Why a good targeting strategy is essential

Michael Meadowcroft makes an impassioned case against Targeting but the facts simply do not support his case.

In a First Past The Post electoral system good targeting of resources is essential whether you are a local party fighting Council elections or a national party looking to maximise the number of MP’s elected. A good but widely spread vote wins little for a small third or fourth party. This was most clearly illustrated in 1983 when our 25.4% returned just 23 MP’s compared to Labour returning over 200 MP’s with a more geographically concentrated 27.5% of the vote.

Michael does concede that targeting worked in 1997 but says its effect was disastrous thereafter. In fact more seats were targeted in 2001 and we won 52 followed by 62 (our best since 1922) in 2005. In 2010 we targeted even more although we saw a net loss of 5 due to being too ambitious and spreading effort too thinly. At the same time, far from being ‘hollowed out’ everywhere else, we won control of a greater number of councils than ever before –a clear sign of growth and expansion in campaigning capability.

In short the ‘hollowing out’ of the Party between 2011-2017 owes nothing to targeting and everything to our virtually overnight self destruction shortly after entering Coalition. Neither of course was there ever some sort of pre-targeting ‘Golden Age’. From 1945 -1979 the Liberal Party fluctuated between a high of just 14 MPs in 1974 and near oblivion in many other General Elections. From 1983 onwards we averaged around 22 MP’s. Only after serious targeting started did we double and then treble that figure.

Some comments, both by Michael and below the line, do both puzzle and concern me though. I was involved with target seats from 1995-2015 in one capacity or another as voluntary constituency organiser, PPC, MP and back to Constituency Organiser. I never heard any suggestion in that time that ‘no’ activity should take place anywhere else although I did hear it rather foolishly being said in 2017. Indeed back in 1995 onwards there were 3 tiers of seats, with PPC’s being urged to campaign at appropriate levels and in non target constituencies to include ‘helping in a target’ as a ‘part’ of their personal and constituency campaign/development plan.

Bar a tiny number of paid staff we are all volunteers. No one can order us to ‘do nothing’ in our home area and go to a designated place. Indeed I would have thought that would be the best way to ensure that Liberals did the exact opposite. I was therefore astonished to hear of people supposedly being ‘disciplined’ for not volunteering in a Target Seat in 2017. But then things started to go wrong circa 2013. Prior to that seats that were already campaigning to a high level were given help and professional advice as to how to improve and extend what they were doing in order to win. From 2013 onwards, as noted in the post election review, orders and messages were issued from on high and failure to be on message saw, for example,  co-funding withheld.

However, bad strategy in very recent years does not negate the past success and the future necessity for [good] targeting.

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

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  • paul barker 2nd Feb '18 - 2:09pm

    It seems to me that Targeting has to go with a “Core Vote” Strategy & clear, consistent National Messaging. Targetting on its own risks Local Parties developing or appearing to develop their own Politics with the National Parties becoming little more than a sort of Franchising operation.
    That happened to an extent before 2010, leaving us vulnerable when we did unpopular things.

  • paul holmes 2nd Feb '18 - 3:36pm

    @Paul Barker. I don’t see the connection at all. Targeting is about putting resources of various kinds (money, mailings, staffing, professional guidance, volunteer helpers) into particular areas which are judged to be either approaching a winnable level or in danger of being lost.

    How far the messaging varies between the extremes you posit is a completely different issue. The ‘Command and Control’ approach you seem to favour was tried in 2013-2015, although ‘London’ started to ease off to a degree in the final year as the failure of the national messages became clearer. It was roundly criticised in the Parties post 2015 GE Review. It was however tried again in 2017 when ‘one size fits all’ messages on Brexit and Corbyn were sent in expensive commercial mailings to Target Seats. Some of whom were very critical about the negative impact this was sometimes said to have in local circumstances. Ceredigion for example with regard to a Brexit mailing and Vauxhall with regard to the Corbyn mailings.

    I wasn’t involved with a Target Seat in 2017 but in the 2013-15 period found the Command and Control approach to be very counter productive compared to what I knew in previous elections.

  • paul holmes 2nd Feb '18 - 3:49pm

    @Paul Barker. I also disagree almost entirely with your last sentence. The most unpopular things we did in Coalition involved totally reversing national policies we had fought the election on up to 10pm on polling day. For example we said that Austerity measures of the level being proposed by the Conservatives would endanger the economic recovery that had begun. Then we more or less immediately acted as chief fall guy for exactly such extreme austerity measures -which had to be partly reversed 2 years later because, guess what, the economic recovery went into reverse. Or take Tuition Fees, or take yet another expensive top down reorganisation of the NHS.

    But that is all about policies and trust issues. Nothing to do with Targeting.

  • It is good to see a well-argued case for what went wrong starting in 2010. I am particularly pleased to see that Paul Holmes agrees with me that we dumped our economic message of the 2010 campaign to fully support the Conservative economic policy of deep cuts. He also points out that this policy was disastrous and had to be changed. What he doesn’t point out was that we never stated the policy had changed but went along with George Osborne’s “there is no plan B”. So even if we had persuaded the Conservatives to adopt an economic policy closer to our 2010 one we claimed and received no credit for it.

