Liberal Democrat Newswire #71 is out: Controversy over new Lib Dem peers

Liberal Democrat Newswire logoLiberal Democrat Newswire #71 came out last week, taking a look at the controversy over Nick Clegg’s final list of honours, new figures on diversity in the Lib Dems and more.

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Welcome to the 71st edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire, which includes a look at the new Liberal Democrat peers, an important but neglected statistic about Nick Clegg’s record, a special book offer from Biteback for readers and news on an initiative to improve diversity amongst Liberal Democrat candidates.

Thank you as ever to the very kind readers who make a small monthly donation to help cover the costs of Liberal Democrat NewswireYou too can join these munificent folk at www.patreon.com/markpack and, if you’re an Amazon customer, you can also support LDN by using this link to go to Amazon before making your purchases. (You won’t pay any thing extra if you use the link but Amazon will pay LDN a small commission.)

Best wishes,


P.S. You don’t have to wait for the next edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire to keep up with news. My site is regularly updated with stories such as Vince Cable has a new book out – and a fascinating interview and Tony Blair’s electoral success in context. Or why it’s so curious that Labour activists love booing him.

In this edition:

Controversy over new Lib Dem peers

House of Lords. Image courtesy of Parliament - CC BY-NC 2.0
The creation of a batch of new Liberal Democrat peers showed the limits to Nick Clegg’s commitment to improving the party’s diversity. With a House of Lords group already dominated by men, Clegg went for a majority of the 11 new Lib Dem peers being male (6), further increasing the gap between male and female despite, of course, women being the majority in the UK.

Since Nick Clegg became leader, 57% of the new Liberal Democrat peers have been male, even though at the start of his leadership the Lib Dem group in the House of Lords was already male dominated.

It’s a rarely quoted statistic about Clegg’s record (and in fact I’ve not seen anyone else calculate it before), but it is also a pretty damning one.

Clegg hasn’t been hostile to creating female peers – witness his willingness to appoint Dorothy Thornhill this time round even though she said she won’t take up the role until her term as elected Mayor ends. But he has just never been that fussed about creating enough to introduce some semblance of gender balance. Although he has fought hard and successfully to get more Liberal Democrat peers – hence the numbers this time round – he hasn’t been willing to fight nearly as hard for diversity.

That, along with the very conventional thinking behind some of the honours given to Liberal Democrats, help explain why this round of announcements was the most controversial in the party for many years (and hence why my write-up of what happened is already one of my best read blog posts of the year: 8 points about the Lib Dem honours – and one member I’m ashamed to be associated with).

At times Nick Clegg showed genuine passion for tackling discrimination and improving diversity, but in the end his record is that he was willing to have an all-male Lib Dem Cabinet line-up throughout the Parliament and to take only actions which fell short of running into noticeable opposition in the party. By contrast, Scottish leader Willie Rennie, for example, is willing to argue for all-women shortlists.

Individually, each of Clegg’s final choices were reasonable – and it was particularly good to hear that he offered a peerage to Annette Brooke, who stood down as an MP in May and has been one of the party’s unsung stars for years. She declined (as did Danny Alexander, who hopes to stand for election again). But the collective result of the individual choices was not to take strong action to improve the diversity of the party.

One of the nominations to attract the most media attention is that of Pakistan-born Shas Sheehan, courtesy of some remarkably rude and ignorant comments about her given by a Liberal Democrat to the Spectator – anonymously, of course. Her appointment was, however, hardly a surprise given she was one of the very few people who were not an MP, ex-MP or peer appointed to Tim Farron’s Shadow Cabinet a few weeks previously – a body which has now also been supplemented by his 9-strong Parliamentary Campaigns Team, chaired by Greg Mulholland.

You can follow all of the Liberal Democrat peers on Twitter with my Twitter list.

How far will Liberal Democrat peers go?

It isn’t only within the party that the new Liberal Democrat peers have provoked controversy. People who are usually staunch opponents of reform and defenders of First Past The Post have suddenly become converts to PR, arguing that there are too many Liberal Democrat peers given the party’s share of the vote in May. To which the obvious response is, well you had the chance to change the rules when the Lib Dems put Lords reform to Parliament…

But this is a controversy likely to grow given the increasingly militant noises from the Lib Dem peers, not just wayward individuals but in the leadership too, saying that past conventions of the Lords not opposing the main policies of a government do not necessarily apply when the government is elected on well under 40% of the vote.

This isn’t a militancy that is going down well with Conservatives – nor with small c conservative House of Lords authorities – but it is a win-win for Liberal Democrats. Either their militancy stops government policies or it triggers Lords reform.

Either is a win and with staunch opponent of the Lords Jeremy Corbyn likely to become Labour leader, Lib Dem peers may well find themselves joined in such militancy by Labour colleagues who currently are instead being rather cautious in what they choose to oppose for fear of what Tory peers might do in return under a future Labour government.

