Six lessons from Tiverton and Honiton: LDN #162

Liberal Democrat Newswire #162 came out last week, looking at lessons from Richard Foord’s by-election win and how the party is gearing up for the next general election.

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.

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Dear Friend,

It’s been a great month for the Liberal Democrats since the last edition, with a new MP after a stunning win.

It’s also been a month for an increasing range of Labour figures to publicly back proportional representation for the House of Commons, including Ed Miliband, Alastair Campbell and Andy Burnham. Let’s see whether this wave of enthusiasm gets more follow-through from Labour than all the previous waves.

Thanks for all the suggestions for summer reading in response to last time’s edition. Two books in particular to call out are Ballots, Bombs and Bullets, the story of the man who organised the Good Friday Agreement referendum among many other key democratic moments, and Index, A history of the, something I suspect many readers of this newsletter are nerdy enough to love…

Before getting to this time’s edition, a note for anyone thinking about coming to Lib Dem conference in Brighton this September. Volunteer stewards get a complimentary voting ticket for the conference as well as a contribution towards travel and accommodation costs. Details here.

Who knows, if you go to Brighton you may end up being filmed by the BBC leafleting with a future party leader…

Best wishes,


P.S. If you missed it, last time’s edition – “Two crucial trends in British politics” – is available online here.

Getting ready to remove the Conservatives from power

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

When will the next general election be?

Sorry, I don’t know. But I do know that the range of plausible dates is wide open – from only a couple of months away through to January 2025. And that whenever the date is, we also have a massive round of local elections in May.

Which is why we need to step up our campaigning, capacity building and planning through the second half of this year. Even if this Parliament goes its full term, the benefits of extra canvassing, member recruitment and training this summer will still be considerable.

We certainly need to be out campaigning, looking at the horror show that is the Conservative Party leadership contest so far – full of candidates who aren’t headlining big issues like fixing the NHS and tackling climate change, but are rushing to the media to talk about restricting the rights of trans people.

Both our elections committee (FCEC) and the Board have recently reviewed our general election preparations, and the team at HQ is revising our contingency plans for a snap election. A pre-manifesto overview of our policy approach is also coming to the autumn’s federal party conference.

It was great to see the huge bump in canvassing as a result of our ‘Big Build’ weekend in early July – and the bump in new leaflet deliverers that came in as a result. Our party membership also not only got a bump from the win in Tiverton & Honiton, but the growth has continued since too rather than fading away as happened with previous by-election bumps.

So I’d encourage everyone in local parties to think about how to up your campaigning plans over the summer, and where we don’t yet have a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) in place to think about talking to your state or regional party about when to timetable your selection for.

Wonderful people

We’ve had a brilliant run of council by-elections already since the May local elections, with a net seven gains (compared to net four gains for Labour). That makes us the best performing party in those contests, and it was particularly good to see Linda Chung win the Hampstead Town by-election – winning the seat from third place and taking it from Labour.

Also deserving particular praise is the first person to top our ‘Golden Mallets’ scheme for people who got the most posters put up in the May elections. Cliff Woodcraft from Sheffield topped the list with an awesome 466 (!) posters. Badges are on their way to all the winners.

Our next big set of prizes is the Party Awards at our autumn conference. Nominations are now open for:

  • The Belinda Eyre-Brook Award

  • The Dadabhai Naoroji Award

  • The Harriet Smith Award

  • The Patsy Calton Award

  • The Penhaligon Award

  • The President’s Award

You can read more and make nominations here.

Autumn conference in Brighton

Registration is open for our return to physical federal party conference. An online-only option is also available.

Brighton is where at a previous party conference, many years ago, a student Liberal Democrat member argued for the abolition of the monarchy. Anyone know what happened to Liz Truss?

I look forward to meeting many readers there!

Improving the way the party operates

One of the most important ways to support our grassroots campaigners is through the right data and tools. Alongside improvements to how data is shared across the party, plans are going well for the launch of our new website, email and event tools this autumn. These will replace services such as NationBuilder and will provide everyone with access to high-quality tools that share data effectively and securely. For more details, see the Technology Blog.

