Public opinion moves against Brexit, but… (Lib Dem Newswire #153)

Liberal Democrat Newswire #53 came out last week, including a look at how public opinion is, and isn’t, moving over Britain’s exit from the European Union.

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.

Welcome to the latest edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire, which following the shocking murder of David Amess starts this time with a tribute to him.

Best wishes,


P.S. If you didn’t yet have the chance to read last time’s edition, it has the results of my last mini-survey: Confusion over the meaning of ‘Progressive Alliance’.

In this edition:

The huge smile of David Amess

David Amess smiling at his 1992 re-election
David Amess celebrating winning in Basildon at the 1992 general election.

For much of the 1990s, David Amess’s smile was one of the defining images of British politics. At 10pm on general election night, 1992 many expected John Major’s Conservative government to be voted out of office. A huge recession and poor poll ratings pointed that way.

Perhaps it would be a hung Parliament from which a Labour government emerged, but after three very comfortable Conservative election victories in a row, the end of their period of power seemed imminent, even to many in that party.

The exit polls then seemed to point the same way.

But then came the result from Basildon. A shock Conservative win in this key marginal seat, a huge smile on David Amess’s face and a flurry of worse results for Labour followed.

It was a pivotal moment and a dominant image. “Oh bugger Basildon” became one of the lyrics sung at Liberal Democrat Glee Clubs for many years after.

Yet there was much more to David Amess, and his smile, than that one moment of fame. For since his tragic death, I’ve been struck by how many in other parties have talked of how warm and smiling he always was towards them. People who might disagree passionately with him on issues very close to the heart, such as personal liberties and equalities, but still fellow humans.

What particularly shocks about his death too is that it happened at a surgery, something that is the part of the normal political life of thousands of elected public officials all across the country. The day after his death, there were doing just what he had been doing – sat in a room, waiting for strangers to enter and to see how they can be helped.

It’s a quiet, common part of politics, one of the parts of politics that makes the most difference to people’s lives.

Since his murder some have already had to decide whether to go ahead with their surgeries. For those who going ahead was the right choice, it will often have felt a more dangerous thing to do this time around. To those who have already had to make such choices and to those who soon will, and whatever choice is right in your own circumstances – thank you.

In deference to the particular tragic circumstances, the Liberal Democrats won’t be standing in the Southend West by-election.

Colleagues who deal directly with members of the public may understandably be feeling worried or scared. There is extensive pastoral care available to support Liberal Democrat members and staff. Details here.

The difference a Lib Dem councillor makes

Message from resident praising Cllr Carla Morson

The new political season

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

The autumn party conferences traditionally mark the start of the new political season. They are a time to reflect on the past year and set out plans to succeed in the coming year.

Both politics and coronavirus have made it a tough time since the last round of conferences. But we can look forward to this new political season with confidence that if we continue to raise our game, we can prosper. We’ve seen signs of that already, including with Sarah Green’s fantastic win in Chesham and Amersham and also with the latest net favourability leadership polling from Savanta ComRes:

  • Keir Starmer: net -8
  • Boris Johnson: net -7
  • Ed Davey: net +1

To achieve success in the run of elections to come, we will need to think big. We need to convince wavering Tories, Labour and nationalist voters that backing us isn’t solely a protest. It’s also a vote for something positive. The antidote to the strains of the present is a liberal future. So we must paint a picture of the society we want to build, rather than merely the society we want to prevent.

We’ve made a good start on that with the debates, motions and speeches at our autumn Federal Conference. There will be more to come in the next few months too from the federal party, as we develop the emphasis on a fair deal that was at the heart of Ed Davey’s speech. (Plans for next year’s conference have been announced by conference committee chair, Nick Da Costa with primarily a virtual spring conference and primarily a physical autumn one. In both cases, work is being done to add to some of the other format, with some physical elements in spring and some virtual elements in autumn.)

Congratulations to…

Our conference closed with the party awards. We now run these twice a year in recognition of how important it is for us to thank and be inspired by our colleagues. You can read all about this time’s winners – including a lovely family connection for one award – here.

We’ve also started sending out ‘top canvasser’ pin badges to thank those who contribute, either on the doorsteps or on the phone, to one of the most important election-winning tasks. Each quarter we’re also inviting those who have canvassed the most to a special call with Ed Davey, our Director of Campaigns Dave McCobb and others so that what people are hearing on the ground gets fed directly in. This is to make sure we never repeat the 2019 campaign mistake of people on the ground knowing a message isn’t working, and it taking too long to change it from the centre.

I’m keen that we continue to look for other ways to recognise people who contribute so much to the party. We’ve made changes to the party awards to recognise a wider range of contributions but I’m sure we can do more. Ideas very welcome.

