North Shropshire: sleaze, sewage and Lib Dem opportunity: LDN #154

Liberal Democrat Newswire #154 came out last week, including news on important opportunities for Lib Dem members to vote and submit their views.

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.

There are two particularly important elections underway as this newsletter hits your inbox. One is the Parliamentary by-election in North Shropshire. If I point out that Ed Davey is already on his third campaign visits there you can get the hint about how seriously the party is taking it. See the first leaflet here.

The other is the first all-member election for the Lib Dem post of Vice President responsible for working with ethnic minority communities. Ballots should have arrived with all members by now. More details here (including what to do if you’ve not had yours).

As mentioned below, the party is also running an important consultation on the future of the Federal Board, and how to address the criticisms made in the Thornhill Report. Please do take part in our consultation survey.

Best wishes,


P.S. If you didn’t yet have the chance to read last time’s edition, it is also online here: Public opinion moves against Brexit, but…

In this edition:

Special Christmas offer: for just £25 you can get both the 3rd edition of 101 Ways To Win An Election and Bad News: what the headlines don’t tell us, signed by me. (Postage to the UK included.)

That’s a 22% saving on the standard price of the books. To help keep that price low, payment is via bank transfer/debit card using GoCardless.

Grab your copies here.

Why we must stand in more council elections

The merits of standing in a council by-election we have a chance of winning are obvious. So too for wards which we might hope to win in the future and where the by-election is a chance to accelerate that progress.

But there are also huge benefits in standing even in wards that we are not likely to win for a very long time yet (if ever).

One set of benefits comes from the opportunity to practice, train and learn. Winning elections isn’t easy and some of the skills required are very hard to pick up outside politics.

So we should be using every opportunity to add to our experience, try out things and get better.

Even if we don’t do very much, or any, campaigning, there is still the chance for a new election agent to practice getting the paperwork right. Or to take a new person out on their very first canvassing session. Steps such as those are if anything easier in a ‘no hope’ by-election as the pressure is much less and so you can concentrate on the learning.

Those benefits are specific to by-elections on their own. There are other benefits too, which apply even if you’ve got other elections on the same day – and to non-target wards in the usual run of elections.,

First, it’s good for democracy. Having different parties put up candidates is the necessary condition for voters to make choices between them. The mere act of having your name on the ballot paper is a contribution to making democracy function – and democracy could do with all the contributions we can give.

Second, it’s good for voters. It’s deeply frustrating for many voters when they turn up to vote and see their preferred party isn’t on the ballot paper. They may just feel frustrated (and crikey, do they feel frustrated as I know having had the job of fielding such complaints from voters in the past). Or they may also blame the party for, in their eyes, treating them with disdain for not giving them a candidate to vote for. Frustration or frustration and disdain; either way, that’s not how we should be leaving voters feeling.

Third, it’s good for the party. One of the biggest challenges the Liberal Democrats face is to build up a large group of loyal supporters who persistently support us. Our core support is much smaller than that of our main rivals – and we suffer for it. It makes us more vulnerable to bad times. It means we have further to go and harder to work to get to the winning post than rival parties with larger core votes.

Yet the one sure way to ensure people don’t become persistent supporters is to insist that they should not be allowed to vote for us thanks to not putting up a candidate. No Liberal Democrat on the ballot paper means us saying to voters: ‘we refuse to let you be loyal supporters of us’.

Standing also helps the party identify better where its support currently is, and isn’t. Having a full slate of candidates across the board helps spot areas that can be promising to target and try to win in the future.

All of which is why even if being a candidate does not mean more than getting a name on a ballot paper, it’s still a valuable contribution to make.

Hundreds of party members do that every May and in between at by-elections – thank you.

With next May’s elections nearing, it’s a terrific contribution you can make if you join them and ensure another vacancy has a Liberal Democrat name next to it come May.

And in the meantime, let’s contest as many council by-elections as possible.

There is lots of support and resources available, for everyone from a possible first-time candidate through to an experienced agent working in a marginal ward. Do get in touch if you’d like to know more about how to access this.

Being local (still) wins you more votes: more data from the UK

It’s been a while since I last looked at research evidence on whether local candidates do better in elections. So time to catch up with another experiment which has come to a similar conclusion: voters prefer local candidates.

The researchers ran a series of experiments, giving voters different biographies of (fictional) election candidates and seeing how support for the candidates varied depending on the biographies.

