The year ahead for the Liberal Democrats (LDN #168)

Liberal Democrat Newswire #168 came out last week. 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.

A quick addition to its contents: as well as the LGBT+ Lib Dems scheme for supporting local election candidates mentioned below, the Young Liberals are also running their ‘Young and Winning’ scheme again to support young and student Liberal Democrats. Here’s the form for people to sign up and apply for support.

Even though it looks like 2023 will be a year without a general election, it’s still going to be a big year of elections with the huge set of English council contests coming up in May. So this time I’m taking a look at the year ahead for the party, as well as what the political polling says about Lib Dem prospects.

Feel free to forward this to others you think may find it useful or interesting, or point them at the sign up page here. Do also drop me an email if you’d like to book in a talk and Q+A with a Lib Dem local party or another part of our party, either on Zoom or in person.

LGBT+ Liberal Democrats are once again running a fighting fund to support candidates in those May elections. You can donate to support this work here, and if you’re a candidate in May you can apply for support here.

Best wishes,


P.S. If you missed it, last time’s edition, “Fixing our broken politics”, is online here.

The year ahead

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

It’s possible, just possible, that British politics may return to a relative normality in 2023. We might have a year without any change of Prime Minister, without a general election and without a pandemic. We will certainly have a year with a failing Conservative government, vital public services under strain and an important opportunity to continue our recovery with the May local elections.

Rishi Sunak has already demonstrated he brings neither competency nor moderation to replace the incompetent extremism of his predecessors. He didn’t use his political honeymoon to make difficult decisions for the long-term. He’s treating promises to take an issue personally as a substitute for action, and kicked so many decisions into the long grass. Whether it’s reforming social care or building onshore wind farms, time and again his response is to dither rather than to act.

Looming over all those issues is the continued failure of Brexit. As Daisy Cooper put it to Times Radio, “This Conservative Brexit deal isn’t working for Britain”. Instead, she set out the Liberal Democrat alternative four-step plan to improve our trade relations with Europe. (Take a listen here.) That’s the way both to make an immediate difference to people’s lives and to help prepare the way for the longer-term battle over Britain’s future with the EU.

To succeed, we need to continue to rebuild our grassroots campaigning strength, to build our membership and supporter base, to raise our game on diversity and inclusion, and to invest in the best data and technology.

Watch out for more news on all of those through the year – and I’d really encourage everyone planning campaign work through to May to include talking to supporters, getting them to help and join, as part of that. Local parties can secure cash bonuses for members recruited or renewed; details here.

York conference – in person!

I’m looking forward to meeting members in person again at a federal conference, with our first in-person one for so long coming up in York on 15-17 March. It will include keynote speeches, policy debates, training, fringe meetings and more. You can find out more and register here.

How Lib Dems are tackling homelessness

The BBC reported over Christmas a great example of the difference we can make to people’s lives:

As charities warn of a rising number of rough sleepers in England, one town has come up with a scheme that it believes can give all of those sleeping on its streets a place to live…

Called Dynamic Pathway to Independence (DPI), the five-step scheme is designed to support all homeless people in the Hertfordshire town, not just rough sleepers.

The initiative was set up in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, when the government ordered all councils to provide accommodation for every rough sleeper in their area…

The scheme sees people supported to move through different stages, working with a range of experts from addiction and mental health specialists through to employment and housing. The stage at which each person enters the process varies depending on what their needs are, as does the speed which they move on.

As Lib Dem elected Mayor of Watford, Peter Taylor, has put it:

I am incredibly proud of the work that has been done in Watford to reduce rough sleeping and homelessness. This is such a complex issue and we know that accommodation alone isn’t enough, that’s why we have invested in a programme that provides comprehensive support to those that find themselves sleeping rough.

It is a powerful reminder of the point of getting Liberal Democrats into power – and a reminder too therefore of how important this May’s huge set of local elections in England are. If you’re not already involved in local campaigning, please do get in touch with your local party.

New Parliamentary updates for members

Last month, party members started receiving a new series of monthly email updates. As the introduction said, “Members have recently asked for more insight into what we are doing in Westminster. We’ve listened to your feedback and so are pleased to share our first monthly ‘Lib Dems in Parliament’ update, giving you a look at just some of the fantastic work our MPs and peers are doing in Parliament.”

If you’re a member and didn’t get the update, pop a message to help@libdems.org.uk and the team can check the email address and opt in/out information on your record.

This is one of a series of improvements to our emails and internal communications made last year, and more are to come this year too.

Important party posts filled

Congratulations and thanks to the trio of people that the Federal Board has just picked to fill important posts: Cllr Mike Cox is continuing in post as chair of the Federal Finance and Resources Committee (FFRC), Tilly McAuliffe is continuing as Party Treasurer (chief fundraising role) and Cllr Baroness Kath Pinnock is succeeding Lisa Smart as chair of the Federal Communications and Elections Committee (FCEC).

