How the Lib Dems nearly promised a whole £12 extra for the NHS: Liberal Democrat Newswire #118

Liberal Democrat Newswire #118 came out last week, including a new version of my ‘what the Lib Dems believe’ poster and also the story from Phil Cowley of the Liberal Democrat manifesto for the general election that wasn’t in 2016. It promised a whole £12 extra for the NHS.

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.


It’s been great meeting so many readers over the last month at various events around the country (and Welwyn Hatfield Liberal Democrats will be pleased to know they still retain the crown for the neatest handwriting in the party).

Later this month I’ve got another trio of events lined up, a big training event in Western Counties, a local party AGM in the Midlands and the ALDC Kickstart conference which looks set to be the biggest ever. (Kudos to the English Party for responding to the prompting of myself and others to ensure that the funding for this was in place.) Like me to come and speak or do a training session in your patch? If it’s doable there and back from London on an evening or a weekend day, just let me know.

Happy reading – and do hit reply if you’ve got any views to share on what follows,


In this edition:


Thinking of next May’s elections? Or starting your Christmas present shopping? Perhaps want to treat yourself? As a reader, you can now get 101 Ways To Win An Election at HALF PRICE.

Just buy it from the Biteback store and use the discount code 101WWE at checkout.

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Front cover of party reform consultation document

And the survey says…

Many thanks to the 1,310 members who (after duplicates, spam and fake entries were removed) took part in the unofficial Liberal Democrat Newswire survey on the proposed reforms to the party set out by Vince Cable. The results have also been weighted to reflect the profile of the membership more closely (but the usual caveat applies that this is not a perfect process by any means).

I didn’t ask about the principle of a registered supporters scheme as party research so far shows around a 3:1 majority in favour of this. Instead, I concentrated on more contentious issues. The key headline results here were:

  • 43% of members support giving registered supporters a vote in leadership contests and 57% oppose it. Support is lowest amongst longest standing members, and increases amongst post-2015 members and also (although not included in the 1,310) amongst the non-member party supporters who also did the survey.
  • If only members can vote for party leader, then only 36% want who can stand for leader restricted to MPs. 26% would extend it to any publicly elected Lib Dem and a further 38% to any Lib Dem member. That support for opening up who can stand changes if the electorate is not members but rather members and supporters – it switches to 40% thinking only MPs should be able to stand, 28% publicly elected Lib Dems and 31% any member. Either way, this shows strong support for expanding who can stand for leader.

The other notable result which adds to what we already knew about party views is that although there is very strong support for registered supporters to be able to attend (but not vote at) federal and state party conferences, members think they should have to pay more to attend. I say notable because many people I’d chatted to previously assumed that any plan for supporters to be able to come to conferences would involve a cheaper registration rate for them. As it turns out, members think members should get the perk of a cheaper registration than non-members (something normal in many organisations of course).

When it comes to the 12-month rule, which requires people to have been a member for 12 months before being able to be a Lib Dem candidate for various public posts such as for Westminster, I’ve decided the survey results are not very useful. Sorry! I only gave the options of 12 months versus no limit, and what’s come out from things like the official party consultation sessions I presented at is how many people want a number somewhere between the two. I forced a choice in the questions which people don’t want. So although the survey apparently showed strong support for the 12-month rule, and even to extend it to include local elections, in practice I think a better reading of party opinion is that people want something somewhere between the two extremes of zero and a year.

It’s always fun reading through the comments people give to the open-ended questions. Not only for the occasional person who forgets they didn’t do the survey anonymously and then unloads ‘anonymous’ bile in their answers but also for the person (at least, I presume it is always the same person) who goes for giving a fake email address, ticks all the options for never to be contacted in any form by anyone and then puts a whole load of questions to me in their comments. Hello, whoever you are!

More seriously, the comments this time highlighted two other major themes. First, many people expressed their puzzlement over why people might want to become registered supporters but not members. I covered that in last time’s LDN (and welcome new readers who will have missed that). You can read about it in the section titled, “Members and committed supporters: two different tribes” here.

Second, fears of entryism are a significant concern. It’s why I’ve ended up viewing the best course of action as to launch a registered supporters scheme as soon as we can do it well, and then later have a debate about leadership voting rights and other rules changes at a conference. That will give a period of time in between to see how well different proposed measures to protect against entryism and fake sign-ups work (e.g. how well verifying sign-ups against the electoral register works – a process that would never be enough on its own but might be a useful part of a package of steps).

What the Lib Dems belief - new poster teaser graphic

New 2018 edition of “What the Lib Dems believe” poster

Perhaps the second most popular and successful digital idea I’ve had for the Lib Dems* has been my poster about what the Liberal Democrats believe. It’s now had a comprehensive update to bring it into the post-2017 general election world and the party’s new Demand Better messaging.

You can get the poster, both as a graphic and as a pdf, here. Feel free to reproduce it and reuse it – there’s a simple copyright note at the bottom.

