How to meet the big challenges of our time: LDN #147

Liberal Democrat Newswire #147 came out last week, taking a look at the relevancy of liberal values to the big challenges of our time.

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.

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P.S. If you didn’t have time to read last month’s edition, it is up online here: Lessons from John Smith for Keir Starmer – LDN #146.

In this edition:

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How to meet the big challenges of our time

There is striking lesson from the efforts of different countries to tackle coronavirus, efforts that have varied remarkably and tragically in their effectiveness.

The approaches that work best use international cooperation. Viruses don’t stop at borders, and scientific cooperation and Covid-19 vaccine supply chains work best when they don’t either.

The approaches that work best involve giving power and responsibility to those on the front line. That’s why localised public health services in Germany have done so much better than our centralised track and trace fiasco. It would have worked far better to trust councils and their existing expertise at local track and tracing for environmental health work.

The approaches that work best involve a generous society, one that supports those who most need help during such tough times. As with internationalism and devolution, such generosity of spirit and of government lies at the heart of liberalism and Liberal Democracy.

The fit between our values and the best ways of tackling a crisis is not limited to coronavirus either. It’s the same with climate change – an existential challenge that requires international cooperation, local action and a generous society. So too with tackling inequality – international cooperation on tax, social support services delivered locally and a decent safety net for all.

Our values have never been more important. Our challenge is to raise our game to give those values a more powerful political voice.

At our March virtual spring conference (19-21 March), you’ll hear plenty about what we’re doing with our policy, messaging, organisation and more to achieve just that. Among the policy highlights too is a motion on working out  a plausible route back into the European Union.

All party members and registered supporters are very welcome to register for conference to take part in all these debates and discussions. You’ll be making the decisions that will set our next course. Register here.

Why we need more Liberal Democrats elected

Here’s my latest monthly report back from the party website, a complement to my report to Spring conference.

Campaigning steps up…

I’ve just been in touch with one of the Liberal Democrat councillors for the ward up the road from me to line up a Focus delivery round on Monday, 8 March. That’s the date from which the latest change in guidelines in England comes in. It gives the go-ahead to a much wider range of leafleting and also to doorstep canvassing.

We will all still need to be mindful of keeping our distance, wearing masks, using hand sanitizer and other safety measures. But we can significantly up our campaigning all across England this month. That’s vital with the huge round of elections coming up in May.

The importance of those elections is all the greater in Scotland and Wales with their own general elections, though of course they have different health guidelines. The party’s latest guidance for campaigning in all three countries is on the party website.

That wasn’t a Lib Dem budget

The Chancellor’s Budget showed how important it is to get more Lib Dems elected. As Daisy Cooper put it:

Nothing for 3m #excluded entrepreneurs. Nothing to ease debt facing small businesses. Nothing to fix the broken business rates system. Nothing for exporters hit badly by Brexit. Nothing to tackle climate emergency. Nothing on education or for young people. Nothing to fix NHS & social care. Nothing to help those living in or on the edge of poverty.

The May elections

These contests will also be the first opportunity to see the benefits of the big investment we’ve made in increasing the size of our field campaign team. Thanks to cooperation across the party we’ve got a much larger team than before. There is a common plan being worked to by regional parties, state parties, ALDC and Lib Dem HQ. That includes a bumper set of training coming up at Spring conference.

Good luck to everyone who will be campaigning for these May elections. A special thank you to the families of all our candidates and agents in particular for whom elections are a big intrusion into their lives.

Our plans for the May elections were one of the main agenda items at the February Federal Board. We reviewed the Federal Communications and Elections Committee (FCEC)’s plans to ensure appropriate support is available to every local party. Target seats are of course the most important in the immediate weeks before polling day. But for long-term, sustained success we also need to build up our strength in a wider range of seats.

Later in the year we will look at the plans from our new Chief Technology Officer for improving our use of data and technology.

Better and cheaper: a new HQ

More immediately, the February Board also gave the final sign-off to our plans to move to new offices. As long as nothing goes wrong at the last moment, and after giving careful consideration to different options, we will be moving to much nicer yet also much cheaper offices.

This year the vast majority of HQ staff have been working from home. They have told us that post-lockdowns, splitting their working week between home and office is their preference. We support them in that choice of doing their work, their way. This has allowed us to secure a smaller office space which will considerably lower our costs.

We have found a space that will give us the flexibility to expand into a general election operation without having to relocate. That will be a major benefit given the Conservative plans to scrap the Fixed Term Parliaments Act and return us to the days of having to anticipate when a Prime Minister may spring a snap election on everyone without warning.

