Confusion over the meaning of ‘Progressive Alliance’: LDN #152

Liberal Democrat Newswire #152 came out earlier this week, including both a preview of the Lib Dem autumn federal conference and data on what people think ‘Progressive Alliance’ means.

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.

Let’s start with a bit of good news you may have missed: Sharon Graham’s victory in the Unite general secretary election means the union is now headed up by the only one of the candidates who explicitly supported proportional representation.

The autumn Liberal Democrat federal conference is this month, and I took part with Christine Jardine and others in a special preview edition of the Lib Dem Pod which you can listen to here. Conference registration is just £1 for people who haven’t come to one before.

Not quite as good value but still jolly good value is the special offer on my books for Newswire readers. You can get both Bad News: what the headlines don’t tell us and the new third edition of 101 Ways To Win An Election for just £20 in total from Biteback. Use the code packpromo on checkout to get your special price. Happy reading!

Best wishes,


P.S. If you didn’t yet have the chance to read last time’s edition, you can catch up on it here: Most people don’t know last time’s result in their own seats.

In this edition:

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Only 1% think government’s social care plans will make them better off

When tax rises switch from being a theoretical question to a practical action, it’s common for public opinion to shift. But this in YouGov’s latest poll is particularly damaging for the government, as it undercuts the defence of their National Insurance tax hike:

YouGov polling on national insurance tax increase

That’s a dangerous sign for the government, a danger reinforced by the first voting intention polls published since the policy was announced. All three show the Conservatives down and Labour up, with two of the three knocking the Conservatives out of the lead after 152 previous polls in a row had all put Boris Johnson’s party ahead.

Sometimes when a major story suddenly knocks support for the government, it then bounces back within weeks. Think of the fuel protests in late 2000. They shocked the Labour government by putting the Tories in a poll lead, but this slipped away quickly and there was no long-term damage to Labour. But sometimes the issue sticks and becomes a long-term deadweight around a government’s fortunes. Think of the poll tax or the Winter of Discontent.

It’s too early to judge which category the social care plans will fall into. The polling does, however, add to the picture from Chesham and Amersham in showing how brittle the Conservative popularity is. And hence the opportunity for the Liberal Democrats, especially in the Blue Wall.

Confusions over ‘Progressive Alliance’

Debates over the merits and demerits of a Progressive Alliance often generate more heat than light. I’ve had a growing suspicion that part of this is because there’s widespread disagreement on what a Progressive Alliance would involve. People, I suspect, are using the same phrase to talk about very different things, creating a confusion that adds more heat and little light.

To see if that suspicion is true, I asked about this in my latest mini-survey (and many thanks to the over 600 people who took part in this one):

When it comes to candidates, do you think a ‘Progressive Alliance’ means…

46% – A formal seat deal between parties, where some candidates stand down
40% – An informal deal, with parties targeting their efforts in complementary ways

The remaining 14% gave a very wide range of their  own definitions, but most of which can be roughly grouped into the above two answers in the same proportions.

That deep split shows how unhelpful using the two-word phrase Progressive Alliance can be. Whether you are for or against it, there’s a pretty high chance that when you use the phrase, the person who hears or reads it thinks it means something different from your own use of it. That’s not a good start to any debate.

As for the merits of the issue itself, this (free) book chapter from Duncan Brack is well worth a read on the lessons from the last time a Conservative government was defeated.

The usual caveats about my mini-surveys apply. They’re well short of the standards of a proper opinion poll. Think of them as more like the equivalent of a lot of conversations in the queue for coffee at party events – useful insight, as long as the results are taken as rough indications rather than precise analysis.

Setting out our vision for the country

Here’s my latest report for Liberal Democrat members and supporters, from the party website:

Our September Federal Conference has a key trio of debates on our vision for a Liberal Democratic society, our overall policy platform and the strategy to give us the political power to achieve those aims.

Having spent the first part of this Parliament fixing many of the practical organisational issues that caused so many problems in the 2019 general election, we now need to shift up a gear to get the external aspects right too. Sarah Green’s victory in Chesham and Amersham is a wonderfully inspiring example of what we can achieve when we get this right. The challenge is now to do that across the country.

