How the Lib Dems did in the local elections: LDN #160

Liberal Democrat Newswire #160 came out last week, with a big focus on this month’s local elections and what to make of the results.

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,

What a set of election results (including the head of the Conservative Party’s Lib Dem Unit losing to… the Lib Dems)!

No surprise that this month’s newsletter takes a dive into the results, along with giving you a double helping of results podcasts.

And the next big election is already upon us – the Tiverton and Honiton by-election. I was down there canvassing last weekend and it’s promising territory for us. Please do go and help, especially given what the Times Radio focus group with Conservative voters in that seat found.

Best wishes,


P.S. If you missed it, last time’s edition – “A fair deal: the Liberal Democrat message” – is available online here. That fair deal theme was repeated in the party’s most recent election broadcast in England.

A brilliant set of election results

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

What an amazing outcome from this May’s local elections:

  • Three more Liberal Democrat majority councils, taking us back to where we were before going into Coalition in 2010;

  • A net gain of 224 councillors, making this the fourth set of net gains in a row, something we’ve not achieved since the Iraq war;

  • 19% vote share (the national equivalent vote share, i.e. what it would have been if there were elections everywhere); and

  • The lovely bonus of seeing our sister party in Northern Ireland, Alliance, gaining seats and votes to move up to such an impressive third place.

Our successes weren’t just handed to us. They happened because of a huge amount of hard work, smart campaigning and dedication over a long period of time. Thank you to everyone who made that happen – and to their families and friends for supporting them through it.

Before going into the details, thanks and sympathies for those who weren’t successful this time. Missing out on winning never feels great, but it can be even tougher when others around you are celebrating. So thank you to everyone who tried and didn’t make it this time. I hope that our successes elsewhere help give you confidence that we can bounce back in your patch too.

Breadth and depth

A particularly promising part of our successes was the breadth of them. We made gains in Scotland, in Wales and in England. We also made gains in areas where last time we elected no councillors, including from Labour. In London, for example, we won council seats on four councils where we’d won none last time around – including one of the very last councils to declare on Sunday (!), Croydon. Many of our smaller small council groups grew too.

But alongside that, in our stronger areas – and especially those where we can hope now to win at the next Westminster Parliamentary election – we also progressed. For every MP we currently have, there was more than one other constituency where we topped the poll last week.

We’ve still got a long way to go to build up our local government base to where we want it to be. But we took a big step forward last week, again, and have now made a cumulative gain of 1,207 council seats in the May elections since 2015 (compared with 628 loses for Labour and 1,095 for the Conservatives).

A core base of support

What was also promising was the way we’ve continued to build up a more consistent, core base of support for the party.

We both benefited this time from our vote share going up across the board, but also our progress being particularly concentrated in areas that were more heavily Remain and Conservative.

That means we got the benefits of both a growing base of support – important for our long-term health as a national party – and the benefits of concentrated support in particular areas – necessary to do well under first past the post elections.

Winning converts from the Conservatives

A big part of our gains in England was winning converts directly from the Conservatives. In Conservative wards where we started in second, the Lib Dem vote went up 9% and the Conservative vote down by 10%. Tactical voting helped (Labour’s vote went down by 1%), so keep those bar charts going, but it was the direct switching that did the bulk of our winning.

Canvassing… and candidates

One of the factors behind our success was the record volume of canvassing carried out this year, with each month scoring the highest number of voter contacts on record for that month.

I’m looking forward to our next quarterly call with the party’s top canvassers to hear their feedback, and this volume reflects the commitment all parts of the party has made in this Parliament to investing money in expanding our network of staff supporting grassroots campaigning.

Less good, however, were our candidate numbers. They rose in Scotland and Wales, but not in England. So we’ll need to make sure we learn from those areas that were successful and figure out how to make our candidate numbers in future record-breaking in the way that our canvassing was.

I joined Kevin Lang, campaign manager par excellence in Scotland, Jane Dodds, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, and Cllr John Potter from Preston to talk about the lessons from these elections for the latest edition of the Lib Dem Podcast. You can take a listen in your favourite podcast app, or on Spotify here or on YouTube here.

Other Board business

This report has focused on the elections, but in other party news our new Diversity and Inclusion manager has now started at HQ, reflecting the priority we’re giving to this area of work in the light of the Thornhill Review.

