And the winner of our Liberal Voice of the Year award is… Sam Bowman

liberal-voiceIt’s a fortnight since we launched our search for the Liberal Voice of the Year with the aim of finding the individual or group which has had the biggest impact on liberalism in the past 12 months. This is LibDemVoice’s sixth such annual award, and as is our tradition, we looked beyond the ranks of the Lib Dems to find the liberal who’s most impressed our readers and is not a member of our party.

We unveiled the shortlist here on New Year’s Day. In total, 755 readers cast a vote in the past two weeks using a preferential voting system. The final (8th) round of voting gave the following result:

52% (390 votes): Sam Bowman

sam bowman
Sam Bowman: policy director at the Adam Smith Institute, who campaigns for free market social justice (‘bleeding heart libertarianism’), including being in favour of immigration, drugs law reform and equal marriage, and against bank bailouts.

28% (211 votes): Malala Yousafzai

MalalaYousafzai
Malala Yousafzai: a school student known for her education and women’s rights activism in Pakistan. She was shot in October in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen while returning home on a school bus.

20% (154 votes): Alliance Party of Northern Ireland

naomi-long
Alliance Party: “Northern Ireland’s cross-community party: working to build a society free of segregation, sectarianism and prejudice.” Deputy leader Naomi Long MP, who along with colleagues was subject to violent threats in December, is pictured.

So Sam Bowman from the free market think-tank the Adam Smith Institute is this year’s Liberal Voice of the Year: congratulations to him.

Though the short-list was drawn from Lib Dem members, as explained here, the poll was open to anyone to vote. I strongly doubt you’d get the same result if it had been restricted to the Lib Dem membership to vote. Rather like cyclists winning BBC Sports Personality of the Year, free market liberals have a motivated online group willing them to win Liberal Voice, as we saw last year when Mark Littlewood topped the poll. But that’s fine: the purpose of the poll is to show liberalism lives and breathes in many forms beyond the ranks of our party, and to highlight this to both Lib Dems and non-Lib Dems alike. For me, whether the result is ‘manipulated’ is secondary to that. And for the record, though he wasn’t my first preference Sam Bowman was in my top four.

The full breakdown of results was as follows:

Round 1:

  • 38 Degrees – 3% (25 votes)
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland – 8% (63)
  • Barack Obama – 3% (25)
  • Coalition for Equal Marriage – 7% (53)
  • Hacked Off campaign & Hugh Grant – 3% (23)
  • Ken Clarke – 4% (29)
  • Lord Justice Leveson – 3% (21)
  • Malala Yousafzai – 19% (143)
  • Rowan Williams – 3% (19) - excluded and votes re-distributed
  • Sam Bowman – 47% (354)

  • Round 2:

  • 38 Degrees – 3% (26 votes)
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland – 9% (67)
  • Barack Obama – 4% (27)
  • Coalition for Equal Marriage – 7% (54)
  • Hacked Off campaign & Hugh Grant – 3% (25)
  • Ken Clarke – 4% (30)
  • Lord Justice Leveson – 3% (24) - excluded and votes re-distributed
  • Malala Yousafzai – 19% (146)
  • Rowan Williams
  • Sam Bowman – 47% (356)

  • Round 3:

  • 38 Degrees – 4% (28 votes) - excluded and votes re-distributed
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland – 10% (73)
  • Barack Obama – 4% (28)
  • Coalition for Equal Marriage – 7% (56)
  • Hacked Off campaign & Hugh Grant – 4% (32)
  • Ken Clarke – 4% (31)
  • Lord Justice Leveson
  • Malala Yousafzai – 19% (147)
  • Rowan Williams
  • Sam Bowman – 48% (360)


  • Round 4:

  • 38 Degrees
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland – 10% (78)
  • Barack Obama – 4% (32) - excluded and votes re-distributed
  • Coalition for Equal Marriage – 8% (59)
  • Hacked Off campaign & Hugh Grant – 5% (38)
  • Ken Clarke – 5% (36)
  • Lord Justice Leveson
  • Malala Yousafzai – 20% (151)
  • Rowan Williams
  • Sam Bowman – 48% (361)


  • Round 5:

  • 38 Degrees
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland – 12% (87)
  • Barack Obama
  • Coalition for Equal Marriage – 8% (63)
  • Hacked Off campaign & Hugh Grant – 6% (44)
  • Ken Clarke – 5% (38) - excluded and votes re-distributed
  • Lord Justice Leveson
  • Malala Yousafzai – 21% (162)
  • Rowan Williams
  • Sam Bowman – 48% (361)


  • Round 6:

  • 38 Degrees
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland – 13% (95)
  • Barack Obama
  • Coalition for Equal Marriage – 9% (67)
  • Hacked Off campaign & Hugh Grant – 8% (58) - excluded and votes re-distributed
  • Ken Clarke
  • Lord Justice Leveson
  • Malala Yousafzai – 22% (168)
  • Rowan Williams
  • Sam Bowman – 49% (367)


  • Round 7:

  • 38 Degrees
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland – 15% (115)
  • Barack Obama
  • Coalition for Equal Marriage – 11% (86)- excluded and votes re-distributed
  • Hacked Off campaign & Hugh Grant
  • Ken Clarke
  • Lord Justice Leveson
  • Malala Yousafzai – 24% (181)
  • Rowan Williams
  • Sam Bowman – 49% (373)

  • Previous winners of the our Liberal Voice of the Year award:

    2012: Mark Littlewood, campaigner for de-regulated markets.

