When will the general election be? LDN #171

Liberal Democrat Newswire #171 came out last week, with the latest news about the Liberal Democrats and a bit of general election speculation advice.

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 Reader,

It’s been lovely meeting many readers out canvassing around the country for the May local elections, including in Dominic Raab’s backyard, in areas of potential great growth for the party like Leighton Buzzard and areas of long-running success such as Oadby and Wigston.

Good luck to all the many readers involved in one way or another with the elections (and especially if you’re doing so for the Lib Dems). One reason why this matters is shown by the top six councils for recycling all being Lib Dem led.

If you want something completely non-political to listen to while out delivering, season three of The World’s Greatest Con, is awesome.

Got another podcast or book you love listening to when delivering? Hit reply and let me know. And don’t forget your spatulas when our delivering.

Best wishes,


P.S. If you missed it, last time’s edition, Our plan for the final stages of this Parliament, is here.

One of the most radical, and effective, ways to improve people’s lives

Ed Davey’s book, The Battle for Liberal Britain, has the following chapter from Cllr Lisa Smart, my former Federal Board colleague and hopefully future MP. As it’s about the importance of local campaigning, this month is a good one to reproduce it with her kind permission.

Community Politics certainly isn’t new but, after decades of seeing it in action, it’s still one of the most radical, liberal ideas having impact on people’s lives today.

In The Theory and Practice of Community Politics published as an ALC Campaign Booklet in August 1980, Bernard Greaves and Gordon Lishman set out what Community Politics was and, importantly, what it wasn’t: “Community Politics is not a technique for the winning of local government elections.”

If you haven’t read the pamphlet, it’s well written and accessible. Many readers will be able to work their way through it in an enjoyable hour or two. Some of the references will be rather lost on today’s readers (talk of the Red Guard leadership of the Young Liberals, for example)and it will not go unnoticed that of the twelve additional people mentioned as contributing to the work in one way or another, all twelve were men. But the ideas and the examples used to illustrate them are as relevant today as they were over 40 years ago when Gordon and Bernard committed them to paper.

Community Politics in its purest sense is about making sure communities have the power to do things for themselves.

And that’s why, when other parties try to copy it, the lack of authenticity shines through. Conservatives naturally find themselves wanting to do things *to* communities and Labour want to do things *for* communities because they both think they know best. Liberals want to get rid of the barriers that are stopping people from doing things for themselves.

Some liberals (and Liberal Democrats) will get to Community Politics by instinct, others will need to think their way there. Some, like me, will be lucky enough to learn from committed and experienced practitioners who’ve been at it for years.

When I was first elected to Stockport Council, I took over from Hazel Lees, who was retiring after over 20 years in the role. At the time, Hazel was the only Lib Dem councillor for the ward and for my first year so was I – as an aside, I am now one of a team of three Lib Dems for Bredbury Green and Romiley and highly recommend getting more Lib Dems elected!

Learning from Hazel’s example, I was able to feel the warmth families had towards some play equipment on a park, because they had raised the extra money themselves. It hadn’t just arrived one day from “the council” because of a decision taken in a wood panelled room in a distant town hall – and dare I say if it had been left to the town hall it may not have arrived. Similarly, a local group set up to remember the men named on the local war memorial on the centenary of the end of the first world war was owned by the community because it was set up, run and flourished as part of the community.

This group, Romiley Remembers, came about when one of the residents in the ward Hazel represented, Angie, went to her one day to ask for help setting up a group to commemorate the lives of the fallen. Angie told me later that she had expected Hazel either to ignore her or take over the idea and do it herself. Instead, Hazel supported Angie to develop and deliver the idea, to huge success. Cut to a few years later and Cllr Angie Clark is now my ward colleague, and a better example of a community politician would be hard to find.

Community Politics cannot be seen just as a tool to win elections, although when done well it will often help to do just that. Time and again, communities report that they don’t feel like anyone is listening to them. From the terraces of Sunderland to the gravel driveways of Chesham and Amersham, Lib Dem campaigners report hearing the repeated refrain of, “You’re the first politician to ever knock on my door”.

Any political campaign that listens to people who feel ignored is off to a very good start. Such campaigns may well see success in the first burst of activity. But unless that is sustained over time, and the initial listening leads to action and a more empowered community, then the same grumbles from the community will be justified in due course.

For some, Community Politics has morphed over time into customer service politics with elected members doing things diligently for their residents, and, of course, posing for photos with thumbs up on lots of pretty leaflets. This fundamentally undersells what Community Politics is. Yes, getting stuff done is an important part of the role of a local councillor but it is getting stuff done with the community, not for it.

