Setting the Independent straight on candidate’s defection

The Independent’s Andrew Grice has spiced up the story of a Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate’s defection to Labour with the help of some figures – which turn out to be incorrect.

Andrew Lewin, who stood in Hertford and Stortford in May, has switched to Labour “in protest at his leader’s acceptance of Conservative policies and abandonment of key elements of his party’s programme.”

The article refers to Lewin:

at 23 the youngest Lib Dem candidate in England at the May election

when in fact the youngest Liberal Democrat candidate was Alan Belmore, who was aged 20 on polling day, when he stood in Hemsworth in West Yorkshire.

Andrew Grice also repeats the claim made by the Labour party –

it has attracted 40,000 new members since the election – a third of them from the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems insist their membership has risen since the election even though their opinion poll rating has slumped.

However, Grice himself wrote at the time of Liberal Democrat conference in September that 4,500 people had joined our party since the General Election.

To have lost 13,000 members to Labour and more than replaced that loss in six months would have been a phenomenal churn! I can confirm that the Liberal Democrats have not lost 13,000 members since May 6; in fact national membership has seen a net rise every month since the General Election.

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  • I think when Labour have been challenged about this type of figure that has been regularly used since the election, they have said not all of them are “members”, but long term supporters. There is clearly a difference to actual membership figures, but when these things are being talked of at local level a “defection” of a long term supporter is seen as essentially the same, and they will not know, as we wouldn’t if the situation were reversed with Labour members coming to us, and we had made similar claims of whether or not the people concerned are or were actually members. Our HQ also, of course, has a nasty habit of “not believing” that people have resigned until their membership lapses, so losses in membership sometimes don’t show up till some months later. Have we any official or semi-official claims about numbers defecting from Labour to us in the months since the election?

    I think in trying to rubbish the substantive point about Mr Lewin, you have dragged in whether or not he was the youngest candidate. This just looks like carping at detail. The fact is that a number of our 2010 candidates have resigned from the party / defected to others because of actions by the party leadership – this is a statement of fact, not an opinion. Has anyone got the figures for that by the way?

  • Just to amplify the point – my constituency has many members who are “ex-Labour”. These have come over at many points – at the time of the Lib Lab pact (1977 – 8), with the SDP, because they saw no future for Labour locally, because of the Iraq war etc. These include very senior people in our ranks. There are a few ex Tories, but quite small in number.
    However, scratch the surface of what they mean “ex Labour”, and many will say – “Oh, no, I was never actually a member”. So I think we have to be more than a bit careful we are not whistling in the wind about the seriousness of our situation as a party.

  • Grammar Police 8th Nov '10 - 8:29am

    There’s a certain amount of double-think here though isn’t there. If Mr Lewin is annoyed that the Party has gone back on manifesto promises, it seems bizarre of him to join another party that didn’t share much, if any, of our Party programme.

    I’m not presuming to know why he’s joined Labour (or how he can bear to do so) but surely none of us take at completely face value the stated reasons any defector publicly gives, usually drafted by the press office of the party being defected to?

    Tim, you’re quite right on supporters. Labour probably have found 13,000 people who’ve said that they previously have voted Lib Dem at some point. It’s a bit like David M’s website just before the leadership election that had 10 apparent Lib Dem defectors endorsing him. From memory, one was a councillor, one had been a member – and the remaining ones were all people who said they’d at some point previously voted Lib Dem (inc one that said she normally didn’t vote at all).

    Clearly the narrative Labour are trying to spin is that the the Lib Dems are collapsing. They want people to see that figure and think it means members; they’ve chosen their words carefully.

  • @Helen
    I would love to believe these accounts of rising membership but it does not square with my experience. In my constituency we have had a drop in membership, not huge and mainly people not renewing. However what is very clear is that we are able to recruit very few new members. Maybe it is a South – North divide? Maybe it will also change the composition of this party as (without too much over generalisation) joiners are centre right and leavers are more likely to be centre left.

  • I think you’ll have to face it that anyone who voted Lib Dem in the past election, who is left leaning in their political views, will never vote for the party again.

