Archive for the 'Lib Dems' Category


David Herdson tries to makes sense of the Lib Dem local by-election victories

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

Why are their by-election results so out of line with their polling?

Another week, another excellent set of local election results for the Lib Dems. Two gains from the Conservatives on big swings re-emphasised the extent of party’s success in the last year, following up on the even bigger and more even more unexpected gains in Sunderland and Rotherham.

If we were being picky (and we should be), we might note that the other three by-elections on Thursday weren’t so hot: one last place and two Did Not Stands. Likewise, while they’ve put on a few points since the general election, most polls still record them in the very low double figures: up on 2015 but down on any other election since 1970. So what’s the real story? Are the Lib Dems surging under the radar or is it well-manufactured froth?

Before answering that, it’s worth looking at some telling data from the YouGov ‘favourability’ poll published a week ago, which reinforce the general trend of voting intention figures; specifically, the net ratings of the two main party leaders split by vote at the 2015 general election, and the ratings of the two main parties themselves. These are:

               Con  Lab   LD UKIP
May            +63  -44  -13  +41
Corbyn         -74   -2  -50  -69
May lead      +137  -42  +37 +110

               Con  Lab   LD UKIP
Conservatives  +70  -69  -31    0
Labour         -80  +39  -54  -81
Con Lead      +150 -108  +23  +81

Put simply, the Conservatives are viewed a good deal more favourably than Labour among the secondary parties, and May outperforms Corbyn even more strongly. These are 2015 voters, remember, but that’s a valid baseline if we’re looking forward to the next election. Furthermore, the support for May and for the Tories among her own voters is a good deal stronger than the equivalent figures for Labour, suggesting that motivation shouldn’t be a problem.

And yet despite all that, the Tories have been losing council by-elections all year, at a faster rate than Labour. What use are these motivated voters and squeezable third parties if the voters don’t turn out and the third parties win? We’ll come back to that.

Is it that the Lib Dems are riding the crest of an even bigger wave? No, it’s not. The figures for Farron and the Lib Dems are:

               Con  Lab   LD UKIP
Farron         -28  -11  +10  -50
Lib Dems       -44  -15  +48  -76

You wouldn’t think that there’s much scope for squeezing the other parties there. Farron’s ratings don’t look that bad but the scale of the negatives is mitigated by fully 52% of people across the board replying ‘Don’t Know’. His favourable to unfavourable ratio is 0.42, not much better than Corbyn’s 0.35 and way behind May’s 1.15. Similarly, while both Labour and the Tories view the Lib Dems better than their main rival, they still have a pretty negative view. Tactical voting only becomes an easy option if the vote is lent to a party viewed in a favourable light by the voter.

And yet, undeniably, week after week, gains – often spectacular gains – are being added to the Lib Dems’ total. Why? How?

One thing that I think we can say is that tuition fees and even the coalition are rapidly receding over the horizon. So much has happened in the last year that despite the fact that Clegg and Co were in government less than two years ago, it might as well have been before the last Ice Age.

But even allowing for a drop-off in toxicity – as evidenced by the numbers above, other than among UKIP voters – I wonder if the answer is hinted at in a comment on the Vote UK forum, which claimed after last week’s victories “the Bradford phone bank strikes again.”

Normally, I wouldn’t pay too much attention to what may well have been a throw-away comment, exaggerating the effect of a few people phoning up. On the other hand, perhaps the Lib Dems are making a deliberate strategy of throwing big human resource into local by-elections. There’d be good sense in it for them. If they are swamping one or two wards a week, that – combined with a drop-off in their negatives – would explain why they’re achieving such mixed results: some massive swings combined with minimal movement elsewhere. It would also explain why they are doing so much better in by-elections than in either the polls or last May’s local elections (where they only regained a seventh of the seats lost in 2012).

Why would it make sense? Because while the vast majority of the public have no idea about council by-elections, the question is of quality not quantity. Some people do pay attention. More specifically, people who matter to them pay attention: other politicians and political journalists. The Lib Dems virtually disappeared from the media after 2015. Making council election gains on a weekly basis gets them noticed by the gatekeepers to the media and, they might hope, is their pass back to being taken seriously again.

So no, I don’t think the polls are wrong, despite a very poor night for the Conservatives on Thursday. Too much points the other way. Following on, I don’t expect the Lib Dems to do terribly well in May though no doubt here’ll be some success. I do, however, expect them to keep making council by-election gains and, perhaps, spring the odd surprise in parliamentary by-elections too. Given Nuttall’s problems, I’d keep an eye on Stoke.

David Herdson


UKIP has suffered most in real elections in LEAVE areas since BREXIT – the pro-EU LDs the best

Friday, January 6th, 2017


A few months ago Harry Hayfield, PB’s local election specialist, introduced a new element in his regular monitoring of local by-election: dividing them up into whether the local authority areas voted REMAIN or LEAVE on June 23rd. This enables us to compare the two areas.

