What does a successful general election look like?

4 Apr 2024

Seats… and capacity

We may not yet know when the date of the Westminster general election will be. But we do know what success will look like. 

For older readers, please think of 1983. For younger readers, please think of 2019. Neither of these Westminster general elections are remembered as a triumph for us or our predecessors. In 1983 we got 25% of the vote… but only 23 seats. In 2019, our vote share went up by a chunky 4%... but our seat tally fell by 1.

When it comes to judging success and failure in a first-past-the-post general election, the key yardstick is seats, not votes.

That is why for the coming general election, the concentration of our collective efforts on the most winnable seats is so important.

The margin between triumph and disaster can be scarily close in such efforts. If just 34,843 people in the wrong places had switched their votes to our main rivals in 2019, we would have come out of the election with zero MPs. Extinction in Westminster was horribly close.

That is scary - but also empowering, because it shows what a big difference our individual efforts can add up to. A small number of votes makes a huge difference to the outcome - if we choose to concentrate our efforts smartly. 

We have seen the benefits of effective targeting in the impressive efforts which have brought us net gains in every round of council elections in this Parliament.

It is why that for all of us who live outside our target seats, putting in help to those target seats - whether in person on the ground or remotely - will be a vital part of making the general election a success for us all. Winning those seats will be a collective effort, and one that - thanks to the greater publicity, Parliamentary opportunities and resources which more MPs brings - will then benefit us all in future elections right across the country.

If the seat tally is the main measure of success, and that will be secured in the target seats, what does this mean for what success looks like in other seats? Partly it will be about having played a role in helping those target seats but also it will also be about leaving the local parties outside target seats in a stronger position to win future elections.

What will most help with that is using the general election to build up the local campaign machine. Whether it is using the wave of interest at election time to give half a dozen people out canvassing for the first time, or using the opportunity to identify another couple of council ward target candidates, the best measure of success will be how much stronger the local campaign machine is for winning at future elections. 

That is why we are rolling out our largest ever programme of support for non-target seats, with a special emphasis on how to build the local team’s capacity.

For everyone taking part in that - thank you, and good luck.

Good luck too to the candidates, agents and campaign managers in the elections that come first, and for which we do thankfully know the date - the May local elections. We already have more Lib Dem councils than when we went into government in 2010. Now we can go even further in spreading the power of Liberal Democrats in local government. 


Disciplinary Sub-Group: volunteers needed

The party is currently advertising for three voluntary roles on the party body which oversees our complaints process. Full details are in the advert on the party website.


Guidance on newspapers

Last month an email from me went out to local parties today about the party's guidance on producing tabloid newspapers. They are an important part of our campaigning mix, and so it is important that we produce them in a way that both maximises their political benefit for us and also avoids giving our opponents a legitimate cause for complaint.

You can read more about our guidance here.


Congratulations to…

Over the last month the local parties who have recruited the most members locally in Scotland, Wales and England are:

  • Aberdeenshire West
  • Swansea and Gower
  • London Borough of Sutton

Thanks and congratulations to those three teams and also to Woking Liberal Democrats who topped the table for the local party that has spoken with the highest proportion of its members in the last month. 

This sort of grassroots membership engagement is crucial to successful local parties and winning election campaigns. 

Speaking of Woking Lib Dems…


Our party award winners

The York conference saw our latest quartet of party award winners:

Woking Liberal Democrats - The Bertha Bowness Fischer Award

Named after a pioneering female election agent, this year’s winner has built an incredible delivery network, which as we all know is essential for success. Their network is now covering 9 in 10 doors in Woking with people delivering their own street and a modest sized average delivery round - just what is needed for keeping going as the tempo rises closer to polling day. Already this network is fuelling an impressive run of election victories, including defeating every Conservative candidate by taking four more seats from them last May.

Ami Wyllie - The Laura Grimond award

This award recognises someone’s pivotal contributions behind-the-scenes to our party. A popular colleague at Lib Dem HQ, honoured with many nominations from fellow staff and appreciation from journalists for her Lib Dem branded baked goods, you will most likely recognise Ami's work as the mastermind behind our stunts, photo ops and conference rallies - gaining us nationwide media attention.

Darryl Smalley - The Albert Ingham Award

Named after another great election agent, this award is given for an impressive election win. Last December in the East Midlands, Darryl led the campaign in a ward we did not even stand in before, for a council with no Lib Dems on it for more than a decade. But Darryl’s flair, enthusiasm and signature tropical outfits helped get Adrian elected as our new councillor. Congratulations to them both, and thanks for your dedication, Darryl!

Mike Martin - Leader’s Award

Recognized for exemplary dedication to canvassing, this winner is leading from the front and putting the fright into local Conservatives.

As the Tunbridge Wells PPC, Mike has spoken with an amazing 3,909 voters from last May to the end of February, significantly boosting the local party’s general election efforts and motivating us all to hit the campaign trail.  

Appropriately, Mike was out canvassing during the awards ceremony, so his award was collected on his behalf by fellow PPC, Jess Brown-Fuller.

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.




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