Opinion: The hole in the “35 percent strategy” – the Lib Dem vote

TUC demonstration York 2014It was Lib Dem spring conference, 2012. Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. The crucial vote that weekend was on the NHS Bill. The pause was set to un-pause once more – if, that is, the Lib Dem membership voted it through. The mood was tense on both sides of the debate within the party. Just outside the secure zone, there was a gaggle of Labour supporters trying to convince Lib Dem members to vote the Bill down. Doing a very, very, very bad job of this, I hasten to add. Actually, if their aim was to get the members to vote for the Bill, they could not have done a more cracking job.

“I hate the Liberal Democrats, I think you’re scum,” the girl who handed me a leaflet said as she did so. The two guys in front of me in the queue to get in, both voting members who had gotten an earful of the same stuff from the Labour leaflet girl, turned to one another with disgruntled looks.

“I was going to stay clear of this one, but after that little intervention I’m going into the hall to vote for the Bill,” one of them said to the other. His friend agreed he would do the same. Two more votes for the NHS Bill then. Thanks for that, Newcastle Labour, we couldn’t have done it without you.

I recall this anecdote as I think it summarises everything Labour have done wrong in terms of trying to woo left-wing Lib Dems over to Labour. For a start, they do not seem to understand the Lib Dem mind-set at all. The idea that you could get a bunch of Lib Dems to do anything, never mind leave the party for the one they had been shouting against for the previous thirteen years, by telling them how stupid they were for being Lib Dems in the first place, and how we’d all better change sides if we knew what was good for us, is total madness. Or ignorance, which is more likely.

The better strategy would have been to carry on exactly as they had been doing for the previous two decades. In other words, basically ignoring us and then only mentioning the party when absolutely necessary, and then always as simply “the liberals”, delivered as sneeringly and superciliously as possible.

“Oh the liberals,” you can hear Labour saying in a parallel universe. “Going into coalition with the Tories. How quaint! Oh well, we always knew they were clueless…”

Instead, they took the exact opposite tact, mentioning the party as much as humanly possible for the first 18 months of the coalition (on the AV campaign, I covered a Labour Yes event. I tried to count the number of times Labour politicians used the word “Clegg” when at the podium. I got bored and gave up after the fiftieth appearance of the leader’s surname). They suddenly became obsessed with us. And through their hatred, shined what was unquestionable shards of respect. Like getting the name of our party right for once.

The “35 percent strategy” seems to hinge on getting a lot of ex-Lib Dem voters to plump for Labour in 2015. From what I’ve seen so far, they’ve gone about trying to do this as ineptly as could be imagined.

* Nick Tyrone is a liberal writer. He blogs at nicktyrone.com and is an associate director at CentreForum.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Peter Watson 21st Mar '14 - 3:54pm

    So two Lib Dems decided to vote for a policy that they did not support simply because a Labour activist offended them? Good grief, what has the party come to?

  • Andrew Whyte 21st Mar '14 - 4:11pm

    I we’ll remember at a euro election count in the 80s where LD were second and labour a distant third being berated by a labour supporter for “letting the Tories in”

    The Buggins turn mindset will never disappear

  • Would not worry about that, worry about the by election in Staffs Moorlands yesterday when we got 13, yeas a whole 13 votes. It is so awful. We are not a national party anymore.

  • Tony Dawson 21st Mar '14 - 5:30pm

    @Joe Otten:

    “In hindsight we can see that the opposition to the NHS changes was hysterical and that the NHS has not been harmed, and may well have been improved.”

    Anyone who knows the slightest thing about the NHS ‘deforms’ knows that they are vastly-wasteful and inept. Some how or tother the NHS staggers on afterthem, just as it did after every other set of wasteful top-down reforms pushed through by this Party or that Party. The backs of the two envelopes these plans were drawn up on did not match each other. Paul Burstow’s ‘consultation’ at the Liverpool conference was a waste of time. The LibDems who understood the NHS who were present there in those sessions (and there were many) told him precisely what a mess this was going to be – and why – and it has been.

  • “The “35 percent strategy” seems to hinge on getting a lot of ex-Lib Dem voters to plump for Labour in 2015. From what I’ve seen so far, they’ve gone about trying to do this as ineptly as could be imagined.”

    Have you looked at any of the polls in the last four years? Labour really don’t need to do anything at all. The Lib Dems already persuaded those ex-Lib Dem voters and they have shown no sign of coming back to the Lib Dems since 2010.