    Paul also points out that from his own involvement in targeting there were three tiers of seats. As Nick Collins pointed out in the Michael Meadowcroft thread (https://www.libdemvoice.org/why-targeting-has-damaged-the-party-56501.html) there were “‘target’, ‘starred’ and ‘development’ seats”. He also pointed out that these ‘starred’ seats received some very limited financial support and some other types of support.

    Can anyone state how many (if any) ‘starred’ seats (where we had not had an MP since 1983) there were between 2015 and 2017?

  • Sue Sutherland 2nd Feb '18 - 6:25pm

    I think one of the problems about targeting is when do you decide that a seat no longer needs extra resources to continue as a Lib Dem seat. It was either in 2001 or 2005 I think that several seats saw large majorities being achieved which then melted away in 2015. I think it’s arguable that it would have been better as a national strategy to work to increase the number of seats we held rather than increase our majorities in existing seats.
    I think it has to be accepted that there is no safe Lib Dem seat ever. We win seats and lose them again with depressing frequency so we need to analyse just why we don’t manage to keep seats. The local election result in Sunderland may give some clues because we seem to have gained votes from UKIP. Given the present Brexit scenario it seems as if this may be a protest vote. Perhaps this is why the Coalition cost us so many votes? Instead of rebels we turned into the establishment and proved ourselves to be no different from any other party. This caused me much heartache so it’s easy to see how it might have upset others whose loyalties were less engaged.
    I’m beginning to change my mind and think we shouldn’t be wasting money on paying for lost deposits but using it to fund research into how we fail to retain seats and what voters expect of us and then using this information to fight promising seats.

  • 1/2
    A good article, Paul Holmes and Michael Medowcroft’s article was also good, thought provoking and well repays reading if you haven’t – even if I disagree with some of it.

    I hope that I don’t contradict myself but to win even targeted seats it seems that we do also need to raise our national share as it is tough work in target seats with a low national share. And you have to persuade people you have a chance of winning a seat and that is difficult against a background of a low national share. You are of course also working from a lower base.

    If you look at one set of figures – what would happen if we went back up towards say 15%. We do also put on 2%-4% in most general election campaigns – 2015 and 2017 being exceptions.

    If all of this came from the Tories we would gain around 20 seats on a UNIFORM swing – there is a list at and by swing needed at http://www2.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2018/01/28/winning-where-the-lib-dem-targets-for-2022/ and https://drive.google.com/file/d/1iZ7Y1BtmXxR1bODKkURuMo7gnENk57MZ/view . And hard targeted work and squeezing the third party might well extend these beyond the uniform swing up towards 30 gains. Many would be pleased if we recovered to more than 40 seats at the next general election.

    We can of course expect our opponents to working these seats hard as well and they have the benefits of incumbency. We, therefore, do NOT win these seats sitting back and hoping for a uniform swing but on massive hard work.

    What would get our national share up beyond – 12% and heading towards 15%?

    1. Winning council seats and councils, gaining credibility again as being able to win again with the electorate and the media. Through targeting! I FEAR with both Labour and Conservatives above 40% in the opinion polls, this May’s local election could be very tough. But the Sunderland result shows that with campaigns on local issues that are double or quadruple what people might be planning to do and that might be a half or quarter of the seats they might be thinking about then we can gain seats. I would suggest that now is not the time for very expansive local targeting strategies.

  • 2/2

    2. Developing a national strategy that works. As I commented previously in the run up to 1997 we abandoned “equidistance” between the Tories and Labour and concentrated on trying to oust the Tories and say that health and education should be better funded.

    It meant that in target seats we had a “triple whammy”. We could win in that particular seat as we told the electorate in bar charts we could and Labour (mainly) could not. We had a hard working local champion and local campaigner. And we had an overarching reason for people to vote for us- to get rid of the Tories and fund health and education better.

    In 2015, the Tories had the overarching reason for people to vote for them in a constituency. And it is worth looking at video on youtube of Lynton Crosby – and I think from memory he uses the example of Yeovil and David Laws. And people still rated our local MPs and local champions and would want to vote for them but that was trumped by the overarching national reasons to vote for the Tories. Fear of Miliband and a Labour/SNP coalition and at that time, of reckless public finances.

    Our triple whammy had been reduced to a single whammy.

    In SOME seats in 2017, this increased to a “one and half” whammy or better. We still had a local champion as our candidate. In some seats it also meant coming back to us on Brexit and on the NHS and education. Twickenham probably being a good example.

    I think also we need to put back our “coalition” of younger voters and middle class public sector workers.

    There remains therefore what a national strategy should be? Personally I would advocate three things:

    1. Much better funding for health and education – paid for by fair taxes -1p on income tax being the classic example. This is probably least controversial.

    2 Clear campaigning against Brexit and for a ratification referendum. This is our position but some say we should stop “banging on about Europe.”

