Why we need to point at more potholes: LDN #134

Liberal Democrat Newswire #134 came out last week and you can now read it in full below. If you’d like the convenience of getting it direct by email in future just sign up for it here.

Welcome to news about the new chair of the main Liberal Democrat campaign committee, a discussion of the importance of potholes, all the latest voting intention opinion polls and by-election results, a chance to order my new book Bad News and more.

Happy reading,


P.S. Out campaigning for the May elections? Don’t forget to check out my guides for new canvassers and leaflet deliverers.

In this edition:

Barbie dolls decorate a pothole: photograph from Pop Up Studio in Scranton, Pennsylvania
Barbie dolls decorate a pothole: photograph from Pop Up Studio in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Why we need to point at more potholes

A photo of a Liberal Democrat pointing at a pothole: it’s a staple of local Liberal Democrat leaflets, so much so that if you wanted to caricature the party, such a photo isn’t a bad starting place. Especially if you can find one in which the pointer has a beard and is wearing sandals…

Although Liberal Democrats joke ourselves about our love of such photos, they do serve a serious, and much bigger, purpose.

One is that they symbolise that batch of local issues – the potholes, the dumped rubbish, the broken streetlights – all of which can be made better by active local campaigners and all of which make a real difference to people’s lives. A much bigger difference, indeed, than many realise.

Fixing potholes and their siblings matters for the direct contribution that makes to improving the lives of people.

They also matter because they are a practical, concrete way to show people that we care about them and that we can make a difference to people’s lives.

More self-interestedly, such hyper-local campaigning has consistently been the bedrock of building up great local teams. The feedback loop of spotting a problem, campaigning on it and then reporting back on a success is a great motivator for members and other helpers. Even if winning a Parliamentary seat or taking control of a council may feel many years away, there’s an immediate sense of making a difference.

There is a caveat to all this. You don’t have to be a liberal, or even a democrat, to be anti-pothole or to be an anti-graffiti zealot. To build long-term, durable success requires more than this – a core vote strategy.

Even so, the potholes matter.

So stock up with the ducks, rustle up some Barbie dolls, grab a mannequin and get pointing.

Bad News: What the Headlines Don’t Tell Us

Bad News, my new book is out next month. It’s a popular guide that helps you make sense of the news wherever it appears – print, broadcast or online.

Peppered with examples from around the world, the book turns a serious subject into an enjoyable read (I hope!).

You will discover all the tricks you need to work out whether to trust a story based on an anonymous source, when big numbers are really small and when small numbers are really big, why you should ignore what appears behind someone on the TV and much more.

You’ll even learn why you should always read stories in the Daily Mail backwards, when to beware of stories about cats and when correlation is causation.

But you will also learn how ill-suited the news is to understanding and interpreting the modern world, even when it comes from honest journalists working for reputable outlets.

The news has a role, but you will learn how to ensure you don’t confuse enjoying the news with understanding the world.

Bad News is available both in print and as an e-book for Kindle. You can order it from Waterstones, Amazon, Biteback or Hive.

Bad News - quotes from Craig Oliver and others about the book

Stephen Robinson (left) and Chelmsford Liberal Democrats. Photo courtesy of Chelmsford Liberal Democrats.
Stephen Robinson (left) and Chelmsford Liberal Democrats.

What does a Liberal Democrat council leader do?

In the latest episode of Never Mind The Bar Charts, the Liberal Democrat leader of Chelmsford Council, Stephen Robinson is interviewed about what a Lib Dem council leader does, and how he got to be one in the first place. Happy listening!

📱 Find Never Mind The Bar Charts on Twitter, give feedback and send in questions for future shows at @barchartpodcast.

🎙️ You can find other Liberal Democrat podcasts here.

🎧 You can also find Never Mind The Bar Charts on the web or in your favourite podcast app. Please do post a rating or a review on your favourite podcasting platform – thank you!

Getting the party’s finances right

Here’s my latest report back from the Federal Board for the party website:

At our latest meeting, the Federal Board welcomed our newest member, Lisa Smart, who has been elected the new chair of the Federal Communications and Elections Committee (FCEC), taking over from James Gurling. Welcome on board, Lisa!

We also welcomed back to the Board Tony Harris as Registered Treasurer and chair of the Federal Finance and Resources Committee (FFRC) and Mike German as Federal Treasurer.

Details of the outcome of elections for other key posts around the party are available on the party website. Congratulations to everyone elected and thank you also to everyone else who applied, helping to give us a strong set of names to choose from.

