Paul Holmes writes…Fighting Labour in Chesterfield

The new LD Council Group in Chesterfield minus Kelly Thornton who has gone on a well deserved holiday. Centre front are Cllr Paul Holmes former MPa nd Cllr Emily Coy Parliamentary Candidate.

In 2015 Chesterfield Lib Dems returned only 9 Cllrs, our lowest number since the 1980s. On Thursday we elected 17, missed one more by one vote (after 3 recounts) and another by 53 votes. 

The historian in me points at past precedent. In 1995 we elected 10 Cllrs, in 1999 it was 19 and in 2003 it was 37. There was also the minor side issue of electing the MP in 2001. So, we are now looking forward to the 2023 Council elections with considerable anticipation – and have already started the planning!

Our excellent gains of seats and Council control across England are a source of great joy. At a personal level I am particularly pleased at the Hinckley and Bosworth result where my old friends Stuart Bray and Michael Mullaney masterminded and drove another fantastic campaign as they always do. Then there is Southport where my friend and former Parliamentary colleague John Pugh and his colleagues did well.

However, my greatest delight is in those areas where we made progress against Labour. For half a century we have won most of our Councillors and MPs from the Conservatives in generally more affluent areas. Winning against Labour has always been much harder and less usual. When we won the Chesterfield Parliamentary seat in 2001 it was, I think, only the second time since WW2 that we had won a seat direct from Labour (without a prior by election success) in a General Election. 

So, the less glamorous progress against Labour on Thursday was what I especially noticed – in Liverpool, Sheffield, Derby, Barnsley, Sunderland and Bassetlaw for example. I have asked ALDC and as far as they could tell me Chesterfield, with 7 gains from Labour and 1 from UKIP, had the highest number of gains from Labour in England. This is a source of particular satisfaction to me.

I grew up in a Council flat on a very large Council estate. I want to be part of a Party that has a message that resonates in such areas – as it very much did under for example Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. Back in 1983, the 26-year-old me would never have joined a Party that deliberately marketed itself as a Party of the ‘professional, urban, educated, middle class.’ Yet that is what our ‘Core Vote’ enthusiasts want us to do today.

I want us to get back to being able to win and run big urban areas like Sheffield, Newcastle and Liverpool as well as the smaller former Labour fiefdoms such as Chesterfield.

* Paul Holmes is the former MP for Chesterfield and currently leads a 17 strong Council Group.

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  • Patrick C Smith 6th May '19 - 12:34pm

    This is an inspiring and admiral leadership account on the L/D `Fighback-Back’ and so galling to lose those additional Seats by such a wafer fime margin after an evident hard campaign.

    The L/Ds did well in Sunderland and Redcar and Chesterfield was outststanding and fully deserves all plaudits to win L/D back control.

    Good luck in next General Election along with Sheffield Hallam,Newcastle where there is strong heritage and new energy for strong resurgent L/D `Fight-Back’.

    I remember visting Chesterfield a few years back and we entered the famous Spire Church and Market and now local people can share in the postive fruits of high levels of local case works on their Council again.

  • Richard Underhill 6th May '19 - 1:01pm

    We visited Chesterfield on holiday.
    Boundary changes in 1983 and competition within the Labour Party cost Tony Benn his seat in Bristol. He returned to the Commons in a bye-election with limited support from Labour leader Neil Kinnnock.
    This gap prevented him from becoming Father of the House of Commons. He used to go round with former PM Edward Heath asking him whether he would go to the House of Lords, to which the answer was that he would not because Sir Winston Churchill had not.
    Addressing a dinner in the Lloyd George room of the NLC Benn thanked us for our courtesy, to which he seemed to be unused.
    He advised us that we “had merged with the wrong end of the Labour Party”.
    He was proud of his son, who described himself as “a Benn, but not a Bennite”.
    He is praised in the Sunday Times this weekend by Jeremy Clarkson for Concord(e) and the Post Office Tower. He persuaded PM Harold Wilson to have an unprecedented, and arguably unconstitutional, referendum on Europe which happened in 1975.
    Enoch Powell was also a NO voter.
    YES voters included “Europals” Roy Jenkins (Labour) Ted Heath (Tory) and David Steel (Liberal).

  • Tony Greaves 6th May '19 - 1:12pm

    Well said Paul. On a smaller scale, in the ward I represent on the Borough Council (still basically a Lancashire cotton town working class ward in spite of some new housing) the Labour vote this year was down to 17% and stuck in third place. This country extends further than Conservative suburbs and villages.

