Archive for the 'Lib Dems' Category


NEW PB / Polling Matters podcast: Where do the Lib Dems go from here?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

Keiran Pedley is joined by Mark Pack of the Lib Dem Newswire to discuss this week’s Lib Dem conference. Keiran and Mark discuss how the conference went and where the party goes from here and Mark gives everyone an outside tip on who the next Lib Dem leader might be when Vince Cable steps down.

Listen to the latest episode here:

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If you’re betting on the next Lib Dem leader the field could be about to get rather large

Friday, September 7th, 2018



After just a year in the job Cable comes under pressure

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

Could he be the first party leader out?

I have no idea whether the Mail story linked to in the tweet above is correct but there’s little doubt that Cable’s failure to participate in one of the key Commons votes of this Parliament has raised a few eyebrows something that’s been exacerbated by the narrowness of outcome.

But is the report right that there is a plot to replace him with the woman of Palestinian descent who took Oxford West and Abingdon back from the Tories at the last election?

There’s little doubt that when the Lib Dems do choose a successor to Cable that Moran together with the former minister, Jo Swinson appear to be the strong favourites.

The problem for the Lib Dems is that since dropping to just 8 seats at the 2015 General Election they’ve simply been ruled out of political discourse. At the last election that seat total was increased to 12 and at the local elections in May they gained control the four councils which compares with labour’s net total of zero.

My guess is that Moran or Swinson would be able to command more media attention and that is something that is urgently needed by the yellow team.

As to the first leader out betting Theresa May remains the strong odds on favourite.

Mike Smithson


With just about all the LE2018 results now in the clear winners were the LDs gaining most seats and councils

Friday, May 4th, 2018

BBC News

One of the things that generally happens on local election nights is that the media narrative is determined by what happens in the first few hours of results. So the big coverage was of Lab’s failure to take its key targets in London and of course the antisemitism element of the result from Barnet.

But now that we’ve got just about all the results in we seen clearly that the big winners were the Lib Dems who have clawed a fair bit back from the abyss that they entered following the decision to go into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010. This is their best set of local elections since then. It also fits into the big trend that we have seen in council by-elections.

Unfortunately for them in terms of the media coverage most of the big action has happened during the daytime rather than last night when the major success was restricted to just one Richmond upon Thames. Today has seen them take the London Borough of Kingston with some huge gains, Three rivers in Hertfordshire as well as South Cambs.

Clearly all these were strong remain areas and were not places where in recent times where LAB has had much presence.

What the yellow team desperately need are some parliamentary by elections which have been somewhat scarce. It is now expected that we could see two being called pretty quickly – Lewisham East and Barnsley Central. Both have wapping LAB majorities but Cable’s team ought to be making them a key target now. They have the skilled activists and the expertise and they should go for it while the two main parties are both going problems periods.

Mike Smithson


The LDs need a good day in next week’s locals just to show that they are still in the game

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Can they take councils and increase their council seats?

We are now three years on from the end of the Coalition and it is 8 years since tuition fees were a big issue. For the Lib Dems next week’s local elections are an opportunity to show that they are starting to recover at least at local level.

Because the elections up on May the 3rd include all the London boroughs there will be much greater mainstream media interest than is normal on the first Thursday in May. That in one way is fortunate for the yellow team because London is a region of the UK that really is separate and operates totally differently from the rest of the nation. It was also strongly for Remain in the referendum two years ago and surely, here, Cable’s party should be able to make some inroads.

There are three London boroughs in the southwest of the capital of where they have most hopes and this is reflected in the betting.

At Kingston which they used to control Ed Davey took back the main parliamentary seat at GE17 and when Ladbrokes opened its local elections markets last month it had the LDs at 1/10. That’s now edged out to 1/4 but that is still very tight. The Tories opened at 6/1 to hold on and are now 3/1 with no overall control moving from 16/1 to 8/1.

The neighbouring Borough of Richmond saw Vince Cable win back Twickenham in the General Election but the party lost their 2016 by-election gain of Richmond Park by a whisker. Ladbrokes now make it 10/11 on both the LDs and the Tories to win a Council majority.

When the market was opened the LDs were at 4/6 with the Tories at 11/10. No overall control has moved from 16/1 to 8/1.

The Tories had hopes of regaining the one London Borough that the LDs retained four years ago Sutton. When betting opened the Tories were 4/5 favourites. That’s now moved out to 3/1 with the LDs moving from 5/4 to 1/3.