    3. Free university tuition. This is most controversial. Unfortunately tuition fees were a “new Coke” moment. New coke tasted better but people didn’t believe it did. The detailed tuition fees policy was good close to a “graduate tax” – more maintenance grants and more progressive but people didn’t believe it was good.

  • Ian Stewart 3rd Feb '18 - 10:38am

    With limited resources targeting is going to be a fact of life. My worry is that in many cases we only start the process on the run up to an election. To get a credible candidate for voters the campaigning process must start directly after the last election especially for local elections. Using issue campaigns, taking on problems in constituencies and developing events should not be left to the last minute otherwise it seems to most electors that we only become active when we want their vote and thus we get a negative response.
    The affect of little activity between elections also weakens our membership loyalty again engendering the idea that we only want money from them when we need to get people elected. Generating real activity year on year is difficult but I would suggest it is easier than generating interest (and funds) within a relatively short run up to an election, especially well calendared local elections. Engaging the membership will encourage more volunteers, more candidates and help develop the skills to run effective campaigns thus reducing the need for targeting. All year planning, I believe, is the key.

  • David Evershed 3rd Feb '18 - 11:44am

    Contrary to comments above, the coalition continued to run an unsustainable government deficit from 2010 until 2015, an unsustainable deficit which continues to day. Government spending continued to increase from 2010 to 2015 and continues to increase today. Overall there have not been cuts in government spending.

    Putting off tough but necessary decisions is never a good thing. Best to make economies when the majority accept the need to do so, as they would have done in 2010. Now everyone thinks there is no need for cuts because we have avoided them so far. Future generations will have to pay for successive governments’ “live now pay later” attitude.

  • William Wallace 3rd Feb '18 - 12:49pm

    And to add that we are not the only ones who target (and who desert other seats to focus on those targets). Helen and I were working in Kingston on election day in 2017 when reports came in that Conservative workers had disappeared completely from the streets and polling stations. (As Ed Davey said at the time, ‘This either means we’ve won or that they’re confident of a landslide’). It turned out that they had all been transferred to Richmond, which they narrowly won.

  • @ Michael

    As you say for the 1997 general election we had abandoned “equidistance” and were seen as very clearly as an anti-Tory party. Therefore the first thing we need to do is do this again. However your three things to do even on top of this are not enough. The 1p on Income Tax is only for health and social care. In our 2017 manifest we promised £5.755 billion for early years, schools and colleges. We could now link this to increasing Corporation Tax to 20% (£3.615 billion) and abolishing the changes to Inheritance Tax and Capital Gains Tax (£2.055 billion) introduced by the Conservatives after 2015 also in our manifesto.

    According to the Labour Party costings document abolishing tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants will cost £11.2 billion. In our costing document we had no plans to raise this amount of extra government revenue. Vince has talked of a Training and Education grant which would part fund tuition fees funded I think from a Land Value Tax. It should be possible to fund the other part of tuition fees from a real graduate tax payable after a graduate earns more than the average wage and payable by British people living aboard. Hopefully this will be the policy suggested in the review taking place and I think due to be voted on at the autumn conference.

    The equally important thing to do is have an economic policy. I want it to include Keynesian policies and a commitment to provide a job for everyone who wants one.

    Recently there has been a lot of talk in the party about economic inequalities and poverty. Therefore we need policies to remove everyone out of relative poverty and so reduce economic inequalities.

    (By the way Michael did you see the request made by Katharine Pindar in another thread for you to add an initial to your first name to help differentiate between the different Michaels?)

  • @ David Evershed

    The government deficit was clearly sustainable between 2010 and now or it wouldn’t be as large. I would argue that it would be sustainable even if larger.

    Our generation did not pay either for the First or Second World War or the increase in the national debt after the Second World War. It is a fallacy to think future generations have to pay off the national debt. The national debt in the UK has increased in monetary terms hugely since 1694. The best method to reduce the costs of servicing the national debt are to have economic growth which generates more government income than the interest on the national debt. Having full employment would assist this and if it created a little more inflation that too would help reduce the real costs of servicing the national debt.

  • paul holmes 3rd Feb '18 - 5:09pm

    ‘MichaelBG. Michael asks how many ‘Starred Seats’ there were between 2015-17. Having reverted in recent years to being a ‘Hick from the Sticks’ I no longer know what policy and strategy our London based leaders are pursuing. So I could be wrong but I would say that between 2010-2015 there were none, just diminishing numbers ofTarget Seats and ‘the rest’.

    Target Seats were, in the past, those that were judged on the basis of recent past election results plus current campaigning levels and capacity, to be in with a serious chance of winning at the next General Election if they got some extra help. Starred Seats were ones that were making good progress but were not yet at a level where they could win. They were given some limited financial support but more importantly professional guidance and training so that they might move up to Target next time around. This was reviewed regularly and the Target and Held Pool increased for 2001,2005 and 2010 -quite the reverse of the ‘hollowing out’ that some claim occurred.

    Of course post 2010 we entered utterly different territory and electoral reality went into sudden reverse compared to the previous 20 years. The snap 2017 GE also made forward development and planning harder on top of the fire fighting against complete collapse that was taking place.