They found that local candidates did better than non-local ones. The effect diminished if people were given more other information about the candidate. But even when given extensive other information, the local factor was still noticeable:

Why do politicians with strong local roots receive more electoral support? The mechanisms underlying this well-documented ‘friends and neighbors’ effect remain largely untested. Drawing on two population-based survey experiments fielded in Britain, we provide the first experimental test of a commonly posited cue-based explanation, which argues that voters use politicians’ local roots (descriptive localism) to make inferences about politicians’ likely actions in office (behavioral localism). Consistent with the cue-based account, we find that a politician’s local roots are less predictive of voter evaluations when voters have access to explicit information about aspects of the politician’s actual behavioral localism. However, we also find that voters’ positive reaction to local roots is only partially explained by a cue-based account where voters care only about are the aspects of behavioral localism tested in this paper.

Here’s the full research paper.

North Shropshire beckons!

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

Our campaign has already got off to a flying start in the by-election caused by Owen Paterson’s disgrace.

The local party had already made impressive progress in this May’s local elections. They secured a clear second place and created many marginal Conservative-Liberal Democrat wards.

Now we have a brilliant opportunity to turbo-charge that growth in our support and to see just how angry voters are about sleaze and sewage. Ed Davey is already on his third visit there.

Whether it’s by helping in person, on the phones or with your wallet, please do help too. You can donate online or sign up to volunteer. Thank you!

Thank you also to Simone Reynolds and Simon Drage, respectively our candidate and agent for the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election. More details here.

Have your say in how the party is run

There are two musts for how our party is run. It must be run in a way that is true to our values, and it must be run in a way that helps us work together to be successful.

Sadly, our 2019 General Election Review (the Thornhill Review) found major flaws in how the party operated. That cost us votes and seats.

Since its publication, the Federal Party has been making many changes in response, as I’ve covered in previous reports. But there is still important work to do.

One of the Review’s key findings was about the Federal Board itself:

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.

So the Board is consulting on options for Board reform, and will put one or more to Spring Conference for members to make a decision.

As part of this we are running a consultation survey. Please do give your views via the consultation survey here.

You can also read this summary of our current arrangements.

The survey will close on Wednesday 8th December 2021.

Why we must stand more candidates in council elections

Earlier this month I wrote for the party website about the importance of increasing the number of council elections we contest: “The merits of standing in a council by-election we have a chance of winning are obvious. So too for wards which we might hope to win in the future and where the by-election is a chance to accelerate that progress. But there are also huge benefits in standing even in wards that we are not likely to win for a very long time yet (if ever).”

You can find out what those benefits are in my full piece [included above].

Voting underway for Vice President

Voting is open in the election for our Vice President responsible for working with ethnic minority communities. If you’ve not yet received a ballot either by email or post, please email elections@libdems.org.uk and the team will be happy to help.

The six candidates manifestos are on the party website, along with details of the hustings.

Members have until noon on Friday 10th December to vote.

Federal Appeals Panel case

At our September meeting, the Board voted to remove a Board member from the remainder of the meeting because of their behaviour towards a member of staff.

It is important for staff to be able to expect to be treated properly by everyone in the party, regardless of the post they hold or how they got into that post. I have apologised to the member of staff involved, and am grateful to the many other Board colleagues who have also done so.

The vote was only for that Board meeting and the Board member has been free to come to subsequent meetings.

The person excluded from the meeting has since appealed to the Federal Appeals Panel. The Board’s officers are managing the Board’s response to this.

Congratulations to…

Congratulations to Cllr Mark Canniford, Cllr Marlene Heron and Cllr Kris Chapman for being shortlisted in the 2021 Local Government Information Unit & CCLA Cllr Awards 2021.

Thank you for all you do for your communities, and best of luck for awards night!

Successful outcome to data audit

Thanks and congratulations also to the party’s team working on data protection matters for news from the Information Commissioner’s Office (the ICO) that their audit of the party has closed.

The ICO has been auditing all the main parties. In closing its audit of the Lib Dems, it said we, “engaged positively with the audit process and seemed to welcome the opportunity to discuss and exchange data protection issues and examples of good practice”.

As you would expect with any audit, it identified areas for improvement, which are being implemented. But no enforcement action is being taken against the party.

Two new improvements made to party administration

Recent weeks have seen the roll out of two new systems to make the way we do things easier, more reliable and take up less time.

One is the automation of local party membership rebate payments. What used to be a slow and arduous manual task is now automated, saving a big chunk of staff time and ensuring that the right payments are made promptly.

Local parties can also secure much higher membership rebates by recruiting and renewing members locally, especially on direct debit. See my September report for details.

The other new system is the new case management system for our complaints process. This automates many of the key administrative steps. It will also allow much more tracking of the details of how the system is performing – an important point to ensure it continues to improve after the very welcome declines in the average time taken to resolve a case and in the number of outstanding cases.

There are now under 150 outstanding cases (down from the peak of 325 last year). The number closed was greater than the number opened in ten of the last eleven months.

