Archive for the 'Lib Dems' Category


The future’s not orange. The Lib Dems look set to miss out

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

Pedants are quick to point out that for Labour to be decimated at the next election, they would need to lose only one in ten seats, while current polling shows them doing far worse than this. So in the interests of accuracy, I record that on 8 June I expect to see Labour crushed, marmalised and eviscerated.  With the Conservatives having established close to a two power standard in most of the polling, we can expect to see swathes of red seats turn blue.

Labour and the Conservatives are not the only participants, and each of the other parties is absorbed with their own ambitions, routines, worries and inherited craziness.  It is time to consider the prospects of the Lib Dems in this election.

I noted a couple of weeks ago that the markets seemed irrationally exuberant about the Lib Dems’ prospects and advised backing the unders markets on their seat counts when they were in the high 20s.  As at the time of writing, following local elections in which the Lib Dems seriously underperformed most prior expectations, William Hill price the midpoint at 18.5.  What a falling off was there.

What’s gone wrong?  Even the most enthusiastic Lib Dem would have to concede that the very limited airtime that they get could have been better used than discussing Tim Farron’s religious beliefs about gay sex and whether David Ward’s views should debar him from standing as a  Parliamentary candidate.  But more profoundly, it seems that opposing Brexit is going to be insufficient to give them much of a leg-up.  Lord Ashcroft summarised part of the findings of one of his focus groups as suggesting that the Lib Dems potentially appealed to unhappy voters who satisfied two conditions:

“First, they were still very much exercised about the referendum result. Second, they thought something could still be done to frustrate or reverse it:”

But as Lord Ashcroft noted, these do not seem to be sufficient.  The public thinks them irrelevant, doesn’t trust them and wants to know more about what they stand for.  The strategy is failing.

So how well realistically can we expect the Lib Dems to do?  My preferred approach is to look less at swing required (though in the tightest races obviously that’s important) and more at vote share at the last election.  In 2015, the Lib Dems got over half the vote in only one seat (Westmorland & Lonsdale), over 40% in only two more (Orkney & Shetland and Sheffield Hallam) and over 30% in just 31 seats.  I don’t intend to investigate more than a handful of seats beyond that level – the Lib Dems hold only one of them (Richmond Park).

We need to investigate Lib Dem seats of interest in batches.  They can be divided into the following groups: Conservative-facing in Leave areas; Conservative-facing in Remain areas; Labour-facing in Remain areas; Labour-facing in Leave areas; and Scottish seats.

The Lib Dems have a huge problem in Conservative-facing seats in Leave areas: the Conservative vote is going through the roof in such seats.  The challenge is less whether they can gain such seats but to make sure that they don’t lose any.  Carshalton & Wallington and Norfolk North both look like awkward defences and they could easily lose both.  The Conservatives are unaccountably odds against in St Ives and this is a mandatory bet.  The Lib Dems are far more likely to go backwards in such seats than go forwards.  The Conservatives are just doing far too well in these seats for the Lib Dems to make much progress.

They have better chances in some Conservative-facing Remain seats.  There are some very steamed-up middle class voters in these seats.  But there aren’t many such seats and in any case the Conservatives are gaining support even in Remain seats.  After Twickenham, Richmond Park and Kingston & Surbiton, the list of prospects rapidly dries up.  Cheadle?  Bath? Cheltenham?  Oxford West & Abingdon?  The Lib Dems might gain a couple, but even that’s fairly optimistic. And they need to watch their flank – with John Pugh retiring in Southport (on an already-low vote share) and the tactical Tory vote in well-heeled Sheffield Hallam likely to unwind, they might suffer losses in such seats as well as gains.  16/1 with Ladbrokes in Sheffield Hallam is probably fair value.

