Welcome to my day: 23 October – Focus, Focus, Focus?

I’ve been a bit busy for the past few days, as you’ll see later, although I have noticed that the comments thread on my early Friday morning post of the results from Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth has been busy – and I only really wrote that because, with a two hour time difference in my favour, I could at least write it with the benefit of some sleep.

There is always a danger of over-reaction to what was a bit of a disappointment. After all, after recent successes, it was too easy to believe that we could fly. But, we have hopefully learned some valuable lessons which, if properly applied, will make our General Election campaign more focused and more effective. It may also act to remind some of us that, just because one of our opponents is in utter disarray, that doesn’t mean that all we need to do is merely turn up to knock off a Tory MP. And, if you haven’t done the work yet, you might struggle to persuade others that you’re worth investing precious resources in.

I am reminded of “Cleggmania” in 2010, when our targeting discipline weakened in the face of promising poll numbers, and I’d rather prefer our final result next year to be seen as a success rather than something of a letdown.

And yes, there’s every possibility that, in the last few weeks of the campaign, with better coverage, we might rise in the polls, but that shouldn’t be counted upon.

There was one factor in Mid Bedfordshire that counted against us, I think. We’re really good at by-elections generally and our opponents have normally responded to that by truncating the timetable. Our response time and internal systems have adapted to reflect that. In Mid Bedfordshire, with the “will she, won’t she” lag, Labour were given the time to organise and roll out their own campaign, and given the result in the General Election and their national polling lead, they were able to establish enough credibility to win.

ALDC hosted their first Town and Parish Councillors conference on Saturday, which I was only able to catch the end of due to a clashing commitment. I’m obviously a great believer in the power of the sector to improve the lives of residents, and whilst the National Association of Local Councils is a great resource, adding a liberal twist in terms of training and strategy can only be a good thing. It’s intended to be the first of an ongoing programme of engagement so, if you are a town or parish councillor, even if your council isn’t “party political”, you might gain something from joining future events.

Whilst I was basking in Bucharest, Storm Babet was wreaking havoc and devastation across swathes of the country. In Suffolk, only essential journeys were encouraged, whilst roads and railways were closed due to flooding. Hopefully, where you are, the worst is over and that you weren’t too badly affected.

But I guess that we’d better get on with our respective Mondays and so, onwards and, hopefully, upwards…

* Mark Valladares is the Monday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Martin Gray 23rd Oct '23 - 9:31am

    Of course it’s obviously disappointing – especially when we have an ex leader reporting back from the campaign that Labour won’t win – but will save its deposit ! It’s bound to be deflating….That takes nothing away from the hard work put in by the members together with a first rate candidate…We are a close second in many Tory seats , & should focus on them with laser like precision …

  • There seems to be a wish among most voters for a change of Government and for them that means Labour, except for seats where our party came second at the last election, which it did in hundreds of seats until 2015. We would have to hope for a Tory defeat so crushing that it would make sense to vote Liberal Democrat at the following election.

  • Christopher Haigh 23rd Oct '23 - 11:59am

    The main objective is to get rid of this chaotic Tory party that has caused so much damage to our country. The emphasis has to be on accurate opinion polling in each constituency and where it is obviously clear that Labour have an unassailable lead LibDems should back off a bit to concentrate resources where we are in the lead or close second to the Tories..

  • Some pretty sound analysis there. Some of us actually think that for the Lib Dem vote to have held up over 20 per cent after that length of campaign, given the massive amount of national Starmer-based media over this time was pretty amazing. The ‘localism’ issue obviously helped but was nowhere near powerful enough to persuade enough voters to not choose what gthey saw as the most obvious route to expressing disappointment with the Tories.

  • James Moore 23rd Oct '23 - 1:19pm

    These by-elections were a wake-up call. We can’t just rely on the unpopularity of the Tories to make progress. We have to offer something positive and explain why we offer better solutions than Labour.

    Nor can we just rely on tactical voting. There were plenty of places where Labour leapfrogged the Liberal Democrats in 1992 and 1997 because of Labour’s national campaign and profile. And in those days we had Paddy Ashdown. Now we don’t.

    Serious thought needs to be given to having a distinctive national message and raising the profile of our leader locally and nationally. How many FOCUS leaflets even mention him? You don’t have to be his greatest fan to realise how important the leader is to any party in modern politics.

  • Alex Macfie 23rd Oct '23 - 9:03pm

    We were never going to target Mid Beds in a General Election. We thought (wrongly as it happened) that we might win it in the recent by-election. But that’s because it was a by-election and it has no bearing on our prospects in our Tory-facing targets at the next General Election.

  • Peter Davies 24th Oct '23 - 8:36am

    “it was a by-election and it has no bearing on our prospects in our Tory-facing targets at the next General Election”
    except that we’d win them all on that swing.

  • “except that we’d win them all on that swing” But only if we can replicate that amount of work in every target seat, and all those tories who didn’t turn out at the by-election don’t turn out at the general election as well.

    We have to think about things, not just put out quick one-liners.

  • Katharine Pindar 24th Oct '23 - 8:10pm

    James Moore, I entirely agree that ‘we have to offer something positive’, and it’s good that you believe ‘we offer better solutions than Labour’. What do you think are those better solutions?
    We do have to have a clear idea of our national strategy and messages, now that we have to buckle down to work towards the General Election, no longer by-elections.

