History

How much trouble are the Conservatives in? (LDN #182)

Liberal Democrat Newswire #182 took a look at what factors have been present at the defeat of previous Conservatives governments and asks, how many are around in 2024?

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To kick-off a quick reminder that it’s the time of year for my annual appeal to help with the costs of running this newsletter and its digital siblings, totalling 1.2 million emails and 21,000 podcast downloads in the last year.

Hence my annual appeal to ask if you’re able to sign up for a small regular donation to help offset those costs. (There are also details on that link for giving a one-off donation too if that suits you better.)

As a special thank you, if you sign up for a new monthly donation, I will send you a link to get the paid-for version of my polling newsletter, The Week in Polls, free for a whole year.

Back to usual business… congratulations to the new Lib Dem councillors elected since last time: Robert Macnaughton, Jackie Beckett, Ross Harrison, Tony Henderson, Steve Mercer, Alex White, Nick Dye, Andrew Wood, David Lunn, Caroline Sadler, Paul Goodwin and Debbie Taylor. Good luck in your new roles.

A reminder too that if you haven’t had a chance to read the previous edition of Lib Dem Newswire it is online here: The long-term Lib Dem plan.

Happy reading,

Mark

P.S. 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.

The Guardian 1995 - article on when Conservatives are defeated

How much trouble are the Conservatives in?

The mid-1990s were a time of nervous optimism for opponents of the Conservatives.

Nervous because the Conservatives were on a four-general election-winning steak, and had recently recovered from the depths of unpopularity by dropping a Prime Minister in 1990 and then confounding the polls in 1992.

Optimism also though as since then the Conservatives had wrecked their economic reputation when Britain crashed out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). That was followed by a series of increasingly glum polling figures for them, and election defeats all across the country, at all levels of election and with record-breaking swings. Might it finally be true that we were in the closing stages of Conservative rule?

After a particular heavy set of local election defeats in May 1995, The Guardian ran a piece of analysis from historians Stuart Bell and Anthony Seldon. It set out the nine factors common in previous Conservative defeats (1906, 1929, 1945, 1964 and 1974), scoring the then current state of affairs against them.

They concluded, “The striking feature of the situation today is the presence of all nine of the factors which shape a defeat, with an unprecedented six in acute form”. Heavy defeat did indeed follow, as did three general election defeats in a row.

So how does the current state of affairs match-up against those nine factors? Let’s take a look at each in turn:

Leader’s image negative? Yes. Rishi Sunak’s image recorded by the polls is very negative.

Policy direction confused? Yes. Levelling up or cancelling much of HS2? Right wing freedoms or a creeping ban on buying cigarettes? Cutting taxes or increasing the tax burden? Being tough on immigration or overseeing record high levels? The list goes on.

Internal disunity manifest? Yes. Very much so.

Organisation in disarray? It’s a more mixed picture here, but the Conservatives are suffering from a long decay in levels of local activism, a Parliamentary Party that is not united behind delivering one consistent message and many stories out of Downing Street of it not being clear who is really in control.

Party finances depleted? Likely not this case this time, judging by what has been published regarding accounts and donations. Though perhaps the keenness to keep Frank Hester’s money suggests it is not quite all so rosy behind the scenes?

Media and intellectual climate hostile? Again a more mixed picture. There has been fraying in the dominance of support for the Conservatives among the media outlets which are not required by regulation to be impartial. So far, though, papers like The Times haven’t jumped ship to Labour, and while the DailyTelegraph is not a fan of Labour, it’s been very happy to talk up Reform.

Public perception of economic situation critical? Yes.The public gives the government a big thumbs down on the economy.

‘Time for a change’ sentiment widespread? Yes. The public overall very much thinks the country is headed in the wrong direction and change is needed.

Opposition party credible? Labour and Starmer’s ratings are not great by comparison with previous winning oppositions, but they are very good compared with the government and Sunak.

That analysis in The Guardian scored each on a ‘very’/’fairly’/’slightly’/’no’ scale. Scoring those from 3 points (for ‘very’) to 0 points (for ‘no’), and doing the same this time, this his how the scores work out:

  • 1906: 18 points
  • 1929: 9 points (but oh my, British politics in the 1920s was wild, even wilder than the last few years)
  • 1945: 20 points
  • 1964: 20 points
  • 1974: 17 points
  • 1997: 24 points
  • Now: 20 points

Depending on your own psychology and wished for outcome, you can either paint that as ‘Starmer not doing as well as Blair’ or ‘Starmer doing as well at Attlee’. Take your pick…

Either way, it’s clear the Conservatives are in deep trouble and that’s good news for the Liberal Democrats.

Making the most of May

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

Why we need more council candidates

When we debate party policy, strategy or election tactics, questions about what might attract or put off voters often – and rightly – come up.

