Here’s my latest report for Liberal Democrat members and supporters, from the party website:
Once we’ve had a chance to have a rest, we must learn the lessons from our successes and misses this May.
A great team effort
We’ve had a huge set of elections in difficult circumstances. It was a massive combined effort of volunteers and staff, candidates and agents, helpers and donors, to get several hundred Liberal Democrats elected. Thank you to everyone who played their part in an impressive team effort.
Commiserations too for everyone involved in campaigns that didn’t make it this time. Many of our very best Parliamentarians, council leaders and other elected officials have lost elections on the way to their successes. I hope that when you have had a chance to rest and catch up on life outside politics, those examples encourage you to continue your commitment to our party.
A special thank you to retiring councillors who were expecting to stand down last May and had to hold on for another year. Your continued commitment over that extra year is much appreciated.
Thank you too to the many volunteer agents who haven’t quite yet been able to stop electioneering. Getting those election expense returns sorted is an important task!
Making sense of the election results
The May elections showed it was a good time to be an incumbent government in all three nations, especially thanks to the enhanced profile each government has had from its regular coronavirus press conferences. Add to that the big restrictions on campaigning for most of the year running up to polling day, and it was a tough year for us to be fighting elections.
To come out of that with a small net gain in the English council results and the London Assembly, keeping a Senedd seat in Wales but also sadly losing a list seat in Scotland was much better than it could have been.
I know that will be little consolation to colleagues involved in campaigns that didn’t quite make it. We need to make sure we learn from both our successes and our misses. We also need to make sure we learn the lessons both for our organisation and our messaging.
The huge increases in our constituency majorities in Scotland, and Molly Nolan’s strong result in finishing a close second in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, show how we can mobilise a very effective ground campaign. There will, I’m sure, be lessons from those that we can apply across the rest of the country.
It was particularly good to see the broad range of different areas that had good council results. We gained seats in many ‘Blue Wall’ areas crucial to our next Westminster general election result. There were also gains in many previously Labour voting, Brexit supporting parts of the country.
We’re starting to see the fruits of the large investment we’ve made in a network of campaign staff to support local campaigns. But it’s also true that generally the larger the electorate, the tougher we found it. So we need to learn lessons about how to scale up our campaigning over larger areas.
We also need to permanently break out of the single digit poll ratings that we’ve been stuck in for over a decade. We’ve had brief escapes before, and one consistent pattern from those and from previous decades is that success in by-elections is a big part of that. Which is why the Chesham and Amersham Parliamentary by-election is so important. Sarah Green is our candidate. Please do help her campaign.
If you’ve got thoughts on what lessons we need to learn from this May, please do let me know.
Improving our diversity
There were some great election results that not only saw fantastic individuals elected but also helped improve our diversity. In particular, before this year there had never been a Muslim woman elected to the London Assembly. Now there are three, including Lib Dem Hina Bokhari. Her win meant we doubled our number of seats.
However, the statistics available so far on our candidate numbers show we still have much to do. For example, in council elections we are still stalled at around a third of our candidates being female.
Our new diversity report, setting out how we can and must improve, and which I’ve mentioned in previous reports, is being finalised. The Federal People Development Committee (FPDC) has reviewed a draft. When the final report is ready I’ll report back on what it means for us all, and how we need to change.
Complaints process update
The number of complaints closed in the last month exceeded the number of new cases for the second month in a row and for the third month in the last four. That’s welcome progress and the long-term trend is now downwards. But we mustn’t be complacent.
We had a detailed discussion of the party’s complaints process at last month’s Steering Group meeting. The Disciplinary Subgroup set out its plans to consult across the party ahead of drawing up proposals to come to the autumn conference. We will be discussing these and how to make further improvements at the June Board meeting.
After carefully digesting feedback from our spring conference and the public health situation, Federal Conference Committee (FCC) is going to run an online conference this autumn. FCC Chair Geoff Payne has given more detail and explanation here.
I’m glad that the FCC has embraced an idea I’ve been keen to promote – looking at adding on physical events alongside the online conference. Organising, for example, physical social events in several locations around the UK can be done much more flexibly and without the financial risk of booking a full conference venue. It will be a great opportunity to see how we can mix and match the benefits of different types of format.
And next time…
With elections dominating party work in the run-up to May, there’s less to report on the work of the Federal Board and Steering Group this time. The next Board meeting is in June, so I’ll return to its work in more detail next time. In the meantime, you can find all the Board members here and please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions or suggestions.