Tactical voting, pacts and vote-swapping (LDN #96)

Liberal Democrat Newswire #86 came out last week and you can now read it in full below.

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A warm welcome to all 9,772 subscribers to Liberal Democrat Newswire #96, the last edition before the Liberal Democrat general election manifesto gets published. You can catch up on my earlier preview here. For this time, policy features again, including a major endorsement of the Lib Dem health policies and I’ve also done a round up of the news about pacts, tactical voting and progressive alliances.

I’m running an election prediction competition – with a prize for the most accurate prediction. All entries will be kept confidential, so go and give your honest appraisal.

Best wishes,


P.S. Looking for something to listen to when out delivering, stuffing envelopes or sticking double-sided sticky tape on posters (yes, democracy is glamorous)? Then I’d heartily recommend John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme.

In this edition:

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Tim Farron with a child in his campaign bus

Ashcroft focus groups show why Lib Dems right to say Theresa May will win

I previously highlighted how the Liberal Democrat strategy for this election has shifted towards saying that Theresa May will win… but vote Liberal Democrat for an effective opposition, especially over the Conservative plans for an extreme Brexit:

For Conservatives, the message is ‘it’s safe to vote Lib Dem as that won’t let Labour in’, whilst for Labour the message is ‘if you want to oppose the Conservatives you need to switch to us’. It’s also a pitch that can be used to appeal to SNP and Plaid supporters, no minor consideration given the number of seats the Lib Dems used to win in Scotland and Wales.

There’s a vacancy for Leader of the Opposition, as Tim Farron put it.

The wisdom of this approach – the choice of Prime Minister is sorted, so this is about who will be your best MP and the best opposition – is reinforced by Lord Ashcroft’s recently published focus group findings:

Some in Twickenham were faced with the familiar dilemma between their preferred candidate locally and their preferred government nationally. Unlike 2015, however, few thought a vote for the local hero would lead to a change of personnel in Downing Street: “If I vote for Vince, there’s no way the Lib Dems are going to run the whole country. But I quite like Vince and I like what he does locally;” “He’s like a loveable old grandfather. He was the type of person, if you wrote a letter, you’d get a reply.” Some were even thinking of voting Lib Dem to provide “some sort of balance… I think it will be Theresa May on 8 June, but you can think why people would vote Lib Dem to counterbalance that.”


Liberal Democrat general election briefing #4: delivering leaflets

Here’s my latest guide to election campaigning for new Lib Dem members. This time: leafleting. There’s more to it than you might expect.

Magic equipment: this isn't how politics works

Withdrawing candidates has more appeal than impact

Candidates don’t get to control what their would-be voters do. That sounds obvious, and indeed is obvious, yet is also frequently forgotten when talk of candidate J standing down in favour of candidate K surfaces. Then the talk becomes all about how J’s votes will neatly transfer over to K. Getting all your supporters to do something as simple as go out to vote is hard enough for a candidate running a full-on campaign. The idea you can get them to all go vote for the same someone else instead is a massively optimistic view, especially when what usually happens is not a full-on campaign from said former candidate but rather a winding down of activity. If you could control people’s votes by doing nothing, politics would be a whole lot easier.

Nods, winks and tactical redirection of resources certainly can make informal arrangements between parties have an electoral impact, as the lessons of past Lib Dem – Labour cooperation show. But pure candidate withdrawal results in a much messier picture, as shown by three recent pieces of evidence.

First up, the case of Ukip and the Conservatives. It is certainly the case that the Conservatives are benefiting disproportionately heavily from the collapse in Ukip support. But that doesn’t mean Ukip standing down candidates at the general election is going to give the Conservatives a further boost. In fact, the new analysis from Stephen Fisher (the pundit who predicted the Lib Dem seat loss at this year’s local elections) shows very little net boost to the Conservatives in wards where there was no Ukip candidate in 2017 after having had one in 2013 compared with those wards which Ukip contested in both years. The voters were doing their own thing regardless. For example, “On average the swing from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives since 2013 in places where UKIP stood both times was 4.2 points. In places where UKIP dropped out it was 4.0. Barely any difference.”

