The long-term Lib Dem plan (LDN #181)

Liberal Democrat Newswire #181 includes stories on the long-term Lib Dem plan, the role of TikTok in our politics and a bizarre Conservative solution to sewage dumping.

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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My big piece of writing since last time is a long-read about the polling on Europe: what does the evidence reveal about what people think of Brexit, and what people want to see happen next? You can dive in to read it here, and thanks for the thoughtful feedback already from readers.

For more news in-between editions, there is my 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 here.

Congratulations to the new Lib Dem councillors elected since last time: Richard Baker, Rhiannon Beeson, Carey Bishop, Andrew Griffin, Jake Holland-Lindsay, Amanda Ineson, Nathan Keates, Andrea Kidd, Roland Richardson, Will Sapwell, Caroline Smith-Wright and Carl Squires. 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 last one, it is online here: Our positive vision versus Conservative desperation.

Happy reading,


P.S. Details of all the motions coming up at our York spring conference, along with information on training, fringe meetings and more are now available. You can also check out the special Instagram account that’s full of tips, news and backstage content from our conferences – @confbehindscenes.

Our long-term plan

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

A familiar trio

By now, you’re most likely very familiar with the idea that we are concentrating our campaigning for the next Westminster general election on the NHS, the cost of living and sewage. You may well have heard that on Zoom calls with our Chief Executive, seen it in leaflets you’ve delivered or said it yourself in conversations with voters.

The prime reason for this trio is the humility that’s essential for a political party in an electoral democracy: the humility to listen to voters and to take their concerns as the starting point of our campaigning.

But there are two other important reasons for this trio too. One is that the trio is deliberately applicable to those of us fighting elections at other levels too, including incumbents and those running councils. Not all of our previous messaging – such as ‘time for a change’ – has been so adaptable. It’s always been a bit much to ask a Lib Dem council leader to go out and campaign with the slogan ‘time for a change’. That lack of consistency has held us back from communicating better to the public what we stand for.

This is a trio that works well for a national election yet also allows us in our local campaigning to showcase the difference Lib Dems in power in town halls have been making. Differences such as the innovative joined-up health services in Somerset or the provision of extra free school meals in Sutton.

Getting this right isn’t a short term task. Which is why it’s also a trio – health care, economy, environment – that will serve us well in the long-run. Whatever change of the political environment that the next election may bring, it’s the basis for a consistent, long-term approach to building a larger core vote for the party.

Part of that long-term outlook also has to be changing the way our politics works. Not just securing electoral reform for the Commons and local government in England and Wales. But also reforming the role of money in our politics and strengthening the power of Parliament to hold the government to account.

A record start to canvassing

If that is the long-term task, the short-term one is very clear: get more Liberal Democrats elected this year.

Which is why it’s fabulous to see us kick off the year with a record volume of canvassing in January, with activity at double the levels seen in January 2023. And that’s despite the weather being so much worse in the middle of January this year too!

Thank you so much to everyone who has been out on the doorsteps or picking up their phones to talk with voters already this year.

Party awards

We’ll be doing more thanks and recognition with our party awards at our spring Federal Conference coming up in York in March.

Four awards are open for nominations. They’re the usual four awards for a spring conference but this time the criteria have been tweaked to focus on what matters most in such a big election year:

  • Leader’s Award: awarded to someone who has shown exemplary dedication to canvassing voters.

  • Bertha Bowness Fischer Award: awarded a local party for the excellence of its local delivery network.

  • Albert Ingham Award: awarded for a recent campaign that through its excellence, fastidiousness, tenacity or novelty is a model for others.

  • Laura Grimond Award: awarded to recognise the unsung work behind the scenes by someone whose contributions enable our frontline campaigns to go out and win.

More details and the nomination form are here.

February Federal Board

Speaking of conference… one of the main topics the February Federal Board will be looking at is our contingency planning around autumn conference. This may be just before, during or just after a general election. That has significant implications for staff time, the conference budget and people’s ability and willingness to take the time to come to conference.

Our conferences are a vital part of our democratic process, an important training and opportunity and, in the right circumstances, a great opportunity to engage with the outside world via media coverage, the exhibition and fringes.

But if a general election is called so that our planned conference would be in the middle of an election campaign, forcing its cancellation, and we’re left with a £550,000 financial hole when we need our money most, I am sure many members will – rightly! – ask what we’d done to anticipate that. We need to have good contingency plans in place.

Other topics at our February Board will include how we do Board appointments to party posts during general election year, our latest quarterly review of party performance and plans for membership recruitment and engagement around the general election.

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.

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.

Do you have questions on any of this report, or other Lib Dem matters? Then please drop me a line on president@libdems.org.uk. Do also get in touch if you would like to invite me to do a Zoom call with your local party or party body.

Since I wrote this report, a member of the Federal Board was suspended by the party and then resigned. A recount is being conducted to replace them, so I’ll include more on this next time.

PODCAST: Will it be the TikTok general election … or the Zoom general election?

Professor Kate Dommett is one of the UK’s absolute top rank experts on political campaigning, data and the internet. So who better to have back on Never Mind The Bar Charts to talk about how parties use data and what the next general election might bring?

Take a listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or via my website.

You can get her new book from Amazon, Waterstones or independent bookshops.*

I’ve also done a by-election results reaction podcast with the Lib Dem Pod team – complete with another musical Easter Egg for careful listeners.

🎧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.