Also related to the complaints system, the Board has asked Antony Hook – a barrister as well as being a Liberal Democrat councillor and former MEP – to investigate a particular set of claims about the system’s operation that were raised with the Board. I hope the choice of someone with his credentials will give those involved confidence in the outcome of the investigation and I will do my best to report on that to members as far as rules of confidentiality allow.

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

PODCAST: Money and British politics – the good, the bad and the ugly

It’s back to more serious matters in this episode of Never Mind The Bar Charts after last time’s board game review – the role of money in British politics. I was delighted to have on the show Professor Justin Fisher, one of the country’s leading experts on the topic and someone whose research into grassroots politics makes him a better informed expert than many on what really goes inside political parties.

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.

Lib Dem selection news

Selections in marginal Conservative-Liberal Democrat seats are coming through quick now, with Pippa Heylings in South Cambridgeshire, Josh Babardine in Eastbourne and Danny Chambers in Winchester.

You can see here all the Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) selected and announced so far.

We also have three new by-election candidates: Helen Morgan for North ShropshireSimone Reynolds for Old Bexley and Sidcup, and James Barker for North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner.

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.

Tim Farron’s eloquent defence of human rights

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

📺 A must watch: Tim Farron’s eloquent defence of human rights.

Sewage Tax on water companies could raise £340 million for rivers.

A Parliamentary by-election in Windsor?

🌍 The Lib Dem Green Recovery Plan.

What the public is saying: voting intention

Latest general election voting intention opinion polls 17 November 2021

To give the latest figures some context, here’s the poll tracker from The i newspaper:

i poll tracker 14 November 2021

What the public is saying: (only) a quarter say the Conservative are extreme

It’s a regular theme of mine that to be successful in political campaigning you need to start with an understanding of what typical voters think – and to remember that their levels of interest in politics and their consequent views are often very different from someone interested enough in politics to be reading something I write.

A great example of this is the YouGov tracker on whether people think the Conservative party is extreme or moderate. As the graph below shows, the former may be the correct answer, but the latter is the more widely held view.

It also suggests why many of the attacks on the Conservatives since Boris Johnson took over have not stuck. If a voter thinks the Conservatives are not extreme, then attacks from others on their extremism can easily sound like standard politician Punch and Judy fare and just wash over voters.

That’s why the extremely effective by-election campaign in Chesham and Amersham didn’t directly attack the Conservatives for extremism. Instead, it very effectively found other ways to persuade people to switch away from the Conservatives.

YouGov tracker graph - Is the Conservative Party moderate or extreme


What the public is saying: by-elections

The Lib Dems are up two seats in council by-elections since last time and up 3% in vote share on average. It’s a more mixed picture on candidate numbers. More seats are being fought than before, but there are still too many council seats that go by without a Lib Dem candidate:

Meanwhile, a councillor has switched from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives in Guildford and another one has in Bedford. Four councillors have also left the party in Maidstone.

Finally, a councillor who previously switch from Labour to the Lib Dems and then to the Brexit Party subsequently joined the Conservatives, but has now left them too.

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.)

I think you’ll agree…

Twitter meme from House of Gucci film premier


Calls for carbon border tax

Ed Davey has called for a carbon border tax for UK to force China to cut emissions. Wendy Chamberlain has been calling for an inquiry into Boris Johnson’s free use of a Spanish villa.

Layla Moran has lobbied the government to finally enact its promise to stop rough sleeping being a criminal offence. She’s also highlighted how Boris Johnson’s cut to foreign aid undermined efforts to limit Covid overseas.

Jane Dodds has called for the Welsh Universal Basic Income (UBI) trial to be widened.

Former MP Paul Tyler has given his farewell speech in the House of Lords, returning to a long-standing area of concern for him, the integrity of our electoral processes. He reflected too on the changes in the Conservative Party:

What has changed, especially in the past two years, is that that constructive co-operation with Conservatives – now in the Johnson mould – has become impossible. That tradition of Conservative principle, combined with a pragmatic pursuit of shared values and objectives, has simply vanished. I am sorry to say that the once great Conservative and Unionist Party has become a narrow, dogmatic cult. I know that many great figures of the past and present on the Benches opposite know this to be true, though they cannot say it. Andrew Rawnsley admirably summed this up 10 days ago under the headline, “Like all cults, Borisology is detached from reality and destined to end badly”.

Thank you for all you’ve done over many decades, Paul.

Daisy Cooper and Munira Wilson have swapped spokesperson roles in the Parliamentary Party. Lib Dem peer Ros Scott is the new president of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC).

And finally…

This video is an advert. Watch it and guess what it’s for. I’ll wait.

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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