Second, we have the evidence from an analysis of preferential voting in the Mayor of London elections, where – as with other Mayoral contests – voters get a first and second preference. There wasn’t a neat progressive alliance style movement of preferences: “non-Labour and LibDem candidates took a full third (49,300) of the total Green 2nd preference yield”. The picture was the same for the second preferences of people who put the Lib Dems first.

Third, when asked whether each party has a “sensible plan for how they would run Britain”, only just over one in four Lib Dem voters say this is true of Labour (27%) whilst the same proportion of Lib Dem voters say this of the Conservatives (29% – slightly higher, but not by a statistically significant margin). That’s not a set of answers which shows Lib Dems would just swing behind a Labour candidate.

The lesson? Beware a candidate who thinks that not standing and then doing nothing much will somehow magic votes over to their choice of other party.

What do you think of the Lib Dem plan to help Syrian refugees? Join the discussion on the Lib Dem Newswire Facebook page.

Liberal Democrat success in Eastbourne

Can you persuade this man to be a Lib Dem?

No prizes for having spotted that the usual drift of these newsletters is ‘please vote Lib Dem’. There’s plenty of positive material to report this week, including the party’s big new £2 million fundraising push (if members raise an extra £1 million, a group of donors have promised to double it). But here next is something rather different – a piece from a voter explaining why they aren’t that keen on the Lib Dems, thank you very much.

The voter will be familiar to many readers being blogging and tweeting lawyer Carl Gardner. Someone who feels very strongly about Brexit, Carl also ticks many of the other boxes which would make him a Lib Dem cheerleader. But he isn’t – and understanding why people such as Carl aren’t (yet?) won over to the party is crucial to understanding how to grow the party.

So here is Carl’s piece, with which I disagree with often in detail but which sets a good challenge for all Lib Dems: ‘how can we win over someone with these views?’. (Clue: telling them they are idiotically wrong won’t work).

I’m a disillusioned former Labour voter – and was a member for 21 years. I’m openly and proudly centrist: as the left has got crazier, I’ve become less and less comfortable at the idea I might be thought “on the left”. The last time Labour went bonkers, I was in the SDP. And having worked myself stupid last year during the referendum, I applaud the LibDems for their stance on Brexit. I may well vote LibDem, just this once, on the 8th of June. But I won’t be joining you. I know I’m not a Liberal Democrat, and will never be one. If that puzzles you, here’s why not.

The first and most important reason why not is the Liberal Democrat obsession with changing the constitution. Lib Dems think PR is the answer to all the country’s ills but it’s really not; the reason most people don’t give a monkey’s about it, and rejected electoral reform given a chance, is that they know it’d make not a jot of difference to their lives. Nor would “federalism” (whatever might be meant by that) solve all the problems of the Union or defeat Scottish nationalism.

What makes these obsessions a turn-off is not just that they provide no answers to contemporary problems but that they’re a displacement activity for Lib Dems, preventing thought about bread and butter issues like what happens at work, what happens in schools, what taxes we pay and what standard of healthcare we get for it.

Lib Dems at their best can come up with good, socially-relevant policies like the pupil premium – but there’s far too little of that. Lib Dems would much rather talk about STV, and fail to see that their own (and the Greens’ and Ukip’s) commitment to PR is no more but also no less selfishly partisan that Tory and Labour opposition to it.

And there’s more. I’m concerned about the threat of extremist terror, and am far less concerned about the vanishingly small risk that GCHQ might conceivably look at my private data – if they need to do so, fine – than I am about how social networks use it. But the Lib Dems seem to oppose every power intelligence agencies have. It’s one of the ways the Lib Dems sometimes resemble the Corbynist left that I’m a refugee from.

Another is your very timid approach to Trident. Dogged by your liberal left and unable to full-bloodedly support a deterrent, you seem always to be trying on some hopeless new compromise: Trident but with fewer submarines, for example. If I thought that was for military reasons, I might be persuaded. But I know it’s not. It’s for purely internal party reasons, to give something to those who think of themselves as peaceniks. No, thanks. If I wanted someone unserious and ideological about defence, I’d back Jeremy Corbyn.

