Welcome to the 60th edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire which sports a new logo and amongst other stories looks at how the Liberal Democrat campaign is going in marginal seats, the collapse of Labour’s organisation in Scotland and who has filled a set of key Lib Dem party posts.
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In this edition:
Female swing voters targeted by the Lib Dems
Back when I was working for the party and organising constituency polling, the swing voters for the Liberal Democrats were consistently disproportionately female.
With women being the majority of the electorate, it should be no surprise that female voters matter, but swing voters were often two-thirds female.
The picture is similar this time round, as further polling figures released by the party show:
In 18 marginal seats we have polled over the past year, where Liberal Democrats are facing Labour, Conservatives and the SNP, an average of 30.6% of women were undecided in 2014.
In 2015, in the same seats, women who are undecided dropped by 8% to 22.6%. At the same time, support for the Liberal Democrats increased from 15.2% to 24.9% – an increase of 9.7% on average.
The other significance of these figures is that they show the Liberal Democrats winning over a healthy slice of undecided voters. All pollsters have found that a large chunk of the 2010 Lib Dem vote has switched to undecided (and a large part of the difference between pollsters in their Lib Dem ratings is due to how their methodology then treats these undecideds). It’s a key chunk of voters for the party as it is both large in number, especially in target seats, and not been won over by any other party.
Note: the voting figures are without excluding undecideds as the point is to show what has happened to undecided voters. That makes the voting figures lower than the usual headline figures which are calculated excluding undecideds from the percentage calculation.
And what about female candidates?
For this general election the Liberal Democrats have done even better than in 2010 at selecting a more diverse range of candidates – especially women – in target seats, particularly those where an incumbent Lib Dem is retiring.
In fact, in the case of only one retiring Lib Dem MP has the party selected a successor who doesn’t fall into at least one of the categories the party is targeting to increase its diversity.
However, in 2010 promising selections didn’t change the make-up of the Parliamentary Party significantly as so many of them just missed out on winning. If a big shift towards diversity again doesn’t materialise in 2015, there is likely to be a return to the party’s previous debates over whether to introduce quotas or other additional procedural measures beyond the current rather modest step of giving an edge in shortlisting to people from the party’s Leadership Programme (which focuses on increasing diversity).
Nick Clegg is the latest senior Liberal Democrat figure to make noises in this direction, following Norman Lamb’s own recent comments (as reported in Liberal Democrat Newswire #59). Nick Clegg’s comments were made to Mumsnet:
The deputy leader, speaking at a Mumsnet question and answer session, revealed that greater female and ethnic minority representation “matters massively” to him.
The Liberal Democrat leader also explained that his party had implemented measures to boost diversity, but he would support the introduction of quotas if the situation does not improve.
What odds a referendum super-Thursday in 2017?
In the hung Parliament talks in 2010, a referendum was central to unsticking the issue on which the parties seemed furthest apart: voting reform for the Commons. In the end, the Tories were willing to stomach a referendum and Labour’s idea of limited instant electoral reform without a referendum wasn’t a runner.
If, as seems extremely likely, 2015 brings another hung Parliament then once again a referendum will be central to considerations with Conservative backbenchers giving Cameron very little room for flexibility over demanding an in/out vote on Europe in 2017. Yet a series of senior Liberal Democrat figures, including Tim Farron, Vince Cable and most recently Ed Davey, have voiced increasing opposition to their party allowing such a referendum.
So is that death to any deal with the Tories? Not quite, for two reasons.
First, depending on the maths and state of party leaderships it may well be the case that Lib Dems refusing to deal on a referendum doesn’t stop it happening. How many Labour backbenchers, possibly emboldened by Ukip’s vote share and Miliband’s failure to win an overall majority, would rebel and back a referendum, for example, and how many DUP and other votes would be won over by the Tories? Lib Dems refusing a deal because it involves a referendum only to see a referendum happen anyway would be the sort of Pyrrhic political stand that rehabilitates the virtues of pragmatism.
