New year, new Lib Dem leader (probably): LDN #119

Liberal Democrat Newswire #119 came out last week, including a look at what 2019 will bring the Liberal Democrats on the leadership front.

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.

Welcome to the final Liberal Democrat Newswire of 2018. Whether you have only just become a reader, are one of the hardy souls who have kept reading since 2010 or fall somewhere in-between: thank you, best wishes for 2018 and may your hopes for 2019 come true (unless they involve the destruction of the Liberal Democrats, a Hard Brexit and the trebling of chocolate prices, of course).Happy reading,


P.S. Got a few minutes of spare time as the holiday season approaches? If so, it’d be great if you can help make this newsletter (even?) better in 2019 by taking part in my annual reader survey.

In this edition:

FINAL CALL: SPECIAL OFFER FOR LIB DEM NEWSWIRE READERSThinking of next May’s elections? Or doing some last minute Christmas shopping? Perhaps want to treat yourself? As a special offer for readers, you can 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.

Vince Cable on the doorstep: photo courtesy of the Lib Dems - CC BY ND 2.0

New year, new Lib Dem leader (probably)

After the party’s autumn federal conference, I remarked how little speculation, plotting and manoeuvering there had been at what will, most likely, have been the party’s last autumn conference with Vince Cable as leader. It was almost as if the party knows but is ignoring Vince Cable’s announcement that he will stand down as leader once Brexit is resolved. Technically, that might mean 2047, but more realistically it means when the political storms clear for a while at some point in 2019.

Just as 1974-75 saw two general elections and a referendum in short order, it’s just possible 2019 may see such a crowded political calendar that not only does Phil Cowley need to fire up a bot ghostwriter to keep up with his book writing but also that there never is that clear moment for Vince Cable to stand down.

Possible, but not likely.

Which is why gently, politely and discreetly both Ed Davey and Jo Swinson are working their way through just the sort of steps you would expect of someone intending to run for party leader within the year. Will both stand? Probably, but it’s worth bearing in mind that both thought about and decided against standing last time. With last time not that long ago, it’d be foolish to assume that both automatically will.

Another person who didn’t stand last time is Layla Moran. Many people want her to stand next time, but so far she seems set on her course of sitting out this contest on the basis of being a newly elected MP with a small majority and big boundary changes. Expect though her to come under more pressure to stand as those reasons for hesitation also flow from a strength: her newness to Parliament which also means that unlike Davey or Swinson, Moran was not a minister in the coalition government. Not being a minister didn’t in the end help out Tim Farron’s leadership that much. But the idea that the best way for the party to recover is to move on from the coalition generation is likely to result in many wishing Layla Moran does stand.

All of which is why if you fancy a political flutter, my tip for the Polling Matters / Political Betting podcast back in September was to look out for someone such as Christine Jardine: another non-minister MP and also someone who would break the party’s run of 100% male party leaders. With all three of the favourites being people who decided not to run last time, there’s likely to be some value in a bet at decent odds on someone else.

But one lesson from history is worth remembering. Whilst it is traditional that the early favourite does not win Conservative Party leadership contests, in the case of the Lib Dems the early favourite does. There’s often a surprisingly strong challenge from someone else, but they fail and the favourite wins.

Which means the chances are next Christmas’s edition will be discussing the outlook for new party leader, Jo Swinson and hoping that the surprisingly strong second-place finisher finds a productive role too.

A blank office wall with someone working at a desk

Now available in wall poster format: What the Lib Dems believe

The most common complaint about my poster on what the Lib Dems believe is that it isn’t really a poster. It’s a tall, thin online graphic.

So, taking a leaf from the “Do the opposite of Theresa May” book, I’ve listened to critics, changed my plans and come up with something different. There is therefore now an A3 landscape colour version available, perfect for printing off and placing on your office wall, fridge, toilet door or the back of an unsuspecting family member on Boxing Day.

Grab your copy of it here or visit my website for the full original version.

Rotherham and Barnsley Lib Dems campaigning in all weathers - photo from the local party

In praise of Barnsley Lib Dems

They are darn impressive as the following quotes from what I’ve written about them in the last year or so demonstrate:

“Even better to see a Lib Dem candidate in Barnsley as not only has this ward never had a Lib Dem candidate since it was first contested in 2004, but John Ellis-Mourant this time even managed a clear second place” – September 2017

“Great to see Paul Nugent standing for the Lib Dems, as the party had stood only once in the ten previous contests since the ward was created and even that was back in 2008” – December 2017

“Kevin Bennett was the Liberal Democrat, ensuring the party fought the ward for the second contest in a row after nine previous contests without a Lib Dem” – July 2018

And above all…

In particular, two Liberal Democrat victories [in the May 2018 elections] had me ripping my shirt off, running around the office chanting, “Yes! Let’s conga like we’re all Alex Cole-Hamilton“. Nearly…

The other was up in Barnsley. Not one of the party’s hotspots of support over the years. So much so that during one Parliamentary by-election I remember a visiting Lib Dem MP doing a great job of talking up Lib Dem prospects in the region. All was going well until the journalist pointed out that in the Barnsley local elections that year the the Lib Dems were putting up the princely total of one candidate. So in a year when Labour was (meant to be) riding high, fabulous to see Hannah Kitching win. From a standing start. With a 778 vote majority.

