Why the Lib Dems need more council candidates

As the next May local elections are nearing, here’s an updated re-run of my piece from the party website on why standing in more council contests, including council by-elections, matters:

When we debate party policy, strategy or election tactics, questions about what might attract or put off voters often – and rightly – come up.

But there’s one sure-fire, 100% guaranteed, rock-solid way of repelling voters from us, and it’s one we use far too often.

It’s not having a Liberal Democrat on the ballot paper. Zero votes for the party guaranteed.

Both Labour and the Conservatives, for example, get very close now to having a full slate of candidates in local elections. Despite improvements in recent years, we are still lagging behind, and not yet back to where we used to be. So we know we can do better – because we have.

Even in wards where multiple seats are up for election and where we stand someone but not a full slate it is still a problem – as we’re still forcing people to vote for someone other than us.

With the important exception of STV elections in Scotland, of course, where the way the voting system works means standing ‘too many’ candidates harms our election chances in a way that doesn’t happen under first past the post. So in Scotland, it’s at least one candidate in each ward that’s the equivalent of the full slates we should be aiming for elsewhere.

Since we’ve collectively started focusing on really raising our candidate numbers in council contests, we’ve made good progress. We’ve even got positive media coverage out of it too.

We regularly see our candidate numbers in council by-elections on the up and in last May’s local elections we moved from having only just over half the number of candidates as the Conservatives the time before to nearly two-thirds the number.

So we are making progress – but we are still short of where we want to be. Remember – every single voter gets a ballot paper, showing them whether we are standing or not.

Standing candidates isn’t only about credibility and relevance. It’s also the way to get more people into the habit of regularly voting for the Liberal Democrats – a crucial step in building the sort of larger core vote for the party that will help us succeed more often.

And you never quite know when putting up more candidates, or failing to do so, will turn out to be rather more important than you thought at that election.

That after all is just what happened in North Shropshire. Back in spring 2021, the local party successfully put great effort into increasing its number of candidates. Then when an unexpected Parliamentary by-election took place, that boost in our local credibility – and the improved bar chart it provided – was vital for Helen Morgan’s campaign. A clear cut case of us making our own luck.

Where our candidate numbers have increased in the last few years, it’s notable that this has happened across the board – from weaker local parties through to the strongest. So whatever your local situation, if you have elections coming up this May, let’s all do our best to make it a record-breaking one for the number of candidates.

There’s a great video from Daisy Cooper about how to find candidates here and there is also Lighthouse training that shows you how to make use of its data to find more candidates (scroll down to ‘managing candidates & selections’). ALDC also has an approval and selection toolkit to help.

Or if this has inspired you personally, you can find our more about standing here

Good luck with your candidate numbers and let’s make this May a record-breaking one for the party.

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11 responses to “Why the Lib Dems need more council candidates”

  1. Thank you for a useful and inspiring blog post. I would be really interested in learning more about ‘Zero to Hero’ local parties- those which started from a base of not having even one councillor and turned that around.
    Also are there any parliamentary seats which have been won Lib Dem candidates where there wasn’t first at least one local councillor? What is the interaction at play?

    • Outside of by-elections, it’s hard to think of any seat we’ve won that didn’t have at least some Lib Dem councillors in it first, and usually there’s been quite a strong local government base built up first.

    • For our local Broxbourne Council we have candidates ( me included ) in 9 out of ten seats for 5th May. This is from a small local party and thanks to huge effort from a couple of key local members .. it can be done!! 🔸️ 🔶️

  2. Indeed, an inspiring post. That said, here in Greater Manchester there is an entire district that is a Lib Dem desert (no candidates, no activists) yet all seats in this desert are contested by Lab and Con, and Greens are contesting most wards in this desert. We cannot divert our efforts from target wards in all other GM districts (including a couple of target constituencies). How to bump start a district that is an utterly derelict desert? Does HQ have a small package of support for Space – the Final Frontier?

  3. Obviously mathematically putting up a full slate ie number of our candidates= number of seats offered, maximizes the chance of at least one getting elected and of course reduces the gap between us and any opponents ahead of us as it prevents stray votes from going to them.
    A surprising number of votes in a multiseat contest go to waste .
    Suggest activists obtain the number of ballots issued at polling stations and compare to number of votes. In one Islington ward a long time ago only 70% of the votes were used even with all parties putting up full slates.

    Where a full slate works wonders is in unwarded non principal council elections. I recall us taking 100% of the seats in some parish elections , some time ago admittedly.

  4. Way back when I was still in the UK there was one ward where we did not have enough supporters to fill out the nomination form, and those I knew were just out anyway (a candidate proposer and seconder we could find which was great, but…)

    In desperation I just started knocking on doors asking if people would be OK to “assent” to there being a Liberal / LibDem candidate in the ward (after the proposer and seconder, the other 8 just had to agree that it was OK that the candidate was on the ballot paper).

    Nobody said no, some laughed, and soon I had the signatures needed!

    Brighton had elections every year, so next year I went back to the same people, they laughed some more and were happy to sign again, and have a chat (mostly they were Labour supporters so no votes gained)

    So, its not so hard once you get the initial names.

  5. Long comment – hope its worth reading…

    Putting up one candidate when more than one seat is up for election can be OK if there is zero hope of winning.

    But what if you have a decent level of support. Just one candidate means you could be throwing away both votes and seats as well!

    Some time back I saw the result of a 3 seat election in Mid Sussex. From memory the result was 3 Con 1100 to 1200 votes, 1 LibDem 800, 2 others 150 each.

    OK, at first glance does not look like a good seat when you have other real target wards, but wait! Look deeper, almost all ballot papers had 3 votes. This means that those 800 LibDem voters placed an X for non LibDems 1600 times! Very few people that voted LibDem did not vote for 2 other people (looking at the results can tell you how many incomplete ballots there were, additionally most voters vote for one parties candidates) Lets assume that all the “other” votes were from LibDem voters (worst case), then there were still approx 1300 Xs from Lib Dem voters that went to Con candidates. Spreading evenly that would mean that each Con candidate got a little over 400 votes that they would not have got had the LibDems put up three names.

    The result would then have been say 3 Lib Dem 800, 800, 800, 3 Con 700 to 800 others whatever. We simply would have gained 2 seats without too much additional effort on a council where we had a bunch of councillors already but could benefit from some more…

  6. I have a case study similar to Ken McArthur’s
    In the 1980s in one Welsh valley ward the result was lab x3 1100 each, the sole lib 900.
    Clearly if there had been libs x3 , all seats would have been gained.

  7. Contrary to Ken McArthur’s well argued case, it can work the other way if there is one very popular candidate of another party and other votes “going begging”. We had several cases of this in East Devon last year where we had experienced great difficulty in finding “full slates” in some wards (I had been asked to be a candidate 3 times before I had even moved into my new home in Devon)
    One case in particular springs to mind where, looking at the ballot papers for a 2 member ward, our sole candidate was so despondent at the infrequency of seeing a cross against his name that he was on the point of going home. However eagle eyed watchers including myself had spotted that one of the Conservative candidates appeared to be much more popular than the other.
    On counting the split votes this was seen to be the case in spades and it was our candidate who picked up a lion share of the “spare votes” and he ended up topping the poll. Had we had 2 candidates, neither of whom were particularly well known before the election, this vote would have been split in half and both would have lost to the second Tory.

  8. How many primary council seats are there in total across the country, I’m wondering what proportion of the party membership needs to come forward to stand. We need over 40%.

    • It’s around 20,000 councillors in total, but their elections are spread out over four year cycles, so the biggest year of council elections still requires many fewer candidates than that.

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