It’s promising that we’ve seen a sustained boost in our opinion poll ratings since Sarah’s victory (up from 7% on average this year before her victory to 9% since). There’s also been a noticeable increase in our local council by-election performances since Sarah’s victory and the easing of coronavirus-related restrictions on local campaigning. Local factors mean it’s rarely wise to read too much into any one result, but the volume of by-elections – and their spread around the country – now means we look at that improvement with confidence that it’s real.

So we can also approach these conference debates with confidence about our potential – as long as we continue to up our game.

Improving people’s experience of being a member

Our party is our membership. Giving people a good experience is crucial for growing, retaining and encouraging people to be active in our party. And enabling individuals to create the change they want to see in the world is at the heart of our liberal philosophy.

To help get our plans right for this, the Federal People Development Committee (FPDC) is doing telephone research calls to understand the perspectives of ordinary members on what works and what doesn’t. If the random selector picks you out for a call, please do take part – and if you have time to volunteer to help make the calls, let me know and I can put you in touch.

Alongside this, a variety of ideas are starting to be piloted, such as new ways of recruiting canvassed Lib Dems as members, a new quarterly cycle of briefing and feedback video calls for all local party officers, and the special £1 registration fee for first-timers at Federal Conference. I’m also very happy to hear any suggestions from you.

Bonus payments to local parties for recruiting new members

Recruiting members is central to our long term success, and that’s why there are bonus payments available to local parties that do recruitment work.

A local party can qualify for a bonus payment by:

If a member renews another way, but it was the result of your activity locally, then you can still claim them, by emailing membership@libdems.org.uk with some evidence of your activity.

The bonus payments are worked out for new members as:

  • 100% of the first year’s subscription, if they join by direct debit, or 50% of the first year’s subscription if they join using another payment method.
  • 50% of the second year & 25% third year’s subscription if they join by direct debit, or 25% if they join using another payment method.

The first time you renew a member locally, you’ll get 100% of their subscription if they renew by direct debit, or 50% if they renew using another payment method.

Next year’s budget

At the heart of our September Federal Board meeting was a review of progress on implementing the Thornhill Review into the 2019 general election along with budget priorities for next year. The review is continuing to guide our work. It’s not just been put on a shelf and forgotten.

Across the charity and not for profit sector, fundraising has taken a big hit due to coronavirus, and our finances similarly will be challenging next year. We are looking hard at ways to raise income and where money can be saved. There will be some tough decisions to make, but there’s a clear focus that the long-term solution is for us to grow and be more successful – as that’s what fuels income.

We’re trying to draw up the Federal Party’s budget in a much more joined-up way with the three state parties and ALDC, given the big inter-dependencies between all of our budgets. The process this year is definitely a big improvement from last year, but there’s more work to be done to improve it for future years.

In our other work, the Board discussed how to accelerate the improvements made to internal communications in the last year. My common experience when doing Zoom calls with local parties is that very often the things people say they wish to hear more about are also the very same things people elsewhere in the party are trying to communicate. We need to find ways to close that frustrating gap – and I’d encourage everyone in particular to look out for the monthly email newsletter that goes out from the party.

We also agreed further improvements in the way we fill volunteer posts in the Federal Party, making sure that we’ve got a clear set of default processes so that we head off controversies over whether there should be a hustings for a particular post elected by the Board.

Do keep an eye on the jobs section on the party website as that is where key volunteer roles appear as well as paid-for jobs.

Our new HQ is up and running

Over the summer the party completed its move out of the Great George Street offices in London. Our new offices are at 1 Vincent Square, London, SW1 2PN – and they are much nicer than the old ones. As well as being a lot cheaper, these new offices give staff and volunteers the sort of space they need to do their work well.

One of the reasons the new offices are smaller is that many more of the Federal Party’s staff are now based around the country. In fact, less than half of our staff team live within an hour or less of London. That’s good for tapping a wider range of skills and also good for helping ensure we don’t end up caught in a Westminster-centric mindset.

(Post is being forwarded so there is no problem with using old materials that have the Great George Street address.)

Congratulations to…

Callum Robertston has been elected by the Federal Board to be a voting member of the Liberal International Executive, filling the vacancy left after Jonathan Fryer passed away. Lisa-Maria Bornemann has been elected to the Federal Board following a recount of the votes after Anita Lower passed away earlier this year. Lisa-Maria was previously an English Party representative on the Board, so she will be replaced in that role by the English Party.

