Archive for the 'Lib Dems' Category


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


The Lib Dems are coming off life-support: something else for Labour to worry about

Saturday, August 6th, 2016


How closely are we going to re-run the 1980s?

We’ve not heard much from the Lib Dems lately. The party which until last year supplied the Deputy Prime Minister, the Business Secretary and three other cabinet ministers, which before the election had more than fifty MPs and which had been treated by the media almost on an equal footing with the Conservatives and Labour simply disappeared from view. A year on and there are signs that a tentative recovery might be underway.

The Lib Dems made another net gain in this week’s local by-elections to add to the seven net gains in July. It’s not exactly an electoral earthquake but it seems consistent enough to ask the questions as to whether the long Coalition-inspired decline is not only over but is being reversed, and if so, how far it will go.

The first thing to note is that to the extent that there is a recovery, it’s extremely patchy. The Lib Dems did indeed make a gain this week (in a ward so small as to be virtually town-council sized: only 553 votes were cast in total), but they also only contested two of the other six, and received just 4.1% and 4.5% in the two that they did.

That’s mirrored in the polls. The Lib Dems remain stuck well behind UKIP in fourth place and if there has been an uptick since the referendum or even before, it’s as yet difficult to distinguish from Margin of Error noise given the fewer polls commissioned these days.

But then as the local by-elections show, national shares don’t really count for all that much if you can get the ground game right in localised hotspots. After all, despite the cataclysmic result in 2015, the Lib Dems still returned seven more MPs than UKIP and will have battered but serviceable local organisations in most of the seats they lost.

What of the boundary review though? Will not that completely undermine a strategy based on local redoubts if each redoubt is likely to be rent asunder by the Boundary Review and mingled with other seats where the Lib Dems have been reduced to deposit-losing irrelevance? (And remember – the Lib Dems lost deposits in more than half the seats in 2015). All else being equal, yes, it would.

However, all else is not at all equal. Labour is marching off left while engaged in civil war, UKIP has achieved its primary function and is also beset by internal difficulties and the Greens seem disinclined to make a bid for the mainstream. Politics abhors a vacuum and a vacuum is exactly what has opened up on the left-of-centre. The obvious question is who will fill it?

The answer in Scotland is obvious: the SNP are likely to continue to reign supreme for as long as they can avoid serious blame at Holyrood and present themselves as the best alternative to the Conservatives. In England and Wales, it’s a different matter and there, a huge amount turns on the Labour leadership election.

If Jeremy Corbyn wins again – and the signs point in that direction – Labour will be left in an awful position. The No Confidence vote cannot credibly be undone and even if more MPs do take the cover of a second mandate to follow Sarah Champion’s lead, the reasons why they all left in the first place have not gone away. Something will have to give and if it’s not the leader, secure after re-election, it must inevitably be the MPs: they must either submit or depart.

If all this sounds very reminiscent of the 1980s, it is, or nearly. Perhaps tempered by that experience, the split that might otherwise have taken place by now hasn’t yet occurred. Even so, all the reasons that prompted the Labour right to leave then are in place now, with the addition that they’ve lost key union backing too. But if the 1981 deputy leader contest showed the party’s mainstream that their cause was recoverable, the equivalent this time – the current leadership election – is likely to go the other way.

Does this inevitably mean SDP2 and Alliance 2.0? No, but it would make tremendous sense for a party without support or MPs to link up with a load of MPs and voters without a party and which occupies a similar spot in the spectrum. In fact, if the Lib Dems are recovering ground, it should strengthen their hand and increase confidence about co-operation, a pact or even outright mass defections.

This is to get some way ahead of ourselves. Corbyn hasn’t yet won. All the same, we’re now in a period of more turbulence than at any time since before 1945, and from near-extinction at national level last year, the one-time ‘third force’ in British politics might soon find itself thinking more about second than fourth.

David Herdson


The Tories are very lucky the Lib Dems didn’t accept George Osborne’s coupon deal

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

British politics today might have been very different if the Lib Dems had accepted Osborne’s deal

The Mail on Sunday are serialising the memoirs of David Laws, the former Liberal Democrat cabinet minister, in it he reveals that

The Tories secretly tried to form a 2015 Election pact with the Lib Dems to keep the Coalition going, according to David Laws.