    But at some point soon we need to get back to forward planning and capacity building. I for one would return to the old Target Seat procedure based upon say the last 10 years election results (local and national) in a seat plus existing, proven, campaign capacity, organisation, fundraising capacity and professional ‘will to win’ within a Local Party. This would preclude ‘taking a punt’ based on the fact that the ‘decision takers’, whoever they are these days, like a particular candidate or are experimenting with some electoral theory. Under such a system it is hard to see for example how Vauxhall, at very short notice, could have been made a Target in 2017. We started 22,466 votes behind and we ended 20,250 votes behind. If some of the activists pounding the streets in Vauxhall had gone to Richmond would we have turned out 45 more votes and another MP? Had St Ives received national mailings (written in consultation with Andrew George not imposed on him) would we have got 312 more votes there and another MP? We need realistic Targeting based on past proven criteria and we need development work to build for the future.

  • paul holmes 3rd Feb '18 - 5:29pm

    @David Evershed. I don’t think David, that you can point to any ‘comment above’ that says that there was not a continuing deficit between 2010-2015 -what constitutes ‘unsustainable’ is a different matter.

    In 2010 we were told that the deficit was so bad that spending had to be slashed and the deficit removed within 5 years or we would lose our Triple A credit rating and be a basket case like Greece. Yet here we are nearly 8 years later, we lost our Triple A rating anyway, we still have a considerable deficit and we are not an economic basket case. Neither do the Conservative Government of today barely mention the deficit anymore let alone pretend it has to be eliminated anytime soon.

    Yet back in 2010 it was so important that we wipe out the deficit within 5 years that Local Government funding ‘had’ to be cut by 40% (Conservative run Northamptonshire have just announced they can no longer pay their bills); Police and Fire Brigade funding by 20%; Disability benefits cut; Public Sector pay frozen at 1%. Income and Corporation Taxes however could be cut by £27 Billion (whilst abolishing Tuition Fees on the other hand would have cost an ‘unaffordable’ £10 Billion and not increasing them would have cost zero).

    Naomi Klein wrote an excellent book on The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which seems very applicable in this case.

  • John Barrett 3rd Feb '18 - 6:03pm

    Paul – the ‘hollowing out’ of the Party between 2011-2017 owes nothing to targeting and everything to our virtually overnight self destruction shortly after entering Coalition.
    Sue – Instead of rebels we turned into the establishment and proved ourselves to be no different from any other party.

    Both of the above comments reflect my own experience as to why things have gone “pear shaped” in recent years. We did target for years and we did lose lots of MPs but I agree with Paul that the evidence shows that targeting is not the reason for our electoral collapse.

    As and agent, organiser and councillor at local and national elections in the mid 1990s targeting helped win council wards, develop neighbouring wards which were won at a later date, then helped win a Westminster seat in Edinburgh in 1997, while encouraging the development of neighbouring Parliamentary seats.

    Targeting won Edinburgh West in the Scottish Parliament, while helping to develop a neighbouring seat, which was won later and throughout this time it helped the party in Edinburgh grow from 10 council seats in 1995, as the third party, to becoming the largest party in Edinburgh and running the Council.

    Outside the electoral success targeting gave people the experience of working in a winning campaign. which is something few had ever experienced. They could then return to their own area more skilled and enthused and willing to journey far to get a similar experience in by-elections.

    During this time there was consistent growth at local and national level along with a number of stunning by-election results.

    Following the coalition, we then lost all our seats at Westminster and Holyrood and from running the Edinburgh Council, the Lib-Dems were reduced to being the 5th largest party.

    From my experience over of over 30 years active campaigning, blaming targeting for our losses is like saying my table has four legs and my cat has four legs, therefore my table is a cat!

  • Nick Collins 3rd Feb '18 - 6:06pm

    @ Paul Holmes. This may seem impertinent, coming from someone who is no longer a member, but would it make sense to revive a practice which, I believe, has worked well in the past but which, like a lot of good practice, seems to have fallen into disuse since 2005 or 2010?

    The practice I am thinking of is that of “twinning”, for example, London Boroughs which have council elections this year with Home Counties boroughs with elections next year. Encourage activists in the latter to help in the former this year in exchange for a promise of reciprocal help next year. This not only adds to the number of “feet on the ground” (or voices on the telephone) in both sets of elections but enables activists in both areas to learn from each other’s successes (and even from their mistakes)

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Feb '18 - 6:59pm

    In general circumstances the most important skill in political campaigning is knowing where the frontier is – that is, where the seats are that will be won or lost by a percentage point of the electorate. That assessment drives targeting decisions.

    But during elections, which are rarer than even blue moons, it is wrong to target. The frontier is unknowable. Investing in x-seats merely stores up vast majorities leaving a hundred or two seats as ‘might have beens’. To mix metaphors, the tide is missed.

    These extremely rare elections occur when a ‘movement’ takes place. When a political movement impacts.

    Liberal Democrats are embarked on a gamble over the issue of membership or even renewed membership of the European Union. At the next general election the Lib Dems will either speak for millions or for very very few.

