The Battle for Liberal Britain: LDN #158

Battle for Liberal Britain graphic

Liberal Democrat Newswire #158 came out last weekend, featuring Ed Davey’s new book (you can order The Battle for Liberal Britain here), the Lib Dem spring conference, the latest selections and elections news and more.

You can 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.

Dear Friend,

In the last few days, Ed Davey has launched a new book, The Battle for Liberal Britain, and this month’s newsletter brings you an extract from his chapter along with all the latest news from the opinion polls, by-elections and the party.

Included below is my latest monthly report back to members. In it I mention the Federal Board reform debate coming up on the Friday of our spring conference (11 March). Our Board is currently 41 large (!). Imagine how, say, your local party would function if its executive was 41… Which is why the Thornhill Review into what went wrong at the 2019 election recommended that we need to change how the Board works. So we’ve got a motion coming up that would make it 16 in size, overwhelmingly comprised of people elected by members.

The size of the Board in its various guises over the years has long been a cause of frustration and complaint in the party. But over the years it’s also actually got larger – which is why it’s so important that we get it right this time and get reform done. I do hope members reading this will register for conference and come to the debate.

Huge thanks to everyone who has responded to my annual appeal in last time’s edition. There’s still time to make a donation and be entered in the prize draw here.

One piece of housekeeping: I’ve changed some of the behind-the-scenes coding for the newsletter template. Among the improvements, it should now alter the text size better depending on how you’re reading it. Feedback very welcome.

Best wishes,


P.S. If you missed last time’s edition, “What the voters are telling the Lib Dems, and important votes at party conference” is now online here.

In this edition:

The importance of liberal internationalism

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

It was a shocking and sobering sight just a few days ago to wake up and see a photo of Kira Rudyk, the leader of a sister liberal party of ours in Ukraine holding a gun and preparing to fight.

It was also a reminder of the importance of our liberal values – and the need for internationalism to support fellow humans, rather than to try to hide away within our own borders as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Viruses, climate change and dictators don’t stop at borders, and nor should our compassion for other people.

The wave of sanctions, both mandatory from governments and voluntary as others too have ceased trade, cancelled events and ended Russian participation, is a reminder of just how much integration there was – economically, socially and culturally – between Russia and the rest of the world.

A frequent hope of liberals is that such extensive links can bring people together and reduce the risk of conflict. What the invasion of Ukraine has shown, however, is that such hope is not enough. We also need strong multinational institutions with the necessary powers to enforce their decisions when required.

Getting that right will help avoid future Ukraines, but we also have to work with where we are in the present. Which is why we’re pressing the government so hard to take effective action against the Russian oligarchs who have secreted so much wealth in London and spent so heavily on British politics, British legal services and British financial services.

Events in Ukraine will come up in multiple ways at our online federal spring conference 11-13 March. You can still register for the event here (and it only costs £5 if you have not come to conference before).

In the light of both the tragedy in Ukraine and the controversies over the Chinese use of money to influence British politics, we’ve been reviewing our rules for checking the international aspects of potential donations to confirm that they have the right safeguards in them.

Improving the way the party is run

Friday night at conference (11 March) also sees an important debate on how the Federal Board operates. It’s currently 41 in size – much larger than the sort of bodies which run other parts of the party, and much larger than the sort of bodies many of us are familiar with in charities, businesses and not for profit organisations.

This isn’t just a theoretical issue because as the Thornhill Review, our review into what happened at the 2019 election, concluded: “The Federal Board was often a ‘rubber-stamp’ and is “too large a group to be a realistic decision-making body”.

That hindered us in 2019 and undermined the value we rightly put on our internal democracy. Electing people to a rubber stamp isn’t a real democracy. Electing people to an effective body is.

Which is why we consulted members last year on what reform options they would like to see, and the three most popular – along with the status quo – are going to be put to the vote on Friday. Members overwhelmingly backed reform in that consultation. I hope people will come to the debate on Friday and help make sure conference does too.

As 10 of our recently selected target seat candidates said in an open letter backing Board reform:

“We are all determined to win – because we know that’s the way to improve the lives of our constituents, to get more of our policies put into action and to boost our national influence…

“But we cannot undertake this massive task effectively unless HQ and our party structures are in a place to support us.

