Welcome to Lib Dem Newswire #125, looking at the second amazing election night for the Liberal Democrats in less than a month and the kicking-off of a Lib Dem leadership contest.
We’re not in 2018 anymore. Or 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011… In fact, you probably have to go back to 2004 for there last to have been such a combination of multiple election triumphs in different sorts of contests for the party that beat predictions, defied the pundits of doom and shook-up politics.
And you have to go back to 1906 for the last time the Liberal Democrats or our predecessors outpolled the Conservatives in a national election. So long ago, I hope he won’t mind mentioning, that even Vince Cable wasn’t born then. Ironically, that 1906 triumph came after a Conservative Prime Minister reliant on another group with unionist in their name for votes in the House of Commons was brought down by deep splits over Britain’s trading relationship with the rest of the world. With the Liberal Unionists then and the Democratic Unionists now, it all sounds familiar…
P.S. I’m giving a talk about the future for the Liberal Democrats this coming Saturday (1 June) in Sutton. Do drop me a line if you’d like to know more about the event – it looks a great line up of sessions the local party has put together.
In this edition:
Sixteen Liberal Democrat MEPs, 20% vote share
As I wrote last time about the local elections:
This was well above Liberal Democrat expectations, not only those given out publicly but those internally as well.
It was same again in the European elections.
That European wow includes:
A footnote for long-term Liberal Democrats: Diana Wallis, former Lib Dem MEP who joined Change UK, failed to get elected in Yorkshire and the Humber.
Key facts from the Euro results
|The Brexit Party got the media spotlight, but the shift to strongly Remain parties is a huge part of the picture – and shows the risks for the Conservatives for plumping for a Hard Brexit leader and policy:|
|Despite Labour’s efforts to make the election about something other than choosing between Leave and Remain, that was the key political dividing line as shown by both the vote share changes and the vote shares:|
|Will those who switched to the Liberal Democrats stick with the party? Intriguingly and promisingly, Lord Ashcroft’s post-European election polling shows that nearly everyone who voted Lib Dem in the Euros expects to stick with the Lib Dems at the next general election:|
The Liberal Democrat MEPs
- Catherine Bearder (South East) – the party’s one previous MEP, safely re-elected and with a huge cohort of colleagues
- Phil Bennion (West Midlands) – a former MEP, returning to the European Parliament this time
- Jane Brophy (North West)
- Judith Bunting (South East)
- Chris Davies (North West) – a former MEP, returning to the European Parliament this time
- Dinesh Dhamija (London)
- Barbara Gibson (East of England)
- Antony Hook (South East)
- Martin Horwood (South West) – former MP for Cheltenham
- Shaffaq Mohammed (Yorkshire & the Humber)
- Lucy Nethsingha (East of England)
- Bill Newton Dunn (East Midlands) – a former MEP, returning to the European Parliament this time
- Luisa Porritt (London)
- Sheila Ritchie (Scotland)
- Caroline Voaden (South West)
- Irina von Wiese (London) – who wrote a great piece for Lib Dem Newswire about the origins of her political views
You can follow the Lib Dem MEPs on Twitter through my list at twitter.com/markpack/lists/libdem-meps.
More information about each, including biographies and contact details, is on the party website.
How should political parties elect their leaders?
That’s the subject of a Constitution Unit event in London that I’m taking part in later this month:
Theresa May has announced that she will soon stand down as leader of the Conservatives, and Sir Vince Cable is stepping down as leader of the Lib Dems. Election of the new leader rests with the party members, but with declining membership all parties face the same dilemma: can the narrow membership base be relied upon to choose a leader with wider electoral appeal? And if parties widen the selectorate to include supporters as well as members, do they risk losing control?
This seminar brings together four experts on all the main political parties to discuss their different strategies for trying to resolve this dilemma: Tim Bale and Paul Webb have been leading the ESRC Party Members project, Jess Garland is an expert on extending leadership voting rights in the Labour party, and Mark Pack is an expert on the Lib Dems, and editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire
- Professor Tim Bale, Professor of Politics, Queen Mary University
- Professor Paul Webb, Professor of Politics, Sussex European Institute, University of Sussex
- Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research, the Electoral Reform Society
- Dr Mark Pack – Former Head of Innovations at the Liberal Democrats
- Chair – Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit
Attendance is free. Book your space here.
The Lib Dems and Change UK
Before May’s double-hit of elections, I commented that Change UK was taking a risky course by giving the Liberal Democrats the chance to use election victories to massively change the dynamic between the two parties. So it has come to pass, with not only resurgent Liberal Democrats but also leading Change UK voices talking as if the balance between these two parties has shifted markedly in favour of the Lib Dems.