Congratulations also to the new chair of the Federal International Relations Committee (FIRC), David Chalmers. He was elected to this post by his fellow committee members, taking over from Phil Bennion. He’s joined by Hannah Bettsworth as vice chair.

I look forward to working with all of them over the next three years. Watch out on the party website for news about the next batch of party posts the Board will be filling.

Farewell, Party Body Review Group

At our December meeting, the Federal Board agreed with the Party Body Review Group’s suggestion that we wind up their operations. In its current and previous guises (as the AO/SAO Review Group), it’s been around for a long time. But with the new, simplified structures for party bodies now in place, their review work is over. Continuing responsibilities now rest with the Federal People Development Committee (FPDC).

People often comment on how complicated our internal structures can be, with so many different bodies. So it is a tribute to the review group’s work that the reforms they steered through included ending the need for their own existence, reducing the number of party committees by one. Thank you to everyone who has served on it over the years.

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.

Who is willing to consider voting Lib Dem?

That’s the question I posed in a recent edition of my separate weekly email newsletter, The Week in Polls. Here’s what I wrote as I suspect readers of this newsletter will be interested too. You can sign up for free or paid-for versions of The Week in Polls here.

YouGov run a regular question asking people, “On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means you would never consider voting for them, and 10 means you would definitely consider voting for them, how likely are you to consider voting for the following parties at the next election?”

The regularity of the question provides a run of historic data that allows recent answers to be put into context. The promising news for the Lib Dems is that average scores on this question have recently returned to the sorts of figures seen in mid-2019, when the party was on a roll after stunning local election results and even briefly topped national voting intention polling. The latest such tracker (including fieldwork on Christmas Day and Boxing Day!) even puts the Lib Dems and the Conservatives statistically tied on the number who pick 7-10 for that party, which is similar to previous recent tracker results.

The health of these Lib Dems figures helps explain the contrast between the party getting back into the swing of winning Parliamentary by-elections with record-breaking swings and its normal national voting intention figures not being in history-making territory. The potential may be there, but it also requires cracking grassroots campaigning to turn that potential into reality.

But who is in this potential pool of voters? It’s overwhelmingly Remain leaning but with a non-trivial number of Leave voters (28% of those who voted Remain give the Lib Dems 7-10 in that latest poll, compared to 9% of those who voted Leave, which means that just under one in five of those giving the party 7-10 are Leave voters). There’s no significant gender divide, but there is a definite age skew, with the likelihood of people giving the Lib Dems 7-10 falling at they get older (from 22% among 18-24 year olds to 15% among the 65+). Proportions also fall as you go down the traditional social categories from AB to E (23% to 9%). (All these figures are from small sample cross-tabs, but there’s a consistent pattern across the cross-tabs and with cross-tabs from previous polls, which gives us some confidence in the reality of the pattern.)

We don’t just have to rely on YouGov, however, because in mid-December Opinium also asked, “How likely would you be to consider voting for the following parties in a future general election?” In response, 34% said they would definitely or probably consider voting Lib Dem, well above the 9% voting intention score for the party in that poll and not that far behind the Conservatives, who got 40% definitely or probably considering them.

Again, the Lib Dems do much better among Remain voters from 2016 – 45%, compared with 23% among Leave voters and 35% among those who didn’t vote then. Once again the party also does better with voters the younger they are, scoring 41% consideration among 18-34 year olds, falling to 26% among the 65+.

However… although there’s a certain clarity to the potential support base that paints for the party, among those who would consider voting for the Nigel Farage-adjacent party Reform, nearly half (46%) also say they would consider voting for the Liberal Democrats. Which suggests both a degree of confusion over what Reform stands for and also a degree of ‘none of the above’ appeal returning to the Liberal Democrats. As only 12% of Remain voters say they would consider Reform, it’s likely to be more the latter than the former.

That’s a double-edged finding as being able to win support from this disgruntled with politics overall can be a rich source of votes but also, as the Lib Dems have discovered before, it can also lead to a very brittle voting coalition, one that falls apart under stress.

Like to get more polling stories? You can sign up for free or paid-for versions of The Week in Polls here.

Tax money lost, NHS suffering: Lib Dems in the news

Billions in tax have been lost as HMRC staff were transferred to Brexit and Covid fraud – and Sarah Olney is not happy. Nor is she happy about the government’s failures to protect people’s right to vote.

Ed Davey has been explaining how the rules on money in politics need to change and Munira Wilson is on the case about problems caused by children not being registered for free school meals.

Daisy Cooper has been all over the news over ambulance service failures, including the North West suffering the largest cuts to ambulance staffing. She’s also highlighted how big the drop is in GP numbers in Rishi Sunak’s own constituency. (More on the ambulance service’s problems in the Lib Dem press releases here and here.)