Also up is one of the two elected mayoralties that the party has – Watford. Here the four times winner and now LD peer, Dorothy Thornhill, is stepping aside so the party won’t have a personal incumbency advantage. Ladbrokes make it 1/4 that it will remain in yellow hands

Nationally the Lib Dems need to see a big increase in the overall projected national vote share as well as seats.

Mike Smithson


Chris Rennard’s “Winning Here” – the requiem for the battered Lib Dems or the handbook for another revival?

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

A review of Chris Rennard’s newly published “Winning Here”

    “ Paddy’s personal ratings were shown to be very high in our poll, even at the outset of the by- election campaign. This helped to persuade him of the validity of the other poll findings.”

Thus Chris Renard then the LD director of campaigns and elections coaxed Paddy Ashdown into accepting his formula for winning the 1993 Newbury by-election. The humour and shrewdness about people’s motivation mark this first volume of his political memoirs (just published by Biteback): it never becomes a mere boastful catalogue of Rennard’s election trophies.

Lord Rennard has measured out his life in by-elections. This book revisits a varied series of by-elections from Liverpool Edge Hill in 1979 to Dunfermline in 2006. He had learned early on how much the U.K’s third party needs the boost from by-election success to improve its tally of seats in general elections. And, as the apostle of targeting seats for general elections, he in effect simulated by-elections in those seats which gave full scope for Lib Dem campaign techniques.

His first chapter “An Unusual Introduction to Politics in Liverpool” describes his immersion in the community politics developed by the Liverpool Liberal councillors, year-round leafleting, canvassing and campaigning. These continue to characterise the party’s approach to elections.

Without self-pity he writes about his loving but straitened upbringing. It was a Liberal Councillor who had helped Rennard’s disabled mother to get her widowed mothers’ allowance. Orphaned when nearly 17, Rennard then showed abnormal self-reliance in getting through sixth form and university. This he combined with a massive workload for the local Liberals. His heroic labours take on a Victorian resonance, an example of self-help straight out of Samuel Smiles.

When the Edge Hill by-election was called shortly before the 1979 General Election, the Liberals nationally stood at 5% in opinion polls, damaged by the Lib-Lab Pact and the impending trial of former party leader. Jeremy Thorpe, for conspiracy to murder. The Liverpool Liberals were in good campaigning shape with Rennard already a seasoned and trusted part of the machine.

The victory of David Alton at Edge Hill meant the saving of the then Liberal Party. They moved up in the polls and held eleven of their fourteen seats in the General Election that followed immediately: a lesson not lost on Rennard. During the Alliance years he became Alton’s agent and helped him win the new seat of Mossley Hill from third place. He then became the East Midlands organiser, in charge of the West Derbyshire by- election in 1986 when the Liberals failed to take the seat by 100 votes.

In 1990 by which time Rennard had become the LD Director of Campaigns and Elections the IRA murdered Ian Gow – CON M.P for Eastbourne. Paddy Ashdown was reluctant to put forward a candidate for the ensuing by-election since he did not wish the party to be seen to benefit from terrorism. This caused Rennard to send Ashdown an irate memo setting out reasons to stand:“.. It will not be seen to be bold and courageous to recommend not fighting- it will make you a laughing stock in Walworth Road, Downing Street and eventually in the quality press that you threw away this chance.”

The LD victory in the subsequent by-election made it clear that the LDs were back in business: “a safe seat had been lost to a party that Mrs Thatcher herself had recently branded as a ” dead parrot” Six weeks later she resigned as Prime Minister.”

Successes in Ribble Valley and Kincardine and Deeside followed, strengthening the LDs in the run-up to GE1992 but the hoped-for big increase in LD seats failed to materialise. Rennard argues that speculation about a hung parliament and proportional representation, which he himself had wanted to avoid, was promoted by Ashdown in the last days of the 1992 – and this deterred Conservative voters whom the Lib Dems had hoped to win over.

    Rennard’s attitude towards Ashdown rather resembled that of a kindly school master trying to make sure that a gifted pupil bored with the syllabus does himself justice in the exams.

This pattern repeats itself in Rennard’s account of the LD revival which began with the Newbury by-election in 1993 where Rennard shows himself to have been a sceptic about Ashdown’s preoccupation with Lib-Lab cooperation, believing that careless talk about coalition would cost votes. Based on his Liverpool experience the Rennard approach in any election campaign was to find out the issues on voters’ minds and to deal with those issues rather than go on about constitutional reform which polling suggested was only of interest to a minute fraction of voters,

Rennard’s strategy at GE1997 delivered 46 LD seats, the largest third party contingent since 1929 a number which had increased to 62 at GE2005. By then Charles Kennedy had become the Liberal Democrat leader and Rennard writes sensitively about the alcoholism which was to cost Kennedy the leadership. Ever practical, however he saw the Dunfermline by-election of 2006 as a means to give the party a boost after Kennedy’s downfall.