A lot of focus has been put on seat changes but the above data looks at how the vote shares have changed in the two types of seat. The vote change relates to what happened in the wards in comparison to when when they were last fought.

We all know that the LDs have been having a particularly good time in local by-election of late but I was quite surprised by the vote share changes that have the most pro-EU party doing far better in places that voted for BREXIT than those that didn’t.

Turnout, of course, is a key factor. The referendum saw it top 70% in most parts of England while in local by-elections he number of voters participating is a lot fewer so you cannot assume that the make-up of by-election voters will reflect the referendum pattern.

Mike Smithson


A Richmond Park by election polling boost for the LDs from Ipsos MORI: up 4% to 14%

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

From today’s Ipsos MORI phone poll for the Standard
Con 40 (-2)
Lab 29 (-4)
LD 14 (+4)
UKIP 9 (+2
GRN 3 (nc)

Yellows getting biggest support in Southern England

TMay heading for cross-over perhaps in her satisfaction ratings

Fewer people think government doing good job on BREXIT


With five days to go a Corbyn boost for the Lib Dems in Richmond Park – he’s to visit the constituency on Sunday

Friday, November 25th, 2016



Why are the Lib Dems partying like it’s 1993?

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

They’re another party that has returned to comfort-zone politics

They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. So Talleyrand said of the Bourbons and so much the same might be said of the Lib Dems today. If there’s one thing that we should take from the Witney by-election campaigns, it was the extent to which 2010-15 are now for the Lib Dems non-years.

With the disagreeable business of actually holding power and being able to do something with it now behind them, the Lib Dems are now clearly back to what they enjoy most: fighting by-elections. It’s something they believe they’re good at and going by local results this year, they have a point, with far more gains than anyone else and with Con and Lab both in reverse – though it should be noted that their results at the May elections were a good deal worse, recouping fewer than one in seven of the seats they lost in the same election round in 2012.

On the other hand, it’s now more than a decade since the Lib Dems last gained a seat at a Westminster by-election, and more than 16 years since they gained one from the Conservatives. Despite some overly optimistic assertions before the event, they never came close in Witney.

Nor was it ever likely they would. They’d have needed one of the biggest swings in history and to have come from fourth which would have been an almost unprecedented achievement. Perhaps, were the Conservatives unpopular, it might just have been on. Against a party polling in the mid-40s nationally, and with the Lib Dems starting fourth locally – more than 55% behind the Tories – it never was, no matter how intensively Farron’s followers campaigned and the apparently large number of bets staked to that end.

That shouldn’t diminish what was in many ways a good result. To climb back to second and to gain a near-20% swing were undoubtedly impressive achievements, if well short of those needed to win. Indeed, Labour ought to be asking themselves questions about how they let their challenger position slip, having finished second in Witney not only last time but in four of the last six general elections.

But in remembering all the techniques from the glory days of the 1980s and 1990s – the bar-charts, the two-horse races, the tactical ‘lent’ votes, and so on – they have failed to learn anything from their time in power about a wider truth: that elections are means to an end; to the exercise of power, not an end in themselves.

Perhaps this is one reason why the larger parties struggle to be as motivated as the Lib Dems for by-elections: by-elections simply provide neither the consequence nor the sport for them that they do for the Yellow Team.

Because while the tactical game is all very well in one-off elections, it’s only possible to maintain at general elections while two conditions are met: firstly, fights need to be kept local as much as possible, so that they can appeal to Tories in one place to keep Labour out, to Labour supporters elsewhere to keep the Tories out, and to both in others to keep the SNP out. And secondly, the party needs to be transfer-friendly at a national level. As soon as a party whose election machine is built on tactical voting comes into contact with the responsibility and accountability of power, both conditions break down and you end up going from holding fifty-odd seats to eight. So much there for tactical votes, personal votes or a superior ground game. And eventually, a centrist party with a reasonable number of seats will be faced with a situation where they cannot avoid choosing which of two larger parties will form a government (or whether to force fresh elections).

Yet Farron seems to have learned nothing from that devastating lesson. Perhaps the experience is still too raw or perhaps Farron, who never went near power himself during the Coalition, understands it only in the negative and isn’t yet willing to act on its implications. Once again, the short-term highs of by-election success (or, as in Witney, commendable advance), is allowed to trump longer-term positioning or the Lib Dems’ ability to influence policy.

Those who fail to learn from history will be condemned to repeat it. Talleyrand was on hand to see the natural consequences of his observation for the House of Bourbon as they were ejected from power a second time in 1830. Unless Farron can move his party on from trying to endlessly relive Newbury and Christchurch and instead build up a support base formed on positive support for the Lib Dems’ policies and values, they too will set themselves on the road of an inevitable future downfall.