I’d rather be on the Conservatives in Southport at 4/6 with Betfair Sportsbook and William Hill than the Lib Dems at 11/10 with William Hill, despite the blue team’s long history of apparent ineptitude in this constituency.  The 11/10 on the Conservatives in Kingston & Surbiton with Ladbrokes is probably better value than any of these bets.  If you want to bet on the Lib Dems in such seats, the 10/11 in Richmond Park with Bet 365 is worth looking at – I can’t see Zac Goldsmith proving more attractive to this ultra-Remainian constituency than last year, especially since he looks so unprincipled in going back to the Conservatives after leaving them over the Heathrow decision.  Overall, the Lib Dems might have a net gain of a couple of such seats, but sweeping gains are for now unlikely.

Things look better for the Lib Dems in Labour-facing Remain seats, with Labour’s vote under so much pressure.  Cambridge and Southwark & Old Bermondsey must be strong chances, and the 4/6 on the Lib Dems with Ladbrokes in the latter seat looks great value to me.  But again, there aren’t many such seats.  The 7/2 with Ladbrokes on the Lib Dems in Manchester Withington is appealing.  I’m on them at 3/1 in Hornsey & Wood Green (the odds have shortened since).  But then where? The Lib Dems are hoping to build up a head of steam in the Remain redoubt of Vauxhall against hardline Brexiteer Kate Hoey but it must be firmly odds against, and considerably longer than the prices currently being quoted.  On a good day, the Lib Dems will be gaining a few seats from Labour.  But no more than a few.

The only Labour-facing Leave seat that the Lib Dems have serious chances in is Burnley.  They’re odds-on favourites there, which seems to be overstating their chances, even with the former MP Gordon Birtwhistle standing again for them.  The brave might well back Labour at 2/1 with William Hill or Bet 365.  I’ve been brave to small stakes.

Finally, to Scotland, where for a change the Lib Dems are better placed to sweep up tactical unionist votes in seats where they are the main challengers to the SNP.  They can reasonably hope to pick up Edinburgh West and East Dunbartonshire, and the local election results in Edinburgh West suggest that the 4/7 with Betfair Sportsbook is value.

In total, the Lib Dems look set to finish with something like 10 to 15 seats.  Bet 365 are offering 11-15 seats at 4/1 and while that’s a tight band, I’ve placed a sporting bet on it.  If you want a bit more leeway, the 2/1 on 10-19 with Ladbrokes also seems good value to me.

Those willing to take the risks involved in spread betting should still be selling them on Sporting Index at 21.  The nervous should consider that Tim Farron has named that number as his target.  The chances of them exceeding the named target can’t be all that high.  But before doing so, make sure you understand the risks.  If I’m wrong, it could be very expensive indeed.

Oh, and take that under 18.5 with William Hill.  It still looks on the high side to me.

Alastair Meeks


Being realistic on the prospects for Lib Dem gains

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Alastair Meeks takes a hard look

The Lib Dems’ emblem is the liberty bird.  In 2015, it was put on the critically endangered list, found only in eight locations where volunteers toiled night and day to protect it from poachers.  Pundits, including me, gloomily pondered whether extinction was on the cards.

It’s a compelling case study how climate change is not necessarily bad for everyone.  In the wake of Brexit, the Lib Dems have found a new purpose as the party of ultra-Remain.  It has gained vote share in every Parliamentary by-election held since the referendum that it has contested.  Following the announcement of a snap general election, former MPs who had previously retired from politics, like Vince Cable and Stephen Lloyd, have deretired in an attempt to win back their seats.  Hopes are high of substantial gains.

The bookies have by and large bought this story.  The current midpoints of their seat counts range between 26.5 and 29.5 (with prices at 5/6 on offer over or under the set midpoints).  Given that the Lib Dems currently only hold 9 seats, this implies a major bounceback.  Is this right?

Bluntly, I don’t think it is.  You can look at this lots of different ways and none of them stack up.