The last Board meeting also considered the report we commissioned into the circumstances in which a key volunteer in the party’s complaints system exited their role. The report was written by Antony Hook – a barrister as well as being a Liberal Democrat councillor and former MEP. The Board accepted his findings that proper processes were not followed and that improvements need to be made to the processes used to handle such matters. The person concerned has also been apologised to.

We’ll be reviewing progress at implementing changes coming from both the Hook report and also the recent Federal Audit and Scrutiny Committee (FASC) review of the complaints system, at our next Board meeting.

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 NHS under strain: Lib Dems in the news

Lib Dem research into GP shortages has been all over the media, including a Daily Mail front page. As has research showing that England and Wales have lost 217 police stations since 2015.

Daisy Cooper has also been in the news over distressing cancer wait times in England. Ed Davey has called for bonuses to water firm bosses to be axed until they stop dumping sewage in our rivers.

Lib Dem peer John Lee is calling for ‘double Summer Time’.

London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon has highlighted how 9 in 10 car thefts go unsolved in the capital.

Former Lib Dem MP Evan Harris has settled his phone hacking claim against News Group Newspapers.

PODCAST: How did the parties really do in the May elections?

A double dose of podcasts about the election results this time.

I joined John Potter from the Lib Dem Pod podcast, along with Welsh leader Jane Dodds and Scottish campaign maestro Kevin Lang to talk about the 2022 local elections. Here’s what we made of the results and what to do next.

Then, pollster Keiran Pedley joined me to discuss what we can learn from the 2022 local elections and how Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems really did. Includes how I would have spun the results for Labour if I’d been in their press team and what Keiran thinks of my enthusiasm for the Liberal Democrat results.

🎧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:

A difference between the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

Five times the polls got it wrong… but you should still pay attention to them.

Outgoing NFU Deputy President joins Lib Dems.

Possible Windsor Parliamentary by-election: update.

“Conservative MP lied under oath” – Sunday Times.

The strange case of the candidate who was nominated twice.

Text messages raise turnout… if they are from the local council.

How to draw national trends from local election results: national vote share calculations.

What the polls are saying

Latest general election voting intention opinion polls

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

Poll tracker from The i

Also worth noting is the bump in Lib Dem favourability following the local elections (and most likely caused by them):

Political Monitor April 2022 - party ratings graph

That bounce is bigger than either of last year’s by-election bounces, also shown in the graph. Which is a reminder of the point I’ve often made that the history of Liberal Democrat recoveries is fuelled by amazing by-election wins, cracking local council results and overseas tragedies. The first two are definitely the preferable route to recovery.

That net score puts the Lib Dems above both Labour and the Conservatives for the first time in this Parliament. Let’s see if that can be sustained…

Another poll result particularly worth noting:

In a constituency at the next general election, your preferred political party is very unlikely to win, but by standing a candidate they split the vote for similar parties and in doing so could help the party that is least like them win. In those circumstances, do you think your preferred party should or should not stand a candidate?

Only 25% said they would want their party not to stand.

Finally, voters oppose government plans to exclude trans people from conversion therapy ban.

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.

Council by-election win in Gove’s seat

Wrapping up the last few weeks of council by-elections in the last cycle:

These results brought the Lib Dem net gains in by-elections between the May 2021 and May 2022 elections to plus 20, three ahead of the Greens (+17). Both the Conservatives (-18) and even Labour (-3) lost seats. Full details here.

Elsewhere, a councillor has switched to the Liberals in Liverpool.

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 Paul Follows (South West Surrey), Monica Harding (Esher & Walton – Dominic Raab’s constituency) and Jenny Wilkinson (Kenilworth & Southam).

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…

Ed met a cat while canvassing.

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,


One response to “How the Lib Dems did in the local elections: LDN #160”

  1. All good stuff, but I’m always curious about how we define this core vote we’re trying to build. The nearest thing we had to a core vote pre-coalition was people who were strongly pro civil liberties, diversity etc and moderately pro redistribution, strong public services even if that means tax hikes etc.

    If we define it by attitudes to Brexit, that fits pretty well with the pro diversity, “drawbridge down” tendency, but less well in poorer areas and the most rural areas; and if we define a core Lib Dem voter as a dissatisfied Tory, that doesn’t survive a Labour government or even a moderate Tory one.

    It’s good for our parliamentary seat prospects that we’re making big advances in Surrey and Cheshire, but at least as good for our long-term future that we’re making gains in Hull, Sunderland and Salford.

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