Why Manchester Gorton is so important for the Liberal Democrats: Liberal Democrat Newswire #92

Liberal Democrat Newswire #92came out last week, with a special focus on the May elections: the by-election in Manchester Gorton and Lib Dem prospects in the council contests. Since it came out the full council candidate figures have come out.

You can now read it in full below, but if you’d like the convenience of getting it direct by email in future just sign up for it here.


A warm welcome to all of the 7,853 subscribers to Liberal Democrat Newswire #92, and especially to the many new readers since last time. I hope this edition lives up to your expectations, hopes and dreams. Or at least keeps you away from the ‘never again’ button.

It kicks off with a look at why the Manchester Gorton by-election is so important to the Liberal Democrats. Of course, it is far from the only place with elections in May – so here’s a plug for the local elections appeal from ALDC which is 47% of the way to its target so far.

Want to help make sure you and other receive these newsletters without spam filters blocking them by mistake? Add this email address (mark.pack@libdemnewswire.com) to your contacts list and, if you use any auto-filtering email inbox options, move this message if necessary to your priority/main inbox.

Best wishes,


P.S. The 2017 edition of the Liberal Democrat style guide, this time using only fonts that are available for free, is now out.

In this edition:

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Jackie Pearcy selected by Lib Dems for Manchester Gorton by-election

Why Manchester Gorton is so important for the Liberal Democrats

My best electoral predictions and advice have come from remembering to ask repeatedly of myself, “if my predictions are wrong, what evidence would there be to show it?” and then go looking for it. My worst moments have come from being sucked into trusting just one data source, one moreover which of course always is one that told me the story I wish to hear. The comfort of the right figures encourages a forgetfulness of scepticism. (I am by no means alone in this, and the excellent Superforecasters is well worth a read if you’d like to know more about what the evidence and experiments say about how to be a better or worse forecaster.)

It’s why, for example, I (try to remember to) never trust just one magic canvass formula in order to understand how an election campaign is going. It is also why I avoid talking about parish, town and community council results and why I asked a non-partisan, Matt Singh, to contribute to the last Liberal Democrat Newswire to look at the Lib Dem poll performance.

Which is where the forthcoming Manchester Gorton by-election comes in.

So far, the evidence from Parliamentary by-elections about the core votes strategy for the Liberal Democrats championed by David Howarth and myself is moderately promising.

Despite the dire low of the 2015 general elections, the party’s Parliamentary by-election performances in the months after it showed a small recovery perhaps but nothing much really considering how far the party had fallen.

Since the referendum last year, however, the Liberal Democrats have increasingly been adopting a core votes type approach. Europe has featured more, and local casework issues less, than in probably any run of Parliamentary by-elections since the Treaty of Rome first created the European Economic Community in 1957.

That approach has also been showing results – the huge swing in Witney and the dramatic victory in Richmond Park in particular. What’s more, whilst the Sleaford result was also extremely promising, its smaller sign of progress also went with Europe being given less of an emphasis in the early stages of the campaign – much less, in fact.

All those seats, however, are in traditional Conservative areas in southern or middle England. The evidence for a core votes approach working in Parliamentary by-elections in other areas is much more muted. Those other results have still shown progress, but on a much more limited scale and moreover on a scale which does not suggest the party is plausibly on the cusp of winning seats off Labour at the next general election in the way Witney and Richmond Park do for the Conservatives.

Plausible alibis can be found for that. Stoke-on-Trent Central was the best opportunity to demonstrate similar progress but there Ukip were touted as having a serious chance of winning. Hence a heavy tactical vote for Labour, goes the alibi, which in other contests would have come to us. Plausible, or just looking for an excuse to hang on to my prior view?

And so to Manchester Gorton.

Labour-held seat. Urban. Northern England. Voted heavily for Remain (most likely 60%). Full of the sort of demographic groups who are disproportionately likely to have liberal values. Track record of Liberal Democrat local government success prior to Coalition. Promising Parliamentary results prior to 2015. National political news dominated by Brexit. Labour canvassers worried.

That is about as close to the perfect formula as you can get in an imperfect world for a by-election to demonstrate that a core votes type approach works for rebuilding the Liberal Democrats not only as a challenger to the Conservatives but also to Labour.

Possibly events will intrude which will sully the clarity of this test. But such sullying notwithstanding, Manchester Gorton is not only an opportunity to elect a second female Liberal Democrat MP, it is also a key test for the party’s future strategy.

