Baroness Olly Grender writes…Tales from the Rochester campaign trail

image004Sometimes being a Liberal Democrat is like walking into a bitterly cold prevailing wind with soggy leaflets in one hand and a disappearing map in the other. By-elections can be the epitome of that experience. Especially by-elections where our vote is being squeezed ‘til our eyes water. Which makes every person who turns out in those battles a hero in my eyes. Yes yes we can all cheerily dry out our wet socks on the piping hot radiator of victory at an Eastleigh experience, but it is Rochester that’s character forming!

The team in Rochester are out every day building up a campaign for the future. They are in a part of Kent where UKIP are on the rise but every day on the doorstep they are hearing the message “anything but UKIP”; we almost need a new column on the connect data. And let’s face it, our party is the opposite of UKIP in almost everything we stand for. Last weekend YouGov published a poll which showed that people understand with absolute clarity that the Liberal Democrats are a party that is vastly different from UKIP (see chart below).

Geoff Juby, our candidate, and his campaign team aren’t put off by the book makers’ odds. They know that digging in now, building up a campaign team, will mean they can look beyond the by-election to next May. After all when it comes to local decisions about housing provision, Geoff is the local councillor who has stuck to his guns. Both the Tory and UKIP candidates have flip-flopped and changed their minds according to the latest headline in the local press. As for the latest extraordinary outburst by Mark Reckless about evicting people from the UK that will surely have long-term repercussions for their party.

How many voters think two parties have more differences than similarities

How many voters think two parties have more differences than similarities

Dick Newby (Chief Whip in the Lords), Hilary Stephenson (Director of Campaigns and Deputy Chief Executive) and I (Deputy to Paddy on the General Election Wheelhouse) were proud to campaign with Terry, Graham, Tony, Nem and of course Geoff pictured here.

We swapped battle stories on the train on the way down. Dick’s favourite statistic on by-election battles was when Peter Mandelson spent a month at the Newbury by-election in 1982, casting his own unique campaign magic on the operation, resulting in just 2 per cent of the vote for Labour.

Even in a difficult area like this we were finding people who will give us their support next May and know that the Liberal Democrats have delivered on lower tax, higher levels of apprenticeships and putting the economy on the right track.

With people like Mark Reckless on the scene, we owe it to the electorate to provide the clear alternative.  Geoff Juby and his team are doing just that, in difficult circumstances, please all raise a glass, or a cuppa to them. Or better still raise your phone, get on Connect, and make some calls!

* Olly Grender is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords

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  • Olly Grender is absolutely right, the team in Rochester and all who have travelled to there to help them are heroic.

    Olly is also right to emphasise the reason for fighting such elections even when the odds are stacked against us.

    The party owes a debt to the heroes of Rochester and other recent byelections. We could repay that debt by learning the lessons of recent years and recent disasters.

    In November two years ago we suffered disastrous results in parliamentary by-elections on the same day in Croydon North, Middlesbrough, Rotherham see —

    At the time (November 2012) Peter Chegwyn amongst others asked when the leadership of the party would wake up and smell the coffee.   He also made positive suggestions on how to turn things around.

    The party leadership did not listen.   They failed to act on the positive suggestions.   They and their apologists who comment regularly in LDV just carried on as before.   

    So disastrous results in parliamentary by-elections have become the norm for Liberal Democrats under the existing appalling leadership — along with disastrous results in local council elections every May, in Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections as well as of course the European Parliament Elections.

    A change at the top is needed so that the heroic volunteers of Rochester are not sent out in the wind and the rain for nothing.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Nov '14 - 9:25am

    If I lived in the area I would probably vote for Geoff. Realistically, I hope Kelly wins. I wasn’t too fussed who won until Mark Reckless’s comment yesterday. Forced repatriation is not only nasty, but madness.

  • Just an addendum, Talking to some Labour folk in the North West on Tuesday, they expect a good Lib Dem result in Bramhall South today. No doubt this will be usedby HQ to cover the Rochester debacle. However Cheadle is one of the much reduced number constituencies I expect us to hold next May. Labour require this too in order to keep the number of Conservative MPs down.!