  • David Warren 6th May '19 - 1:45pm

    Couldn’t have put it better myself Paul Holmes.

    With Labour in crisis, led by an individual who is reviled by many of their traditional supporters there has never been a better time to make inroads.

    The message to us Liberals is that the answer is not in the stars it is in ourselves.

  • Mick Taylor 6th May '19 - 3:03pm

    In a few pockets, like Sunderland, Barnsley, Chesterfield and spectacularly in Knottingly in Wakefield we have gained seats from Labour on huge swings. There must be something here for the rest of us to learn. I hope that the successful councillors in those areas might be persuaded to tell the rest of us fighting Labour how they did it. Not, I hasten to add, on LDV, but at a training session at conference or in the regions.

  • John Bicknell 6th May '19 - 3:14pm

    My great hope as a Liberal, later Lib Dem, has been that the party would eventually replace Labour as the chief opposition to the Conservatives. Mark Pack has a point when he argues that we need a strong core vote, but one that is chiefly based upon hardline Remainers in the wealthy suburbs is likely to be too small, too prone to swing away again, to form the basis of our long term future.

  • John Marriott 6th May '19 - 4:24pm

    First of all, well done to Paul Holmes and his team. Now, don’t take this as a criticism; but most of them look quite ‘mature’ to me. Had I lived in a place like Chesterfield, I reckon that I might have kept going a bit longer, although I would probably have ended up in the divorce court and/or kicked out of the party!

    As for John Bicknell’s idea of the Lib Dems replacing Labour, you might like to start by asking why the Labour Party, whose foothold in Westminster in the early part of the 20th Century was greatly helped by ‘understandings’ in various parts of the country with the Liberal Party, eventually bit the hand that fed it. I know that the Liberals didn’t help themselves by splitting on Several occasions; but could it have been a Heineken moment where Labour was able to reach the parts of the working class that the older parties just couldn’t, or indeed wouldn’t reach at that time in history? We have always seemed to be great suckers here for political ‘new kids on the block’.

    For over a century the cry has been ‘Labour for the workers’ and, while our politics was largely binary, this seemed to work. You could also argue that Labour came about for a reason and that reason has largely disappeared. Now again it looks as if our politics is becoming multicoloured although its ultimate manifestation, at least in Westminster, continues to be thwarted by FPTP. If we ever do get PR, there is no need for the Lib Dems actually to ‘replace’ Labour; rather it could lead to the Lib Dems at least achieving the level of representation commensurate with their political standing, as well as offering a place for parties like the Greens.

    Ironically the Liberal Party of Asquith and Lloyd George came largely to be viewed as a force that had had its day. Could the same now apply to today’s Labour and Tory parties? Some of us thought so for Labour in the 1980s following the emergence of the ‘Gang of Four’ and for the Tories following the Blair landslide of the late 1990s. We were proved wrong in both cases. Could Brexit be the rock upon which both could now finally founder?

  • The call to stick to a core vote, is a call to avoid hard slog and difficult conversations. The problem core vote has is it leads to very little being won and effectively abandons whole swathes of the electorate, who just ain’t core enough to care about.

  • Many congratulations to Paul Holmes and all the stalwart campaigners of Chesterfield Lib Dems! On a personal note, my old friend Trudi Mulcaster (who will also be fondly remembered by you) would, I’m sure, have been beaming with pride at your local success.

  • I previously misspelled my own surname @ 5:55pm above: it’s Hagan, not Jagan!

  • Paul Barker 6th May '19 - 7:35pm

    An excellent article, except for the part about a Core Vote Strategy. You include a quotation about us becoming a Party of the Professional Middle Class; could you give us the whole quotation so we have some sense of the context & say who said it ?
    I have read lots about the Core Vote Strategy but have never come across anything suggesting that we should focus on Professionals. The whole point of concentrating on a Core Vote is that we look for voters who already agree with our values (as set out in our Constitution) but dont yet Vote for us. That should be where we start, not where we finish.
    Of course building a Core Liberal Vote will not get us to the sort of Vote share that we need to break through, that’s why I have been arguing for an Alliance of Libdems, Greens & Change, there simply aren’t enough Liberals for us to do it on our own.

  • My previous comment (mistakenly posted under the name of ‘Sean Jagan’) seems to have disappeared!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th May '19 - 7:47pm

    @Sean Hagan: Thank you for mentioning Trudi – that brought a tear to my eye. I have some lovely memories of campaigning with her back in the 90s.

  • Thanks – it’s now reinstated. (Sorry for any confusion!)