    To target in the next election is illogical given this strategic gamble. It is like putting £1 on the outsider to win. Nothing lost and nothing ventured.

    Building, energising, directing such a Movement should be the all-consuming task for a party that has positioned itself where the Lib Dems have positioned themselves.

    Those who have taken that decision or who supported that decision should be dismayed at the lack of progress in building the Movement over the last 8 months, but they should not be calling for the concentration of resources geographically.

    They should be seeking to create a tide of opinion and action that washes every shore.

    Ideas and images create and drive movements, not tactics.

  • @Michael BG

    Of course three things probably won’t win the war!

    “According to the Labour Party costings document abolishing tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants will cost £11.2 billion. ”

    Personally I favour abolishing the cap on NI on higher earners to fund it. To be fair it might not be political acceptable to have a higher rate that was the same as the lower rate. I don’t know how much this would raise. As it is a debt/borrowing paid for by the country even it is not on the Government’s books – we might also want to say some borrowing to pay for it is acceptable (at least then the interest rate will be lower!)

    On post-18 education I would do three things:

    1. Abolish tuition fees
    2. Fund non-degree 18+ education considerably better.
    3. A fund for lifetime learning and training for each person.

    Personally I think we just need to be bold on university tuition fees. Go for abolition and not tinker about it with it. There are detailed issues – such as people who go abroad. But in general I think we shouldn’t faff about. Abolition of course doesn’t raise the overall tax (or tax and fees) burden – it does change who pays.

  • paul holmes 3rd Feb '18 - 8:57pm

    @Nick Collins. I agree completely. In my experience Targeting worked when it was based on mutual support such as you describe around London. In our case I would not have won Chesterfield in 2001 without the help that came from outside, certainly we would have got a very good second place but as in 1984, 1987, 1992 and 1997 good seconds are of limited value. Nearly all of the on the ground volunteers who came to help in 2001 came from areas we had helped previously with their Council and Council by elections. In Sheffield’s case we first helped there in 1989(?) when Peter Moor won Beauchief Ward in Sheffield and became the first LD Cllr outside of the then Hillsborough stronghold in Sheffield. We helped Richard Allen between 1995-7 as he worked on ‘liberating’ Sheffield Hallam from 100 years of Conservative representation. In turn Sheffield helped us, as in 2001 and indeed last year when they helped us gain a County Council seat from Labour. Such mutual support and learning is a win win all round and I was pleased to meet Hallam’s new candidate, Laura Gordon, attending a recent Chesterfield meeting to seek to establish such mutual support.

    @Bill le Breton. Bill I have agreed with just about everything you have previously posted on LDV but I disagree this time. Lets say that the anti Brexit campaign finally bears fruit -although it has absolutely failed to do so up to now. So we get a surge of Remain voters to us taking our 7.4% to …….. what? 15% 20%? Better than our best ever in nearly a century of 25.4% in 1983? Well even such surges, as Feb 1974 and 1983 show, do not bring big electoral rewards for a small Third/Fourth Party. Evenly spread surges across the country are of little benefit to us. Even surges concentrated more in Remain areas would still have to be huge to bring any great electoral benefit in terms of seats won.

    Targeted campaigning in strong areas can bring greater success even when national vote share falls -as in 1997 when a small fall to 17% none the less saw us more than double our MP’s due to good Targeting. Had there been such Targeting in 1974 or 1983 the results of big surges in our vote would have been groundbreaking. Instead the results were very disappointing. Even if the decision makers think that majoring on Brexit will eventually bring electoral dividends (despite all the hard evidence to the contrary so far) they still need to Target so as to capitalise on any such voter switching.

  • @Bill le Breton

    “They should not be calling for the concentration of resources geographically. They should be seeking to create a tide of opinion and action that washes every shore. Ideas and images create and drive movements, not tactics.”

    um… yes and no

    Arguably the Alliance was a strong national movement. And arguably “washed every shore” but despite a high vote did not translate into a large number of MPs.

    Many “movements” have also had a ruthless targeting strategy. To take three disparate examples – Blair in 1997, Trump in 2016 and Labour in 2017. In 97 Labour very ruthlessly targeted the constituencies they needed to win. Trump won by winning the marginal states such as Wisconsin. And Momentum directed quite large person power resources to target seats.

    As of today, I and I would guess many here would be happy with 12%-17% vote and 30-50 seats at the next election – even if they are not the limit of our ambition. To achieve that we will need to be gaining seats and council in local elections which means targeting resources and local parties targeting resources within their own areas.

    We will also need very strong re-vitalised campaigns in target seats put in place years before an election. In Lynton Crosby’s favourite phrase “you can’t fatten a pig on market day”.

    And to make a greater impact on the national media and get more coverage we need to be gaining local seats and councils which again involves targeting.


    I don’t think that anyone is denying the need for a national message. As was noted between 1997 and 2010 we had that – initially for the help schools and hospitals were crying out and then against Labour outrages such as the Iraq war, up-front tuition fees and ID cards.

