Labour warms to informal anti-Tory cooperation: LDN #156

Liberal Democrat Newswire #156 came out last week and 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.

Who would have thought that 2021 would bring the Liberal Democrats two extra MPs? Not me, for sure.

The question now for the Liberal Democrats is what lessons to learn from last year’s unexpected bounty and how to build on it this year. Hence the main topic this time is our plan for the year, along with a look at some welcome noises from parts of the Labour Party.

And in some breaking news just as I send this newsletter, Ed Davey has called for Boris Johnson to resign.

Best wishes,


P.S. If you missed last time’s edition in the run-up to Christmas, it is also online and still very relevant: North Shropshire – how did it happen, what does it mean?

In this edition:

Our plan for 2022

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

In 2021 we achieved something we’ve not achieved since 1993: winning two Parliamentary by-elections in the same year off the Conservatives. We start this new year with a larger Parliamentary Party than any of us would have dared dream of a year ago. (A winning run that has continued with the first council by-election of this year too – congratulations to now councillor Andrew Dunkin who won a seat from Labour from third place.)

The question now is how do we build on that success in 2022, and how do we make the most of our limited resources? Here’s the plan.

Winning over those with liberal values

We showed in both Chesham & Amersham and in North Shropshire how to appeal to many Conservatives. People with (some) liberal values, who often voted Remain, but who backed Boris Johnson in 2019. They’re now willing to listen to us, even to vote for us – as long as we listen in turn to what they say is most important to them. That’s why our campaigns in both those by-elections didn’t start with us lecturing them. They started with us listening to them, finding the common ground between their concerns and our values.

Tactical voting was important in both contests. We should be grateful for the cooler heads in other parties who saw this too.

But winning over a soft Conservative counts double – one on our total plus one off the Tory total. A tactical vote only counts once – one on our total but nothing off the Tory total.

We need to do both to win (and of course substitute in our main rival in places where it isn’t the Conservatives we’re up against).

Securing electoral reform

Get this right and we can be a big part of the story of removing the Conservatives from power. Get this right and we can be a big part of forcing a hung Parliament. Get this right and we can use that power finally to secure electoral reform for Westminster.

That is why the Conservative-Lib Dem battleground of the Blue Wall is so important. It’s the way to change all our politics.

But, the majority of our members, our elected representatives and our votes are from outside the Blue Wall. So we must get the balance right but I hope you can see why there is so much focus on the Blue Wall.

For Labour facing areas, having voters hear us talk about the part the party can play in removing the Conservatives from power will also be helpful mood music. Background noise that will make it easier for our local messages about Labour’s failure in so many town halls to work.

Refining our message

To succeed, we must continue to refine our political messages. We need to give people a clear sense of the difference that the Liberal Democrats make.

We’ve got an extensive set of market research underway and now have regular feedback sessions with our most active canvassers. That way we can make sure our decisions are rooted in what voters are telling us – an important lesson from what went wrong in 2019.

In his autumn federal conference speech, Ed started setting out this messaging, with the idea of a fair deal for everyone at the heart of it. That desire to give everyone a fair deal, enabling them to lead their lives as they wish, is what makes us distinctive as liberals.

Improving our campaign support

We saw in both Chesham & Amersham and North Shropshire how important our local organisation is. Without the May election results we had in both seats, we wouldn’t have had the by-election successes we did.

We’re starting to see the benefits of our big investment in our networks of field campaign staff. It’s been tough to prioritise this area of expenditure, but both results show the benefits of those difficult decisions.

We also need to continue to modernise our campaigning. So the Campaign Innovation Fund is back for 2022 to fund more experiments, helping us learn what works. We’re also bringing key data work back in-house so we can improve the data available to campaigners on the front line. We’ll be making major changes to our web presence during the year and improving many of our other tools.

Getting our organisation right

As the Thornhill Review – our 2019 post-mortem – found, the way we run ourselves as a party caused us severe problems. We’ve been working through a program of fixes, and are now looking at how to improve the role of the Federal Board.