  • Peter Davies 25th Oct '23 - 9:02am

    @David Evans No. We’d win them on that swing regardless of how it was achieved.
    The Tories only had twice as many bye-elections to fight as we did that day. They will have maybe five times as many targets in the general election so I would expect us to to exceed their volounteer effort by at least as much. What will be different in the general will be how much effort Labour put in to our targets compared to Mid Beds.

  • Peter Martin 25th Oct '23 - 9:19am

    “Peter Kyle knows fine Labour can’t win in Mid Beds”

    Remember this from last month? This was written before a single vote was even cast. Lib Dems need to get real when discussing their chances with the electorate. Phrases like “can’t win” should be avoided. It’s not down to anyone else to tell us all how we should vote or will vote.


  • Graham Jeffs 25th Oct '23 - 10:00am

    PART 1
    I agree with David Evans. There is a huge amount of fantasising going on. We are promoting a product that simply isn’t seen to be particularly unique and is, indeed, ill-defined.

    On top of that the fundamentals of our organisation are inadequate in many many areas. I do not know if this is a countrywide structure failing, but in my county, members belong to a District Party. This means that there are no constituency organisations as of right. Most of the District Parties are hopelessly insular and make little effort to encourage any activity outside of their own, selfish, fiefdoms, usually based on what they perceive as their ‘home’ constituency. I live in a constituency that is spread between the peripheries of three (down from four) of these District Parties.

    These District Parties are not motivated to build a Constituency Organisation. Had the basic structure been the other way about, each constituency would have had a vested interest in growing activity in each of the District areas. We have no PPC. Indeed, would anyone want to be PPC if they are always going to be vulnerable to one or more of the District Parties not cooperating?

  • Graham Jeffs 25th Oct '23 - 10:01am

    PART 2
    And it goes further. At the last local elections we were not enabled to deliver any literature. Since then there has been no effort to do or motivate anything or anyone. Of course, we don’t even know if there are any other members left.

    This is a direct extension from a recent GE. I live on a hill. In the not too far distance I can see part of what was then ‘my’ constituency which I fought as a kid. Because that part of what is now the constituency in which I live falls under a different local authority – and thus District Party – we were not allowed to know who the LD members might be just down the road because of ‘GDPR’

    So when people talk about the second places we achieved last time, don’t get carried away. We are in line here to come fourth. Everyone needs to get a grip….But I fear they won’t.

  • Peter Davies 25th Oct '23 - 10:20am

    As far as GDPR is concerned, the party is a single body. The membership and voter data is stored centrally and is legally restricted on the basis of ‘need to know’ not on the basis of local party. The data officer of a neighbouring district generally can’t give you any data but the central party can give you access to that data if you have legitimate reasons for needing it such as running a cross boundary election campaign.

  • Graham Jeffs 25th Oct '23 - 10:40am

    Thank you Peter

    I can assure you that this is not how it has worked in practice. Irrespective of that, I personally would be more than happy to sign an ‘opt out’ from GDPR in terms of my name and email address if that were to enable us to contact each other free from what is actually obstruction elsewhere.

  • It is history now but we probably would have won Mid Bed if and there are always if’s Nadine had resigned with immediate effect that first weekend and the by election held the same time as Selby and Ainsty.

  • Mid-bed was an unusual constituency in being a genuine three horse race,. There are very few such constituencies. The Labour landslide of 1997 was as much to do with conservative voters abstaining as being able to turn out the Labour vote. Where Libdems are in second place behind the Tories we have a very good opportunity of benefitting from both Conservative abstentions and tactical voting in the general election. 75% of people said they want a change of government but many were unconvinced Labour would do better Voters want new government Tactical voting was evident in the difference between the Libdem vote in Mid-beds and Tamworth. While the Libdem vote in mid-beds increased in percentage terms of votes cast from 2019 in terms of numbers the increase was more moderate albeit on a lower turnout and that may fall back in a general election. Tamworth was a different story with the Libdem vote share falling by 3.7% enough for Labour to pip the Tories in the seat.
    Where Libdems are already in second place, tactical voting can propel the party into first place on the back of a low conservative turnout. The same applies where Labour is in 2nd place. That was the message of Steve Coogan and Carol Voderman at the Libdem Conference Coogan and Vorderman back tactical voting calls at Lib Dem conference

  • Graham Jeffs 25th Oct '23 - 4:18pm

    But none of this is actually going to happen all the time we appear ill-defined. People need a positive reason to choose us – other than us not being the Conservatives.

  • Jason Connor 25th Oct '23 - 7:14pm

    I agree with Graham Jeffs and there just isn’t one at the moment. You have to go back to the days of Charles Kennedy for that. Labour are pretty uninspiring too.

  • Nigel Jones 25th Oct '23 - 9:49pm

    I agree with Jason and Graham that we have not defined ourselves very clearly and not presented a practical vision for the future of our country. Showing what we stand for in practical terms is vital for long-term support and unfortunately this has happened only this past week due to Ed Davey not clearly showing Liberal principles for justice and peace that oppose the evil committed on both sides.

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