  • @Caron Lindsay: Trudi’s reputation seems to have travelled far and wide! She was a remarkable and wonderfully kind and generous person – as well as highly amusing company. I knew her from the late 80s an early 90s when we were both in Birmingham Sally Oak (and she was like an adoptive aunt) – but her heart was always in her native Chesterfield where she returned after retirement and then spent several years as a Lib Dem Councillor and ultimately a term as Mayor.

  • Paul Holmes 6th May '19 - 8:26pm

    @Paul Barker -you need to read the original Core Vote document written in 2015 by Mark Pack and David Howarth. Even more alarming is Mark’s essay on a ‘pivoting strategy’ which he has posted twice on his ‘Newswire.’ There he argues that we should seize the opportunity presented by having lost most of our MP’s to ‘pivot’ our Campaign resources. Away from constituencies where we, ‘happened to win due to local factors but with the wrong sort of votes in the wrong seat of seats,’ and into the sort of seats we ‘should’ be winning i.e where concentrations of supposed Core Votes might be found.

    Arguably one example of this being attempted was when Vauxhall was suddenly made a Target Seat in the 2017 GE, on the basis that Labour’s huge majority would collapse to us because it was a heavily Remain seat with a prominent Labour Leave MP. A fantasy that did not materialise. Meanwhile Leave voting St Ives saw Andrew George miss re gaining his seat by a tiny fraction of votes.

    The Core Vote strategy -adopted at Conference – is not just a ‘nice theory’ while meanwhile we just carry on as before. It does actually mean concentrating our policies, campaigning and campaign resources on Core Votes. Which I think is very much to the detriment of our Party because:
    a) Such Core Votes only exist in concentrations big enough to win a FPTP Constituency in very few areas and even some of those few stubbornly refuse to elect us -such as Exeter which is just about the only seat in the South West which would qualify but is more or less the only one we are not/have never been strong in. The constant truism of FPTP elections is that you don’t win by playing to your base. Blair for example had to go ‘New Labour’ and Cameron to ‘Hug a Huskie’.

    b) Concentrating on your base can, at worst, positively alienate the wider electorate you need in order to win under FPTP. At best it makes you seem irrelevant to most voters.

    c) Such a niche, let alone elitist, Party is simply not one I would want to be part of.

  • Paul Holmes 6th May '19 - 8:34pm

    @Sean Hagan. Yes Trudi was a great friend and only last week I felt a pang as a I drove past her former house and there was no Lib Dem poster up. Her husband Roy wouldn’t have a stake because one year in Birmingham they had their stake put through their window!

    Trudi was one of the first post WW2 Liberal Cllrs in Chesterfield in the 1970’s. Then she moved to Birmingham for work. In the 1990’s she retired back to Chesterfield, or so she thought, as almost immediately she became a successful by election candidate and cheerfully tackled all the work I passed to her as her Campaign Manager. An absolutely terrific person and much missed.

  • Paul Holmes 6th May '19 - 8:51pm

    @Mick Taylor. I have done such sessions at East Midlands Regional Conferences and to individual Local Parties. One reason I was pleased with Bassetlaw gaining their first Cllr in a long time was that two of their newer members had spent quite a lot of time talking to myself in Chesterfield and Michael Mullaney in Hinckley. They implemented what they could for a by election last autumn and Helen didn’t win but certainly made an impact. They then carried on and Helen won by 7 votes last Thursday. Likewise Erewash who gained their first Cllr for some years (from the Cons) having asked a lot of questions of Michael and myself and then putting all that into practice starting last year.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th May '19 - 9:18pm

    I used to love Trudi’s stories of pioneering Liberalism in Chesterfield in those years.

  • Paul Holmes 6th May '19 - 10:15pm

    @Martin -Have you read the Core Vote strategy document? I have.

  • Can someone provide a link to the core vote strategy document, I would like to waste a little time reading it.

  • Oliver Craven 6th May '19 - 10:59pm

    I have a lot of sympathy with Paul’s arguments. In Lincoln, against a strong Labour party, we’re now going to be challenging for two city council seats next year. We lost by 11% and 12% respectively this year and will be working hard until next May in order to take both.

    I wonder if others fighting Labour have found them very toxic in their interactions compared to the Conservatives who, despite their privileged politics, are usually nicer to their opponents.

  • I very much agree with Paul Holmes (although I think he does slightly mischaracterise Mark Pack’s document but it is some time since I read it and I will re-read it).

    There are two things that are needed.

