I didn’t make it to Bromley and while doubtless a couple of visits would have eaten a little into the Tories’ precarious majority I refuse to feel guilty about it. After the local elections in Watford, followed immediately by a council by-election, I needed to restore some order to the other bits of my life and just had to sit this one out.
While it was clearly a very good result, I share some of James Graham's reservations about what I understand of the party’s campaign. Don’t get me wrong, I have no sympathy at all for the Tories, since the tactics they complain of are ones that they are quite happy to use themselves.
But I do get irritated by Lib Dems scaremongering about crime, especially as at national level we are very critical of this sort of thing when it comes from Labour and the Tories. I despair at the way party campaigners sometimes don’t realise how such things actually undermine the values we are supposedly fighting for.
Just to be clear, according to our constitution preamble, Lib Dems don’t want people to be ‘enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity’. Saying that people are afraid to go out at night without pointing out that such fears are usually unjustified entirely contradicts this principle.
There are very few areas where it really is unsafe to go out at night because the risk of being attacked is unacceptably high. Telling the vulnerable that they really ought to stay in because the streets aren’t safe is encouraging a form of voluntary enslavement.
More than that, it creates a vicious circle where people drive rather than walk because they feel safer in their car, which becomes a kind of armoured personnel carrier. If there were more people out and about on foot in the evenings, this would create a positive feeling of safety in numbers.
In Watford we have gone out of our way to campaign against unnecessary fear of crime, to reassure people that it is safe to go out at night and to explain that crime levels are actually lower than people often imagine. More than that we have taken the other parties to task for implying that nowhere is safe unless it has CCTV and round-the-clock police presence.
There is a real danger that those involved in the thick of an election campaign are carried along by the thrill of the chase and fail to spot how short-term tactics undermine the cause that we are supposedly fighting for. After the Tower Hamlets controversy of 10 years or so ago, I am sure that the by-election team would be very sensitive to avoid any hint of racism in our campaigns. But they need to be more aware of the other ways in which we can end up pandering to illiberal sentiments if we are not careful.