  • Charles Rothwell 20th Nov '14 - 9:52am

    John Tilley
    I am 100% with you. Most of the leadership of the three main parties seem to be living in parallel universes at the moment. Cameron stated clearly that, after Clacton, he was definitely going to “stop the rot” and retain Rochester. Instead, the Tories will now go into overdrive in ripping themselves apart with more defections to come soon. (My money would be on MEP (and Best Man at Reckless’ wedding) Daniel Hannen). Yvette Copper was interviewed on “Newsnight” and responded to a long question clearly stating how Milliband is regarded by millions of people in this country and opened her reply by saying, “Ed is doing a great job and exactly what needs to be done.” As regards the LDs, they are still, in my view, the sole voice of reason and sanity in British politics as a party but how on earth piling up lost deposit after lost deposit and making ourselves a laughing stock/irrelevance in the eyes of millions of voters is supposed to help re-establish the party’s credibility is just totally beyond me. Of course, I wish the Rochester team the very best and thank them enormously for their efforts but, in the centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War, we have surely got to learn that sacrificing the efforts and resources of dedicated men and women in return for making virtually no advance is not the way to operate. The last Liberal Prime Minister was unable to get rid of Haig due to the strength of support the latter had in the leading social/court circles and the party has followed in LG’s footsteps after the unmitigated disaster of the 2014 council and European Parliament elections, coming themselves after annual bouts of butchery in May of the preceding years following 2010. When will attrition on this scale end?

  • Simon McGrath 20th Nov '14 - 10:38am

    “The last Liberal Prime Minister was unable to get rid of Haig due to the strength of support the latter had in the leading social/court circles”
    Interesting analogy given that Haig went on to lead the British Army into one of its greatest triumphs when it decisively defeated the German army in France in 1918

  • I went down to Medway yesterday on business and picked up a conservative leaflet which demonstrates clearly how they will fall. I have never seen so subservient a pamphlet. Kelly ‘s number one point (of six) is “Action – not just talk on immigration”. What action? “I’ll use my position to go straight to the prime minister and demand something is done”. Good one Kelly! You can do that right now.
    Why go for UKIP light when you can have the real thing?

  • I don’t really agree Moggy. I still think the Tories are a bigger threat to a liberal Britain than an anti-EU protest party that can summon at best 15% national support (in opinion polls, not a GE yet) and has one MP. It is the Tories who are the party of privilege, represent the economic interests of the rich and will use the media, owned by often anti-British billionaires and well funded think tanks to try and popularise their Darwinian view of capitalism and I suspect even the social relationships we have with each other. The modern Conservative party is funded by some very ‘interesting’ people as was clear at their summer ball. Increasingly it’s shadow banking and rent seekers who are behind them rather than conventional British business, whose leadership is often enough of a problem itself.

    Too many self-proclaimed liberals seem naïve about this threat to my mind. As romantic internationalists perhaps they think it can’t all be so bad. I voted Lib Dem in 2010 but as I’ve learnt more about the Party’s base I’m surprised how many have been strongly influenced by Mrs Thatcher and her own narrow view of capitalism and markets. To me, being liberal should first and foremost be about having an open mind. That’s not what you generally find amongst those most keen to promote the ‘free market’ -and they have a lot of power on their side.

  • FrankBooth: Why are the Tories the greater threat? Once you have answered this question you have to consider whether they will be a worse or less worse threat following a UKIP win.

    If you are in Moggy’s position you also have to consider who you are voting for and who you might be letting in by default. Faced with the prospect of Reckless and UKIP parliamentary representative, small wonder Moggy will do whatever it takes to avoid this unpalatable outcome.

  • Frank Booth has already made clear why he thinks the Tories are the greater threat.
    He has done it very well. He has pointed out that —
    “…….,Tories … are the party of privilege, represent the economic interests of the rich and will use the media, owned by often anti-British billionaires and well funded think tanks to try and popularise their Darwinian view of capitalism…”

    I would differ perhaps slightly from Frank in as much as I cannot see very much difference between those Tories who call themselves Conservative and those Tories who call themselves UKIP.
    There are even some Tories who call themselves Blairite and one Tory who calls himself Jeremy Browne.
    They are all Tories and we should as Liberal Democrats be struggling to defeat all of them.

