Two crucial trends in British politics: LDN #161

Liberal Democrat Newswire #161 came out earlier in the week, focusing on the Tiverton and Honiton by-election, surprise, but also covering two of the longer-tern trends reshaping British politics.

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Dear Friend,

The outcome of, and lessons from, the pair of by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton is likely to dominate British politics for the next few months.

But under the surface there are two longer-term trends it’s worth Liberal Democrats in particularly paying attention to. One is the role of economic insecurity in political choice, something I dig into below in a podcast with the excellent Professor Jane Green.

The other trend – and mostly ignored by the media – is the switch of the trade union movement to backing electoral reform for the House of Commons, with UNISON, the UK’s second largest union, most recently making the move. Given Labour’s history of flirting with supporting such reform right until it has the chance to do something about it and then flinching, committed trade union support makes the prospects for electoral reform very different this time around.

But before all that, remember there’s still time to help Richard Foord win in Tiverton & Honiton, which would see the over-turning of the largest-ever majority (24,239) in a by-election in British political history. That would beat the long-standing Liverpool Wavertree record of 23,972 from 1935.

Next time’s edition will include some summer reading recommendations. Do let me know what you’d recommend to a fellow reader interested in politics.

Best wishes,


P.S. If you missed it, last time’s edition – “How the Lib Dems did in the local elections” – is available online here. And an important update to that: there is now the first Lib Dem council leader in Wales since 2012.

Tiverton & Honiton

Here’s my latest report for Liberal Democrat members and supporters, from the party website, starting with the by-election where The Guardian is now calling for Labour supporters to back the Lib Dems:

We saw last year what a huge boost it gave to the party getting two new excellent MPs elected in Parliamentary by-elections. It’s good for their constituents and also good for the party’s prospects across the whole country.

We’ve also seen this month how Conservative MPs have failed to do what our country needs – to remove Boris Johnson from 10 Downing Street.

Which is why the latest contest in Tiverton and Honiton is so important for us all again. The single most effective thing you can do in the next few weeks to help bring about his demise – and to help the party win in your own patch – is to help Richard Foord get elected on 23 June.

Many of the team have gone straight into this campaign from the May local elections, without the chance to pause for the hoped for break after those. Thank you hugely to everyone who is stretching themselves to give Richard the best of chances of winning.

Thank you too to Jamie Needle and the team in Wakefield, fighting a carefully targeted campaign there which I’m sure will help the continued growth of our council group on Wakefield Council.

Treating our staff well

Some good news to report on party staff: the federal party has been awarded the ‘excellence’ status by the Good Work Standard for how we go beyond legal minimum requirements in looking after staff.

With the amount of change since the 2019 election plus all the strains of lockdowns, it’s been a particularly tough few years for our staff. But standards such as this show how we’re taking seriously making the party a good and happy place to work.

Welcome to Cllr Mike Cox and Chris French

Chartered accountant, local councillor and former Parliamentary candidate Mike Cox has been appointed by the Federal Board as the new chair of our Federal Finances and Resources Committee (FFRC). Mike takes over from Tony Harris, who has stood down as a new academic career has unexpectedly opened up for him.

When Tony took up the post, the party’s finances faced many difficult challenges. Tony has steered us through them and left a clear financial plan through to the next Westminster general election. At the heart of that has been much greater and earlier investment in this Parliament in our support for grassroots campaigning across the country – something we saw the benefits of in this May’s elections.

Thank you to Tony and best of luck to Mike.

Thank you also to Shelley Snelson, who served as Tony’s deputy, a pilot new post the FFRC has been trying out. Due to a change in her job, she is also standing down, and the FFRC will discuss later this year whether to continue, modify or wrap up the pilot.

Welcome also to Chris French, newly elected by the Board as one of the Vice Chairs of the Racial Diversity Campaign (RDC).Chris founded an LGBTQ+ charity and chairs a national one, as well as running a social enterprise consultancy. Best of luck Chris, and thank you for taking on the role.

A new package of online tools

Providing our grassroots campaigners across the party with the best online and data tools is an important part of being a successful campaign organisation in the 21st century. It’s also how we can ensure we continue to have a broad-based recovery in our political strength alongside the necessary focus on target seats as each polling day nears.

Our new website tool (Fleet), our new email tool (Targeted Email), our new events tools (Eventcube) and our new online donations tool are all being readied for local parties, and other parts of the party, to be able to start using later this year. These will include much better data integration, so that – for example – email address information flows smoothly between our different tools.

If you sign up for both by the 31st July 2022, then you’ll get the first three months free and 20% off the cost of the total package for the next year. More details of the pricing, migration plans and how to sign up are on the party’s technology blog. The events and donations tool will be free at the point of use, with their costs covered by taking a small cut from donations and ticket sales. Pricing for the other tools will be cheaper for smaller local parties and party bodies, helping make sure that all parts of the party can benefit from the best of our tools.

Autumn federal conference plans

Plans are progressing for our first in-person federal conference since 2019. It’ll be in Brighton on 17-20 September.

We are always looking for ways to make conferences accessible to more members. This year, members who cannot or do not wish to attend in person can still exercise their democratic right to vote on party policy. Details of how to register for this online only option will be available shortly. Simply buy a ticket for just £15, watch the auditorium live from the comfort of your own home and vote on any session alongside your fellow members in Brighton.

I’m particularly keen on this given the number of people who came to an online conference in the last two years who had never been able to make it to a physical event. Whether it’s for reasons of geography, money, time or other responsibilities, online events can involve people that in-person events can’t. It’s therefore important that we continue to use the online world as a way to give more members and supporters the opportunity to get involved with our party.

