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Leave-voting areas are not ‘no go’ areas

Leave voting areas are not 'no go' areas for the Liberal Democrats.


Liberal Democrat Expand was founded in May 2016, before the European Union Referendum. Does the schism that was revealed between Remain and Leave voting areas challenge the philosophy of ‘A message for every voter’? Are Leave areas ‘no go areas’? On grounds of principle – no. We firmly believe the LibDems should have political representation in all areas of the country so that we can make a difference in people’s lives. How about empirically? Below, Martin Walker (see his previous blog for us on his membership experience here) explores Council by-election results up to February 2017, and finds that Leave voting areas should not be seen as ‘no go areas’.

First published 19 February 2017.

I’m neither a professional statistician nor a professional psephologist, but as a Liberal Democrat living in a fairly heavily pro-Brexit area of the north east (at least it was last June), I am interested in the impact of our increasingly distinctive position on Europe on our fortunes at the ballot box. Specifically, while strongly supporting our policy on Europe, I was interested to know whether there was a risk for us in that there was a glass ceiling for us in each constituency made up of those voters who voted Remain in 2016.

In February 2017 reviewed our performance in Council by-elections over the last couple of months. Since the Richmond Park victory (up until February 19th), there have been 20 Council by-elections where we have fielded a candidate. We’re probably used to seeing, by now, the graphics showing the net gains that we have made in Council by-elections. The results were interesting and encouraging.

I categorised those wards into five categories, based on the referendum vote of the local authorities within which they are situated (as this is all we have to go on at present). I accept that the boundaries are therefore different (to constituencies), but would hope that over the course of 20 by-elections, that would not skew the figures too much. I categorised the wards, on that basis as ‘solid remain’ (those with a 55 – 60% remain vote); ‘marginal remain’ (50-55%); ‘marginal leave’ (45-50%); ‘solid leave’ (40-45%); ‘strong leave’ (35-40%); and ‘heavy leave’ (30-35%). I looked at both net changes in seats, and the change in our votes. A summary of the results is as follows:

Solid Remain Marginal Remain Marginal Leave Solid Leave Strong Leave Heavy Leave
No. of Council

By- Elections

2 1 8 3 3 3
Net LD Gain +1 +1 +3 +1 +1 +1
Net change in LD vote (%) +13.3 +40.2 +14.2 +16.3 +15.0 +22.8


Of course some of these sample sizes are relatively small, but whichever way you cut the figures – for example a straightforward leave v remain split – there is no evidence that I can see of a pattern that we are being negatively impacted in any wards by our position on Europe. In fact, the more I looked at these figures, the more it became clear that not only are we performing well in Council by-elections across the board, including in remain areas.

In no fewer than 9 of the last 20 Council by-elections where we stood a candidate, we have got a higher percentage of the vote (in a multi-horse race), than the remain vote of that constituency in the referendum (in a two-horse race). The roll of honour for those elections is below:

Ward Constituency EU Referendum vote to Remain in the Constituency (%) Liberal Democrat Council By-Election vote (%)
Blackdown Taunton Deane 47.1 71.2
Fairford North Cotswold 48.9 68.1
Binsworth & Catcliffe Rotherham 32.1 66.0
Hedge End Eastleigh 47.5 64.5
Gade Valley Three Rivers 48.7 60.9
Emmbrook Wokingham 56.7 59.7
Waterside North Norfolk 41.1 55.1
Chudleigh Teignbridge 46.0 51.5
Sandhill Sunderland 39.0 45.0


Now of course the electorates in the two elections are not identical – both in the sense that the ward is only one part of the constituency, and in the sense that many people who voted in the referendum will not vote in Council by-elections. Bear in mind, also, that as these were by-elections, there will have no impact (positive or negative for us) of a sitting Councillor’s personal vote.

Nevertheless, the extent to which we are outperforming the remain vote in Council by-elections, across the board, suggests to me that our policy is distinctive and electorally popular. It also shows that we have an increasing number of determined, talented candidates throughout the country who are converting people into voting Liberal Democrat – even in places where that might not be expected. I do not believe that our policy on Europe is a ceiling to any meaningful extent anywhere in the country – it may well, however, be a springboard for us to improve our vote in any seat in the country.

P.S. As Andy Nash helpfully pointed out in the below comment, the available data refers to Local Authorities and not Parliamentary Constituencies. More data can be found here:


By Martin Walker. Find him on twitter @martinwalker721 and make sure to read his previous LibDem Expand piece on his experience as a new member of the party. 

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.


4 comments on “Leave-voting areas are not ‘no go’ areas

  1. Andy Nash

    Completely agree with this assessment.

    Small but significant correction though:

    The results we know are for local authorities not constituencies. In some areas these are the same thing, but I think more often they are not.

    That said, we do know quite a few ward-level results including for wards like Brinsworth in Rotherham mentioned above, due to FOI requests (not all authorities have this data due the the way they counted – Sheffield next door for example):

    You may be able to refine your article above with this data, though I am sure the conclusion will be the same!


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