* Number one in the list is the RSS automation set-up for the daily email news bulletins which result in people regularly walking up to me and saying, “I see you face on my phone whenever I wake up”. Better me than fake news, I reckon.

A badger - CC0 Public Domain

Badgers and the £12 Lib Dem plan for the NHS

Phil Cowley is one of the best chroniclers of British elections and the creator of Cowley’s Law. He even knows about the Liberal Democrats. His newly co-authored book about the 2017 general election didn’t have space for all that he knows about us. Here’s a little extra then that didn’t make it into the book.

One of the joys of writing a book on a general election is the amount of material you are given by those involved. One of the downsides is that you always end up with more material than you can possibly include. A perfect example of this is the unpublished Liberal Democrat manifesto of 2016.

As soon as Theresa May became Prime Minister, the party began to draw up plans to face a snap election. Working on the assumption that the earliest an election could realistically be held was 13 October, a Manifesto Working Group, headed by Dick Newby, aimed to finish by the scheduled meeting of the Federal Policy Committee in early September. Yet by the time the FPC met, it had become clear that there was not going to be an election in 2016 and the manifesto draft was filed away, never to see the light of day.

It gets a couple of lines in the book, as an example of how the party had at least done some half-decent preparations for an early election – far more than Labour or the Conservatives, for example – and it meant that there was a full draft manifesto ready for adaptation a year later.

It probably deserves a bit more coverage. The manifesto was to be called Opportunity Britain. It was just under 21,000 words long. It led with six key pledges, covering education, Europe, the economy, health, environment, and freedom:

  • Give every child the opportunity to make the best start by protecting school budgets
  • Give the British people the final say on the terms of Britain’s future deal with the Europe
  • Boost the economy with a [£150] billion programme of capital investment
  • Save the NHS with a £12 boost for health and care
  • Invest in renewable energy and oppose fracking
  • Introducing a Digital Bill of Rights that protects people’s powers over their own information

The draft really did say “the Europe” and it really did pledge just £12 extra for the NHS – which won’t buy you many bandages – but it’s clear later on in the document that it means £12 billion. [Ed: phew.]

The £150 billion for capital investment was in square brackets because it wasn’t at that stage clear quite how much the party would be able to commit to spending. At one point the draft talks identifies between £100-150 billion, noting that the figure is still to be finalised. (What’s £50 billion between friends?) It’s worth noting that the 2017 manifesto went for the lower bound.

Despite there being under a year between the two documents, it is interesting how little the 2016 and 2017 documents resemble one another. They have very different structures. The 2017 manifesto had nine chapters, whereas the 2016 one had twelve. Relatively little of the text appears to have been copied and pasted. Many of the individual sections are drafted differently. In 2016, for example, the party had identified eight priorities the government should be pushing for in European negotiations. These had become 11 less than a year later. While the 2016 manifesto contains a draft foreword (nominally) by Tim Farron, it is very different from the 2017 version (‘Your chance to change Britain’s future by changing the opposition’), which effectively conceded the election to Theresa May, and which was dropped into the manifesto late in the drafting.

The process of drafting the 2016 document had revealed areas in which the party lacked up-to-date policy, and those involved drew up a list of areas that needing addressing. Of these, my favourite observation was: “nothing about badgers”. Weirdly, this turned out not actually to be true. The Liberal Democrat 2017 manifesto contained a pledge to develop ‘safe, effective, humane and evidence-based ways of controlling bovine TB’—as opposed to the government’s badger cull—and there was an almost-identical pledge in the draft of Opportunity Britain.

The badgers had not been forgotten.

Philip Cowley and Dennis Kavanagh’s The British General Election of 2017 is just waiting for a spot on your Christmas shopping list.


Arron Banks video screenshot

A recap of the legal troubles Arron Banks and Brexit campaigners have got into.

Vince Cable meeting schoolchildren

In other news…

Echoing a point made rightly but unsuccessfully before the European referendum, Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse has been writing for PoliticsHome about the importance of patriotism for the pro-European cause. She makes an important point about how to persuade people. Rather less relevant to persuading people to change their minds, in my view, is the news that Nick Clegg, Tony Blair and Michael Heseltine teamed up to argue for a People’s Vote. I’m not sure who the swing voter is meant to be that this combination appeals to.

Time magazine has profiled Vince Cable, the – in their words – “unlikely revolutionary”. In Wales, Lib Dem education minister Kirsty Williams has announced a doubling of the funding to help disadvantaged children with new school uniforms and sports kit.

Six Liberal Democrat MPs voted on a bill to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland. Five voted for it to pass its first Parliamentary stage and one, Tim Farron, voted against.

Former Liberal Democrat MP and (briefly) party leadership contender Mark Oaten has left the party.