    2011: Aung San Suu Kyi, campaigner against political abuse in Burma.

    2010: Peter Tatchell, international human rights campaigner.

    2009: Campaigners on behalf of Jean Charles de Menezes (Justice4Jean.org) and Stockwell Shooting Inquest Jury.

    2008: Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty.

    * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    66 Comments

    • Who?

    • I think that it’s worth reminding people that this is the ‘liberal voice’ award, not the ‘Lib Dem voice’, and that someone won who people here may not always agree with is not a bad thing by any means. Mr Bowman is definitely more liberal in my view than Ken Clarke or Barack Obama, even if he isn’t as well known… I’m sure this award will go a long way towards changing that, however! :)

    • Stuart Wheatcroft 14th Jan '13 - 11:48am

      There are certainly a lot more than 390 people out there who would be prepared to vote for him. I wasn’t one of them (well, he was in the mix, but a few places down from the top), but I see no reason to suppose that there has been any cheating going on. Not unless you count the poll being publicised on Twitter.

      It’s not the result I was hoping for. That doesn’t mean there was any foul play.

    • Congratulations to Sam and his supporters. They clearly had by far the best GOTV operation of all the contenders.

    • Kirsten de Keyser 14th Jan '13 - 12:05pm

      @ Stephen Tall
      “… For me, whether the result is ‘manipulated’ is secondary… ”
      So, a “manipulated” result is worth reporting as valid?
      I’m sure you can’t possibly mean that Stephen.
      Unless, of course, you condone vote-rigging.

    • Andrew Tennant 14th Jan '13 - 12:10pm

      Congratulations Sam, who I am sure must have done something notable, even if I didn’t note it and wouldn’t have chosen him personally.

      Perhaps next year restrict voting the Lib Dem Voice forum members, ensuring each person gets a single unique ballot token?

    • Genuine question: What’s the difference between a twitter campaign for Sam Bowman and running a slate of candidates for the FPC?

      Honestly confused. Both seem like decent tactics to me.

    • If people care about the outcome of this election and are disappointed about this result, they need to organise themselves better next year. This isn’t a members’ poll, it’s a readers’ poll, which basically means anyone with Internet access is an elector. Nobody campaigned for my vote.

    • Charles Beaumont 14th Jan '13 - 1:08pm

      If people care about the outcome of this election and are disappointed about this result… they need to get a life. I don’t think anyone (incl Sam Bowman) would suggest it was anything more than a quick and dirty click on some vaguely liberal sounding names.

    • Dave Atherton 14th Jan '13 - 1:13pm

      I thought the idea was that one was voting for someone liberal.

      Sour grapes make poor wine.

    • I don’t think one has to be a conspiracy theorist to raise the genuine question of why a nominees who reflect what is a minority of the party’s views have won ‘Liberal Voice of the Year’ two years running.

      But congratulations to Sam and the other nominees.

    • Disappointing result and tends to indicate a concerted campaign by a small group of people. I put this person near bottom of my list. Interesting that in the first round he got 47% but then struggled to reach 50% following all the subsequent rounds of voting!!

    • David Allen 14th Jan '13 - 3:26pm

      It’s deja vu all over again. Ordinary Lib Dems play straight, spread votes widely, fail to organise, lose. Right-wing group plan ahead, select single candidate, organise putsch, win. Now when did that last happen five years ago?

    • Foregone Conclusion 14th Jan '13 - 4:22pm

      If the foremost proponents of liberalism in the world at the moment really are two posh white men who run right-wing think tanks in London, we’re screwed as a movement.

    • Liberal Neil 14th Jan '13 - 4:30pm

      It’s just a bit of fun.

    • “Interesting that in the first round he got 47% but then struggled to reach 50% following all the subsequent rounds of voting!!”

      Yes – I think the contrast between 47% of first preferences and less than 7% of all the votes reallocated is a bit of a giveaway that something dodgy was going on …

    • Just a quick reminder that both Keynes and Beveridge were Liberals.

    • Steve Griffiths 14th Jan '13 - 5:48pm

      @Gareth Epps

      “Perhaps it might suggest that something was wrong in the way that a vote supposedly by liberals, for liberals was set up as a free-for-all?”

