Candidate numbers for May elections come with a warning for Lib Dems

The final candidate totals for this May’s local elections are now collated and the confirmed story is the one I trailed in the last Lib Dem Newswire of Liberal Democrat candidate numbers up significantly on four years ago.

That’s the good news. The news also comes with a caveat and a warning.

The caveat is that the numbers may be up, but they are still a good way short of the Conservative and Labour numbers:

The warning? Well, there certainly has been an upward trend in candidate numbers over both 2017 and 2018. However, even allowing for the fact that you don’t want your candidate numbers to get to more than 100% of the number of vacancies*, it’s been a much smaller recovery than that in the party’s overall membership numbers. Party membership has hit an all-time high. Candidate numbers haven’t, nor are they that close.

It is reasonable to expect it to take some time for an increase in members to work its way through to stronger local party organisations that are better able to make good use of the increased numbers and then in turn are better placed to run more candidates. And the party has done well to retain a phenomenally high proportion of its post-2015 election new members as they’ve come up for the first year of renewal, the point at which usually large numbers drop out.

Even so, there’s a warning here. There’s much more work to do to turn our record party membership numbers into a network of party organisations of record strength.


* Unless the year is 2012, the council is Elmbridge and the party is the Monster Raving Loony Party.

5 responses to “Candidate numbers for May elections come with a warning for Lib Dems”

  1. We are fielding 30 of 32 in Hastings. We are not contesting the Greens target ward, where we with them on major environmental issues and in the general interests of pluralism. The Greens are contesting all 32 seats, but Green voters, certainly in my ward, have been impressed by this gesture, and knowing that only we are likely to beat Labour, many are supporting us. We had previously worked closely with the Greens in the Remain campaign, which is, of course, on-going.

  2. Thankfully, we don’t have either an election or referendum due here in Scotland, the first time since 2014 with the Scottish referendum, then 2015, Scottish Parliament and Brexit 2016, council and another general election 2017. However, we have not been taking a break. Over these years there has been a cadre of activists built up and in North Edinburgh and Leith (NELLD), we thought it would be a shame if we allowed that activity to dissipate.

    There isn’t an election right now so to call a person a candidate will be premature. Instead we have a system of ward champions: a key person responsible for campaigning activity in each ward. For us, that means to canvass, to survey local residents and to get local Focus newsletters out, which means building delivery networks. If a by-election arises, our ward champion should seamlessly transform into the local candidate.

    Ward candidates have been through the local council candidate selection procedures to start with. If any have larger ambitions, then they will have to pass the national approved candidate procedures too.

    The important point is that the wards are being worked. There are minimum activity standards and an annual review so if a ward candidate does not meet them, then the position will be open for re-selection. The main role of the constituency committee is to support the ward champions in their campaigning efforts. Our next elections are due in 2021. I hope all ward champions in NELLD go on to be successfully elected. I would recommend that, after the elections, that other constituencies at least have a look at the ward champion system and see if something similar may not work in their area.

    Good luck to all our candidates for May!

  3. Do you know how evenly distributed our membership is around the country and therefore whether fielding candidates in every single council seat is an achievable goal?

    Not that it isn’t something we should want, and I’m sure will happen in time.

    • I’ve not got exact figures, but looking at several places with less than full slates where I know the rough membership numbers, it’s not simply the case that we have lots of members piled up in areas that stand full slates. The number of candidates we’ve run per member is very variable and some places without a full slate certainly weren’t for want of members. One not uncommon factor, I think, is a shortage of people willing to do the paperwork to get lots of candidates sorted – focusing on getting more members stuck into such organising roles is key for long term local party growth.

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