Liberal Democrat Newswire #122 came out this week and as some of it is about this weekend’s conference in York, here it is on this site a little earlier than usual. If you’d like the convenience of getting future edition direct by email, just sign up here.
Welcome to edition #122, including Layla Moran on where the party should go next, exclusive survey results on what Liberal Democrat members think of The Independent Group and whether or not the party should seek a deal with it, and some great campaign videos from around the country.
Newly elected as an MP in 2017, Layla Moran is from one of the local parties which has run a successful de facto registered supporters scheme for many years. What lessons does she draw from her own political experience therefore about the proposed party reforms? I asked her to set them out for Liberal Democrat Newswire and here is what she said…
As the uncertainty surrounding the Brexit crisis continues to grow, one thing is crystal clear: politics is changing.
Like me, you might feel as if our liberal values and identity are in danger of being drowned out amidst all the noise and clamour in Westminster. But, with Brexit on the horizon and divisions running ever deeper in our country, those values are needed now more than ever.
We are at a political crossroads, and we need to choose to place ourselves at the heart of the changing nature of politics and build an inclusive, modern movement.
Otherwise, we are in real danger of being left behind.
At Spring Conference in York, on Saturday 16th March, Lib Dem members have a chance to do just that. I will be voting to create a registered supporters’ scheme, open up the leadership to a broader pool of candidates and give supporters the right to vote for leader.
Knocking on doors and speaking to my constituents in the last few years has shown me there is a real appetite for a new, changed politics in this country, and we need to listen and back these proposals. We need to give a voice to the millions of citizens in our country who feel powerless and frustrated by the direction of our country.
I only won Oxford West and Abingdon in 2017 because of the tireless campaigners, supporters and voters who were not themselves Liberal Democrat members. We worked together, in a progressive alliance, to take the seat from the Conservatives.
In this broader campaign in my constituency two years ago, our voice was louder. By opening up the party, we will launch a free and inclusive movement open to those who share our values and believe in a fair, open and liberal Britain. Broadening the pool of leadership candidates will empower ordinary members, and registered supporters, to elect the best leader for our cause.
I recently found out that for every person willing to join the party, there are another two who are willing to commit to supporting and helping us without becoming members. This is the ratio we experienced in the years under Paddy Ashdown’s and Charles Kennedy’s leadership, and the incredible success of our campaigns this year has shown that a further 250,000 people are backing us nationwide, on top of our growing membership of 100,000 people.
These supporters are out there, and a formal scheme will enable us to best include them as part of our force for change. To give them a stake in our movement, the supporters must have the right to vote for the next leader, giving them a wider national mandate when they are elected.
When I first heard the proposals for allowing non-MPs to stand for leader, I thought WHAT?! I thought, this is so different to what we do now, would it even work?
Liberal Democrats have always advocated localism, and there are credible leaders in our councils, as well as in Wales and Scotland at a devolved level, who are just as capable of being leader as the MPs in Westminster. There’s no reason why any one of them couldn’t successfully lead our party.
I know that, when we vote to (hopefully) make these proposals a reality later this month, we will be a significant step closer to building the open, liberal Britain we all want and need; a larger movement will live out our values more than ever and diversify our party as well as broaden its appeal. We will be able to bring about political change.
And anyway, why should I, or any of the current group of MPs, have more of a right to lead our party simply because we were luckier than others in the last election cycle?
So, my call to you is simple: act now. It is urgent. Join me at Spring conference in showing the millions of politically homeless people in this country that they have a home.
That home must be the Liberal Democrats.
Exclusive survey results: Lib Dem members and The Independent Group
Welcoming the creation of The Independent Group, positive about its impact on Brexit and politics, nervous about its impact on the Liberal Democrats and keen to see some sort of arrangement between the Lib Dems and TIG: those are the views of party members revealed in the latest Liberal Democrat Newswire survey.
After removing non-members, duplicates and the like, just under 2,500 members took part in the survey, run using the same methodologies to protect against fake entries and to make the survey representative of members as I used for the survey that accurately predicted the outcome of the Lamb vs Farron leadership election (and more accurately than all but one other prediction).
That said, I deliberately use the word “survey” rather than “opinion poll”. I’d treat this as much more reliable than asking 10 random Lib Dem members in the foyer of party conference, ringing up the dozen party activists in a TV producer’s contact list or a party member relying on what ‘everyone’ is saying in their Facebook feed. But it’s not quite in the same league as a full-on opinion survey.
One important sign of the robustness of the findings: cutting the data by gender, length of party membership and level of activism finds the participants skewed towards long-standing male activists (hello people like me!). But the figures do not vary that much by any of these three criteria (length of membership, gender and level of activism). As solid data to re-weight the data across all three isn’t available, I have instead thrown in a few caveats below where there is a difference worth noting.
With that, let us look at what members said. First up, party members like the creation of The Independent Group. Three quarters (76%) are more hopeful or much more hopeful about what will happen on Brexit as a result of its creation, and fractionally more are more hopeful about the future for British politics overall.
