How to win seats in 2015

Opinion polls this year have shown us between seven and sixteen per cent. That’s a significant fall compared to the twenty-three per cent we received in the 2010 election. One polling website recently stated that, on a universal swing, we would get only two seats.

In 1997, our vote fell by one per cent to only 16.8%, nonetheless, but we made an electoral breakthrough, winning 46 seats.

If polls continue to be difficult, can we again defy first-past-the-post, and retain a sizeable parliamentary party? I think we can.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the strategy we should adopt to increase our poll rating. But leaving national strategy to one side, there are other things we as members can do.

The reason we achieved the 1997 breakthrough was very effective targeting. Our vote fell, but we significantly increased our vote where it mattered, in our target seats. And that wasn’t an accident. Many of us travelled to target seats and slugged our guts out. Now we need to do the same, but more so.

2015 is going to be tough. We won’t be able to draw on an anti-government protest vote, and we’ll find it harder to attract anti-Tory tactical votes in our many Tory-Lib Dem marginals.

But it’s not hopeless. Detailed analysis of polling has shown our vote holding up in areas of strength. Where we work, we don’t always win, but we often do. And in council by-elections against the Tories, since May 2011, we’ve made a net gain of four seats.

Of course, it’s all very well to suggest travelling to help in target seats, but, if you’re an ordinary member, it’s not always straightforward to do so.

In the East of England region, and in London region, we’re putting together a programme of events to help you to do just that.

They are called Regional Action Days. We aim for them to provide the best possible campaigning experience, suitable for new members, with free food as a thank you for all the hard work you’re going to do. To organise them well, we need to know numbers, so you have to register beforehand.

In the East of England, we have run three regional campaigning events so far, and we have another two planned, in Cambridge on March 3rd, and North Norfolk on May 26th.

In London, we have two planned: in Carshalton and Wallington and Croydon on February 25th, and in Brent on May 19th. We are also in the initial stages of planning events elsewhere.

But this programme will only work if enough people keep coming to them to make them a roaring success.

So if you’re reading this, and you’d like to start working for election success in 2015, if there’s an event near you, do register for it.

And if you’re on a regional executive elsewhere, and would like to know more about this programme, sent an email with your contact details to either [email protected] or [email protected]. We’ll be delighted to help.

* George Kendall is the acting chair of the Social Democrat Group. He writes in a personal capacity.

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12 Comments

  • paul barker 22nd Feb '12 - 5:35pm

    When asked, Polling organisations always say that Voting Intention (VI) Polls are just a snapshot & are not meant to be used as a predictive tool. They dont say it unasked of course or people might ask what the point was. The point of VI Polling is to generate cheap News for lazy Journalists, no Political activist should quote them as though they meant something definite, they dont.Sorry if that sounds grumpy.

    If we are going to use VI Polls to “predict” 2015 then we need to use them properly, eg compare average Polls now with their counterpart in early 2007. The last time I did that we were 5% down, suggesting 19% in 2015, comparable to our result in 2001.

    Some Political analysts suggest that Leadership approval Polls make a better predictive tool. That would suggest we will be neck & neck with Labour, something most of us find hard to imagine. The problem is whether being in Coalition affects the figures as each Partys Voters approve each others Leader.

    There are real Elections every week of course & over the last 3 months our Vote share averages 26%, 4% ahead of Labour & 7% behind The Tories. Not bad for mid-term.

    I am not arguing against “Extreme Targetting” come 2015, it may well be the best tactic but we dont know yet. Lets at least wait till May before we start coming to conclusions. I think we will be pleasantly surprised & Labour bitterly dissapointed but lets see.

    Sorry this post was so long.

  • Kevin Maher 22nd Feb '12 - 5:56pm

    Preparation for the 2015 election would be a lot more focused if we were allowed to commence selection of PPC’s.

  • George Kendall 22nd Feb '12 - 6:00pm

    @paul barker

    Thanks for the comment. As you say, comparing opinion polls with the previous election result isn’t comparing like with like. But, even if we get the same number of votes in 2015 as we did last time, we’ll still be battling against the first-past-the-post system.

    Nor do Regional Action Days need to mean less work going on in the other constituencies. When nine of us went from Cambridge to an enjoyable Regional Action Day in Colchester, I doubt it meant any less campaigning in Cambridge. We came back energised, with some useful ideas, and all the more determined to do well in the council elections in May.

    These days aren’t just about the campaigning on the day itself.

    They are about learning new skills we can apply back home. About sharing ideas between constituencies. About enthusing each other. About building relationships, so that if we need to help each other in future, we already know each other.