Details of how to help Jackie Pearcey’s campaign in Manchester Gorton are here, or go straight here to make a donation.

Mark Pack speaking at a canvassing training session
Carrying out a canvassing training session with Liberal Democrats at the weekend.

Election experts predict a strong Lib Dem showing in May

The Liberal Democrats are tipped to be the big winners from May’s local elections according to the predictions made by local government election experts Professors Michael Thrasher and Colin Rallings.

Their predictions are made each year, based on the results in council by-elections in the run up to the big May round of elections. For 2017 they are predicting:

Liberal Democrats +100
Conservatives +50
Labour -50
Ukip -100

The big losses predicted for Ukip are not a surprise as Ukip’s vote share in local council elections has been sinking year after year since its breakthrough successes in 2013 (details here – including how to make accurate year on year calculations).

As for vote share, the predictions are (with again vote change calculations done on a like-for-like basis):

Conservatives 31% (-1% on 2016, +5% on 2013)
Labour 29% (-4% on 2016, +0% on 2013)
Liberal Democrats 22% (+8% on 2016, +9% on 2013)
Ukip 10% (-2% on 2016, -12% on 2013)

If that is indeed the Liberal Democrat result, it would be the best since the 2010 general election, though not yet quite back to the sorts of figures that were the norm in earlier years.

But, of course, a question with any predictions from a team with a long track record should be ‘how accurate are these predictions?’. A question oddly rarely asked about the Thrasher/Rallings data despite all the media love of talking about data and statistics when, for example, referring to US politics.

But you are in luck, because I have the only public set of records on how previous Thrasher and Rallings predictions have turned out:

  • Conservatives: on average the result is within a point of the prediction, but with a wide spread around the average
  • Labour: on average the result is around 1 point lower than the prediction but with a spectacular miss in 2009
  • Liberal Democrats: on average the result is 2-3 points lower than the prediction

(If the theory floated as an option by Matt Singh in the last edition of Lib Dem Newswire that the Liberal Democrats have started doing disproportionately well in council by-elections turns out to be true, then the Lib Dem under-performance against the prediction this year should be larger than average given the prediction is by-election based.)

Bank notes

Paul Tyler: Fixing the law on political party funding

Liberal Democrat peer Paul Tyler has been one of the doughtiest campaigners for political funding reform. Here’s Paul Tyler’s take on how progress can be made in this Parliament.

There are two central democratic principles which the UK political system breaches day after day, year in, year out. First, the idea that millions of votes not millions of pounds should decide elections: that parties should not be able to buy seats in Parliament. Second, that donors should not be able effectively to buy up parties, thereby securing disproportionate influence.

The police are presently investigating up to 30 MPs who stand accused of breaking the law about election spending. Whether or not any or all of them, or their agents, are prosecuted, the law in this area will remain utterly deficient.

While the Labour Government legislated in 2000 to make political donations more transparent, it did little to stop the auction of influence and access in our political system. The “national” limits on party spending are very high at about £20m for the year before an election. This tide of cash then washes into a very few marginal constituencies. By avoiding mention of a local candidate, parties can ignore (lower) local limits on candidate spending.

Then there is the question of where the money comes from. With no cap on individual donations, we’ve seen time after time that wealthy people and corporate interests expect privileged access in return for their largesse.

I have been campaigning for some decades for a comprehensive reform including a donation cap and public funding redistributed from existing spending on our democracy. I published a cross-party draft Bill to this end back in 2013. And last year I succeeded with colleagues in getting a special Lords Select Committee set up to examine the issues afresh.

Yet, despite 2015 manifesto commitments to progress from all major parties, it appeared this Parliament offered little hope of change. However, in March I moved an updated version of my Private Members’ Bill during a rare Friday slot in the Lords. It received a surprisingly positive response from the Government. They have promised new discussions to “break the logjam” and progress with “incremental reform”. What is meant by this very few people – probably not even Ministers – know.

But politics is often about taking opportunities when they come. My colleagues and I are certainly seizing this one. With the Law Commission advocating a new Bill to consolidate existing electoral law, the time to revisit these issues is surely now.

In the discussions which have been promised, we will seek to promote a democracy in which seats in Parliament, and access to Government are not for sale. And top of my list of “increments” is redefining “local” and “national” expenditure. Please do let Mark and me know what would be on your list.