But there’s one sure-fire, rock-solid way of repelling voters from us, and it’s one we use far too often.

It’s not having a Liberal Democrat on the ballot paper. Zero votes for the party guaranteed.

Both Labour and the Conservatives, for example, get very close now to having a full slate of candidates in local elections. We don’t.

But, since we’ve collectively started focusing on really raising our candidate numbers in council contests, we’ve made good progress. We’ve even got positive media coverage out of it too.

Standing candidates isn’t only about credibility and relevance. It’s also the way to get more people into the habit of regularly voting for the Liberal Democrats – a crucial step in building the sort of larger core vote for the party that will help us succeed more often.

With a Westminster general election nearing, continuing that progress in candidate numbers is even more important this year.

If you have local elections coming up in your area, there are great training materials and supporting documents on how to increase your candidate numbers, and how to run a proper approval process. Drop me a line if you need help finding the support you need.

Good luck!

A Budget of desperation

Ed Davey nicely summed up the Budget: “This Budget offers no relief for the widespread pain under the Conservative government … A last-ditch effort by a government neglecting the NHS, wrecking the economy, and reducing living standards. Time for a general election.”

There’s a striking contrast between the Conservative obsession with tax cuts paid for by finding every dodge possible to bend their fiscal rules and the sort of credible, costed and fair plan that we set out in our For A Fair Deal plan.

Help us make the right contingency plans for this Autumn

We have a dilemma with our plans for the autumn federal conference due in Brighton this September.

Our party conferences are a vital part of our democratic process, an important training event and a great opportunity to engage with the outside world via media coverage, the exhibition and fringes. And we all really enjoy them!

But this year we could have a general election campaign kicking off just before, just after or even during our conference. That poses many challenges and is why we are asking for your views as we work through what will best support our electoral ambitions this year, respect our internal democratic processes and be financially prudent.

You can read more about the issues, and take part in a consultation survey, here.

Tackling antisemitism and Islamophobia

We’re sadly all too familiar with the increase in antisemitism and Islamophobia seen in the last few months. Both are abhorrent and at odds with our values.

In order to help us all do our best to uphold those values in how the party operates, the party has recently started a programme of training for staff and key volunteers. We’ve also been giving this issue particular attention in messages to members, with reminders of our Code of Conduct, and of both the support available to members and to how to make a complaint if you are on the receiving end, or witness, unacceptable behaviour.

Explaining our latest changes to the complaints process

At our York spring conference, the Federal Board will be reporting on a new set of changes to our independent complaints process. We’ve taken a slightly different approach this time to explaining the changes in advance, with a detailed description of them all available via the party website. (Update: these changes were agreed by conference.)

If you have any questions about them, you can send me an email. Likewise, any feedback would be greatly appreciated on whether this format – which goes into more detail but at the expense of the explanations being much longer – is something you would find useful to see repeated in future.

Welcome to…

Two new federal committee members have just taken up posts. Jim Williams joined the Federal Finance and Resources Committee (FFRC) to fill a casual vacancy.

Callum Robertson joins the Federal Board, replacing Joyce Onstad who was suspended by the party’s independent complaints system over her social media posts, and then resigned from the party.

Did you get the email about the party’s strategy?

If you’re a party member, you should have got in the first week of March an email titled, “Explainer: our strategy for the General Election”. As the subject line says, it’s packed full of important information about our plan for 2024. If you’ve not seen it and it’s not in your spam/junk, pop an email to help@libdems.org.uk and they can check what’s up with your email / opt out information in our membership records.


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.

PODCAST: How to improve people’s lives by being a councillor

Never Mind The Bar Charts features Southwark councillor Rachel Bentley on what it’s like being a councillor, the difference you can make to improve people’s lives, the disappointments of Sadiq Khan, life campaigning against Labour and, of course, her love of pointing.

Take a listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or the web.

🎧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.

Tim Farron on the Rwanda policy

Why the Government's Rwanda policy is wrong

Yes, we have a new prop: Lib Dems in the news

It’s been the Lib Dem local elections launch, complete with a new prop for another cheesy photo opportunity.

Ed Davey’s conference speech on reforming our political system, Labour’s timidity, the health service, the Single Market and knocking on 5 million doors to beat the Conservatives got widespread coverage, including the BBC focusing in on the next election being a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change politics. The Guardian decided to headline the call for a cap on political donations and the need for cross-party agreement on social care.

He’s also visited the Middle East, calling for sanctions on extreme Israeli ministers and written to David Cameron calling for the International Criminal Court to take action over Hamas.

Richard Foord has been talking of the importance of support for Ukraine and Helen Morgan of the importance of a no-fault evictions ban.