The picture isn’t better in Wales, as Jane Dodds has been highlighting, and it’s a similar story in Scotland too, as this tragic tale shows. As a result of such problems, Lib Dem polling shows the public losing faith in the NHS’s ability to cope.

Layla Moran has called for the government to come clean over the possible use of ‘Golden Visas’ for Kremlin-linked oligarchs. Munira Wilson joined a rally in Trafalgar Square in support of Iranian protestors, while former Lib Dem MP Mark Williams has been sanctioned by Iran over his support for human rights and democracy. Alistair Carmichael has been using Parliament to put the pressure on to appoint a new anti-slavery watchdog.

The Liberal Democrats support the Scottish Gender Recognition Bill, with Alex Cole-Hamilton setting out the reasons in detail and Lib Dem MPs in Westminster backing the Bill too.

Josh Babarinde has spoken with The Voice about how he intends to become the first Liberal Democrat MP of Black heritage. 6,000 cases and 68 speeches: Helen Morgan kept busy in her first year as an MP. Floella Benjamin has been pushing the PM to keep to promises made over the Windrush Scandal.

Lib Dem councillors in Devon are working on a new Council Tax rate in response to the problems caused by second homes. In Parliament, Richard Foord has also been pushing for more action on second homes, but the Conservatives don’t agree.

Lib Dem-run Portsmouth is doubling the amount of solar power it generates. Councillor Nick Dodds is angry about potholes. Cllr Bobby Dean explains why the Mayor London’s plans to extend the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to Sutton are deeply flawed. Jonathan Wallace is standing down as Lib Dem leader on Gateshead Council.

Congratulations to Rob Blackie, one of the key people behind a campaign to bring the truth to Russians about Ukraine via online advertising. Its work has won a prestigious industry award. Congratulations also to Kathryn, Senior Researcher for Wendy Chamberlain, and Ayesha, Senior Communications Officer for Jamie Stone, who have both won Parliamentary staff awards. Jamie also picked up an award himself.

Ann Glaze was re-elected chair of London Region Liberal Democrats.

My predecessor as party president, Sal Brinton, has stepped down from a front bench role in the House of Lords to recharge her batteries. Wish you all the best, Sal. Richard Allan has taken over the health brief.

Labour activists are urging people to vote tactically for the Liberal Democrats in 17 Parliamentary constituencies. The New Statesman has a better take than many such pieces on Lib Dem general election plans and preparations.

The Times ran a lovely tribute to Baroness Veronica Linklater following her death.

Finally, a Liberal Democrat town councillor has been impressing people on The Apprentice on BBC1.

Lib Dem tweet: the Conservative Brexit deal has been a disaster

PODCAST: Why does Lords reform so often fail, and how can it be got right next time?

Many attempts at reforming the House of Lords have been made. Many attempts have failed.

So what can would-be reformers learn from the failures of their predecessors to achieve more?

Professor Meg Russell, director of the Constitution Unit at UCL, joined me to share her expertise on this in the latest episode of Never Mind The Bar Charts. Listeners may wish to enjoy her correcting me on voting systems.

Take a listen here.

You might also enjoy a browse through the most popular podcast episodes from the last year.

🎧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.

The courts, the government and Rwanda

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

The government really lost the court case over its Rwanda policy.

Don’t just blame Liz Truss.

Conservative MP for North Norfolk repays £4912.42 after breaking Parliamentary rules.

Boris Johnson says he’s going to restand in his seat, but…

The political value of cheese.

Some campaigning advice doesn’t change.

Liberal Democrats in the New Year’s Honours List.

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

Good news with nearly a full slate of Lib Dem candidates in the principal authority by-elections since last time, and an increase in the Lib Dem candidate tally from last time the seats were up. The run up to Christmas saw a pair of gains, and although the subsequent weeks didn’t add to that tally, overall, the picture since May now is of 14 net Lib Dem gains, just behind Labour (+18) and well ahead of the Greens (+6).

Elsewhere, a Conservative councillor joined the Lib Dems in Cambridgeshire but a de-selected Lib Dem councillor has joined the Conservatives in Horsham and one has joined the independents on Wrexham Council.

And here is a reminder from Bromley about why we need to get more Liberal Democrat councillors elected.

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

Selections since last time include Jo Baron (West Lancashire), Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley), Olivia Honeyman (Wealden), Phi Hutty (North Cornwall), Penelope James (Dover), Adrian May (Edinburgh North and Leith), Charlie Maynard (Witney), John Potter (Wyre & Preston North), Peter Reisdorf (Wirral West), Robert Reiss (Penistone and Stocksbridge), Ian Roome (North Devon) and Ian Sharpe (Loughborough).

MPs re-selected include Alistair Carmichael, Wendy Chamberlain and Daisy Cooper.

Sadly, Laura Gordon has had to stand down in Sheffield Hallam.

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…

The persistence of Lib Dem leaflet deliverers is impressive.

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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