But as I wrote in LDN #124, Change UK’s many struggles shouldn’t be a reason for Lib Dems to crow. That’s both because we’ve not exactly been short of our own organisational issues in the past, and also because Change UK’s initial popularity showed it could reach people the Liberal Democrats can’t. Or at least, can’t yet – because of course the result of the Euros is likely to see that group shrink in size.
Given just how well the Lib Dems did in the home patches of Heidi Allen, Chuka Umunna and others, and the overall vote share of under 4% for Change UK, it’d certainly be easy to dismiss their support. Yet the number of votes they pulled in, for example, the North East was comfortably more than the gap by which the Lib Dems missing out on electing Fiona Hall as an MEP. Add to that Change UK’s far from trivial fundraising ability and they are still a factor to consider.
In doing that, Lib Dems shouldn’t treat Change UK the way Labour often treats the Lib Dems, i.e. with condescending assumptions about how we shouldn’t really exist and should meekly follow along with whatever they want. Given how noticeably warmer Jo Swinson has been to dealings with them than Edward Davey, expect this to be an issue in the forthcoming Lib Dem leadership contest. I’m looking forward to hearing what both have to say on this topic.
What the Lib Dems need to do now to succeed
One important lesson from Change UK for the Liberal Democrats is how a series of organisational blunders can end up badly tripping up a party. Many of CUK’s hiccups were far too small to be noticed by most people. But they added up to a story of failure that set the wider tone for their coverage as CUK moved in the media from being an exciting new thing taking off to a struggling new thing possibly doomed.
There is still much to do on the organisation front for the Liberal Democrats, including getting the party’s finances into a sustainable long-term shape, improving our diversity, recruiting more members/registered supporters and involving them better in the party, and upping our game on digital.
It both pleases and depresses me that during the European elections it was regularly the case that the Lib Dem Newswire Facebook page I run – on about 15 minutes a day as a little side-hobby – got more engagement than the combined total for Vince, Ed, Jo and Layla. It’s nice to have confirmed that I know what I’m doing online… but still, frequently more than all four put together? There’s huge untapped potential for the party there.
But what the party needs to do isn’t only about organisation. Bollocks to Brexit worked powerfully as a message and is one that will have plenty of life in it, at least until the autumn and quite possibly long beyond that. Moving away from the traditional Liberal Democrat approach to Europe – ‘we’re pro European, but because we’re worried about Devon/Norfolk/insert other area we’re going to caveat it with…’ – to ‘we’re pro-European and bollocks to those who disagree with us’ – has paid huge political dividends.
Similar stridency on a select number of other issues will be most welcome – but working out who you need to enthuse and who it is ok to put off can only be done sensibly and successfully within a clear overall strategy. The answer to that, of course, is to fully embrace a core votes strategy of the sort David Howarth and I set out in our seminal pamphlet after the 2015 election. I talked about this in more detail in my talk earlier this year about party strategy. If you haven’t yet watched you can see here:
Just how happy should the Lib Dems be and how rude is ‘bollocks’? Never Mind The Bar Charts #8
Episode #8 of Never Mind The Bar Charts saw Stephen Tall and myself pick over the 2019 local election results to see how happy the Liberal Democrats should be. We also looked forward to the European elections (use hindsight to laugh at / applaud our predictive powers), discussed the use of ‘bollocks’ (complete with Ofcom guidance) and considered the overall pace of the Liberal Democrat recovery.
You can listen to this episode Never Mind The Bar Charts online here. Or, you can find Never Mind The Bar Charts on Breaker, Google Podcasts, iTunes, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, Spotify and Stitcher.
Find Never Mind The Bar Charts on social media
Like the show? Do follow on Twitter or Facebook. It’s a great way to hear more about the podcast – and to let your friends and colleagues know about it too.
Marked registers made easy thanks to Lib Dem software volunteers
Fred Fisher has been leading a team of software volunteers working to make easier one of the key post-election admin tasks: dealing with marked electoral registers. Here he explains what it’s all about and how Liberal Democrats can make use of the new tools.
The more voters we talk to during a campaign, the more votes we win. Knowing if someone is likely to vote is crucial to using our time effectively.
Finding out who votes and who doesn’t used to be time-consuming and complicated, but now we can use the power of computers to find out who the voters are automatically, just by clicking a button.
In the last general election, less than 70% of those eligible voted. In the last local elections it was only 35%. So knowing who is and isn’t likely to vote can make a huge difference to how effective our campaigning is. If we knock on the doors of only the people who are likely to vote, we can speak with three times as many voters in the same session – as if we had three times as many volunteers. We can also make sure supporters who don’t usually vote are given extra encouragement to sign up for postal votes.