Let’s look at this first by swing.  Here are the Lib Dems’ top 100 targets organised by swing.  They pick up 18 seats if they get a 6% swing to themselves in these seats.  But at present the Lib Dems are suffering an adverse national swing to the Conservatives of 2% or so if the polls are to be believed, and 11 of those 18 seats are Conservative-held.   There are going to need to be some major special factors to buck the national swing to that extent (I’ll come back to Brexit, don’t worry) – or other gains from other parties.  But there simply aren’t that many targets within reach on a uniform swing from other parties.  The Lib Dems would need a 7.5% swing to them from the SNP to pick up six seats and an 8% swing to them from Labour to pick up six seats.  In the absence of any national swing in Scotland from the SNP to the Lib Dems, they’re going to need some serious unionist tactical voting.

What special factors might there be?  Two are usually mentioned in relation to the Lib Dems.  First, their indefatigable local campaigning, effectively treating each constituency as a by-election.  And secondly, Brexit.

Let’s deal with Brexit first.  The line of argument goes that 48% of the public voted for Remain.  No one else is going into bat for the Remainers, so the Lib Dem ratings can soar from the 8% that they tallied in 2015.  There’s only one problem with this line of argument: not that many people seem to be ready to vote just on Brexit.  In ICM’s poll conducted immediately in the wake of the election announcement, just 17% said that it was a second referendum by proxy, with 67% treating it as a normal general election.  Of course, a substantial number of that 17% will be wishing to underscore the need to Leave, and they will not assist the Lib Dems one little bit.

Roughly 95 constituencies voted Remain by more than 60%.  But very few are the Conservative/Lib Dem marginals and semi-marginals that the Lib Dems would need to build up a head of steam in if they are to start making substantial gains.

As for the Lib Dems’ indefatigable local campaigning, clearly that has got better in the last year – both local and Parliamentary by-elections show that.  But the main two parties have got wise to the Lib Dems’ approach and are using it themselves.  At the 2015 election, the Conservatives took a very localist approach in their campaigning and reaped the rewards.  Their new MPs will have been building up incumbency ever since.  They will not be pushovers.

Is it possible that the Lib Dems might catch the zeitgeist and we might see Farronmania at some point? Possible, but unlikely.  25 seats looks very stretching indeed – the Lib Dems should be very happy if they get to 20 seats.  So I recommend that you do as I do, and take the “under” side of the bet on the Lib Dem seats wherever you can find it.  To me it looks like a very good bet indeed.

Alastair Meeks


The canvas data that proved to be spot on in Richmond suggests Labour could be in trouble in Manchester Gorton

Monday, April 17th, 2017

At Richmond Park the LD numbers understated their position

For all the speculation on Labour’s polling collapse there’s only one thing that really matters – how the party performs in actual elections and the first real test of that is May 4th which includes, of course, the Manchester Gorton by-election where they are defending a majority of 24k.

On the face of it Gorton looks impregnable but is it? The Lib Dems have published their latest canvas data for the seat which had them on 31% to LAB’s 51%.

Before you dismiss party canvas data remember what happened when the LDs published similar data ahead of last December’s Richmond Park by-election. This was treated with a high degree of scepticism at the time yet as the chart shows it was extraordinarily predictive of what was going to happen. Those who backed Zac at very tight odds lost.

In Richmond the LD’s main challenge was to attract LAB tactical voters – a task made easier by the way Zac had conducted his London mayoral campaign seven months earlier. The yellows wanted LAB voters to be in no doubt that they could defeat Zac by switching to the LDs and we had the bizarre experience of seeing LAB pick up fewer votes than members in the constituency.

In Manchester Gorton there is a very different challenge – simply trying to get over the fact that they can be credible in a seat where at GE2015 they lost their deposit coming in fifth place with just 4.2% of the vote. The more the battle is portrayed as between red and yellow the greater LD hopes can be.

    The 51-31 LAB-LD split is dramatically closer than at GE2015 and suggests a high degree of momentum. An LD victory while not being probable is now starting to look possible

Previous by-election experience is that we can expect a high degree of narrowing between the contenders seen to be in the final two during the close of the campaign. Could, for instance, many of the 9.7% GE2015 CON voters decide that their vote is best used creating another awful embarrassment for Labour?

We can expect more such canvas data releases the LDs.

The current betting value is with the LDs who are are 4/1 or 5/1.

