What can pro-Europeans learn from alcohol? (LDN #175)

Liberal Democrat Newswire #175 came out last week, looking at issues ranging from the importance of resident surveying through to lessons for pro-Europeans form early 20th century America.

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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Can Sunak’s right-wing war on ‘woke’, migrants and the environment save the Tories? That’s the question The Guardian just asked me. You can guess my answer I suspect… and that it’s not the same as John Redwood’s.

Of course, the big news in the Liberal Democrats since last time is the addition of an MP with another record-breaking by-election result. It’s worth noting too the Rejoin EU results in recent by-elections, though more on the question of Europe in my latest podcast (see below).

We now have the prospect of another very winnable Parliamentary by-election coming up along with our autumn conference, again more on both of which below.

There’s also later this year the publication of an intriguing new book about the Liberal Democrats. Having had the privilege to read an advanced draft, I would be surprised if other Lib Dems will agree with all of the authors’ judgements (at least I didn’t!), but they paint a compelling picture of what the party needs to get right to prosper. Well worth a read as is, I hope, the rest of this newsletter.

Best wishes,


P.S. Last time’s edition, Rishi Sunak’s (latest) mistake, is online here.

Listening to people, all year around

Here’s my latest report for Liberal Democrat members and supporters. These reports also appear on the party website.

Hello, Mid Bedfordshire

We don’t yet know for sure about when a Mid Bedfordshire by-election will take place after Nadine Dorries redefined “immediately” with her promise to step down straight away turning into a longer-running saga. But there is an active Lib Dem campaign up and running for Emma Holland-Lindsay, with some lovely letter boxes to admire.

Please do help if you can, in person or remotely, as Sarah Dykes’s stunning victory in Somerton and Frome shows just what we can achieve when we pull together behind a by-election campaign. A huge thank you to everyone who contributed to that victory, a great burst of national media coverage and creating an abundance of Sarahs in the Lib Dem Parliamentary party.

What we stand for

One thing we do know the date of for sure is our autumn federal conference coming up in Bournemouth in September. The agenda and policy papers have now been published, and registration is open for both in-person and online attendance.

The agenda includes our pre-manifesto document, For A Fair Deal. This is both an up-to-date summary of our overall policies across all the main areas, and also has in its second chapter our overall story about the sort of society we want and how to get there. Well worth a read whether you’re coming to conference or not.

I look forward to meeting many of you there or in Mid Bedfordshire.

The importance of resident surveys

I’ve just been reading an advance copy of a fascinating new book coming out later this year about our party, and this nugget of data leapt out at me:

“In 2010, in nearly two-thirds of Liberal Democrat target seats a substantial amount of effort was put into running resident surveys during the pre-election period. This figure dropped to just a quarter of target seats in 2019.”

That data provides some hard numbers for a more general impression I’ve got from my latest round of local party Zoom calls and visits. The opportunity is there is for us to make more, once again, out of the idea of an annual round of resident surveying.

The big annual ward or constituency survey used to be the traditional heart of a good annual campaign plan. It was the big moment in between elections when people would get out on the doorsteps, refresh their supply of local issues, gather in canvass, phone and email data, recruit new members and deliverers, and start to show newly moved in residents how the Lib Dems are the local team who listen all year round and then take effective action.

Such surveys still often get done, but I think it’s fair to say – and the data suggests it too – that the idea of the survey being the heart of the plan in-between elections, and the starting step for breaking into a new ward, has slipped a bit.

That’s understandable. So much of our politics, and especially for the Liberal Democrats, in the last decade and a half has been about national issues. Passion, anger and campaigning, not to mention being attracted to join our party, has so often been rooted in the national – and international – stage.

But a big part of our recovery though this Parliament has been about extending our run of net gains in local elections to five rounds in a row and expanding our staff teams and training programmes to support grassroots campaigning.

So it’s great to see initiatives such as London Region’s summer residents’ survey push, with an adaptable survey for all local parties to use and the regional party sorting out the online version and freepost return address. And of course surveys can be themed around a particularly important topic, campaign or even time of year.

