Liberal Democrat Newswire #34 is out: what’s going to happen to the Lib Dems in the May local elections?

Poll SwingEdition #34 of Liberal Democrat Newswire came out last week, looking at the party’s prospects for the May local elections. You can now read it in full below.

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Mark Pack

Liberal Democrat Newswire #34

Welcome to the 34th edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire, which this time previews the May local elections.

If you like this newsletter, the chances are other people you know would like it too, so please do share it.

Thanks for reading,


Lib Dems: up versus the Tories, down versus Labour

Swings since 2009Nearly all the seats being contested this May were last fought in 2009, and despite the large fall in the Liberal Democrat poll ratings since 2009, the party has hopes in many of the seats up for grabs as the Conservative vote has fallen even further in the polls. 

Comparing the polling figures in March 2013 with March 2009 (from the pollsters who were polling on both occasions and taking their last poll in the month) gives:

2009 average: Con 42% / Lab 31% / Lib Dem 17%
2013 average: Con 29% / Lab 40% / Lib Dem 12%
Change: Con -13% / Lab +9% / Lib Dem -5%

That is a swing of 7% from Lib Dem to Labour, but also a swing of 4% from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats.

Here are the full figures:

2009 Con 40% / Lab 28% / Lib Dem 18%
2013 Con 28% / Lab 38% / Lib Dem 12%

2009 Con 44% / Lab 31% / Lib Dem 18%
2013 Con 31% / Lab 39% / Lib Dem 15%

2009 Con 42% / Lab 32% / Lib Dem 14%
2013 Con 27% / Lab 40% / Lib Dem 11%

2009 Con 41% / Lab 31% / Lib Dem 17%
2013 Con 29% / Lab 42% / Lib Dem 11%

2009 now looks a good year

List of years courtesy of ilco. Some right reserved. http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1090092The picture from the national opinion polls mirrors that from council by-elections and also last May's local elections.

Back last May, the Liberal Democrats lost seats overall, but against the Tories made a tiny net gain. Similarly, in council by-elections since then the Liberal Democrats have scored many good results against the Conservatives whilst fights against Labour have usually gone far less well. In council by-elections, the balance of seats up for contest has been such that the overall result has been the party consistently making a net gain seats over recent months. 

However, before any Liberal Democrat therefore gets too optimistic for the party's prospects in May, it should be remembered that the party had a relatively strong performance back in 2009.

Although it did not feel like it at the time, now seen with the advantage of hindsight the figures look relatively good. The party lost a net 48 seats overall (factoring in boundary changes), a modest lost compared to the years since. Moreover, the party's notional share of the vote in 2009 – 25% on the Thrasher & Rallings figures and 28% on the BBC figures – was only last exceeded back in 2005 (on the Thrasher & Rallings series) or 2004 (on the BBC series). In retrospect, 2009 was the last year before the Lib Dem local government performance dropped back markedly.

The proportion of seats up for election that the party is fighting has fallen from 90% of seats in 2009 to 75% of seats this time round. (That 75% is however higher than the percentages in 2011 and 2012, with the figure being under 60% in both those years.)

The Tories meanwhile have slipped from fighting just under 100% of the seats in 2009 to 95% this time, with Labour up from 86% to 92% and UKIP sharply up from 25% to 73%. The Greens have edged up slightly from 34% to 37% but the BNP have slumped from 19% to 4%. (All figures are subject to a small margin of error as there are no official national candidate totals per party.)

BBC vote share figures for the Lib Dems
2004 29%
2005 28%
2006 27%
2007 26%
2008 25%
2009 28%
2010 26%
2011 16%
2012 16%

Thrasher & Rallings vote share figures for the Lib Dems
2004 27%
2005 27%
2006 25%
2007 24%
2008 23%
2009 25%
2010 23%
2011 16%
2012 15%

Places to watch: Somerset and Hampshire 

Qantock Hills. Photo courtesy of me'nthedogs. Some rights reserved http://www.flickr.com/photos/66176388@N00/7171420924/sizes/m/in/photostream/By now it has become a well worn, if justified, claim: Liberal Democrat commentators saying that the local election results are rather better for the party when you look at the areas which really matter for the party when it comes to a Westminster general election. It's true that results in the seats of Lib Dem MPs have generally been much better than elsewhere – and this difference helps explains the oft-commented on lack of panic in the ranks of Lib Dem MPs compared to how easily Labour and Tory MPs have been rattled at various times in this Parliament.

For this May, there are two areas in particular to look at to see how well this caveat is working. First, Somerset with its dense collection of Liberal Democrat held Parliamentary seats, a county council contest that is Conservative versus Lib Dem and a 5% Con-Lib Dem swing needed for the Liberal Democrats to take control of the council. Look carefully at where campaign visits are taking place and which candidates are being featured by the party nationally, and it is clear that Somerset is one of the Lib Dem top priorities.