    1. Local parties that can raise a £100k+ a year and run very big campaigns. Actually doable by any party.

    2. Juicy issues to run on – to mount local campaigns on that are bread and butter, “pocketbook” issues on feeding in from the national issues. We had these. Local Income Tax – saving the average household £400k a year. And free university tuition. Funding the NHS and schools properly. I can see no reason why we don’t go back to them (and draw a line under the coalition years). (Probably adding in housing and a strong green offer and I am afraid, Paul tough though it may be in Chesterfield Stop Brexit)

    3. A compelling national message. We need to sell people a cake – not flour, butter and sugar. I think we had a pretty good national message in the 2000s – although I have heard the brilliant people who were involved in the national campaign that we tried to sell people the ingredients rather than the cake (such as the ten we propose / we oppose points of the 2001 campaign). We completely lost that in 2015 which had no theme or message worth of the name and in 2017 although it was a gallant try and probably too soon after ’15.


    No faffing about needed!

  • Andrew McCaig 6th May '19 - 11:19pm

    Can i mention Kirklees in the list of gains from Labour? Only two this year (and one from the Tories), but an important turning point for a Party that has been circling the wagons for well over a decade.
    In my favourite, Almondbury, breakthrough actually came last year in a hold with a new candidate, the excellent Alison Munro, after narrow losses to first Labour and then the Tories in 2015 and 2016. This after 30 years of dominance led by the redoubtable John Smithson.
    Labour made it a regional target seat in 2018, and sent 30 strong canvassing parties every weekend for 10 weeks, with 7 visits from Shadow Cabinet ministers. We had a core team of just 4 people but Alison knocked on almost all 7500 doors over the previous 2 years with surveys, and Labour just could not understand why they did not win.
    This year the local Labour Party fell apart and we greatly increased the majority with another excellent candidate, Paola Davies. One Tory to go and we will be back where we should be.

  • Lee_Thacker 6th May '19 - 11:28pm

    ‘When we won the Chesterfield Parliamentary seat in 2001 it was, I think, only the second time since WW2 that we had won a seat direct from Labour (without a prior by election success) in a General Election. ”

    I make it the seventh time:

    (1) 1945 Carmarthen
    (2) 1950 Huddersfield West
    (3) 1951 Bolton West
    (4) 1964 Colne Valley
    (5) 1974 Feb Colne Valley
    (6) 1983 Leeds West
    (7) 2001 Chesterfield

  • David Evans 7th May '19 - 12:31am

    Very true Lee. It’s very easy to forget Rhys Hopkin Morris, who took Carmarthen for us in 1945 – a gain from Labour in the year of the Labour Landslide.

    Huddersfield West was in fact a new constituency created in 1950, by splitting the old Huddersfield constituency, which was Labour in 1945. One interesting thing about that seat was that although Labour won it in 1945 by 8,800 votes, Liberals got more votes. Sadly the Liberal Nationals got 24,000 and the Liberals 11,000.

    Bolton West was a gain from Labour, but like Huddersfield West, was due to the Conservatives standing down in the seat (and we stood down in the East) to make it a real two horse race against Labour.

    Colne Valley of course gained a goodly proportion of its voters from that old Huddersfield West seat. and in 1974 was a regain by Richard Wainwright, who had won it in 1966 but lost it in 1970.

  • David Evans 7th May '19 - 12:34am

    Of course Leeds NW was won by your friend and, I am proud to say mine, Michael Meadowcroft.

  • Mark Pack’s documents are at and on targeting plus at – there may be newer versions I have missed.

    I would hazard that Mark and Paul Holmes are in some 80% agreement! I know that Paul has a bee in his bonnet about Vauxhall which is fair enough. My understanding though is that a large amount of resource was spent in key seats in 2015 and 2017 – almost exclusively defined by those we held in 2010. No targeting strategy is perfect and you do sometimes take a punt on a ward or seat that doesn’t pay off and alternatively sometimes afterwards you wish you had and these decisions perforce have to be taken relatively early and this was before Cobynmania. As it is Vauxhall now has a very large membership (I believe from what the PPC was saying on LDV 1200+) that benefits the whole party.

    Secondly I am struck by the number on LDV who say they joined because of Paddy’s stance on Hong Kong or Charles’s on Iraq. Most don’t join because they are itching to deliver a Focus leaflet. And this is what Mark is saying citing Freedom of Information in the 80s. Such “Values” issues. Luckily we have been gifted with the mother of all such issues in Brexit.

