A fair deal: the Liberal Democrat message (LDN #159)

Liberal Democrat Newswire #159 came out last week, looking at the Lib Dem message for the May elections, the major party reforms voted for by conference and more.

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.

Dear Friend,

From Ed Davey’s conference speech through to the English local elections campaign launch, the Liberal Democrat have been consistently talking about the importance of a fair deal:

“Life’s been tough for lots of people over the past few years. And it’s still tough. But with their trademark decency and strength, the British people are rising to the challenge. Raising families. Caring for others. And playing by the rules. Now more than ever, it’s time for a fair deal.

“Yet with the rising cost of living, this the government is letting you down badly and taking you for granted.”

We’ll be hearing a lot more of that idea of a fair deal – wanting to give everyone the best possible opportunities to live their own lives as they wish – in the run up to the next general election.

But first there’s the crucial task of winning more power at the May local elections. It’s been great meeting so many campaigners out on the doorsteps again, including in the last few days in Brent, Bromley, Camden and Islington.

Best of luck to everyone standing, agenting and campaign managing for the Liberal Democrats this time. Especially the candidate who has never voted and the first two Lib Dems to have been elected.

Before we get to the main stories, a reminder of my latest mini-survey (subjects this time include canvassing and local party events).

Congratulations also to Jill Hilliard for winning a copy of Bad News: what the headlines don’t tell us in my prize draw for people who responded to this year’s annual appeal. The book is on its way to you Jill, and thank you to everyone else who donated too.

Best wishes,


P.S. If you missed it, last time’s edition – “The Battle for Liberal Britain” is now online here.

P.P.S. And in today’s breaking news regarding the partygate fines – the Lib Dems are calling for Parliament to be recalled, to debate a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister.

Giving our party an effective and democratic Board

The latest edition of Liberator contains this piece from on on the significant party reforms voted through at our Spring federal conference:

May 1993 was the best-ever time to be a Liberal Democrat constitutional geek. May 29th to May 31st, to be precise. A special extra long Liberal Democrat federal and English spring conference, extending to cover bank holiday Monday to get through 160 pages of constitutional amendments and amendments to amendments.

Yet that extended constitutional bonanza ended up, in one crucial respect, like all our other governance reviews. They start off with many people saying the Federal Board or its predecessor the Federal Executive is too large, and they ended up failing to reduce it.

After 34 years of people saying it was too big, all we have really managed to do was to change its name (from Executive to Board) and to… make it slightly larger than it was at the party’s creation.

There has been other good work along the way, such as the creation of the Federal People Development Committee – i.e. a committee that focuses on how we treat and involve our members – in the last governance review.

But at the heart of it all, the size of the Board was ducked. Of course, not many people have defended a Board of 41. After all, there is a reason why our local party, regional and state party executives don’t go for such a large body. Or why 41 sounds such a huge number to people involved in other membership organisations, charities and other not for profit organisations.

That size has been a problem because, as the Thornhill Review into the 2019 election debacle documented, a Board of that size acts like a talking shop and a rubber stamp rather than the democratic, effective decision-making Board we need at the heart of our structures.

Which is why change has been supported both by party members – 94% saying they wanted the Board to change in our consultation last year – and then by party conference this spring – with 71% voting in favour of amended proposals to reform our Board..

Those amended proposals – and credit to the three different batches of amendments, all of which improved the package – will create a 16 member Board from the next set of committee elections this autumn. There will also be a 40 member Federal Council to provide scrutiny for the Board in-between conferences.

Of those 16 Board members, 13 will have to win at least one party election in some form – some by all party members (such as President) and some by a subset of members (such as all Scottish members electing the Scottish convenor). They’ll be joined by three appointees – our elections, finance and membership experts (the chairs of FCEC, FFRC and FPDC – counting the latter as appointed as although FPDC elects its chair, the chair comes from people appointed to the committee).

Those thirteen will be Leader, President, Vice President responsible for working with ethnic minority communities, three ‘non-portfolio’ slots elected by all party members, the three state party chairs/convenors, the Young Liberals chair, a local government person elected by our councillors and directly-elected Mayors, the Federal Conference Committee chair and a Federal Policy Committee vice-chair (the FPC is chaired by the leader, so its vice chairs are more analogous to the chairs of other committees).

Having those different key post holders on the new Board matters for just the same reason why it makes sense to have your treasurer, data officer or diversity officer on a local party executive. If you’re not bringing those people together, you end up with a structure that is either shambolic (it doesn’t bring the key people together to work as a team) or secretive (those people do get together, but have to do so outside the official structures).

