Two unexpected things (LDN #176)

Liberal Democrat Newswire #176 came out last week, with a look at how unusual this Parliament has been.

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 fun little indicator of how the Liberal Democrats are doing is how often a newspaper gets in touch with me. So it was a good sign for the party that The Guardian ran some words from me answering the question, “Can Sunak’s right-wing war on ‘woke’, migrants and the environment save the Tories?” Check here to see if you guessed my answer correctly.

Before we get to this time’s edition, if you haven’t yet had a chance to read the last one, What can pro-Europeans learn from alcohol?, it is online here. There’s also a new page on the party website worth particular mention, setting out the party’s overall plan for the country.

Best wishes and I look forward to meeting many readers at our Bournemouth conference,


P.S. I also do a weekly email about polling, The Week in Polls. It comes in free and paid-for versions, and any Lib Dem Newswire reader can get a 60 day free trial of the paid-for version with this special link.

Two unexpected things

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

Many unexpected events, good and bad, have happened to our party during this Parliament. If you’d asked me in January 2020, I don’t think any of us would have expected that three and a half years on, I could write a report to members about how our first-in person autumn Federal Conference this Parliament was coming up and about our chance to secure, just after it, our fifth Parliamentary by-election gain from the Conservatives.

It’s been quite the journey since our last in-person autumn conference. That was also in Bournemouth but back in the very different political times of 2019. We’re on the third Conservative Prime Minister of that time and – at time of writing (!) – seven Secretaries of State for Education.

But most importantly for our party, we’ve made huge progress since then in rebuilding our organisation and starting a sustained, long-term recovery.

We’ve made net gains in every round of council elections this Parliament. Alongside our four new MPs, we’ve also won control of more councils – taking the number of Lib Dem majority authorities to a tally higher even than it was before we went into government in 2010.

We have a new scheme to support the new generation of candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds and we have a much expanded network of staff supporting grassroots campaigners right across the country. New, and much better integrated, website and email tools are being rolled out and, after over thirty years of people saying the Federal Board and its predecessors was too large, we finally did something about it.

But there’s much more still to do, starting with the need to turn that run of four by-election gains into a run of five next month. Find out more on how to help Emma Holland-Lindsay and the Mid-Bedfordshire by-election campaign on her website.

Rebuilding trust in politics

One of the big challenges of this political generation is building trust between politicians and voters. It’s essential not just for democracy to work but also for politicians to be able to take the big decisions needed to match the big challenges of our time. Whether it is climate change, transport infrastructure or new housing – they all require a trust that the costs and downsides of taking action now will be more than matched by the benefits to come.

Building that trust is not easy, and it starts with the small, local steps: asking the issues on people’s minds, discovering the ones that something can be done about and building trust by showing action. Our favourite thing to point at, potholes, matter in their own right. But they also matter as the classic example of how we can find a practical problem, get it sorted and win trust (and support) as a result.

It’s why doing an annual residents survey in wards or constituencies we seek to contest seriously is so important.

That’s why I’m returning to the topic this time after covering it last time too. Especially as we do far fewer of these surveys than we used to. After each general election, there’s a survey of election agents by Professor Justin Fisher and colleagues. In 2010 just under half (49%) reported that some effort, substantial effort or very substantial effort had been put into resident surveys in the year before the campaign started.

That was still only half. However things are worse now. For 2019 the figure was 33%, up a little on 2017’s 29% but still well down on 2010 – and despite 2019 being a year that saw a much bigger round of local elections.

The good news of course is that it shows how much opportunity there is for us to do better. We’re already on a roll of gains in five rounds of local elections in a row. Think how much more progress we can make if the campaigning superfood that is resident surveys became the norm rather than the exception.

Why not start with making sure they are part of your own local party’s plans for the next year?

Both ALDC and the Campaign Hub have example surveys and supporting material to help you get started with one locally.

Do let me know how you get on, if you’ve got any questions or if you have any feedback to share.

Federal Board business

There hasn’t been a Board meeting since my last report, so there’s less to report on this time around. However, there is the Board report session coming up at our Bournemouth conference, which is your formal chance to quiz us about what we’ve been up to. There will also be plenty of opportunities to grab a Board member in person, or come to our Board help desk, to ask other questions.

The reports booklet for conference also contains the report on our work since Spring conference and the measures we’re asking conference’s assent for, such as confirming a new member of the Federal Appeals Panel.

The Board submits each year to our autumn conference a motion on membership subscription levels and how membership monies are split between the Federal Party and State Parties. After some extensive budget negotiations, we’ve submitted an amendment to our motion to update it in line with the agreements that have been reached. Thank you to everyone involved for the hard work that has gone into this.

