As Christmas is approaching, I’ve got a special free gift for readers this time: an extract from Matt Chorley’s illuminating and funny new book about political history, Planes, Trains and Toilet Doors. As well as being a great read, it’s a great gift for anyone you know interested at least a bit in politics. Read on to enjoy the free extract.
Congratulations to the new Lib Dem councillors since last time: Raiff Devlin, Immy Blackburn-Horgan, Marilyn Marshall, Cherry MacGregor, Mark Gray, Dan Sladden, Simon Johns, Allison Wren, Andrew Fletcher, Rosa Mancer, Gerry Clare and Diane Holden. Good luck in your new roles!
Before we get to this time’s edition, if you haven’t had a chance to read the November Lib Dem Newswire, “Turning our policies into practical action”, it is online here.
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.
Bigger stakes, harder choices: general election year
Here’s my latest report for Liberal Democrat members and supporters. These reports also appear on the party website.
It now looks pretty certain that 2024 will be a general election year. Or perhaps I should say that 2024 will have at least one Westminster general election, because if there is a close result…
We do, however, know for sure that regardless of what happens with general elections, there is an important round of local elections – and Police and Crime Commissioner contests – in May.
It will therefore be an important year in which everyone can play a part in our success, whether it is about winning a target local or Westminster seat near where you live, or helping to build up the party locally while supporting our target seats elsewhere.
It also means that for our party the stakes in 2024 are higher, and the choices harder.
We have the opportunity in the general election to overcome the huge political handicap of having so few MPs in Parliament. It is not only that we are missing out on giving more people the benefits of a Lib Dem MP. It is also that the number of MPs we have is a huge determinant of how much media coverage we get, how many resources we have and how much influence we hold in Parliament. More Lib Dem MPs will not only be great news for those constituencies, it will also benefit us across the whole country.
But if the stakes are highest in a Westminster general election year, the choices are also hardest. Because we know how much more there is to politics, and to elections, than Westminster elections alone. Local government and devolved elections are crucial too, and we both have some of them coming in May 2024 and even more coming in the years immediately after.
So getting the balance right between the short term, narrow focus on our Westminster target seats and the long term broader growth of our party is always hardest in a general election year.
So too is the balance between the short term focus on the next polling day and the sustained long term investment, such as in our technology and in our campaign staff teams. Our traditional model is one of boom and bust – throwing everything we can at a general election but then followed by a big downsizing of our efforts immediately after. The elections at other levels that happen early in the next Westminster cycle suffer as a result, as do tasks – such as improving our record on diversity and inclusion – which needs and deserves sustained long-term effort.
But perhaps the biggest tension is the natural – maybe even inevitable – one between what most matters to party activists and what most matters to floating voters. It is natural that the more involved you are in politics, the more you get deep into issues that are not always top of the mind to most voters. It is important of course that our answers to these twin messaging challenges – what motivates activists and what wins voters – are always open, honest and compatible. But it is also wise to acknowledge that they are not always identical.
Our For A Fair Deal pre-manifesto, adopted in Bournemouth, does both. It zooms in on those concerns at the top of so many voters’ minds – especially the NHS and cost of living – while also providing a clear liberal response to all the other challenges of our time, such as tackling climate change and fixing our broken political systems.
Explaining what we stand for
We have started up a new email series for members and supporters explaining what we stand for. It takes our For A Fair Deal and through the series runs through it a section at a time, to explain what we stand for and our vision for Britain. The first one is also online here.
If you did not receive it, email email@example.com with your membership number and/or postcode and they can check on your email subscription status and address in the party’s records.
How Lib Dem councils are tackling climate change
To mark COP28, the annual climate conference, Lib Dem led Portsmouth Council has showcased 13 of its projects that are helping to tackle climate change. From coastal schemes to renewable energy and greener travel options, they show the difference that Liberal Democrats in power can make. You can read about all 13 here.
Meanwhile the global environmental charity CDP has awarded Lib Dem led Somerset Council an A- grade for its climate change work, which compares with a regional average score of B and a global average score of C. Dixie Darch, Lead Member for Environment and Climate Change, said: “A greener and more sustainable county is one of the new Council’s priorities and we are delighted that this well-recognised benchmark for good practice has given our work such a seal of approval.”
Tickets for the 2023 Lib Dem Christmas Draw are on sale. Just under three quarters (70%) of funds go to the Lib Dem body you pick when buying your tickets and prizes include £1,500 in cash, a chocolate truffle gift hamper (yum) and half a case of champagne.
Get your tickets here (this link will default to supporting the excellent work of LGBT+ Lib Dems).