      Quite right Gareth; I did wonder why I as one of the departed membership was strangely allowed to vote in one of Stephen’s polls. I don’t recall being allowed to vote before as a non-member, although I confess I don’t look at LDV every week. As for Sam Bowman – as others have said……who? And in what sense is the word ‘Liberal’ being applied here? I cannot imagine the Adam Smith Institute will recognise the same definition as Liberal Democrats.

    • I am surprised that with the Lib Dem “compromise” we’re used to that Margaret Thatcher wasn’t voted the winner.

    • Peter Watson 14th Jan '13 - 6:23pm

      @Tom Papworth “multiple voting would require people to hunt out numerous PCs.”
      I was too decent to try this, but I suspect that all one needs to do is clear cookies from the browser and try again to vote from the same PC. Though I suspect it would only have taken a quick email around the Adam Smith Institute to drum up enough votes: decent PR at no cost.
      Considering the outcome (and the run of winners before last year) I would suggest a poll to decide whether it is worth running such a pointless award any more. Can you imagine the headlines: “Lib Dems think free market think tank wonk is better liberal than [Insert name of someone who risks their life or livelihood for their principles]”

    • “I cannot imagine the Adam Smith Institute will recognise the same definition as Liberal Democrats.”

      Well, obviously neither do you if you’re no longer a party member, in fairness…

    • Andrew Martin 14th Jan '13 - 10:09pm

      I wonder how much Guido Fawkes had to do with it. ..

    • Tom Papworth 14th Jan '13 - 10:33pm

      @Stephen Tall: “The inverted commas of ‘manipulated’ simply referred to the fact that Sam’s supporters were actively encouraging others to vote for him. There’s nothing wrong or invalid with that that I can think of…”

      Indeed there is not .I do therefore think that the word ‘manipulated’ (inverted commas or not) is a rather unfair. Perpahs it might be more accurate to describe what Sam and his supporters did as “Canvassing”, which I suspect a few of us have tried in our time.

    • Tom Papworth 14th Jan '13 - 10:35pm

      @Gareth: “Tom – how would you know? I only voted once.”

      I should hope so. After voting, when you visit the page it says “You have voted” on the voting box, which is kind of superfluous as I kinda’ knew that already.

      @Peter Watson: “I suspect that all one needs to do is clear cookies from the browser and try again to vote from the same PC”

      Depends if it registers the ISP address.

    • William Jones 15th Jan '13 - 7:56am

      The mechanism for voting was a little faulty I found. I know that I voted for Sam Bowman by accident because the mechanism for ordering the candidates was not entirely clear. I would have thought that there were grounds for re-running the vote.

    • Steve Griffiths 15th Jan '13 - 8:49am

      @Z

      On reflection I guess you’re right. It just shows that many Lib Dems feel comfortable with organisations like the Adam Smith Institute; another reason for leaving.

    • @Stephen Tall
      Probably because few people know exactly what his views are. The idea that Sam Bowman has been the most important liberal voice in the world in the last 12 months is just silly. I’d suggest you restrict voting to the members-only forum next time. It’s the only way you can be sure the vote isn’t rigged.

    • “looking through this thread I’ve yet to see anyone disagree with Sam Bowman’s views on the issues”

      No doubt AndrewR is right, but as you asked, at the start of his second article on the Adam Smith Institute website comes this view:
      “Virtually everything the government spends money on needs to be cut.”

      But maybe you expect all Lib Dems to agree with that these days…

    • Stephen

      Actually, I missed the bit after the parentheses. Mea culpa. But narrowing it down to the views specifically mentioned in the article I would question the one you selectively ‘snipped’ out – “opposition to bank bailouts”. But admittedly without knowing what form that opposition takes I can’t really express disagreement with it.

    • Chris – I will match your mea culpa, as I’d forgotten Sam’s bank bailouts opposition. Here’s one of his posts explaining why via a quick Google: http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/money-banking/no-wonder-we-have-bank-bailouts-regulators-will-always-be-captured-by-the-firms

    • Yes Stephen, the point is that though you quoted some of his views, which most members would support, you did not give any indication about his views on other issues. A friend of yours by any chance?

    • @ Rob – I didn’t nominate Sam. He didn’t make my personal top 3 for reasons explained in the post I linked to in my article. I’ve never met him.

      If you’re looking for a candidate who believes what Lib Dems believe pretty much all the time I think you may have missed the point of the Liberal Voice poll.

    • “Here’s one of his posts explaining why via a quick Google”

      Funnily enough I did see that before posting my comment. I thought the first sentence sounded as though it implied he was against any regulation of the financial sector, but looking further on that didn’t seem to be the case. In any case, the article didn’t seem to be expressing opposition to bailouts as such, but discussing flaws in the way regulation works.