    I also hope it is more than just a message or “narrative” but a bold, strong confident reassertion of Liberal values, a 21st century Beveridge and our place in a modernised EU.

    There may be a need of more of our version of Momentum – possibly (and I am not convinced of this) outside of our traditional party structures of the national/regional party and ALDC. But to a extent we need to rediscover and re-invent the community politics of Tony Greaves et al

    How one allocates resources in a political party is one for us all to play “Fantasy Political manager” on….!!!!

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Feb '18 - 10:46pm

    Paul, yes, but …

    If the Party is determined to fight the next election as the single party uniquely committed to exiting Brexit (if held before March 2019) or reversing out of the transitional arrangement and into the EU (if held after March 2019 and before the end of the transitional period) or re-entering the EU (if held in the short window between then and the latest date for the next GE) then it must commit itself to fighting the next three general elections majoring on this single issue.

    Therefore the strategist must see these three elections as a single campaign.

    To get to the ‘promised land’ the Party has to fight the 3rd election (say 2028/30) as an electoral force capable of winning across the nations with sizeable votes in 350 or so seats – to be credible in two thirds of the seats. It could be argued that this requires ‘presence’, profile and a sense of philosophical identity in a large number of communities as quickly as possible – even at the cost of actual numbers of MPs in Election 1..

    In 1997 we went to 46, not just because of targeting but because we were strong across 150 to 200 council areas and shortly after to be able to win MEPs in every region/nation.

    Nor could the Party gain sufficient credibility to carry the argument unless it was mobilizing people based on strong beliefs around Liberal values. The Party will not achieve that by going to 25MPs (targeting leading to doubling our numbers), then 45, then 60 in those three elections. It might need 20 MPs BUT 20% of the electorate, 150 MPs and 35% of the electorate, followed by 350 and 45%.

    Such a route may mean being better at creating a political movement rather than improving our ground campaigns in 30 seats. More imaginative at being Liberal rather than being more slick.

    It may require Liberals understanding that the position they are in is one of reaction and tradition. But that is a personal speculation.

  • @Paul Holmes

    Thank you for attempting to answer my question. It is a shame I didn’t met you when you were helping Jen when she was Basingstoke’s PPC.

    Posted by me

    @ Michael

    According to the IFS increasing the higher rate National Insurance employee contribution by 10% will generate £10.1 billion. I am hoping we will use this to help fund the introduction of a Basic Citizens Income which will reduce poverty and economic inequalities and increase peoples choices regarding work, education and training.

    A graduate tax payable once someone earns above average earnings seems very fair especially if we have an education and training fund of £18,000 being made available to everyone once they are over 18. There is an expectation that having a degree will increase a person’s salary so it seems fair to tax this increase in salary. I wonder if it would be possible to keep university funding off the government books and have a separate fund into which the graduate tax goes.

  • (was Michael – but there are a lot of Michaels posting!)

    @Bill Le Breton

    I think the difficult with your scenario is that there is massive “chicken and egg” situation in British politics especially for third parties. To win MPs and increase your vote share you need to be winning MPs… which…

    It is possible without targeting that 25% of the vote could as with leave us with 12 MPs as happened with the Alliance. This was roughly our number of English MPs then and at the moment Scotland is a very different place.

    I think also that we will have an exceptionally difficult fight in seats that we held but lost in 2015 which broadly are the first seats that we can expect to pick up again. Broadly there is a sophomore effect – in that incumbents who fight their second election (and really 2017 doesn’t count in this regard) do better than the uniform swing. The Tories (mainly) can also be expected to be significantly increasing their campaigning capability in these seats.

    No-one is not saying that we don’t need national messages and call to arms. And we should also look at Momentum and how we can reach out to people in every area at minimum cost and also direct them to where their help will win us councillors, councils and MPs.

    It would be better to spend say £10,000 in 30 seats than £1,000 in 300 seats. £1,000 would have basically no effect. £10,000 might pay for (? half) an organiser – lead to greater fund raising etc. Hopefully target seats can raise (large amounts of) money themselves. It is likely that quite a lot of our councillor and council gains will also come from these seats – leading to further amplification of our national message if we are successful electorally. But “pigs need to be fattened” to use Lynton Crosby’s phrase from now.

    WITHIN local parties/across local council areas. I would suggest that they should be putting in say £1,000 into one ward than £100 across 10 – but this might be difficult to do. But I think this May might well be tough for us with Labour and the Tories both above 40%.

  • (was Michael)

    @Michael BG

    There is a debate over how you pay for free tuition fees.

    It could be paid for by borrowing on the basis that it is a debt that is already being paid back in the future.

    It could be paid for by abolishing the cap on NI

    Or it could be paid for by a graduate tax.

    But I do think that we should go for complete abolition of tuition fees – no faffing about. As this would be a clear signal that we have changed from the coalition and attract back younger voters and middle class public sector voters – 2 key constituencies for us.

    Similar to Blair’s clause 4 moment and Cameron’s “hug a hoodie”.


    Effectively, Michael BG, you are giving back graduates their graduate tax – although it does move tax around to different people.