Whether you’re in London or not (and there’s also a template survey in the Campaign Hub), if we’ve not done a recent residents’ survey in your patch, I’d strongly encourage you to add one to your plans.

Staying on message

There’s a consistent message from what voters tell our canvassers, from what our own research tells us and from what the opinion polls say. The public is most concerned about the NHS, the cost of living and the state of the economy, and even life-long Conservatives are not impressed with Rishi Sunak’s record on them. When – as with our quartet of stunning Parliamentary by-election wins – we stick to those issues at the forefront of voters’ minds, we can win, and win big.

So it’s no surprise that the Conservatives are quite open about how they want the general election to be about something else. As their Deputy Chair, Lee Anderson, recently said, they want to fight the general election on, “a mix of culture wars and the trans debate”.

It’s a desperately cynical attempted distraction policy, a government that wants to punch down to try to save its own political skin.

It’s also one that is on the wrong side of the sustained, long-term liberalising of our country. Take the long view, and decade after decade, we’ve become more liberal and more tolerant. Those who love to fight culture wars in the name of populism keep on having to change their ground as they lose and the public moves on. Think of those other culture war issues of recent decades, such as same sex marriage and before that same sex adoption. There’s a common pattern: the populist right fought them, they lost and now those liberal reforms are so widely embedded and accepted that not even Nigel Farage is wanting to undo them.

But in the short-term we should recognise it for the tactic that it is: an attempt to distract in order to hang on to power. Which is why in that quartet of stunning by-election wins – as in so many other winning campaigns this Parliament too – we’ve done best by sticking to talking most about the issues at the forefront of voters’ minds.

Nominate someone amazing

Nominations close on the 24th August for this autumn’s Party Awards. We’ve got awards for amazing elected Lib Dems, diversity and inclusion virtuosos, brilliant people who have never sought elected office, wonderful staff and membership superstars.

Get your nominations in and find out more details here.

Welcome to…

The Federal Board has recently filled several more party posts:

Many thanks to them all for being willing to take up these roles, and thank you also to everyone else who applied but wasn’t successful this time.

Other Board business

The Federal Board’s report to conference has now also been published, with more details of our work. It’s included in the Reports to Conference booklet.

The Board also has a responsibility to review our Affiliated Organisations (AOs) once a year. We have asked the Federal People Development Committee to carry out this review on our behalf as this fits well with its remit, and its role in approving new AOs.

We have also discussed the role and potential of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), such as in cases of misbehaviour. The Federal Council has called-in this item of business, so I’ll report back in more detail on the conclusions once the call-in process has been resolved.

Have questions on this report, or other party matters? Then please drop me a line 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.

Some by-election bar charts


Seat and vote share change in Parliamentary by-elections in this Parliament
Total votes change in Parliamentary by-elections in this Parliament

Banning alcohol in the US didn’t last; could Brexit be the same?

It took decades of campaigning for Prohibition campaigners to win in the US, getting alcohol banned in the early twentieth century. Once they’d won, their victory seemed set to last. Yet in less than a decade and a half their victory had been undone and the the idea killed off politically. So can pro-Europeans take heart from drawing parallels between Prohibition and Brexit?

Find out in the latest episode of Never Mind The Bar Charts as I discuss this with Professor Ben Ansell who has just written a great piece comparing Prohibition and Brexit.

Successful campaigning also requires successful tactics. What do over 500 field experiments tell us works for getting people out to vote? Find out in my previous podcast episode with academic Florian Foos.

And in a third podcast since last time (!), Tim Bale and I took a look at Sarah Dyke’s brilliant win in Somerton and Frome. As John Curtice put it, “The Liberal Democrats have been making the spectacular seem routine”.

Happy listening!

🎧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.

We need more GPs: Lib Dems in the news

Ed Davey is calling for a special minimum wage for carers and for more GPs to cut appointment waiting times, while Daisy Cooper is warning that hospital buildings are crumbling, including chemical leaks and broken fire alarms. She’s also been in the media over news that the government is going to miss its target of 40 new hospitals.