    At worse this can come off to the electorate as not caring about the issues they care about. We wittered on too much about PR in the 80s. When Mrs Smith was more concerned about her local school or hospital or the amount she was being taxed. From memory, the half of Tim Farron’s interview with Andrew Neil during the 17 election that wasn’t about his views on gay sex, was about cannabis – a good “values” issue and will have gained us some new members but not relevant to Mrs Smith.

    Mark’s targeting plus document has many sensible recommendations – many of which have been implemented since and I don’t think Paul would disagree with any of them.

  • @ David Evans Actually, David, Michael represented Leeds West not Leeds NW.

    As for Rhys Hopkin Morris QC my old friend Donald Wade told me that Morris was persona non grata with Jo Grimond and on the extreme right of the party. He was never opposed by the Tories (something Donald also more skilfully avoided until 1964).

    Morris was an extreme Asquithian in the 1920’s and on very bad terms with Lloyd George when he represented Cardiganshire in the 1920/30’s. After Morris’s sudden death, paradoxically, the seat was gained by Megan Lloyd George – for Labour.

  • Having thought about it although I think your analysis is very valuable, @Paul Holmes – sneering at marketing the party at ‘professional, urban, educated, middle class,” is seriously, seriously wonky thinking. (And I don’t think Mark’s document does that).

    Cambridge is another seat we won directly from Labour albeit after Chesterfield. I am proud of a party that can win in Chesterfield and Cambridge.

    Of course the challenge is to build a coalition that appeals to both and not only one .

    Mrs Holmes in her council flat in Chesterfield is worried about her son’s school and concerned about climate change having watched Attenborough.

    And Prof Holmes in Cambridge is also concerned about her son’s school and climate change. And of course to a large degree the issues are the same. Having run campaigns that have won in leafy areas that take half an hour to walk up the drive and council blocks in the most deprived wards in the country on the same issues I can tell you they are.

    Many younger “professional, urban, educated, middle class” people are facing tougher challenges than the “traditional” working class screwed by the gig economy and high private rents. I suspect quite a few were your voters on Thursday.

  • John Marriott 7th May '19 - 8:21am

    @Oliver Craven
    It’s nice to see someone from Lincoln talking about “working hard” to challenge in two wards. Of course, as Lincoln is one of the few areas that elects its District Council by thirds, that means you haven’t got much time to wait for another go. What actually do you mean by “working hard”? If you follow the North Hykeham example from 1985 to 2013, where we saw Lib Dems, as they eventually became, rise from zero on all three councils to having effective control of the Town Council by 2000, all of the District Council seats by 1999 and both County Council seats by 2009, then you won’t do that by towing the party line or going to meetings.

    It’s just a pity that those of us, who became councillors, did not spend some of our time recruiting and training up more members. Frankly, we were too busy as councillors to devote sufficient time to the rôle of activists, that got us where we were in the first place, because now we are back to zero. Mind you, it’s been a great three decades or so!

    Simply put, you need to pick your candidate, preferably someone, who is local and likely to be around for some time, pick a couple of local issues and get those FOCUS leaflets out on a regular basis and not just before the election. We used to average at least three a year outside election time. Yes, it’s bloody hard work and you need a lot of helpers, who are not necessarily party members. You need to stick at it, because, believe me, it’s unlikely that the opposition will, relying as they usually do on the national picture.

    And what about the rest of the local party area? It’s still called Lincoln, Sleaford and North Hykeham, as far as I know. If you look at the elections in North Kesteven, you will be pushed to find many Lib Dem candidates. What a shame that those who came after us saw fit to concentrate most of their resources on fighting seats in what has largely been a two party stronghold for as long as I can remember. There really is more to life than Lincoln, Oliver. There always has been around here.

  • Nonconformistradical 7th May '19 - 9:41am

    @Michael 1
    “We wittered on too much about PR in the 80s”

    Is this about how we approached the issue of PR or approaching the issue at all?

    Because a fundamental problem with our so-called (deeply flawed) system of democracy is that far too many voters are expected to participate when there is little/no chance of their contributing directly towards electing someone even remotely in tune with their views or understanding their individual situation.

    When the vast majority of voters (say at least 80-90%?) can use their votes in confidence that their votes will actually count only then can we take any pride in our system of democracy.

  • John Barrett 7th May '19 - 10:01am

    Congratulations to Paul and the team.

    You are a braver man than me, wishing to return to the Council after so many years on the Council and in Parliament. if you need a break, feel free to pop up to Edinburgh for a visit and a well earned rest.

    With regards to the Core Vote Strategy and other similar attempts in the past by some people, who were described to campaigners as the campaigning experts, but who had never actually won any elections, who then told experienced campaigners (who had won elections), how they should campaign.

