Confusion reigns over who stands for what, and not just on Brexit: Liberal Democrat Newswire #109

Liberal Democrat Newswire #109 came out last week, including a poll showing how the Lib Dems might rise to 18%, Jo Swinson talking about the fight for equalities, an interview with Lib Dem Voice editor Caron Lindsay and a welcome step forward for electoral reform in Wales.

The Sheffield event mentioned in the first story has now happened – and a great success it was too.

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.

Many thanks to everyone who took part in my reader survey. Much appreciated that so many people took the time to let me know your views. Congratulations to the prize draw winners – Chris, Jonathan, Nigel and Shelag – your book and pamphlets will be the way shortly.

A sizeable minority of readers said they wished this newsletter was more frequent. I’ll give careful thought to what might be practical on that front, but in the meantime there’s always the Facebook page which does indeed provide more frequent stories.

You told me that in particular you want to hear more about Liberal Democrat strategy (a comment, I suspect, that says something about the current state of the party as well as the past contents of your emails from me) and more about party policies – both the final policies and the debates along the way to making them.

Handily next month is the Liberal Democrat spring conference in Southport, where both strategy and policy will be widely debated. So watch out for much more on both topics in March’s edition in particular.

First, however, it is on to this month, including the poll showing how the Lib Dems might rise to 18%, Jo Swinson talking about the fight for equalities, an interview with Lib Dem Voice editor Caron Lindsay and a welcome step forward for electoral reform in Wales.

Happy reading!


In this edition:

See you in Sheffield on Saturday?

I’m rather excited about the plans for a very different sort of event for Liberal Democrat members: Launchpad. By the time you read this, the fully-booked pilot in London will have taken place but there’s still time to book for the pilot on Saturday in Sheffield.

Your Liberal Britain, which has pioneered excellent and successful innovation in the way party members are involved in our policy process, is working with party HQ to put these on:

Launchpad is an exciting new Members-only event hosted by the Liberal Democrats & Your Liberal Britain, that gives you a chance to share your policy ideas, get the latest world-class campaign training from the party’s experts; find out how you can put your skills to use and to ask key Liberal Democrats your questions.

As with the London event, Sheffield on Saturday will also feature Vince Cable, a great sign of the commitment he’s willing to make with his own time and leadership in helping to ensure the party adapts and grows to make full use of all our members, new and not-so-new.

Do book come to the Sheffield event if you can.

I look forward to the chance to put a face to a few more names amongst LDN’s readers. It’s always reassuring to know there are some humans out there online in amongst all the bots… and if you’d like the chance to buy an autographed copy of 101 Ways To Win An Election, let me know in advance and I’ll bring an extra copy with me.

Here’s Jim Williams with a bit more information:

Jim Williams talking to camera

BMG polling on Brexit

Confusion reigns over who stands for what, and not just on Brexit

It’s a regular refrain of mine that almost everyone in politics almost always over-estimates how much the public knows about politics. The public’s knowledge of politics is rather like mine of women’s hockey. It peaks about every four years when there’s a burst of daily mainstream media coverage and then fades quickly. Just one example of the public knowledge about politics- mid-general election campaign last year 1 in 5 voters could not name the leader of the Conservative Party.

The news, therefore, that the public is generally unclear about what any party wants on Brexit is not surprising. That only 26% think the Liberal Democrat position is clear or very clear is also, however, a reminder that the party needs to talk both in volume and with clarity about Brexit until well past the point at which most activists are counting articles of EU treaties in their sleep.

New YouGov polling has also found that 63% of voters say they are uncertain or very uncertain about what the party stands for – up from 56% in September. The party’s problem isn’t the direct legacy of coalition: only 21% say the party was wrong to go into coalition in 2010 and that they also haven’t forgiven the party; 15% have forgiven the party, 28% say it was the right decision and 36% don’t have a view. Rather it’s the longer-term legacy of failing to build a core vote, based on a consistent focus on who the party priorities appealing to and what image the party wants to convey through its chosen actions. (More on that of course in the core votes pamphlet.)

One piece of good news comes from the latest YouGov polling which shows that if the Lib Dems can get the Brexit message right, there is plenty of scope for the party’s vote share to grow:

Imagine at the next election the Conservative and Labour parties both support going ahead with Brexit, and the Liberal Democrats are opposed to Brexit. How would you then vote?
Conservative 31% / Labour 22% / Lib Dem 18% / Other 5% / Don’t know or wouldn’t vote 25%

Excluding the don’t knows and wouldn’t votes (which is what headline poll figures usually do), that gives:
Conservative 41% / Labour 29% / Lib Dem 24% / Other 7%

The other good news is that the proposed party strategy coming to conference in Southport attempts to address just this – watch out for more on that as conference nears.

Are younger voters the key to Lib Dem electoral success?

The latest editions of both of the two regular podcasts dedicated to the Liberal Democrats are well worth a listen:

  • Mind the gap (Soundcloud / iTunes): the latest edition of Liberated takes a look at whether younger voters are the key to Lib Dem electoral success – and what do we need to do to attract younger people? Vince Cable, Elaine Bagshaw and Tara Hussain discuss.
  • Michael Heseltine time (Soundcloud / iTunes): from The Limehouse Podcast comes the interview which sparked rather a lot of media interest.