Whatever the theory of conservatism or socialism or nationalism relating to communities having more power and more agency, the practical action we see in councils not run by Liberal Democrats is that power is brought into the centre time and again. In practice, the socialism that is delivered focuses on doing things to communities (because the centre has “THE ANSWER”) and doesn’t reflect the differences between and within communities. It can be done sincerely and be well intentioned but the starting premise is wrong. And this is why liberals can do Community Politics but those of other political persuasions might try to copy it but struggle to deliver it with authenticity.

Community Politics shouldn’t be the preserve of just a few communities. If we want our communities to be empowered, then it isn’t up to us to herd voters from one pen to another as though they were sheep. Pre-election deals struck between parties to stand down for one another is the opposite of Community Politics. It takes choice and power away from voters and keep it with the politicians.

Quite rightly, there’s no such thing as our voters who will compliantly put their cross in the box we prefer. Pre-election pacts are an attempt at finding a simple answer to a series of complex questions and there’s a question for those considering them as to whether allowing a weaker opponent a foothold giving them credibility and strength is a wise decision for the long term.

It’s an entirely different matter, of course, to decide where to focus campaigning effort to have the most impact and to target resources to get the best representation possible. By always standing a candidate, the choice and power remains with the voters which is exactly where it should be.

Communities have shifted over time. For some non-geographic groups they consider themselves to be far more part of a community than any location-based community could ever be. Whether it’s the community of chess players, of sewing machine collectors, of those caring for a loved one, of campaigners for proportional representation or followers of a particular faith, Community Politics is still relevant and the liberal way to get enable those communities to thrive and flourish.

Community politicians will have seen some of their techniques borrowed and deployed by cynical actors pushing a populist agenda. Some of these actors use a community for their own gain, and to further their own illiberal aims. An initial glance at one of these campaigns might confuse it for Community Politics – it will show someone acting on a concern of local residents, being quite cross about something and having a clear enemy to blame.

Social media, and local Facebook groups in particular, have been used by these fakers to spread misinformation and tension in communities. It’s no coincidence that there is a crossover between former UKIP and BNP activists, and people now involved in hyper-local “independent” campaigns in various parts of the country. Calling themselves names like “Putting Placename First”, the “Little Snodborough and Wigglesworth Independents”, they can be wolves in sheep’s clothing.

So how do we fight back? Like we always have done. By knocking on doors and talking to people, face to face. It’s really easy to dehumanise people when they’re only visible through a screen. It’s much harder when they’re a living, breathing, feeling person in front of you on your doorstep.

We fight back by leading. Some can confuse Community Politics with doing everything their community wants. And while it is obviously true that the Community Politics practitioner is and must remain their community’s representative in the town hall and never the town hall’s representative in their community, there will be times when clear leadership is needed.

Think of an example where a malevolent actor has whipped up a community against a new 5G phone mast being erected based on all sorts of bogus conspiracy theories. The campaigner has got a large number of signatures on a petition. Should the skilled community politician join the fight against the mast and follow the expressed wish of the community they seek to represent, however misinformed that expressed wish?

No, of course not. There might be all sorts of reasons why the mast isn’t the right thing but bogus conspiracy theories won’t be one of them. The Community Politics practitioner is not the weak general who asks which way their troops are heading so that they can run to the front to lead them.

To quote The Theory and Practice of Community Politics: “As we have made clear, we want to stimulate action by communities to take and use power Although this process is in itself liberal, the goals and style of those communities need not be liberal. There is a need to defend, maintain and extend the practice of liberalism within and against many groups in society. We therefore see two roles for the Liberal Party in the community politics movement: firstly as the core of the movement, stimulating, enabling and supporting communities in campaigning; and secondly as the continuing force for liberal values and practice within the world.”

When done right, Community Politics isn’t about just saying stuff to get votes. It isn’t about going whichever way the wind is blowing. There is a key role for leadership, both within the community and particularly after a successful election, at the town hall.

There can be conflict when a community is against something locally that we think is a good idea nationally. As people who believe in evidence-based policy making, we know that taking urgent action to address the climate emergency is vital for the future of the whole planet.

The informed community politician knows that their community – and all of our communities – are a key part of the answer to how we tackle our generation’s biggest challenge. It’s all of our problem and we all need to be part of the solution. Much of the discourse around climate change takes place exclusively at international or national level, but only by delivering locally too can we take the action that’s needed.

An example of of the local action that’s needed is to encourage those who can walk or cycle to do so. As any local cycling campaigners will know, there is significant overlap between those who really like driving their cars who may not support improvements to local cycling infrastructure, and those who vote in local elections.

Remembering that we are our community’s representative in the town hall, and not the other way round, is the right place to start when facing a situation like this. Huge pressure can be placed on councillors to get them to conform, either within our own party, by other parties, or by council officers. Your responsibility is to your residents first and everyone else after that. And it’s residents not voters that’s the key word here – including the ones who aren’t old enough to vote yet.

