The big strategic risk for the Lib Dems, and how to beat it: LDN #128

Liberal Democrat Newswire #128 came out last week, with a look at Lib Dem prospects in the next general election and some news about myself…

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.

Dr Mark Pack's Liberal Democrat Newswire - email header


With a general election just around the corner, in this edition I take a look at the key strategic election issue the party needs to get right. And I also have some news about myself and another election. The contest to be next President of the Liberal Democrats has also kicked off and I’m going to be running. Read on to find out why and how to support me.

Next time will include a special new ‘how to’ guide for canvassing, so if you know others who may find that useful, do point them here to sign up to receive Lib Dem Newswire.

Happy reading,


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In this edition:

Lib Dem President election ballot paper

Why I’m running for Party President

Our current President, Sal Brinton, has helped steer us through extraordinary times. With her term coming to an end this autumn, we need to elect a new Party President. I hope that you’ll decide I’m the best person for the job. Although the formal definition of the role in the party’s constitution is brief, I believe the President should help ensure we have a party organisation that enables more of us to win, more often.

You’ve probably previously heard or read me setting out how we can do that, and I’ll be detailing more of my plans as the campaign progresses. I hope you’ve seen how many of the ideas I’ve championed have become a successful reality, from the core votes strategy that has underpinned our recovery since 2015 to the supporters scheme that is bringing in thousands of new volunteers to help us.

Now with your support, I want to step up and help us go even further. Our party is ambitious about transforming the UK, starting with stopping Brexit. Jo Swinson has set out her vision for a liberal, inclusive, green Britain in the 21st century. We need a President focused on helping to transform our party so that we can deliver on these hopes. We need to get the organisation right to sustain and accelerate that progress.

We can do that by:

  • Unlocking the huge grassroots campaigning potential in our hundreds of thousands of members and supporters with the right tools, systems and support;
  • Embracing technology’s power, to make us the best digital campaigners in the country;
  • Making the party truly open to all and making the best of our talents by addressing our shortcomings on diversity and inclusion;
  • Ensuring the voices of grassroots members are always heard and respected when key decisions are made at the centre; and
  • Ensuring the party’s finances are sustainable long term, including investing more in growing and mobilising our member base.

If you’d like to back my campaign, are willing to offer an endorsement or can make a donation, please visit my campaign site at markpack.org.uk/president.

It’ll also be expanded during the campaign with more news about my plans and how we can work together to build an even bigger, even more successful party.

This story is promoted and published on behalf of Mark Pack by Pete Dollimore, both at 96 Uxbridge Road, Hayes, UB4 0JH. Printed (dispatched) by MailChimp, 675 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Suite 5000, Atlanta, GA 30308 USA.

You don’t have to wait a month for the next Liberal Democrat Newswire email. I run a series of other email lists, including weekly council by-election results, the latest opinion poll news or all the latest national media news about at the party. Take a look and pick the ones you’d like at www.libdemnewswire.com.

You can also get more with the Lib Dem Newswire Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The big strategic risk, and how to beat it

There is a pretty simple pattern to Liberal Democrat general election results. The closer the result appears to be before polling day, the more the focus on who will be the next Prime Minister, and so the worse the Lib Dem performance as the party gets squeezed by a focus on the relative merits of the Labour and Conservative leaders. Those squeezes were seen in 1992, 2015 and 2017, for example, which were seen in advance as being very close, but not in 2001 or 2005, for example, which were seen as predictable wins for the incumbent.

The danger looming over the likely 2019 general election, therefore, is clear. With huge uncertainty over the result, coverage may focus in on the different ways Johnson or Corbyn might become Prime Minister and the Lib Dems lose out.

The good news, however, is that there are ways for the Liberal Democrats to break that historical pattern and prosper instead.

The first is to stick to our strongly anti-Brexit position so that the public don’t see the Lib Dems as somewhere between Labour and the Conservatives, and so get squeezed out as choices polarise in a close contest, but rather see the contest as being one in which the Lib Dems are on one side and Labour and the Conservatives on the other. This was at the heart of the core votes strategy David Howarth and I drew up after the 2015 debacle – and which has provided the basic strategy for the party over the last four years.