  • theakes
    Your point is valid. The Labour Party is possibly going to be successful with its 35 % strategy simply because the Liberal Democrats leadership is breathing life into Labour supporters.
    Clegg and co are doing this in two ways, first by demeaning and demoralising Liberal Democrats at local level so that they cannot get out the vote, let alone win new supporters. Second, by being associated at national level with Tory policies and budgets which forces left leaning voters into the arms of Labour.

  • paul barker 21st Mar '14 - 6:48pm

    The 35% strategy was always a fantasy, based on the idea that midterm Polls & Local Elections are a prediction of the next General Election. As far as I know there has only been one serious academic attempt to compare present Polling with past Polling movement between General Elections, by Steve Fisher at Oxford. His “prediction” for 2015 is a 5% Tory lead in Votes.
    The big proble is us, The Libdems. We really need to compare present Polling with the last time we were in Government & we cant. The same goes for performance in Locals, we know that Labour & Conservatives both lose votes when they are in power at Westminster, only to regain them at the next General Election. Does that apply to us too ?
    Labour have already lost vote share compared to their peak a year ago, lets wait & see what happens this May.

  • “As far as I know there has only been one serious academic attempt to compare present Polling with past Polling movement between General Elections, by Steve Fisher at Oxford. His “prediction” for 2015 is a 5% Tory lead in Votes.”

    There was an interesting dicussion of his model on the UK Polling Report website. Someone pointed out a rather glaring flaw in it.

    The supposed movement back towards the government, of course, partly reflects the fact that previous prime ministers were free to choose the most favourable time to call an election. Now that choice is out of the prime minister’s hands, so the historical data will almost certainly overestimate the movement back to the government..

  • Little Jackie Paper 21st Mar '14 - 10:46pm

    Nick Tyrone – You may well be right, but you overlook the other side of the coin which is how many Lib Dem voters have headed to the Conservatives or UKIP. I don’t have any particular feel for how big that number is, but is suspect it is larger than none. But given that there are a good few LDP/CON marginals the question matters. I would guess that the 1922 Committee aren’t thinking about a, ‘Coalition Vote.’

    I would posit an optimistic and a pessimistic scenario for the 2015 election. On the positive: the economy at least holds steady and the numbers head in the right direction. The campaign goes will with a combination of a focus on the threshold changes. Labour struggle to set out cuts and Ed M runs an uninspiring Labour campaign with the energy bill promise falling flat, and Conservative splits on Europe deepen. Significantly the UKIP vote crumbles. England make the World Cup semis. In this sort of scenario, I would say 50+ seats is possible.

    On the negative: Recession returns and unemployment creeps up. Inflation starts to become a problem and deficit reduction starts to shift to a timescale involving 2025. Russia/Ukraine drags on, and as a result fracking becomes divisive at local levels. Ed M finds a keynote issue above energy bills, maybe something on tuition fees if the new system falls over (not totally fanciful). The Conservatives and UKIP form some sort of pact on a 2017/18 referendum and unify. As they do free movement becomes a defining issue, possibly as Ed M and/or Cameron say they will look to put Spanish style limits on free movement. England lose 3-0, 3-0, 1-0 in the group stage. At that point 20 seats looks out of reach.

    Probably the truth is in the middle, my point is though that you can’t just look at the labour side of the coin. But just one more thought. I’m glad this isn’t an election in the context of a failing intervention in Syria.

  • Peter Watson 21st Mar '14 - 11:19pm

    @Little Jackie Paper “Ed M finds a keynote issue above energy bills, maybe something on tuition fees if the new system falls over (not totally fanciful).”
    Not fanciful at all: see The Guardian today (e.g. http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/mar/21/student-fees-policy-costing-more)

  • Julie Porksen 22nd Mar '14 - 8:26am

    It was Lib Dem spring conference, 2012. Gateshead.

  • Well I’ve always voted Lib Dem and worked for the party for years but I’ll be voting Labour. Simply their policies are now closer to my views than the Lib Dems currently are. My position hasn’t changed but the party has. I’d rather vote for the 2010 Lib Dem platform but despite reservations feel Labour in 2014 are closer to me the 2014 Lib Dems. How about crediting voters with a capacity for independent decision making rather than presuming we’re only able to make a decision on who is nice to us. I thought Liberalism valued personal autonomy over paternalism. The irony or a tribal assault on tribalism.

  • Trevor Stables 22nd Mar '14 - 9:36am

    The reality is MOST of the seats we are defending or hope to pick up are in contests with the Tories!