But only a bit over half (56%) are more hopeful about what its creation means for the future of Liberal Democrat values, and that drops further to under a third (31%) being more hopeful about the future of the party specifically. In fact, slightly more are less hopeful (33%) about the future for the party as a result of the creation of The Independent Group.
The hope for Britain but concerns about the party are reflected in the views on what TIG and the Lib Dems stand for. Two-thirds (66%) think TIG’s values are similar to their own, but that’s down on 97% who think the Lib Dem values are similar to their own. (If you’re one of the 3% who are a party member but don’t share the party’s values, I’d love to hear why you are a member – please do hit reply.)
Newer members differ from long-standing members on the value questions. Amongst those who were members before the 2015 election, just under two-thirds (61%) say TIG’s values are similar to their own, whilst for those who have joined since the European referendum this rises to over three quarters (76%) – a difference which suggests that the true overall figure for the party is rather more than the two-thirds mentioned above given the skew in the data.
As a result of these views on values, members want to see some sort of arrangement with TIG but not full-blown assimilation between the Lib Dems and TIG.
Just over half (55%) think, “The Lib Dems should make an agreement with The Independent Group over Parliamentary by-election candidates, even if this means the Lib Dems not standing in all of them”. That rises to two thirds (65%) amongst members who have joined since the European referendum. A further quarter of all members (23%) want some sort of arrangement but without withdrawing any candidates.
Similarly, looking at political arrangements more generally, just over half (51%) opt for preferring, “Lib Dems and The Independent Group forming a political alliance, including deals over candidates” with another one in seven (14%) wanting close cooperation without deals over candidates. It is worth noting that nearly a quarter (24%) want full on consummation with a new party being formed by TIG and the Lib Dems – and that rises to over a third (34%) amongst members who joined since the European referendum.
As for what will happen, rather than what people want to happen, just over half think there will be a deal involving candidates (51%), one in five think there will be looser cooperation without a candidate deal (20%) and only a bit over one in twenty think there will be a merged party (7%). Newer members are only slightly more likely than long-standing members to think this is likely. That suggests that for all the differences between newer and longer-standing members, given that in the end their expectations are very similar, with good party leadership they should be able to be kept united. Especially as the sounds coming out of The Independent Group are not those of an organisation wanting a particularly close relationship with the Lib Dems, for the time being at least.
‘Doing good’ in Vauxhall: could Hatch help bring an end to Labour’s monopoly on civil society?
I was honoured to be selected as the Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Vauxhall last December. Stepping into role I have been blessed with a vibrant local party of more than 1,300 members, a strong Liberal Democrat history in the area (we ran Lambeth council in 2002-2006), and the legacy of a formidable 2017 snap general election campaign led by my predecessor George Turner (now laying low in Reading), which increased our vote share three-fold.
I also have the mixed blessing of being up against the most Leave-leaning of Labour MPs, Kate Hoey, in a constituency where four in five voters opted to Remain.
This should be the recipe for a solid Liberal Democrat advance. But while our 2017 achieved a great deal, it was not enough to stop Hoey from increasing her majority.
There are a multitude of reasons for this, which we’re still striving to understand. A highly transitive population (one in ten constituents move in and out each year), the fact that many voters do not know which constituency they live in or who their MP is, and the flawed first-past-the-post system that incentivises tactical voting, can all go some way to explaining the challenge.
But this is not the full story. For in Lambeth a more powerful partisan narrative has emerged. This narrative beguiles voters with the idea that if you want to make a difference on the causes you care about in your community then you must vote Labour. Not only does Labour have a monopoly on council seats, but it also has a monopoly on local civil society. I often find myself questioning where the actions of our elected Labour representatives, those of the local Constituency Labour Parties, and those of local campaigners start and stop. You might say that Labour has a monopoly on ‘doing good’.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s amazing to live in a place where so many are committed to bringing about positive change. But it is not healthy that one political viewpoint dominates all spheres of public life. It is not good for the community when we can hold neither council nor civil society to account for the way that things are – or how they became so. It is not good for the community when all civic action becomes partisan, or vote-seeking. And it is certainly not good for the community when any hope of bringing about positive change is dependent on a deeply paternalistic relationship with the local Labour Party, on whom we depend for our housing, social care and much more.
So where does Hatch fit into this? No, it’s not a vehicle uniquely designed to break the hegemony of the Labour Party in Lambeth – or to get the Liberal Democrats elected in Vauxhall at the next general election.*
It’s an investment in the long term. An opportunity to bring to life the principles and the deeply participative community politics that we, as liberals, have long been known for. It’s an appeal to all those millions of people around the country who we know share our values but are put off by partisan politics (ref: early support for The Independent Group – cunningly not yet a political party) and who want to take action on the causes they care about.
Hatch is an experiment. It’s still early days. Building on the work of Your Liberal Britain, which sought to be a campaign for powerful members (of the Liberal Democrats), Hatch will be the campaign for powerful citizens (of Great Britain) – in service of the causes most important to them and their communities. It will bring to life, and spread, the values that the Liberal Democrat members and so many others share.
