The sad puppy gambit, and other general election news (LDN #185)

Liberal Democrat Newswire #185 is, surprise, all about the 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.

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The election is on, the Liberal Democrat ground game continues to appear better prepared than the Conservative one, the MRPs are making predictions that make the old post-by-election Peter Snow graphics look tame, and the government is only raising slightly more money than the Lib Dems in declarable donations.

So I come with this edition of Lib Dem Newswire to bring you buckets of cold water to throw over every Lib Dem activist you can find.

Before we get to that, if you want the Lib Dem general election campaign summarised in just one link, take a look at the Getty Images page for Ed Davey. Though it doesn’t include Jason Donovan calling him “sexy”. Meanwhile, the serious stuff is here.

A reminder that if you haven’t had a chance to read the previous edition of Lib Dem Newswire it is online here: Victories all over the country in the local elections.

Happy reading,


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.

That party political broadcast

The first Lib Dem PEB of the 2024 election

How is the election going?

Net leadership ratings with BMG, showing Ed Davey's rising and topping the list

I need your help. But not in the way you think.

If you are a Liberal Democrat supporter, you will most likely have had messages from me about helping in our target seats, about how concentrating our effort is how to win under first past the post. There will be plenty more of those too.

But this time I want to ask you for something different.

You know how at election time like this we deliver Liberal Democrat leaflets, and not Conservative, Labour or nationalist ones?

Sounds obvious because it is: we want to promote our message, not that of our opponents.

But now there’s a new Conservative message which is tempting, oh so tempting to repeat:

Sunak: I will fight to stop Tories from coming third - The Times headline

It is a sign of how badly the Conservative campaign is going that within a few days it has switched from ‘we’re the only ones with a plan’ to ‘please don’t wipe us out’.

But there is method in their desperation.

Having run through a sackful of other messages that didn’t work, they’re going for the pity vote. Don’t vote for us because you like our policies or because we’ve got a good leader or because we’ve done a good job. Vote for us, please, so we don’t get wiped out.

It is known as the Queensland Gambit after an Australian election back in the 1990s where it worked.

It is the political equivalent of the sad puppy photo that dog rescue centres use:

A sad puppy

Please take pity on me. Please, please.
Image by
Birgit from Pixabay.

So here’s what I need you to do.

Or more importantly, here’s what Josh, Victoria, Monica, Susan, Zoe, Paul, Lisa, Tom and our other amazing target seat candidates need you to do.

Let’s not help the Conservative campaign by repeating their message for them.

Let’s not help the Conservative campaign by talking up their own message.

Of course, you may well see or hear other people getting excited about what may happen to the Conservatives. If you do, by all means encourage them to help us play our part in defeating the Conservatives by pledging their support at https://www.libdems.org.uk/vote-pledge

But let’s not give Rishi Sunak a helping hand.

How we decide where to ask people to campaign

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

Why it matters

A stark fact from this May’s local elections: just 97 more people switching from our opponents to us would have given us outright control of three more local councils.

That is the brutal reality of first past the post elections. Votes in the key places count for much more than votes in safe seats and in lost causes.

It is why we want to get rid of first past the post. To do that, we first have to win under first past the post. That means concentrating our efforts where they can make the most difference to how many seats we win.

Asking people to help in the right places

Having people from other areas come to help them is a key part of any successful target seat campaign at a general election. It is also the best way to value and respect people’s time – by directing it to where it will have the most impact.

But asking people to go to the right places is not straightforward and it is something we did not get right in 2019. So here is how we are approaching the task this time around.

Running through all this is a simple dilemma. For five general elections in a row, the party has been too optimistic about how many seats it was sensible to target (and although there was rightly lots of wisdom after the event, much of the pressure internally from members during each of those campaigns was to be more optimistic, not less).

Yet the Conservatives, our main opponents in our target seats, are currently polling at a level which, if reflected on polling day, will see them get their worst result since the roll out of letterboxes.

To guide the campaign through this, a wide range of sources of information therefore is being used: what the results on the new boundaries would have been in 2019, local election and devolved bodies election results since then, all the public MRPs published (more than 10 already!) with their seat-by-seat figures, our own private polling and of course the data coming in from our canvassers on the doors and phones.

As well as using all those sources of information to get a balanced overall view of our best prospects, we then have to divide up possible help sensibly. Each target seat is allocated a number of other constituencies where members and supporters are asked to help them.

Because we have to balance the amount of help to each place accordingly – and because of course transport options and travel times vary depending on where in a constituency you live or work – this sometimes means that the seat people are being asked to help is not the nearest or quickest to get to.

If there is another seat you would like to head to because it is easier to get to, because a group of friends are also campaigning there or to return some favours for previous help in a local election, by all means drop an email to campaigners@libdems.org.uk and the team can confirm if it is indeed a seat we are in with a serious chance of winning and encouraging people to go to.