The community politician will be in ongoing dialogue on a whole range of issues with their community and so they’re not just rocking up telling people they’re wrong. Making a case the residents may not initially agree with will have more credibility than coming from someone who is “just” an elected representative who doesn’t have that track record with that community.

We have a role to persuade and lead and not just pander to those who vote in local elections, some of whom will be small c conservatives, however they vote at election time. When elected, you’re the councillor for everyone in the patch, not just the ones who voted for you.

The decision needs to be taken about whether the situation is one that calls for persuasion, using some of the trust you’ve built up, or one that calls for spending some of the political capital you’ve been cultivating. And then what should we do when our community is against something, we agree with them but the law doesn’t care what we think and is going to bulldoze over our wishes anyway? We should change the law of course! We want power so that we can put it back into the hands of our communities. We can do that by getting elected in enough numbers so that we can change the law.

So, when do we know we’ve got Community Politics nailed? This idea that isn’t new but is still radical needs ongoing attention and effort. It’s tough and is an ongoing, living process.

It isn’t something you can tick off your to do list as having been achieved – even with a vibrant, thriving community, our liberal values will still need to be fought for, built on, defended and championed both for and within our communities.

As liberals, we know that centralised control isn’t compatible with Community Politics and yet the two largest parties in the country (for now) bring power to the centre at seemingly every opportunity. To have enabled, thriving, flourishing communities who can take their own decisions and focus on their own priorities, we need power taking from Whitehall (or Holyrood, or Cardiff or countless town halls up and down the country) and giving back to communities.

The sort of comprehensive change in the distribution of political power that we wish to see cannot be accomplished in a single coup. It must be a continuing and accelerating process throughout the whole of society. And it will never be complete. If once it ossifies, it ceases to be Community Politics.

To quote The Theory and Practice of Community Politics one last time: “Community Politics changes people’s lives for the better. There should be more of it and we need to get more passionate community politicians elected so that there is.”

You can order The Battle for Liberal Britain here or donate to Lisa Smart’s campaign here.

When will the general election be?

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

A great result on candidate numbers

There’s been a big increase in the number of Liberal Democrat candidates for this May’s local elections. We’ve got up to 60% of seats having a Lib Dem candidate (up seven points on last time around). It’s our best showing for this part of the local elections cycle compared with Labour since 2011 and compared with the Conservatives since 2007.

That’s important for our credibility with voters. It means so many more people will see the Liberal Democrat name and logo on their ballot papers. It also matters for our credibility with the media, as the positive coverage in The Guardian demonstrates.

We still have some way to go to match Labour’s 77% or the Conservatives 93%. But it’s a big step forward and follows up progress earlier this Parliament. As well as being important progress in its own right, it’s just the sort of sustained, coordinated push that we need to build us up for a sustained, long-term challenge to the big parties.

Many thanks to everyone who helped achieve this progress – and very best of luck to everyone who is standing in a seat they hope to win this May.

For a fair deal

You may well have noticed how much more the party is talking about campaigning for a fair deal – such as on the backdrop at our York conference or in the March party political broadcast on TV in England.

It’s the positive part of our message that complements our call to ‘send them a message’, highlighting the failures of the Conservatives in Westminster and Labour in so many other elected bodies – not to mention the spectacularly imploding SNP in Scotland.

That fairness theme goes to the heart of what makes us Liberal Democrats. It’s no coincidence either that it’s worked so well for us previously, such as with Charles Kennedy.

There will be more on what the Liberal Democrat version of fairness means in the ‘pre-manifesto’ policy document coming out over the summer for our autumn conference.

When will the general election be?

All of which prompts the question – when will the next Westminster general election come? The short answer is no-one knows, not even the Prime Minister.

With the fixed-term Parliament Act repealed, the PM can wake up any day, decide to call the election and it happens. It’s one of our political decisions that is most concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister and for which there are the fewest checks and balances to make them think again. They can choose to consult and listen, but they don’t have to. It’s all up to them.

Which is why it’s always a good idea to ignore stories that appear about clever insider information on when the date might be. In 2007 Labour even got as far as starting to print its election leaflets, which is just the sort of insider information that would sound rock solid. Yet Gordon Brown still decided not to call an election.

There is no special insider source when the Prime Minister can any day look at the polls, read the news headlines, consult their mystic seaweed or think about how lucky they feel and then decide what they want. (Which is also a bad way to run a democracy. But that’s why we need to get more Lib Dem MPs elected and more political reform enacted.)

The thing we do know is that campaigns can get caught out by not being prepared. Campaigns never suffer from having prepared too much.

So once the May elections are over and people have had a chance for a welcome refresh, we will have to work on the basis that the next general election could come well before the end of the nominal five year term – especially as the Conservative Party’s campaigners are already doing the same, already kicking off big rounds of posted mailings in our target seats.

