Our positive vision versus Conservative desperation (LDN #180)

Liberal Democrat Newswire #180 came out last week, with a look at the challenges facing the Lib Dems in a year of (at least one) Westminster general election.

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.

Elon Musk just keeps on giving people reasons to move away from X/Twitter.

Of course, one thing it still has in its favour is the number of people and communities that are still there. Which is why I’ve been winding down my X/Twitter use rather than – at this stage – going completely cold turkey. It’s been farewell so far to a couple of my accounts there, @BarChartPodcast and @LibDemNewswire. This and my other email newsletters will however continue.

I’ve also started up a new WhatsApp group for news about the Lib Dems. It’s broadcast only and people in it get about five sets of messages a week with the latest news about the party, by-election results, and the like. It’s a free service and all members and supporters are very welcome to join.

You can sign up to the WhatsApp group here.

Congratulations to the new Lib Dem councillors elected since last time: Tristan Wilkinson, Adrian Whittle, Harry Davies, Charles Gibson, Jonathan Bennett, Becky Jones, Andrew Savage, Sue Jordan, Glynn Smith (who defeated the village Father Christmas just before Christmas!) and Paul Heilbron. Good luck in your new roles.

Finally, before we get to this time’s edition, if you haven’t had a chance to read the December Lib Dem Newswire, “Bigger stakes, harder choices: general election year”, it is online here.

Happy reading,


P.S. January book sale! Thanks to Politicos you can get both 101 Ways To Win An Election and Bad News: What the headlines don’t tell us for only £5 each.

Our positive vision versus Conservative desperation

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

Beating the Conservatives isn’t enough

That was the thrust of Ed Davey’s new year message, majoring on the importance of how our politics operates:

We must do nothing less than transform the nature of British politics for good.

Fight for a fair deal, that empowers everyone, and holds the already powerful to account.

Smash the two-party system, reform our elections, and give everyone an equal voice.

Because that is the only way we can build a fairer, greener, more caring country.

Ed Davey: My hope for a year of change

But while that’s our positive message for the country…

Brace, brace, brace

When the newspapers appeared on the morning of 22 April 2010 there was a wall of negative front page stories about the Liberal Democrats. It was a well-timed hit, being the morning of the second TV debate in an election that had been upended by Nick Clegg’s performance in the first debate.

But there was a dirty secret behind those front page attacks which was only revealed when academics Phil Cowley and Dennis Kavanagh wrote a book about the election after. It was a secret about desperation on the part of the Conservatives: “All but one of the stories to feature on newspaper front pages that day came from the Conservatives”. Not that the papers told their readers this.

Nor did the stories stand up. Most notoriously the Daily Telegraph splashed that morning on its front page making claims about Nick Clegg’s bank account. Yet just a few hours later their chief political commentator and assistant editor was admitting he didn’t even know if anything wrong had happened. His admission that even he didn’t know if the allegations were true didn’t make that story, of course. Nor did he explain why his paper didn’t pause to research the story first rather than rushing to put in print what the Conservatives had handed them.

As Cowley and Kavanagh quoted a Cameron campaign source: “‘We did a pretty comprehensive job on them… However dirty it was… that was the machine swinging into action.”

Much has changed since 2010. But the willingness of Conservative HQ to do absolutely anything it takes to stay in power has not. We can expect them to brief negative stories about us continually.

It’s going to be a bracing year. But that shows we are a real threat to the Conservatives.

(And of course if you do see a story where you’re not sure what the full picture is or want to know the party’s response, do drop me a line on president@libdems.org.uk).

A cracking quarter of council by-elections

The final quarter of 2023 was a cracking one for our local campaign teams: more than double the net gains of Labour and Greens combined, a big increase in vote share and overtaking the Conservatives in the aggregate vote for the first time in the year.

Local council by-elections results Q4 2023

Many congratulations to everyone who played a part in that, especially the winning candidates and agents but also those who put a name on the ballot paper where previously we’d been absent. Commiserations too to those candidates and teams who just missed out this time.

These results show just how much potential there is for us in the May local elections, especially if we continue to increase the number of wards in which we have candidates.