Feedback on these or any other matters is very welcome. You can get in touch on president@libdems.org.uk.

PODCAST: Prime Minister Priti and other things that never happened

There’s a new book of political alternative histories out called Prime Minister Priti: And other things that never happened. One of its editors is a Liberal Democrat. So who better to have back on Never Mind The Bar Charts than that editor… Duncan Brack.

Listen here to hear us discussing how Eric Joyce having one drink too many caused Brexit (perhaps), what the appeal is of political counter-factuals, our favourite chapters from this book and how one change in the events of 1923 could have led to a very different political history for the Liberal Party.

🎧 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.

Lib Dem selection news

Following Bobby Dean’s selection in Carshalton and Wallington, a second PPC has now been selected: Zoe Franklin in Guildford.

The party has an extensive range of support available for people from under-represented groups who are thinking of standing for Parliament. So if that’s you, or you know someone who it might be, please do get in touch and I’m happy to point you in the right direction.

A blatant assault on democratic rights

In case you missed them first time, here are a selection of posts from my websites since last time:

🗳️ Elections Bill: a blatant assault on democratic rights.

Conservative donor fined for hiding true source of money.

Former Labour winner in Sheffield Hallam charged with fraud.

Single Transferable Vote: here’s why it makes sense (feat. animals).

Half of people have not heard of any recent attempts to cancel public figures.

What the public is saying: voting intention

Latest general election voting intention opinion polls 13 September 2021

What the public is saying: net favourability of political parties

As well as the Liberal Democrats being up in voting intention polls, the party’s standing in the net favourability ranks has also improved this year. Ipsos-MORI regularly asks people if they have favourable or unfavourable views of parties and the longer-term trends show the Lib Dems now back to where the party was before the 2019 general election:

Political parties net favourability ratings from Ipsos MORI

Of course, being back to where we were before the general election and back to being close to the Labour and Conservative ratings is only one step forward. More steps forward are required.

It’s also interesting to note the different trajectories of the Greens and the Lib Dems, both in this data and in the polls more widely. While the Greens had a boost earlier this year that is fading, the Lib Dem boost is being sustained.

What the public is saying: by-elections

The boost in Liberal Democrat council by-election performances since Sarah Green’s victory in the Chesham and Amersham Parliamentary by-election has been sustained over the last month. It’s notable too that the best results are coming from all around the country, including gaining two seats on the same day in Scotland for the first time in the party’s history:

Meanwhile, an independent councillor has joined the Liberal Democrats in Hereford and a Lib Dem councillor has left the party in Kingston.

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.

Wisdom from Twitter

Alistair Carmichael tweet on vaccine passports


Cracking down on new fossil fuel firms

Ed Davey has called for the Stock Exchange to ban new listings for fossil fuel firms. He’s also been gaining media coverage for the Lib Dem challenge to the Conservatives in Blue Wall seats in all sorts of unexpected places, including the Daily Express and the Daily Telegraph.

Lynne Featherstone features in the Radio 4 documentary The Reunion, looking at how same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK. For more on the story see her book, Equal Ever After. Christine Jardine has urged Sajid Javid  to ‘finish the job’ of making medical cannabis more accessible. Sarah Olney has been pushing for the roll out of electric cars to be speeded up and highlighting the failure of the government to role out Clean Air Zones.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the new leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats (and he’s revealed the trick his children use to get sweets from him). Sarah Green has given her maiden speech in Parliament.

Donations have poured in to help Afghan families arriving in Milton Keynes after an appeal by a Lib Dem councillor.

Lib Dems in Business and the Lib Dem Business and Entrepreneurs Network (LDBEN) have merged and launched their first regional networks.

Keep your data safe with Backblaze

When I first heard about it, I thought the Backblaze online backup service was just too good to be true. An online backup service which quietly backs up all of your computer all the time, to whatever volume of data and for a mere $6 a month? But that indeed is just what it is. Read on to find out more and sign up for a free trial with my affiliate link…

And finally…

This is nothing to do with this newsletter’s usual topics but it is amazing.

If you enjoyed this newsletter, why not forward to a friend and let them know they can sign-up here for future editions?

Thank you and best wishes,


P.S. Show the algorithms that control which emails get into people’s inboxes that you think emails like this one should get through by tapping the heart: ❤️

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