Developing our strategy

Coming up at Spring conference is the next round of consultation with members on our evolving strategy. The February Board had a first look at the new business plan we’re developing for the federal party. It ties together all our different strands of activity into one plan to deliver our political goals.

This sort of integration behind a common aim is one of the major gaps in the way we run the party identified by the Thornhill Review. So we’re also now running quarterly briefing sessions for those in leadership roles across the party. These are being used to share and get feedback on the directions we’re taking and the reasoning behind them.

Two priorities in this work are improving our diversity and our internal communications. On the former, we are working with the experts at Diversity Matters to produce a specific plan to turn good intentions into results. On the latter, we’ve recruited someone to a new post in HQ.

Improving our handling of complaints

Our complaints system also featured at the February Board. Among other matters, we considered proposals to re-open the previous decision to introduce a definition of transphobia. This proposal was rejected and the definition remains as is.

Steps to improve the working of the system will be coming to Spring conference. In particular, at the moment changing even one comma in the detailed rules requires a measure to go to conference. That makes the system cumbersome and slow to improve. So conference will have the chance to vote for a streamlined process that maintains safeguards over who has to approve changes and how they are reported back to members.

In addition, a new casework management system to improve the administration of the system has been introduced, and a new member of staff has started in the HQ team. Thank you to all the volunteers and staff who work so hard running the system.

Other Board business

The Board agreed improvements to our standing orders, including confirming limits on the powers of the Steering Group. We’ve also clarified how the Board elects people to various posts, addressing queries that have come up.

Following feedback from party members in last year’s consultation, the Board introduced a pilot mechanism for recorded votes so that on big issues people can see which way Board members have voted.

Paul Fox has stood down from the Federal Finances and Resources Committee (FFRC) as he now has the work of being a regional treasurer. We elected Mayor Dave Hodgson to succeed him and appointed Caris Doig to fill a vacancy on the Federal Audit and Scrutiny Committee (FASC). The FFRC has also co-opted Shelley Snelson in a pilot for having a Deputy Registered Treasurer.

Thank you both Dave and Shelley for putting your names forward, and to everyone else who applied.

Federal Appeals Panel

Having an effective internal party appeals process is one of those tasks which, if it goes wrong, has knock-on effects all through the party.

That’s why last year the Board put a lot of effort into recruiting high quality names for membership of the Federal Appeals Panel (FAP). It’s also why FASC has reviewed how the Panel works.

The Board met with the new chair, David Graham. We discussed his plans for improving how the panel operates, including implementing the FASC recommendations.

David has a very welcome focus on transparency. That can be seen already with the new regularly updated list of rulings on the party website. More on his plans is in his report to conference.

His panel is not the only appeals process in the party. I encourage everyone involved in other similar processes to look at the approach he is taking and see what can be usefully applied to their processes too.


Thank you to everyone who has been taking part in our big ‘maraphone’ telephone canvassing drives.

Congratulations to our colleagues in Hull who topped the rankings for speaking to the most voters in the last one. I’m assured that the numbers have been independently verified and in no way influenced by our Director of Field Campaigns being a Hull councillor himself…

What do you think of these monthly reports? How could they be immproved? Let me know in this quick survey.

PODCAST: How should Lib Dems approach cross-party cooperation?

Never Mind The Bar Charts and the most excellent Lib Dem Pod teamed up for another joint show, taking a look this time at lessons in coalitions and cross-party cooperation.

We had an excellent panel to discuss it all:

  • Kirsty Williams the brilliant Liberal Democrat Minister of Education in the Welsh Government and member of the Senedd since 1999
  • Duncan Brack from the Liberal Democrat History Group
  • Polly Mackenzie, Chief Exec of the think tank Demos and special advisor to Nick Clegg during the Westminster coalition

Take a listen here.

🎧 Find all the episodes of Never Mind The Bar Charts here and sign up for an email notification each time a new episode appears here.

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

Liberal Democrat selection news

Selection news since last time has included Jane Dodds in Mid and West Wales, John Crofts for Norfolk Police and Crime Commissioner and James Barker for North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner.

Best of luck to them and their teams.

Your catch-up service

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

Olympics boycott: Parliament pressure on Government over Beijing 2022.

Almost 50,000 asylum seekers trapped in Home Office limbo for more than 6 months.

Electoral reform supporters in the House of Commons get organised.

