Liberal Democrat Newswire #44 is out: why 2015 won’t be Conservative vs Labour

Edition #44 of Liberal Democrat Newswire came out last week, looking at the 2015 general election, and why it’s wrong to think of it as a contest between Labour and the Conservatives. It also features a special offer for readers who want to buy David Boyle’s latest book – and why wouldn’t you want to? You can read it in full below.

UPDATE: As Peter Kellner has pointed out, only 1 in 14 of the voters who have switched parties since 2010 have switched from Conservatives to Labour.


Mark Pack

Liberal Democrat Newswire #44: how the next general election will really be fought

Welcome to the 44th edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire. Having looked at internal Liberal Democrat contests last time, now it’s time to look at the outside world and how the 2015 general election will really be fought. Think it will be a Labour versus Conservative battle? Think again, and read on to find out why…

Plus also included this time around is a special discount book offer for readers, news on how the Liberal Democrats are getting something to do with women right and more.

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

Thanks for reading and, as ever, do please let me know your views.


The next general election won’t be Conservative versus Labour

BBC election coverage screenshotIt is an understandable temptation to view the 2015 general election as being a contest between Labour and the Conservatives, with a few extra stories on the side. However, that is to think of electoral politics just from the perspective of Parliament, and not from the grassroots.

For the reality is that Labour versus Conservative contests only make up a minority of the constituencies. In a majority of seats, the contest is not Labour versus Conservative but rather a mix of SNP versus Labour, Conservative versus Liberal Democrat and so on.

The maths are this: in 2010 there were 650 seats, of which 87 had a winner from outside the two main parties. Add to that 111 Labour seats where a party other than the Conservatives finished second, and a further 166 Conservative seats where a party other than Labour finished second, and you get a total of 364, even without adding in three-way marginals. It’s only 286 seats that have Labour and Conservative taking up the top two places.

Moreover, it is not just about seats. It is also about people.

Very few voters are moving between Conservative and Labour. The real action is elsewhere.

For both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the significant movement is between themselves. Between a fifth and a quarter of Liberal Democrat voters in 2010 have moved to Labour (although a fair chunk of them initially say ‘not sure’ and only pick Labour when pushed). The gain for Labour from that is, as George Eaton has pointed out, greater than all the gains the Conservatives made in recovering from 1997 to topping the poll in 2010.

Labour’s recovery from 2010 has been about the Liberal Democrats, not about Labour regaining ground lost to the Tories. It’s that Labour versus Liberal Democrat battle which is central to Labour staying ahead of the Conservatives in the opinion polls.

Indeed, the Labour versus Conservative battle is tiny by comparison. As John Rentoul has highlighted, polls in 2012 and 2013 show only 5-6% of Labour voters willing to consider voting Conservative. Amongst Conservatives, the proportion willing to consider voting Labour are a little higher, but not much.

Miliband and Cameron may be rivals, but they are rivals who do precious little direct competition with each other.

Public sector workers hold the key for Clegg

For the Liberal Democrats, the shift to Labour and to “not sure” is the dominant factor behind its polling figures. As the pattern of council election results shows, the Liberal Democrats are able to hold their own against the Conservatives and even make gains, but not on a scale anywhere near large enough to make up for the shift away on the party’s centre-left flank.

Of course, many in the party will understandably bridle at the use of “centre-left”, not being fans of the left-right spectrum. So another way to look at it – and one which highlights a gap in the party’s priorities – is by employment.

The Liberal Democrats have lost a large chunk of support amongst public sector workers, and the particular nuances of how to appeal to public sector workers are deserving of more attention from the party.

Lord Ashcroft’s polling shows that around three in four of the public sector workers who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 have now switched away. Or looking at it the other way round, nearly 40% of the people who have switched from Lib Dem to Labour work in the public sector, compared to under 30% of all voters being public sector workers.

Just before the last general election, I wrote a series of pieces about the party’s then key but largely overlooked group, the low earner Liberal Democrats. As I wrote in 2010:

These low earner households have been the bedrock of many of the party’s biggest electoral successes in the last decade. The party’s control of a string of large cities – Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle, Bristol and so on – has often rested heavily on the support from ‘low earner Liberal Democrats’.