Recycling rates bar chart showing Lib Dem councils do best

Data from England. Lib Dem Powys also has a very impressive recycling rate.

A collapsing NHS: Lib Dems in the news

“You’ll change your view of politicians … You are witnessing the very odd sound of me waxing lyrical about a politician in the current political climate. Very, very, very impressive man”: James O’Brien on interviewing Ed Davey.

New Lib Dem analysis shows record 420,000 patients waited more than 12 hours in A&E in England in 2023. Media coverage includes Ed Davey saying, “It is simply unthinkable that Rishi Sunak is now choosing to slash funding for the NHS further, while handing big tax cuts to the banks”.

He’s also featured in a front page Mirror story about the crisis in dental health, in The Independent on people waiting longer to see a GP, in the Evening Standard on GP funding cuts as appointment waits climb and in The Guardian over crumbling hospitals causing over 100 care disruptions a week. Plus getting positive coverage in the Daily Mail over the mental health epidemic being fuelled by long waits for GPs.

He also used a precious opportunity at Prime Minister’s Questions to talk about the NHS: no-one should ever have to wait on the floor in pain for hours before an ambulance arrives. He’s written for The Guardian about the Post Office scandal: I fell for Post Office lies – and I’m sorry. But I won’t be silent as Tories prey on victims’ trauma.

Daisy Cooper has also been in the news on the NHS, including reacting to more than 1.5 million people waiting for 12 hours in A&E in a year. and news that the UK government wasted nearly £10bn on unused Covid PPE. She also used a rare BBC Question Time opportunity to talk about climate change: “We are facing a climate and ecological emergency, and tackling that should be above party politics”.

“All Palestinians want is the power to do what other countries can, to have their own vote at the UN, to rebuild, and educate our children. But above all else, they want to live in dignity”: Layla Moran speaking in Parliament. She’s also been interviewed by the New Statesman: “I’m searching for kernels of hope in the rubble”.

Sarah Dyke called in Parliament for cross-party action to address the crisis local council funding and Ed Davey talked to the Daily Mirror about how councils face devastating service.

And of course, there’s Tim all over the media talking about sewage and failing water firms, including slamming water firms for ‘shirking responsibility’ by failing to provide data, attacking their price hikes, being unimpressed by Ofwat’s scheme to fine poorly performing companies and presenting the positive alternative:making water companies not-for-profit outfits.

Sarah Olney has been highlighting waste and loss at the Ministry of Defence, including how everything from a tumble dryer to a replica model siege gun has been stolen. She’s also been calling for higher pay for apprentices.

Alistair Carmichael has been holding the government to account over dodgy asylum statistics and over police numbers being slashed.

Mayor of London candidate Rob Blackie, who has saved elephants in Namibia and been mugged in Vauxhall, wants the Met to have modern technology.

There’s also been plenty of news of Liberal Democrat councils getting more and greener housing built, including in the leader’s backyard in Kingston, in South Cambridgeshire, and with promises of more to come if the Lib Dems ‘win control of Dorset in May.

In the Lords, Lib Dem peers contributed to defeating the government over its ‘reckless’ Rwanda plan. Lorely Burt’s bill to implement party policy of banning conversion therapy has been securing positive media coverage and passed its second reading.

Richard Foord has launched his election campaign, promising to ‘make a difference’. Voting rights have been expanded for Brits living abroad. Liberal Democrats Abroad are working to win over the new voters: www.britsabroad.vote.

Iain Dale interviewed Lib Dem Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain about keeping MPs in check, her former work in the police and being in a relationship with someone from a different party.

Finally, top marks to councillor and podcaster John Potter for his response to one unusual member of the public…

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

Finally, here are the latest figures from Ipsos on which issues matter most to voters:

Ipsos December issues index data

MRP polls: what are they, and are they any good?

There’s plenty of coverage of MRP polls, with individual seat predictions picked over by us all. Almost all of the coverage treats MRP with reverence, as more trustworthy than a normal poll and able to make accurate seat predictions.

But is that right? What is MRP anyway? And should we be paying so much attention to MRP results?

Find out the answers to that in my MRP explainer.

Council by-elections round-up

Contests since last time have included the Conservatives losing their last seat on Richmond-upon-Thames Council to the Lib Dems, a Lib Dem gain from third place in Northamptonshire, a Conservative hold in Scotland and, on the same day as the two Parliamentary by-elections, a cracking gain from Labour in Hull.

The total net seat changes in those principal authority contests since last time was Lib Dem +3, Labour -2, Independents -1 and no net change for anyone else. These contests bring the running tally of seat changes since the last May elections to Lib Dem +22, Green +4, Labour -2 (yes, Labour are going backwards) and Conservative -20.

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

Elsewhere, there is now a Lib Dem on Redditch Council after a Labour councillor switched and a former independent Police and Crime Commissioner is running this time as a Liberal Democrat.

After being suspended by the Lib Dem group in East Riding, a councillor has switched to Labour, and in Epping Forest a Lib Dem councillor has switched to independent saying, “there is no place for politics at local government level”. Another has also switched to independent in Three Rivers.

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

Another 88 PPCs

Westminster Parliament selections made public since last time contained a batch of another 88 names, including Anna Sabine in Frome and East Somerset.

Aidan King has been selected for the North East Mayor contest and Chris Maines for the Lewisham Mayor by-election

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…

If the BBC is right, all our pothole pointing may become a thing of the past due to self-repair roads.

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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