    In that graduates would gain the £27k under your plans as I understand it (they are paying on average as a graduate tax) – £18,000 post-18 training fund plus £300 a year basic income over 30 years – is £27k – the cost of 3 years tuition fees. I would though start effectively by putting the basic income into the training fund.

    (And higher earning graduate would pay more than the £27k and lower earning less but that is the same with NI).

    I too am drawn to the idea of a basic citizens income and I accept that it does give money to different people and starting it off and establishing it would be good. We both though have to find £20 billion plus from somewhere (and that might be borrowing) to fund the £27k we are giving people over a lifetime. Either as £27k for training or £18k plus £8k basic income.

    Obviously there is a more detailed discussion to be had on spending, taxation, fair taxation, borrowing and policies which is somewhat outside of this thread. And we haven’t started (and probably shouldn’t here) on schools, NHS, social care….!!!

  • Tony Dawson 4th Feb '18 - 1:42pm

    With a fptp system, it seems pretty much a ‘given’ that Lib Dem candidates have to be significantly better than other parties candidates to win through (especially from 3rd place) and Lib Dem MPs have to be significantly better AND MORE FOCUSED than others if they are to hold their seats and/or spread Lib Dem development in a manner which is sustainable.

    There have, to my mind, been three things which have worked against us even if we put the ‘Elephant’ of the Coalition temporarily out of the room. Firstly, we developed a ‘method’ which for a brief window of a few years allowed us to get MPs elected, especially as ‘successors’ in areas where we were either dominant in local government terms or had the previous MP, some MPs who were not exactly top flight and whose view of their own position once elected largely by the efforts of others appeared to be more directed towards their own interests than those of the Party. Secondly, these MPs, and a lot of candidates, Lords and SPAds, central organisers etc and others started to believe their own propaganda ie that they were geting elected because of qualities (political and personal) which, while usiually not totally absent, were not actually there in great abundance in either themselves or the Party as perceived by the wider electorate. Thirdly, points one and two permitted quite a few of our MPs to ‘go native’ once elected seeing things from a purely parliamentary perspective rather than the perspective of the woman or man in the street. The Collition effects (and there were several) simply poured gasoline on the kindling bonfire which had been smouldering away under the Liberal Democrats. Our parliamentary party as a whole included a considerable number of good and verty able Liberals and Social Democrats who, during 2012 to 2015 in particular, disconnected from the reality which quite a few of them now acknowledge that deep dpwn they really knew.

  • Tony Dawson 4th Feb '18 - 1:43pm

    So, in my view, unless you beleive there is suddenly going to be a ‘Hallelujah’ moment in the British electorate, whether on Brexit or any other issue, (highly convenient for lazy oliticians) I would argue that to break through in the present political environment outside of the odd ward here and there does require some form of targeting. But the targeting has to be not purely geared to win a particular election. There should be no targeting put behind anyone who is not genuinely committed to protecting and growing the achievements whith more than lip service. And behind the targeting there still needs to be a spreading of the overall Liberal and Democratic messages.

  • paul holmes 4th Feb '18 - 4:00pm

    @Bill le Breton:
    1. Every seat we gained in 1997 was a Target Seat. No remotely none Target was gained except possibly for Kingston which Ed Davey had fought to a Target Seat programme with resources he and the Local Party raised. From the last weekend he was told that his LP activists would not now be needed to move to nearby Target Seats for the final, crucial, few days as they were confident of victory now. He then won by a tiny margin. The surge in MEP numbers in 1999 was of course a result of the first PR election and so not comparable to FPTP elections -under which we had only managed two MEP’s.

    2. A clear distinction needs to be made between Policy/Strategy and Tactics. Targeting is about the tactics that get the best result out of the sudden death, winner takes all, FPTP voting system Democrats and Republicans do it in the USA, Labour and Conservative do it in the UK. If we don’t do it then we are back to the examples of 1974 and 1983 where big vote surges, if and when they come, do not produce matching surges in MP’s elected.

    3. The Strategy or Policy profile of the Party is in one sense irrelevant to the question of Targeting. We could be Economic Liberals as in the brief experiment that ended in disaster in 2015. We could go back to being Social Liberals as we were for most of the last century or so. We could define ourselves as a single issue ‘rejoin the EU’ Party in the way that UKIP was single issue ‘Leave’ Party. But whatever we define and present ourselves as we will massively under perform if we do not Target to win under FPTP. Just as we under performed prior to 1997

    For the avoidance of doubt there is only one of the options above that could possibly convince me to spend the remaining 15-20 active years, I might still hope for, in campaigning as I have done for the last 34 years. If 2010-2015 put us into intensive care then concentrating on fighting the next three General Elections as a ‘Rejoin the EU Party’ would be akin to taking ourselves off to a Dignitas Clinic. Voters may yet rally to a Second Referendum/Single Market flag -although there is no sign of that yet. They will not rally to a call of let’s rejoin a by then more integrated EU offering us no ‘Rebates’ and insisting we join Schengen and the Euro -with attendant Central Bank issues.