That amazing team has local elections again in May.

So as it’s the season of goodwill, why not show your appreciation and join me in making a quick donation to help the team?

Stage scene from a production of Waiting for Godot - photo via Wikimedia Commons

Waiting for Godot: a foretaste of waiting for Jeremy Corbyn on #PeoplesVote

“Let’s go.”

“We can’t.”

“Why not?”

“We’re waiting for Godot.”

Flipping through some of the most famous lines from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot often feels like a sneak preview of the fallout from the European referendum. Especially if you pitch Jeremy Corbyn in the role of Godot and pro-Europeans as Vladimir and Estragon.

Just as Corbyn absented himself from a key part of the European referendum campaigning by going on holiday instead, now the People’s Vote campaign wants us all to hang around waiting for Corbyn to turn up and back a referendum on the Brexit deal.

Hence the objections of some of the Labour figures in the People’s Vote campaign to the Lib Dems taking a prominent campaigning role on the issue – preferring there to be no vote in the Commons for the moment on a People’s Vote in the Commons and preferring to do photos without the Lib Dems present.

Rather, we are all meant to hang around politely and out of sight, waiting for Corbyn-Godot finally to appear as our saviour.

This is not a new dynamic. Hanging around, making concessions and waiting patiently for Labour to lumber up and support electoral reform in the House of Commons has never worked. There’s always been an excuse in the end from Labour to back away. Same too for an elected House of Lords – again, despite nominal Labour support, whenever it comes to the crunch no matter how long Lib Dems have waited before the vote, no matter how many concession to make it easier for Labour to back reform the Lib Dems have supported, in the end, Labour’s not been willing to follow through.

And that’s been when Labour leaders have had varying degrees of actual support for reforms in the Commons or Lords. This time around, Labour has a leader with a life-long record of Euroscepticism, frequently voting with right-wing Tory Eurosceptics.

The People’s Vote campaign has done many great things. But in expecting everyone else to play the role of Vladimir and Estragon, waiting for Godot to appear before pushing the case in the Commons, they’ve got it wrong.

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn

In his own words: Jeremy Corbyn's repreated failure to oppose Brexit

Share this on Facebook or Imgur.

A Lib Dem metal badge on a jacket

In other news…

Immigration has been under the spotlight again recently, with Ed Davey calling for a lifting of the ban on asylum seekers working while their cases are considered and Wera Hobhouse calling for an end to the demonisation of immigration in a new video.

Vince Cable has a new Chief of Staff, former councillor, London Assembly member and party HQ staffer, Baroness Dee Doocey. He’s also been telling the Daily Mail about the best and worst holidays he’s had, with rather a lot of implicit political messaging worked in. (Now is the time for my regular reminder about how many current and potential Lib Dem voters read the Mail.)

Tom Brake has been calling for the Christmas recess* for MPs to be postponed if necessary for Parliament to get to vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal. (You can join the debate over this on the LDN Facebook page.) Meanwhile, Rabina Khan, who switched to the Lib Dems earlier this year, has been securing media cover over the risks Brexit poses to our curry industry.

Whilst Brexit remains very much in the news, the refugee crisis in Europe has mostly fallen out the headlines. That’s something Christine Jardine wants to remedy, reminding people that refugees like young Alan Kurdi are still dying in the Med.

In Angus, councillor Richard Moore has been banned from council meetings for three months for sexist behaviour and suspended from the party.

Finally, a shout out to councillor Hamish McCallum from Southwark. He has won the City Law School’s Sibel Dedezade Award for his pro bono work with Grenfell survivors. Congratulations, Hamish.

* It’s not a holiday. Many MPs spend much of the recess hard at work in their constituencies, even doing visits on Christmas Eve.

Tweet of the month

Victory for Lib Dem campaign on rights for renters

Got a suggestion for next mont’s featured tweet? Just let me know by tagging me on Twitter.

Lambeth Liberal Democrats training event in a local cafe

Looking for a speaker for a Liberal Democrat event?

It’s been a busy few weeks speaking at Liberal Democrat events, including both the Amber Valley and Stevenage local party AGMs and doing a campaign brainstorming session in Lambeth (pictured). Thankfully the schedule eases up for Christmas through January and February are already filling up quickly now…

Would you like me to come and speak at your Liberal Democrat event or to run a training session? Do drop me an email if it’s at the weekend or if you’re within travel time of London and back in an evening – very happy to add in more dates to my 2019 diary.

Photo of the month

Stop Breixt bus charging past a road closed sign - photo via Asa Bennett on Twitter

Photo courtesy of Asa Bennett on Twitter.