As an aside, the mention of Corbyn prompts one piece of praise that is due Nick Clegg: Labour currently demonstrates the problems when you have a series of party leaders who spend their time damaging careers of would-be successors in order to hold on to power. That Clegg did not do the same to Farron is a welcome legacy.

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New data shows local party posts dominated by men

The Liberal Democrat Governance Review has published new figures on diversity at different levels of the party, including – for the first time I believe – for local party officers and conference representatives:
Liberal Democrat diversity figures
As these figures are not regularly collected, we do not know how they are changing over time, although we do know that progress towards gender balance at local government level – candidates and councillors – has stalled for many years well short of that goal.

For context, party membership is 46% female (it’s a rare blemish in the otherwise excellent Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box when it wrongly gives a far lower figure).

The figures in this table come from the bundle of reports published ahead of the party’s autumn conference (on which, more below). They include a new attempt to draw a ‘simple’ picture of how the party’s current structures work and details of the party’s finances, with a £700k hit to conference income projected now the party is no longer in government. See all the details here.

Essential campaigning tools: Dropbox

iPhone icons including Dropbox - CC0 Public Domain
Welcome to a new series highlight key pieces of technology that make the life of political activists and campaigners easier, more effective or even both. Today: Dropbox.

Dropbox is a simple, reliable and (until you get to using it on a large scale) free way of saving files securely online whilst being able to access them easily from all your different computer, tablet or smartphone devices.

This provides a double benefit. First, it’s a simple and safe way to make sure your key files are always backed up and won’t be lost if a device is lost or broken. Even if you’ve got just the one device, that’s really handy.

Second, it is also an easy way of sharing files with others. For example, if someone in the local team is artworking a Focus leaflet, they can save the file up in Dropbox, keeping their work safe and also letting anyone they choose to see it too. That often works out much easier than emailing around attachments, especially when they are large and people get into confusion over different versions.

You are always in control of your data – you get to choose who else (if anyone) can see it – and you can set up one or more folders on your computer to automatically synchronise with Dropbox so you don’t even have to worry about copying files up to the internet. It is all done automatically for you.

Sign up for Dropbox here.

Don’t miss out!

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Are you reading a forwarded copy of Liberal Democrat Newswire? Or perhaps the web-based version? If so, then why not join thousands of others and sign up to receive direct to your email inbox future editions of what the Daily Telegraph calls a “must read” and which Tim Farron calls, “a must read for all Lib Dems or people who want to understand the Lib Dems”.

Special book offer for readers

I’ve eulogised in the past about the great Following Farage: The Ultimate Political Road Trip and just may have mentioned 101 Ways To Win An Election once or twice. Now thanks to the kind people at Biteback readers of Liberal Democrat Newswire can get a special discount on both books.

Just order one or both through politicos.co.uk and use these discount codes at the checkout:

  • Code for Following Farage (promo price £7.99, signed paperback – save £5 on recommended price): LDNFF
  • Code for 101 Ways to Win an Election (promo price £9.99, paperback – save £3 on recommended price): LDN101

New fund launched to help candidate diversity

Dominic MathonOver the summer London Liberal Democrat member Dominic Mathon launched a new ‘Access to office’ fund to help boost the party’s diversity by providing financial support to candidates for the London Assembly.

Dominic writes exclusively for Liberal Democrat Newswire about the idea:

There’s been a lot of talk – rightly – about how we as a party have really struggled with diversity, in every form, among our elected representatives. That challenge got a whole lot harder in a period when our focus has been on retaining what we have rather than winning new seats. I’m sure there will continue to be much debate in the party on how best to address that but the fact remains that unless we empower candidates from diverse backgrounds, we’ll never improve. And right now there is a lot we can do to break down some of the barriers to the best candidates putting themselves forward or fighting the best campaigns once they’re selected.

Rather than wait for someone else to do something, and in the spirit of the great Liberal tradition of working from the ground-up, I decided to take action. That’s why I’ve set up an Access to Office fund for candidates, which we are piloting for the London elections next year, with a view then to rolling it out more widely for future elections.

The idea is that we crowdfund a pot of money that can then be spent to support our candidates and help ensure they can play a full role in our campaigns. We could use the fund to reimburse candidates for childcare costs, travel costs, lost hours at work for candidates on low incomes, or additional costs faced by candidates with disabilities, to name just a few examples.

You can read more about the fund here. More importantly, please do contribute to the fund! It needn’t be a lot (though I won’t discourage you!) but even £10 here or there will all add up. So far we’ve raised just over £1,000 but we’re targeting £5,000 to make a real difference. So every small donation will be welcome – and in the spirit of all good Liberal grassroots campaigns, I hope together we can all make a difference.

Caroline Pidgeon is set to be the Liberal Democrat Mayor candidate in the May elections and the party is currently selecting its London List team. See more details and the list candidate manifestos here.