Second, the Tories could look to sweeten the pill for the Lib Dems by offering not one referendum but more than one. A referendum was not required to introduce STV for local council elections in Scotland, so the Liberal Democrats would be unwise to agree to one being needed to reform the local council voting system in England and Wales too. But a referendum on House of Lords reform? That would finally stop the Lords blocking democracy being applied to themselves.
And if that isn’t enough, perhaps a referendum too on party funding reform which also unblocks that long-sought reform too? It’s easy to see the tactical attractions of that to George Osborne, backing Labour into a protracted campaign of defending trade union interests in the face of the impartial advice on funding reform from previous commissions.
The Liberal Democrat experience of making a deal to get a referendum in this Parliament has not been a happy one. But double or quits if the Prime Minister is also campaigning for a yes vote on both Lords and party funding? It may be very tempting.
Liberal Democrats canvassed millionth door this year over the weekend
Over the weekend, the millionth door was knocked on by Liberal Democrat campaigners since the start of the year. Moreover, that’s not including the several hundred thousand phone calls also made.
It is an important part of the party’s attempt to buck the national trend in both key Westminster constituencies and also many local council wards. Two different recent constituency polls (in London and Scotland) have shown the promising prospects for doing just that.
I talked more about those Liberal Democrat constituency polls in an interview with the Polling Matters podcast, which you can listen to here.
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Labour organisation struggles even in Douglas Alexander’s seat
By contrast with the Liberal Democrat activity levels, data about the Labour campaign leaked in January shows just how bad their campaign machinery in Scotland is:
A leaked general election strategy paper shows that activists in fourteen seats, including key SNP targets in Glasgow and Lanarkshire, have been in touch with fewer than 100 voters…
[The] presentation broke down the number of monthly “voter contacts” made recently by local members.
Top of the list was Edinburgh East – deputy leader Kezia Dugdale’s stomping ground – with 825 hits, followed by Midlothian and Kilmarnock and Loudon.
However, over a dozen seats were marked as having “under 100” contacts – a poor return three months before a pivotal election campaign.
These included Glasgow North West, Glasgow South and Glasgow South West, held respectively by John Robertson, Tom Harris and Ian Davidson, and targeted by the Nationalists.
Also in the bottom half of the table were Inverclyde, Central Ayrshire and Labour’s two Paisley seats, one of which is held by shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander.
Four Lanarkshire constituencies – Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, and Lanark and Hamilton East – are also in the “under 100” category.
Even that top of the list number – 825 – is unimpressive by the standards of Liberal Democrat target seat activity levels whilst Douglas Alexander’s presence in the bottom half of the list is a rather more downbeat reality than his public rhetoric about Labour winning the election on the doorsteps with four million conversations this year.
It is an echo too of how awful the contact rate was in David Miliband’s own constituency. There appears to be an odd inverse relationship between the public importance senior Labour figures give to local contact and their actual record in their own seats.
What The Hell Have The Lib Dems Done?
Freshly updated for the general election campaign, What The Hell Have The Lib Dems Done? takes a saunter through the Liberal Democrat 2010 general election manifesto, highlighting just how much of the manifesto’s content has now become reality.
Do go take a look – and make use of the social media sharing buttons at the foot of each policy listed on the site.
(Likewise, do let me know if you spot any other major policies which are missing. It doesn’t try to be a 100% comprehensive list, but I’m always happy to add more significant achievements.)
The name of the site is of course a tribute to this:
Liberal Democrat membership set for eighth quarter of growth in a row
With the end of 2015’s first quarter just around the corner, the Liberal Democrat membership figures are looking up again.
The party is set to end the quarter with a membership back up over 45,000, making it eight quarters in a row of membership growth for the party.
You can join the Liberal Democrats online here.
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Candidate news in a trio of messy seats
In Brent where Ibrahim Taguri has pulled out in the face of allegations over fundraising, Lauren Keith has been selected to be the new Liberal Democrat candidate.
