Sixth place in the Barnsley by-election is not a good look, no denying it. It is upsetting to come behind hate-fuelled racists like the BNP. But for that sort of seat, in a Labour heartland, last night's result was pretty much par for the course.
For the sake of completeness, thanks to the BBC, here is the full result:
- Dan Jarvis (Lab) 14,724
- Jane Collins (UKIP) 2,953
- James Hockney (C) 1,999
- Enis Dalton (BNP) 1,463
- Tony Devoy (Ind) 1,266
- Dominic Carman (LD) 1,012
- Kevin Riddiough (Eng Dem) 544
- Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 198
- Michael Val Davies (Ind) 60
Lab maj 11,771: Turnout 36.5%
If this was a seat where we had a strong local party with a strong local government base, I'd be more worried. It was never going to be possible to make much of an impact in 3 weeks from a virtually standing start. In the by-elections where we do well, it's not the efforts of the circus that rolls into town that makes victory possible, it's the foot slogging, leaflet delivery, diligent casework, campaigning on local issues over years. Those people don't often get the glory in the wake of a stunning result, but they deserve it. Take Dunfermline, if it hadn't been for the work of people like Jim Tolson, Tony Martin, Jim Burke and Teresa Little over the years, Willie Rennie would have had nothing to build on.
Looking back, there are plenty results from times when we were doing pretty well in the national polls when we did worse in by-elections. We came sixth in the Glasgow North East by-election in November 2009, with half the vote that Dominic Carman managed to attract yesterday. We'd also had some sub 3% results in Glenrothes and Glasgow East the previous year. In June 2009, we retained our MEP which everyone said we'd lose. In May 2010 Scotland elected 11 Liberal Democrat MPs.
In 1999, Marilyne McLaren came 6th with 3.3 % of the vote in the Hamilton South by-election. In 2001 and 2005 she almost ended up in the House of Commons, coming within 405 votes of Labour in Edinburgh South.
Results like this happen and don't mean much in the scheme of things. Of course, if we had won, I'd be saying that it meant that a Liberal Democrat take-over of the universe was imminent - although it probably would have meant that, to be honest. We never stood a chance. And the party knew that. For Oldham, I was getting several requests for help every day. For Barnsley, nobody ever contacted me and I think that's probably sensible.
The most important thing to remember is that in Council wards all over England and constituencies in Scotland and Wales, our councillors, AMs and MSPs are getting a much warmer reception. We just have to make sure that we do everything we can to support them in the run up to May.