Welsh councils set to get chance to choose STV as their electoral system

A round-up of the most pertinent Liberal Democrat news from elsewhere:

Research corner: the non-member campaign army

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. This time, it is a guest piece from Justin Fisher at Brunel on the importance of non-members to election campaigns.

Over the last three general elections in our studies of constituency-level campaigns, we’ve been collecting data on the level of campaign involvement by non-party members. This has been a fascinating exercise for many reasons. First, while we had an inkling that the practice was quite widespread (which is why we started collecting the data), we had no idea of the scale. Second, it suggested to us that if there was a large body of people campaigning who hadn’t signed on the dotted line, this would cause us to re-evaluate what we understood about parties and party members. The traditional understanding of parties was that campaigning was undertaken by members. In return, parties granted these members participatory rights. But if large numbers of people were getting involved in campaigns without joining parties, this would represent a significant challenge to our understanding of the dynamics of parties.

When we ran the analysis of our data from the 2010 election, we were stunned. On average 78% of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat campaigns had recruited non-members to help out. The numbers for the Lib Dems were even higher – 86%. Not only that, these non-members formed a significant proportion of each local party’s campaign force – a mean of eighteen per local party. We went on to write a detailed academic article about all this, giving it a title of which I’m still proud – Members Are Not the Only Fruit.

Around the same time, we discovered that other academics were starting to capture this phenomenon in research around the world, and a broad consensus began to emerge – namely that the culture of the party was an explanation as to why some parties were more successful than others in recruiting non-members to help out.

This made a lot of sense in the British context. The Lib Dems’ traditional and ideological commitment to community politics, together with research that showed the similarities in the ideological profile of Lib Dem members and voters, suggested a strong explanation for success in recruiting these campaign helpers.

But our view changed significantly when we repeated our study at the 2015 election. While the proportion of local Conservative and Labour parties recruiting non-members was little changed, the impact of electoral unpopularity on the Lib Dems’ ability to recruit non-members was stark. While in 2010, 86% of Lib Dem local parties were able to recruit non-members, in 2015, the figure was just 45%. Members may not have been the only fruit, but they were more likely to be around to campaign when the going got tougher.

Our new data from the 2017 election show that the situation has only improved marginally for the Lib Dems – some 49% of local parties were able to recruit non-members, while the situation for the Conservative and Labour parties was not radically different from 2015. While a great success story for the Lib Dems has been recruiting many new members since 2015, the party is not yet repeating that with people who don’t want to sign on the dotted line, but still want to help out.

So what have we learned from three elections-worth of data? It’s very clear that the notion that it is only members who campaign is outdated (even if it was ever entirely true). Non-members form a significant part of local parties’ campaigns. Indeed, in Labour’s most marginal seats in 2017, there were, on average, fifty-nine non-members assisting. What this doesn’t mean, however, is that parties no longer need formal members. As we’ve seen, electoral unpopularity is a poor recruiting Sergeant for non-members. Moreover, while non-member campaign activity is essential, it tends to be focused more on activities such as leaflet delivery than on meeting voters – the latter is much more likely to be undertaken by members.

So, parties cannot do without members. But equally, successful campaigns also rely on recruiting people who want to help your party, but don’t want to sign-up. The challenge for all parties is engaging these people as well as recruiting formal members.

That point about how much more the Liberal Democrats still need to do to restore the party’s organisational strength is a theme taking up in the pamphlet I co-authored, Reinventing the Liberal Democrats.

Caron Lindsay photomontage from Twitter

An interview with… Caron Lindsay

Welcome to a new occasional series of interviews with key members of the Liberal Democrats, the sort of people who are crucial to our success, make a huge difference to what the party is like but haven’t yet landed the four-page interview in a Sunday newspaper magazine. To kick off the series, here’s Caron Lindsay…

Q. What made you support the Liberal Democrats?
A. When I was eight, watching Roots set off an instinctive passion for human rights and freedom. As a teenager, the SDP/Liberal Alliance reflected those values and I joined the SDP on my 16th birthday. I was more of a liberal, but the average age of the SDP in Caithness, at about 50, was much closer to my own.

Q. What is the main focus of your party activism at the moment?
A. Being a member of the Federal Board (FB) and Federal People Development Committee (FPDC). I am particularly interested in improving party communications, making us more diverse at every single level, but particularly in Parliament and in making sure that our culture and processes deal effectively with harassment. I’m also editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

Q. What is the most exciting or optimistic thing you’ve seen in the party in the past year?
A. The impact of our four women MPs elected in June. Christine Jardine standing up pension equality for women born in the 1950s, Layla’s passion for education and taking the lead on issues like period poverty, Wera’s commitment on the EU and on housing and Jo’s fantastic work on gender equality with her new book and her leading role in holding the Presidents Club to account. We now have strong voices speaking out on issues that were getting missed before and it has completely vindicated the measures we took to increase diversity.