Of the Board it said, “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 we’re now focusing on that question of the Board’s size. Is a body of 41 the size we need to drive things at the heart of the party? After a series of consultations, reform options will be going to the Spring conference for members to decide on.

Both volunteers and staff will be working flat out in the run-up to the next general election. They will rightly expect the party to have put its own house in order and to have learnt the lessons from 2019.

If we don’t finish implementing the Thornhill Review, we will be letting them down.

An important related matter is our candidate approval, selection and support processes. It’s important that all our candidates share the party’s values. As liberals we cherish the value of differences of view over policies, but our shared values must be fundamental.

Our elections committee (FCEC) recently decided to commission a review of how our candidate process is working after the first wave of selections in this Parliament and make any necessary recommendations for changes.

Given the issues raised by some recent selections, I am writing to the review asking them to look at three particular issues related to them:

  1. How our pre-shortlisting due diligence processes are working at identifying possible areas of concern about candidates;
  2. How our shortlisting processes are making use of such information; and
  3. Where there are concerns but also a good explanation (e.g. someone has genuinely changed their views over a decade and there is evidence to demonstrate that), how we communicate such explanations to members, such as when members from other local parties hear of a selection result.

I will use future reports like this one to provide updates on the review’s progress.

Supporting you

We will also in 2022 be giving a renewed focus to membership. We must make it easier for people to get involved in the party, provide more training and events, and improve the diversity of our activist base.

I’m looking forward to working with our new Vice President responsible for working with ethnic minority communities to ensure we continue to get better at diversity and inclusion across the whole party. (The result will be published once an appeal has been heard.)

Without our members and other helpers, there would be no party. Our membership and its grassroots work has always been our greatest strength.

Thank you

So to end, thank you – for your support for the party, for all you’ve done and – I hope – for the help to come in 2022.

It is always risky predicting what a year of politics will bring. We do know that the May elections will bring an important opportunity for us to expand our local government base, bringing the benefits of our policies to many more people. Events like the World Cup will once again highlight issues of human rights, racism and the need for our society to continue to change. The Assembly elections in Northern Ireland will be both a great opportunity for our sister party, Alliance, and also remind people across the whole UK of the problems that Brexit is causing.

Whatever the uncertainties of what is to come, with your help we can make sure we continue our recovery so that the Conservatives are voted out of office and we finally secure electoral reform for Westminster.

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

Labour (parts thereof) warm to informal cooperation with Lib Dems

One of the most striking moments at Nick Clegg’s election count in 2015 was the moment Labour activists broke out into cheers. Not at the news of a surprise Labour gain on a grim night for their own party too. But at news of Vince Cable being defeated.

That strain of the Labour Party was still very visible during the North Shropshire by-election, with more than one local Labour activist tweeting much more during the campaign about how much they disliked the Lib Dems than saying anything critical about the Conservatives. My favourite was the person who tweeted about how outrageous it was that the Lib Dems were saying we were best placed to beat the Conservatives… and also tweeted about how outrageous it was that we’d delivered four times as many leaflets as Labour.

But that’s only one part of Labour. Another part of Labour can be traced by mapping our Keir Starmer’s by-election visits in 2021 – which ones he went to and which ones he didn’t. His travel plans were a mirror of Ed Davey’s (and, of much less interest, my own). There are many in Labour who see the value of sensible prioritising of campaign resources and encouragement of DIY democracy with tactical voting. As The Independent has reported the support for such moves within Labour is real and “some Tories now sense danger”. Or as The Times reported its own radio station’s interview with Starmer: “The Labour leader said that while he would not enter any formal electoral pact, his ‘utter determination’ to win power meant he was willing to be strategic about his party’s resources.”

Just as importantly, this is the mood among Labour voters too, with the Liberal Democrats the most popular alternative party when Labour voters are asked who else they can see themselves voting for.

