Archive for the 'Lib Dems' Category


The Temperate Desert

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

YouGov Left Right

Antifrank asks who will appeal best to centrist voters?

The centre ground of politics used to be very crowded.  And with good reason.  Roughly half the electorate sit in the middle stratum of electoral geology.  In a YouGov poll taken just after the election, 13% described themselves as slightly left of centre, 19% described themselves as centre, 14% described themselves as slightly right of centre and a further 23% didn’t know where to place themselves (presumably they would regard themselves as having mixed left and right views).  Elections will continue to be won and lost among these voters.  Either they will be met on their ground or they will be persuaded to move onto different ground.

Public perception

YouGov regularly asks the public to place parties on a left-right spectrum.  The results up to July last year are shown in the graphic above.

The public in aggregate, incidentally, see themselves as pretty much in the dead centre.  Up to now, the public in aggregate haven’t regarded the Labour party as being as leftwing as they have seen the Conservatives as being rightwing.

The empty centre

7 May 2015 has left the centre ground looking like a wasteland.  The Lib Dems were reduced from 57 to 8 MPs, with relatively few seats even looking like plausible targets for 2020.  The Conservatives long ago ditched the green crap.  And despite Ed Miliband having aimed to engineer a move in the political centre ground towards the left, the reaction of the Labour party membership in the Labour leadership campaign has been to canter further leftwards in pursuit of a real alternative to austerity.  For a group of voters who are supposedly assiduously and obsessively courted, centrist voters are lacking obvious representation right now, particularly those on the centre left.

In the post-election opinion poll referred to above, 31% of the public thought that Labour was slightly left of centre or centre (exactly the same percentage that thought Labour was fairly leftwing or very leftwing), but 44% of the public thought that Labour should aim to be slightly left of centre or centre.  Among those who expressed an opinion, by a margin of nearly 2:1, the public thought that the next Labour leader should try to take the Labour party towards the centre politically rather than take it towards the left (more recent polling has been more equivocal on this last point, however).  There is nothing obvious in any of the polling that suggests that the public wants Labour to turn to the left.  Labour party members seem to believe that they know better.

That said, winning over these voters is not as simple as just plonking yourself as closely as possible to them.  At the last election the Conservatives gathered a greater share of the vote than it had managed since 1992, yet they were the furthest distant from the average member of the public of Labour, the Lib Dems and themselves.  The voters take many things into account other than how much they identify with policy.

This may sound like good news for a Labour party that is exiting stage left.  It is not.  In May, those other things led to the voters decisively preferring the Conservatives despite their greater ideological distance from the public in aggregate.  That decisive preference in favour of the Conservatives will get still stronger, all other things being equal, if Labour withdraw further from the bulk of the voters.

This time around, the other relevant considerations may well have included the quality of the main party leaders, economic credibility and the wish to have a stable government.  We may also have seen some voters deciding to stick with known quantities.

The relevant considerations in 2020 may be different.  Right now it seems entirely possible that all of those will continue to weigh heavily on voters’ minds.  Becoming more ideologically distant from the voters would only make Labour’s challenge harder.

The hopefuls

Nature abhors a vacuum.  Who is going to fill that gap?  The answer isn’t obvious.

The Lib Dems are ideologically close to the average voter.  They will hope to profit from any move to the fringes by Labour while being able to attack the Conservatives in government.  But the Lib Dems’ closeness to the public’s views did not result in the public giving them their support in May.  And the hammering they received will make it harder to get that support back where it counts.  Voters who are motivated by choosing a government will not linger over the possibility of voting for them, new leader and new direction notwithstanding.  The Lib Dems will only gain votes either by persuading voters that it is a costfree choice or by getting voters to conclude that both of the two main parties have drifted too far from the centre.  Even then, such voters might well just decide to abstain.

After their experiences of government, the Lib Dems may wish to pitch themselves as a party of opposition.  Indeed, they have already taunted Labour after the Welfare Bill fiasco with the tagline “Be part of the real Opposition”.  This may be effective at picking up protest votes (though there is heavy competition for these now) and the votes of those who live in safe constituencies.  Centrist voters in marginals who want to choose the next government will, however, be looking for something more constructive.

Can Labour offer them something more constructive?  If Labour move leftwards, they will need to persuade a sizeable section of voters – from opposition – that their more hardline critique is worthy of trust in government and they will need to do so without frightening a similar sized section of voters into the arms of the Conservative party.  Labour seem likely to embark on this strategy.  I don’t fancy their chances if they do.

A different strategy might have been to offer a broad tent based around themes that all strands of left and centrist opinion could rally under.  None of the three mainstream candidates for Labour leader have been able to articulate such themes and the opportunity is going begging.  It seems unlikely now that the Labour party will take that chance in the next few years.