I worry, too, that you’re being taken over – or at least influenced – by some of the sillier ideological tendencies to be found on the “left”. There may be coherent philosophical or sociological arguments for completely decriminalising “sex work” – I’m not convinced. But as a policy, this would be toxic to voters. Dennis Parsons’ speech at your conference the other year (suggesting there was a better case for dissuading young people from a career in accountancy than in “sex work”) shows how far down this rabbit-hole some Lib Dems have gone. And there’s the fringe obsession with Israel. Yes, you got rid of Jenny Tonge. But David Ward was nearly a candidate again this time, in spite of all that’s gone before. The Lib Dems, like Labour, seem to be a bit Chakrabarti on this.

So there it is. On Brexit you’re right, and may well get my support this year for that alone. But you’re a long way from appealing in any deeper way to this particular ex-Labourite – and I doubt I’m alone.

Other snippets

  1. Detailed polling analysis shows that the Lib Dems on average have done better when the votes are counted than what the polls say this far out from polling day: “we can expect, on the basis of past polls at this point of the race, the Lib Dems to do better in the final polls than they are presently doing”. This analysis also shows that Labour usually under-performs compared to its poll ratings this far out.
  2. Aside from the Speaker’s seat, there are no Liberal Democrats in two other constituencies. They are Green MP Caroline’s Lucas’s Brighton constituency and in Skipton and Rippon where a deal with the Greens involves the Greens in return not standing in the former Lib Dem seat of Harrogate and Knaresborough.
  3. In South West Surrey, there is a Liberal Democrat candidate but also talk of deliberately soft-pedalling the party’s campaigning in order to help an independent running against the Health Secretary. As it wouldn’t have been a target seat for the party anyway, and there are other target seats nearby where members are being strongly encouraged to help, this is not quite as dramatic as it might sound.
  4. Another form of cross-party cooperation is on display in south west London with ‘Labour supporter voting Lib Dem’ posters appearing. These sorts of posters are not new, and for example back in 1997 Labour very effectively encouraged ‘Lib Dem voting Labour this time’ posters. Also making a reappearance at this election is a range of ‘vote swapping‘ sites allowing people in different seats to pair up so that, say, a Lib Dem supporter in one seat can vote tactically for Labour knowing that Labour supporter elsewhere in return is voting Lib Dem tactically. Your favoured party gets as many votes as before but they are distributed more efficiently.
  5. Bury North Lib Dem candidate says ‘Vote Labour’. My own view is that party members should be free to argue for deals if they wish, but if you seek to be a Parliamentary candidate then that’s a role that requires leadership, teamwork and respect for the members who you are going to represent on the ballot paper. Agreeing to be a candidate and then saying ‘don’t vote for me’ doesn’t do that, especially when the local party is in the middle of raising money to cover its election expenses.
  6. Former Lib Dem MP David Ward, who was blocked from standing for the party again over anti-Semitism, is now going to stand as an independent.

Nurse in a hospital

Former NHS England Chief Executive backs Lib Dem health plans

The former chief executive of the NHS in England, David Nicholson, has backed Liberal Democrat plans to put a penny on income tax to rescue the health and care service.

He has been joined by 25 other leading health experts, including the ex-heads of the Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of GPs and Royal College of Psychiatrist, who have all backed the Lib Dem approach in a letter to The Observer:

The human cost of this crisis is already painfully clear. Waiting times are rising, there is particularly poor access for people with mental ill health and operations are being cancelled.

For these reasons, we strongly welcome the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to raise income tax by 1p, to generate additional, ringfenced revenue for NHS and social care.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary Norman Lamb adds:

It is fantastic to have this support from those who have worked in all levels of our health service and understand the pressure it is now under. Bluntly, we can’t carry on like this. Only the Lib Dems have a clear and credible plan for how we raise the money and get it into the NHS and the care system.

Now might be a good time to think about making sure all your data is stored safely and properly backed-up…


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

Catch-up service: people don’t pay much attention to politics

In case you missed these stories from my blog first time round:

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One response to “Tactical voting, pacts and vote-swapping (LDN #96)”

  1. The grandfather comment about Vince makes me look at Corbyn. He too looks like a grandfather figure. He seems to attract the young at his rallies. Could this be that the young get on better with grandparents than parents (parents are stuffy, grandparents are cuddly, worthy of respect) With his policies,to them, being passionately put across and ,to them, different and radical to them they can work for his success. We should find a way of harnessing this possibility.

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