Archive for the 'Lib Dems' Category


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


Antifrank on the GE2020 prospects for Tim Farron’s Lib Dems

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

The Lib Dems had a disastrous election in 2015, tallying just eight seats.  Where do they go from here?  Is the only way up?

Well, actually, no.  There is a serious possibility that things could get worse for them in 2020.  Of their eight seats, only one of them looks truly safe on current boundaries: that of their leader, Tim Farron.  Three of their four most marginal seats look as though they may well lose their Lib Dem incumbents: Southport, where John Pugh will be 72 in 2020 and may well be thinking about retirement; Sheffield Hallam, where Nick Clegg is surely unlikely to want to continue his stint as MP; and Orkney & Shetland, where Alistair Carmichael is currently embroiled in a court case over his last campaign.  This would make retaining them so much harder.

It gets worse.  We can expect boundary changes by the time of the next election.  These look likely to cause further problems for the Lib Dems by swamping their seats with unfriendly voters.  Lewis Baston reckons that the Lib Dems might be looking at starting the 2020 election notionally holding just four seats, as this Times article explains (paywalled): Nor do the Lib Dems have a target list stuffed full of easy prospects.  Here it is:

A uniform 5% swing to them gets them just 16 seats.  And their chances of getting such a swing in those seats are dramatically reduced because in most cases (Bath and Fife North East being the exceptions) these are seats where the Lib Dems were incumbents with large incumbency votes. Large numbers of these former incumbents will not be standing in 2020, meaning that any new candidate will be starting from a much lower base.  For example, of the top five Lib Dem targets, former incumbents Vince Cable, Norman Baker and Stephen Lloyd have all already said that they are retiring from politics.

All of these seats now have new incumbents who will be relentlessly working to get their own incumbency bonus.  Not to mention that the boundaries will in all probability be redrawn, so any loyalty to former incumbents will be seriously diluted in many cases.  The Lib Dems will face a stern test to get even a few of these seats back.

In order to have any chance of progress, the Lib Dems would need to show some revival in the national polls.  Since the election, the Lib Dems have flatlined or worse.  Whatever the public’s qualms about Jeremy Corbyn’s menace to national security or about George Osborne’s menace to hardworking poor families, they have yet to conclude that the Lib Dems represent a viable option.  They seem largely to have been forgotten about.  Even the protest vote has found a new receptacle in UKIP.  It is hard to see what might resuscitate them.

So prospects for the Lib Dems look grim.  Unless they can sharply revive in the polls, they look at least as likely to suffer a further decline in 2020 as to improve their tally.  Sharp revivals don’t look on the agenda any time soon.

Ladbrokes are offering some specials on their prospects here:

One bet stands out.  Ladbrokes are offering 11/4 that the Lib Dems will get fewer than 8.5 seats.  I make this at worst an even money bet.  You would have to wait nearly five years to collect, but even allowing for notional interest on your stake this looks like a great bet to me.  Take it.



The practical guide to centre-left schisms

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015


The Labour party leadership election has left the Blairites looking isolated.  Some of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters have described them as viruses and cancers, and have suggested that they look for the exit.  Every Blairite from Tony Blair and Liz Kendall downwards has disavowed the idea of leaving the Labour party, but vows are spoken to be broken, and given the bitterness and the ideological divide they might in due course consider their options.

Before doing so, they should look at historical precedents.  In the last 150 years, the centre left has split on five occasions.  Past experience is no guide to the future, but as we shall see, there are some consistent themes.  Here are those five instances:

The Adullamites (1866-67)


The Adullamites are almost forgotten nowadays, but for a year their actions convulsed British politics.  By 1865, the Liberals had been in almost unbroken power for a generation.  Following the death of Lord Palmerston (who had been strongly opposed), the new Liberal leadership decided to tackle the subject of electoral reform.  More traditional Liberals, under the leadership of Robert Lowe, resisted this strongly and the group in opposition that they formed was known as the Adullamites (after an obscure Biblical reference).  They worked with the Conservatives to defeat Gladstone’s proposed Reform Bill, leading to the collapse of the Liberal government.

Disraeli became the guiding spirit behind a minority Conservative government that then proposed a Reform Bill that was far more radical than the one that Gladstone had put forward.  The Adullamites had been abandoned by their previous partners in opposition.


Following the passage of the 1867 Reform Act, the Adullamites rejoined the Liberal fold.  No lasting harm seems to have been done to the Liberal party, who were re-elected in 1868 on the new franchise with an increased majority.

