Fixing our broken politics: LDN #167

Liberal Democrat Newswire #167 came out last week, the last of the year and including a look at how to fix our politics as well as the latest Liberal Democrat selection news 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.

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You can never say thank you enough, so thank you once again to Liberal Democrat members for electing me to a second, and final, term as Federal Party President. That’s a particular honour and responsibility as the first non-Parliamentarian to hold the post. There’s plenty to do, of which more in my reports back next year. In the meantime, thank you.

Registration is now open for the Liberal Democrat spring federal conference in York this coming March. I hope to see many readers there – and to discover if the cheapest and best coffee, with the shortest queues too, is still up the stairs and on the right.

And there’s still time to do a bit of Christmas shopping with the only book that combines Sherlock Holmes (very briefly), alien invasions (not quite as briefly), my mistakes (alas, not really briefly) and political opinion polling (certainly not briefly).

Best wishes,


P.S. If you missed it, last time’s edition, “And that’s a wrap [on the last three years]”, is online here.

Fixing our broken politics

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

The importance of electoral reform

So much of our country is broken. Failing public services, failing government, failing to give hope for the future. Key to fixing that is to fix our political system, and that means fixing the electoral system for the House of Commons. First past the post is the broken mechanism at the heart of our broken politics.

Which is why Ed Davey recently gave an important speech to the IPPR, focused on how we need to make the next Westminster general election the last fought under first past the post. In his speech, Ed said:

The first step is getting the Conservatives out of government. Then, we must reform our electoral system to make everyone’s vote count equally.

It’s clear that first past the post distorts democracy. It has allowed the Conservative Party to cling to power – despite a majority of the British people voting against them at every election. Leaving them free to change Prime Minister as many times as they like, without a shred of accountability. I don’t need to tell you how damaging that has been for our country and our democracy.

But we have a real opportunity right now. For the first time ever, a majority of the British public now supports electoral reform. People know it’s the only way to bring about the change we so desperately need.

You can read his speech in full here and you can sign up to back our fair votes campaign here.

Thank you

We only have a chance of making that plan a reality thanks to the support of our members and helpers right across the country, and from our overseas branches too.

Thanks to that support, we’ve made a lot of progress in 2022 and we end it with more councillors, more Lib Dem majority councils and more MPs than we entered the year. With a huge round of local elections coming up in May and a Westminster government so mired in economic failure, we can look to the next set of electoral challenges with increasing confidence.

As council by-elections show us week in, week out, where we get our organisation right, where we listen to what matters most to voters and where we’re determined to up our game, there continue to be dramatic swings and wonderful victories to be secured.

Thank you for all you’ve done over the last year. I hope all our staff, volunteers, members and helpers get a good rest over the festive season, and the very best of luck for the next one.

New party website is live

As you’ll see if you follow that link above to Ed’s speech, our new and much improved party website is now live. This is part of the party’s big change in technology systems, with a new website system, email tool and online event tool for local parties too.

There’s plenty more to come with new content and features for both the national site and for everyone else using these tools across the party. But it’s worth particularly highlighting the new short summary of our party values that’s online, as I know many members have wanted an updated page to share locally and put in local email newsletters and the like. Party press releases are also appearing on the site too.

Improving the website is one part of improving our internal communications. The new, long-form ‘explainer’ emails that now go out after major events have gone down very well. (If, for example, you didn’t receive one after Ed Davey’s replacement conference speech last month, drop an email to help@libdems.org.uk and the team can check your records, such as whether the party has an old email address for you or has you down as opted out from such messages.)

Another improvement just launched is the new local party officer newsletter, which particularly highlights the great work going on to recruit members…

Four local parties doing great membership work

Congratulations to Twickenham & Richmond, Bath and North East Somerset, Woking and Luton local parties who have been the four best performing local parties recently in recruiting and renewing party members locally.

Not only does this strengthen our grassroots organisation, but each locally recruited or renewed party member earns the local party a cash bonus, helping pay for all the big elections we’ve got coming up in the next couple of years.

Watch out for party posts to be filled

At the start of each three year cycle for our Federal Board, there are then around 50 further posts that the Board needs to fill, across a wide range of party activities, such as membership engagement, finance and technology.

At our December meeting we agreed plans for advertising these, with a trio of posts prioritised for urgent filling with adverts for them appearing this side of Christmas. The trio are all posts which also chair a group or committee (our elections and finance committees and our fundraising board). So getting the chair in place is important for getting that whole team up and running too.