David Herdson


The big trend: CON and LAB are still failing to win voters from each other

Saturday, October 1st, 2016

Big Ben

The two big parties are left scrapping over the also rans

One of the more remarkable features of the polling in the last parliament was the almost complete inability of both Labour and Conservatives to win voters from each other. Vote shares may have gone up and down but it was gains from and losses to the Lib Dems, UKIP, the Greens and SNP (and non-voters) that was responsible; the direct swing between the big two was negligible.

As then, so now. All three polls released this last week tell the same story. ICM record 3% of the Labour vote from 2015 going to the Conservatives, with 3% of the Tories’ general election vote going back the other way; BMG’s figures are almost identical; YouGov have the Tories doing a little better, gaining 6% of Labour’s former vote while losing only 2% of their own but even there, that amounts to a swing of only a half per cent. We’re talking tiny numbers.

The current very comfortable Conservative leads are instead based on two different aspects. Firstly, the Tories are doing better at holding on to their own vote. ICM and YouGov record the Blues as keeping between 72-75% of their 2015 voters, against Labour’s 60-67% (this includes those who say they don’t know or would not vote). And secondly, the Conservatives have done better in the net swings from the lesser parties and in particular, from UKIP.

In fact, the notion that many Corbyn supporters have that the increase in the Conservative lead over the summer can be put down to the leadership challenge is at best only partly true. Labour’s introspection no doubt caused it to miss opportunities but the Labour share has drifted down only very slightly.

    Of far more significance since June has been what looks like a direct UKIP-Con swing, presumably off the back of both the end of the EURef campaign and the change in Conservative leader.

What looks to be the case is that Britain is a very divided country with the concept of the traditional swing Lab/Con voter close to extinct and instead, three distinct broad groups (with subdivisions but let’s keep this simple): those who would vote Conservative, those who would vote Labour and those who would vote neither (who, outside of Scotland, we can more-or-less ignore).

So while there’s barely any defecting between the Tory tribe and the Labour lot, they do potentially meet when they go walkabout elsewhere, to UKIP, the Lib Dems or (most frequently) to none of the above.

What that suggests is that the big boys, but especially Labour, need the also-rans to be performing fairly strongly. Without those parties being attractive enough to their rival’s supporters, the negative campaigning of old will be far less effective as voters might be disillusioned but find no real alternative home.

Interestingly, the Lib Dems have been performing fairly strongly against the Conservatives in local by-elections recently but this hasn’t made its way across into the national polls. All the same, that the party seems capable of big swings across the country suggests at least a willingness by Conservative voters to consider them again; a willingness that might translate into Westminster voting given the opportunity.

The Lib Dems will no doubt hope that the opportunity will come in Witney. That might be a little too early but with Con and Lab unable to take support from each other, with a far-left Labour and a Tory government engaged in debates about Europe, if they can’t take advantage in the next two years, they never will.

David Herdson


A former odds-on favourite for the Democratic nomination says the LDs could form the next UK government

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

Back in late 2003, not too long after the Iraq War, the governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, was causing a stir on the WH2004 betting markets. He had become just about the first politician to tap into the power of the internet and was running a very effective online campaign building up hundreds of thousands of supporters.

By early January 2004 ahead of the Iowa caucuses he looked unstoppable with the money and, apparently, campaign organisation see see him through the primary battle. On Betfair he moved to a 65% chance of winning the nomination.

It all started to fall to pieces at the first hurdle. Against all the predictions he failed in Iowa and his shouting response to the result became an immediate online hit.

This is by way of introduction to his observation on the UK political scene in the Tweet above.

For the record I don’t believe he is right.

Mike Smithson


Why the LDs won’t be too unhappy if Corbyn is re-elected

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

Continued splits in LAB could help a rejuvenation of the yellows

The LDs are gathering in Brighton for their annual conference which, unlike the coalition years, is barely getting any attention. That’s understandable. Having just 8 MPs and the Tories having a majority means they are not important anymore.

The polls suggest they haven’t progressed from the 8% of GE2015 but there’s one glimmer of hope – they are doing remarkably well at a local level. They made the most net gains of any party last May and now hardly a week goes by without them gaining further council seats. Last Thursday it was taking a LAB seat in Derbyshire on a 36% swing and the week before a gain from LAB in Sheffield.

As can be seen from the chart they’ve had a good period since last May and, unlike the coalition years, they are finding it easier to pick up ex-LAB voters something that’s being reinforced by the leadership travails.

An unsubtle part of the LD message in Brighton is that they are united.

So the expected JC LAB leadership win next weekend is likely to reinforce the trend. If Farron’s party is to make any sort of recovery it will start at the local level.

Mike Smithson