    I count myself, my wife and quite a few of my friends in this number. Whether we could stomach voting Labour again is another matter but as far as I am concerned there is no point in voting LD again.

  • We have plenty of people coming out to deliver / join / support our party, and unfortunately, Mr Lewin has done himself no credit at all.

  • I guess that writing for the Independent he is so used to declining membership/readership that he gets confused.

  • Duncan Borrowman 8th Nov '10 - 10:29am

    I am not sure arguing about his age or the numbers is helpful. The issue is why would somebody willing to give up their time to fly the flag for the party now be so disillusioned. I know that I am far from happy.

  • Grammar Police 8th Nov '10 - 11:03am

    @ Timak – I am left of centre, and I will continue to vote for the party, and indeed fly the flag for it. So I don’t think it’s a case that all such people “never” will vote LD again. For a party that believes in pluralism and coalitions, and a different type of politics there are a number of people who find that very difficult to put into practice. I hate what the Conservatives stand for, I hate the fact that there are Tory Ministers in Government, and I hate the fact that only 23% o the population voted for the Liberal Democrats. I expect all Governments of all hues to do things I dislike, and may hugely disagree with. I also know it’s difficult to prove a negative, and the situation our MPs found themselves in. Stay out of coalition, risk a further election wiping them out and handing the Tories a majority. Go into coalition, make the best of a bad job, but risk a huge drop in support.

    Sure we may not have got the messaging right, and there may be things the Govt are doing that we hate. As for levels of support. We’ve had a handful of resignations, a handful of new members. Some renewers are slower to renew. Some deliverers have given up (not unexpected after a General Election though- lots get fed up anyway) and get the last round of phone canvassing we did in one ward got 7 new deliverers, taking the coverage up to 100% – for the first time ever. Some people have gone quiet, and some have become more vocal.

  • In responding to the Independent article itself, I note it makes the claim that this is the first 2010 candidate to leave the party. I know that is not true, as the local candidate here left immediately on formation of the coalition (which I thought was a hasty overreaction), and I thought a couple of others have been mentioned on here too. No-one has answered my question on how many? I think many of us would agree with you, Duncan. Many are not happy, and whether we can afford to wait for a disastrous set of elections before changing course, I am not sure. I remember in 2001 we deliberately used the word “caring” as a part of our local GE and County joint campaign. With the cuts, and especially their likely effects on Housing, Social care, benefits, and local government (including local voluntary funding), I don’t think we can easily use that again. Economically, to accept the post Thatcher settlement is deeply worrying – many of us vigorously opposed privatisations in the 80s and 90s. To see us now taking this approach forwards, and especially when the 2008 credit crash reminds us of its dangers…. Leaves me speechless.

    Again, from local trends, I think quite a few who have come forward – not necessarily as members – are now pulling back from any commitment.

  • Like Grammar Police, I have no intention of leaving the party. It is my party just as much as it is Clegg’s.

    To those thinking of leaving, I have two things to say:

    (1) If you do leave us, you will make it more difficult for those of us who remain to get rid of Clegg and win our party back. Clegg wants you to leave. He has said as much. If the centre-left walks out, Clegg will find it so much easier to do what he has always planned to do – merge the party with the Tories.

    (2) The Labour Party isn’t left-wing and is very far from liberal. It is a party that stands for illegal wars, US imperialism, child curfews, ID cards, satellite surveillance of motor vehicles, increasing the gap between rich and poor, and being incredibly relaxed about people getting filthy rich.

  • Ruaraidh Dobson 8th Nov '10 - 11:34am

    You’re right to say that Alan was the youngest candidate in England & Wales, but I beat him by two days to the youngest in the UK title. Which makes very little difference, but I feel compelled to point it out.

  • Andrew Paliwoda 8th Nov '10 - 11:56am

    I am afraid you are incorrect about Alan being the youngest candidate in the UK, that title is actually held by Grahame Lambert, who ran in the Bury North.

  • I think Andrew Lewin MP has acted nobly by realising the manifesto he campaigned for on the doorsteps of his constituency is not best served by the laissez-faire doctrine adopted by the coalition government. His constituents’ dreams of an equality of opportunities and education for all are being destroyed with each new policy decision.
    I note that Ms Duffett can only attack the reporting of his defection, not the moral and ethical decision he has made to fulfil his pledge to serve his constituents.