Congratulations to Cllr Hannah Perkin, Leader of the Lib Dems at Swale Borough Council , who won “Community champion of the year” at the Local Government Information Unit annual awards. Very appropriate for it to go to a Lib Dem!
We end the year with more Liberal Democrat MPs, more Liberal Democrat council leaders and more Liberal Democrat councillors than we started the year. That has only been possible thanks to generous support of our members, donors and volunteers. Many thanks for all you have done for our cause this year, and I wish you the very best for Christmas. I hope everyone gets a good break before the big challenges of 2024.
Have questions on this report, or other party matters? Then please drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org. Do also get in touch if you’d like to invite me to do a Zoom call with your local party or party body.
How a doctor’s prescription changed British politics
Times Radio presenter Matt Chorley has a new book out about 50 locations which changed British politics. Reproduced here with kind permission is the story of how a doctor’s inadvisable prescription for a patient changed British politics…
Dr Addington’s surgery, 7 Clifford Street, London
William Pitt was very, very clever, but very, very ill. Aged just 14, he went to study at Cambridge in October 1773, but within a few weeks he was taken ill and spent two months confined to his rooms before travelling back to Hayes, the family home in Bromley, Kent. It was here that he was referred to Dr Anthony Addington, who had for many years from smart offices in Piccadilly served as physician to his father, William Pitt the Elder, who had been prime minister in the 1760s. A fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Addington practised in the treatment of insanity and was among the medics called to treat the madness of King George III.
However, his recommendation for young Pitt’s appalling gout was to have far-reaching consequences. It included extra sleep and fewer late nights studying, along with a better diet – all perfectly sensible – alongside the more eccentric if harmless requirement of regular exercise on horseback. More extreme, and consequential, was the prescription of port. Daily. Yes, daily doses of port to deal with gout. The exact quantity of port wine is lost to history, but it was a lot, maybe a bottle a day, maybe more, ‘but at any rate a good deal of it’ according to Pitt’s biographer William Hague (who knows a thing or two about this area, having once claimed he spent his youth drinking fourteen pints of beer a day).
The prescription was strict advice that Pitt characteristically followed to the letter, and remarkably his health improved. He returned to Cambridge, where he became friends with future slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, before training as a lawyer and being called to the Bar in 1780 and entering the Commons a year later, where he quickly demonstrated the power of his oratory and argument. He was chancellor by the age of just 24, and a year later in December 1783 he followed in his father’s footsteps in becoming prime minister – the youngest ever, before or since. Initially his government was mocked as the ‘mince pie administration’ because it was thought it would not last until Christmas. Instead he battled on, surviving Commons defeats, winning over the public and then securing a victory in an election, and he remained in office for a total of almost eighteen years.
And still he kept drinking the port. In fact in later life he became known as a ‘three-bottle man’, which sounds like a lot by today’s standards, but port in the late eighteenth century was weaker than it is today and the bottles were smaller. Even so, it was still equivalent to more than a bottle and a half of today’s booze, and his reliance on alcohol showed in tales of him having the shakes, and downing tumblers of the stuff before his infamous, barnstorming Commons speeches. He was not alone. In fact, Pitt’s entire cabinet had a reputation for being almost constantly plastered. Having survived the ill-health and duels of his first spell as PM, his second from 1804 to 1806 was dominated by the Napoleonic Wars and marked by a number of defeats to the French, including the Battle of Austerlitz in December 1805. Indeed, some suggested that this loss may have finally broken Pitt’s health. In truth, he was not a well man and had not been for some time. The Duke of Wellington would later argue that Pitt’s health had been ‘destroyed by long and previous exertions in the House of Commons, and by deluging his stomach with port wine and water, which he drank to excess, in order to give a false and artificial stimulus to his nervous system’.
On 16 January 1806 Pitt took to his sickbed, and he died on 23 January at the age of just 46. Life expectancy was not much higher for the average man in those days, but Pitt was far from average and could have enjoyed many more years at the top of politics. He never saw his friend Wilberforce fulfil their hope of abolishing slavery. Even so, he was prime minister for almost nineteen of the last twenty-three years of his life. In fact, during the period when he was out of office he was replaced by his friend Henry Addington, the son of the doctor who had prescribed him port all those years earlier.
Planes, Trains and Toilet Doors: 50 places that changed British politics by Matt Chorley is available from Waterstones, Bookshop.org (independent bookshops) and Amazon (including ebook and audio book versions).*
For the more hardcore political reading, with fewer jokes and more regression equations but also lots of insight for Liberal Democrats, there’s another great book just out: The Liberal Democrats: From Hope to Despair to Where? It too is available from Waterstones, Bookshop.org and Amazon.
