Are you a Liberal Democrat conference rep who went to Brighton?

If so, I’ve got a question for you. Below is the text of an email sent out by 38 Degrees following their lobbying campaign around Liberal Democrat conference.

The lobbying itself – over the climate change debate – was pretty well done, in particular firing up supporters to want to lobby the Liberal Democrats – but doing so without throwing the sort of brickbats at the party that would make the lobbying less likely to be effective. (It’s a common problem with lobbying campaigns: you whip up an audience by saying the target is evil, and then found the said recipient of all the evil comments amazingly enough isn’t that receptive to your approaches.)

However, on reading the email below talking up the impact of their lobbying campaign, and even allowing for the “it looks likely that…” style caveats, my first thought was: “nonsense”. My second longer thought was: “I didn’t come across any conference representative whose vote was swayed by the 38 Degrees campaign, so they’re vastly over-stating their influence”.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, especially as I didn’t explicitly go out and ask conference reps and instead am judging things more by what I didn’t hear than what I did hear.

So if you were a voting conference rep in Brighton, do let me know: did you vote in the debate 38 Degrees was lobbying over, and if so was your vote influenced by their campaign? This was one of their better campaigns in many ways – and so it’s all the more interesting to know what impact it had.

UPDATE: Some early answers to my question from Twitter –

Here’s the 38 Degrees email:

Climate vote – good news

Dear Mark,

I wanted to get in touch with an update on a 38 Degrees petition you had an email about last week. The petition was calling on the Lib Dems to back real action to tackle climate change. It’s pretty good news – it looks like it made a big difference.

Almost 40,000 of 38 Degrees members signed the petition. Last Sunday, I went down to Brighton to take the petition to the Lib Dem party conference. I went inside to deliver the box of signatures direct to the climate change secretary, Ed Davey MP.

The next morning I was joined by local 38 Degrees members by the entrance to the conference. As Lib Dems arrived to vote, we handed each of them a leaflet containing the petition message and telling them how many of us had signed it. There was only one way into the venue, so it was pretty hard to dodge us.

Ed Davey climate petition

Left: Here I am handing our huge people-powered petition to Ed Davey. Right: 38 Degrees members handing out our leaflets at the entrance to the conference.

It looks like our pressure worked. On Monday the Lib Dems voted by a big majority for tougher climate action, including electricity without carbon by 2030. By the time Nick Clegg stood up to speak at the end of the conference, the need to tackle climate change and create new jobs in green industries had become a big theme of the conference.

It looks like our petition helped sway the Lib Dems to make the right choice and back real action to tackle climate change.

It’s a great start. But we can’t take things for granted from here. We know it’s never safe to relax just because politicians promise to do something – we have to keep the pressure up until they actually do it. And we know that when it comes to tackling climate change, powerful politicians like George Osborne keep trying to block progress.

So we’ll need to keep working together. But this weeks’ success is definitely a great example of how we can change things for the better.

Thanks again for being involved,

Executive Director

PS: Do you think 38 Degrees should continue to make sure George Osborne doesn’t wreck climate targets? What else could we be doing together to tackle climate change? You can share your thoughts and feedback with other 38 Degrees members in the comments section here:

[1] 38 Degrees blog: Lib Dems vote for tougher climate action
[2] The Independent: Environmental campaigners call for legally-binding carbon target
[3] Business Green: Lib Dems: green investment bank must borrow immediately;
[4] The Guardian: Nick Clegg taunts Conservatives over broken green promises



Dear Mark,

Right now, there’s a tug of war going on in government over our climate targets. George Osborne is trying to wreck plans for getting carbon emissions under control. [1] But this week, there’s a real chance we could stop him getting his way.

At the weekend, Lib Dems will be travelling to Brighton to meet for their conference. They will be voting on plans for the next year – and that includes deciding whether to back tougher climate rules that could stop Osborne’s plans in their tracks. [2]

The Lib Dems will be under pressure not to back the tougher rules. Many party leaders won’t want another row with Conservatives in the government. But if they know there are thousands of us backing them to stay strong on climate, they’re much more likely to make a stand.

Can you add your name to the petition now?

To make sure every Lib Dem at the conference knows we want them to stop Osborne’s dangerous climate plans, 38 Degrees members will take our petition right to their door. They’ll be handing a copy to everyone who goes into the conference before the vote, and delivering one to Ed Davey, the climate minister, too.

There’s only one entrance – so our people-powered petition will be hard to ignore. That means most people in conference will have seen our message: Lib Dems – take a stand on climate change.