As I showed with a detailed look at the Best for Britain polling last time, the evidence about how many votes would really switch in the right direction with formal seat deals is very limited. Even less effective is blinkered tribalism. But sensible deployment of resources and tactical voting driven by voters is a combination that has worked before. It looks like Labour is embracing that.

Davey calls for a windfall tax on oil and gas firms

Ed Davey is calling for a ‘Robin Hood’ windfall tax on oil and gas firms and talking about plans to defeat 30 Conservative MPs. Christine Jardine has highlighted how almost 1.5 million of the country’s lowest earners will be hit be having to start paying income tax thanks to Rishi Sunak. Daisy Cooper has been writing of the power and limits of tactical voting (in a classic example of when you should read a full story, and not just its headline, to see what is actually says).

Jane Dodds is opposing plans to expand a coal mine in Wales. Alex Cole-Hamilton is calling for an urgent nurse burnout prevention plan in Scotland. His colleague Liam McArthur wants electric vehicle loan terms to be extended to boost the switch to greener forms of travel.

Munia Wilson has pointed out that England could fit Covid air filters to all classrooms for half the cost of the proposed new royal yacht. Helen Morgan has been straight to work as an MP, raising the crisis in ambulance waiting times in England and telling The Guardian how she won.

Isabelle Parasram and Matthew Clark were among the Lib Dems in the New Year’s Honours list. Tributes have been paid after Maureen Hoskins, who was a Liberal Democrat councillor in Redbridge for twenty years, died at the age of 85 after a short illness. Many condolences to her family and friends.

PODCAST: Does North Shropshire signal the end for Boris Johnson?

Hot off the microphones after Helen Morgan’s win in North Shropshire was a special edition of Never Mind The Bar Charts, discussing the result with the always interesting outsider perspective of Professor Tim Bale. In case you missed it in the run-up to Christmas, here it is for you now.

The three most popular episodes from last year are also all still very relevant, especially with an eye on the next general election. They were:

🎧 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.

My favourite quote about the North Shropshire campaign

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

“Remarkable courage, resilience and compassion” – Ed Davey’s New Year message.

Former Conservative council leader disqualified after missing 37 meetings.

The wonderful Dave McCobb.

My favourite quote about the North Shropshire by-election campaign.

What the public is saying: voting intention

Latest general election voting intention opinion polls 11 January 2022

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

i poll trakcer 11 January 2022

And here is how the trends are looking on Scottish independence, with opposition now back to a steady lead:

Scottish independence polling trends January 2022

If you’d like to know more about how opinion polls work, when to trust them and when to doubt them, take a look at my book Polling UnPacked: the history, uses and abuses of political opinion polls. There’s also this explainer on why 1,000 samples are enough and this on why you shouldn’t believe what you read on social media about YouGov.

What the public is saying: local by-elections

In addition to Helen Morgan’s amazing win, there was lots of other good news for the Liberal Democrats in the council by-elections at the turn of the year. But also a lesson about the importance of us standing in more council elections too:

These results bring the net seat changes since May in by-elections to Lib Dem +12, Conservative -11, Labour -5 and Green +12. Despite a recent improvement in results for Labour, it has still suffered a net loss of three to the Conservatives since May, not what you’d expect of a main opposition party doing well in the middle of a Parliament.

In other local government news, a councillor has left the party in Bath.

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.)

Selection news

The Liberal Democrats aren’t just telling the media that we’re gearing up for the next general election. Prospective candidates are also being put in place in the most winnable seats. Since last time that includes Josh Babarinde in Eastbourne, James MacCleary in Lewes and Sam Collins in Hitchin and Harpenden.

See here for all the Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) selected by the Liberal Democrats and announced to the media so far.

Also recently selected is Rabina Khan, author of My Hair is Pink Under This Veil, for the Tower Hamlets Mayor election coming up in May.

And finally…

You can now chart your emotions with this Tim Farron Mood Board. As I’m about to proof this newsletter before sending it, I’m currently a Row 1 / Column 4 kind of person.

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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