“That change has thankfully begun, with the recent by-elections in Chesham & Amersham and North Shropshire paying testament to the scale of change within HQ…

“None of us would think for a moment it’s sensible to have a local party executive of 41 people. But that’s just what we have at the federal level with a Board of 41.

“That’s why the reform motion at this spring’s conference is so important to get us into fighting shape for the next general election.

“Please register for conference, come to the debate – and help us win, for our constituents and for our party.”

Record levels of grassroots campaigning

Thank you to everyone who has been out campaigning in the last month. We’ve continued to make gains at council by-elections and our overall level of voter contact so far this year continued to be the highest it has been for at least five years.

Thank you especially to everyone who had stood as a council candidate in the by-elections or is planning to do so in May. Getting the Liberal Democrat name appearing on ballot papers more frequently is part of what we need to do to re-establish ourselves in the eyes of voters as relevant, growing and worth paying attention to. (For more on why this is so important, see my piece on the party website.)

We do a quarterly series of calls with the most active canvassers, so that people at the centre of the party such as our Leader Ed Davey and our Chief Executive Mike Dixon can hear directly from the doorsteps about what is and isn’t working around the country.

One piece of feedback from these calls has been the desire to have a page on the party website that sets out what we believe, suitable for people who are interested in politics and might, say, be thinking of joining the party. It’s now up here.

People news

Thank you to Christine Jardine for her time on the Federal Board, from which she has just stepped down as one of the Parliamentarians. Alistair Carmichael has succeeded her.

Welcome also to Dean Courtney, the new Membership Development Officer at party HQ. He’s part of a newly reorganised membership team, headed up by Sian Waddington in her new role as Director of Membership Operations. Greg Foster, who used to have a key role in the membership team, is now Head of Technology, in our technology and data team that is headed up by Katy Perryment and which reports directly to our CEO.

Keeping up with our technology news

There is a new ‘Tech Projects’ newsletter to keep activists across the party updated with work to improve our data and tools, such as website platforms. You can sign up for the list here.

As ever, if you have questions on any of this, or other party matters, do get in touch on president@libdems.org.uk. Do also get in touch if you’d like to invite me to do a Zoom call with your local party or party body. I’m always keen to do more of these as they’re a great way of hearing from the frontline what is and isn’t working.


Liberalism: a fundamentally British creed

Ed Davey has set out his approach to liberalism, its relevance for our lives and how the party can succeed in a new book he has edited, The Battle for Liberal Britain. Here’s how his chapter starts:

Liberalism is a fundamentally British creed. Core liberal beliefs of freedom, equality and community are traditional British values and I believe there remains a majority consensus around these values for which the Liberal Democrats are by far the strongest proponents in modern British politics.

The success of British liberalism can be measured in the huge progress made for our values – in the UK and around the world.

From the most popular works of the state like the NHS to major advances in human rights and equality, from the broad-based support for a market economy to recent leadership on climate action, British liberals and Liberal Democrats have driven real change in the face of opposition from forces on the right and left of British politics.

Yet Liberal Britain has been in retreat in recent years, and liberal values – one of Britain’s greatest exports – are under attack across the globe. The great success of global liberal progress in promoting freedom, peace and prosperity has been seriously undermined by its own hubris and unnecessary excess, which has seen the growth of inequality, lack of opportunity and rising global tensions.

Liberalism’s enemies – populism and nationalism – are ruthlessly exploiting these mistakes. From 9/11 to the global financial crisis of 2008, from the failure of the British state to tackle long-lasting social and economic injustices to the challenge of the rise of China, a populist narrative speaking to people’s fears and insecurities has been able to ferment. Strong progressive leadership has been in short supply, combined with an unevidenced complacency among many liberals that the status quo ante will soon be restored.

It will not be easy for liberals to rally against this onslaught, defeat this profound danger and regain thought and political leadership. It starts with a recognition of the strength of the forces against us and an understanding that our populist and nationalist opponents are no longer playing by the old rules of democratic politics.

It must include a heavy dose of realism as to how to fight the political and electoral battles ahead, which demands an intense focus on the people’s priorities.

And it will succeed with ideas that capture and deliver on the inherent optimism and promise of liberalism.

This short collection of essays is one contribution to the battle of ideas in the battle for Liberal Britain. Some offer ways to refresh long-held liberal positions on everything from community politics to education and climate change – because these issues remain as relevant as ever. Others speak to future challenges facing the economy, care, housing and technology.