    I experienced this first hand some years ago when our constituency followed their advice and I ended up walking past the homes of people who regularly voted for us with no literature for them, in order to deliver targeted letters to other people identified as our supporters, but who told me after the election they had voted for other parties.

    Prior to that, a large team of dedicated volunteers delivered every house in the same streets with much better results and did not write off anyone as a potential voter. The result was that in local elections we regularly polled over 50% of the vote in those same areas.

    There is no easy substitute for hard graft, year round campaigning and regular contact with the voters.

  • marcstevens 7th May '19 - 10:30am

    I agree with John Barrett on leafletting every house in a ward and not just targeting certain streets. My partner lives in Basildon where a Lib Dem candidate stood in her ward but did not even get a leaflet from the Lib Dems. She wanted to know what the Lib Dems would do locally but wasn’t given that opportunity and didn’t feel party made an effort locally unlike the other candidates so voted for one of the others. The Lib Dem candidate in her ward increased the vote share but from a very low base. Having regular contact with the voters and ensuring all households get a leaflet can make a real difference when it comes building up support and electing councillors.

  • @Nonconformistradical 7th May ’19 – 9:41am

    “@Michael 1
    “We wittered on too much about PR in the 80s”

    Is this about how we approached the issue of PR or approaching the issue at all?”

    No. I am very supportive of PR – it is a significant reason why I joined the party. BUT if we witter on about it in interviews Mrs Holmes will say that is very interesting but I am concerned about my local hospital. Not only does it not win her vote but it puts her off as we don’t share her concerns as to what is important to her (and 50%+ of the electorate). I think it was Chris Rennard who said “the first rule of politics is to find out what is on the electorate’s mind and deal with it”.

    Sadly PR and constitutional issues is an important issue among about 1% of the population – and probably most of those are Lib Dem members! The same applies to legalising cannabis – a policy I am highly supportive of and would have joined the party on if I wasn’t already a member (and I have never even smoked a tobacco cigarette!) but Mrs Holmes says they aren’t concerned about my hospital they just want to get my son high!

    Of course we have to talk and highlight such non-mainstream (and cannabis is more mainstream than PR) “liberal” issues occasionally. But the acid test is are we talking about the issues they are discussing down the Dog and Duck pub. And sometimes our politics has been too much of the university common room and not enough of the council estate.

  • John Marriott 7th May '19 - 12:23pm

    I approach with a certain amount of trepidation disagreeing with one of your comments having had to apologise to you last time for my inability to check the facts; but here goes.

    You talk about the Lib Dems “wittering” on about PR. Well, in my opinion, the need for a change in our voting system is the absolute prerequisite of a party like the Lib Dems getting a fair deal in our parliamentary democracy. It’s just a pity that, when a chance arose to make the change the Coalition Lib Dems just blew it. I think that ‘Nonconformistradical’ just about said the rest.

    @John Barrett
    I tend to agree with you regarding the so called ‘core vote’. I can only speak from my own experience in an urban/semi rural part of Lincolnshire. When we first made inroads in the late 1980s we did a full canvas at both District and County Council Elections (most times the Town Council never required elections) and did so for about ten years. From this we built up a list of people who indicated on a regular basis that they would support us, often, but not always, with the caveat “but only in local elections”. I reckon this had a lot to do with the fact that they didn’t just hear from us at election time, thanks to regular FOCUS leaflets and we got the reputation for getting things done where we lived.

    By the turn of the century, with so many of us now councillors, whose recruiting zeal had taken second, or even third place to doing a good job as a councillor and, in many cases, giving some priority to family and job, we decided to a) just go back to our ‘known’ supporters and b) any newcomers to the town. This seemed to work as we carried on winning until a few years ago when, because of our lack of diligence in the garden, where, by the way, the red rose has never really gained a foothold, and also events elsewhere that were out of our control, the weeds (aka Tories) started to grow back. Where we declined the ‘independents’ thrived, some of whom were formally Lib Dem councillors.

  • Bill le Breton 7th May '19 - 12:24pm

    This is an excellent piece by Paul

    And actually your comment above *** Paul Holmes 6th May ’19 – 8:26pm *** is the most important piece of writing on this site in a dozen years and bears reading again and again.

    Strangely, when a bus comes along often another comes directly afterwards: The comment by John Barrett 7th May ’19 – 10:01am is the second most important piece of writing on this site in a dozen years.

