Edition #57 of Liberal Democrat Newswire came out last week, looking at why the TV debates will be on the wrong dates, who should you bet on to be next party leader and more.
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Welcome to the 57th edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire which this time kicks off with the 10 key people for the Liberal Democrats in a hung Parliament who no-one is currently talking about, takes a look at possible next leaders and also includes news on the party’s most successful direct fundraising campaign.
As ever I hope you enjoy reading Liberal Democrat Newswire, and do let me know what you think.
Back in March last year Nick Clegg announced his negotiating team in the event of another hung Parliament. The creation of such a team was not a novelty, though making its membership public was an innovation.
One of its five members has now resigned. While Danny Alexander, Lynne Featherstone, David Laws and Steve Webb are all still in place, Sal Brinton stood down after being elected Party President. This was because she felt being in the negotiating team would be a conflict of interest with her role as Party President in overseeing consultation with party members on the outcome of any such negotiation.
Despite the smallness of the team and the proximity of the election, not to mention the need for a modicum of sensible preparation by any team member, no replacement has yet been announced and nor are there noises about it being any day now.
(The rules for the negotiating team, by the way, require “due regard to diversity”, which would be hard to square with not replacing Sal Brinton.)
However, there are also another nine vacancies in key posts elsewhere related to any hung Parliament.
Earlier in the Parliament the party reformed its ‘triple lock’ process (which confusingly involved four steps) following the experience of 2010. One of the changes was to create a reference group of nine to be a sounding board during hung Parliament negotiations:
There shall be a reference group consisting of not more than nine people (none of whom shall be members of the negotiating team) appointed equally by (i) the Federal Policy Committee (ii) the Federal Executive and (iii) the Westminster Parliamentary Parties [i.e. MPs and peers] … The negotiating team shall report regularly to the Leader and the reference group, and shall have regard to their respective views.
Nine key people, none of whom have yet been selected but who will play a key role when they are. Which makes the considerable quiet over any of the selections rather out of kilter with their potential importance.
Debate has raged over who should debate in the TV debates, but the timing of them has (once again) been almost totally neglected, which also means that (once again) the dates of them will be wrong.
It isn’t just the TV debates that have a problem. Pretty much the whole of the media’s coverage of elections, not to mention civic society’s engagement with the elections and more, is geared around the idea that people voting on polling day itself.
In increasing numbers they don’t. Seven million postal votes were issued in 2010 and the number is looking set to be even high this time round.
Not only are postal voters increasingly numerous, they also vote increasingly early as those administering elections have grown more and more keen to send out postal votes as promptly as possible given the administrative burdens involved in processing returned ballots (especially since the welcome introduction of the need to check security information on all returned postal ballots rather than on just a sample).
This time round, soundings with electoral returning officers show that most are going to start sending out postal ballots in the week commencing 13 April, weeks before polling day itself.
Rather like the frog that does not notice the slowly increasing temperature of the pot it is being cooked in, the long-term, sustained and major increase in postal voting levels has crept up and up and up without any one seismic change – and hence the numbers of people voting well before polling day has still not really been grasped by many who still set the timetables for their activity as if people only vote on polling day.
Grassroots electoral campaigners have long since learnt to run two ‘polling day’ operations but much of the rest of how elections, their coverage and the lobbying of candidates is organised is based on an increasingly antiquated notion of when people vote, with debates, events and coverage galore therefore happening after millions have voted.
Money and volunteers flow into Liberal Democrat HQ
Over £50,000 was raised in just one Saturday – 31st January – by the party’s fundraising operation as the finale of a ‘double your donation’ drive in January.
A group of donors were recruited before Christmas who promised to double the value of donations received during January and the final rush to the deadline capped a fundraising drive which brought in £300,000: a very large sum by the party’s standards (though somewhat modest by the standards of the mammoth donations Labour and the Tories pick up from select individuals).
This was the party’s most successful direct fundraising operation ever, beating even that run for the Eastleigh by-election.
It isn’t only money that has been flowing in. So too have volunteers, especially for the Tuesday night volunteer sessions (a regular participant at which is a certain Mr. Clegg, whose diary has been cleared of several other Tuesday engagements as he enjoyed taking part so much). As a result, the pressure on space is now so great that the party is having to look at taking on extra office space to cope with the influx of help.
Importantly for the party’s long run health, membership is also continuing to grow – up for the 6th quarter in a row when the figures came out for the end of 2014. Moreover, 78% of party members are now on direct debit or recurring credit/debit card payments. This high proportion of automatic renewals marks major progress in improving the party’s membership systems and means that efforts can be concentrated on serious waverers and recruiting new members, rather than having to be eaten up sorting out payments from people who want to renew but just haven’t quite done so yet.
To find out more about what’s happening at party HQ, watch this tour round the place with Paddy Ashdown:
Key party posts filled in new elections
I nearly wrote “New people elected…” but it was hardly a tsunami of new faces in the recent elections by the Federal Executive to fill a set of party posts. Incumbents and highly familiar white, male faces were more the order of the day.
