By James Dixon
Winning the Oldham East and Saddleworth and Barnsley Central by-elections was very satisfying. Watching the Tories deliberately sabotage their campaign in OES and the Lib Dems lose their deposit in Barnsley made it all the more so.
However, the problem with OES and Barnsley Central is that we aren’t exactly proud of the circumstances triggering these by-elections. Both contests were caused by dishonesty from sitting Labour MPs. It’s hard to take the fight to the government during these by-elections without drawing attention to why there was a need for by-elections.
There is soon to be another by-election that we can be slightly more vociferous about though. Sir Peter Soulsby MP (Leicester South) is the local Labour Party’s candidate for Mayor of Leicester, and both that election and the by-election to replace him at Westminster will be held on the same day.
In 2004, the Lib Dems (led by Charles Kennedy) capitalised on dissatisfaction with Labour over Iraq and tuition fees to win the by-election after the death of Jim Marshall. Now we have an opportunity to make a direct comparison between Nick Clegg in 2011 and one of the high points of Kennedy’s time as Lib Dem leader.
There are opportunities in Leicester South that were not available in OES or Barnsley Central. The public associate the Lib Dems in government with their broken promises on student fees, and while it was an issue in OES it was not given the prominence that it would have been had the seat contained a university.
Leicester South contains two universities (De Montfort University and University of Leicester) and has a very high student population, which previously the Lib Dems have used to their favour, but whom are now extremely angry with their u-turn on student fees.
What better way to focus the minds of the electorate on a poisonous issue for the Lib Dems, the media could go to the De Montfort campus where Nick Clegg gave a speech on April 30th in the last week of the general election campaign, run B-roll of Parmjit Singh Gill winning Leicester South in 2004 and ask why the Lib Dems are set to be routed in by-election that they won just a few years ago?
The local Labour Party is strong – it was the only council that Labour gained at the 2007 Local Elections – and the Lib Dems have been in disarray locally since a brief period of power sharing on the city council with the Conservatives that actually split the local Lib Dems in two and destroyed its activist base. Hopefully, an omen for the national political scene
Select the right candidate here, one who is credible with both the student and more established local communities and they will not only win, but act as a crucible to focus the whole country’s minds on one of the most shameful broken promises in British political history.