Throughout the book Rennard refers – never at great length – to his health problems of depression and diabetes-, problems not eased by his long irregular hours and it was these problems which caused him to step down as the Paty’s chief executive.

Certainly this book is generous to colleagues and friends, and suggests he is loyal and considerate in his personal dealings.

Steve Lawson


Lib Dems can do it on a drizzly Thursday in February – but what about on 3 May?

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

By-election gains may well be yet another false dawn

Up until last year, Sunderland had carved out for itself one, and only one, niche in British political life: it counted its votes at general elections faster than anywhere else. For six successive elections from 1992 to 2015, the southern Sunderland seat was the first to declare in the country. Other than that, the city was politically unremarkable: it’s returned two Labour MPs ever since the 1960s and the Red team is similarly dominant at local level.

2017 saw a bit of a turnaround on both scores. Local rivals Newcastle won the race to be the first to declare at the general election, while five months previously the Lib Dems gained a local by-election on a massive 36% swing. That was admittedly back at a time when Labour was very much struggling for support nationally, polling in only the upper-twenties, but it was still an extraordinary result.

Nor was it a one-off. In the first two months of the year, the Lib Dems gained two seats from Labour and no fewer than six from the Conservatives, despite the national polling showing the Tories up in the 40s while the Lib Dems remained marooned on around 10% with most firms. Against that, they lost just the one seat (to an Independent). They’d had similar success in 2016 by-elections, gaining 30 councillors that way and losing just four.

And yet come the local elections in May, Tim Farron’s party lost a net 42 seats, with net losses in each of England, Scotland and Wales. The tremendous by-election successes were simply not replicated when there were a large number of simultaneous elections, when voters’ attention was focussed more nationally, and when there was a larger turnout. The fact that the general election campaign was already underway no doubt played a part in the Lib Dems’ relative failure there but only a part. After all, activists will still work where they are most effective and given the relatively small number of target seats, in many areas, those priorities would be local rather than national.

So what of this year? Well, in a carbon copy election, the Lib Dems once again pulled off a Sunderland spectacular, gaining Pallion ward on a 33% swing, and followed that up this Thursday with three very impressive gains from the Conservatives (two in Teignbridge borough, proving that it’s not all down to targeting).

And yet. The national polls are worse for Vince Cable’s party than they were in May last year, and while the Tories are off even more (they were in the high-forties in early May 2017), Labour is far better off.

Not that that’s the best comparator. Local elections run on a four-year cycle and those being contested this time were last fought in 2014, give or take the odd boundary review. Back then, Ed Miliband’s Labour held about a two-point lead over David Cameron’s Tories, with Nigel Farage’s UKIP in the mid-teens and Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems around 8-9%. The local elections were no doubt affected by the simultaneous Europoll, contributing to the election of 166 UKIP councillors. The Westminster VI polls translated directly to the local election NEV, with the Labour gaining a 2-point lead in the NEV, UKIP on 17% and the Lib Dems as usual outscoring their Westminster share, taking 13%.

What can we expect this time? The battlefield in this round has thrown up the curious possibility of all the main parties doing well and badly at the same time.

UKIP is not a main party any more and will be annihilated at the election. They may well lose every single seat, though there’s the possibility of isolated exceptions clinging on due to a local profile. That means that the other parties effectively start off with net gains of over 150.

Labour will be most pleased about London being the main battleground. More votes might be cast elsewhere but the capital always attracts disproportionate media attention, which will suit Labour very nicely given how they gained a swing in the multicultural, pro-Remain world-city three times that of the national average at the general election.

By contrast, while the Tories might worry about their prospects in London, the rest of the country (that country being England – there are no Scottish or Welsh elections), looks more fertile ground given the direct windfall from UKIP and the polls showing a small swing from Lab to Con and a larger one from LD to Con since May 2014. The Blue Team should reasonably expect to make net gains – something which a government party has only achieved once since the 1980s, and that previous exception (2011) being mainly at the expense of a different governing party.

As for the Lib Dems, they, like Labour, have opportunities in London – albeit in far more restricted areas – but after that can expect a tougher fight. They do, however, have one of their two mayoralties to defend in Watford, where Dorothy Thornhill is seeking, and should comfortably win, a fifth term. But that should be one of the few high points. The Sunderland or Teignbridge results remain much more likely to be another false dawn than a yellow sun rising.