The second is to ramp up even further the concentrated levels of activity in target seats. This won’t be easy with so many seats possibly looking winnable – and there’s a chance of repeating the 2010 mistake of spreading ourselves too thin. But one way to get this right, to maximise the opportunity without going too thin, is to make full use of those 300,000 or so people who have signed up to at least one of the party’s national campaigns but who are not a member or a registered supporter.

I wrote more about that last time, but this time there’s progress to report. Helped by my lobbying for it, the party has started up a pilot project to mobilise these people, and the tens of thousands by new members, by getting them out helping on the ground in target seats. That’s a really welcome move.

The third is to use digital campaigning to sidestep and break that media fascination on old-fashioned two-party politics. That’s a challenge where the party’s grassroots and individual members are key because the party’s central digital operation focuses (understandably) very much on raising money, recruiting members and reaching swing voters in target seats. The rest of us need to do the broad national reach beyond that – and that’s why I’ve been giving my digital tools to support just that a special pre-election brush-up.

Get these three points right and the uncertainty of a general election can become a strength for the Liberal Democrats. In uncertain political times, you need a party with a clear and credible line on the dominant issue of the day. Labour are split and the Conservatives have leaders who make unachievable promises. It’s the Lib Dems who have the solution.

Support in Lib Dems growing for anti-Brexit pacts

Many thanks to all those readers who took part in my mini-survey on attitudes towards pacts with other parties. Given the drama of recent days, I’ve cut the survey short as it’s likely that views may change thanks to the changing circumstances. As of late August, however, this was the position…

There was growing but still minority support in the party for going straight to revoking Article 50 rather than pushing for a People’s Vote (43% in favour, up eight percentage points since June). Only 1% want the party to drop its opposition to Brexit (down from 3% in June – though that’s a change well within the likely accuracy of these surveys).

Whether or not to move to a Revoke Article 50 position, rather than go for a People’s Vote, will be debated at the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth. Given trend in these figures, and now Jo Swinson’s explicit support for Revoke, it’s likely that support in the party will climb further.

A big increase in support for a Remain Alliance – now at 49%, up from 21% in June. Support for no deals or talks at all is down from 4% to 1% and for policy cooperation but no seat pacts is down from 20% to 7%. Support for limited deals on a case-by-case basis is also down, from 53% to 43%.

Moreover, if a “Unite to Remain” pact is organised to back one pro-Remain candidate in certain constituencies, 72% think the Lib Dems should push hard for deals in as many seats as possible compared with only 2% who would want the Lib Dems to sit out such a pact and 24% who would want the party to take part in only a strictly limited number of such deals.

Across the board, more active members are slightly less supportive of deals and of moving straight to revocation, but the differences are in low single digits.

My hunch is that recent events will have continued these trends but of course the theory of ‘let’s make deals’ may seem less attractive when those deals are drawn up and some places are told ‘no, we’d like you to stand down’. That said, it’s clear where the heart of opinion in the party is – to opposed Brexit firmly and to be willing to go to non-traditional lengths to do so.

Houses of Parliament at dusk

The new recruits…

There has been so much coverage already of the MPs switching to the Liberal Democrats, it would be a bit superfluous to repeat the news here. Although if you’re struggling to keep up, here is the current list of Lib Dem MPs.

One switch, however, deserves some additional attention as Phillip Lee’s decision to join – or, more accurately, the party’s decision to accept him – has resulted in several LGBT+ activists resigning from the party. Alastair Carmichael’s statement explains the vetting process the party uses and more detail of the substance of the controversy is in the debate over on the LDN Facebook page here.

One further point I’d add is that the controversy has shown up weaknesses in the party’s processes, especially around internal communication. I’ve not been alone in raising these and, I hope, the more recent switch of Angela Smith shows that those at least are being put right. More, however, remains to be done, especially in dealing with the fallout amongst LGBT+ activists from Phillip Lee’s switch.