  • Charles Rothwell 20th Nov '14 - 7:02pm

    Simon McGarth
    There has been a concerted campaign in the last twenty years or so to “re-assess” Haig and, in some quarters, to even rate him as some kind of Clive or Wolfe in terms of British generalship. This was, of course, a back-lash against the 1960s/70s simplicities and pantomime history of “Oh, what a lovely war!”, “Blackadder” etc., but, like many backlashes, I think its proponents have often gone too flawed and Haig remains a deeply flawed and unimpressive military leader. One recent assessment (2009) sums things up as follows: “A dedicated military professional, Haig nevertheless found it difficult to adjust to the unprecedented conditions of the Western Front. His capacity to ‘read’ battles and broader strategic situations often proved poor and he bears much responsibility for British losses 1915–17 that were excessive in relation to the results achieved. By late 1917 his own faith in ultimate victory had become so badly shaken that he advocated a compromise peace. However, after surviving the German spring offensives of 1918, he played a vital role in the campaign that finally broke the German army.” He may well (at last!) have learnt a great deal by 1918, but in my view, the key factor leading to Germany’s collapse in 1918 was Ludendorff’s being totally overly ambitious in the objectives set for an army and a country on the verge of total exhaustion and depletion and with belief in its high command dissipating by the day. Haig (as well as his excellent connections) did possess the quality Napoleon prized above all others in his generals: Luck! I think unless a fundamental re-think takes place between now and May, we are in severe danger of over-relying on that quality as well! (I would be queuing behind Moggy, by the way, to vote Tory today as well. UKIP may only have 15% in the polls but their (i.e. Farage’s, as they are a complete and utter One Man Band if ever there was one) ambition is limitless (as his despicable behaviour over years as an MEP has very clearly demonstrated – as did the way he treated the Kipper candidates who were instantly tossed aside as so much ballast to make way for Carswell and Reckless).

  • John Tilley, your first comment, I agree 100%

  • A slight correction to Olly’s piece. Geoff Juby is a local councillor in the Gillingham constituency, not Rochester & Strood. We currently have no councillors in Rochester & Strood, though we used to have a few. Believe it or not, it was only a couple of decades ago that we controlled the Gillingham Borough Council. Now we are down to three councillors spread over two wards. Gillingham went down the tubes in the Blair years, along with about everywhere else in Kent except Maidstone. Anyone wanting to help in Kent should go to Maidstone, and possibly also Canterbury.

    I am hoping for a UKIP victory on account of the damage that it will do to the Tories. UKIP will struggle to win any seats at all next May, but they will take votes disproportionately from the Tories and quite possibly deprive them of an overall majority. UKIP is a Godsend.

  • At last, some sense about this vote…..and from the aptly named Sesenco.

    Best strategic thinking I’ve read to come to the aid of the party.

  • Just wanted to say Emily Thornberry – ha, ha ha.

  • Of course if I lived there I would be campaigning for our Candidate but I would have to think long & hard about whether to vote for them. If you strip out those who didnt vote in 2010 the Polls in R & S look very different, too close to call really. Imagine if one voted Libdem & UKIP won by a tiny margin. I dont believe UKIP are Faschists but they arent just Tories in purple either. In some ways UKIP are the opposite of conservative, they want to smash everything so everyone else feels as bad as they do.

  • Tsar Nicolas 20th Nov '14 - 11:05pm

    Yes, I too can’t help but say ‘Ha ha’ to the Emily Thornberry news.

    But in the end it was only a tweet, and it may just have been a badly expressed tweet. Earlier posts were talking about the great threat (s) to a Liberal Britain. Well, how about liberal-minded people who seize on any comment, wise or unwise, hasty or ill-considered, and use that to ruin a person’s life chances?

    I used to think that ‘politically correct’ was a phrase used by Daily Mail readers to justify their fascist views, but the older I get the more I realise it is essential to be able to express thoughts and ideas even if that causes offence.

    We need something like the United States constitution’s First Amendment and a change of heart on the part of the liberal totalitarians, otherwise we will end up with people in prison serving thirty year terms simply for using language that others consider inappropriate.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 20th Nov '14 - 11:35pm

    I have to say I was none too impressed with Nick Clegg on Call Clegg this morning. All he had to say was that “we weren’t going to sweep to victory.” I might have been prepared to forgive that if he had praised our candidate and foot soldiers for the valiant job they were doing. I know what it’s like to fly the flag in a “challenging” by-election. A bit of appreciation for the Poor Bloody Infantry would not have gone amiss. Geoff Juby and a valiant team of people, helped with visits from various important people, like Tim Gordon, Olly and other MPs and peers. have done an amazing job.