Other elements of that coalition for urban success often get attention. How does the party continue to best appeal to the ex-Tory voters in more affluent parts of those cities won over in the past by a mix of tactical voting and dislike of the pre-1997 government? How can the party keep the support of young graduates won over by the party’s stance on the Iraq war? Is the party saying enough on the environment to retain the votes of the Mosaic Urban Intelligence categories? And so on.

But often very little is said about the low earner Liberal Democrats. Consider how rarely the housing situation for renters, rather than those with mortgages, gets a mention.

Since then (almost certainly for reasons other than my pieces!) the party has given this group a significant amount of attention, especially with the emphasis on increasing the income tax allowance to £10,000, improving pension provision for the low-paid and making childcare easier to afford.

The public sector switchers now need similar attention.

Special offer – Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes?

I am a great fan of David Boyle’s books, and his latest – Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes? – is, as ever, a thoughtful and entertaining read. I wrote in a review,

As Boyle points out, the fate of the middle class is important to anyone who values democracy as people with time, interest, skills and money to spare are vital to a functioning modern, developed democracy. It is such people who fuel the voluntary action and voluntary organisations necessary to make a democracy work in more than just name.

Although not quite up there with the tension of a genuine murder mystery, his tale is a very readable account of how Britain’s middle classes are under pressure and have lost many previous certainties (such as job security, professional development, ability to afford a new house and a decent pension). It is packed full of lovely passing comments, such as about the Victorian statisticians who tried to measure the morality of children by counting the number of hymns they knew by heart.

He effortlessly throws numerous provocative points at the reader, so silkily that it is easy to miss how controversial some are.

So I’m really pleased to have arranged a special discount on the book for readers of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

Just call the publisher on 08445 768 122 to order your copy and quote discount code BrokeBoyle to get £3 off the £8.99 price.

You have until 28th February to place the order and get David’s excellent book for just £5.99.

Frontrunner defeated in the race for Deputy Leader

Malcolm Bruce, MP for Gordon, beat the early frontrunner, Lorely Burt, by 28-25 in the contest for Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons.

He pulled off his victory thanks to solid support from the party’s Scottish MPs and an unlikely combination of both MPs who thought that Nick Clegg’s stance on Chris Rennard was right and MPs who thought it was wrong.

For some who back Clegg on the Rennard issue, Lorely Burt’s initial semi-public comments on the issue worried them, whilst some who thought Clegg was wrong feared Burt would not stand up to him on this or other issues in the future.

(For my own views on the Chris Rennard case see here.)

The party starts to get something right on women

Whilst Malcolm Bruce was winning the Deputy Leader contest, extending the party’s record of always having a man in that post, a different contest was being played out in his constituency in which a woman triumphed.

Christine Jardine was selected by the party to stand at the next UK general election in Gordon, when Malcolm Bruce will be retiring.

That now makes it four completed selections in seats where male Lib Dem MPs are retiring, and all four have selected a woman.

The full list of selections for seats where an incumbent Lib Dem MP is retiring is:

  • Alan Beith, Berwick-upon-Tweed – Julie Pörksen selected
  • Annette Brooke, Mid Dorset and North Poole – Vikki Slade selected
  • Malcolm Bruce, Gordon – Christine Jardine selected
  • David Heath, Somerton and Frome – Sarah Yong selected
  • Andrew Stunell, Hazel Grove – Lisa Smart selected
  • Sarah Teather, Brent Central – Ibrahim Taguri selected

As the list shows, in the two seats where female Liberal Democrat MPs are standing down, the party has also selected a diverse team – a woman and a BME man (important because the Parliamentary Party is, as the rhyming phrase often used puts it, both male and pale).

With women being a majority of the electorate, a majority of the party’s swing voters and nearly half the party’s membership, the party seems finally to be making big strides in the outcome of its selections. However, it should be remembered that the selection of women for 2010 in winnable seats looked promising – until the votes were counted and a large number of them were in seats the party just missed out on.

Does it matter overall? Yes it does, because selecting candidates is about selecting who will join a wider Liberal Democrat team, in that seat and in the country as a whole. It’s that team perspective which is so important in understanding why simply looking a long list of individual seats which have voted for a white man and saying, ‘well, what’s the problem if they’re the best person for the job?’ misses the point. Politics is a team enterprise.

The winners were…

Congratulations to readers Anthony Fairclough, Anne Newton and Carl Quilliam for winning the MOO.com business cards on offer in Liberal Democrat Newswire #43’s competition.

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101 Ways To Win An Election


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.

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