Mike Crockart: Big two are not ready to rule alone

Mike Crockart MP. Picture: Neil Hanna

Mike Crockart MP. Picture: Neil Hanna

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THE story of the Rochester and Strood by-election was never going to be about the Liberal Democrats. At the 2010 General Election, the Liberal Democrats finished third with 16.3 per cent of the vote compared to the Conservative’s 49.2 per cent and Labour’s 28.5 per cent.

This fight should have been a chance for the Labour Party, as the main opposition only six months away from a general election, to set out their stall and make the case for change.

Instead, it highlighted the enormous rift within the Conservative Party and the weak and ineffective alternative provided by Labour.

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The Liberal Democrat candidate, Geoff Juby, and his team fought a spirited campaign in the face of well-funded giants who had everything to prove and more to lose. When you have limited resources you must make the tough decision about where they are best used. Rochester and Strood was not that place.

In contrast, the other parties threw the kitchen sink at it: the Prime Minister visited five times in six weeks, but still nothing could be done to stem the haemorrhage of votes to Ukip.

From 1997 till 2010, the Liberal Democrats won six by-elections, however, these were seats we had worked in for years and built up high levels of trust, fought from a position of opposition rather than government, and which had a serious prospect of victory. This was simply not the case with this by-election.

Now it is over, I hope the attention of the Conservatives and Labour can turn back to the day-to-day work of running the country, but I fear instead we’ll see blame and recrimination on both sides and, who knows, possibly more defections.

The Conservatives threw everything they had at this one and still came up short. Labour were unable to prove they are a viable alternative. With six months to go until a general election, this by-election clearly showed that neither is ready to govern alone. We will continue to concentrate on creating a stronger economy and a fairer society. Only we can be trusted to do both.

• Mike Crockart is the Lib Dem MP for Edinburgh West

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