  • Breathtaking denial of reality!

    “Anyone but UKIP” and they are heading towards 50percent
    LibDems heading towards 1 percent.

    I thought that nobody could ignore the message being sent to the LibDems but I was wrong.
    Are the Monster Raving Loony party standing – for your sake I hope not. Not again!!!

  • So it looks like we are going to come well down the list of also rans, behind a dominatrix. The party is being dismissed as an irrelevance in the big political picture – despite the last three years of Clegg’s ‘five more years’ strategy. And being seen as an also ran is a killer for the party’s chances next May in the seats we hold.

    So what should Clegg say tomorrow? Thanks to Bill le Breton I think he should say somehting like this:

    “The message from Rochester is clear, Britain wants a strong team of Liberal Democrats to oppose and under my leadership I have to admit the power of Liberal Democrats to oppose … has deteriorated.

    My personal standing is also detracting from the excellent work being done by Liberal Democrats ministers.

    I recognise the British public have lost confidence in their politicians at Westminster and I have contributed significantly to this. That view is no doubt right and the public needs to see significant change in the next six months so that their judgment in May 2015 becomes a turning point in our country’s future.

    It is therefore vital for the sake of the country for me to step down both as Leader of my Party and Deputy Prime Minister. I have spoken to the Prime Minister who has agreed to appoint Vince Cable in my place. I have spoken to the Party’s President who assures me that a new Party leader can be put in place in a timely fashion and is setting the wheels in motion as I speak.

    I won’t be taking questions. Thank you.”

    However what I fear he will say is:

    “Poor result, never a target seat for the party, mid term elections blah, blah. Come May 2015 we hope the electorate will recognise our record of delivery in government, stronger economy, fairer society, blah blah. ”

    What the electorate will hear: “Five more years in a minsterial limo for Nick Clegg”

  • Tsar Nicolas 21st Nov '14 - 5:16am

    My sincere commiserations to Geoff Juby – from 7,800 to 349 and just 1.3%.

    But nothing will even begin to change until the Dear Leader departs, and surely even he must realise by now that his best chance of retaining a ministerial limo after May is if he goes now and the party recovers enough to have some strength in the next parliament.

    I suppose I should say a ‘well done’ to Brian Paddick for at least staying in the BBC studio – unlike Tom brake after Clacton – but shame on him for dismissing the reaction against the tuition fees betrayal as ‘over-emotional hysteria’ or some such.

  • Peter Chegwyn 21st Nov '14 - 5:26am

    Exiled Scot – I think the electorate are saying NO more years in a ministerial limo for Nick Clegg!

    Less than one per cent at Rochester & Strood. An all-time low for our party. Even worse than Clacton. Less than a quarter of the Greens vote. Fifteen out of every sixteen electors who voted Lib. Dem. in 2010 voted for someone else yesterday.

    As John Tilley rightly said in his first post above, some of us have been warning of the electoral tsunami heading our way since 2012 and before yet all ideas for reversing the trend have been completely ignored by the Party Leader and H.Q.

    Their argument that all will be o.k. next May in the seats we hold looks weaker by the day especially given the number of incumbents standing down. And in many of the other 580+ parliamentary seats the Lib. Dems. have simply ceased to exist.

    In the cold light of day the party that can be quietly satisfied with the Rochester result isn’t UKIP, in my view, it is the Conservative Party. They lost the seat by less than half the majority the polls predicted. They can win it back next May. They probably did well enough to discourage other Conservative MPs from defecting to UKIP. They know that with their far superior nationwide organisation and funding they can probably restrict UKIP to a handful of seats next May whereas if UKIP had won by 5000 or more their momentum may have been unstoppable.

    The Rochester cloud has a silver lining for the Conservatives. Unfortunately there is no silver lining for the Lib. Dems.

  • Peter Chegwyn 21st Nov '14 - 5:34am

    Tsar Nicholas. We didn’t poll 1.3% as suggested by the BBC. We polled 0.9%.