If you cannot make it in person, help on the phones is also very valuable. You can sign up for our group phoning sessions here or again email campaigners@libdems.org.uk to be put in touch with the local team in a target seat who can give you details of who to phone.

Building our capacity

Outside those target seats the election is providing an important opportunity to build up our campaign capacity so that we can win locally in future elections.

It is great to see such a wide range of local parties topping our weekly league tables for the most new members recruited, for example.

Of course, one great way to get new people involved is to make them part of a winning campaign – and learning from seeing a full-on campaign up close – by taking them to help in a target seat…

But wherever you are campaigning over the next few weeks, and whether your support is coming in person, over the phone or financially, many thanks to everyone for all the campaigning.

Federal Board

Since my last report we’ve had both the scheduled May Federal Board meeting and then also an extra one to agree some urgent matters following the calling of the general election.

The upshot of these meetings is that we’re back to a plan for a full-length conference in Brighton this September.

A special general election protocol has been agreed for our independent complaints process, in particular so that relevant cases can be prioritised or postponed until after polling day.

Prue Bray has been appointed chair of the Disciplinary Sub-Group (DSG), while Greg Foster and Beth Fisher have been respectively re-appointed and appointed to the DSG.

Many thanks to the outgoing DSG chair, Candy Piercy, for all her hard work in the post, and playing an essential role in getting our independent complaints process up and running.

There is currently one vacancy each on the DSG and in the federal appointees to the Federal Appeals Panel (FAP), which the Board will look to start filling after the general election.

We welcome the review of our last internal elections, carried out by Nick Manners, and agreed next steps, including putting proposals for relevant rules changes to the Spring 2025 conference.

Our 2025 Federal Budget timetable was postponed for the moment at our Board meeting before the election was called, and we will need to return to this after the election to work out a new practical timetable.

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.

Podcasts, podcasts, get all your podcasts here

With the general election on, I’ve done four (!) podcasts since last time. Fill your ears while delivering leaflets or travelling to and from a target seat:

🎧Find all the episodes of Never Mind The Bar Charts here. You can sign up for a dedicated email notification each time a new episode appears here.

And in other stories… Lib Dems in the news

My usual round-up of ‘Lib Dems in the news’ stories is a little superfluous when a general election is on, so here are a few of the lower profile stories you might have missed:

Lib Dem policies are the most popular with the public.

“The UK must stand up for international law and give the ICC our full support to deliver justice”: Ed Davey on news that the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court applied for arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar.

“She’s done more in two years than Conservatives did in 20!”: former Conservative councillor praises Helen Morgan.

Daisy Cooper named Pub Parliamentarian of the Year.

Former leader of St Albans Council, Chris White, awarded an OBE.

Tributes paid after former MP Colin Breed dies. Tributes also to former councillor and Parliamentary by-election candidate, Elwyn Watkins.

Lib Dems in local government getting housing built: this time social housing in Bath and North East Somerset.

There’s now a Lib Dem account on TikTok.

Will the polls get the general election wrong?

One of my tasks in a previous general election was to organise mass nationwide purchase of Charles Kennedy gnomes. The idea was to purchase enough gnomes to move the ‘gnome poll’ being carried out by a leading supermarket across marginal seats.

We bought many gnomes, we gained seats and I still have two CK gnomes, one in the garden and one visible over my shoulder on Zoom calls.

We can agree though, I hope, that gnome purchases are not a great electoral predictor.

What, however, about opinion polls? Will the polls be right this time around? Find out with The Week in Polls.

The best canvassing story

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

The best canvassing story of any election, ever – no, really.

Record support for changing the electoral system.

Lib Dem Autumn Conference plans: the latest.

Government and public differ over teaching gender identity in schools.

President of Birmingham Young Conservatives joins Lib Dems.

Pointing, with your body too.

There were nearly two Jeremy Corbyns standing in Islington North.

What the polls are saying

Latest general election voting intention polls
Latest general election polling

To give the latest figures some context, here’s an up-to-date poll tracker graph:

Voting intention graph

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

Ipsos top issues chart

Council by-elections round-up

It’s been pretty quiet on the council by-election front in the run up to the general election. But there was one perhaps symbolic result: a huge swing from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems in Torbay (bad news for the Conservatives) but not quite enough to win, with the Conservatives winning by 9 votes after 2 recounts (a warning to Lib Dems against over-confidence at the general election).

These contests bring the running tally of seat changes since the May elections to Labour +1, Conservative -1 and everyone else unchanged.

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

Elsewhere, a councillor has left the party in Colchester and one has joined the party in Greenwich, as has one in Hinckley & Bosworth.

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.)

Parliamentary selections

See all the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidates here.

And with that, it’s a wrap on this section of the newsletter until the next Parliament.

And finally…

Things I didn’t expect to write during this general election, #2.

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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