Campaign Innovation Fund

The results are in from the first round of campaign experiments funded by our new Campaign Innovation Fund.

As Cllr Lisa Smart has said, as part of her latest report back on our election committee’s work:

A few highlights we should all note:

  • When we mail out surveys the data suggests that there is a noticeable increase in returns where the accompanying letter is handwritten to where it is mail merged. The extra effort of writing the letter can therefore boost our data collection;
  • Where we haven’t the capacity to knock on doors to recruit postal voters letters alone have a limited effect, but when combined with a follow-up letter they really do seem to drive recruitment;
  • Facebook ads with well designed graphics can be more effective at driving engagement than ones with group photos.

The fund will be continuing its work next year and we look forward to its findings.

A network for councillors from ethnic minority backgrounds?

As part of our efforts to support and improve the diversity of our local government base, it’s been suggested that it would be useful to help our councillors from ethnic minority backgrounds network together. This might be something as simple as a Facebook group or it might grow into something more extensive – whatever people find most useful.

I’ve been discussing this idea with ALDC and Lib Dem Campaign for Race Equality. If you are one of our councillors yourself and think this would be useful, please drop an email to president@libdems.org.uk and let’s see if this idea is worth trying out. Suggestions for what would make it most useful are very welcome too.

Continuing to improve how the party operates

A big batch of important changes to how the party runs were passed at conference. Many thanks in particular to Flo Clucas, Bess Mayhew and their colleagues for so successfully steering through big changes to how party bodies will operate. The new framework replaces AOs and SAOs with ‘affiliated organisations’. It gives those groups a more powerful role in the party while putting in place clearer and simpler compliance and related rules.

It’s also been great to see how the new Party Bodies Forum is improving links between what we will now all need to remember to call affiliated organisations and the rest of the party. Thank you to its co-chairs Lee Dargue and Gareth Lewis Shelton for helping it get off to such a good start.

Among the other motions passed was our new strategy. It sets out plans for us all, including moving our own party activity towards net zero. That’s a target for all parts of the party so I’d strongly encourage you to read the final motion and think about how to apply it to any part of the party you are involved in.

The next stage for our complaints process

Following conference, the new set of rules for our complaints process are now in place. We also have a new staff team settling in and the Federal Audit and Scrutiny Committee (FASC) will be looking this autumn at whether we need to take further action to improve the system.

As part of the question and answer session on the Board report, we discussed how the rules work regarding council groups and a commitment was made to come back with further proposals on this. I know this has been an important issue for many, and the Q+A slot worked well to focus everyone’s minds on how to address those concerns.

Details are in the Q+A report on the party website. This also includes answers to all the questions that there was not time to take on the day. The number of open cases is now down to 156, the lowest since these records started

October Board meeting

On the agenda for your Board this time around will be progress on our budget for next year. A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes with the three state parties and ALDC to make this a much more joined up set of financial decisions this time, with a clear focus on the priorities selected by the Board and, via the strategy motion, by conference.

A big investment in previous budgets was in our field team and so we’ll also be looking in more detail at the field team’s role and its priorities.

As I’ve covered in previous reports, the Board also intends to put at least one option to spring conference on the Board’s own future structure. The Thornhill Review into the 2019 general election found that, regarding the Board:

“There is no clear ‘leadership team’ where the three pillars of the party – political, operational, federal – can make cohesive decisions, simply, quickly, and effectively. The Federal Board – 40+ members – is not, cannot, and should not be that team.”

These problems meant that decisions were taken in more fragmented and less accountable ways. A reformed Board, therefore, might therefore both improve decision making and also make it more accountable.

We will also be discussing how to operate as a Board through to at least that Spring conference in light of conference’s decision to end the Steering Group pilot.

Vice President election timetable

The timetable is now out for the election of Isabelle Parasram’s successor as Vice President responsible for working with ethnic minority communities. Full details are here.

This is the first time the post will be elected by the party’s membership. Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard on getting that change through, especially Isabelle herself. It’s an important change that both reflects the priority the party gives this role and is a change that strengthens our internal party democracy.

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

PODCAST: 1960 – The Making of the President

Something a little different from the latest episode of Never Mind The Bar Charts: a board game review with Jim Williams. A political board game, of course.

Take a listen here to hear us discussing why that 1960 contest is so fascinating, why we reckon you will enjoy the game and find out whether Jim or I won…

🎧 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

Mayor of Watford Peter Taylor has been re-selected ahead of next May’s elections. In Parliamentary selections, the latest to have been announced are Edward Lucas in Cities of London and WestminsterPaul Kohler in ultra-marginal Wimbledon and Tom Morrison in Cheadle.

The party has an extensive range of support available for people from under-represented groups who are thinking of standing for Parliament. 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.

