For the second week in a row, there’s only one by-election contest, and for the second week in a row there’s no Liberal Democrat candidate:
The score so far this year therefore is two spectacular gains and two no-shows for the Liberal Democrats.
It’s always wise to be cautious about criticising the absence of a Liberal Democrat candidate in any specific individual contest unless you know the exact circumstance behind the absence of a candidate. Overall, however, not putting up candidates is bad for the party.
Bad because every voter in that by-election gets to see that the Liberal Democrats are not there and risk concluding that the party is weak, doesn’t care about the area or both. Every voter gets to see a ballot paper remember, even though the subsequent by-election result is a much more obscure piece of information given the decline of local media.
Bad because if we want more people to think of themselves as regular, loyal supporters of the party (and we do), then forcing them to vote for someone else is not a good move.
And bad because even the most unwinnable of by-elections is full of opportunities for the party.
What’s more, it’s clear that collectively we don’t put as much effort into getting candidates as we could. Consider how rare it is, for example, to see a Liberal Democrat activist post in a Lib Dem group on Facebook a message such as, “We’d love to put up a candidate in this by-election we’ve got but work, illness and exhaustion means there’s no-one up for getting the 10 signatures. Could anyone come over this weekend and help?” Or have an email go round local parties saying, “We’re looking for someone to stand and are a bit short of volunteers. Could you ask your members if any of them work in our council area and so could stand for us even though they live in your local party?”.
If I were to see such messages regularly, then perhaps it would be fair to say that the party really is trying as hard as it reasonably could to put up candidates. But until then, this is a point that needs repeated pushing.
These by-election results round-ups cover principal authority by-elections. See my post The danger in celebrating parish and town council wins for your own party for the reasons to avoid straying too often into covering town, parish or community council by-elections.