for us.

He voted in favour of the vague proposition "The UK needs to stay in the EU" on 15th June, 2016, but was absent on 14th September, 2016 for the substantive debate on "UK Withdrawal from Membership of the European Union".

Gauke subsequently voted for leaving right through until the 27th March 2019, when, on that day, he voted against "Leaving without a Deal on 12th April, 2019". However, just two days later - on 29th March, 2019 - he voted in favour of "Leaving the EU with a Deal as soon as possible and to approve the associated Withdrawal Agreement".

TheyVoteForYou sums up his record as "David Gauke generally voted against UK membership of the EU " From 2016 to the 2019 election he voted 3 times in a way indicating support for remaining in the EU, 8 times in support of leaving and 3 times he was absent. You could say that, post-referendum, he supported leaving, but not leaving without a "deal".

Moor Park Sally and RobGauke lost the Conservative whip because he voted for the Letwin amendment, which enabled a debate on Hilary Benn's bill prohibiting any withdrawal from the EU without a "deal". The Benn bill then passed.

Gauke supported the government on 24th October, 2019 by voting for their Programme for Government - which included the withdrawal timetable and left open the possibility of leaving without a "deal". Despite this, the Conservative whip was not restored to him.

Because of ongoing talks between Gauke and Party HQ, the Local Party could not field a parliamentary candidate until very late in the face of an expected election. The start of the campaign was delayed. When no agreement or understanding on co-operation was received, the party was obliged to put in paperwork two days before the deadline - only for Gauke then to announce his own candidacy as an independent.

Based on the voting history in the constituency and with some early canvass data it was clear that there was no scope for tactical voting in S W Herts and Gauke could not win. This was confirmed by the YouGov and Delta constituency polls. That the Liberal Democrats could not win either was irrelevant. The advice from HQ was that without any agreement and with Labour and the Greens continuing to stand, then, as a significant national party, we should not unilaterally withdraw for no benefit, and should maintain a candidate that our supporters could vote for.

For the record, looking up South West Hertfordshire on the site https://tactical.vote/compare showed the recommendations from the five tactical voting sites as follows: tactical.vote, "Not Sure"; Remain United and Best for Britain, both "Independent"; tacticalvote.co.uk and People's Vote, both "None". No consensus there.

In the event Sally Symington bravely stood as our candidate under these difficult circumstances, representing Liberal Democrat values right across the constituency with street events, canvassing and high profile contact opportunities at railway stations and shopping centres. In addition she was supported by national and constituency leaflets and target letters. She meanwhile led several groups of activists to help in St Albans, thus contributing as agreed to our success there on polling day.

The result was quite consistent with earlier predictions, constituency polls and previous electoral history.

South West Hertfordshire GE 2019 Turnout 76.1% Con Majority 14,408

Conservative 30,327; 49.6% (- 8.4%)
Labour Party.. 7,228; 11.8% (-13.9%)
Liberal Dems. 6,251; 10.2% (-1.5%)
Green Party... 1,466; 2.4% (- 0.2%)
Independent. 15,919; 26.1% (+26.0%)

In the event Gauke achieved one percent better than our final prediction, though 85% of the former Conservative voters remained (as usual) loyal to their party. The Labour vote held up better than expected and partly as a consequence the Liberal Democrat vote was a couple of percent less.

We are all very grateful to Sally for her bravery and determination despite the delays and difficulties and in the face of some unjustified communications. Some people with less campaign experience and without access to hard data were understandably influenced by a couple of the tactical voting sites, but some others might perhaps have recognised that their comments to Sally were often unfair and demoralising.

What we need to do now is to put this unhappy campaign behind us, continue to represent our Liberal Democrat values to the electorate, campaign for the coming Police & Crime Commissioner elections and to campaign with others for electoral reform.

Thanks to TheyWorkForYou for voting information.