How do we know who the voters are? On polling day, at every polling station there is a printed copy of the electoral register. After you vote, your name is crossed off the list. The resulting document is called a “marked register”. Political parties may purchase a scanned copy of the marked register from local councils after an election.
Until recently, the only way to load it into our canvassing database was for a volunteer to go over each page manually, entering data into a spreadsheet. This took hundreds of volunteers thousands of hours for each election; plus a big coordination effort by a heroic data officer. As a result, less than a third of local Lib Dem parties do it at all; and those that do tend to focus just on a few target wards.
But now we have built a new computer system that can process your marked registers automatically. If every local party did this, we could triple the number of voters we speak with in local elections. Furthermore, our volunteers could spend more time talking with voters and less time filling out spreadsheets.
The system is certified by party HQ as compliant with GDPR. Accuracy varies depending on the local area, but in most areas it’s more accurate than human-entered data. If it doesn’t work well enough in your area at first, the machine can learn and improve – then try again.
At the moment, the system is free to use. But due to the computing power required, we will soon begin charging to use it. If you have any marked registers that haven’t been processed yet, we suggest you upload them ASAP while it’s still free.
To request access to the system please email libdemsoftware at gmail dot com.
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Layla Moran not running as party leader
In case you missed them the first time around, here are the highlights from my blogs over the last month:
Spot any stories which you think I should be covering? Do drop me an email – always appreciated.
More people would never vote Conservative or Labour than Lib Dem
A regular theme of my writing about research into the attitude of voters towards the Liberal Democrats has been about how much of what the media, and politicians, say is based on a simple myth.
The coalition years of 2010-15 certainly did heavy damage to the party’s popularity, but they didn’t do long-term severe damage to the party’s brand in the way that, for example, Chris Leslie claimed when explaining Change UK’s (initial at least) desire to create a political party free from the Liberal Democrats.
Even by 2017, only 1 in 5 voters both thought the Lib Dems were wrong to go into coalition and hadn’t forgiven the party for doing so. Most people either thought the decision was right or had forgiven the party for doing so.
The long-term problem was not one of destruction of the party’s brand from the coalition, but rather a widespread sense that people didn’t know what the party stands for. Hence another common finding from research that the most common thing people say about the Lib Dems was variants on ‘don’t know what you are up to / believe in’ rather than ‘hate you’.
Hence, of course, the reason why I’ve been one of the first and loudest voices arguing for a core votes strategy for the party, with communicating what we believe and why at the heart of it.
New polling from YouGov (full data tables here) reinforces this picture, with 43% saying they would never consider voting Conservative, 39% for Labour and down to 35% for the Liberal Democrats. (A similar picture comes from YouGov’s previous party favourability ratings.)
That 35% comes heavily from Leave voters, no surprise. 51% of those who voted Leave in the European referendum would never vote Liberal Democrat, but only 16% of Remain voters. Those are, most likely (the cross-breaks aren’t given to show this for sure), predominantly left-wingers who are Remain and hate coalition. The sort of people who, in other words, are often vocal on social media and memorable on the doorstep but are also small in number and atypical in their views.
That breakdown by referendum voting also shows the wisdom of the Liberal Democrats in concentrating so heavily on targeting Remain votes – and having switched from a long-running policy of ‘We’re in favour of Europe… but we worry about Euro-sceptics in places like Devon’ to ‘We’re in favour of Europe… and bollocks to Brexit‘.
One final point to note with a nod to next year’s London Mayor and Assembly elections – London is disproportionately populated with those most willing to consider voting Liberal Democrat.
Liberal Democrat selection news
Selections of Westminster Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) since last time have included Jacci Stoyle for Inverclyde.
Also more noteworthy than you might think is the confirmation of Beki Sellick in Peterborough. More noteworthy because there was talk of a joint-ticket Remain candidate for the Parliamentary by-election but the talks failed.
You can check on all the selections which have been made public in the prospective candidate list on my website, which includes a batch of other selections from Wales too.
Good luck to them all and if you have been recently selected yourself, this list of tips will, I hope, be useful.
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
It’s likely we’ll see movement in the polls following the European election results, so as a benchmark here is what the latest general election polls said before the results started to come in:
|To get updates about voting intention opinion polls, sign up for Polling UnPacked.|
|As is the norm, the weeks after the May local elections have seen a slow start to by-elections but there have been some:|
One other councillor change I’ve spotted: a Lib Dem switching to Labour in Warrington.
|To get the full council by-election results every week, sign up for my blog posts digest and to be prepared for a council by-election in your patch, see my 7-step guide to getting ready in advance.|
Other Liberal Democrats in the news
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