For the other roles, we’ll follow the more traditional timescales and fill them early in the new year, allowing a little more time to ensure we’re properly casting the net widely to get the best and most diverse set of applicants.

All the vacancies will be advertised on the party website over the coming weeks.

Each will include contact details if you’d like to find out more about any of the posts, or by all means drop me an email on president@libdems.org.uk at any point if you’d like to discuss ways of getting more involved in our party.

December Federal Board meeting

Alongside those decisions on filling party posts, our newly elected Federal Board met in early December to get various things set up and running ahead of our first proper full meeting in January. This included agreeing to go ahead with the plans from the last Board for what business to put to Spring Federal Conference in York, updating the standing orders for the Disciplinary Sub-Group (DSG) ahead of appointing members to it next year, and getting things in place for how we communicate with each other, when we’ll meet next year and so on.

An important change for the Board will be the new role for a Federal Council to scrutinise our work. As our constitution says, “The Council shall be responsible for scrutinising the work of the Federal Board, including ensuring that decisions are being taken in line with the party strategy as voted for by Conference.”

I hope the new Federal Council will soon have a chair in place to help us all get stuck into working out the right relationship between the Board and the Council, and taking the necessary decisions, such as how we share information, that will go with that.

Transphobia definition

The November Federal Board meeting agreed an updated definition of transphobia to use in our party’s internal complaints processes.

Since the original definition was agreed several years ago, this general area has been an active area of legal cases. As a result the legal advice the party commissioned from an expert KC concluded that, although it was still legal for us to have and use a definition in our disciplinary processes, there were elements of it that needed to be changed given the current law and legal precedents. Despite the calls from some for the party to drop its definition completely, instead the Board decided to revise it so that we continue to have a definition that helps set the bounds on what is acceptable behaviour for a party member.

However, both the way in which the change was arrived at and communicated, along with the substance of the change, has caused considerable discussion and concerns. The process for making the change, including the timing of the publication, and the engagement with LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, one of our official party bodies, did not work as well as it should have, and my apologies for that.

As a result, along with our Chief Executive I’ve met with the executive of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, and we’ve agreed on a series of steps to dig further into their areas of concern and to improve the party’s engagement with them.

I know we have more to do on that, both on this issue and more widely, and I will do my best to work closely with LGBT+ Lib Dems and others to achieve that.

It’s worth adding that none of the above has altered our public policies on trans rights, which have been repeatedly and overwhelmingly supported by party members through our democratic processes. The party continues to fully support trans rights, including supporting reform of the Gender Recognition Act and for a total ban on so-called conversion therapy. It’s important that we continue to try to bring that support to life in how we operate as a party too.

Robert Woodthorpe Browne MBE

My condolences to Robert’s family and many friends across the party after his sad death a few days ago. Robert had long been one of the party’s strongest internationalists, with an impressive ability to work successfully with liberal colleagues from across the globe. He was also wonderfully supportive and kind, the very best of people to turn to for advice and problem solving.

Mark Valladares, who worked closely with Robert for many years, has paid tribute to him here.

Congratulations and thanks to…

Congratulations and best wishes to the new team of people elected to our federal committees in the party’s internal elections.

Additional congratulations to Cllr Nick da Costa, who members of Federal Conference Committee (FCC) have re-elected as their chair.

Thank you also to a trio of federal committee chairs who have said they’ll be standing down: Cllr Lisa Smart (Federal Communications and Elections Committee, FCEC), Helena Cole (Federal Audit and Scrutiny Committee, FASC) and Mary Regnier-Wilson (Federal People Development Committee, FPDC). All three have put in huge amounts of work and made tangible differences to how well the party is run. Thank you all for your contributions, and the very best of luck for your future party work too.

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.

What can the Lib Dems learn from 2010-15?

If you’re going to ready one chapter about British politics over the festive season, and brace if you’re a Liberal Democrat, I’d recommend Reward, Blame, and Guilt by Association? The Electoral Collapse of the Liberal Democrats.

A multi-authored piece by a star-studded line up of political scientists it’s available for free online, though I’d very much recommend the full book too (Amazon, Bookshop, Waterstones).*

It highlights the problems the Liberal Democrats faced going into the 2010 hung Parliament as a result of the party’s weak partisan base. Readers of my writings on a core vote strategy may find that familiar… but it goes on to add much extra insight, including how that lack of a larger core vote then also hindered the party’s recovery after 2015.

Read the chapter online here.

* Affiliate links which pay a commission for each sale.