In bringing new ideas together, I have been guided by my own classic interpretation of liberalism; that it’s all about power – how to make individuals more powerful in their own lives, and how to hold the already powerful to account.

For me, liberalism has always been an anti-establishment, reformist, forward-looking creed, aimed at improving people’s lives by challenging the status quo and appealing to people’s dreams. Liberals should find it deeply alarming that the populists and nationalists have at times managed to steal the anti-establishment mantle, even though they have largely used it to speak to people’s fears.

To win the fight for Liberal Britain, we must regain our reputation as the true reforming challengers. I believe we can, and, as the populists and nationalists are gradually exposed by their own failures and infighting, the opportunity for us to win is significantly increasing.

To read the rest of Ed Davey’s chapter and those from a diverse range of others order your copy of The Battle for Liberal Britain here.

Lib Dem MPs top Scottish league table

Our Scottish quartet of MPs are in the top 10 of a new league table of Scottish MP performance, including filling all three of the top slots. Meanwhile, Scottish leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has criticised Vince Cable’s appearance on Russia Today.

Welsh leader Jane Dodds has called for the Nationality and Borders Bill to be axed, especially in the light of the humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine.

Ed Davey has been calling for tougher sanctions on Putin and his supporters, and to use an ‘Oligarch Tax’ to help shield those most in need from a spike in energy costs. He’s also been opposing the end to free Covid tests, calling it a ‘tax on caring’ and for greater investment in the Royal Navy.

Former Welsh Assembly Member Aled Roberts and former MP David Chidgey both passed away recently. Condolences to their family and friends.


What does 2022 hold for the Lib Dems? – Never Mind The Bar Charts podcast

My podcast and newsletter schedules are slightly out of synch at the moment, so no new podcast episode this time. Instead, here is a reminder of one of the most popular recent shows – a look ahead at the party’s prospects with Ed Davey and CEO Mike Dixon, courtesy of the Lib Dem Pod team.

Listen to what we had to say 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.

📱 Follow Never Mind The Bar Charts on Twitter, give feedback and send in questions or ideas for future shows at @barchartpodcast.



In case you missed them first time, here are a selection of posts from my websites since last time: ⭐ Success for Layla Moran and other campaigners over the Vagrancy Act.

President Zelenskyy’s party on way to becoming sister party of Lib Dems.

Do political donations increase political extremism? What new research says.

Early voting pilot for May’s Welsh local elections.

😕 The Conservative who became a councillor because he didn’t want to be a politician.

“A county of leftist whingers begging for handouts”: Conservative peer’s comments on Yorkshire.

You can see why people sometimes tell me that I really should be a councillor. (They’re wrong.)


What the polls are saying

Latest general election voting intention opinion polls 6 March 2022
To give the latest figures some context, here’s the poll tracker from The i newspaper:
Voting intention graph
And here are the issues most on the minds of voters (prior to the invasion of Ukraine):
Ipsos MORI issues tracker February 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 summary of the evidence that the polls are overall pretty accurate, along with 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 by-elections are saying

The picture for the Lib Dems continues to be candidate numbers up, votes up and a decent handful of seat gains from the Conservatives: These results bring the net seat changes since last May to Lib Dem +16, Green +14, Labour -3, Conservative -13. That Labour is still on a net seat loss shows how brittle the national popularity of Labour is. There’s no matching groundswell of support of the sort that saw New Labour gain so many council seats in the 1990s before its 1997 landside.

Elsewhere, a Labour councillor has joined the Liberal Democrats in Hull and a councillor has left the Lib Dems for the independents in Mid-Devon, saying unusually that, “I’ve been spending too much time opposing the Conservative Group’s undemocratic approach to running [the council]” but going on to add, “I haven’t fallen out with the Liberal Democrats. We will remain allies.”

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

Selections made public since last time are Toni Brodelle (Wycombe), former MP Andrew George (St Ives) and Max Wikinson (Cheltenham).

I say ‘made public’ because the party’s press team has been doing a great job of getting media coverage for target seat selections. So sometimes there’s a pause before a result becomes public in order to maximise that coverage.

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


And finally…

This explanation of why Bristol Cathedral is replacing the plaque celebrating the ordination of women is a bizarre, cringe-inducing story.

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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