How to rebuild the Liberal Democrats

A Lib Dem core votes strategy
Former Cambridge MP David Howarth and I have been taking a look at the evidence on what the Liberal Democrats need to do to recover from the May 2015 disaster.

Read our pamphlet setting out a solution, based on building a larger core vote for the party.

New survey data reveals more about members

Back in June I ran the results of a YouGov poll of Liberal Democrat members on the leadership race but that was only one small part of a larger piece of research funded by the ESRC into the membership of political parties by Tim Bale and Paul Webb.

They’ve now kindly shared more details of the research ahead of the fringe meeting at party conference on the Tuesday night (6.15pm, 22nd September, Bryanston Suite, Marriott Highcliff: “Adapt or die? Parties and their members in 21st century Britain”).

As with all attempts at surveys of party membership, several caveats are in order even though the sample size – at 730 – is good. In particular, for this one the survey found 68% of party members to be male, which is much higher than other, more robust evidence on the gender balance of party members (see earlier story). There seems to be a particular issue with internet surveys of Liberal Democrat members leaning heavily male. Likewise the finding that 33% of members canvassed on the doorstep or phone for the party in the general election suggests a skew towards more active members.

That said, here are some highlights from how the Liberal Democrat membership stood in May 2015, post-election:

  • Average (mean) age: 51 (separate party data puts the median age of post-election members at 39)
  • Proportion aged under 30: 17%
  • Where they put themselves on the left (1) – right (10) spectrum: 4.1

Nearly four in five party members (79%) say they joined the party by taking the initiative to get in touch, split roughly equally between approaching the local and the national party. That this number is so high suggests there is a big untapped pool of extra members to be recruited if they were but to be asked locally – a useful sign given Tim Farron’s target of getting the party to 100,000 members.

There is also widespread support for the idea of a ‘registered supporters’ scheme (such as the ‘Friends of the Liberal Democrats’ idea I’ve written about): 41% support the idea, 42% have no view either way and only 18% oppose the idea.

Alongside that potential for growing membership, the survey also suggests a lot of scope for getting more activism from existing party members. Despite the apparent skew noted towards more active members, even so the survey found that less than half of members delivered any leaflets during the election campaign (46%), even fewer put up a window poster (38%) and less than half have helped spread the party’s messages on Facebook or Twitter (47% and 31% respectively).

Those numbers go up when people were asked about whether they had done it in the last five years, but even then delivering leaflets only hits two-thirds (65%) and displaying a poster is still at under two-thirds (58%), not counting those who says the only did it “rarely” or never.

Down at one third (34%) is the proportion saying they’ve taken part in the party’s policy process in the last five years. Despite that low proportion, intriguingly nearly three quarters of members (74%) say they think taking part in the party’s policy process is an effective way to help the party win elections, putting it only just behind leaflets (81%), canvassing (83%) and donating (84%) in the perceived effectiveness stakes. That’s basically a statistical dead heat between all three, yet most local parties spend much more time asking people to come leafleting or canvassing than donating despite how effective donating is seen to be.

Wisely, probably, although signing petitions is the highest scoring activity of members over the last five years (77%), less than half (48%) rate it as an effective election winning tool. As part of a wider campaign, yes it can be effective – but the sign and forget type petitions have little impact.

A handy warning about assuming members know why the party does what it does comes with the mere 45% rating window posters as effective – yet when posters are given out to members at election time, the rationale behind them is rarely explained or promoted.

On a more positive note, only 17% of members surveyed in the depths of May said they thought the party leadership doesn’t pay much attention to ordinary members, only 11% said they thought it didn’t respect ordinary party members and a mere 4% who had attended a local party meeting in the last year found it unfriendly.

There is also widespread support for better diversity amongst MPs: 87% of Lib Dem members believe more MPs should be female, with 80% wanting more MPs with disabilities and 78% wanting more MPs to come from the area they represent. Support for more ethnic minority MPs is at 78%, rather more than the 66% who want to see more working class MPs.

If you are going to be at the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth, do come to the fringe meeting on the Tuesday evening, where I’ll be talking about what these findings mean for the party’s future along with Tim Bale, Paul Webb and Tessa Munt.

Bournemouth conference round-up

The Liberal Democrat autumn conference in Bournemouth is nearly upon us:

And in related policy news:

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Thanks for reading

I hope you’re found this edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire interesting, informative, useful – or all three!

There’s been a recent little upsurge of my emails being wrongly flagged as spam by Google, so it’s well worth keeping an eye on your spam/junk folder. If you find any messages in there by mistake, telling your email program that they aren’t really spam will help reduce the chance of similar errors in future.

Best wishes and thank you for reading,


P.S. If you enjoyed reading this edition, please do think about making a small monthly donation to help cover the costs of Liberal Democrat Newswire at www.patreon.com/markpack – thank you!

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