    Besides, the seats where these days take place won’t be the only ones that are targeted in 2015. Some regions have so many winnable seats, we probably won’t be able to visit them all.

    And other winnable seats will emerge over the next three years, as local parties work hard at building up their organisation.

  • martin sweetland 22nd Feb '12 - 10:34pm

    I would imagine that 7% would be a very good result for you and 16% Utopia. Hardly surprising that the party is rated so low when the elected M.P.s have largely ignored clear mandates from their own party conference , and voted to appease Cameron and his cronies. The problem you have is that the majority of LibDem members are decent , moral people .Not surprisingly , they do not wish to see the disabled ,sick , very young and very old people being so despicably targeted .Take a few minutes /hours to read through blogs started by M.P.s , who then do not have the good grace to respond to their own threads. Look at how angry YOUR members are , and still they get no response from the people THEY voted for. Last week i spoke to at least 15 long-term Liberal supporters.Not one of them are prepared to vote for the party in the next election .Surprised? I certainly am not .!

  • @Martin Sweetland – people were writing us off in exactly the same way as you in 2006-7. We are in fact establishing a fairer welfare system which will protect the disabled, the sick, families and the elderly, by taking them out of the means-tested welfare trap created by the last Labour Government, and ensuring they will continue to get more of their benefits even if they have a job or have saved for a pension.

  • @Paul K

    The same as 2006-7? Really? In the 2006 and 2007 local elections you received a representative 26% of the vote, beating Labour both times. You gained council seats. How did you fare in 2011? 748 seats lost, I believe. How do you think you are going to do in May? For the record, my guess is 400 – 500 lost seats. How much worse do you think the passing of the Health and Social Care Bill will make things? (Have a look at ICM’s last poll on trust on the NHS). What do you think will happen when the mid-term dip starts? (I expect this about October / November this year looking at previous governments’ ratings).

    The problem with people arguing that you can build up your organisation over the next three years is very weak when you consider that the party has no money and is losing membership and local representation. There is also the reduction in MPs which is expected to hit you disproportionately. Anyone who bases their expectations on local by-elections where the activists and the core vote outnumber the remainder of the electorate will be sadly disappointed.

  • Sorry – second paragraph should have started:

    The argument that you can build up your organisation over the next three years is very weak when you consider that the party has no money and is losing membership and local representation.

  • George Kendall 23rd Feb '12 - 12:39pm

    There’s plenty of scope for debate about whether 2015 is going to be harder than 2010 was.

    In my opinion, it’ll be a fair bit harder. I think we’ll end up with a similar vote to 1997 (16-17%), due to the loss of anti-government protest votes and a reduction in tactical voting. But prediction is a mug’s game and I could be totally wrong.

    I believe we had no moral choice but to help form a stable government, and, when I canvass, I often find Labour supporters who concede that. We’ve made mistakes, which was inevitable. We’re having to support things we loath, but that’s the nature of the compromise necessary for a stable government. A lot of people I meet, in various constituencies, who are now in mid-term protest mode, make it clear that they are still potential supporters.

    And that’s been the experience of a lot of people I know. Those who are actually getting out onto the doorsteps of the country and engaging with real voters, rather than with the tiny unrepresentative group of people (like me) who write comments on political blogs.

    But the response is harder outside our areas of strength, where the bile that’s directed against us by our opponents is not countered by local campaigning. So if a supporter from one of our weaker areas wants to see the response in one of our stronger seats, why not come to one of these action days yourself?

    The days are sociable, exhilarating, and satisfying. And there’s free food!

  • Richard Dean 23rd Feb '12 - 1:51pm

    Hard work is certainly needed and I hope to be able to participate in one of these events, which also look like good fun. Consistent, relevant, and practical policies are also needed, and clear communications to the electorate. The broadcast last night was good at the second, though a bit thin on the first.

  • “Some Political analysts suggest that Leadership approval Polls make a better predictive tool. That would suggest we will be neck & neck with Labour, something most of us find hard to imagine.”

    I think where analysts do use leadership approval polls, they suggest something rather more subtle than that, based on a comparison of the ratings for the Tory and Labour leaders only.

    A glance at the YouGov ratings from January 2005 should correct the impression that Lib Dem vote share can be predicted by a simple comparison of leadership approval ratings :
    Michael Howard: -25
    Tony Blair: -16
    Charles Kennedy: +37

  • Tony Dawson 23rd Feb '12 - 5:26pm

    The most effective way of Lib Dems holding on to (as opposed to ‘winning’) seats in 2005 will be to not vote for the Boundary Commmission’s redefinition of Parliamentary constituencies.

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