  • Jasper Ben,

    “I note that Ms Duffett can only attack the reporting of his defection, not the moral and ethical decision he has made to fulfil his pledge to serve his constituents.”

    See my point (2) for an attack on Mr Lewin’s moral and ethical decision.

  • @Sesenco. Last week late night after a couple of glasses of wine and after many let downs by the party I’ve spent a long time supporting and campaigning for I decided to resign, but after a rethink I’m , like you, going to stay in and do what little I can to get the party back, I don’t feel very hopefull about it though after seeing most of our parliamentary representitives abandon their compact of trust both with those who elected them as well as a lot of us who actively helped them to get elected.

  • John Fraser 8th Nov '10 - 12:27pm

    @Duncan Borrowman
    The issue is why would somebody willing to give up their time to fly the flag for the party now be so disillusioned. I know that I am far from happy.
    Fully agree. Just out of curiosity Duncan , I remeber you as being enthusistically pro merger (this is my reciollection please correct me if Im wrong ). Wondering what particular issues have surprised or disapointed you.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 8th Nov '10 - 12:35pm

    “To have lost 13,000 members to Labour and more than replaced that loss in six months would have been a
    phenomenal churn!”

    As Tim13 points out, the claim is simply that a third of the Labour recruits were “from the Lib Dems” – not that they were all party members.

    But of course you knew that already, because in Grice’s September article, which you refer to, it is made explicit: “Some 32,000 people have joined Labour since May, including 10,000 who formerly supported the Liberal Democrats.” [my emphasis]

    Given all the conflicting claims that have been made about how many new Lib Dem members have been recruited and when they joined – always without anything as straightforward as the total membership being stated – it will certainly be interesting to get some proper factual information when the result of the presidential election is announced.

  • As I said on a previous thread, I was one of the thousands upon thousands of disillusioned Labour voters who turned to the LibDems. Your manifesto was more left-of-centre than Labour’s and you genuinely seemed like the natural party for people like me who value compassion, who want to protect the poor and vulnerable and who want to curb the worst excesses of capitalism and see a proper mixed economy with strong private AND public sectors. We did not vote for the hollowing-out of our public services and welfare state. We did not vote for tuition fees, and we certainly didn’t vote for you to go into government with the Nasty Party. We were taken in, duped, by Nick Clegg and his false mantra of compassion and not rushing into cuts. Our local LibDem candidate actually campaigned on the line “Vote LibDem to keep the Tories out”.

    And then what do you do? Go and join the Tories and take part in the most right-wing and nasty government for generations. You gave up nearly every promise you made to us, the electorate, for a bit of power. To see Clegg and Alexander patting Osborne on the back and agreeing with Tory MPs shouting “more, more!” as they screw over the poor made me feel sick to my stomach. I voted for you. Most of my friends and family, who used to vote Labour as well, voted for you. And you betrayed us.

    At least Labour took awhile to go back on some of their promises…your MPs and ministers are the most spineless and opportunistic bunch of charlatans in British politics today. We know what the Tories are about and we always have. Your party is even worse because you pretend to be one thing while campaigning and turn into something nasty when the faint whiff of power hit your noses.

    To hell with your party. Just have done with it and merge with the Tories.

  • paul barker 8th Nov '10 - 1:29pm

    Perhaps a few more numbers would help clear things up. The official memberships of the 2 Parties at present are – Labour about 180 thousand & Libdems around 65 thousand, both seem to have risen by about 15% during the year. Both estimates will be too high as its very hard to measure people leaving.
    Some 600 Libdem members have actually resigned over the coalition & some of those will have joined Labour but no-one knows how many. In general people who leave Political Parties dont join another, sadly.

    To give some historical perspective, Libdem membership peaked in 1997 at about 95 thousand. Previous Labour peaks include 400 thousand in 1997, 700 thousand in 1972 & one Million in 1952.

  • David Allen 8th Nov '10 - 1:30pm


    Like you, I think we must try to reclaim the party from its right-wing usurpers. Like Amy Macleod, I know it will be difficult.

