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Reflections on Sleaford

December 11, 2016 4:02 PM
By Anita Day in Postcard from a Lincolnshire Liberal
Originally published by South Lincolnshire Liberal Democrats

Anita DayThis is the next of a series of postcards which Anita Day, Parliamentary Spokesperson for Grantham and Stamford has written to members and supporters

Last week's by-election in Sleaford & North Hykeham was very important for Lib Dems in Lincolnshire. True, the Tories won the seat easily… and in the end we were beaten into third place by UKIP. But those headlines conceal some really positive signs. Bearing in mind that the constituency was one which strongly voted Leave, the Lib Dems were the only major party to increase their vote share (by over 5%). Compare that to the Tories and UKIP, who both lost more than 2% vote share, and Labour whose share of the vote fell by over 7% and who were pushed into 4th place. This was a constituency in which, on paper, we shouldn't have had any hope… and yet we were the only party for which support rose!

So what can we in South Lincs learn from their experience?:

  • They were a small and underfunded local party, who were ill-prepared to run a by-election when it was called. And yet with the support of the national party, and the excellent Ed Fordham (campaign manager) and Ian Horner (election agent), they were able to mobilise a strong team from across the country to help them. For example, many of us here in South Lincs donated money. Some of us took to the telephones to canvass for them, or did admin work remotely. And a few of us volunteered in person… even sometimes when common sense would have suggested that we shouldn't have done (eg Ian Smith was stuffing envelopes at 1am just 9 hrs before a job interview! And on one memorable day last week, I had been in London working all day, rushed home and drove to Stamford Arts Centre as I was a volunteer steward that evening for Shoestring's production of Arnold Wesker's Roots, then dropped my husband at home before driving to Sleaford to do 2hrs of envelope stuffing… I finally got home at 3am, with work starting the next morning at 9am!) It was insanity… exhausting but also exhilarating!
  • On other days, many of us delivered newsletters for them… and although it was cold, foggy, dark and/or wet on the occasions I helped, it did mean I easily smashed my 15,000 steps target on those days, and I felt much more virtuous as I tucked into my first mince pies of the season!
    But the point was that we, and many people from across the country, rolled up our sleeves and got involved…. Partly because we believed in what Ross Pepper was trying to do, but also because the core team made the campaign fun and infectious, and we wanted to be a part of it!
    From what I observed, this was the main thing which made the difference. So… as and when we face a similar challenge, it will be essential that we are able to raise the same levels of enthusiasm and energy to 'draw people in' to help us too!
  • The team in Sleaford also had one massive advantage as regards the location of their campaign HQ. Most campaigns tend to rent/borrow an empty shop from which they run their campaigns…. These are fine, but they are a bit soul-less. In Sleaford, a long-established Lib Dem member, Ada, offered up her home as the base for their HQ. Her dining room became the campaign office; her sitting room was where the troops stuffed envelopes; the team slept in her spare bedrooms and in a caravan in her front garden; and her kitchen became the canteen where there were always between 5 and 40 people milling around, helping themselves to drinks and snacks! And in amongst it all, Ada serenely welcomed everyone, tried to carry on with life as normal around the chaos, and cooked casseroles in her slow cooker so that there was hot food available in the evenings for those staying overnight! It was an incredibly generous thing for her to do, but it also set the tone for the campaign perfectly. As you walked through the door, you felt you were visiting friends, and there was always the sound of chatter and laughter coming from multiple rooms. And it also enabled the office to operate 24 hrs a day…. Ada would go to bed, but the team would carry on all through the night (but more quietly, so as not to disturb her), and retire upstairs periodically when even they got tired!
  • I visited Ada last on Thursday night, after the campaign team had left for the count in Lincoln, and I helped her bag up all the uneaten food (people had helped the campaign by sending Sainsbury & Tesco deliveries to help feed the troops, and not all the food had been eaten) so that it could be delivered to the local Foodbank the next morning. She was as calm and serene as she had been on Day 1, 3 weeks before, and told me that it had been fun having everyone there, and that she would miss them when they moved out the next day! She is a very special lady, and it was a privilege to get to know her a little!
  • As for us…. I don't know if we have an 'Ada' somewhere in South Lincs, but it would be wonderful if we could find one! ;-)

And, now that the election is over, my thoughts are starting to turn to Christmas, as I'm sure are yours. We've managed to get the Christmas tree up in the last few days, and last night, I made a strong start in my annual competition with our elder daughter for which of us can be more OCD about the bauble placement.

Last night during Strictly, I managed to make 2 bauble swaps (between dances, obviously) before she even gets home for Christmas! This year, she really doesn't stand a chance! ;-)

Take care, and speak soon


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