After our January Board meeting agreed the timings and got the ball rolling on key elements for our success this year, such as an independent elections review and our leadership election, the Board concentrated this time in particular on the Federal Party’s budget.

To give some context, overall our income in 2020 will be around £6.5 million, which compares with £34 million for the Conservatives and £46 million for Labour in 2018.

After the surge in spending and staffing in the immediate run-up to the general election, the Board agreed that this year we need to return to a long-term sustainable level of staffing and expenditure. This means day-to-day spending matching income from members, donors and grants, with any surplus from last year ring-fenced to allow us to implement recommendations from the independent elections review and for one-off projects focused on transforming our capabilities.

While moving towards balancing of day-to-day spending, between our two Board meetings we’ve also agreed to prioritise certain key areas:

  • Staffing the independent elections review so that it can do the effective job we need;
  • Doubling the Federal Party’s contribution to the May local elections;
  • Enhancing membership recruitment and retention via a project to improve how we look after members and supporters;
  • Creating a new fund to support diversity projects;
  • Supporting the Welsh Party as they gear up for the Senedd elections coming in 2021;.
  • Looking after our staff: for several years, staff pay has been frozen (real-terms pay cuts), which won’t be continued in 2020; and
  • Increasing our long-term income by investing in membership recruitment around the leadership election and in boosting legacy income.

The choice of these priorities is all driven by our overall party strategy, as agreed at conference. We will start the process of reviewing and updating this later this year.

We also agreed a raft of updates to how the Board runs its own business, such as our conflicts of interest policy and our standing orders. These sorts of items are rarely top of anyone’s priority list but they’re an important step in ensuring the Board does its work to the standards members rightly should expect of us. If we make decisions badly, it’s members who bear the brunt – and that’s why we’re rightly focused on ensuring we improve how we operate on your behalf.

You don’t have to wait a month for the next Liberal Democrat Newswire email for further news and resources. You can check out the other email lists I run at www.libdemnewswire.com and you can also find online my guides to canvassing and leafleting, my guide to what the Lib Dems believe and my collection of online campaigning tools and resources.

Lisa Smart and colleagues
Lisa Smart (right) and colleagues.

Meet the new Lib Dem campaign chair

In case you missed them the first time around, here are highlights from my websites since last time:

⭐ Lisa Smart takes over as chair of the Lib Dem Communications and Elections Committee.

Progressives must fight on after Brexit: Ed Davey.

Layla Moran: “Make 2020 the year that we finally scrap the Vagrancy Act”.

See what’s happening at the Lib Dem conference in York.

Cross-party cooperation: lessons from Paddy Ashdown’s tenure as Lib Dem leader.

Confirmed: EU citizens will be able to vote in the May elections.

Meet the 15 people running the Lib Dem elections review.

👉👉 The double-handed plaintive wave and point.

What the voters are saying, part 1

General election opinion polls 19 February 2020
To get updates about voting intention opinion polls, sign up for Polling UnPacked or follow @PollingUnPacked on Twitter.

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

What the voters are saying, part 2

Council by-elections have seen some promising signs of progress for the Lib Dems, but also a reminder of how much more there is to do to make the party present across the whole country:

🗳️ Lib Dems win council seat off Labour with 28% swing.

🗳️ Lib Dems move up into second place, overtaking Labour in council by-elections.

🗳️ No Liberal Democrat candidate in this week’s one by-election.

🗳️ Labour and Conservatives trade seats in this week’s council by-elections.

Outside of elections, a Lib Dem councillor in Wiltshire has switched to independents, and a Lib Dem councillor has also left the party in Fareham.

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.

Wendy Chamberlain tweet urging Labour to back electoral reform

Other Liberal Democrats in the news

Boris Johnson accused of using immigration system ‘as a marketing gimmick’ by Christine Jardine.

Siobhan Benita launches campaign for Mayor of London.

Greens and Liberal Democrats agree Exeter election pact.

Early survey suggests Ed Davey ahead in Liberal Democrat leadership race.

Lib Dems sign up to the ‘Time to Change’ pledge on mental health.

Check out the latest opportunities to volunteer at Liberal Democrat HQ.

Thank you for reading

If you enjoyed reading this, please do share the sign-up page with other people you know. Thank you!

Best wishes,


P.S. I get a surprising number of emails from people having difficulty finding a previous edition of LDN in their email folders. So here’s a special phrase that is unlikely to be in any other email and so which I can tell people to search for: Shuttleworth Poodle.

What did you think of this edition?

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