    It is not too early to think about the 2015 election. A strong and independent campaign by the Lib Dems would strengthen the hand of those within the party who have kept their distance from the Tories and would be keen to lead the party back toward the centre or centre-left. A weak campaign based on a defence of the coalition record would suit Clegg and his allies. Clegg would personally be the loser if we spoke with a strong, independent voice.

    Could this be why there has been such a determined effort from the Lib Dem leadership to trash our own brand? There has been a systematic propaganda effort to present the Lib Dems as being 110% behind all the cuts, and to avoid giving any impression that we might be there to moderate the more extreme Tory policies.

    Take tuition fees for example. A conventional spin doctor would have advised us to put up a show fight, let the Tories talk about bloodcurdlingly high fees, negotiate the figures downward a little, and then boast that we had successfully reduced the pain. Why didn’t we adopt that strategy, which would probably have diffused some of the wrath? Might Clegg have been actively keen to see us vilified?

    If Clegg’s strategy is to trash our own brand, I fear that it is winning. Older politicians like you and I will remember what the party has stood for over the decades. Younger politicians like Mr Lewin will understandably concentrate on the here and now. So will the general public, whose memories are short!

  • As a member of very long standing, I am always very sorry to lose anyone from our party, particularly one who resigns for principled reasons.

    Like many fellow Lib Dems I have gulped at some of the compromises and u-turns our MPs have made as part of being in a coalition. Nevertheless I am sticking with the party for the long term. To be blunt, I am prepared to sacrifice our policy purity to have a real influence in government. Sitting on the sidelines unsullied by uncomfortable decisions is just student politics for grown ups.

    To me, joining the Labour Party is unthinkable. I remember the failures of the Wilson & Callagham era as well as 13 years of Blair & Brown. The current Labour Party offers unprincipled and opportunistic opposition, something they have always been happiest doing, leading to profound disappointment when they take office. New nappy, same shit, you might say.

  • Duncan Borrowman 8th Nov '10 - 1:54pm

    @JohnFraser. Coalition or merger? Both I supported while holding my nose. See my blog

  • Duncan Borrowman 8th Nov '10 - 2:00pm

    Reading my own blog it reads more enthusiastically than I thought

  • Talk about missing the point.

    PPC defects and you’re worried about his age?

  • Andrew Paliwoda 8th Nov '10 - 2:04pm

    @Alix Forgot to write @Ruaraidh Dobson before my comment

  • Anthony Aloysius St 8th Nov '10 - 2:27pm

    “The official memberships of the 2 Parties at present are – Labour about 180 thousand & Libdems around 65 thousand, both seem to have risen by about 15% during the year.”

    Any chance of a hint as to where you’re getting these figures from?

    They certainly aren’t consistent with what we’ve been told previously. In September, Nick Clegg claimed that membership was up by 15,000 (not 15%) this year. At the end of last year membership stood at 58,768, so that would imply that in September it was around 74,000. And Helen assures us that it has continued to rise. So is your estimate 9,000 too low? Or was Nick Clegg’s claim about 9,000 too high? Or are they both wrong?

    This is why I say it would be helpful to have some proper figures, rather than a lot of contradictory spin.

  • But – david-L
    You say you are prepared to accept the U turns. But we have been in opposition an awful lot longer than Labour in recentyears. Surely you would understand that U turns will be a …. of a lot more difficult for campaigners in our party to take. And let’s get away from the “grown-up politics” stereotyping. We have fought for certain principles, NOT for precise policies. I think most people know that policies need to change if circumstances do. But for most (I thought) Lib Dems, privatising even more of “the family silver” (as Tory PM Harold Macmillan called it), rolling over and accepting post – Thatcher consensus, downgrading our green credentials, not to mention punishing those who are on benefit or in low income jobs, would not be part of our Lib Dem values or principles. As an assessor for the Party’s candidates before being a PPC, I would have been very dubious of any potential candidate coming to me with that set of ideas! No, sorry, I would say “Have you tried the Conservative Party?”