Our September and November Board meetings will (hopefully!) agree the Federal Party budget for 2024, with our first meeting agreeing the principles for the budget and then the second one the detailed figures.

The September meeting will also be a chance to fix the party grants for next year. We’d been asked in previous years to do this earlier than November so that those in receipt of the grants have time to take these decisions into account for their own budget setting.

Including in other business, the September meeting will review some key elements of our general election preparation, and you can hear more about that work in the special general election briefing session at the Bournemouth conference.

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.

Most popular podcast so far this year

After three (!) new podcast episodes last time, I’m getting the cycle of podcasts and this newsletter back in synch. That means no new episode this time. Instead, here’s a plug for the most popular episode of Never Mind The Bar Charts so far this year – it’s about lessons from the US about how to undo Brexit.

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.

Tackling food inflation: Lib Dems in the news

Ed Davey is calling for more action to tackle food inflation and raised in Parliament long cancer treatment waiting times. He was also interviewed on Rory Stewart and Alistair Campbell’s podcast.

Layla Moran has welcomed the Wanger Group being designated a terrorist organisation but attacked the government’s courting of Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman. Christine Jardine wants better retirement provision for military veterans.

Sarah Olney has been out defending the triple lock for pensions and Wendy Chamberlain has been highlighting the party’s opposition to voter ID. She’s also not impressed with Rishi Sunak being found in breach of Parliament’s rules. Jane Dodds is concerned about rising waiting lists for children’s mental health services in Wales.

Daisy Cooper has pointed out that hundreds of ambulance staff are waiting to complete essential driver training. She also wants the PM to explain why he hasn’t acted over crumbling hospitals while Munira Wilson is on the case about the number of crumbling schools in the constituencies of government ministers. Tim Farron wants better auditing of water companies and has highlighted how poorly the country does on bathing water quality.

Former Liberal Party President and pioneering psephologist Michael Steed has passed away. Sarah Dyke has been sworn in as a new MP.

Mayor of London candidate Rob Blackie has set out plans to improve the expanded ULEZ in London. The work of Lib Dem peer Richard Allan on digital rights has been profiled by Politico.

Lambeth Lib Dems have secured free access to leisure centres for asylum seekers. More than four tonnes of plastic bags and wrapping have been collected for recycling as part of Lib Dem run Somerset Council’s role in a new pilot project. New Lib Dem councillor Brett Wright explains how tripping on a broken pavement got him into politics.

Government is obsessed by woke

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:

Three quarters of people think government spending too much time on ‘woke’ issues.

Good news for Paul Kohler as Conservative MP will be standing down.

Can you raise electoral registration with social media ads?

How minds change: the new science of belief, opinion and persuasion.

Is the CEO of OpenAI right to be worried about AI’s impact on politics?

New Lib Dem HQ opens in Tunbridge Wells.

Ian Sollom’s campaign launch.

6 reasons to read Polling UnPacked

What the polls are saying

Latest general election 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 the latest party favourability ratings:

Ipsos party favourability tracker graph

The myth of George Gallup

A popular piece doing the rounds in the last week or two is from Anton Howes about the frailty of history knowledge, highlighting how rarely sources cited by historians are checked and how often, when they are, problems are found. An historical version of the replication crisis in science as it were.

I found something similar when checking our the details of George Gallup’s reputation as the first modern political pollster, as you can read about in The Week in Polls here.

Council by-elections round-up

Contests since last time have seen a successful Lib Dem defence in St Albans, followed by a gain in the Isle of Wight and a gain in what had been one of the safest Conservative seats in Shropshire. Although not quite enough to win this time, there was also a huge swing from Labour in Lincoln. Finally, there was a rare Labour gain from the Conservatives

These contests bring the running tally of seat changes since the main May elections to Lib Dem +9, Green +3, Labour 0, Conservative -13. For more details, see my local by-elections scorecard here.

Elsewhere, an independent councillor has switched to the Lib Dems in Hampshire, but two Lib Dem councillors have joined Labour in Sunderland and a third has become independent.

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?

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Selection news

Westminster Parliament selections made public since last time include Bicester and Woodstock: Calum Miller, Carlisle: Brian Wernham, Chichester: Jess Brown-Fuller, Exeter: Will Aczel, Faversham and Mid Kent: Hannah Perkin, New Forest East: Caroline Rackham, New Forest West: Jack Davies, Penrith and Solway: Julia Aglionby, Ribble Valley: John Potter, South Cotsolds: Roz Savage, South West Herts: Sally Symington and Stevenage: Lisa Nash.

Two PPCs have also recently stood down: Adam Knight (Chelsea and Fulham) and Sandy Lay (Leeds North West).

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…

At least Nadine Dorries over-extended resignation saga gave us this song.

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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