Mark Pack writes…Why we need more Council candidates

When we debate party policy, strategy or election tactics, questions about what might attract or put off voters often – and rightly – come up. But there’s one sure-fire, 100% guaranteed, rock-solid way of repelling voters from us, and it’s one we use far too often. It’s not having a Liberal Democrat on the ballot paper. Zero votes for the party guaranteed.

Both Labour and the Conservatives, for example, get very close now to having a full slate of candidates in local elections. Despite improvements in recent years, we are still lagging a long way behind, and not yet back to where we used to be. So we know we can do better – because we have.

Even in wards where multiple seats are up for election and where we stand someone but not a full slate it is still a problem – as we’re still forcing people to vote for someone other than us.

With the important exception of STV elections in Scotland, of course, where the way the voting system works means standing ‘too many’ candidates harms our election chances in a way that doesn’t happen under first past the post. So in Scotland, it’s at least one candidate in each ward that’s the equivalent of the full slates we should be aiming for elsewhere.

Of the council seats coming up in May, we fought 63% of them in England and Wales last time out, and we had at least one candidate in 73% of Scottish wards. Those numbers are on the up – but still short of where we want to be. Remember – every single voter gets a ballot paper, showing them whether we are standing or not.

Standing candidates isn’t only about credibility and relevance. It’s also the way to get more people into the habit of regularly voting for the Liberal Democrats – a crucial step in building the sort of larger core vote for the party that will help us succeed more often.

And you never quite know when putting up more candidates, or failing to do so, will turn out to be rather more important than you thought at that election.

That after all is just what happened in North Shropshire. Back in spring 2021, the local party successfully put great effort into increasing its number of candidates. Then when an unexpected Parliamentary by-election took place, that boost in our local credibility – and the improved bar chart it provided – was vital for Helen Morgan’s campaign. A clear cut case of us making our own luck.

Where our candidate numbers have increased in the last few years, it’s notable that this has happened across the board – from weaker local parties through to the strongest. So whatever your local situation, if you have elections coming up this May, let’s all do our best to make it a record-breaking one for the number of candidates.

There’s a great video from Daisy Cooper about how to find candidates here and there is also Lighthouse training that shows you how to make use of its data to find more candidates (scroll down to ‘managing candidates & selections’). ALDC also has an approval and selection toolkit to help.

Or if this has inspired you personally, you can find our more about standing here.

Good luck with your candidate numbers and let’s make this May a record-breaking one for the party.

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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  • Mark is absolutely right that we should stand everywhere but a significant problem is the return , from last year, of requiring 10 signature on the nomination form. Needing only two signatures in 2021 was so much easier especially in areas where we struggle to find sympathetic electors. I suspect that all activists have stories about knocking on random doors and asking total strangers to sign usually with the caveat that ‘ you don’t need to to vote for us – just get us in the race for the sake of democracy.’ It is a waste of time and the next candidate who gets fewer that 10 votes won’t be the first. In Scotland, local candidates effectively self nominate so why not in England?

  • I joined the LibDems to get the Cons out. Therefore we should not be splitting the anti-Tory vote in hopeless seats. Also people are going to cut back on contributions during the cost-of-living crisis so lets fight with a scalpel not a blunderbus.

  • Jason Connor 1st Feb '22 - 10:13am

    No Lib Dem candidates should stand in labour run areas like mine. The Lib Dems are not just about getting the conservatives out but offering a different type of politics that is more consultative, taking action on a whole host of local issues that matter to residents. It is not just the conservatives that take voters for granted but also Labour where they have been a sitting MP and running a council for years and years. That’s another reason why a Lib Dem alternative is needed and candidates need to stand everywhere.

  • Chris Moore 1st Feb '22 - 3:05pm

    To amplify Martin’s remarks:

    Whilst most Lib Dem members like Tim (and myself) are left-ward leaning, many potential and existing Lib Dem voters have the Tories as a second choice. Particularly at the moment we are cutting through to disillusioned liberal-minded Conservative voters. Standing down LD candidates is going to be counter-productive electorally for Labour in many areas.

    Tim, you talk about no-hoper seats. The Lib Dems regularly win council seats from not having stood or being in 3rd or 4th. The difference is usually a solid campaign. No seat can be written off as a no-hoper.

    Also remember the Labour Party in the early 21st century: neo-Conservative in foreign policy, often authoritarian in home affair issues.

    We need to be a national party offering liberal values and solutions, not just an adjunct to Labour.

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