Our federal party HQ has been accredited with the highest level possible by the disability confident scheme. This demonstrates as an employer we are leading the way in providing a great working environment for those with long-term health conditions.

What your Federal Board is up to

As well as reviewing our general election preparations, the latest Federal Board meeting also agreed a new Code of Conduct for party members and registered supporters. It will be put to autumn conference and, if ratified there, will replace three different current codes we have. The new code would therefore be simpler and clearer, as well as more specifically putting into force our values, such as ensuring that staff are treated with respect.

The conference will also have the usual motion on membership fees and related financial matters. The proposal is once again to freeze our minimum membership fee in response to the cost of living crisis. The motion also proposes abolishing the ‘recommended’ membership fee as this has fallen into disuse. We in fact only very rarely now recommend the recommended fee to members, so it’s become a bit of a governance myth – everyone spending lots of time setting a figure that then doesn’t get used.

We agreed the appointment of Becket McGrath to fill a vacancy on the Federal Audit & Scrutiny Committee (FASC) and Stephen Harte to be the new Vice Chair of the Disciplinary Sub-Group (DSG).

We also appointed David Crowther to the new federal Returning Officer post, ahead of this autumn’s internal elections, as well as setting the timetable for them:

  • Publication of the notice of elections: Monday 29th August, 17:00

  • Opening of nominations: Monday 12th September, 17:00

  • Close of nominations: Monday 26th September, 18:00

  • Deadline for submission of candidates’ manifestos: Friday 30th September, 17:00

  • Despatch of ballot papers: Tuesday 25th October c13:00

  • Deadline for return of ballot papers: Tuesday 8th November, 14:00

  • Counting of votes and declaration of results: Tuesday 8th November, 17:00

The Board also set the expense limits for the President and Vice President responsible for working with ethnic minority communities at £15,000 for each (reducing the former and increasing the latter to bring it into line with the former).

We agreed the new conflicts of interest policy to apply to all federal committees following the reforms agreed at our spring federal conference.

The Board report to conference will also include measures we’re taking to ensure improved diversity among posts filled by the Board in future..

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.

Six lessons from Tiverton and Honiton

1.Parliamentary by-elections matters. Not only do they foretell subsequent general election outcomes (as this research from Will Jennings shows, a modern version of the ‘political meteorology’ that William Gladstone pioneered), they also set the political weather. Richard Foord’s win dominated media coverage for several days and helped panic Conservative MPs.

2.The Conservative attempt to fight a culture war failed as the Liberal Democrat campaign stuck to the issues that most matter to voters. It’s always tempting in an election campaign to get sucked into responding to what the other side is saying, but it’s almost always best to stick to what matters most to voters.

3.Lib Dem activists wanted to win more than Conservative activists. As with my experience in Chesham and Amersham of the Lib Dem office being full of life before the Conservative one had even opened on a Sunday morning, in Tiverton and Honiton there were dozens of polling stations with a Lib Dem teller for the first time – and very few Conservatives to be seen at polling stations.

4.Candidate choice matters. Richard Foord was, rightly, widely praised in the media as being almost the perfect choice to win over Conservative unhappy with the government – local and former military in particular.

The Conservatives this time remembered to pick a local candidate – no barrister from Bristol. But once again it was someone they had to hide from the media for much of the campaign. The hustings where she struggled to answer an obvious question about her view of Boris Johnson, suggest that hiding was right. But you really need a candidate in the first place who doesn’t need hiding.

5.Tactical voting is useful (and Lib Dems should always remember to be grateful for tactical votes received) but they’re not enough. If the Conservatives start on more than 50%, you have to take votes off them. And even in seats where they don’t, each vote won off them counts double compared with a tactical voter. (A vote switching from Conservative to Lib Dem is one off their total and one on ours, for a net gain of two, while a tactical vote switch to the Lib Dems is only a net gain of one.)

Both Labour and the Greens, by the way, had candidates, and campaigned, but did so in a way that didn’t set out to sabotage the chances of the Conservatives losing. (The Greens had a particularly deft touch.)