David Herdson


Winning where? The Lib Dem targets for 2022

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

Alastair Meeks looks at the challenges facing Cable’s party

Three years ago, the Lib Dems were still in government. Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg comprised half of the quad, the inner circle that fixed the government’s direction. It feels like a lifetime ago now. The Lib Dems were reduced to 8 MPs in 2015 and recovered only to 12 MPs last year (with a slight decline in vote share nationally), despite being the only party to advocate remaining in the EU. Replacing Tim Farron with Vince Cable has not given them any more airtime or sense of relevance.

The Lib Dems are urgently in need of a strategy. That strategy needs to be founded on a basis that can produce an electoral recovery for them. In turn, that means understanding what they need to defend and where they are best placed to gain ground.

Defence first. Here’s the list of Lib Dem seats. It’s a short list, obviously. There are two points of interest. First, the Lib Dems are not immediately challenged by Labour in any seat that they hold. They have now lost every last Lib Dem / Labour marginal. Secondly, they aren’t particularly safe anywhere – a uniform 5% swing against them would see them lose all but four seats and a uniform 10% swing across these seats would see every last Lib Dem seat fall.

Oh, so you think a 10% swing is big? Let me introduce you to my next list, the list of Lib Dem prospects, organised by swing required. As you can see, a uniform 5% swing to the Lib Dems would increase their tally by just 9 seats. A 10% swing gathers a further 10 new seats for them. A 15% swing brings in just 18 more. And by this stage, the table is actively unhelpful in understanding what’s going on: many of the seats feature simply as a function of a distributed vote – the Lib Dems finished fourth and lost their deposit in Edinburgh North & Leith, for example. Anyone fancy the Lib Dems’ chances in Kensington? I have asterisked where the Lib Dems finished third (and added additional asterisks for each additional drop in the voting order). As you can see, even on this shortish list, asterisks proliferate.

For targeting, I suggest the Lib Dems would do better to concentrate on seats where they already have a substantial vote share, which to my mind gives a truer reflection of where the Lib Dems have potential strength and chances of real progress. Here are the 52 seats where the Lib Dems have more than 20% of the vote.

This to me is a particularly interesting table. First, there are only 52 seats on the list. The Lib Dems held more seats than this up to 2015. If you wanted an indication of just how badly the Lib Dems have been smashed, there’s as good a measure as any.

Secondly, the colour that dominates is blue. There are just five Labour-held seats on the list – the days of Lib Dem / Labour marginals are well and truly over. This is perhaps exemplified by Bristol West. Stephen Williams won this seat in 2010 with 48% of the vote – it was the Lib Dems’ 11th safest seat. He lost it in 2015. He fought it again last year and tallied just over 7% of the vote. The battle on the left of centre has been fought and the Lib Dems have been routed for now.

Thirdly, it shows that the vote has polarised in each constituency – the same effect that has harmed the Lib Dems nationally is making life harder for them in their target seats too. Outside Scotland the Lib Dems hold no seat with less than 40% of the vote. There are three seats in England where they beat that mark and failed to take the seat. This is in part a function of the Lib Dems losing the battle of the left. The English seats they once held on lower vote shares (like Norwich South and Bradford East) were usually Lib Dem / Labour marginals where a fair chunk of the Conservative support refused to vote tactically. Now those have gone, the Lib Dems’ chances of coming through the middle have correspondingly declined.

Fourthly, the seats cluster strongly geographically. The Lib Dems have husbanded their strength well in Scotland. The Lib Dems have considerable residual strength in south west England and in quite a few seats south and west of London. Conversely, they are almost non-existent in the Midlands (a longstanding weak area for them) – there’s a hole bounded by Cambridge, Witney, Montgomeryshire, Hazel Grove and Sheffield Hallam where not a single seat can be found where 1 in 5 voters plumped for the yellow team last time round.

The Lib Dems will need to fight the next election exclusively in target seats – anything else will be a waste. I strongly suggest that if the seat isn’t on this list of 52, it should essentially be ignored next time around. Candidly, 52 right now looks far too high a number to be aiming at.

Next, the Lib Dems need to build policies to help themselves in their target seats. That means taking on the Conservatives. There is no point in taking on Labour because there are next to no Labour seats that they can take. Fortunately, there’s a nice big space between a Labour party that has taken the next left turning after radical socialism and a Conservative party that has decided to major on implementing a nationalistic Brexit, where the Lib Dems could hunker down and turn their guns on the Conservatives. So the opportunity is potentially there. They just need to take it.

Alastair Meeks