Lib Dems agree with Michael Gove, shocker… because he’s decided to implement a long-running Lib Dem call for better regulation of short term lets: “After years of campaigning, I’m absolutely thrilled the Government have finally agreed to our calls to change planning law so we can protect our communities from being hollowed out” says Tim Farron.

Willie Rennie has highlighted cases of Scots travelling to India for dental treatment, while Ed Davey has been talking of long waits for cancer treatment as has been Daisy Cooper.

New poverty figures are a “wake-up call moment” said Sarah Olney. She also wants Thames Water put into special administration and been attacking the big squeeze on NHS spending, exacerbating the problem of increasing numbers being long-term sick.

Munira Wilson has highlighted how hundreds of children with special needs wait a year for support in England. Alistair Carmichael’s focus has been on the police failing to solve three out of four car thefts and Jane Dodds wants a fairer deal for farmers.

Josh Babarinde has called out racism that GB News broadcasts without challenge.

Former council leader Clive Jones is stepping down as a councillor to concentrate on defeating John Redwood at the general election. After 16 years, 160 oral questions to the Mayor and 8,300 written questions, Caroline Pidgeon has asked her final question as a London Assembly member. Ruth Dombey is standing down as leader of Sutton Council after twelve years.

Congratulations to our great party awards winners from York conference: Darryl Smalley, Ami Wyllie, Mike Martin and Woking Lib Dems. Meanwhile, Daisy Cooper, Layla Moran and Kath Pinnock all featured in Women in Westminster 100 for 2024.

And finally… just how many Lib Dems can you get into one story in the Daily Express?

Even Rod Liddle’s writings are more liberal than the used to be

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

The two-speed liberalisation of Britain: the example of Rod Liddle.

What political science should learn from a diet book.

Reasons not to extrapolate from Rochdale to the country.

Constituency poll vs MRP: Godalming and Ash.

Conservatives lose control of their last borough council in Surrey.

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 issues index polling

The myth of Budget poll bounces

Come Budget time, there’s always lots of talk about whether the government will get a bounce in the polls – just as there was this time too.

But do Budgets really move the polls? No, they don’t much.

Council by-elections round-up

Contests since last time have included gains from the Conservatives in Wiltshire, Devon and Cambridgeshire, along with successful defences for the Lib Dems in Wiltshire (again) and in Yorkshire plus a rare loss to the Conservatives in Horsham.

The total net seat changes in those principal authority contests since last time was Lib Dem +2, Labour +2, Green +2, Conservative -3. These contests bring the running tally of seat changes since the last May elections to Lib Dem +24, Green +6, Labour 0 and Conservative -23.

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

Elsewhere, former Conservative councillors joined the Lib Dems on Highland Council and on Rochford Council, and a current Conservative joined the Lib Dems in Gloucester. In Cheltenham, a formerly suspended turned independent councillor is back in the Lib Dems.

Lib Dems councillor in Mid Devon and Oadby & Wigston have switched to independents and another was suspended and then quit in North Yorkshire over antisemitic tweets.

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:

£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.)

The selections keep on coming…

Westminster Parliament selections made public since last time include Basingstoke: Richard Whelan, Bolton West: Donald McIntosh, Bournemouth East: Jon Nicholas, Broxtowe: James Collis, Buckingham and Bletchley: Dominic Dyer, Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket: Peter McDonald, Leicester East: Zuffar Haq, Slough: Chelsea Whyte, Corby: Chris Lofts, East Worthing and Shoreham: David Batchelor, Exmouth and Exeter East: Paul Arnott, Hackney South and Shoreditch: Theodore Roos, Hastings and Rye: Guy Harris, Isle of Wight East: Michael Lilley, Isle of Wight West: Nick Stuart, Kingswinford and South Staffordshire: Gully Bansal, Leicester West: Benjamin Feist, Melksham and Devizes: Brian Mathew, Melton and Syston: Andy Konieczo, Mid and South Pembrokeshire: Alistair Cameron, Milton Keynes Central: James Cox, Mitcham and Morden: Jenifer Gould, Perth and Kinross-shire: Amanda Clark, Portsmouth North: Simon Dodd, Portsmouth South: Charlie Murphy, South Derbyshire: Lucy Care, South West Devon: Julian Brazil, South West Wiltshire: Bret Palmer, Sussex Weald: Danielle Newson, Weald of Kent: John Howson, West Lancashire: Graham Smith and Worthing West: Morag Chugg.

Jake Austin has been selected for Greater Manchester Mayor, Sunny Virk for West Midlands Combined Authority Mayor and Rob McAllister-Bell for Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor.

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…

You don’t have to point. You can high-five instead.

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,

Mark

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One response to “How much trouble are the Conservatives in? (LDN #182)”

  1. “ElectionMapsUK Poll Tracker”

    Interesting that those disgruntled Tories are moving towards Reform rather than Lib Dems ?

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