Finally, Amy Fortnam wins the ‘best placed Liberal Democrat placard of the month’ prize for her People’s Vote march contribution, a march that has helped generate a mini-surge in new Liberal Democrat members, one that is now continuing.

An apology to readers: as I sit on a couple of Liberal Democrat committees which have oversight of the changes happening at party HQ, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to write about the stories in the media of party job cuts in the way I usually would. But here are the official statements the party has made.

Tweet about length of Lib Dem Federal Board meetings

If this doesn’t put you off, find more from me on Twitter or Facebook.

Black and white photo of British passports

What might a more liberal approach to immigration look like?

A new book by a policy advisor working with Tim Farron, the party’s spokesperson on refugees now, argues that liberals need to lead the future debate about immigration. Here Russell Hargreave writes for Liberal Democrat Newswire about what the party should do:

Last year I had a more-or-less civil chat with a Labour policy adviser, who argued that the Lib Dems could never be forgiven for going into coalition. Naturally, I disagreed.

“So what was your proudest achievement in government?” he demanded. He thought it was a cunning question, but I have always known my answer.

Within months of entering government, the Lib Dems put the brake on imprisoning children in immigration detention centres. The effect was profound. In 2009, the final full year under Labour, 1,100 kids were locked up. By the end of the coalition years, that number was barely 70.

I would rather it had been zero. But the progress, making liberal reforms to one of the darkest corners of our immigration system, was immediate and obvious.

These values have always been needed.

The history of British immigration policy in the last few decades is an unhappy one, from Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood to Tony Blair’s brutal legislation against asylum seekers. The term ‘hostile environment’ might be new but the ideas are not.

So what might a more liberal approach to immigration look like?

It could develop what works – including refugee resettlement and better care for all lower earners – and should build bridges with migration sceptics. It will speak without hesitation about how good immigration has been for the country, and will be serious about integration. And it will take the future debate back into liberal hands.


Caroline Pidgeon tweet about Lib Dem vote share going up in Ealing by-election
Got a photo to feature in future editions of LDN? Just hit reply and let me know.

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

Did Theresa May block investigation into Arron Banks?

In case you missed them the first time around, here are the highlights from my blog over the last month:

New Parliamentary selections in the last month have included the constituencies of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Dominic Raab, along with the not-quite-really-news of Layla Moran’s re-selection and a clutch of PPCs across Sheffield. For a full list, including an explanation of what the acronym ‘PPC’ is all about, see my running list of Lib Dem prospective candidate selections.

By-election contests have been rather less exciting for the Lib Dems in the last few weeks, mirroring the rise in the party’s poll ratings having stalled. Even so there are some signs of progress in recovery from very weak positions – where big recoveries can still mean the party is some way of winning:

Outside of elections, the Liberal Democrats picked up a new councillor in North Norfolk with a switch from independents, but lost a councillor to independents in the Cotswolds and another in Guildford.

Council by-election results round up for 9 November

To get the full council by-election results every week, sign up for my blog posts digest and for updates about new opinion polls, sign up for Polling UnPacked.

To be prepared for a council by-election in your patch, see my 7-step guide to getting ready in advance.

Author Edward Luce on C-Span TV

The retreat of western liberalism?

Liberal Democrat member Freddie Fforde runs an excellent newsletter, “We still believe“, which is “sparked by the sense that people and politics have become dangerously out of touch but that the game isn’t over yet. It is a place to channel the frustration with polarisation and populism in to something productive, to understand what is going on around us and to do something about it.” With his kind permission, here is a recent piece he wrote for his newsletter, taking a look at the future of western liberalism. 

My recommendation this week is a short and well-written book that captures the current gloominess, Ed Luce’s Retreat of Western Liberalism (review and review).

Luce draws on familiar arguments, including stagnating growth and rising wealth inequality, as the causes for dissatisfaction and disruption. He brings a lot of these arguments, and supporting evidence, in to one place – a waypoint that will be a handy reference for the next few years.

It inspires me in two ways. First, to remember that now is a time to really stop to think, to understand why freedom and empowerment matter. These values are genuinely under threat, they are ideals that we could lose.

Second, we must understand why and how this has happened, to accept many of the arguments are lost, and to move on. He warns about the retreat of the state, the ruptures of wealth inequality and the inequal distribution of skills and talent to a few concentrated urban areas. We must continue to be creative, to reinvent and to re-establish liberal ideas for 2020 and 2030, and these may be uncomfortable and unpopular with celebrated precedents.

I will continue to make the case that, as promoters of liberal values, we have a responsibility to engage. You can start by sharing this newsletter, joining a party, or if that’s not your thing, by joining More United.

Buy Edward Luce’s The Retreat of Western Liberalism here.

What did you think of this edition?

I really value the views of readers as it helps me decide what to include in future editions.

And finally…

I’m starting to put together a new simple introduction to the Liberal Democrats. Do take a look, let me have your comments or indeed share it with others.

Best wishes till next time,


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