  • Herts voter 8th Nov '10 - 3:34pm

    I campaigned for Mr Lewin, and even made a round trip of 400 miles to make sure I was home to vote for him in a by election – so I am a little bit aggrieved that the first people he told about the defection were a national newspaper – Smacks of opportunism to me, has he been asleep the past 13 years?

    When I voted for Mr Lewin and leafleted for him, I assumed in good faith that he opposed ID cards, council snooping, 90 day detention, control orders, doubling tax for the poor, free speech restrictions, child detention and the war in Iraq.

    It’s gutting to say the least that a person I was led to believe was a liberal was actually the complete opposite. Nobody who supports a party as authoritarian as Labour was ever a liberal in the first place. I feel the liberal voters, volunteers, councillors and campaigners from Hertford and Stortford deserve a better explanation than ‘ Ed Miliband appeals to young people’.

    The real reason for such an odd defection might just be because Labour have safe seats and we don’t.

  • @David-L I couldn’t agree more.

  • 13000 Lib Dem members may well have joined Labour and not yet cancelled their membership: face it, you don’t know. As for his age, who cares?

    Please don’t make use of figures in a vain attempt at drawing attention away from the significance of a defection, and the fact that many are clearly disillusioned with the Lib Dems at the moment. The Liberals were a spent political force until they took on a manta of social democracy. If Nick Clegg knew anything about history, he’d realise that co-aligning with the Conservatives and ditching a social democratic mantra are hardly intelligent choices to make based on the outcome of the 20th century, you don’t need the ghost of Lloyd George to tell you that!

  • paul barker 8th Nov '10 - 5:18pm

    Anthony A St, this is precisely what gets people confused – people joining a Party, on the one hand & membership rising, on the other. If say, 20 thousand join & 25 thousand leave then membership falls. Parties sometimes bragg about thousands joining but never about people leaving.
    Where do I get my figures ? The 65 thousand for the Libdems was in a statement from Cowley st, it did appear on LDV but only fleetingly. The 180 thousand for Labour was the number of ballots sent out for the leadership contest.
    BTW, those figures of 40 thousand joining Labour allow us to calculate how many left over the same period. Labour membership seems to have risen by around 23 thousand suggesting that about 17 thousand left, in 6 months.

  • Articles like this are somewhat like making a major issue about the expression
    ” fiddling while Rome burned “…

    true… The fiddle had not been invented when Nero was credited with accompanying the flames with one.

    BUT, the important point LD’s need to grasp, instead playing ‘yes but, na na na nah naaahhhh’ politics , is that Rome did indeed Burn.
    LibDems are defecting,
    are sick of their leadership’s sellouts,
    are driving sympathisers away en masse,
    are members of a party engineering its own slide into irreversible political disgrace and resulting obscurity.

  • @Sesenco “It is a party that stands for illegal wars, US imperialism, child curfews, ID cards, satellite surveillance of motor vehicles, increasing the gap between rich and poor, and being incredibly relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” Surely you are describing the Thatcherite Tory party that your party is now propping up, with “not a cigarette paper between” when it comes to policy.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 8th Nov '10 - 6:35pm


    “Anthony A St, this is precisely what gets people confused – people joining a Party, on the one hand & membership rising, on the other.”

    Well, I think it’s contradictory statements from the party that get people confused – particularly if, as you say, Cowley Street has issued a statement and then withdrawn it.

    I am extremely sceptical about Clegg’s claim that membership was “up 15,000” over the period between January and September this year. But we’ll know the truth soon enough.

  • David-L ” ….leading to profound disappointment when they take office.” Well your lot should know a bit about that. Are you having a laugh?

  • DaveN,

    If you take the trouble to check your facts, you will see that it is describing the Labour Party of Blair-Mandleson and Brown-Mandelson. There is even a direct quote there from Mandelson, which I am amazed you fail to recognise. If you wish to project fantasy on to the Labour Party, that is your affair. But don’t expect the rest of us to join in.

