A very special opportunity beckons this May

17 Feb 2023
A group of Liberal Democrats holding signs and celebrating winning

We have a chance this May to achieve something we’ve only ever managed twice before in our party’s entire history: make it five rounds of local election net gains in a row. 

We should be excited about that possibility. Not only for reasons of psephology but also for reasons of power. 

Every gain we make will mean more people benefiting from Liberal Democrats in office, and every gain we make will mean more opportunity to turn our policies into action.

Policies such as the great record in Eastleigh of building new houses - and keeping on winning elections

To keep our run of local election gains going in May we need two things: candidates and teams to help them. The last time this round of seats were up for election, our calculations show that we missed out on several hundred (yes, hundred) further gains because we didn’t have enough candidates in winnable territory. 

Centrally, the party is doing more to publicise the opportunities to be a candidate and to encourage more people to think about i., (The data from these surveys ends up in Lighthouse so it’s available to all local parties.)

But nothing quite beats the in person conversation, the chat over coffee, to help more people realise what a great candidate and councillor they would be. 

That’s particularly important for potential candidates for under-represented groups, who can need that extra encouragement that our party is a welcoming home for them.

Then we need to get our candidates elected, which is where help from people who don’t have local elections in their own area can be so important. Going to help in person or picking up the phone to make some calls makes the difference in close contests. 

If you can help with either of these tasks, please do. There’s also a wide range of free training available to help you make the most of these opportunities.  

Working together, we can get more Liberal Democrats elected and get more things done such as turning a disused rubbish tip bequeathed by a Conservative-run council into a successful solar farm, helping our planet and generating income to pay for high quality local services.

The paradox at the heart of British politics

Alongside that local picture, there’s a paradox in our national politics we also need to navigate our way through.

The public increasingly views Brexit negatively. The headline figures show a slow but sustained, long-term trend.

Some of this change comes from long-term demographic trends as those joining the adult population are overall much more pro-European than the average. Some of it too comes from people changing their minds - although much of that is a churn to/from don’t know. 

In fact, when YouGov recently asked about how people would vote in a new referendum, there was only a net 1.5% of people switching direct all the way from Leave to Remain. Moreover, those increasing pro-European views are also often quite soft. Put simply, the more that the possible conditions of Britain rejoining the EU are mentioned, the further support drops.

Even so, the overall trends are clearly headed in the right direction given our pro-Europeanism. Yet there is a paradox here. Because while public opinion is increasingly negative about Brexit, public opinion is even more strongly of the view that the most important issues to people, their families and to the country are other topics.

Different pollsters ask these questions in different ways, but the pattern of answers is similar. That pattern matters because, as the last general election showed, however much we might wish the election to be about one issue, in a democracy the voters get to choose what an election is about - and they can choose to make it about something else. 

Today the most important issues are the economy, cost of living and health services. These affect people directly, now, in very practical and obvious ways.

Many people face big waits for a GP appointment, can’t get on an NHS dentist waiting list, worry about ambulance times if things do go wrong, and millions are stuck on waiting lists.

Overwhelmingly, the public wants to hear those who seek to lead them concentrating on these issues. Talking about other issues instead can feel at best like missing the point and at worst disrespectful to the immediate pressures and worries they face. 

The way to show these voters we understand their lives is to talk about the economy, the NHS, practical issues in their area affecting their lives, and the underlying sense of being taken for granted by the Conservatives.

Party Awards: get your nominations in

With our spring federal conference just around the corner, now is the time to get your nominations in for our Party Awards. We’ll be giving our four awards in York, recognising colleagues who have shown great leadership, newer members who have already made a major contribution to the party, great election campaigners and those who make fantastic contributions behind the scenes. 

More details and links to nominate great people you know here.

How Lib Dems improve health and social care provision

Earlier this month I did a local party event with members in Somerset, which is now home to the largest Liberal Democrat group in the country. It’s impressive what the team there is doing with political power, including building a new net zero school and also innovative work with the NHS.

As The Times recently reported:

Health leaders in Somerset recognise that many traditional models of healthcare are not fit for the future. Instead of demanding more from stretched employees or pouring money into hospitals, they believe solutions to the NHS crisis can be found in the village halls, park benches and farmers’ markets at the heart of Somerset’s communities. Patients are kept at home as long as possible, rather than “chucked” somewhere else. And if they do have to be admitted to hospital, it is designed as an experience which should “empower” them…

This focus on keeping patients active and independent pays off: more than half of patients who spend time on the ward go home with a less intensive package of social care support than was originally planned. Patients waiting to be discharged get stronger and are rehabilitated, rather than deteriorating as their muscles waste away…

“We have no right to move people from their own homes and chuck them somewhere else,” says Mel Lock, Somerset’s director of adult social care. “How would you like it if you were whipped into hospital then moved into care and never got home again? You could never pack your bags or say goodbye to your house. Hospitals are there to mend people. People already have a bed — their own bed in their own homes. Let’s get them back there.”

That’s why getting more Liberal Democrats elected is so important.

The Board’s priorities

At our January meeting, the Federal Board has reviewed the core priorities set out in the strategy motion passed by conference earlier this Parliament:

  • Developing a compelling and distinctive narrative
  • Campaigning excellence
  • Improving our record on diversity and inclusion
  • Giving our members and registered supporters an excellent experience
  • Working together as one party 

We’ve agreed that these still make sense, and therefore rather than proposing a new framework to conference, we’re concentrating on working with others in the party on the next phase of implementing them. 

Other parts of the party, particularly the three state parties for England, Scotland and Wales, have important responsibilities in these areas too and the Board’s plans are deliberately aligned with their priorities. The resources that the state parties allocate are an important part of making a success of the overall strategy. 

Our Board agendas for the rest of the year are being planned around these priorities, with the meetings cycling around aspects of each of them to look at. For our February meeting the focus will be on internal communications and then at the meeting after that we will be looking at our approach to improving the party’s record on diversity and inclusion. 

Filling party posts

Thank you to everyone who has recently applied for one of the 30+ federal party posts we’re currently filling across various committees and party bodies. At time of writing, these applications and elections are still underway, so watch out in future reports for news of who the new people are along with the York spring conference agenda which includes three proposed new members of the Federal Appeals Panel.

All these sorts of roles are advertised on the party website, in the Work for Us section. Do keep an eye on that page if you might be interested in future opportunities.

As ever, if you have questions on any of this, or other party matters, do get in touch on president@libdems.org.uk. Do also get in touch if you’d like to invite me to do a Zoom call with your local party or party body




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