    But as I said the Policy/Strategy of the Party is a separate issue to the need to Target under FPTP.

  • @ Michael 1

    I am not sure I understand your figures. I accept we are starting with £27,000 of current student tuition debt and I have stated that Vince is suggesting a £18,000 Education and Training fund. However, I do think he has suggested funding this £18,000 from a Land Value Tax. If this is the case this would move the party’s position on LVT to actually implementing one rather than having studies and pilots.

    I don’t know where you get a Citizens Income of £5.77 a week from.

    To pay £27,000 in graduate tax on incomes over say £27,000 a year over a working period of 45 years with a graduate tax of 1p would mean that their average earnings would need to be £87,000; a graduate tax of 2p average earnings of £57,000.

    However if the Education and Training fund was funded by LVT then with a graduate tax of 1p over incomes of £27,000 average earnings would only need to be £47,000, 2p average earnings of £37,000.

    I think we need to find £26.75 billion to introduce a Citizens Income at the level of Income Tax Personal Allowance (expected to be £12,500 from 2020) and I have found at least £26.1 billion to fund it.

    @ Tony Dawson

    As we won more seats we had more MPs not sharing a Social Liberal economic view and it was this that allowed the party to ditch its 2010 economic policy and embrace with enthusiasm the economic policies of the Conservative Party.

  • @Paul Holmes

    Winchester was also only a starred seat in ’97 but did a lot of the things that target seats were doing – split freeposts, constituency newspapers, target letters etc. I don’t think it had any money from outside – it might have had a little.

    @ Michael BG

    OK. I was taking the £10 billion you quoted which is roughly £300 per person over some 33 million adults in the UK.

    Obviously if LVT or other taxes/borrowing was used to fund training and/or tuition fees then NI could be used for a basic citizens income.

    In general this while interesting is a little outside the scope of this particular thread.

    People may here may be interested to note that there is a citizens basic income day at the London School of Economics on 20th February 2018 – prior registration is needed but it is free – http://citizensincome.org/news/a-citizens-basic-income-day-at-the-london-school-of-economics-20th-february-2018/

  • BTW

    Before some points it out I misread my Google search and shrunk the UK, according to wikipedia as at 2011 there were 11 million 0-14s, 41.7 million 14-64s and 10.3 million 65+

  • John Barrett 6th Feb '18 - 4:33pm

    @ Tony Dawson

    Two comments I could have written myself. They hit the nail on the head.

    Much of what Tony detailed in his comments, I witnessed first hand, both in a number of constituencies and in Parliament.

    My own experience in Edinburgh West was fortunately quite different to what he mentioned happening elsewhere.

    After winning the Westminster seat in 1997, we continued to use targeting to grow throughout the City at both Council and Parliamentary level, and withing the seat at council level.

    We used our skills at a number of by-elections with great success and when I decided to stand down from Westminster in 2010, we held on to the seat with a reasonable majority for my successor. By this stage Edinburgh Wast had received no national support or funding for over 10 years and regularly supported other local council and parliamentary campaigns elsewhere in the country..

    Sadly, elsewhere, I am afraid that it was not the targeting strategy that let the party down, it was anumber of other factors and Tony’s comments, which I have cut and pasted below, sum things up perfectly.

    “Secondly, these MPs, and a lot of candidates, Lords and SPAds, central organisers etc and others started to believe their own propaganda ie that they were getting elected because of qualities (political and personal) which, while usually not totally absent, were not actually there in great abundance in either themselves or the Party as perceived by the wider electorate. Thirdly, points one and two permitted quite a few of our MPs to ‘go native’ once elected seeing things from a purely parliamentary perspective rather than the perspective of the woman or man in the street. The Coalition effects (and there were several) simply poured gasoline on the kindling bonfire which had been smouldering away under the Liberal Democrats. Our parliamentary party as a whole included a considerable number of good and very able Liberals and Social Democrats who, during 2012 to 2015 in particular, disconnected from the reality which quite a few of them now acknowledge that deep down they really knew.

  • Of course we need targeting, but Tony is so right: it must not be geared to just one election. Is there one target parliamentary constituency in an area? Of course activists from outside should go in there to help when a general election happens, but sometimes that’s expected and demanded while almost nothing goes the other way. A strong local party amidst struggling (or developing from a low point) ones should be helping its neighbours to develop – and this is in its own interests.

    The supply of target wards, divisions and constituencies must be maintained. Place A has been won? Where is Place B to target next? At the parliamentary level, we now have a very small supply of obvious targets. How do we restore the Brecons, Yeovils and Berwick-on-Tweeds to the list and bring forward a supply of other places we might win in 2027?

    In many areas we seem to have forgotten about going into a dead locality and getting things moving. This is NOT the unfocussed overoptimism of 2010, but ruthless, determined strategising: pick a target ward, concentrate, develop, win. This must happen where we have swathes of desert. A while back one of our activists in a new target ward was looking in ALDC resources for examples of residents’ surveys, the standard first step in campaigning in a new area. She could find none that didn’t assume we were already strong and campaigning in the ward. A glitch – or loss of ambition?

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