  • I am sure you can see what Dave N is driving at Sesenco – I am sure you have got enough ammo to answer him directly! The answer is, if we had used the prescription I have banged on about unremittingly here, we might have got the correct political result. That is – used our brief moral authority after the election to ensure Labour came into coalition / stable arrangement with the Tories (with or without us) – they would have been able to exercise their “not a cigarette paper between” together) They were the biggest parties seatwise, they should have been able “for the sake of the country”. It is clear the coalition is too numerically unbalanced to have forced the issue on cuts with the Tories. Labour now could and would have forced that issue. We would have been exerting principled opposition where they came to social liberal issues and the green economy etc if they became / remained authoritarian and lacked commitment to tackling green issues. This would have tested the Tories’ commitment to their “new” liberal and green approach. Sorry, don’t buy the idea that they were in “too much of a mess” to do that. Nonsense – they were and are a viable party. And as for John Reid and David Blunkett being key wreckers, people should have told them to get lost, it was no longer their party.

  • The point being that the quick deep cuts agenda was and is wrong, as we will increasingly see. The approach above had enough power in it to stop George Osborne in his tracks. And whether the Tories like it or not they did not win an overall majority, and it was Labour who were taking the ground from the Tories and us in the last weeks of the campaign, so had plenty of room to claim they HAD got their act together – clearly many voters had seen that.

    As a footnote, btw, it would have been fascinating had we ended with 30% or over and 120 seats (poss 2nd party in the popular vote) – what approach would we have taken. I thinkand fear it would have been the same.

  • gill Fifield 12th Nov '10 - 9:59am

    I am the membership secretary for a SW constituency. Our membership has been around 330-340 for most of the mid term era. We did get some resignations after the coalition but the amout of lapsed members each quarter is about the same as it has always been. Our membership is up since January 2010 from 340 to 355 not as large a rise as after the 2005 election GE but still not the slump expressed by the labour party.
    When Labour talk about ex lib dem voter joining labour we must remember tactical voting. We have been very successful persuading Labour voters to vote for us in Lib Dem conservative marginals; such that our performance in real elections is usually better than the polls predict. Hopefull some form of PR will enable people to vote for their preferred party first and this wil give a truer picture of the political support for all parties.
    I am continuing to support the Lib dems for several reasons even though I started life a a Labour supporter and then via SDP to Lib dem.
    first their policies are closest to my beliefs.
    Second is we support consensus politics we must be prepared to co-operate with other parties at national and local level whether they are to the left or right of us.
    third if all the left of centre members leave the lib dems it will become more right wing and I will have no party to vote for.

  • patricia roche 12th Nov '10 - 10:38am

    i suspect labour voters will have a good deal of trouble in voting tactically for the very reason that the leadership is so right wing, right of the tories in fact. If there was a true coalition all the parties would work together. Consensus policies are ok if you truly work left and right however it is all right at the moment. And yes there is a problem abhout having no party to vote for.

  • LabourLiberal 12th Nov '10 - 6:05pm

    Herts voter:

    You criticise your candidate for defecting to Labour, by listing some past Labour policies which were the basis for you voting Lib Dem. Firstly, my understanding was that a number of these policies had now been dropped by Labour: certainly their new leader has positioned himself (perhaps opportunistically, but still) against the Iraq war. Nor do they still back an ID card scheme, which is why Blunkett has been sniping from the sidelines. Whilst Miliband hasn’t to my knowledge made any major announcements on the other issues you mention, he has intimated that the party will move away from quite such an authoritarian position.

    Anyway, this is all slightly beside the point. Lewin may well still oppose any or all of those issues, and still square his conscience quite easily. You can’t expect any member of a party to agree with it’s policy on everything, all of the time. I voted Labour in May, despite opposing all the measures you list. Yet I still felt Labour was the better place for my vote – partly because they had a strong candidate in my constiuency and the LDs didn’t, but primarily because I had my doubts over some LD policies, just as I did over some Labour policies: specifically, I opposed the cornerstone policy of voting reform, I disagreed with them on nuclear vs renewable power, and I found the attitude of the party hierarchy toward my vote unappealing. The point is, if we expect party members to agree with every policy, we end up splintering into unworkable “Judaean People’s Front” factions. Everyone has to make some compromise, and side with the party which, overall, they agree with the most. Clearly Mr Lewin’s defection means he feels the LDs are no longer the party which best represent his views. And if he was on the left of the party, he may well be right.

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