Many Liberal Democrats will find themselves unable to wipe the smile from their face after last night’s excellent victory in the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election.
In the last week or so, when I heard of just how much was being put into the campaign, I did begin to think that this was a lot of effort just to make sure of coming second, but I doubt whether any of us who didn’t get to Dunfermline actually believed we could win. This is a sparkling return to form for the Lib Dem by-election team after the disappointment of Hartlepool. Willie Rennie is a thoroughly good thing and has the right knowledge and experience to be able to build on the victory and have a long tenure as MP.
The real reason, though, that a bit of gloating is in order is the glib way in which opponents and media confused our ephemeral embarrassments with long-term decline – see for example Iain Dale’s 28 January posting on his blog.
Sex scandals and the like are fun for opponents and uncomfortable for supporters of the party who see one of their leading figures exposed in the tabloids. But they don’t last and appear to have little impact on the voters.
At first glance, Labour are the main losers from Dunfermline and West Fife, but in fact the Tories finishing fourth have most to worry about. The Conservatives have yet to put in a convincing by-election performance as the main opposition party. Since Labour took power, the Lib Dems have had three by-election gains from Labour, one from the Tories and two near misses. No one would seriously have expected the Conservatives to win this seat, but for a party that seriously hopes to win the next general election, the least they would have wanted was significant swing in their direction, perhaps overtaking the SNP and/or us.
Unlike in 1970 and 1979, the voters getting tired of Labour isn’t going to mean victory falls into the Conservatives’ laps. All the more reason for Lib Dems to take the battle to both of them.