By-Election Analysis: Witney

By Joe Young - Politics Editor

Image: BBC

So now the dust has settled.

Robert Courts, the Conservative candidate, won with 45% of the vote. Next came Liberal Democrat Liz Leffman, with 30.2% of the vote – up from the 6.8% her party achieved in the 2015 General Election. We’ve graphed this in the most visually impactful way we could, to show you the difference in vote shares:

Image: Pulse Media
Image: Pulse Media

As can be seen, the every party aside from the Liberal Democrats had their vote share reduce – with the Conservatives losing a massive 15%. UKIP lost their deposit – meaning they won less than 5% of the vote.

So what happened?

Pulse Politics believe that it was a combination of three factors:

  1. West Oxfordshire (coterminous with Witney) voted Remain
  2. Robert Courts did not have the support of many Conservative campaigners
  3. The Liberal Democrats are infamous for the way they run by-elections

West Oxfordshire voted Remain

With a healthy 7.4% majority for Remain, West Oxfordshire can be called a pro-EU district. In fact, the entirety of Oxfordshire voted Remain  – Oxford, South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse, and West Oxfordshire. So coupled with Prime Minister Theresa May (CON – Maidenhead)’s hard Brexit stance, lots of Conservative voters voted Liberal Democrat, who have always been unequivocally pro-Europe.

Robert Courts did not have the support of many Conservative campaigners

As a candidate who voted Leave, and who was aggressive in his campaigning tactics (or so reports claim), Courts was climbing an uphill struggle. In fact, a Conservative member of the Local Government Association told Pulse Politics:

“We’d have done better if [Robert Courts] wasn’t such a poor candidate.”

And a local source saying:

“The campaigning techniques he used are too American – the literature was patronising, and one evening I was down there, I saw six members of Conservative Future [the Tory youth wing] huddled on a doorstep, canvassing one woman, the poor thing! It just didn’t work.”

The Liberal Democrats are infamous for the way they run by-elections

As a party, the Lib Dems have always been known for the way they barrage a constituency with activists. Supporters came from all across the country, from Cornwall to the Highlands, to lend their support to their candidate. Sources tell Pulse Politics that on Polling Day, over 400 activists were in the constituency, and over 13,000 phone calls were made from outside of it.

In a Conservative-facing constituency, the Lib Dems can hoover up their votes – the last time a swing of 19.3% from CON to LIB was recorded, the Lib Dems took the constituency.


A single one of these things alone would be something that could be dealt with. But although the seat is safe enough to not cause the Conservatives any real worry, the combination of factors led to this swing against the Government.

Could this be replicated? Well, with the possibility of an impending by-election in once Lib Dem held Richmond Park, it’s a distinct possibility.

About Joe Young 316 Articles
Joe Young has been involved with student media for a very long time now, holding posts within The Pulse, and Pulse Radio, as well as the predecessor of The Pulse, Pluto. He is currently Politics Editor of The Pulse, and Head of News of Pulse Radio. In 2016, he won the Media Award for Best Article for his coverage of the Fishergate Shopping Centre bomb scare.

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