6.Tactical voting isn’t just about who finished second last time. It’s also – and often even more – about about local presence, winning council wards beforehand and running the most intense campaign at the time. It’s an important lesson for Lib Dem local parties getting excited about their own prospects in the after-glow of Tiverton and Honiton. Get out there recruiting members and campaign helpers as you need to run a really intensive campaign to persuade voters you are the plausible tactical choice.

Richard Foord gets to work: Lib Dems in the news

New MP Richard Foord is already getting stuck into the problem of ambulance waiting times.

Daisy Cooper is calling for an investigation into claims that Boris Johnson lobbied for a young woman to get a City Hall job while he was London mayor.

“This is like submitting course work at the last minute without proofing it” – Alex Cole-Hamilton isn’t impressed with Nicola Sturgeon’s latest independence plans.

Ed Davey has called for water companies to be fined over dumping sewage in our rivers and has called for the Conservative leadership candidates to halt both gas drilling in Surrey and a Cumbria coal mine. He also visited Eastbourne, talking about how important winning the seat is for the Lib Dems.

Parish councillor Mathew Hulbert has talked movingly to the media about his mother’s 11-hour wait for an ambulance, just two days before Jackie died.

Vince Cable is now a Vice President of the European Movement and Flick Rea is now an Honorary Alderman of Camden Council. Former MEP Phil Bennion has won election as a Liberal International Vice President.

Councillor Nigel Porter is questioning why his council owns a Francis Bacon painting worth £20m but won’t let the public look at it. Cllr Lisa Smart had a council meeting she was chairing interrupted so a police officer could chase a shoplifter.

PODCAST: Hope and headaches for the Liberal Democrats?

How much more of a spring in our step should Liberal Democrats have after the Tiverton and Honiton win, and what are the lessons for the party?

To discuss this, I invited on to the Never Mind The Bar Charts podcast political scientist Paula Surridge, who is now a Professor (congratulations!).

Let’s see how much cold water Paula has to pour on Lib Dem hopes….

Take a listen here.

I also joined the Lib Dem Pod team for a show to discuss Richard Foord’s amazing win, which you can listen to 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.

Ed Davey calls for “real electoral reform”

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

Ed Davey calls for “real electoral reform” and reshuffles his Parliamentary team.

£420,000 payout for resigning ministers.

Two lessons from canvassing in Hazel Grove.

Conservative Police Commissioner banned from driving.

Congratulations to our Golden Mallet winners…

A great new Twitter account for political news, tracking Parliamentary selections.

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

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’.

Six more Lib Dem gains in council by-elections

Six net gains for the Lib Dems, including one from Labour and also including one from the Conservatives for the ward covering Jeremy Hunt’s constituency office, since last time. A special thank you to Jamie Dobson, who became the first Lib Dem candidate in a Western Isles election since 2007.

All the details here:

These results take the Conservatives down to a net 13 seats lost in the 2022-2023 cycle of principal authority council by-elections, with the Lib Dems the biggest gainers on net plus 7, ahead of Labour on net plus 5 and the Greens on net plus 3. Full details here.

Elsewhere, a Guildford councillor who previously left the Lib Dems for the Conservatives has now left them too.

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 Susan Murray (East Dunbartonshire), Ruth Gripper (Truro and Falmouth), Alasdair Pinkerton (Surry Heath – Michael Gove’s seat), Sarah Gibson (Chippenham), Martin Wrigley (Newton Abbot) and Olly Glover (Wantage).

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 hit reply and let me know.

Are you signed up for The Week in Polls?

It’s a once-a-week imaginatively-named round up of political polling – summarising, digesting and explaining the latest polling results in one concise, convenient email.

You can sign up for it at weekinpolls.markpack.org.uk

It’s got off to a great start, with the proportion of subscribers reading it each week three times higher (!) than the average for such newsletters.

It’s easy to get bombarded by polling news, but nearly all of it takes one poll, or even just one question, and goes heavy on making it sound exciting and dramatic without giving you the context to understand what it really means.

So The Week in Polls is deliberately different from the excitements of social media – once a week, taking a cool, considered look at what we’ve learnt and how to understand what we’re being told.

And finally…

I wonder if Prince Charles is a secret Lib Dem leaflet deliverer? (This will make less sense to you if you don’t know about how to use a spatula when delivering leaflets.)

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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