Welcome to the 67th edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire, which includes a special survey for party members about the leadership race and an analysis of the state of play ahead of ballot papers going out on Wednesday, 24 June.
Member of the Liberal Democrats? Then take part in the exclusive Liberal Democrat Newswire leadership election survey and have your say on what you make of the candidates and contest so far: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/232YB85
More emails about socks than leadership
With an expense limit set at £50,000, there is only limited scope for direct one-to-one communications aimed at party members during the Lib Dem leadership contest.
The costs of postage these days leaves little room for doing mailings within that limit, whilst the limitations of the party’s phone number records (and the time phoning 60,000 takes) also curtails that form of direct communication. Emails are being sent out on behalf of the candidates to members, but again the volume is relatively muted thanks to the rules limiting the number. I’ve had as many emails about my latest online socks order as are being sent out in total by the party on behalf of the candidates.
Even on what should be the contentious question of how much time the party spends talking about the past – defending its record on coalition – compared to moving on, both Farron and Lamb say much the same, defending the past and making references to how events since the election show the party was right all along – with the (sometimes even explicit) inference that the voters were wrong and will come to see the error of their ways.
This all should be a contentious question because it’s a hard one to answer: is talking again and again about what the party did just before it got a mammoth kicking from the electorate wise? But would not talking about it be to make the same mistake that Labour made after 2010, leaving its record in government to be framed by the Conservatives instead?
Again, on this Farron and Lamb are in step with mostly interchangeable answers. For the front-runner Tim Farron you can see the tactical smarts in this: why offer up a gap between the two which could threaten his lead? For Norman Lamb it genuinely reflects his views and moving off to an answer clearly different from Farron’s would be a ‘brave’ move. Yet no gap on policy or strategy leaves Farron ahead on oratory and years of gladhanding members.
That is why Lamb’s campaign is looking for dividing lines elsewhere: talking up issues of personal liberalism – such as same-sex marriage and the right to die – which put in the spotlight Farron’s religious beliefs. It was a smartly done piece of smiling sharp elbows for Norman Lamb to single out Lynne Featherstone in the audience at the London hustings and praise her work on same-sex marriage. Who could object to someone praising a member of the audience? And so what better way to indulge in a bit of positioning of yourself against your fellow candidate than to clothe it in such praise?
Get the latest Lib Dem stories
As well as Liberal Democrat Newswire, you can also get:
a daily round up of the new stories posted up on the official Liberal Democrat website, and
a daily round-up of the new posts on my blog.
The latter features more chocolate than the former.
Some in the party love to hate endorsements, yet as Sal Brinton’s victory in the race for Party President showed just a few months ago, they have a powerful impact…
One reason Chris Huhne never became leader was his lack of popularity amongst fellow Parliamentarians – which meant many MPs were quietly busy in their own constituencies, swaying large numbers of members to vote against him. Ex-MPs have less ability to do this than MPs but they are still a big factor.
A hint of serious differences on the economy and public services
The leadership race has seen a curious role reversal when it comes to economic policies and public services. One candidate has been forthright in praising the last five years whilst another has been praising centralised national targets backed up by extra public spending.
Yet the most vocal praise for the last five years has, as mentioned above, come from social liberal Tim Farron and the call for targets and public spending (in the form of action on mental health) has come from Orange Booker Norman Lamb.
Hustings: score draw, which means a win for Farron
I’ve covered in some detail on my website two of the hustings events so far:
Lamb pulls off a surprise at Lib Dem hustings, but race is still Farron’s to lose: “[The hustings was] really the leadership race so far in miniature. Norman pulling off the occasional smart move – including the revelation that he threatened to resign as a minister in order to ensure mental health waiting times were introduced – but never opening up enough off a gap for long enough to seriously upset Tim’s position as favourite … Tim Farron also continued [to be more] effusive than Norman about the party’s record in government, praising Nick Clegg strongly and adding: “There is no mileage in repudiating what we have done together”. Tactically smart as critics of coalition have no other candidate to turn to and the party’s new members generally are not critics of it.”
There’s a new game at Lib Dem leadership hustings: guess the implausibly shoe-horned answer: “For hardened leadership hustings veterans there is now – aside from the game of ‘how long until the first mention of Malta?’ – the sport of ‘guess the answer’. Both Farron and Lamb have a relatively limited number of points they try to work into each Q+A session even though the questions themselves are ranging quite widely. You can therefore play a game of trying to guess which answer is going to be shoehorned into which not-quite-relevant question as you go – and in Manchester Lamb won the Brazen Shoehorn Award for turning a question about the anti-austerity march in London into an opportunity to talk about cycling policy on the Continent.”
More analysis in my posts on both those hustings.
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That makes each incident where Lamb scores a slight edge – and there have been a few – is really more a missed opportunity for Lamb than a victory for him. A few slight edges aren’t going to be enough and each time it’s only a slight edge that’s one less opportunity left to overturn the race.
With ballot papers only just going out this week, however, there’s time yet for something dramatic to happen: Farron’s the frontrunner, not the shoe-in.
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