Tim Farron is unhappy about a sewage cover-up (more details here) and a revolving door with regulators, while Layla Moran is calling for sanction of Hong Kong officials. Sarah Olney wants the tax cuts for banks reversed and isn’t happy with the profits of fossil fuel firms. Alistair Carmichael has been highlighting cuts in police numbers and the huge number of unsolved burglaries.

Helen Morgan has been the subject of a quite brilliant complaint and the party is upbeat about the impact of Parliamentary boundary changes. Lynne Featherstone’s pivotal role in getting same-sex marriage legalised has been in the media on the policy’s tenth anniversary.

Jane Dodds is pushing for more offshore wind farms in Wales. Wera Hobhouse is not happy that UK renewable energy investment lags behind the rest of world or with the plans to shut ticket offices. Christine Jardine wants action over rising rents and mortgages, with, as Ed Davey points out, one in two mortgage holders fearing losing their homes.

Liberal Democrats in York are pointing at potholes (and want more of them to be considered for repair).

Former minister David Laws has apologised for publicising that Liam Byrne letter. Carol Vorderman likes those Lib Dem by-election stunts. Jo Swinson and Duncan Hames have a new baby boy, Robin.

Federal Conference dates and venues for 2024 have been announced. Spring Conference will be 15-17 March 2024, at the Barbican York (registration to open November 2023). Autumn Conference will be 14-17 September 2024, at the Brighton Centre, Brighton (registration to open May 2024).

See the new constituency boundaries

In case you missed them first time, here is a selection of posts from my websites since last time, with a particular focus on Labour this time around:

Former Conservative councillor joins Lib Dems in Wokingham.

The Guardian’s sometimes, occasional, intermittent, passing support for voting Liberal Democrat was back last month.

Where Labour currently stands on electoral reform.

The most popular page on the Labour website… with Lib Dems.

Who do people think a Labour government would make life better for?

What’s the significance of the Electoral Commission cyber-attack?

See the new Parliamentary constituencies mapped.

What the polls are saying

Latest opinion polls table

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

Voting intentions graph from ElectionMapsUK

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

Ipsos monthly issues tracker

While here are views on the decision to leave the EU:

Graph of poll results on questions about whether it was right or wrong to leave the EU

How did the polls do in the Parliamentary by-elections?

That was the question asked – and answered – in a recent edition of my weekly polling newsletter, The Week in Polls. Take a read here and see all the latest issues here.

Council by-elections round-up

Contests since last time have seen the Conservatives steadily losing seats to Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems. We’ve also made a gain from Labour, and scored a win in Wales on the same day as Sarah Dyke’s Parliamentary win. There was also the spectre of a candidate scoring 0 votes.

These contests bring the running tally of seat changes since the main May elections to Lib Dem +7, Green +4, Labour -1, Conservative -10. For more details, see my local by-elections scorecard here.

Elsewhere, two councillors have left the Lib Dems in Broxtowe.

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:

£10 per month / £5 per month / £2.50 per month / £1 per month

Thank you! (Other donation options, including by PayPal or cheque, are here.)

Selection news

Gloria Adebo has been selected by the Liberal Democrats for the Rutherglen and Hamilton West Parliamentary by-election. Rob Blackie has been picked for the Mayor of London contest.

Westminster Parliament selections made public since last time include Bootle: John Gibson, Brentwood and Ongar: David Kendall, Brighton Kemptown: Stewart Stone, Honiton & Sidmouth: Richard Foord MP, Ilford North: Fraser Coppin, Kensington and Bayswater: William Houngbo, Makerfield: Stuart Thomas, Oxford East: Theo Jupp, Thornbury and Yate: Claire Young and Westmorland and Lonsdale: Tim Farron MP.

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…

Now this is how you should announce a Parliamentary by-election result.

If you enjoyed this newsletter, why not forward it to a friend or let them know they can sign-up here for future editions?

Thank you and best wishes,


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