    The rest of your post I completely agree with. Our fortunes will not improve until the Dear Leader departs. But sadly that looks unlikely to happen until after next May.

  • Paul in Wokingham 21st Nov '14 - 6:24am

    @Peter Chegwyn: we didn’t poll 0.9%, we polled0.87% Let’s be completely clear on this: we polled 0.87%. This now has the dubious distinction of being the worst ever percentage share polled by the Liberals or Liberal Democrats in history and noticeable worse than the previous record holding Glasgow Camlachie result of 1948 (1.2%).

    And what will happen? Well,,, some Lib Dem will find themselves volunteered to face the media and they will permute these vacuous soundbites:

    “Not natural Lib Dem territory”.
    “Clearly a two horse race”.
    “A bigger problem for Ed Miliband’s Labour Party than for us”.
    “We are confident that our voters will return to us next May”.

    And then…. well, nothing, really. Because nothing is exactly what happens after every new record disaster.

  • Tsar Nicolas 21st Nov '14 - 6:56am

    0.9%? Wow! There is something spooky about getting less than 1%.

    Where is the shame? Where is the sense of responsibility?

    The fact is that if one believes Brian Paddick and professor John Curtice there are many in the party who still believe, against all the evidence, that there will be 30 or more MPs come next May.

  • David wilkinson 21st Nov '14 - 7:23am

    Caron, not impressed with Clegg, Well I gave up on I’m after his insulting remarks to the Manchester Lib Dem Local Government Conference in 2013.
    It was made clear he only values himself, he is not interested in how many councillors, council groups, Lib Dem councils, MSP’s, AM’s and MEP’s he has lost, only when the majority of the MP’s have gone next year and only a rump of the party is left will he even start to think how disastrous his so called leadership has been.

    In any other walk of life he would have fired for being useless.

  • Tsar Nicolas 21st Nov '14 - 7:33am

    If one were to write a novel about a right-wing party that sets out to destroy a left-of-centre party by getting the protege of a senior member of the right wing party elected as leader of the left-of-centre party, would anyone believe it?

    Manchurian Nick.

  • Jonathan Pile 21st Nov '14 - 7:42am

    A bad day for Britain , a terrible day for all the parties especially our at below single figures. Note how all the established parties fall are in favour of HS2. The greens polled 4 times our vote are against HS2 as are UkIp. If we reconnect with our 2010 voters then we will find they are also against HS2. The 2015 election will be about whether ukip and the snp will get to hold the uk to ransom or whether the uk stays together and in the Eu. We are the only party to save the uk, but we have lost the room just now.

  • Wow. A two-horse race with the Raving Loonies for fifth place.

  • Better News.
    Can I cheer people up a bit, the Bramhall South by election in Cheadle constituency went quite well.
    No UKIP candidate, but Lib Demn squeezed Labour and result Con 2080, Lib Dem 1502 both up on their last combat when UKIP stood. This bodes well for the General Election and confirms my feeling that however considerable the losses maybe elsewhere Cheadle and Hazel Grove will hold. Of course we have a sound history in the area going back to 1964 and it is not UKIP type land and described on TV last night.
    Also the Canadian Liberals are still moving forward two parliamentary by elections on Monday vote up for 14 – 41% in one and 3.5 – 20% in the other. We could do with that this morning.
    Good to see Caron evn you have question marks over a certain situation.

  • …. the worst ever percentage share polled by the Liberals or Liberal Democrats in history
    ………….worse than the Glasgow Camlachie result of 1948 (1.2%).

    Let’s be completely clear on this: we polled 0.87%.

    Is anyone up there at the top of the party reading this comment from Paul in Wokingham ???

    Does Clegg think that results in elections are somehow nothing to do with him?
    No shame, no honour, no sense of responsibility, not even an admission that he might, just might have been wrong.

  • ” Why was he looking up at the sky when he was interviewed on BBC regional TV?”

    Beam me up, Scotty?

  • Richard Fagence 21st Nov '14 - 9:02am

    Hats of to Geoff Juby and his team for their efforts, despite the outcome. While we are batting statistics from one side of the net to the other, I note that the turnout was less than 51% (50.67% actually). 16,867 electors voted for UKIP, but 23,246 voted for somebody else. I don’t think Our Nige is going to be quite as pleased privately as he will be publicly and Mr Reckless may have some work to do to retain his seat next May.