Fate of prominent dissidents

Despite being outmanoeuvred, Robert Lowe did not suffer for his disloyalty.  On the resumption of a Liberal government at the end of 1868, he became Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Liberal Unionists (1886-1912)


Like the Adullamites, the Liberal Unionists broke from the Liberal party initially on a point of principle: on this occasion, Home Rule for the Irish. Following Gladstone’s defeat over Home Rule in 1886 and the subsequent general election, the Liberal Unionists (who numbered 77 MPs) propped up a minority Conservative government.


The Liberal party moved from being a natural party of government to being relative outsiders overnight.  In the 54 years from the Great Reform Act to 1886 the Whigs and Liberals had been in power for nearly 40 years.  In the next 20 years they would be in power for only three years.

Many on both sides thought at first that there would be a reconciliation at some point, as there had been with the Adullamites.  Reconciliation discussions with the Liberals broke down again over Home Rule for Ireland and as a result most Liberal Unionists moved closer to the Conservatives.  By 1895 they were ready to join the Conservatives in government.  By this stage the two were already seen as part of a wider movement of unionists and boundaries were already breaking down.  The government split over the question of free trade in the early years of the twentieth century, with Joseph Chamberlain (one of the leading Liberal Unionists) fiercely advocating a protectionist policy.

In the wake of the crushing Liberal victory of 1906, the Liberal Unionists were reduced to 25 MPs.  In 1912 the Liberal Unionists formally merged with the Conservative party.

Fate of prominent dissidents

The Liberal Unionists included many political stars who prospered in their new home.  George Goschen became Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Conservative minority government in 1887.  In the 1895 government, five Liberal Unionists featured in the Cabinet.  Joseph Chamberlain, who led the Liberal Unionists, might well have led the unionists in the wake of the 1906 defeat had he not suffered a stroke at the critical moment.


Through the Chamberlain family, the Liberal Unionists exerted a powerful influence over Conservative party politics in its afterlife.  Both Austen and Neville Chamberlain rose to become that party’s leader.

Neither Neville nor Austen Chamberlain actually stood for Parliament as a Conservative candidate because their local political association in Birmingham preferred to call themselves Unionist rather than Conservative during this time.  Neither actually fought a general election as leader, a dubious distinction which they share only with Iain Duncan Smith.

Lloyd George National Liberals (1916-1922)


Of all the splits on the centre left, this was the most personalised.  Following the fiasco at Gallipoli in 1915, Asquith had brought the Conservatives and parts of the Labour party into a coalition government.  But over the next 18 months, senior figures across all parties grew concerned at Asquith’s handling of the war and Lloyd George sought (with newspaper support) to get responsibility for the conduct of the war into his own hands.  Asquith refused to meet his terms and was confronted with the withdrawal of support both of Lloyd George and of the Conservatives.  He resigned, to be replaced by Lloyd George.  The bulk of the Liberal party remained loyal to Asquith but sufficient numbers stayed with Lloyd George to enable him to form a coalition government with the Conservatives and, initially, parts of the Labour party.


The beginning of the end of the Liberal party as a significant force in politics for three generations.  Lloyd George was the last Liberal Prime Minister.  By the 1923 general election the two wings of the Liberal party had reunited under Asquith but could manage only 158 seats and third place behind both the Conservatives and Labour.  Its decline from that point was rapid as its vote polarised in subsequent elections between those two parties.

Fate of prominent dissidents

Lloyd George got to be Prime Minister and retained that position after 1918, even when the Conservatives far outnumbered his own party.  While his Cabinet was Conservative-dominated, many prominent Liberals including Sir Winston Churchill also held office during his tenure in office (Sir Winston managed to effect a mini-schism of his own in 1924, standing under the Constitutionalist banner in the general election of that year before re-ratting to the Conservatives).

Liberal Nationals / National Liberals (1931-1968)


The relative importance of the policy of free trade and of forming a national government.  The leadership of the Liberal party were opposed to any weakening of a commitment to free trade and made their support for the national government conditional on that being retained.  Those Liberals who saw the necessity of free trade as secondary to the formation of a national government broke away to form the Liberal Nationals (those few Liberals, led by Lloyd George, who opposed the national government, also broke away to form the independent Liberals).


The Liberal party’s destruction was more or less complete.  The official Liberal party was reduced to 33 seats in 1931 and to 21 seats in 1935.  The Liberal party organisational structure was also wrecked by the different factions all claiming to be Liberals.

