Lib Dems aggressively expand targeting strategy against Conservatives and Labour

In amongst all the usual clichés about “the only poll that matters is the one on polling day” and “our canvassing returns are excellent” one sure insight into what a party’s is really planning and how it really thinks are going is where it sends its party leader around the country.

The campaign visits this weekend by Nick Clegg illustrate in public what I’ve heard from party campaigning sources – an aggressive move against Conservative seats combined with a long list of possible gains from Labour.

The visits this weekend are to:

Burnley – one of the main Lib Dem targets from Labour, which even when expectations were that the Lib Dems would finish third was a main target
Harrogate – nearby Lib Dem held seat with incumbent MP standing down (Phil Willis*)

So far, so obvious. But then also:

Newport East – not on many pundits lists of possible gains for the party but a seat where we have made dramatic progress in recent elections
Redcar – despite the clue from party president Ros Scott visiting the area at the start of the campaign, I think every pundit has missed the Lib Dem opportunities in this seat, particular as the incumbent MP Vera Baird ran into expenses problems such as claiming for two Christmas trees for her home

It is seats like these two, which do not feature in most outside “top seats to watch” lists but the party has already been putting in significant effort for some time, that give campaign insiders strong hopes for a large number of seat gains.

And then there are these three seats also being visited by Nick Clegg over the weekend:

Colne Valley
West Worcestershire

Two are Conservative held and one (Colne Valley) the Conservatives have treated as if it’s a Labour-Conservative battle. In the case of all three – and a significant number of other seats – support for the Conservatives is sufficiently soft that there are now real hopes of gaining the seats.

It is not just Nick Clegg who is hitting the campaign trail heavily in the last few days of the campaign. So too are Vince Cable, Paddy Ashdown and (in a positive sign of how things are going against the Conservatives in Eastleigh) Chris Huhne.

In addition, the party is also spending considerable extra campaign funds supporting extra last week campaigning in a range of Conservative seats across southern England which, until the first TV debate, almost everyone (including most of the candidates) were assuming would be comfortably held by the Conservatives, despite the nominally small majority. But that was back when overall there was a national swing from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives. Now it’s the other way round.

Over 2m pieces of direct mail are also going out on the last few days to reinforce the “You can make a difference” theme. People have a once in a lifetime opportunity to overturn the political and party systems as the election increasingly comes down to a contest between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, with Labour third in most polls and losing the support of its previous roots in progressive opinion, such as The Guardian.

* I worked on Phil’s campaign when he was first elected in 1997. Not only has he been a great MP for his community and a strong asset for the party, I learnt much from that campaign. Thank you Phil.

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This entry was posted in General Election.


  • There is a huge, huge opportunity for us to make dramatic progress in Yorkshire and the North East.

    We hold four seats in those two regions at present.

    I expect us to more than double it this time.

    Watch this space.

  • Tony Greaves 1st May '10 - 1:13pm

    John Smithson was once a Councillor in Marske.


    Tony Greaves

  • Another seat to watch on Thursday is Ashfield in Nottinghamshire.

  • I wish that Bournemouth West is also appropriately targeted.

  • Anyone driving around Winchester should take a look at the huge array of Martin Tod stakeboards, not just in the city, but the villages, too. The Tories will be very cross indeed if Martin wins.

    I’m glad to see that Wells is looking good. This is a “nearly” seat that requires a bit of extra shove. I don’t suppose the cider tax is too popular there.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd May '10 - 1:06am

    The pundits have not picked up the extent to which the swing to the LibDems is based on activist work rather than just Clegg’s TV debate appearance. The two causes needed to be combined, which is why we might see some falling off where it is just the TV debate effect. What I think we shall see, however, is the swing holding up where it matters, which is where there has been significant local activity. I suspect there was a vast group of people who liked what they saw of us locally but were reluctant to commit nationally because nationally they still saw politics as Labour v Conservative with the LibDems as an eccentric side-show. Now we’ve had some fairer national coverage, they are more willing to commit nationally, and there’s the well-known “nudge” effect where people are more willing to do it if they see others doing it.

    As a consequence, I suspect the swing will not be at all uniform. Most of the pundits’ predictions have been on the basis of assuming a uniform swing. If the swing is weak where we are not active and strong where we are, it means we win many more seats than predicted. My feeling is that it is working exactly as we always planned, the local activity is turning into a national vote, but it takes a long time to do that. What we’ll be seeing on May 7th is seats coming over on the basis of local work which could have been on-going for 20 years or more.

    The pundits will be saying “Huh, how did that happen?” and we can reply “Well, it’s easy. You just show you’re on the side of the people, that you understand their problems, you work hard with them all year round, you aren’t just politicians who show up only at election time, you aren’t just party people directed from the top, but real flesh and blood people based in the locality; but that doesn’t mean you don’t have principles – you demonstrate your liberal and democratic principles in all you do in your local campaigning. And you carry on doing that for 20 years”.

  • Tony Greaves 2nd May '10 - 10:51am

    I hope the people running this party nowadays understand this, Matthew. Some of them seem to have more advertising and PR experience than political nous!

    Tony Greaves

  • Ruth Bright 2nd May '10 - 11:12am

    Matthew is right. We are going to make big gains where the work has been done. Alleluia! But I despair of the delusional behaviour of some. Witness a PPC I could mention who (in three years) has put no constituency-wide literature out until this weekend and now thinks he’s going to win.

  • Paul McKeown 3rd May '10 - 5:00pm
  • Cameron Expenses
    So this is the man who quite soon will be asking us all to make sacrifices fort the good of the nation, most likely in the form of higher taxes, pay cuts, lost jobs, reduced pensions. The same man who according to the Telegraph “paid off a loan on his London house after he took out a taxpayer-funded £350,000 mortgage on his designated second home”.

    Watch him squirm as Paxman grills him on the subject of politicians ‘over claiming’. Absolutely hilarious! So have a good laugh now and spread the good news because very soon the joke will be on us!

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