She went for the selection previously and is a local campaigner who has already been working with the Lib Dem team in the area for several years. Retiring MP Sarah Teather said of her selection, “I’m delighted that Lauren has been chosen to be the Lib Dem candidate to succeed me. I know her well and have worked closely with her in Brent for a number of years. Lauren cares passionately about the area and her energy and hard work are exactly what we need in a Member of Parliament.”
Meanwhile, in Ashfield, where Jason Zadrozny has pulled out as the Liberal Democrat candidate after being arrested by the police a replacement candidate is being selected in the next couple of days. Although, being a Labour-held seat, Ashfield was not on many people’s political radars as one to watch, the party’s chances of winning the seat were very good, and even higher than in Brent Central.
Both Ibrahim Taguri and Jason Zadrozny have strongly argued their innocence though neither are likely to have a verdict before polling day.
Finally, in Portsmouth South where – following the expulsion of MP Mike Hancock from the party – Gerald Vernon-Jackson is hoping to hold the seat for the Liberal Democrats, Mike Hancock has confirmed that he will be restanding, following a representative of his attending the pre-election meeting for agents with the Returning Officer.
The reason why Hancock may want to go through the inevitable negative media coverage that will follow every step of his campaign? Well, I wrote in Liberal Democrat Newswire #57:
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.
Six of the missing ten get appointed by the Lib Dems
In Liberal Democrat Newswire #57 I reported how 10 of the key Lib Dems in the event of a hung Parliament had not yet been named. Six now have been.
One is Kate Parminter, a Lib Dem peer and taking over from Sal Brinton on the Lib Dem negotiating team after Brinton stood down following her own election as Party President. She joins Danny Alexander, Lynne Featherstone, David Laws and Steve Webb.
The other five names slotted into place are members of the nine-person reference group which is part of the party’s new ‘triple lock’ arrangements in the event of a hung Parliament.
The Federal Policy Committee’s three representatives have been elected by the committee and are Duncan Brack, Belinda Brooks-Gordon and Julian Huppert. Lib Dem peers have picked Jim Wallace and Dick Newby, meaning five of the nine are now known.
The other four not yet selected are three from the Federal Executive and one MP, with Lib Dem MPs having decided to leave their choice until after the election.
Of course, in a hung Parliament the key decisions are made by the leaders of the two largest parties: are they willing to make deals and do they want coalition or not? With neither Cameron or Miliband likely to come out of the election with a strong grip on their own backbenchers, wider party sentiment matters too – just as in May 2010 the sight of senior Labour figures on the TV opposing any deal with the Lib Dems made the slim chances of a Labour/Lib Dem deal all the more unlikely (though Labour’s collective memory of the role of their own figures in ensuring any deal would be a Tory/Lib Dem one is rather shaky these days).
All of which makes this recent survey very pertinent:
The survey found that 48% of sitting Tory MPs, and 53% of prospective parliamentary candidates, want to see a repeat of the current coalition in the event of a hung parliament.
But a majority of Labour MPs would prefer to govern as a minority rather than go into coalition with any party, the survey revealed.
Only 35% of Labour MPs would back coalition with the Liberal Democrats, while just 21% would favour a deal with the Green Party.
The Dods poll – which asked a representative sample of MPs and candidates to rate their ‘preferred’ partner – found that just 17% of Conservative MPs would back a coalition with Ukip, while a quarter would prefer their party to become a minority government.
Tory candidates appeared even more sceptical of Nigel Farage’s party, with just 11% backing a deal with Ukip, and one-third preferring to govern alone.
Oddly, one thing still missing from these pre-polling day preparations is Labour’s negotiating team. In 2010 their preparation was farcically incompetent, involving barely more than a cup of tea between Balls and Mandelson, yet this time round it’s been left very late in the day to agree who Labour’s negotiating team will be.
Lamb still the best value bet in Lib Dem leadership stakes
A quick update on my betting tip that the odds on Norman Lamb offer the best value in future Lib Dem leadership betting. Since then both Vince Cable and Paddy Ashdown have made critical comments in public about Tim Farron. Farron is certainly the frontrunner if a leadership contest happens this year, but he’s not a shoe-in.
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