The vote is only a few days away and people will be making up their minds now, so we need to move fast. Let’s make this petition as big as possible before it’s delivered to the Lib Dems – add your name:

We know that when it comes to convincing politicians to do the right thing, people power works. From stopping the forest sell-off to convincing David Cameron to accept climate targets, 38 Degrees members have played a big role in protecting our planet. [3]

So let’s get together in our thousands and let Lib Dems know we won’t stand for Osborne tearing up climate targets. With a flood of signatures telling them to take a stand, we can make sure the vote swings the right way.

Let’s keep up the pressure to protect our climate targets. Can you sign the petition now?

Thanks for being involved,

Bex, David, Hannah and the 38 Degrees team

PS: 38 Degrees needs a new Technology Director, to make our web site and campaigns more powerful and easier to use. Could it be you or someone you know? Please help spread the word, so we can find the very best person for the job! See the details here:

[1] The Independent: George Osborne slammed by his own climate change advisors over dash for gas
The Guardian: UK dash for gas would be illegal, says climate committee
[2] The Guardian: Lib Dem activists to target George Osborne at autumn conference
[3] 38 Degrees blog: Woods: we did it!
Cameron to back climate targets

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Conference and News.


  • Andrew McLean 30th Sep '12 - 1:31pm

    I was completely unaware that 38 Degrees were campaigning on this issue, so the campaign had no impact on me. I have to say I tend to tend to find 38 Degrees a bit shouty. I’ll draw unfavourable comparisons with another organisation that I think did have an impact on debate at conference, namely Liberty. Liberty has the advantage of being greatly respected by most Lib Dems for both their values and expertise. When Shami Chakrabarti says something is wrong Lib Dems stop and listen.

  • John Richardson 30th Sep '12 - 1:35pm

    Does it matter? Given it was a Lib Dem conference it probably didn’t affect the outcome but there’s no harm in outside groups piling on the pressure. The more people making a noise about this, the better.

  • Jeremy Hargreaves 30th Sep '12 - 1:48pm

    1. This amendment was quite obviously always going to be passed with no opposition. Sure enough, when the debate came, not a single person spoke against it. This means that either (a) there was a big campaign which had planned to speak against it who took fright when they saw the awesome machine that 38 degrees had created and so didn’t even put in a card to speak, or (b) no-one was ever going to speak against it.
    2. I was in and out of the conf centre all week and wasn’t aware of them being there at all.
    3. Trivial as it is, as has been said, them stating as fact that there was only one entrance when there were two main ones, plus other smaller side ones used by a few people, is a fairly accurate representation of the veracity of the rest of their email.
    4. Afraid this simply confirms my view that 38 degrees are an awful awful group of populist people with no principles apparent apart from self-promotion and distortion. Like a stopped clock being right twice a day, occasionally they back a good cause, but that doesn’t change this!

  • Richard Dean 30th Sep '12 - 1:49pm

    In this case the outside group is claiming to have caused the LibDems to vote the way they did. That seems scurrilous to me.

  • I must have entered the ‘secure zone’ 20+ times in the course of the week and didn’t notice this lot at all. There are always people handing out fliers for fringe meetings etc but that’s generally a complete waste of time!

    I don’t think the vote on climate change was at all contentious however, so no idea why they were focusing on that.

  • Ooooh – an organisation who can persuade Lib Dem activists to vote for a strongly pro-environment motion. Where can I hire them 🙂

  • On the other hand, I hope those 40,000 people realise that the lib-dems are the party for them, join up and come to the next conference!

  • Tracy Connell 30th Sep '12 - 8:32pm

    I am a voting rep and was at Brighton. I was not approached by 38 Degrees at all.

  • If they are that effective, presumably they will be able to get the Tories to vote for a pro-environment motion? Perhaps they could get George Osborne to say “for sure, we must not sacrifice the economy for the environment. But equally, we must not sacrifice the environment for the economy.”?

  • Surely if they are really effective they will manage a successful lobbying campaign in Birmingham and persuade the Tories me thinks that some of them may actually need persuading. Not that they have meaningful motions that they can lobby on.