The Federal Council will be a mix of 21 people elected by all party members along with 18 people elected by different constituencies in the party (the state parties, councillors and directly elected Mayors, Young Liberals and our Parliamentarians all electing three each) and finally the chair of the Federal Audit and Scrutiny Committee. The Council will elect its own chair.

Alongside that, there are two other changes. One is a new power to no-confidence the Party President. I’ve been very keen on this as an important safeguard against a President being incapable or failing to do their job. I’ll continue to do my best to make this a power that isn’t needed… But given the damage that could be caused by a President, it’s important that there is a safeguard. Now, a two-thirds majority of the Board could force a by-election – forcing a resolution in such a difficult situation but still preserving the final say for party members.

In future too the party’s key elections committee – FCEC – will report to conference, giving conference a better route to hold people to account.

Of course, structural change can only go so far. People and culture are the real deal breakers. But a bad structure hinders good people and cultures, and tends to bring out the worst in people. Which is why Dorothy herself said of the reform options put to conference, “I am pleased that the reform options presented address the concerns highlighted in my review. The options provide for a smaller, more nimble leadership team.”

Even a good team can still screw up. But now we’ve got a much better chance of the team that gets elected this autumn delivering the sort of Westminster general election campaign we – our party and our country, so desperately need.

Find out more about Liberator magazine here.

Good luck to all our candidates and agents

Speaking of the Board, here’s my latest report for Liberal Democrat members and supporters, from the party website:

Thank you

With nominations now closed for the May elections, many thanks to everyone who has put in so much work to getting candidates approved, selected and safely nominated. From a first look at the numbers, we’ve seen a good increase in our candidate totals in Scotland and Wales, with the numbers broadly the same in England compared with last time.

I’m sure there will be lessons we can learn and share more widely from those areas that have had the most success increasing their candidate numbers, but that can wait until after the elections. For the moment, thank you – and best of luck to all the candidates nominated, their agents and their campaign managers.

Our plans for a fair deal

One of the oddities of how the media covers local elections is that ‘campaign launches’ for the national media usually take place weeks (if not months and years!) after our campaigning has actually started.

Which is why the start of April saw a big round of national media coverage for a Liberal Democrat local election campaign launch in England. Our national media push is deliberately focusing on the issues our research shows work best for setting the mood music against which local campaigns can do their magic at the grassroots. Which means a particular emphasis on the dumping of sewage in our rivers, ways to improve our ambulance service and help with the cost of living crisis.

The theme which runs through them all is the idea of a fair deal. Life’s been tough for lots of people over the past few years. And it’s still tough. But with their trademark decency and strength, the British people are rising to the challenge. Raising families. Caring for others. And playing by the rules. Now more than ever, it’s time for a fair deal.

Detailed supporting materials are available in the Campaign Hub to apply our national messages to individual areas.

Equality, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EEDI)

Six months ago we created a dedicated EEDI working group to work on implementing the action plan that came from our big audit last year. The team is now well established and progress can be found on our updated diversity page. That page includes our strategy and EEDI policy. The details of the plan and the working group itself are also on the website.

There is rather a lot to do, so if you are keen to support improving inclusion within our party please consider volunteering.

Improve data and new websites

Our plans to improve the party’s use of data passed an important milestone a couple of weeks ago with much improved synchronisation of data between Lighthouse and Connect.

Automatic synchronising of data is never perfect, so advice is now available for local parties on how to check and improve the data for their areas. Of course, if you’ve got elections coming up, this may be something to leave until the summer.

We’ve also started building our new website platform, which will replace a large number of sites across the party, superseding both the existing NationBuilder and Prater Raines systems.

More improvements are also on the way and you can keep up with the latest news via https://tech.libdems.org.uk, which also has an email list sign up if you prefer news that way.

Parliamentary candidate system review

I’ve mentioned previously our plans to review how the first wave of Parliamentary selections have gone in this Parliament. We’re doing such a review much earlier than we usually do (i.e. not waiting for the end of all the selections) so that lessons can be applied more quickly than has been usual.

Everyone is welcome to submit their views to the review. There’s an online survey [now closed] you can use, which is running until 28 April.

Volunteers needed for important roles

We’re looking for volunteers for a range of important posts at the moment. In all cases there’s no incumbent looking to be reappointed, so now is a great time to think about applying or to encourage others:

If you’d like to find out more about any of the posts before formally applying, by all means get in touch and I’ll happily chat or point you at the best people to talk with.

We’re also recruiting volunteers for three new policy working groups:

  • Food and Farming: This group will consider how we can improve our approach to food and farming, including looking at the future of farming and fishing, food security and supply chains, food poverty, nutrition and healthy eating, food production and animal welfare.

  • Opportunity, Skills and Training: This group will look at giving people the skills to be successful in their lives. This will include vocational education from ages 14-19, careers advice, further education, tackling the Post-Brexit skills crisis, adult education and lifelong learning.