Remain is winning! (Or is it?) – Never Mind The Bar Charts #16

Stephen Tall finally got me to talk about Brexit for a full episode of Never Mind The Bar Charts, but he might have regretted the outcome… You can listen to the result here. We then followed up on this in the next episode, looking at whether the Lib Dems would be right to go for a ‘Revoke Article 50’ manifesto pledge: Lib Dems do the Revokey-Cokey.

You can also find Never Mind The Bar Charts on the web on in your favourite podcast app.

🎧 All these include our full back catalogue, including our discussion on the pros and cons of a Universal Basic Income.

Meanwhile… coming up on 5th October is the very first live show for Never Mind The Bar Charts: “Is Dominic Cummings a genius?” and featuring someone who has worked with him as our guest.* It’s taking place at the Podcast Live: Politics festival and you can book your tickets here. (When you get your tickets click on the link under Never Mind The Bar Charts and you’ll get VIP access to the front rows whether you buy just for us or for the whole day.)

* No, not Boris Johnson.

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 your debit card using GoCardless:
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How to win a Parliamentary seat, and other stories

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

⭐ The Liberal Democrat general election plans are getting more optimistic.

How Lib Dems can win a Parliamentary constituency: an introductory talk for you to listen to.

I let down a novice canvasser on the very first doorstep.

Here are the 6 key steps for making pro-Remain candidate deals work.

Home Office advert banned for misleading claims about EU citizens.

Tim Farron’s new book, A Better Ambition: Confessions of a Faithful Liberal, is now out.

A brilliant graph, featuring Jacob Rees-Mogg and the declining Conservatives.

💡 Party members can now order a replacement Liberal Democrat membership card online.

Chuka Umunna

Liberal Democrat selection news

Selections of Westminster Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) are coming through at a super-high rate now and you can see the latest and most up-to-date public list here. It is particularly good to see such a diverse set of candidates selected in seats the Liberal Democrats have previously held, such as Hina Bokhari in Sutton and CheamLynda Murphy in Eastleigh and Kishan Devani in Montgomeryshire.

Good luck to them all and if you have been recently selected yourself, this list of tips will, I hope, be useful.

Current MPs Vince Cable and Norman Lamb have both announced their plans to stand down at the election, while recent switcher Chuka Umunna is going to stand in Cities of London and Westminster.

What the voters are saying, part 1

Here’s how the opinion polls are now looking, with the Conservatives consistently ahead by a good few points, but at a level of support which still makes a general election a big gamble. Labour stuck in the twenties, which is very low for the Official Opposition, while the Lib Dems are still up at levels of support last seen nearly a decade ago. The Green Party rise in the polls early in the year looks now to have tailed off, while the Brexit Party has definitely tailed off, now consistently and clearly in fourth place.

Opinion polls round-up 11 September 2019

To get updates about voting intention opinion polls, sign up for Polling UnPacked.

To see all the historical trends for voting intention polls back to 1943 see PollBase.

What the voters are saying, part 2

Council by-election results as of 8 September 2019

Council by-elections have continued to show promising Liberal Democrat progress against Labour and, as with the national polls, Labour is not making progress against the Conservatives:

🗳️ Liberal Democrats win in Cambridge with huge swing from Labour.
🗳️ Liberal Democrats overtake Labour in Shropshire by-election.
🗳️ Liberal Democrats win this week’s one council by-election.
🗳️ Beatrice Wishart wins Shetland by-election for Scottish Parliament.
🗳️ Big swings from Labour to the Lib Dems in Hull and Coventry.

Former Labour councillors in Bristol and Bolton and a current Labour councillor in South Lanarkshire have switched to the Liberal Democrats since last time with none switching away that I’ve spotted.

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

Christine Jardine has been campaigning over medicinal cannabis and Jo Swinson has been receiving sexist insults in Parliament.

The new Liberal Democrat Shadow Cabinet line-up has been revealed, while Rhiannon Leaman has been appointed Jo Swinson’s Chief of Staff. Ed Davey is the new Deputy Leader and Nick Harvey is leaving later this year as the party’s Chief Executive.

Thank you for reading

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Best wishes,


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