Leave.EU / Arron Banks loses appeal over £105,000 fine for data misuse.

How to use a dog to raise money.

How to use cornflakes to raise money.

🧐 Amazing optical illusions from the Best Visual Illusion of the Year Contests.

What the voters are saying, part 1

Latest general election voting intention opinion polls - 14 March 2021

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

The British Foreign Policy Group has some new data on how British people want relations with the EU to play out:

BFPG data on EU relations
Data from Opinium, 6-7 January 2021. Full report here.

The option to consider re-joining the EU was the most popular, but only around a quarter of people picked it. Another fifth of people want closer relations to the EU. On the other side of the Brexit-fence, one in four want things to remain as they are and a bit over one in ten want to increase the gap between the EU and the UK.

The good news in this for pro-Europeans is that it’s possible to see how successful coalitions of support can be built against the wishes of some in government to further move away from alignment with the EU on issues. But even among those who want Britain to be closer to the European Union, there’s a big split on whether future membership of the EU is something to consider right now.

As ever, the caveats about not paying too much attention to one poll apply. These findings do however fit with those from other polls. The exact figures depend on the exact question wording – and EU related answers do seem particularly susceptible to the exact wording of the questions.

The broad picture, though, is consistent: to get to the sort of solid, consistent levels of support needed to win out on EU membership requires that coalition of those who want to rejoin now, those who were Remainers but don’t agree on pushing to rejoin now, and then some further swing voters on top.

That’s a particularly important point for those in the first of the three groups to remember. If you treat those in the other two groups as enemies to be attacked rather than as allies in a future winning coalition, you’re making the objective harder to achieve, not easier.

It’s better to seek to unite those in first two columns in the chart above, not to drive them apart. Especially as the figures on how people would vote in a hypothetical referendum on EU membership continue to show the picture as a statistical draw (33%-33% draw with Kantar, 42%-40% in favour of joining with YouGov, 43%-42% with Deltapoll).

To win, we need to win over more support. That’s why the Liberal Democrat position on EU membership is in favour of membership in the long-term but recognises that it’s something which needs building up to in order to create that broader coalition.

PS If you want one book to help understand why people vote for Brexit and what might make them vote different in future, then Brexitland is it.

What the voters are saying, part 3

Council by-elections have restarted, and the picture is one of the SNP consistently losing seats:

The Liberal Democrats have also picked up a new councillor in Derby.

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.

A gem from Twitter…

The right to peaceful assembly and protest is a fundamental human right - Alistair Carmichael

Liberal Democrats in the news

Ed Davey has called for Cressida Dick to resign after the disgraceful policing of the Clapham Common vigil in memory of Sarah Everard. He has also been in the news criticising the government’s reliance on expensive, poorly performing private contractors, its tiny increase in the Carers’ Allowance and over human rights abuses in China. A new idea on tackling inequality has also caught his eye.

Munira Wilson has highlighted how our centralised approach to government has hindered tackling coronavirus.

Welsh Lib Dem leader Jane Dodds has said that Welsh independence would be ten times more painful than Brexit. Alistair Carmichael has been making a similar point about Scottish independence and defending the Human Rights Act against Nigel Farage’s attacks. You can back the Lib Dem campaign to defend the Act here.

Scottish leader Willie Rennie is eyeing up gains in the Scottish Parliament elections and has set out a five-point blueprint for a federal UK.

Mayor of London candidate Luisa Porritt has told Bloomberg of her plans for a liberal London. London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon pushed a successful motion seeking a Universal Basic Income pilot in London.

Eastleigh Council Leader Keith House has been highlighting that for the first time in a generation, Eastleigh Borough Council will begin delivering its own Council homes. Tower Hamlets councillor Rabina Khan is campaigning for her borough to become a global leader in life science research.

Daisy Cooper has been vocal over the 40% drop in university applications from EU citizens following Brexit. The Vagrancy Act needs to be scrapped and delays in the proposed conversion therapy ban is “government cowardice”, says Layla Moran, while Tim Farron has been attacking the inhumane asylum system.

Former Lib Dem MP Andrew George is bidding to make a political comeback in May’s Cornwall Council elections. Another person accused of sending threatening messages to Jo Swinson and other politicians has had his case sent to the crown court. A new TV documentary has highlighted the social media abuse and poison pen letters Charles Kennedy received shortly before his death.

Callum Robertson and Tara Copeland has been elected the new co-chairs of Young Liberals. (See results for all the posts here.)

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Thank you for reading

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