We lost. For the record, we got 537 votes, LibDems were on 576 and Labour 36.
I shall not pretend that this was anything other than a bad result, because it was. And without any hesitation I congratulate Barbara McGoun on her victory. I have just emailed her to do just that.
However, some of the hysterical postings I have just read about translating this result into a General Election Result in North Norfolk are so extreme as to be laughable. Feel free to write me off and indulge in complacency! For the record, here are some thoughts which people should bear in mind...
1. We underestimated the popularity in Horning of Barbara McGoun herself. Our candidate lives in Neatishead and it was clear from the ballot boxes (so I am informed) that we won overwhelmingly in Neatishead and Barton Turf, but they made up only about than a third of the total vote I think.
2. The LibDems and Norman Lamb have done no campaigning at all in the rest of the constituency for a month and have poured everything into this. For the by-election this obviously worked, but I would question whether in the long term it was wise.
3. I had about a dozen people tell me personally yesterday that they would vote for Barbara but they were Conservatives and would vote for me in the General Election - indeed one of her tellers told me that! We encountered this quite a lot during canvassing in Horning during the campaign. We could have countered this by running a more negative campaign but we didn't.
4. Virtually all the LibDem tellers and knocker uppers yesterday were from outside North Norfolk. They cannot possibly hope to replicate this in a General Election over the whole constituency. If I were Norman Lamb this is something I would find deeply worrying.
For the record, here's a statement I have just issued to the press.
“I congratulate Barbara McGoun on a truly stunning personal victory. Barbara’s strong personal following in Horning, where the majority of voters in the ward live, outnumbered Chris How’s personal vote in the smaller villages of Neatishead and Barton Turf. A significant number of people told me yesterday that while they would vote for Barbara in a local election they would still be voting Conservative at the General Election. That doesn’t alter the fact that we lost a seat we should have retained. Chris How fought a totally straight campaign on the issues, while the LibDems indulged in their usual by-election dodgy graphs and spurious claims. This is a wake-up call to those of us planning the General Election campaign and I am reflecting on the lessons to be learned. My campaign will continue to concentrate on issues which matter to local people like hospital beds, better schools, higher pensions and lower council tax but we also need to make people aware of the Liberal Democrats’ damaging and irresponsible policies on crime and tax in a clearer and more focussed way. I intend to ensure we do just that.”