If the Labour party is not going to appeal to centrist and centre-left voters, preferring to broadcast a hard left message, might a breakaway party take up the slack?  All things are possible but the prospect looks unlikely and past precedent is offputting.  Establishing a new national party needs a clear message, big names, organisation, nerve and luck.  Labour moderates do not seem to have any of these right now.  The SDP was stronger on almost all of these counts in the early 1980s and still it ultimately failed to break the mould.  Only two of the eight Lib Dem MPs were in the SDP.  They are outnumbered by Conservative MPs with an SDP past.

Speaking of which, can the Conservatives extend their advantage with centrist voters?  Unlike Labour, they certainly want to try.  The summer budget showed George Osborne gleefully trying on progressive clothes for size.

The Conservatives face a different problem, which is that they have long been seen as further from the centre than either Labour or the Lib Dems, as can be seen from the diagram above.  Changing longterm perceptions takes a lot of doing.  At a time when the government is undertaking extensive spending cuts, are they really going to be able to achieve this?  Also, this Parliament is going to be dominated by the referendum on EU membership.  It would be highly surprising if traditional Conservative rightwingers are not heard at great length in this process, undermining any Tory attempts to colonise the middle ground further.

So far as the Conservatives are concerned, in the short term the question is a bit of a red herring.  They don’t need centrist voters to identify with them.  They only need them to continue voting for them in preference to other parties.  Enough of these voters gave them their support on 7 May, however unenthusiastically.  They would settle for that in 2020 as well.

In the longer term, however, we are looking at an unstable political landscape where the voters must choose between parties with prospectuses that do not enthuse them and a party with a prospectus that they do not believe will stand a chance of being implemented.  This cannot last indefinitely.  Sooner or later, the gap will be filled.



Gains from both CON and LAB plus other good local results on Tim Farron’s first night as LD leader

Friday, July 17th, 2015


Tim Farron won the Lib Dem leadership on the strength of his election successes and was very much the choice of the activists.

With only eight MPs at Westminster Farron would dearly love there to be a parliamentary by-election. But who knows when one of those is going to come up? So in the meantime the emphasis will be going back to its roots by seeking to build up the party on a local level.

Next May’s elections are nearly ten months away but on a week by week basis the hope is that they can build up momentum by chalking up gains in local by-elections.

Overnight Farron’s party won two seats. These were Battle on Rother council from the Tories and Llay in Wrexham which the party had not contested last time. But the result that will give most pleasure to the new leader was in the Grove ward in Kingston upon Thames where the LDs had the Westminster seat until May 7th.

What’s striking about these numbers is where its 26.3% increase in vote came from. A bit came from the Tories but a lot from Labour and the Greens.

The one Westminster by-election is prospect is Zac Goldsmith’s Richmond Park – a seat where not so long ago the LDs were strong and, indeed, had the MP. The Tory majority of 23% looks impregnable but I know there is some nervousness in the Tory camp about having a battle here if Zac resigns over Heathrow or on becoming Mayor of London.

  • The other by-election change overnight was CON gain from UKIP of Gorleston St. Andrew on Norfolk County Council.

    Mike Smithson

  • h1

    Tim Farron becomes LD leader after beating Norman Lamb

    Thursday, July 16th, 2015


    The vote split was 56.5% to Norman Lamb’s 43.5:

    I maintain my record of having voted in every LD leadership election but never for the winner

    Mike Smithson


    Why in the end I voted for Norman Lamb

    Wednesday, July 15th, 2015


    We need effective liberal voices in an increasingly illiberal world

    Although I’ve not been an active Lib Dem for more than a decade and a half I have still retained my membership and consider my politics as being strongly liberal with a small “l”.

    As I posted the week before last I arrived back from holiday to find my voting papers waiting for me and at that stage I could not decide between the two. I have enormous respect for the campaigning abilities of Tim Farron and the way he seems to have matured during the leadership campaign. The party needs someone with his energy and if it is to move forward from the disaster on May 7th.

    Although Lamb is of an older generation he’s a highly effective campaigner too and I’ve been hugely impressed by the way he has conducted his campaign. I think that his powerful liberal voice can inspire the party and, of course, he brings considerable ministerial experience.

    The way he raised the status of mental health within the NHS can be rated as perhaps the party’s biggest political and most lasting achievement from the coalition years.

    I should add that my vote is probably the kiss of death. Since joining the party on its formation in 1987 all my votes in leadership elections gave gone to losers.

    We’ll know the result tomorrow.

    Mike Smithson


    LD Newswire survey has Tim Farron heading for 58-42% victory over Norman Lamb for next party leader

    Monday, July 13th, 2015

    The results will be announced on Thursday and given the fact that second class reply envelopes have been used then virtually every party member planning to vote will probably have done so.

    Mark Pack gives the details here.

    My main observation about the survey is that these tend to be dominated by activists and might not be fully representative of those voting. We’ll see when the results come out.

    Meanwhile I rather like this from the first time Tim Farron stood for parliament in 1992 when we was just 22.

    Mike Smithson


    The LD leadership race where NOT being anti-immigration could be a vote winner

    Sunday, July 5th, 2015

    With the Lib Dem leadership race drawing to a close the favourite, ex-party president Tim Farron, according to the Observer, has said that the UK should take 60,000 immigrants to help deal with the current crisis. According to Toby Helm’s report:

    “..“We should support this because we are decent people. Our party should not have a mixed message about this. We should not turn people away,” he said.