Mike Smithson


Polling Matters on the Lib Dem fightback – how high can their support go as the party of Remain?

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

On this week’s PB/Polling Matters podcast Leo Barasi talked about the Lib Dem fightback with Mark Pack, a campaign strategist and expert on the party. You can listen to the episode below or by clicking here.

The SNP lost a referendum and won a landslide. Could the Lib Dems do something similar by becoming the party of Remain voters?

This week’s PB/Polling Matters Opinium poll suggests the party could do well with a relentless focus on stopping Brexit. But it also shows that a single-issue stop Brexit party would be unlikely to win more than a quarter of voters.

Only around 11% currently say they’d vote Lib Dem, but the Opinium poll found 41% of the public would definitely vote Lib Dem or would consider doing so, including 47% of current Labour voters. Winning over half of those considering the Lib Dems would put the party above even its record 2010 vote.

So should the party try to gain these voters with a promise that they would keep the UK in the EU?

In part the poll backs this up. Among those who voted Remain, 60% would at least consider the Lib Dems – around 29% of voters.

But this overstates the opportunities for the Lib Dems in focusing on stopping Brexit. Most Remainers don’t care enough about staying in the EU to put it above all other issues.

In another question the poll found that only 22% agree with the statement “My top priority when deciding who to vote for is supporting a party that will try to stop Brexit”. This 22% may be a more realistic limit for how far a stop Brexit party could go.

This still suggests the Lib Dems could double their vote share with an anti-Brexit focus. Even winning over just those who strongly agree with the statement, and aren’t already Lib Dem voters, would add 7pts to the Lib Dem vote.

With Labour now facilitating Brexit, the field is clear for the Lib Dems to be the party of Remain. The poll suggests this focus could serve the Lib Dems well, in comparison with their 2015 vote.

But a single-issue stop Brexit party is unlikely to win more than one in four voters. Unless the UK’s exit goes so badly that public opinion changes, this focus can take a party from fourth to third, but it can’t take them from third to second.

Leo Barasi

You can listen to the latest PB/Polling Matters podcast with Leo and Mark Pack below:

Leo Barasi tweets about politics and public opinion at @leobarasi

Keiran Pedley is on holiday


It is organisation more than BREXIT that is driving the Lib Dem resurgence

Friday, April 7th, 2017

The latest local by elections with an LD gain from UKIP on a whopping 26% swing top off what has been a good week for the LDs. Firstly there have been the Rallings/Thrasher and Lord Robert Hayward May elections’ projection suggesting that the yellows are in for a substantial number of gains on May 4th.

In addition to that we have had news of the private Crosby Textor constituency polling for the Tories suggesting that the party is set to win back a the bulk of the seats lost in the South West and Greater London that were lost to the Tories at GE2015.

That information is, of course, private, but PB sources have it that all but three or four of the seats could be back in LD hands at the next election and we know that it is Tory MPs who made gains last time who are most opposed to an early general election.

But to assume that this is all down to BREXIT is being simplistic. There are other factors at play as James Kirkup in the Spectator describes:

“…But while Brexit may motivate many Lib Dems, my hunch is that what matters at least as much is something generally overlooked by us chattering Westminster types: organisation.

Part of the reason some Tories are quietly concerned about the Lib Dems is that the Lib Dems are quite good at not just recruiting people to their cause but deploying them on the ground. Pavement-pounding and leaflet-dropping have always been a central part of the Lib Dem experience, along with Glee Club and misleading bar-charts. That makes them tough local opponents.It’s no exaggeration to say that the Lib Dems’ ground-level resurgence is a bigger check on Tory thoughts of an early election than all those Corbynistas liking each other’s posts on Facebook..”

A big test of that organisation will come in the Manchester Gorton by-election which is also being held on May 4th. This is a seat where pre-Coalition they were a good second on 30%+ of the vote. With Labour supporters apparently demoralised by their leader and the threat posed by George Galloway then a good LD result could on the cards. The 6/1 currently available on Betfair looks like a value bet.

Mike Smithson


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