That will be even more important if the local elections are at the same time as or before the general election as our candidate tally will be one of the signs in the eyes of the media of whether or not we’re growing as a national party. We did really well out of the media reaction to our growing candidate numbers in 2023.

So if you’ve got local elections coming up in your patch, please do make sure you have plans in place for, preferably, a full slate of candidates and, at the very least, more candidates than last time around.

There’s more on how to find candidates and get the paperwork all safely done in the Full Slate pack on the Campaign Hub.

Come to Federal Conference for free

If you volunteer as a steward you get free attendance plus help towards subsistence, travel and accommodation costs. Plus getting to be a member of a great team. More details are here.

Technology changes

It’s over a decade since we introduced CONNECT as our main electoral database, and nearly all local parties have switched over to using it. It’s also CONNECT that we provide data for, integrate with our other systems and which is used in our training.

A small number of places still use EARS and therefore miss out on these benefits. In addition, having two systems increases the administrative overhead for staff and increases our IT and data risks.

Therefore, our relevant party committees have decided to remove EARS from our list of approved suppliers later this year – three months after the general election, but no earlier than 1 July. We have set that date to give everyone plenty of time to plan, and to ensure people can make migrations outside of an election campaign period itself.

Making local party finances easier

An increasing number of our local parties – and other party bodies – are using the online Xero accounting software and are banking with Unity Bank. In both cases, we have arrangements with the company which parts of the party can benefit from. Unity also has the benefit of having strong ethical banking policies and being a bank for whom supporting membership organisations is a core part of its outlook.

If you are involved in party finances and would like to make the switch to one or both, drop an email to help@libdems.org.uk and the team can point you in the right direction.

January Board meeting

No surprise that our Westminster general election preparations are the big item for our agenda to kick-off the year. We’re deliberately taking a different approach to the Board’s oversight of election plans from the last few cycles, with in particular a specific deep drive into different parts of planning at successive meetings. For our first meeting of the year we’ll also do our now traditional review of the priorities set for our strategy by conference earlier in this Parliament and whether to update or refine them.

Coming up in February will be looking at membership and support for our candidates and their teams outside our Advanced and Moving Forward seats. I know both of those are of interest to many members, and rightly so as they are crucial parts of ensuring that the election not only delivers the prime outcome – more seats – but also helps put the party in a stronger position to win future elections at all levels.

To wrap up the January agenda though, it also covers final decisions on what party business the Board is putting to our spring conference, looking at whether DBS checks should be used more widely in the party and how we work with other party committees and bodies.

Just before Christmas, the Board elected its representatives to other party committees for the next two years. We elected Alison Rouse to Federal Conference Committee (FCC), Neil Fawcett and Jeremy Hargreaves to the Federal Communications and Elections Committee (FCEC) and Lucy Nethsingha to the Federal International Relations Committee (FIRC).

Are you using WhatsApp locally?

One of the crucial parts of my role as President is being in touch with what members are saying all around the country (and overseas too). It’s been noticeable in the last year how much of the online conversation among members and supporters in local parties has moved away from (semi-)public social media, for example away from Facebook and X/Twitter and often moving to WhatsApp (and to a much lesser extent Slack).

If WhatsApp plays a big role in your local party’s chatter, and you wouldn’t mind an outsider being in your group so I can better see the temperature of members around the party, it’d be great if you can add me to your relevant group. You can either message me the join link on president@libdems.org.uk or ask for my mobile number to add. Thank you.

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.

PODCAST: The story of Charles Kennedy’s leadership, and lessons to learn from it

Just before Christmas I spoke with party history expert Duncan Brack for Never Mind The Bar Charts about Charles Kennedy’s political career, including the little mystery around how he got elected to Parliament in the first place.

Take a listen to our discussion here while rests heavily on Greg Hurst’s excellent biography (available from Amazon and Bookshop.org),* as well as our own experiences of the time.

For something completely different, I also recently did a podcast on my five favourite spy novels.

🎧Find all the episodes of Never Mind The Bar Charts here. The podcast’s Twitter account is now closed due to the direction Elon Musk is taking, but you can sign up for a dedicated email notification each time a new episode appears here.

