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The Left Vote
Towards a Parliamentary by-election strategy

by Jim Jepps



Not every by-election has led to a landslide victory for the left in the way Galloway stormed to victory in Bradford. In fact, it’s the only time that’s ever happened so we may want to take a little step back and think about having an actual by-election strategy.

You see playing it by ear doesn’t always go that well. In Eastleigh recently the solid left candidate who put himself forwards for Tusc trailed in with 62 votes, 12th of 13 candidates. Getting beaten by the Elvis Loves Pets AND the Beer, Backy and Fags Party is rarely a sign that the election was a good investment of time and money.

The vote had national repercussions, holing Tusc’s reputation as a project below the water-line and creating the impression that just 0.15% of the electorate is the extent of the “anti-cuts” demographic. It made us all look smaller than we are and if Tusc had not stood in Eastleigh the left news from that night would have been that they had seized a parish council seat. Not the Winter Palace perhaps but better than a poke in the eye with a sharp vote. All credit to the fine young candidate who made it happen (right).


Step one: should we stand?

We have to recognise that anything less than an astonishing vote in a high profile by-election will not be remembered by anyone outside the political class or those who live in the town by the time the week is over, but a crushing defeat will define your organisation’s narrative. A modest success may help you build locally, but will you get one? All I ask is you ask yourself that question properly.

The Greens have been picking and choosing the by-elections they stand in, which means they neatly side stepped Tusc’s humiliation, and of all the recent by-elections they have stood in they have increased their vote if they have run their before, or used the election strategically to  found a local branch. They’ve not had a single by-election failure this year.

Standing in a Parliamentary by-election when there is nothing to be gained is a waste of good shoe leather. Electorally it’s better to spend the money on thoroughly leafleting one “target” ward fighting to save a service under threat (for example), building a long term reputation people can respect. Don’t play at national politics only to be subjected to the cruel titters of children.

So that’s step one – make a cool-headed assessment of whether standing in the by-election is the best use of your time and money. Are you already established enough to be noticed among the dozen characters these side-shows inevitably attract? Can you deliver a meaningful campaign? Do you have any evidence that you will get your deposit back? Do you have a clear, achievable goal and will a poor result set reaching that goal back?

Don’t think local library campaigners will thank you for associating their campaign with a derisory result. They will hate you for making them looking unpopular. Spend the money harassing the candidates demanding *they* support the library. Those campaigners will thank you for it.


Step two: reconsider your decision

You’ve decided that yes, standing a candidate is good way to make your political mark. Step two is reconsider your decision; everything you have told yourself is a lie. The voters have not heard of you and you are in no position to “do a Galloway”.

Every sense in your body is telling you that you “must” run. That is because your body hates you and seeks every opportunity to humiliate you. Do not listen to it.

Draw up a list of the evidence.

  • How well known is our candidate? Are they a serving councillor or the ex-MP?
  • How much money can we afford to throw at this campaign? Is it enough?
  • How many activists / activist hours can we rely on over the by-election period?
  • Do we have the skills to create a campaign that looks viable?
  • Can those in the area who are not part of making this decision reasonably be expected to support our candidate?

Then ask yourself – based on this *evidence* would it be possible to convince a robot that your campaign could make a difference, and if so what difference?

If your evidence amounts to “we are in a pre-revolutionary situation” and “Frank’s been deputy chair of the Trades Council for four years now” then I shall pray for your souls as you set out into choppy political waters.


Step three: coping with defeat

I told you not to do it!

The fact is by-elections can be opportunities for the left (as George Galloway showed with such incredible chutzpah last year) but they are opportunities to go backwards as well as forwards, so we need to be honest with ourselves when deciding whether to run or not. Telling ourselves it was a good result doesn’t cut it, especially if what we thought a good result would look like before the election bears little to no relation to what you’re calling a good result now.

You need to move on and forget it ever happened. We all make mistakes, don’t let this error stop you campaigning against climate change, job losses and sexism. By-elections can seem incredibly important when they come up but it’s all tomorrow’s chip paper – don’t crush your local group on such an unforgiving wheel.

2 Responses to Towards a Parliamentary by-election strategy

  1. South Shields – candidate throws his hat into the ring.

    “The Independent Socialist Party” was registered last week with the Electoral Commission. It’s address is in South Shields and its leader is given as a Ms Gillian Griffiths.

    The Shields Gazette

    Whistleblower in running for Miliband seat

    IN THE RACE … Phil Brown is standing in South Shields By-election for the Independent Socialist Party.

    Published on 23/04/2013 16:00

    A MAN who blew the whistle on poor care for the elderly at a South Shields nursing home wants to be the town’s next MP.

    Phil Brown has thrown his hat into the ring to contest the May 2 by-election.

    The 58-year-old will be representing the Independent Socialist Party as voters go to the polls to elect David Miliband’s replacement.

    Born and raised in Horsley Hill, South Shields, Mr Brown is the son of former Mayor of South Tyneside Kathy Brown.

    He was also the man behind the coastal marking scheme along the cliff tops, which has helped assist sea rescue attempts by people using the emergency markers to accurately pinpoint the scene of an accident.

    In 2005, he also blew the whistle on failings in care given to residents of privately owned Bamburgh Court Care Home in South Shields.

    Mr Brown, a nurse with the NHS for the past 35 years, said: “My track record speaks for itself. I care not only about South Shields as a town but also the people who live here.

    “Throughout my life I have shown true commitment to the town, its people and the safety of those people.”

    The former Territorial Army officer says, if elected, he will defend the NHS as one of his main priorities including fighting for the return of the long-stay Children’s Ward at South Tyneside District Hospital.

    Mr Brown, of Leafield Crescent, South Shields, added: “I firmly believe in defending the NHS. And I want to see a return of children’s ward at the hospital.

    “I was against the plans then and I want to get it back in South Shields.

    “I also want to see more help and support given to rehabilitate our armed forces personnel when they come back from active duty or re-entering the civilian community.”

    Other issues close to Mr Brown’s heart include campaigning for more apprenticeships and better jobs for the young people of the borough.

    Mr Brown is one of nine people hoping to secure the seat which has been left vacant by Mr Miliband

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