    The former Lib Dem president has written to David Cameron to say the UK should be proud of its record on taking in refugees, citing the admission of many thousands of Ugandan Asians who were expelled by President Idi Amin in 1972… “

    In my judgement this is a wise move by Farron which will resonate well with the 60,000 party members who are currently voting on who should succeed Nick Clegg.

    All the polling suggests that Lib Dem voters have a different view on immigration from those of other parties and my guess is that this will be more so with actual party members.

    This call will help Farron reinforce his liberal credentials which have come under attack from some quarters in the campaign.

    Mike Smithson


    The Lib Dem choice: The highly regarded ex-minister or the formidable campaigner?

    Friday, July 3rd, 2015

    norman lamb tim farron   Google Search

    Why my LD vote could be against my betting self interest

    Just got back from a wonderfully restful holiday on the coast near the ancient sherry town of Jerez in South West Spain to find my LD leadership voting papers there waiting for my attention. The choice is very difficult.

    Back in April 2011 I suggested on PB that Norman Lamb, then 25/1, might be a good next party leader bet and I do well if he wins.

    Certainly if, as was possible at least twice during the coalition years, that Clegg had stepped down then Lamb, almost a John Major figure, would have been the ideal safe pair of hands to take over. He had the backing of party grandees and during his time in government built up a strong reputation particularly on NHS policy on the mentally ill. Health sec Jeremy Hunt paid him a glowing tribute after the election.

    But May 7th was totally devastating for the party and the yellows need to show pretty quickly that they are not a spent force.

      A key part of that could be parliamentary by-elections where in the old days they used to be so strong. Winning a seat might be a tall order but a strong performance would provide a significant boost and demonstrate that they are in the game again.

    It is here where I believe that Tim Farron offers a lot. As his Westmoreland constituency results show he is an enormously effective campaigner who can bring in the votes and energise activists.

    His position is helped by the fact that the one by-election in prospect at the moment is Richmond Park – the seat of Zac Goldsmith – current hot favourite to be next year’s CON London Mayoral candidate which he held with a 23% majority in May. Goldsmith has also repeatedly threatened to resign his seat if Heathrow is chosen in the London airports debate – something that looks more probable after this week’s events.

    Richmond under its old boundaries used to be in yellow hands and a by-election would provide an opportunity for campaigner Farron to show his electoral skills. Overnight the party had a gain from CON in the borough though not in the parliamentary constituency.

    I can’t make up my mind which way and plan to defer voting to the very last moment.

    Mike Smithson


    This morning’s must read

    Thursday, June 25th, 2015

    The Guardian have a fascinating and detailed piece on the Lib Dem time in government, it is clear how much reneging on their pre-election tuition fees pledge damaged the Lib Dems and the events of May 2014 and the failed Oakeshott attempt to remove Clegg, Vince Cable’s reputation isn’t enhanced by this story.

    Nick Clegg discussed resigning as Liberal Democrat leader in the wake of the party’s humiliating reverses in the European and local elections in May 2014, an investigation by the Guardian has revealed.

    In a sign of the immense toll taken by four years in coalition, the former deputy prime minister experienced what his mentor and former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown described as the “darkest of the dark nights of the soul”. Clegg consulted several senior colleagues about whether he had become a barrier to the party’s message being heard and whether he should go.

    Clegg made numerous phone calls to discuss his position a year before the general election in which his party was reduced from 56 seats to eight. He told one colleague: “If I believe – and I am very close to thinking it – I am the problem and not the solution, I have to stand to one side.”

    One senior Lib Dem who spoke to Clegg at the time said: “I told him, ‘You don’t have that luxury – this is your burden now, you have to carry it through to the election. Whether you believe that or not, it’s tough-titty. You can’t now put this down until the election. You can do it after the election if you want, but you can’t do it now.’”

    Clegg was talked out of quitting by Ashdown, as well as by his most likely successor, Tim Farron, and most of his closest advisers. They told him to stay in post and fight to defend the cause of liberalism at the general election.

    Regarding the impact of the (inaccurate) national polling

    It was clear that the Tories had struck gold with their warnings about a possible tie-up between Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP. Voters’ fears were exacerbated by the false impression in opinion polls that the election was a neck-and-neck race between Labour and the Tories. “Our vote was being seriously eroded by the Labour/Salmond thing,” Ashdown recalled. “There was a sort of hidden army of people who were so worried about Labour that they literally came out to vote for the first time.”

    I suspect had the Lib Dems stuck with their pre-election tuition fees pledge and Clegg had resigned in May 2014, the outcome of the General Election (and future General Elections) might have been very different for the Lib Dems, that’s something that’s going to spark much discussion among we political observers for years to come. Instead on May the 7th the Lib Dems ended up playing the role of Anastasia Steele to the electorate’s Christian Grey.

    The Guardian article is available here