Less than 18 months ago Tower Hamlets was seen as a ‘black hole’, one of the no-go areas for the Lib Dems. Sadly this is a mindset that has been persistent throughout the Lib Dems in all my 10 and a half years as a member. Fast forward to now, and Tower Hamlets is held up as a beacon of how to turn things around and includes one of the party’s top target Parliamentary seats.

Whilst it hasn’t been easy there have been some key, relatively simple things that we’ve done to make progress and to move the mindset locally from “this is impossible” to “it’s just a case of when”.

The first has been about being brave and changing the mindset about “no go” areas. Wards that we were told would never vote Lib Dem had actually never been asked. I’m still shocked that in some places people won’t go and knock on council houses because apparently “they aren’t our people”. We definitely haven’t found this to be the case in Tower Hamlets. From a London perspective, it’s a foolish way to approach things as people move so often. At one point in Tower Hamlets 25% the electoral roll would change every time a new one was issued.

My other issue with “no go” areas is that for us to be in majority government we absolute have to win in places like Poplar & Limehouse and other areas that we dismiss as ‘not our territory’. Poplar and Limehouse is a passion project of mine partly for this reason but also because it’s in these areas that people need Lib Dems the most. Every time we write-off an area we write-off the people in it and that’s not a narrative we should be signed up to.

We no longer talk about paper candidates – particularly if there is a by-election. We are clear with everyone that every election is to build more support and to practice techniques. We may not win this time but we are always building towards that end goal of taking a seat. People join the party because they’re passionate about making a difference. In Tower Hamlets we make sure that people know they can do that wherever they are in the borough.

From a logistics point of view, we’ve managed to change things by being ruthlessly organised. My day job is project management, so I’m treating taking the Poplar & Limehouse parliamentary seat like a project. We have particular things that we monitor like voter contact; number of members; delivery network coverage so we can see how we’re progressing. We also meet once a fortnight as an Exec to make sure we can react quickly to events and we’re in constant contact with social media.

In terms of support we need financial and staff support. It’s frustrating that the party will put money into seats that at one point looked hopeful but that have no team and are moving backwards. We’re building in exactly the type of seat that we need to win if we’re going to win a majority government in the next decade – we are the team the party should be supporting. It’s great that there has been a shift towards us with the selection of top seats and hopefully this will be backed up with finance and staff.

I know many of the new members that joined after the 2015 election and the ones we’re meeting now post EU referendum appreciate this as an approach. We get people from across London coming to help us because we’re seen to be running a dynamic campaign where people know they’re making a difference and they can learn skills to take back to their own “no hope” places. I’m hoping our story inspires people across the country to be brave and to aim high. It’s only when we’re elected that we can make a difference to the people that need it most.

Originally posted 25 July 2016.


Elaine Bagshaw was the Assembly Candidate for City and East Constituency in the 2016 London Assembly Elections and is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Poplar and Limehouse. You can follow her on Twitter at @esbagshaw


LibDem Expand aims to build a ‘650 seat strategy’ for the Liberal Democrats, with no ‘no go areas’ and a message for every voter. Be part of the campaign. Subscribe to our updates, donate, or join.

3 thoughts on “Turning things around in Tower Hamlets

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