Author Archives: Paul Holmes

Why a good targeting strategy is essential

Michael Meadowcroft makes an impassioned case against Targeting but the facts simply do not support his case.

In a First Past The Post electoral system good targeting of resources is essential whether you are a local party fighting Council elections or a national party looking to maximise the number of MP’s elected. A good but widely spread vote wins little for a small third or fourth party. This was most clearly illustrated in 1983 when our 25.4% returned just 23 MP’s compared to Labour returning over 200 MP’s with a more geographically concentrated 27.5% of the vote.

Michael does concede that targeting worked in 1997 but says its effect was disastrous thereafter. In fact more seats were targeted in 2001 and we won 52 followed by 62 (our best since 1922) in 2005. In 2010 we targeted even more although we saw a net loss of 5 due to being too ambitious and spreading effort too thinly. At the same time, far from being ‘hollowed out’ everywhere else, we won control of a greater number of councils than ever before –a clear sign of growth and expansion in campaigning capability.

In short the ‘hollowing out’ of the Party between 2011-2017 owes nothing to targeting and everything to our virtually overnight self destruction shortly after entering Coalition. Neither of course was there ever some sort of pre-targeting ‘Golden Age’. From 1945 -1979 the Liberal Party fluctuated between a high of just 14 MPs in 1974 and near oblivion in many other General Elections. From 1983 onwards we averaged around 22 MP’s. Only after serious targeting started did we double and then treble that figure.

Some comments, both by Michael and below the line, do both puzzle and concern me though. I was involved with target seats from 1995-2015 in one capacity or another as voluntary constituency organiser, PPC, MP and back to Constituency Organiser. I never heard any suggestion in that time that ‘no’ activity should take place anywhere else although I did hear it rather foolishly being said in 2017. Indeed back in 1995 onwards there were 3 tiers of seats, with PPC’s being urged to campaign at appropriate levels and in non target constituencies to include ‘helping in a target’ as a ‘part’ of their personal and constituency campaign/development plan.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 32 Comments

Some questions for the next head of campaigns

The interviews for the post of Liberal Democrat Head of Campaigns are presumably fairly imminent now. If I were on the interview panel –indeed even though I am not – here are some questions I would want to ask of the candidates.

These are not about political strategy or policy matters but to do with Campaign methods and organisation. Neither are they meant by any means to be an exhaustive list just my particular current bugbears. Perhaps too I should preface these questions by noting that I started out as a voluntary Campaign Organiser in the 1980’s and 1990’s for numerous Council candidates, two General Elections and two Euro elections. Then, after the side routes of being a Cllr for 16 years and an MP for 9 years, I returned to being a voluntary Campaigns Organiser for others from 2010-2014 and, strictly as a one off, as a full time paid Constituency organiser from 2014-2015.

Posted in Campaign Corner | 26 Comments

The #libdemfightback continues in Hinckley and Bosworth

I would echo my good friend Caron Lindsay in her congratulations to Sheree Miller for gaining 9% and coming second in a by election in Newham in London, in a Ward where we did not stand at all last time around. Likewise Tim Farron’s congratulations to Jane Brophy and her team for their campaign in Oldham. If we do not contest such elections hard then we cannot build for the future.

In the same vein the efforts of Hinckley and Bosworth Liberal Democrats deserve recognition. In September their candidate Shani Smith gained a by election contest from Labour in the Barwell area. Thursday 3rd December saw another by election in the adjacent Ward in Barwell. This time their candidate Terry Kirby almost doubled our vote share taking us from fourth place in May to 36% of the vote in a close second place and missing beating the Conservatives by just 25 votes.

Spearheading both campaigns alongside the candidates was Michael Mullaney who as Parliamentary Candidate moved the Liberal Democrats from third to second place in the 2010 General Election. In May 2015 Michael gained one of the better Liberal Democrat results in the UK, moving the Constituency from 100th most winnable to 44th most winnable.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 1 Comment

Kafka meets Spectre

I have just completed the strangest election I have ever been involved in. Candidates were banned both from knowing who the electorate were and from campaigning. You could apparently chat to any friends you had who happened to be entitled to vote, but only of course if you happened to know by some random chance that they qualified.

These were I’m told the English Party rules for holding Regional Party elections. A special extra twist meant that, due to an English Party ruling, Chesterfield voting delegates were barred from voting so I couldn’t even pitch to them for a batch of first preferences to get me through the all important first round in an STV count. Despite that I topped the poll for the Regional elections to English Council. Yes, contested elections for such positions! This Lib Dem Fightback idea is taking root in all sorts of strange places.

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | 10 Comments

Core vote: A dangerous mirage?

Currently the need to establish a core vote seems, akin to motherhood and apple pie, to be so obviously a good thing that it cannot be questioned. However, at the risk of upsetting friends and others alike, let me raise some concerns.