The £9bn bill for insulation failure: Lib Dems in the news

Wera Hobhouse has pointed out that the government’s failure to insulate homes is costing taxpayers £9bn a year.

Ed Davey has set out plans to make the next Westminster general election the last fought under first past the post. He’s attacked the government’s giveaway to banks and called for a £20 a week hike in Carers Allowance. Ed has also been in the news over dreadful ambulance delays, which Daisy Cooper has also raised in Parliament.

Sarah Olney has urged Rishi Sunak to shame companies dodging the windfall tax and Munira Wilson has attacked the government for failing to act on teenage mental health. She’s also highlighted that over 25,000 London children are missing out on free school meals due to the government’s freeze on the qualifying threshold.

Plans by the government to construct and renovate 40 hospitals in England could be delayed because the relevant capital spending budget faces a real-terms cut of £700m next year, says Daisy Cooper. She’s also called for Matt Hancock to stand down and trigger a by-election, while Christine Jardine is pushing for Westminster’s rules to be updated to prevent MPs from taking part in reality TV programmes abroad while Parliament is sitting.

Tim Farron is not impressed with the new Cumbrian coal mine and has put down an amendment to the Government’s Levelling Up Bill to give local councils in England the power to adopt proportional representation for local elections.

Bethia Thomas has succeeded Emily Smith as the Liberal Democrat leader of White Horse District Council. Cllr Alex Wagner has highlighted the case of a 16-year-old facing a 950-day wait for an “urgent” NHS appointment.

Richard Foord has been elected Vice Chair of the Parliamentary group on Farming.

Condolences to the family and friends of former MP Nigel Jones who passed away last month.

PODCAST: How have Labour and the Lib Dems done in 2022?

It was a warm welcome back to Professor Tim Bale for the latest episode of Never Mind The Bar Charts. We revisited the five tests for opposition parties we’ve discussed before. How have Labour and the Lib Dems been performing against them?

Take a listen to find out…

🎧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.

Caroline Pidgeon won’t be re-standing

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

Caroline Pidgeon will not be re-standing for the London Assembly.

The Guardian backs Lib Dem emphasis on electoral reform.

Being a Parliamentary rebel neither wins nor loses you support.

The last candidate to get zero votes in a UK Parliamentary election.

Latest from The Week in Polls

How good is AI at understanding political opinion polling? Find out in the latest edition of my weekly polling round up, imaginatively titled The Week in Polls.

What the polls are saying

Latest general election voting intention opinion polls

To give the latest figures some context, here’s an up-to-date poll tracker graph:

Polling graph from Election Maps UK

And here are the issues that the public says are the most important to them:

Ipsos monthly issues tracker

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’.

Council by-elections round-up

It’s been quite a run of council by-election gains for the Liberal Democrats since last time, including one which gives the party a majority on North Devon Council. There was another gain that week, as well as a trio of gains the week before, including one on an unusual Wednesday by-election, though there were no Lib Dems gains in the other round of contests. (Update: apologies, I missed out another Lib Dem gain by mistake.)

Overall, the picture since May now is of 12 net Lib Dem gains, 17 net Labour gains, 5 net Green gains and 35 net Conservative loses. Both the SNP and Plaid are up one.

Elsewhere, a former Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire who spent a year as an independent has rejoined the Lib Dem group, a Derby councillor who left the Conservatives to first become an independent and then to join the Lib Dems has now rejoined the Conservatives, and an independent town councillor has joined the Lib Dems in Andover.

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 Chelsea Whyte in Kwasi Kwarteng’s Spelthorne constituency, Gideon Amos (Taunton Deane), Rodney Berman (Cardiff Central), Dan Boatright (West Worcestershire), Charlotte Cane (South East Cambridgeshire), Chris Coghlan (Mole Valley), Anna Crabtree (Beaconsfield), Tariq Mahmood (Ealing Southall), Shaffaq Mohammed (Sheffield Central), Cheney Payne (Cambridge), Will Sapwell (Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough), Sophie Thornton (Sheffield South East), Alex Wagner (Shrewsbury and Atcham).

Also selected was Anna Fryer for the December Stretford & Urmston Parliamentary by-election, while MPs Tim Farron, Wera Hobhouse and Richard Foord have all been re-selected.

The party is always in need of more volunteer Returning Officers to help run these selections. Do you know someone who might suit this role?

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.

And finally…

Someone has been creating video games for dogs. Don’t tell these Lib Dem dogs.

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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