Got a photo to feature in future editions of LDN? Just hit reply and let me know.

A thank you note in a plant

Liberal Democrat Newswire is provided for free. Thank you so much to all the kind readers who donate to help cover the costs of Lib Dem Newswire. With readership – and so costs – continuing to rise, that’s hugely appreciated.
It’s very quick and simple to sign up for a small regular donation with a direct debit from your bank account using GoCardless:

Thank you!

Using a direct debit this way gives you all the full legal protections and the ability to cancel at any time, whilst for me it makes the costs of the payments very low and keeps the administration very simple – so I have more time for eating chocolate, er… writing newsletters.

Other donation options, including by PayPal or cheque, are here.

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

Lib Dems down an MP and a peer

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 picked up a pace, including in BerwickshireColchester, HaringeyIslington and Watford. You can check on all the latest results that have been made public in the PPC list on my website. (As ever tips on omissions from that list much appreciated; please let me know privately as sometimes a name isn’t yet listed because the local party hasn’t yet press released it.)

Selections have also been announced for Mayor of London, former independent candidate Siobhan Benita, and the London Assembly top-up list. GLA constituency selections are to come. Those results so far have resulted in the most diverse set of prospective candidates the party has put together for the GLA in the six rounds of elections since the GLA was introduced. Promising progress.

The ‘six month rule’ is now in effect in those areas with local elections next May, meaning that by-elections are not triggered if seats become vacant. Instead, the by-election is delayed until May. As the areas up for election in May are also overall the more promising parts of the country for the Lib Dems, this means that the council by-elections which are taking place are generally in less promising territory than earlier in the year. As a result, the decline in the number of dramatic Lib Dem seat gains is not a matter of concern, especially as the party is continuing to run up some strong vote shares:

North Norfolk now has a Liberal Democrat council leader, Sarah Butikofer, after resignations from the Conservative Party removed their grip on power. In Winchester, the Lib Dems have picked up a new councillor after a Conservative-turned-independent then decided to join the Lib Dems. However, in Peterborough, two former Liberal Democrat councillors who went independent have now joined Labour.

Charts showing round-up of local council by-election performance

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.

A finger touching the screen of a smartphone

10 tips for better email campaigning

Email isn’t new. It has been around for only one year less than me but is still only patchily used by local parties even though more than four in five voters use email. That is more people with emails than with reachable individual letterboxes in many urban areas, for a start. Indeed, as I’ve written before:

The story of the last few decades isn’t just about the rise of the online world. It’s also about the increasing problems with traditional ways of communicating with voters on the ground. Fewer phone numbers are in the phonebook; fewer households have someone in when you call round; and fewer properties have accessible individual letterboxes.

That is why mixing old and new techniques is so important. Not only do the new offer up new opportunities, but the old are losing some of what they used to offer too.

How to make use of this opportunity? Here are ten top tips for email, based on training sessions I have done in the past with Rob Blackie and Cllr Iain Roberts:

  1. Collect more email addresses – the best wards have got to having email addresses for around 25% of voters. Asking people on the doorstep and petitions are the mainstays for this. And always, respect the tortoise.
  2. Use your email addresses to communicate with voters regularly – a good tempo to hit is one email per week and, when the content is good and interesting (an important caveat!), people are happy to read messages from us that frequently.
  3. Use a professional email program, such as MailChimp, NationBuilder or Prater Raines – it makes your life much easier.
  4. Remember most people will read your email on a mobile device – and so don’t pick designs that work badly when viewed in mobile, such as because they force several columns across the page.
  5. Emphasise useful local information rather than party political information – snow gritting updates work better in emails than messages on land value taxation. This in part is due to the collapse of local news coverage in most of the country; even areas with vibrant local newspapers have seen readerships drop so there is a big opening for us to provide timely local news by email.
  6. Shorter messages usually work better than longer, unless there is a particular reason to go for length (such as a controversial planning application where lots of people genuinely want to know more or, as with this newsletter, a format that you’ve tested and found people like).
  7. Subject lines are important – they don’t have to be super-clever wordsmithing, but they need to work well. Test and learn to work out what subject lines work best for you.
  8. Use the information from your emails to inform the content for your Focus leaflets. For example, if you put four stories in an email and one has a much higher click-through rate that the others, that is almost certainly the best bet for your Focus front page story too.
  9. Use simple surveys in emails to gather canvass information and ‘voted’ information from postal voters and on polling day.
  10. Test, test, test. Measure what works and learn from it – don’t just think that what you guess works is right. Use the data to find out. Start with focusing on the open rate and how to raise it.

And if you make mistakes? Remember to share them too – as learning what does not work is just as useful as learning what does work.

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 have a new favourite thing: dogs who failed to be service dogs. All hail Ryker.

Best wishes till next time,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments and data you submit with them will be handled in line with the privacy and moderation policies.