Firstly, there is the simple truism that in a First Past the Post system you cannot win by playing to your core vote, even if you have one. That is a lesson Republicans and Democrats in the USA have to relearn from time to time. It is a lesson the Conservatives had to learn after Thatcher when Ian Duncan Smith, Michael Howard and even William Hague pandered to the right. It is a lesson Labour had to all so painfully learn after the Bennite manifesto of 1983 dubbed the ‘longest suicide note in history’. The Corbynistas may have to learn it all over again.

Secondly, how long does it take to ‘build a core vote’? The affluent Conservative core vote has always existed with the addition of a section of the working class following astute action by Disraeli from his passing of the Second Reform Act of 1867 onwards. Labour’s core vote –primarily lower income, urban and unionised- was uniting behind them over a century ago; especially after the Liberal Party collapse left the field entirely clear after 1922. How long would it take the Liberal Democrats to establish the loyalty of a similar core vote and at what cost? Some have suggested we should pursue our core even if it puts off ‘mainstream’ and/or floating voters. Really? We should fight elections not to try and win but to try and build a long term core vote?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 34 Comments

Paul Holmes writes: In memory of Asad Shafi Qazi

Nicky Qazi, a good personal friend and political colleague, died in hospital last week aged 82. Nicky was one of those unsung heroes of the Liberal Democrats who give over a large part of their life to voluntarily pounding the streets, campaigning to spread the cause they believe in however unfashionable it may be at times.

I joined the SDP wing of the Alliance in Chesterfield in 1983 and soon got to know and admire Nicky a near neighbour who had joined the Liberal Party a few years earlier. He had a shrewd intelligence, a quiet but devastating sense of humour and was unfailingly polite and patient. I don’t think I ever saw him lose his temper although, always in private and never with rancour, he could certainly succinctly and with a sad air make clear his view of the occasional antics of some of our own colleagues let alone the opposition.

Posted in Obituaries | Tagged and | 2 Comments

Why the Liberal Democrats SHOULD NOT adopt a free market approach to education by accepting tuition fees

Earlier today, Julian Astle laid out Centre Forum’s new policy paper about student finance. We asked Paul Holmes MP to respond.

On behalf of Centre Forum Julian Astle makes a very superficial and flimsy case for joining the New Labour/Conservative club and welcoming the free market into Higher Education.

First Julian sets up a straw man by making the claim that “Liberal Democrats hope that making tuition ‘free’ will draw more students from low income families into higher education.” Really? I don’t actually remember that as being central to any of the Parliamentary or Conference debates that I have ever …

Posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | 21 Comments

Paul Holmes writes… ‘No’ to Make It Happen’s public spending cuts

It would appear that Liberal Democrat policy has changed to one of cutting public expenditure to fund tax cuts rather than switching wasteful or less desirable New Labour expenditure to fund needed investment in accord with Liberal Democrat policies. This has been announced at various press conferences and interviews since the 17th July – but has neither been discussed by the Parliamentary Party or passed by Conference.

Given that – as the Times, Independent, Telegraph and Financial Times have all pointed out – this is a major shift in our policy, it is strange that it is not even mentioned in …

Posted in Conference, Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | Tagged and | 73 Comments

Defending Council Housing

Next Tuesday delegates from throughout the country will meet in the House of Commons to take part in an evidence session organised by the group, Defend Council Housing. This coincides with the Committee Stage of the Housing Bill and is designed to help lobby the Government over its continued discrimination against those authorities who have retained the management of Council Housing as a result of tenants’ wishes.

These 140 local authorities, plus the 60 ALMOs (Alms-Length Management Organisations), will continue to be discriminated against if the Housing Bill passes in its current form. Now that the Government has suddenly awoken to the housing crisis they have presided over it would be perverse if they were to continue to discriminate against half the authority areas in England on the basis that their tenants had ‘voted the wrong way’ in stock transfer ballots.

In Parliament in the past both Blair and Brown have told me that “I should celebrate ‘choice’ over this issue.” I do – but nearly half of all Council tenants have democratically chosen NOT to opt for privatisation. No one has yet been able to explain to me why, as a result of exercising their democratic choice, 10,000 Council tenants in an area like Chesterfield should therefore have £4 million of their rents and further millions of Right-to-Buy receipts stolen away by Gordon Brown this year. Especially when a ‘stock transfer’ landlord would immediately be allowed by Gordon to retain all that money for re-investment into Chesterfield social housing.

It is essential that we do not fall victim to the spin that heralded Gordon Brown’s new-found commitment to social housing. It cannot hide the 10 years of abject neglect of social housing under this Labour Government. The Labour manifesto of 1997 lambasted the Conservatives’ woeful record on social housing, but things have got worse not better, and the continuing neglect has left over 1.6 million families on waiting lists – a 63% increase since Labour came to power.

Posted in Parliament | 6 Comments
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