Climate change, military conflict and more: Lib Dems in the news

We can’t afford more climate failures says Ed Davey on COP28. He’s also been talking with The Times on how hard it is for anyone to be a carer, comparing his own experience with that of being a politician. He’s been interviewed about the latest military action in the Middle East and in the papers over the shocking number of cancer operations being cancelled..

He’s also of course spoken about the Post Office on TV and in print. There’s a background explainer on the party website, and the views of one of the journalists who finally broke through the cover-ups with the help of a whistleblower are worth a read.

Plus there was a highly covered new year photo stunt: the “Tory Removals Service”, with coverage all over the media including the BBC.

Anti-sewage campaigner Feargal Sharkey likes what we’ve been up to in Parliament. Christine Jardine has hit out at the lack of response and action from UK and Scottish Ministers to treat and prevent mould and damp in social housing.

Tim Farron been speaking up for animal welfare in the Commons and the newspapers. Alistair Carmichael has been attacking the government over immigration.

Sarah Olney got great coverage in The Sun on the MoD’s plague of lost security passes, and then again on thefts of military equipment and IT kit. Munira Wilson has been in the Daily Mirror on school funding cuts in England hurting the most disadvantaged the most.

And of course there’s a pothole story, this time from Helen Morgan.

There are many more national stories I could include, so let’s add here the big praise from a national newspaper political journalist for the party’s press team: “I genuinely think some of the most talented transparency data journalists are currently employed in the Lib Dem press office.”

Lib Dem leader in the Lords, Dick Newby, used a debate on standards in public life to talk about the importance of local government – and properly funding it. Jane Dodds has condemned the “faceless brutes” who target women politicians online.

Lib Dems getting more, better and greener housing built: in The Cotswolds, in Sutton and in Eastleigh, for example.

Expelled party member Jo Hayes has lost her latest court action against the party.

Congratulations to former Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert on his civil partnership to Caroline Wright. Congratulations also on their engagement to Lib Dem data whiz Mary Regnier-Wilson (the only person ever to have given me a standing ovation) and council leader Stephen Robinson.

Have you ever telephone canvassed a lift by mistake?

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

Peter Bone: another victim of the Liberal Democrats – or the welcome legacy of a political reform the Lib Dem pushed for.

Four Liberal Democrats in the New Year Honours.

What happens when your telephone canvassing call list goes wrong: have you ever rung a lift by mistake?

Conservative councillor guilty of stealing child’s pushchair: one of the stranger local politics scandals.

“We are the European party in Parliament and among British people“: a leaflet from back when the Conservatives, even Margaret Thatcher, campaigned on being pro-European.

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

There’s no new issues rankings from Ipsos since last time, so here instead is how the public thinks the government is doing on different issues:

Ipsos polling on government performance in different policy areas

Is the number of undecided voters on the rise?

UK in a Changing Europe continues to be one of the best sources of good polling analysis and nifty graphs. This time my praise is drawn by their new report, “The state of public opinion: 2023.” I pulled out seven key findings for a recent edition of my weekly polling newsletter, The Week in Polls.

Read about the seven here, including a surprising fact about the trend in the number of undecided voters.

Council by-elections round-up

Contests since last time have included securing the first Lib Dem on North Kesteven council, despite not even contesting the ward last time, successful defences in Leicestershire and a big swing from Labour to hold a seat in tricky circumstances in Salford.

The total net seat changes in those principal authority contests since last time was Lib Dem +2, Labour -1, Green 0 and Conservative -2. These contests bring the running tally of seat changes since the last May elections to Lib Dem +19, Green +4, Labour 0, Conservative -20.

For more details, see my local by-elections scorecard here.

Elsewhere, three town councillors have joined the Lib Dems from the Greens in Helen Morgan’s constituency and the leader of Shetland Islands Council has joined the Lib Dems, though is still sitting as an 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?

Liberal Democrat Newswire is provided for free but isn’t free to run. 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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88 more Lib Dem PPCs

Westminster Parliament selections made public since last time have nearly reached three figures, which I’ve broken down into a set of 45 names and then a further 43 names.

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 thread you’ve all been waiting for: Lib Dem leaders as Doctor Who.

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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