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Liberal Democrats campaigning in Watford in 2015

Fighting force? What Lib Dem members and supporters did for the party in #GE2015

Tim Bale, Monica Poletti and Paul Webb have been researching what the members of political parties actually get up to. Here they write exclusively for Liberal Democrat Newswire on their findings about Liberal Democrat members.

The Lib Dems have quite a reputation as election campaigners, renowned and resented in equal measure for their Focus leaflets, their ‘Can’t win here’ bar-charts and their ubiquitous dayglo diamonds. Indeed one of the reasons why, at least before the 2015 meltdown, the party often managed to win more seats than one might have predicted from its overall vote share was its ability to mobilise its members and supporters more than some of its competitors ever could.

It’s worth homing in on that phrase ‘members and supporters’ for a moment because recent research conducted for our party members project suggests that election campaigning is very much a matter of the latter as well as the former.

Using surveys conducted a week or two after the 2015 general election, we’re able to explore what Lib Dem members and Lib Dem-supporting non-members did for their party during the campaign. The details – and those for five other parties – can be found here. But here are a few take-homes.

First – and perhaps not surprisingly given how demoralised some Lib Dems probably felt during the coalition – we found that Lib Dem members were on average a little more active in the campaign than Tory and Ukip members, but a little less active than their Labour, Green and SNP counterparts.

Second, and in spite of this, Lib Dem members, although they couldn’t compete in the online stakes (on Facebook and Twitter) with Labour and especially Green and SNP members, did come top when it came to – yes, you’ve guessed it – leafleting even if they weren’t as keen as putting posters in their windows as we thought they might be!

Third, Lib Dem members are less demographically representative than the people out there in the electorate who told YouGov (who fielded our surveys for us) that they really like the Lib Dems. Or at least that was the case in May 2015 when we conducted our research.

Although their average age was about the same (just over 50), Lib Dem members were much more likely to be male (69% of them were men) than were Lib-Dem supporting non-members (57% of whom were women). They were also rather more middle class, with 76% being classed as ABC1 compared to 68% of strong supporters, and to be graduates (56% vs 45%). Members also thought of themselves as slightly more to the left-of-centre, but not by much.

Finally, we found that (as was the case in all parties) on an individual level, Lib Dem members do far more for their party at election time than do strong supporters, especially when it comes to the hard stuff like leafleting and canvassing. But – and it’s a big but – many of those supporters do get involved when it matters. And since there are so many more people out there who aren’t members but who strongly support the Lib Dems than there are members, then the sum total of campaign activity they undertake is at least as great, if not greater, that of party members.

Members, then, are vital, which is why the increase in Lib Dem membership is so encouraging. But that’s not just because they are the doughtiest election campaigners. It’s also because they may well play a part in persuading those who don’t want to go as far as joining formally that they can still help the party anyway.

Tim Bale and Monica Poletti are based at Queen Mary University of London and Paul Webb is based at the University of Sussex. Their figure for the gender balance of Liberal Democrat members is different from that found by other research – see details here.

Be popular, but be distinctive - one of the 101 ways to win an election

Woman looking out of the window - CC0 Public Domain

Lib Dems publish interim report from independent panel on Health and Social Care

The Liberal Democrats published last month the interim report by the independent panel of health experts commissioned by Norman Lamb to set out a new deal for Britain’s Health and Social Care Services. The panel was set up by Norman Lamb in Autumn 2016 with the remit to ask the difficult questions about the challenges facing health and social care and to come forward with bold solutions needed to meet them.

Its initial thoughts chimes with the noises made by Norman Lamb and Tim Farron about raising tax in order to pay for improved health and social care (noises that come with a significant risk).

The panel, listed below, is independent of the party and is a very impressive line-up of experts, with only a small handful of active Liberal Democrats included. Aside from the expertise that brings to its work, it’s also a smart way for the party to build links with people who find the party an amicable companion on one or more key issues but for whom joining the party is either not appropriate or not appealing.