NHS problems: Lib Dems in the news
Ed Davey used Prime Minister’s Questions to highlight the government’s failure to deliver on promises for new NHS hospitals and refurbishment. He also wants Thames Water’s board of directors to quit and for better support for carers after the news that a third of UK carers with poor mental health have thoughts of suicide.
Tim Farron is not happy that the Conservatives voted against compensation for swimmers and others who fall sick from illegal sewage in our rivers, lakes and seas. Nor is he overjoyed by the cuts to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs budget in the Autumn Statement.
Alistair Carmichael points out that there are now more ministers who have resigned over Rwanda than asylum seekers who have been sent to Rwanda. Daisy Cooper is highlighting how in England one in five people are on NHS backlog list in some areas and how it takes more than 90 minutes for an ambulance to reach 1-in-10 Category 2 emergencies.
Wendy Chamberlain, writing about women in politics, said, “there are fantastic candidates with a lot to offer who have been put off by what they see in the news, and the amount of sleaze and scandal”.
Jane Dodds has been supporting Small Business Saturday and Christine Jardine wants Boris Johnson barred from future honours.
Congratulations to Layla Moran’s, winner of MP of the year award from the Patchwork Foundation for her campaigning on the Vagrancy Act. She also appeared on Question Time, saying, “You don’t have to pick a side. You can stand with Israel and care about innocent civilians in Palestine. You can stand with Palestine and want…Hamas gone.”
Sarah Ludford was sacked from the Lib Dem spokesperson team in the Lords after (again) criticising the party’s policy in the very area she was spokesperson for.
Four Lib Dem council leaders signed a cross-party letter to the government over the dire financial outlook for local government.
Former Lib Dem minister Chris Huhne has settled his hacking claim against News Group (which publishes The Sun and used to publish The News Of The World), as have comedian Catherine Tate, radio presenter Chris Moyles and Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm. He will get “six figure” damages.
Making a difference on housing
In case you missed them first time, here is a selection of posts from my websites since last time:
More homes, greener homes: Lib Dems in action: how Lib Dems in Somerset are turning debates about housing and climate change into practical action.
Yet more greener homes courtesy of Lib Dems in power: same again, this time in Watford and Three Rivers.
Canvassing with Paul Kohler: and how to design a canvassing calling leaflet.
Voters prefer decisions made by gender balanced groups: more evidence why taking action to improve the diversity of elected Liberal Democrats is not only right in principle but also electorally advantageous.
Before politicians had YouTube and TikTok clips…: a return to the days when a VHS tape was a cutting edge innovation.
Labour publishes official list of 211 non-target seats in England: already starting to feature on umpteen Lib Dem publications in the nation’s letterboxes and social media feeds.
Never Mind The Ballots: a great collection of political films: better than all those Christmas TV repeats.
What the polls are saying
To give the latest figures some context, here’s an up-to-date poll tracker graph:
Here are the issues that the public says are the most important to them:
The Times shows how not to report an opinion poll
The top story on the front page of The Times after the Autumn Statement was clear and unequivocal. But when you look at the actual poll data, the story becomes rather less clear… as you can find out from a recent edition of my weekly polling newsletter, The Week in Polls.
Council by-elections round-up
Contests since last time have seen an impressive hold in Wales, a gain in Cambridge, a gain from the Greens in Yorkshire and a pair of wins in a promising new Parliamentary constituency.
The total net seat changes in those principal authority contests since last time was Lib Dem +3, Labour -1, Green -1 and Conservative -1. These contests bring the running tally of seat changes since the last May elections to Lib Dem +17, Green +4, Labour 0, Conservative -18. For more details, see my local by-elections scorecard here.
Elsewhere, three councillors left the Lib Dems in Ribble Valley, in part because they didn’t want the party to stand in more seats, and one has switched to independents in Oxfordshire.
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.
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Westminster Parliament selections made public since last time include Argyll, Bute and South Lochaber: Alan Reid, Battersea: Francis Chubb, Blackley and Middleton South: Iain Donaldson, Brent East: Jonny Singh, Chelsea and Fulham: Blaise Baquiche, Chester South and Eddisbury: Rob Herd, Hexham: Nick Cott, Heywood and Middleton North: Anthony Smith, Lewisham West and East Dulwich: Josh Matthews, Louth and Horncastle: Ross Pepper, Rochdale: Zulfiqar Ali, Runnymede and Weybridge: Ellen Nicholson, Salisbury: Victoria Charleston, Wellingborough: Ana Savage Gunn and Whitehaven and Workington: Chris Wills.
In other selection news, Christophe Noblet was picked for the GLA seat of West Central.
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.
Parliament is at times run using rules reassuringly (or is that worryingly?) similar to Lib Dem conference standing orders.
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Thank you and best wishes,
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