    For those twelve years we have been led by people who never won elections who captured the resources of the party and wasted them on a startegy that was hopelessly at odds with all that had built up our success and reputation over a period between the roughly 1970 and 2007, when a legion of exhausted activists allowed theorists to grab the wheel.

    Most of those in key positions in the Party are those that held to the new so-called ‘professional’ approach that imposed election after election since 2007. The only thing that changed among those people is that with control of the party apparatus they turned themselves from people who had never won elections into people skilled in losing them.

    Sorry if that hurts. But the great thing about campaigning is that there are results once a year or once every four years … if a strategy hasn’t worked over a period of 12 years, it isn’t magically going to work in the future. Look at the results since 2007.

    Those who organised and directed the successful campaigns of the last few months – the reborn activists (see Iain Brody-Brown’s wonderful pictures and captions from the Southport count and Paul’s advice today) – these are the people who know what they are doing.

  • Sue Sutherland 7th May '19 - 1:19pm

    Thank you for this article Paul. Like you I have been looking for the party to make gains in Labour strongholds and welcome these results. I would love the party to make it clear during the Euro campaign that we will share out the economic gains from EU membership equally as well as fighting to Remain. Primarily this is because I want social justice but there are other more pragmatic reasons.
    Even in Tory facing seats we need to appeal to traditional Labour voters to win. I cut my political teeth in Bath and we would not have won the Parliamentary seat without winning wards with high levels of social deprivation. I now live in Trafford, Greater Manchester, which was Tory but is now Labour and the Lib Dem team won two more seats doubling their number on the council with a hard working enthusiastic team.
    However, much of the North West is Labour and it astonishes me how similar they are to the Tories when they occupy safe seats. All the time Corbyn was saying we won’t tolerate homelessness Manchester Council was doing practically nothing about the problem. We now have 3 Lib Dem councillors as the sole opposition there.
    We need to be proclaiming policies that appeal to the traditional Labour voter otherwise many of them will be voting for the Nigel Farage party or UKIP. As well as meaning they won’t be voting for us, they will be open to more indoctrination fuelled by hatred when we want an inclusive society. Obviously to win in Labour held wards and constituencies we must give the people hope for a better future, a fairer future.
    This is what the Preamble declares and this is what we should be basing our policies on. At the moment Brexit divides us from many Leave voters so we have to show that remaining gives the opportunity of a decent life for them and that we have the policies to bring it about.

  • Paul Holmes 7th May '19 - 1:38pm

    @Michael1. I find your comment about ‘sneering’ somewhat offensive. Show me where I sneered? Why would I sneer at a group I am a member of? -as a result of being the first member of my family to ever stay at school beyond the age of 16 and the first to ever go to University.

    I simply noted that any serious National Party that seeks to deliberately build its policies, messaging, campaigning -it’s whole brand -around appealing to professional, mainly urban, educated, middle class people is a) Not going to win much under FPTP b) Is not a Party I would want to be a member of.

  • Neil Sandison 7th May '19 - 2:05pm

    Being a blue collar liberal in any party is difficult .So we shouldnt be too hard on our own party if it is semi-detached from the real lives of working people who are increasingly finding wages are now well short of the bills we /they have to pay . That does not mean because you are a blue collar liberal that economics rule your life, or that you do not want to support issues like education,the environment and international development. It certainally does not mean you want to nationalise every thing that moves like the Corbynistas wants to do and rob pension funds of their value
    living the next generation of pensioners on the bread line . So lets not be afraid to spell it out in traditional working class communities that Labour come with feet of clay and will take them back to the 70s and all the chaos those times brought.

  • @Paul Holmes

    Um.. I of course apologise if I offended you. I am NOT saying that you are sneering at urban middle class professionals but that you are sneering at the party (partly) marketing itself to those people. I think that you set up Mark’s document as something of a strawman and not what it is. Much of its analysis I agree with and I think that actually you agree with.

    There are a number of points. This is targeting. But it is targeting PLUS. That we should find issues that resonate with people who in the past have been a bit more likely to support us. Broadly we have done best in university cities – Bath, Oxford, Winchester, SW London etc. In general these have a lot of undergraduates, recent graduates and “concerned” middle class professionals – doctors, teachers, university lecturers, public sector workers.

    Somewhat by luck and accident such an issue has fallen into our lap – that of Brexit. Although Tim Farron has to take credit for taking a difficult decision to support a second referendum – indeed doing exactly what Mark outlined.