Amongst the key conclusions of the interim report were:

  • The current funding settlement for our health and care services is not fit for purpose. It is well documented that there is a projected funding gap in the region of £20bn across health services by 2020/21 and a further £6bn gap in social care.
  • The panel is unanimously of the opinion that it is necessary to raise additional revenue for health and care through taxation.
  • The panel will propose the establishment of an independent body to make health and care budget recommendations to Government, setting out what is needed to deliver services and essentially providing a similar function to that of the Office of Budget Responsibility.
  • The panel is considering a number of options for where additional taxation should come from, taking account of how we can raise the amount of money needed, but also, how this can be done in a way which is progressive and takes account of intergenerational fairness.
  • The options under consideration are as follows and the panel will conclude which of these they think is preferable in the final report:
    • Raising Income Tax
    • Raising National Insurance
    • Introducing a dedicated health and care tax

Although it is an independent panel, both Tim Farron and Norman Lamb have been fully behind its work so far. Tim first:

I commend Norman Lamb for establishing this independent panel and thank them for their work so far. I hope this is a wake-up call for politicians as to the scale of the challenge we face in Health and Social Care.

I have made clear that we will take the final report and its recommendations seriously, and we can see from this interim document that bold solutions will be needed to tackle the ever growing challenges facing health and social care. My guarantee is that the Liberal Democrats will consider these seriously and will not shy away from offering big solutions.

As for Norman:

I thank the panel for their work. I brought this panel together in the face of the undeniable crisis in health and care. We have over a million older people with unmet care needs, people having to wait months for the treatment they need and a situation that is only going to get worse.

The Government is dragging its heels on offering anything resembling a vision for the future of health and social care in Britain. We are a wealthy country, we have to do right by our sick and elderly and excuses and promises of fixes tomorrow simply are not good enough.

The full report can be read here. The members of the panel are:

  • Sir David Nicholson KCB, CBE – Former Chief Executive, NHS England
  • Dr Peter Carter OBE – Former Chief Executive, Royal College of Nursing
  • Professor Clare Gerada MBE FRCGP FRCPsych – Former Chair, Royal College of General Practitioners
  • Professor Dinesh Bhugra CBE – Former President, Royal College of Psychiatrists
  • Professor Nick Bosanquet – Emeritus Professor of Health Policy ,Imperial College London
  • Professor Paul McCrone – Professor of Health Economics, King’s College London
  • Katherine Murphy – Chief Executive, Patients’ Association
  • Sir Stephen Bubb JP FRSA – Former Chief Executive, Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations
  • Cllr Richard Kemp CBE – Deputy Chair, Wellbeing Board of the Local Government Association
  • Amna Ahmad – healthcare communications consultant

Trident submarine via Wikimedia Commons - Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

How should the Liberal Democrats in England be organised?

Sally Symington is chairing a review into the organisation of the Liberal Democrats in England. Here she explains the reasons for the review and how members are being involved. You can email her your views here.

The English Party, with around 85% of the membership of the Liberal Democrats, is by far the largest of the three State parties which constitute the Federal Party. Its responsibilities include membership services, coordinating the activities of the regional parties, managing the finances of the party in England and overseeing disciplinary issues; these are largely invisible to members but are none-the-less vitally important and necessarily carried out at some level of the party organisation. The consultation seeks to determine at which level the party membership feels these functions are best performed.

The English Party governance review addresses, and aims to resolve, concerns around lack of transparency and accountability. The review group, consisting of representatives of all eleven regional parties, put forward four proposals which set out varying ways in which the responsibilities of the English Party can be carried out at differing levels both with and without the option of abolishing the English Party to achieve these ends.

The four options are:

The English Party remains as currently constituted but its operation is changed to improve its clarity of operation, delivery and relevance to members. The English Council and English Council Executive are streamlined to reduce cost and improve effectiveness and the level of communication with members is considerably enhanced.

The English Party is transformed into a streamlined campaigning-oriented organisation focused on building the numbers of councillors, London Assembly Members and MPs. It has a smaller executive of four directly elected officers and campaign resources would be owned and managed at regional level.

Abolition – power to regional parties 
The English Party is abolished and its key functions absorbed by the regions. The Federal Party administers cross-state activity against an agreed agenda and service-level agreement established by a Committee of Regional Chairs who will be the key decision-making body for all cross-state activity, reporting to an English Conference.

Abolition – power to Federal party 
The English Party is abolished and its key functions absorbed by the Federal party. There would be no English level institutions except for a committee to bring together regional chairs. The responsibilities currently exercised by the English Party would instead by overseen and scrutinised by Federal Conference.

The consultation process ran for three weeks including a well-attended, dynamic and constructive session at Spring Conference and survey responses have been received from over 1,600 respondents.

The review group will meet to assess the results and associated comments with a view to putting a proposal to English Council as to the best way forward to address the historic concerns about accountability and transparency and take account of the introduction of One Member One Vote.