Q. What is the best political advice you have received?
A. Back in the 90s, I went on a brilliant training course for women members. It gave invaluable advice for both recognising and dealing with sexist behaviour and made me some friends for life. The solidarity between women, across parties, is really important in tackling prejudice and discrimination. If you get the chance to go on something like this, take it.

Q. What political issue or viewpoint have you changed your mind on and why?
A. Probably the universal basic income. I remember when it was party policy last time round, when I first joined. The idea that everyone should be given a particular amount of money was attractive. However, I’m now a bit of an agnostic. I’d love to think it would work, but I share the concerns of people like former Child Poverty Action Group Director Ruth Lister that it would entrench other forms of inequality.

Q. If you could change one thing about the party overnight, what would it be?
A. You mean other than us having a lot more money? We need to be much better and bolder at showing people what a liberal society looks like. A properly liberal society is a pretty joyful thing – it’s fairer, more equal, and we won’t stop until everyone has enough money to have a decent quality of life, a good education and is free from discrimination and unnecessary state interference in their lives. We are a radical, establishment busting, planet-saving, freedom-loving party and we should not be afraid to say so.

Q. Where can people find you online?
A. On Twitter and Instagram as @caronmlindsay, on Facebook facebook.com/caronlindsay and inflicting everyone with my wide range of opinions on Lib Dem Voice, www.libdemvoice.org.

101 Ways To Win An Election - number 10

Public opinion becoming more liberal on immigration

In case you missed them first time round, here’s are the highlights from my pieces since last time:

Here’s how council by-election results have been looking since last time, with January seeing patchy but genuine Liberal Democrat progress:

Before the 2017 local elections, Liberal Democrat recovery in council by-elections was stronger than we’re currently seeing. However, that was then undone by the calling of an early general election and the resulting collapse in the Ukip vote. So if this time around there isn’t a similarly unexpected one-off factor, the overall picture is one of cautious optimism that this May’s local elections will be better for the party than last year’s.

A key sign to watch out for in April will be how many candidates the party is standing. There was a big and welcome recovery in candidate numbers last year. Will that be sustained and extended this year?

To get the full council by-election results every week, sign up for my blog posts digest.

Liberal Democrat explainer videos #2: why Lib Dems should try to stand everywhere, every time
Welcome to my new series of videos explaining what the Lib Dems get up to and why. This time: why Liberal Democrats should try to stand everywhere, every time, in elections.

Wringing our hands or shrugging our shoulders isn’t enough – Jo Swinson on fighting discrimination

Out this month is Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson’s book Equal Power. Here she writes about the battle for equality, and you can get her new book yourself from Amazon, Hive or The Guardian bookshop.

With rampant sexual harassment at a corporate charity dinner, the BBC accused of breaking equal pay law, and Easyjet’s new male CEO admitting he was offered £34,000 more to do the same job as his female predecessor, you don’t need to look far to find gender inequality in the news. And that’s just stories from one week.

When I was the Liberal Democrat Minister for Women, I learned that many seemingly different issues – the gender pay gap, violence against women, workplace discrimination, body image, division of caring responsibilities, gender stereotypes, women’s under-representation in politics – are all different parts of the same fiendishly difficult jigsaw. Tackling the problem of gender inequality means chipping away at all of these issues simultaneously because together they reinforce the entrenched power imbalance between men and women.

The backlash in the letters page of the Financial Times last week showed what we’re up against, as writers bemoaned the FT even covering the issue of sexual harassment, and referred to the women groped in their workplace as “silly young girls”. When I spoke out on television – albeit colourfully – against the everyday sexism and misogyny that sees schoolgirls sexually harassed, I was called a “little missy”.

It should be a core mission for us as liberals to challenge concentrations of power, including the power hoarded in the hands of rich, white men.

Gendered assumptions are everywhere. While women bear the brunt of these injustices, rigid cultural expectations about gender also harm men, not least in terms of their mental health. Men are also undervalued in their role as fathers, something I started trying to change with the introduction of shared parental leave.

Our party is not immune to the sexism that permeates through every part of society, but we can all act – individually and collectively – to be part of the solution. We need to recognise the nature of the problem: it is structural and ingrained in each and every one of us, absorbed from the surrounding culture. Changing it takes constant attention and proactive effort. Wringing our hands or shrugging our shoulders when few women ‘come forward’ won’t cut it for our party in 2018.

We need to count women – on our membership lists, on local party committees, in our Council groups, on the conference platform – and reach out to rectify imbalances. Ask her to join the party. Ask her to be on the committee. Ask her to stand for election. Don’t ask her to sort out the catering while the men plan the campaign. Our benchmark needs to be 50:50, not simply better than before.

The most important thing is to take action – and we can all do something. Equal Power contains dozens of ideas for things you can do, from changing a conversation to launching a campaign. Together we can create a more gender equal world in politics and beyond.

Another key aspect of discrimination is of course on ethnic grounds. I hope to run a piece from Issan Ghazni, Vince Cable’s advisor on such matters, on this in the very near future.

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Best wishes and thank you for reading,


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