The electoral challenge of the Budget for Liberal Democrats

In amongst the details of the 2016 Budget was the creation of another round of directly elected Mayors. Not only directly elected, but also for large geographic areas.

These are contests unlikely to get Liberal Democrats excited as it’s a very different sort of devolution from the one the party believes in. It’s also the case that elections over wider geographic areas tend to be more of a struggle for the party and generate less enthusiasm for grassroots activity.

The risk, therefore, is that there is an increasing number of elected posts – with power and budgets – knocking around which the party lacks the enthusiasm and approach to fight seriously.

Yet there is also a huge opportunity here.

A wider range of elections provides a wider range of potential career paths through the party – which is no bad thing when we’re looking to involve more people and a greater diversity of people.

More contests over larger geographic areas gives more opportunities to learn better how to do this well.

Another set of elections provides another set of opportunities to turn occasional supporters of the party into long-term loyal supporters (or, in the absence of a Lib Dem candidate to say to them: ‘sorry, we refuse to let you be a regular supporter; instead you must vote for someone else’).

And winning more of these posts will not only apply more political power to the cause of liberalism, it will also help the party in future elections at other levels too.


Paul Holmes
Paul Holmes

Mark is a former Campaigns Officer and a member in London where our Party has its largest single concentration of members, money and paid Campaigns staff. Could he use this depth of experience to tell us what lessons he has in fact learned about how to better fight FPTP elections over a single very large electoral area? How did we do so far in the previous three London Mayoral elections and what have we learned that is thereby improving our performance in the current one? Also what did we learn from the imposition of the 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (covering 11 Parliamentary Constituencies at once in my area) that has informed and transformed our ability to fight them this year?

Lets also remember that George Osborne, having seen the vast majority of local Referendums on having elected Mayors reject the idea, is now undemocratically imposing them without any meaningful consultation whatsoever. These super City Mayors will be elected under FPTP for very large electorates over very large areas (not just a single city) with no 'safety net' of electing Assembly Members by PR as a 'consolation' prize as in London.So I find it hard to see what 'alternative career structure' Mark is proposing for LD candidates since 'career' implies actually getting elected and so having a job. For minor parties being selected as a candidate is not remotely the same thing as getting elected and in FPTP elections on such a massive scale even less so.

Long ago I ran two such large FPTP elections for the 1989 Sheffield/North Derbyshire Euro seat (covering 8 Parliamentary Constituencies) and for the similar 1994 North Derbyshire/Notts Euro Constituency.In each case we had a good (in very different ways) candidate, one male and one female. In each case the candidate did not have the remotest chance of winning not least because across some quarter of a million households the pockets of Lib Dem activity and strength were far outweighed by the near absence of such things in the majority of areas. Although our 1989 candidate, who was very well known in his Chesterfield Westminster Constituency, at least manged to be one of only half a dozen Euro Lib Dem candidates across the UK to even save their deposit that year.

The proposed/imposed Sheffield City Region Mayor for May 2017 is not even just on the scale of the 1989 Euro seat but includes other South Yorkshire Cities which, when I grew up in Sheffield and through to the Thatcher Years, were collectively known as the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire. Or take the proposed Nottingham/Derby City Region Mayor covering not just two different cities but potentially a vast hinterland of Shire Boroughs and Districts too.I know from experience how to run and win Lib Dem elections in areas of up to 40,000 households (PS it's not easy to do), but please Mark, instead of hinting at 'new ways of doing so' on a much larger scale, tell us what they are.


It looks to me that we should waste no time in getting to grips with this future opportunity

Comment moderation policy