Breaching the Blue Wall: important new electoral analysis

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

👩‍🏫 We must be the party of education again – Ed Davey’s conference speech.

Breaching the Blue Wall: important new electoral analysis.

The Guardian praises the Liberal Democrat strategy.

🎉 Congratulations to the ALDC Campaigner Awards winners.

Former Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner candidate charged by police.

Conservative MP’s constituent told: “I do hope this makes you leave us alone”.

Labour voters keener than Conservatives on a coalition featuring Lib Dems.

📱 TweetShelf: a great tool for making the most of Twitter.

What the public is saying: voting intention

Latest general election voting intention opinion polls 17 October 2021

To give the latest figures some context, here’s what the polls have looked like overall since the 2019 general election. (Details of methodology here.)

Average poll ratings since 2019 general election

What the public is saying: opinion moves against Brexit but…

My eye was caught by a recent YouGov polling showing those who think Britain was right to leave the EU dipping to 38%, the lowest figure on this tracker since the start of the year.

But to make sense of that figure, some context is important. Context over time – what does the longer term trend look like? – and context over different questions – does thinking the decision was wrong translate into criticism of the government or, most importantly, into support for rejoining?

Context is usually the party pooper of political polling and it is again in this case. Because the fuller picture is that yes, there looks to be declining support for those who think the decision to leave was right. But that only takes us back to what the figures were during much of 2019, and we know how that story ended.

A similar picture too for views on how the government is handling Brexit. Its standing has been hit this year, but figures are not yet as bad as they were for the government in 2019, even after Johnson replaced May.

Was UK right to voter to leave EU tracker graph October 2021
How government is doing at handling Brexit tracker graph October 2021

As for what this all means for a future referendum on rejoining the EU, it’s still neck and neck with the latest Opinium figures putting it at 43% to rejoin to 42% against.

One reason for that may be the how the public views the impact of Brexit problems so far. That same poll found only 23% saying Brexit has had a negative financial impact on them personally so far (and 15% saying it has had a positive impact).

In other polling news, two different firms (1, 2), using two different questions have both found widespread public support for electoral reform for the House of Commons. Public attitudes to immigration are also warmer than at any point since 2015 and a focus group in Dominic Raab’s constituency had good news for the Liberal Democrats.

What the public is saying: by-elections

There has been an unusually large number of Liberal Democrat seats up since last time. Although the run of brilliant gains in Cumbria has continued, the net result has been one Lib Dem loss. The number of candidates being put up though continues to show a recovery for the party’s local organisation across the country:

Meanwhile, a Town Councillor has joined the Liberal Democrats in Tiverton. But councillors have switched from the Lib Dems to the Greens in Tonbridge and Malling, to Independents in Kingston and to the Conservatives in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole.

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.

Can you help?

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:

Thank you! (Other donation options, including by PayPal or cheque, are here.)

As in-person political events return…

Mark Pack on a bus replacement service


Playing politics while the planet burns

Ed Davey has accused Johnson and Sturgeon of playing to their political bases as our planet burns. He has been calling for a radical education catch-up policy. He’s also pointed out that Britain’s energy crisis has been years in the making, thanks to the Conservatives, and demanded a Royal Commission into male violence against women and girls.

Munira Wilson has been highlighting the financial crunch facing many care homes and Sarah Olney has been commenting on the popularity of crypto currencies with Liberal Democrats.

Layla Moran has tabled an Early Day Motion saying it is shameful Jews are targeted when violence flares up in the Middle East.

Mark Hunter, leader of Stockport’s Lib Dem group, has been putting Andy Burnham’s record under the spotlight, and it’s not a happy picture. Two Lib Dem councillors did not breach the code of conduct over comments about a councillor convicted of sexual assault, the Standards Commission has ruled. They had made comments at a council meeting, including that the other councillor was “our resident sex offender”.

Tim Farron ran the London Marathon for charity and seemed quite happy about it. There’s been some doubly-unconventional pointing from Cllr Kevin Mitchell in Exeter.

Party federal conference voted to update the preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution, including giving greater emphasis to our environmental beliefs. The updated text is now available on the party website.

Finally, Bertha Bowness Fischer, the pioneering Liberal election agent in whose name a party award is handed out each year, has been profiled in the latest Journal of Liberal History.

Bulk.ly: a great tool for running social media accounts

Bulk.ly is a social media automation tool which is great for managing content on social media accounts, especially where there are stories (such as a prompt to sign up for postal votes) that you want to mention several times through the year.

Read on to find out more and sign up for a free trial with my affiliate link…

And finally…

This thought about shoes is nothing to do with this newsletter’s usual topics but I think you’ll enjoy it.

And 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,


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