Ultimately, this is so the party can achieve its primary aims of campaigning effectively and winning elections in a forward-looking way that embraces the huge number of new members who have joined the fight for an open, tolerant and united country.

Post-it note - "In case you missed it"

Catch-up service: Lib Dem-Labour switchers are heavily pro-Remain

In case you missed these stories from the last month first time round:

Here also is how the party has been doing in council by-elections* in the last month, continuing the pattern of frequently dramatic but patchy recovery:

Alongside this, the national opinion polls show that the party’s post-Richmond poll boost has been sustained, though the party is not yet doing better than in the Coalition-era polls:

Political party standings - Quarter 1, 2017

To get the best of political polling analysis from experts such as Matt Singh and Anthony Wells, sign up for the Polling UnPacked email round-ups.


* As with my coverage of council by-elections week-by-week on my blog and social media, this covers all principal authority council by-elections, i.e. excluding town, parish and community councils. This is the usual approach for analysis of council by-elections as the latter are often a mix of uncontested and contested without party labels, and there’s a danger in cherry picking only some of those results to report.

Liberal Democrat constitution. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Fryer

Latest news from party committees

  • Party President and Federal Board chair Sal Brinton’s latest monthly report is out.
  • Courtesy of Zoe O’Connell, here’s what the Federal Conference Committee got up to setting the agenda for the party’s conference in York. Although that conference is over and done with, it’s well worth understanding how the agendas are put together if you wish to get something included in future.
  • There will soon be news from the Federal Board on our plans to consult members over the party’s new strategy, which is due for debate the autumn federal conference in Bournemouth. Watch out on my blog or the LDN Facebook page for updates.
  • Federal Policy Committee member Sally Burnell has put together an excellent guide on how the party’s process works – and how members can influence it. You can see the slide deck here (slides only, no audio):

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Person reading a newspaper

Other Liberal Democrats in the news

Story about new Lib Dem members from Ad Lib

Miranda Roberts: It’s time to engage

Miranda Roberts is chair of the new Federal People Development Committee (FPDC). Here she talks about her new role and how the committee can help party members all across the country. Involving new members is particularly important given that well over half of the party’s membership is made up people who were not members at the time of the leadership contest won by Tim Farron. 

What’s the one thing that could revolutionise your ability to campaign in your constituency?

I have been asking party campaigners this question for the last month or so and the same two answers come back almost every time. We need more money and more helpers.

The good news is that both of these are now coming into every local party. More than 40% of our members joined in the last year. Every local party has some new members, and some have literally hundreds. These new members bring the potential for extra money too – through their membership fees, through attendance at local socials and fundraisers, and through donations to appeals.

I’m the Chair of a new committee, the Federal People Development Committee. We were created to align with the People Directorate inside our Party Headquarters structure. Our remit covers membership (recruitment, retention and engagement), training (staff and volunteers), and diversity (of candidates and throughout the Party). As you may notice, that is a huge remit.

Our committee’s aim is to co-ordinate the membership, training and diversity work that is happening around the country and help give it an extra boost. We want to share the best practice where local parties are leading the way, and offer support to those who are struggling.

So how does this tie in to the question I have been asking?

Because the best way to revolutionise your campaigning in your area is to engage more of your members, and my committee can help you do that.

We know that there are some brilliant engagement schemes already happening. Some local parties are organising regular volunteer phone banks to call new members and give them a personal welcome to the local party. This kind of friendly, no pressure first contact can be really beneficial, particularly if it includes invitations to social and campaign events as well. I’ve talked to people who have got their new members to revitalise their local party executives, or shake up the way they campaign by incorporating new ideas.

I have also talked to people who have some terrific new ideas for how the party can support groups in engaging their new members. I’m excited by the enthusiasm and range of the innovations being suggested and I know there are more to come!

Politically, we are living in extraordinary times. People have an awareness of the impact of politics on their everyday lives that has not been present for many years. People are interested, and people are angry. They want change and they want to take action. So although this is the perfect time to engage your new members, remember to touch base with your longstanding members too. Some who had been content to be in the background may now want to get active if you give them the chance.

It’s an exciting time to be a Liberal Democrat, and I’m looking forward to helping you grow our movement together.

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I hope you’re found this edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire interesting, informative, useful – or all three! If you would like more stories – such as my daily digests which include all the council by-election results each week, just sign up here.

Best wishes and thank you for reading,


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