More details in Federal Conference Committee (FCC) Vice Chair Chris Adam’s piece for the party website and you can register for conference here.

June Board meeting

The key political element will be a review of our general election plans. There’s a huge range of plausible next election dates, all the way through to the last possible date in January 2025.

How many MPs we come out of the next election with will be the main measure of success for a first past the post general election. But we also need to ensure we continue the broader recovery in our political strength – and prosper in any local elections that may be on the same day.

It’s also the meeting at which we’ll decide on any proposals to put to the autumn conference for members to decide upon, such as coming out of the Federal People Development Committee (FPDC) work on updating our Code of Conduct for party members. We will be reviewing progress at implementing the recommendations from the reports into our complaints system that we received at our last meeting.

We’ll also be looking at making the two decisions that rest with the Board for our autumn internal elections – the timetable and expense limits. Those plans will then be implemented by the new Returning Officer post created under the election regulations passed at spring conference.

Making decisions on filling that post and also the vacancy on the Federal Audit and Scrutiny Committee (FASC) will round out the agenda.

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.

A spineless Cabinet: Lib Dems in the news

The Cabinet branded ‘spineless’ for failing to remove Boris Johnson by Ed Davey. England is facing a “dentist shortage crisis” as 14% of NHS dentists approach retirement, Daisy Cooper has warned. Alex Cole-Hamilton has been pointing out the many issues that should take priority in Scotland over holding another independence referendum.

Congratulations to Sal Brinton on being re-elected one of the ALDE Party Vice-Presidents.

Lib Dems are celebrating a former charity CEO’s appointment as Edinburgh Lord Provost – and it’s notable that he was nominated by the SNP even at a time of intense disagreement between the Lib Dems and the SNP on the council. That’s quite the accolade for Robert Aldridge.

Meanwhile, a newly-elected Lib Dem councillor was hailed as a hero after finding a missing cat and Preston got its youngest mayor in more than 170 years. Two new Lib Dem councillors in Mendip have started up a regular podcast about their experiences of getting to grips with local government.

The New Statesman has profiled one of our Sunderland councillors: “I know people can look down on bins and potholes as being boring issues, but living somewhere clean and well-maintained is something most people want, and it’s something only local government can provide.”

In Bath and North East Somerset, the Liberal Democrats are bringing social care services back in house from 2024, while in Portsmouth an innovative solar panel project has started at the international port.

In Norfolk, an online message referring to the beheading of a Liberal Democrat rival has led to a former Conservative district councillor being reported to police.

And finally, a friendly yet sceptical look at the Liberal Democrat prospects from former campaign staffer turned academic, Chris Butler. Although I think his caution is over-played in that piece, the wider point is an important one – the Lib Dems have suffered in several general elections from trying to win more seats than afterwards looked at all sensible. That’s a lesson we mustn’t forget.

PODCAST: Red Wall, Red Herring? The economic insecurity driving British politics

I was really lucky to have Professor Jane Green as my guest for the latest episode of Never Mind The Bar Charts as she’s co-author of an important new report into British politics: “Red Wall, Red Herring? Economic Insecurity and Voting Intention in Britain”.

Along the way she politely demolished some of what I’ve said in the past and provided pointers for what the Liberal Democrats should do in the future.

Take a listen here.

The previous show was one of my most popular this Parliament, as Keiran Pedley joined me to discuss what we can learn from the 2022 local elections about the state of Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. Take a listen here, including how I would have spun the results for Labour if I’d been in their press team.

🎧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.

Ed Davey on hung Parliaments: catch-up service

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

Ed Davey on hung Parliaments and replacing this “indecent government”.

❓ Parliamentary by-election coming in Reading West?

The largest Lib Dem council group in the country.

📱 How Twitter helped Greek election candidates win.

Or if you have enough of me and you’re more interested in what other Lib Dems are saying, have a look at this Twitter thread of recommended Lib Dems to follow.

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

It’s been a while since I last looked at views on Europe, so here’s how the Brexit tracker from John Curtice is looking:

Was Britain right or wrong to leave the EU? Poll tracker graph

There’s certainly been some welcome movement against Brexit over the last year. The big caveat is that the figures are only slightly more anti-Brexit than they were for much of 2019 – and we know how that story played out. (The ‘voting to leave the EU was wrong’ option is currently at 49% and was only slightly lower at 47% in June 2019, for example.)

If you’d like to know more about what the polls are saying, how they work and when to trust – or ignore – them, check out my book Polling UnPacked: the history, uses and abuses of political opinion polls or my new weekly round-up ‘The Week in Polls’. Recent issues have included:

First Lib Dem gain of new council by-election cycle

Five weeks of council by-elections and deferred elections from May to report on since last time. They saw one Lib Dem gain, the first since the May elections, but only nine candidates for the 14 vacancies:

These results mean the Conservatives are already down a net five seats in the 2022-2023 cycle of council by-elections. Full details here.

Elsewhere, the leader of East Devon Council has joined the Liberal Democrats, as has a Conservative councillor in the East Riding along with two Conservative councillors in Folkestone. However a Lib Dem councillors has joined the Greens in Cheltenham and a Conservative-turned-Lib Dem councillor in North Norfolk has left the Lib Dem group and won’t re-stand next year.

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 Manuela Perteghella (Stratford-on-Avon) and Sarah Dyke (Somerton and Frome), as well as our two Parliamentary by-election candidates, Jamie Needle and Richard Foord.

Judith Rogers has also announced she won’t be re-standing in Harrogate and Knaresborough.

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…

The Small is Beautiful exhibition in London is amazing. (Tickets here. Runs until 15 July.)

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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