    Mark wrote the first edition of his pamphlet in 2015 when we were on 5% in the polls. Now I suggest that if you were on 5% across Chesterfield, you might say OK, we can’t do everything. Where do we start? Mark’s point is that in the national “air war” you can’t target everyone – indeed in doing so you reach no-one. Where do we start? Those that have been more likely to support us in the past are a good starting point.

    In starting somewhere does not mean you ignore other demographics over time. And we do have a problem with reaching “the working class” and we need to think about that and set up as has been suggested on LDV a “blue collar Lib Dem” group. And our colleagues in the big cities have battled hard against a complacent Labour party there.

    But I suggest that they including you were aided in that fight on Thursday by “urban (by definition) middle class professionals” coming out to vote to “stop Brexit” and the party acting on the “Plus” bit of Mark’s “Targeting Plus”. It seemed to help under FPTP last Thursday!

  • @John Marriott

    🙂 !

    I am always right (!) – until I am wrong which unfortunately is often! I think you misunderstand my point. And I am sure that is my fault in not being clearer – although I am sometimes accused of explaining myself in too much depth!

    I want PR. And I want PR yesterday. But the point is that under 1% rate it as one of their top issues. Now we could witter on about it ad infinitum and double it and raise it to – let’s see 2%. But you certainly risk people saying “I am concerned about my hospital, school, tax, benefits, environment… Those Lib Dems are always wittering on about sodding PR!”

    I hope my explanation to @Nonconformistradical which got caught in moderation and so was slow to appear helps. I haven’t put PR in leaflets I have written over the past 20 years which have got 2 MPs and dozens of councillors elected and I suspect few good campaigners have – which makes the point.

    We get PR by getting into a strong position in Parliament (with the SNP, Greens, Brexit party, UKIP, Plaid all backing it) and as you say not blowing it next time by settling for AV or running a terrible referendum campaign. PR for local government might also helped (and yes OK with unitary authorities).

  • Paul Pettinger 7th May '19 - 8:45pm

    Where have you taken the “professional, urban, educated, middle class.” quote from Paul? It doesn’t appear in the Howarth Pack document, which uses attitudes towards immigration (not social class) as an important signifier of a liberal voter. Assuming you aren’t suggesting we be less distasteful for xenophobes or think not pandering to xenophobia is classist!

    I am afraid your comment about us never being strong in Exeter (where I am from) and your inference about the City’s social profile aren’t quite right. The City has gentrified a bit over recent decades, but it is still socio-economically mixed. The Alliance also came (as in many seats) 2nd in the 1980s, while we were leap frogged by Labour in the 90s and have been aggressively squeezed by them since (it’s the only Labour target seat for miles around). We however ran the City Council as a minority administration between 2008-2010 and during this period had 4 of the City’s 9 County Councillors.

    Things we need to balance a core vote strategy with include understanding the diversity of our potential appeal and nature of our target seats. It also needs to engage with the potential core vote, which is something we have corporately failed to do properly since 2015. We are still estranged from millions of culturally liberal voters and have yet to seriously deal with the reputational damage from the Clegg coalition era. Exeter is an example of where this toxicity holds us back, with us still coming 4th and 5th in council wards we used to target and represent.

  • To just say to John Marriot that that I was also elected to Lincoln and the team is far from mature and his judging of books by covers is consistent I guess.

    The other is on john’s consistently negative comments to the new and vibrant team in Lincoln. John – they are working hard and learning fast. Your legacy might be judged by how you handled matters of succession and frankly you totally and utterly failed and yet feel able to continue to throw rocks from the sideline.

    I feel sad that your legacy is not of a successful and effective career of liberalism in local government but of a wasteland that others are seeking to sort out and replant. Perhaps some support for Oliver and others that are tackling this problem could come from your angry and depressing keyboard.



  • Ha! In my enthusiasm to type:
    I was of course elected to Chesterfield not Lincoln but I shall be a part of the team that sees us winning in Lincoln next year

  • A good article and some thought-provoking comments.
    There is nothing wrong with targeting provided that the target doesn’t result in ignoring or alienating the rest of the market. In 2017 GE we experimented with targeting what we felt would be ‘sympathetic’ areas based on ACORN. We mail-merged 4 main messages in the postal vote letter based on the ACORN groups they were in.
    As we are in one of the safest Tory seats in the country it’s difficult to measure how successful we were but canvass data was positive.
    With technology and data it’s easier to tailor the message but the core message still needs to appeal. I still remember being told in the 2013 County elections, “I used to vote Liberal Democrats because you were the party for the thinking working man but you’ve left me behind”. We need to stop being reasonable and show our passion for change.

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