Preparing for the AV referendum: standing more local election candidates

The connection between standing local election candidates and the AV referendum may not seem obvious at first, so imagine this scenario…

It’s quite likely that the referendum will be held on the same day as local elections, such as the May 2011 local elections.

The arguments over electoral reform will attract to the ballot box some people who don’t usually vote in local elections. If the pro-AV campaign goes well (and it starts with a lead) many of those people will be well disposed towards Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.

And what will they find when they get handed another ballot paper, this one for the local elections?

If the answer is no Liberal Democrat candidates, that will immediately send them a strong message about how the party isn’t a serious party around their way. That may not be a fair view all the time, but it’s the obvious one to take.

Not only is it the obvious one to take, it’s one that many people do take and do feel very strongly about. During my time working for the party, there was voluminous and strongly expressed feedback each spring via the party’s online channels as people expressed their disappointment / disgust at turning up to vote and finding no Liberal Democrat candidate on the ballot paper. Cue complaints about party not being serious, having let them down, not being worth supporting in the future and so on.

It’s a problem when local and general elections are combined – and I’ve a strong hunch that missing local election candidates often cost us votes in that Westminster constituency because we’ve sent people such a negative message about ourselves just before they mark the ballot paper. But at least in those circumstances there is a Liberal Democrat on the other ballot paper that the person is given (Speaker’s constituency etc excepted).

There won’t be that safety net in England in May 2011. (In Scotland and Wales we’ll be there on the devolved ballot papers, but there won’t be local elections).

The problem is more than just likely lost votes or certain damaged credibility – it also puts people off offering to help.

The solution?

Put up more local election candidates.

Finding people and putting together the paperwork takes time. It can be tough, but where we really put our minds to it it is often possible to put up far more candidates than we’ve done for a long time previously – witness the success in putting up more candidates to challenge the BNP this May.

So if your local party has council elections next year, why not start your planning now? You can even plan to start collecting signatures for nomination papers from 1st December when the new electoral register comes out. You’ll have to watch out for people who subsequently drop off the register, but having to make up some gaps in your lists of 10 signatures in March is much better than starting with a completely empty slate in March.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Very good point Mark. Most councils up next year are likely to need between 1 & 3 candidates per ward. Struggling local parties shouldn’t find it too hard to have at least one approved candidate per ward (see new English party rules on approval of candidates) so everyone can vote see a Lib Dem on a ballot paper even if they can’t field a full slate.

  • On a linked issue – would it be possible/allowed/worthwhile to register a description with the Electoral Commission so that local election candidates for that election appeared as “Liberal Democrats – YES to Fair Votes” or similar?

  • Also on that point – I hope everyone’s joined the fair votes purple movement
    They’ve had a great reception in the media and their high profile activities will ensure that the issue is made familiar to the electorate in a positive light.

    As we move along the line towards the referendum, the briefing against AV (or whatever system…) will become fierce and we’ll need to fight hard to keep the YES message up there with the rest. Let’s not forget that, whatever they say now, neither Labour nor the Tories want anything to do with electoral reform. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

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