  • Tony Greaves 22nd Mar '14 - 3:14pm

    “In hindsight we can see that the opposition to the NHS changes was hysterical and that the NHS has not been harmed, and may well have been improved.”

    What utter nonsense. As John Tilley says the cost of reorganisation has been huge and the disruption has not helped in many areas. But the main problem is the steady drive towards more privatisation which is inherent in s.75 of the Health and Social Care Act and its dependent regulations. (which is why I voted against the Bill at Third Reading). This process will go on and on until a swathe of hospital trusts and other NHS bodies collapse under the pressure.


  • Stephen Donnelly 22nd Mar '14 - 4:15pm

    @Joe Otten. “In hindsight we can see that the opposition to the NHS changes was hysterical and that the NHS has not been harmed, and may well have been improved”.

    Anyone with any knowledge of the NHS reforms know they will probably do serious long term harm to the NHS. They have certainly made fundamental changes that have never been properly explained and for which the coalition did not have a mandate.

    When the other mistakes that we have made in government have been long forgotten, this one will still haunt us. The public will not forgive us for backing changes that would never have commanded popular support.

  • Tony Dawson 22nd Mar '14 - 4:17pm

    @Julie Porksen :

    “It was Lib Dem spring conference, 2012. Gateshead.”

    Has capital punishment yet been abandoned in Gateshead for people who call it ‘Newcastle’? 🙂

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 22nd Mar '14 - 5:41pm

    The Labour wolf, in Liberal Democrat sheep’s clothing, is at your door voters. Those of you who remember the wonders of Labour will have the benefit of Liberal extras helping Labour back into power, we are told. All courtesy of Liberals being too quick to believe Tories would give us a fair deal in government. There is no such thing as a fair deal in government – only some few votes to get the major party’s laws through – Tory or Labour.

    And when Labour change back to their old ways and reject the Liberal clothing which helped them to power again, and reject the principles Labour has adopted for now – the Liberal Democrat principles will be there for us to take up once more OURSELVES. Only a Liberal Democrat government can bring our policies to fruition as we intend but it is worth-while trying to bring them to fruition on the back of another party. Good try but it doesn’t work (Nick).

  • @ Muxloe

    “I thought Liberalism valued personal autonomy over paternalism”

    This coalition has seen more liberalism and personal autonomy than any government I can remember

    -Scrapping ID cards
    -Gay marriage
    -‘It’s your money’ staggering reform of the pension system
    -Blocking the snoopers charter
    -Shared parental leave

    I know there’s been some horrible policies we’ve had to agree to, but look at the policies the Lib Dems have got through. Seriously, did you expect gay marriage of all things to happen in the next 10 years let alone in this parliament?
    The list goes on. You can criticise some of the welfare changes as being regressive, but really on the liberalism front I’m amazed at what this government has achieved.

  • @gareth wilson
    That wasn’t might point. I was referring to the tone of the article which implied that voter preferance is related to how pleasant or nice politicians are to potential voters rather than being able to decide based on principle and conviction.

    As to the specifics ofyour list I don’t disagree and you’ll note i said i had reservations about Labour (based on statist tendencies) how ever i believe in an enabling state and feel this is no longer best protected and supported by the Lib Dems and have little faith in the honesty and integrity of the leadership hence my reluctant intention to switch my vote.

  • Blocking the snoopers charter

    Considering the “snoopers’ charter” was proposed by this government in the first place, its withdrawal isn’t particularly striking evidence of the government’s liberalism!

  • paul barker 25th Mar '14 - 4:19pm

    As far as I know theres only been one serious attempt by Academics to use past Poll movements to “predict” the likely result next year, a team led by Steve Fisher at Oxford; they suggest a Tory lead of 5%.
    Labours “solid” Poll lead has in fact been in decline for more than a year, from an average of 11% in February 2013 to 3% now. 2% of that decline has happened over the last 6 weeks, that may be a blip or a sign that Labours decline is accelerating. The last 5 Polls have seen leads between 1 & 5%, in line with 3% average but enough to cause a minor panic in Labour ranks.
    To put all this in perspective, if you remove the “voters” who didnt actually vote in 2010 the current average Labour lead of 3% turns into a Tory lead of 1%. Labour are very good at attracting voters who dont vote.
    There are still 13 months, (and 2 important sets of Elections) to go, plenty of time for Labour & Tory splits to come into the open.

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