  • International Security: This group will look at how the UK can strengthen its international security, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This group will address the international security institutional architecture, UK defence policy, European security and defence cooperation, environment and security (including energy security), economic security (e.g. vulnerabilities of supply chains), combatting international terrorism, novel threats (e.g. cyber warfare) and peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

April Board meeting

Our next Board meeting will see our Quarter 1 review of how the federal party is performing against our targets for the year. This will include the latest financial figures ahead of starting to think seriously about our 2023 budget, something we need to do mindful of the fact that the next general election could now be as late as January 2025.

We’ll also be hearing the latest findings from the party’s market research and how it’s being used to inform our messaging and media work.

We’ll be considering how to implement the new policy of one common register of interests and conflicts of interest policy for federal committees, as agreed by our spring conference.

We’ll also be studying two reports related to the complaints system – the investigation into allegations that had been made about a particular incident which we asked Antony Hook to carry out as covered in my November report, and also a review from the Federal Audit and Scrutiny Committee (FASC) into how the system is operating.

Meanwhile, the latest figures show that the number of live complaints is now down under 100, from a peak of over 325. The long term trend is continuing downwards. In only one of the last eight months has the number of new cases exceeded the number of cases closed.

Next Federal Board surgery

Our next virtual Federal Board surgery is scheduled for the evening of May 18th. Watch out for more details nearer the time, or if you’ve got any questions or ideas to share before then, just drop me a note.

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.

The route back to the EU: Lib Dems in the news

Layla Moran has been talking about how to achieve the long-term Lib Dem objectives of re-joining the European Union.

The party has drawn up draft legislation which would compel all ministers to reveal whether they or their spouses claim non-dom status – and if they have holdings in overseas tax havens.

Ed Davey has been taking the Lib Dem campaign to rural areas in the wake of the North Shropshire victory. He’s been pushing for faster and greater action on sanctions against Russia and for more action from the government over rising fuel bills – especially as many people in need will miss out on council tax rebates and NHS workers are being hit with higher taxes. He’s also highlighted the two million reports of anti-social behaviour which the police don’t turn up to.

Alistair Carmichael has got coverage even in The Sun* over the government’s failures on Ukrainian refugees. Ed Davey went to the Polish border to see the problems at first hand. Lib Dem Parliamentarians have won a victory in clamping down on oligarchs, getting a significant improvement made to the plans.

More Feargal Sharkeys needed to combat sewage says Tim Farron. And of course Liberal Democrats had views on Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement.

London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon has been pressing the police for answers over their use of strip searches following a 15 year-old girl being subject to one at her school.

Daisy Cooper has won a ‘most influential backbench MP’ award.

Liberal Democrats in Wokingham have won support from the Women’s Equality Party.

And he’s certainly not a Liberal Democrat, but Dominic Raab has taken to talking about the Blue Wall in his fundraising letters (he wants money to keep some bricks in the wall).

A memorial service for Erlend Watson will be held after the May election.

*Read by far more potential Lib Dem voters than many people realise.

What the polls are saying

Latest general election voting intention opinion polls 10 April 2022

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

Poll averages graph from the i newspaper

And here are the latest party favourability ratings from Ipsos MORI:

Political Monitor April 2022 - party ratings graph

Along with What UK Thinks long-term tracker on attitudes towards EU membership:

What UK Thinks EU poll tracker April 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

Many council by-elections are now being held over until the first Thursday in May, but we’ve had a flurry of contests and good news for the Lib Dems:

These results bring the average vote share change in council by-election so far this year:

  • Conservative: -2.3%

  • Labour: -1.5%

  • Green: +2.1%

  • Lib Dem: +7.2%

(Note once again how mediocre the Labour performance is in council by-elections. As with seat gains and loses too, there’s no real enthusiasm for the Labour Party showing in the ballot box.)

Elsewhere, an independent councillor has joined the Lib Dems in West Norfolk, a Labour councillor in Rochdale and a Conservative in Barnet. But in South Lakeland a Lib Dem has switched to independents, as have ones in Flintshire and Salford.

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

Parliamentary selections made public since last time include Clive Jones (Wokingham), Sandy Lay (Leeds North West) and Alison Bennett (Mid Sussex).

Joe Otten was also selected for South Yorkshire Mayor.

See all the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) selected and announced so far here. If you’ve spotted a selection I’ve missed and which is public, by all means drop me a message to let me know.

And finally…

Some people follow the Liberal Democrat style guide a little too closely.

If you enjoyed this newsletter, why not forward to a friend or let them know they can sign-up here for future editions?

Thank you and best wishes,


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