Revamped policy section on website

I’ve previously highlighted the popular addition of our national press releases to the party website. Now another popular request has also been met: for an expanded policy section. It covers both how to get involved in our policy-making – a crucial part of our internal democracy – and what our latest policies are.

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.

Where is the Conservative Party going and how did it get here? (New podcast)

I really enjoyed reading Professor Tim Bale’s new book, The Conservative Party After Brexit. So who better to have on the latest episode of Never Mind The Bar Charts to discuss the point of such books, how such an apparently ramshackle party keeps on winning elections, the power of party conference speeches and what Rishi Sunak’s politics really are than the man himself?

Tim that is, rather than the PM.…

Take a listen to our chat 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.

It’s bigger than potholes: Lib Dems in the news

Who doesn’t like a pothole story? Impressive media coverage for the Lib Dem collation of pothole statistics, including those that go unrepaired for over a year. Though Ed Davey said there’s something bigger than potholes.

The NHS is a regular theme of Ed Davey’s media appearances, including over the shocking fact that nearly 15,000 children’s operations were cancelled last year. He’s also on the case about social care funding cuts, the widespread pollution of our beaches, how few car thefts and incidents of anti-social behaviour the police turn up to investigate (the Lib Dem alternative is here), the millions of abandoned calls to the NHS 111 service and the ‘dental deserts’ appearing in our country. The problems with the Conservative voter ID plans haven’t gone unnoticed either.

Daisy Cooper has also be in on the NHS action, especially over long waiting lists, while Wera Hobhouse has been highlighting Rishi Sunak’s love of private jet flights, contrasted with the cutbacks to bus services. Layla Moran is urging Conservatives to cut ties with a group that promotes harmful and regressive ideas about women and minority groups.

England’s top beaches faced 8,500 hours of sewage dumping last year points out Tim Farron, when he’s not talking about the failures to tackle fly-tipping.

In the Lords, the Lib Dems won a vote to ban new coal mines. Jane Dodds welcomes the reintroduction of the name Bannau Brycheiniog for the Brecon Beacons. Alex Cole-Hamilton wants an end to the SNP soap opera.

9 times the Lib Dems demanded a recall of parliament (and didn’t get it): Politico has affectionately rumbled a highly effective Lib Dem press tactic.

A sewage-soaked field has stopped the creation of new woodland in Greater Manchester – and generated impressive national media coverage for Lib Dem councillor and PPC Lisa Smart.

Former Lib Dem peer Andrew Phillips has died.

The party is advertising for volunteers for two new policy working groups – on science and technology, and on the future of work. The roles are voluntary and the time commitment averages around two hours per week. Details and application form here and here.

Our autumn federal conference will be in Bournemouth and October will see the first Lib Dem town and parish councillors conference.

Lib Dems 1 – Conservatives 0

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

1-0 to the Lib Dems: huge contrast in Lib Dem and Conservative local election launches.

The fair deal the Lib Dems are fighting for: new Party Political Broadcast.

This year’s Conservative local election leaflets are rather strange.

People have more confidence in the EU than in Westminster.

Thoughts on who to vote for in the London Assembly selections.

How Big Things Get Done – and how target seats are won.

An enticing looking new book – The Liberal Democrats: From Hope to Despair to Where?

You don’t need a pothole to point – and you don’t need to be a councillor to shame a utility firm to cleaning up its act.

Mark Pack speaking in Tunbridge Wells

One of my recent Lib Dem talks, this time with pizza in Tunbridge Wells. Hit reply and let me know if you’d like me to do one in your patch.

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

Latest from The Week in Polls

I also write a weekly round-up of political polling, The Week in Polls. One of the most popular reads so far was about polling on trans rights and the finding that keeps on getting ignored by some.

Council by-elections round-up

These rather dry-up in the approach to the big round of May elections, but there have been enough contests for a Lib Dem gain off the Conservatives in southern England before a quiet week of no change.

Overall, the picture since May now is of a net +19 Lib Dem gains, catching up on Labour’s +23 and well ahead of the Green’s +8. The Conservatives are down on -44.

Elsewhere, Sandwell’s first LGBT+ mayor and another of his colleagues have joined the Lib Dems. A a former residents’ association councillor has joined the Lib Dems in Guildford.

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.

Quarterly by-elections round-up

Bar chart of Q1 2023 by-elections

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:

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Selection news

Selections since last time include Amber Valley (Kate Smith), Chelsea and Fulham (Adam Knight), Harpenden and Berkhamsted (Victoria Collins), St Austell and Newquay (Joanna Kenny), Torridge and West Devon (Simon Hobson), Twickenham (Munira Wilson) and Yeovil (Adam Dance).

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…

A candidate’s children are not always supportive.

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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