    • Geoffrey Payne 16th Jan '13 - 12:25pm

      From now on every time we have these awards someone is going to nominate a libertarian that hardly anyone has heard of before and then every libertarian in the UK will vote for him and he will win. That will be followed by a large number of comments underneath from actual Lib Dem members complaining about the result. It all seems rather futile. Either change it so that forum members only can vote or don’t bother.

    • Peter Watson 16th Jan '13 - 1:35pm

      @Stephen Tall
      Presumably, if you looked around the globe (there were international nominations) you could find a politician who has implemented the sort of legislation that this Sam Bowman chap has simply written about.

    • Richard Shaw 16th Jan '13 - 2:01pm

      So, let me get this straight. LDV runs a public poll choose someone as “Liberal Voice of the Year” (not Lib Dem of the Year) from a group of non-Lib Dems and people are disappointed, nay, scandalised that the winner is someone who is not necessarily representative of Lib Dems? Heavens above.

      Some complain that the winner hasn’t suffered enough in comparison to other nominees. Surely, they don’t mean to suggest that, to borrow a meme, you’re only Liberal if you’ve got bruises?

      Others suggest that, to ensure a more ‘palatable’ result, that voting should be restricted to the members of the forum – as if they hold a monopoly on Liberal thought or are representative of the readers or commenters of the website.

      Those who mutter that the winner had the audacity to publicise his nomination and the poll, surely they are familiar with the Lib Dem adage that ‘where one works, one wins’?

      I look forward to next year’s poll, if only to see if people have learned any lessons and used this election poll to ‘build towards the next’.

    • Peter Watson 16th Jan '13 - 3:06pm

      For me the problem is that even such a meaningless poll can be

      manipulated by the winner’s friends (even Tom Papworth of this parish? https://twitter.com/TomPapworth/status/286460538261762049)

      spun by the winner to make it sound like a “well-deserved honour” (http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/miscellaneous/congratulations-to-sam-bowman)

      spun by Lib Dem opponents to make fun of us (fortunately no links like this, unless you count http://digitalpolitico.net/2013/01/14/asis-sam-bowman-joins-mark-littlewood-as-a-liberal-voice-of-the-year/)

    • Party member here. Voted Bowman 1st preference. Not contacted by anyone.

    • Richard Shaw
      “Others suggest that, to ensure a more ‘palatable’ result, that voting should be restricted to the members of the forum – as if they hold a monopoly on Liberal thought or are representative of the readers or commenters of the website.”
      If that’s directed at my comment I’m sorry I wasn’t clear. Only if you authenticate your users e.g. by requiring them to login into a members only forum can you prevent people voting multiple times. All other methods of trying to track voter’s identity – cookies, IP Addresses etc can be circumvented by a motivated person with a modicum of technical knowledge. I’m not suggesting that is what happened in this case but it doesn’t seem to me to be a good idea to run polls
      like this on LDV when they are susceptible to digital ballot stuffing.

    • I definitely smell something fishy. Quite apart from the very small numbers in the poll, 195 votes had to be redistributed before Sam Bowman could muster an extra 36 votes.

      I still have little clue who this Sam Bowman is. His win could, I suppose be due to an indifferent choice to start with. It did not help to have the Hacked Off group described as with Hugh Grant; I wonder what Hacked Off campaign without Hugh Grantwould have scored.

    • Paul McKeown 17th Jan '13 - 1:10am

      Gordon Bennett … err is he a liberal, too?

      Sam Bowman? Who?

      Ahead of Malala Yousafzai, who, whilst still a schoolgirl herself, was threatened with murder, yet persevered in her campaign for the public education of girls and women? She deserves a knighthood. her family deserves a knighthood.

      Ahead of Naomi Long, an elected politician, unbowed in the face of death threats targeted at her for her party upholding the most basic tenet of a liberal democracy that the rights of a minority population should not be trampled over to placate the loudest and foulest voices in a majority population. She deserves a knighthood. Her party deserves a knighthood.

      Sam Bowman. Err … who?

    • James Sandbach 17th Jan '13 - 1:28pm

      I suggest LDV readers check out what the ASI stand for and the ideological policies they espouse..dismantling of NHS and benefits system, privatisation of other services, scrapping financial services regulation, low taxes on the wealthy, getting rid of the EU – ASI are widely reconsidered to be the most extremist think-tank around.

      Is this liberalism?

    • Yes James, but not as we know it!

    • Well, Lib Dems aren’t the only Liberals, and the winner seems to be socially and economically liberal, but in terms of actions in support of liberalism, I think there were worthier winners on what was a poor list ( with the obvious exception of the beleagured Alliance party).

      For me, the main danger here is in seeming to endorse libertarianism – which is just a trendy way of maintaining privilge for the few, and thereby anti-liberal … If libertarians share some liberal goals, well, so do some socialists and tories.

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