He says George Osborne proposed a so-called ‘coupon election’ deal with the Lib Dems, whereby up to 50 Tory MPs would have been written off, ordered to make way for Lib Dems.

If the deal had gone ahead, Clegg would still be in Downing Street in a ‘Coalition Mark II’.

And it would have made David Cameron’s outright victory last May impossible. Osborne told Laws: ‘We should be thinking of a deal in 2015 where we don’t fight each other in our key seats… a ‘coupon Election’.

‘We wouldn’t stand in places like Taunton and Wells and you wouldn’t stand in some of our marginal seats.’

Laws and Clegg turned the deal down because the Lib Dems would be seen as Tory ‘lapdogs’ – and it could spark a ‘riot’ among Lib Dem activists. Laws’ account confirms rumours in 2011 and 2012 that Cameron and Osborne wanted a Con-Lib pact to avoid defeat.

Right-wing MPs claimed it was a Downing Street plot to merge the two parties and water down traditional Tory policies. No 10 denied such a move had been made.

The term, ‘coupon election’, dates back to 1918 when Coalition leaders Lloyd George and Bonar Law regained power by using coupons to endorse coalition candidates.

The Lib Dems might think in hindsight they should have taken the deal and ended up with around 45 MPs instead of the 8 they currently have, but Laws is right, the Lib Dems would have been portrayed as Tory lapdogs for a generation.

What this coupon deal would have done is energised a lot of the non Cameroon Tory right to defect to UKIP, from the Parliamentary party to the voluntary party as it would have confirmed their worst fears about Cameron and Osborne. Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless wouldn’t have been the only Tory MPs who defected to UKIP in the last Parliament. I’m fairly certain this deal would have seen UKIP end up with more than just one MP at the last general election. This deal would have also upset and annoyed  Tories activists and members in the Lib Dem held seats the Tories were hoping (and did gain) in 2015.

George Osborne’s reputation is at an all time low, stories like this, how he nearly denied the Tories a majority, prevented the Lib Dem wipe out and boosted UKIP will not help his reputation recover. Even if he denies it and says it is a Lib Dem fantasy, you can believe it is something Osborne would have offered.



At 10.30 am we’ll find out if the 2nd by-election of the 2015 parliament will be in Orkney and Shetland

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

UPDATE Carmichael cleared

The election court will announce its decision in the Carmichael case

If the case goes against the former Scottish Secretary then the LDs could lose the one seat in Scotland they hold and have to fight a by-election.

Based on what happened in the Phil Woolas case in 2010 the Speaker might delay calling a vacancy in the constituency pending the possibility of an appeal.

The action against Alistair Carmichael was crowd funded.

Mike Smithson


Tim Farron’s big gamble in the Oldham W & R by-election

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

If they fail to make progress it’ll be his failure

The most interesting Oldham by election development this weekend has been the decision by new Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, to take a high profile role there.

This is the first such contest since his party’s disastrous performance on May 7th, the first since the end of the coalition and the first for him personally as leader.

The party had been hoping for the initial by-election of this parliament to have been in more fertile territory and there were high hopes that there might be a vacancy in Edinburgh West but an immediate contest there is looking less likely.

Farron, whose main pitch in the leadership election was his campaigning prowess, has to take opportunities when then come and based on their GE2015 performance (a lost deposit with 3.7% of the vote) OWR looks less than promising.

LAB’s selection of the council leader could just possibly make the yellow task easier. For in spite of everything the yellows are still the main opposition on the council (good for bar charts) so their councillors should have a handle on local issues that might resonate. They should also have voter data in at least parts of the constituency.

    In by-elections the government of the country is not at stake and as we’ve seen in the past anything can happen

Any problem or any controversial decision that the council has made can be used to attack LAB generally and their candidate, the council leader, in particular. They’ve already stated focusing on the allegedly extravagant cost of a new carpet in his office.

LAB is making Osborne’s tax credits an early issue while UKIP will focus on immigration. The LDs will try to keep it local.

Farron should be helped by the fact that he’s a Lancastrian and talks with a Lancashire accent. Also he doesn’t live too far away and his presence will encourage activists from the region and wider afield to take part. The party could also helped by the new longer campaign period that’s now in place giving time for things to develop.

The first target is to save their deposit and I think that will be achieved. What happens beyond that I don’t know. As we get closer we might see some interesting other betting markets apart from the actual winner.

Mike Smithson