Our positive vision versus Conservative desperation

10 Jan 2024

Beating the Conservatives isn’t enough

That was the thrust of Ed Davey’s new year message, majoring on the importance of how our politics operates:

We must do nothing less than transform the nature of British politics for good.

Fight for a fair deal, that empowers everyone, and holds the already powerful to account.

Smash the two-party system, reform our elections, and give everyone an equal voice.

Because that is the only way we can build a fairer, greener, more caring country.

You can watch his new year message in full here.

But while that’s our positive message for the country…

Brace, brace, brace

When the newspapers appeared on the morning of 22 April 2010 there was a wall of negative front page stories about the Liberal Democrats. It was a well-timed hit, being the morning of the second TV debate in an election that had been upended by Nick Clegg’s performance in the first debate.

But there was a dirty secret behind those front page attacks which was only revealed when academics Phil Cowley and Dennis Kavannagh wrote a book about the election after. It was a secret about desperation on the part of the Conservatives: “All but one of the stories to feature on newspaper front pages that day came from the Conservatives”. Not that the papers told their readers this. 

Nor did the stories stand up. Most notoriously the Daily Telegraph splashed that morning on its front page making claims about Nick Clegg’s bank account. Yet just a few hours later their chief political commentator and assistant editor was admitting he didn’t even know if anything wrong had happened. His admission that even he didn’t know if the allegations were true didn’t make that story, of course. Nor did he explain why his paper didn’t pause to research the story first rather than rushing to put in print what the Conservatives had handed them.

As Cowley and Kavanagh quoted a Cameron campaign source: “‘We did a pretty comprehensive job on them… However dirty it was… that was the machine swinging into action.”

Much has changed since 2010. But the willingness of Conservative HQ to do absolutely anything it takes to stay in power has not. We can expect them to brief negative stories about us continually. 

It’s going to be a bracing year. But that shows we are a real threat to the Conservatives.

(And of course if you do see a story where you’re not sure what the full picture is or want to know the party’s response, do drop me a line on president@libdems.org.uk). 

A cracking quarter of council by-elections

The final quarter of 2023 was a cracking one for our local campaign teams: more than double the net gains of Labour and Greens combined, a big increase in vote share and overtaking the Conservatives in the aggregate vote for the first time in the year.

by-elections

Many congratulations to everyone who played a part in that, especially the winning candidates and agents but also those who put a name on the ballot paper where previously we’d been absent. Commiserations too to those candidates and teams who just missed out this time.

These results show just how much potential there is for us in the May local elections, especially if we continue to increase the number of wards in which we have candidates.

That will be even more important if the local elections are at the same time as or before the general election as our candidate tally will be one of the signs in the eyes of the media of whether or not we’re growing as a national party. We did really well out of the media reaction to our growing candidate numbers in 2023. 

So if you’ve got local elections coming up in your patch, please do make sure you have plans in place for, preferably, a full slate of candidates and, at the very least, more candidates than last time around. 

There’s more on how to find candidates and get the paperwork all safely done in the Full Slate pack on the Campaign Hub.

Come to Federal Conference for free

If you volunteer as a steward you get free attendance plus help towards subsistence, travel and accommodation costs. Plus getting to be a member of a great team. More details are here.

Technology changes

It’s over a decade since we introduced CONNECT as our main electoral database, and nearly all local parties have switched over to using it. It’s also CONNECT that we provide data for, integrate with our other systems and which is used in our training.

A small number of places still use EARS and therefore miss out on these benefits. In addition, having two systems increases the administrative overhead for staff and increases our IT and data risks.

Therefore, our relevant party committees have decided later this year to remove EARS from our list of approved suppliers later this year - three months after the general election, but no earlier than 1 July. We have set that date to give everyone plenty of time to plan, and to ensure people can make migrations outside of an election campaign period itself.

Making local party finances easier

An increasing number of our local parties - and other party bodies - are using the online Xero accounting software and are banking with Unity Bank. In both cases, we have arrangements with the company which parts of the party can benefit from. Unity also has the benefit of having strong ethical banking policies and being a bank for whom supporting membership organisations is a core part of its outlook.

If you are involved in party finances and would like to make the switch to one or both, drop an email to help@libdems.org.uk and the team can point you in the right direction.

January Board meeting

No surprise that our Westminster general election preparations are the big item for our agenda to kick-off the year. We’re deliberately taking a different approach to the Board’s oversight of election plans from the last few cycles, with in particular a specific deep drive into different parts of planning at successive meetings. For our first meeting of the year we’ll also do our now traditional review of the priorities set for our strategy by conference earlier in this Parliament and whether to update or refine them.

Coming up in February will be looking at membership and support for our candidates and their teams outside our Advanced and Moving Forward seats. I know both of those are of interest to many members, and rightly so as they are crucial parts of ensuring that the election not only delivers the prime outcome - more seats - but also helps put the party in a stronger position to win future elections at all levels.

To wrap up the January agenda though, it also covers final decisions on what party business the Board is putting to our spring conference, looking at whether DBS checks should be used more widely in the party and how we work with other party committees and bodies.

Just before Christmas, the Board elected its representatives to other party committees for the next two years. We elected Alison Rouse to Federal Conference Committee (FCC), Neil Fawcett and Jeremy Hargreaves to the Federal Communications and Elections Committee (FCEC) and Lucy Nethsingha to the Federal International Relations Committee (FIRC).

Are you using WhatsApp locally?

One of the crucial parts of my role as President is being in touch with what members are saying all around the country (and overseas too). It's been noticeable in the last year how much of the online conversation among members and supporters in local parties has moved away from (semi-)public social media, for example away from Facebook and X/Twitter and often moving to WhatsApp (and to a much lesser extent Slack).

If WhatsApp plays a big role in your local party's chatter, and you wouldn't mind an outsider being in your group so I can better see the temperature of members around the party, it'd be great if you can add me to your relevant group. You can either message me the join link on president@libdems.org.uk or ask for my mobile number to add. Thank you.


Do you have questions on any of this report, or other Lib Dem matters? Then please drop me a line on president@libdems.org.uk. Do also get in touch if you would like to invite me to do a Zoom call with your local party or party body.