Bar Charts!

I’ve had an idea about bar charts! It’s way outside my area of expertise, but indulge me.

Right, Northern Ireland has a unique set of parties and in Scotland and Wales the national parties have disrupted the ability of the LabCon duopoly to “game” First Past the Post. In England, though, LabCon game First Past the Post for all its worth. They do everything they can to maintain a dichotomy, “them or us”. Then they run a “project fear” on “them”.

Our campaigning tasks are to avoid being “them” and be an independent, viable, option.

I have previously suggested that we can avoid  being “them” by criticising neither duopoly party individually but only the duopoly as an unified entity.

As for establishing ourselves as real contenders, nationally this is going well.

Locally, though, I can see problems with the bar charts we use to make the case that we are a winning bet. Here we too often play exactly that “us and them” dichotomy that hurts us so much nationally. Nationally we need people to abandon voting for the least-worst-possible winner. Locally, though it’s all “only we can…” and “can’t win here”; straight out of the duopoly playbook. And all too often we dishonestly distort data to present the “story” we want to tell.

Now, after the elections for the European Parliament we have no need to distort as there is always some data that, fairly presented, will tell the story that we are in the race. In a constituency where we came second in 2017, that data can be presented. In my constituency, Lewisham and Deptford, we didn’t do so well in 2017 (to say the least). In the EU elections, though, we came first in Lewisham borough! That data can be used. In some areas of London we came third. Coming first in the region as a whole, though, allows that data to be used. What of a constituency where we did badly, in an electoral area where we did badly and a region where we didn’t do so well? The UK wide EU results put us in second place: those results will tell the story.

When we tell that story I suggest we tell just that story: we’re in the running. So have a rich amber lozenge of hope in first or second position. And everything else in grey.

Of course, if we enter an alliance with the Greens we can give them some colour. And have a joint bar:

I have no expertise in design, “messaging”, or marketing; but to me those are winning bar charts. And those are charts for a constituency where we did badly, in an electoral area where we did badly, in a region where we did badly.

Anything else will detract from the message. Put in a “can’t win here” with an arrow pointing to the Tories and suddenly people are looking at the Tories, not at us. If you colour all the parties the reader will have to pick us out from the multi-coloured crowd, as it is we’re thrust into their face.

We should not worry about losing the effect of “the squeeze”. Voters in England are so used to First Past the Post tactics that they thought in terms of wasted votes and tactics in the party list Euros!

Neither should we worry about its stripped-down nature. The rest of the leaflet will tell the voter why they should vote Liberal Democrat. This gets over the important message that they can. And then on to the donation and sign-up section.

* Tony Lloyd is a member in Lewisham Liberal Democrats, an accountant and so pro European that he insisted on the European national anthem at his wedding.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • How many times does this message need to be repeated?

    Liberal and other parties’ voters are NOT interchangeable, and should not be treated as such.

  • David Evershed 7th Aug '19 - 11:32am

    Bar charts are all about tactical voting. Getting voters to vote against the party they least want to win rather than the party they most prefer.

    This is a function of the first past the post system.

    At least the European parliament elections have an element of proportionality with the D’Hondt system – although big regional constituencies means few people know who their MEP is.

  • As long as the bars are accurately scaled (like these are to be fair), great.

    The biggest problem with Lib Dem leaflets is some of the bar charts are shockingly bad, to the point of being deliberately misleading. Some are guilty of exaggerating the gap between us and a 3rd party or making us look closer to 1st than we actually are.

    Just to be clear, I’m not against squeeze messaging done honestly. But too often I see leaflets so bad that it makes us look like we’re either incompetent, dishonest, or both. I used to vote Labour, and seeing leaflets like those are one of the things that put me off voting Lib Dem in the past. It’s something that the party really needs to tackle.

  • Andrew McCaig 7th Aug '19 - 1:22pm

    I rather like the idea of greying out the other Parties using the Euro election results. That sends the positive sub text we want. It is actually quite difficult to get people to vote based on the tactical situation in their constituency in a General Election. If i was in London i would use the London region barchart though, where as i recall we came first.

    I don’t think it will work in local elections though. People do vote based on the local situation there..

  • Malcolm Todd 7th Aug '19 - 3:19pm

    “Now, after the elections for the European Parliament we have no need to distort as there is always some data that, fairly presented, will tell the story that we are in the race.”

    That is distorting the data, as the various examples you give make quite clear! At its best, it’s cherry-picking, but using national data to imply you can win in “a constituency where we did badly, in an electoral area where we did badly and a region where we didn’t do so well” is just plain ly-ing.

  • Hi Malcom (Todd)

    I could see an argument of cherry picking were bits of data picked to distort the overall picture. As it is what is presented is the overall picture, not a representation of it. The Euros happened and those where the UK wide results.

    As to its honesty in application to an individual constituency, there is no pretence that this is constituency data. It’s shown as UK wide data and shows the UK wide position.

    As far as the appropriateness of its relation to an individual constituency, look at Lewisham. The three Lewisham constituencies returned Labour MPs with votes shares of 66%, 67.9% and 77%. We had vote shares of 4.4%, 5.3% and 6.2%. In the Euros we got 28% and Labour collapsed to 26% (normally a good haul, but coming from 2/3 plus that is a collapse). Much as I would like to credit my leaflet handing out abilities, this was more a concentration of the general move towards us shown by the national results. If that can happen in Lewisham then we are contenders anywhere. (Ok, Knowsley might be a stretch😊)

  • Although there’s always some benefit to the squeeze we need to remember that it can have the opposite effect and get the vote out for the main opposition and the party we want to squeeze.
    I’d much rather that we give a positive reason to vote Liberal Democrats rather than a reason not to vote for someone else.
    Positive campaigning about what we believe in and what we’ll do is far more powerful than negative messages.
    Michael Meadowcroft (amongst others on our Regional Exec) constantly reminds us that Focus should reflect the Preamble to the Constitution. That’s what differentiates us from Labour and Conservatives (and the Greens too).
    The Liberal Democrats are about PEOPLE and that’s what’s important.

  • Andrew McCaig 8th Aug '19 - 1:38pm

    Firstly, i have no hesitation about using an accurate EU election bar chart in campaigning at constituency or ward level. A big part of our problem since 2010 has been credibility. Everyone said we were irrelevant at best and so no one voted for us. Now we have a huge positive message about beating both Labour and the Tories in a national election and we should shout that from the rooftops. All over Britain people new people voted for us and we should thank them for that.

    Everyone with experience of campaigning in a winnable council seat will know the cosy collusion Lab and Con have in pretending they are fighting each other, not us. That is why they hate our bar charts and ridicule them whenever they can. Many people have to believe we can win before they will vote for us. I don’t believe the argument that our bar charts energise voters for our main competitor either. In contrast they show that they can safely vote for our positive message because the Tories or Labour (depending on location) are in third place and cannot win. We win local elections not by scaring voters into voting for us but by doing a better job for local people.

    Finally though, i am a scientist and absolutely reject inaccurate bar charts, or ones that miss other Parties off etc. As a Party we should stop doing that.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Aug '19 - 6:08pm

    David Evershed
    All voters are represented by several MEPs. In the southeast region Nigel Paul Farage nominated himself for number one on the Brexit list.
    There are three Liberal Democrats who are more constructive. I have met two of them.

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