  • Karen Wilkinson 1st Oct '12 - 11:54am

    Agree with the consensus here. Think I may have been 38 degrees member before joining LibDems and have had a few chats with David Babbs, to express my concerns over their tone & simplicity. As a 38 degrees member, I was looking for a campaigning group which would give me a clearer window on the realities of what is happening rather than a highly subjective viewpoint – plenty of places to get that. I also didn’t want to be treated like an idiot. I think they did do some good work around the NHS issues but really I despair, especially after this last email. Either a complete misunderstanding of a) of the way the LibDems function b) how may entrances there were & c) who to leverage to make a genuine impact on the climate change agenda – all of which question their competence – or a competent but extremely cynical manipulation of their membership on a par with the worst of the traditional press. David, if you read this, happy to help on former, but get the hell out if the latter.

  • Similar to many people here I wasn’t aware of any campaigning by 38 degrees at our conference, but then I think I only once used the entrance to the conference centre that appears on their photograph. They clearly hadn’t realised there was another entrance.

    Having said that, I don’t think it would make much difference. Voting for a very pro-environment motion is just something Lib Dems would do. I’d be astonished if 38 degrees had swayed many, if any, people at all.

  • you ask about the impact on me as a voting rep of the 38 degrees campaign.. in short zilch.

    I’d had a message via a friend before conference (nothing direct to me), which having already read the conference agenda prompted me to read it again. I couldn’t, frankly, identify the motion they were talking about, and in any case I couldn’t see why I should do other than vote for it as the motion was clearly party policy being developed.

    Their blurb said the vote ‘could go either way’, clearly it wouldn’t, all that was likely to happen was a debate on the amendments and maybe a few voting against, ie pretty much what happened. For them to now claim that their campaign was somehow a success is utter blocks.
    By the way, there was no 38deg leafleting going on when I entered the conference.. But glad to see that they now see us as an important player.

    I hope they will be taking their campaign to the Tory conference, it would be interesting to see what reception they get there, though of course the Tories won’t be voting. As for the Labour conference, they are still a long way from formulating any policy of their own, so far only copying LibDem policies.

  • I unsubscribed from 38 degrees some months ago because of this attitude from them. Claiming credit for actions that other people were always going to take is pretty reprehensible, particularly as they imply that the opposite would have happened without their involvement.

    Oh and I was at conference and didn’t notice them, but then I didn’t pick up any flyers as I’m fed up of having them thrust in my face on the way in and they generally go straight in the recyling bin anyway…waste of paper.

  • Nigel Quinton 1st Oct '12 - 5:16pm

    I saw David Babbs at conference, but did not see any leafleting. Clearly their line that they had an influence is bunkum, we all (well aside from a few cabinet minsters who are a little shaky on this) clearly on the same side as 38Degrees, and I would argue some way ahead of them.

    However, I do not understand the hostility towards 38 Degrees in the comments above. Most (I cannot remember the exact percentages David Babbs quotes, but I think it was over 50%) 38 Degrees members voted LibDem in 2010 and they are a group we should be identifying with and working with. I thought their NHS campaign was good, and we would have been well to pay more attention to it, but I would say that.

    Whether or not 38Degrees are losing their focus, and becoming a Babbs ego vehicle is not really the main point, they express the view of a large number of people who should be voting for us. Attacking them is not very clever.

  • David Allen 1st Oct '12 - 5:35pm

    The picture, in their second email, of Ed Davey accepting their “huge people-powered petition”, is a bit of an oh-what-a-giveaway. Would Davey have posed for the picture if he had thought Conference likely to vote the other way?

    However – as Nigel Quinton indicates – a bit of hype in a good cause is scarcely the biggest crime out there. Best to treat them as friends. Why alienate even more voters than we have done already?

  • Neville Farmer 2nd Oct '12 - 8:15am

    Agree with you completely, Mark. To suggest that a pre-scheduled conference had transformed into a Climate Change conference because of 38 degrees is grossly over-stating the facts. I voted the way I did because, like most LDs, I’m already there… and probably several years ahead of 38 degrees.

    I’ve supported them on a number of their campaigns but after the recent snidely worded NHS “local” mailout, which I found offensive and dishonest, I’m losing patience. I think it’s time they came to talk to us to find out who their friends are.


  • Andy Boddington 2nd Oct '12 - 9:51am

    Can anyone tell me what the point is of trying to undermine 38 Degrees as Mark seems to wish to do? If the Lib Dems understood the way that groups like 38 Degrees campaign – building networks that pulse their ways towards a common cause – then they might fare really rather well in 2015.

    Leave it to the historians to judge what impact any one body or individual has. Recognise a friend and effective campaigning technique when you see it. The Lib Dems will only lose votes carping about a campaign group that knows its business well.

    Campaigning is not about territory. Its about winning

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