  • Julian Gibb 21st Nov '14 - 9:23am

    Richard Fagence

    Unbelieveable – trying to spin a UKIP win like this.
    What possible academic or political benefit is gained from adding up the votes of the “others”? No political Party every wins the majority of the vote but they still run the country.
    The turnout is quite good for a by-election.
    Labour once held this seat and had a dreadful night
    Tories should have held it and lost.
    The LibDems were humiliated at 0.87%

    I detest UKIP and their politics but facts cannot be manipulated. The people have sent a clear message on who they want and who the do not want.
    The unfortunate thing is that the traditional “main” parties did not listen to people, they did not get the message over on WHY people should not vote for UKIP.

    Spin is decades out of date. Stop underestimating the electorate.
    …and dump Clegg!

  • I know it’s been talked to death, but Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have always been against tuition fees in Scotland and have been true to their word. Nick Clegg was against tuition fees, but when he got our votes and the Tories gave him a fancy title he voted to triple them. The SNP are wiping the floor with everyone in Scotland and last night the libdems polled less than 1% – could there be a connection? Brian Paddick thinks the tuition fee problem for the LibDems is “over-emotional hysteria’”, I think LibDems like him are the reason so many people are deserting the party.

  • Having worked like hell in Clacton, I must say that though I don’t have personal experience of going over the top at the Somme or Passchendaele, I fancy being a Lib Dem election worker in Clacton was considerably preferable. It was actually quite fun at times.

  • Simon Hebditch 21st Nov '14 - 12:01pm

    The events in Rochester simply mirror the picture nationally. The most important factor, for political life itself, is that people are rejecting the mainstream parties as either incompetent, untrustworthy or venal. The Lib Dems are now an establishment party which also fails to engage with the population as a whole. As the Walrus said: the time has come!
    Many have been warning for years that this current disaster was an accident waiting to happen. S many in the leadership of the party have their heads firmly stuck in the sand.

    Although I would be happy to see a change in leadership (not just the leader), it is too late to affect public opinion for the 2015 election. Those on the centre left have three options – leave the party now, hang on till the election and leave thereafter or hang on in order to take part in a major reform and renewal of the party in opposition over the next five years.

  • Just flagging a typos in Newbury by election date 1993 not 1982

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 21st Nov '14 - 4:38pm

    @Simon H
    Those who cannot face the debacle have left the LDs already. Of those who remain there are some who support the leadership but also a majority who are waiting to see what happens when it comes to voting [a] in the 2015 GE and [b] for a new leader if NC falls at the GE. We are assuming that Sheffield Hallam has such a large LD majority that NC cannot be overtaken by UKIP or Tory. Labour is surely not in the hunt but could UKIP really come from the 2% of the last GE if it had an amazing and prominent candidate? In a rural area such as S. Hallam if could be cash that makes the difference and adding to the ground-swell in the country of removing NC from parliament at all costs. We don’t have much cash but NC might take all we have in order to try to save the seat for himself. I would suggest that the Tory bank balance is deeper than UKIP’s for this task – and Cam will throw everything at removing NC. The love-in in the garden will finally be over and we can begin to re-build our non-Tory profile – not Tory-lite but distinctly NOT Tory.

  • Someone should tell Clegg to fall on his sword because he has failed as a leader and how could things get worse?
    his political epitaph should be ” It’s about judgement”

  • Cllr Nick Cotter 21st Nov '14 - 5:40pm

    Diabolical for a party I was once SO proud to be a member and councillor for (now Independent).

    A member for approx 30 years, unlike recent “bloggers” who I have never heard of ?

    Thanks though TO the candidate for so gallantly “flying the flag” !

    IF the party leader did not go to the constituency in my view that is Gross Misconduct !! Summary Dismissal !!

  • Peter Watson 21st Nov '14 - 5:42pm

    @brianD “how could things get worse?”
    It seems that every time that question is asked, things do find a way to get worse 😉

  • Peter Watson 21st Nov '14 - 5:45pm

    @theakes “Talking to some Labour folk in the North West on Tuesday, they expect a good Lib Dem result in Bramhall South today. No doubt this will be used by HQ to cover the Rochester debacle.”
    No joy there either (

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