That said, there are no incumbents back who I would have sacked if handed dictatorial powers for the day, and new FE Deputy Chair Neil Fawcett is very good on how the party needs to strengthen its grassroots organisation. It is, however, also a reminder of how the party’s drive to improve its diversity needs to work on both public office and party office.
Those elected were:
Federal Executive (FE) Deputy Chair: Neil Fawcett
Federal Finance and Administration Committee Chair: Peter Dunphy
Party Treasurer: Ian Wrigglesworth
Campaigns and Communications Committee Chair: James Gurling
International Relations Committee Chair: Robert Woodthorpe-Browne
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The latter features more chocolate and less Nick Clegg than the former.
Another cracking video highlighting Lynne Featherstone’s work for her constituents, this time making Alexandra Palace train station accessible for everyone:
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Who should you bet on for next party leader?
As Mike Smithson often points out, the key to successful political betting is to identify those occasions where the odds of something happening are significantly different from the odds that bookies will offer you. Those are the value bets: where the event you are betting on has a greater chance of happening than the odds offered to you imply. You won’t win all your value betters but in the long run, value bets make you a profit.
So what’s the value bet for Liberal Democrat leader? Tim Farron is consistently the bookies’ favourite, at around evens. He’s certainly got a good chance of winning, but he’s not such a shoe-in as to make betting on him an obvious value bet.
The answer isn’t, either, the favourite of much media speculation Danny Alexander. Liberal Democrat members consistently rate him poorly compared to ministerial colleagues in the Lib Dem Voice member surveys, and other indicators – such as attendance and applause at his conference speeches – are good but not so good as to suggest those surveys are all wrong. The odds offered on him are not generous enough to make him a value bet, especially given the Ashcroft poll in his seat showing a tough fight.
Instead, for someone whose odds of winning are much better than those the bookies offer, look to Norman Lamb. Past talk of his leadership ambition has sometimes been overstated (his supposed expensive make-over involved actually rather cheap spectacles and a change in how he brushed his hair) but he’s got four major factors in his favour.
First, a large majority with the Tories as the main opposition, making his re-election prospects nearly as good as Tim Farron’s. Second, in fronting the party’s push to get mental health given the priority it deserves in the NHS, he is building up a strong record as an effective minister whilst at the same time doing so on an issue that plays very well with Lib Dem members and the wider public. Third, he has been effective at winning over party activists even when they have been initially hostile to his policy ideas – as happened a few years back with plans for the Royal Mail that conference rejected first time round. That willingness to engage and win over people in the party is important. Fourth, he will be able to line up an impressive list of endorsements from figures who are very popular with party members.
A Farron vs Lamb contest would certainly see Norman Lamb’s ‘Orange Book’ instincts played up and that could cost him the victory. But with odds as good as 8/1 available on him, he’s a stand out value bet.
Also doing well as a value bet is Alistair Carmichael at 20/1. He has ruled out running for leader, but he too has a big majority, a good record in government and significant popularity with figures who would be key endorsers in a contest. He also is more of a social liberal which would make it harder in some ways for him to compete with Tim Farron. But if he used his connections from being Chief Whip to line up a much larger list of MP and ex-MP backers than Tim Farron, that could well give many members pause for thought as to which of the two is the best social liberal to vote for. 20/1 looks good value too.
Others also fancy their chances – notably Ed Davey – but the gap between their chances of success and the odds currently being offered on them don’t make them value bets.
There is another weird category: those for whom the bookies offer non-astronomical odds despite the fact they won’t be an MP after the general election and in two cases aren’t even an MP now. Even at 33/1 it’s throwing money away placing a bet on David Howarth being the next party leader. Nor does 100/1 tempt me to bet on Chris Huhne being the next leader.
All the usual disclaimers about not blaming me if you place any bets apply and the odds were correct at the time of writing. The best odds available on different people are not all from the same bookmaker.
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Kicked out by the Liberal Democrats, who have selected Gerald Vernon-Jackson to stand in Portsmouth South instead, the disgraced MP has been floating the idea of restanding in May.
There are, as Stephen Tall pointed out, almost 33,000 reasons why he might go through the even greater public humiliation and certain defeat that would follow putting his name on the ballot paper. MPs get a much better financial deal if they stand and lose than if they retire. In his case, it’ll be almost £33,000, of which the first £30,000 is tax free.
Unlocking Liberalism: a new book
A new collection of essays about the party’s future, Unlocking Liberalism – Life after the Coalition, has just been published, featuring contributions from David Steel, Graham Watson, Prateek Buch and The Equality Trust among others.
It argues the party needs to focus on its radical, challenging roots – rather than looking comfortable with taking up power in the established systems.
Many thanks to everyone who took part in my Readers’ Survey 2015. I’m still digesting all the results and the many really useful comments made. My favourite so far is, “We don’t have anything like this in Canada”. Which is good, I think… You can still take part in the survey here.
The winner in the prize draw for a signed copy of Vince Cable’s excellent memoirs, Free Radical, is Edward Reach. Congratulations Edward!
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