For me and my fellow activists across Vauxhall, Hatch has great potential. In time, my hope is that it will become a space where we can campaign on critical issues from rough sleeping to air pollution to school exclusions to knife crime, alongside our neighbours and free from top-down party political directives.
Who knows? Perhaps in future, it will also serve as a reminder that no political party has a monopoly on doing good – and encourage the people of Vauxhall and beyond to make rather different choices at the ballot box.
Canterbury Liberal Democrats are using YouTube to amplify their campaign for more social housing locally.
New podcast episode: The Independent Group – earthshattering or earthbound?
We’re out of pilots and off with the real thing: Stephen Tall and I have released the first ‘proper’ episode of our podcast, now sporting a name too: Never Mind The Bar Charts. (The picture above is possibly the first political bar chart in the UK.)
Listen and enjoy as Stephen and I discuss the future of The Independent Group, its possible impact on British politics, parallels with the SDP and what it means for the Liberal Democrats. With a shout out to the Polling Matters podcast episode which took a look at TIG polling and the Times Red Box podcast interview with Anna Soubry.
Or, hit subscribe in your podcast app to get future episodes delivered straight to you, and please do rate and review the show, if only to make Stephen and myself happy. Thank you ASinTT and Alxbear for being the first two to post reviews.
My life is something my grandfather would never have thought possible – Lib Dem councillor
From a hut in Kashmir to the steps of Number 10 Downing Street – Sheffield councillor and the city’s Liberal Democrat group leader Shaffaq Mohammed says his life’s journey is something his grandfather would never have thought possible.
Willie Rennie has unveiled a new gender-balanced spokesperson team for the party in Scotland: “From mental health to a People’s Vote, Scottish Liberal Democrats have been leading the political agenda in Scotland. This new team is bursting with talented people”.
Christine Jardine MP has launched a Bill in Parliament to outlaw the so-called ‘Pink Tax’, emulating her childhood hero Billie Jean King’s fight against discrimination.
Around 1 in 5 of the party’s members are in London which, as the capital has no regular local elections itself this year, makes London members a huge pool of potential volunteer support for those with elections. If, that is, the party does rather better at mobilising help from other areas than it usually does.
Got a suggestion for next month’s featured tweet?
Just let me know by tagging me on Twitter.
Do say hello if you see me at future dates or the party’s spring conference in York, and by all means get in touch if you’d like me to come and do a talk or a training session in your patch.
Friends of Young Liberals is the new scheme set up by the party’s youth wing to reach out and engage with the wider party membership.
It will involve a monthly newsletter including updates about the Young Liberals and guest editorials on the youth perspective on strategy, policy and party direction. Plans are also underway to hold social events across the country, conference gatherings, and even a Friends of Young Liberals dinner to get together with and thank our supporters.
A video rather than a photo this month as this campaigning video from Manchester is so good and deserves a wider audience.
Got a photo or video to feature in future editions of LDN? Just hit reply and let me know.
Liberal Democrat Newswire is provided for free. Thank you so much to all the kind readers who donate to help cover its costs. It’s quick and easy to sign up for a small regular donation with a direct debit using GoCardless:
(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.)
What the voters are saying
The polls have started to register two new parties – Nigel Farage’s Ukip v2.0, aka The Brexit Party, and the Independent Group.
On the former, support is so low that I’ve not (yet?) added a column for them in the table below. On the latter, as the Polling Matters podcast has pointed out, care should be taken over the results featuring TIG as they often come not from standard voting questions but from ones which prompt first with an explanation or context for TIG. That’s understandable when polling about a party that doesn’t yet exist but does mean such questions may overstate TIG’s support by first making people think particularly about it.
The Lib Dems, meanwhile, continue in the normal voting questions to be in the ‘nearly persistently into double figures but not quite’ territory.
Outside of elections, the Liberal Democrat local government base has grown further thanks to a growing pattern of councillors switching* to the party from other parties. The last fortnight alone has seen switches in Beverley, East Devon, Lincolnshire, Somerset and West Sussex.
A naff photo but genuine praise for Liberal Democrats in the North West of England, where the regional party made a really simple but useful innovation. Ahead of this May’s local elections, the region put together an online council candidate approval form. This saves local parties across the region all having to do their own, and by having everything integrated into one form it means the region has been able to do things such as emailing members all across their patch encouraging them to put their names forward – and making it easy for people to respond.
Making it easy to encourage people to apply to be candidates is a smart move with the party needing to get nearly 1 in 10 members (!) standing for it to have a full slate of candidates this May.
Well done, North West Lib Dems.
Let me know if you’re interested in copying this idea in your patch. Happy to put you in touch with the team.
Thank you for the trolling
I suspect the readers of my website are all in on a secret conspiracy to troll me. The piece that has driven the most book sales in the last few months is one about an election winning book. Just not one by me…!
Finally, congratulations to Sabine Mayeux, winner of a copy of More Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box in the prize draw for participants in my annual reader survey. Happy reading Sabine!
Best wishes till next time,
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