Second, Hampshire. It too has Lib Dem seats, including the recently held Eastleigh, though is much less of a Lib Dem Parliamentary stronghold than Somerset. However, it has the sort of Lib Dem versus Conservative territory where the party also needs to prosper if it is not to be reduced to a scattered set of MP held seats with electoral wasteland elsewhere. With highly skilled campaigners in non-Lib Dem MP seats such as Peter Chegwyn and Martin Tod in Hampshire, not to mention a Conservative-run county council with controversial new and expensive council offices, the results in Hampshire will be a good guide to whether the party can prosper against the Tories outside of its Parliamentary strongholds.

(Also worth a look for Lib Dem-Conservative battles is Cornwall, the location too of many key Lib Dem versus Conservative Parliamentary contests but where the party is much less likely than in Somerset to get close to control of the council.)

Elsewhere in battles against Labour the widespread expectation in the party is that results will be tough once again. Lib Dem campaigners facing Labour who I've spoken to are hopeful that the results in their areas will be better than last year or the year before. However, as the seats up for elections are nearly all from 2009, it will be possible for the party to be up on 2011 or 2012 yet not up enough to avoid losing seats compared to 2009.

Therefore, as the analysis of the results comes in after polling day, watch out for how vote shares have changed in Lib Dem versus Labour areas between this year's elections and those in 2011 and 2012. Will the Lib Dem vote share be recovering from those lows, even if not by enough to get back to 2009 levels?

What the Lib Dems believe

[What The Liberal Democrats Believe]I've just produced a new infographic, this time looking at what the Liberal Democrats believe and why.

It traces the party's historical roots, looking as some of the key contributors to its thought and covers the current major debates.

You can view it and get a high resolution copy suitable for printing here and read more about the background to it here.

What's up for election in May

Polling station signThe full list of what is up for election in May is:

  • All the seats on the 27 English county councils
  • All the seats on 7 unitary councils (Cornwall, Durham, Isle of Wight, Isles of Scilly, Northumberland, Shropshire and Wiltshire)
  • 1/3rd of the seats on Bristol unitary council
  • Doncaster and North Tyneside directly elected Mayors
  • Isle of Anglesey in Wales
  • 27 by-elections for seats on various other councils, including one in Nick Clegg's constituency

Around a third of the seats up for election will have new boundaries this time. As a result, there are two things to watch out for when trying to make sense of the results.

First, the total number of seats has changed on many councils, so it will not be a simple matter of comparing how many seats a party has now compared to last time.

Second, the Press Association traditionally excludes areas with boundary changes from its calculations of gains and losses across the country. Therefore, its figures will be excluding a large part of the contests. (Thrasher and Rallings produce calculations which take into account the boundary changes and cover all the contests.)

The election timetable

A calendarWednesday, 17 April
Last day to register to vote
Last day to apply for a new postal vote (5pm)
Last day to amend / cancel an existing postal or proxy vote arrangement (5pm)

Wednesday, 24 April
Last day to apply for a new proxy vote (5pm) – except for medical emergencies
Last day for publication of Notice of Poll

Thursday, 25 April
Last day for notification of appointment of polling and counting agents
Publication of notice of alterations to electoral register for use in this election

Friday, 26 April
First day on which electors can request replacements for lost postal votes

Thursday, 2 May
Polling Day: 7am – 10pm
Deadline for issuing replacement postal ballot papers (5pm)
Deadline for applying for a proxy vote on grounds of medical emergency (5pm)
Deadline for correcting electoral register due to clerical error or court appeal (9pm)

Thursday, 30 May
Last day for submission of election expense returns (parish and community elections)

Thursday, 6 June
Last day for submission of election expense returns (if declaration was before midnight) (other local elections)

Friday, 7 June
Last day for submission of election expense returns (if declaration was after midnight) (other local elections)

Thanks to the Electoral Commission from whom I’ve taken some of this information.

Comedy interlude: Monty Python's Election Night Special

There's great excitement in the Monty Python studio:


It's not too late to get some tips on how to win

101 Ways To Win An Election - book cover

Its 308 pacy pages cheerfully zig-zag between marketing manual, self-help book, and campaigning A-Z — with dollops of political history, pop-psychology, and behavioural economics thrown in for good measure -Stephen Tall

101 Ways To Win An Election is available from Amazon (paperback and Kindle editions).

For Apple fans it is available on iTunes as an iBook for iPad, iPhone and iPod.

Users of Kobo readers are also catered for with the Kobo ebook version.

Ooops! Tory blunder in Guildford

News from Guildford:

An ‘administrative error’ has left Shalford voters without a Conservative candidate in the forthcoming Surrey County Council election. The Shalford division is regarded as a safe Tory seat. Andrew Barrand, the election agent responsible, has resigned…

Alan Young, the newly elected chairman of the Guildford Conservative Association, and himself a county councillor for Cranleigh & Ewhurst, said: “There is no Conservative candidate standing in Shalford owing to an administrative error by the Conservative agent for the county council elections. The agent has tendered his resignation, which has been accepted.”

Top marks to the Liberal Democrat candidate, George Potter, who is now in with an unexpected chance of winning the seat and was quick off the mark to comment online on the news story… pointing out the seat was now a two-horse race. Alas, his all text comment didn't include an ASCII-art bar chart.

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