The Liberal National party continued in separate existence, migrating slowly from a Liberal orbit into a Conservative orbit over the next fifteen years.  In 1947 the Liberal National party merged with the Conservative party at a constituency level but retained its separate identity at a national level, changing its name to the National Liberal party.

Fate of prominent dissidents

The Liberal Nationals initially prospered in government.  In Ramsay Macdonald’s second national government they had three Cabinet ministers including the Foreign Secretary, rising to four Cabinet ministers in Stanley Baldwin’s government and five in Neville Chamberlain’s government.  They only waned in significance once Sir Winston Churchill took over in 1940 and Labour joined the government.

Following the merger with the Conservatives, three National Liberals sat in the Cabinet in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The National Liberal party was folded into the Conservatives completely in 1968.  The final leader of the National Liberals was Sir John Major’s predecessor as MP for Huntingdon.


Lord Heseltine stood as a National Liberal in 1959 (though was not elected under that banner).  Sir John Nott, Defence Secretary during the Falklands war, began his Parliamentary career as a National Liberal. They remain living links to what otherwise seems like a distant historical period.

The SDP (1981-88/2015)


The SDP was born out of factional infighting within the Labour party.  Taken for granted by the centre of the Labour party in its battles against the left, 28 Labour MPs left the party in 1981 to found the SDP under the leadership of the “Gang of Four”, seeking to find a middle way between Thatcherism and the leftward direction that the Labour party was then taking.  Aside from the Gang of Four, few were well-known and many were at risk of deselection.  The SDP also attracted some support from wet Conservatives, including one MP.

It formed an alliance with the Liberal party and initially recorded enormous popularity in polls, backed up by spectacular by-election results.  The wind was taken out of the Alliance’s sails by the Falklands war, however, which gave a boost to the popularity of the Conservatives largely at their expense.


While the Alliance ultimately took 26% in the 1983 election, it took only 23 MPs, of which only six were SDP MPs.  The Conservatives were elected in a landslide.  Labour were kept out of power until 1997, but the Alliance was unable to profit by this.  The two parties of the Alliance eventually merged in 1988 to form what became the Liberal Democrats (with some dissenting SDP members under the leadership of David Owen then founding a successor independent party).

The Liberal Democrats, after a shaky start, gained a secure Parliamentary foothold, building on local successes in successive elections until finally joining the Conservative party as the junior partner in a coalition government in 2010.  That experience, however, resulted in the party being nearly wiped out in the 2015 election.  They look unlikely to be significant political players again any time soon.

Fate of prominent dissidents

In sharp contrast to all the other splits, none of the initial senior founders of the SDP ever achieved high office again.   From a personal viewpoint, the decision to leave the Labour party was a disaster.


Power and pelf proved hard to come by for the SDPers.  By seeking and failing to break the mould, they found the route to power much harder.  Vince Cable and Chris Huhne eventually became Cabinet ministers under the Liberal Democrat banner.  More SDP supporters, however, attained that rank as Conservatives: Greg Clark, Chris Grayling, Andrew Lansley and David Mundell managed that feat, and Anna Soubry, while not in the Cabinet, attends its meetings.


None of the splits resulted in the mould of politics being broken (with the unintended exception of the coup by the Lloyd George Liberals, which resulted in the Liberal party being displaced as one of the two main political parties).  So if the aim of any breakaway is to build up a new political party, forget the idea.

You can argue about cause and effect, but on each occasion a split took place, progressive politics suffered at least temporarily and more usually it ushered in a lengthy period in which the Conservatives did substantially better than they had done in the preceding period.  So anyone participating in a breakaway has to be prepared for the Conservatives to benefit in the short term.

Rather surprisingly, this damage is visible only at a macro level.  Many individual politicians who broke away achieved major rank either immediately or shortly afterwards.  Two dissidents became Prime Minister.  Many more achieved Cabinet rank.  All of these, however, did so by reaching an accommodation with one of the existing major parties – usually the Conservatives.  The one occasion on which the centre left breakaway party sought to go it alone was a failure.

So if the Blairites do decide that life in the Labour party is unendurable but they wish to see their political careers prosper, they need to be prepared to reach an accommodation with the Conservatives sooner rather than later.  By retaining a separate identity but operating a non-aggression pact, much as the Liberal Unionists did, they may be able to influence government policy far more than either standing aloof or by remaining in the Labour party.

Such an outcome would probably be bad for leftwing politics but probably personally good for the Blairites.  Are they sufficiently ruthless?  I guess we’re going to find out.